Five Fists of the Middle Kingdom

Scroll Two: A Purpose Received

The second scroll of the Five Fists saga begins with a poem declaring protection from the dead. It is an ancient peasant’s prayer which seems odd considering the general lack of literacy among the lower classes until the advent of the People’s Republic – class mobility was only accessible following the end of the weak Imperial era, as is evidenced by my own humble beginnings. (ed. Zheng Zhenduo was born to a poor rural family in Zhejiang province; his career began following the May Fourth Revolution)

Despite its origins, the prayer’s purpose is clear: the scroll describes Kun Qiang awakening before his companions to find a spirit clawing its way toward a hole in the ground. While normally this would seem inauspicious or even dangerous, given the nature of the hungry dead, Kun Qiang approached the creature and investigated the hole. The rest of the group woke up shortly after and questioned his motives. According to record, there was a battle of wits between Heng Li and Kun Qiang; the two of them mentally sparred about the theological implications of entering the temple and Kun Qiang only won this due to not wishing to listen to logic.

Perhaps this was for the best; logically, the group should have traveled on toward the Imperial City as was discussed. Instead, they climbed down the hole, which led into a maze-like tunnel system beneath the temple. This may be a reference to a temple near the illegal rebel state of Tibet; this would not make sense, as the Lidao Temple was constructed during the Han Dynasty prior to the uprising of the Yellow Turbans. I have sent my team to investigate the temple in question for veracity.

The passages under the temple led into a burial site, discovered first by Tai Wei. This burial chamber was through a thin passage first explored by Kun Qiang. Perhaps due to theological differences to Taoism at the time (ed. again, Taoism not being common during the Shang Dynasty, this is highly unlikely – especially given that Kun Qiang is described as a practitioner of Shangqing in the fragments that remain of the scrolls. This Taoist sect did not come to be until the early Qin Dynasty) there were no bodies stored in the burial chamber. The burial site contained, instead, a series of spirit tablets with an ancient language written upon it. This is clearly a reference to the record of the Monkey King, who discovers a similar script in his journeys to the west.

Heng Li took note through making a rubbing of the characters. A lengthy description is made on how this is done. Considering that Chinese were the first to develop this method of copying text, this may be one of the first descriptions of collecting rubbings from historical artifacts. Following her collection, the group continued on into the rest of the bowels of the temple. The group reached a door that contained fifteen silver studs that were warm to the touch.

A poem describes the studs and the care taken by the Five Fists of the Middle Kingdom at discerning the meaning of the door and what could lie beyond it. Zhang San is given more thought in this particular poem as he employed certain skills that the others did not have to try to decipher the order and arrangement of the metal studs. Eventually, the poem describes Tai Wei placing her blades in between the seam of the double doors and the group leveraging their weight to pull it open. A pagoda lay beyond the door in an empty room with a large chandelier containing crystalline lights.

The group fanned out and Kun Qiang approached the pagoda. A booming voice erupted around them. An auspicious being appeared, a spirit of “great and terrible beauty, reinforcing the mandate of heaven.” This spirit was a fu dog, similar in appearance to the ones that sit outside of the ancient temples throughout China. This creature initially believed the Five Fists were there to steal from it. After the Five Fists placated the beast, it declared that it wished to fight them to comprehend their worth. This is a common theme in Chinese mythology – especially regarding martial artists.

Poetry is written about the fight, and a lengthy, epic poem. This is one of the longer scrolls, describing the battle in great detail. As the heroes beat back the defenses of the spirit, it doused all light and attempted to engage them in the darkness like a coward. Tai Wei, Zhang San, and Kun Qiang created sources of light to ward away the darkness. The first two used lanterns meant to aim light (ed. this type of lantern was not invented until the middle Song Dynasty and is possibly another embellishment), while Kun Qiang used his qi to call upon a spirit of flame to create light. After they discovered the location of the fu dog, the heroes charged into battle against it.

The fu dog declared them cease and introduced itself as Yi Wu (see Li Ji’s dissertation on Yi Wu in “Court of Heaven: Fu Dogs of Myth”). The fu dog explained that the sé of Fuxi had been taken by a blind man. A long description of Fuxi is written in this scroll, possibly one of the first explanations of the creation of humanity in early Chinese record. The description also includes the songs played upon the sé, which include a song that was being guarded by Yi Wu, the Song of Water. According to legend, this song had the ability to raise the dead. Yi Wu cautioned against allowing the blind man to acquire all of the five songs of Fuxi, as it could unmake the world. This is where the Five Fists of the Middle Kingdom receive their true purpose as saviors of the world.

After Heng Li and Kun Qiang ask Yi Wu questions (Heng Li is defiant and pompous in this exchange and Kun Qiang shows deference, which seems to be thematic to both of them – this is potentially a depiction of the forces of Yang and Yin, respectively, in the organization of the Five Fists), Yi Wu bursts into mystical energy, creating five sets of bracers that fit themselves to the wrists of the Five Fists. These bracers were designed to ward off damage and to make the skin more resistant to blade and fist. One bracer has been uncovered in a set of ruins which could date back to this period, possibly serving as a potential reference for the writer of the scrolls.

The group left the underbelly of the temple following this and emerged into the mid day. They decided to travel along the wilderness outside of the roads until they reached the next town, in case they would find their enemies on the road. This is where the second scroll ends.

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