Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 13 Kunlun Slave

No. 13 Kunlun Slave: servant to the Cui, the man under the moon.

Wuyizidi: I had two sets of elegant line drawings from a 80’s Chinese martial art magazine illustrating this and No. 7 Old Man of Lanling. Those were my original motivation for translating these stories. I cannot locate them at the moment. Sigh. While I am a huge admirer of Ren Weichang’s work, here it is obvious Ren had never actually met anyone from Kunlun. Here is a more realistic depiction from Ming Dynasty:

Tang Dynasty, during time of Dali (766-779) there was a young man named Cui Sheng. His father was a prominent official, a close acquiescence of Yi Pin. At this time the young man was working as a royal bodyguard1. One time Yi Pin was ill, Sheng’s father sent him to visit.

Sheng was but a youth, but his appearance is such that he looked like he was carved out of white jade, by temperament he is honest, not given to follow crowds, calm and poised, his locution is clear and elegant.

Yi Pin ordered a courtesan to pull up the curtain, and invited Sheng inside his room. Sheng conveyed his father’s sentiments. Yi Pin took an immediate liking to Sheng, and asked him to sit down and chat. Out came three courtesans, each among the most beautiful in the world. They held cherries in golden dishes, and offered to Sheng with sweet nectar poured on top. Yi Pin ordered the girl in Hong Xiao (red silk) to serve Sheng. The youth, unaccustomed with such intimate interaction with great beauties, blushed, and did not eat. Laughing, Yi Pin ordered Hong Xiao to spoon feed Sheng. Running out of options, Sheng finally ate. The girls, hands covering their mouths, laughed and withdrew. Yi Pin said “when you have some free time, you must come visit, don’t be a stranger to this old man”. Yi Pin then ordered Hong Xiao to see Sheng out.

Seeing something in her eyes, Sheng looked back after exiting the gate. Hong Xiao put up three fingers, then turned over the palm three times, finally pointing at a small mirror she wore at her chest, saying only “remember”.

Sheng went back and conveyed Yi Pin’s message to his father, then returned to his study, All day long he was in a trance, saying very little, alternating between dreamy gloominess and sudden bursts of awakened concentration. He spent the whole day without eating, endlessly reciting the poem “by chance went to the peak of Peng Shan (where gods reside), the Yu Nu (servant girl of the God Emperor) with pearl earring turned her starry eyes, red blinds inside the deep palace half obscuring the moon, illuminating the contrast between jade tree(meaning the angel)’s beauty and sadness.” (meaning of the poem: even angels get lonely.) None of his servants knew what he’s thinking.

In this household there’s a slave from Kunlun named Mo Le. He looked at Sheng and said “what it is in your heart that’s causing such endless agony, why not share it with this old slave?” Sheng said “how could someone like you understand, asking what is in my heart?” Mo Le replied “Still, I can help, no matter what it is”. Surprised by his unusually bold utterances, Sheng related everything that happened. Mo Le said “this is such a small matter, why not say so earlier, and tortured yourself like so?” “What about the hidden messages”, asked Sheng. “That’s not so hard to understand”, explained Mo Le “three fingers up – in Number One’s residence, he housed 10 courtyards of singing courtesans. She’s in the third one. Turning the palm over three times means 15th, combined with the mirror, which is round. That means she want you to go meet her on the 15th when the moon would be full.”

Sheng could hardly contain himself “how can you make all of this happen?” Mo Le smiles “The 15th is the day after tomorrow. For now, please prepare two sets of black cloth for you and I. Yi Pin’s has a particularly vicious dog guarding the gate to the housing for singing courtesans. If an average person dares trespass, he would surely be killed. The dog is from Chao Zhou (ancient city state in Shandong) Menghai village. He possesses a god-like omniscience and tiger-like aggression. In this world only I can rid him for you. I shall do that on the night of 15th.” Sheng immediately prepared a splendid meal for Mo Le. At around one o’clock, Mo Le left with a chained mallet. Within the time of a meal he returned “the dog is dead, there should be no further obstacles.”

