Copyright © 2010 – Jeff Loh. All rights reserved
Friday, July 23, 2010
In Angering Heaven, A Girl1 Was Reincarnated2,
In Understanding The Way, A Beauty Reveals Secrets of Heaven.
Let us focus not on Mrs. Shi’s weeping but to turn to Lao Tzu who was meditating in his Tushita Palace on the Thirty third level of Heaven. He was sitting on his bulrush prayer mat when the Golden Boy3 burst in reporting,
“The Attendant to the Divination Box is nowhere to be found and hasn’t been back at all.”
Upon hearing the report, Lao Tzu let out his divine light and understood all that had happened and nodded his head,
“What a vile creature you are, my Attendant of the Divination box! Instead of cultivating the true way and attain enlightenment quietly, you seek your own torment and misery by today’s rash action. It’s not that I have no compassion to save you!”
Lao Tzu then reported the incident to the High Emperor of Summer Heaven4 who then commanded the Peach Garden Fairy to be sent down to earth. On receiving the Jade Edict5, she turned into a ball of divine light and rushed straight towards the destined family of Ren Tai Kung6 in Morning Song to be born as his daughter. She is now grown up and sixteen years of age. Her face looked like a peach blossom; she was slender-waisted like the weak branches of the willow, such an indescribable beauty. How do we know?
There is a poem describing her beauty,
Cherry Peach-shaped mouth, teeth white as jade,
An understanding flower7 whose beauty is unique.
A fate from previous life causes all this,
So easily that a fairy be reborn into a mortal’s family?
Around the time of her birth, Ren Tai Kung’s wife dreamt and saw the sky was filled with colored clouds and from there descended a fairy holding a luminous peach blossom. The fairy then gave the blossom to the lady of the house8. When she started to inhale the fragrance of the flower she awoke and within three days, a daughter was born. For this reason the baby was named Peach Blossom. Being the old couple’s only child, their love for her was greater than that of having a pearl in hand. Brought up in a lap of luxury, her every whim was catered to. On this we shall not dwell on any longer.
One day, as the husband and wife were sitting in the main hall a pitiful wailing was heard in the streets. Ren Tai Kung hurriedly went out to see what it was all about. He recognized it was their wall-adjoining neighbour9, old widow Mrs. Shi, who was weeping loudly. A crowd was consoling her but he could not hear a thing as too many people were jabbering at the same time. In midst of the crowd, he started to address Old Mrs. Shi,
“Old auntie10, why are you weeping so sorrowfully? Why not come to my humble abode and have a seat? Explain exactly what had transpired so that this old man may understand one thing or two. We may be of help.”
When the crowd saw Ren Tai Kung invite old widow Mrs. Shi into his home, they dispersed in no time. As she was being led into the main entrance, Mrs. Ren came out to welcome her. On seeing the state Old Mrs. Shi was in, she quickly helped her into the main hall and bade her sit down.
Mrs. Ren asked,
“Old sister-in-law, who had you been quarreling with? Did someone wrong you?”
Old Mrs. Shi wiped her tears,
“Madame, this concubine never quarreled with anyone. It is because my son is going to die tonight on the third hour of the watch! You tell me, who can this old life depend on?”
She wept again when her words ended.
Mrs. Ren gasped in shock and inquired,
“Was the terrible news sent by your son?”
Old Mrs. Shi waved her hands explaining,
“Not yet, no, not yet. My son had left home and told me that he would be back within three months. Now half a year has gone by and there is no news. This old body could not be at peace and so this morning, I went for a divination. It is terrible – tonight, on the third watch, my son will be crushed inside an abandoned cave dwelling. How can I not be this sad!”
Mrs. Ren laughed out loud upon hearing the explanation,
“Old sister-in-law, here I thought that you received some very grave news, it’s only an unlucky horoscope. How can you be this sad? That fortune-teller is not a living god, how can you possibly believe him?”
Old Mrs. Shi replied,
“If it’s some other person, I would not have believed but this is from Lord Chou. His predictions on the Yin and Yang are most accurate and whether in bliss or calamity he does not err. Whatever he says will become true. I had been imploring him most painstakingly but he only remarked that, ‘Unless you plead with King Yama himself, I’m afraid there is no chance of your son being alive!’”
When Ren Tai Kung heard the words, he was stunned for a moment and said,
“Old sister-in-law, I too have heard of this Lord Chou. His divination skills are like those from God. According to what he said, then there is no hope of saving your son. If Lord Chou knows that your son is to be crushed, why did you not ask him for a clarification? Where is this place? Why not ask someone go there immediately and stop your son from entering the place? Then you have nothing to fear.”
