Chapter 2Yang Dalang
Translated by Coke
Edited by Joh
“Dalang has gone down from the mountain. Hey, the harvest looks good. What’s on sale this time?”
“Is there a deer? I’ll have as much as there are ah! The meat last time was really delicious.”
“I just want to ask if there is any pheasant? It’s best to stew the pheasant with mushrooms when it’s still fresh.”
Towards the west of Miaojia Village was a group of hills with a gradually increasing terrain, known as Xilong Mountain. The said village was located at the foot of the southeast side of the mountain.
As Yang Dalang went home from hunting, he had to pass in front of the Miao’s family ancestral hall, which was also the center of the village. Occasionally, when the busy farming season has passed, people would often gather there and would place short stools to chat and share gossip. Today also happened to be the gathering of the village to distribute manpower for the plowing in spring, and all work would be issued. After the meeting, a crowd of old and young still gathered there, making the place more lively than usual.
Judging by Yang Dalang’s usual practice, if the prey on his hand was not very valuable, he wouldn’t walk for more than a couple of hours to go to the town, he would simply directly sell it in the open space in front of the village ancestral hall to the villagers at a convenient price. There existed such an opportunity to add oil to the villagers’ mouths apart from the New Year when products were sold at a cheaper price which was quite popular among the people. This was also how the old Yang, who was a foreigner, had to do at first to gain a firm foothold in Miaojia Village.
Therefore even though Yang Dalang’s life was lofty enough, he had been hunting for many years that made his muscles on his arms tangled into clumps, and his wheat complexion made the three scars on his left cheek appear more sinister looking. And as what the oil dealer had said, his body carried a strong imposing presence from head to toe causing him to look somehow unapproachable. But for the sake of buying cheap meat, many people nevertheless took the initiative to greet Yang Dalang with a few pleasantries.
“There is no stock to sell this time,” Yang Dalang replied after a pause, intending to leave.
A sharp voice resounded to stop him, “Hey, how can it be out of stock? Look at you carrying such a heavy basket, don’t you still have two rabbits hanging from your waist? Isn’t it too heavy for you? Well, my aunt wants to buy those two, should five strings of coins be enough? Later, my aunt will give it to you.”
Copper coins were the smallest currency value here. Ten copper coins count as one string of coins, ten strings of coin count as a dime, and ten dimes were equal to one tael of silver. It was tantamount to one thousand coins for one or two taels. Buying a rabbit alone, can’t get away with five strings of coins.
“Aunt Hua, this isn’t your house, we are in front of the ancestral hall. You must have thick skin for trying to take advantage! Two rabbits for five strings of coins? Hey, for this price, can I buy it with you every day?” Miao Ping cried out. Several guys around him followed up with roars of laughter.
Yang Dalang was not only skilled at hunting, but he was also willing to lead people into the mountains and teach a few of them. And when wild boars rush down the mountain to damage the crops, he would skillfully handle them. Even if there were a few mocking words exchanged among the guys, his popularity and strength were undeniable.
The mentioned Aunt Hua, Zhang Cuihua, was Miao Yu’s wife and she took his surname Miao. Several aunts were taking after the surname Miao in the said hamlet; hence, they would have to call people by their names. On the other hand, Aunt Hua was said to be in the same family as the head of Miaojia Village five generations ago, and this made Aunt Hua naturally possess a different status in the village.
Aunt Hua stepped in as she heard her name and fearlessly said, “Isn’t it his own business! So long as Dalang is willing to sell, who needs to tell everyone who will take charge of it? Besides, who isn’t aware of how good our family is to Dalang and to his husband? And by ‘Lang’, isn’t that the thread that our family bestowed? Otherwise, Dalang, a twenty-three or four-year-old guy, would still be in such a shabby picture. On top of that, where else can he find such a beautiful ger to marry?”
Miao Ping’s younger brother, Miao Gao, was also there listening. Whenever Miao Gao was happy, he would open his mouth and speak without thinking, “That’s Miao He’s? Didn’t he, before–” a punch landed on his stomach cutting him short from speaking. Miao Gao, heaved a few breaths for a while before realization hit him, thus, without delay, retraced his words. “Hey, Dalang, I don’t mean anything. I just want to say that Miao He must be foolish enough and blind to–”
Miao Ping punched his brother again, finally causing people to shut their mouths. Still, no accident happened, and taunting laughter rose in an instant. Everyone knows that Yang Dalang’s husband, Lang Miao He, was previously caught back after running away, which was practically an insult to the man.
