It was May 16th. The town seemed tranquil and peaceful. Jiang Shiguang was sitting on the threshold, smoking a water pipe whose bubbling could be heard clearly. The town hadn't been quiet since April when non-native soldiers started to pass by and catch people now and then. He hoped to avoid them, thus moved back to the village where the property of the Jiangs was. Staying with his third son and taken care of by his daughter-in-law, he was leading a comfortable life.
His son had gone to work in the fields while his daughter-in-law was busy making dinner. Their life was getting harder while their family bigger. The government sent petty officers to collect grain taxes regularly. Bandits and the army passing by often disturbed their life. To the unarmed common people, the ones carrying guns were all lords. Recently, it had been said that the government was arresting communists and had killed a lot. Jiang Shiguang was hoping that the defeated troops wouldn't pass by their village.
While his mind was wandering, Jiang Shiguang pulled hard on the pipe. The bubbling was getting louder. He was considering when to go back to town when some kids started to make a racket in the distance.
The old man stood up quickly, put the water pipe on the ground and said: "These children are just fooling around on such a fine day. What a waste! Don't children read anymore? Don't they need to seek an official position in the future?" Saying this, he went over and intended to give them a lecture.
Jiaxing was a place where reading had been a common practice in the past generations. 27 people had passed imperial examinations and took places, including Number One Scholar, bangyan1, tanhua2 and chuanlu3. Jiang Shiguang had studied in a private school built with family funds when he had been young, but he hadn't been liked by the teacher, so he had dropped out eventually. Now he was old and couldn't stand people wasting time instead of studying. One hand holding the water pipe, he lifted his gown with the other, patted it and walked towards the village entrance.
Huang Xuan was surrounded by kids. A trained plane traveler would have plenty of ideas for such situation, but Huang Xuan didn't have any. He just stood there, embarrassed, unable to make a move.
Since all the zippers of Huang Xuan's clothes had been taken off by Rolin and dropped in P112, presently he was in rags like a hobo, with the flyer open. At the sight of this weirdly-dressed person, the kids started laughing wildly and surrounded him.
It was time to go to work in the fields. Although it was not the busy farming season, few adults could be seen in the village. The ones who stayed at home and occasionally walked about usually couldn't discipline these kids and most probably would join the onlookers laughing at Huang Xuan. It was until Jiang Shiguang came that the crowd broke up in a hubbub.
Jiang Shiguang looked closely at Huang Xuan, who had fair skin, clean fingernails, and no calluses on his hands. He was wearing clothes similar to the ones in the shops run by foreigners in quality and material; although in rags with dust and a few stains on, he looked neat. He had an affected expression but was livelier than his peers in the village. Although Jiang Shiguang hadn't seen any significant scenes in his lifetime, to him, this hopefulness was rarely seen in bumpkins.
Thinking this, Jiang Shiguang half bowed with hands folded in front and said respectfully: "Mister, have you been robbed by bandits? Are you alone?"
Although the Revolution of 19114 had been over for more than a decade, the Republic of China (1912-1949) had been plagued by bandit problem ever since. The villagers' life was related to bandits in innumerable ways. Jiangjia Village was no exception. It had allied with other villages to seek protection, but the disturbance of bandits still couldn't be avoided completely. However, because the village was near the town, the bandits wouldn't be seen in hordes. The reason why Jiang Shiguang had asked that question was to find out who the person in front of him was.
Seeing the children run away, Huang Xuan exhaled deeply, much relieved. Hearing Jiang Shiguang asked, he bowed back with hands folded in front and said: "I am apart from my family and am looking for a hotel to stay. Do you know where I can find one?"
"This place is far from the main road," Jiang Shiguang switched hands to hold the pipe, came nearer and said: "You can stay in my house. There is a spare room."
Actually, Huang Xuan had no money for the hotel. Hearing the offer, he didn't decline and said with a smile: "Sorry for putting you to trouble!"
"No trouble at all," Jiang Shiguang said while leading the way: "There is plenty of space in the countryside. Besides, who never had moments in need?"
Huang Xuan had participated in such dialogues so many times that he was proficient at it. Although the time had changed, and people might say different polite formulas, the gist remained to talk nonsense and to cotton up. After some chatter, Huang Xuan felt relaxed. On the other hand, Jiang Shiguang judged that this was a rich kid from another place who was unfamiliar with local customs but well-educated, which was enough to find a free place to stay in Jiaxing.
