Being Able To Cheat A Bit Is A Bit
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Song Jing-gong wanted to thoroughly investigate in order to make the swindle easier later on. While he made his inquiries, his eyes stared into the eyes of the two kids. He originally assumed that upon seeing such pretty sugar people, these two kids would make a fuss to get them. He even came up with how to respond then. As long as the kids liked him, he would succeed at the first step.
Alas, what he saw was that the two kids’ eyes only gave the sugar people a once over and then ignored them to look at him. They even smiled sweetly. Only, why did that smile feel not right—unless little kids all smiled this way? It was a bit cold.
“Who are you? I’m Zhang Manor’s Little Mister.” Zhang Xiaobao batted those innocent big eyes twice as he curiously asked.
Wang Juan also tilted her head in concert with Zhang Xiaobao as she asked: “Right, ~ya.1 You’re who, ~ya? I’m Wang Manor’s Little Miss.”
Hearing these voices that slurred the words a bit, Song Jing-gong was not a bit surprised. He believed that the family members of these two kids must have taught them how to speak. Families with a bit of money were all like this—always feeling that their own children were stronger than other people’s so they’d teach them a few sentences to get more praise from others.
Thinking of this, Song Jing-gong made a very funny face in order to make the two children laugh. But the result was that the two children both turned their heads. This affirmed even more his internal speculation. Sure enough, they weren’t kids that were that smart.
In actuality, Wang Juan was turning her head because she saw that when this Song Jing-gong made a funny face, his teeth was still stained with stuff so she was disgusted while Zhang Xiaobao wasn’t willing to speak any more with this person. Swindling—it didn’t even require him to give any kind of guidance. He thought that this swindler was preparing to go to his house to deceive the adults.
Upon seeing the two kids’ appearances, Song Jing-gong felt that he couldn’t use the original method after all and could only turn to the two young girls who were probably maid servants and say: “I’m called Song Jing-gong. Seeing how good your family’s Little Mister and Little Miss are, I suddenly decided that I wanted to help your two manors a bit. Quickly bring me to go see your patriarch.”
“With just you? And you even want to see our patriarch? You’re dreaming, ~ne? If I were you, I’d leave here immediately. Our manor doesn’t need your kind of people coming here.” Shiliu coldly looked at Song Jing-gong and scoffed, leaving not a shred of compassion as she spoke.
Over there, Yingtao was the same. Confronting Song Jing-gong like an enemy, she hugged Zhang Xiaobao tightly in her embrace as she turned her head to look elsewhere.
‘Failure—it really is too much of a failure being a swindler to this kind of degree. The other person is already on guard, how could a swindler still keep working? Yingtao and Shiliu are not bad though—they know how to judge people and help the family avoid quite a bit of danger.’ Zhang Xiaobao held back his smile while using his head to rub against Yingtao’s neck.
Yingtao liked these two children so seeing that cute appearance of Little Mister’s and feeling that Shiliu wouldn’t go tell Mistress after seeing it, she turned her head to kiss Zhang Xiaobao on the face.
Over there, seeing such a situation, Wang Juan was afraid that Song Jing-gong wouldn’t go swindling—how could she nab a swindler, then? So she could only say to Shiliu: “Go home. I want to go home.”
Shiliu was also of this intention and turned around to return while carrying Wang Juan, not even sparing a look at Song Jing-gong. Yingtao naturally followed after her.
Seeing that the two maid servants were carrying the kids away, Song Jing-gong wasn’t angered a bit. He smiled and also followed afterwards, walking toward that side. Seeing this, the kids, who had been watching the excitement just now, returned back to the river on this side and jumped down one after the other to resume with their games—all not willing to continue following them. Those adults who had tagged along, discovering that it wasn’t their own manor anymore, also turned around to go back.
“What are you doing, following us?” After walking a portion of the way, Shiliu discovered that this Great Swindler Song was actually following after them and stopping in her tracks, she turned her head around in a furious query.
“When was I following? Could it be that this manor being your family’s mean that I can’t walk on the road? It’s not like I’m going into your family’s courtyard.” Song Jing-gong didn’t care one bit as he laughingly spoke.
“Then, go on and follow. You, don’t hope to trick our family’s Mistress. My family’s Mistress won’t even get taken in by you.” Shiliu bluntly pointed out the facts, speeding up as she walked back while carrying Wang Juan, prepared to call on the footmen once at the courtyard to drive him away. If she had known they would encounter this swindler, she would have brought along a few people when they came out.
“This maiden might be thinking wrongly. I, this Song,2 have never tricked people before. It would only do to have proof whenever you speak. Otherwise, I’ll sue you in court. At any rate, I am also of the honorary title of Juren.”3 Song Jing-gong responded with a threat.
