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Two bars of homemade soap, tied with twine, nettle on the background of wooden boards

Raising the Young Grand Secretary – 008

Chapter 008

Author: Feast of Masks


Translated by Gumihou

Edited by Gumihou: Just some very small sentence restructuring for better understanding


A young man was walking down the village path.

He was dressed in a blue jacket with such pale skin that it looked as though he had not seen the sun for a long time. In fact, he was so pale that he looked almost sickly. He was very slender and looked as weak as a reed. Even so, there was an air of composure about him that lent a sense of leisurely elegance about his person despite the shabby clothes, uneven village path and the various chicken and cow droppings that littered the road.

Spring ploughing was one of the busiest seasons for most of the farmers, which meant there was hardly anyone else on the village path. When the busy village women happened to look up from their endless chores, they saw this elegant person walking on his own down the path and had to blink a few times before recognising who they were looking at.

“Gou’er, where are you going, ah?”

Xue Tingxiang looked towards the woman and said with a smile, “Just going for a little walk, auntie.”

The question was casually asked, and the woman did not question him further. Later, when she returned to the house for something, her mother-in-law asked, “Who were you speaking with just now, third daughter-in-law?”

“It’s Gou’er from the Xue family’s second branch. Heh, would you believe it if I said I nearly didn’t recognise him until he was close enough to knock at our gate? I felt like I was seeing a different person.”

Her mother-in-law did not take her comment seriously, “How much could he change? It’s not like he could take off his skin and pull on a new one. If I remember right, that child had just recovered from a sickness.”

The daughter-in-law said, “I see, I believe he is making his way towards the mountain at the back.” Behind Yuqing Village was a mountain where most of the village’s dead were buried. Naturally, the Xue Clan’s ancestral grave was also there.

The mother-in-law sighed, “Don’t even mention it, that child from the Xue Family’s Second Branch is just too pitiful. Both parents just left, leaving one child behind.”

This was just some casual gossip between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. As the two chatted, Xue Tingxiang had already arrived at the back mountain with Heizi.

The back mountain was just called ‘Back Mountain’ behind Yuqing Village.

There was no official name for it and, for a mountain, it was not very tall. However, it was a deeply forested area and thus far, no villager managed to cross the entire mountain and old forest, preferring instead to limit their activities to the periphery.

The Xue Clan Ancestral Grave was located on this mountain not far from the village. The Xue Clan consisted not only of Xue Tingxiang’s immediate family, but also the entirety of the Xue Clan ancestors.

The main patriarch was buried in the middle of the hill, with various family members branching out. Old Man Xue line was located in the Southwest, near the foot of the mountain.

Because the second branch family couple died young, and Xue Qingsong having died from a freak accident, the two of them were buried at the edge of the official site.

When Xue Tingxiang arrived at his parents’ grave site, he crouched down and began to pull absent-mindedly at the weeds. In fact, there were not many weeds growing since the burial site had been cleared during the Lunar New Year. He collected the weeds together and set them aside, before sitting down in front of the graves.

The grave itself consisted of one large burial mound with two small gravestones in front. The gravestones were made from small bluestones with the names of the couple crudely inscribed on them.

In fact, Zhao’er was the one who found someone to set up the gravestones and chisel the names in for the couple.

Recently, it was believed that gravestones should not be erected for three types of people: those who died prematurely, those who died a sudden violent death and those with no heirs. Xue Qingsong belonged to the group that died a violent death.

Although no one said it, the villagers felt that people who died a sudden violent death would feel resentment after their death, and therefore ruin the feng shui of an ancestral site. It is believed that without a gravestone, the spirit would eventually forget their identity and not linger near their bodies and cause trouble.

However, there was also a belief that those who died without a gravestone would become a lonely ghost and could not receive the prayers of their descendants.

Back then, the second branch couple’s funeral was arranged by the Xue Family according to the old customs. Xue Tingxiang was too young to understand these things, but Zhao’er understood.

She spoke to the Xue Family about erecting gravestones, but instead of helping, the family obstructed her, each of them taking turns to persuade or advise her. In the end, without speaking to anyone, Zhao’er took out her own money and had someone make these two simple gravestones for the burial mound.

When the Xue Family found out, it was already too late to do anything. After all, they could not tear down these gravestones under the eyes of the villagers and could only pretend that it was nothing much even as shame nagged at them.

The villagers were also surprised to see the gravestone. However, after thinking about how the Second Xue Brother had died, they felt they could understand it.

Thus, Xue Qingshan gained a good name out of this. They commended him for risking the family cemetery feng shui to erect a gravestone for his poor brother.

As various thoughts spun in his mind, Xue Tingxiang removed a piece of cloth from his breast pocket and began to slowly polish the gravestone.

The words on the gravestones were in his handwriting and the strokes were still immature. However, the words were still written clearly.


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Today was the anniversary of Old Man Zheng’s death. Zheng Hu brought his two sons to the cemetery to pray over their grandfather’s grave.

