No matter what, he will remember this moment.
The house was burned down in the fire. Zhao Su asked someone to help find another. In less than half a month, he found a new house. The original owner wanted to move his family westward and the price was moderate, so Zhao Su quickly bought it.
Now, he was a juren, within the clan, and even in the city, many people were trying to strike up a good relationship with him, but Zhao Su didn’t waste too much time on this. Usually declining to see visitors, occasionally he would attend a few banquets by invitation of the County Magistrate. He kept a modest attitude, even though his status has risen considerably, he never looked down on anyone. So in the eyes of others, this concubine’s son who had once been driven out of the house was much more promising than his half-brother.
Zhao Nuan wanted to open up a business but he didn’t dare to mention it to Zhao Shenyu, instead he wanted Zhao Su to talk to his father in his place. Being bothered by Zhao Nuan day in, day out, he had no choice but to relent and go talk to Zhao Shenyu. The two of them spoke in private for most of the day, no one knew what Zhao Su had done to make Zhao Shenyu permit his son to go to the Capital with Zhao Su.
In regards to the arson, this problem was the trickiest.
If time had allowed it, Zhao Su would have stayed and investigated himself until everything was clear but that wasn’t possible.
From Fujian to Beijing, even if they hurried it would still take one or two months. All the juzi were taking the exam together, it was much harder than the Provincial exam. Even though he had somehow gained first place this time, that didn’t mean that it would happen this time, so he needed more time to revise.
The most crucial point was that there was absolutely no proof that Zhao Jin had set the fire.
After the incident, Zhao Su had asked around in the neighbourhood, but at the time, it was chaos everywhere, everyone was fearing for their lives so no one had paid any attention to the fire.
In terms of motive, Zhao Jin obviously was the most suspicious, but in terms of status, he couldn’t just go over and accuse his own half brother. Plus, right now he was neither an official nor had passed the metropolitan exam yet.
There was a limit to what he could do, so Zhao Su could only ask Yang Rufu to investigate in his place, so that he could get on the road to the Capital. He also told Dai Zhong to let him know if there were any advances in the case.
He had done advanced preparations for his departure to the Capital, but there was still one more thing that he had yet to resolve.
Since Zhao Su had obtained jieyuan, everyday, there were people coming to the door trying to matchmake him with their daughters. Before the Wukou invasion, Zhao Su’s name and reputation had spread throughout the region of Changle, even the Inspector-General had written him a letter of praise. The range of people who came to propose marriage was vast, amongst them, there were not only government officials but also literary families. Even his mother Lady Chen was having trouble keeping track.
“Mother” Zhao Su said with his forehead in his hands, “I’m leaving for the Capital soon, when would I have the time to take a wife, plus…”
Plus, right now, the body that he was in was still only seventeen years old. In accordance with modern standards, he was still a teenager. Before he transmigrated, he liked to be single, he was afraid of commitment and he hadn’t got married yet. After coming here, he even more did not rush to tie himself to a woman who only pays attention to three obediences and four virtues1refers to Confucian moral injunctions for women, namely: obey in turn three men father, husband and son, plus the four virtues of morality 德, physical charm 容, propriety in speech 言 and efficiency in needlework 功 for a lifetime.
Lady Chen said hesitantly: “But amongst the names, there are a few that have been introduced by Clan Leader fu-ren…”
Lady Chen sighed: “I know that you have high standards and are dissatisfied with the women of this county, but you can’t stay single forever?”
Obviously Lady Chen had misunderstood, but this kind of misunderstanding helped things, and Zhao Su didn’t mind letting her continue to misunderstand.
Zhao Su: “Maybe when I’m in the Capital, there might be a noble someone who wants to betroth their daughter to me.”
Lady Chen couldn’t help laughing: “Oh you!”
Talking and laughing, she was a good-tempered woman, and she is used to listening to her son. Since Zhao Su was not happy, Lady Chen wouldn’t force him, and just like she changed the subject.
