Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Emperor's Strategy (Original Title: The Tale of Su Ji's Coffin Shop) by Qing Yao (天子谋 (原名:苏记棺材谱)-青垚) - Synopsis + Review (HE) - 4 to 4.5 stars

    The Emperor's Strategy was 15th on the list Peanuts posted of the top 50 most influential c-novels. Most readers actually prefer the book's original title, The Tale of Su Ji's Coffin Shop, which sounds morbid I know, but is actually perfect. I haven't read a new c-novel that I liked so much, so I decided to write more about this because if you can read Chinese, this is one novel to savour. I think Lost You Forever fans might also be intrigued because the two male leads, 江秋镝 (Jiang Qiu Di) alter ego 木头 (Woodblock/Mu Tou) resembles Jing and 祁凤翔 (Qi Feng Xiang) resembles a combination of Zhuan Xu and Xiang Liu.

  Here's the translation of the synopsis I posted on SSB:

   In the capital, the young owner of the Su Ji Coffin Shop is Su Li Li (苏离离 - the li is significant in her name because it represents leaving). As spring was just beginning, on one early morning, she by chance saved a woodblock that had met trouble. However, no one knew that she was the daughter of the previous empire's Grand Tutor (akin to the Imperial Adviser), and the other was the current empire's Lin Jiang King's son. They overcome many obstacles, to hide in this small town, to become forgotten by the people, they exchanged their hearts and wanted to never part even till their hairs turned white. However, even before anything could start, Mu Tou who had his own birth secret suddenly disappeared.

  In this world of chaos and power struggle, Su Li Li's identity was discovered by Qi Feng Xiang, his heart is scheming, his actions are cruel, he wants to reign supreme over the lands, he forcibly retains her by his side. But in the midst of using her then distancing from her, his heart gets clouded. But the road to become an Emperor is a lonely road, will he be able to give her the peace she wants, will she be able to give him his empire, and how about Mu Tou who said "If I can fly out, I can also fly back", where did he fly to and can he fly back?

  In this chaos, who is aiming to rule the sky, who is aiming for an ordinary life, who can without hesitation make the emotional attachments, and whose hand will she hold to look back on these memories of upheaval and peace? 

My summary and some spoilers: 

   The Emperor's Strategy is one of the c-novels that examine two powerful male leads, equally capable, and what they decide to choose -美人(beauty) or 江山(empire)? Jiang Qiu Di/Mu Tou is actually of high birth, the son of a king (but not the emperor), whose father was forced to rebel against the current emperor and then killed. He is the only one remaining of his entire clan - his father had given him a secret, the clues to a map which has all the money and resources for him to rebuild an army and to take over the world if he wanted... 

 Qi Feng Xiang is the son of an official who had ambitions to take over the throne. His son himself is a lion in waiting. He schemes and plots... all to make his bid for the throne. 

  Where does Su Li Li fit in? The current emperor overthrew the previous emperor and Su Li Li's father refused to give the current emperor, the symbol of power, the Emperor's Strategy, which is said to be the key in ruling the lands. So, his entire clan is killed - but Su Li Li and a loyal servant manages to escape. Su Li Li's maidservant, Yan Huan, is mistaken for Su Li Li and is forced by the current Emperor to become a prostitute all of her life. 

 Su Li Li, in her young age, did not know of Yan Huan's tragedy. But when she did, she came to the capital (despite the risk to her life) and aims and plans to rescue Yan Huan... except Yan Huan hates her now and refuses to be rescued by Su Li Li. Su Li Li sets up a coffin shop in the capital, the Su Ji Coffin Shop, and this is where the story starts.

  A young extremely injured boy is found near her shop. Su Li Li says she has nothing to give, if this boy wants to die inside her shop, she can only give him a thin-skinned box. Hearing her words, the boy opens his eyes and he looks like a young wolf lost from his pack, fearful and heartless. Somehow, this stirs Su Li Li and she uses her savings to hire the best doctor to heal the boy. Later, she names him Mu Tou and he works in this small coffin shop with her...

  But then, Qi Feng Xiang comes to town and chances upon Su Li Li when she was tomb hunting with another friend. That was their first meeting, and she caught his eye. Qi Feng Xiang was actually finding the previous Grand Tutor's daughter because he wants the Emperor's Strategy...

  Qi Feng Xiang and Jiang Qiu Di meet. Two rivals from the past. They made a pact - Jiang Qiu Di will kill the current Emperor, but Qi Feng Xiang cannot hurt Su Li Li. 

  Caught between the desires, ambitions and dreams of the two men, where will their ultimate happiness lie?


