Tibet Translation

The Land of Bò, or, a pre-imperial state named “Bod” in Khams?


two grasslands combined


[Some autumn pictures from gCan Tsha Thang and a place called Teb Sang in Sog rDzong, which are pretty but not actually related to the subject of this post.]

Ran across mention of the Land of Fu 附國 in a paper and looked it up, which led to the following interesting passage from the Sui History (finished AD 635). I’ve rendered all the names according to the late-classical forms found here. Those words which for which I couldn’t find a late-classical form I put in pinyin with {curly brackets}. It seems hard not to associate Bò with Bod, and the repeated mention of a place called Kạ̄ Leŋ in the eastern mountain fringe of Kham which builds tall, narrow towers makes one thing of rGyal Rong… I have no idea if there’s any English-language literature on this, but apparently there’s been a debate in Chinese going back into the forties

The Land of Bò:

The Land of Bò is located two thousand li to the north-west of the commandery of Shu [Sichuan]. This is the same as the south-western Yi Barbarians of the Han dynasty. There are also the Kạ̄ Leŋ barbarians, who live to their east. The different castes which live here rule over each other. Their customs are similar to those of the Land of Bò, although their language has some special aspects, and they are not united together. Neither the Kạ̄ Leŋ people nor the Bò people have surnames. The king of the Land of Bò is called Ŋe Cǝ̄ŋ. This land is eight hundred li to the north and south, while to the east and south [sic] it’s fifteen hundred li. There are no forts or barriers, but it is near to rivers and valleys, bordering on tall mountains and cliffs.

It is the custom of this land to love revenge. Therefore they pile up rocks to create [ ] nests and live in them, in order to protect against such hazards. Their [ ] nests are as tall as ten meters, and go down five or six meters, with each story itself higher than a meter, with wooden partitions. At the base they are three or four paces square and at the top only two or three, with the appearance of Buddhist stupas. In the lower levels a little door opens out, so that the upper levels can be reached from the inside. At night they always close these doors, in order to protect against thieves and bandits.

There are about twenty thousand families in the country. When they are ordered to, they follow the king out [on expeditions]. The Kạ̄ Leŋ barbarians are governed by chieftains over the army. For extreme crimes they punish with death, and for lesser crimes they confiscate yaks. All the people here take victory in battle very lightly, and they are skilled at fighting with swords. They cure leather to make armor. Their bows are six feet long, and they make the bowstrings from bamboo. They take as wives the mothers and sisters-in-law of their tribe (?). If a son or younger brother dies, then the father or older brother receives his wife. They like to sing and dance to drums and fifes, and to play long flutes.

When a man dies there are no special rules about mourning garb. They set the corpse upon a high bed, wash his clothes, and put on his armor. They cover him in the skin of a slain beast. His sons and grandsons do not cry. Instead they put on their armor and dance with swords, calling out, “my father has been taken by the ghosts! I wish to tell of my sorrows, and kill the ghost!” The remaining relatives all weep three times and then cease. If the women are to weep, they must cover their faces with two hands. The family of the deceased slaughters a yak. The immediate relatives present each other with pigs and wine, and then eat and drink together. Then they bury the body. Ten years after the death, they hold a great funeral ceremony. For this ceremony they must gather together family treasures, and the number of horses slaughtered during these is often as many as ten. At this time they raise up the spirits of their father and ancestors, and worship them.

The custom of this land is to wear a leather hat, which is round like a bowl. In other cases they have a belt [ ]. For clothes they have much wool and leather. They all cut away the hide from yaks’ hooves to make boots. On the back of their necks they fix a metal lock, and on their hands they have bracelets of metal links. The king or the chiefs of the army have golden head ornaments, and suspend before their breasts a golden flower, which is three inches across.

Their land is high, and the climate is cold. There is much wind but little rain. The soil is suitable for growing wheat and millet. The mountains produce gold, silver, and many white pheasants. In the rivers is a type of good fish, which is about four feet long and has very fine scales.

In the fourth year of the Great Work period (AD 609), the king of this land sent his official Sṑ Puk and eight others to the imperial court. The next year, the king sent his son Ŋe Lim to present tribute, leading sixty of the Kạ̄ Leŋ barbarians. They wished to present good horses. Because the roads to their land are very precipitous, they asked that a way across the mountains be opened for the convenience of tribute missions. Because of the labor it would mean for the people, the Yang Emperor did not allow it.

In Kạ̄ Leŋ there is a river, which is sixty or seventy meters across. In Bò there is another river, which is over a hundred meters across. Both of them flow to the south. The people there use animal skins to make boats, and cross these rivers on them.

To the south of the Land of Bò there are the Bāk Jwen barbarians, which have similar customs to them. To the west there is the Land of Women. In the north east there are continuous mountains, which stretch uninterrupted across the land for a thousand li, and eventually reach to the realm of the Tā́ŋ Gọ̄ŋ [Dangxiang]. There are also various groups of Khaŋ [Qiang]: The greater and lesser left fiefs, the Sjek Wèj [Former Commandery], the Kāt Jen [Extended Vines], the Bẹ̄k Kǝ̄̀w [White Dogs], the Hàŋ people, Mwàŋ tribe, the Lim Dhǝ̄j [Forest Platforms], the Ćhwin Sāŋ [Spring Mulberries], the Lhjì D(h)ǝ̄̀w [Sharp Beans], the Mhiēj Sāŋ [Lost Mulberries], the {Bi} Jak [Womens’ Medicine], the Dhā̀j Giẹ̄p [Great Gorges], the Bẹ̄k {Lan} [White Lotuses], the Ćhit Lhjì Mhō {Tu}, the N(h)ān Ŋhāk, the Tāŋ Mhiēj, the Go Bṑ [Great Strides], the Sāŋ Ŋṑ [Mulberry Gnosis], the Shiēn {Diao} [Thousand Towers]. All of these are located amidst deep mountains and far-off valleys, and there are no great chiefs among these. Their customs are more or less the same as those of the Tā́ŋ Gọ̄ŋ [Dangxiang]. Either they have been conquered by the Thṓ Kwōk {Hun} [Tuyuhun], or they belong to the Land of Bò. During the Great Work period (609-618), some of them came to the court to present tribute. At the south-western fringe [of the empire] a governor of all of the different circuits, in order to govern them from afar.

There follows one more long paragraph in which the author advises future rulers to stay away from foreign entanglements. This one is a nuisance and does not say anything about Bò, so I won’t translate it.
a boy on a yak by the Teb Sang river in Sok rDzong
Art China Qinghai Tibet

A Potalichka







Here are some pictures of a model Potala Palace set against the eastern wall of the Great Buddha Monastery 大佛寺 in downtown Xining city. According to the monks there, they’d bought the wooden Potala from Lhasa. A little sign in Chinese on the bottom says that it was built there by someone called Yangji Jiebu 央吉杰布. I’m not sure what the Tibetan for this is, and other than the existence of a hotel with that name in Lhasa, I’ve not been able to find out anything about this person on the internet. You can see that worshipers have left little offerings of money on the palace rooftops. Again according to the monks there, the Buddha behind the model on the wall is Akshobhya  (mi ‘khrugs pa), the Unshakeable.













There were also these nice cabinets, in a style that I think origins from Rebgong?


Art China Qinghai Tibet

Ambulatory Trees



These are some pictures from the ambulatories around the sides of Qutan Monastery 瞿曇寺 near Xining in Qinghai. These had pretty drawings of blue trees and were also the only place I could safely take photos without being spotted by the door-minder-monk and slapped with a 500 kuai fine. I went there with my friend Avi Conant. The dating of the pictures turns out to be complicated. The following is from “Sino-Tibetan Artistic Synthesis in Ming Dynasty Temples at the Core and Periphery”, by Karl Debreczeny, Tibet journal, Apr 2003, Vol.XXVIII(1-2), 56.

Qutansi is especially famous for its 400 square meters of extant murals along the
covered gallery, which depict the life of Sakyamuni Buddha (Fig.21), and whose
style is described by the Chinese scholar Jin Weinuo as being “related to both
Chinese and Tibetan [traditions], but with Chinese brushwork, heavy colors and
blue-green landscape styles predominating.”^53 This gallery was also built in 1427,
probably as part of the same Xuande-period construction program as Longguodian,
overseen by the court eunuch Meng Ji. Interestingly, architectural features identical
to Longguodian, down to the distinctive animals which decorate the roof-line
(Fig.22), appear throughout the first section of the covered gallery, such as in
“Maya’s Dream,” as if the artists used Longguodian as an architectural model for
their depiction of Maya’s palace. However, only about a third of the extant painting
in the gallery (mostly on the east and west walls north of Baoguang Hall up to the
large bell and drum towers) is thought to date to the Ming-period; the rest of the
gallery was repaired and repainted after 1782, coinciding with the previously cited
renovations made to Qutandian.

Since I took these pictures from all along the ambulatory, they can, confusingly, be dated to both the 18th and the 15th centuries.

Another interesting question related with this place is the fortress walls around it. With respect to these, there’s an interesting theory put forth in Aurelia Campbell’s 2011 University of Pennsylvania PhD thesis, “The Impact of Imperial and Local Patronage on Early Ming Temples at the Sino-Tibetan Frontier”. This is on p.128, descending into a footnote.

Qutansi was originally surrounded by an earthen fortress (chengbao 城堡) and
was entered through a defensive structure known as wengcheng 瓮城, which forced
visitors to enter at a right angle, rather than from straight on (fig. 12.1). In the Ming
dynasty, it was not unusual to see fortifications around monasteries in this part of the
country; in some cases, monasteries even doubled as military garrisons.^293

Footnote 293 reads:

See, for instance, the description of Honghuasi in Minhe county in Chapter One. Pu Tianbao
mentions another temple in Minhe, Kedekesi 喀的喀寺 [sic], with a fortress. Pu Tianbao, “Qutansi
wenwu luyou ziyuan kafa de tansuo,” Qinghai minzu yanjiu (Shehui kexue ban) 12, 4 (2001): 24-
25. Isabelle Charleux believes that the fortifications seen in temples in Amdo were left over from
the Central Asian tradition of constructing square fortified monasteries in the ninth to the eleventh
centuries, such as those at Turfān, Qocho, and Duldur-āqur. This subject requires further
investigation. Isabelle Charleux, “Buddhist Monasteries in Southern Mongolia: A Preliminary
Survey,” in The Buddhist Monastery. A Cross-Cultural Survey, ed. Pierre Pichard and Francois
Lagiarde (Paris: École Francaise d’Extreme-Orient, 2003), 24.

Let it be stated, for the record, that I do not think that the decision to enfold Qutan Monastery in a fortress has anything to do with Central Asian monastic architecture. Rather, it has to do with the structure of Chinese village fortresses, of which there used to be many in the area. But this is already another argument.




























Art China Hebei Yu, Guangling, and Yangyuan

Some Illustrations from the Universal Gateway and also from Hell





This is one of a what will hopefully be a set of posts, putting up some interesting examples of village temple art from the Xuan-Da area.

The above and below are some photos from the interior of a temple located in Yangyuan County 陽原縣, as usual I’m not going to say where precisely. The temple is split into a larger south-facing room dedicated to Ksitigarbha 地藏 and the Ten Yamas 十閻王, and a smaller north-facing room dedicated to Avalokiteshvara/Guanyin. The frescoes in the northern shrine room depict scenes from the Lotus Sutra, specifically a section called the Universal Gateway 普門品. You can read the whole chapter (and the whole sutra) at City of 10,000 Buddhas here. The order of the frescoes is different from that in the versions I’ve found online; I’ve re-arranged the cartouches to fit the present versions, since it doesn’t seem like it really matters. There are also a few sections which don’t have visible cartouches, and since the order is mixed up I wasn’t sure where to put these. They’re at the bottom. The style looks late 18th or 19th century to me.


And at this time, the Limitless-Intention Bodhisattva began to chant, asking:

“Oh venerable master in all your resplendent forms, once again I ask you, for what reason do you O Buddha, take the name Hears-The-Sounds-Of-The-World (Avalokiteshvara)?

Then the venerable one provided with the resplendent forms, chanted an answer to the Limitless-Intention Bodhisattva. “I listen and hear the sound of actions, and benevolently respond to all quarters.

My abundant determination is as deep as a sea, through the eras I do not change my intention. Relying on more than one hundred billion Buddhas, I make this great and pure vow.

I will explain it simply to you: If you can hear my name and see my form, then your mind will feel empty, for my name and form can extinguish all bitterness. 



Let us suppose that due to evil intentions, you have fallen into a great pit of fire – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, then pit of fire will transform into a pool of water.




Or if you are afloat on a great sea, beset by dragons, fish, and all manner of devils – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and those waves will not be able to drown you. 

Or if upon the peak of Sumeru, you are pushed off by someone and fall – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and you will travel as the sun across the emptiness. 



Or if you are thrust by someone evil, and fall from the Vajra Mountain – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and you cannot be diminished even by a single hair. 


Or if you happen to be encircled by a angry thieves, each holding a blade to wound you – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and their hearts will immediately become benevolent. 

Or if you suffer at the hands of a king, and facing execution hope for a long life – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and the executioner’s blade will be immediately shattered to pieces.

Or if you are shut away in a cangue, with your hands and feet in shackles – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and you will receive glad liberation.

If you are cursed or poisoned in any way, by someone who wishes to harm you – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and the harm will immediately rebound upon that person.

Or if you meet an evil yaksha, or a poisonous dragon or any other demon – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and at all times they will not dare harm you. 

If you are encircled by evil beasts, with sharp teeth and claws so fearsome – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and you will be able to rapidly flee without any obstructions.

If you meet with vipers and scorpions, with evil vapors, smoke and fire – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and immediately hearing the sound they will flee back from where they came.

Amids clouds and the rumble of thunder and striking of lighting, as hail falls and a great rain pours down – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and in response right at that moment the clouds will all vanish and clear away.

When all sentient beings are in suffering and difficulty, when limitless bitterness approaches you – through the power of the resplendent wisdom of Hears-The-Sounds, all the suffering of this world can be escaped.”

The chant keeps going. Here are a few more in which the cartouche isn’t visible.





The below are from the south-facing part of the shrine room, depicting the stalactites of hell. The style of blue-painted “hanging carvings” 懸塑 here is quite unique, and I’m not sure of a date. The only direct parallels I’m aware of are the “Reverse-Facing Guanyin” 倒坐觀音 from the Longxing Monastery 隆興寺 in southern Hebei, and the images called “Five Hundred Arhats Crossing a River” 五百羅漢渡江 from the Monastery of the Manjushri Image at Five-Peak Mountain in Shanxi 五台山殊像寺.










Art China Qinghai

Some Palanquin Carvings from Qinghai





Bit hard up for any kind of long written narrative lately, so here are some carvings from the side of a palanquin from a temple fair in a village about forty kilometers south of Xining, Qinghai Province. The temple fair was to the Empresses 娘娘, but the gods within the palanquins were apparently the Gods of Wealth 財神. I have no idea who the people in these images are.

panel 05

panel 03

panel 02 section 01

panel 02 section 02

panel 01 section 01

panel 01 section 02

panel 04

panel 06

Here are some murals painted on the wall of the village schoolhouse, depicting the slaughtering of a bull, a wedding festival, and the harvest.

schoolyard scene 01

schoolyard scene 03

schoolyard scene 02

Finally, here a few more cell-phone images from the ceremony itself.

the list of donors at the temple fair outside of Xining




Art China Gansu Tibet

The Great Monlam at Labrang

tiger in the crowd at hoincang


the masked procession

I’ve spent the last month holed up in a house outside of Labrang monastery, Tibet, studying Amdo-dialect, huddling by the stove, and feeding two cats. The house belongs to a Canadian woman named Tenzin Dolma and her husband Choejor, from Ngawa. Tenzin Dolma spent ten years at the Gomang Dratsang in Karnataka and now runs a thangka painting school here in Labrang. She has gone back to Canada for a little during the Tibetan New Years, and I am cat-sitting.

