Cop & Robber in the Previous Life, Family in the Present Life
It was a midsummer afternoon. The people who had just eaten and a brief rest were once again resuming the day’s work. The birds as well as the dog and chickens in the courtyard had all either found places from which to enjoy the warm sunlight or had hidden in the cool areas.
In the stream by the entrance of Tuqiao1 Village’s Zhang Manor,2 a group of boys were splashing around. After playing for a while or perhaps because the noise of their shouts was too loud, a man walked out of the manor’s courtyard house door. Glaring at this gang of kids, he unhappily reprimanded them: “All of you scram further away! If my Little Mister3 is woken up, you’ll all be getting a beating!”
The kids immediately fell silent, carefully looking toward the open door in the corner of the courtyard house before they sank into the water to make their way upstream.
It was only after the man returned back inside the courtyard house that all of the kids exhaled, puckering their faces up into various grimaces at the closed courtyard house door.
“Scared me to death! So harsh! The old patriarch of the Zhang Family isn’t like him at all.” A kid around 7 years old quietly said this as he used his hands to dig out yellow mud from the river bed.
“Isn’t it always like that? The people of the master family4 are easygoing while the steward is stern. But no matter how stern the steward is, he still has to obey the master family. I heard that the little master can drink porridge now. Let’s catch some toads to send over in a bit. Porridge made with the oil taken from the toad innards is good for the body. That’s how my mom5 eats after she had my little sister.” Another one of the slightly older kids, who was more considerate than the previous kid, stared at the toads that occasionally swam by in the water while he spoke to the others.
The kids, knowing that ingratiating themselves to the master family’s Little Mister at this time would get them an unexpected windfall, all nodded as well. One of the kids who had already caught a toad added: “Then let’s catch two more. The Wang Manor’s little girl is also at the Zhangs. Erzi,6 how good would it be if your little sister was together with the Zhang Family’s Little Mister now—your family would no longer need to worry about food and clothing.”
The one called Erzi was the considerate kid from before. Upon hearing these words, he shook his head slightly: “That’s simply impossible. The village only has these two manors. They’re the example of a perfect match.7 Besides, they were born well. It was originally a proposed baby engagement8 and they were actually born on the same day with a difference of less than a quarter-hour.”9
“That’s right. That’s right.” The kid who had first spoken was nodding to the side as he said: “Not only that, I heard that since they met on their full moon,10 the two babies stuck close together and would cry whenever they were separated. That’s why the both of them were placed together. Counting the days, there’s only a few days before their first full year.”
“Stop talking, stop talking. Let’s quickly catch some toads. As long as the master family is pleased, they might reward us a few chicken eggs. My mom’s milk is low so they can be given to my little sister to eat as a steamed cake.” Upon thinking of his little sister who was just 4 months old, Erzi didn’t wish to waste any more time so after a quick greeting, he left to find a fork.
In one of the rooms within that courtyard house of the Zhang Manor, two babies currently lay side by side, with a thin blanket lightly covering them, both of their small faces peaceful as their bellies evenly rose and fell. Seated on a small stool by the doorway of this room was a young maiden11 of around 13 or 14 years. After taking a few looks at the sleeping children, she then leaned against the door frame to nod off, going into a light doze after a short while.
Shortly after, the little boy lying on the right side slowly opened his eyes. At first, he froze before he became confused. Raising his hands and moving his feet, a trace of panic suddenly appeared in his eyes. Then, turning his head to look around him, he muttered: “Where is this? How did I turn into a child? Where’s the bandit? What about that Wang Juan?”
When he turned his gaze to the other child by his side, it was only then that he discovered that it was a little girl. An idea he couldn’t ignore the possibility of rose in his mind then. But before he could further his conjectures, the little girl’s eyelashes twitched twice. Still holding onto the idea he didn’t dare believe in his heart, the boy shut his eyes once again, feigning sleep.
