You may have sensed it already in the last few chapters, too, but things are starting to converge. Information and details slipped in over the next several chapters will lead to…
Chapter 14.2 – After Magnificence Has Become But Emptiness (2)
It was the last part of September.
The elderly lady from the Wang family paid an unexpected visit. Accompanying her were the eldest grandson of the Wang family, whom Shi Yi had met once, and several meticulously dressed middle-aged women. Several months had passed since the last time she had seen her, but this elderly grandmother was still very polite and respectful to her, and there was even a slight sense of affection. When the old woman took a seat on the couch, she gently pulled on Shi Yi’s hand and had her sit down as well, as if she knew very clearly that Shi Yi’s health had not been very good.
“This Eldest Young Master’s temperament is a little impatient, and the date of the wedding is too close. He did not leave more time for this granny to work.” The elderly woman smiled and gently held Shi Yi’s hand. “There are only six outfits. Take a look. Are there any that you like?”
Shi Yi suddenly understood. She glanced over toward Zhousheng Chen.
Unconsciously, the corners of her mouth turned up in a smile.
He had left the couch for them to use and was sitting on a wooden chair, his elbow propped on the armrest as he smiled back at her.
“These are still just the initial prototypes.” The old woman observed their silent exchange and could not hold back her smile. “I estimate I will be coming back at least three or four times. Take a look at these ones first.”
“Next time, I will go over to see you.” Shi Yi felt apologetic for making such an elderly woman run around everywhere. “Granny, next time, when you are finished making them, let me know ahead of time and I can go see you.”
“It is no bother,” the old woman smiled. “You are only just recovering from your serious illness and Wenxing is also in a hospital in Shanghai. I am making one trip, but I can visit two people. Otherwise… I don’t know when Wenxing will make a full recovery and come out to my little town to visit me.”
Zhousheng Chen had mentioned Wenxing’s hospitalization to her.
However, because of her health, he had not agreed to let her go to the hospital to visit.
These words of the elderly woman actually provided the opportunity she needed to her, and she took advantage of it, saying she would go with along with her to visit Wenxing. This time, Zhousheng Chen did not stop her.
Someone opened up a box, and shortly after, garments were hanging on a dark red frame.
Six traditional Chinese style gowns as well as a western style wedding dress were all hung up.
By now, she had worn several garments made by the Wang family.
However, most of those had been sewn by the Wang family’s younger generation.
This time, it was a gown for the actual wedding banquet. The grandmother of the Wang family had personally designed it, and indeed, there was a difference. There was an indescrible sense of luxuriousness, yet at the same time, it was understated. From the choice of material to the design to the actual handicraft of sewing, everything was flawless.
Shi Yi was trying on the garments in the study, and only the old woman and Zhousheng Chen were present.
In passing, she had asked the question, why had Wang Man not come this time? She was aware that, because she was a woman and to observe proprieties, the Wang family usually would have Wang Man accompany Shi Yi during fittings. She reckoned that, even if the old woman came together with Wang Man, this practice would still be maintained.
Shi Yi had asked this question originally to show care and concern.
But the old woman sitting beside her grew rather quiet. When Shi Yi detected this, the woman had already let out a slight sigh. “She is in Shanghai, as well, but is here to rest and nurture her pregnancy.”
Nurture her pregnancy?
Shi Yi remembered Wang Man was still unmarried.
Why would she…
She did not dare ask further.
It was actually Zhousheng Chen who gave a very light cough. “Granny Wang, my great apologies…”
“It was the girl’s own choice,” Granny Wang shook her head and said, “Eldest Young Master, you need not feel sorry. The girl had known that Second Young Master was already married, but she still… She has now moved out from the Wang family. She is aware of the Zhou family rules. Apart from the primary wife, all others are not allowed into the ancestral home.”
Shi Yi suddenly comprehended.
