Arts & Culture 
 Business 
 Environment 
 Government 
 Health 
 Human Rights 
 Military 
 Philosophy 
 Science 
 U.S. Asian Policy 


Home > East Asia > 

The classical story of Zhou Dian, the insane monk
Liu Mei
3/3/2004

Zhou Dian lived in the Jianchang region of China during the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. Nobody knew what Zhou Dian’s real name was. People just knew that his surname was Zhou. When he was 14, he suddenly appeared to go insane. He started to beg for food in the downtown area of Nanchang City, and he said many strange things, which people could not understand. People then just gave him a first name of “Dian,” which means “insane” in Chinese.

Zhou Dian grew up to be a man of very unique countenance and manner. He repeatedly visited high-level government officials in his local area and declared, “Zhou Dian reporting: The country is at peace.” China was indeed free of wars at the time. Nobody could explain Zhou Dian’s odd behavior.

Later, Chen Youliang started a rebellion against the Ming Dynasty, and his army occupied Nanchang City. Zhou Dian left Nanchang and didn’t return until Zhu Yuanzhang, or the Hongwu Emperor of China, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, defeated Chen Youliang and drove his army out of Nanchang. While the Emperor was on an inspection tour, Zhou Dian went to meet him. The Emperor asked, “What are you coming to see me for?” “Zhou Dian reporting: The country is at peace,” said Zhou Dian. After that, Zhou Dian repeatedly went to the Emperor and reported the same thing, which eventually irritated the Emperor. The Emperor ordered Zhou Dian’s execution. He ordered that Zhou Dian be sealed in a large barrel and that the barrel be placed above a fire in order to cook him to death. When all the wood in the fire had been consumed, the Emperor’s men opened the barrel only to find Zhou Dian still alive and completely well, with merely a little sweat on the top of his head. After this incident, the Emperor realized that there must be something extraordinary about this man, so he sent Zhou Dian to live in a Buddhist temple on Zhong Mountain.

Soon, a monk from the temple came reporting to the Emperor that Zhou Dian had gotten into a fight over food with the novice monks at the temple, and that he had been on a hunger strike for the last six months to express his anger. The Emperor went to visit Zhou Dian at the temple, but he was puzzled to find that Zhou Dian did not look emaciated at all after so many months of hunger striking. He then decided to test Zhou Dian himself. He gave Zhou Dian a lavish meal, and then he had Zhou Dian locked in an empty room following the meal. Before he left, the Emperor ordered the monks to deprive Zhou Dian of food for a month. When the Emperor returned to the temple a month later, Zhou Dian was exactly the same as when he last saw him.

Chen Youliang’s rebel forces continued to make trouble for the Emperor. The Emperor decided to lead an army and try to crush the rebel forces. Before he made the decision he asked Zhou Dian, “Do you think I should wage a war against him?” “Yes,” said Zhou Dian. The Emperor replied, “But he has already proclaimed himself to be the Emperor of China. Won’t it be a challenge to defeat him?” Zhou Dian looked up to the sky and answered in all seriousness, “There is no other star [except you] in the sky.” Thus, Zhu the Emperor started to wage war and brought Zhou Dian with him. When the Emperor’s boats were traveling to Anqing, the wind stopped. The Emperor sent a messenger to ask Zhou Dian what they should do next. Zhou Dian answered, “Go on and there will be wind.” The Emperor told the soldiers to pull the boats forward along the shore using ropes. Soon gusting winds came and carried their boats all the way to Xiaogushan.

The Emperor was worried that Zhou Dian’s strange talk might ruin the morale of his army, so he had people monitoring Zhou Dian at all times. However, his arrangement did not successfully prevent Zhou Dian from making strange remarks. When the emperor’s army proceeded to Madang Mountain in Jiangxi, Zhou Dian saw “river pigs” (could be hippopotamuses) playing in the river and let out a sigh, “The appearance of water monsters is a sign that Zhu will lose a lot of soldiers.” The people who watched Zhou Dian reported his remarks to the Emperor, who resented him for his remarks and threw him into the river.

When Zhu’s army came to rest in Hukou, Zhou Dian appeared again and begged for food. The Emperor obliged him. After Zhou Dian had a meal, he tidied up his clothes, as though he was preparing to make a long journey. Then he bid farewell and left.

After the Emperor defeated Chen Youliang, he sent out a messenger to Lu Mountain to invite Zhou Dian over, but the messenger never found Zhou Dian. The Emperor suspected that Zhou Dian might have become a god and ascended into the sky. During the Hongwu Era (1368 – 1398 A.D.), Zhu Yuanzhang’s reign as Emperor, Zhu wrote The Biography of Zhou Dian the Deity to record Zhou Dian’s story.

Sources: The History of the Ming Dynasty, Zhuan Falun, and “NationMaster.com” Online Encyclopedia

© Copyright 2002-2007 AFAR