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After 37 years in the Making, The Academician – The Southern Swallow – Book I is now available at Amazon.com
The author of Jade Owl Legacy Series, Edward C. Patterson, has released the first book in the Southern Swallow Series - The Academician on Amazon.com. This novel of 12th Century China, the product of 30 years work, is a real eye-opener.
“A bigger fool the world has never known than I — a coarse fellow with no business to clutch a brush and scribble. I only know the scrawl, because my master took pleasure in teaching me between my chores. Not many men are so cursed . . .” Thus begins the tale of Li K’ai-men as told by his faithful, but mischievous servant, K’u Ko-ling — a tale of 12th Century China, where state service meant a life long journey across a landscape of turmoil and bliss. A tale of sacrifice, love, war and duty — a fragile balance between rituals and passions. An epic commitment between two men to define the indefinable in their own world and time. Here begins the legacy of the Jade Owl and its custodian as he holds true to his warrants.
also read the article Southern Swallow and His Cut-Sleeve Affair on 12th Century China and homosexuality.
The Academician is the first of four books in the Southern Swallow series, capturing the turbulence of the Sung Dynasty in transition. Spanning the silvery days under the Emperor Hui to the disasters that followed, The Academician is a slice of world events that should never have been forgotten. Still, there are things more important than invasions and empires. The world’s fate rests in the warrants of Li K’ai-men, this young scholar from Gui-lin, called master by his faithful servant, but known as Nan Ya to the world."
The Academician is a fictional account of a twelfth Century Chinese scholar-official, who readers of The Jade Owl Legacy first encounter in The Third Peregrination. Although this series serves as an historical adjunct to The Jade Owl, it has been in development longer than any work from the author's pen. The character of Li K’ai-men first came to light over three decades ago in Patterson's first China-themed work, Vagrant Hollow, a work which, unlike Li, will never come to light. Still, Mr. Patterson's great desire to novelize a seminal epoch in Chinese History, the founding of the Southern Sung Dynasty, sprang to life even earlier in his Masters’ thesis, "The Restoration of the Southern Sung Dynasty: The Reign of the Emperor Kao-tsung: 1127 – 1167." While entrenched in this period’s amazing details, Patterson visualized the tug and tussle of events that every Chinese schoolchild knows, but few in the West can fathom.
The Corpse of Pao Chin
A bigger fool the world has never known than I — a coarse fellow with no business to clutch a brush and scribble. I only know the scrawl, because my master took pleasure in teaching me between my chores. Not many men are so cursed by a scholar and saddled with the baggage of literary aspirations. Still, what I know, I know. What I have seen, I have seen; so what I scrawl is no more than a witness and a guess on how things grew along my path, which was his path after all. Now that he raises his spectral cup in the Dragon’s Pool with the Other, I can do little but sit on the riverbank, boiling the fish soft for my toothless repast and serve destiny with these recollections. Better men have managed it, so I am doomed to failure. So we begin with a flourish of the brush — with a big Nan and a giant Ya, my master’s pen name — Southern Swallow. Then, we commence with . . . an ending. In fact, without an ending, this story could not begin; and it began at Su-chou inside the Superintendent’s official residence.
A gadfly buzzed in the courtyard watching the Superintendent work. The place seemed deserted. While the city market hummed just over the Ya-men wall, the great official appeared engrossed in his industry — perusing memorials destined for his superior in Yang-chou, a critical eye, who examined every character for proper usage. Perusing every document, from petty requisition to execution warrants, served the Superintendent’s best interest, although the gadfly buzzed.
