All Under Heaven – Chapter 26

The little child that he had been thinking about, was lying on the bed feverish.
*Plonk!* A tea cup was forcefully thrown on the ground.

Gao Gong was already not someone who had a good temperament, especially in this moment, the blue veins on his forehead were popping out, he did resemble the Chief Examining Officer one bit but rather like someone who was out for blood.

“Who leaked it?” He gritted his teeth and said every word after a pause.

The question was directed at Chen Yiqin, who was sitting in a chair. He was not as furious as Gao Gong, but he seemed to be in a trance, so he was not much better.

On the table in front of them was a piece of thin paper with densely written small characters all over it. The content was an eight-legged essay on “The Gentlemen does not serve as vessel”.

It was clear that before the exam started, the questions had already been leaked out.

Chen Yiqin shook his head and said softly: “This was just found from on one of the examinees, who under investigation, said that he bought it at the Jixian House in the South side of the city for two taels of silver, and he even said that many people had bought it.”

They couldn’t be blamed for being so worked up.

The imperial examination has always been an important way to find talent across China to help serve the country. Innumerable people were able to become government officials this way, in fact since the reign of Emperor Jiajing, they have never cancelled the court examination.

And to a government official, to be able to have the position of Chief Examining Officer was not only a testament to your knowledge and qualifications, it was also the greatest honour. At the same time, if any problems should arise during the examinations, the Emperor would want the two Chief Examining Officers to take full responsibility.

Now, the examination had just started, but the exam questions had been leaked, if it was known by the ones higher up, then the two of them would probably have to bear the consequences.

Yuan Wei and Yan Ne were originally the Chief Examining Officers for this year. But even before the exam, Yuan Wei suddenly fell ill and Yan Ne was sent to the South to deal with the epidemic in Fujian. After that, it was Xu Jie who had put forward the two of them and then this happened.

Gao Gong was irritable, but he was also a very smart person. Many thoughts crossed his mind because he gradually thought of something that seemed strange.

“Zheng Fu1Chen Yiqin’s courtesy name, don’t you think that this incident is a bit fishy?”

Chen Yiqin smiled bitterly, even if it wouldn’t help them now, he knew that they had fallen into a trap set by someone.

“Who could it be? Yuan Wei has no grievances towards us, why would he frame us?”

Conspiracy, this is definitely a conspiracy, a huge conspiracy!” Gao Gong gritted his teeth, “We are just pawns, The one they want to target is the Prince!”

Chen Yiqin was shocked, but after hearing Gao Gong say this, it reminded him of a few things, and suddenly things started to fall into place.

“Could it be Secretary Xu?” He leaned in closer and said quietly.

Gao Gong shook his head: “If we are responsible for this matter, he who recommended us can’t escape either. He wouldn’t be so stupid.”

First of all, the exam questions were leaked before the exam, and many people bought them, indicating that the scope of the leak was extremely large. In places like restaurants, it is also difficult to trace the perpetrators.

Furthermore, they were officials of the Prince of Yu Manor. If they were held accountable, this would inevitably pull the Prince into it too.

Without them, the weak-tempered Prince of Yu would lose his left and right hand.

Finally, this would also affect Xu Jie as he was the one who recommended them to take the places of Chief Examining Officers.

Killing three birds with one stone!

This is a complete conspiracy. The careful thinking and vicious intentions of the planners are far beyond imagination. From the very beginning, everyone, including the examinees, were included in their plan.

Now it’s useless to think about these things, it’s better to think about what we should do next. “Chen Yiqin moved his cold, stiff fingers, and hesitated: “Why, don’t we accept the mistake and work with it?”
In other words, let the exam go on and pretend to be unaware.

“We can’t! A cheat sheet was found on an examinee, and several other examiners also saw it. If this matter is not reported, you and I will look even more suspicious!”

“But we’re already half-way through the exam, it’s far too late to change the questions and even if we could, there would inevitably be a delay of a few days, and then our responsibility will be even greater.”

“……” Gao Gong didn’t reply, he just paced up and down the room.

Chen Yiqin was so irritated by him. But because Gao Gong was more hot-tempered than him – Gao Gong was not easy to approach, so Chen Yiqin could only laugh bitterly again: “I say, Su Qing2Gao Gong’s courtesy name, time waits for no one, we must find a solution quickly, this matter needs to be handled properly. Who wants to be dismissed from office and exiled, with the power the Prince has today, it’s absolutely impossible for him to save us!”

