About 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty (商朝), there was a military commander named Li Jin (李靖). Li Jing had a son called Nezha (哪吒) and oddly had no bathroom in his big mansion.
When Nezha was seven, on an unseasonably hot day in May, the boy told his mother he was going to take a bath in a river outside the town.
Nezha was accompanied by two guards, wore a yellow Universe Ring on his left arm and the red Cosmos Silk Towel around his tummy.
He quickly found a scenic river with aging willow trees lining up on the bank at Chengtang Pass.
The waterway where Nezha took bath called the Nine Bay River (九湾河) was the front gate to the blue palace of the marine empire in the East Sea.
When Nezha swam happily, his powerful red Cosmos Towel stirred the water around and caused earthquakes and gale storms in the blue house.
The prince of the marine empire thus led his navy force to capture Nezha.
Nezha defended himself by throwing his Universe Ring at the prince and killed him at once. When he dragged the marine warrior’s corpse to the shore, the guards were petrified with fear.
“OMG, do you know what you’ve done to the powerful marine lord?” they cried out.
The marine lord went to see Nezha’s father and told him he was going to obtain an order from heaven to punish the commander’s family.
Nezha rushed to a mountain cave to seek advice from his master Taiyi True Man and the Daoist told him to block the marine lord’s path to heaven.
Nezha launched himself like a missile towards the Gate of Assembly of Immortals where flowers bloom alongside the splendid Chinese-style verandahs with phoenixes flying around.
Before long, he spotted the marine lord and his entourage arriving by clouds.
Without an empty verbal warning, Mezha jumped forward and stroke the marine lord with his Universe Ring.
With his awesome Wudang kung fu taught by his Daoist master, Nezha kicked the powerful marine lord out of heaven to the ocean below.
The furious marine lord crushed into Nezha’s house and protested to his parents over the attack in heaven. “If I say all is well you know I’m lying,” he announced solemnly. “I’m seriously injured and you will have to pay for that!”
The marine lord told other lords in all seas: “I did you guys a big favour by standing up to that boy of terror, but right now the burden solely rests on me and that’s not fair. I think we should form an Alliance of Marine Lords and further expand the alliance by including the celestial army with a warrant for Nezha’s arrest. I actually have a name for the alliance. Nezha to jail, NETOJA.”
All agreed it was a beautiful name. So the NETOJA with an arrest warrant demanded Nezha’s parents to hand over their son or face the consequence of having their entire estate destroyed.
Li Jing was exasperated by Nezha’s audacity and recklessness that brought calamity to the family.
“All will be well, Dad,” Nezha declared to his father and disappeared. When he came out again he held a sword in his hand and said to the NETOJA marine alliance, “Listen. I take full responsibility for what I did. Now I’m going to return the flesh and blood back to my parents so I’ll have no relationship with them, and if you guys want to settle the dispute, I can go with you to the celestial court.”
Witnessing Nezha kill himself with his sword, NETOJA alliance pack dispersed.
While his grieving mother arranged for Nezha’s skeleton to be buried, his spirit floated towards the Golden Light Cave in the First Yang Mountain to meet his Daoist master.
His master Taiyi True Man told him, “Send your mother a dream, telling her to build a temple for your statue on Green Screen Mountain in Chentang Pass. After you’ve received enough energy through incense and offerings, you’ll be able to regain a tangible human body.”
Initially, Nezha’s mother dismissed communication as her own hallucination. It was until she had the same dream on three consecutive nights, the lady realized it was indeed a message sent from her late son.
Without her husband’s knowledge, she made Nezha’s statue and built him a temple in the designated location. The locals admired the boy’s courage to confront the powerful marine lord hence kept burning incense and presenting offerings to Nezha’s spirit.
Half a year later, when Li Jing led his troops marching through Chentang Pass and discovered the temple, he got very upset. “Haven’t this nasty rascal brought his parents enough trouble already? And he still wants to get back to wrack more havoc on this world?”
He ordered to smash Nezha’s statue and set fire to the temple.
When Nezha’s spirit returned to the temple, he found the building was burned down to the ground. From the judge of the underground world responsible for the region, he learned what had happened.
His master Taiyi True Man reassembled lotus roots into a human figure and clothed it with lotus leaves to accommodate Nozhe’s spirit.
Stepping on two wheels powered by wind and fire, Nezha’s new body was able to move around in the human world.
The first thing he did after returning to the human world was to dash to Chentang Pass to retaliate Li Jing who cowardly yielded to the pressure of the marine lord with no concern for his late son’s welfare.
The human general was unable to take up the challenge against a boy whose body was not made of flesh and blood.
Daoist Light the Light just appeared on time and called for a ceasefire but Necha rejected the deal. He determined to settle the score at once and kept launching attacks on Li Jing.
The Daoist waved his wide sleeve and immediately a mini-pagoda spouting fire dropped off from the sky and covered the boy under its weight.
Nezha cried out for help.
“I know your father treated you unfairly,” Daoist Light the Light freed Nezha and explained to the boy. “But you need to put your personal grievance aside as a showdown between Cultural King of Zhou and Merchant King of Shang is about to occur and you two, the father and the son, are destined to work together helping King Zhou to liberate the world from the merchant dynasty and usher in a civilized new era.”
The rest is history.
Painter: Dong Tianye (董天野 1910-1968)