Broken Blade — Liu Canyang

Well. They can’t all be lookers. Not the most exciting cover, is it? Its content is much different, though. Broken Blade《斷刃》was written by Liu Canyang 柳殘陽 and published in 1968 by Spring and Autumn Publishing in Taiwan. Liu Canyang developed a unique writing style that was ultra-violent compared to other authors of his day. He preferred characters that were morally complicated, not the righteous heroes common to wuxia. Grimdark before grimdark, you might say. Broken Blade is about Li Jueling, a hitman contracted to retrieve some jade treasure. But along the way he gets involved with a girl, Huang Junzhi, who gradually changes him away from his violent lifestyle. But there is a ruthless organization out to get him…

The excerpt is part of the first chapter of the novel. The action starts right away. One problem with this novel overall is also noticeable in the excerpt: sometimes the dialogue can go on too long. This is a common problem in old wuxia novels, likely the result of padding for word count to meet serialization quotas. But at least the dialogue here is lively. It’s written in a more modern style as well, there are no ancient vibes here. Like most wuxia novels, it doesn’t specify a specific time period. For those who can read Chinese, this novel is available in only one location I am aware of: the oldrain forums. Elsewhere you will find Broken Blade listed as one of Liu Canyang’s novels, but the novel posted under that name is not Broken Blade. I have yet to find out what novel it actually is. You’ll know you found the right one if the main character is Li Jueling. You can compare to my translation below. This novel is pretty good for what it is, but after reading the first half of it you can pretty much guess how it will end.

Broken Blade book cover. Written by Liu Canyang
Broken Blade《斷刃》by Liu Canyang 柳殘陽, 1991 Hecheng Press 合成書局 reprint edition.


Warning: This excerpt contains strong language and graphic violence.

Chapter 1: At Seven Sophora Town

He stood there, violent summer sun radiating like fire, hot enough to bake you, yet he stood there under the sun not moving. The green-bamboo hat he wore already had turned yellow, his upper face in shadow under its brim. His face was prominently cornered, clearly edged, his brows soaring up above two eyes sharp as a hawk’s.

But the look in his eyes would cause one to shudder—it was a hard, rigid look, cold like a knife blade. Without a doubt a man possessing that kind of look also had a heart hard and merciless as pig iron. The bridge of his nose was straight, projecting out haughty amid thin and lean cheeks, his thin lips shut tightly as if pressing down something, to the point that his strong lower jaw lifted slightly in a sneer.

His entire form would give anyone who saw it the shivers, his hard-packed muscles quivering under his tight dark blue clothes, full of wild fury, brimming with cruel ferocity, and so full of a raging strength surging like wild waves—he was like an imposing lofty mountain, but one that could at any time erupt into an uncontrollable volcano!

He was Li Jueling, one of the best lone robbers among those who walked the dark path of the jianghu, the most cruel and merciless killer in the martial fraternity. The blade of his sabre, engraved with an image of a soaring dragon, the steel handle wrapped in red ochre leather, now was braced slanted into the ground. Friends of the jianghu had given the sabre a name: ”The Bridge of Life and Death”, signifying it was the bridge that transported one from life to death, from the land of the living to the pits of hell…

Now, he stood in the middle of the government road surrounded by fertile plains, not even a single tree to offer shade. The dirt all around looked as if it had been broiled by the intense sun. It also was an ochre red…

Just then a covered cart approached, filling the sky with dust. Behind the cart two men on horseback followed, a sabre handle sticking out over their shoulders, apricot tassles on the handles undulating with the gait of the horses…

The driver of the cart looked fiercely at Li Jueling who stood blocking the road. Fear unwittingly rose in his heart, his left hand raised and he said, “Hey! You in the road, aren’t you afraid of roasting in the sun, or being run over by this cart? Get out of the way.”

Li Jueling, without expression, pulled his sabre from the dirt and hefted it onto his shoulder, then strode forward toward the two-horse cart heading straight for him, as if he were going to play a game of chicken…

The driver was a ferocious looking character. He shouted abuse, “You fucker, you really want to die!”

Li Jueling turned a deaf ear and went faster toward the cart. Soon they were about to collide!

Suddenly, the driver whipped the horses ruthlessly, urging the cart headlong, spit flying as he cursed, “Bastard, if you’re tired of living, I’ll help you!”

