The Birth of Ne Zha
Lady Yin (殷夫人 yīn fū rén), was pregnant with Ne Zha for 3 years and 6 months before she finally gave birth to her third son. The night before his birth, Lady Yin had a dream where she was visited by a Daoist immortal. He swept his magical whisk across her belly and asked her to accept this special child that had been bestowed upon her, and to call him Ne Zha. For unbeknownst to her, that she birth this child was the will of the eternal, limitless and formless Yuan Shi Tian Zun (元始天尊 yuán shǐ tiān zūn), the most supreme of all beings. The baby in her womb was the reincarnation of the Spirit Pearl.
The next day she went into labour, but instead of a child, she birthed what seemed to be a ball of flesh. Her husband, Li Jing (李靖 lǐ jìng), a military commander and Lord of Chen Tang Guan (陈塘关 chén táng guān), was stunned by the sight and feared that his wife had given birth to some form of demon. He took up his sword and swung at the ball of flesh, piercing the surface. All of a sudden a fully grown child jumped out wearing a golden bracelet on one arm, wrapped in a red sash. Ne Zha was born with these two treasures (the Universe Ring (乾坤圈 qián kūn quān) and the Armillary Sash (混天绫 hùn tiān líng)) and the ability to walk and talk.
Soon after, a Daoist immortal, Tai Yi Zhen Ren (太乙真人 tài yǐ zhēn rén), arrived and requested that Ne Zha be his disciple. Both mother and father agreed. And so it was. Tai Yi Zhen Ren took Ne Zha under his wing and taught him “the way” in accordance with Daoist teachings, knowing very well in his heart that this child was destined to do both great and terrible things.
Personal note: I have not come across any specific reason in my research as to why Ne Zha is both good and evil at the same time – the vast majority of deities and immortals are either one or the other. But if I had to venture a guess, I would say it is because the Spirit Pearl was created from the spirit power and essence of both Yin and Yang, Order and Chaos (where the Heaven and Sun represent Yin, and the Earth and Moon represent Yang). Therefore, Ne Zha, despite being a demigod, encompasses all that is good and evil, holding the power and will to do both. Which might be why he is so popular, in this sense he is more ‘human’ than other mythological characters.
Ne Zha Disrupts the Sea
One very hot day, when Ne Zha was seven years old, he went to the coast of the Eastern Sea to bathe in the water and cool down. As he played around, his Armillary Sash and Universe Ring caused havoc in the sea. The waters turned red, large waves rose and the sea bed shook violently. The tremors were felt by Ao Guang (敖广 áo guǎng) in his Crystal Palace (水晶宫 shuǐ jīng gōng), who was startled by the events. He sent Li Gen (李艮 lǐ gěn) to investigate the source of the problem.
When Li Gen arrived at the coast he was surprised to see a seemingly innocent boy playing in the water. "What are those things in your hands? What could possibly make the water turn red and shake the foundations of the Crystal Palace?" He asked.
Hearing a voice Ne Zha turned around to see what looked to him like a sea monster with a blue face, red hair and long fangs wielding an axe standing before him. "And what are you supposed to be, brute? How is it you can talk?"
"I am the Sea Patroller, Yasha (巡海夜叉 xún hǎi yè chā)," Li Gen replied, "how dare you call me a brute?" He took up his axe and thrust it toward Ne Zha, but Ne Zha was too agile for him. Ne Zha dodged his strike with ease, took up his Universe Ring and threw it with great accuracy toward Li Gen's head. Li Gen collapsed dead in the water.
Ne Zha laughed. "Look what you've done, you've dirtied my Universe Ring." He sat on a nearby rock and started washing it in the sea causing a second tremor through the waters. This time, the Crystal Palace nearly collapsed.
As Ao Guang started to wonder how it was possible the tremors could get worse after sending Li Gen to investigate, one of his Crustacean Soldiers (虾兵蟹将 xiā bīng xiè jiàng) arrived and told him that Li Gen had been found dead on the coast.
"Who would dare kill Li Gen? He was hand-picked for that position by the Jade Emperor (玉帝 yù dì) himself. I will have to go and investigate..."
At that moment, Ao Guang's third son, Ao Bing, approached him. "Father, calm down, I will go and capture this child myself." And with that Ao Bing mounted Bi Shui Shou (逼水兽 bī shuǐ shòu) and left the Crystal Palace. The water parted and giant waves rose as they swam to the coast to find Ne Zha.
Ne Zha, still cleaning his Universe Ring, noticed the giant waves moving in his direction.
He collected himself and started walking on the water towards the oncoming waves. Peering in he saw a powerful man riding a beast, dressed in full golden armour and wielding a halberd. The man shouted "Who killed Li Gen?"
Ne Zha took another step forward and showing no fear replied, "That would be me."
"And you are?" Ao Bing demanded.
"I am Ne Zha, the third son of Li Jing. My father is the Lord of Chen Tang Guan, he safeguards this place. I was bathing here to escape the summer heat when a beast came from the waters cursing me. Then, for no reason, he attacked me. So I killed him. What's the problem?"
"Li Gen was appointed by the Jade Emperor himself, and you dare kill him then stand here and ask 'what's the problem?'" Ao Bing responded as he thrust his halberd toward Ne Zha.
Ne Zha didn't raise his weapon, instead he ducked the attack and said, "At least tell me your name before we fight."
"I am the third son of the Dragon King, Ao Bing."
"So your one of Ao Guang's sons. You're quite arrogant aren't you? I warn you, if you continue to annoy me, I will have to kill you and your pathetic father then peel off his scales and rip out his tendons."
Upon hearing Ne Zha speak so disrespectfully Ao Bing took another angry swing at him with his halberd, but it didn't land.
Ne Zha threw his Armillary Sash up toward the sky and created what looked like a thousand fireballs above his head. Then, in an instant, threw it again towards Ao Bing. As the sash wrapped itself around him, he fell from Bi Shui Shou. Seizing the opportunity Ne Zha leaped forward, placed his foot on Ao Bing's neck and struck him in the head with his Universe Ring so hard that Ao Bing transformed back in to his original form - a dragon.
Ao Guang's third son, Ao Bing the dragon, laid stiff on the seabed beneath Ne Zha. He was dead.
"I hit him back into his original form..." Ne Zha muttered to himself. Looking down at Ao Bing's corpse he had an idea. "I should take out his tendons and use them to make some armour for father."
And with that Ne Zha started collecting Ao Bing's tendons. A sight that would chill any normal person to the bone.
When he finally arrived home, his mother called to him, "Ne Zha, where did you go to play? You've been out nearly all day."
Heading toward the garden Ne Zha responded, "I was playing around and didn't notice the time passing."
After a short while, Li Jing returned home and took off his armour. He sat in the hall with a worried look on his face. He was contemplating King Zhou's (纣王 zhòu wáng) unjust ways, how he is forcing everyone to rise up against him, and how the people were suffering daily because of it. This troubled him deeply.
Meanwhile, Ao Guang was in his Crystal Palace when one of his Crustacean Soldiers came to him with the news. "The son of Li Jing, Lord of Chen Tang Guan, has killed your son...and taken his tendons."
"My son was a righteous deity, he could control the weather and helped life on earth grow (兴云步雨滋生万物正神 xìng yún bù yǔ zī shēng wàn wù zhèng shén), how could he possibly be killed? Li Jing, you learned “the way” (学到 xué dào) during your time in West Kun Lun (西昆仑 xī kūn lún), you and I studied under the same master, you dare to use your son to kill mine? This is a great injustice! You even ripped out his tendons! My heart is broken."
Wrought with pain and anger, Ao Guang desired to avenge his son immediately. He transformed in to a soldier (his human form) and made his way to Chen Tang Guan. When he arrived, he addressed Li Jing, "Brother Li, your son was playing on the Eastern Sea shore today when he used some kind of magic that caused my Crystal Palace to almost collapse. After sending Li Gen to investigate, your son killed him. My son Ao Bing then went to investigate further, only to be killed by your son as well. He even removed my son's tendons!"
Li Jing couldn't believe what he was hearing, "My eldest son is studying art in Jiu Long Mountain (九龙山 jiǔ lóng shān), my second son is studying art in Jiu Gong Mountain (九宫山 jiǔ gōng shān), my third son is only 7 years old and isn't allowed out the house. How could this possibly happen? There must be some mistake."
"Brother, you are mistaken, not me. Your son..." At this point, Ao Guang felt an overwhelming sense of despair and burned with anger. "How can you sit here defending yourself, acting like you have no idea what has happened?"
Seeing how angryAo Guang was, Li Jing started looking around for Ne Zha. When he found him, Ne Zha explained what had happened that day. "I was bored indoors with nothing to do so I went down to Jiu Wan River (九湾河 jiǔ wān hé) to play. When it got too hot, I bathed in the water. Then suddenly a Yasha called Li Gen came toward me, cursing me, he attacked me for no reason with his axe. So I killed him with my ring. A little while later some third son of whoever called Ao Bing approached me and attacked me with his halberd. I wrapped him in my sash, stepped on his neck and hit him in the head with my ring. I didn't mean to turn him back in to a dragon. Then, knowing how precious dragon tendons are, I decided to take them and craft a piece of armour out of them for you, father."
What Li Jing heard scared him half to death. He grabbed the tendons from Ne Zha and offered them to Ao Guang.
Seeing his son's tendons, Ao Guang was devastated. "Your son is clearly evil, and you dare say I was mistaken? He just confessed to everything, there is no way you are going to just get away with this. My son was a righteous deity, and Li Gen was appointed by the Jade Emperor, how dare you and your son conspire to kill them without just cause? Tomorrow, I will travel to Heaven to meet with the Jade Emperor and have your master deal with you." And with that, Ao Guang left.
Coming to grips with what he had done, Ne Zha decided to visit his master, Tai Yi Zhen Ren. He called upon his earth magic (土遁 tǔ dùn) to travel swiftly to the Golden Light Cave (金光洞 jīn guāng dòng) in Gan Yuan Mountain (乾元山 gān yuán shān), where his master dwells. Upon hearing what had happened, Tian Yi Zhen Ren told Ne Zha to travel to Bao De Men (宝德门 bǎo dé mén). And that once he completed what needs to be done there, to travel back to Chen Tang Guan and tell his parents that neither he, or his master, would allow anything to happen to them as a result of his actions.
Ne Zha listened to his master, he left Gan Yuan Mountain, and travelled to Bao De Men. This was Ne Zha's first time in the Upper Realm (上界 shàng jiè), his first time in the Courts of Heaven (天庭 tiān tíng). He looked around and could see golden lights and auras in all directions. The southern gate had two large pillars either side of it, and wrapped around the pillars was a Red Fire Dragon (赤须火龙 chì xū huǒ lóng). Ne Zha had arrived at Bao De Men too early, the Dragon King of the East China Sea had not yet arrived. Ne Zha noticed that all the gates to the Heavenly Palace (天宫 tiān gōng) were shut, so he stood quietly in wait under Ju Xian Gate (聚仙门 jù xiān mén).
After a while, Ao Guang arrived, dressed in his official court gown (朝服 cháo fú). Noticing that the southern gate had not been opened yet, Ao Guang also decided to wait.
Ne Zha could see Ao Guang but Ao Guang could not see Ne Zha. Tai Yi Zhen Ren had placed a talisman (符箓 fú lù) on Ne Zha before he left with the word "Invisible" (隐身符 yǐn shēn fú) written on it. Ne Zha's rage grew stronger and stronger. He took up his Universe Ring and pounced on Ao Guang like a tiger, striking him in the back. Ao Guang fell to the floor, Ne Zha placed a foot on him and held him in place. Ao Guang fought to turn his head and see who was beating him, he was furious to find it was Ne Zha. He tried to struggle but Ne Zha continued to beat him and hold him in place on the floor. Ao Guang cursed at him, "Ne Zha! I had no quarrel with you, why did you kill Li Gen then go on to kill my son, and remove his tendons?! Your sins cannot be forgiven! And even now, at the foot of Bao De Men, you dare to...“
As Ao Guang spoke, Ne Zha's anger grew ever-stronger. If it were not for Tai Yi Zhen Ren's direct orders, Ne Zha would have killed him there and then. Ne Zha continued to hold him in place on the floor as he threw dozens of punches at him. Ao Guang shouted out in pain.
After beating him for a while, Ne Zha said, "I am the reincarnation of the Spirit Pearl, I have important tasks and responsibilities burdening me. And besides, they attacked me first. Killing them was a simple task. But you still feel you need to take this up with me? My master told me, killing an old fart like you wouldn't get in the way of our plans anyway."
Ao Guang continued struggling and scolding Ne Zha, but Ne Zha did not relent. He was determined to teach Ao Guang a lesson. There is an ancient Chinese saying: "The dragon is afraid of scaling, the tiger is afraid of cramp." (龙怕揭鳞，虎怕抽筋 lóng pà jiē lín, hǔ pà chōu jīn). Ne Zha lifted Ao Guang's court robe, revealing the scale armour on his left side and started scaling him. He ripped off 40-50 scales. Blood was pouring everywhere, and Ao Guang screamed in agony, "Show mercy!"
Upon hearing Ao Guang beg for his life, Ne Zha said, "If you want me to spare your life, then you cannot report any of this to the Jade Emperor. You must return with me to Chen Tang Guan and promise not to cause any trouble for my parents. If you do not promise, I will kill you right now with my Universe Ring. My master is Tai Yi Zhen Ren, I'm not afraid of you."
Ao Guang could do nothing against the power of Ne Zha, he had no choice but to agree.
The moment Ao Guang reached Chen Tang Guan, he broke his word. He told Li Jing about how Ne Zha treated him before Bao De Men, and showed him his damaged scales. He then continued in a fierce tone, "Because of this evil child of yours, I will return to Chen Tang Guan with the Dragon Kings of the Four Seas (四海龙王 sì hǎi lóng wáng), and we will flood this place until it is entirely submerged!" And just as quickly, he was gone with the wind.
Crystal clear blue skies were suddenly covered in dark clouds of purple, black and blue, rolling in from all sides. Three large cloud masses met in the air and stirred a few times before releasing a sudden flash of lightening. In that moment, a purple dragon shot down through the air and into the sea. Immediately after, the black and blue clouds changed in to dragons as well and followed into the sea. Colossal waves grew out of the sea and headed towards Chen Tang Guan.
The three dragons were the Dragon Kings of the Northern, Southern and Western Seas. They had come at the behest of Ao Guang, and were here to teach Li Jing and Ne Zha a lesson, for they could not believe what they had been told. They had come to avenge Ao Bing.
The Four Dragon Kings rose again from the water, producing more waves, their silhouettes surrounded by a roll of dark cloud in the distance.
On the sea near Chen Tang Guan, a huge wave rose from the depths of the water with a deafening crash, rushing upwards into the clouds forming a large water column, like a mushroom cloud. The large water column did not fall back into the sea, instead, it began spinning, getting thicker and wider as it turned. The water was red, blue, purple and black, and it turned faster and faster showing no signs of slowing down. The water column approached the shore like a wall. A shower of large hail was spat out and on to the shore.
The column changed in to four dragons, roaring as they circled around, slowly moving up higher in the sky. Dark clouds billowed through the air, and giant waves continued surging on the sea. The four dragons walked through the sky, looking down on the tiny Chen Tang Guan, roaring, as thunder clapped, and heavy rains continued to pour.
Soon, Chen Tang Guan started to flood. The villagers began running from their houses in terror, as some of them collapsed and got swept away by the water. Chaos ensued as all that could be heard was the screams of villagers, the constant clapping of thunder, heavy rain, and the roars of four angry dragons.
The four dragons were in full view, Ao Guang came closer to the surface, spread his arms and shouted, "Li Jing, if you do not give up your son, we will flood and destroy Chen Tang Guan today."
Chen Tang Guan was already covered in darkness, and the winds and rain were merciless, it felt like hell on earth. Li Jing stood in the rain with a grave look on his face. On the one hand he could not bear to lose his son, and on the other hand, he could not bear to see his people suffer.
Witnessing the horror in front of him, Ne Zha was overwhelmed with grief and sorrow. He threw his sash in to the air, it flew up and dispersed some dark clouds - much to Ao Guang's surprise - but the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea was not about to stop now. He stretched out his neck and sprayed a jet of black water on to the high ground. And as the black water flowed down the hill in to Chen Tang Guan, the panic, confusion and chaos intensified. Ne Zha immediately called his sash back. It was only a matter of time before Chen Tang Guan was completely flooded.
Li Jing could not hold out any longer, he closed his eyes and made his decision. He stepped forward and shouted, "Stop! Dragon King! I am willing to accept my fate!" Ao Guang ordered the other three dragons to stop. He lowered his neck and sprayed a jet of black water in to the sea creating more colossal waves.
Li Jing pulled open his armour, exposing his chest. The torrential rains continued. "No matter what happens, know that the people of Chen Tang Guan are innocent, please, Dragon King, have mercy on them. I, Li Jing, am prepared to be your servant for the rest of my life. And if that doesn't please you, Dragon King, then take my life. I, Li Jing, will sacrifice myself to the Eastern Sea."
Ne Zha threw his Universe Ring and Armillary Sash to the floor violently, "Dragon King, it is me you want, I killed your son. All mistakes were mine and mine alone, I accept your judgement. Just stop hurting people who had nothing to do with it!"
After hearing Ne Zha's plea, Ao Guang said, "If you die today, Chen Tang Guan will have favourable weather for three years."
Suddenly, Ne Zha grabbed his father's sword from its sheath and cut off his own arm. Then, he cut his stomach and took out his intestines. He gave his bones to his father, and his flesh to his mother. As his soul left his body and entered the Shadow Realm (阴间 yīn jiān) Ao Guang kept his word, he ceased his attack and returned to his Crystal Palace. Ne Zha's body laid motionless on the embankment.
Once Ao Guang had left, Tai Yi Zhen Ren floated to Ne Zha's body. He brushed him with a horsetail whisk (拂尘 fú chén), and as he did, a blue-ish, semi-transparent version of Ne Zha rose from his body. Tai Yi Zhen Ren used his horsetail whisk to collect his spirit and floated off again.
When he arrived at Gan Yuan Mountain, Tai Yi Zhen Ren ordered Jin Xia Tong Er (金霞童儿 jīn xiá tóng er) “Bring me two lotuses from Wu Lian Pond (五莲池 wǔ lián chí), and three lotus leaves."
Tong Zi collected the lotus flowers and lotus leaves and placed them on the ground. Tai Yi Zhen Ren plucked the petals and put them in three piles, then broke the stems of the lotus leaves in to 300 pieces. He placed the lotus flowers on top of one another, each representing a different realm (top, middle, bottom - Heaven, earth, Diyu respectively), then placed a Pill of Immortality (金丹 jīn dān) in the centre and started the ritual. He drew power from nature (法用先天 fǎ yòng xiān tiān), used Qi Gong (气功 qì gōng) to cast the spell (气运九转 qì yùn jiǔ zhuǎn), brought Yin and Yang together (离龙坎虎 Lí lóng kǎn hǔ) to hold Ne Zha's spirit in place and pushed it in to the lotus flowers and leaves, "Bring Ne Zha back to the realm of the living!"
And Ne Zha, Lotus Incarnation (哪吒莲花化身 nǎ zhā lián huā huà shēn), rose with a start. He was six feet tall, handsome, with crimson red lips and a fire in his eyes. He took one look at his master, knelt down. "Thank you master, for your life-saving grace."
Tai Yi Zhen Ren looked at Ne Zha and smiled, "Come with me to my Peach Garden (桃园 táo yuán)." Tai Yi Zhen Ren handed Ne Zha a new weapon - the Fire-Tipped Spear (火尖枪 huǒ jiān qiāng) - and almost in an instant, Ne Zha had mastered it. Tai Yi Zhen Ren continued, "Now that you've mastered the spear, take these Wind Fire Wheels (风火二轮 fēng huǒ èr lún) and let me teach you the Secrets of the Talisman (灵符秘诀 líng fú mì jué)."
Tai Yi Zhen Ren also handed Ne Zha a Leopard Skin Pouch (豹皮囊 bào pí náng) - which shrinks objects as they enter - then placed the Universe Ring, Armillary Sash, and a Jin Zhuan (金砖 jīn zhuān) into the pouch.