Giving A Large Present Deep Into Autumn
Idler’s Note: I’ve decided that letting the content thief make me edit my posts so that the reading experience is affected for the worse is letting them win so I will basically stop doing any hidden text and watermarked images in my future releases. I will also try to take time out to go back and edit my previous chapters to remove the hidden text in them, too. It will also be a good opportunity to go back over my earlier translations with a fine-tooth comb… Blame my OCPD activating… 😛
Maybe if I can get myself to my own hosting where I can actually install scripts or plugins, I will have more options to prevent this kind of content scraping in the future. But in the meantime, I will just need to concentrate on making my chapters the best that they can be, especially since the content thief’s scraping bot automatically strips their copied text of hyperlinks and in doing so, halves the usefulness of any of my footnotes that they copy. I will also try to see if I can start creating a reference section on this site, especially for stuff that doesn’t have a Wikipedia article but is not easily translated so I end up having to use pinyin. Because of this background website stuff as well as still needing to section off the time needed to do freelance work to pay my bills, I might not be able to do any bonus releases and will need to stick to my schedule of 3 chapters a week for a while.
Anyway, time for your regularly scheduled chapter of Great Tang Idyll! I should probably do a post on why I chose to translate the title of this novel the way that I did… Even though no one’s asked me the reason why. I just feel like explaining it. XD
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!
The fallen leaves had been exhausted; there were already no vestiges of the grass; the verdant pines and cypresses1 were as old, vividly dyeing the autumn wind.
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan already added on new layers of clothing to their bodies. As Xiaohong was idle with nothing to do, she’d woken up very early to herd the ducks and geese that Yingtao had hatched towards that pond that belonged to her.
The maid who accompanied them by their side became Shiliu whose duties had lessened. Song Jing-gong sold soybean oil until he grew addicted to selling and would only return to give a report once every few days. Daniu was still responsible for selling the sauce as well as carrots.
“Looks like it’s almost winter. When it snows, what things does winter have that makes money?” Wang Juan carried two small sandbags in her hands, lightly swinging them about while she chatted with Zhang Xiaobao.
“Don’t know. At least the manor has kang [bed-stove] so no fear of freezing.” Over there, Zhang Xiaobao was holding two sandbags as well.
“I’m actually worried that your family’s manor won’t get past this year. There were a lot of grain crops everywhere for the fall harvest but there are also people who would remember this place.” Throwing the sandbag far off into the distance, Wang Juan nearly got pulled along with it into a tumble in a moment of distraction.
Zhang Xiaobao was rather more careful as the sandbags that he threw were a bit further away than those two of Wang Juan’s. Trotting over to pick them up, he hesitated for a bit before he said: “No fear. If people come this year, there’s also a way to deal with them.”
Because they wore a lot of clothing, the two of them only played for an hour before their bodies got covered in sweat. Over there, Shiliu had already prepared the hot water and seeing that the day had gradually darkened, she suggested next to them: “Little Mister, Little Miss, it’s gotten windy outside. Why not go inside to play?”
The two of them made a sound in confirmation before turning around to return with Shiliu. It was at this time that Song Jing-gong, who had already returned once yesterday, ran inside the courtyard in a rush and upon seeing Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, that normally calm face revealed a worried expression.
“For Zijin to run with such urgency, could it be that you’ve been met with good news?” Zhang Xiaobao heard the footstep sounds and turned his head to look. When he saw that it was Song Jing-gong, he asked this with a smile.
“My little ancestor, how is there good news? Something big has come up. Little Mister, the business over there can’t be done anymore.” Seeing that Little Mister still had the leisure to banter, Song Jing-gong’s expression grew even more pained.
Wang Juan interrupted as she said: “Could it be that Mister Song has a matter that he can’t accomplish? Back then, you sure did swindle quite a few people, why can’t you handle it today?”
“My little ancestor, ~ah, this time is not the same as in the past. Can’t swindle, ~ah! Sanshui County over there has people who claim that they had issues after eating the soybean oil sold by Zhang Manor. They found a doctor to check who said that there was poison so business can’t be easily done.”
Song Jing-gong, bearing a face full of frustration, carefully relayed the matter over there.
