Near the end of the Qing Dynasty in the state capital of Chen there occurred a big and strange case of crime: The thousand-year-old bird cypress in the Mausoleum of Tai Hao was stolen.
The Mausoleum of Tai Hao in the State of Chen underwent significant expansion during the Dynasties of Tang and Song. Upon establishing the Song Dynasty the First Emperor Zhao Kuangyin issued an imperial decree to expand the mausoleum, a massive project which took many years to complete. The newly expanded Mausoleum of Tai Hao shone magnificently in the midst of tall pines and ancient cypresses. Among the cypresses was a thousand-year-old bird cypress. The bird cypress is a most rare and precious tree in the world. It is said that furniture made of bird cypress boards would show vivid bird-like patterns, so vivid as if the birds were ready to fly into the sky. Therefore, furniture and artifacts made of bird cypress are priceless.
This particular bird cypress stood right behind the Mausoleum of Fuxi and was so thick that even two men could not encircle it. The theft happened during a holiday celebration at the Mausoleum of Tai Hao when countless pilgrims came to seek blessings. One day there came a shipping magnate from the South. To show gratitude for his good fortune, the man said, he had brought with him 100 tall and arrow-straight cedar trees. All of these trees he set up around the thousand-year bird cypress. Since it was a unique way of a pilgrim showing his gratitude for his blessings, the Chief Monk didn’t suspect anything. About a month later someone noticed, accidentally, that the bird cypress had withered. When the cedars were removed, it became apparent that the cypress’ top had been supported by the cedars, its precious, priceless trunk had been stolen.
When the crime was reported to the county court, County Magistrate Song Shiyuan was shocked. He led a team to work on the case day and night and soon took the thieves into custody. There were five of them, their leader being a he Seven. The bird cypress, evidence of their crime, had already been cut into two halves and sawed into boards. Each board, when looked at closely, had a bird-like pattern, and breathed such a fragrant aroma. It was rare, precious treasure indeed!
Song Shiyuan had the thieves escorted to the county court and interrogated one by one. All of the thieves confessed. They had had their eyes on the third cypress for a long time. During the holy holiday they disguised as pilgrims and used the cedars they had bought as cover. To make it easier to transport the bird cypress, they sawed it into sections and then boards.
With both confessions and evidences, there was nothing else left to do but to throw the thieves into jail. In the middle of night, however, the five men were all killed by the prison guards when they attempted to escape. Now with the suspects dead, the case went dead with them, too. Fortunately, all the suspects had attested their confessions with their fingerprints. So, Song Shiyuan submitted the case file to the state government and had the bodies of the thieves buried.
The following day Song Shiyuan had the bird cypress boards appraised and paid to make furniture as dowry for his daughter.
And the bird cypress furniture had already been made before the final word on the case came. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the State Governor himself came.
Having taking a look at the bird cypress furniture Song Shiyuan had made for his daughter, the State Governor called Song Shiyuan in a well-guarded room. He shot a glance at Song Shiyuan and said, with a smile on his face: “Much painstaking planning must have gone into it, for the County Magistrate to obtain the bird cypress, right?”
Song Shiyuan was stunned and at a loss what to say.
The State Governor too out a letter from his long sleeves and said: “He Seven was anything but a moron. The day they succeeded in stealing the tree, he sent me a sealed secret letter. It was only on account of our friendship that I didn’t make it public!”
Song Shiyuan, face ashen, fell on his knees right away to thank the State Governor.
The following day, without anybody noticing it, Song Shiyuan was arrested and thrown into jail. Since she evidence against him was rock-solid, he was beheaded three days later.