Even a Shaman Needs Evening Self Study

Even a Shaman Needs Evening Self Study

Chapter 1 - The Grand Nuo Mourning Dance

Nanchu No. 1 Middle School

An evening downpour made the air especially fresh. As the geography teacher said, Nanchu has a typical subtropical monsoon climate with hot and rainy summers. The passionate yet easygoing nature of Nanchu people seems to be shaped by this climate as well.

On the tree-lined path, the clear and refined young man's hair was slightly disheveled, with a few strands falling over his forehead, partially covering his deep brows and eyes. The sunset's rays filtered through the foliage, enveloping him as if light was flowing around, making him appear even more stunning.

On the adjacent sports field, students in PE class turned their heads one after another as if infected, glancing over and then whispering and giggling amongst themselves.

"Tan Xiao!"

The young man heard someone call his name. Turning around, he saw a middle-aged man walking briskly towards him. Not quite sure which subject this teacher taught, he gave a polite smile. "Hello teacher, I'm heading to the vice principal's office."

It was class time now. He was afraid the teacher might misunderstand and think he was skipping class to wander around school, so he explained in advance.

The middle-aged man paused, awkwardly saying: "I know, I am... the vice principal."

Even he felt it was absurd to say this. He had led the team when Tan Xiao went to perform at the showcase before, so why was he explaining to Tan Xiao that he was the vice principal?!

Tan Xiao: "..."

Tan Xiao gave a dry laugh. "Vice Principal Bai, you seem to have gotten fairer, I didn't even recognize you*."

*T/N: Bai means white, so he's saying that Vice Principal Bai got whiter.

"Alright alright, just tell the truth, do I have a common face?" Vice Principal Bai was rendered speechless by his lame joke.

But his personality had always been easygoing, and many students liked to joke with him. So he laughed at this moment instead. "You'd better remember my face, otherwise when I go to check on your evening self-study sessions in the future, you won't even recognize me."

Tan Xiao politely smiled, thinking to himself that he really did want to remember.

Vice Principal Bai waved his hand. "Come, since I ran into you, walk with me."

Vice Principal Bai led Tan Xiao back to his office. Inside, a woman in her twenties wearing a blouse and skirt was already seated. Her hair was tied up in a very high bun. Seeing Vice Principal Bai, she stood up to greet him. "Vice Principal Bai?"

"Hello." Vice Principal Bai shook her hand. "The city has already called me. You are Comrade Mu Fei, right? This is Tan Xiao, a student at our school."

"Student Tan Xiao, I am a staff member from the provincial Bureau 404. I'm currently on a business trip in Nanchu. Pardon my abrupt visit to your school, but I actually wanted to ask about your mother's whereabouts. Do you know where she is now?" Mu Fei got straight to the point without much small talk.

Vice Principal Bai wasn't familiar with their leader either. He had only heard a brief explanation over the phone. He knew about Tan Xiao's mother, a Nanchu traditional practitioner. The provincial staff had something they wanted to find her for, but couldn't get in touch, so they found out Tan Xiao was her son and came to ask.

Seeing that Tan Xiao also looked very puzzled about the Bureau 404, he added on the side: "The Bureau 404 is mainly responsible for coordinating and handling some affairs in the spiritual field, including supervising the implementation of relevant laws and policies."

-- Actually, he had just searched online and saw this brief introduction before regurgitating it.

Hearing that it was about handling spiritual affairs, Tan Xiao wasn't surprised why they came to find him, but he really didn't know either. "My mom went to the mountains in the southwest for inspiration, completely out of contact. I don't know her specific location either."

Mu Fei pressed further, "Then do you have any other family members?"

Tan Xiao wasn't sure what exactly she meant, but replied a bit blankly, "My maternal grandparents have both passed away. I'm from a single-parent family."

"I'm sorry," Mu Fei said, a little anxious, suppressing the urge to bite her nails.

Seeing how urgent she seemed, Tan Xiao asked, "No worries, are you in a hurry to register some information? Maybe I can help you find it, I'm quite familiar with the things at home."

Hearing that Tan Xiao had some knowledge, Mu Fei asked, "How familiar are you?"

Since his earliest memories, Tan Xiao's home had always been filled with the smoke of incense. He replied quite confidently, "I was helping my mom fold talismans at the age of three, what do you think?"

The handsome young man spoke calmly and persuasively.

"Not bad, you're already seventeen. In the old days, spirit masters could independently ascend the altar at sixteen..." Mu Fei muttered a few sentences to herself. Mindful of Vice Principal Bai's presence, she didn't say too much.

Vice Principal Bai didn't seem to have much opinion, only interjecting, "Comrade Mu Fei, Tan Xiao is already in his second year of high school, at a critical time for his studies. The matter you need his help with won't take up too much time, right?"

"Oh no, no, it won't." Mu Fei pulled up a document on her phone and explained seriously, "Actually, it's like this. If you've been following the news, you should know that a protective excavation is currently underway for an ancient tomb in Nanchu, right?"

This was the biggest news in Nanchu City recently, known to all.

It should be noted that Nanchu has many hills and mounds. In the last century, several large-scale excavations of ancient tomb clusters were organized, and there is a folk saying of "ninety-nine mounds."

But older citizens recalled that none had been on such a large scale as this time.

Vice Principal Bai nodded. "It's the large ancient tomb unearthed during the construction of Metro Line 5, right? I saw on short videos that they were going to dig up a princess or prince?"

The excavation work declined all visits and interviews. Various media outlets were unclear about the real situation and said all sorts of things. Some people even went there to livestream, but the entire site was enclosed, so nothing could be seen.

Mu Fei laughed. "Princess or prince... hard to say, but it can be said that it will definitely leave a mark in the archaeological history of Chu Province. I can't say more than that."

Vice Principal Bai probably didn't know that the excavation request was directly sent to the capital for approval. Experts from all fields had gathered. In the future, they might even build a museum on site. In any case, forget about Metro Line 5 being completed on schedule.

Mu Fei explained further, "The excavation permit has already been urgently approved. Our Bureau 404 is one of the cultural relic consultants for this excavation. The situation now is that during the excavation process, there are some questions regarding Nanchu folk customs that urgently require the help of scholars in this field for reference.

"We are in a bit of a hurry. Originally, our first choice was Ms. Tan. As you can see now, we can't get in touch with her for the time being, and the excavation work cannot be delayed. Therefore, we hope that Tan Xiao can cooperate with us during his free time outside of class."

Based on what they hinted at, the scale of this excavation was very large. For a student, being able to participate in such an event would be something to be very proud of.

"I definitely support Tan Xiao going to do this 'social volunteer activity', as long as he can be of help. It's just, do you really not need to wait for his mother anymore?"

Vice Principal Bai would also be honored if students from his own school could help the archaeological team. It's just that Tan Xiao is still a minor after all, and Vice Principal Bai wasn't sure if he could really replace his mother.

It would be best if he could. Vice Principal Bai had already thought that when the excavation work made progress, he would let them mention to the media that students from Nanchu No. 1 Middle School contributed. That would be so prestigious!

"We tried many ways but still couldn't get in touch with Ms. Tan. The excavation work is urgent, so we can only ask student Tan Xiao to give it a try." Mu Fei also expressed some regret, but who knew their difficulties.

Vice Principal Bai made an "hmm" sound. "Then I wish your work goes smoothly. Tan Xiao, do what you can without affecting your studies. I will inform your head teacher."

Tan Xiao nodded. "I will do my best."


Mu Fei's side seemed to be in a great hurry, not even waiting until the weekend. She asked Tan Xiao to ride in her car together right after school that day. Since he had already agreed, Tan Xiao had no objections.

Sitting in the passenger seat, Tan Xiao heard the radio host saying: "Welcome to the Voice of Nanchu. I'm your host Xiao Xue. Recently everyone must have seen a piece of news that on the 18th of this month, a 'supermoon' will appear, which is a perigee full moon* in astronomy.

*T/N: A full moon at perigee appears roughly 14% larger in diameter than at apogee. Many observers insist that the Moon looks bigger to them.

"Weather permitting, it can be seen in any city. However, according to an expert, the best observation point this time is Nanchu. It happens to coincide with the upcoming Nanchu Tourism Festival. Tourists from inside and outside the province can feast their eyes in Nanchu. Let's hope for clear skies then!"

"For the best observation points, it should be the west or east." Tan Xiao's geography was quite good. He thought to himself, what expert did the host mention? Probably a tourism expert, mostly far-fetched to tie it to the tourism festival Nanchu was preparing.

"That's right, it looks bigger in the west and rounder in the east, but it's brightest in your Nanchu." Mu Fei chimed in.

Tan Xiao couldn't help but chuckle a few times.

Mu Fei drove like the wind, stepping hard on the accelerator and bringing Tan Xiao to the temporary shed built near the excavation site. Because it was remote, they definitely couldn't all stay in a hotel.

Outside the enclosure, there were two local self-media hosts livestreaming from a distance, not daring to film directly - the security personnel here were all armed, and the security standards were indeed very high.

In fact, they really couldn't film much. The on-site enclosed area was very large, after all, they still needed to explore if there were other accompanying tombs around the main tomb.

The sky had turned dark blue at this time. The hot and humid air was brewing a shower, pattering down. The two hosts didn't bring umbrellas. They couldn't film anything anyway, so they quickly ran away covering their heads.

Tan Xiao also used his schoolbag to block the rain and followed Mu Fei to go in.

The security personnel checked the documents one by one. Mu Fei explained that Tan Xiao was brought by her, but even though she had a pass herself, she couldn't just bring people in casually. Helpless, she could only call one of the leaders of the excavation team.

Tan Xiao watched Mu Fei stand under the eaves to avoid the rain, turning on the speakerphone on her cell phone. "Old Ji, I brought a spirit master back now, but I'm stuck at the entrance here. Please give instructions."

An old man's voice came from the other end of the call. "I'm Ji Quanqing. Master Mu brought someone at my request to assist with the excavation. Please let them pass."

The security personnel originally didn't quite believe Mu Fei's words seeing that Tan Xiao was so young. Now they said loudly, "Alright! Master, little friend, please come in."

Hearing them address Mu Fei as master, Tan Xiao couldn't help but curiously glance at her.

Mu Fei slowly took out a hairpin from her bosom and inserted it into her bun. It was just a small detail, but her entire image instantly changed from lively everyday to having an otherworldly aura. "What is it?"

Tan Xiao: "......"

...Okay, Mu Fei was from Bureau 404, responsible for handling and coordinating religious affairs. So it wasn't strange for her to have a relevant background and be able to take on related duties.

Mu Fei brought Tan Xiao to an activity shed. Inside stood seven or eight people, gathered together with many thick books piled beside them. On the ground were even more unsorted miscellaneous items, including excavation tools.

Everyone looked up and saw that she brought back a teenager. They all looked very surprised. "So young?"

"Just started high school," Mu Fei said softly. "He is Tan Chunying's son. He knows what he should know. Brought him back to give it a try." Mu Fei also gave Tan Xiao a simple introduction. "These are my colleagues, and the experts of this excavation team."

"Mr. Xu from our 404."

"This is Old Ji from the provincial institute of cultural relics and archaeology..."

As Mu Fei introduced them, Tan Xiao could basically only distinguish the men from the women. He obediently nodded to greet them, as they were all his elders by age.

Several people sized up Tan Xiao and reluctantly greeted him. They still seemed to feel he was too young, even wearing a school uniform.

Did Mu Fei bring a student out of desperation?

However, Tan Xiao's gaze fell on the tabletop. In addition to some books, there were also scattered photos, including photos of the excavation site and some photos of cultural relics.

During archaeological excavations, cultural relics must be photographed and recorded in writing first, and then retrieved. The few photos on top of the stack all depicted lacquerware cultural relics, such as wooden tomb guardian beasts, human-shaped wooden funerary figures, and so on.

In ancient times, burying figurines to accompany the deceased was a very common custom, such as the most famous Terracotta Warriors. The human figurines were to replace living people to serve the tomb owner. So in addition to the Terracotta Warriors, there would also be figurines of various occupations such as cooks, maids, dancers and so on.

One of the photos showed two human-shaped wooden figurines standing outside the coffin chamber. Based on the ratio to the reference objects, they were taller than other human figurines. Their features were clearly carved, with red-  and black-colored paint on their faces, and their clothing was also carved.

One could even see that they were wearing a checkered long skirt and a phoenix-patterned cross-collar long robe respectively. Looking closely, the figurine wearing the checkered long skirt even had pierced ears.

This pair of figurines guarding outside the coffin chamber had distinct genders, one male and one female, each holding weapons.

Old Ji from the institute of cultural relics and archaeology saw him staring at the photos. Out of teaching habit as he also had a teaching position, he couldn't help but explain, "This is currently believed to be shaman figurines, that is, figurines responsible for performing shamanic rituals for the tomb owner."

Tan Xiao said softly, "The Grand Nuo Mourning Dance..."

The others didn't react for a moment. "Huh?"

Tan Xiao made a startling statement: "Their posture is that of performing the Grand Nuo Mourning ritual. According to the Rites of Zhou, only the funerals of the emperor, empress, and crown prince used grand mourning rites. Coupled with their attire, for them to use this type of figurine, even if it's not a emperor's tomb you've excavated, it must at least belong to a feudal lord or someone of similar rank... I believe it's most likely the tomb of a Chu emperor. From which dynasty, I wonder?"

This explained Mu Fei's earlier remark about making archaeological history, and the armed guards outside.

Faced with Tan Xiao's bold hypothesis and cautious verification, the people inside the shack looked at each other in surprise, unable to hide their astonishment.

Just as Tan Xiao said, based on what they had seen so far, the tomb was of an extremely high grade, necessarily belonging to a feudal lord or above, and possibly an emperor's tomb. Only then would it attract such great attention. But the excavation work had just begun, and all information was being kept in absolute secrecy.

Yet this high school student, visiting the site for the first time, had boldly determined from the attire and ritual being performed by the two figurines, combined with his observations, that this might be the tomb of a Chu emperor.

It should be noted that to date, tombs of this level excavated in the Chu region could be counted on one hand, and even those had been robbed.

