Valley of Life and Death Chapter Summary 1-10

The following is the first part of a comprehensive chapter summary of Zheng Feng’s (鄭丰) new novel Valley of Life and Death 《生死谷》. Plot summaries for the first ten chapters are listed below, with more posts to follow in the coming days. This novel has eighty-seven chapters in total.

Chapter 1: Ball Game (鞠賽)

A group of kids are playing cuju (蹴鞠), an ancient game of football in Chang’an during Tang Dezong’s reign. One kid, Little Tiger (小虎子) about seven or eight, dressed nicer than the other kids so obviously from a well-to-do family, kicks in the winning goal, but the other side cries foul. Another from the other time, called Sixth (六兒), challenges him to a one-on-one, first to score on the other’s goal wins. The latter steps on Little Tiger’s foot, but Little Tiger is still able to recover and score the winning goal. Sixth wants a rematch the next day and they all go their separate ways, Little Tiger inviting his team to the Eastern Market for a celebratory meal. Sixth goes home.

At home, Sixth changes clothes. Turns out Sixth is actually a girl, about 7 or 8 years old as well, named Pei Ruoran. She is the sixth child and only daughter of Pei Du, a local ”jinshi” scholar. She is to “enter the palace” as a concubine when she is older, so her mother is strict with her and doesn’t want her to go out too much to play lest she get hurt and spoil her chances at entering the palace later on.

Her mother’s husband, Pei Du, is away at his post, so every month she and Pei Ruoran go to a local temporary to burn incense in prayer to keep him safe and well. Pei Ruoran accompanies her mother this day to the temple, and while there an old nun approaches her mother and asks to take Pei Ruoran on as her student. But the mother refuses, obviously. The nun replies that even if Pei Ruoran were locked in an iron box she would still be taken away, and that the girl’s will is too strong and will bring misfortune.

The mother leaves, angry and afraid at the threat. She forbids the daughter to go out. A few weeks later, Pei Ruoran suddenly disappears. The mother fears the nun has taken her, so she goes back to the temple to ask about the old nun, but is told the old nun died three days before. At a loss, the mother concocts a story with her relative who lives out in the country that Pei Ruoran was sent there to study the proper way for a lady to behave from some specialists, and that she cannot receive guests because she is studying. This is all to explain Pei Ruoran’s disappearance because the mother fears for her daughter losing her chance to enter the palace, Pei Du’s reputation to be smeared, and also she is afraid for her daughter’s safety. For the time being, she can only hope and pray that her daughter is safe and well.

Chapter 2: Abducted (遭擒)

After the first cuju game, the teams met the next day, but Sixth didn’t show up. They kept playing anyway day after day, but Sixth never came. One day word came that the superintendent was coming through. They would often clean up the streets of beggars to make it look nicer, and kids were being abducted. Little Tiger’s friend was being abducted and he went to save him, but got knocked out himself in the process.

When he woke he was in a cart bound up with a bunch of other kids, including his friend. Eventually the people driving the cart, a monk named Far-Traveller Monk (行腳僧) and a man named Mr. Dog Butcher (屠狗爺) stopped to check on the cart. They find that Little Tiger is not asleep. The rest had been drugged to knock them out but it didn’t work on Little Tiger. They are going to kill him to avoid trouble when Little Tiger tells them if they spare him he won’t run away and will instead help them out with their chores and other tasks. They agree and he helps them cook meals, feed and water and wash the horses, etc.

Little Tiger wants to escape, but he wants to take his friend with him, but the friend is too big and fat, so he can’t think of a way to get him out (because he is still unconscious like the others). A few days later they party meet up with their leader, who calls himself Leader (大首領). He admonishes them for letting Little Tiger live because now the latter has seen where they are and will remember the landscape; the job was supposed to be done in secret. He orders them to kill Little Tiger but then decides to spare him and take him on as a disciple is Little Tiger can pass the training in the valley he is taking the children to. He tells Little Tiger that he must pass three tests, and if he does he can become his disciple. If he fails, he will never leave the valley (meaning death), but if he succeeds he will be allowed to return home.

Leader personally escorts Little Tiger to the valley, carrying him along as he speeds there faster than Little Tiger thought possible. Once in the valley, Leader hands Little Tiger over to a subordinate for the time being.

Chapter 3: Panther Three (豹三)

Little Tiger is put in a group with four other kids: a tall one, a fat one, a skinny one, and a girl. The group is called Panther Three (豹三). Little Tiger is told he cannot speak at all to anyone unless answering his instructor’s questions, and he cannot make gestures at anyone or show anyone any facial expression. He is stripped of his name and called by number. His number is 5. The group is made to train in various tasks, such as running around the valley, leaping across the tops of a series of wooden poles, and climbing a cliff over and over again. This is the beginning of their martial arts training, though Little Tiger still does not know the purpose of it or why he and all these other children were brought here in the first place.

In this chapter we also learn some of Little Tiger’s backstory: he is the son of Xue Tao, famed poetess, but she is not the wife of his father. Subsequently, the wife does not like Little Tiger and treats him poorly, and his father is in Sichuan at his post so the only one treats him well is the fat friend of his.

Chapter 4: Mutual Help (互助)

The training in the valley continues and Little Tiger begins to feel bad for the fat one in the group who always gets beaten because he is so slow when they have to run around the valley, so he intentionally comes in last so he will get beaten instead of the fat one. Everyone in the group begins to admire Little Tiger for this and then they all start helping each other out. The Leader announces in three months will be the first challenge, and only 36 of the 200 children will pass. The group decides to meet by the waterfall on every run around the valley and discuss what they heard, trying to figure out what the first challenge will be like so they will have a better chance to pass.