“Unh, a swindler is a swindler. Who knows how that Juren of yours came about?” Shiliu quietly muttered. This time, she really couldn’t continue insulting Song Jing-gong. She knew that Juren were not good to provoke after all. Even her own family’s Master still didn’t have such an identity right now, ~ne.
Seeing that the two maid servants were scared, Song Jing-gong was gloating. This Juren identity was really useful, ~ah. He’d swindled so many people and yet, wasn’t it because they couldn’t get a handle4 on him and also because of his own identity that they had no way to get a court suit?
“Juren, ~ah! Xiaobao, you able to beat him?” Wang Juan was being carried by Shiliu up front so she turned her head around to face Zhang Xiaobao as she used lip-speech to speak to him.
“Juren counts as what fart? Back when I was swindling, the group of doctorates subordinate to me had four that were previously the valedictorians5 in the nationwide high school test.6 Dare to swindle my family? I’ll let him know why the flowers are so red.7 You leave first, I’ll delay him. You return and tell my Mom about things on this side. Have my Mom prepare a bit. Divide the talks into several times.” Having met a swindler, Zhang Xiaobao didn’t want to just let him go, either. Since he’d arrived, then they’d entertain him thoroughly. The benefit of having Wang Juan going back first with the news and dividing the talks up into several times was that they could have time for discussion.
“All right, I’ll have Shiliu walk quickly. You’re not making preparations? Looking at the jade ornament8 hanging from his waist, you can guess that he’s probably succeeded many times.” Wang Juan nodded slightly as she asked.
“Go on your way. I prepare for what? How many tricks does he have? Compared to me, he’s not even on the same level. I’ll definitely let him experience who exactly is the ancestor of swindlers. Unh, this question is a bit profound.”9 Zhang Xiaobao was completely open today as well while he joked around with Wang Juan.
After hearing the words Wang Juan spoke in her ear, Shiliu increased her speed, almost running as she left first. Song Jing-gong didn’t know what matter had appeared and wanted to chase her but he also wanted to follow this little boy. While he was still unsure as to how to decide, Zhang Xiaobao spoke up.
“Lie, liar.”10 When these three syllables popped out of Zhang Xiaobao’s mouth, Zhang Xiaobao even accompanied them with a gesture by using a finger to point at Song Jing-gong.
“Little Mister, I’m not a liar. I’m a good person.” Song Jing-gong was really scared now. He wasn’t scared of the two maid servants talking on their return. He trusted in his own ability to get the person managing the affairs of that manor to listen to his great money-making plan. But he was afraid of this kid speaking—especially since he was a small boy. He had already found out from the mouths of the people of that Ge Manor that the Zhang Manor on this side only had one boy in this generation.
What does a boy mean? All of the adoration is focused on this kid’s person. At that time, not to mention if he really did want to go swindling, even if he didn’t swindle, one word from this kid could let those who were his parents change their minds. There was an aphorism that was the most convincing for people and that was that when kids looked at people, they could tell good from bad, especially with kids that still didn’t have any comprehension as they said that it was when the kids’ hearts were purest, their eyes the cleanest.
Song Jing-gong didn’t wish to have his previous work come to naught just because of one kid so he inwardly deliberated on how to let this kid come to like him as that would make things easy. He thought and then took out a little toy sword made out of peach wood11 from his sleeves. There was even a red string on top. Using his hand to grasp one end of the string, he swung the sword in front of Zhang Xiaobao’s eyes.
Zhang Xiaobao gave a “he-he” in laughter and didn’t look at that toy sword. Instead, he pointed at Song Jing-gong as he said: “Money, money.”
If Wang Juan were here, she’d definitely be laughing to the point of gasping for air. This Zhang Xiaobao was really too ruthless.
Song Jing-gong wasn’t Wang Juan so he naturally didn’t know what he was about to face. Hearing such a little kid call for money, he felt that it should have been taught by the adults in his family. To start having kids know about money from such a small age, he definitely had to swindle this kind of family. Unh, he must pass the obstacle of the kid he was facing. He wanted money? Fine, he’d give money.
Thinking this, Song Jing-gong took out a copper coin from within his sleeve. On it was written ‘Kaiyuan Tongbao.’ He laughingly gave it to Zhang Xiaobao.
Upon seeing that it was only 1 wen [cash], Zhang Xiaobao didn’t even think and waved a small hand to knock this coin down to the ground as he continued pointing at Song Jing-gong to say: “Silver, silver.”
Yingtao hugged Little Mister—she’d originally intended to directly and quickly leave but she had listened to Little Mister’s words just now telling her to slowly hang about in back and to not mind anything else, so she could only endure the ‘harassment’ of this Great Swindler Song.
Song Jing-gong picked up that copper coin that had been knocked down while he cursed inwardly. This little bit of a kid had already started recognizing silver, could it be that the masters of the manor had nothing to do but throw the kid on a pile of money? Gritting his teeth, he dug out the 1 tael or more of silver pieces and reluctantly placed it in front of Zhang Xiaobao.