When she had finished her clothes fitting and Granny Wang had stepped out of the study first, Shi Yi finally asked quietly, “When did Wang Man become pregnant?”
“Around the same time as Tong Jiaren.” Zhousheng Chen gently patted her on her arm. “Go change.”
“Mm… It’s a pity.”
Based on Granny Wang’s statement that “apart from the primary wife, all others are not allowed into the ancestral home,” Wang Man should have “married” Zhou Wenchuan already. It was not surprising that the old-fashioned Zhou family would allow concubinage.
So what exactly did she find “a pity”?
She was not sure herself.
To have sought something but never been able to possess it. And therefore, a compromise was accepted.
But now, though it had been obtained, was the dream truly fulfilled?
The two of them were changing inside the fitting area. She helped him slip on a dress shirt, and then from the bottom up, she began gently fastening each of his buttons for him. Supporting himself with a hand on the wall cabinet, he pulled in his chest to accommodate her actions. After she was done and had slid her fingers around his collar to ensure that everything was in place, Zhousheng Chen at last explained in a low voice, “There are some things in the Zhou family that, if you are not comfortable with them, you should just treat them as if you did not know about them.”
Shi Yi answered with an “mm.”
Wenxing’s pre-operative medical examination was consistently not meeting criteria and as a result, the date of her surgery was postponed time and again.
She studied medicine herself and also paid careful attention in ensuring that she was getting enough rest, and it seemed her condition was turning for the better.
Granny Wang was old in age, and after exchanging only a few sentences with Wenxing, she left the hospital. Shi Yi and Zhousheng Chen accompanied Wenxing out to the bench on the lawn to enjoy some sunshine. When Wenxing took a seat, Shi Yi stretched out her hand to ask for a blanket from Zhousheng Chen, which she placed over Wenxing’s legs.
The afternoon sunlight of early autumn that fell on their bodies was warm but not hot and parching.
She sat down close to Wenxing while Zhousheng Chen stood to the side, keeping them company.
“In the lunar year, it’s already… the ninth month?” Wenxing smiled and her eyes curved into crescents as she looked at Shi Yi.
Shi Yi nodded. “The seventh day of the ninth month.”
“The ninth lunar month… is Chrysanthemum Month, right?”
Frowning, Wenxing complained, “It’s only the ninth and twenth months that are easy to remember. One takes place during the blooming season of chrysanthemums and is called Chrysanthemum Month while the other occurs when the world is covered in ice and snow and is called Ice Month. As for the other ones, when I was little, I was forced to memorize the names. You can say I did memorize them, but now, I’ve completely forgotten them all.”
Amused by this, Shi Yi laughed, “These have no use, anyways, so it doesn’t matter whether you remember them or not.”
“But,” Wenxing said quietly, “Mei Xing likes… the well-bred and learned young lady type, like those girls from distinguished families.”
She was taken aback but was able to roughly deduce the meaning behind these words.
The person this young girl kept in her heart was the one known as “wasted willows, withered lotuses, but ‘Mei Rugu’ [plum blossoms as before]”.
She might have sensed this previously but it had not been confirmed. If one were to count, Wenxing was actually younger than Mei Xing by twelve or thirteen years. Mei Xing was someone who appeared as if there was much more than meets the eye. It was not very possible that a thirty-five year old unmarried man would not have his own stories, right? It was similar to Zhousheng Chen, who, despite not being interested in the things of romance that occurred between a man and a woman, he had also previously been engaged twice, simply for the sake of managing his family’s wishes.
She did not understand Mei Xing, but she did know that Wenxing was revealing something that she kept hidden in her heart.
And she just happened to be a person who did not know how to comfort people.
Fortunately, Wenxing quickly changed the topic. When she spoke, her eyes would sometimes bend into little crescents and other times, would open wide. She was very immersed into the conversation, as if she had not spoken for a long time and finally had the opportunity to meet someone likeminded whom she got along with. They sat there like this for more than forty minutes. When Zhousheng Chen and Shi Yi brought her back up to her room, Wenxing’s cheeks were rosy and she was very happy.
