Pale Ink, by Henriette Mertz, , at sacred-texts.com
Hwui SHAN was a mendicant Buddhist Priest, so the Classics tell us, a Pi-kiu (or the Sanskrit, Bhikshu), who was in China in 499 A.D. and who told a story at Court of having been to a far country 20,000 LI east of the Great Han Countrythe Great Han Country was said to be 20,000 LI east of China. There is no mention in this specific account of Hwui Shan's journey as to how he got there, how he got back to China, how long he was away or where he came from originally. Since there is none in this account, we propose to confine ourselves to that which is contained within his own words.
Boiling down Hwui Shan's account, we learn that he had established contact with a people some 40,000 LI or 13,000 miles distant, to the east, having a high degree of civilization. These people had a writing; woven clothing; some kind of paper; they had a valuable tree or plant that had a pear-shaped fruit, reddish in color, that was edible, that was preserved without spoiling, and that looked like bamboo shootsthe country derived its name from this plant. The people built houses but their cities had no walls. They had no weapons and did not fight. They had some system of law and order as criminals were punished according to an established principle. They had a ruler who was the "Chief of the Multitudes" and lesser nobles called "Tui-lu." Every second year the ruler changed the color of his garments. Cattle were domesticated; koumiss was made from milk and grapes were cultivated. The country contained gold, silver and copper, but no iron. They had formal marriage and burial customs. In 458 A.D., five Buddhist priests, from Kabul, went to this country and taught the people their religion.
The Kingdom of Women added to this, the fact that approximately 350 miles east of Fu-sang another kind of people were found. They were light in color, neat and clean, with long hair. At the second month, the women became pregnant and at the sixth or seventh month, the child was born. The baby was nursed from the hair at the back of the mother's neck; it could
walk in a little over three months; and, at three or four years, became adult. The women had great respect for their husbands. They ate some species of fragrant salt plant and also little beans or kernels. The women looked like those of China but the men, while they had human bodies, had the heads of dogs and they made the sound of dogs. Their houses were made of adobe, were circular in shape and had entrances that looked like burrows. In 507 A.D., some men from Tsin-ngan were blown across the sea to this unknown coast and they could not understand the language of the people.
The Classics contain other sections that relate to this story, or portions of it, some elaborated and others quite detaileda few contribute highly significant descriptive matter. They all refer by name to Fu-sang or the Kingdom of Women. Other Chinese literature, as well as poetry, anterior to Hwui Shan, peculiarly enough, also contains reference to Fu-sang.
In the year 499 A.D., when Hwui Shan was supposed to have returned to China, China was embroiled in a series of bitter civil wars. The Tsi Dynasty, which was then in power, was overthrown within the next year or two, and, by 502 A.D., the Liang Dynasty, under the Emperor Wu-ti, emerged. Buddhism, which had had a foothold in China sometime earlier but had been banished under the Tsi Dynasty, was, under the Emperor Wu-ti, revived. The Emperor was a devout follower of the Buddha, having for a period of time retired to a Buddhist monastery. Under this unusually favorable protective covering, Hwui Shan found a sympathetic ear at Court.
As would be normal, when a new Emperor succeeded to the throne, governors of the provinces, or those holding offices of state under the Emperor, came to pay tribute. Just so when Wu-ti ascended, there came four Princes, or feudal lords, to the Court, to pay their respects. It so happened that these princes were present at the same time that Hwui Shan was there and, one of them, Yu-Kie, was charged by the Emperor to question him and to write down his answers. This writing, which has also been preserved, is called the Liang-Sse-Kong-Ki, or the memoirs of the Four Lords of the Liang Dynasty.
Yu-Kie, the inquisitor, appears to have been something of a wit. While he wrote down the answers that Hwui Shan gave, he inserted little touches of extravagancy of his own. The story was a perfect foil for his sense of humor and, being unable to resist, he spun yarns by the hour for the benefit of the courtiers. In spite of these far-flung stretches of imagination on the part of Yu-Kie, his account both adds tremendously to the preceding information and, in a sense, corroborates it.
From Yu-Kie's account, we learn that Fu-sang was at the extreme east. About 10,000 LI (3,000 miles) northwest was the Kingdom of Women. The women there took serpents for husbands; they lived in holes; they had no books; they believed in certain forms of prayers; the women were very moral and those who strayed from the straight and narrow were instantly punished. Then Yu-Kie wrote: "At a great distance to the south of this country is the mountain Yen-kuen (a smoking or burning mountain) the inhabitants of which eat locusts, crabs and hairy serpents to preserve themselves from heat. Upon the summit of this mountain there live fire ratsweasels or squirrelsthe hair of which serves for the fabrication of an incombustible material which is cleansed by fire instead of water. To the north, at a great distance, of this Kingdom of Women, is a Black Gorge or Valley, and north of the Black Gorge are mountains so high that they reach to the heavens and are snow-covered all year. The sun does not show itself there at all. It is there, it is said, that the Luminous Dragon resides. At a great distance to the west of the Kingdom of Women, is a fountain that has the taste of wine. In this region, there is also found a Sea of Varnish of which the waves dye black the feathers and furs that are dipped in them, and not too far, another sea the color of milk. The territory surrounded by these natural marvels is of great extent and extremely fertile. Dogs, ducks and horses of great height live in it, and, finally, birds which produce human beings. The males born of these birds do not live. The daughters only are raised with care by their fathers, who carry them with their beaks or upon their wings. As soon as they commence to walk, they become mistresses of themselves. They are all of
remarkable beauty and very hospitable, but they die before reaching the age of thirty years. The rabbits of this country are white and as large as horses, their hair being a foot long. The sables are as large as wolves. Their hair is black and of extraordinary thickness."
