Her Robe is a Cloud, Her Face a Flower
“Snow yearns for release as darkness welcomes itself in. Can I offer you a cup of wine to warm up at my humble abode?” Inviting Liu Shijiu – Bai Juyi (Tang Dynasty poet)
The beauty of winter scenery cannot hold a candle to the charm of Jiangnan’s snow, the gentle breeze before the rain or the graceful argent orb. Despite the cold, wine wasn’t the hottest selling item in Cuiwei Town. Instead, the seats to a play sold out; no matter whom it was, everyone in town wanted to see Cuiwei Inn’s Moon Worship Pavilion play.
Moon Worship Pavilion depicts the touching romance story of a destitute man and the daughter of a scholar’s family, who are met with the ardent objection of her father. No amount of tears could convince the wealthy scholar to spare her feelings or life a thought. To her surprise, the groom, who showed up on the day she was scheduled to be married to, was the man she’d be yearning for all the time.
When the man’s proposal was rejected in the past, he put his nose to the grindstone – technically books – and took the scholar examination. Right after he was accepted, he went to propose. While she was happy to see her lover again, her father, who only cared for what robe his son-in-law wore, raised his mace at the scholar he once drove off.
The scholar fumed, “I insist on marrying Ruilan. As her father, how can thou disregard her feelings and prioritise only thy feelings?”
Her father held his mace out at the scholar and scowled: “Avaunt. Thou art not worthy. Unless four things happen, thou shall never have my daughter’s hand.”
“What four things?!”
“One, the sun must rise in the west; two, there must be moonlight during the day three, it must snow in June; four, the salt in front of my counter must turn into white sugar!” Wang Ruilanan’s father then chased the scholar off the stage with his mace raised overhead, ending the third act and cuing the musicians in to begin playing.
The scholar returned to the stage attired in a brocade robe and polished boots. This was the part where the audience was supposed to stop crying and cheer him on. The cheers weren’t supposed to be so fervent after seeing the same scene multiple times already, but his big strides and upright posture on his tall physique had them clamouring once again.
The melancholic melody gradually shifted into a more merry tone, welcoming Wang Ruilan back on stage. Compared to what they remembered, she was a tad taller and had a lot more space inside her clothing, though the same couldn’t be said for her bust. The audience actually cursed her father for opposing their marriage when they looked perfect together. Merely looking into each other’s eyes had the audience on the edge of their seats, silently waiting for the climactic moment.
What script are they following?!
The audience hurled anything they could get their hands on, including cups and jewellery, at the duo on stage. The trope paid the actor and actress for the scholar and Wang Ruilan a hefty sum since the two of them were famous performers, yet they weren’t up to scratch.
Young Shiyi and I seldom watched staged plays, so how could we sing opera well? I mean, I could put on a fascinating, spectacular show of Wu Song slaying a tiger and the whole fighting gig, but singing opera?
“Focus!” Young Shiyi blew up her cheeks and grumbled, “The audience paid for a good show.”
No, no, no, they’re going to need a doctor if we sing another line.
The elder playing my father-in-law almost broke down. Nonetheless, being the seasoned professional he was, he persisted with the best of his abilities, fighting the urge to cover his ears whenever he started singing. I guess you could say he found compensation in the form of trying to beat me for real when it came to the scene where he got to hit me. Fortunately, we managed to finish the show.
“… If I want to marry you, I don’t care which direction the sun rises.”
I covered Young Shiyi’s mouth and laughed: “A sun not bright enough is not worthy of the silver moon.”
Young Shiyi, in a soft voice, said, “Oh, shush. You want to get hit?” and then tried to get her hand free of mine to no avail. “If I marry you, it’ll snow in June.”
I pulled Young Shiyi into my embrace: “If I marry you, I’ll be smiling as if I ate sugar when I eat salt.”
Young Shiyi wanted to try out being a famous opera singer. Who would’ve thought we’d find an opportunity to fulfil that wish with a big trope? They didn’t have much time prior to the show, so they just had us chuck the clothing on and take to the stage. When we got off stage, nobody but the owner, who was profusely apologising, budged an inch.
I found Young Shiyi’s imitation of the audience’s rioting as hilarious as she did.
