Strengthening And Building the Body As One
Idler’s Note: Do people prefer brackets or parentheses for my editorial asides in the text?
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It was another noon day. The great big sun up in the sky baked the tree leaves until they were slightly curled. The originally rambunctious dog had long moved to the shade under the tree as he hung out his tongue while looking at the chicken digging at the ground in front of him. The children of the manor got a taste of the sweet rewards yesterday so they impaled the toads with even more vigor today.
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan who had just had milk also couldn’t bear the fatigue of a young body and lay down to sleep side by side. Yingtao was, as usual, seated on her stool by the doorway nodding off. Mrs. Zhang-Wang1—or rather Qiao-er, Zhang Xiaobao’s mother—busied herself with the matters of the manor.
The steward strolled about, taking a moment to look in the front to see if there was anything that could affect the Little Mister’s sleep and in another moment going to the back again to where they were renovating the courtyard house to tell them to hurry while at the same time not to make too much noise.
After sleeping for 2 hours, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan nearly simultaneously woke up. They opened their eyes to look around and after some discussion, prepared to exercise their bodies by first learning how to walk. Maybe it was due to them always being carried by people but they still hadn’t learned how to walk yet.
I can’t believe that your dad [modern]2 is actually a bookworm.” Wang Juan jokingly said as she prodded Zhang Xiaobao.
“A bookworm is good, too. As long as I can see him and know that that’s my dad [modern] is fine. Yesterday, he actually spoke of the Analects3 to me. How would I know all that?” Zhang Xiaobao recollected the appearance of his father that he saw yesterday. It wasn’t false that his father was a bookworm but upon hearing his son say Dad, he still became happy like any other ordinary person and at once hugged him while reciting the Analects.
“The civil exams4 of the Tang dynasty aren’t easy to pass. I don’t know if your dad [modern] can succeed.” Wang Juan was a bit envious of Zhang Xiaobao. Mainly because up until now, she still had not seen her parents of this lifetime. They actually didn’t care after they had dropped her off with another family. She drank her milk together with Zhang Xiaobao from Mrs. Zhang-Wang’s milk. It wasn’t as good as she imagined. But who let her own mother not have any breast milk? They mentioned that while she was listening to them talk yesterday.
“Wrong. The Tang dynasty’s civil exams are the easiest to pass. As long as your reputation gets out there and you find the right people, there’s no problem at all. To me, this point is not an obstacle, either. Even if I were to use money to smash it, I’m going to smash out a great golden road for my dad [modern]. Hearing them talk yesterday, your parents will come here today. At that time, don’t be shy. When you should call Mom, say Mom; when you should call Dad, say Dad.” Zhang Xiaobao was confident that he had a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to promotion.
“My own Dad [modern] and Mom [modern] are still living and I’m now going to have to call somebody else Dad and Mom—it’s all your fault.” Wang Juan complained out of habit.
“Just commenting isn’t okay? Don’t assume that by lying together with you that I’ll marry you in the future. Maybe I’ll find someone even better! Humph!” Wang Juan started retaliating.
Zhang Xiaobao gave Wang Juan a once over and sighed: “You old maid, 30 years old and you still never even had a boyfriend. You’re childishly acting out with me now but how old are you? Find someone else? Find someone else who can treat you like I do? This is the Tang dynasty. No matter how open and free it is, it’s still a misogynist patriarchy.7 I’ll take a bit of a loss here—who let me cause you to arrive here?”
“Shut up. Go down faster!” Wang Juan obviously didn’t want to hear Zhang Xiaobao speak like this and urged him to get down.
Zhang Xiaobao poked his head to look down from the couch to estimate the height. He said with a bit of uncertainty: “So high. If I go down, I might fall. Also, I’ll accept it if I fall going down but what about you? Weren’t we going to practice walking together?”
“You stupid? You go down and then catch me from below. I’ll jump on top of your body. Theoretically, you won’t break from the fall. You’re fat and plump so be a meat cushion. Go down quickly. Don’t give me any excuses. You can jump 15 meters straight down unharmed and climb up 9 meter high walls bare-handed—how can you be afraid of such a height?” Wang Juan vigorously pushed Zhang Xiaobao toward the edge of the couch.
Zhang Xiaobao constantly took deep breaths as he adjusted his own condition. Seeing that he was nearly at the edge, he looked back and said: “How about we practice a bit on the bed right now? All right, all right. We’ll practice on the ground. Don’t push. I’ll go myself. So then, I’ll turn around and slide down. You’ll try your best to pull me from up top. Calm down. Even if you let me die from the fall, you still won’t be able to go back.”
As Zhang Xiaobao spoke, he first let his two little legs dangle down from the couch as he grabbed Wang Juan’s little hand with his own. While he slowly scooched down bit by bit, he grumbled: “What is this? Yingtao should consider that no matter how big the couch is, children still have to turn their bodies. What to do if we fall? Doesn’t she know to get something to block it?”
