Year 20XX, afternoon, a group of people sat in a hidden room located somewhere in the Chinese capital, looking at pictures that periodically flashed by on the screen in front of them.
“This person, Zhang1 Xiaobao,2 male, currently 35 years old, lived in an orphanage as a child in H City, T Province.3 At the age of 6, because the orphanage was washed away in a flood and he was pulled out of the water onto land by the efforts of the orphanage director who was surnamed Zhang and unfortunately died in sacrifice, afterwards, the person who those in the orphanage called Xiaobao took on the surname of Zhang and then disappeared.”
A 40-something year old man pointed at a timid looking child in the group picture of the orphanage children being displayed onscreen, introducing him to the others. Following a screen transition, another picture appeared. It was still that of a child, only the face was much more mature, appearing to be around 10 years or so without the shyness seen in the previous picture.
The middle-aged man’s voice sounded again: “This picture was taken of Zhang Xiaobao while he was in the juvenile detention center. That year, he was 9. He was detained as the scale of his theft was too great. A month later, he led a team of over 10 people that were gathered from the juvenile detention center in a successful escape. He then once again disappeared off the records.”
When another picture appeared, the middle-aged man continued lecturing: “This is a photo of a 17 year old Zhang Xiaobao while in prison. Because he regularly trained his body, he appeared to be in his twenties. According to further investigation on our part, this was his 3rd time entering the prisons. We only later realized that he was entering prison for the sake of entering the prisons. Every time he committed a crime, it was always just enough to sentence him to half a year of detention. Due to the falsification of his age, no one knew he was still a minor.
Everyone, please look at this next picture. This is a photo of him at 24 on his 9th prison entry. Each time he went in, the names he used would all be fake and his appearance would be slightly altered. After analysis, his goal for his imprisonment was to learn the skills of the inmates with special abilities.
Each time after he was released, he would commit only one crime, stealing the fortune of a government official numbering in the tens of thousands as the compensation for training his skills. The last time he entered prison was the year he was 26. Due to an inability to locate his previous records, it was only for 3 months and was specifically for the sake of bidding farewell to a ‘Master’ of his.
After this, the crimes he committed increased with the local police unable to capture him in spite of the outstanding arrest warrant on him. After research by the relevant departments, the skills he learned from his many years in prison include pickpocketing, hard qi gong,4 lock-picking, driving techniques, financial fraud, physical disguise, vocal alteration, counterfeiting, surveillance and counter-surveillance, wilderness survival, and special combat skills.
Of course, there is also the most important one of escape technique. During the course of several arrest attempts, our local police discovered that 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.”
Having said this, the middle-aged man sighed lightly. Everyone else also sighed at the same time. Whether it was sighing at Xiaobao’s criminal records or his ability and tenacity was unknown.
After this exhalation, everyone seemed to be relax a bit. The middle-aged man continued lecturing: “After Zhang Xiaobao turned 28, our relevant departments could not find any more information on him until last year. Only when the data on case after case of international fraud was consolidated did we regain news of him.
After turning 28, Zhang Xiaobao bid farewell to his usual modus operandi of theft and blackmail of government officials to start using the other skills he had learned to carry out financial fraud on a massive scale. In our country, he primarily defrauded high officials by using various pretexts to get the high officials to spend their own money or provide the money by taking out large bank loans. Overseas, he mainly swindled several financial institutions.
For each scam, his identity would change. After being calculated by the relevant departments, the total amount defrauded has already reached the scary sum of 160 billion U.S. dollars. But we are unable to ascertain the location of where this money actually is.”
When everyone heard this number, they all deeply inhaled. Rather than being filled with hatred for criminals, their eyes were filled with a type of admiration they could not give voice to. The middle-aged presenter, who was also reeling from the shock brought by this figure, only resumed speaking after some time: “This time, we finally know of Zhang Xiaobao’s whereabouts. This morning, we received a report that Zhang Xiaobao is already on the plane flying in this afternoon from America to H City, T Province. This time, the name he used is the one he registered with the Civil Affairs department after the flood back when he was 6 years old, Zhang Xiaobao. Also, he is even using the identification papers that he applied for under the name he registered back then.
