Joy of Life - Chapter 210

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:36]
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Chapter 210: There Are a Lot of Talented People Named Fan

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

The Emperor and Haitang both in unison fixed Fan Xian with a strange look. The Emperor had asked an offhand question, not expecting Fan Xian to respond by discussing the oneness of Heaven and humanity. The two of them – some of the most important people in Qi – could not help but feel taken aback. Of the sects of the four grandmasters, Ku He’s was the one who believed in unity of Heaven and humanity, and following the way and the laws of nature. But this doctrine was not shared with outsiders. And yet Fan Xian had brought it up so casually while speaking of the scenery. It was quite astonishing.

Haitang looked at Fan Xian’s face with her calm, bright eyes. It seemed like she wanted to see whether this famous poet had come across it by chance, or had seen some logic in the palace scenery.

Fan Xian had not had any feeling of the sort. The idea of “unity of Heaven and humanity” was a phrase from the distant memories of his philosophy lessons, one that they’d repeated over and over again. He had simply made an offhand comment; he had not expected to cause such alarm. Looking at the Emperor and Haitang’s pensive expressions, he could not help but feel somewhat doubtful. “Have I misspoken?”

The Emperor laughed. “Not at all. You are indeed an immortal of poetry, Fan Xian. Even in your casual speech, you hit upon truth. Remarkable.” The Emperor smiled and looked at Haitang. “What say you of Master Fan’s words, young lady?”

“Master Fan speaks well of the scenery. He is erudite indeed.”

The three of them chatted freely, then, covering up the matter, the Emperor suddenly frowned. “I stayed in this mountain pavilion for much of the last month. With the trees in the pavilion, the moon in the sky, the running water below me, and a cool breeze around me, I felt most elated, and forgot the troubles of this world. So these past few days I have stopped by here often, and yet I have not been able to feel as I did then. I am not sure why.”

There was a sudden seriousness in Haitang’s face. “Your Majesty, as Lord of Qi, the people look to you. There are troubles in this world, and it is difficult to force oneself to forget them altogether, let alone when one is responsible for the safety of the realm as your Majesty is. When Your Majesty is concerned by the fortune of all the people, how can you seek even a moment of happiness in forgetting the troubles of this world? Your Majesty must remember that the people of the realm are in great hardship, and take their troubles upon you as your own. This is how a ruler must think.”

The Emperor received the advice sternly, then stood up and saluted her. “Thank you for your guidance, my lady.”

Fan Xian observed calmly, finding that the Emperor seemed to be genuinely taking the lesson to heart. He was quite surprised. It seemed that Haitang, who he had once butted heads with, occupied quite a high position within the Kingdom of Qi. He could not help but take some exception to her words, and although he did not show it on his face, there was the flash of a smile behind his eyes.

But how could such a change escape the gaze of an upper ninth-level master?

“Do you disagree, Master Fan?” Remarkably, there was no sense of hostility or sharpness to Haitang’s words; instead, it seemed like a genuine question. In Northern Qi, the use of learning to benefit mankind was a frequent topic of discussion, and so they were much more willing to consider topics from other points of view than people in the Kingdom of Qing.

Fan Xian frowned, then laughed. “The first concern is affairs of state; pleasure comes later. [1] This is a concept that rulers and their servants must always keep in mind. But if, as Haitang says, you can never forget the pain and suffering of the earth and the common people, then although Your Majesty may be vigilant, untiring in government affairs, and seek good fortune for all people, as time passes you will inevitably grow tired. When you are in poor spirits – even with all the goodwill in the world – you will still perform poorly. So it is my belief that when you seek to forget your troubles, you must dispel them from your mind completely. The Emperor cannot concern himself with the so-called ‘troubles of this world’ all of the time.”

His explanation was not persuasive in the least. But hearing the remarkable words he began with, Haitang’s eyes shone. She did not listen to what he said after that; she simply slowly turned the words over in her mind.

The Emperor banged the table in amazement and cheered. “‘The first concern is affairs of state; pleasure comes later.’ What a wonderful phrase! Minister Fan, you are indeed a devoted official. I shall treasure your words!”

The palace eunuchs and serving girls around them did not understand the Emperor’s meaning, but seeing that this envoy from the south had caused him to be so joyous, then could not stop themselves from smiling slightly and looking at Fan Xian with gratitude.

Fan Xian smiled, saying nothing. He imagined himself giving a thumbs-up to the gruel-eating sage in his previous life. [2]

The young Emperor had already begun to call Fan Xian “Minister Fan”; it was clear that he appreciated Fan Xian greatly. The Emperor kept this foreign official in his palace when, of course, he had other urgent matters to attend to. As for appreciating the scenery – because Haitang had been ordered by the Empress Dowager to accompany them, the Emperor did not find it easy to speak freely with Fan Xian, and so chose his words carefully. He did not expect Fan Xian’s responses to be so meaningful.

The Emperor laughed and looked at Fan Xian. “Skilled in literature and in battle, Master Fan. You are a rare talent indeed.”

