When Yu Xiaozai spoke to this point, he bent over and choked with sobs, unable to continue. The scholars of their generation who went on to take up official posts either wanted to be the patriotic and loyal Qi Huilian who would lay down his life for his cause, or the Hai Liangyi who was the stabilizing force that could hold them together in times of crisis. But then, this building teetering under the elements suddenly let loose the thunderous sound of collapse.1 In one night, it shattered the lofty aspirations of several tens of thousands of people, turning Dazhou into a land where wails abound everywhere.
Shen Zechuan turned his head aside silently and listened to the sound of the night watchman on his rounds beyond the courtyard wall.2
Some time later, Yu Xiaozai stopped sobbing. He covered his face with a warm handkerchief for a moment before he said, “The Grand Secretary’s use of his death to remonstrate forced Han Cheng into a dead end, but he refused to give up. The crowd from imperial college was so worked up that they blocked Han Cheng’s sedan on Shenwu Street after the dismissal of the court session and smashed it to pieces. The Eight Great Training Divisions sealed off the imperial college and captured a few students who had been taking the lead and hauled them over to the imperial prison. They even cut off the students’ supply of food, and so the students went on a hunger strike.”
Yu Xiaozai could not help but shed tears again.
“I initially thought all the scholars in the world would die out at this point. But that night, I saw the flickers of flames3 among Mount Jingyi, which the imperial college was on, and that was when I knew of the far-reaching significance of the Grand Secretary. The blaze that spread far and wide had already become a force to behold. To quell the fury of all the scholars in the world, the empress dowager once again demanded Han Cheng hand over the private letter entrusting the child to him. She also drove the child from the Han clan who was feigning to be the imperial heir out of the palace. Han Cheng had no choice but to make a concession. He promised to have the private letter officially verified three days later.”
“The forged private letter did not have Emperor Guangcheng’s private seal. So the Grand Secretariat rejected Han Cheng’s crown prince proposal. On seeing this, the empress dowager consented to meet with Prince Yan of Huaizhou’s descendant to establish the candidate for the crown prince. However, Huaizhou is far away from Qudu. Just as Han Cheng had said earlier, that second son of Prince Yan’s grandson of non-direct descent was already advanced in age. He was fatigued from the long journey, and coupled with the fact that he had been through a roller coaster of emotions, he gave up the ghost before arriving at Qudu.”
“The issue of selecting and designating a crown prince completely came to an impasse. Han Cheng, with ulterior motives in mind, used the Eight Great Training Divisions to coerce the Grand Secretariat. He submitted another memorial to make a request for the eight cities to assist in governmental affairs. He wanted the empress dowager to establish a ‘Chamber for the Deliberation of State Affairs’, and the candidates listed were all officials from the noble clans. The empress dowager shelved the memorial without giving him an answer. Carrying on with the legacy of the Grand Secretary, His Excellency Boran submitted a memorial to consent to the original plan for the Chamber, but he asked for the removal of Han Cheng’s military power on the grounds that civil officials do not get involved with the military. He wanted to use this opportunity to take down Han Cheng’s Eight Great Training Divisions. But Han Cheng refused, so the Grand Secretariat did not give their approval, and both parties’ negotiation fell through once again.”
The lack of an heir was the breaking point of the no-win situation in Qudu. Officials of the Grand Secretariat with Kong Qiu in the lead made a concession in the face of the proposal for the eight cities to assist in governmental affairs, and this was in line with Hai Liangyi’s policy to keep the peace. They had no troops. Qidong was under the control of the empress dowager, and Libei no longer obeyed Qudu’s deployment orders after what happened with Xiao Chiye. Kong Qiu could only choose the lesser of two evils and give way. The bottom line was to strip Han Cheng of his military power. Even if they could not get their own hands on military power, they could not hand over all the patrols in Qudu to the noble clans to take charge of just like before.