Xin Ch’u, the chief clerk of the Ya-men, took his ease in the doorway behind the sandalwood screen. It was stifling indoors, yet he knew that to make his presence known to the Superintendent would immediately enlist his aid on the papers at hand. It was better to stall here in semi-shade and watch the official toil. There would be plenty of tasks for Xin Ch’u’s staff, but why suffer the imposition now? Xin Ch’u’s several chins ran wet. His fan gave him scant relief. As he watched, he saw an inviting bowl of wine on the Superintendent’s desk. It would be tepid, and might even heat his blood, but Xin Ch’u longed for it. His own larder was far off, at least a quarter hour’s walk, so Xin Ch’u hoped that if he presented himself before his liege-lord that he could avert the tasks if not preempting some of the glorious wine. He fluttered his robes, airing his soaked vestment, and then prepared to enter the courtyard like a man lost in the summer heat.
Then, he heard the gadfly. So did the Superintendent, who gazed up from the scrolls. His brush outlined the fly’s trajectory as it buzzed about the desk, landing on the ink block. Xin Ch’u halted, still unseen by his lord. The Superintendent fluttered his hand across the block, his fingers flicking the air. He did this three times, and then rose slightly from his chair. He grasped his chest. He choked, and then sprawled across the desk. A slight man, he brought no harm to the desk.
Xin Ch’u observed these things calmly. He pressed forward slightly until he heard the gadfly’s buzz. It hovered over the Superintendent for a short spell before nestling in his ear, perhaps to sing a last song for His Excellency. A slight smile blossomed on Xin Ch’u’s lips. He walked around the desk, scanning the man and his workload. There was little doubt of the condition, but still if a mirror could be clouded, the guards must be summoned — the doctor would be fetched and the courtyard would fill with a plethora of assorted busybodies, all seeking news and . . . well, the spoils of death. That wouldn’t do, not for Xin Ch’u. He sneered at the Superintendent’s helpless form, and waited for a last ditched burble or fart. None came, so the chief clerk reached down for the glorious wine and drank the bowl dry.
“Dead,” Xin Ch’u said. “What a bother. Another one dead.” He looked about for more wine, but saw none. “At least this one has not left posterity to complicate things.”
Xin Ch’u was a hefty man— quite able to lift the Superintendent from the desk and carry him to a more dignified locale. However, the chief clerk’s instincts were focused on the importance of him being in charge. He poked around the table for various small riches — an ink plate, a fine brush and a lovely vermilion sealing pot. These quickly vanished beneath Xin Ch’u’s robes. He continued to probe, even to the Superintendent’s hair comb, when suddenly he spied something shiny. A silver ring on the dead man’s middle finger just beneath the gadfly that had rested on the knuckles and sucked on death. The ring was simply set with an emerald at its crest. It was a handsome reward for the clerk. A few twists and Xin Ch’u pulled the signet over the Superintendent’s long fingernails. It was heavy in the hand, much heavier than it appeared on the finger. The clerk slipped it on, and then quickly cast a glance about the courtyard assuring that no one watched. Safe. Xin Ch’u raised his hand to the fading light.
“Brilliant,” he said. He sneered, gazing down at the man who was his overlord. “More brilliant than you were, Pao Chin. This is my reward for diligence. I had forgotten that you had such a treasure.” He had spied it once at court, but mostly it hid under robe sleeves, or bent to the angle of the brush. Xin Ch’u raised it higher. “Now, as I look at it in a better light and on a better finger, I will not think much of you, Pao Chin.” I do not think anyone will ever think much of this man, he thought. The Superintendent had been grafted on the scene. Everyone knew that the clerks ran the Ya-men, and everyone recognized that Xin Ch’u ran the clerks.
Someone was coming. Xin Ch’u slipped the ring from his finger and into the larder hidden beneath his robes. He assumed a pose of alarm. Less so when he saw it was his lieutenant, Mao Fei. Mao squinted as the sun’s Western decline now cut across the courtyard. He shaded his eyes, sniffing like a dog. He walked like a scarecrow if a scarecrow could walk.
“Xin Ch’u, is there anything amiss?”
Xin Ch’u sighed. “Nothing is amiss, Mao Fei. Pao Chin is dead, that is all.”
“The superintendent is dead?”
“Dead,” said the chief clerk.
