Within The Plan Is Even More Oddity Within The Plan
Idler’s Note: Happy Father’s Day~!
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Upon hearing Mistress’ interrogation, Erniu didn’t even think and directly kneeled down right there with a thump. He didn’t dare face Mistress in the midst of a rage. He had thought of giving away Little Mister but then he suddenly realized that if he really did give away Little Mister, would Little Mister be punished? Of course not. Mistress would only praise Little Mister and would also praise him. The problem was after the praise, would he himself have a life? If Mistress didn’t punish him, Little Mister could casually find a reason to let him die without a whole corpse.1
Due to this, Erniu felt that the only thing he could do was to not make a sound while awaiting Mistress’ wrath. Even if Mistress had others give him a beating, it would be good. As for explanations? How to speak of it? Could he say that it was Little Mister who deliberately told him not to sell the grilled strips in the two manors? Bear with it—assuming that Mistress wouldn’t beat him to death.
“Tell me. Why did you not tell me those grilled fish strips are produced by your family? Really had not discovered before, our manor here actually had such a character. Earned quite a bit? What future plans do you have?” Upon seeing such a demeanor from Erniu, Mrs. Zhang-Wang also tried her best to control her own tone of voice as she slowly spoke.
“Mistress, I can’t say. Even if you [honorific] beat me to death, I can’t say. I can only say is that I, Erniu, and I, Erniu’s family haven’t done anything to be sorry for against Zhang Manor. Mistress, you [honorific] later on will certainly know this. I, Erniu, will die for the sake of the Manor but won’t even think of harming the Manor. I’m just talk, talking business.” Erniu knelt on the ground, forcefully clenching his fists together, his face already flowing with tears. But he was even like this and he still did not sell out Zhang Xiaobao.
At this moment, Zhang Xiaobao was lying on top of the couch and upon clearly hearing these words, he actually laughed. Wang Juan also heard them and seeing Zhang Xiaobao’s expression, angrily said: “Why don’t you step forward to save him? You’re laughing. Do you think Erniu stupid, that he should be mocked?”
“Fart,2 when have I ever mocked Erniu? From now on, Erniu will be my family. I’m laughing because I, Zhang Xiaobao, had people willing to die for me in my previous lifetime and even now in this lifetime, I will have them still. Worth it for me. From now on, Erniu will be my dear brother. When he’s living, I’ll have him enjoy glory and wealth; he dies, I’ll help him take care of his family. You’d have me go out. If I really went out, how could I face Erniu?” Zhang Xiaobao suddenly spoke an obscenity as he stood up from the couch, his smile not changing but his little fists were tightly clenched.
“A swindler like you could actually also acquire the hearts of people? I don’t believe it.” Wang Juan was a bit jealous. Her data, if Zhang Xiaobao wanted to know it, he could. But Zhang Xiaobao’s whereabouts, it could only be exposed after he did it himself. This difference really was too great.
“Humph! You don’t believe it? I’ll tell you. On that day, up until the final minute before the explosion, if I wanted to run, I could still escape. I didn’t call for them but my brothers were all already in position. If I just made a hand gesture or a move, the team of 6 snipers that your side had in place would immediately be knocked out. It was only that my life didn’t have that much time left and I didn’t want to harm you guys.
Don’t assume that you guys are so powerful. I’ll tell you that in your team, there were some people who, compared to Erniu, were nothing. Erniu still knows his standing, still knows loyalty. That person amongst you had already sold his soul. Not all people are you, Wang Juan, and not all people can become a Tyrant Flower.”
Zhang Xiaobao was now finally angry as he ruthlessly spoke to Wang Juan. He also had his bottom line that no other person was allowed to touch.
Wang Juan was already muddled. It wasn’t that she hadn’t thought that the team had traitors but she just wasn’t willing to believe it. At this time, the little bit of hope left in her heart had been destroyed. She naturally understood the meaning within Zhang Xiaobao’s words. She didn’t hate Zhang Xiaobao and she didn’t hate the person that had sold her out. After all, she couldn’t demand that everyone be just like her. She was only a bit envious. Zhang Xiaobao who was nothing more than a swindler, on what basis could he have such good brothers? Based on what?
