Chapter 592: Spreading Prestige
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
Shangying City of Chen state.
The sky was just getting bright when a middle-aged man, who could only be described as ordinary-looking, walked toward the West Gate in a hurry. He kept his back awkwardly hunched in the beginning but was soon keeping his head high and his chest puffed. He appeared fully concentrated, looking as if he was a cut above others.
He was the family servant of Minister of Justice Tian Heng, Tian Jian. He was now under his Lord’s orders to investigate something in the bamboo forest.
Despite not being a famed city, there were tens of thousands of households in Shangying. The city walls ran across the land, separating palaces, aristocrat mansions, marketplaces, as well as regular households. Each district had their individual neighborhoods gathered in clusters. News of whatever happened in a particular building would not spread to the ears of those on the street across. This fact alone was enough to demonstrate just how large this city was. Even though Tian Heng was the Minister of Justice, responsible for arresting criminals, he was hard-pressed to be aware of every trivial matter. In fact, his life was rather leisurely as long as there was no disturbance and no one made any report.
Several people had arrived in Chu state more than a month ago and began giving lectures in the bamboo forest. The news did not reach Tian Heng’s ears until he heard his family servant mentioning it. It was only then that he realized that the momentum of this event seemed to have become a little too large to be ignored.
His initial stance was to neither support nor suppress these lectures. The preaching of doctrines was, after all, a fashionable thing to do among the nations in the past decade. He paid them no mind lest he build a reputation of being obstinate. Even so, with the growing influence of the lectures in the bamboo forest, the news finally came to his ears and left him rather shocked. Thus, he sent his trustworthy servant to pay them a visit.
Tian Jian walked briskly. On the street, those who knew him would stop in their tracks to pay their respects, filling him with great satisfaction. When he arrived at the bamboo forest to the west of the city, his joy gradually fell. There were fewer of the upper echelons and more of those in his profession, but they were similar in their frantic pace as if they were worried about missing something important.
“They’re all here to listen to the lectures in the bamboo forest?” Tian Jian was a little surprised but he calmed himself and quickly followed after them.
Even though the bamboo forest in the west of the city was named such, in reality, it was a sparse field of bamboo and had nothing to do with forests whatsoever. In the middle of it was compacted earth half the height of an ordinary man standing tall. Sitting upon it was a woman clad in a spotlessly white robe. Her face was expressionless, almost cold. Her aura was steeped in elegance and her appearance was exquisitely beautiful like a moon fairy descending to the human world.
The woman looked somewhat young and inexperienced, perhaps only in her early twenties. The sight of her sent Tian Jian’s heart throbbing, and he nearly gave in to his impulse. He could not help lamenting. “Even the beauty of the concubine Bao Si of yesteryears is no comparison…”
Being a family servant of the Minister of Justice, he was not just literate but also well read.
He looked around and noticed that everyone sitting around wore looks of sincere admiration.
Placed in front of the woman was a Seven-string Zither. She reached out her hand to gently caress the strings, producing a melody that sounded exceptionally clear in his ears. It was a sound that jolted his spirit. He then realized everyone around him had sitten upright and checked their behavior. The whispering died, giving way to silence.
“Today we’ll discuss the second chapter of the Book of Mo…” The woman’s voice was as melodious as the zither.
Tian Jian’s eyebrows furrowed. “They’re only at the second chapter? Or, should I say, how many times have they discussed the second chapter?”
He put on a proud and stern manner but he could not help the gradual change in his expression as he listened. His mask of dullness faded away, revealing his vivid, wonderful true face.
“To think that the Book of Mo is a skill script!”
“Did she really just impart the skill upon everyone so publicly?”
“On top of that, she’s also teaching them how to read while imparting the skill!”
Tian Jian found this scene to be so ridiculous that he felt as if he had been caught in an exceptionally funny dream. Being a trustworthy family servant, he had naturally long received the impartation of skills and had considerable strength. He was not concerned about the skill of the Book of Mo, but how could they do something like this?