“Feizhen, what roles shall we tackle next time? I reckon I could play a scholar with my appearance. I want to try teasing concubines, Empresses and all as Emperor Xuanzong.”
Whilst removing Young Shiyi’s makeup, I responded, “If you were Emperor Xuanzong, An Lushan wouldn’t revolt.”
“Hehe, why’s that?”
“If I was An Lushan and you were Emperor Xuanzong, I wouldn’t spare Yang Guifei a glance when there’s Emperor Xuanzong.”
Removing Young Shiyi’s makeup revealed a guile expression that I started to worry about even though I was looking down at her.
“You said salt would taste as sweet as sugar?”
I just knew my intuition wouldn’t lie to me! I don’t want to lose my sense of taste at such a young age!
I cleared my throat: “But… only if you marry me first.”
“Wow, such impropriety!” Young Shiyi got out of her chair and seized my ear that was turning as red as hers. “Come here. I’m going to bite your ear!”
“Huh? Bite Eh? Bite?! Wait! This is inappropriate!”
“What is the problem with you two?! Huh?!” The portly boss of the trope came to the back, scolding, “What was that all about? You two are the highest paid actors in the trope. Are you here to earn your keep or sabotage me? If your ad lib didn’t work, I’d skin you. Wh-who are two? Wh-why can’t anyone else move? What do you two want?”
From an inch away from my ear, Young Shiyi hysterically laughed, confusing the wits out of the owner. “Oh, laughing can be so tiring. I just removed my makeup. Ah, whatever. Seeing how stupefied you are, I’ll let you off the hook.”
“… Who are you two? I’m not scared of you.”
“You are a brave gentleman.” Young Shiyi took a few deep breaths to stop her laughing, then hiked up the corners of her lips: “It’s not hard to identify me. Have you heard ‘Beauty so captivating that even clouds’ peonies want her touch’?”
Working in the stage plays industry exposed the owner of the trope to people from all walks of life, including martial artists.
“… Y-you’re The Demoness!”
Beauty so captivating that even clouds peonies want her touch: Movement that sets flowers aflutter. Palm strikes that will be absorbed to see her. Swords are her weapon. An appearance that defines ethereal.
“Oh, wow, I thought I was only notorious in Beiping. I had no idea I had fans in Jiangnan.”
It’s not difficult to tell Young Shiyi’s the most gorgeous woman in the northern martial world, but identifying her is another story.
Me: “I’ll also give you a hint. I am th-”
“You’re The Demoness’ cauldron, her boy toy!”
My fault for trying to act cool, but why the hell am I a boy toy?! Am I handsome?! Am I? Did I just insult myself? Hey, shut up! Don’t complicate this!
Her Robe Is a Cloud, Her Face a Flower – A line from Li Bai’s poem: “A Serene Song”. You can use it as a synonym for something being beautiful (you can’t spam it thoughtlessly, though).
Only care for what robe his son-in-law wore – Modern equivalents would be what car he/she drives, what house he/she owns. You get the gist. In the imperial court, one’s robe was the indicator of their rank.
“If you were Emperor Xuanzong, An Lushan wouldn’t revolt.” – A reference to An Lushan Rebellion.
Beauty so captivating that even clouds peonies want her touch: Movement that sets flowers aflutter. Palm strikes that will be absorbed to see her. Swords are her weapon. . An appearance that defines ethereal. – This entire section is “Beauty so captivating that even clouds’ peonies want her touch” expanded. Its metaphors combine poetic associations and Ming Suwen’s story, so it doesn’t translate to English. The shortened version is eight characters. The eight are then split into one character or two characters to be shortened versions of what they are meant to represent. For instance, “ruling clouds” is a depiction of graceful, technical, precise swordplay (in this context). So, “Ruling cloud swordplay”, translated into “Swords are her weapon” is saying, “She’s extremely fluent with a sword.”
Want to learn this sort of stuff? Read ancient Chinese texts. It’s as hard to write as it is to translate, perhaps the latter being more difficult.
The majority of the chapter was written in archaic Chinese (not as archaic as Book of Changes, obviously). I hope I translated the vibe of the text in addition to the text. It was a tough chapter to translate.