Striking Like A Thunderclap
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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!
After saying these words, Song Jing-gong didn’t make another sound as he lowered his head to drink the tea there.
Steward Zhang inwardly saying, ‘Indeed, it has come,’ also feigned drinking a few sips of tea and waited until more water was refilled before he asked: “Don’t know the matter of making a fortune that Mister Song spoke of, what it is in detail?”
“This… Ai~! So be it. I’ll speak of it for Steward Zhang to hear. This Song heard people say that those barbarian1 lands has a kind of strange item and thought that if it were transported to our Great Tang, it certainly could be sold for a high price. So I first gave a bit of a down payment for around 1,000 dan [stone]2 with each dan [stone] at 200 wen [cash]. That object appears to be bright red, mouthwateringly tender and beautiful3 with green leaves on top that is brilliant and rich in color.4
It was originally said to be 1,000 dan [stone] but who would have thought that being transported over here would be 2,000 dan [stone]? The financial wealth on hand that this Song has isn’t enough; therefore, came here to find Steward to discuss whether or not to make a fortune along with this Song and purchase these 1,000 dan [stone] in goods?” Song Jing-gong said with a face full of assurance.
Steward Zhang revealed a pained expression. In fact, he wasn’t a bit afraid. No matter what was said now, it wouldn’t be finalized so he could only follow up with talk.
“Yes, ~ya, 200 silver taels, it’s not good for Steward to decide. Why not wait for your noble manor’s Mistress to return before having a discussion?” Song Jing-gong goaded.
Steward Zhang really did reveal an unhappy facial expression as he lightly placed the tea bowl onto the table and said: “200 taels might be a lot but it’s not that this Zhang can’t make the decision. It’s only that having not seen what item it is, it’s not good to just take it out. If it’s convenient for Mister Song, then please present the physical object for a look to let this Zhang be reassured.”
“Steward Zhang needn’t worry about that item, either. This Song still has a method here that could solve this Song’s trouble and it can also let Steward Zhang gain some benefit, too.” Song Jing-gong seeing Steward Zhang speak like this, smiled as he spoke.
“Oh? There’s another way? Quickly, Mister Song, please speak of it. If it’s feasible, 200 silver taels can still be brought out.” Steward Zhang played along.
Song Jing-gong with no hurry or delay took out several sheets of paper from his person to gently unfold in front of Steward Zhang, motioning for Steward Zhang to see.
Steward Zhang carefully picked up these sheets of paper, turning one page after another. After a long while, he revealed his incomprehension: “This is a store deed; I wonder for what purpose Mister Song brought this out for?”
“Correct, it is a store deed. It is the store deed of that antiques and art store in Sanshui of this Song’s. The entirety of the goods inside added to the property there is valued at 300 taels of white silver. Here is a document as proof from the broker5 that gives even more detail; every item each have their values indicated.
If Steward Zhang could take out 200 silver taels to lend to this Song, this Song is willing to use this store as well as the goods inside as a mortgage. Wait until this Song has received the goods, I will immediately return the money. Let’s calculate it based on 3% interest. By that time, that share of the benefits for Steward Zhang naturally won’t be less.”
Song Jing-gong explained all of his intentions. No matter from which side, it made people feel that it wasn’t bad.
“So that’s to say if the principal and interest hasn’t been repaid, that store including the goods within will belong to us?” Steward Zhang asked again.
“That’s right.” Song Jing-gong nodded in confirmation.
“Then, don’t know why Mister Song doesn’t seek other people to borrow from? There are specialized places dedicated to these matters of loaning money and also I wonder when those goods will arrive?” Steward Zhang asked in puzzlement and with some disbelief.
As if Song Jing-gong had already known Steward Zhang would have such a question, he smiled as he replied: “That barbarian trader’s sole goal is profit; this Song is afraid that in seeking someplace else to borrow money, they will not only not lend to me but instead independently seek out the barbarian trader. At that time, this Song will not be able to get even 1 dan [stone] of cargo.
Having heard that Zhang Manor’s people are all those belonging to the ilk with a kind and honest heart, thus did I arrive at your noble manor for consultation. My thinking was that even if your noble manor doesn’t lend me the money and partner with me, you still wouldn’t do that sort of dishonest business like pulling the kindling out from under the cauldron.6
As for those goods, their arrival time nears; estimating it wouldn’t take more than half a month, thus this Song’s inner heart was full of anxiety.”
When he said these words, Song Jing-gong himself felt that it was contrary to his heart. Staying here these several days, he had been cheated quite a bit. It was like this so if they were still kind and honest, then this world didn’t have any good people. Recalling that worn quilt, his resentment burned.
“Well said, well said. These two points Mister Song raised, this Zhang feels are feasible. How about this, wait until this Zhang thoroughly makes some calculations, then I will elaborate with Mister Song. If it’s like how Mister Song put it, regardless of success or failure, I won’t go and do that damaging thing. Attend here, ~ah, order the kitchen to make a seat’s share and to serve Mister Song well.
