Treachery Hidden In A Sham Marriage,
A Trap Sprung To Force A Marriage.
Lord Chou’s servant, Hsu Cheng went looking for an officially recognized matchmaker and before long he came back with one named Chiang. As there were many servants around, Lord Chou ordered them to leave. After sitting down, matchmaker Chiang kowtowed to Lord Chou who smiled to himself before asking,
“Official matchmaker, do you know this Peach Blossom, daughter of the family of Ren living at the southern part of the city? Ever seen her?”
Matchmaker Chiang replied,
“I know of the Ren family. They are very wealthy and kind. As for Miss Peach Blossom Ren, never had I had a glimpse of her and therefore dare not comment. Most probably she’s about sixteen or seventeen years of age.”
Lord Chou continued,
“I know of the beauty of this Miss already. I want her to become my daughter-in-law. If you can make this match a success, I shall reward you most handsomely!”
When matchmaker Chiang heard those words she thought to herself,
“I’ve never seen a son of His Lordship. Something is amiss in his words!”
Lord Chou was not happy on seeing how matchmaker Chiang hesitated, he asked again,
“Why such silence?”
Matchmaker Chiang explained,
“It’s not that I’m unwilling to speak. This insignificant woman was thinking that Ren Tai Kung is a commoner. How could he dare hope in matching his status with your Lordship’s high station?”
“You may speak freely; I want her to be my daughter-in-law. Three days henceforth, I want this affair to be done with. No need in having a dowry from them.”
Matchmaker Chiang did not wait for Lord Chou to finish and quickly answered,
“It’s a difficult task given such short notice. How can such speedy arrangement be achieved? Won’t you be sending this insignificant woman on a fool’s errand? I’m sure that your Lordship has his reasons. Why not explain it? In case of problems, I can rely on his Lordship’s solid support with nothing to fear.”
With her reply, Lord Chou’s annoyance left him, and in an elated mood, he explained,
“You are really something! Indeed a load full in my mind. To be frank with you, I’d like to deal with this Peach Blossom harlot who broke my predictions. No son do I have. It’s just a marriage ruse to have her destroyed. In three days’ time, the God of Calamity will descend. On stepping out of her bridal sedan she will lose her life. Everything will take care of itself and you’ve nothing to do with it. Be successful in your task you shall be rewarded with two hundred taels of gold. I’ll never break my promise to you.”
“So this is it! No wonder your Lordship is so mad. Why would this Miss Peach Blossom Ren want to break your Lordship’s predictions? By taking her life this way, no man or demon would ever know. I’m most willing to go and give this match a try. However it’d be better if we come up with a plan before seeing Ren Tai Kung.”
Lord Chou was very glad that this conversation with matchmaker Chiang was going so smoothly and answered,
“No difficulty at all, let me forecast and see what happens.”
With that he started to knead his fingers and a plan was quickly formulated.
“A plan I’ve for this sham betrothal! I predict that Ren Tai Kung will not be at his home but away to deal with at his land holdings. He’ll not be back till tomorrow at the hour of Si. Hsu Cheng shall go with you at that time. Wait at his doorstep and you must do this and this… If he agrees all is settled. Otherwise inform him that I shall bring his witch daughter to court for using black arts to break my divinations. Surely he will agree most amicably!”
Matchmaker Chiang was delighted and said,
“Such a wonderful plan! This insignificance shall head out tomorrow.”
Lord Chou was indeed very pleased and bestowed a feast for matchmaker Chiang before giving her two hundred taels of silver. Matchmaker Chiang who was happy as a lark, bid farewell and returned to her home.
The very next day, matchmaker Chiang returned to Lord Chou’s place and along with Hsu Cheng, headed straight for the Ren residence. Precisely at the hour of Si they arrived. She was delighted on seeing Ren Tai Kung walking towards his home and exclaimed secretly to herself,
“Such a marvel this Duke is with his predictions!”
At that thought, Ren Tai Kung reached his doorstep and got off his mule1. A young attendant was carrying his luggage. On seeing matchmaker Chiang with a man near his doorstep Ren Tai Kung smiled and said,
“Madame Chiang, why don’t you come in and have a seat? Why stand at my doorstep?”
