A Plan is Set to Exchange the Crown Prince at Childbirth
A Vigrous Hero Swaps Places to Save the Imperial Mother
The poem says:
One after another the Five Dynasties crumbled;
Once the clouds part, the sky can be seen.
New rain and dew washes the old vegetation;
Civilization is restored to the rivers and mountains.
Woven silk gauze filled the ordinary streets and lanes;
From many towers waft the sounds of wind and string instruments.
Vitality and peace returns to the world;
Ladies and lovers spend eternity in leisure.
It is said that at the onset of the Song dynasty, when the troops mutinied at Chen Bridge and the multitude established Taizu as sovereign, the country was unified, and it continued to be unified under Taizong and Zhenzong as well. All within the four seas was peaceful, and the people went about their work happily, enjoying good weather for cultivating crops. The rulers were upright and the subjects were good people.
One day, during the morning court session, Wen Yanbo, head of the Censorate and Directorate of Astronomy, came forth, with all the civil and military officials present, and memorialized the emperor.
"Your subject observes the heavens last night and saw the Dog Star invade the imperial residence. I'm afraid it's an inauspicious sign for the crown prince. I drew a chart, which I solemnly offer for the emperor's inspection."
The chart was received and displayed on the imperial table. The emperor looked the chart over and laughed. "I've looked at the chart. Although it looks like signs from Heaven, I have no heir-apparent, so how can there be an inauspicious sign? Return to your place for now, sir. I have my own thoughts on the matter." And with that, he concluded the morning court session and everyone dispersed.
Back inside the palace, Zhenzong was brooding. He thought to himself, "Since my first wife died, the position of empress has remained empty. Fortunately, my concubines Li and Liu are both pregnant. Is it possible that the portentous sign from Heaven was intended for them?" He had just thought to summon them - who would have thought they would arrive on their own? They paid their respects, then knelt down and addressed the emperor.
"Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival. We've prepared a banquet and we've also come especially to invite you to enjoy the evening with us and admire the full moon." The emperor was delighted, and immediately went with them to the garden, where even though the autumn scenery was bleak and desolate, the flowers were fragrant and the autumn wind rustled, so that he couldn't help but feel carefree and happy. Zhenzong enjoyed hismelf, entered the temple hall, then returned to the imperial throne, where concubines Li and Liu attended him, and a palace maid served tea.
"Today, Wen Yanbo addressed me and said that the Dog Star was invading the palace, and that it boded ill for the crown prince. Though I lack an heir, I'm delighted you're both pregnant. Who knows who will give birth first, or if the child will be a boy or a girl. Since Heaven has sent down this omen, I grant you both the jade imperial seal and some imperial swaddling cloth to protect against the omen. I also have a pair of golden balls; inside each is concealed a pearl, given to me by the late emperor. They are priceless treasures. Since I was young I've worn them at my waist, but now I grant them to the both of you. Your full name and palace name will be engraved on the pearls, and you will each wear your pearl at your waist."
Concubines Li and Liu thanked him. The emperor was untied the golden balls from his waist and ordered the palace eunuch Chen Lin to take them at once to have them engraved. The concubines then had a banquet prepared and urged the emperor to drink. The drums beat, accompanied by music, and a colorful play was performed. It goes without saying that the imperial family would have an extravagant performance performed for them. When the night arrived, the moon hung bright in the sky, illuminated the entire garden. The emperor and the two concubines were happy, and they admired the icy moon together while drinking raucously.
The emperor drank until he was half drunk when he saw Chen Lin showed up carrying the golden balls. He knelt before the emperor and presented the balls for the emperor's approval. One one ball was engraved "Yuchen Palace, Consort Li", the other read "Jinhua Palace, Consort Liu". Both inscriptions were exceedingly exquisite. The emperor was deeply pleased and immediately presented them to the concubines. The two concubines knelt and received them, and after they had admired them and fastened them about their waists as instructed, each concubine twice toasted the emperor using gold wine vessels. The emperor by no means declined, accepting each toast in succession, and without knowing it it became dead drunk. Roaring with laughter, he said, "If one of you gives birth to the crown prince, that person will be empress." The two concubines again thanked him for his kindness.
