A couple of days later, the monastery.
Thirty-five priests gathered in the spacious hall. It was not a modern conference room with a long table, but felt more like the Grand Assembly Hall of the ancient time. The nineteen Quanzhen priests sat on the left side in two rows, while the sixteen of Zhenyi took up the right side and were also arranged in two rows.
Set in the middle at the top position was a big chair.
They were here today to answer to the government's call for a meeting and everyone reached the same conclusion by the look of the hall: someone was baring his fangs!
Zhang Shouyang and the others from Zhengyi looked miserable—they could not expect what humiliation would be upon them in a while. Yet they could not leave, for that would be equivalent to a declaration of withdrawing from the monastery system, which would make them even more excluded.
A few minutes later, a man finally walked around a folding screen at the end of the hall and, unhurriedly but indisputably, took the top seat—it was none other than Lu Yuanqing.
He was still wearing a blue cotton robe and there was not a hint of pride on his face. His gaze swept across the room before he spoke, "As stated by the authorities earlier, a Taoist monastery is to be formally established and you have all heard about the criteria for becoming the abbot. As plain as I am, I happen to have stepped into the innate state by sheer luck and was consequently appointed as the first abbot of the monastery. We will be acting on our own in constructing the monastery. They are going to give us support, but will never interfere. Therefore, there are two things we need to discuss today. One is to decide how we are going to build the monastery, the other is to set a general outline of the personnel constitution."
"Humph! Obviously you are going to decide both. Why bother wasting the time to ask us?" The disciple of Baitian Sect of Zhengyi snorted.
"If I am unwilling to accept any advice, we wouldn't be having this meeting now." Lu Yuanqing smiled and went on, "Since ancient times, all monasteries used to be ran by eight deacons, three governors, five registrars, and eighteen chieftains. Qiyun is a supreme upper house, but we only have a handful residents and too many job titles will only make things complicated. Here is a draft I have drawn up for us to discuss.
A house supervisor is to be set up directly below the abbot—he is to be the guiding figure of the mass. The candidate needs an impressive and dignified manner to be exemplary, as well as possess a sense of morality and a pleasant virtue. I don't have the right to appoint the house supervisor and will leave the elective power to everyone here. However, if I may suggest, it is preferably to have Senior Brother Zhang Shouyang of the Way of the Celestial Masters take the position."
The speech took everyone by surprise, especially Zhang Shouyang, who stared at Lu Yuanqing with a frown, unable to figure the man out.
Lu Yanqing paid no attention to their reaction and went on, "Senior Bother Zhang is impartial and has a sense of justice. He is well qualified in both his work and conduct, which makes him the ideal candidate. I hope the fellow disciples will take it into consideration.
Below the house supervisor, there will be eight deacons.
One general director is to be in charge of the reception and welcoming of guests. The position will be delegated to Senior Brother Mo Haofeng of the Lianhua Sect.
One patrol officer is to be in charge of maintaining the general order, and the allocation and promotion affairs. The position will be delegated to Senior Brother Huang Zhihe of the Laoshan Sect.
One treasurer is to be in charge of warehouses, storages, and the coming and going of supplies. The position will be delegated to Junior Brother Zhu Chan of the Way of High Peaks.
One kitchen warden is to be in charge of culinary affairs and handling the delivery of meals. The position will be delegated to Junior Brother Wang Yuanji of the Zhengyi Sect.
One hall master is to be in charge of dusting halls, taking care of the oil lamps, and cleaning the worship instruments. The position will be delegated to Senior Brother Tan Chongdai of the Qionglong Mountain Sect.
Two high officers are to be in charge of the teaching and chanting of scriptures. These positions will be delegated to Senior Brother Shi Yunlai of the Longmen Sect and Junior Brother Chao Kongtu of the Maoshan Sect.
Other than those, we will also need an accountant. Since none of us is a professional, we will need to transfer someone here from other palaces or temples.
The above mentioned is the basic structure of this monastery. Starting from today, all government personnel will be withdrawn from here. Each sect should send two or three disciples here to take care of daily patrol and cleaning tasks…"
A surging undercurrent seemed to rise at his speech in the minds of both sides.
The so-called eight deacons, three governors, five registrars, and eighteen chieftains might sound like a detailed division of work, but there was in fact much overlapping and redundancy. Lu Yuanqing had crossed out more than half of them to simplify the structure, leaving only nine managerial personnel to run the monastery.
Generally speaking, the functions were divided into four parts: monitor, logistics, public relations, and scripture halls.
The change in job titles was nothing compared to the people he allotted to each position. Everyone had assumed that Lu Yuanqing would suppress Zhengyi and draw those of Quanzhen to his side, even fostering a few confidants of his own. As it turned out, however, the man really knew how to make good use of people and did not differentiate between sects.
While everyone sat there stunned by the announcement, at a second thought, all arrangements seemed the most appropriate and no one could have done better otherwise.
The position of general director, for example, had to have a person who was familiar with the classics, knew all sects and schools well, and was experienced in a worldly way. Old Priest Mo was a shrewd man by that account through and through. Public relations suited him perfectly.
And there was Zhu Chan. Despite his young age, he was as just as he was responsible. No one would give a second thought with him as the treasurer.
Zhang Shouyang was shocked the most. It was like nothing he had expected! He suddenly realized that he had never been able to see through that man. He was so disquieted that he barely heard any of the discussion after that.
