Staying at Zi Xiao Gong (the Purple Cloud Temple)

Leisure trips (Lv-You) and roving (Yun-You) are similar — just one word’s difference. However, roving is much more characteristic of ancient Chinese.  It has been a common scene in movies set in ancient times and in Kungfu fictions. Roving resembles the features of a cloud: flowing naturally and freely, at the wind’s call.

I bought a train ticket and did not have an itinerary or arrange for accommodation on the way. I would just follow the flow of life.

I first went to Wuhan and stayed at my younger brother’s home for several days. Then I bought a ticket to Mt. Wudang (a famous Taoistmountain in Hubei province in central China). The train started at dawn, and in our compartment there were only me and a pretty woman. Because we had got up early to take the train, we soon fell asleep on our own beds. I drifted into a half awake and half dreaming state, constantly fancying the roving ancient people staying at Buddhist and Taoist temples. And my mind was occupied with images of Zi Xiao Gong (the Purple Cloud Temple) at Mt. Wudang. But how could I, neither a monk nor a Taoist, manage to stay in it?

While I was still dreaming, an announcement came — We were to arrive at Mt. Wudang Station in an hour. I got up and looked out of the window. The train was passing by green fields and rolling hills. I was visualizing the world I was about to walk into — temples, golden topped buildings, Tai Chiand Taoists — when my cellphone rang. I picked it up and told my friend that I was arriving at the foot of Mt. Wudang and was about to walk up the mountain. I put down the phone and began to arrange things in my backpack.

Then, the pretty woman opposite me asked, “Are you going to climb Mt. Wudang?”


“Your first visit?”


“Is there someone receiving you at the station, and have arranged accommodation for you?” she continued.

“Nope.” I replied, “I am roaming around. So I don’t know where to stay. I’ll just stay wherever I am taken to.”

We thus started a chat. I got to know that the woman, surnamed Liu, was on a business trip to Shiyan, a city at the foot of Mt. Wudang. She was instantly filled with wonder when she heard that I used to constantly go on business trips and was now roving alone.

“You look like a Taoist, particularly with that beard.” she said.

I then remembered that I had grown a beard following Monk Shi’s advice, for he had said that “a Taoist should have a Taoist look.”

“Pity I am not a real Taoist.”

She then said, “You look like someone from ancient times.”

Well, ever since I began to grow a beard, many people had that impression of me. Indeed, my beard resembled those in classical paintings: an “八-shaped” moustache above the upper lip, and a goatee on the chin.

“I have never arranged it to look like this. It just grows this way.” I said with a smile, “A monk told me that I was a Taoist in my previous life.”

“Then you should stay at a Taoist temple on Mt. Wudang.” She grinned.

“Right. Pity I know nobody there. They probably won’t take me in.”

To my surprise, her eyes brightened up, “I have a Taoist friend from Mt. Wudang, surnamed Zeng. He is also roving around right now. Maybe he could help you.”

Then she phoned him and briefly introduced me. Zeng asked her to wait a while, and promised to call back later. I was instantly filled with hope at this unexpected turn of event. Ten minutes later, he called and told me in detail who would come to pick me up at the train station, and whom to go to for arrangement of accommodation at the Purple Cloud Temple. He also said he would go up Mt. Wudang in a couple of days and could walk in the mountain with me. I was overjoyed, and thought to myself, “Isn’t it a magical encounter like those described in martial arts (Kungfu) novels?”

While I was still thinking, we arrived at Mt. Wudang Station. I hastened to thank Ms. Liu and said goodbye to her.

Despite the fame of Mt. Wudang, the station was rather small. I had my lunch at a small restaurant. Just a dish of vegetables, a bowl of soup and a bowl of rice. Cost me 10 yuan. In the afternoon, amid drizzling rain, I was led by Zeng’s friend up to the blue-tiled Purple Cloud Temple. Right after crossing the main entrance, we climbed up a long flight of steep stairs. Up there were fire and smoke nearby. I looked in that direction and saw a barefoot man with a Taoist hat burning paper money before an incense burner. This reminded me that today was the Tomb Sweeping Festival. It was freezing cold north of the Yangtse River, even more so in the mountain. How could his bare feet stand the cold?

