Literature / The Deer and the Cauldron

Wei Xiaobao is the lazy, uncouth, trouble-making ne'er-do-well son of a prostitute who does nothing but hang around all day, whether it be the halls of the Lichun Court brothel or the streets of Yangzhou, making questionable friends. This has only bitten him in the ass on two major occasions. One day, he chances upon some educated-looking men in dire danger and offers to shield them from the bloodthirsty authorities - after which he learns that they're all with La Résistance, and ends up entangled in their plot to dismantle the monarchy. His new (unwanted) mission - find a mysterious document somewhere in the Forbidden City known only as the 42 Scriptures, by applying to be the pageboy of a high-ranking eunuch, which proves to be a little less cushy than expected. Knowing he can still survive on favors, Wei Xiaobao smooth talks his way into the good graces of everyone from the chambermaids to the captain of the guard, and befriends a young boy named Xuan Luo... then, to Xiaobao's surprise, he discovers that Xuan Luo is the current Emperor.

So begin Wei Xiaobao's life as a reluctant pawn of both the revolutionaries and the Emperor, trying to stay alive as he constantly finds himself the target of innumerable attempts to kill him. Meanwhile, he travels around China in search of great treasure and adds more and more women to his growing harem.

The Deer and the Cauldron (also known as The Duke of Mount Deer) is the second to last work of Jin Yong that plays with, if not outright breaks, quite a bit of the author's previous Wuxia conventions.

This book shows examples of:

  • 42: The 42 Scriptures that everyone (by which we mean everyone) is scheming for.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Wei Xiaobao picks up a dagger that can cut through anything. It's even referred to as being able to "slice iron like mud" in lieu of being a Named Weapon.
  • Abusive Parents: Or foster parent in the case of Jiunan, the One-Armed Nun and her treatment of A-Ke, whom she practically raised. Training her in several known styles to mask her origins only led to her mastering incomplete techniques. It was all part of Jiunan's plan to set her loose on Wu Sangui, her father.
  • Action Girl:
    • Fang Yi of the Mu estate, who's considered Hot-Blooded for women of her time.
    • Zeng Rou, who's often confused with Fang Yi for their parallel origins (she's from the Wangwu group, founded by a Ming officer, as opposed to the Mu estate which is headed by a Ming aristocrat), down to heading sneak attacks alongside the men.
    • Dark Action Girl: Wife of the Dragon Sect leader, Su Quan, who's far more well-versed in the odd clawing-based martial arts that Empress impersonator Mao Dongzhu nearly killed Wei with at least once. A-Ke veers into this, being trained as an assassin since young, but ultimately subverts it as her sensei Jiunan was just using her for revenge.
  • Adaptation Origin Connection: Some live action versions deliberately bump up Shuang Er to Wei's childhood friend, most likely to ensure he has a Morality Pet.
  • Adapted Out: Due to time constraints or several other constraints, some live action versions like Stephen Chow's Royal Tramp movies fail to include all seven wives.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: It's arguable how much the Lichun Court brothel counts as a "base", but the Dragon Sect infiltrate it, take all the women hostage and impersonate all the staff to lay a trap for Wei and the royals behind him.
  • Anti-Hero: Wei Xiaobao.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: One of Wei's new friends is Shaolin abbot Chengguan, trained in identifying and figuring out counterattacks to every known martial arts style. He's the first one to work out that A-Ke was trained in several incomplete styles to mask her origins (as Jiunan's disciple). Trying to figure out something he could teach Wei Xiaobao nearly gives him an aneurysm though.
  • Babies Ever After: Subverted. Three of the seven bear Wei Xiaobao's babies, but they're still on the run after Wei was outed as part of La Résistance, and the story's far from over.
  • Badass Grandpa: For some reason all of the strongest martial artists are some of the oldest characters as well. Hai Dafu is a mostly blind old eunuch with a martial arts skill that only ever has a lethal setting; Ao Bai is a war veteran with a combat record dripping in blood and a bristly beard; the One-Armed Nun is secretly the princess of the former monarchy and last living remnant of a dead dynasty. Dragon Sect leader Hong Antong could suppress a room full of people with just his Battle Aura in his heyday - in present day he can kill someone while under the effect of crippling poisons.
