VORTEX COLLABORATOR: Nikolas, June 25th, 2023
Translated by: Stefania

In recent years, the transmedia production of Assassin's Creed has shown a strong interest in proposing works with an oriental and, specifically, Chinese setting. In the summer of 2021, the 4-volume manga series, Blade of Shao Jun, completed its release in Japan; in March 2022 Assassin's Creed: Prophecy of the Emperor was releasedin China, the first of ten volumes planned for the Assassin's Creed: The Imperial Jade Seal novel series; in the Summer of the same year, the manhua Assassin's Creed: Dynasty completed its release in China with its final chapter; in September 2022, during the Ubisoft Forward event, this list was enriched by the announcement of a new mobile game, working title Assassin's Creed: Codename Jade.

To be thorough, the list should also include the two non-canon novels dedicated to Shao Jun, Assassin's Creed: The Ming Storm and Assassin's Creed: The Desert Threat. Despite the non-canonicity of these last two titles, it’s clear that there are more and more minor products aimed specifically at the Chinese market. Indeed, China is present in the Assassin's Creed lore as a terrain of action for the Assassins since Assassin's Creed II, but only recently wehave seen an exponential increase in stories set in this part of Asia, not without getting some interesting information in terms of narrative.

But what did we know about China and its Assassins, before this recent transmedia explosion?

Wei Yu's statue in the Sanctuary of
Villa Auditore
The first Chinese Assassin mentioned in the franchise dates back to Assassin's Creed II. His name is Wei Yu and he is celebrated in the Sanctuary of Villa Auditore as one of the great Assassins of the past, who had the merit of killing Emperor Qin Shi Huang (210 BCE) with a spear. His body was buried in the Torre Grossa of San Gimignano.
However, Wei Yu’s character will have to be re-analysed following what we learnt in Assassin's Creed Origins about the origin of the Hidden Ones.

The short film Assassin's Creed: Embers (2011) introduced the first Chinese female Assassin, still alive and kicking, Shao Jun. This character made her first appearance as a representative of a Brotherhood in disarray, broken by the influence of the Templars in the Chinese Empire. After meeting Ezio Auditore in Italy, the young Assassin returns to her homeland, where she does her best to bring down the Eight Tigers (a local Templar faction) and revive the Chinese Brotherhood. This operation is the focus of the game Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China (2015), of the manga Assassin's Creed: Blade of Shao Jun and of the two non-canonical novels I mentioned earlier.
Shao Jun
The figure of Shao Jun has been particularly used to bring the story of the Assassins in China both on screen and on paper. However, Shao Jun’s Brotherhood doesn’t offer any radically different specifics from other Brotherhoods that have experienced a period of crisis, such as the London Brotherhood under the templar mandate of Crawford Starrick.

On the other hand, it could be more interesting to analyze the events in China which, in light of what we learnt in Assassin's Creed Origins, would seem to break off of the influence of the actual Creed of the Assassins.

In Assassin's Creed Origins it is revealed that the roots of the first Brotherhood were founded in Egypt, in 47 BCE. This group, which will take the name of Hidden Ones, seems to evolve homogeneously until it assumes the public identity of Assassin Brotherhood, underthe leadership of Hassan iSabbāh.

Before Origins, it was pretty clear - also thanks to the glyphs in – that the Assassins were an organization that, under different names, had operated throughout history with a certain continuity. With the chapter set in Ptolemaic Egypt, however, the new story of their origins creates a soft-retcon and cuts out from the history of the Brotherhood those characters who were revered by the Assassins themselves as their heroes, for example Iltani (assassin of Alexander the Great, 323 BCE), Darius (assassin of Xerxes, 465 BCE), and also the aforementioned Wei Yu.

