The Great Fair Has Xu Si At The Lead
Idler’s Note: I have a faint outline of a plan of action to avoid becoming homeless. I will be doing my best to resume regular updates while I scramble to pull everything together for this. Sorry for all of the melodrama!
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!
“Mom, this wasn’t done by some powerful person. It’s a lucky auspice. There’s a family whose summer grown cucumbers actually bore one cucumber after another upon wintertime. The Lord Magistrate has already sent up a report. On the 15th, someone will be sent down from above that day to investigate. Mom, which cucumber do you [honorific] think is good? Pluck it to take home to eat.”
Deputy Magistrate Zhang Mingsheng was rather scared of his mother blurting out this matter. If that were to be the case, then they wouldn’t be able to even think of eating cucumbers from now on. The other benefits would also disappear. Wouldn’t the Zhang Manor people hate him to death then?
Mother Zhang froze for a moment before she thoroughly examined the cucumbers inside again. Then turning her head to look at her own son, she reached out a hand to rub her son’s head and said:
“Oh, Mom had wondered how there could be so many cucumbers? So it was a lucky auspice, ~ah! Rest assured, my son. Mom understands. Mom understands it all. This is a lucky auspice. It’s not easy for the people to make a living. From now on, one must remember that cutting off people’s road to fortune shouldn’t be done. Wait a few years until the lucky auspice of our Sanshui is enough and then the other places of Great Tang will also get lucky auspices.”
Next to them, Song Jing-gong was scared silly upon hearing this. This old lady wasn’t simple, ~ah! Through such simple words from the deputy magistrate, she actually understood everything. It was good that the old lady was not bad and knew to help cover it up so he could relax here now.
The deputy magistrate himself knew that his mother couldn’t be deceived so helping his mother inside, he said as he walked: “Mom speaks rightly. Your child will certainly remember Mom’s teachings and definitely not do those things that harm people and their financial fortune. Besides, my Mom also loves to eat these cucumbers.”
Mother Zhang smiled: “You, ~ya, sure know how to coax Mom into being happy. Pick it. Pick an extra two more to bring back. Mom will eat by dipping into that spicy sauce. If only a bit is eaten, then there’s no fear of it being too spicy.”
Mother Zhang really did walk inside. It looked like she did understand that as long as the people who came down to investigate did see living cucumbers, then that was the greatest success. As for later on, these cucumbers would have no use so the cucumbers that she ate wouldn’t decrease.
As he watched the two people enter, Song Jing-gong’s mission was complete and he also needed to return soon as over there, he didn’t even know what matters he needed to be busy with over there, ~ne, especially with the firecrackers. It looked like he’d have to go selling them. He was at least a Juren [prefectural graduate]—never mind becoming an advisor but he actually even had to go out to do business as well.
Song Jing-gong and Steward Wang both led the carriage train back. There were some carts that had been borrowed yet the people were not as the coachmen driving the carts were all peasants who had this skill from the two manors of Zhang and Wang.
At Zhang Manor within the small courtyard house belonging to Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, the two of them were practicing the Military Fist1 here. Looking at the single moves and individual stances was really not so bad. It was just that there was no power whatsoever. It wasn’t even 1 hour and sweat had already appeared on both of their brows.
Afraid of getting a cold from the wind outside, they temporarily practiced it up to here. Returning indoors for a change of clothing and to wipe away the sweat, it was already time to eat a snack. The deep-fried carrot strips were eaten like French fries and the cucumbers were treated like fruit while a bowl of egg soup was placed off to the side.
The two of them placed the stuff into their mouths and then slowly chewed, striving to munch them into pieces so that would be beneficial to the body in regards to digestion. Right now, the two of them basically ate 7-8 times a day in order to replenish whatever their bodies expended. In comparison to children of the same age, the two of them were clearly a bit taller and were also a bit sturdier. This was all a result of exercise and diet.
