Fangirling Chinese Novels

Time to Return (当归去) by Mo Bao Fei Bao


Important points should be stated thrice: This is a sad ending. This is a sad ending. This is a SAD ENDING.

This is the short story by Mo Bao Fei Bao that I had mentioned before. It truly is a short story; not even 3000 characters. Letting you have a taste of Mo Bao Fei Bao’s writing in an ancient setting.

Time to Return

This story was translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. All forms of reproduction, redistribution, or reposting are not authorized. If you are not reading this from hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com, the copy is unauthorized and has been taken without consent of the translator.

There had been no foretoken at all of the day the Venerable passed into parinirvana.

<>Copyright of Fanatical, hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. Translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com only.

The young prince could only remember, he had hurried over several li[1] of mountain trails, left his accompanying imperial guards outside that meditation room, removed his own riding boots, and stepped into the meditation room.

Though it was the frigid winter, inside the room, warmth pervaded.

Several young monks were falling over this way and that as they leaned together in one place, dozing off.

The person sitting cross-legged was thin to the bones, so gaunt that his original appearance was lost. He likely had heard movement, for his hands that had been held in front of him as he sat in Lotus Position[2] were slowly set down. His eyes, which were so dark there was an ashen colour to them, turned in the young prince’s direction.

Those eyes, one year ago, had lost their ability of sight.

“Venerable.” The young prince hurriedly took two strides forward and dropped to one knee.

This was a rule ordained by Imperial Father.

This Venerable had once been an imperial son[3] of the previous dynasty and, in his days of youth, a friend of the present emperor. Later, His Imperial Majesty had risen up with armed forces in revolt. The ruler and officials of the previous dynasty had all been rooted up and deposed within the first ten years of this present dynasty’s founding. Only he had surrendered and sworn allegiance to His Imperial Majesty.

“You carry on you a very strong scent of smoke and incense.”

The young prince’s expression shifted slightly. “It is…”

“Could it be that someone within the House of Xiao has…”

“It is my aunt[4].

Something seemed to flash within those gray eyes. The young prince was dazed when he saw this, and he uttered to himself, the demon of the heart was abound, the demon of the heart was abound, for he had actually seen light within the eyes of a blind man.

“I shall tell you about the first half of my life.”

<>Please support this translation by reading it at its actual site of posting, hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com, instead. Thank you. 

He was the least favoured imperial son of the previous dynasty’s ruler.

In his youthful years, he had guarded the lands along the borders. Countless skeletons had fallen at his feet. The hearts of the enemy troops beyond the borders would quake upon word of his coming. In his twenty-second year, he was bestowed the hand of the Ruyang Prince’s[5] youngest daughter, Xiao Jia, in marriage.

That night, as he rode back to camp, covered in blood, a girl charged directly at his horse, nearly causing him to fall from his mount. Never before had anyone on these hundreds of li of borderlands dared to act so impudently. Leaping off his mount, he picked up under his arm that young girl, who was garbed in red and brandishing a whip, and threw her beside the bonfire.

Only then, as he looked from a close distance, was he able to identify that her garments of red were a bridal gown, and this girl, whose eyes were a deep blue colour, was Xiao Jia. Judging from her face, she appeared to be the age of merely thirteen or fourteen.

When he lowered himself to a half crouch and leaned in closer, she still dared to wield her little fists and threaten him. “How dare you lead your troops out for three days and nights during this time of my arrival. I shall divorce you!”

On the bridge of his nose, there was even a blade wound, which caused his fair-skinned countenance to seem as if it belonged to a ghost or demon. After a while, he narrowed his eyes and smiled. He gazed at this little woman, whose beauty could daresay be compared to that of a tanhua[6] [epiphyllum flower], with the reflection of flames dancing in his eyes. “What’s that? You are so young but already so anxious to go into the nuptial chambers?”

She had put on an empty show of strength, but ended up being frightened by him.

