Life Still Has Hope
Idler’s Note: Having an impacted wisdom tooth sucks. Having an impacted wisdom tooth and no insurance or the money to pay for a dentist sucks even more. 😦
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!
When the first heavy snowfall descended upon the great earth, the surrounding scenery color had all changed. Whether it was the nakedly bald tree branches or those still lushly verdant pines and cypresses, they all stood there bearing strips or patches of white.
The ducks and geese didn’t go to the pond in the morning anymore. Only when it was midday did they honk as they rushed towards the location with water. As they left behind a mess of chaotic footprints on the snowy ground, Xiaohong held a bamboo rod in her hand while following from behind, those guys in front seeming to all be her subordinates.
Yingtao was leading a manservant from the manor that was carrying the chicken feed as she made “gu-gu” sounds with her mouth in order to summon the chickens that were hiding in their nests. At once, over 1,900 hens along with 100 roosters flapped their wings as they ran out in succession.
Erniu inspected the brown sugar that had been piled up like grains of sand within the warehouses before turning around to lock the door in order to go help Shiliu take care of those earthworms. Lifting away the disordered mess of stuff that had been piled on top of the earthworms to check and not let these things start smoking, he then finished up by stacking the surrounding snow back on top again. He could now go find Little Mister.
Shiliu followed Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan to the back to check to see if there were ‘houses’ that had fallen over. The cucumbers in that land there had already started growing creeping vines. To have even a single one die would make her heart hurt.
When they’d reached the location, the sight before their eyes was a swath of yellow-brown color with not a trace of the white-colored snow to be seen. The peasants didn’t need anyone to inform them and had proactively come over to help clean up the accumulated snow. Building after building of little houses were all pristinely standing there and the snow that had fallen on top of the houses’ curtains had also been cleaned off.
When those peasants saw that Little Mister and Little Miss Juan-Juan had arrived, they one after another came over to give greetings as each and every one of their faces bore a sincere yet respectful smile. This was unrelated to Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan’s own identities.
“Uncle Wang, is your family’s house leaking snow? Is it warm inside?” Wang Juan softly asked when one of the people asked after her.
“In reply to Little Miss’ words, warm, really too warm! The house isn’t leaking snow, either. It’s sturdy, ~ne! This is all thanks to the manor paying to repair the house and build the kang [bed-stove]. Otherwise, I’ll have to be affected this year again. This old man, I’ve never seen such a good master-family before.”
Upon speaking of his family’s matters, this Uncle Wang’s eyes had squinted until he nearly couldn’t see. As he spoke, he tried to pull his son by his side to kneel down and kowtow, which was naturally held back by Shiliu.
“Unh, that’s good, then. In less than a month, it’ll be New Year’s. How are the preparations for the New Year goods1 in your family? For New Year this year, the manor will be giving every person 2 catties of pork, 1 catty of vegetable oil, and 6 chi [foot] of cloth to let the fellow villagers2 have a good New Year’s.”
Zhang Xiaobao said with a smile; he liked this type of feeling of being a single family.
“Little Mister, we can’t accept this many things, ~ah! You [honorific], this is…” Uncle Wang didn’t know what he should say.
“I’m buying people’s hearts here. In the future, some things will appear on the manor that outsiders can’t be allowed to know about. So buying people’s hearts is to help me keep it secret.” Zhang Xiaobao blurted out the truth.
“Little Mister, don’t say people’s hearts, this old man’s life is all yours [honorific]! Whatever things Little Mister wants to do, this old man will help you protect it. Whoever wants to ruin it, this old man will stake my life against whoever.” Uncle Wang exclaimed as the other people around him also followed suite in echoing their agreement.
Everybody all knew in their hearts that the hearts of people were gained in exchange. You treat me well and I’ll treat you well. Other than the two manors of Zhang and Wang, they hadn’t ever seen any master-family buy people’s hearts like so—repairing houses, building the kang [bed-stove], not to mention giving money for their work and to even have meat with every meal as well as warm wine to warm the body when it was cold. It was nearly New Year’s and they were giving out things again. People’s hearts were all made of flesh.
Zhang Xiaobao gave a Wang Juan look as the two of them could both feel warm tenderness. Wang Juan’s lips twitched slightly and Zhang Xiaobao nodded before Wang Juan finally said:
“Fellow villagers, this year is still a bit lacking. Wait until next year, Yingtao over there will have even more chicks being hatched. By that time, whichever family wants to raise them can come over to fetch them. Once they lay eggs, the manor will collect them and let every family have more spare cash to use.”
Once these words were said, the peasants were all happy. Some even cheerfully yelled out twice to give vent to the joy in their hearts as this snow didn’t seem to be that cold anymore.
Only a few little kids who had come over from Ge Manor to play didn’t have any happy thoughts at all. They weren’t people from the two manors of Zhang and Wang. Anything else, they weren’t clear on but the items given for the New Year, they did know about. If one person would get 2 catties of meat, then wouldn’t one family be able to receive quite a lot? If they wanted to wrap dumplings,3 they could wrap dumplings; if they wanted to pan-fry flat cakes, they could pan-fry flat cakes.
