This work is an amateur fan-translation of original work by Tong Hua as available in free online format in Mandarin Chinese at:
The translation is done as good will, so that fellow fans who do not read Mandarin may enjoy this lovely work. We declare that we do not profit monetarily in any way from this work, and also do not pretend to be professional translators. Hence, we apologize in advance for inadvertent translation errors. In addition, reposting of the translation must be done with explicit permission of all translators as contactable via spcnet.
Characters Introduced So Far
(In Alphabetical Order)
Crown Prince (Aisin-Gioro Yinreng): The second son of Emperor Kangxi. Currently the Crown Prince and thus next in line for the throne.
Dong Yun: One of Ruolan’s maids.
Fourteenth-prince (Aisin-Gioro Yinzheng): The fourteenth son of Emperor Kangxi. He is described as being quite handsome.
Fourth-prince (Asin-Gioro Yinzhen): The fourth son of Emperor Kangxi and the future Emperor Yongzheng. Slightly pale and has an impassive demeanour. Very close to the Thirteenth-prince
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. Fell in love with Ruolan at first sight but unfortunately she does not return his love.
Kangxi: The current Emperor of China.
Li Dequan: The head eunuch who serves Kangxi directly. Seems to like Ruoxi and often secretly gives sound advices to her on how to survive in the Palace.
Luwu: A courtesan who seem to have an unclear relationship with the Thirteenth-prince. Luwu is one of the higher ranking courtesans who have the right to choose her clients and can “sell their talents but not their bodies”. She befriends Ruoxi through the introduction of the Thirteenth-prince.
Mingyu Ge’ge (Guoluoluo Mingyu): Younger sister of the Eighth-prince’s Di’fujin, Guoluoluo Minghui. Not on good terms with Ruoxi. Most likely the one who caused the original Ruoxi’s accident after an argument. During the Tenth-prince’s Birthday banquet, Ruoxi and Mingyu gets into a fight, resulting in quite a spectacle. Arranged to marry the Tenth-prince by Emperor Kangxi.
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. Has a deceased lover who was a soldier in her father’s army. The man was of Han descent and had taught Ruolan how to ride.
Ruoxi, Maertai (Zhang Xiao): The protagonist of the story. Originally a modern day, white collared professional named Zhang Xiao. Under certain unexplainable and supernatural occurrence, Zhang Xiao’s spirit travels through time upon her death and take 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. Currently is employed as the head tea serving maid for Emperor Kangxi.
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. Likes Ruoxi, but is forced to marry Mingyu Ge’ge.
Thirteenth-prince (Aisin-Gioro Yinxiang): The thirteenth son of the Emperor Kangxi. Nicknamed “the Death Challenging Thirteenth” by his brothers. Has a more carefree and unrestrained demeanour. Due to this, he has developed a great rapport with Ruoxi and they are close friends. Has an unexplained relationship with the beautiful courtesan Luwu. Very close to the Fourth-prince.
Wang Xi: A junior eunuch who is under the tutelage of Li Dequan. One of the eunuch that is quite close to Ruoxi and refers to her as Jie-jie.
Yunxiang: A tea serving maid who works under Ruoxi.
Yutan: A tea serving maid who works under Ruoxi. Very close to Ruoxi and the two have a sister-like relationship.
Glossary of Terms
(In Alphabetical Order)
An’da: The Mongolians term for sworn brothers. Due to the intermarriages between Manchu and Mongolian royalty to preserve relations, this Mongolian term was adopted into the Qing Dynasty. In this case, Ruoxi calling Li Dequan “Brother” indicates her close relationship with the senior eunuch.
Bei’le: Shortened from Duo’luo Bei’le. A peerage title that can be bestowed to those within the imperial 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.
Imperial Father: What the children of the Emperor refer to their father as.
Jie-jie: Older sister in Chinese.
Ji’xiang: A standard greeting one of lower status uses to greet people with higher status in court. The word literally means auspicious and can be translated as, ‘I wish good fortunes, prosperity and happiness to you”
Shifu – Means Master, someone who one is under the tutelage of.
