All Under Heaven – Chapter 4

A man should act thus
The weak and lowly Lady Chen couldn’t believe that her son could obtain such a famous tutor so Zhao Su spent almost half a day explaining to her, before she could finally accept it.

Lady Chen crying tears of joy exclaimed: “Thanks the Heavens, but it’s also my son’s ability. As a mother, I do not wish for much from you, as long as you are safe. Just like today, if it was not for your teacher, I am afraid that the Clan leader would have punished you. From now on you must not be so reckless, we are of lowly status, we must endure it, so you mustn’t cause unnecessary trouble!”

Lady Chen’s lowly background had made her just swallow her dignity and anger in silence, Zhao Su could understand this but he couldn’t agree.

“Mother, don’t worry, I would never go in search of trouble, but if others come causing trouble and we just endure it, then it will just make them believe that we are easy to bully and they’d try to aggravate us more. Now, I have a teacher, at least now in Changle county, no one will dare to bully us.”

Lady Chen nodded, trying to think what to say when they heard some shouting from outside the door.

“Zhao — Su –! Come out! Zhao Su!”

Originally, he didn’t want to pay any attention to this person, but the ruckus outside didn’t seem to cease. It looked like if he didn’t go out, it wasn’t going to stop. Finally, Zhao Su had no choice but to go out with a frown.

The person looked around thirteen or fourteen years old and was wearing white robes. The white robes were characteristic of the Zhao family disciples. He had thick eyebrows and big eyes, with a lot of spirit, crying out loudly with rage, it seemed like he wanted to kick down the door to get it. Seeing that Zhao Su was expressionless, he saw that Zhao Su was neither hurried nor slow walking towards him, so he retracted the foot that he had put out.

“What’s the matter?” Zhao Su wasn’t even bothered enough to ask for his name.

The other person wavered for a long time, then finally spoke out : “My name is Zhao Nuan.”

Zhao Su: “? ? ?”

Zhao Nuan scratched his head: “Have you really never studied before? How come your speech earlier was so fluid, you’re even better than me?”

This was certainly a simple question from a kid, Zhao Su cupped his hands together in a salute: “Su must attend to mother, so can’t dilly dally with you any longer.”

After saying that he was about to turn around but Zhao Nuan rushed up to grab his sleeves and sneered. The already very fragile fabric was torn apart just like that.

Zhao Su: “…”

Zhao Nuan immediately let go, he smiled awkwardly: “I didn’t mean to, this, urm….”

He was urming and ar-ing for a while but couldn’t get out a sentence – Zhao Su, expressionless, retrieved the torn off piece of his sleeve.

As expected, nothing good could come from bumping into someone from the Zhao family.

Zhao Su went back inside to change his clothes, he asked Lady Chen to help mend the sleeve, and went outside again only to find the Zhao Nuan was still there.
One doesn’t visit a temple without cause, did he have some sort of ulterior motive?

Zhao Su pondered whilst gesturing for Zhao Nuan to leave: “If there isn’t anything else then you should go home, it’s already getting dark.”

In fact, he was over-thinking, now that he had been accepted by an esteemed teacher, his status was different from before, so it wasn’t unusual for a few people to come over and try to curry favor, Zhao Shenhai was a prime example of this.

Zhao Nuan blushed: “I overstepped just now, tomorrow, I will send over some new clothes. Speaking of which, we are actually cousins so from now on let’s get to know each other better!”

Zhao Su shook his head: “I appreciate your kindness, but we are just a humble household and don’t dare to accept such kindness, you should go home now.”

Zhao Nuan was anxious: “I didn’t mean anything by it, and I didn’t know your situation before… My father was the teacher who insulted you in front of the clan school today, I’m just here to make amends!”

After Zhao Nuan revealed his identity, Zhao Su suddenly had a flashback in his head of Zhao Shenyu’s enraged face earlier. He compared this image with the face of the child standing before him with frigid irony. Father and son couldn’t be more different.

“Your father probably doesn’t know that you came here?”

