Joy of Life - Chapter 372[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:48:40]
Chapter 372: The Family Property Lawsuit
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
A huge piece of gossip buzzed around the Suzhou government. The people, who lived to watch a show and were not afraid of the government, had heard the news earlier. They all waited around the yamen early in the morning, talking as they waited.
Everyone was discussing the matter that had spread like wildfire through Suzhou and gradually attracted all the eyes in Jiangnan—the battle of the Ming family property.
No one had imagined that the seventh young master of the Ming family, who should have died long ago, would suddenly appear before them all. Furthermore, he had changed into the leader of the Jiangnan water bandits and was a famous figure in the underworld. During the palace treasury incident, the Seventh Ming’s identity had changed again, and he had become a royal merchant responsible for managing the palace treasury’s road to the North.
No matter how his identity changed, what attracted people’s attention most was still his identity as a descendant of the Ming family. Today, Xia Qifei was going to enter the Suzhou government and hand in his suit to sue for the Ming family property. Who knew how the Ming family would respond to this?
Into whose hands would the enormous Ming family fortune fall into?
In the hearts of most people, they were biased toward the Ming family. First, they had hidden well their darker side and cultivated an extremely clean and bright image for the Jiangnan gentlemen and people. Second, Ming Qingda was the eldest son of the wife of the Ming family. Even if Xia Qifei was truly the seventh son of the Ming family, according to Qing law and age-old precedent, the family property should belong to the eldest to inherit.
Besides, who could actually prove that Xia Qifei was Ming Qingcheng?
It was very lively outside of the Suzhou yamen but inside was unbelievably tense. The Suzhou Zhizhou lay sprawled on his table with a headache. He sighed dispiritedly and sadly to the advisor besides him. “Tell me, what do I today?”
The Ming family was a centuries-old large family with countless connections in the Jiangnan officialdom. They were long inseparable. If something happened to the Ming family, a small half of the officials in Jiangnan would probably go down with them. For important positions in the Suzhou government, the Ming family had long fed them fully. Xia Qifei insisted on making the family property case. Of course, the Suzhou Zhizhou had to stand on the side of Ming Qingda and the matriarch to consider this question. However, behind Xia Qifei was the imperial envoy. This was not someone the Zhizhou could afford to offend.
The advisor’s face was filled with terror as he walked in anxious circles. Suddenly he stopped his movements and snapped the paper fan in his hand closed.
“Sir, it is time to be a clean official.” The forehead of the advisor scrunched into an ugly looking knot as he gritted his teeth.
The Suzhou Zhizhou panicked and said in great anger, “What kind of crap is this? Am I not an honest official normally?” Finishing these words, he thought of some things and suddenly lost his anger. “This is a Ming family matter. I cannot remove myself out of the situation. After all, I am sitting in this position because I leaned on the old Matriarch in past years.”
The advisor knew that the old master had misunderstood his meaning. He quickly edged forward and said a few words to explain in a low voice, “Sir, have you seen anyone come from the Ming family to say anything?”
The Suzhou Zhizhou paused. After thinking a bit, he said strangely, “You’re right. The Ming family hasn’t sent anyone to come make sure we are on the same page.”
The advisor smiled darkly, “Thus, it seems that the Ming family has a card up their sleeve. No matter how this case is made or whatever Xia Qifei has in his hands…the Ming family’s enormous property would still only belong to the old master… since the Ming family isn’t worried, naturally they have the confidence to win. So, why are you anxious for them?”
The Suzhou Zhizhou slightly lowered his head and asked using an extremely low voice, “Then in your opinion, what should I do?
This advisor specialized in criminal law and was intimately familiar with Qing laws. With a swish, he opened his folded fan and proudly said, “No matter whether or not Xia Qifei could find an old person from back then to prove his past, even if he was the seventh son of the Ming family, following Qing law, he has no share in this family property. Since you don’t want to offend either side, and the Ming family is presently protected by Qing law, what are you worried about? Today, you only have to act with justice and handle the case according to the law…I think it will be difficult for the imperial envoy to blame you.”