Zhang Xiaobao wasn’t modest, either, freely accepting it as he continued calling for silver. Then, seeing that helpless gaze of Song Jing-gong’s and feeling that he didn’t seem to have any more silver, began to call for money. Song Jing-gong still had money. Not much—only 100 wen [cash] as too much would be too heavy. He took that out too, handing it over to Zhang Xiaobao.
Now, this was heavier than the silver from before. Zhang Xiaobao struggled to use both of his hands to hold onto the money string, placing it in between himself and Yingtao, sandwiching it just right, before his eyes locked onto the jade ornament at Song Jing-gong’s waist. The string of the jade ornament was tied to the waist with the jade falling at the thigh to weigh down on the clothing.12
Zhang Xiaobao just stared at it intently, not speaking at all. Song Jing-gong suddenly felt uncomfortable inside and not knowing why, he followed the kid’s gaze to see the jade ornament. If Zhang Xiaobao had stared at the jade ornament from the start, then Song Jing-gong would definitely not give it away. After all, it was bought for 5 guan [strings of cash]—no matter how bad the jade was, it was still not cheap.
Zhang Xiaobao was currently using psychology. This was called gaining a cun [inch] to advance a chi [foot],13 getting it little by little. You already gave a bit anyway; you still lack the other bit? This was only because Zhang Xiaobao’s age was too small. If he were slightly bigger, he could have used gaining a chi [foot] to gain a cun [inch].14 Start out by asking for a little more. If you didn’t give it, then ask for a bit less to let you feel like you couldn’t keep on rejecting it and so, comply with the latter relatively smaller request.
How could Song Jing-gong know these things, ~ah? He was furthermore unable to realize what kind of person the kid in front of him was. So resolving his heart, he took off the jade ornament, too. He was roughly panting as he handed it over, thinking that this time if he didn’t swindle hundreds of silver taels, then he would not desist at all.
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The “~ya” (呀) here is another one of those ending sentence particles that can be added for emphasis. It can be used to lengthen the sentence to add a drawling effect, to emphasize the exclamation in the sentence, or a verbal tic. Because of this, I will sometimes leave it in for effect. ↩
Song Jing-gong is using a Chinese illeism that is typically created by combining the speaker’s surname and “mo” (某) meaning “some” as in “somebody” to make “this [insert surname].” So Song Jing-gong is saying “Song mo” (宋某). To reproduce the effect of this third person pronoun he is using to refer to himself while still keeping the flow of the sentence relatively smooth, I have translated it as “this Song.” ↩
I decided to use the pinyin for “ju ren” (舉人), which is one of the scholarly degrees that can be conferred through the civil exams to those who had passed exams at the prefectural level. It literally means “elevated/promoted person/man” and was granted to those who passed the provincial level exam given every 3 years. Though some translations attempt to equate it with one of the different college certificates one can obtain after a set number of years of study like a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, I chose not to do so because the degrees and titles that the civil exams awarded were very subjective in their standards and different from the more structured curriculums a student must undertake before being granted a college diploma at any level versus the situation with the civil exams where one could earn a degree without any prerequisite amount of study so long as they passed the civil exams or end up never passing it at all even after a lifetime of study, making it hard to make them easy 1:1 replacements in my opinion. Passing the exam to earn a scholarly title depended on a number of factors, of which the years of schooling undergone only served as a rough guideline as to what to expect in terms of the duration of a typical education but other variables like luck, connections, and timing could all come into play. Schooling also varied since a successful candidate could be completely self-taught or home-schooled rather than educated by attending private academies or other such educational institutions. How the exams were set up meant that a man who was just as educated and skilled as a man who had earned a degree could still end up not passing because they might have espoused a viewpoint or preferred a writing style that the grading official disliked or disagreed with; they might simply have ended up taking the test in years where there were too many qualified candidates or lived in a highly competitive area where they couldn’t rise above the crowd to make the cut-off point but they would have passed if they took the test when there weren’t as many skilled candidates or in an area where the competition level was much lower. Corruption and cheating were also possible variables that could affect a candidate’s success. In a way, the civil exams were a bit like how the Oscars are set up as the winner chosen was dependent on the available slate of candidates that year so one year’s winners could be considered lower in quality in comparison to another year’s simply because they won during a year with lower quality candidates and they happened to be the best of the available slate that year. ↩
“Ba bing” (把柄) can describe a physical handle but it can also be used as a metaphor in Chinese to mean a weakness that gives enemies a “handle” to get a hold on you such as in a blackmail or hostage situation. ↩
