The singing voices of the trees communicated with her heart, even more than the bands and other festivities – The Old Capital, Part 2 – Literati Corner

This is my second post on Yasunari Kawabata’s The Old Capital (川端康成の”古都”), which I will wrap up this time as the mystery surrounding Chieko’s birth deepens. In chapter 5, Chieko goes shopping for tofu at the market in anticipation of the month-long summer Gion Festival, which was held particularly around Yasaka Shrine where Chieko’s family were members. Here is the shrine’s English-language website:

It seems her crush, her school-friend Shin’ichi, had played the festival’s boy ambassador ten years before, and she is still touched by how cute and girly he looked in the role. As Chieko performs a prayer ritual later at one of the shrines along the festival route after she notices another girl performing it, they both finish at the same time, and the girl exclaims she prayed to find her sister and declares it is Chieko! Chieko recognizes the girl as a worker she saw with Masako that day at Kitayama. The girl, Naeko, explains she is a twin and that her father died around the time she was born. They wonder if their resemblance is merely coincidental. They swear to keep their meeting secret, yet the text is unambiguous here that the girls are indeed related.

The rest of the chapter shows the girls meeting people from Chieko’s circle as they walk together toward Chieko’s shop, though Naeko won’t go home with her. Back at home, Chieko sees her parents are entertaining guests, but she goes to bed, emotional from her discovery of her long-lost sister and hearing music from the ongoing festival passing in the streets.

In the next chapter, “The Color of Autumn,” Takichiro, Chieko’s father, meets a teahouse proprietess on the streetcar, and he stops to rest at her place, where she brings him a young geisha to talk to. Since the novel has so many plant and tree references, here is a photo of the cedars that Naeko works with in Kitayama.

Cedars at Togakushi Shrine – By Chris 73/Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Hideo comes to the shop to talk with Chieko about the obi he wants to finish weaving for her. Instead of picking one of the designs he brings her, she asks if he can weave one with cedars and red pines, thinking of Naeko’s village. His confused response prompts her to blurt out the truth that she has a twin sister whom he saw the night before. They agree he will weave the special pattern for Naeko rather than for Chieko.  

Red Pines – Wikimedia Commons

The succession of festivals that the book follows moves on next to the Daimonji in August when fire is lit on the mountain marking the end of the Bon Festival, but Chieko doesn’t go this time. Instead, while her parents are out at a business party, she hops a bus to meet Naeko in Kitayama to tell her about Hideo’s obi after they go deeper into the cedar groves on the mountain to talk. Afterward when she returns to the shop, she tells her mother about meeting Naeko.

Next, in “The Green of Pines,” Takichiro takes his family to look at a house they are thinking about buying. Chieko wonders what his intentions are regarding the family shop. Would he sell it? Could they afford both? They decide to detour through a nearby temple to look at the camphor trees there then stop by at a shop selling western goods. Chieko talks with Shin’ichi’s older brother, then the story pivots to Hideo who is ready to deliver Naeko’s obi. In the next few scenes, we learn more about Naeko’s life. Hideo makes an appointment to meet her at another upcoming festival, the Festival of Ages, where he can see Naeko wear her new kimono and obi together.

Camphor Trees – By Geographer at English Wikipedia

Later while watching the festival parade, Hideo joins Naeko and flirts with her.

In chapter 8, “Deep Autumn Sisters,” the story quickly moves on to discuss a number of other festivals around Kyoto, and Chieko talks with Shin’icji about the festival Naeko attended when he calls to say he and his brother would be over to visit with Chieko and talk about shop business. Later, Chieko reveals to the brothers that she was abandoned and found her sister while they are sharing turtle soup at a soup shop.   

The story then shifts to a different autumn dance festival that Takichiro attends. Descriptions of the dances are intertwined with his visits to geisha girls at a teahouse or two. Before the chapter’s end, the text discusses the geishas’ new year’s activities and closes with an urgent call to Chieko from Naeko requesting to meet her.

In the final chapter of the story, the plot twist is exactly on time and quite welcome. I was really hoping for it to end like this. The final scenes play out in the cedar groves in the misty, wintery weather and then quietly back at Chieko’s shop. Nothing is completely resolved, but the ending hints at a happy ending. I highly recommend the book.

Part two of a two part series.

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In her world Chieko was not accustomed to seeing a man asleep – The Old Capital, Part 1 – Literati Corner

My final selection for the 2020 Literati Corner is Yasunari Kawabata’s The Old Capital (川端康成の”古都”). Originally written in 1962, this novel was cited as one of the main reasons Kawabata was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. I’ll be reading the 2006 J. Martin Holman English translation that runs about 180 or so pages.

The novel opens with a couple of passages describing delicate violet plants growing out of the trunk of a great maple in the shop garden. It’s one of those openings that epitomizes the literary gaze as well as a Japanese poetic tradition of contemplating nature. The passage blends into a description of an “exotic” Christian statue next to the tree and an explanation of why it had been put there before we discover that main character Chieko has been exposed a little to Christianity, which is not the majority religion in Japan. The text then turns to Chieko’s hobby of raising crickets in a jar, ending the exposition with some very fine descriptions. This section really sets the tone for the whole novel.

Next, Chieko prepares to go to a cherry blossom viewing at Heian Shrine in Kyoto with a male school friend. Here is their official website for the shrine with some photos:

This is a wonderful slice of life scene with a very skilled English translation that leaves you with the feeling that you are reading someone’s travelogue. Chieko and her friend spend the rest of the chapter walking around the shrine’s garden and noting each special feature as they pass. However, this idyllic walk is suddenly interrupted by the jarring suggestion that Chieko was an abandoned child who had been left at the shop, that she didn’t really belong to her parents. Her friend likens himself to a spiritual orphan as he tries to comfort her, but to no avail. The undertones of romance between the pair then are made more explicit as the chapter closes.

In a flashback a few days earlier in Chapter 2, “The Convent Temple and the Lattice Door”, Chieko’s father Takichiro goes for a retreat at a Buddhist convent hermitage so he can come up with a bold, new fabric design. He’s a cloth wholesaler in a creative slump. Chieko visits him there and brings him tofu for lunch. Again, the chapter is full of beautiful descriptions and gets deeper into the family’s history.

The Sada family lives in an old-style Japanese shop, and Takichiro is quite crusty in his dealings with customers. Father and daughter typically bonded over his stories of the history of whatever pattern of drapery she hung on the windows in his study. In fact, the sash Chieko is wearing during her visit with him had been cut from one of the drapes she had changed out for new ones. Now, they talk about the state of the cherry blossoms and where to look for them, whether on the branches or on the ground, as she prepares his lunch.

Chieko leaves her father and heads toward Nembutsu Temple but thinks twice about her choice of destination. She pauses there anyway, thinking about visiting the temple with her mother. When she returns home, we get more description of her family shop and the history of the district. She finds her mother Shige smoking at her father’s desk. Eventually, their conversation turns to the topic of Chieko getting married, and her mother reassures her she can marry whom she wants without concern about taking over the shop. They discuss what to do about the shop before Chieko heads out to the market to get some items for dinner.

This chapter follows the same pattern as the first one, beginning with delightful, slice of life descriptions of old Japan and ending with some disturbing talk about abandoned and kidnapped children. After finishing her shopping trip and returning home, her mother regales her with yet another conflicting story about how they got her. This time, she claims they kidnapped her as a baby instead of telling the story of her being left at their shop as a foundling. Chieko is very confused by these stories.

Chapter three, “The Kimono Town,” starts off with a description of the foliage in Kyoto, the story’s setting, and introduces a new character, Otomo Sosuke, who lives in the kimono shop district. He gets a phone call from Chieko’s father Takichiro from the convent hermitage. Since Takichiko has come up with a new fabric design while on retreat, he visits Sosuke, a weaver, to get him to make the cloth for him. He cites Klee as his inspiration for the new design. This is the Western painter he means:

The chapter gets more deeply into the kimono industry and the situation with Sosuke’s oldest son Hideo, who is learning the family weaving business. A few days after their consultation over the new design which ends badly, Takichiro calls his wife and wants her to bring Chieko for flower viewing, which Shige thinks is strange. They end up meeting Sosuke and Hideo out on their walk, and as they discuss the different flowers and obi patterns, Takichiro wonders if marriage is in order between the families.

In the final chapter I’m going to cover in this post, it starts off with a spectacular description of one of the festivals in Kyoto, but this time Chieko plans on viewing the newly budding maples at Jingoji Temple after a brief regret over missing the tea picking season. This gives you some idea of the focus of the novel, which so far is rather thin on plot development but very indulgent in such calming, contemplative activities. It’s definitely worth reading just for the scenic descriptions of Kyoto alone.

However, when Chieko and her friend Masako are out walking between the temples and enjoying the scenery, they see a girl among the workers clipping grass who is a dead-ringer for Chieko. They don’t get a good look at her, though, so they decide to follow her group back to the mountain village they came from. Later at home with her parents, Chieko asks about the circumstances of her birth again. After thinking about their account of finding her, she has a nightmare that night. Chieko recognizes elements of her nightmare reference her visit the day before to the temples.

Then the chapter closes out with Takichiro planning to take his daughter out to view a bamboo cutting. Here is an excerpt:

“Each year the turn to participate in the ceremony fell upon a different house, whose family members would wear traditional dress: a coarse silk kimono that had been handed down for generations, a warrior’s straw sandals, two swords, a priest’s stole and robe, nandina leaves around the waist, and a bamboo-cutting knife in a brocade sheath. Led by ritual forerunners, they faced the temple gate….

“The priests entered the inner sanctuary and chanted the sutras. In place of lotus flowers, summer chrysanthemums were scattered about.

“The chief priest came down from the altar and opened a cypress fan, raising and lowering it three times. He then called out, and two people from each side cut the bamboo into three pieces.” (pp.76-77)

After the ceremony, they are surprised to meet Hideo there, who has brought them the obi woven from Takichiro’s innovative design.

We’ll finish the book next time.

Part one of a two part series.

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The Lucky Cat Series Gets Feted By the 2020 Royal Dragonfly Awards

I’m happy to announce that the Lucky Cat Series won a few new awards the other day. Here is the announcement from the 2020 Royal Dragonfly Awards:

Volume 3 of the series, Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, won 1st place in the political novel category; volume 4, Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde, won 2nd place in the same category; and volumes 2 and 1 from the series got honorable mentions, which is the award’s third place slot. I also got a few honorable mentions among a crowded field for my volume 3 and 4 book trailers.

Cats rule, but you knew that already, didn’t you? I think it was the dolls’ revenge that really must have caught their eye if they particularly liked the last few volumes, though I myself am partial to volumes 2 and 3 in the early timeline, though the whole series is a lot of fun. Be sure to check them out and thanks to Royal Dragonfly for the accolades!

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A Buddhist Monk Breaks Up a Happy Family With Rumors of a Snake Woman’s Magic – The Story of White Snake, Part 2 – Literati Corner

Returning to finish our look at a traditional, storybook Chinese language version of The Tale of White Snake (白蛇传) from The Beijing Language and Culture University Press reader series, we pick up the action with chapter 4, “Marriage.” When Lady Bai sees Xu Xian taken off to prison, she realizes she made a mistake and feels very badly about it, but Xiao Qing says to blame her entirely for the matter. They try to think of a way to help Xu Xian.

They realize that when he arrives in Zhenjiang Xu Xian won’t be in prison and that they will need to get another house for him, but they have now learned that in the human world they must have money to survive. They don’t know how to get it beyond stealing it, so they return to Hangzhou and find another storehouse belonging to a very wealthy person from the Zhang household. Taking one hundred and two silver pieces, they leave a loan receipt apologizing for having to “borrow” it, promising to return it in a year’s time. Clearly supernatural snakes aren’t very smart. When the owner of the storehouse goes to check on it and finds the loan receipt, he is mystified since it isn’t signed with any name and isn’t dated. He also can’t figure out how they got in.   

Back in Zhenjiang, Xu Xian is isolated with no one to talk to day in and day out. He still feels well-disposed toward Lady Bai, whom he still feels was sincere toward him though he can’t figure out how her beautiful home turned so quickly into a dump or how she would have been caught up in theft of the marked storehouse money.

One day at the shore of the river, Xu Xian is blinded by a white light and wakes to find himself in bed being tended by Lady Bai. He has no idea what happened and thinks he must be dead, but Lady Bai tells him he is in her home. However, she tears up and says she knows she brought such harm on him and wanted to apologize. She explains that she borrowed the money before from a friend and had no idea it was stolen, but Xu Xian asks about the dramatic change in the condition of her home in Hangzhou. Not knowing exactly how to explain, she tells him the truth that she and Xiao Qing have supernatural power to do that after studying under an immortal master, though she doesn’t mention being a snake for fear of scaring him. She claims the current house they are in is genuine, though.

They talk again about marriage, and Xu Xian laments he still isn’t rich enough to marry, but Lady Bai shows him the money that they “borrowed” this time and tells him the owner is allowing her to use it for a year at which time she will pay it back. Getting the house, they prepare for the wedding festivities and go through the simple wedding ceremony. Then they prepare to open a new traditional medicine shop, which attracts a lot of customers.   

Finally, Lady Bai sends Xiao Qing back to Hangzhou to repay the money they borrowed. She returns quickly, puzzled. The minister whose house they took it from was gone, and she heard that he was so corrupt that the emperor beheaded him and confiscated his wealth. They decide to give the money they couldn’t return to the poor instead.

In chapter 5, “Wine Transformation,” after a year of being happily married, Xu Xian meets a Buddhist monk one day in the street. Having practiced Buddhist spiritual exercises until he acquired supernatural powers, he stops Xu Xian and tells him he has a dark cast to his face, indicating he has met a demon. Xu Xian is non-plussed. The monk introduces himself as Fahai from Jinshan Temple, and he tells Xu Xian he is in danger.

The story then turns to an analysis of why, if the snake women’s master gave them the special medicine to keep them from harming humans, that Fahai wouldn’t understand the true situation. It notes he does know animals sometimes learn spiritual disciplines and become humans, sometimes even immortals, yet that doesn’t temper his concerns. After meeting Xu Xian in the street a few times, he tells Xu Xian he knows his wife is a snake! Xu Xian is unimpressed by this statement, but Fahai knows he must tread carefully to awaken Xu Xian to the truth. Xu Xian meanwhile avoids the street where they usually meet after this.

However, Fahai meets him anyway and plants more doubts in his mind toward Lady Bai. He suggest Xu Xian give Lady Bai xionghuang wine on the next festival to test it out. This wine has a medicine in it poisonous to insects, and people drink it because this festival ushers in the spring, which also brings more bugs. Xu Xian doesn’t believe Fahai’s accusation against Lady Bai, that she’s really a snake, but he convinces her to drink the wine during the festival, though Xiao Qing doesn’t drink any. Afterward, Lady Bai feels sick and goes to bed, and when Xu Xian goes to bed after dinner alone, he finds a big white snake sleeping there!

Xu Xian discovers his wife is a snake!

He faints, and Xiao Qing comes in and discovers Lady Bai’s secret is out. When Xu Xian doesn’t wake up for days, they go to the medicine shop looking for a way to revive him. Although she still feels uncomfortable in her body, Lady Bai flies to Kunlun Mountain to find a certain herb, xiancao. Kunlun Mountain is in Western China and is reportedly where the immortals live. When she is challenged by a young immortal, she cuts his head off and doesn’t retrieve the special herb in spite of repeatedly telling them she needs it to save her husband.

Finally, the young immortals’ master comes and tells them to give her the herb. She takes it and leaves but feels so tired she flies very slowly back home. When she arrives, she faints, and Xiao Qing puts her to bed, giving her some water. She finds the herb Lady Bai brought back and gives it to Xu Xian.

In chapter 6, “Floods of Water, Mountains of Gold,” Xu Xian wakes up to find Lady Bai sitting on the bed beside him, looking very human. He says he saw a snake, but she asks where he saw it. He tells her that Fahai at the Jinshan Temple told him she was a snake and had him give her the wine. They fight about why he thinks she’s a demon since she has been so benevolent and they had been so happy. Still, Lady Bai is sick and can’t keep down her meal. It turns out she’s pregnant.

Xu Xian is happy with the news and makes Lady Bai eat sour foods so she will have a boy. Eating spicy foods would bring a girl. Xu Xian then goes to Jinshan Temple to offer incense for the safety of mother and child, but he promises not to listen to Fahai and to return home immediately after the offering. But Fahai sees him and undermines his faith in Lady Bai again, though Xu Xian leaves immediately. However, he doesn’t arrive back home for hours, and Lady Bai and Xiao Qing go to the temple to confront Fahai and look for Xu Xian.

At seven months pregnant, Lady Bai uses her supernatural power to cause the river near the temple to overflow and flood the temple, while Fahai, understanding he is facing off with a powerful supernatural being, uses his own supernatural power to keep the water at bay. After half the day, Lady Bai gives up and goes home, but she sees that the waters did flood houses and fields in the area anyway. She feels angry with herself for making a mistake like that when she had no intention of harming anyone. Fahai also sees the extent of the flood and feels responsible for his part in it, too.

Lady Bai makes the waters rise

However, Fahai finds Xu Xian and tells him that Lady Bai must be punished for her mistake in flooding the river banks. Xu Xian is skeptical that it’s all her fault, and Fahai does admit he played a role in it, but he tells Xu Xian that the women returned to Hangzhou. Xu Xian rushes to meet them there.  

In the final chapter, “Thunder Peak Tower,” Xu Xian returns to Hangzhou and meets Lady Bai and Xiao Qing on the same Broken Bridge where they met two years before. Lady Bai is demoralized this time after listening to Fahai tell her that Xu Xian didn’t return to her because she is really a snake, so the encounter is different this time. Even as Xiao Qing is furious with him and says she ought to kill him, Xu Xian’s heart is glad to see Lady Bai. They fight over whether he should have gone to the temple in the first place to give Fahai an opening.

They reconcile, return home, and three months later the baby is born. It’s a boy, and everyone is festive, but Fahai arrives with his golden bowl begging alms. Xu Xian is frightened when he sees the monk. Upon questioning, the monk explains that Lady Bai must be punished for her evil. He’s still going on about the way she accidentally flooded the area. Calling her by her formal name Bai Suzhen, he demands she come out of the house with him. Taking her month-old baby, she goes along with Xiao Qing with the monk.

Although he feels some pity watching Lady Bai nurse her baby, he captures her in his golden bowl. Somehow it ends up on a mountain on the southern shore of Western Lake, where the bowl turns into a tower, Thunder Peak Tower. The ending tries to justify Fahai, stating he was just concerned about saving Xu Xian and wasn’t really an evil man. The child grows during Lady Bai’s imprisonment in Thunder Peak Tower, and both Xiao Qing and Xu Xian come to visit him. Nineteen years later, Lady Bai emerges from the tower.  

I’m not sure how standard this version is, and I would expect there are many. This is just one of the many storybook ones I had access to, so perhaps some of those tell things a little differently. I recently screened a 1958 Japanese animated film version of this story and reviewed it on my overflow blog, and it is quite a departure from the original story:

It’s a nice film that is available for viewing on Amazon.

Part two of a two part series.

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A Beautiful Snake Woman Searches For the Man She Loves Across Many Lifetimes – The Story of White Snake, Part 1 – Literati Corner

My first holiday Literati Corner selection this year is a traditional Chinese version of The Tale of White Snake (白蛇传), which I recently reviewed a modern Chinese animation of on my affiliate blog, The Sun Rises in the East.

This graded reader version of The Story of White Snake, which only has around 100 pages with a dictionary and is part of a book series of traditional, literary and historical stories presented in a limited vocabulary for Chinese learners or children, was edited by Chen Xianchun for the Beijing Language and Culture University Press.

Cover Art for The Story of White Snake

The story has four main characters listed in the preface:

Lady White (Snake), or Lady Bai, a two thousand-year-old Taoist ascetic with magical powers.

Little Green (Snake), or Xiao Qing, a one thousand-year-old Taoist ascetic with magical powers.

Xu Xian, a young man from Hangzhou.

Fahai, an old Buddhist monk with magical powers.

The introduction adds a few more interesting details. A kind-hearted young boy rescues a white snake, and two thousand years later, the snake acquires magical power to become a young woman named Bai Suzhen, which has a double meaning of always chaste, which is probably important given the Buddhist context of the piece. After the boy goes through many reincarnations, Lady White Snake finally finds him living as a young man named Xu Xian. I will save the rest of the introduction’s details for our actual review of the story.

The story starts off in chapter 1, “A Fated Marriage,” but opening paragraphs point out that legendary characters like the ones the story is about to explore get their special magic including flying, never growing old, and special knowledge through meditation, though this is still difficult to achieve and is dependent on natural talent and an esteemed master to teach them. It is achieved by very, very few people, and snakes and foxes are the main animals who seem to have a natural ability to achieve magic like humans. However, these animals tend to turn into troublesome humans who do evil things and eat people rather than becoming benevolent immortals.

The action begins over two thousand years earlier when an old man sees a white snake and tries to kill it because he had been bitten before, but the little boy riding on a water buffalo beside him asks him not to kill it because the snake isn’t a poisonous variety, and the man relents and lets it live. 

This white snake grows up and doesn’t die after two thousand years because of the magical powers it has developed. Among those powers is the snake’s ability to transform into a beautiful, young human woman. As a human, she wears white clothing and calls herself Bai Suzhen, though everyone calls her Lady White, or Lady Bai. Over the years, she never forgets about the little boy on the water buffalo who saved her and has developed a certain love for him. Over time, the boy grew old and died, but Bai Suzhen sees the way humans fall in love and form families over the centuries.

However, although the boy is lost to her for now, Lady Bai does find a friend, a green snake who has developed similar magical powers during her thousand year existence. Bai Suzhen saved the green snake from an eagle one day, and the green snake became her friend out of gratitude. Like Bai, the green snake could transform into a beautiful girl who wears green dresses and takes on the name Xiao Qing.

As Lady Bai frets over not being able to find the little boy again, she is approached by an immortal who becomes her master and teaches her ascetic practices. One day, he asks why it seems her heart isn’t into his training, and she explains her search for the boy. In response, he explains to her the wheel of life and reincarnation then suggests the boy has come back through many lifetimes now as a certain man.

She’s intrigued by this idea, and her master decides she should abandon her ascetic training to become an immortal and go to Hangzhou where he thinks this man lives and become his wife. He gives her medicine to repress her demonic nature and warns her sternly about only doing good in the human world before sending her off. Xiao Qing quits her ascetic practice, too, and accompanies her to Hangzhou. Both girls take the medicine the master gave Lady Bai, and they notice how differently their bodies feel after eating it.

An interesting thing to note here before continuing to look at the text is the connection here between the snake shapeshifter and Buddhism. It does seem like the traditional tales of shapeshifters do link them to one monastic lifestyle or other, though the fox shapeshifters in China tend to be disciples of Taoist practice and magic, which is different and notable. There seems to be a mix of terms here, with some Taoist references, like the immortal (神仙), which is the more typical term for a highly-skilled Taoist practitioner. I would expect a Buddhist context would be more along the lines of bodhisattva (菩萨), which is as close to a miraculous, immortal being anyone can get in that tradition. You wouldn’t technically speak of a Buddhist immortal, though certainly I’m nitpicking here. This is no reflection on the editor, I’m just making an observation. However, the immortal in this story quite specifically references Buddhist transmigration or samsara (轮回), though the concept of a fated happy marriage (姻缘) may not be particularly Buddhist. I would think the medicine the immortal gives Lady Bai is more along the lines of Taoism rather than Buddhism, too, so it’s an interesting mix of influences.        

In the next chapter 2, “The Western Lake,” it starts off with a description of the Western Lake area and the people living during the 12th and 13th century Southern Song Dynasty in Hangzhou. In this setting, the two snake women appear and go looking for the man who is reportedly the reincarnation of the little boy Lady Bai was so attached to when she was purely a snake. Months later, they encounter a man they think is the one the immortal had sent them to.

After two thousand years of reincarnations, the little boy on the ox now is now a scholar known as Xu Xian, and he’s 25 years old. He has an older married sister whom he lives with as his only living relative. This character’s name is quite evocative in Chinese. Xu Xian 许仙, actually means literally promised immortal or somewhat immortal, and he has been studying traditional medicine and runs a medicine shop. It will be interesting to see how or if this connects to the medicine the snake women take later in the story. After the Tomb Sweeping holiday, he returns to the Broken Bridge at West Lake as his sister and brother-in-law return directly home.

Xiao Qing tells Lady Bai they have found the man, and Lady Bai drops her hairpin in front of him to get his attention when they encounter him on the bridge. When he sees her, he is very impressed with her flower-like beauty and gets flustered when she asks his name. He gives her back her hairpin just as it starts to rain, which happens at Lady Bai’s direction using her magical power. Xu Xian takes out an umbrella and offers it to her.

The women call for a boat to return home, and Lady Bai invites Xu Xian to join them on the boat since the rain is getting heavier. The boat is small, but it’s covered by an awning, so he goes with them. However, he feels uneasy, doesn’t want to sit down, and nearly falls overboard. The women giggle at him as he gets a little seasick. Once he’s settled in a seat, he explains to them that he owns a traditional medicine shop, and they finally make formal introductions.

As the shore comes into view, Lady Bai realizes her opportunity is slipping away too quickly, and she uses her magical power to make it disappear, which alarms the men on the boat. She tells them not to worry.  When they finally reach the shore and Xu Xian realizes he doesn’t have any money to pay the ferryman, Lady Bai tells him not to worry, that she’ll pay for it, but he asks where she lives, promising to send her money to pay her back and letting her keep the umbrella until he comes with the money. Overjoyed, Lady Bai gives him the address to the old house she and Xiao Qing took over only a few days before.

In chapter 3, “The Money Storehouse,” we pick it up in the same place. After leaving Xu Xian, the women have nowhere to spend the night since they don’t actually have a home anywhere but just stay in whatever abandoned, dilapidated house they can find. They don’t seem to understand the human concept of a home, and they don’t think of staying at an inn. In this respect, they are similar to traditional fox shapeshifter tales where the foxes seem to prefer haunting run-down, sinister places as if they were Western-style ghosts.

Since they reason Lady Bai would need money to marry Xu Xian, who was clearly very poor himself, they decide to rob a rich person with plenty, but then Lady Bai remembers the immortal master’s words warning them about what would happen if they did evil in the human world, and Xiao Qing relents. They are back to square one.

But finally Xiao Qing finds a corrupt official who has lots and lots of extra money since he plunders the citizens, and Lady Bai gives her permission to steal just a little for their needs and get back quickly. Xiao Qing only takes fifty silver pieces, however, what she doesn’t know is that the official has all of the money in his storehouse marked to identify it if it was ever stolen. They risk being caught and punished by him if they spend it.

Meanwhile, Xu Xian returns home, thinking he has never seen a woman as beautiful as Lady Bai. Although he feels inadequate, he wonders if she’s marriageable. He thinks he’s courting trouble for even considering her since he’s so poor, but a few days later he goes looking for her at the address she gave him. He doesn’t find her, and the people in the neighborhood don’t know who she is either, but he runs into Xiao Qing, who leads him to Lady Bai. When he sees her room at a grand house, he thinks she’s wealthy.

She invites him for dinner, and the women eat with him even though they don’t really need to eat like a human and had to buy the meal from an inn since they don’t cook. However, Xu Xian returns to eat with them for many days. Both he and Lady Bai have marriage on their mind, and finally Lady Bai suggests they marry, which makes Xu Xian very happy. When he expresses his concern that he doesn’t have the money to take a wife, Lady Bai has Xiao Qing bring him the rest of the money they pilfered.

When he goes home, his sister asks where he has been going for dinner, and when he mentions becoming engaged, she is uneasy since she knows he can’t support a wife on what he makes with the traditional medicine shop he runs. His brother-in-law Liyong is a yamen official who would be fairly well off in comparison. He works for the emperor’s police bureau. When Xu Xian talks with Liyong, Liyong wants to see the money Lady Bai gave him, and he recognizes it as money stolen from the storehouse, but he won’t report Xu Xian since their whole household could be executed as punishment for the crime!

Xu Xian is horrified to hear this but doesn’t believe the money was stolen.  However, the storehouse has lost five hundred and two silver pieces, far more than Xiao Qing has stolen, and they decide to turn the money in to the Hangzhou magistrate personally anyway. Seeing the marked money, the magistrate asks Xu Xian where the missing nine silver pieces went. Xu Xian is crestfallen to discover the money actually was stolen, and he gives the magistrate Lady Bai’s address.

The magistrate sends nineteen men to the address, taking Xu Xian with them. They find a dilapidated house with high grass, and neighbors tell them the family who lived there all died five or six years earlier. They don’t know anything about a Lady Bai living there now. Indeed, Lady Bai had already sensed the coming of the magistrate by her supernatural power and fled with Xiao Qing before they arrived with Xu Xian. However, after searching the premises, the magistrate finds a bundle with the missing nine silver pieces, all stamped with the storehouse’s mark, in an upstairs room. Everyone is happy, and the thief seems to have escaped, though the magistrate thinks some demon was involved with the theft. As punishment, Xu Xian is banished to Zhenjiang for a period of two years.

We’ll pick up the rest of the story next time.

Part one of a two part series.

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The Woman in White and the Jade Maiden Heart Manual – The Return of Condor Heroes, Vol. 1, Part 3

Xiao Longnu from the Anime Version

For my final post covering volume 1 of Jin Yong’s Condor Heroes series story arc Divine Eagle, Heroic Couple (金庸的<<神鵰俠侶>>), we pick up in chapter 5 after Yang Guo has escaped his cruel master at Quanzhen to become a disciple of the Tomb Sect. That night in the tomb, Yang Guo discovers Xiao Longnu’s strange habit of sleeping on a rope strung across the room about six feet off of the floor. Clearly the Tomb Sect is pretty hard core to do something like that, but it’s their weird, elegant martial arts that made me select these books for the schedule anyway.

The two bicker about where to sleep, and Xiao Longnu reveals that the members of the Tomb Sect generally don’t ever leave it, that Li Mouchou only left it against their master’s wishes. They spend the next morning getting Yang Guo acquainted with the sect. She takes him as her disciple though the Tomb Sect isn’t that warm toward men, and he gets lost in the tomb because it’s quite a maze. Then she gives him a lesson with sparrows where she requires him to catch the birds and give them to her without harming their fragile bodies. It takes him awhile to get the hang of it.

In “The Jade Maiden Heart Manual” chapter, Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu go back up to Zhongyang Palace to confront Zhao Zhijing. They haven’t left the tomb and seen the sun in a week. She applies the nectar from another bottle she brought to his bee stings, and after he expresses his gratitude, they return to the tomb. As Yang Guo’s training continues in the next scene, he makes some progress over a number of months, and they leave the tomb again. Xiao Longnu explains that the sparrow catching exercise was actually part of the “Nets Above Snares Below Gesture,” a special form of Tomb Sect martial arts.

She then tells him the story of how she came to the Tomb Sect under the master Lin Chaoying, who was only second in skill to Zhongyang of Quanzhen. Xiao Longnu takes him to a room related to her master inside the tomb, and she explains how her master created the “Jade Maiden Heart Manual” that must be practiced by two people together rather than one. She asks Yang Guo to help her with it, and when he accepts, she lays out their training program, which includes learning the Quanzhen style of martial arts as a foundation, too.

The text notes here that Yang Guo is sixteen at this point in the story, and I think two years have passed since he entered to the tomb. Xiao Longnu is around twenty. After a number of months of practicing the Quanzhen method, they get started on the “Jade Maiden Heart Manual” exercises. I guess both methods have a special sword technique attached to them that they are also running through. The “Jade Maiden Heart Manual” causes some controversy for them since this time the participants are a man and a woman instead of two women like it normally would be done, and now the difference between master and disciple is hard to ignore since the exercise requires them to remove their clothing.

Skipping ahead, Yang Guo takes a gravely wounded Xiao Longnu back to the tomb after another encounter with Zhao Zhijing. When he gives her some of the nectar from the magical white bees, she stops spitting up blood and sleeps, but when he’s out picking corn to feed her, he comes across a Taoist nun wearing a yellow robe with two swords strapped to her back, their handles bloody. At first he thinks she’s a disciple of the Quanzhen Sect, but later he notes she knows the style of the Tomb Sect and wonders why. Finally, he connects her to Li Mouchou, wondering if she’s the Red Fairy’s disciple. The nun threatens to kill him if he doesn’t come up the mountain with her, but he keeps refusing to go. Instead, he leads her down into the tomb through a secret entrance to meet Xiao Longnu, who is still recovering from the fight.

It turns out the nun’s name is Hong Lingbo, and she is indeed a disciple of Li Mouchou as Yang Guo guessed. Meanwhile, Li Mouchou plots to steal the Jade Maiden Heart Manual from the Tomb Sect and appears behind them coming through the secret entrance. Hong Lingbao notices her, and everyone’s attention turns to her as she demands to know why Granny Sun would allow a man into the Tomb Sect, referring to Yang Guo. Xiao Longnu demands Yang Guo bow to Li Mouchou as one of the Tomb Sect’s senior masters, which surprises him. Xiao Longnu decides that Yang Guo should now leave the tomb and tries to convince him when they are alone, but he declares he can’t stand to be without her. Finally, at the beginning of chapter 7, “The Yang Festival Lost Records,” they agree to stay together and return to the tomb where Li Mouchou waits with Hong Linbao.

Xiao Longnu and Li Mouchou argue more about Yang Guo’s presence in the tomb and Li Mouchou’s desire to access the Jade Maiden Heart Manual. A main concern in this chapter is how devoted Yang Guo truly is to Xiao Longnu, a question raised under pressure from Li Mouchou since a lot of the Tomb Sect women had bad romances.   

At one point when Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu are outside on the slope of the mountain after dark, they run into Yang Guo’s former mentor the slightly crazy Ou Yangfeng, who doesn’t seem to recognize him. Xiao Longnu sits off to the side as they get reacquainted and compare their styles of martial arts, however, Ou Yangfeng thinks Yang Guo shouldn’t study under a girl. Things get a little intense, and Xiao Longnu goes off as they discuss her further and ends up falling weakly to the ground as one of the Quanzhen Sect disciples, Yin Zhiping appears on the scene. Ou Yangfeng attacks her pressure points and is too strong for her to fight, so she is paralyzed and succumbs to rape as someone covers her eyes with a cloth and opens her robe.

Yang Guo notices Yin Zhiping creeping around the area and calls out to him, but he runs off saying nothing is wrong. Yang Guo takes a path through the trees, looking for Xiao Longnu, and he calls out to her with no answer. Finally, he sees her lying on the ground with her face covered. He goes to investigate, asking who put the cloth over her eyes, noticing she’s paralyzed due to someone hitting her pressure points. Realizing it was Ou Yangfeng who hit her with the paralysis, he starts to explain to her, but she gets angry that he’s still calling her master since she thinks he was the one who raped her. She’s offended that he’d do something like that and not want her for a wife after defiling her. When she’s freed from her paralysis, she runs off, and Yang Guo confronts Ou Yangfeng for attacking her. Eventually, Yang Guo goes looking for Xiao Longnu, but after asking around, he discovers no one has seen her.  

In chapter 8, “The Woman in White,” Yang Guo ends up at an inn as he searches for Xiao Longnu, encounters a few Taoist monks, then sees a beautiful woman in white who reminds him of Xiao Longnu among a group of five. It isn’t her, but he speaks to the girl and explains his search for his master and his problems with Li Mouchou. I think the girl is Lu Wushuang, though there are also alot of other characters I can’t quite sort out, and his scenes with Lu Wushuang continue into chapter 9, “A Hundred Meters Fleeing the Enemy.”

Yang Guo and Lu Wushuang take a narrow road where a bridal party is passing with a crowd watching them. The groom is seventeen or eighteen years old, and he grabs Yang Guo out of the crowd as he passes. After briefly getting caught up in the crowd, he returns to Lu Wushuang, laughing. The procession picks up the bride and moves on.  

In the middle of the revelry, three beggars recognize Lu Wushuang as a master from the Tomb Sect, and the one beggar notes that he and his brothers admire the sect. They ask her to show them a few tricks, but Lu Wushuang says she is gravely wounded and can’t fight at the moment, but she promises to come back and teach them once she heals. Afterward, Yang Guo and Lu Wushuang look for an inn where they can get a meal, and they encounter Li Mouchou there as well as a couple of Taoist monks. Yang Guo suggests they flee the place even though Li Mouchou is technically Lu Wushuang’s master. The storyline with this group of characters continues for a few more days through the end of this chapter.

In the volume’s final chapter, “The Young Hero,” Yang Guo listens to a group shouting outside the window of the room where he is waiting with Lu Wushuang. When Wan Yanping opens the door and sees him inside wearing Mongolian-style army clothing, Yang Guo promises to teach Wan some martial arts tricks. They discuss the expected style of fighting they use is fists, not swords, yet somehow they end up playing around with swords as well during the scene. They also get to talking about Yang Guo’s parents, both of whom are dead.

Later, Li Mouchou appears at the same inn for a meal and sees them, too. Lu Wushuang considers eating with them since Li Mouchou is her master after all. The story continues on this way until the end of the volume, this is the milieu of characters generally, and even outside of the tomb itself, Yang Guo finds himself surrounded by girls trained in the Tomb Sect style of martial arts to continue to learn from even in Xiao Longnu’s absence.

We’ll pick up the second volume next year and continue with his adventures.

Next time: we return to Japan for a quick look at the popular series “Gosick”!

Part three of a three part series.

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Magical Bees and the Tomb of the Living Dead – The Return of Condor Heroes, Vol. 1, Part 2

Continuing with the Condor Heroes series story arc Divine Eagle, Heroic Couple (金庸的<<神鵰俠侶>>), we pick up at the end of chapter 2 after the sudden appearance of the main character, Yang Guo.  When Yang Guo comes to after fainting, he sees “the eccentric man” (那怪人), Ou Yangfeng, whom he had been calling ‘father.’  The man reaffirms their father-son relationship, and he promises to train the boy in martial arts. In reality, Yang Guo’s mother and father died by the time he was 11 years old. Ou Yangfeng begins to teach Yang Guo the “Frog Stance,” which they practice by moonlight.

Then Ke Zhen’e, Guo Fu, Guo Jing and Huang Rong hover near Yang Guo’s bed, still trying to determine if Yang Guo was with who they think he was.  Finally, Yang Guo stops pretending to be asleep and admits he was with Ou Yangfeng, his adoptive father. Ou Yangfeng has a bad reputation with the group, so they aren’t happy to hear this news.

Yang Guo’s wounds are healing nicely, and he shares a room with Ke Zhen’e that night while Guo Jing and Huang Rong are sharing a room with their daughter. In the middle of the night, they wake up after hearing something on the roof and discover that Ke Zhen’e is up there fighting with Ou Yangfeng.  Guo Jing goes out, and Ke Zhen’e calls him up to the rooftop to dispatch Ou Yangfeng while Huang Rong watches nervously. A description of the battle ensues. Finally, two men fall from the roof.

Later as the crisis calms down, Yang Guo and Guo Fu discuss the Frog Stance, the special martial arts skill Ou Yangfeng had been teaching Yang Guo. In the next scene, Yang Guo returns to sharing his bedroom with Ke Zhen’e. Hearing Ke Zhen’e is fast asleep, Yang Guo slips out of the bedroom in search of Ou Yangfeng, regardless of whether he should or not. Yang Guo finds him and feeds him as they talk about the confrontation earlier with Guo Jing. The scene continues for awhile before shifting to a brief scene where Guo Jing suggests to Huang Rong that they take the children to Peach Blossom Island. Later, they take a boat across the sea to the island with Guo Fu, Yang Guo and two young, crying children whose mother is dead. They are perhaps Wu Sannyang’s children. 

In chapter 3, “Seeking a Master in the Zhongnan Mountains,” Guo Jing talks with his wife Huang Rong about his cherished hope for Yang Guo. The Guo and the Yang family patriarchs from a generation or two before had hoped for their clans to intermarry when their wives got pregnant at the same time if they had a boy and a girl, but they both had boys. Their boys, Guo Jing and Yang Kang, Yang Guo’s father, later made the same pact, and now the families did have a boy and girl to make good on the promise. They discuss the possibility of their daughter Guo Fu being married off to Yang Guo.

In the next scene, they are on Peach Blossom Island, and Huang Rong has healed Yang Guo with her medicine after flushing the remains of the poison from his body, and he and Guo Fu now see each other for the first time in awhile. The kids go out and play a game catching crickets then eat with Guo Jing and Huang Rong.

The next day early in the morning, Jing Guo gets everyone together in the great hall to discuss how they should train the four children in the martial arts. However, by the end of the scene, Yang Guo and Guo Jing leave the island and cross the sea to the shore of Northeast China near Zhejiang. Yang Guo wonders where Ou Yangfeng might be, but Guo Jing tells him he wants Yang Guo to get a new martial arts master with the Quanzhen Sect, whose teaching he thinks are more orthodox that Ou Yangfeng’s.

The next day at shore, they get some horses then connect with a ferry to cross the Yellow River to the Mongolian-occupied area of Shaanxi Province. Eventually, they arrive at Zhongnan Mountain where the Quanzhen Sect is located. The placard there reads Universal Light Temple. They enter the hall where they see seven or eight people, and they eat while sitting on a rock under a pine tree. Yang Guo asks Guo Jing about his father Yang Kang’s death, which makes Guo Jing angry.

They meet with the seven or eight Taoist monks of the Quanzhen sect in the great hall of the compound, discussing martial arts and magic, but there’s also a crowd of monks in attendance. Chapter 4 continues with this part of the storyline and describes Guo Jing’s attempt to get one of their monks to train the boy. As they stand outside of Zhongyang Palace, he sees forty-nine Taoist monks dressed in yellow robes arranged in a special Big Dipper formation.

His attention is drawn back to the seven monks, three of whom are old and four who are young. The names of the old monks correspond with the list of seven immortals who lead the sect, including historical figure Qiu Chuji. Guo Jing speaks mostly with the three old monks.

Painting of Qiu Chuji – 13th C

A younger nobleman holding a fan is also among the spectators who join in the conversation, and Jing Guo speculates that he is a skilled Tibetan monk and that his fan is made of steel slats, turning it into a bladed weapon.

In the next scene, Guo Jing explains he wants to leave the boy there for training, and they ask about his relationship to Yang Guo. After hearing a little from Yang Guo himself, Qiu Chuji takes Guo Jing up to the mountain peak and shows him a carved stone while discussing one of the sect’s founders Zhongyang. Guo Jing already knows something about the man, but they also get into the details of his involvement with the ancient tomb in the area and the way he called himself a living dead man.

Zhongyang and his seven disciples, also known as the seven immortals, of the Quanzhen Sect

The conversation then turns to the Living Dead Tomb Sect, which is the name of this second group Zhongyang was involved with, and they discuss the carving on the stone in more detail. Eventually, Qiu Chuji brings up Li Mouchou, one of the disciples of the Living Dead Tomb Sect, and Guo Jing is shocked to hear her name, telling Qiu Chuji that he saw her not long before. Qiu moves on to talk about Li’s sect sister, Xiao Longnu, also known as Dragon Girl, and asks if Guo Jing has also encountered her. Guo Jing thinks he hasn’t. Qiu then gets into the history of the two girls.

Finally, they get around to talking about the Mongolian prince Guo Jing noticed with the fan, Prince Huodu, and the Tibetan monk in the assembly named Daerba. In the next scene, after witnessing a confrontation between Prince Huodu and Xiao Longnu, Guo Jing leaves Yang Guo with Qiu Chuji for training and returns to Peach Blossom Island. Here’s a particularly memorable image from the passage describing the confrontation:


After Huodu finished speaking, the tinkle tinkle tinkle sound of a qin echoed through the woods, as if Xiao Longnu’s three notes on the qin were her response to him. [My translation]

However, in the next scene, Qiu Chuji assigns the monk Zhao Zhijing to teach Yang Guo, but the two don’t get along. Summer turns into autumn, but Zhao Zhijing hasn’t really taught him any martial arts, so Yang Guo rebels. After causing a ruckus among the Taoist monks, he flees outside the compound. Zhao Zhijing follows him from the grassy slope to the forest, but he gets too close to the area where the entrance to the Tomb of the Living Dead is located. A swarm of charmed white bees comes after him as Yang Guo escapes to the mysterious Taoist sect hidden in the mountain near Quanzhen.

Finally, we reach chapter 5, “The Tomb of the Living Dead,” where we meet the really important martial arts clan that will be prominent in Yang Guo’s life and storyline. Yang Guo approaches the peak of the mountain and isn’t too sure where he is since he’s having a dizzy spell. He doesn’t know how long he has been wandering. The white bees are flying around him, and he can hear the buzzing of their wings. He passes out and wakes to find himself laying in a bed attended by an old woman. He is afraid to go back to his master Zhao Zhijing now.

The old woman is Granny Sun, and a small woman in white who appears to be about sixteen or seventeen enters the room as they are talking. Yang Guo notices a supernatural quality to the girl, who is the master of the Tomb Sect known as Xiao Longnu. He introduces himself to the women. However, Xiao Longnu wants him to leave. Few outsiders visit the Tomb of the Living Dead.

But Yang Guo’s bad experience with his master at Quanzhen makes him adamant he’ll never go back. Xiao Longnu is unyielding, and they discuss the matter awhile. Xiao Long Nu wants Yang Guo to go back to his master with a bottle of bee elixir to heal their stings, and the three of them meet a crowd of at least sixteen Quanzhen monks outside who are searching for Yang Guo.

Granny Sun asks Zhao Zhijing whether he agrees to let Yang Guo become a disciple of Xiao Longnu since he wasn’t getting along so well with the Quanzhen monks, but the suggestion isn’t accepted. The women manage to free him from Quanzhen, and Xiao Longnu escapes with him back to their tomb, but not before Granny Sun is killed by the monks. They take her dead body back to the tomb with them.

Part two of a three part series.

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My Fall 2020 Schedule and A New Interview

As we get into the last few months of 2020, I have some new events to announce that I’m participating in. First up is C’monfluence, which is the writers track of the old Confluence convention. That is slated for October 2nd through the 4th and has gone virtual this year. I’m on the schedule in a few places, and that should be posted soon.

I’ll be on a few of the panels and will be prowling the Discord server as a monitor under my Lady Xiansa blogger handle, so be sure to check that out.

Next up will be the virtual World Fantasy Convention 2020, where I will be turning into a fan girl of Hickman and Weis for sure, though anything else I’ll be doing that weekend is TBA. That is scheduled for October 29th through November 1st.

The last two events are in limbo since they are still scheduled as in-person events and have been cancelled at least once this year. Living Dead Weekend Monroeville is supposed to go forth the weekend of November 6th, but we’ll see. Then Steel City Con is tentatively slated for the weekend of December 4th.  

I also recently did an interview with Book Reader Magazine, which you can access here.

Next time, I’ll be back to our scheduled reading.

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The Ominous Calling Card of Nine Bloody Palm Prints – The Return of Condor Heroes, Vol. 1, Part 1

Li Mouchou from the anime version

My next selection is the middle story arc from Jin Yong’s popular martial arts series, the Condor Trilogy, which has three main story arcs. The trilogy begins with The Legend of Condor Heroes, then comes The Return of Condor Heroes, and the trilogy ends with The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. The series covers different generations of a group of martial arts families and is set in the Song and Yuan Dynasties of China.

This story arc has four volumes, and the title translates literally to Divine Eagle, Heroic Couple (金庸的<<神鵰俠侶>>). It was originally serialized in a Hong Kong newspaper between 1959 and 1961. I find it really fascinating how modern East Asian language classics tended to have been published like this rather than as complete volumes like regular novels. That also tends to make them very, very long.

This story arc in particular is a favorite in Chinese-speaking communities, and many film and TV adaptations have been done over the years, including an anime that I highly recommend. Here is the cover art for volume 1, which also contains some traditional paintings and chapter frontspieces, but this print version is too fragile to scan many of them.

Cover Art, Volume 1

The story opens in chapter 1 with five young girls singing and laughing as they ride in a boat on a misty lake. The song they are singing is the Northern Song Dynasty poem “A Butterfly Becomes a Flower.” The novel is set, however, in the Southern Song Dynasty under Emperor Lizong, the 14th emperor of the dynasty, which puts the story between the years 1224 and 1264 AD. During this time, the Mongol invasion began, at least around the edges of China if not an outright attack.

Emperor Lizong

The text gets deeper into a description of the girl singing the song and the song lyrics before explaining that three of the five girls in the boat are about 15 or 16 years old, while the remaining two are only 9 years old. They sing and then discuss an “eccentric” person who is sitting under a weeping willow tree on the shore. The person has shiny, black disheveled hair and a beard, the deep lines in his face suggest he is seventy or eighty, and he’s dressed in indigo blue. One of the other girls rebukes her for calling the old man eccentric and suggests she call him “uncle” so she won’t anger him.

They land on the shore and get out, and the girl named Chengying asks the old man if the lotus seeds he is eating are tasty. He asks them to come with him somewhere, but they say they can’t go far from home. However, Chengying gets close enough that he grabs her and takes off with her, and she begs him to let her go home and starts to cry, but he gets a little irritated at her tears since he says he wants to take her to back to the river bank to eat lotus seeds. Eventually, he starts crying, too, and he tells her he doesn’t want to say goodbye to her. He seems to confuse her for another girl, and he wants them to live together always, though she tries to explain to him that she isn’t who he thinks she is. At the end of this passage, they enter the Lu household’s front gate.

