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Episode 164: Investiture of the Gods 3 – Three Spirits

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We will continue the series of the stories from the book Investiture of the Gods 封神演义. It is a 16th century Chinese novel in the gods-and demons genre during the Ming dynasty 明朝 and combines history, folklore, and fantasy. The story is set in the period of the end of Shang dynasty 商朝 between the 1600 BC ~ 1046 BC and the beginning of the Zhou dynasty 周朝 between the year 1046 BC~ 256 BC, around 3000 years ago.

Goddess Nv Wa mounted a phoenix and headed for ZhaoGe 朝歌. King Zhou had two sons. One was Yin Jiao 殷郊, who later became the “Star God Presiding over the Year,” and the other Yin Hong 殷洪, who later became the “God of Grain.” As the two gods paid their respects to their father, two red divine beams rose from the tops of their heads and soared high in the sky, blocking the way of the goddess. Looking down through the clouds, Nv Wa at once realized King Zhou had still 28 years to go before his downfall. She also realized that she could do nothing about it at this moment, since that would go against the will of Heaven.

The goddess returned to her temple, highly displeased. She ordered a young maidservant to fetch a golden gourd and put it on the Cinnabar Terrace outside her court. When its stopper was removed, Nv Wa pointed at the gourd with one finger and suddenly a thick beam of brilliant white light rose from the mouth of the gourd and shot up fifty feet into the air. Hanging from the beam was a multi-colored flag called the Demon Summoning Pennant. As soon as this pennant made its appearance, glittering high up in the sky, all demons and evil spirits, no matter where they were, would gather round.

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Moments later, dark winds began to howl, eerie fogs enveloped the earth, and vicious-looking clouds gathered in the sky. All the demons in the would had arrived the receive her command. Nv Wa gave orders that all the demons return home except the three spirits that dwelt in the grave of Emperor Xuan Yuan 轩辕.

What were these three spirits? The first was a thousand-year-old female fox spirit, the second was a female pheasant spirit with nine heads and the third was a jade lute spirit.

“May you live eternally, dear goddess!” The three spirits greeted Nv Wa, kowtowing on the Cinnabar Terrace.

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“Listen carefully to my secret orders. The Shang dynasty’s destined to end soon. The singing of the phoenix at Mount Qi 奇山 augurs the birth of a new ruler in West Qi. This has all been determined by the will of Heaven and no one has the power to change what must happen. You may transform yourselves into beauties, enter the palace, and distract King Zhou from state affairs. You will be richly rewarded for giving the new dynasty an auspicious start and helping the old one to its downfall. However, you mustn’t bring harm to the people.” The three spirits turned themselves into winds, and flew away.

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Since his visit to the Temple of Goddess Nv Wa, King Zhou had sunk into a deep depression. He ardently admired the beauty of the goddess, lost all desire to eat and drink. He had no passion for his queen, his concubines, or the numerous maids in his palace. They now all appeared to him like lumps of clay. He would not be bothered with state affairs.

One day, he remembered Fei Zhong 费仲 and You Hun 尤浑, two minion courtiers who would falter and slander as he pleased. King Zhou sent for Fei Zhong, and the latter appeared in no time.

“I went to worship Goddess Nv Wa recently,” King Zhou began. “She’s so beautiful I believe she had no rival in the would , and none of my concubines is to be compared with her. I am head over heels in love, and feel very sad as I cannot get her. Have you any ideas with which to comfort me? ”

“Your Majesty! With all your honor and dignity, you’re the most powerful and the richest man in the would. You possess all the wealth within the four seas. You may have anything you wish for and you should have no difficulty in satisfying your desires. You can issue an order tomorrow demanding 100 beauties from the grand duke. You’ll have no trouble finding one as beautiful as Goddess Nv Wa,” Fei Zhong suggested.

King Zhou was delighted. He said, “your suggestion appeals to me. I will issue the order tomorrow. ”

 

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封神演义 Investiture of the Gods

Episode 163: Investiture Of The Gods 2 – King Zhou And Goddess Nüwa

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We will continue the series of the stories from the book Investiture of the Gods 封神演义. It is a 16th century Chinese novel in the gods-and demons genre during the Ming dynasty 明朝 and combines history, folklore, and fantasy. The story is set in the period of the end of Shang dynasty 商朝 between the 1600 BC ~ 1046 BC and the beginning of the Zhou dynasty 周朝 between the year 1046 BC~ 256 BC, around 3000 years ago.

