☆ Chapter 21: Chastity Belt
Ruan Zhu frowned as she tried to remember. Pointing at him, she said: “Liu……Liu Ruins……” She was pretty sure that was his name.
With a face full of black lines, the man in white was hard-pressed to say: “Miss Qin, you have made a mistake. This one is Liu Fei Xu, not Liu Ruins. Just the other day, Miss had praised this one by saying the man was like the name, outstanding talents faintly discernible with a flying appearance. How could Miss have forgotten so quickly?”
“Oh, I apologize. This one’s memory is not very good.” Ruan Zhu embarrassingly apologized. To be honest, it wasn’t that her memory was bad. If she ran into matters that she took into her heart, she would remember. But as for him, she was too lazy and disinclined to spend time remembering his name.
The manager promptly came over and bowed in greeting: “Young Master, you’ve arrived. As it turns out, Young Master is acquainted with this Miss. This little one’s eyes have gone bad. May the two personages enter the adjacent room for a seat. This little one has received several taels of good Wuyi tea. Why not enjoy some tea while having a chat?”
“So Mister Liu was actually this shop’s young owner. This one has failed to greet you.” Liu Fei Xu being Ming Xiang Cui Yu’s young boss really went against her expectations of him. She had originally thought of him as a man that abandoned himself to a life of pleasure, one that relied on the road paved by his forefathers. To think that he was actually the same as her hubby–a rich second generation, who would naturally have many assets yet he relied on his own two hands to create a business, earning professional success and becoming a young entrepreneur.
Ruan Zhu was well-taught. Despite feeling disdainful in her heart, her outward appearance remained peaceful.
“That’s right but this one does not deserve your greeting. My father, Master Meng, appointed me to take care of this shop. Meeting Miss Qin is too coincidental, did Miss come to see the wares?” Liu Fei Xu advanced a few steps, a smiling expression on his face. His pair of peach blossom eyes once again shone with an enticing light. They were filled with vigor, shining brightly, making the black of his pupil contrast nicely with the white of his eyes. Especially when he was feeling affectionate or passionate, his eyes appeared to flash like precious stones. No wonder women would take note of him and become attracted.
Being a newlywed, Ruan Zhu’s heart was full of deep affection for her hubby Yun Shi Yi.
As for other men, they were not waves capable of startling a pond of water so it would be truly difficult for them to enter her heart. Thus, there’s no need to talk about a flirtatious man that she looked down upon. Even if he was as outstanding as the Oscar’s film emperor, what of it?
Of course, if she could link arms with the Oscar’s film emperor to window shop and have something to eat, it would be essential for her to do this to satisfy her vanity! Ruan Zhu thought this way, immeasurably self-satisfied.
“Wow!” From her ear came the sound of a woman’s shriek. Turning her head, it turned out other female customers had exclaimed upon seeing Mister Peacock. As if they had found a rare curio, obsession was apparent in their eyes.
Lu Fei Xu saw that these female’s appearances could be regarded as pretty with their heads covered with pearl and jade ornaments. The distance between them was not too close yet a whiff of their cosmetics entered his nose. He wrinkled his brows but it was instantly concealed. With a shallow laugh: “These Misses who have come to this lowly shop, please look around as you wish. If Misses see a product you like, no matter if it is custom-made or a ready-to-wear product, do not hesitate to call for Manager Yu.” Saying to here, he paused slightly before calling out in a loud voice: “Assistant, come and greet these customers.”
Ruan Zhu was astounded. Mister Peacock was not entirely worthless. Using a young master’s identity to establish a presence in Ming Xiang Cui Yu, it wouldn’t do to not have an ounce of ability to conduct business and trick people. Especially in the ancient period, when each clan had their own business techniques and all family members greedily waited in the background for a chance to have a share of the profits.
A few love-stricken women proceeded to walk over with the intention of chatting while sticking next to him. With one meaningful glance from Liu Fei Xu toward the shop’s assistant, the latter had several men that were carefully selected to work at Ming Xiang Cui Yu come out. Several pretty boys promptly moved forward to greet the customers with crisp and melodic voices.
