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Published at 24th of November 2022 12:25:31 PM


Chapter 77

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That young scholar looked like a high school student, appearing refined and graceful while dressed in slim-fitting green robes. Compared to Director Fei and the surrounding senior jiansheng, the youth appeared all the more young and tender.

Cui Xie could not help giving him a few more side glances and several of the senior students standing beside him discussed in low voices: “That is the 16-year-old jieyuan[1] from Jiangxi. Last year, he passed the provincial level Imperial examinations along with his uncle and the pair traveled to the capital to take the metropolitan examinations. This year, he passed the B list in the metropolitan examinations but refused to return to his hometown and thus entered the Imperial College to study.”

A 16-year-old jiyeuan? How young ah! In comparison, how old was Tang Bohu[2] when he had become the jieyuan then?

“A child prodigy ah!” Cui Xie immediately sighed. Suddenly, someone behind him chuckled, “Isn’t Cui anshou[3] also a prodigy?”

The other jiansheng that had been commenting about the prodigy from Jiangxi suddenly became aware that a youth a year younger than Fei Hong had exclaimed the other party was a “child prodigy”. They all felt like it was quite interesting and laughter broke out as they looked on at Cui Xie..

Cui Xie subconsciously replied: “It is not the same….” The other was a 16-year old jieyuan and a genuine child prodigy, the real deal. Cui Xie had been in school for more than 18 years and he had been a member of society for more than two years after graduating from university. The need to survive had been prioritized when he had transmigrated and he had no other alternative, but to thicken his face to pretend to be a child prodigy.

He turned his head to glimpse at the person who asked the question. He was an elegant scholar in his thirties or forties and was currently beaming at Cui Xie. That person’s clothes was starched and straight and the fangjin[4] was inlaid with jasper gemstones. His waist was embellished with a jade pendant and an embroidered purse, seeming like a person who paid particular attention to such details.

Cui Xie raised his hands in a cupped fist salute: “This gentleman flatters me, I was merely lucky to be selected by the examiner and only after receiving the Emperor’s grace, I was able to enter the college. How can I compare with Fei jieyuan who is truly talented and has real ability? I see that this gentleman’s bearing is extraordinary and not like a common person. Might I know how to respectfully address this senior?”

The man replied with a salute and said with a grin: “I am not a mister, and am just a student. My surname is Zhang and I only have a single character, Luan, for my name. When the Hall Chief led the six of you over to the classrooms, I caught a glimpse of you, but Cui anshou did not take note of me then, right?

Cui Xie embarrassedly grinned: “I dare not, Zhang xiong can just refer to me by my courtesy name, Hezhong. I entered the Imperial College yesterday and was slightly nervous and didn’t dare to look at the fellow seniors in the Hall. I hope the Sirs can forgive me.”

Right now, he was sitting in the area of the lecture hall reserved for students from the Hall of Sincerity and he was fully surrounded by advanced senior shengyuan.

This Senior Zhang was already forty years of age and was considered to be the most senior of the seniors. Based on seniority, he was referred to as the Hall Senior. The other students, to say the least, were for the most part in their 30s. Occasionally, one would find some in their twenties. If they weren’t talented and accomplished youths selected by their prefect, then it was because their luck was good and there weren’t that many ahead of them on the list. Once they reached the appropriate age, they had been nominated into the College.

Cui Xie greeted everyone in this group and several seniors had also taken a look at his shorthand pencil made out of paper tape wrapped around a slender stick of wood charcoal and notebook, praising him for his ingenuity. In any event, using a normal writing brush to take notes would make it impossible to keep up with the speed that the material was presented. Instead, one was liable to break off one’s train of thought. Using a charcoal pencil was much faster. When the nib was about to be grinded flat, one could use a knife to pare down the outer parts of the paper tape and the parts that were usable would be exposed again, making it convenient to use.

Cui Xie replied humbly: “This was something I made randomly.This strip of wood charcoal is soft and it is easy to discolor the pages after rubbing on it. Hence, when I return home, it is vital that I make a copy of my notes as quickly as possible.” It was a pity that despite flipping around the chemistry book, he couldn’t find any records that indicated how to make graphite. Otherwise, he could have made a true lead pencil and now that was truly a magical object.

A few of the scholars clicked their tongues in admiration and tried to write a few words on the edge of their own notebook pages, but set down the pencil, shaking their heads and smiling. “It looks convenient seeing you use it, but that is not the case when we use it ourselves. To produce a single sentence, it needs at least a couple of years of hardwork and practice. To have put such mental and physical effort in this sort of small thing, it is no wonder that we have encountered you here today.”