Zha: A response that means “yes”. Used by the eunuchs in reply to instructions or orders made by the Imperial family.
Zhen: A word that the Emperor refers himself as.
Chapter 8 (Part4 - 6)
I was just reading the part, “People of today recommend tea balls. This is wrong and borders on being uncouth. Even the higher quality types have still lost their true flavor. Furthermore, the tea balls must be dropped [into water] using a spoon. If the spoon is made of gold or silver, these materials are not natural, and copper will leave a metallic taste. The Northern people of old, therefore, would add curdled milk, while the Shu people added salt. These are all merely primitive ways to drink tea so should not be criticized,” when Wang Xi calls quietly from outside the door, “Jie-jie, are you inside the house?”
I sit up straight and ask in reply, “The lights are lit; of course there is someone here. What is the matter?”
Wang Xi answers, “My shifu requests Jie-jie to come.”
Hearing this, I hurriedly put aside the book to look in the mirror. I fix my hair and straighten my clothes before blowing out the lights. Pulling open the door, I step outside.
When Wang Xi sees me coming out, he quickly bends over in a ceremonial bow. As he turns around and begins walking, he explains, “His Imperial Majesty is addicted to working on that thing the Westerners taught him. My shifu probed several times whether dinner should be brought in, but his Imperial Majesty only answered ‘fine’ without thinking but made no other movements. It is already so late. Shifu said to ask Miss to think of a method to help.”
There is a slight smile on the corner of my lips as I muse silently, indeed, capable people do more work. I recall that night, more than half a year after I had first entered the palace, when I was on duty in the warm room. Kangxi was reading and marking official documents late into the night. It was not that Kangxi had not previously done this before, but in this case, Kangxi had stayed up late to process official documents for three or four nights in a row. Beside him, his eunuch, Li Dequan’s eyebrows were furrowed tightly together. He was worried about his master’s health, but did not dare to say anything hastily. He could only accompany Kangxi off to the side with a pained expression on his face.
At the time, everything was still new and fresh to me. I was thinking that it truly was not easy to be this wise ruler of the ages, while at the same time, I was secretly looking over Kangxi. He was, after all, a man past the age of fifty, plus, after several nights in a row of being up late and then rising early in the morning to attend the imperial court, his face was showing signs of exhaustion and haggardness. I did not know whether my mind was possessed or some other reason, but my eyes suddenly started stinging with tears as I recalled that I used to frequently watch my father, a teacher of a middle school graduating class, working under the lamp, preparing lessons and marking homework deep into the night. Sometimes, when my mother got anxious, she would simply turn off the lamp and force my father to go to bed – Kangxi very likely does not have a wife like that.
While I was thinking this, I did not know what happened, but a sudden dizziness hit me and I opened my mouth and said, “It’s late. Rest first. Otherwise, you will exhaust yourself and that will interfere with things even more.” The words had just slipped out of my lips when, inside that quiet room, everyone stared at me with faces covered in shock. All at once, an atmosphere of alarm and dread settled over the room.
I, too, immediately recovered and reacted – I’m in big trouble now! Hurriedly, I dropped to my knees. Li Dequan face was pulled taut and he was about to punish me when we heard Kangxi exhale a sigh and say smilingly, “Before Zhen’s Tenth Ge’ge left the palace, she also would always pester Zhen to rest.” He tilts his head to the side, lost in thought for a moment before shaking his head lightly and instructing Li Dequan, “Put away these documents. We will rest for today.”
When Li Dequan heard this, his face lit up with joy and he quickly answered in a loud voice, “Zha!”
He then hurried over to help Kangxi get up.
As Kangxi walked past me, he looked down at where I was still kneeling on the ground and said, “You may rise.”
I kowtowed and answered, “Thank you, Imperial Majesty,” before I straightened myself.
