Provincial Exam, First Place - Zhao Su!
He was not so narcissistic to think that his performance touched the other person at first sight.
Dai Gongwang didn’t wait for his response and said “Because I am also a concubine’s son.”
Zhao Su blanked out a bit before looking at his teacher.
In the Ming Dynasty, the children of concubines were not only not legally entitled to any inheritance or property, and the treatment of these children in the home were poles apart. In the 35th year of Jiajing, only 19 out of the 305 participants who achieved jinshi were children of concubines. The difference is evident.
“When I saw you at that time, I could only think of myself back then.” Dai Gongwang recalled: “Back then, I also was bearing the stick of my family and siblings, until I passed the jinshi, that was something that gradually changed. After that, I continued to study but it wasn’t to stick it to them.”
He suddenly stopped and said: “Today is the last lesson that you will receive from me, from now on, it’s impossible to know when we will be able to meet again.”
Hearing him say that, Zhao Su couldn’t help but feel a little down, he took to heart everything that Dai Gongwang had ever said to him. Even though he wasn’t really a 17 year old boy, this kind of love and care was still very precious to him.
“This student will listen to teacher’s wisdom.”
“The 34th year of Jiajing was the year before I met you. I was dismissed from my Official post. But in reality, it was because I offended Yan Song and his son.”
Zhao Su nodded, Dai Gongwang had once mentioned this to him, but at that time, he had never gone into any details.
“I had a friend who also passed the jinshi during the 26th year of Jiajing. His name is Yang Jisheng. During the 32nd year of Jiajing, he presented a memorial to the Emperor impeaching Yansong, listing out the latter’s crimes but instead Yang Jisheng was imprisoned. At this time, I and some other court officials tried to save him. Even if we couldn’t save his position, we thought we could at least save his life. However, Yan Song was able to mix his name in with the list of known criminals. Without investigating, he was executed. Not only could he not be saved but I and all the other court officials who had tried to save him fell into Yan Song and his son’s trap. We were either dismissed from office or exiled”.
Zhao Su could understand how he felt. This was the same throughout the ages, to calmly deliver your life in the name of justice, that’s not something that any ordinary person could do. Yang Jisheng knew very well what would happen, but he insisted on fighting to his death. It’s important to know being put into imperial prison was not only about waiting for death, it was also being tortured to the point where you could only wish for early death.
Because he couldn’t do it, he respected it.
“Knowingly offering yourself up for death. He was a fool, but a brave one.”
“So how come teacher will be reinstated? Your student remembers that Yan Song and son are still very much in power.”
“You’re not wrong, but the Grand Secretariat isn’t only monopolised by that family. Regarding the remote border, Secretary Xu and Yan Song both recommended people, and the Emperor accepted them both.”
The Secretary Xu that he was referring to, was exactly the current vice Grand Secretary, Xu Jie.
Dai Gongwang didn’t say it out loud but Zhao Su had already understood, his teacher was the person that Xu Jie had put forward.
Actually, it wasn’t hard to imagine, Dai Gongwang was a follower of the school of Mind and so was Xu Jie, even though one was in Court and the other out in the field, they were inextricably linked.
In this way, could he also be regarded as indirectly related to this famous Grand Secretary Xu?
“What are you thinking about?” “Dai Gongwang knew his student well. Although he had a gentle outlook, he had a lot of thoughts hidden.
“Your student dares to speculate, the reason why the Emperor has decided to appoint the recommended Officials from both sides is to maintain political balance so that no one has the opportunity to deceive the Emperor?”
In front of his teacher, Zhao Su could speak freely his thoughts.
Dai Gongwang praised: “To be able to think like this is really not bad. But there is also another force at play, the Emperor wanted to use this opportunity to see the reaction from Secretary Xu and Yan Song.”
Zhao Su suddenly said: “The Emperor doesn’t put his trust in anyone!”
Dai Gongwang nodded: “This is also my guess. From my mouth to your ears, what we have said today, must forever stay between us.”
“Your student understands.”
Zhao Su sighed, Emperor Jiajing was truly amazing and impossible to predict. The Emperor hadn’t attended morning court for over 10 years, seeming to only practice Daoism in search of immortality but in fact, he still had a firm grasp on authority.
A gentle breeze blew over, the weather was no longer dry and humid. The riverbank of Fujian was lit up by the lamps of the fisherman’s boats, reflecting in the crystalline river water. Teacher and student walked along the Fujian river, talking as they advanced. It seemed as if Dai Gongwang wanted to share every single thought he had with his student, that he talked incessantly from internal court affairs to world matters.