The customs of Tian Chu followed those of the Tang dynasty. The customary ‘males and females should not touch hands when giving or receiving things’ did not seem as strict as it was in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Upon seeing that the boys were very cute, the obsessive women followed them in choosing pieces they liked.
Ruan Zhu watched them and subsequently increased her knowledge. If one has a beautiful face, one would be very popular no matter where one went. No wonder Koreans would rather eat salted vegetables every day and to save money to afford plastic surgery! Fortunately, her present appearance did not let down the people of this area.
“Miss Qin?” Liu Fei Xu blinked his peach blossom eyes and displayed his most dazzling smile: “Which piece do you like? How about I give you half off?”
“I have already paid the deposit so there is no need to trouble you. I still have a few matters to do. Xiao Feng, didn’t you say there were still a few shops that were quite good? Let’s go for a stroll?” Ruan Zhu hurriedly changed the topic. If there was no Xiao Feng accompanying her, she would still have to chat with this Mister Peacock and stop his thoughts. That situation reaching Yun Shi Yi’s ears would not be good. It didn’t matter if this current world’s trend was one woman with multiple husbands, or that a woman accepting more concubines would only be supported, not opposed, by the principal husband. They had only been married for a few days so for the wife to already have an affair would inevitably cause the husband to feel unwell. She felt it was beneath her to do this sort of thing.
He has given her 100% of his love so she ought to repay him with 99% of her feelings. Her past life was empty so now that she has received love in this world, she would not let go of it. Valuable jewels were expensive, but finding a sincere man was priceless.
“Ai, Miss is leaving yet again?” Liu Fei Xu watched as the shadow of the delicate and charming lady left the entrance of Ming Xiang Cui Yu, feeling surprised and out of sorts. He had previously believed himself to be very popular with women. Why, ever since he came of age, the number of matchmakers that came to his residence to try to arrange his marriage was enough to break the entrance. How was it that when it came to her, it wasn’t effective?
“Come here.” Gloomy, Liu Fei Xu beckoned Manager Yu over.
“Young Master, what is the issue?”
“Look at my face to see if it’s dirty. Or is it that I didn’t coordinate my outfit well today?” Liu Fei Xu brushed his hair, “Is my hair messy?”
Manager Yu carefully looked at his young master: “Everything is exceptionally well. Young Master’s face is clean, clothes are tidy, head is meticulously brushed with not one hair out of place. Young Master is a giant among men, a jade tree[a]. How many men in Lan Zhou could compare?”
Being a subordinate meant one had to guess at their master’s meaning and should flatter when the time called to do so. By praising their bosses til the latter was dizzy, money would also come their way. This was the reason why Manager Yu had remained at Ming Xiang Cui Yu for so long as he was exceptionally good at boot-licking and reading the situation.
Liu Fei Xu did not believe him and took out a small copper mirror from his sleeve, turning it right and left. Feeling pleased with his current appearance, he put down the copper mirror and asked, puzzled: “As a matter of fact, aren’t I very good looking? How could she ignore me?”
“Whom?” Manager Yu remembered the Miss that had custom-ordered some pieces. Suddenly realizing what his young master meant, he did not know whether to laugh or cry. Young Master truly believed himself to be an exceptional man without compare and all of the women in this world ought to surround and revolve around him. If this matter was not related to him, Manager Yu would not say anything but even his own daughter could not look at any other man besides his Young Master. But in consideration of his livelihood, Manager Yu did not dare to express his thoughts as there was still a large household depending on him to support them.
Ruan Zhu led her group of male attendants in exiting Ming Xiang Cui Yu and wanted to directly return home. Passing by a whole row of unremarkable shopfronts, she was stopped by a woman. The woman’s appearance was rather comical–clothing all wrinkled and the material was half new, half old. On her arm hung various chains or belts made out of metal or leather, resulting in all sorts of strange styles. They looked like iron chains, but also didn’t. One could say it was a belt but it also wasn’t exactly a belt. The woman’s wares were something that she had actually never seen before.
Ruan Zhu went to look closer at the things that hung from her arm, but even after staring for a while, was unable to make out what it was.
The woman’s eyes brightened as she curtsied. Laughing happily, she said: “With one look, it’s clear this Little Sister has been brought up strictly. If you’re unwilling to tolerate your husbands being even the tiniest bit errant, how about buying one or two of these for your husbands to wear? I’ll give you a little discount–the leather ones are fifty coppers. The metal ones are harder to manufacture but the craftsmanship is very good. Those are originally sold for two hundred coppers, but since Little Sister is buying them with sincerity, I’ll only charge you one hundred and eighty coppers.”
Ruan Zhu pointed at those belts and blankly asked: “What is this?”
The woman stumbled as her eyes widened. It couldn’t be, there were even people that didn’t know what a chastity belt was?
Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing also thought it was strange, but they thought their Miss was cracking a joke. Just as they stayed silent, Xiao Feng overcame his shame to reply: “Mistress, these are chastity belts, something that men use domestically.”
So this was a chastity belt? Ruan Zhu stretched out a hand to pull on one a few times. This was for the men of this era to wear? The workmanship was actually very refined. The leather ones were all right, but the metal ones had delicate patterns carved on the top, such as a drawing of a hunt in a forest; a military expedition diagram; the most intriguing ones even had depictions of sex. The top of the belt was embellished with metal tassels that jingled with every movement.
She remembered chastity belts were something that was popular in Europe from the twelfth century to the eighteenth century when the upper class compelled women to protect their chastity. However, they vanished without a trace in the wake of the liberation of women. But then in the nineteenth century, propaganda urging for a healthy body emerged and chastity belts for males gradually became popular to prevent men from having excessive sex.
It was hard to imagine that the country of Tian Chu could make chastity belts this exquisite. She supposed this could also be regarded as a kind of cultural inheritance of knowledge.
The woman was still introducing her merchandise as if she hadn’t been interrupted: “If Little Sister wants to buy a chastity belt, I would most recommend a metal one. The weather is so hot now, wearing a leather belt would be uncomfortable and it would also make it more likely for the man to sweat. Once they start sweating, that would bring about an unpleasant stink. Who would want a man by their side that stank of a strange odor, isn’t that right?”
Ruan Zhu thought about Yun Shi Wei and nodded her head. She had to have him be more particular about hygiene. That guy knew martial arts and his temper was like a wild horse–it was necessary to tie him up in chains. When she locked up his root of all troubles, let’s see how he would try to find her to reduce his fire in the future. Leather won’t do as it was possible he might be able to break out if he tried hard enough. Metal wasn’t a bad option.
Thinking to here, she faced the woman with a faint smile: “Price is not an issue. Are there any better ones?”
The woman’s eyes sparkled as face became full of joy. She immediately led Ruan Zhu and her three accompaniers into the store and had them sit in the reception area. She ordered a husband to serve tea while she herself used a key to open up a locked box. Cautiously and solemnly, she lifted out a series of delicately carved mahogany cases and one by one, opened their lids and began to brag: “These are the treasures of this shop……”
Ruan Zhu understood. All proprietors that took out such expensive items would surely say such a line in opening.
The woman pointed at the first box: “This belt is made of silver. The engraving is a picture of Li Jing’s night attack during the Battle of Yinshan.[b] This one is also silver, with a picture of the jade forest night feast given to the top scorer of the imperial examinations. This last one is gold with a depiction of Li Guang shooting arrows at night. On the side there is a poem to classify the event: ‘A dim grove, windswept, its tall grass shook so; / ‘Twas night, there the general aimed his bow / Came dawn, for its white feathers they looked; / Sunk deep in a stone cleft was found his arrow.'” (Poem translation taken from Andrew W.F. Wong)[c]
Ruan Zhu kept her eyes on the silver and gold belts with the military engravings. Yun Shi Wei enjoyed sword dancing, wielded a staff, and always bragged about how outstanding he is. Merely a military fool, how about buying both of these for him? But she should also give him the literary one since he ought to speak and be more civilized.
The woman was still chattering about her merchandise: “If Little Sister’s husbands are scholars preparing for this fall’s imperial civil service examination, Little Sister might as well give him this one depicting the top scorer passing the exam as a way to wish him good luck. Or if he is in the military, Little Sister can pick one between these two military engravings to give to him. They might be able to increase the grandeur of his militaristic aura.”
After she had finished looking them over, Ruan Zhu sat down and took a tiny sip of tea. She had walked for almost the whole day and was extremely thirsty, but this era’s tea was both bitter and the taste was not good. After drinking a mouthful, she put the cup back down and shook her head.
She shook her head? The woman stared at her, feeling as though even after she spent half a day talking about her products, the customer never had the intention to buy them in the first place. She immediately pulled a long face but was met by the other party placing down her teacup and indifferently saying a sentence: “I want all three of them.”
The woman at once became dumbfounded, following which she ecstatically stood up: “I’ll give Little Sister a discount. This gold one will be calculated as one hundred taels while the two silver ones are twenty taels, so altogether, one hundred and twenty taels of silver.”
“Elder Sister truly thinks of me as an amateur. This gold chastity belt’s materials are at most worth five taels of gold, which converted to silver is fifty taels of silver. The material of these two silver ones added up is ten taels. The purity of these cannot be proven, so including the manual labor fees, store rent, and other miscellaneous costs, the total of these three among the assortment in this room is seventy taels of silver. I’ll give you a little more, so let’s just do eighty taels, no room for negotiation. If you agree, this will be considered as the goods received and paid for. If you don’t agree, well, I’ll just go to another store.”
In order for her to learn how to manage household duties as early as possible, Ruan Zhu had found books related to currency during these few days when she had nothing to do. Thus, she had grasped everything to do with topics concerning the money of the ancient era and this work was the reason why she was able to speak so smoothly.
The author has something to say: Some people have said that chastity belts are very inhuman, so I wanted to give an explanation here. This so-called chastity belt is the same principle as how women in the ancient era bound their feet. It seemed very cruel, but females all thought they could be proud of having a pair of small feet.
The smaller the feet, the better the marriage prospects. The chastity belts follow the same principle. Formerly, European women would give their daughters a chastity belt because of the high standards in society. These female children would also compare among them for who had the most beautiful chastity belt.
The rise of male chastity belts was to maintain their sexual reproductive health while guarding against excessive sexual acts.
In 2001, the United Kingdom and Germany introduced chastity belts from their own country on a program.
Currently if you search up “chastity belt” on Yahoo, I’ve been told there are over 128,000 websites that show up!
On the single largest English website on chastity belts, the site had 10.21 million hits on February 19, 2015.
The largest English webpage dedicated to discussing chastity belts was from 1998 to August 2004 with over 780 topics of discussion and 4760 people joining the conversation. The topics included specific chastity belt technological help, discussions on opinions regarding chastity belts, studies of chastity belts, literature on chastity belts, as well as information on where one could find and/or provide chastity belts. The writing style mostly had a gentleman’s elegance.
From 2003-2004, a British website conducted a survey that asked under what circumstances would one use a chastity belt. More than 700 people responded from 31 countries and regions of the world (There were no responses from China, but there were some from Hong Kong). The three locations with the most responses were the USA, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Nowadays, the function of the chastity belt that the Westerners believe in is poles apart from how us Chinese think.
According to a Russian report in 2005, there were 30,000 males in Europe that wore chastity belts. These devout males had been willing to wear these belts since young to prove themselves loyal and dedicated. Unexpectedly, there were actually some that would 100% want to wear chastity belts. And, 18 years ago, a magazine reported that 35,000 chastity belts had been sold worldwide that year.
[a] 玉树临风, idiom meaning comfortable and at ease while elegant in all movements (I think)
[b] Li Jing was a military officer in the Tang dynasty. Battle of Yinshan is where he defeated the Eastern Turkic Khaganates (Wikipedia)
[c] Li Guang was a famous general of the Western Han dynasty who was renowned for his archery skills. There is a famous story of him mistaking a white stone for a tiger (who were active in the area he was in at the time) and not realizing his mistake until the next morning. (Wikipedia) (Poem translation)
TN: I usually don’t separate the author’s notes from the rest of the text because I like to maintain the same format as the original text, but I did this time as the note was so long. I haven’t fact checked the author’s claims nor do I know when they wrote this as the raws I’m using have no dates, so please take the author’s note with a grain of salt.