Bridge of Birds

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Bridge of Birds is a fantasy novel by Barry Hughart, first published in 1984. It is set in ancient China, and draws on the traditional tale of Cowherd and Weaver Girl.

It was followed by two sequels, The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen.

Bridge of Birds won the 1985 World Fantasy Award for best novel and the 1986 Mythopoeic Award for best fantasy.


The book begins on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon in the Year of the Dragon 3,337 (A.D. 639) with the children of the 7th-century Chinese village of Ku-fu falling prey to a strange plague (one that has apparently learned how to count). One of the villagers, Lu Yu (usually called Number Ten Ox, not to be confused with the author of the Classic of Tea), is sent by his mother to Peking to find a sage who can help cure the children. Due to lack of funds (only five thousand copper cash), Number Ten Ox has a difficult time finding a sage, until he stumbles across Master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Li Kao agrees to look into the case despite the small retainer. When he visits Ku-fu, he quickly diagnoses the problem. The remainder of the novel proceeds in a very episodic nature as Number Ten Ox and Li Kao track down the various requirements for a cure, a giant ginseng root known as the Heart of Power.

Number Ten Ox and Li Kao use wiles, deceit, and occasionally Number Ten Ox's strength to obtain the objects of their quests. Each quest involves the two in tall tales, seemingly unrelated to everything which has happened before, although the two adventurers keep returning to Ku-fu to see if their latest cure will work.