Investiture of the Gods
|Genre||Chinese mythology, shenmo, fantasy, historical fiction|
|Literal meaning||Romance of the Investiture of the Gods|
|Literal meaning||Name List of the Investiture of the Gods|
Fengshen Yanyi, also known as Fengshen Bang and translated as Investiture of the Gods, Creation of the Gods, The Apotheosis of Heroes or The Canonisation of the Gods, is a 16th-century Chinese novel and one of the major vernacular Chinese works in the gods and demons (shenmo) genre written during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Consisting of 100 chapters, it was first published in book form around the 1550s. The work combines elements of history, folklore, mythology, legends and fantasy.
The story is set in the era of the decline of the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC) and the rise of the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC). It intertwines numerous elements of Chinese mythology, including deities, immortals and spirits. The authorship is attributed to Xu Zhonglin.
The novel is a romanticised retelling of the overthrow of King Zhòu, the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, by Ji Fa, who would establish the Zhōu dynasty in its place. The story integrates oral and written tales of many Chinese mythological figures who are involved in the struggle as well. These figures include human heroes, immortals and various spirits (usually represented in avatar form like vixens, and pheasants, and sometimes inanimate objects such as a pipa).
Bewitched by his concubine Daji, who is actually a vixen spirit in disguise as a beautiful woman, King Zhou of Shang oppresses his people and persecutes those who oppose him, including his own subjects who dare to speak up to him. Ji Fa (King Wu of Zhou), assisted by his strategist Jiang Ziya, rallies an army to overthrow the tyrant and restore peace and order. Throughout the story, battles are waged between the kingdoms of Shang and Zhou, with both sides calling upon various supernatural beings – deities, immortals, demons, spirits, and humans with magical abilities – to aid them in the war. Yuanshi Tianzun bestows upon Jiang Ziya the Fengshen Bang, a list that empowers him to invest the gods of Heaven. The heroes of Zhou and some of their fallen enemies from Shang are eventually endowed with heavenly ranking and essentially elevated to their roles as gods, hence the title of the novel.
In the novel, there are many stories in which many supernatural beings came to the human realm and changed the fate of everything with their magical powers. The following are some of the better known anecdotes from the novel.
Nüwa and King Zhou
King Zhou visits the temple of the ancient Chinese goddess Nüwa to worship her. He notices that the statue of the goddess is very attractive. The lewd king spouts blasphemy before the statue, "It'd be good if I could marry Her". He writes poems on the walls to express his lust for the goddess. He has offended Nüwa unknowingly and Nüwa foresees that King Zhou is destined to be the last ruler of the Shang dynasty. She sends the thousand year old vixen spirit, nine-headed pheasant spirit and jade pipa spirit to bewitch the king and hasten his downfall. The king becomes obsessed with the spirits, who disguise themselves as beautiful women, and starts to neglect state affairs and rule with cruelty. The people suffer under his tyranny and eventually join Ji Fa to rise up and overthrow him.
Daji and Boyi Kao
King Zhou places Ji Chang, the Western Duke, under house arrest in Youli (羑里) for almost seven years. Ji Chang's eldest son Boyi Kao comes to Zhaoge (present-day Hebi, Henan) to plead with King Zhou to release his father. Daji falls in love with Boyi Kao and requests the king to permit Boyi Kao to teach her how to play the guqin. Daji attempts to seduce Boyi Kao but he rejects and ridicules her. The irate Daji complains to King Zhou that Boyi Kao molested her and insulted the king through his music. The king is furious and he has Boyi Kao executed, minced into pieces and made into meat pies, and served to his father. Ji Chang knows divination and has already foreseen his son's fate. He suppresses his sorrow and consumes the meat cakes. After that incident, King Zhou lowers his guard against Ji Chang and allows the latter to return home. Ji Chang builds up his forces and plans to avenge his son.
Ji Chang and Jiang Ziya
Jiang Ziya is an apprentice of Yuanshi Tianzun. He leaves his master at the age of 72. He only uses a straight fishhook without bait, three feet above the water, for angling. His neighbours are puzzled by his odd method of fishing. They ask him out of curiosity. Jiang replies, "What I'm angling is not a single fish, but the king and the great many vassals. Only those who really wish to go on the hook will be fished by me." Jiang Ziya meant that he was waiting for a wise ruler who recognises his talent and needs him.
Some people told Ji Chang about the weird old man and Ji Chang becomes interested in him. One day, Ji Chang pays a visit to Jiang Ziya. Jiang Ziya demands that the duke helps him pull his cart. Ji Chang does so and stops pulling after he moved 800 steps forwards. Jiang Ziya tells the duke that his future kingdom (the Zhou dynasty) will exist for 800 years. Ji Chang wishes to pull the cart for a few more steps but he is too exhausted to move forward. Jiang Ziya becomes the chancellor of Zhou afterwards and assists Ji Chang in building his kingdom.
Bi Gan loses his heart
From the prophecy revealed by the oracle bones, Jiang Ziya predicts that King Zhou's loyal and benevolent courtier, Bi Gan, will die soon. He gives a charm to Bi Gan. One night, during a banquet hosted by King Zhou, several "immortals" appear and the king is delighted to see them. The "immortals" are actually Daji's fellow fox spirits in disguise, and Bi Gan, who is also present at the banquet, senses something amiss. Bi Gan's suspicions are confirmed when the fox spirits reveal their tails unknowingly after getting drunk. Bi Gan gathers a group of soldiers and they track the fox spirits back to their den and kill all of them. Bi Gan uses the foxes' hides to make a cloak and presents it to King Zhou. Daji is horrified and saddened when she sees the cloak, and she secretly plots vengeance on Bi Gan.
Not long later, Daji tells King Zhou that she has a heart attack and only a "delicate seven-aperture heart" (七巧玲瓏心) can relieve her agony. No one in the palace has that type of heart except Bi Gan, who is revered as a saint. Bi Gan swallows the charm given by Jiang Ziya, grabs his heart, pulls it out of his body and presents it to King Zhou. Bi Gan does not die immediately nor sheds a single drop of blood. Instead, he walks out of the palace and follows Jiang Ziya's instructions to go straight home without looking back.
When he is only a few steps away from home, a female huckster yells from behind, "Hey! Cheap cabbages without stems (hearts)!" (The "heart" rhetorically refers to the stem of the plant). Bi Gan turns around asks the huckster in curiosity, "How can there be cabbages without stems?" The woman puts on an evil grin and replies, "You're right, sir. Cabbages cannot live without stems just as men cannot live without hearts." Bi Gan shouts, collapses and dies. The huckster is actually the jade pipa spirit in disguise.
The novel is now seen as one of the towering works of Chinese literature, however it was not always appreciated as such. In comparing to other Chinese novels of the past, Lu Xun remarked in his 1930 book A Brief History of Chinese Fiction that Fengshen Yanyi "lacks the realism of Water Margin and the imaginative realism of Journey to the West."
- Xu Zhonglin (1992) [1550s]. Creation of the Gods. Translated by Gu Zhizhong. Beijing: New World Press. ISBN 780005134X.
- Xu Zhonglin (2002) [1550s]. Tales of the Teahouse Retold: Investiture of the Gods. Translated by Katherine Liang Chew. Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press. ISBN 9780595254194.
The novel has a significant impact on Chinese culture and Japanese popular culture. It has been adapted in various forms, including television series, manga and video games. Some of the more notable adaptations are listed below:
- The Founding of the Zhou Dynasty, the first story arc of the Hong Kong manhua series Legend of Emperors by Wong Yuk-long.
- Hoshin Engi, a Japanese manga and anime series based on the novel.
- Gods of Honour, a 2001 Hong Kong television series produced by TVB.
- The Legend and the Hero, a 2007 Chinese television series. It was followed by a 2009 sequel, The Legend and the Hero 2.
- Warriors Orochi, a video game series produced by Koei. It features two characters – Daji (called Da Ji in the game) and Jiang Ziya (called Taigong Wang in the game) – from the novel as playable characters.
- League of Gods, a 2016 3D Chinese movie produced by China Star Entertainment Group, starring Jacky Heung as the main character Lei Zhenzi, Jet Li as Jiang Ziya, Tony Leung Ka-fai as King Zhou of Shang, Louis Koo as Mahamayuri, Huang Xiaoming as Erlang Shen, Angelababy as the mermaid, Fan Bingbing as Daji and Wen Zhang as Nezha (deity).
- Chronicles of the God's Order, an ongoing Hong Kong manhua.
References and further reading
- Lu Xun (1959). A Brief History of Chinese Fiction. translated by Glady Yang and Yang Hsienyi. Foreign Languages Press..
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