This time as we finish our series on Uncle Strange’s novel Hidden Souls (怪叔叔的“藏魂”), there are a few more chapters of varied length and focus. I could have put links to so many cultural references this time that I wouldn’t have had space for a post. This segment starts off with another short, touching ghost story, moves on to a spoofy episode with a few of the sidekick characters, then goes full-blown Dungeons and Dragons style with the last two grand finale chapters that are linked together. There are so many mythical monsters referenced in it, I could hardly keep up with researching them.
WHEN THE FLAMES OF LOVE SPREAD
This eighteenth chapter is only one section. Like the other short chapters in this novel, it is quite well done with lots of atmosphere. In this short segment, we see blind old Feng Shui master Longjing Liu sitting in a tea shop in the city. One of his young relatives who had been on their expedition in the Lost Souls chapter, Banxian Liu, comes into the tea shop with a blind man’s cane and wearing sunglasses. He bumps into things and is constantly apologizing. The other patrons and tea shop owner pity him, and they whisper their theories about what happened to the young man as he leaves the shop again.
They discuss how there was a huge fire in the restaurant last time Banxian was there with his girlfriend, and his girlfriend was injured and died in the stampede down the stairs to get out in time. Some patrons believe he cried himself blind and now is just mentally ill. Some speculate the ghost of his girlfriend is still with him. Longjing Liu hears all of this and says nothing. He knows the truth and feels that these people cannot understand. He knows that what Banxian is experiencing is real. He truly is blind. His girlfriend promised to watch over him always, and the only way she can do that is if he is now blind. The other patrons don’t understand the burden of a person in love.
DREAMS OF GRANDEUR
The nineteenth chapter has eight subsections. Each subsection has a very old-fashioned, long couplet for a title, reminiscent of the old couplet chapter titles in traditional Chinese novels. The main characters here are Big Ox, Xiaowu, and Zicheng, and they are out in a wild area of Taiwan looking for a meet up point with someone. Big Ox has to chop through branches and weeds for them to make a path to their destination, which is somewhere on the border of Kaohsiung and Tainan counties. They are on black market business for a European buyer. After six hours of traveling in circles, Zicheng collapses from exhaustion, and they admit they are lost.
Finally, they come across a stream. Big Ox drinks and catches a fish. He and Zicheng prepare a fire to steam the fish on their electric stove, and Zicheng prepares his favorite tea. Big Ox tastes the fish and sees that Zicheng has turned pale. Zicheng spits out everything in his mouth, including a bit of fish that Zicheng insists looks like the face of an old woman. Big Ox is rather indignant at this suggestion, but Zicheng asks if he ever heard of the urban legend of the “Kaohsiung Human Faced Fish” (高雄人面魚) from the 1990s or about the “Human Faced Scab” (人面瘡) that is caused by angry spirits. The latter is discussed here in more detail (Chinese only):
Zicheng relates these stories to Big Ox. They then burn up the rest of the fish to ash and go look for a village to rest for the night. When they approach the archway to one, the inhabitants are all in an uproar that outsiders are coming. Zicheng asks if they can meet with their friend Xiren Zhang who lives in the village, but no one ever heard of him. Because the sun is about to set, they stay the night, knowing they could be injured by wild animals if they are wandering around lost in the wilderness. They share a meal with the villagers. As they settle in for the night, some young people of the village put on a play telling an indigenous story, “The Girl Cast into the Forest” (林投姐).
The main character of this play, Niangzhao Li, is a widow with a few children who marries Ahsi Zhou. He travels around and takes a second wife in the mainland, abandoning her. Some of her children die, and she swims to the mainland to his new home. Ahsi Zhou kills himself, his new wife and two children out of fear of the appearance of an apparition of his other wife. Big Ox and Zicheng are creeped out by the scary atmosphere in the village after the story. The story has some connection to the village, and the two men think for a moment they are seeing the actual ghosts from the story walking around. But the villagers laugh and apologize to them for intentionally trying to scare them.
