Meditations on “Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong” from the ‘Seven Military Classics’ in Narrative Form
Orthodox refers to regularity. In this particular context to military regularity. It refers to formations, fife and drum, to patterns. The unorthodox is wooo hooo bat shit crazy out of left field whaaaaa?? The general idea is you go back and forth between these two tactics. A crazy old man running out in front of the line. In military parlance, basketball mascots are the unorthodox, to distract a free-throw shooter.
It all started with a few wells. Next came the Tao. The way. The wells needed water. What? The wells needed water, true. Sometimes in Heaven, in the Tao of the Heaven, ying and yang are reversed. It is true. The wells were blasted with black magic, from a cokey, volcanic, porous shelf surrounded by bedrock with lines of lime, stratified throughout with crystal and quartz.
So. So the boy took the bamboo pole, really just a semi-long cut shoot, with a slight notch at each end, and would walk down to the gathering pool in the early morning dawn. The coy fish gathered, to feed off the light, which sparkled on the tiny rocks beneath, also caught there in the circular, rushing jetty. He’d stand, tall and proud, though fairly short, from a fairly short people, and stare, and stand and stare and watch, occasionally poking the fish with the end of his pole. When he was done, he’d whip out his dick and piss, the spray of the water rushing by splashing back at him, probably with some of his own urine, then, quickly, sharply, look around for spying eyes before whipping his dick back inside. He’d stretch out, yawn, to Heaven, give thanks, fill his buckets, and return to the wells.
At first there were three. Eventually there were 8, then finally 9. They each served a community, and every generation the clan seemed to grow, it might have stretched back 100 years, perhaps 1000, who knew, it was many, many generations. Still, the boy trod the way.
The path back from the rushing water and the pool, next to the river, an inlet from the sea, up onto a boulder, jutting out into the pool, was over the volcanic coke which on top was covered with the richest, darkest most fertile topsoil anyone knew of. It gave birth to a stand of bamboo, which would waver in the early morning breeze brought in off the sea, with the shouts of gulls, screams really, mixed with the howling of ancestors trapped between heaven and earth.
The paths were myriad, an intricate pattern of crescents, half crescents, curves through and around the trees, which from one of the gulls’ perspectives would have probably seemed like a complicated, baroque design resembling one found perhaps in a Muslim prayer booth, blessed be the Prophet, though no gull had ever heard of Mahomet nor his Mahometan Arabs dwelling in far off sands, riding camels, smoking hashish, trading wives and stories over a midnight fire. He, the small boy, bringing back water from the coy fish pool after relieving himself in the early morning light, usually took the same path through the bamboo stand, which was, in truth, many smaller copses, all connected, flowing upwards from near a valley near the base of the rock jutting into the pool, surrounding all the whole community, bordering and encompassing the rice patties therein.
This was his Tao, his path, his way. It was not always the same, but it was nearly always so. And yet had not many trod there before him? And yet had not the many trod, each, slightly differently? Had each one followed the exact same path, the exact same way, things would have been very different. As they were, there were many routes, all to the same path, but only one true Tao. This is the way.
The Heavens would let loose their wraiths in the Spring, water would spring down in torrents and rivers from the skies, overflowing the wells. The overflowing wells would feed the rice patties. This is the Tao. An abundance from an overflowing, this is chi.
An old woman would gather rice into her skirt. The floods would recede, leaving the wells full for another year. Perhaps this year would bring a new generation and a new community and a new well. Perhaps the black magic would be called upon, like lightning in one’s hand. But the coy fish still swam, mostly around in circles, chasing themselves or each other. Who knows the mind of a coy fish? Who knows the mind of a coy fish knows his or her own mind, too.
They fed on sunlight and kept sparkling gems in each other’s eyes. They who live for beauty die for a worthy cause. Those who seek to die for a worthy cause usually end up living for an inferior one. Military love is as oxymoronic as military intelligence.
The wind would blow in, gathering sand in it. The sky seemed yellow and pink at dusk. They say you could hear the voice of the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi (黃帝), in it, discoursing on the five elements, advising in the use of mercury. And stone masons chiseled, suspended, hanging like rock climbers, on bamboo vines fashioned for the purpose. With the rushing wind and water they formed a sonic harmony, akin to the plastic elements of a well-thought out painting, space for silence defined the percussion, the white-noise of the wind and water filling the silence with echoing resonance and reverberation as it crashed off the rocks and spread through the valleys.