“Whose child have you seen that can flip their bodies over at this age? When they wake up and see no one’s around, the first thing they would do is to cry. Wouldn’t Yingtao know with one cry? You wait first. We’re both being foolish. Get up. Help me throw this blanket down. It can buffer us a bit.” Wang Juan tightly grabbed Zhang Xiaobao’s hand as she suddenly thought of an even better way.
Zhang Xiaobao climbed back up again and threw things down together with Wang Juan. The blanket was directly flung while the two of them kicked at the matting until there was finally a layer of padding below.
With a flip of his body, Zhang Xiaobao went down first. Looking up to gaze at Wang Juan who was watching from the sidelines, he lip-spoke: “It’s a bit jarring but it’s still fine. You, come down.”
Wang Juan verified that Zhang Xiaobao really had no problems and then followed with a twist of her body to get down. Her mouth split in a grin when she landed on top of the matting. When she wanted to get up, Zhang Xiaobao held her down: “Don’t move. First, let the internal organs settle a bit and after a while, lean on the couch to circle around.”
Wang Juan obediently waited for a moment before then slowly clambering up and holding hands together with Zhang Xiaobao, they both circled around the couch. If they found any instability beneath their feet, they would lean on couch for support. They had an awareness of balance but it was a strain for their leg muscles to support them. Fortunately, the both of them were the type who had endured hardship before.
“Yesterday, you said there was a way to let other people trust us and do things according to our wishes. How do we proceed?” Having already walked around the couch 3 times, Wang Juan asked Zhang Xiaobao as she moved her little legs in steps.
“Simple. As long as we can talk, we’ll have a reason. Find 2 people to take care of just us. Then, I can trick—no, guide them into feeling that they should do what we say. On this point, I feel that there are no problems. You have to trust me.” Zhang Xiaobao was also striding forth with effort while he spoke.
The both of them were like they were on a stroll, chatting about what would happen afterwards as they circled the couch again and again. It wasn’t until they were a bit dizzy that Wang Juan suggested: “Let’s go outside to walk. It’s good for children to get some sun. Otherwise, we’ll have a calcium deficiency if we’re always indoors.”
“All right. Used to walking now so we can change places. Let’s first wake Yingtao up.” Zhang Xiaobao agreed.
“Why call her? What if they won’t let us go out?” Wang Juan wanted to sneak outside.
“If you want her to die in front of us, I’ll sneak outside with you. If my mom [modern] discovers we rolled off the couch and then, even went outside by ourselves without Yingtao’s knowledge, do you think she’d get beaten to death?”
“Unh, the possibility of that is big—especially in this kind of time period. If a capitalist will go ahead even though they’re risking the gallows when there is 300% profit, then they would at least do their best to minimize the danger and hide. But if a mother discovers their child was in danger, then she wouldn’t even think of hiding in the end. Let’s go wake her up.”
Wang Juan thought for a bit before approving of Zhang Xiaobao’s proposal.
Once the two of them reached an agreement, they held hands while walking toward the side of Yingtao who was still nodding off. Zhang Xiaobao reached out to gently push Yingtao. When Yingtao abruptly opened her eyes in shock, he said: “[Older] Sister8 Yingtao, take us out to walk.”
Zhang Xiaobao had already done his best to use a moderate tone of voice when speaking but it didn’t change the result one bit. Upon hearing these words, Yingtao immediately jumped up in fright. When she saw Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan again, she trembled as she asked: “You—how did you get down?”
After saying this, Yingtao couldn’t care about anything else and directly ran over to where the couch was. With one look, she understood that the two children had actually pushed the mat down. How was this possible?
“Little Mister, Little Miss, how did you run down here?” Deftly replacing the matting, Yingtao didn’t even know what to say as she knelt down in front of the two children, wrinkling her brow as she spoke.
“Go out to walk.” Zhang Xiaobao really didn’t wish to speak any more. Pointing outside with his little finger and heedless of Yingtao’s expression of surprise, he held Wang Juan’s hand as they leisurely wobbled out.
This scared Yingtao into holding the two children close. She was about to send them back but Wang Juan was angry now. She said to Yingtao: “Go out. Go out.”
She actually wanted to say even more but she was also afraid of causing unnecessary trouble so she could only express her thoughts with such brevity.
Seeing the ‘furious’ eyes of the two children, Yingtao was finally scared. She feared the two children saying even more things, especially if they spoke of them to the Mistress. Thinking for a while, she compromised and walked outside while carrying the two children.
Once outside, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan struggled to get down on the ground. Under Yingtao’s nervous gaze, they held hands while slowly sauntering under the sunlight.
“Yingtao, why did you lead Baolang and Juan-Juan out here?” Just when Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan were enjoying the sunlight, a voice suddenly appeared. Startling Yingtao with a jolt, she looked at the two children walking there, not knowing what she should say.
Walking into the courtyard, Mrs. Zhang-Wang had just finished telling off Yingtao when suddenly as if discovering a miracle, she pointed at Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan and said to a man and woman at her side: “In-laws, look quickly! Baolang and Juan-Juan can actually walk!”
