Jin Yong's Ming Cult: A Historical Verification

*Written by Laviathan

The Ming Cult is a long-forgotten religion which had ceased to exist for centuries. In the past, it only drew the attention of a small number of scholars like archaeologists and historians. In the 1970's, wuxia novelist Louis Cha (Jin Yong) used this sect as a topic in his novel "Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber". Since then, the once obscure Ming Cult has become the center of attention of millions of readers. Jin Yong definitely did research on the historical Ming Cult for his novel, studying books on the subject, including the history of certain secret religious movements which had connections with the Ming Cult. The Ming Cult followers and their activities in the novel, therefore, do match with historical facts. But fiction remains fiction, a wuxia novel is not a history book - Jin Yong's Ming Cult is therefore somewhat different from the historical Ming Cult.

The origins of the Ming Cult
What kind of religion was the Ming Cult? In chapter 25 of the novel, Zhang Wuji read a book written by Yang Xiao called "Record of the Spread of the Ming Cult in China", in which it is mentioned:

"The Ming Cult originated in Persia and its' original name was Mani Cult. It was introduced in China during the reign of Female Emperor Wu Zetian in the first year of Yanzai of the Tang dynasty. The Persians presented the Bible of Dualism to the court. Since then, the Chinese began to study this scripture - Ming Cult temples were erected in Chang'an and Luoyang named "Great Cloud Temple of Light". But in the third year of Huichang, the imperial government ordered the execution of Ming followers, the power of the cult was severely weakened. Since then, the Ming Cult became a banned religion - for survival, the Ming Cult was forced to operate in secret. Eventually the name of Monijiao (Mani Cult) was bastardized into Mojiao (Demon Sect)"

The founder of the Mani Cult was the prophet Mani (216- 276), who was born in the province Babylon which was under Persian rule. At the age of 12 and 24, Mani had visions where an angel told him that he would be the prophet of a last divine revelation. At the age of 26 Mani started on a long journey, where he stood forward as 'Messenger of Truth', and he traveled through the Persian Empire and reached as far as India, where he became influenced by Buddhism. Mani practiced under the protection of the Persian emperor, Shapur I, most of his life. As his teaching quickly gained ground, he came in opposition to the Zoroastrian priests, and with the emperor Bahram I from 274, Mani lost his protection, and he either died in prison or was executed. The death of Mani, is retold as an incident similar to the crucifixion of Jesus.

The teachings of Mani is called Manichaeism, it is a combination of Christianity, Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism and several other religious doctrines. Central in the Manichaean teaching was dualism, that the world itself, and all creatures, was part of a battle between the good, represented by the God of Light, and the bad, the darkness, represented by a power driven by envy and lust. These two powers were independent from each other, but in the world they were mixed. Most human beings were built from material from the bad power, but in everyone there was a divine light, which needed to be released from the dark material of the body. When the world and all creatures were created, the attacking darkness was mixed with some of the divine light. While the battle between light and darkness had been fought in cosmos until creation, creation made the world of man the new battleground. Everything that gives light in this world belongs to the divine realms, while everything that absorbs light, belongs to the darkness. The meaning of life is therefore the same as the meaning of the world, namely to participate on the divine side of this battle. Every man carries inside him a seed of light, and the only way to help free this seed from darkness is through the insight in the process of cosmic battle and insight in how to fight envy and lust.

Manichaeism spread out over most of the known world of the 1st millennium AD, from Spain to China. But the religion disappeared from the West in 10th century, and from China in the 14th century, and today it is extinct.

Manichaeism in China
It is generally accepted that Manichaeism was officially introduced in China during the reign of Wu Zetian in the year 694 AD (as mentioned in the novel). But some scholars claim that Manichaeism was already known in China prior to the reign of Empress Wu. For about 80 years, starting in 762, Manichaeism was the state religion of the Turkic people Uighurs, the powerful ally of the Tang Empire. With the backing of the Uighur Khans, Manichaeism became extremely influential in China and was considered the leader of the Three Foreign Religious Sects (Manichaeism, Nestorianism and Zoroastrianism). But with the decline of the Uighur Empire, the Ming Cult slowly lost power. In the third year of Huichang (843 AD) Tang emperor Wuzong officially banned the Mani Cult and its' followers were prosecuted. The cult members who escaped the oppression went into hiding and lost contact with the Mani Cult headquarters in the Western Regions.

In later generations Mani followers in China adapted the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, slowly forming a distinct form of Manichaeism with Chinese characteristics. It was during this period that the Mani Cult was named Ming Cult by its Chinese followers. Temples were erected in the style of Buddhist monasteries in order to avoid trouble. The temple on Huabiaoshan in Quanzhou City, Jinjiang Prefecture in Fujian Province is the only remaining Mani Temple in the world.

The Ming Cult was infamous for its' rebellious nature, during the Latter Liang dynasty (907-923). The Ming Cult started the Yi Mu Rebellion. During the Northern Song dynasty the Ming Cult was involved in many rebellious activities, especially in the South-Eastern provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian. The Ming Cult had a short revival during the Yuan dynasty when many people joined their ranks to fight the Mongolian government, but after the founding of the Ming dynasty in 1368, the cult slowly disappeared and eventually ceased to exist.

