They would never have thought what Yuan Shu said would come to pass.
Without the teacher present, Yuan Shu no longer had to put up an act, he said: “I’ll be thirteen in three months, what of it?”
Zhao Su smiled and said: “I’m already thirteen this year, you started studying here before me, so you’re my shixiong, however, in terms of age, you are younger than me, so there’s nothing wrong with calling you my little shixiong.”
Yuan Shu scoffed: “I entered under teacher’s tutelage before you, and I’m a hundred times more knowledgeable than you, so I’m more than qualified to be your shixiong!”
Zhao Su thought that this kid seemed to think very highly of himself so much so that he was very self-deserving of adoration and worship. However, compared to his stuck-up half brother Zhao Jin, Yuan Shu was much more entertaining. He smiled even brighter and said “Little shixiong is right.”
“You! You!” Yuan Shu was bursting with anger, he couldn’t believe that behind the teacher’s back Zhao Su was so different. He was no longer the loveable cautious boy.
Zhao Su saw that Yuan Shu was flushed with anger, it was like a cat that had had its tail stepped on, it was too cute. He quickly said “My mother and I were kicked out of our home. I have no father, nor any siblings. Now I have shixiong and teacher. I am so happy. I’m eager to get to know you better. Doesn’t shixiong think that little shixiong sounds more familiar than shixiong?”
After he finished talking, he added a shy smile.
At this moment, Zhao Su couldn’t say that he ate particularly well everyday but he at least had vegetables and meat. Although he couldn’t say that he had got any taller, he was looking much better these days and was no longer sporting the frail, bony frame of when he arrived. His face had also inherited all of Lady Chen’s good features – becoming more and more fair.
Yuan Shu was still a kid and he definitely didn’t hold any grudges against Zhao Su. Yuan Shu had left home to travel with his teacher all the way to here. Dai Gongwang must certainly have his own affairs to take care of so couldn’t be with him 24/7. Fortunately, his teacher had picked up another student who was similar in age to him. To be honest, Yuan Shu wasn’t completely against it. At first, he thought Zhao Su was not on the same learning level as him. However, Yuan Shu’s impression of him slowly changed, seeing that after an afternoon of class, Zhao Su seemed to be following along just fine.
Seeing Zhao Su show his sincerity, his anger was greatly reduced.
“Ok I’ll let you call me that in private, but in front of others, you best greet me as shixiong!”
Zhao Su smiled and said “Ok.”
It seemed to Zhao Su that this shixiong wasn’t hard to get along with and he thought that the coming days would be fun.
He seized the opportunity to chat with Yuan Shu and found out that Dai Gongwang was an old family friend of the Yuan Family. Two years ago, when Dai Gongwang got dismissed from his post in the Capital, he had returned to his hometown and this is when he met Yuan Shu. He found Yuan Shu to be intelligent for his age and decided to take him as his student and they set off on the road together. Being able to endure the hardship of travelling without shelter, as the pampered young master like Yuan Shu, Dai Gongwang liked him even more.
“Why did our teacher get dismissed from his post? Did he offend someone?”
Yuan Shu sneered: “It was all because of Yan Shifan!”
Hearing this name, Zhao Su’s heart skipped a beat.
That was the first time that truly understood that he was in the Ming Dynasty.
Before, when talking about Wang Shouren and his achievements, the latter was still a part of the past. But the famous Yan Shifan was alive and kicking at this very moment!
Speaking of Yan Shifan, it was impossible not to think about his father, Yan Song.
This father and son were able to hold power over the Imperial Court for twenty years, accumulating vast wealth and flaming corruption. Emperor Jiajing was obsessed over immortality, to the point that he no longer cared about his country, letting father and son wreak havoc.
What happened after that?
At this time, Capitalism had already started to develop, businesses were flourishing, the Citizens’ lives were fulfilling and free. The policy that merchants were only allowed to wear common clothes, which was originally stipulated in the time of Emperor Taizu became waste paper2Emperor Taizu is the founder of the Ming Dynasty, he overthrew the Mongol lead Yuan Dynasty. This is referring to the Sumptuary law that he put into place to put back into place Tang Dynasty/Han Chinese rituals and customs, and the prohibition of entering or leaving by sea3Aka the Seaban more info here was also thrown out. It was also not uncommon for widows to remarry. But all this was broken by the Qing Bing and Li Zicheng.
