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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 08

Chapter 8
Coming across distinguished guest by accident as if having a previous appointment, famous reputation constantly in fear of being seen without any reason.

Wei Xiaobao followed Guan Anji, Li Lishi, and the other warriors outside the door, he saw two, three hundred men standing in two rows shaped like a funnel, their faces showed excitement. A moment later, two men carrying a stretcher with Mao Shiba on it came out.

Li Lishi said, “Mao Shiba, you are our guest, no need to be so polite.”

Mao Shiba said, “I’ve long heard of Chen Zongduozhu’s illustrious name, it’s really like thunder piercing my ears. Today I have the opportunity to pay a formal visit, even if … even if I have to die today, my death …. my death won’t be in vain.” His voice was still without any strength, but his face flushed, showing he was in high spirit.

They heard the sound of hoof beats was coming near, about a dozen horses were galloping near. Before they even arrived, the first three riders jumped down from their mounts. Li Lishi and the others rushed forward to greet them, they held hands with those three riders and talked; they seemed to know each other very intimately.

Wei Xiaobao heard one of them say, “Zongduozhu is waiting ahead of us; Li Dage, Guan Fuzi, and other brothers, please come and see him …” These several people conferred with each other while still standing. Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Qi Biaoqing, Priest Xuanzhen, and the others, six people in all, mounted their horses and sped away with these incoming men.

Mao Shiba was disappointed, “Chen Zongduozhu is not coming?” he asked. But nobody around him knew the answer to that question. They were all dejected because they could not see their Zongduozhu.

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Did someone owe you all ten thousand taels and did not pay? Or perhaps you lost your wife and your pants in gambling? Your granny, why are your expressions so ugly?”

After a long time, someone on horseback galloped by. He was conveying an order, mentioning thirteen names, telling them to meet with Zongduozhu. Those thirteen men were delighted; they rushed toward their mounts and galloped away.

Wei Xiaobao asked Mao Shiba, “Mao Dage, is Chen Zongduozhu a very old man?”

Mao Shiba replied, “I … I have never … never seen him. Everybody in Jianghu admires Chen Zongduozhu, but to see his … the Senior’s face may be really difficult.”

“Hey, hey,” Wei Xiaobao laughed, in his heart he said, “Humph, damn it, what an arrogant guy, what’s so special about him anyway? Laozi does not want to see him.”

Seeing this situation, the crowd of warriors knew that most likely their Zongduozhu would not come. But they still cherished a one in ten thousand chance that he might, thereupon they all stood waiting at the main gate. After standing for a long time, some of them sat down. Someone advised Mao Shiba, “Master Mao, you’d better go back to your room and rest. If our Zongduozhu arrives, we’ll invite Master Mao to meet him as soon as possible.”

Mao Shiba shook his head and said, “No! I am going to wait here. It’s an honor to meet Chen Zongduozhu, if zaixia[1] is not waiting outside, that … that will be too respectful. Ay, I wonder if during my lifetime, I, Mao Shiba, will have the good fortune to see the Senior’s face.”

Wei Xiaobao had followed Mao Shiba from Yangzhou to Beijing. Listening to what he said along the way, Mao Shiba did not have any favorable impression of various Wulin personalities, but toward this Chen Zongduozhu, he showed a complete reverence. Unconsciously Wei Xiaobao was also infected by his sentiment, and did not dare to curse in his heart anymore.

Suddenly they heard hoof beats again, some people were galloping near. Those who sat on the ground leaped on their feet. Everybody craned his neck; everybody hoped that the person the Zongduozhu want to meet this time would be him. Sure enough, four envoys came by. Their leaders dismounted the horse and cupped his fist, saying, “Zongduozhu wishes to invite Mao Shiba, Master Mao, and Wei Xiaobao, Master Wei, to grant him the favor of meeting the two gentlemen.”

Mao Shiba cheered, he leaped up from the stretcher, but “Aiyo!” he cried, and fell back onto the stretcher. “Go quickly, go quickly!” he called out.

Wei Xiaobao was also very happy, he thought, “Everybody has been calling me ‘Gong-gong’ too much, but nobody has ever called me ‘master’. Ha ha … laozi is now Wei Xiaobao, Master Wei.”

Two envoys took over the stretcher and hang it between two horses. Then they slowly walked. The other envoy gave his ride to Wei Xiaobao, while he took another horse to ride on, and followed behind the procession. The six of them travelled less than three li on the main road, before they turned right onto a small lane. Along the way they met two or three men, either sitting or walking, either patrolling or guarding. The leader of the envoys stretched out his middle finger, ring finger and little finger and turned the fingers downward. The two guards nodded their heads; they also stretched out their fingers in secret signal. Wei Xiaobao noticed that the signals these people were showing were all different; he did not know the purpose of those signals.

After travelling for twelve, thirteen li, they arrived at a courtyard in front of a big building. The man guarding in front of the gate loudly announced, “The guests have arrived!” And then he opened the gate. Li Lishi, Guan Anji, and two men that Wei Xiaobao had never met before came out. They cupped their fists and said, “Master Mao, Master Wei, welcome! Our humble Society’s Zongduozhu requests the pleasure of seeing you.”

Wei Xiaobao was utterly delighted; the thought, “Looks like my ‘Master Wei’ will stay after all!”

Mao Shiba struggled to stand up, he said, “How can I see Chen Zongduozhu like this? It’s really … really … Aiyo!” In the end he failed to get up and had to lie on the stretcher.

Li Lishi said, “Master Mao is injured, no need to be overly courteous.” He let the two guests to enter the main hall.

A man told Wei Xiaobao, “Master Wei, please sit here and have some tea. Zongduozhu wishes to have a chat with Master Mao first.” Straight away he took Mao Shiba in.

Wei Xiaobao drank a cup of tea, a servant served him four dishes of light refreshments. Wei Xiaobao took a piece and thought, “Compared to the ones in the Imperial palace, this light refreshments is far too inferior, it can’t even reach the level of Lovely Spring Courtyard’s.” Unavoidably the high regard he had of Zongduozhu‘s status was reduced a little bit. However, his stomach was really hungry, so he ate not a few of these despised light refreshments.

About the time needed to eat a meal later, Li Lishi and the others, four people, came out again. One of them was an elderly man with grizzled beard, who said, “Zongduozhu requests the pleasure of seeing Master Wei.”

Wei Xiaobao busily chewed the pastry in his mouth and swallowed it hard into his belly. After wiping his hands onto the front of his clothes, he followed the four people inside. They stopped in front of a side room’s door. The elderly man raised the curtain on the door and said, “Little White Dragon, Wei Xiaobao, Master Wei has arrived!”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; he thought, “Unexpectedly he knew my made-up nickname, Mao Dage must have told them.”

A middle-aged man dressed in scholar attire inside the room stood up; with a smile across his face he said, “Please come in!”

Wei Xiaobao walked in. His eyes were rolling in confusion. Guan Anji said, “This is our humble Society’s Chen Zongduozhu.”

Wei Xiaobao raised his head slightly to take a look; he saw the man had a kind expression, but his eyes were like lightning as he gazed directly toward Wei Xiaobao. He could not help but was startled; he bent his knees and kowtowed to that man. The scholar stooped down to help him up and said with a laugh, “No need to be overly courteous.” As his arms were being pulled by the scholar, Wei Xiaobao’s entire body was hot; he trembled involuntarily and was not able to continue his kowtow.

The scholar said with a laugh, “This Xiao Xiongdi captured and killed the number one warrior of Machuria, Oboi; he has taken revenge and swiped out the grudge of our countless Han people compatriots who have died under Oboi’s hands. In just a few days his name has shaken the land under the heavens. To be able to make a name this early in life is truly hard to come by, from the ancient time up to this day.”

Actually, the skin on Wei Xiaobao’s face was quite thick; if someone else had praised him like this, he would immediately blow his own trumpet. However, in front of this Zongduozhu who did not flaunt his own prestige, unexpectedly he could only hum and haw without able to say anything. The Zongduozhu pointed to a chair and said with a smile, “Please sit down!” While he sat down himself first.

Wei Xiaobao also sat down. But Li Lishi and the others, four people, remained standing. Zongduozhu smiled and said, “Master Mao Shiba told us that at the foot of Victory Hill in Yangzhou, by using a ruse Xiao Xiongdi has killed an officer of the Qing army, the Black Dragon Whip Shi Song, and thus making a debut and render your first merit. This is already out of the ordinary. I wonder how did Xiao Xiongdi capture Oboi?”

