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Qinglian Chronicles Chapter 60

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[This was so… so wordy… sniff…
You should be reading this at chichilations. home. blog ]

Now that the bustling and lively Everfragrant Mansion – beautiful and romantic, distinguished and lovely, and said to be frequented by aristocracy with not a single uneducated man seated, its popularity without equal in the capital – had suddenly been paid a torch, how could this not make people pause to lament the great transformation of a blue sea into a mulberry field?

What's ridiculous is that the grand High Scholar of the Longtu Pavilion and Guardian Minister Zhang Qinglian was also at the scene of the flames, sleeping with the flowers and willows when he was actually frightened into an illness, becoming bedridden for ten days and immediately becoming an added source of enthusiastic laughter during the capital's citizens' leisure time. The result was that my already complex image of a traitor was now had a halo of buffoonery and cowardliness added to it, even issuing comrade Cao Xueqin‘s ‘dead poplars, withered gra.s.s; once a place of song and dance' [1] as my sick-bed away message, and I'm unable to recover any of my image.

There's an unending flow of talk that I'm bedridden, but actually sick in bed. How could anyone recuperate peacefully in this unusual present phase? Even with Jinzi sneaking off to put a a few words in, the rumors are difficult to curb.

Jinzi kept watch at the foot of my bed, retrieving stew and medicine for me, his face not changing colors regarding others' total perception that he's my boytoy/concubine.

Liu Chunxi checks in with me bright and early every morning, eating both lunch and dinner at my place, causing me to almost suspect that my bedroom has been converted into an office of the Ministry of Revenue. It's worth the gratification of knowing the debt collection is still going smoothly. Following my big fracas at the Li's home, everyone felt endangered, and with the addition of the famously-stingy Eunuch w.a.n.g unexpectedly paying back a lot of coin and others being unable to find any other bank to run on, nearly 3,000,000 liang was returned within two or three days. However, not much will be coming further down the line.

The reason for this is while the salary of officials in can't be considered meager, it can't be considered generous, either. Using me for an example, I'm a first-level one, and my monthly salary is 700 dan [2], and converting a year's worth of that is probably four or five thousand silver – and that's already the first or second highest salary in the Court. As I have a separate n.o.ble t.i.tle, I can also credit 12,000 – 13,000 liang to my account every year to feed 1,800 families. Adding in my self-purchased or former-Emperor-gifted farmsteads, there's an extra 20,000 or more liang per year. If I didn't have that extra income, supporting so many large properties with so many workers in them – not to mention the added expenses of social interactions – and even if supporting those martial arts experts and moocher pupils isn't factored in, it would only be enough to pay for just that.

But how many in the Court are first-level? How many are Dukes or Marquis? The greater part of the capital's officials are third or fourth level, and their salaries shrink by quite a lot. Liu Chunxi is a fourth-level attending official of the Ministry of Revenue with a monthly salary of 150 dan, of which a full year's worth would only be about 1,000 liang. He has no t.i.tle of n.o.bility and no farmsteads, so all his expenses must be made with that 1,000. To say the truth, ordinary capital citizens don't have concubines, and their family will consist of a husband, a wife, a few children, and a few elders. A mid-sized family like that spend about 40-50 liang of fine silver a year; for a house in the Northeast of the city, which isn't the best district, a with four rooms is probably 700-800 liang. That 1,000 looks like a lot, but within this year, how many ministers are celebrating their birthdays? How many's aging parents are celebrating their longevity? How many's adopted daughters or younger sisters-in-law are getting married off? How many are having their nth son's full-month survival celebration (with n usually being a number greater than 5)? Unless they want to be completely rude to everyone in their lives, 1,000 liang is actually very tight.

Had they high-paying posts or were sent to be a local official somewhere else, this issue would naturally not exist. Three years of an incorruptible office nets 100,000 snowflakes of silver, but there will eternally be more unprofitable offices than high-paying posts, and there's less congee than there are officials wanting to be posted locally. Therefore, among the officials who loaned from the state treasury, there's a considerable portion of them whose purses don't have enough, but want to live the relatively luxurious life of a bureaucrat. For this portion, there's of course no payment to be extracted from. Someone started to say “are you thinking of forcing us to accept bribes and embezzle?” as a result, and another let loose his fierce words “even if you slaughtered me, extracted my fat, and sold my meat, it still wouldn't be enough”. This kind of situation can't be forced anymore, as forcing people to the ends of their lives would be ma.s.sively disadvantageous to me.

My plight and the one old King Yong had back in the day are different. I don't have to go all the way with it. These millions of silver are more than enough to pay for the current predicament, so I don't need to exhort Liu Chunxi to chase after them again. Those remaining will have half their salary deducted each month until they're completely paid back. The state treasury will no longer allow any official to borrow money from it.

