Wednesday, November 3, 2010
The Genuine Triumphs Over the Fake, Ying and Yang Always Accurate
Let’s recap. As Miss Ren Peach Blossom was carried in the bridal sedan to Lord Chou’s residence, the Red and Black Lords of Malignancy were waiting in readiness to execute orders of both parties: One obeying the will of the Big Dipper to lash Peach Blossom to death while the other submitting himself to the words of power in the incantation of the Immortal of Malignancy by Peach Blossom Girl to save herself. After the Star Lords explained to each other the reason of their respective presence, they both at once rode on their clouds and departed to their proper places. With that the bridal sedan of Peach Blossom entered the main gate of the house unscathed. The beat of the drums and gongs deafened the heavens as the music of panpipes1led the procession. Numerous servants followed the retinue in throngs. Some were shouting in the front; some were pushing in the back and others straddled on steeds with handsomely-carved saddles. People on the street knew that the retired official Lord Chou is now getting a daughter-in-law. What a dazzling sight it was: the bridal sedan made from knotted silk damasks with the Eighteen Immortals from the Fairy Isles embroidered on it and everything else was covered in red. True magnificence it was! Everyone praised the lavishness before their eyes:
“What difference it makes between the nobility and the vulgar masses!”
Those in the know knew Lord Chou had no son and chimed in,
“He’s marrying a second wife. Of course no expenses spared!”
Inside the bridal sedan, Peach Blossom seethed and fumed as she heard such ribald comments,
“If I don’t skin2 that Chou Chien alive, how can I ever bear today’s insults?”
None of the various Gods of Malignancy dared approach the bridal sedan embroidered with images of the Immortals of the Eighteen Caves. Thus Peach Blossom was able to journey safely to the main entrance of Lord Chou’s residence. When the bridal sedan arrived, people from the Ren household began to call out to matchmaker Chiang,
“Quickly, people from Chou’s residence. Come perfume and purify the bridal sedan!”
Matchmaker Chiang went inside and informed Lord Chou about the ritual. He asked matchmaker Chiang:
“When Miss Ren Peach Blossom entered the bridal sedan, did you see anything suspicious?”
Matchmaker Chiang replied,
“This little woman was at her side all the time and saw her parents help her into the bridal sedan. I did not see anything unusual.”
Lord Chou was taken aback in surprise and said,
“Strange indeed. Methinks this Peach Blossom’s skills are no trifling matter. Even this God of Black Malignancy is no obstacle for her. I guess the various lesser Gods of Malignancy are of no use then! Thank goodness I had called upon the Gods of Mourning and Funeral3 to be at hand. I shall see what magic this female can conjure up to break my spells!”
And that, Lord Chou said to matchmaker Chiang,
“Since she wants my men to purify the bridal sedan what harm is there for me to go and check things out? You people there, quickly bring out the clothes iron and start heating it. Place some cedar and rue (Rutaceae) leaves in it. I shall personally go and perfume the bridal sedan myself so that this female can enter the threshold!”
The members of the Chou household had long prepared things needed for the ceremony and quickly they were given to Lord Chou who then encircled the bridal sedan thrice. Little did he know of the power of the aroma from the burning cedar and rue leaves that could ward off unclean things. Suddenly by this act all the effects of the Gods of Mourning and Funerals were negated in one shot. The Gods could no longer stand the scent and quickly withdrew. From inside the bridal sedan, when Peach Blossom Girl heard that Lord Chou himself had come to perfume the bridal sedan, she chuckled to herself,
“Such an idiot this Chou Chine is! Not knowing this simple logic of burning cedar and rue aroma to ward off evil!”
By the virtue of this single act, we know that Lord Chou is no match for Peach Blossom. All the traps he had set to harm Peach Blossom Girl literally went up in smoke. Lord Chou knew nothing of what he had done. All this while he had assumed Peach Blossom Girl had some great magic power to thwart the Gods of Malignancy. Chou Chien did not understand the way of nature in that everything has its allies and nemeses. After the perfuming ceremony was performed, Lord Chou walked into the main entrance to put away the clothes iron with the rest of the things and then ordered,
“All bystanders stand aside and let the bride get out of the bridal sedan to enter the main hall. Once again, you all…”
What Lord Chou really meant to say was that despite his uncouth deeds, he wanted to show to the world the great designs he had for Peach Blossom Girl when she entered the main hall – to show how mighty he is over her and to take revenge for breaking his predictions.
