I’ve had Tong Hua’s letters to her two Yun Zhong Ge male leads translated and prepared for over 2 months now, but I’ve been reluctant to post because it gives away the ending of the novel. It gives away how most of the characters end up, though in truth it gives away very little at all since what makes YZG so compelling is in the details of the journey and that is not something which can ever be summarized or described. I’ve been trying to keep spoilers at a minimum, but some readers have continued to want to talk about the ending that I’ve given up trying to preserve the intact experience. I’ve also been so swamped with work and dramas that I don’t know how much I can keep translating. I want to continue, but feel ennui setting in on this project. Take this as a closure, but maybe I’ll translate more.
If you choose to read on, know that you’ll be spoiling yourself greatly. But it doesn’t lessen the novel at all, since I knew how the story ended before I even started reading. These two letters made me weepy with emotion and gratitude, to confirm that she felt the same way about these two unforgettable fictional men. These two letters are also a rare glimpse into Tong Hua’s personal thoughts and thought processes when she’s writing her novels. Very illuminating indeed. I remain, as always, completely in awe of her talent. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Ling and Jue, and I’ll share some of mine. For the record, since people keep emailing me begging to know the ending, 5 out of the 8 main leads end up dead.
A letter from Tong Hua to Liu Fu Ling:
They all say I like you. Yes, and I’ve never tried to hide my affection for you. I have such hopes that more and more people will like you. [Me! I also love Ling gege, Tong Hua! You succeeded, he’s simply amazing.] Which is why I so carefully accumulated all the bits and pieces about you. I know you once wrote a poem “Forever Lily.” A long time after I read it, that is where I got the name “Yun Ge.” You can say that this girl was born for you.
I know that you once boated on a lake to admire the lilies. So I purposely wrote the chapter “Lily Boat Night Song.” I despise the way the history books barely recorded the details, so I wrote for you an entire chapter of a lively and extravagant boating scene. I purposely wrote this scene as the only scene in the book where every single major character shows up in one place. Hong Yi, Ping Jun, Meng Jue, Eldest lord (Liu He)……because I know that I can’t make everyone like you, so I hoped that no matter who the reader likes in the book, if she reminisced about that character, she will have your shadow in that scene recollection.
I also know you wrote a poem “Lullaby to a Yellow Sparrow”, but when I was done writing the entire book I discovered I didn’t have a suitable scene for this poem. And I’m someone who hates to force things. But…..I’m bitter! Because your poems that have passed on through the ages are already too few! So I decided to give that poem to the other girl in your life. Is that a coincidence? I don’t know! All I know is that when I was done writing I discovered that the only two poems of yours that have passed on through time I had separately imprinted in the memory of these two girls. [Tong Hua gave the Yellow Sparrow poem to Shang Guan Xiao Mei in the final chapter of her book when she has an epilogue, it’s too beautiful for words.]
In the beginning, I believed that you simply died young. But in the end my belief in this was shattered. I was enraged, but I suppose this is just politics. The records say you died at twenty-one or twenty-two. But the records also said you were healthy. Yes! These things they could not alter in the history books, many records were kept before you even ascended the throne. Your father preferred martial arts, he was a man who sought power. Because you were tall and well-built, that was how you satisfied your father’s requirement.
The record books said you were sick for one year, but then it also said you died suddenly so fast that your royal tomb was not yet constructed. The records say you were brilliant and thoughtful, so how was it that when you were sick for an entire year, you never wrote a will! Didn’t you know that an Empire cannot be one day without a ruler? Didn’t you know that if there is a succession void there would be mad chaos?
Didn’t the records say you were loving of your citizens and had great vision. If that was the case, why didn’t you write a will in the entire year you were ill? If you died suddenly, that doesn’t jibe with the records saying you were healthy since childhood, and it doesn’t make sense with the records that show you were healthy at twenty. So unless you died suddenly, then you would know that you did not yet have a son so the succession would be up for grabs. So if you were ill for a time and then suddenly died, you would have left a will! These things, even if you didn’t write it, others would be your scribe. Your ministers would remind you!
