Saturday, 3 May 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) : Scene 7

   Truthfully, I have been in something like a book drought. Haven't read a new c-novel in a while - Gentleman Free Floating Cloud doesn't really count as that was a re-read from years ago. I have tried a few but never seem to be able to get into it. So, I recall fondly how the Emperor's Strategy cured my earlier book drought after finishing Lost You Forever... it's strange how subjective tastes can be, you really never know which book will be a new world you will fall into? 

   With Scene 7, we have finally come to the end of Chapter 2. Yes, only Chapter 2. Qing Yao writes very long chapters, though I forgive her since she ends at a nice 20 Chapters (and I've read far too many long winded 100 chapter c-novels to know how rare that can be).  This is yet again a very nice Mu Tou scene, I can hear some reader's cries for more Qi Feng Xiang, and I assure you that his time will come (and you won't have to wait long).

  I've translated Scene 7 in full so all readers will get a good idea of Su Li Li's past and her complicated relationship with Yan Huan.

  Putting a very old photograph of Bridgette Lin and Gong Li, two of my favourite actresses from one of my favourite old school HK wuxia movies. It's actually a behind the scenes shot!

Scene 7:  Su Li Li's Past

  In May, the weather was pleasing and the winds were gentle and moist. Ming Yue Brothel was filled with customers, people indulging in this warm dream-like environment and did not know the way home. Yan Hua had accompanied customers drinking for half a night, and she was a little drunk. She returned to her room, her head heavy her eyes sticky, but her consciousness was awakened again. 

  After lying in her bed for half a day, her heart was upset at the amount of alcohol she was made to drink today. Tolerating until the fourth "geng"* (更), she leaned forward to the flowered porcelain basin and vomited a whole bout.**

  When she lifted up her head, she saw a young male dressed in black standing at the window, trim waist broad back, distinguished brows and a handsome face, his eyes were like the shining stars, he had arrived on the back of the night wind. 

  Although Yan Huan found it strange, she was not anxious, she just dazedly watched him. 

  Although seeing a beautiful woman vomit was quite an unsightly scenery, Mu Tou's expression was indifferent, "Are you Yan Huan?"

  "Yes." Yan Huan used a silk cloth to clean her mouth, and habitually asked, "How may I greet this gentleman?"

  Mu Tou did not answer her, "I have come to take you away."

  Yan Huan was dazed, "Who asked you take me away?"

  "Su Li Li."

  Although Mu Tou had known Su Li Li for a year plus, this was the first time he called her name. These few words that came out of his mouth were ordinary, but a special feeling rose in his heart. A small change appeared in his expression, his eyes appeared a little gentler.

  Yan Huan observed this and gave a cold laugh. She used her professional eye to examine Mu Tou from top to bottom for a while, "Who is she to take me away?"

  Mu Tou was a little angry by her examination, "Unless you rather stay here?!"

  "I don't want to stay here, but even more I do not want to be saved by her!" As she was still a little drunk from the wine, Yan Huan could not control her emotions.

  Mu Tou asked, "Why do you not want her to save you?"

  Yan Huan replied, "She asked you to come?"

  After a short pause, Mu Tou said, "She wants to save you very much, that is why I am here." This can be considered an answer to her question. 

  "In this world, there is no disaster that cannot be bore, only good intentions that cannot be accepted," Yan Huan gave a slightly lonely smile, this can be considered an answer to his question.

  "Who are you to her?" Mu Tou asked again.

  Yan Huan slowly walked closer to him, her fingers touched his robes, within half an inch away, Mu Tou moved back.

  Yan Huan gave a smile that was not a smile, "You really want to know about her matters?"

  Mu Tou's eyes slightly narrowed, his eyebrows remained unmoving, but he appeared to give off a more serious calm, "For her, I have come and saved you, you only need to follow me."

  "I am not willing!" Yan Hua added, "Let me tell you a story, are you willing to listen?" She moved closer to Mu Tou.

  "You may start." This time Mu Tou did not move back, he turned around and sat on a stool by the side. 

