Joy of Life

Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Practice and Study

Translator: Nyoi_Bo_Studio Editor: Nyoi_Bo_Studio

In truth, Fan Xian did not know that he was practicing a profound spiritual art. If he had become a soldier, he would train carefully, practicing with utmost caution, and ask for the aid of a teacher or the watchful eye of a trustworthy friend.

The most dangerous aspect of this practice was in the fundamentals. When accumulating one’s qi in the dantian and xueshan – the pubic region and the coccyx – an enormous discrepancy will arise between the reaction speed of the practitioner’s body and spirit. The most direct consequence of this is the immobilization of the practitioner’s bodily functions, which will leave them in a vegetative state.

When this happens, the inexperienced practitioner may falsely believe that they have lost control of their senses, and forcibly channel zhenqi into the organs. If they are both fortunate and exceptionally strong, they may be able to redirect the body’s scattered zhenqi into the meridians, but this will all be for naught. If this happens to a novice, they may begin to panic, and this may lead to actual demonic possession.

Though also a novice, Fan Xian could not only kept control of his senses, but was able to comprehend this mysterious feeling with more ease than some of the strongest practitioners. This was partly thanks to the experiences of his previous life, and partly thanks to luck.

When he had begun to practice manipulating this obscure zhenqi force, his new body was that of an infant. The innate energy he had drawn from his mother’s body had not yet completely returned to the world; it remained within him. Thus, his training advanced effortlessly so that, miraculously, a great part of this innate zhenqi remained in his meridians.

Consequently, those obstacles which are most likely to stump the average practitioner were no trouble for Fan Xian.

In his previous life, Fan Xian’s illness confined him to his sickbed for a number of years, and he was long accustomed to his brain having no command over his body. So when he first encountered this situation, he did not panic, but instead felt the warmth of the memories of his past.

Thus, during his first attempt at practice, just as he became vaguely aware of his qi, it dispersed. When this left him paralyzed, he remained unafraid.

It was exactly his absence of fear which kept his mind clear and undisturbed, allowing him to easily surmount this most challenging of obstacles.

From that point on, his practice became easier. He needed only to contemplate the secrets of the art, and he would enter a meditative state. This helped Fan Xian sleep soundly throughout his daily nap; even thunder did not wake him.

Most practitioners found it difficult to enter such a state because it was largely reliant on chance and coincidence. To be able to meditate during one’s daily nap like this child did was an indescribable luxury.

Heaven truly smiled upon him.

As soon as he awoke, he found his cute little face writhing against a towel held by the servant girl who washed him.

In the afternoon, he began to study in the library under the tutor whom the Count had specially invited from the Eastern Sea to teach him. This tutor was not particularly old by any means; no more than thirty. Yet his body gave off the decrepit odor of someone much older.

Literary culture had greatly improved across the state of Qing over the past decade, and ever since the publication of the scholar Hu Shih’s Discussion on Literary Reformation, battle lines had been drawn between “old language” and “new language”.

The so-called “old language” was what Fan Xian remembered to be classical Chinese, while “new language” was similar to written vernacular Chinese, though perhaps a bit more refined.

Fan Xian’s tutor was an ardent classicist, and so Fan Xian spent every day poring over one classic text or another. Although these classics were rather different from the Four Books and Five Classics, the classical literary canon of Fan Xian’s world, they were astoundingly similar in moral content, and even featured the same schism as that between Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism, and Daoism.

When he had his first lesson, Fan Xian started wondering just where he actually was.

It was a stuffy summer and the humidity hung in the air of the library. The tutor opened the south-facing window and the crying of the cicadas carried by the cool, refreshing breeze penetrated the room. He turned around and saw his young pupil slumped over the table, lost in thought. He was about to summon up some words of rebuke, but somehow lost the mettle to do so when he looked upon his charge’s fair, gentle face.

In truth, he quite admired the boy. Though young, he spoke eloquently and knew quite a bit about what their forebears had written on virtue. For a four-year-old urchin, it was really quite impressive.

The tutor also had doubts. Count Sinan seemed so anxious, and the demands in his letter had been so great that he felt forced to obey. Now he had to begin teaching the scriptures to this young child. If it were any ordinary person, they’d only be studying a few characters at that age; puerile stuff, really.

At the end of the lesson, Fan Xian politely saluted his teacher and respectfully waited for him to leave the library. Then he shed his outer layer of clothing, already drenched with sweat, and ran out of the library. The anxious servant girl followed, rushing after him shouting, “Be careful!”

He stopped when he reached the courtyard and a silly, innocent smile spread across his face. Like a little adult, he swaggered into the room and, upon seeing the old lady sitting in the center, yelled out sweetly, “Nainai!”[1]

The old woman smiled kindly, the deep wrinkles on her face showing her age. Only occasionally, her eyes would flash in a way that let people know that this was no ordinary old lady. It was said that Count Sinan owed everything he had to this woman’s presence in the capital.

“And what did you learn today?”

Fan Xian stood politely in front of her chair and told her everything he learned from his tutor that day. After saluting her, he went to the side courtyard to eat with his younger sister.

The relationship between the old lady and her grandson was a strange one, perhaps because Fan Xian was an illegitimate child. Though the old woman never mistreated him, she expected a lot from him, so there was always a slight feeling of distance.

Fan Xian remembered this old lady cradling him as he cried when he was just a newborn. She could never have imagined that a newborn baby could understand what she said to him, let alone remember it so deeply.

“My child, it’s ok if you want to blame your father for this. Poor little one. Just born, and your mother’s no longer with us.”

History – this was perhaps the biggest question on Fan Xian’s mind. The moment he arrived in this world, he witnessed a murder. He knew that his father was Count Sinan, whose face he had never laid eyes on – but who was his mother? That year, Count Sinan had followed the emperor’s army on his expedition to the west, and the murderers had come to kill Fan Xian’s mother.

His body was home to a soul that had come from another world, so he could never feel any sort of filial emotion toward the Count. But, from time to time, he thought of that long-dead woman whom he called mother.

[1] “Nainai”, or”grandma”, referring specifically to one’s fraternal grandmother.

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