These people likely involved were vile……. So I can’t help but dislike Huo Guang, because everything…everything pointed at him orchestrating it. Even if he’s the younger brother of my beloved Xiao Huo, I still dislike him! But…..when I was writing this character, I discovered that I cannot hate him. He may not have been a good royal courtier, but he was a good official! You can say that the Han people having an official like him was truly Heaven sent! All the reforms, he was the architect of them. Every moment he worried about the welfare of the people. So in the end, before I even realized it, I was no longer writing simply from my own feelings, I was also looking at him from your (Liu Fu Ling’s) perspective. Huo Guang did justice to his ministerial uniform, the wages he received, and the people of the world he served. The people he let down were his offspring, his liege, and perhaps himself.
I was thinking that there was no one in this world who wanted even more scenes of you in YZG. But I only gave you one volume’s time, and at the beginning of volume 3 I said goodbye to you. In those few days I was constantly editing, even hinting why I couldn’t write more? In the end, my logical side led the way. I can’t drag out the story because of you. I don’t think this is what you would have wanted either. But I did my best to give you happiness in the end. [Oh yes she did! Tong Hua, you cruel woman who I adore. Ling gege!!!]
Some people say that you are not three-dimensional enough. I don’t know if that is true or not. All I know is that in my heart, your emotions of love, anger, sadness, and joy are all very vivid. But it was indeed all very mellow. Other than Yun Ge, you are very dispassionate towards everyone. It’s like you just stand in the distance and all your emotions are so light that it leaves no mark. It’s so light that even your machinations are light. But, just like others have said, your lightness is one reason why we love you so much! [Yes, oh yes, I never thought I would ever love a type of male lead like Ling gege, but that is the magic of Tong Hua.]
Oh right, I forgot to tell you. Meng Jue disappointed you, but he also didn’t disappoint you. You know Meng Jue likes Yun Ge, but you don’t know whether he likes her so much he’s willing to give up the wealth and power of Chang An. So you let Yun Ge go, knowing that he if he saw her as the greatest treasure of his life the way you see her, then he would turn around and leave as well with her. Then he would be her perfect partner. The “wilderness” is where you wanted them to make a home. Otherwise, you would never want this man to ever have any connection with Yun Ge. Because then he would be like all the other men in Chang An seeking power and wealth.
Because of his unparallel talent, his refusal to bow to pressure, the Emperor would not be able to control him. The result is death! So you would have agreed with Liu Xun’s actions later on. But the Meng Jue of that moment still hadn’t broken free of his emotional shackles. He didn’t choose to leave, he still wanted to stay in Chang An to “borrow the lift of the wind to send me up to the vaulted clouds.” But the truth is he likely never even thought of what would happen after he got up to the vaulted clouds? Kill the people who orchestrated the tragedy of his family? Look down at the fates of the people who no longer matter?
You arranged for the best warriors in the Palace to protect Yun Ge. These warriors can protect Yun Ge from any attempt on her life. You also arranged for General Zhao Chong Guo to protect Yun Ge from Tian Xue Du onward. The distance from Chang An to Tian Xue Du is so short! A fast horse would have taken but a few hours. You knew how Meng Jue felt about Yun Ge, but you never knew that Liu Xun (Liu Bing Yi) was secretly keeping an eye on Yun Ge as well. You also never knew that Yun Ge and Meng Jue had an enemy that hated them to the core – Huo Cheng Jun. Maybe Liu Xun would have let Yun Ge go, but Huo Cheng Jun would never have. And since Liu Xun wanted the throne, then he……
Huo Cheng Jun, this girl who knew nothing about the world. In the face of cruel reality she transformed into a woman suitable to succeed in the inner sanctum of the Palace. But the series of things which forced her to change was all connected to Yun Ge! How much she loved Meng Jue, is how much she now hated Yun Ge. When her mother’s hard slap landed on her face, the person she hated was not her mother, it was Yun Ge. What she endured she was going to get it back from Yun Ge. She had already shot numerous secret looks of loathing at Yun Ge, but these things you never saw and never knew about. If Yun Ge was Xiao Mei, she would have noticed and alerted you in advance, telling you not to hesitate and sometimes striking first is necessary. But your Yun Ge would never become that kind of girl. She would never be suitable for the Palace.
