Jin Wantang talked about his past life in such a mysterious way that I was really starting to have some expectations.
There weren’t many things in the world that I would find strange anymore, and Jin Wantang knew this. Since he dared to speak so mysteriously, he must’ve had some confidence. At that time, I was thinking, if whatever is in this sack—whether it be an animal carcass, human corpse, or even a monster’s body—isn’t exciting enough…maybe it’s not a living thing but some kind of artifact. For example, maybe it’s a huge piece of jade or some strange fossil, which made him think that he’s the reincarnation of a stone monkey.
After Jin Wantang spread out the snakeskin bag, I was a little disappointed. It was clearly a human skeleton. The person had been small-statured and was now completely reduced to bones, so Jin Wantang could easily carry them around. Fatty was even more disappointed. He had been idle during this period of time and had nothing else to do, so he started teasing Jin Wantang, “So you were also a person in your previous life. Congratulations! I thought you were a cultivating donkey that had accumulated good merits in your previous life so that was why you became such a talented person in this life. Your face is a bit long and you do look like a donkey, after all.”
Jin Wantang didn’t bother responding to him and just stared at me, “Little Master Three, take a closer look. This is no ordinary person. I wouldn’t have bothered you if I had just found some random corpse in the wild.”
I figured as much. Since he was so emotional when he spoke just now, it definitely wasn’t as simple as a pile of bones. Moreover, he had transported human bones—based on the color, they didn’t seem that old and definitely couldn’t be classified as ancient—from Inner Mongolia to Hangzhou. This wasn’t something you could do just by transferring them from one car to another car. It required countless channels to be opened up, which cost a lot of money. Jin Wantang was so stingy that he wouldn’t ever pay a generous sum just to make a joke. So, I squatted down and took a closer look.
The skeleton was that of a man who appeared to have been about one and a half meters tall. The flesh had melted off the bones quickly. In a place like Inner Mongolia, there were many insects in the soil that would eat up the flesh before it could rot. Logically, the bones should have fallen apart at that point. With most corpses, the bones were still connected together after ossification, mainly because the skin and flesh had rotted, liquefied, and then dried up and stuck to bones, forming something like a fascia. If it had rotted very cleanly, then the bones should have scattered, but these bones were connected together in many places, which was strange. After examining it very carefully, I immediately noticed that there were small holes in the bones where the joints were connected together. I could also see copper wires running through these holes. The copper wires were about as thick as a ballpoint pen’s ink chamber and were badly rusted, but it was obvious that they were very tough and of good quality.
I knew of a certain kind of operation where copper wire was used for joint fixation, but almost all of this corpse’s major joints had copper wire connecting them together.
“Does Little Master Three see now?” Jin Wantang asked.
As far as I could remember, there was only one type of person who would do this. This kind of person needed to dislocate his joints for a long time in order to crawl in narrow tomb passages in such a state. But all of his joints would be calcified in his later years, so almost all of them needed this kind of operation.
As long as the operation was done after the founding of the People’s Republic, then steel wire would have been used, but this corpse had copper wire. Moreover, the nails used to affix the copper wire to the bones were made in the shape of a lotus flower and had very small traditional Chinese characters engraved on them: Teng Wang is very particular about connecting the bones of respected immortals to bind and exorcise evil spirits.
This wasn’t an operation performed in a regular hospital, but a folk operation that used Taoist medical techniques. These bone nails were used by Taoists to drive away evil spirits. I had read a particularly detailed record in my grandfather’s notes when he went to a Taoist temple that specialized in treating bone defects. This kind of operation looked very big, but in fact, the Taoist priest used an iron rod as thick as a finger to pierce the body. He would then put an iron tube in and start the operation.
Fatty also knew about this information since I had chatted with him about it. As a result, the both of us looked up at Jin Wantang.
“This is a big grave robber. The operation should have been done before the founding of the People’s Republic. At that time, his joints should have been broken. He was probably around fifty years old when he had the surgery and was just over sixty when he died. He may have died right after the founding of the People’s Republic. The wounds on the bones look very old, so they probably healed over a ten-year-period,” I said. “This is a top expert, so how exactly did he die in Inner Mongolia’s wilderness?”
“Look again. That’s not the important issue,” Jin Wantang said.
I frowned and thought to myself, you’re still so enthusiastic. Jin Wantang couldn’t wait any longer and directed my attention to the corpse’s thoracic vertebrae. I let out an exclamation as soon as I saw it. Indeed, it really was strange. This guy had less than half the ribs of a normal person. Fatty rummaged around in the sack to see if they had fallen off, but I already knew as soon as I looked at the bone seams—this guy had been born with deformed ribs.
I thought about it and suddenly felt my hands and feet go numb. I immediately grabbed Fatty. I understood now why Jin Wantang had been so excited, and I even knew who these bones belonged to.