I phoned Zeng’s other friend (contact person for arrangement of my accommodation) under the eaves of a temple, but nobody answered it. I tried a few more times, still there was no reply. My mind worked rapidly and then I had an idea. I called a senior official with the Hubei provincial CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference). He was a calligrapher and a close friend of mine, although we were decades apart in age. He asked me to call Chairman Lee with the Wudang TaoistAssociation. I did it, and found he was at the foot of the mountain. He advised me to go to Director Lee at the Purple Cloud Temple. Director Lee gave me a warm welcome and asked,

“Do you want to stay in the eastern or western chamber?”

“What’s the difference?”

Then I found that they serve meat in the western chamber, mainly for visiting government officials; whereas they only serve vegetarian food on the eastern end, where resident Taoists live. Traveling Taoists who come toGua Dan (to put up at a temple for a short stay) also stay in the eastern chamber. I immediately requested to stay there. Finally, my accommodation was settled.

Yesterday I was in a bustling city, this morning I still did not know where to stay, and now I was living in the long-aspired Purple Cloud Temple. It all seemed like a dream. I remembered that the last time I had stayed at a temple was 19 years before, at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet. Back then, I had been appointed to participate in counter-insurgency work and had a clear goal in mind; whereas this time I was roaming around, and nothing was certain.

Finally I was having vegetarian food at a temple, something I had yearned for over the years. It tasted like canteen food I used to have in my childhood, no smell of chicken, duck, fish or pork, just the pure aroma of vegetables. Since young I had always liked the familiar taste and smell. Perhaps it was because having canteen food was simple and time-saving, and the smell of it would always draw out my memories. I had been taking canteen food all along, from middle school to university, from Beijing to Jiangxi province and Tibet, and from China to the U.S. And my heart had always felt close to and yearned for vegetarian food at a temple.

While I was eating, my cellphone rang. And at the canteen I found TaoistZhang who hadn’t answered my call because she was attending to other matters. This was a female Taoist (“Kun Tao” in Chinese, whereas maleTaoists are called “Qian Tao”, as Qian and Kun refer to males and females respectively, or things with masculine or feminine qualities). She was reassured to know that I already had a place to stay at, and asked me to go to her should I need any help.

My place of stay was part of a very simple, ordinary one-storeyed building. Four beds in the outer and inner rooms, much like a hostel room in a small town during the Cultural Revolution. At this Tomb Sweeping Festival, drizzling rain brought much cold and it was so quiet at the temple. I was reading Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine) under a damp blanket. Chimes struck by a nighttime patroller came in through the window. (In ancient China and in some places now, there is the tradition of “sounding the night watches” every two hours.) It made the cold night even quieter, and made me feel like I was back to the ancient days.

Gate to the Purple Cloud Temple

The next morning, I followed the rapid chanting and sounds of gongs up to the Purple Cloud Temple. This was the main hall with long, high stairs. I quietly watched some female Taoists perform a ceremonial rite, practicedTai Chi in the yard and followed the bell to have breakfast at the canteen.

After breakfast, I asked Zhang what places she would recommend me to visit. She advised me to go up the mountain from the back door of the Temple to see Tai Zi Dong (the Prince Cave). I opened the kitchen door, and indeed there was a winding mountain path. At the end of it was a flight of stone stairs, all well-preserved. Looking up from the stairs, I saw an ancient arch, like the gate of a city, and the characters “Tai Zi Dong” inscribed in a stone was faintly visible. I went through the arch, and walked up more stairs. Soon I saw a cave with a decorated door on the cliff to my left. There was a lamp inside, with a poetic couplet on the sides of it. It read,

For millennia, incense has been burning in the golden thurible,

And light has been shining through the jade-decorated lamp.

The cave keeper was Taoist Jia. He was over 70 years old, and had a kind, ruddy face. The other one busy cooking and tidying up was the barefootTaoist I had seen right after walking past the main entrance of the Temple. They invited me to have breakfast with them. I declined, saying I had already had it. We then began to chat and I found that each of them had a legendary life story.

Gate to the Prince Cave

Main Hall of the Prince Cave

Taoist Jia — Following the Tao for Curing Diseases

First, Jia’s story.

He joked, “I got a pile of ‘salt’ in 1980s. Way too much, had no place to store it.”

“Then give some out to others.” I suggested.