Bayek and Amunet as Hidden Ones
The changes brought by Origins and the existence of characters prior to the Hidden Ones, who had already been called “Assassins” in the second game, has prompted the redefinition of these figures as "proto-assassins", or rather characters who, while not belonging to an official incarnation of the Brotherhood, shared its ideals and methods, at least partially (like Kassandra who worked for peace, but not in the dark, or Darius who worked for peace in the shadows, but who was ready to sacrifice an innocent).

Getting back to China then, Wei Yu precedes the foundation of the Brotherhood by about 150 years, which, however, celebrates him as an Assassin. From this we can deduce that Wei Yu was not a simple murderer. Instead, the killing of Emperor Qin Shi Huang was an operation aimed at eliminating a tyrant that was carried out in the name of freedom.

In the aforementioned transmedia products, the figures of proto-assassins appear (or would appear, in principle) in three specific titles, which are:

Assassin's Creed: The Imperial Jade Seal
Very little is known of this project, which will be made up of ten novels. According to what the website reports,
Cover for "Assassin's Creed:
Prophecy of the Emperor"
the events will see the presence of the Hidden Ones at first, and then of the Assassin Brotherhood, but also characters not belonging to either of the two, since part of the series is set during historical periods, such as the III century BCE, where the Brotherhood had not been founded yet.

To this day, the first novel in this series, Assassin's Creed: Prophecy of the Emperor, is set during the 7th-8th century, therefore during the era of the Hidden Ones. Thus, we cannot deduce anything about the situation of the Chinese proto-assassins.

Assassin’s Creed: Codename Jade
Announced in 2022 for the mobile platforms, and presented at Ubisoft Forward 2023, little is known about this game. We saw a few promotional images, a launch trailer and a gameplay trailer for the Alpha test of the game, called for the occasion Codename Explore, a new cinematic trailer presented at Ubisoft Forward and quite recently a new official site for the game has gone public.

Some of the information that can be obtained from this promotional material are that the protagonist will not belong - for obvious timeline reasons - to the Hidden Ones (they have no severed ring finger, nor does they wear a Hidden Blade) but instead will follow “the way of ‘Xia’ (literally ‘vigilante’ or ‘hero’) as adopted son of master Wei Yu, and that the game will be set during the reign of emperor Qin Shi Huang (you can see the seal of Qin appearing in the Codename Explore promotional video).

In Codename Jade, players will create their own character (Ubisoft Forward, 2022) who, presumably, given it’s 215 BCE and the official presence of proto-assassin Wei Yu, will find themselves facing the threat of the Order of the Ancients, embodied by Emperor Qin.
This sets the stage for possible speculation about the existence of a proto-Brotherhood and proto-assassins in China at the time. However, it isn’t possible to formulate other hypotheses, based only on official material.

Assassin’s Creed Dynasty
This manhua, written by Xu Xianzhe and illustrated by Zhang Xiao, depicts the story of the civil war caused by the An Lushan rebellion (750 CE), during the Tang dynasty. In this scenario, the Hidden One Li E aims to restore peace to the country and thwarts the plans of the Order of the Ancients, which is also involved in the civil war in its own way.

The situation of the Chinese Brotherhood at the time of the An Lushan rebellion, in some ways, recalls that of Shao Jun, centuries later. The Golden Turtles (the Chinese branch of the Order of the Ancients) infiltrated the imperial court under Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) and, under the reign of her grandson, Xuanzong (713-756), the Hidden Ones/Assassins lost all heirs. Thus, the Hidden Ones found themselves confined to the western border for about 40 years,before the arrival of Li E and his work to revive the Brotherhood.

Dynasty, however, also offers a glimpse of China before the foundation of the Hidden Ones, and does so by introducing us to five proto-assassins.

Pei Min under the symbol of Mohism
In the manhua, the old general Pei Min and head of a Mohist community - we will talk about it later – makes his appearance in the Qinghe commandery, the place of origin of Li E himself. The Qinghe village head reveals to the protagonist that, below of the commandery, there is a deposit (天下北庫 - Northern Treasury Under Heaven) which houses the weapons of an ancient group of "assassins''.

