“My lord, you’re saying that it wasn’t your intention to reprove me, yet you’re also saying that my means are no good. Have you thought of any better way to settle this matter?”
“I’m going to the countryside myself and patrol every place……”
Feng Sheng interrupted him, “If my lord finds this method satisfactory, then go ahead and do it. No need to let me know. I’m tired. My lord, allow me to rest.”
After saying that, she pushed Fan Jin Chuan to the door and shut it close.
Fan Jin Chuan smiled bitterly and said to Xiao Qi, “Worthy Brother Fang is angry with me.”
Xiao Qi remained silent, as it was beyond his capability to utter words of consolation.
Fang Feng Sheng was truly riled, because when Fan Jin Chuan left the county yamen the next day, she didn’t see him off.
As such, Fan Jin Chuan realized that he shouldn’t have spoken so brusquely. He should’ve been more subtle in his persuasion. However, his itinerary had been prearranged, so he could only explain when he returned.
After that, Fan Jin Chuan traversed to the countryside, while Fang Feng Sheng’s idle days commenced.
Her daily routine comprised of nothing but eating, drinking, and sleeping, such that, several days later, her body and mind were totally relaxed.
“That pedant has never suffered a loss. When he learns his lesson, let’s see if he still has the gall to spout nonsense that my means are no good!”
“That’s right. Lord Fan is really too unreasonable. Who is young master doing this for? All he ever does is contradict you.” Zhi Qiu had always been an eternally overzealous supporter of ‘my young master’ who knew no wrong.
Although Feng Sheng had dissociated herself after incidentally overhearing them that day, in the end, Zhi Chun still simmered with guilt. This guilt propelled her to shirk from duties that required her to directly face her master. On instances where it was inevitable, she voicelessly carried through. Feng Sheng found it difficult to confront her about it, so she was left with no alternative but to let the other person slowly get over it herself.
So today, Feng Sheng roamed out with only Zhi Qiu.
The master and servant pair jaunted along as they immersed in the scenery and very quickly arrived at the north of the city.
The north of the city was the most prosperous and bustling place in Taizhou City. Taizhou had a well-developed water system, with a city moat, the Zhongshi River, and the Yudai River. The moat’s outer layer compassed the city, and the inner layer circled all the way to the east and west of the city. The Zhongshi River ran through the north and the south, and the Yudai River crossed east and west, forming an inner city river system extending to all directions.
The Southern Gate Moat was connected to the fishing bay and the salt transport canal. The salt transport canal was incorporated in the Yangtze River system, and the Northern Moat interlinked with several parts of the Chuanchang River and belonged to the Huai River system, thus forming such a rarely seen wonder. Taizhou City, using the moat as its convergence, became the intersection of two water systems.
Of course, this wonder was not natural, but man-made, all for the sake of salt.
In order to combat tax evasion and private salt proliferation, the imperial court constructed a dam at the north of Taizhou City between the confluence of the two rivers, and set up the Tai Dam Directorate and Inspection Office. The salt produced by the Taizhou Division was transported to Taizhou City and stopped at the Zhao Gong Bridge. Through the bridge, bags of salt would then be hauled over the dam, and then boarded on boats to be ferried from Nanshui after the inspection.
This moment, Fang Feng Sheng had been standing on the Zhao Gong Bridge for some time.
The bridge was about ten meters wide and could accommodate several concurrent shuttling vehicles, about forty to fifty meters long. Many hard laborers carried bags of salt on their shoulders and passed through here to transport them towards the direction of the Directorate and Inspection Office. There were special officials in charge of sampling and taxation, and on both sides of the bridge were over ten salt evaporation ponds, the vicinity of which were the venues for the purchase of official salt.
Those from the Military Inspectorate were the most eye-catching presence on the bridge. On their head was a helmet with a hood, and they were donned in mail armor, holding either a spear or a broadsword as they patrolled the entire bridge back and forth.
“How come Advisor Fang has the leisure to come here today?”
The one who spoke was Inspector Gou Qing. Although inspectors were only ninth-rank, they were nonetheless officials appointed by the imperial court and were not to be slighted. The Military Inspectorate was an independent branch under the jurisdiction of the county yamen, which was responsible for arresting thieves, counter-examining fraud, combating smuggling, safeguarding merchants and trade caravans hither and tither, and plenty other duties.
Among the three classes of runners in the yamen1, the third class called ‘fast runners’ were in charge of the arrest of thieves, fire prevention, and suppression of burglary within the city, while the Military Inspectorate had a wider scope of involvement, which included the villages and towns below.