“Change the exam questions.” Gao Gong stopped pacing, turned his head towards him and said the words one by one.

Chen Yiqin was stunned for a moment, that doesn’t actually mean anything.

“To change the exam question we must report to the Emperor. At the earliest, we’d still need another day.”

“No need, we can do it now!” Gao Gong showed a slight smile: “Tell the seventeen Associate Examining Officers to come here now, in front of them, I will invalidate the current paper, and I will make a new one!”

“Gao Suqing, are you insane!” Chen Yiqin looked at him blankly, “This matter must be reported to the palace first!”

“There’s no time, every moment we delay, the matter becomes more serious. We are in the same boat, I would never harm Zheng Fu-xiong.” Gao Gong said quietly: “You go to the palace immediately and tell Xu Jie of this, and I will inform the examiners to withdraw the exam papers.”

Chen Yiqin thought about it, he knew that this was the only option, so he didn’t argue any further: “Ok, I’ll go right now!”

If it was someone else, they would probably not dare to take such a huge decision just like that. You have to know that withdrawing the exam questions was not really customary and it also means that you have to bear the responsibility of being blamed by the Emperor and impeached by the Imperial Censors.
But Chen Yiqin knew that this was really the only option that they had.


When Zhao Su had completed most of the first question, four hours had passed since the start of the exam.

There was a sudden noise outside, and many candidates raised their heads and looked out.

The drum in Mingyuan Tower sounded again.

This meant that something big had happened and the exam had to be interrupted.

Many people were unwilling to continue writing anymore, staring wide-eyed and watching as many examiners handed out stacks of papers, and then took back the original papers.

“Hey, I haven’t finished answering yet!”

“It’s only been four hours, why are you taking the papers?”

“Don’t take my exam scroll!”

The drum noise stopped and Gao Gong stood upstairs, coldly watching the panic of many candidates below.

If it weren’t for the officers guarding the door of the cells, the examinees would have rushed out to reason with the examiners.

In the meantime, it wasn’t known how many people had bought the exam questions, trying to pass off fish eyes as pearls3鱼目混珠 idiom = using falsehood, abusing the system so that they could climb up to the heavens in one small step.

You plotted against me to frame the Prince, and now you even want to play with imperial examination.  

I won’t do as you wish.

He smiled coldly, listening to the Associate Examining Officers announce the change in examination questions below, and the extended duration of the exam.
“Due to the leakage of the test questions, all the papers are invalid. The test time starts from this moment, and the test time is extended by four hours, subject to the new examination paper!”


The rapid ringing of the bell ended with a long muffled sound.

After the announcement was made, the Associate Examining Officers saw Gao Gong standing there, with two hands behind his back, looking at them.

“Gao da-ren, we can’t really afford to be blamed for this from above!” One of the Associate Examining Officers said with a bitter face. They had been told about the exam question leak just a moment ago, and their mood was not much calmer than that of the candidates outside.

“The responsibility for this, I will bear it alone, so you all won’t be affected.”

Gao Gong said lightly, then walked passed them, and went out to inspect the examination hall.

The others looked at each other, and all of their grievances were immediately blocked in their throats.

In the examination hall, most of the people at this time were at a loss. Everyone was stuck in the numbered cell. They couldn’t find anyone even if they wanted to discuss it. But when such a big thing happened, such as already writing half of the paper, and in a blink of an eye being told that the exam questions had leaked and they had to answer again. It was inevitable that there would be mixed feelings.

Or perhaps it was more a feeling of unwillingness, who would be happy to discard an exam paper that they had almost finished, absolutely no one.

Or perhaps it was unhappiness, but for those who had not cheated, this was no doubt a chance to make it fair again.

As for those who had bought the exam questions in advance, they had to suffer in silence, having an unspeakable bitter suffering.

“I can’t accept this!” said an examinee who stood up, shouting loudly, and attracting a large amount of attention.

“For what reason do we have to redo the exam, and what evidence is there of the leak, I want to see the Chief Examining Officer, give us an explanation!”
He had just spoken out when a person suddenly stood in front of him at lightspeed.

“This official is the Chief Examining Officer, you wanted to see me?” Gao Gong asked coldly.

“…..” The examinee choked, he was stunned by Gao Gong’s audaciousness and wasn’t able to speak.

“We are re-starting the exam for the sake of all these examinees who didn’t buy the exam questions in advance, and for the selection to be fair. You don’t accept it, is it because you bought the exam questions in advance?” Gao Gong’s voice was icy cold.

