Archive for April, 2010


Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 20 Old man on Weiyang River street

No. 20 Old man on Weiyang River street: not going to kill Yongzhi, order [him] to return your wife.

Lu Yongzhi worked under King of Bohai Gao Pian in Weiyang. He was a corrupting influence on the political scene, wielding his powers however he liked, bullying and oppressing people with his secret police.

In the Fourth Year of Zhong He, a merchant named Liu Sun arrived in Weiyang on a huge ship, bringing along his family and many treasures. It was not long when Lu Yongzhi was informed about all of this by his secret police. They told him the merchant’s wife had a beauty rare in this world. So Lu had the merchant thrown in jail on some trumped up charges, and took his wife as well the merchandise.

Lu eventually managed to bribe his way out of jail, but his wife was taken away from him by force by another man, he could not help but be angry and sad. He wrote three poems about it*. After writing them, he often sat by himself, humming those lines.

One night, while starring out the window of the boat, he saw a curly-bearded old man on the street by river. His walked at a brisk pace, spirit strong but reserved, eyes bright as lightening, his skin light and translucent as that of snow and ice. Sensing something unusual, Liu took a couple more glances at him. The old man jumped aboard. Bowing, he inquired “What injustice is troubling you sir, why do you look so angry and sad?” So Liu told him everything. The old man said “I will get your wife and merchandise back tonight. However, as soon as they’re back, you must leave immediately. This is dangerous ground, you cannot stay.”

Liu guessed the old man must be a xia with unusual abilities. He bowed down right away: “Sir, if you can right wrongs in this mortal world, why not eliminate the root of evil, why let him live and carryout more lawless acts?” The old man replied: “Lu Yongzhi oppresses the people, and he took away your wife by force. It wouldn’t be hard to kill him, it take but one swipe of the sword. However, his crimes are too great; incurring the great wrath of both gods and men, that would be letting him off easy. As his crimes pile up, so are the karmic retributions. He will not be able to keep his head to his body, dooming not just his own fate but that of his ancestors as well. Right now I will only help you get your wife back; as to his fate, the gods will take care of that, I dare not interfere in that with my hands.”

The old man went to Lu Yongzhi’s house, secreted himself on top of the ceiling arch and shouted “Lu Yongzhi! You betrayed your emperor and your father, acting as a force of demonic evil in this world, raping and pillaging, bullying and oppressing. Your crime stinks to high heavens. The Lord of Underworld has recorded every one of these crimes, the gods have already ordered your punishment. Death is but breaths away, while you still dream of eternal life through alchemy. I’ve been sent to observe you, to report back to the Celestial Emperor. You must answer for every one of your crimes, starting with the latest one: release Lu Sun’s wife and properties right away, if you hesitate out of greed, the executioner’s sword will shall immediately!”

The old man then flew out of the house and disappeared.

Lu Yongzhi, only hearing the voice from midair and not seeing anyone, thought it really was a warning from heaven. Panicking, he lit incense for the altar, praying and koutouing countless times. That night he released Lu Sun’s wife and properties.

Ecstatic, Lu left Yang Zhou before dawn. The curly-bearded old man disappeared as well.

Notes and commentary
* So far I have done a word by word literal translation of these tales. But these three poems are very bad, and as Jin Yong said “very low level, but befitting Liu’s station”. Since this is only for my amusement, I won’t bother translating these.

According to historical records, the real person’s name is Huang Sun, not Liu Sun. And he was engaged to the girl, not yet married. However, she was rescued in a manner similar to one described here, except not by a bearded old man, but by an foreign Buddhist priest.

As for Lu Yongzhi, decapitation was too good for him. When Yang Xingmi (Zhang Xun‘s superior) conquered the city, he executed Lu slowly by cutting him off at the waist. His many innocent victims then ‘chopped up his body until it was reduced to meat sauce’. Lu Yongzhi felt for the trick here because he was just like his boss Gao Pian, extremely superstitious and fearful of death. Both of them in their later years focused their time and energy primary on achieving immortality, their neglect and indifference to the people eventually caused their premature deaths.






Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 10 Jing Shisan Niang

No. 10 Jing Shisan Niang: adores Zhongli, despises Zhuge.

End of Tang Dynasty, Zhejiang Wen Zhou, there was a jinshi named Zhao Zhongli who was righteous, generous, and gregarious. One time when he stayed at the Zhi Shan’s Chan temple, he met a female merchant named Jing Shisan Niang*. She was performing rites for her deceased husband. She felt in love with Zhao, and they simply started living with him as husband and wife.

The two of them traveled to Yang Zhou together. Zhao was very generous toward friends, he spent a considerable amount of Jing Shisan Niang’s treasures. Shisan Niang adored him, and did not mind it at all.

Zhao had a friend named Li Zhenglang in Yang Zhou. Li’s 39th brother met and fell in love with a prostitute. The prostitute’s parents, who loved only money, forced them apart and gave her to Zhuge Duan instead.