At last, when they were leaving, Wenxing suddenly instructed Shi Yi, “Wang Man’s status is rather special. Eldest Sister-in-Law… it’s best that you don’t visit her.”
After saying this, she also turned to Zhousheng Chen. “Hey, remember that, okay?”
Zhousheng Chen smiled and lightly shook his head. “Be good and focus on getting better. Don’t think about these things.”
“I’m just concerned about you guys,” Wenxing protested with a smile. “Also, your wedding, I’m going to be there for sure. For sure.”
“Then get better first, pass all those criteria, and go for surgery.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed quietly, and she grabbed Zhousheng Chen’s right hand. “Let’s push back the surgery… What if, for some reason, after I have someone else’s heart in me, I won’t love my big brother the most anymore? What do we do then?”
Her tone was a little pouty.
Zhousheng Chen’s eyes were filled with warmth as he quietly gave her instructions, which were all merely some basic orders of the doctor.
Late that night, when all was still, she mulled over Wenxing’s words again, and as she did, she seemed to feel a sense of regret in them. Lying down in bed, she casually asked him whether he knew Wenxing liked Mei Xing. Zhousheng Chen was not surprised by the question. “I can tell.”
“You can tell?”
He did not really expound in detail. “It is very easy to see. It is similar to the first time you saw me, there were… feelings there that were quite surprising.”
With an “oh,” she told him, “Carry on.”
Even though she was pretending to be nonchalant, the tone of her voice had become floaty with anticipation.
Zhousheng Chen really did began to analyze it out for her. “The most difficult thing to conceal is emotions. Whom a girl likes is actually very easy to recognize. You watch her eyes, her actions, and the intonation of her voice when she speaks. Those things are basically enough for you to draw a conclusion.”
He was discussing the psychology of the large majority of women.
However, the association she drew was that, he had watched, from the stance of an onlooker, all her subtle little thoughts and posturing she had once had.
She coughed. “So, before, if someone… um… liked you, you would just look on like a spectator?”
“Yes, like a spectator.” He pondered again. “And perhaps, I would also avoid being alone with that person so as to not give off any false impressions that could be interpreted incorrectly.”
“Well…… what if that person was someone you were required to respond to?”
She avoided using the word, “fiancée.”
He gave a low chuckle, not exposing whom she was implying. “Only if that person is my wife, then a response is required.”
The ideal answer.
Shi Yi did not pursue the topic, evidently satisfied already with his reply.
However, she was still concerned about Wenxing. She was not particularly eager to be a matchmaker, but since Zhousheng Chen understood the situation, she wanted to ask a bit more thoroughly about it in private. Gently tugging on his sleeve, she said, “So… Mei Xing’s feelings for Wenxing…”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
He contemplated briefly. “He and I do not talk about these things.”
“But Wenxing is your little sister. Being a little concerned about it is a good thing.”
“The most difficult thing to encounter in the world is where ‘you have feelings, as do I.’”
Shi Yi could not believe that this was something Zhousheng Chen would say.
Sure enough, he quickly told her, “That is what Mei Xing said.”
Shi Yi thought for a moment, then out of the blue, asked, “What is the other name for the second lunar month?”
“Gan Xiang [Fragrant Violet].”
“What about the fourth month?”
“Huai Xu [A Row of Chinese Scholar Trees].” With a smile, he asked, “Why do you suddenly ask?”
“I was just thinking, isn’t it remarkable that a person would be insistent that his other half should like ancient literature?”
He replied with an “mm.”
Lying there beside him, she was still immersed in the story of Wenxing’s unrequited longing when she realized the wall lamps had been turned a little brighter. He lowered himself down to her and asked quietly, “Do you know how to speak the Suzhou dialect?”
