Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chin to China, part 3

[cont'd from part 2]

This very strange Chinese woman didn’t know the heroic tradition as a series of works that build on each other. She didn’t know the stories or their forms well enough to tell a real story from a fake. She didn’t know the stories of children come to teach the adults not to sell their children for the good life was a uniquely Asian form. Only the Asians featured heroes who came to the earth in boats, in the form of an egg, (Poon Goo) a lotus bud ( Nah Jah), a node of bamboo (Kaguya Hime), a giant peach (Momotaro) aburst with a hero to instruct the earthlings, the adults of the world not to sell their children for the good life. A Japanese American woman says we don’t know what Kaguya Hime said in her letter to the Emperor, but we know they don’t live happily ever after.

“When we’re young we accept being told we don’t know what she writes her lover. And we don’t ask. But we’re older now. We might have even done ‘it.’ She secrets half the elixir of life in the letter to the emperor. We know she is a princess of the Moon sent here as punishment for an unknown crime on the Moon. The Elixir will give the Emperor immortality and the power to fly to the moon and be with the woman he loves. But the emperor of Japan and the princess of the Moon are special. They are the soul of their land. He can never leave Japan and she has to be home for the passing of her immortal father. They are the contrasting dots in the dark and light bladders of the yin yang symbol.”

The similarity of the stories to each other define them as a form. The form is unique to Asia.



She didn’t hear herself as stupid when she desperately changed the subject by charmingly comparing Monkey, the character from JOURNEY TO THE WEST to the American Indian character “Coyote” saying “Monkey was a trickster too.” She wasn’t a racist, she was just stupid. She was simply stupid. Every word out of her mouth was STUPID!!It was the English dept combined with AAStudies that was racist, in dignifying her stupidity with tenure. Ah, sweet tenure. I love it. Tenure means anything she says is smart, intelligent, brilliant. Arrgh! I said, “Monkey was not trickster. He was a killer.”

Ladylike and patronizing and straining her patience, she says, “That is not Monkey! Everyone agrees that Monkey is a Buddhist novel. Monkey would never disrespect Buddha.”

“Everyone is stupid! Monkey sees through the pretensions and fancy rhetoric of everyone, including the pompous self-important Buddha!”

“What!” She hadn’t heard this before.

“The Tang Priest says, THOU SHALT NOT KILL! The evil spirits say, THOU SHALT NOT KILL! Before Monkey kills them. Monkey’s girlfriend Kwan Yin says THOU SHALT NOT KILL, Buddha says THOU SHALT NOT KILL. And Monkey defies Buddha by killing the fake Monkey right under Buddha’s nose!”

“He does not!”

“Right between Buddha’s crossed eyes, Monkey kills! And it’s significant that no one, including Buddha can tell the difference between the real and fake Monkey, except the real Monkey. He’s the proof that he knows more than the Buddha. You must remember the chapter, it’s a favorite of opera and comic books unambiguously titled THE REAL AND FAKE MONKEY,” I say.

“My mother had this Monkey book published by New Directions…” a visiting poet with a Chinese mother and a Dutch father says.

“Yes, the Arthur Waley’s racist bowdlerization of MONKEY.”

“How bowdlerized?”

“Go on, you were going to deny Monkey kills in front of Buddha.”

“No, I was recalling the chapter where Monkey tries to fly away from Buddha and flies to a mountain with five peaks, and he urinates at the base of one, and it turns out to he pissed on Buddha’s finger.”


“That shows that Monkey could not get away from Buddha. Buddha is universal. ”

“No, all the Buddha’s trick does is make Monkey mad. That happens early in the book. THE REAL AND THE FAKE MONKEY is Monkey’s revenge against Buddha. He kills in front of Buddha. Proves Buddha powerless! Why? Because he’s learned more than Buddha knows. He brings back the Buddhist texts, from India with the Tang priest, Sandy and Pigsy, safe and sound, and his mission complete, he turns his back on Buddha, like India itself, where Buddha was born, he dumps Buddha in his piddling little Nirvanah. He leaves the book. He’s long gone from the book when Buddha gets around to honoring him with the title of a sub-Buddha. And Monkey’s no where around to receive it.”

“Ah! Ah! Ah! Hold on there!” the prize Chinese expert on Chinese from China says.

“If a monkey born dumb as a rock can learn to be more than gods, more than the Jade Emperor, more than Buddha himself, so can men. That’s the lesson of Monkey.”