“Erniu has gone out for a few days. Don’t know if he can find the wheatrice stone. It’s only a few more days before the summer plowing. The wheat has already been planted and will soon sprout. Do you think we’ll have a drought over here this year? Preparations will have to be made in advance. I’ve already asked around. Noria2 already exists. Having several would be enough to supply the water for the two manors.”
Wang Juan finished off two carrots and then drank a mouthful of soup, leaning back against the chair she’d ordered made to lay down in comfort as she nonchalantly asked this.
“This stuff isn’t difficult to find. I’ve told him the general appearance. By then, he can have someone draw it, spend some money, and there’ll be a lot of people helping him to find it. I don’t remember if there will be a drought this year over here. Shandong over there seems to not have had any waterfall since winter of this year. The spring and summer was also the same as well.
The current chancellor3 seems to be surnamed Yao. He’s a pretty formidable person but was forced down. He handled that drought disaster quite well—the locust plague was, too. If we go, it would only be to seek some advantage for ourselves. If it’s possible over there, then I’ll hand the method of growing cucumbers over to the government.”
Zhang Xiaobao was still eating cucumbers. In this while, he ate two entire ones. It wasn’t until he felt that his mouth was sour that he stopped to drink some soup while he made some judgments and choices regarding a few matters.
Wang Juan didn’t speak out over there so she could be considered to have silently acquiesced to Zhang Xiaobao’s decision. If it were her instead, she wouldn’t have an even better idea. In reality, she also knew that based on that brain of Zhang Xiaobao’s, there was no problem whatsoever if he wanted to get a bit more land. It was only that he didn’t wish to give up on that 100 heads of shiyi (honorary tax exception) as this wasn’t simply an issue of money or fortune but was related to status.
She and Zhang Xiaobao could disregard this kind of status but Old Master couldn’t. Nor could Father Zhang. Once this kind of status was lost, there’d be a high possibility of an issue appearing with the Old Master’s health and body. This definitely was not a thing that Zhang Xiaobao wanted to see happen.
Zhang Xiaobao drank the last mouthful of soup and patted his belly before he also rested for a while. Waiting until he felt fine, he opened his eyes and said: “Should give an assignment to Xu Si. Let’s first see what his ability is like. Then, give him a position based on his performance.”
“Unh, a person who you discovered. Without you mentioning it, I’d forgotten. He’s been kept fed at the manor for these two days. He should be a bit fatter. He was originally a bit too skinny and gave people an impression that he wasn’t a reliable person. What matter are you prepared to assign him to? There seems to be nothing to do on the manor.”
Wang Juan also opened her eyes. If Zhang Xiaobao hadn’t spoken of it, she pretty much had forgotten about this person Xu Si.
“There is, ~ah! The matter of the market fair will be given to him, especially price-setting. This position is very important. If he does well, I’m prepared to set up a merchant group next year for him to be responsible for. We’ll pull ourselves out. In the future, I’ll have to take the civil exams, ~ne.4
In this world, it won’t do to not have any power, especially in the area of authority. What are you prepared to do later on? Talk about it and I’ll help by giving you advice. I normally don’t do this type of thing for just anybody.” Zhang Xiaobao didn’t even forget to kid around with Wang Juan for a bit.
“I’m also going to be an official. By then, let’s see who gets promoted the fastest—there are female officials over here, right?” Wang Juan basically didn’t pay any attention to Zhang Xiaobao’s teasing as she loftily spoke.
Hearing this, Zhang Xiaobao started: “You’re pulling my leg.5 What work would female officials do? You’re not suited for it. Right now doesn’t compare with the time a bit earlier. It isn’t women in charge anymore. Li Longji even knocked his aunt down and you are still thinking of getting ahead?6 How about this? I’ll hand the affairs of the house over to you and it’ll be fine as long as you manage it well.”
“I don’t want to stay at home all day. I want to have my own career.” Wang Juan clearly didn’t agree.