The people from the countryside are not very particular. It was enough to set out some steamed buns, wine and meat before their ancestor’s grave, and burn some paper money and… that was enough worshipping for the rest of the year.

Zheng Hu had a good relationship with his old father and inevitably felt a little sad on the anniversary of his death. He allowed his sons to return first while he sat in front of his father’s grave. He lit a pipe and between puffs, talked to his father about various things.

After a while, he stood up. It was time to go back.

There was plenty of work to be done in this busy season and, not wanting to waste any more time, Zheng Hu took a shortcut that took him past Xue Lianxing’s grave site when he suddenly heard the sound of sobbing.

There were two sets of graves near the mountain. One of the hills belonged to the Xue Clan while the other contained the deceased of the Zheng family. On ordinary days like this, no one would come to the grave site. Unless, like Zheng Hu, they would come here on the death anniversary of an elder.

There were many dead buried in the area, and trees clustered closely on the hill, their dense canopies making even the sunniest days gloomy. When the strange sobbing reached his ears, Zheng Hu grew so frightened that his hair stood on end and his legs felt unsteady.

Still, he was a man who had lived many decades. Instead of panicking, he listened closely to the sound and eventually determined that he was hearing the sobs of a little boy.

After considering the people who were buried here, he seized his courage and bravely walked closer to the sound. He bypassed a large tree and found a youth dressed in blue sitting before a grave.

Beside the boy was a large dog. The dog was furiously wagging its tail.

It was Xue Lianxing’s second branch’s Gouzi.

After properly confirming that he was looking at a person and not a ghost, Zheng Hu finally heaved a sigh of relief.

“…father, what should I do? Uncle plans to send Brother Juncai to the town school. I thought I could go but… Eldest Aunt came by a few days ago and said I should yield to Brother Juncai, even though they had promised…” 

The young man’s voice was filled with hesitation and confused grievance. Zheng Hu had not expected to hear the Xue Family’s secret matters at such a place. [1] He was so shocked that the pipe fell out of his hand and dropped on his foot. The sudden pain in his foot shook him out of his stupor and he quickly grabbed his pipe and hurried away.

[1] What he did not know was that after he had left, the lonely and helpless little boy immediately stopped crying.

For the past few days, Xue Tingxiang had been cracking his brain trying to think of a way to find an opportunity to allow the public to know what was happening within the Xue Family. Somehow, he thought of Zheng Hu.

Zheng Hu’s father, Old Man Zheng died in the middle of the spring ploughing season. It was an inauspicious death. He was accidentally pushed to the side of a ridge by his own cattle and fell to his death.

What made it even more unfortunate was that the ridge was not very tall. Many villagers had fallen off the ridge each year, but Old Man Zheng was the only one who was unlucky enough to die. Because of this, his death was widely talked about in the village, which was why Xue Tingxiang could recall it quite clearly.

[1] Knowing that Zheng Hu would definitely visit his father’s grave during the death anniversary, and knowing this fellow’s habit of taking shortcuts, Xue Tingxiang guessed that he would definitely pass by his own parents’ grave. There was no better candidate for this job.

What’s more important is that although Yuqing Village did not appear large, there were two major clans within it. The Xue and the Zheng clan have their own set of elders. Moreover, Zheng Hu’s uncle was a Lizheng. Anything Zheng Hu knows, Zheng Lizheng will eventually know.

Xue Tingxiang did not linger any longer and quickly made his way home with Heizi.

The courtyard was still silent when he made it home. He found a stool and, after placing it by the gate, sat there quietly basking in the sun. His thoughts filled with Zhao’er who had gone to town.


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Zheng Hu hurried all the way to Zheng Lizheng’s house, not even bothering to stop by his own home.

Zheng Lizheng was the head of the Zheng Clan in Yuqing Village. Naturally, to reflect his status, his family’s house was one of a kind. The only other house that could be compared was the house belonging to the Head of Xue Clan’s family.

The house was made of brick and green tiles. The most outstanding feature was the Zheng Clan ancestral hall situated at the front. Even so, the hall is only open at certain times. For most of the year, the two large black mahogany doors remained closed.

Zheng Lizheng’s family lived in the courtyard to the side of this ancestral hall.

The courtyard itself was huge. Unlike other village courtyards that were filled with barns, storehouses, kitchens, and outhouses, there was nothing in the courtyard aside from two sycamore trees. Whenever there were big events within the village, this courtyard would be packed with people.

The main family occupied three rooms facing the front, with east and west rooms to the left and right of the main houses. All of the buildings were brick and tiled houses and were extraordinarily magnificent.

When Zheng Hu arrived, there was only Zheng Lizheng and his wife Tian’shi at home.

When Tian’shi saw him, she greeted him and said, “Hu’zi, why are you here at this time? Do you need your uncle for something?”

“Aih, yes, there is something I need to speak with him about.” Zheng Hu then hurried past her into the house.

Tian’shi shook her head, thinking: Something very serious must have happened, it is not like Zheng Hu to be like this. This fellow has quite a stable temperament.