The examinee had nothing to say and just lowered his head.

“Well… sit down and start the exam!” He shouted, the examinee’s legs went soft and he sat down swiftly.

Zhao Su was sitting not far from this, fortunately being able to see this with his own eyes, he almost laughed out loud.

Gao Gong, you are really great, that aura you just exuded just now was too strong.

Just like that, the exam continued on.

Amongst the people here who were the calmest, Zhao Su could absolutely be counted within them.

Because he already had mentally prepared himself, when this happened, he was not completely surprised, instead, he had a kind of oh it finally happened kind of feeling.

He opened the examination paper, the questions written upon it had indeed changed.

The original first question was from 《Analects》, now it was taken from《Mencius》.

Life springs from sorrow and calamity, death comes from ease and pleasure.4生于忧患,死于安乐 = One thrives and survives under suffering and hardships and withers if left overly-protected and contented with current situation.

Zhao Su puffed out another smile, this was indeed Gao Gong’s style of questioning.
Those who knew him, knew that Gao Gong had far-reaching ambitions. He wouldn’t just stay at the Prince of Yu manor as an official. With his ambition and ideals, this could be seen clearly in the question that he had set here.

Zhao Su was absolutely certain that this question definitely expressed Gao Gong’s dissatisfaction with the current Emperor’s love and search for immortality and his disregard for people’s life and death in spite of the wars.

After drinking a sip of water, the icy water slid down his throat, and at the same time brought a clarity of mind.

Zhao Su sat there with his hand propping up his forehead. His face looked between an adolescent and a young man, he had a kind of elegant but young and inexperienced look about him. But his eyes were evidently inconsistent with his face appearing much wiser than his age

In 《Mencius》, this quote was very famous, and it even showed up in the textbooks of modern day.

Worrying about disasters and suffering can make people develop, but indulging in pleasures can make people perish.

With the current situation of the Ming Dynasty, such as the Tartars in the North, the Wukou in the South, and an Emperor who only cared about achieving immortality, the purpose of this question was very obvious.

However, this paper was not only for Gao Gong to read. It had to go through the hands of seventeen other Associate Examining Officers. After they have initially assessed the scrolls, it will all go into the hands of the two Chief Examining Officers. Therefore, too radical views were not possible. If you wrote something about regaining lost land and taking back land from invaders, and there were some more relatively conservative Examining Officers, they would think you too impulsive and score you lower in the rankings.

But if you didn’t have a standpoint, this was also bad. If you were mediocre, it meant you wouldn’t stand out amongst the many answer scrolls so it was also easy to fail.

The best way was to clearly express your views, explain the current situation of the country, and finally conclude that this current situation was not incapable of change but it wasn’t possible to become prosperous overnight. Everything must be done gradually and carried out strictly.

Zhao Su gradually came up with an idea in his mind and began to write.  

After an hour or so, the outline was complete, he began to re-copy the title underneath.
To succeed in the exams, the content wasn’t enough, the calligraphy was also taken into account. A good paper had to be neatly written. If it were written in cursive script, even if Zhang Xu5A Chinese calligrapher and poet from the Tang Dynasty known for his explosive cursive script – Click here to see an example was alive he would have probably failed the imperial exam.

At present, the most favoured style by Examiners in the imperial examinations was the Taige style6台阁体 The “ministerial style” was a literary style en vogue during the early Ming. The taige style was characterized by a solemn and elegant language, and graceful yet natural. More info. Zhao Su also followed the trend and practiced for a long time for this exact moment.

After finishing the first question, he took a long breath and looked up. It turned out that it was almost evening. He patted his belly, feeling a little hungry.

When he picked up a donkey burger and put it in his mouth, he inexplicably thought of Zhu Yijun. The child’s love for donkey burgers was almost equal to his father’s love for beautiful women.

Looking at it from his knowledge of history, this child would be the Emperor in the future. He was able to endure the strict teachings of Zhang Juzheng for many years, and then after the latter’s death, he would dig up his corpse and re-possess all of his assets. However, you looked at it, this Emperor was not easy to deal with.

So why was he so cute when he was young?

Zhao Su sighed lightly.

There was a soft spot for him in his heart.

At this very moment in Prince of Yu’s Manor, the little kid that he was thinking about, was lying on the bed feverish, his face flushed, his mouth spouting nonsense.

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