Zhao Nuan cried out miserably: “I’m done for, I’ve been here for so long that my father has probably already returned home. If he doesn’t see me there, I’m sure to be punished. I’m going to hurry home now, I’ll come back tomorrow!”

Just like that he slipped away quickly.

Does this kid have some sort of mental problem?

Zhao Su watched him leave, black lines appeared on his face.

The next day, it wasn’t even yinshi, when he got up to wash his face, Lady Chen followed his lead and helped him prepare breakfast. Zhao Su finished off his breakfast hurriedly. He took out the two books he had at home 《 The Analects of Confucius 》 and 《 Mencius 》 holding them both in his hands to leave.

Dai Gongwang’s guest residence was in the East of the city, it was the county magistrate, Zhan Lai’s house. Zhao Su didn’t even know how long his new teacher was staying in town, so he knew that every minute, every second now was precious. Not to mention, this was his first time paying his respects to his new teacher, so he must arrive early to give a good impression to the other party.

When he reached his destination, the sky was still dark, Zhao Su inspected himself and thought that he didn’t look too bad. He knocked on the door, after a while someone came to the door. It was a white-haired old man who was yawning while looking at Zhao Su with surprise.

Zhao Su greeted him by cupping his hands together: “Is Teacher Dai up yet?”
The old man suddenly said “You must be the new student that the master accepted yesterday? Quick come in!”

The man led him to the study and asked him to wait there before closing the door behind him. He waited for a long time and no one came, luckily Zhao Su had had breakfast before coming over, otherwise he would have been starving.

The study had a large number of books, Zhao Su didn’t know if they belonged to Zhan Lai, or they had been moved here after Dai Gongwang’s arrival. The majority of the books were published in Fuzhou and were hard to come by. On top of the table, there was a half open book laid on top of it. Zhao Su casually took to look over, the more he read the more fascinated he was.

Dai Gongwang pushed open the door and entered, Zhao Su hurriedly put down the book to greet him.

“Teacher, your student greets you.”

“Hm,” Dai Gongwang looked him up and down before his eyes fell on the book on the table. “Did you read this book? Could you understand it?”

Zhao Su considered it for a bit: “this student only flicked through, this student is far from understanding the contents and could only pick out certain elements.”

Dai Gongwang neither believed nor doubted him, he only smiled and said: “That’s enough, I saw that when you were refuting the teacher outside the school, weren’t you arguing with much conviction. Tell me!”
At first, he had taken Zhao Su for a sort of innate talent who couldn’t actually read as he had never actually attended a single day of school so he had intended to start be teaching him some simple Chinese characters but he would never have thought that Zhao Su would be able to read and understand this kind of book.

This book was called 《Chuan Xi Lu》, if it was put in front of a person in the modern era then not many people would know of it but in this era, it was a very famous book, it could be said to be as famous as the 《Analects of Confucius》. This book wasn’t written by Confucius himself, but one of his followers who had collected the quotations and letters of Confucius and edited it into this book. This person was Wang Shouren.

Wang Shouren was a legendary figure.

There are very few people who are able to put what they have learnt and found their own school of thought. People like Wang Shouren, you could really count them all on your five fingers, someone who was a celebrated military general on the horse and literary genius off the horse.

He governed Jiangxi, suppressed the Prince of Ning, quelled the armed rebellion and governed over Guangdong and Guangxi. At the time, there was a rumour, when an enemy heard the name Wang Yangming – he would be defeated; when civilians heard the name Wang Yangming they would rejoice, when scholars heard Wang Yangming, they’d be disappointed that they couldn’t discuss philosophical concepts with him.

His ‘School of Mind’ was derived from the teachings of Confucianism, and in the middle-late period of the Ming Dynasty, it had become a force among the people that was hard to ignore. Even some of the high officials in the Grand Secretariat were also followers of the School of Mind. It is said that the teachings from School of Mind also played a role in Japan during the Meiji Restoration.

A man should act thus.

Zhao Su was a person from modern times, so it was impossible for him to have deeply researched this book 《Chuan Xi Lu》, but to know that the contents here were written by Wang Shouren himself was already enough for Zhao Su to feel extremely humble.

