It was summer when I arrived in the eighty-two villages to investigate this matter. The weather in Xiangxi was surprisingly hot and humid.
The place hadn’t been called the eighty-two villages for a long time now, and the tusis were long gone. But those villages that had been established in the group of mountains were still there.
I asked many local folklore scholars about the story of the old blind man in the eighty-two villages. Some of them were even writing reports on topics related to Xiangxi, but none of them had heard of it. It was almost like the local Miao people considered it to be a top secret.
But when I asked those elderly people who were almost a hundred years old, I discovered that some of them remembered that there had once been a leader like him in the Miao villages.
Later, I changed the direction of my investigation and looked into any religious or mythological aspects. I found that a large part of the eighty-two villages was in Guizhou, which was an area much larger than I had originally thought.
There was a very transparent legend in Guizhou that some religious leaders in the Black Miao (1) villages secretly worshiped the monsters in the mountains in order to gain a longer lifespan.
Every time the monster granted your wish, the religious leaders needed to give up something from their bodies, which was usually something like their eyes, fingers, a piece of flesh, or even blood.
When Er Yuehong escorted the chief tusi to Death Valley, it was said to be a ceremony in which they presented a child who had died young to the mountain gods. Children were counted as one’s flesh and blood, which meant that this legend had an extensive basis.
If that was the case, then did the eighty-two villages’ leader also exchange something with a mountain god or monster? What tributes did he make Zhang Qishan bring to it? What did he gain in exchange?
Combining all the background information, I picked out a story from “The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles” that I liked very much when I was a child. Grandpa used to tell me this story as a fable.
The protagonist of this story was called Ye Fu Da, and he was a military officer. Since there were numerous details in this story that were too similar to what I had found out about the eighty-two villages, I couldn’t help but suspect that this story was related to Zhang Qishan. Later, Fatty told me that Fu Ye Da sounded like Da Fo Ye when the name was reversed. That was when it dawned on me that this was almost certainly the story about Zhang Qishan.
In this story, the chief tusi in the Miao villages—the supreme leader in reality—really did want Ye Fu Da to bring a child into the depths of the mountains and give it to a mountain god in exchange for fifty years of safety for the Miao villages.
Legend had it that a young girl came out of the mountain six hundred years ago and experienced romantic love in the world. But that girl wasn’t actually a human being, and when she was in her forties, she gradually grew into another kind of creature.
Before she left, she asked the people who lived with her to provide her with human flesh and blood every year so that she could live in the mountains. Otherwise, she would come out of the mountains and start preying on the villagers. At the same time, she promised that if tributes were paid to her every year, she would give the rulers of the villages a longer life. Otherwise, there would be catastrophic infanticide, such as no boys for a year or no girls for a year.
It was said that there were times in history when some leaders had disobeyed her wishes. During those years, almost all the newborn babies were hunted and killed by monsters. As a result, no one even dared to mention this matter ever again.
Six hundred years later, Zhang Qishan entered the eighty-six villages and learned about this legend. The leader of the villages told him how terrifying this monster was.
Zhang Qishan thought that this kind of story about mountain gods who ate people was too old-fashioned, so he and the leader agreed that the future reward of longevity would be provided by Zhang Qishan. It was time for the mountain god who ate people to step down from power. So, Zhang Qishan took people into the mountain and started hunting this mountain god.
Ever since I was a child, I had been rebellious and thought that rules were made to be broken, so the story of Zhang Da Fo Ye hunting gods was simply refreshing and exhilarating to people like me.
What a majestic person Zhang Qishan was! When I was a child, I used to fantasize about riding a horse into the mountains and hunting a mountain god. This story also made me understand that there was nothing in the world that couldn’t be challenged.
I’m sorry about spending so much time and ink to clarify the ins and outs, but the next step is to copy and write down the entire story of Zhang Da Fo Ye hunting gods.
Grandpa usually spent two nights finishing the story, so I’m not exactly sure what the length of it is. But it’s not a long story, either.
There were some details in it that were very exciting, which was a rare pastime for people before they went to bed.
(1) The Chinese traditionally classify the Miao ethnic group according to the most characteristic color of the women’s clothes. According to this, the Black Miao are in Southeast Guizhou. They could also be called the Hei Miao.