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Episode 123: The Handsome 1

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We have talked about a few stories from the book A New Account of the Tales of the World 世说 新语, a book complied and edited during the Liu Song dynasty around the year 420 to 479. The book contains more than 1000 historical anecdotes of more than 600 people who lived in the Han dynasty and Wei-Jin 魏晋 periods. There is even a whole chapter called RongZhi 容止 about men’s appearance during the time.

We have talked about the Four Great Beauties in Chinese mythology. Today we will start a new series about handsome men and we will start from this book A New Account of the Tales of the World.

This story involves a handsome man called CuiJiGui 崔季珪. In the book SanGuoZhi 三国志, it says Cui JiGui has a charming voice like a tenor with beautiful eyes and thick natural eyebrows. He has long beard around 4 chi 尺, which is around 90cm and looks dignified. At that time, men with long and nice beard was considered as masculine and fashionable.

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In the book A New Account of the Tales of the World, it says Cao Cao 曹操, a Chinese warlord and the King of Wei 魏 was going to have a diplomatic meeting with the foreign officer of the Xiongnu 匈奴, a group of nomadic people inhabited in the north of China. Cao Cao is a definitely a legend that we will talk about him in the future. He is often portrayed as a cruel tyrant in many literature, however, he is also praised as a brilliant ruler and military genius.

However, he concerned about his appearance before the meeting and thought he wasn’t handsome enough to represent the country. He wasn’t tall at all so he let the handsome Cui JiGui we mentioned earlier to dress up as the Duke of Wei and pretended as the leader. Himself, instead, would stand next to the fake duke as a solider. So he could still be in the meeting.

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After the meeting, Cao Cao sent people to ask the official of Xiongnu and asked him, “what do you think of our duke?” The officer said, “King of Wei is for sure outstanding, handsome and dignified. But the person standing next to him is a real hero.”

After hearing this, Cao Cao was really happy and then sent people to murder the foreign officer.

 

Mentioned:

世说 新语 A New Account of the Tales of the World

三国志 SanGuoZhi

Episode 122: Journey To The West 4 – Awoke To The Truth

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Today we will keep talking about stories from the book Journey to the West 西游记. Last time in Episode 120, we talked about the Monkey King didn’t want to learn anything that his master Patriarch Subodhi suggested and the reason he came all the way here was to learn the way to immortality. His master Subodhi seemed to get annoyed by him and struck the monkey over the head three times. Then he left the room dismissing the whole room of audience and lock the door behind him.

What would you do now if you are the monkey king? Keep trying to persuade the master to teach the way to immortality that you wishful or leave the place you traveled for and stayed for years and figure out other ways. Or…

The other pupils turned upon the monkey king after the master slapped the door, “do you think that is the way to behave? The master offered to teach you and you were arguing with him instead of being thankful. ” They all got angry and scolded him. But the monkey was not upset at all. The reason is that he was smart enough to understand the secret signs from the master.

What are the signs? The master struck his head for three times meaning the monkey king was given an appointment at the third time 三更. In ancient China, the time system is different from today using hours and minutes. The three time was between the 11: 00 pm to 1:00 am. By leaving the room with his hands folded back meaning he was wanted in the inner apartments. By locking the door meant he was to come round by the back door. I know these sound a little confusing to you. Actually you can find many similar scenarios in ancient Chinese literature about subtle signs. It is part of the Chinese culture and even today people believe in sometimes it is the best way not to express too obvious in many aspects and that’s the beauty of the communication.

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The monkey waited and waited for the rest of the day. As the dusk came, he went to his sleeping place and pretended to be sleeping. There was no watchman and the monkey counted his breaths to estimate the time. When it was about the time, he got up quietly and went around the back door. It was half open and the monkey said to himself, “the master certainly will give me instructions. ”

So he crept into his master’s room and went straight to his bed and bowed without making any sound until the master Subodhi woke up and stretched his legs saying, “Hard, very hard! The Way is most secret. Never handle the golden elixir like a toy. He who to unworthy ears entrusts the dark truths. To no purpose works his jaws and talks his tongue try. ”

“Master I have been keeling here for a while. ” The master heard the sound in the darkness and shouted, “you wretched monkey! What are you doing here? Go back to sleep in your quarter. ” The monkey replied, “at the lecture today, you promised me to give me instructions .That’s why I am here.” The Patriarch was really glad to hear that and thought, “this creature is no doubt born by the pure essences of Heaven and Earth. Otherwise he would never understand my secret signs.” The monkey kept saying, “we are alone here and nobody could here us. Take pity upon me and teach me the way of immortality. I shall never forget your kindness. ” The Patriarch said, “come here and listen carefully.

