Chapter 35

Zhao Wuxia Deceives the Rebels with her Life
Grand Dragon Bao Answers the Imperial Call to Service

Learn a little cleverness, a bit of slowness too
Great talent for the better part is made up of the two.

Without a bit of cleverness the goal cannot be won
Without a bit of slowness too it simply can't be done.

Now, when Hu Yong'r led that army to attack the districts and counties of Hebei there was a certain pure and gentle youth among the plundered and driven population. Yong'r felt a sudden delight the moment she set eyes on him and asked him about his background.

"Surname's Wang, ma'am," he answered, "Wang Jun". I'm thirteen years old and my parents are both dead. I was following grandpa, trying to get away from the fighting when we were all suddenly seperated, and I was captured and brought here. Thank you for sparing my life, ma'am!"

Yong'r was touched by his clever answer and pathetic appearance; he even had the same surname as Wang Ze and so she adopted him. When Wang Ze found out he was delighted and ordered others to call him the "Little Prince". Before anyone knew it, two years had passed and the young lad was fifteen years old and exceptionally well developed. What did he look like?

Face all dusted white as flour and body firm and pink
Lips sparkling like pearls and eyes just painted you might think.

Graceful in his bearing standing delicate and slim
A dear and tender child not yet nipped by love or sin.

Presenting such a charming and enchanting sort of air
Just like the finest maiden but without a lady's hair.

By his very nature such a bright-eyed happy child
With playful talk does he ignite a fire so very wild.

As everyone was once so startled by her pellet toy
Her husband would not look so lightly on this lover boy!

Hu Yong'r looked after his every need from morning till night and fell into a certain fondness for him, secretly taking great pride in her good deed. Now, wives have always guarded their honour at the beginning, fearful of ruining everything, until some moment comes when they finally yield. Then they become as serial in their conduct as they once were unyielding, not desisting from thoughts of love even while at home. In her youth Yong'r followed Holy Auntie in wandering among the wind and clouds with the mountains and streams as their home, for the most pasrt a wandering nun's life; she thought no longer of that path. Nowadays she lived in a palace of rooms full of tapestry and treasure and, as folks say, "the easy life leads to sexual desire". Day and night she saw the tourquise satin robes and swan-like gowns of those youngsters freely loving and breeding in the harem and heard their sounds of pleasure, while she had only that one and only Wang Ze. Now, her husband had a bevy of little princesses and courtesans to bundle up with in multiple embrace night after night. How could she not have had her desire aroused by that polished jewel of a refined young man with face so fair and fine?

The youth had always done his best to please her and so it was ineveitable under those conditions that Yong's desire was insatiably stirred. Now, this lad was truly clever and had eyes for Yong'r ever since she first saw him as a beautiful boy and asked his name. And so she now used her magic powers to spirit him deep into her harem chamber for her pleasure. When the fancy moved her she would keep him there for days at a time, and then whisk him away for a few days whenever her desire waned.

Now as the saying goes, "actions speak louder than words". Wang Ze after all lived in the same nest and as you know he'd been unable to see anything for himself, but how could he not get wind sooner or later of what was happening? Late one night when he'd drunk himself into a stupor he suddenly thought of the matter and his anger flashed up within him. Picking up a brass ornamental sword he strode into the harem to kill Hu Yong'r, but outside the entrance he had a sudden change of heart. His good sense prevailed as he recalled the old advice to "reconsider three times to avoid a lifetime of regret". Why, he realized, all that wealth and priveledge had been of her doing; how could he ever repay her? And her miraculous powers were so great and sweeping. If he failed to kill and only scratched her there would be the devil to pay for it. Returning to his palace he put down the sword, sighed wistfully and went to sleep.

As luck would have it Holy Auntie was in residence for those few days at Holy Mother's Cultivation Hall. Wang Ze got up early the next day and rushed over to see her.

"Thanks to my reliance on you the area has become peaceful," he began after exchanging pleasantries. "But recently a woman of the commons I've been seeing has taken to keeping many men as lovers, in violation of custom. How should I deal with her?"

