The Deer and the Cauldron

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The Deer and the Cauldron
The Deer and the Cauldron (鹿鼎記).jpg
Cover of the translated text by John Minford, published by the Oxford University Press
Author Jin Yong
Original title 鹿鼎記
Country Hong Kong
Language Chinese
Genre Wuxia, historical fiction
Publisher Ming Pao
Publication date
24 October 1969
Media type Print
The Deer and the Cauldron
Simplified Chinese 鹿鼎记
Traditional Chinese 鹿鼎記
Literal meaning Tale of the Deer and the Cauldron

The Deer and the Cauldron, also known as The Duke of Mount Deer, is a novel by Jin Yong (Louis Cha), and was the last of Jin Yong's works. The novel was initially published in Hong Kong as a serial, and ran from 24 October 1969 to 23 September 1972 in the newspaper Ming Pao.[1] Although the book is often referred to as a wuxia novel, it is not archetypal of the genre, since the protagonist, Wei Xiaobao, is not an adept martial arts practitioner, but rather, an antihero who relies on wit and cunning to get out of trouble.

The novel's title[edit]

The choice of the novel's title is alluded to in a section in the first chapter, in which a scholar has a conversation with his son. The scholar recounts that both the deer and the cauldron serve as metaphors for the Central Plains and the Chinese empire.

Volume 92 of the historical text Records of the Grand Historian contains the following line, "The deer lost by Qin was hunted by all under Heaven" (秦失其鹿,天下共逐之。), a figurative description of the rise of numerous rivaling warlords contesting for supremacy to capture a prize - the Chinese empire lost by the Qin Dynasty.

During the Zhou Dynasty, there were the Nine Tripod Cauldrons, symbolic of the Divine Mandate of rulership. The historical text Zuo Zhuan recorded an account where the ruler of the vassal state of Chu inquired the weight of the cauldron from a minister in the Zhou court. This sent a clear signal that he was coveting the throne, which was technically possessed by the King of Zhou.

The novel's title also refers to its historical setting, the Qing Dynasty, when the Han Chinese subjects of the fallen Ming Dynasty struggle to restore their former empire by opposing the Manchu rulers of Qing.

Plot[edit]

The story centers on a witty, sly, illiterate and lazy protagonist called Wei Xiaobao, who was born to a prostitute from a brothel in Yangzhou during the early Qing Dynasty. The teenage scamp makes his way from Yangzhou to the capital Beijing through a series of adventures. In Beijing, he is kidnapped and taken to the Forbidden City, where he impersonates a eunuch. While in the palace, Wei Xiaobao bumbles his way into a fateful encounter with the young Kangxi Emperor and they develop an unlikely friendship.

Once, Wei Xiaobao is captured by some jianghu martial artists and is brought out of the palace. He meets Chen Jinnan, the leader of the Heaven and Earth Society, an anti-government secret organisation, and becomes Chen's disciple. He also becomes one of the society's branch leaders and agrees to be an undercover agent for them in the palace. He is captured again by another group of fighters and brought to Mystic Dragon Island, where the sinister Mystic Dragon Cult is based. Unexpectedly, he becomes the cult's White Dragon Marshal by flattering its leader Hong Antong.

Wei Xiaobao is lecherous and flirtatious by nature, and he encounters seven women on separate occasions and eventually marries them.

Wei Xiaobao makes several seemingly impossible achievements through sheer luck and cunning. Most of the time, he uses unglamorous means to accomplish them. First, he assists the Kangxi Emperor in ousting the autocratic regent Oboi from power. Second, he discovers the whereabouts of the Shunzhi Emperor, who was presumed dead, saves him from danger, and then helps him reunite with his son, the Kangxi Emperor. Third, he eliminates the Mystic Dragon Cult by stirring up internal conflict, which leads to the cult's self-destruction. Fourth, he weakens the rebellion staged by Wu Sangui by bribing Wu's allies to withdraw, allowing the Qing army to crush the rebels easily. Last, he leads a campaign against the Russian Empire and helps the Qing Empire reach a border treaty with Russia. He met the Russian regent Sophia Alekseyevna earlier and helped her secure her rule over Russia. Wei Xiaobao is also responsible for recommending talents to the Kangxi Emperor, among whom include Shi Lang, who led the naval campaign against the Kingdom of Tungning.

