The Court of Judicial Review was in charge of reviewing judicial proceedings and singling out the cases for a retrial. Together with the Ministry of Justice and the Censorate, they were known as the Three Judicial Offices.
According to law, Feng Sheng should be sent to the Ministry of Justice, but because this case was special, she was temporarily confined in the Court of Judicial Review. After all, Fang Feng Fu didn’t really violate the laws of the imperial court
They didn’t send her to prison and instead chose a separate room to confine her in as they awaited orders from above.
Feng Sheng’s short days here were quite fine. She had enough food and warm clothes, and every day, people would deliver her meals. The special treatment given to her alone was glaringly obvious. After living there for two days, no one ever came to question her, but several people visited uninvited.
These people never introduced themselves, so their identities remained unknown. They simply chatted with her endlessly about the current politics or played Go. If Feng Sheng didn’t know herself well enough, perhaps she would have believed she possessed an innate popularity to still ‘attract bees and butterflies’ despite being locked up.
The next couple of days, these people revealed their true colors through discussing issues like the general situation of different families, the country, and the world. In this regard, Feng Sheng was only listening with one ear and out the other, looking as though she had been enlightened. In reality, only she knew what was going on in her heart.
In truth, Feng Sheng was actually aware why this was happening. This inferred that the above didn’t want to kill ‘him’1 for the time being. He simply wanted to preserve everyone’s dignity by allowing them to discreetly step down the stage. If she could calmly accept her situation and be genuinely tactful in her next series of actions, perhaps, not only would she evade death, but she could also continue being a minor official on her own. Returning to Yangzhou would certainly be beyond the realm of reason, so she would probably take post in a remote place where even birds didn’t shit. At the very least, she wouldn’t have to worry about her life.
All these she understood. She understood very well.
A few days passed this way, and the person who had been ‘enlightening’ her finally stopped coming.
One sunny morning, the third office, the Court of Judicial Review, held a joint trial, and Feng Sheng was invited to the hall.
This situation could be regarded a major battle. Not only was an official from the Court of Judicial Review present, but also those from the Censorate and the Ministry of Justice. Such an event was known as the Joint Trial of Three Offices. Whenever a major case was underway, the three offices would unify to collectively hear the case.
However, those present now were merely from the Junior Three Judicial Offices. As Feng Sheng listened to how they were addressed, she deduced that none from the three offices present today were chief officials. If the chief officials from the three offices were at the scene, namely, the Chief Minister of the Court of Judicial Review, the Minister of Justice, and the Left Censor-in-chief of the Censorate, this would be considered the highest level——the Joint Trial of Three Offices, and the eyes of all officials outside would gather here.
So, the current circumstances weren’t that bad and were just within Feng Sheng’s expectations. An old acquaintance was also sitting above: Zhao An Xian, the Vice Minister of the Court of Judicial Review, who had had tea with Feng Sheng a couple times the past few days.
However, it was only during this time did Feng Sheng learn that this person was the Vice Minister of the Court of Judicial Review.
Similar to an ordinary court trial, they first verified Feng Sheng’s identity, hometown, and other such details. They held this court session to try her mainly for her alleged eagerness for success and grave dereliction of duty. This probably alluded to the time Feng Sheng was acting under orders to investigate and handle corruption cases in Liang Huai. Because several unjust cases arose, they concluded her methods to be quite extreme.
The court did not expound what kind of unjust case was brought forward and how exactly her methods were extreme. They simply said that someone had cried out a grievance, wanting to reverse a verdict. Therefore, the imperial court had to thoroughly investigate, and Fang Feng Fu was thus escorted to the capital for a trial. Furthermore, the three officials were extremely amiable, deigning Feng Sheng as nothing but a young fellow who had been vehement in his advances, whose merits outweighed his demerits, and was hence pardonable.
What Prince Wei said wasn’t wrong. Even if the whole world felt that the Crown Prince was wrong, as long as the Jianping Emperor still wanted to protect him, then he wasn’t wrong. Moreover, the dignified crown prince of a great country merely arranged a few people to amass gold for himself in the local area. How could it be wrong? The world belonged to his family anyway.
As long as the crown prince did not revolt nor plot a rebellion, he wasn’t wrong in the Jianping Emperor’s heart.
On the contrary, Fang Feng Fu, who had created a huge mess by trying to dig deeper and was suspected of acting under someone else’s orders, was wrong in the Jianping Emperor’s heart. The good will that Feng Sheng had so easily accumulated in His Majesty’s heart had long since evaporated, eliciting from him only a few remarks about how indscreet she was.
Therefore, today, there was an ongoing play——a play for the entire world to see. Fang Feng Fu was the protagonist, the rest of the world were the audience, and the Jianping Emperor was the one who set it in order. Now that so many people had put up a pageantry coming here, they were responsible for performing in this play. For this reason, several people took the opportunity to privately rehearse the script with Feng Sheng beforehand.
Based on this situation, the entire trial process was like a joke. The protagonist simply needed to stand motionless at the bottom, while the few chief officials above, as well as the accompanying petty officials and clerical subofficials during the trial, had already finished singing in the play.
Now, they were only waiting for Feng Sheng to affix her name on the document. This case would then be considered settled to the satisfaction of all.
“Lord Fang, please hurry up.” A functionary holding up a tray trod in front of Feng Sheng and made a gesture of invitation. Atop the tray was a piece of paper that roughly listed the sequence of events of the case.
Feng Sheng eyed the piece of paper and laughed as she raised her head. “This lowly official refuses.”
These four words almost made people wonder if they were hearing an auditory hallucination.
The three chief officials in the hall were all stunned, and their faces immediately turned ugly. This one surnamed Fang, they had already enlightened him, yet he was still devoid of tact. What did he want? Could it be that he wanted to pierce the sky?!
“Lord Fang, what else is there to refuse? This case was decided by the local court, sent to the Ministry of Justice for trial, and thereafter forwarded to the Court of Judicial Review for review. According to our second office’s investigation,2 this case is indeed unjust. Furthermore, the victim suffered considerably from the punishment, consistent with the complaint that he was unable to withstand the torture you inflicted to obtain a confession. While you were being escorted to the capital, our people were ordered to search the other party’s residence but did not find any belongings tallying with the case. Human testimony and material evidence are all entirely non-existent. On that account, how should we judge the other party?”
“Your Lordship, the victim you’re talking about, is it Vice Prefect Wei Tong Xin of the Salt Distribution Commission, Lord Wei?”
It was naturally him. If not for the fact that this person was too deeply involved and had probably held quite a few things in his hands for so many years, perhaps he would have become one of that person’s broken arms. As long as Wei Tong Xin was not implicated, the person behind Wei Tong Xin would naturally be safe and sound. As for the other small fish and shrimp, they were not worth mentioning.
“Exactly.” The elder lord from the Ministry of Justice was thoroughly distressed as he continued, “Lord Fang’s eagerness for success, we all understand. After all, this is your first time working for His Majesty and receiving his imperial benevolence. It’s inevitable that you would exceed proper limits and end up using methods that are too extreme. However, Lord Wei was reported to have been tortured quite terribly. He’s now gone insane and will perhaps take a long time to recover.”
This was indeed Feng Sheng’s doing. Anxious to conclude the case and to obtain information from Wei Tong Xin’s mouth, she used torture on him. Of course, torture wasn’t employed merely to ferret out a few words, but also to show people.
Without using torture, how would it match the complaint of ‘obtaining confessions under torture’? She had actually been very considerate, yet these people still considered her a villain.
“If you say it’s Wei Tong Xin, Lord Wei, then he is by no means innocent. This lowly official was in a hurry that day and only had time to conclude this case. After that, the Jinyiwei suddenly dropped a visit, saying they would escort me to the capital. In fact, in the process of investigating this case, another old case somewhat related to Lord Wei came to light. That case is the former salt distribution commissioner, Zhou Guang Rui’s tax and silver embezzlement case.”
Feng Sheng wore a smile, her bearing unperturbed. On the contrary, the several officials sitting in the hall suddenly aimed their gazes towards her, their pupils constricted.
Back then, Zhou Guang Rui’s embezzlement case quaked both the imperial court and the public. However, in the end, Zhou Guang Rui died on his way to the capital. At first, many realized that there was something fishy about the case, but things developed too abruptly. For many people, it was too late to find definite clues, and it was also beyond their power. The two people involved had both died, so the case was hastily closed.
Could it be that there were other clues, and the evidence was in Fang Feng Sheng’s hands?
For a while, a hush fell in the court hall, and no one knew what to say.
“The Court of Judicial Review wields the government decree to investigate, adjudicate, and redress an unjust sentence. It’s said that, back then, the Founding Emperor established a rule, saying that it’s necessary to review the judicial proceedings, and that the punishment should fit the crime so that the prison will be free of unjust cases. Today, the three offices are gathered together in one hall. All lords are the court’s brave courtiers, loyal to the monarch of the country, and perfectly impartial. This lowly official would like to take this opportunity to voice charges and reverse the verdict of an unjust case.”
As Feng Sheng said, the Court of Judicial Review’s officials had the power to ‘investigate, adjudicate, and redress an unjust sentence’. Zhou An Xian, as the Vice Minister of the Court of Judicial Review, ought to speak this time. Making up his mind, he said, “Go ahead and say it.”
“This lowly official’s first charge is against the current Crown Prince for corruption and malfeasance, for colluding with officials of the imperial court to accumulate wealth, for selling official posts for a consideration, and for plotting against human life; the second charge is against the Minister of Revenue, Song Xian, incited by the Crown Prince as his willing beast of burden, for not hesitating to frame an official of the imperial court to conceal facts; and the third charge is against the Salt Distribution Commission’s Vice Prefect, Wei Tong Xin, in collusion with Song Xian and the Jiangsu Governor, Chen Ke Ji’s men for planting evidence on the former Salt Distribution Commissioner, Zhou Guang Rui, and for silencing his people who knew the inside story. This is the indictment. Part of the evidence is from Wei Tong Xin’s confession, as well as this lowly official’s investigation of the Salt Distribution Commission’s old accounts over the years.”
Feng Sheng slid out a brown paper bag from her bosom. All along, she had kept these evidence next to her skin to conceal them. Because it was already absolute, she could only allow herself to be seized without offering any resistance, desiring a more harmonious route. Because Tong baihu treated her with due respect throughout their journey, after arriving at the Court of Judicial Review, no one came to blows with her or searched her body for items to be seized.
The schemes she had set up before, even the torture she inflicted on Wei Tong Xin, for which she was accused of, were all entirely for the sake of all this, for this very moment.
All things considered, she had waited a long time for this moment, and by now, Feng Sheng was instead very calm. On the contrary, various noises arose from the hall, including butts kicked off their stools, teacups dropped by mistake, and gasps of utter shock.
Zhao An Xian could no longer maintain his calm, and he was lost in a daze until someone nearby called him.
“Lord Fang, do you even know what you’re talking about?”
“This lowly official knows.”
“This is the indictment and evidence?” Zhao An Xian asked again.
“Exactly. This is only part of it. This lowly official has hidden other parts elsewhere. If the Court of Judicial Review demands corroboration, this lowly official can inform you the place where it is hidden.”
“Then, do you know the necessary process of reversing a verdict in the Great Zhou Dynasty? Zhou Guang Rui is now dead. If this official is not mistaken, your surname is Fang, and you are not from the Zhou family. In the Great Zhou Dynasty’s system of laws, it states that a complaint for reversing a verdict must be filed by the person himself or his immediate family members as the victim’s family. And you——”
“This lowly official is precisely the victim’s family.”
“You’re the victim’s family?” Zhao An Xian doubted. There were a few points of disbelief and relief in his tone. Believing that Feng Sheng was not the victim’s family, he loosened his breath, as if freed from a burden.
In fact, he was not to blame for this. Back then, they had settled the case by leaving it unsettled. The Zhou family, and even the Zhou family’s friends and relatives, never personally came forward. Furthermore, no one had spoken for Zhou Guang Rui in court. Since none had spoken back then, after several years, it was naturally less likely for there to be any. Even if there was, as long as the case wasn’t accepted or heard on the spot at this very moment, he could weasel his way out of it. After stepping out of this door, he would immediately report illness, stay home, and never again appear in front of Fang Feng Fu.
Because as far as Zhao An Xian was concerned, this Fang Feng Fu was a madman! He dared to accuse the Crown Prince?!
“If your surname is not Zhou, how can you be the victim’s family? Well, Lord Fang……”
“My surname is Fang, and I am the direct descendant of Fang Yan, the private advisor of the former Salt Distribution Commissioner, Zhou Guang Rui. My father had been aware of the dangers. When he sent me away, he left me a letter, in which he had written that he and Lord Zhou had been planning to submit a memorial exposing the malpractices of Liang Huai’s salt distribution, as well as the Salt Distribution Commission’s embezzlement and withholding of salt batch profits. However, it never occurred to me that, overnight, white had turned to black, and they were instead accused of that very same charge.
“My father was implicated and arrested with Lord Zhou that same evening, but he died tragically in prison. Afterwards, this one’s family went to collect the body, yet the corpse was unbearable to look at. He was cruelly tortured. The other party obviously intended to incite my father to renege on his words, but my father rejected them and suffered this misfortune. As his son, I couldn’t fulfill my filial duty and had to witness my own father’s tragic death and powerlessness. Fortunately, heaven does not fail those who help themselves and guided me to the real culprit behind it. I’m requesting all of you lords to reverse the case for me!”
Saying that, Feng Sheng plopped down on her knees and lifted the brown paper bag over her head.
We’ve actually reached this point! We’re still almost halfway through the story, but I’d like to thank everyone for reading. I hope you enjoy this novel as much as I do, and I hope you stick around until the end. Things are now getting pretty exciting.
1 Him as in, Fang Feng Fu, in case you guys are confused.
2 都察院: The Censorate is the second Judicial Office, the Ministry of Justice being the first.