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Lao Qianbei, not many competitors, I am afraid. Ysabel, Jaya, HPC, spy, DongBin, you are welcome. Xiaohu, that is because I am traveling, so I am in different time zone right now. Hungry, but those people (supposedly) trained for many years, compared to the boys who only started training when they were late teens. Liem, don't hold your breath … Anyway, new book.

Book 18 Chapter 1 - A Remark Startling Four Tables

The tip of the whips collided, producing a sharp and clear noise.

In the midst of Wang Bo's long laughter, his left sleeve shot a section of long whip, about a zhang or so, which seemed to have been knocked out by the opponent's reaction force that it turned into a nine-bend, ten-section long snake, but the fluctuation amplitude defied common sense; because based on the power he demonstrated just now, he ought to be able to defeat Yuchi Jingde quite comfortably.

But what happened was that this young martial art master's Gui Zang Whip appeared to generate rainbow-like vitality; it coiled back like a vicious dragon biting the opponent.

Another sudden change.

Wang Bo swiftly traversed sideways. Delicate like a human finger the Ding Shi Whip moved forward in high speed, which was difficult to see with naked eye, in spiraling motion; like a spark from a flint it wrapped itself around the Gui Zang Whip, and swiftly pulled back. Not only he evaded the attack of the tip of the whip, he was able to pull the opponent's whip taut.

Simultaneously, another piece of Ding Xing [sic] Whip [not sure if this is a typo, or the left and right whips had different names. Ding Xing means 'determining the nature (of something negative, e.g. error or crime)'] bored out of his sleeve, slipped down to the floor first, and then slid toward the opponent, and when it was about five chi away from the enemy's feet, like a viper rising its head with tongue sticking out, fast as lightning it jabbed Yuchi Jingde's lower abdomen.

This kind of finesse, where he was able to control the thin and flexible long whip, as if it were alive, following his heart's desire, indeed made people gasp in amazement. This time even Li Shimin had his countenance changed slightly. Wang Bo's skill was really high, his strength powerful, indeed his name was not in vain.

But Yuchi Jingde remained calm without any fear; lightning fast he slid sideways and backwards, taking advantage of the tension of the whips entangled each other, he made a half circle with Wang Bo as the center of rotation, and then, to everybody's surprise, he charged swiftly toward Wang Bo.

Due to the whiplash, the two entangled whips immediately moved in a wave-like motion with an ever-increasing amplitude.

Wang Bo let out a cold humph.

He had transmitted his inner power via the whip to attack the enemy for more than dozen times, to jolt the enemy so his blood and qi would surge over. But Yuchi Jingde's level of strength exceeded his expectation, so that a murderous intent rose up in his heart.

Over time, there would come a day where Yuchi Jingde would surpass him to become the Whip King of the new generation.

The right hand Ding Xing Whip retracted into his sleeve.

Wang Bo lowered his waist in a horse stance. The Ding Shi Whip trembled again, the qi traveled to the tip of the whip, which Yuchi Jingde immediately 'pushed' back. By the time Wang Bo rushed his power to make a kill, Yuchi Jingde's Gui Zang Whip followed his backward momentum, suddenly it separated from Wang Bo's whip, coiled back into a more than a dozen loops, which he held tight in his hand, while he himself happened to withdraw to Rong Fengxiang's side.

Cupping his fist in salute, he said, "Wanggong's whip technique is indeed unrivalled in Jianghu, there is nothing better under the heavens. Jingde reaped not a shallow benefit tonight; his future success is really bestowed by Wanggong."

Inwardly Wang Bo cried, 'What a pity!' but on the surface he assumed a magnanimous, generous in spirit, appearance. Pulling the whip back into his sleeve, he chuckled and said, "The rear waves of the Yangtze River drive on
those before; Ol' Wang is getting on in year!"

Amidst the thunderous applause, Rong Fengxiang assumed his status as the host, politely he ushered the two back toward their banquet tables.

Meanwhile, Hou Xibai took this moment to go to the garden outside.

Rong Jiaojiao, Dong Shuni, and the other younger generations crowded Rong Fengxiang's table to offer their toast on the elderly gentleman whose birthday was being celebrated today. The jubilant and warm atmosphere replaced the earlier whip wind and palm shadow scene.

After a round of toasts, Rong Fengxiang, surrounded by the younger generations, walked over to the front two halls to socialize with the other guests.

※ ※ ※

Zheng Shiru, still separated by Kou Zhong, was showing off his talent and passion to Shang Xiufang. But he was indeed an erudite and multi-talented man. From talking about singing, literature, such as bianwen[1], scriptures, classical Chinese poems, poetry, books, poetic essays, to music and dancing, all kinds of theatrical arts, wine-drinking game, craft and art, to musical lyrics creation, the rising of chuanqi [fiction short stories of the Tang and Song dynasties], narrative poem's growth, he was able to discuss without extra trouble, to explain in vivid details and insight.

Although Kou Zhong harbored enmity toward him, for instance, due to his close relationship with Yin Gui Pai, he could not but admit that in terms of knowledge and experience, he was more established than Bai Lao Fuzi [see Book 1 Chapter 1], which was, to Kou Zhong, of the grand professor level.

Much to his surprise, Shang Xiufang's repartee was not inferior in any sense to the opposite party; evidently her knowledge in all aspects was no less than this 'Henan Mad Scholar' Zheng Shiru, who whether intentionally or otherwise, threw the questions out in the open, and thus letting all the ladies around the table to participate in the discussion. The atmosphere was getting even more blazing.