So if Meng Jue didn’t leave Chang An, then no matter how much he liked Yun Ge, you wouldn’t accept him as a partner for Yun Ge. In this world, even the smartest person cannot have complete information to make a decision. Even though in my eyes you are that thoughtful and intelligent, but I didn’t intend to write you as omnipotent, so the things you couldn’t see and didn’t know, you could never have anticipated it.
I don’t dare to think about how you must feel (to see the things that happened after you left). I can only tell myself that you’ve left already, you already have no pain or suffering. I dare not think…….. In the end, I want to tell you that Yun Ge eventually did do as you wanted and left Chang An. I want to tell you that she”s doing well, she’s will be fine. But….these words I cannot say aloud. I don’t know if she’s doing well. I was thinking Meng Jue might know, and if he chooses to believe it, then I’ll believe it as well!
They keep saying I like you. I think that is the case, but then I think some more and I wonder if that is true? If that is the case, then why did I only give you one volume’s time [YES, why Tong Hua? Why? Why you give and taketh away Ling gege like that?] If I liked you, then why wouldn’t I drag the story out for you? If I liked you, then why didn’t I make you even more perfect? [OMG, if you made Ling gege even more perfect the world would combust, lady!]
But Ling is not like what many people say that he is perfect.
If he was perfect he would not have given Huo Guang a chance to succeed.
If he was perfect he wouldn’t have seen the confusion of succession and followed the wishes of the ministers, only paving the way for either Liu Xun or Liu He to succeed the throne.
If he was perfect, he wouldn’t have let Yun Ge suffer in the aftermath of the chaos. Even though he made every preparation, it ended up being useless, wasn’t it? In the end he’s not a God, he cannot know what will happen after he’s gone. So how can he be perfect?
But I have to say this, he already did everything so well.
The historical records show that Liu Fu Ling ascended the throne at the age of eight. In the face of his courtiers he refused to bow down and consolidated his power. Such intelligence, who can compare? Emperor Wu of Han eschewed all those adult princes of his and chose to pass the throne to him. The thousands of miles of an Empire rested on the shoulders of a child. This can only prove how capable and outstanding Liu Fu Ling was.
It’s intelligence, an intelligence he was born with, giving him talent beyond what normal people possess. But it made him seem ephemeral, too ideal.
But this is not perfection, this is talent.
This is not ephemeral, this is intelligence.
This is not fiction, this is historical fact.
So I hope those readers who think Ling is too perfect to slowly and patiently appreciate his character. Don’t use one word “perfect” and brush him aside. Perfect should not become his flaw, it should not be the reason readers don’t like him.
Tong Hua’s letter to Meng Jue:
Before writing this letter to you, my debate with the Jades (Tong Hua’s reader book club) almost had my heart twisted in a knot. I feel like I ought to be so jealous of you that I hate you! Their love for you is so overwhelming, so thick that there is no place to seep out. In the end it all falls on me, but thankfully there aren’t too many reading club members, and there are only a handful that cannot let you go. Thank god I’m no longer in Shanghai, or else if they go batshit on me, I wouldn’t know what to do. To be sure, their struggle is over your ending. There are some Jades that are more rational about it, otherwise I might have to go find a corner and cry. [Don’t cry, Tong Hua, there was nowhere you could have taken the King of the Jades but to there. I support you!]
But you obviously wouldn’t pity me. You’ll just be like I imagined you in my dreams, across a vast foggy distance, staring coldly at me. I wouldn’t even be able to figure out whether or not you cared about the ending I gave you. In Bu Bu Jing Xin, all the male characters are real historical figures. Their past and their futures are written in stone. With Qing stories so popular, even the illiterate grandmas in the Beijing hutongs can recount how many sons Emperor Kangxi had and their names. They are already so vividly described in the records so my writing about them was easy. A few words and the readers would accept it.
Like when I wrote that 4th Prince and his mother had a bad relationship. I didn’t need to explain why because everyone already knew why. Readers don’t need to dissect why they didn’t get along or need an acceptable reason, BBJX’s success I need to thank the Qing Chuan genre (time-traveling Qing era), that everyone knew Emperor Yongzheng, knew 13, knew 14 and what happened between them. Otherwise with all the details I wouldn’t be able to fully cover in BBJX.
