Zuo Ci 左慈 was a legendary man whose most notable actions occurred during the final years of the Later Han dynasty. It is unknown whether he was still alive during the Three Kingdoms period.

History of the Later Han official biography [translation]Edit

 Zuo Ci, style name Yuanfang, was from Lujiang commandery [in Yang province]. At a young age he acquired the Way of Immortals (Shéndào 神道). During a banquet held by the Minister of Works (sīkōng 司空) Cao Cao 曹操, to which Zuo Ci was a guest, [Cao] Cao calmly announced:

I have prepared several delicacies for this banquet, though there are no perch from the Songriver in Wu.[1]

 In response, Zuo Ci replied from his seat, “I could easily obtain them.” [Zuo Ci] asked for a bronze tray and a bamboo stick, to use as a fishing rod. After a while of fishing he pulled out a perch. Cao Cao applauded and laughed, while the guests were stunned. Cao Cao said:

One fish is not enough for all these people. Can you catch more?

 Zuo Ci then changed the bait and dropped it back into the tray. Shortly after he fished out another perch, and many others followed, all three feet long, fresh, and lovely. Cao Cao had them cut up into thin slices before him, then instructed that they be passed around to the people in attendance.

 He then observed,

Now that we have some fishes, it is a pity that there is no ginger grown from Shu.

 Zuo Ci responded, “I can obtain that too.” Being worried that Zuo would pass off with local ginger, Cao Cao added,

I have sent an emissary to Shu to purchase some brocades. Please tell the envoy to buy two more duan of brocades if you meet him.

 Not long after Cao Cao finished talking, Zuo Ci brought back the ginger as well as a message from the envoy. Later, when the emissary returned from Shu, Cao Cao inquired him about the form and shape of the brocade, and the relevant time and date; they all matched!

[1] Song river is located southeast of Suzhou, originating from Taihu 太湖. Biographies of Spirits and Immortals (Shénxiān zhuán 神仙傳) states: “Song river produces very high quality perch, with a taste unlike that of any other location.”

 On another day, when Cao Cao went to the near suburb with about a hundred literary scholars. Zuo Ci prepared a pint of wine, a catty of meat, and served them personally. The scholars drank of the wine until they were drunk, and ate until they were full. In an attempt to find out how Zuo Ci had done this, Cao Cao had all the wineshops examined.[1] In each store, all the wine and meat was now gone.[2] Not pleased at all, Cao Cao ordered Zuo Ci’s arrest at the banquet, planning to have him executed, but Zuo Ci hid inside a wall, disappearing without a trace.

 Cao Cao, in an attempt to figure out how Zuo Ci managed this, had all the wineshops examined. Wine and meat in all the local shops was now gone. Not pleased at all, Cao Cao, at the banquet ordered that Zuo Ci be arrested to have him executed, but Zuo Ci hid inside a wall, disappearing without a trace.

 When someone reported that Zuo Ci had been sighted in the market, Cao Cao’s men gathered there but found everyone in the market became exactly the same to Zuo’s appearance. Nobody knew which was the real one. Later, Zuo Ci was found on the hilltop of Yang Cheng, and again Cao Cao pursued him. Zuo Ci hid amidst a flock of sheep. Knowing they could not find him without tricking him, Cao Cao announced to the flock of sheep:

We were merely trying to test your skills and had no intention to kill you.

 At the moment, an old goat stood on its hind legs and spoke,

Why did you do this all of a sudden?[3]

 Cao Cao’s men rushed to the goat, only to find the rest of the flock also turned into the old goat and started standing like humans and speaking “Why did you do this all of a sudden?” Zuo Ci was never found by Cao Cao’s men again.[4]

[1] the character 鑪 means ‘wineshop’.
[2] In the character 喜 the consonant is the same as in the character 許 .
[3] “Why did you do this all of a sudden?”
[4] Emperor Wen of Wei’s discussion on Xi Jian’s 郤儉 matter, etc, in Discourse on Literature (diǎn lùn 典論) stated, “Xi Jian of Ying province was on a grain-free diet (bìgǔ 辟穀).[n 1] He could also convert poria (fúlíng 伏苓) into medicinal pellets,[n 2] and consumed a great deal of them. At first, wherever Xi Jian went, the price of poria would increase dramatically. Like Xi Jian, the Consultant (yìláng 議郎) of Anping, Li Tan 李覃, was on a grain-free diet, consumed poria, and drank only cold water; however, he got dysentery due to the cold water, and almost died. Gan Shi 甘始 of Ganling 甘陵 was known for his ability to control the air flow within his body, and looked young despite his old age. Zuo Ci of Lujiang also served as a minor official in the army. Both Gan Shi and Zuo Ci were practitioners of the Way of Bu Dao (bǔdǎo 補導), a method of extending life and health through intercourse. Later when Gan Shi arrived everyone hounded him in an attempt to learn his breathing skills. Military Libationer (jūn jìjiǔ 軍祭酒) Dong Fen 董芬 of Hongnong 弘農, was unable to imitate Gan Shi’s breathing properly and passed out. It took him a long time to revive. When Zuo Ci arrived everyone, even a eunuch named Yan Jun 嚴峻, tried to learn from him; but how could a castrated person benefit from this art? This is an example of the stupidity of some humans, following without thinking or even attempting to observe.”


  1. GJCM notes: Also known as duangu or juegu. A Daoism term. In general, a person who practice this would stop consuming all kind of grain and consuming water only. At the end, some claimed they did not have to eat at all, surviving by only breathing in air.
  2. GJCM notes: a Chinese herbal medicine. It grows on the roots of old, dead pine trees. Other names are Fu Ling, Poria, Tuckahoe, Indian bread, or Hoelen.