Taking In Four Dogs In Front Of The General Store
Idler’s Note: Again, I apologize for the long absence. I don’t want to keep giving excuses because in the end, it doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t end up releasing anything for a long time. But in case anyone is interested for the explanation for the hiatus, you can read my post about it here.
The chapter was finished later than I expected, partly because it took a while to get back into the groove and partly because I was being a bit down on myself because I was looking back at the chapters I’d already translated and found myself wishing the quality was higher. So it took a bit of internal pep talk on my part to motivate myself to continue translating. I also had to resist the urge to redo the previous chapters all over again… I will be putting in the maximum effort to pick up the pace so you guys can have a steady stream of chapters. I will also be making up the chapters that I missed in my time away. So please bear with me while I catch up.
I’d also like to request help if possible through contributions. The money I’ve received before now was all spent on getting the official VIP chapters and tipping the author while I still paid for my living expenses through my freelance work but this arrangement has caused quite a few interruptions already to my translations. So this time I’d like to request help so I can offset some of my living costs and be able to devote more time to translating rather than on my paid freelance work. I will still be doing my best to prevent the the interruptions to the schedule since I dislike them just as much but right now, it can’t be helped because freelancing is the only way for me to financially support myself. If people could chip in to help relieve that pressure so I don’t have to keep constantly shifting focus (especially because it is mentally very tiring for me to do so), I would much appreciate it. For the various ways to contribute your help, you can go here. Thank you so much!
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 閒人 • O N L I N E at solitaryidler.wordpress.com, 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!
“Firecrackers?” Ge Yingxi grew confused.
“Yes, ~ya. Master, could it be that you [honorific] didn’t hear the commotion at the two manors of Zhang and Wang yesterday night? It was the sound of those firecrackers. Once the noise starts up over there, those dirty things don’t dare to stay over there so wouldn’t they all come running over to our side over here? So I also want to trade for some.”
Wu family’s Xiaosan was anxious to leave yet also didn’t dare to offend the master-family so he could only use the quickest speed to relay the words.
Ge Yingxi’s head dipped a bit: “The general goods store has them to sell?”
“Yes, quite a few, ~ne. There are ones with 100 heads, 500 heads, and even 1,000 heads—that’s how many of those firecrackers are in a string.” Wu Family’s Xiaosan continued to reply.
This time, Ge Yingxi didn’t say anything and waved his hand, allowing Wu Family’s Xiaosan to leave. Meanwhile, he stood there on the spot as he gazed at the river on that side in a trance as he thought over matters.
Before, the two manors of Zhang and Wang were more or less about the same as his own Ge Manor here. Slightly better off was that Zhang Manor. After all, of the food grains that they collected, there were the portions for 100 people that they didn’t need to hand over. But he didn’t know why in these past few months? In the manors, the chickens and geese had grown into flocks. During the autumn harvest, they had even come over to help him eat the grasshoppers.
Later, the spicy sauce appeared as well. He also had people go to the general goods store to buy some. It really was quite good. Then even later on, they hauled back so many carrots, which were reportedly all now 20 wen [cash] for 1 catty with the price to be had with no supply for it.1 Following that, they produced vegetable oil, which was cheaper than rendered fats.2 It really was tasty when used to cook food.
With one business after another coming out here, the days were a lot better, ~ah. Looking at his own manor’s peasants here and then looking at theirs, there basically was no comparison. Whenever the two manors of Zhang and Wang were mentioned by his own peasants here, they were all awash with envy.
He himself also rather wished to manage the manor well but he didn’t have that ability. Then, look at those two master-families as they gave the peasants that object called kang [bed-stove] that was warm to sleep on top of and even helped to repair their houses and gave things for the New Year. He also wanted to do so but didn’t have that money. He did build a few kang [bed-stove] within the courtyard house. When he slept, it really was comfortable, ~ah.
As Ge Yingxi considered these matters, he had a sort of feeling of powerlessness. Then, seeing that there were people walking toward that general goods store again, he was even more miserable. The peasants of his own manor needed things yet had to go to someone else’s general goods store to buy them.
In the past, everyone was about the same, which appeared to be nothing. Now, how the two manors over there treated the peasants underneath could only be said to be the best. With a comparison to be had here for his own peasants on this side, the people’s hearts would grow unstable, ~ah. This wouldn’t do. If it continued on like this, the manor would be finished. He needed to think of a solution.