Then, the people were in a terrible situation, pitiful cries and wails everywhere. The land of China became the battlefield. In the end, it was all down to the mistakes of the Ming Dynasty’s policies, the emperor’s inaction, and the political factions running amok.
If that’s so why did he arrive here, what exactly is the reason?
Was it just to pass ten peaceful years?
After ten years, perhaps he wouldn’t be dead, but the world would be in chaos and survival wasn’t a given, where could he go? Even if he could succeed in the Provincial Examination, that might not be of any use.
Ordinary citizens also have responsibility for the rise and fall of a country. This sentence is sonorous and powerful, but in this era, it is so difficult to implement.
Zhao Su was silent. Yuan Shu looked at Zhao Su and saw his face looked like he had seen a ghost after hearing this name. He sneered: “What is it? Have you also heard of him?”
Zhao Su shook it off and suddenly took hold of Yuan Shu’s hand and said “Little shixiong”
“What the hell!” Yuan Shu was shocked.
Zhao Su said: “I suppose you also want to enter the Imperial Examination. Let’s become officials together. Let’s see who can become the head of one of the Six Ministries first, what do you think?”
Yuan Shu looked at him weirdly: “one of the Heads of the Six Ministries, you?”
Zhao Su laughed: “Yeh, or how about entering the Grand Secretariat.”
This kid knew quite a lot, Zhao Su was pleased and he humbly said: “I’d like to hear more.”
Yuan Shu’s tone deepened: “Ten years of arduous study, which scholar doesn’t want to receive his big break, but not everyone is going to be so lucky. There are so many of us and the chance only rolls around every three years. Some people are still trying to pass the Provincial Exam when they are old and need their grandkids to take them to the exam – how pitiful!”
Zhao Su feigned amazement: “Have you seen it?”
Yuan Shu sighed: “Of course, I heard it from our teacher. To start from the beginning, you must pass the County exam, Prefectural Exam, and the College Exam5The first stage of the Imperial Examinations is actually composed of three separate local exams before one can take the Provincial Exam. However, not everyone has to take all three – given the divisions of the land – it was highly dependent on which county, prefecture one lived in so this is the only time you will actually see “College Exam” mentioned in this novel as they don’t actually need to take it if you are lucky to get through those, then you still have a Provincial exam ahead of you. After the Provincial exam, you’ll have achieved the title of ‘juren’, but if you want to get into the Six Ministries you need to get into the Hanlin Academy. So you still need to take the Metropolitan Examination, and then finally the Court Examination where you need to get a ranking that is at least in the second rank.
Yuan Shu had been talking so much, his mouth was dry so he stopped, then he smiled coldly: “Each level culls out a large number of participants, even if you study very hard, it doesn’t mean that you will succeed. Back then, the renowned and talented Xu Wenchang was already twenty-six and he had only passed the Provincial Exam, after that to repeatedly take the examinations drove him mad. So, with your standard, it will be a miracle for you to pass the provincial exams in this lifetime! “
Zhao Su didn’t get angry: “Shall we make a bet?”
“In the future, if I am able to pass the Provincial Exam that means that I win, if I can’t then you win. The loser must help the winner do one thing. Of course, this can’t be something that violates any laws or moral ethics.”
The corners of Yuan Shu’s mouth curled up slightly, he was about to reply but then he thought, what if this guy is lucky and meets a blind examiner, so instead he said “No way, let’s change it, you must pass the Court Examination and rank within the first rank6So he needs to get 1st, 2nd or 3rd place overall in the final stage of the Imperial Exams, only then do you win.”
The other snorted and said: “Ok!”
Pressing their two hands together, Yuan Shu’s expression was not kind, and his gaze was a little provocative, but Zhao Su thought this child was quite fun, and the smile on his face never faded.
When Zhao Su got home, he saw that someone was standing in his courtyard. That person was holding a big bag in his hands. That person turned around and his face lit up: “Xiandi!”
Zhaosu’s eyelids twitched seeing Zhao Nuan: “Is the clan school not open today?”