“You assume a house is easy to manage. In the future, there will only be more and more people in my family. You’ll have to clearly understand all the different kinds of relations and also have to protect all aspects of the related interests. Didn’t you want to train people? By then, there’ll be plenty of people for you to train. Let’s first not discuss this issue as it’s currently a bit too early for it. Let’s go. Go take a look at Xu Si.”
Seeing that there was no way to persuade Wang Juan at the moment, Zhang Xiaobao gave up. Sliding down from the chair, he waited for Wang Juan there to also get down before they walked out together.
For Xu Si, these two days were passed in a not so bad manner as he stuffed himself each day. This was instructed by Zhang Xiaobao in the beginning. He was too skinny and had to eat more so that he could work hard in the future and not wait until a critical juncture to collapse from exhaustion.
Xu Si had no objections whatsoever and he really had put all his effort into eating. He slept for at least 10 hours each day, hoping to get himself to fatten up a bit more. After a few days’ effort, it really did lead to some results as his face had obviously grown a bit rounder.
Today, he got up extremely late as usual. He had just eaten and hadn’t decided on what he was going to do today, ~ne, when Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan arrived together.
“Little Mister, is this little one going to be given something to do?” Upon seeing Little Mister, Xu Si grew excited. He had been waiting all the while to be assigned some work to do as he wasn’t comfortable just being tended to like this the entire day.
Zhang Xiaobao exchanged a look with Wang Juan. It was Wang Juan who said: “Yes, you’ll have work to do. Do you know how to read and write?”
“In reply to Little Miss, this little one doesn’t know how to read and write.” Xu Si had no solution regarding this point. He felt that Little Mister and she both seemed to require a person who could read but he couldn’t just blindly lie.
“Unh, not knowing how to read and write is no matter. From now on, you can slowly learn how to. Then at the very least, you know what things the peasants in this area need in their life, right?” Wang Juan was slightly disappointed but still gave some encouragement.
This time, Xu Si enthusiastically nodded his head: “Know, this little one of course knows. Could it be that this little one is to go tend to that general goods store? This little one will certainly tend it well.”
“Tend what general goods store? That little place isn’t suited for you. Wait until after the 15th, you will set up a market fair at the bridge over here. Right now, you have to purchase the items that the peasants need. Go outside to buy them and discuss the price. From now on, you’ll be responsible for setting the prices for all of the goods brought over by the peasants coming over to buy and sell things.
The stuff that can’t be exchanged for over here can also be accepted. By then, they’ll be sold together to the larger prefectural cities.7 Beginning from now on, all of these matters will be done by you. Tell Shiliu about the types and quantity of all of the items that you want to buy and get money from her there so you can buy them. The others won’t interfere.”
Zhang Xiaobao spoke at this time, speaking a bunch of words that nearly caused Xu Si to go into a faint. He had never done this type of thing before and they were actually having him handle it on his own today. He wanted to reject it but knew that if he really didn’t accept this work, then he wouldn’t be able to continue following Little Mister in the future.
Gritting his teeth, Xu Si finally nodded his head and promised: “Fine, Little Mister. You [honorific] rest assured. This little one will definitely get this matter done. This little one will go think on it here and then go find Shiliu.”
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan didn’t speak anymore, turning around to leave. It didn’t matter whether they lost or gained anything. The main point was they wished to see Xu Si’s ability. Then, they could properly adjust his position.
Several days’ time passed in just a blink of an eye. With this one day, the 15th of the 1st lunar month had arrived and the people once again began to grow busy. The Wang Manor’s firecrackers were sent to each location as the staff had been increased several fold over these past few days so quite a few firecrackers had been made. The person overseeing it was currently Song Jing-gong.
On the same day, within the Sanshui County constabulary, Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang also led everybody in completing their preparations to better welcome the people coming down from above to investigate and verify the lucky auspice.