Throughout the story, Wei Xiaobao exhibits devout loyalty to both the Kangxi Emperor and his personal friends in the anti-Qing forces. He instinctively shields the emperor with his body from assassins twice and saved the emperor's life. He plays an important role in assisting Kangxi in consolidating power. On the other hand, he helps anti-Qing forces escape from danger on numerous occasions by distracting imperial forces. He undermines the attempts by the society on the emperor's life and uses his status in the imperial court to prevent the society from being destroyed by the government. For his numerous accomplishments, Wei Xiaobao is rewarded with immense wealth and titles of nobility. His highest rank ever was "Duke of Luding" (鹿鼎公). He also gained respect from the anti-Qing factions for eliminating wicked court officials and defending China from foreign invaders.

Ultimately, Wei Xiaobao's conflicting loyalties reach a disastrous conclusion. The Kangxi Emperor discovers Wei Xiaobao's relationship with the Heaven and Earth Society, and forces Wei to make a choice, putting Wei in a dilemma. If Wei Xiaobao chooses to side with the society, he will become an enemy of the state and be forced to turn against the emperor, whom he regards as a childhood friend and his master. If he chooses to follow the emperor's orders, he will have to eliminate the anti-government forces and be branded a traitor to his friends. Wei Xiaobao refuses to help Kangxi destroy the society and is forced into exile. However, the emperor still regards him as a close friend and loyal subject so he pardons Wei Xiaobao and allows him to return to the palace later. Towards the end of the novel, Kangxi tries to force Wei Xiaobao to help him eliminate the Heaven and Earth Society again. On the other hand, Chen Jinnan had died and the society's members want Wei Xiaobao to be their new leader.

Wei Xiaobao ponders over the issue and realises that he will never be able to reconcile between the two rivaling parties. He feels that his divided friendships and split loyalties are tearing him apart. He decides to leave and lead a reclusive life away from society, taking with him his immense wealth and family. Wei Xiaobao is never heard of again. It is said that later the Kangxi Emperor went on inspection tours to Jiangnan to look for Wei Xiaobao but never found him.

Characters[edit]

Miscellaneous information[edit]

Sutra of Forty-two Chapters (四十二章經)[edit]

The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters is a classical Buddhist text. The pioneers of the Qing Dynasty had eight copies made. After the Manchus conquered the Central Plains, they looted large amounts of treasure and transported them to a secret location in northeast China. The map to that location was torn into several pieces and hidden in the eight books separately. Each book was given to one of the Eight Banners for safekeeping.

To protect the treasure, the Eight Banners' commanders were not told about the treasure vault. Instead, they were told that the books contained a secret leading to a location containing the "root" of the Manchu imperial bloodline, the "Dragon's Pulse" (龍脈). If this "root" is disturbed, it will end the fortunes of the Manchus. This is to ensure that none of the nobles will attempt to find this location and instead, guard the treasure with their lives. Only the reigning emperor knows the truth, as evident when the Shunzhi Emperor passes on this knowledge to the Kangxi Emperor.

The books are sought by many, including Hai Dafu, the fake empress dowager Mao Dongzhu, the Mystic Dragon Cult, the Heaven and Earth Society, the former Princess Changping, Wu Sangui, and many others. Some of them know the truth about the treasure while others wish to end the Qing Dynasty by destroying the Manchu "root". Wei Xiaobao collects the eight books and pieces the map together. He finds the treasure at Mount Deer Cauldron (鹿鼎山) in Heilongjiang. Although Wei Xiaobao is greedy by nature, he did not excavate the treasure and keep it for himself as he strongly believes the myth about the treasure being the imperial family's "root".

The eight books[edit]

The books are listed in order of appearance. Their origins and how Wei Xiaobao acquired them are also included.

  • Plain Red Banner: The book was stolen from this banner's commander, Prince Kang. Wei Xiaobao finds it by accident.[LuDing Ch.10]
  • Bordered Red Banner: A palace guard called Rui Dong kills the banner's commander and takes away his book on the order of the fake empress dowager Mao Dongzhu. He is killed by Wei Xiaobao, who takes the book, before he can pass it to Mao.[LuDing Ch.14]
  • Bordered Yellow Banner: The book was taken away from the banner's commander Oboi when he was imprisoned by the Kangxi Emperor. It ends up in the hands of Mao Dongzhu before Wei Xiaobao steals it from her.[LuDing Ch.14]
  • Plain White Banner: The book was taken away by Oboi from the banner's commander Suksaha when the latter was killed. It later ends up in Mao Dongzhu's hands, and later Wei Xiaobao's.[LuDing Ch.14]
  • Bordered White Banner: The book was first given by the Shunzhi Emperor to his concubine Consort Donggo. The book was taken away by Mao Dongzhu when Consort Donggo died, and Wei Xiaobao later steals it from Mao.[LuDing Ch.14]
  • Plain Yellow Banner: The book is kept by the Shunzhi Emperor after his abdication and he gives it to his son later. It was taken away by Mao Dongzhu and later by Wei Xiaobao.[LuDing Ch.25]
  • Bordered Blue Banner: Tao Hongying's grand teacher attempted to steal the book from the banner's commander, but is fatally wounded by the Thin Monk from the Mystic Dragon Cult, who keeps the book. The Thin Monk forgot about the book when he left Mao Dongzhu's room in a hurry, and Wei Xiaobao finds it and takes it.[LuDing Ch.28]
  • Plain Blue Banner: The book was stolen from the banner's commander and ends up in Wu Sangui's possession. Wei Xiaobao replaced it with the Bordered Blue Banner's book (with the map pieces inside removed) without Wu knowing.[LuDing Ch.30]

Literary inquisition[edit]

In the early years of the Kangxi Emperor's reign, the regent Oboi monopolised state power and introduced the practice of literary inquisition. Many intellectuals and scholars were persecuted for their writings. The Zhuang family of Huzhou compiled a book titled History of Ming, which chronicles the events of the Ming Dynasty. As the book uses the Ming emperor's reign title, considered taboo in the Qing Dynasty, it was reported to the authorities by Wu Zhirong.

The Zhuang family was massacred and all its male members were killed. The incident also sparked off a chain reaction, in which several others who were not directly involved or linked to the book were rounded up and executed. Among them include innocents, such as those who came into contact with readers, bookstore owners who sold copies of the book, and relatives of the Zhuang family.

Themes and story review[edit]

The novel is unique as its protagonist is different from those in Jin Yong's earlier novels. Wei Xiaobao is a greedy, lazy, womanising antihero, and neither a morally upright person nor a highly skilled martial artist. Jin Yong's other protagonists, such as Guo Jing and Chen Jialuo, live for noble causes, such as defending the homeland from foreign invasion and upholding justice. Wei's philosophy in life, conversely, is to indulge in all kinds of sensual delights and pleasures he can lay his hands on. However, although Wei may disagree with his friends' beliefs, he displays genuine loyalty and affection for them.

The non-existence of absolute good and evil in reality is strongly echoed in the novel. The pro-Han Chinese stance, which has been a prominent feature of most of Jin Yong's previous works, is absent in the novel. In the Condor Trilogy and The Book and the Sword, other ethnic minorities in China, such as the Jurchens, Mongols and Manchus, have always been portrayed as power hungry antagonists who wish to dominate the Central Plains, while the Han Chinese are described as a race constantly facing the threats of foreign invasion and corrupt governance.

One exception is Sword Stained with Royal Blood (an unofficial prequel to The Deer and the Cauldron), in which the Manchu ruler Hong Taiji is portrayed as a wise, just and benevolent ruler while Han Chinese leaders such as the Chongzhen Emperor and Li Zicheng are described to be covetous, callous, injudicious and susceptible to manipulation.

A similar theme is present in the novel, in which Jin Yong has greyed out the traditional Han Chinese against barbarians theme. The Kangxi Emperor is depicted as a caring and wise ruler who aims to maximise the welfare of the people under his rule. In contrary, the self-proclaimed "patriotic" anti-government forces place their hopes in the incompetent Zheng Keshuang of the Kingdom of Tungning and continue to fight to restore Han Chinese rule to China, a cause that does not seem to echo the wishes of the common people. The style that Jin Yong adopts in the novel is in direct opposition to his stance in some of his earlier works.

Towards the end of the novel, Wei Xiaobao makes a concluding statement to the effect of "It does not matter whether a cat is black or white. A cat that catches mice is a good cat." (a quote from Deng Xiaoping).

The novel's realism, historical references and parodist approaches to the wuxia genre contribute to its success, with some fans claiming that it is Jin Yong's best novel.

English language translation[edit]

The Deer and the Cauldron has been translated into English by John Minford and was published by the Oxford University Press in three volumes from 1997 to 2002. Several minute details were paraphrased and omitted in the translation.

Works based on the novel[edit]

There are also books to examine the office-politic skills displayed by the main characters and their modern day applications:

Adaptations[edit]

Films[edit]

Year Production Main cast Additional information
1983 Shaw Brothers Studio
(Hong Kong)
Wong Yue, Gordon Liu See Tale of a Eunuch
1992 Hong Kong Stephen Chow, Sharla Cheung, Ng Man-tat, Natalis Chan, Sandra Ng, Chingmy Yau, Damian Lau, Brigitte Lin, Deric Wan See Royal Tramp
See Royal Tramp II
1993 Hong Kong Tony Leung, Veronica Yip, Dicky Cheung, Kent Tong See Hero – Beyond the Boundary of Time
2011 Chinese Entertainment Shanghai
(Mainland China)[2]
Hu Ge, Nicky Wu, Cecilia Liu, Lin Gengxin, Annie Liu An online short film, Chinese title 夢迴鹿鼎記.[3]

Television[edit]

Year Production Main cast Additional information
1978 CTV (Hong Kong) Wen Hsueh-erh, Cheng Si-chun
1984 TVB (Hong Kong) Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Sandra Ng, Kiki Sheung, Teresa Mo See The Duke of Mount Deer (1984 TV series)
CTV (Taiwan) Li Hsiao-fei, Chou Shao-tung, Chen Yu-mei, Chou Ming-hui, Ying Hsiao-wei, Lam Sau-kwan, Pei Hsin-yu, Cheng Hsueh-lin See The Duke of Mount Deer (CTV)
1998 TVB (Hong Kong) Jordan Chan, Steven Ma, Rain Lau, Cherie Chan, Vivien Leung, Michelle Fung, Hilary Tsui, Chan On-kei, May Kwong See The Duke of Mount Deer (1998 TV series)
2001 TVB (Hong Kong) Dicky Cheung, Patrick Tam, Ruby Lin, Annie Wu, Athena Chu, Teresa Mak, Monica Chan, Hsu Chi, Jess Zhang See The Duke of Mount Deer (2000 TV series)
2008 Huayi Brothers Film Investment Company
Beijing Cathay Media Ltd.
(Mainland China)
Huang Xiaoming, Wallace Chung, Cherrie Ying, He Zhuoyan, Shu Chang, Liu Zi, Liu Yun, Hu Ke, Li Fei'er See Royal Tramp (TV series)
TBA Zhejiang Huace Film & TV Production (Mainland China) Han Dong, Wei Qianxiang, Zhang Meng, Jia Qing, Zhao Yuanyuan, Zhang Xinyu, Lou Yixiao See The Deer and the Cauldron (2014 TV series)

Radio[edit]

In 2000, Hong Kong's RTHK broadcast a 100 episodes radio drama based on the novel, with Eason Chan and Roland Leung voicing Wei Xiaobao and the Kangxi Emperor respectively.[4]

Video games[edit]

  • Role-playing video games:
    • 鹿鼎記 (智冠) (DOS) (Traditional Chinese)
    • 鹿鼎記 (歡樂盒)
    • 鹿鼎記II
    • Heroes of Jin Yong Online (金庸群侠传 Online)
  • Java ME games for mobile phones:
    • 情圣韦小宝
    • 韦小宝笑传

References[edit]

  1. ^ The date conforms to the data published in Chen Zhenhui (陳鎮輝), Wuxia Xiaoshuo Xiaoyao Tan (武俠小說逍遙談), 2000, Huizhi Publishing Company (匯智出版有限公司), pg. 57.
  2. ^ 刘诗诗再度牵手胡歌 《鹿鼎记》饰俄女皇 (Chinese)
  3. ^ 电影《鹿鼎记》颠覆原著 三主角陷三角恋情
  4. ^ Radio drama on rthk.org.hk