At this time, the little girl also opened her eyes. Like him, she was also confused as she surveyed her surroundings and just like him, she muttered: “Where is this? How did I turn into a child? Where’s that swindler, Zhang Xiaobao? My mission hasn’t been completed yet.”
Her muttered words were heard by that little boy to the side. The previously even breathing of the little boy suddenly stopped only to immediately resume. But it was this instant that was noticed by the girl who had been staring at him the entire time.
Keeping her suspicions to herself, the little girl estimated the position of the person sitting by the doorway before reaching out with a plump little hand to touch the little boy’s face to ask: “Zhang Xiaobao? Is that you?”
The little boy didn’t react, his breathing still as even as before. The little girl gritted her teeth and pinched the little boy’s nose. This time, the little boy woke up. Turning his head to look at the little girl, that pair of eyes blinked and blinked. However much innocence was needed, they were innocence itself.
“Zhang Xiaobao, hurry up and answer me.” The little girl spoke once again using that voice that slurred her words.
The little boy was still the same, blinking his eyes as he made several toneless ‘ah-ah’ sounds with his mouth, just like any normal child of this age.
“Could it be that you’re not Zhang Xiaobao?” The little girl really didn’t know how to judge.
“Ha~! Ha~! Ah~! Ah~!” The little boy’s toneless voice sounded. At the same time, he reached out a plump little hand to touch the little girl’s face.
The little girl stared into the little boy’s eyes to see if there was any expression in there that shouldn’t appear. But she didn’t get even a little bit of result. Just when the little girl was about to give up, she suddenly thought of the Commissioner’s words: “He can jump straight down from a height of 15 meters unharmed and can climb up 9 meter high walls bare-handed. He is also adept in criminal psychology, behavioral psychology, social psychology, and other various disciplines. He has been designated as an extremely dangerous criminal.”
“I’ll have you pretend! I’ll pinch you to death!” The little girl also raised her hand to directly pinch the little boy’s arm. With just one pinch, the little boy immediately started crying with a ‘wah~wah!’ Before the little girl could have any other reactions, the young maiden that was sitting by the doorway had already rushed over.
Upon seeing someone arrive, the little girl pretended to be just as innocent as the little boy, batting her eyes. The little boy stared back at her with a face full of terror as he kept crying.
“All right, all right. Baolang,12 don’t cry. There’s no urine, either, ~ah. Baolang, don’t look at the Wang Family’s Little Miss13 with that kind of look. This is your future wife. You’ve always been together since your full moon, how can you be scared like that?” Following the young maiden’s voice and soothing, the little boy finally stopped crying.
When this maiden returned once again to her seat on her stool, the little boy fell back to sleep again while the little girl had a face full of dismay. After thinking for a bit as she looked at the little boy, she finally gritted her teeth and reached out again—this time, for the little boy’s lower body—as she whispered: “You know to call for help? Feel you have backup? Not afraid of a pinch? I’ll squeeze you till you’re sick!”
“Wah~! Wah~!” Without waiting for the little girl’s hand to touch him there, the little boy started crying again. The little girl promptly retracted her hand. The young maiden came over once again but when she saw that there still was no problem, she returned to her seat.
“Let me see how long you can cry for. I’m going to squeeze again.” The little girl reached out with her hand again.
“Wah~!” The little boy cried.
The little girl withdrew her hand. The little boy stopped. The little girl stretched her hand out. The little boy cried. The two of them kept repeating this cycle.
After a few times, the little girl didn’t reach out with her hand this time, only saying: “I’m going to squeeze.”
“Wah~!” The little boy cried.
“I’m not squeezing.” The little girl said.
The little boy stopped.
He had stopped but the little boy’s expression had changed now. It was no longer as innocent and pure as before.
“Act, act, ~ah, keep on acting, ~ya! You regret it, right? Did you forget to study child psychology back then, my International Swindler, Comrade Zhang Xiaobao?” The little girl laughed this time as she jokingly spoke into the little boy’s ear.