The Marquis dHervey de Saint-Denys, whose translation of the Liang-Sse-Kong-Ki this has followed, then translates: "The attendants of the Court were much amused at these stories. They all laughed and clapped their hands, and said that better stories had never been told."
He further translates: "A minister of the Emperor, named Wang-Yun, interrupted Yu-Kie with this bantering objection: 'If we believe the official accounts which have been collected regarding the 'Kingdom of Women', situated to the west of the country Tsan-yai and to the south of the Kingdom of Dogs, it is merely inhabited by barbarians who have a woman as their sovereign; but there has never been any question of serpents filling the office of husbands. How do you account for that?' Yu-Kie responded with pleasantry with a new explosion of extravagances, in the midst of which there appeared here and there a true idea, burlesqued for diversion."
The Marquis dHervey himself, most significantly, commented on the above passage saying: "This curious fragment shows that the Chinese of the Sixth Century were not as credulous as might be believed; that they knew how to distinguish between the true and the improbable; and that the extravagancies of their story-tellers, at which they were the first to laugh, does not diminish the merit of the writers that they respected." The scholarly Marquis, from this it will be noted, was ready to laugh along with the Chinese.
As a record of an extended journey, it must be conceded that Hwui Shan's account as it comes to us now, is distressingly short. Early Chinese writings, from our vantage point, are clipped to barest verbal necessities and set down only the most essential words. Twice after this account was written, the Annals of China were condensed. Much that had been written was eliminated and Hwui Shan's story was no exception. If we had
his complete report, many questions that arise no doubt would have been answered. That is apparent from the account in the memoirs of the Four Lords, as set down by Yu-Kie. Details, left out of Hwui Shan's own report, spoke of the "smoking mountain to the south of the Kingdom of Women; the Black Gorge to the north, having snow-capped peaks to the north of it; the sweet-tasting water in the fountain to the west where there was a Sea of Varnish and one the color of milk." Yu-Kie set down these things as answers to the questions which he had put to Hwui Shan. The women of the Kingdom had serpents for husbands and they lived underground. They did not know how to write, they had no booksbut they had a form of religious worship.
Hwui Shan's own recording stated that the Kingdom of Women was about 350 miles inland, to the east, from the coast, which presumably would be 350 miles inland from where he landed. He told us that the males of this Kingdom had dog's heads; that the people had no writingyet, in Fu-sang, he stated that they had a writing. Yu-Kie, in recording the account as he got it from Hwui Shan, told us that the Kingdom of Women was 3,000 miles northwest of Fu-sang; that the men were serpents; and that the people had no books. If the people of Fu-sang could read and write, and the people of the Kingdom of Women could not, it could reasonably be presumed that they would be some distance apart since no trace of a writing seeped through. Hwui Shan located the Kingdom of Women 350 miles eastward from the coast where he landed and Yu-Kie located it, from Hwui Shan's oral discussion, as being approximately 3,000 miles northwest of where he found the people with a writing. If the two unrelated groups were 3,000 miles apart, the ability to write on the part of one, and the lack of it on the part of the other, would be understandable. Dog's heads with male bodies appeared as husbands in one account while serpents filled the office in the other. Hwui Shan probably related boththat he saw dog's heads and that he saw serpents, for we have evidence of both.
Since Yu-Kie was not himself in this strange country and had knowledge of it solely from Hwui Shan, and since Yu-Kie has given natural phenomena to the north, south and west of the Kingdom of Women, of which Hwui Shan's account itself is silent, Hwui Shan, then, it stands to reason, must have written down far more than we now have and likewise must have given rather extensive oral accounts.
If there is any truth in these two accounts from the Classics, that which Hwui Shan set down himself and that from the Liang-Sse-Kong-Ki, which Yu-Kie wrote down after interrogating Hwui Shan, then, as in the case of the document recorded by Yu in 2250 B.C., the Shan Hai King, this account can be located geographically, if it exists.
In this instance, we are told that approximately 13,000 miles east from China, one arrived at Fu-sang. Due east, at approximately 350 miles, was the Kingdom of Women. In addition, approximately 3,000 miles northwest of Yu-Kie's Fu-sang was the Kingdom of Women. The Kingdom of Women would therefore lie 350 miles east of the Fu-sang on the west coast and 3,000 miles northwest of the Fu-sang described by Yu-Kie.
