Chen Changlin nodded his agreement; he said, "To understand the situation at Lingnan, we must first understand that it is the place where the Li [ethnic group] and the Han mingle together. The Li people are further divided into Wu Wu [two different characters] Liao, Xi Yuan Man, and Huang Dong Man, and other different ethnic groups, which, in the end, are known as Li Liao."
Kou Zhong was confused; he mumbled, "Trying to remember these names gives me headache, it's easier to just call them Nan Man [lit. southern barbarians]."
Chen Changlin smiled and said, "Whether we call them Li Liao or Nan Man, both names carry a derogatory tone. In fact, since the Qin and Han dynasties, Nan Man has been increasingly Sinicized, but they live in remote places, their dwellings are still some kind of the so-called pole and fence houses, made of bamboo and wood construction, the roof is made of reeds and paddy straws. It has two layers; the top is for people, the bottom for livestock. It can avoid malaria, as well as wild animals. Just from this, we could infer their way of life."
Kou Zhong thought that if he could pass the night with Song Yuzhi in his arms in such a house where the people were on top and the livestock on the bottom, it would be a distinctive flavor.
Chen Changlin continued, "After the Sui wiped out the Chen [of Southern dynasties, 777-589], with the Song Clan's approval, one after another the Li Liao from various regions of Lingnan realigned their allegiance to the Sui dynasty. Thereupon Yang Jian successively set up Nan Hai, Yi An, Zhu An, Jiao Zhi, and so on, twenty three counties, locally. He also agreed with Song Que's proposal to appoint Li Liao tribal chief and commander to govern the ethnic groups' internal affairs; therefore, various tribal chiefs and commanders of Lingnan are grateful to Song Que."
Sneering, Kou Zhong said, "Yang Jian had no choice; if he did not use this governing-by-restrain method, I am afraid the Li Liao would have been rebelling early on."
And then, furrowing his brows, he said, "It does not matter how formidable Song Que's saber technique is, how enormous the Song Family's influence is, there will always be conflict of interest among the various Li Liao ethnic groups; how does the Song Family hold them up together?"
Chen Changling raised his thumb and said with a laugh, "Many superficial changes, but no departure from the original stand. Precisely how Mencius advised the Liang's Hui Wang [king of Hui], 'King! There is no need to take advantage of the day, on the contrary, take advantage of the movement.'"
Greatly interested, Kou Zhong said, "Changlin Xiong, please don't leave Xiaodi hanging! Tell me quickly what is it?"
Chen Changlin laughed and said, "The Song Family's two most powerful magic weapons are that they are in control of shipping business of the south and the commercial trading system linking the entire country. Not only that, Song Que is a man whose words worth a thousand gold; he purchases openly, he sells openly, paying particular attention about fair dealing. So when all Li tribal chiefs obtain benefit and become rich, nobody would not follow Song Que blindly. Therefore, no matter how Lin Shihong or Shen Faxing expanded their influence, they would never dare to even have half an idea of provoking the Song Family of Lingnan."
Recalling the 'Silver Dragon' Song Lu's standing when dealing with various issues in Luoyang, Kou Zhong saw a lot of similarities in him. He asked, "Aren't they mainly in salt business?"
After muttering to himself irresolutely, Chen Changlin said, "Salt is just one of them. The Song Family has been distributing all kinds of local products of Lingnan's Li Liao to all parts of the Central Plains in a steady flow, while also transporting local necessities back into Lingnan. That is where they make their profit from. Some people believe that quite possibly Song Que is the richest man under the heavens. Although this opinion might not be accurate, it is not far from the truth either."
Slapping the armrest, Kou Zhong said, "Turns out the Song Family is the genuine Longyou Bang [roaming dragon gang, see Book 22 Chapter 3]; no wonder just from the tea leaves' shape and flavor Song Shidao is able to write a book."
Listening to that, Chen Changlin was bewildered, "What kind of gang is Longyou Bang?" he wondered aloud.
After explaining it to him briefly, Kou Zhong's eyes shone as he asked, "Lingnan has valuable products?"
Obviously Chen Changlin had a remarkable understanding of commercial trade of various places around the country. As if enumerating his family valuables, he said, "For our Nanhai Jun, we have tortoiseshells, pearls, ivory, and Chinese eaglewood. Huang Gongcuo's Zhuya [historic name for Hainan Island] produces spices, kapok, five-colored rattan, and all kinds of precious medicinal herbs. Lingnan's ironware foundry is fairly developed. All are in the big business of making money."
Kou Zhong happily said, "I finally found a reason that I simply must go to Lingnan! We are in need of a reliable business partner like Song Que."
Smiling wryly, Chen Changlin said, "I thought that after Shao Shuai listened to me, you might dispel your intention to go!"
By the time Xu Ziling and Hou Xibai, the two difficult-to-distinguish-between-friend-and-foe partners, stepped into the crowd on the street, the song and dance just happened to end. Amidst the warm and lively shaking-the-heavens shouts and cheers, everybody was clamoring toward the public square, where the market was normally held, to watch the lantern decoration and spotlights. Everybody was in high spirit; in the twinkle of an eye the stream of people dispersed more than half off the street.
Xu Ziling, in his guise as the scar-faced hero, cried inwardly, 'Heaven helps me!' Leaning closer to Hou Xibai, he said, "Although I have never seen Yang Xuyan's real face, but this man's body shape and bearing are exceptional; as soon as Hou Xiong see him, you will know."
"Human life is beyond value," Hou Xibai said, "Xiaodi will only make my move after you verify it. You are responsible for watching for Yang Xuyan, I am responsible for paying attention to the people from An Long's side."
