Thursday, October 14, 2010
Copyright © 2010 – Jeff Loh. All rights reserved
Eyes glaring with light into four corners – truly a fearsome sight!
Everywhere silenced by his prestige – for this is the White Tiger God2-9.
“Lord Chou! You belittle me. So now you have added four more vicious Gods to stab me in the back. Too bad your work is in vain. What harm can you do to me?”
With those words, she returned to her sewing room immediately. Inside her prepared brocade pouch, she took out a peach tree sprig and returned to the backyard. Muttering an incantation, she blew into the sprig and shouted,
“As-you-wish-master, return to your true form!”
Suddenly the peach sprig lengthened and in no time turned into a seven foot long halberd-like weapon. Wielding it in her hand, she took out an azure silk veil and covered her powdered face. With another hand she held a formula, recited an incantation, pointed the halberd into the air and she ordered,
“Where art thou is the Red God of Malignancy4 ? Descend quickly!”
Peach Blossom’s magical skills are greater than Lord Chou’s. This is because not only had she been trained long in the Jade Pools of Western Paradise but her heavenly book was bestowed by the Immortal of Malignancy who is the Lord overseeing all other malignant Gods. Peach Blossom’s incantation was the direct command used by Immortal of Malignancy himself to summon the Gods of Malignancy. Hence burning paper charms or casting the Big Dipper configuration was not needed. After a gust of wind died, down came a God donned in golden armor. Standing in the peach garden he bellowed,
“Conjurer, why thou dost call upon me?”
When Peach Blossom saw the Marshal of the Red Malignancy, she quickly closed both eyes and answered,
“Lord Chou performs services by making predictions thus violating Heaven’s Will. I invalidated his predictions. Still befuddled, he has no regret nor sees the need to pacify the anger of Heaven. From his venomous heart comes a marriage ruse, and a bidding to the Marshal of Black Malignancy to be his cohort and to guard the main gate entrance. He will strike me dead as I enter the bridal sedan! I have no choice but to borrow thy divine prowess for covert protection. As the God of Black Malignancy strikes me with his steel lash, I beg thee to use thy golden mace to parry it. After this small fairy enters the bridal sedan safely, you may return to your proper place. To disobey me is to be punished accordingly to the infractions proscribed in the Book!”
As Peach Blossom ended her incantation, the Red God of Malignancy left on a gust of wind.
Slowly she tidied up her hair and blew a fairy breath onto the halberd which transformed back to its original form of a peach sprig. Breaking off three tender peach shoots and a peach branch she returned to her room. There she began to make them into a long bow and three arrows. After putting them aside, she took out some cotton threads and began to weave a cross5 here and a cross there. Soon a sieve-like basket was formed. When the woof and weft were set snuggly she put everything away. Looking up at the sky, her ears were shaken with the drum beat sounds for the hour of Si.
In came Ren Tai Kung and wife, clad in auspicious clothing who in a hurried manner exclaimed,
“My dear, the carriage from Lord Chou has arrived. What are you going to do now?”
Peach Blossom wept as she heard the words,
“Father, mother! For sixteen autumns, you reared your daughter in vain. Today she’s to enter the Chou’s family. This I cannot avoid, there’ll be a fearsome life and death struggle whose outcome is unknown. I have a few words for you two. Please listen carefully my august ones!”
Through their sobs, Ren Tai Kung and wife replied,
“Worry not my daughter, please go with ease. We’re sure that the magic of Lord Chou will achieve no victory over you. If you have anything to say, just go ahead and say it. Nothing’s inappropriate. We two old biddies shall heed your words!”
The little miss then recited,
No Ying no Yang will approach,
Be charitable and there’s no regret.
No descendants now but later there will be,
When life ends on that day you’ll fly!
On streaks of clouds high over imperial towers6,
That day is the hours of Zi, Wu, Jia and Mao.
Think not the destinies of Heaven and Earth,
But the Peach Gardens waiting long for their gardeners7
A shining example to show the world the joys of being charitable!
