Chapter One: Prologue

In which three Ming Loyalists discuss the Manchu Persecution, the Ming History,
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 of soldiers,
each of them armed with a halberd, was escorting a line of seven prison carts, trudging

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, a middle-aged
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 him.
"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 the man.

"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
same thing?"
"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
of Chu."
"I know," said the boy. "In my story-books it says 'they chased deer on the Central
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 to be
emperor," said the boy. "And 'not knowing who will kill the deer' means not knowing who will

be emperor."
"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 a leaden
hue showing that snow was on its way. He sighed again.