Under the influence of drink, the significance of the emperor's words were lost on him. Who knew that his words would give birth to endless disturbances? Do you know why? Concubine Liu's character was bad, and she had long harbored a jealous heart. Upon hearing the emoperor's words, she was afraid lest Concubine Li give birth to a child and be crowned empress. When she returned to the palace, she conspired with the executive manager Guo Huai to harm Concubine Li. Who knew there was a palace attendant named Kou Zhu, a servant of Concubine Liu, who, though loyal to Concubine Liu, conducted herself in an upright manner and long-cherished loyalty and righteousness. She was not happy to see Concubine Liu plotting with Guo Huai, and from that time on she took care to quietly spy on them.
When Guo Huai received Concubine Liu's orders, he sent a trusted servant to find a midwife named Mrs. You. This midwife was scared shitless and wanted to add her husband as an assistant to Guo Huai. One day, Guo Huai and Mrs. You were discussing the matter of harming Concubine Li. Guo Huai told her of his intentions. At first, the treacherous lady thought it difficult. Guo Huai said, "If you can pull it off, you'll have endless wealth and rank."
When the old biddy heard this, she couldn't held but be overjoyed. She wrinkled her brow and came up with a plan, which she explained to him in detail. "Excellent! Excellent!" Guo Huai said. "If you really succeed, in the future if Concubine Liu gives birth to the crown prince, your merit will be without compare." He then exhorted her not to mess things up when the time came, and then plied her with gifts. Satisfied, the old lady left. Guo Huai went back to report to Concubine Liu, who was well pleased. Now they just had to wait for the time to put their plan into action.
Time by sped by quickly, and before they knew it, it was already the third month, and the emperor went to Yuchen Palace to see Concubine Li. She paid her respects, but the emperor told her to dispense with formalities. They were chatting when suddenly the emperor remembered that the next day there was a birthday celebration for Eighth Prince at Nanqing Palace. He appointed Chen Lin to proceed to the imperial garden to select fruit for use in the celebration. After Chen Lin had accepted the decree and left, the emperor saw Concubine Li knit her brow in pain. For a short while, the pain in her abdomen was difficult to bear. The emperor knew that it was time for her to deliver the baby. He urgently called for Concubine Liu and her midwife. Concubine Liu received the summons and left at once, while Guo Huai hurriedly went to get Mrs. You. Mrs. You long ago had prepared everything. She grabbed a bix box with both hands and handed it over to Guo Huai, and they went together to Yuchen Palace.
Do you know what was in the box? As a matter of fact, it was all part of the plan, the skinned carcass of a leopard cat, glistening with dripping blood, and unrecognizable. It was a ghastly sight. When Guo Huai and Mrs. You entered Yuchen Palace, everyone assumed the box contained food. How could one know what was really in there? Just then, Concubine was just about to give birth. When she did, she fainted from blood loss. Mrs. You rushed over to check Li's condition and she took advantage of the confusion and exchanged the newborn crown prince for the skinned leopard cat. She wrapped the baby in the imperial swaddling cloth and put him in the box. Embracing the box, she left Yuchen Palace and ran straight to Jinhua Palace. There, Concubine Li immediately called for her servant Kou Zhu and told her to take a rattan basket and hide the baby there. Then she told Kou Zhu to go to Xiaojin Pavilion and use a silk ribbon from her skirt to strangle the child, then dispose of the body under Gold Water Bridge. Kou Zhu dared not refuse, for fear that someone else might be sent, which would make the situation even worse.
She took the basket and exited through Fengyou Gate, and then through Zhaode Gate and went straight to Xiaojin Pavilion. He quickly opened the basket and picked up the crown prince. For the time being he was safe and sound wrapped in the imperial cloth. She held him against her chest and thought, "His Majesty has already middle-aged, but still with no heir, and it was difficult for Concubine Li to have this child. How unfortunate to get caught up in that treacherous concubine's plan. If I kill this child, where is my conscience? That's it! It would be better to go with this child into the river and use up the last of my loyalty and devotion."