  This c-novel has a nice pace, having only a short decent 20 chapters! I tend to skip over the political scheming and fighting because I don't read c-novels for palace politics. I read c-novels because of the heart, because of the feelings and burning emotions between the characters. In that aspect, this novel does not disappoint - Qing Yao is known for her lyricism in her words and her words are just so beautiful and poetic. The plot and characterisations aren't exactly extraordinary, but the way Qing Yao writes about their feelings is etched within my heart. Perhaps, that is why it's so influential? 

  I plan to do a special entry for Jiang Qiu Di/Mu Tou with favourite scene translations and then another one for Qi Feng Xiang, to capture all the best parts! I will then translate the ending/epilogue. If you can read chinese, I definitely recommend having patience at the beginning, because after the first half of the novel, it's a beautiful lush dream of a beauty and an empire. 


  1. Hi! This is my first time commenting on here, but I wanted to thank you for your book reviews/book lists. I only recently got into reading Chinese novels (thanks to Koala), and after finishing Lost You Forever (which I'm still not over, that ending killed me inside), I realized it made it harder for me to read English novels (at least of a certain genre), because I feel like though the story is often quite different, the characters all have very similar personalities and characteristics some of which really tick me off. The writing style in Chinese novels are also really fresh to me. Anyway, I'm addicted to them now, except, besides my set of Tong Hua novels, I didn't have any knowledge of other novels/authors/etc. So when I found your site, it was really a god send haha.
    I also think your translations are amazing and spot on, especially for Heavy Sweetness Ash-like Dust. In fact, I almost prefer reading your translations to reading the original (might also be because I'm a slow reader.). Anyway, HSAD was the perfect read for me to get over LYF , so, again, I'm super thankful.
    It somehow became a long rant, but I just really wanted you to know how grateful I am for all the reviews and translations on this site because it really helps people like me who are raised in a different country and don't get the chance to go to China often. At least now I know what I'm buying when I do go haha.

    1. Hello karma,

      Thanks for your very very very kind comment! It made me feel all warm inside haha. Thank you again also, I try my best for the translations! Heheh.

      Can you read chinese? If you could, you can try out my other recommends for c-novels at the side bar :)

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, synopsis and mini-review, decembi!!

    The Emperor's strategy sounds like a next great read. Adding it to the ever-growing list. :) I hope the scheming and political parts of the book don't take up too many pages since there are only 20 chapters. *fingers crossed* (I saw the HE tag at SSB so woohoo!)

    I am looking forward to your translations of the scenes with male leads that stand out and the ending/epilogue~

    I don't know why I never get bored of the meirin vs jiangshan plots (I mean, I would think the books should have bled together in my mind by now), but I'm a sucker for stories where the hero gives up his quest for the throne because of true love. *coughs*Hei Feng Xi from 且试天下*coughs* <3

    and then there are the books which break my heart...*shakes my fist at 东宫*

    Hehehe, I think one of the many reasons why I love Liu Fu Ling from YZG so much was because he had both the 美人 and the 江山 but he would have given up the latter in a heartbeat if it wasn't for his premature death. 后宫三千 and all, yet he never touched anyone but our little Yun Ge <3 *dreamy sigh* now that's what I call 长相思 ;)

    1. and despite being Emperor, he didn't even have 1 concubine or wives except for the Empress meimei...much less 3000. ahhhhhh, I'm hemming on reading YZG again now =X lol~

    2. Hello joanna,

      Thanks for your very lovely comment! Heehee. I tend to skip the political parts, they aren't a lot, at the most 30%! But there are a lot of romantic parts to make up for it.

      Haha, shall work on those translations! Probably would tempt even more people to start reading the Emperor's Strategy. Me too, I love meiren vs jiangshan plots, I guess I can't resist the tension and sacrifices when interests collide!

      I don't dare to read 东宫 and I doubt I will ever read YZG. It's just tooooo... sad. DMY and YZG are like the opposite of Lost You Forever and Once Promised. DMY starts happy and ends sad with YZG. Once Promised seems sad, but actually ends bittersweet happy in Lost You Forever and I prefer the upward trajectory haha

  3. Spoilers, pretty pretty please, pretty pretty Decembi? (Bats eyelashes.) Okay, that was creepy. XD

    I know what you mean - after reading Tong Hua, suddenly it feels like other authors/books can't measure up.

    You know what I want? A book about a 美人 who helps the male lead get the 江山 and they live happily ever after maintaining his empire together. But then I guess there are no stakes. Darn. Or how about the 美人 gets the 江山 herself? She can have a Prince Consort if she gets lonely, as long as he doesn't try to steal her throne.