The King Zhou 纣王 and his entourage left the palace and made their way through the south gate of the capital. Every house they passed was decorated with bright silk, and the streets were scented for the king by burning incense.

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Reaching the Temple of Goddess Nv Wa, King Zhou left his royal carriage and went to the main hall, where he burned incense sticks, bowed low with his ministers and offered prayers. King Zhou then wandered about the hall, finding it splendidly decorated in gold and other colors. Before the statue of the goddess stood golden lads holding pennants, and jade lasses holding S-shaped jade ornaments which symbolized peace and happiness. The jade hooks on the curtain hung obliquely, like new crescent moons suspended in the air, and hundreds of find phoenixes embroidered on the curtain appeared to be flying towards the North Pole. Beside the altar of the goddess, made of fragrant wood, cranes and dragons were dancing in the scented smoke rising from the gold incense burners and the sparkling flames of the silvery candles.

As King Zhou was admiring the splendors of the hall, a whirlwind suddenly blew up, rolling back the curtain and exposing the image of the goddess to all. She was extremely beautiful, much more than flowers, more than the fairy in the moon palace, and certainly more than any woman in the world. She looked quite alive, smiling sweetly at the king and staring at him with joy in her eyes.

Her utter beauty bewitched King Zhou, setting him on fire with lust. He desired to possess her, and thought to himself in frustration. “Though I’m wealthy and powerful and have concubines and maidservants filling my palace, there’s non as beautiful and charming as this goddess.”

He ordered his attendants to bring brush and ink and wrote a poem on the wall near the image of the goddess to express his admiration for her. When he finished writing, Prime Minister Shang Rong 商容 approached him, “Nv Wa’s been a proper goddess and guardian angel for ZhaoGe 朝歌, I only suggested that you worship her so that she would continue to bless the people. But with this poem, you’ve not only shown your lack of sincerity on this trip but have insulted her as well.” He demanded, “This isn’t the way a king should behave. I pray you wash this blasphemous poem off the wall, lest you be condemned by the people for your immorality.” This part is similar to a part in the story Lotus Lantern that we talked about in Ep. 101 that a human being wrote a “love letter” on the wall of the temple to a goddess after seeing her statue. The act though like the Prime Minister said is disgraceful to the goddess.

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“I found Goddess Nv Wa is so beautiful that I wrote a poem in praise of her, and that’s all. Hold your tongue. Don’t forget that I am the king. People will be only too glad to read the poem I wrote in my own hand, for it enables them to identify the true beauty of the goddess.”

King Zhou dismissed him lightly. The other civil and military officials remained silent, none daring to utter a word.

On her birthday, Goddess Nv Wa had left her palace and paid her respects to the three emperors, Fu Xi 伏羲, Shen Nong 神农 and Xuan Yuan 轩辕. They are all ore-historical gods in Chinese mythology. We talked about Fu Xi in our episode 1 and 2 and will talk about the other two in the future.

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When she returned to her temple, she saw the poem on the wall. “The wicked king!” She flew into a rage. “He doesn’t think how to protect his country with virtue and morality. On the contrary, he shows no fear of Heaven and insults me with this dirty poem. How vile he is ! The Shang dynasty’s already ruled for over 600 years and is coming to an end. I must take my revenge on him .”

 

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封神演义 Investiture of the Gods

Episode 162: Investiture Of The Gods 1 – Shang Dynasty

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We will start the series of the stories from the book Investiture of the Gods 封神演义. We have mentioned the book a few times. It is a 16th century Chinese novel in the gods-and demons genre during the Ming dynasty 明朝 and combines history, folklore, and fantasy. The story is set in the period of the end of Shang dynasty 商朝 between the 1600 BC ~ 1046 BC and the beginning of the Zhou dynasty 周朝 between the year 1046 BC~ 256 BC, around 3000 years ago.

In episode 136 Nine-tailed fox spirits in our podcast, we talked about the character DaJi 妲己 from the book who is an evil nine-tailed fox spirit in a beautiful woman’s form. And the book starts with why DaJi is in the realm of human.

At the beginning of the book, it says, the Shang dynasty 商朝 replaced the Xia dynasty 夏朝 and ruled China for nearly 650 years. The Shang court produced 28 kings of whom King Zhou 纣王was the last.

