Chapter 42 The First Shot of 2007

My relationship with Lao Hai wasn’t good enough to the point we’d talk about anything. In fact, we usually just communicated over business matters. I started calling him uncle after we got acquainted with each other, but that was mostly just to give him face. That was why I found it a little strange that he suddenly wanted to get close to me. But the young girl clearly wasn’t just showing off, so I agreed without hesitation and asked, “What do you mean? Did he find something out?”

Qin Haiting smiled mischievously, “My uncle said he would tell you when the time comes. I don’t know what it’s about, so don’t bother asking.”

I secretly cursed in my heart, this old crook probably wants to rip me off again.

On the third day, Lao Hai really did arrive. I picked him up from the train station and took him to his hotel. In the car, I asked him what the important thing he wanted to talk to me about was, and told him that if he was trying to trick me, I definitely wouldn’t forgive him.

Lao Hai shivered from the cold and said, “Even a strong dragon will not be able to suppress the local snake. We’re in your territory now, so how could I possibly dare to deceive you? But let’s not talk here. I feel like I’m about to freeze to death.”

I took him to the hotel so that he could drop off his things and then found a restaurant with a private room. After heating up a pot of wine and drinking a few cups, he finally seemed to recover.

Seeing that he was finally in better spirits, I knew that it was time to broach the subject again, so I said to him, “Ok, you drank and ate your fill. It’s time to talk. What have you found?”

He smacked his lips together, smiled, and then took out a folded paper from his bag and slapped it on the table, “Look at this.”

I picked it up and took a closer look at it. It was an old, yellowed newspaper, dated 1974. He had circled an article with a big black-and-white photo next to it. Although the photo wasn’t very clear, I was still able to recognize the object in it—it was a snake-eyebrow copper fish. There were also many other small cultural relics on the side, such as Buddhist prayer beads.

But this fish looked different from the ones me and my Uncle Three had. I suddenly recalled that in the tomb passage on the way to the undersea tomb, there had been three fish on the relief sculpture’s forehead. The fish in this photo should be the top one, which meant that all three fish still existed to this day.

“How did you find this newspaper?” I asked Lao Hai. “Is there some secret story behind this?”

“Recently, I was helping a big customer gather some old newspapers,” Lao Hai said. “You know how rich people like to collect things. Look, this is the 1974 ‘Guangxi Culture Evening News’. He wanted me to find all the issues from January to December of that year. It took me two months to collect them all. I was checking them over because I was going to deliver them in a few days, and that’s when I happened to see this article. What a lucky coincidence, right? This newspaper published articles in 1974 and closed down in 1975, so it was hard to find. I’d say you’re pretty lucky; if I flipped through them any faster, I wouldn’t have noticed this.”

I glanced down and saw that the article below the photo contained about three hundred words. It said that this fish had been found at the base of a Buddhist temple pagoda in Guangxi. Because of its age, the pagoda ended up collapsing naturally, and when the ruins were being cleared away, an underground palace was discovered. There were some waterlogged scriptures and precious letters inside, along with this fish, which had been placed between the letters. Experts speculated that it was a relic belonging to a monk from the late Northern Song Dynasty.

Northern Song Dynasty? I lit a cigarette, leaned back in my chair, and pondered over the doubts in my heart. The first snake-eyebrow copper fish appeared in a vassal’s tomb from the late Warring States period; the second fish was in an underwater tomb from the late Yuan and early Ming Dynasty; and the third fish was in an underground palace from the Northern Song Dynasty, which was buried below a Buddhist temple pagoda. What the hell? These time periods had nothing in common at all. (1)

I flipped through the rest of the newspaper, but this was the only article about the fish. In fact, there was nothing new in this article, which meant there was really nothing more to talk about. I still didn’t know anything about these fish; it was enough to make me feel depressed.

Lao Hai noticed my expression and said, “Don’t be discouraged. I haven’t finished yet. The rest of the story is very exciting.”

I frowned, “What do you mean? Is there something else besides this newspaper?”

Lao Hai nodded and said, “That’s right. If I just found this newspaper, there wouldn’t be any need for me to come to Hangzhou to find you, right? This kind of thing…I’ll have to start from the beginning. By the way, if you’re also in the business, have you heard of a man called Chen Pi Ah Si?”(2)

When I heard this name, I was taken aback. Chen Pi Ah Si was a famous grave robber in Changsha back in the old days. In fact, he was from the same generation as my grandfather, and I heard that he was in his nineties now. He was blinded during the ten years of turmoil,(3) and hadn’t been seen since. I didn’t know whether he was dead or alive, but my grandfather often mentioned his name.