Mo Le then carried Cui over 10 layers of courtyards. Entering the singing courtesans’ quarters, they stopped by the third door. The door was not shut, the golden lamp emitting a tiny light, the only sound is that of the courtesans sighing, her sitting posture suggests she’s waiting for someone. She looked like she just took of the jewelry, her face still red from washing off the makeup, her expression is that of resentment and sorrow. She’s reciting a poem “Deep inside the cave the nightingale is singing, blaming Ruanlang2, secretly taking off the pearls under the flowers3, in the big empty sky the clouds have broken, completely silent with no sounds, [the angel] can only make the phoenixes sad with her flute playing.”

The guards were all asleep now, the surroundings totally quiet. Sheng slowly raised the curtain to enter. She stared at him for what seemed like a long time, recognizing him, she leapt off the bed, taking his hand into hers: “I knew langjun (respectful term for young man) is bright, and can decipher the silent message, so I used hand gestures only. But by what magic did you get here?” Sheng told her about Mo Le’s plan, and how he carried him here. The courtesan asked “where is Mo Le?” A voice replied “right outside the curtain.” She invited him in, offering him wine served in golden bowl.

She told Sheng about herself “my family was wealthy, living in the North. But the Master being head of occupying army, force me to be his servant. I cannot kill myself, so had no choice but to continue to survive. My face may have the look of splendor, but in my heart there is only gloominess. Although surrounded in luxury: eating with jade chopsticks, lighting the incense in golden vessels, dressing in all manners of finery, sleeping in satin sheets, none of these are what I wanted in my heart, so they are but shackles. Since your servant possess such magic abilities, can you free me from my prison. If that wish were to come truth, even if I die (immediately) I would have no regrets. I rather be your servant, be at your side always. What do you think?”

Sheng had a grave expression on his face, but said nothing (wuyizidi: indecisive, weak, or just inexperienced?). Mo Le said firmly “if that is your genuine wish, this is but a small thing”. The girl was overjoyed.

It took Mo Le three trips to take out the girl’s clothing and other items. Then he warned “it’s close to daybreak”. He carried both Sheng and the courtesan on his back, they flew path ten or so layers of courtyards. None of Yi Ping’s guards were alerted. They took her to his study, which is in its own courtyard, and hid her there.

Only the next morning did Yi Pin found out she’s gone. Seeing the dead guard dog, he said “my walls are high, the doors secure, household tightly guarded, one would have to fly to breach them. And there is no trace of how it happened. It can only be the work of xia shi. Do not spread this news, it can only invite more disaster.”

The courtesan hid in the Cui family for two years. Gradually they let their guards down. One day in the spring, she ventured outside in a small open chariot to see the blooming flowers by river Qu, and was spotted by a member of Yi Pin’s household. It was immediately reported to Yi Pin.

Yi Pin summoned the youngster. Being afraid (wuyizidi: no courage either), he told Yi Pin everything that transpired. How the escape was possible only because of the Kunlun slave (wuyizidi: and no loyalty). Yi Pin said “This is basically the courtesan’s fault. But you have lived together for years now, I will pursue this matter no further (wuyizidi: Guo Ziyi does not come off too well in this tale, but here he is more like the big man we admire). However, I must rid the world of that menace.”

Yi Pin ordered 50 fully armed and armored soldiers to surround the Cui house. Mo Le, holding dagger in each hand, sailed past the high walls, speedy like a falcon, majestic as an eagle. The soldiers launched a rain of arrows, none of them can hit him. Within moments he was gone.

Everyone in the Cui family were shocked. Yi Pin became afraid. For more than a year afterward, every night servants armed with swords and halberds patrolled the household.

More than 10 years later, a member of Cui household spotted Mo Le selling herbs at Luoyang market. He looked exactly the same.