Wei Xiaobao looked up, their eyes met, he could not stop his heart from thumping, in that instant the big talk and nonsense filling his heart suddenly vanished completely. When he opened his mouth, only the truth came out: how he obtained Kangxi’s favor, how Oboi was being rude, how he cooperated with the young emperor in arresting Oboi, and so on. It’s just that out of his respect toward Kangxi’s loyalty, he did not mention anything about the young emperor stabbed Oboi on the back with a dagger. As the matter stands, he did mention how he threw the ash from the incense burner to Oboi’s eyes and how he smashed his head with the copper incense burner, fully aware that if it was not a third-rate way of dealing with the enemy, then it was definitely a second-rate; yet he was unable to conceal it any longer.

The Zongduozhu listened attentively without asking any question, when Wei Xiaobao finished, he nodded and said, “So that’s what happened. Xiao Xiongdi‘s martial art skill is not of the same school as Master Mao’s, I wonder which honorable master is your teacher?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I only learn a little bit of martial art, it can’t be considered coming from any honorable master. The Old Turtle did not really teach me martial art, all he taught me was fake martial art.”

Although Zongduozhu was a man of vast experience and broad knowledge, he had not heard of any ‘Old Turtle’; “The Old Turtle?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “Old turtle is Hai Laogong. His real name is Hai Tianfu. Mao Dage and I were captured by him and were brought to the Palace …” Speaking to this point, he suddenly realized he had made a mistake. To the Tian Di Hui people he said that Mao Shiba and he were captured by Oboi, and now he said it was Hai Laogong who brought them to the Palace; how could the previous story not match the latter one? Luckily his ability in telling lies and covering up was top-notch; thereupon he said, “This old fellow was acting under Oboi’s order to capture us, two people. I supposed Oboi was a very high ranking official, naturally he would not easily do the job personally.”

“Hai Tianfu? Hai Tianfu?” Zongduozhu muttered to himself, “There is such character in the Tatars’ Palace? Xiao Xiongdi, show me the martial art he taught you.”

Even if the skin on Wei Xiaobao’s face were thicker, he knew that in all honesty his martial art skill was not too brilliant; he said, “The old turtle only taught me fake martial art; he hated me for poisoning his eyes blind, so he did everything possible to harm me. This martial art is truly shameful.”

The Zongduozhu nodded, he waved his left hand, Guan Anji and the others, four people withdrew outside the room and closed the door behind them. Zongduozhu asked, “How did you poison his eyes blind?”

In front of this heroic-spirited and imposing Zongduozhu, Wei Xiaobao felt that telling lies was extremely difficult; it was a lot more comfortable to tell the truth, a feeling that he had never experienced before. Thereupon he told him how he poisoned Hai Laogong blind, how he killed Xiao Guizi, how he masquerade as him and live as a little eunuch in the Palace. Zongduozhu was amazed and amused at the same time. He reached out with his left hand toward Wei Xiaobao’s crotch and found that his pen1s and testicles were intact, Wei Xiaobao had not been ‘purified’ at all, indeed he was not a court eunuch. Zongduozhu could not help but letting out a sigh of relief as he smiled and said, “Wonderful, wonderful! I have a difficult problem in my mind and have not found the solution for a while. Turns out Xiao Xiongdi has not been purified, you are not a court eunuch!” Slapping lightly on the table with his left hand, he said, “It’s settled then! Yin Xiongdi has a successor, the Green Wood Hall has a leader.”

Wei Xiaobao had no idea what he was talking about, he only saw Zongduozhu‘s delighted expression, apparently he had found solution to the difficult problem weighing down his mind; Wei Xiaobao could not help but feeling happy as well.

With both hands behind his back, Zongduozhu was walking back and forth in the room, while talking to himself, “Not a single one of our Tian Di Hui’s conducts and deeds was without any precedence. Everything starts with me, why should I care about people being shocked or about public criticism?” This literary-style speech of his was even more confusing to Wei Xiaobao.

The Zongduozhu said, “There are only you and me, two people right now, you don’t need to be afraid to be embarrassed. I don’t care whether the martial art Hai Tianfu taught you was fake or real, perform it and let me see.”

Only then did Wei Xiaobao understand that the reason he sent Guan Anji, four people, out of the room was to avoid him being afraid of making a clown of himself. Seeing he had no other excuses, Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s what the old turtle taught me, it’s none of my business; if it is too laughable, you may curse him good.”

The Zongduozhu smiled and said, “Just go on with your practice, don’t worry!” Thereupon Wei Xiaobao started to perform his style, a small part of the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ Hai Laogong taught him, some of which he had already forgotten, but he still remembered most of it. Zongduozhu watched with rapt attention. After Wei Xiaobao finished performing the style, he nodded and said, “From the way you move, apparently you have learned Shaolin Temple’s ‘big grappling technique’, is that so?”

The ‘big grappling technique’ was the one Wei Xiaobao learned first, naturally he knew his mastery was even worse; actually, he wanted to avoid doing it clumsily to save his own face, but Zongduozhu seemed to know everything. Without any choice he said, “The old turtle also taught me several grappling technique to be used in fighting the young emperor.” And then he performed several moves of the ‘big grappling technique’.

The Zongduozhu smiled slightly and said, “Not bad!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I knew you would laugh when you see it.”

“I am not laughing at you!” the Zongduozhu said with a smile, “I like what I see. I think your memory, as well as your comprehension, are not bad; you are a talented individual. That move ‘white horse kick back’, Hai Tianfu deliberately taught you incorrectly, but you turned it into ‘carp props its gills’; you can make slight change automatically, you did not rigidly adhere to dead moves. That is very good!”

Wei Xiaobao had a sudden inspiration; he thought, “Apparently Zongduozhu’s martial art skill is a lot higher than the old turtle’s. If he is willing to teach me martial art, I, Wei Xiaobao, will definitely become a real hero, no longer a fake hero.” Leaning his head sideways, he stole a glance toward Zongduozhu; it so happened that Zongduozhu’s cold, electric eyes were gazing at him. Wei Xiaobao was always a mischievous person, even in front of imposing Empress Dowager, he still dared to face her up, but in front of this Zongduozhu, he did not dare to be wanton at all. As their eyes met, immediately he averted his gaze.

Zongduozhu said slowly, “What do you think the purpose of our Tian Di Hui?”

“Tian Di Hui is fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Helping the Han people to kill the Tatars.”

Zongduozhu nodded, “Exactly,” he said, “Are you willing to enter our Tian Di Hui and become a brother?”

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “That’s wonderful!” In his mind, each and every one of Tian Di Hui members was a hero and a warrior, he had never imagined that he could become one of the Society’s brothers. He thought further, “Even Mao Dage is not a Tian Di Hui brother, could I be better than him?” He said, “I am afraid … I am afraid I am not good enough.” In that instant his eyes were shining as his heart was swayed between thoughts of personal gains and losses. He felt that it was an out-of-this-world undeserved good luck that most likely it was not real, perhaps Zongduozhu was only joking with him.

The Zongduozhu said, “It is possible for you to enter the Society. It’s just that our business is fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming, regarding our Han people’s rivers and mountains as heavy, and our very own lives as light. Moreover, the rules within the Society are very strict, if you violate it, your punishment will be very heavy. You must think it over very well.”

“I don’t need to think,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Whatever rule you have, I will abide by it. Zongduozhu, if you let me join the Society, I will die happy.”

The smile vanished from Zongduozhu’s face, he said grimly, “This is an extremely important matter, a matter of life and death, it’s not a child’s play.”

“Of course I know,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard people say that Tian Di Hui walks in the way of chivalry, justice and loyalty, its business is startling-the-sky and moving-the-earth kind of great undertakings, how can it be a child’s play?”

The Zongduozhu smiled and said, “It’s good that you know it. When you enter the Society, you must make 36 oaths and have to avoid ten strict prohibitions.” Speaking to this point, his expression turned heavy. He said, “These prohibitions are not applicable to you since your age is still very young, but there is one: ‘toward my brothers, I must be faithful and true, I must not lie and swindle.’ This one prohibition, do you think you can accomplish?”

Wei Xiaobao was slightly startled, he said, “To you, Zongduozhu, naturally I won’t dare to lie. But toward the rest of the brothers, must I tell the truth all the time?”

“Minor matter you may not tell, important matter you must tell,” Zongduozhu said.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But when I gamble with the Society’s brothers, can I or can’t I use tricks and cheat?”

The Zongduozhu had never thought he would ask this kind of question; showing a faint smile he said, “Although gambling is not a good deed, the Society’s rules do not have anything against it. However, if you cheat on them and when they find out they want to beat you, the Society does not forbid it either. Would you like to take a beating and get the worst of it?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “They won’t know. Actually, I don’t need to cheat; my confidence in winning is nine out of ten.”

Tian Di Hui’s members were Jianghu warriors; gambling and drinking were their second nature, nobody ever consider it wrong. Zongduozhu no longer paid him any attention. After staring at him for a while, he said, “Are you willing to do obeisance and take me as your master?”