These words are meant for Ren Tai Kung and wife that when their lives on this earth end, they shall ascend to heaven to become guardian Gods of the Peach Garden8. This happens after the story so no need for further elaboration. Peach Blossom then continued,
“The hour of Si is approaching, your daughter has to prepare. Parents, please don’t be sad!”
How can Ren Tai Kung and wife not bear their parting? The two old biddies tried holding on to their daughter while sobbing out loudly. Just at this moment in their inextricable embrace, servant girls came reporting,
“Master Pang has arrived!”
On hearing the news, Ren Tai Kung and wife stopped their sobs and looked up. Pang Jian came in and greeted the couple,
“Uncle and auntie and my virtuous sister, please don’t cry. Your nephew has something to say.”
Ren Tai Kung gazed at Pang Jian and his anger grew, shouting at him,
“Pang Jian! What a good fellow you have been! My daughter had warned you several times not to let the cat out of the bag and yet you leaked everything out. Lord Chou is now our mortal enemy. This marriage is an excuse to harm my daughter! He has no son, intending to do away with our daughter once she is in his place. I’m warning you that if anything happens to her, this old life shall fight the two of you till kingdom come!”
Pang Jian turned green and then red in angst. Quickly he knelt down begging,
“Your insignificant nephew did not admit to anything even after several interrogations had taken place and even after suffering a few hundred strokes of flogging ordered by Lord Chou. Only when his sword was out threatening to cut me into two that I had no choice but to tell the truth. I was punished and not allowed to leave the house. I could not come to report. I know my fault piles up to heaven. I really didn’t know that he’s using this marriage as a ruse…”
Before Pang Jian could finish his sentence, Peach Blossom cut in and said,
“Father, mother, please don’t put the blame on him.”
And she continued,
“Brother, today you’re here on orders of Lord Chou, tis not the time for idle talk. I’ve very important and serious matters to deal with. You must heed every word I tell you. Right now, here’s something for you to do.”
With that, she took out the bow and arrows and continued instructing,
“Keep these on you. When my bridal sedan enters the main gate, you must do this and this.”
As Pang Jian nodded his head continuously, Peach Blossom took out the thread sieve she made and gave him detailed instructions on what to do. Taking the sieve, he secretly went outside and placed it in the bridal sedan.
Peach Blossom took a few more articles with her as she prepared herself for the wedding. An Eight Treasure Pearl Coronet was placed on her head. Red robes of court officials befitting her station became her wedding gown. A Taoist symbol design was embroidered on yellow satin shoes. She stood on her brick bed9 so that her feet did not touch the ground. Finally as she added a belt studded with blue jade, matchmaker Chiang came into the inner hall with a three foot long red silk and a pair of precious vases filled with five grains. Peach Blossom held onto the pair of vases as she taught matchmaker Chiang how to veil it over the bride’s head. Then thinking to herself,
“This woman is a schemer, why don’t I make use of her!”
With that in mind, she casually called out,
“Mother Chiang, at all times you must stay at my side. You shall be rewarded with twenty taels of silver when I return home tomorrow.”
When matchmaker Chiang heard these words, in glee and joy she exclaimed,
“Miss, today this old crone is here to carry you over the threshold, how could I take more of Tai Kung’s boon?”
Ren Tai Kung said,
“Just take care of my daughter, carry her over the threshold safely and a boon of twenty taels of silver shall be yours. This I promise you.”
The miss then bade her father to help her into the bridal sedan. All articles used by Peach Blossom today are no trifle things but as protection to thwart the Gods of Malignancy. Who knew that such actions would become the custom and a ritual must for all later weddings.
Ren Tai Kung quickly helped to carry Peach Blossom into the bridal sedan10 and wailed loudly,
“My daughter! You asked for your father’s aid in carrying you into the bridal sedan, you who have been with your parents for so long… Today you’ve grown up. I wish that you and your husband shall live to a hundred in harmony and prosper with numerous grandchildren. To thee, great happiness, longevity and nothing to fear.”