They were following the lead of the head engineer, a brute, squat, fat, well-tanned general, rushing to and fro shouting out orders from on high, but always lenient and forgiving, awaiting a response, only harsh in the face of danger, always a step ahead of some new calamity. They were a combined force of numerous communities, needed to tame the combined forces of metal, stone and wood. They brought discipline, virtue and force to ally themselves in harmony with their own wood and metal, their tools, to shape, transform, craft, temper and control the kinetic energy inherent in the cliff, the water, the wind and the wood and metal. It was what we would call an elevator, as the bamboo platform would be forced down by the chi of pottery and stone, and then held, like a tempest in the metal rings, circling round like the vortex of the coy pool, only to then, indefatigable, always return that equal force, now allied and harnessed, to bring sages and buckets of coy pool water in bamboo buckets up to the top of the cliff, above the rice patties and beyond the Tao of the bamboo copses and groves.
It was many years later. The small boy had grown. The city was a strong-hold, a right-angle wall closed off a large field, which gave way to wilds. Inside the city was filled with doctors, lawyers, scribes, jails, jailers, criminals, pubs, nightlife, gamblers, hookers, whores, sluts, boy toys, jugglers, warriors, even an odd king or two, a queen, rich families, royalty, a court, many, many hangers-on, sight-seers, travelers, drug dealers, drug smugglers and even some families and shop owners. There were almost always farmers moving out to the country in hope of a geographic change offering a personality change who were almost always disappointed, but often did find a new start, a new family, a new way of life. There were just as many farmers coming to live in the city in expectation of fulfilling dreams and fantasies. The field, next to the city, was now occupied. It was often reserved for festivities, fairs, even more bawdy less family-oriented affairs involving drinking, smoking, whores and orgies. Sometimes these were official city holidays, sometimes they were impromptu, sometimes a combination of both.
Apparently, it was an occupying force, an army, or a collection of armies, from a nearby city, who’d heard tell of one too many braggadocios traveling storyteller singing songs of great wealth, or perhaps simply a collection of thieves, prisoners, thugs and barbarians who’d come together for common purpose of looting the city of its fabled riches. No one knew for sure. No one knew how long they’d been there. No one thought to ask. The emperor of the small city with the semi-enclosed field and the many, many busy inhabitants had not fought a war in eons, he’d not had to, he was well thought of and well regarded and if that meant feared or respected he did not know. But the emperor of the small city had come to think of himself as emperor of the world, or emperor of the known world, all his advisors told him so, no one had questioned it in as long either. The emperor of the small city with the partially-enclosed field, usually reserved for banquets, fairs or orgies, now occupied by an occupying force, who’d been there for anybody knew how long, had a younger brother, who lived in and presumably ruled a nearby city, the largest of merit in the vicinity. They had not talked in ages. The younger brother had once sought to rule in the emperor’s stead, so the emperor gifted him the smaller nearby city, and a beautiful wife, one of his daughters and nearly half of his large harem, many of the mistresses and wives trained in secret, sensual arts. The younger brother was not appeased at first, but as the years went by, their communication was less and less, and presumably, the emperor assumed the younger brother got caught up in the routine day to day tasks of any large bureaucracy and had not time to think of war or conquest, too busy trying to feed and clothe his people.
And so it was. There was peace in the kingdom, and the emperor thought of the younger brother’s kingdom as an extension of his own and never questioned it. The sages first wondered aloud if perhaps this army was an army of the younger brother’s or a proxy fight using hired guns, mercenaries or mercs as they are often known, soldiers of fortune. But soon, envoys were dispatched and this notion was put to rest. But it did start to reestablish communication between the two cities, and with it, trade, taxation, marriages along with some border disputes and cultural differences, as well as those which occur naturally with language when two similar peoples are long separated, or two separate peoples are forced through proximity and kinship of rulers to entwine like braided trees until they are, while distinct, one.
