Kunlun Nu

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Woodblock print of the Kunlun slave Mo Le (left) and his master Cui (right) from the 17th century.

Kunlun Nu (Chinese: 崑崙奴, "The kunlun Slave" or "The Negrito Slave") is a wuxia romance written by Pei Xing (裴铏, 825–880) during the Tang Dynasty. The hero of the tale is a Negrito slave that uses his supernatural physical abilities to save his master's lover from the harem of a court official.

Plot[edit]

It takes place during the Dali reign era (766-80) of Emperor Daizong and follows the tale of a young man named Cui who enlists the aid of Mo Le,[1] his negrito slave, to help free his beloved who was forced to join the harem of a court official. At midnight, Mo Le kills the guard dogs around the compound and carries Cui on his back while easily jumping to the tops of walls and bounding from roof to roof. With the lovers reunited, Mo-lê leaps over ten tall walls with both of them on his back. Cui and his beloved are able to live happily together in peace because the official believes she was kidnapped by Youxia and did not want to make trouble for himself by pursuing them. However, two years later, one of the official’s attendants sees the girl in the city and reports this. The official arrests Cui and, once he hears the entire story, sends men to capture the negrito slave. But Mo Le escapes with his dagger (apparently his only possession) and flies over the city walls to escape apprehension. He is seen over ten years later selling medicine in the city, not having aged a single day.[2]

Taoist influence[edit]

Mo Le’s gravity defying abilities and agelessness suggests the fictional character is a practitioner of esoteric life-prolonging exercises akin to Chinese immortals. According to a tale attributed to the Taoist adept Ge Hong, some hunters in the Zhongnan Mountains saw a naked man whose body was covered in black hair. Whenever they tried to capture him he “leapt over gullies and valleys as if in flight, and so could not be overtaken."[3] After finally ambushing the man, the hunters learned it was in fact a 200 plus year old woman who had learned the arts of immortality from an old man in the forest.[3] Still, it was popular in folktales for immortals to sell medicine in the city, just like Mo Le does. The hagiography of the immortal Hu Gong (Sire Gourd) says he sold medicine in the market place during the day and slept in a magic gourd hanging in his stall at night.[3]

How the Kunlun Slave Became an Immortal[edit]

The late Ming Dynasty bibliographer and playwright Mei Dingzuo (梅鼎祚, 1549-1615) wrote a play entitled "How the Kunlun Slave Became an Immortal" (昆仑奴剑侠成仙). The play expands upon the story in several ways. For instance, Mo Le explains to Cui that despite his wonderful abilities, he "is a slave because of an obligation from a past life."[4] During the ten year interval between his escape and when he is spotted selling medicine in the market place, Mo Le cultivates immortality through Taoist practices and befriends many Chinese immortals.[5] A woodblock print of the play appearing in Assorted Plays from the High Ming (盛明雜劇, 1629) portrays Mo Le as a large-framed man with characteristic foreign features such as large eyes, a thick beard, and foreign dress.[6]

Other media[edit]

Film[edit]

  • The Promise (2005). This is a very loose film adaptation of The Kunlun Slave. Instead of being called Mo Le, the slave is simply called “Kunlun” and he is portrayed by Korean actor Jang Dong-gun.[7]
  • Kunlun Nu Yedao Hongxiao (昆仑奴夜盗红绡, "The Kunlun Slave Steals Hung-siu by Night") (1956).[8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Prof. Liu states "This is the modern pronunciation. The T’ang pronunciation was something like 'Mua-lak' and is said to have been taken from Arabic." (Liu 1967: 88).
  2. ^ Liu, James J.Y. The Chinese Knight Errant. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967 (ISBN 0-2264-8688-5)
  3. ^ a b c Campany, Robert Ford. To Live As Long As Heaven and Earth: Ge Hong’s Traditions of Divine Transcendents. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002 (ISBN 0-520-23034-5)
  4. ^ Julie Wilensky, "The Magical Kunlun and 'Devil Slaves:' Chinese Perceptions of Dark-skinned People and Africa Before 1500." Sino-Platonic Papers, 122 (July, 2002), pp. 39-40
  5. ^ Wilensky (2002): 39
  6. ^ Wilensky (2002): 40-41
  7. ^ The Promise movie review
  8. ^ KUNLUN NU YEDAO HONGXIAO