In big smiles, she answered,
“Tai Kung, see what I have in this basket? Yesterday was my daughter’s tea ceremony2 for her marriage. These tea cakes are for you and your Mrs.3 How fortuitous to meet you coming home. Tell this little brother to bring them in.”
As she finished speaking, she thrust the basket onto the boy attendant. Ren Tai Kung exclaimed,
“Oh ho! Finally your daughter is able to leave her boudoir4. Congratulations! You must come in for a cup of tea!”
Matchmaker Chiang accepted his offer and along with Hsu Cheng they followed Ren Tai Kung into the main hall. After they were seated, she quickly bade the boy attendant to bring her the basket and handed it over to Ren Tai Kung saying,
“Tai Kung, please take a look, these may not amount to much but they are a mere token of my respect for you.”
Ren Tai Kung quickly replied,
“I dare not.”
He took the basket which was wrapped in a piece of red silk adorned with a pair of golden flowers and upon opening it he placed it on the table. Inside was about ten pieces of delicately made dim sum. Matchmaker Chiang was goading from the side,
“Tai Kung, go and try them.”
As Ren Tai Kung had not eaten since he came back from his land holdings he was starving. The dim sum looked so mouth watering and enticing. With the matchmaker’s delightful encouragement on the side, he could not help himself but to partake some just as the tea was brought out by a boy attendant. Slowly Ren Tai Kung sipped his tea in delight while enjoying the delectable morsels. He exclaimed,
“Such delightful dim sum! Such delicate fragrance filling my mouth.”
Laughing and acting as if in jest, matchmaker Chiang took the pair of golden flowers and placed them on Ren Tai Kung’s head,
“What fun, what fun! Today a good omen brought forth, let this old body find a good concubine for thee to bear a son!”
Ren Tai Kung thought she was just teasing him and could not stop himself laughing out loud,
“This I’m afraid I won’t be able to!”
Quickly, Hsu Cheng placed on Ren Tai Kung the piece of red silk and knelt down saluting,
“Congratulations to Tai Kung, Congratulations!”
When Ren Tai Kung saw what was happening, he quickly commented,
“How can you two jest like this?”
Quickly Ren Tai Kung tried to get them up. The two then replied,
“To be honest! These are gifts from Lord Chou. He has a son and would like your daughter to be his son’s bride. He is sixteen years of age. Because of such short notice, he’s afraid that your Honour may refuse. Hence we had to use this ruse. Please don’t be angry, please don’t be angry!”
Finally everything dawned on Ren Tai Kung that all the antics were just a marriage ruse and felt vexed. He said,
“Marriage is an important matter. The two families must agree. Does his Lordship rely on his position to oppress the common populace? Don’t think I’d be afraid, keeping silent and letting him do as he pleases. Phooey to him! This old man will now deliberately disagree to this marriage proposal. See what he can do about it.”
Matchmaker Chiang replied,
“Please don’t be so angry. This person here is his Lordship’s underling. As I had said before to His Lordship, the Honourable Ren Tai Kung may not agree but then His Lordship replied, ‘not to worry. If he does not heed, I’ll report to the authorities that they use witchcraft to break my predictions!’ You know jolly well that his Lordship has good connections with all the high and low officials of Morning Song. I’m afraid that you’ll be the one to suffer!”
Ren Tai Kung listened to her words, remained silent for a while before sighing to himself,
“I regret not having told my daughter that she was such a busybody. If I don’t heed him, I’ll definitely be the one to suffer in court. Besides I had eaten the matrimonial cakes.”
“In the end, my daughter will have to marry someone some day. His Lordship’s son is indeed an extremely good match!”
Finally Ren Tai Kung said,
“You two, is this marriage between his Lordship and my family really a good match? At the end of the day, we aren’t up to par with his Lordship’s noble background. Not only that, we haven’t seen his son and all this is in such haste too.”