Thus, we were able to gain a handle on his identity—only we’re not clear on his motive for doing so. Our mission is to arrest him and get the location of that money. According to our people who have been tailing him this entire time, after disembarking the plane, he went directly to the orphanage’s old address, which is now the site of a supermarket. To prevent him from using other destructive measures, this time, we decided on a plan to first approach, then observe, and finally capture.”
Speaking until now, the middle-aged man fell silent, his gaze sweeping across the people in front of him to finally rest on a woman who was in her thirties. Nodding at her, he said: “Wang Juan,5 this time, the mission of approach and observe will be given to you. Are you confident about completing the mission?”
“Definitely will complete the mission!” The woman called Wang Juan stood up as she solemnly answered.
However, after everyone had left, a hint of doubt flashed through Wang Juan’s eyes. In the past, she had also taken on many cases and she had always been brimming over with confidence. But this time, she wavered. Or rather, it could be said she was apprehensive. She, who had earned a master’s degree in law at 16 to directly enroll into military school and, at the age of 20, finished her studies of the tactical command disciplines to then enter the Women’s Special Ops Unit to learn combat and surveillance techniques.
After joining the police department, she specialized in the investigation and solving of major cases, not ever failing a single time. Every single criminal she had arrested deserved what their fate. But this time, she felt uneasy inside. She also had a copy of Zhang Xiaobao’s records and they were more detailed than the Commissioner’s presentation.
Zhang Xiaobao was definitely a criminal. However, the ones he stole from back then were government officials. Every time, he would be able to steal a lot of money. This only proved that these officials had a lot of money. The later scams mainly defrauded those officials looking for political achievements. The amount of money swindled from them added up to a total of around 30 billion U.S. dollars. The rest of the money was from his scams abroad. This time, it appeared the intentions of the higher-ups was to get their hands on the money—this was the most important thing.
Other than theft and fraud, Zhang Xiaobao didn’t seem to have any robbery cases on his record—and what’s more, no rape cases, either. Based on his abilities, he definitely had the capabilities to do both. What was he actually thinking inside?
Sucking in a deep breath, Wang Juan tried to not think about those things she shouldn’t think about. The orders she received were to approach, observe, and when appropriate, capture. Other considerations were useless. It was best to just get the arrest.
In H City, T Province, a casually dressed man stood in the entrance of a large supermarket. He appeared to be in his thirties. His face was a bit sickly pale. He was motionless as his eyes stared at the entire supermarket while he took a phone call.
“Big Brother6 Zhang, the police there have already deployed. You really don’t want to try somewhere else? Maybe, there’s still a chance. If you want to leave, we can immediately arrange for someone to escort you back.” A woman’s voice could be heard on the phone.
“No need. Any hospitals I could find, I already did. I still have half a month of life left, I wish to die in my hometown. The matters I ordered have been arranged for?” The man calmly replied.
“Big Brother Zhang, rest assured. The 4 funds have already been set up. Whether you’re here or not, they will continue running based on your ideas. We don’t need to swindle anymore. Those industries we invested in will double in assets after a few years. According to your wishes, it will be guaranteed that within 20 years, every single child of the homeland will be able to sit in well-lit classrooms to study and none of the orphanages will be destroyed by the floodwaters. Big Brother Zhang, you really don’t want to reconsider? There’s another area you haven’t tried. Folk remedies can be very effective.” The woman’s voice rose again in persuasion.
“It’s too late. I know my own illness. After I’m gone, do a good job. Also, it’s not my wish, but my Grandpa Director’s7 wish. All right, let me indulge my sentimentalities about this place for a moment in the end.” The man was still that calm in demeanor, his face devoid of any expression after he ended the call as if his surroundings were at a distance very, very far removed from him.
Ten minutes passed, half an hour passed, an hour passed as the mass of people in front of the supermarket never stopped changing. The only thing unchanging was the man’s posture as he stood there, the pupils that had already lost focus flickering with something unknown within.
“Ever since this supermarket was built 4 years ago, it’s been constantly busy, servicing many customers each day. At the same time, it’s also generated a lot of local tax revenue.” After an unknown amount of time had passed, a woman’s voice sounded by the man’s side.
