Jurong, the mountain of Maoshan.
Maoshan was located on the border of Jurong and Jintan and was under the jurisdiction of the former. Legend went that three Mao Brothers used to collect medicinal herbs and refine Dan here in the Western Han Dynasty, saving the people and benefiting mankind as a whole. They later created their own Taoist teaching in the area.
When time came to the Qi and Liang Dynasty, Tao Hongjing, the founder of the Shangqing School, came to live a reclusive life in Maoshan, where he took in many disciples and formally established Shangqing. Out of the respect for the ancestors, he hornored the three Mao Brothers as the sect's forefathers.
There were as many as 257 temples and palaces in Maoshan at its heyday. However, by the end of the Qing Dynasty, only three palaces and five temples remained standing. The three palaces were Chongxi-Wanshou Palace, Jiuxiao-Wanfu Palace, and Yuanfu-Wanning Palace; the five temples were Deyo, Renyo, Yuchen, Baiyun, and Ganyuan.
Later, with the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the troubled times the war brought, nearly all of remaining building were destroyed. It was not until the 80s when Jiuxiao-Wanfu and Yuanfu-Wanning Palaces were restored with government funding. Together, they were known as Maoshan Taoist Monastery and became a branch of Zhengyi.
There was also a female Taoist monastery here known as Qianyuan Temple, which belonged to the Longmen Sect of Quanzhen.
On the northern slope of the mountain was a small town called Maoshan Town, which was a rather small place. A little over 30,000 people lived in this area of 10 km from south to north and 5 km from east to west.
Early this morning, when most residents were still sound asleep, the gate of the Zhengs'—the well-known wealthy family in town—manor was wide open, raising a clamorous scene. Quite a few vehicles also parked outside the house.
"I'm afraid we'll have to trouble you with it this time, Priest Chen. Thank you for everything."
"You're welcome. That's the least I can do."
With that, a few people escorted a priest out, while a middle-aged man sweet-talked and handed over a thick red envelope (i.e. gift money).
The priest took the envelope and with a practiced swipe of his wide sleeve, it disappeared from sight. He then also took out a paper packet and said, "This is the time I have calculated. As long as you follow my instruction, nothing will happen tonight. However, do forgive my bluntness, but the deceased passed away right before Zhongyuan Festival and that is not a good sign. You'd better hold another ceremony to completely dispel all evils."
"Yes, of course! You have our full trust!"
"In that case, I will leave you in peace!"
They returned inside after seeing the priest off, then hurriedly went into mourning. They were not wearing the formal full-on mourning dress, but only tied white cloth straps around their heads and waists and dressed in plain-colored clothes.
After that, dozens of people squeezed into one room and a short, small child was pushed to the front. He was seven or eight years old at most, with heavy features, and looked a little dazed. Held at his chest was a round porcelain jar.
Momentarily, the roomful of people all held their breath in silence while the middle-aged man said in a low voice, "Kaixin, do you remeber what we taught you yesterday? Just do as you were told."
The child nodded and raised the jar above his head, murmuring, "Grandpa, since you have gone, please linger no longer… your children and grandchildren are here to see you off and mourn for you, please bless us with peace, health, wealth, and good fortune."
After that, will all his effort, he smashed the jar into the ground.
The porcelain jar slammed onto the cement floor and shattered all over the place. Immediately, a woman handed him a bowl of hot water sweented with sugar, saying, "Kaixin, drink this now."
The child downed the water in one gulp. Only then did the roomful of people go out and got into their vehicles.
The middle aged man was Zheng Cheng and the child was his youngest son named Zheng Kaixin 1 . A couple of days ago, the grandfather, who was the most senior member in hierachy of the clan, passed away and his funeral arrangements were being made at the moment.
As the saying went: places two miles apart would not share the same custom and rules were changed every mile, let alone the difference between the South and the North.
