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Chapter 50: Impoverished Grand Tutor
The new year had just begun, and the days seemed to carry within them the hint of spring. The sun had actually shone brightly for a few days, and the capital was especially bustling with noise and excitement. An atmosphere of joy was everywhere.
However, the students of the Imperial Academy were in no mood to enjoy the happy atmosphere of the new year, as they were all preparing for the preliminary round of the imperial examinations taking place in less than two weeks' time. Within the academy, the students were busily discussing strategy, while in the courtyard outside, the Master of Records was in conversation with the Chancellor of the Academy.
 Guo zi lan ( 国子监 ) – Imperial Academy, the highest educational body in Imperial China.
 Ke kao ( 科考 ) – the imperial examinations, a civil service examination system in Imperial China to select candidates for the state bureaucracy. More info here. The origins of the open examination system are in the early Han dynasty when wise rulers figured out that the way to avoid officials building power bases from their family and friends was to appoint on basis of talent and intellectual merit and not on wealth or family ancestry.
 Zhu bu ( 主薄 ) – Master of Records, an ancient t.i.tle for the government official who was in charge of the books, seals, official court doc.u.ments etc, something like a secretary to the Emperor. Depending on the dynasty, he would have a fair amount of power.
 Ji jiu ( 祭酒 ) – the t.i.tle of an important government official; research suggests this was someone who would supervise the highest educational body.
"This lowly official thinks that there are several promising candidates in this round of the examination," Master of Records Song mentioned as he glanced within the building.
Chancellor Chen was just forty years of age, but his hair was streaked with grey, giving him a sage-like appearance and poise. He stroked his beard and said, "Come, tell me what you think."
"Mo Cong, w.a.n.g Zi Ling and Liu Min," replied Recorder Song. He muttered, almost to himself, "These three have achieved exemplary results, whether it pertains to the Four Books, the Five Cla.s.sics, the Law, or the Art of Mathematics."
 Si shu ( 四书 ) – lit., Four Books. Namely: the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the a.n.a.lects of Confucius, and Mencius.
 Wu jing ( 五经 ) – the Five Cla.s.sics of Confucianism. Namely: the Book of Songs, the Book of History, the Cla.s.sic of Rites, the Book of Changes, and the Spring and Autumn Annals.
 Shu shu ( 书数 ) or shu suan (书算 ) – probably the 'Ten Computational Canons', a collection of ten Chinese mathematical works compiled by early Tang dynasty mathematician Li Chunfeng (602-670), as the official mathematical texts for imperial examinations in mathematics. More info here.
Upon hearing this, Chancellor Chen did not immediately reply. After a moment's silence, Recorder Song looked carefully at him and asked hesitantly, "Does daren think that this is inappropriate? Would it please you to share your thoughts?"
Chancellor Chen simply shook his head. "Liu Min is not bad, but the essay he submitted to the Emperor on current affairs, giving advice on policy, was somewhat biased. His grasp of the current political situation in the dynasty is not sound, and thus he cannot help being rather extreme."
"This . . ." Recorder Song also frowned. "Liu Min is from an impoverished family, so it is no wonder that he is unclear of the current political situation."
Chancellor Chen interrupted him. "I think Jiang Chao is not bad. I have read his essay, and he attends to all aspects. He is talented."
Recorder Song shook his head. "He is too polished. He puts forward eloquent but empty arguments- which cannot be a good thing."
Chancellor Chen's gaze shifted slightly, then he smiled slowly. "What you and I say is of no importance. In the end, it is the Emperor's opinion that matters."
Recorder Song also smiled in agreement.
When the morning cla.s.ses were over, the students walked out of the Imperial Academy in twos and threes. Jiang Chao was walking right in front. He was currently all smiles as he chatted with his two good friends walking beside him.
"w.a.n.g xiong is becoming more proficient in his strategy and control, teaching his xiaodi to feel ashamed of being inferior." A tinge of shame surfaced on his face as he said this.
 Xiong ( 兄 ) – elder brother; also used to address males older than or close in age to oneself within the same generation.
 Xiao di ( 小弟 ) – younger brother; also used to address males younger than oneself.
w.a.n.g Zi Ling cupped his hands in greeting and said, "Jiang xiong, you have no cause to be unduly humble. I cannot match you in your knowledge of mathematics."
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The young man in green on the other side smiled happily. "If my two brothers continue to be so self-deprecating, we might as well just jump into the moat." This person was Mo Cong, who seemed to be in an extremely good mood. Waving his hand around, he said, "Studying the past few days has made my brain hurt. Why don't we have some fun? I will be the host today; let's have a get-together at Dong Feng Lou. What do you say?"
Clearly, his advice was being sought. This was a common practice among the Academy's scholars. If there was a topic or question which one could not understand and needed to discuss, then one would write a letter detailing one's doubts or queries. It could be considered an interesting method used by the scholars to address incomprehensible issues. However, because of Liu Min's low status, no one had ever taken the initiative to seek his opinion on any question. The letter was not signed, so he had no idea who had written it. He pondered over it for a while, but still did not have the slightest clue. It was said that one's character could be discerned from one's brush strokes. He once again looked at the line of writing which was confident, yet elegant. At first glance, it seemed entirely composed of sharp points and edges. However, on closer examination, the strokes were smoothly made. The overall effect was to hint at an underlying emotion that he could not quite grasp. In that moment, his compet.i.tive spirit was aroused. He took out a sheet of xuan paper from the writing table, ground his ink stone and set his brush into motion over the paper.
When he had finished writing, he lifted up the xuan paper to blow on it. He was struck by a sudden difficulty – he did not know who had sent him the letter, and thus he had no idea who to give his letter to. After a moment's blankness, Liu Min shook his head and laughed at how obsessed he was. He placed his letter into an envelope, thought for a bit, then placed it on the writing table, deciding to take the entire matter as something of a joke.
He was not the only person writing. In the Jiang fu, Jiang Ruan set down her brush. Bai Zhi lifted the xuan paper from the table and blew on it, while Lian Qiao asked, "Do we send it to the same young man?"
Jiang Ruan nodded. "Send it a little later, when the day has almost pa.s.sed."
"Miss, this is really not appropriate," Lu Zhu said with some hesitation. "What would we do if others were to find out about it? After all, this young man is a stranger, and the letter is so private . . ."
"What is there to be afraid of? I didn't sign the letter." Without the slightest concern, Jiang Ruan continued, "Moreover, no one is going to make any connection between him and me. After all, we have never met."
Lian Qiao asked, "Even so, it's still strange; since Miss has never met him, why are you writing such things to him?"
Jiang Ruan smiled faintly but made no answer. Liu Min must be reading her first letter at the moment. Jiang Ruan remembered clearly that in her previous life, the top three ranked scholars had been w.a.n.g Zi Ling, Mo Cong and Jiang Chao. Liu Min had only placed eighteenth. However, three years later, the news had broken that the princ.i.p.al examiner at that time had taken bribes. The Emperor, thoroughly incensed, had punished the princ.i.p.al examiner. In the end, after looking through the essays submitted for that year, Liu Min alone had caught his fancy. Liu Min, then a third-rank official, had been promoted steadily, until he finally became the Imperial Grand Tutor.
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Translated by : shl
Edited by : Anks & Ely
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