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, immediately he threw himself in front of him and kowtowed repeatedly, while calling, “Shifu!”

This time the Zongduozhu did not help him up; after Wei Xiaobao had kowtowed a dozen times, he said, “It’s enough!” Wei Xiaobao happily stood up. The Zongduozhu said, “I am surnamed Chen, called Jinnan. This three-character name ‘Chen Jinnan’ is what I use in Jianghu. Since you have become my disciple, you must know your Shifu’s real name. My original name is Chen Yonghua, ‘yong’ from ‘yong yuan’ [forever/eternal], and ‘Hua’ from ‘zhong hua’ [China].” When speaking about his real name, he lowered his voice.

“Disciple will firmly keep it in my heart, I won’t dare to reveal it,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Chen Jinnan looked at him carefully for half a day, he said slowly, “You and I are master and disciple now, we should not conceal anything from each other. Let me tell you frankly: your glib tongue, your craftiness and your excessive cheating is completely unsuited to your master’s disposition; I do not like it at all. Therefore, the reason I accepted you as my disciple is out of consideration of our Society’s major mission.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Later on disciple will change.”

“Changing rivers and mountains is easy, changing a man’s character is much harder,” Chen Jinnan said, “You won’t change much. You are still very young, your temper is rather unstable, so it’s not that bad. In the future you must always remember my words. I always treat my disciples with strict discipline, if you violate our Society’s rules, scheming against anything upright, break the law and commit crimes, your master will take your life. It is as easy as turning my hand, and I will not show any mercy.” To prove it, he reached out with his left hand. ‘Crack!’ he grabbed and broke a piece of wood from the corner of the table, and rubbed it between his hands. Wood splinters rained down on the floor.

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and did not pull it back for half a day. Presently, the delight in his heart was difficult to be chased away. He said with a laugh, “I am not going to do any bad thing. As soon as I commit an evil deed, Shifu will grab me on my head and rub it. Besides, I only need to do several bad things and Shifu, you won’t have any disciple to whom you can pass on your skill.”

“No need to do several bad things, only one is enough,” Chen Jinnan said, “Then you and I won’t be master and disciple anymore.”

“How about two things?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

With a straight face Chen Jinnan replied, “You must be more serious to me, less smooth talking. One bad thing is one bad thing; do you even need to haggle over it?”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied, but in his heart he said, “What if I do half a bad thing?”

“You are my fourth disciple,” Chen Jinnan said, “And maybe my last one. Tian Di Hui business is arduous, I do not have time to take a disciple. Your three Shixiong, two died in battle against the Tatars, one died in service during the recovery of Guoxing and Guangfu, Taiwan; they all died as real men sacrificing their lives for the country. Your master’s status in Wulin world is not low, my reputation is not shameful, you must not do anything that will cause me to lose face.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that … it’s just that …”

“It’s just that what?” Chen Jinnan asked.

“Sometimes it was not me who want to lose face,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But I ended up losing face anyway, I can’t help it. For example, I could not beat others, so others caught me and closed me up inside a jujube barrel, and was pushed around like some merchandise. Shifu, you must not blame me.”

Chen Jinnan frowned; he was angered, but was also amused. After heaving a deep sigh he said, “Perhaps accepting you as my disciple is the biggest blunder I’ve ever made in my entire life. But for the sake of heavy responsibility over the important matter of the world, I have to brave a risk. Xiaobao, our Society has another important matter at hand, in everything you must listen to my instruction and do as I command, don’t talk nonsense too much, then you will be all right.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said.

Chen Jinnan noticed that he was going to speak but hesitated, so he asked, “What do you want to say?”

“When disciple talks,” Wei Xiaobao started, “I only say something that makes sense to me, I don’t want to talk nonsense at all. Yet you say that I talk nonsense, isn’t that an unjust treatment?”

Chen Jinnan did not want to squabble with him, he said, “Then the less you talk the better,” but in his heart he said, “I don’t know how many heroes and warriors under the heavens are showing respect in front of me, they do not even dare to breathe too loudly, but this cunning, uncouth and weird urchin insists on having this much useless words.” He stood up and walked toward the door. “Come with me,” he said. Wei Xiaobao rushed to the door and lifted the door curtain to let Chen Jinnan go out, then he followed him to the main hall.

There were about twenty people sitting in the main hall, as soon as they saw their Zongduozhu come out, everybody stood at attention immediately. Chen Jinnan nodded, he walked toward the second chair at the head of the hall and sat down. Wei Xiaobao noticed that the chair in the middle was empty, and the chair above his Shifu’s position was also empty; he was bewildered, “Could it be that Zongduozhu is not the highest position?” he mused, “How come there are two people above Shifu?”

Chen Jinnan said, “Brothers, I have received a young disciple today.” Pointing to Wei Xiaobao he said, “It’s him!”

The crowd stepped forward; cupping their fists and bowing, they said, “Congratulations Zongduozhu,” and then they cupped their fists toward Wei Xiaobao and one after another they offered their congratulations as well. Some of them appeared really happy, some looked greatly astonished, some looked like they did not believe it really happened.

Chen Jinnan ordered Wei Xiaobao, “Go greet all Bobo, Shushu[2].” Wei Xiaobao then went to kowtow to everybody. Standing on the side, Li Lishi introduced, “This is Lotus Flower Hall’s Xiangzhu, Cai Dezhong, Cai Bobo.” “This is Great Obedience Hall’s Xiangzhu, Fang Dahong, Fang Bobo.” “This is Latter Family Hall’s Xiangzhu, Ma Chaoxing, Ma Bobo.”

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed in front of these Xiangzhu one by one. Altogether there were nine Xiangzhu from nine Halls. Next he had to greet the people next in command of the various Halls. The nine Xiangzhu returned his kowtow by casual greeting, they said continually, “I don’t dare, Xiao Xiongdi please rise.” But unexpectedly other people did not received his kowtow; as soon as he was about to kneel down, they would reach out and stop him. Wei Xiaobao was quick, sometimes he already knelt down before the other side had time to stop; in this case, the other person would hastily kneel as well to return the propriety. Apparently they did not dare to assume the position as a senior.

There were more than twenty people in the hall, Wei Xiaobao could not remember everybody’s name and duty, he only knew that each one of these people was a leading figure of the Tian Di Hui. He thought, “As soon as I bowed to Zongduozhu and become his disciple, everybody treated me as one of their own, they even told me their real name and capacity within the Society.” In his heart he was very happy.

Chen Jinnan waited until Wei Xiaobao finished greeting the people, and then he said, “Brothers, after taking this young disciple, I also wish for him to enter the Tian Di Hui.”

“Nothing’s better than that,” the crowd replied in chorus.

The Lotus Flower Hall’s Xiangzhu, Cai Dezhong was an old man with white hair and white beard. He said, “From the beginning, great teacher always produces brilliant student. The disciple of Zongduozhu must be a wise, brave, and all-around talented young hero. I believe that he will establish great merit in our Society.”

The Latter Family Hall’s Xiangzhu, Ma Chaoxing was a short and stout man, with sincere smile on his face; he said, “Today we meet Xiao Xiongdi of the Wei family, but I do not have anything as a first meeting gift. The one surnamed Ma has always a man of meticulous planning and careful accounting; let’s do it this way: how about if Cai Xiangzhu and I become Xiao Xiongdi‘s sponsor as he joins the Society, consider it as our first meeting gift. What does Cai Xiong thinks?”

Cai Dezhong laughed aloud and said, “Old Ma’s careful accounting need not be mentioned, it is guaranteed to be a sound planning. This first meeting gift does not involve any money, count me in.” Everybody chuckled and laughed.

Chen Jinnan said, “Two Bobo have enormous faces, and they are willing to be your sponsor. Quickly thank them.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He stepped forward and kowtowed to express his gratitude.

Chen Jinnan said, “According to our Society’s rules, the good and bad words and actions of the brother entering the Society will be the great responsibility of the sponsor. This young disciple of mine is very sharp-witted; I am afraid with his quick-thinking head, he would not do the job abiding by the rules. Since Cai and Ma, two Xiangzhu are his sponsors, later on you will share some of my responsibility. If he ever do anything dishonorable, you must put your hands to discipline him, you must not be too polite.”

Cai Dezhong said, “Zongduozhu is too modest. How can any disciple under Zongduozhu‘s tutelage be a dishonorable scholar?”

“I am not being too modest,” Chen Jinnan replied, “Toward this child, I do not feel at ease; by helping me disciplining him, everybody is sharing my responsibility and taking some load off my mind.”

Ma Chaoxing laughed and said, “Disciplining him, I do not dare, Xiao Xiongdi is young, if you have anything you are not clear, we all are brothers here, of course we will be frank and open-minded, so you won’t have to be uptight.”