Before anyone noticed, they had spent half a day discussing and there was finally a general framework, including the constitution of rules and precepts, layout of facilities, arrangement in each hall, and how many people should be allotted.
"Fellow Senior and Junior Brothers, since you have already joined the monastery, there will no longer be different sects. We will face the future dangers and hardships together, uniting all our efforts for a common purpose. Please keep that in mind!"
With that last sentence, Lu Yuanqing ended the meeting.
After everyone else had left, Zhang Shouyang stayed behind in the hall. He went up to Lu Yuanqing in two strides and asked in a low voice, "What on earth are you doing?"
"I presume I have made that clear. I'm building a monastery."
"The two high officers might have a job description of chanting scriptures, but they are there to teach skills. Both Shi Yunlai and Junior Brother Chao are among the most talented of this monastery. You haven't set up any restrictions on that aspect. Are you trying to break the Taoist orthodox for the past thousand years and have Quanzhen take up talismans and Zhengyi learn Neidan?"
Zhang Shouyang moved a threatening step closer with wide-open eyes.
"You have misunderstood my intention. I only said the teaching and chanting of scriptures. There was no mentioning of learning skills. Of course, if any Senior or Junior Brother is taken by temptation and asks for their instruction in private, that is not something I can stop."
Slowly, Lu Yuanqing rose to his feet and was about to leave.
Zhang Shouyang moved and was about to run after him when Lu Yuanqing paused and turned around, looking directly into Zhang Shouyang's eyes, and in a louder voice, he asked, "Now that the spiritual essence has recovered, the great opportunity is within our grasp. Senior Brother, how do you think our Taoist community should react to that?"
Zhang Shouyang winced, then replied in a bitter tone. "We are constrained by the authorities and impeded by our sects. How else can we react?"
It dawned on him at that moment and when he looked at Lu Yuanqing again, there was awe and shock in his eyes. "You are trying to…"
"Haha, I'm trying nothing."
Throwing back his wide sleeves, Lu Yuanqing brushed past him and strode out.
Zhang Shouyang stood there motionlessly. From behind, he looked shrivelled and tired. He did not utter a single word for a long while.
Lu Yuanqing's success in reaching the innate state had set off a ripple effect.
Immediately after the Spring Festival this year, the government quietly issued a new regulation—scratch that, a revised edition. The document was drawn up by the authorities and Taoist Association together, which was soon sent out to all palaces and temples.
According to Clause Six of Taoist Regulation (New Edition), all candidates had to meet the following criteria to be admitted to Taoist palaces and temples:
On a voluntary basis;
Without infectious diseases;
In the event of joining the priesthood, one had to provide parental consent aside from coming on their own will;
No criminal record;
No bad habits such as substance abuse, gambling, alcoholism, etc.;
With the appropriate religious belief.
There were originally ten clauses and the second one was "had to be no younger than eighteen years old", which was removed in the new edition. This was not the only altered clause, several others were also changed.
"At the end of a three-year probation period and with the approval of the administrative organization of palaces and temples, the candidates will be considered for admission as formal pupils. The qualified will be provided with headdresses and registration documents, and allowed permanent residence. All candidates violating prefectures and remaining incorrigible despite repeated admonition will be expelled.
Local Taoist associations are to provide the candidates with allowances during the probation period, which is to be no lower than the local minimum wage. Once qualified, the pupils will be eligible for all usual Taoist benefits and perks, and will respect the teachings and traditions of all sects."
The more perceptive ones would see through the intention at the first glance.
The lift of the age limit meant pupils could be admitted at any age. Paying salary during the probation period and emphasizing the preferential treatment could attract more adolescents with flexible minds. Respecting traditions of all sects confirmed that they could eat meat and marry girls as allowed by Zhengyi, which further lowered their psychological barrier.
The entire clause was saying one thing explicitly: come to us now!
Similarly, Article Nine was also new.
"Palaces and temples should enhance the education of their disciples, especially the young ones. The disciples should obey the temple regulations, be diligent in their duties, be persistent with the morning and evening meditation classes, and keep in line with the traditional rules of etiquette. Maintain the purity of Taoist customs and recognize the difference between the Taoist and layman communities.
All palaces and temples must be in full compliance with the household registration management system of the country. No shelter is going to be provided for unidentified Taoist priests and other personnel. Visiting Taoist priests must provide the appropriate reference letters as required.
No commercial or service networks, displays, or exhibitions are to be held in any palaces or temples. Scenic spots are not allowed to set up palaces or temples without permission. Palaces and temples are not allowed to be contracted by firms. Abbots and managerial personnel of Taoist establishments must be delegated to persons with profound knowledge of Taoist theories. The Taoist association will run random inspections and palaces or temples violating the regulations will be closed and prosecuted."
This one contained much more information, especially the last paragraph.
How many Taoist temples did the country have? How many Taoist priests in them were real and how many were fake? Did the temples belong to firms, scenic areas, or some other individuals?
The state knew it all.
A mountain was contracted by a company, which then built a Taoist temple on it. The company would find some random person and train him briefly before signing the contract. 'You get to live in the temple and receive a monthly salary from us. In return, we take all the worshipping money.'
Such a story could be found everywhere.
With this new regulation, players on and under the table all realized: the great purge was coming to the Taoist community.