“That’s not right,” she snoots and turns away. “That’s not Monkey,” she says with disdain.

“Oooh, is baby upset?” I say with undisguised contempt. “Everything I said is a fact from the book. Monkey is missing from the last chapters. That’s the fact, not interpretation. Learn the difference. The class is assigned to read the book. It’s all there. It will go fast when you reach the last three chapters. Just read for Monkey’s name. All stuff in reference to the past. He’s just not there. That’s the fact. Give me facts from the book arranged into an acceptable paraphrase of Monkey that proves me wrong, or shuddup and stop making a fool of yourself. It does you no good to waste your time saying ‘No.’”

“No!” she snoots.

“All right, waste your time. But don’t waste mine. I will teach the second half of each class and you will keep your mouth shut or be gone, I don’t care. But I don’t want to hear your voice during my time, when I’m teaching.”

The Chinese woman with Russell’s eyes but thicker lashes said nothing.

“Chinaman lit knows history from Poon Goo making the earth Sun and moon, out the egg that carried him and his two eyes, and Nur Waw, who the Chinese have been trained not to notice that she was Poon Goo’s sister, that’s her in the connecting story of her coming to the earth.”

“No! No! No! I must interrupt!” Now, the Chinese trained professor teaching the Heroic Tradition with me wants to argue. “Nur Waw is not anyone’s sister, certainly not Poon Goo’s. They don’t so much as meet.”

“They don’t meet? Nur Waw comes to earth from the same outer space Poon Goo comes from.

“The earth is Poon Goo’s body. His eye is the sun. His other eye is the moon. His dandruff is the stars. The earth and everything found in the solar system, is all him. They have more than met. Maybe when you get a little older and learn about sex, you will realize that Nur Waw handling Poon Goo’s parts to make the six animals that serve man in six days, is six days of mutual manipulation and sexual foreplay. And on the seventh day she makes the human couple with her hands out of mud. That took too long. She cuts a phallic bamboo switch dips the tip in mud and flicks the mud off the stick. Where the flick splats …on the grass or a leaf, or twig, of a tree---becomes the Grass, Leaf, Twig, family. Nur Waw and Poon Goo fuck and fuck and fuck! That’s why Nur Waw is known as the Mother of Humanity. Who is the father? The deeper meaning is revealed without exposing the kids to tumescent and oozing organs in literary devices as numerous as the writers who know what they’re writing.” I said, “Now give me twenty dollars. I’m fining you a dollar for every word you say in my half of the class time.”

She laughs.

“Thirty dollars. And shut up, right now! Or thirty dollars and get out.” I licked my hand and put it out flat to receive my money. She placed thirty dollars in my hand, but did not leave. I put the three ten dollar bills in my wallet, and said, “MONKEY was written in the Ming.


The Ming, restored China to Chinese rule, in 1368 and a hundred years of bad jade and Mongol rule was nothing but a bad memory. (What no protest over “bad jade”?) The Ming Dynasty freed Chinese writing from the guises and disguises used to hide the Chinese content of their writing from the Mongols.

The Chinese writers of the Ming invented a new simpler, more direct Chinese form designed to make money. Popular operas for the semi-literate became in print the first novels. Operas from the low, became novels from the low, about the low. Nothing was lower than a monkey.

The low always have contempt for the emperor who fights his own rather than the nomadic horsemen of the north who covet China’s lush edible greenery.



In form, fictionalized history, and content, the vernacular novel was a new form, in a new aggressively Chinese language, and an aggressively new vision of Chinese as a nation bound by “blood brotherhood.” The 3 Brothers of the peach garden, the 108 outlaws of the Marsh combined don’t resemble any last emperor. The movement started in THREE KINGDOMS is capped by the story of Yue Fei being marked as a criminal by his mother, taunting the emperor by tattooing “Loyalty to the country” rather than “Loyalty to the emperor,” and the gathering of descendants of 3 KINGDOMS and THE 108 OUTLAWS OF THE MARSH paying their respects to the treasonous mother, and defying the emperor by burning incense at Yue Fei’s tomb.

The simplification of court language to an understandable mock court literary language, with a lot of rhyming and common characters using the common language, talking 0f common activities from bathroom functions to the issue of the day were operas had evolved to for at least five hundred years. So if the novels were quickly considered “insurrectionist” the operas they were based on must have been insurrectionist wanted posters on the move.