For instance, in the North, the sixth night after the deceased passed away would be the time to "add fire", which was to burn some joss money outside the house and set out some offerings with families and friends gathered around and a host'd say something nice to the dead; some paper ash was also to be sprinkled around the chimney.
Because according to the belief of the North, the dead did not know they were dead for the first six days, hence someone had to inform them on the sixth night: well, you're done in this world, so move along!
Only after that would the soul of the dead leave through the chimney.
However, in the South, especially in the area south of Yangtze River, the habit of "adding fire" did not seem to exist. Instead, on the morning of the seventh day, a child would smash a jar at the gate before drinking a bowl of sweatened water, implying everything was peaceful.
Of course, the old custom was to have the coffin kept in a temporary shelter for seven days before burial, which was no longer possible. Nowadays, the dead would normally be cremated within three days.
Before long, the fleet of cars reached the funeral home and everyone was busying with the mourning ceremony.
Zheng Kaixin did not know how the procedures went and only did as bid—burning the paper, kowtowing… despite the absence of tears, the kid was very sad. At his age, he already knew what "death" was.
Grandpa had been very nice to him, but he would never see the old man again.
In the traditional funeral culture of this country, the seventh day after the death was probably the most important day.
It was a general belief that the spirit of the dead would return home that day, for which the family would prepare a meal and then keep out of sight. For should the spirit catch sight of its family, it would become concerned, which would disturb both the living and the dead.
Being right next to Maoshan, people of Maoshan Town were constantly under the influence for generations on end, making them all the more serious with such customs.
Evening arrived in no time. The Zheng manor.
All the distant relatives and the nearby neighbors had left, leaving behind the direct descendants who were now sitting in the living room. Zheng Cheng took out that paper packet and opened it carefully, removing a piece of yellow paper from with in. Written on it were a few words: the hour of Hai, the second quarter.
That was when the spirit of the dead would return.
"The hour of Hai is between nine and eleven at night, right? What about the second quarter?" Zheng Cheng found that a little problematic.
"Never mind. Let's just say it's going to be the entire two hours."
Grandma was the more resolute one. Holding her little grandson between her arms, she cautioned him again, "Kaixin, remember this! Do not come out later. Stay in bed!"
"Yes, I will stay there!" replied the kid.
"Ok, let's get everything set up, then," commanded the grandmother.
Right away, the group of people made themselves busy.
As instructed by the priest, they set up the candles, liquor, and food first, then sprinkled a layer of plant ash over the floor. Attach a piece of joss money every 30 cm on a bamboo stick and stand it on the stairs by the front gate—it was said that the spirit would enter the house when it saw the bamboo stick.
After that, boil an egg and put it into a clay jar in the corner of the room to bribe the deity of misfortune (commonly known as "chicken feet god") so that the spirit could stay for a bit longer. Meanwhile, a string of fire crackers had to be set aside, to be lit and thrown into the room after the hour of Hai had passed. Only after the fire crackers were finished could the living enter the room.
After everything was ready, grandma ordered everyone to go back to their rooms and remain there.
To be honest, they had no idea whether or not the priest was telling the truth, nor did they know if ghosts really existed. All they knew was that it was a tradition passed down for generations and it had pretty much been ingrained in them like the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, or Chinese New Year.
The Zheng manor had a big courtyard and a two-story house. The residents tonight were grandma, the family of Uncle Zheng, the family of Aunt Zheng, Zheng Cheng's elder son and his wife, and the Zheng Cheng couple with Zheng Kaixin.
The kid curled up in bed between his parents and was excited and curious. "Mum, is Grandpa coming back?"
"Don't ask stupid questions. It's time to sleep!"
"But I'm not sleepy."
"Then close your eyes!"
Mother Zheng's attitude was rather vague. She herself would believe the answer to be yes, yet she was not so sure with saying no, either. Patting the kid, she asked, "Hey, what time is it?"
"Ten to nine."
