In Hangzhou a coppersmith by the name of Xu Songnian opened a store in the wealthy suburb of Xianlin Bridge. When he was only thirty-two years old he suddenly became extremely ill. His sickness grew worse and worse and everyone fully expected him to die.
His wife cried and cried, saying, "We have two young sons. How will I manage if you die? I'm going to pray to the gods to exchange my life for yours.
"You would then be able to raise our sons to be good husbands and fathers themselves. The family line will thus continue without your having to remarry."
Xu agreed to her plan and so the wife went to the city god's temple to say her prayer. Then she returned home to pray to her husband's ancestors, so that they would be aware of the exchange she hoped would occur.
Surely enough, she grew sicker and sicker as her husband grew stronger and stronger. Within the year she had died. It wasn't long after her death that Songnian remarried, having forgotten his promise.
On their wedding night Songnian and his new wife, Mistress Cao, found themselves unable to consummate their union--a cold body lay on the bed between them. The bride leaped up in terror and in the light of the candle they saw lying on the bed the maid of Xu's former wife. Clearly possessed, her mouth moving mechanically, she heaped a torrent of abuse upon them.
The newlyweds slept like this for four or five months, having failed to placate the ghost with prayers and offerings. Xu Songnian died soon after this.