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Before King Zhou ascended the throne, he and his father, King Di Yi 帝乙, and many civil and military officials were walking in the royal garden one day, viewing the blooming peonies, when suddenly the Flying Cloud Pavilion collapsed and a beam flew towards them. Rushing forward, King Zhou caught the beam and replaced it in a display of miraculous strength. Deeply impressed, Prime Minister Shang Rong 商容 and Supreme Minister Mei Bo 梅伯 advised King Di Yi to name him Crown Prince.

When King Di Yi passed away after 30 years on the throne, Crown Prince was immediately crowned king to rule the country in his father’s place. King Zhou established his capital at ZhaoGe 朝歌. The king had the Queen Jiang 姜氏 and two concubines- Concubine Huang 黄氏 and Concubine Yang 杨氏. They were all virtuous and mild and gentle in manner.

King Zhou ruled his country in peace, and was respected by the neighboring states. His people worked happily in their different professions, and his peasants were especially bless by favorable winds and rains. The four dukes were: the East Grand Duke Jiang Huanchu 姜桓楚 , the South Grand Duke ChongYu 崇禹, the West Grand Duke Ji Chang  姬昌 and the North Grand Duke Chong Houhu 崇侯虎.

One day when King Zhou was holding court, Shang Rong stepped out from the right row, knelt and said, “Your humble Prime Minister Shang Rong begs to report something urgent to Your Majesty. Tomorrow is the 15th day of the third month, the birthday of Goddess Nv Wa 女娲, and your Majesty should honor her and hold a ceremony at her temple.” We have talked about Goddess Nv Wa in our first episode, the goddess that create the universe and human being in Chinese mythology. Please check the episode if you are interested.

“What has Goddess Nv Wa done that a great king such as myself is obliged to go to her temple and worship her?” King Zhou asked.

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“Goddess Nv Was has been a great goddess since ancient times and possess saintly virtues. When the enraged demon Gong Gong 共工 knocked his head against Buzhou Mountain 不周山, the northwest section of Heaven collapsed and the earth sunk down in the southeast. At this critical moment, Nv Wa came to the rescue and mended Heaven with multi-colored stones she had obtained and refined from a mountain,” Shang Rong explained. “She’s performed this great service for the people, who’ve built temples to honor her in gratitude. ZhaoGe is fortunate to have the change to worship her. She’ll ensure peace and health to the people and prosperity to the country. She’ll bring us timely wind and rain and keep us free from famine and war. She’s proper guardian angel for both the people and the nation. So I make bold to suggest that your Majesty honor her tomorrow.”

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“You’re right. I’ll do as you advise.” Returning to his residential palace, King Zhou ordered a notice be issued that His Majesty, together with his civil and military officials, were to worship Goddess Nv Wa at her temple the next day.

The author commented, “I would have been better if he have been better if he hadn’t gone at all, for it was this very pilgrimage that caused the fall of the Shang dynasty, making it impossible for the people to live in peace. It was as if the king had tossed a fishing line into a big river and unexpectedly caught numerous disasters leading to the loss of both his throne and his life.”

 

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封神演义 Investiture of the Gods

Episode 161: Chinese Gargoyle

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Today we will talk about about Chinese gargoyle that have been sitting on the top of roofs for hundreds and thousands of years.

The name for those Chinese gargoyle is called roof charms 檐兽. It is interesting that in both European architecture and Chinese architecture, they are both an important part. Gargoyle or originally from the French gargouille is designed to convey water from a ruff to prevent rainwater from running down masonry walls and eroding the mortar between. Similarly, Chinese gargoyle, usually made of Chinese glazed roof tile, is to protect wooden pillars and metal nails from water. Due to the structure of the ancient Chinese architecture, there are different Chinese gargoyle on different parts of the roof. There are WenShou 吻兽, DunShou 蹲兽, ChuiShou 垂兽, QiangShou 戗兽 , TaoShou 套兽 and XianRenZouShou 仙人走兽.

Actually we have talked about WenShou or WangShou 望兽in Ep 89 in our podcast, the ninth son of the dragon is called ChiWen 鸱吻. If you are interested, please check that episode.