She was just about to leave Xiaojin Pavilion when she saw someone approaching. She went to the window to take a look. The person was dressed like an official servant, and as he crossed Yinxian Bridge, she could see the man was carrying a palace box. He wore a purple silk gauze four-clawed dragon robe with black boots, and a rosary hung from his neck. A horsetail whisk had been inserted into his collar on the left. His complexion was very white and his eyes bright. Upon seeing the man, Kou Zhu was delighted, and she silently thanked Buddha. "Great! Now the crown prince will will be saved!" As a matter of fact, the man was none other than the ever-loyal and righteous Chen Lin. Only because he had been ordered to go to the imperial garden to stock up on fruit had he happened to come this way, carrying an imperial box inlaid with gold thread. When he saw her holding a baby, he asked what was going on. Kou Zhu told him everything. Chen Lin was shocked, but he could see the imperial swaddling cloth as proof. They discussed the matter for a moment, then went to put the crown prince in the box, and he just fit, but he began to cry. Kou Zhu and Chen Lin prayed silently, and when they were finished, the crying stopped. They both silently prayed to Buddha, asking for blessing and protection for the child. They look up to the heavens and kowtowed, then Kou Zhu made haste back to the palace.
Chen Lin, full of loyalty and righteousness, disregarding life or death, took the box and went to the Forbidden Gate. He crossed the bridge and went up to the Forbidden Gate, where he saw Guo Huai blocking the way. Guo Huai said, "Where are you headed? Imperial Concubine Liu is calling for you." When Chen Lin heard this, he had no choice but to go on into the palace. But Guo Huai said, "Wait, and I will go in to announce your presence." A short time later, he came back out and said, "Her majesty bids you enter."
Chen Lin entered the palace and put the box to one side, knelt down and said respectfully, "Your majesty's humble servant Chen Lin is here to pay his respects and receive your majesty's orders."
Consort Liu said nothing. She held a tea cup and she sipped for a while. Then she finally asked, "Chen Lin, that box you brought carries the imperial seal. Why?"
Chen Lin responded, "I was ordered to go to the imperial garden to select fruit for Eighth Prince's birthday celebration. That's why the box is affixed with the imperial seal. How could I dare act on my own?"
Concubine Liu looked at the box, then at Chen Lin, and said, "Inside might be some sort of contraband. Tell the truth! If you're lying, you'll be saddled with a crime and punished."
Chen Lin, on this occasion, held the concept of life and death outside his consideration, his mind set. Not only was he not afraid; on the contrary, he answered calmly, "I'm truly not smuggling anything. If your majesty doesn't believe me, you can remove the imperial seal and see for yourself." As he said this, reached for the imperial seal to remove it. When Concubine Li saw this she stopped him.
"Since the box is sealed, who would dare open it without permission? Don't tell me you don't know the rules?"
Chen Lin kowtowed and said, "I wouldn't dare break the rules! I wouldn't dare!"
Concubine Liu pondered in silence for a moment. Because the next day really was Eighth Prince's birthday, she said, "Since it's like this, go on!" Chen Lin stood and took the box, and had just turned around to leave when he heard Concubine Liu say, "Turn back around." Chen Lin had no choice but to obey. Concubine Liu sized him up, and seeing that the color of his face had not changed in the slightest, she said slowly, "Go on." Chen Lin left the palace. This was also a moment of loyalty. His reaction was straightforward, from beginning to end concealing the truth from the treacherous concubine, and thereby avoiding a great disaster.