However, this man wasn’t the same as my grandfather. He lived his life on the knife’s edge, willing to do anything for money, whether it be robbing tombs, killing people, or committing arson. That was why, before liberation, people called him Shaver Ah Si, because he would kill people the same way as those who shaved their heads—without any hesitation.

I was a little surprised to hear Lao Hai mention this man, because he wasn’t from my generation and I had never been in contact with him. Could he have something to do with this fish? The story behind the fish, even if it had nothing to do with me, was definitely worth listening to.

Lao Hai, seeing that I didn’t speak, thought that I didn’t know about this man and said, “It’s not surprising that you don’t know about Master Si(4)—he’s not from the same generation as us, after all—but I have to tell you that with regards to the copper fish in this newspaper article, he’s the one who brought it out from the underground palace. The matter really isn’t as simple as this newspaper made it out to be.” With that said, he briefly told me the story of what happened back then.

In 1974, Chen Pi Ah Si was nearly sixty years old and hadn’t been blinded yet. This was still during the ten years of turmoil. Because he had been a platoon leader in the Kuomintang army(5) in the early days of liberation, and then later became a bandit for several years, he had no legal status. If he was caught at that time, he would have been killed, so he could only operate in the ethnic minority areas around Guangxi. He didn’t even dare step foot in the county seat.

During those years, the Four Olds(6) were being attacked and many historical sites were nearly destroyed. Chen Pi Ah Si went to many places in Guangxi, but because it wasn’t considered part of the Central Plains in ancient times, there weren’t many ancient tombs. He lived fairly honestly in those years, but unfortunately, that year, he happened to be driving through Jiaqiao Ridge on business and started chatting with several local Miao people.(7) Those people drank too much and ended up revealing that a temple pagoda had collapsed on Mao’er Mountain. They said that there was a lot of noise at the time, and the ground sank into a huge pit. On the night of the collapse, many people even heard a very strange scream.

Upon hearing this, Chen Pi Ah Si felt that something was off. He had been to Mao’er Mountain many times before and knew that the temples there were all very sturdily built. How could any of them possibly collapse? After careful questioning, he realized that this pagoda wasn’t on Mao’er Mountain, but in the center of a nearby mountain called “Reclining Buddha Ridge”. This place was very strange—it was surrounded by villages, and in the middle was a basin of about ten square kilometers. It was located at a very low altitude, with dense vegetation and trees that blocked the sky and the sun. There was a village located on the cliff, with a dense forest more than a hundred meters below it. The distance between these two areas made them seem like completely different worlds.

There was no way down from the village, so if you wanted to reach the basin, you could only use ropes. The locals said that there must be other entrances and exits in the basin, but the vegetation was so thick that it was difficult to walk. The Miao people who used to go down there to hunt and gather herbs often disappeared, so people generally didn’t want to go down.

It was in such a place that the ancient pagoda was built. It was nearly in the center of the basin, so when people looked down from the cliff, all they could see was a very small plant-covered spire poking out of the dense forest canopy. As for what was below, it was impossible to see clearly. The Miao locals said that this pagoda had been there for more than ten generations, but no one ever thought to go down and check it out; they were used to its existence by now. Not too long ago, there was a sudden loud noise, and when they came out to see what was going on, they noticed that the spire was gone. That was when they realized that the pagoda had collapsed.

There were many local legends about this mysterious ancient pagoda. According to some of the village elders, this pagoda was built by an eminent monk in ancient times to suppress demons, but now that the pagoda had collapsed, all the demons would come out and resume their evil deeds. That strange cry everyone heard that night was actually the sound of the demons finally breaking free.

When Chen Pi Ah Si heard this, he immediately became intrigued—he felt that something wasn’t quite right with the location of this pagoda and the sound the Miao people heard in the middle of the night. But people like him had a unique intuition and could instinctively find out information from legends and other people’s narratives. This kind of skill was hard to find in our generation.

Chen Pi Ah Si thought for a while before eventually deciding to go and take a look.

There were so many mountains in Guangxi that it could be called the most mountainous region in the nation. Mao’er Mountain was one of the main sources of these ranges, spanning three counties: Xing’an, Ziyuan, and Longsheng.(8) It was also the source of the Lijiang, Zijiang, and Xunjiang Rivers, which flowed into the Yangtze and Zhujiang Rivers, the two great river systems. There was a large area of primitive forest in that place, which contained the first big mountain that the Red Army crossed during the Long March.(9) And during World War II, several of the Flying Tigers’ support bombers mysteriously disappeared there.(10) Needless to say, this place had always been a bit mysterious.