Chen Jinnan nodded and said, “Let me thank you in advance.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I haven’t done anything wrong, but Shifu already worry that I will do bad things. Ah, right, he heard me on the trick I used to deal with the old turtle, he is afraid my old illness might flare-up and would treat him the same way. But the old turtle wanted to harm me, plus he was not my Shifu, so I poisoned his eyes blind. You are my real Shifu, you will teach me real skill, how can I fool with you? Yet you talk about it up front, everybody here will discipline me, then I won’t be able to move at all.”

He heard Chen Jinnan said, “Li Xiongdi, please set up a ceremonial hall, we will have a ceremony today to let Wei Xiaobao join our Society.” Li Lishi complied and went out to prepare the ceremony. Chen Jinnan said, “According to the customs of the former days, whenever someone wanted to join our Society, the sponsor must examine and investigate his past history and present conducts, for at least half a year, at most one or two years. When everything has been verified, we then conduct the ceremony and have the person join the Society. However, Wei Xiaobao holds a governmental post in the Qing Palace, he is a very trusted-aide of the young Emperor, which will be very beneficial to our Society. We have to temporarily make an exception here, but not because he is my own disciple.”

The people said, “We, brothers, understand.”

The Great Obedience Hall’s Xiangzhu, Fang Dahong was a big and tall man, his black beard was long and shiny. With a loud and clear voice he said, “We can have such a trusted brother handling matters at the side of the Tatars Emperor, is indeed a Heaven’s blessing. The luck of the Tatars is numbered, the revival our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains is promising. It is called ‘knowing yourself and knowing the enemy, you will emerge victorious in every battle’. Who does not understand Zongduozhu’s intention?”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “So the reason you all treat me very well is to make me a spy by the Emperor’s side. Shall I do it, or shan’t I do it?” Thinking how well Kangxi had treated him, he could not help but feeling quite a bit of hesitation.

Cai Dezhong immediately explained briefly the history and rules of the Tian Di Hui to Wei Xiaobao. He said, “The founder of our Society was Koxinga[3], whose original surname was Zheng, his given name was Cheng at the top and Gong at the bottom. At that time Koxinga was the leader of militia, he attacked Jiangnan [South of Changjiang/Yangtze River] and besieged Jiangning [district, Jiangsu], but he failed within sight of success, and was forced to retreat, back to Taiwan. Accepting Zongduozhu’s recommendation, he founded our Tian Di Hui. At that time, our Zongduozhu was Koxinga’s military leader. Me and Fang Xiongdi, Ma Xiongdi, Hu Xiongdi, Li Xiongdi, as well as the Green Wood Hall’s Yin Xiangzhu and the others, were all military officers and soldiers under Koxinga.”

Wei Xiaobao knew that Koxinga was Zheng Chenggong, whom the Ming Dynasty Emperor bestowed the surname Zhu, therefore, the people addressed him deferentially as Guo Xing Ye. Zheng Chenggong had a resounding reputation in the Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guanghzhou area. He passed away during the first year of Kangxi’s reign. Since he died not too long ago, when mentioning his name, everybody’s tone was very respectful. Mao Shiba had also mentioned his name to Wei Xiaobao.

Cai Dezhong continued, “There were a lot of our soldiers remained in Jiangnan, unable to retreat to Taiwan. Some withdrew to Xiamen, a small part of our army actually; for this reason, Zongduozhu accepted Koxinga’s order to remain in the Central Earth to establish the Tian Di Hui and get in touch with Koxinga’s former subordinates. Everybody who had followed Koxinga in the attack of Jiangsu and Zhejiang automatically became Tian Di Hui member, without any need of neither sponsor nor the probation period. But if any outsider wanted to join the Society, we must thoroughly verify his background, to guard against any spy penetrating our organization.”

Speaking to this point, he paused for a moment, then suddenly his expression brightened as he continued with his narrative, “To think that back then our army embarked from Taiwan, altogether we had one hundred and seventy thousand men: fifty thousand navy, fifty thousand cavalry, fifty thousand infantry, ten thousand supporting guerillas, and ten thousand ‘ironmen soldiers’, each one of them wearing full body armor and wielded long lance in their hands, specially designed to hack the legs of Tatars’ horses, while the enemy’s blade and arrows could not injure them. During the battle of Mount Yang Peng in Zhenjiang, Zongduozhu was in command of two thousand troops, we destroyed the Tatars’ eighteen thousand soldiers. It was truly majestic, the aura of death filled the air. I was an officer in the eighth garrison under Zongduozhu‘s flag, I led my troops to rush and kill the enemy, and I heard the Tatars soldiers cried out, ‘Malu, malu! Qihu, qihu!’.”

Listening to this story, Wei Xiaobao was radiant with delight. “What does that mean?” he asked.

Cai Dezhong said, “In Tatar’s tongue, ‘Malu, malu’ means ‘Mama, Mama’. ‘Qihu, qihu’ means ‘run away, run away!’.” Everybody roared in laughter.

Ma Chaoxing said with a laugh, “When Cai Xiangzhu is telling the story of the capture of Zhenjiang and the big massacre of the Tatar troops, he is in such a high spirit that the story won’t be finished in three days and three nights. As the sponsor, you need to explain our Society’s rules to Wei Xiongdi, if you talk like that, even when Wei Xiongdi‘s beard grew as long as yours, you won’t be finished …” Speaking to this point, he suddenly remembered that Wei Xiaobao was a little eunuch, how could he grow beard? Stealing a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, he saw that Wei Xiaobao was unconcerned, only then did he feel relieved.

At this moment Li Lishi was back, reporting that the ceremony hall was ready. Chen Jinnan led everybody toward the rear hall. Wei Xiaobao saw two memorial tablets set up on an board table. The one in the middle read ‘The Son of Heaven of the Great Ming’, the one next to it read ‘Lord Yan Ping of the Great Ming, Marshall Zheng’. As sacrificial offering on the table were arranged a pig’s head, a sheep’s head, a chicken, and a fish, plus seven incense sticks. Everybody kneeled down together and did obeisance to the spirit table.

Cai Dezhong took a sheet of white paper from the table, with a loud and clear voice he read, “Heaven and earth is universal, recovering the Great Ming, exterminating the barbarians. We all live together and die together, imitating the ancient tale of Peach Garden, we all are brothers, with the surname Hong [great], given name Jinlan [sworn brother], become one family. We bow to the heaven as our father, and to the earth as our mother, the sun is our brother, the moon is our sister. We bow to five ancestors and the founder Wan Yunlong as the guardian spirits of the Hong family. We take the twenty-fifth day of the seventh month of the year Jiayin[4], at the Chou hour [between 1-3 am] as our birth-date. Over the former two capitals and thirteen provinces, wholeheartedly as one body. Present imperial court is not imperial court, generals and marshals are not general and marshals, the hearts of the people waver, as we are called to restore the Ming Dynasty and eliminate the barbarians under the heavens. We all consider Chen Jinnan as our commander, we will go with him thru five lakes and four oceans, to be heroes and warriors. We burn incense and establish an oath, to obey and walk in the way of the Heaven, to recover the Ming Dynasty, to take revenge and erase humiliation. We smear our lips with the blood of a sacrifice and make an oath, may the deities come down and be our witness.”

Finished reading, Cai Dezhong explained, “Wei Xiongdi, within these words there is a reference to the ancient tale of ‘Tying Righteousness in the Peach Garden’, do you know about it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Liu, Guan and Zhang made an oath of brotherhood in the Peach Garden, they were not born in the same year and the same month, but were wishing that they would die in the same year and the same month.”

“That’s right,” Cai Dezhong said, “Now that you have entered Tian Di Hui, everybody becomes brother. We and Zongduozhu are brothers, you bowed to him and enter his tutelage, everybody become your Bobo or Shushu. Consequently, you greeted us by kowtowing. But from now on, we are brothers, so you do not need to kowtow to us anymore.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, but in his heart he mused, “That’s great.”

Cai Dezhong said, “Our Tian Di Hui is also called Hong Men[5]. ‘Hong’ is from Hongwu, the regnal name of Ming Taizu[6]. Surname Hong, given name Jinlan means the brotherhood of the Hong Men. Our Hong Men was founded by Wan Yunlong. Wan Yunlong is another name for Koxinga. First, we brothers do not dare to casually mentioning Koxinga’s real surname and given name; second, it will be inconvenient to us if the eagle claws hear his name too much. Therefore, among the brothers, we refer to Koxinga as Wan Yunlong. ‘Wan’ means ‘thousands and tens of thousands people’, ‘Yunlong’ means a dragon in the cloud. Thousands and tens of thousands people consider the Great Ming as the Son of Heaven, thereupon he strived to regain our beautiful rivers and mountains. Wei Xiongdi, this is our Society’s secret, you must never mention it to an outsider friend. Even if Master Mao Shiba is your good friend, your good brother, you must not tell him this.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “I understand,” he said, “Mao Dage wanted very much to join our Tian Di Hui, can we let him join the Society?”

Cai Dezhong said, “Someday Wei Xiongdi can be his sponsor. After our Society people investigate in detail, naturally he can be admitted.” Cai Dezhong also said, “The twenty-fifth day of the seventh month at the Chou hour was the time when our Society was established. Our Society’s five ancestors were the five marshals who sacrificed themselves for the just cause in Jiangning. The first one was surnamed Gan given name Hui. I remember when our large army attacked Jiangning, I commanded a garrison of troops, I received Zongduozhu’s order to set an ambush outside the Jiangning western city gate, the Tatars army …” When talking about the attack on Jiangning prefecture in the past, he waved his hands continuously, the more he talked, the farther away he was from the topic at hand.

Ma Chaoxing smiled and interrupted him, “Cai Xiangzhu, it won’t be too late if we tell the story of the attack on Jiangning prefecture slowly later.”

Cai Dezhong laughed; slapping his own forehead he said, “Right, right. Once I started on the past events, I can’t stop until the story is finished. Let me read the ‘Three-point Revolutionary Poem’ now. I read a line, you follow by reading one line.” He started reading immediately, “Three-point hidden revolutionary model, those who enter our Hong Men must not disclose. Fostering an acute potential from the feuding days, swearing to exterminate the Qing Dynasty clean in a single sweep.” Wei Xiaobao repeated his reading.

Cai Dezhong said, “The character ‘hong’ in our Hong Men actually came from our Han people’s ‘han’ character. Our Han people’s rivers and mountains being occupied by the Tatars, without land, the character ‘han’ ( 漢 ) minus the character ‘tu’ [earth] ( 土 ) becomes the character ‘hong’ ( 洪 ).” Presently he explained the thirty-six pledges, ten prohibitions and ten punishments, and twenty one rules so that Wei Xiaobao could understand. Major rules include loyalty and brotherhood, filial piety, harmonious relationship with fellow countrymen, fellow members and brothers of the family, helping each other in trials and tribulations, et cetera. For leaking classified information, implicating the brethrens, surrendering to the authority, raping and pillaging, bullying the weak and alone, breaking his promise, embezzling public funds and other offenses, light punishment would be cutting the ear and flogging, heavy punishment would be dismemberment into eight pieces, beheading and dividing the body.

Wei Xiaobao promised to strictly abide by all the rules, one by one, he vowed he would never dare to disobey, and this time he was wholehearted, making the oath without causing any mischief.

Ma Chaoxing fetched a large bowl of wine, with a needle he pricked his left-hand’s middle finger and let his blood dripped into the bowl. Chen Jinnan and the others also pricked their fingers. Finally Wei Xiaobao did the same. Everyone drank a mouthful of blood wine, and the ceremony inducting Wei Xiaobao into the Society was over. Everybody shook his hand and embraced him, it was intimate and warm. Wei Xiaobao felt a warm sensation in his entire body, he felt that from this day onward, he would not be left alone anymore in this world.

Chen Jinnan said, “Altogether our Society has ten Halls, five front houses five halls, rear five houses five halls. Five front houses Lotus Flower Hall, Great Obedience Hall, Latter Family Hall, Greatest Unity Hall, Magnificent Transformation Hall. Five rear houses Green Wood Hall, Scarlet Fire Hall, Western Gold Hall, Mysterious Water Hall, Yellow Earth Hall. The Xiangzhu of nine halls are assembled here. Only Green Wood Hall’s Yin Xiangzhu was killed the year before last, until now it has no Xiangzhu. Brothers of Green Wood Hall, you have repeatedly made an oath in front of Wan Yunlong Dage and Yin Xiangzhu’s memorial tablets that whoever killed Oboi and avenge Yin Xiangzhu, everybody will revere him as our Hall’s Xiangzhu. Is it true that there is indeed such matter?”

“Absolutely,” everyone answered, “Indeed there is such matter.”

Chen Jinnan’s penetrating gaze swept everybody’s face from left to right, he said slowly, “I heard that for the purpose of setting up the new Xiangzhu, the brothers of the Green Wood Hall once have had some disagreement. Although everybody took the big picture into consideration, heavily upholding benevolence and righteousness, and thus did not harm the brotherhood, but if this matter is not properly decided, within the Green Wood Hall there will always be an enormous private concern for me to worry. Green Wood Hall is an important Hall in our Tian Di Hui; it oversees all prefectures, provinces and counties in Jiangnan and Jiangbei. For the past few years it gradually expand its authority over Shandong and Hebei, and this time it has penetrated the city limit of Beijing. Whether Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu is an able person or not, it corresponds directly to the rise and fall of our Society, and bear enormous responsibility toward the success of failure of the great undertaking of overthrowing the Qing. In the event that the brethrens in the Hall are in disagreement and fail to work together for a common purpose, this great undertaking cannot be achieved.” After a short pause he continued by asking, “That treacherous bandit Oboi was killed by Wei Xiaobao, and Green Wood Hall brothers witness this with their own eyes, is this true?”

Almost together Li Lishi and Guan Anji replied, “It is.” Li Lishi also said, “In front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet everybody has made an oath. Definitely we cannot say that it doesn’t count. If we made an oath like a fart, in the future, what other oath can we make in front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet, what other hope do we have? Although Wei Xiaobao Xiongdi is young, I, Li Lishi, am willing to support him as our Hall’s Xiangzhu.”

Having Li Lishi stole the initiative, Guan Anji thought, “This child is Zongduozhu’s disciple, his status is definitely out of ordinary. Listening to how Zongduozhu said those words, it’s obvious that he wanted this young disciple to be our Hall’s Xiangzhu. Li Lao’er [Ol’ Li the second] and I are vying for the Xiangzhu position, neither one of us is willing submit to the other, we might as well ‘move apart on the beat’. He had already opened his mouth to curry favor with Zongduozhu, I can’t lose to him, since that will make me appear I am harboring a selfish desire.” Thereupon he said, “Li Dage is right, Wei Xiongdi’s sharp-wittedness surpasses others, under Zongduozhu’s instruction, someday he will be a young hero whose prestige will shake the Jianghu. Guan Anji is willing to support Wei Xiaobao Xiongdi as our Hall’s Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up from fright, waving his hands wildly, he shouted, “Can’t do, can’t do! This … this Xiangzhu [fragrant master] or Chouzhu [stinky master], I can’t do it!”

Chen Jinnan glowered at him, “What nonsense are you talking about?” he barked. Wei Xiaobao did not dare to open his mouth anymore.

Chen Jinnan said, “This child’s blade has killed Oboi, and that is an unalterable fact. We must abide by the oath we made in front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet, and have no choice but must let him be the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu. It was because I must let him be the Xiangzhu that I accepted him as my disciple, not the other way around. I didn’t think of making him the Xiangzhu after I accepted him as my disciple. This child’s character is not good, perhaps he will give me several hundred headache in the future.”

Fang Dahong said, “Zongduozhu has taken a lot of trouble, we, brothers understand it. Zongduozhu is neither relative nor kin with Wei Xiongdi, today is the first time you meet each other. Zongduozhu is making an exception by looking upon him with special favor, naturally it is because you are giving thought of our Society’s important matter. Only … only … Zongduozhu does not need to worry. Our Society’s brethrens intermingled with Jianghu people, very few read books, which mouth does not use bad language and common saying? Wei Xiongdi is young, Li Dage and Guan Fuzi are willing to support him with all their might, I am sure there won’t be any catastrophic disaster.”

Chen Jinnan nodded and said, “Therefore, we let Wei Xiaobao to be the Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu because we have sworn an oath in front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet, which we cannot simply dismiss. But as long as he has been the Xiangzhu for a day, we can consider it done. If tomorrow he commits outrages, disturbing Green Wood Hall’s affairs, hindering our Society’s great undertaking in fighting the Qing and restoring the Ming, we can immediately strip him from the Xiangzhu position without half a part of tolerance. Li Dage, Guan Erge, I am asking the two of you to attentively help him. If this child does anything improper, I want you to report to me in details, do not conceal anything.” Li Lishi and Guan Anji bowed and complied.

Chen Jinnan turned around and kneeled before the memorial tablet; he picked three burning incense sticks from the censer and held it high with both hands. With a clear voice he said, “Subordinate Chen Jinnan swears before Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet: if subordinate Wei Xiaobao violates our Society’s rules, or displays insufficient obedience to the rules, subordinate will immediately depose him from Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu duty, without showing even half a part of favoritism. We grant him the Xiangzhu position in compliance with our oath. The day we depose him of his position, is also in compliance with this oath. If subordinate Chen Jinnan does not abide by this oath, the spirit of Wan Dage in heaven will strike the top of my head with thunder, my body will be pulled apart to five sections by horses, I will die under the Tatars’ eagle claws’ hands.” Finished saying that, he bowed several times with the incense sticks still in his hands, and then returning the sticks to the censer, he knocked his head on the floor several times.