Mao Fei circled the body. He prodded it with his fan as if he were waking the man from a late afternoon snooze. When Pao Chin failed to arise and dance the harvest fling, Mao Fei smiled. He may have even given a chuckle, but it was hard to tell with the man. He was as creaky as a hinge. “This is most inconvenient,” Mao Fei said. “Most inconvenient, indeed. But are you sure he’s dead?” He prodded some more, but was really looking for loot. His pouty, thin lips showed disappointment. He probably knew that if he had come upon Pao Chin as he collapsed over the desk, he would be more the richer and Xin Ch’u as barren as Mao-tien’s old ox.
“Most assuredly,” Xin Ch’u confirmed. “Pao Chin is dead.”
Mao Fei blinked. “But how did it happen?” He peered under the table. “Did he perform the death ritual?”
“Do you see any blood?”
“He was working, as he always has, and then there was a . . . gadfly.”
“Gadfly? He was killed by a gadfly?”
“I suppose so. I mean, he waved it away and must have strained his ch’i, because he just slumped across the desk.”
“And the fly?”
“Survived. I saw it on his . . . well, I saw it.”
“You let it live?”
Xin Ch’u shrugged. “I have done many things in service to this Ya-men. I shall not become the minister of fly swatting.”
He thought on this for a moment, and then began to chuckle, his chins shimmering in the golden light of sunset. Mao Fei cackled. It was a rare moment in the comraderie of these men. They had served in many capacities in this place — served many lords, but never considered being on insect patrol, until now. Alas, too late, because Pao Chin was dead.
Pao Chin is dead. Or I should say, was dead. Well, that would mean he is alive, but he is dead. I can most assuredly state that case. Pao Chin died and that is a good thing for this story, because without his death, my master would not have taken his place as the Superintendent of Su-chou. Timing is everything, or so I have been taught through this fateful existence I lead. With death comes vacancy. Vacancies must be filled — opportunities gained.
My master, the revered scholar Li K’ai-men, had just passed the regional examinations for office. He had attained the highest possible grade, a distinction aided with much vigilance by your humble servant, who filled his soup bowl and empty his piss pot during the interminable days he was pocketed in the examination cubby. But he did well. More than well. First place. He was marked to receive an immediate post, a position sufficiently grand for such an achievement. So Pao Chin’s end became . . . Li K’ai-men’s beginning.
I was a young pup then, attending my master’s every whim. What did I know? I, K’u Ko-ling, son of K’u Fei, a lowly son of the soil from Gui-lin. All I knew was what my master taught me. He showed me how to mix the ink, to prepare the brushes, to boil the soup, to pay the whoremistress, and . . . and I loved to spy on that. I could tell you much, and probably will, but everything in its time and place. Little did I know how much I would learn in service to a great scholar and a man of high governmental rank. I probably learned more than half of the piss-ant bumblefuck sons of scribblers that roam the land from town to town with petty services and warrants. I had warrants of my own. But all in time. Everything to its time and place.
My master, Li K’ai-men, was to be the Superintendent of Su-chou. What an honor that was. He would rule over an important district. First appointments are usually a shit-hole in An-hui or a cold, ball-chilling hut on the Yen border, but not for my master. He drew the bastard plum — Su-chou.
I think that Pao Chin’s death was for the best. The gods were good that day. I did not know the man, nor would he have known me. Yet, I feel so intimately grateful to him for passing on to his ancestors that I could swell with joy when I think of his life, long and healthy, fat and greasy, sated and mated until the end. Never was there such a well deserved or well timed
death as his.
A Letter from K’ang Yu-wei
Everyone in our home prefecture of Gui-lin heard of my master’s great success. Soon, the lowliest merchant spoke of it. How could they not rejoice? The students and teachers hoop-la’d at the Academy, donning green and red, and dancing the “Drunken Oxen Dance.” They lit incense to Fu-xi. Tenants in the valley cheered my master’s health with their best concoctions. Even the swill water tasted like the sweetest wine. It was not every day that a Gui-lin son achieved first place in the exams. Some came in fifth or sixth, a great comfort that encouraged a dinner party at the very least, but not first. Such was the accomplishment of my master, Li K’ai-men.
