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Published at 24th of November 2022 12:25:33 PM


Chapter 75

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After the entrance examinations concluded, Educational Instructor Zhu Yin asked the clerks to distribute new books to the students, and as well as let them change into a fangjin [1], a complete set of jade-colored round-collared robes well as soft black sash, the entire set making up a jiansheng [2]’s school uniform.

The new students departed towards their assigned residences to change clothes. Although Cui Xie did not board at school, he too followed after the crowd to sneak in, sitting on someone else’s bed as he confidently changed his clothes.

His stature had not quite fully matured yet and his shoulders were thin, not quite at the age to fully prop up his clothes. The same sized lanshan fit well on everyone else, but when he put it on, the arranged lapels’ hem dragged on the ground, so he was forced to lift up a piece and fold it around his waist, wrapping the gown tightly, coiling the soft sash around his waist several times.

The other jiansheng in the dormitory couldn’t refrain from laughing at him: “Such a good fitting zhishen, now that this friend has worn it, it seems to exhibit the demeanor from those of the Wei-Jin dynasties[3].”

Cui Xie took two steps along the side of the bed, first making sure his clothes would not fall apart and that he wouldn’t stumble while walking. Only then did he lightly smile at the person, his voice handsomely chanting: “Only great heroes can possibly show their natural colors, and only truly talented scholars live their own way.”

He didn’t remember who had said this, but it was a famous remark and it shocked these new students. The middle-aged jiansheng who had taken the lead in the jesting exclaimed: “This youngster is quick-witted, I shouldn’t judge people by their appearances.” He then asked Cui Xie, “May I venture to ask this friend’s rank? Is it guansheng, ensheng, or jujian?

Guansheng referred to the sons of high ranking officials who entered the Imperial College by inheritance; Ensheng referred to those who entered the Imperial College by the Emperor’s imperial grace, in many cases, it prioritized the sons of civil and military officials who died in the line of duty; Jujian were those who failed to rank in the three classes in the metropolitan examinations, but was on the secondary list of successful juren [4].

Those who could be sorted into the Hall of Sincerity were those who were experts in Confucian classics and there were practically no li jiansheng that had obtained admission by purchase in the hall. And those who had entered by tribute should be in their thirties or above, even in their forties or fifties.

Just looking at Cui Xie’s age, no one thought he was some township recommendee that had been admitted by purchase.

In a subdued voice, Cui Xie spoke: “Cui – mo is an ensheng, but it really isn’t due to my father’s achievements, it was a favor received by the Emperor’s special imperial decree and grace…..” Everyone at home was still alive, there was no need for these fellow students to lament his situation.

All the jiansheng had just entered the capital and took the entrance examinations, so there was not enough information yet. Naturally, they were unaware that Cui Xie was a child prodigy personally favored by the Emperor. They just treated it as a happy occasion bestowed by the Imperial court or some auspicious grace given by the family head.

There were numerous youths all over the Imperial College that were admitted by relatives with meritorious deeds. There were even those who were admitted because they had killed thieves and rendered meritorious service. There were also those that after being looted by the Tatar, fled back to the capital with their horses to offer them up for merit and entered the Imperial College that way…..how they got admitted was not fresh by any means. The crowd didn’t ask any further questions, changed their garments, interoperated with each other and went back to continue receiving the Educational Instructor’s teachings.

Seeing the new students neatly dressed, their appearances not disgraceful and in good spirits, looking like students of the Imperial College, Zhu Yin nodded slightly and lectured: “The College has strict regulations, not like when you were studying in the county or prefectural schools, where you can go and take a break whenever desired. From now on, from morning to evening, you must exert effort to know the main points of what you are learning. You must write down all that was lectured, what you recited and practiced in the recitation book, as to prepare for the examinations. Ordinarily, students stay here to attend school and are not allowed to play outside at will.”

The group of students below replied in obedient tones.

Educational Instructor Zhu  added a few more sentences on the topics of discipline and restraint. He then asked the Clerks to bring over four senior scholars to give an introduction to these new students: “These four individuals were the Hall Chiefs who were on duty today. Each of the six halls of Biyong Hall has a Hall Chief and four out of the six will take turns on duty to control you jiansheng. In the future, your calligraphy and recitations will be supervised and examined by these Hall Chiefs. Be sure to arrive in an orderly manner, do not overstep one’s authority or make noise. Those who cause a disturbance in class, demonstrate poor calligraphic style or do not recite and explain thoroughly will be punished by the Hall Chiefs.”

The punishments administered by the Imperial College were not like the ones in the County and Township schools. Only those who landed themselves in the fourth rank on the two annual examinations received a beating. In comparison, in the Imperial College, if there was a slight violation of the rules, it was possible to be “caned ten times”.

The new students shivered in fear at the intensity of these punishments and Educational Instructor Zhu Yin’s sinister expression. The four Hall Chiefs had long been used to such a scene and smiled comfortingly in their direction from behind the Educational Instructor’s back. They then came over and led the newcomers to the East and West Wings, so as to identify their respective halls.

