Myths and Legends of China
He receives the List of Immortals
From the Unicorn Precipice he went on to the Jade Palace of Abstraction. Here he was presented to Yüan-shih. From him he received the List of Promotions to Immortals, which Nan-chi Hsien-wêng, ‘Ancient Immortal of the South Pole,’ had brought, and was told to go and erect a Fêng Shên T’ai (Spirits’ Promotion Terrace) Page 155on which to exhibit it. Yüan-shih also warned him that if anyone called him while he was on the way he was to be most careful not to answer. On reaching the Unicorn Precipice on his way back, he heard some one call: “Chiang Tzŭ-ya!” This happened three times without his paying any heed. Then the voice was heard to say: “Now that you are Prime Minister, how devoid of feeling and forgetful of bygone benefits you must be not to remember one who studied with you in the Jade Palace of Abstraction!” Tzŭ-ya could not but turn his head and look. He then saw that it was Shên Kung-pao. He said: “Brother, I did not know it was you who were calling me, and I did not heed you as Shih-tsun told me on no account to reply.” Shên Kung-pao said: “What is that you hold in your hand?” He told him it was the List of Promotions to Immortals. Shên Kung-pao then tried to entice Tzŭ-ya from his allegiance to Chou. Among Shên’s tactics was that of convincing Tzŭ-ya of the superiority of the magical arts at the disposal of the supporters of Chou Wang. “You,” he said, “can drain the sea, change the hills, and suchlike things, but what are those compared with my powers, who can take off my head, make it mount into space, travel 10,000,000 li, and return to my neck just as complete as before and able to speak? Burn your List of Promotions to Immortals and come with me.” Tzŭ-ya, thinking that a head which could travel 10,000,000 li and be the same as before was exceedingly rare, said: “Brother, you take your head off, and if in reality it can do as you say, rise into space and return and be as before, I shall be willing to burn the List of Promotions to Immortals and return with you to Chao Ko.” Shên Kung-pao said: “You will not go back on your word?” Page 156Tzŭ-ya said: “When your elder brother has spoken his word is as unchangeable as Mount T’ai, How can there be any going back on my word?”
The Soaring Head
Shên Kung-pao then doffed his Taoist cap, seized his sword, with his left hand firmly grasped the blue thread binding his hair, and with his right cut off his head. His body did not fall down. He then took his head and threw it up into space. Tzŭ-ya gazed with upturned face as it continued to rise, and was sorely puzzled. But the Ancient Immortal of the South Pole had kept a watch on the proceedings. He said: “Tzŭ-ya is a loyal and honest man; it looks as if he has been deceived by this charlatan.” He ordered White Crane Youth to assume quickly the form of a crane and fetch Shên Kung-pao’s head.
The Ancient Immortal saves the Situation
Tzŭ-ya was still gazing upward when he felt a slap on his back and, turning round, saw that it was the Ancient Immortal of the South Pole. Tzŭ-ya quickly asked: “My elder brother, why have you returned?” Hsien-wêng said: “You are a fool. Shên Kung-pao is a man of unholy practices. These few small tricks of his you take as realities. But if the head does not return to the neck within an hour and three-quarters the blood will coagulate and he will die. Shih-tsun ordered you not to reply to anyone; why did you not hearken to his words? From the Jade Palace of Abstraction I saw you speaking together, and knew you had promised to burn the List of Promotions to Immortals. So I ordered White Crane Youth to bring me the head. After an hour and three-quarters Shên Kung-pao will be recompensed.”