Today we will mainly talked about XianRenZouShou 仙人走兽 placed on the ridge line of official buildings of the Chinese empire. A row of figures made of glazed ceramic form an outward marching procession along the ridges. There are usually an odd number of them. The more figures there are the more important the building is. There is one exception though that the Hall of Supreme Harmony 太和殿 in the Forbidden City 紫禁城 in Beijing has 10 figures, which is an even number and also the largest number.The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the location where the emperors of the Ming 明朝 and Qing 清朝 dynasties hosted their enthronement and wedding ceremonies.

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What are those figures?

At the head of the procession is a man riding a phoenix or a chicken which was based on Kalaviṅka in Sanskrit and 迦陵頻迦 in Chinese, an immortal creature with a human head and a bird’s torso with long flowing tail in Buddhism. There are different versions of the stories of the man, we will talk about it in our future episode.

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The first mythical beast on in the procession is dragon, which represents royalty and the emperor. Some version say it is ChiWen, the ninth son of the dragon we just mentioned. ChiWen looks like a hybrid of a fish and a dragon.

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The second mythical beast is Chinese phoenix represents noble people or more accurately noble men in the ancient times. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. We have talked about Chinese phoenix in our Ep. 100. Please check it out.

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The third mythical beast is the lion, the king of all beasts that represents bravery and protector in temples.

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The fourth mythical beast is the heavenly horse that chasing after wind and the sun which represents the pride and exploration of new horizon.

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The fifth mythical beast is the sea horse that represents loyalty, bravery and wisdom.

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The sixth is Suan Ni 狻猊 , the fifth son of the dragon that we have talked about in our Ep. 89, a mythical creature that is quite and likes to sit down and can be found on the bases or at the feet of a Buddhist idols or a Buddhist incense burner. SuanNi looks like a hybrid of a lion and a dragon. It represents good omen.

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The seventh is Xia Yu 狎鱼, a mythical creature in the sea that it can summon wind and storm. Since many buildings were made of wood, Xia Yu can prevent fire with water.

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The eighth is Xie Zhi 獬豸, Chinese unicorn. A super wise mythical animal that understands people, which represents the law and justice.

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The ninth is Dou Niu 斗牛,a mythical creature similar to dragon but without horns. Similar to Xia Yu, it can control water. Since the name Niu means null, the figure looks like a hybrid of dragon and ox.

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The last one is called Hang Shen 行什 , which pronounced like “ranked tenth” in Chinese. It looks like a monkey person with wings and holding a mental pole. Some people say he is the God of Thunder. We have talked about God of Thunder in Chinese mythology in our episode 109. There are different images of God of Thunder throughout the history and a monkey person is one of them, which a good blessing that protect the architecture from lightning.

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Episode 160: Hidden Gods

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Today we will talk about a bizarre story from the book YouYangZaZu 酉阳杂俎, Miscellaneous Morsels from YouYang from around the year 803~863 during the Tang dynasty 唐朝.

It says, during the reign of Emperor Shun of Tang 唐顺宗, the year 805, there was a man called Wang Bu 王布 from the capital city Chang An 长安. He was a generous and rich man. Many tourists and businessmen stayed at his house. He had a daughter around 14~15 years old, smart and beautiful. However, she had something growing in her two nostrils. The root of it looks like a rope and the other end looks like soap bean, a common bean in Asia. When being touched, it hurt so much.

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Wang Bu had paid so much money to find to best doctors to cure this weird tumor thing, but nothing worked. One day, a monk came and asked Wang Bu, “I heard your dear daughter has some weird decease. Please let me take a look and I have the solution.” Wang Bu was extremely happy and let his daughter to see this monk.

The monk took some white power and blew it into the girl’s nose. Not too long, some liquid ran out of the nostrils and nothing hurt at all. The tumors were gone. Wang Bu offered lots of gold but the monk replied, “I am pursing Tao and don’t need money. All I need is this two tumors.” Wang Bu agreed. The monk left like a wind. Wang Bu thought, he must be a saint.

When the monk left around 5 or 6 blocks away, an handsome young man visited on a white horse and asked, “did a monk come earlier?” Wang Bu told the young man about the monk cured his daughter. The young man looked upset and said, “my horse recently hurt its hoof that I couldn’t make it this time.” Wang Bu askd curiously about what happened. The young man said, “two of the medicine gods in the heaven came to the realm of human secretly. The emperor of the heaven commanded me to catch them back. I just found out they hid in your daughter’s nostrils. But that monk took them before me. I will be punished.” Wang Bu was about the bow the young man disappeared.

 

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Miscellaneous Morsels from YouYang 酉阳杂 俎