There were three halls in the East Wing: Natural Accordance, Sincerity and Sublime Ambition, each with eleven classrooms. Among the new students, none of them would be directly admitted into the Hall of Natural Accordance and the majority would be sorted into the Hall of Sincerity or the Hall of Sublime Ambition. Altogether, there were eleven people and the two Hall Chiefs that led the way individually; In addition, there were three or four who had advanced to the next rank purely based on their age, yet could not remember the Confucian classics thoroughly. Hence, they were sent to the West Wing’s three halls to start anew with remedial lessons.

Li Zhen, the Hall Chief of the Hall of Sincerity, led the six new students outside of the hall, pointing to the eleven classrooms saying: “In the future, except for the days I am lecturing in the lecture hall, after reporting for roll call early in the morning, just stay in the classroom and study. Daily homework includes writing 200 characters or more, reciting the 《Four Books》,100 words from each scripture, as well as concurrently studying 《The Garden of Persuasions》, 《Law》and《Order》. There are also monthly examinations. One examination will test the meaning of the《Classics》and《Books》and the remaining two examinations will have students pick from the choices of essays in the style of an edict, critical judgements, memorial, and affairs in current policy.”

The senior scholars were currently studying in the classroom and seeing newcomers coming over, they stretched out their heads to look outside. Li Zhen waved his hands towards the room. Pointing to an empty classroom, he called the new students in and took out a school timetable for them to copy.

Today was April 13th, a day for reciting, and tomorrow on the 14th was lecture day. The day after tomorrow was the 15th, a day of rest. After they returned, they would recite from memory for two days. Students will then individually study the content from the lectures for a day and then recite from memory from two days again until it was lecture day, and then after two more days of reciting memory, it was time to self-study again……cycling in accordance to this schedule.

If one were to calculate it, it was six days of lectures, eight days of self-studying, fourteen days of recitation and two days of rest. The pace of learning was much more relaxed than that of modern university students.

Cui Xie copied down the timetable and silently heaved a sigh of relief: In the future, he would study at school and do homework. Then, when he went home he could concentrate on painting. The two old and new editions of the 《Three Kingdoms》had halted on the eleventh volume. If he didn’t release any new volumes soon, readers would come pounding on the door!

Cui Xie thought that he was sitting quite far back, not making any obvious movements as he boldly walked around for a while. Although his height was inconspicuous, his appearance was eye-catching. Among the row of prefectural nominees in their thirties or forties, a tender 16-year-old ensheng was inserted in the middle. Cui Xie had caught the Hall Chief’s attention as soon as he had come in.

Li Zhen was already in his early 40s and his family’s sons and nephews were about the same age as Cui Xie. Seeing Cui Xie sighing in a worried manner, it was just like seeing his own son fretting about. He could not refrain and comforted: “Although the Imperial College has a lot of homework, as long as one is diligent, they can be completed. Us Hall Chiefs are also your fellow students and are not instructors. If there are some mistakes and omissions, it is improbable that we will so easily censure you.”

Cui Xie blanked for a moment before finally reacting. Li Zhen had misunderstood that Cui Xie disliked the amount of homework assigned. Cui Xie didn’t dare to utter the truth, so he obediently lowered his head and answered honestly: “Hall Chief is right, I will definitely study hard to live up to the Holy One’s grace.”

Hall Chief Li nodded in a gratified manner and  headed to another classroom to bring the recitation books for the new students to sign.

The six new students signed the recitation book. Cui Xie’s eyes sweeped the pages, generating a new pdf in his mind, the names of nearly 100 students in the Hall of Sincerity were engraved onto it.

He was the last one to sign the recitation book and he handed the book back to the Hall Chief. Li Zhen said: “Since you all are new to the Imperial College, there are bound to be many matters that need to be arranged for. Today, I will not be examining your recitations, you can first return and rest. Tomorrow, get up at exactly maoshi (5-7 am) to attend the Court Academician’s lecture on the Five Classics at chenshi ( 7-9 am).”

The six new students rose out of their seats to express their thanks and then departed in a single-file line. Li Zhen flipped open the recitation book to look over their names. Upon seeing the two characters, “Cui Xie” on the last row, he suddenly raised his head and gazed at the group outside the door, nearly standing up from his seat——

Wasn’t this the Little Tertiary Winner from the Yongping Prefecture, the child prodigy the Emperor had personally allowed to enroll and study?!

Li Zhen originally thought that a youngster with such a reputation would be somewhat arrogant, but he never expected that Cui Xie was such a feeble and adorable scholar. But what about Cui Xie’s scholarship? Could it be compared to that 16-year-old jieyuan[5], Fei Hong, that had entered the college just last month?