“When the treasury is a bit more plentiful, I will propose raising the officials' salaries.” High pay discourages corruption, duh. “But the wind of compet.i.tion is human nature, even increasing salaries by tenfold wouldn't be of any use in stopping it.”

Liu Chunxi smiled lightly. “You want to lighten the mood, Sir Zhang?”

I can't stop from laughing, as I hadn't even thought about that in this pileup of things. It's to promote honesty in the future, and is also a matter the Qingliu should be in charge of.

Military funding has already been sent in its entirety to w.a.n.g Hejing, and the emergency aid of rice and coin was sent out the same day. The awful thing is that nowadays, there's nowhere to buy that rice with that coin, as profiteers are beginning to h.o.a.rd and overprice their stocks, the price of rice inflating drastically as the capital's government storehouse has been exhausted. Though it can be transferred from Jiangnan, the year's harvest still hasn't come and the stored government provisions are limited.

“Have you already made a price-parity mandate?” I ask Liu Chunxi. The mandate is very much like an ancient version of government macro-control, where, in unusual times, it sets a max price for foodstuffs.

“I have, but these major food merchants are starting to stockpile and not sell anything. If it goes on like this, there will be a noticeable food shortage in the capital in not even half a month.”

“Hmph.” I purse my lips. “Just a few overgrown fish. Go find them, invite them for a cup of tea, and let off the words that when I'm out of bed in a few days there will be a thorough investigation. Those who dare to h.o.a.rd a thousand or more dan of rice and flour will get their face tattooed with their crime, and those of ten thousand or more dan will have their records of their family properties purged, and then sent into exile. We must divide mountains to startle the cows and strike them to the bone first, to see if they think moneymaking is more important than life!”

Liu Chunxi already knows that I'm unhesitating in using my current style of thunderous methods and isn't surprised, agreeing to go handle it.

The time for medicine has come again, and Jinzi and I customarily suffer a round of sweet torment again. He's quiet today, so I ask with a smile, “Do you think that I'm offending too many people these days, and now you're concerned?”

He thought it over. “It is concerning, and also not worth it. But if you want to do something, do it. When you run out of people to offend and anger them into murder, so long as you won't miss wealth and power, we can both run to the other end of the world. It's not a huge deal.”

My heart genuinely felt like it was in full bloom. I grab his hand. “You're the greatest, Jinzi!”

This guy can't stand seeing my usual habit of bluntly expressing my likes and dislikes, and gets uncomfortable. He pulled back his hand and looked at me coolly from the corners of his eyes for a long time. “I really don't know what kind of person you were before. Seeing you sometimes handle things calmly and with ruthless efficiency, how can you turn into a fool in the blink of an eye like this?”

I saw his studying gaze and felt self-conscious, moodily laying on my stomach and not making a sound. Jinzi saw that I wasn't willing to talk and was probably a bit unhappy, but he was as gentle as he was before in applying the medicine for me, no longer trying to scrutinize me.

Gao Yushu is inevitably displaying his goodwill several times a day, delivering an endless stream of tonics and medical ingredients as if I'm about to open a TCM shop, and he would've cut a chunk of his own knee-flesh off to use as medicine if that didn't disgust me. [3] He's very overwrought right now; though the Court presently has no time to care about him due to the matters of the national debt and flooding disaster, but if he can't crack his case in one day then that day won't be peaceful, and he won't be able to avoid political opponents attacking him over this. Fortunately, as I suggested he gather information on the Everfragrant Mansion, he finally has a clue to track. Seeing this old fellow looking like he's mourning his dead parents, though, he's certainly suffered a loss in his performance shares of the Mansion.

I casually asked him to have Lin Guiquan come to the capital to see me.

The Qingliu and Waiqi had apparently reached a point of consensus to take advantage of Shao Qing and I's illnesses during the Annual Election. Though the result wasn't too great, we both still suffered a bit of a sad loss. As luck would have it, the mid-rank or lower officials stationed elsewhere have considerably more of our faction occupying them, so this could be considered an equilibrium.

Within the Waiqi, a distantly-related nephew became the ill.u.s.trious Minister of Ceremonies, and his eldest son also sought the duty of Lieutenant Colonel in the Yulin Army.

The newly-minted Mister Imperial Censor unexpectedly came to visit me. He said it was because when his maternal cousin Qu Baifeng heard the news of the flooding some days ago, he returned to his hometown to pay for a batch of food and personally deliver it to the disaster area, and couldn't come see me when he heard talk of my illness, so he requested Zhou Zizhu to take his place this time.

That guy, Qu Baifeng, is warm-heartedly chivalrous with no intention of fame, his character simple and kind. I really do like him. His behavior this time made my heart stir, a faint idea coming to the surface.

Now that Zhou Zizhu has the addition of a purple qipao on him, he's a bit less scholarly and a bit more invulnerable. People who meet him would feel as excited as if they were at an event, his already fine appearance all the more dazzling. As quite a young man enjoying true success, he gives the sense of being shrouded in a spring breeze of pride.

He brought me some nerve-soothing remedy and a pair of . Of note is that he brought me an anthology of his own poems, which honestly humbles me from the favor.

This seems like a minor thing, but it divulges very critical information. This era's literary officials are haughty and unsociable to the bones. Sending one's own poems to another either means that the other party an older and well-known scholar and they're asking for pointers, or you think very highly of the other's literary talent and character, and are permitting them to be kindred spirits and friends. Zhou Zizhu is a next-generation successor groomed by the Qingliu faction, so if people came to know that such a filthy, fawning minister like me received such an honor, there would be an enormous political crisis.

He actually thinks so highly of me.

In that case, I have to flip through it. Zhou Zizhu has steep literary fame, but his poetical name is obscure. His poems reflect his character; ba.n.a.l, with a hint of deep melancholy. The study of level-oblique poetry of this era isn't very prominent. His sentences are plain with few allusions, and aren't romantic or beautiful compared to my stolen famous poems and words. I, of course, don't know where he's lacking.

The seven-word jueju-esque [4] little poem I'm currently leisurely going over is good example:

Willow's l.u.s.t drips on the lane's surface
Red wax in boudoir's depths bleeds moonlight
The night's rain flows down green roof tiles
Reminds of when your heart had been split.

Anyone can see it and understand its style.

However, there were two stanzas of pseudo-poetry in particularly newer ink added to proceeding flyleaf that made me ponder. He wrote:

Aware now that many people's words do not fit
How could a fearless man have the traits of an orchid?

No commemorative afterword, no ‘dedicated to' or date, probably because he's cautious, but these two sentences clearly state that he feels public opinion is unfair to me. Though I look delicate, and my origins are what they are, I have the framework of a great, brave man. He's apparently never forgotten my life-saving favor from that time, and I've very possibly won over a strong political alliance.

Reading this… has put me in a great mood.

The most surprising visitor came when I opened my eyes in the early morning of the third day and saw a tiny face with s.h.i.+ning crow-black eyes observing me from close up. I jump in fright, promptly struggling to get up and to the ground to make my salutes. “Why have you come, Your Majesty?”

The little Emperor stopped me. “Our fever went down yesterday, and we heard that Subject Zhang had taken ill, so we came to take a look.”

I looked at Jinzi standing to the side and reproached him. “Why didn't you wake me up? Making His Majesty wait like this!

Jinzi wordlessly smiled.

“We did not let him,” the Emperor said.

I ask him how he left the Palace, and sure enough, he had snuck out. I complained ruthlessly, saying that the a.s.sa.s.sins from last time hadn't been caught yet, how could he be so rash, and what's worse is he came to visit me, if anything happens a hundred deaths wouldn't redeem me, and even if nothing happens other people would accuse me of misconduct if they knew, etcetera, etcetera. The Emperor is very well-behaved, not resenting my channeling of Tang Seng, and puts on the appearance of listening to what he's told, but after I finished talking and had Jinzi take him back to the Palace he pa.s.sionately doesn't comply, saying that he would go back only if I played with him here.

The so-called resulting playtime is squeezing into my bed and snuggling up close to me, occasionally running into my injuries and causing me to make grimaces that I can't make publicly know. Following that, I explained to him the concept of atoms and molecules and that the human body const.i.tutes of cells. The result was that the Emperor felt that atoms and cells were of similar size, and can't correct him no matter how much I try.

Jinzi has been using a tolerant, ‘so this is what you make up when you're bored' smile as he looks at me. I'm mad about it, but I have no way to make a microscape and make them observe cell venation. Without evidence, I'm unable to prove that the truth is within my grasp.

I am, however, certain of one thing: Yao Jinzi is a pragmatist.

[1] From Cao Xueqin's Song of Ending Goodness. It's a poem I actually like, because it's pretty nihilistic and depressing. .
[2] A measure for dry grain product, roughly 7,000 kg/15,432 lbs in this instance.
[3] This is only partially metaphorical, unfortunately. In Ancient China, cutting your own flesh off to feed your parents with it and cure their illness was A Thing, and showed ultimate filial piety. It was mostly used in folklore and I don't think many actually expected people to go cutting pieces out of themselves, but I'm sure someone, at some point, did.
[4] The original did indeed have 7 characters a stanza, but like h.e.l.l I'm going to try and do that.

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