In Da Mo Yao I used my own method to create Meng Xi Mo, but this person was not the male lead. The story within DMY followed Huo Qu Bing’s life to recount. Four hundred thousand words are used to describe Huo Qu Bing’s legendary life. He’s also a real life historical figure, even if he’s not as well known as 4, 13, 14, but as long as someone wasn’t napping in history class, they would at least have heard of him. So his legend was already established.
But in YZG, because I created you, everything changed. Before there was YZG, you didn’t exist. After YZG, you became you. You are someone completely and wholly belonging to me. Whether it was BBJX or DMY, the main male character’s life came from history and I just need to add some flourishes and imagination to flesh out. The exception is you. Every single detail about you, no matter how large or small, was created by me. So how could I not like you? [I think Tong Hua loves Meng Jue so much it’s undeniable, so she poured all her depth into him, and then gave him a life that is earth shatteringly memorable.]
One Jade said – In Tong Hua’s books, it was only in YZG that she created the most three-dimensional, flesh and blood character in Meng Jue. Even though this comment was full of complaint (that other than Meng Jue everyone else was not three-dimensional and flesh and blood), this is enough for me. Right? In my three volumes of YZG, I was writing all about you. Your birth, your growth, your struggle, your transformation, everything about you was written word for word by me. So you can say that the ending I gave to you doesn’t disappoint me. You are like 4, 13, 14, and Huo Qu Bing, alive in the readers hearts. You can even say that your image is even more vivid.
In the beginning of YZG, you were just you. It was someone I thought a long time before giving you a name. When I first came up with your name, it didn’t have any deeper meaning. After I decided, I realized I can split the characters up and it would become the two characters for King and Jade. So you became the King of the Jades. Afterwards I looked through word books and in the poem “Deep Fragrance” it indicated that your name meant “end of the dream.” At that moment I was stunned, and I reread the poem to realize it was describing you! So I always sigh about how life can be coincidental at times and we can’t use logic to explain it away. Otherwise, how could I explain your name? How do I explain how the poem “Deep Fragrance” was alluding to the meaning of your name? Such coincidence? So perfect to this degree?
In YZG volume 1, my feelings for you were very light. You were just a guy named Meng Jue. I remember writing DMY and after a few chapters I laughed and realized that I had already fallen in love with a fictional character named Meng Jiu, and that I will like him more and more. I didn’t feel that way about you. Until the end of volume 1, I didn’t feel like my feelings for you were growing any deeper. But I gave the draft to two men to read. After they read it, they told me not to waste this “King of the Clouds”, telling me I didn’t dig deeper in your character. They said you and Liu Xun (Liu Bing Yi) were the only two characters in this novel worth digging deeper into. I thought about it, so when I was publishing the chapters I continued to add more scenes with you. When YZG volume 1 was finished, I knew that you had walked into my heart. That was when I fully accepted you as the main male lead of this novel. This novel became how your emotional transformation and your life experience pushed the entire story forward.
The proud you:
You appear so gentle on the surface, but actually you are very extreme. You are so proud, so proud. I always though that Xiao Huo was the most arrogant and proud male I’ve written, but it turned out not to be true. Xiao Huo’s arrogance comes from being born into a royal family, with the royalty seeped into his bones. He grew up in such a bright environment. But your pride comes from refusing to submit to the cruel reality of life. It’s what you use to protect yourself, it’s a shield born of darkness.
From YZG volume 1 I was already thinking whether you would ever let Liu Xun (Liu Bing Yi) know that he actually owes you one huge gratitude. You are so smart so how could you not know it was of value to you. Until I reached volume 3 and I knew you would never tell him. A gratitude that stemmed from the exchange of your younger brother’s life is not something you would ever collect on. So even if Zhang He kept trying to hint at you, you would never admit it who you really are. You want to wipe that all away, even if you know that with one nod of your head, Zhang He would sacrifice his life to protect you. Even if you know that next to Zhang He is someone holding great military power that can be of use.
