The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 1-5

Chapter 1 Crooked bunch went on a rampage courting disaster, discussing early morning moon during high wind.

Northern wind as sharp as a blade, ice and frost covered the earth.

Along a Jiangnan [area south of the River, i.e. Yangtze] coastal road, a company of Qing troops with sabers and spears in their hands was escorting seven prisoner carriages, braving the wind and the cold as they travelled northward. The first three carriages in the front separately held three men, all dressed as scholars. One was an old man with white hair, the other two were middle-aged men. The four carriages on the rear held women, the very last prisoner carriage held a young woman, holding a baby girl in her bosom. The baby was crying incessantly. Her mother comforted her with tender voice, but the baby kept crying loudly. A Qing soldier by the prisoner carriage got angry, he lifted his leg and kicked the carriage. “Keep crying, keep crying,” he shouted, “Laozi[1] will kick you dead!” The baby was scared, she cried even louder.

There was a big house several dozen zhang [unit of length, approximately 10 ft or 3 m], away from the road; under the eaves of the house stood a middle-aged scholar and a boy about eleven or twelve. Seeing this situation, he could not help heaving a deep sigh, his eyes also turned red as he said, “Have mercy, have mercy!”

“Die die [pronounced ‘dee-eh’ – Dad],” the boy asked, “What crime have they committed?”

“What crime have they committed?” the scholar echoed, “Yesterday and this morning they already arrested more than thirty people, all are our Zhejiang’s famous intellectuals, each and every one is innocent and is only guilty by association.” When he said the four words ‘innocent, guilty by association’ [wu gu zhu lian], he lowered his voice considerably, afraid that the officers and men escorting the prisoner carriages would hear it.

The boy said, “That little baby girl is still sucking the breast, could it be that she also committed the same crime? Really does not make any sense.”

The scholar said, “You understand that the officers and men do not make any sense, you are a really good child. Ay, others are the sacrifical knife and altar, we are the fish and the meat; others are the [tree-legged] cauldron, we are the elk!”

“Die,” he boy said, “Just a few days ago you taught me that the phrase ‘others are the sacrifical knife and altar, we are the fish and the meat’ carries the meaning that other people behead, cut and massacre us. Others are the cutting cleaver, the hot iron plate, and we are the fish, the meat. These few words ‘Others are the cauldron, we are the elk’, is the meaning also more or less the same?”

“Exactly!” the scholar replied. Seeing the officers and men, along with the prisoner carriages have already far away, he pulled the boy’s hand and said, “It’s too windy outside, let us go back into the house.” Right away father and son entered the study room.

The scholar picked up a writing brush and dipped it into the ink, and then he wrote a character ‘deer’ on a piece of paper. He said, “This beast, the deer, although they are huge, their temper is extremely gentle, they only eat grass and leaves, they never harm other animals. When the fierce animals want to harm them, eat them, they can only run. If they cannot run, then they will be eaten by others.”

And then he wrote two more characters ‘zhu lu’ [pursue the deer, fig. to vie for supremacy], and said, “For this reason the ancients often used the deer as a metaphor of the world. Common people on the earth are all docile, good and honest; their allotted share in life is only to be bullied and slaughtered by others. The ‘History of Han Dynasty’ says, ‘Qin lost its deer, people all over the world chase after it.’ What it means is that the Qin Dynasty lost the world, the heroes rose together, everybody fought over, finally Han Gaozu[2] defeated Chu Bawang [overlord/hegemon Chu], and thus he obtained this big and fat deer.”

The boy nodded and said, “I understand. There is a novel talking about ‘hunting deer in the central plain’, the idea is that everybody struggle to become the Emperor.”

The scholar was delighted; he nodded repeatedly. He drew a picture of a cauldron on the paper and said, “When people of old cooked their food, they did not use pot on the stove, but used this kind of three-legged cauldron, with firewood underneath it. When they caught a deer, they cooked it in the cauldron and ate it. Emperors and high-ranking officials were very cruel, if they did not like someone, they would say that man committed a crime and boiled him alive in the cauldron. There is a written account in the ‘Record of the Grand Historian’ about Lin Xiangru saying to the King of Qin, ‘Chen [I, your servant; a minister referring to himself when talking to a ruler] is aware that I have offended the Great King and deserve to be punished by death, Chen asks for a cauldron.’ In other words, ‘I deserve to die, just burn me to death in a cauldron!’”

The boy said, “The novel often says about ‘to inquire of the cauldron’. This phrase seems to have more or less the same meaning as ‘hunting deer in the central plain’.”

“That’s right,” the scholar said, “King of Xia Yu collected metal from the nine divisions [of China during the earliest dynasties] and cast nine large cauldrons. At that time, the so-called ‘metal’ was actually copper. Each cauldron was cast with the names of the nine divisions and a map of the mountains and rivers. When later generations became the ruler of the world, they retained the nine cauldrons. ‘Mr. Zuo’s Annals’ noted: ‘Viscount of Chu inspected his troops at the Zhou border. The present King sent the king’s grandson Man to console Viscount Chu. Viscount Chu inquired the size and weight of the cauldron.’ Only the ruler of the world can keep the nine cauldrons. The King of Chu was merely a feudal prince from the State of Chu, he inquired about the size and weight of the cauldron, it means he harbored intention to rebel, thinking of taking the King of Zhou’s position for himself.”

The boy said, “So ‘inquiring of the cauldron’ and ‘pursuing the deer’ means someone wanted to be the emperor. ‘Not knowing to whom the deer falls’ means not knowing who might become the emperor.”

“Exactly,” the scholar said, “Later on, ‘inquiring of the cauldron’ and ‘pursuing the deer’, four characters [wen ding, zhu lu] can also be used elsewhere, but the original idea was pointing especially to one who wanted to be the emperor.” Speaking to this point, he sighed and said, “We, as common people, are always at the death’s door. ‘Not knowing to whom the deer falls’ simply say that nobody knows who would kill the deer, but this deer is bound to die.”

Finished speaking, he walked over to the window and looked out. He saw the sky was overcast, apparently it was going to snow. He sighed and said, “Why is Laotianye [God/Heaven] so heartless? Several hundred innocent people walk on this ice and frost covered earth, when the snow falls, it will add to their torment.”

Suddenly he saw on the southern end of the main road two men wearing conical bamboo hat, walking side by side to this direction. When they were near, he could recognize their faces. The scholar was delighted; he said, “Your Huang Bobo [father’s elder brother] and Gu Bobo are here!” Quickly he went outside to meet them; he called out, “Lizhou Xiong [brother, generic term], Tinglin Xiong, which good wind has blown the two of you to honor me with your presence?”

The man on the right was short and stout, his chin was covered in black beard; his surnamed was Huang, given name Zongxi, alias[3] Lizhou [lit. pear island], a native of Yuyao [county level city in Ningbo], Zhejiang. The one on the left was slim and tall, his face dark, surnamed Gu, given name Yanwu, alias Tinglin [lit. pavilion forest], a native of Kunshan [county level city, Suzhou], Jiangsu. Huang and Gu[4], two people were great scholars of the present age. After the Ming [dynasty] perished, their hearts were broken over the changes to their country, they went to live in seclusion and quit their official posts; this day they ‘join sleeves’ to uphold virtue.

Gu Yanwu walked several steps closer before saying, “Wancun [lit. evening village] Xiong, there is an urgent business we need to discuss with you.”

The scholar was surnamed Lu, given name Liuliang, his alias was Wancun; in all his life he resided in Chongde County of Hangzhou Prefecture, Zhejiang. He was also a very famous hermit in the late Ming, early Qing dynasties. He noticed Huang and Gu, two men’s grim countenance; he also knew that Gu Yanwu was always very adaptable and was always calm in facing anything; therefore, when he said it was urgent, naturally it was indeed not a small matter. Cupping his fist, he said, “Gentlemen, please come in and drink three cups first to dissolve the cold air.”

Immediately he took the two men inside and ordered the boy, “Baozhong, tell your Niang [mother], Huang Bobo, Gu Bobo are here; cut two dishes of lamb in paste first to down the wine.”

Shortly afterwards, the boy, Lu Baozhong and his brother Yizhong came out with three sets of cups and chopsticks and arranged them on the study room’s table. An old servant came out with the food and drink. Lu Liuliang waited until the three people withdrew before he closed the study room’s door and said, “Huang Xiong, Gu Xiong, please drink three cups first!”

Huang Zongxi looked distressed; he shook his head. Gu Yanwu poured a drink for himself and downed six cups in one breath.

Lu Liuliang said, “Gentlemen came here this time, does it have something to do with the case of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’?”

“Exactly!” Huang Zongxi said.

Gu Yanwu picked up the wine cup and loudly moaned, “’Although cool breeze is fine, it cannot blow me, why can’t the bright moon illuminate people?’ Wancun Xiong, this poem of yours is indeed the most perfect song! Everytime I drink wine, I always recite this poem, and I am always moved big time.”

Lu Liuliang always had the old country in his heart, he was unwilling to take official post with the Qing dynasty. Local high-ranking government officials admired his reputation and sponsored and recommended him as the ‘mountain hermit’, to be recruited as official of the imperial court. Lu Liuliang adamantly refused. The local official did not dare to force him. Later on another high-ranking official sponsored and recommended him as the ‘profound scholar’. Lu Liuliang saw that if ke kept refusing, it would appear that he was disparaging and insulting the imperial court; inevitably he would bring the disaster of execution upon himself. Thereupon he shaved his head to become a fake Buddhist monk. The local officials saw his determination and henceforth no longer urging him to ‘leave the mountain’.

The poem about ‘cool breeze, bright moon’ was to mock the Manchurian Qing [lit. clear/cool] and cherish to memory of former Ming [lit. bright]. Although he did not dare to have it printed and circulated, it spread far and wide among the like-minded friends and colleagues, and this moment Gu Yanwu recited it again.

“Really good poem!” Huang Zongxi said, as he picked up the wine cup and downed it in one gulp.

“Gentlemen praised wrongly.” Lu Liuliang said.

Gu Yanwu looked up and saw a scroll of painting hanging on the wall, about five chi [Chinese foot, approx. 1/3 of a meter] tall, and almost a zhang wide, a painting of a wide expanse of landscape. The brush stroke moved unhindered, the scene looked grand; he could not help but loudly shouted his praise. The painting only had four large characters on it, ‘ru ci jiang shan’ [lit. in this way the rivers and mountains; loosely translated: ‘this is our country’]. He said, “Looking at the brush stroke, it is Mr. Erzhan’s painting.”

“Exactly,” Lu Liuliang said. This ‘Erzhan’ was surnamed Zha, given name Shibao, a great painter of the late Ming, early Qing dynasties; he was also a good friend of Gu, Huang and Lu.

Huang Zongxi said, “This kind of good painting, how come there is no annotation?”

Lu Liuliang sighed and said, “This painting of Mr. Erzhan’s has a rather deep meaning. Only he is a very staid and prudent man; since he did not put any signature on it, he did not put any annotation either. He stayed in my humble abode last month, for a short while he was happy and painted this for me. How about the two gentlemen inscribe several sentences on it?”

Gu and Huang, two men stood up and walked over to have a closer look at the painting. They saw the grand river flowing expansively to the east, with countless ridges and peaks on both sides, sprinkled with wonderful trees and strange rock formations. Only the scenery was covered in a mist; although the mountains and the rivers were beautiful, there was a sense of dismal feeling deep in the hearts of the people who look at it.

Gu Yanwu said, “This beautiful land sinks into oblivion in the hands of barbarians. Our generation submit to humiliation and live without purpose; it’s really stuffing our breasts with grieve and indignation. Wancun Xiong, if it is not inconvenient, why don’t you inscribe a poem to display Mr. Erzhan’s meaning?”

“Alrght!” Lu Liuliang said. Immediately he took down the painting and spread it out on the table. Huang Zongxi ground the ink. Lu Liuliang pondered deeply for half a day, and then his brush started to dance on the painting. In a short time it was finished:

“Is it the Song (dynasty) crossing to the south? In this way the rivers and mountains are in disgrace. Is it after the cliff of the mountain? In this way the rivers and mountains cannot bear to be looked at. Only today I comprehend the meaning of the painting, weeping bitter tears seems the right thing to do. Because today I looked at former times just like now, swallowing my cries need not bridle my mouth. The painting spread on the table is a western platform for tears, delving deeply into the picture taking up my pen brightly and brilliantly. Therefore, a picture without poetry and literatture, poetry and literature being exhausted in just four characters. Once grew accustomed to come across the beginning of Hong Wu[5], as if undiscerning, ignorant pupil of the eye and the lame able to tread on. Mountains and rivers clear up, the former wall completed, how can looking at scenic place not bring ecstasy?”

The poem completed, he tossed the brush to the floor and burst into tears.

Gu Yanwu said, “Delightfully uninhibited. It is indeed an exquisitely good ballad.”

“This poem is not subtle at all,” Lu Liuliang said, “It can’t be considered good, I was merely spelling out Mr. Erzhan’s original idea, so that people who look at the painting may know.”

Huang Zongxi said, “When the former country will repeat its light, that the ‘mountains and rivers clear up, the former wall completed’ part. Even thought it was full of barren hills and treacherous rapids, those who look at it will have their bosom greatly free; it is indeed ‘how can looking at scenic place not bring ecstasy?’”

Gu Yanwu said, “This poem is written very well! There will come a day when the barbarians will be driven out and taken captives, and our great Han’s mountains and rivers will be restored. Compared to believers like us pouring out grief and indignation, the people’s spirit will be even more strengthened.”

Huang Zongxi slowly rolled the painting and said, “This painting can’t be hung anymore, Wancun Xiong must hide it well. Supposing crafty scoundrel like Wu Zhirong saw it, the authorities will investigate, while admittedly Wancun Xiong will be inconvenienced, Mr. Erzhan will be weighed down as well.”

Gu Yanwu slapped the table and cursed, “That dog thief Wu Zhirong, I really wish I could eat his meat raw.”

Lu Liuliang said, “Gentlemen are neglecting the urgent matter you mentioned earlier. We, the scholars, fall into an old habit, composing poem and inscribing painting, and put aside proper business. I wonder what is it?”

Huang Zongxi said, “This time the two of us came, it was for the sake of Mr. Erzhan’s distant relative [of the same surname], Mr. Yihuang. The day before yesterday Xiaodi [little brother, referring to self] and Gu Xiong received news that in this big case of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, unexpectedly Mr. Yihuang is also implicated.”

Lu Liuliang was alarmed. “Yihuang Xiong is implicated?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Huang Zongxi said, “The day before yesterday the two of us rushed toward Yuanhua town in Haining [county, Jiaxing, Zhejiang], but Mr. Yihuang was not home at all, they said he was out to visit a friend. Seeing the urgency of the situation, Yanwu Xiong hastily urged Mr. Yihuang’s household to go into hiding that very same night. Remembering Mr. Yihuang and Wancun Xiong are good friends, we came with the specific purpose to inquire of you.”

Lu Liuliang said, “He … he did not come here. I don’t know where he went.”

Gu Yanwu said, “If he was in your respected residence, he would have come out already to meet us. I already inscribed a poem on the wall of his study room, if he came back home, he would have understood and hastened to go into hiding. What I am afraid of is that the did not hear the news and appeared in public, then the authority would arrest him; it would be terrible.”

Huang Zongxi said, “In this case of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, nearly all our western Zhejiang’s famous scholars have met with evil scheme. The Qing court’s intention is really vicious, Wancun Xiong’s fame is really too great, Tinglin Xiong and Xiaodi’s thought is that we want to urge Wancun Xiong to leave home and travel far for the time being, to take shelter from the wind.”

Lu Liuliang indignantly said, “If the Tatar Emperor arrest me and take me to Beijing, I don’t care if he makes mincemeat out of me, in any case I will be able to curse him a bit to vent this resentment in my chest, and then I’ll die without a moment’s hesitation.”

Gu Yanwu said, “Wancun Xiong’s heroism reaching to the clouds, you make other people filled with admiration. I am afraid you will not see the Tatar Emperor but will die under some lowly slaves’ hands. Furthermore, the Tatar Emperor is only a child, he doesn’t understand anything, the political power of the imperial court is entirely in the powerful minister Oboi’s hands. Xiongdi and Lizhou Xiong reckon that this time the case of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ is exposed with great fanfare, it passes like thunder and moves like the wind, it is because Oboi wants to dampen our Jiangnan scholars’ spirit.”

Lu Liuliang said, “Gentlemen’s view is correct. Ever since the Qing troops entered the Pass, they went on the rampage in Jiangbei [area north of the River] unhindered, as soon as they came to Jiangnan, they encountered resistance everywhere, particularly the intellectuals who know how to guard against Chinese-Barbarian relationship, constantly giving them trouble. Oboi is seizing this opportunity to suppress us, Jiangnan scholars. Humph, even a prairie fire cannot destroy the grass, it grows again when the breeze blows; unless he wipes out us all, Jiangnan intellectuals.”

“That’s right,” Huang Zongxi said, “For this reason we want to retain useful people to deal with the Tatars to the end. If we flaunt our blood and vital breath and show bravery for a period of time, we will fall prey to Tatars’ scheme.”

Lu Liuliang understood immediately, Huang and Gu two people braved the cold, one was to look for Zha Yihuang, two was to urge him to flee; they were afraid he might not be unable to hold back and thus would deliver his life in vain. Good friends made painstaking effort, he was deeply grateful. “Gentlemen’s gems of wisdom, how can Xiongdi dare not to follow?” he said, “Early in the morning tomorrow Xiongdi’s entire family will leave.”

Huang and Gu, two people were greatly delighted. “That is only proper,” they both said.

Lu Liuliang hesitantly said, “But I don’t know where should I go?” He felt that in the boundless horizon, everywhere was the Tatars’ world; there was really not a single clean soil. “Where is Taoyuan [the Garden of the Peaches of Immortality] that I can escape from cruel Qin? Where is Taoyuan that I can escape from cruel Qin?” he muttered irresolutely.

Gu Yanwu said, “In the world today, if there really exists Taoyuan paradise, we still cannot liberate ourselves and go into hiding …”

Without waiting for him to finish, Lu Liuliang slapped the table and stood up; he said in a loud voice, “Tinglin Xiong’s reprimand this time is so true, the rise and fall of the nation concerns everyone, we can temporarily flee from disaster, but if we hide in Peach Flower Garden, freely and leisurely, while the millions and millions common people suffer under the Tatars’ iron hoof, how can our hearts be at peace? Xiongdi has a slip of the tongue.”

Gu Yanwu smiled and said, “In recent years Xiongdi has roamed far and wide, I indeed make not a few friends. On both sides of the Great River, as far as I can see and hear, not only the intellectuals are opposing the Tatars, even peddlers and carriers, butchers and marketplace people, everywhere people’s hearts are filled with hot blooded heroic spirit. If Wancun Xiong so desires, the three of us can go to Yangzhou together. How about Xiongdi introduce you to several kindred spirits?”

Lu Liuliang was greatly delighted. “Wonderful, wonderful!” he exclaimed, “Tomorrow all of us are going to Yangzhou. Gentlemen please sit back and relax, Xiongdi is going to inform my humble wife, let her pack.” Finished speaking he hurried inside.

Shortly afterwards Lu Liuliang returned to the study room and said, “About the case of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, although there are rumors everywhere on the outside, but one, rumors are not necessarily true, two, people are in a lot of apprehensions, they do not dare to speak everything openly. Xiongdi lives alone in a snail’s home, I do not know the details; what exactly was the cause?”

Gu Yanwu sighed and said, “This book the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, all of us have seen it. The content is not too respectful toward the Tatars, that much is true. This book originated from our Great Ming’s Prime Minister Zhu Guozhen’s hands. Speaking about establishing an administrative division outside the Pass; how can it be polite toward the Tatars?”

Lu Liuliang nodded and said, “I heard the Zhuang family of Huzhou has spent several thousand taels of silver to buy the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ manuscript from Prime Minister Zhu’s later generations’ hands to be published; unexpectedly it brewed this kind of catastrophe.”

Western Zhejiang’s Hangzhou, Jiaxing, and Huzhou, three prefectures were located on the bank of Lake Tai, the land was flat, the soil fertile, abound in rice and natural silk. Huzhou prefecture’s principal county magistrate is known as Wuxing County today, during the Qing dynasty, it was divided into Wu Cheng and Gui An, two counties. From the beginning its literary style was extremely flourishing, people of talents and scholars of successive generations came forth in large numbers. During the Liang period, Shen Yue [441-513, writer and historian] divide the Chinese characters into four tones, namely level or even tone, third tone, fourth tone and entering tone. During the Yuan era, painting and calligraphy reached its best quality in Zhao Mengfu’s work. These were all Huzhou natives. Writing brush produced locally was well-known; Huzhou’s writing brush, Huizhou’s ink, Xuancheng’s paper, and Zhaoqing Duanxi’s [lit. end/extremity creek of Zhaoqing] ink-stone were famous all over the world as the ‘Four Treasures of the Study’.

There was a city in Huzhou prefecture called Nanxun. Although it was a small town, it was bigger than ordinary county capitals. There were a lot of rich families in town, among the famous rich families and big clans, there was one family by the surname of Zhuang. By this time the head of the Zhuang household was called Zhuang Yuncheng. He had several sons; the oldest was called Tinglong, who loved literature since his childhood, and had made quite a number of friends among famous and gifted scholars of Jiangnan. During the Shunzhi years [second Qing emperor, 1644-1662], due to excessive reading, Zhuang Tinglong suddenly went blind. Famous doctors were searched, but no one was able to cure him; since then he grew melancholy and was depressed.

One day suddenly a young man surnamed Zhu from their neighborhood came with a manuscript, saying that it was his paternal grandfather, Prime Minister Zhu’s bequeathed draft that he wanted to mortgage to the Zhuang family, begging to borrow several hundred taels of silver. The Zhuang family was usually generous; they always showed consideration to Prime Minister Zhu’s later generations. Since he came to borrow money, they agreed immediately, without asking any surviving manuscript as collateral. But the young man surnamed Zhu said that after receiving the money, he was going on a journey to a distant land; if he carried his ancestor’s manuscript with him, he was afraid it would get lost, while he did not feel at ease to leave it at home, therefore, he wanted to keep it in the Zhuang family. Zhuang Yuncheng agreed.

After the young man surnamed Zhu left, to relieve his son’s boredom, Zhuang Yuncheng had the guests who settled in his house[6] to read it aloud to him. For the most part, Zhu Guozhen’s manuscript of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ had been published and was widely available. This time the manuscript that his grandson brought to the Zhuang family to be mortgaged was actually the last of many articles of historical biography.

After listening to the guest [see footnote] reading for several days, Zhuang Tinglong was very interested. Suddenly he remembered, “In the past Zuo Qiuming [556-451 BC], who was also a blind man, was able to write ‘Mr. Zuo’s Annals’ and hence enjoy the benefit of great name for a thousand years. Today I am blind and bored of staying idle at home, why not composing a history book to be circulated to the later generations?”

For rich families, everything was easy. Since he had the desire to do this, immediately he hired quite a few scholars to have the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ manuscript read to him from top to bottom. He considered which section needed to be expanded, and which section needed to be deleted; he recounted his thought orally and had the guests write it down. However, thinking that being blind he was incapable to extensively examine the written record, when this ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ was finished and published, if there were a lot of errors in it, not only he would not enjoy the fame, he might be ridiculed instead. Thereupon he spent large quantities of money to employ many scholars who knew this subject very well, to amend and revise, to research this subject and bring the book to perfection. Some of the great scholars were people who could not be invited with wealth, Zhuang Tinglong passed this matter through many hands and humbly invited them. The banks of Lake Tai were always teeming with literary scholars, those who received the Zhuang family’s invitation, on one hand they took pity of the blind and was touched by his sincerity, on the other hand they believed that compiling the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ was a beautiful thing. Most of them stayed in the Zhuang family’s home for ten days or half a month to work on the manuscript; some correcting the errors, some adding notes or even one or two sections. For this reason the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ was definitely a collective power of not a few writing brushes of many great hands. Not long after the book was completed, Zhuang Tinglong passed away.

Grief-stricken by his beloved son’s death, Zhuang Yuncheng immediately published the book. Publishing books during the Qing dynasty was really not easy, one must recruit artisans to engrave wood blocks one by one before printing the book. This book ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ was voluminous, the cost to hire the engravers and the printers was considerable. Fortunately the Zhuang family had plenty of money, they set aside several large houses as factories and invited many artisans. Several years later the books and publications were completed.

The book was titled ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’, with Zhuang Tinglong listed as the compiler, famous scholar Li Lingxi was asked to write the preface. All scholars who have helped with this project were also listed: Mao Yuanxi, Wu Zhiming, Wu Zhirong [different characters from Wu Zhirong mentioned by Huang Zongxi and Gu Yanwu above], Li Qitao, Mao Cilai, Wu Chu, Tang Yuanlou, Yan Yunqi, Jiang Linzhi, Wei Jinyou, Wei Yiyuan, Zhang Juan, Dong Eryou, Wu Yan, Pan Chengzhang, Lu Qi, Zha Jizuo, Fan Xiang; eighteen people altogether. The book also mentioned that the content was based on Zhu clan’s manuscript, which was expanded and deleted. However, Zhu Guozhen was a prime minister of the Ming Dynasty, his fame was too great, it was unsuitable to mention his full name; therefore, it was mentioned vaguely as ‘Zhu Clan’s manuscript’.

Having undergone so many scholars composing, verifying and revising, the ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’ had a very exquisite style, its coverage was comprehensive and clear, the script was magnificent, the layout was in good taste; its publication has garnered praise from literary community. The Zhuang family’s aspiration was to become famous, the books were sold at a very inexpensive price.

When the manuscript touched upon Manchuria, there were originally not a few of criticism and exposures of past misdeeds, which the editors had already deleted one by one, but sentences showing approval to the Ming Dynasty were inevitable. At that time the Ming had not fallen for too long, the intellectuals still cherished the memory of their former country; as soon as the book went into publication, it immediately reached best-seller status, Zhuang Tinglong’s name was buzzing north and south of the Great River. Despite the pain of the death of his son, seeing his son became famous after his death, Zhuang Yuncheng’s old heart was greatly comforted.

Troubled times are when lowly people accomplish their ambition, while people of noble character meet calamity. The county head magistrate of Huzhou’s Gui An County was one surnamed Wu, given name Zhirong, who committed corruption and abuse of the law during his tenure. Common people gnashed their teeth in anger toward him, eventually someone lodged an accusation and the imperial court had him deposed.

Although when he was the county head magistrate of Gui An, Wu Zhirong raked in more than ten thousand taels, during the court proceeding and investigation of his disposal, he bribed to the east and sent a gift to the west, spending money everywhere to avoid being searched and his possession confiscated, these ten thousand taels booty were obliterated completely, even the people in his household left him, their whereabouts unknown.

With his official post and his wealth gone, he had no choice but to go from house to house to seek gratuitous financial help, saying that he was a just and honest official who had fallen hard and lost his post, that he did not even have enough travel expenses and was incapable of embarking on the journey home. Some rich people simply wanted to avoid trouble and gave him ten taels or eight taels. When he got to the rich Zhu family, the master of the home, Zhu Youming was an upright person of noble character who shunned evil. Not only he did not give him anything, he ruthlessly derided Wu Zhirong, saying that Sire took an official post in Huzhou, you have caused common people a great deal of hardship; even if I, the Ol’ Zhu, have some money, I would rather donate it to the poor people who suffer under Sire’s administration.

Although Wu Zhirong was enraged, he was incapable of lashing it out. Since he was already deposed, he had no power and no influence; how could he take a case against a rich and powerful family? Thereupon he paid a visit to Zhuang Yuncheng. Zhuang Yuncheng usually made friends with impoverished scholars, but he looked down upon corrupt official like this. Seeing his arrival and request, he laughed coldly and gave him a tael of silver, saying, “Based on Sire’s conduct, I should not have given you this tael, but common people of Huzhou are hoping Sire would leave, the sooner the better. If this tael can hasten your departure just a moment sooner, then it will be good.”

In his heart Wu Zhirong was extremely angry. Taking a glance he saw a copy of the ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’ lying on a table in the main hall; he thought, “This man surnamed Zhuang loves to hear flattery, as long as people praise this Ming History as such and such good, he will present shining white silver with both hands, no more knitting of his brows.” Thereupon he laughed and said, “Something that old gentleman Zhuang generously bestows, refusing it would be impolite. Today Xiongdi will leave Huzhou, what I regret the most is that I am not able to bring ‘Huzhou treasures’ with me, so that ignorant and inexperienced people of my humble hometown may greatly broaden their horizons.”

Zhuang Yuncheng asked, “What are ‘Huzhou treasures’?”

Wu Zhirong laughed and said, “Old gentleman Zhuang is too modest. Among the literary community, everybody says that your esteemed son, Tinglong Gongzi [young master] has personally composed that book the ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’. In terms of historical talent, historical knowledge, historical composition, not a single one is not a rarity since the dawn of time. Zuo Ma Ban Zhuang, those are ancient and modern times’ four great historical experts. This ‘Huzhou treasure’ is naturally the book ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ your esteemed son personally composed.”

Hearing Wu Zhirong mentioned ‘your esteemed son personally composed’ in the front, another ‘your esteemed son personally composed’ at the end, Zhuang Yuncheng was bursting with joy. He was fully aware that this book was not really composed by his son, inevitably there was regret in the deepest part of his heart. By saying those words, Wu Zhirong had thrown himself in a favorable light. Zhuang Yuncheng thought, “People are saying that this man is greedy of bribes, is a dirty lowly person, but he is, after all, a scholar; contrary to what one might expect, he has some perspective. Turns out people on the outside call Long’er’s [‘dear Long’, referring to Zhuang Tinglong, term of endearment] book a ‘Huzhou treasure’. This is the first time I have ever heard it.” He could not refrain smile from appearing across his face. He said, “Old gentlemen Rong mentioned something about Zuo Ma Ban Zhuang, four great historical experts of ancient and modern times; Xiongdi does not understand, would you please give your advice?”

Seeing his expression softened considerably, Wu Zhirong knew his flattery had hit the target; he was secretly delighted. “Old gentleman Zhuang is rather too modest. Zuo Qiuming wrote ‘Mr. Zuo’s Annals’, Sima Qian [145-86 BC] wrote ‘Record of the Grand Historian’, Ban Gu [32-92] wrote ‘History of the Former Han Dynasty’. These are all widely-known masterpiece, which garnered thousand praises. After Ban Gu, there was no more great historian. Ouyang Xiu [1007-1072] wrote ‘History of the Five Dynasties’, Sima Guang [1019-1086] wrote ‘A mirror for the wise ruler’ [or ‘Comprehensive Mirror for aid in Government’]; although the writing was fine, in the end the ability and insight is rather lacking. Until our Great Qing’s flourishing period, your esteemed son personally composed this brilliant masterpiece ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’, which people say can run neck to neck with Zuo Qiuming, Sima Qian and Ban Gu, three qianbei [older generation], as the ‘four great historical experts’. The term ‘Zuo Ma Ban Zhuang’ came from this fact.”

With smiling expression across his face, Zhuang Yuncheng repeatedly cupped his fist and said, “Erroneous praise, erroneous praise! However, this term ‘Huzhou treasure’ is, after all, not worthy to be mentioned.”

With serious expression Wu Zhirong said, “What do you mean not worthy to be mentioned? People outside are saying, ‘Huzhou treasures are history, silk and writing brush’; isn’t Zhuang’s history ranked to be the first?”

Natural silk and writing brush were two famous products of Huzhou, although Wu Zhirong’s character was contemptible, he was still somewhat talented, and was able to speak like a printed book; he lumped ‘Zhuang History’ together with Huzhou’s silk and Huzhou’s writing brush, hearing it, Zhuang Yuncheng was even more delighted.

Wu Zhirong continued, “Xiongdi came to your precious place to take an official post, both sleeves flowing in the breeze [i.e. having clean hands/uncorrupted], gaining nothing. Today I am wearing my old face to ask Old gentleman Zhuang a copy of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, to be passed on as my family treasure. Someday my Wu family’s offsprings will read it day and night, certainly their imaginative power will greatly increased, they will bring honor to their ancestors. I am hoping for Old gentleman Zhuang’s generosity in bestowing one.”

Zhuang Yuncheng laughed and said, “Naturally I can give one as a present.”

Wu Zhirong talked several more sentences, but did not see Zhuang Yuncheng was about to take any action. Thereupon he launched another speech, giving great compliments to the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’. Actually, he had not even read one page of the book; therefore, how amazing this history book was, how beyond understanding the writing of this history book was, everything was not to the point, he merely talked drivel.

Zhuang Yuncheng said, “Old gentleman Rong, please sit back and relax.” And then he went into the inner hall.

After a good while, a manservant came out, holding a bundle with both hands, and put it down on the table. Seeing Zhuang Yuncheng did not come out, Wu Zhirong hurriedly weighed the bundle in his hand. Although the bundle was big, it was as light as a feather, apparently it contained no silver; in his heart he was quite disappointed.

Shortly afterwards, Zhuang Yuncheng returned to the main hall, he presented the bundle with both hands and said with a laugh, “Old gentleman Rong thinks much of our local products; hence I sincerely present this to you.”

Wu Zhirong thanked him and took his leave. Before he was even back at the inn, he reached into the bundle and groped around. What he found was one book, a bundle of natural silk, and several dozen of writing brushes. He wasted a lot of words, the idea was that other than the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ book, Zhuang Yuncheng would also give several hundred taels of silver, but the gifts were unexpectedly the crazy nonsense he invented, the so-called ‘Huzhou Three Treasures’. He cursed in his heart, “Damn it, these moneybags of Nanxun are all this stingy! But I did say the wrong thing; if I said the ‘Huzhou Three Treasures’ are gold, silver and the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, wouldn’t I have reaped great harvest?”

Still fuming, he returned to the inn and tossed the bundle to the table, and then he put his head down and slept. When he woke up, it was already dark, the inn’s dinnertime had passed. He did not want to order special dinner; with anxiety and hunger burning, he was tortured on both sides, and could not return to sleep. Thereupon he untied the bundle, opened up the ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’, and started to read.

After reading several pages, he saw a glimmer of gold, a sheet of golden leaf suddenly appeared. Wu Zhirong’s heart was thumping wildly, he rubbed his eyes; but what was it if not a golden leaf? Trembling with excitement he shook the book and ten golden leaves came out, each sheet was at least five qian [1/10 of a tael], ten sheets of golden leaves equal to five tael of gold. At that time gold was precious, five taels of gold worth four hundred taels of silver. Wu Zhirong was unable to contain his joy; he thought, “This surnames Zhuang is indeed very sly, he is afraid that after getting this book I would casually toss it aside and would not even flip a single page, thereupon he hid golden leaves among the pages, so that those who read his son’s book would have the good fortune of finding the golden leaves. Right, I am going to read several sections, tomorrow I will drop in again, both to express my thanks for the gold, and to recite several paragraphs from the book, heap some more praise on it. If he is happy, maybe he would give me several more taels of gold.”

Thereupon he trimmed the oil lamp and flipped the pages to read. When he reached Emperor Wanli’s [1573-1619] fortieth year, the Later Jin dynasty’s Taizu [Great Ancestor, founder of a dynasty] Nurhachi succeeded the throne, the title of current dynasty was changed to Jin, establishing the primary ‘Mandate of Heaven’, suddenly his heart shivered, “Our Taizu establishing the primary in the year bingchen [53rd year of the 60-year cycle, i.e. 1616]. From that year on, we should not use Ming Dynasty’s Wanli era name anymore; it should be the Great Jin Mandate of Heaven’s primary year [first year of emperor’s reign].”

Thumbing through the book, he saw the dingmao [4th year of 60-year cycle, i.e. 1627] year of Later Jin’s Taizu on the throne, the book still said ‘Ming’s Tianqi[7] Emperor’s seventh year’, and not ‘Great Jin’s Tiancong’s first year’. In the bingzi [13th year of 60-year cycle, i.e. 1636] year, Later Jin changed the title of the dynasty to Qing, and changed the Emperor’s reign title to Chongde. The book still said ‘Chongzhen’s ninth year’, and not ‘Great Qing’s Chongde’s first year’. In the jiashen [21st year of 60-year cycle, i.e. 1644] year, the book said ‘Chongzhen seventeenth year’, and not ‘Great Qing’s Shunzhi’s first year’. Also, he could see that after the Qing troops entered the Pass, the book mention the yiyou [22nd year of 60-year cycle, i.e. 1645] year as ‘Longwu’s first year’, the year dinghai [24th year of 60-year cycle, i.e. 1647] was called ‘Yongli’s first year’. Longwu and Yongli were Ming Dynasty’s King Tang and King Gui’s era names, the authors of the book plainly called them ‘Ming Dynasty’ still, they did not consider the Qing Dynasty at all.

Reading to this point, he could not help slapping the table and shouted, “Rebellion, rebellion, this is an outrage!” This slap had caused the table to shake, the oil lamp fell down, the oil splashed his hand, as well as the lapel of his robe. In the dark, suddenly a bright idea occurred; he could not help feeling crazy with joy, “Isn’t this Laotianye giving me easy money? I can be promoted and gain wealth, all because of this.”

Thinking about this, he could not help shouting in joy. Suddenly he heard the inn worker banged the door, “Mister guest, mister guest, what happened?”

Wu Zhirong laughed and said, “Nothing!” Lighting the oil lamp, he flipped through the book again. He read all night until the rooster crowed in the morning, before he finally took off his clothes and went to bed. He found about seventy or eighty taboo words in the book, so that even in his dream he could not help giggling and laughing.

When dynasties changed, the current political ruler paid most attention to correct the era name. The biggest taboo was in speech and in writings, since the implication was that the people were still thinking about the previous dynasty. The narrative in the ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’ was about the Ming Dynasty, there was actually nothing out of ordinary of the usage of era name and calendar of the Ming Dynasty. However, during the time when it was a taboo, it could bring enormous disaster. Most of the scholars who participated in writing the history book only helped with several sections, they could not be expected to go through the entire book, while those who compiled the last few sections were the ones who hated the Qing Dynasty to the bones, naturally they would not be willing to use the Great Qing’s era names in the book. Zhuang Tinglong was a young master of a rich family, plus he was blind, unavoidably he was rather careless, so that in the end a lowly person was able to seize the opportunity to exploit the loopholes.

By noon the next day, Wu Zhirong took a boat to Hangzhou on the east. In the inn he wrote a report, which he delivered, along with the History of the Ming Dynasty, to General Songkui’s mansion. He expected that when Songkui received the report, he would be summoned for an interview. At that time the Manchurian Qing used to give generous reward to people who report treasons. By rendering this great merit, Wu Zhirong was expecting his former official post to be reinstated, perhaps he could even enjoy three grades promotion as well. Who would have thought that after waiting left and right at the inn, all the way to more than half a year, every day he went to the general’s mansion to make discreet inquiries, it was as if he had thrown a stone and saw it sank without a trace in the ocean? Later on even the doorkeeper reprimanded him severely and did not allow him to drop in and create a disturbance at the door anymore.

Wu Zhirong was extremely anxious; he was about to exhaust the money he obtained by exchanging the golden leaves Zhuang Yuncheng gave him, yet the accusation did not give him the least bit of result. He was distressed, but was also astonished. One day he wandered around the city of Hangzhou and happened to stroll by the door of Wen Tong Tang [lit. literary expert hall] bookstore. He walked in to browse and kill the long day. Seeing three copies of ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’ on the shelf, he thought, “Could it be that the faults I found in the book are not enough to indict Zhuang Yuncheng? I’d better find some more treason and heresy writings and tomorrow write another report and deliver it to the general’s mansion.”

The inspector-general of Zhejiang at that time was a Han, but the general was a Manchu. He was afraid the inspector-general would not be willing to prosecute this literary case, hence he made up his mind to lodge the accusation to the Manchurian general.

He opened the book and only read several pages, and could not help but jumped in fright; he felt as if his entire body had just entered an icehouse. Momentarily he felt like stupid monk, unable to make any sense of the matter. He saw all the offending texts had disappeared completely from the book, from the Great Qing Taizu onward, the book used the Great Jin, Great Qing’s era name and calendar. As for exposing Jianzhou Guardian Commander-in-chief’s faults (a relative to the Manchurian Qing Emperor’s ancestor), as well as any reference to Longwu, Yongli, and others’ era name, not even a single character was left. But the text was strung together, the pages were clean, there was not a single trace of any alteration. How did they conjure this magic trick? It was indeed very strange.

Holding the book in his hands inside the bookstore, he stared blankly as if he was entranced for half a day. And then he suddenly cried out, “That’s it!” He saw the cover and the pages of this book were spotlessly white and looked brand new; when he asked the shopkeeper, as expected, the books were new delivery, sent from Huzhou book distributor, arrived not even seven or eight days ago. He said in his heart, “This Zhuang Yuncheng is really formidable! Indeed money can reach anything. He pulled the books back, redid the engraving, and printed another set of new books, removing all the taboo in the original edition. Humph, do you think I will drop it just like that?”

Wu Zhirong’s guess was indeed not wrong. What happened was that Hangzhou general Songkui did not know Chinese characters, when the administrative secretary saw Wu Zhirong’s report, he was so scared that cold sweats broke on his entire body; he knew that the implication of this matter was very grave, without realizing it, his hands holding the report did not stop trembling.

This secretary was surnamed Cheng, given name Weifan, a native of Shaoxing [prefecture], Zhejiang. During Ming and Qing dynasties, eight or nine out of ten aids and advisors to top feudal officials were Shaoxing natives, therefore, often times two characters ‘Shaoxing’ were added in front of the word ‘secretary’, became ‘Shaoxing secretary’ [i.e. experts in legal briefs]. These secretaries first learned the trade secret from their hometown former generations, afterwards, they would be very experienced and careful in handling criminal law, money and grain. All documents in the feudal office were handled by these secretaries. Since they all were from the same town, documents prepared by low ranking administrative assistants to be presented to their superior in yamen[8] seldom met with nitpicking criticism. As a result, when new officials, big and small, took office, the most urgent business was to employ the service of a Shaoxing secretary. During Ming and Qing dynasties, the number of Shaoxing natives who became high-ranking officials was really not many, yet they held control over numerous government affairs in China for several hundred years; they could be considered a marvel in Chinese political history.

This Cheng Weifan was honest and considerate, he believed in ‘religious practice in public life’. That is to say that the feudal officials grasped the life-and-death power over common people, the several characters drafted by the secretaries were serious, it could cause common people’s family bankrupt and the people dead, it could justify or condemn, it could help people to escape alive from mortal danger. Consequently, helping people in public office was more effective than performing religious practice in the temple. He saw that if this case of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ led to investigation, countless people in southern Jiangsu and western Zhejiang would lose their lives and had their families destroyed. Thereupon he asked for several days off from the general, and left that very same night by boat to Nanxun town in Huzhou, and informed Zhuang Yuncheng about this matter.

Suddenly faced with imminent catastrophe, Zhuang Yuncheng’s soul flew to the outer sky, he was so scared that his whole body went weak, his saliva trickled down his chin, he was completely at a loss. After a long while he finally stood up, bent his knees and kowtowed to Cheng Weifan to express his gratitude, afterwards he asked for advice.

During his journey from Hanzhou to Nanxun, Cheng Weifan had already gone through this matter over and over, and he thought of a good plan. Since the book ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’ had been in circulation for quite a while, they could not conceal it; they had to take drastic measures to deal with this situation: while sending people to book shops everywhere to purchase these books back and destroyed them completely, they had to hasten day and night to engrave new printing blocks, delete all the taboo phrases and print new books, and sell them outside. If the authorities investigated this matter, they would look into the new edition, and would discover that Wu Zhirong’s accusation was unsubstantiated; hence they would put an end to this unexpected calamity.

Immediately they put this plan into action. Zhuang Yuncheng was frightened but happy at the same time, he repeatedly kowtowed to say thanks. Cheng Weifan also taught him quite a bit of urgent matters, how to give a present to government official so-and-so, how to clear away obstruction and communicated with such-and-such yamen, et cetera. Zhuang Yuncheng diligently did everything.

Cheng Weifan returned to Hangzhou. He waited more than half a month before transferring the original book, along with Wu Zhirong’s report, to the inspector-general of Zhejiang, Zhu Changzuo. He downplayed the report, saying that the submitter was a deposed county head magistrate due to corruption, who appeared to hold a grudge and hence blowing his whistle to vent his resentment, asking Futai [inspector-general] Daren[9] to investigate in details.

While Wu Zhirong painstakingly waited for news in an inn in Hangzhou, Zhuang Yuncheng’s money flowed out like water. By this time Zhuang Yuncheng’s heavy bribery had already reached the general’s yamen, inspector-general’s yamen, and literary office yamen. Upon receiving this case, Zhu Changzuo thought that this kind of publication matter belonged to the literary office; after another ten-day delay, he transferred the documents to Hu Shangheng of the literary office. Literary office yamen’s secretary put it on the shelf for more than half a month, and then he took another month sick leave, before finally slowly he drafted the official document and sent it to Huzhou prefecture.

In the Huzhou prefecture office, the case sat for more twenty days before it was passed on to Gui An and Wu Cheng counties’ literature offices, asking these offices to respond. The two literary offices had already received Zhuang Yuncheng’s bribe, by this time the new edition of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ had been printed. The two officers handed over the new edition to their superior with this report: ‘The book is mediocre and is of low quality, it will not help the ways of the world or the heart of human being in any way. We have gone through the entire book and did not find any taboo or offending words.’ And thus by stretching and delaying the matter was settled by leaving it unsettled.

It was not until he found the new edition of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ in the book store that Wu Zhirong found out the inside story. He thought if only he could find the original edition of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ he would be able to re-expose this case. In all the book stores in Hangzhou the original edition had been bought back by the Zhuang family, thereupon he went to remote counties in eastern Zhejiang trying to find it; who would have thought that even there he failed to find a single copy? Destitute and troubled, he had no choice but to return home dejectedly.

As chance has it, along his journey home, he stopped by an inn, where he saw the innkeeper was swaying his head while reading a book. When he looked at the cover, it was indeed a copy of ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’. He asked to borrow the book, and found out that it was unexpectedly the original edition. He was overjoyed at unexpected good news, and thought that if he wanted to buy it from the innkeeper, on one hand he might not be willing to sell, on the other hand Wu Zhirong did not have any money, he could not afford it anyway. Without any better option, he had to steal.

In the middle of the night he quietly got out of bed, stole the book, and slipped out of the inn. Thinking that in the whole province of Zhejiang all government officials had received Zhuang Yuncheng’s bribe, he had to either give up, or go through to the end; hence he might as well go to Beijing to report this case.

Upon his arrival in Beijing, Wu Zhirong wrote the report and sent it to the Ministry of Rites, the Capital Investigative Bureau, and the General Secretary Office, three yamen. He explained how the Zhuang family bribed local officials and published the new edition by altering the printing. Unexpectedly, in just less than a month one after another all three yamen refuted his claim. They all stated that Zhuang Tinglong’s ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’ has been investigated carefully and the content did not have any taboo in it, the deposed county head magistrate Wu Zhirong’s report was not based on truth, obviously he held a grudge and has accused someone falsely. As for the government officials received bribes and so on, it was chasing the wind and clutching at shadows, groundless accusations that should be dismissed.

The General Secretary Office’s rebuttal was even more severe; it said, “The deposed county head magistrate Wu Zhirong is corrupt and hence was expelled from office, thereupon he considers all honest and upright officials in the world as corrupt as he is.” Turned out Zhuang Yuncheng had received Cheng Weifan’s instruction and had early on sent the new edition of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ to the Ministry of Rites, the Capital Investigative Bureau, and the General Secretary Office, three yamen; he had also sent generous gifts to the officers and secretaries in charge of this matter.

Once again Wu Zhirong had bumped into a wall; he had no travel expensed to return home, and was wandering destitute in a place far from home. At that time the Qing court treatment of Han intellectuals was extremely strict, if they found the slightest bit of taboo in their writings, they would be immediately put to death. If Wu Zhirong’s accusation was against an ordinary scholar, he would have succeeded early on; it’s just happened that his opponent was a very rich and powerful family that he was thwarted again and again. Since he had no way to retreat, even if he risked imprisonment, he simply must continue this case to the end. Thereupon he wrote four reports to be sent separately to the four Advisroy Board Ministers; while in the inn he simultaneously writing several hundred accusation letters exposing this matter and posted the letters everywhere in the city of Beijing. This was a very risky move, since if the authorities decided to investigate, he might be charged with spreading frightening words to scare people, trying to disturb the people’s mind, inevitably a serious crime punishable by execution.

At that time the four Advisory Board Ministers were Suoni, Suksaha, Ebilong and Oboi, all were Manchuria’s outstanding founding ministers. When Emperor Shunzhi passed away, the posthumous edict was to appoint these four high-ranking ministers to assist in running the government. Among these four, Oboi was the most vicious and harsh, his henchmen among the imperial court were extremely numerous, his power in the imperial court was great, it was almost as if the power was in his hand alone. He was always afraid the party of his opponents was against him, hence he sent out countless informants inside and outside the Capital to make discreet inquiries and listen to the sound of people’s acitivities. One day he received a secret report about the appearance of many posters in the city of Beijing, exposing Zhejiang’s civilian surnamed Zhuang writing a book scheming rebellion, treason and heresy, Zhejiang’s officials received bribe and ignored the situation, and so on.

As soon as Oboi was notified, he investigated immediately; his people passed like thunder and moved like the wind. Right this moment Wu Zhirong’s report arrived at Oboi’s mansion. He summoned Wu Zhirong at once, asked him about this matter in details, and he also had his secretary, a Han, to inspect in details the original edition of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ presented by Wu Zhirong; the result was that the report was true.

Oboi achieved his dukedom and became a high-ranking official from his meritorious service in military, he always looked down on Han officials and intellectuals. After he grasped power, he wanted to run a few big cases to suppress and intimidate the hearts of the people, not only to make the Han people not dare to have any thought of rebellion, but also to make his political opponents in the imperial court not dare to act against him. Immediately he dispatched an imperial commissioner to Zhejiang to follow up. Naturally the entire Zhuang family was arrested and brought to the Capital, but even General Songkui of Hangzhou, Inspector-general Zhu Changzuo of Zhejiang, along with the government officials under them, big and small, were all deposed and investigated. All the scholars listed on the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, not a single one escaped shackles and imprisonment.

At Lu Liuliang’s house, Gu Yanwu, Huang Zongxi, two people narrated this case’s sequence of events [orig. ‘mountain has a connecting pulse throughout like a dragon’, an idiom from fengshui] in details. Lu Liuliang listened while sighing incessantly.

That evening the three of them lay on the couch and continued their long talk about the affairs of life. When they talked about how during the late Ming period Wei Zhongxian[10] and the others eunuchs framed loyal and good subjects, how they gained control of the imperial court and committed all kinds of things against the tide, until finally the House of Ming perished, how after the Qing entered the Pass Han people suffered massacre and unbearable and deep misfortune; none did not wring their hands and gnash their teeth in anger.

Early in the morning the next day, Lu Liuliang’s entire family, along with Gu and Huang, two people, took a boat heading east. In Jiangnan, middle-class families or higher owned their own boat. Jiangnan countryside was criss-crossed with water, river ways opened in all directions, dense like spider web. Average people travelled afar by boats; it was called ‘northern people ride horses, southern people ride boats’, and it has always been so since ancient times.

Upon reaching Hangzhou, the canal branched to the north. One evening they stopped outside the city of Hangzhou to hear the news. The Qing court had already executed not a few government officials and common people because of this case; Zhuang Tinglong had already died, they opened his coffin and mutilated his remains; Zhuang Yuncheng could not endure the mistreatment in prison and died; several dozen of Zhuang family members, fifteen years old and up, were beheaded, their wives and children were sent away to Shenyang [Liaoning, northeast China] to serve a penal sentence, becoming Manchurian soldiers’ slaves.

The former assistant minister of the Ministry of Rites Li Lingxi who wrote the preface of the book was executed by death of a thousand cuts, his four sons were beheaded. Li Lingxi’s youngest son had just turned sixteen, when the prosecutor saw that the number of people to be killed was a lot, his heart softened; he ordered him to reduce his age by a year, because according to Qing law, fifteen years and under were exempt from execution or banishment. The youngster said, “My Die-die and Gege are all dead, I don’t want to live alone.” In the end he refused to change his confession and was beheaded as well.

Songkui and Zhu Changzuo were sent to prison awaiting trial. The secretary Cheng Weifan was executed by lingering death. The two literary officers of Gui An and Wu Cheng were beheaded. The number of people implicated in this case, including those who were accused wrongly and died, really cannot be counted. Huzhou’s prefectural magistrate Tan Ximin had just taken office for half a month, the imperial court said that he knew the facts but did not report it, he accepted bribe to cover it up; along with the prefectural judge Li Huan, and director of discipline Wang Zhaozhen, he was executed by hanging.

Wu Zhirong harbored a deep hatred toward Nanxun rich man Zhu Youming. That day he came to seek gratuitous financial help, he was severely reprimanded and chased out of the door. Now he reported to the prosecutor of this case that the book clearly indicated that ‘the content was based on Zhu clan’s manuscript, which was expanded and deleted’. He said that this ‘Zhu clan’ was indeed Zhu Youming; he also said that the name ‘Zhu Youming’ [Zhu was the family name of Ming emperors, ‘you’ means assist/protect, ‘ming’ bright, the same character as in ‘Ming Dynasty’] clearly showed that his heart was still in the former Ming dynasty, that he was cursing the current dynasty. And thus Zhu Youming and his five sons were beheaded together, Zhu family’s estate, worth more than a hundred thousand taels, was rewarded to Wu Zhirong by the Qing court.

The most tragic thing was: all the engravers who carved the printing blocks, the printers, the book binders, as well as the book distributors, the owners of the bookstores, the shop assistants who received the books, the readers who purchased the books, were all investigated and beheaded.

According to historical records, at that time there was a tax officer working on a tollbooth (a custom officer) at the bank of a river in Suzhou, by the name of Li Shangbai. He loved to read, and heard that the Chang Men [gate of heaven] Bookstore in Suzhou had the newly published ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, which the reviewers said was very good, hence he sent one of his workers to go and buy. When the worker arrived, the bookstore owner was out, hence the worker went next door, to a house of an elderly man surnamed Zhu to sit and wait. When the bookstore owner returned, he purchased the book and went back home. Li Shangbai read several chapters and did not think more of it. Several months later, this case broke out, the investigation included people everywhere who bought the books. By this time Li Shangbai was in Beijing on official work, he was charged with purchasing treasonable book and was immediately executed in Beijing. The bookstore owner and his purchasing assistant were also beheaded. Even the next door old man surnamed Zhu was implicated, they said that he knew someone was buying a seditious book, yet why he did not report it but let him sit around his house instead? He should have been beheaded, but since he was over seventy years old, he was excused from execution, but he, along with his wife and children, were banished to an army post in a remote place.

As for the famous scholars of Jiangnan, because Zhuang Tinglong admired their names and listed them as the editors of the book, they were put to death by a thousand cuts on the same day, including Mao Yuanxi and the others, fourteen men. The so-called ‘executed by death of a thousand cuts’ means blade by blade, the person’s entire body, his limbs and flesh, was slowly cut off, until the convict suffered enough pain, and then he was put to death. The number of people whose family went bankrupt and died because of this book was really difficult to count.

When Lu Liuliang and the others received the news, their hatred was unbearable; they gnashed their teeth in anger and cursed incessantly. Huang Zongxi said, “Mr. Yihuang was listed as the editor, I am afraid it will be difficult for him to escape this time.” The three of them and Zha Yihuang had always been good friends, they were extremely concerned.

One day the boat reached Jiaxing. Gu Yanwu bought an imperial bulletin in the city, which contained a detailed list of the names and surnames of people who were guilty in the case of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’. They saw a sentence in the imperial edict that said, ‘Although Zha Jizuo, Fan Xiang, Lu Qi, three people are listed as the editors, but they have never seen the book, hence they are exempt from punishment and will not be investigated anymore.’ Gu Yanwu brought the bulletin back to the boat to be reviewed together with Huang Zongxi and Lu Liuliang; they clicked their tongue in amazement.

Huang Zongxi said, “This must be Da Li Jiangjun’s [lit. general with great power] doing.”

“Who is Da Li Jiangjun?” Lu Liuliang asked, “Please advise.”

Huang Zongxi said, “Two years ago, Xiongdi went to visit Mr. Yihuang’s home. I saw that his mansion house looked completely new, the flower garden was spacious, the furnishing was luxurious and beautiful; it was completely different from before. The mansion even had a group of Kunqu[11] theatrical troupe performing folk musical theater, which is hard to see in Jiangnan. Xiongdi and Mr. Yihuang have always been good friends, we can be considered sharing liver and gallbladder, thereupon I asked him what happened. Mr. Yihuang told me a story, a really happy encounter in the windblown dust [i.e. vicissitudes of life].” Hence he narrated the story.

One day, Zha Jizuo, alias Yihuang (In the book ‘Goblet Remains’ there is an article ‘Unexpected Meeting in the Snow’, which talks about this marvelous story. The opening paragraph says, “Zha Xiaolian[12] of Haining [county], Zhejiang, alias Yihuang, was a man with splendid literary talent, as well as elegant and graceful demeanor, often speaks in long drawn out manner, unbearably melancholy, an unusually distinguished person throughout the land, not at all looking like he is coming out of the dust, or that he is obtainable.’) was at home at the end of the year, drinking wine alone. Not long afterwards the snow started to fall; the more it fell, the harder it became. Zha Yihuang was bored drinking alone, so he went out the door to enjoy the snowy scenery, and saw a beggar standing underneath the eaves to shelter from the snow. The beggar was big and tall, his bone structure looked unusually powerful, he was wearing tattered clothes, yet did not seem to mind the cold wind at all, only his face seemed to bear some anger, grief and indignation.

Zha Yihuang felt strange in his heart, thereupon he said, “The snow will not stop for a while, how about coming in for a cup of wine?”

“Very good!” the beggar replied.

Thereupon Zha Yihuang invited him to come into the house and ordered the page boy to prepare cups and chopsticks. Pouring the wine, he said, “Please!”

The beggar raised the cup to toast him and downed it. “Good wine!” he praised.

Zha Yihuang poured three cups in succession, the beggar drank in a frank and straightforward manner. Zha Yihuang loved frank and straightforward people the most; he was inwardly very happy. “Xiongtai’s [brother, generic term] wine capacity is superb,” he said, “I wonder how much can you drink?”

The beggar replied, “When drinking with a bosom friend, a thousand cups will still be too little; when the conversation gets disagreeable, to say one word more is a waste of breath.”

Although these two lines were familiar polite set of phrases, but spoken by a beggar made Zha Yihuang felt strange. Immediately he ordered the page boy to fetch a large earthen jar of Shaoxing Nu’erhong [lit. blushing young woman (or young woman’s red) from Shaoxing] wine; he said with a laugh, “Zaixia[13] has limited wine capacity, and just now I have drunk enough, I can’t accompany brother in enjoying the drink. Laoxiong [old brother] drink a large bowl, I accompany with small cup, what do you say?”

“That will work,” the beggar said. Thereupon the page boy warmed the wine and separately poured it into the bowl and the cup. Zha Yihuang drank a cup, the beggar drank a large bowl. By the time the beggar already drank more than twenty bowls, his face still did not show any sign of tipsiness, but Zha Yihuang was already drunk.

It should be known that as it entered the mouth, Shaoxing Nu’erhong was mild, but the wine character was quite powerful. When people of Shaoxing gave birth to a son or a daughter, they brewed wine, ranging from just a few to several dozen earthen jars, and buried the wine in the ground. When the daughter grew up and get married, the wine would be taken out and served in the wedding feast. The wine had an amber color, hence it was called ‘blushing young woman’. Since the wine was buried for seventeen, eighteen years, sometimes for more than twenty years, its nature was extremely mellow and rich. When the family gave birth to a son, the buried wine was called ‘zhuangyuan hong’[14], with the hope that in the future the son would serve the wine during the feast celebrating he becoming a ‘zhuangyuan’. Since not everybody could be a ‘zhuangyuan’, most would simply serve it during the son’s wedding. The wine that was brewed to be sold later also took the name ‘zhuangyuan hong’ and ‘nu’erhong’.

The page boy helped Zha Yihuang into the inner hall to sleep. The beggar went out on his own accord to stand underneath the eaves again. The next morning Zha Yihuang woke up, hastily he went out to see the beggar; he saw the beggar was still standing with his hands behind his back, enjoying the snow. A burst of north wind blew, Zha Yihuang felt the cold penetrated his bones and marrow, yet the beggar showed no sign of nerves.

