Chapter 46 – The Memoir of the Divorce Scene in Ancient China (Part 1)

The mother (the Eldest Madam Sheng) and the daughter (Mrs. Li) talked for more than half two hours . As a result, whether the thing she should know or the thing she shouldn’t, Minglan listened to them all. Finally, the old madam felt a little tired when Sheng Yun helped to have a rest, while Minglan could back out, struggling to move her legs that had already been numb. Her two legs were sore and tingling, because of the pain, her back arched as an old lady’s. Minglan was impressed by herself that she never forgot to shelter the dog hole with the water vat and the ruderal when she tried not to be found.

The dog hole showered mud on her and looked liked a drowned mouse, Minglan dared not to go back to her own room, so she had to sneak to the Pinlan’s quarter, where she saw that the traitor who forsook her comrade was waiting for her (Minglan). And as soon as Pinlan met her, a benign smile spread over Pinlan’s face. What’s more, trying to apple-polish Minglan, Pinlan prepared the new clothes for her.

Minglan just gave Pinlan a beating rub, and after giving vent to her anger for a while, Minglan began to freshen herself up. No sooner had she took off the clothes than the two girls was shocked, Minglan’s elbows and knees were red and swollen, and her white skin was covered with the Buddhist-Temple-stone-brick-like harsh lines. Pinlan took the ointment she had prepared, wiped it on Minglan’s knees and elbows, and massaged it for a long time. Then she poured down the ginger soup simmered for Minglan. Nonetheless, the next day, Minglan’s wound turned into mottled bruises, which was like the partition tiles in the toilet. Minglan became furious, she pulled Pinlan’s cheeks and tore them off on both sides. Although Pinlan shouted all the time, she had to endure it with no complains. And for the next few days, she made amends to Minglan persistently, just like a little obedient pug.

When the bruises in Minglan’s knees faded, the Eldest Madam Sheng gathered together the patriarchs of the Sun and the Sheng family, the venerable old men who were the frequenters. Finally, they invited Sun Zhigao and his mother as well. A big audience filled the hall to make it clear. It was of course that Pinlan couldn’t be absent from the grand occasion, so she begged Mrs. Li’s permit for a long time. Mrs. Li would certainly be reluctant to let her daughter watch the adults’ quarrel. Instead, the Eldest Madam Sheng said: “She is not young anymore. It’s time for her to know the hardships of all this, otherwise she will be a flower in greenhouse that cannot withstand the winds and currents.”

Deferred from the one of Mrs. Li, in Eldest Madam Sheng’s life philosophy, she thought that weeds were much stronger than ornamental orchids. Considering the status, it was not good for Mr. Li to disobey the order of her mother-in-law. So, she had a glance at Pinlan and agreed indirectly. Pinlan went to find Minglan immediately and said to her ‘Go together’. Minglan was also very curious, but she thought it was better to tell Old Madam Sheng first. To Minglan’s surprise, Old Madam Sheng agreed. Then the two girls sneaked into the cubicle of the main hall. “Let him have it!” Pinlan was particularly excited.

When they reached the cubicle, they found Shulan already sitting there, with a haggard look just like a widow.

“It is the Eldest Madam Sheng who called our young lady here.” Shulan’s maid said gently. Minglan and Pinlan had a look at each other. They knew, the Eldest Madam Sheng was applying decisive methods in order to free Shulan from attachment to Sun family.

Sun Zhigao and his mother were invited respectfully by servants of Sheng family, so they thought Sheng family would have compromised. Then they swaggered and then found there are not only Sheng families, but also some persons of virtue and prestige in the local place. What’s more, even the local magistrate was here, with two clerks. Sun Zhigao felt a little worried, while his mother seemed not to feel the atmosphere and sat down on one host seat.

After they paid respects to each other, Uncle Hu and Changsong invited the magistrate and his assistants to go out for tea. Pinlan peeked carefully through the crack in the door and looked back, then she said gently: “Fortunately, the third branch of Sheng family does not come, or they will mock us for that.”

After a cup of tea, cupping his hand in the other before his chest, Sheng Wei swept the crowd around the hall and said, “I invite all the elders here today to discuss the matter of Shulan and Sun family. There is something wrong with their relationship. Hope everyone doesn’t laugh at it.”

Sun Zhigao saw Sheng Wei’s actions and thought Sheng Wei wanted him to compromise depending on prosperous Sheng family. Sun Zhigao decided to take actions first, then he snorted: “Father-in-law, there are three ways to be unfilial, the worst is to not produce offspring. As a member of Sun family, I, 25 years old, still don’t have a child. Now, it is a great surprise for me that my concubine is pregnant. However, I don’t expect that Shulan should envy a concubine, instead of taking care of the pregnant. Even Shulan couldn’t tolerate my concubine. Father-in-law, you are righteous and should give her a lesson.”