Sunlight pierced his eyes and a dazzling blue ray circled among the sunlight with two swishes and the two horses pulling the cart suddenly lost their heads, sticky blood erupting everywhere. The horses collapsed to the ground and at the same time the singletree broke and the driver staggered forward as he fell, his head along with the horses’ flying through the air!

The cart hit nose-end into the ground, crashed and slanted down to the side. The two guards behind were stupefied, then one shouted madly and charged his horse forward!

Li Jueling moved like lightning. His sharp, resplendent, blood-dripping dragon-engraved sabre swished and sliced open the cart’s canopy. Inside, a befuddled brocade-clad thin short person crawled out. Consequently, this dear friend’s head also was sent rolling like a ball along the ground!

The two guards dismounted, intending to stop him, but they were too late. One of them, pockmarked, glared with flames shooting from his eyes, and shouted, “Dogfucking son of a bitch, you killed Southern Mountain Second Master Qian!”

The other guard, face red like blood, grit his teeth and glowered, “If we don’t flay this piece of shit alive today then we’re not human!”

Li Jueling, coldfaced, not angered, stuck his sabre in the ground, bent it back, and let it twang forward, launching him and the sabre forward. The two guards went to draw their weapons but their heads had already risen nine meters into the air, a stunned look on their decapitated faces!

He flicked the blood off his sabre and Li Jueling, not even looking up, strode away. From the time he started to the end spanned no more than a few breaths!

By the time the horse and men corpses lay on the ground, the heads resting on the sunbaked dirt, Li Jueling had already disappeared into the distance…

As the sun slightly tipped to the west, Li Jueling rode in alone to “Seven Sophora Town”, past the large, twisted-together sophora tree—which symbolized the prosperity and amiability of Seven Sophora Town, signifying teamwork and mutual aid, but he didn’t give it a second look, only headed straight to “Fresh Chrysanthemum Tavern” at the end of the street.

A single cold look retreated the waiter who had come to serve him. He silently waited outside the tavern doors. Soon, turning a corner, a dozen or so rough-looking pugilists approached laughing and carrying on, clustered around a dandified foppish young man. Li Jueling knew his quarry had arrived, the local tyrant of Seven Sephora Town, Wu Zhongquan’s good-for-nothing son!

This group brazenly carried on noisily before the tavern doors, not casting even a sidelong glance at Li Jueling. Just as he crossed the threshold, a cold spike suddenly shined and the pampered dandied fop’s head shot up and hit the lintel with a thud!

The group around him were all stunned. They just stood stupid-eyed, staring at the gory scene before them. Before they had come to their senses, Li Jueling had already left the town.


An evening breeze gently stirred, dispelling much of the day’s heat. Li Jueling sat his horse, seemingly unaware, sweat sticking to him, yet he felt no discomfort. Today he had already conducted three items of business, settling two matters. Now there was only one more left, so he needed to go to a place outside Seven Sophora Town.

Whether it was his own operation or a commission, once he had fixed the date he always completed it. His credit was first-rate——no matter who he was up against, once he set out he would succeed to his utmost satisfaction. Because he was the King Yama Blade…

For this third item of “business” he was more careful because this target might not be so easy to net as his previous “quarry”, plus his target this time was also a master of the dark path…

A couple hours later he arrived at the foot of a hill where a lone tile-roofed house sat, weeds sprouting up all around. It was clearly rather desolate. Li Jueling dismounted some distance away and nimbly went quickly to the front door. He didn’t dawdle, didn’t call out, but lifted his foot and with a crash busted the wooden door to splinters.

He flattened against the doorframe and stood quietly, and heard a sneer coming from within, then a fire sparked and a faint yellow light was lit. Inside, a gloomy voice called, “I’ve been waiting here patiently for hours, please come in.”

Li Jueling turned and walked straight in, his head held high. On the crude table within was a lone lit candle, its flame quavering in the air, faintly illuminating a tall thin man standing to the side, wearing a glittering gold shirt, his narrow swarthy face completley expressionless, the perfect foil to Li Jueling’s cold countenance.

When he saw Li Jueling’s face the gold-shirt man was surprised and let out a thin yelp, then asked doubtfully, “Who are you? I’m pretty sure you’re not from the ‘Red Crown Sect!’”

Li Jueling watched him coldly. “Of course I’m not——are you Meng Yan?”

The man nodded. “Yes, the ‘Gold Shirt Stranger’ Meng Yan is me. Friend, what group are you with?”