“Zhuang yuan” (狀元) was the rank given to the highest scoring person on the civil exams at the national level. This title then broadened in usage to apply to people who were the top in their field or the top scorer on the test in modern Chinese. Since valedictorian describes the student with the top grade in a graduating class in English, I have opted for a translation rather than using the pinyin in this case. ↩
“Quan Guo Gao Kao” (全國高考), which is further shortened into gaokao/高考 (literally meaning “high test”), is a colloquial name for the National High Education Entrance Exams. It is a nationwide admissions exam that Chinese high school students take in order to determine their eligibility for entering the college or university of their choice by testing their knowledge in various subject areas. This is the modern incarnation of the Imperial era civil exams—only, the promise of governmental positions have been divorced from this test for the most part (it is arguable that students with political ambitions could use their test results to enter schools that would further those goals). It is similar to the SATs or ACTs in the U.S. except even more stressful since the high school admissions test results are generally the only criterion that Chinese universities will consider when accepting prospective students. Due to the influence of the Sinosphere which spread the concept of these exams from Imperial China to other countries that then later evolved into their modern-day versions, high school students in Japan, South Korea, and other countries have to undergo a similarly nerve-wracking experience to the point that there is anecdotal evidence of the drastic measures that the governments will sometimes take in order to minimize the level of disturbance suffered by test-takers. This is literally how important the test is deemed to the future of the high school students and how stressful the situation is—the entire country shuts up and rearranges its schedule just for this one test. ↩
Showing someone why the flowers are so red (hua-er wei she me zhe me hong/花兒為什麼這麼紅) is likely a reference to the oft-used poetic imagery of blood staining flowers red, especially since in Chinese, “seeing red” (jian hong/見紅) is used to describe blood or bleeding (though it can also be slang for being lucky since red is considered a lucky color). So someone who says this might be threatening physical violence. Or they could be joking since this turn of phrase has been used so frequently that it can be a bit meme-tastic to the point of parody. I’m not sure if this is coincidental or not but there is also a song of a similar name, “Hua-er Wei She Me Zhe Yang Hong” (花兒為什麼這樣紅), that was used in a 1963 Chinese film called “Bing Shan Shang de Lai Ke” (冰山上的來客) or “Visitor on Ice Mountain.” It was a relatively popular song and has more recently shown up in a couple of China’s competitive singing TV shows [A YouTube video of an older rendition of the song can be found here]. ↩
A “yu pei” (玉佩) is a brooch or pendant-like ornament made out of jade. Unlike brooches which are pinned onto a lapel or pendants which are a type of necklace, these ornaments are usually designed to be hung off the waist like a belt weight or attached to accessories like fans, similarly to how some people can decorate their cell phones or keychains by attaching little charms to them. They can be considered good luck charms as well as be a display of wealth or status. ↩
Because the Chinese practice ancestor worship, Xiaobao is bragging in a roundabout way that he is the god of swindlers. Until he realized the time travel aspect of his reincarnation made a paradox out of the literal meaning of his words… ↩
Xiaobao is saying “pian zi” (騙子), which I have chosen to translate as “swindler” in the overall novel. However, because he is playing up his physical age in this instance, I chose to use “liar” as the translation in this context as liar would be a more believable choice for a normal kid of his age to know and speak. The pian/騙 in “pian zi” (騙子) just means deception or deceit so my translation is dependent on the context of the sentence that describes what kind of deception the deceiver is doing in particular. Since most of the deception in this novel has to do with cheating money out of people, I usually choose to translate it as swindle or swindler. ↩
Peach wood or “tao mu” (桃木) is considered to have properties that can ward off evil in China. This is likely because the peach is a positive symbol in Chinese culture. So the swords made out of peach wood that Daoist priests use in their rituals tend to feature heavily as a prop in real life as well as in Chinese fantasy films with ghosts or spirits. ↩
Song Jing-gong is likely wearing a long robe with flowing layers and voluminous sleeves, which would mark him as a scholar or a member of the leisure class in comparison to the peasants who would be wearing more practical clothing with shorter hems that are actually similar to modern-day clothing attire that wouldn’t get in the way of their work. So having an ornament that could act as a weight would be a necessary accessory for him to prevent the clothing flaps of his robes from flying all over the place in a strong wind or with the motion of the body. Go here to read more about Han Chinese clothing. ↩
An English expression with a roughly equivalent meaning to “de cun jin chi” (得寸進尺) would be the one based off of the Scottish inch, the modern version of which is usually rendered as “Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile.” I marked the cun as [inch] and chi as [foot] since they are known as the Chinese versions of these measurements of length from the Imperial system as well as to remind people which unit is the smaller or larger unit. They aren’t actually equivalent to a foot or an inch and are too variable in measurement though for me to convert them to a Western system. ↩
Xiaobao came up with “de chi jin cun” (得尺進寸) by inverting the front and back halves of the previous 4-character couplet, which is a common form of wordplay in Chinese.