Mister Song, please abide in this hall for a moment. This Zhang is a person short on calculation.7 Wait for me to return and discuss it a bit with my father, is that fine? ” Steward Zhang asked after making the arrangements.
“All right, then I’ll have to trouble Steward Zhang to take care of it. Regardless of whether this matter succeeds or not, this Song will remember Steward’s one favor. If it really succeeds, wait until the day this Song makes money as I’ll definitely compensate Steward Zhang thoroughly.”
Song Jing-gong was inwardly happy. If Steward Zhang hadn’t spoken this way and had immediately promised it with pleasure, then he’d be worrying, ~ne.
Steward Zhang didn’t continue speaking. After saying a word to wait, he hurriedly left the parlor room, rushing straight to where Zhang Xiaobao was. As for his father there, he had no relation to this matter at all so going there would be of no use anyway.
At this time, Zhang Xiaobao was currently with Wang Juan rolling around in the sand, ~ne. A couple days ago, they’d had people make a ball out of pig bladder8 with leather pasted on the outside. The two of them kicked it back and forth, using this to exercise their bodies, which could even train their physical coordination.
Seeing Steward Zhang rush over, they stopped and asked: “Steward Zhang knows what that Swindler Song wants to do?”
Steward Zhang repeated the conversation he just had with Song Jing-gong, intact and unedited, to Little Mister once again and then didn’t make another sound as he quietly awaited Little Mister’s orders. At this time, Little Mister’s measure in his heart was not low; the things that Erniu’s family was doing, Mrs. Zhang-Wang did not conceal from him.
While he was touched by that kind of trust from Mistress, he was also astonished by Little Mister’s methods. As for whatever claims of divine sages and monsters, he fundamentally didn’t care.
His family had served as stewards at Zhang Manor for generations. It could be said that alive, he was Zhang Manor’s man; dead, he was Zhang family’s ghost.9 If Little Mister was a monster, then his son would be a monster’s steward; there was no difference.
Zhang Xiaobao, upon hearing these words, sank into deep thought. Over there, Wang Juan also followed in contemplation; she had handled quite a few cases and prepared to pick out a similar type to draw a comparison.
Without waiting for Zhang Xiaobao to speak, after thinking for a while, Wang Juan spoke up: “I understand. That Swindler Song wants us to take in all of that cargo. Then, when it can’t be sold, a big sum will be lost. How can there be something so expensive—100 wen [cash] for 1 dan [stone]? Talking like it sounded so good, whatever contrast-rich red and green.
Why not just lend money to him and obtain that 300 taels worth store of his. With a broker acting as insurance, it presumably wouldn’t be cheated. Let’s see how he talks by then? ”
“That’d really be getting taken in and deceived, ~ne. A broker guarantee10 has an effect? The store can be guaranteed; how can the stuff inside be guaranteed? Antiques and art, this stuff can be said to be faked just to be faked. Song Jing-gong can, when seeking the broker guarantee, use real objects and then wait until after he’s signed the document with us to switch it out with fakes.
At that time, who will you go to? The broker really did guarantee the authentic article, how will you sue? When you think of finding Song Jing-gong, then it could also be said that it was just those items. You’ve already seen it; haven’t there been times that these antiques and art were wrongly identified?”
Zhang Xiaobao picked out the flaws within Wang Juan’s words. Wang Juan considered it so, too. Not even talking about the broker’s original guarantee being authentic, even if they saw the items that had been switched, they could still say it was genuine, which was also a possibility. So she said:
“Then, it’s that there are simply no items that have been transported here from elsewhere. He only wishes to sell that store to us. We can say we’ll partner up with him to take on those 200 silver taels of cargo—see how he talks, then.”
“How do you know there’s no cargo, ~ne? If it were me, I’d get some cargo shipped here. This way, no matter which is chosen, you’ll be taken in. That cargo should be very cheap. If you bought it, it would be 100 wen [cash] for 1 dan [stone]. Of course, maybe they’ll let you bargain down the price.” Zhang Xiaobao rebutted once again.
Wang Juan, hearing this, also had no solution. After all, the work she did before mostly had a vast amount of intelligence to support it as well as the law as a weapon; you could easily be able to find expert personnel in this area. Having come to the Tang dynasty, if she as an individual were to, say, command some troops, she could still get some results after adapting. But with just this little information, there was basically no way to judge.
“Then, you say how to do it? Treat him to a meal just to release him to go back?” Wang Juan looked at Zhang Xiaobao as she asked.
“Treat him to a meal and release him? He’s dreaming, then. Treating him to a meal doesn’t cost money, ~ah? Since he dares come swindling, then let’s let him know about formidability. Steward Zhang, come here; I’ll speak while you listen. Do as I say.” Zhang Xiaobao gave a scornful smile as he called Steward Zhang over to come near in front of him.