Chapter 5: Fellow Sufferer (難友)

The story continues with Pei Ruoran, who was also abducted and sent to the valley to train. She is put in the Eagle Two group and is met by the Leader, who tells her her mother had sent her to the valley to train before entering the palace when she reaches the right age. But Pei Ruoran does not believe any of this, not even the obviously forged letter she is given purportedly written by her mother telling her to stay there and be good and pass the three challenges so she can go home. Pei Ruoran realizes she will have to harden herself to survive, so she does. One of the boy’s in the group gives her some medicine to help ease the pain from a time she was beaten, and the two begin to comfort each other at night as other children in the valley cry out at night, though Pei Ruoran never lets a tear fall. She steels herself to prepare for the first challenge, determined to be the best in her group at every exercise and the best in the valley so that she can be one of the 36 to pass the first challenge and work her way through the other two challenges so she can go home to her family.

Chapter 6: Passing the Test (過關)

The day of the first test arrives. All 200 children line up behind a red line and then they have to race to the finish, which includes going around the valley, crossing a stream, and then climbing a cliff where the instructors give each person a pine nut which they have to give to the instructor at the beginning of the course when they go back the way they came. Only the first 36 to cross the red line will pass the test; the rest will be sent north to serve in the military.

Pei Ruoran is the first to cross the finish line, having got a jump on the rest of them and avoiding the piles of people straggling to make it up the cliff. While climbing she sees a person get kicked off the cliff by the fat dumb kid who turns out to be Little Tiger’s friend from Chang’an. The person who is kicked off breaks his neck. This person turns out to be Pei Ruoran’s friend from her group, Three, who helped heal her wound and consoled her. She can’t forgive herself for not caring about seeing him get kicked off the cliff (she didn’t know it was him at the time, but she still feels bad about it), only focusing on passing the test.

Little Tiger and his group split up and cause a distraction at the top of the cliff to secure more pine nuts which they distribute to the other group members. Little Tiger also runs into his friend from Chang’an and helps him pass the test. Little Tiger and his group all pass the test.

Chapter 7: House Rules (門規)

The 36 who passed the first test are taken to a cave wherein they see an altar with several statues behind it. The Leader comes out and tells them they are to be initiated as official disciples. One of his subordinates lays out the three rules the new initiates must follow:

  • They must obey the Leader’s orders and mustn’t disobey
  • They must help their fellow disciples and must not harm each other
  • They must be ruthless toward their enemies, showing no compassion, and must wipe them out completely

In addition to receiving these rules, the initiates also receive new names coinciding with the 36 Heavenly Spirits (the same star names used in Water Margin for the first 36 heroes). Little Tiger is the Fierce Star (天猛星, the same as Qin Ming in Water Margin) and Pei Ruoran is the Minute Star (天微星, same as Shi Jin in Water Margin). The initiates are told that in two years they will have to face the second test, of which only 8 disciples will pass. In the meantime they will practice martial arts. The 36 are divided up into six groups of six.

Pei Ruoran despairs at having to wait another two years just for the second test, much less however long she will have to wait for the third test. The initiates are allowed to speak to one another now, but may not make jokes or argue with each other. Pei Ruoran sees her fellow disciples as enemies, especially the big one that caused the death of her friend. She vows to break the second rule (of not harming fellow disciples) regarding him. She steels herself to show no expresion to the others so that she will not appear weak.

Chapter 8: Martial Arts Training (練武)

They 36 remaining children are trained in martial arts by various teachers, learning Shaolin martial arts, as well as qinggong, neigong, and how to handle/manage/anticipate your enemy. Little Tiger and his original group are called before the Leader, who asks them if they broke the old rule of talking in order to form a plan to pass the first test. That’s exactly what they did, but one of the kid’s says it was their instructor’s strict instruction that made sure they all passed. The Leader doesn’t pursue the questioning any further. Peu Ruoran and her new group talk about where they came from, though Pei Ruoran refuses to say because she has learned from the others that her background is different than the others, who were volunteered by their families to come to the valley, which she learns is called Stone Tower Valley, in order to pass the training and hopefully get a position as bodyguard to one of the military governors. The other kids in her group are from the north, where warlordism among the military governors is rife. Pei Ruoran doesn’t understand why she was abducted while the others volunteered to come. She wonders if Little Tiger also volunteered, or if he was abducted like she was. Pei Ruoran takes her martial arts training seriously, as the instructors are not as mean and strict as the first one, instead studiously teaching their techniques. She is determined to study well.

Chapter 9: Forming Cliques (結黨)

Flight Star (天空星) becomes the de facto leader of Pei Ruoran’s group, and he starts picking on and beating up Killer Star (天殺星) who does not acknowledge Flight Star’s authority. Pei Ruoran wants to intervene but she is too timid to do it. She blames herself for this, remembering how she didn’t help her friend Three earlier, who died when he was kicked off the cliff. She also hears about Fierce Star (天猛星), aka Little Tiger, whom the instructors all admire because he works so hard at his martial arts even though he doesn’t have much natural ability. Pei Ruoran is jealous of this so she starts doing like Little Tiger does, asking the instructors further questions after training to improve even more. The instructors subsequently start to take more notice of her as well.

Little Tiger is disappointed in his big dumb friend from Chang’an, whom he helped pass the first test, because the former has changed from an easy-going simpleton to a crude, rough violent simpleton, making him more difficult to manage. Little Tiger also notices Pei Ruoran’s cold demeanor toward him and cannot understand the reason, thinking that being mad about their cuju game after so long would be too unreasonable. A year passes in the valley and Spring arrives again.