After leaving through the Forbidden Gate, Chen Lin went straight to Nanqing Palace. He announced that he was here to deliver an imperial order, and Eighth Prince received him inside the hall. Chen Lin offered the box as an offering and presented it as a gift. Because Chen Lin was acting as imperial envoy, he was offered a seat. The prince saw Chen Li with tears streaming down his face, and on his knees Chen Lin burst into sobs. Eighth Prince was alarmed and bewildered. "If you have something to say, just say it." Chen Lin looked to his left and right. The virtuous prince, understanding, said, "Servants, you're all dismissed."1
When everyone had left, Chen Lin related the entire story in detail.
Eighth Prince said, "How do you know for sure the child is the crown prince?"
Chen Lin said, "It was wrapped in the imperial swaddling clothes."
When he heard this, the prince quickly got up and opened the box and lifted the baby out to have a look. It really was wrapped in the imperial swaddling clothes. When he heard the sound of the crown prince crying, the prince wept incessantly, as if he were giving vent to his grievances. He embraced the baby and took him to the family quarters; he told Chen Lin to come with him. They showed the crown prince to Empress Di and and told her the whole story. Everyone discussed the matter and decided to house the child in Nanqing Palace for the time being. Once things settled down at court, they could sort everything out then. Chen Lin took his leave and returned to court to report the completion of his mission.2
Who would have thought that Consort Liu had already reported Consort Li's demon spawn to the emperor. The emperor was enraged and immediately demoted Consort Li to a lower courtyard in Cold Palace, and promoted Consort Liu to the rank of Precious Consort of Yuchen Palace.3
How pitiful that Consort Li, with no one to rely on, suffered such an injustice. Who could she appeal to?
Fortunately, the manager of Cold Palace, Qin Feng, was loyal and honest, and he didn't get along well with Guo Huai. He already suspected treachery, and now, seeing Consort Li like this, he was quite disturbed, and did everything he could to comfort her. He instructed the eunuch Yu Zhong, "Make sure you attend to her majesty properly." As it turns out, Yu Zhong had an odd feature. His face was strikingly similar to that of Consort Li's, and what's more, he always handled matters in a gallant fashion, frequently dashing ahead heedless of his own safety for the benefit of others. Consequently, Qin Feng loved him even more, and even though they were teacher and disciple, the feeling was more like that between a father and son. Now, seeing Consort Li suffering so, Yu Zhong wished her could take her place. His every desire was to think of a plan to rescue Consort Li from her calamity, but try as he might, he couldn't come up with anything, and so was forced to give up.
Let's turn now to Consort Liu. Her plan had succeeded, and she was delighted. She secretly rewarded Guo Huai and Mrs. You generously. Then she instructed Mrs. You to oversee her own child birth. After carrying her baby a full ten months, Consort Liu coincidentally also gave birth to a boy. The news was reported to the emperor. The emperor was overjoyed, and soon appointed Consort Liu as Empress. The proclamation was spread throughout the empire. Henceforth, everyone knew that the wife of the emperor was Empress Liu. Guo Huai was respected and honored as if he had founded a state, and Mrs. You was put in charge of the compound. Kou Zhu became the head servant in the palace. Things continued this way without incident.
As they say, extreme joy begets sorrow. After six years, Empress Liu's son unexpectedly fell ill and died. The emperor was beside himself with grief, lamenting the fact that he was middle-aged and again without an heir. It had proved so difficult to get an heir, and then he died young. How could his heart not ache? Because of his excessive grief, he didn't hold court for many days in succession.
One day, Eighth Prince called on the emperor to pay his respects and see how he was doing. The emperor received the prince and offered him a seat opposite him so they could chat. He asked the prince how many sons he had and what their ages were. Eighth Prince told of his sons one by one, until he got to the third son, who was about the same age as Empress Liu's. When the emperor heard this, he was greatly pleased. He immediately summoned the child, and upon seeing him, the emperor couldn't help but be overjoyed. What was odd, though, was that the boy's countenance and manner were the exact same as the emperor's. Consequently, his sickness was cured and his grief left him.4
He immediately issued and imperial decree appointing this third son as the next heir and named him the Crown Prince of the Eastern Palace.5
Chen Lin was then ordered to take the crown prince to the Eastern Palace and pay his respects to Empress Liu and to see the other palaces.