Matchmaker Chiang replied smilingly,
“It’s a perfect match for the two families. After all, coming from such noble background, the son must be winsome looking and was brought up in the most careful manner. The only problem is that time is too short but His Lordship had thought of this before and told me that: ‘If Tai Kung thinks that it is too fast then forgo the dowry! What really matters is that the Miss is willing to cross over to their threshold.’”
Ren Tai Kung was delighted at her words and replied,
“Since he said this, then this old man will discuss the matter with his old wife. I alone cannot decide on this matter.”5
Matchmaker Chiang chimed in,
“If the husband accepts then the wife will follow. I’m sure if Tai Kung is willing, then the Mrs. will also agree. Let me report this happy matter to his Lordship and say that Tai Kung has agreed to the marriage proposal.”
Hsu Cheng knew what she was hinting at and quickly left with her. Alone, Tai Kung sat in a daze for an hour. No matter how he thought, his heart was filled with joy – imagining all the advantages that go hand-in-hand when married to nobility. Alas he forgot all the disadvantages as well. He walked joyously into the inner apartments.
When Mrs. Ren saw her husband come in smiling so impishly, she rose and asked,
“So you’re back my gentry husband!”
Then she espied on his head, two golden blossoms on a twig stuck in his hair and a piece of red silk on his shoulders, she began to giggle out loud,
“Congratulations my gentry husband! For whom are you acting as the marriage master of ceremonies today? Or did you just get yourself a concubine, with such flowers adorned and wearing red. Did you two pray to Heaven and Earth6?”
Chuckling out loud, Ren Tai Kung replied,
“My peacemaker, what you said is not true. This old man is indeed happy, so will you my old lady!”
With that, he quickly sat down and explained to her in detail about the marriage betrothal of their daughter to Lord Chou’s son,
“Mama I always said our daughter has great physiognomy and now she will be ennobled. We the old couple will be able to have some of her reflected glory!”
After hearing his words, she replied happily,
“Of course we will be able to borrow some of the glory when we the vulgar masses become in-laws with the nobility. However it’s not very appropriate if we don’t prepare at least some dowry.”
Ren Tai Kung laughed,
“Why the need for a dowry? When our daughter goes over there, won’t all her daily wear be brand new? Moreover, what is needed can be prepared after the three days7. It won’t be late in sending them over. However we have one problem – in not knowing if our daughter is happy about it. Let’s go and talk with her.”
The Mrs. thought her husband’s words made sense and they started walking towards the back garden. There they saw Peach Blossom using a vase to water a sprig of peach blossom. Together they commented,
“Daughter, why are you watering the peach tree yourself? Teach those servant girls and let them do it.”
Peach Blossom quickly put down the vase when she saw her parents. They sat together in the pavilion. On espying the golden flowers stuck on her father’s head and being draped in red silk, smilingly she inquired,
“Father and mother, is there some happy occasion that father has donned the golden flowers and red silk?”
The mother conveniently answered,
“The happiness of these two biddies is because of you my dear.”
She then proceeded to explain how Lord Chou’s representatives came with a marriage proposal and that her father had agreed that she is to be married on the nineteenth of the month. Peach Blossom did not wait for the words to finish. Her face grew ashen and cried out “Aiyah” before falling off her chair.
Not knowing how Peach Blossom’s life fares or whether the marriage takes place or not, please continue to the next chapter.
1. The original text did not specify what beast it was but I assumed that it was a mule or an onager since it was a common transport in old China.
2. In Chinese society and to a certain extent today, all deals are made over a cup of tea. Tea prominently figures in all ceremonies. Here in this context, it means a marriage has been sealed.
3. On a happy occasion such as marriage, it is expected that some of the goodies be spread around to neighbours, good friends and for anyone happening to pass by as a sign of good luck. More probably so for gossiping and showing off good fortunes.
4. Girls are expected never to leave the inner apartments of their home and are not seen by outsiders. The day she leaves the inner apartments is the day of her marriage. Of course in practice, girls are just human beings and they do tend to sneak out in incognito, sometimes even dressed up as a man.
