Zhui Xu Chapter Ten “How Long Will The Full Moon Appear”

Recap: Su Tan Er had accepted the fact she is married and will live out the rest of her life with Ning Yi. Ning Yi still has a cold and cannot go to the Pu Part Poetry Conference at the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Chapter Ten[1] How Long Will The Full Moon Appear

The pleasure boats roamed on the Qinhuai River. The lights on both shores were bright. On the Mid-Autumn Night, Jiangning did not close its gates. The celebration would continue for the entire night and only dissipate in the early morning of the second day. At this time just after dinner, the city streets were filled with people. People walked out of their houses on the large streets and small alleys. The Confucius Temple[2] and the Jiangnan Examination Hall[3] area were the most prosperous. The lanterns along the streets were like flowing fire that never extinguished. The sounds of vendors hawking their wares, the lion and dragon dancing groups, the clattering of cymbals and the beat of drums, there were also people performing at the intersection of streets, the seductive singing of the pleasure towers advertising for customers. It was possible to see the dancing inside, and the pleasure towers were very busy, with people coming in and out.

Pleasure house women that were slightly famed already had somewhere to go today. It was possible to find seats in the major halls. There would occasionally be news on the street about some poetry conference and some young master having made a new work. This was one of the major events of the night. Then a spectator would be able to hear a famous courtesan of a pleasure tower sing the work. After that, one would be able to hear that another great work had appeared at another poetry conference. The students competed, and the beauties added a beautiful aura to the talent. Most of the people admired the flower lanterns, and watched the spectacles. In this kind of atmosphere, one could feel the charm of the Wei and Jin dynasties, and the elegant style of the Tang dynasty.

Verse had already prospered by the Tang era, and at this time, it had experienced several hundred years of development. While Ning Yi would occasionally speak of “it is difficult to say what is great or small talent” when chatting with Elder Qin, that was because their vision was not on the level of the normal people. In reality, the higher levels of the country had already realized that verse was useless. However, it was something that had been used in the recent centuries to measure scholars. The court would occasionally eliminate verse from the examinations but then put it back in. They constantly equalized and wavered.

However, even though the upper levels had their considerations, verse’s status among the entire world had reached a glorious status. If you really could write a good verse, then you would not lack for respect and good treatment wherever you went. This elegant atmosphere was the sign of an era. Ever since the Tang, the culture of the verse had settled to become the fundamental of this entire society. It was the brightest part of the civilization’s development. Famed works and chapters were like the stars in the sky, becoming one of the most important parts of the Han culture.

n Jiangning City, places such as the Black Robe Lane[4], and the Confucius Temple were the most busy and prosperous business streets. In these places, the business would put out signs, and gather the exceptional verses from each poetry conference. There would people that would recite them, and other businesses would arrange for girls that could sing to sing some lines. On the streets, in the nearby tea houses and restaurants, in the small and large gatherings, the scholars and students would shake their heads as they judged the best works. They would evaluate whose verses would be sang and spread the longest. Even the citizens that had never been educated before would feel this presence in such an atmosphere, and discuss with the people around them to get some of the elegant atmosphere.

The six interconnected  pleasure boats of the Pu Family had already left the shores and slowly moved forward along the most beautiful and busiest length of the Qinhuai River. Even so, it was not closed off. There were more than ten smaller boats that moved in front and behind on both sides of the Qinhuai River. They would occasionally pick up people to deliver to the big boats, or pass verses. They were like little fishes that accompanied the water palace. The people on the boats would pass on the best works of the night as well as news and information, such as a certain major personage announcing who they were giving their daughter in marriage to, or a famed person praising a young student for their outstanding verse.

The verses of the Pu Park Poetry Conference could be considered to be acceptable. A few years ago, they had bought verses from people to deal with the day, but right now, there was no need to buy verses. Since they had money, they could always invite some people who had reputation and skill. While it could not compare to the most famous Water Point Poetry Conference or the Beautiful River Poetry Conference, but after some heated promotion, their reputation had slowly risen.

The poetry conferences of the Mid-Autumn Festival would mostly use the moon as a topic. Naturally, they would not just write about the moon. Some poetry conferences had restrictions, some had strong hosts. When people were talking, they might suggest topics. Poetry conferences were scholar societies. There was hidden competition. For example, Water Point and Beautiful  River, when one heard what the other’s topic was, a certain someone may say, “Speaking of this, this little student coincidentally obtained a … …” Then they would calmly evaluate the poem with everyone. On the surface, naturally, it had to appear as though there was no intentions to compete. If something like poetry reached a high level, it was not possible to determine which was better, but if the contrast was very large, then it was possible to see the better at a glance.