Although it was troublesome to use the charcoal sticks, those who read his notes immediately became fond of them. Not only was the content meticulously recorded and the calligraphic style well structured, each regular script character written according to the Yan style of calligraphy was about the size of two gridded boxes.

As they  lipped through the pages, one of the college students suddenly cried out involuntarily, reciting: “ ‘The Director explained that ‘Yao and Shun believed laws to be the rule’ and also quoted from the《Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals》: ‘That is why even if you have a skillful hand but don’t want to apply a compass or square, you will not be able to produce a correct square or circle.’ My memory of this section is a little fuzzy. Worthy little brother Cui, let me borrow your notes so I can make a copy…..”

Not only here, if one continued to flip towards the end, one would read the margin notes regarding the line ‘Marquis Jing of Qi’s tears flowed forth while he gave his daughter to be married to the prince of Wu’ as well as a quote extracted from the《King Helu’s Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue》, ‘Marquis Jing of Qi’s servant girl was taken as a hostage of Wu, because the Crown Prince was betrothed to a daughter of Qi’. These pieces of historical material hadn’t been remembered well by this student.

There were omissions in Cui Xie’s notes, but this was also true for the others. Everyone was familiar with《Mencius》but historical quotations cited by the Director were rarely recorded down. Only those who had devoted themselves in their learning for many years could pick them out from a vast collection of books and insert them masterfully into the explanation at just the right juncture. The students who listened to the Director include a deluge of heavenly flowers[5] in his lectures could not keep up with what was said so closely. Inevitably, there would be some sentences that were remembered incorrectly or omitted by mistake.

In former days, everyone took very few notes and most of the mistakes and omissions were the parts that the academic instructors had cited extensively from outside sources. Unimportant topics would not be repeated by the teaching assistant reviewing the lecture and one would pass and move on from the ambiguity. Now, according to Cui Xie’s notes, one could correct all the parts that they couldn’t remember  immediately. A few people gathered together at the table, reading the unfamiliar sentences to refresh their memories and fellow students who passed by sporadically stopped after hearing the voices, listening and corroborating with their own notes.

Unwittingly, a ring of people encircled around the desk to take notes and they were so engrossed that they even forgot to eat lunch.

Cui Xie had been totally squeezed to the outside by the group, carrying a small schoolbag as he stubbornly stood near the doorway. He secretly sighed: They deserved to be students of the Imperial College, they really love learning! Compared to those Qian’an gifted scholars who hosted poetry banquets, wine receptions, and library salons, they are much more enlightened! It was not surprising that year after year, the larger part of those who passed the metropolitan examinations were Imperial College students!

He felt that his method of notetaking was considerably useful. In the afternoon, 《The Book of Poetry》was discussed in the Confucian classics class by Court Academician Lin Dayou. He used the same notetaking method, but this time he didn’t dare to be so engrossed in it as last time. He tried to focus on the teacher’s face as much as possible, only occasionally glancing at the page to determine he was writing on the right location on the page. Most of the time, he took down notes by feeling out the surface with his hands.

Instructor Lin was not only a Court Academician that had mastered the《The Book of Poetry》, he also served as a Supervisory Deputy for Shengyan Hall.

Cui Xie requests for leave of absences or his request to attend school as a day student were all handled by this man. It could be considered that Cui Xie could pass for a familiar face.

This Supervisory Deputy actually sympathized quite a bit with Cui Xie’s circumstances and was not so opposed to Cui Xie taking notes. After class, he instead suggested a few words of advice: “Do not take notes lock, stock and barrel[6]. It is easy to blur the main points. When learning the 《The Book of Poetry》 , it is necessary to analyze the historical narrative and annotations. It is enough to compare with the historical material and subcommentary in the《The Commentary of Zuo》. Nowadays, as for the  《The Commentary of Gongyang》and 《The Commentary of Guiliang》, examiners are stuck between rejecting and accepting the main points in those works. Hence, in the present age, there are fewer scholars who are studying those two two works.[7]”

Cui Xie understood tacitly in a split second—the teacher just drew the big picture!

In the future, when he is taking notes, he would need to bring a few differently colored pencils. While taking notes, he would also take the chance to underline the main points. That way, when reviewing for the examinations, one can strictly memorize the underlined points and pass over the ones that were not underlined.

He could help but remember when he had attended school in his last life. Every student’s book in his class was underlined with colorful ballpoint pens and highlighted with fluorescent markers until the books had become gaudy. A smiling expression appeared in his eyes, and his facial features relaxed, his entire face turning bright.