The little boy could no longer keep up the pretense either. Reaching up with a fat little hand to smack his forehead, he sighed as he said: “It wasn’t me who was careless. It’s men who treat this thing with too much care.”
He inwardly understood that just now, it had already become a reflex. But for children, it basically shouldn’t even be possible to have this kind of reflex. Faced with this type of situation, a child essentially only has two reactions. One, keep crying and wait for someone to come comfort them. But he later stopped by himself. Two, switch from cries to laughter, thinking that something amusing had been discovered. But he himself had been affected by his adult mindset.
“Comrade Wang Juan, I feel that a police officer shouldn’t do this kind of indecent thing. Especially for a policewoman, it really is too unethical for you to be this way.” Zhang Xiaobao finally admitted to his own identity.
“Criminal Swindler, Comrade Zhang Xiaobao, you must remember that there are only bad intentions and that there’s no such thing as unreasonable measures. Tell me, where did you put the money?” Wang Juan did not feel the slightest embarrassment. The training she received was like this.
Zhang Xiaobao glanced over at the young maiden who had returned to her seat by the doorway to idle about again before turning his head to say to Wang Juan: “If you must add a description in front of my name, please say Suspect. Right now, I feel that what we need to consider shouldn’t be the issue of the money. Remember, to me, money is never an issue. What I’m thinking of right now is if I can still eat that bowl of liangfen?”
“You really can find topics for idle chitchat. Where’s the money?” Wang Juan continued asking after the money.
“Have you been a cop until you’ve become foolish? What money? Look at our current situation. Look at our surroundings. According to a common yet unbelievable logic, we’ve already left our original world and been reborn into another world. My dying regret is not having been able to eat that bowl of liangfen.” Zhang Xiaobao turned over to look up at the ceiling.
Wang Juan looked at their surroundings again and also discovered that it wasn’t her time period. Or rather, the things in this world such as the appearance of the young maiden sitting by the doorway when she came over and the clothes she wore proved this point.
“It’s all you, it’s all you! You had to go do some hostage exchange. This is just great. I can’t ever see my family again. Pay me back! Pay back my parents! Pay back my brothers and sisters! Pay back my job!” While doing her best to keep her voice low, Wang Juan pinched Zhang Xiaobao’s shoulder as she complained.
“You regret it? Would it be better that I didn’t go over back then to let that child continue to live under the constant threat of death then?” Zhang Xiaobao turned his head around again to ask.
“Regret? No, I have no regret. Who am I? I’m the Tyrant Flower of China. Please don’t use those kind of eyes to look at me. I will not allow my honor to be smeared.” Wang Juan froze for a bit before solemnly speaking to Zhang Xiaobao.
Zhang Xiaobao nodded his head in agreement with Wang Juan’s words. He thought for a bit before suddenly saying: “Do you think that in this life I’ll be able to see my parents? Looking at how the surroundings are arranged and that person’s words just now, this should be an affluent household.”
“Ai~!”14 Wang Juan sighed as she spoke in a logical manner: “Let’s first not think of those. Think about what kind of place we’re in? What should we do from now on?”
“Who cares what place this is? I’ve decided. I can finally see my parents for this lifetime so I’ll work hard to earn money and let them live well. Then, I’ll find a wife and let her live well. Although hearing that woman’s words from before, you seem to be my wife. I’ve decided…”
“I’ve decided not to recognize this matter. I will not live together with a Suspected International Criminal Swindler.” Not waiting for Zhang Xiaobao to finish speaking, Wang Juan directly denied it.
“Forget it. Let’s first not discuss these kinds of matters. I’m going to sleep. In a while, there might be some other things to do so I won’t keep you company, ~ah.” Zhang Xiaobao laid back down again. He shut his eyes, the expression on his face one of anticipation.