“What do you think about the current lives of these civilians?” He said whilst pointing to the tired but joyful fisherman who seemed to be returning from a particularly successful fishing trip.
“They seem to be living well and peacefully.”
Dai Gongwang shook his head: “What you see is fake, once the Wukou arrive, not to mention these fishermen, even 9 out of 10 of the civilians in the city will die or be injured. When the moment comes, there will be howls of grief everywhere.”
“Changle is in the East of Fuzhou, in case the Wukou invade, it will bear the brunt, I’m afraid it will be even worse than here.”
Dai Gongwang’s eyes twitched as he gazed into the distance solemnly.
For Dai Gongwang to be able to see the current situation and he could be considered an enlightened person of this era, But in the end, he would never see Renaissance of Western Europe, the arrival of the Great Sea Voyages, nor could he foresee that the future of this ancient country would gradually fall into decay. He wouldn’t never know that three hundred years later, a cannon blasted open the gates of the South China Sea. And a century after that, blood, tears and humiliation led to the end of the Imperial dynasty making every descendant of the Yan and Huang dynasty burst into tears.
Dai Gongwang’s worries came from his clear-headed knowledge.
But Zhao Su’s worries were from his understanding of history.
The two continued to walk along the river without exchanging a word. Finding it equally difficult to find peace in their hearts.
The next day, Dai Gongwang set out to leave for Outer Mongolia, before leaving he said: I told you about Yang Jisheng yesterday, not for you to learn from him to lay down your life but to learn from his unyielding and just character. There are certain things that one should do and things that one shouldn’t do. Sometimes you just have to endure it so that in the future you are able to continue what you need to do. If you lose your life, what can you do then!”
Zhao Su agreed. He knew that Yang Jisheng’s death had left a deep and painful memory on his teacher.
The following ten days after his teacher’s departure, Zhao Su locked himself up in the little house that had been rented by Dai Gongwang to concentrate on his studies, he didn’t care what was happening outside. Zhao Nuan had come over a few times to try to persuade him to go out but to no avail.
On this day, another guest came.
Zhao Su had just taken a bath, his hair was still wet and messy upon his shoulders. He thought that it was Zhao Nuan so he just slung on a robe to open the door.
In fact, the person outside wasn’t Zhao Nuan, it was Chen Zhu, the youth that he had exchanged a few pleasantries with at the restaurant that day.
Chen Zhu had also not expected him to be in this state, he stared blankly and his face started to redden. “Shao….Shaoyong-xiong!”
Water beads were trickling down from Zhao Su’s head clinging to his wet collarbones, it made his pale skin even whiter.
“Chen-xiong?” He was also a bit surprised.
“Shaoyong-xiong lives in such a remote place, it wasn’t easy for me to find!” The young man wiped off the sweat from his forehead and smiled.
Since Chen Zhu had taken the initiative to find him, Zhao Su didn’t think it was proper to leave him standing at the door so invited him in.
Chen-xiong is older than me, you can just call me Shaoyong, no need to be so polite.”
“Then Shaoyong, you should also just address me by my courtesy name, Bo Xun.”
“Why has Bo Xun-xiong come here today?”
During this era, there were a few rounds of conventional greetings before getting to the main topic. Zhao Su had become accustomed to this over the last few years.
“On the 15th of this month, the city is holding a poetry festival. I’ve come to invite Shaoyong to go together.”
Zhao Su was a little taken aback “Isn’t the 15th, the day the results are released?”
“Exactly, that day is also the Mid-Autumn Festival, it’s easy for a person to be travelling alone to be lonely, why not take the opportunity to get together and have fun.”
Poetry Festival? Zhao Su smiled, even if he practiced for a few more years, the poems that he wrote could be said to conform to the metrical verse of poetry but would be wholly unimaginative and utter nonsense.
“My poems are not elegant, it’s better if I don’t attend to avoid embarrassment.”
“Why do you say that Shaoyong, everyone is just taking part to exchange notes and pass the time. It’s not a serious competition so how could you say you’d be an embarrassment?”
What happened at the restaurant had left a deep impression on Chen Zhu, so much so that when he bumped into Zhao Nuan on the street, he asked him where Zhao Su lived.
People who were able to take part in the Provincial Exam usually had some small fame. And the younger they were, the more they’d want to show off, who would be like Zhao Su and want to board themselves up in a house and not come out?
Chen Zhu invited him three more times, Zhao Su could no longer refuse, so he reluctantly agreed.
On August 15th, Fuzhou was lit up with lanterns, everyone had prepared mooncakes, waiting impatiently to admire the full moon with the whole family. The examinees were all congregated together in the city waiting for the Poetry Festival to begin.