There were countless eyes on this shocking Jiangnan case, and the Suzhou Zhizhou furrowed his brow and thought for a while. He felt that he could only follow this method. By acting with justice and determining the case according to the law, he could not offend Fan Xian. He could passively watch the Ming family succeed and also raise his reputation as an official. It seemed to be a win-win-win scenario.
He finally relaxed and let out a long breath. “It is indeed so. No action is the best action.”
The drum outside of the government began to sound.
The Zhizhou furrowed his brows and cursed. “This Xia water bandit really is in a rush.”
Although he said this, he did not dare to slight him. He tidied his official’s robe, put on an imposing expression with a trace of benevolence, and walked out of his study toward the law court.
Arriving in the court, he could only hear the clamor outside of the building. It took a wave of “sha wei” to suppress the din outside caused by the Suzhou people.
The Zhizhou narrowed his eyes as he gazed down the court and found, to his surprise, that Xia Qifei had come alone to the law court. There was no one beside him. It looked like the imperial envoy did not send someone to help Xia Qifei.”
“Who is there in the court?”
“Commoner Xia Qifei.”
“What matter do you have to report?”
Xia Qifei was silent for a moment. His attention wandered a little and he momentarily forgot to reply. He wore a pure blue cotton robe, and the whiskers on his chin had been shaved completely clean revealing clear skin. He looked to be heroic and full of vitality. The hands that were showing at the sleeves were shaking very slightly. It looked like today’s matter had great meaning for the Seventh young master of the Ming family.
The Zhizhou glanced at him with some annoyance. He felt that this man standing proudly in the court was not an insignificant challenge to his power. Furthermore, when facing him, he didn’t kneel.
He prepared to fly in a rage but found his sleeve being tugged on by his advisor.
The advisor said quietly, “Fan…Fan…don’t mind the small things.”
The Zhizhou was startled. That’s right. What was the point of kicking up a fuss about these small things?
Xia Qifei finally lowered his head. He wrapped one hand around a fist and said in a clear voice, “I am commoner Xia Qifei. My original surname was Ming, name Qingcheng, and I am the seventh son of the old Ming master. Since my youth, I have been kicked out of the house by the violent woman and have wandered lost and miserable until today. Having lost my father and my home, today, I have unwillingly entered the court to sue the old matriarch of the Suzhou Ming family as well as the master of the family, Ming Qingda, for colluding with bandits, rashly harming others, and stealing my property…please will the just and incorruptible official find justice for me!”
When these words were said, the entire yard filled with noise. Everyone knew that Xia Qifei had come today to take the family property, but no one had imagined he would immediately accuse the old Ming matriarch and Ming Qingda of conspiring to plotting murder back then. Each word was sharp and edged with menace. Furthermore, he had used violent woman and bandit all in one breath, not leaving any space to maneuver.
The people outside the court began to clamor. They thought the old Ming matriarch was a benevolent old woman who had done countless kind things over the years. How could she be connected to a violent woman? They also faintly guess that the old matriarch and Ming Qingda probably couldn’t escape their connection to the strange disappearance of the Seventh young master all those years ago. But, people always believed what they believed. They believed what they had already convinced themselves, so they hissed in displeasure at this accusation pointed toward Ming Qingda.
The Suzhou Zhizhou also furrowed his forehead and said with annoyance, “These are serious accusations. Words are not enough. Where is the official form?”
Xia Qifei drew out the official form and handed it with two hands to the advisor at the bottom of the court. After the advisor handed the form to the Zhizhou, the two of them leaned close to read it and felt a shock. This form was well-written and perceptive. Each word accused the old Ming matriarch, and furthermore, it carefully avoided the rules the Qing law had concerning things of this matter. It only focused on the old Ming master’s will and did not spare any efforts on detailing Xia Qifei’s miserable and wandering life these years, moving all those who read it.
Although the Zhizhou was moved, he still smiled coldly in his heart. He narrowed his eyes. This kind of writing was good for a novel, but it would do no good in a lawsuit.
He banged the wood block and called in a severe voice, “Xia Qifei, do you have evidence to present?”
Xia Qifei replied calmly, “No one from the Ming family has arrived yet. Why are you in such a rush?”
