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Yingtan was a small city with a population of just over a million and a lackluster economy. Under its jurisdiction were merely two districts—a county and a county-level city. However, with Longhu Mountain at its doorstep, Yingtan had emerged as a renowned tourism destination in the country.
Longhu Mountain was 20 km to the south of the city. Ever since Zhang Sheng, the great-great-grandson of Zhang Daoling 1 , formally took residence there, the sect had been passed along for sixty-five generations over the past two thousand years.
Although Zhengyi had never been given the role of the Taoist community chief as Quanzhen was, it was awarded numerous times throughout the dynasties. In its heyday, Zhengyi had ten major Taoist palaces, eighty-one temples, fifty Taoist monasteries, and ten nunneries; the mountain was like a Taoist mini-kingdom. It was known as the "Taoist capital".
However, the world changed over time and all human affairs seemed evanescent in comparison. Most of the palaces and temples were rubble now. The only building remaining relatively intact was the Celestial Master Temple.
There were in fact two sacred places on Longhu Mountain, namely the Shangqing 2 Palace up on the mountain and the Celestial Master Temple at the mountain foot. The former was the birthplace of Zhengyi, where major ceremonies and activities were held, while the latter belonged to the Way of Celestial Masters 3 , who used it as their residence and the place to worship their gods.
Morning, the railway station.
The tiring ten-hour journey did not wear Tan Chongdai down. It wasn't his first time here, but many a year had elapsed since his last visit. Taking in the unrecognizable city with all the high-rise buildings, he couldn't help but sigh with emotion.
The customs here were of an utterly different kind—folks of Yingtan readily accepted the presence of Taoists disciples, showing little, if any, surprise. Somewhere outside the exit, a few Taoist priests were waiting.
Among them was a glass-wearing middle-aged priest with a refined look, who went up to Tan Chongdai first and saluted. "Old Master Tan of Qionglong Mountain, I presume?"
"My name is Hao Hongqing and I'm in charge of the reception for the Celestial Master Temple. We are here to pick you up. Please follow me and wait a moment in the vehicle," the man introduced himself.
All Taoist priests had their Taoist names, which were given by their masters following the inherited generation names passed down in their own sects. The layman family names were generally kept as they were, while the first character in the Taoist given name must follow the generation names.
The name "Hao Hongqing" indicated that the man was a disciple of generation "Hong".
"Are you still waiting for someone else?" Tan Chongdai followed him to the vehicle and asked in passing.
"Old Master Wang of Xihe Sect is also coming. He is to arrive around the same time as you," explained the man.
"I see. It is Wang Ruoxu 4 you are waiting for, then." Tan Chongdai nodded and got into the vehicle himself. It was a very spacious seven-seat commercial vehicle.
A little while later, the door opened again. Popping on board was a plump priest with a round belly—it was none other than Wang Ruoxu himself.
Having long been recruited by the BIMAUP, Wang Ruoxu only took part in the event this time to nose around, gaining some idea on the attitudes of the attending sects. Therefore, he cottoned up to Tan Chongdai with a grin as soon as he set eyes on the latter. "Oh my, I've heard so much about you, Old Master. It's such an honor to meet you!"
"You flatter me. The honor is mine."
The old priest smiled and greeted Wang with a hand-cupping gesture. He was actually telling the truth, for the fatso Wang was indeed a renowned figure of Shu Zhou from all his Feng Shui jobs. The paunchy priest got on the vehicle and sat down right next to Tan Chongdai. His little entourage of two disciples voluntarily took their seats in the back row.
Seeing that Tan Chongdai was all by himself, Wang asked deliberately, "Old Master, didn't you bring any pupil?"
"My sect was having a hard time finding pupils and by now, I'm the only disciple left." Tan Chongdai shook his head.
"Please stay positive. It's only a matter of opportunity. I'm sure fortune will turn in your favor sooner or later."
"Haha, thank you for your blessing."