“Yes.” She was somewhat baffled by his question. “I have relatives in Suzhou. It’s similar to Shanghainese. I’ve known it since I was a kid.”
They had both drank some water that had been soaked with lotus seed sprouts.
When they spoke, there was a very subtle, sweet fragrance on their breaths.
“Use the Suzhou dialect to recite some of those poems I taught you, alright?” He tilted his head slightly.
Softly, she answered him, “Alright.”
When had he ever taught her? He was obviously referring to, those Wu songs when he had… with her.
Those veiled or, sometimes, obvious lyrics and lines of flirting and seduction.
“I will go a little slower. If you feel uncomfortable, let me know, alright?”
She uttered an “mm” in answer, feeling as if her entire body was burning up.
These were thoughtful, considerate words, but yet, when he spoke them, they were laden with a thick, seductive overtone. She did not know whether it was deliberate or unintentional.
From memory, she began to recite them to him. Occasionally, when she was embarrassed, she would stop. The early autumn nights were already carrying a chill, so as the two of them turned and rolled together beneath the thin blanket, even though they were perspiring, he did not dare tear the covers away, for fear she would catch a cold.
Gradually, she was unable to recite any further. The poems and verses from her lips were becoming disjointed and inarticulate, and her thoughts were no longer coherent in her mind.
Before she drifted off into sleep, she finally remembered the question that had been puzzling her. “Zhousheng Chen?”
“Why did you want me to use the Suzhou dialect?……”
In the darkness, he seemed to be smiling. “Have you ever heard this line? ‘Tinged with drunkenness, Wu voices speak so tenderly. Whose white-haired father and mother would they be?’ A Wu accent speaking a Wu dialect to recite Wu songs is quite amusing.”
She suddenly understood. This was a famous line that praised the sound of the Wu accent.
Amongst the Wu dialects, the Suzhou dialect was the softest and most mellow and soothing. “The speakers of Wu, soft are their words.” How very gentle and tender.
But the scene depicted in that line of poetry was simply describing warm, tender words spoken while a little drunken. From his lips, though, it seemed to take on a sensual, suggestive flavor…
Zhousheng Chen suddenly added, “There is nothing really remarkable about a person wanting his other half to like ancient literature. In itself, it can be a form of delight and appeal.” Like reciting poems related to tea, like reciting tea names, or like the Wu songs he recited to her and the lines of poetry he would tell her.
Shi Yi thought about this. That was true.
But, because of these last words of his, she finally detected something. Resting her face against his chest, she listened to his rhythmic heartbeat and giggled quietly. “Zhousheng Chen, you were jealous.”
 你情我愿 “ni qing wo yuan.” In a more general sense, this actually means, “you are willing, as am I” or basically a situation of mutual consent. In the context of what it is saying here, it is a situation where two people are mutually willing to start a relationship.
 醉里吴音相媚好，白发谁家翁媪？This is a line from the poem, 清平乐 “Song of Peace and Tranquility” by Song dynasty poet, 辛弃疾 Xin Qiji. The first half of the poem describes the peaceful scene of a little thatched hut beside a grassy stream. From within that hut, soft voices that sound slightly drunken are speaking a Wu dialect and whispering sweet nothings, and it turns out that inside is an elderly couple.
吴侬软语 “wu nong ruan yu.” This idiom praises the Wu dialects and accents for being mellow, light, gentle, beautiful, and just generally, very pleasant to the ears. (Just to recap, the unique dialects from the southern area of the Yangtze River Delta are called “Wu dialects.” They are mainly spoken in Shanghai and the provinces of Jiangsu, where the cities of Zhenjiang and Suzhou are located, and Zhejiang.)