The two weaved right and left among the crowd as they crossed the vehicles and horses' lane. Children holding lantern in their hands were running around on the street, adding a considerable vitality and liveliness to the Lantern Festival atmosphere. Seeing the street was filled with all kinds of people from all kinds of ethnicity enjoying the festival together, Xu Ziling's heart grew warm; more and more he felt that peace and prosperity was a precious thing. At the same time, Hou Xibai's remark about 'human life is beyond value' made him think that if Hou Xibai was not a good and honest man by nature, then he must be an extremely evil man. Until now, he still believed Cao Yinglong's view that the disciple that Shi Zhixuan trained could not possibly be a good man, since it would be completely against the demonic schools' code of conduct.
This thought came into his mind, he asked, "Hou Xiong values human life like that, I wonder what would your esteemed master's reaction be if he heard it?"
By this time they have reached the street where An Xing Long was located. An Long's old shop, just like any other shop, was opening its main gate, with cakes and culinary delicacy for the people to enjoy. Hanging inside was a row of more than a dozen of giant carousel lamps [lantern with carousel of paper horses, rotating under convection, used at Lantern Festival], affording a magnificent view, attracting not a few of the people to stop by to enjoy it.
Because they also provided good wine to entertain the guests, the spacious shop was crowded with an unending stream of visitors, so that the outside of the shop was bustling with noise and excitement.
Upon stepping across the threshold of the door, Hou Xibai withdrew his penetrating gaze with which he scanned the shop interior. He said, "That is just Xu Xiong's misunderstanding of our humble Sect. Perhaps I can give you an analogy: Hua Jian Pai is Jianghu's Zonghengjia, the emphasis is zongheng method [or method to move unhindered; see footnote], not relying on numbers, because in each generation it has only one disciple. The most important thing is to study and cultivate by knowledge and experience, by traveling around everywhere, and by being able to make nations and countries perish with no blood on the men's swords."
It suddenly dawned on Xu Ziling that Shi Zhixuan assuming Pei Ju's identity was precisely this 'not wasting/costing one soldier one pawn' principle, bringing the Great Sui to its demise from the inside. If he were relying on military force alone, how long would it take him to accomplish this matter?
He asked, "Since that's the case, what kind of person is your esteemed master, actually?"
Hou Xibai halted his steps and looked around; he spoke in heavy voice, "Sometimes I suspect that Shi Shi is a person with dual personalities, all because Hua Jian Pai and Bu Tian Ge, two sects' martial art xinfa are polar opposite, each one goes to the extreme. For Bu Tian, capturing the heaven is not enough; hence they act on behalf of the heaven, by specializing in assassination and murder, the more chaotic the world the better, fetching the generals seizing the commanders, to regard the magnificent army with thousands of men and horses as nothing. Early on I already suspected that Yang Xuyan is Bu Tian Ge disciple, but I just received the confirmation from Xu Xiong's mouth! Bu Tian Ge pays no attention to comradeship; everything is just a tool for them, a vast difference from our Hua Jian Pai's embracing the scriptures and the ways of the world, losing oneself in the white cloud. Ay! It's bad!"
Xu Ziling's heart shivered; following Hou Xibai's gaze, he saw a group of six, seven beautiful girls, with handsome and wonderful posture, beating a small drum tied onto their waist, walking toward them. They were wearing colorful attire of their specific ethnic group, matching their gorgeous appearances. The most eye-catching was that the two sleeves of the small-collared slanting lapel of their clothes were made of red, yellow, green, purple, and blue, five different color cloth put together. The hem of their skirts was embedded with precious stone, and the outside their long gown was covered with purple and red and deep blue - inlaid with flowers - sleeveless jacket. Long ribbon was tied on their waist; both ends of the ribbon had embroidery thread coiled together into flower and black decorative motif.
Magnificent with many postures, as if the clouds tinged with sunset hues in the sky above became human, in the form of bright and beautiful, touching, pretty women - and appeared in the mortal world.
Their waist drums were even more carefully picked; the casing were made of mulberry wood, inlaid with precious stone and a variety of jade, the cover was made of python skin. Both hands were beating the drum alternately, the right hand struck the center of the drum, producing 'dong', strong tone; the left hand struck the edge of the drum, producing 'wu', weak tone. Sometimes both hands slapped the center of the drum or the edge of the drum together, producing drum roll, so there were 'dong ka dong wu', or perhaps 'dong dong dong dong', 'ka ka wu wu'; many variations on the drumming method, evolving into unbelievably splendid and pleasant-to-listen-to drum music and wonderful rhythm.
While Xu Ziling was still wondering why Hou Xibai groaned 'It's bad!', seven beautiful drummer girls already surrounded the two. They seemed to be cautious, yet happily beating their drums and dancing, attracting everybody's attention.
Xu Ziling began to understand; if they were being entangled by this group of girls, how were they going to proceed with their operation to assassinate Yang Xuyan?
One of the girls was slightly taller, her legs were particularly long, her smile was even more pleasant; for some reason she was able to make a deep, romantic, pushing-down-all-beauties impression in people's heart. But there was hidden bitterness, secret grudges in her eyes, as she stuck close to Hou Xibai's body. Obviously the two of them knew each other.
Hou Xibai helplessly smiled wryly toward Xu Ziling. This moment, unless they soared into the air, there was no other way to free themselves from these girls.
In this annoying moment, Xu Ziling suddenly saw Shi Qingxuan.
School of Diplomacy of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), 'zongheng' itself means 'vertically and horizontally/length and breadth/crisscross/able to move unhindered.