However, when Yang Dalang glanced over the laughing people, the laughter died right away. As a hunter, his bloody aura was more fervent than a regular farmer. Yang Dalang’s stature exudes an imposing demeanor, his deadpan expressionless face came out fierce and thus branding him as someone who mustn’t be offended by the common people. Aunt Hua who just wanted to take advantage didn’t dare speak rashly now.
It wasn’t until the surroundings calmed down, and as if confirming that no one would start creating ruckus again, did Yang Dalang take another lengthy strides and left.
As soon as Yang Dalang walked far enough, a man curled his lips with contempt, “The fact that Yang Dalang stole someone away, and the other had committed adultery, but both feel dread to be scolded? No matter how fierce he is, the wrongs still need to be said! There is absolutely no reason to frighten people with that.”
Apparently, some people who had just been suppressed seem to feel ashamed of losing their face, thus, wanted to find a few words to cover their shame up with.
Another individual who possessed an eccentric manner of speaking, chimed in, “Naturally, it is important to say that this pair is quite good and well-matched. A person who wanted to break off from the marriage was with a man despised by others, and no one needs a reason to look down on them. Let’s not stoop down their levels and get on with our lives.”
The aunt next to him immediately retorted, “Miao Er, what nonsense are you talking about, what despised, what disliked? Our family Yuan has no ill intentions towards Miao He and has a just and innocent relation between us! Miao He was presumptuous and was shrewd and unreasonable. So don’t spout foul words that would be misunderstood by people!”
“Aya, I didn’t know that Aunt Ying has the nerve to say this. The sentiment between Miao Yuan and Miao He was displayed at the border of the village before and was as clear as a crystal unless everyone has gone blind and needs a doctor to check what’s wrong in their eyes? If you despise the poor and curry favor with the rich, then you favor the rich and disdain the poor. If you understand, then there is no need to step on the man more,” Miao Er, just like always, liked to show off using his mouth. But, it goes without saying that he tends to bully the weak and fear the strong, thus him daring to speak unabashedly not until now.
Aunt Ying was flustered and stiffly said, “I — our family are courteous and respectful to everyone, you must be blind! Besides, they were just casually taking a stroll around the village, and Miao He happened to live nearby our household. Could it be that you ran into an accident that affected your reasoning to discern the polite disposition that we always have from your wretched mindset? Neither I was there nor did I agree about the engagement, so what can I do! If you want to harm the Yuan’s reputation so much, then don’t blame us for taking this over to the village chief!”
Mentioning the village head reminded them that Miao Yuan’s family had a good relationship with him. The village head alone represents that the town’s power was still there and hasn’t faded a bit, so some people who wanted to play tricks with their glib tongue shut up.
It was merely about Miao He and Miao Yuan’s matter. If you don’t speak anything about it and just have your own thoughts buried in your hearts, then it’s fine.
Let’s recount from where it all began.
Miao Yuan, who was just the subject of the conversation, came from the only scholar family in Miaojia Village. For generations, Miao Yuan’s family had always relied on literacy to survive. They helped people to write and be literate. Because of their long-serving noble practice, they possessed a lofty status comparable to the village chief. Just like in village assemblies, they must wait for the Yuan family to arrive before starting. Miao Yuan’s grandfather, Miao Jue, was successfully admitted to a college more than twenty years ago, and passing the college admission test was known for no easy task, hence the status of Miao Yuan’s family rose to greater heights.
Miao Jue had three sons and two daughters. Eventually, one of his sons from the third branch of the Miao Family, Uncle Miao Wen, took the mantle of his father and attended school. Not all of his children could pursue the path of scholar, after all, to attend school was quite expensive. The pen, ink, paper, and inkstone were all exquisite and costly, as well as the money paid before qualifying to take the exam. Even Miao Jue, a child born with the benefit of exemption from paying personal taxes, could only be among naturally gifted children that can pass the exam.
As the eldest son of Miao Wenzhong in the second branch of the Miao family, Miao Yuan wasn’t the least bit fancied by Miao Jue. He had followed his father to help manage the farm when he was young. However, shortly before the end of that year, Miao Yuan took and passed the exam scaring everyone out of their wits.
Miao Yuan— coming from the second branch of the Miao Family — always picked up the old books that his cousin, Miao Wei, used. He would read all of those several times each. Meanwhile, Miao Kiu, the grandson that Miao Jue liked, was also the eldest son of Sanfang Miao Wen and was the focus of the family in cultivating to be a scholar. Seeing that Miao Chou was nervous to take the exam this time, Miao Yuan volunteered to accompany him to enter the arena and helped him boost his courage. Among them, Miao Yuan, who was also expected to have a successful life by his mother, tried his best to strive for it. He also took out his personal savings for the travel expenses. In the end, Miao Jue didn’t rant his mouth for the additional outlays.