  Yan Huan silently observed him for a while, she sat down on another stool by the table side, poured a cup of cold tea, on closer look, there was a small mosquito in the tea. She swirled the cup in her hands, seeing the tea circle in the white porcelain, the mosquito struggled for a while, then floated with the tea. 

  Yan Huan spoke, "She is not as good as you think she is."

  "Very long ago, there was a big official who offended the Emperor, the Emperor wanted to exterminate his whole clan. That year, his daughter was only five years old, there was a maid that always accompanied her, it was her milk mother's daughter. They had the affinity to be born on the same day, but this was an inauspicious day. The big official to avoid disaster, took his daughter and returned to his ancestral village. The loyal little maid followed her, never leaving her. Three years, they hid, they experienced all kinds of cold and difficulties, " Yan Huan's voice was calm, as if she was talking about a completely unrelated story.

  "One day, the imperial soldiers found them. Under their pressing chase, the big official suffered a heavy injury, he had not long more to live. At that time, the big official's daughter was only eight years old, she was surrounded by the soldiers, she pushed out the little maid as her substitute. The Emperor caught the substitute, his anger had not subsided, he said, this big official thought he was so noble and incorruptible, so we shall make his daughter a prostitute, no one is allowed to redeem her." 

  "The substitute was sent to a brothel, she learned how to sing and dance, she started receiving customers when she was thirteen. From the environment, she has learned all sort of things..." Yan Huan paused towards the cup, "Like this mosquito, painfully struggling, but it can only drown in the end. One day, the lady discovers her conscience and tries to save the mosquito. Tell me, the mosquito has already drowned, what is the use of pulling it up? If she is not dead, how could she tolerate any more kindness from the lady?"

   She became more agitated, "From the moment Yan Huan was born, I accepted no pity, any bitterness or joy, that is my fate. Anyone else can help me, but I don't need her false hand!"

  With that, no one needed to say who was the maid and who was the lady, it was clear.

  "The big official you speak of, he is the Imperial Advisor to the previous Crown Prince Ye Zhi Qiu," Mu Tou said coldly.

  Yan Huan was shocked, "Who are you really?!"

  Mu Tou's expression was profound, "I have heard of the matters of this big official, and it merely fitted what you told me. Why didn't the substitute say she was a fake?"

  Yan Huan lightly laughed, "She said, but no one believed. The lady had ran away, and couldn't be found. Everyone wished she was the lady, she had no one in this world to help her." She slowly stood up, her footsteps lightly moved towards the bed, she leaned sideways, her heart full of joy, her stomach full of sadness, and started to laugh more heartily.

  Mu Tou saw she was half drunk, he had already decided in his heart to knock her unconscious and to bring her back. He stood up, smoothened his robes and said, "Miss Yan Huan, sorry for the offence."

  Yan Hua's hand grabbed a small red thread, she waved it, "Do you know what this is?"

   Mu Tou was dazed.

  Yan Huan pulled the rope, languidly, she smiled like a blazing flower, "I see you have not been to such a place before. This rope is placed on every bed in all the rooms, the customers at the brothel don't treat the prostitutes like humans. When their life is threatened by a customer, they will pull this rope, and the guards of the brothel will come up."

  Before she finished her words, the door went "peng" and broke open, three large and tall men came in. They saw Mu Tou at the side and Yan Huan on the bed, they were a little surprised, and did not know how to react at first. 

 Yan Huan's long slim fingers pointed at Mu Tou, "This thief came to steal my things, catch him."

  Mu Tou lightly sighed, as if he was unmoved, and did not see the men that were heading towards him, he told Yan Huan, "Even though I can take you away, but I no longer want to."***

  Without looking at his side, he stretched his hand, and it happened to catch the fist of one of the men, smoothly he moved and the person's fist became dislocated from his arm. He pushed the man aside and the man hit the two other man from behind. He stood on the windowsill and jumped out of the window, his figure elegant, quickly disappearing into the night.

  Su Li Li was waiting in the yard, when Mu Tou suddenly flew in from outside the wall, he immediately landed in front of her. Seeing him return alone, Su Li Li was a little surprised, she immediately pulled his sleeve, "Are you ok? I hope you didn't suffer any injuries, why did you jump in, are you not afraid of your old leg injury..."

  Mu Tou smiled and stopped her, "I am fine already, it is nothing."

  Su Li Li heard his calm and warm voice, it sounded the same, she asked suspiciously, "Where is Yan Huan?"

  "They were watching her and she was not willing to leave."

  Su Li Li suspected that Deng Feng Xiang was watching Yan Huan, she lowered her head and reflected, "Who could it be? What shall we do? Even more we cannot let her land in other people's hands."

  Mu Tou watched her anxiety, and did not say much, he said, "This lady has animosity against you, all your plans she might not accept. Since she does not accept, you must as well distance yourself from her."

  Su Li Li surprisedly raised her head, she stared at his eyes for a while, she did not know how much he knew, and she did not know how to ask.

  Mu Tou's eyes were calm without any ripples, just like how he always appeared to be. He told her to distance herself from Yan Huan, no matter how Yan Huan complained, whatever Yan Huan might have said, Mu Tou only thought about her, he had complete trust.

  Su Li Li had been wandering around for ten years, hiding herself in cities and towns, she knew of coldness, but now she only felt Mu Tou's warmth seep into her heart, too much to express, her eyes became moist. She lowered her eyelids and said dejectedly, "I know she hates me, it was me that originally owed her."

  Mu Tou's finger glided by a small bottle gourd the size of a fist, "Everyone has their own wills, we do not need to change each other to fit. Since she is not willing to accept your help, then let her be." 

  The little bottle gourd shook, shaking the leaves and vines, its movements were adorable, as if they agreed with what he said. 

* Chinese measurement of time. The fourth geng is 1 to 3 am.
** I like that Qing Yao bothered to spend time on the small details of Yan Huan's life. Although she's considered a semi-antagonist to our female lead, Su Li Li, you cannot entirely blame her - because of Su Li Li and the plans of Su Li Li's father to make her a substitute for Su Li Li, she was made to be prostitute. Her life was hard --- she did have reason to hate Su Li Li. But then also, Yan Huan chose not to leave when Su Li Li wanted to help her --- these threads of hatred, when will they end?
*** Mu Tou is super kick ass!

Comments: This is a sad chapter and I think we can all agree that the current Emperor is such a villian! He was the root cause of all these tragedy...... and in case anyone is wondering, no it was not Su Li Li that pushed Yan Huan to be her substitute, her father drugged Su Li Li unconscious and brought her away and pushed out Yan Huan to be her substitute. While Su Li Li was an unknowing party to this (she was also so young, only eight!), she still felt that she was at fault after all Yan Huan was suffering the punishment that could have been hers. 

Again, I'm struck by Mu Tou's wisdom and calmness that always soothes Su Li Li's agitated heart. 


  1. I like this book so far

    But maybe you've already read it? I don't know if you'll like it haha, but it's worth trying :)

    1. Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang is so incredibly popular! Yes, perhaps I should finally try it. Thanks for the recommendations :)

    2. You're welcome! I absolutely love the main character. Don't forget to share your thoughts on it after reading ^^

    3. Heehee, ok, I've placed it in my top 3 reading list and I promise you I will write something on it when I finished it. Hoju just posted another book called 小江山 at SSB and it looks so cute I might add it to my list too.

  2. I hope Yan Huan gets a happy ending.
    Her logic makes sense and I understand where she's coming from, but she would make it easier for herself if she accepted Su Li Li's help.
    I'm glad Su Li Li wasn't at fault, but I guess Yan Huan will still hold her accountable for her misery :/

    1. One of the reasons I love the Emperor's Strategy is that all the characters are rather interesting, and *spoiler* Yan Huan does get a happy ending :) *end spoiler*.

    2. Yaay! I hope Su Li Li gets one too, I like her so much! :)

    3. Teehee, since I said this was a happy ending novel, I guessed it's not too much of a spoiler to say she gets a super super super happy ending? One of the fluffiest ending in c-novels that I have ever read, which is why I actually started to translate my favourite scenes! :)

    4. I love happy endings :D Which guy do you prefer? I haven't decided yet.

    5. To be honest, even now I can't quite decide which guy I prefer, even though I think Su Li Li made her own right decision. :)

      The thing is that both guys have very wonderful but drastically different chemistries with her. Mu Tou feels like her soulmate because their situations are so similar - both parents who come from high political standing, assassinated by the current Emperor, orphaned and always in danger if their real identities are discovered... they have seen the cruelties of the world and have very little trust, yet they managed to find each other, and learnt about warmth and all the feelings they thought they had discarded in this world that had discarded them. I love that quiet protective relationship between them --- the volumes of trust.

      Qi Feng Xiang however is a volatile volcano who practically burns Su Li Li's guard. They are the kind of people who you immediately sense there is a crackling connection, a combustible kind of chemistry. They are just so keenly aware of each other each time they meet that you can feel it off your skin. If Mu Tou is Su Li Li's soulmate, then Qi Feng Xiang was the opposite of Su Li Li's mould, the very exact opposite, but also possibly the very exact complement.

    6. That seems like really accurate descriptions of their relationsships! Hah, I'm torn. I guess I'll be fine with either guy! Half this page is filled with my comments... so much for being a "silent lurker" haha.

    7. I don't want to spoil you first, but I think it becomes much easier to decide which guy for Su Li Li after the first two thirds of the story. :) The next scene has all 3 characters meeting <3

    8. Looking forward to it :D

  3. Thank you for spoiling me about who pushed Yan Huan out! I had thought her version seemed strange for an 8 year old to do.

    Either way, anger is one thing, but why hold a grudge against a little kid to the point where she would refuse help? It doesn't add up. Because, if so, then why did she accept Su Li Li's gift from before?

    I like the detail, though, of her observing Mu Tou's expressions while he spoke Su Li Li's name. Since she seems rather smart and observant, hopefully she already has her own exit plan.

    Thanks again!

    1. Would it really be weird? After all SLL was only 8, she could've easily been scared and push Yan Huan out without fully understaning the consequences. I'm glad she didn't, and from what we know about SLL so far, it doesn't seem like something she would do.

      But yeah, that's true. If SLL had done it would simply be to escape herself, and while that wouldn't morally be right, like I mentioned before she was only 8 and wouldn't understand all the consequences of her action. Putting the blame on her can therefore be seen as illogical. However imagine you're in Yan Huan's shoes, and all you know is that because of SLL you've suffered, the pain and hardships that were meant for her were instead thrown on you. Can you really blame her for hating SLL? Her grudge is somewhat understandable, but of course it would be so much better if she just let it go. Or at least gave SLL the chance to explain what happened. I don't know about the gift, not sure why she accepted it.

    2. Perhaps I underestimate little kids. But yeah, I see them as being more innocent and reactive, where they would try to run away, cling to their friend, cry out, or hide when facing danger -- not push a friend towards it. Sacrificing someone requires more analytical thinking. But in different situations/time periods, some kids grow up faster. Even so, my heart doesn’t want to admit it: that a little kid could sacrifice a friend like that.

      About YH, although I can’t visualize how she didn’t know/see who actually pushed her, she was also a kid at the time she was taken. That’s easy to overlook. Trauma does funny things to people’s memories, even adults. And her anger has been building up for a while. I actually don’t blame her for hating SLL. I think if I were YH, it’d be easy to hate everyone: SLL, the guy who put me there, and all the people involved. But I don’t think I’d overlook an opportunity to escape -- however it may come by. And if I did hate SLL to that degree, I wouldn’t accept anything from her at all – not even the prettiest of robes. She should have viciously destroyed that robe in front of SLL, then her anger would have been more palpable and I would have been able to accept her refusal for help.

      Thanks again! :)

    3. Oooh all these discussions are incredible food for thought! It was never stated explicitly why Yan Huan accepted the gift, but she was quite hostile when Su Li Li visited on their birthdays and softened when she received it. I think Yan Huan herself knows it was Su Li Li's father to blame and not Su Li Li, so while she hates Su Li Li, she also has mild threads of sisterly affection that were vestiges from their past. It's very interesting - was the story she told Mu Tou completely true or something concocted to make him despise Su Li Li too?