And that vegetable oil could fry a lot of things to eat. The cloth was also enough to make an outfit of new clothes. Comparing the two, the little kids all were a bit resentful of the adults in their family—why didn’t they go to the two manors of Zhang and Wang back then?
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, seeing that this side had no problems whatsoever, were also reassured. After speaking two sentences with words to motivate people, they left under escort of the crowd’s respectful gazes.
“Why did you tell the truth, ~ne?” Wang Juan asked Zhang Xiaobao on the return path.
“I did want to speak of theory with them and I was even prepared to recite a portion from the Analects or Thousand Character Classic or whatever but would they be able to comprehend it? The things that the peasants need are extremely simple—be fully fed, be clothed warmly, to live safely, and to be able to show off some in front of the other peasants—these are the largest spiritual and material needs for a culture.”
“Yes, ~ya! They’re all good folks, ~ah! Treat them a bit well and they’ll remember it for a lifetime. I’ve decided, when it’s a bit warmer, to build a school and let the little kids of our two manors be able to learn to read.” Wang Juan started getting emotional over there.
“Not only from our two manors—also have to attract the children of the surrounding manors. The children of the other manors would only have to bring some food themselves, the rest I’ll cover.” Zhang Xiaobao was thinking even further.
“Are you sick?”
“You have medicine, ~ah? Not joking with you. With my allowing the children of the surrounding manors to come and study, the reputation will get out there. Once the disaster over there starts up next year, I’ll freely give away food grains over there—let’s see who will dare take back my family’s lands? I’ll use popular opinion4 to crush him to death.”
“Up to now, I still don’t understand what kind of person you are. This many operations with each making a bit of money, all for the sake of that piece of land with a grant of 100 heads in the end. Is it worth it?” Wang Juan had been constantly trying to figure out Zhang Xiaobao, wanting to know what his inner heart was actually like but kept on failing.
Zhang Xiaobao glanced at Wang Juan next to him and smiled: “Don’t go guessing men. At the same time, I also never think about how women actually think. Sometimes, we ourselves don’t even understand ourselves, much less understanding others, ~ne.
To tell the truth, I really don’t care. To lose or to gain are as nothing in front of me—I’m talking about money. But I also care very much. I know that my Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma all hope to keep maintaining this family legacy. What I can do is to give them a hand.
The material gain and spiritual gain are separate. It’s just like if you gave money to a beggar on the street. Even if you don’t admit it on the surface, you subconsciously still treat yourself as a good person. For those animals to not be able to win over humans is not only because humans can use tools but it’s most fundamentally because at a given time, humans will take pity and sympathize with the weak and go on to ally with the weak.”
“Don’t speak of this with me. I don’t understand. I only know that this world is an existence where the strong prey on the weak.5 I learned so many things for the sake of my family clan.6 Give and take— it’s just that simple.” Wang Juan felt like her own thinking had followed along with Zhang Xiaobao’s at this moment and was extremely uncomfortable.
“Fine, let’s not talk anymore. Since your family clan over there is no more, then let’s remake a new family clan over here. We don’t have impressive ancestors so let us become the next generation of impressive ancestors. It’s snowing. One of the manor’s oxen froze to death so there’s ox marrow to eat.”
Zhang Xiaobao really didn’t wish for Wang Juan to obey him on everything so seeing that Wang Juan had reacted quickly, couldn’t help but laugh.
“When did it freeze to death? How come I didn’t hear of it?” Wang Juan used her tongue to lick her lips as she really did crave it.
“An ox from the family of the manor’s Chen Hao.7 It really was too old and couldn’t move to work anymore. Once the snow fell, it froze to death. I’m prepared to give him 6 guan [strings of cash] and he’ll go report it. Once we return, we can eat beef.”
“That’s not right? I still remember that his family’s ox was still living. In the morning, it even passed by in front of the courtyard house, ~ne. Besides, today isn’t even that cold. Once the snow fell, the temperature would have risen.” Wang Juan asked, wrinkling her brow as if recalling this morning’s events.
Zhang Xiaobao sadly shook his head: “Yes, ~ya. It was still fine this morning, ~ne. Who knew that in a while, it’d freeze to death here? If it didn’t freeze to death, then it was scared to death. The ox looked and such heavy snow, ~ah! It was over. It drank a mouthful of cold water and it suicided.”
“You craved it to this degree? To insist on butchering someone else’s ox to eat?” Wang Juan figured it out now. Of course, she wouldn’t go ask as to why an ox could die from drinking water. She could imagine that Zhang Xiaobao would definitely counter her by asking that since people can die from drinking water, why can’t an ox? This matter was impossible to debate.
“6 guan [strings of cash] is enough to buy a young ox. The money that the official will come over to request, I’ll pay. If a half-grown ox is bought, it can still be used when it’s spring plowing time. When we get back, I’ll make beef ligament for you to eat. It’s tender and chewy so it won’t ruin the teeth.” Zhang Xiaobao chose to use bribery.
“I want to eat tendons that have a bit of spicy flavor to it.”
The wind blew the drifting snow on which it relied, dressing the green mountains with some white clothing.
