Book 18 Chapter 1 – A Remark Startling Four Tables
The tip of the whips collided, producing a sharp and clear noise.
In the midst of Wang Bo’s long laughter, his left sleeve shot a section of long whip, about a zhang or so, which seemed to have been knocked out by the opponent’s reaction force that it turned into a nine-bend, ten-section long snake, but the fluctuation amplitude defied common sense; because based on the power he demonstrated just now, he ought to be able to defeat Yuchi Jingde quite comfortably.
But what happened was that this young martial art master’s Gui Zang Whip appeared to generate rainbow-like vitality; it coiled back like a vicious dragon biting the opponent.
Another sudden change.
Wang Bo swiftly traversed sideways. Delicate like a human finger the Ding Shi Whip moved forward in high speed, which was difficult to see with naked eye, in spiraling motion; like a spark from a flint it wrapped itself around the Gui Zang Whip, and swiftly pulled back. Not only he evaded the attack of the tip of the whip, he was able to pull the opponent’s whip taut.
Simultaneously, another piece of Ding Xing [sic] Whip [not sure if this is a typo, or the left and right whips had different names. Ding Xing means ‘determining the nature (of something negative, e.g. error or crime)’] bored out of his sleeve, slipped down to the floor first, and then slid toward the opponent, and when it was about five chi away from the enemy’s feet, like a viper rising its head with tongue sticking out, fast as lightning it jabbed Yuchi Jingde’s lower abdomen.
This kind of finesse, where he was able to control the thin and flexible long whip, as if it were alive, following his heart’s desire, indeed made people gasp in amazement. This time even Li Shimin had his countenance changed slightly. Wang Bo’s skill was really high, his strength powerful, indeed his name was not in vain.
But Yuchi Jingde remained calm without any fear; lightning fast he slid sideways and backwards, taking advantage of the tension of the whips entangled each other, he made a half circle with Wang Bo as the center of rotation, and then, to everybody’s surprise, he charged swiftly toward Wang Bo.
Due to the whiplash, the two entangled whips immediately moved in a wave-like motion with an ever-increasing amplitude.
Wang Bo let out a cold humph.
He had transmitted his inner power via the whip to attack the enemy for more than dozen times, to jolt the enemy so his blood and qi would surge over. But Yuchi Jingde’s level of strength exceeded his expectation, so that a murderous intent rose up in his heart.
Over time, there would come a day where Yuchi Jingde would surpass him to become the Whip King of the new generation.
The right hand Ding Xing Whip retracted into his sleeve.
Wang Bo lowered his waist in a horse stance. The Ding Shi Whip trembled again, the qi traveled to the tip of the whip, which Yuchi Jingde immediately ‘pushed’ back. By the time Wang Bo rushed his power to make a kill, Yuchi Jingde’s Gui Zang Whip followed his backward momentum, suddenly it separated from Wang Bo’s whip, coiled back into a more than a dozen loops, which he held tight in his hand, while he himself happened to withdraw to Rong Fengxiang’s side.
Cupping his fist in salute, he said, “Wanggong’s whip technique is indeed unrivalled in Jianghu, there is nothing better under the heavens. Jingde reaped not a shallow benefit tonight; his future success is really bestowed by Wanggong.”
Inwardly Wang Bo cried, ‘What a pity!’ but on the surface he assumed a magnanimous, generous in spirit, appearance. Pulling the whip back into his sleeve, he chuckled and said, “The rear waves of the Yangtze River drive on those before; Ol’ Wang is getting on in year!”
Amidst the thunderous applause, Rong Fengxiang assumed his status as the host, politely he ushered the two back toward their banquet tables.
Meanwhile, Hou Xibai took this moment to go to the garden outside.
Rong Jiaojiao, Dong Shuni, and the other younger generations crowded Rong Fengxiang’s table to offer their toast on the elderly gentleman whose birthday was being celebrated today. The jubilant and warm atmosphere replaced the earlier whip wind and palm shadow scene.
After a round of toasts, Rong Fengxiang, surrounded by the younger generations, walked over to the front two halls to socialize with the other guests.
