A Moon Round In The Starry Skies For The 15th
At the morning sun’s first rising, the new lanterns were already hanging.
Just as morning came, the children from some families rushed to hang up their own families’ lanterns. Once hung up, it was typically for 3 days. As long as there was a bit of money to spare within the household, they wouldn’t allow for the lanterns to be easily extinguished.
The people with better craftsmanship would make the lanterns themselves, constructing them into different sorts of shapes and then gluing colored paper on the outside and lamp oil or candles inside. At night, hanging them under the eaves or carrying them in hand made them appear like a river of stars entering the water, following the flow.
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan both changed into new outfits for today, getting up early to work together with the household. The two of them had already plunked down 100 silver taels for today, wishing to forge an ironclad rear.
“Xiaohong, have the clothes that the clothier was asked to make been sent over?” Spread out in front of Wang Juan was a large sheet of paper. On it, a rough layout of the two residences of Zhang and Wang was illustrated. Wang Juan held a slender ink brush in her hand, asking as she dabbed it next to an option. On there, the two characters for clothing were written.
Xiaohong, Shiliu, and Yingtao, the three of them had already handed any trivial matters over to other people to do and they were all standing in front of Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan.
“Six-tenths has been sent over. There’s still four-tenths that need 2 more hours before they can be sent over. All of the servants and peasants of the two manors of Zhang and Wang total 763 people altogether. 763 sets of clothing and shoes have been tailor-made to measure without missing a single person.”
Xiaohong had already become accustomed to Little Mister’s rules as she stepped forward in response. When taking the size measurements, the two families of Zhang and Wang’s identities as the village chiefs1 were used though they hadn’t mentioned that it was in order to make clothes and shoes for the people of the manor. These things were typically made by the families themselves and having them made to order from without was rare.
“Good. In a short while, go and pressure them again. Yingtao, has a lantern and a roasted chicken for every family been prepared yet?” Wang Juan used the ink brush to make a check mark after the two characters for clothing before she asked Yingtao.
Yingtao also stepped forward: “The two manors have a total of 234 households. 234 lanterns and roasted chickens have all been prepared and can be given out at any time. Also, the 3 days’ worth of candles that can be supplied to every household for their lanterns has already been prepared.”
Wang Juan made another check mark after the written item of lanterns: “Shiliu, how long until the meat-filled dumpling balls2 are done being wrapped?”
“In reply to Little Miss, every person will have 10 large meat-filled dumpling balls. Before, we were still 400 short. Now, they’re almost done. The 3 strings of 1,000 burst firecrackers for every household have all been placed in the storeroom.”
Shiliu also stepped forward in reply, her face bright red with excitement at the thought of Little Mister and Little Miss’s plans for today.
Wang Juan also checked off this item. A manservant, Huzi, was still remaining in the room. Not waiting for Wang Juan to ask, Huzi started speaking on his own.
“The two manors have already dug out the pits, guaranteeing that the torches that are planted on top won’t fall down and cause a fire. Altogether, it’s 790 pits and 790 torches. Every person from our two manors will each have one. The grease that has been prepared will ensure that they won’t be extinguished for this one night.”
“Good, everyone should go and prepare. In the afternoon during the rooster hour (5~7PM),3 hand all of the items out. Stick the torches in and light them up once it gets dark.”
Wang Juan said a sentence in instruction and the four people left in quick succession. The two of them, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, were the only ones remaining in the room. They were still waiting—waiting for Xu Si to return. The 100 silver taels that had been spent couldn’t all have been used just on the clothes, food, and other things. There was another portion that had been placed with Xu Si here.
“I heard that the person coming down from above this time doesn’t have such a good relationship with the prefectural Depot Advisory Official Zhou Kong or rather, Zhou Xihu’s uncle. What if he deliberately makes trouble—have you thought of a way to deal with it?”
Wang Juan put the brush away to ask while facing Zhang Xiaobao, who was next to her and also holding a brush to write things down on his own there.
Zhang Xiaobao was a bit dissatisfied with his characters as compared to Wang Juan, they were lacking by a lot. But who let Wang Juan practice this since she was little? Other than the things that had to typically be learned in the classroom, the other things like dance, brush calligraphy, musical instruments, and other miscellaneous kind of things had to all be learned too, ~ne. This was the gap between the poor and rich.