It had not reached the liveliest time. The poetry conference would continue to the early hours of the morning. Truly good poetry would not coincidentally appear. Each student would prepare one or two of their works. If they felt that they didn’t have enough talent, they didn’t have to embarrass themselves in front of the personages so they would release the works early. The group of truly great talents would wait until midnight to start releasing. If they could receive good reviews tonight and accumulate fame, their scholarly career might be smoother.

The night deepened in this kind of atmosphere. The moon was high in the sky. The atmosphere of the city became even hotter. In the small yard of the Su Family, Ning Yi and Xiao Chan had returned to the room. They could see some of the people from here. The wind had started.

The loud sounds outside was still able to be heard from here. Master and servant had their own small Mid-Autumn evening celebration. Because Ning Yi didn’t remember much of the Romance of the Western Chamber, and considering that the Romance of the Western Chamber was about a miss having a secret affair, Ning Yi ended up narrating a part of the Journey to the West. Then Xiao Chan sang a few songs to him as she danced in an inexperienced fashion–supposedly, this was something she had seen from a performance and then she learned it–Su Tan Er had never considered sending the three servant girls to other people or use them to please others. Due to this, she had the three servant girls learn to read, embroider, manage the servants, and work on her behalf, and not for them to play instruments and dance. While they could manage to do things like sing, they did not know how to dance, but when Xiao Chan danced, she seemed light and adorable.

Xiao Chan liked to play Five-in-a-row but Ning Yi was still sick and mentally-tiring work like this was to be avoided. After Xiao Chan finished dancing and singing, Ning Yi performed a simple magic trick for her. He put a weiqi stone on his hand and made it disappear before taking it out of the other’s hair or pocket. The little girl was shocked when she saw this. Ning Yi smiled and told her the trick. As Xiao Chan clumsily practiced it, Ning Yi said, “I’m going to sleep, it’s still early. XIao Chan, go to the Pu Park Poetry Conference and play … … right, the invitation is on the desk … …”

“I’ll go after Guye falls asleep,” Xiao Chan said with a smile.

“Ha, then how about singing another song to me?”

“Alright, what does Guye want to hear?”

The songs of this time were mostly poetry with certain ways of signing. However, these ways of singing had mostly been lost in the modern era. Xiao Chan did not know many poetic songs. The two picked up a volume of poetry and tried to choose songs.

“Song to the Fisherman … …”

“Xiao Chan doesn’t know this one.”

“Thinking of Jiangnan?”

“I know this.” Xiao Chan excitedly prepared to sing.

“No, I don’t like this one.”

“Then does Guye want to hear ‘Lovable Nujiao’?”

“This Prelude to the Water Melody isn’t bad, uh … … Prelude to the Water Melody … …”

“I know this, I know this.”

“You know how to sing Prelude to the Water Melody?” Ning Yi thought. “Oh, Xiao Chan knows a lot.”

“Sing this one?”

“Uh … … let’s sing another one, it is also Prelude to the Water Melody … …”

Ning Yi was bored. In reality, he thought of Faye Wong’s “How Long Will The Moon Appear?” [5] However, the Su Shi of this era hadn’t seemed to compose this poem. He had Xiao Chan take out brush and paper. Lying by the bed, he awkwardly wrote the poem onto the paper for Xiao Chan to sing. Xiao Chan’s eyes were bright. “Guye, you wrote this?”

“Oh.” Ning Yi thought and then, looking at Xiao Chan’s anticipating face, he shrugged, he said, “I wrote it. Here, for you, sing, sing.”

Xiao Chan looked at the lyrics for a while and then started to sing solemnly according to the tune of the song. The young girl’s voice was clear and light. While it was not professional, because she was focusing so seriously, she actually went out of tune once. But it was still very excellent. Ning Yi smiled after hearing this. I’ll teach you another way to sing this.”

“Ah?” Xiao Chan blinked her eyes. “Another way of … … singing?”

“En, I’ll sing one line, you sing one line, it should be very easy to learn … … ah, it is because I want to hear it.”

While puzzled, Xiao Chan was happy at being able to learn something. She had spent the most time with Ning Yi and gradually understood that this guye would sometimes have traits that were interesting or mysterious. Then, under the guidance of Ning Yi, Xiao Chan stared to learn this Prelude to the Water Melody with the new rhythm.

“How long will the full moon appear? Wine cup in hand, I ask the sky … …” [6]

“How long will the full moon appear? Wine cup in hand, I ask the sky … …”

“I do not know what time of year … …”

“I do not know what time of year … …”

“Oh, not bad … … be tonight in the palace on high.”

“Oh, not bad … … be tonight in the palace on high.”

“… …”

“Hee, Guye, sing the next song … …”

No matter what, not long later, Ning Yi finally heard a modern song that stirred nostalgia in this era. If it was possible, in the future, he could write down modern songs for Xiao Chan to sing, or find someone who knew music and instruments to write out similar songs. In any case, it was for his private enjoyment, and if it was made public, it would not be something that could make it into a volume of poetry.