So are you really intelligent? Or really foolish? If it was Liu Xun, he would quickly admit it. But you are not him. You see yourself as someone who can use anything, use anyone, to your advantage. You see yourself as an accomplished politician like Liu Xun and Huo Guang. But you forgot that a true politician has no pride, has no arrogance. As long as you retain your arrogance then you will never be like them. In volume 2, you clearly sat beside Yun Ge for an entire afternoon, but when she woke up, you said that you had just arrived. You will use the bargain of Yun Ge marrying you before you will treat Liu Fu Ling, but you waited for so long before walking into the nursery. From dusk until it was completely dark out, in your heart you were hoping that Yun Ge would reject your offer. You wanted that nursery to be empty and she had already left. If Yun Ge rejected your offer, you might have happily gone to treat Liu Fu Ling.
But she actually accepted! You saw her figure under the vines and she agreed to marry you. What must you have felt? A world’s worth of rage and pain, right? Do you know that every time you pushed Yun Ge, you were just hurting yourself. You could have been like your adopted father and went to save your love rival. Then Yun Ge would have been grateful to you and felt guilty to you. Her respect for you might have even re-ignited the flame that once once burned for you. The she and you would not have been just a series of missed opportunities. If she rejected your offer, then you would have saved a life without any bargain. If you saved a life, then she would have had an even harder time letting you go. But you didn’t know that, and she didn’t know that! The two of you only continued to walk further and further apart in volume 2. And your importance in Yun Ge’s heart lessened in line with how Liu Fu Ling’s importance increased.
You are still you, and not your adoptive father Meng Jiu. You cannot be selfless, you only know that there is “yourself” in this entire world. If you don’t fight for what you want, no one would fight for what you want for you. I know a lot of people disliked you being this way, but I don’t believe your methods were wrong. In fact, I have a sorrowful appreciation and respect for you. Liu Fu Ling’s illness pushed you and Yun Ge further apart. Until the end, you must have realized that you will never be the only one in Yun Ge’s heart. You cannot prevent it, and you cannot control Liu Fu Ling planting his seed in Yun Ge’s heart and having that seed bloom into a flower. So you can only step back and hope that for the rest of her life you might have another chance with her.
I know that you told Liu Fu Ling about Yue Sheng in order to lower his suspicion of you. But until the very end, you never told him that you were the other owner of that green embroidered shoe. You never told him that he was not the only person in that desert who remembered the figure of that girl in green. Yes, even if it was just me, who had only half of your pride, I would not have told my love rival this story either. You hadn’t even told Yun Ge, and what was Liu Fu Ling to you anyways? No one important. To tell him about your story with Yun Ge? Only if you had gone insane! That is something that you have hidden away in the deepest recesses of your heart. But then….if you had told him, would the ending have been different?
You would no longer be just a random young man Yun Ge met in Chang An. You would not be just a man she met two or three years ago. You are just like him, carefully protecting that green embroidered shoe. Your persistence and your protection, likely you might even have realized how deep it was. Maybe you wavered once, and that waver hurt Yun Ge to her core. But from the moment you realized where your heart was, you were never weaker than him, not one bit. Perhaps you are not as perfect as he is, you are not as unwavering. But is not the surety that comes from wavering, the decision that comes from struggling, all of that like a phoenix rising from the ashes reborn? A precious gem that has been cut only becomes more beautiful.
You, who never deigns to explain anything:
I actually hate guys who are very sensitive, the ones who suffer any little slight and have to immediately talk about it. I always believe actions speak louder than words! If there was a guy complaining like the neighborhood auntie about how much he’s suffering, how much he cares, I would probably smash him over the head with a bat! But…..but……sometimes I wish you said more! You could have shared even just a little bit about your own suffering.
Do you know something? From volume 1 until chapter 11 of volume 3, a total of five hundred thousand characters, you never once told Yun Ge directly how you feel about her. The first time, you were teasing about it. The second time, you joked that you would tell your daughter that her mother insisted on marrying her father, as a confirmation of the marriage promise. The third time, in the Palace, you said you were a man of your word. Meng Jue ah? What the heck promise are you keeping your word on? You merely like her, really like her, like her so much you want to spend the rest of your life with her. So why couldn’t you come out and just say it?