The next section turns to the character Lu Wushuang, which means Unrivalled Lu. She is yelling for her parents to come because something bad has happened, and her father Lu Liding appears. Chengying enters the manor’s grand hall where they are looking at three rows of palm prints on the wall. The top row has two palm prints, the middle row has two, and the bottom row has five, totaling nine palm prints that are dark red like blood.  Lu Wushuang says something about a lunatic digging the graves of her aunt and uncle, but Lu Liding asks what she means. Chengying agrees with her that something is really wrong, so Lu Liding grabs a short-sword off the wall and charges into his brother and sister-in-law’s tomb.

In the tomb, there are two wooden coffins, and he checks inside. Their corpses are gone without a trace, and he sees the lids have markings from some iron tool. When he comes back into the grand hall, he thinks to himself that his brother had mentioned having a clan enemy who was a Taoist nun named Li Mouchou, also known as the Red Fairy, who is famous for being highly skilled at the martial arts. He knows that this Li Mouchou has a habit of leaving bloody red palm prints on the gate of locales where she plans to take a life for each print, though he only counts seven people living in the house and wonders where the other two come into things.

The next scene continues with the Lu household talking together, and they are interrupted by the appearance of a small, laughing woman dressed in a nun’s gray and apricot dress on the rooftop. Lu Liding asks if she is Sorceress Li, and she says he is correct. The novel’s description of Li Mouchou as fifteen or sixteen years old seems impossibly young by modern standards, but that’s probably fairly mature for the 13th century. She’s holding a long sword and threatens to kill the whole Lu household as she flies through the air down to the ground to meet them. In her right hand, she has some silver needles that she can shoot at them, too.

Li Mouchou laughs coldly as she comes down off the roof, and Lu Liding notices the needles and calls out for her to stop because he realizes they are poisoned. At this point, a number of new characters are introduced, and the drama continues with Wu Sanniang and Wu Santong, though this isn’t the storyline I’m going to highlight in these posts. It takes awhile for this volume to get to the actual main characters, so I’ll be mostly looking for their storylines. Even so, it’s a wonderfully dramatic start to a wild story.

The next few scenes continue with these peripheral characters, and we return briefly to the fight with Li Mouchou when the doors to the hall fly open after the wooden beam bracing them snaps. Li Mouchou arrives on the ground to fight with Lu Liding and Wu Sanniang. Their fight is interrupted with a brief interlude showing a flashback of two, more central characters to the plot, Guo Jing and Huang Rong.

That same year, Guo Jing and a pregnant Huang Rong, who are a married couple from the earlier story arc in the novel known as The Legend of Condor Heroes, return from some sword training on Mount Hua to Peach Blossom Island. I think it may be their wedding they hold on the island, but I’m not familiar with their backstory since I never read or watched the earlier story arc. Peach Blossom Island, however, is where Huang Rong’s father, Huang Yaoshi, a martial arts expert who taught her everything he knows, lives.

My Hua, photo by Synyan

Nine months pass, and Huang Rong gives birth to a baby girl they name Guo Fu, and Huang Rong begins the girl’s martial arts training when she turns five. They stay on the island until Guo Fu is nine years old, and they leave together with Ke Zhen’e, one of the “Seven Freaks of Jiangnan,” a martial arts sect that was wiped out except for Ke.

The story returns to Li Mouchou fighting Wu Sanniang with Ke Zhen’e present for the battle, and this storyline continues into chapter 2, “The Child of Old Friends,” for two more scenes before we return to Guo Jing and Huang Rong. Everyone is hiding from Li Mouchou in a cave, and Wu Santong goes out to greet her, mentioning he hasn’t seen her in ten years. Eventually, she starts killing the household, then there is some mysterious encounter with eagles, and Li Mouchou notices a little girl involved with them. The girl happens to be Guo Fu, and Li Mouchou asks her name, trying to entice the girl to come play with her. Ke Zhen’e calls for Guo Fu to quickly come inside, and Li Mouchou laughs, asking if he thinks she’ll eat the girl. The scene is mostly Li Mouchou talking with the young girls and fighting with the adult household members using her poisoned silver needles.

Ke Zhen’e confronts Li Mouchou next, but she seems to disappear with the young girls. The bodies of those she poisoned with her needles are collapsed on the floor. I think they’re mostly different kinds of bugs and not human characters. Ke Zhen’e goes over to examine the needles. At this point, we have a number of characters who aren’t referenced by name, like 那少年 young man and 怪人 eccentric person, so I’m not sure who is talking to whom or if these are characters I should recognize, but someone asks how Li Mouchou could throw the needles without getting the poison on her hands.

As they continue their conversation, they hear a bird cry and see a pair of eagles or condors in the sky flying over them. The one man starts crying out that he doesn’t want to see them and runs into the mulberry forest nearby, the young man calling after him.  Suddenly, a man and woman emerge from the trees, each with one of the eagles on their shoulders. The man is about thirty, and the woman looks twenty-six or twenty-seven.

We find out when the next scene starts that this couple is Guo Jing and Huang Rong. They have emerged from a tea house after hearing the news that the Lu Manor has caught fire. Lu Manor was very respected in the jiang hu martial arts community, and they want to know what happened. When they reach the burned mansion, they see the bloody palm prints and immediately recognize them as Li Mouchou’s warning, and they discuss her legendary martial arts abilities. They also see the poisoned needles and notice the young man’s hand has been turned black from the needles’ poison.

Guo Jing whistles, and it catches the attention of a number of characters, including Li Mouchou, who is still hanging around nearby with Chengying and Lu Wushuang. Li Mouchou of course recognizes the whistle as Guo Jing’s and comments on it before the next scene shifts back to Ke Zhen’e and Guo Fu. In this brief scene, Guo Fu recognizes the arrival of her parents and runs to embrace her mother Huang Rong. When Guo Fu sees the young man’s black hand and comments on it, Guo Jing discusses finding a way to cure it.

He asks the youth’s name, and all he will say is Ni Laozi, which Huang Rong mistakes as meaning something kind of odd that sounds similar, your father. For some reason, Huang Rong figures out the boy’s meaning and asks if his name is really Yang Guo (usually pronounced Guor in media depictions with the suffix -er added at the end). Guo Jing is flabbergasted to be face to face with the son of his old friend and sworn brother Yang Kang. The whole group departs to an inn together, but Yang Guo is feeling faint. They look for medicine.

Now that we’ve been introduced at last to the main character of the novels, I’m going to pause there and start fresh with his storyline next time.

Part one of a three-part series.

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Wendelin Gray Speaks at Crunchyroll’s Virtual Con and More!

I got notification recently that I got a few coveted speaking slots at some major anime cons across the US that have gone virtual this year. First up is Otakon Online 2020, where I will be doing abbreviated versions of my Ainu and Godzilla panels. Be sure to look for that at a computer near you August 1st.

Next, I will be presenting “Dark Journeys: Saiyuki and Hell Girl” at the Virtual Crunchyroll Expo 2020, which will be held from September 4th through 6th.

This panel is one of a four-part series I do on occasion at anime cons discussing the religions of East Asia, and this is the first time in eight years that I’ve presented this particular installment, which features an examination of Buddhist sutras and sects emphasizing heaven and hell as well as some discussion of Buddhist-Christian syncretism in these anime.

I will also have a virtual booth in their artist alley at the Crunchyroll Expo, so be sure to check that out, too.

If you’re looking for something interesting to do from the comfort of your living room, be sure to check out both events.

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