All Under Heaven – Chapter 28

Then I'll reluctantly take you as my wife.
Gao Gong nodded and did not shy away: “The evaluation given by the Associate Examining Officers are in the mid-rankings, but I think this essay is impassioned and can be called a model, it should be ranked first.”

The corner of Chen Yiqin’s mouth twitched: “I say, Lao Gao, isn’t this essay’s views too radical? It is good for young people to have ideas, but impatience for success will inevitably lead to twice the effort for half the result.”

Gao Gong disagreed, and instead smiled: “This is what young people should be like. The imperial court is so gloomy, it’s time for a fresh breeze to wash that away.”
Seeing Gao Gong’s stubbornness, Chen Yiqin didn’t carry on. After all, when he entered the palace three days ago, Gao Gong was the one who was taking all the heat here for three days straight. Whilst, in contrast, he himself at that time had some support from Xu Jie.

Seeing that he no longer objected, Gao Gong approached and whispered: “I think this style of writing is likely to be Shaoyong.”

“Really?” Chen Yiqin was taken aback and looked at it again. “Isn’t it?”

Zhao Shaoyong didn’t seem like someone who would write such impassioned prose.

Gao Gong was very sure: “I think 9 out of 10 chances it is. The other day when we were chatting at the manor, didn’t he mention something about the coastal defences? This person has also written about it here.”

He continued: “With Shaoyong’s talents, he deserves first place.”
Zhao Su had a friendship with them and Gao Gong wanted to do him a favour. It was reasonable. In this way, the two would become Zhao Su’s Zuoshi1this is a very specific term for those who pass the imperial examination – they will address their chief examiners with this title, haven’t found any official translation for this term yet – it’s kind of like a very specific “teacher” I guess. Will check later – I don’t have any Ming Dynasty history books handy haha. It was a wonderful thing.

Besides, the examination papers were originally anonymous and they will be revealed after the marking has been finalised. So there was no fear of someone saying that they are playing favourites.

Thinking of it like this, he didn’t stop Gao Gong.

But something no one would have expected three days later happened, when all the rankings were finalised and the civil official who was responsible for breaking the name seal announced the names of the rankings one by one under the gaze of two Chief Examining Officers and seventeen Associate Examining Officers.

When it was announced, Gao Gong and Chen Yiqin were dumbfounded.

Wasn’t the first place supposed to go to Zhao Su?

Gao Gong looked at Chen Yiqin.

How would I know, it was you who said it was him at the time.

Chen Yiqin also looked back at Gao Gong.

But the paper which had been ranked first, had the name, Qi Yuanzuo written upon it.

Who was this Qi Yuanzuo? Before seeing this name, Gao Gong didn’t even know what he looked like.

This time they had really shot themselves in the foot, and the two of them were speechless.

The day the results were announced, Zhao Su was at the Prince of Yu manor with Zhu Yijun.

The weather was warm yet cold, however, the branches of the trees were already showing signs of the coming Spring, they were no longer bare. The sun shone through the clouds, glowing with a lazy warmth.

The child who had recently recovered, rarely stayed quiet these few days. Next to Zhao Su, he’d listen to him telling stories.

Zhao Su didn’t know why but after he recovered from his illness, Zhu Yijun seemed to stick to him a little bit more. He usually refused to listen but as long as Zhao Su coaxed him, he was willing to do it. Feng Bao regarded Zhao Su as a saviour and hoped that he’d stay at the manor twelve hours a day.

“Cow, playing the lute.” Zhu Yijun looked at the painting on the paper and recognized it at a glance.

The painting was simply drawn by Zhao Su himself. It was crude and simple, but the outline could still be clearly seen.

Anyway, the days waiting for the results to be released, Zhu Yijun liked to stick to him, so he drew a simple set of pictures. Whilst telling stories to the child, and teaching him to read and understand words.
“Well, let’s talk about this today.” Zhao Su put Zhu Yijun on his lap while telling him the story of playing the lute to a cow. His language was witty and straightforward, and someone of Zhu Yijun’s age could understand almost all of it. Naturally the child listened attentively.

After the two talked for a while, they would take a break. Sometimes, Zhao Su would take him out for a walk, explaining to him everything that they saw along the road, turning all the splendours in the world into language he could understand.

For children, the most important thing when learning was interest.