Father Zheng was playing with his phone and cared little about what was going on. His father had been gone for seven days now and the grief period was over. All that was left now was the procedure. His wife took it more seriously and said, "Let's turn off the light, or mum will tell us off in a minute. And put your phone away."
"Sigh. Ok, turn it off, then."
He had no choice but put down his phone and let his wife turn off the light.
Instantly, the yard turned pitch-dark and unnaturally quiet. They had no idea what others were doing in their own rooms, for all sounds were gone. Holding her son, Mother Zheng thought, 'It's almost nine o'clock, isn't it?'
She pricked up her ears a little anxiously, but everything remained quiet. Nothing was happening.
A little while later, she estimated again, "It should be nine fifteen now, right?"
There was finally some noise, which turned out to be her son's faint snoring and her husband turning in boredom.
The three lay there like so for quite some time. The only sounds were the sporadic dog's barking from the neighbors and occasional passing cars, which were nothing usual. She couldn't help but laugh at herself: she had actually fallen for the supersition!
Another fifteen minutes passed when Zheng Kaixin stirred and woke up. "Mum, I want to pee."
"Mum, I can't hold it any more! I need to pee!" He twisted and turned, his little member agonizing under his pants.
"Then go!" Father Zheng said impatiently.
"The hour is not past yet!" His wife protested.
"The hell with the hour. Just go! Don't wet the bed!"
Seeing her husband cared little about the rules, Mother Zheng gave it a thought and also found it probably would not matter much. She thus said, "Go, then. Come right back here after you finish."
Zheng Kaixin leapt out of bed, scuffed out of the bedroom, and rushed into the toilet. After happily emptying himself, he quickly made his way back.
When he reached the corridor, out of some unexpected coincidence, he gave it a peek: the corridor led to the living room, the living room to the door of the house, and the door to the yard… that entire line of passageway was enclosed in darkness.
The liquor and food looked untouched and the plant ash remained intact, so was the caly jar in the corner of the room
Shaking his head, he ran back to the bedroom. After the urgent need was taken care of and lying between mum and dad, the little one felt warm and safe and soon went back to sleep.
Zheng Kaixin had no idea how long he had been asleep for when he mumbled suddenly, "Hm? Why is it so bright?"
His field of vision had lit up and his body felt light and soft as if he was soaked in water and being pushed upwards by buoyance.
It was the most intriguing feeling. He could not even tell if he was dreaming or asleep or whether his eyes were open or closed.
While he was still in a daze, the light gradually dimmed and a dark shadow emerged, which was getting closer and closer. The face then vividly came into sight—it was his grandpa.
Zheng Kaixin wanted to scream and he did, but no sound came out of him. Grandpa walked up to him and watched him affectionately, but he made no sound, either.
After a little pause, grandpa reached out and seemed to be rubbing his grandson's head. He then turned around and disappeared.
"Kaixin! Kaixin, what's wrong?"
"Kaixin, you're frightening mum… sob…"
Back in the manor of the Zheng Family, all hell had broken loose!
Zheng Kaixin was in the middle of his sleep when he suddenly yelled and screamed with both hands waving around. He then began to cry, shouting repeatedly. "Turn on the light! Turn on the light!"
It frightened his parents, who shook him repeatedly, but could not wake him up. Grandma and the others were woken up by the noise and rushed down to check. For a moment, the house was filled with a hubbub of shouting.
"Turn on the light! Turn on the light!"
"Kaixin… sob… Kaixin…"
Mother Zheng cried along and Father Zheng kicked the wall in agitation. Only the grandmother winced a little before reproving angrily, "That goddamn old fool! Why did he have to touch the kid! What did you rub the kid for!"
"Mum, are you saying dad has come back?"
Mother Zheng raised her head abruptly and stared at her mother-in-law, the look on her face terrifying. The grandmother was instantly silenced by that look and comforted the mother, "No, no he hasn't. I was talking nonsense! Don't worry, the kid just got confused with his dreams. He'll be fine in a moment! He'll be fine!"
