The fifth aunt grabbed onto Madam Wu’s hand and sighed. “You and Wang Fu have no children, and Wang Fu’s daughter has already gotten married. To be alone in such a big house without anyone to look out for you is upsetting. Besides, balang has his own residence, and you are allowed to depend on your own son. No one can say that you cannot do so.”
Although several branches of the Lu family lived together, they all have their own residences and main gates. Several walls had been knocked down so they could gather together easily. At that time, in order to find a suitable place, they had to move far away from where the other officials lived.
The one who Madam Wu got remarried to was Wang Fu, an owner of a cloth shop and native to the capital. Three years ago, when he went to the LinXian store in the capital to check the accounts, he suddenly fell ill and died. It was only just last month that Madam Wu had taken off her mourning clothes. Wang Fu only had one daughter from his first marriage, as he and Madam Wu remained childless despite his early remarriage. Due to Lu balang’s status, it was inconvenient for him to visit and accompany his mother, as such acts may cause others to think that he coveted their property. Therefore, Madam Wu could only stay at the residence of the Wang family alone.
Appearing downcast, Madam Wu sighed. “I also do not want to stay there. However, if I moved back, I would no longer be a member of the Wang family.”
The second aunt snorted coldly. “It is not as if you are remarried, so how can you not be a member of the Wang family? For them to intentionally use such false reasoning to purposely make things difficult for you, they must be coveting the family’s property. If you appoint a successor1 Here, the author used “立继” which means adopting a relative’s son as the heir for succession of family line in ancient China. , such matters would not be a problem anymore. Besides, three years have passed, haven’t you figured out who should be appointed? To delay such a matter is not the best option, and it will also make it hard for you to see your own son.”
Wang Fu used to be a small business peddler. It was only after the remarriage that the Wang family business grew more prosperous, resulting in their current abundant wealth. This was why everyone said that Madam Wu was a wangfu2 “旺夫” (wangfu) is an ancient feudal ideology. It refers to a female who has the ability to let her husband have a smooth and prosperous life. This was opposite to the idea of “克夫” (kefu). who will bring him a prosperous life, but unexpectedly, the healthy Wang Fu suddenly died. Besides, with such a large family property, it was no doubt eye-catching, and many have been keeping an eye on it, hungering for a share.
Essentially, without a son, Wang Fu could be considered as having no successors. In DaYou, such cases require the living wife to appoint a successor. However, the scope of who the wife could accept as the successor was limited. According to “protect the family property and not let the ancestors’ sacrifices be in vain3The author used a saying “保全家业，而使祖宗之享祀不忒” which is usually used with the idea of “立继”, the practice of adopting a relative’s son as the heir for succession of family line. Importantly, as there is no actual official english translation of this that I could find, I took liberty with this one and translated it to what I thought it meant which was “protect the family property and not let the ancestors’ sacrifices be in vain”. ”, those in the Wang family were given priority. If there was really no suitable talent, the wife could then choose someone from her family, or as the last choice, foster a child under three years old. Despite the fact that one had to be registered as someone else’s son, blood ties could not be broken that easily. Thus, many from the Wang family attempted to push their own son to be appointed as the successor – in the future, when the child inherited the family property under Wang Fu, they would also be able to enjoy a good life.
Additionally, the law of DaYou also stipulated that if the wife remarried again, she could only take away her own dowry and not any of her husband’s property. She would also have no authority and could not participate in the appointment of a successor.
Even though Madam Wu did not remarry, her return to her former husband’s house will signify that she had left the Wang family and was no longer the wife of Wang Fu. In that case, there would be nothing wrong with the people from the Wang family to intervene in the inheritance issue. This may be absurd, but it was not baseless, as the succession of property had always been hard to handle. Even if they report it to the local authorities, most would inform Madam Wu to appoint a successor before moving back to live with Lu balang.
Using the excuse that she was still in mourning, Madam Wu refused to discuss this issue and delayed the appointment to this day. Besides, even if she had remarried, she remained close to the Lu family. Even though the martial field was inferior to the scholarly field, the Wangs, as a merchant family, had not dared to provoke them with Lu Feng as a third-grade military officer. Hence, with others not willing to openly force Madam Wu’s hands, she had managed to get by in the Wang family easily for three years without much pressure.
Importantly, when Wang Fu was still alive, he was very fond of Lu balang and had always regarded him as his own son. Lu balang also spent most of his time in the Wang family in the past, and it could be said that Wang Fu watched him grow up. Had it not for the insistence of Madam Wu and Lu balang, Wang Fu would have admitted Lu balang into their family register, and he would have been the successor of the inheritance. This caused the people in the Wang family to become worried that Madam Wu would usurp their family property and let Lu balang inherit it. They made insinuations towards Lu balang whenever he visited the Wang’s family, and if it were not for Madam Wu stopping him, he would have gotten into a fight with them several times.
The third aunt was unconvinced. “That’s right. You are not someone who delays such matters, so why can’t this be settled? Wealth is just worldly possessions, and it belongs to the Wang family no matter what, so who is appointed as the successor is insignificant. You still have balang to support you, so there is no need for you to care about that.”