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I am using the pinyin for the village’s name (土橋村) as many real life and historical places will be mentioned in this novel. Since most of the official names of real life locations in China use pinyin, a translated name would not match in tone. The name of the village where the two manors are located literally translates to “dirt/earthen bridge village.” ↩
“Zhuangzi” (莊子) usually describes a farming estate with a mansion-like residential complex attached to it that is similar to a castle overlooking its surrounding domain. I chose to translate it as manor because it is similar in setup to an English country estate. However, a “zhuangzi” (莊子) also entails all of the land being farmed by tenant farmers or serfs, making it more of a miniature village that can be self-contained, giving its owner a certain amount of status as a form of landed gentry. If you consider how some towns or cities are initially incorporated, manors can be seen as a Chinese prototype of this type of setup. For the Western counterpart, look at manorialism and the open-field system, which were the basic components that allowed European feudalism to work. ↩
“Xiao Gongzi” (小公子) is the Chinese used here. Gongzi/公子 has its etymological origins as a manner of address for the son of a duke (Gong/公), which then broadened in usage to apply to any young man of noble or elite status with the evolution of Chinese proto-feudalism into the Imperial system. I am using “Mister” to translate Gongzi since the use of Mister was similarly only applicable to gentlemen in Europe before it became a polite title of address for any man. Note though that this is different in connotation from the “Mister” that “Xiansheng” (先生) is usually translated as. Xiansheng/先生 replaced gongzi/公子 as the universal appellation for men in modern polite speech but in ancient China, it was the way to address teachers and scholars (hence, why it was imported into Japanese as sensei and became a title of respect to address teachers and experts by). Because it is different from the other terms that could possibly be used in this context such as “young master” (shaoye/少爺) or “little master” (xiao zhuzi/小主子) and is being used as a title, I am translating “xiao gongzi” as “Little Mister.” ↩
“Zhu Jia” (主家) literally means “master family” and can be used by servants to refer to their boss. There is a connotation of ownership, emphasizing their status as landlord or superiority in status over the households attached to them as tenant farmers or serfs. ↩
“Niang” (娘) is an informal way to address mothers in ancient China. Thus, in consider of the historical setting of this novel, I am translating it as “Mom.” Niang/娘 can also be used just for its feminine properties in Chinese and mean female, woman, or daughter in general (which is reflected in how its Kanji form is used in Japanese). So in Chinese, some women will have given names that combine a descriptive character with Niang/娘 as the last character. The modern Chinese term for Mom or Mama, Mama (媽媽), existed as a term back then but it was primarily used to address older (usually young to middle-aged) married female servants and hadn’t broadened in its usage to become a casual form of mother yet. So whenever something is translated as “Ma,” it’ll be because the speaker literally made the sound, Ma. On a slightly disturbing note, using Mama as a form of maternal address probably started a lot earlier with prostitutes addressing their procuresses as Mamas. ↩
“Erzi” (二子) literally combines the characters for “two” and “child/son” so it can be inferred that he is the second child or son of his household depending on whether the family separates the birth order of the children by gender or counts them all together regardless of sex. ↩
The idiom “men dang hu dui” (門當戶對) has the literal meaning of “matching doors, paired households.” Social status was so regulated in ancient China that there were even strict laws governing how residences were built, including their doors and how high or wide they could be based on the status of the household. This was because the Chinese greatly believed in the symbolism found in architecture such as with fengshui (風水) so the thought was that the doors or gates were the face of the house. Thus, like the Western nouveau riche, ancient Chinese merchants who gained enough wealth could and did build grandiose mansions or estates but they could not “get above themselves” by erecting a similarly grand gate for fear of punishment. The only way to be allowed to have that “face” was to raise their household’s status altogether by having a man of the master household pass the civil exams to gain a scholarly title and/or governmental position. In some eras, if buying a title was possible, that would be an option as a loophole to gain that “face.” Since marriage in those days was considered to be more of a political alliance between clans/families (even among the peasantry since it added to their existing social network), a marriage partner from a household that was equal in status was a very important consideration before an engagement was even considered. ↩