The villagers tell them another story about the Lu family from Yilan County a long time ago. It goes on to describe two or three marriages of the one Lu son that were not very happy; one wife becomes a Buddhist nun and goes crazy. The villagers explain the family saga over tea with Big Ox and Zicheng. Then the village elder starts to change, becoming as fierce as a tiger, and there is a loud sound. Big Ox is terrified. However, he wakes up suddenly, realizing he is laying on the ground, and Xiaowu is complaining that the two of them were sleeping! Zicheng and Big Ox can hardly believe they were dreaming the whole time. They prepare to take their goods to the waiting buyer, then they plan on returning to Hong Kong for a big meeting with Amiao, Xiaonizi and most importantly, Yueyan.
TAMAMO NO MAE
The twentieth chapter has thirty-six subsections called scrolls, and it is very heavy with Japanese cultural references and required a lot of research to figure out who it was referring to. The text has a fair amount of Japanese hiragana of many of them for clarification for Chinese language readers. At the same time Dreams of Grandeur is going on, Yueyan Gu is visiting hot springs in Japan after completing some antique restoration work on a legendary demon sword from the Eishou era of Japan and on a wooden statue of eleven-headed Kannon at the Tokyo Museum.
Yueyan meets with his old Japanese friend whom I’m going to call Mei Abe. I can’t quite nail down the Japanese reading of the friend’s first name 冥. Uncle Strange does an interesting thing in their dialogue. He has Mei Abe use the term chan (ちゃん) after Yueyan’s name in Japanese hiragana nearly every time he addresses Yueyan, while Yueyan calls his friend Mei-san (さん) also using hiragana. But the text makes it clear they are speaking mostly Cantonese when they are together. He introduces Yueyan to a few acquaintances at the place as Yueyan suddenly thinks back to his summer vacation in Japan after he graduated from high school and his encounter with some ruffians which led to his friendship with Mei. As they get drunk, Mei introduces him to a few more ladies then asks him to introduce his own female companion. Yueyan is startled since he didn’t bring one, but Xiaonizi walks in and already seems to be acquainted with Mei! At one point when they are staying with Mei and Yueyan is asleep on the couch, Mei approaches Xiaonizi about marrying her, which startles her, but he is smitten. The next morning when Yueyan hears them, he is surprised he feels a stab of jealousy.
After the meeting at the restaurant, they drive around a bit and get caught up in some crime scene. When Yueyan confronts Xiaonizi about her presence there, they end up discussing omyoudou and exorcists when Mei reveals himself to be such a master, throwing around slips of paper with incantations and calling shikigami monsters to help him. This leads to a recounting of a possible Heian era ancestor of Mei’s, Seimei Abe, who was a famous exorcist in the employ of the Mikado and the Fujiwara family and whose mother was reportedly a fox spirit. Mei has a special sword that he is using in an official capacity; the Japanese government has a secret department of such exorcists because the spirit world has become more active in the past year for reasons they can’t determine. This department’s job is to protect Japan’s spiritual boundaries. The sword itself has some evil power, and Mei also has a fragment of the legendary Killing Stone that kills anything that touches it. This stone is connected to the 9-tailed fox spirit Tamamo No Mae (玉藻の前), and the text explains her history, which can be read here along with some Heian Era illustrations:
The stone took on the power to kill when Tamamo No Mae died and her spirit poisoned it.
At the crime scene, Mei and the others are helping the police, and upon examining the body of the victim, they determine the strange wounds could only be made by a kamaitachi, or scythe weasel. This youkai kills by sucking out the blood and spiritual power, leaving no wounds, and its body is hidden by the wind. They determine to catch it by setting up a trap using an electric fan and air pump. When they catch it, Xiaonizi is intrigued by it, talks to it over the warnings of both Mei and Yueyan, and holds the sweet, kitten-like weasel close to her chest. It seems to trust her when she says they won’t harm it, and it tells her the youkai have all gotten murderous because of something that happened at an assembly of the gods on one of the mountains. They had been feeling uneasy ever since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and went to make a sacrifice. An explosion causes the altar to break, and the shards of it entered the youkai, causing them to go into a murderous frenzy. Mei wants to verify this information. Something nearby is watching this conversation and laughs at them for falling into a youkai trap!