This was the one who, before battle arrays of thousands of troops, could swig blood from a cup, who had slaughtered enemies for six days and nights without stopping to sleep or rest—the Thirteenth Imperial Son, Xie Nan’an. Nan’an [南安], peace in the south. Nan’an [难安], unable to find peace and rest[7]. The general who caused the enemy army to be unable to have peace and rest.

<>Copyright of Fanatical, hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. Translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com only.

This was a wonderful union of two people in marriage. And, it was also a scheme.

He could not be clearer on this fact. The House of Xiao had given their most favoured and youngest daughter in marriage to the Thirteenth Imperial Son stationed far on the southern borders, for the purpose of letting her be a “hostage.”

They had requested this marriage bestowment of their own accord, choosing to not join in marriage with the Crown Prince, to not covet the empress’s throne—an ample demonstration of their true and sincere loyalty.

But, loyalty is not something that is merely put on.

<>It would be greatly appreciated if you would read this translation at hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com instead. Thank you.

Three years later, Xiao Jia was with child and yearned for her homeland. Xie Nan’an, leading his most trusted soldiers and commanders, secretly escorted her back to the capital city. And it was also on this day that he was surrounded and attacked within the manor. This imprisonment lasted for seven years. Apart from being told that the child in Xiao Jia’s womb was no more, he received no other information of the world outside.

Seven years. Each day, all he could think about was that he wanted to devour that woman’s flesh and drink her blood alive.

Seven years later, the empire belonging to the House of Xie was toppled. The land was given a new ruler.

<>Copyright of Fanatical, hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. Translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com only.

This day, the sun shone brilliantly in the clear sky for thousands of li.

The lock on the wing room was slowly opened, and the panels surrounding him were all removed. He squinted his eyes. For the first time in seven years, he saw the light of a sunny day. It was in this sunlight that nearly stabbed and injured his eyes that a familiar silhouette gripped the chains that were used to lock the door, pushed the door open, and approached him, one step at a time.

He could not see her clearly, but he knew it was her. “Xiao… Jia?”

This person who had come was overwhelmed with sobs and walking ever so slowly, as if she could not ascertain where he was. Chains bound his hands and feet, but an astonishing strength came over him and he threw himself forward, gripping that frail neck in his one hand.

Warm tears stained his entire hand.

In his vision that was becoming increasingly clear, she was trying ever so hard to reach out a hand, wanting to touch his face. Those blue eyes that had once been able to enrapture a person’s heart and soul now held no light in them. “Xie Nan’an, Xie Nan’an…”

Her voice was low and whispering. She was weeping, and also smiling. At last, her hand found the side of his face.

She could not see that her Xie Nan’an was in such abject straits he was like a street beggar. In these seven years, only occasionally would his overly-long beard be wound away.

A motley of old wounds blanketed all ten of her fingers, layer upon layer—so terribly frightful to behold.

Gradually, she sensed that the murderous aura at her neck had dissipated. A pair of rough hands enveloped hers, grasping them in their palms. This moment was just like when they were in the southern borderlands. Each and every time they watched the sunrise on the grasslands, he had always taken her hands in his, closed his teeth on her collarbone, and then thrust fiercely into her body.

Smiling, she said softly, “The land under the heavens… belongs now to my elder brother. He will send you back to the southern borderlands. I am the hostage to ensure the protection of your life. Xie Nan’an, pay no heed to your surname. Return to the southern borderlands and continue being the Great General that you are, continue guarding those common folk of yours of the southern lands. Live for me. I am begging you, please, continue living for me. If you live, I will be allowed to live. If you die, my elder brother will bring death on me as well.”

Xie Nan’an.

These seven years of captivity, it was I who brought that hardship on you.

Please allow me to continue bringing burdens upon you, making you be someone who betrays the forefathers of the House of Xie. Live. Continue living.

The wait in darkness is most tormenting.

She thought, he was someone with such pride. Surely he would not do it.

But when his lips pressed down on hers, softly and gently, resolutely, fiercely, this kiss that had the taste of blood let her know, he had agreed to her plea.