Ge Yingxi had a sense of urgency so he turned around to return to the courtyard house to find a person to talk to. He also prepared to produce some new business here. Then, he’d treat the peasants a bit better.
Ge Manor’s peasants didn’t know the master-family also wished to let their days be a bit better and was currently thinking up a solution. Right now, they were all carrying items as they lined up by the doorway of the general goods store and waited to trade for firecrackers, ~ne. As they waited and waited, there was a person among them whose mind was lively. As they looked at the prices, they discovered that the more that was bought, the cheaper it was.
1,000 heads were only 22 wen [cash] but if switched with 100 heads instead, it would require 30 wen [cash]. Like this, it was fewer by 8 wen [cash] money. This person used his mind a bit and nudged the person next to him: “Wu family’s Xiaosan, which kind are you prepared to buy?”
“Sigou,3 what, you’re buying it too? I want to buy 100 heads.” Wu family’s Xiaosan was still inwardly griping about having been detained by the master-family’s Master just now so that by the time he had arrived, he needed to line up in the queue for a period of time. From time to time, there were people from the two manors of Zhang and Wang that entered. They didn’t need to line up—who let this general goods store be opened specifically for their sake, ~ne? Just when he was lamenting this, he heard the person next to him speak.
“Unh, I’m also buying 100 heads. Why not ask the people next to us? If there are 10 who want to buy 100 heads, we can join up to buy 1,000 heads and it can be even cheaper by a bit. Then, take it apart to get 100 heads each.”
This one called Sigou began to discuss things with Wu family’s Xiaosan. Once Xiaosan listened to him, he also felt this way was cost-effective and nodding his head, he began to ask the people around him. The result was that after a few sentences of effort, the surrounding people also all understood. Several dozen people all grouped up into 10 to a team, handing over items to one person in front to have them go inside to buy it so that after it was bought, they could then split it.
In such a way, not only was it cheap but the queue had also shortened with the speed having accelerated by several times.
At this time, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan were also wandering around while being accompanied by Shiliu and a manservant, ~ne. They had arrived at the general goods store just then to see the scene in front of their eyes. The two of them exchanged a look, both surprised. These people were smart, ~ah, to know how to gain the greatest benefit.
“Huzi,4 go ask. What’s going on over there—why did they all think to buy it in this way?” Zhang Xiaobao turned his head to give an order to that manservant. Huzi immediately walked over and after a moment of effort, figured it out and returned to report.
“Little Mister, there is a person called Sigou over there. It was his idea. This way, those lining up will be fewer and they can even save some money. One family can save about 1 wen [cash] in money—that could buy a chicken egg right now. During the chicken egg-laying season, the money saved would be 2 chicken eggs. Little Mister, will it be necessary to raise all of the prices on those 500 heads and 1,000 heads?”
“Good, talent, ~ah! No need to raise the prices. Sell it like this. Our firecrackers weren’t meant to be sold mainly to the people of Ge Manor but to a few big buyers. You, call Sigou over for me.”
Zhang Xiaobao was inwardly happy. Don’t just look at such a little idea. If it were him and Wang Juan, they could think of it in an instant. But amongst that many peasants, not a person had thought of it and only this person named Sigou had thought of it. This had to be said to be a bit special.
Sigou had just traded for the firecrackers and was currently splitting it there, ~ne. Everyone else’s items were also there. Their values weren’t the same so they had to be carefully exchanged to work out well.
He had just given two people their share when Huzi came over to this side and said to Sigou: “Sigou, yes? My family’s Little Mister wishes for you to come over for a trip.”
“Who’s your family’s Little Mister, ~ya? I’m busy here, ~ne. If there’s a problem, have him come over.” Sigou had been patiently counting out the number of firecrackers and upon hearing a voice, he didn’t even raise his head as he began to unhappily talk.
Once the people next to him raised their heads to look, they all recognized this person to be someone from within that courtyard house of the Zhang Manor. Considering the words he had spoken once again, their eyes looked toward that other place and sure enough, the Zhang Manor’s Little Mister and Wang Manor’s Little Miss were both over there.