    1. Haha mei, what spoilers would you like?

      Oh oh, actually I have read one ancient c-novel where the meiren helped the male lead get the empire and they did live happily after, although they spent a time being separated because she didn't want to be his queen and share him with another woman. I can't rmb the title now :(. If you are really interested, I will try and search for it. I think it's probably a 3.5 star novel. Maybe because I was too disappointed that's why I didn't even write about it. It started off really good, but the second half was rather jumbled up and clearly dragging out the story.

    2. Everything. XD Haha, okay, I just really want more details on how it ends. You know I always have to spoil myself silly before diving into a book. Although, truth be told, I really need to hold off on reading any new books until summer.

      If the book wasn't that great, you don't need to go to the trouble of finding it for me. :) I feel like the upcoming Chinese drama 秀丽江山 featuring Ruby Lin and Yuan Hong may be closest to what I want, but even their characters don't really get together until YH's character finally deposes his empress (his character is way too nice). I know the drama is actually based on a time-traveling book, although I know you tend to avoid those types of books. Fortunately for you, SARFT has banned time-traveling in Chinese dramas. XD

    3. Decembi, is the novel 歌尽桃花 Song in the Peach Blossoms by 靡宝?

      China banned time travelling drama only but not novels so there are still heaps of them floating around. I estimate more than half of the ancient novels are on time travel in all sorts of ways:(

    4. Yes, omg, peanuts is some genius. Indeed, it is Song in the Peach Blossoms. Did I tell you I was reading it? Hahaha.

      Hey Mei, I'm not really sure how to tell you everything since the novel goes pretty predictably? No real big twist really haha! The beauty of the novel is in the lyricism of the author and her understanding of the characters and the choices that they make. I'll be posting favourite scene translations soon! Perhaps, that will be sufficient spoilers to entice you? Hahaha

      I can spoil Song in the Peach Blossoms! I almost wrote a comparison piece for SIPB vs the crazy adventures of Wu Gate, but didn't in the end since the last 1/3 of SIPB disappointed me. Basically, the girl comes from modern times from a family that practises chinese medicine, so she practially becomes a surreally good doctor when she travels to ancient times. She's the fourth daughter in a rich official or scholarly family and that's when she meets the first and second male leads! She helps the first male lead become the emperor, but refuses to be his queen since he needs to make political marriages in order to solidify his control of the throne. So, she travels around in the last third and meets the third male lead (who has a pretty cool backstory, but never really gets developed) before finally returning to the first male lead. It's really good in the first third, starts to sag in the second third (you know all the political scheming? bores me haha) and then the last stretch is clearly just milking the story. But for fans who like a good ol back to the past kind of ancient c novel, it's ok.

    5. Oh Mei, I wrote a mini thesis on the SSB page for The Emperor's Strategy since Peanuts asked me which guy she loved more. Hahaha. There has more spoilers if you are interested.

    6. @decembi, maybe I am strange but I really like SIPB o_O and I didnt skip the political scheming reading for this book. I heard about 秀丽江山...however, I will wait for the drama as it has Yuan Hong and Ruby Lin (eye-candies)!

    7. @fangorn, Haha! No, I'm the strange one because SIPB is very popular!!! It's really quite loved and considered one of the better time travelling novels. I think it's just because I have specific tastes for books haha!

      Me too! Going to try and catch the drama!

    8. I think that 凤隐天下 World of Hidden Phoenixes falls under the male lead + meiren get the jiang'shan category. I enjoyed reading this one and although there are three male characterers, there is only one serious ship. I love the male and female lead of this story! (Ok there is one questionable consummation scene but that was because his subordinates were afraid that he was becoming gay so they spiked him with a drug and wanted to set him up with a prostitute but the female lead inadvertently wandered into the wrong place). Do consider checking it out :)

      邪皇的宠妃 The Demonic Emperor’s Favored Consort is also in this category. But this story is quite long and there are quite a few time travelling people. I liked the first half of the story but because it was getting a bit draggy, I skipped towards the end to find out how it ended. Female characters were good but the male characters did some questionable things.

      - May

    9. Hello May,

      Ooh thanks for the recommendations! World of Hidden Phoenixes is on my reading list, but rather low since it has three male leads and palace politics. I shall place it higher since you enjoyed it :)

      The Demonic Emperor's Favored Consort sounds a bit dodgy too though since you speak of questionable things! Haha. But I shall check out the douban on that too. Thank you :)

    10. Yup there are three male leads in Hidden Phoenixes but two of them never really got a chance with her. One of them tortured her when she was sent to be a 和亲公主 so even though he did alot of things for her later, she never let him into her heart. The other guy who was the Crown Prince, she treated more as a younger brother because she was serving him as a eunuch and he is quite naughty and mischievous.