No wonder the opera people’s tong, the Bot Waw Wooey Goon was a prominent supporter of the Shaolin insurrection against the Imperial government, a euphemism for the fool at the top, the emperor of one of the Three Kingdoms, the coward of the Song (Sung), or the later Sung. Check the popular period personal combat movies from Hong Kong, that end up three or more good guys against one supremely bad guy. The TRIO OF DRAGON’S INN was a crunch of plots and conclusions that lent itself to being a moving paraphrase of the heroic tradition.

From the Ming on, to the present, the Chinese people have been known by their common knowledge of the Heroic Tradition of THREE KINGDOMS, THE BALLAD OF MULAN, MONKEY’S JOURNEY TO THE WEST, THE WATER MARGIN, and becomes obviously insurrectionist, with the fictionalized history GENERAL YUE FEI published the Manchu Qing. The Manchu were descended for the Jurchins, the bad guys to Yue Fei’s good. Other, lesser read works of heroic tradition are CREATION OF THE GODS, THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL. THE YANG FAMILY GENERALS and MUK GWAHYING.

I heard about, Qian Cao’s GENERAL YUE FEI in Chinatown, and even saw it when I was 11. A loner who did his kung fu in secret, showed it to me, to keep his secret. It was in Chinese. I couldn’t read Chinese. All the other works of the heroic tradition were accessible in several English translations. I read all the translations I could find in Chinatown bookstores (there used to be several), used bookstores like Holmes Books in Oakland that specialized in California and had extensive sections of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the Oakland library.

All but Yue Fei was translated. Why? There were pocket sized comic book children’s versions of Yue Fei in Chinese, in Chinatown. The pictures didn’t tell me much about why he was second only to the redfaced Kwan Kung among the Chinese my age from China. I collected apocryphal stories trying to put him and the novel together. From everyone I learned that he was the famous tattooed warrior. That much was universally known. But why was he famous for tattoos? He wasn’t the first tattooed warrior. There were several tattooed warriors among the 108 outlaws in THE WATER MARGIN, whose descendents joined Yue Fei as their grandparents had joined Song Jiang (Soong Gong) the outlaw leader of the Water Margin nicknamed “the Timely Rain.” All the kids I talked to knew that the corrupt government had him imprisoned and poisoned, and that his tomb on Westlake of Zhejiang, the Province directly south of Shanghai, was a popular shrine. How did that connect with his tattoos being so significant he, and not another, is the tattooed warrior?

While I was in New York, researching Chinatown gangs for TV, in the sixties, I went to the room of a kid born in America who pointed to a picture of a beardless warrior in a white costume. “Who’s that?” he asked. I didn’t know.

“Ngawk Fei,” he said, using the Cantonese pronunciation Yue Fei’s, “The tattooed warrior!” Who was Ngawk Fei, and other than being a criminal what was special about being tattooed?

Reading the three volume bi-lingual comic book YUE FEI published by Singapore’s T.C. Yang’s Canfonian PTE, suggested the answer. The tattoo was the mark of a criminal, at least since the time of the Water Margin, fifty years before the time of Yue Fei. I suspected that being tattooed with “Loyalty to the country” was not the same as being tattooed with “Loyalty to the Emperor.”

But Pretty Lips stupid by force of will, from Hong Kong kept shaking her head, “No. No. No.” My evidence was circumstantial from comic books and not from the novel itself.


The Tattooing of Yue Fei, became available to readers of English, in 1988, thanks to T.L. Yang’s translation of the Qing Dynasty’s Qian Cao’s popular novel GENERAL YUE FEI. T.L. Yang is the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong.

Qin Kuai (Chun Wooey) the traitorous Prime Minister of China set the emperor against China’s hero Yue Fei at everyturn of his life— from his youth to his death in a dungeon.

Qin Kuai has arranged for the emperor’s son to beat all comers in a martial arts contest. When Yue Fei kills the emperor’s son in a fight weighted in the prince’s favor, the Prime minister puts Yue Fei on a reward poster: Wanted for Murder. Only the intervention of the judge of the contest saves Yue Fei’s life, but dooms his own.

Years later the Northern Jurchens horse into China, Yue Fei is approached by patriotic pirates from the Water Margin to lead them against the invaders. Yue Fei becomes blood brothers with the pirates, but refuses to become a criminal. Yue Fei’s mother overhears her son and the pirates.

