With the coming of the red tide, the recluses were driven from their
hermitages back into the world of dust to earn their living as best
they could. Rather than describe what little I know from hearsay of
this tragic dispersal of the Yellow Emperor's progeny after wellnigh
five thousand years, I shall relate a curious little story which reveals
that, for two of them, the end was happy. It was told me by a young
lady in Singapore who had returned there from her university in
China at a time when the communists were completing their take-
over of the southern provinces.
The university, as you know, lies at no great distance from some
hills where there are many temples. While on a sightseeing trip
there, I fell under the spell of a very old Taoist and often used to
visit him at weekends. The red cadres who descended on the
province just before I left made no secret of what was in store for
hermits and for Buddhist monks and nuns.
'What will you do, Master?' I asked, weeping a little at the
thought of that poor old man being driven from where he had
lived happily almost half his life.
'You are sorry for me, Yi,' he answered. 'Why ? Wouldn't it be
laughable if a lifelong disciple of Lord Lao were to be afraid of
change ? I am too old to be put to work and these people care too
much for the look of things to let me starve in a neighbourhood
where so many poor folk have come to love me.'
'How will you live, Master ?'
'Stop weeping, little girl, and I will tell you. At my age, I can
see into the future much better than I can recall the past. When
they drive away the others, they will let us old and useless ones
stay on, living as best we can on what we manage to grow in our
vegetable garden. From kindness ? Not exactly. This place is too
poor and too remote for them to be in a hurry to use it for some
other purpose; and, as three or four of us are so very old, they will
look to death to relieve them of the problem of our disposal -
rightly so. The Vasty Gate Recluse and I propose to leave this
world together on the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival next
year. No, no! Be calm, little Yi. Do you suppose we shall hang
ourselves or swallow a liang or two of opium ? Preposterous! With
wine, incense and other things we intend to hide away, we shall
perform the festal rites as usual, walk up to the terrace to admire
the autumn moon and there sit down. Passing in meditation to the
very source of yin and yang, we shall plunge together into the
ocean of the void.'
Though he laughed so merrily, I burst out weeping again. Then
suddenly he said: 'Little Yi, are there herons in Singapore ?'
'Herons, Master? I - I - no, no, there are not.'
'Good. Rather than have you sad for us, we shall gladly postpone
eternal bliss for an hour or so. Be sure to remember what I am
going to say. Next year, at the hour of the boar on the night of the
festival, go to a high place and watch the sky just above the ocean
that surrounds your island. I have a great desire to see the sea by
moonlight, never having seen it in all my years. There we shall
meet and bid each other a joyous farewell.'
Thinking he was trying to comfort me, I nodded, but did not
take the words seriously. Then we said goodbye.
The following year when the festival came round, my father
took me to dine with my fiance's family in a flat overlooking the
sea. Although wishing in a sentimental way to do as the old man
had asked, I easily allowed myself to be dissuaded by my father's
'You cannot just walk out of a dinner party and go off into the
night by yourself. Whatever would the Huangs think of a girl who
behaved like that ?'
The meal started late and was a noisy, long-drawn-out affair.
We were still at table when the clock struck ten [mid-point of the
hour of the boar]. Suddenly I felt strangely dizzy and was advised
to go out on to the balcony of the flat, which faced directly on to
the sea-shore. It was a lovely clear night with a brilliant moon
shining down upon small foam-capped waves. Presently two of
these foam-caps rose strangely into the air and sailed rapidly
towards me. I put this down to my giddiness until, all of a sudden,
I realised that what I had taken for foam-caps were two large
white herons! Flying very low, they came almost up to where I was
sitting and flew round and round uttering what I can only call very
happy-sounding cries, long-sustained and beautiful. While this
was happening, a sensation of extraordinary bliss made me tingle
from head to toe. Instantly I knew that my Taoist friend had not
only kept his promise, but had even touched me with something
of the ecstasy that would be his for ever in his union with the void!