Zha Yihuang said, “Cold weather, frozen ground, Xiongtai’s clothes is unavoidably too thin.” Thereupon he took off the sheepskin coat he was wearing and draped it on the beggar’s shoulder. He also took ten taels of silver and presented it with both hands, saying, “Just a little bit to buy some wine, please Xiongtai do not refuse. If it pleases you, please come again to drink wine. Last night Xiongdi was drunk, and failed to sweep the couch to retain the guest, please do not blame me for my negligence.”

The beggar received the money and said, “Well said.” Without even say thanks, he shook his sleeve and left.

The following spring, Zha Yihuang went to Hangzhou on a leisure visit. One day he saw an enormous ancient bell in a broken-down temple, he estimated the bell weighed at least four hundred catties [1 catty is approximately 1 pound or 0.5kg]. While he was enjoying the decorative design, the inscription carved onto the surface of the bell, suddenly a beggar entered the Buddha hall in big strides, grabbed the bottom of the bell with his left hand, and lifted it up. The big bell unexpectedly was raised several chi [Chinese foot, approximately 1/3 of a meter] off the ground. The beggar took a large bowl of meat and a large bowl of wine from underneath the bell and put the bowls aside, and then he put the ancient bell back to its original place.

Seeing his divine strength, Zha Yihuang could not help gasping with astonishment. When he looked carefully, unexpectedly the beggar was the one he drank wine with the previous winter. He laughed and asked, “Xiongtai, do you still remember me?”

The beggar cast him a glance, and then he also laughed and said, “Ah, it is you. Today I will be the host, we will all drink and be merry. Come, come, come, drink wine.” While saying that, he handed over the earthen bowl.

Zha Yihuang received the bowl and took a mouthful. “This wine is really not bad,” he said with a laugh.

The beggar took a large piece of meat from the tattered bowl; he said, “This is dog meat, will you eat it or not?”

Zha Yihuang felt squeamish, but he thought, “Since I already regard him as a drinking buddy, if I decline, it would mean I am looking down on him.” Thereupon he reached out to grab it, took a bit and chewed; it was actually quite sweet and delicious. So the two of them sat on the floor of the broken-down temple, passing the tattered earthen bowl back and forth, you drink one mouthful, I drink one mouthful, while reaching into the meat bowl and ate the dog meat piece by piece. Not too long afterwards the meat and wine were finished.

The beggar laughed aloud and said, “Too bad the wine is not enough to make Xiaolian Gong [master Xiaolian (see above)] drunk.”

Zha Yihuang said, “Last winter we met by chance at my humble residence, today we met again without any previous appointment, we are indeed brought together by fate. Xiongtai’s divine strength is astonishing, turns out you are a world-class extraordinary man. To be able to make friend with such a gentleman, Xiaodi is very delighted. If it is alright with Xiongtai, how about we go to a restaurant and drink some more?”

“Wonderful, wonderful!” the beggar replied.

The two of them went to a restaurant by the bank of Xihu [West Lake, Hangzhou], where they sat on a table outside on the second floor, ordering wine and drinking together. Not too long afterwards Zha Yihuang passed out again. By the time he sobered up, the beggar had disappeared.

That was during the final years of Emperor Chongzhen of the Ming dynasty. In several years, the Qing troops entered the Pass, the Ming dynasty fell. Zha Yihuang decided not to forge ahead, he simply spent his days leisurely at his house. One day suddenly a military officer leading four soldiers arrived at the Zha mansion. Zha Yihuang was alarmed, thinking that disaster was knocking at his door. Who would have thought that the military officer was very respectful? He said, “We received order from the Wu Military Office of Guangdong province to deliver a meager present.”

“Your honorable superior and I are total strangers,” Zha Yihuang said, “I am afraid there is a mistake here.”

The military officer took out a visiting case and extracted a sheet of crimson-colored, gilded with gold, business card; on it were written, ‘Paying my respect to Mr. Zha Yihuang, alias Jizuo’, underneath it said, ‘Junior [orig. ‘wan sheng’ – later generation] Wu Liuqi kowtows to pay a hundred respect’. Zha Yihuang thought, “I have never even heard about this name Wu Liuqi, why is he sending a present to me?” Thereupon he was speechless, not knowing what to say.

The military officer said, “My humble superior said that this is a meager gift, asking Mr. Zha not to ridicule it.” While saying that he produced two vermillion-lacquered, gold-lettered round cases, put them on the table, and bowed to pay his respect before taking his leave.

Zha Yihuang opened the gift boxes, and to his amazement he found fifty taels gold in one box, and six bottles of foreign wine in the other, the wine bottles were embelished with pearl and emerald; it was extraordinarly luxurious. Zha Yihuang’s shock was growing even deeper; he ran outside trying to get the military officer to take the present back, but military people moved fast, they were already far away.

Zha Yihuang was puzzled, “Ill-gotten gains flew in, there won’t be any good fortune, only disaster. Could it be that someone is trying to frame me?” Thereupon he closed the gift boxes, resealed them, and hid them in his private room. Zha family was comparably well-off, they did not have any use of the gold, but the foreign wine was of a very famous brand; since he did not dare to open it, he could not stop his heart from itching.

Nothing happened in the next several months. One day, a gongzi [young master, son of official] wearing magnificent clothing arrived. The young master was only seventeen or eighteen years old, full of vigor, and had an impressive appearance; he brought eight attendants with him. As soon as he saw Zha Yihuang, he kneeled down to kowtow; he said, “Zha Shibo [uncle, an affectionate name for a friend older than one’s father], nephew Wu Baoyu paying his respect.”

Zha Yihuang hastily helped him up and said, “Your calling me Shibo, I really do not dare to accept the honor. I wonder who is your honorable Daren?”

Wu Baoyu replied, “My humble father’s name is Liu on top and Qi on the bottom, presently residing in Guangdong province, taking office as Tidu [local commander] of the entire province’s land and sea. He sends little nephew with the specific purpose of respectfully invite Shibo to stay for several months in Guangdong.”

Zha Yihuang said, “I have previously received your esteemed father Daren’s generous gift, in my heart I feel uneasy. I am ashamed to say, Xiongdi’s natural disposition is forgetful, I do not remember when did I make your esteemed father Daren’s acquaintance? Xiongdi is a scholar, I do not usually make friends with honorable government officials. Gongzi please sit down for a moment.” Finished speaking he went into the inner room. When he returned, he brought those two giftboxes out, saying, “Would Gongzi please bring these back? I really do not dare to receive such a generous gift.”

He thought that as the Tidu of Guangdong, this Wu Liuqi must have admired Zha Yihuang’s name, and thus used very expensive give to hire him to be his secretary. This man held a high position in government, he was Manchu people’s eagle and dog to bully Han people; if Zha Yihuang received his gold and silver, he would corrupt his own innocence, thereupon his expression looked quite displeased.

Wu Baoyu said, “My humble father instructed that I must invite Shibo. If Shibo forgot my humble father, there is one thing here, please Shibo take a look.” From his attendant’s hand he took a bundle and opened it up. It was an extremely worn-out sheepskin coat.

When Zha Yihuang saw this old coat, he remembered he gave this coat to the strange beggar in the snow. He suddenly realized that this General Wu Liuqi was actually his drinking buddy in the past. His heart was moved, “The Tatars occupy our land under the heavens, if there is someone with authority over the troops raising righteous banner, with response from every direction, perhaps we could drive the Tatars out of the Pass. This strange beggar unexpectedly still remembers my favor of a meal and a coat of the former days, he is not someone without any conscience, if I can move his righteousness, it’s not necessarily a hopeless case. Men establish meritorious service by dedicating our lives to the service of our country. At this point, the worse that can happen is that he would kill me, so what?” Thereupon he gladly set off on a journey to Guangzhou.

General Wu Liuqi welcomed him into the mansion, his manner was extremely respectful; he said, “Liuqi wandered destitute in Jiangnan, Mr. Zha did not abandon me, and treated me as a friend. You invited me to drink wine and gave me a leather coat, that is trivial matter; but in that broken-down temple you drank wine from a tattered bowl and grabbed dog meat with me, that showed how high you regarded me. At that time Liuqi was poor and dejected, everywhere I went I met with people’s cold eyes, yet Mr. Zha was treating me with such a warm heart, Liuqi was able to raise my spirits to great height. What I have accomplished today is entirely thanks to Mr. Zha.”

Zha Yihuang indifferently said, “In Junior’s [‘wan sheng’, see above] eyes, the General Wu’s brilliance of today is not necessarily comparable to the amazing beggar in the snow of the past’s.”

Wu Liuqi was startled, but he did not ask, he simply said, “Yes, yes!”

There was a large banquet that night, all civil and military officials in the city were invited, Zha Yihuang was made to sit in the seat of honor, while Wu Liuqi himself sat in the next seat to accompany him. The civil and military officials in Guangdong province, from inspector-general down, saw how respectful the Tidu Daren was to this Zha Yihuang, no one was not secretly astonished. The inspector-general even thought that Zha Yihuang was an imperial envoy minister sent by the Emperor incognito to investigate something; otherwise, Wu Liuqi usually was very arrogant toward other people, why would he be this respectful toward an ordinary scholar from Jiangnan?

After the wine had made its round, the inspector-general quietly inquired of Wu Liuqi, whether this honorable guest was a favored member of the imperial court. Wu Liuqi smiled and said, “Laoxiong [old brother] is really smart, you can recognize color just by its appearance; your guess is ninety percent correct.” These words of him were meant to ridicule the inspector-general by saying that the tenth time he guessed, it was incorrect. Who would have thought that the inspector-general really believed that Zha Yihuang was an imperial envoy? He thought that if this Zha Daren stayed in Wu Tidu’s mansion, he would be able to curry favor with him. Wu Tidu and me are always not in a good terms with each other; if when the imperial envoy returned to the Capital and submitted an unfavorable report on me, won’t that be terrible? Therefore, as soon as he was back into his mansion, he prepared a hefty gift, which he delivered in person to the Tidu mansion early in the morning the next day.

Wu Liuqi came out to receive the guest, saying that the previous night Mr. Zha was drunk and was not awake yet; Futai’s gift would definitely be delivered to his hand, please be assured and do not worry too much. When the inspector-general heard this, he was greatly delighted; he left after repeatedly expressed his thanks.

The news spread, all government officials knew that the inspector-general delivered generous gifts to Mr. Zha. Nobody knew this Mr. Zha’s origin, yet if even the inspector-general sent him a generous gift, how could they not do the same? Within the next several days, the gifts in the Tidu mansion piled up like a mountain. Wu Liuqi ordered his people to duly record every single gift, but he did not want Mr. Zha to know about it. Every day, other than managing military and public affairs, he would always accompany Zha Yihuang for a drink.

One late evening, the two of them were drinking wine in the flower garden pavilion. After a few rounds of wine, Zha Yihuang said, “I have disturbed your honorable home for many days, experiencing your great kindness. Tomorrow Wan Sheng is going to return to the north.”

“How could Mister say those words?” Wu Liuqi said, “It was not easy to get Mister to the south, if you do not stay a year or a half, I will not let Mister go back. Tomorrow I am going to accompany Mister to five-story pagoda for a visit. Guangdong has so many scenic and historical spots, you won’t be able to visit them all in a few months.”

Zha Yihuang was rather drunk, he boldly said, “Although mountains and rivers are good, it has sunk into the barbarians’ hands; looking at it will only add grief to my heart.”

Wu Liuqi’s countenance changed slightly; he said, “Mister is drunk, let us take a rest a bit early tonight.”

Zha Yihuang said, “When we first met, I respected you as a hero in windblown dust [i.e. hardships of travel], hence it was enough for me to make you my friend; who would have thought that actually my eyes have failed me?”

“How did you eyes fail you?” Wu Liuqi asked.

In a loud and clear voice Zha Yihuang replied, “You have great skills, yet you do not strive for the country, for the people, but helping tyrant Zhou in his oppression, by becoming the Tatars’ eagle and dog, bullying our Great Han’s common people; this moment you are still immensely pleased with yourself, without any sense of shame. Ol’ Zha inevitably is ashamed to be your friend.” While saying that he suddenly stood up.

Wu Liuqi said, “Mister please hold down your voice, if others hear this, it will bring disaster.”

Zha Yihuang said, “Today I still regard you as a friend, I have some good words and encouragement. If you don’t want to listen, there is no harm in killing me. Ol’ Zha has no strength to truss a chicken, in any case I cannot resist.”

Wu Liuqi said, “Zaixia is listening with respectful attention.”

Zha Yihuang said, “General holds power over the military and government of the entire Guangdong province in your hand, you have a golden opportunity for an uprising and come over from the enemy’s side. Make a public appeal, the whole world will respond; even if the great undertaking is not successful, it will bust the Tatars’ guts. Only by dealing with them in large-scale operation will it fit your natural disposition of divine bravery, your great head.”

Wu Liuqi poured a bowl of wine and downed it in one gulp. He said, “I am delighted to hear what Mister has to say!” With both hands he reached down, ‘rip’ he tore the front piece of his own gown, exposing his black-hair-covered chest; parting the chest hair, he exposed eight small characters cut into his flesh: ‘Tian Fu Di Mu, Fan Qing Fu Ming’. [Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother, Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming.]

Zha Yihuang was startled and delighted at the same time. “This … what is this?” he asked.

Wu Liuqi closed his lapel well before answering, “Just now listening to Mister’s magnificent speech, I honor and respect you. In spite of the danger of perishing and extermination of your entire family, Mister opens up your liver and drip gall, giving Zaixia directions, Zaixia no longer dare to cover up the truth. Previously Zaixia belonged to the Beggar Clan, but this moment I am the Red Banner Xiangzhu of the Great Obedience Hall of Tian Di Hui [Heaven and Earth Society]. I took an oath to use the hot blood in my entire body to fight the Qing and restore the Ming.”

Looking at the tattoo on Wu Liuqi’s chest, Zha Yihuang had no more doubt; he said, “Turns out General lives in Cao camp but have your heart in Han camp. Just now my words were offensive, I have greatly offended you.”

Wu Liuqi was greatly delighted, thinking that by saying ‘live in Cao camp but have the heart in Han camp’, Zha Yihuang was comparing him to Guan Yunchang; he said, “This comparison, I dare not to accept the honor.”

Zha Yihuang said, “I wonder what is the Beggar Clan, what is Tian Di Hui? Please advise.”

“Mister please drink another cup,” Wu Liuqi said, “Zaixia will explain it slowly.” Thereupon the two of them drank another cup.

Wu Liuqi said, “The Beggar Clan already exists for a long time, since the Song Dynasty, it is a big clan in Jianghu. The brothers in the Clan beg to make a living, even people from rich and powerful families, upon entering the Beggar Clan, they must totally disperse their family resources and live as beggars. Within the Clan, under the Bangzhu [Clan Leader] there are four Zhanglao [elder], and then front, rear, left, right and middle, five directions, Hufa [protector of the law]. Zaixia held the Left Protector position, an eight-pouch disciple in the Clan, a position that can’t be considered too low. Afterwards, because I did not get along well with an Elder surnamed Sun, we had a fight. At that time Zaixia was drunk, I accidentally beat him that he was seriously hurt. Disrespecting superior is a big violation of the Clan’s law, beating up and injure an elder is an even bigger violation. Bangzhu and the four Zhanglao held a meeting, they blamed Zaixia and expelled me from the Clan. That day when we met at your mansion, Mister invited me for a drink, Zaixia has just been reprimanded and expelled, in my heart I was quite depressed, yet Mister did not abandon me, and treated Zaixia as a friend instead. My mind was eased quite a bit.”

“So that’s how it is,” Zha Yihuang said.

Wu Liuqi continued, “Spring of the following year, we met again by chance by the bank of West Lake, Mister made a comment, praising me as a world-class extraordinary man. Zaixia thought hard for many days, thinking that since the Beggar Clan could not tolerate me, all the friends in Jianghu looked down on me, every day I was as drunk as mud, abandoning myself to despair, in just several years I would die of intoxication. Yet this gentleman, Mr. Zha, said that I am an extraordinary man; could it be that I, Wu Liuqi, once stumbled, am unable to rise, and would not stick out my head to see the sun? Not long afterwards, the Qing troops marched southward, my heart was outraged, I did not know right from wrong, unexpectedly I went to surrender to the Qing army, and rendered quite a bit of military service, massacred my fellow citizens. When I think about it, I am quite ashamed.”

With grim expression Zha Yihuang said, “That is wrong. Xiongtai does not belong to the Beggar Clan, you may come and go alone, you may establish your own faction, why make such an unwise move, offering your service to the Qing army?”

Wu Liuqi said, “Zaixia is simple-minded, at that time I did not have Mister to give me directions, I have done not a few wrong things; I really deserve to die.”

Zha Yihuang nodded, “Since General knew your own mistakes, it’s still not too late to atone for your crimes by meritorious acts,” he said.

Wu Liuqi continued, “Later on the Manchurian Qing swept the north and south, I was promoted to become a Tidu. Two years ago, suddenly someone broke into my bedroom in the middle of the night to assassinate me. This assassin’s martial art skill was not my match, I captured him. When I lighted a lantern to look, to my surprise he was the Beggar Clan’s Sun Zhanglao, whom I injured in the past. He rained curses on me, saying that I was despicable and shameless, that I was willing to be the barbarians’ eagle and dog. The more he cursed, the more vicious he was, each sentence hit the bottom of my heart. Actually I already knew it, and every now and then I thought about it, I knew perfectly well that my conduct and deeds were very wrong. When I searched my soul deep in the night, I was very ashamed; it’s just that what I thought was far less clear compared to what he cursed me. I sighed, and unsealed his acupoint. ‘Sun Zhanglao,’ I said, ‘Your cursing is very true. You may go now!’ He was quite surprised, but then he leaped out the window and left.”

“You have done the right thing!” Zha Yihuang said.

Wu Liuqi said, “At that time, there were quite a few good anti-Qing men locked up in the Tidu yamen prison. First thing in the morning the next day, I looked for some excuses to release them one by one; some I said mistaken identity, some I said not the main culprit, hence I was being lenient in dealing with them. A month or so later, that Sun Zhanglao came back in the middle of the night to see me, he got right to the point [orig. ‘open the door and see the mountain’], asking me whether I had a repentant heart and wanted to set up merit by fighting the Qing. I pulled my saber and chopped two of my left hand fingers, saying, ‘Wu Liuqi is determined to completely correct my former misdeeds, from now on I will listen and obey Sun Zhanglao’s order.’” Stretching out his left hand, indeed his ring finger and little finger were gone, only three fingers remained on it.

Zha Yihuang raised his thumb, “Good man!” he exclaimed.

Wu Liuqi continued his story, “Seeing my sincerity, Sun Zhanglao knew that even though I am hot-headed, I have never eaten my own words; thereupon he said, ‘Very good. Let me go back to report to Bangzhu, I’ll ask Bangzhu to issue his order.’ Ten days later, Sun Zhanglao came back to see me, saying that Bangzhu and the four Zhanglao have had a meeting, and they decided to take me back into the Clan, but I have to start as a one-pouch disciple. He also told me that the Beggar Clan has formed an alliance with Tian Di Hui, to work for a common purpose, fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. Tian Di Hui is founded by Taiwan’s Guoxing Ye [Koxinga, ‘Lord of the Imperial Surname’] Grand Marshal Zheng’s subordinate, the military strategist Chen Yonghua, Mr. Chen. In the recent years it is thriving in Fujian, Zhejiang and Guangdong regions. Sun Zhanglao went to see the Society’s Great Obedience Hall’s Xiangzhu [incense master] on my behalf, to sponsor me into Tian Di Hui. Tian Di Hui checked me up for one year, they had me handle several important matters. After seeing that I was absolutely loyal and not double-hearted, recently Mr. Chen issued an order from Taiwan, promoting me into the Red Banner Xiangzhu of the Great Obedience Hall position.”

Although Zha Yihuang did not understand Tian Di Hui’s background, but the army of Guoxing Ye Yanping Jun Wang [king of Yanping] Zheng Chenggong of Taiwan resisted the Qing alone; their loyalty and bravery, nobody under the heavens did not know or hear. Since Tian Di Hui was established by his military strategist Chen Yonghua, naturally they were of kindred spirit. Thereupon he repeatedly nodded his head.

Wu Liuqi continued, “In the previous years, Guoxing Ye commanded a large army to besiege Jinling, too bad the few are no match for the many, they were driven back to Taiwan. But the number of officers and soldiers under his command who found it too late to retreat and thus remained in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian, three provinces, are indeed not a few. Mr. Chen contacted these old brothers in secret, and established this Tian Di Hui. The slogan of the Society is ‘Tian Fu Di Mu, Fan Qing Fu Ming’, which is the eight characters Zaixia cut onto my chest. Ordinarily the Society brothers do not tattoo their bodies, Zaixia voluntarily tattooed my body to imitate Yue Wumu’s idea of ‘loyal to the end, dedicate oneself to the service of the country’ in the past.”

Zha Yihuang was very happy in his heart, he downed two cups in succession and then said, “By your action, Xiongtai is indeed worthy of the praise ‘world-class extraordinary man’.”

“These five characters ‘world-class extraordinary man’ [hai nei qi nan zi], I am ashamed and dare not accept the honor,” Wu Liuqi said, “As long as Mr. Zha is willing to recognize me as your friend, the one surnamed Wu will be eternally happy. Our Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu[15] Chen Yonghua, Mr. Chen, has another name, Chen Jinnan; now he is the real famous hero and warrior. In Jianghu, no one speaks about him with disrespect; there’s even a saying that said it well: ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain.’ Zaixia has never seen Chen Zongduozhu’s face, hence I can’t be considered anybody.”

Imagining Chen Jinnan’s lofty quality as a hero, Zha Yihuang could not help having a longing in his heart to see him. He poured two cups of wine and said, “Come, let us drink to Chen Zongduozhu!” The two of them downed their cups in one gulp.

Zha Yihuang said, “Ol’ Zha is only a scholar, I have no benefit to the country and to the people. Only on the day General seizes the opportunity to make your move, rising vigorously to fight the Qing, the Ol’ Zha will definitely offer my service in front of the righteous army, to exhaust what little I have, my tiny toil.”

From that date onward, staying at Wu Liuqi house, Zha Yihuang had secret chat with him day and night, discussing the strategy on how to fight the Qing. Wu Liuqi said, “Tian Di Hui’s influence progressively expands to the northern provinces, every major province now have a fragant hall.”

In total, Zha Yihuang stayed at Wu Liuqi’s mansion for six or seven months, and then he returned to his hometown. When he reached home, he was greatly surprised, unexpectedly there was a huge new building right next to his former residence. As it turns out, Wu Liuqi sent people to take all the gifts and gold that Guangdong officials, big and small, presented to Zha Yihuang to Zhejiang, with which they carried out a large scale construction to build a multi-story house.

Zha Yihuang knew very well that Huang Zongxi and Gu Yanwu’s aspiration was definitely to awaken and restore the Ming, they rushed about all directions to assemble the world’s heroes and warriors, together they drew a plan to fight the Qing. For this reason he told them this story without concealing anything. On the boat Huang Zongxi recounted the ins and outs of the entire story to Lu Liuliang; he said, “If this matter is leaked out, the Tatars might strike first and gain the upper hand, while Mr. Yihuang and General Wu will definitely meet the calamity of extermination along with their entire families, the great undertaking of fighting the Qing will lose one pillar.”

Lu Liuliang said, “Other than you and me, three people, this matter must never be revealed even for one word, even when we see Mr. Yihuang, we must not mention the name of Guangdong’s General Wu.”

Huang Zongxi said, “Mr. Yihuang and General Wu have this kind of relationship, the high-ranking ministers of the imperial court want to be hospitable to General Wu, when General Wu appeared in person to intercede and clear the charge on Mr. Yihuang, the imperial court will definitely not want him to lose face.”

Lu Liuliang said, “What Huang Xiong said is very true, it’s just that I was wondering how did Lu Qi, Fan Xiang, two people, also obtain the same verdict as Mr. Yihuang, ‘never seen the book, exempt from punishment and will not be investigated anymore’? Could it be that they also have a powerful figure in the imperial court who intercede for them?”

Huang Zongxi said, “When General Wu interceded on behalf of Mr. Yihuang, if he singled him out, perhaps it would arouse suspicion, thereupon he pulled along these two people to serve as sidekicks; we will never know.”

Lu Liuliang laughed and said, “In that case, perhaps until now Lu and Fan, two people still do not know how they still get to keep their lives.”

Gu Yanwu nodded and said, “For each life of Jiangnan scholars preserved, our strength will also increase by one person.”

(Book note: In the book ‘Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio’ [Qing dynasty book of tales by Pu Songling, 1640-1715], there is a section about ‘Powerful General’, narrating the story about how Zha Yihuang encountered Wu Liuqi. The concluding remarks said, ‘Later on Zha was cleared of this legal case, his guilt by asccociation was withdrawn, finally he was exempted of future investigation, it was all due to the General’s power.’ The commentary stated, ‘Profound act of disregarding one’s reputation was indeed chivalrous achievements of ancient real men. Moreover, it is reported that this General was generous, outspoken and straightforward, outstanding and a rarity throughout all ages. This kind of aspiration ought not to be outdated or thrown into the ditch. Accordingly, these two worthy people’s encounter was not an accident at all.’ In the book ‘The Remainder of the Law’ there is this narrative: ‘Formerly there was a rich man by the name of Zhuang Tinglong in the ‘reed grass’ [not sure, perhaps a place’s name], who purchased the history manuscript of Prime Minister Zhu. He obtained the help of three famous scholars surnamed Wu to increase and polish the written piece, and then he printed and circulated the book. The front page listed the family names of a dozen people, with the renowned Xiaolian [see note 12 above] also listed to add credibility. Disaster struck before personal opportunity was achieved, all because of this ordinary book was discussing extreme literary allusions. The powerful Wu presented a report to the throne to intercede for this Xiaolian so that he was exempted.’ As for Wu Liuqi participated in Tian Di Hui, it was not mentioned in true history, as well as past official government records.)

What the three of them were talking about was top secret at that time, they were on a boat floating on the canal, in the rear cabin there were only Lu family’s mother and children, three people, plus Huang Zongxi was talking in very low voice, hence they did not expect anybody else to eavesdrop, the boat did not have any wall, they were not afraid of any ear on the other side of the wall. Unexpectedly, Gu Yanwu had just finished talking, suddenly they heard strange laughter from above their heads. The three men were shocked. “Who’s there?” they shouted together. But there was not the least bit of sound. The three of them looked at each other in dismay; they all thought, “Could it be that ghosts and demons really exist?”

Among the three, Gu Yanwu was the boldest, plus he had trained a little bit of superficial martial art for self-defense; after calming himself down, he reached into his bosom and pulled a dagger. He pushed open the cabin door and walked toward the bow. Focusing his eyes he looked at the top of the sail. Suddenly a dark shadow suddenly appeared from the sail and pounced down on him. “Who’s there?” Gu Yanwu shouted, while lifting his dagger to stab at the dark shadow. But suddenly he felt pain on his wrist, as it was grabbed by the shadow, followed by his back went numb, since his acupoint was sealed. The dagger fell from his hand, while he was pushed back into the cabin.

Seeing Gu Yanwu was pushed back into the cabin, and that behind him stood a man wearing black clothing, Huang Zongxi and Lu Liuliang were shocked. They noticed the man was big and tall, with malicious laugh across his face. Lu Liuliang said, “In the middle of the night, Sire charged in without permission, what is your intention?”

With a cold laugh the man said, “Thanks to the three of you, Laozi will be promoted and gain wealth. Wu Liuqi is about to rebel, Zha Yihuang is about to rebel, When Ao Shaobao [Junior Guardian Ao – referring to Oboi] receives the secret report, won’t he reward me handsomely? Hey, hey, the three gentlemen may come with me to Beijing as witnesses.”

Lu, Gu and Huang, three people were secretly fearful; they had deep regret in their hearts, “We whispered in the night on the boat, he still heard it. We were too reckless, death is nothing to be resented, but this time we implicate General Wu, we may spoil the great undertaking.”

Lu Liuliang said, “Sire, what are you talking about? We don’t understand it the least bit. If you want to frame good people, go ahead and do it yourself, but if you are thinking of dragging other people along, that will not work.” He has made up his mind to disregard everything; if the man killed him, then it would be ‘the dead cannot testify’.

The big man let out a cold laugh, suddenly he lunged forward and sealed the acupoints on the pit of Lu Liuliang and Huang Zongxi’s stomach. Immediately Lu and Huang, two people were unable to move a single step. The big man laughed aloud and said, “Brothers, come into the cabin. This time we, Vanguard Battalion, are rendering great meritorious service.” From the stern several men responded together, and four men entered the cabin, all wearing clothes commonly wore by people who live and make a living on a boat; they all laughed heartily.

Gu, Huang and Lu, three persons looked at each other in dismay. They knew that Vanguard Battalion was the Emperor’s personal guard, for some reason, unexpectedly these people had been able to catch up with them early on, dressed as boatmen, all along eavesdropping on them outside behind the sail. Huang Zongxi and Lu Liuliang could not be blamed, but for the past several years Gu Yanwu has been tracking all over Shenzhou [old name for China], everywhere he went he got to know heroes and warriors, it could even be said that his vision was not weak, yet toward this several boatmen he was unexpectedly not being careful.

One of the personal guard called out, “Boatmen, turn the boat around, we are going back to Hangzhou. If you do something strange, watch your dog life.”

The boatman holding the rudder at the stern responded, “Yes!”

The helmsman was a sixty, seventy years old man, when Gu Yanwu hired the boat, he had had a talk with him, the boatman’s face was full of wrinkles, his back was bent like a bow, certainly he looked like someone who row and pull the boatman’s tow-rope all year round; at the time of the meeting, he did not have any suspicion. What he did not expect, however, was that although this old boatman was genuine goods at fair prices, his helpers, the other boatmen had been swapped with these personal guards under threat. With no way out, Gu Yanwu could only blame himself for having a loud arrogant talk with Huang and Lu, two people, that they fell into this perilous situation without knowing it.

The man in black laughed and said, “Mr. Gu, Mr. Huang, Mr. Lu, the three of you, gentlemen simply have too great of a reputation, that even those old men in the Capital have heard about you; otherwise, we would not have been following you. Ha ha …!” Turning his head toward his four subordinates he said, “We have obtained the conclusive evidence that Wu Tidu of Guangdong is plotting a rebellion. Now we must hasten to Haining [county, Zhejiang] to arrest that man surnamed Zha. These three rebel thieves are extremely obstinate, since they are not able to escape, we must guard against them taking poison or drowning themselves by jumping into the river. Each one of you must keep your eyes on each one of them, if there is any mishap, your responsibility might not be small.”

“Yes,” the four of them replied, “We will carefully obey Gua Guandai’s [not sure what it is, must be military rank] instruction.”

Gua Guandai said, “When we are back in the Capital and see Ao Shaobao, we won’t have to worry about promotion and gaining wealth.”

A personal guard laughed and said, “All of us rely entirely on Gua Guandai’s cultivation for promotion. Based on the four of us alone, how can we have this kind of good fortune?”

From the bow suddenly someone let out a ‘hey, hey’ laugh; the man said, “Based on the four of you, indeed you do not have that kind of good fortune.”

‘Whoosh!’ suddenly the cabin’s door flew open, a thirty-something man dressed as a scholar appeared on the doorway. He had his hands behind his back, his face carried a smiling expression.

Gua Guandai shouted, “There are officers at work here; who are you?”

The scholar smiled without answering; he took a step into the cabin. Saber’s light flashed, two single-blade sabers chopped down on him from left and right. The scholar sidestepped the attack, his palm hacked down onto the top of Gua Guandai’s head. Gua Guandai hastily raised his left arm to block, while his right hand clenched into a fist and he punched it forward with all his might.

The scholar’s left foot kicked backward, the kick hit a personal guard on the pit of his stomach; the personal guard screamed while spurting a mouthful of blood. The other three personal guards raised their sabers, sweeping across and chopping down. The space inside the cabin was too narrow, the scholar fully used his qin na [grab and capture, grappling] skill, as he hacked, struck, hooked and hit. ‘Crack!’ a hack with the edge of his palm hit a personal guard on the neck, breaking his neckbone.

Gua Guandai struck with his right palm toward the back of the scholar’s head. The scholar parried with a backhand left palm. ‘Bang!’ two palms collided, Gua Guandai was thrown backward, his back heavily crashed onto the cabin’s wall, a section of the wall immediately collapsed. The scholar sent out two palm strikes in succession, striking the remaining two personal guards on the pit of their stomach. ‘Crack, crack!’ two persons’ ribs immediately broke. Gua Guandai leaped out through the hole on the cabin’s wall. The scholar shouted, “Where do you think you are going?” He sent out a left palm strike. It seemed that the palm would strike Gua Guandai’s back, unexpectedly right this moment Gua Guandai’s left foot kicked back, the palm happened to strike the sole of his foot, the palm force sent him flying out instead.

Gua Guandai urgently leaped and ran away. He saw a weeping willow on the bank of the river, with its branches drooping down into the river. Immediately he grabbed the willow branch and somersaulted over the willow tree. The scholar rushed to the bow of the boat, he picked up the bamboo pole for punting boats, and hurled it out. Under the moonlight the bamboo pole appeared like a flying snake, as it was shooting forward. “Ahhh!” they heard Gua Guandai let out a long scream. The bamboo pole pierced his back, and nailed him to the ground. The pole did not stopped swaying.

The scholar entered the cabin. He unsealed Gu, Huang and Lu, three people’s acupoints, and then pushed the bodies of four personal guards into the canal before finally lighting the lantern again. Gu, Huang and Lu, three people did not stop expressing their gratitude, and asked his name and surname.

The scholar laughed and said, “My lowly name has just been mentioned my Mr. Huang. Zaixia surnamed Chen, my coarse name Jinnan.”

[The following part is beyond me, my apology for bad translation.] Book Note:

Our book was written from October 23rd, 1969 to September 22nd, 1972. When it was planned out at the beginning, involuntarily I thought about literary inquisition. In my home I have a well-known historical literary inquisition. One of my ancestors was Zha Siting. He was made the imperial examiner of Jiangxi province by the assistant minister of the Ministry of Rites in the fourth year of Yongzheng of Qing. One of the exam questions he came out with was ‘Holding the people together’ [维民所止 wei min suo zhi]. This sentence came from the ‘Book of Songs’, ‘Eulogy of Shang Dynasty’, ‘Mysterious Bird’: “A thousand li of the country’s territory, holding the people together.” The idea was that the country’s vast territory is the place where common people reside, it is to cherish the people.

It was actually a very common subject, but someone lodged an accusation to Emperor Yongzheng, saying that the two characters ‘wei zhi’ [维止] were actually ‘yong zheng’ [雍正] with the head removed [i.e. the radical stroke removed]. By producing this exam question, the idea was to remove the Emperor’s head. At that time Yongzheng had just ascended the throne, he became the Emperor after intense struggle and he himself had chopped not a few people’s heads. Inevitably he had a guilty conscience, and had gone as far as depending on ‘fortune telling by unpicking Chinese characters’ in his conducts.

He had Zha Siting’s entire family arrested and dealt with severely. Zha Siting was tortured badly, and finally died in prison. Yongzheng still issued an order to have his body mutilated. His son also died in prison. His family exiled. The scholars in the entire Zhejiang province were banned from taking palace examinations for six years. Later on Zha Shenxing was released from prison and allowed to return to his hometown, but he passed away not long afterwards.

Another argument was that Zha Siting had written a book called ‘Wei Zhi Lu’ [Diary of holding together]. There was a eunuch telling Yongzheng that ‘wei zhi’ was removing the head of ‘yong zheng’. He also said that in the ‘Wei Zhi Lu’ there was a paragraph, “Kangxi’s sixty-first year, on such and such month and such and such date, there was a major thunderstorm; I was on furlough at home, suddenly I heard great traveling, the Emperor’s fourth son succeeding the throne, it’s very strange.” ‘Great traveling’ was the Emperor passing away, ‘the Emperor’s fourth son’ was precisely Yongzheng. The book said ‘very strange’, obviously it was ridiculing Yongzheng seizing the throne by dishonest method.

‘Wei Zhi Lu’ also documented in the vicinity of Zhu Qiao [Zhu bridge] town near Hangzhou, there was a Guan Di [Emperor Guan’s] Temple; it was said about the Temple: “An ancient temple in an abandoned village just like the remains of man [汉 – han, also means ‘Han ethnic group’]; only the field, shop and pontoon bridge have various [诸 – Zhu] surnames.” The character ‘Zhu’ [诸 – various] and ‘Zhu’ [朱 – vermillion, also the surname of Ming Emperors] are homophone, Yongzheng thought that Han people cherished the memory of the former Ming.

As for Zha Siting’s exam question in Jiangxi, actually the poem in the exam subject was from the ‘Analects of Confucius’: “Person of noble character do not use words to raise other people, do not reject words because of the speaker.” The third topic was from Mencius: “Mountain path among the footpath, anything useful can become a road, anything useless in between are no more than reeds and grass. Today the reeds and grass are the heart.” At this time ensuring any action would take five days. The palace courtyard said that he was intentionally slandering the imperial decree; the third subject ‘reeds and grass as the heart’ was akin to saying that ‘not knowing what it pointed to, the palace courtyard was bent on not asking anything’.

Yongzheng’s imperial decree said, “Zha Siting … Zhen [I, an emperor referring to self] ordered to walk in the inner palace courtyard, afterwards to instruct the scholars in the government cabinet. Seeing his words tricky and hypocritical, while at the same time hold the notion of looking out for the wolf [i.e. watch one’s back], presumably his intentions are dishonorable. Upon reviewing Jiangxi’s examination subject today, it is obvious that he harbors the thought of resentment, and intents on mocking the present situation. In anticipation of the aforementioned, his daily perverse ideas were be recorded, and officers were dispatched to search his dwelling and belongings, two books of diary were found, rebellious and confusing beyond belief, with fabricated words of complaint and slander in abundance. Also toward the administrative personnel and servants of the divine ancestor, he ridicule and slander wantonly … the flooding disaster of Rehe [Qing imperial resort at Chengde], this book says more than eight hundred government officials were drown, it also says flying locusts in the rain covered the sky; this is a preposterous statement, there is no such thing … He is to be arrested and interrogated immediately, handed over to the Three Judicial Chief Ministries for them to strictly examine and draft the final plan.”

Yongzheng’s criminal charge, which he announced publicly was: looking at his appearance as well as deducing his dishonorable designs, mocking the present situation, recording natural disaster in his journal.

When our book was first published in ‘Ming Pao’ [newspaper, Hong Kong], the first chapter was called ‘Prologue’, the chapter title was Zha Shenxing’s poem, ‘In this way is the ice and frost, in this way is the road’ [‘ice and frost’ is allusion to moral integrity]. Zha Shenxing’s original name was Silian, he was Zha Siting’s older brother. He, as well as his second brother Sili and third brother Siting, were all Hanlin [i.e. graduate of Hanlin Imperial Academy]. Their paternal older male cousin Sihan was a Bangyan[16], their paternal nephew Zha Sheng was a Shi Jiang [侍讲 I don’t know what this is.], also Hanlin. Zha Shenxing’s oldest son Kejian, younger paternal male cousin Sixun, were all Jinshi [successful candidate in the highest imperial civil service examination/palace graduate]. At that time they were called ‘One family seven Jinshi, paternal uncle paternal nephew five Hanlin’, the extended family was very prosperous.

Because Zha Shenxing and Sili were implicated in their younger brother’s literary inquisition, they were brought from their hometown to the prison in the Capital on imperial orders during a severe winter. At that time the number of famous scholars implicated by this case was really not a few. En route to the prison Zha Shenxing penned a poem which he gave as a present to a friend in disaster, another Jinshi in his extended family, part of it says, “In this way is the ice and frost, in this way is the road, seven full periods apart from two of the same year.”

Zha Shenxing could be considered first-class poet of the Qing Dynasty, among the people of Tang and Song dynasties, probably he could be considered second-class. Qing people Wang Shizhen, Zhao Yi, Ji Xiaolan, and the others considered his poem to be on par with Lu You [1125-1210, widely regarded as the greatest of Southern Song poets], both had their own strength and weakness; perhaps this praise was a bit too much.

Emperor Kangxi loved his poems. He took the provincial level imperial examination three times but failed to reach Jinshi. Kangxi summoned him into the Palace, and drilled him at the Southern Study Room. After entering the Palace he took the exam again, and finally he scored second place and became the second Jinshi. At that time his older paternal male cousin, his second brother, paternal nephew, and son had already become Jinshi. Taking the exam together with Zha Shenxing and became Jinshi in guwei year [twentieth year of 60-year cycle, i.e. 1703] (or Kangxi’s forty-second year) was his younger paternal male cousin Sixun, as well as his fellow hometown scholar Chen Shiguan (the father of Chen Jialuo from ‘The Book and The Sword’). Both Zha Shenxing and his second brother Sili were disciples of Huang Zongxi.

Zha Shenxing also wrote ‘Poetry Anthology Dedicated to Paternal Cousin’, fifty chapters, with six-chapter sequel. When in Beijing prison, he did not stop writing poems. Today his journal of prison poem numbered several, the poetic style looked similar:

‘Weeping over Third (younger) Brother Runmu [lit. moist/damp wood]’: “Family gathered together in difficulty, more to come to deliver thine ends, swallowing my cries from my brothers, sobbing blood into my child. The earth exudes its cold yin [shady/negative (of yin and yang)] hole, the sky cries out its wretched placid wind. No sigh reaches to distant netherworld, father and son capture accidental encounter.” (Original note: the aforementioned nephew died one day earlier.) Note: Runmu was Zha Siting, his son died one day earlier.

‘Leap day at the beginning of the third month’: “The year ended and elderly man wearing mourning garments, it is something that one constantly has to deal with. Concern over less spring rain for the grass, in place of more dawn breeze cherished by thousand flowers.” Note: ‘less spring rain’ was an allusion to less kindness of the imperial court, ‘more dawn breeze’ was pointing at the harsh government affairs.

Five-character-quatrain[17]: “A place in the south to the supervisor in the north, the one being passed on was the embroidered prison garment. What’s left surrounded the people on the outside, chasing after the memory of summer after summer of ruthless disaster.” (Note: ‘disaster’ clearly pointed to Wei Zhongxian [see note 10 above] and the other eunuchs framing the innocents.) “The bugs get their name from the stench, rampant crimes are difficult to conceal, all doing harm to the flesh and blood, contemptible people [orig. ‘louse’] at the end of degradation.” “Human world has peach and apricot, gazing in despair toward preserved spring sunset. The rolling wind brought flowers flying over, under which family’s tree will it land?” (Original note: There was a storm one day before Qingming[18], apricot flower spread underneath the tree, blown into the wall.)

‘Defeated flock of magpies’: “’Cha, cha’ in the morning, ‘luo, luo’ in the evening, magpies happily sang, over the ugly cry of crows. Children shoot crows, they do not shoot magpies; the reason was tasseled shield produced cheerful south. (Note: tasseled shield, mountain name, snow-covered and extremely cold). Two magpies, heartless birds of prey, occupying a nest on a tall tree with no neighbor next to it, just like a hawk changed into a turtle-dove, but its eyes had not changed, having a voracious desire to look around and scheming to swallow the neighbor up with a sudden cross-over. Every time it feeds the flock withdraw, how can six states dare to struggle against the powerful Qin? I desire to press on, to light a fire to burn the nest, while at the same time moving back and forth with a sigh. Which creature wishes to lose its flock? Alas! Which creature wishes to lose its flock?”

‘At the end of spring, a lone willow has not stretched its branch, hard-pressed walk underneath enjoys accidental success’: “New leaves and trees outside the encirclement, out of the wall came high pavilion, the drawing on the ground thus became a prison, coming alone the companions are captured behind bars. I became feeble no matter which road I take, day and night looking towards thine glory. Already after the third month, in the end, all eyes have not turned green. Desiring for the unlearned old man, why did thou appear to be disorganized? Furthermore, living between the heaven and the earth, grass and trees are not heartless. After sending forceful words, accordingly ask the prisoner office in haste.”

In his poems, Zha Shenxing sympathized with common people’s pain and difficulties a lot, so much so that he also had compassion toward birds and animals, grass and trees. When the ‘Poetry Anthology Dedicated to Paternal Cousin’ was published, the poems written in prison were also retained.

All the titles of our book’s fifty chapters are taken from the couplets of Zha Shenxing’s poems. Although the ‘Poetry Anthology Dedicated to Paternal Cousin’ has rich variety of writings, to pick fifty seven-character lines that are related to each chapter’s content is not easy. [Translator’s note: the original titles of each chapter consist of two lines, seven characters each.] The method that was used here is not picking similar lines from different poem of different journal, or even gathering lines from poetry anthologies of different authors; rather, it was selecting and using completely related lines of one person’s poem. Sometimes the upper line was correct, the bottom part was unrelated, or the bottom line was very suitable, but the upper part could not be used; hence the entire lines had to be abandoned. For this reason, inevitably some chapter titles are not too close-fitting.

The reason why I want to collect of Zha Shenxing’s poems was because Kangxi had seen most of it (except the ‘prison poems’); Kangxi had even written the ‘Dedicated to Paternal Cousin’ [jing ye tang[19]] three characters on a horizontal inscribed board for Zha Shenxing. Of course, I also have a personal desire to proclaim my own ancestor’s poems. Modern scholars are aware that Zha Shenxing was a major poet of the Qing dynasty, but as for how he wrote the poems, I am afraid very few people have ever read about it; after all, he must not be compared to genuine great poets.

When people from ancient times wrote literary work mentioning their own ancestors, they would never dare to address the ancestor by name; usually they would add a character ‘Gong’ [公 – duke/father-in-law/honorable gentleman] after their nickname (honorary title) of official rank. I remember growing up listening to my elders talking about our ancestors in the memorial hall, when it comes to Zha Shenxing, they said ‘Chu Bai Tai Gong’ [lit. the first white great-grandfather’; when it comes to Zha Sheng, they said ‘Sheng Shan Tai Gong’ [lit. sonorous mountain great-grandfather’. When modern writers write in vernacular, we do not need to be such literal-minded, if we want to revere our ancestors, revering them in our hearts is enough.

In the title of this chapter, the ‘crooked bunch’ refers to ‘people who implicate and frame others’, the meaning of ‘crooked bunch wend on a rampage courting disaster’ is the persecution of many well-known scholars charged with guilt by association by such people. The ‘high wind’ is ‘high and steep, and clear-cut’, describing lofty personality with elegant manner, smart and bright; the idea behind ‘discussing early morning moon during high wind’ is: only virtuous hero, scholar with strength of character, can obtain the acclaim as ‘man with excellent knowledge and experience’.

[1] Lit. ‘old man’; ‘I, your father’ or simply ‘I’, used arrogantly or jocularly.

[2] Posthumous name of the first Han Emperor Liu Bang (256 or 247 – 195BC, reigned 202-195BC).

[3] ‘Alias’ – my dictionary gives this explanation: ‘courtesy or style name traditionally given to males age twenty in dynastic China’.

[4] Gu Yanwu (1613-1682), late Ming/early Qing Confucian philosopher, linguist and historian, played a founding role in phonology of early Chinese, author of ‘Record of Daily Study’. Huang Zongxi (1610-1695), scholar and writer of the Ming-Qing transition.

[5] Emperor Hong Wu, regnal name of first Ming emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398), reigned 1386-1398). Temple name Ming Taizu.

[6] I seem to remember reading about rich families in ancient China who had guests staying in their homes for an extended period of times. Interestingly, Bing Translator gives this definition: protégés of the powerful who stay with their benefactors like parasites.

[7] Tianqi Emperor, fifteenth Ming emperor Zhu Youxiao (1605-1627, reigned 1620-1627).

[8] The term yamen is practically used to describe any local government office in feudal China.

[9] ‘Daren’ (lit. big person), a term used by common people (or an officer of lower rank) to address government official (or his/her superior).

[10] Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627), infamous eunuch politician of late Ming. (See also ‘White Hair Demoness’, translated by Faerie Queene and yours truly.)

[11] Kunqu opera, influential musical theater originated in Kunshan, Jiangsu province during the Yuan [Mongol] dynasty.

[12] Xiaolian – successful second degree candidate in imperial exam.

[13] Lit. ‘under’; lowly one, a humble way of referring to self.

[14] Zhuangyuan – top scorer in palace examination, ‘hong’ means red.

[15] ‘zong’ – chief, ‘duo’ – helm/rudder, ‘zhu’ – master or host, manager, someone who is in charge. Translator’s note: My apology. I do not know how to translate it properly. I am aware that you guys do not like ‘helmsman’, so until we can agree on a good translation, I am going to stick with ‘zongduozhu’.

[16] Bangyan – candidate who came second in the Hanlin examination (Zhuangyuan was the first place, Tanhua was the third place).

[17] Poetic form consisting of four lines of five syllables, with rhymes on first, second and fourth line.

[18] The Pure Brightness Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) (Confirmed by CFT).

[19] The character ‘tang’ [堂] here can also mean ‘hall’, hence ‘jing ye tang’ can also be translated as ‘Hall of Dedication’.

Chapter 2 In most peculiar circumstance best friendship at first meeting.

Since the ancient time Yangzhou has always been known as a flourishing city with famous scenic spots. Tang dynasty’s poet Du Mu wrote, “I awake, after dreaming ten years in Yangzhou, Known as fickle, even in the Street of Blue Houses[1].” People of old said that among the pleasures of life, nothing can surpass ‘having a string of a thousand taels wrapped around one’s waist and ride a crane to Yangzhou[2]. Yangzhou was located within the canal built by Emperor Yang of Sui [569-618 AD, reigned 604-618 AD], consequently, the water traffic between Jiangsu and Zhejiang must pass through Yangzhou. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, it had become the gathering place of major salt merchants, and thus it prospered to be one of the wealthiest place in China.

During Kangxi of Qing Dynasty’s early years, Ming Yu Fang [‘Fang’ means a district, a subdivision of a city, ‘Ming’ – cry (of a bird), ‘Yu’ – jade] by the Shouxi [lit. ‘slender/thin west’] Lake of Yangzhou, where the Street of Blue Houses was located, was known for its high concentration of famous courtesans.

It was a nice evening in the spring, the lanterns were just lit, from each courtyard in Ming Yu district came the sound of bamboo flutes and happy laughter, mixed with shouts of people playing drinking game and ordering more drink, plus songs and drunken brawl. Music and wine were everywhere; it was indeed a picture of gaiety in a peaceful time.

Suddenly, from both the south and the north side of the area came the sound of about five or six men shouting together, “Friends of courtyard businesses, ladies, and guests who are here to have fun, everybody, listen up: We are looking for a man, we are not interested in everybody else, please do not shout or move needlessly. If you do not obey our instruction, please do not blame us for being rude!”

After a short burst of commotion, Ming Yu district immediately turned very quiet, but not for long, because noise was rising from all directions in the courtyards; the women were screaming and the men were shouting in great confusion.

A large banquet was being held at the Li Chun Yuan [lit. ‘beautiful/lovely spring courtyard’], about a dozen or so prominent salt merchants were sitting around three tables, each one of them had a courtesan sitting next to him. As soon as they heard the commotion, their countenance was greatly changed. “What is it?” “Who is it?” “Are they policemen investigating a case?” they all wondered.

Suddenly there was the beating-drum-like sound outside the main gate, or perhaps the main gate itself was being beaten. The servants [orig. ‘turtle slave’] were so frightened that they did not know whether they should open the door. ‘Bang!’ the main gate was broken, about seventeen, eighteen big men burst in. These men were wearing short clothes, with plain white band tied around their heads and dark green belt around their waists. In their hands they held either a flickering saber, an iron club, or an iron stick. As soon as the salt merchants saw them, they recognized these men as salt smugglers.

At that time the salt duty was quite heavy. To avoid paying tax, these smugglers sold the salt in the black market and made quite a fortune. Yangzhou was the salt distribution center of the Huai River north of the Yangtze River. Generally outlaws would form gangs of smugglers. These salt traffickers were very fierce and tough, and would disperse instantly whenever they met a squad of government officers and soldiers, but if they came across a smaller number of soldiers, without saying anything they would simply take out their weapons and attack. Therefore, the local authorities would frequently close their eyes and did not intervene.

The salt merchants were aware that these salt smugglers’ trade was usually limited to illegal salt; they neither rob travelling merchants nor commit other crimes, they only dealt with common people and usually were quite fair, seldom use force. Today, seeing those smugglers breaking into Ming Yu district carrying malicious air, the merchants panicked, but they were also surprised.

A man, about fifty years of age, among the smugglers said, “Friends, we apologize for this disturbance.” While saying that, he raised his cupped fist from left to right, then again from right to left; and then he said loud and clear, “I wonder if a friend of Tian Di Hui[3] by the surname of Jia, Jia Laoliu [lit. ‘Ol’ Six’], Jia Laoxiong [Old Fellow Jia], is here?” His gaze swept the faces of the salt merchants one by one.

Meeting his sharp gaze, the merchants were terrified; they repeatedly shook their heads, but inwardly they were quite relieved, thinking, “It’s only the clan and society in Jianghu carrying vendetta against each other in a bustling street, it may have nothing to do with outsiders.”

Raising his voice, the elderly smuggler called out, “Jia Laoliu, this afternoon at a tavern by Lake Shouxi you were talking rubbish; you said Yangzhou’s salt smugglers are cowards who do not dare to rebel by killing government officials, who can only smuggle salt, small-scale business which does not require any guts. You were drunk [orig. ‘full of yellow soup’], shouting and mumbling big; you said that if Yangzhou’s salt smugglers refuse to accept, we should go to Ming Yu district to look for you. Well, here we are! Jia Laoliu, you are a warrior of the Tian Di Hui, how come you are now shrinking back your head like a turtle?”

The rest of them, a dozen or so salt smugglers, echoed, “Tian Di Hui warrior, how come you are shrinking back your head like a turtle? Hot piece mama, are you the Heaven and Earth Society, or Turtle Head Society?”

The elderly man said, “It was Jia Laoliu alone who spoke rubbish, we must not drag the other good friends of Tian Di Hui into this. We are salt smugglers, we earn our food with sweat and blood, how can we be compared to the heroes of Tian Di Hui? But we are not turtles who pull back our heads either!”

After waiting for quite a while, that Jia Laoliu of Tian Di Hui had never answered. The old man shouted, “Go and search every room, if you see that turtle head surnamed Jia, invite him to go out. This man has a big blade scar on his face, he is very easy to recognize.” The salt smugglers complied loudly and immediately went from room to room.

Suddenly from a room on the eastern wing came a rough yet heroic voice, “Who’s shouting and rambling in here, disturbing laozi seeking merriment?”

The salt smugglers called out one after another, “Jia Laoliu is here!” “Jia Laoliu, come out!” “Damn it, this dog thief has guts!”

The man on the east wing laughed aloud and said, “Laozi is not surnamed Jia, it’s just that you guys recklessly scolding Tian Di Hui, it’s not pleasing in laozi‘s ears. Laozi is not of Tian Di Hui, but I know each and every one of Tian Di Hui friends are heroes and warriors. You, salt smugglers, are not even fit to carry their shoes or wipe their butt.”

The salt smugglers shouting and yelling indistinctly; three men wielding sabers charged into the room, but a series of ‘Aiyo!’ was heard, the three men flew out of the room one by one and dropped to the floor. One man’s saber knocked his own forehead, blood flowed and he passed out instantly. Six salt smugglers charged together into the room, but with repeated cry every single one of them was thrown back out. These people continued swearing and cursing, but no one dared to enter.

The old man took several steps forward toward the room, under the dim light he saw a big burly man with dragon-like [orig. ‘虬’ – qiu, young dragon with horns] whisker was sitting on the bed, his head was wrapped in plain white cloth. There was no blade scar on his face, apparently he was not Jia Laoliu. In loud voice the old man asked, “Sire has quite a talent, may I ask your honorable surname and your great given name?”

The man inside the room cursed, “Whatever your Die-die’s [see Chapter 1] surname and given name are, naturally that’s what laozi‘s surname and given name are. Good kid, you have forgotten your own [paternal] grandpa’s name and surname?”

From among the crowd of courtesans standing on the side, a woman, approximately thirty years old, suddenly giggled. A salt smuggler rushed a step forward and ‘slap! slap!’ he struck the courtesan that tears flowing for her eyes and nose. “Damn it!” the salt smuggler cursed, “Stinky prostitute, what’s so funny?” The courtesan was so scared that she did not dare to make any noise.

Suddenly from the main hall a boy, about twelve, thirteen years old, scrambled in and swore loudly, “You dare to hit my Ma! You are a dead turtle, rotten bastard. I wish a thunder will strike you when you go out, I wish the back your hands will be infected by rotten boils, which will eat your hands and your tongue. I wish bloody pus will go into your belly, rotting your stomach and intestine!”

The salt smuggler was livid, reaching out, he was trying to grab the boy, but the boy dodged and hid behind another salt smuggler. With his left hand the first salt smuggler pushed the second salt smuggler, toppling him down in the process, then with his right fist he punched the boy’s back as hard as he could.

“Daye[4], please spare his life!” the middle-aged courtesan called out in great alarm.

The boy was very slippery, he ducked and slipped under the salt smuggler’s crotch, while reaching up to grab; he happened to grab his scrotum, which he squeezed with all his might. The salt smuggler was so much in pain that he let out a strange ‘wah! wah!’ cry. The boy quickly slipped away. To vent his anger, the salt smuggler punched the middle-aged courtesan. ‘Bang!’ the courtesan passed out instantly.

The boy threw himself on her body while calling out, “Ma, Ma!” The salt smuggler grabbed the back of the boy’s collar and lifted him up. He was about to punch the boy when the older salt smuggler shouted sternly, “Don’t create trouble! Put that little boy down!” The salt smuggler put the boy down and kicked his buttocks, sending him rolling down on the floor and ‘bang!’ he hit the wall.

The older man cast a glance to the salt smuggler, then he said toward the door, “We are the brethrens from the Green Gang; just because a friend from Tian Di Hui by the surname of Jia insulted the Green Gang in public and said he would wait for us to settle the account here in Ming Yu district, we have come to look for him. Since Sire is not a friend from Tian Di Hui, we are like the well water does not mix with the river water; why did you injure us? Please leave your name, so that when our Bangzhu [Clan or Gang Leader] ask, we can explain to him.”

The man inside the room laughed and said, “You are looking for a Tian Di Hui friend to settle an account, what does it have to do with me? I am here looking for pleasure. Since we are like the well water does not mix with the river water, then don’t come here bothering laozi. I do have an advice for laoxiong, though: Tian Di Hui people, it would be better if laoxiong do not provoke them. If they curse you, just let it go, you’d better tuck your tail between your legs and continue smuggling salt quietly, making some money.”

The older man angrily said, “I have never seen anybody in Jianghu more unreasonable than you.”

The man inside the room coldly said, “Reasonable or not, what do I have to do with you? Could it be that you are looking for someone to marry into your family, and you want to call me your Jiefu [older sister’s husband]?”

Right this moment, three men quietly sneaked in from outside, they were also dressed as salt smugglers. One of them was a skinny man wielding spear chain, in a low voice he asked, “What is this all about?”

The older man shook his head and said, “He doesn’t want to talk, just keep on saying that we must swallow Tian Di Hui’s insult. Perhaps that man surnamed Jia is hiding inside.”

The skinny man swung his spear chain and tossed his head. The older man pulled out a pair of about a foot long daggers from his waist. Suddenly the four of them charged together into the room, followed by the sound of weapons colliding.

Lovely Spring Courtyard was one of four biggest courtyards in Ming Yu district, each room was exquisitely furnished with pear wood tables and chairs, with mahogany beds and couches. An uninterrupted series of ‘Bing! Bang! Crack!’ was heard; obviously all the furniture inside the room was shattered. The madame proprietor’s chubby face was trembling, her mouth mumbled prayers to Buddha, her heart was in constant pain.

The four salt smugglers did not stop shouting and yelling, but the man in the room did not make any noise. The people in the hall stood far away for fear that they might suffer disaster by accident. The noise of colliding weapons inside the room was getting faster and faster. Suddenly someone let out a miserable scream; presumably one of the salt smugglers was hit.

The burly man who kicked the boy, whose scrotum was still hurting really bad, saw that the boy was crawling up from the bottom of the wall. His anger flared again, and he swung his fist to punch the boy. The boy sidestepped, but the burly man flipped his hand and slapped him on the face, sending the boy spinning twice. The crowd of servants and salt merchants saw how vicious the salt smuggler was, if the beating continued, the boy would be killed, but nobody dared to intervene. The burly man raised his right fist to strike the crown of that boy’s head. The boy darted forward to escape, he pushed the side-room door open and dashed in.