Expecting that Peach Blossom Girl would die inside the bridal sedan, word had spread that the master had ordered no one to be allowed to enter the main hall except for the bridal sedan. However the night before, Pang Jiang had been instructed by Peach Blossom Girl to do the following: to take a few steps ahead and past the main doors just before the arrival of the bridal sedan into the main hall, and with his back facing outside and his front looking in, he must take out the willow bow and arrow…
Cocking the arrow and steadying the bow, Pang Jiang chanted in a loud voice:
One bow of willow wood,
An arrow of peach wood,
Shoot to door’s left,
Shoot to door’s right,
Lord of Funerals,
Lord of Mourners,
All be gone nary a trace I should see.
Just as Pang Jiang was about to shoot the arrows right into the door, the Gods of Funerals and Mourning were shaken as they saw their nemeses. The moment the whistling sound of the arrow was heard, the Gods fled in fear on their clouds resuming their proper places. For this reason willow bow and peach arrows are hung whenever inauspicious occasions arise.
Lord Chou had thought that Peach Blossom Girl would not be able to ward off the two Gods of Malignancy and would surely be destroyed by them so he personally came out to peep, using the excuse of carrying the clothes iron to perfume the bridal sedan. No one, not even he himself knew that he had fallen right into the trap of Miss Peach Blossom and had foiled his own plans. Pang Jian was enjoying himself so much at letting loose the first arrow that he shot the second one with gusto. Who knew that this shaft flew right at Lord Chou! However he was quick of eye and shouted,
As Lord Chou quickly cocked his head to one side, the arrow barely missed his ear. Enraged he bellowed,
“Who has such gall to let loose arrows in here!”
Lord Chou covertly looked around and saw Pang Jian holding a bow in his hands and thundered,
“Pang Jian! What a good nothing you are! You dare try to assassinate your master with an arrow!”
Pang Jian turned paled as he heard his master’s roar, and quickly threw down the small bow in reply,
“How can Pang Jian’s gall be so big? Miss Ren had instructed me to shoot at the sides of the main doors, saying that milord had some kind of death and funeral gods to guard the left and right side of the doors waiting to do her harm. Hence she instructed me to use this bow and arrows to banish the two star lords. I’ve nothing to do with it!”
When Lord Chou heard Pang Jiang’s words he let out a great cry,
Quickly he kneaded his fingers and jumped,
“Oh crap! A day’s toil of blood and sweat gone up in smoke! All my plans in vain! Leave me at once!”
Lord Chou entered the inner hall and thought to himself,
“Even if that female thwarted the two Gods of Mourning and Funeral there are still more numerous vicious Gods of Malignancy gathered in here. See how she can get out of this situation?”
Let us turn to Peach Blossom Girl who now had alighted from the bridal sedan with the matchmaker carrying her. All outer and inner halls were decked in red carpets. Peach Blossom walked easily across the halls in her yellow slippers that had not yet touched earth. As she left the second set of doors and into the inner hall, Pang Jiang took the sieve-like string basket from the bridal sedan. On reaching her, he covered her pretty head completely while chanting,
This stringed basket shall be the heavenly Divine Net.
Great red carpets shall be the magical ropes5 to bind her down.
Straddle the saddle to ride the Day Horse Star,
See the grasses of the mortal world, Heavenly Ram6 now be gone!
With that incantation Peach Blossom Girl had taught him, Pang Jian recited it like a song. On approaching the doors to the inner hall, Pang Jian emptied the hay from a square bucket and scattered them all over the place. Peach Blossom Girl hurriedly straddled across the horse saddle7 that was placed at the entrance of the hall. She took out her treasure vase and began scattering the five grains that was contained in it. Really:
For mortals it’s only a show,
But when immortals do it, things are different.
With that Peach Blossom Girl entered the inner hall. Now all the women folk of the Chou household knew that their Lord was using his magic to destroy Miss Peach Blossom from the moment she stepped out of the bridal sedan. Up to now nothing had happened thereby proving that Peach Blossom Girl’s power was greater and that their master’s traps were rendered useless. They also heard matchmaker Chiang praising how beautiful Peach Blossom Girl was – such a kingdom beauty that even fish would sink in shame and high-flying geese would swoop down for a peek8. Who wouldn’t want to take a look at her? The inner hall was fully packed with onlookers and the Ying aura was overwhelming. The lesser Gods of Malignancy were held at bay by the actions of Peach Blossom Girl and now with the overpowering Ying aura surrounding her, they could not do anything as she moved away from their position of attack. More importantly the uncleanliness9 on the women in the hall was too much for them. They were afraid that if tainted with such filth that they might not be able to resume to their proper places and so they quickly left on a cloud.