Originally, with Zhao Su’s status, he shouldn’t have been able to spend time with Zhu Yijin day in and day out. And with Zhu Yijun’s status, he shouldn’t have been this close to Zhao Su.

But due to an opportunity arising from many causes, the two had the opportunity to meet.

Plus, the position that the Prince of Yu held within the imperial court could be considered less than that of a second-rank official, therefore, these established customs were not necessarily adhered to as strictly.

And the Prince of Yu manor received no more than a handful of visitors in a year, so that’s why Zhao Su was able to come in and out whenever he liked.

Zhu Yijun was a smart child by nature. After listening to Zhao Su, he suddenly realised something and was able to deduce for himself: “Usually when Teacher Gao is speaking to father, he is playing the lute to the cow2对牛弹琴Chinese idiom translated literally here: It means what someone says is falling on deaf ears!”

Zhao Su had just taken in a sip of tea, he nearly spat it all out.

Although it was true, he shouldn’t have said it outloud.

“….. When you and I talk it’s also like playing the lute to a cow.”

“I don’t think so, I’m actually very clever!”

The little brat immediately didn’t want to listen any more, and was wiggling about in his arms, and holding onto his neck intently.

“Oh, I hadn’t noticed.”

Zhao Su let him play, put his arm around him to prevent him from sliding down, and he smiled lovingly.  

“I want to hear another story!”

“Ok, how about a story about an Emperor?”

“About royal grandpa?”
“Urm… no, it’s much earlier than your royal grandpa. Before there was a dynasty called the Tang dynasty. There was a person who was very clever like you when he was young, and when he grew up, he was very good at fighting wars. He helped his father to defeat many armies. He also helped the originally starving and cold citizens to have a warm meal to eat, and live good days again. At that time he was still a prince, after that, this prince killed his older brother and younger brother and he became the Emperor.”

Zhao Su was thinking and speaking at the same time, he was conscious to speak as simply as possible so that Zhu Yijun could understand. In reality, after this period of spending time together, everytime he started to tell a story, however naughty the little brat was, he would still give Zhao Su some mianzi and would calm down to listen to him speak.

“After he killed his older brother and younger brother, he ascended to the throne, and promoted a bunch of able court officials. One of the officials would often say things that he didn’t like listening to, which made the Emperor hate this official. There were a few times where he even wanted to kill him, but after thinking it over, his anger dissipated.”

Emperor Taizong of Tang’s life is not an interesting story, but due to Zhu Yijun’s identity and status, Zhao Su wanted to take advantage of his young age to implicitly influence him more so that in the future when he grew up, he wouldn’t become the Emperor who only wanted indulged in the four cardinal vices3 酒色财气wine, sex, avarice and temper, and be incredibly intelligent but never cared about court affairs. He didn’t want him to become an incapable ruler who ends up destroying his own country.

He severely underestimated his own influence.

Although Zhu Yijun was the Prince of Yu’s heir, and at home, he was the only child, but the Prince of Yu was not particularly strict on established customs, in fact, aside from having to pay his respects every morning, he rarely saw his parents. Before, it was Feng Bao who looked after him but Feng Bao was still a eunuch and his behaviour was always respectful and reverent. In comparison, Zhao Su had a lot less scruples, the child gradually considered him a close companion.

After listening to this somewhat boring story carefully, Zhao Su was still annoyed at himself that it was not very interesting. He was afraid that the child would not listen. But Zhu Yijun blinked his sullen eyes and asked, “Why did he kill his older brother and younger brother?”

Zhao Su didn’t expect this to be the focus of his attention. He was taken aback for a moment, and he couldn’t help regretting his recklessness. He was not the princely heir’s teacher but he told such sensitive stories in such a sensitive place. Fortunately, there was no one around at this moment.

After carefully considering his words, he said: “Because his brothers wanted to kill him.”

“Why did his brothers want to kill him?” Zhu Yijun asked, trying to get to the moral of the story.

Zhao Su sighed: “Because his merits were too large, with him alive, his brothers wouldn’t have been able to become the Emperor.”

Zhu Yijin lowered his head to ponder for a moment, then he asked again: “Well, is he a good Emperor?”


“Do all good Emperors have to kill their brothers?”

“No.” Zhao Su said quietly, “Whether an Emperor is good or not, does not depend on who he kills, but what he does for his country.”