Upon hearing her voice, the man slowly turned his head to see the delicately pretty face of a woman in her thirties. He said with a slight nod of his head: “Yeah, the supermarket appeared and the previous orphanage then moved to an even more remote place. Wonder how much of the tax revenue has flowed into the pockets of those it shouldn’t flow into? Wonder how much of this money will be spent on these orphans? Who is sipping wine in laughter? Who is crying tears in silence?”
For a moment, the woman didn’t know how to answer. After a while, she finally spoke as if unloading a great burden: “You are rather full of worries and pessimism. There are some things that you shouldn’t be thinking about. Three years ago, that orphanage relocated. The children live pretty well. There are still good people in this world.”
“Of course, I know this. ￥6,257,9008 was invested in there with a maintenance fund of 150,000 every year. Six people who thought to get their hands on this money died. How could the little brothers and sisters not live well? The money for ‘Grandpa Director’s Orphanage Home,’ anyone who touches it, dies.” The man said with a smile full of disdain.
“Oh? You actually know of it in such detail?” The woman asked with astonishment.
“The money I invested, the people I killed—how could I not know of it? Isn’t that right, Ms. Wang Juan?” The man’s tone of voice was as calm as ever.
Wang Juan didn’t think that her cover would be blown the moment she appeared and furthermore, that she would be greeted by name. Deciding to forego any further probing, she immediately reached inside her bosom. But before she could take out her gun, a powerful hand had already clamped down on her shoulder. At the same time, the man’s voice sounded: “No need for such trouble. It wouldn’t do to frighten others by pulling a gun out in public. When I used my real name to return this time, I didn’t think to escape. I’ll go with you and let you successfully completely your mission. What do you say, legendary graduate of the Women’s Special Ops Unit, Ms. Tyrant Flower?”9
Wang Juan struggled twice before discovering there was no way to get free. She could only nod as she said: “All right, I hope what you’ve said is true, International Criminal Swindler, Comrade Zhang Xiaobao. Otherwise, don’t assume that having restrained me that the snipers will let you off easy.”
“Relax. If I had wanted to run, I would have already run. In this kind of busy place, what use are snipers? But you guys might be disappointed. The 160 billion is gone but I left behind 5 million for you guys as payment. 160 billion is the amount you have proof of but the actual sum is far greater. I hope that before I’m executed by the firing squad that you’ll be the one to accompany me and I’ll give you guys the 5 million. As a man, I believe the greatest joy is to have a beautiful girl at my side before dying.” Zhang Xiaobao laughingly said as he stared at Wang Juan’s icy face.
“The money?” Wang Juan reflexively asked, freezing upon hearing that the money was gone.
“You guys will never know. I hear there are many drugs that stimulate the mind. You guys can test them on me and see if I spill this secret or not. Remember to use a larger dosage. I normally take too much of this type of drug so smaller doses won’t work.” Zhang Xiaobao retracted his hand.
“You do drugs?”
“More or less. Not too much of a difference. When I’m in pain, I keep worrying that an overlooked flaw will come up during a swindle or investment so I’d take some drugs to feel better. Let’s go. I’d like to go be with my Grandpa Director as soon as possible. If you’re not in a hurry, you can come with me to the liangfen10 shop at the end of this street for a bowl of liangfen. My treat.
That year I was 5, I ate it once. Grandpa Director took me there. That was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten in my life. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to eat it, no matter how much money I have. Today, I can finally eat it. I’ve fulfilled Grandpa’s last wish. I feel like I’m once again worthy of a bowl. I sent people over to check. It’s still the same uncle from that year. Back then, it was ￥2 a bowl. Now, it’s ￥5 a bowl. I hope the taste hasn’t changed.”
As Zhang Xiaobao spoke, he didn’t appear to act as if he had been captured as he looked in the direction of the street, his gaze full of nostalgia.
She didn’t know why but after hearing these words, Wang Juan felt as if the innermost part of her had been touched. In a daze, the desire to complete her mission finally suppressed any other thoughts that shouldn’t have appeared. Seeing that this supermarket entrance had too much foot traffic and considering that there should be fewer people at the liangfen shop, so any possible injuries would be reduced in the case of a conflict, she nodded. Wrapping her arm around one of Zhang Xiaobao’s arms, she walked towards the street.