Lin Dayou did not know what the youth was thinking. After hearing his suggestion, Cui Xie suddenly laughed. He thought that the other was overjoyed at having learned something so Lin Dayou shook his head slightly, his lips curling up.

This student was indeed a good seedling.

He was especially fond of students who were eager to learn, so he could not help but advise Cui Xie again: “In a couple days, there will be a review lecture. When the moment comes, it is not necessary to comply with everything I said in my lecture. My lecture prioritized the great truths. Among them, it is mixed with my various insights gained from my explorations in Han, Tang and Song Confucian classics over the years. But you students have not read as many commentaries on Confucian classics and have yet to interpret the works with your own explanations. If you imitate me and try to similarly talk about the great truths, then one will need to repeat today’s lesson. It is better to start with phonological exegesis, familiarize oneself with the fundamentals so that one’s words have substance.”

Cui Xie seriously wrote this down, saw the Court Academician off and then began to complete his daily homework: practicing calligraphy.

It didn’t matter if it was a recitation, lecture or review day, one had to finish writing 16 lines with 16 characters each line of model calligraphic scripts. Those whose writing was no good were sent to the Hall Chief to be punished with a “caning of the hand of ten times”. Although the supervision within the College was not as strict nowadays and the Hall Chief couldn’t bring himself to beat people, the entire class’ homework were handed over to the Hall Chiefs for inspection. One would lose face if they wrote poorly.

Cui Xie practiced calligraphy from model scripts with the same enthusiasm and focus he used on examinations. Students he was not very well acquainted with sat in the seats next to him and didn’t bother to attend to practicing, simply asking first to borrow his notes to make a copy so that they could return his notes back to him before the end of the school day.

He pushed the notebook with folded pages towards them, generously stating: “Everyone can just take it and borrow it, no need to delay one’s regular routine. I have already memorized the contents, so it doesn’t matter if I do not have them on hand.”

He had a golden cheat, a hard disk, in his head and the notes he had copied down had already been converted into a pdf. When he returned home, he could just copy it down again.

However, those few scholars misunderstood that Cui Xie had a highly retentive memory, secretly envious in their hearts. They exclaimed: “The younger generation is so talented and is willing to put in time and energy to study bitterly. As one of the older generation, we have no alternative but to step aside and let him go on his way first.”

They felt embarrassed at actually bringing back one’s notes to their dormitories to copy and after a few polite words, they opened his notebook and copied a paragraph each. Later on, they would collect them all and piece it together into a full page later. When Hall Chief Zhang made his rounds, he didn’t prevent them too much and only warned repeatedly that they must not make too many sounds and bother others. As such, the amount of people copying down gradually increased and the speed of copying also increased.

Cui Xie was finishing his writing exercise with rapt attention and was prepared to hand over his homework when the group had unexpectedly finished copying down his notes and had returned the original to him.

They had also used ink brushes to copy it, just what kind of hand speed was this! If it wasn’t hand speed, then it was due to good memory, there was not much to improve! Cui Xie could not help but sigh: Imperial College students are truly hidden dragons and crouching tigers. In the future, he would have to put in more effort so no one would mock him for entering through the back door.

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After returning home from his studies at the Imperial College, the Cui Residence was full of business matters he needed to take care of.

Those three shopkeepers each brought the best products from their store: the Southern goods store had dry goods such as shark fins, mussels, scallops and other such dry goods as well as dragon beard candy and candied fruits from Suzhou and Hangzhou; the cosmetics shop had cassia powder, mercurous chloride, fragrant honey, rouge applied with silk cotton, wax rouge, various kinds of fragrant flower hair oils as well as reportedly genuine Japanese rose dew imported from overseas; the satin shop had brocade from Siichuan, silk from Hangzhou, velvet, damask gauze embossed with flower blossoms and fine silk threads as well as three shuttle cloth from Songjiang…..

Cui Xie carefully looked through these products and would occasionally ask about the commodity’s name and price. From time to time, if he saw one he was fond of, he would spare it a few more glances.

For example, a bolt of crimson velvet had brilliant color and luster, very bright. If this was the modern times, he could have used this velvet to make a silk banner and send it as a gift of thanks to the Northern Administrative Division, and write on it the phrase, ‘This yamen has contributed honorable merits, enforcing the law on behalf of the people’. Alas, he was currently bound by filial piety and he must not send them a congratulatory silk banner because the Jinyiwei had sentenced his stepmother with corporal punishment. He would have to wait for a chance to thank them later.

He set down the velvet fabric regretfully and then looked at a bolt of damask material embossed with flowers.