At this time, Lu balang also said seriously, “Mother, I will study hard and become a high-ranking official to support you. My filial piety is enough for you, so you do not have to care so much about the issue with the inheritance.”
Madam Wu shook her head. “It is nothing that I have not experienced before, so I am unconcerned about such wealth. I am just worried that the hard-earned property of Wang Fu would end up in the hands of an evil wolf!”
With such words, everyone became confused. Although the people from the Wang family acted indecently for money at times, they were not extremely treacherous, evil people who were not totally inexcusable. Madam Wu was also not a crafty person, and outside this matter, she had always treated the Wang family with great respect. So why had she spoken such words just now?
The first aunt asked, “Hui niang4 “娘: (niang) is a term of addressing a female. Here, I guess it could be seen as an endearment., do explain what you mean by such words?”
Madam Wu did not answer immediately and looked at Zhuang Zhong with a face of guilt. “Zhuang Zhong, today should have been a good day with such a reunion. It is my fault to speak about such unpleasant things to this point and cause such a bad mood for everyone…”
As she spoke, tears started streaming down her face, making everyone even more confused. Zhuang Zhong quickly said, “Aunt, there is no need for you to feel apologetic. To be able to listen to such words from the bottom of your heart, I am very happy, as it means that I am treated as part of the family. It would be better if you could share your worries. It’s not right for a family to get together for good things only and hide the unpleasant things.”
The others knew Madam Wu well and understood that she would not have said that unless she was really helpless. For Zhuang Zhong to be that open-minded and polite at such a young age, they were very pleased.
Lu balang, who was an anxious person, was unable to continue waiting impatiently at the side anymore. “Mother, what is going on? Are those people bullying you?!”
Hearing that, all the men of the Lu family rolled up their sleeves, preparing to fight. Lu Feng snarled angrily, “Hui niang is my sister, and to bully her means creating a feud with me. Hui niang, there is no need to be afraid. I can crush them to death. I will back you up!”
Madam Wu repeatedly shook her head. “Even though they have been trying to force me to appoint a successor, they still dare not to be too aggressive.”
Kept in suspense with such words, Lu Feng grew more anxious. “Then what is the problem?”
The Fifth Aunt thought about it and asked, “Hui niang, do you still think that Wang Fu did not die from his illness?”
Hearing this, Madam Wu’s tears instantly flowed down. “Yes, I cannot believe that Wang Fu would be willing to leave me like this! Although Wang Fu is not as strong as the Lu family, his body condition has always been excellent. Since childhood, he has never suffered from hardship and is seldom ill. How could he have died suddenly due to an illness after leaving the house for two days?! Had I become a kefu5 Here, the author used “克夫命” (kefu ming). In the past, there would be people who would use females’ date of birth and the eight characters of a horoscope to determine a sign that something bad would happen to their husbands. Simply put, you can just think of it as “superstition” where the wives cause bad luck to fall on their husbands. that day… “
“Pei, pei, pei! Don’t say that.” The First Aunt spatted. “If you say that, isn’t the prime minister’s wife even more inauspicious? Before marrying the prime minister, her previous two husbands had died. If there was really such unluckiness, how could the prime minister dared to marry such a woman?”
Madam Wu grabbed onto First Aunt’s hand. “I don’t believe it either, so I had always thought that it was strange. I had only given up due to the lack of evidence. The day before yesterday, when I heard that Zhuang Zhong was found, I stayed up late and did needlework. I ended up falling asleep on the table and dreamt of Wang Fu with a face full of blood, crying about his injustice to me! He said that he did not die from an illness but was killed! When my ex-husband left, I dreamt of him every day, but Wang Fu never appeared in my dreams, so I found it very strange. I didn’t expect that three years later, I would suddenly dream of him making such a request. Don’t you all find it weird? Besides, it was not only the day before yesterday. I had the same dream again when I went to bed with this hat last night!”
Since ancient times, supernatural beliefs have not been completely eradicated. Even in the modern age with advanced science and technology, few would dare say that they do not believe it at all. Hence, with such words, everyone present felt that the dream was implying something, and they all looked towards Zhuang Zhong’s hat.
Without thinking much of it, Zhuang Zhong asked, “After Uncle Wang died, did aunt see his body?”
Madam Wu nodded. “Yes, I was the one who put the shroud on him. His complexion was pale white as if he died from an illness, and there were no signs of injuries on his body. At that time, I felt that it was weird for a person to die so suddenly like this, and asked Fifth Uncle to help me find a post-mortem examiner to examine the body. However, in the end, I did not find out the reason for his death, just that he died due to an illness.”
The rest of the Lu family was aware of this. They had also felt that it was strange at that time, but they were unable to find out anything, eventually thinking that it was just time for Wang Fu to leave this world. They had not known that during all these years, Madam Wu did not believe that and had only given up due to a lack of evidence. It was due to such a dream that past events were brought up again.
Zhuang Zhong continued to ask, “At that time, who was with Uncle Wang? Did anything strange happen that night?”
