The Tang Dynasty Era Is Kaiyuan
Idler’s Note: Posting this today because I feel like it. 😉
Disclaimer: This translation is by a fan for fans. Any opinions or commentary presented here are translated as is written by the original author. Any remarks by the translator will be in footnotes or in an editorial aside. The original work is the property of the author and any other associated copyright holders in their respective territories. Please do not reproduce, redistribute, or resell this translation anywhere else without permission! If you are reading this anywhere else but on WordPress, then it is being reposted without permission from the translator! If you are the copyright holder and/or have licensed this work for English publication and wish for this translation to be removed, please contact me to do so. Thank you!
The woman hugged her own son and future daughter-in-law, almost floating as she walked out. This time, Zhang Xiaobao didn’t continue wallowing in the warmth of having a mother in this lifetime. He kept communicating through trading looks with Wang Juan and the occasional use of lip speech.1 His meaning was to have Wang Juan coordinate with him to figure out as quickly as possible what their current location was like.
Wang Juan still had some internal conflict and temporarily could not adapt to her new identity. She was even more unused to being carried around the place by a young woman. Seeing the message that Zhang Xiaobao transmitted, she suppressed all of her inner emotions to start observing the surrounding scenery including the apparel that people were wearing and how the rooms were decorated.
The two of them could be said to be of the elite in their previous lifetime. In this moment, they unleashed all of the expertise, knowledge, and experience that they had accumulated.
“Ancient time?” While being carried in his mother’s arms outside, Zhang Xiaobao mouthed the words to Wang Juan.
Wang Juan nodded slightly. Her eyes sweeping the table, she discovered two coins on top. She squinted her eyes as she took a closer look before replying: “If my guess is not wrong, it should be Tang dynasty. I saw some money—Kaiyuan Tongbao.2 Don’t know which reign it is.”
At this time, the woman had already exited the door. Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan started sizing up the outside circumstances too and discovered that they actually weren’t directly looking outside but that there was a courtyard entrance quad3 in front of them.
“A wealthy family? Manor lord? Official’s family? Merchant?” Upon seeing this situation, Wang Juan immediately gave her speculation.
“Not the family of an official. My ma—my mom4 doesn’t have that sort of air around her. Listening to what my mom just said, my initial conclusion is landlord class with peasants.”5 Zhang Xiaobao answered after some analysis.
“Mistress, how could a single you [honorific]6 carry two? Quickly, let me carry one of them.” Just as Wang Juan was about to reply, a man’s voice sounded. She had assumed it was this woman’s husband. But then she saw that it was a 40-something year old uncle wearing silk clothing. Although calculating based on her current age, she should perhaps call this person a grandpa. As he walked over, she immediately shut her mouth, resuming the semblance of an innocent child.
Here, Zhang Xiaobao was also the same as he used a curious gaze to look at this person, focusing especially on their eyes, intent to see if there was any deception or anything else suppressed within toward his mother. The position he assigned this person was a steward. According to his temperament, if he saw any hint of disrespect toward his mother in this possible steward’s eyes, then he was going to kill someone.
“No harm. The two children aren’t heavy. Carrying them is pleasant, even. Steward Zhang should go busy yourself. Oh, and reward all of the people in the courtyard house today with an extra helping of meat at dinner time tonight.” Upon mentioning the children, the woman could not stop smiling and naturally wanted all of the people inside the courtyard house to be happy with her as well.
“Yes, Mistress. You must be busy. I’ll go fetch someone to look after you. The weather’s hot so they can hold up an umbrella for Little Mister and Little Miss.” Steward Zhang respectfully replied before quietly walking away with his head bowed not revealing a hint of disrespect, not even knowing that this attitude saved him from the calamity of a death by murder.
The woman continued walking ahead while carrying the two children. Before even reaching the courtyard house in front, another maiden of a similarly young age came over to hold up an umbrella to block that scorching sunlight. At this time, Yingtao also presented a moistened silk handkerchief for Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan to use to lightly wipe their faces with.
“Shiliu,7 do you know where the Master is?” The woman kissed Zhang Xiaobao’s face as she asked the maiden holding up the umbrella.
“In reply to Mistress’ words, Master is currently in the study reviewing the books. Around this time, Old Madam8 and Old Master should be under the shade of the tree in the forecourt.” Shiliu cleverly replied. With her service experience, she naturally understood the Mistress’ intentions and that was to let the family members see the children.
The woman nodded her head: “Unh, then let’s go to the forecourt. Yingtao, after a bit, tell the people renovating the courtyard house in the back not to slack off. After the repairs are complete, let Old Madam and Old Master return to living there. It gives off a bad appearance for ones of their status to keep living up in front.”