The ministers rushed in and out of gilded halls, lamps were lit, sages and books consulted. The jails were emptied, the women and children sent to the countryside. The magistrates were told to consult the police chiefs who in turn went to the gambling dens, and the gang leaders enlisted the mistresses of the cat houses, home to the prostitutes, usually addicted to heroin, or opium in a smokable form, who were enticed to ally themselves, were free to profit with no fear of retribution, at least from the police.
The prostitutes were sent out to the grumbling, hungry occupying force, tents were set up, dues were paid, beer was brought, and good times were had by many. Thieves were then sent into the enemy camp, from the jails, again, free to gain, with no fear of retribution, but kept in the dark as to any plans. Finally, the warlords of the occupying force were assembled for a mighty feast, well lit, near the crux of the wall, grand tents to discuss the plans to bring the gates of the city crashing. Each leader was killed, his throat slit at the dinner table by a courtesan prostitute trained in both erotic and deadly arts, whilst the chief amongst them was drugged and captured and then tortured and questioned and made to reveal secrets. Each of the chieftains had been studied by crafty spies trained in the art of imitation, and their clothes were taken and their manners copied. The head chieftain, under penalty of death, was brought to the front of the occupying force, each of his pretend captains in his place at his side, and while there were oddities, it was late. The next night, everyone was drunk and horny and getting laid and having a good time and didn’t want to be too bothered with official speeches, but simply wanted to be told to fuck and fight and have a good time and be to as well be reassured of their acquiring great wealth when they captured the city on the morrow, or next week- for fuck’s sake they were having a grand time and couldn’t be bothered. And thus it was.
The head chieftain informed them all of a change in plans, in order to appease the gods, he’d consulted the bones and found they would employ the unorthodox, each captain would ride at the front of a neighboring kingdom’s banner, flag, standard and drum core. Mix ’em up, the ol’ switcheroo, never see it comin’ don’t know what hit ’em maneuver. The crazy ol’ man dancing in front of the crowds. Dancing Homer! The mascot shaking his or her ass cheeks at the opposing team’s player’s free-throw shooting.
This was not met with enthusiastic applause, but a smattering of grumbling and disagreement. But there were some hardy, drunk souls who cheered, some probably so far away they didn’t know what they were hearing, others who perhaps even liked the idea, most simply unaccustomed to change, disagreeable for disagreement’s sake, still others trying to give it the ol’ college try and get in the spirit of the moment all rah-rah, let’s take it to the motherfucking hizza, whatever you says generals sirs, sounds good to me. But mostly it was grumbling.
And so more fires were lit, more whores brought in, casks of beer, emptied, smashed, lit afire, or brought out too, refilled. Items went missing, fights were started, people killed, more fights took place. Orgies broke out, whores were raped, went unpaid. Some babies were undoubtedly conceived. Weeks dragged on. Days led to weeks led to months. Booths were set up, tents became fortified. Mud was everywhere, mushrooms bloomed, disease was rampant, and dysentery took hold spreading more dysentery.
The emperor was thrilled. His younger brother was informed of the progress and got nearly daily updates, which often arrived weeks late, sometimes jumbled up in order, but almost always the same in content, nothing new. And yet over time, his curiosity grew, he thought of perhaps taking a trip to the city.
The jails had been emptied, many in the city had now fled to the countryside. Crime was now rampant in the countryside. Their jails were emptied and sent to the empty jails. As time wore on, some of the inhabitants of the occupying force, perhaps those more interested in graft all along and only caught up in the moment, not too eager to fight, had managed to slip into the city. The head chieftain meanwhile, having been tortured, left isolated was a broken man and now served in the employ of one of the emperor’s sage advisors, mostly cleaning up his toilet, his piss and shit, as opposed to his toilet made up of make-up or perfumes. He was a broken man and served well and his own sage advice was now employed, albeit not with his knowledge, against his own forces, he thinking they’d already lost, having been convinced of this fact, that the great battle had already taken place.
The crowds grew restless. The field was a mess, fliers and bamboo paper sheets with odd messages from strange printing presses with strange marks, good for wiping your ass or starting a fire were blowing here or there around tents, most of the grass was gone, bones of horses and dogs sat rotting along with a new formed gallows with swinging bodies all being pecked at by crows. It was an ugly sight for an ugly crowd growing uglier by the day.