Chapter 10: Competition (比試)

The groups have to compete against each other every month to determine their rankings. Pei Ruoran ends up facing off against Flight Star and manages to ward off his attacks until she sees and opening, then she kicks him in the stomach with all her power, doubling him over. She then finishes him off and he falls to the ground. Flight Star is angry and says he accidentally fell down, but the ruling stands. Pei Ruoran then faces off against Killer Star and defeats him easily, wondering why he is so weak a fighter given how studiously he trains.

Flight Star and his crew have it in for Pei Ruoran after that. They one day corner her while she is practicing on a wooden pole. She knows she is surrounded and is thinking of a way to escape when Killer Star suddenly shows up and mounts a pole next to her and begins training. Surrounding one is easier than surrounding two, so Flight Star and the others back off. From that point on, Pei Ruoran and Killer Star become de facto comrades, always staying together to protect themselves against Flight Star and his clique.

to be continued…

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The Assassin (刺客聶隱娘) Official Trailer – 2015

Looks like it’s going to be a lot different from the original Tang dynasty story…

Releases 8/27 in China, 8/28 in Taiwan.

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Zheng Feng and her new novel: The Valley of Life and Death

This article is a translation. The original article can be read in Chinese here.


Zheng Feng’s new novel 《生死谷》(The Valley of Life and Death). 3 Vols.

Hong Kong resident wuxia novelist Zheng Feng comes from a political family. Her father is our well-known former President of the Control Yuan Chen Li-an, and her grandfather was the second Vice-President Chen Cheng, but she did not follow them down the path of politics but instead followed after her brothers in her youth by beginning to read wuxia novels before creating her own wuxia world, to the point that she has been honored by Ni Kuang as the female piece of the puzzle the wuxia world has long been looking for.

Now she is not only a wuxia novelist, but also the mother of five children, writing novel after novel while raising her kids. Her newest novel, The Valley of Life and Death, follows her previous novel, Legend of the Marvelous Peak and the Strange Stone, which used the early Tang dynasty as historical backdrop. This new novel takes place in the later Tang, when military governors vied for control in a fractured, waning empire.

“I used historical records as a foundation to construct a chronological table and was shocked: a lot of people during that time were killed by assassins. The military governors vied for each other’s territory, were poisoned and stabbed to death everywhere. The biggest of such incidents was when Li Shidao sent people to kill Wu Yuanheng in the street.”

Wu Yuanheng was chancellor appointed by Tang emperor Dezong whom he had specially recalled to Chang’an, but was assassinated while preparing for the morning imperial court session. “Such a chaotic time that the chancellor could be murdered in the street?” The Valley of Life and Death begins in just such a troubled time. It starts with several children playing in the street, but soon a seven-or-eight year old child is abducted and taken to a group nestled in a mysterious mountain valley where she is deprived of clothes, her name, and forbidden to speak. There, she begins her harsh training.

The story’s protagonist, Zheng Feng said was inspired by the one from the upcoming popular film Nie Yinniang (The Assassin), and she also consulted the original Tang dynasty tale. “Although the tale of Nie Yinniang is complete, including mention of the process of shaping the killer, I felt it was not enough for constructing a full-length novel, so I took a group of children trained as assassins, and at that time the demand for hitmen was quite high.”

Therefore, The Valley of Life and Death not only uses Nie Yinniang as a prototype for the story’s protagonist Pei Ruoran, there is also over a hundred children preparing to be assassins, each undergoing various trials, sometimes competing with each other, sometimes helping each other, other times framing each other, to the point that they turn to each other as food before finally finding it is not easy to leave the valley. They become members of the “Killer Path” and begin receiving orders to kill people for money, at the same time undergoing the distress of considering the morality of their actions.

Wuxia, as the name implies, should have “xia”, but in a time when people make a living out of killing, how can one be a xia? “What’s right, what’s wrong, actually the characters don’t have an answer for that. Pei Ruoran just believes in “surviving” and that one “cannot betray one’s friend”, while Wu Yuanheng’s son Little Tiger embraces good and evil. He would rather seek death than to cherish living.” Perhaps good and evil are not common, and like real life, seeking “xia” becomes the wuxia novel’s conundrum, not an organization or a charcter, but as Zheng Feng says, “the concept of xia has become more and more complicated with each era, it has become an idea, an action. All one’s life the xia’s work is to have a strong sense of justice and desire to help the weak even when it’s not opportune. Xia ought to be something everyone can accomplish to some degree.”

In fact, brutal reality has already infected the novel to the point that the novel no longer tolerated the vain hope for heroes. The xia is no longer the depiction of the eminent man Jin Yong gave us, natural and unrestrained, and all-powerful, to the point that even passion or sentimentality cannot be endured.

Similar to the non-existent hero, in Zheng Feng’s novel there is no happy romantic love. “Whether it’s a novel or real life, emotions should be more subtle, more veiled.” Even though Jin Yong is Zheng Feng’s model, as a woman wuxia novelist she possesses a different point of view on romantic love. “In Jin Yong’s work there is a lot of moving romantic love, but there is also that like Wei Xiaobao, which is not enticing in the slightest. When a woman looks at a man, she’s looking for if he treats me well, or enough, but Wei Xiaobao doesn’t do any of that, yet every girl sticks close to him, it makes no sense. Of course it’s Jin Yong’s plan, to set up this joke.”

However, certainly most of the infatuation in wuxia comes from women, except Zheng Feng’s. Her romances must have a reason, like she asked, “Do women always fall in love with those who treat them well?” Love doesn’t come without reason just as heroes are not inborn. In Zheng Feng’s novel, everything must be accomplished.

