The Last Mountain

©Stephen McDonnell 2002

draft May 5. 2002

13. Lijiang Interlude

There is a heaven and hell, because man can not stand to be happy or see others be happy. This thought came to me as I read the newspapers and the events in Nepal. Maoist rebels were torturing and raping their own kind, re-enacting the past. I wonder if sometime in the future, Hitler youths will be reborn in Europe to replay history. But then the seed of evil exists in all of us. Every one of us carries it inside of us. I know, I had seen it up close. I had been friends with evil men, without knowing it. I had felt it inside me as well. All of us are capable of great good and great bad. Sometimes it is just a coin's toss away.

I talked with her father every day when we stayed in Ligiang for the second time. Those days were like a fairy tale, somewhere between the moon and the stars. My education was completed and things began to make sense. He told me about the Cultural Revolution and how they had persecuted him. He showed me the stumps of his fingers, a present from the Red Guard.

They had taken him out of his study before they burned it, and forced him to confess his crimes. He was a bourgeois enemy of the people, he was contaminated by his stay in the West. He was to be made an example. They hung him up by his fingers, because they said his hands were to soft from no working, from collecting flowers and plants. That was just the beginning. He was hauled off to the mountains, forced to work outside in winter. Eventually his fingers, already damaged, began to suffer from frostbite. They turned black and then gangrene set in. He watched as worms began to eat his flesh.

She found him that way. Lilly had bribed a doctor to come with her into the mountains. She forced the doctor to perform surgery, cutting his fingers off. Then she carried him back down the mountains to a refuge, to recover alone with the Dongbar shamans because he had to return to her post as a Red Guard.

When I was the age the red guards, I remember the furor in the West, when a wave of dissatisfaction washed across the planet, form the streets of Paris, to the halls of Universities; every generation wants to leave its mark. Mao saw the tide and he rode it like some fat Californian beach comber, ignoring the cries of the drowning. His picture showed up in the newspapers around the world, as he swam around in the sea or was it the Yantzee River? It seemed long ago, another China. In this house, the past still echoed painfully.

He had done nothing against the communist party; in fact he was a good Marxist. Instilled in every one in China is the reverence for the family, for authority that grew out of Confucius teachings. His crime was to have gone to England. His crime was contamination with Western ideas. In today's China, everyone wanted to be Western. In those dark years, Mao had let loose the Red Brigades, like the Inquisition of the middle ages, they roamed the country trying to ferret out the guilty and innocent, anyone who was different. For them it was a crime, a crime against mediocrity. Up with the masses, meant down with anyone who stuck out. As my grand dad used to tell me as he nailed plywood with two swings, the nails that stick out get hammered down.

Following in the steps of his mentor, Professor Rock, he scrambled across the mountains and vales of Western China, looking for the precious or rare plants; he plucked and pressed them in his collection books. One day he had seen a botanical book printed in England. He knew he would one day go to the people who had printed this book and who had inflicted the Opium wars on his country. The poppy, by itself a beautiful flower, harbored the siren song of glazed eyes, heaven on earth; before Mao, it had flourished. The great leader had swept the country clean of such freedoms; only the state prescribed joys were allowed.

"Do you know the book 'The Art of War' by SunTzu?" he asked me in his wispy voice, as we played Ma Jong together. He always won, but it was difficult for him to play with his hands the way they were. No waiting for a reply, something I had come to expect as I was not on his level intellectually. We had been talking about the climb. About Maria Garibaldi.

He continued," Sun Tzu Wu was a native of the Ch`i State. His ART OF WAR brought him to the notice of Ho Lu, King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him: "I have carefully perused your 13 chapters. May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight test?"

Sun Tzu replied: "You may."

Ho Lu asked: "May the test be applied to women?"

The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the Palace. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, and placed one of the King's favorite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them all take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: "I presume you know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?"

Of course the women will be women, they thought it was one of those masculine games, of no importance. They were soon to find out that the expression 'kill a few chickens to scare the monkeys.' "Your archenemy, Ben Laden, tried to do that September 11, 2001 and like the Japanese - in Pearl Harbor - woke the sleeping giant. In my opinion, Mr. Worth, American women are more dangerous than your men, when they are aroused they will send their sons, husbands, and even themselves into battle. The Arabs do not understand this, they have forgotten Mohamed's teachings, and Islam has become patriarchal, forgetting the yin and the yang. We are one."

The girls replied: Yes.

Sun Tzu went on: "When I say "Eyes front," you must look straight ahead. When I say "Left turn," you must face towards your left hand. When I say "Right turn," you must face towards your right hand. When I say "About turn," you must face right round towards your back."

Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of drums, he gave the order "Right turn." But the girls only burst out laughing. Sun Tzu said: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame."

So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order "Left turn," whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter. Sun Tzu: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers."

So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. Now the king of Wu was watching the scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and when he saw that his favorite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: "We are now quite satisfied as to our general's ability to handle troops. If we are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they shall not be beheaded."

Sun Tzu replied: "Having once received His Majesty's commission to be the general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept."

Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done, the drum was sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King saying: "Your soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your majesty's inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire; bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey."


"You see, your leader, Sigfried, was only doing what any good commander does," the old man continued, after taking a sip of green tea that a serving girl had brought, "he was insuring that only the strongest and most obedient would be in his army."

"Yes, but mountain climbers are individuals, free spirits." I protested. He only smiled, thinking of many things in his past.

"Yes, even my daughter has that habit, you may have noticed, yet we are part of this planet, we are governed by the laws of gravity. Even she must obey those above her." He looked at the Bonsai trees around us; one had attracted a songbird. Its song was a tiny bell like warble, reminding me of the lhamasa.

"Even I am guilty of thinking I am above such things, the error of my ways was shown to me." He pulled his hands back into his sleeves, and put them together, much like the old mandarins would do, but in his case it was to hide his deformity. "My hands were too soft, my heart no hard enough for them, I forgot the Tao. The way. Water takes the path of least resistance, like the ones that flow through the village. One can go upstream with difficulty."

The sun was slanting down, catching the Jade Dragon mountains white crests, making them breath fire. I shuddered at the sight. Naxi women came to light the lanterns around the courtyard -their giggles and looks fell on us men ­ we remained indifferent. How I wanted to stay here, to be pampered by these women. But she was with the Dogba, where I could not go.

"What do you think your General Chenault would have done?" His question caught me by surprise. Facing incredible odds, Claire had gone up against the Japanese, winning several battles that checked their advance, moreover he changed the idea that the enemy was unbeatable. The General never had the one hundred airplanes he wanted. Those he got, obsolete already, were cannibalized for parts, and pilots were even more precious. In the end all were expendable. The goal of beating the Japanese was most important.

Light was fading fast in the courtyard as he smiled at me and said, "He sacrificed a few pilots, knowing it would save China. What are heroes for, Mr. Worth? They light up the night sky so that we can follow them in the afterglow." We both looked up into the gloaming, hoping to see falling stars that seem closer in the mountain air. He sighed again and then began to laugh, when a servant girl came to whisper in his ear.

"The women tell me they have a surprise for you, Mr. Worth. My daughter insists you go with these women to under go a ritual cleansing, a Dongba ceremony, for those who are about to be married. In order to see if they are ready for the commitment."

A bevy of women surrounded me, and he smiled at my consternation, a knowing smile, maybe remembering his marriage. Then it was exceptional that an outsider should marry a Naxi woman. The women grabbed me bodily, leading me to a bathhouse. I was shown by gesture where to disrobe, and then left alone. Through the wooden walls, I could hear singing of women's voices. Did Ulysses hear such voices when he went close to the Sirens? I was soon to find out.

"Mr. Worth, come here Mr. Worth." was the words I heard chanted by many women. I opened the door onto paradise, a tub full of naked Naxi women. Lilly was generous, and so were her sisters. Matriarchy at its best.

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