  • Bad Boss: Quite a few, but Dragon Sect leader Hong Antong takes the cake for keeping his legions under his thumb by drugging and poisoning them.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk: Any time the legendary Shaolin temple is involved in the storyline, you're going to see these. In this case, the Qing Emperor's authority has summoned their best of the best, designated as the Four Great Iron Monks. Interestingly, an opposing faction of similar martial artists hailing from Tibet (yes, martial arts lamas) join the already growing violent conflict.
  • Battle Butler:
    • Fang Yi to Mu Jianping.
    • Zheng Keshuang has Feng Xifan, a boss-level martial artist so dangerous you have to wonder why Zheng isn't a more dangerous individual under his tutelage.
  • Beard of Evil: Ao Bai, something that every Live-Action Adaptation has faithfully agreed on.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Wei Xiaobao blunders his way into several historical events, including the signing of the first equal treaty between China and a foreign power and being the first to step foot on an island that later fell into dispute between China and Japan.
  • Benevolent Boss: Chen Jinnan of the Heaven and Earth sect is practically A Father to His Men.
  • Blood Knight: Ao Bai is the typical "war hero in peacetime" archetype - much of his actions involve goading the Emperor into authorizing the executions of people that he can't kill with his own hands.
  • Body Horror: The Dragon Sect leader has all his followers drugged with something that they have to keep taking or else it'll cause this. The Thin Monk has already been turned into a fat guy and the Fat Monk into a thin guy, and they got off lucky.
  • Bondage Is Bad: Princess Jian Ning is one of the most open characters about her love of BDSM out of all of Jin Yong's characters... and she certainly is one of the more insane characters of the series. But at the same time, Xiaobao plays along with it...
  • Book Dumb: Wei Xiaobao, who is illiterate and constantly recites idioms incorrectly. However...
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: He doesn't want to put any effort into study or practice, as he has proven more than enough times that he's certainly smart enough to learn.
  • Broken Bird: A-Ke by the last quarter of the story.
  • Chekhov's Armoury:
    • After Ao Bai is dealt with, the Emperor puts Wei in charge of Ao Bai's estate, which includes the cash that starts up Xiaobao's fortune, and a number of items that come into use later, like the first Bulletproof Vest. Hai Dafu also leaves behind a number of drugs and powders after his demise.
    • It's testament to Wei's Brilliant, but Lazy nature that he finds use for a dozen other people's gimmicks for himself down the line, like scattering slaked lime to blind people, or just drugging them from the large pot of sedatives in his growing inventory.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Actual guns, a gift to Wei Xiaobao from Wu Sangui, which get separated and used in several occasions like Jianning castrating Wu's own son.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Wei Xiaobao is incredibly foul-mouthed. Of course, this is for the effect of showing the readers that Wei Xiaobao is an uneducated boy who was raised in a red light district.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The volumes of the 42 Chapters will often have punny names to assign colors to them. Some live action versions go a step further by actually coloring them that way.
  • Continuity Nod: Most notably to The Sword Stained with Royal Blood. The "great master" that saved Shuang-er and the survivors of the Zhuang estate is implied to be He Tieshou; and one of the prominent characters, the One-Armed Nun, is a surviving Princess Changping.
  • Cool Old Guy: One of Wei Xiaobao's earliest allies is Duke Kang, the Emperor's own uncle. Shuang-er's foster father Uncle Guang is a subversion as Wei is constantly keeping him out of trouble and gambling debt until his connection with Hai Dafu is revealed.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Liu Yizhou, who pursues Wei Xiaobao in rage after overhearing Fang Yi's conversation, who mentioned Xiaobao "had seen her body" and "slept on the same bed with her". It doesn't end well for Yizhou.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: The Imperial Court.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • Our first real look at what Liu Yishou is made of, when he leads a sneak attack on the palace to Frame-Up the visiting Wu Sangui, only to duck into a corner and avoid the actual carnage. He still gets captured for it.
    • Zheng Keshuang turns out to be an even more flagrant one. He falls for A-Ke immediately and agrees to follow her to the temple to hunt down Wei Xiaobao, but then realizes they're greatly outmatched when a Shaolin monk (yes, one guy) can hold them off. The next thing he does is wait till A-Ke is beaten and laid out cold, then flee.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The seemingly unkillable General Ao Bai, whose death ingratiates Wei Xiaobao to the Emperor and kickstarts the plot.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Liu Yizhou to Fang Yi (Latent Jealousy type), Zheng Keshuang to A Ke (Evil All Along type).
  • Disposing of a Body: They actually predate Breaking Bad with a powder Hai Dafu uses to melt down dead bodies by applying to the fatal wounds.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: One of Wei's "treasures" acquired on his trips is apparently Japanese shunga art, which he uses on Qing officers while he substitutes the captive Chen Jinnan, moments before his execution, for living loose end Feng Xifan.
  • Dramatic Irony: Shuang-Er's faithfulness to Wei Xiaobao has led to several of his new friends asking her if she has any more like her at home. She's actually a war orphan, so the answer is a very pointed no.
  • Evil Cripple:
    • Hai Dafu, an old eunuch with some terminal conditions (only made worse when Wei tries to poison him and just leaves him blind instead) and the lethal Bone-Melting Palm skill, Bad Boss to boot, and not even the biggest threat in the story.
    • Dragon Sect leader Hong Antong needs a little help getting onto his feet due to his advanced years... but is powerful enough to kill someone from the comfort of his seat anyways.
  • Fallen Princess: Jiunan, formerly Princess Changping, daughter of the last Ming emperor Chongzhen. Her younger self is a major character in Sword Stained with Royal Blood, another work of Jin Yong.
  • First Girl Wins: Zigzagged. Wei Xiaobao does have a childhood sweetheart, Shuang-Er, and by the end of the story they're still together... along with six others. Still, Shuang-Er remains the best-known and well-loved of all of them.
  • Frame-Up: A corrupt official sets up the head of the Zhuang estate for possessing artifacts from the fallen Ming dynasty, and has the entire family and any followers and servants imprisoned, just after Shuang-Er became one of their maids.
  • Gambit Pileup: Grabbing the 42 chapters is just the one goal that the dozen or so different factions are after at the same time - there's also the death of Wu Sangui, the restoration of the Ming dynasty, as vague as it seems since there's like three estates after said throne, and ultimately control of all China is at stake. Wei Xiaobao is responsible for damage control at an international level (as well as some of the damage considering he holds several conflicting positions of power) as he has to prevent them from even knowing each others' existence, but as the Chinese saying goes, you cannot use paper to wrap a fire...
  • Genre Deconstruction: Of Wuxia.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: The 42 Chapters (fortunately it's less than 42 parts that have to be found).
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Wei Xiaobao learns, sometimes firsthand, that both the royal court and the revolutionaries are ready to do some very terrible things for what they believe in. And that's not counting the number of outside forces that have China in their sights...
  • Groin Attack: Wei Xiaobao convinces Princess Jianning to go along with her unwanted betrothal to the son of Wu Sangui, by getting her to set him up for rape on their wedding night. To sell it further, he passes her one of the two guns gifted to him, which she uses on her new husband the best way she can.
  • Handicapped Badass: Jiunan, the One-Armed Nun. Says it all, really.
  • Heroic Bastard: Wei Xiaobao.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Despite growing up in a brothel, Wei Xiaobao has remained savvily immune to all the prostitutes' charms, saving all his genuine affection for... okay, there's seven of them, but the point still stands.
    • According to Shaolin abbot Chengguan, A-Ke has the potential to be a martial arts prodigy if she was able to learn enough techniques from different schools to mask her origins (just not well enough to evade his analysis). Unfortunately it's really the result of her sensei being irresponsible.
  • Historical-Domain Character: The Emperor Kangxi and several prominent members of the imperial court.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Being raised by the mostly resentful and at best indifferent Jiunan has turned A-Ke into one.
  • I Am Not Your Father: Turns out Princess Jianning is really the child of the woman impersonating the Empress and the Thin Monk, which would make her... nothing, really.
  • I Gave My Word: When attacked in mid-travel by Zeng Rou and the Wangwu soldiers, Wei manages to turn the tables on them, but gives them a shot at their freedom by joining the gambling table already laid out. And he does set them free when they win. Zeng Rou is won over this way.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: At some point the "slice iron like mud" knife started getting treated like one. The most telling incident is when Wei is forced to stab the Qing captain of the guard Duolong in the back, to let the Heaven and Earth sect escape... and apparently the wound is so clean that Duolong survives.