Chatting about reality, and about Zheng Feng’s resident Hong Kong, the topic of the Umbrella Revolution is mentioned. She said she has seen a lot of “latent potential emerge.” Revolution cannot be expounded in a few words, but the perils of life she has gone through have deeply affected her. When she was about to give birth to her fourth child, she called hte hospital up in the morning, but they replied there were no beds available and she would have to wait until afternoon, but when it’s time for the baby to come out, how can you just wait until afternoon? Not only did she have no bed, none of the other hospitals in Hong Kong, either private or public, had beds available, so she could only lie down in the corridor. Her fifth child was born during the milk powder shortage, when the only way to get milk powder was the register with the manufacturer, show identification, and then it would be delivered to your home. Then school. The birth-rate in Hong Kong was so low that many schools had closed down, but because people were crossing over jurisdictions to send their kids to school, the line for registering your child for kindergarten was long so that you had to wait in line all morning. “So why are Hongkongers so anxious, these immediate perils cause you to ask: does the government really not think things through? Why do they always wait until something happens to begin action?” The accumulating discontent among the populace is because the people do not feel the government has much consideration for the people.

It’s fairly easy to write wuxia in a chaotic world, during war heroes are likely to emerge, and in a time of confucion where the way out is not clear, what course should revolution follow? Novels tend to avoid mentioning this, but Zheng Feng says, “Writing is a dialogue with myself, a quiet stable activity. Through writing I can placate myself.” Perhaps the answer lies between reading and writing. In life you might bet met with a flash, a small notion turning, and “xia” consequently will be born. This “xia” perhaps cannot change anything, but through it we can placate ourselves and this turbulent world, if ever so slightly.

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The Red Dawn Elixir – Chapter 1, Part 2

The Red Dawn Elixir is a wuxia serial novel by John Dishon. It is published in installments as they are finished. Table of Contents

Chapter 1: White Birch Town (part 2)

They slept in the guardhouse that night, much to the chagrin of Little Tang, who received a smack in the back of the head by Qin Xiong for making them wait so long outside. All the inns were closed so there was option but to stay in the guardhouse upon Old Wang’s suggestion. He was more amiable than his assistant.

The next day Qin Xiong and Luo Chenglong found lodging at an inn. To save expense they shared a room and slept in the same bed. During the day they both sat across from a low table in their room and practiced regulating their breathing. This was part of the process of recovering the internal energy that had been unbalanced and weakened in their fight in the south. Luo Chenglong sat with his brows knit during these sessions, his thoughts still lingering on the reason he and his sworn brother needed this rest. And he was thinking about his luck.

The brothers had run away from the Blue Stone Gang down in Fujian province, the result of a disagreement over a game of Ma Diao that escalated into enmity with a group of high-level martial artists that tended toward the black path. Blue Stone members would take offense if you took them as part of the Greenwood, but in fact they were not far from it. They made their income from running gambling houses and their members were known as scoundrels and part-time brigands, though the latter would be denied should anyone have the guts to accuse them of it. In any case, they controlled their area completely, so much so that even government troops gave them a wide berth and the local county magistrate turned a blind eye. Rumor was the magistrate had been bought, but this too would be denied. No one dared bring it up, though.

Luo Chenglong had disagreed with another’s style of play—he didn’t use the word “cheating”—which led to similar accusations thrown at him, and the result was a fight that left the Blue Stone member bloody. The Blue Stone Gang evened the score, however, led by their chief, Shi Gongwei, which in turn led to Luo Chenglong and Qin Xiong going in together to re-even the score. Which led to their embarrassing defeat and self-imposed exile to the far notheast.

He felt responsible for his sworn brother Qin Xiong getting hurt, and he regretted the damage done to their reputations among the martial fraternity. What reputation their was, anyway. They had made names for themselves as capable fighters who helped the weak and oppressed, but they were still considered lesser pugilists. Maybe secondrate if the evaluator was being generous. But once word got around—and no doubt it had by now—about their resounding defeat at the hands of Shi Gongwei of the Blue Stone Gang, Luo Chenglong and Qin Xiong would surely not be considered anything but thirdrate. So Luo Chenglong sat with a frown on his face as he regulated his breathing, his thoughts interrupting his process and reducing its efficacy.

Qin Xiong, on the other hand, sat with a look of content, relaxed. It was easier for him to rest because he didn’t take the blow to their reputation as heavily as Luo Chenglong—because he hadn’t thought about that yet. Once it occurred to him that others within the martial fraternity would learn of their defeat he would be bothered by it, but now his thoughts were on recovering. And Three Lotus House. Continue reading

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The Red Dawn Elixir – Chapter 1, Part 1

The Red Dawn Elixir is a wuxia serial novel by John Dishon. It is published in installments as they are finished. Table of Contents




Dark of night, snow ripping through hard wind scouring his face. In a numb hand a windlantern swung with each heavy step, its yellow light solitary on what he hoped was the road back to White Birch Town. His chest heaving in ragged breaths as the last of his energy sapped away into the cold, his pace slowing. The flaps and jagged edges of his clothes whipping, the dark stain on his belly dried and hard like plaster. On his back he carried a leather bag, and he gripped it with white knuckles as if it were dangling off a cliff and he trying to save it. The bag sat heavy on his back and hunched him over as he fought against the screaming wind and driving snow that hit his face like tiny pellets.

He shielded his hand over his eyes and ventured a look up, but all he could see in the glow of the lantern was the snow flashing past him like silver insects. To stop here long enough to store up some energy for the final push, if he was wear he hoped he was, would be fatal. He would stand there statued in the storm and fall over before freezing completely, and some person strolling by days later would find him and probably just pass on and not even tell anyone about him. But it was difficult to keep moving.