The tomb before them, however, had never been discovered before, nor visited by grave robbers, giving it extremely high archaeological value. If news of this were to spread, the level of attention would increase tenfold, with media from all quarters rushing to the scene.

Mu Fei let out a sigh of relief and looked around at everyone. "I told you we didn't find the wrong person! In Nanchu, we need to find some local experts!"

Since ancient times, the Chu region has been known for its belief in ghosts and fondness for sacrifices, with a strong tradition of shamanism.

The Nuo ritual is a large-scale Chinese ceremony for worshipping gods and expelling ghosts, while the Grand Nuo Mourning is a Nuo ritual specifically for the funeral rites of kings.

Originally, shamanism and Nuo were different, but over the long course of time, they have merged and separated, sometimes blending together, resulting in what is now collectively referred to as "shaman-Nuo culture".

And the "spirit" in the Tan family's title of "spirit master" was actually an ancient Chu term for shamans. What the ancients called shamans, the Chu people called "spirit".

So, just like the well-known folk spiritual occupations of "Duan Gong", "Xian Niang", and "Tong Zi", they are also a type of shaman.

Tan Xiao may not know much about archaeology, but as a descendant of spirit masters, he has inherited the legacy of Chu shamanism and can be said to have professional expertise. His few words indirectly showed that despite his young age, his knowledge of the craft is truly extensive.

This left those who had previously expressed reservations about this young student stunned into silence.

"Well, well, you're quite knowledgeable and able to make bold inferences." Old Ji looked at the young man with appreciation and said gently, "Tan Xiao, your guess is ninety percent accurate. This should be the tomb of a Chu emperor from the Spring and Autumn or Warring States period.

"It's just that currently, the contents of our excavation work need to be kept confidential, so we hope you won't reveal what's happening here to outsiders. We'll also give you a confidentiality agreement to sign later, if that's alright?"

"It really is the tomb of a Chu emperor?" Even though Tan Xiao had made his inference with full confidence, having it affirmed by an expert still made him feel surprised and delighted. He readily agreed, "No problem!"

"Then let's begin." Mu Fei also relaxed a bit.

Tan Xiao: "Mm-hmm, what else is there?"

The two of them both felt there was something a little odd about what the other said.

One thought they had already begun.

The other wondered what was meant by "what else is there".

But Mu Fei was in no mood to dwell on these details. She dragged out a bag from among the clutter on the ground, opened it, and revealed the yellow paper, incense candles and other items inside. "Everything that should be here is here. If you need anything else I can have someone prepare it, or go get it from your home."

Her expression grew a bit solemn. "Tan Xiao, the situation is very tricky right now. An elderly expert from the excavation team somehow got hit by a curse inside the tomb, and his condition is not looking good. We've tried many methods but none are effective. Please give it your best shot."

After saying this heavily, still immersed in her own emotions, she noticed that Tan Xiao, who had just been talking so assuredly, had a very strange expression on his face.

It was hard to say exactly what it represented. It seemed to be surprise mixed with difficulty, in any case a bit hard to put into words.

"...What's wrong?" Mu Fei's instincts told her that something was a bit off.

The others also found it strange. Tan Xiao had just dazzled everyone with his excellent professional knowledge, but now he seemed to be hesitating.

"You... are you really the official excavation team? Didn't you say you wanted me to come identify Nanchu folk culture elements? Like these Grand Nuo Mourning figurines," Tan Xiao said, perplexed. "What curse in the tomb, if someone is sick, take them to the hospital."

Tan Xiao found it very incredible. If they hadn't contacted him through official channels and really brought him to the excavation site, he would have thought this was a scam and definitely would have turned and left.

After Tan Xiao spoke, everyone present was dumbfounded.

...How come it seemed they hadn't reached some kind of agreement?

Only then did Mu Fei realize they had been talking past each other the whole time. She said blankly, "But you clearly said you inherited the tradition of spirit masters, and that you helped your mother fold talismans."

Tan Xiao: "That's right!"

Mu Fei scratched her hair, her bun nearly coming undone. Things were really getting more chaotic the more anxious she got. "Then how can you not want to participate in 'supernatural activities'? What exactly do you think spirit masters are?"

The others also stared at Tan Xiao in unison. The scene was a bit comical.

Upon hearing the keywords, Tan Xiao almost reflexively recited: "It is the ancient shaman-Nuo culture that deeply influenced the Chu Ci, it is a splendid and magnificent folk art, it is a national intangible cultural heritage that has received the attention and protection of relevant departments, a shining folk culture calling card of Nanchu City!"


Hello! I'm Echo, and I've always been fascinated by how stories can connect us across different worlds. When I'm not translating, I'm probably playing guitar or experimenting in the kitchen. I hope my translations resonate with you, just like a good melody

Give me feedback at moc.ebircssutol@ohce.