The great Han Lin, academician of the Academy, was pleased best. He had fostered my master’s talents and had sent him off to the examinations. He had pushed him out of the academic coop, arranged a fine match for him — a tradition that every supplicant at the examinations should have a wife. Han Lin threw him a wedding party and gave him gifts — some of which I wished had never been given, but more on that later. I was a wedding gift also . . . not from Han Lin. No. My mistress, who knew her husband for no more than three days before separating from him — she to the household in Gui-lin — he to the examination pavilions at Ch’ang-sha, decided that the custom of having a servant should be observed by selecting a promising child from the tenantry. I may not have been promising, but my father had grown the largest cowcumber on Li Xien’s estates, so I was washed, dressed and trained to empty my master’s piss pot. I suffered little by it. It was far better than mucking about in the fields behind the water buffalo. I changed one dung heap for another, and kept my feet dry. We sailed up river to Ch’ang-sha, where the ordeal began and finished, and in that finish, everyone in Gui-lin rejoiced.
Now we were to travel to Chiang-nan province, to the city of Yang-chou, where my master would meet his overlord, the Governor-General of Chiang-nan. An important step. Soon, the citizens of Yang-chou also knew of Li K’ai-men’s achievements and toasted his health. However, in Su-chou, my master made no impression at all. The people of Su-chou did not even know his name. No one bothered to tell the people of Su-chou that Pao Chin was dead. Those clerks, who found his body, shipped the remains up river to his ancestral home. No solemn processions. No farewell eulogies. Not even a stele to mark his achievements. Pao Chin left no mark upon the city of Su-chou. Nor had the previous five superintendents. Superintendents come and go, like the tide on Lake T’ai, only without a ripple. Superintendents were not important. The clerks ran the world. It would take my master to make them see the light.
Xin Ch’u maintained a large office in the coolest spot in the Su-chou Ya-men, not far from the Willow Pavilion, a famous landmark that had been left in a state of disrepair under Pao Chin. The clerk never sought to maintain the gardens, the expense of which would be diverted from the general funds and thus from the general welfare of . . . the clerks. Xin Ch’u was diligent, his efficiency in service to the Ya-men renown, at least to the vast clerk empire that served him. Su-chou was no small task — a city of ninety thousand households with ten wards and high walls. Maintenance was a task — markets and canals, bridges and sluices, animal control and disease containment. Taxes levied were carefully accounted in the records and each ward elder was pressed for the usual tributes that the Ya-men demanded. Any superintendent worth his salt could manage these things as part of his training, but most found it tedious, preferring to ride on minimal duties, while some clerical figure, who usually had more local experience, held the reins. It was a convenient arrangement — for clerk and superior, at least. Xin Ch’u didn’t demand recognition or promotion to a better job. No, no. Who would want to drift from seat to seat across the Sung Empire’s vast territories? It was better to stay humble behind a familiar Ya-men wall than to brave heat and cold and dessert and forest and the ire of warlords and the sword of barbarian invaders. No, Xin Ch’u was diligent and content.
His office had an eastern exposure catching the morning sun. Wisteria branched through the lattice of his window. He sighed over the testimonial of Pao Chin, which was lean on distribution and lacked the usual donations to the local monastery. Thank the gods for that. There was little to sort out here, one of the easier transitions. He notified Pao Chin’s grandson at Ning-po and packed the remains in a finely wrought sandalwood coffin. Xin Ch’u was avaricious, but not heartless. Pao Chin was an official appointed by His Majesty, Hui-tsung, may he live ten-thousand years. The coffin was set in a fine riverboat in the dead of night and started upstream to the Grand Canal and thence to Ning-po on the coast. Although Su-chou was too intent on its own affairs to notice the passing of their overlord, Xin Ch’u burned some incense to Guan-yin, although how many of his prayers were for Pao Chin and how many were in thanks for new treasures, only Xin Ch’u could tell.
