Chapter Seven of "Walking the Circle"

(Chapters 1 -6 posted earlier)

City of peace

The more regulations there are,
the poorer the people.
The more weapons there are,
the greater the chaos.
Lao Tzu

Six years had passed since Bai, his cousin Feng, and Hong Xiuquan carried out the destruction of the shrine of King Gan. “Oh, how quickly my life has changed since that day,” Bai thought. He began to whittle the chronological order of things in his mind from those early days until now.
Hong and Feng were held in such high regard among the God Worshipers for tearing down the idol of King Gan. However, the anger of the local villagers caused the arrest of Feng, his rescue, and of his arrest once again. The numbers of the God Worshipers increased in numbers and many that responded did so based on the sole reason of wanting to oppose the local magistrate who, with the aid the government militia moved into the hills around Thistle Mountain looking to oppose any group that would disrupt local tradition.

After months of lengthy opposition, Hong and Feng were once again reunited at Thistle Mountain. A new and influential member was added and his presence manifested itself as the mouthpiece of Jesus, issuing messages and guidance from Heaven on High. The voice of Jesus, through Yang Xiuqing, was a welcome and inspiring addition. Yang delivered to Hong news of events in Heaven that had taken place since Hong was last there during his visions of 1837. Direction and confirmation of Hong’s teachings were uttered by Jesus through Yang Xiuquing, giving them the needed energy to press forward in their mission. The worshipers, so confident in their mission to kill the demons and build a heavenly kingdom on earth, cast aside the traditional queue required by the Manchus. The queue, as a sign of the people’s loyalty, was discarded and they let their hair grow in, knowing full well that their actions were punishable by death.

The growth of the God Worshipers was alive with new energy and filled it’s members with excitement. The movement spread into the areas outward from Thistle mountain. Each day brought with it the promises of God. Because of Bai’s past association with Feng and Hong, fellow worshipers looked upon Bai with reverence. Bai carried within him a feeling of importance and a confidence in all that he did.

After many arrests, increasing anti government sentiment grew within the ranks and Hong began to formulate a position that included the Manchus as the “demons to be exterminated.” Bai remembered how the tensions began to escalate between the government forces and the God Worshipers. The voice of Jesus issued a directive that an army needed to be assembled in order for God’s mission to be carried out. Slaying demons and building a Heavenly Kingdom upon the earth was to be their primary objective. Bai thought guardedly as Hong began to dress in robes of Imperial Yellow. Hong began to adopt a position of holy importance that placed him high above the others and no longer accessible Bai. As troops were assembled to await Hong’s call, Bai was given a position as lieutenant and was responsible for leading one hundred troops and four sergeants. The troops met daily with their commanders and received instruction to recited the Ten Commandants and the teachings of Hong Xiuquan as they were published and distributed. With the increasing reaction of Government forces, battle strategy began to be the way of life. Carrying out God’s decree to “behead the evil ones, spare the just, and ease the people’s sorrow,” quickly became a way of life. The search for fortifications to protect and sustain their rising numbers drove Hong’s decision to attack the walled city of Yongan. That they succeeded with a lessor force, confirmed for many that God was with them. Government forces continued their efforts to oust the Worshipers from the city and were frustrated by repeated failures.

Bai recalled how things within the settlement continued to change as the code of behavior was dictated that men and woman were to be separated into different quarters, married or not. Tensions increased as the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery or be licentious” as understood and taught by Hong, was strictly enforced. The fact that Hong had a wife and several concubines at his call could not be questioned. Among the ranks, all officers were directed to look for those who would break this commandment. Steady glances between the opposite sexes could be interpreted as being licentious so the people acted carefully as commandment breakers would be beheaded and have their heads hung on a post for all to see.

Bai had hoped to find himself a wife. Now, just a wayward glance, a smile at a female of interest could be his death. In his desire to be a loyal soldier of God, Bai dismissed the questions that arose within him. How is it that this regulation can be so enforced when Hong has a wife and several concubines? How could the city of Heavenly Peace create so much suspicious tension? And the killing? Bai had been responsible for much violence and bloodshed and felt very uneasy about all of it. Life within Yongan was filled with hardships and hunger. Bai felt that he could no longer endure this life of suspicion, prayer, hunger and rules. As he prayed and looked for ways to escape his doubt, orders were delivered that an exodus away from Yongan was being planned and that their departure was imminent.

