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Who Knew the Truth About the Wen Remnants?

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In the story of Modao Zushi, we see a group of people being rounded up and placed in a restricted settlement, then shuffled to a prison labour camp, and eventually be massacred and thrown in a mass grave. The treatment of the Wen remnants by the sects and their eventual fate bear similarities to real ethnic cleansing/genocide attempts, and I find the way that fandom tries to mitigate and even ignore it deeply disturbing.

I think that part of it is because people like these characters. They don’t want to take a long hard look at them and admit that they were either complicit or active participants in such an atrocity. How could people who are supposed to be righteous, like Lan Xichen, Nie Mingjue and Lan Qiren, do such a monstrous thing?

People want to believe that they didn’t know. That the Jins were engaging in a massive smear campaign against Wei Wuxian and that the sects were deceived into thinking that the people in the Burial Mounds settlement were an army. But I don’t think the text backs that up, and am going to be going over it very closely to try to build a clear picture of what was known about the Wen remnants by the cultivation world, and who was involved in their massacre.


From the Ghetto to the Prison Camp

I’m going to say, I think Mo Xiang Tong Xiu knew exactly what she was doing when she wrote all of this. The remnants of the Wen clan, after the war, are described as being cordoned off into a small settlement in Qishan, with all the remaining territory being divvied up between the sects. After that, the remaining Wens (the ones who didn't participate in the war) who had initially been allowed to live there started being arrested on trumped up charges and sent to the prison camp at Qiongqi Path.

In general, this is the sort of pattern which real world ethnic cleansing or genocide attempts tend to follow. People are first confined to a ghetto, then start being arrested on spurious charges (see Wen Ning's arrest) and sent to prison labour camps, subjected to harsh treatment there with many dying 'accidentally', and eventually people may be massacred and their bodies thrown in a mass grave.

The Genocide Convention defines 'deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part' as an important hallmark of genocide. This was certainly the end result of the cultivation world's hate against the Wens. The Genocide Convention also defines genocide itself as 'intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group'. The sects in Modao Zushi are certainly religious sects, and as they all have their own unique cultures, I think we could argue that they bear at least some similarities to ethnic groups as well.

To me, the fact that the initial desire for retribution turned into a hateful fervour in which the cultivation world wanted to see the entire Wen clan exterminated, down to the conscientious objectors like Wen Qing and the infants like A-Yuan, drives this much closer to an ethnic cleansing or genocide attempt than simply a case of treating war prisoners inhumanely. And, as we will see soon when Wei Wuxian confronts everyone in Koi Tower, the cultivation world does not care that many of the people in prison now are innocent of war crimes.

Most of the descriptions of something similar happening are from chapter 72, where Wei Wuxian shows up at the banquet in Koi Tower to ask after Wen Ning.

 

 

 

Wei WuXian, “You definitely remember him. Last month, when you were night-hunting in the area of Ganquan, you chased an eight-winged bat king to the gathering place, or the detention camp, of the Wen Sect’s remnants and brought a group of the Wen Sect’s disciples. The one in the lead was him.”

After the Sunshot Campaign, the QishanWen Sect was destroyed. The territory that it was expanding was shared among the other sects. The Ganquan area was appointed to the LanlingJin Sect. As for the remnants of the Wen Sect, they were herded into a small corner of Qishan, not even a thousandth the territory it onced owned. They were crammed into the place and struggled to live.

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

As said, the wording of ‘detention camp’ and ‘crammed into the place and struggled to live’ is very reminiscent of a ghetto.

Wei Wuxian describes Jin Zixun’s ill-treatment of the Wen cultivators who were allowed to live ‘free’ after the war:

 

 

 

Wei WuXian, “Fine. I don’t mind explaining it in greater detail. You couldn’t catch the bat king and happened to run into a few of the Wen Sect’s disciples who were there to investigate the same thing. And so, you threatened them to carry spirit-attraction flags to be your bait. They didn’t dare do it. One person stepped out and tried to reason with you. That’s the Wen Ning I’m talking about. After some delay, the bat king got away. You beat up the Wen cultivators, took them away by force, and the group disappeared. Do I need to say any more details? They still haven’t returned yet. Apart from you, I don’t know who in the world I could possibly ask.”

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

It’s worth noting too that this behaviour is very reminiscent of Wen Chao’s, and yet no one in the room observing this is concerned at all. In general, Wei Wuxian describes a very concerning situation and no one cares; such is the negative sentiment against the Wens at this point.

 

 

 

Wei WuXian, “Did I say something wrong? Forcing living people to be bait and beating them up whenever they refused to obey—is this any different from what the QishanWen Sect does?”

Another guest cultivator stood up, “Of course it’s different. The Wen-dogs did all kinds of evil. To arrive at such an end is only karma for them. We only avenged a tooth for a tooth, letting them taste the fruit that they themselves had sown. What’s wrong with this?”

Wei WuXian, “Take revenge on the ones who bite you. Wen Ning’s branch doesn’t have much blood on their hands. Don’t tell me that you find them guilty by association?”

[...]

The person shook his head, the words ‘this man refuses to reason with me’ written all over his face. Someone else sneered, “Back then, when the Wen Sect slaughtered our people, it was thousands of times crueler than this! They didn’t treat us with justice and morality, so why should we treat them with such?”