The Chinese Ming Cult and the Persian Ming Sect
In the novel, the Persian Ming Sect sent their Guardian Lords and Messengers to China to catch Golden Flower Granny, and even tried to take control of the Chinese Ming Cult with the Scepters of Holy Fire. The Chinese Ming Cult leader Zhang Wuji had to engage in battle with the Persians (chapter 29). But what is the true historical connection between the Persian Sect and the Chinese Cult?

According to historical research, after Mani's death in 276, many of his followers fled to the east and established a branch of Manichaeism in Central-Asia. In the 6th century, the faction in Central-Asia officially broke with the Persian headquarters in Babylon. The Mani religion was brought to China via the Silk Road by the members of this faction, not by its Persian counterpart. The headquarters of the Chinese Ming Cult was situated in Samarqand. So actually, the Chinese Ming followers didn't have connection with the Persian sect whatsoever. Furthermore, the story of Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber took place around 1360, during that time Manichaeism has become extinct in both Persia and Central-Asia where the Muslim faith had become the major religion. The Ming Cult in China was then the only Manichaeist movement of significance in the world.

So things like the Persian Ming Sect coming to China, their search for the Holy Virgin, Xiaochao going to Persia to become the leader of the Ming Sect etc. (chapter 30) couldn't have happened.

The Ming Cult and the Ming Dynasty
At the end of the novel, Zhu Yuanzhang managed to trick Zhang Wuji and seize power. When he became emperor, he named his dynasty Ming to honor the Ming Cult. But historically, Zhu Yuanzhang was a general under the command of Liu Futong. Liu Futong was a member of the White Lotus Sect, a semi-religious organization which was heavily influenced by the Ming doctrine. Liu Futong claimed that the son of White Lotus leader Han Shantong, Han Lin'er was the descendant of the Imperial House of the Song dynasty. He then proclaimed Han Lin'er as "Xiaomingwang" or Little King of Light (the King of Light is the same as the God of Light in Manichaeism), emperor of the new Song dynasty. After the death of Liu Futong, power slowly moved into the hands of Zhu Yuanzhang and Han Lin'er became just a puppet emperor. Zhu Yuanzhang then had Han Lin'er assassinated and became emperor. Zhu then named his dynasty the Ming dynasty to "honor" Xiaomingwang and to prove that he is the legitimate successor of Han Lin'er's throne. There's no historical evidence that Zhu Yuanzhang was a follower of the Ming Cult, nor is it certain that the dynastic name is really derived from the Ming Cult.

Furthermore, it is also mentioned in the novel that rebel leader Fang La of the Northern Song dynasty once was the leader of the Ming Cult. In the past, many scholars thought Fang La was indeed Manichaeist -- just because he was a vegetarian. In recent years, research has proved that Fang La had no connection with the Ming Cult at all.

The Ming Cult's traditions and customs
Regarding the traditions and customs of the Ming sect, Jin Yong did manage to describe it very correctly. Archaeological discoveries in North-West China have proved that many things in the novel were accurate, like Ming Cult members burying their corpses naked, etc. Jin Yong was respected and praised by many experienced archaeologists for it.

Some minor inconsistencies in the novel were:
1. About the prohibition of consuming meat and alcohol
In the novel, Zhang Wuji abolished the rules prohibiting cult members to eat meat and drink wine, due to the fact that food was scarce in war-torn China (chapter 25). Another reason given was that the headquarters of the Ming Cult was situated on Kunlunshan in Western China, an area where vegetables were scarce, to live a vegetarian life-style would therefore be difficult (chapter 23). This is of course incorrect. In the past, oases in the Western Regions produced large numbers of fruits, which is the ideal food for Ming Cult members (who saw fruit as the seed of Light). Furthermore, though food was scarce during the political turmoil at the end of the Yuan dynasty, Ming Cult members never abolished the rules concerning eating meat. The rules were strict and the level of discipline was high, only renegade Ming members would break the rules and eat meat.

2. Clothing
In the novel, Ming Cult members wore white robes with the symbol of the Holy Fire embroidered on it. Historically, priests of the Ming Cult indeed wore white robes and white hats. Laymen Ming members were not obliged to do this but they too like to wear white clothing. But the symbol of fire is solely an invention of Jin Yong.

3. The worship of fire
In Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber, Ming Cult members worshipped fire. In reality, although Manichaeism respects the Light, its' followers did not had any fire rituals. Fire-worshipping is an aspect of Zoroastrianism. The historical Ming Cult never had this sort of practice, so there was no reason to wear the symbol of fire on their clothing. For some reason, Jin Yong borrowed the Zoroastrian aspect of fire-worshipping and used it in his story to make the Manichaeist Ming Cult more interesting.

Some people notice the worshipping of fire in the novel and therefore conclude that the Ming Cult is Zoroastrian. I have written this article to try to correct this common-made mistake.

"Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber", Louis Cha
"Jin Yong bixiade Ming Jiao yu lishi de zhenshi", Lin Wu-Hsu
"Wo xin de Jin Yong lishi", Wang Yue
"Mani", Encyclopedia of the Orient
"Manichaeism", Encyclopedia of the Orient

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