Kangxi looked me over before asking Li Dequan with a laugh, “Is this not the ‘Death Challenging Thirteenth’s Sister of the Maertai family?”
Li Dequan replied, “Precisely.”
Kangxi did not say any more and left the room directly after. Only then did I realize that my entire back was soaked in sweat. So I was actually that scared of death! I had thought to myself, I really should thank that Tenth Ge’ge whom I had never actually met before. It seemed Kangxi loved and cherished her very much. However, the moment I thought to the fact that even though he loved her that much, he still married her off to the far, barren North, I had felt a sliver of chill seep into my heart.
After that incident, Li Dequan seems to assume I’m a mascot of good fortune. If there happens to be similar situations, he would always get me to come up with ideas to help. Luckily, even though every time I’d always have to wreck my brains apart and take big risks, in the end I was able to make some use out of my ideas.
As I arrive in front of the Hall, Wang Xi stood to one side and says quietly, “Jie-jie, you can go in by yourself.”
I nod my head and gently step into the room.
Just as I step into the room, I can see Li Dequan, who is standing off to one side behind Kangxi, giving me a nod. I nod back with a barely perceivable nod and lightly walk towards Kangxi, pretending to be coming to change the water to his tea. Picking up the tea cup, I quickly take a few glances at the geometry question that Kangxi is working on and then slowly back out.
I return to the tea preparation room.
As I am brewing tea, I am thinking, the problem really is not that difficult. Kangxi simply added the auxiliary line in the wrong place. But that is what happens when doing geometric proofs: once your mind is stuck on a certain path, you always need some effort to recover and get out of that mindset. Actually, if he would just set it aside and not work on the problem right now, likely, when he looks at it again tomorrow, he will end up lamenting over why he was so foolish the day before, because simply modifying the position of the auxiliary line would have solved it.
It is fine for me to think this, but in any case, I cannot go up and tell him how to draw the auxiliary line and solve the problem. After all, people like the French Jesuits, Joachim Bouvet and Jean-Francois Gerbillon, or the Portuguese Jesuit, Tomas Pereira have never taught me mathematics. If Kangxi asks how did I know how to solve it, how will I answer?
I walk back in carrying the tea and place it gently on the desk. I first compose myself before quietly addressing, “Imperial Majesty.” Kangxi does not lift his head and only answers with an unthinking, “hmm.” After pausing briefly, I carry on, “I am afraid those Westerners will not dare to explain geometry to your Imperial Majesty anymore.” Kangxi gives another “hmm,” but does not give any other response and continues to look at the problem.
A short time passes before he suddenly whips his head up to look at me. Hurriedly, I bend myself over in a bow and say softly, “They taught these ideas to your Imperial Majesty primarily because they believe they are beneficial, but because of them, your Imperial Majesty has no time for even thoughts of food or drink. If you ruin your health, they will end up having to bear the responsibility for that crime.” I pause for a moment, but seeing that Kangxi does not show any response, I add, “Plus, didn’t those Westerners say that if you allow your mind to quiet down and rest, sometimes these geometric proofs may actually be easier to solve?” As I finish speaking, my heart grows anxious, and I close my hands to cold sweat in my palms.
After a little while, Kangxi drops his writing brush, stands up, stretches out his back, and chides, “Li Dequan, this mischief is your doing.”
Li Dequan quickly bends over and explains with an apologetic smile, “Your servant truly did it out of worry for your Imperial Majesty’s health.”
With a chuckle, Kangxi orders, “Fine. Ready the meal.”
Li Dequan answers hurriedly, “Zha!” He strides swiftly out the door and gives instructions to Wang Xi.
Kangxi lowers his head to look at me. “You are getting more and more bold, letting Li Dequan order you about.”
I drop to my knees quickly. “Maidservant was also worried about your Imperial Majesty’s health,” I say before kowtowing.
“Rise,” Kangxi instructs. I stand up, and he continues, “You are very attentive. You only served off to the side those few times and yet you are able to remember their words.”
