I’m going with the title “The Duke of Mount Deer” because a) it seems to be the most common title for this story in English and b) I like it more than the other titles for this in English. It’s also known as The Deer and the Cauldron and Royal Tramp. If I had to come up with a title for this story, I would pick What the **** Are You Doing, Wei Xiaobao?, which I think better conveys the spirit of the story than any other title.
Wei Xiaobao is a teenage brat from Yangzhou who goes on an adventure to Beijing. There, he gets captured, taken in to the Forbidden City, and has to pretend to be a eunuch called “Xiaojiazi” to keep his head attached to his shoulders. He’s instructed to go looking for the “Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters,” and becomes friends with another boy in the palace called Xiaoxuanzi. Why are they friends? Because Xiaoxuanzi likes to beat Wei Xiaobao up.
I’m going to stop there, because I really don’t want to spoil the next twist in the plot. Let’s just say that Wei Xiaobao has an interesting life.
This is Jin Yong’s final novel. If you don’t know or don’t remember who Jin Yong is, you may consult the archives.
The Jin Yong Anti-Hero
The Jin Yong TV Tropes page puts this very succinctly:
Wouldn’t Hit a Girl: Most of his protagonists except for Wei Xiaobao.
The typical Jin Yong protagonist is:
– hardworking / dedicated to improving his martial arts techniques
– is chaste (or at least wants to be chaste)
– feel a sense of Han Chinese nationalism (though some feel it more strongly than others, and their feelings about this are often complicated)
– is willing to die for the people he loves and/or his principles
– actully want to make the world a better place, or at least do the just thing
By contrast, Wei Xiaobao
– is too lazy to become a real martial artist (he won’t practice because it’s boring)
– is way less sexually inhibited than other Jin Yong protagonists
– does not give a shit about Han Chinese national (he doesn’t care whether or not somebody is Han Chinese, nor does he care whether or not the Han Chinese control China)
– is not willing to die for anything, though he is willing to fake his own death
– does not care about making the world a better place
Wei Xiaobao is not just an anti-hero. He’s an anti-Jin-Yong-hero. You really have to read several Jin Yong stories and then read this one really appreciate it.
And quite frankly, it’s refreshing to read about a protagonist who does not have the typical Jin-Yong-protagonist hangups.
That said, Wei Xiaobao is not a complete opposite of other Jin Yong protagonists. Most Jin Yong protagonists are child-like/immature/naive (pretty much the only exception to this is Qiao Feng, though Chen Jialuo is arguably neither child-like nor immature), and Wei Xiaobao is … child-like, immature, and naive. I think that the child-like quality is actually more essential to Jin Yong protagonists than, say, their sexual philosophies. What is at the heart of the stories is a sense of wonder while exploring the world, which is a child-like approach (though mature adults can do it too). To me, this is a key signature of Jin Yong’s style which sets apart his stories from most other wuxia.
Qing Dynasty Curio Box
Much of the imperial collections of the Qing Dynasty court are in Taipei, and a fraction is on display at the National Palace Museum.
The Qing Dynasty court loved curio boxes. First of all, the boxes had creative designs, often to show off the contents in unusual ways, or with secret compartments. The contents could be artifacts from thousands of years ago, weird baubbles imported from Europe, or the fine work of the imperial artisans (and many other things beside – it could be anything that would fit into a box and delight the viewer).
To me, this novel feels like a Qing Dynasty court curio box, which is appropriate, since most of the novel does take place in the Qing dynasty court. There are lots of secrets to be uncovered, and lots of plot twists to delight the reader.
I want to give examples, but every single example would be a spoiler, so instead I am going to make something up – Wei Xiaobao notices that a middle-aged man always appears at a gambling house in Beijing on the 7th day of the month, that this mysterious man is an excellent martial artist, and that this man wants to hide, not find, the “Sutra of 42 Chapters.” Wei Xiaobao eventully finds out that this “man” is actually a woman – specficially Qingqing from The Sword Stained with Royal Blood. After Wei Xiaobao discovers her true identity, Qingqing captures him and takes him all the way to Brunei, where she has a beautiful daughter who decides that Wei Xiaobao is an excellent punching bag.
This doesn’t actually happen in the novel, but it’s like the things which do happen in the novel.
This novel is very playful with it’s language, which I’m sure gives the translators
painful headaches a wonderful challenge.
Wei Xiaobao himself is illiterate, and is too lazy to even learn the Cyrillic alphabet (Wei Xiaobao knows some Russian), let alone the Chinese writing sytem.
However, because he needs to pick up imperial etiquette mighty quickly to keep his head attached to his shoulders, he ends up learning this formal imperial language quite well.