Not to mention that this book was sitting on the table of his own teacher.

Could it be that this teacher was also a follower of the School of Mind?

At this time, although there were many followers of the School of Mind, most of them were amongst the people, and it was not necessarily accepted by the rulers. It was definitely not as mainstream as the School of Principle so even if there were followers within the Grand Secretariat they would not display this wantonly.

The School of Mind emphasised on the idea of unity of knowledge and action. Simply put, you should not only just learn, but you must go forth and do. The argument was a bit like the modern day saying: “Actual practice is the sole criterion for judging truth 1an item from Deng Xiaoping theory, from 1978.”.

This also implicitly implies the meaning of liberating the mind. Compared to the teachings of Zhu Xi’s School of Principle, which advocated “Upholding Justice and Annihilating Desire” at the time, it was of course a shocking remark so followers of the School of Mind couldn’t be blamed for remaining as low-key as possible.
It was Zhao Su’s first day of school, but he was yet to learn anything as the first thing he had to do was take a test.

Zhao Su pondered for a while and then said slowly: “Your student only flicked through a few pages. What Wang Yangming describes is unity of knowledge and action which is not the same as the teachings of Zhu Xi.”

“Ok, so which one of them is right?”

Zhao Su smiled, he obviously wanted me to appraise the School of Mind. “The unity of knowledge and action can be compared to a person reading a thousand books as well as walking a thousand miles. Of course Wang Yangming is on a higher level, however, at the moment, the teachings of Zhu Xi are orthodox and required for the Imperial Exams, therefore….”

He didn’t have to say it out loud, Dai Gongwang of course already understood what he was trying to imply.

In fact, what Zhao Su was saying was actually very basic, but because of his status and identity, to be able to come out with such insight, gave his teacher a real pleasant surprise. Dai Gongwang thought to himself, he definitely didn’t make a mistake in accepting this student and even looked upon Zhao Su with a kinder outlook.

“You can recognise Chinese characters?”

Zhao Su nodded “I can recognise the basics, but I rarely practice so I’m afraid I won’t be able to write well.” Given that he was used to writing simplified characters.

Dai Gongwang patted him on the shoulder: “Come with me to see your shixiong”.

Zhan Lai’s house was really spacious, and it had a separate entry for the study. The four walls had hanging bamboo curtains that were half rolled up. There was also bamboo planted outside as well as a lotus pond out in front. The soft breeze made the bamboo leaves rattle carrying a faint hint of lotus whilst dissipating the dry heat of the summer. It was a great place to study.

As Dai Gongwang brought Zhao Su over to the study, there was a young man sitting on a low chair, he was holding a book. The young man stood up to greet them as they entered.

“Greetings Teacher.”

Dai Gongwang smiled, “Come over here and meet your shidi, his name is Zhao Su.”

Then he said to Zhao Su: “This is your shixiong, Yuan Shu.”

Zhao Su quickly greeted him: “Greetings shixiong.”

This child was tall and handsome, he had distinctive eyebrows and his hair was tied up with a jade ribbon hair piece. He was neat and tidy with not one hair out of place. He looked at Zhao Su and replied: “Shidi”.

There was a trace of disapproval across his face, but he was much smarter than Zhao Jin, and he didn’t show it too obviously.

Zhao Su, seeing this, didn’t say a word and just smiled.

Now the introductions were done, it was time to start class.
The typical school day was divided as follows. Morning class was from maoshi to sishi. There was a small break in between, the elderly servant would bring in some snacks. The three people would eat and chat. By sishi, it was time to have lunch, once that was done they had an hour break. Wushi to weishi was time to study again. Once class was over, each one went to their respective homes.

With the day planned out like this, Zhao Su took the opportunity to get up very early so that he could go up the mountain and pick up some medicinal herbs that he would give to Hui Chun Tang. He’d leave them to sort out the herbs whilst he would return after class to pick up the money, this way there was no conflict in timing. Plus, he could study and earn money at the same time, killing two birds with one stone.

The way that Teacher Dai taught was very peculiar, in fact, it was completely different to what Zhao Su had previously secretly listened to outside the Zhao clan school doors.