She felt about until she found his nape. With a great force, she dug her fingers past his skin, deep into his flesh, such that she could even feel there was sticky blood between her fingers, oozing out. “Should you… marry another, I will not let you get away.”

His lips passed over her face to take her earlobe into his mouth. “Should you wed another, even if I should become a ghost… I will not spare you.”


<>This copy was taken from hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. It would be greatly appreciated if you would support the translation by reading it there instead. Thank you.

“And then?” Trepidation had come over the young prince’s heart as he listened to all of this.

Today, he had actually become privy to this great secret. His aunt had already departed this life. Should Venerable pass into parinirvana as well, then that would mean… in this lifetime, he would need to guard this secret alone.

“And then?” That day was the last time the two of them saw each other.

<>Copyright of Fanatical, hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. Translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com only.

Bearing the title of betrayer of the House of Xie, he spent half of his lifetime in the southern borderlands.

With no wife, and no offspring.

For his wife was in the capital city—she was a hostage. His child, while still in his mother’s womb, had been lost long ago.

To live. To continue living.

This was his little wife’s plea to him.

Even if they were separated by distance, one in the north and one in the south, and in this lifetime they would never be able to see one another again, she still wanted him to live.

The two of them could use an endless time to remember those three years in the southern borderlands, on the battlefield at the front of the fighting lines, in the tent during those days and nights. In certain ways, it was good this way. What he remembered would forever be his little wife who had charged in front of his steed and declared that she would divorce him.

One year ago, he was unable even to mount a horse. Destroying his own eyes, he had withdrawn from the world and become a monk.

Thenceforth, he used the remainder of his life, spent before the statue of Buddha and oil lamps, to redeem his half a lifetime of slaughter and killing. His only desire was that those innumerable debts of blood that he bore would not bring retribution on her.

<>Please read this translation at its actual site of posting, hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com, instead. Thank you.

The young prince paused in a daze for a moment. From his garments in front of his bosom, he pulled out a protection amulet[8] and handed it to the Venerable. “This was left by my aunt and is also the reason I hurried here. She wanted me to personally hand this to you.”

Groping his hands about, the old monk took it from him, opened the pouch, and tipped out from it an object that was similar in appearance to ginseng.

This was…

His little wife had a fondness for medicine. Before, in the army camp, she had tended to people’s wounds. She had also taught him the names of some medicinal herbs. This was… Dang Gui[9] [literally means “should return” or “time to return”].


Xie Nan’an.

My spirit has already gone back to the southern borderlands. And you, it is time for you to return as well.

<>Copyright of Fanatical, hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. Translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com only.



Xie Nan’an, the Thirteenth Imperial Son of the former dynasty of the House of Xie. When his country fell and his home was lost, he surrendered and swore allegiance to the dynasty of the House of Xiao. For his entire life, he withdrew to guard the southern borderlands. As his sins of slaughter were too great, he had no wife and no offspring. In his old and ailing years, when his life was like a faltering candle, he turned his heart to Buddhism in a vain attempt to wash away his sins of an entire lifetime of killing.


For half of his lifetime, he was traitorous, unfilial, and disloyal, for the sole reason of, in exchange, ensuring that one person’s safety.

If she lived, then it was good enough.

<>Copyright of Fanatical, hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. Translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com only.

[1]li is a Chinese unit of length, sometimes described as the “Chinese mile.” In present day, 1 li = 500 metres. However, the exact measurement of the li has changed throughout history, ranging from approximately 400 m to greater than 500 m.

[2] The Lotus Position is the meditative position of the Buddha, a cross-legged position with the ankles on the opposite thigh.

[3] 皇子 “imperial son.” The son of an emperor. This is differentiated from 王 “prince,” which could be a conferred title (refer to footnote [5]).

[4] 姑姑 “gu gu.” This is how you would address the sister of your father. Given that the young prince’s father is the emperor, here, it is referring to the sister of the emperor.