The two of them nursed their respective attitudes in thought while outside, Erniu and Mrs. Zhang-Wang were also having their confrontation.
“You really won’t talk?” Mrs. Zhang-Wang, emphatically pausing after each word.
“Beat me to death and I still won’t talk.” Erniu stubbornly replied.
Wang Juan, who was still contemplating her thoughts within the room, nearly laughed out loud upon hearing Erniu’s words.
“Then, fine. Talk. How do you want to partner up?” Mrs. Zhang-Wang thought for a bit, turning her head to glance at the room that she had just walked out of as she asked.
“Mistress, give me another 2 guan [strings]. I’ll use it to buy fish and make fish strips. Then, I’ll take them to the other bustling areas to give away for free—especially to a high-grade restaurant. Five days later, I’ll return 50 guan [strings] to Mistress.” Erniu spoke according to the script that Zhang Xiaobao had set.
Mrs. Zhang-Wang smiled and nodded as she gently said to Erniu: “Erniu, you’ve always been a smart and sensible person in my house. Almost everyone thinks this. But I know you and am reassured about you, which is why I gave Xiaobao and Juan-Juan to you to care for. Since you want this money, then I’ll give it to you. If there can be 50 guan [strings], then let there be 50 guan [strings]. Even if there’s a loss, it’s nothing. Don’t think too much of it. For your Mom to have a son such as you, she must be happy. I think your Mom also knows your character—just like me.”
“It’s over. My Mom knows.” Zhang Xiaobao faintly said as he stood on top of the couch.
“Unh, a mother knows her son best.”3 Wang Juan, who had simultaneously heard Mrs. Zhang-Wang speak, agreed as well.
“My Mom spoke these words for me to hear, ~ne.” Zhang Xiaobao smiled.
“Then, why are you still so happy?” Wang Juan asked.
“Why aren’t I happy? My Mom is so smart—of course, I have a reason to be happy. My Dad, that bookworm, lucked out.” Zhang Xiaobao directly flopped down with a thump from where he stood as he lay at Wang Juan’s side as he said to Wang Juan who was unhappy with his action: “Today is the happiest day for me. I found a good brother and also know the degree to which a mother’s love can be great.”
“To what degree?” Wang Juan really had no way of understanding.
“To the degree of unconditionally supporting their child. Listen, my Mom will definitely promise it. This makes me recall something written in a book somewhere. Those who are mothers, although they clearly know their own child could get burned boiling water, will still unconditionally support it. She’ll secretly watch. If there’s danger, she’ll immediately rush over to grab the water kettle rather than let her child get burned.” Zhang Xiaobao said sentimentally.
“What is that? The nobility and greatness of man is only because of this?” Wang Juan was still refuting Zhang Xiaobao. Even though she was already touched, she still wouldn’t admit defeat.
“Wrong. Not just humans. Even animals are also the same. If you’ve seen hunters go hunting, you’ll understand. Those animals that chewed off their own legs to escape the clamps will definitely be female, if only because they need to return to feed their children.” Zhang Xiaobao spoke thus.
“Don’t speak to me of such uselessness. I don’t like listening to it.” Wang Juan turned her head, not wanting Zhang Xiaobao to see her own red eyes. She was missing her family from the previous life again.
“Fine, I won’t speak. Just listen.” Zhang Xiaobao was thankful to God; he finally had parents in this lifetime.
“Yingtao, come here. Take this money. When it’s time, give it to Erniu to use.” From outside, Mrs. Zhang-Wang called out toward the room. Yingtao immediately ran out to receive that wooden piece that represented 2 guan [strings] of cash.
“Erniu, you stand up as well. Remember my words. I trust that you can take good care of Baolang. In a while, go to the accounting room to get some meat. Go home to eat a good meal.” Mrs. Zhang-Wang took out another wooden piece to throw to Erniu who was still kneeling there before slowly walking away.