Lord Chou saw nothing was happening to Peach Blossom as she passed through the three entrances and straight into the inner hall. His anger spewed from his three nether regions and smoke belched out of his seven orifices10. He swore,
“Wretched bitch! Dare to break my traps? Our enmity has become a chasm. No longer can I tolerate the sight of this female11!”
Then he heard the matchmaker exclaim,
“The Ren people are now asking for the groom to come out to kowtow to heaven and earth. What should we do?”
Pressed with such urgency, Lord Chou could not formulate any plan and thought to himself,
“What shall I do?”
After thinking for a while, with no plan still in sight, he had no alternative but to call for his daughter Heavenly Fragrance to act as a proxy groom12 to stall things for a while. With that in mind he called out to the servant girls,
“Go and fetch the Miss!”
At the same time he called the house matron and ordered her to do such and such. Then this matron approached Peach Blossom Girl and said,
“Today is not auspicious say our Lord. The groom will not see the bride. Therefore he ordered me to fetch our Miss as a proxy for the groom to kowtow with you. Please enter the bridal chamber and have a seat.”
When Peach Blossom Girl heard the words, she smiled to herself in glee:
“Today a scapegoat13 there will be. No energy to expend!”
Peach Blossom stood still and gave the precious vase to matchmaker Chiang. From her bosom she secretly took out a greenish copper mirror and hid it in her sleeves. Then she kneaded her fingers and calculated.
Now as Heavenly Fragrance arrived to the scene, loud drum din clamoured to heaven, tugging at her ears. The two beauties bowed to each other in acknowledgement before performing the kowtows to each other. A bevy of servant girls followed them as they tittered into the bridal chamber. Heavenly Fragrance performed the customary lifting of the red bridal veil of the bride by the groom… The sight she saw was as if the fairy from the Pistil Palace14 had arrived or that Chang-O from the Lunar Palace15 had descended. Heavenly Fragrance’s heart melted with admiration and sighed to herself,
“Too bad, too bad! Such a ravishing beauty my father has to destroy today. Such a pity!”
At the same time Peach Blossom Girl gazed upon Heavenly Fragrance’s face and truly a sight it was:
Moth-shaped brows be like the crescent of the moon,
Two eyes, starlight bright like reflection from autumn ripples.
Enhancing her looks are the clasped Eight Treasures hairpins,
Just a glance and you know she’s a beauty full of sweetness.
On this very day Peach Blossom Girl was smitten by the winsome looks of Heavenly Fragrance and said admiringly to herself,
“Such rare beauty found on this earth! Alas tonight she’ll die in my stead!”
As each beauty looked at each other in secret admiration, they shared the same feelings of pity and hate. However both shall not die as this would be explained later in the story but at this moment, Heavenly Fragrance started the conversation,
“Miss Ren, please be seated on the bed.”
What will be Peach Blossom’s answer? Will she be able to escape from the White Tiger God in the bed? Please read the next chapter.
1. 笙, Chinese panpipes were thought to be invented by the Goddess Nuwa who mended the heavens with five colored stones. The two longest pipes are silent and is merely a decoration to represent the tail of the phoenix.
I used ‘If I don’t skin Chou Chien alive’ to express Peach Blossom’s anger directly to the readers without having to obstruct the flow of the story.
For more information see Nine Exterminations at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_exterminations
3. In traditional Chinese funerals, 3 rituals must be performed:
a. 披麻 – donning coarse hemp over white clothing by family members. If the
deceased has no family, mourners can be hired professionally for a fee.
b. 弔客 –’hanging’ guests – when they come to pay respect, mourners and family
members or otherwise must burst out in bereavement to show their loss.
c. 喪門 –’doors of death’ is the place where the funeral takes place.
All these rituals are personified into vicious Gods of Malignancy and may have a constellation representing them in Chinese fortunetelling.
4. In the original text, it was “No good!”, the way how Chinese expresses in such a situation. However “Oh shit!” serves better to western readers. Such is the difference between two disparate cultures. I did not retain the original flavour in this case as it did not add any value.
5. 拌腳繩 – feet binding ropes. These are magical ropes to bind people. Similar to those found in mythological stories about wars among immortals that are used to bind them – 捆仙索.
6. In the original text, there was no mention of the ram being divined but was inferred by grasses in the mortal world. Most probably a God of Malignancy dwells in the Ram Constellation.