The thinking that an ideal marriage partner was chosen from a household that was a peer made it logical for the custom of engagement from birth or childhood to arise. Households whose members got along well with each other would oftentimes promise their children to each other. Some took it as far as to promise their children to each other while still in the womb as husband and wife, making the provision that if they turned out to be the same genders, then they would be like brothers or sisters to each other instead. ↩
Time in ancient China could be divided decimally with the traditional time units for divisions of the day being shichen/時辰 (2 hours), fen/分 (minute), and miao/秒 or hao/毫 (second). The exact amount of the time unit of ke/刻 varied wildly over history but since it had been time to be roughly around 15 minutes before finally being modernized to equal exactly 15 minutes, I have opted to translate 1 ke/刻 as a quarter-hour or 15 minutes. ↩
One of the significant baby milestones in China is the full moon or month. Since infant mortality was so high back then, celebrating the baby’s birth after it had survived a significant milestone like a month was the custom. Some regions celebrated 100 days instead. The Chinese used the lunar calendar so a full moon was actually also a full month. ↩
“Gu Niang” (姑娘) is the Chinese equivalent of the French “mademoiselle” although it is a rather dated term so I’m translating “xiao gu niang” as young maiden. Depending on the era, “gu niang” was used as a descriptor rather than a polite title. Some regions and later eras used this as a form of address for the young lady of a rich household leading to a modified form of address for her once she wed such as “Gu Nai Nai” (姑奶奶) and a title that only her household would use to address her husband by, “Gu Ye” (姑爺). In cases where “Gu Niang” (姑娘) is used as a title, I will translate it as “Miss.” ↩
“Baolang” (寶郎) is a nickname formed by taking the “bao” (寶) from Zhang Xiaobao’s name and combining it with “lang” (郎), which just means boy or young man (It can also be used to mean husband but this particular usage is obviously not applicable to this case). It is similar to when a man named Thomas is called “Tommy Boy” as a nickname. On an interesting side note, the character of “lang” forms the basis of the common Japanese male name suffix “Taro” (太郎) and is why a lot of old school Japanese names for men had -taro at the end like the -son suffix for some English surnames. Since age hierarchy is very important in Chinese families and nicknames are used more often than given names in Chinese culture, it is also common to refer to the sons of a family by their numerical order with “lang” (郎) appended. This type of naming sequence was very common in large families, especially agrarian ones. As a specific example, a family of Song Dynasty generals, made famous by their historical deeds as well as their fictional accounts in folklore, plays, and opera, are known more commonly by such monikers than their given names. To summarize in brief, the generals of the Yang family (楊家將) were several generations of men famous for their bravery and loyalty, particularly for being role models of the perfect generals who protected the homeland. Their claim to fame in Chinese culture are through the fictionalized accounts of 3 generations consisting of a father, 7 sons, and a grandson who all fought and died in battle protecting the borders of the beleaguered Song Dynasty. The 7 sons are more commonly known by the nicknames derived from their birth order: Dalang (大郎) or Big Boy as the eldest son, Erlang (二郎) or Second Boy (which is incidentally the name of a Chinese god who was also a second son), Sanlang (三郎) or Third Boy, Silang (四郎) or Fourth Boy, Wulang (五郎) or Fifth Boy, Liulang (六郎) or Sixth Boy, and Qilang (七郎) or Seventh Boy. In Chinese fiction, it is sometimes common to see characters surnamed Yang claiming descent from the Yang family generals. This is the case with a trio of characters from the wuxia classic, the Condor Trilogy (射鵰三部曲) by Louis Cha (查良鏞), who is better known by his pen name of Jin Yong (金庸). ↩
“Xiao Niangzi” (小娘子) is the respectful way this novel and time period addresses young ladies from affluent households. Later on in history, it broadened in usage to be a polite and generic way to address any young woman. However, it has now become dated in modern times although similar terms related to it are still in use. This is likely because “niangzi” (娘子) can also mean bride or wife. ↩
“Ai” (哎) is the sound representing a sigh in Chinese.