Families with no money also had genius children. Every time one appeared, there would be a great deal of news coverage, as if these children were the most formidable. But the result was that in the proportion of the population that occupied the leading positions in society, it was still those people who had grown up being trained in all areas of expertise since they had been little who accounted for the greatest amount.
After slightly reflecting upon this for a bit, Zhang Xiaobao also put down the brush to rub his wrist and give a reassuring smile to Wang Juan.
“It’s better to have conflict. The people coming down have to go back. There’ll be a deadline. If the relationship is good, they’ll help cover it up. If the relationship is so-so, that’s when it’ll the most difficult. That way, they’ll deal with the affair impartially. If the relationship is not good, that’s easy.
That Works Advisory Official4 will verify the auspicious favor on the one hand and on the other hand, make a bit of trouble for the Depot Advisor’s nephew. Then, let him go find some. It won’t even do if he didn’t make trouble—we’ll force him to put all his focus on suppressing Zhou Xihu and the county magistrate and place a whole bunch of troublesome little flaws in front of him.”
“Just this? Nothing else? Then, what if he’s finding fault on the one hand but are seized by a whim on the other hand and want to go up to the manor? What to do then?” Wang Juan kept thinking that this was a bit unsafe. This did not seem to befit the conduct of this International Criminal Swindler, Zhang Xiaobao.
She herself was responsible for the logistics on the 15th while assigned to Zhang Xiaobao was dealing with the people coming. When did he ever only have the one idea?
“Didn’t finish speaking, ~ne, I’m thinking of the details.”
“Oh, that’s more like it. I was saying, if you really only used a single idea with no guarantee, then it wouldn’t be you, Zhang Xiaobao.” Wang Juan was reassured now.
Zhang Xiaobao’s hand tapped his leg a few times: “Song Jing-gong still has things to do over there. According to the intel, our prefecture’s Merit Advisory Official Chen Yong, Chen Jinian5 likes posing as a lover of culture.6 Sanshui County’s county seat there has three big restaurants. If you walk further north, there’s even the Luo River. That river isn’t part of our county as it’s part of the territory for Luochuan County.7
A one-way walk typically needs half a day’s time. Let’s think of the poems of this era and write them down to send over to Song Jing-gong. Then, let’s take out some of the amusing things this side doesn’t have and some new recipes. Have Song Jing-gong tightly pin Chen Yong down at the three restaurants and the Luo River there; make him reluctant to leave the red-light district.”8
“You’re too wicked. Tell me, how many people did you corrupt back then?” Upon hearing this, Wang Juan understood. It was a simple yet practical measure. After thinking of how many high officials who had gotten swindled but still helped to cover it up afterwards back then, she understood why.
“A fly does not bite an uncracked egg. Besides these, we’ll also have to spend more money again here and let some citizens bar the way to cry for justice.9 This requires Magistrate Cheng to cooperate for a bit. It’ll all be matters as trivial as chicken feathers and garlic skin. Let Chen Yong enjoy the experience of being able to make judgements for the people.
After enjoying this experience, let’s have the people give him a commendation like a silk banner.10 Invite him to a farming household to eat a farmer’s meal and experience being close to the people. If these are not enough, then we’ll make him sick. I can’t believe he’d have the energy to come and care about us here then.”
Zhang Xiaobao spoke leisurely as Wang Juan listened to Zhang Xiaobao while staring at him. Wicked, a belly full of wicked water. But he was wicked good. To have such a wicked person to live with from now on would be very relaxing.
“Little Mister, Little Miss, this little one has returned.” Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan both had finished discussing how they’d manipulate people when Xu Si hurriedly ran in from outside. Usually, he couldn’t casually enter this courtyard house. Today’s circumstances were special.
“It’s good you’ve returned. Has everything been taken care of?” Today, everything here were being managed by Wang Juan, so Wang Juan was the one to speak.
“It’s done. This little one has already found people to do the lion dance.11 50 people will be coming this time. They’ll be dancing by that area by the bridge. It’ll be a lively night. This little one has even prepared some goods. They’re all goods that can typically be of use. And there are several kinds of snacks. By that time, they’ll be set out at that place by the bridge.
This little one has been thinking. Tonight, these goods won’t earn profits. It’ll be fine to just cover the costs. I didn’t discuss this point with Little Miss and Little Mister. So if it’s not fine, then this little one will raise the prices.”
Xu Si had been horribly busy for these two days. The market fair originally was going to be done by him after the 15th was over but he was doing it on the night of the 15th as Wang Juan and Zhang Xiaobao had only had him find people to perform the lion dance.