Mrs. Ren chimed in,
“You are getting senile and understand nothing! Lord Chou is not a living god. His prediction merely follows the principles of divination. By not knowing the exact location of the place, he just pronounced that there’s no hope at all.”
Old Mrs. Shi became even more sorrowful upon hearing those words. The pain was unbearable and she started to sob again. As husband and wife looked at her sorrow, they began to think: he is the only son and with the family being this poor, who could this old bag of bones rely on should his son really die? The more they thought about it, they too could not refrain from tears.
In the meantime, let’s talk about Miss Peach Blossom. From the age of five onwards, while playing at the door with a servant girl, a priest came begging for alms. He gave her three celestial scrolls and a pill. Upon swallowing it, she was able to read. For a few months, each night, this priest visited her in her dreams to instruct her and to teach her magic skills of immortals. Hardly a year had passed and she was well versed with all that were in the scrolls. Up to the age of sixteen, she did not reveal anything to her parents and did not meet people readily. As she loved peach blossoms, the father planted several hundred trees in the backyard where each day together, he enjoyed the garden while she tended the trees or did her embroidery.
The day of Old Mrs. Shi’s visit, she was just clearing the table after lunch and was about to enter the garden when she heard a woman’s incessant sorrowful sobbing coming from the inner hall. Her curiosity was piqued,
“Someone is wailing so bitterly in the hall. I shall have a look.”
On her golden lilies11 she walked quickly into the inner hall and was surprised to see her parents and their wall adjoining neighbour weeping. She greeted them and on seeing the young miss, old Mrs. Shi stopped her crying and said,
“Young Miss, you don’t come out often to see people. Not having seen you for a few years, your hair is now long and you have such pretty eye brows too.”
The husband and wife on seeing their daughter also wiped off their tears and said,
“Daughter dear, why are you here.”
Miss Peach Blossom inquired,
“Father, mother, why are you two crying with old Lady Shi?”
Mrs. Ren replied,
“Daughter, what you did not know is this: old Lady Shi’s son had gone away for some commercial enterprise. Half a year has gone by and he has not returned. Old Lady Shi went to Lord Chou for a divination to see when he will return. She never anticipated that Lord Chou would divine that her son would die on the third watch of tonight and determined that there is no hope for her son. Hence her immense grief. Your father and mother tried to console her but we were so moved that we started to cry too.”
Miss Peach Blossom gave a sigh of relief and said,
“Here I thought there was some grave matter. So that was it!”
She turned to Old Mrs. Shi and said,
“Noble lady, no need to be so sad, I’m sure if elder brother is destined to die, your cries won’t bring him back to life. Lord Chou’s predictions may not be that accurate. Why don’t you tell me the hours of birth of elder brother? This girl knows how to divine as well. Let me see if that’s really the case and if that there is really no hope for him.”
When the husband and wife heard their daughter’s words,
“My child, please don’t jest with Old Lady Shi. Since when have you started to learn such things?”
Miss Peach Blossom replied,
“Father and mother, you do not know what your daughter has learnt recently. Old Lady Shi, don’t worry. Just give me the birth hours. Is there any harm?”
Having no alternative Old Mrs. Shi provided the information. For a while Miss Peach Blossom touched the tip of her thumb with her other jade finger tips. All there is to know about life and death, fortune good or bad, became clear to her. She nodded and exclaimed,
“What a great Duke of the Chou country! Such accuracy. No wonder everyone in Morning Song has so much respect for him. It is true that on the third watch of tonight, your son will surely be crushed inside the broken cave dwelling. This is because the White Tiger is overhead, the gate of Death is watching his life, and the year start and the lunar command12 are not favourable. There is no doubt about his death. According to my calculation, there is a broken cave dwelling about 15 miles from the south of the city. Tomorrow you will find his corpse.”
Old Mrs. Shi began to weep again upon hearing the words. Ren Tai Kung quickly counseled and smiled,
“Old sister-in-law, listen not to my young daughter’s nonsense. Now that we know where the place, this old man will send someone there and save your son. Why be so hard on yourself. My daughter’s words can hardly be believed.”
Peach Blossom smiled,
“How can the efforts of man fight against heaven? Father, mother and old Lady Shi do not believe me now. However, when the hour of Mei13 is over, in the early hour of Shen, there will be a storm. If there’s none, then what I have said will be proved false. If indeed there is a storm, invite Old Lady Shi over again. This lowly girl will teach her a way to save her son.”
With that, she left the hall and entered the peach garden. Ren Tai Kung upon hearing his daughter’s words could not help himself but laughed,
“Mama, just look at the bright and sunny sky, how can there be rain? Old sister-in-law need not be so sad. Just as my daughter said, if indeed your son dies, crying won’t bring him back to life. According to this old man’s words, relax and go home, tomorrow I shall ask someone to inquire.” Old Mrs. Shi had no choice but to bid farewell, and alone in her home, she let her imaginations run amuck.