Chen Pi Ah Si went through many twists and turns before finally arriving at the village on Reclining Buddha Ridge. As he stood on the cliff and looked at the basin lying in the middle of the mountain range, his first thought was, fuck, this pagoda is much bigger than I thought it would be. When it collapsed, several trees had also fallen down, so now there was a gap in the endless forest canopy. It was impossible to see what was in the gap from Reclining Buddha Ridge, but Chen Pi Ah Si was able to spot something almost immediately—in the surrounding area where the pagoda collapsed, all the trees were leaning in various directions. This was likely the result of ground subsidence. It seemed that there really was something under the pagoda, and it was much larger than the pagoda’s base.

When I heard this, I immediately knew that it was a “mirror palace”. “Mirror palace” was a term used in Changsha before liberation to describe an underground building that was made with the exact same specifications as the building above it. If you were looking at a lake, it would be like the reflection of the building aboveground, with both the upper and lower parts appearing symmetrical.

For those in the northern school of grave robbing, this was called a “yin-yang shuttle”. This was because people thought that the whole building was like a weaving shuttle that had been inserted in the ground, with the underworld (yin) on one side and the world of the living (yang) on the other. But such ancient tombs or buildings were rare, and most of those on the surface had already been destroyed, so the topic was hardly brought up in the ten years before liberation.

Chen Pi Ah Si could tell that there was a “mirror palace” buried underground just by looking at the arrangement of the trees after the pagoda collapsed. It was impossible to make such an assessment unless you had extremely rich experience. I couldn’t help but sigh to myself, but then I forced myself to pay attention and listen to the rest of Lao Hai’s story.

After Chen Pi Ah Si made up his mind, his heart was consumed by greed. In the pagoda’s underground palace, there could only be three things: Buddhist relics, a senior monk’s golden body,(11) or a large number of Buddhist texts. No matter what was there, it would definitely be priceless.

But he was a stranger to these parts, so it wouldn’t be very convenient for him to act here. First, he had a special legal status and a bad background. Second, there were constant disputes between the Miao and Han at that time. The villages here were all Miao villages, so he may arouse suspicion if he went in rashly.

After much deliberation, he finally came up with a plan. He paid a high price to find a local Miao guide, and told the guide that he was an old professor who came here to help develop the border areas.(12) But when he arrived, one of his students fell off the cliff. Miao people were simple and inexperienced when it came to the outside world, so how could they possibly think this was all just a trick? When the guide heard that someone had fallen off the cliff, he immediately informed the whole village. A young Miao man tied ropes to a hanging basket, and then lowered Chen Pi Ah Si and several other young men who had volunteered to help him down to the bottom of the cliff.

According to Chen Pi Ah Si’s own recollection sometime later, those hundred-plus meters down the cliff were a hellish experience—the cliff was very steep, his weight in the basket made the rattan ropes so taut that he thought they might snap, and his butt was squished into the basket. Plus, every time the wind blew, his whole body would spin around like a spinning top. The whole thing felt so unstable that by the time he got through the thick tree canopy and reached the bottom of the forest, he felt like half of his life had been sucked away.

There was almost no sunlight in the forest. The light was extremely dim, and the air was filled with the smell of marsh gas. There were many kinds of trees here, but without exception, moss was growing everywhere. In addition, the mud was so soft that you could hardly stand.

After Chen Pi Ah Si came down, he pretended to be physically exhausted and sat there panting (in fact, he was really just dazed after making that terrifying descent). The Miao leader, seeing that he wasn’t so young and actually looked more like a little old man right now, told him to wait for them in that spot. Then he lit a torch and ordered the others to search in the direction Chen Pi Ah Si had pointed out beforehand.

As soon as they left, Chen Pi Ah Si immediately took out his compass and headed into the depths of the forest, following the route he had planned in advance. He estimated that it would take the Miao people a whole night to search such a large area, but with his skills, that should be enough time to find the mirror palace’s entrance and make the trip back. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring enough equipment this time, so whether he could enter the palace or not depended on his own luck.

After walking in the forest for four mind-numbing hours, relying on the compass and his strength of will, Chen Pi Ah Si finally arrived at the area he had planned to reach when he was standing on Reclining Buddha Ridge—the temple ruins around the pagoda.

As he continued moving further within the ruins, he could see more and more broken eaves and walls. The ancient buildings here had obviously collapsed to almost nothing, leaving only parts of the foundation and some broken walls. These in turn were nearly hidden by all the vegetation so it was hard to see what they really were. But judging by their scale, this temple took up a large area of the forest. Although the pagoda had fallen within this large area, it was still difficult to see where it was exactly.