There was a great grave robber with deformed ribs who became famous during the Republic Era. In Grandpa’s notes, there was only one person who fit this description. This person didn’t remain in the shadows, so almost everyone in the business knew about him. Nobody knew his real name, but he went by the nickname “Guotang Feng” (1). He was the biggest grave robber under Dang Yukun, one of the three head thieves in Shaanxi. In those days, Dang Yukun was a local warlord in Shaanxi. He had been a famous swordsman in his early years, but after becoming successful, he took in many grave robbers as his subordinates, all of whom were outlaws. This Guotang Feng was one of the most powerful ones. Not to mention hating home and country, but when it came to grave robbing, this guy really robbed all of the Qin and Han tombs in the Fengxiang area that fell within Dang Yukun’s territory. When Dang Yukun was defeated, hundreds of boxes of antiques were seized, all of which were bronze items and carriages from the Qin and Han Dynasties. In order to prepare for the war, Dang Yukun had sold almost all of the antiques for arms. But since there had still been hundreds of boxes left, it gave people an idea of how much they had stolen at that time.
It was said that Guotang Feng was such a powerful grave robber because he didn’t have any ribs. His ribs had been shorter than others since childhood and he had less than half compared to normal people so his body couldn’t stand up without the help of bamboo crutches. But this body was very useful in tomb passages, especially when it came to the drainage channels in tomb passages. Legend had it that he could walk in any space where a tabby cat could walk.
Fatty scratched his head, knelt down, and kowtowed while saying, “This is the great ancestor of the Northern School. Although he behaved badly, we still need to pay our respects.” After he was done, he went to close the door, asked Jin Wantang to sit down, and then bowed to him.
Jin Wantang had never seen Fatty being so hospitable before, so he immediately jumped up and said, “Don’t, Fat Master. You want to mess with me again? No, no. I’m not in the mood today. Let’s just get down to business.”
“These bones came to our Wushanju, which is a great blend between the Northern and Southern Schools. This is a century of prosperity. I really have to thank you.” As Fatty said this, he took the bones to the backyard.
“Fat Master, what are you doing?” Jin Wantang asked.
“This is an ancestor of the Northern School. I have to wrap him up.”
“This is my past life, why are you wrapping it up?”
“Is it written anywhere on here that it’s your past life?”
“Fuck, Fat Master, what you said just now is nonsense. How can you just rob people of their past lives?”
“This is called robbing the rich and helping the poor.”
“How am I rich? It was only in my past life…” Jin Wantang threw himself at Fatty and snatched the body back. I stopped Fatty and told him to quit causing trouble. This time, it seemed that Old Jin wasn’t here to fool us. His expression was distorted and he seemed very emotional, so it wasn’t good to mess around.
“Even if this is Guotang Feng, it’s still a major event that needs to be reported,” I said. “Why did you come to us? We can’t perform an autopsy, nor can we give you a letter of approval.”
“I didn’t just find this body in that place,” Jin Wantang said. “I also found six or seven objects held in the body’s arms. Those six or seven objects were all grave goods.”
“Oh?” Fatty said. “It’s normal for such a big grave robber to have a few grave goods on him.”
“The grave goods buried with this body were very large. They’re not the old golden seals or ornamental thumb rings that are usually buried with a body. At first glance, they look like they’ve been taken out of a tomb.” Jin Wantang took out an iPad and handed it to me. The pictures were already pulled up so I started looking through them. I was immediately stunned when I saw what he was talking about.
The item in the first picture was very special. For starters, it was so big that it would be impossible to carry it with you even if it was disguised as luggage. Jin Wantang was right; this thing had definitely been dug up from a tomb. But the most shocking thing was that the money on this thing looked like it was royal money from the Yuan Dynasty.
I frowned and glanced at Jin Wantang, giving him a look that said he needed to explain what was going on. “Do you know which ancient tomb these grave goods came from?” Jin Wantang asked me. “Do you know that in my past life, I died in that small forest after stealing from that ancient tomb?”
“Which tomb was it?”
“Look carefully at some of those Mongolian characters. Do you really not recognize them?”
I did as he said, but I wasn’t very familiar with Mongolian characters. After looking a little closer, however, I knew whose signature it was. I couldn’t help but stare at Jin Wantang, “Are you messing with me?”
“It’s true! This is a funerary object from that unspeakable tomb. Little Master Three, I believe that this Guotang Feng—my past life and the ancestor of the Northern School—found the world’s second most valuable tomb before he died.”
<Chapter 2><Table of Contents><Chapter 4>
(1) Can mean “passing winds” or “draught (of air)”
3 thoughts on “Chapter 3 Legendary Corpse”
I’m really intrigued now. Hope the author isn’t stingy with details in the coming chapters!
Sorry, is the world’s second most valuable tomb a Burial place of Genghis Khan??
Nah, it shouldn’t be. Tiffany left a comment on one of these chapters explaining the idea/word choice behind “world’s 2nd most valuable tomb” but I can’t remember which one it’s in. You should come across it if you keep reading