While they were talking, a clamor came from outside. Opening the window, they saw six or seven Taoist priests squeezing their way through the station exit, clustering around a single man—who was also an acquaintance. It was Zhang Miaoxian, the abbot of Wanshou 5 Palace in Xi 6 Mountain.
The man had had quite a bumpy career path. He was a direct descendant of the Celestial Master Temple, but was defeated in an internal strife. With his superior supporter picking the wrong side, Zhang Miaoxian was sent away to Wanshou Palace and became its abbot. Wanshou Palace was the birthplace of Jingming 7 Sect, which was a sub-division of Zhengyi. Being delegated there was as good as being exiled.
The current Celestial Master Zhang was called Zhang Jintong, the son of the daughter of the Celestial Master before last. His original surname was not Zhang, but was changed to it later in his life.
The inheritance of the Celestial Master Temple had always been passed down through the direct line of descent and among their own kin. Zhang Jintong, on the other hand, was a descendant from a daughter's side. The fact that he was able to take charge of Celestial Master Temple was an obvious demonstration of the government's tight grip over the Taoist community. The domination was unchallengeable.
Of course, Zhang Miaoxian was not a man to be taken lightly either. Having once been the deputy chairman of the Taoist association, the man was extremely well connected.
The man had arrived with such an imposing manner that Hao Hongqing was grumbling silently to himself. Nonetheless, he had to show his hospitality. Zhang Miaoxian got into a vehicle all by himself and his disciples got on another. The two vehicles then started their engines and pulled away first.
Tan Chongdai watched this in silence. Wang Ruoxu, however, was observing them with flickering eyes, revealing nothing of his mind.
The Celestial Master Temple was located in the town of Shangqing, which was 1 km away from Shangqing Palace. The temple was facing south towards Pipa 8 Peak with Luxi River flowing past its front gate. The 30,000-m^2 temple was richly ornamented with carved beams and rafters painted with a fine red lacquer. It was a magnificent building.
Hanging on both columns outside the temple gate was a couplet, which read: In Qilin Hall, the immortal received his guests; On Longhu Mountain, the grand chancellor took his residence 9 .
The status of the temple was self-explanatory.
The group of priests got off the vehicles, entered the front gate, and walked through the main hall. Looking up, they saw a pair of bell towers occupying the west and east corners. Standing upright in front of them was a Jade Emperor Hall, in which the Jade Emperor was worshiped along with twelve flanking heavenly lords, such as Deng, Xin, Zhang, Tao, etc.
Continuing three more gates into the temple, they arrived at the private residence of the Celestial Master Temple, which consisted of three halls. The front hall acted as a lobby, the middle hall a living room, and the back hall contained the inner chambers and guest rooms. In the lobby was the shrine of three statues, which was none other than the First Patriarch Zhang Daoling and his favorite pupils Wang Chang and Zhao Sheng.
"Please have some rest here. Our abbot is making arrangements in the temple at the moment and will take a while before coming back." Hao Hongqing led the group into the guest rooms and explained to them one by one before leaving.
The impartment ceremony would not start until tomorrow. They were among the early arrivals and there weren't many guests yet. Zhang Miaoxian closed the door behind him as soon as he entered his room, showing no intention of holding any conversations.
Tan Chongdai, on the other hand, had nothing better to do after a brief rest and went to talk to Wang Ruoxu again. As they chatted on, the courtyard became noisier as various abbots began to arrive, which was followed by rounds of greetings.
In fact, as these people never got the chance to meet one another, networking became mandatory whenever they gathered together at a rare major event like this.
It was on such occasions that one got to observe the different strata. Major sects such as Qingwei and Jingming were not shy about showing their power and prestige—they would bring as many as five or more disciples as their entourage. The abbots were encircled by admirers, who would suck up to their abbots, showering the latter with shameless flattery. Their mastery of such skills would even outshine that of many a mortal men.
In comparison to the above mentioned were the little ones, such as Baotian 10 and Tieguan 11 , whom no one was bothered to pay attention to. They either joined forces among themselves or ignored the others.