They decide to go to Ōtengu’s temple in the mountains and make preparations. Mei appears in military uniform along with two teams he has organized, led by a woman named Rinko Nishishiro. They travel in two cars, with Mei, Xiaonizi, Yueyan, Rinko, Hideo Igami and Naohito Okita – these are my readings of the Japanese characters for their names, though there are other possible readings for personal names. As they go over the stone bridge, they are attacked by kappa! After a struggle with a few of their team and using a special incantation to stop the kappa, Mei goes into his car and brings out a jar of cucumbers (technically pickles), which is something they can’t resist. They eat up the cucumbers and cry for more. Meanwhile, Xiaonizi brings out the scythe weasel on her shoulder to interpret for the group and the kappa. They learn more about this assembly of the gods and how divination resulted in the revelation that humanity was destroying nature, so the youkai decided to punish and wipe out humanity! It is a youkai revolution.
When they move on, a communication comes that mist is descending around them, and Rinko orders them to turn off the lights when it gets so thick they can’t even see their hands. They know the monsters are coming. A scream comes over their communique. As one of the youkai emerges from the mist to attack Xiaonizi, Xiaonizi uses a secret weapon that amazes the rest of the party, who now wonder who the heck she is. The youkai is injured, and when its feathers fall to the ground, they turn into a naked woman. At this point, they encounter a confusing array of youkai that is hard to keep track of. On their way to find a particular shrine in the mountains, they walk through a “suicide forest” full of corpses of all types in various stages of decay! Mei is now suspicious of Xiaonizi and asks Yueyan if he trusts her. Yueyan uses a really great four character saying to describe his relationship with Xiaonizi: she is his hongyan zhiji (紅顏知己, “close female confidante,” usually used by a man).
They get attacked by birds or bird-like youkai, and Yueyan’s jade necklace is activated, protecting Xiaonizi in particular. Yueyan himself is attacked and spits up blood. The group is surrounded by youkai, and they are taken to the main hall of a shrine to meet the head tengu, but here they also encounter the white-faced, nine-tailed fox spirit that has lived 1,000 years, Tamamo no Mae. The fox turns to speak with Yueyan at this point. She offers to tell him a secret, referencing some natural disasters as only a “prelude” to something bigger and referring to this big event cryptically as the “yellow peril”. Something is supposed to be born in this yellow peril which is special to the youkai, they only need to get rid of one obstacle to make it happen. More fighting ensues.
Mei prepares to battle Tamamo no Mae. Rinko is unsure of his Taoist incantation, then both she and Mei are engaged in battle with a tengu and another youkai, which breaks Mei’s bones. Hideo and Naohito have been injured and can’t fight. At the end, Xiaonizi faces Tamamo no Mae in her 9-tailed fox form, stabbing the fox at least once with a weapon called “Sin” (this weapon appeared at the end of the Terrible Mansion chapter but I didn’t quite understand what it was other than some sort of magical item) that drains her spiritual power. The fox is terrified to notice that the wound is causing her spirit to break down. They talk together briefly about the Killing Stone, both of them tense and sweating, and the fox complements her on being more dangerous than the men in her party. Then the fox pulls off her fox skin as if it were clothing, and her spirit forms purple smoke that coalesces into the Killing Stone. Relieved, Xiaonizi runs to Yueyan’s arms, releases the scythe weasel to the wind, and kisses Yueyan. Mei passes through the door, his ribs broken, and tells Yueyan he’s a lucky man. Yueyan, however, is pretty unsure how he ended up with Xiaonizi kissing him and doesn’t think he’s so lucky!