Next to him, a person hurriedly nudged Sigou and said to him: “Sigou, hurry up and go over there. It’s the Zhang Family’s Little Mister calling you over. Hurry up and don’t let Little Mister wait too long.”
Ge Manor’s people all knew that the two families of Zhang and Wang here had a child betrothal. This was nothing. After all, no matter how powerful you as the Zhang Manor are, you can’t control me as a person of the Ge Manor. But they had all heard that those benefits that had been given to the manor peasants had all come from these two children. One could tell from hearing the name of the general goods store: ‘Bao Juan5 General Goods Store.’
They also frequently heard about some of the good qualities of Little Mister and Little Miss from the lips of the people of the two manors like when encountering people outside, they would greet people, treating them with politeness and kindness. This caused them to have a type of respectful attitude within their hearts. Thus, they urged Sigou in this way.
Upon hearing it was actually the Zhang Family’s Little Mister, Sigou instantly stood up, apologetically smiled at this Huzi who had called him over, and with no words spoken, he walked towards where Zhang Xiaobao was located. Not even waiting for him to approach nearby, ~ne, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan came forward in welcome while holding hands. Once they were face to face, not waiting for Sigou to speak, Zhang Xiaobao first said:
“You were still busy over there, ~ne, and I had people come over to interrupt. If I have given offense, pardon me.” As he spoke, he even cupped his hands in obeisance to Sigou. Over there, Wang Juan also cooperated and made an obeisance.
Overwhelmed by such favor, Sigou discovered that his nose was swelling up6 so he vigorously blinked twice before he felt a bit better. He rushed to kneel down but was held onto by Huzi next to him.
The corner of Sigou’s mouth twitched as he didn’t know how he should speak. When had he, Sigou, ever received such treatment? Even more so, in front of him were the little ancestors of the two manors. No wonder the peasants of the two families of Zhang and Wang had such respectful faces whenever these two people were mentioned. Listening to these words, seeing their obeisance, it was winter yet he truly felt like his body was warmed up.
A lot of Ge Manor’s people were also all watching, ~ne. Upon seeing that another family’s two kids acted like this, each and every one of them sighed once within their hearts. Look at them. They were this small yet could be so understanding. This could only be explained as their family’s adults having taught them to be like this.
Then, look again at that Little Mister of their own manor. This year, he was already 6 years old but whenever he encountered the peasants, he basically put on airs of being high above them. When he gave orders, it was like he was cursing at livestock.
While the people of Ge Manor were lamenting over this, Zhang Xiaobao spoke up again: “Si… Do you have a formal name?”7
“In reply to Little Mister’s words, this little one, Sigou, has a single cheap life—how could I have a formal name? Since I was little, I didn’t even know my own surname. The person managing the household register8 randomly assigned this little one a surname of Xu. Little Mister, just call this little one Sigou—a cheap name is easy to raise.”9
Sigou finally recovered a little bit though when he spoke, his voice still had a slight tremble.
“Oh, then it’ll be fine to call you Xu Si.10 What contract did you sign with Ge Manor?” Zhang Xiaobao asked.
This contract was divided into two greater types. Each type also had two lesser types. It was sorted into the two greater types of people and land, which was tenant farming or indentured servitude.11 The two lesser types were living contracts or death contracts. Once a living contract reached its time, they could leave. If it hadn’t reached its time, leaving required paying the master-family money in reparation. Death contracts were pretty much for an eternity and cases where one left were rare.
“In reply to Little Mister, this little one signed a tenant farming living contract that was signed for 5 years. There’s still the last year today before it has to be renewed.” Sigou replied, his demeanor growing more and more respectful. A single greeting of Xu Si had given him a kind of urge to cry.
“If you leave now, how much do you need to pay in reparation? I’m missing a person to work by my side and I would like to ask you to come over to help out.” Zhang Xiaobao began winning him over.
“Real, really? Little Mister, you [honorific], you [honorific] really want this little one to work for you [honorific]? If leaving now, this little one has to pay 1 silver tael in reparation or 160 dou [gallon] in food grains.”
Upon hearing that the Zhang Family’s Little Mister wished for him to go over there, Sigou was so excited that his entire body was trembling as he hurriedly relayed the amount of the money to be paid. For him, to pay this money was really too much as he himself couldn’t pay it.
