Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 17 Doorman of Xuanci Temple

No. 17 Doorman of Xuanci Temple: no need for [further] lashings, the slap was just right.

We do not have the name of the doorman of Xuanci Temple, but judging by his actions, he is a righteous xia.

Tang Dynasty, second year of Ganfu. Wei Zhaofan passed the final level of National Service Exam. He was a very close blood relative of then minister of finance Yang Jian. According to the custom of the time, the banquet celebrating the passing of final exam was an extremely important one: it must be as big as possible, as it has huge repercussions to the government career one will immediately embarked upon. To add to the lavishness of the event, Wei borrowed many tents, flatware, etc from the ministry of finance. Afraid even that is not enough, Yang Jian had him men bring over even more supplies. When the party commenced in March by the River Qu, it was on a scale rarely seen at the time. Other successful candidates were also having their big parties at the same time, so other than the many guests, there were many onlookers around marveling at the spectacle.

Just when Wei’s party was getting into its full swing, suddenly a youth on donkey arrived, he was very arrogant, acting if there are no one around. He would ride up right to the edge of tables, and look down upon the guests. Appalled, the guests had no idea who this rude stranger is. Then the stranger raised his whip and struck the wine server, laughing and spewing profanities at everyone. Everyone at the party were high intellectuals, faced with such uncouth behavior, they were all temporary at lost as to how to respond.

While they sat in awkward silence, one of the onlookers jumped out from the crowd. He gave the punk such a heavy slap across the face that the punk fell off the donkey. Punching and kicking the rude stranger, he seized the whip, and rained down over 100 lashes. The crowds started to cheer, people threw gravel and tiles at the stranger. It looked like he would meet a quick end.

Right at this moment, the giant doors of Ziyun Tower opened, several men dressed in purple (color of royalty at that time) rushed out, shouting “don’t hit, don’t hit!” And a high-ranking eunuch with many follows came forward on horseback to rescue the rude stranger.

The young vigilante, wielding the whip, struck each of the rescuer in turn. The strikes were so powerful, everyone who got struck went down immediately. The high-ranking eunuch go hit too, he did not fall but couldn’t take it, he immediately turned to flee. His followers ran behind him back into Ziyun tower. They locked the door and none dared to venture out.

The crowds cheered loudly. But not knowing what the connection is between the rude stranger and the eunuchs – who were at the height of their powers at the time, people knew if they keep beating him there would be major trouble, so they let him go.

They asked the vigilante: who are you, who do you know from the party, why are you so willing to help? The young man said “I am but a doorman of Xuanci Temple. I don’t know anyone here. I saw his unjustifiable actions and could help but to respond. Everyone praised him showed him with money and gifts, telling him “that eunuch would surely seek revenge later, better run far away now.”

However, later on, many guests at the party, when working past the Xuanci temple, would see the doorman still working there. And he seemed to recognize them, always saluting them respectfully. Inexplicably, no one ever went after this young man.

Note: Essay taken from Wang Baoding (870—940)’s Tang Dynasty Collected Essays 王定保《唐摭言》. These essays focused on notable literary figures of the time, as well as the subject of imperial examination.






Commentary: Liang Yusheng, one of the three great modern Wuxia novelists (the others being Jin Yong and Gu Long), was famous for saying “[if I have to choose just one, I] rather have xia and not wu”. This is the classical Chinese attitude toward the subject: although martial prowess would boost one’s courage and give one the weapon to fight injustice, the essence of being a wu xia is xia, as in xia yi (strong sense of righteousness and courage to act), not wu (martial skill). Without this moral purpose, wu is empty.

This I think is one of the biggest differences in attitude between people studying martial art in China and outside. Here often people want to study martial art because they want to be strong, invincible even. In China, children want to study martial art because they want to be heroes. Boys want to grow up to be Yuefei, Wu Song, not Mike Tyson (though he is a great fighter). There the skill is but one part of the overall package: ultimately we want to use that skill in pursuit a greater cause larger than ourselves, a cause meaningful to an entire people, a state, perhaps all mankind.

Being a hero then is not about have a series of conquest over people who are (even if only slightly) weaker than you, but fighting against a much stronger power on behalf of the innocent and weak, with great risk to your own safely. The definition of xia evolved throughout the ages, but the final, most lasting one, is that of unselfish hero who is fighting unselfishly for others against the overall inhumane, unjust system, which for the most part is what the feudal society is. That was a system designed to help the rich and powerful maintain the status quo. As we can see from stories so far, government officials, even a great hero like Guo Ziyi, feared and wanted to get rid of xia, for xia challenged the top-down model of society prior to modern democracy. As Thomas Jefferson said “in such a society, you are either the hammer or the anvil.” Xia were the hammer, and the rich and powerful did not enjoy being on the receiving end of power.


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