"Whenever men and women yield to each other," began Holy Auntie, "it's all because they were fated to meet up romantically in this wicked existance. If they couple as man and wife it was the main trunk of their destiny, and if as lovers it was just a branch of it. And there's another thing to consider. The seven emotions and six desires of human beings are pretty much the same for men and women. If a woman is to remain chaste her man must abstain. But if that man has a pack of wives, mistresses and whores, one man for the wife won't be enough! How can the woman be blamed for doing the same? And if a woman should offer herself to a man, he is blameless for going along with it as he was conditioned to do. Now, if that woman then depends on the man for her livelihood, then the traditional pattern of keeping to one man makes sense. But if she's got her own wealth and wisdom and commits adultery with another independent person it's nobody else's business. Just remember what a hero the first emperor of Han was after vanquishing Qin and slaying his rival Xiang Yu! But when he returned and found his Queen Lyu induging in all sorts of monkey business in the palace he just ignored it completely. And he didn't consider her typical of all women, either. It's hard to have things your way in life all the time. you take what fortune offers at the appropriate fated time, what comes easily to you in the place you are at, and being able to rejoice in your allotment is true happiness! As for those dark matters like that woman of yours, well, just don't take it to heart."

After hearing her advice Wang Ze only sighed his acknowledgement and left her to return to the palace. "Holy Auntie sure makes sense," he thought. "From today I won't pay any more attention to Yong'r, nor she to me. Each of us will just pursue our full of pleasure. Won't that be beautiful!" He then summoned Zhang Qi, Ren Qian and others to go out on an inspection tour of the attractive women among the people, to round them up and bring them in, married or not, with their sexual appeal the sole standard.

Some time later Zhang Qi called on Zhao Wuxia, the incomparably beautiful twenty-year-old wife of Guan Yi of Guanjiazhuang, the Guan family village. Having heard of her, Wang Ze had ordered Zhang to go there with armed men and bring her back so that he could see her beauty for himself.

Zhang Qi led three hundred troops out to surround Guanjiazhuang and demand that the young wife Zhao come out. Guan Yi was not present and his kin, young and old, had all fled the house.

"What if I don't want to go with you bandits?" she answered. "You may be after my beauty but I won't be very beautiful after you try to force me!" She then reached for a sharp knive and put it under her sash as she went out alone to meet Zhang Qi, who was delighted to see her every bit as beautiful as described. He quickly seized her and tried to push her over to a waiting horse.

"You needn't be so rude, General!" she shouted loudly and indignantly. "Have you come to take me for yourself or for King Wang?"

"The royal palace heard about your beauty," replied Zhang, "and so I was sent especially to receive you. You shouldn't delay or throw away a chance of such great wealth and happiness!"

"Well, if it's the king that wants me let him come for me himself, 'cause I've got something to discuss with him!" she shot back. "And if he doesn't come I won't be caught dead going back with you!" Zhang Qi mounted a lone horse and rode quickly back at a gallop to report to Wang Ze.

King Wang rode forth on a mottled piebald horse with a pack of stooges from his fake palace close behind and shortly arrived alone at Guanjiazhuang. Having at last set eyes on Zhao Wuxia he realized that her alluring beauty was beyond the power of words and more precious than jade, surpassing even that of Xi Shi of Wu or the beautiful Nan Wei of the ancient land of Chu.

"Just think!" he mused. "Beauty as never before seen in this world, and all being offered for my philandering pleasure!"

Zhao Wuxia greeted him warmly but got right to the point. "You are a king now, the chief of an entire land, with so many concubines. They must have a refined and ladylike atmosphere in their chambers as befits them. A crude and loathsome rural woman of the commons like me would be nothing but an insult to your harem. If only you can just this once be virtuous enough to pass up this one poor woman's body, my king, you'll reap the benefits of that secret good deed for a thousand years!"

"You know, your complexion is what I love about you!" replied Wang Ze. "I'm making you my queen, woman, so stop talking that nonsense!"

Over and over did Mrs Zhao plead for her honour and dignity but Wang Ze refused to yield. "Why, you usurper! You rebel bandit!" she finally screamed, seeing no way out. "Your fate is already sealed like that of a fish in a pot, but before you're wiped out it seems you're only intent on staining the honour of another man's wife! How could I resist chopping off your head with a sword if I could, let alone following you to bed!"

She then whipped that sharp knife out of concealment and attempted to mutilate herself but was quickly restrained from doing so by the onlookers. Next she began crying continuously, pleading for a quick death. Wang Ze refused to kill her and ordered Zhang Qi to dismiss his troops.. He then left behind fifty burly guards to pressure her and returned to the palace, If she didn't change her mind and acceed, everyone would be slaughtered.

And so Mrs Zhao was watched over by Zhang Qi and the guards for a day and a night, only pleading in vain to be killed until at last she thought of a plan.