Wang Juan, Zhang Xiaobao, and Steward Zhang huddled their heads together and whispered for a quarter-hour before Steward Zhang, bearing an expression of seeming comprehension and seeming puzzlement, left.
“Real dumb. When you mentioned it once, I understood it all; why doesn’t he understand?” Wang Juan here was now reassured. As she spoke, she reached out to pinch that chubby face of Zhang Xiaobao’s once. Tilting her head to observe him for a moment, she then said:
“Impressive. Today, I’ve finally witnessed it; an International Criminal Swindler really can’t be compared to those petty swindlers. If there were people like you in that Special 2 Division11 of mine, then a swindler would be nabbed whenever a swindler was spotted. Let me thoroughly check—could it be that this head of yours was naturally born for the sake of swindling?”
“That’ll do, the saliva has all been squeezed out. Don’t you know a child’s face can’t be constantly pinched—this counts as what? All right, get down to business. Arrange the people well. I’ll let that Song Jing-gong know what swindling is called.” Zhang Xiaobao batted away Wang Juan’s little hand and summoned Xiaohong to start making the arrangements.
A quarter-hour later, while Steward Zhang and Song Jing-gong were eating and drinking, a few of Zhang Manor’s people left and a few of Wang Manor’s people also left.
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan restarted anew the ball game, their contest evenly matched in wins and losses.
Song Jing-gong and Steward Zhang were also drinking wine as they spoke happily, chatting with great enjoyment.
When Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan had been playing for 1 hour and preparing to take a rest, Mrs. Zhang-Wang had also rushed over and upon seeing the two children, she let out a sigh. This child’s heart really was too ruthless. Walking in front of Zhang Xiaobao, she touched her son’s face as she said:
“Xiaobao, you here are going to force Song Jing-gong to death, ~ah. Men should be spared when men should be spared.”12
“Mom, no, you [honorific] rest assured. Son13 has a personal plan—definitely won’t force people to death. Son lacks people, ~ah. Just now, Steward Zhang listened to Child’s14 method but simply couldn’t comprehend it. Son doesn’t want such a dumb person. Wait until Song Jing-gong is at the end of his rope,15 Son will give him a hand up so he can better work later on. Son can’t always personally manage every matter, right?”
Zhang Xiaobao, knowing that his mother’s heart wasn’t that bad, gave an explanation.
Said like this, Mrs. Zhang-Wang was set at ease as she said: “My Baolang speaks correctly. Baolang is a great talent; commanding from the rear is fine—there are others to lead the charge to break the enemy ranks.”
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Fan/番 is the character assigned to label lands that are not within China proper. Because the full term of “fan bang” (番邦) has connotations meaning uncultured or uncouth since it was the traditional label Imperial China applied to all foreign states that they viewed with a condescending attitude, I have chosen to translate this character as barbarian. Contrast this with the more linguistically neutral tone of wai/外 for “outside/external” and yi/異 for “foreign/alien.” Note that this fan/番 is different from the character for fan/藩 as fan/藩 is the label traditionally applied to fiefs that are considered totally subordinate and part of China proper, even if these fiefs were large enough to be kingdoms in and of themselves. They are homophones and the characters are also visually similar because of the similarity in their concepts but the key to remember is that fan/藩 was the label for territories considered part of Imperial China even if they were ruled independently by a feudal lord whose influence and power might rival the Emperor’s while fan/番 was the label for areas that were considered foreign, even if the territories in question were highly influenced by the Imperial Chinese government to the point of having a subordinate tributary relationship like with Korea or Vietnam. Fan/藩 is also likely the basis for the Japanese Han system. ↩
Dan/石 is the the Chinese measurement unit for volume that traditionally weighed anywhere from ~100 to ~103 liters (~26-27 gallons) before being standardized in modern times to be equivalent to 100 liters as the market dan (shidan/市石). This unit was typically used to measure cereal grains like rice or wheat. By the way, the character used here of 石 is usually pronounced “shi” and literally means “stone” in Chinese but it is pronounced differently only when used in this context as a measurement unit, which is a linguistic anomaly called a homograph. This unit has some relation to the weight measurement unit, the picul, which is a homophone in Chinese (dan/擔). To confuse matters more, the picul is sometimes written using the character for stone (石) as well and that’s not even considering the fact that there is also an Imperial unit for weight in English called a stone, too. ↩
“Jian yan yu di” (嬌艷欲滴) is a 4-character couplet used in Chinese to describe objects that are tender and beautiful while dripping with a liquid like dew. Obviously, flowers and women are usually the objects of such praise. So Song Jing-gong is basically using hyperbole here in order to sell Steward Zhang on the value of this plant he is importing. ↩