↑ RETURN TO TOP ↑
“Jun Ti Quan” (軍體拳) literally means “military body fist” and refers to the military variant of sparring fist that is a self-defense and combat-oriented mix of the Chinese martial arts version of boxing/kickboxing known as “san da” (散打), which means “loose sparring,” and wrestling (shuai jiao/摔跤). There are several different forms and stances which depend on what principles of the various Chinese martial arts it is a distillation of. To get an idea of what Xiaobao and Juan-Juan are doing, here is a demonstrative video of the Hong Kong version of the military sparring form with the 16 stances portrayed separately. This is a video of an instructor from the People’s Liberation Army doing the Mainland Chinese version for his students, which would be closest to what Xiaobao and Juan-Juan are practicing. ↩
“Tong che” (筒車) literally means “bamboo tube car/machine” and is the Chinese version of noria, which is a water wheel that has buckets or containers attached to the rim and acts as a water-powered conveyor belt to mechanically fill and carry the buckets in order to water the fields and/or irrigated lands. Noria is an Arabic loanword and is still in use in different areas around the world. A related device is the chain pump. ↩
I’ve translated zaixiang/宰相 as “chancellor” but it can also be translated as “prime minister” and some other possible titles. It can also be referred to by similarly varied names in Chinese such as “cheng xiang” (丞相) and “xiang guo” (相國). However, unlike its modern-day counterpart, a chancellor or prime minister was not the head of state of the imperial Chinese government since that was the Emperor’s role but was usually the leader of the officials, serving as the bureaucratic head of a Court comprised of the ministers that led the various departments of the government and advised the Emperor. The specific details and responsibilities of this position varied over the ages but during the Tang Dynasty, the Chancellor was usually the head official in charge of the executive bureau and served as the Emperor’s trusted right hand in the Imperial Court. ↩
What Xiaobao is saying makes sense to people aware of the Chinese historical context but in case it is unclear, ancient Chinese society was roughly divided into four major occupational classes with the scholarly gentry (shi/士) ranked first, followed by the peasant farmers (nong/農), then the artisans or craftsmen (gong/工) with merchants (shang/商) dead last. Similar to the prejudice the upper classes or nobility of Europe generally had towards those who went into trade at the time, merchants were treated with disdain in China and depending on the era, certain restrictions were placed on them. In this case, Xiaobao is referring to the Tang dynasty restrictions on the merchant class, restricting them from participating in the civil exams and gaining official titles. That is not to say that there weren’t gray areas to this rule. Hence why Xiaobao is obliquely referring to pulling out (i.e. not being directly responsible and probably setting up something like a shareholder situation since that isn’t looked down upon as compared to directly operating a business or store). ↩
Xiaobao actually says “la dao” (拉倒) or literally “pull down” which is a colloquialism that I decided to replace with a similar sounding one in English. ↩
Xiaobao is referring to Emperor Xuanzong by his personal name of Li Longji (李隆基) which, again, is kind of taboo and disrespectful blasphemy to do so in Tang dynasty China, and the historical event in which Xuanzong forced his aunt, Princess Taiping (太平公主), out of the power she had previously enjoyed at court due to her status and time as the daughter of Wu Zetian (武則天), Xuanzong’s grandmother and China’s first and only female Empress-Regnant. Technically, it was already possible for women to act as officials but only as inner palace officials and could be understood to be one of the Emperor’s women but with Wu Zetian’s reign, it marked a zenith in female accomplishments in ancient China in which women were able to take on more overt roles. However, a whiplash effect against women occurred after Wu Zetian’s death and rule passed back to the Li family so Xiaobao is using Princess Taiping’s fate to tell Juan-Juan that she shouldn’t get her hopes up about being a career women here. ↩
For the sake of reference, a “zhou cheng” (州城) or prefectural city is similar to the capital city of an U.S. state. However, a prefectural city can also refer to an area that includes the villages and towns surrounding the city proper.