Published at 20th of December 2016 08:08:03 PM

Chapter 11.1

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The Legend of the Concubine’s Daughter Minglan Chapter 11 Part 1


Minglan was not always this introverted and quiet, thinking back on those times when she was a good child diligently keeping the Five Disciplines and Four Beauties.1 Whether it was wearing the Red Scarf, entering into the Girl Scouts or into the Communist Youth League, each time she would be ranked first. Although she was never chosen as the class representative but she has always been elected as a representative for various committees. When she was in the publicity committee, she was praised ingeniously for using the blackboard. When she was in charge of the organisation, she led everyone to visit sick teachers. When she was the English Language representative, she led morning reading everyday. When she was in the homework committee, she even successfully organised and streamlined the process to copy homework. Except for that one time in 5th Grade, when she became the cultural recreation committee member and was inexplicably forced to step down halfway. Even then she was still almost always a good student that teachers liked and trusted.

Minglan never thought at this point that her luck would take a dive. When she moved from Wang shi’s place to Old Madame Sheng’s place, only Xiaotao who was more foolish than her was willing to follow. Once the other maids heard that they were to follow her to Shou’an Hall, they either called in sick or requested leave, worst still some begged their families to put in a word so they didn’t have to follow. The mama that was serving her was already shouting that she was aching all over and could not serve anymore.

“Xiaotao, why are you willing to follow me?” Minglan asked with hope.

“Can I not……  not follow?”

She had a feeling that her world had transformed and that she was in dire straits, emotions of sadness and emptiness rushed head-on. Minglan pulled along Xiaotao’s hands, leaving in dejection. She felt, it was not that she was incapable of fighting, but rather like one had been allocated into a clan that practices favouritism, no matter how much effort you expend, at the end of the day you’re still a second class citizen. Why was there a need to expend so much effort and make no progress. Sigh! It’s probably better to take a better look at her new surroundings.

The central building in Shou’an Hall has five rooms, the one in the middle is called Ming Hall, the rooms at the sides were Shao Rooms and Ci Rooms respectively. There were still several rooms for the maids to reside in, a veranda at the front and a lean-to at the back. This was the typical arrangement of ancient chinese courtyards. Ming Hall is somewhat similar to a modern living room and the Shao and Ci Rooms are either leisure rooms or bedrooms. The Old Madame herself sleeps in the Shao Room on the left and let Minglan settle into the Ci Room on the right. In the middle of the Ci room was a partition of a pear tree carved fan, therefore Minglan’s rooms were also called the Lihua Cabinet.

Mama Fang only started decorating last night and they were plain and simple. Every decorations were in cool hues of pale green, dark green and navy blue. The only warm color was Minglan’s bedroom which was a bright apricot yellow.

Once she was settled, one of the Old Madame’s maid, Cuiping passed a message saying that the Old Madame would like to see Minglan. Thus Minglan obeyed, she saw that the Old Madame had a black thick brocade blanket with eight lucky flowers draped on her shoulders and she was half leaning on the couch. One roll of Buddhist scripture and several sandalwood rosaries were placed on a cloud shaped white jade table with gold thread embedded to the side of her couch.  

She saw Minglan and waved her hands hurrying her over. Minglan had paid respect a few times and knew proper etiquette. First, she gave greetings then consciously kept bowed at a forty-five degree angle before the Old Madame, raising her head to wait for instructions. Old Madame Sheng saw her overcautious grownup2 appearance, smiling she pulled her up to the couch and warmly said “You will be the fourth child I have raised, the first three all do not have any affinity with me, we are still unsure about you? Let us talk first, you need not adhere strictly to etiquette. Whatever you feel like saying, say it, it’s even alright if you speak out of turn.”

Minglan widened her big big eyes and nodded. She did not plan on lying, compared to these ancient woman who remained in this inner residence for their whole lives, these little schemes of hers will not measure enough to carry their shoes.

“Do you know how to read?” Old Madame Sheng asked.

Minglan shook her head and said in a small voice “Big Sister originally wanted to teach me《Rhythm of Enlightenment》3 . She just taught the first two lines, then she was locked up to embroider her dowry. Mama Liu has been very strict and Big Sister could not slip out.”

Amusement shone in the eyes of Old Madame Sheng, she then asked “Do you know how to write?”

Minglan smiled bitterly internally. She obviously was literate but was not definite if she was taught in this place thus she said in a small small voice “Only knows a few words.”

