During the Ming Dynasty there lived a man in Yi County by the name of Zhang Xing who made his living by renting out donkeys.
One day, Zhang caught two magpie birds and locked them in a cage. He intended to sell the birds while performing his trade. Along his route, he met a merchant. When the merchant saw the two birds in the cage, he was so moved by compassion that he took out some silver from his pouch to buy the birds, and then released them immediately.
Zhang saw the merchant’s pouch full of silver and was overcome by greed. When the two reached a remote area, and when the merchant was not paying attention, Zhang used the donkey’s bridle rope to strangle the merchant to death. He then tied a big stone to the body and threw the body into a river. There was no witness to the murder. Zhang then took the merchant’s money and ran away.
In Yi County there was a magistrate named Qiao. One day, he was reading a court case, when all of a sudden two magpies flew inside the court. They circled around him and sang a loud song of anger and sadness. Qiao tried to shoo the birds away but they refused to leave. Qiao felt uneasy in his heart.
The two birds suddenly flew to the Magistrate Hall and used their beaks to bang the drums three times. Qiao was shocked and wondered whether there was a grievance that Heaven had sent these two birds to seek justice for? The two birds looked up and nodded their heads as if knowing what Qiao was thinking.
So Qiao said to the two birds, “If you have a grievance, please fly around the beam of the hall three times.” The moment afterward, the birds flew around the beam three times.
Qiao then said, “Please bite these long ribbons with your beaks, and I will send two wardens to follow you to the place where your grievance exists.”
The two birds suddenly went to the table to bite the ribbons. They then flew to the front of the building and looked back, waiting for the wardens to catch up.
After a distance of 30 miles, they arrived at the bank of the river. The birds suddenly dived into the water and then surfaced again. They were very chatty and made a lot of noise. Then layers after layers of bubbles started to form on the surface of the water. The wardens were surprised and immediately went back to report to Qiao. When Qiao heard this news, he rushed to the river bank, followed closely by the two birds.
Qiao ordered nearby fishermen to dive into the water, and to salvage whatever is below. They retrieved a male body, about thirty years old. The body was still intact, and there was a big stone tied to its back, with a bridal around the neck.
Qiao said to the birds, “Please bring us to the murderer.”
The birds led the way with the two wardens in front and several people trailing behind. They reached a hut under a big tree in Pinggang village. The birds made a lot of noise in front of the hut, and drove Zhang Xing to come out. The two birds flew onto Zhang’s shoulder and continued to make noises. Zhang became enraged and hit the birds. The birds flew to the roof and continued to make noise.
The warden said to Zhang, “Bring your donkey and come with us.”
Zhang Xing saw the rope around the waist of the warden and recognized it. He suddenly recollected that his was the same rope that he used to strangle the merchant. He knew that his crime has been exposed. He was shocked.
After interrogation, Zhang admitted that he murdered the merchant and took the loot of forty taels of silver. After searching Zhang’s hut, the warden found the loot, and Zhang was convicted.
The merchant’s body was later buried in the eastern side of the city. The two birds flew to the grave, bowed in front of it to show their gratitude, and then flew around the grave for a long time, unwilling to leave, as they sang a sad song.
The moral of the story is that when people do bad things, they may think that nobody is watching, and they never expect that Heaven can see them from above, but nonetheless they cannot escape from their wicked deeds.
Translated by: Chua BC
Edited by: Derek Padula