“Well, it wasn’t the ‘salt’ we put in food, but the inflammations in my body —hepatitis, pneumonia, gastritis and enteritis (The Chinese characters for ‘salt’ and ‘inflammation’ have the same pronunciation, but spell differently and bear differing meanings).” came his reply. “I found no cure, neither in Chinese medicine nor in Western medicine, and they made me restless at night. I had to take sleeping pills, half a tablet in the beginning, then two, three, four…but still it didn’t work.”

“How did you get sick?” I asked.

“I had been a bad man for too long.”

“You look so kind, not at all like an evil man.”

“Back then, I was Director of Security in my village, in charge of dealing with wrong doings, evildoers and indescribable trouble. There was only one way to beat the evildoers. I needed to be even more wicked than them. Or else it wouldn’t work. Later on, I wanted to give it up and claimed that I was sick. But wherever I went, there were people making trouble with me. I had nowhere to hide from it, not even in a pigsty. Finally, I got sick for real, had all those illnesses I told you.”

“My condition may sound weird. I could not eat meat. If I did, I would vomit and suffer from diarrhea for sure. And I couldn’t even have animal oil or eggs. One day my daughter put a fried egg underneath the rice. I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I ate it. I vomited the whole night, and even jaundice water came out. Only then did my family believe that I could not have non-vegetarian food. How to cure my illnesses then? I had been to all hospitals where I might find a possible cure, but none of them worked. I thought to myself, ‘This is not a quiet place for me, whether because of the wicked men I have to deal with or the non-vegetarian food I have. This must be the biggest cause. As long as I live here, I cannot possibly get rid of them.’ So, after much thought, I felt that the quietest place was a temple. And I suddenly had a wonderful idea, ‘Why not become a Taoist at Mt. Wudang?”

What a flash of inspiration!

“Maybe I had been tortured too much, I didn’t hesitate and headed for Mt. Wudang right away from my hometown Yicheng. I walked day and night, and even the painful water blisters on my feet could not stop me, not even for a while. I was a heavy smoker back then. On the way, I brought out my tobacco bag (a delicate white-bronze bag, my favorite) and wanted to smoke again. But then I remembered that smoking was not allowed in the temple, so I threw the bag and the cigarette pack on the road. That was how I quit smoking. After 5-6 days, I finally arrived at Mt. Wudang.”

“The temple had just been restored, and living conditions were very basic. Initially, I was arranged to stay at Yuxu Temple at the foot of the mountain, later on I moved up to the Purple Cloud Temple, and then to the Prince Cave.”

“I have been a Taoist for over 20 years, and have stayed in the Cave for nine years. When I had just arrived here, they wanted to test and see whether I was truly determined to become a Taoist, so they asked me to work in the field. I had been Director of Security for so long, an official anyway, so I wasn’t good at it. Soon I had water blisters on my feet. When I stepped on the shovel to dig and turn over the earth, it hurt so much that my tears kept running down my cheeks. But I continued work. When I could not carry full buckets of dung to the field, I carried them half full, with the support of crutches. Later on, I gradually adapted to it, and simply went barefoot to the field.”

“If the ‘unworldly’ life were like this, how many people today would be willing to abandon the secular life?” I wondered.

“Since then, my health has naturally improved, and all the ‘inflammations’ are gone. I have never been back home again. Now I am 75, I can hear and see things clearly. I have no problem reading newspaper. I feel the more hardships one goes through, the happier he will become. Loving what you do and dedicating yourself to it is to manifest the invisibleTao. Whatever you take honest efforts to do, you can get inspirations from it.”


Taoist Jia, Keeper of the Prince Cave

Barefoot Taoist Praying for World Peace

Then the story of the barefoot Taoist.

He was surnamed Zhang. As he had a strong accent, I could only get a rough idea of what he said. He seemed to have been separated from his parents in a disaster, and since then had been roaming around. There was a plate on him. It was from Xiantong Temple at Mt. Wutai. In it there was a picture of him standing barefoot in the snow. On the other side of the plate was his great vow made in 1978 that he would go barefoot for 30 years for the sake of world peace and harmony. Over the past 28 years, he had indeed been barefoot in all seasons, and in all weather conditions.

He was an ascetic Taoist. He often stayed in caves, under eaves or trees, and what he ate were people’s leftovers. But he had always been healthy, and his feet had no frostbites or trauma at all. “Were they made of bronze?” I wondered.