From a fixed point in the area, where the Kingdom of Women was supposedly located, a Black Gorge would be found at some distance north, beyond which were snow-capped mountains reaching to the heavens; to the south of this Kingdom of Women, was a smoking mountain where the inhabitants ate crabs, locusts and hairy bugs; to the west was a fountain, or spring, having pleasant-tasting water and, to the west of it was a sea of varnish and close by another sea the color of milk. The area was said to be extremely fertile, of great extent and giant horses and birds would be found there.
This account, as in that of Yu some 2700 years earlier, indicates that the story-teller had been someplace. While the tale may have been colored and condensed, which no doubt it was, and what fragmentary bits we have to work with may be very imperfect, yet, that which is written indicates basically an eyewitness accountnot wholly a figment of imagination, even with Yu-Kie's added whimsies.
By a process of elimination, provided the places exist, we should be able to trace the path of the vagabonding fifth century Buddhist priest.
If we start out following his trail, could we travel eastward from China some 13,000 miles and reach a coast? Could we go inland from there 350 miles? If we could, would we be able to locate at some distance north from the spot 350 miles inland, a black canyon or gorge? Would we be able to locate a place to the west that had a wine-like flavored spring, and farther west, a "sea of varnish" with another sea not too far away the color of milk? Are we able to identify a smoking mountain at a great distance to the south where the people ate crabs? Then would we be able to travel approximately 3,000 miles northwesterly and still be on land? If so, would there be a possibility that, on this spot 3,000 miles to the northwest, we would find a cultured people? Do land and water masses exist that would not be inconsistent with such a description and make it within the realm of probability?
We have no means of knowing the starting point in China from which the measurement originated. Neither do we know whether the measurement followed the Asiatic coast as far north as Bering Strait and then came down the Alaskan coast, or whether the journey lay easterly from Kamchatka, following the Kamchatka Current, along the Aleutians and on down. Either one way or the other, some land mass would exist on the other side of China, to the east. If the beginning of their tabulation started in the south of China, which is the place where the story was told, then an approximation of 13,000 miles might well have taken the Buddhist priest as far south as the southern coast of California. There is no positive way in which we can affirm or deny the precise spot. The French, who studied the matter, came to the conclusion that it must be close to San Francisco.
If Hwui Shan landed on the coast, in the vicinity of Los Angeles, which, in my opinion, approximately fixes the place, would he have been able to travel 350 miles inland, and, if so, would he have found a people there in 458-500 B.C.? If so, what would these people be like? If he stood on this spot, 350
miles inland, would he have been able to have found all of the natural marvels such as the Black Gorge, the Sea of Varnish or the smoking mountain?
If we have tentatively located Fu-sang as being on the southern coast of California, according to Hwui Shan's account, and then went 350 miles inland, to the Kingdom of Women, it would be possible. On the other hand, using Yu-Kie's mileage and directions, if we placed ourselves on the southern California coast and travelled 3,000 miles northwest from his Fu-sang, we would be adrift in the north Pacific. The accounts do not tally. Either there must be two different places called Fu-sang or two different ones called the Kingdom of Womenor else the area is extensive and the focal points are not the same.
Taking the original landing point from Hwui Shan's own account, and travelling east 350 milesfixing that point and using it as a center, then reversing our directions, we could go back west again those 350 miles from the Kingdom of Women to Fu-sang. If the center, as fixed, is the center of the Kingdom of Women, we might continue in reverse direction and go backward from the Kingdom of Women 3,000 miles to Yu-Kie's Fu-sang. If we did that, would we be anywhere? The answer then is obvious. We would be.
Reasoning through on that premise, the epicenter of the Kingdom of Women would be identical in both accounts, but Fu-sang would not. The only conclusion that could be reached is that, in the one account, Fu-sang related to an extensive territory while the other related to an apparent center of it. As an example, today, when we refer to "Mexico," we mean the entire country. When a Mexican says "Mexico," he refers only to his capitol city. Fu-sang seems to fall in a like category. Hwui Shan must have used the name to designate the entire territory that he visitedwhile Yu-Kie used it to describe the center of a culture. On that supposition, the two accounts would reconcile and be accurate and, at the same time, both could be located geographically.
If, then, these places exist where Hwui Shan has located them, we should be able to put our finger on them. Distance
must be considered as an approximation and not callipered down to an absolute mile, since mileage has been given in general terms1,000 LI or 40,000 LI not 1,268 LI nor 39,754 LI. Again, Hwui Shan's story was not told to the Emperor until three years after his return to China; a civil war intervened; and a period of time elapsed from the time he left Fu-sang until the day when he returned to China. In all fairness, we must give Hwui Shan some small margin of latitude for any lapse that might have occurred, due to the time element, plus the variations that Yu-Kie is known to have contributed, and the two condensations known to have taken place. This story, although fine-tooth-combed but not solved, is one of the world's most intriguing riddles.