War games would ensue! It was declared. Each captain, while unfamiliar to his own band, was secretly working for the emperor. New tents were built on the field. The grass was seeded and mowed. Fresh whores and casks of beer brought in. All the weapons and armor were to be cleaned. They commenced to move the party over a field or two distant, into new tents, and went back to childhood practicing with wooden swords and sticks and great honor was placed upon the winner of a grand tournament, untold riches promised, along with wives, for the victor.
The weapons were stored, stolen, along with the armour. The brother of the emperor was overjoyed at the news and cancelled his plans to visit, stopped his own troops from battle-ready training and went back to managing the welfare of his people.
Before setting up the new tents, the head chieftain, now but a dog slave was brought out to the field and random bodies were strewn about to make it look like a great war had taken place, from the bodies of those killed over petty theft and those who’d died of dysentery and weapons and armour too were strewn about. He was convinced his army had lost and left.
But in the meanwhile, spies abounded, both from the emperor’s brother’s city, who while he secretly harbored some small lingering hope of either killing his own brother and taking over, or, more likely, filling a vacuum of power, or yet still most gloriously, vanquishing his own brother’s foe and reclaiming the city in his name, was mostly content with his own smaller city, which, while it was not the glory of the kingdom, was in fact more populous and richer, better run and more secure as well as more geographically suited for both trade and protection by the natural elements from a warring tribe or other army. But his spies like any spies had aspirations of their own and there were double and triple spies amongst his spies, some from the warring barbarian clans, some from still farther off cities and some from his own brother the emperor’s kingdom, though in truth some of these considered themselves not double spies but spies with torn allegiances working for differing elements of the same larger kingdom towards some similar end goal of unity and prosperity.
There was this nearby city, perhaps equidistant from each city of each brother, but outside their kingdom, in the opposite direction of the trading seas or the country farmers, but along trade routes to even more distant kingdoms with strange looking people with even stranger sounding names and weirder, different cultures, real fucking weird weird-o types. The path to it was treacherous, filled with bandits and hooligans, drunkards, whores, thieves, bawdy houses of ill repute and good taverns and inns for travelers along the road with good hearty food and song and better beer, but always with at least its share of scoundrels and cut-throats. And then that was without even mentioning the barbarian hordes, always on horses, always with their fucking horses, often eating them when nothing else was available, living off their milk, drinking it and fermenting it and getting wasted nigh drunk off it. Making butter out of it and tea out of that! Which seemed to, along with their yogurt, keep them healthy. They lived, when they lived in huts, in round huts known as yurts. They didn’t shower very often. They loved to fuck. And to fight. They were, well, barbaric. Barbaric barbarians barbaric in their cruelty, passionate in their outdoor, open-sky, grass-woven grass mat bare-ass fucking on grass fucking and barbaric in their salty, salt-of-the-earth tastes, culture, artistic sensibility or lack thereof. They were fucking fierce, yo. Hella fucking fierce.
So, the path was trod, but with care, and usually only for great riches, in trade, or secrets, but those items, valuable in whatever way they were, often enriched or benefitted not those who sought to gain but were stolen, traded again, often ended up right back where they started, only leading to hurt feelings, misunderstandings, in some cases actual harm or death. Often times they were lost or left where they were or unappreciated for their true value, misused, misappropriated, but they usually, at some point fell into the hands of the horde, where they were either traded, if they were worthwhile or found to have value, kept for generations and handed-down as heirlooms regardless of their origin, or simply thrown away, left in some empty grass covered ruby-gem strewn field, the rubies themselves simply crystals no one found too interesting or valuable.
Some things might have temporary value, the head of a great king, recently captured, kicked around like a soccer ball, by both horses, great lovers of sport, as well as the men of the tribe. Others, like a leather, braided saddle were beyond temporal and had a spiritual quality and one would have to assume you’d be riding on it or the spiritual equivalent down through the ages in the starry skies perhaps.