"You know," she suddenly said in a reasonable tone, "if the king really and truly wants me, how dare I get my entire family killed by my stubborn selfishness? I am rather well read and knowledgable of customs so I should have known better than to resist unto death for all of us. Now, my mother-in-law is home but my husband is away. When he returns we must tell him that we are parting. He will go to live elsewhere and then a wedding day can be immediately fixed. As I refuse to live shamefully out of wedlock, the great king should make haste in the wedding plans. General, I hope you explain this all to him perfectly."

Once more Zhang Qi galloped off to relay a message of hers, and Wang Ze agreed to the proposal; he sent a guard to watch her husband's mother. But he would not allow the couple to meet and planned for her to marry into his harem the next day. Zhang Qi summoned the mother-in-law and turned the young wife over to her, with all to be held responsible if there were to be any wavering in commitment. The fifty guards were then divided up to watch the front and back entrances, so as to prevent the husband from returning to see his wife.

Now, Guan Yi had already returned and heard some talk of what had had been going on. He didn't dare enter his own door and just stayed with neigboring kinsmen, listening to the story with tears in his eyes. His mother was only afraid that the troops would kill him upon his return home and so she slipped him a letter warning him not to come back. That night the wife and mother-in-law embraced each other cheek to cheek and cried, unable to let go of him.

The young wife then restrained her tears. "I've got no problems with dying but I'm afraid of involving you, mother!" she said. "Although I'm going to that fake palace I shall completely maintain our honour and integrity. You can look forward to having our precious family back together again. Just wait until I leave, and then you take him and flee to the capital to escape harm at the usurpers' hands. Although your son and I have not had children in two years of marriage he is still very young, and a fine destiny awaits us even if we are separated by ten thousand li. I'm just worried about how you will get on alone without me to serve you. Now as we all stand between life and death I am being taken away by outlaws, unable to see my own husband. Take these two gold rings of mine and give them to him to always remember me by!" Having this spoken the sound of sobs burst forth once more. It was like this:

Of all the sad and mournful things that happen to the heart
None exceeds bereavement or a lifetime spent apart.

If men of iron's souls can break in sadness or in fear
How can folks of common clay hope not to shed a tear?

Mother and daughter cried their eyes out late into the night. As she waited for dawn the old woman took those precious pieces of jewelry she'd received from the woman who would be queen and sent them with another note to her son, warning him to find himself a small cart and to prepare for departure on a long journey.

Now, Wang Ze had dumped all the responsibility for the many things involved in his wedding right onto Zhang Qi's shoulders. Zhang arrived at Guanjiazhuang early in the morning and made one sweep of the place, tremendously delighted to hear that nothing untoward had happened overnight. A short while later the groom's wedding gifts arrived. There were four ingots of gold and four of silver, the gold weighing forty ounces each and the silver fifty. Arrayed in the main hall were twenty lengths of silk festoon, two sheep and two vessels of wine to be sacrificed to Heaven, accompanied by the melody of flutes and beating of drums.

The old woman was indignant. "Taking these things seems just the same as buying my own flesh!" she hissed. "Why would I ever want to do that?"

"It might be mother's flesh on sale today," whispered Zhao Wuxia defiantly, "but someday soon it's going to be the meat of those rebel traitors!"

"What are you saying?" asked her mother-in-law.

"Chances are the imperial troops will soon be here to smash these bandits and take them to the capital, where their myriad slow deaths by slicing await. Mother, you just take this here gold and silver and stash it away until the time comes when you can step up to the executioner and buy a piece of their flesh right off the sword, just to avenge your daughter-in-law. I'll have my own satisfaction in the nether world."

There's no need to dwell further upon the deep wound suffered by these two women. Let us instead get back to Zhang Qi. He has dragged out the old woman and forced her to accept those wedding gifts and has quickly and forcibly rounded up the bride's kin for the wedding. A hundred of the counterfeit palace guard troops with golden drums, flags and pikes led the way, followed by scores of courtesans on treasure horses loaded with golden crowns and embroidered finery and royal red gowns hung with precious jade. Some of the pretender princesses holding dragon and phoenix fans lead the bridal carriage and a fine cart loaded with treasure. A troop of tens of musicians played their fifes and drums. It was all in the hope of delighting the reluctant bride that the usurpers had gone to such extremes of ostentation.

Mrs Zhao left the Guan family's ancestral hall, bowed four times in respect to her mother-in-law and four more times to the thin air in place of her husband and burst into tears as she mounted the bridal carriage and sat inside. The jostling crowd pressed alongside and swelled in waves, moving along with it. The old mother-in-law then collapsed in tears to the ground, a bridesmaid reviving her. Guan Yi now knew that his wife was gone and at last he dared return home. He cried until he could bear it no longer, then quickly gathered up and packed his belongings and fled to the capital city with his mother and a maid, casting free of home and kinsmen.