By October, Zhao Su had prepared everything and went Northward by boat with Zhao Nuan, Chen Zhu and others.
Before leaving, the County Magistrate Yang Rufu led the gentry of Changle to send him off.
This round of Provincial examinations, Changle was able to get the top two rankings. Yang Rufu had also earned merits for his stand against the Wukou, it really was two simultaneous happy events, there was even a commendation letter from the Capital. If there were no other incidents, he imagined that the next few years for him would be smooth-sailing. Yang Rufu felt proud, it was like he was walking on air, all that was missing was two wings on his back.
Chen Zhu was lucky. After getting ditched by Zhao Su, he had fallen ill which delayed his return to Changle, so he happened to avoid the Wukou. By the time he returned, the troubles had already subsided.
It was a clear and refreshing autumn day, the shadow of sails reflected prettily on the Minjiang River, there was a fragrant scent of osmanthus from the shore.
Yang Rufu said earnestly: “Shaoyong, Bo Xun, you are both the hope of Changle!”
Shen Lexing laughed: “Shaoyong-xiong, you must return with a zhuangyuan, I still have a pretty little sister waiting for you!”
Zhao Shenhai said sincerely: “Shaoyong, you lost your father when you were young, if you are able to score high in the court examination, if your father knew, I’m sure he’d be delighted!”
Several other relatives and friends came forward, saying the same sort of stuff – asking the two of them to get top marks and return, so that Changle County would also enjoy the glory.
Lady Chen was a woman, so it wasn’t appropriate for her to be there, but she had said everything that should be said at home, so she had sent Dai Zhong to see him off. Looking over at Chen Zhu’s side, the situation seemed to be similar.
Zhao Su and Chen Zhu looked at each other, both feeling helpless.
After finally getting rid of the farewell crowd, the two got on the boat and immediately hid in the cabin, unanimously relieved.
Chen Zhu smiled bitterly: “Why do I feel that the burden on my shoulders is suddenly heavier?”
Zhao Su patted him, feeling equally aggrieved: “Let’s just do our best.”
Zhao Nuan stretched out his legs and stacked them onto the empty chair in front of him, laughing at the two of them standing there: “Look at me, I’m totally carefree, it’s said that the imperial examination can kill people, since ancient times, how many people must have fallen!”
The corners of Zhao Su’s mouth curled upwards: “Why do you think your father let you come with me?”
Zhao Nuan immediately smiled: “Su-ge, what exactly did you say to my father, my humble self is in full admiration of you!”
Zhao Nuan cried out miserably: “Xiongdi, we’re both born in the same place, isn’t that a bit too much!”
Zhao Su didn’t bother with him anymore and turned to Chen Zhu: “Bo Xun, what’s your plan once we reach the capital?”
Chen Zhu was trying to hold back the laughter from seeing the two bicker: “First, I’ll rent a guesthouse to settle down in, so that I have somewhere calm and quiet to study. Why don’t we get one together so we can look out for each other.”
Zhao Su smiled and said: “I was just thinking the same thing.”
Chen Zhu brought with him a pageboy. Zhao Su didn’t have any previous experience and suddenly felt things were inconvenient. When the boat stopped in Fuzhou, he got off the boat and bought a pageboy.
The pageboy he acquired was only 12 or 13 years old. He was sold by his parents because of the famine in Jiangxi. Then, he was forcibly brought to Fuzhou. He was skin and bone but appeared quick-witted. Zhao Su, seeing that he seemed to be able to recognise a couple of Chinese characters, decided to buy him, and gave him a name, Zhao Rong.
“Shaoye, what does “Rong” mean?” In less than two days, thanks to Zhao Su’s calm demeanor, Zhao Rong felt a lot more at ease and was even curious enough to ask about the origins of his name.
Fuzhou is also known as Rongcheng, since we met here, I used the Rong in your name.”