One of the prisoners, captured from the greedy thieves who’d snuck into the city was brought to see the fallen chief of the occupying force, but left far enough away not to be noticed himself. In fact, the people of the city had a tradition in which some court jesters or clowns dressed as women, men as women, great, great comedy for the hicks from the sticks to get their kicks at the official festivities, which had not now taken place for months. In fact they had actors trained in the art. But there were also male-prostitutes who dressed as ladies. So this particular prisoner was dressed as a lady, with other prostitutes. The sage advice and wise council of the former chief of the occupying force had been employed many times, he thinking he was living a new life, advising on some other matter than his own army, he fully believing his own army finished. And so, perks were given, favors asked. He was told he could see his own family, perhaps have them brought, if he told where they were, he was though, reluctant to give up his cherry so quickly but was eventually popped and ratted his own ass out.
Envoys were sent to the nearby city, equidistant from the emperor’s city and his brother’s city, along the thieves’ trodden path, the road of travelers and traders, in hopes of finding the chief’s family. Meanwhile, the stars were consulted for good augurs. Winter set in and then another spring. An envoy and delegation was sent back, loaded with spies, gathering information, along with gifts of harems and whores and gold along with the chief’s family, who were, however, whilst kept safe, sent to the emperor’s brother’s city, for safekeeping.
And so this prisoner dressed up with prostitutes was mixed in amongst whores from the nearby city, who, whilst they did not all look exactly like members of the occupying force, the occupying force itself composed of many different tribes and elements, was less recognizable to the chief, and this prisoner being simply one amongst many, could not have been individually recognizable to the head of the amassed armies, and yet, it was recognized by the sage sages of the emperor that somehow there would be some information transmitted between their fleeting glances, if even the kind that comes to one later in dreams or meditations upon strange occurrences.
But the prisoner was convinced now that his chief was merely a dog, a fallen ruler and he heard him, overhead and eavesdropped on his mad mutterings hearing him sweeping up, not wanting to believe his own ears, in his own tongue, what should have been so comforting and uplifting, hearing him talk of defeat and a battle lost. And so the prisons were emptied once again, but this time all the prisoners from the country prisons were sent back to the country, and carrot and stick, offered severe punishment for returning to their wicked ways, or wives and children and land and farms in return for their allegiance, and thus the borders of the kingdom expanded in that further direction, spreading out and sending more rice and food to the city.
And the prisons were now filled with the rounded up drunk scoundrels who’d fled the occupying force for the comforts of the city. And this one particular prisoner was sent back and his message caught all ears. But many did not believe. So, the process was repeated with other prisoners, over and over, until the message took hold and could not be shaken from them. At which point they were released back into the fields of the occupying army, now without weapons, suddenly starved of food, without leaders, facing a second harsh winter, all the whores now sent to the emperor’s brother’s city as war heroes and given municipal life-time pensions, the emperor taking in the orphan children of the city and orgies, as well as the ugliest, most diseased, most down-trodden of the poor, the destitute and the prostitutes. Who were then fed and clothed and sent to live far away bathed in the finest perfumes, fed the richest treats, pampered in short back to health, and taught by sages, the children growing up as warriors or scholars or harem courtesan pro-hos trained in the erotic sensual sexual arts, trained as artists and calligraphers, printers and bakers and even tradesmen and women.
And then the emperor did the unorthodox and unexpected and at midnight left the city. He freed all the prisoners, into the streets, he spread a rumor he was killed and the city over-run by heathens, barbarians and the kingdom fallen. Of course he’d quietly left, escorted out by sages and the city’s finest pro-ho sluts, thrilled for a few nights off after months of stressful, taxing orgies, many having had multiple aborted pregnancies, the black arts having been well studied and employed by his own harem and sages. His brother even was not told the truth. It was not long before word got through to the family of the fallen chief, which had all but given up hope, spies being spies everywhere and always the same.
It was not long before word spread along the trodden path to the nearby city. And it was not even that long before word spread to those far off distant cities. And yet, in the country, out at the farms, no one was the wiser, edicts were still printed and handed down, oxen still plowed the fields, the rains still came and the rice still grew. The prisons out in the boonies were half-empty and had been well cleaned when they were emptied and there was more than enough food, even the prisoners were well cared for, sentences were lenient and just and the emperor was still well thought of. There were rumors of his death and demise and the collapse of the kingdom, but anyone could simply look around and see with their own two eyes this was not the case.