To spare and tend the vital powers,this and nothing else

Is sum and total of all magic, secret and profane.

All is comprised in these three, spirit, breath and soul

Guard them closely, screen them well, let there be no leak.

Store them within the frame.

That is all that can be learnt, and all that can be taught

I would have you mark the tortoise and snake, locked in tight embrace.

Locked in tight embrace, the vital powers are strong;

Even in the midst of fierce flames the golden lotus may be planted

The Five Elements compounded and transposed, and put to new use.

When that is done, be which you please, Buddha or Immortal.”

The monkey carefully committed them to memory and humbly thanked the Patriarch and left the back door. A pale light was just coming into the sky. He returned quietly to his sleeping place.

 

Mentioned:

西游记 Journey to the West

Episode 121: Yakshini

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Today we will talk about Yakshini in Chinese mythology and you may learn a vulgar curse word for a female in Chinese.

Yakshini is not a Chinese word and is not originated from China. In sanskrit it is the female counterpart of the male Yaksha in Hindu, Buddhist mythology. Yasha are a class of nature spirits usually benevolent but sometimes mischievous related to water, forests and wilderness.

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Yakshinis the female version of Yaksha are often depicted as beautiful and voluptuous. Like Yaksha, they are usually benevolent and there are also yakshinis with malevolent characteristics.

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Influenced by Buddhism, in Chinese, Yasha is known as YeCha 夜叉 and Yakshini is known as MuYeCha 母夜叉. Mu means female in Chinese. But MuYeCha in Chinese is a vulgar word to describe a female with strong personalities.

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The word was first used in the book Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh 水浒传, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature from the Ming dynasty 明朝, around the 13th century. The story itself is set in the Song dynasty 宋朝, from the year 960 ~ 1279. It tells how a group of 108 outlaws gather at Mount Liang 梁山 to form a rebel army but eventually granted amnesty by the government.

The 108 outlaws all have a nickname. Among these 108 outlaws , there are only four females. One of them is called Sun ErNiang 孙二娘 and her nickname is Yakshini. You can tell how fierce she is by the nickname. She has a vicious look on her face and strong arms and legs although she dresses fairly revealing and wears heavy makeup.

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Before joining the rebel army, Sun ErNiang and her husband ZhangQing 张青 owns a tavern at a place called Cross Slope 十字坡 where they target travelers and serve them steam buns made of human meat and poisonous wine. The victims would get robbed, killed and be used as fillings for more steamed buns. The tavern is mostly run by Sun ErNiang. We mentioned a little about his story in our Episode 18 Delicatessen. We will talk more story from the book Water Margin in the future.

 

Mentioned:

水浒传 Water Margin/ Outlaws of the Marsh

Episode 120: Journey To The West 3 – Searching For The Truth

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Today we will keep talking about stories from the book Journey to the West 西游记. Last time in Episode 91, we talked about the monkey King left his home – Mountain of Flowers and Fruits 花果山 and traveled over the seas and continents for years to learn to be immortal to escape the doom of death. He met the Patriarch Subodhi who became his master and gave him the name Sun WuKong 孙悟空. WuKong means aware of vacuity.

The monkey king was so satisfied with his new name. The Subodhi ordered this pupils to take the monkey to the outer room and teach him how to sprinkle and dust, the rules to come in and out and the proper way to talk. In the morning, they studied together that they practiced speech and discussed doctrine, writing, burning incense. In the leisure times, they cleaned the house and garden, plant flowers and trim the trees. Getting wood and lighting the fire. So he lived in the cave like this for 6 ~ 7 years.

