A crazed woman

The following story is taken from Li Cheng’s book Song of a Wanderer: Beckoned by Eternity (pp 13-14). The incident took place when Li Cheng was an atheist communist living in Mainland China.


In 1975 I joined an agricultural commune. One morning an officer from another village hurried to my residence to ask for our team’s help.

“There are ghosts affecting our team!” he exclaimed.

“How can there be ghosts during the day?” I asked.

“Someone has been possessed by a spirit!” he answered. He hoped that I would be able to go with him to take care of the situation.

Although I was not the supervisor of that work unit, I could not shirk my responsibility, for our team leader had left for the city. Even though I felt foolish, my heart was troubled. So I went to the place of the incident and found a crowd of onlookers who moved aside to let me pass through.

When I entered the inner circle, I encountered a woman with unkempt hair who was dancing, waving her hands, crying, and yelling. I quickly asked the work unit leader for details of the occurrence and was told that this team was impoverished with no other source of income besides their current assignment for which the labor of a strong man for a full day was worth only ten cents. Some time before, someone had discovered that sand was under the topsoil, so people were able to dig up the sand and sell it to the molding factory. Even though the price of sand was low, people could still earn some money to buy oil and salt. A middle-aged man in that team was so enthusiastic about digging up sand that he dug the pit deeper and deeper. However, since there were no safety precautions, the pit suddenly caved in, and he was buried at the bottom. When rescuers dug him out, he was already dead. His family could not afford a funeral to bury him, so they bought a mat, rolled him up in it, and buried him.

This crazed woman was a neighbor of the deceased man. Suddenly, on that particular morning, she had gone out of her mind, speaking as if she were possessed by the dead man. After the team leader finished telling the story, I gasped when I heard the woman say, “I died pitifully. No coffin! They did not even change my clothes. They buried me that way! Nobody has sympathy for me.” Her voice was his voice; her intonation was his intonation.

Since people were supposed to be working in the field at that time of day, I asked several men to take the woman home so that the crowd could disperse and get back to work. However, the feet of this thin, sickly woman appeared to be nailed to the ground. No matter how hard the young men tried to push or drag her, she did not move an inch. I did not know what to do next. Several older people said that the only way was to ask the dead man’s family to talk to her, so I asked for the dead man’s wife. When she came, she spoke to the possessed woman as though she were talking to her husband.

“You left us and have gone your own way. You have caused us to suffer enough! Why are you still bothering us? In a few days, we will send some clothes to you,” she said.

Those words were enough to calm the possessed woman.

“Okay! I will leave. But before going, I would like to drink some water from home,” she said, still speaking with the dead man’s voice.

I immediately asked people to bring a big bowl of cool water. She drank the entire bowl quickly and then fainted on the ground. After she woke up, I asked her what had happened. She said she did not know, but she felt very exhausted and had no energy.

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