After turning her head to once again look at the two children in her embrace, her face immediately transformed into a smiling one. Slightly leaning to the side, she said: “Xiaobao, Juan-Juan, the one from just before was the steward of our manor. This maid servant is called Yingtao. The other one is called Shiliu. In a bit, we’ll have you see your Grandpa and Grandma.”
Then, without minding if the children could understand, she continued talking while walking in order to teach the two children how to speak. This is called a house and the center area of the house is the door and windows and so on and so forth. Up until reaching the forecourt where they saw two ‘elderly people’ that weren’t even 50 yet who were sitting at the stone table under the large pagoda tree9 did she stop speaking and quickly took two steps forward.
“Qiao-er10 came by? Quick, let me, this old lady, see our good grandson and granddaughter-in-law.” The old lady being waited upon as she sat there drinking tea immediately stood up in welcome once she saw the woman. Speaking while reaching out a hand to take over Zhang Xiaobao, she even griped: “Qiao-er, carrying two children in such hot weather, what if you get exhausted? Let the servants do it next time.”
Though she said this, she herself didn’t even show any intention of letting the servants help her carry the children. Holding onto Zhang Xiaobao with two hands in front of her to stare at him, however much she looked, she couldn’t look enough. The wrinkles at the corners of her eyes crinkled together as the smile on her face wouldn’t diminish.
“I’m not tired. How could I get tired from carrying my own child? Oh, right. Dad [in-law],11 Mom [in-law], Baolang is able to call Mom. He said it just now in the room. Also, Juan-Juan, she called me Mom [in-law], too. Come, Baolang, call me again.” Mother Zhang12 recalled this as she spoke and wanting to let her mother-in-law and father-in-law to be happy together, she reached out to stroke her son’s plump fat face as she bade him to talk.
“Mom.” Of course, Zhang Xiaobao wouldn’t refuse. He could finally enjoy having parents in this lifetime, prepared to say all of the words that he previously couldn’t say. Not waiting for praise from the others, he said to the old lady hugging him: “Grandma.”
Then turning his head toward the old man who was sitting there and looking over here, he continued to call: “Grandpa.”
At this moment, the old man could no longer sit still, either. In one bounce, he stood up to quickly walk in front of his grandson: “Aiyou,13 my good grandson! Let Grandpa see you. Good, better than the grandsons of others. No other family can compare to our family. Call me again for Grandpa14 to hear.”
“Grandpa.” Zhang Xiaobao closely scrutinized his grandfather and thought to himself that if he encountered a flood that he was washed away by again, this grandfather would probably be able to pull him up onto land, too.
“Grandpa, Grandma.” Wang Juan followed in greeting at this time too. When meeting the elderly, there should be fundamental respect.
This speech from the both of them at once caused everybody to be happy. The old lady took Wang Juan while the old man hugged Zhang Xiaobao as they sat together. The praises being spouted from their mouths were never-ending as they praised their son, praised their daughter-in-law, praised their future granddaughter-in-law, and even all of the servants waiting on them were praised too as if everything was wonderfully good.
The weather no longer felt hot and they no longer felt so bogged down. Even the guard dog that was normally not allowed to come near was able to lie down under the tree with them to be praised, too.
At this time, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan enjoyed the tender atmosphere on the one hand while listening closely to their conversation and observing the surroundings on the other so they could evaluate what their later living conditions would be like.
It was especially after hearing his grandfather, grandmother, and mother discuss some trivial family matters that the two of them listened with even closer care while not stopping with their lip speech.
“Who said your family’s not officials? Don’t you have a fief? There’s even 100 heads of shiyi.”15 Wang Juan said this to Zhang Xiaobao upon hearing Zhang Xiaobao’s Grandpa speak of his worry that the awarded grant of land that his forefather risked their life to earn would be confiscated.
Zhang Xiaobao listened along, too. His own forefather went to war, had military exploits, and was granted an honorary title as well as gaining several hundred mu [acre]16 of land. Later on, that forefather died and the honorary title was lost but the land and the 100 heads didn’t get taken back. Now that the regnal era17 had changed—that is, the emperor had changed—there was the fear that the land would be taken back.
“There’s been so many years between now and Forefather’s time, the family hasn’t been officials for ages. Besides, it was only honorary before. This isn’t important though. What’s important is that we know the time period—the 2nd year of Kaiyuan.18 Looks like we can be stable for several decades. Li Longji19 just took care of his aunt20 and is currently in the rapid development stage.” Zhang Xiaobao learned of this most important piece of information from the mouth of his Grandpa.
Things are easier to handle with intelligence. People don’t fear facing danger or difficulty but they fear facing the unknown. Being blind in the dark was the most uncomfortable.