      Hidden Phoenix for me was 8-8.5/10 in terms of enjoyment.

      The Demonic Emperor's Favored Consort
      The first male lead who is the Crown Prince and who was actually the brother of the guy she married, fell in love with her. He knew that if he wanted her to be his only wife, he had to do certain stuff. So he married other women and deliberately distanced himself from her. I think the other women, one was in a plot against him and one loved him, can't really remember. But he managed to maneuver the situation so that in the end, the female lead would be his one and only wife and queen.
      Note: the female lead's husband and the Crown Prince actually have strong brotherly ties, the husband didn't care for the female lead at all, he was in love with another woman.

      This is another female character who is the best friend of the female lead. Her guy did some questionable stuff to her. Can see the comments in SSB. I didn't like that guy at all.

      This one was a 7.5/10 (i skipped alot in the second half and read more of the ending chapters but I did enjoy the first half)

    11. Omg. Torture. Haha. It sounds good! Ok will definitely read Hidden Phoenixes. Thanks so much, May! Three male leads almost always guarantee a broken heart, that's what my experience with Lost You Forever and Crazy Adventures of Wu Gate taught me :(. Somehow books like the Emperor Strategy and Heavy Sweetness when it's only two male leads turns out better for my heart.

      And Demonic Emperor sounds really really really warped. Hahaha.

    12. I know all the books posted in ssb and half of the books in cnovel world, lol. I didn't finish the book,so draggy. The beginning is interesting when he pretended to be the brother. Anyway both the leads are likeable but the supporting males were poorly written.

    13. *bows to the Omniscient Peanuts!* Haha. I agree the beginning was the best, but the second half was super draggy and the male lead became less cool. The second male lead came off as cold.

  4. Hi decembi, great synopsis! Your translations really tempt me to go and read the novels for my self ending in another night of not sleeping. It's encouraging that this one only has 20 chapters. Will put on my reading list for the future.

    1. Oops! Haha I have also been lacking sleep lately, but more due to my work :(. I encourage you to read it, I think it will probably take about 8 reading hours?

  5. hi decembi, thank you for the english synopsis! I noticed the book was mentioned on your list but since there is no details, didn't attempt to read it. After reading the synopsis and it was a HE type book, I am very interested (yep, i dont really like BE type book, and the only OE type book I read is Yun Zhong Ge; still waiting for the english translation of Once Promised and Lost You Forever). I am reading Tang's Forensic Investigator...wondering if I should put that aside (since that book has tons of chapters) and start this one :P .

    1. ** my bad... YZG is BE type book..the only one that I read (in English and Chinese). It hurts so much that I am avoiding all BE type book now... :(

    2. Hello Fangorn, aww thank you. As long as you don't follow the wrong ship, you will love the novel. Haha, although there are two equally compelling male leads, I believe most people will follow the right ship just because it really ends well for all parties involved! Will try and post the scene translations soon :)

  6. Decembi, I love your reviews and translations. Can't wait for your scene translations!

    Btw: I read your review of Ten Miles Peach Blossom...I'm a big YeHua fan but MoYuan, MoYuan...if only there was more of him! One day when you've got absolutely nothing to do, nothing to read and feeling kind, would you consider translating the chapter about MoYuan in Bai Qian's dream? :)

    1. Dear Little Peach,

      Aww thank you! I try my best :)

      Me too, I'm a big Ye Hua fan but I cannnnot wait to read Mo Yuan's story! Though sadly, Tang7 is writing some other modern story at the moment and shelving Mo Yuan! Oh is it the one when Bai Qian has a flashback on how good Mo Yuan is to her? Oh did hamster not translate that? I'll check. If it's not translated, I'll put it on my list. I also owe a small translation of Chapter 19 of Pillow Book to some fans hahaha

  7. Thanks for translating, please continue

  8. I believe this Qing Yao is not the Qiong Yao of Taiwan. Am I correct?

  9. HElllo. I want to ask if this novel is the adapted Chinese anime "The Emperor's Strategy"? Well, This novel i think isn't the same of the anime and it's a BL which is confused me. When I read the summary of this. I think this is a normal romance. Oh btw, the main characters in the anime are Chu Yuan and Duan Baiyue. Someone plsss. Explain it to meee....