One of the big events of the Great Monlam (smon lam chen po) prayer festival at Labrang is the unveiling of the butter offerings (me tog mchod pa) in front of the main assembly hall of the monastery. Each of these offerings is presented by one of the six monastic colleges (grwa tshang), and the contents of the offering represent the specialty of that college. The offerings are traditionally viewed at night; starting at six in the evening and continuing into the early hours of the morning, a massive line of pilgrims snakes around Labrang monastery. Many pilgrims will wait four or five hours for the chance to process beneath the butter sculptures and make a quick obesience before being pushed onward.

So I took pictures of them all (you can get into the square behind without waiting in line) and then ran them all by my Tibetan teacher, a monk named Lobsang Choedrak, to find out who everyone in the sculptures was. This type of thing is useful for me to do, since my Tibetan is terrible and I often don’t know the Tibetan names or iconographies of even the most basic deities. The placement of the offerings is also interestingly symbolic of the intellectual ordering of the Tibetan sciences. In the center, directly in front of the gates of the hall, are two offerings representing the college of philosophy (thos bsam gling). Flanking this on either side are the upper and lower schools (rgyud stod smad), and on the outside, physically and intellectually, are the offerings of the Medicine College (sman pa grwa tshang) and the Kalachakra College (dus ‘khor grwa tshang). A recurring figure is the various incarnations of the Kunkhyen Lama (kun mkhyen rin po che; the Treasury of Lives refers to this line as the Jamyang Zheba), which is the main line of trulkus at Labrang monastery. I’ve got a lot of help from wikipedia, the Treasury of Lives biographical database, and obviously my teacher, Lobsang Choedrak. Here they are:

metok front


1) The College of the Wheel of Time:

(dus ‘khor grwa tshang): This college specializes in Kalachakra and astrology. It is famous for having designed the calendar now in use in this part of Amdo.

dus 'khor

rigs rdan drag po

rigs ldan drag po detail

Lower: Kalki Raudra (rigs ldan drag po), the “Fierce Destroyer” in Sanskrit, or in Tibetan, the “Fierce Holder of the Lineages”. The legendary twenty-fifth and last ruler of Shambhala who will ride out to destroy the infidels at the end of the world.

kun mkhyen gnyis pa

Upper: The second Kunkhyen, Jigme Wangbo (kun mkhyen sku phreng gnyis pa ‘jigs med dbang bo).


2) The Upper Tantric College:

(rgyud stod grwa tshang).

rgyud stod grwa tshang

jo'i sku

Lower: The Buddha Sakyamuni, aged twelve, seated on a lotus (lo mju gnyis na tshod can gyi jo bo rin po che’i sku) This image is a copy of the one that sits in the Jokhang Temple at the center of Lhasa.

kun mkhyen lnga wa

Middle: The fifth Kunkhyen Lama, Tanpa’i Gyaltsen (kun mkhyen sku phreng lnga ba bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan), flanked by Chinese-style dragons. This Kunkhyen was the one who established the Upper Tantric school in 1941.

tshe dpag med

Upper: Amitayus (tshe dpag med), the Buddha of Infinite Longevity. This is an obscure form of Amitabha (od dpag med), the Buddha of Infinite Light and the ruler of the Western Pure-Land Sukhavati (bde wa can).


3) Hevajra College:

(kyai [kyee] rdor grwa tshang). Hevajra is a tantric Yidam.

kyai rdor grwa tshang

tsi dmar chos sku detail

tsi dmar chos sku

Lower: The Red Pith (tsi’u dmar po), the Dharma-Defender of Samye Monastery. Also known as Nochin Chenpo (gnod sbyin chen po), “The Great Demon”. This deity is obscure; there’s a Florida State University PhD dissertation by Christopher Paul Bell on the topic.

kun mkhyen bzhi wa

Middle: The Fourth Kunkhyen, Tharto Gyatso (kun mkhyen sku phreng bzhi wa thar ‘dod rgya mtsho). The fourth Kunkhyen established the Hevajra college in 1879.

mgon po he ru ka

Upper: Tromgon Heruka, the Protector of the Trom Clan, Drinker of Blood (‘brom mgon he ru ka). I’ve not been able to find out any information about this deity.


4) The Academy of Study and Reflection: (1) (thos bsam gling).

The Academy of Study and Reflection is the central, oldest, and largest college of Labrang monastery. Thus instead of one butter sculpture it has two, placed directly in front of the assembly hall doors. The college specializes in the study of philosophy and debating.

thos bsam gling 1

kun mkhyen tang po

Lower: Je Tsongkhapa (rje tsong kha pa), the founder of the Gelug sect, seated in a palace. Seated beneath him are two of his main disciples, on the left Gyeltsabje (rgyal tshab rje) and on the right Khedrubje (mkhas grub rje). Beneath him is Mahakala (mgon po), the principle protector of the Gelug sect, and around him four Indian masters. Together with the four represented on the second sculpture of the Academy of Study and Reflection, they reflect the “Six Ornaments and Two Supreme Ones” (rgyan drug mchok gnyis). Clockwise from the upper left, they are: Nagarjuna (glu sgrub), Vasubandhu (dbyig gnyen), Asanga (thogs med), and Shakyaprabha (Sha’ kya ‘od)

'jam dbyangs dmar ser

Middle: Red-Yellow Manjushri (‘jam dbyang dmar ser). Seated on a lotus throne holding up a sword to cut through ignorance; on his right is the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra floating on a lotus.

sdon pa sakyamuni

Upper: The Buddha Sakyamuni (ston pa / sha kya thub pa)


5) The Academy of Study and Reflection (2) (thos bsam gling):



Lower: The First Kunkhyen Lama or Jamyang Zheba  (kun mkhyen tang po or ‘jam dbyangs bzhad pa). The first Kunkhyen Lama was a Gelug monk who founded Labrang monastery in 1708 or 1709. There is a legend which states that when he arrived in Lhasa for the first time in 1668, he presented a white scarf to the statue of Manjushri in the Jokhang temple. The statue smiled at him, and hence his name: “Jamyang Sheba” “He upon who Manjushri smiled”. Underneath him is the oracular protective spirit Nechung (gnas chung), also called Dorje Drakden and Pehar Gyalpo. Around him is a lineage of early Indian masters. Together with the four represented on the first sculpture of the Academy of Study and Reflection, they reflect the “Six Ornaments and Two Supreme Ones” (rgyan drug mchok gnyis). Clockwise from the upper left, they are: Dharmakirti (chos grags pa), Dignana (phyogs glang), Aryaveda (‘phags pa lha), and Gunaprabha (yon tan ‘od).


Middle: White Manjushri (‘jam dbyangs dkar po).


Upper: Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite Life (tshe dpag med).


6) The Lower Tantric College (rgyud smad grwa tshang)

rgyud smad grwa tshang

'jam dbyangs bzhad pa sku brang tang po

Lower: Je Sherab Sengge (rje shes rab seng+ge). Sherab Sengge was a disciple of Tsongkhapa, who in 1433 founded the Geluk sect’s first tantric college in Lhasa. After a second one was founded in 1475, this became known as the “lower” (sman) college.

rgyal ba rdo rje 'tshang

Upper: King Vajradhara (rgyal ba rdo rje ‘chang), the “Thunderbolt-Bearer.” Vajradhara is the ultimate primordial Buddha in the Geluk and Nyingma sects.


7) The Medicine College: (sman pa grwa tshang)

sman pa grwa tshang

gtsang rgan ye shes bzang bo

Tsangmen Yeshe Zangbo (gtsang sman ye shes bzang bo), who doesn’t appear in the Treasury of Lives that I can find, but according to my monkish informants was an old teacher in the Medicine College.

kun mkhyen gsum ba

Middle: The Third Kunkhyen, Jigme Gyatso (kun mkhyen sku phreng gsum pa ‘jigs med rgya mtsho). I’m not sure if this Kunkhyen had any particular relationship to the medicine college or not; it’s not mentioned in his Treasury of Lives article.

sman lha

Upper: The Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru (sman lha or sangs rgyas sman bla). He sits cross-legged, holding a jar of medicine.

So that’s that. Just for fun, here’s the rest of the pictures I took during the Cham dances and processions after. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t take pictures of this stuff but the scene was too wild and strange to pass up…

the procession moving through the monastery (3)

monks walking with drums (1)

on a back street in Labrang

soldiers lining the procession way out of the main square (1)


Art China Hebei Translation Yu, Guangling, and Yangyuan

The Old Gentleman’s Eighty-One Transformations (pt.1)




The Great High Old Gentleman approaches the Han Pass. He is carried in an cart driven by a blue ox and accompanied by his disciple Xu Jia and one other. Meeting him with offerings is the guardian of the pass, Yin Xi.000huahu

The Great High Old Gentleman, surrounded by a heavenly host, receives supplication.

I originally met the Daoist master Liu Zhenzi while in police custody. This was during my first trip to Yu County. I’d tried to stay in a hotel in Warm-Springs township, only to have a police corporal show up and tell me politely that I couldn’t, these hotels were not permitted to accept foreigners, I would have to return to the county seat. “I don’t want to,”I told him. “This is the law,” he said. “I’ll pitch a tent on the street,” I countered, bluffing.  A lot of phone calls went back and forth between him and the police headquarters. “You can stay one night.” Two nights later a man came knocking at my door as I was about to sleep. He was a swarthy fellow with bulging cheeks and long front teeth that gave him a canny, beaverish look. “I want to take you for a ride,” he said. I told him, “fuck off,” and slammed the door. The next morning I awoke to him knocking. “I want to take you for a ride,” he repeated. I stormed out and went to the owner of the hotel, a friendly lady with a perm. “Who is this asshole?” I asked her. “Oh that’s Mr. Feng,” she told me. “He’s the chief of police for our town.”

Mr. Feng drove me up to the Daoist monastery that sits in the upper part of Warm-Springs Township, on a spur of land beneath the mud walls of the Northern Officials Fort. From the ceiling of the Daoist master’s living quarters hung long paper streamers like wintry jellyfish. The Daoist makes them for officiating at funerals, where he burns them on the grave. If you examine the streamers closely you will find that each long paper strand had been delicately cut with the repeated figure of a dead man, his mouth slightly opened in an expression of surprise and his sharp white fingers clasped across his breast. On the wall are hung calligraphic scrolls of nonsense characters.

The Daoist’s name is Liu Zhenzi 劉真子, “Liu the True Master”. He is a little man with bad teeth and a scraggly beard who obviously takes his job seriously, and dresses the part. He read my fortune by pulling bamboo slips from a jar (抽籤) and then led me and Mr. Feng up into the courtyard of the temple. The temple is called the Monastery of the Old Gentleman (老君觀). In the front there’s pavilions for bells and drums, beyond this a Hall of the Three Purities (三清殿) and behind that another Hall of the True Warrior (真武殿). In the courtyard between the two halls there stands a tree hung with red votive scraps of cloth, and a little plaque affirming that the tree is over 800 years old. Inside on the walls of the Hall of the Three Purities there are murals depicting a story called the Old Gentleman’s Eight-One Transformations (老君八十一化). Liu Zhenzi led me in and gestured at the drawings: here the Old Master arose from the primordial chaos and split into two, and then into three, and then cut open the world and separated sky and earth and sea, taught men the hundred trades and then departed through the Han pass to the west to convert the barbarians… After this Mr. Feng and I went out again and drove off to get drunk with some of his coal mining friends, and eat horse hoofs and camel ears.

A few weeks ago out of curiosity I printed out a block-print text of the Eighty One Transformations story, which was appended at the back of a monograph by Florian C. Reiter called “Leben und Wirken Lao-Tzu’s in Schrift und Bild: Lao-chûn pa-shih-i hua t’u-shuo”. This I had shameless scanned. The exact date of this text seems hard to know; this little summary on the website of the Australian National University where the text is held suggests that it dates from the Yuan or early Ming. This seems dubious to me; Hu Chuntao (胡春濤) on much better evidence puts the date of the text’s printing somewhere between the Kangxi and Qianlong reigns of the Qing (1661-1799). (It should be noted here that the following discussion is going to depend heavily on two very good things by Hu, his PhD thesis from the Xi’an Arts Academy 西安美術學院 “Researches on the Illustrated Old Gentleman’s Eighty-One Transformations” “老君八十一化圖研究” and an article “A Survey of the Frescoes in the Hall of the Three Purities in the Old Gentleman Monastery, Warm-Springs Township, Yu County, Hebei, and Researches into Related Questions” “河北蔚縣暖泉鎮老君觀三清殿壁畫的考察與相關問題的研究”. The electronic text of the scripture below was got from the comparative lists in his thesis, which was immensely helpful.)

Anyways I printed this book out and brought it over to Liu Zhenzi at the Old Gentleman Monastery. He was delighted, leaped up out of his study, and we zoomed right into the Hall of the Three Purities where he began to go through the whole story again, comparing the book against the images on the wall. I will regret to my dying day that I didn’t think to film this, but I did scratch down some notes at the time and then filled them out from memory that afternoon, so I’ve tried to reproduce below his literally off-the-wall commentary as best I can. I’ve translated the first thirty-four scenes of the story, which can be divided into roughly three sections:

(1) The Cosmogenesis, in which Laozi percolates out of the primordial chaos, splits apart heaven and earth, invents writing, agriculture, fire, and morality, and teaches them to humans.
(2) Passing out of China and into the west, in which Laozi arrives at the Han Pass, casts off his previous disciple Xu Jia as unworthy, obtains a new one in the guardian of the pass, Yin Xi, and teaches the Dao De Jing.
(4) Converting the Barbarian Kings, in which Laozi practices a series of miracles to impress the king of a Central Asian country called Kophen, and eventually founds Buddhism.

The remaining forty seven transformations after this mostly recount various stories of Daoist miracle working, and are not as interesting. Liu Zhenzi’s commentary is in italics, while my occasional notes are in brackets. There’s going to be a second part of this coming that compares the style of this book to the frescoes in Liu Zhenzi’s monastery, and discusses some related pictorial traditions around Yu County. I’ve translated 道 Dao as “Way”, 氣 Qi as “Energy”, and Jing 精 as “Essence”.




1) 起无始。太上老君生乎无始,起乎无因,为万物之先,元气之祖。鸿洞溟涬于光,众声色微始之中,自然而生。
Arising from the Beginningless: The Great High Old Gentleman arises from the beginningless and is born from the causeless. Of all the Ways he is the first, and he is the ancestor of the original Energy. In the vast, empty, primordial chaos, where there are no lights, forms, sounds, or colors, amidst the fine and delicate he is naturally born.

2) 显真身。太上于太空之中,结气凝真强为之容,或示仙姿,爰及肉身,不可揣度,自然周遍成象。
Revealing the True Body: Amidst the Great Emptiness, the Great High Old Gentleman gathers his Energy, congeals that which is true and strong for his appearance, and displays his immortal face. He changes into a body of flesh, the degree of which is unfathomable, and naturally gains a complete form.


3) 尊宗室。太上老君欲阐明大教而化万方曰:道不可无师,尊教不可无宗主。故老君师大道,君师元始天尊。
The Honored Lineage: The Great High Old Gentleman desires to open and illuminate the great Teaching and transform all within the ten thousand directions. He says, “The Way cannot be without honored masters! The Teaching cannot be without its lineage heads!” Therefore the master Old Gentleman,the master Great Way, and the heavenly worthy Primordial Beginning came into being.

