That day, because of this imperial edict, an influx of secret letters were sent to Yangzhou.
This time, everyone finally understood why the Jianping Emperor had sent Prince Wei to Yangzhou, and why Prince Wei’s task had been kept secret. It turned out that they had all been waiting for this moment.
Could it be that Prince Wei had gone to Yangzhou to investigate the salt administration in advance? Furthermore, that Fan Jin Chuan, who would have thought that that pedant would poke a hole in the sky? When Fan Jin Chuan left the capital to assume office outside, all had presumed that it was merely a consequence for incurring His Majesty’s wrath.
“A good Old Three! He received such a task, yet he actually concealed it from this humble one, telling his humble one not to ask anything, do anything, or say anything. Obviously, he wants to dig a hole to bury this humble one into!” The Crown Prince paced back and forth like a cornered beast persisting to put up a stubborn fight.
He paused in his tracks and asked the Empress perched on the phoenix seat, “Empress Mother, in this situation, why are you still holding subject-son back?
The Empress rubbed her temples. “What do you want to do then?!”
“Subject-son will write and scold Old Three to let him know that, although he’s now a titled prince, he’s still a dog subject-son has raised!”
The Empress shot up and slowly sauntered towards the Crown Prince.
The Crown Prince was startled. “Empress Mother?”
A slap landed on his face, and in the Crown Prince’s incredulous eyes, the Empress riled with bitter resentment, “You’re truly crazy! Not only are you crazy, you’re also stupid. How could I have raised such a stupid son!”
“Your Highness, your phoenix body hasn’t recovered yet. Don’t be angry ah.” Fu Chun scurried over to hold the Empress, assisting her back to the phoenix seat.
“Are you upset that this palace beat you? Are you upset that this palace called you stupid?” The Empress let Fu Chun caress her chest, her face cold as she questioned the Crown Prince.
“Empress Mother!” The Crown Prince growled, his face riddled with pain as he lamented, “Subject-son just doesn’t understand. Others are moving, yet you detained subject-son. Old two, old four, old five, and old six visit imperial father every day to pay respects, yet you confined me in the East Palace. You told me to keep a low profile, but now I’ve kept such a low profile that I don’t even know if imperial father still remembers me, this son. Liang Huai is now in turmoil, yet you still control subject-son. Do you want to see our years of painstaking effort topple over at the first sign of trouble?”
“What painstaking effort? Isn’t it just a bunch of money? You’re a dignified crown prince, yet you only have eyes for that much silver?”
“But we can’t do anything without silver. Without silver, how can we win over the people below? Without silver, what will I give imperial father for his Vast Longevity Festival?1 Those younger brothers have almost suppressed subject-son several times. Subject-son’s good little brothers are all fishing. Why can’t subject-son fish?”
“You’re the crown prince of the Great Zhou Dynasty. You can’t obtain this crown prince position with any amount of silver. As long as you can hold on to this position, all the silver in the world will be yours in the future. You’re so short-sighted and argumentative, yet you’re upset because this palace called you stupid? How are you not stupid?”
The Crown Prince was quiet for a moment.
“Have you forgotten what this palace has previously told you? Your imperial father sent Prince Wei to Yangzhou because he still cares about your face as the crown prince and his bond with this palace. And that Fan Jin Chuan, whose student is he? Court Elder Song’s. As long as Court Elder Song is still around, Fan Jin Chuan can’t expose his own teacher. If he can’t expose Court Elder Song, he can’t expose you. Everyone is now on the move, but you can’t move, so just let them make theirs. You’re supposed to stay calm in this tense situation, yet you wish to teach Prince Wei a lesson by letting everyone know that he’s your dog. And you’re upset because this palace called you stupid? How are you not stupid?”
With that, the Empress let Fu Chun assist her up, leaving the Crown Prince standing there alone, pondering what the Empress had meant.
A conversation of similar nature took place at the Song Manor, but it was Sun Cheng Zhang, the Vice Minister of Revenue, who groused that Court Elder Song had been concealing the truth from him.
The imperial court and the common people were now experiencing an upheaval, with everyone panicking at the slightest sound. The only ones who remained calm and unperturbed were Court Elder Song and his people.
Fan Jin Chuan had been appointed to command the Liang Huai Salt Circuit Reform, and he was Could Elder Song’s student. If they couldn’t be calm and unperturbed, no one could. This was a shift from the initial shock and spite they had felt after learning that Fan Jin Chuan submitted a memorial dedicated to reforming the salt administration.
“Old Sun ah, if I say that I didn’t foresee this matter, you definitely won’t believe it.” Court Elder Song smiled wryly.
“In the first place, wasn’t it your idea to send young Lord Fan to Taizhou? Since your other student, Du Ming Liang, is in Yangzhou, I had assumed that you sent him to Taizhou so they could take care of each other. After all, that Fan Jin Chuan’s steadfastness is known all over the court. If it were any other place, who knows what kind of chaos it would cause?”
It truly wasn’t him! However, everyone had surmised it as such, and the crux was that he couldn’t refute, because at the very beginning, he also regarded it favorably and even contributed to it. As Sun Cheng Zhang had said, it wasn’t suitable to insert people in that place, and although Fan Jin Chuan was honest and upright, he was actually one of his own.
