Thursday, November 08, 2012

Heroes of Hongmen

Whether or not we know the significance when we first started to read the Book of Changes after all these years let me tell Yijing aficionados an inspiring story they may like to keep in their bosoms for the rest of their lives. Good.

After almost twenty years of studying the Book of Changes I have had an affinity with and the opportunity to ask a Quanzhen celestial immortal in 1993 to teach me how to read the Yijing. His first remark in Chinese (and translated into pinyin), ‘Qiang Qing Hongmen Kan Yijing’, still astounded me until recently. The divinity continued his teaching with six cryptic messages which have already been blogged and discussed six years ago.

His remark ‘Qiang Qing Hongmen Kan Yijing’ could literally be translated into English as ‘Barging into Red Gate to read the Book of Changes’. Whether or not this remark equally applies to all Yijing aficionados by and large will depend on their own studies and actions. Therefore do not jump into conclusions.

Why would I be barging into Hongmen (Red Gate) - a city in China - to read the Yijing? I did not know the actual reasons for it until twenty years later (1993 to 2012)! That’s why I am a slow learner who often falls behind in Yijing and in ancient Chinese philosophy studies.

The ‘Red Gate Feast’ or ‘Hongmen Yan’ in pinyin relates to heroes for the discerning. The young, middle age and old all look up to heroes; the more popular and exemplary the heroes the better. Hero Guan Gong (the God of War) is best known for his righteousness (Yi) while hero Zhuge Liang is admired for his foreknowledge and profound strategies. Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa of Calcutta are best known for their caring attitude and kindness (Ren) to all. And therefore are heroes to nurses. Yijing aficionados with sincerity and integrity can also be heroes, if they have never known or thought about it until reading up on this article.

While the Triads and Chinese masonry prefer and invariably copy the later and more romantic version of the Hongmen Yan - the swearing of brotherhood, of serving the state and saving people, and of following the Way of Man (Ren Yi) by the three famous heroes: Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei in the Peach Garden - and the naming of senior triad leaders after the five tiger generals of Shu Han; the original and actual Hongmen Yan is a real historical event.

To know what the Hongmen Yan is all about, let us go back two thousand two hundred years to its history as recorded in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), shall we?

During the popular uprising against the Qin Dynasty (c 207 BC) and after Liu Bang had captured the Qin capital Xianyang for the rebels, Xiang Yu invited him to a feast at Hongmen (Red Gate) on the pretense of celebrating the historic capture. Instead Xiang Yu had planned to kill Liu Bang during the feast; as advised by his brilliant strategist, Fan Zeng who had foreseen Liu Bang’s ascendancy, and based on received information from a traitor that Liu Bang had intended to name himself, King of Guanzhong – a title so promised by Xiang Yu for the first rebel chief to capture Xianyang. Unknown to Xiang Yu, his uncle Xiang Bo who knew about the vile scheme and fearing for the safety of his friend, Zhang Liang – the renowned strategist of Liu Bang – he decided to warn Zhang not to attend the Hongmen Feast (Yan). Zhang Liang then prepared counter strategies for Liu Bang before attending the feast at Hongmen. At the feast, Liu Bang managed to convince Xiang Yu that he had no intention to mutiny but Fan Zeng on his own account still proceeded with the murderous plan. His plan to kill Liu Bang via a sword dance fell through due to the intervention of Xiang Bo, Fan Kuai (a general of Liu Bang), and Zhang Liang. Liu Bang finally managed to escape back to his own camp. Thereafter the traitor in Liu Bang’s camp was executed.

After a few years of contention, Xiang Yu worsted by Liu Bang with the help of his best general, Han Hsin and the strategies of Zhang Liang, took his own life. Liu Bang went on to establish the Han Dynasty.

Those who had attended the feast at Hongmen were heroes. To the populace, both Xiang Yu and Liu Bang were great heroes since they had had ended the tyrannical rule of Qin. The people of China had suffered immensely under the rule of Qin Shih Huangdi (the first emperor of Qin - and not the first emperor of China as many overwhelmed history teachers in the world would tend to believe), so much so that even Zhang Liang has had impoverished his own family by selling assets and using the money to hire assassins hoping to kill the tyrant. By ending the sufferings of the people and by giving them hope, these heroes had followed the Way of Man (benevolence and righteousness – Ren Yi). Perhaps, for this reason many elder Chinese today still refer to themselves as Han people.

If you are a sincere Yijing aficionado who has integrity, you can also be a hero and/or a dragon. Sincerity is required because it is a Way of Heaven and integrity is a must in order not to mislead admirers, followers, and/or students. By following the Way of Man, you would be kind and righteous like the heroes of Hongmen. There are many ways to display kindness and justice – refer to the examples of Guan Gong, Zhuge Liang, Florence Nightingale, and Mother Teresa - more of which will be discussed in my follow up article on dragons and current heroes of the Yijing and/or ancient Chinese philosophy on the Web.

Meanwhile you can do yourself a favor by reading up on Hexagram 1 Qian / The Creative Heaven – using the Wilhelm / Baynes translation - to learn more about dragons and heroes. And to deepen your Yijing studies.

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