Mrs. Ren came along, crying – a real separation between mother and daughter where each could not contain their feelings. No son for this couple, just only a daughter. Today’s separation drenched in sorrow without knowing what portends in the future. Even Pang Jian was shaken by their weeping and sobbed as well. Just as Peach Blossom was about to sit down, a strange gust of wind blew towards the bridal sedan. Then a steel mace appeared, poised to strike – the action of the Lord of Black Malignancy on Lord Chou’s orders to strike Peach Blossom as she entered the bridal sedan. Then suddenly out of nowhere, a golden mace came forth and parried the steel mace as it fell on the bridal sedan. The Lord of Red Malignancy appeared. On seeing his steel mace unable to strike further down, the Lord of Black Malignancy thundered wryly,
“By the orders of Conjurer Chou’s Bigger Dipper formation, I am to strike Ren Peach Blossom dead. Honorable Lord, why thou dost parry my blows to save her? No longer can I fulfill the conjurer’s orders, what now then?”
The Lord of Red Malignancy laughed along,
“I too am under the orders of Ren Peach Blossom. She used the summoning commands of the Immortal of Malignancy. Both conjurers are the Ying and the Yang elements battling wits. Ren Peach Blossom is of the orthodox path and under orders of the Jade Edict to be born on this earth. She is to annoy and provoke Lord Chou into a battle so that both can return to their proper places in Heaven and not remain on earth. Soon it is, their date of return. Must we obey their summons and destroy our harmonious relation?”
When the Lord of Black Malignancy heard the answer he replied,
“Ye words are most wise and most compatible with the mysterious will of Heaven. Let’s return to our proper places.”
With that both Gods left for heaven. To know what happens next please read the next chapter.
1. In the original text, white color was understood from the words ‘face powder’. However the words lack power to describe the white face of the God. Hence I used the silvery white color of arsenic to achieve the desired descriptive effect.
2. An ancient weapon of warfare. In later times, it was used for ceremonial purposes.
4. So far I have avoided the translation of the character, 煞, ‘Sa’. Terms such as煞神 were translated Gods of Catastrophe or Gods of Malignancy. However this word denotes a Chinese concept unknown to western cultures other than auras of evil. ‘Sa’ is a Feng Shui term denoting objects or spirits containing too much negative energy that can cause bodily harm by contact. According to Yin and Yang principles, life is positive energy while dead things are negative. Sickness is caused when a person has too much negative energy and eventually death results if all positive energy is drained away.
Contact with unclean things such as ghosts and demons are termed as the ‘collision of evil’, 撞煞. When someone destroys too many living things, he is tainted with an aura of ‘Sa’, often translated as an aura of Malignancy, 煞氣. This does not mean that the aura is evil. Black and Red ‘Sa’ belong to this kind of malignant auras. Black Malignancy refers to the auras emanating from the dead which can be seen by ‘sensitive people’(people ‘born with a veil’ or psychic) (Black is the color of mourning in China).Red ‘Sa’ is the result from either exposure to excessive accumulation of bones of corpses or from extremely deep grievances of spirits and ghosts. The Red ‘Sa’ is the final evolutionary form of Black ‘Sa’. It is most injurious to life but luckily one does not encounter it often.
5. The Chinese character for the numeral ten, ’十’ is shaped like a cross.
6. Imperial towers were the tallest structures in those days hence denoting great heights.
7. 大椿 is a legendary tree of great longevity. Later it meant one’s father. Here the poem’s intention was that the garden needed their father to take care of it.
8. Most probably the peach gardens of the Queen Mother of Western Heaven, 西王母.
9. 炕 is a brick bed that can be heated from within. Northern Chinese sleep on ‘Kangs’ while southern Chinese sleep on beds.
Traditional kangs of the rich
10. I personally witnessed as a kid such a wedding ritual in my aunt’s wedding. A middle aged woman was needed to carry my 4th aunt into the car (reflecting the times of the late 1950s).