Chapter 60 Twenty Years Ago

Poker-Face—no, it should be Zhang Qiling—spoke in an even tone without the slightest hint of emotion. From his story, I gradually began to see a corner of this huge puzzle, but I couldn’t understand what he was thinking or hearing during the whole incident, nor could I understand what his real background was. For the time being, it was best to imagine him as a silent and wise young man.

Deep at the bottom of the sea, they couldn’t hear the howling wind on the water’s surface but they could still feel the suffocating pressure that usually came before storms.

Zhang Qiling sat quietly in the corner of the ear chamber and watched as his companions scrambled to study the blue and white porcelain on the ground. These porcelain wares didn’t attract his attention at all but it seemed as if these older-looking seniors were completely captivated by them.

As they passed the porcelain around to each other, some wanted to record the patterns on them while others were discussing the meaning behind the patterns. At this time, someone suddenly shouted, “You guys, come and take a look at this! There’s something strange on the bottom of these porcelain wares!”

The name of the person who said this was Huo Ling, the youngest of the three girls in the research team. Her parents were top party members(1) who spoiled her ever since she was young. She usually liked to raise a fuss in order to attract others’ attention. Zhang Qiling felt a headache coming on when he heard her voice, but a girl like her was still popular in a small group like this so her delicate voice immediately attracted several of the guys’ attention.

They immediately raced over, scrambling to be the first one there in the hopes that they could show off their knowledge in front of Huo Ling. “What’s strange about it?” They all shouted. “Show me!” Huo Ling turned the porcelain in her hand upside down and showed it to them. One glanced at it and said, “Ah, I know what this is. It’s called a kiln number. It shows where this porcelain was made.”

Another guy immediately retorted, “No, Ming kiln numbers don’t look like this. It may be an inscription of the tomb owner’s appointed title!”

The first one couldn’t stand to lose face and said, “The inscription of appointed titles generally consists of four Chinese characters. There’s only one character here, which is very uncommon. What you’re talking about is even more impossible.”

The two of them had inherited the glorious legacy of the Cultural Revolution and started arguing with each other. It became so heated, in fact, that they were about to come to blows. Huo Ling was used to seeing this kind of scene and sighed, but at this time, she suddenly saw Zhang Qiling leaning indifferently in the corner, completely ignoring her. She gave an indignant huff before walking straight over to him and handing the blue-and-white porcelain jar to him. “Brother Zhang,”(2) she said playfully, “can you help me take a look at this? What is it?”

Zhang Qiling didn’t want to get involved in this at all and just gave the jar a cursory glance. Not seeing anything that caught his eye, he turned his head and said, “I don’t know.”

Huo Ling’s expression immediately changed. Few men had ever refused her advances like this so she couldn’t help but feel annoyed. “Brother Zhang,” she whined, “don’t just give it a perfunctory glance! Look at it carefully and then give me an answer!” Then she shoved the jar into Zhang Qiling’s hand.

Zhang Qiling sighed and reluctantly took the jar as Huo Ling proudly showed him where to look. As it turned out, a very special mark had been engraved on the bottom of this random blue-and-white porcelain jar.

Zhang Qiling had never seen this kind of pattern before and couldn’t help feeling stunned. Generally, the bottom of porcelain was marked with the kiln number to indicate where it had come from, but this inscription was bumpy to the touch. It definitely wasn’t the kiln number of a specific place but was more like a number.

He picked up another jar and turned it over to look at it. Sure enough, there was an engraving there, but it was different from the one he was just looking at. He suddenly had a vague premonition that these porcelain wares weren’t simple grave goods.

Huo Ling saw that his expression had changed and thought that this blockhead was finally starting to feel enlightened. “Brother Zhang,” she said, “what is it? Do you know what it is after all?”

Zhang Qiling simply acted as if she wasn’t there and went to pick up more of the porcelain jars. After looking at more than a dozen of them in a row, he found that there were different symbols on the bottom of each one, and these symbols changed regularly. They seemed to be numbers with a fixed order.

Why were these porcelain wares numbered? Were they supposed to be placed in a strict order? Or, was it something like you wouldn’t be able to achieve a certain goal if you didn’t arrange them according to these numbers? Countless thoughts flashed through Zhang Qiling’s mind as he continued examining these porcelain wares very carefully.