“How do you feel? Is it good?”

“Very good … …” While the songs had their traditional tunes, most of the songs in the medieval era originated from the same place as the songs of operas. They were mostly one single voice. In terms of variation, they could not compare to modern songs. Also, this song was a soft and gentle one, and was not absurd compared to this era. If the song was “Mouse Loves Rice,” Xiao Chan would either be disgusted to death or scared to death. However, the little girl was now looking at him with a changed expression of admiration and respect. “Guye knows to compose songs … …”

Ning Yi smiled. “It’s fine for you to hum this, but don’t sing it everywhere. You are a little girl, someone may say that you are unintelligent for daring to change how to sing, understand?”

“En.” XIao Chan held the fine paper and nodded firmly.

“Alright … … goodnight.” Ning Yi climbed into his blanket and then turned his head. He found that Xiao Chan was still sitting on the bench by the bed and staring at him just like how she watched over him in the last few days he had been ill. He waved his hand, “I’m fine, go.” Xiao Chan reacted and then hurriedly moved towards the door.

“Hey, take the invitation on the table. Otherwise, they won’t let you on the boat.”

After calling out and waiting for Xiao Chan to blow out the lamp, taking the invitation and closing the door, Ning Yi gave a large yawn. The noise of the city was still audible. The faint light reflecting on the window was enough to prove how busy it was outside. He smiled, “Fish and lantern dragons dance all night[7] … …” Then he slipped into sleep.

Xiao Chan leaned against the wooden pillar of the room and was in a daze for a long time. After she was sure that Ning Yi had truly fallen asleep, she finally went downstairs. She went into her room and lit the lamp. She took out paper and ink. Sprawled on her table, she copied the characters that were not very good looking because they had been written by the bedise. The little girl’s characters were very small and had a delicate presence. She looked at Ning Yi’s writing again, and then, with a blushing face, hid it in the deepest part of the drawer as though she was a thief.

Then she went out of the yard. Seeing no one on the path, she ran towards the gates. She arrived at the steward and requested a carriage and a free driver and then happily went towards the Pu Park Poetry Conference.

Little girls, they liked that kind of lively atmosphere.

Translator Ramblings: Jiangnan and Jiangning are two different things. Jiangnan (south of the Yangtze River) is a historically prosperous region with a rich culture and encompasses a much greater region.

Jiangning is the city that Ning Yi lives in which is located within the Jiangnan region.

This story is hard to translate, I keep having to search for the references and then getting lost in reading articles and not translating. Also, the author writes in humongous paragraphs which make it tiring to read and translate. It is enjoyable because I think this is the story I am learning the most from.

[1] Su Shi – Mid-Autumn Summer Festival (sung to the tune of Water Melody (shuidiaogetou). Various translations at http://www.2abc8.com/new/23518/ and another translation at http://www.mountainsongs.net/poem_.php?id=568.

Some of the translations are more literal, and others try to rhyme. Hopefully, reading a few version would give a general sense of what the content really is.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanjing_Fuzimiao

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiangnan_Examination_Hall

[4] 乌衣巷 (Wu Yi Gang). The origin of the name has several stories. One of them is that the location was the base of the Imperial Guards for the Eastern Wu Dynasty during the Three Kingdoms Era, and the soldiers wore black robes. Another is that the Wang and Xie Families during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (the one that came after the Three Kingdoms Era) lived in this area. The members of these two families liked to wear black to show their status and the area was named for this.

[5] Faye Wong is a famous Asian singer. Her music video for this song : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCREDfUEd3Y

[6] This is “Midautumn Festival” set to Prelude to the Water Melody by Su Shi as translated by Xu Yuanchong.

[7] This is a line from Xin Qiji’s “Latern Festival Night” to the tune of Green Jade Table. This particular translation is by Xu Yuanchong.

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12 thoughts on “Zhui Xu Chapter Ten “How Long Will The Full Moon Appear””

  1. Thank you SO MUCH for translating this chapter!

    I had such a good time reading it, with the wonderful atmosphere described and all!

    Thank you, thank you! <3

  2. Only reason I know Faye Wong is she sings the Final Fantasy VIII theme song, thought she was a one hit wonder lol

  3. AND IN THIS CHAPTER…. YOU HAVE EXPOSITION AND SLEEP! Plot? Pacing? Who cares about that, you dumbos!

    It’s a slow and slightly boring story, but I still find myself re-reading it from the beginning when a new chapter comes out. I think you do an admirable job of keeping the prose and the calming flow of the story, and your footnotes are really informative too. Thanks for translating!

  4. I wonder if this will finally start catching his wife’s attention. Not the poem itself, per se, but Xiao Chan’s high regard – she seems like the kind of person who would want to investigate why.

  5. 鄧麗君 did a concept album called 淡淡幽情 which is all classic poems set to music, in case you find that interesting.

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