It was a hot summer's day in June, l754, the eighteenth year of the reign of Emperor Qian Long. In the inner courtyard of the military commander's Yamen in Fufeng in Shaanxi province, a fourteen-year-old girl skipped towards her teacher's study, eager for a history lesson. All was peaceful: not even a thread of cool wind stirred. The girl hesitated, afraid that her teacher had not yet woken from his afternoon nap. Quietly, she circled round to the window, pierced a hole in its paper covering with one of her golden hair clips, and peeped inside.
She saw her teacher sitting cross-legged on a chair, smiling. His right hand waved slightly in the air, and there was a faint clicking sound. Glancing over to where the sound came from, she noticed several dozen flies on a wooden partition opposite, all as still as could be. Puzzled, she looked more closely and noticed a golden needle as slender as a hair protruding from the back of each fly. The needles were so small that she was only able to see them because they reflected the rays of the late afternoon sun slanting in through the windows.
Flies were still buzzing to and fro around the room. The teacher waved his hand again, there was a small noise, and another fly was pinned to the partition. Absolutely fascinated, she ran to the door and burst in, shouting: "Teacher! Show me how to do that."
The girl was Li Yuanzhi, the only child of the local military commander, Li Keshou. Her fresh, beautiful face was flushed with excitement.
"Hmm," said her teacher, a scholar in his mid-fifties named Lu. "Why aren't you playing with your friends? You want to hear some more stories, do you?"
Moving a chair over to the partition, she jumped up to look, then pulled the needles out of the flies one by one, wiped them clean on a piece of paper and handed them back to him. "That was a brilliant piece of kung fu, teacher," she said. "You have to show me how to do it."
Lu smiled. "If you want to learn kung fu, there's no-one better at it within a hundred miles of here than your own father," he said.
"My father knows how to shoot an eagle with an arrow, but he can't kill a fly with a needle. If you don't believe me, I'll go and ask him."
Lu thought for a moment, and then nodded. "All right, come tomorrow morning and I'll teach you. Now go off and play. And you're not allowed to tell anyone about me killing the flies. If anyone finds out, I won't teach you."
Yuanzhi was overjoyed. She knelt before him and kowtowed eight times. Lu accepted the gesture with a smile. "You pick things up very quickly. It is fitting that I should teach you this kind of kung fu. However…" He stopped, deep in thought.
"Teacher," said Yuanzhi hurriedly. "I will do anything you say."
"To be honest, I don't agree with much of what your father does," he said. "When you're older, I hope you will be able to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. If you accept me as your teacher, you must also accept the strict rules of the Wudang Martial Arts Order to which I belong. Do you think you can?"
"I would not dare defy your orders," she said.
"If you ever use the skills I teach you to do evil, I will take your life as easily as turning my hand over."
His face and voice became stern and hard, and for a moment Yuanzhi was frightened. But then she smiled. "I'll be good," she said. "Anyway, how could you bear to kill me?"