The difficulty of obtaining skills and literacy was what distinguished between the aristocrats and those in the lower echelons of society. How could these people impart their skill without receiving remuneration or even screening their candidates?
This was the greatest joke on earth!
He had worked himself like a dog to get to his current position and finally learned skills and literacy after much difficulty. How could these lowly peasants be worthy?
He looked around vacantly and seemed to have spotted some scholars as well as destitute aristocrats.
What happened next irritated Tian Jian even further. The woman did not just stop at imparting the skill, she even gave a personal demonstration. Everyone listened and watched with rapt attention, comparing her demonstration with their own understanding. Some of them were so engrossed that they wished nothing more than to grow four pairs of ears and two hearts. Some found things like tree barks and wooden planks upon which they carved symbols at crucial points of the lecture so they could recall those key points later on.
Following a question-and-answer session about cultivation, even as Tian Jian was fuming in anger, the woman ended the discussion of the second chapter of the Book of Mo. She then began to talk about the Principles of Mo.
“Principles of Mo?” Tian Jian set aside his emotions and forced himself to listen attentively.
Yet he had barely suppressed the wave of emotions earlier when another one hit him again. He was so furious that he nearly jumped, spat, and cursed.
“Love with Impartiality? The world doesn’t discriminate in its mercy, so must the people. Even if there is a difference between close and distant relatives, one must always keep a merciful heart? The aristocrats must not disparage the commoners while the rich must not insult the poor?” Tian Jian’s expression turned malevolent. He struggled to resist the urge to curse in anger. “Outrageous! The feudal princes are born nobles! How can they be mentioned in the same breath as poor and lowly commoners, or show love with impartiality for the latter?”
“Refrain from fighting wars of injustice? There are no righteous wars in the world!”
“Against Fatalism? Adherence to the Will of Heaven? Bestowing of the Ghosts and Gods? Unpreordained Fate? This… this seems to be rather logical…”
Tian Jian’s eyes would glower and his eyebrows would lift every now and then as he listened. When he was furious, he wanted to tear the woman on the stage to shreds. When he was happy, he wanted to prostrate himself in worship of her. He felt as if she had spoken the words buried at the bottom of his heart, that these words embodied the real truth, and that as long as he worked hard, there will be a chance for him to climb further up.
“When feudal princes fight, they leave behind scorched lands for hundreds of miles without any living humans. Even when white bones fill the lands, there is no one to collect them. This is not an isolated case. I believe everyone here has a similar experience. Only when you love one another with impartiality, act in a mutually beneficial manner, and refrain from meaningless wars can such events be prevented…” Onstage, Ruan Yushu secretly heaved a sigh of relief. It was her turn to give a lecture today but it was not her expertise. The relief she felt at the end of her lecture could be compared to her joy in eating ten pieces of dried dragon fish at once.
She did not preside over the suffering support group. Neither did she mention the Gods and Buddhas, Immortals and Saints, nor asked if the lives of aristocrats were greater than that of commoners by virtue of their birth. Even if it was a mere idea, it might cause enmity with the aristocrats before their plan could succeed. It was even more dangerous to spread the idea of uniting the different nations under a single rule and returning peace and happiness to the people. Chen was but a small nation; it was impossible for them to harbor such wild ambitions. To make this idea known would only produce the opposite of their desired outcome. Explaining the simple concept of Non-aggression would suffice.
In the past month or so, they did not directly seek an audience with the King of Chen. He was, after all, not an ‘admirer of the wise and talented’ like Lord Bo’Le. There was a high possibility of them being sent away, considering they were unknown. Thus, they spent considerable time and effort in giving lectures, expanding their influence, and building their prestige to build their strength as much as possible. This way, they would be able to prompt the King of Chen to take the initiative to summon them.
