There was a rich man in Changzhou County of what was at that time called Suzhou Province. His name was Long Heng. He was born with a very kind heart and always gave of himself to other people.
Long Heng opened a pawnshop and, because of his sense of fairness and justice, his business was very prosperous. One day, Long Heng heard that there was a grain harvest in Huannan and Canton provinces. The rice was very cheap in these places, so he discussed it with his wife and decided to go there to purchase rice. He planned to bring it back and sell it at a low price to the local people since he could save many people from going hungry.
Long Heng had a daughter and a son; the son was named Long Quan, and his son-in-law’s name was Zilian Sun.
When Long Heng left on his trip, his son-in-law, Zilian, helped him manage the business at home. However, Zilian started to think about how to spend money on enjoying life. At that time, there was a drought and many people died of starvation. However, Zilian and his wife did nothing but keep their food and drink to themselves every day at home. They not only did not help other people but also came up with schemes to make money off them. For example, some people came to the pawnshop to sell something valued at 10 taels of silver, but he gave them only 10 guan (which was worth a little less than 10 taels of silver).
After Long Heng bought the rice, he heard that there was a drought in his hometown, so he immediately came back. On his way home, he noticed that there was not even a blade of grass in the fields, as people filled their stomachs with grass roots and tree bark. When Long Heng arrived home, Zilian wanted to throw a banquet to welcome him back, but Long Heng refused right away. He took out the several million pounds of rice he had bought to help the hungry people. Long Heng then put a poster on his outer gate, saying that people who had some food could pay 50 percent of what he had paid; people who had only a little food could pay 30 percent; people who had almost no food could pay just 20 percent; and very poor people could take the rice for free.
As soon as he put up the poster, his courtyard was crowded with people buying the rice. In only a few months, several million pounds of rice were completely gone. Countless people were saved. Long Heng’s great compassion and kind heart moved Heaven and, a few days later, there was a heavy rain that eased the drought.
One day, Long Heng and his wife were carrying a large sum of money to the capital to do business. After the sunset that evening, Long Heng saw a Taoist holding a sword outside the cabin of their ship. There was a gourd on his back that was emitting fire. Suddenly, the Taoist knocked a large man holding a large hatchet into the water. Three other men immediately ran away after seeing this. Long Heng felt certain that the four men were robbers. He hurried out to see the Taoist and thanked him for saving his life.
The Taoist said to him, “The robber dead in the water is your son-in-law, Zilian. He asked a group of people to follow you and wanted to kill you and take all your money. I passed by here, and I know that you are a kindhearted person, so I decided to save your life.”
Long Heng asked his name, and he said, “When you reach a piece of cloud on Mount Tai, ask the other Taoist; he will tell you.” Then a cloud descended and the Taoist immediately disappeared.
On their way home, Long Heng and his wife passed the foot of Mount Tai where he saw three Chinese characters carved on the mountain. The characters read “Piece of Cloud.” Suddenly, he remembered the Taoist’s words. He was just about to ask someone about the Taoist, when suddenly there was a gust of wind and an immortal appeared right in front of him. With another look, he immediately recognized the immortal as the Taoist he had met before.
The Taoist waved his hand over his sleeve and two white cranes flew out from it. He gave one to Long Heng and one to his wife. On the white cranes, they flew up into the sky, and the Taoist flew along with them. Flying on the backs of the immortal birds and surrounded by auspicious clouds, they rose all the way up to Heaven.
This story has been edited for clarity. Translated by Dora Li into English, it is reprinted with permission from the book “Treasured Tales of China,” Vol. 1, available on Amazon.