At this time Yang Zhou was under the control of general Gao Pian. The general was extremely superstitious, his favorite advisers were alchemist charlatans like Lu Yongzhi and Zhuge Duan. Afraid of bullying from Zhuge Duan, Li’s younger brother could only grieve in private. One time by chance the young man confided in Jing Shisan Niang. She told him: “This is but a trivial matter. No need to worry about it any further, I will take care of everything. Just cross the river, and wait for me by the Beigu mountain in Ren Zhou on June 6th at noon time.”

The young man waited at the foot of the mountain as instructed on that day, and he saw Jing Shisan Niang arriving with a huge sack on her back. Opening the sack, Li’s beloved prostitute jumped out. There were also two heads in the bag, those belonged to her parents.

Afterwards Jing Shisan Niang and Zhao Lizhong went back to Zhejiang together. After that [we] don’t know anymore.

Notes and commentary
* Jing Shisan Niang: Jing: family name. Shisan: thirteen. Niang: woman. So she’s the thirteenth girl in her family.

This tale is from the same book as the previous tale No. 15 Scholar Ding.






Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 15 Scholar Ding

No. 15 Scholar Ding: coming in during a snowy night, let’s have a drink.

Lang Zhou daoist Luo Shaowei for a time stayed at Ziyan Temple on Mao mountain. There was a scholar1 named Ding also staying there. Other than his lack of interest in pursuing government positions, Ding did not really stand out from the ordinary by words or actions. By now Ding had stayed at the temple for several years, the chief priest has always been courteous toward him.

One night in the middle of the winter, several daoist priests and Ding sat around the stove chatting. Everyone agreed, on a cold night such as this, there would be no greater joy if they could be enjoying some lamb2 and wine. Some people were practically salivating. Ding said “That’s not so difficult.” But trapped on top of mountain by snow, where could one find such delicacies? The daoists all thought he was joking. But Ding was already getting up and leaving.

By midnight the scholar returned, covered entirely in snow. But in his hands were a big silver wine jar and one fully cooked lamb. “It’s from a big chef’s kitchen in Zhejiang” he said. Surprised and delighted, the daoists laughed and clapped. Ding took out a long sword, threw it in the air, and leapt away, leaving the silver jar behind on the table. No one had seen him since. The chief priest was afraid of any possible official investigation stemming from this, so he voluntarily reported the incident to the local authorities.

This story appeared in Sun Guangxian’s book “Trivial words of Northern Dreams”. At the end of that entry, he wondered: “in the poem ‘Xia Ke’, the poet monk Guangxiu had the following lines ‘at dusk the wind and rain felt like chime stone [weighing down on the body], bidding me farewell where would [you] be going?’ Perhaps the monk was inspired by a similar incident he heard about in the Jianghuai area?”

1 The original word here is xiu cai 秀才, meaning a scholar who passed the lowest level of national civil service examination.

2 Chinese custom: it is believed that lamb stores a great deal of heat (calories really). So it’s the ideal food for winter.






Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 22 Li Sheng

No. 22 Li Sheng: killing [him] would not be an act of courage, just make him afraid.

Scholar Li Sheng often travelled around the western mountains of Hong Zhou. On one snowy night, he was drinking with scholar Lu Qi and five or six of his friends when one person had a random comment: “with snow coming down like this, one could not go out.” Li Sheng replied “What do you want, I can go.” The person said: “I have some books in Xingzi, can you get them for me?” Li Sheng said “yes” and left. He returned with the books before the party started dispersing. Xingzi is more than 300 Li (1 Li = 0.5 km) away.

A daoist priest at Youwei Temple was often rude to Li Sheng. Li said to himself “I can’t kill him, I will just make him afraid.” One day, the daoist was sleeping behind closed doors. Li Sheng asked a young servant to knock on the daoist door and retrieve Li’s dagger. When the daoist rose [to answer the door], he saw that the dagger was stuck in front of his bed, the handle still vibrating. From then on he changed his attitude and was always courteous to Li.

* The original word here is chǔ Shi 處士, meaning a scholar who is not an official.





Chinese bronze dao handles

I’ve always been fascinated with archaic bronze. Now green with age, I think they are some of the most beautiful man-made objects we have today. The weapons are no exception.

While doing some research on ji (戟 – halberd), I came across this amazing Chinese site on archaic bronze yesterday. Here are some of the stunning images I found there. These are handle portions of dao (single blade sword).


Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 33 Jiao Jin Daoist

No. 33 Jiao Jin* Daoist: a drink would be sufficient, [as I] have no attachments.