These people, according to Pei Min, operated between the "Spring and Autumn Period" and the "Warring States Period", or between 770 BCE and 221 BCE. These dates not only are antecedent to the founding of the Hidden Ones (47 BCE), but even to the first known Chinese proto-assassin, Wei Yu (210 BCE).

Emperor Qin Shi Huang, fearing these "assassins", allegedly hunted them down, forcing them to hide and isolate themselves in separate communities, where they stashed their weapons in warehouses, in anticipation of a future revolt.

In his account of these ancient assassins, Pei Min mentions five of them, known as the "Five Great Assassins". Their names historically come from the work of Sima Qian, called Shiji or Memoirs of the Great Historian, also obtainable as a collectible in Assassin's Creed Revelations.

Their names are:

  • Cao Mo: He lived in the 7th century BCE, thus being the oldest known proto-assassin. He served as a general in the state of Lu at the service of Governor Zhuang. He led three battles against the attacks of the state of Qi, ruled by Huan. After losing three battles, Cao Mo managed to secure peace between the two states by taking Governor Huan hostage and threatening him with a dagger. To save his life, Huan vowed to return what he had stolen from Lu's territory. Cao Mo thus put an end to the conflict.

  • Zhuan Zu: He lived in the 6th century BCE and operated in 515 BCE, on the occasion of the fight for the throne between Prince Guang and Liao of Wu. Since Guang believed himself to be the rightful heir to the throne of Wu, due to his birth (he was born from an official marriage and not from a concubine, like Liao), he hired Zhuan Zu to get rid of the usurper. At a banquet held between the two contenders, Zhuan Zu hid a small dagger in the bowels of a fish that had to be served at the table. As soon as Prince Guang left the hall with an excuse, Zhuan Zu retrieved the weapon hidden in the plate and stabbed Liao, killing him. For this blatant gesture, Zhuan Zu himself was killed by the guards in the banquet hall. His weapon was kept in the Qinghe warehouse and inherited by Li E, who used it as a Hidden Blade.

  • Nie Zheng: He lived in the 4th century BCE. He’s remembered for being the assassin of King Han, who had executed Nie Zheng’s father for delaying the delivery of a dagger he had commissioned to him. The young Nie Zheng, discovering his father's sad fate, trained himself in playing the qin in order to enter the king's court. Attracting the attention of the ruler for his musical abilities, Nie Zheng was invited to play in the presence of King Han. Thus, the future assassin hid a dagger in his qin and, in the middle of his performance, stabbed Han. Before being captured, Nie Zheng cut off his own face to prevent anyone from recognizing him and to punish his family for the murder.

  • Li E wielding the spear Jing Ke
  • Yu Rang: He lived and operated in 453 BCE, in the state of Jin. He served noble Zhi Yao until he was killed by lord Zhao Xiangzi. Yu Rang swore vengeance. He attempted to assassinate Zhao Xiangzi twice. The first time, he was caught and pardoned because of Zhao Xiangzi's admiration for his loyalty towards his lord, Zhi Yao. The second attempt took place near a bridge, under which Yu Rang was hiding. Even on that occasion, however, his ambush failed. This time Zhao Xiangzi showed no mercy and ordered him arrested. Yu Rang, in order to remain faithful to his vow and not to die empty-handed, asked Zhao Xiangzi to get his robe back. Zhao Xiangzi agreed and handed over his robe. Yu Rang symbolically pierced the cloth three times before taking his own life with his own sword.

  • Jing Ke: Originally from the state of Wey, he operated in 227, under the directions of Dan, prince of the state of Yan. During King Zheng's (future Qin Shi Huang) war of conquest, Jing Ke was sent to Zheng's palace under the guise of a visitor bearing gifts. Jing Ke had hidden inside a map a thin poisoned dagger, given to him by Prince Dan. In the presence of King Zheng, he unrolled the map, pulled out the dagger and attempted to assassinate him. Zheng, however, managed to avoid the blows and fought back, wounding Jing Ke with his sword. The attempt failed and Jing Ke was killed by the guards of the future Qin Shi Huang.

