Traitorous may be one who withholds praise and gratitude to Her Majesty of Ten Thousand Years for appointing the title of Grand Prefect to our Judge Di Renjie, but when caught between the horns of political obligations and the call of justice, it is justice that often falters.
—Grey Yuen, “The Sorrow of Qingfeng” in Swords & Mythos (2014) 256
Judge Di (or Dee) has become popular in the West through a series of historical crime novels by Robert van Gulik; but the character was based on a real person, Di Renjie, a magistrate during the late Tang dynasty and the early Zhou dynasty under the empress Wu Zetian (“Her Majesty of Ten Thousand Years”), and it is in this period (694 CE) that the story is set. This is not a detective story; though it shares some elements with that genre. “The Sorrow of Qingfeng” is something rarer and weirder: a Mythos Wuxia story.
Wuxia is a genre of Chinese (and more broadly Southeast Asian) fiction dealing with the adventures of martial artists; a form of fantasy which has enthralled millions across the globe, especially in the form of Japanese manga and anime like Dragonball and Fist of the North Star, and Chinese martial arts films like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The influence of wuxia can still be clearly seen in Dungeons & Dragons and many other roleplaying games, action film around the world, and English-language fantasy fiction.
Mythos fiction, not so much.
Action & adventure is nothing new to the Mythos. The original draft of the first story of Conan the Cimmerian, “The Phoenix on the Sword” (Weird Tales Dec 1932) mentions Yog-Sothoth and the Old Ones, and that was neither the first or last time Robert E. Howard’s sword & sorcery heroes touched base with the Mythos; “The Vale of Lost Women” being a notable instance of swords being taken up against a Lovecraftian horror. Howard was not entirely ignorant of Asian martial arts; there were exhibitions and matches even in Texas in the 1920s, and even wrote “Hard-Fisted Sentiment,” a mixed-martial arts story where an American boxer goes up against masters in French savate, jujitsu, and British boxing in turn.
It has been relatively rare to see a Mythos story where wuxia-style fantasy martial arts feature prominently. Steve Perry’s “The Case of the Wavy Black Dagger” in Shadows over Baker Street (2003) comes pretty close, but for the most part the two modes of fiction simply don’t cross over very often. Cthulhu may be punched, but said punches usually have little to do with specific schools or techniques, swords of nigh-magical sharpness, or the cultivation of internal force. These are the tropes that Grey Yuen specifically invokes in “The Sorrow of Qingfeng.”
Grey Yuen’s style in the story is reminiscent of “Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶); the effort is made to set the story not in some nameless quasi-medieval Asian setting, but in a specific era of Chinese history and with a style of narration that borrows at least a little from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (which period, the Tang dynasty, immediately preceded the Zhou dynasty). Like Tachihara Tōya, Yuen makes an effort to combine Western-style Lovecraftian imagery with a very different cultural context, with fairly solid results:
It stared back at me. He stared back me. He was…black—not dark-skinned, not in his skin tone. He was black like the night. At first, I thought he was from the lands far to the west, where the sun scorches and the sands run yellow, where an ancient city waits to be discovered again. But then I realised he was from much farther aay, waiting to give away secrets that would doom us all.
—Grey Yuen, “The Sorrow of Qingfeng” in Swords & Mythos (2014) 267-268
The question of the racial characterization of Nyarlathotep rears its head, as it did in “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944)” (1995) by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., but in a slightly different syntax. Yuen is smart to keep explicit details to a minimum, this is a story where a wuxia character encounters the Mythos, and suggestion works better than detailed explanation. Likewise, the spectacle of Master Yue’s Taishan Wulei Palm is all the more effective for seeing the results than the execution.
“The Sorrow of Qingfeng” is definitely an odd duck of a story, and it is hard to see where it might have been published except in an anthology like Sword & Mythos (2014), edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles—yet it is an effective story, one that marries disparate modes of fiction and cultural contexts into a very competent whole. It has not yet been reprinted.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).