In fact, bluntly put, as long as a person was within their sphere of influence, and the Military Inspectorate deemed that person suspicious, then he could be called in for questioning. Because Taizhou’s location differed from that of other areas, the Military Inspectorate also shouldered the task of cracking down on private salt, which was also somewhat affiliated with the salt affairs yamen.
Therefore, the Military Inspectorate seemed to be subsumed in the local government, but in fact, it had absolutely nothing to do with the county yamen. That time, when Fan Jin Chuan had hosted a banquet to entertain his subordinates, Gou Qing didn’t even come and used official business as his alibi.
Gou Qing wasn’t attired in an official uniform, and instead wore an indigo blue robe. His skin was slightly dark, his sword-shaped eyebrows were slanted to his temples, and his peach blossom eyes seemed like they were smiling yet not. He looked nothing like an official, but rather like an outstanding and gentlemanly big brother from who knows where.
Feng Sheng had a few encounters with him, but there wasn’t much of an affinity. Her assessment of him was that he appeared to be a man whose smile was laced with sinister intentions, deep and unfathomable.
“I’m free to rove around since his lordship is out touring the countryside to inspect. Why is Inspector Gou here? No official business?”
“Well, this job, to say it’s busy, it’s indeed busy; to say it’s lax, it’s also pretty lax. Just some trivial tasks. If the ones below are already watching, there won’t be any problems. Right now, aren’t I also overseeing the place like they are? Why didn’t Advisor Fang accompany his lordship to the countryside? I heard that, for the autumn harvest, Advisor Fang thought of a method for his lordship, but unfortunately, his lordship didn’t seem to appreciate it very much.”
“Heard? Heard from whom? Inspector Gou usually doesn’t meet people in the yamen, but unexpectedly has quite keen eyes and ears.”
Gou Qing laughed out loud. “How can you call this simple matter as having keen eyes and ears? Actually, it wasn’t difficult to hear news from outside. Those people didn’t curse the new lord any less for being overbearing and authoritarian. See, it was from them that news had spread.”
“They didn’t just say that he was overbearing and authoritarian, presumably, they also called him a bully to the common people, right?”
“Advisor Fang is wise!”
Feng Sheng ceased to reply. Gou Qing gazed at her and smirked, “So there are advantages to being foolish. That bit of news won’t easily drown out. Moreover, although Advisor Fang’s stratagem is quite good, it scorns this place, Taizhou, as well as those rich landlords. Well, anyway, none of those people are fuel-efficient lamps.2“
“Inspector Gou still claims that his eyes and ears aren’t keen?”
Gou Qing’s smile grew wider, not denying it this time, and dismissed, “Alright, Advisor Fang doesn’t need to brood over these trifles. Let’s go, I’ll treat you to a drink.”
“No, I still have some things to do. I’ll invite Inspector Gou when I have time in the future.”
After that, Feng Sheng arched her hands at him and ambled away with Zhi Qiu.
Staring at her back, Gou Qing stroked his chin.
A soldier from the Military Inspectorate strode to his side. “My lord, that one surnamed Fang doesn’t give you any face. Do you want this lowly one to find someone to teach him a lesson?”
“Lesson for what! He’s a beloved confidant beside the new lord.”
“So what of the new lord? So what if he’s a beloved confidant? If he provokes you, my lord, this lowly one will let him suffer. If he doesn’t taste a bit of suffering, how will he know how great my lord is?”
Gou Qing shoved some boiled chestnuts to his hands. “Alright, don’t mind it. Don’t go seeking trouble.”
The little soldier was very aggrieved.
In the entire city of Taizhou, who didn’t know that the lord inspector had that kind of taste? Normally, when the theatrical troupe had a newcomer, the lord inspector would definitely be there to see the scene.3 Whoever could latch onto the lord inspector and gain his favor could have everything going his way in Taizhou City, and no one would dare provoke him.
This time, there was a new honorable county lord, and following by his side a private advisor with a delicate and pretty face. In the past, the lord inspector wouldn’t even grace the county yamen a visit for ten days to half a month. Now, it hadn’t been long since they arrived, yet he’d already been there multiple times. Running over whenever he was free, who knew what the lord inspector was running there for?
Gou Qing was precisely not one who was well-disposed. In the past, he didn’t oppress people any less. Today, who would have thought that his flattery would hit the horse’s hooves?
Gou Qing took another look at Fang Feng Sheng’s back and turned his head away.
“Village Head Wang, you’ve done a great job. This is the last critical juncture of the grain’s milk stage.4 Once we get past this phase and collect the grain, you can then rest.”
