Striving For The Sake Of Honor
Idler’s Note: Let’s hope I really don’t vomit up blood trying to meet my personal translation schedule… 😛
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!
Erniu and Yingtao both had things to do. At the moment, there was no one to take care of Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan. So Mrs. Zhang-Wang sent over Shiliu, the one who had helped her hold up the umbrella from before.
It was afternoon. Under the great sun, in the middle of a courtyard with a ground manually blanketed with sand, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan were currently striving with great effort to walk on top of it. Children sweated very little but even so, though their two foreheads were glistening and the thin clothing on their bodies had been changed once already, the both of them still did not intend to return to sleep.
“Shiliu, water.” Zhang Xiaobao stopped, raising his arm to wipe the sweat off his brow as he called out to Shiliu who was worriedly watching next to him. Shiliu had been watching them. She couldn’t imagine why these two children were doing this walking back and forth on this floor of sand for—not speaking of normal children who were willing to do so themselves, even if adults forced them to, they would already be crying by now. Upon hearing the call, she hastily handed over the water that had been placed to the side.
As she watched the two children chug the water down over there, Shiliu could not figure it out why they didn’t drink perfectly good tea or sugar water but insisted on drinking some salty water. She had tasted this water before. It wasn’t nice to drink at all. Drinking it felt a bit of brackish—salty but not salty, mild but not mild. Yet, Little Mister specified that he must have this type of water. Drinking salty water, wouldn’t that make you thirstier the more you drank it?
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan didn’t know what Shiliu was thinking about as they half-filled their stomach with salty water before sighing in relief together and getting up again to walk towards the front.
“Endure it. Today, there’s still 200 meters. That’s only 5 round trips. Grit your teeth and it’ll be over. This is a rare chance.” As he was walking on top of the sand, Zhang Xiaobao’s calves started to uncontrollably tremble. Today, the mission of the two of them was to walk 500 meters. For adults, 500 meters was like nothing. But for two children who had just reached 1 year of age, in the sand, it was an excessive load.
“I know. Children aren’t willing to train when they’re wrong but when they wish to train after growing up, it’s too late. Our sort with childish bodies and adult determination is the best opportunity for training. I trust that with practice like this, you would have no problem jumping down from 20 meters in time. But I reckon that there will be no way to read at night. Probably won’t have a bit of energy left at all.” Wang Juan was suffering equally, falling as she spoke before slowly climbing back up herself.
“Still have to though. Making a contract or whatever later on, if we don’t recognize the characters and understand the classical quotes,1 we could eat a great loss.2 The large majority of characters, I can still recognize and can even write a portion. After all, I did spend a period of time on the island.34 But literary quotes, I can’t do. I thought about tricking people all day, how would I have time to think of all that?” Zhang Xiaobao grinned, watching Wang Juan climb back up without showing any intention of helping her up.
Wang Juan finally climbed back up, pulling on Zhang Xiaobao’s hand once again as they moved forward together. A large area of her small face was tanned completely red but she was also not willing to give up and said: “Unh, learn it. Even if I have to lie there, I still want to learn it, too. I was a genius back then. Ma,5 ~ah! It’s more tiring than when I was at the Special Ops Unit. There isn’t even anyone to give us massages or scientific instructions.6 Quickly, get to the front. There are still 4 and a half laps. Let’s be tired for 2 days and then, it’ll be better later on.”
“Quit dreaming. Once we’ve adjusted to this intensity, then we’ll have to draw up a new training program. Endure it. If one wishes to show off in front of people, then one must suffer in back of people.7 Who made us be unlike others, ~ne?”
Zhang Xiaobao also staggered on his feet and as his hand loosened, fell down. He opened his mouth to spit out sand before pulling on Wang Juan’s hand to get up. The both of them were holding hands but not responsible for when the other fell—it was only for being able to better control their balance. If a fall was due to physical ability, then they didn’t heed the other. The strong didn’t need the pity of others.
In a room from which the situation here could be seen, a man and woman stood by the window. The two people held back tears as they watched the babies fall and climb back up, fall and climb back up again over there.
