Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 8 Lu Sheng

No. 8 Lu Sheng: when the master refused, coerce with dagger.

Tang Dynasty during the time of Yuanhe, there was a man from Jianhuai region named Tang, highly educated and enthusiast of Daoist practices, he loved to visit the famous mountains. People called him Tang shanren1. He claims he knew ‘tin reduction’ – turning tin into silver. Many people were envious of this ability, and wanted to learn from him.

One time when Tang shanren was out on his travels, he stayed at a hotel in Chuzhou, where he ran into a scholar named Lu. They had a very agreeable conversation. Lu also talked about alchemy. He said his mother’s name is Tang, so he started addressing Tang shanren as uncle. Tang shanren has to be on his way to Nan Yue Mountain, so he invited Lu along. Lu said he was on his way to visit a relative in Yangmu anyway, so he could accompany the uncle for part of the trip.

On the road, they missed a hotel on the way, and had to stay over at a Buddhist temple. There were much laughter and conversation deep into the night. Lu said “I heard uncle knows the ‘tin reduction’ method, can you tell me about the key points of that process?” Tang shanren laughed “I spent decades searching and learning, finally getting the secret, how can pass it onto you so casually?” But Lu kept begging. Tang shanren tried to delay it “if you really want to learn it, I have no real objections. But we need to pick an auspicious day, and perform the discipleship ceremony at Nan Yue Mountain, then I can teach you.”

The expression on Lu’s face suddenly changed, his voice became harsh “Uncle, it must be tonight. Don’t bother waiting for some leisurely moment.” Now Tang shanren became angry too “You call me uncle, but we are in fact totally unrelated. We are but strangers who met on the road. I respect you because you’re a scholar. What is with the shameless tactic?”

Lu rolled up his sleeves, and stared angrily at Tang shanren for a long while, then said “Who do you think I am? I’m a ruthless assassin. If you don’t tell me the secret tonight, then this temple is where you’re going to die.” Taking out a black leather pouch, he opened it and drew out a shiny, sharp dagger the shape of a new moon. With his left hand Lu picked up an cloth iron from the fire, and with his right hand he proceeded to cut off thin strips of it as easily as he were shaving wood.

Fearing for his life, Tang shanren told Lu everything.

Afterwards, Lu laughed: “Uncle actually only knows 50, 60 percent of the secret. Just then I almost killed you by mistake. In reality my teacher is an immortal. He ordered me and nine other disciples to travel the world, to carefully observe and kill anyone who is casually revealing the secrets of “yellow and white skills”2. I’ve been privy to the secrets of immortals for a long time now.” He bowed toward Tang several times, and suddenly disappeared.

From that point on, whenever Tang shanren meet a fellow practitioner, he would mention this story to warn them.

1. Shanren: literally mountain person, means hermit, or fortune-teller.

2. “Yellow and white skill” (Huang Bai Shu) refers to alchemy for making gold and silver out of other lesser metals of similar colors.

As Jin Yong astutely observed, if you ask people what their top three wishes are, the first would be immortality, the next most likely inexhaustible wealth. No wonder then in daoism, China’s one indigenous religion, two of its main focuses of the practices were Dan Shu and Huang Bai Shu. In this tale it’s obvious that Lu was not the student of immortal he said he was, just someone who was unscrupulous in pursuit of fulfilling the second highest wish a lot people have. It is also possible that Tang shanren himself made up this story, or used this story as an excuse to not teach the “skill” he purportedly had.






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