Old Madame Sheng allowed Cuiping to carry in paper and a brush to let Minglan try writing a few words. The ink has already been grinded, Minglan short arms pulled back her sleeves, extended her tiny palms and held onto the brush slightly trembling. When she was young, she was at a Youth & Children Center and took calligraphy classes for two weeks during summer vacation. She only learned how to write a handful of lousy words and the way to hold the brush.

She used her five short fingers to ‘control, press, hook, crown, support’,4 steadily holding onto the brush in her palms and wrote a trembling ‘human’ character. Then wrote a few simple words, ‘of, too, no, already’ etc.

Once the Old Madame examined Minglan’s posture, she and praised her inwardly. Although this child is still young but her her arm and wrists were correct, suspending the wrist and arms raised,5 back straightened and concentrated. However because the person is small and weak in strength, the words were not very elegant. After Minglan wrote all the two three stroke characters she could remember, the last she also wrote a disorderly black mess. The Old Madame moved closer to carefully identify and unexpectedly it was the complicated strokes of the word ‘Sheng’.

“Who taught you to write?” The Old Madame asked, she remembered that Concubine Wei was illiterate.

Minglan wrote till she was perspiring, using the back of her small hand to wipe sweat off her brow, she said “It is Fifth Older Sister, she taught me through tracing red characters.”

Old Madame Sheng laughed “Taught you through tracing red characters? More likely it is, she had you write on her behalf so she can run off and be mischievous.”

Minglan went red in the face and did not reply, thinking that this group of ancient women were really too fearsome.

“Then who taught you this ‘Sheng’ word? The tracing paper should not have had it.” The Old Madame pointed at that unrecognisable black lump and asked.

Minglan thought deeply “It is everywhere in the house, on the lanterns, on the letters, En…… also on the sides of Big Sister’s dowry chests.”

Old Madame Sheng nodded her head in satisfaction and cupped Minglan’s small face. Once she touched, she immediately creased her brows. A young child of this age usually would eat to their fill and their cheeks would be all chubby but not a bit of flesh could be pinched from Minglan’s cheeks.

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Thus with a serious face, she said “From now on, you ought to properly have your meals and medicine and are not allowed to fool around at my place.”

Minglan felt that she must explain herself, in a small voice “I have been eating, never had any leftovers, just not gaining meat.”

Old Madame Sheng with a warm look but a serious face said “I’ve heard that you often vomit your medicine.”

Minglan felt very wronged, pinched the corner of her clothes and in a quiet resolved tone said to “I do not want to vomit but my stomach does not listen to me. I have no choice in this ah…… I myself vomit before I even know!”

The amusement in the Old Madame’s eyes flourished and pulled apart Minglan’s small hands and helped her smoothen the corners and in a serene voice said “Not only does your stomach not listen to your words, I’m afraid that even your maids also do not listen to your words. I heard that this time only one small maid came along with you?”

Old Madame Sheng had been lonely for a long time, however today she had been amused by one thing after another and cannot help but feel it was incredulous. Furthermore, she did not expect the weak child in front of her to actually answer with a serious face “Big Sister once told me, water flows deeper but humans must walk to high places but no matter where I go there may not be many who are willing to follow me.”

“Then why did you agree to come here? I am a vegetarian, there is no meat to eat here.” Old Madame asked.

“Eating meat is not important, however the blessing to be able to have peaceful meal is enough.” Minglan muttered while shaking her head strongly.

A young child and her thoughts filled with much disappointment at the world. Old Madame looked at the small girl for a while then also shook her head. She embraced Minglan and sighed “You’re only skin and bones, it might be better to still eat meat.”

Truthfully Old Madame thought that they were pretty alike.

1. 五讲四美 (Wu Jiang Si Mei): A numbered policy of People’s Republic of China. Five disciplines: decorum, manners, hygiene, discipline, morals. Four beauties: beauty of mind, language, behaviour, environment. Though the policy has one last part 三热爱 meaning three loves: love for the motherland, socialism and the Chinese Communist Party.
2. 小大人 (Xiao Da Ren): It could either mean grownup or a little child behaving like an adult
3. Poems and Couplets written that are easy for children to learn how to read.
4. The different techniques when doing chinese calligraphy.
5. Wrist and elbow off the table when writing large characters.

Translated: alpenglow
Edited: Eers

I cannot stop gushing over how cute Minglan is. Then I remember it is an adult in a child’s body, I pause. But I still gush over how cute she is. Minglan is just so cute. Next up, reading with the Old Madame!

Announcement: Eers have very kindly helped with editing, so the chapters well be easier to read from now on. Many thanks to Eers!

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