The Apotheosis of Di Xin
“Outrageous! Scandalous! Unforgiveable!” Di Xin raged through clenched teeth, stamping his foot through the splintering floorboards. His voice echoed throughout Youdu. “I demand an explanation for this treatment! Don’t you know in whose presence you stand, you insignificant little insect?”
A scrawny demon looked about for assistance, but none was forthcoming from his peers. They all had their own tasks or do, or pretended to find one after witnessing their new guest’s eruption. They did, however, make certain not to find work that was too far away. This was going to be interesting… He coughed. “Well, um, sire, you see, due to your, ah, evil deeds-”
“Evil? Evil?! I, Di Xin, am the Son of Heaven! Was not my rule secured by the decree of Heaven itself? Tell me, how can one in the service of Heaven do wrong?”
“You see, technically, you lost the Mandate of Heaven. That is why you were over…thrown…” His voice evaporated before the molten glare of Di Xin.
“I. Was. Betrayed, you ignorant worm. Am I to simply offer my throat to any vassal with delusions of grandeur?” he asked, his finger inches from the unlucky demon’s face. “I must defend my realm from traitors and villains. When the kingdom is divided, war is frequent. When war is frequent, the kingdom suffers. It is my responsibility to prevent that, and so when some upstart princeling attempts to wrest my rightful crown from me, it is my duty to stop him.
“I have earned my deification. I absolutely refuse to accept punishment for my deeds, as though I’m a common peasant. Tell me one thing I did to deserve this treatment!”
The demon reached into his robes and removed a rather large scroll. He unfurled it and began to read, mumbling his way through the records of Di Xin’s sins, following along with his fingertip. “Ah, there were the tortures, to start with. Quite a few of them, according to our records. Very…inventive ones…” he said, cringing at the descriptions
“Is it a crime now to punish criminals? If so, you have no right to punish me. If not, then I was acting with justice, and you have no right to punish me. Those men deserved their fate.”
“You cut out Bi Gan’s heart simply to satisfy the curiosity of your consort…”
“He was a wicked minister, seeking to bring about my ruin, in which he succeeded. He ceaselessly argued against me. In opposing me, he opposed the Son of Heaven. A common soldier does not argue against his general, a citizen does not argue against his governor. He deserved death, and if I at the same time satisfied curiosity, then his death’s profit was twofold. I am merely efficient. Would you punish a merchant for making a twentyfold profit instead of a tenfold profit?”
The paper scritched as the demon sought another charge, grating his teeth. “Your wine pool and meat forest, then!”
“Yes. What of it?”
“Well, it’s extremely decadent, sire. A waste of finances that were intended for the benefit of the state. You spent what was intended for all on merely yourself.”
“Wine and meat are the pleasures of all men. Is there anyone who would not partake of both if he had only an extra bronze coin to spend? How, then, should I be punished for a deed everyone would commit, simply because I had the ability and they had only their fantasies?
“But you argue that I was an evil man. If so, then it profited the world for my powers to be lessened. By spending money on my lake and forest, I took money away from my armies and torturers. Ergo, they became less efficacious and did less damage. Ergo, if you are right that I am evil, the lake is a boon, and I am undeserving of punishment.
“But since I am, of course, a paragon of virtue,” continued Di Xin, “I shall make another argument. My amusements were a charity, and I should be rewarded for its construction.”
The demon blinked. This wasn’t going at all as he had expected. He looked longingly at the other souls, being quietly led to their final punishments and rewards. He had thought it was going to be such a good day. The new tool had just been constructed, right on time, despite the sudden urgency of the situation. He wasn’t even supposed to be here today…
Di Xin’s eyes narrowed at the inattentive demon. How dare this rebellious little maggot not play his accorded role. Very well, then. “Yes, a charity!” he explained. “Every year, butchers and vintners have excess products. By purchasing their unused wine and meats, I encourage their businesses and help keep their product affordable to the common man. By having my slaves swim through wine and run through meat forests, I am granting them a rare treat, one that few men can ever be said to enjoy. Is that not generous of me?”
“The debauchery! The orgies! The gomorrahmy!” tried the demon.
“Procreation is a necessary task. Without children, a people has no future. Sex is necessary for procreation. What is necessary cannot be evil. If in the course of procreation, I made others feel good, as well, does that not simply make a good deed greater?”
“The…acts you performed were incapable of procreation, sire…” the demon reminded him.
“Well, I am shocked, shocked, to learn that, I must tell you. You see what awful ministers I had? Why, not one of them even bothered to tell me I was doing it wrong. I don’t think you can blame me for ignorance, though, can you? Surely innocence isn’t a crime worthy of punishment in the afterlife?”
“Innocence?! You should see the records we have on you! Chuang Mu has a copy delivered to her daily for inspiration! We can’t even let the younger demons read it! We have to blindfold the courier just to make sure it arrives on time.”
“…Could I see that, too?” requested Di Xin. “Might make for some pleasant reading…”
“But the taxes, the crushing taxes you had to raise to afford it! Those are definitely a sign of tyranny! Off to your punishment now, come along,” hoped the demon.
Di Xin scoffed. “Taxes don’t vanish into thin air once they leave the peasants’ hands. What comes from the peasantry returns to the peasantry after passing through many hands. Without taxes, the peasant keeps his crop. With taxes, he pays the king. The king pays the officials. The officials pay the craftsmen. The craftsmen pay the peasants. Whoever possesses food will always be able to sell his wares.
“By the simple act of taxation, I have multiplied the country’s wealth. Instead of one man hoarding his goods, they spread across the country, reaching whoever needs them most. Instead of one man having a meal, many do. And to compensate for the loss of income due to taxes, the peasantry works harder. When they work harder, the country becomes more prosperous. When the country becomes more prosperous, the kingdom is strong and can protect the peasantry.
“A man’s wealth is in his family, and he seeks to profit his family. A king’s wealth is the entire nation, and he seeks to profit the nation. Those things that do not profit any man to do, but profit the nation, are inevitably the jurisdiction of the king. Roads, canals, bridges: all these I built with tax money to profit the nation, but no one man would have built them, for they would not profit him alone.”
“You see? All that I have done has been-”
Di Xin stopped. “What is that?” he asked coldly. The demon swallowed and looked behind him following the king’s gaze, already knowing what he would see, yet dreading the confirmation.
Two ogres were carrying a large, bronze cylinder through the court. They froze as they realized they had spotted, and their eyes went wide at the sight of Di Xin. Their eyes darted from each other to the demon to Di Xin. One of them tried to go back the way they had came, while the other attempted to leave as quickly as possible, causing them to lose their grip, and the cannon to fall to the floor, where it left a sizable dent and began rolling towards a queue of inattentive and recently deceased bandits. The screams very nearly covered up the sound of crunching bone.
The trembling demon slowly returned his gaze to Di Xin. “Ah, that is…our…”
“I know what that is. I recognize my own invention well enough. Tell me, why do you have a burning cannon, a brand-new burning cannon, judging by its luster? My, my, such a coincidence,” he hissed, “that on the day of my arrival I find my masterpiece waiting for me.” He leaned in closer to the demon so that his smoldering eyes were centimeters from the demon’s. “You were planning to subject me to that, weren’t you? When I learn whose sick idea this was, I assure you, I will make their afterlife miserable.”
He stood upright, his nostrils flared, his fists clenched. “I have had enough of this intolerable insolence! I demand to see Yanluowang immediately!”
Yanluowang’s desk buzzed with activity, a veritable beehive, as demons constantly came and went. Every few moments, a demon would arrive with a new scroll, which would quickly be opened, devoured, and discarded by the ruler of Diyu. Di Xin stood in front of the ancient desk, hewn from the first rock of a young earth. He tapped his foot while Yanluowang read through scroll after scroll, his bulging eyes dashing back and forth across the page, desperately searching for a loophole. “Well?” asked Di Xin, admiring his fingernails. “I trust that you’ve proven that my claims are correct. I know the rules. I am owed a deification as the Son of Heaven, am I not?”
Yanluowang dropped the scroll and placed his head in his hand with a deep sigh. “Unfortunately, you are correct, Di Xin.” The deceased king grinned. “However,” Yanluowang continued, “there are currently no openings for someone of your…talents.”
“Are you sure? Have you any need of a god of extracting confessions? I was quite skilled at that, as I recall. Or perhaps a god of good governance?
“That pathetic, little, disloyal insect Ji Fa will certainly need divine assistance… And I shall hear his prayers and watch his rituals and feast upon his offerings and reject his every wish and watch as his measly little duchy collapses around his ears…”
Yanluowang coughed. “We have no particular need of either at the present time. I am unaware of any godships that would be…worthy of you.”
“Then you shall just have to make one,” Di Xin insisted. “I am certain a man of my abilities can serve Heaven as well in death as I did in life.”
“I will need to confer with the other gods and the Jade Emperor. He will decide for which task you are suited. Wait here until then.”
“Of course, Yanluowang. While I wait, would you mind if I put your burning cannon to good use? I can assist your minions in their duties…” he suggested with a lick of his lips.
“You may do no such thing. This is a place of work, not pleasure. I shan’t take long.”
After three days and three nights, Yanluowang returned, carrying a large scroll.
“Here is your new assignment,” said Yanluowang, dropping the scroll, sealed with the symbol of the Jade Emperor, into Di Xin’s greedily outstretched hands. “It is the only position that we could come up with that met your qualifications.”
Di Xin hurriedly broke the wax and opened the scroll. A broad smile spread across his face. “Magnificent,” he whispered.
Author’s Note: Di Xin is known to history as King Zhou of Shang. After his death, when he wanted to be made a god, the other gods could find nothing suitable for him. They finally decided that the only position for which he was qualified was as a god of sodomy. He still has a single temple in China, in Weihui. Hope you enjoyed the story! If you enjoyed it, you can find more of my stories here!