Chapter 29

Commander Wang Makes a Big Donation
Du Qisheng Greedily Performs a Head Trick

Much was the magic of Ninth Heaven's Girl of Mystery
Apply yourself to study and you suddenly will see.

With monks and nuns just chasing wealth and lusting for a life
It's obvious that in the world unholiness is rife!

Now as the story goes, Flawless Commander Wang returned to the capital after his day in the country. Nothing more happened that day and they all went home. Next morning these same officials, private citzens and idle men who enjoyed his patronage came around once more to hail him.

"We sure had a fine outing in the country yesterday," he told the crowd, "but I've got something different planned for today. I've set out food and drink for your enjoyment out back in my garden. You are all invited to relax watching a show or enjoying poetry. Eat, drink and be merry!"

Now the pavillion in this garden was not your usual simple affair. The site of today's recreation was known as the "Four Vistas Pavillion", All rushed out back where the commander's buffet-style feast was arranged, and the host himself sat on the square open stage and looked on as his guests ate and drank. Suddenly in the midst of the feasting a commotion broke out in the garden and all from the commander on down to his retainers were aghast. Somebody had shot a pellet into the garden and it had struck the pavillion.

"It's a good thing it only hit the stage!" gasped Wang. "It could have really hurt me!"

He then sent some men to see who had launched it into his compound, but seeing only a gardenful of guests surrounded by high walls they could only report their puzzlement as to how it had got into the place. But just as they spoke, the pellet could be seen wafted a few times up into the air as if by some force, then flattening itself out like a disk upon the stage, spinning like a top. "How strange!" said the commander.

Suddenly they heard a sharp sound and a little man popped out. Tiny at first, but after being blown upon by a sudden wind he gradually grew larger and larger, eventually becoming a six-foot-tall bonze clad in a flame-pattern gown and wearing gold earrings. The commander and his guests were filled with fear as they watched that monk come forth to greet the host.

"My reverent greetings!" the bonze said, kneeling. The commander was speechless. "What a fine monk!" he thought; "I mustn't offend him!" He then returned the bow and greeting.

"What brings your holiness around?" he asked.

"I'm just a wandering monk out of the Wenshu Monastery on Five Altars Mountain. That's in Goosegate County, over in Daizhou, Shanxi. I've come just to pay my respects to your honor and ask for a bit of sustainance."

Now, the commander had always revered the Buddhist faith and often donated his wealth to the clergy, but this time he felt a bit ill at ease, especially as the monk had arrived in such a shady way. He politely told the bonze to be seated opposite him.

"I'm afraid I've ruined your feast!" said the visitor apologetically.

The commander called over to the kitchen to prepare a vegetarian meal for the monk. "Will you have a few cups of wine with me while you wait?" he then asked the bonze.

"Thanks a lot!" he replied as the golden bowls and cups, all from the imperial court, were set out before him. "How can these little cups leave me satisfied?" he complained.

Hearing this, the royal commander then ordered that a a large golden bell be brought to the monk. The commander would drink from the cup and the bonze from the bell. From then on the host only poured wine and that monk never declined, soon downing thirty bells full!

"If he weren't truly a holy bonze," said the commander joyously, "how could he hold so much wine?"

"The priest's meal is ready!" shouted the cooks.

"Your vegetarian supper is served, your holiness!" said the Commander. He ordered it served to the bonze, himself having a few light snacks. Now, as soon as the monk saw that food he picked up his bowl and didn't put it down to relax for even a moment. The host had his servants coming and going with more portions. Rice, pastries, and wine all disappeared in great volume, then servants falling over themselves to keep him supplied. All of the staff were dumbstruck at his appetite, as was the commander himself.

"This monk," he announced, "must truly be a holy man. I can't imagine where all that food and drink could have gone." The bonze finally finished, put down his bowl and relaxed.

"For shame!" said the servants. "No question about it, he's had his daily meal!"

After the bowls and utensils were cleared away, tea was served, and after tea the bonze got up and thanked the commander, who responded happily. "My teacher! Such a crude offering needs no thanking. Dare I ask where you are headed now that you've eaten?"

Your humble monk is the elder in charge of fundraising at our Wenshu Monastery. The temple gate has crumbled away and it will take three thousand strings of cash to restore it. That's why I've come today, to ask your charity. If your excellency would donate this three thousand, facilitating the completion of a new gate, you will enjoy long life and plant many future blessings."