Yet Kou Zhong was unable to express himself even for half a sentence.

He paid particular attention to Bai Qing'er's response, and found out that not only she was not jealous of Zheng Shiru eagerly fawning on Shang Xiufang, from time to time she even lent a helping hand, so that Kou Zhong was even more baffled at the relationship between these two people.

Zheng Shuming and Yun Yuzhen did not speak much, they just occasionally threw their pretty gaze onto Kou Zhong, making him feel quite uncomfortable.

This moment, a young master called Ling Wei, who was sitting on Shang Xiufang's other side, was eloquently discussing the 'qi luo ren wu hua' [painting of a character in beautiful silk dress], which was starting to be popular at that time. This was Ling Mou's, the president of the rice business association at the northern district of the city, son. His old man sat in the same table as Rong Fengxiang; from this, it could be seen that this man had quite a status and identify.

The nature of his business was agriculture, and development of commercial products. Many of the people of the same industry formed agencies or associations, such as brotherhood of the village, trade association, and so on; spontaneous organizations of civil society, with the purpose of expanding their influence, while at the same time setting a uniform price to avoid vicious competition.

For important commodities such as rice, juan [thin, tough silk fabric], silk, and salt, the organization was even tighter; joining the association required certain qualifications, and going through examination and approval procedure, and once one was admitted into the association, often times they could not easily withdraw, so much so that sometimes there was a provision that when the father died, the son must continue the membership.

To be able to become the president of such association, other than excellence inside and outside their own business, one must also be getting on well with both 'ways', black and white, and had vast enough network of friends and acquaintances. Without the support of such business associations, any political power could hardly stand firm. Take Rong Fengxiang, for example, he was the president of gambling industry of the north side of the city; even Luoyang Bang had to seek him out to be the big boss in place of Shangguan Long. It is thus clear that the expectation laid on him was paramount.

Ling Wei was saying, "In previous generations, paintings of beautiful women are mostly of a woman who dies fighting for her honor or follows her husband in death, or perhaps women who show filial piety, implying that there were certain religious commandments or prohibitions to follow. Nowadays paintings of beautiful women do not stick to one pattern: spring outing, actively training, quietly looking at her reflection, leaning against the railing, playing chess, even getting out of the bath; everything can be painted. Xiaodi admires the name Western Sichuan's 'Chuan Yang Meiren' [Sichuan Style Beauty], so I personally collect the paintings. I have three as my favorites, every single one of those the strokes are fine and skillful; they were drawn using the 'qin si miao' [zither string tracing] technique, with fine but powerful lines, warm, soft and touching, so that the beauty in the paintings seem ready to appear at the call [i.e. vividly portrayed]. If Miss Xiufang has time tomorrow, you can come to Zaixia's humble home to appreciate, Zaixia will definitely welcome with open arms."

Kou Zhong laughed inwardly; apparently Zheng Shiru has met another suitor.

This son of the prominent figure in rice industry's appearance was quite handsome and grand, poised and smart, his style of conversation was quite refined. Although he could not be compared to Hou Xibai, he was the type of man who would easily win women's favor.

Perhaps because she had already made appointment with Kou Zhong, but Shang Xiufang was not tempted by his invitation at all. Her jet-black eyebrows slightly knitted, she said, "Aiyo! Ling Gongzi is really giving me the whole courtesy and honor, but it has to wait until my next trip to Luoyang!"

Before Ling Wei had the opportunity to unleash his 'grinding downstream' skill, Zheng Shiru laughed and said, "I wonder what wise opinion does Kou Xiong have toward the 'qi luo ren wu' paintings?"

Everybody's eyes were focused on Kou Zhong, simply because since this discussion on literature and art started, it was like he suddenly turned into a mute, did not make half a noise.

Kou Zhong cursed Zheng Shiru's eighteen generations ancestors in his heart; this moment the only thing came to his mind was the beauties painted on Hou Xibai's fan. Yet appearing calm and composed, he smiled and said, "In term of painting and calligraphy, I am a layman; how could I have any wise opinion or outstanding view? I only know that putting a brush on paper to make paintings is just like using saber; one must make every effort to be accurate, not a bit more, not half a hair less. As the brush is going down, it will draw the lines down to the smallest detail. This is my limited understanding, please forgive a novice making a fool of himself!"

Shang Xiufang was emotionally touched; she said, "Kou Gongzi's remark has revealed such a profound sentiment, and it was a distinct opinion. How could you say it was a layman's comment?"

Kou Zhong did not have time to be complacent, because Bai Qing'er already pursed her lips and laughed, and tenderly and coyly said, "Turns out Kou Gongzi is a connoisseur in paintings appreciation. I wonder if Kou Gongzi has any wise opinion on color usage?"

Kou Zhong was well aware that she was lending Zheng Shiru a helping hand, with the purpose of humiliating him in front of Shang Xiufang. Moreover, he had no idea what coloring material or what role it played in paintings. The worst thing was that he only knew about paintings of beauty that came from Hou Xibai's highly skilled hands, which was produced entirely using ground-ink, without the slightest bit of coloring. Hence he had nothing to evaluate, he had nothing to say.

Fortunately, speaking about emergency response, he was a first-class expert. Since he could not block the attack, he had to use diversion tactics. With serious expression, he said, "Just by listening to Madame Qing'er's remark, I know that Madame is an expert in paintings. I wonder if Xiaodi has guessed incorrectly?"
[1] Bianwen - a popular form of narrative literature flourishing in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) with alternate prose and rhymed parts for recitation and singing (often on Buddhist themes)

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