Joy of Life - Chapter 168

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:20]
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Chapter 168: A Visitor in the Rain (Part 2)

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

The rain continued to fall, and the umbrellas held by people in the alley opened like a garden full of pitiful flowers blooming.

Fan Xian smiled as he looked at this rude and impetuous youth. Seeing that he was completely soaked, he said nothing; if this were a bad person, then Fan Xian had at least five different ways to immobilize him within a split second.

Clearly, it was just a poor scholar who had bought some roast chicken for a feast, so Fan Xian did not stop moving, and held his umbrella aloft as he carried on. He moved confidently, as did the young man who had barged under his umbrella. Saying nothing, he stood on Fan Xian’s right, using his umbrella to shelter his head from the rain, walking forward calmly.

As they walked a few steps under the umbrella, Fan Xian felt more and more that there was something quite loveable about the young man’s disposition. If this were an ordinary scholar, they would not dare to barge under someone else’s umbrella, and walking ten steps together in silence, an ordinary scholar would not have such an easygoing expression. So he turned his head slightly and took measure of him. The young man looked ordinary, with a set of thick eyebrows that looked like they had been painted on with a writing brush.

Teng Zijing followed two steps behind.

The two men under the umbrella continued to walk forward in silence. Unsure whether this was a contest of patience or something else, Fan Xian finally smiled and spoke. “I didn’t say anything before, and now it’s just awkward.”

As the umbrella-holder spoke, the young man laughed politely. “If an official is corrupt, he cannot turn his thoughts to politics. So if you believe a corrupt official is capable, that I’m afraid that is a rather ridiculous thing.”

Fan Xian laughed, and found that the umbrella could not accommodate two people. The right shoulder of the young scholar by his side was completely soaked, so he stealthily moved the umbrella over it. “Even though a corrupt official may neglect politics, it is better than a completely incompetent person taking charge and fooling around.”

The young scholar’s eyebrows shot up. He did not seem to understand. “As long as one is willing to handle things, it is better than neglecting government affairs.”

Fan Xian gripped his umbrella more tightly and shook his head. “If a river dike is not maintained, then within a few years it will surely burst. If an honest official who has no knowledge of river work maintains it foolishly, it may burst several times each year. Do you believe that those living along the river hope that their local official is incompetent, diligent, and honest, or incompetent, lazy, and corrupt?”

The young scholar was quiet for a moment. Then he laughed. “Perhaps this is a special case. There are certain things that a county magistrate will always have to do, such as measuring fields and provisioning grain, providing disaster relief and aiding the people, passing litigation and determining prison sentences. If it is a lazy official, then perhaps there will be political chaos.”

Fan Xian laughed. “So the important thing is competence, not corruption.”

In truth, his view was not necessarily correct; he had been influenced by bureaucracy novels from his past life. But when it came to the people of the Kingdom of Qing, it was rather novel, and the young scholar sharing his umbrella could not help but feel interested. “If an official is competent yet completely corrupt,” he asked, “would the royal court allow him to continue?”

He was unsure why, but when Fan Xian heard him say this, he thought of his own father-in-law, the well-known corrupt Prime Minister Lin Ruofu. Everyone knew that he was corrupt, but the Emperor was fully aware of his capability, and therefore had promoted him up to his present-day position. Thinking on the young scholar’s question, he could only shake his head. “Politics is a complicated matter with no simple and effective answers. But if you only seek the supervision of the royal court, and study and cultivate virtue yourself, then demanding that the bureaucracy be well-ordered is something of a fantasy.”

“If the royal court redoubles its efforts to supervise matters, then how can it not prevent political corruption?” The young scholar frowned, his thick eyebrows like roof beams. “Today, Minister of Rites Gou You has been imprisoned. If the Overwatch Council was the same a few years ago as it is now, then that is how the practices of the exam hall became as corrupt as they are today.”

In truth, Fan Xian had no lofty opinions on political matters. But this light intellectual conversation, though perhaps seditious and confusing, had perked his spirits. “If Director Chen of the Overwatch Council were to bribe Guo You to allow his nephew to be ranked as a first-class scholar, then who would watch over that?”

The young scholar took exception. “Naturally, the Emperor would. Heaven’s eyes are quick as lightning.”

Fan Xian took even more exception. “Is it really so easy to have one person rule all under Heaven?” In truth, he knew that the Emperor had his own secret methods of checks and balances for the great and independent Overwatch Council. Those methods might even include the power that his father had never openly exerted. But in his previous world, a handful of young and inexperienced political ideas had caused Fan Xian to turn up his nose at the work of an Emperor. He had never believed that the Son of Heaven, who treated the land as his own piggy bank, could have the mind to understand all of the injustices of the bureaucracy. Speaking freely, the two men under the umbrella arrived outside the tavern. The young scholar smiled warmly at him. “Sir, thank you for sharing your umbrella. This is my destination.”Fan Xian put the umbrella to one side and looked at the name of the tavern. It was truly a coincidence that this was also the place he was looking for. He smiled. “Let us enter together. I am meeting some people here.”

The tavern’s name was common, auspicious, and folksy – the Tongfu Tavern. [1]

As he entered with the young scholar, he learned that his counterpart’s name was Shi Chanli, and that he had been an entrant in this year’s exams. But it was not convenient for Fan Xian to say his own name, so he only told him that his surname was Fan.