This material was also crimson and it was comfortable to the touch. It was also sufficiently light and soft, which made it quite suitable to use to make clothes during the current season. Cui Xie had always thought that the Jinyiwei’s crimson yesa was good-looking and that dark green was not as good as red against the skin. If such a material was made into a crimson yesa and the neckline was inlaid with bright, snowy white silk material….

With such robes, riding on a white horse would make it appear even better.

Seeing that Cui Xie was fond of some items, Cui Liangdong stepped forward eagerly, “These are the best products that this subordinate watched them pick out. Does the Young Master want to keep a few, or plan on giving it to the Old Patriarch or Old furen as a token of filial piety?”

Anyhow, these all belonged to his own family. If he took it now, it would not be written in the accounts. The Young Master could also show some diligent and painstaking filial piety.

When the Head Steward said this, the three shopkeepers were afraid that they would end up giving away things for nothing. Instead, Cui Liangdong would get all the credit. As such, they hurriedly expressed their intentions in sending these goods over to the Young Master on account of their kind regards.

Cui Xie originally only wanted to see what type of goods the stores had been selling, but now that he saw that the products were good and it gave birth to some gift-giving inclinations. Forgetting the food and drinks, since Colonel Xie was such an elegant person, it was too vulgar to send him food products. It would be better to send a bottle of Japanese rose water, two flower pots with fresh flowers and then give a set of yesa robes…..

No no, it was hard to get the measurements correct for clothes. It would be better to give materials instead.

But Colonel Xie’s Residence did not lack these types of materials. What could be done if it was accepted, only to be directly thrown to the bottom of the trunk, unused?

It was better to roughly measure the other’s figure first and then make an improved version of the flying fish python robe from past movies he had seen…..he would have to try it on at least once right?

Were there any such robes in Maggie Cheung’s version of the《New Dragon Gate Inn》 on the hard disk? From what he remembered, the flying fish robes from that film were good-looking and form fitting. But, the movie didn’t seem to have that. But it seemed like in the Cantonese folder, there were a few documents starting with 《Golden Urn》. In movies based on the Ming Dynasty, there was bound to be some Jinyiwei that appeared, right?

After seriously pondering for a spell, Cui Xie ordered what he needed and asked them to stay behind, ordering with a smile: “Leave these behind. I will take these to give as gifts to others. Since I cannot just take the things that the store needs to sell so vainly, I will give you the payment tomorrow.”

Cui Liangdong hurriedly replied, “These are all things belonging to the family, how can we ask for the Eldest Young Master’s money!”

Cui Xie shook his head.

These were items to be gifted away, how could he just take them from the Cui family?

He still had a bookstore in his hands, but the Cui Residence’s elders and youngsters needed to count on these three shops to live. He did not feel bad about spending Advisor Cui’s money, but how could he just give other gifts when the money earned had not even warmed up in their pockets yet? How could he let those elderly, feeble, and sick people, who had no ability to make money, spend the rest of their lives scrimping and saving in the inner courtyard?

He instructed: “Please note these transactions in the accounts. It has been hard for everyone these days and the accounts should be made even clearer. Besides me, if anyone else wants to take something, they must pay for it. If they don’t have the money, record it down and report it to me. That is all for now. Go back and properly write your plans, I will be waiting.”

The three shopkeepers animatedly handed over the gifts and assumed that they could just win favor by fawning on him, much like how they had done the same when the furen had been in power. This way, they could peacefully keep their role as shopkeepers. Nevertheless, they could not escape from the five-year plan so they went back with bashful eyebrows and a heavy gaze.

The next day, it was break for the Imperial College and after offering sacrifices to Confucious, one could go on holiday. Cui Xie asked someone to prepare the carriage early and set a few bottles of Japanese rose dew and two flower pots of famous orchids inside. After school, he searched around outside the college and saw the figure of Cui Qi peering into the gates of the Imperial College.

The youth seemed to have dressed up specially for today, wearing cyan straight robes and wearing a ruanjin. The entire person seemed to have matured somewhat, as if he had suddenly grown up in the past two days of work.

For some reason, the thought of ‘My family has a child who is growing up’ suddenly came into Cui Xie’s mind. He walked to the point where Cui Qi could see him and waved. Cui Qi saw him at a glance and dashed towards him, his eager appearance exactly the same as before. The feeling of the other growing up seemed to be merely an illusion created by Cui Xie.

Little Cui Qi ran over, exclaiming happily, “Da-ge, you have come out? The clerk also came with me, there is much to discuss.”

Cui Xie raised his hand and rubbed the other’s head, grinning, “I just have some things to tell you all as well. But I must go and give someone a gift today. You can accompany me there first and we can find a place to talk when we come back.”

Footnotes
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