Once it got closer and closer to the New Year, the price of brown sugar doubled. Erniu obeyed Little Mister’s instructions and immediately acted, transforming 20 silver taels into 60 taels. The money hadn’t even been warmed up, ~ne, when he once again received a command from Little Mister to go commission large quantities of flat little bamboo baskets or little bamboo cases that were required to be made through weaving.
Once the first batch of bamboo baskets had been sent over, the cucumbers in the back of the courtyard of Zhang Manor’s main house were already 3 cun [inch] long. Waiting for two or three more days to eat them was the best. If it were three or five days, then they’d be considered to have grown.
“Shiliu, here’s three cucumbers. Let us three each have one per person. You help us peel the cucumbers.” Wang Juan went to go pick three cucumbers that were, comparatively speaking, bigger and handed them over to Shiliu.
Shiliu woodenly accepted them and nodded her head: “Cucumbers, winter cucumbers—just the smell is nice. This single one needs how much money, ~ah? Just some time before, they looked to still be vines; here now, they’ve matured.”
“Don’t mind about how much money—just eat it. Quickly, Xiaobao and I are waiting, ~ne.” Wang Juan hadn’t eaten any vegetable greens for a month or more so seeing Shiliu was still in a daze, could only begin prodding her.
Shiliu finally recovered and began peeling. The three of them ate with great gusto.
Five days later, Song Jing-gong placed the bamboo case filled with six cucumbers that were still bearing flowers and thorns on the table in front of Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang.
↑ RETURN TO TOP ↑
“Nian huo” (年貨) literally means “year goods” and specifically refers to the objects purchased in preparation for Chinese New Year. It is similar to all the paraphernalia that would prepared to be ready for the holidays in the West like Christmas trees, ornaments, decorations, food, presents, etc. Some of the items you would find in a shopping list for Chinese New Year are brown sugar (remember that it is called “red sugar” in Chinese so it would be good luck to eat since red is considered a lucky color in Chinese culture), fish, fruits, snacks, red-colored decorations that might include spring couplets or “chun lian” (春聯), along with any other things that would differ depending on the region since they each had their own traditions and take on what was considered necessary for a New Year’s celebration. ↩
“Xiang qin” (鄉親) literally translates to “village relatives” and is basically a way to address those belonging to the same village as many villages in ancient China were established by members of the same family so the villagers would all end up being related to one another as one big extended clan, leading to marriages being a form of alliance between nearby villages to prevent inbreeding. Even villages that had been initially settled by several families would have the villagers consider each other like an extended family since after generations, a degree of intermarriage would have occurred and due to the familial feeling that would have been nurtured from living in cooperation together for so many years. This sentiment would be similar to people hailing from the same city or state tending to feel a commonality to each other in comparison to those who are from a different part of the country. ↩
Dumplings show up in a lot of different cuisines. “Jiaozi” (餃子) are a form that dumplings can take in Chinese cuisine. For those that don’t know, jiaozi are made by wrapping up a prepared filling in dough skin. The content of the filling varied depending on personal preference or regional variety so they could consist of meat with minced vegetables or be wholly vegetarian. The way that the dumpling was wrapped could be an art and changed how the jiaozi looked. The act of wrapping the jiaozi was a group activity that served as a way to strengthen bonds in a lot of families in China and is a tradition that still persists today. After the jiaozi are made, they can be steamed, fried, or boiled. Jiaozi are a common dish eaten for Chinese New Year and are also considered a traditional dish to eat for winter. Since other types of dumplings in Chinese cuisine actually have their own names, I will be translating jiaozi as simply dumplings in English. For foodies who just want to drool over the pictures, go to the Baidu page here. ↩
“Min xin” (民心) is a term that can come up frequently in Chinese fiction that has ruling or governing as a theme. It literally translates to “citizen hearts,” which is related to “ren xin” (人心) or “people’s hearts.” However, the former is more specifically related to governance and popular sentiment while the latter is more general in connotation. Thus, I translated “min xin” (民心) as “popular opinion” here. ↩
The Chinese expression used here is “ruo rou qiang shi” (弱肉強食) and literally means “weak meat, strong eat.” Equivalent English sayings might be “law of the jungle” or “survival of the fittest” but it is basically an idiom to explain what the Chinese viewed as a cruel world where the weak served as food for the strong. This outlook is understandable if you consider the institutionalized upheaval that ancient China would regularly endure for several millennia with the rise and fall of dynasties that lead to great chaos and misery as well as loss of life for the populace. ↩
I am footnoting “jia zu” (家族) because it is quite noteworthy that Juan-Juan says “jia zu” (家族) rather than simply jia/家 or “family.” This word choice on her part means that her family has enough status in enough numbers or generations that they are considered a “clan” even in modern day China. This term can also be translated as “house” as in “Great House.” To differentiate between a normal family and a clan where it’s just larger extended family as well as avoid the connotations of nobility that come with “house,” I am translating this as “family clan.” Also, note that a Chinese clan can have some other requirements tied up with it other than a shared surname and blood relations. ↩
Chen Hao (陳豪) is surnamed Chen/陳 and his name of hao/豪 means “brave or bold.”