There was no need for her to say so as the two people were also watching the two children with hand in hand walk back and forth there.
“[Older] Sister, really—they really can walk! Yesterday, I heard the people that [Older] Sister sent say that they could speak. I can’t believe that today they can actually walk. Look, even though they’re so small, they know to hold hands as they walk.” That woman also excitedly spoke, wanting to get closer but also afraid of disturbing the two children’s walk.
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan naturally heard these voices. They glanced down at their upraised hands wanting to explain that they were only holding hands to maintain each other’s balance but they basically didn’t know what to say.
While Yingtao didn’t know what she should do, Mrs. Zhang-Wang finally spoke: “Yingtao, not bad. You were able to lead Baolang and Juan-Juan to learn to walk. A reward.”
After saying this, she once again took out a wooden piece to throw toward Yingtao. Once she caught it in her hands and saw the words on it, Yingtao ended up in a faint. Written on it was ‘20 wen [cash].’9
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“Zhang Wang Shi” (張王氏) compounds the maiden surname of Zhang Xiaobao’s mother with her married surname to form the equivalent of “Zhang née Wang.” It literally translates to “Zhang Wang clan/surname.” Since women were only recorded by their surnames in ancient China if they wedded in the genealogy books of their husband’s clan (dooming them to obscurity and no ritual offerings in the afterlife if they died young, unwed, or had no male offspring), they were referred to by their husband’s surname preceding their maiden surname like how some modern women in the West will append their married surname after their maiden surname (i.e. Mrs. Jill Smith-Jones) instead of going with the traditional practice of replacing their original surname with their husband’s name (i.e. Mrs. John Smith). Their given names were considered maiden names and rarely used in public, much less after marriage so referring to a woman as someone who was surnamed So-and-so is the equivalent as calling her a woman born of So-and-so clan. In ancient China, the husband’s surname is deliberately placed first, capping the maiden surname as a symbol of how the husband’s clan supersedes the woman’s birth clan in priority. To create a similar effect, I am translating it as “Mrs. Zhang-Wang.” ↩
The word Wang Juan uses here is “Ba” (爸), the modern way of saying Dad. The ancient way of saying Dad is “Die” (爹). Because they will mostly be using the ancient term, I will only be noting when they use the modern-day terminology. ↩
The Analects or “Lun Yu” (論語) are a compilation of ideas and sayings attributed to the Chinese philosopher, Confucius (孔子), and is one of the Four Books that are considered the classic examples of Confucian texts. This book is similar to Plato’s compilation of his dialogues with Socrates in that it was not actually written by Confucius but compiled by his students and scholars after the fact. This book was commonly used as a basic text to study and learn their characters in ancient China due to its moralistic adages. ↩
The civil examinations or “keju” (科舉) was an examination system in Imperial China that tested the candidates’ knowledge on the classics and literature for the purpose of choosing officials with each successive round, culling more and more people while granting educational credentials that were the equivalent of diplomas that accorded certain privileges to those that passed. It was the ticket to success in ancient China, creating a relatively meritocratic class of scholar-officials and literati to counter the aristocracy that gained their titles through military exploits (usually granted as rewards for helping found the dynasty or through wars). The historical influence of this system is likely why Asia still emphasizes universal standardized testing on a national level complete with ladder systems for schools with the most nerve-wracking exam being the one high school students take since it decides what colleges they can get into. ↩
“Xianglin Sao” (祥林嫂) is the main character in the 1924 short story, The New Year Sacrifice or “Zhu Fu” (祝福), by Lu Xun (魯迅), which is part of a compilation called “Na Han” (吶喊) or Call to Arms. The story illustrates the various tragedies that are forced upon Xianglin Sao that she endures as a commentary on how inhumane the traditional Chinese customs and its corresponding mindset could be. Because at one point, she gains the habit of lamenting her lot in life to anyone who would listen, Zhang Xiaobao is likely referencing this character to mock Wang Juan regarding her constant complaints. ↩
“Sao” (嫂) is the term used to address the wife of an older brother, regardless of her actual age in relation to the speaker. In the case of Xianglin Sao, it is being used as a polite way of addressing an older woman who is married and was a subtle way for Lu Xun to call attention to her marital status since it is a significant plot point and emphasizes how male-dependent her status was in that society. ↩
The phrase used here (男尊女卑) is literally “male authority, female servility” which is an encapsulation of how in ancient China, the status of men was to be respected while the status of women was to be lowly and humble. So I translated it as “misogynistic patriarchy.” ↩
“Jie-Jie” (姐姐) means older sister. In this case, Zhang Xiaobao is using this term to be respectful. Technically, he doesn’t have to address her like this and can just call her by name as an equal or subordinate due to his higher status. ↩
“Wen” (文) or cash was the basic currency unit of ancient China with one copper coin playing the equivalent role of a dollar. I’m translating it with the pinyin because the value of the wen was so variable over the ages and using the translation of cash might sound too generic as a word for use as a specific unit and add to reader confusion.