"My Fate is a small matter," said the commander. "How many more times will you be back for money?"

"There won't be any more requests after the gate is repaired."

"My master! How shall I present it to you?"

"Just give me the money. There's no need to buy any building materials. It'll be just fine if I receive the three thousand strings of coin."

"Master!" laughed the commander. "You are here alone. Won't you need a few porters to help carry it back?"

"To tell the truth, Commander, I've got my own way of doing it!"

The commander then ordered his chief servant to open the vault, and had his guest of all rank and the idlers present pitch in to carry out the strings of coin, piling them up on the ground in front of the pavillion. There were a hundred strings in each of thirty heaps.

"Master!" exclaimed the commander. "There are three thousand strings of cash here, and you've got such a long journey ahead of you. How can you reach Five Altars Mountain without a lot of porters to help carry the money?"

"No problem!" said the bonze, climbing down from the pavillion and happily thanking the commander. "No need for you to go to any more trouble on my account. I've got my own men to shoulder the load."

He then removed a copy of a sutra from his gown. The commander was silent, just wondering what would happen next. "The powers of monks are really and truly great!" continued the holy man. He then recited that sutra once, using an onlooker to hold it open for him. And as they watched in amazement, in the bat of an eye the monk threw the sutra up into the sky where it changed into a golden bridge! Then he raised his arms skywards.

"All those journeying to Five Altars Mountain, all you servants and porters!" he shouted. "I've received the three thousand strings of cash from Flawless Commander Wang. All of you may now come and carry it back!"

All stood dumbstruck and looked up in awe to see a legion of men pouring forth across across that bridge in the sky, arriving right at the foot of the pavillion and picking up the three thousand strings of cash on shoulders and poles and making off with them, ever so quickly coming and going until soon they had carried it all away.

"Thank you for providing my sustainance," said the bonze, and for so glady donating all the cash. If you someday have a chance to visit Five Altars Mountain, the other monks and I will greet you with a ringing of the great bell and beating of the drums, and with flags and banners unfurled. And now your humble monk returns there."

The bonze then took leave of the commander, departing across that golden bridge and disappearing ever so gradually into the distance. Then a blast of wind arose aloft and the bridge changed back into the sutra, which was then wafted away up into into the blue. The commander was filled with joy, and told his guests and servants to burn joss and pray.

"I've been providing monks with charity for over fifty years but today, at last, I've surely met a holy monk, a true arhat!" he declared.

All of his men then gathered round to join the commander in rejoicing, and here is a poem:

Giving charity to monks to plant his fortune's field
A little talk and generously three thousand does he yield.

So many folks in Changsha are so hungry and so cold
Why not save their lives by giving just a bit of gold?

After this, Flawless Commanders Wang's entire family all sung the praises of "Bonze Dan" as they called him, for the Chinese word for pellet is indeed pronounced "Dan" although it is a different word from the one meaning egg used for his actual name, Bonze Dan. Nothing more happened on the day of the feast, but early next morning after washing he went out to lead his subordinates to work. Arriving at the Yamen a bit early, he was passing through an official anteroom when he chanced to meet and exchange bows with an official. And who was this official but Kaifeng District's very own Governor General, Grand Dragon Bao himself! As he too had arrived early he had been waiting in there, this man so beloved by all the people of greater Kaifeng. Just read about him:

All his life so straight and true with talent high and bright
So loyal, kind and filial to all within his sight.

Families multiply and fields are opened up to sow
All through the streets are people serenading virtue's glow.

Lawsuits are wiped out while thieves and robbers only hide
Elders sing out songs of praise resounding city wide.

Retiring to praises and to everlasting fame
A thousand years will folks pass on his glorious good name.

His legend carved on tablets and inscribed on marble walls
Resounding down the ages through the offices and halls.

Words of praise that might embarrass Li Bai and Du Fu
Kong Sui and Huang Ba of the Han were not as good or true.

Now on that day Governor General Bao was waiting through the early morning hours when he spotted Commander Wang and invited him to sit and chat. The commander was a righteous man and the governor an honest and capable official, and they had only heard good spoken of each other. And although the commander was senior in rank, being an aristocrat, he did not at all look down on Governor General Bao, and liked him sincerely. The admiration was mutual. and so the men sat and spoke together in the anteroom.

"People all face retribution for their deeds in this life," said the commander.

"I've come to realise this too," said the Governor General. "Since coming to Kaifeng I've heard so many cases, and only if the wrongdoers are punished can we hope to rectify evil and move toward perfection. But as you, Commander, are such a perfect man, what retribution have you got to fear?"

"Not to change the subject," said the commander, "but yesterday I was at the pavillion in my garden enjoying myself when suddenly a pellet fell out of the clear blue sky and a holy monk burst out of it! He said he was in charge of fundraising at the Wenshu Monastery on Five Altars Mountain and asked me for help. Then after I fed him he asked for three thousand strings of copper coins, but said he didn't need any men to help move it. He just took out a sutra, tossed it up and it turned into a golden bridge. Then he summoned all the servants and porters who were to accompany him back to Five Altars Mountain, and after they'd picked up all the money they just disappeared across the bridge, the monk along with them. Such a thing has never before appeared in the world! Why, this event is the natural result of a lifetime of charity to monks and support for the Buddhist faith!"

"Hard to come by, indeed!" said the Governor General. But although he answered so agreeably he had some silent thoughts of his own on the matter. The affair was so very strange, he thought; how in the world could such a crazy thing have happened? Now, by that time the light of dawn had gradually filled the sky and the officials were all inside; it was time to go to work.

Governor General Bao went to his office and began attending to business, and the very first thing he did was to ask which of the arrestors were on duty that day. Only one such official answered the call, District Arrestor Wen Dianzhi, and Governor Bao informed him in detail of his suspicions.

"Early this morning I spoke with Flawless Commander Wang in the officials' anteroom," said Bao. "He told me that he had been drinking wine in his garden yesterday when suddenly a pellet was thrown in from somewhere, and that a monk then burst out of it and announced that he was in charge of alms for the Wenshu Monastery on Five Altars Mountain. He got away with three thousand strings of cash, and the commander says he was a holy monk, a true arhat. To my way of thinking, if he were really a holy man and an arhat what use would he have for money? The way I see it he must have been a heretic and a sorcerer! You know, the governor of Zhengzhou was recently killed by the sorcerers Zhang Ying and Pu Ji. Warrants have been out for their arrest but they have not yet been captured. There's no way we can allow sorcerers like that in the capital district!" The Governor General looked seriously at Wen Dianzhi. "Arrest that heretical sorcerer at once and bring here to me!" he commanded.

Arrestor Wen could only do as he was told. After receiving his orders he went forth from the yamen and passed under the Sweet Springs Memorial Arch before entering the offices of the district constabulary, where he sat down. Around him men were working on various cases but he just remained seated, head hanginging low in silence with knotted brow and a worried look on his face. Now one on the men working there was a favourite of his by the name of Ran Gui, known affectionately as Barracks Ran. Blind in one eye, he'd managed to accomplish things that nobody else could do. He had assisted Wen Dianzhi on many difficult and murky cases, and this was why Wen was so fond of him.

"What's bothering you, chief?" asked Ren Gui.

"Brother Ran!" said Wen Dianzhi, "If I tell you, you'll be upset too! Well, his excellency the governor has just told me that earlier this morning he met with that Flawless Commander Wang of the Tin Mining Bureau. Wang said that while drinking wine in his garden yesterday he saw a pellet flying in, and a real live Buddhist monk burst out of it. The bonze pursuaded Flawless Commander Wang to donate three thousand strings of cash to him, and Wang considers the man to have been a holy monk and an arhat. The governor said 'If he were really a holy man and an arhat what use would he have for money? He must be a heretical sorcerer,' and then he ordered me to seize the monk. I reckon he must have all sorts of talents and ways of concealing himself. When he needed that three thousand strings of cash he was able to go far away from home to another district to get it. Where should I go to arrest him? Governor Bao is different from others I've worked for, giving me such a difficult job, and I have to follow his orders. In the end if I can't come up with the monk then I'll be the one pleading guilty as charged, and that's why I'm so upset."

"What's so difficult about this job?" went Ran Gui. "Just assign a lot of men to the case, each to search his own area the best he can, and covering all twenty-eight gates of the city. If we don't get him, he's already gone."