Ganpu Town was where Jiang's ancestral house was located. The house looked a little old but far from being run down. The main house in the center of the village had been built with blue bricks. The tiles were of the length of at least two palms, stretching in front of the vermilion gate. Over the gate was hanging the stone horizontal inscribed board saying "Haichang Jiang's Residence". On both sides of the gate were the couplet saying: "Majestic mountains are located in the north of North Lake; beautiful hills are situated in the west of West Brook."
The handwriting was great, better than the ones Huang Xuan had seen at his grandpa's house. Huang Xuan had an idea. He twitched his mouth slightly and said: "Can you check it?"
"No problem." Without the interruption of the planes of the same grade, Rolin could hear anything he wanted to. He added: "Searching for information needs a net connection, which is a waste of energy."
"I will fix the net access as soon as I am back," Huang Xuan comforted Rolin as he followed Jiang Shiguang.
Seeing Huang Xuan noticed the ancestral house, Jiang Shiguang slowed down his steps and said: "Ten years ago, the books collected by the Jiangs were all stored here. Tens of boats were engaged in transporting them then." He ended the sentence with his chin raised.
Jiaxing City had long since enjoyed the atmosphere of collecting books, which started from around the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and prevailed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Although it had declined in vigor since Emperor Xianfeng, in the villagers' mind, continuing the family by reading had inevitable ties with the amount of the collected books. A library had been an essential part of the houses of wealthy and influential families, one of which the Jiang family had been.
Huang Xuan was surprised and smiled with reserve, which satisfied Jiang's vanity. At the same time, Rolin's news arrived. "This building was Xijiang cottage, where Jiang Guangyu placed his collected books ten years ago. According to the history, they were moved to Yanfen cottage."
"Are they worthwhile?" Huang Xuan looked at the house with old world charm, fantasied. If he wanted to continue plane travels, he needed money to buy energy.
Rolin paused, seeming to be searching for information, then said: "According to the material, there are 100,000 volumes which, according to history, will be donated to the Chinese government in the 1950s."
"Do you mean that we will be found out?"
"No, we won't. Just because rare editions and best editions are seldom to be found doesn't mean they are the only existing copy. Even if they are said to be, they can't be proved to be indeed the only one. However, the head of the Jiangs cherished books. It wouldn't be easy to find these books." Rolin sounded more and more human. His wording had been more and more accurate, but Huang Xuan' attention was still on the books. He said in frustration: "I was thinking about taking some books back."
It was said that scholars loved books. Impoverished scholars liked to copy books and to aim at reading numerous books. Rich scholars even had higher standards. They not only had demands on the content of the books but also hoped to find the only existing copies and rare best editions. Therefore, the price of valuable books had been higher and higher since the Song Dynasty. As Huang Xuan knew, the ten-plus books in his father's study were worth a million. His grandfather had traded a painting of Zhang Daqian5 for a Song Dynasty block-printed edition with small characters after which he shouted excitedly that he had made a fortune. Thinking this, he couldn't resist his itch to find the books.
Seeing Jiang Shiguang was still absorbed in vanity, Huang Xuan said to Rolin quietly: "So, you mean no book-sellers nearby?"
"The information is insufficient, but according to the analysis, the private libraries in Jiaxing had been run-down since Emperor Xianfeng. With enough money, we are supposed to be able to purchase many books. However, there are still problems."
"What kind of problems?"
"Although books are fragile and plane travels don't take into account their storage methods, they consume much more energy than grains. According to the present energy storage, I suggest the weight of the books be under 5 kg."
Huang Xuan twitched his lips. Buying books by the kilogram. Only Rolin could do such things. Now that he had known everything, he focused on old man Jiang and intended to get more information.
Bangyan: a title for the scholar placed second in the highest imperial examination in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Tanhua: a title conferred on the third-place winner in the highest imperial examination in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Chuanlu: a title conferred on the fourth-place winner in the highest imperial examination in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
The Revolution of 1911 was led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen which overthrew the Qing Dynasty.
Zhang Daqian: a famous painter and calligrapher in China.