Nail Bunny Example: Grandmaster and Cultivation Hiccups

So I was pondering what I’ve seen so far for Grandmaster, and wondering what tiny thing might allow characters to avoid a lot of the horrible things that happen in canon. In the process of poking other people’s writings I ran across a blog post that pointed out Grandmaster differs from a lot of cultivation settings; most xianxia-type works have “demonic” and “righteous” cultivation set up as “anything you can do, I can do better”. I.e., both types of cultivation allow flying, cultivating to immortality, the whole works. Most important, while both can kill you if you lose control, both work fine and don’t destroy your body and sanity if you know what you’re doing.

Yet in Grandmaster, Wen Ruohan and Wei Wuxian both have problems with this. (At least until Wuxian resurrects later, ouch.) So… how best to explain this? Simplest would be, nobody in this area knows how to do demonic cultivation properly, and therefore Wei Wuxian had to make a heck of a lot of mistakes before finally figuring out how to do it safely by the time he ends up in Mo Xuanyu’s body.

(Mostly safely. Sometimes.)

So if demonic cultivation can be done safely, how?

The main problem for righteous cultivators is that they’re used to funneling any energy they take in through their meridians. Only resentful energy tears through the meridians and heads right for the golden core. If they’ve got a strong core, it burns off the energy, though they may need extra help getting purified after. If they don’t, it’s… not pretty.

It’s pretty much canon that Wei Wuxian was able to start working with resentful energy in the Burial Mounds because he didn’t have a core anymore. It did keep tearing up his meridians… which is what happens in qi deviations, which lead to bad temper, loss of control, hallucinations, and eventual death. (Hello all the symptoms Wei Wuxian had up to that last mess in the Nightless City.) Conclusion: You need to keep resentful energy out of the whole meridian/core network, or it will. Mess. You. Up.

But you need to store, or at least circulate, energy to use it. So how?

Canon, we see demonic cultivation arrays that work drawn in blood. Blood attracts resentful energy. Blood carries emotion.

What if the proper way to demonically cultivate is to circulate the energy through your blood, and store it in your heart? It wouldn’t matter if you had a core or not, you just need to keep the two kinds of energy circulating separately.

So a “nail” that would avoid some of the nastier bits of canon would be, what if Wei Wuxian had at least some starting point for “how demonic cultivation should work” before he gets dumped into the Burial Mounds?

This is actually a multifaceted problem. Canon, after fierce corpses got loose in the Lan sect and Wei Wuxian ended up touching resentful energy in a last-ditch attempt to save his own life (and a rabbit’s), he promised his adoptive brother Jiang Cheng that he’d never handle resentful energy. And then had to break that promise to survive when he was tossed into the Burial Mounds later. Which did not help in dealing with the whole mess, because Wei Wuxian doesn’t break his promises willingly. So… he’d have to have a pretty desperate reason to try and intentionally learn how to mess with demonic cultivation. As in, a person’s life would be at stake if he didn’t. Someone he valued above even Jiang Cheng’s promise.

…Canon, that pretty much boils down to three people prior to the Burial Mounds. Jiang Chang himself, Jiang Yanli – and Lan Wangji. Who is commonly associated with ice.

It just so happens there’s a fairly powerful ice demon in The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System (written by the same author as Grandmaster!), Mobei-jun. Who, canon, has a human cultivator as spouse and thus would have half-demon children. And half-demons can learn to use both types of cultivation, if taught. And it’s Grandmaster canon that the founder of the Lan clan was a monk, then met The One he married and founded a cultivator clan instead. And oh, look – the Lans wear a forehead ribbon, symbolizing restraint, exactly where it should cover the forehead mark of noble demons.

Bunnies: “Suppose Mobei-jun had worked it out with his daughter that, if she wanted her descendants to live as human cultivators, he’d make sure their demon powers were suppressed or removed. And Wei Wuxian encountered him on his surreptitious visits looking after that.” It’d be a way for Wei Wuxian to encounter someone who wouldn’t tell him how to do demonic cultivation, but might give that first crucial hint about “not through your meridians, idiot, through the veins and heart”. Because it’s canon that Wei Wuxian is much more sensitive to moving energy than most, he might sense what Mobei-jun had taken from a young Lan and start poking for answers, because if his crush had part of his power taken that’s just not right…. though I’m not sure how the bunnies jump from there to Mobei deciding maybe this is one Lan who could handle it… but someone’s got to teach him if he gets his powers back, are you willing to be the one, Wei Wuxian?

Or it’s possible that Wei Wuxian might just notice that when the demon suppressed or manipulated energy, he was not working through their meridians. Also possible that the power actually can’t be taken without consent (most are eager to get rid of it), but it might be suppressed by Lan elders without a child knowing about it….

Comments, suggestions welcome!

26 thoughts on “Nail Bunny Example: Grandmaster and Cultivation Hiccups

  1. Broadly speaking, you could consider sending resentful energy through the heart as a form of bodily cultivation, as distinct from the spiritual cultivation through the meridians.

    Does Grandmaster show any body cultivators?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Or to put it in sufficiently cryptic terms:

      “To cultivate your skills, fill your mind with knowledge. To cultivate your soul, fill your core with spirit. To cultivate your body, fill your heart with emotion.”

      Everyone takes it as philosophical drivel, right up until his meridians are being torn apart by emotions.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Funny thought:

        Some long ago Lin Ancestor with more energy than prudence develops a “cultivation manual” for disciplinary handstands.
        Specifically a method to pull “earthly energy” from the ground, into the arms, to relieve exhaustion and increase strength.
        Surprisingly it actually works.

        Turns out “earthly energy” is resentful energy that’s decomposed to the point where it loses the resentment.

        Of course, they were never crazy enough to just shove it into their heart…

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Could be a combination of both. We know that Lan Zhan had no idea how to handle Wei Wuxian’s, everything, though he very much wanted to. Mobei is good enough that teenage Wei Wuxian couldn’t hide from him. (Side note, the Lan rules make so much sense in this bunny.) And Wei Wuxian could have spotted this strange cultivator whose energy moved, not quite normally, and tagged along behind to watch the removal of energy. Mobei seems the type to be amused by this human’s audacity and obvious infatuation with his many times distant descendant. (Good taste, well done, strange human. Oh, very distant demon ancestry. Tiny, no need to mention it, probably not going to wake up without significant trauma.)

    And Wei Wuxian would be all over this new way of moving energy, but he doesn’t quite understand why it’s not working right when he uses his core. And then the Wen attack. And he moves energy not of his core in the method the stranger had showed him and it works. Oh. Huh. How about that?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting!

      I have to admit the Lan rules were part of the inspiration. As in the quote, “Good men do not need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.”

      Seriously. Three thousand rules the clan is supposed to adhere to… upped to four thousand after Wei Wuxian blew through. *amused*

      Agreed on poor Lan Zhan. It’s kind of like this….
      External Lan Zhan, watching Wei Wuxian invent talismans out of whimsy, sword his way through water ghouls, and rescue rabbits: Scowl.
      Internal Lan Zhan: I must kidnap him, take him home and ravish him forever.
      External Lan Zhan: Scowl harder.
      Wei Wuxian: …What did I say this time?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. your idea of the Lans being mixed descendants of demons is pretty cool, also makes for a compelling reason why they’d have So Many rules of proper comportment if it might have started as a mix of ‘how to truly blend with humans’ / ‘keep instincts in check’ and, specially, trying to stick to the human sided heritage part (and if the knowledge is forgotten in the way….)

    there’s a couple of things that tick me off about the Untamed verse, and one of those is how bad they nerfed WWX’s powers

    my personal theory is that if you practice one cultivation, then the other does in fact hurt you, unless you are LBH, who is canonically special (apparently even amongst hybrids?) in that he can use and is strong in both (and also goes for why the Nie have it so bad)

    (on an aside, other novels do mention demonic and beast cores (with core being another character than the one of golden core), wonder if demonic cultivators might cultivate one of those)

    the MDZS(novel) world cultivators didn’t really seem to *know* how to work with resentful energy much, which is kind of interesting, considering there are curses around -hundred-holes – wonder if it’s a cursed applied with normal energy, (kind of how they couldn’t find the dancing goddess was the problem because she was still using ‘light’ energy) or if it would change if used with resentful energy

    so if humans don’t even know resentful energy can be shaped and used at will and the only effects they’ve ever seen of it is on creatures made/corrupted by it and the effect those who have been attacked by it, I’m not surprised everyone was loosing their minds on what effects it *had to be having* on WWX (who at least in novel, wasn’t spitting out blood every time he used a little resentful energy) and thus must certainly be becoming a monster (+ smear campaign)

    I am of the opinion that likely his powers were at most making him more prone to anger, but then again, he was quite certainly having a serious cocktail of ptsd + drowning in secrets + braking promises + Stress + Starving…… it’s sort of impressive he lasted so long…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As far as I can tell, the whole “cultivation” shtick is very very Taoist. Logically, there also ought to be Confucian magic (maybe that’s where the zillion rules come in) and Ch’an/Zen Buddhist magic, as well as Tantric/Tibetan Buddhist magic. And shamans (that might be the beast thing, but mostly it’s about dealing with the otherworld of spirits, ghosts, heavenly beings that aren’t standard Chinese, etc.). And a bunch of other stuff, like Falun Gong.

    But yeah, it’s freaking obvious that there’s some kind of “okay fictional version of actual religions and philosophies” going on with martial arts/xianxia going on, and I’m really not clear where the lines are. It’s like having a country where you could be prosecuted for attempting space travel, but where it was totally okay to write tons of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica universes. But occasionally somebody would drop real space travel facts, maybe, and I (not being the real intended audience) don’t know where they’re doing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anyway, the “resentful” energy seems to be related to the idea all over Asia that if you mistreat somebody powerful and do it bad enough, you will probably have to appease his spirit if you actually kill him, especially if he/she becomes an angry god or nature spirit. And also the idea that women who get really angry can transform into demons, or get possessed by demons, or have demons come out of them while they’re asleep and kill their enemies. That sort of thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are a lot of shamanistic things where a monster/god/spirit could be evil, or could be your friend, based entirely on what kind of gifts, sacrifices, appeasement, or relationship-building that is managed. So it’s probably really really old.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. *Nod* Part of Wei Wuxian’s schtick is, he tries to deal with spirits that want revenge on the living by channeling that rage into a constructive purpose. You want to kill the guy that murdered you? Well, maybe some shredding is okay before we let the authorities have him; wouldn’t you rather see him squirm in mortal hands and see the execution coming?

        Sometimes it works.

        Like

    2. It is definitely Taoism.

      And yeah, some of the cultivation novels do have Buddhist magic. Novels with that style of cultivation will have at least one of the sub techniques involve beating someone with palm strikes.

      Falun Gong is probably new enough that the influence in folk superstition is not deep enough to seem plausible to the audience.

      Confucian scholars seem to be considered part of the secular world, and incompatible with the world of cultivation, at least in some of the novels.

      I’ve heard somewhere that Taoism includes some of the shamanic stuff, that there is a shamanic flavor within Taoism.

      What seems to have happened is that Wuxia was based in folk superstition surrounding martial arts, with stuff in some cases being turned up to 11. Xianxia is taking inspiration from the same sort of lore floating around in the culture, except Taoist flavor, instead of purely sticking to martial arts. Beyond that, there is a lot of borrowing and reference within a genre.

      There are xianxia examples that invent a magic system that has little basis in real world superstition. As long as it has power levels, and is generally prohibitively expensive to level, the genre conventions can flex to fit it.

      Taoist internal alchemy for the power levels, and external alchemy within the economic world building are just simply common that they might as well be default.

      I have the impression that the basis in actual religious practice is as superficial as the technological worldbuilding can be.

      I’ve been following one that may have been written by an ABC, which has hinted that the God of Abraham might be relevant to the plot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I would imagine that Buddhism is more relevant to “pure” martial arts.

        And yeah, I’m sure that part of the “not sticking close to religion” is deliberate, because 1) not healthy in mainland China and 2) not a good idea to be so accurate that your neighbors can’t laugh off any accidental blasphemies.

        But a lot of your old old old style martial arts, mystery, adventure type books had a lot of Confucianism in them, because you could hardly be a scholar back then without having a ton of Confucianism in you. Buddhism was a little doubtful and foreign (and had a rep for lustful monks, probably for historical rivalry reasons with the Confucians), and Taoism was for drunken mad scientist/sorcerers. (But Journey to the West is of course super-Buddhist, in its weird way.)

        So yeah, again I can see why Confucianism is not openly a thing in mainland China (Xi doesn’t like it, which isn’t surprising in a former Red Guard). And there are historical reasons to find it not so great of a philosophy if you aren’t stuck in medieval China.

        But it’s weird, probably because of the kinds of old Chinese novels I’ve come across, versus what shows up nowadays. Times change, of course, but it’s interesting to see a sort of “road not taken” all over the place. Martial arts movies even usually had a lot of Buddhism and Confucianism in them, and Taoism only came into things with hopping vampires. (At least in the things I’ve seen. Which is hardly exhaustive.)

        And of course… Taoism did have its historical associations with going around or ignoring corrupt governments. So maybe it’s a very sensible choice, philosophically if not so much spiritually. As long as you don’t do anything like mention Falun Gong or other spiritual movements that are considered dangerous, you can make up all kinds of stuff, even in mainland China. And contrariwise, authors in other countries can be read by the mainland Chinese.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thing is, the Xian in xianxia is literally the same immortal in the Taoist eight immortals.

        At least one of the core/original gimmicks of the genre was using manipulation of acupoints and meridians, plus internal alchemy, to reach that level. Mainstream xianxia just has things formalized so that it is mainly a matter of procuring the expensive ingredients for the magic pills that make people immortals, and sects have done enough experimentation on methods to weed out a lot of the stuff that drives cultivators insane.

        Cultivators are those drunken mad scientist/sorcerers, basically. Over on AO3 a few months back, I was in discussion that described cultivators as wizard super heroes. Your sterotypical cultivator starts off training as a martial artist/kung fu hero, but once they reach high levels their spells can be pretty important. Super hero is a useful guideline, because a) conflicts between extreme personality types b) power level differences between low level and high level cultivators.

        Cultivation sects or families can be the whole power structure of the worldbuilding, but the narrative philosophy tends to be that they are somehow separate.

        Qin Shi Huangdi was into some of these superstitions, and he built a terra cotta army and filled his tomb with mercury. There’ve since been a lot of people spending lots of money on this stuff, and going crazy from not quite immediately poisoning themselves to death. The Taoists not into immortality/internal alchemy still like nature/things not shaped by human hands, and basically do not think it is very holy to study for the exams and go live in the cities to chase power.

        I can now think of what looks like a Confucian flavor cultivation sect example. But a lot of the authors feel it appropriate to have characters choose between practicing Confucian scholarship and practicing Taoist cultivation. If they don’t have the MC make the choice explicitly, there may be mention of cultivators being withdrawn from the ‘secular world’.

        Checking wiki, of the eight, Zhang Guolao and Zhongli Quan are closest to fitting the Confucian scholar pattern, and they don’t really. Zhang claimed to have been a minister in a previous life, Zhongli basically quit his position before taking up magical practices.

        Re: the Buddhist thing. Take a look at the Hunter x Hunter fight between Isaac Netero and Meruem. Netero uses this aesthetic. Look at the palm strikes/open hand blows. For some reason those in particular get used for a sect/teaching lineage that is strongly Buddhist flavored, especially if the sect in question was only added to the world so that the MC can obtain combinations of spells that aren’t accessible to most cultivators.

        Sun Wukong is explicitly an example of someone who practiced both Buddism and Taoism. He shows up in some Xianxia.

        I think the (usually heterodox) cultivator spells that involve turning lots of people into a magic item may be traceable to specific real world superstitions.

        Some of tihs may be genre convention. Xianxia are where you wander off, powerlevel off of some absurd rare thing found in the middle of nowhere, and spend long periods of time having private mystical experiences. Showing off wisdom with bureaucratic reform is probably a different genre.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, I just snapped awake thinking of this bunny and imagining Mobei’s reaction to coming by to visit his clan of humans, only to find the Sect burned to the ground. That would be, a very unpleasant set of happenings. It might be better if he goes by demon time lines and only shows up every decade or so, if only so that the Sect has been rebuilt. Otherwise, Wei Wuxian may be getting blamed for some of Mobei’s atrocities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ack! Noting!

      …And why are the bunnies giving me an image of Mobei-jun looking over the carnage one demonic cultivator leaves of Wen Ruohan’s soldiers, and nodding that yes, this is decent work for such a youngster….

      Like

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