“Qiao-er, is this still my son? From hearing you talk, the matter of that Erniu’s family should have been caused by Xiaobao. He’s still that little. He can’t be a monster,8 right?” The man asked doubtfully.
“What monster? That’s my son. When they’re that small, other people’s children naturally aren’t able to but my son is. Even if he’s more powerful than other children and you see scary areas, you still have to think: ‘This is a divine sage,9 not a monster.’ Whose family’s children can compare to Xiaobao? Before, while carrying him, I knew that in the future, my son would definitely be different from the majority. You saw how well I could eat back then—I could eat more than most men could in a single meal.”
Mrs. Zhang-Wang retorted, the words she spoke completely without reason. Anything about her own son, it was all good. A stumble was better looking than when other children stumbled. To be able to swallow a mouthful of sand and still not cry, which family’s child could do that?
The man was Zhang Xiaobao’s bookworm father. He had been hearing about too many strange matters lately that were all involving his own son so he found some time to come over with his wife to watch. But he didn’t think that he would actually see this kind of scene. Don’t speak of a small child—even an adult would have already hidden away from being baked by such a fiery sun.
But the reality told him that these two babies’ will were so resolute, it caused people fright. He wanted to rush over several times to pick up his son and thoroughly question his son on just what he wanted to do. But he was held back by his wife once again. According to his wife’s words, isn’t it fine for the children to play? Other people wanted their child to move more and the child wouldn’t move. How obedient, how good looking was their own child as those calves stepped up and down? What’s to fear with a stumble? With the sand, there wasn’t a bit of trouble. This sand had been sifted and re-sifted by people. It was all fine and wouldn’t injure anyone.
Father Zhang10 thought of what his wife had said on the matter of the money that Erniu’s family had made. Watching the two stubborn children in front of him, he somehow felt that it wasn’t right. Hearing Qiao-er speak like this once again, he sighed as he said: “You’re not scared that these two children were possessed by something? Whose children can be like this? Yingtao was also sent out to collect new chicken eggs—heard that the collection even had specifications in the choosing. Don’t even know what they want to do. If it isn’t fine, let’s find a master11 to check—can’t let harm come to our own child.”
“What monster? Can a monster call me Mom, call you Dad? Is your monster’s heart that good? This is just talent. You didn’t discover it before? Wasn’t that belly of mine not the same as others?” Mrs. Zhang-Wang had managed the household for too long so her speech to her husband wasn’t respectful like others were. She would say what was what. But it was all one meaning. Zhang Xiaobao was her own biological son. The son did things well and that was because the mother had given birth well.
“What area is there that’s not the same? I see it as all the same. Which family could essentially eat that much?” Father Zhang felt that he himself had no way to communicate with his wife. If there was just one mention of his son here, then it was that everything was all good.
“Husband, speak to this consort.12 Which family’s pregnant-bellied wife did you [honorific] see was good? If they’re a poor, unfortunate family’s, let’s spend money to bring them here and let Husband see enough.” Mrs. Zhang-Wang asked, holding onto her temper.
Father Zhang really was scared when his wife was like this. Other people all had several women. But he himself sure was swell—this Wang Qiao-er and the Mistress from the Wang Manor over there had teamed up to protest as one. It was just as well that he himself was wholeheartedly seeking an honorary title13 so it was nothing. Now that he also had a son, then this single one would just be the one. If other women really entered the family, then he didn’t even know what huge issues would come out.
Yet, the Wang Manor’s brother had a daughter. If this next one was still a daughter, then could it be that he still couldn’t take on another room14 in there? Turning his head to look at that frost-filled face of Wang Qiao-er’s, he didn’t say anything, only sighed heavily.
Now, this was serious. His single sigh had been heard by Mrs. Zhang-Wang whose eyes immediately reddened and she began to sniffle, sobbing while she said: “When I was wed to you back then, what did you say? You said you would be good to only me. Now, ~ne? The sight of another person’s wife’s belly, you’ve already seen it, too. Furthermore, you insist on saying the son I birthed is a monster. What sin did I do in my previous life, ~you?15 How did I open myself up to this sort of thing? I’m going to find Mom [in-law]. Divorce16 me! I’ll bring my own monster son along with me.”
