步步惊心/ Bu Bu Jing Xin
Startling Surprises with Every Step
Written by Tong Hua
Chapter 2 Complete + Chapter 3 (Parts 1-2)
Brought to you by the Magnolia Translation Team
Translated by Plushie
Chapter 2, part 7 and Chapter 3, part 1-2 is released!
I've also complied the various parts of chapter 2 into one file now that it is complete. Some very minor editing was also done to the chapter. The online versions will stay in their split format, but all of the links for the chapter 2 downloads will be changed to the complete version. For those who wants to jump right to where we last left off, you may want to skip straight to page 18 on the pdf file.
Chapter 2 (Complete, w/ parts 1-7):
Chapter 3 (Parts1-2):
Read online under the cut.
Characters Introduced So Far
(In Alphabetical Order)
Dong Yun: One of Ruolan’s maids.
Eighth-prince (Aisin-Gioro Yinsi): The eighth son of Emperor Kangxi. Also known as the Eighth Bei’le. Ruolan is his Ce’fujin (Second Wife). Is often seen smiling out of the corners of his mouth as well as conducting himself with a calm and gentle disposition.
Kangxi: Current Emperor of China.
Ninth-prince (Aisin-Gioro Yintang): The ninth son of Emperor Kangxi. Currently not given a peerage title. Seems to have a more taciturn personality. Nicknamed “the venomous snake” by Ruoxi.
Qiao Hui: One of Ruolan’s maids. Qiao Hui used to serve Ruolan even before Ruolan’s marriage. When Ruolan married, Qiaohui accompanied Ruolan to Eighth-prince’s household. Seems to be concerned for her mistress especially regarding Ruolan and Eighth’s relationship.
Ruolan, Maertai: Ruoxi’s older sister. The two are especially close as they are born from the same mother. She is also the Ce’fujin (Second Wife) of the Eighth-prince. Mild and gentle in nature, Ruolan likes to spend a better part of her days reciting Buddhist scriptures.
Ruoxi, Maertai (Zhang Xiao): Protagonist of the story. Originally a modern day, white collar professional named Zheng Xiao. Under certain unexplainable, supernatural occurrence, Zhang Xiao’s spirit travelled through time upon her death and took over a young Manchurian girl’s body. Now stuck in ancient times, Ruoxi must navigate through an entirely foreign environment armed only with the little historical knowledge she remembers.
Tenth-prince (Aisin-Gioro Yin’e): The tenth son of Emperor Kangxi. Currently not given a peerage title. A bit of a simpleton. Likes to tease and bicker with Ruoxi. Nicknamed “the blockhead” by Ruoxi.
Glossary of Terms
(In Alphabetical Order)
Bei’le: Shortened from Duo’luo Bei’le. A peerage title that can be bestowed to those within the royal family. It is the third rank in the Qing peerage system for the imperial line.
Ce’fujin: A title. Meaning second wife or ‘side’ wife in Manchurian.
Di’fujin: A title. Meaning first wife or main wife in Manchurian.
Ge’ge: A Manchurian word for young mistress, or lady. It is a title you would call an unmarried noblewoman (or before they are bestowed an official title by the Emperor) above a certain rank.
Jie-jie: Older sister in Chinese.
Chapter 2 (Part 7)
I thought I would have needed to bribe or threaten her; perhaps even set up a feast at Hong Gate to coax the truth out. I didn’t think I would only have to insinuate a few meaningful words before Qiaohui came forward with everything. Although she insisted it was because she saw that my personality was no longer rash and wild as before and telling me should not cause problems; I can tell that her true purpose in telling me was so I could help persuade jie-jie from staying as she is.
“Before she married, Mistress was very close to a soldier under Old Master’s command. This person taught Mistress all of her riding skills. Although he was Han, his horseback riding skill was exceptional and his skills were well known within the army. But afterwards, Mistress married the Eighth Bei’le. At first, even though Mistress didn’t smile very often, the marriage was quite normal.She even got pregnant after three months. No one expected that shortly afterwards, news would come from back north to tell of the soldier’s death. Mistress fainted when she heard the news. She held on for a few days but soon succumbed to sickness and lost the child. Mistress finally recovered but her body remained frail. From then on, she would recite Buddhist scriptures daily and began to treat everyone around her with indifference. Although Di’fujin came into the household two years after Mistress, she is now with a child, and yet Mistress is still…..”
I angrily ask Qiaohui, “Didn’t jie-jie try to reason with father?”
Qiaohui smiled forcefully, answering, “Of course she did. Mistress kneeled outside Old Master’s study for three days and three nights, but Old Master had told her to not even dream about it. She had already been promised to the Eighth-prince and if she continued to go on about these wishful nonsenses then the entire family wouldn’t have to live anymore.”
“Does the Eighth Bei’le know about any of this?” I ask her.
Qiaohui says confidently, “He doesn’t! Old Master dealt with the situation very secretly. Only Old Master, Mistress and I know of this.”
That night went by quickly. In my dreams, I dreamt about the rolling plains, the western wind and horses, wild and unrestrained. By the time I got up in the morning, jie-jie was already at the prayer hall reciting her scriptures. As I looked at the small prayer hall and thought about the vast and wide world in my dream, I fell into a bout of melancholy. Randomly picking up a Song Dynasty poetry book, I head towards the gardens for a stroll.
A pavilion sits on top of a small, compact hill, with three sides facing a forest of green bamboo. On the remaining side the pavilion is attached to a long walkway that meanders down the hill. I follow the walkway and enter the pavilion. With my back towards the walkway, I sit facing the bamboo. With one hand propping my head up, and the other one holding the poetry book, I flip to a random page and begin reciting —
Returning to Chang Gate, ten thousand things are different
Came together, why not return together?
The Chinese parasol tree after frost, half dead
White headed mandarin duck loses its pair, flies in solitude
Grass on the plains, dew begins to dry
Old house, new grave, I wonder in between…..
Before I could finish the poem, I found that I was already completely lost in thought since the words of the poem reminded me of jie-jie’s situation.
Suddenly, the book in my hands was snatched from me. A happy voice cried out, “What are you looking at? What’s so engrossing that you didn’t even notice someone’s here?”
In shock, I jump out of my stone seat to see the Tenth-prince looking at me. Thinking he had just succeeded in starling me, he looks very pleased with himself. But when he notices that I had held some tears in my eyes, looking glum and somewhat alarmed, his cheerful grin became awkwardly frozen in place. The Ninth-prince and another handsome teenager of about fourteen to fifteen years of age were standing beside the Tenth Prince. Both of them also appeared to look surprised as well.
I curtsy to them while re-adjusting my facial expression. By the time I had lifted my head up, my face had returned to its normal state. The Tenth-prince is still standing there looking dumbfounded. The Ninth-prince however, has already recollected his stunned expression and says to me, “This is the Fourteenth-prince.”
The Fourteenth-prince! The only general among all of Kangxi’s many sons. A figure I’ve wanted to meet for a long time. It is unfortunate that I am meeting him for the first time under such an awkward circumstance and am unable to be completely excited about it. I could only quietly give him another ceremonial greeting.
Everyone remained silent for a while. Seeing that the Tenth-prince has slightly returned to his usual self, I ask, “Why is the Tenth-prince here?”
“We were on our way to see Eighth brother but we happened to see you sitting here from a distance.We thought to come over here to see what you are doing.” He stopped for a moment, and takes a quick look at me before continuing, “Did someone upset you?”
I smile lightly, “My sister is the Ce’fujin of this household. Who dares to upset me?”
He takes the rolled up book in his hands and taps the stone table a few times. Just when he is about to say something the Ninth-prince injects, “Let’s go. Eighth brother is probably waiting anxiously for us”.
The Tenth-prince takes a long glance at me before putting down the book on the table and sullenly walks past me. The Ninth-prince turns and follows him down the long walkway. The Fourteenth-prince however grins happily at me, walks to the table and takes a quick glance at the book sitting on top. Rather abruptly he asks, “How old are you?”
Puzzled, I reply, “I’m thirteen.”
He smiles and gives me a nod before also turning around to leave.
Although I feel saddened in my heart, I still have to take things one day at a time.
The last few days have been hectic and stressful for jie-jie. The Eighth Bei’le had told her not to be too nervous about it, but there are after all at least a dozen princes coming, including the Crown Prince. How can anyone not get anxious? Not being able to really help her out, I was actually quite free. Feeling vexed, I didn’t feel like going anywhere and instead wanted to spend my days holing up in the house thinking about random nonsense. I would first sigh about jie-jie, and then contemplate about my own situation. What kind of road awaits me when I go to the Preparative Concubine Event? Even though I know the direction of history, my own life is controlled in someone else’s hands. I had no control over my own destiny at all.
Dongyun brings in a bowl of snow fungus soup, smiling. “When you were sick you’d try to get out of the house all the time. No one could stop or dissuade you. And now that you are all better, you stay in bed all day.”
I pick up the soup to drink while getting up and sit by the table. Wasn’t there a saying that says to drown your sorrow in food?
Dongyun watches me drink the soup while continuing, “Tomorrow night is the Tenth-prince’s birthday. Did the young miss prepare a present?”
I stop suddenly. How could I have forgotten to prepare one? I began to ponder hard, “What should I give him?”
I thought on this for better part of the day but couldn’t come up with any good ideas. Perceiving that I was distressed over the matter, jie-jie chuckles at me. “I’ve already helped prepared a gift for you.”
“How could that count?” I thought to myself. The Tenth-prince is the first friend I have made here. No matter how precious those gold and jewelries jie-jie has prepared are, it wouldn’t have really come from me.
However, distressed or not, it’s a good thing I have something to worry about. At least I am no longer that vexed anymore. In fact, I am beginning to look forward to tomorrow’s banquet. Thinking about all the famous historical figures that will be gathering in one place makes it sound just like an all-star line up!
 鸿门宴 (hong men yan) – Literally means The Hong Gate Banquet/Feast. It is a very famous historical incident that is now widely used as the idiom, “The Feast at Hong Gate”. The story originates from around 206 BC during the fall of the Qin Dynasty. A simplified version of the story goes: Two rivals, Liu Bang (future creator of the Han Dynasty) and Xiang Yu were both attacking the Qin army separately. Although Liu’s army was only approx. 1/3 of Xiang’s army, Liu was the first to enter the Qin capital. Xiang had felt that glory should have been his and Liu had stolen it away from him. Also hearing a rumor that Liu is planning to declare himself King, Xiang intended to destroy Liu with his mightier army. Knowing it was a battle he would most likely lose, Liu persuaded Xiang’s uncle to help persuade Xiang not to attack. Instead, Xiang decided he would host a banquet at Hong Gate in which Liu decided to go to in order to pay his respects to Xiang. However, the banquet was hiding a murderous intent. Xiang’s advisor, Fan Zeng, who had perceived Liu as a future threat wanted Xiang to kill Liu during the feast. Therefore, the idiom now refers to a situation where behind an outwardly cheerful and nice façade lies a hidden trap or a devious intent. It can also describe a person’s actions being a veiled attack on another.
 Han meaning Han Chinese. There were still racial and ethnic divides, even though the Manchus, who ruled over China during this time, adopted heavily from Chinese culture after they took the throne. The Han Chinese was usually seen as less able when it comes to horseback riding.
 Royal marriages were usually matched or approved by the Emperor himself. To defy them can mean death to the family.
 First of all, let me apologize for my pitiful attempt in translating the poem. >.< Sadly I didn’t even manage to capture 1/100th of its original beauty. =X Poetry is really not my forte.
The lines are from the Song Dynasty poem, 半死桐 (Ban Si Tong) written by the poet He Zhu. The poem is a very touching poem in which the poet tries to convey his sadness and nostalgia for his deceased wife. The first line talks about his return to the city of Suzhou (Chang Gate is the name of western gate of the city) and how everything feels different and wrong now that his wife is gone. He then laments about how during the last time they were here, they came to the city together, but now they can no longer return as a pair again. The third line describes the appearance of the autumn frost and how pitiful and sad a Chinese parasol tree looks like covered with it on its withered leaves and bare branches. The poet is likening himself to a Chinese parasol tree in such a state; looking and feeling as if he is half dead. In the fourth line, He Zhu is saying he is like a mandarin duck which has lost its mate and can only wonder in solitude. (In Chinese culture, mandarin ducks are a symbol of marital affection and devotion. This is because the Chinese believes that they form a couple for life. This is somewhat true; as this species of duck is one where the males would reunite with the female they mated with; even after the eggs have hatched.) The white head is telling readers that the poet is already past 50 and old, thereby further emphasizing his desolate situation. The fifth line is alluding to his wife’s recent death – thus “the dew that has only begun to dry”. It also invokes an image of a grave, as wild grasses with drying dew are what you would usually see on a grave mound. The last line talks about how he wanders between their old residence and her new grave. He is unable to abandon one for the other and thus lingers between both.
Like Ruoxi, I think the poem is very fitting to describe Ruolan’s situation. Like the poet, she is also unable to let go of her lover who has passed away.
Chapter 3 (Parts 1-2)
The next day, I got up very early and instructed Dongyun to dress me up beautifully. It wasn’t because I was trying to compete with the other girls for attention, but rather I thought it would be fun.