Capital city, there was a man named Guo Lun, one time he took his family sightseeing on New Year’s Eve. They came home late. When passing through a run-down, out-of-way street, there ran across ten or so vicious youth. They were carousing loudly, unconcerned with other people’s need for peace and quiet. When they saw how attractive Guo Lun’s wife is, they started harassing her. Guo, knowing he does not have the strength to stop all of them, became anxious and embarrassed.

Right at this moment, a daoist dressed in black cloth and pointy cornered hat suddenly appeared: “this man is trying to escort his family home safely late at night, do not make trouble for them.” The punks shouted back: “We’re having our fun here, mind your own business!” They surrounded the daoist, trying to start something. The women took this opportunity to make their escape, only Guo Lun remained behind.

The daoist, unable to reason with the youths, shouted: “If you really want to engage in such wild indecent behavior, then I will oblige you with a lesson.” Swinging his arms, he started fighting with the youths. It was all very effortless, like a grown man fighting with infants. Very soon, all the youths were either on the ground moaning or fleeing the scene.

The daoist started walking away slowly. Guo Lun ran up to him to thank him “We’ve never met, but thanks to your help, my wife is safe. How can I ever repay you?” The daoist replied “I didn’t set out to do any good deeds. I saw injustice and merely reacted. I want nothing of the world, so I had expect nothing from you. That said, a drink would be sufficient.”

Upon hearing that, Guo Lun happily invited the daoist to his house for a drink. After drinking to his heart’s content, the daoist bid farewell. “Where are you going?” Guo Lun asked. “I am swordsman, not of this conventional world” was the daoist’s only reply. He bowed and left. A few steps out of the door, a sword popped out of the daoist ear; he hopped onto the sword and disappeared in the night sky.

Notes and Commentary:
* Jiao Jin is a type of hat with pointy corners. It was often worn by hermits.

In Chinese literature, Bai Bi 敗筆, literally unsuccessful brush stroke (like a mishit in tennis), means one mistake, especially near the end, that drastically reduced the overall achievement of the flawless performance so far. Here, the part about the daoist flying away on top of his sword is one such example, much like the reincarnation bit in Hong Xian.


京師人郭倫,元夕攜家觀燈。歸差晚,過委巷,值惡少年十輩行歌而前,聯袂喧笑,睢盱窺伺,將遮侮之。倫度力不能胜,窘甚。忽有青衣角巾道人來,責眾曰: “彼家眷夜歸,若輩那得無禮!”眾怒目:“我輩作戲,何預爾狂道事!”哄起攻之,婦女得乘間引去,倫獨留。道從勃然曰:“果欲施狂暴耶?吾今治汝矣!”揮臂縱擊,如搏嬰儿,頃之,皆顛仆哀叫,相率而遁。



Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 26 Pan Yi

No. 26 Pan Yi: self-proclaimed “wild guest”, dependent on Zheng Kuangguo.

According to “Record of Southern Tang”, Pan Yi often traveled in the Jianghuai area, calling himself “Wild Guest”. He thought patronage with Zheng Kuangguo – provincial governor of Hai Zhou. But Zheng didn’t think highly of him, and put him up in a small room next to the stables.

On day, Pan Yi was out hunting with Zheng Kuangguo. Zheng’s wife went to check on the horses, on her way she stopped by Pan Yi’s room. She saw that the room is practically empty save for the simple grass bed and the bamboo trunk next to it. Curious, she opened the trunk. There was nothing inside except two balls made of tin. It was not clear what they were for. So she closed the trunk and left.

When Pan Yi got back, he was shocked and angry “It must’ve been that woman who touched it! Good thing I pulled back the radiant light from the swords, otherwise she’d lose her head.” A bystander reported this outburst to Zheng. Zheng secretly summoned Pan Yi. “Do you know swordsmanship”, he asked. “That’s something I often practice”, replied Pan Yi. “Then can I take a look”, asked Zheng. “Sure”, said Pan Yi, “but I must fast and pray for three days beforehand. And we need to do it at a flat area on the eastern outskirt of the city. Then we can try and see what happens.”

Zheng arrived at the time and placed they agreed to. Pan Yi took out the two tin balls placed them on one upturned palm. Suddenly, two long, narrow steams of air appeared, like rays of light shooting out from tips of his fingers. Like white rainbows, they circled and spiraled around Zheng’s neck, their loud clanging ringed his ears nonstop.

Sitting upright on the horseback, Zheng dare not move, his spirit and courage long gone. Finally, he thanked Pan Yi “Sir, your divine skill, I am now aware of it. Thank you for holding back its full power.” Pan Yi smiled, raising his hand, the two streams of air withdraw back into his palm. Soon, they transformed back into the tin balls.

From that point on Zheng Kuangguo treated him as his most honored guest, even recommending him to the emperor.

Pan Yi was recommended to the emperor by Zheng Kuangguo. Their meeting must have been similarly impressive, as Pan Yi was ordered to move into the royal palace. He died there several years later.




April 2010
« Mar   Feb »

%d bloggers like this: