I’m back a little later than I had initially promised.
Also getting a promotion at work soon so I’ve been pretty busy.
Enjoy the chapter!
Following the recent developments, Fan Jin Chuan also gave Feng Sheng Fang due credit by revealing her contributions in the salt administration reform.
With all sincerity, the shame that had accumulated in his heart had long chagrined him deeply. Once he faced His Majesty, he had already set in stone his decision to cease letting his Worthy Brother continue to remain unknown.
From then on, Fang Feng Fu’s name entered the Jianping Emperor’s eyes.
Such an advisor had great wisdom, with cunning no less inferior to a man who had immersed in officialdom for many years. In fact, prior to this, the Jianping Emperor had been very hesitant about whether or not to deal with the Liang Huai Salt Administration. It was no small thing, and an inadvertent move would lead to a tumult in the imperial court. For Fan Jin Chuan to come up with Huaibei’s new policy exceeded his expectations in all respects.
Cognizant of its desolation, Fan Jin Chuan had chosen it as a testing site to conveniently tackle the situation by means of drawing a line between Huainan and Huaibei. He first exposed the enemy’s weakness and then slowly schemed, taking advantage of the other party’s lack of vigilance as an opening to gain power.
When the news had first reached the Jianping Emperor, he had just acknowledged the efficacy of the first move and was still anticipating what Fan Jin Chuan would do next, but the man had already waded to the capital to proffer a very beautiful report about seizing the entire Huainan army.1
As early as the outset of the reform, the Jianping Emperor had already known that Fan Jin Chuan was not one to harness such a stratagem. Now, the rightful master behind the scenes had finally surfaced.
The Jianping Emperor was also a frank and decisive person. He only hesitated a little before consummately ordering someone to confer Feng Sheng the title of a principal seventh-rank gentleman-litterateur. This gentleman-litterateur was merely a prestige official that needed an apt and proper official rank as a complement. That was to say, Feng Sheng was now at least a principal seventh-rank official.2
A principal seventh-rank must not be looked down upon. One must bear in mind that those who hadn’t passed the formal imperial examinations would always remain unranked, even if they had paid silver to obtain a rank. Throughout history, the imperial court had reached a tacit agreement that principal seventh-rank officials or higher were considered high-ranking officials, while those of the seventh-rank and lower were considered low-ranking officials who did not belong to the common system.
The principal seventh-rank was a critical hurdle. If one could pass this hurdle, then one could leap over to other side, but if one couldn’t pass this hurdle, then one could never leap over in one’s entire lifetime.
After having the decree prepared, the Jianping Emperor requested Fan Jin Chuan to rest in the capital for a few days before leaving for Yangzhou. However, he also knew that Yangzhou could not be left alone and that someone had to man it, so he didn’t keep him for long.
Fan Jin Chuan left the palace after thanking the emperor, but he did not rest as the Jianping Emperor had instructed. Instead, he ordered people to deliver a letter to Fang Feng Sheng.
As soon as he finished writing the letter and had it sent out, someone arrived from the Song Manor.
Between a student and a teacher, the student should naturally be the one to pay a visit to the teacher. Never would he have thought that his own teacher would actually order someone to knock on his door to invite him over. Fan Jin Chuan quivered in trepidation, but he still ventured to the Song Manor with a strong spirit despite his exhaustion.
There he met Court Elder Song, the teacher he hadn’t seen in a very long time.
During Fan Jin Chuan’s metropolitan examination, Court Elder Song had been the cheif examiner and had also served as his mentor. A person like Court Elder Song, who had presided over a metropolitan examination, had over hundreds of students; all of whom could claim to have sought erudition under his guidance, yet those he willingly acknowledged were just a few.
Throughout his life as an official, Court Elder Song had officiated over three metropolitan examinations and four provincial examinations. He not only had students all over the country, he also had students strewn all over the court. In his later years, the student he most valued was Fan Jin Chuan.
Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that Fan Jin Chuan had occupied the position of the Left Secretariat of the Heir Apparent in the Hanlin Academy, a place where work was leisurely, for six years. After all, the capital was under the foot of the emperor, and it was easy for one to attract attention. With a student-teacher relationship, they occasionally also had to avoid taboo. However, although Fan Jin Chuan had a high and honorable position, he nonetheless wasn’t that powerful and influential, so he didn’t need to be so wary of drawing attention to himself.
Fan Jin Chuan was also a well-mannered person mindful of etiquette. He had often dropped his teacher a visit to pay respects and seek guidance. Feelings were fundamental to every person, so after spending a long time together, they naturally developed a deep fondness for each other.
On the other hand, Fan Jin Chuan was also the student who had always provoked the most ire from Court Elder Song. This child, although quite brilliant and outstanding, was also extremely righteous and pedantic that Court Elder Song sometimes couldn’t help but want to jump up and slap both sides of his face out of irritation.
After leaving the capital to assume office outside, Fan Jin Chuan had written Court Elder Song two letters about his well-being, but had no more dealings with him thereafter. When Fan Jin Chuan submitted the memorial about the Liang Huai Salt Administration running amok, Court Elder Song had also written him two letters, but Fan Jin Chuan brushed both of them aside.
Fan Jin Chuan was no longer the same person as he was before he left the capital. He was able to discern the underlying message of the letters Court Elder Song had written. Unfortunately, he disobeyed his teacher’s will.
Therefore, Court Elder Song’s intention behind bidding a servant to invite him over, did he still need to elaborate?
With a sinking heart, Fan Jin Chuan stepped inside the Song Manor’s gate.
Court Elder Song was still as Fan Jin Chuan remembered, donning on an old robe with a smile on his wholly amiable face. He did not look like a high-ranking and powerful court elder, but rather like an unearthly recluse.
Fan Jin Chuan’s father had passed away when he was very young, so he had always projected the image of his father to Court Elder Song. He had thought that after several years, once his magnificent ambitions and virtuous achievements would come to a successful conclusion, he could resign to a leisurely and carefree life like such of his teacher’s, a life he could consider fulfilling.
But today, as he gazed far into the distance, whether or not it was because of his fatigue, something inexplicably peculiar sprouted in his heart.
This strange feeling didn’t last too long because Court Elder Song beckoned him over.
“What are you standing there for? Come in.”
Fan Jin Chuan ambled in and was about to properly offer an explanation, but he couldn’t find the right words to spew out.
“Sit. I’ve asked the steward to make your favorite tea.”
Fan Jin Chuan made his entrance and perched himself on a chair.
After asking Fan Jin Chuan a few civilities about the state of his health and spirit, as well as his mother’s well-being, a servant trod over to announce that the meal was ready. Court Elder Song still made no mention of the letters Fan Jin Chuan had brushed aside and left unanswered.
“What do you want to ask?”
“Before, about the letters you sent……”
“You want to ask me why I seem to care little about the letters?” Seeing Fan Jin Chuan nod, Court Elder Song suddenly laughed and explained, “Although they’re my students, in the end, I’m merely a teacher and not their parent. I can’t look after so many of you. You’ve all become heads of your own families, and some of you have even become fathers and grandfathers. What they have done, they should know in their hearts. Based on our friendship as student and teacher, I only wrote those letters to inquire about a thing or two. Zi Jin, whether you ignore the letters or not, that’s your own prerogative.”
He patted Fan Jin Chuan on the shoulder, sighed and went on, “Teacher is very pleased that you have now matured. It’s the proper thing to do. Those high court officials and important ministers, who among them didn’t have numerous talented students all over the country? If everything is only about personal relationships and old friendships, there will be no need for their students to become officials, because with so many people in the same field, there will be no future prospects for them.”3
Such a remark from Court Elder Song was beyond Fan Jin Chuan’s expectations, but at the same time, it somehow wasn’t. As such, his expression quickly relaxed as relief overtook him.
“This student is enlightened.”
“Alright, you must be tired from your long journey. I’ll have the cooks prepare a few dishes you like, and I’ll have wine prepared for us teacher and student.”
“This student will respectfully obey and won’t be polite.”
The study was naturally not a place for eating and drinking, so the two veered to the reception pavilion adjacent to the garden.
As soon as they reached the garden’s moon gate, Fan Jin Chuan caught sight of a tall and slender person stalking towards them.
Once the other person got closer, he noticed that his face was as clear as jade, his countenance handsome, and his temperament refined. He was a rarely seen elegant gentleman.
“Have met Lord Song.”
Court Elder Song gave a curt nod in acknowledgement. This person seemed to be aware that Court Elder Song was occupied, so he didn’t stay long and merely brushed past them.
Fan Jin Chuan inquired, “Teacher, that person is?”
He had visited the Song Manor often enough to know that this person was not a member of the Song family. To say that the threshold of the Song Manor was high, it was not; to say it was low, it wasn’t, either; it was just that ordinary people could not simply cross it. To be able to saunter in this place meant that the person didn’t have a shallow relationship with the Song family. However, this person, Fan Jin Chuan did not know.
“That student’s surname is Sun, given name Wen Cheng. He is a relative of the family. He made a trip to the capital for the spring exam on the second month of the next year, so he’ll be lodging here for a while.”
Fan Jin Chuan nodded and didn’t think much of it, only treating it as a solitary encounter with a stranger.
Afterwards, he dined at the Song Manor. During which, Court Elder Song probed him more about the Liang Huai Salt Administration. Fan Jin Chuan picked out some fragmentary statements and told him everything. However, Fang Feng Sheng had warned him never to disclose the people involved to anyone, so he kept it in mind and did not mention a word about them.
Court Elder Song pried if the others knew about these things. Fan Jin Chuan revealed that the Jianping Emperor also knew about it. Court Elder Song’s face changed but aburptly reverted back to normal, then conversed with Fan Jin Chuan about other matters.
After Fan Jin Chuan left the Song Manor, Court Elder Song had someone deliver a message to the East Palace.
Our girl is now a court official. How cool is that??
1 An obvious analogy, but putting a note here just in case. The Huainan army is an analogy for the salt officials and salt merchants involved in the political malpractices of the salt administration. Basically saying that FJC blindsided them.
2 In the nine-rank system (pin 品), there are 18 half-ranks (ji 級), each full rank being divided into “principal” (zheng 正, in translations indicated by the letter A) and “lower” (cong 從, B: 正一品 1A, 從一品 1B; 正二品 2A, 從二品 2B; 正三品 3A, 從三品 3B,…). Feng Sheng is a principal seventh-rank 正七品 (7A).
Feng Sheng’s official rank (gentleman-litterateur) is an official translation from Hucker’s Dictionary of titles in Imperial China with over 8000 translated titles from all dynasties. This novel is 90% based on Ming-Qing Dynasties. Here’s a wiki about the royal and noble ranks of the Qing Dynasty.
A prestige official was one who had an official position but did not have a fixed duty, the opposite of an official with duty. A prestige official was an official who had a title but was idle and had no office. He’s someone rewarded due his meritorious services that the court held importance to. The rank was relative superiority with a high salary, favored by the Emperor. It was different in every dynasty.
3 Not sure if this is the correct interpretation for this. Honestly had to mull over this for a long time before deciding to go with this translation. Court Elder Song was being very vague, so I had a hard time trying to comprehend it.