Clothing, jewelries and other accessories; I looked at them all one by one and rejected them one after another until the bed, the table and even the floor was covered with them. Dongyun and I had toiled from early in the morning until the afternoon before my “full body beautifying project” has finally been completed. Dongyun kept blinking at me, looking as if she is about to go crazy. The make-up tools here, compared to my huge bag of make-up tools back home, are quite simple in comparison. With Dongyun’s skillful hands and my relentless and hard efforts to explain to her the look I was going for, I finally manage to get the result I wanted with the tools available. After some serious efforts the result is surprisingly good. The fact that this Maertai Ruoxi is not bad looking to begin with helps too.
When Qiaohui saw me, she stared blankly for a while before sighing, “Second Miss has really transformed into a lady.”
With a gentle and implicit grace, I bashfully bow my head and gave her a shy smile. Qiaohui cries, “My gosh! Young Mistress, is it really you?”
I lift my head up again, and winked at her a few times, grinning. “What do you think?”
Qiaohui laughs, “Now you are!”
As the sun slowly sinks in the West, the eunuch that jie-jie sent to retrieve us arrives, right as I finished preparing everything. With the eunuch leading the way, and two maidservants accompanying me, I walk all along the way with a soft and beautiful gait.
It is already the beginning of autumn so although the mornings are still a bit on the hot side, the evenings are mild and comfortable. Jie-jie had picked an open space right next to the lake to hold the banquet and a stage has been set up right on top of the water. Several shrubs of sweet-osmanthus bloomed by the lake. Every time when a gentle breeze blew from the direction of the lake, a faintly discernible fragrance would float in the air.
When I arrive, I see jie-jie sitting on the upper gallery of a building next to the lake. She seems to be looking over the show itinerary. Upon seeing me, she also looked amazed. She did not say a word, but only looked at me up and down before finally giving a smilingly sigh. “You are more beautiful than the people in paintings!”
I smile at her. “Now is jie-jie actually complimenting me, or complimenting yourself? After all we are about sixty percent alike in looks!”
Jie-jie laughingly scolds, “Now you are just being loquacious.”
“Have they arrived yet?” I inquire.
“A servant has already informed me that Bei’le, the Ninth-prince and company will be coming together. They should be arriving soon.” She had scarcely finished her words before we saw a group of people walking towards us. Jie-jie quickly stands up, walking out of the warm room to wait for them. I also follow her out of the room, stopping to stand right behind her. Jie-jie looks ahead and says to me, “The two princes with them are the Eleventh-prince and the Twelfth-prince”.
As she tells me this, they finish arriving. Jie-jie steps forward to give her greetings and I follow right after. After we straighten ourselves, I see the Eighth Bei’le, the Ninth-prince and the Tenth-prince all looking a bit stunned. In contrast, the Eleventh-prince and the Twelfth-prince, whom I have never met before, react normally besides giving me a few extra glances.
After walking inside, everyone picks a seat and sits down. Only I remain standing next to jie-jie. The Eighth-prince smiles at me. “Tonight we are only planning to have fun. There is no need for so much propriety. You may sit.” It was only after that did I sit down next to my sister.
The Eleventh-prince says, “Last time when we drank, Thirteenth brother ran away. We must not let him get away this time!”
The Tenth-prince excitedly adds, “He’s the one I’m waiting for!”
Laughing, the Eighth-prince says, “There’s no way you can best that “Death-challenging Thirteenth” in drinking”.
Everyone started laughing. I think to myself, “It looks like currently, due to the stability of the Crown Prince’s position, there isn’t much friction between the princes yet. Thus, their relationships still seem to be quite amiable”.
Jie-jie smiles while listening to the conversation. When she sees a young eunuch sticking his head in the room from outside, she quickly gets up and says to the Eighth Bei’le, “The women have arrived. I’ll go settle them in”. The Eighth Bei’le nods at her.
There are two buildings, one situated in the north and the other in the south. The southern one is meant for the princes to take respite in and the northern one is for the women. Jie-jie still has many guests to entertain as hostess, so she lets Qiaohui accompany me to the northern side to relax until the show begins. As I enter the room, I notice two attractive fourteen to fifteen year old girls conversing cheerfully. They both look up when they hear us coming in. Seeing me, the girl wearing lake-green, palace-styled clothing looks at me in astonishment while checking me up and down. She then purses her lips together and gives me an unfriendly glare.
Qiaohui walks up and gives her a ceremonial greeting but the girl ignores Qiaohui and continues on with her conversation. The girl next to her, however, looks at Qiaohui apologetically and says, “There’s no need”.
I think to myself, “Where did this animosity come from?” Walking up to the second floor, I found a seat next to a window to sit in. I turn to ask Qiaohui, “What just happened?”
Looking wronged, she answers softly, “She has a grudge against Second Miss, but the one taking the enmity is me”. Seeing my lost expression, and understanding it to be my amnesia sickness, she explains, “Her name is Guoluoluo Mingyu but everyone calls her Mingyu Ge’ge. She is the sister of Di’fujin”.
Thinking for a moment, I finally somewhat comprehend. Since the old Ruoxi tended to act rashly without any restraint, she most likely had thought her own sister was not well favoured and sought trouble with the one who she thought was her sister’s rival’s sibling. Unfortunately, her opponent’s mother is a He’shuo Princess — Emperor Shunzhi’s brother, Prince An Yuele’s daughter and Kangxi’s first cousin. Mingyu’s father is the Mingshang E’fu and her sister is the Eighth-prince’s Di’fujin. With such a background, how could Ruoxi ever hope to seek any undue advantage?”
Qiaohui continues beside my ear, “When young miss fell from the stairs, only she was at the scene of the accident. She had said young mistress slipped and fell. Secretly however, we all agree that there’s no way she didn’t take any part in your accident.”
I give out a helpless sigh, not really certain of what to say about this. If it wasn’t for this girl, perhaps I would have really died. But I am still undecided if dying is better or coming back to life in a borrowed body is better. I suppose being able to come back to life one way or another is always good thing.
I instruct Qiaohui to bring some refreshments for me. As I sit there eating, I am also observing outside quietly from the window. It is then did I notice a bunch of eunuchs and servants clustered around three figures, leading them towards the southern building.
Among the three is the handsome Fourteenth-prince. Walking next to him is a prince around the same height, wearing sapphire-blue robes. He is also very striking but when compared to the Fourteenth-prince, this prince carries himself in a slightly more uninhibited manner. I assume that this is the “Death-challenging Thirteenth” they were joking about earlier. Walking in front of the Thirteenth-prince and the Fourteenth-prince is a man wearing a long, dark-blue robe. His face is slightly on the pale side and carries an impassive expression. Observing that he is actually allowed to walk in front of not just the Fourteenth-prince, but also the Thirteenth-prince, I am puzzled to guess the man’s identity. Suddenly, it hit me. Who else but besides the famous Fourth-prince? I immediately jump up in excitement. Using all my energy, I push my head out the window in order to take a better look at the future Emperor Yongzheng.
The Eighth-prince emerges from the building to greet them. He first gives the Fourth-prince a formal greeting before moving to the side to let the Fourth-prince through. The Fourteenth-prince, who is trailing behind them all, suddenly stops and looks up towards me. Following his gaze, the Thirteenth-prince also looks at my direction, only to see a girl with half of her body sticking out of a window and her hands clasped around the frame.
I quickly pull my body back into the room, straighten myself and then smile stupidly at them. It is quite an awkward situation after all, being caught peeping.
Both of them remained emotionless, but keeps watching me from afar. Standing by the window, I bend my body so I’d appear to be doing a curtsy to them. The Fourteenth-prince’s lips curls into a smile. He says a few words to the Thirteenth-prince, most likely informing him of who I am. Right after, the Thirteenth-prince also gives me a smile, before turning around with the Fourteenth-prince, and proceed to walk into the buildin
 暖阁 - a room partitioned from a bigger one, made to keep the heat in the house. Usually a small heater or furnace can be set up in the warm room as well.
 和硕公主, He Shuo Gong Zhu. A title that can only be given to a daughter of an Emperor. The title He Shuo Gong Zhu is specifically given to princesses that are birthed by concubines. The daughters of the Empress are given the title, He Lun Gong Zhu (固伦公主). To differentiate the different He’shuo Princesses that may exist, each one is also usually given an individual name along with the title. Not all princesses are necessary given the title of He Shuo Gong Zhu or He Lun Gong Zhu. Much like the peerage titles of Bei’le and Qin’wang (Prince), it has to be given out personally by the Emperor. To be given such a title, usually means the princess is well favoured by the Emperor.
 Emperor Kangxi’s father. Reigned from 1644 – 1661
 The “Prince An” is his title, Yue’le is his name.
 明尚额驸, Mingshang E’fu. E’fu is a title given to the husbands of royal princesses. Because Mingyu’s mother is a He’shuo Princess, her husband would be given the title of He’shuo E’fu (和硕额驸). To differentiate the different He’shuo E’fus that may exist, each one is usually given an individual name that would be attached to their titles. In this case, the name is Mingshang making Mingyu’s father the He’shuo Mingshang E’fu (和硕明尚额驸).