“I came after school, didn’t say I would bring you some replacement clothing, so I brought a few over!”
Zhao Su laughed to himself, he would never have thought he’d actually come back: “No need, it only needed to be sewn up a bit. It’s the thought that counts, let’s just forget about it!”
He really couldn’t bring himself to call him ‘Xian-xiong7esteemed/worthy older brother – more polite than xiongdi‘. Although he didn’t have a slight affection for his father, he didn’t want to vent his grievances on the son. He cupped his hands together, just wanting to enter his house.
Zhao Nuan, feeling anxious, forgot his manners once more and reached out to pull at Zhaosu’s sleeves, luckily this time, he used less force and the sleeve didn’t break.
“I am very sincerely here to apologise for my father’s behaviour. Xiandi, please don’t take this to heart, I know that, in the past, things have been hard for you and your mother within the Zhao clan, but I… urm.. I don’t know what to say….” He raked his brains but he couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say.
Zhao Su sighed and thought to himself again, this father and son really are heavens apart, his face softened: “I really don’t need these new clothes, I haven’t taken this to heart, so it’s best if you go home.”
Zhao Nuan hesitated for a bit, then suddenly said “Ok, how about I come get you tomorrow and we go to school together. It’s convenient as we are both heading to the East of the city, and I also have some questions that I’d like to ask for guidance from xiandi!”
Zhao Su sneered, I’ve only been studying for a few days, so who should be getting guidance from whom?
Zhao Nuan’s eyes were filled with hope that Zhao Su didn’t have the heart to reject him.
He reluctantly accepted and then watched hopelessly as Zhao Nuan turned around and left happily. Zhao Su couldn’t think why this kid was so persistent on this, and thought to himself that he had never been as persistent as this.
The next day, he found out the truth.
From when they set off to the point where they parted ways to their separate school, Zhao Nuan didn’t stop talking.
This kid could not be described as lively and eager to study but excessive.
As the clan school teacher’s son, he had started his studies much earlier than Zhao Su but in terms of knowledge, he really wasn’t much better than Zhao Su. Some of the essays that Zhao Su could read, he still couldn’t. If it wasn’t time for them to part ways, his interest in Zhao Su would have turned into veneration.
Zhao Shenyu was conceited, he was strict with his pupils, so Zhao Nuan, being the teacher’s son, was naturally not very popular with the other students. In fact, Zhao Nuan had been feeling lonely for a while until he met Zhao Su.
From then on, rain or shine, he came to meet Zhao Su without fail, there was enough one time they were seen by Yuan Shu, who ridiculed Zhao Su by saying: “Oh holy saint, to return good for evil, will you be repaid with kindness? Are you trying to imitate Mr Dongguo, giving up your body to the wolf? You were bullied and ridiculed in public, at a turn of an eye, now you’re making friends with his son!”
Zhao Su replied mockingly: “You can’t lump these two matters together, he is open and candid, someone who is worth making friends with, unlike xiao shixiong who is sly and crafty.”
As expected, Yuan Shu’s face darkened, he angrily turned away and left like a cat that had his tail stepped on.
Compared with him, Zhao Su, who walked slowly behind with a thick smile on his face, he looked more like the shixiong.
Dai Gongwang had seen this play out and couldn’t help laughing out loud.
Yuan Shu was a very clever child, he was mature for his age and always seemed calm. But after Zhao Su’s arrival, he became more and more boisterous.
Zhao Su studied and picked medicinal herbs everyday without fail. In the evenings, after school, he would continue to study and practice his calligraphy with a weak flame of the candle. His foundations were basic even if he had more knowledge from the future. In regards to the eight-legged essay and essays on current affairs, he couldn’t compare to the people born of this era, so he had to make a lot more effort than his peers.
Yuan Shu pushed himself even harder when he saw the effort that Zhao Su was making. He didn’t want his shidi to catch up with him. Even though on the surface, it seemed like Yuan Shu was still turning his nose up at Zhao Su, in reality, Zhao Su had a very calm personality so it was hard for two to fight between themselves. In fact, Yuan Shu had long considered him as a friend and his classmate but he was too proud to say this out loud. In fact, he often “accidentally” passed by Zhao Su’s home and was even roped into dinner by Lady Chen a few times.