Yesterday, Song Jing-gong had returned to Sanshui County to sell soybean oil while selling tofu there as well. Money could be used to buy them and other items could also be used to barter for them, especially soybeans as 1 catty of soybeans could get 2 catties of tofu in exchange. With such a setup, it didn’t allow people to realize that soybean oil was made using soybeans.
The evening of that day, when Song Jing-gong had been about to have his people pack away the booth stall, a group of men came by. Song Jing-gong recognized them since several of them were ne’er-do-wells2 who were always up to no good. At first, he thought that they came over to forcibly collect money. Only when the men came close did he know that they were buying oil—a total of 20 catties.
At the time, Song Jing-gong didn’t think too much of it and sold it to the men.
Who knew that when he had just come out of ‘Noteworthy House’ this morning that those men would come over to find him and even had a doctor in tow to give testimony. They claimed that after returning with the oil that they had bought yesterday night, a person had gotten sick from eating it. The men had even carried the one from among them who had gotten ill to place in front of the stall as proof.
Song Jing-gong knew then that he was being extorted. So seeing the people who were looking on in a surrounding circle over there, he spoke out in explanation. But who knew that doctor would insist with a clenched jaw3 that the person lying there had grown sick from eating the oil that this stall sold. The conclusiveness of his words caused the people to be unable to not believe them.
Those men didn’t say any threatening words but wanted Song Jing-gong to give them 50 taels in silver ingots. The surrounding people didn’t know who to trust. Hearing those men’s meaning, they thought that they just wanted more money but to have grown sick from eating it and to also have a doctor’s testimony, they also grew unsure in that instant.
Seeing this, Song Jing-gong also knew that there was no way to do business so he hastily packed up the stall and ordered his people to have all of the items sent back to Noteworthy House. After telling those men to come back again tomorrow, he then hurriedly rushed back to the manor.
“Oh, so it’s like that.” Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan nodded their heads simultaneously but didn’t reveal any expression of having been troubled.
“With illegal appropriation as the purpose, the methods used against the victim are threats or blackmail and is behavior that forcibly demands public or private possessions. This is extortion and racketeering. Xiaobao, it’s up to you.”
Wang Juan spat out a string of words before turning her head to look at Zhang Xiaobao. That meaning was to see how Zhang Xiaobao wanted to handle it from now on.
Zhang Xiaobao curled his lips as if unwilling to handle this kind of thing and sighed: “It looks like we’ll need to spend money again.”
“Little Mister, could it be that you want to give them money?” Upon hearing Zhang Xiaobao’s words, Song Jing-gong thought that he was choosing to give the money and urged: “Little Mister, it can’t be given, ~ah! If it’s given today, then they’ll come back again tomorrow. Besides, that Sanshui County also has some other street punks4 who’d see that there was profit to be had and will come to the stall in turns—however much money, it all won’t be enough to give.”
“Who said to give them money? For me to make a bit of money isn’t easy, either. If it needs to be spent, it should be spent someplace useful. You’ll return today and ask around to see what people those men have in their families. Then, use your identity as a Juren to go see the Sanshui County Magistrate.5 Bring 100 taels of silver ingots as well as that spicy sauce from my manor and the soybean oil that you’re selling.”
Zhang Xiaobao naturally wouldn’t give people money for free. Considering that Tuqiao Village was also under Sanshui County’s control, they could be useful next year. Taking care of them6 first was always better than giving when needed.
Song Jing-gong didn’t know this so upon hearing 100 taels in silver ingots, he couldn’t help trembling. Gulping down his saliva, he said:
“Little Mister, those men don’t really want 50 taels. They’d be content to be able to extort 10 taels or 8 silver taels. 100 taels? Isn’t that a bit much? Promise me 20 taels and I’ll be able to have that county magistrate help out.”
Song Jing-gong didn’t speak erroneously here. 100 silver taels were a bit too much. Customarily, a small matter only required 10 taels or 5 silver taels to be given for the county magistrate to be accommodating.
Without waiting for Zhang Xiaobao to speak, Wang Juan over there had already spoken up and said: “Mister Song, do everything according to what Xiaobao says. Throwing the money out there is to show off an attitude to let those people who are thinking of targeting us know as well as to give the county magistrate a warning.”
“What warning?” Song Jing-gong really didn’t understand even though he’d swindled quite a few people.
