Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 21 Untonsured Monk at the Temple

No. 21 Untonsured Monk at the Temple: stop ringing the bell, it’s all in the bag.

Wei Xunmei passed the final exam of the National Service Test during the Kaiping years of Liang Dynasty emperor Taizu. He received the assignment for a staff position at Yedou. He reported to the post, bringing his beloved concubine Cui Sue with him.

Unfortunately for Wei, Prince of Ye Luo Chaowei heard about Cui Sue’s beauty. He sent over 200 pi (800 yard) of silk, livestock, and other food items, the message being give up Cui Sue. Born in a good family in Daliang (capitol of Wei Dynasty), Sue was known her sense of humor.

Wei had no choice but to dress up Sue and hand her over to Luo Chaowei. Of course he was no longer in mood to fulfill his duties at Yedou. He resigned the post and left that evening.

Staying over at a Buddhist temple, he couldn’t sleep. Frustrated and depressed, at one point he actually said it out loud “In the big world, is there no one who could give me justice?!” Right then, someone pushed open door of his room. It was an untonsured monk who does miscellaneous low level tasks at the temple. His clothing was very ragged. He asked Wei, “so what is the injustice that’s been bothering you?” Wei told him everything in detail. The monk said nothing wen Wei finished, he just left.

Around midnight, Wei suddenly heard a loud noise. Someone just threw a huge leather pouch into his room. When he untied it, he found Cui Sue inside.

When the day broke Wei went to look for the monk, but he had gone without a trace. Not even the abbot knew. All that everyone knew was that he had been ringing the bells and silently meditating on his own at the temple for the 30 years.

Wei Xunmei quickly made his escape with Cui Sue.


Wei Xunmei was a minor poet of his time. He left behind at least one famous verse that’s sung as part of the opera classic “The Peony Pavilion”. Astonishingly, we still have the farewell poem Cui Sue wrote on the day she was handed over to Luo Chaowei. It was collected in the 900 volume “Complete Tang Poetry” commissioned by Qing emperor Kangxi in 1703. In the brief author’s biography accompanying the poem, we have a description that was a virtue match to the account outlined here, with one small but significant exception:

Rather than 行者 – Untonsured or itinerant monk, here it is 行者 – fellow traveler (行者 – “the one who walks”, 同 – together). And there’s no mention about the work this person did at the temple. However, since the footnote is a perfect subset except for that one word, it might just be a transcription error.

Luo Chaowei died when he was only 33. It was from his writings that we got the expression “casting a big mistake”. It was in reference to something he did at work prior to this incident. Like Guo Ziyi, powerful men, or perhaps men of that time in general, had a certain sense of entitlement and blindness to suffering when it came to women.






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