Couple of Mirrors – Chapter 22: Making a Comeback
‘Then I’ll come with you,’ says Yan Wei.
‘You don’t need to,’ Xu Youyi demurs. ‘You still need to run the studio; I can’t expect you to go everywhere I go.’
‘At least let me take you to the publisher’s office,’ Yan Wei urges.
‘All right,’ says Xu Youyi, as the two of them walk out of the door. ‘Thanks for doing all this for me.’
At the publisher’s office, President Wang is not having a good day. ‘Rubbish, that’s complete rubbish,’ he yells into the phone, then slams down the receiver.
Xu Youyi knocks on his door. ‘President Wang?’
President Wang looks up. ‘Ah, Youyi, you’re here,’ he says. ‘Come in.’
‘I suppose things aren’t going very well?’ Xu Youyi asks.
‘The cowards at the Department of Publications have all been thoroughly intimidated by the Zhou family,’ President Wang grouses. ‘Not only have the bookstores withdrawn your books from sale, but the Japanese publishing deal has fallen through.’
‘That’s all right,’ says Xu Youyi calmly. ‘None of this was unexpected. But I’m not afraid. This time, I’m going to fight for what’s mine, till the very end!’
‘As far as we’re concerned, Youyi, you have nothing to worry about,’ says President Wang reassuringly. ‘After working with you for so many years, I have complete faith in your abilities and your character. Whatever you want to do, I’ll support you!’
‘Thank you, President Wang,’ says Xu Youyi. ‘At the moment, what I need most of all is a competent agent. Is there someone suitable you could recommend?’
‘Oh? I thought she was your new agent,’ says President Wang gesturing at Yan Wei, who startles at the attention.
Xu Youyi looks over at Yan Wei. ‘This is my friend — the owner of Baihua Photography Studio. She was worried about me, that’s why she came along.’
‘Ah, so that’s how it is,’ says President Wang. ‘Well, as far as potential agents go, I do have a good candidate for you. He’s been working here for a year now, and is very capable. Xiao Li!’ he calls out to his assistant. ‘Ask Mr Bai to come here!’
A moment later, the much-lauded Agent Bai appears. ‘It’s an honour to be your agent, Miss Xu Youyi!’ he says.
Xu Youyi shakes his hand. ‘It’s my honour to have gained the services of such a capable assistant in my time of need.’
President Wang laughs. ‘There’s no need to stand on ceremony. Have a seat, both of you.’ He turns to Xu Youyi. ‘Now that you have an assitant is in place, how do you plan to make your comeback?’
‘First of all,’ says Xu Youyi. ‘I want to give lectures at the universities, to generate interest in my books. Students tend to be progressive thinkers; this fits well with the modern women in my books. I plan to give lectures to the general public as well — I’ll speak to them on the streets. Then I’m going to hold charity sales of all remaining copies of my books. I’ll choose some volunteers from among the poor and needy, and give them each a number of copies to sell. They’ll get to keep all the proceeds from the sale.’
‘Hm, I’m in favour of the lectures, and I know you’ve always engaged in charitable giving,’ says President Wang. ‘But as for the charity sales… once we set a precedent, I’m concerned that they will cannibalise future sales of your books.’
‘I understand what you mean,’ says Xu Youyi. ‘If we don’t want future sales to be cannibalised, we’ll have to establish some ground rules. We should make it clear that charity sales will only take place over a limited period of time, for a limited number of copies. If the charity sales are a success, it will show the major bookstores that there’s a demand for my books. Sooner or later, they’ll end up restocking my books. Once that happens, we should be quite comfortable in terms of turnover and cash flow.’
‘And as for the copies for these charity sales,’ Xu Youyi adds, ‘I’ll pay for those myself. To me, it’s just another way of giving to the poor, while also helping myself.’
‘Ha, looks like you have it all thought out,’ says President Wang. ‘Then let’s follow your plan. We’ll do our best to give you the support you need!’
Xu Youyi, Yan Wei and President Wang rise, and Xu Youyi inclines her head towards him. ‘Thank you, President Wang!’ She turns to Agent Bai. ‘Let’s start making the arrangements, Agent Bai!’
‘Yes, Miss Xu,’ Agent Bai replies. ‘I will start contacting universities right away.’
As they leave the publisher’s office, Xu Youyi says, ‘Yan Wei, you should head back to the studio. I’ll join you there once I finish dealing with everything I need to do.’
‘But…’ Yan Wei begins.
‘Don’t worry,’ says Xu Youyi. ‘I trust President Wang. Besides, with Agent Bai by my side, not even the Zhou family would be brazen enough to do anything to me.’
‘All right then,’ says Yan Wei, a little reluctantly.