1. The original term here is Qian Nu – 1,000 ox. In Zhuanzi famous essay about the butcher, the expert with intimate knowledge of anatomy could butcher a thousand ox without dulling his blade. During Han Dynasty, a young emperor asked his mother, “by whose principle do we rule our subjects with?” The mother’s famous reply “on the outside we use Kongzi, but inside we use Daoist.” Kongzi’s system imposed rigid social hierarchy and justification for imperial rule, while daoist approach of following the reality of human nature rather than ruler’s own over-idealistic, rigid, arbitrary ideas provided a more practical model of governance. Since then, many emperors called the dao they wear for personal protection Thousand Ox Dao. By extension, the royal bodyguards are called Thousand Ox Guard.

2. Ruanlang refers to Ruan Zhao 阮肇 of Eastern Han Dynasty. According to legend, he went to Tiantai Mountain to pick herbs, met an angel, and lived with her for half a year. When he went down the mountain, he discovered ten generations have passed in the mortal realm.

3. From classical poetry: Zheng Jiaofu 郑交甫 was in kingdom of Chu one day, under the high observation deck near Han River, he saw two beautiful women. He tried to seduce them with just his eyes, they in return took off their pearls and gave them to him. Here Jaiofu is referring to the youngster.





生歸達一品意。返學院,神迷意奪,語減容沮,恍然凝思,日不暇食,但吟詩曰:“誤到蓬山頂上游,明珰玉女動星眸。朱扉半掩深宮月,應照瓊芝雪艷愁。” 左右莫能究其意。

時家中有昆侖奴磨勒,顧瞻郎君曰:“心中有何事,如此抱恨不已?何不報老奴。”生曰:“汝輩何知,而問我襟怀間事。”磨勒曰:“但言,當為郎君解,遠近必能成之。”生駭其言异,遂具告知。磨勒曰:“此小事耳,何不早言之,而自苦耶?”生又白其隱語,勒曰:“有何難會,立三指者,一品宅中有十院歌姬,此乃第三院耳;返掌三者,數十五指,以應十五日之數;胸前小鏡子,十五夜月圓如鏡,令郎來耶。”生大喜不自胜,謂磨勒曰:“何計而能達我郁結?”磨勒笑曰: “后夜乃十五夜,請深青絹兩匹,為郎君制束身之衣。一品宅有猛犬,守歌姬院門,非常人不得輒入,入必噬殺之。其警如神,其猛如虎,即曹州孟海之犬也。世間非老奴不能斃此犬耳。今夕當為郎君撾殺之。”遂宴犒以酒肉。至三更,攜煉椎而往。食頃而回,曰:“犬已斃訖,固無障塞耳。”

是夜三更,与生衣青衣,遂負而逾十重垣,乃入歌妓院內,止第三門。繡戶不扃,金缸微明,惟聞妓長嘆而坐,若有所俟。翠環初墜,紅臉才舒,玉恨無妍,珠愁轉瑩。但吟詩曰:“深洞鶯啼恨阮郎,偷來花下解珠珰。碧云飄斷音書絕,空倚玉簫愁鳳凰。”侍衛皆寢,鄰近闃然。生遂緩搴帘而入。良久,驗是生。姬躍下榻,執生手曰:“知郎君穎悟,必能默識,所以手語耳。又不知郎君有何神術,而能至此?”生具告磨勒之謀,負荷而至。姬曰:“磨勒何在?”曰:“帘外耳。” 遂召入,以金甌酌酒而飲之。







Wuyizidi: the author of this tale is Pei Xing 裴铏. He pioneered this art form – short story of legendary exploits of people with extraordinary abilities, often intertwined with real history figures. He’s also the author of No. 9 – Nie Yinniang. They were originally collected in his book Chuanqi 传奇 (tales of extraordinary happenings), from which this whole art form got its name. That book unfortunately has been lost to history.

The young man did not come off too well in this tale. He is what we kindly refer to as “embroidered pillowcase” – he is good looking, but that’s about it. Inside there’s not much hard substance. And as for the girl, for someone dying to leave life of bondage immediately, why delay the flight by making Mo Le take 3 long, risky trips to bring out her belongings? What could be in those bags that were more important than her? Yes, I know, this kind of dumb questions only a guy could ask.


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