But different from the expectations, Miao Chou failed the entrance examination while Miao Yuan passed. Since then, Miao Yuan had received the utmost attention and resources of Master Miao Jue. During that time, Miao Yuan had been closely intimate with Miao He, his neighbor, for more than a decade.
Normally, there was a big orthodox between men and women, and so do the gers; however, the village does not conform to the norms nor pay attention to these at least until the age of seven- which was the marriageable age. Although it was normal to exchange a few pleasantries when they occasionally meet on the roadside. The guy who was treated as a half-coolie was different from a normal man, thus to say that their relationship was innocent was a joke.
In addition, Miao He was considered one of the best looking in the village. His fair complexion seemed unrealistic under the harsh gaze of the sun, his almond-shaped eyes that complimented his clear and innocent black eyes, while his cheeks showed two prominent dimples, and his eyebrows curved into an arc, making him appear more delicate. Which all in all look better than those sweet girls in the village.
Even though Miao He was an unsought ger in the marriage perspective, his features pleased Miao Yuan’s vanity when they are together, so Miao Yuan didn’t resist being on intimate terms with Miao He. The two could be said to have been innocent playmates.
It was their families who had considered tightening the knot previously. The custom here didn’t forbid marriage into the same surname. And although Miao Yuan’s family survives through being scholars, their financial conditions were not that impressive due to the additional expenses from attending school. In contrast, Miao He’s family had people working in the town’s two-story-high teahouse, giving them access to social connections and greenery. The vegetable crops were sold at a better price, thus their financial condition could be considered middle-class.
If Miao Yuan marries Miao He, he would have Miao He’s family to help him, and his children wouldn’t need to worry about attending school in the future. As for Miao He’s family, it was also good for their status to be able to marry into a family of scholars. The two families live close to each other and had a good relationship too, so if the young couple was interested in each other, the elders wouldn’t prevent them. Occasionally, they would bring them up during a conversation, but because Miao He’s paternal grandfather passed away, the family had to be filial and respect the period of mourning of the deceased. Hence, the act of matchmaking was put on hold.
After Miao Yuan passed the imperial exam, only then did Miao Yuan’s family look at Miao He being a ger with contempt. To the extent that they even yield a way for Miao Yuan to move to a town to study, to separate themselves from their entanglement with Miao He’s. No matter how Miao Yuan’s family continued to deny the rumors of engagement and betrayal, the people still had disdain in their hearts for how Miao Yuan’s family acted.
However, like how the village chief planned, Miao He finally got married earlier than Miao Yuan.
Moreover, when Miao Yuan passed the examination, it gave the village chief a significant political achievement, so he would naturally favor Miao Yuan’s family. When he learned that Miao Yuan was entangled with Miao He and realized it was detrimental to his position, he asked the distant relatives of Aunt Hua to secretly pull some strings to immediately find a husband for Miao He. In this way, Miao Yuan would completely extricate himself from Miao He. And the village chief would have a share of credit and benefits in the future if Miao Yuan would successfully marry an official registrar’s daughter.
The village chief, of course, didn’t forget bestowing both grace and advice to Miao He’s family, saying that Miao He’s affair with Miao Yuan would stain the latter’s reputation and Miao He might be blamed for it. He also added, “If you could find a good husband and get married, you will still be lucky,”.
Seeing that Miao Yuan couldn’t wait to get rid of him and Miao He still in a daze, his family responded for his sake and half-forced Miao He, who didn’t believe in Miao Yuan’s sudden change of heart, to marry Yang Dalang. This was the gossip the villagers were rattling about earlier.
The words didn’t go far, so Yang Dalang left the ancestral hall, and went to second Aunt Yang’s house.
Second Aunt Yang was the wife of the second uncle of Yang Dalang, and she was considered the highest elder in the old Yang family.
The men of the previous generation of the old Yang family, including Yang Dalang’s father, and his second, and third uncles were all caught up and harmed by dangerous hunting twelve years ago. Third Uncle Yang was unfortunately dragged away by the tiger they ran into and didn’t have the chance to retrieve his remains. Only his father and his second uncle came back with severe injuries; however, in the end, his father didn’t survive too. Their old father and his companions also passed away for the same reason. And Yang Lao Er, his second uncle, who only managed to keep his one leg and one hand intact, also died a few years later due to depression.