Zhao Nuan was still as vexed as before. He was originally not a gifted student but due to family pressure, he was forced to study day and night. He was made to protract in the ancestral hall or beaten with the stick as punishment, but this made no difference to his performance. He even secretly told Zhao Su that he wanted to go into business, but this was afterall a pipedream. If he said it out loud he’d probably be beaten to death by Zhao Shenyu. The Zhao family were a literary family afterall, so having a businessman in the family was out of the question.
After two years of being a formal student of Dai Gongwang, his teacher entered his two students into the County exam and the Prefectural Exam. Both students came out with satisfactory results. The most surprising was Zhao Su, who just two years ago everyone had looked down upon as the illiterate son of a concubine, could get third place in the Prefectural Exam. This created quite a stir in the county of Changle, the mother and son who were previously looked down upon became stars overnight. Their economic situation improved and Lady Chen no longer had to do embroidery work and when she went out she was no longer mocked and ridiculed by others.
Under the request of Zhao Shenhai, Lady Wu reluctantly sent people over to invite mother and son to return to the Zhao manor but was refused by Zhao Su. Even if Zhao Shenhai came himself, he would still not yield.
When Dai Gongwang heard of this, he advised Zhao Su to not be too rigid. Even if the Zhao family were not the most sincere, they were still his family and he would still have to return there one day. Plus, one day, he would have to leave Changle to take up his official post, and it would be inappropriate for his old mother to be left at their home alone, it was better if she could be taken care of by the extended family.
Zhao Su considered this and didn’t speak any more on this matter.
Zhao Nuan held his palm up to his chest and said “Your mother is my mother, even if in the future when you’ll be a Court Official in the Capital, I will take care of her for you.”
Yuan Shu scoffed: “You’ll take care of her, with what? As long as he receives scholarly honour, there won’t be anyone who will dare to touch his mother. But I think I’ll succeed before you do. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to get the County Magistrate to take care of you both.”
Hearing this, Zhao Su was indeed moved. He had arrived here just a few years ago but now he had a mother, a teacher, and a xiongdi. Even if he didn’t succeed in the exams, he would have at least not lived for nothing.
They would never have thought what Yuan Shu said would come to pass.
–Today’s little history lesson–
Alright, last time we got to the fact that the lives of the people during the middle-late Ming Dynasty was prosperous.
Prosperous to what degree?
Not only was 《The Golden Lotus》 not a forbidden book, at that time, even if a woman wanted to remarry it was frowned upon.
When Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty, and put into place strict social classes, merchants were not allowed to wear silk, the ordinary citizen’s houses could not have brightly coloured roof beams and tiles nor could they have bestial roof ridges.
But when Jiajing became Emperor, no one cared about these rules, as long as you had money and were a noble, the houses could be decadent, and you could wear any satin or silk fabric you wanted and no one would care.
And after the sea ban was lifted, there were many imported items, water and land was opened from everywhere, everyone’s scope of knowledge was increased, common items were no longer strange.
During the mid-late period of the Ming dynasty, academies were numerous across the country, just like Huang Zongxi put forward “the world cannot be governed by one person” this kind of logic was not uncommonly seen, the imperial court had a give everyone free reins to do whatever they wanted kind of attitude, and didn’t really get involved (because there were too busy fighting internally, that they didn’t have time to manage outside).
This kind of fruitful societal living was a bright contrast to the chaos within the imperial court.
Many people believe because of the disregard of the Emperor, the common people were not living well.
But it was actually exactly the opposite, it was because the Emperor didn’t care, and didn’t restrict their lives, so this kind of vitality was able to thrive.
At the time, it wasn’t true that everyone was able to eat well and have warm clothes to eat, the state treasury was empty, the imperial court had in-fighting from different factors, the societal issues were critical.
It continued like that, until the Qing soldiers entered, the citizens revolted, and then the country turned into a mess, and then it became real chaos.
TL Note: – yeh so there is a bit more to this Author Note but the author kinda just goes off on a tangent about the Qing Dynasty and what it is to be Chinese lol so it’s not very relevant to this novel so I’m skipping it.