Zhu Yijun seemed to half-understand, no matter how clever he was, at best he could only remember what Zhao Su said. As for understanding what it means, that would be for the future. But because Zhao Su’s expression was so serious, he could not help but stare blankly. Then he rubbed against the warm embrace of his arms and committed these words to memory.

Many years later, whenever he longed for this person, he would remember scene after scene of their time together, not willing to let slip a single detail.



“Well, is royal grandpa a good Emperor?”

“….” You’re really trying to open a door which should remain locked, Zhao Su was silent.

What answer did this question have?
Of course, Jiajing was not a good Emperor. He killed his officials out of spite and suspicion, he was obsessed with immortality and he was selfish. He didn’t care about his people. Under his rule, the people did not live their lives well, rebellion and uprising was on the horizon. But there is still a group of capable officials who helped him guard the country. This was really an interesting era.

But these things could only be said in the hearts of the people. Unless you had a death wish, how could you say that the Emperor is an incapable ruler. But to praise the Emperor, he really couldn’t do it.

So, he didn’t say anything.

The two of them stared into each other’s eyes, and Zhao Su’s reflection could be seen clearly in the eyes of the kid.

“You will find out the answer to this question when you grow up.” Zhao Su thought about it for a while and could only come up with this ambiguous answer.

Of course, the child was not satisfied, he held on to Zhao Su’s neck tighter and started to act like a baby: “I don’t want to grow up, if I grow up, you won’t be able to carry me!”

Zhao Su imagined himself carrying an adult Zhu Yijun, the corners of his mouth twitched.

“Of course, I can’t carry you when you are older, even if I could, others would make fun of you.”

“So I won’t grow up!” Zhu Yijun proclaimed triumphantly, as if he was really not going to grow up if he said so.

“Don’t you want to grow up and get married?” Zhao Su teased.

Zhu Yijun didn’t answer, but came closer beside his ear and very seriously said: “I’ll tell you a secret…”

“??” Zhao Su doubted him.

Zhu Yijun pinched his nose and in a strange tone said: “You little slut, Do you want to squeeze this prince dry? Sooner or later this prince will be killed by you… hmmm!”

Unexpectedly he had his mouth covered by Zhao Su’s hand, he whimpered and stared at Zhao Su.

Zhao Su’s face twitched, almost angry: “Where did you learn this from?”

Zhu Yijun struggled to break free from his hand, and he warned again: “Don’t learn anymore.”

The child nodded and then he let go of his hand.

The kid was angry: “I didn’t learn that. I passed by my father’s study and heard it secretly. Feng da-ban said that I must not tell anyone, but Susu is not just anyone, I only told you!”

You really hold me in high regard. “Feng da-ban is right, you mustn’t tell anyone, forget what you heard.”

Zhao Su felt that he was going to be scared to death by him sooner or later. The child actually learned the lustful words that the Prince said to his concubine and even imitated his tone of voice.

“So that’s why I don’t want to get married, all women are sluts except for my mother!” Zhu Yijun said righteously.

“I’m afraid that when you grow up, it won’t be your choice.”

“So does Susu want to get married?”

“Not yet, why?” Zhao Su flipped through the pictures he’d drawn on the table, thinking about another story to tell him.

“Then I’ll reluctantly take you as my wife.” The kid said it in a you should bow down and thank me gratefully kind of fashion, but his actions were the complete opposite, resting on him lazily, just like a koala.

“I really need to thank you, you can even use words like reluctantly, you’ve really improved.” Zhao Su helplessly squeezed his cheek.



Just while the two of them were having fun, Feng Bao hurried over there.

“Oh Shaoyong, you and the little princely heir are hiding out here, you made it difficult for me to find you. The exam results are released today. Didn’t you want to go and take a look?”
Zhao Su laughed: “I asked my friend to look in my place. Anyway, wasn’t it this little princely heir who was looking for me.”

In fact, he is too lazy to go see. Anyway, he had prepared for the worst. If he failed to make the list, he’d simply pack up his bags and return to Changle to continue his small business. The business could grow quite large some day and society’s attitude to merchants in the past few decades had started to improve. In order to make something of oneself in this era, it was no longer necessary to go down the imperial examination route.

“Oh, I’m not even surprised,” Feng Bao smiled, “This box is to congratulate you, you ranked fourth, what a high ranking!”

Zhao Su expressed his surprise, he was a bit astounded.

It’s not that surprising in fact, although Gao Gong prefers a passionate argumentative style of writing, Zhao Su’s stable and well-regulated style, on the contrary, got a good score from other examiners. In the end, he came in fourth place, and of course entering the court exam was naturally not a problem. Among the candidates, this ranking is sufficient to disregard everyone.

“In this way, Teacher Gao and Teacher Chen have become your Zuoshi. This is a really great result!” Feng Bao was still congratulating him.

To a certain extent, the Zuoshi and the student’s relationship was even more intimate than the father and son. The political ideas between father and son can be different. This fact has been evidenced everywhere in the past dynasties, but once you have a Zuoshi-student relationship, if you betray the zuoshi, you will be held in contempt. Even your official career could be greatly affected.

But Zhao Su’s teacher was Dai Gongwang, Dai Gongwang was a follower of the School of Mind, just like Xu Jie. Logically speaking, he and Xu Jie should be closer.

Right now, for Xu Jie and the Prince of Yu, everyone’s common enemies were Yan Song and his son. Naturally, they were working together and cooperating seamlessly. But Zhao Su knew that soon, when Yan Song and his son fell from grace and Gao Gong entered the cabinet, he and Xu Jie’s differences would gradually become larger and eventually irreconcilable, fighting to the death.

Was this good or bad? He had common ideological roots with Xu Jie, but a zuoshi-student relationship with Gao Gong.

When those two people begin to have conflicting ideas, how should he deal with it?

Looking at Feng Bao’s smiling face, Zhao Su suddenly thought that the road ahead was going to be a bumpy one.

——Today’s little history lesson——

Today let’s talk about the little steamed bun Zhu Yujin, who is later Wanli Emperor.

When it comes to the history of this era, I’ve always felt like it was a great pity.

It originally had the opportunity to become better, before there was Xu Jie, Gao Gong, Zhang Juzheng and others over the decades which left him not an insignificant amount of capital, if he had made an effort, and made more of an effort in governing the country, perhaps the Ming Dynasty may have not ended up the way it did.

When Zhu Yijun was young he was very intelligent, and he was favoured by nature.
Since he was young and was named the Crown Prince, his education and upbringing was particularly good, and definitely couldn’t be compared to his poor old dad.

Think about it, Zhu Yijun’s mother Imperial Consort Li, although she was from a lowly background, she surpassed others in her courage and decisiveness, and didn’t get involved in politics. Zhu Yijun’s teachers were all well-respected Confucian scholars, even Zhang Juzheng would often teach him as well.

But it was also because his mother and his teachers’ education methods were too strict, and also because the teachers taught one thing and did another, leading the child to want to have the strong sense to rebel. After Zhang Juzheng died, his whole family was arrested, his body was exhumed, and the rest of family were left to starve to death in their own manor. Zhu Yijun did not care at all, wanting to exterminate the entire family. But it was only after the persuasions of the other high-ranking officials that he let the Zhang family live.

From that point on, the steamed bun Zhu became utterly degenerate, he turned from a promising young Emperor into an Emperor who led an existence in drunken stupor.

He had an eldest son but he didn’t want to name him as the Crown Prince. He didn’t even allow this son to have a teacher. Even if the Court Officials tried to persuade the Emperor, he would still dilly-dally…… 29th of Wanli, was when he was finally named a Crown Prince.

He was a capable ruler but for some reason, he decided not to attend morning court for 27 years, all the high ranking officials were fighting and scheming against each other but he didn’t care at all. And thus creating the late Ming Dynasty’s biggest issues — In-fighting. Everyone was arguing with each other everyday, trying to impeach each other, who had the time to govern the country?

Civil Officials: Who wants to govern the country can just go do it, I only want to argue and see who I can impeach next.

And because Zhu Yijun didn’t take care of politics at all (unlike his grandfather Jiajing who didn’t attend morning court but was still controlling things from behind the scenes, which led to most of the officials resigning from their posts. There was no one to recruit new officials. The old officials left and there weren’t any new ones. The government offices didn’t have anyone to work in them. Those who did, just had civil officials arguing or scolding each other, it was an utter mess.

In the words of Huang Renyu (Ray Huang): The fifteenth year of Wanli, on the surface everywhere looked rosy and dandy, with no issues, but in reality, the Ming Dynasty had already reached the end of the road.

If history was able to go back and everything to start again, and there was the existence of Zhao Su, what would this have led to?
This is the goal of this novel. Hehe

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