When I’m angry, so so angry and have decided to wage a cold war with my husband for a week, when he hugs me and says “I love you, let’s not fight anymore”, I immediately stop being angry. His one word “I love you” is more powerful than any explanation or excuse, any discussion of who is right or wrong. I don’t know if I should chalk your behavior up to your pride, or the fact that you feel guilty. Because you know deep down that you did seriously consider choosing Huo Cheng Jun, that it wasn’t all just stringing her along, that you did consider betraying your marriage promise to Yun Ge. So you feel like you betrayed your feelings for her. People say that it’s actions more important than words to determine if someone loves you. But Meng Jue, you didn’t have any definitive action or words with Yun Ge! She saw you with her own eyes embracing Huo Cheng Jun. You didn’t even ask her where she saw it, because you know that she might have seen more, known more.
From the beginning when you were serious about Huo Cheng Jun, until you wavered, and then later just tried to drag it out, it wasn’t just one embrace by then. Seeing Yun Ge’s pain, perhaps you really had no way to explain. Do you know that Ling gege, when Yun Ge was rejecting him, he just played on his flute the tune “De Yin Bu Wang” (Never forget a kindred spirit)? That was a raw and powerful love song! Meng Jue, you tell me, what is there left for me to say?
Meng Jue is such a hard leading man to love, and Ling gege is such an easy leading man to love. The former is a study in contradictions and internal struggle, the latter is a study in selflessness and steadiness. But it’s not so easy to just say one guy is good and the other is bad, or which one loves Yun Ge more, or who is better for her. None of that ultimately matters, because the story puts all the characters into a world that is outside their control. All they can control is their own actions, but one can’t live in a void. So when you add their emotions to outside forces pushing up against them, then the story is so understandable in its narrative progression. In my first read I thought Tong Hua forced so many circumstances to jolt her story, but I don’t think that anymore. There remains still one single scene that I cringe to reread, and I feel like she might have elected not to go there, but then would the emotional gordian knot between Yun Ge and Meng Jue be easily untied without it? I don’t know.
I love Liu Fu Ling, I might even love him more then I love Huo Qu Bing. I can’t tell or compare, because these two men are so completely different I can’t imagine two people more different. I’m pleased that I don’t go for one certain type of fictional leading men, but rather I do find myself connecting with characters within the narrative of how they exist. In real life Ling would probably bore me to death since he’s so restrained and mellow, and Qu Bing would have turned me homicidal with his assertive tendencies to decide things for me.
In that void, I have to agree with the consensus that Meng Jue is the most realistic and flesh and blood male lead Tong Hua has ever written. I can imagine living a life with him, the daily routine, growing old, finding joy and contentment in the every day. He’s so talented, so unexpected, so full of every emotion that he keeps hidden. If Ling gege is Yun Ge’s soulmate, then Meng Jue is genuinely her ideal life partner. But YZG is not just the life of the three of them, they live within the maelstrom of Chang An, of the Palace, of outside forces long ago set into motion that give them no respite from their struggles. It would be so easy to say that Yun Ge can lose Ling gege and end up with Meng Jue, and despite my berating her to death in volume 3 for all the torment she put Jue through, I’ve come to accept that it cannot be. Yun Ge and Ling gege is “destined but not fated to be” and Yun Ge and Jue is “fated to be but not destined” if I were to switch up the Chinese proverb for why some couples meet but cannot end up together. I shall leave you with a snap shot moment between Ling and Yun Ge that just encapsulates their relationship. So little is said, but so much is conveyed. I find peace and solace in their relationship, because in the hurricane that is Chang An politics, they are the one pure thing untainted by any darkness.
Yun Ge took the oars from him. “Let your lady servant, I, row the boat. Perchance which dock would the young master like to go?”
Liu Fu Ling, with one hand on the boat steer and one hand on his chest, laughed “Wherever the young lady would like to go, then I shall go there.”
Yun Ge held the oars and rowed towards the direction of the sunset. A huge red round setting sun turned the little boat into a tiny reflection. The faint sounds of laughter wafted out from the scent of the lilies.
“If your lady servant, I, want to go to the edge of the sky?”
“I shall accompany you.”
“To the horn of the ocean?”
“I shall accompany you.”
“To the top of the mountain?”
“I shall accompany you.”
The light had waned and Yun Ge suddenly realized they have been playing on the lake for quite some time.