Forced to continue with his head down, he trudged on, focusing on the light reflected off the snow as if to absorb its warm energy into his body as he went, and he kep on like that some minutes, not thinking, just breathing and looking at the snow underfoot and not thinking, don’t think about anything.

He looked up and squinted, did stop and stood there for several minutes, not thinking about how he shouldn’t stop, but looking for ahead because he thought he saw something, a light in the distance. He looked around, but it was pointless, everything outside the cone of his lantern light was black like lacquer, and he didn’t dare turn his whole body around to scan his surroundings for fear of losing his bearings. There was definitely something there.

Somehow he found the energy to move on, this time with his head up braving the wind and snow, looking for that something he thought he had seen. Finally the something resolved itself into an amber orb of light, swinging in its catenary like his lantern. A few more steps, a few more minutes and he could see it better and his heart quickened. It was a lantern jostling at its post in front of the gate to White Birch Town. The other one must have blown away for there was only the single lantern. He couldn’t make out its form, but the shape of its light and its consistent rocking told him he was going to make it, the town was just ahead, he really have been on the road as hoped. Now all he had to do was muster up enough strength to get to the gates.

It was the middle of the night, long past curfew. The gates would be locked up, everyone in bed, and this was the kind of night for a deep sleep. How could he get in? But he wasn’t worried because he knew the gate guard, Old Wang. The old man, once roused from his slumber, would let him, just as before.

Now his attention was on the lantern. He stared at it hardly blinking and went on. The storm was still lashing his face when he saw the gates form out of the edges of darkness and he watched as the lantern resolved and grew in shape and rose higher and higher as he got closer until he was looking up at it, and then he lowered his head and found the wooden gates not more than a few inches in front of his face. He hunched over and rested his hands on his knees, then clutched at his stomach and grimaced.

A banging as his fists pounded the wood.

“Old Wang! Old Wang! Open the gates, it’s me! Qin Xiong!”

He paused to catch his breath, his mouth dry, and then he started up again, screaming as loud as he could against the howling storm.

“Old Wang! Open the gates, it’s Qin Xiong! Open the gates!”

He leaned against the gates and rested for a moment, gaining his breath, holding his belly. The windlantern he has set down by his feet.

No response.

The old man would be fast asleep, but Qin Xiong was sure his voice was loud enough to wake him. It had to be. Finally, over the top of the wall came a thin voice.

“Who is it? It’s past curfew!”

Qin Xiong’s head shot up and he picked up the lantern and backed away from the gates, raising the light before him to see the source of the voice. But it wouldn’t reach far enough and he saw only darkness at the crenels of the wall.

“It’s Qin Xiong! Are you Old Wang’s servant? Come on, open the gates!”

The voice came back. “I can’t open the gates, it’s past curfew!”

“To hell with curfew, I’m freezing out here!”

“It’s against the rules!”

Qin Xiong swore. “Are you that servant, Little Pang?”

“It’s Tang! the voice said. “Master Wang’s asleep, you’ll have to come back in the morning!”

“I can’t wait until morning! You little bastard, just open the gates! You want me to die out here?”

There was no response.

Qin Xiong was starting to worry. “Little Pang, open the gates! Old Wang let us in that last time!”

No response.

Qin Xiong went back to the gates, set down his lantern, and proceeded to bang on the wood, yelling obscenitites and calling for Old Wang. After a minute he slumped to his knees and let his bag drop to the snow and leaned against the gates. He was breathing hard. He fixed his eyes on the snowflakes whirling in the slant of light projected from the lantern. Like a swarm of gnats. The cold was sinking into his bones and he could not get his breath. He yelled again but didn’t know what and there was no response.

But wait. How did we get here?

Go back. Continue reading

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The Red Dawn Elixir – Enter the Rivers and Lakes




Enter the Rivers and Lakes

Dear friend now in the misty predawn when the roads lie lacquered in rime and the shop windows shuttered against the sharp air that bites the nostrils and now when the drunk and destitute hoist themselves up and slunk down cobbled back alleys and dark narrow lanes with itinerant dogs and vagrant felines seeking the day’s design, and now along these open lanes leading to the brothels or the marketplace where stalls sit still and empty like a barren offering, or else down to the shabby temples where incense burns the solemn fumes of a higher realm, and in the shadows of arching gateways and against the crumbling packed walls of the town where the increment rosy glow of morning has yet to touch, no soul shall walk save you.

Among the rammed earth walls and broken-tiled roofs of homes wherein reside all manner of personage, hiding by day behind the face of a sootblacked smith or a ruddy-cheeked merchant under whose clothing a frosty-edged blade nestles cold inside its leather cradle, or in the face of a bored man before the cookfire wielding with deft hands a wok, nimble fingers that could as easy block the flow of blood to your heart with a fleet tap as roll out pastry skins translucent as gossamer wings, or among the clamoring masses now filling the streets with their varied modes of dress and conduct, obscuring to all under heaven the truth that lies behind the visage, the benign gaze of routine or the minatory glare of intent.

Inside the inns and taverns dim and gloomy under the feeble light of oil lamps take whatever seat is offered you and do not let your eye linger too long on the motley crew peopling the card table in the back corner. The wildhaired scoundrel with one eye might not have the patience to brook a stranger’s interest, but more than the calm gentleman resting half-lidded at the table adjacent, a fan folded beside a score of empty wine bowls acting as tally for the accounts he will soon settle with both the shopkeep and with himself.