Hearing his words full of lies, even Sheng Wei, who was always kind, could not help but be angry. Mrs. Li noticed Sheng Wei’s face took on a ghastly expression, so she slowly stood up and said: “This is a domestic affair, so it is not appropriate for my husband to deal with it. As I’m Shulan’s mother, I will take over the case.” She turned around to look at Sun Zhigao: ” Let me ask you, my daughter has been married to you for three years. How many concubines do you have now?”

Sun Zhigao snorted and did not answer. Mrs. Li continued: “In less than half a year after my daughter married you, you married three maid concubines. One year later you bought two more; the second year you married a concubine from a decent family and three maid concubines; the third year four more concubines also married you. Now you are only twenty-five years old, but you have had twelve or more concubines.”

As Mrs. Li cut down Sun Zhigao to size, the latter’s face turned red. Sun Zhigao’s clansmen looked at him, and one of his uncles, who had never been in harmony with Sun Zhigao, said ironically: “No wonder my niece failed at each imperial test – he is too busy.”

Sun Zhigao was too abashed to speak a word. His mother looked at him and said: “It’s common for a man to have many concubines, not to mention that my son is for the sake of his progeny. What do you mean, Mrs. Li?”

Sheng Yun snorted: “Is he really for the sake of his progeny, or is he just lascivious? Who knows?”

Sun Zhigao was so furious that he was going to pound the table and jump to his feet.

The head of the Sun family quickly came out to mediate the dispute: “Keep calm. A couple always quarrel with each other at the head of the bed and compromise at the end of it (a Chinese proverb which means a quarrel between a couple won’t last long), why bother?”

Sun Zhigao’s mother noticed this chance to extricate herself from an awkward position, so she quickly said: “Yes, don’t talk nonsense! Shulan is infertile while the dancer is pregnant, so the former should agree to accept the latter as my son’s concubine. When the dancer give birth to a child, it will also be her blessing.”

Mrs. Li said coldly: “This is what I want to talk about. I just ask you one question: if Shulan strongly disagrees to let the dancer marry into the Sun family, what are you going to do?”

Sun Zhigao suddenly stood up and looked arrogant: “I don’t want such a wife. I will write a xiushu (a letter written by husband to wife announcing divorce in ancient China)!”

Sheng Wei finally couldn’t endure that, and he sneered: “Well, well, well! – You are really a great son-in-law who reads the books of sages!”

Minglan felt pity and turned to look at Shulan, only found that her eyes were empty and her body was collapsing, so she could only stand supporting by her maidservants. Pinlan gritted her teeth and said besides Minglan’s ear: “If I was a man, I would go out and slap him hard.” Minglan looked at the mighty look of Pinlan and thought: Although you are a girl, your brother-in-law may not defeat you.

Sun Zhigao saw the Sheng family remained silent, then he arrogantly smiled: “It’s known that uniting as a couple for one day, the relationship will last at least a hundred days; if she can be more virtuous and take good care of the male offspring of Sun family, we will not maltreat her! Father (refers to Sheng Wei) and mother (refers to Mrs. Li), think over it.” After finished, he sat down flatly, seeming quite assured that the Sheng family would be loath to let him go.

Mrs. Li looked at him, and the last hesitation in her heart was gone. On the contrary, she hated him so much that she even wanted to kill him. She spoke loudly: “We don’t need to think over it, as we cannot match you great scholar Sun, but you can’t divorce Shulan with an announcement letter, you both can only divorce by agreement, and all dowries should be returned to us!”

Sun and his mother were both shocked, as they didn’t expect the Sheng family to be so tough, now they felt quite embarrassed. The present people were also surprised, and when they came to themselves, they all persuaded the Sheng family ‘not to make a decision impulsively’, or that ‘people would rather tear down ten bridges than break a marriage’ etc.

Sun Zhigao finally came to himself, shouting: “Why talk about divorce by agreement? She’s such an unvirtuous and unfilial person, it’s already a treat to divorce her by an announcement letter!” Sun’s mother hurriedly picked up: “Once she married my son, those dowries naturally belong to we Sun family, what claim do you have on them?!”

