Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
Reclaiming the land
An ordinary day, on a vast space of land where skies were clear and the sun shining brilliantly.
Suddenly, a ring-like object appeared in the sky out of nowhere, as though it has suddenly crossover from another dimension, and with great speed, shot towards the mountain peak, while carrying an eerie “wu wu” sound.
Following normal physics, when an object descends from the sky, it would be accompanied by a trail of copious gas followed by a deafening sound, as though it is announcing its arrival to everyone in the world.
However, in this particular case, the object only emitted some inaudible sound, before burying itself deeply into the mountains, where it was no longer noticeable. In such a short period of time, it did not capture the attention of any living being, even the birds that were nearby had no time to react. These frightened birds circled the sky for a few short whiles, before leaving the incident out of its mind. Without anyone knowing, this land had gained another mysterious object.
After countless of years, the wastelands became cultivated and large oceans receded into seas. The human population expanded, and the aforementioned mountain weathered into a knoll. In fact, many previously isolated areas had worn down into land which was suitable for human population. What kind of story would this mysterious ring bring? Zhang Xiaohua had a face as though he felt blessed by the gods, because right now, his eyes were firmly set upon the farmland before him as though it was a succulent piece of five-spice meat.
Instead of calling it a farmland, it would be more appropriate to call this land as wasteland in the hills, because it was situated in the middle of a knoll where the gradient of the slope in this small area was not too steep. However, this piece of land was the result of the precious efforts by Zhang Xiaohua’s father over the past two months.
Even though land was abundant in this area, not much of it could be used to cultivate crops. Hence, everyone is always thinking of finding good land that can be used to produce grains. Most people from the village would choose to find land closer to the river, but perhaps because Zhang Xiaohua’s family was too poor to appease the elders, they had no choice but to choose a piece of land that is so far away.
The village that Zhang Xiaohua lived in was named Guo. Its total area consists of approximately 4 li* of even ground which was sandwiched between the mountains. The mountains were not tall; it would be more accurate to call them hillocks. A large river flowed across the village, and on the river was a small bridge that connected the roads. There were approximately forty-plus households in the Guo village, with half of them surnamed Guo and actually belonging to a small family clan situated at the center of the village.
*TN: li- 500 meters
The village people were mostly simple yet realistic people, so most of the important village matters were decided by the Guo elders. Even though everyone was a member of the village, when it came to petty matters that require arbitration, the Guo elders would mostly side with those who were surnamed Guo. The best locations in the village had also been taken by the Guo households.
Nevertheless, village life was simple and peaceful, there was never a matter that could not be resolved so everyone was contented with the way things were.
Zhang Xiaohua’s mother Guo Sufei was a member of the Guo clan, despite only receiving partial support and having long passed its “glory” days. By the time it reached his mother’s generation, apart from Guo Sufei, there was no male descendant. Thus, to appease and take care of his grandfather, Guo San, Zhang Xiaohua’s father, Zhang Cai, married into the Guo family.
The saying goes that a farming family depends on labor. However, Guo San had no sons, and due to a series of unfortunate events, he could not fulfill his intention to adopt a boy from his relatives, and thus, the family’s financial situation has fallen into dire straits. Fortunately, Zhang Cai did not disappoint him as a son-in-law. After entering the Guo household, he became an invaluable addition who not only worked in the fields, but also improved the standing of the family to above where it previously was.
A year later, Guo Sufei became pregnant, and Guo San gained a grandson, who was named Zhang Xiaolong. Seeing his grandson, Guo San felt relieved for the future of the family, but just as things were progressing in the right direction, a year later, Guo San became sick from overwork in his hard life, and never recovered since then…..
Illness to a poor family was like natural disaster that was impossible to recover from. To cure his father-in-law, Zhang Cai sold all the valuables in the house, but alas, he could not rescue Guo San’s life which was like a candle flickering in the wind. Thus, when Zhang Xiaolong was two years old, Guo San finally passed away. The only thing Zhang Cai could look forward to was the birth of his second child. On his deathbed, Guo San decided to the name the unborn child. If the child was a boy, he would be called Zhang Xiaohu, and if the child was a girl, she will be called Zhang Xiaohua. After Guo San passed away, Zhang Cai’s mother-in-law also declined in health from her sorrow, and only after Zhang Xiaohu’s birth did her spirits improved slightly which halted the series of misfortunes the household was facing.
A farmer’s lifeblood was the land he farms on. Compared to Old Guo’s times when there was not enough manpower, the small plot of land currently owned by the household could no longer sustain its increasing household size. Out of desperation, Zhang Cai took his sons and wife to the village elder, who eventually gave face to the deceased Guo San and granted the pitiable household a small plot of land near the river.
Zhang Xiaohua was born when his eldest brother was seven. That was when the family already had two and a half man’s worth of manpower, and the difficulties of the past were easing up. Speaking of Zhang Xiaohua’s birth, it was a noteworthy occasion because on that day, a two month drought finally had let up and ended with a heavy downpour on that very night he was born. The rain became so heavy that the bridge was no longer passable, which was truly a frightening sight for the people who lived in the mountains. And when Guo Sufei was giving birth to Zhang Xiaohua, she saw flower petals enveloped the sky. Thus, Zhang Cai was full of anticipation towards Zhang Xiaohua, to the extent that he invited a learned man in the village to pick a name for his son. Names such as Zhang Wu, Zhang Ning, Zhang Xueyou, etc were thrown around, and after much consideration, Guo Sufei thought of the falling petals and was reminded of her deceased father, thus deciding on such a feminine name for her son.
TL: Xiaohua means little flower.
Xiaohua is currently twelve years old, and since the children in a farmer’s household mature early, Xiaohua had already begun to join his father and two elder brothers in helping to toil the land. It was not that Zhang Cai did not consider sending his children to school to read and write, but the village was a small village with not many literate villagers, and thus they could not support a village school. The neighboring village belonged to a rather large clan, and the school fees that it required from the Guo village children were high. In the case of Xiaolong and Xiaohu, there was no need for any consideration because the family’s situation was truly unable to support their education expenses. In Xiaohua’s case, he did go to school for a few days, but according to the advice of his teacher, Xiaohua’s potential in the literary path was limited, and that he would not be able to recognize more than a few words even if he were to put in all his efforts, much less become someone noteworthy. Zhang Cai weighed the options, took another glance at Xiaohua’s pleading eyes and thick eyebrows, and finally decided to give up the pipedream of having an scholar in the household. Thus, he brought Xiaohua back to the village to farm. Rather, it was Xiaohua’s mother who remembered the day when Xiaohua was born, and would time to time invite the literate people in the village to impart a little something to her son. Even though Xiaohua enjoyed following his brothers’ footsteps in farming, but under the forced supervision of his mother, he was finally able to recognize some words and become the most learned in his household.
Today was the first day Xiaohua would farm by himself. His father had earlier told him that this plot of land would belong to him, and it can be considered to be his future livelihood. Even though the land did not seem ideal for crop cultivation, Xiaohua remembered a scholar in the village who once said, “With a goal, one can begin. With a beginning, the road to success is halfway complete!” With success, the day when he reaches his goal will not be too far, and Xiaohua’s goal was to eat a succulent slice of five-spiced meat every day.
November marked the beginning of winter; the sun was still in the sky lending warmth to an otherwise cold weather. The winds blew from the hills, bringing a foreboding sense of winter, but Xiaohua’s attention was placed elsewhere. Carrying his hoe, he began to work continuously on this small plot of land. Firstly, he dug up a drain around the semi-oval boundary, and then began to clear up the small pebbles and rocks inside it. Next, he proceeded to remove the weeds, before turning the soil to loosen it so it could be used to cultivate crops. Farm work is naturally time-intensive, and when Xiaohua was done with the above mentioned tasks, it was already afternoon. Xiaohua stopped his work, wiped the sweat on his forehead, and walked towards where he came from where he retrieved a vat of water his mother prepared, talking continuous gulps to quench his thirst. Then, he stretched his body until he was comfortable. Even though he had previous farming experiences, because he was the smallest, his father and brothers would only leave the simpler tasks to him. Now, Xiaohua was more aware of the difficulties of farming, but when thinking of his grandmother and mother, and his family, he felt as though his efforts were worthwhile.