“Let him know that these 100 silver taels can find their way to him for the sake of a petty matter but can also be sent over his head to his superior to find his errors. If it weren’t because there isn’t much spare money on hand and had all entirely been exchanged for food grains, why not throw 200 taels straight at him? Next year, it’ll come in handy.”
Wang Juan and Zhang Xiaobao could be considered to have a tacit understanding so she was clear on what matters Zhang Xiaobao was deliberating over and also knew the methods for dealing with this type of person.
Song Jing-gong thought on it for a while before he finally understood and nodded his head: “It still is Little Mister and Little Miss who’s formidable. I’ll go and do this now.”
That said, Song Jing-gong was anxious over the matters on that side so he hurriedly left, leaving behind Shiliu and the three of them to continue walking toward the room.
“Little Mister, the matter that Mister Song spoke of just now when he came, I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. It’s unbelievable that Little Mister has so easily straightened things out. With this sort of matter, Little Mister seems to not be afraid of it one bit.”
As Shiliu gave the two of them baths, she was also sighing in praise there.
“Shiliu, you have to remember that any of this type of swindling business that’s encountered, Xiaobao won’t fear at all. This matter might not be so easily resolved. It’s best if that magistrate also dares not handle it. But since he accepted our silver, getting him to do things for us will be a bit easier in the future.”
Wang Juan didn’t mind that there were people doing this type of thing, too. With such petty tricks, they were worthless to one such as Zhang Xiaobao.
Zhang Xiaobao also spoke out in agreement: “Indeed. I even hope that those men’s identities are a bit higher. At the very least, that their families have formidable people present. There’s no fear in spending money when you really want to accomplish something. What’s scary is to not have any place to send money to.”
“Little Mister and Little Miss speak profoundly. Shiliu basically doesn’t understand, ~ne.” After hearing the two little ancestors’ words, Shiliu felt that she herself was really dumb.
“Shiliu, you don’t need to feel bad, either. From now, listen more and observe more and you’ll understand. Those matters that you were assigned to do, you’ve done very well at.” Wang Juan was afraid of Shiliu losing confidence so hastened to comfort her.
Song Jing-gong left the manor as he rushed back. When it was evening, he finally got back to Sanshui County here. Getting the silver from Noteworthy House and bringing the soybean oil and spicy sauce along with him, he directly went to the county seat7 without the slightest delay.
The county magistrate Cheng Lingxiang8 Song Jing-gong had met twice before. After giving the gatekeeper several wen [cash] in copper coins and they’d finished giving notice of his arrival, the gatekeeper retreated inside while stating that the magistrate invited him.
“Juren Song needs not be polite. Quickly, please sit. I hear that Juren Song has done several good deeds for the sake of the people11 of my Sanshui County. I’ve wanted to meet Juren Song at least once but unfortunately, the county affairs have been numerous and hectic so I wasn’t able to find the opportunity at the time. In coming here today, Juren Song has fulfilled one of my heart’s desires.”
For Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang, their seeing Song Jing-gong was in consideration of his possession of an honorary title so they were also polite.
“Lord12 Magistrate really makes Student feel such overwhelming favor13 to be able to be remembered by Milord. In the future, Student Zijin will certainly comply with Milord’s teachings and wholeheartedly work for the sake of the people. Student arrived in a hurry and couldn’t prepare any decent thing. Only some vegetable oil and spicy sauce—poor and shabby.”
Song Jing-gong hadn’t handed over the things that he carried to anyone else and had directly brought them to the study. As he spoke respectfully, he slowly placed that large bundle on top of the desk. The oil and sauce was mostly packaged in jars so they made a slight sound.
But that silver was 10 taels of 10 ingots. To get such proper silver was really not easy, ~ne. One move and they made such a crisp noise. After hearing it, Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang’s eyes brightened and gestured for Song Jing-gong to drink tea. He seemed to feel as if that bundle of stuff was a bit of a hindrance and used his hands to push it to the side. During the process of pushing it, his hands grasped the area with the silver.
With this grab, Cheng Lingxiang’s face couldn’t help changing. Estimating it for a bit, he roughly knew how much silver there was. This much money? What did this Song Jing-gong want to do? Could it be that he had killed someone and wanted him to commute the sentence?14 That was rather hard to accomplish. But since this ‘reason’15 was so great, he could think of a way where appropriate.