Wei WuXian grinned, “Oh. The Wen-dogs did all kinds of evil, so anyone whose surname is Wen can be killed? That’s not it, is it? Many of the clans who defected from the Wen Sect are quite well-off right now, aren’t they? In this hall, isn’t there a few sect leaders from clans that used to be under the Wen Sect’s wing?”

As the sect leaders saw that he recognized them, their expressions changed at once. Wei WuXian continued, “Since anyone whose surname is Wen can be used an outlet of anger as one pleases, no matter if they’re innocent or not, does it mean that it’s fine even if I kill all of them right now?”

(Chaper 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

It’s worth noting that the ‘clans who defected’ are not Wens themselves, as some fans have suggested. Many smaller sects are subordinate to the great sects in their regions, such as the Laoling Qin who are loyal to the Lanling Jin. Wei Wuxian is just pointing out the hypocrisy of them being allowed to live free while the remaining Wens are so mistreated.

An interesting exchange happens after Wei Wuxian leaves:

 

 

 

Lan WangJi spoke coldly, “Was he wrong?”

Jin GuangYao paused almost unnoticeably. He immediately laughed, “Haha. Yes, he’s right. But it’s because he’s right that he can’t say it in front of them, correct?”

Lan XiChen seemed as if he was deep in thought, “Young Master Wei’s heart really has changed.”

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

I just find the fact that Jin Guangyao actually admits that Wei Wuxian was in the right here to be very, very interesting. He’s a terrible person who continually chooses to do evil, but every now and then he has these odd moments. I’d also point out that Lan Xichen seems entirely unswayed by the accusations of abuse which Wei Wuxian has made against the Jins.

From there, Wei Wuxian and Wen Qing head to Qiongqi Path, where the original reliefs carved by the Qishan Wen are being replaced.

 

 

 

Such a large-scale undertaking would need many laborers for sure. And, as for these laborers, of course there were no better candidates than the Wen Sect’s prisoners of war, who had become homeless dogs after the Sunshot Campaign.

[...]

Before the valley was a row of shacks built temporarily for the prisoners of war to spend their nights. Leading Wen Qing, Wei WuXian saw an old, bent-over figure from afar. Cloaked in rain, the figure walked slowly, carrying a large flag. When it walked nearer, it became clear that the person carrying the flag was a wobbly old woman. She carried on her back a young toddler who paid attention to nothing but nibbling his fingers, fixed into position by a few cloth rags. 

[...]

A large sun, crest of the QishanWen Sect, was painted over the flag. However, it a blood-red cross was plastered on top of it. The flag itself was torn to bits as well. From when the Sunshot Campaign ended until now, countless people were labeled ‘leftover Wen-dogs’. Countless methods were used to torture them too, even called the euphemism ‘self reflection’. Wei WuXian knew it was likely because she was too old and couldn’t be a laborer like the others that the leader here came up with such a way to torment her. She had to carry the Wen Sect’s tattered flag and walk around in self humiliation.

[...]

Torches were set up on both sides of the valley. The flames flickered now and then within the faint strings of rain, but their blaze nonetheless illuminated the hundreds of heavy silhouettes on the path.

The prisoners were all ghastly pale, their steps dragging. They weren’t allowed to use spiritual powers or any other instruments, not only by the LanlingJin Sect’s precautions against them, but also because it had to be punishing. Over a dozen inspectors, bearing black umbrellas, rode on horseback through the rain as they scolded.

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

Wei Wuxian notices that the inspectors are carrying branding tools:

 

 

 

The young man bore handsome features, but his eyes were rather cold. He couldn’t help but shiver under the gaze. Soon, he realized that the young man wasn’t staring at him, but instead the iron brand that he brandished.

The iron brand within the inspector’s hand was the same kind as what the QishanWen Sect’s servants used. It was only that the shape of the brand at the top was changed from the sun crest to the peony crest.

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

At this point they begin to question the inspectors.

 

 

 

The people looked at one another. After some dawdling, an inspector who looked quite honest spoke up, his tone friendly, “All of the prisoners here are the Wen Sect’s cultivators. New ones are sent here every day.”

[...]

The inspector was round and chubby. He gave an obsequiously apologetic grin, “Maiden, don’t worry. Actually, it happens a lot that other sects come to us for cultivators. Maybe somebody else took him during the past few days? When we do roll calls, we’d sometimes find that someone ran away as well…”

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

May I just note how ominous it is that sects ‘come to [them] for cultivators’ regularly? What happens to those cultivators? We’ll never know.

When Wei Wuxian asks where the dead cultivators are, the guards claim:

 

 

 

The inspectors quickly replied, “That’s not the way to talk. Although it’s all Wen cultivator’s here, we’ve never dared do anything fatal.”

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

Naturally, he doesn’t believe this and uses Chenqing to raise the corpses:

 

 

 

Yelps of surprise suddenly came from the far side of the crowd. Scrambling, the people soon emptied out an area of the circle with which they surrounded him. In the area stood slantingly around a dozen tattered figures, tall and short, men and women. Some of them gave off the stench of rotting flesh. The one who stood at the front was Wen Ning, whose eyes were still open.

His face was as pale as wax and his pupils were dilated. The blood at the corner of his lips had already dried into a dark brown. Although his chest didn’t rise and fall at all, it was obvious to see that half of his ribcage had collapsed. Nobody who saw such a scene would think that he was still alive, but Wen Qing still didn’t give up, grabbing for his pulse with trembling hands.