Although it was called a poetry festival, it was in fact a form of tea party for the people of this time period. Everyone met up at the restaurant, it’d start off with a few poems of the season, then some people would offer up some topics for everyone to debate.
This era was more open compared to the Qing Dynasty that would be established a few hundred years later. In the Imperial Court at this time, there were even Imperial Censors who were giving the Emperor a hard time. You could critique contemporary problems with a few discontent words, but of course you couldn’t go too far.
The ambience appeared lively, but in fact, everyone was holding back and feeling restless, waiting for the release of the results. No one wanted to show it though, so they’d all force out smiles and act like they were indifferent.
Zhao Su didn’t really know the others, but because he was friendly by nature, he very quickly made a good impression on the others apart from Zhao Jin who was clenching his teeth.
“Xiong-zhang is looking carefree, looks like you’ve already got top marks?” Zhao Jin purposely emphasised on the two words Xiong-Zhang.
“Even if I come after Sun Shan, should I be here crying my eyes out?” Zhao Su smiled, he was looking for it, so he shouldn’t blame me. “Jin-di, you have already studied for so many years, you shouldn’t be surprised, even if your results are not good later, you mustn’t forget your manners in front of others.”
Who do you think you are! He blurted out without thinking, gave Zhao Su a cold look, then reluctantly turned away.
Behind him, Zhao Su was holding back his laughter, he shook his head lightly.
Chen Zhu was sitting next to him, so he had watched all of this play out, he consoled Zhao Su: “Ling-di1令弟 lìng dì honourable little brother is still young, so Shaoyong shouldn’t take it to heart.”
Still young? Zhao Su smirked to himself, this half brother of his, under the influence of his mother, had always looked down on Zhao Su and his mother. Zhao Su even remembered that when the owner of his original body was 7 years old, he was pushed down a rock garden by his half brother Zhao Jin, and almost died. To be so young and to do something like that, well one can imagine how dark his soul must be.
“Bo Xun-xiong is right. He changed the subject: “Do you know what time the results will be released?”
“It’s almost time. To tell you the truth, I also participated in a provincial exam three years ago. However, I have only limited learning and didn’t make the rankings. Right now, I am really worried.” Chen Zhu smiled bitterly.
The two of them sat in the corner by the window, watching the others debate, but didn’t go over to participate.
For Zhao Su, it was his first time so he didn’t know how to console Chen Zhu.
“Master, Master, good news!” A servant ran in gasping for breath, shouting out to someone
“Master, good news, you passed, you got 13th place.”
“Really?” That person was elated, he didn’t even think before running outside, probably to go look at the results list.
Everyone’s hanging heart was immediately picked up, no one had the mind to debate any longer, and those who were more reserved stayed behind a bit longer, those who were waiting for their families to come get there fidgeted in their seats, the rest who were impatient had already run off long ago.
Zhao Su was sitting there not moving.
It would be false to say he wasn’t nervous, but good or bad, he mustn’t lose himself. If the Metropolitan examination is equivalent to Gaokao then the Provincial examination is equivalent to the Zhongkao2high school/middle school entrance exam;. All those years of experience added up, he, Zhao Shaoyong still had it in him.
Chen Zhu hesitated: “Shaoyong, why don’t we go take a look?”
Zhao Su smiled to himself, there was still someone who was more impatient than him so he seized this opportunity: “Let’s go!”
The list was posted outside the Government office, when they arrived, they discovered rows and rows of people who were already lined up outside, it wasn’t possible to approach.
The two of them looked at each other in dismay, just then someone seemed to squeeze out of the crowd and run towards them.
“Bo Xun, Bo Xun! You did it! You’re ranked second, Yayuan, well done!”
Chen Zhu stared blankly until he didn’t react until Zhao Su lightly patted him on his shoulder.
That person who had rushed over was beaming with smiles “Bo Xun, you must treat everyone, you have achieved the highest ranking in our group. There is just someone called Zhao Su, I don’t know who he is, but this time, it’s a real upset!”
Before he had finished speaking, there was someone up ahead who was reading the ranking list out loud.
“Provincial Examination, 1st place – Zhao Su!”
1.) 乙科 (Yike) is another name for juren. 甲科(Yake) is jinshi.
2.) The order of titles goes: Tongsheng, Xiucai, Juren, Jinshi.
Zhuangyuan, Bangyan, Tanhua = three titles of the Jinshi that make up the 1st rank.
2nd rank and 3rd rank have between 10 to 100 people.
3.) Chen Zhu is a real person in history, but in this novel, his fate may be different due to the actions and existence of Zhao Su, like many characters in this book. I won’t explain anymore for now.