Chapter 25 Monkey Head Wine

Pan Zi, seeing that my face didn’t look too good, told me to take a break. I was already feeling like I had reached my limit, so I sat down on one of the wine jars and tried to catch my breath while the others rearranged our equipment. Shunzi had never been in such a place before, so he picked up one of the cold fireworks and looked around curiously. “If I hadn’t come with you guys, I never would have known something like this was buried under Changbai Mountain,” he said. “This is amazing.”

“If we keeping going, you’ll see more things you’ve never seen before,” Pan Zi said. “I bet there are things that the Jin Dynasty(1) plundered from the Northern and Southern Song Dynasty, as well as treasures that Southern Song Dynasty had to pay as annual tribute. They were likely hidden here in order to keep them from falling into Genghis Khan’s hands.”

“Keep dreaming,” Fatty said. “In those days, most of the tributes from the Southern Song Dynasty were all silk and satin. These things can’t be stored for a long time and aren’t easy to sell. Even if we did find some here, they’ve probably all rotted away by now. Instead of focusing on the things that might be in the underground palace, it’s better to focus on the things in our immediate surroundings.” As he spoke, he went to examine those wine jars, trying to move one of them in order to see what was written on the bottom.

“The workmanship on these jars is too crude,” I said to him. “Don’t even bother. Even if you tried to give them to the vendors who sell sheep offal(2) or pickled vegetables, no one would want them.”

“Who said I was interested in these jars?” Fatty retorted. “Don’t think that I’m just interested in treasures.” Then he used his knife to break open the clay seal on the wine jar. A strange smell suddenly filled the air, neither good nor bad. But after smelling it a few more times, I actually found that it was quite pleasant, although I didn’t know what kind of wine it was.

I had read about wine stored in ancient tombs in a lot of ancient texts, but this was the first time I was seeing it with my own eyes. Suddenly feeling curious, I also went over to take a look.

The wine was pure black without any impurities in it, and most of it had evaporated, leaving only half a jar’s worth. Anyone who was familiar with wine knew that this was a characteristic feature of aged wine—its true essence. The thought of sampling such a rare delicacy was really tempting, but there was no denying the fact that this thing had been stored for too long. There was no telling what its shelf life had been back then.

I remembered that in 1980, the oldest wine in China was unearthed in Henan during the excavation of a tomb from the late Shang Dynasty. It was now stored in the Palace Museum at the Forbidden City, and was said to be more than three thousand years old. I heard that the wine’s fragrance was so overwhelming, several people fainted after it was opened. Unfortunately, I didn’t know if any of them drank it at that time; otherwise, we would’ve had a reference to go off of.

Fatty dipped the tip of his knife into the wine, wanting to have a taste, but I quickly grabbed him, “Are you trying to die? It could have gone bad after all these years. You might get food poisoning.”

“What do you know?” Fatty argued. “Wine stored in a cellar won’t go bad for thousands of years. I heard that you can even become immortal if you taste a wine that’s been stored for a thousand years. In fact, some of our ancestors became grave robbers just for that reason. Just a small taste should be fine. The worst that could happen is that we end up with diarrhea.”

But before he finished speaking, Pan Zi suddenly came over and kicked the wine jar over. Black liquid and wine sediment from the bottom of the jar spilled all over the floor, and a strange, pungent fragrance suddenly filled the air. Fatty was about to get angry, but Pan Zi quickly cut him off, “Don’t be mad. Why don’t you take a look at what’s inside that wine jar first?”

Fatty and I turned around and saw that there were a lot of dark red flecks in the black, sludge-like wine. They almost looked like the fragments of a cheap quilt, like the ones you’d often see in water-soaked coffins.

Fatty poked at them with his knife, his complexion quickly changing. I leaned over to get a better look and suddenly felt my scalp go numb. Then a wave of nausea hit and I almost vomited.

Those red flecks were the corpse of a baby that had yet to fully decompose. The flesh had been completely dissolved in the wine, but the skin and bones were still there, forming a bunch of flecks that looked like cotton.

Pan Zi, seeing our stunned faces, squatted down and said, “This is called ‘Monkey Head Wine’. These red flecks aren’t human; they belong to a premature monkey fetus. This wine is from Guangxi. It may have been a tribute from the Southern Song Dynasty when the Jurchen Jin Dynasty was still at the height of its power.” He then patted Fatty on the shoulder, picked up one of those “cotton” flecks with his knife, and held it towards Fatty, “I don’t know if you can live forever, but I heard that it can boost your sex drive. Please, help yourself.”

Fatty cursed, shook the flecks off of his knife in disgust, and then asked Pan Zi, “How do you know so much about this? Have you drunk this fucking wine before?”

“I saw this kind of jar in Nangong, Shanxi. At that time, Da Kui and another guy in our team brought out a jar like this. I thought it was a bad idea, so I didn’t touch it, but they didn’t care at all. They didn’t find the stuff at the bottom until they were almost done drinking it, and Da Kui ended up lying in the hospital for two months after.” When speaking of Da Kui, Pan Zi became a little emotional. “You know, I was really nice just now. If I wanted to be mean, I could have waited for you to lick it off your knife before kicking the jar over. I’m sure the look on your face would have been priceless.”

Fatty’s face twitched, making it obvious that he wanted to argue but knowing that he didn’t have any ground to stand on. Looking at him, I couldn’t help but find his expression hilarious.

At this time, the cold fireworks went out one by one, plunging us into darkness once more. We turned on our flashlights again, suddenly feeling as if the atmosphere around us had become more oppressive.

After a short rest, we decided to keep moving forward. Fatty took his precious rifle back from Shunzi, pulled the bolt back again (this was actually a habitual move people with guns did in order to embolden themselves), and then looked at the two tomb passages on both sides before saying in a low voice, “Which way?”

We all took a moment to think about it, but at this time, Shunzi suddenly pointed to the left, “This side is safer.”

Normally, Pan Zi and I would have been the ones to answer Fatty’s question, so when Shunzi spoke up, Fatty was understandably confused, “Why?”

Shunzi pointed his flashlight at the floor by the entrance to the left tunnel, revealing another mark engraved in a very inconspicuous place on one side of the tunnel. “I just happened to see it earlier,” he said to us. “I think someone is guiding you guys.”

<Chapter 24><Table of Contents><Chapter 26>


TN Notes:

(1) The Jin Dynasty or Jin State, officially known as the Great Jin, was an imperial dynasty of China that existed between 1115 and 1234. It’s also sometimes called the “Jurchen dynasty” or the “Jurchen Jin”, because members of the ruling Wanyan clan were of Jurchen descent. Sidenote: After spending centuries as vassals of the Jin, the Mongols invaded under Genghis Khan in 1211 and inflicted catastrophic defeats on the Jin armies.

(2) Offal (also called variety meats, pluck, or organ meats) is the internal organs of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of edible organs, and these lists of organs vary with culture and region. 


4 thoughts on “Chapter 25 Monkey Head Wine

  1. “Fatty took his precious rifle back from Shunzi, pulled the bolt back again (this was actually a habitual move people with guns did in order to embolden themselves),”

    Are you roasting your good friend Pangzi, Wu Xie? Tut tut.

    The way he describes it, the wine does sound v. tasty. (Now I understand why they bribed the guy with tomb wine in the Sand Sea drama.)


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