Seeing Xia Qifei’s calm expression, the Zhizhou furrowed his brows. He wondered if Xiz Qifei actually had some kind of fatal weapon? He was silent for a while and discussed it with his advisor. He then sent a subordinate to ask someone of the Ming family to come and answer the case.
Following the annotations as written beside Qing law, this was a civil case and originally did not need the defendant to appear. However, the matter contested today was too big. The powers behind the two sides were too big, and its effect on the Jiangnan area was too big. The Suzhou Zhizhou also did not dare to drag this out too long. In any case, he knew the Ming family would certainly not stay out of it.
As expected, the bailiff had just stepped out when someone from the Ming family followed them in. It looked like the Ming family had already prepared someone to answer the litigations and was just waiting to fight this victory-assured battle.
Seeing who came, the Suzhou Zhizhou furrowed his brows again and asked in a cold voice, “Who approaches?”
The elegant young master smiled slightly and bent forward in a bow. “Ming Lanshi greets you Sir.”
This young master of the Ming family knew that the Suzhou Zhizhou was putting on a show right now. He had to play the role of an upright and plainspoken official in front of the common people, so he spoke coldly. Usually, this Zhizhou was much friendlier to him. However, after the Ming family’s analysis these past few days confirmed the situation of their assured victory of this property lawsuit, Ming Lanshi understood what the Suzhou Zhizhou was thinking and did not concern himself with it.
“Hmm,” The Suzhou Zhizhou said. “Recently, the master of the Ming family is not well. As the eldest grandchild of the oldest child, it is reasonable for you to come and deal with this matter. Come, give the form to Ming Lanshi to read.”
The advisor brought the form down. Unexpectedly, Ming Lanshi did not accept it. Instead, he smiled slightly and bowed, “Sir, the Ming family are not criminals familiar with the law, so I do not understand the tangles within. I ask for the help of the litigation masters.”
After he finished talking, he glanced to the side. The so-called “criminals familiar with the law” was naturally directed toward Xia Qifei to his side. Xia Qifei did not have any reaction and didn’t even glance at his big nephew.
Following Ming Lanshi’s words, a person flashed by behind them and accepted the form from the advisor with both hands and smiled fawningly.
The Suzhou Zhizhou and advisor saw the person and their originally hovering hearts immediately felt reassured. This litigation master, Chen Bochang, was a famous litigation master around the Jiangnan area. In other words, he was the most infamous litigation rod. He worked well with the local governments. When he made a case, he could always turn black into white, bring the dead back to live, and turn men into women. He had a glib tongue and walked the world with Qing law in his hands, and he had never lost.
The Ming family had brought out Chen Bochang. With the Qing law concerning the eldest inheriting set in stone protecting it, there was no way they could lose this family property lawsuit.
Chen Bochang held Xia Qifei’s official form and read it closely. A disdainful smile appeared unconsciously at the corner of his lips. He seemed to belittle the other party, and the imperial envoy behind him a little. He cleared his throat and lightly laughed. “What a touching and moving story…only I’m not sure…Chieftain Xia, what this story has to do with the Ming family?”
This litigation master referred to Xia Qifei as Chieftain Xia to affect public opinion. He was reminding the commoners who were listening that this Xia Qifei was still a seasoned killed on the rivers and lakes, and a leader of the underworld.
Xia Qifei said without any expression, “It tells the story of the Ming family for the past 20 years, and you say it has nothing to do with the Ming family?”
Chen Bochang suddenly laughed coldly and said mockingly, “Sir Xia is very amusing. You say it is the Ming family’s story, and so it is the Ming family’s story? You say you are the Seventh young master of the Ming family, and so you are the Seventh young master of the Ming family?”
He saluted the Suzhou Zhizhou in the hall and smiled, “Sir, this case is too absurd. There is truly no need to continue it.”
The Suzhou Zhizhou pretended to furrow his brow and said, “From where do these rash words come?”
