All Under Heaven – Chapter 8

You've been living outside for the last few years, now you can’t even recognise your juniors and seniors?
Since mother and son were kicked out of Zhao Manor, it had always just been the two of them during Lunar New Year and the other holidays. The earlier years when they were hard pressed for money, if they were able to buy enough meat and vegetables to eat that was already not bad. So it was hardly possible to invite guests over. In recent years, their financial situation had improved drastically. More recently, Zhao Su’s teacher and friends would sometimes come over to spend Lunar New Year with them. Zhao Nuan and Yuan Shu would even get a free dinner off them from time to time.

But at this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival, Zhao Su was at the Provincial Capital participating in the examination. Their little house lacked the lively ambience of the past. Lady Chen was feeling a little lonely all by herself this year, so it was to great surprise when Clan Leader fu-ren invited her over to pass the festival at Zhao Manor.

Lady Chen originally wasn’t planning on going over, but then she thought to herself, these past few years, the clan leader had already been sending bits and pieces over for them. Sure it was in the name of cosying up to her son, but it was still a favour that should be repaid, so she decided to go.

She would never have thought as soon as she arrived at Zhao manor she would bump into the person she wanted to see least, her husband’s first wife, Lady Wu.

Lady Wu was sitting in the flower garden, staring coldly with a look of disdain at Lady Chen.

Around the table, there were also a few other clan ladies present.

Lady Chen couldn’t help but feel incredibly awkward, she hesitated to approach. Lady Wu moved but she didn’t utter a word out loud.

Lady Wu finally sneered: “What is it, you’ve been living outside for the last few years, you can’t even recognise your juniors and seniors?”

Lady Chen clutched her sleeve tightly.

Lady Wu had never liked her. Before she became Zhao Xifeng’s ‘concubine’, she was Lady Wu’s personal maid, but Lady Wu had hated her back then too. In the past, she was alone and just had to endure it. But now, Zhao Su had received scholarly honour, if she allowed herself to be disgraced, she’d be dragging her son’s name through the mud as well.

After having this thought, she lifted her head up high and said calmly: “Fu-ren, on the day we were kicked out of Zhao manor, you told us, from that day forward, we were no longer part of the Zhao family.”

Lady Wu’s face darkened.

Clan Leader fu-ren acted like she hadn’t heard and she warmly pulled Lady Chen over: “Alright, alright, I was afraid that you’d be bored to spend Lunar New Year alone so I asked you to come over. We are all women of the Zhao clan here, so if you could all just put aside your differences for me today. Today, I’d like to spend it happily, let’s not talk about anything else.”

Lady Wu sighed, then turned to the other ladies at the table and started up a conversation about make-up and needlework.

Aside from Zhao Su and Zhao Jin, this round there were also a few others in the clan who were taking the Provincial Exam. In the last hundred years, there were only a few people in the clan who had succeeded in the Provincial Exam. There were many of them who had studied, but perhaps down to luck, very few had passed the Provincial Exam. Not to mention that there were only the two jinshi in the Zhao clan.

Lady Chen was from a lowly background, all the other women around the table were legitimate first wives, so they weren’t too accepting of her, not to mention, all the things that Lady Wu must have said about her. Lady Chen was feeling extremely uncomfortable and just wanted to leave immediately but she had to endure it a little longer.
Clan Leader fu-ren asked people to bring forth a piece of embroidery work, she said: “Last time my son returned from Suzhou, he gifted me with an embroidery work from there.”

The embroidery piece was delicately inlaid in an exquisite wooden frame, which was suitable for display next to the dressing table, due to it’s small and exquisite size.

One of the wives picked up the embroidery, flipping it back and forth, discovering something unique: “This can’t be double-sided embroidery?”

The other ladies piped in: “Oh yeah, this side is the scarlet phoenix flying towards the sun, the other side is of a court lady holding a fan!”

Clan leader fu-ren smiled proudly: “Yes, this double-sided embroidery is complicated in workmanship, and the technique of court embroidery is used on it. It is either listed as a tribute or purchased by the Princes and high-ranking Court Officials. This double-sided embroidery cost him quite a bit of money. It took a long time for him to find it. It is said that it is harder to buy than finding a good daughter-in-law.”