Although some people look down upon him and think he is stupid and weird, I believe he is a real pursuer of spiritual truth, for what he has done is a wonderful interpretation of his life. Numerous people in the world talk of Buddhism and Taoism, but very few people engage in such conscientious practice like the barefoot Taoist.

Barefoot Taoist

asked Jia the way up to the Golden Peak. He said, “It’s scores of kilometres from here. You’d better go up and check the road, and climb up tomorrow.” I started climbing again, and without knowing it, I felt better and better, and got so mesmerized in the climb that I simply couldn’t stop it. So I continued and climbed to the top. There I phoned several friends, drew a lot which said “Great Luck” and went downhill.

On my way back to the Temple, I took a path leading me back to the Prince Cave. Apart from the two Taoists I had met, there was a Hungarian woman wearing a Taoist robe. She had been at Mt. Wudang for quite a while. So it seemed that she had roved farther than me. Jia heard that I was looking for masters of Chinese medicine, so he told me that there were two Taoistmasters at the Purple Cloud Temple —Taoists Zhu and Wang. Over the past few years, Zhu had been writing a medical book and had just finished it. Wang was a Kungfu instructor there, and he was also expert in I Ching andFeng Shui. We talked till dark. While walking down to the Temple, I was still wondering how I could see the two masters of Taoist medicine.

Panoramic view of surrounding mountains from the Golden Peak of Mt. Wudang 

Golden Hall of the Golden Peak

Taoist Zhu Capable of Seeing Meridian Flow in the Body

That night, when I was having a footbath in my room, a white-haired Taoistknocked on my door and came in. I hastened to greet my guest. Then I found he was Taoist Zhu that Jia had mentioned to me. I knew Jia didn’t have a cellphone, and wasn’t likely to come downhill specially to inform him. Could Zhu foretell things?

He jumped directly to the theme and said, “I know you come from afar and are interested in Chinese medicine. No need to introduce myself. Just read my book and you’ll know all I want to say.” With these words, he gave me a book and left.

That night I burned midnight oil and read under the blanket the thin copy of Deciphering the Twelve Meridians in the Human Body.

The chimes gradually came closer and then faded away. I was overwhelmed by what I was reading. And my first feeling was Taoist Zhu should be awarded a Nobel Prize. This was a wonderful book — the author described the entire process of how he had been practicing medicine and following the Tao, from reading books to actual practice, from meditation to NEI SHI (looking inside/internal focus), and finally how he had discovered in his own body the symmetrical flow of meridians. He elevated the philosophy of “harmony of man and nature” to a new level and proposed ways for individual self-cultivation and social transformation. Surprisingly, the meridians he saw during Nei Shi were as clear as visual images on a TV screen, and they run in the directions as are shown in the Meridians Chart that is published and available to everyone. From the era of Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine) till today, there have been records and legends of internal observation of meridians. Yet it was my first time to know a modern man with such clear internal observation of meridians in the human body. Zhu’s Oriental-style empirical study and decades of medical practice provided a perfect answer to the long-standing, unfathomable mystery of where meridians flow in and out in the human body which are described in Huang Di Nei Jing.

Since ancient times, countless people have been perplexed by the seemingly contradictory description of the 12 meridians and their flow (Chu, Ru, Gen, Liu, Zhu, i.e., their points of origin, points they pass by and stay, points where the flow is strongest and points where they flow to collaterals, i.e. smaller energy channels) in Huang Di Nei Jing, but have no way to confirm it.

Now everything is clear. Through his internal observation of meridians, Zhu not only proved the existence of meridians in the human body, confirmed their directions of flow, where they flow out and in, and their regular patterns of flow, he also very skillfully made use of these patterns during his later clinical practice. The healing effect was extraordinary and it had been proven effective each time he applied them.

The following is an excerpt of Zhu’s summary in Deciphering the Twelve Meridians in the Human Body:


Taoism has been passed down in China for many generations. And there is a tradition where “of all Taoists, nine in ten are adept at medicine.” That is to say, a Taoist who has abandoned the secular life must have a deep understanding of the body’s internal organs, the 12 meridians (six yin and six yang meridians), the Five Primary Elements, Four Symbols (Ancient Chinese visualized constellations of seven stars respectively in the East, West, South and North as four animal figures — the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger, the Vermilion Bird and the Black Tortoise. Similarly, in Chinese medicine, they refer to the important organs and their corresponding meridians) and Eight Extra Meridians. Only then can he or she go into actual Taoist practice with a definite insight. With an understanding of the body’s organs, yin-yang interactions, meridians system and other physiological knowledge, as well as basic modern medical knowledge, and with a compassion for others, he or she can, to some extent, help patients to relieve their pains and sufferings. This is why the tradition has lasted till today.