They first went to see Empress Liu, and Chen Lin reported, "His majesty has appointed Eighth Prince's third son as Crown Prince of the Eastern Palace and ordered this servant to lead him here to see you." The crown prince paid his respects. Empress Liu saw that the crown prince looked very similar to the emperor, and she was secretly astonished. Chen Lin said they still needed to visit the other palaces.
Empress Liu said, "Since it's like this, go ahead and go. But come back soon. I still have more to talk about." Chen Lin agreed and then led the crown prince to the other palaces.
As they were passing Cold Palace, Chen Lin turned to the crown prince and said, "This is Cold Palace. Because Consort Li gave birth to an evil spirit, His Majesty demoted her and ordered her to live in this palace. I've heard she's actually the most virtuous of people." When the crown prince heard the story, he didn't quite believe it. As an imperial prince of Heaven-like intelligence, how could he believe such a strange thing? There's no way he could have known that the matter was about him, but he still wanted to go in and have a look. As luck would have it, just then Qin Feng came out of the palace. (Chen Lin had already explained to Qin Feng about the baby exchange, and the latter was pleased to hear the news.) Qin Feng first greeted the crown prince, then went back inside to report his presence to Consort Li.
Soon after, he returned and said, "Crown Prince, please come inside." Chen Lin went with them inside. Upon seeing Consort Li, the crown prince couldn't help but burst into tears. This was the result of the innate bond between mother and son. Chen Lin saw this and was alarmed, and hurriedly ushered the boy out and returned to see the Empress.
Empress Liu was lost in thought when the crown prince suddenly returned, tear stains still visible on his face. She questioned him closely as to the reason why he had been crying. The boy dared not hide anything, and said, "We passed by Cold Palace, and when I saw Consort Li looking haggard from grief, I really couldn't bear it. That's why I came here, to ask the empress mediate on her behalf and ask the emperor to pardon her. This would console my sorrowful feelings." After saying this, he knelt down. When she heard this, Empress Liu was alarmed. She pretended to be concerned and promptly helped him to his feet. Then she commended him, saying, "How magnanimous you are! By all means, set your heart at ease. I will speak to him when it's next convenient, don't you worry." The crown prince then went with Chen Lin back to the Eastern Palace.
After the crown prince had left, how could Empress Liu drop the matter? She pondered to herself, "Just now, the crown prince entered, and he reminded me of Consort Li; then he comes here in front of me, asking to grant her mercy? Something is suspicious about this. Could it be that six years ago, when I ordered Kou Zhu to take the baby out of the palace, she didn't strangle the child, and therefore never disposed of the body under Gold Water Bridge?" She thought it over some more. "Back then, I remember that Chen Lin was carrying a box from the imperial garden when he came by. Could it be that Kou Zhu dared act on her own and hand over the child to Chen Lin, who then took the child out of the city? If I want to know, I'll have to interrogate Kou Zhu, the slut, then I'll know the truth." The more she thought about it, the more suspicious she became.
She summoned Kou Zhu, had her stripped of her clothes and lightly flogged, all the while asking her questions. Kou Zhu said every word correctly, never deviating from her original story. Empress Liu became more angry and summoned Chen Lin and questioned, but he too stuck to his original story. Desperate, Empress Liu thought, "Why not use poison to attack poison, and put Chen Lin in charge of the questioning?" But how could she know the depth of Kou Zhu's resolve, that she would face death unflinchingly? What a pity that her body was weak and delicate. Yet, even after being beaten to the point that there was not a patch of unwounded skin on her, still she did not give up a confession. As the torture continued, there suddenly came an imperial summons for Chen Lin. Lest she detain Chen Lin and thereby reveal the situation, she was forced to send Chen Lin on his way.