Fan Xian did not dare say a word. Haitang suddenly spoke. “As you see it, Master Fan, how should man best follow the way of Heaven?” Fan Xian was somewhat surprised. He did not consider much of himself when it came to speaking of mysticism. The words he had said before were rather depressing, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue. The Emperor smiled and waved a hand to silence Haitang’s question. “Master Fan, why do you think I have not been able to find the peace I felt before?”

Fan Xian frowned. Looking around the mountain pavilion, he pointed at an incense stick. “If Your Majesty takes incense with you, and retreats away from others, perhaps you will find once more what you felt that night.”

The Emperor was somewhat surprised. He ordered the palace eunuchs and maids to retreat somewhere they could not be seen, then took the calming incense. A moment later, a cool breeze blew, dispersing the fragrance, leaving a faint peaceful air in the mountain palace.

The Emperor slowly closed his eyes. A little while later, joy appeared on his face, and he opened his eyes with a smile. “I did indeed feel something.”

Fan Xian smiled. “In the palace incense is used, and it is a fine product. But compared to the fragrance of the mountain forest, it is somewhat inelegant.”

To the side, Haitang nodded slightly, seemingly in deep praise of Fan Xian’s words.

Sat in the mountain pavilion, drinking tea, Fan Xian’s doubts began to grow. This was his second day in Shangjing, and the young Emperor had kept him in his palace. This was very much against custom. No matter how you looked at it, he was a foreign official, and although relations between the countries were fine on the face of it, beneath the surface there were always secret maneuvers taking place.

The Emperor suddenly sighed. “Master Fan, do you know why I am keeping you here?”

Fan Xian shivered slightly. He wasn’t sure whether the Emperor had seen through his doubts, or whether it was just chance. “Please, Your Majesty, enlighten me,” he said respectfully.

The Emperor smiled. “Ostensibly, it is because I enjoyed the Banxianzhai Poetry Anthology.” He laughed. “Of course, I enjoy your poetry very much. I used some money from the palace treasury to buy some of the treasures of the Danbo Bookstore and have your poetry published throughout Qi, sending it to academies throughout the land. Do you intend to repay me for my interest?”

The ruler of a country, using his own money to publish the works of a young poet and make him famous. How could Fan Xian not feel utterly moved?

He had not expected there to be a hint of bitterness in Fan Xian’s face. Dawdling for a while, he finally stood up and saluted the Emperor – though in his head, he scolded him. There was no such thing as piracy in this world, but the royal household had caused a 30 percent drop in business in the north for Danbo Bookstore. Seventh Ye the Shopkeeper tore his hair out daily, and yet he had to thank him.

Haitang suddenly spoke. “Your Majesty, Danbo Bookstore is Master Fan’s business. I’m afraid that not only might Master Fan not appreciate your actions, he may indeed be rather angry.”

Fan Xian smiled. “Not at all,” he explained quickly.

The Emperor looked at Fan Xian with some surprise. “Minister Fan, you are an immortal of poetry, how can you be a merchant?”

Fan Xian forced a smile. “It’s always good to have a little pocket money.”

Haitang laughed. “The largest bookstore in the land, all to give Master Fan a little pocket money.”

The Emperor did not know what had happened between Haitang and Fan Xian just outside Wuduhe, so seeing that there seemed to be some hidden enmity between them, he could not help but find it amusing. “My lady, you and Minister Fan are perhaps the most lauded people in the south and the north. And yet you seem to enjoy squabbling like a child.”

Haitang was somewhat shocked. Finding that her words seemed more pointed, and at odds with her quiet and contented temperament she had had in the past, Fan Xian smiled. “Perhaps Miss Haitang still believes the merchant’s trade to be a lowly one.” Although the Ye family had done much to show the importance of commerce throughout the land, and the royal families of the nations had paid attention to such things, apparently a great many people still looked down on merchants as a profession.

Unexpectedly, Haitang shook her head slightly. “Workers, farmers, merchants, and scholars; all people must work – there are no lowly professions.”

Fan Xian quite liked what she had said.

It seemed that because the Empress Dowager had ordered Haitang to accompany them, the young Emperor was unable to say what he had wanted to say to Fan Xian, and his face grew increasingly vexed.

Fan Xian and Haitang looked at each other. He had presumed that she would tactfully give them some space. Instead she had stayed there, her calm face unchanged, paying no attention to the Emperor’s looks.

The Emperor suddenly laughed self-effacingly and walked to the side of the mountain pavilion, looking out on the flowing mountain waters below him, and sighed. “Fan Xian, what did you think of the scenery of Qi on your journey northward?”

“Northern Qi has a landscape to be treasured,” Fan Xian replied quietly. “Verdant hills and clear water, a vast territory with abundant resources. The common people live in peace and work happily. It was enough to make me gasp in admiration.”

The Emperor suddenly turned around and looked at Fan Xian with a calm gaze that seemed completely unlike the 17-year-old that he was. “So, how would you compare my realm to the Kingdom of Qing?”

[1] “The first concern is affairs of state; pleasure comes later” is a quote from Song dynasty writer Fan Zhongyan.

[2] Fan Zhongyan is regarded to have grown up poor and hungry, and yet ignored his troubles for the sake of studiousness. He was said to subsist on one portion of rice gruel a day, which he would let go cold and divide into four portions, sprinkling only a few chopped vegetables on it, eating it, and going back to his studies.