Do not be alarmed at the gleaming hilts of swords sleeping in their wooden scabbards or the clink of metal under a stranger’s clothes, but perhaps the silent wanderer in torn dress and disheveled hair should not rouse your anger when he fails to give way along the road in his passing. His days are longer than yours, his troubles borne on his face so that they will not smother his heart. You would not guess his skill with palm strikes and you would not believe the blood and sweat he has devoted to making a life of accumulating enmity, and under a roadside pavilion looking out on the river, do not suppose the young couple are not also harboring deeper sentiments. She might be in the fresh of her youth yet her sleeves conceal needles and his eyes flash a shimmer no one would mistake for kindness.

Along winding circuitous rivers under towering craggy cliffs and before perilous peaks on the horizon where a thin line of water falls like a jade rainbow you cannot help but feel small, and now through forests wooded with pine and bamboo or thickets of juniper and yew, past streams and down ancient paths leading to an old bridge stained with the blood of a quarrel still talked about upon crossing, breathe in the misty vapors as you watch from a promontory an old man with a fishing pole and wicker hat stroll the far mountain roads while singing a tune in a dialect you don’t recognize.

We are come to a world within the world. Within this shapeless boundary residing among the common and law-abiding another life teems. Baleful or benevolent, violent or passive, gratitude and revenge coil together like lovers, the righteous uphold justice drifting along the white path or the black, who can say which is which, while the brigands in the greenwood argue their color. Right and wrong, love and hate, who knows how high the sky or how deep the earth? All lives fugitive in their running.

The night is silent. Save for a bell tolling far away, carried on the breeze and what does it toll? Each chime a condemnation of humanity or the counting down of what remains? Know ye who enter here the world of the rivers and lakes the days are not endless. The red earth scatters and blows away like leaves brushed off a dusty path and you but a desiccated withered scrap among the dross. In the distance lanternlight burns amber like feral cat’s eyes in the dead of night and the calm wind carries with it the plaintive notes of a flute and in the trees the very air thrums with life.

Then comes the dawn.

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Wuxia Documentary Previews

Below are a couple clips from an upcoming documentary on the history and development of wuxia literature in Taiwan. No word yet on when the documentary will be ready for release. Below each video I have posted a rough translation, with the names of the people featured in each clip listed in order, followed by a translation of what they say.

Su Xiaohuan (蘇小歡) – wuxia author

Wuxia novels’ most charming aspect is that it’s a magnificent imaginary world

Qin Hong (秦紅) – wuxia author

Wuxia novels are a kind of “not have” thing, in Taiwanese we say, “you have no rice but want to cook a rice cake”. It’s a thing that is totally unlike real life.

Di Yi (荻宜) – wuxia author

In wuxia novels, there is a broad, expansive world.

Yu Lingyan (玉翎燕) – wuxia author

Wuxia novels can let you feel powerful and unconstrained, can let you put yourself in the role of main character. Ai Ya! Elated, the gratitude and enmity. The male characters are all very heroic and strong, the female characters are all beautiful, so good, inside [the novel] I can travel to the very firmament, very happy.

Liu Canyang (柳殘陽0 – wuxia author

The difference between writing wuxia and writing other novels is the difference in time and space, you can use your own thinking, or method to create this big development.

Shangguan Ding (上官鼎) – wuxia author

We feel that the most important word regarding wuxia novels is “Xia” (俠). If in the novel you cannot express “Xia”, this concept of chivalric justice/righteousness, then I don’t think it can be called a wuxia novel.

Jin Yong (金庸) – wuxia author

By writing novels I hope to promote the essence of chivalric justice

Wen Rui’an (溫瑞安) – wuxia author

At the bottom of your heart there is this chivalrous sentiment, the hopes of the people, the righteousness of the world, this is from the very beginning what I was searching for in writing wuxia novels.

Ni Kuang (倪匡) – wuxia author

Wuxia is a suitable genre for Chinese people because in wuxia the bad people always come to a bad end.

Zhang Zongrong (張宗榮) – wuxia director and actor

Ni Kuang (倪匡) – wuxia author

Wuxia is a suitable genre for Chinese people because in wuxia the bad people always come to a bad end, while in real life bad people often don’t come to a bad end, so wuxia is a way for people to escape from reality

Wen Rui’an (溫瑞安) – wuxia author

During the 60s-70s to the beginning of the 80s, all of wuxia literature rose from Taiwan authors. You can’t say Hong Kong had Jin Yong, “one person can defeat ten-thousand”, is he Xiang Yu? Xiang Yu didn’t come to a good end. He certainly can encompass each writer’s achievements, that’s what everyone says, but how many writers is that? Most of them came from Taiwan.

Jin Yong (金庸) – wuxia wuthor

By writing novels I hope to promote the essence of chivalric justice, can sacrifice oneself or not be concerned about oneself’s own benefit, but instead help others, do the things you’re supposed to do.

Shangguan Ding (上官鼎) – wuxia author

We used to grab a wuxia novel and read in our spare time, often hiding somewhere to read. A lot of people read during class. That kind of joy now is almost non-existent.

Ye Hongsheng (葉洪生) – wuxia scholar

The Jade Hairpin Oath can be regarded as Wolong Sheng (臥龍生) most famous and popular novel. Starting from that novel, all of wuxia literature came to know the Damo Yijin jing (Dharma Muscle/Tendon Change Classic), then the Shaolin Temple’s consummat martial arts, the 72 Secret Arts, then at that time wulin has nine big main martial arts schools, those were all organized and set up by Wolong Sheng. Including later on the descriptions of unifying the wulin, that concept also was first conceived by Wolong Sheng. Jin Yong had those ideas later than Wolong Sheng, three, four, or maybe even five years later.