He was startled when he glanced at the nearest jar because the contents depicted on it weren’t the usual spring plowing or courtyard of a house but a picture of craftsmen carving a giant stone statue. This kind of picture was considered coarse and unrefined in ancient times so why was it depicted on the porcelain here?(3)

He looked at each jar one by one and gradually discovered some clues. These porcelain paintings were nothing special when seen by themselves, but once they were arranged in their proper order, he could see that they displayed a continuous series of events involving the progress of a huge construction project.

By this point, everyone started to notice his strange behavior, and several of the boys stared at him in confusion, not knowing what kind of stunt he was trying to pull.

Despite the extra attention, Zhang Qiling ignored everyone. He didn’t look at each of the jars like I did before but instead walked directly to the last small, two-handled jar. When he picked it up and took a closer look, he felt his heart thump—on this last jar was a painting of the completed project.

It was an indescribably beautiful palace floating in the sky, with clouds and mist swirling below it. The builders were standing on the ground and looking up at the sky while a Taoist monk stood on a nearby mountain, smiling happily.

This small jar couldn’t reflect the true grandeur of this project but Zhang Qiling still felt an uncontrollable excitement because he knew he had found something.

He was almost certain that the pattern depicted on the jar was the Heavenly Palace on the Clouds, designed and built by Wang Zanghai, a master craftsman from the early Ming Dynasty!

The legend of a palace that could float in the sky had appeared in folk tales since long ago. But at that time, the explanation was that Wang Zanghai had used a huge kite connected to a large number of golden threads to create the illusion of a beautiful palace in the sky in order to please Zhu Yuanzhang.(4)

But if the legend was true, then what was this scene depicted on this jar? If the legend was false, then did these porcelain paintings mean that Wang Zanghai had really built a floating palace in the sky? Legend and fact, fact and legend…which was true and which was false? Zhang Qiling began to feel confused.

He pondered over it for a while but couldn’t figure it out so he told his bewildered companions what he had discovered. Of course, they didn’t believe him and hurriedly rushed over to check. After examining the porcelain wares one by one like he did, they couldn’t help but feel stunned. Not only was this the most unique find in Chinese history, but it was also the most incredible. When Huo Ling saw that her discovery had led to such an amazing find, she couldn’t help being ecstatic and lightly kissed Zhang Qiling on the cheek. This immediately made the other men jealous.

Unfortunately, Zhang Qiling didn’t notice this at all. He probably didn’t even know who had kissed him, nor did he want to know. He walked directly over to Chen Wen-Jin and suggested that they search the back hall immediately. He was thinking that there would be more clues if they could find the coffin.

Chen Wen-Jin thought about it—she was one of the people in charge, after all—but decided that it was too dangerous. “No, absolutely not,” she said to him. “We can’t go into the ancient tomb by ourselves without the leader’s guidance!”

Zhang Qiling saw that she didn’t agree and knew that there was no point in arguing with her so he packed up his own equipment and started walking towards the corridor. Chen Wen-Jin was a proud, headstrong woman so when she saw that he wasn’t taking her seriously, she couldn’t help but feel upset and wanted to teach him a lesson. When they were at the research institute, she often used kung fu to teach those brats who didn’t respect her a lesson.

After thinking this, she suddenly stepped forward and tried to grab Zhang Qiling’s thin wrist joint. This was called “locking the pulse gate”—if you applied pressure to the pulse point and interrupted the blood flow, you could bring a man to his knees. As a woman, she naturally wasn’t as strong, but as long as she took the initiative and attacked first, it would be enough to make a big man like Zhang Qiling beg for mercy.

Several of the other men who had been subjected to Chen Wen-Jin’s kung fu couldn’t help smiling to themselves. They were eager to see how Chen Wen-Jin would make a fool of Zhang Qiling.

She had used this skill multiple times and it had worked every single time so she knew that people who didn’t have a martial arts foundation wouldn’t be able to avoid it at all. But this time, she was surprised to find that her hand came up empty. Zhang Qiling turned around and said indifferently, “Don’t worry, I can take care of myself!”

Chen Wen-Jin sneered, “What do mean you can take care of yourself? Brother Zhang, you’re notorious in the institute for being disorganized and undisciplined, but this is an ancient tomb! Please, don’t only think about yourself but also consider everyone else’s safety.”

Zhang Qiling nodded and said, “I’ll think about it. I’ll be back soon.”

Chen Wen-Jin’s face flushed red with anger and she wondered why she was stuck with such a troublesome guy. But his indifferent tone made it inconvenient for her to get angry with him in public so she went up and grabbed him, “No, you’re not going anywhere. We’ve already lost one person so far. How do you expect me to explain this to the office when we go back?”

