Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 3 Rope Trick

No. 3 Rope Trick: with this type of rope skill, [there’d be] no need for a debt platform*.

Tang Dynasty during the time of Kaiyuan, it was a prosperous and peaceful time. Emperor Minghuang often celebrated the new year by setting up a five-day feast for the subjects. This year it’s happening again. Zhejiang Jiaxing’s county governor and chief prison warden were competing to see who can come up with a more spectacular show. Both sides were very serious about it. The chief warden ordered his men from various prisons to search for the best talent. The men discussed this amongst themselves: “if we lost to the governor, the chief would be very upset. But if we can come up with some performances, we would surely be rewarded.” So everyone began their searches in earnest, trying to come up with something special.

When asked, one prisoner smiled and said “I have a trick, unfortunately being inside the jail, I cannot really demonstrate it”. The guard, surprised, asked “what is your skill? The prisoner: “it’s a rope trick.”

When this was reported to the warden, he asked “what is this man in for?” The guard replied “he owe taxes and couldn’t pay it. Other than that, nothing.” The warden went to interrogate the prisoner himself: “Rope tricks, that’s very common. What’s the big deal?” The prisoner replied “The type of rope trick people use were ones where both ends were tied up, then walking back and forth on it, etc. I use a rope that is only the thickness of a finger. It’s not tied to anything. I throw it into the air, then there’d be all kinds of soaring, throwing, turning over back and forth, etc, nothing is impossible.”

Surprised and delighted, the next day the chief warden ordered the prisoner be brought to the show. After everyone else are done, he was ordered to provide the big finish. The man brought out a big bundle of ropes, and set it on the ground. He threw one end toward the sky, where it stayed ramrod straight. At first it was 20, 30 feet into the air, then 40, 50 feet. The rope extended straight into air, as if there was someone pulling from above. Everyone in the crowd was just amazed.

Higher and higher it went, eventually reaching more than 200 feet, the other end disappearing into the crowd. Suddenly the man jumped onto the rope, and started climbing. Higher and higher he went. Suddenly, the rope started swinging, the man, flying sideways like a giant bird, disappeared – he escaped right in front of everyone’s eyes.

Notes and commentary:
*This is a reference to story of Zhou Dynasty emperor Nan Wang (?—256BC). The emperor incurred a large debt for his military adventurers. He is probably the first ruler in human history to finance wars using national bonds. However, he was unable to pay the bonds off. So he hid out from his creditors on a high platform inside the palace. Hence, whenever someone spends way beyond his means, we say he’s “erecting a high platform of debt”. Here the analogy is used to praise the rope skill. If one possess this type of skill, one could just fly away, there’d be no need for a platform.

According to author Jin Yong, this type of tricks were still in existence in India during the colonial occupation period. The British authorities dangled heavy rewards for people to come forward and demonstrate it, but there were no takers. When asked, Jin Yong’s Indian friend Sam Sekon confirmed that this type of trick do still exist in India, that it is an extremely dangerous trick, for it is actual a form of mass hypnosis. If anyone in the crowd has stronger power of the mind, the magician could be in mortal danger.

Until very recently in the history of human civilization, the vast majority of people where ruled by few despots. There must have been many people who wished they had this skill. It’s almost tax time here in the U.S. With two wars and economic recession pushing the “debt platform” to unimaginable heights, and fringe groups talking of leaving the country either on a personal basis or at state level, this tale is still amazingly relevant.



獄中,有一囚笑謂所由曰:“某有拙技,限在拘系,不得略呈其事。”吏惊曰:“汝何所能?”囚曰:“吾解繩技。”吏曰:“必然,否當為爾言之。”乃具以囚所能白于監主。主召問罪輕重,吏云:“此囚人所累逋緡未納,余無別事。”官曰:“繩技人常也,又問足异乎?”囚曰:“某所為者,与人稍殊。”官又問曰: “如何?”囚曰:“眾人繩技各系兩頭,然后于其上行立周旋,某只須一條繩粗細如指,五十尺,不用系著,拋向空中,騰跳翻覆,則無所不允”官人惊悅,且令收錄。



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