As if waking up from a dream, Erniu trembled as he picked up the wooden piece, not able to speak as he watched the silhouette of Mistress in the distance.
It was just like Zhang Xiaobao said. When conscientious people saw that fish strips made money, imitations immediately appeared. The price was a bit cheaper but sales were not as good. One was not evenly salted. Another fish strip had no way of being grilled to the degree that Erniu’s family had as they could not control the temperature as well.
Upon getting the money, Erniu instantly started buying great amounts of raw fish according to Zhang Xiaobao’s instructions and then had the fish strips produced sent to a few restaurants for people to freely sample.
Five days later, the free supply of grilled fish strips to each restaurant was suddenly gone. This stuff, men actually didn’t like to eat. As tasty as they were, they weren’t as good as marinated beef for wine appetizers. But children and women liked them. These two kinds of people were simply too important—important to the point that any man of a normal sexual orientation couldn’t not consider.
The 5 days of free samples, which gave the wine-houses a taste of the sweet rewards afterwards, necessitated that they prudently consider the financial benefits—or rather, the amount of profit—brought by this stuff. The most direct one was with the brothels. The women there were plentiful and had already made the grilled fish strips a type of essential snack food. Secondly were the men seeking a woman who couldn’t help bringing some back to seek the beauty’s favor. Finally were the people with children who, when eating and drinking themselves, discovered that children liked this stuff and would also bring some back. They would then throw it to the child with a stern face while speaking two lecturing sentences full of harsh words—this was the depth of fatherly love.
But now, the supply had suddenly stopped. Those that had appeared in other places differed too much from these—just the balance of salt itself could not be compared with. The restaurant owners were all frantic now as they asked around for the place that made these fish strips, trying to figure it out.
Erniu had been constantly obeying Little Mister’s orders as if by remote control. Upon seeing many people inquire, he had his big brother come out to hold the talks with a bidding war to sell the recipe. In reality, there was only one and that was to pickle or the process by which marine fish were cured. Such a simple thing before being publicly disclosed could let people crave it so endlessly. But after someone spent 120 silver taels4 to obtain it, they could only keep the dismay they felt in their heart to themselves.
“Didn’t I tell you to ask for copper coins? Yet, you insist on bringing back so much silver. You tell me—if I want to buy a bit of stuff, you’d use silver to pay the bill? If I buy 200 catty5 of soybeans, do you want to take out this big piece of silver to look for an illness?6 How would you let me speak of you? If I want to sell tofu right now, should I watch you get out some silver to go buy some? You want to constantly pay with silver for business in the future? You yourself may feel like you’re tired of living but don’t drag me along to die with you!”
Zhang Xiaobao looked at the small pile of silver that Erniu placed in front of him, smacking his forehead as he spoke. But seeing that sorry expression of Erniu’s, he knew that this deed had been done by Daniu. So he could only sigh as he had Erniu first take the money back to his mother there for repayment and have the remainder be gradually exchanged for copper coins in order to better execute the next step of the plan.