  • The Ingenue: Mandarin princess Mu Jianping.
  • In-Series Nickname: The aliases used by Wei Xiaobao and Emperor Kang Xi to sneak around the Forbidden City under the radar, Xiaoguizi and Xiaoxuanzi respectively, get recycled into this eventually.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Princess Jian Ning and Wei Xiaobao's relationship. With a whip. And candles. Yikes.
  • Kavorka Man: It's easy to forget that Wei Xiaobao is foul-mouthed, uneducated, a massive coward who seldom leaves a good first impression, yet he has rightfully earned the genuine affection of seven women. The Adaptational Attractiveness from some of the China-made series doesn't help.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: One underrated aspect of Wei Xiaobao is the ever-growing number of useful items he "picks up" in the course of his adventures.
  • La Résistance: The Ming loyalists during Qing rule are actually a recurring trope in many literary works set in this period. In this case, they're apparently the first major one given how early the Qing dynasty is, and they're named the Heaven and Earth Sect.
    • A secret night meeting reveals that there's quite a few such like-minded groups - the Zheng estate from Taiwan, the Mu estate, the Wangwu group and some smaller ones. Unfortunately they can't work together without snapping at each others' throats.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: Wei Xiaobao figures out that Hai Dafu's corpse-melting powder can remain active for a while, and gets the idea to bait one of the pursuing Bare-Fisted Monk lamas with one of the 42 Scriptures still covered in it. By the time the lama figures it out, his finger bones are already visible, and he has to lop off the whole hand.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: Several, from the classic '70s Pragmatic Adaptation that turned Tony Leung into a star to the movies starring Stephen Chow.
  • Living Macguffin: One of Ao Bai's political prisoners is actually a Russian friar-cum-scientist, credited with researching Chinese fireworks and channeling them to create the handgun.
  • Love at First Sight: Wei Xiaobao's reaction when he meets A Ke at Shaolin Temple.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: A-Ke was the child of Chen Yuanyuan and Wu Sangui, the man she was raised to kill. Or be killed by. Jiunan didn't really care either way. At least until the truth got out... that A-Ke's father was actually Li Zhicheng, the man who abducted Chen Yuanyuan and caused Wu to ally with the Manchu empire in the first place. Jiunan literally cast her out on the streets when she found out.
  • MacGuffin: The 42 Scriptures again. On the surface, they're a geomancy guide to the leylines and other geographical mumbo-jumbo supposedly responsible for the strength and longevity of the Qing Empire, but uniting all the chapters (or rather, the sheepskin map fragments hidden in the covers, something Wei figures out ahead of time thanks to the One-Armed Nun) will reveal the location of a much more mundane source of power - ancient buried treasure.
  • Marital Rape License: Despite quite a bit of Values Dissonance elsewhere, this one is apparently invalid on the actual wedding night, as Princess Jianning not only sets up Wu Yingxiong for rape, but blasts his parts off in "self defense".
  • Marry Them All: What Wei Xiaobao had in mind, pretty much ever since the beginning. With all seven of his love interests. In his defense, people in those days could do that, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.
  • The Mole: Wei Xiaobao has gotten out of one scrape after another by claiming to be one for whichever is convenient at the time. He ends up holding several official titles; but it's a lot less funny considering the number of actual moles out there. One is eventually responsible for the death of Chen Jinnan.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Drinking and gambling tend to follow Wei Xiaobao around well before his seven wives did.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Wei Xiaobao often receives terrible reminders that he's not Born Lucky like much of the text would have you believe. He brings up Uncle Guang in front of Hai Dafu without knowing anything of their shared history, and this leads to Uncle Guang's death.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Fat Monk, who is thin, and the Thin Monk, who is fat. Wei Xiaobao lampshades this. It turns out a drug's side effect caused those changes to their appearances.
  • Numerical Theme Naming: Wei Xiaobao's first three children are born during the refugee chapter, and he ends up naming them with dice throws. We're not even kidding.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Kang Xi does come across as too young to be Emperor, specifically because his father, Emperor Shun De abdicated the crown directly to him before disappearing. Tracking him down forms its own story arc as Wei has to (very unwillingly) infiltrate a monastery. As a monk.
    • Some takes on the story have Wei's mother telling him his real father walked out on them (and that's assuming she knows who that is.)