Seeing Lady Chen admiring the embroidery, Lady Wu shot her a cold glance and then laughed and said “Jiejie, this embroidery is indeed very precious, it’d be best if you put it away, otherwise, it’d be a shame to get sullied from someone’s dirty hands. I still remember, one time, I lost a golden hairpin. At that time, Zhiyun1the personal name of Lady Chen, and the only time a woman actually gets an actual name so far lol was still living at the manor. Zhiyun, isn’t that true?”

As Lady Wu had singled her out, Lady Chen couldn’t keep silent any longer and replied: “That was such a long time ago, I don’t remember.”

Clan Leader fu-ren’s face stiffened, she was displeased with Lady Wu. Whose house was it, Lady Chen was invited personally over by her. If you’re going to punish a dog, you need to pay attention to its owner. Every word Lady Wu was armed, even the topic that Clan Leader fu-ren had put forward herself had been put aside.

Lady Chen felt insipid and was about to take her leave but then there seemed to be a racket coming from outside. A maid ran over hurriedly.

“Reporting to fu-ren, Wang’er has just come back, the Provincial Examination results are out!”

A few people ah’d out loud and couldn’t help standing up.

Clan Leader fu-ren said “What’s the results, have any of the Zhao children made the list?”

“Yes, congratulations fu-ren, this round, the Zhao family has two shaoye on the list, one is Zhao Xiang, ranked 45th…”

One of the ladies cried out with joy, her hands clasped together: “God bless us, Xiang-er has passed, our ancestors can be proud!”

“And the other!” Lady Wu asked, extremely impatient.

The maid continued: “There is another one called Zhao Su, he got 1st place, precisely, the jieyuan in the Provincial Exam of Fujian province, how glorious for the Zhao clan!”

Everyone was startled, looking over at Lady Chen.

Those who were able to get scholarly honour at the Provincial Examination don’t even need to bow down to the County Magistrate. Plus, to pass the Provincial Exam meant you were one step closer to becoming a Court Official.
In Changle, you could count the number of people who had passed on one hand, many people who were in their sixties and seventies had only passed the County Exam. The rarer something is, the more coveted and the higher the prize. Of course, if you really wanted to become a Court Official, passing the Provincial Examination was not enough, it was just the requirement to be able to enter the Metropolitan Exam. If you passed that you’d take the Court Examination, of which the questions are written by the emperor himself. For scholars, this was a rare honour.

Even though Zhao Su was now only a juren, there wasn’t any indication that he would succeed in the Metropolitain Exam next year. However, one thing was for sure, he was longer the concubine’s son who anyone was free to debase and bully. From now on, anyone who saw him would have to pay their respects to him and address him as “Juren-laoye,” Zhao Su and his mother could no longer be considered the concubine and the orphan.

Clan Leader fu-ren was the first to react, she gripped Lady Chen’s hand: “Congratulations meimei, this is just the beginning!”

The other ladies also began to congratulate her and offer auspicious kind words. Lady Chen’s eyes welled up, she was overcome with emotion but not these people who were fawning on her but she was happy for her son for being able to strip himself of his lowly status and rise above it all, no longer to be restricted by this place.

The ambience suddenly changed, Lady Wu was grinding her teeth when she asked this servant girl: “So the ranking list didn’t have someone called Zhao Jin on it?”

The maid blinked innocently: “The messenger only spoke of these two.”

Lady Wu shouted out with fury: “There must be some sort of mistake!”

She didn’t take her leave and just turned and walked out.

She didn’t care if the others were laughing at her behind her back.

The day the results were released, the Inspector General of Fujian Province held a dinner to celebrate the new juren. Zhao Su and Chen Zhu, as the first and second place winners, were naturally invited. They took their seats under the envious eyes of others. Their seats were placed directly next to the Inspector General seat.

Chen Zhu was still in a trance. Although it was not obvious, Zhao Su, who had become quite acquainted with him, could easily feel it. He poked Chen Zhu lightedly and teased: “Bo Xun didn’t sleep at all last night?”

Chen Zhu rubbed his face and smiled wryly: “I’m telling you, I really didn’t sleep for half the night. I had a lot of dreams over and over again. First, I dreamed that I failed the rankings, and then I dreamed that I couldn’t pass the exam even when I was in my seventies or eighties. I really can’t compare to Shaoyong!”

Zhao Su laughed: “Don’t flatter me, I know my own abilities, in terms of literary talent, I can’t be considered outstanding, it must be luck.”