Everyone spoke together in praise, “The way Zongduozhu handles this matter is for the common good above everything without regard for personal interests, no one among us does not accept this wholeheartedly.”

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao said, “Just great! I still say that the real reason all of you want me to be some Xiangzhu or Chouzhu is just so that you can use me as a wooden plank to cross the river. After crossing, you’ll tear the bridge apart. Today you grant me to be a Xiangzhu because you want to abide by your oath. Tomorrow you’ll pick a quarrel and depose me so that you’ll still abide by your oath. At that time whether it would be Li Dage or Guan Fuzi, either one will be a logical choice for the new Xiangzhu.” With a loud voice he said, “Shifu, I don’t want to be the Xiangzhu!”

Chen Jinnan was startled. “What?” he asked.

“I can’t do it, and I don’t want to do it,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You can’t do it, but you can learn it slowly,” Chen Jinnan said, “I can teach you, Li and Guan two brothers have already promised to help you. Within Tian Di Hui, Xiangzhu position ranks very high, why don’t you want to do it?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Today I become one, tomorrow you will depose me, then I will be humiliated instead. I don’t want to be Xiangzhu, everything is very obscure. Once I take the office, everybody will look for bones in the egg; in less than half a day, I will fall from power and be extremely disgraced.”

Chen Jinnan said, “There is no bone in the egg, even everybody is looking for it, they won’t find any.”

“The egg will become a chick,” Wei Xiaobao said, “So there is bone in it. Even if there is none, when the people look, they would break my eggshell first, talk later, mixing the egg yolk and the egg white, then the egg will collapse.” Everybody could not help but laugh.

Chen Jinnan said, “Do you think the way we Tian Di Hui handle matters is a child’s play? As long as you do not do any evil deed, everybody will respect you as the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, who will offend you? Even if they don’t revere you, they will still respect you as my disciple.”

Wei Xiaobao thought for a while, then he said, “Alright, let us talk it over clearly first. If in the future you don’t want me to be the Xiangzhu, so be it: I won’t be the Xiangzhu. But you must not randomly add accusation, beat me or curse me, or cut my ears or chop my head, or cut me apart into eight sections.”

Chen Jinnan frowned. “You always love to bargain back and forth,” he said, “If you don’t do any misdeed, who will kill you? If the Tatars beat you or kill you, everybody will avenge you.” Pausing for a moment, he continued earnestly, “Xiaobao, real men dare to do what they dare to say, real men won’t pass on their responsibility to others. Since you already join our Tian Di Hui, you must summon up your courage and determination to strive to be the first, to rid common people of all evil. If you are always scheming for your own good, won’t it be a bad act of a hero or a warrior?”

When Wei Xiaobao heard the words ‘hero and warrior’, he remembered how the storyteller always mentioned those great heroes; the heroic spirit was awakened in his breast. He said, “That’s right, Shifu’s lesson is very true. If my head is chopped, at most it will give me a bowl size scar. Eighteen years later, a hero will appear.” This was the words the Jianghu men often said when they were being tied up on the execution ground. Although the way Wei Xiaobao used it was not very appropriate, he won the applause of everybody in the hall.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Being a Xiangzhu is a very happy occasion, unlike being tied up on the execution ground ready to be beheaded. There are nine other Xiangzhu in here, every one of them is doing it happily. You should learn to copy their manner.”

Guan Anji walked over toward Wei Xiaobao; he cupped his fist and bowed, “Subordinate Guan Anji pays his respect to our Hall’s Xiangzhu,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao turned his head to Chen Jinnan. “What do I do?” he asked.

“Just return the propriety,” Chen Jinnan replied.

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the propriety. “Guan Fuzi, how are you?” he said.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “’Guan Fuzi’ is the nickname with which the brothers usually call him. In day-to-day business, you may call him ‘Guan Fuzi’, but in formal setting, you should call him Guan Erge.”

Wei Xiaobao corrected himself, “Guan Erge, how are you?”

This time Guan Anji stole the initiative from Li Lishi. Immediately he also stepped forward to pay his respect. One by one the nine other Xiangzhu stepped forward to congratulate Wei Xiaobao. Then everybody returned to the main hall, leaving Zongduozhu and the ten Halls’ Xiangzhu to discuss official business.

Green Wood Hall was the chief among the five rear houses’ Halls. Within the Tian Di Hui organization, it ranked number six. Wei Xiaobao was seated on the first chair on the right row. Scarlet Fire Hall and other Halls’ Xiangzhu, some had white beard hanging down to their chests, were unexpectedly seated in lower-ranked seats. Li Lishi, Guan Anji, and the others retreated outside the hall, so there were only eleven men left: Chen Jinnan and the ten Xiangzhu, the first echelon of the Tian Di Hui organization.

Chen Jinnan pointed to the empty chair in the middle and said, “This is the Third Prince Zhu’s seat.” Pointing to the other empty chair next to it he said, “This is the Taiwan’s Zheng Wangye’s seat. Zheng Wangye is Koxinga’s son, nowadays he inherited the title Yanping Junwang[7]. When we, Tian Di Hui are having our meetings, although Third Prince Zhu and Zheng Wangye are not present, we always provide empty seats for them.” This explanation was obviously for Wei Xiaobao’s benefit. He then continued by saying, “Brothers, please report the situation in various provinces.”

Within the five front houses, the head house Lotus Flower Hall was in charge of Fujian, the second house Great Obedience Hall was in charge of Guangdong, the third house Latter Family Hall was in charge of Guangxi, the fourth house Greatest Unity Hall was in charge of Hunan and Hubei, the fifth house Magnificent Transformation Hall was in charge of Zhejiang. Within the five rear houses, the head house Green Wood Hall was in charge of Jiangsu, the second house Scarlet Fire Hall was in charge of Guizhou, the third house Western Gold Hall was in charge of Sichuan, the fourth house Mysterious Water was in charge of Yunnan, the fifth house Yellow Earth was in charge of Henan.

The Tian Di Hui was comprised of Koxinga’s former subordinates, their main force was in Fujian, which was the reason the Lotus Flower Hall was the head house; its power was the strongest. Next would be the two provinces Guangdong and Guangxi, followed by the two ‘lakes’ Hunan and Hubei[8], and then Zhejiang, Jiangsu.

Presently Cai Dezhong was the first to report the Tian Di Hui’s affair in Fujian, followed by Fang Dahong recounting the Guangdong’s Society’s affair. Wei Xiaobao listened for a while. First, he did not understand, second, he did not have the least bit of interest. At last he was simply hearing without really listening, in his heart he was thinking about gambling and having fun.

When it was the Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu’s turn to give report, Chen Jinnan said, “Originally Green Wood Hall was in charge of Jiangnan, Jiangning, and Suzhou, dealing with the Tatars in those regions. Afterwards Yin Xiongdi moved the fragrant hall to Jiangbei Xuzhou, progressively entered Shandong, Zhili, straight toward Tatars’ capital. Only, it’s a pity Yin Xiongdi lost his life in Oboi’s hands. The strength of Green Wood Hall is greatly harmed.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “A few days ago several brothers courageously broke into Prince Kang’s mansion, where by lucky coincidence Xiaobao’s blade killed Oboi and thus avenged Yin Xiongdi‘s great enmity. This major attack by the Green Wood Hall may cause fear and trepidation in the Tatars’ hearts. It’s just that from now on naturally the Tatars will intensify their guard. Hereafter when we work, we must be doubly careful.” Everybody voiced their agreement together.

After this, one after another the Xiangzhu of Scarlet Fire Hall and Western Gold Hall gave an account of the situation around Guizhou and Sichuan, two provinces. Listening to this, Wei Xiaobao could not refrain from yawning, so hastily he reached up to cover his mouth. When  the Mysterious Water Hall’s Xiangzhu, Lin Yongchao, bringing up the situation in Yunnan, his expression was aroused in indignation; he was cursing continually. It was only then that Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was also aroused.

He heard him say, “That traitor Wu Sangui opposes us on every front. From last year all the way to this year, not even ten month yet, there are seventy nine brothers of the Society being killed by that b@stard. Damn that goat, laozi definitely cannot live under the same sky with that dog traitor. Our people have attempted to assassinate him several times, but this traitor to the Han has many able people by his side. Consecutively we tried three times, all have failed …” He pointed his finger to his left arm, which was hanging on his shoulder, and said, “During the attempt last month, his granny, laozi broke my arm. This great traitor has done too many evil deeds. There will come a day when his entire family will be beheaded and chopped into mincemeat by our Tian Di Hui.” As soon as the name ‘Wu Sangui’ was mentioned, everybody had his breast filled with indignation.