Seeing that Chen Lin was already gone, Kou Zhu thought, "It's likely that Empress Liu will refuse to stop. Rather than suffer more, it would be better to kill myself." So she struck the threshold and died. Empress Liu had the corpse taken out by an attendant, who was a faithful servant under Kou Zhu, and had her secretly buried behind Yuchen Palace. Because she had beaten a servant to the point of driving her to suicide, Empress Liu didn't dare report the matter. She also dared not continue her investigation into the Consort Li matter any further.
Yet, having not reached the truth of the matter, Empress Liu's jealousy deepened, and turned into a hatred of Consort Li that she couldn't forget. She quietly met with Guo Huai, wanting to know if Consort Li bore a grudge which might be used against her in the future.
Let's turn now to Consort Li. After seeing the crown prince, she felt sick at heart every day. Luckily, Qin Feng was there to console her. When he told her privately about the crown prince, it was like waking from a dream and now she was endlessly delighted. Every night she burned incense and prayed for the crown prince's protection and safety.
Her habits were spied on by that villain Guo Huai, and he went before the emperor and reported, "Consort Li bears a grudge in her heart, and every night burns incense to curse him. She cherishes evil thoughts; it will be difficult to let her off." The emperor was furious, and immediately granted her a white rope, seven feet in length, and ordered her to commit suicide at once. This was reported back to Cold Palace, and when Qin Feng heard the news he was scared to death and his spirit fled. He hurried over to tell Consort Li, who fainted away immediately.
In the midst of the chaos, Yu Zhong showed up and said, "We've no time to lose! Quickly, take off her clothes and give them to me. Your servant would rather take her place in death." Consort Li was revived and heard his words and could only cry, choked with emotion - how could she respond? Yu Zhong didn't explain, he just began removing his clothes, his hat, pulled off his mesh kerchief, and let down his hair and mussied it up, then took a lock and coiled it up.6
Then he took off the rest of his clothes and put them to one side, and asked Consort Li for her clothes.
Qin Feng watched him. Seeing the man like this, loyal to the death, Qin Feng was distressed, yet he also admired him. He thus steeled his heart and urged the consort to change clothes. Consort Li had no choice but to comply, and so she took off her clothes and exchanged them. Crying, she said, "You two are my great benefactors!" After saying this, she again fell into a swoon. Qin Feng didn't dare delay, but quickly moved Consort Li to the servants' quarters, where he made it seem like Yu Zhong was laid-up in bed.
Everything had just been put in order when the imperial edict arrived, delivered by Meng Caipin, who had been sent by the emperor himself to observe the suicide. Qin Feng went out to greet her, and let her sit for a moment in the side hall. Qin Feng said, "Once Consort Li has passed away, you make go inspect the body." In the first place, Meng Caipin was young; she didn't dare examine the body too closely. Secondly, she recalled with emotion Consort Li's usual kindness, and to think that this woman was now met with such a violent tragedy, in her heart Meng Caipin felt bad for her. So how could she imagine that someone else had taken the consort's place in death?
It wasn't too long before Qin Feng came out and reported, "The consort has passed away. You may inspect the body." By the time Meng Caipin received the report, she already had tears running down her face. How could she still endure a close inspection?
"I will now report back to the emperor," she said. If Yu Zhong's face had not such an uncanny resemblance to Consort Li, they never would have been able to pull off the switch. But since they did look so similar, they passed, and the body was buried according to the rites.
Although that matter was finished, Qin Feng's job was not over. He reported that Yu Zhong was ill and was confined to his bed. From the beginning, Guo Huai and Qin Feng didn't get along, so hearing that Qin Feng's right-hand man was indisposed was a delight to Guo Huai. Guo Huai would not allow Yu Zhong to be cared for in the palace, so he was forced to return to his hometown and become a commoner. Therefore, Qin Feng took out the false Yu Zhong himself and appointed a trusted friend to escort "him" to Qin's family's home in Chenzhou. But, we'll get to that later.
