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Entertaining Tales Of China - Number Ten Ox

Updated on June 6, 2012

Confucius say: Man who sit on tack get point!


Bridge of Birds

Starring Master Li Kao, who has a slight flaw in his character


Lu Yu, known as Number 10 Ox, not to be confused with the eminent author of The Classic of Tea...

A Novel of Ancient China That Never Was (but should have been)

Advice from the sage, Master Li:

...even a bad idea is better than none. Error can point the way to truth, while empty-headedness can only lead to more empty-headedness or a career in politics.

Who is Number 10 Ox?

You may take this to be a street address in Tibet: Number 10 Ox, like 221 Baker Street for Sherlock Holmes. Though it is not an address but a personage, there is a detective in this story. He is Master Li Kao, who has a slight flaw in his character that allows him to deal with the real world without going mad. He is a sage and a detective of sorts: a hybrid of Charlie Chan and Master Yoda -- He is even 100s of years old and rides on the back of his client, Number 10 Ox.

I heard about this book in the mid-1990s before the Internet was installed in our University and could not find the fantasy novel anywhere. This is owing to the fact that my source did not know the author's name or the title of the book. He knew only "Number 10 Ox" and that it was a very good tale of China.

Over the years, the phrase changed in my cluttered mind to Ten Ton Ox, surely funny enough for its own novel, and by that time, even the Internet did not know what I was talking about.

So I waited, continually looking for this book as I was studying Asian cultures.

In Autumn 2008, I entered a local Half Price Books store at the behest of The 100 Protean Premonitions on the Mountaintop and walked over to a shelf. I picked out a book at random and looked at the back cover and saw the cover review containing the words:

Number Ten Ox.

I immediately glued my hand to the book with the 10,000 Grasping Fingers, so to speak, and vowed to purchase it no matter the cost of this illusive volume. The Luck of 10,000 Craneswas upon me as I learned that the price was a mere $1.50 with an extra 20% discount. Patience is, indeed a reward and Lu Yu no longer weights 10 tons or 2 tons, as my mind eventually digressed farther form the course of the unknown storyline...I confused him with Paul Bunyan's 2-ton blue ox, Babe, somehow.

Finally, after just a dozen or so years, I had in my possession Bridge of Birds.

Lu Yu was the 10th child of a family in Ku-fu and strong as an Ox, therefore being known in the village as Number 10 Ox. At last, my quest was answered and by a most entertaining, hilariously comedic book filled with finely outlined characters and all manner of long-named phenomenon of a quasi-Chinese culture, with some other ethicities' fairy tales thrown in for confusion..What fun!

A Bridge Built by Enchanted Birds

First published in 1984, this book still in print, in paperback, from Del Rey (Ballantine) books. This imprint has been a purveyor of fantasy and science fiction works since early on with the first greats of Sci-Fi fame. Del Rey became synonymous with science fiction and fantasy.

Bridge of Birdscombines science fiction and fantasy in an epic tale with a flavorful Chinese foundation pierced with wit and humor and caricatures of professionals and politicians we would recognize even in our western culture. The book is a pearl of great price like the pearls and jade coveted by a cleric's wife, Lotus Cloud, who received rooms full of the stuff form suitors she named Poopsie and Pooh-pooh, but who turns out to be a long lost goddess named Jade Pearl. She must cross a magic bridge built by the leading birds of the world before it is too late. She, and several others know that this bridge is the only way to Heaven.

Silkworms and Ginseng in Heaven

In the 7th Century AD, the story opens at the yearly silkworm spinning at Number Ten Ox's home in Ku-fu, but the silkworms die and rot. Soon the children are infected with a plague. The villagers and the abbot can do nothing to help them. so they send Ox to Peking (Beijing) for a wizard or an alchemist to help. he can only afford the master that admits to knowing only half of all there is to know - Master Li Kao, who has a slight flaw in his character. His business card is composed of an only half-opened eye. better than fully closed!

Together, Yu and Li search the continent looking for the Great root of Power, the only ginseng plant that can cure the children of Ku-fu. They try many ties, but find that the legs and arms and head of the plant will not save the children. The two men search time and again until they find the Heart of the root in an unlikely place, led to it by a child's rhyming game, the words of which come emanating from the strange wall near Ku-fu named Dragon's Pillow.

The heroes meet alchemists, Chinese wizards, key keepers, tax collectors, evil rulers, misers, a pocupine merchant, large invisible mosters, musical caves, sword-dancing ghosts, and many more fascinating characters.

With each impossible undertaking, Master Li cheerfully exclaims, "Let us commit suicide!" and Li and Yu will then always think about the forms they will take in the next life --The master will be a 3-toed sloth and Ox will be a cloud in the sky that will sprinkle him with a light rain as he hangs in a tree that was once a miser in a former life, but who will be known as Great Generosity when he becomes a tree.These scenes are delightful.

There is blood and gore in this novel, but it is acceptable in a fairy tale sort of manner in which good triumphs over evil. By the end of the story, all the many loose ends are tied up and Master Li and Number 10 Ox have solved at least a dozen very tough riddles that have saved the Universe in a number of ways. Most humorous is the way in which the two keep meeting the people that they have bilked out of money that they needed in their quest for the Great root of Power. The con games are wonderful to behold and several of the conned come over to the side of the heroes in the ends.

This is truly a funny tale to be read over and over and handed down the generations. The author, Barry Hughart wrote a trilogy, although he meant to write seven complete novels of Master Li and Number 10 Ox. Publication problems arose that kept him from being able to do so, but one hopes that he resumes these stories at some time in the near future. The world is a better place for his first three.


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