Chapter 2 Fifty Years Later

Fifty years later, at Xiling Printing House in Hangzhou, my thoughts were suddenly interrupted by an old man. I closed my grandfather’s journal and looked up at him.

“Do you accept rubbings here?” He asked me.

It seemed that he was just asking casually and I was very talented in this line of work, so I gave him a perfunctory answer, “Yes, but the price isn’t high.” This basically meant: if you don’t have anything good, get out and stop delaying my reading.

In this line of work, I could close for three years and then open back up and quickly make enough money to close for another three years. I was used to being idle and hated dealing with customers who were half-knowledgeable. Later, whenever I saw those kinds of people, I would just act like I had nothing to offer them and would drive them away. But I recently had too much free time on my hands, and seeing that the peak season was almost over without anything good coming in, I was feeling a little uneasy.

“Then I’d like to ask if you have any silk book rubbings from the Warring States Period? There’s one in particular that a grave robber stole from a tomb in Changsha fifty years ago and then got swindled out of by an American.” The man asked this while looking at the collection of things on my counter.

“If it was taken by the Americans, then why would I have it?” I became annoyed as soon as I heard his request. “Of course, if you’re looking for rubbings, then you can just go to the market to find them. But how can you expect to get hold of a certain book in particular?”

He lowered his voice, “I heard you have contacts. Lao Yang recommended you.”

Startled, I immediately became alert. Didn’t Lao Yang go to prison the year before last? What, did he sell me out? I became anxious and my back broke out in a cold sweat. “Wha…Lao Yang who? I don’t know anyone by that name.”

“I know, I know,” he chuckled and pulled a watch out of his shirt pocket. “Look, Lao Yang said you’d understand once you took a look at this.”

That watch had been given to him by his first love when he was in the Northeast. He treated it like it was as valuable as his own life. When he was drunk, he would take it out and look at it while shouting, “Ah, my beautiful nightingale!”(1) But when I asked him what the girl’s name was, he thought about it for a long time before he broke down crying and said that he’d fucking forgot what it was. If Lao Yang was willing to give this watch to this person, then that showed that this old man really was someone of interest.

But no matter how I looked at him, I felt that his face was really disgusting. But when someone comes to your door, it’s better to speak frankly, so I raised my hand and said to him, “Since you are a friend of Lao Yang’s, what can I do for you?”

He grinned, revealing a large gold tooth, “A friend of mine brought something back from Shanxi. I wanted you to take a look at it and tell me if it’s real.”

“I can tell from your accent that you’re from Beijing. A big player from Beijing coming to the south to seek my advice is awfully flattering, but why? Aren’t there many experts in Beijing? It seems the wine-lover’s heart is not in the cup!”(2)

He laughed, “They all say that southerners are shrewd. It looks like they weren’t lying. Even though you’re so young, you can still see through things clearly. To be honest, I really didn’t come to see you this time. I want to meet your grandfather.”

My expression immediately changed, “Looking for my grandfather…what are you up to?”

“After your grandpa stole that Warring States silk book from Changsha Dart Summit, did he leave one or two rubbings behind? My friend just wants to know if it’s the same as the one we have.”

Before he had finished speaking, I was already yelling at the man who was dozing off nearby, “Wang Meng, see our guest out!”

The old man became anxious, “Why are you trying to chase me out when I’m still talking?”

“What you’ve said is correct, but it’s a pity that you came too late. My grandpa died last year. If you want to find him, you’ll have to go back and kill yourself!” I said this while secretly thinking to myself, that incident back then was so big that it even alarmed the central authorities. How can I possibly let you flip through the old accounts? My family won’t have any peace if I let you do this.

“I say, little grandson, why are you saying something so unpleasant?” The old man showed an evil smile, revealing his big gold tooth once more. “It doesn’t matter if your grandpa is gone. But in any case, I’m not asking a lot, just please take a look at what I brought. That way, Lao Yang won’t lose face, yeah?”

I glanced at him and his fake smile. It seemed he really would refuse to leave if I didn’t look at what he had brought. I told myself that I would take a quick look just to save Lao Yang some face. That way, he wouldn’t have any right to complain once he got out of prison. So, I nodded and said, “I’ll take a quick look and see, but I can’t guarantee its authenticity.”

Actually, there were more than twenty volumes of silk books from the Warring States Period, and each volume was different. The one my grandfather had taken at that time was only a short part of one, but it was extremely important. I currently had a few rubbings hidden away in the bottom of boxes. They were my dearest treasures, and there wasn’t enough money in the world to buy them from me.

I saw the old gold-toothed man take out a white sheet of paper from his shirt pocket, and I immediately became angry. Damn, it’s a photocopy.

“Ah, it’s only natural that this treasure would break apart with a single shake if I ran around with it,” he said in a lowered voice, pretending to seem mysterious. “If it weren’t for my connections, this thing would have gone overseas long ago. I guess this could be considered my act of patriotism.”