Now, Wang Ze was delighted to hear Zhang Qi report that the bridal party had already arrived. He alighted from his usurper's throne, cast aside his counterfeit royal regalia and ran out the palace gate alone to receive his bride. Soldiers were scurrying busily back and forth to take up positions in a gauntlet of raised swords for the pair to pass through as all awaited the arrival of the bridal carriage. As it pulled up Wang Ze himself opened the palanquin and saw no movement. Reaching in to carry her out he found a silken chord around her neck, for this loyal wife had secretly hanged herself in defense of her honour. The court historian left us this poem about it:

Deceiving and embarrasing the rebels to the last
Her family out of danger and her soul to Nine Springs passed.

With such sagely courage is the world so rarely blessed
More than just a human heart was beating in her breast.

And folks in posterity also created this verse:

The wife of Cui Yuankai as well stood up to rebel crime
Dealing them their justice in a manner so sublime.

So many aimless souls in human clothes are led astray
Not to be compared to Qinghe's women Zhao and Cui.

Now, the River Qinghe is indeed situated in Hebei, and there at the end of the Sui Dynasty lived one Cui Yuankai. His wife met her death for defying rebels, and the above poem illustrates two famous instances of loyal women to whom men could not be compared.

Wang Ze was totally disappointed that night. "What fault was it of mine if she was a fanatic!" he thought. He gave the body to Zhang Qi to turn over to the the original husband for burial and demand the wedding gifts back. Next day Zhang reported that the family had fled, and so they buried her in a shallow grave outside the city wall. Wang Ze then posted a proclamation. He called for all the families of the realm, be they parents with fine daughters or a husband with a beautiful wife, to turn them over to the him. Upon selection for the harem they would be paid one hundred ounces of silver. If they hid the beauties or sent stand-ins the families involved would be held criminally accountable. In other words he was now robbing his people of their wives and daughters with no quota in sight. The common folk soon began to speak of an attractive woman as an unlucky thing, and conversely began to celebrate ugliness. A popular rhyme of the time went:

Forget about a lovely face
An ugly wife is a family grace.

Ignore those wicked men and stay
A couple till your dying day.

To this very day it is said that "an ugly wife is a good family's treasure", and it refers back to this. Now, Hu Yong'r had a clear picture of her husband's excessive desire for sex as it had all been of her doing. But she had a few secrets of her own to guard and didn't want him to enter the harem. And so she placed a gold hairclip on the outer railing to surround the ladies' chambers with a wall of flame and a silver one to create a rushing stream of water that nobody could step into. She could recall these magical barriers when nothing was happening but put them in place whenever Wang Ze was summoned to the harem or wished to visit, and couples would be happy again. Why, she remembered, it had all been said in the books of Fate that it would come to this, the scandalizing and killing of husbands and wives, the sexual degradation and finally this determination of his to have all the women of the land.

For his part Bonze Dan considered Wang Ze's ways at variance with the rules of Heaven and headed for failure, and so he had silently left the group. Zuo Chu had himself been appointed Grand Duke and only did whatever he pleased. Zhang Ying and Pu Ji had their official posts in name only, but for all purposes they were out of work. The former noodle shop owner Wu Sanlang now styled himself "Wu the Wealthy" and ruled his own fiefdom, as did Zhang Qi and Ren Qian, all receiving great riches and power. They often led their troops in raids on nearby regions, capturing a few young men and women and loads of plunder for presentation as tribute to Wang Ze's court.

Now, it was all because of that treacherous official Xia Song's having hoodwinked the imperial court that things had gone this far. He had allowed the masses of people to suffer terribly while hiding it from the emperor's eyes and blocking all memorials on the subject. But one day Emperor Renzong rode in a procession to the Western Palace to honour his ancestors. When worship was over and he was about to return to the court a newly appointed censor rushed forth from the crowd of officials. And just who was he? Why, none other than He Tan, who stepped quickly forward, clutched the Emperor's gown and knelt, crying out loudly in tears.

"If my servant has a grievance," said Renzong, "have out with it and let me be the judge of its merit!"

"I have got no grievance of my own," he began. "I just feel sorry for the great land of four hundred districts and commands that your ancestor Emperor Taizong founded, watching it being whittled away bit by bit. If your Majesty deviates from the legacy of Yao and Shun we shall not avoid catastrophes like those of Jie and Zhouh that ended their glorious eras."