7. In other dialects such as Cantonese, the bride jumps over a burning brazier instead and crawls between the trousers (legs) of the first wife if she is still alive.
8. The complete couplet is:
閉月羞花之容, A face so resplendent that the moon has to hide and flowers droop in shame,
沉魚落雁之貌 Appearance so exquisite that fish sink and the geese swoop down for a peek.
This couplet describes China’s four greatest beauties changed the fortunes of empires. The beauty that causes the moon to hide behind the clouds refers to Diao Chan (貂嬋) of the last years of the Eastern Han Dynasty. It was said that once her adopted father saw her praying in the garden under a full moon when suddenly a cloud passed by and hid it. He took the opportunity to comment about her beauty – so great that even the moon had to hide in shame.
The one who shamed the flowers refers to the famous imperial concubine, Yang Gui Fei (楊貴妃) of the T’ang Dynasty. It was said that when Emperor Hsuan Tsung (唐玄宗) peeked at his bathing beauty, the peony blossoms were so heavy laden that he remarked that even the flowers drooped in shame before her presence.
So beautiful was Hsi Hsi (西施) that when fishes saw her as she washed her clothes in a river that they forgot how to swim and sank to the bottom. She was used as bait by a defeated king as a tribute to his conqueror with the intention of ruining his kingdom. In the end the scheme worked. It is one of the basic stratagems used in the “Art of War” – the Maiden Trap (美人計).
Geese were seen flying and someone remarked that even the birds swooped down to have a look at the beauty of Wang Chiao Chun (王昭君) as she was enroute as bride to the Shanyu (chief) of the Hiong Nu barbarians. The Han emperor relied on his court painter as a way to see who the palace beauties were. Court ladies vied with each other by bribing the court painter to paint them in a more flattering way. Wang Chiao Chun refused as she could paint a portrait of herself. In anger the court painter dotted a mole on her face. The emperor was informed that such a mole portends an early death to the husband. So when the Hiong Nu Shanyu came demanding a princess to be his bride, Wang was given away in the hope that her mole would cause an early demise of the enemy. Woe was the day to the Court Painter when the Emperor came face to face with Wang as he saw her off.
9. Such is the power of menstrual blood that both good and evil forces are adverse to its presence.
10. In Taoism the three nether regions are the pubic regions, about two inches below the navel, where it is believed that the ‘chi’ (氣) or vitality of a person resides. These upper, middle and lower regions are also known as 3 ‘Worms’. The seven orifices of the head – the eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth.
11. The original text is “I cannot stand with her in this life” i.e. to go through life with this person etc.
12. This is a quaint custom of the Chinese whereby having a joyous occasion such as a wedding or some grand celebration can counteract malignant influence especially when a family member is gravely ill. This is known as ‘instigating joy’ (冲喜). In some cases when the groom is very sick or is too young to be married, a chicken is substituted for the groom – ‘chicken wedding’ (雞婚). This happens usually in rich families where an older girl is married to a pre-pubescent boy to be looked after by this wife. When the boy is old enough to be married, this “wife” may be discarded.
13. The actual meaning is that when someone died virulently such as in a drowning, the soul is condemned to wander forever until it can find a substitute to take its place. For example a ruse could be to mimic someone struggling in the river in the hope for a Samaritan to go to its rescue. The victim is then drowned by the ghost or spirit who can then be on its way to reincarnation. However such beliefs are inconsistent with Buddhist doctrines in which every soul is judged and punished in Hades for their former evil deeds before being reincarnated in the Wheel of Transmigration into some insect, animal, or human in varying degrees of social status.
14. Name of some fairy palace.
15. Chang-O (嫦娥) was the beautiful wife of Hou I (后羿) the divine archer who shot down nine of the ten suns (in the form of crows) that appeared simultaneously in the sky to prevent the earth from burning up. In gratitude the people made him king. Later at Mt. Kung Lun he met the Queen Mother of the Western Paradise (西王母) who gave him some pills of immortality. There are two versions of what happened next. One version is that he became a tyrant and Chang-O stole the pills to prevent him from becoming an immortal and the other is that Chang-O was curious and stole the pills for herself. Whatever the case is she was discovered and downed the pills. She became lighter and fled away to the moon while Hou I shot arrows at her in one version; or in another version, she was filled with much remorse for her action. She lived in the Great Cold Palace (廣寒宫) in the moon with a rabbit pounding elixir under an osmanthus (桂) tree.