Part of a Peony’s Tavern translation project at fruitydeer.com.
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Source: 芍藥客棧 by Yi Mei Tong Qian // Translated By: Xin (fruitydeer)
This week’s updates will be Wednesday and Friday 🙂
Today is pretty fun as Yi Mei Tong Qian takes us through some Chinese folklore. If you’re familiar with Journey to the West and the origins of Sun Wu Kong (The Monkey King), the references in this chapter should be super easy to understand. Otherwise, you may want to read up on his origin story. At the very least, consider reading the footnotes before you get into the chapter because it’s more entertaining to not have to stop and jump to them every time a term or unfamiliar name comes up.
Shao Zi clasped a hand over her mouth, then continued walking forth with him. After walking another twenty paces, despite not having come across anything peculiar, a fresh and clean aura suddenly wafted under their noses. The road they just traveled through was simply too murky. No wonder they said that the spiritual aura in the Immortal Realm was pure. It was indeed true.
In the blink of an eye, they could see Heaven’s Southern Gate. White jade pillars, so vast that even ten men could circle around it with their arms stretched and still not be able to encircle it fully, towered in the clouds. Before the gate was four guards, their presence majestic and magnificent as their gazes remained perfectly still. When they passed the guards, Shao Zi really wanted to poke them and see if they would actually move or not.
Once they entered Heaven’s Southern Gate, there was a long section of road where there were no immortals in sight. The scholar said in a low voice: “Hold the umbrella, I’ll carry you in, hurry.”
Shao Zi swiftly took hold of the umbrella and the scholar bent over to pick her up. She was as warm and soft as before; holding her was extremely comfortable. Though immortals rode clouds, he rode the wind. Without leaving so much as a trace, they quickly strode forward. This was much better than riding a sea turtle. Moreover, the pure, crisp energy here left one feeling refreshed.
When the scholar came to a stop, only then did Shao Zi lackadaisically open her eyes. In the future, she should really have the scholar take her out to fly when there was nothing to do. It was just so fun. She got down from his arms and realized that this was a peach grove. Upon looking at the stone tablet off to the side, she immediately became shocked.
Pan Tao Yuan (Peach Grove).1
“…” Shao Zi’s neck stiffened as she turned her head, saying with difficulty, “So what you mean is, we’re going to steal Wang Mu niang-niang‘s2 peaches?”
The scholar’s expression was relaxed as he nodded: “Yes.”
Shao Zi drily laughed twice. The scholar couldn’t really be a great, nature-defying being, right? He even dares to steal Xi Wang Mu’s Peaches of Immortality. When she saw him walk forward, she hurriedly held the umbrella up and followed by his side, hoping they wouldn’t get caught and that they could leave without a hitch. The scholar took hold of the umbrella and walked with her under the peach trees. He could already smell the fragrance of the peaches.
It was said that the peaches in Pan Tao Yuan were separated into three classes—those that have matured 3,000 years can turn one into an immortal upon consumption. Those that have matured 6,000 years can offer one heavenly ascension and give them eternal life. The best ones were the ones that had matured for 9,000 years and had pits with purple patterned lines. Eating one would allow one to live as long as the Heavens and Earth, exist for long as the Sun and Moon.3
Shao Zi thought that they would pick one that was either 6,000 years or 9,000 years old. Though it’s something that mortals might think is exceptionally amazing, in the eyes of the King of Devils, it was probably just considered a first-rate tonic. It’s just that the Immortal Realm and the Devil’s Realm had always been at odds. It would be impossible to expect Xi Wang Mu to gift a peach; no wonder they had to come and steal. Thinking about how he came here for her sake, she unwittingly hugged his arm even tighter.
Once the two of them leapt over the fencing, they saw green peaches after green peaches hanging off tree branches. The scholar saw this and frowned: “It’s peak season for the Peaches of Immortality, why are they all green?”
Once he finished speaking, they saw someone leap down from a peach tree, his feet landing on crimson red wheels of fire. His eyes were pinned on the two. The scholar smiled: “You really deserve to be called a disciple of Taiyi Zhenren,4 you can actually see us.”