In Yangzhou, Wei Xiaobao had already heard people mentioning how Wu Sangui helped the Qing troops crossing the pass and seizing the Han people’s land. The Tatars troops raped, killed and burned in Yangzhou, the main culprit, the main cause of the disaster, was Wu Sangui. After helping the Qing Dynasty conquering China, he was granted the title Ping Xi Wang [King who pacify the West], with the right to guard Yunnan forever. Wei Xiaobao noticed that whenever people mentioning the name Wu Sangui, three characters, nobody did not clench his teeth and show hatred so deep into their bones. Therefore, when this Lin Xiangzhu open his mouth in swearing and cursing, Wei Xiaobao did not think it was strange.

As soon as Lin Yongchao started to curse, the other eight Xiangzhu also open their mouth in curses. These men were originally soldiers who for the last several years had mingled with Jianghu people, so they were accustomed to vulgar language. However, in front of Zongduozhu, with great effort they tried to restrain themselves. As soon as they started cursing, nobody tried to be polite. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; as soon as he heard some cussing, he was like a fish enters the water; he could not stop his own mouth from hurling obscenities. Speaking about cussing, Wei Xiaobao’s finesse were several degree above these nine Xiangzhu; a sentence by a sentence he beat around the bush, each sentence was malicious and mean, the nine Xiangzhu were only shouting curses in their anger, so that compared to Wei Xiaobao their deficiency was obvious.

Chen Jinnan waved his hand and said, “Enough, enough! Even if there are millions more people in the world cursing Wu Sangui, that scoundrel is still nicely holding his Ping Xi Wang position. Cursing will not kill him, assassination won’t be effective either.”

Great Transformation Hall’s Xiangzhu, Li Shikai was short and slim, he was soft-spoken and neither did he curse too much. This time he spoke, “In subordinate’s opinion, even if we launched a large-scale attack against Yunnan and killed Wu Sangui, it won’t give us any big advantage over the general situation. The imperial court would simply appoint another governor-general or inspector-general, the common people in Yunnan will not experience a change of fate. This traitor Wu Sangui has committed grave sin, if we kill him with one stab of a blade, it is rather too easy for him.”

Chen Jinnan nodded. “These words make a lot of sense,” he said, “I wonder what kind of wise opinion does Li Xiongdi have?”

“This is a matter of great importance,” Li Shikai replied, “All of us must take our time in making a decision. Subordinate does not have any good idea, I will submit to Zongduozhu‘s direction.”

“‘This is a matter of great importance, all of us must take our time in making a decision.’” Chen Jinnan repeated, “These words by Li Xiongdi is a wise opinion. There is a good common saying: one man’s planning is short, two men’s planning is long. We are ten people, no, eleven people; if we think calmly, we will come up with an even better idea. By killing Wu Sangui, not only we will avenge Tian Di Hui brothers who were killed by him, we will also avenge millions of our compatriot Han people under the heavens. I have pondered over this matter for a long time. That traitor Wu Sangui is deep rooted in Yunnan, his power is enormous; based on one Society, Tian Di Hui’s power alone, I am afraid we cannot topple him down.”

Lin Yongchao loudly said, “Even if we have to be cut in pieces, we must fight to topple him down.”

Cai Dezhong said, “You have already fought, Wu Sangui has not been toppled down, but you had your arm broken.”

Lin Yongchao angrily said, “Are you mocking me of my incompetence?”

Cai Dezhong realized he had made an indiscreet remark. “I was only joking,” he said with a laugh, “Lin Xiongdi, please do not be angry.”

Seeing Lin Yongchao was still seething with anger, with a gentle voice Chen Jinnan consoled him, “Lin Xiongdi, killing Wu Sangui is the important matter every hero and warrior in the world is dreaming of, how can we let worthy brother Lin and the Mysterious Water Hall bear this heavy burden alone? Even if Tian Di Hui’s several tens of thousands brothers join hands with one heart, we may not necessarily be able to move his hand.”

Zongduozhu is right,” Lin Yongchao said, only then did his anger subside.

Chen Jinnan said, “In my opinion, if we want to accomplish this important matter, we must make contact with all schools, sects, clans and societies in Jianghu, to plan together on a large scale. That traitor Wu Sangui have several tens of thousands elite troops in Yunnan; the brave soldiers and fierce generals under his banners are no small matter. If we only want to kill him, it might not be an extremely difficult matter, but to kill his entire household, to wipe away the traitors to the Han, the wicked thieves, big and small, his subordinates who help him committing the oppression[9], is entirely beyond our Tian Di Hui’s power to accomplish.”

Lin Yongchao slapped his thigh and shouted, “Exactly, exactly! Our Tian Di Hui’s brothers who had been killed by Wu Sangui are too many, if we only kill that traitor, how can his life make up for theirs?”

Thinking about killing Wu Sangui, along with his household and the evil traitors working for him, everybody was very excited. But not too long afterwards, they all looked at each other in blank dismay, while in their hearts they thought, “This is indeed very difficult.”

Cai Dezhong said, “Shaolin and Wudang two sects have many men and great force, they also have high level of martial art skill, we must make contact with them.”

The Yellow Earth Xiangzhu Yao Bida said doubtfully, “The Shaolin Temple Abbot, Hui Cong Dashi[10] indeed has an extremely high prestige in the Wulin world, but he has always been experienced and knowledgeable, he won’t agree to oppose the authority. These last several years, he even passed a new rule, so that it won’t be easy even for secular disciples to leave the Temple and go down the mountain, for fear that they would stir up trouble and bring disaster to the Temple. If we want to make contact with Shaolin, I am afraid we will be met with many difficulties.”

The Greatest Unity Hall’s Xiangzhu, who was in charge of the Hunan and Hubei territory, Hu Dedi nodded and said, “Wudang Pai is more or less the same. The Abbot of Zhenwu Guan[11], Taoist Yun Yan and his Shixiong Taoist Yun He have been at odds with each other for a long time, the two of them are completely locked in constant strife, they always try to find flaws in each other’s disciples. Asking them to take a risk like killing Wu Sangui, I am afraid … I am afraid …” He did not continue, but it was clear to everybody that most probably Yun Yan and Yun He would not be willing to do.

Lin Yongchao said, “If we cannot reach Shaolin and Wudang, we have no other choice but to deal with it with our own strength.”

“No need to be impatient,” Chen Jinnan said, “Shaolin and Wudang are not the only schools in Wulin.”

One by one they offered their suggestions. Some said that perhaps Emei would be willing to join, some other said that since there were many martial experts from the Beggar Clan joined the Tian Di Hui, certainly they would be willing to collaborate with Tian Di Hui in putting this big traitor to China to death.

After listening for the discussion for quite some time, Chen Jinnan said, “If not ninety percent sure, we must never ever propose this matter to others.”

“Naturally,” Fang Dahong replied, “If people are unwilling to do it, it doesn’t count to have their nose rubbed in the dirt, plus it will damage our Tian Di Hui’s face.”

“Losing face is not important,” Chen Jinnan said, “But if the information leaks out, that thief Wu Sangui will be more vigilant, our job will be a lot thornier.”

Li Shikai said, “To maintain the steadiness of our purpose, whoever wants to propose to any school, sect, clan or society must have Zongduozhu‘s approval first, other people must not casually make any decision.”

“It ought to be so,” the people all replied. They continued their discussion for some time.

Chen Jinnan said, “This time we are not able to draft a definite plan. In three months, everybody will gather again in Changsha, Hunan. Xiaobao, you must return to the Palace. In Green Wood Hall’s affairs, let Li Lishi and Guan Anji act on your behalf for the time being. You don’t have to attend the meeting in Changsha.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, but in his heart he said, “Doesn’t this clearly show ‘tear down the bridge after crossing the river’?”

After all other Xiangzhu had been dismissed, Chen Jinnan pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand back to the side room. He said, “On Heavenly Bridge [Tianqiao] in Beijing there is an old man selling medicinal paste[12] by the surname of Xu. On the other medicinal plaster sellers’ banners, the plaster is black in color, but on this Old Xu’s banner, the plaster is half red half blue. If you want to contact me, just go to the Heavenly Bridge and find Old Xu. Ask him, ‘Do you have plaster for virulent clear poison, a plaster that will restore clarity to blind eyes, a plaster against clear poison to restore clarity[13]?’ He would reply, ‘I do, but the price is too expensive, I want three taels of gold and three taels of silver.’ You say, ‘Will you sell it for five taels of gold and five taels of silver?’ Then he will know who you are.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly amused, he laughed and said, “Others offer to sell it to you for three taels, but you make a counter-offer of five taels; where in the world have you ever heard of such matter?”