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One day, the Patriarch summoned all his pupils and began a lecture on the great Way. The monkey was excited and delighted by what he heard and started to tweak his ears and rub his cheeks like a monkey. He couldn’t help himself from dancing. The Patriarch caught the sight of him and asked, “what are you doing? You jump and dance instead of listening carefully?” The monkey said, “I am listening with all my heart. Your wonderful words are so enlightened that I couldn’t contain myself for joy. Please forgive me.” The Patriarch asked, “so you understand the profundity of my words. How long have you been here?” “I am silly enough to notice the seasons. All I remember is when I got firewood in the back mountain, I found a whole slope covered by peach trees. I have eaten my fill of eating the peaches for 7 times.” “If you have eaten 7 times of peaches, I suppose you have been here for 7 years. What sort of wisdom are you expecting to learn from me?” said the Patriarch. “Any sort. It depends on you master.” answered the monkey.

“There are 360 schools of wisdom” said the Patriarch, “and all of them lead to the self-attainment. What about Shu 术? ” “What sort of wisdom is that?” asked the monkey. “You would be able to summon fairies and ride the phoenix. By shuffling the yarrow stalks and know how to avoid disaster and pursue good fortunes.” The monkey asked , “Will I live forever?” “Certainly not.” “No.No. I wouldn’t learnt that ” answered the monkey.

“How about the wisdom of Liu 流. It means the natural philosophy like the teaching of Confucius, of Buddha, of Taoism, of MoZi. Read scriptures and learn how to have sages at your beck and call.” explained the Partriarch. “But would I live forever?” asked the monkey. “I am afraid philosophy is no better than a prop in the wall. “ “I am a plain, simple man. What do you mean by a prop in the wall?” “When men are building a house, they put a pillar to prop up the wall. But one day when the house falls, the pillar rots.” “That doesn’t sound like being immortal. No. No. I wouldn’t learn that” answered the monkey.

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“How about the wisdom of Jing 静? Quietism requires inactivity, meditation, restraint of words and deeds,yoga practiced prostrate or standing. ” “But would I live forever?” asked the monkey. “The results of Quietism is no better than unbaked clay in the kiln. ” “I am a plain, simple man. What do you mean by unbaked clay in the kiln?” “The bricks and tiles may look shaped and ready. But if they have not yet baked in the fire, there will be a day when heavy rain falls and they would collapse.” “No. No. I wouldn’t learn that” answered the monkey.

“How about the wisdom of Dong 动. Movement requires various forms of activity like gathering the Yin and Yang, drawing the bow and treading the catapult. There are chemical practices such as the magical explosion, burning the reeds, strike the tripod, promote red lead and melt and autumn stone.” “Would I live forever?” asked the monkey. “This way is no better than trying the catch the moon out of the water.” “Not again!” said the monkey, “please explain what do you mean by that.” “The moon in the water is the reflection of the moon in the sky. It looks like the real thing but is is only an illusion.” “No. No. I wouldn’t learn that” answered the monkey.

The Patriarch jumped down from the platform and pointed at the monkey with a knuckle-rapper, saying”you wretched simian! You wouldn’t learn this or that. What do you want to do?”as he struck the monkey over the head three times. Then he left the room dismissing the whole room of audience and lock the door behind him.

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Mentioned:

西游记 Journey to the West

Episode 119: One-Foot Bird

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Today we will talk about a mythical animal in Chinese mythology, a one-foot bird. The creature is called ShangYang 商羊. In the nature, some birds like herons or cranes sometimes stand with one foot so I assume this mythical animal ShangYang might be based on those birds. This mythical one-foot bird always dances before the rain. So since rain normally was regarded as beneficial in the agriculture society like ancient China, ShangYang was a lucky mythical animal.

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In the book KongZiJiaYu 孔子家语from the early Han dynasty around 206 BC ~ 220 AD, a collection of sayings of Confucius as a supplement to the book Analects 论语. I am not sure how much the stories in this book KongZiJiaYu really are about Confucius. It says, there was a kind of one-foot bird in the place Qi 齐. The bird jumped and danced around in the palace and people were upset and invited Confucius to solve the problem. Confucius said, “this bird is called ShangYang , a lucky bird to bring water. In the old times, kids like to jump around with one foot like the bird and singing a song about the coming rain. Now the bird shows up. We need to inform people the coming rain and repair dikes to prevent flooding. ” A few days after Confucius’ words, heavy rains fell in the place.

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There is a ritual of praying for rain in the ancient China maybe in some places today that people would dress up as a bird with a mask and jump with one foot. There is a pose with one foot jumping in some traditional Chinese dance called ShangYang dance.

 

Mentioned:

孔子家语 KongZiJiaYu

论语 Analects