[5] 汝阳王 “Ruyang Wang.” 王 “Wang” is a peerage title, often translated as “prince.” It was often a title granted to brothers of the emperor. However, it could also be a conferred title, and such may be the case of the Ruyang Prince in the story, for he is of the House of Xiao, whereas when he held this title, the ruling emperor was from the House of Xie. Regardless, it is a high-ranking title.

[6] 昙花 “tanhua.” This should be referring to the epiphyllum or night-blooming cereus flower, which opens only one night a year. The flower is quite large in size and beautifully eye-catching. However, as this is set in ancient China, the choice was made to keep the flower name in pinyin as opposed to using a modern vernacular English name or its proper horticultural name.

[7] This Thirteenth Imperial Son’s name is 谢南安 Xie Nan’an. His given name 南安 means “peace in the south.” However, it is also homophonic with the characters 难安, which mean “unable to find peace and rest.”

[8] 护身符 “hu shen fu.” A protection amulet or auspicious amulet is generally believed to bring physical protection, health, luck, shielding against dangers, etc. It may be contained within a pouch.

[9] 当归 “dang gui.” The name of this Chinese medicinal herb is Dang Gui. It is known by other names such as Dong Quai, Chinese Angelica Root, etc. with its official Latin name being Radix Angelica Sinesis (the dried root of Angelica Sinesis, which is what would have been in the protection amulet pouch). However, the Chinese characters of its name 当归 “dang gui” literally mean “should return” or “time to return” and contain a feeling of yearning for a loved one whom one has been away from for a long time and longing for his/her return.

This story was translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com. All forms of reproduction, redistribution, or reposting are not authorized. If you are not reading this from hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com, the copy is unauthorized and has been taken without consent of the translator.

Additional Comments:

Mo Bao Fei Bao released this story in December 2015. At the time, I had just finished translating Beautiful Bones, so this story wrenched at my heart even more as it reminded me of Xiao Nanchen Prince and Eleven. 2.5 years later, I literally cried throughout the entire translation and editing process. It’s a wonder I could make out the computer screen enough to do edits and proofreading. Like Xiao Nanchen Prince of Beautiful Bones, Xie Nan’an’s name will forever be remembered in history as a traitor, though it is far from the truth. But in contrast with Xiao Nanchen Prince, who could only give up Eleven, Xie Nan’an, for the sake of his little wife, willingly took on all those accusations that were blasphemous.

Mo Bao Fei Bao says this story is quite similar to how Beautiful Bones came into being. She had written those insert chapters in the ancient setting before she wrote the modern parts, because she wanted to give Shi Yi and Zhousheng Chen a happy ending. And she said that similarly, she has a complete story in her mind for Xie Nan’an and Xiao Jia. We don’t know what she means by that, whether it’s another modern story with ancient memories and reincarnation (I highly doubt it, just because MBFB said she doesn’t like to repeat what she has already done before), or whether it’s a full-length novel with an ancient setting, or some combo, or… who knows. Hopefully, one day she will get to writing it, and hopefully, somehow (crossing fingers and toes), they get a happy ending??? Xiao Jia is quite a different female lead from the other ones she has written. She seems to have quite a bit of spunk to her. I’d love to see her fleshed out.

Anyhow, hope you enjoyed this beautiful, sorrowful story.

27 thoughts on “Time to Return (当归去) by Mo Bao Fei Bao

  1. Thanks for the warning.then I’ll not read this one as I’m unable to digest any sad 😢 ending.

  2. Ahh love……!!!

  3. Thank you hoju and yes is a sad story love it though I’m crying and remembering beautiful bones too😢

  4. For her, he lived. Although it was hard and lonely path, he lived. When she summoned him to go home, to the Southern Borderland, he heed well.

    ~ Duh, my heart twisted so good over their loves, over them.
    I wept, Hoju, ofc… TT_TT

    • And I think he not just lived but lived well for her. He guarded the southern borderlands and was that great general. But, yes, it was hard and lonely, just like her life was.