We cut to Zhendan University, where Xu Youyi is giving an impassioned speech to a hall full of avid students. ‘As everyone knows,’ she’s saying. ‘I’ve written so many stories about modern women over the years. From Duling, the fisherman’s daughter who was brave enough to chase after true love, to Nianjun, who loved life passionately and never underestimated herself, to Wanqiao, who stayed true to herself even in the face of the most vicious rumours… these are all confident, independent, modern women!’
Xu Youyi continues, ‘And when we encounter our own challenges, we should take inspiration from them! Those with more power may try to oppress us; society may try to force us to conform to convention. But we must not be cowed!’
The hall fills with approving cheers and applause. ‘Well said!’ one student calls out.
‘This is an era for enlightened and progressive thought,’ proclaims another student. ‘And Xu Youyi is the perfect exemplar of the modern woman!’
A third student notes, ‘When she officially announced that she was getting a divorce, her books were withdrawn from bookstores immediately. That must have been the Zhou family taking revenge. Yet she didn’t let that get her down!’
‘This is how a modern woman should be!’ a fourth student chimes in.
Yan Wei, eavesdropping outside the hall…
…gives Xu Youyi a quiet round of applause herself.
As the sun sets, we see Xu Youyi giving a public lecture on a street corner. ‘Thank you for coming here to hear me speak about “What is the Modern Woman”,’ she tells her audience. ‘The era of foot-binding, the so-called “three obediences and four virtues”, men taking multiple wives — that era is over. The foundation of a strong marriage is loyalty! If our husbands are unfaithful to us, we should be brave enough to say no! We should be brave enough to face the future!’
‘Yes!’ cheers a bystander.
The rest of the audience begins to murmur among themselves. ‘Xu Youyi can’t be a murderer,’ says one audience member. ‘Otherwise, she wouldn’t dare show her face in public like this!’
‘The way I see it, Zhou Heng was definitely the one at fault,’ says another audience member. ‘So what was wrong with her getting a divorce?’
‘Hmph, the Zhou family must be afraid of losing face,’ says a third audience member. ‘That’s why they’re trying so hard to shut her up.’
‘We’re holding a charity sale of the books that were withdrawn from bookstores today!’ announces Agent Bai, standing behind piles of books. ‘We have five different novels, and a hundred copies of each in total. We’re now recruiting twenty volunteers to sell them — each volunteer gets twenty-five copies to sell, and will be allowed to keep all of the proceeds! Those who wish to volunteer should come up here and fill in this form. Priority will be given to students who need to work part-time while studying!’
The crowd surges forward. ‘I want to sign up!’ calls a would-be volunteer. ‘Miss Xu Youyi has helped me before,’ says another. ‘So I’d sign up even if I wasn’t getting paid!’ ‘My mother is ill and I need the money!’ says another. ‘I’m a student who works part-time,’ says a female student at the front of the crowd. ‘I’m more than willing to help promote the concept of the modern woman!’
Xu Youyi looks over at Agent Bai. ‘Definitely an able assistant,’ she says.
From a distance, Yan Wei watches the excited crowd with a smile on her face.
Night falls. ‘Miss Xu, let me drive you home,’ says Agent Bai, holding open the door of a car for Xu Youyi.
‘Baihua Photography Studio, please,’ says Xu Youyi, getting into the car.
Yan Wei watches as the car drives off.
An uneventful day, she muses. Then, suddenly, she seems to realise something. Oh no, she thinks, bolting down the street. There’s no one at home!
As they drive along the street, Xu Youyi and Agent Bai pass one of their volunteers, surrounded by an interested knot of onlookers. ‘Big news!’ cries the volunteer. ‘Charity sale of Xu Youyi’s books, all about the modern woman! This is your last chance to buy them — when they’re gone, they’re gone!’
‘I want one!’ a customer calls. ‘I do too!’ says another customer.
‘Agent Bai, could you please drive a little more slowly?’ asks Xu Youyi, looking out of the window.
Yan Wei is barely keeping pace with the car as it stops outside the studio.
‘Miss Xu, we’re here,’ says Agent Bai.
Xu Youyi gets out of the car. ‘Would you like to come up?’ she asks Agent Bai.
‘No, thank you, Miss Xu,’ he replies. ‘Remember, you have that lecture at Hujiang University tomorrow morning, and another charity sale after that. You should get some rest.’
Yan Wei spies on them from behind a wall. I’m not going to make it in time!
She does the only thing she can think of: she climbs up a drainpipe on the side of the building as Xu Youyi, heels clacking, approaches the front door.
Please view the original manhua here.
- The ‘three obediences and four virtues’ which Xu Youyi refers to in her speech is a code of behaviour for women, which is derived from Confucian ideals. Women were expected to obey their father (if unmarried), their husband (if married) or their son (if widowed). They were also expected to display the ‘four virtues’, i.e. morality (including sexual morality), proper speech, modest manner and appearance, and diligent work.