Before they knew it, it was nighttime. Surprisingly, Zhang Jintong did not show up the entire time, but the guests did not think much of it. After all, attending the ceremony was a mere excuse. Their real purpose here was to see exactly what Longhu Mountain was up to.
The following morning.
Tan Chongdai changed into a blue deluo, had his breakfast, and headed for Shangqing Palace with the rest of the group. "Deluo" was a type of Taoist robe, which was similar to an ordinary one, but with wider sleeves. It was a ceremonial dress for special occasions.
Seventy-two lay Taoist practitioners would attend the impartment ceremony this time. They had been waiting for some time outside the great hall by now, murmuring and muttering among themselves. Quite a few tourist groups were also at the scene, snapping pictures on the side. There were even media reporters with running cameras.
The group were more than used to the scene. Impartment ceremonies had long lost their solemnity, becoming commercialized and an entertainment.
Guided by disciples of the Way of Celestial Masters, the seventy-two people entered the hall of impartment. Inside the spacious hall, a portrait of Zhang Daoling was hanging in the middle, surrounded by wooden fences on three sides. In the back were the seats for the ceremony attendees.
Before long, Taoist music rang out and three masters entered the hall, wearing yellow, green, and purple robes respectively. The one in purple was Zhang Jintong himself. The man was in his sixties, short-ish, and had a yellow and emaciated complexion. Nothing in his appearance suggested a man of great virtue. Instead, he looked rather worn out and depressed, as if there weren't many years left of him.
The so-called "impartment" was the passing on of the knowledge on the Great Dao of salvation from master to pupils. Therefore, the pupils needed to pay respect to three masters (namely, the Supervising Master, the Imparting Master, and the Recommending Master).
The three positions were usually filled by prestigious priests of a palace or temple. But this time, for some unknown reason, Zhang Jintong had decided to play the role of Imparting Master himself.
Each with a ruyi between their arms, the three saluted the patriarch first, then the laymen entered the hall each holding a ritual baton and saluted the three masters.
At this point, the ceremony began in earnest. With the three masters stood in front and the disciples arranged neatly behind them, they knelt down in unison, paying homage to the shrine.
The impartment procedure consisted of roughly three parts—telling of the precept, making oath, and the handing out of certificates. Momentarily, the hall was filled with the sound of reciting scripture passages and the atmosphere was solemn and dignified. All the other abbots watched from the side with straight faces despite various thoughts going through their heads.
About an hour later, Zhang Jintong handed out the certificates to all laymen and the ceremony was over. While they were taking group photos in the yard, some other disciples went around and led the abbots to a house in the backyard.
The deco here was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The house was equipped with all sorts of modern facilities, with a conference room in the innermost corner. Inside it was an oval table and a giant screen.
Zhang Miaoxian was the first in the line. He was about to enter when a disciple at the door stopped him. "Your name card, please."
"Don't you know who I am?" He was taken by surprise.
"Please show your name card!" The disciple repeated.
"My name was noted down during registration already. Why do you need to see my name card again?"
"This conference is very important and we have to take every precaution. I apologize for the inconvenience."
Zhang Miaoxian felt blood rushing into his head. This used to be his own territory before he was shoved away to Wanshou Palace. He'd be damned if he ever let that pass! He had had a bumpy trip in coming here at the first place. Now, faced with such a request, he thought he was being harassed.
"Fine! I'm not going in, then!"
He had yet to achieve the adequate self-cultivation, or he would never get involved with the politics on a whim. Letting out a snort, he flipped his sleeves and walked out.
"Your name card, please!"
The disciple paid no attention to his departure and moved on to the next one in line.
"Sure, just a second."
The next man was in his sixties and very affable. He fumbled out his invitation and Taoist priest certificate with a smile. The disciple took a look and raised his voice abruptly. "Priest Wu Songbai of Shangqing, Mao Mountain Sect!"
Wu Songbai winced. That was unexpectedly formal. There was no time for him to think it over, however. Stepping into the room, he sat down on a chair.