Of course, there had been, in the mix-up, prisoners from the horde occupying army and nearby equidistant city from the cities of the two brothers, itself along the trade route to the far-off cities where people smelled funny and ate weird food, who’d ended up out in the country, some in the prisons, some let go, some having married, some having gone back, some ended up freed and then back in prison and so there was a network of spies and thieves which stretched from that distant, from the countryside, foreign city, right through to the countryside. And there were tales and rumors and lies and no one could tell one from the other.
And meanwhile, the emperor had moved far away, across water, to a cliff, near the sky, not much different from the one he knew as a boy, and with his family, with his sages, he gathered up all the orphans from all the cities in his kingdom, all the unwanted children of thieves and soldiers and murderers and drunkards and prostitutes, and gathered up all the infirm and old, all the sages, too, along with a small contingent of his most trusted guard. And to the most trusted warriors he entrusted the ablest of the sages and strongest of the children and they built homes at the base of the isolated rock fortress, near the waterline, from where the snowy peaks of the rock thrusting into the sky reached into the clouds and was obscured from view, most of the time.
He spent many years here. The smallest of the babies grew into men and women and had children of their own, but the wisest sages having been employed, there was always enough food, the rice always fed by floods, glass houses protecting gardens in bamboo barrels, with essential life-giving ginger, star-anise growing year round, snowy frosted chill outside and a close strong winter sun pouring itself inside spreading green fertile goodness into happy nourished bellies. Steam baths, bamboo and spring elevators, black magic, the Tao of Heaven in the clouds.
The warriors of the occupying army rejoiced at the news. And yet after another season, with no magistrates to run the city, filth spread, and disease ran amuck, crime was rampant and the food stores, already depleted, the emperor taking most of them with him, ran dry. There was trade with the countryside. But this led many in the city to try and organize warring parties. These usually fell apart. The chi of the invading army was soaked up by the spongy fertile ground of the rice patties and like another seasonal rain, only ended up nourishing it with the blood of the invaders. They were like an angry wave which crashes against the wall, echoing loudly but receding defeated.
Meanwhile, while the brother of the emperor in the kingdom of the city next to his thought he would rejoice at the opportunity, he found he was distraught at the news and did not want to believe it. But at just this moment was facing a rebellion from within, perhaps due to his mismanagement, perhaps due to the added stress of the foreign invaders disrupting trade and stopping up the pipelines of food from the countryside, which had usually to go through the city of his brother the emperor first or perhaps one more planned, with the family of the former chief of the invaders along with spies of the nearly city, equidistant from both his kingdom and that of his brother’s. As well as from without, as the word had gone as far as the nearest of the far off cities along the trading route, spread presumably by traders and spies from the nearby city. And they had sent forces to conquer, mighty, trained armies.
And his brother the emperor, employing the Tao of Heaven, in the far off city in the clouds, thought dead by all, had his own network of spies and sages, and they passed simple, un-encoded messages which reached his ear. Often simply the amount of grain produced in a province in one year or the rainfall in another. And his sages kept a map of the known world, and had a nearly identical map to reality, marked with forces, troops, farms, prisons, kingdoms, trade routes and spent their days playing games, with the children, mapping out the chi of this force or the yin of another, and how it would play out and who would end up where. And they recorded these and then compared them to what actually ended up happening, as nearly as could be attributed from the bite-sized fortune cookie messages sent along their network of spies and sages.
Now of course they realized, they being sages following the Tao of Heaven, that they could not have a network of sages and spies reaching back to them without someone having knowledge of their location and their existence and their presence. And they used this too, to their advantage, because in their heart of hearts all the so-called victorious horde occupying force knew they were merely drunkards and scoundrels with no honor and not war heroes. And their greatest fear was this being found out. Even greater than their fear that their braggadocios tales of their exploits would reach home and they be rewarded without shame for their treachery and lies and boasting. And even greater than these fears was the fear that the rumors were true, that the emperor of the world was alive and had not been defeated and was in Heaven following the Tao of Heaven with the sagest of the sage and strongest of the strong, the most beautiful of the beautiful, all raised up from the poorest, most downtrodden, an emperor who could defy death.
Soon the Turks, the T’chi, or the Trojans as they were also known would be at the shores of China. But the Tao of Heaven and the emperor in the clouds would defy even these, and bring the war to their shores, seven times, with black magic and all the of the orthodox and unorthodox, their never-ending combination inexhaustible. Seven times defeating them.