King of Nine Mountains
This account takes place during the reign of the first Qing emperor, known as Shunzhi, which lasted from 1644 to 1661 AD. One title for the emperor in ancient China was 'Son of Heaven'.
A man named Li, from Caozhou, was a county-level scholar. His family had always been rich, but his residence was never particularly grand. Behind the house there was a garden of several mu which had been left to go wild.
One day, an old man came to rent some rooms, taking out a hundred silver pieces as rent money. Li demurred, saying he had no rooms. The old man said, “Take it, please, and don’t concern yourself.”
Li didn’t understand his intention, but took it temporarily to observe what would happen. The next day, the villagers saw a multitude of horses, carriages and family dependants entering Li’s estate, one after the other. They doubted whether Li’s mansion had enough room for them all and asked him. Li himself knew nothing about it and went home to investigate, but there was no trace.
After several days, the old man suddenly paid a visit and said, “We moved in a few days ago. We’re sorting everything out, setting up our stoves and kitchen, so I’ve had no time to come and pay my respects. Today I’ve instructed my daughters to cook some millet. I hope you’ll honour us with a visit.”
Li followed him. When they entered the garden, all at once he saw splendid buildings, completely brand new. Entering the rooms, they were furnished beautifully, with wine cauldrons boiling in the corridors and tea steam curling up from the kitchens. Presently the wine and food was served, which had been prepared really deliciously. At times he saw young men in the yard, coming and going in great crowds. He also heard girls whispering and the sound of laughing and talking from behind the curtains. The household servants seemed to number in the hundreds. In his heart, Li knew they were foxes.
When the feast was over and he went home, he secretly nursed murderous intent. Every time he went to the market, he would buy gunpowder and when he’d collected several hundred kilograms, he secretly placed it almost everywhere in the garden. Without warning he set fire to it and the blaze reached the heavens, like a mushroom cloud. The burning stench and blinding smoke were unapproachable. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping and howling rising up in a cacophony. When the fire had gone out, he went in to look and found dead foxes covering the ground, a wretched sight of uncountable burnt heads.
Just as he was looking over the scene, the old man came in from outside. His face bitterly pained, he cursed Li, saying, “There’s never been any enmity between us. For this wild garden I paid you one hundred silver pieces a year, not a small sum. So why would you cruelly exterminate my clan? This grievous grudge cannot go unpaid!”
He left furiously. Li guessed he would throw around rubble as retribution, but after more than a year nothing at all strange had happened.
These were the early years of Shunzhi and in the mountains bands of robbers were launching raids, banding together in groups of ten thousand or more, with officials unable to capture them. As the members of the scholar’s family were many, he daily worried about separation and war.
It happened that an astrologer came to the village, calling himself “The Old Man of South Mountain”. He told people’s fortunes as surely as if had seen with his own eyes, winning great fame. Li summoned him to his home and asked him to read his horoscope. The old man rose, astounded, and saluted him, saying, “Here is a true monarch!”
Hearing this, Li was amazed and took it for nonsense. The old man insisted on it, straight-faced. Li doubted it, but half-believed it, so he said, “How on earth could a man with nothing be destined to be emperor?”
The old man declared, “That’s not so. Since ancient times, most emperors started as common men. Who is born a Son of Heaven?”
The scholar was deluded by him, sat him in front and invited him to talk. The old man boldly took upon himself the role of “Sleeping Dragon”. He asked Li to first prepare several thousand suits of armour and several thousand bows. Li worried people wouldn’t submit to his authority, but the old man said, “Allow me to connect all the mountains for you and tie up an association. Let clamourers announce that your Majesty is the chosen Son of Heaven, and the fighters in the mountains no doubt must respond.”
Delighted, Li sent the old man off. Taking out his cache of silver ingots, he had the armour made. After several days, the old man returned and said, “Thanks to your Majesty’s prestige, plus your servant’s silver tongue, all of the mountains are willing to accept your command and follow beneath your banner.”
Within a full ten days, indeed his followers numbered in the thousands. Thereupon he appointed the old man as military counsellor, erected a large army banner and set up a forest of coloured flags, occupied a mountain and established a fenced fort, his prestige sending out shock-waves.
The county magistrate led some troops on a punitive expedition, but the old man directed the band of robbers and smashed them. Frightened, the magistrate hurriedly reported to Yanzhou. The Yanzhou troops travelled far and arrived; the old man again ambushed them, the troops were utterly routed, the number of dead and wounded soldiers and generals was very many. Li’s prestige resounded all the more and his horde numbered tens of thousands, so he set himself up as “King of Nine Mountains”.
The old man worried their horses were too few, but it happened that some horses were being sent under guard to Jiangnan from the capital, so they dispatched a brigade to seize them on the road. From then on the fame of the “King of Nine Mountains” became well-known. The old man was raised to “Great Protector of the Nation”.
Li lay high in his mountain lair, openly conceited, imagining himself draped in imperial robes, expecting it to happen any day. The governor of Shandong, due to the seizing of the horses, was about to launch a suppression campaign when he received the report from Yanzhou, so he deployed thousands of crack troops, coordinated them together in complete encirclement and advanced.
The army brigades’ flags and banners covered the mountains and valleys. Terrified, the “King of Nine Mountains” summoned the old man to consult him, but he was nowhere to be found. The “King of Nine Mountains”, in a desperate predicament with no plan, climbed the mountain and gazed out, saying, “Only now do I know how great the power of the royal court is!”
The mountain was taken, he was captured, and his wife and children slaughtered. Only then did he realize the old man was actually the old fox and this was his revenge on Li for the extermination of his family.
The Cryptohistorian says: If a man who possesses a wife and children closes the door and lets his hair down, how would he be killed? Even if killed, then how his whole family as well? The fox’s plan was really cunning. However, if the seed was not already in the ground, even with water it would not grow; when Li cruelly killed the foxes, his heart already had the root of a bandit, thus the fox could make it sprout and carry out his revenge.
Today try grabbing a passer-by and telling him, “You will be the Son of Heaven!” There isn’t one who wouldn’t be scared and run away. Clearly it was going to lead to the extermination of his family, but still Li was happy to hear it, and needless to say his wife and children were slaughtered. But when people hear wild talk, at first they are angry, then they wonder and finally they believe; it’s not until both their body and reputation perish that they finally realize their mistake. In general people are like this.