The Ming Cult is a fictional cult and martial arts sect featured in the wuxia novel The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber by Jin Yong, first published in serial form from 1961 to 1963. It is also briefly mentioned in The Legend of the Condor Heroes, another novel also by Jin Yong. It is loosely based on Manichaeism, an actual gnostic religion which originated in Persia and spread to other parts of the world, including China. The cult is based on Bright Peak in the Kunlun Mountains and has several other bases spread throughout the land. Its most powerful skills are the 'Heaven and Earth Great Shift' (乾坤大挪移) and the 'Martial Arts of the Holy Flame Tablets' (聖火令武功).
In The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber, the Ming Cult is also known as the "Cult of Mani" (摩尼教) to martial artists in the jianghu but its more common name is "Mo Jiao" (魔教), which literally means "Demonic Cult". The cult originated in Persia and spread to China in the seventh century. The cult is secretive and conducts its activities far away from the eyes of other sects in the wulin (martial artists' community). Its founding principles also deviate largely from other sects. While others typically seek to achieve a dominant position in the wulin, the Ming Cult strongly adheres to its faith and laws, which revolve around the notion of "delivering humankind from suffering and eliminating evil". This is aptly summed up in a mantra widely repeated by its members, which goes:
The blazing holy flame burns my withered body. Life is lamentable, but death is also painful. Only with the brightness can we do good and exterminate evil. Joy and sorrow will all become dirt and dust eventually. Pity the people of my world, they face many hardships indeed! Pity the people of my world, they face many hardships indeed!
The cult is actually a righteous sect and not an evil cult as it is perceived in the wulin. It faces persecution by the government due to slanderous remarks made by its enemies in the imperial court. Apart from that, many martial artists and sects in the wulin who are unaware of the cult's real motives due to its conservative nature often speculate that it is inherently evil and start spreading rumours. The cult's image in society and in the wulin is adversely affected and marred, and it often struggles to survive in the face of powerful rivals who seek to destroy it.
During the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, the cult starts a rebellion to overthrow the corrupt Yuan government and restore peace and order. However, its objective is not echoed by other sects and the common people; conversely, it faces hostility from them. The six leading orthodox sects in the wulin – Shaolin, Wudang, Emei, Kunlun, Kongtong and Mount Hua – form an alliance to attack the cult at its headquarters on Bright Peak. The cult's newly elected leader, Zhang Wuji, resolves the conflict and opens the cult to the wulin for the first time. Thereafter, views and attitudes towards the cult start to change for the better, and the cult earns strong support in its mission to topple the Yuan government. Zhang Wuji eventually passes the leadership of the Ming Cult to Yang Xiao and retires from the jianghu. Zhu Yuanzhang, a minor leader in the cult, betrays his fellows and unites all rebel factions in China under his control. He ultimately topples the Yuan dynasty, defeats his rivals such as Chen Youliang, and establishes the Ming dynasty.
The cult is headed by its leader, called the jiaozhu (教主; literally "Cult Master"). The Left and Right Bright Messengers (左右光明使) serve as the leader's deputies. The cult also has four Guardian Kings (護教法王) who assist the leader in overseeing the cult's activities. Ranked below the Guardian Kings are the chiefs of the five banner divisions (旗主). The five divisions are each named after one of the Five Elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, Metal). The cult's members are spread throughout these five banners. The cult has headquarters and bases spread throughout the land and are often disguised as ordinary buildings, such as inns and shops, to avoid identification by the government. The cult's main headquarters, called the zongtan (總壇), is based on Bright Peak (光明頂) in the Kunlun Mountains.
The Ming Cult's structure in Persia differs from the one in China. In Persia, the cult is led by a woman who is selected from three specially chosen virgins called "Holy Maidens" (聖女). There are twelve Guardian Kings (寶樹王) instead of four. The Three Messengers (Wind, Cloud and Moon) are tasked with safekeeping the Holy Flame Tablets, the cult's most sacred artefacts. They are also the most powerful in martial arts of all the cult's members in Persia.
Heavenly Eagle Cult
The Heavenly Eagle Cult (simplified Chinese: 天鹰教; traditional Chinese: 天鷹教; pinyin: Tiān Yīng Jiào; Jyutping: Tin1 Jing1 Gaau3) was founded by one of the Ming Cult's Guardian Kings, "White Brows Eagle King" Yin Tianzheng. Yin left the Ming Cult in anger during its internal conflict and established his own sect. The Heavenly Eagle Cult does not follow the Ming Cult's original practices and customs but its members are still morally disciplined. The Heavenly Eagle Cult is often regarded as a branch of the Ming Cult and deemed to be as equally evil and unorthodox in the wulin because of Yin Tianzheng's affiliation with the Ming Cult. The Heavenly Eagle Cult merges with the Ming Cult after Yin Tianzheng's maternal grandson, Zhang Wuji, becomes the new leader of the Ming Cult.
Connection to real-life Manichaeism
The names Ming Jiao (明教; literally "Religion of Light") and Moni Jiao (摩尼教; literally "Religion of Mani") were used in China during the Song dynasty to describe the faith practised by Chinese adherents of Manichaeism.
- (熊熊圣火，焚我残躯。生亦何哀，死亦何苦？为善除恶，惟光明故。喜乐悲愁，皆归尘土。怜我世人，忧患实多！怜我世人，忧患实多！) Cha, Louis. The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (倚天屠龍記). Ming Pao, 1961.
- Cha, Louis. The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (倚天屠龍記). Ming Pao, 1961.
- Lieu, Samuel N. C. (1992), Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China, Volume 63 of Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament (2 ed.), Mohr Siebeck, pp. 287,303, ISBN 3161458206