Chen Zhu smiled back, lowering his voice: “Your first time taking the exam and you came in first place, a star is born, once Inspector General arrives, he might even ask you to recite an impromptu poem.”

Zhao Su got a headache just thinking about poetry. He knew that the poems he wrote in the examinations were definitely not superior. He didn’t expect that he would get 1st place in the end. Is it possible that the examiner’s expectations were low? Considering it further he decided that that was impossible. Although Chen Zhu got second place, he was definitely outstanding in terms of academic and literary talent.

In Chen Zhu’s opinion, Zhao Su’s slightly tangled brows were very interesting. It is rare for someone to have such a serious expression whether he was young and old. At this moment, the sun was magnificent, light rays from outside were shining in, making the hair by his temples even shinier. Chen Zhu couldn’t help but think of the verse – Transparently luminous as though the sun and moon had entered his breast.2This is a quote from Liu Yiqing (403-444), writer of South Song Dynasty, compiler and editor of A New Account of the Tales of the World {世说新语). Basically a fancy/flowery way to say he is handsome.

“What is it?” Zhao Su noticed Chen Zhu looking at him.

“Nothing much.” Chen Zhu blushed a bit and then changed the subject.

Not much time had passed when the Inspector General of Fujian, Provincial Education Commissioner, and the Prefectural Magistrate of Fuzhou all arrived, everyone came up one by one to pay their respects, and so the banquet began just like that.
Compared with the vibrant government offices of Fuzhou, the distant city of Beijing was dark and gloomy. The stuffy heat was enough to make people feel breathless.

Outside the Palace of Eternal Longevity, Emperor Jiajing, dressed Taoist robe, looked up at the sky.

“Huang-ban, why does the weather change just like that?”

Huang Jin followed him step by step, and said with a smile: “It’s been very hot these days, maybe it’s going to rain heavily soon.”

Emperor Jiajing sighed: “Lately, I’ve been thinking of this even when I’ve been meditating, the heavens have heard my aspirations, it will be good if it rains – crops will be able to thrive.”

“The Emperor is the Son of Heaven3Tianzi or “Son of Heaven” is just another title for the Emperor, who receives a “Mandate of Heaven” to rule over Tianxia or “All under Heaven”, hence the title of the book 😉, if the Son of Heaven wishes it, why wouldn’t heaven permit it. This servant can only wish to live longer so that I can continue to serve the Emperor for another two hundred years, then I’ll be happy.”

“You monkey, trying to shirk your duties, who can live for two hundred years!” Jiajing smiled and calmed down a bit.

Well, you’ve been spending day and night trying to achieve immortality, Huang Jin thought to himself.   

“Come on, you’re coming out with a load of nonsense today, what do you want to say to me?”

“The Emperor is wise, this servant has suddenly remembered, isn’t it the royal grandson’s 4th birthday.”

“Did you just think of it or did someone tell you?” Jiajing said whilst fiddling with his Taoist robes pensively.

Huang Jin fell to his knees: “This servant doesn’t dare to hide anything from Your Majesty. Yesterday, Grand Secretary Yan4Reminder: He is referring to Yan Song and Grand Secretary Xu were talking about it, and this servant overheard!”

“Ok, ok, why are you so stressed, I’m not going to punish you. I hereby confer, one jade bracelet, and two crates of pomegranates to be brought to the Prince’s manor. Oh, and confer one hundred pi of silk to Imperial Concubine Li for her merits in raising the young prince well.”

Huang Jin responded quickly, but the Emperor didn’t let him retreat, he had to wait there.   

Jiajing let out a faint sigh: “Ordinary families all live in domestic bliss, three generations under the same roof, but I, the Son of Heaven, has a four year old grandson that I have only seen a handful of times…”

Huang Jin listened, and could only laugh internally – well, who was to blame, his Highness the Prince of Yu comes over everyday with his son to request an audience with the Emperor, knowing that you wouldn’t see them.
Throughout the ages, it was not uncommon for there to be hostilities between father and son in the imperial family. But because of the words of a Daoist priest who said that it was unlucky for the two dragons to meet5The dragon is a symbol of power, strength and often represents the Emperor. However, an Emperor who’d cast his sons to the side, those could be counted on one hand.

In the last thirty years, even if they were to see each other it was always from afar. Words exchanged with his son were less than those exchanged with the Court Officials. He didn’t care when his son got married, he didn’t care about his son’s studies. It was the same for both princes, it’s a wonder that they were able to grow up safe and sound. Now there was also his grandson but it was the same, he didn’t want to see him.