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

This gives us an idea of just how brutally the prisoners are being killed. The inspectors, meanwhile, try to cover it up but clearly don’t consider what they’ve done wrong at all:

 

 

 

“Young Master Wei, you mustn’t say such a thing. We wouldn’t dare kill a single person here. He’s the one who wasn’t careful while working, fell off the valley walls and died.”

Wei WuXian, “Nobody would dare kill a single person? Is that true?”

The inspectors swore in unison, “Absolutely!”

“Not a single one!”

Wei WuXian smiled, “Oh. I understand.”

Immediately after, he continued calmly, “It’s because they’re Wen-dogs, and Wen-dogs aren’t people. So even if you killed them, it doesn’t count as having killed people. That’s what you mean, isn’t it?”

This was exactly what the lead inspector was thinking when he said it. With his thoughts read, his complexion paled. Wei WuXian added, “Or did you really think I wouldn’t know how someone died?”

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

Before Wei Wuxian takes them all from the camp, we get a little more insight into how people were treated there:

 

 

 

The prisoner’s voice quivered slightly as he pointed in a certain direction, “There’s… There’s a house on that side of the valley. They use it to… lock people inside and beat them up. Anyone who dies would be dragged outside and buried. Some of the people you’re looking for might be over there…”

Wei WuXian, “Thank you.”

He followed the direction that the person pointed and indeed saw a shed that seemed like it was only temporarily built. Holding Wen Qing in one hand, he kicked the door open. In a corner of the room sat around a dozen people, all of them bruised and bleeding. 

(Chapter 72, Exiled Rebels translation)

I know I quoted a lot here, but I think it’s worth establishing in clear terms just how terrible Qiongqi Path was and how much it resembles a concentration camp.


The Reaction of the Sects

Immediately after Wei Wuxian takes the Wens from the prison camp to the Burial Mounds, the sects meet at Koi Tower to discuss it. Those who weren’t there are called in. The discussion that happens here gives us some very good clues as to how much the sect leaders either knew (or chose not to know) about the Wen remnants and how they were being abused.

Just about everyone was here at this meeting:

 

 

 

On that night, an extreme crisis flooded the cultivational world.

At midnight, in the Golden Pavilion on Koi Tower sat over fifty sect leaders from sects of all sizes. Jin GuangShan sat in the foremost seat. Jin ZiXuan was away, while Jin ZiXun didn’t have enough experience, so Jin GuangYao was the only one who stood beside him. In the front row sat sect leaders and famed cultivators like Nie MingJue, Jiang Cheng, Lan XiChen, and Lan WangJi. All of their expressions were solemn. The next row sat sect leaders of lesser importance.

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

Jin Guangyao starts us off:

 

 

 

“… Four inspectors were harmed. Around fifty of the remaining Wen Sect members escaped. After Wei WuXian led them into Burial Mound, he summoned hundreds of fierce corpses to patrol the base of the mountain. Our people still can’t get any further.”

[...]

What Jin GuangShan wanted, however, wasn’t his apology or his compensation, “Sect Leader Jiang, at first, for your sake, the LanlingJin Sect didn’t intend on saying anything. However, some of these inspectors weren’t from the Jin Sect. There were a few from other sects as well. This makes it…”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

It’s worth noting, very loudly, that there were inspectors from multiple sects at the prison camp. This wasn’t something which the Jins were doing in secret; everyone was involved.

Jin Guangyao’s wording, ‘our people still can’t get any further’ also implies that Wei Wuxian and the Wens were pursued immediately. He would probably have had to take them to the Burial Mounds no matter what (where else would a necromancer with 50 civilians to protect go but corpse mountain?), but in particular he had no choice because it was closest and he needed a large force to repel their pursuers before they caught up to them.

Jiang Cheng, for the last time ever in his life, speaks up for Wei Wuxian:

 

 

 

“...Everyone, I’m afraid you don’t know that the Wen cultivator whom Wei WuXian wanted to save was called Wen Ning. We owe him and his sister Wen Qing gratitude for what happened during the Sunshot Campaign.”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

Of course, that doesn’t last long:

 

 

 

Nie MingJue, “You owe them gratitude? Isn’t the QishanWen Sect the ones who caused the YunmengJiang Sect’s annihilation?”

Within these few years, Jiang Cheng insisted on working late into the night every day. That day, just as he decided to rest early, he had to rush to Koi Tower overnight because of the thundering news. He’d been suppressing some anger under his fatigue since the beginning. With his natural competitiveness, he was already quite agitated since he had to apologize to other people. When he heard Nie MingJue mention the incident of his sect again, hatred sprouted within him.

The hatred was directed at not only everyone who was seated in this room, but also Wei WuXian.

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

Nie Mingjue clearly has no idea what it’s like to live under a tyrannical dictator:

 

 

 

Lan XiChen responded a moment later, “I have heard of Wen Qing’s name a few of times. I do not remember her having participated in any of the Sunshot Campaign’s crimes.”

Nie MingJue, “But she’s never stopped them either.”

Lan XiChen, “Wen Qing was one of Wen RuoHan’s most trusted people. How could she have stopped them?”