Xiaohua had previously learnt to read characters from the young students in the village. Instead of concentrating in his studies, Xiaohua would often listen about these scholars and their dreams for the future, which could lead him to dream about his own alternate fantasy. However, he was now faced with reality, and as he lowered his head to face the ground, he broke free from his daydream which was a small respite to his hard day of work. Just at that moment, his stomach rumbled in hunger. In the past, he would always have lunch at home with his mother, but this morning, his mother said that she would go over to bring his lunch. Looking at the time, she should be arriving soon.
Indeed, not long after, a sound came from downslope “Xiaohua…..come help mother”. To reach the plot of land, one had to follow a small winding slippery route up. The first time he came over to look at the land, he had already slipped and fell.
Zhang Xiaohua quickly replied, “Mom, wait a moment. I will be down in a flash, do not come up by yourself.” When Xiaohua reached the base of the hill, he saw his mother carrying a bamboo basket waiting by the roadside. Xiaohua took the basket, supported his mother while bringing her to climb upslope to sit on a rock, before opening the basket to look at the contents. In the basket, there was a bowl of five-spiced meat, as well as several pieces of plain buns. After sensibly asking after his mother, he began to tuck in.
Seeing Xiaohua devour the food, Guo Sufei felt slightly heartbroken and said, “Eat slowly, do not choke on and have some water.”
“Mom, why did you make five-spiced meat today?” Xiaohua asked.
“Today is your first day of farm work. Your father has already informed me yesterday to prepare this for you as congratulations.“ Xiaohua’s mother looked lovingly at her youngest son, “It has been hard on you. Although you are only twelve, when other children your age would be studying in the hall, you are here alone toiling the land”
“Mom, didn’t you say that eldest brother started farm work at the age of ten? I am already fortunate enough. Furthermore, second brother has to share the land with eldest brother, while I already own a piece of land solely from myself, I cannot even begin to feel happy” Seeing his mother beginning to nag, he continued, “Grandmother, has she had the meat yet?”
“Your grandmother is already eighty-plus, how could she eat these things. I have already made some plain congee for her.” Xiaohua’s mother said, “Only after eating so much did you remember to care for your grandmother. To think that she was only thinking of you the whole morning…..”
Xiaohua rubbed his head in embarrassment; he had indeed forgotten to consider the feelings of his grandmother.
Speaking of Xiaohua’s grandmother, a grimace formed over Guo Sufei’s face. As the days passed by, her children grew up, and her mother’s body had grown weaker considerably. Even though hitting eighty was rare among farm-folks, who would not wish to live slightly longer? Recently, Xiaohua’s grandmother has turned blind, and despite her and her husband’s persuasion, she refused to see a doctor, complaining that her loss of vision was a natural part of aging, and that money could be better spent elsewhere.
Seeing Xiaohua finish his meal and water, Guo Sufei said, “Xiaohua, end your work earlier today so that your grandmother can see you sooner. I will still need to visit your father and brothers.”
Xiaohua was surprised, and replied, “Mom, I have already eaten all that five-spiced meat, what will father and brother eat?”
“It is okay, there are still other dishes. Remember to end your work earlier, and try not catch a cold” Guo Sufei lovingly caressed Xiaohua’s head, as though he was still a tender child.
Zhang Xiaohua supported his mother down the knoll, and as he looked at his mother’s back, he felt shame in his heart. How could he have eaten all the five-spiced meat by himself?