“Ah!” everybody in the hall gasped. The burly man was also startled, but he did not dare to pursue into the room.

As the boy dashed inside, for a moment he was unable to see clearly. Suddenly the weapons clashed again, ‘Ding! Dang!’ Under the sparks he saw a man was sitting on the bed, his head was wrapped in white cloth bandage; his appearance looked terrifying. “Ah!” the boy screamed in terror.

When the sparks vanished, the room turned dark again. But the candles in the hall shone their light through the door, gradually his eyes adjusted to the dark and he was able to see clearly. The man with bandaged head was wielding a single-edged saber, which he brandished furiously. From the four salt smuggler leaders, only two remained, the other two were lying on the floor. The two that remained were the older man wielding a pair of daggers, and a tall and sturdy man. The boy thought, “This man’s head is heavily injured, and he is unable to fight standing up, he won’t be these salt smugglers’ match; I’d better flee immediately. But I wonder how Mama is?”

Remembering how his mother was beaten and humiliated, anger surged up in his breast; he swore through the door, “Turtle thief, your granny, f*ck your eighteen generations ancestor’s stinky salt skin … your salt smuggling home is full of salt. Your granny, your mother, your wife are all dead, and you pickle them with salt and you sell them as pork jerky on the street, three catties for a wen [coin of smallest denomination], as if people would want to buy your stinky salt-cured meat …” Hearing his malicious and sarcastic swearing, the salt smugglers in the hall were furious; they wanted to rush inside and beat him to death, but nobody dared to enter the room.

The man in the room suddenly swept his saber diagonally down, ‘shua!’ he chopped the tall and sturdy man’s shoulder that even his shoulder bone was severed. The big man staggered back while screaming in loud voice, his body swayed and he almost fell down. The older man raised his pair of daggers and stabbed straight toward the pit of the man’s stomach. The man lifted up his saber to parry. Right this moment there was a dull slap as the big man’s whip struck his right shoulder. With a ‘clang!’ the saber fell down. The older man howled and struck with his pair of daggers. The man turned his left palm over and ‘Crack! Crack!’ several of the older man’s ribs were broken as he was thrown outside the room, spurted fresh blood, and fainted on the floor.

Although the big man’s left shoulder was heavily injured, he was still very bold. Grabbing a mace, he swung it down on the top of the man’s head. The man was unable to dodge, as if his entire strength was already depleted and he was unable to move even a single muscle. Actually, the big man’s strength was almost spent as well, the mace in his hand moved very slowly.

Seeing the critical situation, the boy’s anger and hatred rose up again; throwing himself forward, he grabbed both of the big man’s legs and pulled backward with all of his might. The big man weighed at least two hundred catties, while the boy was small and skinny; normally, the boy would not be able to move even half a hair of the big man’s. However, this moment the man was heavily injured, while he used the last ounce of his strength to move the weapon. With a sudden pull from the boy, his legs gave up; he fell down and lay still on a pool of blood.

Gasping for breath, the man on the bed laughed and said, “Come in and fight if you have guts!”

The boy shook his hand repeatedly, telling him not to provoke the people outside. But when the older man was thrown out of the room, his body bumped against the door, sending it swinging continuously. Illuminated by the candle light from the hall, the man’s dragon whisker and his face full of blood looked very mean and ferocious.

The crowd of salt smugglers in the hall was unclear of the real situation inside; they looked at each other in shock, only to hear the man inside shouted again, “Son of a b*tch, you don’t dare to come in, the old man will come out and kill you one by one.”

The crowd of salt smugglers cried out and lifted their wounded comrades lying on the floor, they bolted out the door. The man laughed aloud, and then lowering his voice he said, “Kid, go … go bolt the door.”

The boy thought the door definitely must be bolted. “Yes!” he hastily replied and bolted the door, then he slowly walked toward the bed. In the dark his nose caught the intermittent smell of blood.

The man said, “You … you …” but before he could finish, he slumped down; apparently he fainted. His body swayed and was about to fall off the bed. The boy quickly rushed forward to prop him up. This man’s body was very heavy. The boy struggled hard to straighten him up and put his head on a pillow.

The man was breathing laboriously; a moment later he said in a low voice, “Those salt smugglers will come back in an instant, my strength has yet to return, I must get … get damn away from here.”

Holding out his hand to stand up, he seemed to bump a sore spot for he groaned loudly. The boy quickly helped him up. The man said, “Pick the saber, give it to me!” The boy picked the saber from the floor and stuffed it into the man’s right hand. The man slowly got up from the bed, his body was constantly swaying. The boy stepped forward and set his right shoulder underneath the man’s left armpit.

“I am leaving,” the man said, “Don’t help me, otherwise if those salt smugglers saw you, they would kill you as well.”

“Damn it,” the boy said, “If they want to kill, just kill, I am not afraid. We, good friends, must uphold yi qi [loyalty, code of brotherhood], I cannot not help you.”

The man burst out in laughter, mixed with several coughs. He said with a laugh, “You and I must uphold yi qi?”

“Why not?” the little boy replied, “Good friends enjoy blessings and endure misfortune together.”

In the teahouses around Yangzhou, there were many storytellers; they told the story of the Three Kingdoms, the Water Margin, the Ming Dynasty’s ‘Legend of Heroic Deeds’, and all kinds of heroic tales. Day in and day out this little boy went in and out of brothels, casinos, teahouses and restaurants, running errands and buying things for the customers; by scrapping here and there, he was able to earn some money. Whenever he had free time, he would squat by the tea table listening to people telling stories. He always sweet-talked the teahouses’ proprietors by calling them uncle this and uncle that, and thus the proprietors had never chased him away.

He had heard quite a few stories, and was extremely fascinated by the sagas of heroes and warriors of old. Seeing this man that albeit his heavy injury was able to defeat not a few of salt smugglers, his heart was filled with admiration. Since the heroes in the story often said those words, he just blurted it out.

The man laughed aloud and said, “Those words are well said. In Jianghu laozi has heard it mentioned a thousand times, the fellows who enjoying blessing together seem to be many, but I haven’t seen too many of those who endure difficulties together. Let’s go!”

With his right shoulder the boy supported the man’s left arm; he opened the door and walked into the hall. When the people saw them, they were startled and scrambled away from them.

“Xiaobao, Xiaobao,” the boy’s mother called out, “Where are you going?”

“I am walking this friend out,” the boy replied, “I will be back soon.”

“This friend! Ha ha … now I have become your friend!” the man said with a laugh.

“Don’t go,” the boy’s mother called out, “You must quickly hide.” The boy laughed and walked away from the hall in big strides.

The two of them left Lovely Spring Courtyard and found the alley was surprisingly extremely quiet; presumably because they met a formidable opponent, the salt smugglers went back to call for reinforcement. As they left the alley and entered a small street ahead, the man looked up to the stars above and said, “Let’s go to the west.”

After walking for several zhang [unit of length, approximately 10 ft or 3 m], they came across a donkey cart. “Let’s rent a cart!” the man shouted. The driver halted. Seeing the two of them were covered in blood, his face showed astonishment and suspicion. The man took out a silver ingot from his pocket, about four or five taels [1 tael worth approximately 50 grams or 2 oz. of silver] worth. He said, “Take the money first!”

Seeing a quite valuable silver ingot, the driver stopped the cart immediately and put down the footboard. The man slowly heaved his body up on the cart. From his pocket he fished another yuanbiao [gold or silver ingot, shaped like a boat], worth ten taels, and gave it to the boy. He said, “Little friend, I am leaving. I give this yuanbiao to you.”

Seeing such a big yuanbiao, the boy could not help but mumbling indistinctly and swallowing his saliva, while thinking, “What a good guy!” However, he remembered many chivalrous tales he had heard and recalled that heroes and warriors only make friends, they do not love money. Today, after so many difficulties, he finally had a chance to become a hero; whatever happened, he must continue to the end, he cannot be a useless person who was greedy for money. Thereupon, with a loud voice he said, “We are speaking about yi qi, and not about money. If you give me the yuanbiao, you are considering me unworthy. You are injured, and I am going to send you off.”

The man was startled, but then he laughed to his heart’s content with his face to the sky. “Very good! Very good!” he said, “You meant well.” And he put the yuanbiao back into the pocket. The boy crawled up the cart and sat by his side.

“Mister, where do you want to go?” the cart driver asked.

“To the west of town,” the man replied, “The Victory Hill!”

“Victory Hill?” the cart driver was startled, “Going to the west of town in the dead of the night?”

“Exactly!” the man said, while lightly knocking his saber against the side of the cart.

The cart driver was scared, “Yes, yes!” he hastily said. Pulling down the cart’s curtain, he drove the donkey out of town. The man closed his eyes to rest, his breathing was short and heavy, sometimes he would cough several times.

Victory Hill was a large rural area about thirty li [unit of length, about 0.5 km or 1/3 of a mile] northwest of Yangzhou. During the Shaoxing years of the Southern Song Dynasty, Han Shizhong scored a major victory against the Jin army on this hill, hence the name ‘Victory’. The cart driver drove his donkey in great haste, in just over two hours they had reached the bottom of the hill. “Mister, we have arrived!” he said.

The man saw the hill was only seven, eight zhang high, it was only a knoll actually. “Pei!” he spat and asked, “Is this the damned Victory Hill?”

“It is,” the cart driver said.

The boy also said, “This is indeed the Victory Hill. When my Ma and the sisters went to burn incense in the Madame Ying Lie [lit. ‘heroic deed’] Temple, I came along and played in here. The Madame Ying Lie Temple is a bit farther ahead.”

The Madame Ying Lie Temple was dedicated to Madame Han Shizhong, Liang Hongyu. Yangzhou residents called it ‘Distinguished Prostitute Temple’. When she was young, Liang Hongyu[5] was a courtesan, and that was how she met Han Shizhong. Every year the courtesans of Yangzhou would visit the Madame Ying Lie Temple to burn incense and pray, asking the spirit of this mistress from Anguo, Hebei province, of the Song Dynasty, to look after the latter generation sisters of the same trade.

The man said, “Since you know it, it must be right. Get down.”

The boy jumped down and then he helped the man stepped down the cart. It was pitch-black all around. The boy thought, “That’s right, this is a desolate place. If we are hiding here, those salt smugglers will never find us.”

The cart driver was afraid this man, whose body was covered in blood, would ask him to take him someplace else; pulling the reins, he whipped the donkey to leave. “Hold it,” the man said, “Take this little friend back to the city.”

“Yes,” the cart driver replied.

“Let me keep you company for a while,” the boy said, “Early tomorrow morning I can buy some steamed buns for you to eat.”

“Do you really want to stay with me?” the man asked.

“No one is taking care of you,” the boy replied, “It won’t be right otherwise.”

The man roared in laughter again. “In that case,” he said to the cart driver, “You may go!” The cart driver hurriedly urged the donkey to walk.

The man sat on a big rock. When the cart driver was out of sight, no more noise was heard all around. The man suddenly shouted, “Two bastard turtles behind the willow tree, roll out to laozi here!”

The boy jumped in fright. “Someone is here?” he mused. But then he saw two men walking slowly from behind the willow tree. Those two wore plain white band around their heads and dark green belt around their waists; obviously they belong to the salt smuggler gang.

The two men had flickering sabers in their hands. After taking only two steps, they halted. The man shouted, “Bastard son of turtles, you have been trailing your old man all the way from the pleasure house to this place; not coming out to deliver your life, what are you waiting for?”

The boy thought, “That’s right, they are here to ascertain where we are, then they are going to send reinforcement to kill him.”

The two men talked to each other in low voice, then suddenly they turned around and ran. The man quickly leaped to pursue. “Ay!” he exclaimed, and fell sitting down. His injury was simply too heavy that he was incapable of running after those men.

The boy thought, “The donkey cart has already left, the two of us cannot go too far. If those two managed to spread the news, it would be terribly bad if a large number of troops come here to kill us.” Suddenly he cried loudly, “Aiyo, why did you die? You must not die! You cannot die!”

The two salt smugglers were running like crazy, suddenly hearing the boy’s cry, they were startled and halted their steps immediately, only to hear the boy crying out, “Why did you die?” They could not help but were pleasantly surprised. One of them wondered, “The evil thief died?” The other man replied, “His injury was very heavy, he could not bear it. The little demon is crying like that, I am sure he is really dead.”

Looking from the distant, they saw the man curled up on the ground. The first man said, “Even if he is not dead yet, we need not be afraid of him. Let’s chop his head and take it back; won’t we render a great service that way?”

“Wonderful!” the other man agreed. With a saber in their hands, the two of them slowly came near.

The boy was wailing loudly while beating his chest and stomping his feet. “Laoxiong,” he called out, “Why did you die suddenly? If those salt smugglers came back, how am I supposed to deal with them?”

The two men were greatly delighted, they leaped toward them. One of them said, “Evil thief, it is best that you die!” He grabbed the back of the boy’s clothes, while the other man chopped his saber down on the man’s neck.

Suddenly a saber flashed; one man’s head flew up, while the other man who grabbed the boy had his chest and abdomen cut open from top to bottom. The man laughed aloud up stood up, propped by his saber.

The boy cried, “Aiyo, salt smuggler friend, how come your head is missing? The two of you, Seniors, are going to see Yan Wang [Yama, King of Hell]; who will come back to tell your friends? Isn’t it terrible?” Crying to this part, he could not refrain from breaking out in laughter.

The man said with a laugh, “You, this little demon, are really smart, your crying is really convincing. If you did not cry like that, those two bastards would not come back.”

The boy replied with a laugh, “What’s so difficult about pretending to cry? When my Ma was about to beat me, before the whip even reach my body, I cried my heart out, that way the whip would not come down too heavily.”

“Why would your mother want to beat you?” the man asked.

“It depends,” the boy replied, “Sometimes it was because I stole her money, sometimes it was because I created trouble for the aunties or uncles.”

The man sighed. “If I did not kill these two scouts, we will have a serious problem,” he said. “Hey, when you cried just now, why didn’t you call me ‘master’ or ‘uncle’, but you called me ‘laoxiong‘?”

The boy said, “But you are my friend, of course I would call you ‘friend’. What damned ‘Master’ are you? You want me to call you ‘Master’, what in the devil are you to me?”

The man roared in laughter. “Very good!’ he said, “Little friend, what is your name?”

“Are you asking my honorable surname and my great name?” the boy replied, “I am called Xiaobao [lit. ‘little treasure/precious’].”

The man laughed, “Your great name is Xiaobao,” he said, “What about your honorable surname?”

The boy knitted his eyebrows. “I … my honorable surname is Wei,” he said.

He was born in a brothel, his mother’s name was Wei Chunhua [lit. ‘spring flower’]. As for his father, even his own mother did not know who. Everybody called him Xiaobao, nobody had ever asked his surname before. This time the man asked, he simply blurted out his mother’s surname. This Wei Xiaobao was born in a brothel and grew up in a brothel; he had never been to school. When mentioning his ‘honorable surname and great name’, he was not joking; it’s just that he often heard the storytellers mentioning the four words ‘honorable surname’ and ‘great name’, without realizing that it was a way of respectfully addressing other people, and thus it was inappropriate to be used to refer to oneself.

Following the example, he also asked, “What is your honorable surname and your great name then?”

The man smiled and said, “Since you are my friend, I should not hide my name from you. I am surnamed Mao, the ‘mao’ from ‘maocao’ [cogon grass], not the ‘mao’ from ‘maochong’ [caterpillar]. I am the eighteenth in rank, thus I am called Mao Shiba [eighteen].”

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed and jumped, “I have heard that the government … the government wants to arrest you?” he said, “They said you are a big robber[6] or something.”

Mao Shiba grunted and said, “That’s right, aren’t you afraid of me?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Afraid of what? So what if you are a big robber? Lin Chong, Wu Song, those heroes from the Water Margin were also big robbers.”

Mao Shiba was very happy. “You are comparing me with Lin Chong, Wu Song, those heroes; that’s wonderful!” he said, “Who told you that the government wants to arrest me?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There are official announcements posted all around Yangzhou; it says that the big robber Mao Shiba is wanted, dead or alive. Whoever can kill you will be rewarded two thousand taels. If anybody can give information leading to your arrest, the reward is somewhat less, only a thousand taels. Yesterday I heard some people talking about it at the teahouse; they said that you possess such a great skill that whoever is thinking to arrest you or kill you should forget it. It is best if anybody knows your whereabouts and informs the authority, thus collecting the thousand taels reward, which actually is an ill-gotten gain anyway.”

Mao Shiba leaned his head sideways to look at him and snorted contemptuously. A thought flashed through Wei Xiaobao’s mind, “If I can collect this thousand taels reward, Ma and I, two people, will have enough money to spend: eating chicken, duck, fish and beef, gambling and fooling around; this money won’t be spent for several years.” Seeing Mao Shiba leaning his head looking at him with somewhat strange expression, Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “What are you thinking? You think I am going to report you for the reward?”

“Yes,” Mao Shiba admitted, “White and shiny silver, who does not love?”

“F*ck your granny,” Wei Xiaobao swore, “What Jianghu’s yi qi are you talking about?”

“It’s up to you,” Mao Shiba replied.

“Since you do not trust me, why did you tell me your real name?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your head and your face are wrapped in that much bandage, you look completely different from the picture on the official announcement. If you did not say that you are Mao Shiba, who would recognize you?”

Mao Shiba said, “You said that we should enjoy blessings and endure misfortune together. If even my real name I conceal from you, what kind of damn bastard friend am I?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, he said, “Absolutely correct! Even if there is a ten thousand taels, a hundred thousand taels reward, no way would laozi report you.” While in his heart he said, “If there really is a ten thousand taels, a hundred thousand taels reward, will I or won’t I betray a friend?” He was not so sure.

“Very well,” Mao Shiba said, “Let us sleep for a while, tomorrow at noon [orig. ‘wu shi’, between 11am-1pm] there will be two friends coming for me. We have an appointment to meet at the Victory Hill west of Yangzhou; even if I am dead, I won’t leave before we meet.” Wei Xiaobao had been running around for the whole day, he was already tired early on. As soon as he heard him, he leaned against a tree trunk and fell asleep.

When he woke the next day, he saw Mao Shiba was pressing both his hands against his chest; he said with a laugh, “You are awake. Drag these two dead men behind the tree, and sharpen these three sabers.”

Wei Xiaobao pulled the dead bodies as told. The morning sun had just appeared, it was only now that he was able to see clearly: Mao Shiba was roughly forty years of age, his hands and arms were bulging with muscle, his eyes were bright, his expression was bold and powerful. He took the three sabers to a mountain stream nearby, dipped the saber into the water, and then sharpened it on a rock. He thought, “To deal with the salt smugglers, one saber is enough. Supposing this Mao Laoxiong is killed, why do I have to sharpen the other two? So that other people can use it to kill Wei Xiaobao?” He was always lazy, after putting an act of sharpening the blades for some time, he said, “Let me go buy some deep-fried breadstick and steamed buns for us to eat.”

“Where would you buy some deep-fried breadstick and steamed buns?” Mao Shiba asked.

“There’s a small town over there, not too far from here,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Mao Dage, may I borrow two taels of your money?”

Mao Shiba chuckled; taking out the big yuanbiao from his pocket, he said, “We are brothers, what’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours, you can just use mine, there is no need to say the word ‘borrow’.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he thought, “This hero indeed considers me as a friend; even if there is a ten-thousand taels of reward, I simply cannot report him to the authority. But what about a hundred thousand? Now that is going to be a problem. Pei! Just look at him, will he worth that much money? I don’t need to think too much.” Receiving the money, he asked, “Do you want me to buy you some medicine?”

“No need,” Mao Shiba said, “I have my own medicine.”

“Alright, I am leaving,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mao Dage, don’t worry, supposing I am caught by the authorities, even if they kill me, I will never tell them that you are Mao Shiba.” Hearing the sincerity in his voice, Mao Shiba nodded. Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself, “You will have two friends coming over, I’d better buy a pot of wine, and several catties of cooked beef.”

Mao Shiba happily said, “Nothing’s better than wine and meat; go quickly and return quickly. I can kill better with a full stomach.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Do the salt smugglers know you are here?” he asked, “Are they after you?”

“It’s not that,” Mao Shiba said, “I have an appointment to fight with someone on the Victory Hill. Otherwise, why would I rush to this place?”

Wei Xiaobao let out a breath. “You are still injured,” he said, “How can you fight? Why do you have to keep the appointment? It won’t be too late to wait until you recover, it’s just that … it’s just that I am afraid the other party won’t agree to it.”

“Pei!” Mao Shiba spat, “The other party is a famous hero and warrior, why won’t he agree? It’s me who is unwilling. Today is the twenty-ninth day of the third month, isn’t it? Half a year ago, the appointment has been decided. Afterwards I was caught by the authorities and was put in jail. I was concerned over this appointment, I have to keep it; hence I had to break out from jail and in the process killed several Eagle Claw’s[7] grandsons, only then was the city of Yangzhou thrown into a complete mess, and so they put up some damn posters to arrest laozi. His granny, just the day before yesterday I came across several Eagle Claw’s kids, whose martial art skill was very strong. I killed three of them, but unexpectedly I also suffered a bit of injury in the process; just consider it my bad luck.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will hurry to buy something to eat. When you are full, you may fight.” He started to run immediately. Rounding the hillside, he rushed for six, seven li before reaching a small town. He made a plan in his heart, “Mao Dage cannot even walk from his wound, how can he fight? He said the opposite party is a famous hero and warrior, his martial art skill must be good; what can I do to help him?”

With the money in his hand, his heart was itching unbearably; in all his life, he had never held that much money, he knew he would not be happy unless he spend it all. Going to a grocer, he bought two catties of cooked beef, a duck marinated in soy paste, and two bottles of yellow wine. He still had quite a bit of money left. With it he bought a dozen steamed buns, and eight strips of deep-fried breadstick, at most it was only twenty-some wen. Suddenly he had an idea, “Why don’t I buy a roll of rope? I can put some horse-tripping rope on the ground. When they fight, if the opponent is not careful, he may trip on the rope and fall down, then Mao Dage can chop him with his saber.”

He remembered a storyteller once told a story about a general who went to battle, his horse was tripped and he fell down, the enemy general raised his saber and chopped down the man into two pieces. In high spirit he went to buy the rope. When he reached the general store, however, he saw a row of four big vats in the store; one contained rice, the next one soy bean, the next one salt, and the last one contained small chunks of lime. Right away he recalled, “Last year, when gangs of salt smugglers fought by the Fairy Bridge, someone threw lime at their eyes and turned defeat into victory at once; why didn’t I think about it earlier?” Therefore, he did not buy rope, but a bag of lime instead, and returned to Mao Shiba.

Mao Shiba was lying by a tree, sleeping; hearing his footsteps, he woke up immediately. Opening a wine bottle, he took two mouthfuls and loudly praised it. “Aren’t you going to drink?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao had never had wine before, but since he was acting as a hero or warrior, he took the bottle and took a mouthful. He felt a rush of heat bubbling up his stomach and he coughed immediately. Mao Shiba roared in laughter and said, “Little hero has not learned drinking wine skill.”

Suddenly from a distant someone was calling out loud and clear, “Shiba Xiong, are you well since we parted?”

“Wu Xiong, Wang Xiong,” Mao Shiba called back, “You two also look very well!”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was pounding. He looked up to the direction of the voice, and saw two men were walking quickly along the main road, whom very soon had arrived in front of them. One was an old man, with long white beard hanging in front of chest, yet his countenance was ruddy and bright, without any wrinkle at all. The other one was a middle-aged man in his forties, short and stout. His head was bald, with a small braid hanging from the back of his head, his forehead looked like a hard-boiled egg without its shell.

Mao Shiba raised his cupped fist and said, “Xiongdi [generic term for ‘brother’; referring to self] is inconvenienced on the legs, cannot stand up to pay my respect.”

The bald man slightly frowned. The old man laughed and said, “Why be polite?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Mao Dage is too honest, why must he tell people his legs are injured?”

“We have wine and meat here,” Mao Shiba said, “Would the two of you eat a little bit?”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” the old man replied. Sitting next to Mao Shiba, he took the wine bottle.

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “Turns out these two are Mao Dage‘s friends, they are here not to fight with him,” he thought, “That’s wonderful! When the enemy arrives, these two may help him fight.”

As the old man brought the bottle to his lips, the bald man said, “Wu Dage, you must not drink this wine!”

The old man was startled, but he laughed immediately, he said, “Shiba Xiong is a firm and frank good man, how can there be any poison in the wine?” ‘Glug, glug’ he drank two mouthfuls of wine, and then handed the bottle to the bald man and said, “If you don’t drink the wine, you are holding a good friend in contempt.”

Hesitation flashed on the bald man’s face, but it was inappropriate for him to defy the old man’s words, thereupon he received the wine bottle. He was just about to bring the bottle to his mouth when Mao Shiba suddenly reached out and snatched the bottle away, saying, “We don’t have much wine! Since Wang Xiong does not like to drink wine, save several mouthfuls for me.” Raising the bottle, he poured two mouthfuls of wine into his mouth. The bald man’s face turned red; he sat down and grabbed some beef and started to eat.

Mao Shiba said, “Let me introduce you to a good friend of mine.” Pointing toward the old man, he said, “This is Wu Laoyezi [Old Master Wu], his title is Dapeng [lit. ‘the Great Roc’], in Jianghu he is known as ‘Cloud Scraper Hand’. His punching and kicking skill is very famous.”

The old man laughed and said, “Mao Xiong has painted gold on my face.” Looking all around, he did not see any other people, hence he was rather astonished.

Mao Shiba pointed to the bald man and said, “This is Wang Shifu [respectful form of

address for older men], whose given name is a single character ‘Tan’; his nickname is ‘A Pair of Pens Cut Into a Mountain’. His skill in using a pair of judge-pens has truly reached perfection.”

“Mao Xiong is making fun of me,” the bald man said, “I have been defeated under your hands, I am really ashamed.”

“You flatter me,” Mao Shiba said. Pointing toward Wei Xiaobao he said, “This young friend is my newly found brother …” Listening to this point, Wu and Wang, two people were startled. They looked at each other, and then turned their gaze toward Wei Xiaobao. In all honesty they could not figure out the background of this skinny twelve, thirteen years old boy. In the meantime, Mao Shiba continued, “This young friend is surnamed Wei, given name Xiaobao. In Jianghu he is known as … known as, um, his nickname is … is …” After pausing for a moment, he said, “He is known as the Little White Dragon. His water skill is superb, he can stay in the water for three days and three nights, live on fish and shrimp, and his face will not change.”

He wanted to give this new friend some face, so that he would not appear discouraged in front of strangers, hence he had a mind to boast somewhat. However, Wei Xiaobao did not know any martial art, while Wu and Wang, two people were martial art experts, they would know from his voice or his movements, so it would be hard to deceive them. After thinking for a moment, Mao Shiba decided to say that Wei Xiaobao’s water skill was truly formidable. Wu and Wang, two people, were northern warriors, they did not know their way around the water, hence they would not know the genuine from the fake. He then said, “The three of you are good friends, you should know each other better.”

Wu and Wang, two people, raised their cupped fist and said, “It’s an honor to meet you at last!”

Wei Xiaobao simply copied what they were doing, he also raised his cupped fist and said, “It’s an honor to meet you at last!” While inwardly he was pleasantly surprised, “Mao Dage brags on my behalf, what kind of Jianghu warrior am I? I am sure this trickery will be exposed later.”

With the four of them, the wine, meat and steamed buns were finished in no time. The bald Wang Tan’s appetite was really good; at first he was rather shy, but later on he started to take big bites. The amount of beef, steamed buns and deep-fried breadsticks he alone ate was more than the other three people combined.

Mao Shiba used the sleeve of his clothes to wipe his mouth. “Wu Laoyezi,” he said, “This young friend’s water skill is fabulous, but he has not learned his land’s skill yet. Without any choice I will have to fight you one against two; it is not because I am looking down on the two of you.”

Wu Dapeng said, “I’ll say our appointment can be postponed another half a year.”

“And why is that?” Mao Shiba asked.

Wu Dapeng said, “Mao Xiong is injured, obviously you cannot unleash you true skill. If the old man defeats you, there is no glory in that; if I am defeated, I won’t have any face to see other people even more.”

Mao Shiba laughed aloud and said, “Injured or not, there is not much difference. If I have to wait another half a year, won’t I be anxious even more?” With left hand pressed against the tree trunk for support, he slowly stood up; his right hand already held his saber. “Wu Laoyezi has always been bare-handed,” he said, “Wang Xiong, pull your weapon!”

“Very well,” Wang Tan said. Both hands entered his pocket, ‘clang!’ he pulled out a pair of judge-pens.

Wu Dapeng said, “In that case, Wang Xiandi [‘worthy (younger) brother’], please give your humble brother an opportunity to have a try first. If I fail, it won’t be too late for you to try.”

“Yes!” Wang Tan complied, and retreated three steps.

With left palm upturned and right hand moved in circle, light as a feather Wu Dapeng delivered a strike toward Mao Shiba. Mao Shiba’s saber hacked down diagonally, lightly chopped Wu Dapeng’s left arm. Wu Dapeng lowered his head, and quickly came in under the blade, with his left hand slapped under Mao Shiba’s right elbow. Mao Shiba leaned sideways and dodged behind the tree. ‘Slap!’ Wu Dapeng’s palm struck the tree trunk. The tree was about five, six zhang tall, the trunk was thick and solid, yet Wu Dapeng’s palm strike had made the yellow leaves of the tree fall down like rain.

“Good palm strength!” Mao Shiba called out. His saber cut horizontally across Wu Dapeng’s waist. Wu Dapeng suddenly leaped up and from the air pounced down, his white beard floating; it was a wonderful sight. Mao Shiba countered with ‘Westerly Wind Rolling In’, his saber swept up from below. Wu Dapeng made a somersault in the air and leaped away. Mao Shiba’s saber was less than half a foot from his abdomen. The saber was no doubt swift and fierce, but the way Wu Dapeng evaded it was also swift and brilliant.

Wei Xiaobao had seen too many fights in his life, but it was all marketplace brawls where the rogues butting head with each other, kicking and pulling the opponent’s braid, wrestling and beating each other randomly. Other than Mao Shiba’s fierce battle with the salt smugglers at the Lovely Spring Courtyard the previous day, he had never seen martial art masters dueling each other in such a dangerous competition.

He saw Wu Dapeng advancing and retreating in quick successions, his palms danced, while Mao Shiba brandished his saber in front of his body like a silvery light shield. Several times did Wu Dapeng press in, but each time he was pushed back by the saber light.

In the midst of intense battle, suddenly they heard hoof beats as about a dozen riders came galloping by; they were all dressed in Manchurian Qing military attire. When they were near, those dozen or so soldiers spread out and surrounded these four men in the middle. The leader shouted sternly, “Don’t move! We have an order to arrest the Big Robber Mao Shiba. It has nothing to do with anybody else, please step away!”

Hearing this, Wu Dapeng held his palms. Mao Shiba said, “Wu Laoyezi, the Eagle Claws have arrived! They are coming for me, you don’t need to pay attention, let’s continue our fight!”

Wu Dapeng turned toward the soldiers and said, “This Xiongtai [brother, generic term] here is a law-abiding common person, how can he be the Big Robber? You mistook him as someone else.”

The leader laughed coldly and said, “He is a law-abiding common person, too bad there are too many law-abiding common people in the world. Friend Mao, you have committed a horrendous crime in Yangzhou. A real man is always responsible for what he did. Come follow us nicely!”

“Just wait a moment,” Mao Shiba said, “Wait until victory or defeat between me and these two friends is decided, then we’ll talk.” Turning toward Wu Dapeng and Wang Tan he said, “Wu Laoyezi, Wang Xiong, we must decide victory or defeat today, if you want to wait for another half a year, I don’t know if I, the one surnamed Mao, will still alive. In short, why don’t the two of you come together?”

The leader shouted, “If the two of you are not Mao Shiba’s accomplices, leave this place at once, do not get involved in this matter.”

“Your granny,” Mao Shiba said, “What are these shouting and screaming for?”

“Mao Shiba,” the leader said, “You broke out of jail and killed people, that was the local authority’s business, we need not take notice of it. But I heard that in a brothel you were yelling and boasting that the traitors of Tian Di Hui, who started a rebellion, are heroes and warriors; did you or did you not say such thing?”

Mao Shiba loudly said, “Of course the friends of Tian Di Hui are heroes and warriors; are you saying that people like you, traitors of the Hans who lick the imperial court’s eggs, are heroes and warriors?”

The leader’s eyes flashed a murderous look; he said, “Ao Shaobao [Oboi, see Chapter 1] sends us from Beijing to the south exactly to arrest the Tian Di Hui rebels. Mao Shiba, come with us.” While saying that, he turned toward Wu Dapeng and Wang Tan, he said, “The two of you were fighting with this traitor and bandit, presumably you are not his accomplice. You may leave.”

Wu Dapeng said, “May I know your honorable surname and great name?”

The leader proudly patted the shiny black flexible whip wound around his waist and said, “I am the Black Dragon Whip Shi Song, on assignment from Ao Shaobao to capture Tian Di Hui rebels.”

Wu Dapeng nodded; he turned to Mao Shiba and said, “Mao Xiong, by Heaven my father and Earth my mother!”

With eyes wide open Mao Shiba asked, “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” Wu Dapeng smiled and said, “Mao Xiong, you probably are not a Tian Di Hui brother, but why did you speak well of Tian Di Hui?”

“Tian Di Hui protects common people and kills traitors, they are doing heroes and warriors’ work, naturally they are heroes and warriors,” Mao Shiba said, “There is a saying in Jianghu: ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain.’ Chen Jinnan, Chen Zongduozhu [see note 14 Chapter 1], is the leader of Tian Di Hui. All Tian Di Hui friends are working under Chen Zongduozhu, how can there be anyone who is not a hero and warrior?”

Wu Dapeng asked, “Mao Xiong, have you met Chen Zongduozhu?”

“What?” Mao Shiba angrily said, “Are you saying I am not a hero and warrior?” Since he was that angry, apparently he had never met Chen Jinnan.

Wu Dapeng smiled, “I do not dare to presume,” he said.

Mao Shiba said, “Are you saying you have met Chen Zongduozhu?” Wu Dapeng shook his head.

Shi Song asked Wu and Wang, two people, “Do you know any Tian Di Hui people? If you have any information that will lead to the arrest of Tian Di Hui leader, that Chen Jinnan or whatever his name is, Oboi will certainly heap you with rewards.”

Wu Dapeng and Wang Tan had not replied, Mao Shiba laughed aloud with his face to the sky; he said, “You mother’s dreaming a big dream in a clear autumn day; a lump of brick like you wants to arrest Tian Di Hui’s Chen Zongduozhu? You keep saying Ao Shaobao this and Ao Shaobao that; this Oboi calls himself the number one warrior or Manchuria, how is his martial art skill anyway?”

Shi Song said, “Ao Shaobao is supernaturally brave, his martial art skill matchless. Once on a Beijing street he killed a mad bull with his fist; do you, a traitor, also know about it?”

“His granny,” Mao Shiba swore, “I don’t believe Oboi is that formidable, I am just about to go to Beijing to challenge him.”

With a cold laugh Shi Song said, “Are you worthy to fight with Ao Shaobao? The Senior only needs to extend one finger and you will be a dead man. The one surnamed Mao, we have talked enough nonsense, come follow us!”

“You think it’s that easy?” Mao Shiba replied, “You have thirteen men; laozi will fight one against thirteen. Even though I know I am not your match, I will still fight you.”

Wu Dapeng laughed and said, “Why does Mao Xiong consider us as outsiders? We have here three against thirteen; one man takes four, we may not necessarily lose.”

Both Shi Song and Mao Shiba were stunned. Shi Song said, “The two of you must not have a change of mind and make a mistake; committing treason by helping a rebel is not a fun thing to do.”

Wu Dapeng laughed and said, “If you say we are helping a rebel, so be it; but to commit treason, that we do not dare.”

Shi Song said, “Helping a rebel is committing treason! You two think carefully, are you determined to help this traitor?”

Wu Dapeng said, “Half a year ago, Mao Xiong and this Wang Xiongdi here made an appointment for a friendly duel in this place, it has nothing to do with me. Unexpectedly the government authority was not sensible enough by locking this Mao Xiong in jail. He is a good man of his words; if he did not keep this appointment today, how would he conduct himself in Jianghu in the future? So it was because he was forced by the government authority that he broke out of jail and killed people. It is called the government official drives the people to revolt, he has no choice but to rebel. Shi Daren, if you would give laohan [‘the old man’, referring to self] a face, please take your squad back, let laohan and Mao Xiong have a competition to measure their martial art skills. Whether you are going to arrest him tomorrow, laohan and Wang Xiongdi will not care!”

“No, can’t do,” Shi Song said.

One of the soldiers suddenly shouted, “Old fellow, you speak too much already!” While saying that, he pulled out his saber and squeezed his legs to spur the horse; raising his saber, he chopped it down on the top of Wu Dapeng’s head. Wu Dapeng tilted his body to evade the saber, his right arm reached out while leaping up at the same time to grab the soldier’s back. With one smooth motion he threw the soldier to the ground.

The rest of the soldiers cried out, “Revolt! Revolt!” and jumped down their mounts to surround Wu Dapeng, three people. Mao Shiba’s legs were injured, he was still leaning on the tree, but he lifted his saber and hacked down a soldier to his death. The saber pared across and cut another soldier’s waist, sending him to his death. Seeing his ferocity, the rest of the soldiers did not dare to close in. With hands on his waist, Shi Song sat on the horseback, watching.

At first Wei Xiaobao was also at the center of the encirclement, but when Shi Shong was still talking to Mao Shiba and Wu Dapeng, step by step he walked away. The soldiers did not know what this skinny and shriveled kid was doing in that place, so they did not pay him any attention. When the fight broke, he hid behind a tree several zhang away. “Shall I go now, or shall I stay and watch?” he asked himself, “Mao Dage only has three on their side, they will be killed by this soldiers for sure. After that, will these soldiers come and kill me as well?” But then he had a second thought, “Mao Dage considers me as his good friend, we should enjoy blessings and endure misfortune together. If I sneak out quietly, I am not holding up yi qi.”

With a sweep of his palm, Wu Dapeng struck down a soldier. Wielding his pair of judge pens, Wang Tan fought three soldiers. By this time Mao Shiba had chopped down another soldier’s right leg. The soldier fell down on his own pool of blood, cursing and swearing loudly, his voice was sad and shrill.

Shi Shong let out a loud and long cry; with the Black Dragon Whip in his hand, he also jumped down his mount. Before his feet landed on the ground, the tip of his whip had already coiled toward Mao Shiba. Mao Shiba unleashed the saber technique ‘Five Tigers Breaking the Gates’ to counter move for move. Shi Song lashed out his flexible whip seven, eight times in succession with formidable stances, but Mao Shiba countered each and every one with his saber.

Suddenly Wu Dapeng shouted loudly, one soldier flew up and ‘Bang!’ he fell to the ground. The number of soldiers was reduced by one. On the other front, Wang Tan was fighting one against three, he gradually fell under a disadvantageous position, his left leg had been gashed by a sawtooth saber; blood gushed out of his wound, yet while limping and soaked in blood, he was still fighting hard.

The three soldiers who fought with Wu Dapeng were not weak either; two sabers and one sword were weaving in and out around his body, Wu Dapeng’s Cloud Scraper Hand failed to land on their bodies.

Shi Song’s flexible whip moved faster and faster, yet all along he was unable to subdue Mao Shiba. Suddenly he launched the stance ‘White Snake Spitting At Will’, the tip of his whip went straight toward Mao Shiba’s right shoulder. Mao Shiba raised his saber to block; to his surprise, however, Shi Song’s attack was an empty move, with a flick of his wrist, the former move, ‘Make a Sound in the East and Strike in the West’ changed into ‘Jade Belt Wrapped Around the Waist’, where the Black Dragon Whip was lashing to the left, but then immediately coiled back to the right to wrap itself around Mao Shiba’s waist.

Mao Shiba’s legs could walk only with difficulty, all along he was standing against a big tree for support. As Shi Song’s attack, the ‘Jade Belt Wrapped Around the Waist’ arrived, he should have either dash forward or leap backward, since it was the only way to evade. But now he had no choice but to take the attack head-on; ‘Crack!’ he struck the tip of the whip with his saber that it fell down. Shi Song shook his whip loose. As the whip handle was loose, the whip dropped slightly, but suddenly it coiled up again, with an unimaginable speed it wrapped itself around Mao Shiba and the tree trunk; altogether it circled three times around. ‘Stab!’ the tip of the whip hit Mao Shiba’s right chest.

Shi Song wanted to capture Mao Shiba alive so he could interrogate him on the Tian Di Hui. Seeing Wu Dapeng and Wang Tan had not surrendered, he was eager to retrieve the Black Dragon Whip, thereupon he stooped down to pick up a discarded saber on the ground with the intention of chopping Mao Shiba’s right arm. With the saber in his hand, he was just about to straighten up his body when a white cloud swayed in front of his eyes, countless fine powder assaulted his eyes, his nose, and his mouth. Instantly he choked up, followed by burning pain on his eyes, as if they were pricked by ten thousand steel needles at once. He wanted to open up his mouth to shout, but it was filled with the powder, even his throat seized up that no sound came out of his mouth. This mishap happened so suddenly that although he was a veteran of Jiang Hu, he was panic-stricken. Dropping the saber in his hand, he raised both hands to rub his eyes. After rubbing for a while, he suddenly realized, “Aiyo! The enemy scattered lime on my eyes!” Raw lime would boil in contact with water, immediately his eyes were burning. Right this moment, he felt an ice-cold sensation on his abdomen; a saber had penetrated his belly.

When the whip wrapped his body, Mao Shiba had lost all hope. Suddenly he saw white dust fly upward, Shi Song’s saber dropped down, both hands were rubbing his eyes. While still in shock, he saw Wei Xiaobao pick up the saber and with both hands thrust it into Shi Song’s abdomen, and immediately dashed away to hide behind a tree.

Shi Song’s hands were shaky, he staggered and swayed several turns, then tumbled face down on the ground. Several soldiers were greatly shocked, they called out together, “Shi Dage! Shi Dage!”

Wu Dapeng moved his left palm in ‘Iron Tree Blooming’, concentrating his power in the palm, sending a soldier flying several zhang away, spurting blood from his mouth. The remaining five soldiers knew they were lost, and were not in the mood to prolong the battle. They turned around and fled, forgetting even their own horses.

Wu Dapeng turned around and said, “Mao Xiong‘s skill is indeed superb, this Black Dragon Whip Shi Song’s martial art skill is superior, yet today he lost his life in your hand!” He saw that Shi Song died with a saber in his abdomen, so he assumed it came from Mao Shiba’s hand.

Mao Shiba shook his head and said, “I am ashamed! It was Wei Xiaoxiongdi [little/younger brother (generic term)] who killed him.”

Wu and Wang, two people were greatly amazed, “The little kid killed him?” they asked. Just now they were busy fighting the enemy, so they did not see Wei Xiaobao throw the lime. The ground was covered with blood, since before his death Shi Song was rolling around on the ground, his body was covered with mud; although there were traces of lime on the ground, they had not paid attention.

With his left hand Mao Shiba grabbed the tip of the Black Dragon Whip and shook it off. ‘Whoosh!’ he lashed the whip on Shi Song’s head. Although his abdomen was penetrated by the saber, Shi Song did not die immediately; as his crown was struck with the whip, his life was gone instantly. “Wei Xiongdi,” Mao Shiba called out, “What a good skill!”

Wei Xiaobao came out from behind the tree. Realizing that he had killed a famous government official, 10% of his heart was proud of himself, but the other 90% was afraid. Half believing half doubting, Wu and Wang, two people looked at him from top to bottom, sizing him up. They noticed his countenance was pale, his body trembled, his eyes brimming with tears, his legs shaky as if he was about to fall. He also looked like he was about to cry, or perhaps he was going to call, ‘I want my mommy!’. In any case, they could not believe he killed the Black Dragon Whip Shi Song.

“Xiaoxiongdi,” Wu Dapeng said, “With what style did you kill this man?”

With a trembling voice Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I … killed this of … officer? No, it wasn’t me. No … not me …” He knew that killing a government official was a capital offense; panic-stricken, the only thing he could think of was to deny.

Mao Shiba frowned; he shook his head and said, “Wu Laoyezi, Wang Xiong, I owe you for helping me in critical time and saving my life. Shall we continue fighting?”

“What saving your life? It is not worth mentioning,” Wu Dapeng replied, “Wang Xiongdi, I think we do not need to continue fighting.”

“No, we don’t!” Wang Tan said, “Mao Xiongdi and I did not have either deep enmity or grudges to begin with. Why don’t we all become friends? Mao Xiongdi‘s martial art skill is superior, he has guts, and has knowledge and experience; I admire him wholeheartedly.”

Wu Dapeng said, “Mao Xiong, we say goodbye now. The mountain is long, the river is far, we will meet again someday. Mao Xiongdi admires Tian Di Hui’s Chen Zongduozhu very much, I will do my best to convey your words to Chen Zongduozhu.”

Mao Shiba was elated, he took a step forward and said, “You … you … you know Chen Zongduozhu?”

Wu Dapeng laughed and said, “Actually, Wang Xiongdi and I are humble members of the Great Transformation Hall of the Tian Di Hui. Since Mao Dage has such a high esteem to our humble society, even if we have had serious enmity between us, we will definitely write it off, much less we did not have any grudges to begin with.”

Mao Shiba was pleasantly surprised, “Turns out … turns out you really knew Chen Jinnan.”

“Our society brethrens are numerous, Chen Zongduozhu‘s whereabouts is uncertain,” Wu Dapeng said, “My position in the society is low, I really have not seen Chen Zongduozhu personally. I was not trying to deceive you a moment ago.”

“So that’s how it is,” Mao Shiba said.

Wu Dapeng raised his cupped fist and turned around to leave. His palms did not stop striking here and there. A continuous ‘Slap! Slap!’ was heard, he struck the soldiers lying on the ground one by one; regardless of whether the soldier was dead or alive, after being hit by his Cloud Scraping Palm, the dead soldiers’ tendon would be broken tendon and their bones crushes, those who were still alive would take his last breath instantly. In a low voice Mao Shiba mumbled, “What a palm strength!”

When the two of them had left far, he muttered to himself, “Turns out they are Tian Di Hui people.” A few moments later, he turned to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Go get me a horse!”

Wei Xiaobao had never been near a horse before; seeing the horse was big and tall, he was scared, so he slowly approached the horse from its back.

“Stay in front of the horse,” Mao Shiba bellowed, “If you approach a horse from its butt, it will kick you!”

Wei Xiaobao circled to the horse’s head and put out his hand to pull the reins. Fortunately the horse was docile, it followed him obediently. Mao Shiba tore a piece of his own clothes to bind the wound on his right arm. Pressing the saddle with his left hand, he jumped onto the horseback. “Go home!” he said.

“Where are you going?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Why do you ask?” Mao Shiba replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Since we are friends, of course I have to ask.”

Mao Shiba’s countenance fell, “Your granny,” he swore, “Who’s your friend?”

Wei Xiaobao took a step back, his small face turned completely red, tears rolled down from his eyes; he did not understand why one moment Mao Shiba was fine, the next moment he was very angry. Mao Shiba asked, “Why did you throw lime on Shi Song’s eyes?” His voice was stern, his expression looked even more frightening.

Wei Xiaobao was really scared; he took another step backward. “I … I saw he was about to kill you.” His voice trembled.

“Where did you get the lime from?” Mao Shiba asked.

“I … I bought it,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Why did you buy it?” Mao Shiba pressed.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You said you were about to fight people, and I know you are injured, so … so I bought the lime powder to help you.”

Mao Shiba was really angry. “Little bastard!” he cursed, “Your granny, where did you learn such trick from?”

Wei Xiaobao’s mother was a prostitute, nobody knew who his biological father was, so what he hated most was for people to call him ‘little bastard’. His anger flared, he also cursed, “Your granny’s old bastard, f*ck your seventeen, eighteen generations of Mao’s bastard ancestors. Turtle bastard, why do you care where I learned the trick from? Stinky turtle, to your death nothing will ever get through your old turtle head …” While his mouth was swearing, his feet was running to hide behind a tree.

Mao Shiba squeezed his legs, the horse jumped forward, his long arm reached out to grab the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck. Lifting him up, he roared, “Little demon, let’s see if you can still curse!”

Wei Xiaobao’s legs kicked randomly in the air, he called out, “You are a thief bastard, stinky turtle, a road kill, a swine that has been cut in a thousand pieces …” He grew up in a brothel, and thus had learned countless cursing words of all dialects from north to south. This time he was really angry, so filthy speech flowed out of his mouth effortlessly.

Mao Shiba was getting more upset. ‘Whack!’ he slapped Wei Xiaobao’s face really hard! Wei Xiaobao screamed and wailed, his cursing was getting filthier and filthier. Suddenly he opened his mouth and bit the back of Mao Shiba’s hand as hard as he could. In pain Mao Shiba tossed him down on the ground. Wei Xiaobao quickly stood up and ran, while his mouth did not stop shouting obscenity. Mao Shiba unhurriedly followed on horseback. Although Wei Xiaobao was not slow, his stature was small and his legs were short; how could he possibly beat a running horse? Only about a dozen of zhang later he was out of breath and was quite exhausted, but when he turned his head to look, Mao Shiba’s horse was only less than a zhang away. In his panic he tripped and fell down on the ground. Since he was already down on the ground, he continued rolling away while wailing and screaming loudly. Having lived in a brothel and on the street, he was accustomed to fighting. Whenever he was not the opponent’s match, he would usually resort to this trick. If the opponent was an adult, they would simply shake their heads and leave.

“Get up,” Mao Shiba said, “I have something to talk to you.”

“I won’t get up,” Wei Xiaobao wailed, “Even if I have to die in here I will not get up!”

“Fine,” Mao Shiba said, “I’ll just let the horse loose to trample you to death!”

Wei Xiaobao had never taken anybody’s threat seriously. If someone said, ‘I will beat you to death’, ‘I will kick you to death’ or something of that nature, he was almost always able to escape unscathed only to hear it once or twice more; therefore, he had never placed such threat in his heart. Immediately he screamed, “Somebody is beating me to death! There’s an adult bullying a child! A turtle bastard riding a horse is going to trample me to death!”

Mao Shiba pulled the reins, the horse reared up on its hind legs until it almost stand vertically up. Wei Xiaobao rolled away to evade. Mao Shiba laughed and swore, “Little demon, you are scared!”

Wei Xiaobao shouted back, “I am scared of a dog sh*t like you, not a hero and a warrior!”

Seeing his unyielding spirit, Mao Shiba could not continue his act any longer; he laughed and said, “And you are a hero and a warrior? Alright, get up. I won’t beat you anymore, see, I am stepping away!”

Wei Xiaobao stood up. With face full of tears and nasal mucus he said, “I don’t care if you hit me, but never call me ‘little bastard’.”

Mao Shiba said with a laugh, “Your swearing is ten times worse than mine, ten times filthier than mine. Let’s just say we are even.”

Wei Xiaobao wiped his eyes with his hand and instantly turned tears into laughter. “You slapped my face, I bit your hand. Let’s just say we are even. Where are you going?” he asked.

“I want to go to Beijing,” Mao Shiba replied.

“Beijing?” Wei Xiaobao wondered, “You are wanted by the authority, why do you want to deliver yourself to their gate?”

“I always hear that Oboi is Manchu’s number one warrior,” Mao Shiba replied, “Damn it, some others say that he is the world’s number one warrior. I don’t believe it. I want to go to Beijing to prove it myself.”

Hearing that he wanted to challenge Manchu’s number one warrior, Wei Xiaobao knew he did not want to miss this exciting event. Day in and day out at the teahouses he heard the guests mentioning all kinds of stories about Beijing, the Son of Heaven’s domain, his heart was already filled with envy. He also thought that since he had killed Shi Song, the local authority’s follow-up investigation would not be fun. Although most of the blame would fall on Mao Shiba, there was still one in ten thousand chance that his trickery would be exposed, and then he would be in deep trouble. In any case, he would be extremely lucky if he could simply slip away. Thereupon he said, “Mao Dage, can I ask you a favor? But this matter is definitely not easy, I am afraid you won’t dare to agree.”

What Mao Shiba hated most was for others to call him a coward; his anger flared at once as he cursed, “Your granny! Little …” he was about to blurt out ‘Little Bastard’, but was able to stop his mouth in time. He said, “Why would I not dare to agree? Speak up, I will definitely agree.” He also remembered that he owed his life to Wei Xiaobao, so even if it was an immensely difficult matter, he simply must help him.

Wei Xiaobao said, “A real man gave his words, some horses cannot pull it back. Once you agreed, you must not go back.”

“I definitely won’t,” Mao Shiba promised.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Take me to Beijing.”

“You want to go to Beijing?” Mao Shiba was surprised, “What for?”

“I want to see your duel with that Oboi,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Mao Shiba shook his head repeatedly, “Yangzhou and Beijing are thousands of li apart, the authorities are posting a reward for my capture, there will be grave danger along the way, how can I take you?”

“I knew it!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I knew you would go back on your own words. By taking me, it would be easier for the authorities to catch you; of course you wouldn’t dare.”

Mao Shiba angrily shouted, “Why wouldn’t I dare?”

“Then take me with you,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Taking you is very cumbersome,” Mao Shiba said, “You haven’t even asked your Ma’s permission; won’t she be worried?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I often do not go home for several days, Ma has never been worried.”

Mao Shiba raised the reins, the horse immediately walked away. “You, little demon, are truly full of tricks.”

Wei Xiaobao raised his voice to shout, “You do not dare to take me because you are not Oboi’s match, you are afraid I will see it and you will lose face!”

Mao Shiba’s anger shot through the roof, he pulled the horse around and roared, “Who says I am not Oboi’s match?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You do not dare to take me must be because you are afraid I would see your disgraceful loss. He will beat you until you are crawling on the ground and cry out, ‘Oboi Laoye, have mercy; Oboi Daren, please spare lowly Mao Shiba’s dog life’. If I hear it, you will want to die of shame!”

Mao Shiba was so angry that he let out some indistinct cries. Jumping down from the horseback he reached out to grab Wei Xiaobao and threw him up the saddle. “I’ll take you along, I want to see who is going to cry for mercy!” he angrily said.

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he said, “If I do not see it with my own eyes, I can only guess that the one crying for mercy will be you, not Oboi.”

Mao Shiba raised his left palm and smacked Wei Xiaobao’s buttock very hard while shouting, “I will make you cry for mercy first!”

“Aaah!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in pain, but he laughed and said, “When a dog’s paw hit people, it is actually quite heavy.”

Mao Shiba roared in laughter, he said, “Little demon, I really cannot win against you.”

Wei Xiaobao was unwilling to lose out the least bit, he also said, “Old demon, I also cannot win against you.”

Mao Shiba laughed. “I’ll take you to Beijing, but along the way you must listen to what I say and not create any trouble.”

“Who is making trouble?” Wei Xiaobao retorted, “You went into jail, you left the jail, you killed the salt smugglers, you killed government officers, aren’t all those things trouble?”

Mao Shiba said with a laugh, “I said I cannot win against you, I give up.” He sat Wei Xiaobao on the saddle and jumped and sat behind him. Pulling another horse along, he look around to get his bearing, then he spurred the horses to gallop toward the north.

Wei Xiaobao had never ridden a horse before, at first he was rather scared. Five or six li later, his courage returned, “Can I ride that horse?” he asked.

“If you know how to ride, then go ahead,” Mao Shiba said, “But if you don’t, you’d better be careful lest you will fall and break your leg.”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to win at all cost, he bragged, “I have ridden dozen horses, why do you say I can’t ride?” Jumping down from the horse, he walked to the other horse’s left side. His right foot stepped on the stirrup, he exerted his strength to pull himself over the horseback. He did not realize that he must step on the stirrup with his left foot. Since he was climbing up using his right foot, he landed with his face facing the horse’s buttocks. Mao Shiba roared in laughter and let go of Wei Xiaobao’s horse’s reins. He lashed his whip and the horse galloped away immediately.

Wei Xiaobao was scared out of his wits; he almost fell down from the horse. With both hands holding on tightly to the horse’s tail, his legs clung desperately to the saddle while his body crouched low on the horseback. He heard the wind rushing on his ears and felt his body was slipping down. Luckily he was small and his body was light that by holding tight on the horse’s tail, he managed to stay on the horseback. His mouth did not stop shouting and cursing, “My good mama, hot piece mama! Mao Shiba, if you don’t stop the horse, laozi will f*ck your eighteen stinky ancestors. Aiyo, aiyo, aiyo …”

The horse was galloping fast on the major road for more than three li without slowing down the least bit. Rounding a bend, they came into a fork on the road. There was a mule cart coming slowly from the right, behind the cart was a man of about twenty-seven, twenty-eight riding a white horse. The cart and the horse were also heading north. Since nobody was holding the reins of Wei Xiaobao’s horse, it was startled as it ran toward the cart and the horse. The distance between them was getting closer and closer.

“A mad horse!” the cart driver called out, as he hastily trying to steer his cart clear of the road.

The man riding the horse pulled his horse around. In the meantime, Wei Xiaobao had already arrived in front of him. The man reached out and pulled Wei Xiaobao’s horse. The horse was running fast, the man’s arm strength was quite big, with a powerful tug, the horse stopped immediately. Spurting a burst of white cloud from its nose, the horse was unable to continue galloping forward. From inside the cart came a female voice, asking, “Bai Dage, what is it?”

“A runaway horse,” the man replied, “There is a child on the horseback, I don’t know if he is dead or alive.”

Wei Xiaobao turned over and sat up; turning his head around he said, “Of course I am alive, how can I be dead?” He saw the man had an oval face, his shining eyes were lively; he was wearing a thick dark blue long robe, and a cap adorned with a piece of white jade, obviously this man came from a wealthy family. Wei Xiaobao came from a lowly background, so he detest anybody from a rich family. Spitting a mouthful of spittle on the ground, he said, “Damn it, laozi was having fun riding a splendid steed before coming across a corpse blocking the road that laozi had to stop, had to stop …” Before he was able to finish, he bent down on the horse’s buttocks and coughed violently.

Because its buttocks were roused, the horse kicked the ground with its left hind leg. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out while slipping down from the horse. “Aiyo hey, aiyo hey!” he screamed.

When he heard Wei Xiaobao’s foul mouth earlier, the man was about to get angry, but seeing Wei Xiaobao’s pathetic condition as he fell down from the horse, he smiled and turned his horse around to catch up with the mule cart.

Rushing on a horseback, Mao Shiba caught up with him. “Little demon,” he called out, “You haven’t fallen down and died?”

“I have fallen alright, but I haven’t died yet,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Laozi was having fun falling down from the horse, but that stinky kid blocked the way; I am mad to death. Aiyo hey …” groaning and moaning he crawled back up. His kneecaps hurt, he fell back down, kneeling on the ground.

Mao Shiba jumped down in front of him. Pulling him up by the back of his collar he threw Wei Xiaobao on the saddle. After learning a hard lesson, Wei Xiaobao did not dare to say that he wanted to ride by himself anymore.

The two of them rode together for more than thirty li. The sun was right above their heads. Finally they saw a small town ahead. Mao Shiba slowly dismounted the horse, then he helped Wei Xiaobao down in front of an inn. Growing up in a brothel, Wei Xiaobao had always been eating in the kitchen, sitting on the threshold, holding a large blue and white bowl in his hands, filled with rice and a pile of chicken or duck or fish or meat, leftover from the food that the guests had eaten. Although the vegetable and meat dishes were plenty, he had never sat next to anybody else on a table eating the meal properly. This time Mao Shiba was treating him as a friend, an equal. Although their meal only consisted of several bowls of coarse noodles and some scrambled eggs, his heart was very happy.

He had just finished half a bowl of noodles when he heard the clamor of people and horses outside the door, followed by seventeen, eighteen people crowding in. Judging from their appearance they looked like government officials. Wei Xiaobao was inwardly startled; in a low voice he said, “Soldiers! Perhaps they are here to arrest you. Let’s run away quickly!”

“Humph,” Mao Shiba snorted. Setting down his chopsticks, his hand quietly went toward the hilt of his saber. But those men did not pay him the least bit of attention. They were busy calling the waiter to hurry up and prepare food for them. An inn in a small town like this would not have too many choices of food; there were only pork cooked in soy-sauce, smoked fish, dried marinated tofu, and scrambled eggs. The leader ordered his men to get some ham and chicken they had brought as the side dish.

One man said, “In Yunnan we have always heard that Jiangnan is a good place, where the people wear silk and satin, and eat delicacies of all kinds. I’ll say, just from the food, that Jiangnan is not necessarily better than our Kunming.”

Another man said, “It’s because you, LaoGe [‘Ol Big Brother’], are used to live comfortably at Ping Xi[8] Wang’s Mansion; what you eat and what you drink is entirely different from the rest of us. It’s not that Jiangnan is inferior to Yunnan. You must know that perhaps only a few places on earth are better than Ping Xi Wang’s Mansion.” The rest of the men voiced their agreement.

Mao Shiba’s countenance changed. “So this bunch of dog’s legs[9] is that big traitor to China Wu Sangui’s men?” he mused.

A man with a sallow cheek asked, “Huang Daren, this time you are going to Beijing, do you think you will be able to see the Emperor?”

A plump man with fair complexion said, “Based on my position alone, I should not be able to see the Emperor, but perhaps by reason of our Wangye‘s [Lit. ‘master king’, Prince/Lord/Duke] face, we might see him! The senior officials of the imperial court have always regarded us, the officials of the Xi Xuan [lit. ‘western elect’], with special favor.”

“That’s only natural,” another man piped in, “Among the current government officials, next to the Emperor, our Wangye has the greatest authority.”

“Hey, Xiaobao,” Mao Shiba called out loudly, “Do you know who is the most shameless man on earth?”

“Of course I do,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It’s the son of turtle bastard!” Actually, he did not know, what he said was the same as not saying anything.

Mao Shiba slapped the table heavily, “That’s right!” he said, “Do you know who is the son of turtle bastard?”

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That son of turtle bastard is a damn bad thing.” While saying that, he also slapped the table as hard as he could.

Mao Shiba said, “Let me tell you, good kid, that the son of turtle bastard is the big traitor to China, who consider the bandit as his father, who with both hands handed out our great and beautiful rivers and mountains [a common term to refer to one’s country, in this case, China], our wonderful world, to the Qing troops …” As he spoke to this point, those dozen or so government officers had already stared at him, some with angry expression on their faces. Mao Shiba continued, “This big traitor is surnamed Wu; damn it, one turtle is Wu Yigui, two turtles are Wu Ergui, how about three turtles?”

In a loud voice Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Sangui[10]!”

Mao Shiba laughed aloud and said, “It’s exactly Wu Sangui this big …”

Suddenly a series of ringing sound was heard as seven, eight men unsheathed their weapons and rushed toward Mao Shiba. Wei Xiaobao hastily hid beneath the table. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang!’ the noise of weapons colliding with each other continuously ringing, Mao Shiba brandished his saber to fight the attackers. Wei Xiaobao saw him still sitting on the long bench, he knew that his leg was still injured and could not walk conveniently, thus he was very anxious inwardly.

A moment later, ‘clang!’ a saber fell to the ground, followed by a man crying a miserable cry as he also fell to the ground. Still, the opponents were too many, Wei Xiaobao saw all around the table feet were constantly moving. Some of these feet were wearing cloth shoes, some were wearing leather boots; obviously the feet belonged to the enemy, since Mao Shiba was wearing straw sandals.

He heard Mao Shiba was fighting and cursing at the same time, “Wu Sangui is a big traitor to China, you are all little traitors to China; if laozi do not kill you all … Aiyo!” He cried out loudly; apparently he was injured. Then a man fell face up with blood spurting out of his chest. Wei Xiaobao picked up a saber from the ground and slashed it on a leg wearing cloth shoe. The saber hacked, the lower half of leg was chopped completely. “Aaah …!” the man screamed and fell backwards.

It was rather dark under the table, plus the men were fighting a tangled battle, nobody knew who had wounded the man, they all thought it was Mao Shiba. Seeing his idea seemed to be working, Wei Xiaobao raised his saber and hacked at another ankle. The man, however, did not fall down; he screamed in pain and loudly called out, “Under the … the table …” While he was stooping down to look, Mao Shiba struck the back of his head with the saber; he fell down and fainted immediately.

Right this moment Wei Xiaobao hacked another man’s calf. The man screamed; he lifted the table with his left hand, the bowls, chopsticks, soups and noodles all flew up. The man immediately chopped his saber down toward Wei Xiaobao’s head. Mao Shiba swept his saber to block. Wei Xiaobao quickly rolled away from the crowd. The man whose calf was cut was extremely furious, with saber upheld high he gave a chase. “Hot piece mama!” Wei Xiaobao cried out, while slipping underneath another table.

“Little demon, come out!” the man bellowed.

“Old demon, you come in!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The man was livid, he was extending his left hand to lift the table again, suddenly ‘bang!’ a fist punched the pit of his stomach, his body flew out. It was a man who was sitting on that table who hit him. The man who threw the punch immediately took chopsticks from the cylindrical chopstick container, which he threw one by one. Miserable cries of ‘Aiyo! Aiyo!’ were heard incessantly, as the men surrounding them were pierced by the chopsticks; some were pierced on their eyes, some others on their cheeks, but all injuries were on vital places.

One of the man called out, “The bandit is formidable, let’s go!” Helping their wounded comrades, they scampered out of the door. The sound of hoof beats were heard as the men mounted their horses and left in a hurry.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and crawled out from beneath the table, his hand was still holding the blood-stained saber. Mao Shiba stood up and walked limply with cupped fist toward the man sitting by the table, he said, “Thank you, Sire, for your help; otherwise Mao Shiba would be heavily outnumbered, and would not be able to deal with today’s matter.”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and was slightly startled. Turned out the man sitting on the table was the man he encountered earlier, who pulled the runaway horse he was riding on the road, the man to whom he had thrown several cursing sentences.

The man rose up to return the salute, he said, “Mao Xiong’s body still sustains injury, yet you were still moved by righteous indignation, heavily denouncing the traitor to China, generating respect in the hearts of others.”

Mao Shiba said with a laugh, “In all my life the man I hate most is the big traitor Wu Sangui; too bad this evil thief lives in the faraway Yunnan, so I have no way of venting out my anger. Today I can beat his cronies of little traitors, I am very happy. I’d like to consult Sire’s honorable surname and great given name.”

“This is a public place, it’s inconvenient for me to say it out loud,” the man replied, “Mao Xiong, let us part now, I am sure we’ll meet again someday.” Finished speaking, he turned around to help a young woman stand up. This woman had been sitting quietly by the table with her head hung low, so her face was not clearly visible.

Mao Shiba angrily said, “Even your name you are not willing to say, aren’t you looking down on others too much?”

The man did not pay him any attention, holding the young woman’s hand, they walked toward the door, but as he passed by Mao Shiba, he whispered something on his ear. Mao Shiba’s body shook, instantly his face showed a respectful expression. With a bow he said, “Yes, yes, Mao Shiba met a hero today, it’s really … it’s really the fortune of three lifetimes.” Surprisingly the man did not respond, still holding the woman’s hand, they walked out the inn’s gate, mounted the horse and the carriage, and left.

Seeing Mao Shiba’s expression turned from haughty to respectful, Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished. “Who is that guy?” he asked, “Why are you scared of him?”

“What guy?” Mao Shiba scolded him, “You need to clean your mouth a bit more.”

Seeing the inn’s boss and waiters look around, the inn was in a complete mess with blood everywhere, Mao Shiba said, “Let’s go!” Holding on to the tables for support, he went out the door, picked up the door bolt[11] along the way and used it as a crutch as he made his way out to the horse post to untie the horses. “Mount that one,” he said, “Left foot on the stirrup first, then get on the horse … That’s it, exactly like that.”

“I knew how to ride a horse,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that I haven’t done it in a very long time, I kind of forget. What’s so strange about it?”

Mao Shiba laughed, he leaped onto the other horse, pulling the reins of the horse Wei Xiaobao was riding with his left hand, he led both horses northbound. “I am still injured,” he said, “I won’t be able to deal with any more Eagle Claws. We must not travel along the major road, we must find a hiding place. After I recuperate we will ride again.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The man we met just now, his martial art skill is superior, one by one the chopstick flew, he struck those men and made them run. Mao Dage, I think you won’t be able to beat him.”

“That’s for sure,” Mao Shiba said, “He is a hero of the Mu Palace in Yunnan, how can his skill be not superior?”

“So he is from the Mu Palace in Yunnan?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “I thought he was that Chen Zongduozhu of the Tian Di Hui, because I notice how scared you are of him.”

Mao Shiba angrily said, “What am I scared of? Little demon speaks nonsense. I respect the Mu Palace, hence I was being 30% polite toward him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “But he was not polite toward you! You asked his honorable surname and great given name, he simply ignored you; he only said, ‘let us part now, I am sure we’ll meet again someday’.”

Mao Shiba said, “Didn’t he tell me in the end? Otherwise, how would I know he is from the Mu Palace?”

“What did he whisper in your ear?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Mao Shiba said, “He said, ‘Zaixia is from the Mu Palace of Yunnan, surnamed Bai’.”

“Um,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Surname Bai? Turns out he is Chi Baishi[12].”

“Little kid must not speak nonsense,” Mao Shiba said.

“You saw someone from the Mu Palace and you were scared out your wits, Laozi will not keep it in mind,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mao Dage, you are not afraid of Oboi, you are not afraid of the big traitor Wu Sangui, yet you are afraid of the Mu Palace; do they have three heads and six arms? Ah, I know! You are afraid he might throw two chopsticks to your eyes, and then Mao Shiba will become the Blind Mao.”

“It’s not that I am afraid of them,” Mao Shiba said, “It’s just that in Jianghu, if a warrior offends the Mu Palace, losing life is nothing, but he will attract the condemnation of tens of thousands people, and will be held in contempt by everybody.”

“What kind of place is Mu Palace anyway?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “How can they be that formidable?”

“Damn it,” Mao Shiba said, “What kind of question is that? From the start I have never thought it strange.” He continued, “For us in Jianghu, to see the people from Mu Palace of Yunnan is really not easy, to befriend them is even more extremely difficult. It just happened that today I was fighting Wu Sangui’s cronies. Mu Palace is the sworn enemy of Wu Sangui, naturally they came to my aid. It was you, this little kid, who did not learn well and have resorted to cheap bastard’s trick, so that even laozi was looked down by others.” As he spoke, he could not refrain angry look from appearing on his face.

“Aiyo, tsk, tsk, tsk,” Wei Xiaobao clicked his tongue, “Others were putting on an obnoxious air and not willing to become friends with you, how come you are blaming me?”

Mao Shiba angrily said, “You hid underneath the table, chopping people’s feet with a saber, damn it, what kind of skill was that? Heroes and warriors always look at each other’s eyes, how can they consider you a friend?”

“Your granny,” Wei Xiaobao retorted, “If not for laozi chopping several feet, I am afraid your life has already gone, yet now you are placing the blame on me.”

Mao Shiba thought about how he was despised by the people of Mu Palace of Yunnan; the more he thought, the angrier he became. “I told you not to come with me, but you insist on coming,” he said, “You threw lime on people’s eyes, this kind of cheap bastard’s trick is the most despised by Jianghu people, it is three levels lower than using knock-out drug or burning poisoned incense. I would rather be killed by that Black Dragon Whip Shi Song than rescued by you using such a mean and shameless trick. Damn it, you, little demon, the more I look at you, the more I am mad.”

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao understand that throwing lime on people’s eyes was a mean and lowly matter in Jianghu; without realizing it, he had violated Wulin’s biggest taboo. But hiding under the table and chopping people’s feet was obviously not something to be proud of either. However, being scolded, from shame he became angry. “Killing people with a saber is murder, killing people with lime is still murder, what ‘respectable’ or ‘lowly’?” he hatefully said, “If it were not for me, the little demon, using a ‘lowly’ trick to save you, you, the old demon, would have become ‘respectable’ ghost early on. Is not your thigh injured? People chopped your thigh using saber, I chopped other people’s feet using saber. Both thigh and feet are lower body parts, what’s the difference? You are not willing to take me to Beijing, just go your way, let me go mine. From now on, let’s just say that we do not know each other.”

Seeing how Wei Xiaobao was covered in dust and bloodstain, Mao Shiba recalled that the child was injured all because of him. That place was far away from Yangzhou, he definitely could not abandon the child in the wilderness, much less this child had saved his life twice, how could he forget favor and violate justice? Thereupon he said, “Alright, I will take you to Beijing, but you must agree to my three conditions.”

Wei Xiaobao was very happy, he said, “Agree to your three conditions, what’s so difficult about that? A real man speak the words, some horses cannot chase it!” He had heard the storyteller mention ‘team of four horses cannot chase it’, but for some reason he always forget the ‘four horses’ part.

Mao Shiba said, “First condition, you must not create trouble, must not curse people with filthy words, you must clean up your mouth a bit.”

“That’s easy,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “You don’t want me to curse, then I won’t curse. But what if someone is provoking me?”

“If you are being good, why would anybody want to provoke you?” Mao Shiba said, “Second condition, when you are fighting, you must not bite people, you must not throw lime in their eyes, or rolling around on the ground, or hiding underneath a table and chopping people’s feet, or crawling underneath someone’s crotch and grab their scrotum, or screaming and crying when you are beaten, or lying down pretending to be dead; you must not do any of those dirty tricks. Those are all despicable things, not things that heroes and warriors would do.”

“If I am not somebody’s match, must I just take the beating without hitting back?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Mao Shiba said, “If you want to hit back, you must use real skill, don’t use your hoodlum or gangster method; don’t let others laugh at you until their mouth crooked. You have lived in a brothel, that was all right, but you are roaming the Jianghu with me, you must not resort to those kinds of tricks.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Easy for you to say to fight with real skill. I am just a little kid, what ‘real skill’ do I have? Must not do this, must not do that, won’t that be the same as taking the beating without hitting back?”

Mao Shiba continued, “Martial art must be learned; who can do martial art as soon as he is out of his mother’s belly? You are still very young, there is still time if you start training now. You can kowtow and take me as your Shifu, I will take you as my disciple. All my life I have been wandering around in Jianghu, I never had several days of peace and quiet to take any disciple; so consider it your good fortune. As long as you are obedient, study diligently and practice hard, in the future you may not necessarily unable to become a martial art master.” As he spoke, there was a hint of hope in his gaze toward Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “No, can’t do. You and I are friends of the same standings; if I take you as my Shifu, won’t I be a generation lower than you? Your granny, you harbor malicious intentions, you want to take advantage of me.”

Mao Shiba was furious; countless people in Jianghu had wanted to take him as their master, wanted to learn his saber technique ‘Five Tigers Breaking the Gates’, which was famous throughout the Jianghu. It was just that if not the candidate’s heart was not in the right place, then his aptitude was not good, or perhaps it was not the opportune time; he did not have the time to leisurely passing on his skill to his disciple. Today, remembering how Wei Xiaobao had saved his life, he wanted to teach him martial art; who would have thought that Wei Xiaobao would flatly refuse? In his anger, he wanted to strike him with his palm. His hand was raised, but in the end he held his hand; he said, “Let me tell you: right now, on an impulse I am willing to take you as my disciple. If later on you kowtow to me a hundred times and ask, I will not take you.”

“What’s so strange about that?” Wei Xiaobao said, “If later on you kowtow to me three hundred times and entreat me to take you as my master, I will still be unwilling. If I be your disciple, I will have to obey you in everything, where’s the fun in that? I don’t want to learn your martial art.”

Mao Shiba angrily said, “Fine, you don’t want to learn then don’t learn. If in the future someone catch you, making you neither dead nor alive, don’t regret it.”

“What’s to regret?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s just say I learn your martial art skill, what’s so good about it? You were tied down by the Black Dragon Whip without being able to move at all; seeing that eating-without-paying fellow from the Mu family of Yunnan you bowed down respectfully to flatter him, to become friends with him, while he plainly ignored you. Although my martial skill is inferior to you, but …”

The more Mao Shiba listened, the angrier he got. Finally he could not endure patiently and ‘smack!’ he slapped Wei Xiaobao’s mouth heavily. Wei Xiaobao had anticipated this, surprisingly he did not cry but burst into loud laughter instead, he said, “I was right on target, wasn’t I? That’s why you are angry. Let me ask you: you wanted to befriend others, but others ignored you, and thus you vent your anger on Laozi?”

Mao Shiba was exasperated by this child; beating him had failed, scolding him had also failed, ignoring him did not do anything either. His natural temperament was fiery, but now he was forced to exercise patience. “Humph,” he snorted, as he puffed his cheeks and blew a mouthful of air. Releasing the reins, he called out, “Horsey, oh, horsey, quickly do a tiger leap, let this little demon fall down and half dead.” At first he wanted Wei Xiaobao to agree to his three conditions, but since the second condition had already fallen apart, he did not want to think about the third condition.

Wei Xiaobao pulled the reins by himself and managed to make the horse trotting nicely, it did not give him any difficulty at all. Wei Xiaobao was inwardly very happy, he mused, “You don’t teach me horse riding, can’t Laozi learn it by myself?” He also thought, “When I follow you roaming the Jianghu in the future, I will watch how you are going to fight with other people. You do not teach me, don’t tell me that I don’t have eyeballs that I cannot look. Not only will I learn your martial art skill, I will also learn your opponents’ skill at the same time. The skills of several people combined, naturally I will be stronger than you. Pei,” he spat, “Damn it, what’s so special about your skill? That eating-without-paying fellow’s skill in throwing chopsticks is very effective. If he wanted Laozi to kowtow and learn his school’s skill, Laozi will have no problem in agreeing. Damn it, why would he want me to kowtow and learn his school’s skill?” Thinking to this point, he could not help but scoffing and then burst into laughter.

Mao Shiba turned his head, “What’s so funny?” he asked.

“I was thinking about that eating-without-paying fellow from the Mu Palace …” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“What eating-without-paying fellow?” Mao Shiba asked.

“Isn’t his surname Bai?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Surname Bai is surname Bai,” Mao Shiba said, “How does surname Bai turn into eating-without-paying? In the Mu Palace of Yunnan, their Bai family is highly regarded. Liu, Bai, Fang and Su were four great generals of the Mu Palace of Yunnan.”

“What three great generals, four great generals?” Wei Xiaobao asked again, “What kind of ghost place is Mu Palace of Yunnan anyway?”

“Can’t you clean up your mouth a little bit?” Mao Shiba said, “In Jianghu, whenever the name Mu Palace is mentioned, nobody does not filled with admiration; what do you mean ‘ghost place’?”

“Uh”, Wei Xiaobao mumbled.

Mao Shiba continued, “When Ming Taizu [First Ming Emperor, the founder of Ming Dynasty] raised arms against the Yuan [Dynasty, the Mongols], Mu Wangye, Mu Ying has rendered a great merit by subduing Yunnan. Taizu bestowed Yunnan to his family forever. After his death, the title Guo Gong [State Duke] was granted to his offsprings from generation to generation.”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his saddle and exclaimed, “Turns out it was that Mu Palace, the home of Mu Ying, Mu Wangye. You only said Mu Palace of Yunnan, you did not say it clearly. If you had said Mu Ying, Mu Wangye, how can I not know? Mu Wangye has been dead for several thousand years, you don’t have to be that afraid.”

“What several thousand years?” Mao Shiba said, “Rubbish! We, the warriors of Jianghu, have a deep respect of Mu Palace, not only because of Mu Ying, Mu Wangye, but because of his descendant, Mu Tianbo. When the last Ming emperor, King Gui ran away to Yunnan, the Duke of Qian [i.e. Guizhou Province], Mu Tianbo, that’s right, I remember now, the Duke of Qian was loyal and devoted, he escorted the Emperor and protected his master. When that traitor Wu Sangui attacked Yunnan, Duke of Qian protected King Gui escaping to Burma. The bad people of Burma wanted to kill King Gui, Mu Tianbo died in place of his master. This kind of loyalty is indeed rare among the heroes and warriors, from ancient age to today.”

“Ah,” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, “So this Mu Tianbo, Master Mu was a descendant of the Legend of Heroic Deeds’ Mu Ying. Mu Wangye was brave and unstoppable, he was the Taizu Emperor’s trusted lieutenant, this much I know, you don’t have to tell me.” He had heard the Legend of Heroic Deeds told by the storyteller, about Xu Da, Chang Yuchun, Hu Dahai, Mu Ying, and other great generals; in fact, he was very familiar with their stories. “Why didn’t you say so earlier?” he asked, “If I knew the Mu Palace is Mu Wangye‘s family, I would be 30% more polite toward that eating-without-paying fellow. What kind of people are Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, the four great generals?”

“Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, four families have always been commanders under the Mu Palace,” Mao Shiba replied, “Their ancestors helped Mu Wangye to subdue Yunnan. When Tianbo Gong [lit. honorable gentleman] was escorting the Emperor to Burma, the descendants of these four great generals were also fighting to their deaths, only their younger sons and disciples managed to escape with their lives. It was because I remember that that surnamed Bai gentleman was such a hero that I was being polite to him. Besides, in one hand, he had helped me repelling the Eagle Claws working for that great traitor …”

“I was also helping you repelling the Eagle Claws working for that great traitor,” Wei Xiaobao cut him off, “Why aren’t you polite to me?”

Mao Shiba stared at him, and continued, “On the other hand, he is still very much a loyal subject, all Jianghu people highly esteem him. If we offend the Mu family of Yunnan, wouldn’t we be reviled by all the people under the heavens?”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Seeing a loyal subject, naturally we must show a bit of respect.”

“Since I’ve known you, this is the first time you are speaking reasonably,” Mao Shiba said.

“I don’t know how long do I have to wait until I can hear some reasonable words from you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye blew the copper horn and crossing the river, shooting the elephants with rocket, that kind of great hero, who does not respect deeply? Surely I don’t have to wait for you to fart?”

“What blowing the copper horn and crossing the river, shooting the elephants with rocket?” Mao Shiba asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “You only know how to bootlick Mu Palace of Yunnan, yet you don’t know how great of a hero Mu Wangye was. Do you know what position Mu Wangye held under the Taizu Emperor?”

“Mu Wangye was a great general under the Taizu Emperor, who does not know?” Mao Shiba replied.

“Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat, “Great general? Of course he was a great general, would he be a nameless soldier? Um, under the Taizu Emperor there were six kings; I am sure you have heard about Xu Da, Xu Wangye, and Chang Yuchun, Chang Wangye, do you know who were the other four kings?”

Mao Shiba was a hero of the wilderness, he knew nothing about the history of the founding of the Ming Dynasty. Of course he had heard the names Xu Da and Chang Yuchun, but he did not know that they were kings, and neither did he know there were four other kings. Wei Xiaobao, on the other hand, heard the story of the Legend of Heroic Deeds in Yangzhou teahouses so many times that he knew it inside-out. The fall of the Ming Dynasty happened not too long ago, the hearts of the people were still attached to the old way, but nobody dared to openly discuss anti-Qing, restoring-Ming sentiment. The storytellers in the teahouses only talked about the old stories of the Ming Dynasty. The stories the listeners liked most were about the founding of the Ming Dynasty and the defeat of the Tatars, which were recorded in the ‘Legend of Heroic Deeds’.

During the founding of the country, the most arduous battle Ming Taizu faced was the great Lake Poyang battle against Chen Youliang, but the one the listeners most interested to hear was how the Mongolian army was driven away beyond the Great Wall, how the enemy was completely routed on the desert and they fled. In the listeners’ ears, it was the story of Ming Taizu defeating the Mongolian army; in their hearts, however, it changed into the Qing army. The great victory of Han people, the crushing defeat of the enemy; the listeners’ spirits were swelling with pride. Therefore, among the various ministers who had given outstanding service during the founding of the Ming Dynasty, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun and Mu Ying, were the three names the listeners adored most. When the storytellers narrated how these three people kill the enemy, they were always adding ‘oil and vinegar’, with much flourish, so that the audience was radiant with delight as if they were drunk and stupefied.

Seeing Mao Shiba was unable to answer, Wei Xiaobao smugly said, “The four kings were Li Wenzhong, Deng Yu, Tang He, and of course Mu Ying, Mu Wangye. On how these four Wangye were granted the title King, I supposed I should tell you, since I am sure you did not know it, am I right?” Actually, neither did he remember how these six kings get their titles. Mao Shiba nodded.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Tang He was Ming Taizu’s old friend, he was older than Taizu. Deng Yu had also known Taizu for a very long time, they had always been fighting together for the country. Li Wenzhong was Taizu’s nephew[13]. Mu Wangye was Taizu’s foster son, so his surname was originally Zhu, he was called Zhu Ying. Afterwards he rendered a great service, Taizu granted him a two-character surname, thereupon he was called Mu Ying.”

“So that’s the story,” Mao Shiba said, “What about blowing the copper horn and shooting the elephants? What’s the story?”

“It was ‘blowing the copper horn and crossing the river, shooting the elephants with rocket’, not ‘blowing the copper horn and shooting the elephants’,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Taizu subdued the land under the heavens, until only Yunnan left. The King Liang of Guizhou had not surrendered. That King Liang whatsisname was the Mongol’s last emperor’s nephew, he defended Yunnan and Guizhou, and was not willing to surrender.” The King Liang’s original name was Basalawarmi (; Wei Xiaobao could not remember his name, so he said whatever comes into his head.

Although Mao Shiba felt strange, he did not dare to argue, he simply listened as Wei Xiaobao continued, “Taizu Emperor’s dragon heart was enraged, he dispatched three-hundred thousand cavalry under the leadership of Mu Wangye to launch an attack. When they arrived at Yunnan border, they met the Yuan army. Yuan army’s marshal was called Delmek, who was ten zhang tall, whose head was like a round-bottomed wicker basket …”

“How can there be any ten zhang tall man?” Mao Shiba protested.

Wei Xiaobao knew he had a slip of tongue, but he argued, “Mongolians are bigger and taller than we, Han people, that Delmek’s entire body was covered in iron armor, his hand carried a long spear, he was shouting mumbo-jumbo loudly by the river bank, as if there were three thunderclaps in the air. Suddenly there were continuous ‘splash, splash’ noises from everywhere, do you know what happened?”

“I don’t know, what happened?” Mao Shiba asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Turned out Delmek’s ‘Wah! Wah!’ shout had reached the other side of the river, scaring a dozen or so Ming soldiers out of their wits that they fell down from their horses and into the river. Mu Wangye knew something was terribly wrong, he thought that if Delmek cried out several more times, my troops will fall into the river one by one, then our mission will fail. Thereupon he knitted his brows and thought hard of an idea.”

When he spoke, usually Wei Xiaobao’s mouth would constantly spit out vulgar language; the words ‘damn it’ had never left his mouth. However, talking about Mu Ying subduing Yunnan, he adapted the storyteller’s tone, surprisingly, not a single vulgar word escaped his mouth; occasionally, he would even quote or misquote Chinese adages.

He continued his story, “As soon as Mu Wangye saw Delmek was about to open his ferocious mouth, he strung his bow and shot an arrow. ‘Whoosh!’ the arrow went straight toward Delmek’s mouth. Mu Wangye’s shooting skill has reached the ‘penetrating the poplar tree in a hundred steps, penetrating the mouth in a thousand steps’ level. Splitting the air, the arrow flew across the surface of the river toward Delmek’s big mouth. Delmek was also a hero and a warrior, seeing how powerful and fearsome the incoming arrow was, he hastily lowered his head and dodged it. The troops behind him cried out together, ‘Not good!’ Delmek turned around and saw that ten generals had the pit of their stoimachs pierced by the arrow, blood spurt out violently. Turned out Mu Wangye’s arrow successively bored through ten generals, from the first general’s pit of the stomach and went out from his back, then it went to the second general’s pit of the stomach, and so on. Altogether it passed through ten men.”

Shaking his head, Mao Shiba said, “How can there be such thing? Even if Mu Wangye had a supernatural power, it’s impossible for one arrow to pierce through ten men.”

“Mu Wangye was the celestial constellation descending into the world of the immortals,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He was sent by the Jade Emperor to protect Taizu Emperor; how could be the same as an ordinary person? Did you say you are Mao Shiba? This arrow has penetrated ten, and it even has a special name, it’s called ‘Cloud Penetrating Arrow’.”

Mao Shiba was incredulous, “And then, what happened?” he asked.

“Delmek was furious,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He thought, ‘you can shoot arrow, do you think I can’t?’ Thereupon he raised his bow and also shot an arrow to Mu Wangye. Mu Wangye called out, ‘Bring it on!’ Stretching out the two fingers of his left hand, he lightly caught the arrow. Right that moment, a flock of wild geese flew overhead, their cry filled the sky. Mu Wangye had an idea, he called out, ‘I am going to shoot the left eye of the third wild goose!’ ‘Swish!’ he shot an arrow. Delmek mused, ‘It’s not easy just to shoot the third goose, how can you distinguish the left eye from the right eye?’ So he looked up. Right this moment, Mu Wangye repeatedly shot, three arrows were sent flying toward Delmek.”

“Wonderful!” Mao Shiba exclaimed, “It’s called ‘making a sound in the east and strike to the west’ tactic!”

“It seemed like Delmek was not fated to die yet,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The first arrow struck his left eye, he fell back with his face up. The second arrow and the third arrow successively killed eight of his generals. Yuan soldiers were hairy, so the Ming soldiers called them ‘hairy soldiers, hairy generals’. Mu Wangye released three arrows, and killed eighteen hairy generals. It was called ‘Mu Wangye fought the Great War across the river, three arrows shot dead eighteen hairy men’[14]!”

Mao Shiba was startled, “What?!?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye shot arrows across the river and killed Mao Shiba!” Speaking to this point, he could not help breaking up in giggles.

It was only then that Mao Shiba understood that Wei Xiaobao was actually cursing him in a roundabout way. “Damn it!” he swore, “Rubbish! Mu Wangye fought the Great War across the river, three arrows shot dead Wei Xiaobao!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “At that time I was not even born yet, how could Mu Wangye shoot me to death?”

“Stop making irresponsible remarks,” Mao Shiba said, “Delmek was hit on his left eye, and then what?”

“Seeing their marshal was hit by the arrow and fell down from his horse, the Yuan army was immediately thrown into chaos,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye was about to give his troops an order to cross the river, when suddenly he heard loud cry from the other side of the river, the Yuan army’s reinforcement had arrived. From the opposite bank, the enemy shot arrows randomly, darkening the sky. Mu Wangye had another idea, he dispatched four great generals under him to quietly lead the troops crossing the river downstream. When they were behind the Yuan troop’s formation, they blew the copper horns.”

“Those four generals must be Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, weren’t they?” Mao Shiba asked.

Wei Xiaobao did not know any better, but he was not willing Mao Shiba to outguess him, thereupon he said, “No, those four generals were Zhao, Qian, Sun and Li. Liu, Bai, Fang and Su stayed behind by Mu Wangye’s side.”

Mao Shiba nodded. “So that’s how it is,” he said.

“Mu Wangye passed on his order,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “He instructed Liu, Bai, Fang and Su to have the troops under their command to shout together while lowering small boats and wooden rafts into the river, dispatching a thousand Ming soldiers to pretend they were about to cross the river. Seeing the Ming troops were coming their way, the Yuan soldiers desperately released more arrows. Immediately Mu Wangye withdrew the troops, but less than an hour later, he dispatched the troops again, pretending they were about to cross the river. Again the Yuan soldiers released more arrows. Nobody knows how many fish, turtles, shrimps and crabs died in the river that day.”

“I don’t believe you,” Mao Shiba said, “Shooting dead some fish, that is still possible; but shrimps are extremely slender, crabs and turtles have hard shells protecting their bodies, how can they shoot them dead?”

“If you don’t believe me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why don’t you buy a turtle in the small town ahead, also buy a crab and a shrimp. String them together and hang them, then shoot an arrow through them. See if you can shoot them dead or not.”

Mao Shiba thought, “We are in a hurry for an urgent matter, how can there be any time to do this troublesome matter?” He was enthralled by the story, however, and was afraid Wei Xiaobao would sulk and did not continue; thereupon he said, “Alright, if you say they were shot to death then they were shot to death. What happened next?”

“Afterwards,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “The troops under Mu Wangye‘s command picked up eighteen animals shot dead by the arrows, some were hairy turtles, so they cooked and ate them, and that’s the end of the story.”

“Little demon,” Mao Shiba cursed, “You are still cursing me in a roundabout way. Tell me, how did Mu Wangye cross the river?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Seeing the Yuan soldiers release the arrow, Mu Wangye ordered his men to beat the drums and shout, as if they were going to cross the river, but actually they were not going to cross the river. They heard the loud blaring noise of the copper horns from behind the Yuan army, so they knew Zhao, Qian, Sun and Li, four generals succeeded in crossing the river downstream and circled behind the Yuan army. Only then did Mu Wangye give the order to cross the river. The soldiers held up their shields in the front while pushing the boats and the rafts to cross the river and attack. The Yuan soldiers had been shooting arrows for half a day, by this time their arrow supply was almost depleted. Hearing the enemy’s attack from behind while their commander was seriously injured, their hearts were thrown into chaos. Mu Wangye was the first to charge on his horseback. The Yuan soldiers fled to the east and ran to the west in great confusion. Mu Wangye saw a general lying down on a horseback among the Yuan army, with a lot of Yuan soldiers all around protecting him, so he knew it must be Delmek. Immediately he spurred his horse to pursue, while with a stern voice he shouted, ‘Delmek, you haven’t get down from the horse and surrender?’ Delmek said, ‘I … I am not Delmek, I am Mao …’ Mu Wangye saw a feathered arrow sticking out from his left eye, with a gold character near the arrowhead, it was precisely the character ‘Mu’. Whose arrow was that if it was not his own? Mu Wangye did not hesitate anymore, reaching out he grabbed and brought the man down, while shouting, ‘Tie him up!’. And so Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, four generals, who had been following him, grabbed Delmek and tied him up solidly. The Yuan army suffered a crushing defeat, with countless soldiers drowned to death in the river. The turtles in the river ate quite a bit of hairy bodies that day, and grew hair on their bodies. This kind of turtles are called Hairy (Mao) Turtles, which are not found anywhere else.”

Mao Shiba had a feeling that Wei Xiaobao was cursing him again. “Humph,” he snorted, but did not dare to argue, for all he knew, there might be real hairy turtles in Yunnan’s rivers.

Wei Xiaobao said, “As he seized a total victory that day, Mu Wangye advanced his troops onto King Liang’s capital immediately. When they reached the outskirt of the city, he saw the city was deathly still. Mu Wangye gave his order to beat the drum to provoke a battle, but then he saw a wooden tablet hanging on the top of the city wall, with two character ‘cease fighting’ written on it.”

“It must be that the King Liang knew they were no match for the enemy and thus hung the ‘cease fighting’ tablet,” Mao Shiba commented.

“Mu Wangye was benevolent and broadminded,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “He thought that since the King Liang was hanging the ‘cease fighting’ tablet, most likely they were about to surrender. If I proceed by attacking, after the wall is down, there will be many casualties among the common people; I’d rather give them three days to surrender, so as to avoid killing innocent people.”

Mao Shiba slapped his thigh and exclaimed loudly, “That’s right! Mu Wangye‘s family has been the guardians of Yunnan, they exist and perish together with the Ming Dynasty. It must be because Mu Wangye cherished common people, he was kindhearted, that’s why the Heaven blessed him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That night Mu Wangye was sitting in the army camp, reading the Spring and Autumn Annals by the lantern light.”

“It was Guan Wangye who sat by the light reading the Spring and Autumn Annals,” Mao Shiba said, “Could it be that Mu Wangye also read the Spring and Autumn Annals?”

“They were both Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Of course they both read the Spring and Autumn Annals. If they did not read the Spring and Autumn Annals, are you saying that they should read the Summer and Winter Annals? It was Zhang Fei[15] who read the Summer and Winter Annals. The impertinent Zhang Fei was brave but not shrewd; Mu Wangye was the celestial constellation descending into the world of the immortals, just like Guan Wangye, naturally they read the Spring and Autumn Annals and not the Summer and Winter Annals.” Not knowing anything about the Spring and Autumn Annals or Summer and Winter Annals, Mao Shiba could only nod his head in agreement.

“Mu Wangye read for a while,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “All of a sudden he needed to pee, he stood up, took the golden chamber pot bestowed to him by the Taizu Emperor, and was about to pee when suddenly he heard several loud cries coming from inside the city wall. It was very loud, it did not sound like tiger’s roar, and did not sound like horse’s neigh either. When Mu Wangye heard it, he knew something was amiss …”

“What cry was that?” Mao Shiba asked.

“Why don’t you try to guess?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Seems to me like several Yuan generals were roaring in the city, just like Delmek earlier,” Mao Shiba guessed.

“No,” Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “As soon as Mu Wangye heard it, he changed his mind and did not pee. Respectfully he put the chamber pot back on the table …”

“Why did he put a chamber pot on the table?” Mao Shiba cut him off.

“It was a golden chamber pot bestowed by the Taizu Emperor; do you think it was an ordinary chamber pot?” Wei Xiaobao argued, “That’s why when Mu Wangye put it down, he must be respectful. After laying down the pot, he beat the drum to summon the generals into his command tent. Picking up a golden arrow as a symbol of his authority, he said, ‘General Liu, receive this order: Take three thousands soldiers to catch field mice this very night; reward will be given to those who catch many, martial law will apply to those who catch a few.’ General Liu replied, ‘Command received!’ Taking the golden arrow, he left to catch field mice.”

“Why did he want field mice?” Mao Shiba wondered aloud.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye led his troops like a deity, how could he divulge secret military tactic? The marshals received the order, they followed it to the letter. If the officer receiving the order asked too much, Mu Wangye might be enraged and would send the officer outside the tent to be beheaded. If you were one of Mu Wangye‘s generals and you keep asking questions like this, even if you have eighteen melon heads, damn it, all eighteen will be chopped by Mu Wangye.”

“If I were one of the generals, naturally I won’t ask anything,” Mao Shiba said, “But you are not Mu Wangye, why can’t I ask you questions?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “No question, no question!” he said, “Mu Wangye picked up the second golden arrow and gave it to General Bai, saying, ‘I order you to lead twenty thousand men to dig a trench within five li of this place. The trench must be two li long, two zhang wide, and three zhang deep. You must finish the trench this very night without any mistake.’ General Bai received the order and left. Mu Wangye then gave his order to retreat, to break the camp and pitch the camp again six li from the city walls.”

The more Mao Shiba listened, the more baffled he was. “That’s really strange,” he said, “I cannot guess anything at all.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “If you could guess Mu Wangye‘s military tactics, Mu Wangye would become Mao Shiba, Mao Shiba would become Mu Wangye. At daybreak the next day, the two generals Liu and Bai returned: They caught more than ten thousands field mice, and the trench was dug. Mu Wangye nodded his head and said, ‘Very well, send a scout to the city to spy the enemy movements. About wupai hour [seventh hour, between 11am – 1 pm] suddenly they heard thundering drums from the city, followed by loud battle cry. The scout returned, galloping the horse like flying, and reported: ‘Reporting to the Marshal, the situation is not good!’ Slapping the table, Mu Wangye sternly said, ‘Damn it, what matter makes you panic?’ The scout said, ‘Reporting to the Marshal, the Yuan army opened wide the northern gate, and out of the city came several hundred long-nosed cow demons, running toward our camp to attack!’ Mu Wangye roared in laughter and said, ‘What long-nosed cow demons? Gather more info!’ The scout received the order and left.”

“What kind of animal is a long-nosed cow demon?” Mao Shiba wondered.

With a straight face Wei Xiaobao said, “I knew you would not know it either. This animal is bigger than a cow, its hide is rough, its muscle thick, its nose is long, with two tusks protruding forward, its pair of large ears look like curtain, its appearance is incomparably fierce; don’t you think it looks like a long-nosed cow demon?”

“Um,” Mao Shiba grunted, and nodded his head, apparently he was trying to picture the long-nosed cow demon in his mind.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Mu Wangye thought aloud, ‘This scout is really muddleheaded, he sees little and marvels at a lot of things; seeing a camel he says it’s a horse with a swelling back, seeing an elephant he says it’s a long-nosed cow demon!'”

Mao Shiba was startled; and then he burst out in laughter. “That scout was indeed muddleheaded,” he said, “Unexpectedly he regarded elephants as long-nosed cow demons. But he was a northerner, had never seen an elephant, so you can’t really blame him.”

Whenever the storyteller in Yangzhou was telling this ‘long-nosed cow demon’ story, the teahouse audience always broke out in laughter. This time Wei Xiaobao imitated the way the story was delivered, and sure enough, Mao Shiba also broke out in laughter.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Mu Wangye arranged his troops in battle formation; looking to the distance, he saw dust was rising high, those several hundred elephants, with daggers tied onto their heads, were rushing wildly toward them, the elephants’ tails were ablaze. Yunnan is very close to Burma; King Liang had purchased several hundred elephants from Burma, and trained the elephants to be a fiery formation, by tying pine branches onto the elephants’ tails and lighted it with fire. The elephants were scared and thus they charged toward the Ming army. Elephants’ skin is firm and their muscle thick; crossbow arrows cannot harm them. As soon as the Ming army was thrown into confusion, the Yuan army would follow behind the elephants and make a surprise attack. The Ming troops were northerners, they have never seen elephants; as soon as they saw the elephants, they cried out inwardly, ‘King of cow demon’s tail can shoot flames, today’s matter can’t be good!'”

Mao Shiba’s expression was grim, with subdued tone he said, “Those flaming elephants were formidable for sure.”

“Mu Wangye remained calm and collected, he simply laughed coldly,” Wei Xiaobao, “When the elephants were about ten zhang away, he suddenly barked, ‘Release the field mice!’ Those more than ten thousand field mice were released, instantly the ground was covered with mice running around randomly. You must know that elephants do not fear lions, bears, tigers or leopards, but they are most afraid of mice. If a mouse get into an elephant’s ear, it can eat the elephant’s brain without the elephant able to do anything. As soon as the elephants saw the mice, they were so frightened as if their spirits had flown up to the sky. They turned around and fled, charging into the Yuan army formation, trampling the Yuan generals and soldiers’ head and legs. Some elephants could not tell east from west and ran toward the Ming army, but one by one they all fell into the trench. Mu Wangye called out, ‘Release the rocket [orig. ‘fire arrow’]!’ As soon as he, the Senior [orig. ‘laorenjia’ – a polite term to address older (or more respectful) people] gave his order, the sky was filled with thousands, tens of thousands sparks. It was a wonderful sight.”

“How can the arrows catch fire?” Mao Shiba asked.

“You think those rockets [‘fire arrow’] were arrows on fire?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wrong! Those rockets were firecrackers and cannons. The Ming army was equipped with cannons, saltpeter and sulfur gunpowder. The previous night Mu Wangye had issued an order to the sergeants to load the cannons with gunpowder and firecrackers. When the cannons were fired, sparks filled the sky with loud ‘Bang! Bang! Boom! Boom! noise. Those elephants were even more scared and ran away desperately, trampling the Yuan army into pulp; scattered, collapsed and out of their minds. Mu Wangye gave the order to beat the drums to signal an attack. His troops responded by loud battle cry as they followed the elephants breaking into the city. King Liang, taking along his concubine, was drinking wine at the top of city wall, waiting for the news of the Ming army’s defeat. Seeing several hundred elephants bursting into the city, King Liang cried out, “Guluabutu, wuliwu! Guluabutu, wuliwu!”

Mao Shiba was puzzled, “What did he call wuyewu for?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He is a Mongolian, naturally he cried out in Mongolian. He said, ‘Aiyo, not good! The elephants are revolting!’ Rushing down the wall, he saw a well and immediately jumped in, wishing to kill himself. Unexpectedly, because King Liang was extremely fat, his belly was enormous; as he jumped halfway down, his belly stuck on mouth of the well, he could neither go up nor down. He cried out, ‘Oh, this is bad! The king is hanging in the air!’”

“How come this time he did not speak Mongolian?” Mao Shiba asked.

“He was crying out in Mongolian,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But I know you wouldn’t understand, so I changed it into our language. Riding on his horse, Mu Wangye was the first to break into the city. Seeing an old Tatar wearing yellow gown and golden crown on his head, he knew it was King Liang. Seeing the king’s big belly stuck in the mouth of the well, he could not help but bursting into loud laughter. Grabbing the king’s hair, he lifted him up, but he smelled a stench to the high heaven, it was because King Liang was extremely scared that he pooped and peed in his pants!”

Mao Shiba roared in laughter and said, “Xiaobao, the way you tell the story is very good. Turns out Mu Wangye subdued Yunnan with both bravery and wisdom. If he did not release the mouse formation, King Liang’s fiery elephant formation would crush the Ming army to utter defeat.”

“That goes without saying,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye fought a war with mice, we fought with lime, there is not much difference between us.”

“Wrong!” Mao Shiba shook his head, “As the saying goes, ‘all’s fair in war’, fighting a war with anything is permissible. Didn’t Zhuge Liang[16] use the empty city strategy? But we use saber and spear, wandering the Jianghu with straightforward and upright attitude; fighting a war and fighting one-on-one are completely different.”

“I’ll say they are more or less the same,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The two of them talking and chatting along the way, so the journey did not feel so lonely. Mao Shiba explained all kinds of customs, virtues, and taboos of the Jianghu; finally he said, “You do not know martial art, people also know that you are not from any school or societal family, they won’t deal with you with heavy hands; you must never pretend to be what you are not, otherwise you will suffer worse fate.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I, the Little White Dragon Wei Xiaobao, am an expert in water skill, I can stay underwater, living on fish and shrimp. But my land based skill is nothing to be talk about.” Mao Shiba roared in laughter.

That evening the two of them sought lodging in a peasant family home. Mao Shiba took out several taels of silver and gave them to the peasant family, so that they could stay for a dozen more days to recuperate. When most of injury was healed, they hired a large cart to continue their journey.

Book Note: ‘Best friendship at first meeting’ means ‘familiarity at first sight’, not at all talking about friendship at first meeting is the best, and then later on it gradually becomes not good.

[1] From the poem ‘Confession’, translated by Bynner. Source:,

[2] Idiom, meaning: get an official position.

[3] Lit. ‘heaven and earth society’. I am aware that Minford translated this as ‘Triads’, however, I prefer the original form.

[4] Master Sir, lit. big master.

[5] Liang Hongyu was a female general and the wife of a mighty Song Dynasty general, Han Shizhong. Even today, it is said that, standing on Golden Mountain, one can still hear her beating the mighty war drum which stirred the hearts of her Song soldiers. (Wikipedia)

[6] Both the online text and the book have 江洋大盗 (jiang yang da dao – Lit. ‘big robber of river and ocean’); however, my dad says that it should be 汪洋大盗 (wang yang da dao, meaning ‘the biggest robber/high-caliber criminal’), since ‘jiang yang da dao’ does not mean anything.

[7] ‘Eagle claw’ usually refer to martial artists/pugilists/fighters who work for imperial court. Additional info courtesy of Forgot Password: Besides some other meanings, 鹰爪 (eagle claws) can also be used to refer to lackeys, underlings, hired thugs and the likes. I think it is a combination of two words 鹰犬 (eagles and dogs) and 爪牙 (talons and fangs), both of which can be applied to lackeys.

[8] Lit. ‘peaceful west’. Ping Xi Wang – king who pacifies the west.

[9] ‘one who follows a villain’, henchman, hired thug.

[10] Yigui, Ergui and Sangui mean ‘one’, ‘two’ and ‘three turtles’, respectively. Actually, the character 桂 ‘gui’ of ‘Wu Sangui’ is different from ‘gui’ of ‘turtle’ [乌龟].

[11] Door bolts in those days are long pieces of wood placed across the door.

[12] ‘Bai’ means white or vain/empty. ‘Chi Bai Shi’ means ‘to eat without paying’.

[13] Orig. ‘wai sheng’ – sister’s son or wife’s sibling’s son.

[14] The word ‘mao’ (hairy) sounds like Mao Shiba’s surname. ‘Shiba’ means eighteen.

[15] A general of Shu, the sworn brother of Liu Bei in the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’.

[16] A military leader and Prime Minister of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period.

Chapter 3 Talisman tucked inside the sleeve encircles and divides the room, unexpected success of an auger out of the sack.

One day they reached Beijing, by the time they entered the city, it was already afternoon. Mao Shiba warned Wei Xiaobao to be careful in everything he say or do, it was the capital, government’s eyes and ears were numerous, they should not expose any mistake. “What mistake?” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are the one who should not expose any mistake. Aren’t you here to challenge Oboi to a duel? Just go out and find him.”

Mao Shiba let out a forced laugh without answering. When he said he was going to find Oboi and challenge him the other day, it was on an impulse while his frame of mind was in rage. Although he was a hot-headed and crude warrior, after all, he had been wandering the Jianghu for more than twenty years, how could he not know that Oboi was an important official in command of tens of thousands of men? How could he have a martial art competition with an ordinary Jianghu man? His own martial art skill was only a second or third class, if Oboi was indeed the Manchu’s number one warrior, most likely Mao Shiba was not Oboi’s match. However, he had boasted in front of Wei Xiaobao, he simply must go to Beijing. He was thinking he would take this child strolling around Beijing for about ten days or half a month, enjoying the scenery of the capital, merrily drinking and eating, and then he would send the child back to Yangzhou. Undoubtedly Oboi was unwilling to have a martial art contest, so he did not have any choice, it was not because he did not dare, so Wei Xiaobao could not mock him as gutless. In a very slim chance that Oboi agreed to have a duel, Mao Shiba would definitely stake his old life to fight him.

The two of them reached a small wine shop in the western part of the city. Mao Shiba ordered some food and wine. While he was drinking, two men entered the wine shop, one old, the other young. The old one was roughly sixty years old, while the young one looked around twelve or thirteen. Both were wearing strange looking attire. Wei Xiaobao did not know what kind of people they were, but Mao Shiba was aware that those two were eunuchs from the Imperial Palace. The old one had a sickly complexion, his back was bent at the waist, and he did not stop coughing, as if he was suffering from a serious illness. The young one was helping him, slowly walking to sit at a table.

With a shrill and raspy voice the old eunuch said, “Bring me some wine!” The wine shop attendant responded repeatedly and hastily took out some wine. The old eunuch took out a package wrapped in paper from his pocket and opened it. Very carefully he used the tip of his fingernail to scoop a little bit of its content and dissolved it into the wine. He put the medicine package inside his pocket before picking up the wine cup and slowly drank the wine. A short moment later he went into convulsion; his body shook continuously.

The wine shop attendant panicked. “What is it? What happened?” he asked.

“Get out of the way!” the little eunuch shouted, “It’s none of your business!” The wine shop attendant bowed and forced a smile; he walked away, but did not stop looking at the two.

The old eunuch used both hands to prop himself on the table, his teeth chattered, his body shook more and more violently. A moment later, even the table was shaking that the chopsticks on the table fell down to the floor.

The little eunuch panicked, “Gong-gong[1],” he said, “How about another dose?” while reaching out to fetch the medicine package from his pocket. He was about to open the package when with a shrill voice the old eunuch said, “No … no … I don’t want …” His expression looked pressing. The little eunuch held the medicine package in his hand, he did not dare to open it.

Right that moment they heard footsteps outside the inn’s door, seven big men walked in. They all naked on top, but wore leather pants on the bottom; their hair braided into pigtails on top of their heads. Their entire body was greasy, glistening under the light, very unsightly; it seemed like their bodies, from head to toes, were smeared with some kind of oil. All seven of them had sturdy muscle like young dragon, their chests were hairy, and their mouth were covered in black mustache; when they stretched out their arms, all their palms were huge with thick fingers. Seven men sat on two tables and shouted in their mumbling speech, “Bring out the wine and some beef and fat chicken, the quicker the better!”

“Yes, yes!” the wine shop attendant replied, while busily setting up chopsticks. “Master Guest,” he asked, “What would you like to eat?”

“Are you deaf?” one of the men bellowed. Another man suddenly reached out and grabbed the wine shop attendant on his waist, raising his arm straight up, he brought the attendant up in the air. The wine shop attendant’s hands and feet flailing randomly, he cried out ‘Wah! Wah!’ in fright. The men roared in laughter. The one holding the attendant flung him outside the shop, ‘Bang!’ the attendant hit the ground. “Aiyo! Mommy!” the wine shop attendant cried out. The men laughed even louder.

In low voice Mao Shiba said, “What they are doing is a wresting technique. The victim must be thrown far away; if he fell close by, he could spring up and counter-attack.”

“Do you know any wrestling?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I haven’t learned it,” Mao Shiba replied, “This kind of ‘hard’ skill is useless against a martial art expert.”

“Can you beat them, then?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Mao Shiba said with a laugh, “What good is it for me to beat those boorish men?”

“But you are alone against the seven them, you will definitely lose,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“They are not my match,” Mao Shiba said.

Wei Xiaobao suddenly raised his voice, “Hey, big men, my friend here says he alone can beat the seven of you.”

“Don’t create trouble!” Mao Shiba sternly said. But Wei Xiaobao liked nothing better than creating trouble. Seeing without any reason those seven men tossed the wine shop attendant that he was half-dead half-alive, his heart was angered; hearing Mao Shiba said that he alone could beat the seven of them, he deliberately provoked them, with the hope that Mao Shiba would teach them a lesson.

The seven big men turned their gaze toward Mao and Wei, two people. “Little baby,” one of them said, “What did you say?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “My friend here says, you bullied the wine shop attendant, you cannot be considered hero or warrior. If you have guts, come and fight him.”

One of the men glowered and said to Mao Shiba, “Son of a b*tch, did you say that?”

Mao Shiba knew those seven men were Manchurian wrestlers; at first he did not want to create any trouble, but first of all, he was angry just by looking at a Manchu, secondly, the Manchu was cursing him. Lifting up the wine pot, he threw it toward the man’s face. The man reached out to catch the pot; to his surprise, however, in this throw Mao Shiba had used his internal strength. ‘Crack!’ the wine pot hit the man’s arm. “Aiyo!” the man cried out for he felt severe pain on his arm. Another man pounced on Mao Shiba, which he responded by a flying kick. Manchurian wrestlers very seldom used their legs, the man was unable to dodge this kick, his lower abdomen was squarely hit, he was sent flying backward.

The other five men cursed, “Scoundrel bastard!” and pounced together. Mao Shiba was quick and agile, unleashing his qin na [grab and capture, grappling technique] skill, his elbow struck his palm hacked, in a short time he managed to knock down four men. The last one slanted his body sideways to take Mao Shiba’s palm on his shoulder, while he reached out to grab Mao Shiba’s lower back and lifted him up. He was about to turn Mao Shiba’s body around to dash his head against the stone steps; Mao Shiba suddenly launched a chain kick, ‘puff! puff!’ twice his feet landed on the pit of that man’s stomach. The man’s mouth opened, blood spurted out wildly, his grab loosened instantly.

The man fell face up, Mao Shiba followed and kicked him hard with both feet on the pit of his stomach, then with both palms he launched the ‘tornado brushing the willow’, hacking diagonally down toward the back of the first man, the one hit by the wine pot. ‘Crack!’ several of the man’s ribs were broken; he scrambled onto a table.

With one hand Mao Shiba pulled Wei Xiaobao and said, “Little demon, you really know how to get into trouble, let’s go quickly!’

The two of them dashed toward the door of the shop. But they only took two steps when they saw the stooped-down old eunuch was standing at the door. Mao Shiba reached out to lightly push his right arm, he only wanted him to push him aside. To his surprise, as his palm touched the old eunuch’s shoulder, Mao Shiba felt a violent jolt; he could not help but stagger and fell several steps sideways, his right waist bumped into a table, immediately the table toppled over.

The momentum of the fall had brought Wei Xiaobao along. Wei Xiaobao yelled, “Aiyo hey, Mommy, it hurts! I am dead!”

Mao Shiba quickly held on to the table and only then was he able to stand. He felt his entire body was boiling, as if he was roasted alive. Inwardly he was greatly shocked. Looking at the old eunuch; he saw the old eunuch was still bending down at the waist and did not stop coughing, seemingly oblivious of what had just happened. Mao Shiba knew that he had met an expert today, most likely the opponent was using sorcery; otherwise, even if one had a much higher level of martial art skill than himself, one could not possibly turn his light push into a tremendous force like that. Although there existed skill such as ‘borrowing force to counter-attack’ within the martial art study, this kind of ‘with four tael pulling a thousand catty‘ technique needs opponent’s large force to produce a large force reaction; there has never been any skill turning a light force into a large one.

Mao Shiba turned around; grabbing Wei Xiaobao, who was still screaming and yelling, he bolted toward the rear of the shop. Yet after taking only three steps, he heard a coughing and saw the old eunuch had already stood in front of him. Mao Shiba was startled, exerting all his strength into his feet, he leaned forward as if he wanted to pounce of the opponent, but just as quick he sprang backward. Before his feet even touch the ground, he felt a light force on his back. Hastily his left hand struck backhandedly, but it hit an empty air. His body was thrown forward and landed on the bodies of two men. It was a heavy fall, fortunately the men were fat and sturdy, with their thick flesh as cushion, they did not suffer any injury.

Those two men’s legs were broken, they were unable to stand; however, their hands were unaffected. Immediately they used their wrestling skill to grab Mao Shiba firmly. Mao Shiba wanted to struggle free, but his limbs were devoid of any strength; turned out the acupoint on his back was sealed by the old eunuch.

Mao Shiba fell face down, he was unable to see what was happening behind his back, he only heard the old eunuch was coughing continuously, and blaming the young eunuch with weak voice, “You want me to take another dose, aren’t you deliberately trying to kill me? Just another half of a dose more, then my old life would be gone. (Cough … cough … cough … cough.) You, little kid, really want to create trouble.”

The young eunuch said, “Child really did not know; next time I will not dare.”

“Will there be next time?” the old eunuch said, “Ay, I don’t even know if I will live in a few days. (Cough … cough … cough … cough.)”

“Gong-gong,” the little eunuch said, “Where did this man come from? I am afraid he is a rebel thief.”

“Friends,” the old eunuch addressed the men, “Which palace are you from?”

“Reporting to Gong-gong,” one of the men replied, “We are from Zheng Wangye‘s Palace. If not for Gong-gong’s help by catching this rebel thief, we might lose a lot of face today.”

“Humph,” the old eunuch said, “Just … just consider it a coincidence. (Cough … cough … cough.) You don’t have to raise any alarm, just send this man and that child to the catering department of the Imperial Palace, tell them they are wanted by Hai Lao-gong [lit. ‘Old eunuch’].”

The men responded with one voice. The old eunuch said, “Why haven’t you called a sedan chair? Looking at my condition, do you think I can still walk?” The little eunuch complied and dashed out the door. The old eunuch bent down on a table, while still coughing nonstop.

Seeing Mao Shiba was captured, Wei Xiaobao remembered a storyteller once said, “Living on a green mountain, no need to fear there won’t be any firewood to cook.” Must smear some grease on the soles of the feet, execute the thirty-sixth stratagem, if all else fails, retreat! Creeping quietly along the wall, he wanted to slip away from the back of the shop. Seeing that nobody was paying attention, he was feeling very happy inwardly when the old eunuch flicked his finger, sending a chopstick flying toward Wei Xiaobao. The chopstick stabbed the back of his right knee.

Wei Xiaobao’s right leg went numb and he toppled down on the floor, unable to move another step. His mouth immediately went into assault mode, “Tuberculosis sickly old turtle demon …” But then he saw one of the big man was glowering at him fiercely, he was scared and the next ten malicious sentences went back into his belly.

Not too long afterwards, a sedan chair arrived outside the door. The little eunuch walked in and announced, “Gong-gong’s sedan chair is here!”

Still coughing incessantly, supported by the young eunuch, the old eunuch entered the sedan chair, which was lifted by two porters and carried away, with the little eunuch following behind. Among the seven men, four only suffered light injury. These four men tightly bound Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao with rope. While doing that, they did not stop punching and kicking Mao Shiba. Wei Xiaobao could not stop his mouth from hurling dirty words, but two hard slaps on his ear left him with no choice but quietly accept his fate without making any noise.

The men also called for two sedan chairs. They squeezed a piece of cloth on Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao’s mouths, and used a piece of black cloth to cover their eyes before loading them onto the sedan chairs and took them away. When he was seven, Wei Xiaobao had ridden on a sedan chair with his mother on their way to burn incense. This time, without any better option, he consoled himself, “Damn it, laozi had not ridden a sedan chair for a long time; today filial sons are taking a good care of laozi by letting laozi riding on a sedan chair. What a good son, what a good grandson!” But thinking about whether he was accompanying Mao Shiba to the execution ground, he could not help shuddering in fear.