“No, I didn’t, I said nothing. I was just playing around, ~ne. Qiao-er, don’t, don’t cry. Your husband was wrong. It’s son, our son, our divine sage son. Missus17 spoke correctly, our son is stronger than other people’s—let them all be envious. Missus, don’t be mad. You [honorific] look at our son. How good. Even the sound he makes choking on water is better than other people’s children. Shiliu, if you don’t even keep watch and allow Xiaobao to choke, I’ll pluck your skin!”
Father Zhang had no resort, either. His Missus here said divorce yet it wasn’t to let him divorce her but to go find some Mom [in-law]? That clearly was telling on him.18 He was already so old, if he was taught a lesson by Dad and Mom once again, then it wasn’t worth it, ~ah. He was watching Xiaobao drinking water there at the time and wanted to praise two sentences to better distract from the matter that his Missus was fixated on but he didn’t think that what he saw would be Xiaobao choking on water over there. Only once he finished praising did he react and all the heat he had just taken from his Missus, he took it all out on Shiliu.
Don’t mention it but this one move was actually really useful. Upon hearing her man speak of the children, Mrs. Zhang-Wang’s eyes instantly looked over. The tears were gone too. The sobbing sounds stopped as well. It wasn’t until seeing that her son was fine that her heart was set at ease.
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan heard the noise and simultaneously turned their heads, only to discover that there were people watching. It wasn’t that the both of them had no vigilance. If it were before the practice, they would have already heard this little bit of disturbance. But right now, they were one after another tired till they wanted to die as their bodily functions had dropped incredibly low. To keep on standing and walking upright had already cost them all of their mental energy, how could they discover anything else?
“From now on, want to preserve a portion of stamina while training? Working like this really was too dangerous. We actually didn’t discover people were monitoring us.” Wang Juan dumped the water on top of her head to lower the heat as she worriedly asked.
“There’s no need. This isn’t monitoring. This is loving concern. My Dad and Mom watching us still needs to be guarded against? In my own home’s courtyard, who do I have to guard against? Not to mention, there wouldn’t even be a bit of danger. Even if there suddenly were several people holding knives rushing over to kill us, would you have a way to avoid it? Train quickly. There are still 3 and half laps.” Zhang Xiaobao even took the leisure of waving a small hand toward his parents over there before turning around to move towards the front.
“All right. Even if I have to crawl, I’ll finish crawling this distance.” Wang Juan squinted her eyes slightly, relaxing all of the muscles everywhere save for her legs, swaying as she followed.
Father Zhang and Mrs. Zhang-Wang saw their son was even waving his hand at them. That dirty little face made people want to laugh and yet have no way of laughing out loud. Staring at that sandy ground of several zhang [yard]19 lengths, the two people both knew that this was the children challenging the extreme limits of their bodies.
“Missus, you spoke rightly. Which family’s children could be comparable to Xiaobao and Juan-Juan? They’re this small and can treat themselves with such ruthlessness. Once they get bigger, they’ll definitely be even more powerful.” Father Zhang said feelingly.