※ ※ ※
Zheng Shiru, still separated by Kou Zhong, was showing off his talent and passion to Shang Xiufang. But he was indeed an erudite and multi-talented man. From talking about singing, literature, such as bianwen, scriptures, classical Chinese poems, poetry, books, poetic essays, to music and dancing, all kinds of theatrical arts, wine-drinking game, craft and art, to musical lyrics creation, the rising of chuanqi [fiction short stories of the Tang and Song dynasties], narrative poem’s growth, he was able to discuss without extra trouble, to explain in vivid details and insight.
Although Kou Zhong harbored enmity toward him, for instance, due to his close relationship with Yin Gui Pai, he could not but admit that in terms of knowledge and experience, he was more established than Bai Lao Fuzi [see Book 1 Chapter 1], which was, to Kou Zhong, of the grand professor level.
Much to his surprise, Shang Xiufang’s repartee was not inferior in any sense to the opposite party; evidently her knowledge in all aspects was no less than this ‘Henan Mad Scholar’ Zheng Shiru, who whether intentionally or otherwise, threw the questions out in the open, and thus letting all the ladies around the table to participate in the discussion. The atmosphere was getting even more blazing.
Yet Kou Zhong was unable to express himself even for half a sentence.
He paid particular attention to Bai Qing’er’s response, and found out that not only she was not jealous of Zheng Shiru eagerly fawning on Shang Xiufang, from time to time she even lent a helping hand, so that Kou Zhong was even more baffled at the relationship between these two people.
Zheng Shuming and Yun Yuzhen did not speak much, they just occasionally threw their pretty gaze onto Kou Zhong, making him feel quite uncomfortable.
This moment, a young master called Ling Wei, who was sitting on Shang Xiufang’s other side, was eloquently discussing the ‘qi luo ren wu hua’ [painting of a character in beautiful silk dress], which was starting to be popular at that time. This was Ling Mou’s, the president of the rice business association at the northern district of the city, son. His old man sat in the same table as Rong Fengxiang; from this, it could be seen that this man had quite a status and identify.
The nature of his business was agriculture, and development of commercial products. Many of the people of the same industry formed agencies or associations, such as brotherhood of the village, trade association, and so on; spontaneous organizations of civil society, with the purpose of expanding their influence, while at the same time setting a uniform price to avoid vicious competition.
For important commodities such as rice, juan [thin, tough silk fabric], silk, and salt, the organization was even tighter; joining the association required certain qualifications, and going through examination and approval procedure, and once one was admitted into the association, often times they could not easily withdraw, so much so that sometimes there was a provision that when the father died, the son must continue the membership.
To be able to become the president of such association, other than excellence inside and outside their own business, one must also be getting on well with both ‘ways’, black and white, and had vast enough network of friends and acquaintances. Without the support of such business associations, any political power could hardly stand firm. Take Rong Fengxiang, for example, he was the president of gambling industry of the north side of the city; even Luoyang Bang had to seek him out to be the big boss in place of Shangguan Long. It is thus clear that the expectation laid on him was paramount.
Ling Wei was saying, “In previous generations, paintings of beautiful women are mostly of a woman who dies fighting for her honor or follows her husband in death, or perhaps women who show filial piety, implying that there were certain religious commandments or prohibitions to follow. Nowadays paintings of beautiful women do not stick to one pattern: spring outing, actively training, quietly looking at her reflection, leaning against the railing, playing chess, even getting out of the bath; everything can be painted. Xiaodi admires the name Western Sichuan’s ‘Chuan Yang Meiren’ [Sichuan Style Beauty], so I personally collect the paintings. I have three as my favorites, every single one of those the strokes are fine and skillful; they were drawn using the ‘qin si miao’ [zither string tracing] technique, with fine but powerful lines, warm, soft and touching, so that the beauty in the paintings seem ready to appear at the call [i.e. vividly portrayed]. If Miss Xiufang has time tomorrow, you can come to Zaixia’s humble home to appreciate, Zaixia will definitely welcome with open arms.”
Kou Zhong laughed inwardly; apparently Zheng Shiru has met another suitor.
This son of the prominent figure in rice industry’s appearance was quite handsome and grand, poised and smart, his style of conversation was quite refined. Although he could not be compared to Hou Xibai, he was the type of man who would easily win women’s favor.
Perhaps because she had already made appointment with Kou Zhong, but Shang Xiufang was not tempted by his invitation at all. Her jet-black eyebrows slightly knitted, she said, “Aiyo! Ling Gongzi is really giving me the whole courtesy and honor, but it has to wait until my next trip to Luoyang!”
Before Ling Wei had the opportunity to unleash his ‘grinding downstream’ skill, Zheng Shiru laughed and said, “I wonder what wise opinion does Kou Xiong have toward the ‘qi luo ren wu’ paintings?”
Everybody’s eyes were focused on Kou Zhong, simply because since this discussion on literature and art started, it was like he suddenly turned into a mute, did not make half a noise.
Kou Zhong cursed Zheng Shiru’s eighteen generations ancestors in his heart; this moment the only thing came to his mind was the beauties painted on Hou Xibai’s fan. Yet appearing calm and composed, he smiled and said, “In term of painting and calligraphy, I am a layman; how could I have any wise opinion or outstanding view? I only know that putting a brush on paper to make paintings is just like using saber; one must make every effort to be accurate, not a bit more, not half a hair less. As the brush is going down, it will draw the lines down to the smallest detail. This is my limited understanding, please forgive a novice making a fool of himself!”
Shang Xiufang was emotionally touched; she said, “Kou Gongzi’s remark has revealed such a profound sentiment, and it was a distinct opinion. How could you say it was a layman’s comment?”
Kou Zhong did not have time to be complacent, because Bai Qing’er already pursed her lips and laughed, and tenderly and coyly said, “Turns out Kou Gongzi is a connoisseur in paintings appreciation. I wonder if Kou Gongzi has any wise opinion on color usage?”
Kou Zhong was well aware that she was lending Zheng Shiru a helping hand, with the purpose of humiliating him in front of Shang Xiufang. Moreover, he had no idea what coloring material or what role it played in paintings. The worst thing was that he only knew about paintings of beauty that came from Hou Xibai’s highly skilled hands, which was produced entirely using ground-ink, without the slightest bit of coloring. Hence he had nothing to evaluate, he had nothing to say.
Fortunately, speaking about emergency response, he was a first-class expert. Since he could not block the attack, he had to use diversion tactics. With serious expression, he said, “Just by listening to Madame Qing’er’s remark, I know that Madame is an expert in paintings. I wonder if Xiaodi has guessed incorrectly?”
 Bianwen - a popular form of narrative literature flourishing in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) with alternate prose and rhymed parts for recitation and singing (often on Buddhist themes)
Chapter 1 - Part 2
Ysabel, HPC, Jaya, Chowbeng, you are welcome. Lao Qianbei, hence I appreciate you guys who always let me know that you are following the story. thank you. Kowloon, you are right, I think it was on the boat somewhere, but I don’t think he pursued that skill though. Xiaohu, at least (so far) Huang Yi did not randomly drop any character only to make it disappear soon afterwards, like Gu Long … Hungry, agree. Although sometimes it feels like a filler, I think some of it (not all, naturally) are quite interesting. Chua, He was a politician, was he not? Kowloon, soon, soon … DongBin, and so little time …
Ba Qing’er was slightly stunned. Naturally she had never imagined that Kou Zhong has been to her studio [i.e. artist studio], he had even hid inside the large cabinet among her rolls of paper. She was quite at a loss for a long time before finally found her voice back, “Qie has indeed studied painting, but definitely not an expert. How did Kou Gongzi guess?”
Kou Zhong noticed that even Zheng Shuming was staring at him with her black, rippling eyes; inwardly he was amused. First, he turned to Shang Xiufang and Yun Yuzhen to give each lady a flash of his brilliant smile, and then staying calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, he said, “The idea is so simple. Just like people who love swordsmanship, they would be interested in how to use the sword and the key secret in using the sword. Frankly speaking, I am no more than an admirer of his mother, oh! Not of his mother, just of paintings. In my humble opinion, only paintings without using any color yet is able to produce ‘all the colors in profusion’ effect can be called the highest artistic conception. If you don’t believe me, just ask Hou Xiong to open his folding fan, and you’ll see what I mean. Ha! Speaking about Caocao, Caocao thus appear [see Book 8 Chapter 11]!”
Everybody followed his gaze, and sure enough, Hou Xibai’s confident and at ease figure came into view.