Gong Pengcheng (龔鵬程) – wuxia scholar

Taiwan’s literary circle never looked at the literary achievements of popular fiction, it was just used fun literature, just read for pleasure, among the literati no one ever talked about wuxia literature. So Gu Long said, people who write wuxia, we should regard as literary writers, don’t look at him and say he is not literature, this, this issue, Gu Long all his life struggled in his heart with, he cared about it, he always hoped he could breakthrough so that people would recognize his work as literature.

Li Ping Nuoni (李馮娜妮) – Gu Long’s close friend

Actually, at the time Gu Long was writing novels, one time he had nowhere to go, so Sunday he went with my husband an I and we took our kids to the movies. To Ximending. My husband was leading the kids in front and I was walking with him a little behind, and we bumped into an old co-worker from Guangzhou. He told him we were taking the kids to the movies. And your wife? My husband introduced us, and he said, oh! the young master is so big (meaning Gu Long). So I said to Gu Long, I’m your mother…

Every week he would go with us to watch movies. One time we were see a 007 film, my husband said, he said these wuxia novels, if they aren’t about avenging a father’s death they are about avenging the theft of one’s wife, all day long these old things, he said look at nowadays, such as 007, he used all these new weapons, you can use that kind of thing in your writing. Later he did write like that, with the result that he created somethign new, right? Because it wasn’t avenging a father’s murder or stealing someone’s wife, these two storylines, but rather he used a completely new style to write, just like my husband wrote a novel called Purple Drifitng Fragrance, he said that fragrance was great, I just used a Chu Liuxiang, in the end Chu Liuxiang became popular.

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Yun Zhongyue’s Jianghu

This essay is a translation of an article posted on the oldrain forum. The original source is here.

Yun Zhongyue short story collection

Cover of a Yun Zhongyue short story collection.

by xuefengzisui (雪峰資水)

Nanjing University 小百合站 May 16, 2003

Everyday seeing people talk about Jin Yong moved me to write this essay. Every wuxia star is like a perilous peak among a towering range of mountains. Although they all stand firmly, tall and straight among the clouds and mist, but each has its own distance and height. Everyone has their favorite author, and readers are perhaps the most bigoted. Reading wuxia, if you a reader likes one writer and regards others as a pair of old shoes, then it’s a lot like visiting a famous mountain yet not appreciating or delighting in it. Wuxia, despite being fiction that narrates stories of made-up characters, yet every writer has his own method of fabrication, and from these methods we can see where current trends spring up. Regarding wuxia authors from Hong Kong and Taiwan, I believe there are several whose accomplishments are underrated. Whenever I see people loudly declaim at forum discussions that everyone other than Jin Yong is trash, or everyone except X is trash, I can’t help but sigh at their juvenile temperament. The ancients said, “A leaf blocks the eye and you can’t see Mt. Tai”. For a lot of wuxia readers, Jin Yong has become the standard, and Jin Yong’s jianghu has become a model, and wuxia should be written this way.

But although everyone knows that Jin Yong is good, yet he is still not capable of overshadowing others’ literary grace. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, aside from the greats Jin Yong, Gu Long, Liang Yusheng,Wen Rui’an, and Huang Yi, there are three other authors whose achievements have been underrated, and those three are: Sima Ling, Sima Ziyan, and Yun Zhongyue (雲中岳). It’s too bad that, despite the fact that these three authors’ novels have their own unique characteristics, people still rate them as second-rate wuxia authors, along with Zhuge Qingyun and his generation of writers. The special traits of Sima Ling and Sima Ziyan’s novels will be discussed in another essay, here I want to talk about Yun Zhongyue.

Of course, Yun Zhongyue’s shortcomings are enough to fill a large basket, such as his style of writing wants a smoother flow, his character models are repetitive, etc. Overall, he can’t compare to Jin Yong or Gu Long, but Yun Zhongyue has achieved the rare feat among wuxia writers of devising his own unique system of jianghu. Wuxia’s trait that is most derided is it’s duplication, authors echoing and copying each other. There are so many wuxia authors that, if you didn’t know who the author was or what the name of the novel was before reading, after finishing, you wouldn’t be able to guess who the author was no matter how hard you racked your brains.

Yun Zhongyue’s novels are different. His works have a distinctive quality, and what is laudable is that his novels seldom show any influence or trace of Jin Yong. This feat alone is enough to secure him a seat at the main hall of wuxia literature. Wuxia’s number one key element is the jianghu, the rivers and lakes. But what is the jianghu? Is it the rivers and lakes that Li Shangyin refers to in his poem: “Forever remembering the rivers and lakes to which I would return, white-haired, I yet wish to turn around heaven and earth before entering a tiny boat”? Obviously it’s not.

Formulating a concrete reality and fictionality of the jianghu, it is impossible to give “jianghu” a precise definition. An outstanding wuxia author must in his novels embody his own concept of the jianghu. I personally believe that to bring out that embodiment, we must look at the contrast between the author’s concept of the jianghu and the imperial court, and the jianghu and society. First we will look at how Jin Yong, Gu Long, Liang Yusheng, and Wen Rui’an describe their jianghu. (I want to state clearly in advance that my remarks are directed at each authors’ novel’s typical or representative case, I’m not saying every novel written by a given author matches that model.)

Jin Yong, despite being known for his heroic characters coming to the aid of the nation, and perfectly mixing it with history, if you look closely, Jin Yong’s jianghu is a self-sufficient, self-evident closed-off community, and the jianghu’s influence on the imperial court, the government, is striking. Heroes and knights-errant, the Xia, can easily perform in the role of government, but the state’s influence on the jianghu is perplexing. Court officials commonly emerge with a jianghu identity. If the Xia (俠) are leisurely and carefree, then the imperial court are indifferent to them. In addition, Jin Yong’s characters almost never have to think about the problems of living. Ha ha, to take it to the extreme, their almost like supernatural immortals who never have to eat. Wherever the Xia come and go, the masses bow in submission and worship. Consequently, Jin Yong’s novels really cater to the model mentality of the weak masses. In other words, Jin Yong’s novels have a strong feeling of substitution/representation, where the reader can imagine himself in the role of the characters. Even plots like when Zhang Wuji quietly retires from public life, he can comfort yourself with the thought that, it’s not that don’t want to serve the nation, it’s just that my moral state is high, and I transfer it to you base people.