"That makes sense," said Wen. "You've learnt a few things in your long experience!" He then looked over the men working in his office. "Each of you!" he ordered, "Split up and get to work on this case by yourselves, and give it your best! Here are the details..." And accordingly all the men did as ordered.

Wen Dianzhi and Ran Gui then left the constabulary along with their trusted confidants, passing back under the Sweet Springs Arch and rushing forth into the city. Arrestor Wen partially covered his face with a big warm hat and Ran Gui worked under cover, his one eye ever so vigilant. Looking into all the tearooms and bars they managed to interrogate a few suspicious characters with no result. "What do we do if he's simply jumped into the Eastern Sea?" said Wen.

"Investigations are best handled without such decisiveness," replied Ran. "We just have to continue patiently until dark and see what we find out."

Before long the two men arrived at the National Shrine Temple and noticed a crowd in front of the wall.

"Inspector, why don't you wait here a moment while I go and have a look?" said Ran. Walking briskly over he found two or three hundred people surrounding one man, his head wrapped in a turban with a gold ring behind and holding a gauze peony. He wore a trailing robe with an embroided sash round his belly and a pair of hemp sandals. Behind him was planted a silver staff with a flag attached, and before him was a gold-lacquered bamboo case. He was a magician attracting his audience.

Now this man had long been well known round the capital as Du Qisheng. He now clasped his hands together as he introduced himself to the crowd.

"I'm a native of Kaifeng," he said, "and I often work this place where soldiers, local officials and travellers pass. Some of you know me and some of you don't. The ones who don't soon will! I go on a yearly pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of the East, and in contests I always come out on top!"

"What do you do for a living, Du Qisheng?" shouted someone. "What's your trade?"

"The Sun and Moon, Qian and Kun!" replied Du. "Heaven above and Earth below. I've never run into another man aside from my own teacher who could perform this secret craft of mine!" He then turned his head and called "Shoushou, my boy, come out!"

Now his little son was stripped bare above the waist and his skin was white as polished jade. "What a lovely child!" went the crowd admiringly.

"I've worked all over this city over the course of quite a few years," he continued. "Some of you have seen me and some haven't. This secret mystical craft of mine with its stoking of fire and boiling of oil, heating of pots and casting of bowls is known as head re-attachment magic. Now, I'm going to sit my son down on this little stool, chop his head right off and wrap it up in a scarf. Then I'm going to replace the boy's head just as it was before. But first, ladies and gentlemen, you have to buy a hundred magic charms from me! Now, these blessings are only five coppers each!" He then began beating his gong.

The audience just pressed in on him, but although two or three hundred people were present he managed to sell only forty-seven blessings. Du Qisheng then became angry and impatient.

"Could it be that someone among you ladies and gentleman has got a few tricks of their own?" he asked the crowd. "Do you dare come forth for a contest of magic?"

Three times he asked and three times he heard only silence.

"Now according to the rules of my craft," he continued, "I'm going to put my boy on the stool, cast a magic spell and recite a charm, and he'll seem to be asleep." Unfortunately, however, just as he was about to give his performance a monk in the crowd who knew this craft spoke up. Seeing the magician about to make his great pronouncement this interloper beat him to it, mumbling a chant and shouting "Live!" and snatching up that child's entire soul, his hun and pou essences, and stuffing them up his sleeve. He then spotted a noodle shop across the street.

"I'm really hungry so I guess I'll have a bowl of noodles while I decide what to do with the soul of that boy of his!" said the monk. He then went into the shop and sat right in the streetside window, looking out at Du Qisheng. After he ordered and had his choptsticks and pickles placed in front of him, the monk then took out that child's soul essences and put them on a covered saucer, himself leaning over the table and waiting for his noodles. And here is a poem:

Never boast while out in front of other folks you stand
Always will you come to meet an even faster hand.

His head replacement magic was unique under the sun
But who would ever guess a monk would steal the soul and run!

That little child with skin like jade received such sympathy
But his soul's replacement wasn't worth a cent to see.

In our play and joking we can do with anything
Who needs a running horse when we can ride upon a swing?