“Master Fan, who are you looking for?” Shi Chanli at this moment realized from this man’s clothing that he was no doubt the son of a noble, and so his speech was not as unrestrained as it had been under the umbrella, but instead much more reserved. “I have come to visit a friend,” said Fan Xian. “I cannot say much more. Perhaps fate will bring us together again some day.”

Having said this, he bowed toward Fan Xian, and headed toward a corner of the tavern, where there stood a table of drinks. By the table were two scholarly-looking types playing a drinking game. Next to them was another person who seemed completely dead to the world, slumped over the table asleep. As there was no food on the table, it seemed they had been waiting for Shi Chanli to return with the roast chicken.

Fan Xian narrowed his eyes, and then saw that the person drinking at the table was Yang Wanli, the person he had come to find. Following Shi Chanli, he walked toward their table.

Shi Chanli did not know that someone was following behind him. He placed the chicken in its greasy paper down on the table, and scolded the two others drinking at the table with a smile. “Hou Jichang, you send me out to get food, but you don’t leave me any wine?”

Hou Jichang laughed. “This wine is the inferior stuff I bought off the street. It tastes bad, but there’s plenty of it. Let me introduce you. This is Cheng Jialin, a talented scholar from Shandong Road.” As he pointed a finger in Cheng Jialin’s direction, he discovered with alarm that the delicately handsome son of a noble was standing behind Shi Chanli with a smile on his face, and that this young man looked somewhat familiar.

“Brother Shi, who’s this?” asked Hou Jichang, confused.

Shi Chanli was startled, and turned around to see that Fan Xian had followed them to their table. He forced a smile. “Master Fan, I simply borrowed half your umbrella. I don’t presume you want payment for it?”

Fan Xian saw that he seemed somewhat afraid of him, and had seemingly guessed that he was the son of a noble. He did not dare come too close, so he laughed. “I wouldn’t dare ask for payment. But I wouldn’t mind a little bit of that chicken that you have there.”

“Master Fan, did you not say you were looking for someone?” Shi Chanli couldn’t help but ask.

“It appears I have been searching far and wide, only to find them by chance,” said Fan Xian with a smile. He had said this before, when he met with the Emperor on Liujing River. It had gained no reaction, but today, in front of these learned scholars, just as expected, Hou Jichang immediately understood his meaning. His interest was peaked. “Master Fan, did you come looking for us?” he asked.

Fan Xian pointed at the drunken Yang Wanli. “Master Yang and I are friends, so I have come to pay him a visit.”

Hou Jichang laughed. “I never heard Wanli mention that he had such a wealthy friend in the capital. Come, please take a seat. We’ve wine and roast chicken, it’s no trouble.” Shi Chanli had quite enjoyed Fan Xian’s style of conversation, and seeing that he was a friend of his friend, he decided to stop putting on airs and pulled out a seat, smiling.

Cheng Jialin tried unsuccessfully to rouse Yang Wanli for what seemed like ages. He could not help but mumble as he smiled at Fan Xian. Fan Xian however was interested in something else. He cupped his hands in salute toward Hou Jichang. “May I ask your name, friend?”

“Hou Jichang.”

“Master Hou, why do you presume that I am the wealthy son of a nobleman?” Fan Xian, hearing the name Jichang, couldn’t help but want to laugh. “I wonder if you are not also living a life of gluttony. It seems you spend all day eating and nothing else.”

Hou Jichang laughed and apologized. “Your clothes are quite expensive. No ordinary scholar could afford to wear such an outfit. As for calling you ‘wealthy’, we’re all used to cracking jokes; please don’t take offense.” At that moment, it struck him that this young man looked familiar, but drinking had blurred his vision, so he couldn’t remember where he knew him from.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Fan Xian with a gentle laugh, as he sat self-consciously at the table. The scholars were all free and at ease, and none objected to the appearance of their uninvited guest. A moment later, Yang Wanli had yet to awake, so save for Cheng Jialin, who urged Fan Xian to have a few drinks, Hou Jichang and Shi Chanli both drank as if no one else was there. They began to pontificate.

They did not discuss the mysteries of the Dao, but instead matters of state, the economy, and the welfare of the people. Sitting to the side, Fan Xian grabbed a chicken leg and gnawed on it leisurely. Listening to their debate, he found that Hou Jichang’s way of thinking was similiar to that of the Legalists, who emphasized the importance of law, and Shi Chanli was a sentimentalist who emphasized indoctrination.

Nonetheless, the one who advocated legalism did not blindly demand severity, and the one who advocated indoctrination did not blindly exhort orders from above. These were two wise scholars. Sometimes they would speak of the political affairs of each region, painstakingly analyzing and debating each one without blindly speaking out of turn. They were not like the average scholars who always fixed their sights on the entire world, without knowing that the world was far bigger than the vast majority of people ever saw.

The more Fan Xian heard, the more he was proud of himself. This Hou Jichang was one of the names he had sealed, and it seemed that his view had been correct. But Shi Chanli’s nature was so gentle and unconstrained, how had he not made an impression in the exam hall?

While he congratulated himself, he suddenly heard the gentle Shi Chanli pound the table. “At least we can all agree,” he rebuked indignantly, “it’s all that young Master Fan’s fault!”

Fan Xian was shocked.

[1] “Tongfu” means “common fortune”.