Many interesting discussions came up after the last couple posts, and I’ve been having a ball just being a spectator. Forgive me if I don’t give detailed replies to your comments now. Like I said in the opening, things are slowly starting to come to light, and I’m trying not to influence any of your perceptions. I’ll just say that MBFB wrote certain things for a reason, and I surmise that your big reactions are something she’d be pleased with. 😉
However, since my name was called out on the topic of Zhousheng Chen’s lack of response to Shi Yi’s “I love you,” I’ll put in my (long, rambling) few cents on it. 😇 Skip it if you’re not interested. Thought I’d lay out a little summary and timeline of the story to date first, though.
Some time in March (Based on cherry blossom season at Qinglong Temple)
Shi Yi spends a week in Xi’an where she meets up with Zhousheng Chen a few times. She returns to Shanghai, and shortly after, they go on their first real “date” where he tells her he likes Wu songs. :p
April 4-5 or so
Shi Yi visits family in Zhenjiang for Qingming Festival. Zhousheng Chen calls and suggests engagement.
Shi Yi visits the Zhou family ancestral home for the first time. She returns to Shanghai while he stays in Zhenjiang.
End of April
Zhousheng Chen’s surprise visit at Shi Yi’s workplace.
He tells Shi Yi if the experimental method is wrong, they will change to a different one, but the research direction will never change.
He goes to Shi Yi’s home for the first time and she brews him purple perilla leaf medicine.
Shi Yi receives an award.
Shi Yi sings “Within My Song” for a program, and then after, she initiates their first kiss.
A few days later, they return together to the Zhou manor in Zhenjiang.
Tang Xiaofu’s death occurs. Shi Yi learns she and Zhousheng Chen are legally married, and he gives her the rings with their anniversary date engraved on them (May 11).
Shi Yi paints the lotus flower painting, and later that day, Zhousheng Chen initiates the “naughty kiss” with He Shan still on the phone.
Zhousheng Chen leaves the country the next day for a planned duration of 3 months.
61 days later, Shi Yi goes to Bremen, Germany to visit him for 1 week. He tells her of his investment plans to help China.
Zhousheng Chen’s wedding ring is returned to Shi Yi by Zhou Wenchuan.
Near the end of the trip, Shi Yi witnesses a gun battle.
That same day, Shi Yi initiates physical intimacy for the first time, but nothing comes of it.
Mid to late July
Shi Yi goes to Wuzhen for work. Zhousheng Chen recites tea names and poetry over the phone because she is scared.
Xiao Ren visits her the next day.
2-3 days later, Zhousheng Chen ends his business trip earlier than expected and goes to see Shi Yi in Wuzhen. They consummate their marriage, and Shi Yi states, “I love you” for the first time.
They return to Shanghai together and stay in Shi Yi’s place, with Zhousheng Chen commuting back and forth between Shanghai and Zhenjiang.
July 31 – Shi Yi goes to the Zhou manor with him for Ghost Month.
August 14 – Shi Yi nearly drowns.
Mid to late August
They visit Grandmother, and Zhou Wenchuan and Tong Jiaren are present.
Zhousheng Chen recreates Shi Yi’s lotus painting with the line of poetry declaring his stance to his mother.
That night, Shi Yi collapses from being poisoned. Zhousheng Chen takes Shi Yi back to Shanghai, by deduction, at the end of August or early September, whenever she is stable enough to be moved.
End of September
Basically this entire chapter, where we are in the story now.
I know I have been saying over and over again that this is a slowly developed romance, and it is to us as readers. It’s not instant sparks and passion, and it takes a large percentage of the novel for Zhousheng Chen to realize his feelings for Shi Yi. However, I also feel this might have created a bit of a misconception that lots of time has passed. When you look at it in novel time, from the beginning of this novel, in Xi’an, to this last chapter, it has only been around 6 months, and only 5.5-ish months since Zhousheng Chen put forth the suggestion of engagement. And, 2.5 of those 5.5 months, he was out of country and their communication was limited to their three phone calls a day.