Zhang Qiling seemed a little impatient and turned to her with a cold look in his eyes, “Let go.”

Chen Wen-Jin continued to look at him very determinedly. I think that any man who saw such a lovely woman looking at him with those kind of eyes would agree to a compromise in an instant, but Zhang Qiling suddenly opened his eyes wide, looking more like an evil spirit than a human in that moment. Chen Wen-Jin suddenly felt afraid and involuntarily loosened her grip, enabling Zhang Qiling to free himself.

When she looked at his face again, Zhang Qiling’s eyes had already changed back to their normal indifference, not a hint of any emotion in them at all. He nodded to her and said, “Thank you!”

When the others saw this scene, they thought that Chen Wen-Jin had agreed to his request and felt upset. That was just how people were—as long as one person broke the rules, the others would immediately follow. When they saw Zhang Qiling walk into the corridor, on the one hand, they were afraid that he would take all the credit; on the other hand, their suppressed curiosity was also ignited. As a result, they all clamored to follow after him.

Chen Wen-Jin knew that she had lost control over these people as soon as she let go of Zhang Qiling’s hand just now. But she was a woman, so unless she had a gun in her hand, there was no way she would be able to stop these young people.

Plus, Uncle Three had a bad temper, so she knew a violent conflict would inevitably break out between him and Zhang Qiling for her sake if he woke up at this time. If that were to happen, things would probably get out of hand quickly. After weighing the pros and cons, she eventually decided to take them into the back hall herself and come back as soon as possible. If this was just an ordinary tomb, with her many years of experience grave-robbing, she knew that there wouldn’t be any problems.

After that, the sequence of events was basically the same as what we had gone through. As for how they went through the corridor laden with numerous traps, found the stairs in the pool, and then went down the stairs to the bottom of the pool, although it was also a very tortuous and bizarre experience, it wasn’t the focus of the narrative. When Zhang Qiling was telling us about it, he only mentioned it in a couple of sentences. The most important thing was that they went down to the bottom of the mist-filled pool and saw the blank stele.

The scene at the bottom of the pool was simply strange and indescribable. Under their flashlights’ glow, the thick fog seemed to morph into various masks of light and shadow from time to time, which frightened everyone. When they walked down the last stone steps, the group suddenly huddled together, not even daring to breathe. Then, they forced their trembling bodies to move into the mist, holding onto each other for fear that something would suddenly pop out at them.

Huo Ling looked at Zhang Qiling and saw that he wasn’t afraid. It was a stark contrast to the so-called upperclassmen in their group who usually acted so self-satisfied and self-confident but were now fearfully hiding behind him. She couldn’t help but feel some affection towards him and said to the other boys, “Just look at you guys! You’re several years older than Brother Zhang but can’t compare to him at all. Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?”

These young guys were at the age where they thought little before they acted, so when they heard Huo Ling say this, they immediately felt their courage rise up and all rushed to get in front of Zhang Qiling. There wasn’t much space at the bottom of the pool, so after running a few steps without anything happening, they became even bolder and walked straight into the middle of the fog. But after taking a few steps, the person in the lead suddenly shouted and ran back, “There’s a monster!”

This voice scared the others so much that they almost peed their pants, and those in the back of the group all felt their scalps go numb. Regardless of whether they actually saw something or not, they immediately started to retreat. Zhang Qiling ignored them and led several others into the fog. As it turned out, the so-called monster was the Sea-Calming Monkey.

Then, they saw several other Sea-Calming Monkeys appear from the cloudy mist, along with the mysterious blank stele.

Everyone was deeply shocked. Although the things in front of them weren’t spectacular, in their eyes, these things were of great significance. Everything in this ancient tomb overturned the textbook-like concept of Chinese tombs that had remained unchanged for thousands of years. It all had immeasurable archaeological value.

Even Chen Wen-Jin was rendered speechless from the shock. “My God,” she eventually muttered, “these things are unbelievable! This place just might become another milestone in Chinese archaeology.”

After the shock came a sort of ecstatic delight. In those days, a major discovery meant a huge opportunity, and if the discovery was made public, their names would soon be known by everyone. Thinking of this, several of the more foolish ones started to giggle and one person was so excited that he couldn’t help but start dancing.

At this time, Zhang Qiling—the main culprit of this disgrace—frowned deeply. He was much more observant than the others and had already seen the ancient text engraved on the base of the stele.

“This monument is for those who are destined to find it. When the door to the heavenly palace appears, enter it and you will reach paradise.”