"How can you say such words?" shouted Emperor Renzong. "Can you explain in detail?"

"The Xixia uprising of Zhao Yuanhao and the Yongzhou revolt of Nong Zhigao," began He Tan, have both gone unsuppressed and unpunished. And now Wang Ze has revolted in Beizhou and all of Hebei is suffering under the horrors of rebellion and banditry. If your Majesty doesn't appoint a capable general to crush the bandits and restore order in the little time that remains, I'm afraid that the land will not long be ruled by the house of Zhao."

"I've already ordered Fan Yong to put down Yuanhao," answered Renzong, "and I've sent Yang Tian to deal with Nong Zhigao. I haven't heard any more from them. As for the Beizhou troop revolt, I've sent the Prefect of Yizhou, Liu Yanwei to pacify them, so what have you got to say now?"

"Fan Yong is too old and no match at all for Yuanhao. And Yuan Tian's expedition is just a waste of horsefeed for they've never even attacked the enemy. The Beizhou rebel bandit Wang Ze slaughtered Liu Yanwei's armored cavalry before declaring himself a usurpor's reign title. All of the region East of the river has been shaken. Alarms have been pouring into the capital like snowflakes but they've been hidden from your eyes by the Privy Councilor Xia Song, who has blocked all memorials on the matter. Until Your Majesty punishes Xia Song, your empire will have no peace!"

Now, Xia Song had been present in the retinue and his face turned ashen with horror; he didn't dare utter a word. "Scheming official Xia Song," thundered Renzong, "you are relieved of your military command authority! For ungratefully deceiving me and misleading the country you should rightfully be beheaded, but I'm simply dismissing you from official service and rank and demoting you to a common subject."

Xia Song's face was flushed with shame as he thanked the Emperor for his mercy and left.

"What man is now qualified to be head of the State Council?" asked Emperor Renzong.

"For a backbone of steel and absolute selflessness there's no man in the empire like Bao Zheng!" replied He Tan. "When he served as governor of Kaifeng there wasn't a ripple of disturbance."

The Emperor was pleased and summoned Bao Zheng, promoting him to head of the council of state. Bao receive the imperial call at his home and rushed to the capital to thank his lord for the favour bestowed upon him.

"Three rebellions are now underway in the Xixia, Guangnan and Beizhou regions," said Renzong. "How do you propose defeating them and restoring order?"

"In the opinion of your humble servant, Fan Zhongyan alone can handle the Xixia affair, Di Qing can take care of Guangnan and Wen Yanbo can take charge of subduing Hebei. Your Majesty wishes to restore peace in the empire, and the selection of these three men to wipe out the rebels is bound to result in success."

"The Hebei affair is just a barracks revolt," replied Renzong. "Why do you consider it to be so severe?"

"Wang Ze himself isn't to be taken seriously but he is relying on a coterie of sorcerer rebels to assist him with their supernatural talents."

"But Yanbo is in his eighth decade of life," wondered Renzong. "How can you recommend him alone?"

"Your humble servant has heard a children's rhyme that goes like this:

'Eight eyes watching all aglow, three venerating hosts
A fairy from above commands an army made of ghosts.

No need to fret the martial force that anyone might send
Knowledge is the fearsome thing that conquers in the end!'

Now, the left side of the Ze in his name is the bei in Beizhou, which is written as an eye atop the Chinese numeral eight, giving the meaning of 'eight eyes'. And leading the sorcerer party are a Buddhist and two Daoists with Wang Ze standing as their chief, so there are the 'three venerating hosts'. That army of ghosts is led by sorcerers, and those sort of beings are all strong in fighting but lacking in knowledge. It has long been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. And Yanbo's surname, Wen, means writing, knowledge and culture, so apppointing him now really fulfills that prophecy. If we replace the sword radical to the right side of the 'bei' in Wang's given name with that 'wen', we get the character bai meaning defeat! That's why I have recommended no other man beside Wen Yanbo. Although he is old in years his spirit is still strong and he is experienced and steady. If you select him Wang Ze will be defeated without any doubt at all."

Emperor Renzong was pleased and immediately issued three sets of orders to be sent by seperate messengers, calling on the three appointees to proceed at once to the capital for their promotions. And here is a poem:

Xia Song's crooked treachery was far beyond regret
He tried to keep all men of talent tied up in his net.

The day when loyal men defeat the bootlickers will come
A time as well when wars on the frontier are finally done.

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