Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 12 Wang Jinghong’s Servant

No. 12 Wang Jinghong’s Servant: Pipa came wrapped in embroidered pouch, [the pillow thief is) one Tang Penglang .

Tang Dynasty: Emperor Wenzong has a favorite pillow made of white jade. It was a tribute from Yudian (ancient kingdom near western frontier, famous for jade) during Dezong’s time. The carvings are extremely ingenious and intricate, a rare treasure indeed. Normally it’s on the bed within emperor’s sleeping chamber. But one day it just disappeared. The sleeping chamber was of course tightly guarded, no one besides the most favored wives and concubines has access. None of the many other precious objects in the room was missing.

Wenzong found it hard to remain calm. He summoned the most trusted ministers and two first lieutenants of the imperial guard: obviously this is not the work of some outsider, the thief must be very close by. If we don’t capture him, I’m afraid other misfortunes are imminent. The theft of a pillow is nothing. But you are responsible for the security of the palace, you must apprehend the person responsible. Otherwise, if such a person can just walk in and out of my chamber at will, why do I need so many of you guards?!”

With fear and trepidation, the officials begged for forgiveness, as well as more time to apprehend the thief. They offered a huge reward, but could not find any clues. The imperial order was very strict, anyone who is under the slightest suspicions were jailed and questioned. They searched every street and alley with no results. So everyone was in a state of high anxiety.

General Wang Jinghong of Longwu Army (part of Army of North, a branch of imperial army under the command of eunuchs) always had a young servant close by. He’s about 18, 19, handsome and sharp, no matter what he was sent to do, he always get it done just right. One day, Wang was at a banquet for several colleagues, he had with him one of his servants who was a pipa expert. When the guests started getting buzzed, they demanded her performance. But the instrument available on hand were unsuitable, the servant refused to play. It was very late in the night already, the main gate of the garrison was closed already, so they cannot get her favorite pipa. Everyone was very disappointed.

The young servant said “if you want the pipa, I’ll just get it for you.” Wang said “once the closing drum sounds, the gate would be locked, didn’t you see that. So what’s this nonsense?” The young servant did not say anything more, and withdrew. Several rounds of drinks later, he came back with an embroidered pouch. Opening the pouch, it was the pipa the performer demanded. Everyone seated were elated, the other servant played, the sound was clean and beautiful, everyone had a great time.

It’s more than 30 li (15 km) round trip between the Southern Army Garrison and Zuoguang. After dark, the path is blocked. But apparently this was no problem for the young servant. Everyone was already under high alert because of the pillow theft, Wang cannot help but be highly suspicious, afraid the servant was the thief. The morning after the banquet, he asked the servant: “you’ve followed me for more than a year, I had no idea you are so quick and agile. I hear there are xia’s in this world, are you one?”
The young servant: “No, I am not. I merely walk very fast. My parents live in Sichuan. A year ago by chance I came to the capitol, now I want to return to the hometown. General has been so magnanimous to me, I want to do something to express my gratitude. The person who stole the pillow, I already know who that is. I will make him submit to law within three days.”
Wang Jinghong: “This is an extraordinary affair. If the real culprit is not captured, who knows how many innocent people will get unsnarled and killed? Where is this criminal, can’t we report him to the appropriate agency and have them apprehend him?”
Young servant: “The jade pillow was stolen by Wang Penglang. Sometimes he hides himself amongst the streets, sometimes with the military camps. It’s all very random. He is much stronger and braver than average, and runs like the wind. Unless his foot is broken, even an army of thousands cannot prevent his escape. Two days from now, I will wait at Wangxian gate. I will wait in ambush, capture him when the opportunity arises. It should work. The general can come to observe. But you must be discreet, lest he gets wind of this and escapes.”

On that day, because of the drought, the wind blew the dust high. One cannot see but few paces in front of him. Tian Penglang and several youth showed up, arms in arms, they entered the city gate. The young servant had with him a polo mallet. He swung it from just inside the gate, with a loud crack Tian Penglang’s left foot was broken.

Collapsing to the ground, Tian looked up to the young servant and sighed “when I stole the pillow I was concerned about no one but you. Here we are, what else can I say?” When he was brought into the arm camp, he confessed to everything.

Reports were immediately sent to emperor Wenzong, that the pillow was recovered and culprit captured by the imperial guard. The emperor had Tian Penglang brought to him for questioning. Again Tian confessed to everything. Wenzong said “This is the work of a xia, not the average person.” The hundreds of suspects currently jailed were immediately released.

Once Tian Penglang was captured, the young servant immediately bid farewell to General Wang and returned to Sichuan. The government could not find him despite all efforts, so the big reward went to Wang Jinghong instead.








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