Chapter 1 Zhang the Divine Teacher Prays to Dispel a Plague Marshal Hong Release
“Why are there so? many seals on the doors?”
“A Divine Teacher known as the Royal Master of the Way locked the demons in there in Tang times. Each subsequent Divine Teacher added his own seal, prohibiting any successor from opening the doors. If those demons escaped, it would be awful. Nine generations of Divine Teachers have ruled since then, and they all vowed to keep the hall closed. The lock has been filled with melted bronze. Who knows what's in there? I've been in charge of this temple for thirty years, but I only know what I've been told.”
Marshal Hong was surprised. “I certainly would like to see a demon,” he thought. To the abbot he said: “Open the doors. I want to see what a demon looks like.”
“I cannot, Marshal,” the abbot replied. “The early generation Divine Teacher has forbidden it. No one today would dare.”
The marshal laughed. “Nonsense. The story is an invention to delude people. You've deliberately prepared this place so that you can say you've got demons imprisoned as proof of the power of your Taoist magic. I've read many books, but none of them says anything about how to lock up demons. Spirits inhabit only the Nether Regions. I don't believe you've got any demons in there. Open up and let me have a look.”
“This hall mustn't be opened,” the abbot pleaded. “It would mean disaster.” Marshal Hong grew angry. He pointed his finger at the Taoists and roared: “If you don't do as I say I'll report to the court that you prevented me from delivering the imperial edict and refused to let me see the Divine Teacher. I'll tell how you rigged up this hall and invented the story that you've got demons inside in order to fool the public. I'll have your religious orders cancelled and have you all tattooed with the mark of the criminal and exiled to a wild and distant region!”
The abbot feared the influence of Marshal Hong. He had no choice but to order some blacksmith priests to remove the scales and break the lock. Then the doors were pushed open and everyone entered the hall. It was pitch dark. The marshal called for a dozen torches. When these were brought he saw that the hall was empty except for a stone tablet in the center. About six feet high, it was based on a stone tortoise which was sunk halfway into the damp earthen floor. Hong moved the torches closer to the tablet. The front was inscribed with dragon and phoenix scripts and mystic signs and symbols which no one could understand. Then he looked at the back. There, written large, were four words: “Open when Hong comes.”
The marshal was delighted. “You tried to stop me,” he said to the abbot. “Yet my name was written here hundreds of years ago. 'Open when Hong comes.' It's perfectly plain. What's wrong if I have a look? I believe the demons are right here beneath this stone. Get a few more men with mattocks and shovels and dig it out.”
The abbot was horrified. “We can't do that, Marshal. Something terrible may happen. It's not safe!”
“What do you know, anyway?” the marshal shouted angrily. “It says clearly on the tablet it can be removed when I come. How dare you stop me? Get me those men.”
Four or five times the abbot pleaded: “No good will come of it.” But the marshal wouldn't listen. The workmen were summoned. After long and strenuous effort they pushed over the tablet and pried the stone tortoise out of the ground.
Then they started shovelling. At four feet they came upon a big stone slab some ten feet square. Marshal Hong directed them to dig it out. “You mustn't,” begged the abbot, but the marshal ignored him. When the men had removed the slab, a pit one hundred thousand feet deep was revealed. A great ripping sound was heard, and a black cloud shot out of the pit. It tore through half a corner of the roof and zoomed into the sky, where it split
into more than a hundred golden rays which shimmered in every direction.
Everyone shouted in fright and threw down their tools. They dashed out of the hall, bowling people over left and right. Marshal Hong goggled and gaped helplessly. His face was the color of earth. He hurried out to the porch, where the abbot was lamenting.
“Who are those demons who escaped?” Hong asked. “Oh, Marshal, you didn't know,” groaned the abbot. “In this hall the Master of the Way left a written warning. It said: 'Thirty−six stars of Heavenly spirits and seventy−two stars of Earthly Fiends, a total of one hundred and eight demons, are imprisoned here, held down by a stone tablet inscribed with their names, written in a mystic script that resembles dragons and phoenixes. If they are released on earth they will cause no end of trouble.' Now you've let them out. What are we going to do?”
The marshal trembled and broke into a cold sweat. He hastily collected his luggage, marched down the mountain with his men and headed for the capital. The abbot and the Taoists saw them off, then returned to the temple, where they repaired the roof and re−erected the stone tablet. Of them we'll say no more.
During the return trip, afraid that the emperor would reproach him, the marshal instructed his men to say nothing about the escape of the demons. The march was uneventful. Travelling day and night, they soon reached Bianliang, the Eastern Capital. On entering the city they were told: “The Divine Teacher held a great prayer service in the Imperial Park for seven days and seven nights and distributed many charms. Now the sick are cured and the plague is completely gone. The Divine Teacher has taken leave of the emperor and returned to the Dragon and Tiger Mountain, astride a crane and riding the clouds.”
At early court the following morning, Marshal Hong reported to the emperor.
“The Divine Teacher mounted a crane and rode the clouds, so he arrived first,” said Hong. “We had to march every stage of the road. That's why we didn't get here till now.”
The emperor approved of his report. He rewarded the marshal and ordered him to resume his post. We'll say no more of this.
Emperor Ren Zong ruled for forty−two years and died without leaving a son. The throne passed to the son of Prince Yun Rang of Puan. A grandson of Tai Zong, he is known by his posthumous title of Ying Zong. After four years of rule, he abdicated in favor of his son, Shen Zong, who reigned for eighteen years and then gave the throne to his son Zhe Zong. During this entire period there was peace throughout the land and no disturbances.
But not so fast. If it were true that nothing happened, what would we have to tell in this book? Reader, don't be alarmed, for in what follows thirty−six stars of Heavenly Spirits come to earth and seventy−two stars of Earthly Fiends appear among men. Valiants hide in strongholds, heroes gather in the marshes.
Why? Read our next chapter if you would know.