“Good, I’ve already heard of this sauce before so I can try it now. Zijin shows care.16 Don’t know what Zijin has been busy with recently?” Cheng Lingxiang started to deliberate on how to deal with the matter.
“In reply to Milord’s words, Student, feeling that there was no hope in another test attempt,17 found a reasonably good manor a few days ago to work in as an aide. This oil and sauce was produced by that manor. But who knew… Ai~! It’s not worth mentioning. Coming here today was to call upon Milord.”
As Song Jing-gong spoke, his face was relaxed at first but afterward, accompanying that sigh, it turned into a downcast and crestfallen18 appearance.
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The Chinese used here is “song bai” (松柏), which can either refer to evergreen trees in general or names two individual types of trees, which are pines or “song shu” (松樹) and “bai shu” (柏樹), a species of tree native to China that is a close relative to cypresses and junipers whose Latin name is Platycladus orientalis and which I’ve translated as “cypress” for brevity’s sake since it is categorized under the family of Cupressaceae. ↩
“You shou hao xian” (遊手好閒) is the Chinese expression used here and breaks down to mean “play hand, so idle.” So this is an idiom used to describe people who are idle and loaf around with nothing to do on their hands so they “play” around all day by loitering or doing senseless things. Because of the negative connotations of this phrase, I translated it as “ne’er-do-well.” ↩
“I’ve translated “yi kou yao ding” (一口咬定) as “insist with clenched jaw” though it literally means “to bite firmly with one mouth.” This is basically an idiom that is used in cases where the person being so described is so insistent that they might as well be a dog that’s clamped down its jaws after biting something and refuses to let go. ↩
I’ve translated “hun hun” (混混) as “street punks” though other possible word choices are hustlers or (neighborhood) bullies or hoodlums. This is a slang term in Chinese that labels those petty crooks who are small fries in the criminal underworld so it is the most eclectic in terms of demographic since it can include kids who are playing at being thugs and getting into street fights as well as petty crooks who are bottom of the rung in the underworld but still considered actual members in criminal enterprises. This makes sense when you realize “hun hun” (混混) is literally the character for “mixing, bumbling along” or hun/混 repeated twice. ↩
A “xian ling” (縣令) is the official in charge of a county or xian/縣 and literally means “county command.” I should translate it fully as “county magistrate” but for the sake of brevity and avoiding redundancy, I am going to be using just “magistrate.” Other possible terms that it can be translated as are “prefect” or “governor.” However, to avoid confusion for when higher level government officials enter the picture, I chose “magistrate” to reflect the judiciary role this particular official can play in the local government of ancient China. ↩
“Da dian” (打點) literally means “hit point/bit” in Chinese and is slang for bribing or giving money to someone in order to establish a connection to or relationship with them. Because “da dian” (打點) can also be used in everyday life to describe putting your affairs in order or getting ready (by hitting each point of your checklist of preparations), it also adds the connotation of using the bribe as groundwork for the future. ↩
“Xian ya” (縣衙) refers to the public office and official residence of the county. This was because a “ya men” (衙門) was typically not just the general administrative office where the bureaucratic paperwork and the legislative and judicial proceedings occurred but also where the leading government official resided. Since ya/衙 was the generic character referring to the official administrative office of any government official or mandarin in China, the character that I have translated as “county,” xian/縣, is required to differentiate what level of governmental office it was. For these reasons, I have chosen to use “county seat” in my translation. ↩
The county magistrate has the surname of Cheng/程 and a given name of Lingxiang (嶺祥), which is a combination of the characters for “mountain peak or ridge” (ling/嶺) and “auspicious or good luck” (xiang/祥). ↩
The Chinese used here is “xing li” (行禮), which means “to perform etiquette/rite,” which just means he did an action or gesture that was courtesy but doesn’t specify whether Song Jing-gong bows or nodded his head or cupped his hand in salute as greeting. So I had to translate it as a general “salute.” ↩