5. In the end, no matter how rich one is, when it comes to giving money, everyone is more than happy not to give out any so would happily agree to the marriage proposal..
6. In a Chinese marriage, the couple must first bow to Heaven and Earth to show their respect for life. The second bow is before the parents to thank them for giving them life and finally to each other as a respect between man and woman. In those days, most marriages are prearranged and there is no such thing as love. They need to learn how to love one another after marriage!
In the absence of parents or a formal setting, a couple may forego all associated rites except for the bow to Heaven and Earth which will then act as witnesses. Such an action constitutes a binding contract between the couple.
The three most delightful moments in one’s life is to be successful in the imperial examinations, marriage, and the birth of a son! Of course all these are for the benefit to the man in a male-dominated society. For more info see
7. On the 3rd day of the marriage, the wife returns to her parent’s home, if she has one, as she is no longer free to leave the husband’s family whenever she wishes. Her husband’s family becomes her family. When she dies, she is buried in the ancestral temple of her husband not that of her family’s. Of course nowadays there is no such restriction for her. However the custom of returning on the 3rd is still very much observed because of all the associated parties on the wife’s side of relations.
到了次日，便復來會合許成，一出府門，在路上又商量停妥，一直來至任家門首。剛剛到了巳時時候，只見任太公從那邊來了。二人一見大喜，暗道：“國公的卦兒真靈！”一面想著，任太公已到門首，下了牲口。家童提著一包衣服。這任太公見蔣媒同著一個人並在他門口，便笑道：“蔣大娘，你為何不進我宅去坐坐？站在門首作什麼？”蔣媒迎著笑臉道：“太公，你看我這筐里是什麼？昨日我小女下茶的日子，一應主顧人家，我都要送些東西，將這茶餅來與太公、安人的，恰好遇著太公回來，可教小哥送進去罷。”說完，便把那筐里東西交與員外的跟隨小童。太公道：“原來是令嬡有了出閣的日子，可喜可賀！且請進舍下奉茶。” 蔣媒連忙答應，同著太公與許成一齊進到大堂坐下。蔣媒忙向童子手裡取回那筐子來，遞與任太公道：“太公，你且看看，原不成個東西，不過盡些敬心而已。”任太公連稱“不敢”，用手接過筐子來一看，上面蓋著一塊紅綾，一對金花，便伸手拿起，順手放在桌子上，筐子裡放著十來個精緻點心。蔣媒在旁湊趣道：“太公，你吃個嚐嚐！”任太公一來從莊上來，未曾用過飯，此時腹中正在空飢，二來又見點心精巧，老人家多嘴饞，又見蔣媒在旁湊趣，不覺就拈一個放在口中。家童已攜出茶來。太公便一面讓他食茶，自己又取杯茶來食，慢慢的送著點心餅兒，又言：“好點心！真是清香滿口。”蔣媒人裝瘋作狂，取了那對金花，走上與任太公戴上，笑道：“有趣。有趣！今日取個吉利，等老身明日尋個好姨娘來，與太公生個公子罷！”太公只當他取笑，口中不住的道：“這怕不能了。”許成忙取那塊紅綾披在太公身上，便一齊跪下叩頭道：“恭禧太公，賀禧太公！”當下太公一見，忙問：“二位如何這般取笑？”忙伸手來扶。二人起來，道：“我們實說了罷！這是周國公送來與員外的。因他有位公子，想要娶你家小姐為妻，今年也是十六歲。只是日子太速，恐怕員外不準，故此設下這個計策來騙員外。休怪，休怪！”太公聽了，才知是誆親之計，心中著惱道：“這是婚姻大事，也要兩家情願。難道他倚仗國公之勢，欺壓平民百姓，我就怕了不敢開口，即許他不成？如今老漢偏偏不允這門親，看他把我怎樣了？”蔣媒道：“太公不須著惱，這位就是他的家人，我合他來的。我也說過，怕太公你老人家不依。國公道：’不妨，若不依我，定必經官告他用邪法妖術破我的八卦！ ‘你可想朝歌城的大小官員，那個不與他交好的？怕你要吃虧了！”