THE YELLOW PERIL
The twenty-first and final chapter has fifty-two subchapters. The previous chapter’s talk about the “yellow peril” sets this up nicely. It starts with Yueyan in Hong Kong at a bar, sheepishly explaining to Amiao what happened with Xiaonizi because he feels he betrayed her with the kiss. Heartbroken, Amiao walks out without a word. Later, when Yueyan runs into Xiaowu and goes to a reunion of their compadres, Longjing Liu mentions Amiao won’t be in attendance, and Yueyan is more miserable at losing her than hearing about the “yellow peril” and the proverbial end of humanity.
The group is listening to Banxian Liu give a speech on what he thinks the “yellow peril” Tamamo no Mae was referring to actually is: natural disasters as the signs of the resurrection of the Chinese war god Chiyou! Chiyou was a figure from Chinese myth who fought Huangdi. Apparently he also was involved in some way with the creation of a half-human half-demon hybrid army. It is also established that Xiaowu’s red sword was once Chiyou’s. Here is some background on Chiyou since this story talks constantly about him:
Longjing Liu says they haven’t found a way to stop the disaster in millennia, but there was something written at one time referring to “Nuwa’s Heavenly Crystal” as the way to break the power of the yellow peril. The story then goes into detail about the legend of Nuwa, the ancient Chinese goddess who was half snake. When natural disasters started frightening mankind, Nuwa created this crystal to stop them. Banxian Liu makes reference to the stone in The Dream of Red Mansions, making Yueyan wonder how his jade necklace fits in. Perhaps it is a piece of Nuwa’s crystal. Longjing warns them they will have to be prepared to sacrifice everything in their quest to stop this god’s resurrection, and they will need to think over whether they want to participate in the expedition. They are set to meet in three days at the same place.
Afterward, Xiaowu hangs around with Yueyan and marvels that he’s never seen Yueyan get so drunk. He usually stops after a few drinks and must be trying to decide if he loves Amiao or Xiaonizi, Xiaowu surmises. Yueyan can’t stop drinking because Amiao is on his mind. With thoughts of facing death, Yueyan realizes he is attached to both women, and he wanders out into the streets to find them. He doesn’t even care at this point what happens to his jade necklace, which is probably now the only hope for humanity. Xiaowu sits alone with the bottle of wine feeling fear but also sure he can handle things, the red sword at his side.
Three days later, everyone comes back to the bar dressed in black to get ready for the expedition. Part of the team is military, and at least eight men in the party go by numbers instead of names, “Number One,” “Number Two,” and so on. They are armed to the teeth with military munitions and apparatus, including guns and bayonets in addition to an assorted list of items. A military plane takes the group to some place called the “sea eye” where there are ruins in a cave in Babinachi City, a historical name for Beijing.
Longjing Liu tells them that in the Yuan Dynasty, Yuanzhang Zhu (who later became the founder of the Ming Dynasty and its first emperor Hongwu) had a dream of a war with the Dragon King and his mother who are angry and want to punish Beijing. He tries to go to the palace to warn them of the impending disaster, but he makes no impression. Ordered back to his post, Zhu sees the punishment approaching. The flood comes as he was warned it would. The Dragon King and his family play a big role in this “sea eye,” which is a well located in Tranquil Sea Temple. The military commanders have the place all reconnoitered and mapped out for their mission.
When they arrive at this temple, they already smell blood, and they discover a monster who ate part of a human corpse. There is also a second monster, both are man-eating, and they must do battle with them to get to their destination. Xiaowu takes out his glowing red sword while someone in the party shoots their gun. They finally make it to the well. The mechanical engineers on the team work on getting them into the well, preparing to descend and checking on the situation with their oxygen. They determine the well has dried up and bring out five rock crawlers for them to ride in. In the well, they get attacked by a couple of waves of monsters resembling crickets and birds that they have to flee from. They also encounter a grassy area underground full of rotting corpses and “wild dog” demons, vines that pull them underground, a naked female demon that emerges from a flower and has poisoned pollen as a major weapon, and a labyrinth set inside the walls of a gorge where their cars can’t enter.
