From last issue: In order to keep the ginseng for himself, Ming Laowu pushed his sworn brother into a mountain torrent. Then he went to the capital and presented the ginseng to the emperor, who rewarded him a tremendous quantity of gold and silver. Overnight, he became a newly-rich upstart.
It was more than 1,500 li from Beijing to his hometown of Duohuanzhan, and all the fields, lands, and villages along that stretch of road came to belong to him. Look at how much money he had! After he had bought those properties, he didn’t refer to them as villages; he referred to them in terms of wells—the number of wells in a village, and the number of people who drank the water of those wells—all of that belonged to him. Once he became the owner of the land, people had to live in his houses, farm his land, and drink the water of his wells. It was a distance of about 1,500 li in all: more than eight hundred li from Shanhai Pass to his hometown, and about seven hundred li from Beijing to the Shanhai Pass from what I hear—seven hundred li inside the Pass and eight hundred outside—and all the properties along the way belonged to him. You could say this newly-rich upstart really hit the jackpot!
He still had plenty of money when he arrived at his home, so he started to build a mansion. Being so rich, he want to show off his wealth. In the mansion he built, under the base of each pillar he placed a large silver ingot, which was called a “horse’s hoof ingot” because it was shaped like a hoof and weighed not forty-eight ounces, but several hundred ounces. He placed this kind of ingot under the pedestal of each pillar to serve as a foundation. In building the wall, he placed four copper coins beneath each brick. He hoped to live out his old age peacefully and enjoy himself there. His only regret was that he did not have a son.
Later, when his wife became pregnant, he was very happy every day, for he thought he finally had an heir to continue the family lineage. As it is said, “There are three things that are considered unfilial, and having no heir is the worst among them.” Since he was going to have a son, he started to drink and smoke, feeling carefree and utterly delighted. Right at that time, however, he saw his sworn brother come in the front door. He shivered at the sight of his sworn brother, thinking: “Oh! Why has he come? Didn’t I kill him already? How did he get here?” Just as he was puzzling over it, the maid came over and reported, “Master! Congratulations!” “What is it?” “A son has been born to you.” Then he heaved a sigh and said, “Oh no! This son has come to collect the debt!”
From the time of his birth, his son only knew how to cry. No matter how people tried to coax him, he would just cry and cry. When did he stop crying? When someone dropped a bowl. Probably one of the maids had been careless and dropped a bowl. The bowl hit the ground with a crash and shattered to pieces. Hearing the sound of the bowl shattering, the child laughed—he chortled with glee. This proves that the child had come to collect debts. Because Ming Laowu had pushed his sworn brother into a mountain torrent, this child came to ruin his home and family.
Now, Ming Laowu was very clear that this child was coming to collect debts, because he had seen his sworn brother coming in right before the child was born. He knew there was no way to escape cause and effect. Since he couldn’t run away, there was nothing he could do, so he gave the child a name. He named the child Sancheng (which means “three tenths”). He was probably trying to say, “When you collect the debt, just take thirty percent and forget about the remaining seventy percent.” He was still reluctant to repay all his debts. When Sancheng grew up, he indulged in eating, drinking, gambling, visiting prostitutes, and taking drugs. He wanted to eat good food; he was fond of drinking; he fooled around with women; he liked to gamble; he indulged in smoking opium. He was really good at these five things—eating, drinking, visiting prostitutes, gambling, and smoking opium. He was a genius at these five things.
When this five-skilled genius grew up, he would gamble, but he didn’t go gambling in person. He would send someone else to stake a wager for him. A typical bet would be one, two, three, four, five, or six. His bets were not like those of ordinary gamblers, however. He would bet several villages or several wells at a time. He would say, “I want to stake all the villages in such-and-such a place.” “I bet all the wells in such-and-such an area.” When he used those villages or wells as stakes, he meant all the land they covered. If you won, it would all belong to you. That was how he played. If people said to him, “Master San, you’ve won!” he would say, “Damn it! What do I want to win for?” If they said, “Master San, you lost this time!” he would say, “Great! That’s fantastic!” He felt great about losing and said it was great. You see? If he hadn’t come to ask for debts, why would he have this kind of attitude? He scolded people if he won, and said it was great if he lost.
To be continued