However, it was precisely one of their own people who stirred up the sky and earth by himself, bringing them unspeakable bitterness.
Now, there was no time to deplore. His Majesty clearly wanted to kill the chicken to warn the monkey. A good courtier should pass the knife when His Majesty wanted to kill the chicken instead of rushing up to thwart his hand. The Empress could see it, so how could Court Elder Song not see it? That was why he could still sit at ease on the fishing boat despite storms.2 As for whether or not to do something else regarding this, it still needed further deliberation.
“Brother Si’an, I still think it’s best for you to write him a letter and give him some advice to avoid any mishaps.” After all, that Fan Jin Chuan was someone who would straighten his neck in front of the Jianping Emperor.3
Before the words fell, the Song Manor’s steward interrupted.
“Master, Minister Qin has come to request an audience.”
“He, why is he here?” Court Elder Song and Sun Cheng Zhang stared at each other, their hearts full of doubts.
“Quickly let him in!”
Liang Huai was transferred to the Salt Distribution Commission, commonly known as the Yunsi yamen.4 They were in charge of all matters pertaining to salt affairs in Liang Huai.
The Yunsi yamen was located in Yunsi Street, with its entrance hall facing east. It was a building with a hanging-hill roof three rooms wide and five purlins deep, with a ridge height of more than two zhang.5 A pair of stone lions stood in front of the door, and slanted walls lined up on both sides, not very different from the layout of the general yamen.6
When Fan Jin Chuan and the others reached the Yunsi yamen, they were first welcomed to the civil court.
Normally, the salt distribution commissioner, He Lun, would personally show up. However, a few days ago, He Lun had caught a cold and was thus confined to bed, and the doctor had repeatedly exhorted him to avoid wind exposure. Therefore, today, the vice prefect, Wei Tong Xin, led other subordinate officials to welcome him.
Although Fan Jin Chuan didn’t have a corresponding official rank, the Jianping Emperor assigned him to command the Liang Huai Salt Administration Reform. This seemed to be an extremely ordinary sentence; however, if one knew that the provincial commander-in-chief of Guangdong was the commanding official who commanded the military affairs of Guangdong, and the governor-general of Jiangnan Waterways Circuit was the governor-general who commanded the military affairs of the Jiangnan Waterways Circuit, then one would understand.7
To give a rough explanation, there was simply no military system in the salt circuit. Disregarding the official rank, all lay in the word ‘command.’ Everyone understood its meaning; that was, he would be in charge of all matters concerning the Liang Huai Salt Administration for the time being, a higher level of existence than the salt distribution commissioner and the salt-control imperial censor.
Because of this, the vice prefect, Wei Tong Xin, and the subordinate officials were eagerly attentive. They simply regarded Fan Jin Chuan as the chief official, and even Feng Sheng, the private advisor, became an honored guest.
When he learned that He Lun, the salt distribution commissioner, had fallen ill, Fan Jin Chuan declined to comment.
Feng Sheng said, “Lord He is ill. It’s only reasonable for my lord to pay a visit.”
Receiving the signal, Fan Jin Chuan stood up and suggested, “Why don’t Lord Wei take the two of us to visit for a moment or two?”
“This……” In the middle of winter, sweat was visible on Wei Tong Xin’s forehead, and he smiled reluctantly. “It’s not that this lowly official is unwilling to take my lord to visit the lord commissioner. It’s just that, it’s really too difficult for lord commissioner to meet people or be exposed to the wind. Beforehand, lord commissioner repeatedly pressed this lowly official to treat Lord Fan with utmost hospitality and cordiality. Since my lord is in charge of official business and shoulders a lot of weight, you absolutely must not be implicated, lest you fall ill after a visit. It’s completely not worth His Majesty’s heavy burden.”
“That’s quite reasonable to say. Then, so be it.”
Hearing this, Wei Tong Xin was finally relieved and replied, “This lowly official has ordered someone to host a banquet. Why don’t my lord go with this lowly official to drink some tea and eat first? After all, you’re travel-worn. This is especially the perfect time for you to have a meal.”
“Deference is no substitute for obedience.”8
After that, it was time to eat, drink, enjoy the singing and dancing——the whole set. When Fan Jin Chuan and the others first arrived, it was close to noon, but now the moon was already at the tip of the tree.
It was already late, so it was time to rest. Any official business was put off for the next day.
After arranging Fan Jin Chuan and his entourage, Wei Tong Xin hurried to He Lun’s residence.
He Lun’s residence was at the Salt Distribution Division yamen, so he didn’t necessarily have to travel a long way.
As soon as Wei Tong Xin saw He Lun, the other party uttered, “No need for you to say anything. This official already knows all about it.”
He nodded and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Then, what is my lord’s next plan? It’s not good to always be so evasive.”
“It only isn’t good if this official refuses to see him, but this official is now ‘ill’. Now that the situation is unclear, the group of salt merchants outside are like dogs leaping over the wall in desperation, turning around to build connections with this official so someone will put in a good word for them. Should this official accommodate them or not? Why not just fall ill and wait for the follow-up matter to see which way the wind blows?”
