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In The Realm
Of The Gods
Excerpt: "Guan Yin"
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Media Coverage
Dangerous Women


Corner Rooftops
(The Forbidden City)
Photo by Li Shaobai




From the story, "Assassination"

Photo by Li Shaobai

Yang Jinying was only eighteen years old when she decided to kill the Emperor. She conceived her plan in the Eastern Court of the Forbidden City, among the apartments for the royal women, where she served as Imperial Attendant to the women of the Palace. For Jinying, the plan was simple--suicidal, of course--but simple. All it needed was boldness. A ruthless twist with the Imperial silk cord and the Epochal Ancestor would be another piece of Imperial history.

She had been in the Palace for many years, since she was ten. This Emperor brought serving girls in before their first menses, so that the blood of the first period could be used in his Daoist elixers of immortality. The Emperor would achieve perfection through the strange magic of the Adepts. So, it seemed, no expense was spared. His great Palace--the halls and compounds, the kitchens and storehouses--were dedicated to Daoist rituals. The High Priests orchestrated grandiose ceremonies lasting days. The famous clerics of Daoism flowed in to the Imperial City to sit below the pavilions, stages and halls erected for the feasts. And the goods! Ambergris, pearls and silks were stockpiled in heaps and mounds like bumper harvests of grain; and suspended above all the ceremonies were the rolls of saffron brocade inscribed with the sacred script and talismans written with pots and pots of ink made with pure gold powder. The Emperor--for all his devotions--would surely ascend in broad daylight as a Daoist God.

As if he were god, she thought, an immortal, a divine visitor to the realms of man. No, she mused, more like a sated pig. In the evening, after platters of food, bowls of wine and hours of debauchery he would lie snoring like an ox in the warm sun. She would simply ride the fat ox for his last sleep, and avenge the thousands of serving girls who were beaten to death in his court, avenge the thousands of girls brought in for his random pleasures, and avenge, as well, her own life measured out in humiliating sexual favors.

Jinying had conceived the plan alone. But, as if they could read her mind, they came to her. Fifteen serving girls found her and made a pact. They would keep watch: see that the apartment of the Consort was clear, warn if the Household Eunuchs of the Imperial Court approached. One sign from her allies and the plan would wait for another night.…

From the story, "The Tiger Fairy"

Photo by Xiang Xiaoyang

Chen Yuan was a scholar from the province of Zhejiang and, like many a scholar of the Ming, longed to see the wild pinnacles and mist-filled chasms of Mount Huang (Huangshan). He had heard of the famous precipices: "Monkey Facing the Sea-Rock," and "The Boulder that Flew in from Nowhere;" and he knew as well of the famous pines and vistas, the cliff-side bridges arching through strange mists, and the lonely paths leading into eerie solitude. Chen determined that he must see these famous sights.

So, taking comfort from the fact that a good map could guide him from place to place, and ashamed that all other artists of note had seen the mountain, and not he, he decided to make the journey himself. After returning from his first post in the capital, he set off for a trip up the Xin'an River from Hangzhou, on to the old town of Tunxi, and then to the base of Mount Huang.

It was late November when he fixed on the day of the climb, but the fine crisp weather at the base foretold an easy day. He spent the morning climbing the steep steps and bridges, as he followed the stone paths and streambeds, hoping as he went that the aspen and ginko might still have some of fall's dazzling yellow. By midday, however, there was a change; blustering winds shook the trees and rain coated the rocks. By mid afternoon, as he sought to descend, a slanting rain dug into his face and he could feel the chill of coming snow. By dusk, he was in the thick of a freezing storm. There was no sign of the little trail he hoped would lead him to the temple. And then, drawing his jacket close about him, he thought he saw a pair of large yellow eyes shining at him out of the dark. Chen hurried on as best he could, following the path down the mountain; but a deep fear gripped his gut.

Suddenly, a little hut seemed to appear out of nowhere; its dark shape outlined faintly against the gathering snow. He could see a small fire glow shining from the window, and when he touched the door and pressed slowly to open it, he knew he had found shelter.…