The spiritual pursuit of today’s Taoists is the same. Hence, we need to study and discuss over man’s physiology. To attain our ideals, we should have a more in-depth understanding of the mysterious, profound and latent physiological knowledge, so as to consciously stride towards the Tao.

For millennia, people have been pondering over the question of the “soul”. Hence, there have been spiritual pursuits of major religions in the world, philosophers’ study, and attention from the literary world. Each and every one of us has been searching for, questioning over and even whipping our own soul. But, what is the soul, really? Is it any different from the mind as we know it?

I felt it deeply during meditation the existence of the “soul” and observed its movement mechanism. The macro-holographic movement pattern in nature and universe, and the micro-holographic movement pattern in all life forms can be deduced based on it. The macro- and micro-holographic mechanisms are related to Taoism, medicine, philosophy, politics, biology, astronomy, mathematics and human life science, and so on. It is further study based on the research fruits of ancient Chinese people and is a mostly neglected one. Therefore, we hope that people from all relevant fields, scientists and particularly fellowmen in medical and Taoist research and practice could make joint efforts to study it, to explore more and to innovate.

Zhu Huaying, a Taoist doctor at Mt.

Wudang Taoist Zhu’s bedroom

The sun shone brightly the next morning. I came across Zhu again in the yard, and we walked together and chatted in the sun. Through our chat, I gradually got to know his life story. Zhu was born into a landlord’s family. Since young, he had been through all kinds of sufferings. Whenever there was a political movement, he and his family were targets of denunciation and punishment, and the reason he studied medicine was because his family members were sick and had no money for medical treatment. First, his mother suffered mental disorders because of constant denunciation and punishment, and then his younger brother got depression and other illnesses, for he was denied the opportunity to sit the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) because of his family background. These events prompted him to study medicine.

At the age of 12, his companions didn’t want to play with him and cursed that he was “the son of a landlord”. Over-raged, he shut his door and immersed in reading. He first read ancient novels and legends, and then told others the stories he had read. Out of his surprise, it made him well-known. In the age of scarcity when even a radio was a luxury, listening to his stories after finishing farm work became a great entertainment for the locals.

One year, they needed to carry mud for construction of the Jingjiang Dam. He was thin and weak, and could hardly bear the heavy load. During a break, he told the workers some plots in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Much to his surprise, they were so fascinated that they reduced his burden so that he could share more stories with them. He found that reading books had some benefit at all, and got more motivated in studying ancient books.

At the time, his family members were sick but had no money to see a doctor, so he began to read medical classics. None of them were modern textbooks on Chinese medicine, all were ancient classics. Thus he entered the world of Huang Di Nei Jing and Discussion of Cold-Induced Disorders. He had no teachers to learn from, no companions to study with and no medical college to go to. He entered the world of Chinese medicine purely by reading ancient medical classics, which was totally different from formal education at a medical college in terms of both methodology and content. Although he never sat a medical exam, whatever he learnt from the classics, he directly applied them in clinical practice. Isn’t it the best exam? What an extraordinary way to learn medicine! It turned his mishap into good fortune.

His family had several generations of pious Buddhist believers, and his mother was particularly religious. In the end, she could not bear the torture of denunciation and punishment and hanged herself. Her will to him before death was: Eat vegetarian food, be filial to your elders, meditate and practice medicine. From early on, he had been profoundly influenced by Buddhism, and her will made him more determined. Since then, he became a vegan and got more proactive in learning Chinese medicine.

According to Zhu, one day, he wanted to try meditation. He didn’t expect that he would experience strong reactions the next day. His body shook violently. He continued to meditate on the third night and had even stronger reactions. An enormous energy made him restless. Amid the chaos, he saw a bright bead the size of a grain of rice. He tried to blow it into a nostril and then blow it up to the Tianmu (also the “celestial eye”, the third eye in spiritual practice). It was continuously stirred, but just could not be blown to the Tianmu. With some more blowing, it suddenly disappeared.

In desperation, he cried and lamented. All of a sudden, an external force pushed him. His head automatically went over the quilt and his tongue stuck out naturally. The lost bead was found. Then his entire body couldn’t help falling back onto the wall behind and his head also continually bumped against the wall. It lasted quite long. The second day, he found there was a big hole in the straw and mud wall, the result of his head bumping in the night.

He continued to meditate each day. On the seventh day, he completely cleared the loop of whole-body energy flow and spent four hours in fetal breathing, i.e. he had naturally stopped breathing. Then he clearly had a panoramic view of the meridian flow in his body.

He had bought medical classics for self-study, and had obeyed his mother’s will to go vegetarian and meditate. Never had he thought that in seven days, he would be able to clear the loop of whole-body energy flow, got the bead in spiritual practice, and had a clear internal observation of the meridians’ two-way, parallel, circulatory flow. He thus made up for what had been missing in Huang Di Nei Jing and unveiled a mystery lasting for millennia.

Taoist Zeng Combining Knowledge in The Book of Changes and in Medicine

Two days later, Taoist Zeng, whom Ms. Liu had introduced to me on the train, arrived at the Temple. Indeed, we hit it off right away and decided to share the bedroom so that we could talk all night. Zeng was a foreteller and Feng Shui master, and had practical experience in applying knowledge in The Book of Changes and medical knowledge. And he also used acupuncture a lot.

One of my goals was to roam around and meet such people, so as to know folk doctors of Chinese medicine and Taoist doctors better. Never had I thought that the start of my maiden journey would be so dramatic. Since God is the director, I would just fit in my role. So in the next few days, I watched him fortune-tell for people from all walks of life.

I got to know from him that apart from Yun-You (roving), there were such phrases as Yun-Xue and Yun-Wa, i.e. shoes and socks that Taoists wore. He had begun to practice Tao over 20 years before at Taihe Temple (Temple of Great Harmony) on the Golden Peak. So he was familiar with everything on the mountain. Wasn’t it great to travel with such a guide? Although I had climbed up to the Golden Peak once, now I was joyfully anticipating another climb with Zeng.

Taoist Zeng, expert in Hexagram Fortune-Telling and Feng Shui (Geomancy) 


Before we set off, Zeng fortune-told for me based on my birthday and the eight characters of a horoscope. His first words were,

“Brother Xiao, you had probably gone into the wrong profession. It would be great if you were to practice medicine.”

“How come?” I asked.

“You have two Tianyi Stars. So you are predestined with a great talent of healing, and you are to cure illnesses and save people’s lives, whether in an explicit or implicit way.”

My heart throbbed, for Monk Shi had said the same, “You are destined to manifest the Tao through practice of medicine”. So it seemed that the causal chain is sure, yet elusive and intangible. Maybe I had long had a predestined bond with Chinese medicine.

My mother was a doctor of Western medicine. My uncle (her brother) was a doctor of Chinese medicine, quite famous in my hometown. They worked in the same hospital and people used to differentiate them by calling them Big Xiao and Small Xiao. What really fascinated me was Chinese medicine, and I used my mother’s family name (normally a Chinese kid uses the father’s surname) and was almost sent to my uncle as an adoptive son. When I grew up, I learnt that my grandpa had been a devout Taoistbeliever and a vegetarian in his entire life. People used to call him Xiao Zhai Gong (a respectful way to call an elderly vegetarian). So I felt certain that I had a profound connection with Chinese medicine and Taoism. The aroma in a pharmacy of Chinese medicine always makes me recall wonderful memories. In my childhood when there weren’t enough food and clothing, sometimes I would sneak into the Chinese medicine storehouse to eat red dates and longan. And I had never been tired of helping the short man in the pharmacy prepare Chinese herbal medicine —chopping, pounding and grinding the herbs. My left thumb still has a scar, a reminder of how sharp the knife I used to chop herbs was.

In short, I have always been passionate about everything related to Chinese medicine. When I was in Tibet in 1987, I also took a great interest in Tibetan medicine. When I returned to Beijing, I bought many Tibetan drugs and sent them out as gifts. When I was in the U.S. in the 1990s, I came across a master of Chinese medicine expert at reading pulses and acupressure. I volunteered to drive him around and translate for him when he treated people.

One evening after dinner, Zeng and I started off from the main entrance. He explained me the Feng Shui (Geomancy) of the Purple Cloud Temple and we turned around and reached the Prince Cave. The barefoot Taoistand Taoist Jia were working in their vegetable field in the dim sunset. Seeing us, they came over to greet us and together we sat at the stone table before the entrance of the Cave close to the cliff. Jia pointed to the site of the Eight Diagrams Pavilion below the cliff, and said it was where Zhang Sanfeng had practiced Tai Chi. (Zhang Sanfeng was a great master of Tai Chi in ancient China, and most records say he is the creator of Tai Chi).

Eight Diagrams Pavilion where Zhang Sanfeng used to practice Tai Chi
The barefoot Taoist sitting at the table. We often used to sit there chatting.
We sat at the stone stools and chatted. The sun had set and it was quiet around us. We were in a heated discussion when suddenly, from the dark slope below, a flat shadow flew towards me. It touched my face and I felt a passing breeze. Before I could react, it had flown onto the trunk of a pine tree behind us, then it swiftly climbed to the top and disappeared. I clearly felt I had just been “kissed” on the face by its warm fluffs. But I hadn’t the slightest fear, and my glasses were still on. It all happened in a second. What a lightning speed! No signs or warnings of its coming at all. How magical! We looked at each other awkwardly when we came to our normal selves.


“What was it?” I asked.

Well, the three Taoists had three opinions. Zeng said it was a civet cat, Jia said it was a flying fox, and the barefoot Taoist said it was a flying bear.

Jia and the barefoot Taoist had often seen it leap among tree trunks over a dozen metres apart. They said it was a very spiritual animal, and it had light flying skills. When it stretched its legs and furs, the whole body formed a flat triangle, like a fluffy stealth aircraft, but was more agile that an aircraft.  

“What colour is it?” I asked.

“Red.” came the reply. “Particularly in the evening and night. During the day, it is red brown.”

Red is my favourite colour. So everyone present said it was a very auspicious sign. At the night time, the fire fox passed by my face and I was unscathed and my glasses didn’t fall. Wasn’t it magical?

Back in the room, Zeng tried Hexagram Fortune-Telling according to the time of the event. So he had looked at his watch when it happened, and had recorded the exact time including the hour, minute and second. The hexagram said, “Good things to happen in 6-9 months. Someone’s asking a favour of you without conditions attached. And you are to go to a western country in September.”

“How did it foretell that I am to go to the west?” I asked.

“Because the fox was flying towards the west.”

Indeed, what happened later on proved it correct.

On the day I was leaving Mt. Wudang, all of a sudden, many snowflakes began to fall. Soon, there was a vast expanse of whiteness around us. This reminded me of the final destiny of Jia Baoyu — purity and nothingness. (Jia Baoyu is the protagonist in Hong Lou Meng (also called A Dream of Red Mansions, one of the Four Literary Classics in ancient China).

Western chamber where visiting government officials stay. Large snowflakes fell all of a sudden.

We took a taxi and arrived at the foot of the mountain. There were no snowflakes at all, and not a cloud in the clear sky. This was a bustling world— cars, markets, vendors, pedestrians…And each person had his own frustrations and dreams.

Zeng and I took a train to Shiyan. I went to visit a self-taught folk doctor in No. 2 Automobile Company. According to my mother, he had cured an employee of Jingmen Thermal Power Plant who had long suffered from lower back pain but couldn’t find a cure. Zeng went to a company to investigate its Feng Shui (Geomancy). The boss of the company was Ms. Liu, the pretty woman I had met on the train.

How incredible it was! We were gathering in this remote automobile manufacturing city with the person who had led Zeng and me to meet. We call it Yuan Fen in Chinese and I could hardly find an equivalent in English. So I created a translation — the “hidden link”. When we were toasting this wonderful “hidden link” that had brought us together, Zeng suddenly said, “You may not know it, but when I received Ms. Liu’s call, I instantly and very naturally looked at my watch. Then I did Hexagram Fortune-Telling, and knew that I would be roving with someone with similar interests.”

Ms. Liu smiled and said, “Right! When I saw him on the train, I felt you two would hit it off.”

Zeng sighed, “You are indeed destined to practice medicine and Tao.”

This instantly reminded me of Monk Shi’s words, “You are destined to manifest the Tao through practice of medicine.”