※ ※ ※
Linglong Jiao returned to her seat, leaned close to Xu Ziling, and whispered, “Wanggong’s order: when Rong Laoban is back from toasting the guests, we will leave immediately.”
Xu Ziling nodded in acknowledgement, and then he passed on this message to Chen Changlin sitting on the other side.
Xing Mofei, who was sitting across the table, had been watching him attentively. This moment he smiled and said, “How come Xiaodi has a feeling that Qin Xiong looks a bit familiar? Have we met somewhere before?”
Currently Xu Ziling was using the name Qin Jieyuan as his alias; although he picked that name at random, but he took Shi Feixuan’s alias, Qin Chuan’s surname. Only afterwards, when he thought about it, did he feel somewhat strange.
The two Tuyuhun beauties, Li An and Hua Na’s two pairs of big eyes were also constantly looking at him; it appears to be his one-in-a-hundred heroic, grand physique. Although he lacked a handsome face, he seemed to attract this pair of beauties from different tribe’s interest.
Xu Ziling applied his power to change his voice first before smiling and responding, “Maybe I did come across Xing Xiong on the street somewhere, but at that time we did not know each other yet, so now we have a sense of déjà vu.”
Xing Mofei laughed aloud and said, “Qin Xiong’s statement contained deep meaning; it is clear that you are not an ordinary person, yet Xiaodi clearly has never heard Qin Xiong’s great name. This is strange.”
Linglong Jiao coldly said, “There are so many great people in the Central Plains, and this is the first time Xing Xiong steps foot on the Central Plains, so what’s so strange about you having never heard Qin Xiongdi’s name?”
Xing Mofei did not look displeased although she was clearly opposing him with harshness; he calmly said, “Before Xiaodi came here, I have painstakingly done quite comprehensive research on Central Earth’s each sect and famous school’s martial art masters, therefore, I was curious about Qin Xiong. I wonder if Qin Xiong is a martial art master belonging to a certain sect?”
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, “Please forgive Xiaodi for not betraying my confidence. This is Shangshu Daren’s order, Xing Xiong please do not blame me.”
Xing Mofei nodded and smile; he no longer questioned closely.
※ ※ ※
Hou Xibai opened up his fan a little bit, exposing a vivid image of a beauty on the fan, along with a clear scent of sweet perfumes [lit. orchids and musk], sleek skin and luxuriant jade flesh. Although it was only painted using black ink, but just as Kou Zhong said: without the slightest bit of color yet producing ‘all the colors in profusion’. Rarer still, the beauty’s ‘light body, snowy curve, gauzed, thin, transparent cosmetics’ astonishing beautiful appearance was displayed with such extreme saturation. Everything was just perfect.
“Ah!” Shang Xiufang exclaimed in astonishment, “When did Hou Gongzi paint qie on your fan? I am afraid Xiufang’s common cattail and willow appearance might defile Gongzi’s treasured fan.” [Translator’s note: again, I am not a fan of Huang Yi’s using flowery language in describing women, so I translate it perhaps too literally. My apology.]
Anybody could see from Shang Xiufang’s expression that she was deeply moved by Hou Xibai’s painting skill. In fact, everybody around the banquet table, men and women alike, none was not emotionally moved by Hou Xibai’s wonderful, unparalleled-in-the-world, painting brush.
Yun Yuzhen’s pretty eyes shot out a look of envy, but there was obviously nothing she could do about it. From the beginning she was quite clear about Hou Xibai’s ‘romantic’ character, which he showed everywhere, and which all women, including Zheng Shuming and Bai Qing’er, found it hard to endure.
Only Kou Zhong had a sense of relief.
Distant past, it was Li Xiuning, recent past, it was Song Yuzhi; twice in a row, in different time and space, his feeling has taken a big hit. On top of that, there were Yun Yuzhen and Dong Shuni, who have had physical relationship with him, but secretly plotted to harm him, so that toward the so-called romantic love, his heart was extremely dead.
And now although the national grace, divine fragrance Shang Xiufang seemed to show him extreme favor, he had no interest whatsoever; instead, he felt that it was an unnecessary burden.
Supposing Shang Xiufang swicthed her target onto Hou Xibai, Kou Zhong would be happy instead of jealous of losing her.
