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The Breadth of Ghosts

6 November 2007

The hottest internet novels in Chinese cyber space at the moment are evidently the mystery & horror stories; and among the mysteries & horrories, the hottest tale is evidently the one titled The Breadth of Ghosts. It is so hot that it not only has been published and sold in bookstores over a million copies, and not only single-handedly created a new fiction genre of tomb-raiding with a lucrative market, but also has aroused the interest of those in the far away Hollywood who are allegedly going to turn it into a blockbuster motion pictures on the big screen to challenge the mighty Harry Porter.

The story title The Breadth of Ghosts (《鬼吹灯》) refers to a particular tomb raiding school invented by the author, which is said requires its followers to light a candle in the southeast corner - the Ghost Corner in fengshui - to detect whether the spirit of the tomb owner remains in the premises. If the candle is put out, the particular tomb would be deemed as still being occupied thus the raiders are considered as equivalent to home evaders. Under such circumstance, the looting operation should be abolished and the robbers have to retreat without taking away anything with them, or they will be doomed.

The originality of the concept and its well-developed narrative structure combined with though a bit raw but quite refreshing and comical language, Ghosts' Breadth makes interesting reading to the general public, and an addictive mind game for its fans. But what sets it truly apart from other mystery & horror stories is its super knowledge-rich dimension.

The central character in the Breadth is a descendent of a fengshui master, later he himself becomes an expert on I Ching, Eight Trigrams and a mysterious art called Sixteen-Words Yin Yang Fengshui (《十六字阴阳风水秘术》), a branch of the powerful Flying Star Fengshui. (玄空飞星风水)

Chinese traditionally view the mountains and rivers as organic with their unique breadth of life, and consider every earthly formation have their distinctive temperaments and personalities, that shape the relationship between the natural and the built environments, and further between the land and the mind. It is from this regarding, fengshui, which includes both yang fengshui for buildings and yin fengshui for tombs, has developed into a comprehensive medical system to maintain environmental health and well being.

The author boldly draws a parallel between the methods employed by tomb-raiding and that by Chinese medicine. The traditional Chinese medicine approaches to diagnosis with four basic steps: observe, sniff, listen and touch (望、闻、问、切), and the approaches of the fengshui-wise tomb-raiders to tomb diagnosis, according to the author, are just the same.

Commonly known by his knowledge-poor & inspiration-depraved pen name Lord of Singers Under Heaven (天下霸唱), a name derived from a computer game, author Zhang Muye, a Tianjin native in his late twenties, has never dug anyone’s grave, nor has he ever made himself available to be hired as a fengshui consultant. He’s just too busy with other things, such as running a small financial firm with his friend. And when at the times he is not there actually running firm or virtually raiding tombs, he busies himself with playing computer games. And when on the occasions he is not even playing computer games, he speaks, about his beliefs. He evidently believes that China’s rich culture and long history have fostered one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, intangible treasure tombs that are yet to be raided, and he is proud to be one of the first, if not THE first, Internet writers to break in the vicinity and hunt for the hidden treasures.

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A Tomb of the Three Kingdoms

This is an ancient tomb complex in today’s Jiangxi Province (江西省吉水县), dating back to the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280), discovered in 1991 during the groundwork for a train track. Although the tomb had already been recklessly raided before, the researchers still have managed to unearth over a hundred articles, including a set of blue porcelain tea cups, a bronze lamp seat, a bronze red bird (朱雀) and a bronze white tiger (白虎), the symbols for the refreshing qi of the east and the decadent qi of the west respectively in fengshui .


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