Liu Zhenzi: “This of course is from the Dao De Jing. ‘One gives birth to Two, Two gives birth to Three, and Three gives birth to all of the myriad things,’ from the forty-second section. This is like how you Americans have a trinity in Catholicism. Both Catholicism and Daoism teach the same Way although obviously Daoism appeared much early than Catholicism. The appearance of the Great High Old Gentleman can be affirmatively dated to roughly eight thousand years ago and this is the original foundation of Chinese history. Usually Chinese history is quoted as being five thousand years old but in fact it is eight, dated from the beginning of the world. How old is America? Washington united America during the war of North and South. China of course is older.”


4) 历劫运。劫为天地成怀之名,阴阳穷尽之数,天气极于太阳,阳极则孛精化而为水,地气极于太阴,阴极则孛精化而为火,火焚水漂三清之下,九地之内,毫末无为流为五劫,起一伏周而还始。太上老君经此离合之数,动经亿劫。
Giving Calendar to the Motion of the Eras: A kalpa is the name for Heaven and Earth coming into being and then passing away, and the number of years it takes for Yin and Yang to be exhausted and used up. The Breath of Heaven reaches its utmost in the sun, the Great Yang. When Yang reaches its limit it overflows and the essence becomes that of water. The Breath of the Earth reaches its utmost in the moon, the Great Yin. When Yin reaches its limit it becomes bare, and the essence becomes that of fire. Fire burns and water swirls. Beneath the Three Pure Ones and within the Nine Lands, there is nothing whatsoever that does not flow for five kalpas and then, having made a great circle, return once again to the beginning. The Great High Old Gentleman governs the numbers of these partings and rejoinings, and controls and sets in motion a hundred million kalpas.

Liu Zhenzi: “Here you can see we’re getting to the part where ‘Three produces all of the myriad things.’ The separation of heaven and earth is the separation of Yin and Yang, male and female, north and south, etc. etc.”


5) 开天地。天地有形之大者,然有形生于无形,故能开辟天地者无形也。无形者道也,太上老君乃混沌之祖宗,天地之父母,故能分布清浊,开辟天地乾坤之位也。
Separating Heaven and Earth: In Heaven and Earth, those things which have form are large. Form springs from not-form: therefore that which is able to split apart Heaven and Earth is not-form, and not-form is the Way. The Great High Old Gentleman is the ancestor of the primordial chaos and the father and mother of Heaven and Earth. Therefore he is able to separate out the clear and the muddy, and split open the positions of sky and ground, Heaven and Earth.

Liu Zhenzi: “Here you can see the nine suns that once orbited the earth. No they’re not houses, they are suns, nine of them to be exact. When the earth was created there were nine suns not one, and thus there was never any night. The Lord Archer Hou Yi shot them down out of the sky at the beginning of things, and now we have only one sun, which is more scientifically suitable to growing plants and the process of the water cycle.”


6) 隐玄灵。老君于庚寅岁九月三日託郁卑天北玄王国,天罡灵境山李谷之间,玄灵圣母之胎。
The Concealing the Dark Spirit: On the third day of the ninth month of the Geng Yan year, in the Valley of Pears on the Mountain of the Heavenly Dipper Spirit Mirror, in Northern Dark Kingdom of the Tuoyubei Heaven, the Great High Old Gentleman enters into the womb of the Dark Spirit Saintly Mother.


7) 受玉图。太上老君于上皇元年出游行往西河遇元始天尊乘八景玉舆,老君稽首问曰:昔蒙训授天书玉字二十四图,今遇天尊愿垂成就。于是以洞玄内观玉符授老君。老君行三部八景并见天书玉字二十四图。
Receiving the Jade Images: In the first year of the Emperor on High, the Great High Old Gentleman goes out travelling on the Western River. Here he meets the heavenly worthy Primordial Beginning riding on an Eight-Resplendent Jade Palanquin. The Old Gentleman bows his head down to the ground and says, “Long have I humbly hoped to receive teachings from the Heavenly Book of Jade Characters with Twenty Four Pictures. Today I have met your heavenly worthiness, I hope that I may achieve this wish.” Thereupon the heavenly worthy grants Old Gentleman the jade marks of the dark and profound inner gaze. The Old Gentleman practices the teachings of the Three Bodily Areas and the Eight Resplendencies and is able to see the Heavenly Book of Jade Characters with Twenty Four Pictures.


8) 变真文。太上老君以龙汉元年于中央大福堂国南极赤明国东极浮黎国西邪王国北方郁卑国。太上以五方真炁之精结成宝字大方一丈八角垂芒为云叶之行,成飞走之状。
Transforming the True Literature: In the first year of the Dragon-Hero reign, the Great High Old Gentleman is in country of Yubei. This is located south of the Central Great Prosperity Hall Country, east of the Southern Pole Red Brilliance Country, west of the Eastern Pole Fuli Country, and north of the Evil King Country. The Great High by means of essence of the five-directional true Energy gathers together and creates precious characters. They are as large as a foot on each side and octagonal. The characters are resplendant and move as do tendrils of cloud. They assume the appearance of flying birds and walking beasts.


9) 垂经教。太上老君于中皇元年命青童君考校天文,为宝经三百卷,符图七千章,玉诀九千篇,又于龙汉元年著洞元经十二部,赤明元年降洞玄经十二部,开皇元年出洞神经十二部。
Handing Down the Scriptures and Teachings: In the first year of the Middle Emperor the Great High Old Gentleman orders the Blue Youth Gentleman to examine the writings of heaven, and to create a Treasured Classic in three hundred scrolls, seven thousand chapters of orders and images, and nine thousand rhyming formulae. And again in the first year of Dragon-Hero reign he writes the Profound Primordial Scripture in twelve sections. In the first year of the Red-Brilliance reign he hands down the Profound Dark Scripture in twelve sections. In the first year of the Opening Emperor’s reign he releases the Profound Spirit Scripture in twelve parts. [All of the scriptures mentioned above appear in the Daoist Canon 道藏, – ht]

Liu Zhenzi: There is an important question which we ask ourselves in Chinese culture. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? In Daoism we know that the egg came first. The egg congealed out of the primordial breath and was nurtured by the light of the sun and stirring of warm vapors. Out of it hatched a snake with the head of a woman. Her name was Nvwa and she is not pictured here, which is incorrect.”


10) 传五公。中皇之后,太上老君昔于河上传十三虚无圣人行于五公术。
Transmitting the Arts of the Five Lords: After the reign of the Middle Emperor, the Great High Old Gentleman travels upon the Yellow River, trasmitting the practice of the arts of the Five Lords to the Thirteen Sages of Emptiness.

Liu Zhenzi: “The Five Lords refers to the Five Phases or Elements. The number five is extremely important in the world, and allows us to see how all of the myriad things are connected. Humans have five fingers and five toes, as well as five principal sense and five principal orifices. There are five major organs in the body, five principal grains, and there are five directions in the world, being north, south, east, west, and center. Indeed at the beginning of things after Nvwa made humans out of clay the people of the world were divided into these directions, and they later became the various races. Thus we Chinese belong to the Yellow race and the Filipinos are Blue. You Americans belong the White race, the Europeans are black, and the South Africans are red. All things are connected.”


11) 讃元阳。太上老君在伏羲时,为人仆将散以清浊元年号郁华子,说元阳经。伏羲行之以画八卦,造书契,观象取法,则制嫁娶,叙人伦。
Praising the Primordial Yang: During the time of Fu Xi, the Great High Old Gentleman discourses simply to the people on the separating of pure and muddy. [Note, I’m pretty sure the text is corrupt in some way here. This is a guess. – ht] In the first year he is called the Master of Abundant Splendor, and he speaks the Scripture of the Primordial Yang. Fu Xi practices this. He is able to draw the Eight Trigrams, and create characters for writing. He contemplates the images of the trigrams and uses this as his laws. Thus he is able to regulate the marriages of men and women, and teach the proper relations between humans.

Liu Zhenzi: “The Eight Trigrams of course refers to the Classic of Changes which you must be aware of. Do you remember the first time we met? This was when that policeman brought you here two years ago and I read your fortune by choosing sticks from a can. You received ‘Riding Horses to Success’, which is very auspicious.”


12) 置陶冶。太上老君在祝融时为人食生冷,以天汉元年号广寿子,说按摩通精经,祝融行之,乃钻木出火,陶冶为器。
Erecting the Firing of Pottery: During the time of Zhu Rong, the Great High Old Gentleman acts for the people, who are eating raw and cold food. During the first year of the Heavenly Hero reign, he is called the Master of Broad Longevity. He speaks the Massaging-to-Achieve-the-Essence Scripture. Zhu Rong practices this. Thus he is able to rub sticks to create fire, and bake pottery to create utensils.

Liu Zhenzi: “After this one of you Americans developed matches and lighters. Of course that took place much later.”


13) 教稼穑。太上老君在神农之时,为世人捕食禽兽。于清汉元年号大成子,居济阴,说太乙元精经,神农行之,播百榖以代烹杀,和诸药以救疾病。
Teaching Sowing and Reaping: During the time of the Spirit-Farmer, the Great High Old Gentleman acts for the people of the world, who are catching and eating birds and beasts. In the first year of the Pure Hero reign he is called the Master of Great Achievements. He lives in North-of-the-Ford, and teaches the Great Second Primordial Essence Scripture. Spirit-Farmer practices this. He propogates the hundred grains to replace killing and boiling, and harmonizes all of the medicinal plants in order to cure plagues and sicknesses.


14) 始器用。太上老君在伏羲之后,示以世法制礼乐,造衣裳,作宫室,创舟车,置棺椁,措弧矢,立刑狱,修书契,服牛马,成杵臼,为重门以日中为市。
Beginning the Use of Tools: In the time after Fu Xi, the Great High Old Gentleman shows to the world how to give law and governance to ritual and music, how to create clothes and robes, how to erect palaces and houses, how to build boats and carts, as well as the delineation of inner and outer coffins, the making of bows and arrows, the erection of punishments and prisons, the cultivation of books and letters, the domestication of cows and horses, the use of mortars and pestles, and how to hold markets at noon around the double gates (?).

Liu Zhenzi: “Here you can see rich men, poor men, temples, houses, carts, tools, food, and weapons. You Americans of course are much more adept at making weapons than we Chinese. Have you seen the old guns they used to use before you Americans brought us rifles? You couldn’t hit anything with those guns. Completely useless.”


15) 住崆峒。太上老君在黄帝时号广成子,居崆峒山,黄帝往见而问至道,曰:所问者物之质矣,足以及至道。帝退闲居三月复往邀之。膝行而问治身,曰:善哉!问乎至道之精,窈窈冥冥,至道之极,昏昏默默,无视无听,抱神以静,行将自正,帝闻之广成子之谓矣。
Residing on Kongtong: During the time of the Yellow Emperor, the Great High Old Gentleman is known as the Master of Broad Accomplishments. He lives on Kongtong Mountain. The Yellow Emperor comes to see him there and ask how to achieve the Way. The Old Gentleman says to him, “The physical quality of the one who is asking me – it is enough even to achieve the Way!” Thus the Yellow Emperor lives in seclusion for three months and then once again travels to entreat the Old Gentleman. He approaches on his knees and asks the correct way to govern the body. The Old Gentleman says, “Good! You have asked how to achieve the essence of the Way; far it is, and dark! You have asked how to achieve the utmost of the Way; obscure it is, and silent! It cannot be seen and it cannot be heard. You must recieve the spirit and become quiet, and practice self rectification.” The Yellow Emperor hears that which the Master of Broad Achievements has to say.


16) 为帝师。太玄玉女少昊时人居蜀长松山,修长生之道,感太上老君与群仙降于山左巨石之上,神光照映,玉女驰往,太上老君以八隐文授之。
Serving as the Imperial Master: In the age of Shao Hao, the Great Dark Jade Woman is a person who lives in the province of Sichuan on the Mountain of Long Pines, practicing the Way of Long Life. When she hears that the Great High Old Gentleman and a flock of immortals have risen up to a great rock on left side of the mountain and are emitting a glowing spiritual brilliance, she drives her chariot towards them. The Great High Old Gentleman grants her the Eight Hidden Texts.


17) 授隐文。太上老君在少昊顓頊帝嚳唐尧虞舜夏后殷汤时,皆有所授之經。
Granting the Hidden Texts: In the times of Shao Hao, Zhuan Xu, the Emperor Ku, Tang Yao, Shun of Yu, and after the fall of the Xia dynasty the emperor Tang of the Yin, all of these receive Scriptures from the Great High Old Gentleman.


18) 诞圣日。太上老君以殷十八王阳甲庚申岁真妙玉女昼寝,梦吞日精,化五色流珠,因而有孕,八十一年至二十二,王武丁庚辰二月十五日,圣母因攀奢树,剖左腋而生,又玄中元记所载李灵飞得修真之道,不仕其妻,尹氏昼寝梦天开数丈,见太上乘日精驾九龙而下,化五色流珠,吞之有李。
Giving Birth to the Saintly Sun: In the Geng Shen year of the reign of the eighteenth king of the Yin Dynasty, Yang Jia, the True Subtle Jade Girl takes a midday nap. She dreams that she swallows the essence of the sun, [This sounds even dirtier in Chinese than it does in English, -ht] which becomes a flowing pearl of the five colors. Thus she becomes pregnant. This lasts eighty one years, until the reign of the twenty second king, Wu Ding. On the twenty fifth day of the second month of the Geng Chen year, because the saintly mother grips onto the branch of a tree, her left armpit opens and she gives birth. Another version is given in the “Dark Middle Primordial Record”, which tells that Li Spirit-Flight is cultivating the true Way. He does not attend his wife, who is of the Yin family. While taking a midday nap, she dreams that the heavens split open a few feet, and she sees the Great High descending down to her, riding the essence of the sun and driving nine dragons. This becomes a flowing jewel of the five colors, which she swallows and becomes pregnant.


19) 为柱史。太上老君于周文王时号变邑子,居岐山,周闻之,拜守藏史,作赤精经。及周克商,拜柱下史,值璇玑经授,周公成康时复为柱下史。
Acting as the Pillar-Official: During the reign of King Wen of Zhou, the Great High Old Gentleman is known as the Master of Changing Settlements. He lives on Branched Mountain. The King of Zhou hears of this, pays him homage and gives him the title of Official of the Treasury. He teaches the Red Essence Scripture. When the house of Zhou conquers the Shang Dynasty, homage is made to the Old Gentleman and he receives the title of Official-Beneath-the-Pillar. He grants the Big Dipper Scripture. In the reign of Lord Becomes-Healthy of the Zhou, the Old Gentleman is once again made the Official-Beneath-the-Pillar.


20) 弃周爵。太上老君历周成康之世,免退归毫。昭王时见黑气祲之祥,以八天隐文授昭王,王不信,后有膠船之难。
Casting Off the Titles of Zhou: The Great High Old Gentleman passes through the era of lord Becomes-Healthy of Zhou, after which he retreats from public life and returns to the infinitessimal. In the time of King Zhao he sees a black vapor of inauspicious import. He grants the Hidden Text of the Eight Heavens to King Zhao, but the King is without faith. After this the King suffers the disaster of the glued-together boat.