The moment the hour of Shen arrived, the weather began to change suddenly. In a second, winds began to howl and the rain beat down mercilessly without stopping. Old Mrs. Shi upon seeing this change was stunned and exclaimed,
“Just as expected, this prediction of the coming rain only proves that Miss Peach Blossom’s divination is just as accurate. She believed that my son can be saved. I must go and plead with her. Surely there is a way to save him now!”
Braving the rain, she went straight to Ren Tai Kung and flung open the doors and entered. Ren Tai Kung and his wife were sitting in the hall talking about the accuracy of their daughter’s prediction and not understanding where and how their daughter had learnt that divine skill. In the midst of their conversation, old Mrs. Shi burst in and they knew exactly the reason.
Not knowing if Old Mrs. Shi’s son could be saved, please proceed to the next chapter.
1. Readers would be puzzled by the direct term, “soft matter” (柔物). A term used
for young females as they are so soft, pliable and desirable.
2. Gods and immortals unlike mortals are not reincarnated. When Mortals die they must
first drink the Soup of Oblivion before going through the Wheel of Transmigration in
Hades. On the other hand divine beings on a mission or punishment are sent directly
from heaven into the womb.
3. 金童玉女–Golden Boy and Jade Girl. A generic term for immortal attendants to the
4. 昊天上帝 – Chinese pantheon of Gods is modeled directly after the imperial
system on earth. The term 上帝 is usually translated as God but has a different
connotation in the east. These Emperor Gods have a higher rank than those termed
as 神. Mortals and lesser gods can be elevated to such high status by the ruling
emperor. Thus Kuan Yu, a historical general during the period of Three Kingdoms was
conferred the title of Kuan Ti by various emperors in different dynasties. Gods with
the imperial title of emperor (帝) has its own court and administration of lesser gods
to serve them.
Spring is the azure heaven, summer is Hao heaven, autumn is Wen heaven and
Winter is the upper heaven.
5. Edicts from heaven are termed jade edits especially issued by the Jade Emperor 玉帝
while those by the earthly counterparts are termed as holy or saintly edicts (聖旨)
often translated as imperial edicts.
6. 任太公. Either Tai Kung is the name a person surnamed Ren or a title – Ren the grand
duke. However I chose to translate it as his name because for such powerful nobility
how could a poor woman be his wall-adjoining neighbour.
7. 解語花 is a literary term for a woman who knows and understands about worldly
8. 院君 – an entitled woman of nobility or a wife of a very rich person. Nowadays it
means wife. Here I translate it as a wife of a rich person because a poor family like
Mrs. Shi could not possibly be a next door neighbour to nobility.
9. In old Chinese buildings, each home is separated by a common wall on a lot. There is
no lane or space separating the two homes. I shall use the shorter term next door
neighbour throughout the text.
10. It is considered very improper in old Chinese to speak in the first person unless his
rank is higher. Familial relationships are very well-defined and strict. Everyone has a
ranking and as such formal addresses are used and every child is expected to know
all these familial relationships. Even today, one does not address an older person by
name but rather by their rank such as 5th maternal uncle etc. This formality
extends to strangers as well. After the social status had been determined, correct
titles are used.
In proper social etiquette, one usually uses self-deprecating terms, such as “welcome
to my cold (humble) house”, “my ugly yellow-faced wife” and “my stupid son” etc. At
the same time preventing one from committing hubris. More polite, flattering or
endearing terms are used for the other person who is considered on equal status,
such as, “elder wife of my younger brother (sister-in-law)” for an older woman even
though they are not related.
Concubine is another self-deprecating term used by a married woman even though
she is the main wife. Similarly, “your slave girl” is used to describe even though the
speaker is not one.
Aunties, uncles and such terms are polite addresses used for strangers. It is a term of
endearment to foster a bond so that they may request things or service easily.
Unlike western culture, old age is held in high esteem in oriental cultures because
old age is difficult to attain and therefore warrants respect. Hence calling some one
old is not an insult. I shall keep the word old as it appears in the original text as an
honorific i.e. Old Mrs. Shi from the narrator’s point of view.
11. Euphemism for the woman’s feet. Foot binding was not in vogue when the story
The smaller the sexier is to the males. Even in intimate situations, these golden lilies
12. 月令 – the seasonal and monthly influences on a person’s life.
11 戌 Xu Dog 07pm–09pm Sep WNW
12 亥 Hai Pig 09pm–11pm Oct NNW