Zheng Hu made his way to the East Room and found his uncle Lizheng sitting cross-legged on a large kang, smoking a long-stemmed pipe.

“Hey, what are you hurrying for?”

Zheng Hu sat down on a bench by the kang, panting so heavily that he could not speak for a good while.

Zheng Lizheng looked to be in his sixties with a long face and a set of eyes that were neither too large nor too narrow. Appearance-wise, he looked like a regular old farmer. Even the clothes he had on were ordinary. The unique thing about him was a calmness that made him seem almost immovable. Clearly, this was a man who had been around for a long time and had seen many things.

With the pipe still in his mouth, he pushed the teapot on the kang table forward. Zheng Hu did not stand on ceremony and poured himself a bowl of tea which he quickly downed.

“Uncle, let me tell you, I came across something today.”

“What thing?”

“Today is my father’s death anniversary, right? So, I went there early with…”

Halfway through the tale, Zheng Lizheng sat up straight on the kang, and listened more intently.

Seeing his Eldest Uncle like this, Zheng Hu knew that he had come to the right place. After hearing about how the only son of Xue Lianxing’s second branch family cried those bitter words, he immediately realized that this was an opportunity. An opportunity to suppress the Xue Clan’s influence in Yuqing Village.

He gave every detail he could remember, repeating nearly word for word everything he had heard while Zheng Lizheng listened with narrowed eyes over his long pipe.


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Zhao’er did not return home until late morning. Her expression was not good.

Xue Tingxiang glanced over to the basket on her back. Usually, Zhao’er would return with a full basket, but [1] not today.

“What happened?”

Zhao’er had been so preoccupied with her thoughts that she actually jumped at her little man’s question. After a long moment, she said, “Nothing, I brought some meatbuns from town. I’ll heat them up for you in a while.”

How could it be nothing? Something was clearly wrong.

Xue Tingxiang glanced at her face, but since she did not wish to speak about it, he did not venture to ask.

Zhao’er was covered in road dust from her trip to town, so she went straight to the kitchen to boil water for a bath. The Xue Family has a special outhouse just for bathing. The bathhouse was situated within a vegetable field in the backyard. The bathhouse was not very large, only about 3 meters square with brick flooring and a drainage system that allowed bathwater to flow directly into the vegetable field.

As she took off her clothes and rubbed her body with soap beans [2], a pang of sadness came over Zhao’er.

Something did happen, however, she did not want to say anything to her little man because she did not want him to worry.

The business she had worked hard to establish had been snatched.

The people who snatched this business were none other than the owner of the embroidery shop who bought finished products such as purses and embroidered shoes from her.

In fact, Zhao’er had anticipated this and made sure not to sell her finished products to the same workshop where she bought her cloth scraps. It’s just… she had not expected that the owners of the two workshops she dealt with happened to be relatives. She had no idea how the other side found out, but when she tried to purchase more cloth scraps from the second shop, they refused to sell her any.

Not only that, but the owner had also ordered his people to buy up all the cloth scraps from the other workshops within the area. Zhao’er only knew this after she had visited several other workshops.

She already had made up her mind to make more money to support her little man to study at the town school and had even inquired about the Qinghe’s school fees. Apparently, the tuition fee alone cost 5 silver taels per year, which was still manageable. However, many students choose to live in the dormitories since many live quite far away and time spent travelling is better spent studying in the dormitories. The cost of food, accommodation as well as stationeries needed for studying would require at least another silver tael per month.

Zhao’er had already determined that she wanted Xue Tingxiang to stay at the dormitories. She felt that the Xue house was not a good place for studying with too many muddle-headed things happening there. Which meant she would need at least six silver taels in the first month before she could even think about sending her little man to school.

She had already calculated and thought that she could make enough money with two more rounds of business, but who would have thought that her plans would be suddenly derailed like this?

While stuck in the middle of her thoughts, Zhao’er finished her bath. She tucked her hair under a small towel, put on her clothes and went back to the house.

Xue Tingxiang was sitting on the kang bed with a book. It was his only book, the <<Qiong Lin’s Primary Education>>. When he saw her, he said, “The weather’s still chilly, dry your hair quickly.”

Zhao’er’s heart warmed at this comment.

Recently, her little man had changed a lot. Naturally, since the change was for good, she could not help but smile despite the worry in her heart.

She climbed back onto the kang bed and took out the towel out from the warm cabinet. Xue Tingxiang was seated nearby, and when she passed by him, the warm scent of soap beans pierced his nose and he could not help but sniff twice and his eyes fell naturally onto her person.


[Gumihou: Hmm… since the guy was a returnee with fading past life memories, is it still the p-word? Well, they were/are married, so… Hmm, just some thoughts]


[1] Some small adjustments: Some things sounded better in Chinese, but should really be reworded in English

He was so surprised that the pipe in his hand dropped without realizing it. He didn’t realize it until his foot was hit by the pipe, picked up the pipe in a hurry and left.

[2] Soap beans aka Chinese Honey Locust aka black locust (Gleditsia sinensis) is a plant and not a locust bug, lol has a Membership System!!

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