Looking at the mother and the son, who showed no care or pity for her diligent and honest daughter, Mrs. Li finally understood the Eldest Madam Sheng’s efforts and pains. She got stronger inside and said in a high tone: “Who’s unvirtuous and unfilial? How dare you heartless people say things like this? You want to be filial and raise more sons, my daughter never stops you; although my family conducts business, we all know well about woman ethics and filial piety. People all said that only being childless after seven years can be judged, but you married just six months ago, now you have accepted a concubine. Now you say she’s ‘too jealous’?! In these three years after she married you, she sleeps in your mother’s room for more than 20 days a month, serving tea and water, cooking and taking care of your mom’s diet. Shulan stays up really late and gets up very early. She endures your mother’s abuse. Isn’t she virtuous?”

Thinking that Shulan was young but looked like an old woman, Mrs. Li was sad and almost choked. People around sighed and stared at Sun Zhigao and his mother reproachfully. Some of them even believed Sun Zhigao’s mother was so mean that she didn’t allow the couple to sleep together. How could they be able to give birth to a baby?

Sun Zhigao sat there exasperatedly with his head bowed and his mother blushed with shame though she was barefaced. Mrs. Li furiously said, “You treat Shulan badly, it is impossible to divorce her and retain the dowry.”

Sun Zhigao sneered and said, “It is understandable for a man to divorce his wife. How could you stop it?”

Mrs. Li sneered. She took out a piece of paper from her sleeve and said, “It is a disgrace to a scholar like you to keep a concubine who was a prostitute. This is the mistress’s old household register in Qianjinge, which you forgot to burn it up, although you ransomed her. She is a woman of humble birth. I’m writing a letter right away, how about sending both the letter and her household register to your teacher and the educational commissioner? The scholars who always make and recite poems with you will see what you have done. Even if it may not ruin your success and fame, your reputation in the intellectual circles will be…”

Sun Zhigao’s face turned grey. He pretended to be calm and said, “There are many dissolute scholars. For example, the four gifted talents in Yuhang, each of whom has a female intimate.”

Sheng Yun mockingly said, “None of them keep their female intimates as their concubines, let alone give birth to a son.”

Sun Zhigao was furious but he dared not to show it, because the local magistrate was out there. At this moment, the head of the Sun family realized that Mrs. Li was well prepared and the problem needed to be solved carefully. He said to Sun Zhigao, “In this case, drive away that woman after she gives birth to a baby. It’s unnecessary to divorce your wife for a prostitute.”

Hearing these words, Sun Zhigao immediately said with tears, “This is absolutely impossible! She, she made a living by busking, but she is not a prostitute! She is really a wonder woman!”

In the cubicle, Pinlan whispered, “Nonsense!” Minglan couldn’t help but sigh, “This is normal. Most of the wonder women have always been in the brothel. Women from ordinary families are just normal women.” What’s more, most of these wonder women will encounter one or two heroes from brothel frequenter, whom these wonder women would have a romantic relationship with.

But Shulan didn’t think so. Hearing Sun Zhigao’s words, her eyes finally fell into tears, covering her lips with hands and crying silently.

At this time, a woman dressed like a steward suddenly came in. She respectfully walked to Mrs. Li and handed over a large stack of documents and a bunch of keys. Mrs. Li took these things and nodded with a smile. Sun Zhigao and his mother saw this person and suddenly exclaimed, “Mother Bian, why are you here?”

Mother Bian smiled and said, “I just came to the Sun family because Miss Shulan married the son of the Sun family. I am originally a maid of the Sheng family. Why can’t I come here?” She then turned to Mrs. Li and said, “Mrs.Li, these are the deeds of the real estates and my slave deed, and this is the original dowry list of Miss Shulan.”

The Eldest Madame Sheng had been planning for so long, and everything was well prepared. After Sun Zhigao and his mother left their house, the servants and maids who stayed at the Sun family immediately started to work. The male servants blocked the door, and stewards quickly packed baggage and properties. Then, all the servants in the Sun family, who came to the Sun family when Shulan married Sun Zhigao, brought all Shulan’s dowries, returned to the Sheng family.

Sun Zhigao’s mother jumped three feet high and almost rushed over to Mrs. Li, “How dare you take things out of our house? These are all my property, you must return them to me! I, I’ll kill you!” Saying that, Sun Zhigao’s mother was going to catch Mrs. Li’s face. The servants next to Mrs. Li stopped her immediately. The servants present were all Mrs. Li’s confidants. They were very angry when they saw Mrs. Li being insulted by Sun Zhigao’s mother. “Tong” All the people didn’t realise what happened. Sun Zhigao’s mother fell down, just like a dog who was eating mud.

Sun Zhigao immediately went to help his mother. Sun Zhigao’s mother bit her tongue, stuttered and couldn’t speak, while Pinlan and Minglan laughed in their sleeve.

Chapter 45 - The Professional Quality of an Amateur Eavesdropper (Part 2)
Chapter 46 – The Memoir of the Divorce Scene in Ancient China (Part 2)


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