Henceforth, Qin Feng was lonely and melancholy. He often thought about his disciple's death, such a pity, and yet worthy of one's respect, and he worried about how Consort Li was doing at his family's house. One night, while he was busy feeling bereaved, fires unexpectedly broke out on all sides. Qin Feng knew it was Guo Huai's doing: in the first place, he wanted to get rid of the root of the problem. Secondly, he wanted to avenge a personal grudge. He thought to himself, "Even if I escape with my life, I won't escape the blame for the palace catching fire. It would be better to incinerate myself, and thus avoid further confrontations with Guo Huai." As a result, Qin Feng allowed himself to be consumed by the flames within Cold Palace.
Sure enough, Guo Huai was responsible for the fire. Thereafter, Empress Liu and Guo Huai felt pleased and at ease, believing that they would have no problems in the future. This was because the crown prince didn't know anything, and who would dare divulge anything? A decree was sent down from the emperor, ordering Chen Lin to manage the Eastern Palace and make sure miscellaneous persons weren't allowed to intrude. In fact, it was Eighth Prince who went before the emperor and recommended Chen Lin for the position. Henceforth, all was well. Now that Renzong's situation has been made clear, let's put it aside for the moment. We'll come back to him later.
Instead, let's talk about the birth of Magistrate Bao. From the time he left the womb he was subjected to innumberable hardships. Compared to Renzong, Magistrate Bao's troubles are a hundred times greater. That's why we say, "[From] Heaven will fall great responsibility".
But enough idle chatter. In the Jiangnan region, Luzhou Prefecture, in Hefei County, was Bao Family Village. There lived a wealthy man named Huai. His family owned a large estate with many fields and numerous mules and horses. He was a benevolent and charitable man, and always abided by the law. Therefore, everyone called him "Philanthropist Bao" and "Million Bao". Bao Huai originally was a cautious man. Since everyone called him "Million", he was afraid he wouldn't be able to live up to everyone's expectations. In addition, he found it difficult to impede the people, and had to change the name from Bao Family Village to Bao Village. Everyone was modest and amiable, and all of wealthy renown. The lady of rank, Mrs. Zhou, his wife, had two sons, the oldest named Bao Shan, who took Mrs. Wang as his wife. They had one son not yet a month old. The younger son was named Bao Hai; his wife was Mrs. Li. They had no sons or daughters. These two brothers, although they came from the same parents, were however totally different from each other. Bao Shan was loyal, venerable, and honest; he was straightforward an unselfish, and just happened to marry Mrs. Wang, who was also a good person. Bao Hai, on the other hand, was bitterly sarcastic, treacherous, and insidious. Unfortunately, he married Mrs. Li, whose character was also dishonorable. Fortunately, the old man who ran the household had his own rules, and he strictly enforced them. Bao Shan was happy and was tolerant and tender in all things, and in various ways abdicated to his brother, and never again called on his brother, but only used the wives as a go-between. Mrs. Wang was also of an amiable nature, and never fought with her sister-in-law. Mrs. Li, though cunning and fierce, was difficult to put to good use. In this way the family lived in harmony, and everyone was happy and joyful every day. The men planted seeds in the spring and reaped the harvest in autumn; agriculture was their means of livelihood. Although not a scholarly family, they were nevertheless a hardworking and thrifty family.
Unexpectedly, Mrs. Zhou, who was already in excess of forty years old, suddenly became pregnant. The squire was not at all happy. All day he was worried and depressed. You say what's the meaning of this? To give birth in one's old age is a cheeful occasion, so why would Squire Bao be unhappy? It was only because they were both in the vicinity of fifty years old, and they already had two sons, and their sons had already taken wives and had a children and were busy raising them. Besides that, for one so advanced in years, giving birth might be dangerous. What's more, breast feeding for three more years is tiring; how could she endure it? So, Squire Bao was worried every day, depressed and in low spirits, and he couldn't get it out of his mind. So it was under these circumstances that the family met with an auspicious moment that only increased their happiness.
So what happened next? Read the next chapter if you would know.
1. Because Chen Lin was looking left to right, and the prince understood that Chen Lin was afraid that someone would overhear the secret he wanted to tell, so the prince dismissed the servants.