Ne Zha (哪吒) wrinkled his brows: “Who are you? No hostile energy, yet no immortal aura. Hold on, is it a demon behind you over there?”
The scholar did not conceal the truth. He nodded: “A peony flower demon.”
“Oh.” Peony flower demons were a renowned spiritual creature in the world. Ascension to immortality was something that would happen sooner or later, so it was not worth making things difficult for her. He sized the two up and down, then laughed: “You’re here to steal peaches, right? What a shame, you’re too late.”
Shao Zi’s head tilted: “What do you mean?”
Ne Zha spoke: “Ever since a monkey created a ruckus in the Heavens,5 a bunch of other demons and monsters who possessed just a bit prowess starting thinking that Pan Tao Yuan was easy to break into. But who let that rogue monkey eat up all the peaches in the grove? In these fifty years, I’ve expelled 3,000 monsters. Poor me, the Great God of the Three Altars of the Sea6 actually has to sit here and watch over the peach grove. It’s all thanks to that rogue monkey.”
Even the scholar didn’t anticipate something like this. Looking at the grove full of green peaches, he knew that plucking one was useless anyways. And it was clear that the Devil King could not wait another 6,000 years.
Shao Zi asked: “Are there any other immortal grasses or flowers that can be used instead?”
The scholar gave it some thought: “Taishang Laojun (太上老君)7 has refined quite a few medicinal pills. Going there and getting one will solve the problem.”
Shao Zi was elated.
Na Zha yawned: “Don’t even think about it. That rogue monkey already ruined Taishang Laojun’s alchemy furnace. All the pills in there were eaten clean by him. Right now, the old man still hasn’t recovered from this setback. He squats at the corner of the wall everyday, hitting a voodoo doll.”
Shao Zi wilted.
The scholar’s brows creased as he thought some more: “Then go to the Netherworld and extend the life of the Devil King’s original proprietor.8 Since the original proprietor are connected to the devils’ souls, it should, more or less, have an effect.”
Shao Zi became elated again.
Ne Zha held his stomach as he broke into a fit of laughter: “Don’t even mention it, that rogue monkey went to the Underworld and messed with the Book of Life and Death,9 several people’s names and the lengths of their lives are all jumbled. You won’t be able to look anything up for the time being.”
Shao Zi wilted again.
The scholar took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. He suddenly really wanted to go give that monkey a beating, ya! He mulled it over once more, saying in a low voice: “The Eastern Sea Dragon’s Palace has a…”
“Heh heh, that monkey stole the Ding Hai Shen Zhen.10 The Dragon King already shut the gates of the palace and went off determinedly to train with his army. He’s not seeing any guests.”
The scholar facepalmed.
Shao Zi also facepalmed, she really…extremely hated that monkey. Oh wait, but what was this quiet feeling of reverence over the ability to so awesomely and boldly make a mess of the whole of the Heavens! But because of that monkey, she was about to be snatched away to become soup, okay…
The scholar sighed: “We can’t find anything in the Immortal Realm. Let’s go look elsewhere then.”
After Ne Zha brought up these things to torture these visitors, he saw them off in glee. He didn’t hold them back. Because…he wasn’t even capable of holding them back.
The scholar opened the umbrella again and pondered for a long time before finally saying: “Shao Zi, let’s go to the Realm of Gods to seek out the phoenixes.”
Bewildered, Shao Zi replied: “Phoe, phoenixes?”
Like the Azure Dragon, phoenixes were also ancient divine beasts who would never easily venture into the Six Realms. The Azure Dragon was too lazy to bother coming out, but phoenixes were cold and haughty by nature and disdained the thought of engaging with anything outside of its kind. In other words, it was “too lazy to have dealings with all you stupid average folk.” According to rumor, a phoenix has three drops of blood. With one drop, one’s longevity could match that of the Heavens. With two drops, one’s magical abilities could become limited. With three drops…the phoenix dies.
Before setting off, Shao Zi asked the scholar seriously: “We won’t get beat into the skies by the phoenixes, will we?”