“Good, what’s good? Why not a bit earlier like the Zhenguan21 era? At least we wouldn’t need to worry about the Anshi Rebellion.22 I reckon that your family’s land can’t be saved. It should have been taken back ages ago. It’s not like it’s hereditary. Don’t even know what kind of methods were used to hide it for so many years.” Though Wang Juan’s mouth was full of sarcasm, in her heart, she was worried, too. If Zhang Xiaobao’s family’s land was lost, then their revenue would decrease. If something like a disaster happened, without enough food, life would not be good.
However, Zhang Xiaobao was not anxious about this. Big deal whether it was taken back or not—he could just make money and buy more land. It wasn’t like making money was hard. Even if he didn’t run scams and so couldn’t make a large fortune, he could still easily make a small fortune. The only worry of his was the Anshi Rebellion that Wang Juan mentioned. Thinking for a bit, he said to Wang Juan: “No fear. Saving a person isn’t easy but isn’t doing away with a person even easier?”
“Kill An Lushan?” Wang Juan asked.
“Unh, that’s one of them. Right now, it’s not urgent. Wait until we’ve grown up a bit, then we’ll do away with An Lushan, kill off Shi Siming,23 waste Li Linfu,24 and exterminate Yang Guozhong.”25 Zhang Xiaobao said with certainty.
“Keep blowing.26 Even if you really kill An Lushan, there would still be a Li Lushan, Wang Lushan.” Wang Juan didn’t give Zhang Xiaobao any face whatsoever.
Zhang Xiaobao carelessly rolled his eyes as he said: “Theoretically, there would be this type of situation but those who actually change history are people. One of the deciding factors in history is an important person’s character. There’s only one Napoleon. Let’s not debate this question for now. Let’s see when the time comes and then, we’ll know.”
Wang Juan also knew about these matters that touched upon philosophy and didn’t have any conclusions at this time. So deciding to prioritize being realistic, she asked: “Then, what do we do? Just wait until we grow up bit by bit?”
“Of course not. Our primary mission is to make money and then buy more land. The golden age of Kaiyuan is an economic boom—though no matter how prosperous it is, it still can’t compare to our time. Food supply has an indispensable status in our time then, not to mention here.” Zhang Xiaobao gave his thinking.
“How do we do it? Just based on us two little brats?27 Will anyone listen to us?”
“Foolish people consider difficulty. Smart people consider opportunities. Wait until we can get a grasp of the circumstances for 2 days and then I’ll tell you how.” Zhang Xiaobao took on an appearance like he had it in the bag.
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The author uses “chun yu” (唇語) to describe what Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan are doing, which literally translates to “lip speech.” It implies that they are speaking by mouthing the words silently to each other and then reading each other’s lips to understand what they are saying. ↩
A coin that was so named because of the phrase “Kaiyuan Tongbao” (開元通寶) that was inscribed on it that literally meant “inaugural treasure pass” to show that it was universal currency issued in the inaugural year. This was coinage that was issued when an emperor first took the throne and a tradition that started during the Tang dynasty, after which various editions were released later on under the reigns of different emperors. Read more here. ↩
What’s used here is “yi jing yuan zi” (一進院子) which literally means “one entry courtyard.” It refers to the basic component of Chinese architecture, which is a quad, the most well known example of which is the “siheyuan” (四合院) or more literally, the “four union courtyard.” These residences were composed of multiple rooms or buildings enclosing a courtyard quad and were categorized by how many courtyards they were made up of similar to how apartment and house listings will sort by how many bedrooms they have. The simplest layout was a single entry courtyard which looked like a rectangle or the character for “mouth” (口). A double entry courtyard looked like the character for “day” (日) while a triple entry one resembled the character for “eye” (目). Each entry point also served to act as a checkpoint, symbolizing that the greater the house, the more gates you had to pass through to get at the innermost part of the house. Also, the higher in status and more respected a person was, the better the location of their rooms or building complex was with the eldest and most senior members of the household usually living in the north and thus the best rooms in the back. ↩
Zhang Xiaobao uses the modern word for mom, “ma” (媽), before catching it and correcting himself by using the ancient word for mom, “niang” (娘). ↩
I use peasants as the translation for “zhuang hu” (莊戶) as they are tenant farmers attached to the manor but the type of contracts that they would have with the landlord varied so calling them “serfs” or “slaves” would not be inclusive of the free households that were not in such a situation. ↩
The “you” (nin/您) that is used here is an honorific and respectful in tone so its usage is noted in an in-text aside. ↩
“Shiliu” (石榴) means pomegranate. ↩