Inside the sedan chair, Wei Xiaobao was completely blinded, he only felt the sedan chair was always moving. Sometimes they stopped and he heard someone would ask a question, and the man accompanying the sedan chair would always reply, “Catering Department, on Hai Laogong-gong‘s order.” Wei Xiaobao did not know what kind of place the Catering Department was, but that Hai Laogong was definitely a person of authority. With the man escorting them, the sedan chair proceeded unhindered. Once the person asking question uncovered the curtain of the sedan chair; he peered inside and said, “It’s only a baby!” Wei Xiaobao wanted to say, “It’s your ancestor!” It was a pity that his mouth was stuffed with the cloth, so that he was unable to say anything.

The journey was long and uneventful that Wei Xiaobao almost fell asleep. Suddenly the sedan chair stopped, and someone said, “The people wanted by Hai Gong-gong are here.”

A boy’s voice replied, “Right, Hai Gong-gong is resting, just leave them here.” Hearing the voice, Wei Xiaobao recognized the speaker as the boy he came across at the wine shop.

He heard the first voice said, “We are going back to report to Zheng Wangye, I am sure Wangye will send someone to thank Hai Laogong.”

“Very well,” the boy replied, “Please tell Wangye Hai Laogong sends his respect.”

“We don’t deserve it,” the man replied.

And then Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao were dragged out of the sedan chairs, brought into the room, and laid down on the floor. They heard voices and footsteps were getting further away, but they could hear old eunuch Hai’s coughing quite clearly.

Wei Xiaobao smelled an extremely strong medicinal smell, he thought, “This old demon is so sick that he is about to die soon, too bad he did not die several days earlier. It seems that he wanted me and Mao Dage to be the herald announcing his arrival to the Yan Wang [Yama, King of Hell].”

It was very quiet all around them, other than old eunuch Hai occasional coughs, they did not hear anything else. Wei Xiaobao’s limbs were bound, his fingers and toes grew numb; his discomfort was unbearable, it was as if old eunuch Hai had forgotten all about them and did not take any notice of them.

After a very long time, they finally heard old eunuch Hai’s soft voice calling out, “Xiao Guizi [lit. ‘little cassia/cinnamon/laurel’]!”

“Here!” the little boy replied. Wei Xiaobao mused, “Turns out this stinky kid is called Xiao Guizi. Your name also has the same ‘Xiao’ character as your grandpa.”

He heard the old eunuch Hai said, “Untie those two, I want to question them.”

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi replied.

Wei Xiaobao heard some scraping noise, presumably Xiao Guizi used a knife to cut the rope binding Mao Shiba’s hands and feet. A moment later, the rope tying his own hands and feet was also cut, followed by the cloth covering his eyes were taken away. As he opened his eyes, Wei Xiaobao could see that they were in a large room, which was sparsely furnished. There was only a table and one chair, with a teapot and teacup on the table. The old eunuch Hai was sitting, half-reclining, on the chair; his cheeks were very deep, his eyes were half-open half-closed. By this time the sky had turned dark. There were two flaming candles on the wall, held by a couple of copper candle holders. The flame swayed, making old eunuch Hai’s sallow face flicker between light and dark. Xiao Guizi took the cloth stuffed inside Mao Shiba’s mouth out.

“This child’s mouth is unclean, let him be gagged a while longer,” old eunuch Hai said.

Wei Xiaobao’s hands were free, but he did not dare to take the cloth out himself. Perhaps the obscenities he hurled in his heart were ten times worse than the old eunuch Hai could ever imagined.

The old eunuch Hai said, “Go get a chair, let him sit down.” Xiao Guizi went into the next room and brought back a chair, which he set next to Mao Shiba. Mao Shiba sat down immediately. Seeing he was not given any chair, without any care Wei Xiaobao sat down on the floor.

“Laoxiong,” old eunuch Hai addressed Mao Shiba, “May I know your honorable surname and your great name? Which family or school do you belong to? Your qin na technique is not bad, apparently not part of our northern style martial art.”

“My surname is Mao,” Mao Shiba replied, “I am called Mao Shiba. I belong to the Five Tigers Breaking the Gates Saber School of Taizhou, Jiangbei.”

The old eunuch Hai nodded and said, “Mao Shiba, Mao Laoxiong, I have heard about your reputation. I heard around the Yangzhou area Laoxiong has plundered and killed some officers to escape from prison. It was quite an accomplishment indeed.”

“That’s right,” Mao Shiba said. He could not help but to admit defeat to this sickly, tuberculosis old eunuch’s astonishing martial art skill, so he did not dare to openly contradicting him.

The old eunuch Hai said, “What is the purpose of your visit to the capital, Sire? Do you care to share it with me?”

Mao Shiba said, “Since I am already fallen into your hands, you want to kill, you want to hack, I am entirely at your disposal, the one surnamed Mao is a Jianghu man, I won’t wrinkle my brows. If you want to extort a confession, you are misjudging me.”

The old eunuch Hai showed a faint smile as he said, “Who does not know that Mao Shiba is a firm, real man? I would not dare to extort your confession. I heard that Sire is Pingxi[2] Wangye‘s trusted aide …”

He had not finished speaking when Mao Shiba’s anger rose, he shouted, “Who has anything to do with this big traitor Wu Sangui? By saying such thing, you are smearing Mao Shiba’s reputation as a patriot.”

The old eunuch Hai coughed several times, with a faint smile he said, “Pingxi Wangye has rendered great merit to the Great Qing, His Majesty has a really high regard of him. If Sire is Pingxi Wangye‘s man, by looking at Pingxi Wangye‘s face, such a trivial offense need not be haggled over.”

“I am not, I am not!” Mao Shiba shouted loudly, “Mao Shiba and that stinky thief Wu Sangui do not have any relation whatsoever, the one surnamed Mao is unwilling to receive any favor from this big traitor to China. If you want to kill just kill, if you say I was this Wu thief’s trusted aide, surnamed Mao’s ancestors were all rotten and moldy.”

Wu Sangui had led the Qing army entering the pass, to the extent that the Ming Dynasty was subjugated to the foreign power. At the marketplace, whenever the name Wu Sangui was mentioned, Wei Xiaobao always heard the phrases ‘traitor to China’, ‘stinky thief’, or ‘his mother thief’ added to his name; he thought, “From this old turtle’s tone, if only Mao Dage is willing to admit that he is Wu Sangui’s trusted aide, the old turtle would let us go. Too bad that Mao Dage‘s bones are too stiff and he is unwilling to pretend to be one. But his bones are stiff, his skin and flesh will suffer. The common saying is right, ‘A real man won’t be at a disadvantage from the outset’, naturally those who are disadvantaged are not hero or real men. There is no harm for us to speak nonsense, saying Wu Sangui regards the two of us with such care. When we escape alive, it won’t be too late to curse Wu Sangui’s eighteen generations ancestors.”

Gradually the blood in his hands and feet was able to flow again; quietly he brought his sleeve to cover his face as he take away the cloth gagging his mouth. The old eunuch Hai’s gaze was focused on Mao Shiba’s expression, he did not see Wei Xiaobao playing trick in secret.

Seeing Mao Shiba’s stern expression, the old eunuch Hai smiled and said, “I thought Sire was sent to the capital by Pingxi Wangye; turns out I was wrong.”

Mao Shiba thought, “This time I am being captured in Beijing, the footstool of the Emperor himself, obviously I won’t escape with my life. A dead leopard leaves behind its skin, a dead man leaves his name. Mao Shiba’s death is nothing, but I must not be an obscure person.” He noticed Wei Xiaobao was looking at him helplessly, he loudly said, “Let me be honest with you, in the south I heard a rumor in Jianghu that Oboi is Manchu’s number one warrior, that he is able to kill a wild bull with his palm, that he is able to kick tigers and leopard; people always give an exaggerated account of things. The one surnamed Mao refuses to accept; therefore, I came to Beijing with the special purpose of challenging him to a duel.”

The old eunuch Hai sighed. “You want to have a duel with Oboi?” he said, “Oboi has reached the highest rank of officialdom. In Beijing, he is inferior only to the Emperor and Empress Dowager. Even if laoxiong waits in Bejing for eight years, ten years, you might not necessarily be able to see him, how can you have a duel with him?”

At first Mao Shiba believed the old eunuch Hai was using some kind of sorcery, afterwards the acupoint on his back was sealed, and only now did it gradually become unsealed; he knew he was facing an expert in internal energy cultivation. Looking at the old eunuch’s expression and the tone of his voice, Mao Shiba guessed the old eunuch was a Manchu. If he was not an old, sickly Manchu’s match, what chance did he have against the Manchu’s number one warrior? When he fought Shi Song and his troops at the Victory Hill of Yangzhou, although the situation was critical, he was not in the least bit desperate; but now, facing this ghost eunuch suffering for tuberculosis, unexpectedly his heroic spirit disappeared completely. In the end, he could only heaved a deep sigh.

The old eunuch Hai asked, “Do you still want to have a duel with Oboi, Sire?”

“May I ask, how is that Oboi’s martial art skill compared to Your Excellency?” Mao Shiba asked.

The old eunuch Hai smiled faintly as he said, “Oboi is a great minister who has both military and civil talents, with matchless glory and splendor. I am but a cruel-fated, despicable person. While Oboi is high in the sky, I am low on the earth, how can we be compared?” He was speaking only about the difference in two people’s status, unexpectedly not one sentence about martial art ability was even mentioned.

Mao Shiba said, “If that Oboi has half of your martial art skill, I am definitely not his match.”

The old eunuch Hai said with a smile, “Laoxiong is too modest. Tell me, with my shallow martial art skill, if I want to compare it to Chen Jinnan’s, how do you think I will fare?”

Mao Shiba sprang up and said, “You … you … what did you say?”

The old eunuch Hai said, “I am talking about your respected society’s Zongduozhu, Chen Jinnan. I heard Chen Zongduozhu practices ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’, his internal energy cultivation is unfathomably deep. It’s a pity we are not destined to see each other; I am a despicable person, I do not have the fortune to pay Chen Zongduozhu a visit.”

“I don’t belong to Tian Di Hui, and I don’t have the fortune to pay Chen Zongduozhu a visit either,” Mao Shiba said, “I only heard Chen Zongduozhu‘s martial art skill to be very high, how high or what his technique looks like, I can’t possibly know.”

The old eunuch Hai sighed and said, “Mao Xiong, I have known from the start that you are a good man. With this kind of good skill, why don’t you serve the imperial household? You may be a provincial governor in the future, or even a general won’t be out of question. If you follow Tian Di Hui starting a rebellion, ay …” He shook his head, and then continued, “You won’t have a good end. Let me give you an advice, you’d better rein the horse at the edge of the precipice, withdraw from Tian Di Hui.”

“I … I … I am not a Tian Di Hui’s member,” Mao Shiba said. Suddenly he raised his voice and said, “It’s not that I am denying that I am one of them. The one surnamed Mao wishes to become a member of the Tian Di Hui, it’s just that I do not have anybody to sponsor me. There is a saying in Jianghu: ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain’. Hai Laogong, I believe you have also heard this saying. The one surnamed Mao is definitely a Han, although I haven’t joined the Tian Di Hui, I am determined to fight the Qing and restore the Ming; how can you advise me to serve the Qing and become a traitor to Han instead? Just kill me quickly; the one surnamed Mao has killed and burned, my crimes are too great, I should have died early on. It’s just that I have never seen Chen Jinnan, so there’s a part of me which does not want to die with closed eyes.”

The old eunuch Hai said, “You, Han people, refuse to accept Manchu’s rule over the land under the heaven, there’s nothing wrong with that. I respect you as a real man, so I won’t kill you today. I am going to let you see Chen Jinnan first, so that you can die with your eyes closed. The earlier you see him the better. When you see him, tell him that Hai Laogong wants to see him very much, I want to try his ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’, I want to see how formidable it really is. I wish for him to come to the capital as soon as he can. Ay, the old man don’t have too many days left, if Chen Zongduozhu does not come to Beijing soon, I won’t be able to see him at all. Hey, hey, ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain’! I want to see what kind of hero Chen Jinnan really is, why does he have such a big reputation in the Jianghu?”

Hearing that the old eunuch Hai unexpectedly agreed to let him go, Mao Shiba was taken aback. He stood motionless and did not walk out immediately. “What are you waiting for?” the old eunuch Hai said, “Why haven’t you left?”

“Right!” Mao Shiba said. He turned around and pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand along. He wanted to say something nice, but did not know what to say.

The old eunuch Hai sighed. “In vain you have been wandering around the Jianghu for a long time, even a little bit of custom you do not understand. You just want to walk away without leaving anything?”

Mao Shiba clenched his teeth. “You’re right, the one surnamed Mao is negligent. Little brother, lend me your knife, I’ll cut my left hand for you,” he said, while pointing to the dagger by the little eunuch, Xiao Guizi. The dagger was approximately eight cun [cun is a unit of length, approximately an inch or a thumb], it was the dagger Xiao Guizi used to cut the rope binding their hands and feet.

“Just a left hand is not enough,” old eunuch Hai said.

Mao Shiba’s face turned ashen. “Do you want me to cut my right hand as well?” he asked.

The old eunuch Hai nodded. “That’s right,” he said, “Both hands. Actually, I also want your pair of eyes, (cough … cough …) but I figure you want to see Chen Jinnan. If you don’t have any eyes, you won’t be able to see him. Let’s do this: gouge your left eye, you may keep the right eye!”

Mao Shiba took two steps back and let Wei Xiaobao’s hand go. His left palm raised, his right hand slanting with palm down, in the ‘Rhinoceros Gazing at the Moon’ stance, thinking, “You want to gouge my left eye, and break my both hands, why would I want to live as a cripple? I’d rather stake everything to fight you, if I die in your palm, that will be the end of it.”

The old eunuch Hai did not even look at him; he coughed repeatedly, his coughing was getting more violent, until at last he could not breathe at all. His originally sallow face had turned red and swollen.

“Gong-gong,” Xiao Guizi said, “How about another dose?”

The old eunuch Hai shook his head repeatedly, but his coughing did not stop. A moment later he could not take it anymore, he stood up and grabbed his own neck with his left hand, his expression showed extreme pain.

“If I don’t leave now, what am I waiting for?” Mao Shiba mused. With a leap he pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand and bolted toward the door. The old eunuch Hai pinched the table with his right hand’s thumb and index finger, immediately a piece of wood broke off. ‘Swish!’ he flicked it out. Mao Shiba was a large stride away from the door, the piece of wood struck the futu [crouching rabbit] acupoint on his right leg. Immediately his right leg went numb and he fell kneeling down on the floor. Another ‘Swish!’ was heard as another piece of wood flew and struck the acupoint on Mao Shiba’s left leg. Amidst the old eunuch Hai’s coughing, taking Wei Xiaobao along, Mao Shiba rolled down on the ground.

“Take half a dose,” Xiao Guizi said, “It won’t do you any harm.”

“Alright, alright,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Just … just a little bit. Too much … it’s too dangerous.”

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi replied, while reaching out to get the medicine pouch from his pocket. He turned around toward the other room, and went back out with a cup of wine. Opening up the pouch, he took a little bit of powder with the nail of his little finger. “Too … too much,” old eunuch Hai said.

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi said, returning some of the powder on his nail back into the pouch, his eyes were at the old eunuch Hai. The old eunuch Hai nodded. He bent down again and started coughing; suddenly he threw his body forward, he crawled on the floor and did not stop twisting and turning.

Xiao Guizi was greatly alarmed, he rushed forward and cried out, “Gong-gong, Gong-gong, what happens?”

Gasping for breath, the old eunuch Hai said, “Hot … it’s hot … help … help me … to water … water tub to soak … soak …”

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi replied, as he struggled to help him up. The two of them staggered together into the inner room, followed by splashing noise of the water.

All of these did not escape Wei Xiaobao’s eyes. He got up quietly and tiptoed to the table. Stretching out his little finger, he took three fingernails full of medicinal powder and dumped it into the wine. Afraid it was not enough, he took two more fingernails, and then folded the medicine pouch and re-opened it, and thus erasing the fingernail mark from the powder.

He heard Xiao Guizi in the inner room said, “Gong-gong, is it enough? Please don’t soak too long.” “Hot … I’m hot …” the old eunuch Hai said, “It feels like I am being roasted.” Seeing the dagger lying on the table, Wei Xiaobao took it in his hand, and went back toward Mao Shiba and lay down on the floor.

Not too long afterwards, the splashing noise diminished. Dripping wet, the old eunuch Hai came out of the inner room, supported by Xiao Guizi. He had not stopped coughing. Xiao Guizi took the wine cup from the table and brought it to his mouth. The old eunuch Hai was still coughing and did not drink immediately. Wei Xiaobao felt his heart was about to jump out his throat.

The old eunuch Hai said, “If I can not take … it’s best if I not … not take the medicine.”

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi said, putting the wine cup back on the table. He wrapped the medicine pouch securely and put it back into the old eunuch Hai’s pocket. But the old eunuch Hai’s coughing was getting worse. He pointed to the wine cup. Xiao Guizi picked up the wine cup and brought it to his mouth. The old eunuch Hai drank it in one gulp.

Mao Shiba was unable to remain calm and let out a cry, “Ah!”

The old eunuch Hai said, “You … if you think … you can escape alive …” Suddenly with a crash the chair collapsed. The old eunuch Hai crouched on the table, but he was leaning with such a tremendous force that, with two loud crashes, the table and the person collapsed together.

In great alarm Xiao Guizi screamed, “Gong-gong, Gong-gong!” as he rushed forward to help the old eunuch Hai up, his back was facing Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao lightly sprang up, raising his dagger he drove it ferociously on Xiao Guizi’s back. Xiao Guizi let out a low groan and died instantly. The old eunuch Hai was still twisting and turning on the floor. Wei Xiaobao raised his dagger and aimed it at the old eunuch Hai’s back, ready to drive it down again. Right this moment, the old eunuch Hai lifted up his head and said, “Xiao … Xiao Guizi, something’s wrong with the medicine.”

Wei Xiaobao was scared out of his wits, how could he dare to drive his dagger down? The old eunuch Hai turned around and reached out, he grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s left wrist as he said, “Xiao Guizi, the medicine just now, haven’t you made a mistake?”

“No … no mistake,” Wei Xiaobao mumbled his response. He felt as if his left wrist was clamped with an iron hoop, the pain penetrated his bone. In his fright, he withdrew the dagger in his right hand about a cun.

With a trembling voice the old eunuch Hai said, “Quick … quickly light the candle, it’s so dark in here, I can’t … can’t see anything.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly puzzled, the candles were burning bright, why did he say it was so dark? “Could it be that he is blinded?” Thereupon he said, “The candle is still burning, Gong-gong, you … can’t you see?”

Both he and Xiao Guizi still had their children’s voice, but Xiao Guizi spoke with Manchurian Bannerman[3] official’s accent, which Wei Xiaobao could not learn in such a short time, and thus he was mumbling with the hope that the old eunuch Hai would not discover it.

The old eunuch Hai said, “I … I can’t see a thing, who says the candle is burning? Quickly light it up!” While saying that, he let Wei Xiaobao’s wrist go.

“Yes! Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said. He walked away hurriedly toward the candle-holder hanging on the wall. Reaching up, he fiddled the copper ring of the candle-holder, creating some clinking noise, and said, “It’s lighted!”

“What?” the old eunuch Hai said, “Nonsense! Why haven’t you lighted the candle …?” He had not finished speaking when his body twisting and he fell face up on the floor.

Wei Xiaobao gestured anxiously to Mao Shiba, telling him to run away quickly. Mao Shiba waved back at him, wanting him to escape together. Wei Xiaobao turned toward the door, but he heard the old eunuch Hai whispering and groaning, “Xiao … Xiao Guizi, Xiao … Xiao Guizi, you …”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Yes, I am here!” His left hand beckoned Mao Shiba to escape first, since he must find a way to deal with the old eunuch Hai. Mao Shiba struggled to stand up, but the acupoints on both of his legs were sealed. Reaching down, he tried to massage the acupoints, but after exerting all his strength, nothing happened at all. He thought, “My legs are incapable of moving, I must crawl out. This child is as crafty as a ghost, besides, he is only a child, nobody will pay him any attention, it won’t be difficult for him to escape. If he is coming with me and we come across an enemy, he may be implicated instead.” Therefore, he waved toward Wei Xiaobao and put his hands down to quietly crawl out.

The old eunuch Hai’s whispering and groaning was sometimes soft, sometimes audible. Wei Xiaobao did not dare to leave for fear that the old eunuch Hai found Xiao Guizi was dead and thus raised an alarm; if his subordinates started to surround them, it would be difficult for Mao Shiba and him to escape. He thought, “I caused all these disasters. Mao Dage cannot walk, I don’t know how long will it take for him to escape, I’d better stay here to stall a little bit. As long as the old turtle would not discover that I am an impostor, I will be alright. This old turtle is so sick that his mind is muddled, I’ll wait till he pass out, then I’ll kill him with a stab, and then I can escape.”

A little while later, he heard the distant ‘de du de du dang, de du de du dang’ of the night watchman, indicating it was the first watch of the night [11 pm – 1 am]. Wei Xiaobao saw the candle sparkled, it suddenly brightened; the candle on his left had been burned to the very end, it would soon die out. He saw Xiao Guizi’s body curling up and was very scared. “I killed him,” he mused, “When he turns into a ghost, will he come back to demand his life back from me?” He also thought, “If I wait till daybreak, it will be more difficult to escape, I must run away in the middle of the night when it is still dark.” But the old eunuch Hai was still groaning, he had not lost his consciousness at all. He was lying face up on the floor. Even if Wei Xiaobao had more guts, he would not dare to raise his dagger and plunge it toward the old eunuch Hai’s pit of the stomach or perhaps his lower abdomen, knowing that this old man’s martial art was extremely formidable; as soon as the dagger hit his flesh, he would regain consciousness, if he strike with his palm, Wei Xiaobao’s brain would definitely be dashed out.

After another while, the other candle also died out. In the darkness, Wei Xiaobao was thinking that Xiao Guizi’s corpse was within reach; he was terribly scared and his only hope was that he could escape as early as possible. But as soon his body moved, the old eunuch Hai called out, “Xiao … Xiao Guizi, you … are you here?”

“I am here!” Wei Xiaobao did not have any choice.

More than an hour later, he tiptoed toward the door. The old eunuch Hai called out again, “Xiao Guizi, where are you going?”

“I … I want to go pee,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The old eunuch Hai asked, “Why … why not pee inside?”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He went to the inner chamber, the one he had never been in before. He had just walked into the door and took a couple of steps when ‘bang!’ his kneecap bumped into the corner of a table.

Outside, the old eunuch Hai asked, “Xiao … Xiao Guizi, what … what are you doing?”

“No … nothing!” Wei Xiaobao replied. Stretching out his arm he groped around the table to find a fire knife or a flint. Hastily he struck the flint and lighted a fire paper. He saw several dozens of candles on the table, immediately he lighted one and plugged it into a candlestick. He saw a large bed and a small bed in the room, which he presumed must be the old eunuch Hai and Xiao Guizi’s. There were also several chests, a table and a cabinet; other than that, there was nothing else. On the east end there was a large tub, which looked extremely tall to him, underneath the tub the water splashed everywhere.

He was contemplating whether he could run away from the window, when the old eunuch Hai called out from the outside, “Why haven’t you peed yet?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Why doesn’t he stop calling me? Could it be that he heard something wrong in my voice and grew suspicious? Otherwise, whether I pee or not, it is not a fart business of his.” Thereupon he answered at once, “Yes!” From underneath the small bed he groped out a chamber pot. He peed while looking at the window. He saw the window was tightly shut, each window panel was covered with silk paper; he thought it must be because the old eunuch Hai’s coughing was so severe that he was afraid of catching cold, therefore, not a draft of cold air was allowed to come in. If he opened the window by force, the old eunuch Hai would definitely hear it. Most probably before he could even get out, he would be captured. He looked everywhere around the room, looking for a place where he could escape, but even a hole in the wall to let the dog or the cat in and out was non-existent. If he escaped from the front room, the old eunuch Hai would definitely find out. Suddenly with the corner of his eyes he caught sight of a set of new clothes by the corner of Xiao Guizi’s bed; he had an idea. Hurriedly he shed his own clothes and put the new set on.

From the outside the old eunuch Hai called again, “Xiao Guizi, what … what are you doing?”

“I am coming, I am coming!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He walked out while fastening his buttons. He picked up Xiao Guizi’s hat and put it on his own head, while saying, “The candles died out, I’ll light another one.” Returning to the room, he picked two candles and lighted both.

The old eunuch Hai heaved a sigh and in a low voice asked, “Have you really lighted the candles?”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Don’t tell me you cannot see?”

The old eunuch Hai was silent for half a day. He coughed several times before answering, “I was fully aware the medicine must not be taken too much, but the coughing was really … was really … too painful. Ay, although each time I only take a little, but accumulated over a long period of time, the toxicity is too heavy, until finally … finally my eyes failed.”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao felt relieved, “The old guy did not know I added medicinal powder into his wine; he thought it was because he had taken the drug for a long time that the effect accumulated and flared out just now.”

He heard the old eunuch Hai asked again, “Xiao Guizi, how did Gong-gong usually treat you?”

Wei Xiaobao had no idea how the old eunuch Hai usually treated Xiao Guizi, he quickly said, “Very good, actually.”

The old eunuch Hai said, “Um, now that Gong-gong … is blind, in this whole world, only you alone will take care of me. You wouldn’t leave Gong-gong, wouldn’t … wouldn’t ignore me, would you?”

“I … of course I won’t?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You are not telling me lie?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

“Naturally not the least bit of lie,” Wei Xiaobao said. He replied without the slightest hesitation, in addition, his tone was so sincere that it was impossible for the old eunuch Hai not to be moved. He added, “Gong-gong, you have no one to keep you company, if I don’t keep you company, who will? I think your eyes will get well in a few days, you don’t have to worry.”

The old eunuch Hai sighed and said, “They won’t get well, they won’t get well!” After a moment, he asked, “Has that one surnamed Mao run away?”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Did you kill the child he brought along?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping wildly, he answered, “Yes! His … his body; what should we do with it?”

The old eunuch Hai contemplated for a while, and then said, “We have a dead body in our room, if people find out, they will ask questions, very troublesome. You … get my medicine box out.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He entered the inner room, but did not see any medicine box, so he opened the cabinet drawers one by one to look for it.

Suddenly the old eunuch Hai said angrily, “What are you doing? Who … who told you to randomly open the drawers?”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up in fright, he thought, “Turns out I am not supposed to open these drawers,” he said, “I am looking for the medicine box, I don’t know where it is.”

“Rubbish!” the old eunuch Hai said, “How come you don’t know where the medicine box is?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I killed someone … I am very afraid. You … Gong-gong … is also going blind. I … I am completely confused.” Speaking to this point, unexpectedly he broke into a loud bawling. He did not know where the medicine box was, and was afraid that based on this fact alone he would give himself away, thereupon he cried as soon as he spoke, which, for him, was not difficult at all.

“Ay, this child,” the old eunuch Hai said, “What’s so frightening about killing people? The medicine box is inside the first chest.”

Sobbing and sniffling, Wei Xiaobao said, “Yes … yes … I … I am very scared.” He saw both chests were locked with copper padlocks, and he did not know where the key was. Reaching out to the lock, he tried to pull it, and the padlock immediately opened. Turned out it was not locked at all. “I am in luck!” he cheered inwardly, “If I did not know the trick of this padlock, the old turtle would be greatly suspicious.” Setting the lock aside, he opened the chest and saw that it contained mostly clothes. On the left there was a medicine box like the one used by the doctors. He picked it up immediately and took it outside.

The old eunuch Hai said, “Take some ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’ to melt the body.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, pulling the small drawers of the box one by one. He saw the drawers were full of porcelain bottles of all colors, shapes and sizes, no two bottles were alike. He did not know which one was the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’, so he asked, “Which bottle?”

“This kid,” the old eunuch Hai said, “How come you are confused about everything today? Are you really frightened that you lost your head?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I’m scared. Gong-gong, your eyes … can … can they get well?” His voice sounded full of concern over the old eunuch Hai’s eyes, truly it was incomparably earnest.

The old eunuch Hai seemed to be quite moved; he reached out and gently caressed Wei Xiaobao’s head. He said, “It’s the triangular bottle, greenish-blue in color, with white dot on it. This powder is very precious, only a tiny bit is enough.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. Picking up the greenish-blue with white dot bottle, he pulled the cork, picked a sheet of white paper from the medicine box, and poured a little bit of powder out, and then scattered it onto Xiao Guizi’s body. But half a day later, nothing happened.

“What is it?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

“I don’t see anything,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Did you scatter it on the blood?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

“Ah, I forgot!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed. He took some more powder and sprinkled it on the corpse’s wound.

“Something’s really weird with you today,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Even your voice is greatly different.”

Right this moment, they heard the wound on Xiao Guizi’s corpse started to sizzle, a thin smoke appeared, followed by yellowish liquid flowing out from the wound. The smoke was getting thicker, the yellow liquid also flowed more and more, producing a very strong acid stench. The corpse’s wound decomposed bigger and bigger. As the flesh made contact with the yellow liquid, it emitted smoke and slowly turned into liquid. Even the clothes were turning into liquid.

Wei Xiaobao watched with his tongue stuck out; he took his old clothes and threw it onto the corpse. Seeing his own shoes were torn at the toes, he hastily pulled Xiao Guizi’s shoes and put them on his feet, and then threw the worn-out shoes onto the yellow liquid. Approximately two hours later, Xiao Guizi’s body, including his clothes and Wei Xiaobao’s shoes and socks, everything disappeared; only a pool of yellow liquid was left on the floor.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If the old turtle pass out now, nothing can be better. I’ll put poisonous liquid into him, then a moment later he would melt that even his skeletons would not remain.” But the old eunuch Hai did not stop coughing, did not stop sighing, without any sign that he would pass out anytime soon.

He saw the paper panes on the window gradually turned brighter, it was already dawn. Wei Xiaobao thought, “I have changed clothes, I can simply go out in grandiose, nobody will recognize me, I have nothing to worry about.”

“Xiao Guizi,” the old eunuch Hai suddenly said, “It is dawn, isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The old eunuch Hai said, “Fetch some water and mop the liquid on the floor clean, this odor is nasty.” Wei Xiaobao complied; he returned to the inner room and fetched several ladles of water from the water tub and flushed the liquid on the floor.

The old eunuch Hai also said, “After breakfast, you may go gambling with them.”

Wei Xiaobao thought it was very strange, he expected the old eunuch Hai was joking; thereupon he said, “Gambling? I am not going! Your eyes are not well, how can I go alone and play?”

The old eunuch Hai angrily said, “Who said anything about playing? I have taught you for the last several months, you have lost several hundred taels, coming and going, everything is for this great cause; aren’t you going to obey me anymore?”

Wei Xiaobao did not understand his intention, he had no alternative but to mumble his response, “No … it’s not that I don’t want to obey you, but you are not well, your coughing is so severe. I do care about … about this cause, but nobody is taking care of you.”

“You are helping me in this matter, it is better than anything else,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Try throwing it again.”

“Throw it again, throw … throw what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Go get the dice!” the old eunuch Hai angrily said, “Always decline with all sorts of excuses. Not willing to make an effort to practice. Has learned for a long time, has never made any progress.”

Hearing it was ‘throwing the dice’, Wei Xiaobao was shaken inwardly. In Yangzhou, other than listening to stories, he spent most of his time throwing dice with other people. Although he was young, in the streets and alleys of Yangzhou, he could already be considered an expert. It was just that he did not know where the dice was kept, therefore, he said, “This day made my head spins, I don’t know where those dice are kept.”

“Useless creature,” the old eunuch Hai cursed, “Hearing the words ‘throwing dice’ you get scared out of your wits. The money you lose is not yours anyway. Aren’t those dice nicely kept in the chest?”

“I don’t know,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He went back into the inner room and flipped around in the chest. In a brocade box he indeed saw a small china bowl, in the bowl were six dice. It was as if he had met an old friend far from home; he could not refrain from cheering. Picking up the six dice, he cheered again. Turned out, not only he met an old friend, he met a very close old friend. As soon as he held the six dice, he immediately knew that the dice were cheating dice; they were filled with mercury.

Bringing the bowl and the dice to the old eunuch Hai he said, “Are you sure you want me to go gambling? You will be alone in here with nobody taking care of you, is that alright?”

“Just cut the crap,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Let’s see if within ten throws, you can give me one ‘Heaven’.”

In those days, gamblers could use either four or six dice. If six dice were used, four of the dice must show the same number of dots, with the remaining two dice became dominoes. Two ‘sixes’ was ‘Heaven’, two ‘ones’ was ‘Earth’, otherwise the winner was determined by the number of the dots, large or small.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “These dice are loaded with mercury, you want me to throw ten times to get one ‘Heaven’, you are belittling laozi too much.” But cheating with dice loaded with mercury is a lot more difficult than using dice loaded with lead. He threw four, five times and failed to get the desired numbers. By the sixth throw, he got two ‘sixes’, three ‘threes’, and one ‘four’. If this ‘four’ were ‘three’, then he would have gotten a ‘Heaven’. With the tip of his pinkie he pushed lightly and the ‘four’ turned into ‘three’. He clapped and exclaimed, “Good! Good! Isn’t this a ‘Heaven’?”

“Don’t cheat on me just because I cannot see,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Bring it here, let me feel it.” He ran his finger inside the bowl and sure enough, out of six dice, four were ‘threes’, two were ‘sixes’. “Your luck is good today,” he said, “Now give me a ‘Plum Blossom’.”

Wei Xiaobao lifted the dice, and was about to throw when suddenly a thought occurred to him: “From the way he speaks, that little turtle Xiao Guizi’s skill in throwing dice was extremely lacking. If I can throw whatever I want, I will definitely raise this old turtle’s suspicion.” Thereupon he shifted the strength of his hand and successively threw seven, eight times without the desired result. After the next throw, he heaved a sigh.

“What did you throw?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

“It’s … it’s … ” Wei Xiaobao stammered.

“Humph,” the old eunuch Hai snorted, he reached out to the bowl and felt four ‘twos’, one ‘four’ and one ‘five’, which made it a ‘nine’. “Reduce your hand’s strength a little bit,” he said, “Your ‘Plum Blossom’ turned into a ‘nine’. But a ‘nine’ is not bad either. Try again.”

Wei Xiaobao threw seventeen, eighteen times. He got one ‘long three’, which was only a level below ‘Plum Blossom’. After running his fingers on the dice, the old eunuch Hai was quite happy; “You are making some progress,” he said, “Now go and try your luck. Today you may take fifty … fifty taels.”

When he was looking for the dice earlier, Wei Xiaobao had already seen a dozen or so yuanbiao. Speaking of gambling, it was his most favorite activity; it’s just that first, he did not have the capital, second, he loved to cheat too much, within the marketplace of Yangzhou, he was known as the little swindler, other than out-of-town people, nobody was willing to gamble with him. This time from the state of panic he suddenly could go gambling, not only that, he even had fifty taels gambling capital; not even in his wildest dream he would imagine he could enjoy an unrestrained gambling like this. Moreover, he had the loaded dice in his hand; truly it was hell turning into heaven. Even if he were to be beheaded after gambling, he would not be willing to escape. Only he did not know who the opponent was, or when he was supposed to go gambling. If he asked every detail, he would definitely give himself away. Currently, these were his greatest concerns.

He opened the chest and took two yuanbao, each worth twenty five taels. While he was still busy thinking of a way to extract the information from the Old eunuch Hai, suddenly he heard someone outside the door loudly calling, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi!”

Wei Xiaobao walked out into the outer hall and called back. In low voice Old eunuch Hai said, “They are here to get you, just go.” Wei Xiaobao was about to go out happily when suddenly he came to this realization: “These gambling ghosts are not blind, as soon as they see me, they will know I am not Xiao Guizi. What should I do?” He heard the person outside was calling again, “Xiao Guizi, come out! I want to talk to you.”

“Coming!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He returned to the inner room at once and took a piece of white cloth, which he wrapped around his head and face, leaving only his eyes and mouth exposed. “I am leaving!” he told Old eunuch Hai, and walked out the door quickly. He saw outside the door there was a thirty-something man, who asked him in low voice, “What happened to you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Lost some money, Gong-gong beat my eyes blue and my nose swollen.”

The man chuckled; he did not suspect anything. In low voice he asked again, “Do you dare to win your money back?”

Wei Xiaobao pulled his sleeve and took him several steps farther, and then also with a low voice he said, “Don’t let Gong-gong hear it; of course I want to win my money back.”

The man raised his thumb and said, “Good boy, you have guts. Let’s go!”

Wei Xiaobao walked alongside the man. He noticed the man had a small head and pointy forehead, his complexion looked greenish white. After walking several zhang the man said, “The two Wen brothers and Ping Wei are already there. Your luck may be good today.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I don’t win today, that … that will be really bad!”

They walked along winding corridors, passing through courtyards and gardens         . “Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “The owner is really rich, this is such a big house.” He saw the hanging eaves were brightly painted, the ridgepoles and beams were carved with decorative patterns. In all his life, he had never seen such a rich, beautiful and luxurious big house like this. He thought, “Our Lovely Spring Courtyard in Yangzhou can be considered the most beautiful, or at least the second most beautiful, large courtyard, but compared to this place it falls too short. If managed well, we can open a courtyard in here, the brothel patrons will be very happy. It’s just that a courtyard this big, if not filled with hundreds of young ladies, it may look unseemly.”

Wei Xiaobao followed the man for quite some time before they finally entered a side room of a building. Passing through two rooms, the man knocked at the door. ‘Knock, knock, knock’ three times, ‘knock knock’ twice, then ‘knock, knock, knock’ three times again. The door creaked open, he heard ‘ding ling ling’, ‘ding ling ling’, the rattling of dice in the bowl; it was such an unspeakable music to Wei Xiaobao’s ears.

Inside the room there were five, six people, all dressed in similar outfits, their attention was focused on the dice. A twenty-something man asked, “What happened to Xiao Guizi?”

The man who brought Wei Xiaobao in replied with a laugh, “Lost some money, got beaten by Hai Laogong.”

“Heh, heh …” the man laughed while clucking his tongue.

Standing behind these men, Wei Xiaobao saw they were placing their bets. Some put down one tael, some other five taels, they all used bamboo stick as the bargaining chips. One man said, “Xiao Guizi, how much stolen money are you going to lose today?”

“Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat, “What do you mean ‘stolen money’? ‘Win’ or ‘lose’? So unpleasant to hear!” Actually, he had wanted to shoot curses like ‘son of turtles’ and ‘son of a bitch’, but he realized his accent greatly differed than theirs; if he swear too much, he would only give himself away, so he thought the less he speak the better, while at the same time trying to learn their accent.

The man who take him in picked some chips, he looked somewhat uncertain. Another man by his side said, “Lao Wu [Ol’ Wu], the banker is rotten, bet a bit more.”

“Alright!” Lao Wu said. He put down two taels. “Xiao Guizi,” he said, “What about you?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I must not let them pay too much attention to me; I must not win too much, I must not lose too much, I must not bet too much either.” Thereupon he put down five qian. Nobody paid him any attention.

The man acting as the banker was a fat man, whom everybody called Ping Dage. Wei Xiaobao remembered Lao Wu mentioned the name Ping Wei as one of the gamblers, so this Ping Dage must be Ping Wei. He saw Ping Wei was picking up the dice and shaking them in his palm; “Last bets!” he shouted, and tossed the dice into the bowl. Wei Xiaobao attentively watched his hand movement, and immediately felt relieved. “This man is a cattle [orig. ‘yang gu’ (羊牯) – sheep and bullock/cow],” he thought. In his book, a gambler who cannot cheat was a ‘cattle’.

Ping Wei threw six dice, and got an ‘ox head’, which was the weak side of ‘large’. Subsequently one by one they all threw the dice; some won, some lost. Lao Wu threw an ‘eight’, so he lost. Each time he saw someone throw the dice, Wei Xiaobao would cry out in his heart, “Cattle!” And so he cried out “Cattle” seven times in a row; instantly he was very relieved.

Wei Xiaobao had planned to use the old eunuch Hai’s mercury-loaded dice in his pocket halfway through the game; he would switch the dice and after winning some money he would try to switch again. Throwing loaded dice involved an extremely-difficult-to-train technique, switching it also required sharp eyes and quick hands, very much like performing magic tricks. First he must divert other people’s attention, such as suddenly kicking a stool, spilling a cup of tea, and so on. When people’s eyes were on the stool or the tea cup, then the real and fake dice were switched. For a real expert, however, there is no need for any inferior trick like kicking stool or spilling tea, usually the expert would conceal the six dice on his wrist, as the fingers grab the dice and throw, the dice fallen into the bowl would be the ones concealed on his wrist, while the six dice among his fingers would switch into his left palm. The gods were unaware, the ghosts did not realize, the real dice would go into his pocket. But Wei Xiaobao had not mastered this skill yet.

There is a saying, ‘Dice loaded with lead, to win money is not difficult; dice loaded with mercury, touching iron will turn it into gold’. Both mercury and lead are heavy, one side of the dice would be light, the other side would be heavy, so the dice would be steered at will. However, lead is a solid, while mercury is constantly flowing, therefore, throwing lead-loaded dice is easy, throwing mercury-loaded dice is extremely difficult. Lead-loaded dice is easy to detect; beside, if you can throw a large number, the opponent can also throw a large number. But if the dice were loaded with mercury, the desired number cannot be achieved without excellent technique; a common cheater would not be able to perform this trick.

Wei Xiaobao had about 60-70% confidence in throwing dice loaded with lead, but only about 10 or 20% confidence throwing dice loaded with mercury. Although his confidence was only 10-20%, in ten throws he only need to win once or twice, within several hours of playing, he would definitely win big. A real first-class master would be able to throw ordinary dice and get whatever number his belly desired, without fail; there is no need to load the dice with lead or mercury. However, this kind of master may not necessarily exist one in ten thousand. Wei Xiaobao had never seen this kind of master. Even if he had, he might not necessarily be able to tell.

Seeing his opponents were all ‘cattle’, Wei Xiaobao thought switching the dice would be completely safe, so there was no need to hurry. When he started, he had two yuanbiao worth twenty-five taels each; he exchanged one for bargaining chips, and now he put the other one on his left, with the intention of using it as diversion when he switch the dice later. He also thought, “Since Xiao Guizi often lost money, I’d better lose first and win later, to avoid drawing people’s suspicion.” Throwing several times, he only got a measly ‘six’, naturally he lost.

In this way he lost some, won some, but he kept playing, until he lost five taels of silver. After gambling for half a day, the stake was growing higher and higher, but Wei Xiaobao kept his bet at five qian. Banker Ping Wei refused to take his bamboo stick, “At least one tael,” he said, “Five qian is not accepted.” Wei Xiaobao immediately added another bargaining chip. The banker threw a ‘Man’, and thus ate down the others’ bets.

Wei Xiaobao was angry the banker was not willing to take his bet, this time he was determined to win. He mused, “You don’t want to take my five qian and insist on I lose one tael. Good chap, you have guts, your scheming is exquisite. If I beat you with a ‘Heaven’, I am not a hero.” With his left hand he grabbed the dice, his left elbow stuck out, and bumped the big yuanbao that it fell down. ‘Thud’ it landed on his left foot. “Aiyo! It hurts!” he screamed loudly, while jumping up and down.

His fellow gamblers roared in loud laughter and watched him stooping down to pick the yuanbao. Wei Xiaobao lightly and easily switched the dice, which he promptly threw. Four dice had three dots, two dice had one dot; it was an ‘Earth’, which happened to be a notch above the ‘Man’.

“Damn it!” Ping Wei cursed, “Little demon is lucky today!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Not right!” he thought, “if I win this way and the others start paying attention, they will know I am not Xiao Guizi.” So the next time he threw, he lost a tael. Right away everyone started to raise their stake, some put down three taels, some two taels, while Wei Xiaobao himself put down two taels, and won two taels. The next time he lost one tael.

Gambling all the way thru noon, Wei Xiaobao accumulated twenty taels, only each bet was very small, so nobody paid any attention. Lao Wu had lost his entire capital of thirty taels, and was looking very dejected. Spreading out his hands he said, “Today my luck is not good, I quit!”

When Wei Xiaobao gambles, nine times out of ten he would always cheat, yet toward his fellow gamblers he was exceedingly forthright. Normally people threw insults at him and beat him, nobody has had any regard of him; yet when there was someone who lost everything, he would lend money to that person. Of course the person would be grateful, and would see him with special fondness. In all his life, Wei Xiaobao has had several opportunities to be a hero by loaning gambling capital to people like this. Even if the person did not pay him back, he did not really care. Putting things back in order, he realized that the money was not his to begin with.

This time, seeing Lao Wu had lost everything and was about to walk away, he grabbed some bargaining chips, worth about seventeen, eighteen taels, which he stuffed into Lao Wu’s hand and said, “Take this to recover your capital, pay me back when you win!”

Lao Wu was ecstatic at this turn of events. Gamblers had never be willing to lend money to others; first, they were afraid the lenders would not pay it back, second, they thought that as the money leaves their hands, their good luck will turn into a bad one, their initial win might turn into loses. Seeing Wei Xiaobao to be so generous, he was greatly delighted. Repeatedly patting Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, he praised, “Good Xiongdi, you are a real friend.”

The banker Ping Wei was in a winning-streak; he was most afraid people lose their all and leave the game, thereupon he was also full of praise over Wei Xiaobao’s ‘magnanimous act’. He said, “Ha, Xiao Guizi has turned his way, you are not so stingy today!”

The game continued, Wei Xiaobao won another six, seven taels; suddenly someone said, “Lunch time, we will continue playing tomorrow.”

As they heard the words ‘lunch time’, everybody stopped immediately and hurriedly exchanged their bargaining chips into money. Wei Xiaobao did not have enough time to switch the mercury-loaded dice back, but thinking that these ‘cattle’ would not be able to see through it anyway, he set his heart at ease.

Wei Xiaobao followed Lao Wu out, thinking, “I wonder where the lunch is being served?”

Out of more than a dozen taels he borrowed, Lao Wu had lost almost all; he said, “Xiao Xiongdi, I will have to pay you back tomorrow.”

“We are brothers,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Why so strict?”

“Heh heh,” Lao Wu laughed, “You are such a good brother. Hurry on back, Hai Laogong is waiting for you for lunch.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied; he mused, “Turns out I’ll have to eat with the old turtle. If I don’t make my getaway now, what am I waiting for?” Seeing Lao Wu enter a hall, he considered, “There are halls, gardens and corridors in here, I wonder where the main gate is?” Without any choice he simply walked blindly; oftentimes he came across people who dressed like himself, but he did not dare to ask where the main gate was.

He walked farther and farther away, gradually his heart began to panic, “I’d better return to old turtle Hai’s place first.” But by now he had already lost even the way back to the old eunuch Hai’s place, he was at places he had never been before. Oftentimes he saw a horizontal inscribed board above the hall or above the door, but since he did not know any characters, he did not bother to look.

Walking a moment longer, he did not even see anybody else. His belly was growling from hunger. Passing a moon gate, he saw a building on the left with an unlatched door. Passing by the door, a whiff of food aroma suddenly assaulted his nostrils; he could not refrain himself from drooling. Pushing the door lightly, he poked his head inside.

He saw a dozen or so dishes of light refreshments, cakes and pastries spread on a table. Seeing there was nobody inside, he tiptoed in, picked a piece of ‘thousand-layer’ cake, and put it in his mouth. Several chews later, he could not help but secretly praised. This thousand-layer cake was made of layers of flour, honey, sugar and lard, flavored with osmanthus flower’s fragrance; it was light and sweet.

Weiyang district of Yangzhou city was renowned for its light refreshments in the whole China; to entertain their patrons, the brothels always had the light refreshments exquisitely made. Wei Xiaobao frequently preceded the patrons to have a taste of the snacks; despite the beating and scolding from the old procuress and mistresses, he still stole the foods without any care. This time eating the cake, it was obvious that the quality of the light refreshments here was much finer than the ones in the brothels. He thought, “This thousand-layer cake is made really well; I think I am most likely at the number one brothel in Beijing.”

Finished with the piece of thousand-layer cake, he still did not hear anybody coming, so he picked a shumai[4] and stuffed it into his mouth. He had a vast experience in stealing food; he knew he must not take too much from a plate or a dish, only then it would not be easily detected. After having eaten the shumai, he took a piece of pea-flour cake; taking care to rearrange the cakes and pastries in the dish to remove any sign that it had been stolen.

While he was still eating, suddenly he heard the sound of boots outside the door, someone was coming; hastily he picked a mince meat cake coated with sesame seed. He saw the room was bare; there were several human shapes cut out of cowhide hanging on the wall, and several large cloth sacks hanging from the beam, presumably filled with rice, wheat or perhaps some sandy soil. Other than those, there was only this table, with a piece of table cloth hanging in front of it. Almost without thinking he crawled underneath the table.

[1] Term to address a court eunuch.

[2] Lit. ‘peaceful west’. Ping Xi Wang – king who pacifies the west.

[3] Refers to the Manchurian Eight Banners. We’ll see more about it later.

[4] Steamed dumpling, with pork, shrimp, etc. filling (Incidentally, this is my favorite ‘dimsum’. 🙂 )

Chapter 4 Stealthily seeking the antelope hanging its antlers, forgetting the opportunity to resist the crane combing its plume.

The person walked in. From underneath the table Wei Xiaobao peeked, he saw the boots were not big, so the incoming person must be a boy about the same age as himself, instantly he was relieved. He put the sesame coated cake in his mouth, but he did not dare to chew, he just used his saliva to slowly soak the cake and then when it was soft enough he swallowed it. He heard the sound of munching next to the table, the boy was eating the cake and pastry. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Another food thief. I’ll jump out and scream, this little demon will certainly be frightened and run away, then I can enjoy my food in peace.” He also thought, “I was so stupid, I should’ve put those light refreshments in my pocket and leave. This is not Lovely Spring Courtyard, they will not miss anything, surely they won’t make me responsible for it?”

Suddenly he heard some ‘bang, bang’ noise, the boy was pounding something. Wei Xiaobao’s curiosity was piqued, he craned his neck to look around, and saw the boy, approximately fourteen or fifteen years old, wearing short gown, was punching the sack hanging from the beam. After punching the sack for a while, he turned his attention to the cowhide dummy hanging on the wall and started to attack. The boy punch the pit of the dummy’s stomach, followed by reaching out with both arms to grab the dummy’s waist and pressed it to the floor. The technique the boy used was similar to the Manchurian wrestling technique he saw at the wine shop the previous day.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and jumped out from underneath the table; he said, “Dummy is dead, what so fun about it? I am here to play with you.”

Seeing Wei Xiaobao suddenly appear with his face wrapped in white cloth, the boy was slightly startled, but hearing that he was here to accompany him playing, immediately his face showed a happy expression. “Good,” he said, “Bring it on!” Wei Xiaobao pounced forward, trying to twist the boy’s arm. The boy sidestepped and tripped with his right foot. Wei Xiaobao staggered and fell to the ground.

“Pei,” the boy spat, “You don’t even know wrestling.”

“Says who?” Wei Xiaobao replied. He leaped back up and grabbed the boy’s left leg. The body reached down to grab his back, but Wei Xiaobao dodged, the boy caught an empty air. Wei Xiaobao recalled the technique Mao Shiba used to deal with the seven Manchurians at the wine shop; suddenly he threw a punch with his left hand toward the boy’s lower jaw. ‘Bang!’ it hit the target. The boy was startled, his eyes revealed an angry look. Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Pei,” he spat, “You don’t even know wrestling.”

The boy did not say anything; his hand made a feign move, Wei Xiaobao leaned sideways to evade, the boy suddenly sent out his elbow and hit Wei Xiaobao’s waist. Wei Xiaobao cried out in pain and doubled over. From behind the boy slipped both arms underneath Wei Xiaobao’s armpits and hooked them up; ten fingers grasped each other behind his neck, forcing Wei Xiaobao down lower and lower. Wei Xiaobao kicked backwards with his left foot. The boy abruptly pushed with both hands, flinging Wei Xiaobao out, ‘bang!’ he fell face down like a dog eating dung.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly angered, he rolled over and grabbed the boy’s legs with all his might and pulled him down as hard as he could. The boy could not withstand and fell down; he happened to fall on top of Wei Xiaobao’s body. The boy was comparably bigger and taller than Wei Xiaobao. Right away he used his elbow to press down the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck. Wei Xiaobao could not breathe, he struggled to stand up with everything he had. After a bit of struggling, he finally succeeded to be on top and now he pressed down on the boy’s body. However, Wei Xiaobao was small, his body was light, he was unable to press for long; soon the boy was back on top again.

Wei Xiaobao was very slippery, releasing the boy’s legs, he slipped to his back, and fiercely kicked the boy’s butts. The boy reached backward to grab Wei Xiaobao’s right leg and pulled it hard; Wei Xiaobao fell face up. The body pounced and clutched Wei Xiaobao’s neck with both hands. “Surrender?” he shouted.

Wei Xiaobao hooked his left foot around the boy’s waist, but because the boy’s clothes were slippery, his foot was rubbing the boy’s waist. The boy was ticklish and he giggled, his hands loosened. Wei Xiaobao seized this opportunity to leap up and grabbed the boy’s neck. The boy used a wrestling technique to seize the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck and threw him heavily on the floor. Wei Xiaobao was dizzy and was unable to move a single step. The boy laughed aloud and asked, “Surrender?”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly leaped up and rammed his head against the opponent’s lower abdomen. “Humph!” the boy grunted and staggered several steps backwards. Wei Xiaobao lunged forward, the boy leaned slightly to the side, and swept his leg across. Wei Xiaobao fell down, but managed to grab onto the boy’s thigh with all his life. Both of them tumbled down together.

Sometimes the boy was on top, sometimes Wei Xiaobao was on top; after rolling around for seventeen, eighteen times, finally the two of them were grabbing each other, both were gasping for breath. Suddenly, as if by prior agreement, both of them broke out in laughter, since both thought that this kind of wrestling was very fun; then slowly they let their hands go.

The boy reached out to tear the cloth wrapped around Wei Xiaobao’s face; he laughed and said, “What do you wrap your head for?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; he was about to reach out and snatch it back, but then he thought the boy had seen most of his face anyway, so trying to conceal it again would be useless. He laughed and said, “I wrapped my face, so that when I come and steal the food, nobody would recognize me.”

The boy stood up and said with a laugh, “Alright, turns out you often come here and steal the food.”

“Not often,” Wei Xiaobao said, while also standing up. He saw the boy’s face had delicate features and a lofty expression, so Wei Xiaobao had a favorable impression on him.

The boy asked, “What’s your name?”

“Xiao Guizi,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “And you?”

The boy hesitated for a moment, then said, “I am … I am Xiao Xuanzi[1]. Which Gong-gong do you work for?”

“I am with Hai Laogong,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Xiao Xuanzi nodded. He used Wei Xiaobao’s wrapping cloth to wipe the sweat from his forehead; picking up another piece of light refreshment, he started eating again. Wei Xiaobao did not want to be outdone, he thought ‘you dare to steal the food, my courage is not inferior to yours’; thereupon he picked up another piece of thousand-layer cake and without the slightest care put it into his mouth.

Xiao Xuanzi chuckled and said, “You haven’t learned wrestling, but your hands and feet are very nimble, surprisingly I am not able to hold you down for a long time. If we fight a bit longer, you will definitely lose.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Let’s try again.”

“Very good,” Xiao Xuanzi said. The two of them started to wrestle again.

Xiao Xuanzi seemed to know some wrestling techniques, plus he was older and stronger than Wei Xiaobao. However, Wei Xiaobao had fought hundreds of fights at Yangzhou marketplace, he had survived countless scuffles against big thugs and little rascals, his ‘battle’ experience was far richer than Xiao Xuanzi. Yet in the end he remembered Mao Shiba’s lecture, plus his wrestling against Xiao Xuanzi was just a game, not a life-and-death fight; and thus he did not resort to the stunts that he was famous of, such as finger twisting, braid pulling, throat biting, eyeball poking, ear pulling, scrotum pinching, and so on. As a result, it was more difficult for him to score a victory.

After wrestling for a while, Wei Xiaobao was pinned down with Xiao Xuanzi riding on his back without he was able to stand up. Xiao Xuanzi laughed and said, “Surrender now?”

“I won’t surrender even to the death,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and jumped up from Wei Xiaobao’s back. Wei Xiaobao leaped up and pounced on him again, but Xiao Xuanzi shook his hand and said with a laugh, “No more fighting today, we’ll do it again tomorrow. But you are not my match, fighting again will be useless.”

Wei Xiaobao refused to give in, he fished his pocket for an ingot, weighed approximately three taels, he said, “Tomorrow we’ll fight again, but for money. You must also bring three taels.”

Xiao Xuanzi was taken aback, he said, “Alright, we’ll fight for a prize. Tomorrow I will bring my stake here. Midday, we’ll fight again in here.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We have a dead appointment, don’t leave before we meet. A real man gave his words, … some horses cannot pull it back.” For some reason, he could never remember the ‘four-horse team’ part of this saying, so he could only mumble that part.

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and said, “That’s right, a real man gave his words, … some horses cannot pull it back.” While saying that, he walked out the room.

Wei Xiaobao grabbed a handful of light refreshments and put it in his pocket, and then he also left. He remembered Mao Shiba who was having a martial art duel appointment, even though he was in prison, he must escape from prison to keep the appointment. Although he was seriously injured, he still vowed to keep his promises, waiting for the two experts at the foot of the Victory Hill. This kind of spirit had won others’ true admiration. Many times he had heard the storytellers told about heroes, oftentimes he would fantasize himself were a big hero, a real warrior, who was having duel appointment with others, wasn’t it his chance has come now?

Thinking that tomorrow he must come, tonight he must return to Hai Laogong’s residence. Thereupon he retraced his path, slowly looking for the building he had been gambling earlier. Since previously he had taken a right turn, which had led him farther and farther away, this time he took the left turn. Walking past two winding corridors, he vaguely remembered the gardens and the courtyards he had seen before. By looking for familiar landscape, eventually he reached Hai Laogong’s residence.

As he walked through the door, he heard the sound of Hai Laogong’s coughing. “Gong-gong,” he called out, “Are you feeling better?”

“Better your fart!” Hai Laogong’s gloom voice replied, “Get in, quick!”

Wei Xiaobao walked into the room and saw Hai Laogong was sitting on a chair. The broken table had been replaced with a new one. Hai Laogong asked, “How much did you win?”

“I won more than ten taels,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But … but …”

“But what?” Hai Laogong asked.

“But I lent it to Lao Wu,” Wei Xiaobao said. Actually, he won more than twenty taels, other than what he loaned Lao Wu, he still had eight or nine taels, but because he was afraid Hai Laogong would ask him to hand it over, when Hai Laogong asked the account, he unavoidably did not tell the truth.

Hai Laogong’s countenance sank, he said, “What good it is to lend money to that kid Lao Wu? He does not even work for the Upper Study Room. Why didn’t you lend it to the two Wen brothers?”

Wei Xiaobao was unclear of the reason, he said, “The Wen brothers did not ask for a loan.”

Hai Laogong said, “Didn’t ask you for a loan, can’t you think of a way so that they would? Don’t tell me you have forgotten everything I told you?”

“I … I killed that boy last night,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am so scared that I have forgotten everything. Must loan money to the Wen brothers, right, right, you, Senior, did instruct me to do that.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “What’s so great about killing one or two people? But you are still young, you have never killed anybody before, I can’t blame you. That book, you haven’t forgotten about it, have you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That book … book … I … I …”

Hai Laogong snorted again, he said, “So you really have forgotten everything?”

“Gong-gong, I …” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have a terrible headache, I … I am very scared, you are coughing like that, I am really worried, everything … everything is muddled in my head.”

“Alright, come here!” Hai Laogong said.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied, as he walked several steps closer.

Hai Laogong said, “Let me tell you again, if you don’t remember it this time, I am going to kill you.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, thinking, “If you tell me all the way through, I won’t forget it for a hundred years.”

Hai Laogong said, “Win the Wen brothers’ money, when they are out of money, you give them loan, the more the better. After a few days, you then want them to take you to the Upper Study Room. They owe you money, they won’t dare not to comply. If they give you all sorts of excuses, tell them that I will settle the account with the Upper Study Room manager, Wu Laogong. If the Wen brothers still do not want to pay, we may have to bring this to the Emperor’s attention …”

“The Emperor?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“What is it?” Hai Laogong asked.