[To elucidate this point we turn to Baidu Baike, which quotes Huang Fumi’s 帝王世纪 “Records of the Eras of Emperors and Kings”: “昭王德衰,南征,济于汉,船人恶之,以胶船进王,王御船至中流,胶液船解,王及祭公俱没于水中而崩” “King Zhao’s virtue had failed. He set out on an expedition to the south and needed to ford the Han river. The boatmen hated the king, and so presented him with a boat that was held together by glue. The king piloted the boat into the middle of the river’s flow, whereupon the glue liquified and the boat came apart. Thus the king and all of his officials sunk beneath the waters and perished.” – ht]


21) 过函关。太上老君□之流沙,先有紫气西度函关,周大夫尹喜为关令,见之乃斋戒以俟,后七月十二日果太上老君驾青牛车至,喜曰圣人来矣。老君曰:何以知之?喜曰:去冬天理星西行遇昂迩秋融风三至东南真炁,状如龙蛇,此真人至之念也。
Crossing Through the Han Pass: The Great High Old Gentleman [wishes to cross] the Flowing Sands. Preceding him through Han Pass comes a vermillion vapor. The guardian of the pass, Yin Xi, sees the vapor. He gives offerings, fasts, and waits. Afterwards on the twelfth day of the sevent month, the Great High Old Gentleman arrives riding on a cart driven by a blue ox. Yin Xi says, “A sage has arrived!” The Old Gentleman replies, “How do you know?” Yin Xi tells him, “Last winter a comet was seen in the heavens, traveling west on high. This fall a warm wind thrice blew from the south-east and a perfect vapor was seen, in the form of a dragon. These were the signs that a perfected being was to arrive.”


22) 试徐甲。太上老君谓弟子徐甲曰:吾欲往西域,至函谷。潜试之乃令甲牧牛,以吉祥草化一女子,行及牧牛所,甲感之,遂废约索金。太上老君曰:昔汝命尽,吾以太玄生符投之即活,言讫,符甲口中飞出,复为白骨。尹喜稽首,愿赦其罪,太上老君即以符投甲,形如故。
Testing Xu Jia: The Great High Old Gentleman says to his disciple Xu Jia, “I wish to journey into the Western Regions, and thus we have come to the Han Pass. As a secret test he orders Xu Jia to graze the ox. Then he takes auspicious herbs and transforms them into a girl. The girl goes to the place where Xu Jia is grazing the ox. Xu Jia desires her, and thus abandons his vows and seeks payment from the Old Gentleman for his years of service. The Great High Old Gentleman says, “Long ago the span of your life was finished, but you lived because into you I put the Mark of the Great Dark Life.” As soon these words have been said, the mark flies out of Xu Jia’s mouth, and immediately his body returns to whitened bones. Yin Xi bows his head down to the ground, and begs that Xu Jia’s crime be forgiven. The Great High Old Gentleman once again puts the mark back within Xu Jia, and his appearance is restored to what it was before.


23) 训尹喜。太上老君西迈遇尹喜,邀圣驾至终南。尹喜故宅,乃结草为楼,将隐。喜乞著书,太上老君乃授喜道德经五千言,大丹设节解之要。
Teaching Yin Xi: The Great High Old Gentleman goes west but he meets Yin Xi, who invites him to come to the Mountain of the Ends of the South, which was Yin Xi’s former home. Yin Xi weaves grasses together to make a tower, and invites the Old Gentleman to rest there. Yin Xi begs the Great High Old Gentleman to write a book, so the Old Gentleman grants to Yin Xi the five thousand words of the Classic of the Way and its Power. This great alchemy lays out the the necessities of regulation and release.


24) 升太微。太上老君以昭王二十六年甲寅,实录云二十四年甲寅,将欲升天,告喜曰:子午日清斋之后往城都青羊肆寻吾。言讫不见。喜即叩头告曰:愿复一见。即仰视,见太上老君坐云华之上,状若金人,与诸仙升太微。
Ascending to the Great Infinitessimal: In the twenty sixth or Jia Yin year of the reign of King Zhao, or according to the “Veritable Records” the twenty fourth year, the Great High Old Gentleman decides that he is going to ascend to heaven. He tells Yin Xi, “After making a pure offering at noon, search for me leading a blue sheep in the market of Chengdu.” After the Old Gentleman speaks this suddenly he is no longer to be seen. Yin Xi knocks his head against the floor and says, “Please grant that I may glimpse you again!” And then he looks up, and sees the Great High Old Gentleman seated on a resplendent cloud, with the appearance of a golden person, ascending to the Great Infinitesimal amidst a host of all of the immortals.


25) 会青羊。太上老君化身下降于蜀,託孕李氏家,丁巳尹喜至蜀,寻于市中,见人牵羊,喜自解,既有青羊,又有市肆,太上所约此是也。遂问牵羊何往,答曰:家去。喜随往,令告尹喜至,地踊玉局,太上老君化白金之身,坐其玉局上,赐喜文始先生号。
Meeting the Blue Sheep: The Great High Old Gentleman’s transformed body descends to the land of Sichuan, where he enters into the womb of a woman of the Li family. On the Ding Si year, Yin Xi arrives in Sichuan, and begins to search through the markets. He sees a man there leading a sheep. Yin Xi understands in himself: a blue sheep in the city market is the meeting that the Great High One ordained. Therefore he asks the man leading the sheep where he is going. The man replies, “I’m going home.” Yin Xi follows him. When it is reported that Yin Xi has arrived in this place, he mounts up to the Jade Bureau. There he sees the Great High Old Gentleman transformed into a body of white gold, sitting amidst the Jade Bureau. The Great High One grants Yin Xi the title “Master of the Primordial Writings”.


26) 游诸天。太上老君与尹喜上朝元始,游群帝之乡所,至天宫见天帝,乘九灵之舆,荫七元之盖,建摄魔之节,迎太上老君,求问至道。
Traveling Across All of the Heavens: The Great High Old Gentleman and Yin Xi ascend to the court of the Primordial Origin, and travel to the homelands of all of the emperors. They ascend to the Palace of Heaven and meet the Heavenly Emperor. He rides a palanquin of the nine spiritual forces, shaded by a roof of the seven primordials. Here they instigate the holiday of pacifying demons (?). The Heavenly Emperor welcomes the Great High Old Gentleman, and seeks to know from him how to obtain the Way.


27) 入罽宾。太上老君授太上老君之命,化西域入罽宾,居窟山,胡王出猎,见虹蜺贯日,盖见太上老君问是何人,答曰:修道之人,王曰:不闻有道,曰:大道弥隆,王改宜宣奉焉。
Entering Kophen: The Great High Old Gentleman recieves the Great High Old Gentleman’s order [sic] to convert the Western Regions. He enters into Kophen and dwells there in a mountain grotto. One day a barbarian king is out on the hunt when he sees a rainbow passing across the sun. Therefore the King comes upon the Great High Old Gentleman, and asks him who he is. The Old Gentleman answers, “I am a man cultivating the Way.” The King says, “I have not heard of this ‘Way’.” The Old Gentleman tells him, “The great Way is extremely profound. Your highness should convert himself and fittingly propogate and receive the Way.”

[According to William Tarn’s “The Greeks in Bactria and India”, Chinese Ji Bin 罽宾 refers to the toponym recorded in Greek as Kophen or Kophene. It’s not clear precisely where this was, but it seems that the Chinese used it broadly to refer to the Kushan empire, eastern Afghanistan, and Kashmir. -ht]


28) 化王子。罽宾王子七人将侍从,至太上会所,拜曰:我生边境,幸遇圣人,乞教存安之道。太上曰:宜修三顺六微之要,内保乎己,外以成和。王子等顿首奉行。
Converting the King: The king of Kophen along with seven of his retainers arrives in the place where they last met the Great High One. They make obesiences and the king says, “I was born in these border regions, but am lucky enough to meet a sage. I beg that you teach me the Way of existing in peace.” The Great High One says, “It is fitting that you cultivate the necessities of the Three Obediences and the Six Infinitessimals. Protect the interior for yourself, and the exterior will become harmonious.” The King and his attendants bow their heads, receive the teaching, and practice it.


29) 集圣众。胡王与徒众再至山中,稽首问曰:前说深奥,未任求奇妙,欲行何法?太上曰:昨令汝等事佛,吾以中食化之,王举国就会,七日别去。王子复请太上中食,太上召十万六通神人经月而来不已,王子仓库空已,及半,神人来而不止矣。
Gathering Together the Host of Immortals: The barbarian king and a mass of followers once again come up to the mountain. They bow their heads to the ground and the king asks, “The Way that you told to us was deep and profound. We have not yet come to believe it, and seek marvels. What method then should we practice?” The Great High One says, “Yesterday I commanded you serve the Buddha. I will convert you via an offering of lunch!” The king gathers together his entire nation for a meeting, and after seven days they disperse once more. The king invites the Great High One to attend the midday-meal offering. Thereupon the Great High One summons a hundred thousand spirit people of the six achievements who arrive at the offering continually throughout the whole month, until the King’s storehouses are completely exhausted and nothing is left. The feast is not even half over and still the spirit people come without cease.


30) 演金光。胡王曰:太上徒众果多,令我仓库将倾,岂是有道之人耶,我向察之必是鬼魅,若不早图,恐弥损害,宜急焚之,积薪,兵围太上逊意而入,国人皆见太上身放光明,火中为说金光明经。
Giving Off a Golden Glow: The barbarian king says, “Great High one, the mass following you is so great that it has caused my storehouses almost to collapse. How can these be people who follow the Way? When I examine them I think that they must be devils! If I do not make some plan now, then I fear they will greatly diminish us and do us damage. It is suitable in this emergency that we burn them!” The barbarians  pile up kindling. The soldiers surround the Great High One, but of his own will he enters the fire. All of the people of the nation see that the Great High One’s body emits a brilliant light, and in the midst of the fire he speaks the Golden Light Sutra.


31) 起青莲。胡王其怒益甚,又以大镬煮之三日三夜,镬汤之中莲花涌出,太上坐莲花上说莲花经,谓王曰:此经神力不可思议,能辟汤火,汝可奉行。
Arising on a Blue Lotus: The barbarian king’s wrath is now exceedingly great. He has the Great High One boiled in a giant cauldron for three days and three nights, but the Great High One gushes out of the cauldron’s broth on the petals of a lotus. He sits there on the lotus flower and speaks the Lotus Sutra. He says to the barbarian king, “The spiritual power of this sutra is unimaginable, it can save one from fire or from being boiled. You should recieve it and practice it.”


32) 捧神龙。胡王转怒,遂令沉于水中,太上老君亦逊水而入水不能溺,神龙捧于水上,为说涅盘经。
Being Held Up by a Spirit Dragon: The barbarian king becomes even more enraged. He orders that the Great High One be drowned in water. Once again the Great High Old Gentleman is obedient and he enters into the water but he cannot be sunk. A spirit dragon holds him up on the surface of the water, and he speaks the Nirvana Sutra.


33) 摧剑戟。胡王告邻国曰:国内有一老人,变化无常,愿兴兵跟助,顷间,胡兵悉围,老君害之,太上身放威光,飞电入冲,声如霹雳,夫石反中胡兵。胡王投地作礼伏道,归教。
Frustrating the Cuts of Swords: The barbarian king sends message to all of the neighboring countires, saying, “within my nation there is an old man, who transforms ceaselessly and has no constancy. I ask that you raise hosts and assist me.” In a very short time, the armies of the barbarians have all surrounded the Great High One. But the Old Gentleman defeats them, for his Great High body emits a fiercesome glow. Lighting flies out like a flood and a sound is heard like thunderclaps. The arrows and stones of the barbarian armies all fall back down in the midst of their hosts. The barbarian kings all throw themselves to the ground and make obeisance to the Old Gentleman. The bow before the Way, and take refuge in the Teachings.

[Somebody’s probably done this already, but there’s an interesting essay to be written here about the uses of the words hua 化 and bian 變, both meaning roughly “transformation”. Since the discovery of the Dunhuang Library in the early 20th century everyone’s been arguing about the exact meaning of the words “transformation image” bian xiang 變相 and “transformation text” bian wen 變文. In the oldest versions of the Old Gentleman story (~3rd century AD), the text was called “The Old Gentleman Converts (hua 化) the Barbarians” Lao Jun Hua Hu 老君化胡. By the time of the emergence of the first pictorial versions of this story (according to Hu, ~7th century AD), the title of the text has changed to “Illustrations (tu 圖) of the Eighty One Hua (Transformations? Conversions?)”. Thus the meaning of the title seems to have shifted under Buddhist influence; hua 化 no longer prosaically means “to convert” but has come to mean whatever it is that Buddhist bian 變 “transformation” meansOtherwise there’s no other way to understand the title of the text; the Old Gentleman after all neither converts eighty-one people nor transforms his body eighty-one times. Thus one can only turn to Victor Mair’s famous definition of the word bian 變: “the representation (whether verbal or pictorial or sculptural) of a narrative moment or locus in or a succession of narrative moments or loci”, which also has content related to performance, manipulation of reality, and miracle-working (神變). When the barbarian king exclaims that the Old Gentleman is “transforming” bian hua 變化 without cease, the meaning seems to be something of this nature. -ht]


34) 说浮屠。太上老君令尹喜为佛,乃语胡王曰:已告汝师,赦汝罪犯。群胡欢喜,于是太上说四十二章经,乃遣飞天神王率国人生喜心者,剃须发,偏袒合掌,赭衣以作浮屠,丧门授以浮屠之教。
Speaking of the Buddha: The Great High Old Gentleman orders Yin Xi to become the Buddha. Yin Xi speaks to the barbarian kings, saying, “I have already reported to your armies that your sins have been forgiven.” Therefore all of the barbarians welcome Yin Xi. At this time the Great High One speaks the Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters. Then he sends apsaras and heavenly kings to lead those people of the nations whose hearts have become joyful. They shave their beards and hair, free their robes on one side, clasp their hands on their chests, wear red clothes, and worship the Buddha. The sramanas recieved this, and called it the Teaching of the Buddha.

Et Cetera.


Art China Shanxi Yu, Guangling, and Yangyuan

Architectural Details from the Old City of Hunyuan

I liked the color these people painted their house

just a random street scene

Last week I had the very pleasant opportunity to walk around the old township seat of Hunyuan County (渾源縣). This is a town that sits directly beneath the “Holy Mountain of the North”, Heng Shan (北岳恆山) and the famous Hanging Monastery (懸空寺). I’d passed through here a dozen times on my way to and from Yu County but never got off the bus. The ostensible reason was to see the Monastery of Eternal Peace (永安寺) and the Liao dynasty brick pagoda nearby. The Monastery as far as I’m concerned is one of the absolute highlights of northern China. The main hall (大雄寶殿) is a massive place empty of high, interlocking wooden beams and airy cold. Wrapping the walls on all four sides are over 170 square meters of Yuan dynasty murals. On the south and flanking walls march the hosts of the Great Offering of All on Land and Water (水陸大齋), hundreds and hundreds of figures bearing banners, and on the two sides of the north wall are eight giant Tibetan-influenced tantric deities, bearing dharma-implements in their many arms and mounted on ferocious beasts. It’s one of the most utterly stupendous rooms I’ve ever stood in.  Unfortunately though you’re not allowed to take pictures inside, so can’t put that up here. It turns out though that Hunyuan also has one of the best-preserved old towns I’ve ever seen in northern China, with an incredible amount of architectural ornamentation and stone-carving of the type that’s mainly vanished in most other places. So I had a nice walk around and took pictures of that instead.

The architectural styles here are both similar to those in Yu County and different in interesting ways; Yu County houses do not have the lovely rows of decorative tiles that run along the gables here.

the houses in this part of northern Shanxi have these wonderful decorated gables

tile lattice between two buildings in a courtyard

There are several different styles of gatehouses opening onto the street. This type with the house-like roof is probably the most common, with the same type of paneled pillar capitals found in the villages of Yangyuan county (陽原縣).

a doorway on the street in hunyuan

pillar flanking a gate 07

The other type of gatehouse does not have a sloped roof, but instead imitates in stone the elaborate and multi-level facade of a wooden pailou (牌樓) archway.

detail of an outer gate 17

Within the gate there is usually a small antechamber, facing a shadow-screen (影壁).

detail of an outer gate 13

a shadow-screen within a gate 01

The household itself is entered by an inner gateway, which sits adjacent to the shadow-screen at a 90 degree angle. This interesting little antechamber space provides a place for the household to display its wealth and taste without actually allowing passerby on the street to see directly into the main courtyard.


And within that is the courtyard itself, which I couldn’t go into, because it’s someone’s house. So that’s all quite nice. They’re planning to bulldoze the whole old city of course so you should see it while it’s still there. Here’s the rest of the pictures.




Art China Hebei Yu, Guangling, and Yangyuan

Some Operatic Chinoiserie in Yu County, or, the Endemic Drama

jiugongkounanbu (15)

jiugongkounanbu (21)

jiugongkounanbu etc
Drawings of actors and performers from the panels above an opera stage

An essential part of an village fort in Yu County is the village opera stage. The standard Mandarin for this would be 戲台 xi tai, “Opera Platform”, but Yu County people call these structures 樂樓 yue lou, “Music Houses”. Outsiders find this quaint. Before the Communist takeover, there were at least 700 opera stages in Yu county, spread over 738 villages. Now there are around 300 opera stages still remaining, some perfectly intact and some almost totally collapsed. To be clear, this is a lot of opera stages. According to one count, the entire province of Shanxi contains only 146 such pre-Communist stages, less than half the number in the one county of Yu. And while the building of these opera stages is not usually recorded in literary sources, we actually can tell some things about who used them and when by visual and written information on the walls of the stages themselves.

When a particular opera troupe played a show at a particular stage, it was common for them to write a small graffito on the back interior wall of the stage to memorialize the performance. Many of these still remain. From these we know the names of many of the late Qing opera troupes operating in Yu County or visiting from neighboring regions. The Yu County scholars Tian Yongxiang 田永翔 and Wang Zhijun 王志軍 state that they’ve counted the names of at least 400 individual opera troupes from the stage walls. They divide the types of performances into 大戲 “Great Opera”, 秧歌 “Seedling Songs”, 弦子腔 “Zither Tunes”, 道情 “Operas of the Way and Emotion”, 賽戲 “Temple Fair Plays”, 燈影戲 “Lamp-Shadow Plays”, 高蹺戲 “Plays on Stilts”, 羅羅腔 “Lolo Tunes”, 耍孩兒 “Playing with the Children”, and others.  These two authors provide a whole history of opera in Yu County, pointing out that musical performers have existed in Yu County since antiquity, being mentioned in the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) records of the Kingdom of Dai (代國), which had its royal city in what’s now Yu County. Opera stages, however, came much later. I can’t ever recall seeing a dated epigraph in an opera stage earlier than the Daoguang Reign of the Qing (1821-1850), and there are numerous ones after that. From this we can infer that opera, or at least opera stages, really took off in a big way in Yu County from the early part of the 19th century.

As for the opera stages themselves, they are generally one-roomed structures, enclosed on three sides and raised up to a height of 1.5 meters or so off the ground on a mud and stone platform. In all cases they face a temple, for the purposes of offering operatic performances to the gods. The stages themselves are bisected about halfway in by a decorative wooden screen stretched between pillars, which encloses the front stage from a rear area which is invisible to the spectators. This wooden screen is often decorated with colorfully painted panels depicting actors, musicians, and tumblers. On the side walls of the front part of the stage there are often murals which would serve as scenery for the plays.


An opera stage from the front. The stage faces a temple to Lord Guan across a little square, and is boarded-up against the elements.

doujianzi (2)

The interior of an opera stage, looking in; note the paneled wooden screen across the middle and the effaced frescoes on the outer flanking walls.

huangmeixiang (1)

An opera stage from the inside looking out. The wooden screen has been taken down here and the room is being used for storage; note the frescoes on the outer flanking walls.

In present-day Yu County the opera-stage murals are usually heavily damaged or completely effaced, as wind and rain can come in through the open face of the stage. Nevertheless enough of them remain that one can discern two main decorative tropes. The first, and more common, is paintings of folding screens. These give the illusion of a wealthy interior and the panels of the screens themselves are often painted with monochrome Shan Shui “Mountains and Water” scenery. The second, less common trope, is architectural drawings. These are quite rare and I’m only aware of seven extant examples in all of Yu County, of which only one survives in anything like an intact state. Nevertheless there’s enough of them, and the architecture depicted in them is distinctive enough, that it’s possible to say something about what these drawings are and what they’re supposed to be representing.

huangmeixiang (9)

To begin with, the standard composition for these drawings is as follows (for examples, see above and below). Two scenes are painted on the two sides of the opera stage. In each of these scenes, there is a large, multi-storied building painted towards the inside of the stage. These are often multi-storied structures with rows of western-style windows and sometimes domes or barrel-arched roofs on top. On the upper floor of these buildings are sometimes balustrades or belvederes of a type sometimes found in western buildings but almost never seen in China. At the base of this structure there is a sort of gate portico or platform. This portico and the large multi-story building behind it are often enclosed by a wall in the lower part of the composition. In front of this portico and towards the outer side of the stage, the scene opens up onto a plaza or open country where figures may or may not be found. Sometimes in the plaza and sometimes in the background beneath a further compound wall, you can see one or several Chinese-style pagodas rising up. The compositions typically have strong blue coloration.

jiugongkounanbu (1)

jiugongkounanbu (3)

Note the various elements: The tall western-looking building on the right (the inner side of the stage), the portico or gate at the bottom center, and the Chinese-style pagodas behind a wall to the left (the outer side of the stage). 

Occasionally one or both of these structures have plaques hung over the gates which give a legend. There are five extant legends, which are as follows:


(1) Partially illegible; I can make out Si Ji? Chun [ ] Ben 四吉?春[ ]本, “Four Auspicious? Spring [illegible] Basic”, which obviously doesn’t make any more sense in Chinese than it does in English, so who knows.


(4) Si Wang Lou 四望樓, “The Tower of Gazing in the Four Directions”


(3) Si Wang Ting 四望亭, “The Pavilion of Gazing in the Four Directions”


(2) Xi Yang Lou 西洋樓, “The Palace of the Western Seas”


(1) Yi Da Gong 意大宮, “Intentions-Great Palace”, or possibly Yi Da Guan 意大官, “Intentions-Great Official”. This overwrites an apparently earlier legend in blue ink which says [ ][ ] Zhen Shi, [ ][ ]真事 “[two illegible characters] True Affair”.

So what does all this mean? It turns out that at least two of these titles can be matched to actual buildings that exist or once existed.


1) 四望亭

The Pavilion of Gazing in the Four Directions

There’s two versions of this in the inscriptions, one of which is a pavilion or pagoda (ting 亭) and one of which is a mansion or tower (lou 楼). Nevertheless they seem to refer to the same thing. The key to identifying the structure is two figures on the top of the pagoda in two separate drawings, a young girl and a monkey. They’re just visible in the drawing below, as beneath them various figures comment and posture.

dagucheng (2)

dagucheng (3)

A monkey and a girl atop the Pavilion of Gazing in the Four Directions

These two figures come from an anonymous folk novel called either “The Green Peony” 《绿牡丹》or “The Full Tale of the Pavilion of Gazing in Four Directions” 《四望亭全传》. Opinions on when this was written seem to differ (I’ve seen it put at various points between 1600 and 1900) and nobody knows who wrote it. This story ostensibly narrates the swashbuckling saga of some young braves during the age of the Empress Wu Zetian (624-705). Interestingly enough, although the play contains plenty of male characters, the main warriors are all female. The central heroine is a young circus performer named Hua Bilian 花碧莲, “Flower Jade-Lotus” who takes up arms against the various men who want to marry her and then against the empress of China herself, aiming to rescue the deposed heir of the Tang Dynasty and restore him to the throne. “The Green Peony” became a popular subject for plays; the “Dictionary of Chinese Bangzi Opera Titles”《中国梆子戏剧目大辞典》lists two extant plays named “The Green Peony”, and notes that each of these can be broken up into many smaller plays, which are performed individually. The summary of the action of the plays is as follows:

Hua Zhenfang travels with his wife and daughter, making a living by performing. He becomes friends with Luo Hongxun and Ren Zhengqian. Wang Lun is the son of the evil official Wang Huaiyi. Wang Lun plots to kidnap the daughter of the Hua family, Jade-Lotus, and force her to marry him. Jade-Lotus and her mother create great havoc in the official’s palace, and break out and escape. On the road in Yangzhou, they pass by the Pavilion of Gazing in the Four Directions. Jade-Lotus climbs up the pagoda to capture a monkey but loses her footing and falls. Fortunately she’s caught by Luo Hongxun. Hua Zhenfang promises her in marriage to Luo Hongxun. Wang Lun uses a huge amount of gold to hire the assassin Pu Tianpeng to kill Luo Hongxun. Luo Hongxun, however, gives Pu Tianpeng silver ingots and the two part. Pu Tianpeng’s father in law, Bao Zeng’an, hears about this and invites Luo Hongxun to his village, “Stockade on the Waters”,  for a meeting. Bao Zeng’an’s daughter, Golden-Flower, gets drunk and challenges Luo Hongxun to a contest of the martial arts. In a moment of anger she wounds him, but Bao Zeng’an and Hua Zhenfang etc. come to the rescue.

The second play seems to be a sequel to the first. The action moves from personal conflicts among the characters to national swashbuckling among the great and powerful of the Tang Dynasty. Jade-Lotus takes the center stage as the main martial hero:

During the Tang Dynasty, the empress Wu Zetian orders Zhang Tianyou to take the city of Fangzhou, but he suffers a great defeat. The virtuous official Di Renjie [the famous “Judge Dee”] has characters tattooed on Zhang Tianyou’s back, and releases him back to the court. In resentment, Zhang Tianyou asks the empress Wu to have Di Renjie executed. Just at this time, from the west of the nation of Qi comes a strange beast which no one is able to tame. The Empress Wu gives an order that a master of strange creatures be found. The Green-Forest peasant rebel heroes Hua Zhenfang and Bao Zeng’an order the two girls Jade-Lotus and Golden-Flower to travel to the capital. They are successful in subduing the beast, and they are both granted the title “The First of the Three Ranks”. The Empress Wu sends Wei Shihua to lead Jade-Lotus to subdue Di Renjie as well. Along the way, Wei Shihua is able to capture the Lord of Luling, Li Chengjian. But he doesn’t expect that Jade-Lotus and the others will change sides. They attack Wei Shihua and kill him in a fight, saving the Lord of Luling [who goes on to replace Wu Zetian and restore the Tang Dynasty as the Zhongzong Emperor].

Just in case you wanted to picture this, here’s a clip from an old movie of “The Green Peony” which shows the first meeting between Jade-Lotus and Luo Hongxun.

Of course the couple is fated to be, but Luo Hongxun and Jade-Lotus are separated and don’t meet again until the twentieth chapter, which is the important one for our purposes. The scene now is at a crossroads near the east gate of the city of Yangzhou 揚州. Yangzhou is a town of great refinement on the lower Yangzi river, famous for its literati, its courtesans, and for having been repeatedly and brutally sacked at various points in history. Our hero Luo Hongxun and his drunken friend Yu Qian have gone out to attend a fair at the Temple of the Three Officials 三官廟. Yu Qian catches sight of a monkey which has escaped from a neighbor’s house. He leaps onto the roof to catch it. The monkey, frightened up, jumps from the roof onto the side of a pagoda which sits in the middle of the street, called the Pavilion of Gazing in the Four Directions. Yu Qian leaps after it. The two of them shimmy up the side of the pagoda but Yu Qian still can’t catch the monkey.

Right at this moment, Hua Zhenfang, his daughter Jade-Lotus, and the nine Ba brothers are driving their horses in through the city gate. The street is mobbed with spectators watching the scene on the pagoda. Not a man to sit in traffic, Hua Zhenfang stampedes his horses into the crowd and scatters them all. He rides up to the base of the pagoda and recognizes his old friend Yu Qian climbing around up there. He makes inquiries and finds that the owner of the monkey is willing to pay ten silvers if someone can catch it, and twenty silvers if a girl as pretty as Jade-Lotus will climb up there in front of everybody and do it. After some haggling, a deal is made.

Here’s from the story. I think this is fun:

Hua Zhenfang shouts up at Yu Qian, “This malicious little creature, it doesn’t need someone like you to catch it. That’s like cutting up a chicken with a cattle knife! Uncle Yu, we haven’t had the chance to meet for so long, I implore you to come down and talk, and my daughter will go up in your place and catch the monkey for you.” He turns to Jade-Lotus. “Daughter! Get up there!”

And you only have to see – Jade Lotus uncoils her body and leaps onto the first floor of the pagoda. The crowd of people watching all raise their voices to applaud: “Such a skill is rare to find, even in a thousand years! Truly amazing, truly amazing!”

At the moment that Jade-Lotus leaps onto the pagoda, the monkey is within, but startled by her it jumps up onto the second floor. Jade-Lotus pauses just for a moment, but then uncoils her body once again and leaps up after it onto the second floor. Granny Hua sees her granddaughter on the second floor of the pagoda, and immediately releases her own body and leaps up onto the very top floor of the pagoda. The crowd on the ground once again applaud, “For such an elderly person to have such energy – she really is an old robber’s wife!” And when Hua Zhenfang sees both his mother and his daughter preparing to ascend even further, he, Yu Qian, and the other six all spread out to stand around the four sides of the pavilion.

Jade-Lotus has now attained the second floor. She takes out a handful of the fruits she’s been carrying against her breast, and tosses some of them in front of where the monkey can see, sitting herself up above so as not to startle it. When the monkey catches sight of the fruits he immediately takes them up in his hands and gobbles them down into his mouth. When he’s finished, Jade-Lotus throws another handful, and the monkey once again takes them up and eats them. Jade-Lotus very slowly inches forward, until she’s about two or three feet away. Suddenly the monkey sees her and is startled, and flees towards the south side of the pagoda. Jade-Lotus is behind a wall and she can’t see where he’s gone. Ba Long is standing on the ground at the south side of the pagoda. He shouts up: “The monkey’s gone to the south!”

Jade-Lotus turns towards the south. She throws another handful of fruit out that way. Once again, the monkey takes it up and eats it. Jade-Lotus inches closer to it, until she is almost up to the creature, but once more the monkey is startled and flees off somewhere else, she can’t see it. It seems to Jade-Lotus that if the monkey hadn’t been scared off by Yu Qian, she would have been able to capture it easily with this method. But her father Hua Zhenfang and Yu Qian are standing beneath, shouting up: “The monkey’s jumped over onto the northern side!”

Jade-Lotus turns towards the north. The monkey jumps up onto the top floor. She goes up after it. Happily, up above doesn’t have walls blocking her line of sight. Jade-Lotus formulates a plan. She says: “I have to drive this creature out onto one of the corners of the pagoda roof. That way, he’ll have nowhere to escape to. That’s the only way I’ll catch him.”

Once again, she takes out another handful of fruits from her shirt, and throws them onto the protruding north-east corner of the roof. Once the monkey sees that there’s fruit there, he heads towards the north-east corner to pick it up and eat it. Jade-Lotus slides herself ever so slightly towards the monkey. She reaches out an arm to grab him. The monkey sees that Jade-Lotus is blocking the escape route to the right, he’s got no empty space to escape through. The animal panics, and uses all his might to leap, hoping that he can jump right over Jade-Lotus’ head. For many years though nobody has kept up the Pagoda of Gazing in the Four Directions. The wood is rotten and the mortar and bricks are coming apart – and Jade-Lotus and the monkey both fall! On the ground the people exclaim: “How terrible! Someone’s fallen down!”