Number Ten disappears, leaving behind a bloody handprint and his helmet. They meet up with another monster from the Chiyou legend, Yinggou. A few of the numbered military men die in this battle, and the rest press on to a huge, ancient palace with a water spout. One of the military men betrays them, stabbing a few more of the numbered men before the group meets up with Mengji, the son of the Dragon King. They spend a fair number of subchapters arguing with Mengji about the goodness of humanity and whether it is justice for Chiyou to kill them all now with the yellow peril. Mengji is described as evil and crazy. Xiaowu cuts Mengji’s throat with the red sword while Amiao changes her foxtail into a whip to lash at Mengji’s waist. He is in pain as they argue some more. Finally Mengji injures Longjing Liu before exiting the scene. Longjing tells them before he dies that they must stop Chiyou’s resurrection by shattering Chiyou’s three hearts to cut off his spirit and vigor.
The group encounters a shadowy figure not long after that they discover is legendary headless Chinese hero Xingtian. He has also been resurrected. I should mention at this point that this whole chapter draws heavily from the monsters and gods found in Chinese classic, Shanhaijing, or The Classic of Mountains and Seas, which is acknowledged in the text itself. They find another cave and marvel at the huge water spout that Amiao thinks must be Chiyou’s sign. There are some more scenes with Xingtian as they come upon a tomb. The chapter hits its weakest point by showing Zicheng and Big Ox discussing brotherhood but not really accounting for why they seem to disappear before the next subchapter, but it is a minor issue with the big grand finale ahead.
At this point, the team of four Longjing Liu marveled at way back in the Secret Treasure chapter appears. Xiaowu, Yueyan, Amiao and Xiaonizi are fated to look upon the scene of war god Chiyou’s resurrection! They just need to destroy his three hearts before the yellow peril is unleashed. Amiao tries to fight Chiyou with her foxtail, which turns into a rifle, but she fails to shoot Chiyou’s heart and is attacked by him instead. Xiaonizi also tries to hit one of his hearts with her unspecified weapon “Sin,” but I’m unclear if she is successful. Both women are wounded by Chiyou and die in front of Yueyan. Amiao tells him she loves him, but Xiaonizi is already just about dead. By the end of the subchapter, it’s over for them.
Xiaowu fights with Chiyou, standing before him in a pool of blood with the red sword. Even as the sword hits its mark on Chiyou, destroying one of his hearts or perhaps finishing the job Xiaonizi started with the first heart, Chiyou lands a few supernatural punches to Xiaowu’s head and chest, then takes the red sword back from Xiaowu’s hand. In the end, Xiaowu dies a heroic death, while Yueyan is left alone to face the resurrected Chiyou with his magical jade necklace. And that’s where I’m going to end my summary, though there isn’t much left to cover, just the final resolution and the very brief afterward that doesn’t really add to the story.
I really think this novel was probably so popular because of its Indiana Jones vibe. It is worthy of an English translation, although it requires some minor editing to get rid of a few inconsistencies and typos. It certainly is exciting enough reading, and until that translation is ever done, I can recommend it for Chinese language students at the college and adult levels who are ready to tackle novels. The far-flung locales and mostly supernatural conflicts provide a good range of vocabulary and keeps the reader interested. While I may not have loved every chapter, that’s mainly just personal preference. The novel was still far more interesting to read than many other books I could have chosen to review. The graphic sex and violence was pretty minimal, often just a few details in passing with only really a handful of subchapters with very detailed descriptions that last an entire subchapter at a time – the book has over 400 subchapters. The cultural references and vocabulary are, however, very esoteric. Definitely a fun read, and I learned a lot. But you should read it a lot slower than I did.
Part six of a six part series
Next time, we return to Japan for Nahoko Uehashi’s fantasy adventure, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit!