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Thread: How do you solve a problem like Guo Xiang?

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    Senior Member Athena's Avatar
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    Lightbulb How do you solve a problem like Guo Xiang?

    This is a very old post I had written years ago. I am not using a hyperbole when I use 'years ago'. It is/was the last analysis I did on any Jin Yong related material.
    Last edited by Athena; 12-09-16 at 05:07 PM.
    So huge, so hopeless, to conceive
    As these that twice befell
    Parting is all we know of heaven
    And all we need of hell.

    Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

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    Guo Xiang was the legendary founder of the E Mei School in Jin Yong’s universe, but most readers of the books recognize Guo Xiang as the youngest daughter of Guo Jing and Huang Rong. She was the girl who inherited almost all the finest qualities of her parents, and she served as almost the only female protagonist in the final few chapters of ROCH (and also the heroine in the first two chapters of HSDS. Her name echoed through the later chapters of HSDS, as the founder of E Mei. Apart from knowing who she was as the age of 16 and 19, little is revealed about her in her later years. How did she found E Mei? What kind of a teacher was she? Or did she change from a zesty and free-spirited young girl to a frowning and stern Buddhist nun? There will be analysis on her personality, her love for Yang Guo and some of the rules of E Mei to see how much she shaped the ideology of E Mei.

    Guo Xiang was a very optimistic, sassy and courageous girl, who was not afraid to speak her mind. But she was certainly not rash and impudent like her elder sister. She was unafraid to go against the orthodox and conventional way of thinking; in fact in her own home she was even (in)famous of being quite similar to her grandfather, Huang Yaoshi. She did not pay attention to how a typical girl of that time should behave. Apart from being unorthodox, she was also courageous, as evidenced as going to meet the Shendiao Xia, looking for Yang Guo on her own, roaming the realm just to get some news about Yang Guo again. She even defended Jueyuan and Zhang Junbao; thinking that they were being bullied by Shaolin monks. She did not rely on her special status as the daughter of Guo Jing and Huang Rong as leverage in her dispute with Shaolin. Her independence and courage stemmed from her determination, and her unwillingness or even stubbornness to yield to the consensus. She fought or did things for what she felt right, and because her overall good personality and a working moral compass her actions were right.

    A girl like Guo Xiang was very privileged; her parents were the most respected and admired heroes of the time. Guo Jing and Huang Rong may not have been the perfect parents; they could certainly provide a good environment for their children compared to most children of that time (with or without a Wulin background). It can be assumed that she enjoyed a relatively happy childhood, and with a combination of her radiant personality she was a carefree girl with an optimistic attitude towards life. Although she started of as a girl full with optimism, she lost a bit of that optimism as a result of her love with Yang Guo. It was a love that was unrequited. That unrequited love for Yang Guo turned into a melancholy that gnawed at her. At the end of ROCH, she was not as carefree and positive as she was in the earlier chapters. She was even more melancholic in the first two chapters of HSDS; she recited several poems two poems that were quite sad. The most famous one would be the same one that Li Mochou recited. This love for Yang Guo had made her into a darker person, and Yang Guo was practically engraved into her memory. She did not become obsessive or mad like Li Mochou, but she was not a happy person either. Guo Xiang’s story ended after the first two chapters of HSDS, Jin Yong never wrote about her adventures in life. However, it is common knowledge that her beloved parents and brother died in the final battle in Xiangyang. If her unrequited love for Yang Guo put a shade on her personality, the death of her dear family would have been even a greater impact on her. It is hardly likely that she would remain happy and positive after this great tragedy, and most likely the death of her loved ones would have cast a greater shadow on her personality.

    Later in life, Guo Xiang became a Buddhist nun, and according to the Wudang founder, Zhang Sanfeng and his disciple, Yu Lianzhou, at the age of forty Guo Xiang had an epiphany and decided to leave the secular world behind her. E Mei was founded after her spiritual rebirth. What inspired Guo Xiang to look at Buddhism? Most likely it was reverend Jueyuan; Jueyuan with his Jiuyang Scriptures not only helped to co-found the martial arts principles of the E Mei School, he was also partially responsible for the spiritual foundations of E Mei. Jueyuan was reciting Buddhist scriptures while doing his punishment and one particular part managed to capture the attention of Guo Xiang. The reason she approached Jueyuan was to ask him to explain that section to her and how this can be achieved, but she never got a chance to ask that question. It is fair to assume that after suffering from the pain of losing her family, she wanted to learn how to deal with that grief. She was certainly not the only character in the Jin Yong universe to do so; Princess Changping of the Ming Dynasty becomes a Buddhist nun too. Changping lost her lover, her family, her empire and her arm; Buddhism became Changping’s hope for finding an answer to her misery. Probably, Buddhism to Guo Xiang was not so much of a path to enlightenment but a path of finding peace and solace.

    Enlightenment is a common topic in Jin Yong’s work, as the author is a strong believer in Buddhism. This realisation or attaining enlightenment for either Buddhist monks or Taoist priests is a leitmotif in his novels. The Old Sweeper Monk, Jiumozhi after he lost his martial arts and reverend Yideng are just a few who become really at peace with everything. But did Guo Xiang achieve the same level of clarity and peace she sought? Based on the limited information in the HSDS, it is difficult to say so, but there are hints that she did not. There are at least four clues that would hint to her not being able to forget her secular life and love. Her disciple’s Buddhist name was Fengling. It is the same name (and characters) of the place where she first heard about Yang Guo; her disciple was named in honour of that first encounter. The second clue was the name of an E Mei sword stance. Guo Xiang created that stance in memory of her adventure with Yang Guo to hunt for the black little fox. Then, the E Mei leadership ring had the characters ‘Bequeathed to Daughter Xiang’ engraved into it. It was probably a piece of jewellery her parents gave her; and it was said to have been made of Xuantie (Heavy Iron as in the Heavy Iron Sword). Perhaps, it was made of the leftover metal when the Dragon-Slaying Sabre was forged. Maybe to Guo Xiang that ring symbolised the love and care she received from Yang Guo and her late parents, and by wearing it she felt that she narrowed the distance between herself and her beloved ones who were either deceased or missing. The final indication was her search for the Dragon-Slaying Sabre. For her, it was probably more of a final mission she set herself to finish on behalf of her parents and not for personal ambitions. If she were truly enlightened like the Old Sweeper Monk or Jiumozhi who lost his martial arts, she would not care that much about her past life and secular affairs. Because she did care, so it seemed unlikely she became truly enlightened and detached from her past.

    The E Mei School in the later chapters of HSDS was said to be one of the four orthodox martial arts schools in the realm, and Miejue Shi-tai was the third leader of E Mei. As one of the four leading martial arts schools, E Mei came across as both intolerant and under Zhou Zhiruo’s leadership as downright vicious. What was so different about E Mei? The E Mei School had its set of rules and practices that seemed a bit peculiar and strange to most readers. One of those rules was that every year on Guo Xiang’s birthday, female E Mei disciples had to roll up their sleeves and show their vermillion seal (the mark of virginity) to their teacher and/or leader for inspection. Another role was that only either Buddhist nuns or secular unmarried female E Mei disciples could assume leadership of E Mei. Male disciples and married female disciples were not even considered. A third rule was that male disciples were not taught the best techniques of E Mei. But this rule could have been a personal rule of Miejue, as her martial arts brother Gu Hongzi, was said to be a renowned martial arts expert. This either could mean that Guhong Zi was a martial arts prodigy that could excel with everything except the best martial arts of E Mei or that he was indeed taught superior arts of E Mei by his teacher. The latter explanation seems more plausible. On the surface, those rules seem rigid and too orthodox for Guo Xiang, but rules and laws are created to set guidelines. The Peach Blossom Island probably had its set of own rules; the Carefree Sect had their own set of rules; the Ming Cult had its fair share of rules and regulations that were both orthodox and unorthodox. All of these schools celebrated their own carefree or unorthodox nature, but all had a set rules for their own disciples. In the case of E Mei’s chastity inspection, the readers are never told what the reason was for the rule. The rule could be to protect but also to prohibit a Buddhist sect of women from being bullied or indulging. Is it that much stranger than rules of Shaolin or Ming Cult from eating meat or for the Ming Cult in Persia to burn their sacred maidens if they lose their virginity? So, E Mei’s check on the vermillion chastity seal was not too radical. The leadership of E Mei was only for Buddhist nuns or unmarried women and not for married female disciples or the male disciples. This rule is not so strange, as this was a sect for women. The female population in Wulin was not strongly represented, and most martial artists in the realm were a bit condescending or downright sexist. E Mei was founded by a woman and probably intended for mostly women. Yang Guo once said in the presence of Guo Xiang that although most people believed that men were more important than women, he believed women were more important than men. Guo Xiang might have shared that topic; she acted rather as a feminist at Shaolin. It is also possible that this form of independence and feminism was natural and straightforward to Guo Xiang; however as it is passed along it might have become distorted. The need to stand out amongst a world of men could harden many women. The young Guo Xiang was a girl that never bothered that much with gender and felt that what men could do women could do as well. It is not impossible that these character traits of Guo Xiang were passed onto her disciples and school and her disciples misread or misinterpreted the personality of Guo Xiang.

    Enlightenment and sudden realisation might be an occurring theme in Jin Yong novels, but the number of people who actually reach that level is rare. So even if Guo Xiang did not reach that level of ‘letting go’, it is not surprising. There were a few characters that went through that sudden realisation: Jiumozhi, Xiao Yuanshan, Murong Bo and Xie Xun. With the exception of Jiumozhi, all of the others there is no mentioning whether they became truly detached from their secular lives or not. Although with Xie Xun there was a mentioning at the end of HSDS that he became enlightened. With that being said, there is no real contradiction in being both enlightened and slightly attached to one’s previous life. Reverend Yideng still had slight worries about Dali Kingdom at the end of ROCH; that was why Ci’en went to gather some news for his teacher and encountered the Golden Wheel Monk. Furthermore, Yideng still felt slightly apologetic towards Yinggu but not as much as in LOCH. Jiunan (Princess Changping) was far from enlightened and was guided by her hatred towards the Manchus, Li Zicheng and Wu Sangui. Even Taoist grandmasters like Wang Chongyang and Zhang Sanfeng were not completely detached from their emotional ties. It is also a little unfair to compare the above characters to characters readers only know as Buddhist monks or Taoist priests from the beginning. It is easy to say that Abbot Fangzheng of Shaolin and Dingxian Shi-tai are enlightened and wise, because there were no background stories for them. They were specifically written to be wise and kind.

    Guo Xiang started out as a girl with a youthful ebullience, but as she grew older she suffered from a series of emotional setbacks and she was engulfed by melancholy. She hoped to find solace somewhere and somehow and Buddhism could have become that beacon of hope she needed after losing everything. There are no clear hints to find out what kind of a person or Buddhist nun Guo Xiang became. However, based on the above it is possible that she became a saddened soul who tried very hard to use Buddhist philosophies to cope with her grief. Perhaps every time she thought of Yang Guo or her parents and family, she would recite Buddhist mantras to cope with the pain.
    Last edited by Athena; 12-10-16 at 12:54 AM.
    So huge, so hopeless, to conceive
    As these that twice befell
    Parting is all we know of heaven
    And all we need of hell.

    Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

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    Nice article!

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    Interesting article. Guo Xiang will have to solve her own problem(s) if any.

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    I often feel that the Golden Wheel Monk might have had a role in influencing Gwok Seung's later interest in Buddhism...also the Shaolin monks Gok Yeun and Mo Sik.

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    Athena, I think a lot of the reasoning you give is very reasonable for real life circumstances, but in literature it shouldn't hold as much weight. I think all those weird rules and regulations really should be taken at face value and should more or less be attributed with Guo Xiang. Otherwise, why even bother associating her with the sect and not just establish it as a major sect that readers just accept? We could make endless assumptions but the most likely one should be that the author intended a message rather than throwing us a random red herring.

    Her descendants could very well have misrepresented her ideas, but it seems more likely the Emei sect was written like that for a reason -- I'm of the camp that thinks Guo Xiang really did become a old nun that tried not to hate men / be sexist, but she simply couldn't leave her past behind. She was given a few chapters to herself in HSDS and she already seemed quite sad and melancholy, and then you add in the character of Miejue, I can't imagine she lived to be a female equivalent of happy old Zhang Sanfeng.

    I do agree though that her emotional suffering wasn't solely due to Yang Guo (and it might not even be the largest factor), but it was due to her being a teenager yearning for him, losing her family whom she extremely loved, and having no idea what to do with herself afterwards.

    In order to receive the Heaven Sword she must have met up with some sort of survivor to pass her the weapon and information, and I'm sure that probably lead to another few years of mopey behavior at the tender teenage age. She had a really sad, crappy life starting from the end of ROCH while in her teenage years, and I really wouldn't be surprised she never really grew emotionally despite her intelligence (which allowed her to create Emei arts).

    Hope my post didn't sound too disagreeable, always enjoy your posts.
    Last edited by tape; 12-10-16 at 03:26 AM.

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    Senior Member Athena's Avatar
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    Tape, you're too kind and I agree with you.

    I don't think Guo Xiang became an enlightened Buddhist nun. Guo Xiang would probably resemble Princess Changping; she is a nun that still lingers onto the past. Although I don't think she would be as haughty and extreme as Jiunan. She certainly isn't a Zhang Sanfeng. She cannot let go by naming her disciple and sword stance after Yang Guo.

    My entire paragraph about E Mei's rules was more or less intended for a discussion years ago where people suggested that those rules were typical trademarks of extreme feminism and man hating behavior. I would like to argue that every sect or school has its own set of rules; some are reasonable some are not. I don't think it is fair to look at the rules and then suggest that Guo Xiang became a man-hating Buddhist nun.
    So huge, so hopeless, to conceive
    As these that twice befell
    Parting is all we know of heaven
    And all we need of hell.

    Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    I noticed an increase of aggressive, belligerent behavior on Gwok Seung's part during her appearance early in HSDS. While it wouldn't be accurate to say that she had become like her older sister Gwok Fu, she did seem to noticeably lean that way much more than she had during her appearances in ROCH.

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    While GX may not reach enlightenment, it is possible that GX embrace Buddhism fully = letting go, impermanence. Hence, she may not be as "sad" as we envisage her.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wkeej View Post
    While GX may not reach enlightenment, it is possible that GX embrace Buddhism fully = letting go, impermanence. Hence, she may not be as "sad" as we envisage her.
    Possible but not very likely as described by Athena (see Fengling and the name of the sword stance.).

    @Athena: Great article.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Athena View Post
    How do you solve a problem like Guo Xiang?
    I think GX was young and had hormone problems.

    Remember, her grandfather was having it too when he was young coupled with lack of self control couldn't resist MCF, but as he aged he had no problem with Cheng Ying.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Athena View Post
    I don't think it is fair to look at the rules and then suggest that Guo Xiang became a man-hating Buddhist nun.
    I don't get it. How do you become a man-hating Buddhist nun when you follow the teaching of the Buddha who is a man. Only way I see it is that this practitioner fire-deviate on the spiritual path.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Athena View Post
    she would not care that much about her past life and secular affairs. Because she did care, so it seemed unlikely she became truly enlightened and detached from her past.
    There is different degree of enlightenment you know (10%, 20%,...100%). Being truly enlightened is like achieving the impossible and become a Buddha. Yet all this time I thought GX was a Buddhist nun practitioner and still in apprenticeship.

    Regardless, I think GX had an ego problem. She kept demanding that YG should love her and pay attention to her. That's why she was always in trouble, always disappointed, and always in misery.

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    Re Panda: I am not sure on what you are trying to argue with me. But to address your points:

    First you mention that it was hormonal problem and it is an ego problem. I was approaching the character from a psycho-analytical literary analysis. You are using real-life scenarios to explain fictional characters, so there is room for differing opinions on her.

    As for Buddhist enlightenment, I am quite aware of the different stages of Buddhism; namely they are called Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anāgāmi, and Arahat and don't really work in percentages. Guo Xiang probably achieved some form of catharsis, but she still lingered on to her past.

    Look I wrote this article years ago when people speculated that Guo Xiang as a Buddhist nun could turn into someone like Lin Chaoying or Li Mochou. I found that a bit difficult to accept, so I just dug into the books and tried to find some supporting details from the novels to do a literary character analysis.
    So huge, so hopeless, to conceive
    As these that twice befell
    Parting is all we know of heaven
    And all we need of hell.

    Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Athena View Post

    As for Buddhist enlightenment, I am quite aware of the different stages of Buddhism; namely they are called Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anāgāmi, and Arahat and don't really work in percentages. Guo Xiang probably achieved some form of catharsis, but she still lingered on to her past.
    Yes, there are different stages of enlightenment, and in each stage there are many substages. You used the term fully and truly, so I don't see what's wrong with using 100% to describe someone who is fully enlightened, whereas 10% for partially enlightened. The Buddha also like to use numbers to describe things too: the four noble truths; the eightfold path.

    Quote Originally Posted by Athena View Post

    Look I wrote this article years ago when people speculated that Guo Xiang as a Buddhist nun could turn into someone like Lin Chaoying or Li Mochou. I found that a bit difficult to accept, so I just dug into the books and tried to find some supporting details from the novels to do a literary character analysis.
    So from your literary character analysis, what makes you think that GX had better self control of her personal emotions than LCY OR LMC?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Athena View Post
    Perhaps every time she thought of Yang Guo or her parents and family, she would recite Buddhist mantras to cope with the pain.
    I don't get it. Did GJ need to recite Buddhist mantras to cope with the pain every time he thought of his mother in ROCH? Just because GX was a nun, you don't have to make that assumption.

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    I have my own alternate theory for what happened with Gwok Seung later in her life. It's sometimes assumed that Gwok Seung grew bitter in her later years because she was never able to find, let alone establish a lasting relationship with Yeung Gor, but I've begun to think that Yeung Gor wasn't the *direct* cause.

    What I think really got at Gwok Seung was that *because* she was consumed by her pursuit of Yeung Gor, she wasn't there with her family at Seung Yeung Fortress when they were killed in the final battle against the Mongols. Certainly, from a practical point of view, Gwok Seung would not have been able to do much to aid her parents, siblings, and their allies, and likely would have just ended up as one more casualty of the battle. According to wulin hero standards, though, she probably believed that she should have been there to at least die alongside her family rather than chase her personal romantic dreams as they were slaughtered.

    I'm guessing that Gwok Seung became embittered not because she could never have Yeung Gor, but because pursuing him caused her to be absent in her family's most desperate hour. Her regret over her failure to fight/die alongside her family probably caused her greater lasting pain than not getting Yeung Gor, who, Gwok Seung herself acknowledged, loved only Little Dragon Girl.

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    I agree with tape that based on what we see of HSDS-era Emei secet, it doesn't speak well of Guo Xiang. However, I believe it's more of a reflection of JY's bias against women. I quote something profound that kidd said:

    JY girls/women consist of 2 categories only
    - girls/women who are very devoted to her man
    - girls/women who went psycho because she's hurt by her man.

    Indeed, the vast majority of JY women with any significance in the story falls into one of the two (or both) narrow buckets. I believe JY cast the same limit on GX.
    忽见柳荫下两个小孩子在哀哀痛哭,瞧模样正是武敦儒、武修文兄弟。郭芙大声叫道:「喂,你们在干甚麽?」武 修文回头见是郭芙,哭道:「我们在哭,你不见麽?」

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    Couple years late to the party, but as an ABC who grew up only watching the TVB series', I found OP's analysis illuminating. Fun thread, thanks the for the effort.

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