Nie MingJue spoke coldly, “If she responded with only silence and not opposition when the Wen Sect was causing mayhem, it’s the same as indifference. She shouldn’t have been so disillusioned as to hope that she could be treated with respect when the Wen Sect was doing evil and be unwilling to suffer the consequences and pay the price when the Wen Sect was wiped out.”

Lan XiChen knew that because of what happened to his father, Nie MingJue abhorred Wen-dogs more than anything, especially with how intolerable he was toward evil. Lan XiChen didn’t say anything else.

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

Lan Xichen may well be one of the least prejudiced in his attitudes here, and he still drops the topic like a hot potato because he doesn’t care enough to risk upsetting Nie Mingjue or making a fuss. Quite frankly, the subtext here is that he just doesn’t care enough to pursue it.

It’s very clear in this chapter just how bad the sentiment against the Wens is: they’re all guilty by the very crime of their name, as far as the rest of society is concerned:

 

 

 

One of the sect leaders spoke up, “What Sect Leader Nie said is quite right. Besides, Wen Qing is one of Wen RuoHan’s most trusted people. You’re telling me she never participated? Well I don’t buy it. Is there any Wen-dog without a single drop of blood on their hands? Maybe it’s just that we haven’t found out about it yet!

As soon as the Wen Sect’s past cruelties were mentioned, the crowd boiled over, surging and chattering.

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

Everyone happily disparages Wei Wuxian for a while before Mianmian steps in:

 

 

 

Suddenly, a careful voice interjected, “It’s not killing indiscriminately, is it?”

“...Let’s consider this as it stands. I really don’t think it’s right to say that he killed indiscriminately. After all, there is a reason. If the inspectors really abused the prisoners and killed Wen Ning, it wouldn’t be called killing indiscriminately anymore, but rather revenge…”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

The men here all happily disparage her and dismiss the notion that there was any abuse going on at the prison camp:

 

 

 

Another one of them mocked, “We still don’t know whether or not the inspectors really did those things. It’s not like anybody saw it with their own eyes.”

“That’s right. All of the inspectors who lived said that they definitely didn’t abuse the prisoners. Wen Ning died because he himself accidentally fell from a cliff. They even went so far as to take back his corpse and bury him, yet they received such revenge. How disappointing!”

[...]

The woman said, “The other inspectors are scared that they’d be responsible for abusing the prisoners and killing people. Of course they’d insist that he fell off on his own…”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

At this point they all disparage Mianmian, insisting that she’s a feeble-minded woman swayed by her supposed attraction to Wei Wuxian; I think these men would have gotten along very well with the Victorians. Only after Mianmian defects and Lan Wangji leaves to speak to her does Lan Xichen say anything:

 

 

 

After Lan XiChen understood what happened a few moments ago, hearing how the direction of their discussion worsened, he spoke up, “Everyone, she is gone already. Let us settle down.”

Now that ZeWu-Jun had spoken, of course the people had to give him some face. In Golden Pavilion, one after another, they began to denounce Wei WuXian and the Wen-dogs again. They all spoke with passionate hatred, letting their indiscriminate, irrefutable loathing dance in the air.

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

Nie Mingjue compliments her, but only in private with Lan Xichen and Jin Guangyao, never speaking up for her publicly either:

 

 

 

Nie MingJue, “The woman has much more backbone than the mob of her sect.”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

The matter is settled, at least for now, when Jiang Cheng visits Wei Wuxian at the Burial Mounds. Jiang Cheng very clearly sees the people there and declares them:

 

 

Jiang Cheng mocked, “Those sect leaders thought you gathered some leftover forces and crowned yourself king of the hill. So it’s only the old, the weak, the women, and the children.

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

He also sees A-Yuan, who is probably 2 at this point, and is completely unswayed:

 

 

As he was about to speak again, he felt something heavy on his leg. He looked down. He didn’t know when, but a child about one or two years old crept over and hugged his leg. Raising his chubby chin, he looked up at him with his dark, round eyes.

He was quite a fine, lovable child. Unfortunately, Jiang Cheng had no love in him at all. He turned to Wei WuXian, “Where did the kid come from? Get him away from me.”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

After attacking Wen Ning’s sleeping fierce corpse, he demands that Wei Wuxian return the Wen remnants to the Jins:

 

 

Wei WuXian, “You said it already. I wouldn’t be in the right even if I am. What else could I do except for jailing myself here?”

Jiang Cheng, “What else? Of course there’s something.”

With Sandu, he pointed at Wen Ning who lay on the ground, “The only way of making up for things is for us to end things before they get the chance to!”

Wei WuXian, “End what?”

Jiang Cheng, “You burn this corpse right now and return to them all these leftovers of the Wen Sect. That’s the only way to make the subject die!” As he spoke, he raised his sword again, preparing to attack.

However, Wei WuXian clenched his wrist, “Are you joking?! If we return Wen Qing and the others to them, they’d meet nothing but a dead end!”

Jiang Cheng, “I doubt you’ll even return all of them. Why do you care what kind of end they meet? A dead end it is, then—what does it have to do with you?!

[...]

Wei WuXian, “I don’t need anyone to speak for me.”

Jiang Cheng exploded, “Just what are you being so stubborn about? If you can’t do it then move over—I’ll do it!

Wei WuXian gripped him even tighter, his fingers as tight as iron, “Jiang WanYin!”