“Don’t move! None of you are allowed to move! Don’t come near! Whoever comes near me, I’ll blow them all up with me!”
After Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan both had taken only a few steps, they suddenly heard a voice. The both of them simultaneously looked back, only to see a man dressed in puffy clothing who had one hand tightly holding a small child who was less than 2 years old and another hand pressing on something as he vigorously yelled.
Wang Juan’s first thought was that Zhang Xiaobao wanted to escape and had deliberately arranged for a person to create a distraction. When she turned to look over at him, Zhang Xiaobao’s eyes was flicking back and forth between the child and the man’s other arm. His previously calm expression had unexpectedly changed into one of surprising fury in that instant as he forced the words out of his mouth: “Not my arrangement. I, Zhang Xiaobao, would not deign to use this type of method. Use your identity to get the surrounding people to leave. I’ll think of a way to save the child.”
“That’s no good. I can’t trust you. My mission is to take you back with me. There are other people to take care of anything else.” Wang Juan hesitated for a bit before she rejected Zhang Xiaobao’s suggestion.
“If I wanted to run, you wouldn’t even be able to stop me. Save that child, I’ll give you another 150,000 more.”
“You know that child?”
“No, I don’t know him. I see the helplessness in his eyes. They’re just like the eyes of the younger brothers and sisters from the orphanage that I saw drowning in the water back then. Only, I survived and they died.”
“It’s still not okay. I can’t care about anything outside of the mission. I must make sure that you’re successfully brought back.” Wang Juan struggled internally for a moment before refusing again.
Just as the two of them were trying to persuade the other, a large amount of police officers had already arrived. Their quick arrival was undoubtedly because this supermarket was a foreign investment.
“Release the hostage in your hands. If you’re seeking clemency, you can make your requests.” Among the police officers that had arrived, one must have been a member of the leadership as he took cover behind a police car and used a bullhorn held in his hand to yell out at the ‘bandit’ standing in front of the supermarket entrance.
“Fuck your mothering leniency! Go hide further away! Whoever dares come here, I’ll die together with this child! Money! I want money! And a plane to get me out of here! I want to go to the Vatican!” Still hugging the child, the ‘bandit’ loudly shouted back at the police.
“See, the robbers nowadays are all smarter than you cops. They know that what you say are all lies and even know to run to those places that don’t have a very good relationship with our country.11 Now, you should step forward. Whether I can believe it or not, this idiot of a chief actually has dared to arrange for a sniper.” Zhang Xiaobao tried his best not to be agitated as he spoke to Wang Juan.
Wang Juan glanced at the loose wire style of the man’s explosive device. Pulling along Zhang Xiaobao, she walked in front of the police chief and took out her ID as she ordered: “No matter what the circumstances, the snipers are not allowed to shoot. Ensure the hostage’s safety. Get the negotiators to start talks and stabilize the criminal’s mood.”
At this time, the police chief also reacted to what that explosive device was. While on the one hand, he made the arrangements for the aftermath, on the other, he sent people over to comfort the child’s parents as they were currently sobbing uncontrollably while they pled to be the one exchanged with the hostage.
“Wang Juan, ~ah… Maybe I should go. This person, ~ah… Let me give him a chance.” Zhang Xiaobao really didn’t wish to wait. He didn’t even care about Wang Juan as he spoke, immediately walking forward. Wang Juan couldn’t pull him back in time and Zhang Xiaobao had already approached the wary looking bandit as he said:
“Brother,12 I thought you were a smart person but I didn’t think you’d be this dumb. How much money can you swindle from grabbing a kid? From your mention of the country you want to run to, you should have some knowledge. Why not grab me? I’ll switch with the kid. See what this is? Swiss banknotes, Citibank promissory notes, HSBC promissory notes, and a whole mess of other things. Know Bro’s13 identity now? Do the exchange or not—if you do, I’ll fulfill your request. If not, even if you escape today, I’ll take out a 10 million reward just for your life, even if you have the whole run of the world.”
While Zhang Xiaobao spoke, he constantly pulled out items from his person to throw at the bandit’s feet. The bandit couldn’t help following each item with his gaze before looking up to observe what the person in front of him was wearing, the watch on his wrist, that aura of his, and then looking at the child in his arms. Finally, he hesitantly nodded.
“No, you can’t go over there. You must come back with me.” Upon seeing that Zhang Xiaobao really was going to go over there to do the exchange, Wang Juan immediately pulled on Zhang Xiaobao’s arm.
It was too bad that she was a woman whose strength couldn’t compare with Zhang Xiaobao’s no matter what. So she was dragged along by Zhang Xiaobao to arrive in front of the bandit. The bandit could care less who came as long as the person’s status was higher. He released the child, grabbing Zhang Xiaobao’s other arm in one go, his face revealing a triumphant grin.
Naturally, there were people who rushed over to hide the child away in a safe place. The bandit himself, feeling that he was the luckiest person, repeated the words he had previously yelled to the police outside before telling Zhang Xiaobao: “You have to give me money, too. Otherwise, I won’t let you go.”
“I’ll give your mothering tool!”14 Zhang Xiaobao used the moment in which the bandit’s attention had relaxed to pull his arm out of Wang Juan’s grasp and instantly press down on the thumb that the bandit was resting on the explosive device. His mouth full of curses, he used his other arm to forcefully wrench the bandit’s arm until it broke with a ‘kacha’ sound.
Just as Zhang Xiaobao was about to take further measures, a large wave of pain suddenly spread through his head as his vision darkened and the hand pressing down on the explosive device couldn’t help but slacken.
As a boom sounded, Zhang Xiaobao’s last thought was that he hadn’t eaten that bowl of liangfen while Wang Juan’s was wondering if these two were a team after all.
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All names will be romanized in the Chinese way with the surname first followed by the given name. ↩
Xiaobao (小寶) literally means “little treasure” and is usually an endearing pet name for children. It’s normally not used for a legal given name. There’s an extra connotation of “baby” with this name since the modern slang word for baby is made by repeating the character “bao” (寶) twice to make “bao-bao” (寶寶). It can also be related to the Chinese phoneticization of “baby,” “bao bei” (寶貝), which can not only be used to refer to a literal baby but can also be used in the intimate sense (such as calling a lover “baby”). This situation would be akin to an adult man whose legal name is Baby or Babe. Thus, it is a rather embarrassing name for an adult man to have and hints at Xiaobao’s shamelessness and psychological complex(es). ↩
The author literally did not specify what city and just used the English capital letters H and T for the city and province. This is likely to avoid any legal or censorship issues in case it appeared to be a criticism of the government or location. The letters are likely derived from the pinyin of the actual city the author is thinking of. However, I am unable to determine which city or province of China H City and T province might be referring to. ↩
Hard qi gong (“ying qi gong” 硬氣功) is a form of martial arts that focuses on hardening the body, such as by beating on the skin and muscles until they are strengthened and the sensation of pain is deadened. This would be the opposite of “nei gong” (內功) or “internal skill,” a fictional version of which normally comes up in a lot of wuxia and martial arts stories and is the deus ex machina responsible for a lot of the wire fu that shows up in martial arts dramas and movies. Note that this is different from the general term of qigong or qi, which doesn’t necessarily have martial arts applications. ↩
The Juan in Wang Juan (王鵑) is a character that is used in the names for several species of cuckoos and road runners. If the author intended any significance with the name choice, he likely was referencing the road runner for Wang Juan. ↩
“Da Ge” (大哥) is being used as a title of respect and shows personal loyalty on the speaker’s part in this case so I am translating it with some formality, similar to how the term of “Aniki” is used in Japanese or “Orabuni” is used in Korean. Note that this term of address can be used by minions to address their leaders as well as used for addressing the leader of a group of declared brothers commonly seen in wuxia and in the ultimate Chinese fictionalized example, Liu Bei (劉備) of the Three Kingdoms period. When used literally, it can also refer to a brother older than the speaker. Thus, it can create an awkward and comedic situation when “Da Ge” (大哥) is being used for its connotations of leadership (especially since Confucian-based hierarchy emphasizes age and seniority) if the speaker/minion is actually older than the leader. ↩