I translated “Lao Tai Tai” (老太太) as “Old Madam” since I used “Mistress” as the translation for “fu ren” (夫人). It can also be used as a generic description for an elderly woman in which case, I translated it as old lady. ↩
The scientific name for the “huai shu” (槐樹) is the Styphnolobium japonicum or Sophora japonica, which is otherwise known as the Japanese pagoda tree or Chinese scholar tree and is a species native to China. ↩
“Qiao-er” (巧兒) means “clever child.” ↩
“Gong Gong” (公公) is the casual way for a married woman to address her father-in-law. The formal title is “yue fu” (岳父). Because this “Dad” is not the term used by children when addressing their biological fathers and only used by daughter-in-laws, I note it in a text aside to point out the difference. ↩
“Zhang Mu” (張母) is just a descriptor and not actually a title. The author uses it to serve as an abbreviated way to say Zhang Xiaobao’s mother so please don’t get confused by it. ↩
“Aiyou” (哎呦) is a common exclamatory sound made in Chinese, usually to show surprise or pain. You will see this quite often. ↩
Another common trait in Chinese (and other Asian languages) is the tendency to use the third person to refer to oneself by addressing oneself by a title others would use. In this case, Zhang Xiaobao’s grandfather is using “Grandpa” in place of “I.” Because this can inject nuance and information into a conversation, I ended up translating it as is despite the possible awkwardness it can have for a native English reader. It’s a behavior known as illeism. ↩
“Shiyi” (食邑), which literally means “food territory,” granted the revenue tax of a set number of households or heads as a form of salary. It could be considered a tax break or a monetary grant for the one being awarded the shiyi without the emperor needing to dispense money out of the treasury. It normally came attached with a land grant as well for the number of households in question. ↩
The equivalent of the Chinese acre, the measurement of a “mu” (畝) varied depending on the time period and historically ranged anywhere from ~615 to over 700 square meters or from over 725 to a little under 800 square yards. By contrast, an acre is roughly ~4046 square meters. Though it is not not even close to equivalent to an acre, acre will be noted next to it as a reminder to readers of the role it plays in land area measurement. ↩
Official calendars in ancient China were divided based on the reign of the individual emperors as well as the political dynasty similarly to how decades can be referred to as divisions of the current century in the Western calendar like with the seventies, eighties, nineties, etc. or by the different presidencies and their administrations with American history. Changing the name of the regnal era was one of the first symbolic decisions a new emperor could make. Some emperors changed the regnal era name more than once to show a significant change or milestone. ↩
Li Longji (李隆基) is the personal name of Emperor Xuanzong. It is extremely heretical of Wang Juan and Zhang Xiaobao to just state the emperor’s name like this so this action betrays their modern sensibilities. They luckily have enough sense to only do this while using lip speech with each other. ↩
Zhang Xiaobao is making an offhand reference to Xuanzong’s disposal of his paternal aunt, Princess Taiping (太平公主), who was exceedingly influential as a consequence of the rule of Wu Zetian (武則天), Taiping’s mother and Xuanzong’s paternal grandmother, the only Empress Regnant in all of Chinese history. ↩
“Zhenguan” (貞觀) is the regnal era name for the rule of Emperor Taizong of Tang (唐太宗) whose rule was so well-regarded as a golden age that it was considered the subject of necessary study for future crown princes. ↩
The Anshi Rebellion (安史之亂) is a rebellion started by Xuanzong’s favored general, An Lushan (安祿山), which was significant for the chaos it caused as a consequence of it that spanned the reigns of three Tang emperors before it was finally suppressed. Its eruption greatly weakened the power of the Tang dynasty leading to its ultimate downfall. ↩
Li Linfu (李林甫) served as chancellor during Xuanzong’s reign and was better skilled at flattery to keep himself in Xuanzong’s favor and political games to do away with his rivals than the actual administration involved with his job, creating a situation where the Tang dynasty ended up having too few skilled officials to deal with crises like the Anshi Rebellion. ↩
Yang Guozhong (楊國忠) was the cousin of Xuanzong’s favored concubine, Consort Yang, she whose beauty shamed flowers as a member of the Four Beauties of ancient China. He became chancellor for Xuanzong through nepotism and was very trusted by him for the same reasons but he was also very incompetent as chancellor, making worse the situation with the Anshi Rebellion. ↩
The “blowing” (吹) that Wang Juan uses here is a shorthand for the Chinese idiom, “chui niu” (吹牛) which means to brag or to boast and literally translates to “blow bull.” ↩
Wang Juan self-deprecatingly refers to themselves as “xiao pi hai” (小屁孩), which literally means “little butt child.” The way children were reared in ancient China, kids could go around naked (and did, especially in the rural villages) without the same repercussions as adults though the nudity obviously still made them not fit for company. So kids who were prone to leaving their butts hanging out usually evoke a mischievous or naive image so I have translated the term as brats.