Upon hearing these words of initiative from Xu Si, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan were not only happy, they even smiled. Xu Si saw two children with pure smiles. While he thought it cute, he was a bit afraid at the same time—afraid that he had made a mistake.
“Good,” Zhang Xiaobao said a word.
“Good,” Wang Juan also echoed him in saying one word.
Xu Si didn’t know what he should do. There was something a bit off with both their expressions and the words they spoke, ~ne.
“Xu Si, don’t worry. It really is good. Since the matter of the market fair has been handed over to you, then however you want to do it, we won’t interfere at all. In a while, you can go to Xiaobao and my storeroom to select things worth around 20 silver taels to give out as well. There are also several kinds of snacks in the courtyard house that can’t be found out there. Go to the kitchens to get them and find people to make them. I want this year’s 15th to be etched in everyone’s memory.”
Wang Juan and Zhang Xiaobao were really too satisfied with this Xu Si. Xu Si’s grasp of business opportunities and consumer psychology was really a rare talent. As long as business was done at cost for several days, this market fair would naturally grow. Give him some more guidance later on and in the future, he’d be of great use.
Having just received praise and been granted authority, Xu Si left full of gratitude. The fatigue from being so busy for these few days seemed to disappear at the blink of an eye. He, Xu Si, also had today. He could also do great things. Back then, he had also sought out the Ge Manor’s master family, wishing to speak his inner thoughts and suggest some ideas. But the result was he had been thrown out. From then on, he’d lost heart and just stuck to honestly farming the lands.
But to think, ~ah, I, Xu Si, finally have found a good master family. This is trust. To hear people say it, there was that really formidable person back then—forgot what it was called. They would not suspect people who were used and not use people who were suspect.12 Unh, he must do well with the market fair. Let the people of the Ge Family see that I, Xu Si, am no longer that Sigou (Four Dogs).
As Xu Si thought this, he clenched his fists tightly. After having just left this courtyard house of Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan’s, he stopped and turned around to kneel down while facing the house where Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan were located before kowtowing 3 consecutive times. Only then did he stand up, leaving in large strides with his chest up and head high.
“Old man, look at that good grandson and granddaughter-in-law of ours, how is their skill at leadership?” Near Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan’s courtyard house within another courtyard house diagonally across, Old Madam smilingly asked the Old Master who had also been watching Xu Si’s actions as he left.
The Old Master nodded his head slightly: “Unh, this one generation of my Zhang Family has succeeded. This daughter-in-law Qiao-er is good as she’s controlled this household so there aren’t any mistakes and even given birth to such a good grandson for us. From now on, we’ll just enjoy the quiet comforts.”
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The exact Chinese used is “Cun Zheng” (村正), which literally means “village just(ice)” alluding to the position’s typical duty of managing petty disputes between the villagers. This is worthy of mention because “village chief” or “village head” is usually referred to as “Cun Zhang” (村長) in Chinese and searching for “Cun Zheng” (村正) online will bring up Muramasa as the Kanji reading for these two Chinese characters are identical to the name of the famed Japanese swordsmith. The village chief was usually not a formal position given any official authority by the government back then, though there might be some informal version of elections since the position was usually filled by someone the villagers considered worthy or venerable enough to act as the leader and spokesman for the village. In many cases where the village was established by a clan or house, the village chief would also be the clan chief or house leader. In this case, because the manors also double as villages, the head of the manors are also the village chiefs. ↩
“Rou xian tang yuan” (肉餡湯圓) literally translates to “meal filling soup round.” I’ve translated “tangyuan” as “dumpling balls” as they are essentially dumplings made out of glutinous rice flour that are formed into balls. They can be made to have no filling, hence why it is specified in the text that they have meat fillings. This food actually has different names according to the region of China and “tangyuan” is actually the Southern Chinese name for them. The use of the name itself is likely anachronistic for the Tang dynasty though since the legend for why they are called “tangyuan” is related to Yuan Shikai, a warlord from the late Qing dynasty. However, this is a food item traditionally eaten on the 15th of the first month of the Lunar New Year and for other festivals as well. You can see more pictures on Baidu (recipes in Chinese are provided but don’t ask me to translate them because there are a lot!). ↩
I’ve translated “you shi” (酉時) as the rooster hour since that’s the Earthly Branch associated with the Rooster from the Chinese Zodiac. As a reminder, the Chinese divided the days into 12 2-hour segments representing the 12 Earthly Branches that was then assigned to an animal from the Chinese Zodiac. The rooster rules over the time span from 5:00~7:00PM. ↩
The translation I used “si kong can jun” (司空參軍) will make sense if you combine the translations for “si kong” (司空) meaning Minister of Public Works with “can jun” (參軍), which means “staff” or “advisory official.” Thus, since these are titles for prefectural officials, it becomes Works Advisory Official (to be part of a matching set with the Depot Advisory Official and Merit Advisory Official I have already translated). That or this could be a typo since “si gong can jun” (司功參軍) or Merit Advisory Official is close in pinyin to “si kong can jun” (司空參軍). ↩
“Chen Yong” (陳永) is the surname of Chen, meaning old, with the given name of Yong, meaning “eternity.” His style name is “Chen Jinian” (陳繼年) with “ji nian” (繼年) meaning “successive year,” which could refer to his family’s hope that he will live long (matching with the meaning of his given name). When making introductions in ancient China and the style name is mentioned, it often is added after the given name. This would be similar to making introductions in the West that include the nickname such as “Jillian Smith, Jill Smith.” If the style name is given as part of a self-introduction, there is an implied invitation that the listener can use the style name, which grants a degree of familiarity. In this case, Xiaobao is just being thorough, giving the impression that he is simply recalling the intel that had been collected. ↩
“Fu yong feng ya” (附庸風雅) can mean “following the trends of elegance” and essentially refers to the behavior of those members of the scholar-gentry and literati who liked throwing parties to discuss poetry, paintings, and other topics. However, they could be drunken affairs with just as much debauchery since they sometimes took place in brothels or involved courtesans and dancing girls, only dressed up elegantly. So depending on the context, this idiom could be praise or criticism of such activity. ↩
The Chinese Xiaobao used here were poetic euphemisms for the red-light district, which probably adds a sardonic tone to it all: “feng yue chang suo, yan hua zhi di” (風月場所, 煙花之地). It literally translates to “places of the wind and moon, land of the smoke flowers (or fireworks).” This makes more sense when you realize that the wind and moon or windy moon (fengyue/風月) refers to matters of love, specifically seductive love, so it’s normally used to describe the love found in brothels, which is like the wind or moon, ephemeral and untouchable. The land of the smoke flowers or fireworks was already addressed in a previous footnote back in Chapter 26. ↩
There is a certain legal tradition in ancient China of an exception to the normal appeal process, popularized in many historical dramas, where those who are wronged can seek justice by barring the way of a traveling official to petition them to redress their grievances. So “han yuan” (喊冤), which literally means “cry injustice,” describes this action. Some dynasties will legislate punishments for those who bar the way of officials, which can also be seen as a fair price to be paid for their insubordination by not pursuing the regular legal process since the local officials’ authority could be great. In this case, because of their modern day influences, Xiaobao and Juan-Juan are using this tradition that is normally used as a desperate recourse as a delaying tactic like in a comedy. Some amusing wordplay that I have seen used in Chinese dramas before is an official who sees a rabbit with a crown and immediately knows someone has been wrong and an injustice has been done because it is a visual depiction of the character for injustice or “yuan” (冤). ↩
A “jinqi” (錦旗) or silk banner can either be given to the victor of a race or to a person to show they did something worthy of respect. It’d be the equivalent of giving someone a trophy or award for philanthropy. ↩
The lion dance is a traditional Chinese dance where the dancers mimic lions while in a stylized lion costume. It usually requires at least 2 people to do a lion dance, one for the head and the other for the tail. It is usually performed at special events and occasions like weddings, business openings, or anything else that needs to be celebrated in a lively way. People who have seen some of Jet Li’s Once Upon a Time in China film series will likely remember a pivotal scene in one of the films where a martial arts fight broke out involving a lion dance. ↩
This is an 8 character long saying whose first 4 characters are normally quoted as an idiom to in an abbreviated reference to the full sentence. I translated “yong ren bu yi, yi ren bu yong” (用人不疑, 疑人不用) as literally as possible to try to convey the inherent rhyme found within the sentence composition, which is symmetrical but both ends are the opposite in meaning. This is also the advice given to leaders regarding how to treat their followers and subordinates, which was key in imperial China where trust between the Emperor and his officials could be fraught with tension.