The Prime Minister causes the emperor to temporarily forgive Yue Fei’s past crimes and order him to save China. Yue Fei’s mother tattoos her son with a declaration of loyalty to “the country” the “gawk” not the “kwun” or “Commander” or “the emperor” which is a capital crime.

“My son, you go out and set up incense sticks and candles and put them on the incense table in the middle of the hall. I have a personal reason for doing this.”

“Yes,” said Yue Fei, and he went out, obtained the incense and candles, went to the central hall, placed the table in the middle, and placed a pair of candle sticks and an incense burner on it. Having arranged everything in its proper place, he entered to inform his mother that the incense table was ready and he invited his mother to go out.

Lady Yue came out with his (sic? I think “her” is meant) daughter-in-law. There they burned incense and lighted the candles in front of the scared family shrine. They paid obeisance to Heaven and Earth and to the ancestors, and the Lady commanded her son to kneel whilst the daughter-in-law was told to prepare the ink.

Kneeling down Yue Fei asked, “What command does Mother have for me?”

The Lady said, “I, your mother, saw that you did not accept the recruitment of the rebellious thief, and that you willingly endure poverty and are not tempted by wealth and status, this is of course extremely good. But I fear that after my death, there may be some unworthy creature who will come to entice you. And if you should momentarily lose your principles and do something disloyal, will you not have destroyed in one day your fragrant reputation gained in half a lifetime?

She intends to tattoo Yue Fei to prevent his changing his loyalty from “Gawk or Kuo” “the country,” in a moment of weakness, to “the Kwun,” “the emperor.”

For this reason, I have prayed to Heaven and Earth and to our ancestors, because I want to tattoo on your back the four characters ‘Utmost’, ‘Loyalty’, ‘Serve’ and ‘Nation’. I only hope you will be a loyal official, so that after your mother’s death, people going to and fro will say, ‘What a good lady, she has trained her son to achieve fame by serving his nation with the utmost loyalty, and so his reputation will continue its fragrance for a hundred generations’. I shall then smile even in my grave under the nine springs.”

Yue Fei however suggested, “The sage said, ‘One does not harm his body, hair and skin because all these he has received from his parents’. I shall of course accept and obey your solemn instruction. Please refrain from tattooing me!”

Because Yue knows that tattooing is to mark him as a criminal.

“Balderdash!” said the Lady.

A few words from Confucius are usually enough to stop an argument, Confucius is the Great Sage of China, after all, but rather then tempering her urge to tattoo, she ridicules the words of Confucius:

“If you should do something unworthy and are brought before the court under arrest, and if you should be beaten and knocked about, are you still to say to the official, ‘Having received the body, hair and skin from my parents I do not dare cause them any injury?’”

(pages 247-248)

Caught between a choice of the words of Confucius and his mother, Yue Fei goes with his mother.

Does she speak as the head of the Yue family clan? Is she declaring a shadow government of the fighting men the Yue family has attracted? Are the Yue’s a family clan that competes for an individual’s loyalty of arms with the ruler of the kingdom?

Yue Fei accepted the leadership of the army from Qin Kuai, the traitor that made Yue Fei a criminal at the beginning of the book. Lady Yue expected the crooked Prime Minister would be the one to tear off her son’s shirt. In the operas about this moment he is. The Prime Minister tears off Yue Fei’s shirt, reads the tattoo. He raises his hands bugs his eyes his mouth opens, he steps back in shock. Just as Lady Yue had envisioned. Her son was torn by a loyalty split between his resourceful family, and the Weak Cowardly Emperor.

Yue Fei beats prince Wushu’s Jurchen horsemen in the mountains, on the plains, on the waters in the valleys and is about to destroy Wushu’s invading army when the treacherous Prime Minister orders Yue Fei imprisoned and ignominiously killed... Thus the tattoos being the mark of a criminal is a unifying symbol of Yue Fei’s torn loyalty.

Qin Quai the traitorous Prime Minister is the model for the Chinese American Christian aspiring to miraculous whiteness through white fame, like Peter Kwong the author of CHINESE-AMERICANS: the immigrant experience, who falsifies two heroes of Chinese culture by attacking me.

Themes from the heroic tradition that speak to Chinamen are (1) the supremacy of family over the emperor (2) love is two warriors back to back fighting off the universe, (3) you don’t need parents to be a hero, (4) You don’t need China to be Chinese. (5) The hero dies without ever knowing why (6) if Monkey can learn the secret of learning itself, man can too.


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