Chen Jinnan smiled and replied, “This is to guard against an accident in case someone really want to buy ‘plaster against clear poison to restore clarity’. As soon as he hears your counter offer of five taels of gold and five taels of silver, he would ask, ‘Why is the price so expensive?’ You reply, ‘Not expensive, not expensive; as long as it can really restore clarity, even if I have to work like an ox or a horse for you, it is not expensive at all.’ He would then say, ‘The earth shakes high mound, a mountain creek is elegant for all eternity.’ You say, ‘The gate faces the ocean, the three rivers and the water will flow for ten thousand years.’ He would ask, “Which hall is located by the red flower pavilion?’ You reply, ‘The Green Wood Hall.’ He would ask, ‘How many fragrant incense sticks are burning in the hall?’ You say, ‘Five fragrant incense sticks!’ Five burning fragrant incense sticks indicate that you are the Xiangzhu. He is a brother of our Society’s Green Wood Hall, he is your subordinate. Whatever you want, you can tell him to do it for you.”

Wei Xiaobao committed everything into his heart. Chen Jinnan repeated the dialog two more times, and told Wei Xiaobao to practice one time through until not a single word was wrong. Chen Jinnan also said, “Although this Old Xu is your subordinate, his martial art skill is very profound. You must not be rude toward him.” Wei Xiaobao gave him his promise.

“Xiaobao,” Chen Jinnan said, “We created havoc in Prince Kang’s mansion, the Tatars will definitely send spies riding toward four directions; we can’t stay long in here. When you are back at the Palace today, tell the people there that you were being captured by a powerful group of people, during the night, you use trick to kill a powerful man guarding you, and you escape and return to the Palace. If someone wants you to lead the troops to make some arrests, you may lead the troops here. We will bury that traitor Oboi’s severed head in the vegetable garden at the back. Take the troops there and have them dig; nobody will suspect anything.”

“Apparently everybody will have left by then, haven’t they?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Chen Jinnan said, “As soon as you leave, everybody will disperse, you don’t have to worry. Three days later, I am coming to Beijing to teach you martial art. Go to the Fresh Water Well Alley in the Dongcheng district of central Beijing. There will be a brother waiting for you at the mouth of the alley, he will take you to see me.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Chen Jinnan gently stroked Wei Xiaobao’s head, “You may go now!” he gently said.

Wei Xiaobao immediately went in to see Mao Shiba to take his leave. Mao Shiba did not know that he had joined the Tian Di Hui and had become a Xiangzhu, he asked Wei Xiaobao all kinds of question, showing his utmost concerned. Wei Xiaobao did not expose anything. By this time the dagger and his other personal belongings had been returned. Chen Jinnan asked someone to prepare a horse for Wei Xiaobao to ride, and then he personally walked him out of the gate. Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Priest Xuanzhen and other Green Wood Hall brothers sent him off for three li. Wei Xiaobao asked for direction until he understood clearly, then urging his horse, he galloped toward Beijing. By the time he entered the Palace, it was already evening; he went straight to kowtow to the Emperor.

Kangxi already heard the news that in the prison cell at Prince Kang’s mansion, Oboi was killed by Wei Xiaobao; he assumed that Wei Xiaobao must have been captured by Oboi’s cronies, so most probably he was more unfortunate than being fortunate. As the matter developed, the Qing court immediately made arrest everywhere, seizing the remnants of Oboi’s defeated clique to be interrogated via torture. They had apprehended not a few of people, but could not find any clue.

Kangxi was greatly frustrated and anxious; suddenly hearing Wei Xiaobao had returned, he was pleasantly surprised. Hurriedly he granted an audience, and as soon as he saw him entering the study room, he hastily asked, “Xiao Guizi, you … how did you escape?”

Along the way, Wei Xiaobao had already prepared a major deception, for the part where he was seized by a powerful man and how he was transported away inside a jujube barrel he did not need to lie. Next, he narrated how the clique of traitors, many of them, set up a memorial tablet and prepared to offer sacrifices. But because they were waiting for the arrival of a leading figure, temporarily they did not kill him, but bound him inside a dark room instead. And then how in the middle of the night he rubbed and broke the ropes binding his hands, and how he killed the guard and escaped out; how he hid in the underbrush to evade the pursuing riders, how he stole a horse and returned via a roundabout route. He narrated the story by adding sound effect and acting the part, it was extremely vivid.

Kangxi was listening with keen interest, he repeatedly patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and praised, “Xiao Guizi, you are good.” He also said, “You must be going through a lot of trouble.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This clique of traitors, Oboi’s followers, its power is really not small. When your servant escaped, I memorized the route well; how about if we immediately send troops to capture them?”

“Wonderful!” Kangxi replied happily, “Quickly tell Songgotu to take three thousand cavalry and follow you to catch the criminals.” Wei Xiaobao withdrew and ordered someone to notify Songgotu.

When Songgotu heard that Xiao Guizi was kidnapped by Oboi’s subordinates, he thought that he had lost a major helper in the Palace, and thus he was anxious. Although he managed to embezzle four hundred fifty thousand taels of silver, when all is said and done, this lost was even greater than the gain. When he suddenly heard that Xiao Guizi had escaped and returned to the Palace, immediately his spirit rose. Hastily assembling the troops, he followed Wei Xiaobao to arrest the remainders of Oboi’s party.

They were about halfway when Prince Kang’s messenger caught up with them to deliver Wei Xiaobao’s Jade Flower buckskin horse. Wei Xiaobao mounted the colt. He glanced left and right, feeling unusually pleased with himself.

Upon reaching Tian Di Hui’s gathering place, naturally they did not see any shadow. Songgotu ordered his men to search around. Soon they dug out Oboi’s severed head and headless body in the vegetable garden; they also found a memorial tablet with these words inscribed on it: ‘Memorial Tablet of the Great Qing Junior Protector, Number One Warrior, Official Oboi’, and several rolls of elegiac couplet offering condolences to Oboi. Naturally it was Chen Jinnan who deliberately left these things behind.

Wei Xiaobao and Songgotu returned to Beijing, and presented the memorial tablet and elegiac couplets to Kangxi. Wei Xiaobao’s expression looked like he had just set up a great merit. Kangxi made an effort to say several sentences of praise and encouragement, then he gave an order to have Oboi’s body and head buried properly. He also ordered the two of them to continue the investigation carefully. Wei Xiaobao repeatedly complied with his mouth, his face showed devotion and diligence, but in his belly he was laughing.

[1] Lit. ‘under’; the humble one, referring to self.

[2] Uncles, older than one’s father and younger than one’s father, respectively.

[3] Orig. Guoxing Ye, ‘master of Gouxing [country’s surname]’. From the dictionary: [Zheng Chenggong: Koxinga (1624-1662), south Chinese regional leader during early Qing, fled the mainland and conquered Taiwan from the Ducth.] Guoxing is a township in central Taiwan, however, it literally means ‘the country’s surname’.

[4] Fifty-first year of the 60-year cycle in Chinese calendar. Jiayin corresponds to the Wood Tiger year, the next Jiayin is 2034. I did a quick calculation, but the result did not make any sense to me: 2034 – 360 = 1674. According to wikipedia, Kangxi was born 1654, i.e. he was 20 years old in 1674. This story happened (supposedly) when Kangxi was 14, 15 years old. Wikipedia also lists Oboi’s death in the year 1670 (Kangxi was actually 16 years old). That means the date was in the future? If we take the previous sixty years, i.e. 1614, Koxinga was not even born yet.

[5] ‘Men’ here means family, house, (religious) sect, school (of thought), organization, etc.

[6] First Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398, reigned 1386-1398).

[7] Lit. ‘king over a country/region’.

[8] FYI, ‘hunan’ and ‘hubei’ literally mean southern and northern lakes, respectively.

[9] Orig. ‘helping tyrant Zhou in his opression’.

[10] Lit. ‘great master’. I usually translate it as ‘Reverend’, but this time I want to keep it as ‘Chinese’ as possible.

[11] I want to point out that although I use the same word ‘Abbot’, in Shaolin’s case it was ‘Fang zhang’, while in Wudang’s case it was ‘Guan Zhu’ [guan – Taoist Monastery, zhu – master, the same ‘zhu’ as in ‘xiangzhu’ and ‘zongduozhu’]. Zhenwu is a major Taoist deity, ‘Lord of profound heaven’, or Black Heavenly Emperor.

[12] or ‘plaster’ [orig. Gaoyao], here in the US it is sold as ‘hot/cold patch’.

[13] This passage is hard to translate; to get the not-so-subtle meaning of the original Chinese, simply substitute the word ‘clear’ with ‘Qing (dynasty)’ and the word ‘clarity’ with ‘Ming (dynasty)’.

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