We read Zhousheng Chen’s thoughts, that he had been physically attracted to Shi Yi in Bremen, but he had suppressed those feelings. Why did he suppress them, given that they were already legally married? Part of it was because he, the gentleman he is, wanted to be sure that Shi Yi truly was comfortable with the intimacy, but I think another big reason is, as the relatively conservative person that he is, he would not be physically intimate with someone unless he was certain of his feelings for that person. That’s why, in Wuzhen, he had thought that perhaps he did not need to suppress the desire anymore. I believe it was in that scene there that he was consciously acknowledging his feelings for her, and hence, Shi Yi could sense the change in him after in their day-to-day lives. It took 3.5 months from when they were engaged for him to fall in love with Shi Yi. That day, when Shi Yi said for the first time that she loved him, he had just truly realized his feelings for her. For someone who was never interested in romance before and in general, is slow to warm to people, let’s give him some credit for that timeframe. Then, the second “I love you” from Shi Yi happens about 1-1.5 months later, after the poisoning.
How would I describe Zhousheng Chen? Aloof, intellectual, logical, reserved, uncomfortable expressing emotions. Have any of you ever heard of the “5 love languages“? I believe, each person instinctively will first express love through the love language they are most comfortable with and are most affirmed by. I am confident that Zhousheng Chen’s love language is most definitely not “words of affirmation.” However, that does not mean he is not expressing his feelings. Remember he suddenly wanted to give Shi Yi a gift? When Shi Yi asked why, his response was, “Towards the woman he likes, a man’s… instinctive behaviour.” I suspect if we were to classify Zhousheng Chen’s love languages, one of them would be “giving/receiving gifts.” (Remember, when they first started their “courtship,” Zhousheng Chen would regularly send gifts to her and even her family? I also suspect another one of his and Shi Yi’s love languages is “quality time,” like their regular reading time together.) I know it is frustrating to us, especially as smitten female readers, that Zhousheng Chen is not saying those crucial three words, but what’s important is, is Shi Yi feeling that she is loved? Is she feeling frustrated that he has not said those three words to her yet? “He cared about her. All this time, he had steadfastly abided by his promise made at the very beginning: to sincerely learn how to care about, treasure, and love her.” I don’t believe this is because Shi Yi is extra tolerant due to her love for him. Remember that prior to Wuzhen, she had questioned before where their relationship was, too. Therefore, if Shi Yi herself is feeling loved and not frustrated that those words have not been said yet, I think Zhousheng Chen is doing more than adequate in speaking to Shi Yi in the love language she needs.
Does that mean I don’t think those three words should be said? Definitely not. I think there is definitely power in a spoken confession, and I think it would thrill Shi Yi when he finally does say them. However, considering Zhousheng Chen’s reserved personality, I don’t think it’s fair to judge the depths of his love by the lack of vocal expression of love at this moment. It’s simply not fair to compare him to Shi Yi. Even if you completely disregard her previous life, Shi Yi has used this entire lifetime to realize and then focus on the depth of her love for him. Zhousheng Chen has had only one month or so. Is it realistic to expect that his awareness of his love be as deep as Shi Yi’s? Eleven was a mute, and her deep desire was to be able to speak, to say his name, and probably to say how much she loved him. To me, the most important thing is that he *is* changing. Give him some time. If you go back and read how they interacted at the beginning of their relationship, the way he spoke to her was much more formal and cultured, similar to how he talked to everyone else, too. He is used to being reserved in language… partly personality, partly upbringing. He grew up in a family where, I’m pretty sure, he was rarely told by anyone that he was loved. Therefore, it is not surprising he does not know how to react to a spoken expression of love. Have you noticed, though, that now, when they are together, he speaks much more casually and naturally to her? I think he will eventually come around and say those words. It may never be out in public or romantically written across the sky or something extravagant like that. Most likely, it will be behind closed doors with only the two of them. Using a love language you are not accustomed to requires learning, but I think, one day, he will learn how to do it.
1 of 1 Prologue
45 of 56 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogues