Raise the Red Lantern

Song Lian: Mother, you don’t have to keep telling me. You’ve been telling me for three days now, and now I also understand. If I’m to be married then let me be married!

Song Lian’s Mother: That’s good. What kind of man do you want to marry?

Song Lian: Is it really up to me whom I marry? You’re always mentioning money. Then why not marry a rich man?

Song Lian’s Mother: Marrying a rich man would only make you a mistress.

Song Lian: If I’m to be made a mistress then I’ll just become a mistress! Is this not how things are for women?


Steward: Miss, who are you here for?


Song Lian: It’s me, Song Lian. Have you not met with me before?


Steward: Oh dear! Fourth Wife, it’s you! Please wait, wait. The “bridal sedan chair” was sent for you! Did you not see it?


Song Lian: I walked here by myself.


Steward: Here, let me get that.


Song Lian: No need, I’ll carry it myself.


Steward: Please wait a moment. Allow me to first take a look.


Maid: Who are you?


Steward: Fourth Wife! Please come in!


Maid: So you’re that Fourth Wife?


Song Lian: That’s right! I am that Fourth Wife. Now, carry my bags for me!


Steward: Fourth Wife, from now on you will be living here. I am the steward, Chen Baishun. Should you need anything, I am here at your service.

Song Lian: Why does this building have so many red lanterns hung?

Maid: Is it not because you’re here now?


Servant: Fourth Wife, I shall wait upon you according to our customs.

Older Female Servant: You’ll slowly get used to the ways here.

Maid: Fourth Wife, I should comb your hair and help you change your clothes.


Older Female Servant: Congratulations Lord! Congratulations and rejoice Lord!

Lord: Haha! How was it? The foot beater is rather wonderful isn’t it? Women’s feet are most important. With comfortable feet, a woman is ready for anything, and will be able to serve men better. Go pick up that lantern. Yes, that one! Lift it a little higher! Raise your face! Women of Western learning really aren’t the same! Alright, take off your clothes and come to bed.

Song Lian: Put out the lanterns.

Lord: How could I do that? I’ve only gone through the trouble of having so many lanterns lit is so that I can see clearly! Brightly lit chambers are wonderful! Hey!


Lord: Who’s there knocking on the door?

Maid: Third Wife is ill. She calls for the Lord.

Lord: I’m already in bed!

Maid: Third wife has caught a serious illness. The Lord simply must go.

Lord: I’ll deal with it tomorrow!

Maid: If some misfortune were to fall upon Third Wife, the blame would fall on  us maids.

Lord: Damnit! What kind of madness is this? I’ll go and see, otherwise she’ll disturb us all night long.

Steward: Lord, you are leaving? Heading to the third courtyard?

Lord: Right.

Steward: Third courtyard! Light the lanterns!


Steward: Fourth Wife! Fourth Wife! Fourth Wife! According to the customs of the house, I shall take you to pay your respects to the old ancestors and the Third Wife. You may have breakfast when we return.

Steward: According to customs of the house, all official matters are to be managed and all meals to be taken here. The Chen family traditions have been passed down from generations of ancestors. Fourth Wife, from now on, the old traditions are not to be taken lightly.

Steward: Fourth Wife, perhaps you should pay your respects to the ancestors now.

Steward: Otherwise, let us first head to the third courtyard to visit on the Lord. The Lord and Third Wife haven’t risen yet. Let us return at another time.


Steward: Eldest Wife, the Fourth Wife wishes to pay her respects.

Song Lian: Elder Sister.

Eldest Wife: How old are you?

Song Lian: Nineteen.

Eldest Wife: I’ve heard you’ve studied before.

Song Lian: I studied at university for half a year.

Eldest Wife: Excellent. It’s important to be both knowledgeable and courteous. You’ll get used to the house customs we have here. You will need to get along harmoniously with your sisters, and serve the Lord well. Go now, and please excuse me!

Song Lian: She must be a hundred! So old!

Steward: Second Wife, the Fourth Wife wishes to pay her respects.

Second Wife: Eh! The Fourth Sister is here? Come in! Come in!

Song Lian: Second Sister.

Second Wife: Eh! Come sit inside!

Second Wife: A very refined appearance! What’s your name?

Song Lian: Song Lian.

Second Wife: Oh! A name as refined as the person! I’m Zhuo Yun. You can call me by my name. It seems that you’re studying?

Song Lian: I just finished studying a half year of university.

Second Wife: And why not finish studying?

Song Lian: My father died, so my family isn’t able to support me anymore.

Second Wife: Oh, was your father advanced in age?

Song Lian: He was fifty-three.

Second Wife: Not even sixty? Ahh, life is indeed full of mishaps.

Maid: Fourth Wife, please accept some tea.

Second Wife: Fourth Sister, please have some tea.

Second Wife: Where is your home?

Song Lian: Fengcheng

Second Wife: Oh, they produce tea there!

Song Lian: My father used to be in the tea business, but his shop had to close down.

Second Wife: You’ve married so far away. How was your mother able to part with you?

Song Lian: She’s my stepmother.

Second Wife: I see. Oh, Fourth Sister. Was not last night’s foot beater very soothing?

Song Lian: Does Second Sister also get a foot massage every night?

Second Wife: Silly young sister! These feet can’t be massaged just because I want them massaged. Depending on where the lord wishes to spend the night, then that is where the lanterns will be lit and where feet will be massaged. Now that he’s married such a young and beautiful new wife, even if someday I wanted it, I wouldn’t even be able to think of having such pleasure. Don’t take it for granted. Should you be able to have your feet massaged every day, then in the Chen family, if you want things a certain way, you can have them that way.


Second Wife: Come, come, Yi Zhen! Come and pay your respects to Fourth Auntie.

Yi Zhen: Fourth Auntie!

Second Wife: Though I’m not skilled enough. I’ve only been able to give birth to a girl.

Steward: It is getting late, Fourth Wife must also pay a visit to the Third Wife.

Second Wife: Oh dear! Look at me taking up all your time! Of course you must go visit Third Wife! She used to be the most famous actress in the theater. She sings well and is incredibly beautiful. Yet, Third Wife is also very wicked! Was last night not your night of wedlock? How can she can just call on the Lord in the middle of the night? That’s being far too discourteous towards you.

Song Lian: They said that Third Sister was ill.

Second Wife: Who’s ill? Hmph, The Lord has spoiled her rotten. That’s her illness.


Steward: The Lord has departed?

Maid: The Lord has just left. We’re currently putting out the lanterns.

Steward: Now then, we’ll first pay a visit on the Third Wife.

Maid: The Third Wife says that today she is feeling a bit out of sorts. She’s said to meet on another day.

Steward: Fourth Wife, this is young master Fei Lan, son of the Third Wife. He’s the same age as Miss Yi Zhen of the Second Wife. Say hello to Fourth Auntie.

Fei Lan: Fourth Auntie!


Older Female Servant: Fourth Wife! Fourth Wife! This is Yanr. The lord has given her to you as a housemaid. She will serve you from now on. Should you need anything just call on her. Yanr! You still haven’t greeted Fourth Wife?

Yanr: Fourth Wife.

Song Lian: Her? We’ve met, she doesn’t have a very good temper, does she?

Older Female Servant: Right, very good. A rather diligent one. She’s been in our household for three or four years.

Song Lian: She doesn’t have any lice in her hair does she? I’m most frightened by lice.

Older Female Servant: Go, go give Fourth Wife a look. Kneel down and let Fourth Wife have a look at your hair.

Song Lian: What’s that stench coming from your head? Go wash your hair!

Older Female Servant: Did you not hear the Fourth Wife speak?

Yanr: I just washed it yesterday!

Song Lian: You can wash the two pieces of clothing I changed out of while you’re at it.

Older Female Servant: Hurry up! You don’t want to make Fourth Wife angry! Go!


Older Female Servant: Yanr! Yanr! Yanr! You still haven’t gone to wash? You can’t be like this. If the lord takes an interest in you, then you too can become a wife. You were not married this time, so the Fourth Wife can’t be you. Perhaps you just aren’t destined to be a wife. Serve the newly arrived wife well and no silly thoughts! Ah! And don’t forget to wash your hair!


Lord: Hmm? What’s happened with Mei Shan?

Steward: Lord, the Third Wife will be here right away. Just now a doctor has written her a prescription and has delayed her momentarily.

Second Wife: Third Sister, you’re here! Third Sister, this is your Fourth Sister. You two haven’t met yet.

Song Lian: Third Sister.

Lord: Song Lian is a newcomer here. You all must look after her well. You sisters must get along with one another. Let’s eat then.

Lord: Hmm? And why don’t you eat?

Song Lian: I don’t like to eat meat.

Lord: What vegetarian dishes have been prepared for today?

Steward: Lord, today’s mid-day meal has prepared: mushrooms and spun gold, chrysanthemum hair moss, coral bird’s nest soup, dried shrimp with green vegetable stems, thrice roasted mushroom caps, sauteed silk reds, easily confused as the real Buddha jumping over the wall, and pure immortals pointing the way.

Lord: By our tradition, should your lanterns be lit, then you can order a dish. Order whatever you want.

Song Lian: I want spinach tofu.

Lord: Make a plate of spinach tofu! And bring a fresh plate of soft bean sprouts!


Steward: Fourth Wife! Fourth Wife, the Lord has instructed that the Fourth Wife come to the main gate and listen for his calls.

Song Lian: Listen for his calls? What does he mean to listen for his calls?

Steward: The wives stand at the entrance to their halls and wait to see if the Lord has any more instructions before going to bed.

Song Lian: Should the Lord have any instructions then he can just come give them to me. Why should I have to go to the gate?

Steward: This is an old tradition. All of the wives must go.

Song Lian: How have I not heard of it before?

Steward: New wives don’t have this custom for the first nine days. Yet, you’ve already been here for ten days.

Steward: Fourth courtyard, light the lanterns!

Original English translation by Patrick Nowlin, Copyright 2012.