  • Parental Substitute: Having eked it out with just his mother in his life, Wei has been subconsciously latching on to these just as much as his seven wives, from Uncle Guang to Chen Jinnan, Duke Kang and particularly the One-Armed Nun.
  • The Quisling: Wu Sangui, one of most prominent examples in China's history.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Wei Xiaobao, Wei Xiaobao... pretty much the only thing that keeps him in line is the Emperor himself.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The revolutionaries themselves, making them Fanfic Fuel of sorts when Wei Xiaobao spins tales about them as a sort of standup routine in the brothel. He earns revolutionary leader Chen Jinnan's respect this way, as any mention of the revolutionaries when royal courtiers are a part of your clientele can be a very bad idea.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Chen Yuanyuan in the backstory of the Qing empire itself. That's not an exaggeration - she was a concubine of Wu Sangui, a Ming official who thought he could get her back by allying with the growing Manchurian empire and basically selling out China. As her child A-Ke later proved, it's practically In the Blood.
  • The So-Called Coward: While Wei Xiaobao's first instinct is to run away (he even learns a martial art based entirely on running away), when push comes to shove he can be incredibly heroic.
  • Son of a Whore: Wei Xiaobao again.
  • Spoiled Brat: Princess Jian Ning, although she also tends to like being mistreated, since she's a masochist.
  • Stacy's Mom: Chen Yuan Yuan, who despite being a middle-aged woman still manages to be the most beautiful woman in any room (even outshining her own daughter). Wei Xiaobao tells her in all earnestness that she is most definitely a woman worth throwing away a country for.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Whichever of the seven wives that are already with Wei often have to keep under the radar this way. Sometimes repeatedly.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Shuang Er, under the tutelage of someone implied to be He Tieshou. With so many boss-level martial artists out there, she still rates a 4 out of a scale of 1 to 10, but in the time it took that's plenty.
    • Wei Xiaobao's time with the One-Armed Nun apparently taught him to find his courage, or failing that a good workaround - after the One-Armed Nun is incapacitated by a pursuing band of Bare-Fisted Monk lamas, Wei relies on his own quick wits and admittedly cowardly backstabbing, and kills off most of them!
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Liu Yizhou tries to sell Wei Xiaobao out when encountering some goonies from the Mystic Dragon Cult, who were seeking the latter, resulting in risking the lives of his lover and companions. Fang Yi decides to leave him afterwards.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: The ultimate example might very well be Princess Jian Ning. Wei Xiaobao hits her, and she likes it. She's very explicit in her adoration of BDSM.
  • To the Pain: The Manchurian empire supposedly carries out this form of torture, which is on record as having existed about two dynasties prior, and extends to lopping off the limbs. Wei is able to freak out a captive assailant this way, and it helps when you have an Absurdly Sharp Blade that can carry out said lopping off at a moment's notice. Of course Wei's too much of a wimp to do it for real, but it's the thought that counts.
  • Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: Deconstructed as Wei winds up bearing several opposing titles - Yellow Horse Envoy for the Qing Empire, Greenwood Hall leader for the Heaven and Earth Sect, White Dragon Emissary of the Mystic Dragon Cult, and those are just the top three.
  • Tsundere: A Ke, who is very hostile to Xiaobao initially, due to her not-so-good first impression of him.
  • Tyke Bomb: A Ke, who was kidnapped as an infant by her master, Jiunan, a former Ming princess, and raised as a tool to help her master get revenge on Wu Sangui, her real father.
  • Undying Loyalty: Shuang-Er to Wei Xiaobao. No contest.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Wei Xiaobao doesn't care for chivalry when his own life is own the line.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Subverted - of the seven wives, Su Quan was the only one already married to someone else, but it was a marriage she was forced into. It's the Dragon Sect leader so you can hardly blame her.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: When Hai Dafu suspects Wei Xiaobao of killing the guy who would've been his pageboy in his place, he keeps Wei under his thumb by hitting him with a supposedly slow-acting variant of his Bone-Melting Palm, with Tainted Veins and everything. The combined efforts of Wei's backers in La Résistance and whatever else Wei can scrape together to rectify this can take up their own arc.

As I was walking to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives...

Alternative Title(s): The Deer And The Cauldron

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/TheDeerAndTheCauldron?from=Main.TheDeerAndTheCauldron