Our plot now thickens. Du Qisheng muttered those charms of his, raised a butcher knife and sliced off his son's head, which went rolling down as the audience jumped back. He then covered the severed head with a bedsheet and replaced it atop his son's neck. Next he took up charm slip and circled the covered head a few times while mumbling a chant.

"Nothing to fear, Ladies and gents!" he assured the crowd. "This act is my mainstay, and as you can imagine, I only get one chance! This is the last boat out, so to speak. A hundred of my secret magic charms for sale!"

But as Du picked up that sheet from his son's shoulders the head came off with it! The crowd gasped and shrieked in horror. "This trick's always worked before and the kid's got up," some shouted, "but this time the head failed to attach and it's a flop!"

Du Qisheng frantically placed the covered head back in place, trying to divert the crowd's concern with his talk.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" he shouted, "It's all so simple! One more try and right back on it goes!"

Again he placed the draped head upon his son's neck, blessed it with the charm slip and chanted, and once more when he removed the sheet the head had failed to attach itself.

Du Qisheng was now in a panic. "Ladies and gentlemen!" he exhorted the crowd, "We may all walk different roads in life but we've all got families to raise! That character got me mad and made me say the say the wrong thing a few moments ago, and I beg your forgiveness! This time, after I succeed with your encouragement in attaching his head let's go have a cup of wine. As they say, within the four seas all folks are acquainted!"

He then acknowledged his own responsibilty: "I've been at fault," he declared, "but this time the head will be attached!"

This time he ever so conscientiously mouthed those charms, shouted and whisked away the sheet, but once again the head trick had failed.

"I beg of you!" he pleaded, "Before you say my my son's head is gone, I again ask your forgiveness! You all know who is really to blame for this!"

He then reached back into his case and took out a small paper-bound parcel, from which he unwrapped a small hollow gourd vial.

He then reached back into his case and took out a small paper-bound parcel, from which he unwrapped a small hollow gourd vial. Next he went and scooped out some earth and buried the gourd. Then he mumbled some words, spit out a mouthful of water and shouted "live!" In a strange instant there arose a living vine, growing gradually to great length and sprouting branches and leaves and finally a flower which then withered, leaving behind yet another small gourd. Du Qisheng then reached up and picked that gourd and brought it down. Holding it in his left hand and his knife in his right, he spoke.

"First you wrongly harvested my son's soul, his hun and pou. Then you hexed me and made me fail in attaching his head. Now you'd better just give up any thoughts you might have of living!" He then sliced through the gourd, and its bottom half dropped away.

At that very moment the monk was finally receiving his bowl of noodles up on the top floor of the restaurant and was about to begin eating when suddenly his head went tumbling from his chest and rolling down on the floor. The restaurant patrons looked up in from their bowls in horror at the sight. The more timid ones tossed their noodles on the spot and fled downstairs, while the brave ones stood their ground and watched.

As they looked on. the bonze put down his bowl and got down onto the floor on all fours, groping round and round. Feeling his head he grabbed it by the ears and placed it back upon his neck, and then stood up and continued searching for something. "Why, I was only thinking about those noodles and forgot all about returning his kid's soul!" he said as he lifted the cover of the saucer.

As it happened, the other patrons shouted down to warn Du Qisheng as he stood across the street. "Your magic trick was ruined by a monk who's eating upstairs in here!" they called out.

Now, present at the scene were Wen Dianzhi and Ran Gui. "Inspector!" said Ran, "Couldn't this monk be the same one that hoodwinked Flawless Commander Wang out of his money?"

"Sure looks that way to me, too!" replied Wen.

"When you spot a hare there's no use holding back the falcon!" said Ran as he tore off his mufti. The two men then charged into the noodle shop shouting "Officers of the law!"

The monk could then be seen running downstairs into the arms of the other patrons and the police. But he only need lift a finger and yet another episode unfolds. The capital city will boil over like a caudron and the entire district of Kaifeng will be rocked by a great disturbance. The angry arrestors have cornered the monk but will be unable to seize him, and as a result a greedy young man will lose his life over an evil cause. It was like this:

Quarrels only cause so many tongues to flap away
Inciting everyone with angry cause to join the fray.

If the monk is finally arrested or is not, just see the things that happen in the coming chapter's plot!

Conclusion of Chapter 29 Click to continue to Chapter 30, Table of Contents

To be Continued Table of Contents