    4. I hope it's the former, but now that you mention it, it could be the latter too. Yes it's nice to discuss things haha!

    5. Even on my second and third read as I translate this story, my only conclusion is that either Yan Huan completely believed that was what happened or she deliberately placed falsehood in a real story to place Su Li Li in a bad light. Even now, I can't decide haha.

  4. "I'm struck by Mu Tou's wisdom and calmness that always soothes Su Li Li's agitated heart."

    He has complete trust in her regardless how long they've known each there. I couldn't agree more with you on this one decembi.

    On other note, no one other than the current emperor is to be blame for these tragic events to occur.. he triggered it all. 有因才會有果

    1. Hello sutekii, yes, I love Mu Tou's complete trust! The way to make someone wary trust you incredibly is to trust them wholeheartedly. :)

      The current emperor is truly horrid! He will surely get his comeuppance....

  5. ( I've tried replying to the second anon like 5 times, but my comment would go through for some reason so here goes...)

    One of the more depressing stories I've heard was about a Jewish woman and her younger sister. This story took place many decades before, back in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. They were both children back then.

    So one day, back in the 1940's, a Jewish girl and her younger sister were hiding in a closet when the Nazi's had come to search their house. The younger sister was very frightened and wouldn't stop crying. The older girl clamped a hand over her sister's mouth to muffle the sobs, but the noises could still be heard. She was afraid that the Nazi's would find them both, so she shoved her little sister out of the closet. The girl was found and the Nazi's had taken her away, never to be seen again. (It was likely that she had been taken to a concentration camp and had died there).

    The older sister had survived and later immigrated to America. Years pass as her life went by, and she eventually grew old. However, she had always lived in remorse, remembering that day when her actions had cost the life of her sister.

    This is a true story, so it's not hard for me to imagine that something similar happened with SLL & YH.

    We are human, we make mistakes. People are often selfish creatures, and in a life-or-death situation, self-preservation is instinct. We panic, we do something foolish. That folly may come at a cost—perhaps someone we love.

    Maybe I'm just a cynical person, but I can definitely see it happening. My morbid side would prefer it if Su Li Li had indeed betrayed Yan Huan. A flawed protagonist seems more real and human, as opposed to someone who has always done the right thing. Flaws add depth and character.

    - Szara

    1. *Woops, I meant third anon xD

      I couldn't reply on my Google+ account, although I could still reply on other blogs... maybe Decembi blocked me or something :P

    2. I doubt Decembi would block you, and you were able to use it now! xD
      That's definitley a tragic story, I'm hoping the little sister somehow managed to survive... even if she probably died.

      Definitley see where you're coming from, and I agree. I think it's possible for a child to do that too. But I have to admit, Su Li Li having no part in it makes me like her even more!

    3. Hello S. Zara, lol! I didn't block you. I think google and blogger are weird sometimes. :)

      Thanks for sharing your story. I think the Holocaust period is certainly a very dark one in human history and exemplifies both the dark and light extremes of a human. I remember visiting the Polish concentration camp and the guide sharing that as dark as these surroundings are, there were also lots of hope --- because survivors would share that someone sacrificed my life for me, and that's why I am still alive.

      I can definitely see both things happening - Su Li Li pushing out Yan Huan to save herself, or actually pushing out herself to save Yan Huan. I actually see our character more likely in pushing out herself to save Yan Huan, which is why her dad probably drugged her and made the other a sacrificial goat. Well, if Su Li Li had done so, that would have definitely pushed the story down another path because then there would have been a lot more focus of Yan Huan-Su Li Li's relationship in order for Su Li Li to redeem herself fully, though I'm not too sure if I would have liked that and I think if we had taken that path, a lot of the humour then would have been hard to swallow. But I think you will still find the relationship v interesting and the author does touch on it as the story progresses, and perhaps Yan Huan does something that is very similar to your own story......

    4. *sacrificed their life for me