I laughed, “You look like a grave robber yourself, no? I bet you’re just too afraid to sell it because it’s a national treasure and you don’t want to lose your head!”

It appeared I had exposed the truth, for the old man’s face turned green. But he had to endure it because he wanted my help.

“That’s not entirely true,” he said to me. “Every businessman has his own methods. I believe that when your grandfather was a grave robber in Changsha, he was also famous….”

Now my expression must have looked ugly. “If you mention my grandpa again, I won’t look at what you’ve brought!” I said through clenched teeth.

“Ok, ok, let’s stop. Just take a quick look so that I can quickly get out of your hair.”

I unfolded the white paper and knew at a glance that it was a well-preserved silk book of the Warring States Period, but it wasn’t the one my grandpa had stolen at that time. Although this one was quite old, it looked to be a counterfeit from later dynasties. In other words, this was an antique counterfeit, which meant that it wasn’t easy to determine its value. I smiled, “This should be a forgery from the Han Dynasty. How can I put it…it’s fake but not fake. It’s real but not real. No one can tell if it’s a copy of the original or just something someone made up. So basically, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Then is this the one your grandfather stole?”

“To tell you the truth, an American swindled my grandpa out of the one he stole before he even had a chance to look at it. I really can’t answer your question.” I continued to maintain my fake sincerity while thinking to myself, it’s not easy to fool you.

But the old gold-toothed man really seemed to believe me and sighed, “That’s really unfortunate. I’m afraid it’s really hopeless unless I can find that American.”

“Why do you care so much about this volume?” I asked him. This whole thing was just too strange. The collection of ancient books depended on fate. You would be considered too greedy for wanting to find a set of twenty volumes from the Warring States Period.

“Young man, to tell you the truth, I’m really not a grave robber. Look at my bony old body, it can’t endure such hard work. But my friend is indeed an expert. I don’t know what kind of game he’s playing, but in short, everyone has their own reasons for doing things.” He smiled and shook his head. “We’re better off not asking too many questions, right? Well, I’ll see myself out.” After he finished speaking, he left without looking back.

I looked down and saw that I still had his photocopy in my hand. At this time, I suddenly noticed a pattern on the paper. It was a human face that looked like a fox. The two pupilless eyes appeared three-dimensional, as if they were coming out of the paper. I took a deep breath. I had never seen a silk book like this before; it should definitely be a treasure. I figured I could use this photocopy to make a few fake rubbings while I waited for Lao Yang to get out of prison. It would at least be an amusing way to pass the time.

I hurried to the door and took a look, only to see that the old gold-toothed man was rushing back.

He must be coming back to retrieve this thing, I thought to myself. So, I ran back inside, picked up my digital camera, and took a picture of the photocopy. Then, I picked it up and walked out the door, almost running headlong into the old man’s nose.

“You forgot something,” I said to him.


My grandfather was a Changsha “soil master”, also known as a “grave robber”.

The reason why my grandfather entered this business really isn’t all that surprising. In today’s terms, it’s a family business. When my great-grandfather’s great-grandfather was thirteen years old, there was a drought in Central China. In those days, when there was a drought, it was quickly followed by famine. You couldn’t buy anything to eat even if you had money. At that time, there was nothing to make a living in any part of Changsha, but there were a lot of ancient tombs. There was a saying that those living close to the mountains survived off of the mountains; those living close to graves would rob the graves to survive. So, the people in the village banded together and robbed the tombs to make a living. In those years, there was no telling how many people starved to death in Changsha, but none of the people in that village died. In fact, every single one of them was well-fed and well-dressed, which was all made possible by exchanging the items they had dug up from the tombs for food from the foreigners.

After a long time had passed, tomb raiding, like other professions, also developed its own culture. By my grandfather’s generation, there were already factions and rules set in place. At that time, the grave robbers were divided into two groups: the north and the south. My grandfather belonged to the southern faction, which was good at exploring the soil with Luoyang shovels. A true master could determine the depth of the tomb and the dynasty it belonged to with only his nose.

Now, many novels described Luoyang shovels as a grave robber’s staple tool, but in fact, the northern faction didn’t use Luoyang shovels at all. They were still good at accurately determining the location and structure of tombs, but their method was called “Xunlong Dianxue”.(3)

But the people of the northern faction were a bit strange. How should I put it? In my grandpa’s words, their methods weren’t practical, and many of them engaged in cunning plots. When you robbed a tomb, you should just go in, take something, and leave. But they had lots of complicated rules when robbing a tomb, such as kowtowing once or twice in order to pay their respects. The whole process was very bureaucratic.

The southern faction, on the other hand, didn’t have many rules and never worried about offending the dead. The northern faction condemned the southern faction as a bunch of dogs who destroyed cultural relics. They claimed that none of the tombs survived a visit from the southerners and even the dead were pulled out and sold.