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Due to the Chinese belief in ancestor worship, a lot of beliefs were associated with the afterlife. This resulted in various funerary rites requiring having a whole and pristine (i.e. undamaged) corpse upon death. A good funeral was considered necessary for a good afterlife. Anything that resulted in the mutilation of a corpse or not being able to be properly buried (and thus worshipped by descendants) could lead to a fate worse than death such as becoming a hungry wandering ghost with amnesia. Hence, this cultural belief leads to the hyperbole that Erniu expresses of his fear of what he could face if he betrayed Xiaobao’s confidence. Coincidentally, capital punishments in China were ranked in terms of preference to the sufferer based on the state that it left the corpse in. This is why ancient Chinese history typically had a lot of forced suicides by poison or hanging for the political losers who were of noble, royal, or imperial status because it was a privilege that accorded them a “respectful death” by leaving them a whole corpse. Beheading, which was the normal method of execution for commoners sentenced to the death penalty, was thus one of the worse ways to die. An infamous example of one of the cruel and unusual punishments is the “death by a thousand cuts,” which was usually awarded to those who had done serious offenses above and beyond the crimes (or one who had run greatly afoul of someone in a high position of power). Not only was it a physical torture that made for a painful death but it was also a mental torture for the victim since it would leave their corpse in a mutilated state, running the risk of dooming them to a horrible afterlife. ↩
Exclaiming “fart” or “fang pi” (放屁) in Chinese expression is similar to saying “Shit!” or “Crap!” in English. It is a bit rude and vulgar. Although not an obscenity that rates as high as fuck or damn, it is similar in impact to saying hell or damn. ↩
Wang Juan is referencing an expression that originates from an anecdotal parable of “Da Kuang” (大匡), a chapter from Guanzi (管子), which was a philosophical text from the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history that was credited to Guan Zhong (管仲) from whose surname the title is derived. The original quote is “zhi zi mo ruo fu” (知子莫若父), which means “a father knows his son best.” Here, Wang Juan modified it so the “father” becomes “mother.” For those interested to know, the parable that the adage is based on is about the Chancellor of the state of Yue, Fan Li (范蠡). His second son had committed a crime in the state of Chu that he was arrested and sentenced to death for. To save him, Fan Li wanted to send his youngest son with a bribe of 1,000 gold taels (an insanely high amount of money, even back then) and a letter to his friend, the Chancellor of Chu. Upon hearing that Fan Li had entrusted the youngest son with such a task, his eldest son was angry that Fan Li didn’t choose him for the job instead since it was simple and only needed him to be a messenger. Yet, Fan Li stated that only the youngest son could save the second son and that sending the eldest son would doom the second son to death. However, Fan Li ultimately wasn’t able to overcome his eldest son’s protests and gave in, letting the eldest son go, though Fan Li stressed that the eldest son had to leave behind the gift (bribe). The eldest son initially followed along with the plan leading to the Chancellor of Chu saving Fan Li’s second son by getting the King of Chu to give a blanket pardon to all death row criminals. However, after his younger brother was saved, Fan Li’s eldest son then thought that the 1,000 gold taels had served its purpose and not wishing to be wasteful, returned for the gold. His taking back the gift (bribe) angered the Chancellor of Chu so much that he instigated the King of Chu into specifically ordering the execution of Fan Li’s second son. Then, just as the execution ended, Fan Li’s youngest son arrived with the coffin that had already been prepared. The reason for Fan Li’s prescience was because he knew his sons too well since his eldest son had been born in poverty and was aware of the hardship behind their fortune while his youngest son was born in wealth and could thus give away 1,000 gold taels without batting an eye. So Fan Li knew that by sending his eldest son, the mission would end in failure and made provisions for it. Thus, Fan Li, as a father, knew his son best. By the way, this idiom is actually the first half of the actual quote. The second half is “zhi chen mo ruo jun” (知臣莫若君), which essentially means a ruler or lord knows his vassals best. ↩
Tael or “liang” (兩) was a traditional Chinese unit of mass that was also a common way of measuring silver and gold currency (note that copper or bronze as a currency was never measured in taels but in coinage, reflecting the comparative value of silver and gold as precious metals in the ancient Chinese economy). Thus, this term frequently comes up as a monetary unit when discussing silver or gold denominations of currency in China. Similarly to the Western Imperial system of measurement with ounces and cups, the mass of a tael was 1/16 of a catty, which was ~40 grams. However, the actual mass differed depending on the region and time era, making the actual mass of such currency variable. Mainland China reformed this unit into the “market tael,” which is 50 grams or 1/10 of a market catty. ↩
Catty or “jin” (斤) was a traditional Chinese unit of mass whose measurements varied depending on the region or time era but was typically ~600 grams. It is often seen in marketplaces and shops that sell products by the price per weight. The market catty, which is a modern mass unit used in modern China, was derived by rounding the catty down to 500 grams. ↩
Xiaobao’s retort is making a pun out of “looking for change” into “looking for an illness,” alluding to how crazy paying for something like 200 catty of soybeans with a silver tael would be since it is similar to buying a loaf of bread with a $100 bill. It would definitely raise eyebrows and draw notice.