Delve into King Zhaowang's reign, characterized by enchanting dancers, Daoist explorations, and encounters with the Queen Mother of the West.
In the second year of King Zhao of Yan’s reign, the Guangyan State presented two skilled dancers named Xuan Juan and Ti Mo. These two dancers had skin as pure as jade, with graceful and enchanting figures, captivating fragrances, gentle and elegant postures, quiet and exquisite beauty, and unparalleled appearances. Sometimes, their footprints and figures were invisible when they walked, and at other times, they could go without food for many years without feeling hungry. King Zhao of Yan had them stay in luxurious tents made of thin silk, gave them dewwater superior to jade to drink, and provided them with grains irrigated by the Dan Springs to eat. When King Zhao ascended the Chongxia Terrace, he summoned the two dancers to his side. At that moment, a fragrant breeze arose, and the two dancers gracefully began to dance, moving with the wind, almost entering a trance-like state. King Zhao waved his hat and sash, and the two dancers continued their dance. Their beauty surpassed that of a phoenix in flight, and their singing was melodious, drifting with the wind. Subsequently, King Zhao had other female singers replace them. These singers had clear voices with lingering echoes, even compared to Han E’s singing, which was said to echo for three days, these singers were more praiseworthy. The two dancers performed three dances: “Yingchen,” which described their light bodies dancing in the windblown dust; “Jiyu,” which portrayed their graceful dance like feathers floating on the breeze; and “Xuanhuai,” symbolizing their supple limbs that seemed as if they could fly into someone’s embrace.
So, King Zhao ordered the arrangement of seats adorned with patterns of mythical Qilins and scattered fragrant spices made from fresh plants called “quanwu,” which came from the Boyi country. When this spice was soaked into the ground, the earth and stones would emit a fragrance. When it was applied to rotten trees and withered grass, they would rejuvenate and flourish again. When it was used to fumigate bones, it could make white bones grow flesh. King Zhao spread a thick layer of this spice’s powder on the ground, about four to five inches deep. He then had the two dancers perform on it. Even after dancing for an entire day, they left no footprints because of their incredibly light bodies. At that time, a white phoenix flew alone in the sky, carrying a stalk of thousand-grain wheat in its beak. This wheat grew and ripened in mid-air, and its grains fell to the ground, taking root and sprouting upon landing. It could be harvested a hundred times a year, and a single stalk could fill an entire cart, earning it the name “cart-filling giant wheat.” The seats with Qilin patterns were adorned with various treasures, all shaped like clouds, Qilins, and phoenixes. King Zhao waved his sleeve, and the dancing women ceased. He knew they were mystical and extraordinary beings, so he had them stay in the Chongxia Terrace and arranged beds for their rest. He also stationed guards to protect them. King Zhao of Yan had an interest in the art of immortality, which is why celestial maidens transformed into these two beautiful women. By the end of King Zhao’s reign, no one knew where they had gone. Some said they were wandering around the Han River and the Yangtze River basin, while others claimed they strolled along the banks of the Yi River and Luo River.
In the fourth year of King Zhao of Yan’s reign, one day, while he was in the place of governance, he summoned his chief minister, Gan Xu, and said to him, “I am wholly dedicated to the Dao of immortality and wish to learn the methods of attaining longevity and immortality. Is it achievable?” Gan Xu replied, “I once traveled to Mount Kunlun and encountered an elderly man with disheveled hair, yet he appeared youthful. His countenance was as pure as ice and snow, his figure resembled an unmarried young maiden, his complexion was ruddy, his sinews and bones were robust, his skin was firm, and his body was graceful. He had traveled to the fairylands of Penglai and Yingzhou, crossed the azure seas, traversed mountains and rivers, ascended to the heavens and descended to the earth, moving freely in the realm of the infinite. This elder can indeed be considered an immortal. This is likely because he can distance himself from long-standing desires, overcome difficult-to-break habits, purify his mind, and eliminate impure thoughts. That’s why he can frequently journey into the realm of the Supreme Ultimate. Now, Your Majesty, your eyes are clouded by enchanting beauty, your appetite is spoiled by delicious food, and your heart is perturbed by the many concubines in the palace. The beauty you desire cannot compare to the fair-skinned beauties, and the slender-waisted, white-toothed ones you admire cannot match the goddesses of the heavenly realm. Yet, you wish to attain longevity and wander in the immortal realm. This is like trying to measure the sea with a small wine cup or encircle the sun and moon with a short ruler. How can this be achieved?” Therefore, King Zhao removed the allure of women, reduced his indulgence in fine foods, resided in the place of governance, and bestowed upon Gan Xu a feathered robe. He also erected a monument in Gan Xu’s hometown, naming it “Mingzhenli.”
In the seventh year of King Zhao of Yan’s reign, envoys from the Mu Xu Kingdom came to pay their respects. Mu Xu is another name for India. Among the envoys, there was a man named Shi Luo, who was well-versed in Daoist arts. When asked about his age, he replied, “I am one hundred and thirty years old.” He carried a tin staff and a water jug and said, “It took us five years to reach the capital of Yan from our own country.” Shi Luo was skilled in the art of transformation. He could conjure a three-foot-tall ten-story pagoda on the tip of his finger, along with celestial beings in the heavens, splendid and extraordinary. These celestial beings were about five or six inches tall and stood in rows under banners and canopies, drumming and dancing in circles around the pagoda. Their singing sounded just like that of real humans. Shi Luo could exhale a mist from his mouth, and the mist was so thick that it obscured the area for several miles. Afterward, he would blow another breath, and instantly a strong wind would arise, dispersing the mist completely. Shi Luo could also blow on the pagoda on his fingertip, causing it to slowly ascend into the clouds. He could transform a green dragon from his left ear and a white tiger from his right ear. When these creatures first appeared, they were only a few inches long, but they gradually grew to be eight or nine feet in size. After a while, a strong wind would blow, and clouds would rise. With a wave of his hand, Shi Luo could make the dragon and tiger return into his ears. Shi Luo could open his mouth and face the sun, and one could see people riding in chariots adorned with bird feathers, driven by hornless dragons and swans. They entered Shi Luo’s mouth directly. Then, by pressing on his chest with his hand, one could hear a thunderous sound like rolling thunder coming from Shi Luo’s chest. When Shi Luo opened his mouth again, the chariots, hornless dragons, swans, and others that had entered his mouth would come out one by one. Shi Luo often meditated at noon, gradually feeling himself becoming smaller. Sometimes he would transform into an old man, and other times he would turn into an infant. He could even suddenly “die,” filling the room with a fragrance, and a gentle breeze would occasionally blow toward him. Then he would come back to life, looking exactly as he did before. Shi Luo’s incantations and magical arts were bewildering, and his transformations were endless and mysterious.
In the eighth year of King Zhao of Yan’s reign, envoys from the Lu Fu Kingdom came to pay their respects. They had crossed the Jade River and traveled thousands of miles to reach the capital of Yan. The envoys from Lu Fu described their homeland, stating that their mountains and plains were free from fierce birds and beasts. The waters were calm, never causing waves, and the winds never broke tree branches. In their country, people could live up to three hundred years. They wove clothing from various plants, which they called “herb garments” or “foliage attire.” The people of Lu Fu remained forever youthful, never showing signs of aging, and everyone was known for filial piety and humility. When someone in Lu Fu reached the age of one hundred or more, they were respected as if they were one’s own family. When someone passed away, they were buried in the wilderness, with their body covered by fragrant wood and spiritual herbs. During these funerals, villagers would come to help, and their mourning cries would echo through the deep valleys and forests, even causing the source of the streams to stop flowing. The trees changed their colors in response. People would not consume any food or drink during the mourning period until the deceased’s bones had turned to dust. In the past, when Emperor Yu redirected the flow of water along the natural contours of the mountains, he praised this land as a country of longevity, purity, and filial piety.
It is said, those who are born with the spiritual essence of Heaven and Earth, receiving their existence under the mandate of Heaven, possess five virtues: benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. Therefore, each person upholds sincerity, honesty, and wisdom as the standards for self-cultivation and regards repaying their parents for their nurturing as fundamental. The bonds of affection among people originate from blood relations, so when loved ones are alive, one should strive to treat them with affection and respect. Revealing their naturally charitable disposition, they should observe proper mourning customs when close relatives pass away, offering sincere sacrifices. This is likely the common understanding of human affairs and the consistent behavior of the discerning. As a result, when loyal advice is given, the profound principles behind it are comprehended, and the sincerity of benevolence emanates from the heart, even the spirits of Heaven and Earth are moved. Their deeds and spirit are perpetually exalted, and outward signs manifest as abundant auspicious omens bestowed by Heaven. By adhering to the righteous path, these individuals are praised far and wide. How admirable these foreigners are! They are far removed from the teachings of the imperial court, and their knowledge of Confucian principles of governance is limited. Regarding their own country’s laws, they are entirely different from those of the Han Chinese; observing their politics and teachings, one finds customs and practices distinct from those in the Central Plains. However, the spirit of respect and propriety exists in the regions of various ethnic minorities, and their deeds are recorded in various documents. The customs of filial piety and respect are universally honored.
In the ninth year of King Zhao of Yan’s reign, King Zhao spent his days pondering various extraordinary methods of immortality and Daoist practices. There was a Daoist practitioner named Gu Jiangzi who told King Zhao, “The Queen Mother of the West is soon to visit here on a journey, and she will surely discuss the art of immortality and Daoism.” In less than a year, the Queen Mother of the West indeed arrived. She and King Zhao strolled through the Sui Forest, discussing the method of Yan Emperor drilling wood to make fire. They used the oil from the green laurel tree to light their way. Suddenly, a fire moth, resembling a vermillion bird, flew over, landing on the oil of the laurel tree, fluttering its wings. This fire moth came from the orifice of the circular altar used for offering sacrifices to Heaven. The orifice led straight to the Ninth Heaven and contained tiny pearls like grains of sand, which could be strung together as ornaments. These tiny pearls were the excrement of the divine moths. Relying on clouds and dew, the divine moths could fly for a long time without landing. The immortals captured and killed these fire moths for alchemical purposes. The Queen Mother of the West and the immortals roamed the Circular Mound, collecting divine moths and storing them in a jade basket, which they had the Divine Child carry. Together, they journeyed in all directions, arriving at the court of Yan. The Queen Mother of the West presented these divine moths to King Zhao. King Zhao said, “I now request that you give me some divine moths for the preparation of the Nine-Revolution Divine Elixir.” The Queen Mother of the West refused.
King Zhao of Yan sat on the “Grasp-the-Sun Terrace” observing the changes in the clouds. He could reach up and touch the sun. At that time, a group of black-headed white birds gathered around King Zhao’s residence. They carried a transparent and radiant pearl, which was as bright as a foot in diameter. This pearl was as shiny as lacquer, and when used to illuminate a room, it would reveal all sorts of deities with nowhere to hide. This pearl came from the depths of the Yin Spring, located to the north of the Cold Mountain and in the center of the Yuan River. It was said that the waters there constantly swirled and flowed. There was also a black clam flying around King Zhao’s residence. This black clam had once flown back and forth above the Five Sacred Mountains. During the time of the Yellow Emperor, Wu Chengzi had visited the Cold Mountain and obtained this black clam from a high cliff on the mountain. This is how it became known that the black clam could fly. During King Zhao’s reign, a country presented a black clam to him. King Zhao ordered water from the Yao Pool and the Zhang River to be used to wash away the mud and sand from the clam’s body. He exclaimed, “Since the sun and moon have hung high in the sky, people have witnessed the production of pearls by black clams eighty to ninety times. This black clam produces pearls once every thousand years.” These pearls gradually become lighter and smaller. King Zhao often carried this pearl with him, and every midsummer, he would naturally feel light and cool. Therefore, King Zhao called it the “Pearl for Dispelling Heat and Summoning Coolness.”