“My lord is wise and farsighted.”
“You should also talk less and do more. This storm suddenly arrived. This official has only been in office for more than a year, so my involvement isn’t a lot. However, you, a vice prefect, have been around for five or six years. I don’t need to say the rest. You should understand.”
“Naturally, I understand.”
Only after Wei Tong Xin left did his face contort, cursing something in his mouth.
On the other end, Fan Jin Chuan and Feng Sheng were taken to rest.
They didn’t come for a short stay, but a long one, so Wei Tong Xin didn’t lodge them in the guest quarters and selected a courtyard for them.
This courtyard was adjacent to the place where He Lun lived. Based on its geography and layout, it was one of the more important courtyards in the rear court. In it were a group of maids, manservants, and a number of grannies.
They could consider this to be revisiting a once familiar place, but there were no familiar faces.
When the irrelevant people were waved off, Fan Jin Chuan said, “Every time you come to a place, you just eat, drink, and make merry. Can’t you just directly handle the matter?”
“Right now, it’s important to pay particular attention to relationships. What is a relationship? Nothing more than ‘proper behavior is based on reciprocity.’ Don’t be annoyed my lord, there will still be several such things in the future. Besides, we have to wait for others.”
Fan Jin Chuan mused over it. The Jinyiwei and Prince Wei had yet to arrive.
“But my lord should be prepared. We may only have the Jinyiwei available this time. If we rely on Prince Wei, I’m afraid we will fall short,” Feng Sheng reminded.
“His Majesty only decreed Prince Wei to oversee and supervise, but he did not specify where. This is not giving us a helper, it’s giving us a great Buddha. He may or may not step in to take care of this mess, but we still have to report to him. If you don’t believe me, just watch.”
Sure enough, after waiting for a few days, the Jinyiwei had arrived, yet there was still no movement from Prince Wei’s side. Left without a choice, Fan Jin Chuan paid a personal visit, but he received news that His Highness Prince Wei was going to the Daming Temple to practice Buddhist meditation.
This ‘practicing Buddhist meditation’ was a truly good excuse. Everyone knew that Prince Wei was a Buddhist, excelled at Buddhis studies, and was a devout person not far off from becoming a monk. In the past, after coming to Yangzhou under a secret decree, he was worshiping Buddha. Now that he was assigned to oversee and supervise, he was still worshiping Buddha.
“Alright, my lord. We don’t have to wait for him. This person is cunning by nature. He won’t tread through the muddy waters. Not only will he not tread through the muddy waters, but, should something happen, we might also have to take the blame for him.”
“What do you mean by that, Worthy Brother?”
“You’ll see later.”
1 万寿节: In the Qing dynasty, the emperor’s birthday was called the Wanshou (Vast Longevity) Festival, while those of the empress dowager and the empress were called the Shengshou (Sacred Longevity) Festival and the Qianqiu Festival respectively. The Wanshou Festival became one of the Qing court’s most important festivals.
2 稳坐钓鱼台 : lit. sitting at ease in a fishing boat despite storms (idiom); to stay calm during tense situation; a cool head in a crisis; choose a good way of attaining one’s end without taking any personal risk, but remaining comfortable in the background
3 It’s a rather weird analogy, probably because neck usually alludes to the idiom ‘polish your necks for beheading’. I guess it’s saying that Fan Jin Chuan, the pedant that he is, is confident enough to straighten his neck in front of the emperor.
4 盐运使司 (yán yùn shǐ sī): Salt Distribution Commission. They used 运司 (yùn sī) as its abbreviation, so I’ll just be keeping the pinyin.
5 丈 (zhàng): measure of length, ten Chinese feet (3.3 m)
6 It actually says 八字墙 (lit. wall shaped like the 八 character). It’s basically just slanted walls which, if viewed from the top, look roughly like the 八 character. Looks like this:
7 The emperor actually appointed Fan Jin Chuan to 提督 ‘command’ the Liang Huai Circuit Reform. 提督 is an actual military official title of the highest rank. In Ming and Qing, it’s the provincial commander-in-chief, but in general could just be any local commander. However, the next paragraph explains that the Salt Circuit doesn’t have any commanding/military system. It would be weird for there to troops merely for matters of salt.
This paragraph implies that Fan Jin Chuan wasn’t actually given any official rank, so I’m guessing that 提督 is used more as a verb rather than a noun, wherein 提督 means ‘to superintend and direct / command,’ so I’m using that here.
In Chapter 50, around the last few paragraphs, I translated it there as “The Jianping Emperor appointed Fan Jin Chuan to superintend and direct the Liang Huai……“ I’ve now switched ‘superintend and direct’ to ‘command’ to make it less wordy.
Just to be clear, Liang Huai is an administrative region that actually stands for ‘both sides of the Huai River,’ referred to as Huainan and Huaibei. Huainan is where most of the salt is.
8 恭敬不如从命: deference is no substitute for obedience (idiom); (said to accept sb’s request, invitation etc)