Madam Wu’s memory of what happened then was very clear. “The person managing that store was your Uncle Wang’s brother, Wang Gui. Wang Fu stayed over that night at his house, and they also drank alcohol. Wang Gui mentioned that there was nothing unusual, and the servant with Wang Fu also said that he was in good spirits that night. Somehow, he ended up not breathing the next day, and they could not make out what was going on.”
“Wang Gui and the servant did not hear anything that night?”
Madam Wu shook her head. “Wang Gui said that he had drunk too much that night, and the next moment when he woke up, it was already dawn. The servant also said that he was very tired and slept pretty deeply, so he did not hear anything.”
“Was there anyone else in the house?”
“No, Wang Fu and Wang Gui have lived separately for a long time. When Wang Fu saw Wang Gui’s family struggling, he helped them and asked Wang Gui to manage the store. Wang Gui’s family was also small and had no servants. At that time, something happened to Wang Gui’s wife’s family, so she took their two children together with her two days earlier. The dinner in the evening was also bought from outside.”
As a result of her dream, Madam Wu had thought that Zhuang Zhong was special. This thought was further reinforced when she saw him questioning her so carefully. “Do you also think that something is not right?”
Zhuang Zhong deliberated for a while before replying, “I do not want to make such a random assumption, but I do know of some illnesses that were sudden and could lead to death. However, at the same time, some deaths could appear natural, but in actual fact, they are man-made…”
The impatient boy who waited for a long time immediately cried out after hearing such words. “What you just said is just simply wasting your breath, might as well don’t say!”
Lu Feng slapped the boy on the back of his head without restraint. “Zhuang Zhong did not even finish his words, so what’s with the fuss! Boy, I know you have something more to say. Say it boldly. There is no need to restrain yourself.”
Zhuang Zhong nodded and said seriously, “Since there are doubts, you all would need to open the coffin and examine the corpse if you want to know the truth.”
The author has something to say:
The inheritance laws here are basically in accordance with the legislations of the Song Dynasty, more specifically, it was largely referenced from the book “宋代民间法律生活研究”, Research on the Legislations for the Common Folk in the Song Dynasty6As a relatively new research book published in 2012, there is only the Chinese version so the English title was something that I took liberty to translate myself too.. In actual fact, the Song Dynasty was relatively liberal and the regression of women’s status, laborers, tenant farmers, etc., was only something that happened after. Besides, nowadays, most of the internal fights were referenced from the later feudal times, so they are different from those in my story. Thus, please do not lift and apply blindly what you may have read here.
The laws of the Song Dynasty are also different at different times so those used in the story will act as benchmarkers.
Additionally, this is not a xuanhuan 233337“23333” is something that originates from “猫扑网” (MOP.COM), an online community. There, it was an expression number for laughter and the more “3” it has, the stronger the expression was. story but something that I decided to use after going through an old text, ZhengKe’s Magic Mirror for Deciding Cases. The cases in it are often solved through dreams, signs, etc., hahaha, so I also decided to use it.
-In this chapter, the legislations (laws surrounding posthumous heirs) used by the author were those that could be found in the Song dynasty. Regrettably, I was not able to obtain the text the author referred to but I did at least manage to find a relevant one. From Birge’s Women, property, and Confucian reaction in sung and yüan china (960-1368), it was mentioned that “if a couple had no sons, they could adopt an heir from their agnatic kinsmen, who would be treated by law as a natural son with full rights of inheritance and succession. The person (and process) was called an ‘established heir’, and the wife could appoint such an heir after her husband’s death”.
If you all are interested in the legislations before and after the Song dynasty + the great influence women had at that time, you can try reading up:
Birge, B. (2002). Women, property, and Confucian reaction in sung and yüan china (960-1368). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511511950
*It’s pretty simple and easy to understand so it could be a good introduction to the legislations of China’s Song dynasty
- 1Here, the author used “立继” which means adopting a relative’s son as the heir for succession of family line in ancient China.
- 2“旺夫” (wangfu) is an ancient feudal ideology. It refers to a female who has the ability to let her husband have a smooth and prosperous life. This was opposite to the idea of “克夫” (kefu).
- 3The author used a saying “保全家业，而使祖宗之享祀不忒” which is usually used with the idea of “立继”, the practice of adopting a relative’s son as the heir for succession of family line. Importantly, as there is no actual official english translation of this that I could find, I took liberty with this one and translated it to what I thought it meant which was “protect the family property and not let the ancestors’ sacrifices be in vain”.
- 4“娘: (niang) is a term of addressing a female. Here, I guess it could be seen as an endearment.
- 5Here, the author used “克夫命” (kefu ming). In the past, there would be people who would use females’ date of birth and the eight characters of a horoscope to determine a sign that something bad would happen to their husbands. Simply put, you can just think of it as “superstition” where the wives cause bad luck to fall on their husbands.
- 6As a relatively new research book published in 2012, there is only the Chinese version so the English title was something that I took liberty to translate myself too.
- 7“23333” is something that originates from “猫扑网” (MOP.COM), an online community. There, it was an expression number for laughter and the more “3” it has, the stronger the expression was.