Song Jing-gong is emphasizing that he is considered a member of the scholar-gentry class though he doesn’t hold a position as a government official by referring to himself in the third person as “Student” or “xue sheng” (學生). It is technically correct since for anyone to pass the civil exams in ancient China, they would have to be scholars that studied the Confucian texts and were considered students of Confucius. The language Song Jing-gong uses here is polite but neutral in tone, being neither arrogant or humble, which you can tell since with humble speech patterns in Chinese, the speaker always claims to be lower in status than they really are as a sign that they’re trying to be modest or submissive. Most likely, Song Jing-gong self-identifying as “Student” is a subtle but inoffensive way to present himself as a peer to the magistrate who is only slightly lower in rank. ↩
Cheng Lingxiang uses “bai xing” (百姓) which literally means “hundred surnames” to refer to the people. This is a term that comes up often in historical fiction set in Asia because it was the standard way to refer to the commoners or “the people” back then since due to the patrilineal inheritance of surnames, there were only around a couple hundred characters that were in use as surnames in ancient China. Note that this term is also associated with the classic Song dynasty text that compiled all of the common Chinese surnames called “Bai Jia Xing” (百家姓) or “Hundred Family Surnames” and was one of the introductory textbooks for Chinese students in ancient China post-Song dynasty. Compare “bai xing” (百姓) to how the modern day Chinese government refers to the populace nowadays, which is usually a variation on “ren min” (人民), which also means “the people” but has an added connotation of “citizenry.” ↩
“Da ren” (大人) can either mean “adult, grownup” or “lord” in Chinese. Obviously, the meaning of “lord” is intended here. Sometimes, I will translate this term as “Milord” for grammatical purposes in English if the speaker is using it as a title to address the person they’re talking to even though there is no “my” in the original Chinese. Also, just translating as “Lord” without a “my” in there makes it appear like they are speaking of God because of the Judeo-Christian implications in English. ↩
The Chinese idiom used here is “shou chong ruo jing” (受寵若驚) and means “to receive such favor so as to be overwhelmed/surprised.” Usage of this phrase emphasizes the humility of the person receiving the compliment since they are taken by surprise as well as to praise the person giving the compliment as one whose favor is valued by the one being so praised so it is one of those courtesy phrases Chinese people will say by rote since it rarely offends anyone and gives face. ↩
“Gai pan” (改判) literally means “to change the sentence/judgment” but since it’s usually changing the sentence to a lesser one, I opted to translate it as “commute the sentence.” ↩
Li/理 has different connotations as a character in Chinese as it can mean “logic, reason, or truth.” The reason why Cheng Lingxiang uses this character is because it is a homophone for the character li/禮 which can mean “gift” but can also mean “courtesy” or “ritual.” So there is a bit of wordplay involved here that is euphemistically referring to the bribery. ↩
“You xin” (有心) literally means “has heart” and is another one of those idioms that are spoken as a courtesy in Chinese, which basically says that the person who “has heart” was conscientious and considerate for taking the time to do or say something. To try to approximate the brevity of the phrase as well as to summarize the meaning, I translated it as “shows care.” ↩
Song Jing-gong is referring to the fact that barring anything that disqualified the candidate such as being caught for cheating and being banned for life, a test candidate who didn’t pass a round of the civil exams could attempt it again the next time it came around. This applied for all levels of the exams so it was entirely possible for a man who only passed the county level exam to become a xiucai (秀才) to keep trying (but failing) until he was an elderly man to progress to become a Juren (舉人). There is a reason why a “poor xiucai” (窮秀才) is a stereotypical image in ancient China as it was too easy for the families of candidates to grow poor from supporting them through multiple failed test attempts. Song Jing-gong passed the prefectural or state level exam to become a Juren (舉人) but obviously failed to pass the preliminary national exam to become a Jinshi (進士). Once you gained a Jinshi (進士) degree though, you were not allowed to retake the test anymore, which is why some scholars would choose to skip the national test after passing the prefectural level to take the time off to study more in order to try to increase their chances for either passing or getting a better test result and higher rank for next time. This strategy was a calculated risk though since they couldn’t guarantee whether the candidates next time would be more competitive than this time or if they would run across compatible test judges or topics. So it was also very common to have candidates voluntarily choose to stop seeking a higher degree and re-attempt the exam if they decided that it would be too costly in time, money, or effort. ↩
The 4-character couplet used here is “chui tou sang qi” (垂頭喪氣), which roughly translates to “hanging head, mournful air.”