Zhao Su had wanted to say “bought you” but he was still originally from modern times and he couldn’t get used to the fact of buying a person like a slave.
Zhao Rong happily washed the brush pen and ink stone for his young master. He was smart by nature and learned many simple tasks within two days, so Zhao Su had more time to immerse himself in reading.
Before the exam, he had found out the officials marking the provincial exam were Inspector General Liu and Provincial Education Commissioner Zong, these two officials were both pro-war and didn’t like empty formalities. Plus, this time, they had especially added the question about the Wukou. If he had written an essay that was a beautifully written waffle piece, he would definitely have failed. So Zhao Su knew that at this time, he had prepared well and could write an essay that satisfied the marking officials.
However, the chance that he could do this for the Metropolitan exam in the capital was low.
First of all, there were many markers for the exam. Each person had a different temperament and had different political ideals. The paper must be reviewed by each examiner. It was impossible to know which one liked a well-written essay and which one liked a simpler style with strong arguments. So Zhao Su must spend more time memorizing the 《Four Books and Five Classics 》 thoroughly, so that he will have greater confidence in the future.
Two months passed like this, the three of them finally arrived in the Capital.
In his past life, Zhao Su had once lived in Beijing for a bit, but that was several hundred years in the future, these ancient buildings had all been demolished for the most part, replaced by the Watercube and Bird’s Nest stadium and these types of high-end buildings. Walking on Chang’an Street, you’d either see a Mercedes or a BMW. It’s hard to feel the atmosphere of the ancient capital.
However, at this moment, he is standing in front of the city gate of Beijing in the Ming Dynasty, looking at this Capital city that had become the Capital of the country since the Jin Dynasty. The city wall was covered in moss, but it couldn’t cover the magnificent spirit of this city, recording the prosperity and decline of China for nearly a thousand years.
Now, another unknown man named Zhao Su came here.
He’ll either win top marks at the Metropolitan exam or he will fall behind Sun Shan and return home like countless other juren before him. But in any case, he will remember this moment, he will remember that he also had noble aspirations, and wanted to have a hand in changing history.
Zhao Su raised his head, looked up at the towering city wall mumbling to himself.
“What are you thinking about!” Zhao Nuan patted him on the shoulder and said loudly, “It’s really like a country bumpkin coming into the big city, are you that much in awe?”
His words attracted a lot of looks from the passersby, a lot of them looking at Zhao Su and laughing heartily.
Zhao Su was in a good mood, so he didn’t fight back, and just said lazily: “I was thinking about what to have for dinner.”
Seeing Chen Zhu looking at them with a smile, Zhao Nuan whispered to him: “He is a black sesame bun with a white face and black stuffing. Don’t just laugh. When the time comes, he’ll sell you and you’ll help him count the money.”
Zhao Nuan shook his head and sighed: “I’m done for, how long have you known him to take his side, one Zhao Shaoyong was already a handful, no there’s two of you, the coming days are going to be hard!”
He was so busy babbling nonsense, that he didn’t notice Chen Zhu’s uneasiness.
After several days, they finally found a house to rent. It was in a convenient location and suitable for them to fully concentrate on their studies. After consulting with Chen Zhu, Zhao Su decided to rent it. The house was spacious and had several rooms so they each had their own room.
Because the pageboys didn’t know how to cook, Chen Zhu hired an old lady to take care of the three men’s meals. She only took care of their meals and was paid so she didn’t live with them.
It was indeed convenient, but the old lady’s cooking skills were only mediocre, it was simply edible but not enjoyable. The other two could only rely on Zhao Su to fry up a dish or two when he was in a good mood or to eat out occasionally in a restaurant.
These calm days went by so quickly, it was already the Winter Solstice.
For people in ancient times, the Winter Solstice was a very important holiday, it could be said that it was an event as big as the Lunar New Year. The imperial court would rest on this day, and there were also various rituals and celebrations among the people.