The southern faction called the northern faction a bunch of hypocrites. They were obviously thieves, but they were making themselves out to be something they weren’t.

Later, the fight escalated until even a “battle for corpses” occurred. In the end, the two factions drew a dividing line at the Yangtze River. The northern faction referred to their work as “grave robbing” while the southern faction called it “digging up sand” or “digging up soil”. The Luoyang shovel was invented after the two factions had divided, but the northerners disdained the idea so much that they didn’t bother to use it.

My grandfather didn’t know how to read, but then he took a few literacy classes. At that time, he only knew how to rob graves, so learning a new word almost felt like torture to him. But it was thanks to this education that he was able to record some of his experiences. That young boy at Changsha Dart Summit was my grandfather, and he recorded everything down word by word in his old notebook. My grandmother was an educated girl from a wealthy family who was attracted to his stories. In the end, my grandparents got married, moved to Hangzhou, and settled down here.

My grandpa’s notebook was considered a family treasure.

My grandpa’s sense of smell was completely destroyed after that incident, so he later trained a dog to smell the soil for him. That was how he earned the nickname “Dog King”. It’s true. Among all the grave robbers in Changsha now, those in the older generation were definitely familiar with this name.

As for how my grandfather survived and what happened to his brother, father, and grandfather, I still don’t know. It was something he refused to tell me. But as far as I could remember, I had never seen a one-eyed great-uncle with only one hand. I guess the whole ordeal really did end in disaster.

Whenever this matter was brought up, my grandfather would cry and say, “That’s not a story for children to listen to.” No matter how I asked or how many tantrums I threw, he wouldn’t say a word. But as I grew older, I gradually lost my childhood curiosity.

When the shop closed in the evening, another boring day had passed by and not a damn thing had come in. I went ahead and sent my shop assistant home for the day. At this time, a short text message appeared on my phone: “9 o’clock, Huangsha Chicken-Eye.”

It was sent by my Uncle Three. This was a secret code stating that a new shipment of goods had arrived. Then, another message popped up: “Dragon back. Come quickly.”

My eyes lit up with excitement. Uncle Three had surprisingly keen eyes. The phrase “dragon back” meant that it must be something good. If even he thought it was something good, then I really wanted to see it.

I locked the shop door and then drove straight to my Uncle Three’s house in my worn-out Jinbei.(4) On the one hand, I wanted to see what these so-called “good” things were; on the other hand, I also wanted him to check out the pattern on the silk book I had photographed earlier today. After all, he was the only person in our generation who still had contact with grave robbers.

As soon as I arrived downstairs at his place, I heard him shout from above, “You dumbass! I told you to hurry up but you took your sweet time getting here! What’s the use in showing up now?!”

“Shit, are you serious? If you had any good items, you should’ve set them aside for me to look at first! You sold it too fast!”

As I was talking, I saw a young man walk out of the front door with a long thing on his back that was tightly wrapped in cloth. I knew at first glance that it was an ancient weapon. This thing was indeed very valuable, and if it sold well, the price could go for more than ten times its worth.

I pointed to the young man, and my Uncle Three nodded and made a what-can-you-do gesture. I felt a burst of sadness in my heart and couldn’t help but wonder if my little shop would really go bankrupt this year.

I went upstairs, made myself a cup of coffee, and told Uncle Three about the old gold-toothed man who came to spy on things today. I thought he would be just as angry as I was, but instead, he almost seemed like a different person. He remained silent as he printed out the contents of my digital camera. Once that was done, he held it under the lamp and took a look at it. I immediately saw his expression change.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him. “Is there something strange about this thing?”

He frowned before saying, “No, this looks like a map of an ancient tomb!” 

<Chapter 1><Table of Contents><Chapter 3>


TN Notes:

(1) The raw actually said “鹃” cuckoo, but that kind of sounds like an insult in English (in my opinion) so I switched it to nightingale

(2) Idiom for someone having an ulterior motive 

(3) Direct translation is something like “search for dragons, hit a pressure point”. It’s a feng shui term for finding dragon veins, which are basically terrain that looks like a dragon.

(4) Jinbeis kind of look like a kidnapper van rather than a minivan. They’re also called “Gold Cup” cars.


So I thought people were joking when they said the licensed version cut out whole sentences and paragraphs but I peeked at the sample version of Vol 1’s raw on Amazon and they definitely cut out the whole dog king paragraph. Such an odd decision…


5 thoughts on “Chapter 2 Fifty Years Later

  1. I don’t know why, but a playful image of Wu Xie comes to mind. ( Imagine if he insisted on seeing the item.) When he sees that Xiao Ge coming out of the door, he was amazed and with a whistle says, hey beauty….tiful sword, can you show it to me? 😅

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is strange that the author cut out sections. If you had not translated I would never have known and even been able to read what was not there.

    Thank you for your hard work, awesome possum. 🙏🏼


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