“Huzi, go to the general goods store to see if there’s any ready cash. Take 2 taels back to give to Xu Si and have him cancel the contract there. The remaining money, Xu Si, you look and see for yourself what expenditures you need. Once done with the matter, come to the manor to seek me out.”
Zhang Xiaobao gave Huzi an order and then after saying another sentence to Xu Si, didn’t stay on this side for too long as he turned around and led away Wang Juan to leave.
After Huzi finished getting the money, he handed it over to Sigou and also left. Only Sigou was left behind as he stood there and held onto the money in a speechless daze along with the envious looks directed over at him by the other people of Ge Manor who had heard of this incident.
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“You jia wu shi” (有價無市) literally means “has price, no market.” There are several interpretations for this Chinese idiom depending on the context. The first interpretation is the one that I translated for and basically is a situation where the price has risen really high but there is still not enough supply to meet the demand even at the astronomical price that buyers are willing to purchase the product at. The second possible scenario this expression would be used in is if the price is so high that there are no willing buyers or market for it. The third possible way to use this phrase is for a product that has a price or value that is rising but either the market is not there (i.e. not mature enough) or there is no stable pricing index for the product (i.e. it isn’t frequently purchased enough to be able to set a standard price). So the meaning of this expression is highly interpretative and requires contextual cues as to what the speaker or writer is trying to convey. ↩
“Hun you” (葷油) or “meat oil” is the opposite of vegetable-based oils in that it’s cooking oil derived from meat or animal fat. Animal-based cooking oils are usually found in the form of rendered fats with lard the English term that specifically applies to rendered pig fat and tallow to rendered beef or mutton fat. In order to be concise but still keep the meaning clear on the origin, I have translated this term as “rendered fats.” ↩
Sigou (四狗) literally means “four dogs,” which makes the title of this chapter a play on words. ↩
Huzi (虎子) means “tiger child/son.” ↩
“Bao Juan” (寶鵑) is basically a portmanteau of the characters found in the names of Zhang Xiaobao (張小寶) and Wang Juan (王鵑). It would essentially mean “treasure cuckoo” to those who don’t know the reason behind the store’s name. ↩
The literal translation would be that his nose grew sour which is an idiom in Chinese describing the act of tearing up and getting a runny nose before a person cries or bursts into tears. ↩
Because Sigou means “Four Dog” and being named a dog is rather insulting and demeaning in Chinese, Xiaobao assumes that it is a milk name purposefully chosen to disguise the person from devil and spirits that might cause their early death as a child. “Da min” (大名) or the formal name that Xiaobao is asking for is usually a person’s true name that might only see use on legal documents. In a lot of cases, a peasant man who is the third born son might be referred to as “Third Boy” or “San Lang” (三郎) by everyone he knows instead of by formal name. ↩
“Hu ji” (戶籍) is also called “hu kou” (戶口) and refers to the household registration system or hukou system that first developed as a way for the imperial government to more easily manage taxation, conscription, and census data. The core of this system is the family or household register, which recorded the marriages, births, and deaths of the household as well as its members and their individual information. Because of this feature, individual identification is inextricably tied to the household register itself meaning if you wanted to marry, you really did need the permission of your parents or grandparents because they were usually the ones in control of the household register as the head of the household. This also meant that family and clan membership was a lot more important and serious business in China than in the West, reflecting the emphasis on the value of filial piety. The household register was also another way to enforce the slave/servant caste system since servants that sold themselves to a family were treated as a member of the household in the register although they weren’t recorded as free citizens unless they were formally released by the household to form their own family register. The closest Western equivalent to this system is the civil registry though it is not a centralized system like the huji/hukou system. Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia all have or had a form of this identity registration system. ↩
Sigou is referring to the Chinese superstition, which stemmed from the high infant and child mortality rate, that being named cheaply or after distasteful objects made it easier for the child to grow up into adulthood since it confused the spirits that might harm the child. ↩
Xu Si (徐四) is basically arrived at by removing the gou (狗) or “dog” from Sigou’s name to be a more polite Si (四) or “Four.” ↩
“Mai shen” (賣身) literally means “to sell body” so this can either refer to prostitution or selling yourself into indentured servitude. Indentured servitude as it was instituted in ancient China was a prototypical form of contracted wage slavery. Hence, this is why I will usually choose to translate such cases as “servant” rather than as “slave.”