Xin Ch’u sipped wine and glanced through the window. It was a fine day. Perhaps he would lounge on the verandah. However, he heard the shuffling of feet and smelled business in the air. He could always sense business in advance — a keen attribute for any chief clerk. He spied the business — Mao Fei, striding along the path like an old broomstick. Xin Ch’u knew the business. His hand went to a scroll on the top of the stack. Mao Fei had heard that this had arrived and, since he also had a keen business sense, the second in command would not rest until all had been made known,
Xin Ch’u set the wine cup down, frowning at it. He would need to abandon it, because to imbibe before Mao Fei would preclude offering the man a cup. It’s too dear to waste. He grasped the scroll, and then trotted over the threshold onto the verandah.
“Xin Ch’u,” Mao Fei said, halting before him, his hands to his forehead. Slight bow. “There’s something in the air.”
“Yes,” Xin Ch’u said. “Less flesh burning today.”
“A good thing, but I thought perhaps you had some news of the disposition.”
Mao Fei sought a bench, looking to Xin Ch’u for permission to sit. Once given, he began to fan himself, more to scoot away the gadflies that buzzed about his forehead. “It has been a month. We have been exercising the seal for too long for comfort. The cases are mounting and detention is too full to keep feeding them at our expense.”
“Ah, Mao Fei,” Xin Ch’u said. He sat on his favorite chair, the square ebony seat that had belonged to a prefect and acquired by transference. He waved the scroll, and then pointed to the broken seal. “I have received a letter from K’ang Yu-wei.”
Mao Fei smiled, and then swatted the fly with his fan. “Yes. And what does the Governor-General say? What are the orders?”
Xin Ch’u smiled. “He is sending us a boy.”
“A boy? Not an old man this time, or a sleepy painter?” Mao Fei tapped his chin with the fan as if he had found the true gadfly. “Recall that boring fart they sent here . . . what was his name?”
“During the ching-t’ien year,” Xin said. “I recall him. That was T’ang Pu. He did paint well, not that I could care. Do you remember the scholar . . . Chao Pei-yen, who T’ang Pu engaged to clean the brushes and mix the ink? I could never understand with all the clerks worthy to assume such a role why T’ang Pu hired him.”
“That was a haughty pest,” Mao said. “I once told Chao Pei-yen that we were assembled to discuss the cases of the day — to tell T’ang Pu that we were in attendance. Chao dared to tell me that T’ang could not be disturbed until the bamboo was brushed and the plum blossoms stroked. When I told him to announce me, he said he would not. He threatened to paint my nose green.” Xin Ch’u chuckled. He thought Mao Fei’s nose could not be any greener. “And when I complained to T’ang Pu, he looked at me as if I were mad.”
Xin Ch’u shrugged. “At least Pao Chin just collected things.” He leaned forward and winked. “He was a lousy painter. He once stroked a cat and it looked like a mangy jackass. No. Just collected things.”
Mao Fei smiled. He tapped his fan in the palm of his hand. His face blossomed with inquisition. “Might I mention, as we are on the subject. Pao Chin’s possessions are inventoried for your inspection.” He produced a scroll of his own from his robe sleeve. He stood, held the inventory at its ends and bowed. Xin Ch’u set K’ang Yu-wei’s letter aside and grasped this new article with reverence. Mao Fei straightened. “I assumed that you wanted me to list all the items for the usual rewards to Pao Chin’s most faithful stewards and advisors.”
While not ignoring Mao Fei’s request, Xin Ch’u unfurled the list and read it deeply for some time. Suddenly, he stood. He looked toward the wall. The morning sun was rising higher. He noted the absence of the burning stench and the curious trump of wisteria and jasmine.