Chen Pi Ah Si wasn’t so young anymore, and felt a little short of breath after all that walking around. But just as he was about to sit down and rest, he suddenly saw something out of the corner of his eye—the grass that covered the entire section of wall suddenly moved, as if something was wrapped in it.

Startled, Chen Pi Ah Si leaped back and rolled, while at the same time putting a iron pellet in his hand. He then looked back, only to see a Miao villager’s vine-covered corpse lying under the grass wrapped around the wall. It was nearly shriveled up, but for some reason, its stomach was pulsating slightly, as if there was something inside of it.

<Chapter 41><Table of Contents><Chapter 43>


TN Notes:

(1) Warring States period was from 475 BCE – 221 BCE; Yuan Dynasty was from 1279-1368 and Ming Dynasty was from 1368-1644; Northern Song Dynasty was from 960-1127.

(2) Me: Gahhhh we can never escape. It’s an endless cycle of Chen Pi Stories

(3) “Ten years of turmoil/chaos/civil unrest/anarchy” is what the Cultural Revolution (May 16, 1966 – October 6, 1976) is sometimes referred to as.

(4) Although Chen is his last name and you’d think it would make more sense to call him “Master Chen”, NPSS uses the characters “四爷”, so “Master Si” it is.

(5) The Kuomintang (aka the Nationalist Party of China or the Chinese Nationalist Party) is a major political party in the Republic of China throughout its historical periods in both the Chinese mainland as well as Taiwan. After the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 which overthrew the Qin Dynasty, the Chinese National Party led an armed struggle against the Communist Party of China. They massacred people and used secret police and criminals to deal with political rivals. The Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan in December 1949, fleeing the Communist People’s Liberation Army. Info here.

(6) The Four Olds were: Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Customs, and Old Habits. This was a term used during the Cultural Revolution by the student-led Red Guards in the People’s Republic of China in reference to the pre-communist elements of Chinese culture they attempted to destroy.

(7) Hmong or Miao ethnic group of southwest China. More info.

(8) Visual (FYI, Mao’er Mountain can be translated as Kitten Mountain):

(9) The Red Army of the Chinese Communist Party (1928-1937) was the predecessor of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Long March was a military retreat undertaken by the Red Army from 1934-1935 to evade the National Army of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s pursuit.

(10) The Flying Tigers (originally called the American Volunteer Group, or AVG) was a small group of American aviators hired by China to fight against Japan. Operating in 1941–1942, it was composed of pilots from the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), Navy (USN), and Marine Corps (USMC).

(11) Term for gold-covered mummies of especially enlightened monks. The monks’ students will wait until the deceased turns into a mummy and then cover the body with gold. Here’s an article of a modern occurrence of this happening. Here’s an article about a 1,000 year old mummy they found in a statue with a CT scan.

(12) Sounds like he’s saying he’s a teacher who was sent as part of the Cultural Revolution’s “Down to the Countryside Movement”, a policy instituted between the mid-1950s and 1978. Mao Zedong declared certain privileged urban youth would be sent to mountainous areas or farming villages to learn from the workers and farmers there. In total, approximately 17 million youth were sent to rural areas.


10 thoughts on “Chapter 42 The First Shot of 2007

  1. In regards to Chen Pi, I had the same thought! 😆 Out of the frying pan and into the fire! I forgot how involved he was in Heavenly Palace Arc.

    And thank you for all the notes once again! 🙏


  2. I’ve also heard that the number 4 sounds like “death” in Mandarin, and that’s why it’s considered an unlucky number. Maybe Master Si is a play on words to refer to him as “Master Death”. I would totally believe that.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. 🤣It’s all about character growth. 19 vs 90. I mean he did outlive almost everybody else in the 9. I think Granny Huo was the last one to die, right?


  3. He’s Mystic 9 number 4, isn’t he? That’s why he’s Master Si I guess.

    And how to escape Chen Pi? This is his book 🤣🤣🤣 I’m so sorry for you Merebear and for us. We are doomed 🤣🤣🤣 Despite him this is one of my favorites books so I’m really excited and willing read anything about Chen Pi. BTW I absolutely love your meme

    Thank you for the translation and all the info!!!


    1. I like everyone’s theories lol. Pretty sure the “si” in his name was there before he became part of the Mystic Nine so maybe it was a lucky coincidence that he became ranked fourth? I’m sure others would know more about it. We all know how much I absolutely LOVE Chen Pi 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much! I appreciate all the notes and the linked articles. This is exciting for me because I put the drama adaptation on hold, so I have no idea what happens next.


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