Published at 20th of March 2019 09:38:41 AM

Chapter 56

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Heading for the Capital

Coming with two boats and going back with six would definitely intrigue a royal censor (Yushi) to roll up his sleeves, and grind ink to write down a report on suspected corruption to the emperor. Luckily, Minglan and her grandmother were just on a trip to visit relatives. News came from the capital that Sheng Hong achieved an “Excellent” again for his official performance assessment and was entitled as Langzhong (TL: name of an official) under the Ministry of Works (Gongbu), a fifth ranked official responsible for the construction and renovation of the country’s infrastructure, at least an official in the capital.

T/N: The Ministry of Works was one of the Six Ministries under the Department of State Affairs in imperial China that was in charge of construction and repair of country’s infrastructure such as craftsman, croplands, water conservancy, transportation and the execution of other government orders.

Since they had decided to settle down in the capital, they just moved furniture from the old mansion in Jinling to decorate their new home in capital, plus the food, clothes and utilities given by Sheng Wei and Uncle Er’niu. Brocades and fur of all kinds alone were packed in several dozens of cases. With such abounding luggage, Minglan and her grandmother bade farewell to family relatives and boarded the boat.

In fact, Minglan felt curious why Sheng Hong decided to take an office in the Ministry of Works? Before the Spring Festival, father had started to build connections and he himself had achieved quite a lot in his official career, so Minglan thought he might have made it to the best of the Six Ministries, namely Ministry of Personnel (Libu) or popular department like Ministry of Revenue (Hubu) or Ministry of Penalty (Xingbu) at least. The current Emperor had held his throne for more than two decades and buildings required such as the Imperial Palace and Imperial Ancestral Temple had all finished long ago, so now the Ministry of Works was as idle as a nursing home. Minglan asked Old Madam Sheng threw the question back, “What do you think, my girl?”

Minglan rolled her eyes. Old Madam Sheng was an advocate of interactive and inspiring teaching who seldom told her directly why or what to do but encouraged her to ponder on her own. Minglan thought for a while and said, “The Emperor is getting old and the crown prince is yet to be decided. Now the political arena in the capital is storming and fickle. If father really took a plum job, he might be involved in the contest for the crown-princeship, getting into many troubles. Father is really a wise man.”

Old Madam Sheng smiled and stroked Minglan’s hair, nodding in approval. The river water flowed in a steady pace and the boat proceeded smoothly, making people comfortable by slight shaking. During the days in Youyang, Minglan spent every day with Pinlan, leaving few days chatting with grandma. Only after getting on board did they have an opportunity to have a good talk with each other.

“My poor child. Which official is not clever? Especially those in the capital where the political river is far from clean. It’s just some people assumed themselves clever that they don’t hold in their greed and want to seize this opportunity to lay a wager on the crown. However, how fickle and weird things run in the imperial court! It’d better to act fool as your father does.” Old Madam Sheng was leaning on a bed paved with a flannelette blanket and chatted with Minglan with leisure, “What did you say when you bade farewell with Pinlan? Cuiwei said you didn’t sleep well last night.”

Minglan thought about it or honestly answered, “I told Pinlan, in the future, not to boss around Cousin Taisheng and be a quiet and gentle girl, otherwise she might upset aunt Yun.”

Old Madam Sheng took a glimpse at Minglan, saying suggestively, “You were being oversensitive. You aunt prefers girls that are straightforward and cool. Why would she dislike Pinlan?”

Minglan sighed, “As a niece, of course she likes Pinlan; but to be a daughter-in-law, it’s hard to tell.” There was no mother-in-law in this world that wished to see her son to be a hen-pecked husband.

Old Madam Sheng frowned, “What husband? You little girl, stop talking nonsense.”

Minglan responded in a hurry, “What can’t I say with my own grandma? I won’t say these to others. Pinlan and Cousin Taisheng make a lovely pair. Any person with eyes can tell.”

This sentence seemed to intrigue Old Madam Sheng who slowly sat straight and smiled to Minglan, “Talking serious, Taisheng is a nice child. His family boasts wealth and shops without any brother to share with him. In Youyang, many families are interested in him. During your stay, you aunt treated you really nice. I’m afraid some treasure that your aunt cherished so much that she didn’t even give Pinlan ended in your pocket.”

Minglan looked right into grandma’s eyes and said word by word, “The reason why aunt treated me with generosity is you, grandma. I’m not that silly to be this arrogant. Pinlan and Cousin Taisheng grew up together. What’s it called? Right, childhood sweethearts.”

Old Madam Sheng was a bit surprised. Seeing Minglan’s clear eyes and determined face, she smiled, “You see that? You’re not all silly.”

Minglan felt really flattered, and a bit embarrassed. But for the eavesdropping that day, how could she possibly figure this out since she had spent all her time hanging out with Pinlan?

Old Madam Sheng sat straight and Minglan timely crammed a cushion under her back and she herself also slid into grandma’s quilt. Old Madam Sheng held her granddaughter’s tiny shoulders and said, “This month spent in your big uncle’s house, I believe you’ve seen and heard a lot and experienced quite a different world. Anything you learnt from it?”