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“Dian gu” (典故) usually translates to literary quotation or classical allusions. The individual meaning of the characters in this term is “text/code” (典) and “reason” (故). The reason why this is an issue that comes up is historically speaking, written Chinese was deliberately condensed and compressed in comparison to the spoken vernacular. This was due to the cumbersome weight of the bamboo or bone strips that were used for literary records before paper was invented (Yes, the Chinese had already experienced the agony of trying to write everything they wanted to write in as few characters as possible in prehistoric times way before Twitter ever came along). The need to pack as much information as possible on as few strips and characters as possible led to the habit of quoting extensively from existent text sources which likely led to a lot of the 4 or 8 character long idioms or couplets that summarize parables. The difficulty in publication and reverence of scholarship meant ancestral poets and authors that left behind a literary legacy were respected and constantly referenced in ancient China. This is similar to the role played by Shakespeare who is one of the, if not the absolute, most influential contributors to the written English language. Native English speakers might be able to identify “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” for the meaning ascribed to it from its use in the scene from Romeo and Juliet but non-native speakers would likely not be aware of the allusion without research. So imagine written Chinese as having multiple Shakespeare-like poets and authors contributing their works as a pool of literary references that were then constantly quoted. This is not as much of an issue in modern times due to a loosening of linguistic traditions and increase in literacy rates that allowed people to write as plainly as they spoke instead of pursuing brevity, poeticness, and word play in all of their writing similarly to how English speakers no longer need to consider iambic pentameter or rhyming in their normal writing. Hence, this leads to Xiaobao’s current problem as the literary reference pool for modern-day Chinese writing would be a completely different animal than the one used for ancient Chinese writing. No memes, for one thing. ↩
Xiaobao says “chi da kui” (吃大虧). I translated “chi kui” (吃虧) literally as “eat (a) loss,” which I thought was close enough to similar English expressions about financial loss that I translated as is. It’s worthy to note that eating a loss has potential for wordplay in the pun-happy environment of the Chinese language. ↩
Xiaobao is obliquely referring to Taiwan, which is an island off the coast of China whose modern history started as the location of the fleeing members of the deposed Republic of China (ROC) after the Communists took over the mainland as the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Taiwan has historically been late to the party in terms of being assimilated into the current Chinese government. Quick summary: Taiwan was initially inhabited by aborigines that had contact with the Dutch and Spanish before the pro-Ming Chinese began to colonize it in order to resist the Manchu rule of the Qing dynasty before it was finally annexed by the Manchu Qing. It was then ceded to Japan in the wake of the Sino-Japanese War before being regained by the ROC that then used it as its new seat of power in resistance of the Communists. Ever since then, the question of Taiwan’s legitimacy, independence, and sovereignty have been up in the air, especially since China has gained international acknowledgment and grown into a world power, gaining the upper hand in terms of diplomatic recognition of sovereignty. Political tension between their two governments will periodically flare up whenever the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty or independence comes up due to debate over the One China Policy, which is not helped by the fact that there is only a narrow stretch of sea called the Taiwan Strait separating them. Naturally, diplomacy between China and Taiwan can be referred to as “cross-strait relations” or in Chinese, “haixia liang an guanxi” (海峽兩岸關係), which literally translates to “relationship of the two sides of the sea channel.” ↩
The reason why Xiaobao mentions that he only recognizes some characters is because of the Chinese government’s revision of the Chinese characters into a Simplified character set in order to, so they claim, try to increase the literacy rate of its populace. Since territories like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia were not affected and continued using the unmodified Traditional Chinese character set, this led to a forking of the written Chinese language. There has been a lot of debate over this move ever since. It is worthy to note that even how Traditional characters are referred to in Chinese is heavily politicized as mainland China (PRC) refers to them as “fan ti” (繁體) or “complex form” while Taiwan (ROC) calls them “zheng ti” (正體) or “proper form” characters. Since this change was done during the 20th century, Xiaobao was educated in Simplified Chinese and would not be as familiar with the Traditional characters that Tang China used and would only know the characters that were not modified. By the way, the Chinese characters used in these footnotes are from the Traditional character set, which are easier to convert to the Simplified version than vice versa due to how the character substitution can work for the Simplified characters with one Simplified character replacing multiple Traditional characters that could have wildly different meanings from one another but the reverse process of which can’t be perfectly automated by computer due to the lack of predictable contextual cues (ex: hair, which is tou fa/頭髮 in Traditional would be written as 頭發 in Simplified but 頭發 could also be alternatively construed to mean “initial send” depending on the context since head/頭 can be interpreted as first while fa/發 is an existing character that is used to mean to send, transmit, or release). ↩
Wang Juan is using “ma” (媽) as an exclamation here, likely as a shorthand that references the curse, “your mom,” similarly to how someone can just exclaim, “Fuck!” or “Damn!” Because of how she is saying it here, I am translating it as onomatopoeia. ↩
I’m assuming that Wang Juan is referring to information that a specialist could give such as in sports medicine where they could monitor the athlete’s condition and provide advice based on the data from the medical readouts. ↩
Xiaobao says “ren qian xian gui, jiu yao ren hou shou zhui” (人前顯貴，就要人後受罪), which paraphrases a quote that was popularized by the Chinese novel, Farewell, My Concubine (Bawang Bie Ji/霸王別姬) by Lilian Lee (Li Bihua/李碧華). The meaning is that suffering and great effort must be gone through behind the scenes in order to show off the results on stage in a glorious display. ↩
“Yao guai” (妖怪) is used here, which can refer to the devils and demon spirits of Chinese folklore and myth. But it can also simply mean monster as in freak. The connotation in Chinese is similar to how it is in English where it could be hyperbole in an insulting or praising way depending on interpretation like how “beast” is used in English (i.e. he’s a beast at basketball versus he’s a beast of a man). ↩
“Shen xian” (神仙) is a legendary figure rather unique to Eastern lore born out of the idea that one can ascend to a higher level of being and become superhuman or immortal through enlightenment, etc. Daoism is closely related to how the xian (or sage as I have translated it though others have translated it as celestial, fairy, or immortal) would manifest though there are different avenues other than Daoism through which they can pursue enlightenment, immortality, ascension, etc. The “xian xia” (仙俠) and “xiu zhen” (修真) genres of Chinese fiction are different takes on this type of figure. The closest Western equivalent is likely the wizards of fantasy or the various demigod heroes of various European myths. The reason why it’s significant that Mrs. Zhang-Wang insists Xiaobao and Juan-Juan are divine sages instead of monsters is because Chinese folklore believed entering the reincarnation cycles was one of the ways such sages tried to gain enlightenment in order to power up. Some powerful sages could be reborn still bearing memories from their previous life, making them act wise beyond their years, which could easily be mistaken for possession by a monster such as a devil, demon, ghost, or spirit that was just as long-lived or knowledgeable in the arcane. ↩
Father Zhang is how I translate “Zhang Fu” (張父), which is just the author’s shorthand for Zhang Xiaobao’s father. ↩
The master that is being used here, “shifu” (師傅), is a form of address that can refer to Buddhist monks or Daoist priests who would be the Chinese go-to figures for exorcisms just like how Catholic priest are stereotypically called upon in horror movies with demonic possession. The speaker who uses this term would be conveying respect for the person’s expertise or mastery so it can also be applied to someone who is a master in their field like an artisan. This term also comes up in martial arts as well as wuxia and xianxia fiction but is written as 師父 for the additional connotation of “father” to emphasize the type of paretnal role they play in the master-disciple relationships of these situations. Obviously, this form of the term would be one only disciples or apprentices would use. ↩
It’s difficult to translate “qie shen” (妾身) well as it’s one of those ancient Chinese illeisms that a wife or concubine could use when using humble speech with her lord and husband. Even though it literally means “concubine body,” that is meant to be a metaphor for her servility when a wife says it in order to show her verbal submission even though she isn’t technically a concubine. To make it even more confusing, a concubine could use this illeism as well though they could also use nujia/奴家 or “slave family” to show even more respect in their humble speech. To try to replicate the same effect but not add too much to reader confusion that could be caused by seeing Mrs. Zhang-Wang seem to incorrectly refer to herself as a concubine, I’ve translated it as “this consort.” ↩
I’ve translated “gong ming” (功名) as “honorary title” to try to encapsulate what it meant in ancient China. This is the general term colloquially used for the various degrees conferred upon those that passed the different tiers of the civil exams. The titles granted privileges but not necessarily positions in the Imperial government as it was up to the individual holders what they did with the diplomas received. Some whose personalities were unsuited for the political arena simply took the tests to be qualified as teachers or for the tax break and increase in social status while others who sought a governmental position might not have the connections or money to get a good placing if their results weren’t high enough or whatever so used these scholarly titles as a foundation for their clan and to get a foothold into a higher social circle. However, the correlating relationship between an official and the title gained from passing the civil exams was high so for the large majority of people, it was the only route to success and prestige. ↩
The “room” he is referring to here is an oblique reference to terms that were synonymous for wives and concubines. Ancient Chinese polygamy or polygyny allowed only 1 wife but had the option of multiple concubines. Depending on the era and family, the requirements for taking on a concubine could be stringent or very lax. Usually, the wife’s permission had to be asked for and granted though, even if nominally. However, as a sign of her supreme status, the wife was usually placed in the main residential wing or rooms of the house while the concubines were generally in the side wings, which were symbolically less prestigious. So wives were also called “main houses” or “main rooms” while concubines were called “side houses” or “side rooms,” which is similar to how the other man or woman that a partner was cheating with could be colloquially referred to as a “side piece” in English. Also of note is that the main and side room arrangement is an important consideration for hosts and guests as well as masters and servants so placing servants in the main room of a house would be a severe break in protocol and show that the household was messy and uncultured for not holding to etiquette while a host giving up their place in the main rooms to a very highly honored guest could be a way to show respect. ↩
“~You” (呦)—pronounced more like “yo” like in “yo-yo” rather than “you” as in the second person pronoun—is another one of those exclamatory sentence particles that can add emphasis to certain portions of speech. It can give the speech a drawling effect as well. ↩
Technically, the verb used here is “xiu” (休), which means “to rest.” The divorce Mrs. Zhang-Wang is speaking of here is not the modern concept of divorce, which Chinese translates as “li hun” (離婚) or literally, “leave marriage.” Divorce in ancient China was one-sided and tilted heavily in the man’s favor as it was legally valid only if the husband wrote a divorce letter stating that the wife had been repudiated or cast off. The only constraint on the husband in terms of the divorce requirements was that the reason for the divorce had to fall under one of the 7 wrongs (qi chu/七出), which were if the wife was unfilial, had no son (although this usually required barrenness for 3 years), was vulgar/lewd/adulterous, was jealous, was diseased, gossiped too much, or stole. Only 3 exceptions called “san bu qu” (三不去) or “3 no go” existed that prevented a wife from being unilaterally divorced and that was if she had no place to return to, had mourned a parent-in-law for the full 3 years, or had wed the husband in poverty but he was now wealthy. Also, note that concubines didn’t even need a divorce to be legally cast off. If the concubine had a rank (i.e. they were gifted by elders or belonged to families that were of similar rank or higher to the man’s household or were officially registered), they might receive a letter stating that they had no more ties with the man’s family but it was not necessarily a requirement and not treated with the same formality as when a wife was divorced. Concubines in general could be sold or given away like property. This was because of the thinking that they were really “ban ge zhuren” (半個主人) or “half a master” as they were not considered to be fully legitimate masters since the wife could order around the concubines like common servants due to the household hierarchy though they were still waited upon by servants with some heavily favored concubines getting treated like or better than wives if the man was foolish or heretical enough to do so. It also did not help matters that the men of a household could technically elevate an existing maid servant into a bed warming maid as a precursor to making them a full concubine. The concubines straddled a gray area in terms of legal protection, which was a quality that was passed on to their offspring who only gained some marginal protection for being of the household bloodline. Divorce (and marriage) law that was more in line with modern sensibilities was only established in China in the 20th century. ↩
He uses “fu ren” (夫人) here, which is the same term that I had previously translated as “Mistress” that the servants use to address her. But since he is using it for the other meaning of the word, “wife,” I have chosen to translate it as “Missus” as it is an English word whose etymological origins are related to the word “Mistress.” His speech is akin to a husband addressing his wife as “Madam” even in private such as in 19th century British literature like Pride and Prejudice, Oliver Twist, or Jane Eyre, etc. ↩
“Gao zhuang” (告狀) literally means to “speak form.” This makes more sense once you realize that an official letter of complaint or petition that was presented to a court magistrate to open up a case or lawsuit is called a “zhuang zhi” (狀紙) or “form paper.” When used in more casual settings, this expression could be translated as to snitch, tell on, complain, etc. ↩
“Zhang” (丈) is a traditional Chinese unit of measure for length that was set as 10 chi (尺), measuring out to be around ~3.5 meters and ~3.6 yards. It was later standardized to be ~3.5 yards. I will be noting [yard] next to it as a reminder to readers as to the role it plays in relation to the other Chinese measurement units for length but it is not actually equal to a yard.