  5. Thank you for this short story. Since you prepared us for the sad ending, my heart was able to withstand the ending, but I can see how heartbreaking it could be if I had read it after beautiful bones.

    • Hahaha, my goal wasn’t to break anyone’s heart. I wish my heart was tougher. It used to be (BBJX was sad but I never shed any tears for it), by now, I can’t handle anything sad. 😦

      Thanks for reading!

  6. What a beautiful short story, I love the flow of the narration.
    Sad but yet so gripping. My grief, that they had such a short time of happiness together.
    I believe that violent era was very hard on the lovers, no?
    thank you for sharing this story.

    • Three short, beautiful years followed by seven years of separation where he thought she had betrayed him. And then, a half a lifetime of never seeing one another. Those three years must have been wonderful for them to never let go of that love.

      You mean the seven years? Horrible. Xiao Jia was tortured (her fingers) and became blind. Xie Nan’an never saw the light of day, and he had to live with the mistaken belief that the woman he loved betrayed him. 😦 “Hard” is an understatement.

      Thank you for reading!

      • Sometimes, we don’t need a lifetime to see what true love really is. I’ve seen and known some people who already spent decades with each other and still can not truly claim that they really really love each other enough to die for each other. I myself would rather spend a short time with someone i honestly and truly love and who loves me bach as well. Rather than, spending a lifetime full of suffering and regret with someone i don’t love or who doesn’t love me.

  7. Thank you cannot wait ❤❤❤❤❤😭😭😭😍😍😍

    • There are no promises on whether a full-length novel will be written on this pair. I really hope so, but hope is all we can do.
      Thanks for reading!

  8. i really don’t like sad story but i still read it and loved it too
    i hope she will write novel on them with happy ending thanks for this short story ❤❤

    • I’m glad you decided to give it a try. 🙂 And glad it still managed to touch your heart, despite not liking sad endings.

      I do, too! Fingers crossed.
      You’re welcome!

  9. Ancient novels always have special place in my heart. MBFB should write more w/ ancient period. Somehow, this story also gives familiar vibes like Jiu Lu Fei Xiang’s short novel. Tragic but its not completely bad ending, considering they still loyal and love each other until the end. Thank you for translating this beautiful story.

    • She started out writing ancient. In fact, her first novel ever written has an ancient setting. However, it was suggested to her that she switch to modern because those are more popular, to get her name out there. The switch happened, and she never went back. Her ancient-setting stories (mostly short stories) tend to be tragedies.

      Thank you for reading!

  10. Sad… but still their love is lingering throughout the story. He’s a very good lover, so faithful to his wife, even though they spend just 3 years together but their love go so deep and solid. I wish to learn more about Xiao jia and I really set a very high hope from her side. I wish her character could matching well with her husband.

    • And she was faithful through and through to him, too, despite being tortured and made blind. I think that shows that she is well-matched with him, or at least, her love was no less. It makes you want to read more about those 3 years. 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      • Thank you. I really want to read her part … must be interesting and deeply touched (and may make my heart ache). I hope the writer would write the full story of them 😭.

  11. Thank you for translating this awesome short story. I read it four times and each time i was crying my eyes out. Such a sad ending to a very beautiful love story. When one’s love is so great and pure it does not know any boundaries, it only only knows great sacrifice for the sake of his/her loved one. This kind of love still exists today. Although, it may not be in this extreme situation or predicament but, still there are those who are willing to move mountains for the sake of the ones they truly love. Love is truly a mystery we can never fathom.

  12. Man, I wanna read this in Xiao Jia’s POV. I mean, she was apparently the most favoured and youngest daughter but sent off so far away as a hostage bride. She returns after 3 years pregnant, loses her baby and husband, and then probably tortured and blinded and continues living so that her now royal family won’t kill Xie Nan’an…Maaaaaaaaaaaan

  13. I’m only reading the last paragraph … but my heart already hurts 😭

  14. Oh my gosh thank you for making me have a good cry. Definitely reminded me of Beautiful Bones. I’m going to return to cry indeed.

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