“No need to ask, there’s no use wasting time beating around the bush. Meng Yan, I came here for only one thing———the ‘Cat-Eye Jade!’”

Meng Yan said heavily, “Why have you come for that?”

“Red Crown Sect Chief Lou Zishuo commissioned me, isn’t that enough?” Li Jueling said, his eyes shining.

Meng Yan spat in disgust. “Lou Zishuo is nothing!”

Li Jueling was silent a moment, then said, “The box of Cat-Eye Jade was Lou Zishuo’s plot, to steal that which a vassal state from the western border had given to the imperial palace as tribute——”

Meng Yan cut him off, “It was our plot. We planned to steal it together!”

“Yet when it came into your possession, you kept it all for yourself, taking the entire box of treasure and scampering far away, not leaving even a shard of broken jade for Lou Zishuo,” Li Jueling said.

Meng yan cast his eyes down. “That was Lou’s own fault.

Li Jueling said nothing.

Meng Yan was still angry. “It was seven of us robbed the treasure, six of them were Red Crown men, including Lou Zishuo. Only I wasn’t part of Red Crown Sect. Once we got it, they tried to lure me to some place and finish me off and take my share. What was I supposed to do? Lose face like that? Of course I gave them a tooth for a tooth, stole the stuff and ran off!”

Li Jueling had lost his patience, “Dog eats dog, you both have a mouthful of fur. I don’t care about your shitty dealings. I only know about receiving commissions and faithfully carrying them out. Meng, I came here tonight on behalf of Lou Zishuo to take back that box of Cat-Eye Jade!”

With a piercing cold laugh Meng Yan said, “Friend, don’t think I’m so easy to eat up. You say you want it and expect me to respectfully present it to you with both hands? Where in the world does anything come that cheap?”

Li Jueling raised his bushy black eyebrows fiercely. “If I’ve come for it, not giving it up is probably not a good idea!”

Meng Yan stared. “If I don’t give it to you, what are you gonna do about it?”

Taking a slight step forward, Li Jueling brought his sheathed sabre up before him. “It’s real simple. I’ll take both that box of jade and your dog life along with me!”

Meng Yan humphed disdainfully. “Brother, you’re making a mistake. Do you know who I am?”

“Do you know who I am?” Li Jueling said woodenly.

“Who are you?” Meng Yan roared. “At best you’re only one of Lou Zishuo’s third-rate henchmen!”

Li Jueling’s lips hooked up coldly. “This sharp blade, do you see it? People call it the ‘Bridge of Life and Death.’”

Meng Yan quickly took a step back, stared at his opponent for sometime. Then he drew in a cold breath. “King Yama Blade Li Jueling!”

“You gonna hand it over or not?” Li Jueling said ruthlessly.

Meng Yan swallowed hard, his face looking quite unsightly. His voice scratched as if he had a hair caught in his throat. “Friend Li, why must you bully me like this?”

Li Jueling said roughly, “Enough of that, are you going to hand it over? In any case if I don’t take the stuff I’m going to take your life!”

Meng Yan grit his teeth and stammered, “All right, let’s make a deal. I’ll give you half, how about that? Lou Zishuo surely didn’t pay you more than that?”

“That’s right,” Li Jueling said. “But I accepted his job; I can’t make a deal with you. Living among the jianghu you must be aware of that principle, so how do you think that would be proper?”

Meng Yan’s face fell. He said in a low, hoarse voice, “Friend Li, Lou is very cunning, not someone you can make friends with. If you befriend him, sooner or later he’ll doublecross you…”

Li Jueling snorted in contempt. “Shit, and you’re the type one can be friends with? Honestly, you’re all weasels from the same den, I wouldn’t touch a one of you. You just use each other, and when you’re used up you scatter. You all rarely make friends. Meng, enough with all this nonsense, my patience has a limit…”

Meng Yan breathed in. “Aren’t you pressing me a bit too hard?”

Li Jueling looked at him oddly, said slowly, “Meng Yan, he told me in detail where you live. Furthermore, he figured you wouldn’t hide out because you’re not the type to pass the years in the dark. Yep, he was right, you’re really not that way, but do you know a smelly and dirty place to hide out that’s even darker?”

Meng Yan’s eyes looked like they would burst into flames. “Li, I know very well your standing so I won’t offend you, but I also won’t be threatened by you!”

Li Jueling laughed without mirth. “It’s a warning, not a threat!”