In Liang Yusheng’s novels, clashes between the jianghu and the state are numerous, to the point you could say that they are a main thread of his novels, but more numerous than that is the conflict between Han Chinese and peoples from other ethnic races. What’s strange is (a friend of mine posed this to me): You brazenly (Minshan School) rebel against me (Qing court), but I don’t send an army to suppress you, but instead hire a group evil martial arts masters to come deal with you? If this were like a third-rate wuxia author’s exaggeration, where a master of the wulin is so powerful he can take out an army of 100,000 by himself, then you could justify it, but the Xia in Liang Yusheng’s novels are absolutely not like this, with such magical powers.

In addition, when the good guys make a big show of calling for and gathering a group of hundreds to go against the Qing government, the imperial court shows no interest in it, but instead relies on a few traitors within the good guys’ group to tip them off. It feels like the imperial court and the jianghu are like children playing in the family wine, to such an extent that it belittle’s the reader’s intelligence. Liang Yusheng most praises “heroic bravery and emotional hearts”, and correspondingly, his male and female characters are simply like banished immortals descending to the mortal realm, they’re all the best of the best, they do things that are refreshing and pleasing the to eye (you can imagine the Glacier Goddess (冰川天女) taking out money to pay a bill, does Zhang Danfeng not have enough money?) playing harmonious music on qin and flute. “Wuxia is fairy tales for adults” is just about right. But this ill-talk is just the author talking in his sleep.

We need not mention Gu Long’s novels, which thoroughly abandon the court and reside in completely fictitious society (but their societal background has a strong projection of reality).

Wen Rui’an’s point of view is interesting. The state is the jianghu, pick any official you see and they are all martial arts adepts. The fights within the jianghu are the state’s/court’s fights. Writing this way, the jianghu loses its spirit of wildness. In other words, you don’t need to write about the jianghu, why not just use the wuxia structure to write about political struggles? From here we can see Yun Zhongyue’s originality in contrast. What’s written below is merely regarding the typical, representative model of Yun Zhongyue’s works (some of his novels do walk down Jin Yong’s path).

First of all, in Yun Zhongyue’s eyes, characters must be real. His protagonists are different from the traditional form taken under Jin Yong or Liang Yusheng’s pen. His characters have to strive for food, they have to think about income, money, expenses. Even if his main characters are heroes for a time, even more time is spent in the low position of reality, bowing their heads in submission. They face reality and often have to sigh as their ability is not equal to their ambition. In Yun Zhongyue’s novels, you rarely see Xia constantly expounding moral principles, and you rarely see people taking on the personal responsibility of saving the world (these kinds of characters Yun Zhongyue generally holds with an attitude of ridicule). Some of his characters instead are scoundrels eking out a living in the jianghu, or killers who earn profit through blood and sweat, or common people who by chance are drawn into the struggles and conflicts of the jianghu. The refined scholar one often finds in wuxia novels are seldom seen in Yun Zhongyue’s work, and when they are seen, are often playing opposite their expected role.

In addition, the relationship between the jianghu and the imperial court maintains a marvelous tension. The jianghu has its own rules and regulations, its own autonomy, but the imperial court regards the jianghu with a manner of hostility, feeling more jealousy and suspicion than trust and confidence. Their methods are suppression and sowing discord, and the schools and sects of the jianghu scorn the court, fear and guard against the court, seek refuge away from the imperial court, even as far as exiling themselves away from the government, but most often these organizations show superficial obedience to the court. Desperadoes rise in rebellion, but those who can survive don’t dare openly oppose the government. It’s the so-called “the people’s hearts are like iron, the officials like a furnace” (Yun Zhongyue loves using that sentence). No one doesn’t fear the imperial house, even the novel’s protagonist, if he one day comes in conflict with an official, in the end will often flee in self-imposed exile to a remote region and live incognito. As for the “white way” (good guys), black way (bad guys), the greenwood way (outlaws, brigands), the chivalrous way (righteous “Xia” behavior), according to Yun Zhongyue’s interpretation, all are from the imperial court’s perspective, but in the eyes of jianghu personages, between these different kinds of organizations there is just a different “method of seeking one’s living”, they are indifferent to high morality.

The influential schools and sects are the ones that are the most powerful, the ones the imperial court temporarily tolerates. If the court becomes ruthless and brutal, the big organizations just take advantage of the situation to preserve their own interests. There are no “administer the country to pacify all under heaven” characters, at this moment there are few who uphold justice, most of the time you have to rely on the pawns and nameless nobodies occupying the lowest positions in society. You could say that Yun Zhongyue’s knights-errant (俠客) are closer to what Sima Qian described as “foot soldiers butchering dogs”. Yun Zhongyue’s jianghu is not happy and carefree like that of Jin Yong or Liang Yusheng, his jianghu is an “autumn wind and rains and freezing cold frost” jianghu. The strong eat the weak is the standard of Yun Zhongyue’s jianghu, and the imperial court is the jianghu’s biggest tyrant. And the protagonist of his novels have to strive to live, outwardly suffering humiliation while inwardly struggling with their inner hearts, only bursting forth for a brief instant their magnificent radiance.

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