The following one was an old man in his eighties. The disciple announced in the same manner, "Priest Xue Mingxin of Zhengyi, Qingwei Sect!"
The old man went in and sat down next to Wu Songbai. The two exchanged a look, both finding the setting rather strange. Meetings in the past were set out with name tags, tea, waiters, and cameras. None of the above was here this time. The room was as good as empty.
"Priest Li Jingxiu of Lingbao Sect!"
"Priest Tan Chongdai of Shenxiao, Qionglong Mountain Sect!"
"Priest Xu Yangsheng of Qingwei, Zhengyi Sect!"
The group was getting such a weird feeling from all the announcing that they even straightened their garments and put on a more serious look.
"Priest Cheng Xingshi of Liuzu, Lingbao Sect!"
"Priest Huang Huiguang of Jingming, Lüshan Sect!"
"Priest Wang Ruoxu of Sazu, Xihe Sect!"
There were more Taoist branches and sects than one could remember, and the system was chaotic and confusing. In general, when addressing a member, the name of the chief sect came first, followed by the name of the sub-division. For instance, in "Qingwei, Zhengyi 12 Sect", "Qingwei" was the chief sect and "Zhengyi" the sub-sect.
Another example would be "Liuzu, Lingbao Sect", in which the "Liuzu" came from certain disciple of Lingbao Sect with a surname Liu who went out preaching, but did not want to set up a new sect of his own. Instead, he stuck with the name of his original chief sect, which made the one of his own " Liuzu 13 , Lingbao Sect".
As the disciple called out each name in turn, the priests also went in one at a time. Zhang Miaoxian could hear everything outside. Despite his temper, he wasn't really going to leave, for it was so obvious that this was going to be some event!
As a result, he was in an utterly awkward situation, not knowing whether he should stay on or not. Suddenly, there was a pat on his shoulder. Turning around, he saw Zhang Jintong standing behind him, who said in a husky voice, "Let's go!"
With that, he entered first.
Frowning, Zhang Miaoxian eventually followed suit.
"Priest Zhang Miaoxian of Lingbao, Jingming Sect!"
With the entrance of the last person, the disciple bowed low, then left the room, closing the door carefully behind him.
Inside, the atmosphere was rather hard to describe; no one made a sound. Zhang Jintong sat at the head of the table with an expressionless face.
It took quite some time before he finally started speaking. "Ninety years ago, the Taoist community gathered together in Baiyun Temple of the capital, compiling the 'General Registry of Cultivation Sects', which included sixty-two officially qualified sects. Among the sixty-two sects, Quanzhen took up thirty-eight and Zhengyi twenty-four.
Now that ninety years have passed, I would never imagine that when Longhu Mountain sent out invitation this time, only seventeen sects could be found. I'm afraid that sects such as Tianshan, Zhengyi of Ziji Palace, and Xiangu 14 are no longer among us…"TL/N: aka The Celestial Master TL/N: meaning "supreme clarity" TL/N: The distinction between Zhengyi and the Way of Celestial Masters is a bit ambiguous. Basically, the latter was founded by Zhang Daoling himself in 142 CE and after all sorts of developments and confusion, Zhengyi claimed lineage of the Celestial Masters in Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). TL/N: the Feng Shui master from the episode of fighting the first zombie. TL/N: meaning "longevity" TL/N: meaning "west" TL/N: meaning "pure and bright" TL/N: pipa is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument TL/N: the couplet is from Dong Qichang, the great calligrapher of Ming Dynasty. The first line of the couplet was talking about Zhang Liang, a statesman of Han Dynasty and the alleged ancestor of the Celestial Masters, who was said to have become immortal. The second line was equating the Celestial Master to grand chancellor, which was was the highest-ranking executive official in the imperial Chinese government. TL/N: meaning "precious land" TL/N: meaning "iron crown" TL/N: this is 正乙 (Zhengyǐ), not the chief sect 正一 (Zhengyī). TL/N: Liuzu means "Patriarch Liu" TL/N: meaning "female immortal"