Note: The spear Wei Yu used to assassinate Qin Shin Huang is named after his last (attempting) assassin, that is “Jing Ke”.

Going back to the Five Assassins, these semi-legendary characters were youxia, "wandering vigilantes", who operated in contexts of injustice to defend the weak from the oppressors. In the lore, however, following Pei Min's explanation, this category of solitary assassins had retired to isolated communities waiting to strike again. These communities would, therefore, be proper proto-Brotherhoods.

Since the first chapter of the franchise, we have known that Assassins and Templars were names of organizations far older than their historical counterparts. These same organizations developed over time, mutating and evolving under different names, up to the present day.
With Assassin's Creed Origins, as mentioned, things have changed. Since then, The Brotherhood of Assassins and the Order of the Templars are organizations born in a specific moment in history, without an uninterrupted link tracing the former back to Adam and Eve and the latter to Cain, who mostly became mythical or ideal founders of their respective .

What remains, therefore, is not a tangible bond, but an ideological one. Indeed, Haytham Kenway will justify the eternal rebirth of the Templars with these words: "the Order is born of a REALIZATION".

The ideals of order and control and those of freedom and choice are nothing more than an ethical-moral variant of the metaphysical law of Order-Chaos that governs the universe, according to the Pythagorean doctrine. Templars and Assassins are only limited embodiments of these ideals in space and time. Consequently, the two organizations had precursors in spirit in the past, allied groups in the present and future incarnations.

Here are some examples.

  • Templars
    The Order of the Ancients - AC Origins
    The Order of the Ancients, founded by pharaoh Smenkhkare around 1335 BCE, was revolutionized by King Alfred the Great, who changed it into the future Order of the Knights Templars.
    The ancient Order had to die for the new to . Yet, after more than a thousand years, the ideas that had moved the original Order of the Ancients found new life in the group of the Instruments of the First Will.

    Furthermore, the Ancients, , absorbed part of the Cult of Cosmos, an organization with similar ideals. Instead, Alfred's Templars supposedly absorbed the contemporary .

  • Assassins
    The Hidden Ones/Assassins have their first direct precursors in the Medjay of Egypt. This paramilitary group acted as bodyguard and police. The founder of the Hidden Ones, Bayek of Siwa, was a medjay and, according to what he himself says, "the first Medjay was the protector of the pharaoh. But now, it means we must protect all the people of Egypt. Not just protect them, but work for their well-being”.

    The Medjay, as a protector group, had a more territorial than universal vocation, unlike the Hidden Ones/Assassins. This territorial position can be compared with the unofficial group of the "”, that included Artabanus-Darius, the first user of the Hidden Blade. These Protectors aimed at the welfare of the country, through the elimination of tyrants.

    Iltani's Statue in the sanctuary of Villa Auditore
    Another proto-assassin, the Babylonian Iltani, seems to have been part of a secret Order, devoted to the elimination of the powerful. This Order, however, which was mentioned in Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India, appears before the Origins soft-retcon, and was originally intended to be the Assassin Brotherhood. After Origins, however, this information must be readjusted to the new state of the lore.

    There are also other groups, generally rebels, which, like the Assassins, embody the ideals of freedom, but which tend to be more limited in space and time. Two examples are the Sons of Liberty (Assassin's Creed III) and the Frankish rebels (AC Valhalla: The Siege of Paris).

Of course, not all Templar/Assassin-like groups need to completely mirror the Brotherhood or the Order. It’s a matter of "ideals" that push a group of people to join forces to achieve a goal: control or freedom.

Considering what we learned from Dynasty and Assassin's Creed II, we know the names of at least six proto-assassins (including Wei Yu) who operated in ancient China and who, perhaps, at a certain time, organized themselves into groups. And it’s once again Dynasty that gives us some hints on what a first incarnation of the Chinese Brotherhood might have been, before the coming of the Hidden Ones. But let's go step by step.

Going back to the story of the Five Great Assassins, we have already seen that these individuals were solitary heroes, youxia. Considering how the main character in Codename Jadewill follow the way of ‘Xia’ as the adopted son of master Wei Yu, we can also hypothesize that the famous proto-assassin was one of these solitary warriors, but that wouldn’t imply the existence of a proto-Brotherhood. It would be interesting, instead, to think that these semi-legendary characters, who are celebrated in poems, found their origin and resonance in the Mohist school of philosophy.

Mohism was a Chinese philosophy, founded by the philosopher Mozi (470 BCE - 391 BCE), which developed during the "Warring States Period". The Mohi teachings started from the moral assumption of universal love or "impartial care", according to which every person should unconditionally love and care for all individuals, since all are equal "under Heaven", following the concept of tiānxià, “all under Heaven” or “the World”. Their impartial care was opposed to the concept of love advocated by Confucianism, which, although universal, was not indiscriminate and involved different degrees depending on the person to love.

Mozi, by Vjacheslav Rublevskiy
The mohists followed a well-defined doctrine, which took inspirations from the texts written by Mozi, and were guided by a Juzi ("chisel", as he had to shape his students). They advocated social justice, meritocracy and "consequentialism", i.e. the idea whereby goods were linked to each other, and the achievement of material well-being for the people would lead to a peaceful coexistence.

Mozi's disciples were also well versed in science and mathematics, which allowed them to develop excellent skills in building defensive fortresses. In fact, while teaching the idea of universal love, they were not opposed to a just war, made to overthrow tyrants. Their school was born in a period of great tension for China. Where war raged, they called for peace, well-being and knowledge. Not surprisingly, Mohism ended up being irrelevant and went extinct only after the unification brought about by Qin Shi Huang. Its teachings were partly absorbed by Confucianism.

Mohism has points of contact with the Assassin Brotherhood both in its ideals and in its practical and paramilitary aspect. However, one should not think that the two groups are connected only on the basis of these affinities. It’s once again Dynasty that provides a more concrete basis for this hypothesis.

The aforementioned Qinghe Commandery is an overtly mohist village, led by a master of the Mozi school, Pei Min. Now, it’s already been said that Pei Min kept an arsenal of the ancient Chinese (proto-)assassins just below the village. This deposit, called "Northern Treasury Under Heaven", in Chinese Tiānxiàběikù, bears a name that immediately refers to the aforementioned concept of "all under Heaven". The Five Great Assassins themselves, as legendary youxia, hark back to the school of Mozi, whose ideology they were associated with.

Hence, we have to wonder why Pei Min wanted to found a Mohist community in defense of that safehouse, when, by the events of Dynasty, the school of Mozi had fallen into oblivion for at least eight centuries. Is it possible that the Mohi were, in their own way, a proto-Brotherhood in ancient China before the arrival of the Hidden Ones from the West? It wouldn't be the first time that in the Assassin's Creed universe a historically existing group has been revisited under a fictional light (the Hashashin, the Knights Templar, the Jacobin Club, the Medjay...). It could also be a marketing move aimed at the Chinese market, which would have the privilege of boasting a local Brotherhood, much older than the Hidden Ones.

In any case, so far only hypotheses can be made and that of Mohism remains the only one that has a foundation within the official products. To see the Chinese proto-assassins in action, we will have to wait for the publication of the next novels of The Imperial Jade Seal and the release of Codename Jade.


Translator from French and novelist. His love for Myth and History has led him to become passionate about Assassin's Creed since the release of the first chapter. For years he’s been following the evolution of the franchise with enthusiasm, both in the main chapters and in its various incarnations in the expanded universe, with particular interest in the representation of historical events and their reinterpretation within the narrative universe.

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