Minglan, next to her grandma’s soft belly, felt soothing and said lazily, “At the very beginning there were things I didn’t understand, but now I seem to understand. When back home, I heard that the third uncle’s family was in poor condition. Not only did they have to rely on big uncle in every aspect, but they were never grateful. Then when I witnessed all this with my own eyes, I indeed looked down upon them. The strangest thing is that big uncle’s family always tolerate them, giving them allowance from time to time and never skipping to invite them to dinners on holidays and festivals. Then I thought: why big aunt-in-law didn’t avoid them when she really disliked them?”

Old Madam Sheng tapped on Minglan’s little hand, asking, “You know the reason now?”

“Yes,” Minglan gently rubbed her body against grandma’s belly, feeling comfortable. Then she continued, “A person should be strict to himself but tolerant to others. All others in Youyang know the good of big uncle’s family and the bad of the third uncle’s family, so no matter what might happen, everyone would believe it’s the third uncle’s family’s fault.”

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Old Madam Sheng nodded with satisfaction. She pinched her granddaughter softly on the face and smiled, “You’ve been lazy and hated to socialize since you were very young. I worried that you might be too indifferent. Now seeing you understand worldly affairs, I’m really happy. Minglan, remember, no matter how bad the third uncle’s family is, Third Old Master is still alive, who is our relative within two generations. If we totally ignore them, not helping them and enjoying wealth on our own, we would be accused of being snobbish. Most businessmen are regarded as dishonest by others, but the reason why your big uncle is reputed across the whole county is that he spends money on providing the third family with a luxurious life. What’s bad to do that and gain reputation and what’s good to leave wealth all to descendants?”

Minglan knew that Old Madam was teaching her, so she listened with care and cut in, “When elder sister Shulan got a peaceful divorce, Pinlan and I were so pissed off, wondering why to leave half of the dowry to Sun family who was so hateful. Later, I figured it out. If we really required all the dowry, they would surely resist desperately and file repudiation of wife, leaving sister Shulan in disadvantage. Thus, this was to use money to avoid trouble.”

Old Madam Sheng gently brushed Minglan’s soft hair near ears and said slowly, “Right. Who wasn’t annoyed by that family? But we had no choice. The one with great wealth will fear the one with nothing. It’s never easy to get a peaceful divorce, so we have to find a reason except for a husband not virtuous and mother-in-law vicious because these things can’t be discussed in public. My old sister-in-law is really resourceful. She reasoned with them, tried to touch them emotionally, seduced them with wealth and coerced them by power. Such things should be dealt with in the way to cut the knot with a sharp knife. To finish everything in one day and immediately send Shulan away, and it will be alright when all rumors fade.”

Minglan nodded again and again. Suddenly she climbed up and groaned, “But Sun family is so hateful that I couldn’t help biting my teeth. Should we just let it go?”

“What a bad-tempered girl you are!” Old Madam Sheng smiled, “Your big aunt-in-law is not a docile woman, yet she could neither do something at present nor display resentment but to befriend with them. Just wait to see what will happen in the future. In my view, the Sun and his mother are stupid and greedy people, so they will have their karma before others do anything to them.”

Minglan nodded with joy, “Pinlan promised to write to me once there is something new about Sun. I’ll read to you then.”

Old Madam Sheng scolded, “You naughty girl that enjoys drama so much, you’re also a crafty one! This time you spent more than enough time hanging around with Pinlan and I didn’t restrict you. When we get home, hold back a little.”

Minglan held her grandma’s arms and guaranteed sincerely, “Grandma, don’t worry. I’ve experienced and understood quite a few worldly affairs. When I’m home, I’ll sure behave nicely and don’t let you worry.” 

Old Madam Sheng held the little granddaughter lovingly and said slowly, “It’s easier to kill time when having someone to worry about.” 

Arriving at the Jingjin Dock and getting off the boat, they headed right back home along the official road. The moment they reached the capital gate, they saw servants of Sheng family waiting there, so they changed into the carriage of Sheng family and went on.

In a place like capital where hundreds of officials and aristocrats dwelled, property prices were not lower than the capital, Beijing, where Yao Yiyi lived. In addition, the ancient time was pickier. Buying properties required not only money but also identity, especially for those places near the Imperial Palace. Those without a noble job and origin were never permitted into even if they owned great wealth.

For example, for usurious loan lender or an owner of a meat factory, they couldn’t buy a house even with the amount of money that could fill a Titanic. Sheng family, a businessman one, shouldn’t have been unable to buy a property, but several decades of years ago, the Great Old Master Sheng bought a five-layer courtyard with both money and fame that the family had gained due to his son’s third-place achievement in the imperial exam. The house was in an advantageous place with Linqingfang where scholars gathered on the right and noble community on the left. He had also seized the opportunity of his son marrying a young lady of Marquis and bought the garden behind their house and merged them into one.

Many of Sheng Hong’s colleagues were of ordinary origin and succeeded through exams, so they could only buy a house on the outer layer or remote corner of the capital and Sheng Hong became one of the few officials of the same-level that owned a house with a garden. Minglan once again exclaimed the importance of choosing the right family to be born.

“That year, the Old Marquis (Old Madam Sheng’s father) only reluctantly approved the marriage because he knew Old Master had such a house, not too poor at least.” Fang Mama told Minglan in secret.

Minglan exclaimed to the sky: Must a man possess a house if he wants to get married?

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