[...]

Wei WuXian, “There’s no need to protect me. Just let go.”

Jiang Cheng’s face twisted.

Wei WuXian, “Just let go. Tell the world that I defected. From now on, no matter what Wei WuXian does, it’d have nothing to do with the YunmengJiang Sect.”

Jiang Cheng, “… All for the Wen Sect…? Wei WuXian, do you have a savior complex? Is it that you’ll die if you don’t stand up for someone and stir up some trouble?”

Wei WuXian stayed quiet. A while later, he answered, “So that’s why we should cut ties right now, in case anything I do affects the YunmengJiang Sect in the future.”

Or else, he really couldn’t make any guarantees on what he’d do in the future.

“…” Jiang Cheng murmured, “My mom said that you do nothing but bring our sect trouble. It’s true indeed.” He laughed coldly, talking to himself, “‘To attempt the impossible’? Fine. You understand the YunmengJiang Sect’s motto. Better than I do. Better than all of us do.”

He sheathed Sandu. The sword returned to its sheath with a clang. Jiang Cheng’s tone was indifferent, “Then let’s arrange for a duel.”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

Without Wei Wuxian ever knowing, Jiang Cheng goes a step further, declaring that he betrayed Yunmeng Jiang and declared himself an enemy to the cultivation world:

 

 

 

After the fight, Jiang Cheng told the outside that Wei WuXian defected from the sect and was an enemy to the entire cultivation world. The YunmengJiang Sect had already cast him out. From then on, no ties remained between them—a clear line was drawn. Henceforth, no matter what he did, they’d have nothing to do with the YunmengJiang Sect!

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

This is also confirmed by Jin Guangyao over 13 years later. He refers to Wei Wuxian ‘betraying the sect’ while speaking to Lan Xichen:

 

 

 

Jin GuangYao, “Brother, during the fight with Sect Leader Jiang, when Wei WuXian betrayed the YunmengJiang Sect, how badly wounded was he? Didn’t he still return to command the corpses? Would anything in this world prove to be difficult to the YiLing Patriarch?”

(Chapter 65, Exiled Rebels translation)

In the radio drama, we actually get to hear Jiang Cheng’s public announcement. Since the radio drama was made in very close consultation with Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, I think that it’s not unreasonable to use these extra tidbits of dialogue as supplementary material. Here is what he says:

 

 

 

“Wei Wuxian has betrayed the sect, and publicly regards all cultivation sects as enemy! Yunmeng Jiang Sect hereby expels him, breaking all ties with him and drawing a clear line between us. Henceforth, no matter what this person does, it will have nothing to do with Yunmeng Jiang Sect!”

(Modao Zushi Radio Drama, Season 3 Episode 5, Suibian Subs)

This not only removes Wei Wuxian from the sect but from cultivation society as a whole, publicly discrediting and isolating him.


Public Perception of The Burial Mounds Settlement

Fandom has this idea that the whole cultivation world was convinced that Wei Wuxian was building an army in the Burial Mounds, but it’s not really supported by the text. The Burial Mounds settlement period was probably somewhere around two years. If people seriously thought that he was building an army, I highly doubt he would have been left alone to do so for that long.

In fact, it seems that most people believed Wei Wuxian was founding his own sect. Oddly enough, Jin Guangshan was actually the first to suggest it:

 

 

 

Using the atmosphere, Jin GuangShan turned to Jiang Cheng, “He’s been plotting for a while to go to Burial Mound, hasn’t he? After all, with his skills, it wouldn’t be too hard to set up a sect of his own. And so, he used this as a chance to leave the Jiang Sect, intending to do whatever he pleases in the bright skies outside. 

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

He intended it to hit Jiang Cheng’s buttons and stoke his inferiority complex; Jiang Cheng knew that he only took back Lotus Pier thanks to Wei Wuxian’s cultivation, and that many disciples joined during and after the war precisely because of his presence in the sect. But clearly the allegation stuck:

 

 

 

Everyone was in shock: there would be no peace anymore! Wei WuXian would definitely make these fierce corpses on a large scale, in desire of founding his own sect to compete with the cultivational world! And the many young blood of today’s age would definitely be attracted by his evil, opportunist path as well, and go to him one after another. The righteous path of cultivation would have grim future—dark times ahead!

(Chapter 75, Exiled Rebels translation)

Here, people are more concerned with him founding a sect which can compete with the great sects and teach unorthodox cultivation; not that he’s planning on invading the other sects a la Wen Ruohan.

 

 

 

But nobody believed this. After he found himself in the limelight during a few night-hunts, there really were quite a few people who came for him, hoping that they could be accepted by the ‘patriarch’ and become one of his disciples. The mountains that used to be so deserted suddenly became crowded. None of the fierce corpses Wei WuXian set up on patrol down the mountain would attack on their own. At most, they’d send the person flying and roar their throats out. Nobody got hurt, and so more and more people gathered down Burial Mound.

(Chapter 75, Exiled Rebels translation)

This is telling, because it shows that these people, at least, really did know that Wei Wuxian wasn’t a threat. They even cottoned on to the fact that his corpses wouldn’t actually hurt anyone, just chase them away.

Even at Nightless City, someone suggests again that he had founded his own sect:

 

 

 

One of the cultivators who stood in the front rows of one of the arrays commented bitterly, “Wei Ying, you disappoint me so much. There used to be a time when I admired you and said that at least you were someone who founded your own sect. Now that I think about it, it’s almost repulsive. From this moment on, I’ll forever stand on the opposite side of you!”

(Chapter 78, Exiled Rebels translation)

This is what people thought Wei Wuxian was doing in the Burial Mounds, not forming an army. The closest to anything like an army being suggested comes up when Jiang Cheng visits Wei Wuxian at the Burial Mounds a few days after the prison breakout.

 

 

 

Jiang Cheng mocked, “Those sect leaders thought you gathered some leftover forces and crowned yourself king of the hill. So it’s only the old, the weak, the women, and the children.”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

Even that is a little more vague than ‘people absolutely thought he was building an army of Wen cultivators’. When does anyone in canon seriously suggest that WWX was building an army during this period? They know he’s a threat because he’s a necromancer living on a mountain of corpses, but they don’t think he’s an active threat. Until the ambush at Qiongqi Path happens and the Jins are able to use that to turn the mobs against him, people are fairly willing to leave him alone.

It’s also worth noting that rumours of Wei Wuxian building an army are not mentioned in the prologue, which is all about giving us the public perception of Wei Wuxian which the novel will then slowly reveal to us to be false. This is the closest they come:

 

 

 

The head of the Jiang clan raised him as her own child, yet he defected them and became the enemy of the cultivation world, bringing shame upon the Jiang clan...

(Prologue, Exiled Rebels translation)

And that’s still not saying he’s building an army.

People hated Wei Wuxian because he practised heretical cultivation, protected the ‘Wen-dogs’ who they all hated, and because they viewed him as an uppity servant who had no business being as powerful as a great sect. Propaganda about an army wasn’t necessary in order to convince them to go massacre him and the people under his protection.


The First Siege of the Burial Mounds

In fact, the major justifications the sects give for the siege are the deaths at the ambush at Qiongqi Path and the deaths at Nightless City.

 

 

 

He lifted the bottom of his robe, revealing a prosthetic leg made of wood, “This leg of mine was destroyed by you, that night in the Nightless City. I’m showing this to you for you to understand that, among the people in the siege right now, there’s also the force of me, Yi WeiChun. With the works of karma, it’s never too late for revenge!”

[...]

“In the fight at Qiongqi Path, my son was strangled to death by your dog Wen Ning!”

[...]

Every face boiled with heated blood, every word spoken guiltlessly, every person heroic, passionate, filled with indignation and pride.

Everyone believed with no doubt that what they were doing was a feat of chivalry, a deed of honor.

It would go down history and receive millions of praise. It was a crusade of the ‘righteous’ against the ‘wrong’!

(Chapter 68, Exiled Rebels translation)

This was during the Second Siege, and sets the stage for the flashback to the past where we learn the truth. Let’s go back to Nightless City and see what they were saying then.

 

 

 

“Things were even worse for the GusuLan Sect! Over half of the thirty-or-so people were from their sect. They were clearly only there to help calm things down.”

“Good thing the Ghost General was finally burned. Or else, just thinking about how such a thing was roaming around outside, flipping out now and then, would be enough for me to have nightmares.”

Someone spat, “That’s the end all Wen-dogs should meet!

(Chapter 77, Exiled Rebels translation)

This is a gathering of people Wei Wuxian stumbles across after visiting Lanling, where had gone hoping to retrieve Wen Ning and Wen Qing’s ashes from Koi Tower.

 

 

 

The longer Wei WuXian listened, the colder his expression grew.

He should’ve understood long ago. No matter what he did, not a single good word would come out of these people’s mouths. When he won, others feared; when he lost, others rejoiced.

He was cultivating the crooked path either way, so what exactly did the years of persistence mean? What exactly were they for?

[...]

One of the group gloated, as though he had made a great contribution to this, “Yeah, terrific! It’ll be fine if only he obediently huddles inside of that damn mountain from now on. If he dares show his face outside again? Ha, as soon as he’s out, I’ll…”

(Chapter 77, Exiled Rebels translation)

At Nightless City, Jin Guangshan says:

 

 

 

“Tonight, the ones whose ashes had been scattered were the two leaders of the Wen Sect’s remnants. And tomorrow! It will be the rest of the Wen-dogs and—the YiLing Patriarch, Wei Ying!”

(Chapter 78, Exiled Rebels translation)

Then Wei Wuxian shows up:

 

 

 

Wei WuXian, “Haven’t I always been arrogant? Sect Leader Jin, how does it feel, having slapped yourself in the face? Who was the one that said he’d let the matter go if the Wen siblings went to Koi Tower and gave themselves up? And who was the one that just said he’d scatter my ashes and the ashes of the rest of the Wen Sect’s remnants tomorrow?”

[...]

Wei WuXian, “Then let me ask you, Sect Leader Jin, at Qiongqi Path, who was the one being ambushed? And who was the one to kill? Who was the main schemer? And who was the one being schemed against? In the end, just who was the one that came to provoke me first?”

(Chapter 78, Exiled Rebels translation)

The matter of Qiongqi Path is brought up again:

 

 

 

Hidden among such a large crowd, the disciples inside of the arrays all felt rather safe. Bravening up, they shouted, “Even if Jin ZiXun was the one who schemed to ambush you first, you shouldn’t have been so heartless and kill so many lives!”

(Chapter 78, Exiled Rebels Translation)

Wei Wuxian points out that he was attacked first and was defending himself, but no one cares.

 

 

 

Sect Leader Yao raised his voice, “Fight back? Those over a hundred people and the thirty on Koi Tower were all innocent. If you were fighting back, why did you have to involve them?”

Wei WuXian, “The fifty cultivators on Burial Mound are also innocent, so why do you have to involve them?

Someone else spat, “Just what great kindness has the Wen-dogs given you? To have you be on those scum’s side like this.”

“In my opinion, there isn’t any great kindness at all. It’s just that he thinks he’s a hero fighting against the entire world. He thinks he’s doing an act of justice, that he himself is quite an impressive person, risking everyone’s condemnation!”

(Chapter 78, Exiled Rebels translation)

This is so telling. Not only does he insist that the Wens he protects are innocent, some asshole straight-up says that Wei Wuxian ‘thinks he’s doing an act of justice’. This implies that they know the Wens are indeed innocent and just don’t care. We really can’t underestimate the level of hate against the Wens which exists in cultivation society after the war.

Chapter 79 returns to the present timeline, and sums it up thusly:

 

 

 

The bloodbath of Nightless City, legendarily, was a bloody battle in which the YiLing Patriarch, Wei WuXian, slaughtered over three thousand people during the night of the pledge conference on his own.

Some said that it was five thousand as well. No matter three or five, one thing was for sure—in that night, the ruins of Nightless City became a gory hell in Wei WuXian’s hands.

And the murderer, even under everyone’s attacks, managed to return to Burial Mound unscathed. Nobody knew how exactly he did it.

Due to this battle, the cultivation world was quite badly wounded. And since this was the case, after nearly three months of conserving energy and scheming plans, the Four Great Sects were finally able to successfully pull off a siege on the demon’s den, Burial Mound, returning the word ‘massacre’ to the Wen Sect’s remnants and the maddened YiLing Patriarch.

Wei WuXian looked at the cultivators before the Demon-Slaughtering Cave. Their expressions were the absolute same as those of the cultivators from the night of the pledge conference, pouring their wine on the ground as they took the pledge to scatter the ashes of the Wen Sect’s remnants and him. Some were the survivors of that night, others were the descendents of those cultivators, but even more were ‘persons of justice’ who held the same beliefs as them.

(Chapter 79, Exiled Rebels translation)

 

It’s worth noting that Jiang Cheng is credited with planning and leading the siege:

 

 

“The YiLing Patriarch has died? Who could have killed him?”

“Who other than his shidi, Jiang Cheng, putting an end to his own relative for the greater good. Jiang Cheng led the Four Clans of YunmengJiang, LanlingJin, GusuLan, and QingheNie to destroy his “den”—LuanZang Hill.”

[...]

“That’s merely hearsay. Although Jiang Cheng was one of the main forces, he did not give Wei WuXian the final blow. Because he cultivates the Demon Path, Wei WuXian’s powers had backfired and he was ripped to pieces.”

[...]

“But, if not for Jiang Cheng making a plan that aimed at Wei WuXian’s weaknesses, the siege might not have succeeded.

(Chapter 1, Exiled Rebels translation)

During the Second Siege, we get some information about who was at the First Siege:

 

 

Back then, during the first siege of Burial Mound, Jin GuangShan led the LanlingJin Sect, while Jiang Cheng led the YunmengJiang Sect; Lan QiRen led the GusuLan Sect, while Nie MingJue led the QingheNie Sect. The former two were the main forces, the latter two could’ve gone without.

(Chapter 68, Exiled Rebels translation)

May I just note that the fact that Gusu Lan and Qinghe Nie didn’t lend as many forces in no way absolves them of responsibility?

The cultivation world wanted to kill Wei Wuxian. They also wanted to massacre the remnants of the Wen clan. If Wei Wuxian had died at Nightless City, they would have gone to the Burial Mounds and killed them anyway, I guarantee you. At best, they might have all been put back in a concentration camp and consigned to a slow death instead, but the mob mentality at play shouldn’t be underestimated.


Covering Up the Evidence

I’ve seen people arguing that as the Jiang and Jin sects made up the main forces in charge of the First Siege, the other sects may not have been aware of who the Wen remnants were. I’ve even seen it be suggested that the Jins disposed of their bodies to cover up their crime...what, before the other sects all came up the mountain where they’d apparently been dilly-dallying and not actually taking part?

This is not supported by the text. For one thing, it would be ridiculously difficult to fool the sects into thinking that they were facing an army of cultivators; the Burial Mounds settlement is very clearly a peasant farming village.

Even 13 years later, it’s unmistakable:

 

 

 

The three continued upward. They came along a few run down shacks standing alongside the mountain path.

The houses varied in size. The structure was simple, even crude. Just one glance, it was obvious that they had been built rashly. Some were so burned that only bare frames were left, while some slumped entirely to one side. Even the most complete ones were half-destroyed.

[...]

Ever since they had gone up the mountain, Wen Ning’s footsteps had been especially heavy. Right now, standing before one of the houses, again, he couldn’t walk any longer.

This was one of the houses that he had built himself. Before he left, the house had still been fine. Although it was crude, it was a place to seek shelter from the weather, nonetheless holding the people he was familiar with; the people he treasured.

In the saying ‘the things remain but the people don’t’, at least ‘the things’ still remained. With such a scene in front of him, there wasn’t even anything to remind him of the people whom he missed.

(Chapter 68, Exiled Rebels translation)

13 years ago when it was still an active village, it is impossible to approach the settlement and not realise.

 

 

 

A few round stumps were beside the mountain path, a large one, like a table, and a few smaller ones, like chairs. A red-clothed woman sat with Wei WuXian on two of the stumps. A man who seemed to be honest and simple was turning over the soil of the field nearby.

Wei WuXian was shaking his leg, “How about potatoes?”

The woman’s tone was resolute, “Radishes. Radishes are easy to grow. They don’t die as often. Potatoes are hard to look after.”

[...]

Soon later, a group of men appeared beside the path, busying themselves before a rack made of wood. They were probably all cultivators of the Wen Sect. Yet, having taken off their robes of sun and flames and put on clothes made of coarse cloth with hammers and saws in their hands, timber and straws on their shoulders, they climbed up and down, worked inside and out; they were not at all different from ordinary farmers and hunters.

[...]

Jiang Cheng asked, “What are they doing?”

Wei WuXian, “Can’t you tell? Building houses.”

Jiang Cheng, “Building houses? Then what were the ones we saw turning over the dirt when we came up here doing? Don’t tell me you’re really going to start farming.”

Wei WuXian, “Didn’t you hear everything? We are farming.”

(Chapter 73, Exiled Rebels translation)

I think it’s pretty clear to anyone with eyes that this was a farming village, don’t you? And yet, during the Second Siege, no one is surprised to see the corpses of the Wen remnants except for the juniors. Take a look at chapter 82, when their blood corpses all come out of the Blood Pool:

 

 

 

... “Didn’t they say that all of the corpses on Burial Mound had been incinerated?!”

Sect Leader OuYang answered, protecting his son, “Some weren’t!”

Lan JingYi, “Which ones were not?!”

Sect Leader OuYang, “Those… Those…”

He couldn’t say it out loud. After those Wen Sect’s remnants on Burial Mound back then were killed by the people partaking in the siege, the fifty corpses were all thrown into the blood pool!

(Chapter 82, Exiled Rebels translation)

This is freaking Ouyang-zongzhu. I think we can all agree that he’s a bit useless and probably wasn’t part of the main force. But he knew about it!

Here’s a sad description of Wen-popo:

 

 

 

The corpse was abnormally small and bent-over. It seemed that somebody had smashed a hole into its skull. Its white hair was sparse, sticking tattered to its forehead after being soaked by the bloody water. Along with its rotting flesh, it was extremely repulsive. Anyone who saw it felt uncomfortable. After it crawled up, limping, it slowly walked toward Lan SiZhui. All of the juniors trembled with fear, immediately gathering over here.

[...]

One after another, the blood corpses began to gather at where Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi were.

The tall and the short, the men and the women, the old and the young—all of them were demons drenched in blood. But on these figures, Wei WuXian saw a few familiar shadows.

Wen Ning murmured, “Uncle Four… Granny…”

He said their names one by one, his voice wavering as he went. Wen Ning, “Have you been waiting here ever since??”

(Chapter 82, Exiled Rebels translation)

And a reminder that the whole crowd was there to see:

 

 

 

Fang MengChen paused in surprise. Wei WuXian, “Then what do you want? Nothing but my miserable death to soothe your own hatred?” He pointed at Yi WeiChun, who lay passed out among the crowd, “He’s missing a leg, while I was cut into pieces; you lost your parents, while my family had long since been gone. I’m a dog who was chased out of its home. I’ve never even seen the ashes of my parents.”

Wei WuXian, “Or do you hate the Wen Sect’s remnants? The Wen Sect remnants that you speak of already died once, thirteen years ago. And right now, just then, for my sake, for your sake, they died once again. This time, they’ve all become ashes.” He continued, “Let me ask you—just what else do you want me to do?”

(Chapter 82, Exiled Rebels translation)

Even the Headshaker was there in the cave to see:

 

 

 

After he went out, a voice asked, “No more corpses will come, right? We’re really safe this time, right?!”

(Chapter 82, Exiled Rebels translation)

No one there acts surprised to see the corpses, except for the juniors, Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji and Wen Ning. No, not even Lan Qiren. Even the people who might, possibly (if we’re being very generous), have been lower down the mountain and not actively killed any of the Wens still saw their bodies afterwards and threw them into the Blood Pool. Throwing them into such a mass grave was the final act of hatred against the ‘Wen-dogs’ who they had been so determined to slaughter.


In Conclusion

The fact of atrocities like this is that they require a huge number of people in power to be fully aware of it and either look aside or actively participate. The cultivation sects are not innocent. Not a single one. Everyone knew.

Honestly, one of the tragedies of Modao Zushi is that there is no justice. No one feels guilt for their part in slaughtering the Wen remnants, and Wei Wuxian is only ever exonerated in the public eye because Jin Guangyao took his place as public enemy number one.

The happy ending is only personal. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji are reunited and happily married. Lan Sizhui (Wen Yuan) and Wen Ning are reunited and are able to create a memorial for their dead family. But there is no justice. Just the survivors finally being free to live their lives in peace.