As a result, the old Yang family suddenly fell into a ditch. At first, they could still live in a big brick house, but after this tragedy, they had difficulty living by. Also, Yang Dalang’s mother was hit hard by all of this misfortune, not only did she lose her fetus, but her body was also seriously damaged. Year after year, the money used to buy medicines along with providing his Aunt Yang’s second son, was enough to eat up the old Yang’s remaining savings.
So Yang Dalang was very grateful to his second aunt. When the Yang family was at its lowest, his Aunt Yang was the true sentiments in adversity. She used the first-hand embroidery skills she learned from her natal family to take care of the family’s finances until Yang Dalang took the initiative to be in charge of the obligation.
A few days ago, Yang Dalang’s mother died of a long-drawn illness, and his younger cousin, Aunt Yang’s eldest son, also gave birth to a boy. The second son would need to prepare a new house for his new family. Hence, Yang Dalang left the Yang family’s old residence to the second branch of the family, despite his second aunt’s pleas. He had no other siblings in this house, leaving the old house to his cousin’s care, which was also the root of the whole Yang family.
“The second aunt, thank you for the past few days.” Yang Dalang said, and untied the rabbit tied around his waist in front of the second aunt’s house and handed it over.
Second Aunt Yang was carrying a baby on her back, with a face full of disapproval said, “Why are you doing these? Take it back, take it back! I did take care of your ger, but I do that for the sake of the old Yang family’s reputation. Now, quickly go to town to sell this for silver so that you can pay back the money you loaned sooner. It is not good to owe money for medicine, else it’ll bring misfortune to your family.”
However, Yang Dalang just bent down directly and put the rabbit on the ground. The two rabbits were tied tightly and couldn’t escape. “There’s still more in the basket. If my second aunt doesn’t take it, I won’t dare to come and exchange food in the future.”
After Yang Dalang moved out, he didn’t have a proper meal, and most of the prey he caught were exchanged for Aunt Yang. Knowing how persistent he was, Aunt Yang liked to say a few more words, but she had no choice but to swallow it and accept the rabbits but added some lectures.
“It’s not that your aunt wants to bother your life, but there was still mole on your ger’s wrist, right? You had been married for about a month and still hadn’t sealed it. If you worry about people’s thoughts and resignations on this, remember that the marriage in this village wasn’t so oppressive. And if you have time to fret with others’ opinions, then think about that ger of yours that still wants to run away.”
Facing the earnest advice of Aunt Yang, Yang Dalang could only agree.
Second Aunt Yang paused, somewhat hesitant, “Or perhaps you still…”
“No,” Yang Dalang immediately cut her off.
“Sigh, second aunt knows that you are a good person. Don’t listen to what people say. The most important thing is to live one’s life well, don’t you think so?”
Seeing the man still unresponsive, Aunt Yang couldn’t help but feel helpless.
She has persuaded him many times just like this one, but then this nephew of hers is much like his father. That no matter how much you convince or talk through him, he would not deter from the plan he sets his eyes on. Even the whole old family would concede to leave him be. Thinking about helping him take care of his ger in the future, Yang Dalang waved his hands as he hurriedly went home so to take care of his husband.
Read only at Travis Translations
Aya aya aya~
- 个把 gèbă (one or two // a couple of ) 时辰 shíchen (time) is a Chinese timekeeping unit that's equivalent to two hours.
- 钱 qián - a traditional unit of weight, one-tenth of a tael
- 角 jiăo - a unit of money
- 两 liăng - tael, a unit of weight for silver
- 没长眼 méizhǎngyǎn (a variant of méizhǎngyǎnjing) - means (coll.) are you blind or something
- 门当户对 méndānghùduì - (idom) the families are well-matched in terms of social status [for marriage]
- 嫌贫爱富 xiánpín’àifù - (idiom) to despise the poor and curry favor with the rich, or snobbish
- 两小无猜 liăngxiăo-wúcāi - (idiom) of a little boy and a little girl or be innocent playmates
- 童生 tónɡshēnɡ - a candidate who has not passed the county-level imperial exam or a scholar without a xiucai
- 秀才 degree - which means a scholar or one who has passed the county-level imperial exam
- 患难见真 (-難見--) huànnànjiànzhēnqíng - 1. true sentiments are seen in hard times (idiom) 2. you see who your true friends are when you go through tough times together
- 苦口婆心 kǔkǒupóxīn - earnest and well-meaning advice (idiom); to persuade patiently