“No … nothing,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Hai Laogong continued, “They may ask you what do you want in the Upper Study Room. You tell them that people are bound to go to higher place, you wish to see the Emperor by doing some errand at the Upper Study Room. Of course the Wen brothers won’t let you see the Emperor, when they take you there, certainly the Emperor won’t be in the Upper Study Room. That’s when you will try to steal a book.”

Hearing him kept mentioning of the Emperor, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was stirred, “Could it be that this is the Imperial Palace? And not Beijing’s biggest brothel? Aiyo hey, that’s right, that’s right, if this is not the Imperial Palace, how could there be such splendor and majesty? These people must be court eunuchs attending the Emperor.”

Although Wei Xiaobao had heard people mentioning the Emperor, Empress, Crown Prince, Princess, as well as palace maids and court eunuch, he only knew that the Emperor are supposed to wear dragon robe, but how the Emperor actually look like, he had no idea. In Yangzhou he had watched a lot of plays, but the court eunuchs in those plays did not dress like Hai Laogong, Lao Wu or the others at all, the actors’ hands always held a whisk, which they waved here and there. The songs in the play were not pleasant to hear. He had contact with Hai Laogong only for a day, he had gambled with Lao Wu, the Wen brothers and the others for half a day, but he did not know they were eunuchs. This time hearing Hai Laogong’s words, he gradually understood; he thought, “Aiyo, in this case, haven’t I turned into a court eunuch?”

In stern voice Hai Laogong said, “Have you understood clearly what you heard?”

“Yes, yes, very clear,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have to go to the Em … Emperor’s Upper Study Room.”

“To the Emperor’s Upper Study Room for what?” Hai Laogong said, “To play?”

“To steal a book,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Steal what book?” Hai Laogong asked.

“This … this … some book … I … I can’t remember,” Wei Xiaobao stammered.

Hai Laogong said, “I’ll tell you one more time, remember it well. It is a Buddhist scripture, called ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. This book will look very old, there are several copies, I want you to bring them all to me. Do you remember? What’s the book called?”

“It is called the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’,” Wei Xiaobao happily replied.

Hai Laogong detected the happiness in his voice, he asked, “Why are you happy?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as you mentioned it, I then recalled it to mind, therefore I am happy.”

Actually, when he heard that Hai Laogong wanted him to steal a book in the Upper Study Room, the ‘stealing’ part was absolutely not difficult, but the ‘book’ part was actually the real problem for him. He did not know any characters as big as watermelons; wanting him to recognize a book, even if he was beheaded he would be unable to accomplish. As soon as he heard the title of the book to be ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, he could not restrain his heart from swelling in full bloom. ‘Chapter’ and ‘scripture’ he did not know, but ‘forty-two’ three characters [si shi er], he could recognize. Out of five characters [si shi er zhang jing], unexpectedly he knew three, no wonder he was very pleased with himself.

Hai Laogong added, “If you want to steal book at the Upper Study Room, your movements must be clean and in order; if anybody catch you, even if you have a hundred lives, you won’t be able to keep them.”

“I understand this part well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you steal something and are caught, how could you sing and play trick?” A sudden inspiration struck; he said, “In no way would I mention Gong-gong’s name.”

Hai Laogong said, “Mention my name or not, it has nothing to do with this matter.” He coughed several times, and then continued, “You have done well today, unexpectedly you win some money. Did they get suspicious?”

“Hey hey,” Wei Xiaobao laughed, “No, no, how could they get suspicious?” He wanted to toot his horn a little bit, but in the end he restrained himself.

“Don’t be lazy, idling left and right without doing anything,” Hai Laogong said, “You must practice a lot.”

Wei Xiaobao complied and walked into the room, he saw bowls and chopsticks on the table, plus four dishes of meat and vegetables, and one bowl of soup, but nobody had touched anything. “Gong-gong,” he hastily said, “You haven’t eaten? Let me get some food for you.”

“I am not hungry,” Hai Laogong said, “I don’t want to eat. You go ahead and eat.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. Without taking any rice, he picked a red-cooked pork with his fingers and ate. Although the dishes were already cold, as it entered his stomach, he found it was indescribably delicious. “I wonder who sent this meal over,” he mused, “I’d better not ask this kind of trivial matter, I just have to open my eyes and slowly I will find out.” He also thought, “If this is really the Imperial Palace, then Lao Wu, the Wen brothers, and that Xiao Xuanzi that I’ll have to deal with, are all eunuchs. I wonder what do the old Emperor and Empress really look like? I guess I will have to see to know that. When I return to Yangzhou, hey hey, laozi can tell it with some air. I wonder if Mao Dage can escape from the Imperial Palace? During the gambling nobody mentioned anything about catching anybody, most likely he was able to get out.”

After eating, because he was afraid he might raise Hai Laogong suspicion, he took the six dice and ‘ding ling ling’, he threw them into the bowl continuously. After throwing dice for a moment, his eyelids grew heavier and heavier. He did not sleep at all the previous night, and only now did he finally feel very weary, so in a short while he was already asleep.

He slept until the evening, when a worker eunuch came to deliver their dinner. Wei Xiaobao waited on Hai Laogong as he ate, he also helped him to bed, and then he lay down on the small bed. He thought, “The most important thing tomorrow is the martial art contest with Xiao Xuanzi. It would be best if I can beat him.” Closing his eyes, he recalled the technique Mao Shiba used to fight the Manchu wrestlers at the wine shop, but the picture in his mind was fuzzy; he could not help but feel a tinge of regret, “Mao Dage wanted to teach me martial art, I was not willing to learn. If I had learned it along the way, although Xiao Xuanzi is stronger than me, how can he be my match? If tomorrow he manage to sit on me and I am not able to flip over, losing money is nothing, but losing face is a big thing. I, the Little White Dragon Wei Xiaobao, cannot mingle around in Jianghu anymore.” Suddenly another thought popped up, “The Manchu warriors are not Mao Dage‘s match, but Mao Dage is not the old turtle’s match, why not swindle the old turtle to teach me some skill?” Thereupon he said, “Gong-gong, you want me to go to the Upper Study Room to get the book, but there is a small problem.”

“What problem?” Hai Laogong asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “On my way back from gambling today, I met a little … little eunuch. He stopped me and told me to give him the money. I refused, so we had a duel. He said that if I can beat him, then he would let me go. I fought with him for half a day, that’s why … that’s why I was late for lunch.”

“And you lost, didn’t you?” Hai Laogong said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He is taller and stronger, a lot stronger than I am. He said he wants to have a duel with me every day. The day I can beat him, that will be the day he won’t bother me anymore.”

“What’s this baby’s name?” Hai Laogong asked, “Which building does he belong to?”

“He is called Xiao Xuanzi,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But I don’t know which building he belongs to.”

Hai Laogong said, “Must be because you won some money, your manner appeared disgusting in the eyes of others; otherwise, why would he look for you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I refused to submit to him, I’ll look for him again tomorrow. I just don’t know if I can beat him.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “You want to ask me to teach you martial art. I told you I won’t teach you, so I won’t teach you. It’s useless for you to ask in a roundabout way.”

Wei Xiaobao cursed silently, “This old turtle is smart, he won’t fall into my trick.” He said, “This Xiao Xuanzi also does not know martial art. If I want to beat him, I don’t need to learn any martial art; who ask you to teach me? Today clearly I was able to sit on his body, it’s just that he is strong, he managed to turn me over. Tomorrow I am going to grab him with all my strength, this fellow may not necessarily be able to turn over like a turtle.” For the whole day he had been careful, restraining himself not to speak any vulgar word, but now finally he could not bear not to say one.

Hai Laogong said, “You want to hold him down that he won’t turn over, that is easy.”

“I also think it won’t be difficult,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Tomorrow I will grab his shoulder really hard.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong snorted, “What good is it to grab his shoulder? Whether he can turn over or not depends on the strength of his back. You must use your knee to press against the acupoint on his lower back. Come here, I’ll show you.”

Wei Xiaobao rolled down from his bed and leaped toward Hai Laogong’s bed. Hai Laogong ran his finger on Wei Xiaobao’s lower back, and lightly pressed. Immediately Wei Xiaobao felt his entire body limp and painful, his strength was gone.

“Can you remember it?” Hai Laogong asked.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Tomorrow I’ll give it a try, I just don’t know if it will work.”

Hai Laogong angrily said, “What do you mean it won’t work? That is ‘one hundred shots, one hundred hits, ten thousand times tests, ten thousand times effective’.” He then put out his hand on either side of Wei Xiaobao’s neck, and pressed lightly.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao screamed, he felt the pit of his stomach was choked, his breathing could not flow.

Hai Laogong said, “If you pressed hard these two acupoints, he won’t have any strength to fight you.”

Wei Xiaobao was overjoyed, “That will do,” he said, “Tomorrow I might be allowed to defeat him.” He had just learned the word ‘allow’ during the gambling that day. Returning to his own bed, he fantasized that the following day the ‘Little White Dragon’ Wei Xiaobao would beat Xiao Xuanzi so that he would call ‘surrender’; and he felt very proud of himself.

The next day Lao Wu called him up again to gamble. The Wen brothers’ names were Wen Youdao and Wen Youfang, and today it was these two brothers’ turn to be the banker. Wei Xiaobao used his trick and won more than twenty taels from them. The two brothers’ luck was quite bad that day, in less than an hour, their fifty taels capital was wiped clean. Wei Xiaobao loaned them twenty taels, but by quitting time, the Wen brothers also lost these twenty taels.

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was occupied with his martial art competition against Xiao Xuanzi. As soon as the gambling adjourned, he rushed to that room. He saw the table was still loaded with dishes of light refreshments. He picked several pieces and started munching. Soon he heard the sound of boots. Afraid that the incoming person was not Xiao Xuanzi, he thought it would be better for him to hide underneath the table first. But he heard from outside the door Xiao Xuanzi had already called, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi!”

Wei Xiaobao leaped to the door and said with a laugh, “Appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet.”

Xiao Xuanzi also laughed, “Ha ha … Appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet,” he said as he walked in.

Wei Xiaobao noticed that Xiao Xuanzi was wearing a brand new set of outfit, it looked really gorgeous, so that he could not help but feeling rather jealous. He thought, “Wait till I tear your new clothes, you won’t be so cocky!” With a loud shout he pounced on Xiao Xuanzi.

Xiao Xuanzi also shouted, “Good move!” Grabbing Wei Xiaobao’s arms, he swept with his left leg. Wei Xiaobao could not withstand it, he tottered several steps and tumbled down on the ground, pulling Xiao Xuanzi along that he also fell.

Wei Xiaobao rolled away and leaped up to sit on Xiao Xuanzi’s back. Remembering Hai Laogong’s lesson, he stretched his hand to press on the acupoint on Xiao Xuanzi’s lower back. However, he had never practiced sealing acupoints before, how could he seal the acupoint simply by grabbing it? His grab missed a little bit, Xiao Xuanzi had already turned around and caught Wei Xiaobao’s left arm, which he twisted backward forcefully.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao screamed, “Have you no shame, twisting my arm like that?”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed and said, “Learning wrestling is precisely learning how to twist others’ arm; what do you mean I have no shame?”

Taking advantage while Xiao Xuanzi was still speaking, Wei Xiaobao threw himself as hard as he could toward Xiao Xuanzi’s lower back, ramming his head against his back, while sneaking his right hand underneath Xiao Xuanzi’s armpit, and flung him upward as hard as he could. Xiao Xuanzi’s body flew over Wei Xiaobao’s head and ‘thump!’ he landed on the floor.

Xiao Xuanzi leaped up and said, “So you also know the move ‘antelope hanging its antlers’.”

Wei Xiaobao had no idea what an ‘antelope hanging its antlers’ move look like, he simply moved without thinking and succeeded. Feeling proud of himself he said, “This ‘antelope hanging its antlers’ is nothing, I still have many formidable moves I haven’t used yet.”

Xiao Xuanzi happily said, “Nothing better than that; let’s fight again.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Turns out you have practiced martial art, no wonder I cannot beat you. But you use one move, I learn one move; at most you will throw me down several times, I will be able learn your technique.” Seeing Xiao Xuanzi was pouncing at him, he also threw himself forward forcefully. To his surprise, Xiao Xuanzi attack was a feign one. As Wei Xiaobao pounced forward, he had already held his momentum and sidestepped, while stretching out his hand to push Wei Xiaobao’s back. Wei Xiaobao pounced on an empty air. ‘Bang!’ His own momentum plus Xiao Xuanzi’s push had sent him crashing heavily on the ground.

Xiao Xuanzi cheered loudly and jumped to ride on Wei Xiaobao’s back. “Surrender now?” he asked.

“No!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He was about to straighten his back to stand up, suddenly his waist went numb; the two acupoints on his lower back were pressed by Xiao Xuanzi’s fingers. This acupoint sealing technique was exactly the one Hai Laogong taught him the previous night. Although he had learned it, the opponent had beaten him in using it first. Wei Xiaobao struggled several times, but all along he was unable to free himself. “Alright,” he had no choice but to call out, “I surrender this time!”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and let him stand up. Suddenly Wei Xiaobao extended his foot to trip him. Xiao Xuanzi’s body tilted sideways, he was about to fall. Wei Xiaobao sent a punch toward his lower back. Xiao Xuanzi grunted in pain and doubled over. From behind Wei Xiaobao pounced with both hands grabbed his neck from two directions. Xiao Xuanzi had a spell of dizziness and fell down on the ground. Wei Xiaobao was delighted, without taking his hands away, he asked, “Surrender now?”

Xiao Xuanzi grunted; suddenly both of his elbows struck backwards. Wei Xiaobao felt a severe pain that he thought his ribs were about to break. He screamed and fell face up. Xiao Xuanzi turned around and sat on the pit of his stomach. He had just scored another victory, but he was panting heavily and was feeling very tired that he was unable to breath normally. “Do … do … do you surrender now?” he asked.

“Surrender your fart!” Wei Xiaobao said, “No … no … surrender. A hundred times … ten … ten thousand times no surrender. You’ve just won by chance.”

Xiao Xuanzi said, “If you don’t surrender, then get up and fight again.”

With both hands pushing the floor, Wei Xiaobao wanted to stand up, but the vital acupoint on the pit of his stomach was still being pressed by the opponent, his body was numb and aching that he was unable to exert his strength. After struggling for a long time, he did not have any choice but to surrender one more time.

Xiao Xuanzi stood up, his arms were limp and painful. Wei Xiaobao strived to get up, but his body swaggered; he said, “Tomorrow … tomorrow we’ll fight again, I must … must make you surrender.”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed and said, “Fighting a hundred times more, you will … will … will lose. If you have guts, tomorrow we’ll fight again.”

“I am afraid it’s you who don’t have guts,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why wouldn’t I have guts? Appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet.”

“Alright,” Xiao Xuanzi said, “Appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet.”

Both of them were fired up because of the fight, nobody mentioned anything about the money. Since Xiao Xuanzi did not mention it, Wei Xiaobao was glad to pretend that he forget. If he were the victor, he would definitely want his money.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his room and said to Hai Laogong, “Gong-gong, your technique was useless, it was too sloppy and ordinary.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong snorted, “Hopeless, you lost again.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I had used my own technique, granted that although I may not win, I may not necessarily lose either. But your technique is just too useless, all other people already know how to us it, what’s so special?”

“He also knows this technique?” Hai Laogong wondered, “Show me.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You are blind, you want me to show you, can you see it?” But then he had a second thought, “But I don’t know if he is really blind or just pretending to be blind, I might as well test him.” Immediately both of his elbows struck backward and he said, “He strikes like this and each one of the three-thousand bones in my body was very painful.”

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “You told me he strike like that, how can I see it?” He rose up shakily and said, “Try to do what he did.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted, “The old turtle is really blind.” With his back against Hai Laogong, he thrust his elbows slowly backwards, and said, “He used his elbows like this to strike me.” As soon as his elbow reached Hai Laogong’s chest, he no longer exerted any strength.

“Hmm,” Hai Laogong said, “This is ‘armpit-bottom hammer’; nothing special about it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Then there is this one.” He pulled Hai Laogong’s left hand and placed it on his right shoulder; he said, “He put forth his strength and flung me, my body then flew over his head.” Actually, it was he who flung Xiao Xuanzi, which he was very proud of, but he intentionally reversed the role to test Hai Laogong.

“It is the ‘antelope hanging its antlers’,” Hai Laogong said.

“So you know that one,” Wei Xiaobao said. Then he pulled Hai Laogong’s arm and slowly twisted it backward.

“Um, that one is the third stance of the ‘Falling Broken Plum’,” Hai Laogong said, “What else?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Turns out all Xiao Xuanzi’s moves have famous names. Then the techniques I used, my random punch and random twist against him should also have some pleasant sounding famous names. I pounced at him, this kid sidestepped, but taking the opportunity he pushed on my back, and I …”

Without waiting for him to finish, Hai Laogong cut him off, “Where did he push?”

“As soon as he pushed, I was thrown and knocked out of my mind, how could I remember where he pushed?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Hai Laogong said, “Try to remember it, did he push here?” He stretched out his hand to push behind Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder.

“Not there,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Is it here?” Hai Laogong asked.

Wei Xiaobao still replied, “Not there.”

Successively Hai Laogong pressed seven or eight locations, Wei Xiaobao always replied, “Not there.” Hai Laogong stretched out his palm to press Wei Xiaobao’s right waist underneath his ribs and asked, “Is it here?” While saying that, he gently pushed.

Wei Xiaobao staggered and tumbled several steps away. Right away he remembered it was the exact spot Xiao Xuanzi had pushed. “That’s it!” he shouted, “Dead on, that’s the exact spot. Gong-gong, how do you know?”

Hai Laogong did not answer, he was deep in thought for half a day, then said, “I taught you two techniques, yet you say he knew both of them already. Are you telling me the truth?”

“Naturally it’s the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Genuine goods at fair prices, treating both the young and the old honestly. Not only this kid can press my lower back, he can also crush the pit of my stomach right here, so that I could not breathe, and thus I was forced to surrender that time. It was called …”

Hai Laogong did not care whatever name Wei Xiaobao was going to mention; he held out his hand and said, “He pressed on the pit of your stomach where?”

Wei Xiaobao pulled his hand and pressed it against the pit of his stomach, right on the spot where Xiao Xuanzi had pressed. “Right here,” he said.

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “This is the zigong [‘purple palace’] acupoint. This child’s Shifu is a martial art master.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s nothing, a real man can submit or can stand tall, living on a green mountain, no need to worry there won’t be cooking firewood (Book note: the actual phrase is ‘firewood to cook with’ but he changed it to ‘cooking firewood’). I … I, Wei … I, Xiao Guizi has lost a fight today, tomorrow I will win it back from him, it’s not a difficult matter.”

Hai Laogong sat back on his chair. He bent his right hand and stretched it out again, then he stretched it out and bent it again. His eyes closed in contemplation. After quite a long time, he said, “He knows ‘little grappling[2] technique’, it’s not so strange; but his palm pushed the yishe [‘desire residence’] acupoint on your right waist, it was exactly Wudang Pai’s ‘Soft Palm’ technique. Afterwards he pressed your jinsuo [‘muscle shrinkage’] acupoint, and then your zigong acupoint. Those are Wudang Pai’s acupoint striking technique. Turns out there is a Wudang master hiding in our palace. Hmm, very good! Very good! Tell me, that Xiao … Xiao Xuanzi, how old is he?”

“He is a lot older than I am,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“How much older?” Hai Laogong asked.

“Several years,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Hai Laogong angrily said, “What do you mean several years? One or two years is several years, eight or nine years is also several years. If he is eight or nine years older than you, do you still want to fight him?”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s just say he is one or two years older than I am. But he is a lot bigger and taller than I am.”

Luckily the opponent was older and bigger, so losing was not considered a major face loss. If not for the fact that he wanted Hai Laogong to teach him some martial art, Wei Xiaobao would have not say anything about his defeat in the duel; when he returned, he would inevitably give an exaggerated account of things, he would say that it was him who scored a big victory instead.

Hai Laogong muttered, “This child is fourteen, fifteen years old. Hmm, how long did you fight him before you were beaten?”

“At least four or six hours [orig. ‘2, 3 sichen’, 1 sichen is 2 hours],” Wei Xiaobao said.

Hai Laogong’s face sack. “Don’t brag!” he barked, “How long?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Perhaps it’s less than 2 hours, but it is more than one hour.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “I am asking you, you’d better answer nicely. This kid knows martial art, you don’t; so even if you lose the fight, you don’t lose your face. It does not matter whether you fought ten times or eight times, even if you lose a hundred times, two hundred times, you are still young, what are you afraid of? So long as the last one time you win, your opponent will not dare to fight with you anymore. Now that is a hero and a warrior.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In the past, Han Gaozu[3] fought a hundred battles and lost a hundred times. Finally in the last battle he beat Chu Bawang [Overlord/hegemon Chu] that he hanged himself by the River Wu …”

Hai Laogong said, “What do you mean he hanged himself by the River Wu? He cut his own throat by the River Wu.”

“Hanging himself or cutting his own throat, it does not matter, he lost and thus he killed himself,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You always want to win every argument,” Hai Laogong said, “Tell me, during your fight with Xiao Xuanzi today, how many times did he beat you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “About one or two times, maybe two or three times.”

“It was four times, wasn’t it?” Hai Laogong said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, I really lost twice, the other two times he was cheating, it didn’t count.”

“Each time how long did you fight?” Hai Laogong asked.

“I didn’t keep track of the time,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Sometimes it was like pooping, sometimes it was like peeing.”

“Rubbish!” Hai Laogong said, “What do you mean sometimes it was like pooping, sometimes it was like peeing?”

“Defecating is somewhat slower,” Wei Xiaobao explained, “Urinating does not take too much time.”

Hai Laogong chuckled, he said, “Although this kid’s analogy is vulgar, what he said is very clear.” After pondering for half a day he said, “You have not learned martial art, this Xiao Xuanzi still need to fight you for a while before he can knock you down, that means his ‘little grappling technique’ is newly learned. Don’t be afraid, I’ll teach you the ‘big grappling technique’. Learn it well, and tomorrow you may challenge him again.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “He is using the ‘little grappling technique’, we are using the ‘big grappling technique’, big will overcome small, we will definitely win,” he said.

“That’s not necessarily true,” Hai Laogong said, “Both big and small grappling techniques have their own strong points. We must take the practitioner into consideration. If he trained better than you do, the little grappling technique will surpass the big grappling technique. This big grappling technique altogether has eighteen moves, each one has seven or eight variations. You won’t be able to remember all, let’s practice one or two moves before we proceed further.”

Right away he stood up and performed the move. Finished with one move, he said, “This move is called ‘Immortal Crane Combing its Plume’. Practice it well, then try it with me.”

Wei Xiaobao only looked one time, and he already remembered. After practicing for seven, eight times, he thought he had mastered it well. He said, “I have mastered it.”

Still sitting on a chair, Hai Laogong stretched out his left arm to grab Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder. Wei Xiaobao raised his hand to ward it off, but he was one step slower, his shoulder was already grabbed.

“Mastered what? Practice again,” Hai Laogong said.

Wei Xiaobao practiced several more times, then he tried it again with Hai Laogong. Hai Laogong stretched out his left arm, he was using exactly the same posture and move as the previous time. This time Wei Xiaobao was prepared, as soon as he saw the hand moved, he raised his hand to ward off; who would have thought that he was still somewhat slower and his shoulder was grabbed again.

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “Little idiot!”

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Old turtle!” And he was back practicing again.

By the third try, his shoulder was still grabbed; he could not help but feeling at a loss, without knowing the reason.

“This grab of mine,” Hai Laogong said, “Even if you practice for three years, you won’t necessarily be able to parry. Let me tell you this: if you cannot evade, when my hand is moving to your shoulder, you must use your palm to chop my wrist. It is called using offense as a defense.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “So that’s how it is, it’s very easy!” he said, “If you have told me earlier, I would have mastered it early on.”

As soon as Hai Laogong’s left hand came to grab him, Wei Xiaobao raised his right palm to chop down on his wrist. Unexpectedly, Hai Laogong did not even withdraw his hand, his palm moved slightly to the side, ‘Slap!’ he heavily slap Wei Xiaobao’s face. Wei Xiaobao was angry, he also tried to slap Hai Laogong’s face. Hai Laogong flipped his left palm to catch Wei Xiaobao wrist and casually flung him away. He laughed and said, “Little idiot, have you remembered it?”

As he was being thrown away, Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder crashed into the foot of the wall. Fortunately in this throw Hai Laogong only used very light force, otherwise his shoulder bones might be broken by the collision. Wei Xiaobao was very angry, the curse ‘Old Turtle’ was already at the tip of his tongue, but in the end he was able to curb it. He thought, “These two techniques are very good, when I fight Xiao Xuanzi tomorrow, I’ll use one of these damn moves, I guaranteed Xiao Xuanzi won’t be able to withstand.” Immediately he crawled up and tried to commit Hai Laogong’s two techniques into his memory, and then practiced it several times.

After practicing it for about a dozen times, Hai Laogong’s mysterious technique did not seem too unfathomable anymore, until finally he was able to evade the grab on his shoulder, but all along he was never able to avoid the slap on his face. It’s just that Hai Laogong did not use as much force as he did the first time, as long as his hand and fingers brushed away lightly on Wei Xiaobao’s face, it was already considered a slap. Although this brush was not painful, each time he was always hit on the same spot. Since Wei Xiaobao was always unable to counter, Hai Laogong did not grab and fling him away like before.

In his heart Wei Xiaobao was dismayed, “Gong-gong,” he asked, “How do I evade this move of yours?”

Hai Laogong smiled faintly and said, “If I want to hit you, even if you practice for ten years you won’t be able to evade. But Xiao Xuanzi won’t be able to beat you either. Let’s practice the second move.” He stood up and demonstrated the second move of the ‘big grappling technique’, called the ‘apes and monkeys pick the fruits’, and then have Wei Xiaobao tried it to him.

By nature, Wei Xiaobao was very lazy; actually, he was unwilling to diligently learn martial art, but his desire to win and outdo others took precedence, he wholeheartedly wanted to master these several ingenious techniques to force Xiao Xuanzi to call ‘surrender’; therefore, he painstakingly practiced these moves. Surprisingly, Hai Laogong was not fed up with him at all.

From afternoon to evening that day, the two of them trained incessantly. Hai Laogong was sitting on a chair, his arm was able to reach anywhere at will. As soon as he made a move, Wei Xiaobao was hit, but on the whole his force was very light, each move did not use much strength. Even so, when he went the bed that night, Wei Xiaobao felt that no part of his entire body, from head to toe, did not ache. For more than half a day, at least he had received four to five hundred hits. As he lying on the bed, he secretly cursed, “Old turtle, you have hit laozi so many times. Tomorrow laozi will beat Xiao Xuanzi; old turtle, even if you kowtow to laozi for three hundred times, laozi will not learn martial art from you again.”

The afternoon the next day, after gambling Wei Xiaobao had another duel with Xiao Xuanzi. He noticed that Xiao Xuanzi was wearing another set of new clothes; he mused, “You, this kid, are wearing new set of clothes every day, are you going to visit a girl in a brothel?” He was very jealous, so as soon as he made his move, he ripped his new clothes. ‘Rip’ a large tear appeared on Xiao Xuanzi’s clothes. But in doing so, he had forgotten the newly-learned skill, so that his waist was punched by Xiao Xuanzi; he screamed in pain.

Xiao Xuanzi seized this opportunity to stretch out his finger and poked Wei Xiaobao’s left leg. Wei Xiaobao’s left leg went numb and he fell kneeling down. From behind Xiao Xuanzi pushed, right away Wei Xiaobao tumbled down. Xiao Xuanzi jumped to ride on his back and pressed his yishe acupoint. Wei Xiaobao had no choice but to concede.

Wei Xiaobao stood up and focused his attention, waiting for Xiao Xuanzi to make his move, then he used the ‘Immortal Crane Combing its Plume’, chopping the opponent’s wrist. Xiao Xuanzi hastily withdrew his hand, while sending out a punch. Wei Xiaobao had anticipated this move; he grabbed the wrist and twisted it around, followed by a left elbow strike toward Xiao Xuanzi’s back. Xiao Xuanzi cried out in pain was powerless to resist. This round belonged to Wei Xiaobao.

Ever since the two of them started this martial art competition, this was the first time Wei Xiaobao scored a victory; his joy was unspeakable. Although he had killed a military officer at the Victory Hill in Yangzhou, and killed Xiao Guizi in the palace, but both times he had been cheating. In all the fights in his life, other than bullying eight, nine years old children, which he always triumphed, he had never won any fight against grownups. Occasionally he gained the upper hand by biting, throwing dirt on their eyes, or other despicable tricks. As for chopping people’s legs from underneath the table at the restaurant, that was not really a honorable thing to do, so it need not be mentioned anymore. Using a real skill to achieve victory, this was the very first time in his entire life.

In his self-satisfaction, unavoidably his ego was inflated and he lost the third round. In the fourth round, Wei Xiaobao gathered his thoughts and used the move ‘apes and monkeys pick the fruits’; he wrestled the opponent for quite a long time, unexpectedly they fell into a deadlock until both of them were depleted of their strengths. Holding each other in their arms, they were panting for breath, and had no choice but to stop fighting.

Xiao Xuanzi was very happy; he laughed and said, “Today your … your skill is progressing. Competing martial art with you is bit more interesting. Who … who taught you?”

Also panting for breath, Wei Xiaobao replied, “I’ve already known this skill long ago, it’s just that I did not use it the previous couple of days. Tomorrow I will show you a more … more formidable technique. Will you or will you not dare to oblige?”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and said, “Naturally I will oblige, most probably it will be the new technique of yelling ‘Surrender!’.”

“Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat, “Tomorrow it will be you who scream ‘Surrender!’”

Wei Xiaobao returned to his room. Immensely proud of himself, he said, “Gong-gong, your ‘big grappling technique’ is really deathly, I twisted that kid’s wrist, and strike his back with my elbow, this kid did not have any choice but to surrender.”

“How many rounds did you fight with him today?” Hai Laogong asked.

“I fought him four rounds, I won two,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Actually, I could win three rounds, but I was not being careful the third time.”

Hai Laogong said, “You always speak ‘breaking seven fastening eight’; if you say that you fought four rounds, at most you only won one round.”

Wei Xiaobao chuckled and said, “The first round I did not win, the second round I really did win. If I have empty words, may the heaven punish and the earth exterminate. The third round he cannot be considered lost, the fourth round we both fought until we are out of strength, so we agree to fight again tomorrow.”

Hai Laogong said, “Tell me truthfully, every move every style, in great details.”

Although Wei Xiaobao had a good memory, his knowledge of martial art was too little, how these four rounds were unfold by every move and every style, he could not narrate in details; he could only remember the third round where he scored a victory and thus the move he was most proud of. But Hai Laogong was insistent that he have a detailed account on how he was defeated. Wei Xiaobao was thinking of giving him a vague answer to dismiss his inquiry, but in the end he had to tell Hai Laogong the truth. The styles Xiao Xuanzi used to score victory, Hai Laogong was able to spell them out one by one, as if he was personally witnessing the fight, adding ten times the details of what Wei Xiaobao was able to tell. As he mentioned one style, Wei Xiaobao was then able to remember that it was indeed so.

“Gong-gong,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have eyes that can see a thousand li; otherwise, how can you know clearly which technique Xiao Xuanzi was using?”

Hai Laogong lowered his head in contemplation, he muttered, “He is really a Wudang master, he is really a Wudang master.”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised, “You said this kid Xiao Xuanzi is a Wudang Pai master? And I was able to fight this master evenly? Ha ha …”

“Pei!” Hai Laogong spat, “Don’t show off shamelessly! Who says he was the master? I was talking about the Shifu who taught him punching and kicking.”

“So what Sect [‘Pai’] do you belong to?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Our martial art is matchless under the heavens, naturally it is a lot more formidable than Wudang Pai; that is an obvious fact.” He still did not know which school Hai Laogong belonged to, but he bragged about it first without restraint.

“I belong to Shaolin Pai,” Hai Laogong replied.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, “That’s very good; Wudang Pai’s martial art encounters our Shaolin Pai, of course they will be utterly defeated, they will run away hiding their tails between their legs.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong snorted and said, “I haven’t taken you as my disciple, how can you consider yourself a Shaolin disciple?”

Wei Xiaobao embarrassedly said, “I did not say I was a Shaolin Pai disciple, I only learned Shaolin Pai martial art, is that correct?”

Hai Laogong said, “The technique Xiao Xuanzi was using is indeed Wudang Pai’s orthodox qin na technique, so we must use Shaolin Pai’s orthodox qin na technique to cope with him, otherwise we would not be his match.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My lost to him is small matter, implicating the prestige of our Shaolin Pai is greatly unworthy.” On how great Shaolin Pai’s prestige really was, he was completely clueless, but if he was somewhat responsible of maintaining Shaolin Pai’s prestige, it must be not a trivial business.

Hai Laogong said, “I passed on those two moves from the ‘big grappling technique’ yesterday with the intention of defeating that kid to get out of a difficult situation, so you won’t be entangled anymore and can go to the Upper Study Room to get the book. But right now the situation is slightly different. This kid is definitely a direct disciple of Wudang Pai. Then the eighteen moves of the ‘big grappling technique’ must be taught to you, each stance and each style, from the start. Do you know the ‘bow-and-arrow step’?”

“Bow-and-arrow step?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Isn’t that the posture an archer takes when he is bending the bow?”

Hai Laogong’s countenance sank, he said, “You want to learn martial art, you must be modest, if you don’t know it, just say so. People who learn martial art must abstain from thinking oneself clever, from believing that oneself is infallible. Bend your forward leg on the knee so that it will look like a bow, that is called ‘bow foot’. Stick out your back leg in an angle so that it will look like an arrow, that is called ‘arrow foot’. When those two are used together, the posture is called ‘bow-and-arrow step’.” While saying that, he demonstrated the ‘bow-and-arrow step’ stance.

Wei Xiaobao copied the stance and said, “What’s so difficult about this stance? I can do it a hundred or eighty times a day.”

Hai Laogong said, “I don’t want you to do it a hundred or eighty times, I just want you to do it once. Now do the stance, if I do not tell you to stand up, you must not move.” While saying that he ran his hands on Wei Xiaobao’s legs to check their positions. He pushed the forward leg further down, and the back leg even straighter.

“It’s so easy,” Wei Xiaobao said. However, keeping the stance without moving like that, in less than half the time needed to burn an incense, his legs were tingling. “Is it enough?” he called out.

“It is far from enough,” Hai Laogong replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “What’s the use of me practicing this strange posture? Are you saying that by doing this I can knock Xiao Xuanzi down?”

Hai Laogong said, “When you train the ‘bow-and-arrow step’ until your stance is steady, others cannot push you down. Its usefulness is great.”

Wei Xiaobao stubbornly argued, “Even if people push me down, I can always stand back up and not suffer any defeat.”

Hai Laogong nodded slowly, but did not pay any attention to him. Seeing him nodding, Wei Xiaobao straightened up his body and patted his tingling legs. Hai Laogong barked, “Who told you to stand up? Quickly do the ‘bow-and-arrow step’ again!”

“I want to poop!” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You can’t!” Hai Laogong said.

“I want to poop!” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You can’t!” Hai Laogong said.

“My poop is really about to come out!” Wei Xiaobao said. Hai Laogong sighed; he had no choice but to let him go to the toilet to loosen his legs.

Although Wei Xiaobao was intelligent, but to expect him to follow the compass and go with the set square, to follow a prescribed pattern in martial art training, was easier said than done. In the end Hai Laogong did not force him anymore, he only taught him several qin na and wrestling techniques. During the sparring, Wei Xiaobao was required to bend down and turn around, to squat and crouch low on the ground; Hai Laogong did not join him in performing these exercises, he only called out the directions and stretched out his hand to feel whether there was any mistake in Wei Xiaobao’s posture and technique.

The next day Wei Xiaobao had another martial art competition against Xiao Xuanzi. Thinking that the previous day they fought for four rounds, in which he lost two rounds and won one round, with the newly-learned skill, today he should be able to win all four rounds. Who would have thought that as soon as the fight began, when he use several new techniques against Xiao Xuanzi, regardless of how he was using it, one after another Xiao Xuanzi was able to neutralize it. So much so that Wei Xiaobao lost the first two rounds.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked and angry; in the third round he was extra careful, only then did he manage to twist and pull Xiao Xuanzi’s left palm backward that Xiao Xuanzi was unable to turn around and was forced to surrender.

Wei Xiaobao was so immensely proud of himself that he lost again the fourth round. Xiao Xuanzi was able to sit on his head, with both legs astride the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck, so that he was almost suffocated.

After he surrendered, Wei Xiaobao stood up and cursed, “Damn it, you …”

Xiao Xuanzi’s countenance sank. “What did you say?” he asked sternly. Instantly his expression turned cold and imposing.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly alarmed; he mused, “It’s not right, this is the imperial palace, I must not speak vulgar language. Mao Dage warned me that when we get to Beijing, we must not say anything wrong. I said ‘damn it’, that means I say something damn wrong, and thus I am exposing my trickery.” Thereupon he hastily said, “I said my style ‘damn it’ cannot defeat you, so I’d better surrender.”

Xiao Xuanzi’s face showed a smiling expression as he asked, “Your style is called ‘damn it’ [ta ma de – literally ‘his mother’s’]? What does it mean?”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I’m lucky, I am lucky! This little turtle lives in the imperial palace all day long, and does not understand the way people on the outside curse.” Thereupon he made up a wild story, “This style ‘stepping on horse’s hoof’ [ta ma ti] was originally a skill based on the horse loses its front hooves [figuratively: sudden failure through miscalculation or inattentiveness]. As I ‘step on’ [ta], you cannot defend against it, so I turn over and press you down. Who would have thought that you were not fooled, so this ‘ta ma ti’ style was useless.”

Xiao Xuanzi roared in laughter and said, “What ‘ta ma ti’? Even ‘ta niu ti’ [stepping on cow’s hooof] cannot defeat me. Do you dare to fight with me again tomorrow?”

“Do you need to ask?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally I will fight you. Hey, Xiao Xuanzi, let me ask you one question, please answer me truthfully and honestly, don’t conceal anything from me.”

“What is it?” Xiao Xuanzi asked.

“The Shifu who teach you martial art, he is a Wudang Pai master, isn’t he?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Uh, how did you know?” Xiao Xuanzi wondered.

“I can see from the technique you are using,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You know my martial art style?” Xiao Xuanzi asked, “What is it called?”

“Who does not know?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “That is Wudang Pai’s orthodox skill, handed down in direct line from the founder, called the ‘little grappling technique’, considered first-rate martial art in the Jianghu. However, against our Shaolin Pai’s orthodox skill, handed down in direct line from the founder, called the ‘big grappling technique’, it is still one class lower.”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and said, “What a horn-tooting! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? In our martial art competition today, did you win, or did I win?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Victory or defeat is common in a war, a hero is not measured by victory or defeat.”

Xiao Xuanzi said with a laugh, “A hero is not measured by success or failure.”

“Victory or defeat is the same as success or failure,” Wei Xiaobao said. He had once heard the storyteller mentioning ‘A hero is not measured by success or failure’, but these two words ‘success or failure’ was too difficult, so he could not remember it. However, since Xiao Xuanzi was able to say the correct phrase, he could not help but feeling admiration, “You are only a year or two older than I am, yet you actually know a lot of things.”

Wei Xiaobao returned to his residence and sighed, “Gong-gong,” he said, “The more I learn new technique, the more others also learn new ones; but others’ Shifu is so skillful, he teaches better technique.” He did not say that his own skill was inadequate, but blaming Hai Laogong’s teaching method instead.

Hai Laogong said, “Obviously you lost all four rounds today! Muddle-headed kid, you don’t blame yourself as being useless, but you come here to complain about others.”

“Pei,” Wei Xiaobao spat, “How could I lost all four rounds? At least I would win once or twice, or twice, three times. I have asked him today, his Shifu is indeed a direct disciple of orthodox school Wudang Pai.”

“Did he admit it?” Hai Laogong asked. He sounded rather excited.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I asked him, ‘The Shifu who teach you martial art, he is a Wudang Pai master, isn’t he?’ He said, ‘Uh, how did you know?’ Isn’t that the same as admitting it?”

Hai Laogong mumbled, “Just as I thought, it’s really Wudang Pai.” And then he was lost in thought, seemingly pondering a hard-to-understand matter. After a long time he said, “Let us practice some tripping feet techniques.”

And so every day Wei Xiaobao learned new techniques from Hai Laogong, and had his daily martial art contest with Xiao Xuanzi. During training, whenever he encountered a rather difficult technique, Wei Xiaobao would do it perfunctorily with all kinds of obscure excuses. Surprisingly, Hai Laogong followed his whim; disregarding the fundamentals, he only taught him how to dodge, evade, and various kinds of defensive tricks, anything that would give Wei Xiaobao an immediate benefit. However, during his fight with Xiao Xuanzi, Wei Xiaobao’s technique was advancing, Xiao Xuanzi’s technique was advancing even more. Fighting here and there, out of ten rounds Wei Xiaobao would lose seven or eight times.

Every morning Wei Xiaobao always went gambling with Lao Wu, Ping Wei, Wen Youdao, Wen Youfang and others eunuchs. For the first several days he always had plain white cloth covering his face, but afterwards the covering was getting less and less. Although everybody could see that his facial features were completely different from Xiao Guizi’s, but first, they always met in the heat of the gambling, what Xiao Guizi actually looked like, they only remembered it vaguely; second, Wei Xiaobao was always giving others a loan, so everybody loved this generous friend; third, each day Wei Xiaobao took only a little bit of the wrapping, so the others were slowly getting accustomed to his look, unexpectedly, nobody ask him anything.

When the gambling adjourned, Wei Xiaobao would have his martial art competition with Xiao Xuanzi, and have martial art lesson after lunch. The qin na technique he learned was getting increasingly difficult. Wei Xiaobao was disinclined to memorize it, he was even more disinclined to practice; fortunately, Hai Laogong did not force him or insist on supervising him strictly, he simply let nature take its course.

Day in day out, without realizing it Wei Xiaobao had been in the imperial palace for two months. Every day he had money to gamble. Although it could not be said that his life was free and unrestrained, he was actually quite happy. His only regret was that he must not speak any obscenities, wantonly hurling abusive words to others; he also did not dare to imitate dog and steal chicken[4], or to make a scene and raise havoc in the palace. It was a rather minor defect in an otherwise perfect world. Sometimes he did think about escaping from the palace, but he did not know anybody within Beijing’s city limit; the more he thought about it, the more trepidation grew in his heart, and thus he kept lingering in the palace for ‘yet another day’.

Wei Xiaobao and Xiao Xuanzi had been fighting with each other for two months, they met every day, the friendship between them grew. Wei Xiaobao was getting used to losing, but putting things back in perspective, ‘a hero is not measured by victory or defeat’; his win in the gambling arena offset his lost in the martial art arena, and thus he did not give it further thought. Both he and Xiao Xuanzi felt that if they miss a day of martial art contest, their whole body would be uncomfortable. Wei Xiaobao made a slow progress in martial art skill, but Xiao Xuanzi’s progress was also so-so. Although Wei Xiaobao lost more than he won, he was not entirely in losing streak without any victory.

During these past two months, the Wen brothers lost so much money in gambling that they owed Wei Xiaobao more than two hundred taels. This particular day, before the game was even finished, the two brothers signaled each other with their eyes. Wen Youdao said to Wei Xiaobao, “Gui Xiongdi, we have something we’d like to discuss with you. Let’s step aside and talk.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Do you need some money? No problem.”

“Thank you very much,” Wen Youfang said. The two brothers went out the door, with Wei Xiaobao following behind them. The three of them went to a side room next door.

“Gui Xiongdi,” Wen Youdao said, “You are very young, but you are naturally magnanimous, it is indeed rare.”

Hearing such flattery, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was in full bloom, “There, there! We are brothers here, you lend me, I lend you, why so uptight about it? There are borrowing and there are paying, we are all honest people here.”

In these past two months, he had managed to learn some Beijing accent; although occasionally he would still blurt some Yangzhou slangs, it did not sound too harsh in other people’s ears.

Wen Youdao said, “Our luck these past two months is just not good, we have lost quite a lot of money. Although you, brother, do not mind, in our hearts we are very worried.”

Wen Youfang added, “Our lost is getting heavier and heavier, while your luck is getting better and better, and we owe you more and more money. If this situation continued, we don’t know how many tears it will take us to pay you back. If we continue on living burdened with debt like this, our lives would be tasteless.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Going into debt and not able to pay back is indeed inevitable and all right, the two of you must not bring it up anymore.”

Wen Youfang sighed and said, “Xiao Xiongdi’s character, we need not mention again. Frankly speaking, if we owe only you, Xiao Xiongdi, even if we owe you for a hundred years, we should not be uptight, should we?”

“Exactly, exactly,” Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “But what about two hundred years, three hundred years?”

“Two hundred, three hundred years?” Wen Youfang said, “Everybody will be dead by then.” Speaking to this point, he turned toward his elder brother. Wen Youdao nodded. Wen Youfang continued, “However, we, two brothers, know, that Xiao Xiongdi’s master is very difficult to deal with.”

“You mean Hai Laogong?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Isn’t he?” Wen Youfang said, “You, Xiao Xiongdi, may not pursue this matter, but there will come a day Hai Laogong will not let us, two brothers, off. If he, Senior, extends one finger to us, the Wen family’s Lao Da and Lao Er[5] won’t be able neither to eat nor escape at all. Consequently, we must think of a way to pay the money back.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Here it comes, here it comes, that old turtle Hai Laogong truly able to prophecy with supernatural accuracy. These days I only remember to practice boxing, to have martial art contest against Xiao Xuanzi, but I completely forgot about going to the Upper Study Room to steal the book. I’d better not mentioning it, I want to see what they are going to say.” Thereupon he simply mumbled, “Um,” noncommittally.

Wen Youfang said, “We have thought about it over; there is only one way, we ask for Xiao Xiongdi’s magnanimity, to write off our debt completely, do not mention it to Hai Laogong. Later, when we brothers win, naturally we will return everything with our thanks, not lacking even a wen.”

“Your granny,” Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “You, a pair of stinky turtles, consider me, Wei Xiaobao, as a ‘cattle’? Based on your bastards’ skill, when will you ever win anything back from laozi?” Thereupon with an awkward expression he said, “But I have already told Hai Laogong. The Senior says that this money must be paid back, several days delay is all right.”

The Wen brothers looked at each other, with very awkward expression on their faces; obviously these two brothers dreaded Hai Laogong very much. Wen Youdao said, “In that case, we are wondering if Xiao Xiongdi would be willing to help us? As you win money later, give it to Hai Laogong, just tell him … tell him that we are paying you back.”

Wei Xiaobao cursed again in his heart, “Your words are getting more and more preposterous, do you think I am a three-year old kid?” But he said, “It’s not that I don’t want to do it, but I … my loss will be too great.”

From the tone of his voice, the Wen brothers could hear that he was willing to cut them some slack, instantly their faces showed delight as they cupped their hands and said, “Thank you for your kindness, we owe you a big favor.”

Wen Youfang said, “Xiao Xiongdi‘s kindness, the two of us brothers will never dare to forget as long as we live.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If we do it this way, I want the two Dage to do me a favor, I wonder if you would be willing to?”

“Of course, of course,” the two of them incessantly replied, “Whatever it is, the answer is yes.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have lived in the palace for many days, but even His Imperial Majesty’s face I have never seen. The two of you are serving His Majesty at the Upper Study Room, I wish to ask the two brothers to take me to see His Majesty.”

Immediately the two Wen brothers looked at each other in dismay, with a very distressed expression on their faces. Wen Youdao repeatedly scratched his head. Wen Youfang said, “Ay, this … this … this …” He muttered the word ‘this’ seven, eight times.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I do not wish to present a memorial to His Majesty, I only want to linger at the Upper Study Room for a while, to see His Majesty’s golden face; to slaves like us, that will be our good fortune. If I do not have the good fortune of seeing him, I will not blame the two of you.”

Wen Youdao hastily said, “It can be arranged. Today at the Shenpai hour [ninth hour, 3 – 5 pm], I will come to your place and take you to the Upper Study Room. At that time, His Majesty is always in the study room writing poetry and do calligraphy; most likely you will be able to see him. At other times His Majesty is working at the Palace Hall, it won’t be easy to see him.” While saying that, he tilted his head toward Wen Youfang and gave him a wink.

Wei Xiaobao saw this, and the curse ‘stinky turtles, thief bastards’ was raging in his heart; he pondered over it, “As soon as these two turtles hear I wanted to see the Emperor, their expressions turned very ugly. They said on the ninth hour the Emperor will be at the Upper Study Room, but he most definitely won’t be there. They do not dare to let me see the Emperor, so now I want to see him. His granny, if the Emperor speaks to laozi, how am I supposed to answer? If I said something that will give me away, won’t he order me to be executed along with my whole family to the third generation? Perhaps even laozi’s Ma will be dragged away from Yangzhou and be beheaded here. The old turtle Hai teaches me martial art, but I don’t know if he taught me correctly? How come after so many fights I still cannot overcome Xiao Xuanzi? I’d better steal that book – was it thirty-two-chapter sutra or forty-two-chapter sutra? – from the study room and give it to the old turtle. If his heart is happy, perhaps he would teach me real martial art.” Thereupon he cupped his hands to Wen brothers to express his gratitude, saying, “If we as slaves cannot even see the Lord of Ten-thousand-year’s golden face, when we die, Yan Wang will certainly rain curses on us as turtle bastards.”

After his martial art contest with Xiao Xuanzi, he returned to his residence, and told Hai Laogong only the martial art contest’s situation; he did not mention even a word about how the Wen brothers had agreed to take him to the Upper Study Room. He thought he would steal the book first, so that the old turtle will be enormously pleasantly surprised.

Just before the appointed time, the Wen brothers really came. Wen Youfang let out a soft whistle. Wei Xiaobao slipped out quietly. The Wen brothers signaled with their hands, but did not say anything. They walked to the west, with Wei Xiaobao following on their heels. Based on previous experience, he now keep his eyes open to commit into his memory the shapes of the corridors, gardens and buildings along the way, so that he could retrace his path without getting lost.

Compare to the building where they gambled, the Upper Study Room was farther away from where he lived; they walked for almost the time needed to prepare tea. With a quiet voice Wen Youdao said, “We have arrived at the Upper Study Room, must be more careful now!”

“I understand,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The two brothers led him circling to the rear courtyard, and entered via a small side door. Passing through two small gardens, they finally entered an enormous room. He saw the room was full with row after row of bookshelves, and each shelf was full of books; he did not know how many thousands or tens of thousands of book were there. Wei Xiaobao sucked a mouthful of cold air and groaned inwardly, “Hot piece mama did not blossom, once blossoms give birth to a little baby! His granny! The Emperor’s room has this many books, all day long he sees books; he sees books in the morning, he sees books in the evening, how will he find time to gamble? Hai Laogong only wants several books, how am I going to find them?”

He grew up in marketplace, he had never seen a study room in all is life, he only knew that if there were seven or eight books in a room, then that room must be a study room. From these seven or eight books, supposedly to find one with the characters ‘thirty-two’ or ‘forty-two’ written on it would not be difficult. At this moment, suddenly seeing thousands or tens of thousands books, he was dazzled and at a loss of what to do. He thought of turning around and running away.

In low voice Wen Youdao said, “Shortly, His Majesty will come into the study room and sit on this desk reading or writing.”

Wei Xiaobao looked at the enormous red sandalwood desk, the tabletop was inlaid with gold and jade. He thought, “The tabletop is inlaid with yellow gold and white jade, certainly it is not a fake. If this thing is scooped out and brought to the jewelry store, it will be sold for quite a bit of money.” He saw a book was spread out on the desk, the ink stone and brush pot to the left were also exquisitely carved. The chair was draped in brocade cloth, embroidered with a golden dragon.

Seeing this kind of imposing style, Wei Xiaobao could not stop his heart from thumping hard. “His granny,” he mused, “This turtle emperor truly lives a happy and prosperous life!”

On the right hand side of the table there was an ancient bronze three-legged pot, where sandalwood incense was being burned. The lid of the pot was shaped like a beast’s head, a wisp of green smoke gracefully curling out from its mouth.

Wen Youdao said, “You may hide behind the bookshelf, looking quietly at His Majesty and that’s it. When His Majesty is reading or writing, no one is allowed to make any noise; you must neither cough nor sneeze. Otherwise His Majesty might get angry and call the Imperial Bodyguard to drag you out and chop off your head.”

“Of course I know I must not cough or sneeze, I must not fart even more,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Wen Youdao’s countenance sank. “Xiao Xiongdi, the Upper Study Room is unlike any other places,” he said, “You must not speak anything disrespectful or irreverent.” Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue; he did not dare to say anything. He saw the two brothers picked up a duster and a cleaning rag, and started dusting and wiping everywhere. The study room was exceptionally clean, untainted by even a speck of dust, but the two brothers were still doing their job attentively.

After the Wen brothers finished dusting, they fetched a piece of snow white plain cloth from the cabinet and started wiping everywhere, and then they looked at the white cloth to see if there is any sign of dark spot. They were even more careful than wiping a mirror. They wiped for more than half a day before they quit.

“Xiao Xiongdi,” Wen Youdao said, “If His Majesty is still not here in a little while, chances are he is not coming to the Upper Study Room at all today. Soon an Imperial Bodyguard officer will come over to do an inspection, if he sees you in this place, he will investigate and then everybody will eat the blame.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You can leave first, I want to wait a while before leaving.”

“That won’t do!” the Wen brothers said together. Wen Youdao said, “According to the palace rules, which you are also aware of, wherever His Majesty goes, the ones serving in that area must not have the slightest carelessness. There are several thousands court eunuchs and palace maids, supposing whenever one of them wanted to see His Majesty would simply walk in to His Majesty’s presence, what will become of the propriety?”

“Good brother,” Wen Youfang said, “It’s not that we brothers do not want to help, but we can be in this Upper Study Room for only an hour a day. Finish cleaning and wiping, we must get out immediately. We are not concealing anything from you, forget about you cannot linger too long in the Upper Study Room, even if we, the two brothers, do not leave when it’s time for us to leave, when the Imperial Bodyguard officers investigate and find out, at the most our house will be searched and our possessions confiscated, we will be beheaded, at the least we will be imprisoned with stock over our head.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue. “That fierce, huh?” he said.

Stomping his foot, Wen Youfang said, “The matter of His Majesty’s safety, do you think we would joke about it? Good brother, if you want to see His Majesty, let’s come back tomorrow at the same time to try our luck.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let us go then.”

The Wen brothers felt as if a heavy burden was relieved from their shoulders. With one pulling Wei Xiaobao’s left arm, the other pulling his right, for fear that he would not leave, they walked him out.

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, the two of you have never seen His Majesty, have you?”

Wen Youfang was startled, “How … how did you …” he stammered. It was obvious that he was going to say, ‘How did you know?’. Wen Youdao hastily said, “Why haven’t we seen him? His Majesty reads and writes at the Upper Study Room, of course we often see him.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Every day around this time the two of you are in the Upper Study Room wiping and dusting, naturally His Majesty cannot be here. Could it be that when you two bastards are wiping the dust and chasing the dust’s grandchildren to the east and to the west, His Majesty would love to watch?”

Wen Youdao added, “Xiao Xiongdi agrees to pay Hai Laogong back on our behalf, we brothers will certainly repay your kindness in the future. About seeing His Majesty, that is one’s good fortune in life, one’s karmic reward cultivated in the previous incarnation, by building the bridge and paving the way, by accumulating innumerable secret virtue. If one is not destined to have this good fortune, one will not achieve it even by forcing it.”

While speaking, the three of them exited the side door. Wei Xiaobao said, “In that case, you can take me here again in a few days to try our luck!”

“Excellent, excellent!” the two brothers repeatedly said. And thus the three of them split up.

Wei Xiaobao quickly turned around; passing through two long corridors, he hid behind a sliding door. After a while, he presumed the two brothers already went far away; he came out from the back door and retraced their route back to the study room. When he pushed the side door, to his surprise, the door was bolted from inside. He was startled, thinking, “It was only a short while, the door is already bolted from inside? It seems that the Wen brothers are telling the truth, the Imperial Bodyguard did come to patrol this place. I wonder if they have already left?”

Pressing his ear to the door he tried to listen, but did not hear anything. Then he put his eye to a crack on the door and peeked inside, there was nobody in the courtyard. He thought for a while, and then fished out a very thin dagger from his boots. It was the same dagger he used to assassinate Xiao Guizi the other day. He was hiding in the Imperial Palace, he knew danger was lurking from all directions, since that day, this dagger had never left his body. Presently he inserted the dagger into the crack on the door and gently pushed several times, the door bolt was lifted up. He shoved the door open two cun, and put out his hand through the opening to hold the door bolt, so that it would not fall down and make noise. Then he pushed the door wider and slipped in, lastly, he turned around and reattached the door bolt. After listening attentively and did not hear any noise, he proceeded step by step and poked his head into the study room, luckily there was nobody inside. After waiting for a moment, he went in.

Walking toward the desk, he saw the chair draped in dragon embroidered brocade and had a hard-to-resist sudden impulse. “Damn it, this is the dragon chair the Emperor sit, must laozi sit on it?” Taking a diagonal step forward, he suddenly found himself sitting on the chair. At first his heart was thumping fast, but after a while he mused, “This chair is not so comfortable anyway, being the Emperor is nothing extraordinary.”

But in the end he still did not dare to sit too long; he stood up and went to the bookshelves to look for the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. But the bookshelves were full of books stacked up on top of other books. Among the hundreds of titles, he recognized only one or two characters. He did his utmost to find the ‘four’ character, and found several books that started with the character ‘four’; however, none of the next characters were ‘ten’ or ‘two’[6]. Actually, what he found were the ‘Four Books’[7], the ‘Four-Book Annotation Collection’, the ‘Four-Book Commentary’, and so on. Looking a bit more, he found the ‘Analysis on Thirteen Classics[8] Collection’. He knew the two characters ‘Thirteen’ [shi san], and was delighted for a moment, but ten realized that eventually it was not the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.

While he was still confused, without a clue of what to do, suddenly he heard the sound of boots outside the door on the other side of the study room, followed by the creaking noise of the double-door being opened. Turned out behind the large screen on that side there was another door, from which this person was walking in.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Today laozi will be executed to the third generation.” He was thinking of slipping out from the bolted door from which he came, but in any case he was too late, hastily he flattened his body against the wall, shrinking behind a row of bookshelf. He heard two men enter the study room, dusting, brushing and wiping all around.

Not too long afterwards, another man come in, the first two men then withdrew from the study room. This other man was pacing back and forth slowly in the study room. Wei Xiaobao cried out inwardly, “It’s terrible; must be the Imperial Bodyguard on inspection of this room. Could it be that they found a trace of me entering via the back door?” He could not help cold sweat from soaking his back.

The man was pacing back and forth for a good while, suddenly there was a loud and clear voice from outside the door, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Ao Shaobao has an urgent matter to kowtow in front of Your Majesty, he is waiting outside.” The man in the study room grunted.

Wei Xiaobao was startled and delighted at the same time. “Turns out this man is the Emperor. That Ao Shaobao is the man Mao Dage wanted to have a martial art contest with. This man is considered the Manchurians’ number one warrior, I wonder what mighty appearance he looks like, I must steal a look. Next time I see Mao Dage, I will have something to tell him.”

He heard heavy footsteps from outside the door, a man entered the study room and said, “Servant Oboi kowtows to Your Majesty!” while kneeling down and pressing his forehead to the ground.

Wei Xiaobao quickly poked his head out to steal a look, he saw a tall and sturdy man crawling on the floor, kowtowing. He did not dare to look too long, for fear that as soon as Oboi raised his head he might see him; hastily he pulled his head back, but he shifted his body slightly to be diagonally opposite to Oboi. He mused, “You are kowtowing to the Emperor, also kowtowing to laozi. What First Warrior of Manchuria, or Second Warrior? Nothing special about him, didn’t he kowtow to me, Wei Xiaobao?”

He heard the Emperor say, “Enough!” Oboi rose up and said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Suksaha is harboring disloyalty, his memorial to the throne is filled with treason and heresy, he must receive supreme penalty.”

“Hmm,” the Emperor grunted noncommittally.

Oboi continued, “Your Majesty has just personally guided the government into a new era, this servant Suksaha presented a memorial to the throne, saying something like ‘Now personally encountering the great government, humbly begs the wise reflection to let your servant, state official, to go guarding the late Emperor’s mausoleum, in order to survive the remaining breath, which is like a string of thread’. Isn’t it obvious? Your Majesty has just taken over the government, and he already desires to die. It is the same as saying Your Majesty is treating his servants with cruelty.”