Meng Yan shouted, “You won’t yield even one step!”

Li Jueling shook his head. “Once I’ve made a deal with someone, why would I yield?”

Meng Yan’s face contorted. He said fiercely, “Okay, Li Jueling. You brought this on yourself!” He suddenly raised his head. “Light the lamps!”

The doors on either side of the crude hall were opened and bright light spilled in bright as day and two people entered from both sides. On the right two people, one short and stocky, small of stature and unimposing, the other handsome and debonair, fair-faced. On the left entered two, the first a thin, sallow, old waxen-faced man, accompanied by a person dressed in scholar clothes wearing a beard in three long tufts.

They entered and immediately took up advantageous positions around the room, all of them composed and ruthless-looking.

Li Jueling looked unconcerned. “No wonder you have the balls to talk back to me, you had help hiding away.”

Meng Yan said stonefaced, “You must have expected something like this before you came!”

Li Jueling lightly rubbed his polished pure steel blade. “You’re right, I did expect it——otherwise, why would you dare to wait around here?” He raised his brows slightly, looked around. “You all gonna tell me who you are?”

The bearded scholar laughed coldly. “You think we wouldn’t dare say our names in front of you? Li Jueling, we know your expertise, but it’s not enough for you to take us so lightly!”

Li Jueling nodded. “Then, why don’t you start. Friend, what are you doing here?”

The longbearded scholar hmphed. “Three-Step Soul Stealer Zhu Qing!”

Next to him, the shriveled up old man lauighed bizarrely, like a wolf’s howl. “Li, don’t you know Big Claw Wei Peng?”

Li Jueling said, “Good, so you two are Gold Eagles from Eagle Fortress.”

Big Claw laughed. “Who would have known the famous King Yama Blade has heard of the Gold Eagles of Eagle Fortress!”

Eagle Fortress was perched on a tall peak among the clouds in the northwest part of Jiangxi. The drop off below was some three thousand meters, high and steep, the peak covered with snow and fog all year round, misty so that you could barely see the sky, which only increased its mystique.

Everyone in the jianghu knew Eagle Fortress was one of the most powerful sects among the six northern provinces. They controlled the black market in the entire Jiangxi area, and their influence extended for miles in all directions. Eagle Fortress was heavily populated with good men, brave warriors. Their organization was secretive, their regulations strict, their operations always getting great results. Especially Cave Throat Luo Ruqiang, who was a particularly prestigious evil star among the martial fraternity, cruel and merciless, coldfaced and unfeeling, and he was incredibly harsh and strict with his subordinates. Such a powerful and important organization among the jianghu, how could an old hand like Li Jueling not know them? So as soon as they said their names he knew the details.

“Meng Yan, in that case, you really do have some means.”

Meng Yan said angrily, “What does that mean?”

Li Jueling laughed coldly. “To be in cahoots with Eagle Fortress, no wonder you have the balls to be so relentless, but I can’t tell what your realtionship is exaclty with the Gold Eagles Eagle Fortress…”

The men under Cave Throat Luo Ruqiang at Eagle Fortress were divided into three grades: Gold Eagle, Silver Eagle, and Iron Eagle. Of course the Gold Eagles were top-notch, the Silver Eagles second, the Iron Eagles third. But the Silver and Iron Eagles of Eagle Fortress were not at all second- and third-rate characters among the jianghu. Rather they had a great reputation within the martial fraternity, not easy to deal with. Eagle Fortress’ Luo Ruqiang was rigorous in selecting his men, and they all had selected roles, so all the men within Eagle Fortress were talented.

Meng Yan said, “Li, are you confused?”

Li Jueling, his stare cold as a knife, said, “Me? Confused? Meng Yan, you tell me: do I look confused to you?”

Big Claw said, “No need to talk tough, Li. For sure you’re a ruthless fellow, taking on business all by yourself, but after all you’re still just a man. Compared with Eagle Fortress, Eagle Fortress is a thriving, rich, stable large restaurant. And you? You’re just a roadside stall peddlar serving wonton soup. We’re in the same business, but there’s a big gap in actual power and influence. Think for yourself; if we fight, what’ll happen?”

“I don’t want to fight with you,” Li Jueling said darkly.