The scholar stilled for a moment, then said: “Others aren’t too difficult to reason with, only with the phoenixes are there some uncertainties. This kind of divine beast was born noble and aloof, its heart callous and its tongue poisonous. It fears nobody, not even offering reverence when Emperor Pan Gu comes. They simply speak with unpleasantries before swiftly him into the clearwater pond. But there’s nothing that can be done, Emperor Pan Gu indulges them.”
Shao Zi nodded, then said: “Innkeeper, this is the first time I’ve heard you speak of a great, nature-defying being with deference.”
The scholar chuckled. Shao Zi thought of another thing, then stopped as she looked at him and said: “If phoenixes are divine beasts with such unruly tempers, then how will you be able to retrieve such precious blood off their person? It couldn’t be that you…want to use something better to make a trade?”
‘There has to be a way.”
The scholar paused. Seeing her ask so seriously, his gaze fell slightly, then he smiled calmly and said slowly: “Seduction.”
The scholar hummed: “The phoenix does not drink the morning dew, does not eat fresh bamboo, nor does it rest upon the thousand-year-old parasol tree. Outsiders praise, ‘what a noble and clean temperament.'”11
Upon hearing this, the face of Shao Zi, who had always been raised by the old innkeeper vis-a-vis, “crude life, crude upbringing,” twitched. She asked faintly: “Innkeeper, isn’t this a bit duplicitous?”
The scholar broke into laughter: “Yes.”
Shao Zi grimaced: “If I came to beg Innkeeper like this, you would definitely send me off to reclaim and cultivate lands, no?”12
The scholar looked at her earnestly: “I definitely wouldn’t be disdainful.”
These words were said simply too seriously, completely different from his normally lackadaisical demeanor. Shao Zi was even a little mirthful, her eyes turning into crescents: “Innkeeper, you’re the benefactor of the whole tavern.” Then, she asked: “Are we really going to go seduce a phoenix?”
- 蟠桃園 // Pan Tao Yuan: Heaven’s famed garden of immortal peaches and also the one that the Monkey King, Sun Wu Kong, famously stole from in Journey to the West. Like Shao Zi, Sun Wu Kong is also a demon.
- 西王母 // Xi Wang Mu: Queen Mother of the West, wife of the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝 // Yu Huang Da Di) and tends to the Peaches of Immortality in the Pan Tao Yuan. Also referred to as Wang Mu niang-niang.
- By default, an “immortal” (仙人 // xian ren) can technically still age, they’re just able to live for much longer than normal people.
- 太乙真人 // Tai Yi Zhen Ren: A Daoist deity and god. He’s also featured in Investiture of the Gods, a famous story that about his disciple, Ne Zha (哪吒), who has an awful temper, is super powerful, and is the aforementioned kid on fire wheels (which are his signature magical mount). These figures don’t originate from Investiture of the Gods, but the story heavily contributes to the lore that many people know today.
- Talking about the Monkey King, Sun Wu Kong (孫悟空) and the story where he wreaks havoc in the Heavens (大鬧天宮 // da nao tian gong)
- 三壇海會大神 // San Tan Hai Hui Da Shen: One of Ne Zha’s titles as bestowed by the Jade Emperor.
- 太上老君 // Tai Shang Lao Jun: The Grand Pure One. One of the Three Pure Ones in Daoism. Also known as Daode Tianzun. In Journey to the West, Sun Wu Kong was punished by imprisonment in Taishang Laojun’s alchemy furnace, but he broke out of it.
- Recall that all creatures of the Devil’s Realm are reflections of a being from one of the other realms.
- 生死薄 // Shen Si Bao: Sun Wu Kong went to Yan Luo Wang’s palace in the Netherworld and struck his name off this book, called the Book of Life and Death, to avoid death. As always he made a huge mess in his wake.
- 定海神針 // Ding Hai Shen Zhen: Means something like divine needle that keeps the oceans fixed. Also known as the Ruyi Jingu Bang (如意金箍棒) or simply Jingu Bang for short. Sun Wu Kong’s primary weapon, a staff that he can enlarge or shrink at will. It was originally used by Yu the Great to measure the water during floods.
- He’s reciting a line from a literary work. Unfortunately, I’m not very clear on the details.
- Feudal concept of sending laborers to cultivate lands afar and feed border troops.