As Jade-Lotus falls, Hua Zhenfang, Yu Qian, and the Ba brothers are all dismayed and without any recourse. Jade-Lotus has absolutely no way of saving her own life. The only hope comes from one young man beyond the four or fifth ring of spectators, who shouts: “You still haven’t moved to save her – what are you waiting for!”

将身一纵过来,将花碧莲双手接住,抱在怀中,坐在尘埃。众人齐道:“难得这个英雄,不然要跌为肉泥!” 花振芳同众人跑过来一看,接住花碧莲者,不是别人,正是骆宏勋大爷!
He uncoils his body and with a single leap he’s there, and catches Jade-Lotus with both hands, and holds her to his breast, sitting down onto the ground. Everyone shouts: “What an extraordinary hero! Without him, she’d have been crushed to meat-mush!” Hua Zhenfang and a whole crowd all run over and with one glance they see – the person who’d saved Jade-Lotus was none other than Luo Hongxun!

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huangmeixiang (6)

So that’s the story. This would have circulated both in the form of operas and of vernacular storytelling performances. Here’s one video of it being performed in Jiangxi style; the entire play takes five hours of watching to finish.For vernacular storytelling, here’s one of the “Jade-Lotus Catches a Monkey” section being first sung and then narrated by this guy from Langfang 廊坊. This dude tears it up:

As noted above, there’s one pavilion with the legend Si Ji? Chun [ ] Ben 四吉?春[ ]本, “Four Auspicious? Spring [illegible] Basic”. I still have no idea what this means, but if you look closely you can see the figures of Jade-Lotus and her grandmother climbing around on it. The monkey’s been scratched out.



Interestingly, as it turns out, the Pavilion of Gazing in the Four Directions actually exists in real life, and there’s some argument to be made that at least one Yu County painter had actually seen it. It sits just within the eastern gate of the old city of Yangzhou. This is nearly 600 miles as the crow flies from Yu County, but the drawing and the structure itself match fairly well. Here’s the drawing and the building as it stands today; I stole this image from the internet.


I still have no idea why everyone in Yu County felt the need to draw this specific pagoda from this specific story on the walls of their opera stages, but I think it’s interesting. I had fun pursuing this particular monkey of the mind across the internet and eventually catching it, so I’ve put up the results here.

Some Miscellania:

(1) After extensive googling, I can say that there are at least two other buildings in China which have the name 四望 “Gazing in the Four Directions”. One of these is an unremarkable pagoda in Chongqing. The other is a little pavilion in a park in Harbin. According to the government website for Harbin’s Hulan District, this was constructed by a governor named Lu Kezun 路克遵 in 1927, with fines he’d levied on some ne’er-do-well named Zhu the Black Son (朱黑子). Zhu had been found guilty of stealing the colorful park railings and using them to decorate his whorehouse.

(2) The whole thing about letting loose the horses and pursuing the monkey is possibly some sort of Buddhist metaphor. This comes from the stock phrase 心猿意馬 “The monkey of the mind and the horses of the thoughts”. These have to be properly reigned in so that the practitioner can concentrate.

(3) According to Baidu Baike, there’s record of a structure with the name “Pavilion of Gazing in the Four Directions” having been built in Yangzhou in the early 13th century. Unfortunately it’s noted as sitting south of the city, while the present one clearly sits right at the east gate. A second gazetteer from the Qianlong reign puts the building of the structure in 1559, when it was constructed by the adjacent Confucian Academy as a pavilion to the gods Wenchang and the Kui-Star. Hence it was known as the Wen-Kui Tower 文奎樓. According to the dominant theories on the internet, the pavilion only acquired the name “Gazing in the Four Directions” after 1853, when the Taiping rebels took the city, propped up ladders and scaffolding onto the sides of the thing, and used it as a watchtower. It retained this use until Qing loyalist troops retook the city a few years later. That said the pavilion is clearly mentioned in the late-Ming “Green Peony” as having been located at a crossroads near a gate in the Yangzhou city wall, so my guess is that this theory is bunk.

(4) This is off-topic, but the whole thing reminds me of a story told to me by an elderly resident of the lower fortress in Futu Village (浮圖村). In the center of this village is an archway on top of which sits a tower room. The tower was originally a temple to the god of literature, Wenchang, but after the Communist takeover this was found to be both feudal and unpropitious. Sensibly enough the villagers decided that rather than going to the trouble of tearing the giant stone tower down, they’d just rename it in honor of Mao’s 1963 Socialist Education Movement, which aimed to “Purify Politics, Purify the Economy, Purify the Party Organization, and Purify Ideology” (清政治,清经济,清组织,清思想). Thus the tower was rechristened “The Tower of the Four Purifications” (四清樓). It remained unmolested right through the Cultural Revolution and retains this name today.

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huangmeixiang (3)

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2) 西洋楼

The Mansion of the Western Seas

Now we turn to the other structure identified by name on the opera stage at the Big Stubborn Fort, the Xi Yang Lou 西洋樓, “The Mansion of the Western Seas”. As noted above, these drawings usually portray multi-story buildings with long rows of windows and occasionally domes on top, both architectural forms not found in traditional Chinese architecture. As it turns out, there’s an explanation for this available fairly nearby: “The Mansion of the Western Seas” was the name of a European-style palace constructed by Italian and French Jesuits for the Qianlong Emperor in the middle of the 18th century.  The western mansions were constructed over a roughly twenty year period, beginning in 1749 and coming to completion in the early 1770s. The palaces were built to showcase the European concept of hydraulic-powered fountains, which the Qianlong emperor found fascinating, and to hold the extensive Imperial collection of European artifacts and exotica. The compound and the several buildings within it sat in the northern part of the Garden of Perfect Light (Yuan Ming Yuan 圓明園), a vast Qing summer palace in the fields north of Beijing, which was originally begun by the Kangxi emperor in 1690. The Mansions of the Western Seas were famously looted and then put to torch along with the rest of the Garden of Perfect Light in 1860 by the Anglo-French invasion force during the Second Opium War, in revenge for the torture and execution of British envoys. Since the European mansions were built of marble while the much vaster Chinese palace surrounding it was built of wood, the only part of the Garden of Perfect Light that survives today is the ruined masonry of these European buildings. The tumbled-down masonry is today preserved as a “national ruin”, to commemorate China’s humiliation at the hands of foreign powers during the Opium Wars.

The reader here should be aware of how exotic multi-story buildings, arcades, domes, belvederes on the roof, and other such architectural features were in China. For this we can quote the French missionary-painter Jean-Denis Attiret, in his famous epistle on the Garden of Perfect Light:

“Their Eyes are so accustom’d to their own Architecture, that they have very little Taste for ours. May I tell you what they say when they speak of it, or when they are looking over the Prints of some of our most celebrated Buildings? The Height and Thickness of our Palaces amazes them. They look upon our Streets, as so many Ways hollowed into terrible Mountains; and upon our Houses, as Rocks pointing up in the Air, and full of Holes like Dens of Bears and other wild Beasts. Above all, our different Stories, piled up so high one above another, seem quite intolerable to them: and they cannot conceive, how we can bear to run the Risk of breaking our Necks, so commonly, in going up such a Number of Steps as is necessary to climb up to the Fourth and Fifth Floors. ‘Undoubtedly’, said the Emperor Cang-hy whilst he was looking over some Plans of our European Houses, ‘this Europe must be a very small and pitiful Country; since the Inhabitants cannot find Ground enough to spread out their Towns, but are obliged to live up this high in the Air’.”

– Attiret, “A Particular Account of the Emperor of China’s Gardens near Pekin“, 1747, trans. Sir Harry Beaumont.

In any case, it’s my contention here that whoever drew these images on the opera stages of Yu County had clearly seen the western structures outside of Beijing. The following black and white engravings were made in European style by a Manchu painter named Yi Lantai 伊兰泰 in 1783, and represent the most complete record of the Mansions.

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花園正面 – The Maze, from “The Delights of Harmony, p.40.

Domes are never found in Chinese architecture almost as a rule; there was at least one in the Mansion of the Western Seas, in a pavilion at the center of the maze.

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海晏堂北面 – North facade of the Palace of Calm Seas, from “The Delights of Harmony”, p.46.

Long, multi-story buildings of several stories.

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湖東線法畫 – Painting of perspective, east of the lake.

Receding perspective was a novelty, and one of the purposes of the Mansions of the Western Seas was to showcase this Western artistic technique. This depicts what “The Delights of Harmony” describes as, “a long basin leading to a European village painted in perspective on walls erected like a theater set” (p.9).

All this so far is a bit circumstantial. Actually the clearest indication that someone in Yu County was familiar with the buildings and ornamentation styles of the Mansion of the Western Seas comes not from the opera houses themselves but from the interior frescoes of a particular shrine to the God of Wealth 财神殿 located at the south end of a village fort in Yu County. (As usual I’m not going to say where.) These scenes flank either side of the small temple room and the main votive statue, and depict devotees bearing treasures to what is presumably the palace of the God of Wealth. The composition of the images is identical to the opera-stage drawings: a large multi-story building on the inner side of the hall with a pagoda on the outer side, and a gate or portico at the base of the structure. And one glance at the ornamentation style of the windows marks the scene as representing not only western-style architecture, but the specific quasi-baroque style of the Mansions of the Western Seas. The below color pictures come from “Yu County Temple Frescoes”, p.243.




方外觀正面 – Main Face of the Belvedere, from “The Delights of Harmony”, p.43, detail.


養雀籠東面 – East Face of the Aviary, from “The Delights of Harmony, p.42”, detail.




海晏堂北面 – North facade of the Palace of Calm Seas, from “The Delights of Harmony” p,46, detail.

So in this case it seems pretty clear – someone in Yu County was familiar with not only the general forms of western architecture, but the specific ornamentation types of the Mansions of the Western Seas. This actually sheds light on the interpretation of one of the other gate legends recorded above. One of the buildings is titled Yi Da Gong 意大宮, “The Intentions-Great Palace”. Besides just being a strange name for a palace, this isn’t any more grammatical in Chinese than it is in English – at very least it should be Da Yi Gong 大意宮 “Great-Intentions Palace” and not “Intentions-Great”. But if the building is intended to portray a baroque mansion designed by the Jesuit artist Giuseppe Castiglione, the meaning is suddenly obvious. The full title should be Yidali Gong 意大利宮 “The Italian Palace”. The Chinese painter in Yu County, finding “Italy” a mouthful, simply lopped off the -li in Yidali and gave the palace a two-character name that sounds much more acceptably Chinese.

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The Italian Palace

As for how some lowly village painter in Yu County would have found his way into the Emperor’s own summer palace, Attiret’s letter, quoted above, presents something of both the problem and the solution.

… ‘Tis very fortunate for me, that I had got the little Knowledge of Painting that I have: for without this, I should have been in the same Case with several other Europeans, who have been here between Twenty and Thirty Years without being able ever to set their Feet on any Spot of this delightful Ground [the Garden of Perfect Light]. ...There is but one Man here; and that is the Emperor. All Pleasures are made for him alone. This charming Place is scarce ever seen by any body but himself, his Women, and his Eunuchs. The Princes, and other chief Men of the Country, are rarely admitted any farther than the Audience-Chambers. Of all the Europeans that are here, none ever enter’d this Inclosure, except the Clock-makers and Painters; whose Employments make it necessary that they should be admitted every where. The Place usually assign’d us to paint in, is in one of those little Palaces above-mentioned; where the Emperor comes to see us work, almost every Day: so that we can never be absent.

 – Attiret, “A Particular Account of the Emperor of China’s Gardens Near Pekin“, 1743, trans. Sir Harry Beaumont.

Which is to say, nobody but the emperor, eunuchs, and concubines were allowed into the Garden of Perfect Light. The only exceptions were artisans and painters. And little Yu County, on the wrong side of the Taihang range, had nothing whatsoever in abundance other than superb artisans and builders.

The Mansions of the Western Seas must have been well known to Yu County people. The structures stood at the far northern extremity of the Gardens of Perfect Light, north of the city of Beijing and right along the normal traveling route over between Yu County and the capital. Yu County people would surely have seen the exotic, multi-story buildings rising over the garden walls as they passed to and from Beijing. And it’s conceivable that the destruction of the gardens would have made the place better known to the people of Yu County. After its vengeful sack by European troops, the 64 square miles of what was once the Qianlong Emperor’s grand pleasure gardens reverted to brush and farmland. The only buildings that still stood were the gutted marble remains of the Palaces of the Western Seas, several buildings of which were photographed still standing amid the cornfields well into the 20th century. As I hope I’ve demonstrated with this blog, Yu County people were an imaginative lot, and it’s hard to see how they could have passed by the towering ruins of strange, foreign palaces along the road to Beijing and not taken an interest. And what better to do with these curious buildings than to paint them as a kind of reverse-chinoiserie background for your opera stage?

And this gets to what’s actually interesting about these few and ruined images, drawn on the walls of dilapidated buildings in a remote Chinese county, hundreds of years ago. It turns out that in these tiny walled villages you have a miniature counter-narrative to the whole tragedy of 19th and 20th century Chinese history. Everyone knows that 19th century China behind its walls was conservative, patriarchal, and closed to the outside world. And yet in every single village these illiterate farmers built sumptuous opera stages so that they could have light, color, excitement. They loved tough, smart, working-class heroines who took up arms against the powerful and unjust, and also sometimes just had fun chasing monkeys around on the roof. And when they found themselves faced with a foreign culture, their reaction was one of admirable curiosity, openness, and imagination.



– 无名氏著. 绿牡丹. 杭州: 浙江古籍出版社 : 浙江省新华书店发行, 1985. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. <http://www.uus8.org/c/127/003/index.html>
[Anonymous. The Green Peony. Hangzhou: Zhejiang Classics Press: Distributed by Zhejiang State Xinhua Bookstore, 1985. Web. 17 Dec. 2014 <http://www.uus8.org/c/127/003/index.html>]

– Attiret, Jean-Denis, S.J. (1702-1768). “Lettre du Frere Attiret de la Compagnie de Jesus, Peintre au service de l’Empereur de la Chine. A M. d’Assaut. A Pekin, le 1. Novembre 1743,” in Lettres édifiantes et curieuses écrites des missions étrangères par quelques missionnaires de la compagnie de Jésus. Paris: Guérin, 1749, 27:1-61. English translation of 1752 by Joseph Spence [Sir Harry Beaumont], A Particular Account of the Emperor of China’s Gardens near Pekin; rpt. in The English Landscape Garden, ed. John Dixon Hunt (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1982).

– Thiriez, Régine. “Old Photography and the Yuanmingyuan.” Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation 6.3 (1990): 203-18. Taylor Francis Online. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/ref/10.1080/01973762.1990.9658864#tabModule>.

– Thiriez, Regine, and Karen Turner. The Delights of Harmony: The European Palaces of the Yuanmingyuan & The Jesuits at the 18th Century Court of Beijing. Ed. Ellen Lawrence. Worcester, Massachusetts: Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Galler & College of the Holy Cross, 1994. Print.

– 王志军, and 田永翔. 中国蔚州民俗文化集成:地方剧种概说. 北京: 中国戏剧出版社, 2012. Print. [Wang, Zhizhun, and Tian, Yongxiang. China Yu County Folk Culture Series: Summary of Local Opera Types. Beijing. China Opera Publishing Company. 2012. Print. This also comes emblazened with the resplendent English title, “Chinese national culturei ntegration Yu Zhou The endemic drama”.]
– 殷建宏. 戏台与社会:明清山西戏台研究. 北京: 中国社会科学出版社, 2009. Print. [Yin, Jianhong. Opera Stages and Society: Researches on Ming-Qing Period Opera Stages in Shanxi. Beijing. China Social Sciences Press. 2009. Print.]
– 蔚縣博物館. 蔚州寺廟壁畫. 北京: 科學出版社, 2013. Print. [Yu County Museum. Yu County Temple Frescoes. Beijing. Scientific Press. 2013. Print.]

– 中国梆子戏剧目大辞典. 太原: 山西省戏剧研究所, 1991. Print. [Great Encyclopedia of China Bangzi Opera Titles. Taiyuan: Shanxi Province Opera Research Institute, 1991. Print.]

Art China Translation

On the Description of the Kunlun Mountains or Tibet found in the Classic of Mountains and Seas


”The Classic of Mountains and Seas” is a long list of real and invented mountains, rivers, gods, countries, sacrifices, plants and peoples. It was traditionally ascribed to the Sage King Yu, who wandered about primordial China channeling off the waters of the Deluge, setting order to things, and naming the mountains and rivers. In an epilogue to the first five books, “The Classic of Mountains”, Yu is made to state that he travelled across 5,370 mountains which occupied an area of 64,065 li. I don’t know if this is the exact number of mountains or li described in the book but it does in truth contain a very great number. Unfortunately Yu’s Epilogue is generally agreed to be spurious and a later interpolation, and nobody knows who really wrote “The Classic of Mountains and Seas”. Scholars think it was composed between the third and first centuries BC by several different unknown authors. It was then famously annotated once at the end of the Han Dynasty in the third century of the common era and then a second time in the Qing Dynasty at the start of the eighteenth century and has since been translated several times into English.

The book contains several long sections concerning the Kunlun Mountains or the Kunlun Wasteland, which seems to refer more or less to Tibet. In fact of all the delirious mass of mountains and tribes of men described in “The Classic of Mountains and Oceans,” the Kunlun, or Tibet, receives the longest and most detailed description and is mentioned most often. The most curious thing is that it is left very ambiguous what exactly the Kunlun is, or are, because in the same breath they are mentioned as a range of mountains, a single mountain, a mound, an immense wasteland, and a city, which is holy. 

We are told that the Wasteland of the Kunlun is 800 leagues square and 80,000 feet high. It is also a city, called “The Great God’s City on the Earth Below” or perhaps “The City that is Beneath the Emperor of Heaven.” The Wasteland of Kunlun, or the city of God, has nine gates on each of its four sides. each of which is guarded by a creature called the Opening-Brilliance. The Opening-Brilliance has a body as large as a lion and nine human heads, all of which face east. It is also standing on the peak of Kunlun, which, we gather, is now a single mountain. East of the Opening-Brilliance a group of Shamans stand about the fallen body of the God Yayu. The Shamans possess an elixir of immortality.

It’s enlightening to know that the story of Yayu and how he died actually bears relation to the history of “The Classic of Mountains and Seas” itself. (I’m getting this information from the introduction to the published translation by Anne Birrell, by the way.) The earliest existing preface to the work, written around the year AD 6, records that around 50 BC a man was found enclosed in a cave in Shaanxi, shackled to the floor, with his hands bound behind his back using his own long hair. The discovery was reported to Emperor Xuan of the Former Han Dynasty, who sought at length for an explanation. Finally the palace Librarian and Archivist, Liu Xiang, pointed out that “The Classic of Mountains and Seas” contained a potential explanation. At the start of the section called “Treatise on the Western Lands Within the Seas”, it is related that the God Yayu was murdered by the lesser gods Betrays-Responsibilities and Wei. In retribution, a greater god sentenced the two murderers to be shackled by the right foot, bound up in their own hair, and hung from trees on a mountaintop to die. The Emperor Xuan was favorably impressed, and thus the fame of “The Classic of Mountains and Seas” was ensured. Elsewhere it is related that Yayu had the head of a dragon and ate human beings. Getting back to the point, according to the book Yayu’s corpse can be found on the wasteland or mountaintop or in the city of Kunlun, which is to say, in Tibet, beneath the nine-headed eastward gaze of the Opening-Briliance, guarded by the elixir-bearing shamans with the strange names.

“The Classic of Mountains and Seas” relates other things about the Kunlun. Many different types of trees grow there, and many rivers cross it, flowing mainly from west to east but sometimes looping to the north or turning south. Also many different animals abide there. So does the Queen Mother of the West. Elsewhere it is said that she lives on a mountain north of Kunlun, or perhaps within it on a mountain of flames. In further chapters many other places are listed as laying to the north or the south of Kunlun, but these places are obscure and the people who live there are vague.

Most of the rest of “The Classic of Mountains and Seas” is monotonous. There are some useful factoids: “There is also the Country of No-Intestines. The people there bear the surname Ren, which means “responsibility”. They have no children or descendants, and eat fish.” “There is a god which has the face of a man but no arms, and his two feet are reversed on top of his head. His name is Sighs.” Then there are an enormous number of descriptions of mountains, listed in apparently linear order of distance going in any of the cardinal directions and helpfully annotated with the suggested animal sacrifices to be made to each. “And traveling north for two hundred and eighty li there is a mountain called the Great Salty Mountain. There is no grass or wood here, but beneath it is a great amount of jade. This mountain cannot be ascended from any of the four directions. There is a snake the name of which is called Long Snake, which has hair like hog bristles. It makes a sound like drums and wooden clappers.” On the mountains live diverse flora and fauna, some of which are monstrous and eat people, some of which can be eaten by people to medicinal effect, and some of which are reclusive and when they appear herald certain things, like spates of arson, or the wanton dismissal of officials in the nearby towns. 

Various things occurred to me when I was reading it. Umberto Eco makes the following comment about Hesiod’s “Theogony”: “At first sight we might think that form is characteristic of mature cultures, which know the world around them, whose order they have recognized and defined; on the contrary the list would seem to be typical of primitive cultures that still have an imprecise image of the universe and limit themselves to listing as many properties as they can name without trying to establish a hierarchical relationship among them. For example, we might interpret Hesiod’s “Theogony” in this sense; it is an inexhausted list of divine creatures that certainly refer to a genealogical tree that a philologically patient reading could reconstruct, but this is definitely not the way in which the reader (even the original reader) reads or listens to the text, which presents itself rather as an intolerable swarm of monstrous and prodigious beings, a universe overpopulated with invisible individuals that runs parallel to that of our experience and whose roots are sunk in the mists of time. Yet the list turns up again in the Middle Ages […]” (The Infinity of Lists, p.18.) Also, and I’m not totally sure if this is actually relevant here, but in the Maitrāyanī Samhitā it is recorded that, “Indra is said to have cut off the wings of the mountains, which originally alighted wherever they pleased and thus made the earth unsteady. The wings became the thunder clouds.” This raises the possibility of a Deluge not of waters but of mountains.

Anyways for fun I decided to translate all the bits of the “Classic of Mountains and Seas” that have to do with the Kunlun Mountains. I did it based on this one from The Chinese Text Project 中國哲學書電子化計劃 and with a lot of help from the notes and modern-Mandarin version provided here, on 古詩文網. I also scanned in some illustrations (異獸圖), which came from an anonymous and fragmentary Qing dynasty printing with commentary by one Wang Bo (王紴), reprinted in 歷代山海經文獻集成, vols. 6 and 7,  edited by文清閣 and published by 西安地圖出版社, 2006, print. As usual if the reader wants to contest certain fine points of translation then he can bloody well go translate it himself.


From the Treatise on Western Mountains (西山經):

And traveling west for another four hundred and twenty li, there is a mountain which is called Mount Bell. This mountain has a son named Drum. His appearance is that of a dragon’s body and a man’s face.

zhong shan zi gu

Mount Bell’s son, Drum

He and Qinpi murdered Baojiang on the sunny side of Mount Kunlun, and so the Emperor of Heaven had both of them killed at a place called the Yao Banks on the eastern side of Mount Bell. Qinpi was transformed into a great osprey. The osprey’s appearance is that of a eagle with black markings and a white head, with a red beak and the claws of a tiger. Its call is like that of a morning swan. When it is seen it portends great numbers of soldiers. Drum was also transformed into a bird called a Jun, which has the appearance of a sparrow hawk. The bird has red feet and a straight beak, yellow markings and a white head. Its call is like that of a swan. When it is seen it portents a great drought in that town.

qinpi and gu

The bird called Jun which Drum transformed into, and the bird called Great Osprey which Qinpi turned into.

And traveling west for another hundred and eighty li, there is a mountain which is called the Mountain of Peaceful Tools. The Gaze River is also here, which pours down into the flowing sands. There are many marked rays, which have the appearance like that of carp, with the body of a fish and the wings of a bird, great markings, white heads, and red beaks. Thus they are commonly found walking in the Western Sea and swimming in the Eastern Sea, by means of flying at night. They make a sound like the phoenix-chicken, and their flavor is both sour and sweet. The meat induces madness when eaten, and when they are seen they portend great bumper harvests in all the lands beneath heaven.

wen yao

The Marked Ray

And traveling west for another three hundred and twenty li, there is a mountain which is called the Mountain of the Pagoda-Tree River. The Hill-of-Seasons River is also here, which flows down into Lake You. In this lake are a great number of snail mothers. Above it there are large amounts of gypsum and realgar, as well as great deposits of pearl-like rocks, gold, and jade. On the sunny side of the mountain there is much red millet, and on the shady side many mines of gold. This is truly the Emperor of Heaven’s only flat garden. The god Yingzhao governs it. His appearance is that of a horse’s body and a human face, with the markings of a tiger and the wings of a bird. He travels about to all of the Four Seas, and his call is like the sound of a pomegranate. To the south this mountain looks out on the Kunlun. Its light is resplendent and its atmosphere is invigorating.

ying zhao shenThe God Yingzhao


To the west the Mountain of the Pagoda-Tree River looks out on the the Great Marshes, which is where Lord Millet was buried. Upon it is much jade, and on the shady side is much of something that looks like yao wood. To the north it looks out upon all of that adjoins. The scholar-tree ghost Lilun lives there, and it is the abode of zhan hawks. To the east it looks out on the four slopes of Mount Heng. There are poor ghosts which live there, each according to its kind. From it comes a greatly pouring river, which is extremely clear. The Heaven God is there, which has the appearance of a bull, and it has eight feet, two heads, and the tail of a horse. Its cry is like that of a Bohuang. When it is seen it portends the appearance of soldiers in the cities.

tian shenThe Heaven God

To the west four hundred li is a place called the Hill of the Kunlun. This is truly the Emperor of Heaven’s only capital on the world below. The god Luwu rules it. This spirit’s appearance is that of a tiger’s body with nine tails, a human face and a tiger’s claws. The Luwu rules the nine divisions of the world and the times of the emperor’s gardens.

shen lu wu

The God Luwu

There is a beast there, which has the appearance of a sheep and four horns, which is called the Earth Cricket. It eats people.

tu lou

The Earth Cricket

有鳥焉,其狀如蜂,大如鴛鴦,名曰欽原,蠚鳥獸則死,蠚木則枯。有鳥焉,其名曰鶉鳥,是司帝之百服。有木焉,其狀如棠,華黃赤實,其味如李而無核,名曰沙 棠,可以禦水,食之使人不溺。有草焉,名曰薲草,其狀如葵,其味如葱,食之已勞。河水出焉,而南流東注于無達。赤水出焉,而東南流注于氾天之水。洋水出 焉,而西南流注于醜塗之水。黑水出焉,而西流于大杅。是多怪鳥獸。
There is a bird there, which has the appearance of a bee, except the size of a mandarin duck. Its name is Admiring-Origins. If it stings a bird or animal then that animal will die, and if it stings a tree then the tree becomes withered. And there is a bird there, which is called the Quail Bird. This bird governs the hundred recompenses of the Emperor of Heaven. There is a tree there, which has an appearance like that of a pear tree. It has yellow flowers and red fruits, the taste of which is like a plum but without a pit. This tree is called the sand pear tree. It can prevent floods, and eating it makes a person not urinate [or alternately, not drown]. There is a grass there, which is called bin grass. Its appearance is like that of the kui flower, and its taste is like an onion. If you eat it all difficulties will be stopped. The Yellow River comes out from here, flowing first to the south and then pouring to the east where it enters Not-Arriving. The Red River comes out from here, and flows to the southeast where it pours into the River of Broken-Channel-to-Heaven. The Yang River flows out from here, and goes to the southwest where it pours into the River of Ugly-Embankments. The Black River comes out from here, and flows to the west into Big-Shaft. There are many strange birds and beasts here.

qin yuan

The Admiring-Origins

Another three hundred and seventy li to the west, there is a mountain which is called the Mountain of Happy-Wandering. The Peach River comes out of it, and to the west flows into the Lake of Millet. Here there is much white jade. In the lake are many Slippery Fish. Their appearance is that of snakes except they have four legs. They eat other fish.

gu yu

The Gu Fish
[My text reads “Slippery Fish” 滑魚; the picture
 has Gu [魚+骨] Fish]

Traveling west by water four hundred li, there is a place called the Flowing Sands. Another two hundred li further suffices to reach Snail Mother Mountain. The god Long-Chariot rules this place, and this is the result of the Nine Virtues of Heaven. His appearance as a god is like that of a person except with the tail of a zhuo leopard. Atop this mountain is much jade, and at its foot are many blue rocks and no water.

shen chang chengThe God Long-Chariot

Another three hundred and fifty li to the west, there is a mountain which is called Mount Jade. This is the abode of the Queen Mother of the West. The Queen Mother of the West has the appearance of a person but the tail of a leopard, the teeth of a tiger, and a good roar. She has wild hair and wears jewelry. She governs disasters from heaven and the five catastrophes.

xi wang mu

The Queen Mother of the West

There is a beast there, which has an appearance like that of a dog but with the markings of a leopard and the horns of an ox. It is called Jiao. Its cry is like that of a dog, and when it is seen it heralds great bumper harvests in that country.

jiaoThe Jiao

There is a bird here, which has the appearance of a wild chicken except red. Its name is called Victorious-Meeting, and it eats fish. Its sound is like that of a deer, and when it is seen it heralds great floods in that country.

sheng yu

The Victorious-Meeting

Another four hundred eighty li to the west, there is a mountain which is called the Hill of Xuanyuan [the Yellow Emperor]. There are no grasses or trees. The River of Tears flows comes out of here, and flows south to pour into the Black River. There is much red millet, and lots of gypsum and realgar.

Another three hundred li to the west, there is a mountain which is called the Mountain of Massed Rocks. Beneath it is the Stone Gate. The Yellow River passes out of it and flows to the west. Of all the myriad types of trees, there are none that do not grow on this mountain.


From the Treatise on Northern Mountains: (北山經):

…And traveling north for two hundred and eighty li there is a mountain called the Great Salty Mountain. There is no grass or wood here, but beneath it is a great amount of jade. This mountain cannot be ascended from any of the four directions. There is a snake the name of which is called Long Snake, which has hair like hog bristles. It makes a sound like drums and wooden clappers.

chang shi

Long Snake

And travelling north for another three hundred and twenty li there is a mountain called the Abundant Buzzing (Dun Hong) Mountain. There are many palms and evergreens upon it, and at its foot is much purple ci grass. The Abundant Buzzing (Dun Hong) River is here, and it flows to the west into Lake You. It comes out of the north-east wing of the the Kunlun Mountains, and is truly the only source of the Yellow River. In it are many Red Trout.

chi waRed Trout

Of its beasts there are many rhinoceroses, yaks, and hu pigeons.

mao niu hu jiuA yak and a hu pigeon

And travelling north for another two hundred li there is a mountain called the Lesser Salty Mountain. There is no grass or wood here, but much green jade. There is a beast here, which has the head of an ox, and a red body, the face of a man, the feet of a horse, and its name is called Yayu. Its cry sounds like that of a child. It eats men. The Abundant (Dun) River comes out from here, and it flows into the Goose Gate River. In it are many shishi fish, the meat of which will kill a man.

ya yuYa Yu

From the Western Treatise on the Great Wastelands (大荒西经):

In the midst of the Great Wasteland there is a mountain, the name of which is Sun and Moon Mountain. It is the axle of heaven. The Heaven’s Gate of Lady Heavensmouth [吴姬] is where the sun and moon enter in. There is a god which has the face of a man but no arms, and his two feet are reversed on top of his head. His name is Sighs.


Jade Hat sired Old Child, and Old Child sired two sons Heavy and Black. The Emperor of Heaven ordered Heavy to sacrifice to heaven above, and ordered Black to work the earth below. The earth below therefore gave birth to Choke. Choke is located at the western extremity of the world, in order to govern the passage of the sun, moon, stars, and constellations.


There is someone with his arms reversed. His name is the Heavenly Keeper of Beasts.

tian yuThe Heavenly Keeper of Beasts

There is a woman washing a moon. Emperor Excellent’s wife, Constant Xi gave birth to twelve moons, and thus began to wash them.

chang yi yu yueConstant Xi Washing the Moons
[Each of the little circles in the water has the character 月 for “moon” on it.

There is a mountain called Dark Cinnabar Mountain. There are Birds of Five Colors, which have human faces and hair. There are Blue Wen Birds, Yellow Ao Geese, Blue Birds, Yellow Birds. Where these gather together, that nation will be destroyed. There is a lake which is called Fierce Wing’s Strivings, Jade Hat’s Lake.

wu se niaoThe Bird of the Five Colors

In the midst of the Great Wasteland there is a mountain, the name of which is Ao’ao Steel. The sun and moon enter here. There is a beast which has heads on the left and right. Its name is called Pinpeng.

pin pengPinpeng

There is Sorcerer’s Mountain. There is Gully Mountain. There is the Mountain of the Golden Gate. There is a person called the Corpse of the Yellow Lady. There are Close-Winged Birds. There are White Birds, with blue wings, yellow tails, and dark beaks. There are Red Dogs, which are called the Dogs of Heaven. The places where these descend will have war.

tian quan bai niaoA Dog of Heaven and a White Bird

South of the Western Sea and by the shores of the Flowing Sands, behind the Red Waters and before the Black Waters, there is a great mountain. There is something called the Hill of the Kunlun. There is a god with a human face and a tiger’s body, with markings and a tail, entirely white, which is located here.

kun lun shenThe God of the Kunlun

Beneath it are weak waters which circle it in a whirlpool, and beyond them are mountains of flames. Anything that goes into them is always burned up. There is a person wearing jewelry, with the teeth of a tiger and a leopard’s tail. She lives in a cave. Her name is the Queen Mother of the West. All creatures and things can be found on this mountain.


From the Great Treatise on the Northern Wastelands (大荒北经):

In the midst of the wastes there is a mountain, which is called The Northern Limit, the Carpenters Square of Heaven. The waters of the sea flow north into it. There is a god, which has nine heads with human faces and the body of a bird. The god’s name is Nine-Phoenixes.

jiu fengThe Nine-Phoenixes

There is another god, which holds a snake in its mouth and snakes in its hands. It has the head of a tiger and the body of a man, with four hooves and long elbows. Its name is Hard-and-Good.

jiang langThe Hard-and-Good

In the midst of the great wastes there is a mountain, which is called Becoming the Capital and Carrying Heaven. There is a person, who has two yellow snakes for earrings. This person’s name is the Striding-Father. Lord Soil gave birth to Belief; Belief gave birth to the Striding-Father. Striding-Father could not measure his own strength. He wanted to pursue the light of the sun. He chased it to the place where it sets. Then he drank up the water of the Yellow River, but there was not enough, so he went into the Great Wetlands. He never reached it, and died in that place. When the Responding-Dragon had killed Unusually-Moronic, he also killed Striding-Father, and then departed for the south to dwell there. Therefore there is much rain in the south. There is also the Country of No-Intestines. The people there bear the surname Ren, which means “responsibility”. They have no children or descendants, and eat fish.

chi youUnusually-Moronic

Venerating-Work had an minister whose name was Xiang-yao. He had nine heads and the body of a snake all curled up around itself. He feeds on the soils of the nine divisions of the world. The soil that he breathes on becomes marshy lakes, exceedingly rank and bitter, such that none of the hundred beasts are able to dwell there. When Yu the Great was damming up the waters of the Deluge, he killed Xiang-yao. Xiang-yao’s blood was so exceedingly stinky, that it was impossible to grow grains in that place, and there was so much water about that nobody could live there. Yu the Great dammed the water. He piled up dykes three times and thrice they collapsed, until finally he made the place into a lake. Because of this all of the emperors took the dyke as an altar. The place is located north of Kunlun Mountain.

There is a mountain of hills. Tall bamboo grows on it.

In the midst of the great wastes there is a mountain, which is called Not-Turning. The waters of the sea flow into it.

There is a mountain called Linking-Offspring. Upon this is the altar of Venerating-Work. Those who would fire arrows here do not dare do so in the northern direction. There is someone wearing blue clothing. Her name is called the Yellow Emperor’s Woman-Demon. Unusually-Moronic raised soldiers to attack the Yellow Emperor. The Yellow Emperor thereupon commanded Responding-Dragon to attack Unusually-Moronic in the wilderness of Ji prefecture. Responding-Dragon dammed up the waters. Unusually-Moronic appealed to the Earl of the Wind and the Master of Rain to release great winds and rain. In response, the Yellow Emperor sent down from heaven Woman-Demon, and the rain stopped. Thus Unusually-Moronic was successfully slain. But Woman-Demon was not able to return to the world above.

nv ba

The Woman-Demon

Where she dwells, there is no rain. Uncle Jun spoke of this to the Emperor, and afterwards she was given a place north of the Red Waters. Uncle Jun thus became the lord of the fields. Woman-Demon at times goes off into exile. Those who wish for her blessings must say, “Oh Spirit, come north!” But first they must clear out the water channels, so that the gullies and ditches are freed of obstacles.

chi shui nv zi xianThe Offering of the Woman of the Red Water

From the Western Treatise on the Lands Within the Seas (海内西經):

In the lands within the seas, the south-west is hillier than the north.

Betrays-Responsibilities had an official who was called Danger. Betrays-Responsibilities and Danger murdered Yayu. The Emperor of Heaven therefore bound them both in shackles on top of the mountain called Distant-Relatives. He clamped their feet and bound their hands behind their back with their own hair, and suspended them thus from a tree on top of the mountain. This is located north-west of Open-Forehead.

er fu chen weiBetrays-Responsibilities’ Official, Danger

The Great Wetland is a hundred li on a side. Flocks of birds are born there and shed their feathers there. It is north of Goose Gate. Geese go out from amidst the Goose Gate Mountains, which are located north of High-Willows. High-Willows is north of the Kingdom of Dai.

The grave of Lord Millet is encircled by mountains and rivers. It is west of the country of the Di people.

The country of the Flowing Sands and the Yellow River where the inhabitants have the surname Feng is three hundred li on every side. In the western there is an wetland, and in the center there is a mountain. It is located to the west of the grave of Lord Millet.

The Flowing Sands exit from Mount Bell, and flow west and then south across the Waste of the Kunlun. They enter the sea to the south-west at the Mountain of Black Water. East Lake is on the eastern side of the Great Wetland. The Yi People are east of East Lake. The country of the Mo people is north-east of the River of Heroes. The place is close to Yan, and wreaks havoc upon it. The Fierce Bird lives to the north-east of the Country of Mo. This bird has red, yellow, and blue markings. It roosts in the east.

Within the seas, the Waste of Kunlun is in the north-west. It is the capital city on earth of the Emperor of Heaven. The Waste of Kunlun is square and eight hundred li on a side, and it is ten thousand feet high. Upon it is a grain tree, which is the height of eight xun and takes five men with their arms spread to encompass it around. At each face are nine wells, which have jade for railings. At each face are nine doors, and the doors are guarded by the beast called Opening-Brilliance. All of the hundreds of gods reside here. At the edge of the Red River is the Eight-Pointed Cliff. Only Lord Yi was able to climb to the ridgeline of this cliff.

The Red River emerges from the south-eastern corner and goes to its north-east, then to the south-west pours into the Southern Sea to the east of the Country of Abhorrent-Fires. The Yellow River emerges from the north-eastern corner, and goes to its north, and and in the south-west it once again enters into the Sea of Bo. The Auspicious River and the Black River emerge from the north-western corner, then turn east, and go east, and again turn to the north-east, and enter into the sea to the south, passing the Completely-Square Bird to the east.

To the south of the Kunlun is a watery depth that is three hundred feet deep. The Opening-Brilliance beast is like a type of great tiger with nine heads, each of them with a human face. It faces east, standing on top of the Kunlun.

kai mingThe Opening-Brilliance

West of the Opening-Brilliance there are fenghuang phoenixes and luan bird phoenixes, and they are all covered in snakes and draped with snakes, and in front of their breasts are red snakes.

North of the Opening-Brilliance there are the seeing-flesh creature, the pearl tree, the literary jade tree, the yuqi jade tree, and the tree of escaping death. The fenghuang phoenixes and luan phoenixes all carry shields. There is also Li Zhu, as well as grain trees, pines, sweet water, holy wood, and mandui, which is also called the straight-wood-of-crossed-teeth.

East of the Opening-Brilliance are the Shaman Peng, the Shaman Bright, the Shaman Di, the Shaman Shoe, the Shaman Sail, the Shaman Image. They stand on either side of the corpse of Yayu. Each of them holds the medicine of escaping death, with which they will revive him. Yayu has the body of a snake and the face of a man. He was killed by the official of Betrays-Responsibilities. Atop the Following-Constant tree there is a three-headed man, who is looking at a tree of langgan jade.

ya yuYayu

South of the Opening-Brilliance is the Tree Bird, which has six heads, as well as hornless dragons, fu dragons, snakes, apes, leopards, bird ranking trees, with trees and wood around the outside of the pools, reciting birds, xun hawks, and the Seeing-Flesh creature.


From the Northern Treatise on the Lands Beyond the Seas (海外北经):

Venerating-Work had a minister named Xiang-liu. He had nine heads, with which to devour the nine mountains. Everything that Xiang-liu pushed against was crushed into lakes and rivers. Yu the Great killed Xiang-liu. His blood stank, such that it was impossible to plant trees or the five grains. Yu the Great dug the place up. He piled up earth three times and three times it collapsed. Finally he piled it up into the Altar of All the Emperors. This is located north of the Kunlun, and east of Rouli. Xiang-liu had nine heads, each with a human face. He had the body of a snake, which was blue. People there don’t dare to shoot arrows to the north, for they are in fear of the Altar of Venerating-Work. The altar is east of Xiang-liu. It is square. At the corner there is a snake, which is the color of a tiger. The snake’s head faces the south.

xiang liuXiang-liu

The country of Deep-Eyes is east of here. Each of the people there has only one arm and one eye. It is east of the altar of Venerating-Work.

The country of No-Intestines is east of Deep-Eyes. The people there are very long and have no intestines.


From the Northern Treatise on the Lands Within the Seas (海內北經):

In the lands within the seas, the the north-west is hillier than the east.

On the Mountain of Snake Shamans, there is a man standing holding a cudgel and facing east. This mountain is also called Mount Turtle.

The Queen Mother of the West leans on a table and wears jewelry. South of her are three blue birds, which are there for the Queen Mother of the West to take and eat. This is north of the Waste of Kunlun.

There is a person called the Earl of the Great Procession, who holds a dagger. East of him is the Country of Enfeoffed Dogs. The corpse of Betrays-Responsibilities is also east of the Earl of the Great Procession.

The Country of Enfeoffed Dogs is also called the Country of the Dog Barbarians. Their appearance is that of dogs. There is a girl, who is right now kneeling and making an offering of millet as food. There is a horse with markings, which has a body like plain white silk, a red mane, and eyes like gold. Its name is the Auspicious-Amount. If you are able to ride it, you will live to ten thousand years.

quan rong

A Dog Barbarian

The Country of Ghosts is located north of the corpse of Betrays-Responsibilities. The creatures that live there have the faces of men and only one eye. Another saying is that the god Betrays-Responsibilities is located east of them, and that they have the faces of humans and the bodies of snakes. The Centipede-Dogs are as dogs, but blue, and they eat people starting with the head. The Exhausting-Strangeness has an appearance like that of a tiger, except it has wings, and it also eats people starting with the head. Those who are eaten are those who have let their hair down. The Exhausting-Strangeness is located north of the Centipede-Dogs. Another saying is that they start eating from the feet.

The Emperor Yao, the Emperor Ku, the Emperor Cinnabar and the Emperor Dance each have two altars. Each one is square, and they are located north-east of the Kunlun.

The Large Bee has an appearance like that of a grasshopper. The Red Moth has an appearance like that of a moth. The Jiao insect has the body of a person with the markings of a tiger. On its lower legs it has [something, composed of the characters 啟 over the character 月]. It is east of the Exhausting-Strangeness. Another saying is that its appearance is like that of a person. It live north of the Kunlun Waste. The Tafei has the head of a man and the body of a beast. It is blue.

The corpse of the Jubi is that of a person, with its neck cut off and its hair loosened, missing one hand. The people of the Ring-Dogs have heads of beasts and the bodies of men. Another saying is that they have the appearance of hedgehogs, similar to dogs. They are yellow.

huan gou

A Ring Dog

The creatures of the Mei have the bodies of men, dark heads, and straight eyes.


A Mei

The people of the Rong Barbarians have the hands of men and three horns.




A Rong Barbarian

The Country of Those With the Surname Lin has Treasure-Beasts. They are as large as tigers, colored all over in the five colors, and their tales are longer than their bodies. They are called the Zouwu, and if you can get on one you will ride for a thousand li in a day.

zou wu

The Zouwu

South of the Kunlun there is a forest of blocked up water which is three hundred li on a side. At the greatest extent of its depths it is three hundred feet. Only the Ice-Peace is accustomed to living in this place. The Ice-Peace has the face of a person, and rides two dragons. Another saying calls the place the Depths of Extreme-Loyalty.

The Yellow River pours out of Sunny-Muddy Mountain. Then it pours through Ice-Gate Mountain. The corpse of Prince Night has two arms, two legs, a chest, a head, teeth, but all split apart and in separate places. The sage emperor Shun’s wife Deng Bishi gave birth to Night-Glow and Torchlight, who can be found in the Great Lake of the Yellow River. The spiritual power of the two girls can light up the area for a hundred li on a side. Another saying calls their mother Deng Beishi.

The Country of Lid is south of Great Yan, and north of the dwarfs. The dwarfs belong to Yan. The Land of the Morning Calm is east of the Serried-Sun, north of the sea and south of the mountains. The Serried-Sun also belongs to Yan. The Archer Girl of Serried-Sun can be found on the islands of the sea and the Yellow River. The nation of the Girl Archers is on the sea, and belongs to the Archer Girl of Serried-Sun. To the south-west, it is encircled by mountains.

Big Crabs can be found in the sea. The Hill Fish has the face of a person, hands and feet, but the body of a fish. It is found in the sea. The Great Bream lives in the sea. Ming Zuyi lives in the sea. Mount Penglai can be found in the sea. The market of the giants can be found in the sea.

da xie A Big Crab