The original text uses “jiao xiang er ying” (交相而映) which I assume is meant to be “jiao xiang hui ying” (交相輝映). It is a bit hard to translate for me but broken down into its individual characters, it roughly means “cross exchange bright reflection.” To illustrate its usage, this would be a phrase to use when describing a color photograph printed on laminated paper. ↩
“Ya kuai” (牙儈) literally means “tooth broker” even though this profession has little to do with dentistry. The reason why teeth (ya/牙) as a character became associated with the name for this profession, forming the basis for many of the slang terms used to refer to these brokers (ex: yaren/牙人 or “tooth person,” yalang/牙郎 or “tooth man,” yashang/牙商 or “tooth merchant,” etc.) was because the character meaning mutual (hu/互) was erroneously written and the mistake stuck. These brokers rose as a profession due to how Chinese society was structured where people were roughly categorized into 4 occupational groups (士農工商), which was, in order of rank, the scholar–gentry (shi/士), farmers (農), crafters (工), and merchants (商). Because the merchants were traditionally looked down upon leading to discrimination or ostracization, it impeded the communication and social networks necessary for a successful trading business in ancient China. Thus, brokers served as middle men and a human communication network to bridge that gap, fulfilling many functions that could involve things like acting as prototypical notaries by facilitating, drawing up, and standing witness to the signing of contracts and other documents; as auditors or guarantors in evaluating prospective sale goods, stating their condition before sale, and testifying to this in court if disputes arise after the transaction; holding things in escrow; also, helping people sell and buy items. Some brokers specialized in certain areas while others were jack-of-all-trades. ↩
“Fu di chou xin” (釜底抽薪) is a 4-character idiom that describes using a drastic tactic to solve a situation by pulling the kindling out from under the cauldron and has the same meaning as the English expression of “nipping things in the bud.” ↩
What is spoken here is the first 4-character half of a 8 character long quote “yi ren ji duan, er ren ji chang” (一人計短，二人計長). Like other 8-character couplets, the first 4 characters tend to act as a shorthand reference to the whole expression even if it doesn’t make any sense without the latter unspoken half. The meaning is more apparent when the entire sentence is translated: “one person is short on calculation, two people are long on calculation.” It is the Chinese version of the English saying with a similar message: “two heads are better than one.” ↩
“Zhu chui pao” (豬吹泡) is a regional folksy term for a pig’s bladder so it won’t show up in any formal Chinese dictionaries. ↩
Steward Zhang is professing his loyalty using a common speech pattern for such situations where you replace X for the object to whom you’re professing loyalty to: “Sheng shi X de ren, shi shi X de gui” (生是X的人，死是X的鬼). The Chinese believed that if you don’t belong to a clan and aren’t worshipped by descendants with the proper funerary rites, you would become a feral ghost, doomed to starve forever in the afterlife. The inverse of this belief is then also assumed—properly buried and venerated ancestors mean that their ghostly spirits are affiliated with the clans or families that they belonged to in life after they die as well. So basically, this expression is a standard way for people, especially subordinates, to profess eternal loyalty and their undying resolve where they will be loyal to their master or organization in life as a living person as well as in death as a ghostly spirit. ↩
Though “dan bao” (擔保) can mean “insurance,” in this case, it is really more of a guarantee that vouches for the product’s saleability since the broker won’t replace or offset any losses incurred by the buyer and it is still very much a buyer beware situation. The guarantee of the broker is typically gained during business deals since their presence as the middle man acts as another witness to the transaction as well as a safeguard; they stake their reputation and credibility to evaluate and verify the value of the goods being sold; and though they don’t play a direct role in enforcing the contract in case there is any wrongdoing, they can testify officially if the authorities are called in for judgment. ↩
I wasn’t able to determine what specific division of the police that Wang Juan belongs to so I just translated the Chinese, “Te Er Chu” (特二處), literally as “Special 2 Division.” ↩
“De rao ren chu qie rao ren” (得饒人處且饒人) is an expression that professes showing mercy when possible because people are people (and err). The phrasing is very compact and has a bit of wordplay, which was a bit hard for me to convey in the translation thus leading to this footnote. ↩
Xiaobao is referring to himself in the third person, which is a normal linguistic behavior in Chinese. So I translated erzi/兒子 as simply “Son” even if it reads weirdly in English because Xiaobao is self-identifying as Mrs. Zhang-Wang’s son and emphasizing that he is addressing her in this capacity. ↩
This is the same deal as when Xiaobao was addressing himself as “Son” but using the word meaning child, “hai-er” (孩兒) instead. ↩
I replaced the 4-character couplet with a roughly equivalent English saying because it would require too much explaining in-text to unravel the idiomatic meaning if it were translated literally. “Shan qiong shui jin” (山窮水盡) means “dearth of mountains and end of (river) water” to illustrate hitting a dead end and having nowhere else to go.