What he does not learn, however, is how to speak as an educated person. Or rather, he learns it, but incorrectly. For example, there is a phrase – ‘it’s hard to chase four horses’. Wei Xiaobao always says it as ‘it’s hard to chase a dead horse’ (the Chinese word for ‘four’ sounds like the word for ‘death’), and furthermore often uses the phrase for totally inappropriate situations.
Of course, while Wei Xiaobao cannot use proper formal Chinese, he is a poet of gutter Chinese. This novel is full of foul language, and some of the humor comes from Wei Xiaobao using foul laguange inside the Forbidden City. At one point, Wei Xiaobao says something like ‘[character] is wearing a hat of fine emerald’. People who are familiar with the Chinese language can figure out that this is a very salacious comment. And then, some members of the imperial family pick up some foul language from Wei Xiaobao…
The contrast of the stiff, formal imperial Chinese with gutter Chinese is yet another level of fun in the novel. The prose in this novel may not be as beautiful as in some of Jin Yong’s other novels but, well, beautiful prose would miss the point.
At one point in the story, Wei Xiaobao overhears some people forcing a girl (probably around 10 years old) to drink something. Wei Xiaobao assumes that the drink is drugged, or at least is alcholic, and that they plan to rape her. He is totally indifferent to this.
We then learn that, where Wei Xiaobao grew up, this happened all of the time, and that all of the adults around him went along with this. In other words, he was taught that raping 10-year-old girls is OK.
This explains at LOT.
The parts of the novel which I enjoyed least were the sections where Wei Xiaobao was persistently sexually harassing people. On the one hand, yes, Wei Xiaobao is a very clever prankster. If he were, say, finding clever ways to pee all over his enemies’ beds (like a certain other Jin Yong protagonist), I would have had a blast.
But while I think pranking is fun, sexual harassment is not fun. I’m not saying this to be politically correct, I mean that, in my guts, sexual harassment feels bad.
So here I was, with long sections of this novel which would have been a lot of fun if Wei Xiaobao’s pranks had not been a form of sexual harassment. It was a drag.
(the rest of this section has spoilers)
Of course, Wei Xiaobao wouldn’t actually rape anybody, would he? He’s so cute and adorable, and most of the beautiful female characters could easily beat him to a pulp.
One of the most common defences of rapists is “but he’s such a charming guy – he can’t be a rapist” (or variations of this defence). Also, when people mention that they are being sexually harassed (for example, female bloggers receiving rape threats from anonymous commenters), they’re often told that there’s no danger, and that they should just ignore it. There’s also this myth that most rapes could be prevented by potential victims being armed, or learning self-defence, when in fact this would only prevent a minority of rapes.
Well, I have to give Jin Yong points for realism. Wei Xiaobao was raised to think that rape is OK, and nobody expelled this notion out of his head. When one of his victims complain about the sexual harassment, other chracters explain it away by saying that Wei Xiaobao doesn’t have any bad intentions, and that she shouldn’t take him too seriously. And the physical capabilities of his targets is irrelevant if he drugs their drinks.
The one thing which I cannot buy is that two of his victims start liking him after Wei Xiaobao rapes them. I’m not going to say this is absolutely impossible, but as a reader, I need a damn good explanation in order to believe this (even in a work of fiction). I do not get any explanation. Therefore, I had to edit my headcanon to keep the story functioning inside my headspace. It is simply not in human nature to start liking your rapist (unless there are a hell of lot of interfering factors at work).
Wei Xiaobao himself is also a victim.
At the very minimum, he’s the victim of non-consensual BDSM. It is also possible that he is a rape victim himself. The novel does not state whether or not he consented to sex with that specific character, but given a) his previous experience of non-consensual BDSM b) the fact that she often uses threats to make Wei Xiaobao do what she wants and c) Wei Xiaobao tries to avoid her precisely because he’s scared that she will cause him physical harm, I have my doubts.
Just because Wei Xiaobao himself is a perpertrator does not mean it is okay to sexually abuse him. Two wrongs do not make a right, especially when it comes to sexual abuse. I admit there were times when I wished someone would kick Wei Xiaobao in the nuts, but even that would only be okay in certain circumstances (such as self-defence).
Does Wei Xiaobao take his feelings of being on the receiving end of sexual abuse, and connect it to the way that he is making his victims feel? Of course not – Wei Xiaobao is terrible at empathy.
I’m Not Done!
Next week, I will continue to discuss this novel. If you can’t wait for the conclusion, it’s “READ THIS NOVEL!”
Sara K. is dealing with major technical difficulties right now. If you liked this post, you should thank Sara K.’s father, for if he hadn’t impressed on her that she should always be prepared to run a computer without using a hard drive, there is no way this post would have been finished on time. Right now, she is running the computer off a Class 10 SDHC card, which is thanks to her uncle’s suggestion.