Xiangliu

Xiangliu came to me without notice. I thought I had remained anonymous for convenience. It really struck me how they pinned me down on my spontaneous itinerary.

They looked at me, nine heads and eighteen eyes, an extended standing ovation. Their upper body floated in the air like a slender, copper flute. I was remotely amused, pressing back a sneer. My cynicism was running wild. I tried very hard not to make fun of their hybrid appearance. 

One of them started to speak, while others remained quiet. The way they looked at me made me feel very unsophisticated.

They wanted me to terminate their lives...

Xiangliu, the rebellious cousin of Leviathan, the irrefutable unifier and dominator of the world, antithetical to the fungible multitude. Born as a single mind with innumerable bodies congealed into one, it made decisions from the top down. The head of Leviathan served as the center and granted concentrated sovereign power. In the past many years, the triumph of Leviathan prevailed in the majority of the world; ceaselessly devouring other forms of life day and night, growing robust and unshakable.

Xiangliu looked feeble. Separating at a certain point, Xiangliu distinguished themselves from their kin by erecting a radical reversion of collective decision-making. 9 heads on top of a singular, serpentine body, physical form is the manifestation of their radical insistence on multiplicity of political wills. Due to constant power struggles on top, the body was rather underdeveloped. I heard Xiangliu often fought for days, even months to land on any decision in the gang of 9. It was always 5 votes against 4, neither persuasion nor compromise could dilute the tension that held them in perpetuity—this was perhaps the reason why they were not greedy for external expansion. With Leviathan’s rise, they claimed to transcend the ideological divergence with their cousin by retreating from all kinds of confrontation. At some point, they faded into the backdrop of the political stage, and founded a commune on squatted land. Existing outside modern cosmopolitics—outside governance, they would say—they grew increasingly cultish and esoteric. 

It was not hard for me to understand how irritating Xiangliu could be to its cousin, who favored sheer brutality and expediency, and would crash any oppositions, including the middle-path or peaceful evolution in a blink. Leviathan’s habits of colonization and domination would consider Xiangliu as irritatingly trivial. I was surprised that Xiangliu could hold on for so long as a group of unarmed dissidents that coexisted with Leviathan’s supreme force. 

They are acute enough to acknowledge me of what I do as devil’s advocate, later blindfolded crowd would assume collective suicide of the gang would attribute to the persisting military pressure imposed by Leviathan. But to help them, I need further explanation. 

The military siege and erosion by their powerful cousin had certainly worn them down. But Xiangliu were bare-bone anarchists, who welcomed any external pressure to help cement their political stance. What was the real reason behind this conspiracy of suicide? My curiosity was burning as I waited for my clients to be completely honest with me. 

An uneasiness transmitted through the air. I detected Xiangliu fidgeting under their skin, then recomposed. They continued to reason in a slow but diplomatic fashion, their poker faces stoic and emotionless.  

If I ended their life, I would become the guardian of a historical secret.

I dismissed them, I had zero interest in helping them to climb up the political ladder. I thought the ultimate accomplishment of a commune is to live and continue to live beyond governance and in prosperity. Thus, to demonstrate the alternative as a living form, which they already had been doing and I would admire them for doing that.  

Xiangliu was shaken by my unflinching response. Their faces distorted and all of a sudden chanted in unison, 9 voices sprouted like a pipe organ blowing out a vortex. 

1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 is not 9.

I couldn’t grasp the equation or the metaphor, but they were determined to demonstrate their calculation, grinding their teeth and making rattling sounds. Their shared snake body began to split in front of me, each dangled like nine pieces of banana skins. The flesh was ripe. They looked like an animated, meaty chandelier, that’s how they endured their irreconcilable differences: each time after an intense fight the body was torn and turned a little more unsustainable, they would soon split up and disintegrate into 9 pieces of dead meat. Nothing on earth could glue them back to one. Scar tissues would betray their nominal integrity and unanimity, the commune’s legacy will be canceled. The Leviathan is nothing to be afraid of, its singular brain and monolithic beliefs are merely reflections of the inertia and passiveness of the masses. Leviathan is not the terminator. But Xiangliu could be. The world’s belief in searching for alternatives, the utopian hope will be blown away, leaving the world singular, it’s the real demise of our ability to “know.”

I shivered. 9 voices spoke in a reverberating loop. I was saddened to see the farcical deformation of this once revered figure. They were searching for a rational resolution for a collective outcome of death. They weighed the two evils and found the end point.

1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 = 0

Now they looked at me in silence, with constraint. I heard the wind blow through the gaps in their split bodies, making a faint whistle-like sound. I know between those tissues nothing connected.

I couldn’t disagree with their reasoning, so I followed them to their land. Before I counted to 1, they performed a final ritual. I had heard about it many times but only seen it once: Xiangliu kissed each on the cheeks, just as the beginning and ending of the official meeting. They crossed over and made it routine-like, I heard 64 smacks in the air like a slew of firecrackers. 

Xiangliu’s blood soaked the land beneath them. I puked. Flowers and crops started to wither; the radiance eroded the skin. The ecology becomes uninhabitable. Xiangliu, a disappearing collective, is determined to leave a trench on the earth behind them. They will be largely memorized not because of their stance, but their “toxicity.” They were definitely accomplices but what they did may or may not be criminal.  They were no more and no less than a curse, a damnation, a death sentence that lingers. Cold and indiscriminate, their legacy becomes unidentifiable even if their faces were captured and recorded. 

Over the years, Leviathan continued to grow, with the pride of overpowering Xiangliu. Xiangliu were dead, but sovereignty didn’t win. The land of betrayal refused to host any latecomers. It turned from anti-sovereign to anti-life, an ultimate rejection of absolute biopower. 

I kept thinking about their arrival on a piece of land, with devoutness like Shaker settlers. They loved the summer rain, bathed in the spring heat, showered the sweat off, lit fire in the middle of snow. All they wanted was a contained utopia, limited, but real. It could all start from within, evolve with the others around, content with everything in sight. They thought of each day as new. Their striving for fully automated luxury communism proved disillusioning, so their approaches grew more and more experimental. At one point, they started developing a local toxicology and made a fortune selling the formula. They also conducted a draconian contraception campaign within the group, only maintaining the population size through adoptions. Child abuse scandals arose sporadically over the years that suspected Xiangliu would want to mass murder their children before their self-imposed doomsday.

Merciless and controlling of how they would be portrayed in history, they actually wanted to be poetic and radical. They would occupy earth for no more than a given life span, then put the generation’s life to an end for the sake of containing their purity and cohesion. 

I empathized with them, their extreme romanticism and terrorism, how they oscillated so poignantly between poles. I resonated deeply with every problematic aspect of them. 

And then I found out about him. A remainder. 

Apparently stringent birth control didn’t defeat biology that was full of cunning exceptions. A boy and a girl were born in the commune, to unknown biological parents. They were brought up among adopted kids, obfuscating their scandalous birth. 

One winter morning, still dark, the boy woke up on the frozen river and saw an elder digging beside him with an ice axe. He dragged the poisoned snake coiled in his pajama top (Xiangliu’s children sleep with poisonous snakes), sucked its venom for comfort, and returned to sleep. He was grabbed by the neck, then numbed from head to toe. His lungs filled with icy water. He kept sinking and saw the ice lid sealed above his head. 

He miraculously survived and woke the girl. He understood it was his biological father who threw him into the icy river for atonement. If they stayed, they would die many more times in their dreams until death replaced sleep. 

They left the commune overnight and walked barefoot for 10 days, all the way down to the city. They found jobs for a newspaper stand just like other orphans on the street. They grew up and gave birth to a retarded boy, in a tiny attic on 2nd Ave. 

The retarded boy was not retarded after all. He grew up and moved to the Bay Area and got into the tech world, hopping between jobs at Amazon and Google till he became a billionaire. He got fired by Google for his YouTube channel that satirized the tech empires FAANG. He then started vlogging, giving toxic advice of suicide techniques that affirmed the exploitation and structural violence of his work.

He knew nothing about me. But I knew a lot about him as an internet celebrity. One day he took a day trip to Xiangliu’s old commune for a vlog. It turned out he had acquired immunity through his papa and mama. The toxins in the air cannot get to him. He went glamping for a day, then smashed his go-pro and crashed his drone. In a low decibel white noise, he made his way to the river, landing his feet on the exposed riverbed. Everything spoke to him. His repressed feelings came up again. 

He was able to chip in the cross-generational memory. Memories that Leviathan could never access began flushing into him. Xiangliu were born to die, and they died performatively. They hunted with venom, ate the poisonous prey, so the survivors became immune to toxins. Their body gained immunity, so did their land. He recalled fragments of his taciturn father and his pathetic mother’s short, humiliated life, and saw beauty in those long hours after dark that used to bore him to tears. His parents were able to watch cartoon comedies and laughed a bit. He had wanted to skip over those mundane moments because such a life didn’t seem worth living.

He saw the fragile branches of the hollowed willow trees, the calcified deer skulls, the ruins of the stone wall and the stove pit. They all spoke to him. He heard 64 smacks cracking up in the wind, he knew it by heart, the vengeful ancestors were grinding their teeth: Dare thou worship us. Fuck off and kill yourself immediately. 

He blew out a kiss, he was relieved that there was still inherited fear planted in him.

“Xiangliu was a minister of the snake-like water deity Gong Gong. Eventually, Xiangliu was killed by Yu the Great, whose other labors included ending the Great Flood of China. The earth they previously inhabited became toxic, sterile, hostile, and unlivable.” This record in Shanhaijing is completely unfounded. If I can rewrite it, I will replace their epitaph as: “If Xiangliu must die, it must be done in such a way that renders death, at least their own death, unavengable. They love themselves and each other, they want to save whoever comes after them an embarrassment of mourning their murder. For this they need the help from an anonymous friend.”

Xiangliu was the first and last visitor I had on earth. I’ve felt very lonely since then and thought about them often. 

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