“It was at precisely this moment that Xue Xiuzhuo submitted his memorials.” Yu Xiaozai let out a vague, bitter smile under the dimness. “With one stone, he stirred up a thousand ripples… This move of his was really too ingenious.”
Xiao Chiye heard Xue Xiuzhuo’s name and shifted his gaze a little to look at Shen Zechuan. After a moment of silence, Shen Zechuan lifted his head slightly to look out of the window with furrowed brows. After a moment, he said, “You were right before. This talent is really something else. Rumors of the imperial heir made their way so easily to where we are, stirring us into action. I originally suspected that Han Cheng was the one who killed all those boys after I arrived in Zhongbo. But it now seems that Han Cheng was merely the same as Xi Hongxuan—they were all sacrificial chess pieces manipulated by Xue Xiuzhuo. A wrong move of a chess piece and the whole game is lost. It was careless of me to underestimate the enemy.”
The impasse in the imperial court continued for less than half a month when the upsurge of verbal assaults of the imperial college on Han Cheng shifted to the eight cities’ assistance of governmental affairs. Countless students with emotions running high became more and more dissatisfied with Kong Qiu’s conservative strategy. At the same time they wrote articles and elegies to mourn Hai Liangyi, they were also mourning Qi Huilian. The way Kong Qiu was at present was not the Grand Secretary of their expectations.
The empress dowager made a concession when it came to the child from the Han clan, and this allowed all the students under the world to see the might of gathering various powers into one faction. They were like water droplets from all over who converged together to form the boundless sea. They believed that their combined forces could push over that high wall. The opportunity to get rid of the malady that was the noble clans was right before their eyes.
Because Kong Qiu affirmed Han Cheng’s proposal for the eight cities to assist with governmental affairs, the direction of the imperial college suddenly changed course like the weather in the fourth month. First, an article with impassioned words was stuck to the door of the Kong’s residence. Then all the criticisms that had been used to verbally assault Han Cheng were used on Kong Qiu. The students became more and more certain that the scholar-officials of humble origins led by Kong Qiu were too weak, and that was why Hai Liangyi was left high and dry by himself in the Grand Secretariat, which led to his eventual decision to choose such a resolute method to remonstrate. They openly listed out all the court officials during the reign of Yongyi and checked, one at a time, whether these officials used to have any relations with officials from the noble clans. News that Cen Yu had invited Han Cheng to a private feast spread like wildfire and worked the students up into an emotional frenzy. They labeled Cen Yu, Kong Qiu, and even the Minister of War, Chen Zhen, as “hypocrites”.
The sedan Cen Yu used to attend court sessions was smashed. He stood at the entrance of the palace gate with his head all covered in blood and pointed to the sky to proclaim that he had no inappropriate relations with the noble clans. Consequently, he got splashed with filthy dung all over. Cen Yu could not believe that these were the students of before. He had been with the Chief Surveillance Bureau for twenty years, and he had impeached countless major and minor officials of the imperial court. He even dared to impeach Emperor Guangcheng. But he never thought that he would, one day, be cursed as a scum who sought personal gain without shame.
The Yao clan had always been an exemplar of scholars who were concerned with politics but remained political outsiders who kept their distance from those in power. It was an honorable glory for a clan to produce three preceptors. Even though they had no one in the imperial court after the reign of Xiande, their influence far surpassed those from the other clans. They were widely respected among the noble clans and those of humble origins. Hai Liangyi, Qi Huilian, Kong Qiu, and other old and new officials of the imperial court were all once recipients of the Yao clan’s advice and guidance. The thriving of the imperial college during the period of resurgence in the reign of Yongyi had everything to do with Old Master Yao’s extensive recruitment of talents. But now, the doors and windows of the Yao clan’s ancestral hall they had set up at the eastern end of Qudu had been smashed broken. If Kong Qiu had not sent someone to guard it, it would have been set aflame that night.