“Hmm,” the Emperor was still grunting.

Oboi continued, “Your servant has had a conference with the princes and dukes, and various ministers; we are all agree that altogether Suksaha is guilty of twenty-four major crimes, he is cherishing treachery, harboring disloyalty, taking unfair advantage of the young master, unwilling to return to government service, indeed he is reeking with treason and heresy. According to our dynasty’s ‘Great Rebellion Law’, he and his eldest son, Internal Minister Chakdan, should be put to death with a thousand cuts, his six foster sons, one grandson, and two brothers should be beheaded. His clansmen, the commander of the vanguard regimen Barhe, and imperial bodyguard Otu, should also be beheaded.”

“For that kind of crime, isn’t the punishment too heavy?” the Emperor said.

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “This emperor’s voice sounds like a boy, in fact it is very similar to Xiao Xuanzi’s voice. That’s funny.”

Oboi said, “Reporting to His Majesty: Your Majesty is still young, perhaps you are still not fully clear about the important matter of the imperial court government. This Suksaha accepted orders from the late Emperor, together with your servant and others to be regents, to assist Your Majesty in guiding the government into the new era; we should be delighted to offer our talents. Yet he submitted this memorial to the throne, slandering Your Majesty, obviously he is harboring evil intentions. I request Your Majesty to allow Chen to deal with this matter, with power to make more serious punishment. Your Majesty has just taken over the government, you should establish power, to make your subjects’ hearts trembled with fear. If you are being lenient to Suksaha, this rebel who harbor treason, someday the other subjects will take advantage of Your Majesty’s young age, will speak disrespects, will behave rudely, then Your Majesty’s business will not be managed properly.”

Listening to the way he speak, Wei Xiaobao thought he was very arrogant, he said in his heart, “You, the old turtle, are the one who speak disrespect and behave rudely. You said the Emperor is young, could it be that the Emperor is a small boy? This is very interesting, no wonder his voice somewhat sounds like Xiao Xuanzi.”

He heard the Emperor saying, “Although Suksaha is wrong, he is an Executive Minister, the same as you, whom the late Emperor held in very high regards. If at the beginning of my taking over the government Zhen … Zhen [an Emperor addressing himself] kill an important minister whom the late Emperor held in high regards, I am afraid the spirit of the late Emperor in Heaven will not be happy.”

Oboi laughed a loud and said, “Very true, but your words are childish talk. The late Emperor appointed Suksaha as an Executive Minister, to serve Your Majesty well, to handle affairs attentively. If he considered the late Emperor’s benevolence, he should spare no effort to do his utmost, to go through water and tread on fire, to toil just like a dog or a horse; that is the principle of a servant. Yet this Suksaha bears grievance, publicly slanders Your Majesty, asking for rest, begging for life, regarding his own life more important, and set aside the imperial court’s affairs as unimportant. This servant is offending the late Emperor, and not Your Majesty offending this servant. Ha ha, ha ha!”

The Emperor said, “Ao Shaobao, what’s so funny?”

Oboi was startled, and busily said, “Yes, yes, no, nothing.” Wei Xiaobao guessed that right this moment Oboi’s expression must be very awkward.

The Emperor was silent for a long time before saying, “Even if I am not offending Suksaha, but if I kill him like this, I would offend the late Emperor’s spirit. Either the people under the heavens would say that I kill the wrong person, or they would say that the late Emperor was an incapable ignorant. If the imperial court publishes Suksaha’s twenty-four big crimes to the world, the people would think that Suksaha is so guilty of the most heinous crime, is such a scoundrel, yet the late Emperor unexpectedly appointed him as an Executive Minister, to stand alongside you, Ao Shaobao. This … this … isn’t this too much without knowledge and experience?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This child Emperor’s word makes a lot of sense.”

Oboi said, “Your Majesty only knows one, does not know two. Whatever the people under the heavens like to think, let them indulge in flights of fancy, but they will not dare to speak as they please. Whoever dares to utter a single sentence that the late Emperor is to be blamed, I want to see how many heads they have.”

The Emperor said, “The ancient book said it well: ‘Guarding against the mouth of the people is more than guarding against the river’; blindly chopping people’s heads, not letting the common people speak out their hearts, in the end it will not bring good.”

Oboi said, “The words of the Han scholars are the worst to listen to, if these Han scholars’ words were true, how come Han people’s rivers and mountains fall into our hands, the Manchus? Therefore, let your servant offers a bit of advice to Your Majesty: those many books of Han people, the less you read the better, the more you read, the more your mind will be muddled.”

The Emperor did not reply at all. Oboi continued, “Your servant has followed Taizong Huangdi[9] and the late Emperor in battles on all sides, from outside the Pass to inside the Pass, establishing countless meritorious service against the Han cavalry. I did not know a single Han character, yet I killed not a few southern barbarians. We defeat the world, we protect the world, all using our Manchurian way.”

The Emperor said, “Without a doubt Ao Shaobao’s contribution is enormous, otherwise the late Emperor would not entrust you with such heavy responsibility.”

Oboi said, “Your servant only knows how to serve with body and soul, to handle Your Majesty’s affairs. Ever since Taizong Huangdi, to Emperor Shunzi, it’s all the same. The way we Manchus handle affairs is by paying particular attention to bestow rewards and impose punishments, we reward those who are loyal, and punish those who are treacherous. This Suksaha is a major treacherous court official, he must be punished severely.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Hot piece mama, I only have to listen to your voice and I know that you are the major treacherous court official.”

The Emperor said, “You are determined to have Suksaha killed, in the end, what is your own reason?”

“What reason do I have?” Oboi said, “Could it be that Your Majesty believes your servant has a personal motive?” His voice grew louder, his tone was also growing more stern. After a short pause he said menacingly, “Your servant only has our Manchurian’s realm in my heart. Taizu Huangdi[10], Taizong Huangdi have painstakingly laid out the foundation, we must not let their descendants make mistake. Your Majesty asks your servant this way, your servant really does not understand Your Majesty’s meaning!”

Hearing he speak with such ferocity, Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he could not bear not to stick out his head to look, and saw a fierce-looking big man, his eyebrows were raised straight up, like a monster he stepped forward, his hands were tightly clenched into a pair of fists.

“Ah!” a young man cried out in alarm and jumped up from the chair. The young man turned his head sideways, and Wei Xiaobao could not refrain from letting out an ‘Ah!’ cry of his own. This young Emperor was not a stranger, he was precisely the boy who had martial art contest with him every day, Xiao Xuanzi.

[1] ‘Xuan’ means black/mysterious. ‘Xiao’ – little, ‘Zi’ – child/small thing.

[2] Orig. ‘Xiao Qin Na’ – little grab and capture.

[3] Posthumous name of the first Han emperor Liu Bang (reigned 202-195 BC).

[4] An idiom, it means ‘to dally with women’ or ‘to have affairs’. [Although I don’t understand how he was going to do it, given the fact that he was only about 12, 13 years old.]

[5] Lit. Ol’ First and Ol’ Second, respectively, common terms to denote children ranks in the family.

[6] In Chinese, ‘forty-two’ consists of three characters: ‘si’ – four, ‘shi’ – ten, and ‘er’ – two.

[7] Namely, The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Analects of Confucius, and The Analects of Mencius.

[8] Thirteen Confucian Classics: Book of Songs, Book of History, Rites of Zhou, Rites and Ceremonies, Classic of Rites, Book of Changes, Mr. Zuo’s Annals, Mr. Gongyang’s Annals, Mr. Gu Liang’s Annals, The Analects, Erya, Classic of Filial Piety, and Mencius.

[9] Posthumous name given to second emperor of a dynasty, in this case, Nurhachi’s son, Emperor Hung Taiji.

[10] Founding Emperor, in this case, Nurhachi.

Chapter 5 Golden spear to dispel the society, a book in jade box to keep the fantasy.

Seeing the Emperor, even if his appearance was like a demon or a ghost, it was unlikely that Wei Xiaobao would cry out or make any noise; but seeing it was Xiao Xuanzi, his shock was really not mild. As soon as the cry escaped his mouth, he knew he was in deep trouble. He turned around at once, thinking to escape, but then he had a second thought, “Xiao Xuanzi’s martial art skill is higher than mine, but that Oboi is even more formidable, when all is said and done, I still cannot escape.” He also had a sudden inspiration, “Our valuables are already down on the table! Either we make a kill or we get killed, it’s time to roll the dice.”

Leaping out, he stood in front of the Emperor, and shouted to Oboi, “Oboi, what are you doing? You dare to be rude to His Majesty? You want to beat people, kill people, you must go over me first.”

Oboi had fought hundreds of battles, rendered great many services, he had little regard of the young Emperor Kangxi. Kangxi’s [Book note: Kangxi was an era name (subdivision in the reign of an emperor), but it is a common practice in popular fiction not to call him by his original name Xuan Ye (‘xuan’ – black/mysterious, ‘ye’ glorious/blaze of fire), instead, he was only known as Kangxi.] scorning his desire to kill Suksaha as stemmed from selfish intention had been exposing his painful sore. This man was a warrior who used to charge and break through enemy lines, in his anger, he was going to let his fist do the talking against Kangxi, he had never thought about rebelling or defying his superior. When he suddenly saw a little eunuch jumping out from behind the bookshelf and blocking in front of the Emperor, reproaching him, he could not help but was startled and only then did he remember that as a subject, he was making a fist and threatening the Emperor. Hastily he retreated several steps and sternly said, “What nonsense are you talking about? I was only going to make a report to His Majesty; who dares to be rude to His Majesty?” While speaking, he took two more steps backward, with hands hanging on his sides.

The Xiao Xuanzi who had martial art match with Wei Xiaobao every day was indeed the current emperor of the Great Qing, Emperor Kangxi. His given name was Xuan Ye. Realizing that Wei Xiaobao did not recognize him and asked for his name, in his childish innocence, he blurted out his name as ‘Xiao Xuanzi’. Inheriting Manchurian’s habit, he loved to wrestle. It’s just that when one is in training of this kind of skill, one must scuffle and tumble, pull the neck and bend the waist. Although the imperial bodyguards taught him the wrestling technique, who would dare to treat the Emperor in this rude, uncouth manner? Who would dare to pull his dragon head or clutch his imperial neck forcefully? When they were compelled, they would put on a good act. When the Emperor’s imperial leg swept, they would immediately tumble over; when the Emperor’s hand twisted theirs, they would immediately kneel down to surrender. When they were forced to retaliate by a move or half a style, they would only touch the edge of the Emperor’s clothing before stopping instantly.

Kangxi repeatedly urged them to fight for real, but none of the imperial bodyguards had this kind of guts. At most they would make some effort to act better. Even in playing chess with the Emperor, they might make a convincing act of giving a fierce resistance, by making some killing or lock the pieces in inextricably positions, until at the final juncture, they would inevitably lost the game [Book note: reportedly, during the final years of the Qing Dynasty, Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) was playing Chinese chess with certain eunuch; the eunuch captured Cixi’s horse (or knight) and said, ‘Your servant has captured one of Old Buddha’s horses’. [In late Qing Court, the term ‘Old Buddha’ refers exclusively to Empress Dowager Cixi]. Angered by his rude remark, Cixi immediately ordered him to be dragged out and beaten to death].

Actually, it was extremely difficult to pretend in wrestling. Granted that they had to lose eventually, but during the match, who would dare to grab the emperor and fling him away? Kangxi had a very high interest in wrestling. He always saw the imperial bodyguards staking everything they had and displaying hundreds of brilliant techniques when wrestling with each other, but when they wrestled against him, they would immediately shake with fear, their competency dead and their spirit subdued; he was extremely dissatisfied. Later, he took the court eunuchs as his opponents, but every one of those eunuchs only love to take a beating and none dare to retaliate, just like he was fighting dead people.

Being an emperor means he could do whatever he wanted to do, but to find a genuine opponent in martial art match proved to be a very difficult matter to accomplish. Sometimes he really wanted to leave the palace incognito, to find a commoner with whom he may fight, to find out the level of his own martial art skill level. But this kind of action was extremely dangerous, in the end it was no more than a fantasy, which the young emperor indulged in his heart once in a while.

That day when he met Wei Xiaobao, he had a really good fight. Wei Xiaobao was fighting with everything he had, yet in the end he lost. Kangxi was extremely happy, he felt this fight was the most satisfying he had ever had in his entire life. Wei Xiaobao challenged him to have another match the following day; it was exactly his heart’s desire. Henceforth the two of them had a martial art contest every day. From the very beginning, Kang Xi had never exposed his own status. During the match, he also prohibited other eunuchs from coming too near, so as not to let them divulge the secret. As soon as this little eunuch knew the opponent was the Emperor, the match would be not in the least interesting anymore.

There were thousands of court eunuchs in the Palace, those who had never seen the Emperor was also not a few. But when they first entered the Palace, they had to learn all kinds of customs and regulations of the Palace, as well as the color of the clothes to distinguish the relative superiority of the workforce. No one but the impostor Wei Xiaobao see the Emperor’s clothes Kangxi was wearing yet failed to recognize him. To Kangxi however, this muddleheaded little eunuch worth more than ten thousand taels of gold, indeed it was a rare opportunity and extremely valuable to him.

Hereafter Kangxi’s martial art skill gradually progressed; unexpectedly Wei Xiaobao was also able to keep up with him. The two of them fighting back and forth, all along they were like two armies of equivalent banners and drums. Moreover, Wei Xiaobao was only a notch inferior to him, and thus Kangxi must strive to train harder, so that he would not be defeated. He was a very competitive and always-eager-to-outdo-other type of person, the more he progressed, the higher his interest grew; while his favorable impression toward Wei Xiaobao was also greatly increased.

This day Oboi went up the Upper Study Room to present a memorial, petitioning the Emperor to kill Suksaha. Kangxi was already aware that because of internal power struggle between Oboi’s Bordered Yellow Banner and Suksaha’s Plain White Banner, Oboi harbored an enmity against Suksaha. Therefore, his insistence today that Suksaha be executed was because of personal grudges, consequently, he played slowly, unwilling to grant the petition. Who would have thought that Oboi was aggressive and domineering; in his raging temper, he exhibited the bad habit of a man of war; stroking his sleeves and made a fist, he was about to charge forward.

Oboi was a huge man with ferocious look; seeing him coming up aggressively, Kangxi was unavoidably shocked. His imperial bodyguards were waiting outside the study room, so even if he shouted they would be too late to help; besides, most of the imperial bodyguards were Oboi’s trusted aides and cannot be relied on. While he was at a loss of what to do, by lucky coincidence Wei Xiaobao leaped out of his hiding place.

Kangxi was greatly delighted, he thought, “If I join hands with Xiao Guizi, we might be able to fight this Oboi.” But then he saw Oboi retreated, so he was even more relieved.

Wei Xiaobao was unable to restrain his emotion and gave out a cry of alarm, and thus revealed himself. He had no choice but to take a chance, to gamble, by dashing out and barking at Oboi. To his own surprise, Oboi backed off; this made him really happy. He loudly said, “To kill Suksaha or not, naturally it’s His Majesty’s decision. You are being rude to His Majesty, by making fist and was about to hit him, aren’t you afraid to be beheaded and your possessions confiscated?”

His words had touched Oboi’s heart; immediately his back was wet with cold sweat, knowing that just now his action was indeed too reckless. At once he said to Kangxi, “Your Majesty must not listen to this little eunuch’s nonsense. Your servant is a greatly loyal minister.”

Since Kangxi had just taken over the government, he was actually very afraid of Oboi. Seeing Oboi withdrew and yielded, he thought that this was not the right moment to confront him face-to-face; thereupon he said, “Xiao Guizi, step aside.”

Wei Xiaobao bowed and replied, “Yes!” He retreated to one side of the desk.

“Ao Shaobao,” Kangxi said, “I know you are a greatly loyal minister. You are used to charge and break through the enemy lines, and not a refine man like those scholars, I am not going to blame you.”

Oboi was greatly delighted. “Yes, yes,” he hastily said.

Kangxi said, “About Suksaha, I’ll leave it you to handle. You are a greatly loyal minister, he is a greatly treacherous minister. Naturally I will reward loyalty and punish treachery.”

Oboi was even more delighted; he said, “Your Majesty has understood the truth. Hereafter your servant will loyally and devotedly let Your Majesty handle the government affairs.”

“Very good, very good,” Kangxi said, “I will petition Empress Dowager during the morning audience tomorrow, to reward you heavily.”

“Thank you very much, Your Majesty,” Oboi happily said.

“Anything else?” Kangxi asked.

“No, your servant asks to be excused,” Oboi replied. Kangxi nodded. With smile across his entire face, Oboi withdrew.

Kangxi waited until Oboi was out of the room before he jumped out of the chair and said with a laugh, “Xiao Guizi, now you know my secret.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, I … I really deserve to die, I did not know you are the Emperor, and have exchanged blows and kicks with you; that was really too bold.”

Kangxi sighed and said, “Ay, now that you know, you won’t dare to fight with me for real, that will be extremely boring.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “As long as you are not offended, there is no harm in me fighting you for real.”

Kangxi was delighted. “Alright,” he said, “Once you’ve made a promise, if you don’t fight for real, you are not a true man.” While saying that, he held out his hand.

First of all, Wei Xiaobao did not know any court customs, secondly, he was a mischievous person who was afraid of neither the heavens nor the earth; he also held out his hand to grasp the extended hand and said with a laugh, “From now on, if I don’t fight for real, I am not a true man.” Grabbing each other’s hand, the two of them broke into a laughter.

As soon as the crown prince leaves his mother’s womb, he is doomed to be the future emperor. The instructions with which he was nurtures are completely different from those of the average man. His cry, his laugh, his action, his movement, none was not scrutinized by lots of eyes; in fact, he did not even have half a part of freedom. The prisoner locked up in jail can still talk as he wishes; he can still move at will in the confinement of his prison cell. The restriction the crown prince must abide by is actually a hundred times more strict. The ‘master guardian’[1] in charge of teaching him to read, the court eunuchs and palace maids in charge of his day-to-day necessities, were afraid the Crown Prince would befall any mishap, they all lived in constant fear, as if they were facing a bottomless abyss, as if they were treading on thin ice. If the Crown Prince ever utters half a word of wantonness, the master would earnestly advise him, for fear that the Emperor would be provoked to anger. If the Crown Prince wishes to wear a little less clothing, the court eunuchs and palace maids would act as if they were facing imminent catastrophe, for fear that the Crown Prince would catch cold. If any man lives this kind of life since childhood, day and night suffers this kind of strict surveillance, he really miss out a lot of life pleasures. Throughout history, there were a considerable number of muddle-headed monarch and tyrants; this is one of the reasons. After the individual attained the freedom of action when he became the emperor, he would immediately want to vent the depression and anger accumulated over the years, by doing all kinds of misdeed, which other people see as unreliably repulsive, but mostly was nothing more than excessive venting of pent-up energy.

Kangxi also received this kind of strict treatment since childhood. It was not until he took over the government that he often ordered the court eunuchs and palace maids to keep some distance from him, and need not following him left and right. However, in front of his mother and various senior ministers, he still had to follow the rules, to act the part of a youngster with mature disposition. In front of the court eunuchs and palace maids, he still had to display the air of the Emperor, he did not dare to be negligent. In all his life, the number of occasions he was able to laugh heartily was only a handful.

However, young people always love to play and enjoy festivities, which is human nature, there is no difference between an emperor or a beggar. In common people’s homes, any boy can shout and jump randomly, can fight and make a ruckus with their playmates daily. But if this young emperor wanted to enjoy this kind of opportunity, he would need ‘good fortune’ and ‘karma’. Only when he was with Wei Xiaobao did he enjoy true freedom, abandoning his emperor’s persona and wrestled to his heart’s content. Indeed he had never experience such happiness in all his life. During these days, even in his sleep he would often dream of wrestling and frolicking with Wei Xiaobao.

Holding Wei Xiaobao’s hand, Kangxi said, “In front of other people, you call me ‘His Majesty’, but if nobody’s around, we are still like before.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Nothing better than that. Even in my wildest dream I would never thought that you are the Emperor. I always thought that the emperor is an old man with white beard.”

Kangxi mused, “When Father Emperor passed away, he was no more than twenty four years old, not any old man with white beard. Don’t you, this little kid, know anything?” He asked, “Could it be that Hai Laogong has never told you about me?”

“Never,” Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “He only taught me how to practice martial art. Your Majesty, who taught you martial art?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “We said when nobody’s around, we are still like before; why do you call me ‘Your Majesty’?”

Wei Xiaobao also laughed, “That’s right,” he said, “I am a bit nervous.”

Kangxi sighed, he said, “I knew it, as soon as you know I am the Emperor, you won’t fight me like you used to do.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “I will definitely fight you like I used to, it’s just that I am afraid it won’t be easy. Hey, Xiao Xuanzi, who taught you martial art?”

“I can’t tell you that,” Kangxi replied, “Why do you ask?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That fellow Oboi thinks that his own martial art skill is superb, so he wanted to crush you with his fist and wipe you with his palm, he seemed eager to beat people. I am thinking that your Shifu’s martial art skill must be very high, let’s invite your Shifu to deal with him.”

With a faint smile Kangxi shook his head and said, “That won’t do; how can my Shifu do such thing?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Too bad my Shifu Hai Laogong is blind, otherwise we can ask him to beat Oboi, most likely he will be able to defeat him. Ah, I know, tomorrow the two of us join hands to fight him, what do you say? Although this Oboi is Manchurian’s number one warrior, but with the two of us fighting together, we might not necessarily lose.”

Kangxi was ecstatic; “Wonderful, wonderful!” he called out; but immediately realized that this plan would be difficult to execute. He shook his head and sighed, “The Emperor fights his senior minister, that doesn’t make any sense.”

“It would be better if you are not the Emperor,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi nodded; for an instant he was envious of this little eunuch Wei Xiaobao, who was able to do anything he liked. Although he was in the Imperial Palace, he was still free and unrestrained. He also recalled Oboi’s furrowed brows and blazing eyes just now, his aggressive bearing as he strode toward him, and could not stop his heart from thumping fast. He thought, “This man was so rude to me, whoever he wanted to kill, he would simply kill, without giving me any consideration at all. Who is the real emperor? Is it he, or I? But all Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace are under his command, the Eight Banners troops’ movement is also under his control. If I issue an imperial decree ordering his execution, he might raise an upheaval and perhaps he would kill me first. I must replace the Imperial Bodyguard Chief first, and then take away his military leadership; next I must remove him from his Executive Minister position, and lastly push him out of the Wu Men [Meridian Gate], and behead him publicly; only then will I vent the hatred in my heart.”

But then he had a second thought that this plan was not appropriate, since as soon as he replaced the Imperial Bodyguard Chief, Oboi would immediately know that he was about to deal with him. This man wielded enormous power; if he managed to strike first and gain the upper hand, Kangxi himself would suffer calamity. Thereupon he decided not to make any move for the time being, and waited until he could think of a proper method before making his move.

He did not want to appear clueless in front of Wei Xiaobao, thereupon he said, “Go back to Hai Laogong’s place, practice your martial art well, tomorrow we still have a martial art match over there.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied.

Kangxi added, “Don’t say anything about you seeing me and Oboi.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “There is no one else here, if I want to leave I can just leave, I don’t have to pay respect and kowtow to you.”

Kangxi laughed aloud; he waved his hand and said, “No need, tomorrow we still have an appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet.”

Although Wei Xiaobao had failed to steal the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, but he discovered that the person he had martial art match with every day was unexpectedly the Emperor, so he was extremely excited. Fortunately Hai Laogong was blind, so he was unable to see anything different on Wei Xiaobao’s expression; yet he felt that Wei Xiaobao was especially talkative that day, only he did not know what matter had made him very cheerful, so he tried to probe him with several questions, but Wei Xiaobao was alert, he did not slip even half a word.

The next day Wei Xiaobao went to have a martial art match with Kangxi. He had every intention to fight just like he always did; however, since he was aware the opponent was the Emperor, although while he managed to give a tight defense, his offense was involuntary weak and powerless. Kangxi understood his kindly feelings, so he also reduce his power in his offense, thinking that since the opponent was damped by his own conscience, if he launched an all out attack, the victory he earned would be an unfair one. They only fought for a short moment and Wei Xiaobao had already lost two rounds.

Kangxi sighed and said, “Xiao Guizi, why did you go to my study room yesterday?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wen Youdao had a fever yesterday, and could not get up. His brother asked me to help him clean up and tidying the Upper Study Room. I have never done it before, so I was a bit slow; I did not expect to meet you.” He spoke those words seriously, not only his face did not change, he himself was also convinced that that was what actually happened.

Kangxi said, “After you find out that I am the Emperor, we cannot have any real fight anymore.” There was disappointment in his voice.

“I also felt that I don’t have any strength to fight today,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Suddenly Kangxi remembered something, he said, “I know what to do. Since we cannot fight anymore, I can watch you fight with other people. At least that will satisfy my craving. Come, let us change our clothes, we’ll go to the clothes warehouse.”

“What kind of place is the clothes warehouse?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Is it the place where you store the fabric?”

Kangxi laughed, “No,” he said, “The clothes warehouse is where the warriors train martial art and wrestling.”

Clapping his hands, Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s wonderful!”

Kangxi changed his clothes, Wei Xiaobao followed behind him. When he finished changing his long gown, accompanied by sixteen court eunuchs, the ones in front shouting his arrival, the ones in rear escorting him, he went to the clothes warehouse to see the warriors wrestling. His expression was stately, he no longer chit-chatted with Wei Xiaobao.

Seeing the arrival of the Emperor, none of the warriors did not strive to excel the others. Kangxi watched for a while, then he called a big and fat warrior over and said, “I have a little eunuch here, he had learned a bit of wrestling. I want you to teach him some tricks.” Turning his head to Wei Xiaobao he said, “I want you to learn from him.” As he said this he signaled him with his left eye. The two of them had seen that although this warrior was big and tall, he was quite clumsy, it looked like he was not Wei Xiaobao’s match.

The two of them went down the arena and wrestled several rounds. Wei Xiaobao launched the ‘push the boat with the current’ move, intending to push the warrior away. Unexpectedly, the warrior’s body was too heavy, whatever he did, he simply could not push him away. The warriors’ chief turned around and winked several times. The big fat warrior understood, he pretended to stumble and fell down on the floor, and did not crawl back up for quite some time.

The crowd of warriors and eunuchs broke in loud cheers. Kangxi was very happy, he ordered a nearby eunuch to reward Wei Xiaobao with a silver ingot. Kangxi thought, “Xiao Guizi’s martial art skill is inferior to mine, if he can push this fat fellow down, so can I.” His heart was unbearably itching to give it a try, but he was the Lord of Ten-thousand Years, and must not go down the arena to fight. He sighed and said to the nearby eunuch, “Choose thirty little eunuchs, around fourteen, fifteen years of age, tell them to come over here to train every day. Whoever makes the fastest progress like Xiao Guizi here, will receive a reward.” With a smile on his face the eunuch complied, thinking that the Emperor still had his childish nature, and wanted to have some new toys to play with.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his room. Hai Laogong asked him the result of his martial art match with Xiao Xuanzi today. Wei Xiaobao narrated the fight dramatically, as if it was a great war, with both sides involved in an extraordinarily intense battle. But under Hai Laogong’s interrogation, he soon revealed some flaws in the story. With a straight face Hai Laogong asked, “What happened to Xiao Xuanzi? Is he ill today?”

“He isn’t,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But he is not in a good spirit.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “Tell me everything, from beginning to end, every move and every style.” Wei Xiaobao knew he could not conceal anything from him; having no other choice, he gave him a truthful account of what actually happened.

Hai Laogong raised his head and slowly said, “With this move you clearly can pull his head to the left, but you wrapped your arms around his body instead, to such an extent that you lost. It’s not that you cannot do it, but rather, you were deliberately yielding to him; why is that?”

“I was not deliberately yielding to him,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “It’s just that he did not hit me too hard, so I was also being lenient to him. He and I have become good friends, naturally we both did not use too much force.” Thinking that he had become a good friend of the Emperor, he could not help but was feeling very proud of himself.

“You and he have become good friends?” Hai Laogong said, “Humph, it’s not that you were being lenient to him, but you did not dare to knock him. Finally … finally you know?”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart skipped a beat, with a trembling voice he said, “Know … know what?”

Hai Laogong said, “Did he tell you himself, or did you guess?”

“What are you talking about?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t understand.”

Hai Laogong sternly said, “Just tell me truthfully! (Cough, cough … Cough, cough …) How did you know Xiao Xuanzi’s identity?” He reached out and grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s left wrist.

Immediately Wei Xiaobao felt severe pain enter his bone marrow, with the bones of his hand cracking, as if it was about to snap. “I surrender, I surrender!” he called out.

“How did you know?” Hai Laogong asked, his grip was getting tighter instead.

“Hey, hey, you … you … don’t you understand the rule?” Wei Xiaobao cried out, “I already shouted ‘surrender’ and you still haven’t let go?”

“I am asking you, you’d better answer me nicely,” Hai Laogong said.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “If you knew long ago who Xiao Xuanzi really is, I will talk reason with you. Otherwise, even if you pinch me to death, I will not tell you.”

“What’s so strange about it?” Hai Laogong said, “Xiao Xuanzi is His Majesty; when I started teaching you the ‘big grappling technique’, I was already aware of it.” While saying that he let Wei Xiaobao go.

“Turns out you already knew,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “I had a hard time hiding it from you. In that case there is no harm in me telling you.” Thereupon he narrated how he met Kangxi and Oboi by accident in the Upper Study Room the previous day, he also talked about how he knock down a big fat warrior at the clothes warehouse today; he spoke with his eyebrows dancing around. Hai Laogong was listening attentively, he constantly interrupted the story with questions.

Finished telling the story, Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty ordered me not to say anything to you, if you reveal this secret, our two heads will roll.”

Hai Laogong coldly said, “His Majesty is your good friend, he won’t kill you, he’ll kill me.”

Immensely proud of himself, Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s good that you know.”

Hai Laogong was deep in thought for half a day, then he said, “His Majesty wants thirty little eunuchs to train martial art together, what’s his intention? Most probably his hands are itching, fighting with you did not satisfy his craving, so he is looking for some little eunuchs to receive his beatings.” Standing up, he walked in circle around the room for ten times, he then said, “Xiao Guizi, do you want to flatter the Emperor?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “He is my good friend; making a friend happy is also a principle of being friends.”

Hai Laogong sternly said, “I have something to tell you, I want you to remember it well. From now on, whenever the Emperor says you are his friend or what have you, you must never accept it. Who do you think you are, that you can be the Emperor’s friend? Today he is only a child, and he said that in a cheerful mood; how can you take it seriously? If you keep speaking nonsense, just be careful with the head above your neck.”

Actually, Wei Xiaobao also realized that this kind of matter should not be spoken thoughtlessly or randomly; as soon as he was reminded by Hai Laogong with such hasty words and stern countenance, he stuck out his tongue and said, “Later I won’t say it even if my head is chopped. It’s just that after the head rolls to the ground, whether the mouth can still speak or not, perhaps we need to pay particular attention.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong snorted, “Do you want to learn high quality martial art or not?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “If you want to teach me high quality martial art, that’s truly what I’ve been looking for. Gong-gong, you have such a good martial art skill, but you did not take a single disciple to pass it on, isn’t that a pity?”

Hai Laogong said, “There are too many sinister and deceitful people in the world, while those who are honest, considerate and sincere are a few. If I took a bad disciple and let him conspire against his Shifu, why bother?”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was stirred, he mused, “I made his eyes blind, I wonder if he had a bit of suspicion in his heart? This is a matter of life and death, I simply must investigate it clearly.” But looking at Hai Laogong’s wooden face, he could not see any trace of anger; thereupon he said, “That’s right, one who is trustworthy and loyal to you, is not easy to find. I am afraid in this whole wide world there is only Xiao Guizi one person. Gong-gong, why do you think I went to the Upper Study Room? I brave the danger, risking my head, to steal that ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ for you. It’s just that in His Majesty’s study room the books number in thousands and ten thousands, and I don’t know too many characters …”

“Um,” Hai Laogong interrupted, “You don’t know too many characters!”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart jumped. “Aiyo, not good!” he cried out inwardly, “I don’t know if Xiao Guizi knew many characters or not, if he knew a lot of characters, what I said might give me away.” He said hastily, “I looked everywhere, but did not find that ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. But don’t worry, later I can go to the Upper Study Room often, I will then be able to snatch this book like leading away a got in passing[2], or plucking the peach away while the leaves are falling.”

“You haven’t forgotten,” Hai Laogong said, “That’s good.”

“How can I forget?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Gong-gong’s kind treatment to me need not be mentioned. If I cannot think of something to repay you, in my entire life, I would have become a man in vain.”

“Hmm,” Hai Laogong mumbled, “If I cannot think of something to repay you, in my entire life, I would have become a man in vain.” These words were said in icy cold tone. Listening to this, Wei Xiaobao could not restrain the hair on his back from rising up. But when he stole a glance toward Hai Laogong’s face, he could not read the slightest bit of clue of what he was thinking.

“The old turtle is very formidable,” Wei Xiaobao thought, “He knew early on that Xiao Xuanzi is the Emperor, but never revealed it the least bit. I must be very careful; if he knew that I caused his blindness, if I, Wei Xiaobao, can keep my own eyes, then surely the Heavens do not have eyes.”

The two of them faced each other silently. Half-step by half-step Wei Xiaobao crept toward the door. As soon as he saw Hai Laogong’s face show ill-expression, he would bolt out the door and escape from the Palace, this time he would never come back. But he only heard Hai Laogong said, “Later on you must not use the ‘big grappling technique’ against His Majesty. If the training of this kind of martial art continued, it would become a tendon-tearing, bone-snapping technique, it could dislocate joints and break people’s muscles and bones; how can it be used against the Emperor?”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Hai Laogong continued, “Starting today, I am going to teach you different skill, it is called the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’.”

“The name is so strange,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have heard the ‘great compassion great sorrow, helping the distress, Guanshiyin Pusa’ [Goddess of Mercy, Avalokitesvara].”

“Have you seen the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’?” Hai Laogong asked.

“The ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Yes, I have. Guanyin Pusa has so many hands. Each hand is holding different object, there is water bottle, there is a twig, and then a basket, a bell, it’s very interesting.”

“Did you see it in the temple at Yangzhou?” Hai Laogong asked.

“The temple at Yangzhou?” Wei Xiaobao said. This time his shock was really not a small matter. Like an arrow he darted toward the door, and was about to run outside.

Hai Laogong said, “In all the world, the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’ can only be found in the temple at Yangzhou. If you have never been to the temple at Yangzhou, how can you see the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’?”

Wei Xiaobao silently let out a deep breath, thinking, “Turns out only the temple at Yangzhou has the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’; you scared the piss out of me.” Hastily he said, “How can I go to Yangzhou? What kind of place is Yangzhou? Whatever the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’ is, I only heard it from others, I have never seen it. I was thinking of blowing my horn in front of you, Senior, bragging my knowledge, who would have thought you are experienced and knowledgeable, and was able to see through my big talk.”

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “To expose a little smart-aleck’s[3] big talk like yours is really not easy.”

“It’s easy, it’s easy,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If I say a sentence of lie, you, Senior, will expose it in less than an hour.”

“Mmm,” Hai Laogong mumbled, “Are you cold?” he asked, “Why don’t you wear more clothes?”

“I am not cold,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Then how come your voice is a bit trembling?” Hai Laogong asked.

“There was a cold draft just a moment ago,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But now it’s all right.”

“The wind is strong by the door,” Hai Laogong said, “Don’t stand at the entrance.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied, and walked several steps inside, but all along he did not dare to come close to Hai Laogong.

Hai Laogong said, “The ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ is a Buddhist martial art, when used in a fight, it can control the opponent, but will not kill or harm people; this is the most benevolent martial art in the world.”

“This style of martial art will not kill or harm people,” Wei Xiaobao said, “To be used in a fight against the Emperor, nothing is better than this.”

“But this martial art is very difficult to learn,” Hai Laogong said, “There are many outstanding styles, it won’t be easy to memorize it thoroughly.”

“Since there are many outstanding styles,” Wei Xiaobao argued, “It doesn’t matter if I cannot remember all; even if I have forgotten most, the remaining ones will still be not a few.”

“Humph, lazy kid,” Hai Laogong said, “You haven’t even started, yet you are already nurturing the idea of laziness. In all your life, you can forget of ever mastering any excellent martial art skill.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “If I want to learn such a formidable martial art like you, Senior, have, in all my life naturally I will be like an old cat smelling a hanging salted fish, smells good, smells good[4].” While in his heart he said, “Even if I train so that my martial art skill is exactly the same as yours, in the end your eyes were still blinded by other people, and you old turtle are very happy about it?”

“Come over here,” Hai Laogong said.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied, and took several steps forward, but he stopped several feet[5] away from Hai Laogong.

“Are you afraid I am going to eat you?” Hai Laogong said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “My flesh is sour, it does not taste good.”

Hai Laogong raised his left hand, suddenly he sent out a palm strike. Wei Xiaobao was shocked, he wanted to evade to the right, but suddenly, ‘whack, whack!’ his back was slapped twice, immediately he knelt down and was unable to move. He frantically thought, “This is it, he … he is going to take my life away.”

Hai Laogong said, “This is the first move of the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’, it’s called ‘South Sea Worships Buddha’. The two acupoints on your back are being sealed. But sealing acupoint is a very difficult technique to learn, plus you have to have good internal strength foundation. When fighting against His Majesty, you can’t possibly seal his acupoint for real and force him to kneel down in front of you. Just remember the technique, and go through the motion, performing the style, that should be enough.” As he said that, he reached down on Wei Xiaobao’s back and pressed on the two acupoints.

Immediately Wei Xiaobao’s limbs were able to move again. Calming his heart, he slowly stood up, while thinking, “Turns out the old turtle is teaching me martial art. He scared the wits out of me, I wonder if I will ever get it back.”

That day Hai Laogong taught him three moves, he said, “The first day is especially hard. Later on if you are diligent, you can learn many more moves.”

The next day Wei Xiaobao did not go gambling, shortly before noon he went to the small room where he usually have martial art match, and waited for Kangxi there. Knowing that the cakes, pastries and light snacks were supposed to be for the Emperor, he did not dare to pick up anything anymore. But after waiting for more than an hour, Kangxi still did not show up. “That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “Since fighting with me has lost its flavor, he does not want to play anymore.” Thereupon he went to the Upper Study Room.

The imperial bodyguard on duty outside the study room had seen Kangxi brought Wei Xiaobao to the clothes warehouse the previous day, he was familiar with Wei Xiaobao’s appearance, knowing that he was the little eunuch whom the Emperor favored, and thus he did not stop him.

Entering the study room, Wei Xiaobao saw Kangxi was kicking a leather stool. He kicked again and again, with anger across his face, while repeatedly shouted, “Kick you to death, kick you to death!”

“Is he practicing a kicking skill?” Wei Xiaobao wondered in his heart. Not daring to interfere, he stood quietly on the side with hands hanging down.

After kicking for a while, Kangxi raised his head and saw Wei Xiaobao; with smile on his face he said, “I felt stifled, come play with me.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Hai Laogong taught me new martial art technique, called the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’, it is fiercer than the one he previously taught me, the ‘big grappling technique’. He said when I have mastered it, you won’t be my match for sure.”

“What kind of martial art is that?” Kangxi asked, “Show it to me.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to attack you!” Both of his palms flew up, ‘South Sea Worships Buddha’, ‘Gold and Jade Roof Tiles’, ‘Breath of Life’ altogether three moves were performed, fast and nimble, toward Kangxi’s back, shoulder, left side of his torso, right leg, and his throat, five points, which Wei Xiaobao lightly pat with his fingers. The changes of ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ were quite peculiar, it was entirely different from the ‘big grappling technique’. Kangxi was caught off-guard and was not able to dodge a single move. Wei Xiaobao was using a very light force, so naturally Kangxi did not feel any pain. Actually, with Wei Xiaobao not having any internal energy, his physical strength was also very weak, even if they fight seriously, several hits would not bring any harm. However, with one attack he successfully hit five times; it had never happened before.

“Ah!” Kangxi cried out in astonishment, “This martial art is very amazing. Come again tomorrow, I am going to ask Shifu to teach me an excellent martial art as well. We’ll have another match.”

“Excellent, excellent!” Wei Xiaobao said.

Returning to his residence, he recounted what Kangxi had said. Hai Laogong said, “I wonder what kind of martial art will his Shifu teach him. Today you are going to learn several more moves from the ‘Thousand-Leaf Hand’.”

That day Wei Xiaobao learned six moves, namely ‘Watching Reflection in the Mirror’, ‘Catching the Moon in the Water’, ‘Floating Clouds Coming and Going’, ‘Water Bubble Vanishing and Reappearing’, ‘A Very Clear Dream’, ‘Emptiness After Realization’. These six moves were all very mysterious; they seemed to be hidden, yet in plain sight, the changes were unpredictable, without clear pattern, many fake attacks, a few real ones. Hai Laogong only wanted Wei Xiaobao to memorize the motion, without explaining the subtlety of the style, so much so that he did not even verify whether the execution of the style was proper, or the position of the move was perfect. First, Hai Laogong could not see, second, he hardly paid any attention.

Seeing how Hai Laogong was so casual in teaching him, Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted. He mused, “You teach me carelessly, I also learn sloppily; the two of us can be considered going through this muddle-headedly together. If you want to take it seriously, laozi does not have idle time to accompany you playing.”

The next day Wei Xiaobao went to the Upper Study Room, and saw there were four guards, which he had not seen before, standing outside the door. While he was hesitating, one of the guards said with a smile, “Are you Gui Gong-gong? His Majesty ordered you to come in immediately.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “What Gui Gong-gong?” he mused, but then understood immediately, “Laozi is Gui Gong-gong! This imperial bodyguard knows I am the Emperor’s trusted aide, so he is particularly polite to me.” Thereupon he laughed and nodded his head, saying, “Fortunate meeting, fortunate meeting. May I ask the surnames of the four of you?” The four imperial guards told him their surnames and given names. Wei Xiaobao exchanged some pleasantries with them.

The guard surnamed Zhang laughed and said, “You’d better go in quickly, His Majesty has been asking about you several times.” Wei Xiaobao walked in.

Kangxi sprang up from the chair and laughed, “Your three moves yesterday, my Shifu has taught me how to counter them. Let us try it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Since your Shifu said you are going to counter it, naturally you will counter it; there is no need to try.”

“We must try it!” Kangxi said, “You go quietly to our martial art match hall first, don’t let anybody know, I will come shortly.” Wei Xiaobao complied, and went to the small room. Kangxi had just learned a new set of skill, he was impatient to test it out, therefore, he arrived shortly afterwards.

The two of them fought immediately. Kangxi did indeed use ingenious technique, he managed to neutralize the three moves Wei Xiaobao launched the previous day, but still, Wei Xiaobao managed to land a palm strike on the back of his shoulder.

Seeing the brilliant moves Kangxi was displaying, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was also full of admiration; he asked, “This set of technique you are using, what is it called?”

Kangxi replied, “This is the ‘Ba Gua[6] Roaming Dragon Palm’. My Shifu said, your ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ has too many styles, and is very troublesome to memorize. Our ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ only has eight times eight, sixty-four styles, but changes repeatedly, so when used to the greatest extent, it may match your ‘Thousand-leaf Hand’.”

“Which one is superior?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I also asked the same thing,” Kangxi said, “Shifu said that these two are equally excellent palm techniques, so it’s hard to say which one is superior. Whoever has profound power, and able to use it ingeniously, will win.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Yesterday I learned six more moves. You may try it.”

Right away he launched the six moves he learned yesterday. Although the second and third moves were completely forgotten, and the fifth move was executed incorrectly, Kangxi was still hit seven, eight times. Kangxi nodded and said, “These six moves of yours are amazing, I must learn how to counter them.”

Wei Xiaobao returned to his residence and told Hai Laogong how Kangxi had learned the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’. Hai Laogong nodded his head and said, “As a matter of fact, our Shaolin Pai’s ‘Thousand-Leaf Hand’, only Wudang Pai’s ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ can be its match. His Shifu was not wrong. The palm techniques of our two Sects have their respective advantage; whoever master it better will be the more formidable one.”

“He is the Emperor,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can I surpass him? Of course I’ll have to let him learn a good deal better.” He was unwilling to assiduously train martial art, and thus had arranged a good excuse for his falling behind.

Hai Laogong said, “If you are too disappointing, His Majesty won’t have any interest to spar with you.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There is a saying: brilliant teacher will produce superior student, there are no poor soldiers under a capable general. You are a brilliant teacher, and also a capable general; the person you teach cannot be too disappointing. You are the Old Wang’an, releasing a hundred and twenty kind-hearted men!” [I am not sure about this, can’t find any reference.]

Hai Laogong shook his head, he said, “Don’t boast too much, the dishes on the table are getting cold, eat the bowl of soup first!”

“Let me serve you, Senior, the soup,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“I don’t eat the soup,” Hai Laogong said, “Each time I eat, I am coughing.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said. He took the soup by himself and mused, “I, the Senior, ate the soup and am not coughing.”

For the next several months, Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao learned their styles and had martial art contest. The two of them did not have any real fight, neither one of them exerted their full potential and strived with all their hearts to score victory, unavoidably the delight in fighting with everything they had had diminished greatly. The styles they were learning were getting more and more complicated, as were the techniques to counter them, and the variations within the styles. However, the match had turned into a cultured contest, just like a game of chess, not resembling any fight at all. Kangxi knew perfectly well that Wei Xiaobao would not dare to kick his butt fiercely, nor would he be comfortable to deliver a heavy blow on his head.

Wei Xiaobao only learned martial art to keep the Emperor company, he himself had no interest at all. He would learn new moves, and forget the previous ones. It was obvious that Kangxi’s Shifu was also rather negligent in teaching him. The two of them made an extremely slow progress, their interest in having a match was also greatly reduced. Later on, several days would pass before Kangxi would exchange a move with Wei Xiaobao.

During this time, other than having martial art match with Wei Xiaobao, Kangxi often took Wei Xiaobao to the study room to accompany him studying. The imperial bodyguards and the court eunuchs in the Palace all knew that the little eunuch from the Catering Department, Xiao Guizi, was now the Emperor’s most favorite person. When they saw him, nobody dared to call his name ‘Xiao Guizi’ straight out, they always addressed him as Gui Gong-gong this and Gui Gong-gong that, and were very respectful and affectionate towards him.

Wei Xiaobao still wanted to win Hai Laogong’s favor, each time he went to the Upper Study Room, he was always looking for the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ for him, but after looking around everywhere, he was still unable to find it.

One particular day, after having a martial art match with Wei Xiaobao, with a serious expression Kangxi said in low voice, “Xiao Guizi, tomorrow we have a very important thing to do, come a bit earlier to the study room and wait for me.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied. He knew the Emperor did not like to talk too much, if he did not say what important thing was, he must not ask too much questions.

The next day he arrived at the study room early and waited. Kangxi said in low voice, “I want you to do something for me, do you have the courage?”

“You want me to do something, what is there for me to be afraid of?” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“This is a matter of utmost importance,” Kangxi said, “If not handled properly, you and I will have our lives to worry.”

Wei Xiaobao was rather alarmed, he said, “At most it is my life we are talking about; you are the Emperor, who dares to harm you? What’s more, with you watching over me, whatever I say will not put my life in jeopardy.” He thought that he must state it up front, that if I, Wei Xiaobao, has my life in jeopardy, you as the Emperor must be responsible, you cannot ignore me.

Kangxi said, “This Oboi is harsh and unreasonable, he is a rude bully, his heart has different scheme. Today we are going to deal with him, do you dare?”

Wei Xiaobao had lived in the Palace for quite a long time. Other than practicing martial art and accompanying Kangxi, he had very little time to enjoy himself. For the last several months Hai Laogong forbade him to gamble with the Wen brothers and the others, only occasionally did he manage to steal a game or two. Besides, his martial art match against Kangxi was getting more and more boring. While he was feeling stifled, hearing that they were going to deal with Oboi, he could not help but was delighted.

“Wonderful, wonderful!” he said, “I told earlier that the two of us join hands should take him. Even if he is the number one warrior of Manchuria, you and I have trained so much that our skill is not too bad, definitely we are not afraid of him.”

Kangxi shook his head, “I am the Emperor,” he said, “I can’t fight with him personally. This Oboi is holding two consecutive jobs, he is a minister, but also the commander of the internal imperial bodyguards. All the imperial bodyguards in the Palace are his men. If he knew I am going to arrest him, most likely he would revolt. If all the imperial bodyguards join the action, you and I won’t be able to protect our lives, even the Emperor’s Grandmother and Empress Dowager may run into misfortune. Thus, this matter is really dangerous.”

Striking his chest with his hand Wei Xiaobao said, “In that case I am going to wait for him outside the Palace, I’ll catch him off-guard, and stab him dead with a dagger. If the stab did not kill him, he wouldn’t know it was your idea.”

“This man’s martial art skill is superb,” Kangxi said, “Plus you are still little, you are not his match. Moreover, outside the Palace gate his bodyguards are numerous, you will have difficulty just to be near him. Even if you succeed in assassinating him, I am afraid you will also be killed by his bodyguards. I have another idea.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi continued, “Let’s wait until he come over here to present his memorial, I will arrange several little eunuchs in advance to wait in here. When you see the teacup in my hand falls down, pounce on him and twist his hands behind his back. More than ten little eunuchs will then attack together, pulling his hands and legs, stopping him from using his martial art. If that is still not enough, I will have to come forward and help.”

“This is a wonderful idea,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Do you have a knife? We must not mess up this matter; if we fail to arrest him, I will simply kill him with the knife.”

At first, after killing Xiao Guizi, he always kept a dagger in his boot; later on he found out that Xiao Xuanzi was the Emperor. During the exchange of palm strikes, oftentimes he had to jump and dodge, he was afraid the dagger would fall from his boot. Other than imperial bodyguards on duty, if anybody else was found carrying any blade, the crime was punishable by beheading; therefore, he did not dare to carry his dagger anymore.

Kangxi nodded, he pulled his desk drawer and took out a couple of golden-handled daggers. He gave one to Wei Xiaobao, and inserted the other one into his own boot. Wei Xiaobao also hid the dagger into his boot. He felt his blood surged, his body grew hot and his breathing quickened. “Good fellow,” he said, “We’ll deal with him!”

Kangxi said, “Go get twelve little eunuchs here.” Wei Xiaobao complied and went out to get the eunuchs.

These little eunuchs had been practicing tumbling and wrestling at the clothes warehouse for the last several months. Although they did not know any martial art, their skill in pulling hands and holding onto legs was not too bad. Kangxi said to the twelve little eunuchs, “You all have trained for several months, I don’t know whether you are making progress or not. In a moment a senior minister will come in. This man is our dynasty’s expert in tumbling and wrestling. I will let him testing your skill. As soon as you see me throwing down the teacup, attack him together. Catch him unaware with twelve against one. If you can hold him down and render him immovable, I will reward you heavily.” After saying that, he pulled the drawer and drew out twelve yuanbao, worth fifty taels each. He said, “If you win, each one will receive one yuanbao, but if you lose, twelve heads will roll together. This bunch of lazy, useless fellows, why would I want to spare?” The last two sentences were said with stern voice and expression.

The twelve little eunuchs knelt down together and said, “Your servants will do our best to handle this matter for Your Majesty.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Handle what matter? I am only testing you, I want to see which one is diligent, which one is lazy.”

Wei Xiaobao secretly admired him, “He did not reveal anything in front of the little eunuchs, to guard against these little demons lose their patience and reveal the secret plan in Oboi’s presence.”

After the little eunuchs withdrew, Kangxi picked up a book from the desk and started to read. Wei Xiaobao could hear him reciting in low voice; unexpectedly his voice did not tremble, his hands did not shake. Confronted with an important event, he was as calm as ever; while Wei Xiaobao felt his hands were clammy, and his body was hot. He cursed himself secretly, “Wei Xiaobao, you are a son of a b1tch, this time you prove yourself to be inferior to Xiao Xuanzi. Your martial art skill is not as good as his, your mental power is also inferior to him.” But then he thought, “He is the Emperor, naturally his courage is greater than mine. Nothing so special about it. If I were the Emperor, naturally I will surpass him.” yet in the deepest part of his heart he knew it was hard to justify what he had just told himself.

A good half a day later, there was sound of boots outside the door, an imperial bodyguard announced, “Ao Shaobao desires to have an audience with the Emperor, wishing His Majesty ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold.”

“Ao Shaobao, come in!” Kangxi said. Oboi raised the curtain and walked in. He knelt down and kowtowed.

Kangxi said with a laugh, ” Ao Shaobao, you are just in time. I have here more than ten little eunuchs who have practiced wrestling. I heard that you are our Manchuria’s warrior with number one martial art skill. How about you give directions to them for several stances?”

With a smile Oboi said, “Your Majesty has the desire, the Minister will serve with my ability.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Xiao Guizi, tell the imperial bodyguards outside to go take a break. They do not need to come back unless summoned.” As he said that, he laughed toward Oboi and made a face. Oboi laughed aloud. Wei Xiaobao went out to do the bidding.

In a low voice Kangxi said, “Ao Shaobao, you advised me not to read Han people’s books, I think you are very right. We’d better spend our time in the study room wrestling and having fun, but don’t let other people hear about it. If the Empress Dowager finds out, she will force me to study.”

Oboi was delighted. “That’s right, that’s right, that’s right!” he repeatedly said, “Your Majesty’s idea is very brilliant. Those Han people books, what’s the use of reading them?”

Wei Xiaobao returned and said, “The imperial bodyguards thank Your Majesty for your kindness, they all have withdrawn.”

“Good,” Kang laughed, “Let us play. Little eunuchs, twelve of you form six pairs, spar with each other.”

The twelve little eunuchs rolled their sleeves and tightened their belts, they split into six pairs and attacked each other. Oboi watched with smile on his face; seeing these little eunuchs’ skill was only so-so, he shook his head and laughed. Kangxi picked up the teacup and drank a mouthful. He said with a laugh, “Ao Shaobao, do you think these children’s skill is useable?”

Oboi laughed and said, “To put up a show, they are passable!”

Kangxi laughed, “Compared to you, Ao Shaobao, naturally they are inadequate!” he said. He leaned sideways, his hand loosened, ‘crash!’ the teacup fell to the floor. “Aiyo!” he cried out.

Oboi was startled, he said, “Your Majesty …” the two words had just come out of his mouth, behind him the twelve little eunuchs pounced at him at the same time, pulling his hands and climbing onto his arms, wrapping their arms around his waist and holding on to his legs, attacking him from all sides.

Kangxi laughed aloud and said, ” Ao Shaobao, pay attention!”

Oboi only knew the young Emperor was inciting the little eunuchs to test his martial art skill; with a smile he flung his arms, four little eunuchs fell down to the ground. He still did not dare to use too much force, for fear that he might injure the little eunuchs. His left leg lightly swept, two more little eunuchs were swept down. He roared in laughter. The remaining little eunuchs remembered the Emperor’s words, ‘if you lose, twelve heads will roll together’; with everything they had they firmly hold on to Oboi’s waist and legs.

Wei Xiaobao had already slipped behind him, aiming for the ‘sun acupoint’ on Oboi’s temple, he sent out a ferocious punch. Oboi only felt a burst of dizziness in his brain; he was slightly angered, “These little eunuchs are very rude,” he thought. With a swift sweep of his left arm he threw three little eunuchs away. But when he turned around, his chest was hit by Wei Xiaobao’s fist. Although Wei Xiaobao’s two sneak attacks could be considered very quick, his strength was lacking, so that although Oboi was hit on vital points, he did not suffer any serious harm.

Seeing the one launching the sneak attack was unexpectedly the little eunuch close to the Emperor, he had a vague feeling that things were worse than he thought, yet in the end he refused to believe that the Emperor was using these children to apprehend him. Stretching out his left palm, he pressed down on Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder. Wei Xiaobao used the move ‘Emptiness After Realization’, his left palm feigned two attacks in front of Oboi. As Oboi ducked, ‘bang!’ the pit of his stomach was squarely kicked. “Ah!” but it was Wei Xiaobao who cried out. What happened was that when his kick landed on Oboi’s chest, he felt as if he was kicking a brick wall, he felt severe pain on his own leg instead.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao repeatedly using killer stances against him, Oboi was startled and angered. In the heat of the battle, he did not have time to think the Emperor’s real intention; he only thought that as soon as he was able to extricate himself from the little eunuchs’ entanglement, he would deal with Wei Xiaobao first. But the little eunuchs were holding fast to his waist and legs, as soon as he managed to throw several eunuchs, the rest were pouncing at him.

Kangxi clapped his hands and laughed. “Ao Shaobao,” he said, “I am afraid you are going to lose.”

Oboi was about to crush the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head with his fist, hearing Kangxi, he said in his heart, “So you just want to joke with me; how can I lower myself to these little children’s level?” Deflecting his arm slightly and reducing his power, ‘whack!’ his punch landed on Wei Xiaobao’s right shoulder with only one-tenth of his strength. But Oboi’s strength was inexhaustible, it was said that during the battle with the Ming army, with his bare hands he was able to grab Ming’s officers and soldiers and hurled them away randomly, just like a tornado sweeping away everything in its path.

Wei Xiaobao only learned martial art casually for several months, plus he was only a child; although he had a throng of little eunuchs to help him, how could he overcome him? When the punch landed, Wei Xiaobao staggered and tumbled forward. Seizing this opportunity, he sent out his left elbow to strike the small of Oboi’s back.

Oboi laughed and cursed him, “You, this baby, are very crafty!” while lightly pushing Wei Xiaobao’s back with his right hand. Wei Xiaobao hit the ground head first, but when he stood up, there was a dagger in his hand. Turning around swiftly, he pounced on Oboi.

Suddenly seeing the shining dagger in Wei Xiaobao’s hand, Oboi was taken by surprise, he stared blankly for a moment then called out, “You … what are you doing?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I use dagger, you use your bare hands, let us fight!”

“Quickly put the knife down!” Oboi barked, “In the presence of His Majesty, must not use any murder weapon.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “You want me to put it down, I’ll put it down.” Stooping down, he inserted the dagger into his boot.

By this time there were still seven, eight little eunuchs holding on firmly onto Oboi. Suddenly Wei Xiaobao dropped down, as if he had lost his footing; his body bumped into Oboi, the dagger went straight up, he wanted to stab Oboi’s belly. Unexpectedly Oboi had a quick reaction in facing danger; swiftly he shrank backward and the dagger stabbed his thigh. With a loud roar Oboi flung three little eunuchs and seized Wei Xiaobao’s neck.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao and the little eunuchs failed to hold Oboi down, Kangxi knew their situation was dire; circling toward Oboi’s back, he pulled his dagger and stabbed it toward Oboi’s back. Feeling the sting of pain on his back, Oboi quickly contracted the muscle on his back, Kangxi’s stab slipped; it did not hit any vital point. Without too much trouble Oboi flung Wei Xiaobao away, and turned around as swift as a whirlwind; he saw a young man before his eyes, which was precisely the Emperor.

Oboi was stunned; Kangxi jumped two steps back. Oboi let out another roar; at last he understood that the Emperor wanted to take his life. Shaking his fist in the air he pounced on Kangxi. Kangxi sidestepped, Oboi grabbed two little eunuchs and smashed their heads against each other. Two skulls immediately split open. Oboi sent out his left fist straight toward a little eunuch’s chest, followed by a fierce kick with his right leg, sending four little eunuchs crashing onto the wall. Their muscle torn, their bones broken; without even a grunt they all died instantly. Right away he raised his left leg to trample the abdomen of a little eunuch holding on to his right leg, the little eunuch’s stomach burst open and his intestines spilled out. In a split second he had successively killed eight eunuchs. The remaining four little eunuchs were so scared that they stared blankly without knowing what to do.

With dagger in his hand Wei Xiaobao lunged forward. Oboi met him with his left fist. Wei Xiaobao felt a strong gust of wind assaulting his face so that he could not breathe. Brandishing the dagger, he attacked Oboi’s arm. Oboi slightly turned his arm to evade the dagger, immediately he sent another punch and hit Wei Xiaobao on the left shoulder, sending him flying over the desk and landed on the incense burner. Immediately the ashes from the censer flew up to the air.

From the beginning Kangxi was very calm and collected, he used the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ to fight Oboi, but Kangxi’s power in using this palm technique was rather limited, plus he was fighting Oboi, a valiant military leader who was divinely brave by nature; in all honesty the palm technique did not have too much usefulness. Oboi was hit twice by Kangxi’s palm, but he seemed hardly noticed it. Oboi sent out a left kick toward Kangxi’s right leg. Kangxi staggered and fell forward. Oboi roared like thunder, he shouted, “Let us all die together!” Both fists came down on Kangxi’s head.

Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao had been fighting each other for quite a long time, his ability to adapt to changes in the small room where they spar had been trained that he was able to react fast. Seeing Oboi’s fists came, he dropped down at once and rolled away underneath the desk. With his left leg Oboi kick the desk, while with his right leg he repeatedly kicked on Kangxi’s body. Suddenly a cloud of dust rose upward, a layer of ash covered Oboi’s eyes.

Oboi let out a ‘wah! wah!’ cry, while frantically rubbed his eyes with both hands. His right leg kept kicking forward at lightning speed, for fear that the enemy would seize this opportunity to attack.

What happened was that when Wei Xiaobao saw the urgency of their situation, he grabbed two handfuls of ashes from the incense burner and threw it toward Oboi. The particles of ashes from the incense was very fine, as soon as it made contact with Oboi’s eyes, it quickly dispersed.

Suddenly Oboi felt a stabbing pain on his left arm; it was Wei Xiaobao’s dagger that he threw, it was aimed toward the vital point on the pit of his stomach, but it hit his arm instead.

By this time the table in the study room was overturned and the stools lying on their sides, it was a complete chaos. Wei Xiaobao saw a chair behind Oboi, it was precisely the dragon chair the Emperor used on day-to-day basis. With all his might he picked up the bronze censer using both hands, jumped onto the dragon chair, aimed the censer on the back of Oboi’s head, and smashed it down as hard as he could.

The censer was an object from the Tang dynasty, at least it weighed about thirty catties. Oboi’s eyes were blinded, he could not evade. ‘Bang!’ the top of his head was hit. Oboi’s body swayed and he tumbled down on the ground, fainted. The incense burner was cracked, unexpectedly Oboi’s head remained intact.

Kangxi was ecstatic. “Xiao Guizi,” he called out, “You’ve done it.” He had prepared some cow tendon rope, which he busily took out from the drawer of the overturned desk. Together with Wei Xiaobao he bound Oboi’s hands and feet.

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his whole body was soaked in cold sweat, his limbs trembled, he pulled the rope, but felt that his strength was completely gone. Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao looked at each other, their joy was unspeakable.

Not too long afterwards Oboi came to his senses, he shouted, “I am a loyal minister, I am innocent! This is a conspiracy to harm me, I refuse to accept even to my death!”

“Traitor!” Wei Xiaobao sternly said, “You brought knife to the Upper Study Room, for that crime alone you deserve to die ten thousand times.”

“I did not bring any knife!” Oboi shouted.

Wei Xiaobao also shout harshly, “Aren’t those two knives on your body? One on your back and the other on your arm. You still dare to say you did not bring any knife?” With Wei Xiaobao forcefully pushing his twisted logic, how could Oboi debate him? Much less the top of his head was smashed heavily with the bronze censer, his back and his arm were pierced by the knives; although his injuries were not life-threatening, they were not light either. In a moment of desperation, all he could do was shouting and screaming exasperatedly.

Seeing out of the twelve little eunuchs only four were left alive, Kangxi said, “You have seen it with your own eyes, this Oboi is rebelling against his superior, he is planning on assassinating me.”

The four little eunuchs were still shaken, their faces were ashen. One of them repeatedly agreed, “Yes, yes!” The other three could not even utter a single word.

Kangxi said, “Get out now, proclaim my decree, summon Prince Kang Giyesu and Songgotu to come over here. Do not mention even one word of what has just happened. If there is any rumor leaked out, just watch your heads.” The four little eunuchs complied and went out.

Oboi was still shouting defiantly, “Injustice, injustice! The Emperor is personally trying to kill me, a loyal minister. If the former Emperor found out, he would never spare you!”

Kangxi’s countenance sank, he said, “Think of a way, don’t let him sprout nonsense!”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied. He walked over and stretched out his left hand to pinch Oboi’s nose. Oboi opened his mouth to take a breath, with his right hand Wei Xiaobao tore off the dagger from Oboi’s arm and stabbed randomly into Oboi’s mouth several times. He also grabbed two handfuls of incense ashes from the ground and stuffed it inside Oboi’s mouth. Oboi’s throat created some gurgling noise, he was chocked and was barely able to breathe, how could he say another word?

Wei Xiaobao also pulled the dagger piercing Oboi’s back and stuck both daggers side by side on the desk, while he himself stood guard by Oboi’s side. If he saw the Oboi making the slightest movement, he would immediately pull out the dagger and stab him several times.

Seeing the important matter had reached its conclusion, in his heart Kangxi was very happy. To see Oboi’s impressive build and his mean and ferocious expression with bloodstain all over his face, he could not help but secretly alarmed and scared; he realized now that he had been too reckless, by only relying on he and Xiao Guizi, who had learned martial art for only so long, plus twelve little eunuchs, who had just started training wrestling, he was determined to deal with Oboi. He had never thought that dealing with a genuine warrior, several children would be completely useless; besides, his own martial art skill, as well as Xiao Guizi’s, was nowhere near the expert level. If it was not for Xiao Guizi’s ruse, right now he would have been killed by Oboi. Once Oboi made his move, he would stop at nothing; most likely he would also harm the Emperor’s Grandmother and the Empress Dowager. All the ministers of the dynasty, as well as the imperial bodyguards inside the Palace, were his trusted aides. If Oboi set up another young ruler, no one would dare to inquire about his crime. Thinking to this point, he could not help but shivered.

After waiting for quite some time, Prince Kang and Songgotu who were summoned by the four little eunuchs came in. As soon as they entered the Upper Study Room, they saw dead bodies sprawled all around with bloodstain scattered everywhere; to say that they were mildly shocked was definitely an understatement. They knelt down immediately and kowtowed repeatedly, while proclaimed together, “Wishing Your Majesty ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold.”

Kangxi said, “Oboi committed treason and heresy, he brought a blade into the Palace, he dared to assault me. Fortunately our ancestors protected me; the little eunuch Xiao Guizi, with the help of other eunuchs, strenuously resisted the ominous rebel, and arrested him. On how to deal with the aftermath, I leave it to you to do as you see fit.”

Prince Kang and Songgotu had never gotten along well with Oboi, they had been under Oboi’s oppression for a long time; suddenly seeing a big change in the Palace, they were pleasantly surprised. After paying their respect to the Emperor again, they admitted that they had neglected to take precautions, that they had committed grave offense, that fortunately the Emperor was blessed with flood of good fortune filled the heavens, that the Emperor was cherished by hundreds of deities, such that Oboi’s vicious scheme was thwarted.

Kangxi said, “This matter of assassination attempt, you do not need to mention it to outsiders, to avoid Empress Grandmother and Empress Dowager being startled. If this matter is spread out, the Han officials and the common people will laugh at us. Oboi’s crime is great, even without today’s matter, he deserved to be punished a long time ago.”

Prince Kang and Songgotu kowtowed again, “Yes, yes!” they said. Yet in their hearts they had doubts, “Oboi is divinely brave by nature, he is our Manchu’s number one warrior. If he really wanted to assassinate the Emperor, how could several little eunuchs capture him? There must be something else in this matter.” Luckily the two of them were eager to heavily punish Oboi, so they did not see any reason to inquire deeper into the story. Much less the Emperor had said so, who would dare to question him?
Prince Kang said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Oboi has too many henchmen, we must spread the net and capture them all, to guard against another rebellion. Let Official Songgotu stay here to protect Your Majesty; he must not leave your Holy Self even for half a step. Your servant will relay the decree, all Oboi’s henchmen must be arrested at once. What does Your Majesty think?”

Kangxi nodded. “Very well!” he said. Prince Kang withdrew.

Songgotu looked up and down Xiao Guizi, sizing him up, he said, “Xiao Gong-gong, your meritorious deed in protecting His Majesty today is indeed not small.”

“It was His Majesty’s good fortune,” Xiao Guizi said, “As slaves, what meritorious service can we possibly do?”

Kangxi was very pleased to see Wei Xiaobao did not claim credit for himself at all, and did not mention even a word of the violent battle just now; he thought that if his personal involvement by stabbing Oboi from the back was ever spread outside, as the ruler, he would lost considerable respect. He also mused, “Xiao Guizi’s merit today big beyond compare, it could be said that he had saved my life. It’s a pity that he is an eunuch, no matter how I promote him, he will always be an eunuch. Our ancestor has set up a strict rule that an eunuch must not be involved in politics; apparently I can only reward him generously with money.”

Prince Kang handled the matter very rapidly; he was back in a short time, leading several trusted royalties and senior ministers to pay their respect to the Emperor, reporting that most of Oboi’s party had been arrested, all guilty imperial bodyguards inside the Palace had been sent outside on imperial orders, not even one was left. Then he requested the Emperor to assign another minister to preside over the imperial bodyguards, and to elect another trusted team of personal bodyguards.

Kangxi was greatly delighted, “You have managed it very well!” he said.

The several Princes and civil and military ministers saw the devastation in the Upper Study Room, how Oboi had killed the eight little eunuchs that their skulls disintegrated and their brains scattered, their intestine spilled and their bones broken; no one was not horrified, they all raised up their voices to curse Oboi’s treason and heresy. Immediately the head of the Ministry of Justice personally led Oboi away to be detained. The Princes and Ministers also said many other praise and respectful wishes to the Emperor before taking their leave to discuss among themselves what to do with Oboi’s crime.

Prince Kang Giyesu conveyed Kangxi’s intention by urging them, “His Majesty is benevolent and filial, he does not wish to massacre too many people and alarm the Emperor’s Grandmother and the Empress Dowager; therefore, the matter of Oboi committed treason and heresy does not need to be exposed outside the imperial court. He will only be charged with dominating the government, with being illegally harsh and unreasonable, so we must make a list of detailed charges.” All the princes, dukes and ministers raised their voices to praise the sage’s virtue.

Assassinating the Emperor was not a small matter, without a doubt Oboi would have been put to death by dismemberment[7], along with his entire family, young and old, women and children, as well as the family members of those associated with him, and all his clansmen; no one would be lucky enough to escape with their lives. If this major case was pursued down, the implication would be widespread, at least several thousand people would have to die. Although Kangxi hated Oboi’s dominance, he did not wish to heap random accusation on his head, he was even more unwilling to implicate the innocents.

Kangxi’s days of being personally in-charge of the government was not lacking, however, all government affairs, big and small, were handled by Oboi; all along the court officials were only doing what Oboi directed them to do. Today he had arrested Oboi; he saw that the princes, dukes and ministers’ expression was different all of a sudden, he could see that they were a lot more respectful and submissive to him. It was only this time that Kangxi finally felt the joy of being the ruler. He also took a glance at Wei Xiaobao, and saw that he had withdrawn into a corner, without saying anything. Kangxi thought, “This kid does not talk too much, he is very perceptive.”

After the Ministers had all withdrawn, Songgotu said, “Your Majesty, the Upper Study Room must be cleaned up properly. May I suggest Your Majesty take the trouble of withdrawing to your personal palace [orig. ‘palace to lie down’] to rest?”

Kangxi nodded. Accompanied by Prince Kang and Songgotu he headed toward his personal palace. Wei Xiaobao was unsure if he should follow; while he was hesitating, Kangxi nodded to him and said, “You may come with me.”

Prince Kang and Songgotu took their leave several hundred steps outside the personal palace. Other than imperial wives and concubines, princes, court eunuchs and palace maids, outer ministers must not set their feet into the inner courtyard of the Imperial Palace.

Wei Xiaobao followed Kangxi inside. At first he thought that the Emperor’s personal palace would be filled with gold and jade in glorious splendor, that everything would be inlaid with emerald and white jade, that there would be at least two, three thousand pearls on the wall so that there would not be any need of lantern at night. Who would have thought that as he entered the personal palace, it looked like an ordinary room, only the bedding and pillow cases were made of yellow silk, embroidered with dragon and phoenix, nothing more than that. He was quite disappointed, thinking, “Compared to the rooms in our Yangzhou’s Spring Courtyard, the style here is far too inferior.”

Kangxi drank a bowl of ginseng soup presented by a palace maid; he let out a long sigh and said, “Xiao Guizi, come with me to see the Empress Dowager.” By this time Kangxi had not married yet, his personal palace was not too far away from the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful where the Empress Dowager resided.

When they reached the Empress Dowager’s personal palace, Kangxi went in alone, he told Wei Xiaobao to wait outside. Wei Xiaobao waited for a long time and was bored; he mused, “I learned the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ Hai Laogong taught me, His Majesty learned the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’, but when we fought Oboi today, any ‘Thousand-Leaf Hand’ or ‘Roaming Dragon Palm’ were all useless. It was only because of Little White Dragon Wei Xiaobao’s third-class trick of scattering the incense ash and smashing the censer did we accomplish our mission successfully. There won’t be any more fun in continuing learning those martial art skills. I always pretend to be an eunuch in the imperial palace, kowtowing to Xiao Xuanzi; it’s really boring. Oboi is already arrested, Xiao Xuanzi does not need my help anymore. Tomorrow I’ll slip out of the palace and won’t be coming back.”

While he was contemplating on how to leave the Palace, an eunuch came out and said with a laugh, “Gui Xiongdi, Empress Dowager orders you to come in.”

“His granny,” Wei Xiaobao cursed in his belly, “More kowtow! Why don’t you, hot piece mama Empress Dowager, kowtow to laozi?” But he said respectfully, “Yes!” and followed the eunuch inside.

Passing through two big courtyards, the eunuch stopped outside a door curtain and said, “Reporting to Empress Dowager: Xiao Guizi is here for an audience.” Gently lifted the curtain, he puckered his mouth.

Wei Xiaobao walked in; there was another curtain ahead. This time the curtain was made entirely of strung pearls, it emitted a soft glow. A palace maid lifted up the pearl curtain. Wei Xiaobao went in with bowed head, but he raised his eyelids slightly, and saw a noble looking woman, approximately thirty years of age, was sitting on a chair. Kangxi was standing by her side. Obviously this woman was the Empress Dowager. Immediately he knelt down and kowtowed.

The Empress Dowager smiled and nodded, “Arise!” she said. Waiting for Wei Xiaobao to stand up, she said, “I heard from the Emperor that in the arrest of that rebel minister Oboi today you have rendered a great merit.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Reporting to Empress Dowager, your servant only knows of red-bellied devotion in protecting my master. Whatever His Majesty commanded, your servant would simply follow the imperial order. Your servant is young, he does not understand anything.” He lived in the Palace for only several months, but during the gambling he often heard the eunuchs mentioning the rules and customs of the Palace and imperial court, which he memorized it one by one; he knew masters were most jealous of slaves who claim credit for himself. The bigger merit you render, the least credit you should pretend to claim, then your master would be very pleased with you. Supposing the servant showed a somewhat haughty attitude, the master might bestow a fatal disaster. If the master was irritated and thus loathe the servant, it would not be difficult at all for the servant to lose the favor and the good fortune from the master.

The way he replied had pleased the Empress Dowager very much; she said, “Your age might be young, yet you are sensible, you are better than that Junior Protector [Shao Bao], who was granted the title first class martial artist, Oboi. Child, what do you think we should reward him with?”

Kangxi said, “Empress Dowager, please give your instruction.”

The Empress Dowager muttered, “In the Catering Department, you don’t have any rank, do you? Hai Tianfu, Supervisor Hai is an eunuch of the fifth grade, so I grant you the sixth grade, I promote you to be Eunuch Leader, you may serve as the Emperor’s attendant!”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Hot piece mama’s sixth grade, seven grade, is the same as making me a grade of eunuch, laozi does not want it.” But his face was all smiles as he knelt down and kowtowed, “Thank you for Empress Dowager’s grace, thank you for His Majesty’s grace.”

The Qing Palace’s common practice was to have fourteen Eunuch Managers, eight Eunuch Assistant Managers, a hundred and eighty nine Eunuch Leaders, and unlimited number of ordinary eunuchs. At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, there were more than a thousand eunuchs, later, the number grew to more than two thousand eunuchs. The highest level of eunuch with managerial duty was fourth grade, the lowest was eighth grade, ordinary eunuchs did not have any rank. Wei Xiaobao was promoted from without any grade to the sixth grade eunuch; within the Palace, it could be considered a very rare honor.

The Empress Dowager nodded and said, “Do your duty well.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao repeatedly declared. He stood up and withdrew by walking backward. When the palace maid raised the pearl curtain, Wei Xiaobao stole a glance toward the Empress Dowager. He saw her complexion to be extremely pale, her eyes were bright, but her eyebrows were creased, as if she was concerned about something, or perhaps she had a load on her mind; he mused, “She is the Empress Dowager, what makes her unhappy? Ah, that’s right, her husband is dead, even if she is the Empress Dowager, with her husband dead, naturally she is not happy.”

Returning to his residence, he recounted everything that happened that day to Hai Laogong. Unexpectedly Hai Laogong did not show the least bit of surprise; he said drily, “I suspected he would make his move within these two days. His Majesty’s patience is much better than the late emperor’s.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished, “Gong-gong,” he asked, “You already know?”

“How can I know?” Hai Laogong said, “I have my suspicion for some time. His Majesty learning wrestling can be considered a child having some fun, but when he wanted thirty little eunuchs to also learn wrestling, what was he trying to do? His Majesty attentively learned the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’, obviously he had some other reason behind it. If these two different paths martial art, the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ and the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ were trained for ten years, eight years to the point of proficiency, with the two of you join hands, there is a chance you could cope with Oboi. But what good is such tactless and impulsive person who learned only for two, three months? Ay, young people are courageous, but do not know the immensity of heaven and earth. Today’s matter was too dangerous.”

Wei Xiaobao leaned over to look at Hai Laogong, his heart was brimming with amazement and respect, “This old turtle’s eyes are blind, but he has foresight in everything.”

“Did His Majesty take you to see the Empress Dowager?” Hai Laogong asked.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, he thought, “You know about it too.”

“What reward did the Empress Dowager bestow to you?” Hai Laogong asked.

“It was nothing,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “She only gives me a sixth grade, promoting me to be Eunuch Leader.”

Hai Laogong chuckled and said, “That’s very good, you are only a grade lower than me. To be promoted from little eunuch to Eunuch Leader, I had to toil for no less than thirteen years.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “One of these days I am going to leave. You have taught me not a few of martial art skill, yet it was me who blinded your eyes. Unavoidably I owe you something, so I have to steal those several sutras for you. I cannot not steal it.”

Hai Laogong said, “You have rendered a great merit today, hereafter it will be easier for you to go to the Upper Study Room …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s right, it will be easier for me to take that ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. Gong-gong, your eyes are greatly inconvenienced, why do you want to have this sutra?”

Hai Laogong gloomily said, “You’re right, I am blind, I cannot read the sutra, you … you can read it for me, you can keep me company for the rest of your life, for … for the rest of your life you can read this ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ for me …” As he said that, he suddenly coughed violently.

Seeing the way he stoop down and cough violently, Wei Xiaobao could not help having pity on him, he mused, “This old … old man is really strange.” Originally he had always referred to Hai Laogong as the ‘old turtle’, but this moment he could not bear to call him ‘old turtle’.

That night Hai Laogong did not stop coughing, so that even in his dream Wei Xiaobao was still hearing his cough.

The next day Wei Xiaobao went to the Upper Study Room to wait upon the Emperor. He noticed that the imperial bodyguards on duty outside the study room were all new. As soon as Kangxi arrived, Prince Kang Giyesu and Songgotu also came in to submit a report, saying that the team of princes, dukes and senior ministers who were handling this case had already investigated and found that Oboi was guilty of thirty charges.

Kangxi was rather taken aback. “Thirty charges?” he said, “That many?”

Prince Kang said, “Oboi has committed grave offenses; actually, he did not stop at these thirty, however, your servants have received Your Majesty’s sacred command, so we managed this investigation leniently.”

“So be it,” Kangxi said, “What are those thirty?”

Prince Kang produced a sheet of white paper and read, “Oboi took unfair advantage of his mater and arrogate power, crime one. He appointed a clique of traitors, crime two. He formed a clique to control politics, crime three. He amassed wealth to support rebellion, crime four. He manipulated statement of confession, crime five. Without authority he promoted people like Marsai, whom the late emperor would not employ, crime six. Without authority he murdered Suksaha and the others, crime seven. Without authority he murdered Sunahai and the others, crime eight. He protected his cronies of the same Banner, by forcefully taking over land, crime nine. He was irreverent to the Holy Mother, crime ten.” He continued reading down one by one, until reaching the thirtieth major crime, which was ‘because other people’s grave was obstructing his own house’s fengshui, he ordered it to be moved’.

Kangxi said, “Turns out Oboi has committed these many evil deeds. How do you propose he should be sentenced?”

Prince Kang replied, “Oboi’s crime is great, his evil is extreme, he should be executed by lingering death, yet the ministers are considering Your Majesty’s sacred desire to show benevolence and mercy, thus we are proposing to depose him and execute him by beheading. Other members of his clique, Ebilun, Bambursan and Asiha[8], should also be beheaded.”

Kangxi pondered over it and said, “Although Oboi’s crime is great, he was an executive minister who has served for many years; he may be exempted from execution. He will be deposed and held in custody without parole, his family properties will be confiscated. As for the other members of his clique, you may do according to your proposal, execute them by beheading.”

(Book note: According to the ‘Draft History of the Qing Dynasty (compiled under Zhao Erxun in 1927 during the Northern Warlords period), Divine Ancestor’s biographic sketch of an emperor’: In his eighth year, Kangxi was already aware of Oboi’s despotic corrupt politics, especially considering his far-reaching power which was difficult to control; and thus he picked Bai Tang’a, a vigorous young imperial bodyguard, to do the pouncing and striking. The day Oboi appeared, he led a group of imperial bodyguards to strike and bind him; hence completely subdued him and took him under control of the inner ministerial circle. In the year 1680 Minister Wang suggested that Oboi be imprisoned and charged with thirty major crimes, and asked that his entire family be executed. The imperial edict said: ‘Oboi rebelled out of ignorance, he deserves to have his entire clan exterminated. Considering his long duration of service and repeated outstanding military merit, he is pardoned from death, but will have his properties confiscated and he is taken into custody.’)

Prince Kang and Songgotu knelt down and kowtowed, “Holiness[9] is benevolent and merciful, even the Ming rulers of old all fall short.”

That day the cabinet ministers appeared before Kangxi; they were busy dealing with Oboi and the members of his clique. The ministers presented to Kangxi in details the power struggle between the Bordered Yellow Banner and the Plain White Banner. Wei Xiaobao was listening, but he did not have any clue what was happening. All he knew was that Oboi was the Banner Commander of the Bordered Yellow Banner, while Suksaha was the Banner Commander of the Plain White Banner. The two banners had been fighting over fertile and beautiful land, just like water against fire. After Suksaha was put to death by Oboi, a lot of wealth, estate and farmlands affiliated with the Plain White Banner were merged into the Bordered Yellow Banner’s property. And now the Plain White Banner ministers beseeched the Emperor to restore everything to the original state.

Kangxi said, “You may reach an agreement among yourselves and report to me afterwards. Bordered Yellow Banner is one of the three upper banners, although Oboi is guilty, I cannot let the entire banner suffer the setback. In everything we must be fair and just.”

The ministers kowtowed and said, “Your Majesty is enlightened sage, all the people of Bordered Yellow Banner have received holy graciousness.”

Kangxi nodded, “You may leave,” he said, “I want Songgotu to remain, I have another instruction for him.”

When everybody else had left, Kangxi said to Songgotu, “After Suksaha was put to death by Oboi, was all his family property seized by Oboi?”

Songgotu replied, “Suksaha’s farmland and estate have not entered into the inner warehouse, but Oboi has personally led his men to search Suksaha’s home; gold, silver, jewels and valuable things had all entered Oboi’s personal pouch.”

“I expect as much,” Kangxi said, “I want you to go to Oboi’s home and take a look, verify his family property, if there is anything that originally belongs to Suksaha, return it to his heir.”

“Your Majesty’s holy graciousness is vast and mighty,” Songgotu said. Seeing that Kangxi did not say anything else, he slowly drew back toward the study room’s door.

Kangxi said, “The Empress Dowager has an order: the Senior likes to pray to Buddha and read sutras, we heard that both the Banner Commanders of Plain White Banner and Bordered Yellow Banner have a copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ in their possession …”

As soon as he heard the five words ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, Wei Xiaobao was jolted. He heard Kangxi continue, “These two Buddhist texts are sheathed in silk pouches, the Plain White Banner’s copy in plain white silk, the Bordered Yellow Banner’s copy in yellow silk with red border. The Empress Dowager says the Senior wants to see if these two copies are identical to the Buddhist text in the Palace. When you are going through Oboi’s family property, see if you can find it.”

“Yes, yes,” Songgotu said, “Your servant will see to it.” He knew the Emperor was young, yet he had a strong filial piety to the Empress Dowager. In important matters of the court politics, if the Empress Dowager had something to say, the Emperor would not disobey even a single one of her order. The Empress Dowager’s order is more urgent than the Emperor’s business. Looking for two Buddhist books was certainly easy, he thought he should be able to manage it quickly.

Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, come with him. When you find the sutras, the two of you can bring them back together.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted and hastily complied, he thought how Hai Laogong had wanted him to steal the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, but it had been more than half a year, in the end not only he had never seen what kind of sutra the book was, he had not even seen half a shadow of the book. This time he was under the imperial order to fetch the sutras, he was confident he would find the sutras. It would be best if Oboi had three copies at his home, then he would be able to fish in troubled water and embezzle a copy to be given to Hai Laogong; that would make him very happy.

Songgotu noticed that Xiao Guizi was the little eunuch close to the Emperor whom he doted very much, who, in the arrest of the traitor this time, had rendered great merit. He thought that fetching two copies of Buddhist sutras was not a big deal, so there was no need to send this eunuch. But then he had another thought and it suddenly dawned on him: “Of course, His Majesty wants to give him some benefit. Oboi has been in power for many years, the amount of gold, silver and valuables in his home must be beyond counting. His Majesty is sending me to search and confiscate his home, that is indeed a very lucrative assignment. In this matter I did not have the slightest contribution, why would he want me to get rich? His Majesty is sending Xiao Guizi to accompany me fetching the sutras, in reality he wants him to take a look. Searching and confiscating Oboi’s property is this little eunuch’s business, the Ol’ Songgotu is just secondary. If this business went awry, I would be greatly inconvenienced.”

Songgotu’s father was Sonin, the chief of four Executive Ministers when Kangxi fist took over the government. After Sonin’s death, Songgotu was promoted to be a junior minister in the personnel office. At that time Oboi was domineering the court, Songgotu did not dare to oppose him, hence he resigned from his post at the personnel office and took position as a first class imperial bodyguard. Kangxi knew that he and Oboi did not get along with each other, and thus this time he send him on a very serious assignment.

The two of them went out the Palace gate, Songgotu’s attendant pulled a horse for him to ride on. Songgotu said, “Gui Gong-gong, please mount the horse first!” He assumed this little eunuch did not know how to ride, so he was prepared to look after him a bit, making sure that he would not fall and break his neck. Who would have thought that after several months of martial art training in the Palace, although Wei Xiaobao did not make any real progress, his hands and feet became very agile; plus in the past Mao Shiba had taught him some riding technique, so this time he no longer was ‘Zhang Guolao riding donkey, Wei Xiaobao riding a horse’[10], he nimbly leaped onto the horseback and unexpectedly his riding was very stable.

The two of them arrived at Oboi’s mansion. Oboi’s entire household, from top to bottom, no exception, had been arrested early on. The gates, front and rear, were under strict guard. “Gui Gong-gong,” Songgotu said to Wei Xiaobao, “If you see anything interesting, do not hesitate to take it. His Majesty is sending you here to fetch Buddhist sutra, it is to reward your great merit, no matter what you take, His Majesty will not ask about it.”

Wei Xiaobao saw in Oboi’s mansion, jewels, treasures and amusing things were everywhere, his eyes were dazzled. He felt that each object was better than the other. Compared to the utensils, curios or furniture in the Lovely Spring Courtyard at Yangzhou, it was as far as the heavens from the earth. At first he wanted to take everything, but looking at this thing he thought it was very amusing, looking at that thing he found it was more fascinating, he could not decide which one was better. He also recalled that in a few days he would slip away from the Palace anyway, if he took too many things, it would only inconvenience him to carry it, so he decided to take only a few especially valuable things.

Songgotu’s clerk started to take inventory of the articles, he duly noted every single one on his list. When Wei Xiaobao picked up a pearl to look at it, the clerk would strike this pearl from his list, to state that in Oboi’s mansion there was no such pearl existed. When Wei Xiaobao shook his head and put the pearl down, the clerk would add the pearl back into the list.

When they were still going through the inspection, suddenly they heard an officer’s quick steps coming out. After paying his respect to Songgotu and Wei Xiaobao, he said, “Reporting to two Daren: we found a secret treasure-trove inside Oboi’s bedroom; lowly officer did not dare to open without authority, please two Daren take the trouble to inspect it.”

“Secret treasure-trove?” Songgotu happily asked, “That’s strange indeed.” He also asked, “Have you found those two sutras?”

The officer replied, “We did not find a single book in this house, only several dozens of accounting books. lowly officer are still searching diligently.”

Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s hand along, Songgotu entered Oboi’s bedroom. He saw tiger skin and leopard skin spread on the floor; the walls were packed with bows, arrows, sabers and swords, it was a typical rough Manchurian warrior’s bedroom. The secret treasure-trove was actually inside a hole beneath the floor, with an iron panel covering it. A tiger skin lay on top of the iron panel. By now the tiger skin and the iron panel had been opened, two guards were standing on either side of the hole. Songgotu said, “Take it out so we can take a look.”

The two guards jumped into the hole and hauled the hidden things inside up. Two clerks took them over and carefully lay them down on a piece of leopard skin. Songgotu laughed and said, “Oboi’s best treasure is obviously hidden inside this hole. Gui Gong-gong, you should pick your most beloved treasure here, I guarantee you won’t make a mistake.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “There is no need to be polite,” he said, “You yourself should also choose some.” He had just finished speaking when suddenly “Ah!” he exclaimed, as he saw the guard handed over a large white-jade box, five cinnabar red large characters were inscribed on top of the box, the first three characters were ‘forty-two’ [si shi er]. Wei Xiaobao hastily received the box, open the jade lid, and saw a thin book inside. The book was inside a white silk envelope, the same five characters were written on the seal. “Suo[11] Daren,” he asked, “Is this the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’? I know the word ‘forty-two’, but I don’t know the characters ‘chapter’ and ‘sutra’.”

“Yes, yes,” Songgotu happily replied, “This is the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “These two characters ‘chapter’ and ‘sutra’ are very difficult to recognize. Actually, I don’t need to think hard to recognize the characters, as long as there are five characters together, and the first three are ‘forty-two’, then the last two characters must be ‘chapter’ and ‘sutra’.”

Songgotu mused, “That’s not necessarily true,” but with a smile on his face he said, “Exactly.”

Then the guard handed over another jade box, with a book inside, but the envelope was made of yellow silk, with red silk border on the side. Both books looked very old. But inside the treasure-trove there was no third jade box, Wei Xiaobao was secretly very disappointed.

Songgotu delightedly said, “Gui Gong-gong, the two of us completed this task, Empress Dowager will be very happy, she will reward us handsomely.”

“What kind of sutra are those?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “I want to have a look.” As he said that, he opened one of the envelopes.

Songgotu’s heart was stirred, “Gui Gong-gong,” he said with a laugh, “I have something to say, but please don’t be angry.”

Ever since he was little, at the brothel Wei Xiaobao had always been bossed around; names like ‘little animal’ or ‘little turtle’ had never ceased being thrown at him. But when he obtained Kangxi’s favor, whenever somebody, no matter who, saw him in the Palace, they were exceptionally polite to him. He was only a thirteen, fourteen years old boy, yet in all his life, when did he ever receive such respect? Here was Songgotu at Oboi’s mansion, his prestige was spread over eight directions, whenever any civil or military officer see him, they were all trembling with fear, yet this man was so courteous toward him; Wei Xiaobao could not help but greatly enjoy it and he had an even better impression of Songgotu. He said, “Whatever instruction Suo Daren has, please just say it.”

Songgotu laughed and said, “I don’t dare to have any instruction, it’s just that I suddenly remember something. Gui Gong-gong, these two sutras are wanted by the Empress Dowager and His Majesty, Oboi kept them in a secret treasure-trove, apparently they are not ordinary books. Just how important they are, we may not understand. I also very much want to take a look, but I am afraid there is something of utmost importance, involving great responsibility, written in them. The Empress Dowager may not like it if we as the servants see it. This … this … hee hee …”

As soon as he said that, Wei Xiaobao realized immediately. He was secretly frightened. Hastily he put the book back on the table and said, “You are extremely right, you are extremely right! Suo Daren, thank you for your direction. I did not understand this logic before, and almost attract great calamity.”

Songgotu laughed and said, “Why did Gui Gong-gong say such words? His Majesty sends the two of us together to handle this matter. Your business is also mine, why do you make such distinction between you and me? If I do not consider Gui Gong-gong as one of my own, I would not dare to casually say those words.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You are a high-ranking official, I … I … am a little … little eunuch, how can you consider me as one of your own?”

Songgotu waved his hand to the numerous officers in the room and said, “Wait for us outside.”

The numerous officers bowed and said, “Yes, yes!” and they withdrew outside.

Songgotu pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand and said, “Gui Gong-gong, you must never ever said those words again. If you would consider me, Ol’ Songgotu worthy, what do you say the two of us pay obeisance and become sworn brothers?” He said those words very earnestly.

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “I … I become sworn brother with you?” he said, “How … how can I deserve it?”

“Gui Xiongdi,” Songgotu said, “If you say those words again, you are clearly deriding me. I don’t know why, but as soon as I saw you, I feel there is a predestined affinity. The two of us go to the worship hall and swear brotherhood, and then we will become like real siblings. You and I will not announce it to outsiders, as long as nobody else know, what’s the harm in doing it?” Gripping Wei Xiaobao’s hand tightly, his eyes showed a fervent expression.

Actually, Songgotu was an extremely shrewd person; seeing the fall of Oboi, he knew there would be great power shift among the senior ministers of the imperial court. This time the Emperor seemed to be very well-disposed to him, it appears that someday he would get a promotion. To be an official in the imperial court, if he wanted to be in the Emperor’s good graces, he must understand the Emperor’s temper and mood. This little eunuch was by the Emperor’s side from morning to evening, if he could say a few good words on his behalf, he would benefit infinitely. Even if he could not say any good words on his behalf, as long as he could disclose to him what make the Emperor happy, what make him disgusted, what he was thinking of doing next, then he could plan accordingly with half the work, twice the effect, and win the Emperor’s favor.

He grew up in a government officer’s family, his father Sonin was the head of the Executive Ministers, he should know that ‘to figure out the superior’s intention’ was the high-ranking official’s sole secret, while it was also the most difficult thing to do. Before his very own eyes was one golden opportunity, so long as he could win this little eunuch over, someday the ‘divine steed Huang will flash past’ [figuratively means a meteoric rise in one’s career]; appointment as the prime minister would not be a difficult matter. Therefore, he was hit by an inspiration and wanted to be sworn brothers with him.

Although Wei Xiaobao was clever, he did not, after all, have the slightest understanding of the government bureaucracy of the imperial court; he only knew that this high-ranking official was very fond of himself, so he could not help but feeling very proud. “This … this is really beyond my expectation,” he said.

Songgotu pulled his hand. “Come, come, come!” he said, “Let us go to the worship hall.”

Manchu people were devout Buddhists; in all civil and military officers’ mansions there would be a Buddhist worship hall. The two of them entered the worship hall. Songgotu lighted incense and pulled Wei Xiaobao down to kneel together in front of the Buddhist image. He bowed and worshiped several times, and then said, “Today, disciple Songgotu and … and … and …” He turned his head and asked, “Gui Xiongdi, what is your great name? I haven’t consulted you, it’s truly preposterous.”

“I am called Xiao Guizi,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Songgotu smiled and said, “Your honorable surname is Gui, isn’t it? But by what great name are you called?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I … I am called Gui Xiaobao.”

Songgotu laughed, “Good name, good name,” he said, “You are indeed a jewel[12] among men!”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “In Yangzhou, people always call me ‘That little turtle Xiaobao’. What’s so special about this name ‘Xiaobao’ anyway?” He heard Songgotu said, “Today, disciple Songgotu with Gui Xiaobao, Gui Xiongdi, swear to be brothers[13]. Hereafter blessings will be enjoyed together, sorrows will be endured together. We cannot be born on the same year, same month and same day, but wish that we will die on the same year, same month, and same day. If disciple does not uphold yi qi, let me be punished by heaven and extinguished by the earth, forever will not raise my head to see the sun.” Finished speaking, he kowtowed and worship some more, then he said, “Xiongdi, you must also worship Buddha and make your vow!”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You are a lot older than I am; if I really die on the same year, same month, and same day with you, my loss will be too great.” But then he changed his mind, he had idea, “I am not Gui Xiaobao anyway, what is there to be feared to speak nonsense just for once?” Therefore, he also kowtowed before the image of Buddha and said in a loud and clear voice, “Disciple Gui Xiaobao came to the Emperor’s Palace to be a little eunuch earlier, everybody calls me Xiao Guizi, with Songgotu, Suo Daren, Suo Laoge [‘Lao’ – old, ‘ge’ – older brother], swear to be brothers, blessings will be enjoyed together, sorrows will be endured together. We cannot be born on the same year, same month and same day, but wish that we will die on the same month, same month, and same day. If Xiao Guizi does not uphold yi qi, let Xiao Guizi be punished by heaven and extinguished by the earth. When Xiao Guizi die, let Xiao Guizi be banished to the eighteenth level of the underworld and seized by the Ox-head and Horse-Face[14], and for a thousand years, for ten thousand years will not be reincarnated.”

He shifted all disasters to Xiao Guizi; he also mentioned the words ‘same month’ twice, and thus changed the phrase ‘die on the same year, same month, and same day’ became ‘die on the same month, same month, and same day’, but he said it very quickly so that Songgotu did not catch it. Wei Xiaobao thought, “To die on the same month and same day with you is not a big deal; if you die on the third day of the third month, and I return to heaven a hundred years later on the third day of the third month, I won’t suffer any loss.” As for saying that after Xiao Guizi die, let Xiao Guizi be banished to the eighteenth level of the underworld and for ten thousand years will not be reincarnated, it was actually his real wish. Xiao Guizi had died under his hands, if his ghost returns for revenge, it would not be fun; but if in hell Xiao Guizi was detained securely by the Ox-head and Horse-face, in the world of the living Wei Xiaobao would enjoy peace and security very much.

When Songgotu heard Wei Xiaobao had finished speaking, the two of them bowed and kowtowed eight times before standing up together, and burst in loud laughter. Songgotu said with a laugh, “Xiongdi, now we are sworn brothers, we must be ten times closer to each other than blood-brothers. From now on, whatever you want your Gege to do for you, do not hesitate to open your mouth, no need to be polite.”

“Do you need to say it?” Wei Xiaobao also laugh, “Ever since I came out of my mother’s belly, I do not understand the meaning of the word ‘polite’. Dage, what does ‘polite’ mean?” They looked at each other and roared in laughter.

“Xiongdi,” Songgotu said, “The fact that we have sworn brotherhood must not be told to others, to avoid other people use it against us. According to the imperial palace’s regulations, we, external ministers, must not be too close to you, Xiongdi, internal officers. As long as we know it in our hearts, that should be enough.”

“Right, right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “The mute eat the wonton, he counts it in his heart.”

Seeing how smart and witty Wei Xiaobao was, how when ‘the head was pointed to him he immediately knew the tail’, Songgotu was even happier. “Xiongdi,” he said, “In front of other people, I still call you Gui Gong-gong, and you call me Suo Daren. In a few days, come to my home, your Gege is going to accompany you drinking wine and watching the opera; we, two brothers, will have fun for a while.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he did not drink too much wine, but as soon as he heard the words ‘watching the opera’, his delight was incomparable. He clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “Wonderful, wonderful! I like watching the opera the most. When is it?”

Yangzhou’s salt merchants lived extravagant lives, when they get married or given their daughters in marriage, or when a baby was born or they celebrated birthdays, oftentimes they would have the opera play for several consecutive days. Whenever Wei Xiaobao came across such occasion, naturally he would take advantage of the excitement and squeeze himself to the front of the stage to watch the opera. The host was celebrating an auspicious day, naturally they would not seriously deal with little rascal like him; oftentimes they would serve him a bowl of rice, with pieces of meat piled high on top of the rice. Whenever there was a folk festival, even more opera groups would perform around town. As soon as the words ‘watching opera’ was mentioned, his heart was in full bloom.

Songgotu said, “Since Xiongdi loves opera, I will invite you often. Whenever Xiongdi has some free time, do not hesitate to let me know.”

“How about tomorrow?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“That’s great!” Songgotu said, “Tomorrow youshi hour [the tenth earthly branch, 5 – 7 pm] I will wait for you outside the Palace gate.”

“Is it all right for me to leave the Palace?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Of course it is all right,” Songgotu replied, “You serve the Emperor during the day; come evening, nobody has any right to interfere with your business. You have been promoted to be an Eunuch Leader, and you are very successful in the presence of His Majesty, who would dare to mess with you?”

Wei Xiaobao was beaming from ear to ear; originally he was thinking of slipping away from the imperial palace and would not come back, but listening to Songgotu, he realized his status was different now; he could come in and go out the imperial palace freely, he did not have to slip away hastily. “Alright,” he said with a laugh, “It’s a deal. We, two brothers, blessing we enjoy together, opera we watch together.”

Songgotu pulled his hand and said, “Let’s go back to Oboi’s room and pick some treasures.”

The two of them returned to Oboi’s bedroom. Songgotu carefully look over various objects taken out of the hole on the ground. “Xiongdi,” he asked, “Which one do you like?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Which one is the most valuable? I don’t understand anything. Please pick one for me.”

“Alright!” Songgotu said. He picked a double-string of pearls and a jade horse and said, “These two items are very valuable. Will Xiongdi take it?”

“Very well!” Wei Xiaobao said; he put the pearls and jade horse into his pocket. Casually he picked a dagger, and felt it to be unusually heavy. The dagger, including the hilt, was no more than a chi and two cun[15]; the sheathe was made of dried shark skin, at a glance it looked no different than an ordinary long knife or a sword. Wei Xiaobao grabbed the hilt with his left hand and pulled it out; he felt a burst of cold air hit his face, his nose itched and ‘Ah-choo!’ he sneezed. When he looked at the dagger again, he saw that the blade was as black as ink, without the least bit of glossiness. At first he thought that since Oboi hid this dagger in the secret treasure-trove, it must be a treasured dagger; who would have thought that the dagger looked this ugly? It looked like a wooden dagger. Slightly disappointed, he tossed it casually to the side. He heard a light ‘swish’ noise; the dagger penetrated the floor straight to its hilt.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao and Songgotu exclaimed; they were quite amazed. Wei Xiaobao tossed it casually, without exerting the least bit of strength, yet surprisingly the dagger could penetrate the floor by itself. The blade must be fantastically sharp that it was able to penetrate the floor like mud.

Wei Xiaobao stooped down to pick up the dagger and said, “This short sword looks rather strange.”

Songgotu had vast experience and knowledge, he said, “Apparently this is a treasured sword, let us test it.” From the wall he took a saber, unsheathed it, and held it horizontally across his chest; he said, “Xiongdi, use the dagger to chop on this saber.”

Wei Xiaobao raised the dagger and chopped it down on the saber. ‘Tchak!’ the saber was smoothly cut into two. “Good!” both of them exclaimed as if by prior agreement. Without a doubt this dagger was indeed a treasured sword which was rarely seen in the world. What was amazing was that it cut the saber like a piece of wood, without producing any metallic clanking noise at all.

Songgotu laughed and said, “Congratulation, Xiongdi, for obtaining such a treasured sword. Among Oboi’s family’s treasure, this sword must be the chief.”

Wei Xiaobao was really happy, “Dage,” he said, “If you want it, I’ll give it to you.”

Songgotu shook his hand repeatedly, “Your Gege came from a military official family, afterwards, I became a civil officer, and left the military service behind. It would be better if Xiongdi take this treasured sword to play with.”

Wei Xiaobao put the dagger back into its sheathe and tied it on his belt. Songgotu laughed and said, “Xiongdi, this sword is so short, it’s better to keep it inside your boot, so when you enter the Palace, nobody would see it.” According to Qing Palace regulations, other than imperial bodyguards on duty, nobody else was allowed to enter the Palace carrying weapons.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied; he inserted the dagger into his boot. Based on his stellar reputation, as he enter and exit the Palace gate, it was unlikely that the imperial bodyguards would do a body search to see if he carried any prohibited materials.

After acquiring this dagger, Wei Xiaobao lost interest in any other treasures. A moment later, he was unable to bear it and pulled the dagger out again. He took down an iron spear from the wall, ‘Tchak!’ the iron spear was cut into two. He brandished the dagger and randomly cut and sliced around. Without exception all kinds of solid objects in the room were cut smoothly. Next he used the point of the dagger to draw a turtle on the sandalwood tabletop; he had just finished drawing when ‘thud!’ a sandalwood turtle fell down, while a hole in the shape of a turtle appeared on the tabletop.

“Old fellow Oboi!” Wei Xiaobao shouted, “You, Senior, are good! Ha ha!”

Songgotu meticulously inspected the other articles found in the secret treasure-trove. He noticed among the pile there was a shiny black sleeveless garment. He picked it up and found it to be very light. The fabric was exceptionally soft, it was made of neither silk nor wool, in fact, he did not know any material that felt like it. His sole purpose right now was to curry favor with Wei Xiaobao, thereupon he called, “Xiongdi, this vest must be very warm. Take out your outer garment and put this on.”

“What kind of treasure is this?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I don’t know either,” Songgotu said, “Just put it on!”

“It’s too big,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“It’s very soft,” Songgotu replied, “It is a bit bigger, but by making a fold like this, it will fit.”

Wei Xiaobao took it; it was indeed very light and soft. He remembered the previous year he asked his mother to make a silk cotton-padded jacket, his mother was busy for several days, but did not have enough money that in the end she could not make the jacket. This vest was obviously incomparable to the silk cotton-padded jacket; for one, the color was not too fresh and bright. He thought, “Fine, when I get back to Yangzhou later, I’ll have mother look at it.” Thereupon he took out his outer garment and put the vest on, before putting back the outer garment on top of it. The vest was rather big, fortunately it was very soft and thin, so it was not uncomfortable.

Finished inspecting Oboi’s treasures, Songgotu called his subordinates to come in. Looking at the rough list of Oboi’s valuables, he could not help but sticking out his tongue and said, “Oboi certainly know how to extort people; his wealth is many times greater than I anticipated.” He waved his men out of the room again and then said to Wei Xiaobao, “Xiongdi, the Han people have a saying: ‘A thousand li of officialdom is all wealth.’ In his vast and mighty benevolence, His Majesty is sending the two of us on this assignment, it is actually so that we may find an undeserved fortune. About this list, I can always alter it. We have more than two million taels of silver here, how much do you say we should announce it as?”

“I don’t know anything about it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll leave it to Dage to decide.”

Songgotu chuckled and said, “According to this list, altogether we have two million three hundred fifty three thousand four hundred and eighteen taels. The remaining digits can be kept as is, but we can erase one horizontal line and change the amount[16] to one million three hundred fifty three thousand four hundred and eighteen taels. That missing horizontal line can be split fifty-fifty [orig. ‘one half equals zero point five’] between you and me. What do you think?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “You … you are saying …” he stammered.

Songgotu laughed, “Xiongdi thinks it is not enough?” he said.

“No, no!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I am just not too clear.”

Songgotu said, “I said, about that one million taels, we split it equally between the two of us, brothers, each one get five-hundred thousand taels. If Xiongdi thinks it is too little, we can always recalculate it.”

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance changed. Growing up in a the brothel in Yangzhou, he had never had more than one or two taels in his hands. An undeserved fortune like this, gambling in the Palace, even when he won big, it was a matter of only several dozen taels, or perhaps one or two hundred taels of silver. Suddenly hearing that his share was five hundred thousand taels, he nearly did not believe his own ears.

The real reason Songgotu kept pushing this riches into his hands was actually to close his mouth, so that in front of the Emperor he did not mention the truth about the real value of Oboi’s wealth. Otherwise, if he ever revealed anything in the Emperor’s presence, not only he would have to spit the ill-gotten wealth he had just swallowed, he would also ruin the future prospect of his career, plus inevitably he would also be charged with committing a major crime.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao countenance changed, Songgotu hastily said, “If Xiongdi has another thought, I will listen to your idea.”

Wei Xiaobao let out a deep breath and said, “I have said that I’ll leave it to Dage to decide. It’s just that five hundred thousand … five hundred thousand taels as my share it’s a bit … a bit … too … too much.”

Songgotu felt a heavy burden was lifted up from his shoulder, he laughed aloud and said, “It’s not too much, it’s not too much, not too much at all. Let’s do it this way then: we have people helping us managing this business, everybody must enjoy some profit. From your Gege‘s five hundred thousand taels share, I will take fifty thousand taels to be distributed among my subordinates. Xiongdi should also take fifty thousand taels and presented the money to the imperial concubines and to the eunuch managers, so that everybody can have a little benefit. This way, nobody will have any loose tongue.”

“It sounds good,” Wei Xiaobao anxiously said, “But I don’t know how to divide it.”

“Just leave this matter to your Gege,” Songgotu said, “I guarantee I will take care of everything, we won’t offend anybody. They all will say that Gui Gong-gong is young, but he really know how to reach out to his friends. Money will open doors, from now on you and I will enjoy smooth sailing; we will have other people in all places helping us along the way.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said.

Songgotu added, “About this one million taels, there won’t be enough cash in Oboi’s house, we must sell off his property as soon as possible, and everything must be with ‘dry hand and clean foot’, do not let other people have a handle on this. Xiongdi, in the Palace, you won’t have any place to store all these gold yuanbao, silver yuanbao, am I correct?”

Suddenly obtaining a four hundred and fifty thousand taels of unexpected wealth, Wei Xiaobao was momentarily dizzy and light-headed, and was at a loss of what to do, whatever Songgotu said, he could only reply, “Yes, yes!”

Songgotu laughed and said, “In a few days, I am going to have several banks issue gold banknotes and silver banknotes, a hundred taels and fifty taels each, which Xiongdi can carry with you. Whenever you need it, you can go to the bank and exchange it to gold and silver, it’s more convenient, and more reliable. Unless someone is groping your pocket, nobody knows that Xiongdi is this young, yet you are one of the rich men within our Beijing city wall. Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha!”

Wei Xiaobao followed by several ‘Ha ha!’, but his heart was filled with: “I really have four hundred and fifty thousand taels? Really four hundred and fifty thousand taels?” and “I have four hundred and fifty thousand taels, how am I going to spend it? Damn it, even if I eat pig’s front legs and simmer-fried whole chicken every day for the rest of my life, I won’t spend the entire four hundred and fifty thousand taels. Hot piece mama, laozi will open ten brothels in Yangzhou, each one is ten times more beautiful than the Lovely Spring Courtyard.”

Ever since he was little, he had been cherishing the ‘lofty aspiration’ that when he grew up and flourished, he would open a brothel that was bigger and more luxurious than the Lovely Spring Courtyard, something that would raise others’ eyebrows, something better than everybody else’s. Whenever he had a quarrel with the proprietress of the Lovely Spring Courtyard, he would often say, “Hot piece mama, what’s so great about your Lovely Spring Courtyard? In a few years laozi will flourish and will open a Lovely Summer Courtyard across the street from you, a Lovely Autumn Courtyard on your left, and a Lovely Winter Courtyard on your right; I am going to snatch the light from your business. Brothel customers will visit my three courtyards, no one will visit yours, and you will drink the northwest wind.” He wanted to open ten brothels at once, each one would be extravagant, so that nobody in Yangzhou would not see him in a new light; he could not help but was very elated.

Naturally Songgotu was not able to guess the major undertaking Wei Xiaobao was planning in his heart, he said, “Xiongdi, His Majesty instructed us to return Suksaha’s property that was confiscated by Oboi to Suksaha’s heir. We’d better take sixty or seventy thousand taels and give it to Suksaha’s family. This is His Majesty’s benevolence, the Suksaha family will be moved to tears, how can they dare to argue that it is too little? Moreover, if we give too much to Suksaha’s family, it would appear that before his death Suksaha was a corrupt official, and then his descendants’ face would not be honorable, would it?”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied, while in his heart he mused, “Aren’t we, the two brothers, dishonest officials? Our faces won’t be necessarily disgraced, will it?”

Songgotu said, “The Empress Dowager and His Majesty clearly instructed us to get these two sutras, this is most important, we must deliver the books right away. It won’t be too late if we slowly make inventory of Oboi’s property later.” Wei Xiaobao nodded his approval.

Immediately Songgotu fetched a couple of satin brocade to wrap the jade boxes. The two of them carried one box each as they returned to the Palace to see Kangxi. Seeing they managed to complete the assignment given by the Empress Dowager, Kangxi was very happy. He told Wei Xiaobao to follow him with the sutras toward the Empress Dowager’s Palace. Songgotu could not enter the Palace, he took his leave to return to put Oboi’s family property in order.

Along the way Kangxi asked, “How much is Oboi’s family property worth?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Suo Daren‘s initial estimate is about one million three hundred fifty three thousand four hundred and eighteen taels.” He made sure that the number came from Songgotu; in case the Emperor verify the actual facts in the future, he would have the leeway of denying and shifting the blame to others.

In this kind of shady business of committing fraud for personal gain, imitating the dog to steal the chicken, Wei Xiaobao could be considered a rare talent. When he was five, one of the prostitutes gave him five wen to buy some peaches on the street; he swindled one wen to buy candy and used the other four to buy peaches for the prostitute. Unexpectedly the prostitute did not suspect anything; she even gave him a peach. In Wei Xiaobao’s mind, when some money passed through his hands and he gained some profit, it was heaven’s law and earth’s principle; it’s just that in case somebody inquire, he must come up with some explanation. Because of this his head had been the recipient of several explosions of anger, and his butt suffered countless forceful kicks; therefore, he gained quite a few of valuable experience.

“Humph,” Kangxi snorted, “B@stard!” he said, “He extorted that much fat and wealth of the people! More than a million three hundred thousand taels. Hey, hey, it’s unbelievable.”

Wei Xiaobao smirked inwardly, “And a million more, split in halves.” Walking and chatting, they reached the Empress Dowager’s Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.

The Empress Dowager was very pleased to hear that two sutras had been retrieved; she reached out to take the jade boxes from Kangxi’s hands and unwrapped the satin brocade. Seeing the envelope, her smile was even wider. “Xiao Guizi,” she said, “You handle this assignment very well!”

Wei Xiaobao knelt down to pay his respect; he said, “It’s all thanks to the Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s great fortune.”

The Empress Dowager turned toward a little palace maid by her side and said, “Rui Chu, take Xiao Guizi to the back room, get some sweet preserved fruits and gave it to him.”

Rui Chu was a little palace maid around twelve, thirteen years of age with pretty facial features; she smiled and complied, “Yes!”

Wei Xiaobao paid his respect again and said, “Thank you for the Empress Dowager’s reward, thank you for Your Majesty’s reward.”

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “Finish eating, you may return alone, I am staying here to accompany Empress Dowager to dine, you don’t need to wait on me.”

Wei Xiaobao acknowledged and followed Rui Chu to the inner all, where they entered a very small side room. Rui Chu opened a screened cabinet, inside the cabinet were more than a dozen types of cakes, pastries and candies. She laughed and said, “You are called Xiao Guizi, so you’ll have to eat osmanthus[17] flavored pine-nut candy first.” As she said that, she picked small box of pine-nut candy. The aroma of pine-nut mixed with the aroma of osmanthus flower, the smell was very good.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Jiejie [older sister] should also eat some.”

Rui Chu said, “The Empress Dowager is rewarding you with something to eat, she is not rewarding me. As slaves, how can we steal food?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You can eat quietly, nobody will see it, why so tight?”

Rui Chu blushed and shook her head repeatedly, she smiled and said, “I am not eating.”

“I am eating alone, you are watching from the side, it’s just improper,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Rui Chu smiled. “This is your good fortune,” she said, “I only serve the Empress Dowager, I don’t serve even His Majesty, but today I am serving you some delicacy.”

Seeing her sweet and captivating smile, Wei Xiaobao also laughed and said, “I am serving His Majesty, but I also serve you delicacies, so we are even.”

“Pfft,” Rui Chu stifled a laugh, she brought her hand up to cover her mouth, and said with a smile, “Hurry up, eat something. If Empress Dowager knew we are chatting and joking in here, she might be angry.”

When he was still in Yangzhou, he saw beautiful women coming and going the Lovely Spring Courtyard all the time; upon entering the Palace, however, this was the first time he had ever seen a young woman about his age who was keeping him company. He was very pleased, and suddenly had a bright idea. “How about this,” he said, “I will take some delicacies back with me, when you are done serving the Empress Dowager, you can come out and we can eat together.”

Rui Chu showed a slight blush, “That won’t work,” she said, “By the time I am done serving the Empress Dowager, it will be very late at night.”

“So what if it is very late at night?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Will you wait for me here?”

Serving the Empress Dowager as a palace maid, Rui Chu’s colleagues were mostly women who were considerably older than she was; ordinarily, they could not talk congenially with each other. Now that Wei Xiaobao was determined to eat candy with her, she could hear the sincerity in his voice and was quite moved.

“How about outside the flower garden?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Midnight, third watch of the night [between 11pm – 1 am], nobody will know.” Hesitantly Rui Chu nodded her head.

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, “Good, that’s settled then,” he said, “Quickly give me some preserved fruits, a bit more of the ones you love to eat.”

Rui Chu smiled, “I won’t eat it all by myself,” she said, “Which ones would you like?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Whatever Jiejie loves to eat, I’ll eat the same,” he replied.

Hearing his sweet-talking, Rui Chu was very happy, immediately she chose about a dozen kinds of dried fruits, candy, cakes and pastries, and put it all in a small paper carton.

In a low voice Wei Xiaobao said, “Tonight, third watch of the night, I will wait for you in the flower garden pavilion.”

Rui Chu nodded, in a low voice she said, “You must be careful.”

“And so must you,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He took the paper carton and returned to his residence, full of joy and expectations.

When he first jostled with the Emperor, who feigned to be Xiao Xuanzi, he was very excited, but when the secret was exposed, he could not play with him anymore. These past few days in the Palace, everybody seemed to fawn on him. Although he was pleased, he did not have the excitement of enjoying himself. This time he was having a rendezvous with a little palace maid in the middle of the night, there was three-part danger in the fun; he thought it was most exciting. After all, he was still very young; although as a child he grew up in a brothel, on the matter between men and women, he only saw a lot, but did not have any personal understanding.

[1] Orig. ‘Shi Bao’, same ‘shi’ character as in ‘Shifu’.

[2] An idiom, meaning ‘to steal something under cover of an emergency’.

[3] Orig. ‘little slippery/smooth head’.

[4] Orig. 嗅鲞 (xiu xiang) – smell of wine-preserved pomfret, it sounds similar to 休想 (xiu xiang), i.e. don’t think of it, or give up any idea of.

[5] Orig. ‘chi’ –Chinese foot, approximately 1/3 of a meter (a little over 1 US foot).

[6] Eight trigrams.

[7] Or ‘death by a thousand cuts’ or ‘lingering death’.

[8] Songgotu, Ebilun, Bambursan were real historical characters, however, I could not find anything on Asiha (or Asahe).

[9] Orig. 圣上 – sheng shang, from the dictionary: courtier’s or minister’s form of address for the current Emperor.

[10] Zhang Guolao was one of the Eight Immortals who was usually depicted by riding a donkey backwards.

[11] FYI, Songgotu’s name in Chinese is ‘Suo E’tu’.

[12] Reminder: Xiaobao means ‘little jewel/treasure’.

[13] Orig. ‘golden orchid’, meaning profound friendship or sworn brotherhood.

[14] Ox-head and Horse-face are the two guardians of the underworld in Chinese mythology.

[15] About 1 ft 2 inches.

[16] In Chinese, the character for one and two are ‘一’ and ‘二’, respectively. The original says ‘erase one ‘one’ character and change the amount …’

[17] ‘Gui’ of Xiao Guizi means cassia/laurel, but ‘gui hua’ means osmanthus flower.

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