Li Zhen was also a native of North Zhili. From the bottom of his heart, he somewhat longed for a gifted scholar from the same province that was better than Jiangxi’s Fei jieyuan, who was from the south. However, there was a large discrepancy between North Zhili’s and Jiangxi’s style of study. Although Cui Xie was a Little Tertiary anshou, in the end, he had only passed the college examinations.. It would make things difficult for him to compare with Fei Hong, who was a juren, having passed the provincial examinations.

He sighed secretly and went back to the classroom to continue studying.

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The new students walked out of the Imperial College’s gates together, and five of them were heading towards their assigned dormitory. Only Cui Xie had someone waiting for him at the gates. He said his farewells to the rest of the group outside the college gates, raising his hands in a cupped fist salute, “I am a day student, I will have to say my farewells to these friends.”

That group of friends watched dumbstruck as Cui Xie walked down the street. They turned around and talked amongst each other: “Isn’t he from the same dormitory as us? Why did he just leave by himself?”

“I heard that those with wives dwell in other locations. Perhaps he brought his wife with him to study?”

“Isn’t he an ensheng? Naturally, he is different from us tribute students. Maybe he is the son of some noble family and their residence is nearby, so he returns to the residence to live there?”

This group of people were in their thirties and forties. They respectively had families, businesses, sons and nephews, but had been crammed into a single room. Instead a youth in their teens with a family and a business, actually had a residence to lodge in!

Several people looked at Cui Xie enviously from behind, imagining that he was heading back to a scene of “red sleeves adding fragrance during night studies”[6]. Actually, Cui Xie didn’t even have half of a red sleeve next to him and returned to a home of middle-aged and elderly people: After returning home, he changed his garments and after visiting his grandparents, the Chief Steward Cui Liangdong, brought him the accounts of the Cui family’s three shops in Beijing, as well as the accounts of the two homesteads in the capital’s suburbs and Qian’an. He also brought the shopkeepers to await Cui Xie’s assignments.

The old homestead in Qian’an had 400 mu of dry land growing wheat and corn, generating an annual income of about 400 or 500 taels; In the suburbs of Beijing, there were 200 mu of paddy fields where rice was grown, as well as 100 mu of cotton fields. This generated an annual income of about 700 or 800 taels. The three shops included a rouge shop, a cloth shop and a shop selling southern goods. They were all purchased by the Cui family after entering Beijing. They were originally not big shops and they supplied revenue for food for the people of the Cui Residence. They earned at most a few hundred silver taels annually.

The shopkeepers of the three shops were all newly promoted people after the people used by Xu furen were dismissed. They were all servants of the Cui family, but didn’t take Young Master Cui Xie seriously. When meeting him, they wailed accusingly and sniveled that Laoye had taken all the money and the business would not be able to turn around and was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to make enough money to pass over to the residence.

In order to obtain the position of shopkeeper, the three of them did not forget to pass along some good things into the hands of Cui Liangdong and his family. Cui Liangdong specially put in a few words in their defense in front of Cui Xie: “In the past two years, the Young Khan has made several incursions and life in the capital has been uneasy. Many high-ranking da-rens have collapsed and our business is progressively growing faint. These three shops had some unfavorable turnover in the hands of previous stewards and two days ago, Laoye took quite a lot of taels. They have just assumed the role and have not fully taken over the duties yet. It will be even harder to operate. Hoping Young Master can empathize with the difficulties of those below and do not blame them for being unable to run the businesses.”

Turning his head, he said to the three shopkeepers: “It may be hard for you, but life in the residence is even more difficult. Now that the residence cannot pay for expenditures, no matter whether your business is light or not , the money for the residence’s expenditures must be handed over on a daily basis. Young Master sees that you are all diligent and sensible, and will not dispute with you all over the omissions in the accounts.”

The three shopkeepers claimed they were diligent and innocent with all their might, and that anything amiss with the accounts was due to Cui Que or the people from Xu furen. It was because their predecessors weren’t careful. When they had assumed their duties, they had made an all-out effort in running the business, not even coveting a single cent. It was just that the shop really had a cash flow problem and it was difficult to see any profit these past few months. They also needed funds from the residence to support the business and it was truly not because they didn’t want to hand over the revenue to the residence.

If Cui Xie refused to believe them, refused to allocate funds, they would run with their heads toward the wall to die.

Their quarreling gave Cui Xie a headache. He waved his hands and said: “I won’t dispute with you all over what happened when Laoye was still in charge of the household. I also feel disinclined to review the accounts….”

He had been charge of Qian’an’s bookstore for the past two years and had managed the accounts cleanly using the triangulation and the four-column method. However, as for the Cui Residence’s shops, he did not have the motivation to verify the accounting records or the patience to manage them. He only wanted to know who had made profits and which one had a deficit. He would then replace the unprofitable business with his bookstore. If they were all unable to make profit, he could not convert all of them. He would need to spend a little bit of effort to make a clear channel of income for the Cui Residence.

He threw the accounts away, looked at the three shopkeepers and stated: “Just say how much you can earn this year and how much you can earn next year…..make a five-year plan.”

Footnotes:
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