“It is curious,” he said. “These officials spend their entire lives striving for learning, preparing for the examinations, making long journeys to sit for days in cramped quarters to write essay after essay like slaves. For what? To achieve the smallest crumb from His Majesty’s larder.” He turned to Mao Fei. “We are the caretakers. We inherit the crumbs — and all that it is, is reading and writing “
“And good judgment and management,” Mao Fei complained. “I work hard for my modest gains, you know. You are unfair to suggest that what I do is easy and over-rewarded.”
“Calm yourself, Mao Fei. You are invaluable to me in the running of this Ya-men. You shall get your share. But now . . .” He looked to the wall again as if something was coming in a business sense. “Now, he sends us a boy.”
“A boy,” Mao Fei echoed. “We will need to work harder.”
“Not harder. A boy will need our guidance and advice; but he is inexperienced and only knows what he’s learned in the Academy and from the classics.” Xin Ch’u returned to his chair. “He is not quite a boy, but a first appointment. The letter says he won first place in the examination at Ch’ang-sha.”
“That only means he can read and write.”
“And paint, like the rest of them. However, he must do it extremely well.”
Both men cackled like two barnyard hens.
“Nevertheless,” Xin Ch’u continued. “We must accord the Imperial will some respect, may he live ten-thousand years.” Both men nodded their heads in homage. “His name is Li K’ai-men from Gui-lin.”
“Gui-lin?” Mao Fei chuckled. “Is any one ever from Gui-lin?”
“Save your humor for your wife. There is much to do. It is a good thing that we know how to do it. Inform the others of the new superintendent’s arrival. Have his name posted in the town.”
“The major three will do . . . for now.”
“I shall do it.”
“Send the postern to the village elders, so they can tell the pao-t’ien. Let us give the gardens a sweep. K’ang Yu-wei says the boy shall have his wife here. The Willow Pavilion is a mess.”
“A wife?” Mao Fei said. “You said he was a boy. Some boy this — a married man.”
“You know how it is with these young scholars,” Xin reassured. “They marry quickly before they leave for the examinations. I am sure they have had a brief time of it and have been separated while he was taking the examination. He in Ch’ang-sha. She in Gui-lin. He shall be quite content to enjoy his married life, no doubt, and leave the business of government to us.”
Mao Fei bowed politely. He began to leave. There was much to do.
Xin Ch’u watched his lieutenant shuffle down the path. “Oh, Mao Fei,” he called. Mao turned, the sun behind him giving him an unnatural halo. “Empty Pao Chin’s wine cellar.” Mao Fei gazed at Xin Ch’u as if being accomplice to this request would compromise the heavens. “I will adjust the accounts,” Xin said. “I am sure a boy will have no need for wine. And as to the Willow Pavilion, do not do anything too extraordinary, mind you. It is just a pleasant token to our new superintendent that we care in the Su-chou Ya-men. I shall write to the Governor-General and tell him we have restored the famous garden to its former glory. That will please him well, I think. I shall include your name and your participation in these preparations.”
Mao Fei bowed deeply, and then scurried away. Xin Ch’u eased back to the letter, reviewing it again. That will please you well, K’ang Yu-wei, Xin Ch’u thought. Anything to do with the Willow Pavilion pleases the Governor-General. I know how this is done.
He tossed the letter aside. He snapped up the inventory once again, running his finger across the items with an incremental grin.
“Pao Chin certainly amassed a great number of things,” he mused. “I must say, there’s plenty here to go around.”
He felt a slight breeze from the garden. A whiff of jasmine made him sigh. He sauntered toward the wall.
So K’ang Yu-wei, send me this wet-nosed boy. Let’s see if he can paint as well as T’ang Pu or write essays as great as Mao T’ing-po or drink as hard as Chuang Tu-yin. I don’t think he could collect things as well as Pao Chin, but who can tell? He laughed, his chin rolls glistening in the shade. “They are all like guests here. We make them look good — make them comfortable, and do everything for them. Then . . . they leave us. It is like theater.” He grinned. I am their caretaker. So bring him on, K’ang Yu-wei. Bring him on.
Haughty clerk. You will be shaken by your own wit.