This fire even blazed its way to Yao Wenyu. He was Hai Liangyi’s student, yet he refused to join the imperial court as an official. He did not appear either the last time when the imperial college went up in arms to curse Pan Rugui. And now, new grievances piled up upon old scores. They tore up the essays they had once sung praises of, and likened Yao Wenyu to a thief—a thief of the noble clan who stole Hai Liangyi’s government administration knowledge.
Qudu plunged into complete chaos. The moment the Eight Great Training tried to dispatch troops to suppress them, the students would go on a hunger strike in protest. Already, four or five people had starved to death, and Han Cheng no longer dared to act rashly. At this time, even Qi Zhuyin, who was busy with Bianjun Commandery affairs far away in Qidong, was not spared either. The marriage alliance of Hua and Qi was to take place next month, and those impassioned articles stating their opinions spread like snowflakes to Qidong. The commander-in-chief initially had insomnia, and now, whenever she wanted to sprawl out on her desk to rest, she would get Qi Wei to read out those articles to her. The more unpleasant the scoldings, the more soundly she slept.
The fire in Dazhou did indeed start to burn, but not in the way Hai Liangyi anticipated. The night was whizzing with flaming stray arrows all over. They drew a clear boundary between “us” and the enemies. The demands made were exacting, with black and white clearly distinguished. There was no middle ground for anyone to stand on, only a bitter fight to the end when one side was left standing.
Kong Qiu insisted on not taking sick leave, but attending court gradually became a dangerous affair. One day, he went out all exhausted, but he was still in the compound when he saw a stranger walking out from the courtyard. The stranger held up his sword and hollered all around, wanting Kong Qiu to atone for his crimes with his death. He was a bona fide official of the Grand Secretariat, and he often used to receive some students from the other lands, so he had never set up defenses at home. But who knew someone would hold a sword against him now? It was simply the greatest joke in the world. How ludicrous!
It was at this time that three of Xue Xiuzhuo’s memorials were presented. The content of his memorials was like a monstrous wave that instantly extinguished the crackling fire. Following right after, it turned into raging billows that won over the scholars in the world in one fell swoop.
In his memorial, he spoke of the innumerable hardships he underwent before he finally found Emperor Guangcheng’s daughter, who had been leading a wandering life in poverty outside the palace. He not only had Prince Qin’s personal seal as evidence but also relevant witnesses’ testimonies that could prove the parentage of this girl beyond doubt. What’s more, he asked for an official verification right there on the court.
Having a woman as a master could be compared to a disruption in the balance of yin and yang, and a reversal of the sun and the moon.4 This was something that had never happened before in hundreds of years. Xue Xiuzhuo’s memorial sent the entire imperial court into an uproar. Even Kong Qiu refuted it vehemently and refused to accept it.
Following right after, Xue Xiuzhuo presented a second memorial.
He revealed in his memorial that this girl had ended up in a peasant household in Qudu. Because she was an exceptionally bright child, she was very well-loved by the family. Although the family was poor, they were willing to let her older brother teach her to read and write. As a descendant of Emperor Guangcheng, she was naturally different from the common person. Her family often saw auspicious signs such as rainbows materializing from dew and purple clouds over the house, and so they treated her with even more attentiveness and did not dare to slight or neglect her. This girl was not only intelligent, but kind too. Her neighbors were in distress, and there were elderly starving, so she saved her own food and personally attended to them. Everyone from the villages near and far was unanimous in their praises of her. There were witness testimonies of this incident too. As for her bearing, he would let the various gentlemen ascertain it themselves when this girl came to court.
