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A Deadly Secret



In my youth, back in my home at Haining county in Zhejiang province there was a servant by the name of He Sheng. He was a hunchback that tended to tilt to the right, giving off an oddly appearance. Although I am calling him a servant, he was not responsible for any heavy duty work. He only swept floors, cleaned off dust, and took the kids to school. When my brother’s classmates would see him they would sing: “He Sheng He Sheng half hunchback, call him three times he will get angry, call him another three times he will turn a somersault, when he flips over he looks like a paralyzed basket. Paralyzed basket is a native slang from home which refers to rice baskets that have been broken.

At that time I only held He Sheng’s hands and shouted at my brother’s classmates to not sing. I even cried once as a result. As such, He Sheng was especially close to me. Even in the case of rainy or snowy days, he would still take me to school. Because he was a half hunchback, he could not carry me on his back, and he was already very old at the time. My parents urged him not to carry me for the fear that both of us would fall and hurt ourselves, but he insisted.

One day, he contrived a great sickness. I went to his room to give him some dim sum, and he told me about his life story:

He was a person from the Danyang county in Jiangsu province. His home operated a family business of tofu, and his parents helped him find a pretty lady from the neighbourhood as his wife. He had to save up money for a few years before he had enough to complete the marriage. In December of that year, the family man told him to grind the rice vermicelli used to make year cakes. This rich man in the family opened a pawn shop and a seasoning store, and his home had a big garden. Whether it be grinding tofu or grinding rice vermicelli, both required similar amounts of effort. The rich man wanted the rice to be finished grinding by New Year’s. The work of grinding was done in the back section of the rich man’s house. I have seen people grind vermicelli before. They would grind for a few days, and there would already be a circle of dull footprints to be seen around the mill from the grinder. The social customs around Jiangnan was pretty similar throughout, so I understood as soon as he said it.

Because he was in a hurry to finish, he would have to work until 10 or 11PM. One day after he was finished work, it was already very late and he was about to go home when suddenly several people from the rich man’s family shouted: “There’s a thief!” and ordered people to capture the thief in the garden. He ran into the garden and was beaten with a stick by several people who called him a thief. There were quite a few people beating him with a stick causing him to bruise up severely and even broke his ribs. That was how his half hunchback was caused. He took several strokes to the head and fell unconscious. When he woke up, there were many good and silver jewelleries that they said they found on his body. And someone also found copper coins and gold hidden in the rice basket so they took him to the government office. As the spoils were there, he could not deny his accusations, and was hit with several dozen strokes before being sent off to prison.

Originally, even if he was accused as a thief, it would not be any sort of unforgivable crime, likely to be kept in prison for two years and then released. During this time, his father and mother both died of shock, and his unwed wife married the son of the rich man.

After he was released from prison he realized that he was framed by the rich man’s son. One day, they came across each other on the street, and he took out a sharp knife that he hid in his pocket and stabbed the man. However, he could not escape and was once again arrested. That man suffered serious injuries but he did not die. But his father consistently contacted various officials and gaolers, intending to murder him inside prison for the fear that he would seek revenge once he was released.

He said: “It is really a blessing from Bodhisattva, within a year, Master became a high ranking official in the office of Danyang county. His greatness saved my life.”

Who he referred to as his master was actually my grandfather.

My grandfather was Wen Qing (originally his surname was “Mei”, but when he went to school and during exams he used “Wen Qing” as his name), his knowledge of literature was vast as coral, back in his hometown the elders would call him “Mr. Vast Coral”. He graduated middle school during the twenty-second year of the reign of Qing emperor Guangxu and continued his service examination in the middle of the twenty-third year. He was sent to Danyang to become a magistrate. He had strong achievements as a county magistrate and moved up in rank. Not long after, the incident called “Danyang Religous Case” occurred.

The fifth scroll of Mr. Deng Zicheng’s “Two Thousand Years of Chinese History” mentions this incident:

“The Treaty of Tianjin permitted foreigners to preach, hence many religious people spread all over China. Vicious people joined religions, and treated foreigners as protection from the functionary of the government. The people hated the arrogance of the preachers, and also claimed that this operation was sly and there was much speculation causing much dispute and controversy. There were many casualties amongst local preachers, and the foreign preachers made the excuse to threaten them, extort a huge sum of money, and even blamed the officials. They threatened the Qing court to punish harshly, the regional general removed them from their positions and can never come again. The internal affairs was meddled, and the country was no longer a country.

“Danyang Religious Case”. In August of the seventeenth year of the reign of Guangxu, Liu Kunyi made a resolute. That year in Jiangsu, the counties Danyang, Jingui, Wuxi, Yanghu, Jiangyin, and Rugao each had a church and were each burnt down in succession. People were sent to investigate this case in Jiangsu. Danyang was first to be investigated, and the screening of Wen Qing caused him to be expelled…” (The Guangxu Records, p. 105)

Before my grandfather was expelled, he tried to appeal the decision. His superior told him to behead the two criminals who set the churches on fire in public in order to satisfy the foreign preachers. However, my grandfather sympathized with the citizens who burnt down the churches and notified the two criminals to escape. Then he explained to his superior that this incident was caused by foreign churchmen bullying our good citizens which caused public anger. Several hundred people rushed at once to burn down the churches, there was no leader in this act. Following this, he was formally removed from his position.

Later, my grandfather went back to his hometown to study and write poems. He provided many services to the public. He wrote a “Haining Cha Clan Poem Compilation” which consisted of several hundred scrolls, but he passed away before it was completed (This copy was placed in two houses and later became the entertainment of me and my cousins). At the time of the funeral, Danyang sent a dozen or more priests to provide libation. The two men who were responsible for the burning down of churches attended and were crying. According to my uncle and my father, the two of them went from Danyang to my hometown, and every half a kilometer they would give a respectful kowtow. Even today I am suspicious of this statement, let alone during the time of my childhood. However, those two men were indeed very grateful, so it’s not out of the question that they did these kowtows for the last several kilometers of the journey.

A while back I went to Taiwan and saw my older cousin Mr. Jiang Fucong. He was the head of the National Palace Museum and he used to be classmates with my second uncle back in Beijing University. He mentioned to me the deeds of my grandfather and praised him greatly. Had he not told me I would not have known this.

He Sheng said that after my grandfather became the magistrate of Danyang, he reinvestigated the cases of every prisoner and realized that He Sheng was innocent. However, the incident of him stabbing the rich man’s son was completely true and could not be denied, hence he could not be released. After my grandfather resigned from his position to return home he brought He Sheng with him and raised him in my family.

He Sheng did not pass away until the war began. My father and mother would not mention his deeds to anyone. When He Sheng spoke to me he thought that he would not recover from his illness, so he did not instruct me not to release this information.

This incident has always been stuck in my heart. “A Deadly Secret” was developed from this real life story to serve as a memory of an elder that was very near and dear to me in my childhood. What He Sheng’s surname was, I never knew; He Sheng was not his real name. Obviously, he did not know any martial arts. I only remember that he would often not speak for one or two days. My parents treated him with much generosity and respect and never ordered him to do anything.

This novel was written in 1963. At that time, Ming Pao newspaper and Singapore’s Nanyang Business Paper cooperated to do a weekly publication called “Southeast Asia Weekly”. This novel was written for that newspaper. This novel was originally entitled “Su Xin Jian[1]”.

Jin Yong

-April 1977


[1]The title is “素心劍”, literal translation “Pure Heart Sword”.

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