Chapter One: Prologue
In which three Ming Loyalists discuss the Manchu Persecution, the
the Beggars' Guild, and the Triad secret society.
1. The Deer and the Cauldron
Along a coastal road somewhere south of the Yangtze river, a detachment
each of them armed with a halberd, was escorting a line of seven prison
northwards in the teeth of a bitter wind. In each of the first three
carts a single male prisoner
was caged, indentifiable by his dress as a member of the scholar class.
One was a white-haired
old man. The other two men were of middle years. The four rear carts
were occupied by
women, the last of them by a young mother holding a baby girl at her
breast. The little girl was
crying in a continuous wail which her mother's gentle words of comfort
were powerless to
console. One of the soldiers marching alongside, irritated by the baby's
crying, aimed a mighty
kick at the cart.
"Stop it! Shut up! Or I'll really give you something to cry about!"
The baby, startled by this sudden violence, cried even louder.
Under the eaves of a large house, some hundred yards from the road,
scholar was standing with a ten- or eleven-year-old boy at his side. He
was evidently affected
by this little scene, for a groan escaped his lips and he appeared
to be very close to tears.
"Poor creatures!" he murmured to himself.
"Papa," said the little boy, "What have they done wrong?"
"What indeed!" said the man, bitterly. "During these last two days
they must have made
more than thirty arrests. All our best Zhejiang scholars. And all of them
innocents, caught up in
the net," he added in undertone, for fear that the soldiers might hear
"That little girl is just a baby," said the boy. "What crime can she possibly
be guilty of?
It's very wrong."
"So you understand that what the Government soldiers do is wrong," said
"Good for you, my son!" he sighed. "They are the cleaver and we are
the meat. They are
the cauldron and we are the deer."
"You explained 'they are the cleaver and we are the meat' the other day,
papa," said the
boy. "It's what they say when people are massacred or beheaded. Like meat
or fish being
sliced up on the chopping-board. Does 'they are the cauldron and we
are the deer' mean the
"Yes, more or less," said the man; and since the train of soldiers and
prison carts was
fast receding, he took the boy by the hand.
"Let's go indoors now," he said. "It's too windy for standing outside.
Inside, the man picked up a writing brush and moistened it on the ink-slab;
then, on a
sheet of paper, he wrote the character for a deer.
"The deer is a wild animal, but although it is comparatively large, it
has a very peaceable
nature. It eats only grass and leaves and never harms other animals. So
when other animals
want to hurt it or eat it, all it can do is run away. If it can't escape
by running away, it gets
He wrote the characters for "chasing the deer" on the sheet of paper.
"That's why in ancient times they often used the deer as a symbol of
the empire. The
common people, who are the subjects of empire, are gentle and obedient.
Like the deer's, it is
their lot to be cruelly treated and oppressed. In the History of
the Han Dynasty it says 'Qin
lost the deer and the world went chasing after it'. That means that
when the Qin emperor lost
control of the empire, ambitious men rose up everywhere and fought
each other to possess it.
In the end it was the first Han emperor, who got this big, fat deer
by defeating the Tyrant King
"I know," said the boy. "In my story-books it says 'they chased deer on
Plain'. That means they were all fighting each other to become emperor.
The scholar nodded, pleased with his son's astuteness. He drew a picture
of a cauldron
on the sheet of paper.
"In olden times they didn't use a cooking-pot on the stove to cook their
food; they used
a three-legged cauldron like this and lit a fire underneath it. When they
caught a deer they put it
in a cauldron to seethe it. Those ancient rulers and great ministers
were very cruel. If they didn't
like somebody, they would pretend they had committed some crime or
other, and then they
would put them in a cauldron and boil them. In the Records of an
Historian Lin Xiangru says
to the son of Qin, 'Deceiving your majesty was a capital offense. I
beg to approach the
cauldron.' What he meant was, 'I deserve to die. Put me in the cauldron
and boil me.'"
"Often in my story-books I've read the words 'asking about the cauldrons
in the Central
Plain'," said the boy. "It seems to mean the same thing as 'chasing
the deer in the Central
"It does," said the man. "King Yu of the Xia Dynasty, the first Dynasty
that ever was,
collected metal from all the nine provinces of the empire and used it to
cast nine great cauldrons
with. 'Metal' in those days meant bronze. Each of these bronze cauldrons
had the name of one
of the provinces on it and a map showing the mountains and rivers of
that province. In later
times whoever became master of the empire automatically became the
guardian of these
cauldrons. In The Chronicle of Zuo it says that when the Viscount
of Chu was reviewing his
troops on Zhou territory and the Zhou king sent Prince Man to him with
his royal compliments,
the Viscount questioned Prince Man about the size and weight of the
cauldrons. Of course, as
ruler of the whole empire, only the Zhou king has the right to be guardian
of the cauldrons. For
a mere Viscount like the ruler of Chu to ask a questions about them
showed that he was
harbouring thoughts of rebellion and planning to depose the Zhou king
and seize the empire for
"So 'asking about the cauldron' and 'chasing the deer' both mean wanting
emperor," said the boy. "And 'not knowing who will kill the deer' means
not knowing who will
"That's right," said the man. "as time went by, these expressions came
to be applied to
other situations as well, but originally they were only used in the sense
of wanting to be
emperor." He sighed. "For the common people, thought, the subjects
of empire our role is to
be the deer. It may be uncertain who will kill the deer, but the deer
gets killed all right. There's
no uncertainty about that."
He walked over to the window and gazed outside. The sky had now turned
hue showing that snow was on its way. He sighed again.