Hearing that he detected a “soft” smell, and the Gold Eagle of Eagle Fortress called Big Claw couldn’t help but smile slightly. “Hm, seems you’ve calculated the pros and cons. I can tell you, not looking for trouble with us will be quite beneficial to you…”

“I already said I didn’t want to fight with you,” Li Jueling said coldly, “but I also don’t want you to fight with me. In other words, mutual non-aggression. Otherwise, although I recognize you as members of Eagle Fortress, I fear my King Yama Blade won’t!”

Big Claw’s face fell. He said sternly, “Dear Li Jueling, so tell me again, do you want Eagle Fortress as an enemy?”

Li Jueling said stiffly, “If Eagle Fortress wants me for an enemy, and if you two can represent Eagle Fortress…”

Big Claw glared. “Of course we can represent Eagle Fortress!”

The corner of Li Jueling’s mouth curled. “In that case, I might as well speak frankly. Eagle Fortress plays violent and ruthless, but that talk won’t faze me. You all are a force, but I’m no trifle. You’re stable but I’m not afraid to charge into you. You want to go toe-to-toe and use ‘Eagle Fortress’ to intimidate me, let me advise you to give up that dream as soon as possible. As long as there is an Eagle Fortress man here, it’s the same as Luo Ruqiang being here himself, and I don’t give a shit about that fucker either!”

Big Claw’s face turned black. “Li Jueling, you dare open your mouth and spew such filth and besmirch our chief; you will definitely die tonight!”

Li Jueling’s sharp eyes flashed. “Try it and we’ll see!”

Big Claw leaned in and shouted, “Then come on——”

Suddenly, Meng Yan called out in a low voice, “Wait!”

Turning furiously to look at Meng Yan, Big Claw flew into a rage. “What?”

Meng Yan gave him a look, then turned to Li Jueling. “Li, you’re a hard one, we all know it, but you also surely know we’re not just some third-rate oafs? Shouldn’t you think this over? We’ll let you have half of the treasure, everyone is happy, no need to spoil the mood. From our point of view, we’ve already yielded three steps to you. Don’t reach for a foot after getting an inch and press us, otherwise things will get nasty, and who knows who will come out the victor?”

Li Jueling said firmly, “Don’t cover your face with gold foil (don’t brag). Meng, there’s no discount to slash, furthermore, I can guarantee you that if I throw down, the chances of you all falling is much greater than mine!”

Meng Yan shouted, “Li Jueling, we’ve said all there is to say, you really yield to nothing!”

Li Jueling’s hand lightly stroked his sabre hilt. He had no expression. “Meng, you’ve talked enough garbage.”

Three-Step Soul Stealer Zhu Qing’s white face went ashen, the corners of his mouth twitching nonstop. He stared poison at Li Jueling. “Old Wei, what are we waiting for?”

“Yeah,” Li Jueling said, “what are you waiting for?”

Big Claw Wei Peng said, “Li Jueling, do you have the guts?”

Li Jueling said calmly, “Well, I’m not completely lacking, am I?”

Zhu Qing’s angry face mixed with an indescribable hatred. He stroked his beard and grit his teeth. “Li Jueling, I’ve seen enough petty scoundrels like you: has a little fame so becomes arrogant, looking down on the whole world. Those domineering types are all over the martial fraternity, all worth killing. Now, you’ve gone down that same ridiculous, lamentable path.”

With a sidelong glance, Big Claw Wei Peng derided, “The kind of person that has that kind of character, they never change. There’s a saying: ‘a shit-eating dog can’t scurry up a high wall’. Isn’t Li that kind of person?”

Li Jueling asked indifferently, “Then, what kind are you two? Grandmasters? Founders of a martial arts family? Chivalrous gallants? Actually, just a bunch of outlaw pig-dog stupid thieves, a bandit’s lackeys, vainly presuming you might deceive someone of your foul reputation, not worth half a copper.”

Roaring, Wei Peng said, “You’re gonna die!”

Li Jueling spat coldly, “Motherfucker!”

With two hands Wei Peng had already grabbed his shiny talons from his back. They were made from refined iron, sharp and curved like five fingers. A pair of ghost claws with a six-inch handle, at the end of which were leather wraps that covered his wrists. When opened it was clear they could attack at close or far range.

Li Jueling stood unmoving like a mountain, his “Bridge of Life and Death” sabre held before him, eyes flashing like lightning. Just as he was about to speak, Three-Step Soul Stealer Zhu Qing suddenly moved, his left sleeve waving fiercely, the fingers of his right hand out straight like a halberd, aiming for Li Jueling’s upper, middle, and lower sections!