First, he’d asked the students what they had read yesterday, and had them recite it by memory as well as understand the implicit meaning of this text. As Zhao Su was a newcomer, this was skipped.

Shixiong, Yuan Shu seemed to be studying quite well, he recited every word without fault, his reasoning was also clear. He was even able to come up with his own questions and had his own viewpoint. Dai Gongwang was never reprimanding and had a lot of patience when explaining in order to take care of the late comer Zhao Su, he also paid attention to speak as clearly as possible.

For homework, the teacher asked them to memorise a passage from 《Mencius》as well as figure out the hidden meaning within the text.

In the end, Dai Gongwang set aside the Four books and Five Classics and started to talk about his experiences travelling across the country and the things that he had encountered as a court official. He’d talk about in Jiangsu, a coastal region, where there were often Wokou who would come ashore and commit crimes or topics such as flooding of Huang River, victims who sold their children, and cannibalism. He even gave anecdotes of Zheng He, who explored the seas during the reign of Yongle. Many of these stories Zhao Su had never heard of, let alone Yuan Shu. The two of them would listen with great interest and wouldn’t realise that time had gone by in a flash.

After lunch, Dai Gongwang would go to the backyard to rest for a while. Yuan Shu and Zhao Su would stay in the study. Apart from the small bench, there was nothing in the study so they’d either take a nap or stare blankly, lost in thought but there was no awkwardness between them.

Zhao Su used this freetime, to practice his calligraphy. Using a brush to write, his handwriting looked terrible so he wanted to pay extra attention to training himself.

As soon as he looked up, he saw the child’s head swaying in front of him, reading a book quietly, without looking back at him.

With a dull smile, Zhao Su coughed, “Little shixiong, I don’t understand this passage, can you teach me?” Yuan Shu didn’t pay any attention and pretended he didn’t hear him.

Zhao Su continued to harass him: “Little shixiong! Little shixiong!”

And even stretched out his hand to tug at his sleeves.

Crying out five or six more times, Yuan Shu finally turned his head and said aggressively: “Shixiong is Shixiong, why do you have to add the “Little”!?”

————Today’s little history lesson————

When I was little, I really loathed Emperor Jiajing.

Can you imagine that an Emperor who was almost murdered by the palace maids, was obsessed with immortality and punished his imperial officials could have been a good Emperor?

But as I got older, when I looked over my history notes on the history of the Ming Dynasty, I discovered a lot of interesting things.
For example, Jiajing was very clever, and very suspicious, which was very much like Kangxi Emperor.

They both liked to toy with their court officials as well as their sons.

For example, Yan Song was able to run amok all those years, not because he was all powerful but because Jiajing needed him.

But in the end who was playing with who, that is still unclear.

Yan Shifan, Xu Jie, Gao Gong, Zhang Juzheng2If you are not familiar on Ming Dynasty history all these people will appear shortly in this novel so I haven’t linked extra info each of their knowledge was not worse than Jiajing, overtime grappling with the Emperor’s personality. So everyone was toying with each other, only letting go when the other was dead. But the cleverness of Jiajing wasn’t used for good, those decades used on cultivating immortality, furthermore thinking that he could attain immortality. In the end he achieved immortality but left behind a terrible mess.
The uprising of the people, the invasion of the Wukou, even the Tartars from the North invading as far as Beijing, the execution of innumerable loyal subjects who went against Yan Song, and finally even his successor was also useless.

But the Ming Dynasty was destined to survive, the heavens sent in Xu Jie, Gao Gong, Zhang Juzheng, Qi Jiguang, Shen Shixing, Wang Xijue, these ferocious individuals forcefully pulled the unsteady Ming dynasty back on track, or at least prolonged the dynasty for a few hundred more years.

So even if in the end Jiajing’s grandson, Emperor Wanli spent twenty years not taking care of official duties just like Jiajing, the country advanced forward just as before, and the lives of the people were even more prosperous than before.
Prosperous to what extent?

Let’s talk about that later, I find myself being too long winded…..

24/09/21 – Re-formatted text.

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