This memorial had already spread beyond the palace walls. Someone posted it in the Imperial College, and it even made its way to every street and lane in Qudu. The emperor’s daughter was noble and precious, and the only one who could claim such status in Dazhou at present was the one who was by the empress dowager’s side, Third Missy Hua. The comparison and contrast between the two made the common folks even more sympathetic towards this emperor’s daughter. Teahouses and wine taverns all had storytellers who specifically told the legendary tale of this emperor’s daughter living among the people, making that extraordinary talent of hers out to be like she was an immortal who had descended to earth. She came from the common masses. Her family had been farming for generations, which, in many instances, was similar to current students from the imperial college. What’s more, she was a righteous and benevolent one who was kind and friendly to her neighbors. She was the most aware of the hardships of the people. For a time, even the students revered her.
And it was at this time Xue Xiuzhuo submitted his third and most crucial memorial.
He said her elder brother was also a student of humble origins. He had previously entered Qudu during the reign of Xiande, but because of prejudices over his family status, he had never made it to the list of those who passed. After returning home, he died depressed. The affection between the emperor’s daughter and her elder brother was so deep that this became a source of pain and distress in her heart. On the way to Qudu, she had asked him many times about the condition of Secretariat Elder Hai’s illness. When he mentioned how hard it had been for Secretariat Elder Hai to take care of state affairs, the emperor’s daughter actually shed tears on hearing that and said, “If I were a man, there would be no way I could have let the Secretariat Elder suffer such hardships.” He was a son of non-direct descent from a noble clan, and he had been subjected to harsh treatment on both ends owing to the difference in status between those born of the direct line of descent and those who weren’t. Yet, he did not have the same magnanimity as the emperor’s daughter, and for this, he felt very ashamed.
At last, Xue Xiuzhuo said, since there was no law in the world that decreed that priority should be accorded to those of direct descent and those from distinguished clans during the selection of court officials, then there were also no forefathers in the world who said that priority should be accorded to males when it came to the selection for the crown prince—all the more so in view of the fact that Dazhou already had no other choice left at this stage.
The students were roused. They had finally found a suitable candidate. The prejudices between parentage and family status made it tough for them to fulfill their ambitions. They saw themselves as fellow sufferers commiserating with the emperor’s daughter over her hard lot in life. Li Jianheng was an emperor who had grown up in a life of luxury. He did not understand the hardships of the people at all, and he had been repeatedly impeached by the Chief Surveillance Bureau for his pursuit of petty pleasures at the expense of lofty aspirations. But look at how different this emperor’s daughter bestowed by Heaven was. She seemed to be the most wonderful woman in this world. She had a heart compassionate towards all the scholars of humble origins in the world. She was the Goddess of Mercy who had descended to the mortal realm to deliver the masses from suffering.
And thus, it was under the buzz of an entire night of discussion that Xue Xiuzhuo – who had been lying low without showing his mettle all this while – emerged the victor.
Dear all, I’ve been reflecting on my translations lately and I’m aware that they are very much lacking (and I keep going back and forth on terms). Tbh, I was intending to do an overhaul once I get my hands on the traditional chinese physical copies. But since it will take some time for qjj, I’ll be going back to the earlier qjj chapters for some minor editing, that is, until the qjj physical copy (for a final edit) and possibly the LA (for english terms/titles used). This is the tentative plan, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Once again, if you have any feedback, suggestion, correction, etc, feel free to let me know. Thank you for putting up with me.
P/S: Also, please support the author, that’s all I’m asking. If you enjoy the novels, purchase them on jjwxc. Links and “how to buy” guide are in each of the chapters themselves. Thank you.
- From the idiom 大厦将倾, or “the mansion on the verge of collapse”. The original idiom refers to a hopeless situation, like a mansion on the brink of collapse. Here, it suggests that the situation is a total goner.
- A night watchman typically patrolled the streets at night with a wooden clapper or a gong and a mallet and regularly sounded the instruments at certain intervals to remind the others of the time and to look out for potential fire hazards.
- 薪火 flame/torch which also refers to the flame/torch of learning/knowledge
- Yin refers to feminine energies, and Yang refers to masculine energies in the concept of Yin and Yang, while sun and moon are also used to refer to the emperor and empress.