Noticing that Lao Yang’s expression was strange, I knew right away that something was wrong so I hurriedly shouted his name. Lao Yang was so startled that he almost jumped in fright, but he did finally react—his body shuddered and then he froze in place.
We both rushed over and asked him what he was trying to do just now.
Lao Yang looked at the tree and then at us before saying in bewilderment, “I don’t know. It’s strange, but as soon as I saw this tree just now, I suddenly felt an irresistible urge to…climb it.”
Climb it? I looked at Lao Yang doubtfully and then glanced up at the tree. It’s not like you’re a monkey that wants to climb a tree as soon as you see one, I thought to myself before saying aloud, “Maybe you were affected by this thing’s imposing aura? I know most people get an urge to climb when they see something tall.”
Lao Yang shook his head, “I honestly don’t know.”
Master Liang looked at the bronze tree and said, “This thing is very big and a little…. evil. Let’s be careful and try not to touch it when we’re taking a look around.”
As Lao Yang nodded in agreement, I raised the torch and walked towards the base of the giant bronze tree.
Bronze trees were a relatively rare cultural relic. As far as I could remember, the only one that had been excavated was in Sanxingdui.(1) I had also learned a little about them from a documentary. The archaeological community supposedly didn’t have any final opinions on their origins, although there were many theories out there.
After taking a closer look at the bronze tree in front of us, I saw that its surface actually wasn’t smooth. Instead, it was covered with engraved patterns of the double-bodied snake, symbolizing the divinity of the bronze ware.
Master Liang looked at it for a long time and then said to me, “This big thing was probably a sacrificial vessel, something around the Shang and Zhou Dynasties. But how it was used during sacrificial rites is beyond my knowledge. It’s simply too ancient to tell.”
What Master Liang said was very close to what Grandpa Qi had told me before, but if it was around the Shang and Zhou Dynasties…The Shang Dynasty lasted for more than 600 years while the Zhou Dynasty lasted for about 522 years, so that covered a period of more than 1,100 years. And if you added the more than 400 years of the Xia Dynasty that came before them, it accounted for almost half of China’s recorded history. This basically meant that his determination wasn’t helpful at all.
I asked him if he could be more precise and tell us which part of the Shang or Zhou Dynasty it came from.
Master Liang spread his hands in a helpless manner and said that he didn’t know. “This kind of thing can’t be seen with the naked eye, so I can only give you a rough estimate. If you look here, you’ll see that the patina is black and gray, which means that this might be made of tin bronze, lead-tin bronze, or lead bronze. There’s a high probability that it’s from the Western Zhou Dynasty—I’d say about fifty percent. But I can’t say anything about the other fifty percent. You’re also familiar with the rules of our business. I’m only certain about this much, so if you ask me to delve deeper into it, it’ll be nothing but pure conjecture.”
When it came to the antique business, there was a dividing line between the dynasties: a large number of antiques were created after the Song Dynasty, a few were created before the Tang Dynasty, and practically nothing came from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties. There wasn’t much knowledge about this period of time in the industry so Master Liang’s assessment really wasn’t that bad. At the very least, he knew much more than I did.
After listening to what he said, I still didn’t have a better understanding of this thing, so I asked him, “Then, if we assume that this came from the Western Zhou Dynasty, do you think— theoretically, of course—that they could have cast this kind of thing with their level of bronze crafting?”
“I can’t answer that,” Master Liang said. “All I know is that at that time, bronze wares had to be made using clay models (ceramic molds) first. In theory, as long as the clay model could be made, it would be possible to cast the finished product. But this thing is too big. I’m afraid it couldn’t have been made with traditional crafting techniques.”
“Master Liang,” Lao Yang suddenly spoke up, “do you think this thing could be a relic of a prehistoric civilization? I once read in a newspaper that iron nails from hundreds of millions of years ago had been dug up in some coal mines. Since this thing is so big, the ‘people’ at that time probably couldn’t make it, right?”
Master Liang shook his head, “Gentlemen, I really can’t give you a definitive answer. The period from one thousand B.C. to around the first year of A.D. is called the Age of Miracles. Many impossible things were built during that time, such as the Great Wall of China, the pyramids, Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, and the Tower of Babel. So, it’s not necessarily accurate to say that it was impossible to cast this bronze tree. After all, our ancestors were already able to cast bronze wares at that time. If the emperor gave the order, it was not impossible for the people below him to bow their heads and work their hardest for decades.”
What Master Liang said made sense, but the metallurgy at that time was very low so was there even that much bronze available to use? Qin Shi Huang collected weapons from all over the world and was only able to cast twelve statues.(2) Looking at this tree, I figured that about a hundred of those statues could have been cast from it. Where in the world did so much bronze come from?
I thought about it for a while longer but couldn’t come up with any ideas. I did, however, remember something. When we had been eavesdropping on Li Pipa and the others, we heard him say that the things in this ancient tomb were better than those in Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. We hadn’t seen anything good so far and we were already at what appeared to be the end of the road. The only thing of value appeared to be this big bronze tree, but it wasn’t like we were scrap collectors. We couldn’t just strip off the bronze and sell it.