It went on like so with the roomful of people standing around helplessly. Some suggested sending the kid to the hospital, some said they should go fetch a priest, while someone else went to make the sweetened water. In the end, even the neighbors came by to offer help, but that was to no avail.
Fortunately, after five minutes, Zheng Kaixin gradually stopped crying and regained consciousness. Apart from his pink puffy eyes, nothing seemed to have happened to him. He asked in confusion, "Mum, what happened to me?"
"Sob… nothing, you're all right!"
Mother Zheng made no explanation, but held her son and cried all over him again.
"Aaaah! I'm not going in there! I'm not!"
Zheng Kaixin scrambled out of the house, followed by his mother, who said angrily, "Stop it! Just come in with me!"
"No! Someone died there! I'm not going in!"
The kid held on to the iron gate, his face all pale and himself shaking unstoppably.
His mother ashened at those words and slapped him. "You little brat! What are you talking about? You saw nothing!"
"Someone really, really died there, mum, mum…" The kid was on the edge of breaking into tears.
Mother Zheng was going to scold him again when her cousin scuffed out and leaned on the doorframe. "Why, Kaixin, I haven't been pretty nice to you, haven't I? Why are you saying such mean things about us?"
"No, he didn't mean it. Sister, he's just a kid. It was all nonsense!" Mother Zheng explained hastily.
"Nonsense? Humph, we all know about the old man's touch. Maybe it's given him some sort of astral vision. Tsk, tsk. I'm not important enough to have such an able nephew. It's better if you don't come again!"
Her cousin shut the door.
Pursing her lips, Mother Zheng led the child by his hand and slowly walked back home.
It was noontime and lunch was just ready. Seeing them returning, Grandma Zheng forced out a greeting and they all went to the dinning room for lunch.
It was a depressing lunch through and through. None of the family members talked and Zheng Kaixin was so frustrated that he almost buried his head into the bowl, afraid of looking at his family.
He had become this strange person after that seventh day. Whereever he went, he would point on someone had died here, that place was ominous, or would burst into shouting and yelling… who in the right mind would like to be around him?
In a matter of a few days, half of the Maoshan Town knew about it, saying that the kid of the Zheng Family had been touched by a ghost and gone mad.
The way of human beings was that when the pressure was big enough, even their own flesh and blood 2 could be easily abandoned.
"I have discussed with mum. Tomorrow, we're sending Kaixin onto the mountain."
Halfway through the lunch, Father Zheng made the sudden announcement.
"Onto the mountain? What do you mean?" Mother Zheng was taken by surprise.
"I've talked to Priest Chen. He said that the kid had been invaded by Yin energy and having him around for too long will harm mortal men. He's very interested in taking Kaixin in as a pupil. We only have to give him some fruit every year to show respect."
"Zheng Cheng! Have you no conscience at all?" Mother Zheng lost her temper right away. "He's your own son! How could you send him away to become a priest?"
"Keep your voice down. What can we do with his crazy talk? Even if we can live with it, what about his life when he gets older? He has to go to school, find a girlfriend, find a job, and get married one day. Who would want him in this state? Comapring to that, I'd rather have him disciplined by the priest. Maybe he'll be cured somehow."
"You!" Tears welled up in Mother Zheng's eyes as she turned to Grandma Zheng. "Mum, you agree with that?"
"The priests on the mountain are very capable. At least they can do better than us. We can always take him back after they cured him, can't we?" said the grandmother.
Mother Zheng almost burst into tears, but she managed to hold it back. In a half-mocking tone, she said, "Kaixin is my son whatever he turns into! If none of you wants him, I will!"TL/N: "Kaixin" means "happy" and the pronounciation of "Zheng Kaixin" sounds like "really happy" ED/N: Descendants, but seems to be in a broader meaning here (relatives)