2. His mission was to select fruit for the birthday celebration. Obviously, he's not going to report about the baby exchange!
3. Consort Li suffers the blame for the ruse because the skinned cat is seen as a bad omen, and since it was unrecognizable, everyone thought it must be an evil spirit/monster. What bad thing has she done, or what disfavor has she incurred from Heaven that such a strange and inauspicious occurrence should happen? That's what everyone must have been thinking, and that's why she was demoted, basically forced into a kind of close exile. One wonders what Consort Li thought about all this. Did she really think she had given birth to a demon?
4. He's thinking of his own recently deceased son and projecting those feelings onto Eighth Prince's son.
5. The Eastern Palace was the traditional home of the crown prince.
6. He let his hair down so he would more resemble a woman. Then he took a lock and coiled it up in the fashion of a woman doing up her hair.
The title of this chapter is interesting for its parallelism [設陰謀臨產換太子 奮俠義替死救皇娘]. In the first line, we have a mention of the baby exchange, when the crown prince is swapped for a skinned leopard cat. In the second line, Yu Zhong, the "vigorous hero" 奮俠義 substitutes his own life to save Consort Li's. The actual word used for substitute is 替, which means to take the place of another. So there are two switches, two exchanges in this chapter, and both involve saving the life of another.
Although there are several outstanding characters in this chapter, two stand out as exemplary xia 俠: Kou Zhu and Yu Zhong. Both selflessly sacrifice their lives to save someone else, and they do it without a second thought. Kou Zhu's resolve is so strong that incessant flogging does not break her spirit, though it breaks her body. She reminds me of Hou Yi, the title character of a Tang dynasty tale. In that story, Hou Yi is being interrogated about the whereabouts of a criminal he is suspecting of harboring. While being burned over a fire, instead of confessing, Hou Yi recommends they add more charcoal to the fire. Although Kou Zhu isn't so outspoken, her nerve is at least his equal, and for a lowly servant who has nothing to gain by sacrificing herself, her actions are all the more commendable.
Yu Zhong, upon hearing of the imperial order, immediately decides to sacrifice himself. There is foreshadowing in this chapter. When we are introduced to Yu Zhong, we are told that he closely resembles Consort Li. How fortunate, because his similar looks allow him to pass himself off as the consort, helped by the inspector's inexperience and emotion. His social position is also not high, yet he gives his life, and this time not to save a noble, as Kou Zhu did, but to save an already disgraced concubine. Who can say that Kou Zhu's sacrifice was greater than his?
We mustn't forget Chen Lin, either. Chen Lin takes the crown prince away in the imperial box, and when questioned by a perhaps unreasonably suspicious Consort Liu, does not waver; he even dares her to open the box if she doesn't believe him. One wonders if Chen Lin doesn't possess a pair of golden balls himself! Lucky that the child stayed quiet throughout the whole ordeal. I wonder how he breathed inside that box?
Qin Feng's role is somewhat minor compared to the others, but he also risks his life to save Consort Li. He goes along with the plan and reports Yu Zhong's illness, then arranges for the consort to live in his family's home in Chenzhou. His sacrifice at the end is less commendable, than the others', though. He dies to avoid confrontation, yet what a useless death it was. I would have liked for him to fight back a bit harder.
Finally, you might have noticed some authorial intrusions in this chapter. "Let's turn to", "Enough idle chatter", "We'll get to that later"... these are all common phrases in early Chinese long form narratives,1
and they originated as phrases used by oral storytellers. Many early Chinese long-form narratives originated, or at least the sources to the narratives originated in the oral storytelling tradition. Narratives from Water Margin, for example, were performed by storytellers long before the "novel" was written down.
1. I might call them novels, but there are reasons to avoid the term "novel", which I won't go into here. For more information on that, see Andrew Plaks, "The Novel in Premodern China: Can There Be a Non-Western Novel?" in The Novel, vol.1, edited by Franco Moretti, published by Princeton University Press in 2006.