Xiaobao is literally calling the orphanage director Grandpa with the title of his job attached likely to acknowledge the fact how he became Xiaobao’s grandpa, which emphasizes the magnitude of his benevolence toward Xiaobao. ↩
￥ is the symbol used for China’s currency, the Chinese yuan (元/圓), which is also abbreviated RMB for “renmenbi” (人民幣) meaning “the people’s currency.” Note that yuan/元 tends to be translated into the generic meaning of dollar in Chinese since the U.S. dollar is referred to as “mei yuan” (美元) and the Euro is the “ou yuan” (歐元) in Chinese. ↩
The pinyin of Wang Juan’s nickname is “Ba Wang Hua” (霸王花) and the phrase itself is a slang nickname for female police officers like Wang Juan that describes the toughness of their nature. This term shows up as the title of a Hong Kong movie on female supercops, the title of which has been translated into English as “The Inspector Wears Skirts.” Because of the mixed feelings such women that don’t fit the traditional feminine stereotype can elicit in Chinese culture, this nickname could be interpreted as either a dig at or a compliment to Wang Juan depending on the context. The nickname itself could also be a pun since the bawang/霸王 part, meaning tyrant or hegemon, could allude to Wang Juan’s surname, which means king, while hua/花 means flower and refers to her gender. The “Ba Wang” (霸王) part of bawanghua/霸王花 is also the epithet traditionally assigned to the King of Chu, Xiang Yu (項羽), who is generally considered one of the greatest warriors in Chinese history. He was infamously hard to take down and when he finally died, it was by his own hand out of shame for his army’s defeat though he was undefeated in single combat. The river he died by has been immortalized in poetry and fiction as having been dyed red by his blood and that of his enemies. This warrior king ultimately lost out to his more cunning rival, Liu Bang, who later went on to found the Han dynasty. “Ba Wang Hua” (霸王花) can also refer to carrion or “corpse flowers,” which emits a rotting flesh odor in order to attract scavenger insects for the purposes of food and pollination. Examples of such flowers include the Rafflesia arnoldii or the Dracunculus vulgaris, which can both be known as stink lilies. Because of all of the above reasons, I am translating this term as “Tyrant Flower.” ↩
Liangfen (涼粉) is a Chinese dish that is served cold, whose name literally means “cooled (rice) noodles.” However, because of the different types of noodles that can be used in Chinese cuisine as well as the various terms and characters used to differentiate them—for one thing, there is more than one cold noodle dish in Chinese cuisine that exists whose name might or might not have a similar literal meaning—I decided not to go with a literal translation and translated it using the pinyin. ↩
The exact term Xiaobao uses here is “xiong di” (兄弟), which is literally the combination of the characters used for older and younger brother and just means “brothers” or “male siblings.” When used as a way to address someone, its meaning is similar to how the words “man,” “buddy,” “dude,” and of course “brother” can be used colloquially in the English vernacular. ↩
Xiaobao is using “Ge” (哥), which means “Older Brother,” to refer to himself in the third person. I translated it as “Bro” here since it is an abbreviated form of the whole word of “Ge-Ge” (哥哥) or brother. Xiaobao likely is trying to emphasize his expertise and knowledge as well as to convey a casual familiarity with the bandit in his choice of words here, hinting that he is there to help the bandit out as an “Older Brother.” ↩
Cursing with a comeback reply in Chinese can be pretty nonsensical even for native speakers since an insulting retort mostly involves repeating part of the phrase and then adding a “your ma” or “your dad” or “your little sister” in there. Actually, if you mention any of the other person’s relatives in a disrespectful tone, it’s pretty much an insult. But speaking ill of people’s mothers is a universal favorite. The other tendency is to add a “bi” (逼) in these insults, a tendency that is derived from censorship of the character referring to female genital parts. Bi/逼, literally meaning force, became a common replacement character in these cases as it is a homophone until it itself became an insult when used in such a manner (though it is still less offensive than outright calling someone a c**t). This resulted in bi/逼 being inserted in ways that wouldn’t make sense, even if you considered what offensive character it was being used as a placeholder for as people forgot what its original reference was to. Because “tool” can be a phallic reference but also can be used for its literal meaning, I translated bi/逼 as “tool” to get that same feeling across.