“Thank you, my lord, for your care and compassion. This lowly old man has been the village head in Dahe Village for so many years. You are the first parental official to personally go to the countryside and inspect the farmlands. With your attitude, this lowly old man will watch those villains lurking in the shadows and see who else would dare do those bad deeds again! You can rest assured, my lord, this lowly old man will certainly gather manpower to guard the crops day and night, uninterrupted. If something goes wrong, you only ask this lowly old man.”
At the point of excitement, Village Head Wang even knelt down, but Fan Jin Chuan took his arm to assist him to rise.
“There is really no need for Village Head Wang to be too polite.”
“My lord is worthy of deep respect, as my lord is a good official. This lowly old man is illiterate and not very knowledgeable, but still knows that my lord is a good official.”
Village Head Wang was looking up at Fan Jin Chuan, and from his angle, he could only see half of the other man’s face, which had been badly sunburnt, his dry lips somewhat chapped.
“My lord, please wait. This lowly old man will ask someone to fetch some water for you to drink before you leave.”
“No need. This official is still in a hurry to go to the next village. There is water in the carriage, so Village Head Wang need not send anymore.”
Fan Jin Chuan tactfully declined Village Head Wang and headed to the mule-drawn carriage on the side of the dirt road.
There, Xiao Qi and two yamen runners were waiting for him.
As he was about to board the carriage, he suddenly stood still and looked a short distance away.
“My lord, what are you looking at?” Xiao Qi asked.
Fan Jin Chuan shook his head. “Nothing. I thought I had seen Worthy Brother Fang, but why would he come to a place like this? Let’s go and try to make it to the next village before it gets dark.”
The mule carriage swayed away, its body covered in dust. The carriage ensconcing four people was so shabby that one couldn’t believe it was the honorable county lord inspecting, but that was exactly what it was.
Village Head Wang turned his gaze back and told a group of villagers standing not far away, “In the past, we had to submit to fate. Now that such a good lord has come, let’s fight the day. You rascals can give me strength. If I see you slacking off or up to any mischief on night patrol, scram out of my Dahe Village immediately.”
“Yes, Village Head Uncle.”
Unlike usual, this time, the voices were exceptionally resonant.
In the crowd, there were also people who secretly lowered their heads.
Not far away, between two divergent roads, there was a carriage parked.
Uncle Yu was the driver of the carriage, and Zhi Qiu also accompanied them.
Listening to those farmers chattering not far away, Zhi Qiu hesitantly looked at Fang Feng Sheng, “Young Master.”
The carriage unhurriedly drove away, but in Fang Feng Sheng’s ears echoed several voices.
“……A proper soldier does not prevail over his opponents using treachery and cunning……”
“……Although Advisor Fang’s stratagem is quite good, it scorns this place, Taizhou……”
“Father, that Lord Zhou is inflexible and obstinate, relying on you for everything, and always contradicting you with his opinions. Why don’t you ask to go of your own accord? With your skills, you can go as far as you like in this world, so why stick to one place?”
“The practice of the Grand course5 is to be just and honorable. If one is not afraid of being seen through, then one will be successful; to resort to sophistry is to be opportunistic and tricky, and most of all, to be afraid of being seen through; in this way, one will not be successful. To rule a country, one must walk the Grand course and must not be deceitful. You only know that Lord Zhou is inflexible and obstinate, and that he relies on me for everything, but you don’t know that Father learned more from him than Father had ever expected.”
I honestly don’t know if I was able to properly translate the description of the waterways. I often found myself thinking, ‘Is this phrase describing its location or… is this the name of a canal/river/moat?’ Anyway, I hope you all didn’t find it too confusing. I envisioned it as an Ancient Chinese version of maybe Venice or a fortified Dutch city or something. Just take it as Taizhou having waterways as main roads!
1 There are three kinds of yamen runners, zao(皂), zhuang(壮), kuai(快). But in fact, there were more different kinds in specific. They worked as the lowest class in the government department which made them a bridge between the common people and the government.
2 不是省油燈: not a fuel-efficient lamp; be someone who is smart and sophisticated yet not easy to deal with
3 During this time, all actors were male. Female actresses only appeared during the Republican era (1912-1949) and later, so this was a subtle implication of Gou Qing liking men.
4 Apparently this is the initial phase of grain ripening. During the milk stage the plants are still greenish in color; the bottoms of the stems turn yellow, and the lower leaves of grains yellow, dry out, and die.
5 大道之行: ‘Practice of the Grand Course’ is a prose from the “Book of Rites” edited by Dai Sheng, a Western Han Dynasty scholar. The ideal world of Confucianism is a kind of ‘moral community’ the members of which control their desires in an appropriate way according to their innate moral emotions, so that their behavior follows public order autonomously to realize the common good.