A Sudden Rise to Power

(Shui gui sheng cheng huang)

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This is a ghost story about an old man who drowns in a creek, later becoming the tutelary god of a town because of his good deeds.

Ami is a fisherman whose mother is blind. Although he is in his forties, he remains unmarried because he must look after his mother and has no time to search for a bride. He is a devoted son and selects the best fish from his daily catch to cook for his mother.

A ghost lives in the creek where Ami usually fishes. The ghost notices that Ami is a good son, so he helps to drive the fish into the net every time he sees Ami. As time goes on, they become friends, and Ami often invites the ghost to drink with him on the fishing boat. The ghost tells Ami that he is an old man who drowned on a night nine years ago, after being thrown out of the house by his own son.

Usually, after a person drowns, he or she is allowed to find a scapegoat after being in the water for three years, thus moving on to Heaven. The first three years pass. A pregnant woman falls into the river, but the ghost is not cruel enough to use her, since there are two lives in one body. Instead, he helps her return home. The second three-year period comes, and a young mother throws herself into the water with her baby. The ghost is still not cruel enough to take the two as his replacement, so he helps the mother and son out of the water and accompanies them home. The ghost has now been in the water for nine years, and he thinks he will take a replacement this time, before it is too late for him to get to Heaven.

Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, learns that four lives have being saved by the ghost, and decides to test whether or not the ghost is truly acting with the best of intentions. She disguises herself as an old blind woman walking along the bank of the river, crying and scolding her son for his lack of devotion. She then jumps into the water without hesitation. The ghost sees this old woman and wants to use her as his replacement. Once he hears her story, however, he has great sympathy for her, due to his own experience with his son. He would rather continue soaking in the water forever, rather than take her as his replacement. He saves her immediately and urges her to go home. The Goddess of Mercy reports his deed to the Jade Emperor, the highest ruler in Heaven. The Jade Emperor is also moved, and empowers the ghost to be reincarnated as a tutelary god of the town. After he becomes a god of the town, the ghost tells Ami to stop fishing and to instead start selling incense and candles in front of the temple, so that they can continue to chat every day.