Chen Zhu was someone who worked arduously, if he had been born in modern times, he would have been every teacher’s favorite student. Naturally, he didn’t take part in the festivities, and preferred to stay in to study. However, Zhao Nuan couldn’t stand this, and made him and Zhao Su go out to take a look.
“A holiday should look like a holiday, be careful you don’t go insane with study, come come come, let this xiong-di show you guys the outside world… eh, should we go to Wan Hua Lou3 Lit. Thousand Flower Pavilion or Zui Meng lou4 Lit. Drunken Dream Pavilion first?”
Why do those sound like the names of brothels?
Chen Zhu who was walking behind laughed nervously, instead it was Zhao Su who said leisurely: “Well since we’re here, no need to frown, just treat it as a way to relax.”
Chen Zhu shook his head, and said honestly: “I wasn’t born as talented and clever as Shaoyong. I heard that you only started to learn to read and write at thirteen years old. In just a few short years, you’ve been able to achieve so much. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to catch up to you now. I only hope to work diligently to make up for my lack of talent.”
Zhao Su laughed involuntarily.
People always thought that he was a genius, but no one knew that he actually spent from dusk till dawn studying. Since it was like this, he was pining to be outside to enjoy himself for a few hours.
The three of them came outside Dong’an gate, and at a glance, the city of lanterns shone as bright as daylight, stretching all the way to the ends of the Earth, half of Beijing was illuminated.
During these festivals, the unmarried daughters of the noble households who usually rarely go out, had come out to admire the lanterns accompanied by their families.
The streets were packed with people rubbing shoulders, weaving in and out and around one another, one can imagine the grand occasion.
Zhao Nuan exclaimed: “We are really under the feet of the Emperor. Changle can hardly compare with this!”
After hearing him say this, he turned around, only to find that he had lost sight of the other two.
Luckily, it was not a hot day, and the three of them were young men so no need to worry about anything happening to them.
Zhao Su silently complained in his head about his face being whipped by the cold wind, whilst he walked aimlessly in the direction of the crowd.
“How much are you selling this for?”
The question was asked with such maturity but his voice was so babyish and sweet that people who heard couldn’t help but laugh.
=== Today let’s tackle two issues ===
1.) The difference between legitimate first wife and the concubine in the Ming Dynasty.
The division was very evident.
Although the law says that “the first wife and the concubine have the same rights and all sons should be treated equally”, it is one thing to say it, but the actual implementation is another matter.
Nowadays, the law prevents polygamy, but in reality to have a mistress is not uncommon, just because there isn’t a marriage certificate, does it mean you’re not breaking the law?
Let’s not talk about that but take the example of the number of concubine’s sons who were able to attain jinshi during the Ming Dynasty as an example.
In the 35th year of Jiajing, total Jinshi = 305 people, 19 were sons of concubines.
In the 41st year of Jiajing, total Jinshi = 299 people, 24 were sons of concubines.
In the 8th year of Wanli, total Jinshi = 305 people, 19 were sons of concubines.
What does this huge difference show?
It shows that the education and treatment of legitimate sons and sons of concubines were quite different.
Regarding the imperial court it was the same, the Prince who is the son of the Empress is considered first as heir, if there isn’t one, then the concubine’s son is considered. In terms of hierarchy amongst the scholar social class, if you are a concubine’s son, then you will be able to marry a daughter of a concubine, and others will also look at you differently from if you were the son of the first legitimate wife.
As the main character, Zhao Su grew up in this kind of environment.
When I am writing this novel, I am trying to stay as close to history as possible, but it’s impossible to not have some gaps, I invite everyone to join in the discussion.
But someone said that my novel is like a Korean drama, I can’t accept that.
You should know that during the Korean Yi Dynasty, all the basic political systems were basically based on the Ming Dynasty systems.
2.) Regarding the question of whether Zhao Su will have a wife, I have already made arrangements, I’ve just tried to be as reasonable as possible, but I won’t tell you now, just trust me haha