Hastily, I explain, “It is only because, when I heard them at the time, those ideas were new and interesting so I paid more attention.”
Kangxi pays no more heed to me. Walking out of the room, he says, “If people of the Great Qing Empire all had the same enthusiasm for new ideas, there would be no worries that the four corners would not come to pay respect.” By the time he finishes speaking, he is already out of the room.
I heave a sigh as I reflect, easier said than done. For several thousand years, China has believed that it is a great land of vast resources and the center of the world. To change such a way of thinking to one that accepts new ideas, is not something that would happen simply because of an emperor’s desire. It is only after experiencing pain that cuts to the very core, and the near destruction of the country, when the Chinese can truly understand that we must actually learn from the outside world. It is not only because Kangxi addresses himself as “the lonely and few” that he feels alone, but it is also because he understands too much and can see and think too far forward that he is lonely. It has always been the wise that are lonely, not to mention that he is also the emperor.
I am not supposed to be on duty today, but I suddenly remember that some new tea will be
arriving this afternoon. Worried that Yunxiang and Yutan may not put them away properly and damage their taste, I decide that I will go out to check on them.
While strolling along the tree-lined path, I see the Tenth and the Fourteenth-prince approaching me directly. I hurriedly turn, stand off to the side, and give them the ceremonial greeting. The Tenth-prince remarks gruffly, “There’s no one else here anyway. Why all the formalities?” The Fourteenth-prince only gives a cool “hmph” and does not say anything.
Straightening back up into a standing position, I smile at the Tenth-prince and inquire, “Are you returning to your manor?”
He grins, “I’m leaving the palace, but I’m not going back to the manor yet. We’re going to Eighth Brother’s place.”
I think for a moment before saying, “It has been quite a while since I have seen the Eighth-prince. Please send my greetings and auspicious wishes to him.”
The Tenth-prince does not even have time to respond when we hear the Fourteenth-prince, who has been standing to the side with a chilly expression, retort, “If you truly care about Eighth Brother, there is no need for those empty formalities of greetings and well wishes. If your heart is thinking about someone else, why bother doing these things just for people to see?”
The Tenth-prince and I are both taken aback, not knowing what the cause of these words was. We exchange a baffled glance with one another before staring at the Fourteenth-prince with looks of complete incomprehension. However the Fourteenth-prince is extremely impatient after he finishes speaking and snaps, “Tenth Brother, are you going or not? If you are not going yet, then I will leave first.” When he is done, he strides away without even waiting for a reply.
The Tenth-prince throws another bewildered look at me, but then hurries after the Fourteenth-prince. With furrowed brows, I stare at their outlines that are already off to the distance, wondering, when did I offend the Fourteenth-prince? Could it be because of the Thirteenth-prince again? But over these last few years, he already knows long ago that the Thirteenth-prince and I are very close. So why did he get so angry?
As I continue walking, I unconsciously touch the jade bracelet around my wrist. Do I carry him in my heart or not? This is the question he asks me every year. How am I going to answer him this year? Or maybe I should say, he has asked this for three years already; will he ask again this year? Perhaps he has already grown weary of asking.
Completely absorbed in my thoughts, I suddenly walk right into someone. I am thrown off balance and nearly falls over, but fortunately, the other person stretches out a hand and supports me until I am firm on my feet again. Seeing that it is the Thirteenth-prince, I cannot help cursing, “You rascal! You saw me but didn’t say anything.”
He snickers, “Seeing that you were so lost in thought, I wanted to see if you would really run into someone; and what better way give you a friendly reminder to be more careful.” He pauses, puts a fist under his chin, holds back a grin and says, “It’s no big deal if you want to throw yourself into my arms, but if other people see such a great beauty suddenly jump into my embrace, I’m afraid they’ll get the wrong idea.”
I pull my lips into a little pout, and then jokingly glower at him, ignoring his words.
He asks me, “What were you thinking?”
With a smirk, I respond, “Not telling you. I still have important things to do. Not going to make any pointless talk with you.”
He laughs, “Go then. Just don’t walk and think at the same time anymore.”
I do not answer and begin walking away. As I brush past his side, I suddenly jab my elbow into him. I hear him behind me let out an exaggerated “ouch!”
Chortling, I walk away with speedy steps, and from behind me, the sound of laughter rings out.
I have not gone far, though, when all of a sudden I hear the sound of running catching up to my rear. Quickly, I turn around to see the Thirteenth-prince coming towards me with large strides. With a puzzled look, I ask him, “What is it?”
He rushes forward another couple of steps before coming to a standstill. “I have been meaning to ask you something, but there hasn’t been an appropriate time in the last while. I actually almost forgot about it.”
I tell him, “Ask now.”
Chuckling, he complies, “Why did you help Fourth Brother that time?”
I stare blankly at him. My mind spins as I try to call something up, but I still do not know what he is talking about and can only respond by inquiring, “When did I ever help the Fourth-prince? Besides, what could the Fourth-prince possibly need my help with?”
He smiles and shakes his head. “The incident with the tribute items. You spilled tea onto Tenth Brother.”
I inhale sharply, my mind feeling as if a clap of thunder has gone off inside it. I finally understand now why the Fourteenth prince did not want to be around me. After a long time, like an eggplant struck by frost, I answer dully, “That was simply an unintentional mistake. Just a coincidence.”
He laughs, “Regardless of whether it was intentional or not, I am here to thank you anyway; otherwise, I don’t know what else that mouth of Tenth Brother was going to say. It is not even that we are afraid of him, but to have to explain it to Imperial Father would have been troublesome.” When he finishes saying this, he waits a moment. Seeing that I do not show any response, he adds, “I’m going now. You go do your own thing as well.” I nod woodenly, turning and listlessly walk away.
I do not really know what I am thinking. I am only aware that my one hand is stroking the bracelet while I am slowly walking. If even the Fourteenth-prince has gotten the wrong idea, did he misunderstand as well? Perhaps he will understand that the one I was really trying to help was the Tenth-prince, not the Fourth-prince.
By the time I snap out of my thoughts with a start, I find that I made a turn in the wrong direction a long time ago and am very far away from the Palace of Heavenly Purity. I heave an inward sigh. Feeling that I no longer have the energy to care about tea and whatnots, I turn around and head back to my room.
The sun is gradually setting in the west. I sit on a rock, leaning against the willow tree beside it. My eyes are half-closed as I watch two butterflies dancing lightly over the cluster of flowers before me. The gladiolas, with the color of purple mixed with white, have already passed their full magnificence and are starting to wilt, providing a not so gratifying picture. However, because of these two butterflies that are fluttering together up and down in the light of the setting sun, as if they are infinitely in love, it gives observers the feeling that the sight before them is particularly beautiful.
A childish but clear voice rings out from behind me. “What are you doing? Why aren’t you moving at all?”
I turn my head to the side to look. It turns out it is a six or seven year old little boy, chubby and very cute. Judging from his attire, his status should not be low. I point in front of me and say, “I’m watching butterflies.”
He walks up beside me and glances at the butterflies. “What’s so good about watching butterflies? Catching butterflies is what’s fun.”
 Excerpt from Tian Yiheng’s 《煮泉小品》
 Jesuits who lived in the capital and worked for the emperor in various capacities. These three worked particularly closely with Kangxi, tutoring him in subjects such as mathematics and astronomy.
 Orig.称孤道寡 (pinyin: cheng gu dao gua). In ancient times, kings and emperors used this to describe themselves. “Gu” means “lonely” while “gua’ means “few.” Prior to Qin Shihuang, kings addressed themselves as “gu” or “gua ren” (where “ren” means “person”). It is meant to describe the loneliness that comes with the throne.
 An eggplant struck by frost is lifeless and withered. This is a common saying used to describe a person who is weary, unenergetic, lifeless, etc.