Government forces had established fortifications waiting for just such a move. The Taiping troops and their families made their way through the east gate under the cover of darkness. Quietly they moved carrying all that they could safely carry. As the morning light edged out the cover of darkness, the rear guard was revealed and the government sentries gave the call. The attack by government troops was swift and brutal and they succeeded in killing over two thousand of Hong’s army. The main body of Hong’s army, in a surprise move, doubled back and killed over five thousand of the government troops. The nosie, mixed with the smell of gunfire and blood made men yell in both war lust and horror. Bai and his troops rushed through a break in dense green foliage and surprised several hundred of the government troops trying to exit the road back towards Yongan. Bai had long lost his rifle and rushed forward with only his sword. The sight of the Taiping warriors, their hair long and their bodies belted with wide red sashes made their enemies retreat in terror. There were several soldiers that witnessed seeing bullets hit the heavily padded Bai that knocked him left and right, sending puffs of dust into the air. After the battle, in which Bai had killed over twenty men with his sword, discussions amongst the other soldiers began to surface stating that Bai was especially favored and protected by God. The attention made Bai feel very uneasy as he was beginning to believe that the more invisible you were, the safer you became. Bai’s commander was alerted by all four of Bai’s sergeants noting his bravery in battle. They hoped that recognition for their brave lieutenant might bring added rewards for them as well. There was confidence among his troops that acknowledgment was due, but it never came.

After the initial retreat, the government forces reconvened and continued in their pursuit northward. Bai grimaced as he recalled that during this leg of the journey, his cousin Feng was shot from a gunner on the walls of Quanzhou. With a slight smile of guilt, he thought of the army’s response and quickly corrected himself. The Taiping army attacked in response until all within the walls were dead. The brutality of the Taiping army was fierce and they showed no mercy .At that moment it appeared to be a just response. In his mind’s eye Bai visualized the large amount of severed heads and limbs that were scattered about the ruins and pillage. Woman and children, the young and the old. No one were spared. The Taiping force did not linger and they continued the push northward. Bai was angry that they did not tarry over and seek medical counsel for cousin Feng. God had decided for the Worshipers to push ahead in attempts to out pace the oncoming government troops. Cousin Feng died of his wounds. With little acknowledgment, Hong decreed that they should proceed onward killing all civil and military officials, every soldier and militiamen. They breeched the walls of Wuchang, warning that any Taoist or Buddhist priests found within their temples would be beheaded. As the Taiping regrouped within the city of walls, the site of the Heavenly Kingdom was made clear to Hong Xiuquan. As the Taiping troops and their families gathered for rest, Hong announced a sudden departure towards the designated city of peace. Nanjing!

Thirty days and six hundred miles later, the army of Worshipers infiltrated Nanjing and quickly breeched the wall of the old city. The army kept to their custom and it was a bloody affair that had city officials commit suicide rather than risk capture. The casualty list for government troops and city officials topped four to five thousand. As the smoke cleared and the remaining “demons” were found and killed, Hong Xiuquan entered the city.
The day is cool but the adrenaline of battle warms a man for days. Bai stood weary, his face and clothing tinted with dirt, sweat and blood. Musicians assembled for the glorious occasion and the joyful music made Hong’s entrance appear as a dream. With fanfare only rivaled by the joy of festivals and celebrations long forgotten, Hong entered the city wearing bright yellow robes with yellow shoes seated on a highly decorated palanquin and carried by sixteen bearers. Many of the troops march in before him in victory. The roadside stood lined with the remaining people of the city of Nanjing, who prostrate themselves before the Heavenly King. Hong passes through the great gates escorted by his many woman on horseback wielding bright yellow parasols.


“ Benevolent Father,” Bai Toumu prayed. “Guide my steps and appease my doubting mind. I long to serve you and your Holy Son upon the earth. Grant me the discernment to know your will. I have witnessed destruction not seen under Heaven since the great flood of Noah. Are you so angered that only famine and bloodshed will appease? Why do I not feel the anger of Heaven within my loins? We pray for a Kingdom of Heavenly Peace. Is this your peace? A peace enforced by harsh laws and threats of beheading? I grieve, O God, over my lack of faith. I feel that I have failed, O God. Open my eyes to your will! Help me be a worthy servant. Worthy of your love and worthy to be your good servant! Help me, O God! Help me! Help me,” Bai Toumu wept in grieving prayer.

In the private quarters accorded the status a lieutenant of valor, Bai fell asleep in an attempt to escape the despair within his prayer. For several hours his sleep remained fitful, disturbed, his mind wracked with conflict. As he lay upon his bed, once the chamber of a local merchant of some esteem and success, his thoughts focused on the eyes of Jade. Perhaps, he is impure for his coveting. His secret, never shared, made Bai uncertain. “Why had he kept them? Why did he hide them from discovery if he felt it just to take them?” If he were to present them to Hong in confession, he would surely loose his head. Perhaps he should discard in the well. “Perhaps I do deserve to loose my head,” Bai sighed. “O God. Show me your will.” Exhausted by his internal battle, he fell deeply asleep.

A large black water buffalo, his hide so black that it shields the expression of his eyes or muzzle, is seen walking along the Nanjing city wall. In contrast, the blue backdrop of sky, marks his slow and deliberate progress upon the western wall. At the far end of the western wall is all manner of corn and fruit in abundance. There are eight obstacles separating the buffalo from his prize and it takes great concentration to determine that their construct is that of wind. Eight winds of unknown origin or destination, are united in their determination to block, slow, or disable. As the great buffalo presses forward through the first wind, the conquered wind changes its force and direction and begins to blow in support of the determined beast. In succession, each conquered wind shifts from obstacle to aid, until at long last the weary animal finds itself standing before his hard won prize. The combined wind has not let up its force. As the black buffalo steadies himself, the wind begins to tear away at his hide and flesh until a silhouette of a man is seen. The wind ceases and the man turns to reveal his face. With serenity and strength, Bai Tuomu lies among the fruit and corn in complete rest from his labors.

His doubt subsided after a nights rest, Bai went to assemble his sergeants in preparation for the troop assignments. The troops were assigned the job of cleaning away the debris of battle. This was an assignment that one did without thought. To let your mind focus on the task was too disturbing. Bodies with bloated stomachs and protruding tongues. Eyes glazed over with the pain of death. Limbs and heads and unbearable stench. The city was filled with activity as everyone had a task to complete. Within a week, the New Jerusalem, The Heavenly Kingdom of Peace, was beginning to take shape. By the months end, every group of twenty five families had a public granary established, while land was divided. A Sergeant was assigned to oversee and enforce religious observances and instruction. After a complete census was taken, the army was assembled and their roles were within the new city were explained. There was an elaborate structure of corp generals, colonels, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, corporals and privates, established to oversee and implement God’s commandments and Hong’s instruction. Attempts to establish trade with the English, French and the Americans brought some notoriety to Nanjing as being a new Chinese utopia.. Hong continues his call for sexual separation. Severe penalties for anyone caught breaking Hong’s rules of behavior are enforced. There were several be headings resulting with in the sinner’s heads being set upon posts for all to view. As the men are separated from their wives. Anyone who seeks the services of prostitutes will be killed and their families with them. Rewards are given to those who report suspected infractions.

The western end of the city wall, overlooked a large marsh. Bai often retired there to collect his thoughts. It was possible that someone could mistake these clandestine meetings with himself with suspicions that he was meeting a lover. He had to take the utmost precaution. Laying back upon the top of the wide and darkened wall, Bai remembered those wonderful days when he roamed the hills of Thistle Mountain. He thoughts went to the mysterious meeting with the teller of fortunes within the walls of Canton. He could afford to relax his guard at this section of the walled city. The positions for sentries were vacant at the northern wall as it had the least risk of attack assigned to it.

“What did he mean by speaking those words,” Bai thought over and over. “To see the right and not to do it is cowardice. Show me a man of violence that came to a good end, and I will take him for my teacher.” Bai thought of his dream of the buffalo upon the western wall. The crickets chirped while peeps and croaks along the waters edge filled the marsh. As he lay upon the wall lost in thought, he could hear someone approach. The high wall, which took considerable skill to climb, gave him a vantage point without little fear of discovery. As he lay flat, he strained his eyes through the light of the new moon. Two lovers stood embracing. The woman let down her hair and slipped from her clothing as the man did the same. The silhouette of her breasts through the light of the early moon, made Bai long for the love of a woman. He watched, not as some manner of perversion, but in recognition of God’s gift. Two souls exchanging complete and utter care for one another. Each breath exchanging itself for the breath of the other. Locking themselves tightly together, Bai could hear their passion and felt thankful for it. It was beautiful! As beautiful as the night sky, the natural sounds of the night, the wind through the tall grasses. Their act did not stand apart from the night but joined in with the gift, the beauty, of being alive. At that moment, he felt deeply ashamed. Shame for the deaths at the point of his gun, the edge of his sword, the plunge of his knife, or stomp of his boot. During the course of the early raids, when the army was assembled and order was not wholly established, rape was considered the natural spoil of war. The faces of several young girls came into his mind’s eye. The sobbing, their cries of pain when he thrust himself violently upon them. The hanging of heads as the soldiers left their conquests. It was hard for Bai to think of these acts and his part in them. “To see the right and not to do it is cowardice. Show me a man of violence that came to a good end, and I will take him for my teacher!”


baroness radon said…
Well, in the name of Saint Frances Xavier, it's about time you came through with another installment.

I smell a screenplay here, with Vincent (drool) Zhao as Bai, maybe Raymond Lam as Hong, Al Pacino as some crazy miscellaneous Jesuit.

Keep it coming!