These words shocked him far more than the other discoveries. Unaffected by the madness of the people around him, he soon fell deep into thought.

In his opinion, such words wouldn’t be written in a place like this for no reason. After all, in this world, everything was done with a purpose. If the owner of this tomb put these things here, then there must be a reason for it.

But where on this stele was the door leading to the heavenly palace? What did it mean by “destined to find it”? He stood in front of the stele, looking it over inch by inch, but found that it was nothing but solid stone. There weren’t any traces of mechanisms or secret text anywhere on it.

The others remained noisy for a while before gradually calming down. Chen Wen-Jin, feeling that their time was almost up and it wasn’t appropriate to delay here any longer, called for them to gather together so that they could head back. Everyone was happy and satisfied with what they had seen so they didn’t bother arguing with her. As they walked to the stairs, talking and laughing with each other, Chen Wen-Jin counted them one by one. But when she got to the end, she found that Zhang Qiling wasn’t among them.

First, he had disobeyed the team leader and insisted on coming to the back hall and now he refused to return with the team. Chen Wen-Jin became very angry as soon as she thought this, but she had a duty to make sure everyone made it back safely. She issued a sharp order to the others, and the group quickly walked back into the fog.

After a few steps, they saw that Zhang Qiling was crouching in front of the stele and studying something. Chen Wen-Jin couldn’t help herself and angrily shouted, “You’re still here?! How much longer are you planning on being so difficult—?” She was halfway through her lecture when Huo Ling suddenly grabbed her hand and desperately motioned for her not to talk. Chen Wen-Jin looked at the others in confusion and found that they all had panicked expressions on their faces.

Huo Ling saw that she didn’t understand what was going on and hurriedly pointed towards the fog. Chen Wen-Jin looked to where she was pointing and saw that a huge figure had appeared in the depths of the fog less than two meters away from Zhang Qiling.

<Chapter 59><Table of Contents><Chapter 61>


TN Notes:

(1) In the Communist Party.

(2) Full disclosure, she called him Xiao Zhang. Xiao (小) is one of the many types of address in China that can literally mean “little, young, or junior”. I usually don’t use the pinyin unless it’s someone’s name (like Xiao Hua). I’d normally go with “Young Zhang” here but that sounds super weird in this context so I chose to go with “Brother Zhang”.  

(3) According to the Russian translation, imagery depicting craftsmen at work wasn’t considered aesthetically pleasing. It was more customary to depict something corresponding to the natural course of things like plowing fields, mountain landscapes, and peaceful courtyards. Basically, craftsmen were looked down upon even though they were so pivotal to everything.

(4) Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–1398), personal name of first Ming dynasty emperor Hongwu. Info here.


Do I have time to get a Heihua chapter out tonight? Probably. Am I going to? Nope. Sucks to be you guys ahahahahaha. I’m 3 chapters behind right now so I’ll try to do 1 or 2 tomorrow.

7 thoughts on “Chapter 60 Twenty Years Ago

  1. Lol. 😂 But you considered it at least! NPSS has been so active lately, we’ve had so much new content to mull over and enjoy. I personally don’t think we’ve come across any cliffhangers as bad as he’s left us on in the past, so waiting doesn’t feel as interminably long. Have a good night!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In order not to upset Wu Xie, Xiao Ge address Huo Ling as the attentions seeker whose voice cause him the headache, or Wu Xie addresses the girl like this out of jealousy.🤭
    This chapter seemed to be longer than the previous. There is no hurry we will wait and thank you.


  3. I guess perhaps Xiao before Xiao Zhang and Xiao Hua is the same meaning, which, although often used by older generations back in 1980s or 1990s, until today can be used to call colleagues who are younger than 30 (now 40 due to the aging population….). We use Xiao before the surname to call a colleague but we can also use it before given name/nickname to call a child/friend (or whoever you want…Xiao Mao for example means young cat or kitten….) like Er Shu call Wu Xie as Xiao Xie or Wu Xie call Xie Yuchen Xiao Hua.

    On the contrast, Da before a surname/given name means big/old for example Da Mao means a large cat. That is the reason why Xiao Hua was quite angry when Pangzi later called him Da Hua, which means old Hua, when Xiao Hua was in his forties 😂 But as MereBear said, Da can also means senior, so i guess the name Da Kui means senior Kui.


  4. Zhang qiling carefully telling him the story and that hua ling kissing him in the chick and the way he address her sounds like I’m dead 😂😂😂


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