06
Apr
10

Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 16 The Young Seamstress

No. 16 The Young Seamstress: going after the pearls is easy, possessing the oranges is odd.

Tang Dynasty, a heroic figure name general Pan lived at Guangde neighborhood of the capitol. His exact name has been long forgotten, we only know his nickname was “Pan the muddled one”. He was from Hubei, near Xianyang, Hanko area. He used to be in business, transporting the goods himself on ships. On time, while docked at the side of river, a monk came by begging for food. Pan treated him courteously, inviting him to stay on the ship for several days, donating a lot of money. As the monk was departing, he said “judging by your aura, you are not like an average merchant. Your wife and daughter too, judging by their looks they will enjoy great fortunate in their lives.” The monk took out a strand of pearls, “here, take good care of this. If you do, not only will you make more money, but you will become a government official as well.”

Pan stayed in business for several years, which were hugely profitable for him. Then he went into government, eventually becoming the general of the Left Wing of Imperial Garrison. He built an nice house in the capitol. Deeply believing all this wealth and status were brought by the pearls, he treasured it: storing it inside an embroidered satin bag within a jade box. Enshrined at the alter, he would salute it on his knees the first of every month.

One day when he opened it, he found it gone. But the silk pouch and jade box has not been moved, and nothing else was missing. Shocked and frightened, he thought this was an omen signaling the imminent downfall. A meticulous investigation was conducted, but there were no clues. Pan’s household manager has a close acquittance name Wang Chao who is a city government clerk. Wang is nearly 80 years old and a native of the city. When the household manager confided the matter to him, he said “that is rather odd. This is not the work of an average thief. I’ll try to find it for you, but I cannot guarantee anything.”

One day, passing through North Street of Shengyie neighborhood, Wang Chao saw an young girl 17, 18 years of age. It was right after a spring shower, the girl wore her hair in three buns, her clothing was ragged, and had on wooden sandals. She was playing football with a group of young soldiers by the road under the ash trees. The soldiers would kick the ball to her, and she would kick it back, each time the ball soared toward the heavens, tens of feet in the air. Her kicks were marvelous, truly a rare sight. On the sides crowds gathered, the cheers often thunderous.

Wang Chao was astonished. Judging from her kicks and the power generated, she must be in possession of great gongfu. So he quietly observed from the sidelines. After a while, the players and the crowds dispersed. The girl walked away alone. Wang Chao followed her discreetly. She lived on a very short block near the north gate of Shengyie neighborhood. After making some inquiries, he found out she lived with her mother, and made a living as a seamstress.

Over time Wang found an excuse to get acquainted with the girl. Upon hearing her mother’s family name is also Wang, he started calling her ‘niece’, so she addressed him as ‘uncle’. The girl’s family is very poor. They slept together in one bed. Sometimes they would not have enough money to buy rice, so a whole day would go by without anyone boiling the rice. Wang helped them out often.

But from time to time, the girl would surprise Wang by offering him rare fruits from far away places, such as Suzhou’s Dongting orange, which were imported at great expense for the emperor. Other than the prime minister and other favored ministers, in the capitol city few outside the royal family had access to it. But the girl made it sound like it was not a big deal, that someone from the forbidden city brought it out. She’s a stubborn one, so there’s no use in arguing. Even though he felt suspicious, Wang revealed nothing.

A year would pass by like this. One day, bringing over food and wine, Wang Chao casually asked the girl “uncle has something close to my heart I want to discuss with you, is that okay?” The girl replied “I’m deeply appreciate everything you have done for us, I often regret that I cannot repay you. Anything I can do, even it meant going through fire and water, I would not refuse.” Wang Chao was direct “General Pan lose a set of pearls. Do you know anything about that?” The girl just smiled “why would I know anything about that?”

Seeing an opening, Wang said “if niece can find it somehow, there would be a great reward.” The girl replied “uncle cannot tell this to anyone else. I made a bet with some friends that I could take it. I didn’t really want it. I was going to return it eventually. It’s just with work and everything, I’ve been too busy. Wait for me at the Ci En Temple tomorrow morning. I knew someone placed the pearl there.”

Wang Chao arrived as planned. Soon the girl arrived. The temple was open already, but the pagoda was still locked. The girl instructed “Just wait here and watch the pagoda”. Going straight up, she flew up the pagoda like a bird, getting higher and higher. She ducked inside, and soon she was standing at the top next to the Dharma wheel, holding a strand of pearls in her hand. She waved, then leap to the ground. Handing over the jewels, she smiled “[I’ll have to] trouble uncle to return it. As for rewards and such, please don’t mention it.”

Wang Chao returned the pearls to General Pan, and told him everything that happened. General Pan was ecstatic. He prepared gold, jade, and many other lavish gifts, asking Wang Chao to give them to the young girl. But the next day when Wang Chao got to the girl’s house, mother and daughter were long gone.

When Feng Jian was a Level Five officer, he often heard the capitol was full of xia. When he became mayor of the capitol, he asked his subordinates about them. That’s when Wang Chao related the story to him. Wang’s account matched with what General Pan had told others.

Notes:
Ci En temple is a famous temple in Changan. It was commissioned by emperor Gaozhong when he was still the royal prince to commemorate his mother, hence the name Temple of Merciful Benevolence. Incidentally, this is where Xuan Zhuang (the monk of Journey to the West) became chief abbot when he returned from his arduous journey. Inside the temple there is a pagoda towering over 300 feet with seven levels.

潘將軍

京國豪士潘將軍住光德坊(忘其名,眾為潘鶻肆也),本家襄漢間。常乘舟射利,因泊江堧。有僧乞食,留止累日,盡心檀施。僧歸去,謂潘曰:“觀爾形質器度,与眾賈不同。至于妻孥,皆享厚福。”因以玉念珠一串留贈之,寶之不但通財,他后亦有官祿。既而遷貿數年,遂鏹均陶鄭。

其后職居左廣,列第于京師。常寶念珠,貯之以繡囊玉合。置道場內。每月朔則出而拜之。一旦開合啟囊,已亡珠矣。然而緘封若舊,他物亦無所失。于是奪魄喪精,以為其家將破之兆。

有主藏者,常識京兆府停解所由王超,年且八十,因密話其事。超曰:“异哉,此非攘竊之盜也。某試為尋之,未知果得否。”超他日曾過胜業坊北街。時春雨初霽,有三鬟女子,可年十七八。衣裝襤褸,穿木屐,于道側槐樹下。值軍中少年蹴踘,接而送之,直高數丈。于是觀者漸眾。超獨异焉。而止于胜業坊北門短曲,有母同居,蓋以紉針為業。超時因以他事熟之,遂為舅甥。居室甚貧,与母同臥土榻,煙爨不動者,往往經于累日。或設肴羞,時有水陸珍异。吳中初進洞庭橘,恩賜宰臣外,京輦未有此物。密以一枚贈超云:“有人于內中將出。”而稟性剛決,超意甚疑之。如此往來周歲矣。

一旦攜食与之從容,徐謂曰:“舅有深誠,欲告外甥,未知何如?”因曰:“每感重恩,恨無所答。若力可施,必能赴湯蹈火。”超曰:“潘軍失卻玉念珠,不知知否?”微笑曰:“從何知之?”超揣其意不甚藏密,又曰:“外甥忽見尋覓,厚備繒彩酬贈。”女子曰:“勿言于人,某偶与朋儕為戲,終卻送還,因循未暇。舅來日詰旦,于慈恩寺塔院相候,某知有人寄珠在此。”超如期而往,頃刻至矣。時寺門始開,塔戶猶鎖。謂超曰:“少頃仰觀塔上,當有所見。”語訖而走,疾若飛鳥。忽于相輪上舉手示超,歘然攜珠而下曰:“便可將還,勿以財帛為意。”超送詣潘,具述其旨。因以金玉繒帛,密為之贈。

明日訪之,已空室矣。馮緘給事嘗聞京師多任俠之徒,及為,密詢左右。引超具述其語。將軍所說与超符同。

Commentary:
Through these stories we can see the definition of xia changed over time. Frankly, for many in this collection, the character merely possess extraordinary skills, but did not channel them toward any unselfish cause. They maybe brave and tough, but they are not heroic. Here we have a young girl who possess the skills that would allow her to take anything from anyone, yet she was content to make an honest, often impoverished living. We are finally getting closer to the meanings of xia as we know them today.

Tang dynasty was a period of great cultural export for China. Even today we can see the influence of Tang in traditional culture of other nations. For example, sumo is the Japanese pronunciation for Xian Pu – the name used for wrestling during Tang and Song Dynasties. Here, we can see the popular footwear of the time remain unchanged today in the form of Japanese geta.

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