The Ministry of Seasonal Epidemics
In the sixth moon of the eleventh year (A.D. 599) of the reign of Kao Tsu, founder of the Sui dynasty, five stalwart persons appeared in the air, clothed in robes of five colours, each carrying different objects in his hands: the first a spoon and earthenware vase, the second a leather bag and sword, the third a fan, the fourth a club, the fifth a jug of fire. The Emperor asked Chang Chü-jên, his Grand Historiographer, who these were and if they were benevolent or evil spirits. The official answered: “These are the five powers of the five directions. Their appearance indicates the imminence of epidemics, which will last throughout the four seasons of the year.” “What remedy is there, and how am I to protect the people?” inquired the Emperor. “There is no remedy,” replied the official, “for epidemics are sent by Heaven.” During that year the mortality was very great. The Emperor built a temple to the five persons, and bestowed upon them the title of Marshals to the Five Spirits of the Plague. During that and the following dynasty sacrifices were offered to them on the fifth day of the fifth moon.
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