Because such a strong opponent suddenly appeared and cut his offensive, momentarily Zheng Shiru panicked and was unable to ward it off.
Hou Xibai folded his fan back and lightly spoke, as if he was reciting a poem, “White bosom and embroidered feeling, whose family is this lady? Fragrant stars in spring sky tell the story. Miss Fang has a beauty capable of causing the downfall of a nation, a skill that turns all living things upside down, Xibai falls on his knees in admiration.”
In term of literary talent, this man was distinguished and accomplished, in term of speech, he was graceful; which woman would not be moved by him?
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Xiaodi’s understanding of ‘qi luo hua’ came from the fragrant beauties in living color on Hou Xiong’s fan. Now that Hou Xiong is here, ladies and gentlemen do not need to listen to Xiaodi’s random talk!”
Shang Xiufang glowered at him. But inwardly she was wondering if this man has reached the vastly broad-minded state that he was completely without any jealousy?
She has roamed the world, north and south of the Great River, and was accustomed to deal with all kinds of men. Men who had enough qualifications to pursue her like Kou Zhong, have always made every effort to show off in front of her, always attempted to overwhelm the other competitors, like a peacock spreading its tail to win her approval.
Only a special person like Kou Zhong would act against the norm; he enthusiastically praised other man instead.
Thinking to this point, since Hou Xibai has given her a shock, she could not help mellowing a little bit.
In the meantime, Song Lu graced their table with his presence. After greeting everybody, he said to Kou Zhong, “Come! I want to talk to you.”
After apologizing to his tablemates, Kou Zhong followed him though the side door to the half corridor outside.
Bursts of noise coming from the two front halls. Song Lu leaned on the parapet, gazing at the fishpond. “Did you offend Zhizhi?” he spoke heavily.
Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and asked, “Is she gone?”
Song Lu nodded and said, “She didn’t even want to listen to me; she just left.”
Kou Zhong took a deep sigh, but was unable to speak.
It is finished!
Song Yuzhi and he were completely finished; no hope of restoration. But he could not blame anybody else; he could only blame himself.
Song Lu suddenly asked, “What are you going to do?”
Dejectedly Kou Zhong said, “Lu Shu [uncle] is referring to which aspect?”
Song Lu sighed and said, “I’m a bit unclear myself; I guess any aspect will do. I just want to know what are you thinking of doing next? During the banquet just now, on the surface everybody was polite, but actually the air was filled with hostility, there are more than just the apparent meaning.”
And then he moved his gaze to Kou Zhong’s face, and spoke in heavy voice, “You have to be careful with Wang Bo. Just now he repeatedly suggested to Wang Shichong that you are a man of great ambition; he is using a despicable method.”
Kou Zhong smiled bitterly without saying anything.
As soon as he entered the powerful current of this contending-over-the-world affair, thousand-kind and ten-thousand-way of danger and trouble would come his way; it was basically something that he could not guard against.
Song Lu continued in low voice, “How much confidence do you have that you would be able to get the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’ out? In my opinion, in this particular business, Li Shimin is watching you like a tiger watching its prey; he won’t let you succeed, to avoid damaging the current situation, which is to his favor.”
Kou Zhong could only say, “I don’t have the exact number yet. Ay! When Yuzhi left, did she say anything?”
Song Lu replied, “You ought to know her temperament very well, she will hide everything in her heart. But don’t worry about her right now, perhaps when she cools down later, she would change her mind.”
And then he patted Kou Zhong’s shoulder and said, “Do what you need to do! I will speak good words on your behalf. Fortunately, you are a southerner, we are a bit closer to each other.”
Kou Zhong was stunned; he said, “Lu Shu is saying …”
Song Lu’s eyes moved to a cluster of tree peony by the fishpond. Letting out a cold snort, he said, “Northern barbarian families, various tribes, have always been trying to destroy our southern blood relationship and pure aristocratic culture. Those like Yang Jian, although they strived to practice our southern style, with the intention to restore the orthodoxy of our Han people’s dynasty; beneath the surface, aren’t they still barbarians? If you can use southern people to govern the north, our Song Family will give you full support. Do you understand me?”
Kou Zhong’s spirit was greatly aroused. “I understand!” he replied.
The noise from the hall was getting louder.
Rong Fengxiang has returned from his round of toasting the guests.