The Emperor sighed with sorrow, he didn’t want to say any more on this topic, so instead said “How is Yijun? I remember the last time I saw him was last year.”

Huang Jin smiled: “Royal grandson is clever and cute, he even remembers this servant, he can call this servant out by name.”

“Oh” Jiajing also smiled: “This little rascal is like me!”

The little eunuch held a jade plate and presented it cautiously. Huang Jin glanced at it, took the jade plate, held it in both hands, and whispered: “Your Majesty, it’s time to drink the elixir.”   

Thousands of miles away in Fuzhou, Zhao Su was already a bit tipsy, holding his head up with his hand, he said quietly to Chen Zhu: “Let’s find an opportunity to escape.”

Chen Zhu smiled: “I was about to say the same thing.”

Zhao Su had to drink with the Inspector General, with all the Officials, even the ones his own age came over to toast. This was genuine Baijiu6lit. White alcohol, is a Chinese liquor, even if the cups were small, but he still couldn’t take that many cups, Zhao Su thought he was on the edge of death, so jumped on the opportunity to slip away with Chen Zhu without the others noticing.

Fresh air entered his mouth and nose which made him feel a lot better.
Zhao Su breathed in deeply and sighed “It seems I’ll have to practice drinking alcohol when I go home.”   

Chen Zhu shook his head as if he could shake off the feeling of drunkenness: ‘Shaoyong, just now, what you were saying with Inspector General about the plan to fight the Wukou, I thought it was brilliant but I still feel that you may be holding back?”

This person was really sharp, Zhao Su leaned on the railing: “There are somethings that we cannot always say outright. Although the Wukou are a problem, there are such fierce military leaders such as Hu Zongxian and Qi Jiguang, this problem will be settled in a few years at most. What I worry about is something else.”

“What is it?”

“After defeating the Wukou, what then, will the lives of the people be better? Land tax, poll tax, forced labour, flooding, the tartar tribe in the North, what are all of these?”

Chen Zhu looked at him in a daze, he would never have thought that Zhao Su would come out with all that.

Zhao Su finished talking and smiled asking: “Bo Xun, do you have an answer for this?”

He’d drunk a little too much, although he was still rational, his appearance was messy and he was slouched over. Plus, with his wide-sleeved robes, he looked more like a renowned scholar of the Wei or Jin dynasty.

Chen Zhu stared at him for a while, until Zhao Su began to feel a bit awkward that he said: “Shao Yong cherishes the world, I am inferior to you, from now on, I hope to share in your efforts, I hope to aid you even if it is in a negligible way, to stand up for the world, to save the citizens, to continue to keep learning, to create peace for all ages!”

Zhao Su was a bit speechless, he was only casually asking, he didn’t think that Chen Zhu would come out with all that. The days following this, Chen Zhu would come to see Zhao Su everyday, either to compose essays and then compare notes, or to ask about the situation with the Wukou and the Tartar tribe. Zhao Su was miserable, he only knew of such things because he was actually from the future, so he couldn’t actually do anything to resolve these issues.

So after Chen Zhu visited for the fifth time, Zhao Su ran away shamelessly. Before leaving, he left a letter saying that he missed his mother at home and went back to Changle first. As for where he went on the way home, there was no need to explain.

As for Zhao Nuan, he had already walked off and was waiting for him out in front.

At this time, Zhao Su would never have thought that a few days later, something big would happen that would make him understand what a moment of life and death really meant.
Author Note:  

Okay, the ML has appeared (Readers: Is this called an appearance?!)

Some friends who are not familiar with the history of the Ming Dynasty, you just need to remember a few Emperors: Jiajing (now reigning), Longqing (his son), Wanli (his grandson)

It’s Zhu Yijun – Jiajing’s grandson and the eventual Wanli Emperor.

Reminder: Slow-burn Slow-burn Slow-burn Slow-burn Slow-burn Slow-burn Slow-burn Slow-burn
30/11/21 – Typos fixed, links added
28/12/21 – Shao Yong -> Shaoyong

5 thoughts on “All Under Heaven – Chapter 8”

  1. OMG, I’ve been waiting for the WRRRRRONG ML 😂
    Of course I misread something (something big, JAJSHAJS), but now I’m more hooked.

    Thanks for the translation! ♡


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