Ch 4 ( not a final edit)

IV
Gods and men
The anger of Bai Tuomu made him feel like a viscous animal and he evoked a growl and a grimace of teeth. "Shit stick!" he screamed at his abuser.
The man at the head of the procession cut away from the lead and returned to Bai’s position on the ground. Without a word being spoken he stood and looked down at the visibly shocked Bai with the stern eyes of a punishing god. Bai immediately pressed his palms together and placed them tightly against his forehead bowing in obeisance before the Mandarin’s procession leader.
Bai had entered the walled city of Canton in the hope of finding his cousin Feng Yunshan. It was reported that Feng was traveling with Hong Xiuquan, the man who was telling eager listeners of his meeting with the Christian God and his son Jesus. The streets within the walled city were paved with slabs of granite, each one intricately fit together like a jig-saw puzzle. .Each street had its own gate that is locked every night and posted with sentries that guard each sector of the city. In the section that contained the inhabitant’s homes, the eye is quickly brought to the line of roofs jutting in and out, in every conceivable angle attempting to capture proper Feng Shui. The roofing tiles were made of many different colors and stabbed jaggedly against the background of a bright blue sky. The streets containing the mercantile quarter are but eight feet wide in the widest of sections and are filled with sellers and buyers, people stopping to talk, to eat, drink or to quibble over the weight of a fish or the price of some coveted item.
With shouts and shoves the crowded street parted to make way for a procession led by four men dressed in heavily padded red silk garments leading a palanquin borne upon the shoulders of eight bearers. As the crowd attempted to yield, pushing themselves into whatever available space, Bai found himself tightly against a booth selling salted duck with hanging fowl bobbing about his face. As an elbow slammed into his ribs Bai bent forward in reflex, and found himself knocked to the ground.
"Shit stick," seemed forced from his lips and left him at the mercy of the Mandarin’s lead man. The lead man stepped away from his position, the procession stopped and the crowd stilled. As Bai bowed deeply, the man’s foot caught him under the chin and rolled him into the booth of swinging ducks. Having pronounced judgement, the procession reformed and went on its way. The narrow street resumed the day’s business and Bai stood to regain his composure. The duck vendor decided to launch his own assault and began shouting for payment for disturbing the now swinging ducks. Pushing through the crowd and passing the street’s gate, Bai made several turns right and left until he found an open street with access to a less frenzied mass of people. Bai entered a street designed to sell coffins. They stood forth in all shapes and sizes. Incense filled the open air and his eyes fell upon a man deeply saddened by grief. The man’s face was contorted with emotion and he wailed with lament. The grieving man surprised Bai by seizing him by the arm. His hand was strong and pressed deep into Bai’s flesh. He looked deeply at Bai Tuomu and cleared his tears to speak.
"To see the right and not to do it is cowardice," the bent man imparted to Bai.
"Why do you bother me with this? Am I known to you,?" asked Bai.
"Show me a man of violence that came to a good end, and I will take him for my teacher," the man recited, his face contorted no more, his eyes clear and shining.
Bai stood still as his peripheral vision began to reveal the tapestry hanging about the man. The man’s status as a diviner sent a shiver of fear up Bai’s spine. Bai turned to speak to the man as his words stuck like vomit in his throat. Bai looked down at the smiling man, and felt himself go faint while the world began to spin. After a brief moment Bai slowly opened his eyes. The vendor of salted ducks yelled curses and threats of arrest. Bai stood to his feet to let his head clear .He appeared to be still within the duck vendors booth. In an effort to distance himself from the strangeness of the day’s experiences, he headed without the city to continue his search for cousin Feng.
********

My primordial nature has no liking for the life in the cities.
To be free from the noise I built a little thatched cottage.
Far away in the depth of the mountains.
Wandering here and there I carry no thought.
When spring comes I watch the birds.;
In summer I bathe in the running stream;
In autumn I climb the highest peaks;
During the winter I am warming in the sun.
Thus I enjoy the real flavor of the seasons...
Shih T’ao
In the autumn of 1847, at the age of sixteen, Bai set aside the anger and insecurity of youth. He effortlessly exchanged it for the joy and confidence that came with being a part of the "God Worshiping Society," created through the words of his cousin Feng and through the vision of the Heavenly King, Hong Xiuquan.
Bai traveled with Hong and his cousin Feng to Thistle Mountain some two hundred and fifty miles west of their home village. Hong and Feng spent each day studying, writing and teaching. In the year prior, Feng had lived with the family of Zeng, studying every translated piece of Christian teachings that were available while spreading the message of Hong and his vision. Their writings were distributed over the area around Thistle Mountain and converts were added daily to the society’s numbers. There was a feeling of excitement knowing that God was going to rid the world of evil and that the society was chosen by God for the task.
Hong would relay his story over and over to every eager listener. In 1837, as his story was told, he became ill and found himself being escorted to heaven. He was shown illustrious things beyond description. He was welcomed into heaven with music and fanfare unmatched by anything he had ever seen or heard. Hong found himself being carried along in a procession, high, in a multi-colored sedan chair set upon the shoulders of several attendants. Hong had his organs removed and replaced with new ones. He was introduced to his "Mother" who bathed him in a river as a preparation to meet his "Father."
Hong’s story went on to explain how he met his Father and an elder brother. He began to receive instruction from them in a manner resembling efforts to remind him of what he once knew yet had forgotten through his journey to earth. His Father showed him that the earth and it’s people were given over to demons and idols. Hong tells of his grief and anger upon hearing this. He had asked of his Father why he would not show his wrath and just destroy them all. His father patiently explained that the demons have infiltrated heaven itself and they first must be destroyed. With his Fathers permission, Hong and his elder brother began to battle demons through the thirty three levels of heaven. After many lengthy battles the demons were driven out of heaven and battled back to the earth. It was a long string of battles and Hong was allowed to rest with a wife that soon bears him a son. Hong spent his days in heaven in the study of the scrolls of heaven and basking in the loving-kindness of his wife and new son. He tells his listeners of the beauty and contentment he had shared with his wife in heaven and that he had no ambitions to ever return back to the earth. As his contentment reached it’s zenith, his Father instructed Hong that he must return to earth to continue the battle and instructed him to "behead the evil ones, spare the just, and ease the people’s sorrow."
Hong tells of his awakening to find himself back upon the earth. His father and brothers assure him that he never left them and that all he had envisioned was the result of his illness. Hong realizes that his experience is beyond the demon suppressed minds of his family. He is disturbed as to the meaning of his "vision" and shares with only those that could have ears to hear. As Hong sought to regain his place within the family, he began prepare for the examinations again. The complex revelations contained within his vision haunted Hong daily and he sought to know their meaning or wait for their fulfillment.
In 1836, a year before his illness and his visions of heaven, Hong was given a set of nine tracts collected into one book entitled, "Good Words for Exhorting the Age" written by a Chinese Christian convert named, Liang Afa. After Hong’s first set of examinations, he encountered two missionaries outside the gates of Canton. Hong had a brief conversation with them which was wholly forgettable but left departing from their company handed the set of tracts, which he placed among his things for the long walk home. Hong put the book of tracts aside and did not look at them for seven years. In 1843, Hong was reintroduced to Afa’s words after he lent the book to a friend. The friend had heard Hong’s story of his journey into heaven and shared Hong’s puzzlement as to it’s meaning. Upon reading the book, Hong’s friend was startled to read of such vivid confirmation of Hong’s vision and he steadfastly returned to share the book’s words with Hong. The meaning of Hong’s vision was made clear. His father was God. His elder brother was Jesus, and he had a task to fulfill.
Hong studied the tracts over and over gleaning every morsel of information regarding the message of God. Upon sharing his revelations, he began to gain early converts, one of whom was Bai’s cousin, Feng Yunshan. As Hong and Feng set out to spread word of Hong’s vision, Bai was invited to accompany them.
The autumn of 1847 at Thistle Mountain was the happiest time Bai had ever known. Although there was much prayer and teaching, he had never before has such a feeling of safety and security. If he strayed too far from the protection of the mountain Bai had the protection of secret words and hand signals that were honored by all of the hill people, bandit or mercenary, friend or foe, as recognition of the important work undertaken by the God worshipers. The mountain was an exercise of all the senses. Steep climbs revealed waterfalls and unusual rock formations. The water was as cold and clear as any water Bai had ever seen. In the pools that collected amid the huge and hidden rock walls forging out mountain streams, Bai could see rocks on the pool floor at depths of sixteen feet as well as he could see them at three feet deep. On the mountain’s higher levels there grew pines standing alone among the rocks, twisted and spiraled into a flat green top. There were hundreds of migrating red beaked birds singing furiously as if in praise to the mountain. There were many varieties of flowers still in bloom, and Bai stopped to enjoy every one of them. To Bai, this was heaven on earth. Tomorrow they had planned for the first time to leave the mountain into an adventure into the unfamiliar mountain of temples and demons about a day’s journey away. Bai held a mixture of fear and excitement fluttering within his stomach. Tomorrow was to be an important day.
With two sons of the Zeng family leading the way, Hong, Feng and Bai, and another local God- Worshiper named Lu Liu, made their way through the dense mountain foliage. Bai notices as Hong walks with an intense and single-minded look while Feng still finds moments to laugh and appear playful. Bai can feel the strength of his legs as they carry him higher and higher through the mountain passage. The winding trail leads sharply upward and as quickly it can lead downward within the span of less than twenty paces, Bai observes careful placement of rocks and stones within the breaks of the foliage along the way as if someone were playing a stone game of balance with stone upon stones.
Knowing that the God of Heaven is leading the steps of Hong Xiuquan, lends itself to a feeling of utter awe. Bai has known no other time in his life when he has felt so strong and invincible.
"The Temple of King Gan is below the group of trees. Can you see where they clear?" asks the youngest Zeng brother. Everyone slows and peers over the narrow precipice to glimpse the clearing at the base of the next rise. "We can climb over the south slope and there will be a shallow stream that we must cross. Do you think we should make noise and alert anyone of our approach?"asks the younger Zeng.
"No!", states Hong. "We are the hand of God on earth and we fear not. No harm will befall us. Only believe and our Father in heaven will not abandon us."
The Temple of King Gan was built for the man named Gan, who placed his trust, not in the one true God, but in the local magician. In seeking to ensure that his line of descendants would continue after he had died, Gan inquired of the magician for guidance. The magician directed Gan to purchase this site and consecrate it with blood. Gan did as instructed only he killed his own mother and had her buried there. There were multiple stories like this that accompanied the name of Gan and there were many tales of the power of this temple site that struck awe and fear in all of the local inhabitants.
With the light of day quickly diminishing, they agreed to rest for the night and visit the temple at first light. Hong led them in prayer and they sat quietly to eat the provisions they had brought for the day’s journey. When they had finished everyone sought out a comfortable place to lay their heads in anticipation of tomorrow’s mission. Billions upon billions of stars shone upon the black canvas of the night sky as the moon had yet to rise. "Cousin?" Bai looked over at Feng. "Do you think we will be attacked by demons, tomorrow?"
Feng looked through the dark and sought out Bai’s face. "We have heard it said that all manner of assaults have overtaken those that refuse to say Gan’s name in fear and in reverence We need not have such fear, for we are the keeper of God’s commandments."
In the morning they assembled their belongings and Bai looked over the mountains and valleys that surrounded them. Rings of fog clung like collars on the many hills and mountains of the area. It was eerily quiet as Hong and Feng took the lead positions and they started on their way. The pathway was covered over by a thick grouping of trees creating a canopy that would block the brightest noonday sun. They waded the shallow stream and followed the pathway to its end. As the canopy came to an end it opened to reveal a large cleared area at the base of a hill. There stood a wide and imposing shrine made of wood and stone. It’s roof was covered with bright red tiles thirty feet at its peak. It was no more the six paces in depth with King Gan at it’s center. Hong moved forward with his staff in hand and began to speak as if he and King Gan knew each other well. Bai watched Hong recite a list of reasons as to why the site is immoral and ungodly. Hong was fiercely speaking directly to the idol of King Gan. "Do you recognize me?" shouted Hong. "If you do, you best return to the hell!"Hong began to beat at the idol. In frustration over his lack of damage, he dropped his staff and grabbed the idol in an attempt to topple it over. With the righteous anger of the God-Worshipers coming to a frenzied pitch, they all begin to grasp, push, and pull at King Gan until he toppled to the floor. With the determination of an angry mob looking to extract justice, they began to kick, pull and gouge until the idol was beyond repair. Pieces that could be carried were thrown into the stream. Bai placed the eyes, which looked to be carved from jade, into the pocket of his garment. As they assembled for the day’s journey home they wrote poems of defiance to leave in the idol’s stead. Hong signed a large unfolded banner, " Taiping Heavenly King, Ruler of the Great way, Xiuquan". On their trek back up the mountain slope for the return journey home, Bai pulled forth the eyes of King Gan and examined them discreetly. Noticing that he is undiscovered, he placed them back within his pocket while they all traveled jubilantly back to Thistle Mountain.

Comments

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