Chen Bochang smiled and said, “There is not a shred of evidence, yet he calls himself the seventh son of the Ming family…sir, if another person called themselves the seventh son of the Ming family, what of it? Everyone in Jiangnan knows that the old Ming master had seven sons and four daughters. The seventh son was born of a concubine who was sickly as a child and unfortunately died decades ago of illness. How could there now be a seventh son of the Ming family? If anyone can say they are a descendant of the Ming family and make a suit in court to destroy the Ming family’s reputation, while also damaging the name of the old Ming matriarch and master, were is the justice in that?”
He gazed at Xia QIfei and smiled slightly. “Of course, everyone today knows that Chieftan Xia is not a normal person…however, I am curious as to why you would make such an absurd move after the palace treasury bidding? What sinister intentions are you hiding that cannot be told to others?”
Chen Bochang clearly found the case to be lacking in challenge, so he had attacked aggressively from the beginning with devastating criticisms. He gazed at Xia Qifei and shook his head. “Without evidence, don’t randomly sue people. Without witnesses, don’t randomly attack…Chieftan Xia, today you humiliated the Ming family’s reputation. In a moment, I will definitely sue you for leveling false accusations.”
Those who had personally witnessed the old matriarch beating Xia Qifei’s birth mother to death and chasing Xia Qifei out had all long been silenced these dozen years. It was impossible for Xia Qifei to have any evidence or witnesses at hand, thus the Ming family was very confident.
Suddenly a whiny and lazy voice that raised goosebumps on all those who heard it came from outside the Suzhou yamen.
“Who says you can’t have a case without evidence? Who says you can’t report a murder without witnesses?”
“In the first year of the Qing calendar, a concubine in Dingzhou killed her husband. The wife reported it with no evidence. Later, a saber was found in the stables. Case solved.”
“In the Ministry of Justice archives, spring roll, case 137. With the Nanyue King of the Song dynasty as an example, it is clearly stated that civil cases are split into three levels. Of cases involving more than 10,000 strings of cash, they are not restricted by the rigid rules, do not need to stay in prison, and there is no need for complete evidence.”
“The Ming family property is much more than 10,000 strings of cash.”
“With two precedents, why can’t this case be made?”
“For the matter of evidence, after it is reported, the court will naturally inspect the scene and look for clues. Why are you in such a rush?”
“Besides…who says Sir Xia doesn’t have evidence?”
The person who walked in from outside the yamen wore a scholarly robe and held a golden fan in his hands. He was ostentatious and arrogant. He spoke rapidly, bringing in example cases and citing Ministry of Justice archives. Although he argued slightly irrationally, he successfully suppressed the Ming family’s forceful and imposing pressure and pulled the gazes of everyone to him.
The Suzhou Zhizhou angrily stroked his beard and said, “Who are you? How dare you enter without being summoned! Come, beat him!”
The man folded his golden fan and stuck it behind him. He bowed respectfully to the top of the hall and said, “Sir, you can’t beat me.”
After saying this, he retrieved a piece of paper from his sleeve and waved it in the air. He smiled mischievously and said, “I am the same as this Sir Chen Bochang. I am also a litigation master, however, I am Xia Qifei’s litigation master. I have arrived late. I hope you will spare me that offense and allow me to stand, with my body intact, in the court and reason with the Ming family…if this case hasn’t even been tried and sir has the litigation master of one side beaten into a faint…if this gets out, I’m afraid it will affect your reputation.”
Everyone was startled.
Xia Qifei gave a pained smile. How could the imperial envoy send him such a willful and troublesome litigation master?
The Suzhou Zhizhou was caught by the litigation master’s words and extremely angry. Yet, he couldn’t actually beat him, otherwise, he would not be able to explain it to the imperial envoy. For a time he couldn’t say anything.
He couldn’t talk, but Chen Bochang’s eyes lit up. He e stared at the litigation master with his fan stuck behind him. He felt he had finally met an opponent who was silver-tongued and glib, and he was very excited. He also stuck his fan behind him and said, “The two examples you raised earlier, those are special cases. Particularly that of the Ministry of Justice spring cases. It is only for the Supreme Court of the Ministry of Justice in the capital to consult. It never affects the judgement of local cases.”
The other litigation master shook his head and said, “Not so. In the fourth year of Daxing, when the former Prime Minister Ling Ruofu went to appraise matters in Suzhou, he followed the spring cases to judge a family property case. From where does the ‘never affect’ come from?”
Chen Bochang’s heart clenched. He indeed had no recollection of the case the other party had brought up. Either he was making things up or this familiarity with Qing law and past precedents…was even better than his.
He only heard the other litigator continue speaking with a slight smile. “Brother Bochang, don’t say things like the Qing law doesn’t follow past sentencings. Whether or not past precedents are used is not limited by the Qing law, rather it is all at the whim of the main judge.”
He raised his hands and bowed toward the Suzhou Zhizhou to curry favor, but the Suzhou Zhizhou was instead cursing in his heart. He knew that the words “at his whim” had forced him into a corner. It looked like this family property case had to be investigated.
Who exactly was this litigation master? Chen Bochang and Ming Lanshi met each other’s gaze and both felt strange. Where in Jiangnan did such a shameless litigation master come from?
The Suzhou Zhihou finally could not resist anymore and opened his mouth to ask, “Please, dare I ask, what exactly is sir’s name?”
Xia Qifei was also looking at his litigation master and saw him raise his hands and smile. “I am Song Shiren. I am a member of the Jingdou Litigation Masters Guild, transferred here under special permission from the Ministry of Justice to come today especially for the honor of participating in the largest family fortune case in history.”
The Suzhou Zhizhou immediately had the desire to escape. Ming Lanshi also felt his mouth go dry, and Chen Bochang was even more shocked.
Who was Song Shiren? He was the most famous barrister in Jingdou. It could be said he was the most famous barrister in the entire Qing Kingdom. Chen Bochang’s reputation was only in Jiangnan, but this Song Shiren was famous under all heaven for being clever, sly, and difficult to provoke. Ever since the start of his career, relying on his study of the Qing law since youth, he had made countless officials lose all face and made countless victims miserable and cry.
Song Shiren’s fame and infamy had even been heard of by the common people of Suzhou. When they heard him announce his name, it was like the lid of a pot had been raised. It grew very lively outside of the yamen. Everyone knew that today’s show was going to be even better.
Ming Lanshi glanced worriedly at Chen Bochang. After Chen Bochang slightly panicked, he recovered his calm. He narrowed his eyes. A powerful urge to banter suddenly exploded inside him. With a cold smile he said, “Young master, rest assured. I have yet to lose a case, but Song Shiren has lost before!”
Chen Bochang seemed to have forgotten a very important point. The only case Song Shiren lost in his life was the case last time when the Count Sinan’s illegitimate child, He Quan, hit Guo Baokun. Song Shiren had only lost to Fan Xian once.
Since they were going to fight a family property case, they had to first confirm Xia Qifei’s true past and whether or not he actually was the seventh son of the old Ming master.
Chen Bochang’s stance was firm. If the Xia Qifei could not prove this matter, the other things did not need to be discussed at all. Only then he would not give the infamous Song Shiren an opportunity to grasp his flaws.
The Suzhou Zhizhou furrowed his brows and asked that Xia Qifei’s side provide solid evidence to prove his identity.
Song Shiren was no longer as relaxed as before. He shook his head at Xia QIfei and invited out their first witness.
She was a midwife whose age was already very advanced. Her walk was slightly trembling and unsteady. She approached the court and verified, between breaths, that she was the one who had helped old master Ming’s concubine give birth back then and that newly born infant had a green birthmark on the back of his waist. Xia Qifei opened his clothing in front of the court. Indeed, there was a green mark on the back of his waist.
Chen Bochang furrowed his brows. He gritted his teeth and said in a low voice to Ming Lanshi, “Why didn’t you mentioned this yesterday?”
Ming Lanshi audibly ground his teeth and said in an angry and low voice, “This midwife…is fake! The one back then died a few years ago from an illness!”
Chen Bochang sighed sorrowfully. Even if they knew the midwife was fake, how could they prove it? Although that midwife looked muddled, in her answer earlier she remembered the position of the Ming Garden very clearly. She knew the appearance of the old Ming master and what the concubine wore to the rooms. She remembered everything correctly. From the spectator’s perspective, this midwife couldn’t be more real.
The Overwatch Council really was good at passing off fakes as genuine.