Although this tree was enough to keep a thousand scrap collectors busy for a lifetime…
There must have been something written in that “Collection of Rivers and Trees” that spurred him to come here. A man like him had seen many treasures throughout his life so only something significant could make him say such a thing. But what was it and where was it at?
Logically speaking, we should be in the main part of the ancient tomb or at least in the center of it. If there were good things here, then they should be somewhere nearby. But apart from this tree, there was definitely nothing here that people like Li Pipa would value…wait…the tree?
As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration and leaned my head back to look up at the tall tree. Could the thing that piqued his interest be hidden at the top of this bronze tree?
For the ancient people of the Serpent Kingdom, this huge bronze tree wasn’t just an extremely huge structure but also a miracle. It wouldn’t be too surprising if their ruler set up his tomb at the place that they believed to be the closest to their god. So, if this really was the ancient tomb, then the coffin should be at the top of the bronze tree, along with all the funerary wares.
When I shared my thoughts with the other two, they both agreed that it made sense. I then asked them if they wanted to climb up and take a look.
Lao Yang agreed, of course, and said, “We’ve made it this far, what’s a few more steps? Plus, this tree has so many branches that it’ll be just like climbing stairs. We won’t need to expend too much effort.”
I didn’t mind climbing either, but Master Liang had just been roasted by the fire and didn’t have any strength left at all. If we told him to climb up the tree, I was afraid he’d croak on the spot. There was also a chance we’d have to take care of him if he collapsed in a spot where he couldn’t go up or down, and we really didn’t have any strength left to spare.
I turned my head, preparing to tell him that he could wait below while the two of us went up, but Master Liang rubbed his face hard and then patted me on the shoulder, “It’s ok. We’re finally at the last hurdle. I want to go and see it, too!”
I saw the determination in his eyes and knew that I couldn’t persuade him otherwise, so I tied my backpack tightly to my back, held up the torch, and said to Lao Yang, “Then let’s go.”
Lao Yang pulled the gloves from his bag, put them on, took the first step onto one of the bronze tree’s branches, and began to climb. Master Liang and I copied him, following his exact route as we moved further up the tree.
The branches above us weren’t densely packed together so it was actually quite easy to climb up. As Lao Yang climbed, he reminded us to pay attention to where we placed our feet and to not act carelessly.
Pressed up against the bronze tree’s trunk, I could finally examine it more closely. I found that these outstretched branches seemed to have been cast at the same time as the trunk—the place where they were connected was absolutely flawless and didn’t have any traces of forging marks at all. But to my surprise, in between the double-bodied snake patterns on the trunk, there were grooves that ran so deep, they almost looked like they had been carved all the way to the depths of the trunk. I leaned in for a closer look, but I couldn’t see what was inside these carved grooves.
Since we were so focused on our movements, we soon found ourselves drenched in sweat and panting profusely. I glanced down and found that I could no longer see the pit at the bottom, but I could vaguely make out the faint light of the pyres we had lit near the entrance. At this height, it looked like we were standing above a bottomless abyss.
After climbing for a while, Master Liang was completely exhausted so I called Lao Yang to stop. When he turned around, I made a gesture to tell him not to worry, it was just that Master Liang needed to rest for a bit.
Master Liang, as if he had been granted amnesty, immediately squatted down. He was so tired that his face was pale, his legs were trembling, he was covered in sweat, and he could hardly stay steady on the branch he was squatting on. I also sat down on a branch, my feet swaying in the air, but it felt so unsteady that I couldn’t rest at all.
Lao Yang, seeing how nervous we were, threw us some dry rations and told us to eat before saying, “You guys aren’t strong enough. There are still about a hundred meters to go, but with your physical strength, we’ll probably have to spend the night on this tree. Old Wu, how about you tell us a dirty joke to help us relax?”
I was so tired that I didn’t want to talk and just cursed at him instead, “God, aren’t you tired? Look, even your calves are trembling. If you want a dirty joke, tell it yourself. I don’t have the strength.”
Lao Yang took a bite of flatbread and said, “I’ll tell you one, but you have to answer my question first. Old Wu, since we found this thing, if we inform the government, can we get it named after us?”
I really didn’t know anything about it so I turned to Master Liang, who was still breathing heavily. He waved his hand and said, “Master Yang, have you ever heard of anything called ‘Wang Ermazi’s Fang Ding’ or ‘Zhao Tugen’s Tripod Goblet’?(3) The ones who have discovered national treasures have always been either farmers or construction workers, but if these treasures were named after them, the results would really be interesting. This isn’t meant to discriminate against the working class, but Chinese names aren’t like foreigners’ names. If you really used them for this kind of thing, wouldn’t you shudder at the weird combinations?”
Lao Yang pondered over it for a moment, felt that it was a reasonable explanation, and then asked, “Then I’ll at least have the right to name it, yeah? After all, those who discover islands have the right to name them as the first discoverer.”
“There does seem to be such a rule,” Master Liang said, “but I really haven’t studied up on it.”
“Why are you asking these questions?” I asked Lao Yang. “You’re not making money legally, yet you still want to be rich and famous? Do you really think someone with nothing better to do could actually find this kind of place? It’s clear to see at a glance what you’re doing.”
“I think this thing is quite interesting,” Lao Yang said, completely ignoring me. “What name should we give to such a big bronze pillar? You guys should also try and come up with some ideas. That way, when we brag about it later, we’ll all be saying the same thing.”
I didn’t want to think about such a boring thing at this time so I said to him, “Since you’re the first one to discover it, you should be the one to name it. I’m not in the mood to deal with it.”
Lao Yang looked at it and said, “As soon as I saw this thing, a phrase popped into my head. Looking at this pillar, how about calling it ‘I Love Wood’?” (4)
“Did you watch too many unscrupulous films?” I asked angrily. “If you really name this thing ‘I Love Wood’, do you honestly believe you won’t be struck by lightning when you get out of this place?”
Lao Yang smiled and even Master Liang shook his head cheerfully. After this little exchange, everyone had finally relaxed.
Our energy had recovered a lot after we finished eating, so Lao Yang urged us to continue on our way. I lifted my foot and was just about to start climbing again when I suddenly noticed that something was different down below. After taking a closer look, I suddenly felt confused. How did the fire in the pyres near the entrance go out?
Lao Yang also noticed it and frowned, “Do you think the wind here blew them out?”
I shook my head and said no. Unlike the torch we had made, the pyres here had been professionally constructed so that the flames were big. As a result, it was impossible for them to have been blown out by the wind. Could something have happened down below?
Just as I was thinking this, I suddenly felt the whole bronze tree shake slightly, as if it had been hit by something. Master Liang sucked in a sharp breath and asked what happened.
Lao Yang gestured at us to remain silent and then cupped his hands together, placed them against the bronze trunk, and pressed his ear against them. After listening for a moment, his expression suddenly changed and he whispered to us, “Shit, something seems to be climbing up!”
<Chapter 21><Table of Contents><Chapter 23>
(1) The archaeological site of Sanxingdui outside Chengdu (Sichuan), exhibited remarkable bronze artifacts from the 11-12th centuries BC. Archeologists have identified the locale with the ancient kingdom of Shu. The tree Wu Xie mentioned is a bronze tree with birds, flowers, and ornaments (396 cm), which some have identified as renderings of the fusang tree of Chinese mythology. More info on the site here.
(2) Also called the “Twelve Metal Colossi”, they were twelve metal statues cast after 221 BCE. After defeating the other six Warring States during Qin’s wars of unification, Qin Shi Huang had their weapons collected and melted them down to be recast as bells and statues. Particularly noteworthy among them were twelve human statues, each said to have weighed a thousand dan. Info here.
(3) A fang ding is a rectangular sacrificial vessel that stands upon 4 cylindrical legs. Pic and info here. The tripod goblet (or tripod “gu”) is a vessel used to drink wine or offer ritual libations. Pics and info of “gu” are here. A tripod goblet could look like this:
(4) The phrase comes from Stephen Chow’s 1992 movie “Royal Tramp”, which is a Hong Kong wuxia comedy film based on Louis Cha‘s novel “The Deer and the Cauldron”. According to Baidu, “I Love Wood” is the aphrodisiac used by the protagonist, Wei Xiaobao (Wai Siu-bo in the wiki article), to mess with Ake. Link to the Baidu article is here. As the name suggests, when someone ingests “I Love Wood”, they will latch onto bar-shaped or stick-shaped objects and keep chasing after them for a kiss (or other dirty deeds *wink wink*).
I have returned and somehow gotten a mosquito bite on my butt. You’d think I was running around naked in the woods or something (I assure you, unlike Wu Xie, Fatty, and Poker-Face, I keep my clothes on lol). Hopefully this week will be better than last week and I can actually get chapters out, but we’ll just take it one day at a time. Thanks to everyone for the love and support last chapter. You guys are so nice and awesome (≧◡≦) ♡
6 thoughts on “Chapter 22 Keep Climbing”
😂 Don’t worry, we know that mosquitos are just vicious little bloodsuckers who won’t even let a layer (or layers!) of clothing stop them from feasting on us. Hope it’s not too terrible and heals soon. 😘
You are nice and awesome! Thank you so much for the chapter!!! I think it has a lot more info than licensed version.
Mosquitos can find their way through anything! That I know too well 😅
Lol, I had totally forgotten how much they randomly strip in the books! hope the bite goes down…thanks for the chapter!
I hope the mosquito bite is not serious.Thank you for the translation notes and chapters.
Thank you so much, this was fascinating to read.
Thank you for the chapter 🙏🏼