Zoushen

by on April 13, 2024 :: 0 comments

photo "Home Effects" by Tyler Malone

In my mother tongue, zou () literally means walk, while shen () means spirit or deity. Together, zoushen is a set phrase commonly used to describe the psychological state of being absent-minded, but during my recent China trip, I learned from my 83-year-old mother that it is also jargon referring to the shamanistic art of evoking a spirit.

When I was younger, I never gave a fig for anything sounding religious. In other words, all shamanistic practice was ridiculous to me, if not really religious. Naturally, I turned a deaf ear to my mother’s story about how she’s mysteriously revived before she learned to walk on her own. Indeed, fully occupied as I was with my own daily life, why should I have bothered about her infanthood? Few adults would care much about their mothers’ earliest life experiences.

However, as I became increasingly more interested in health cultivation and life extension as a new retiree, I often wondered why my mother seemed to be getting younger physically as well as psychologically. I knew she had suffered a great deal from poverty, diseases, and all kinds of hardships as an adopted child. Before retirement, she had been working so diligently as a petty government official that she was constantly hospitalized for health reasons. But how come her physical condition kept improving in recent years? I did buy her various supplements on a regular basis, but I believed they had more psychological functionalities than any verifiable effects.

“Of all the people I know both in China and Canada, you’ve got the strongest life-force, Mom. What’s your secret?” I asked half-jokingly while chatting with her once in her home in Jingzhou.

“I mentioned it to you already, son. Still remember how I was born to ke my dad and brother?”

“I know ke means to bring death or damage to someone, but I don’t really think your dad’s or brother’s deaths had anything to do with your birth. They must have died of some unknown diseases back then.”

“One way or another, I was born tough-fated, that’s why I’ve been able to cope with the harshest living conditions.”

“But how did you survive the fatal disease when you’re only a few months old?”

“All thanks to my stepfather, by way of zoushen, he brought me back to life.”

“Would you fill me in now?”

After doing some thinking, my mother began by emphasizing the fact that her stepfather, Yunhuai, was the most learned person in the old Lotus Flower Village, who was highly respected not only for his rich knowledge about history but for his mythical skills to summon a spirit to perform a remedy. Then, based on what she later gathered from her birth mother and elder sister, she drew a word picture for me.

It was a gloomy late spring afternoon in 1941. Seeing her dying of a strange disease and having no money to send for a medical personality of any kind, her good-for-nothing adoptive parents carried her from Shadaoguan Town back to her birth mother on a creaking single-wheeled wooden cart. As soon as they arrived in the village, her stepfather put her tiny body on a flat basket like a cat in deathlike sleep, facing her head carefully towards a direction where he somehow knew there was a woman giving birth to a daughter in the moment. Once everything was in order, he took down his bamboo sword from the wall and started to wave it around an egg held in his hand, on which he had inscribed my mom’s specific birth time and eight characters of the horoscope. Then, he stood the egg against her head and chanted a spell over her body as it was getting cold.

Upon completing the ritual, he said to his wife, “Rest assured! If I fail to recover her life, I will compensate you with a daughter.”

“How could he have honored his promise?”

“Looking back, it was an extremely immoral and ruthless thing done for my sake, because through zoushen he had taken life away from the newborn of the delivering woman and given it to me instead.”

That’s absolutely incredible, nothing less witchery or magic, I thought aloud first. But before long, I became reminiscent of how Zhuge Liang tried to extend his own life in Wuzhangyuan by dancing with his sword within a seven-star light matrix. If his most capable general Wei Yan hadn’t popped up and thus interrupted him, the prime minister of Kingdom Shu would have finished his ritual and succeeded in extending his life for another ten years when he was fatally ill. As I tried to associate my step grandpa’s feat with Zhuge’s failure, I began to wonder when and how this life-extending art had come into practice.

Yes, in the long history of my native land, there was a well-recorded success story about Liu Bowen, the founding strategist of the Ming dynasty, who managed to prolong his own life through a mythical rite he conducted in a similar seven-star light matrix.

So, my mom’s stepfather also knew how to extend lives like the legendary supermen Zhuge Liang and Liu Bowen! If this was true, where had he learned the art? Did he pass this super skill to his sons like most grandmasters had done in history? How could he have extended my mom’s life and given her a strong life-force without relying on a seven-star light matrix? He seemed more powerful than Zhuge and Liu!

Thinking along this line, I feel I’ve found a new goal in life. From now on, I will focus my attention on the traditional art of extending lives, something which may well prove to be far more practical to ordinary folks like myself than, say, regularly replacing one’s blood with young people’s, or taking a dose of scientifically made elixir at the cost of a million dollars each. Who knows I could also zouzhen one day, like my great step-grandpa.

Author’s note: This story was inspired by Liu Yu  (刘瑜) and devoted to Liu Yunhuai (刘运淮)

editors note:

Gotta answer the call of the ancient past (you never know if there’s money in it today.) ~ Tyler Malone

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