The outcome was better than they expected. With the propaganda efforts of Zhao Bai and the rest, the popularity of their lectures grew. From something no one knew or paid interest to, the lectures were now attended by everyone from ordinary folks to a number of knowledgeable physicians and scholars. They would commend the lectures as they listened in admiration.
This caused the fame of Meng Qi and his friends to spread far and wide until the news reached the ears of the aristocrats. It was to the extent that those living in neighboring cities would rush over to Shangying to listen to the lectures. The names ‘Five Virtuous Souls’ and Mr. Su became widely mentioned in the streets and alleys.
Upon seeing that Ruan Yushu was done with her lecture, the listeners immediately stood up and saluted as she left. They wore expressions of deep admiration and treated her with the utmost respect.
Tian Jin’s heart was assailed by his turbulent emotions. He felt both a stunned fury as well as a dumbfounded confusion. He did not know how he made it out of the bamboo forest and back to the Tian family manor.
“Teaching literacy, imparting skills, not receiving compensation, allowing everyone to listen?” The black-bearded Tian Heng was glaring after simply hearing the first part of Tian Jian’s report.
Tian Jian lowered his head. “Yes.”
“Outrageous and arrogant! What treacherous people!” Tian Heng paced back and forth, exclaiming in anger. “Society is on the verge of collapse! On the verge of collapse, I tell you!”
Based on the Rites of Zhou, how could those people impart their skills as they please? Literacy is also a privilege enjoyed only by aristocrats and their disciples!
Considering the state of chaos the world was in, many nations had begun flouting laws and rites. They had become so unscrupulous that they stopped at nothing to strengthen themselves. Tian Heng had been lamenting about this for a long time now, however, when something this impactful happened under his nose, he was nevertheless still angered. More than ever, he had the feeling that society was falling into ruins and the world had become a dark place to live in.
He took several steps in order to calm down, and then said, “Continue.”
Tian Jian took note of his Lord’s expression and decided to talk first about the concepts of Non-aggression and Wars of Injustice before bringing up the contents of Love with Impartiality, Honoring the Virtuous, Adherence to the Will of Heaven, Beliefs of the Supernatural, and Frugality.
Tian Heng looked increasingly red in the face but he no longer exploded in anger. He forced himself to stay calm and finish listening to the entire report.
“Use talented people without considering their status or background… Humph! They’re trying to excavate our ancestral tombs…” Tian Heng said through gritted teeth.
Tian Jin immediately asked, “Lord, should we expel them?”
“Expel them for the crime of lecturing? Won’t we give Tang state an excuse? Hang on. They’re from Chu?” Chen Guochang, being a vassal of Chu state, was on the receiving end of the hostility from Tang state. Minister of Justice Tian Heng dared not act rashly.
“Yes. They’re indeed from Chu,” Tian Jin answered honestly.
Tian Heng paced some more before saying in a low voice, “Well, they’re just lecturing, not lobbying. We’ll first send someone to Chu state to ask around. We can expel them after we get specific news.”
“Yes.” Tian Jian turned around to leave.
Right then, Tian Heng’s youngest son, Tian Kui, coincidentally passed by while muttering under his breath. “The world lacks benevolence… it doesn’t discriminate in its mercy… loves with impartiality and non-aggression… appreciate the talented…”
“You treacherous son! What are you saying?” Tian Heng’s anger flared and he slapped his son squarely on the face.
Tian Kuo’s strength was fairly decent, close to the realm of the Exterior. However, he dared not evade the slap due to propriety so he endured it. His father slapped him with such force that the corner of his mouth bled.
“Honoring the Virtuous? If the world truly does honor the virtuous, do you think an idiot like you would have any chance of success?” Tian Heng roared.
Tian Kuo’s neck was taut as he stared down his father with stubborn eyes. “Father, the world has changed a long time ago. Obtaining a position of power despite not having the strength nor the talent cannot last! You can’t use ceremonial rites as an excuse to constrain the desires of others!
“The way the world currently operates goes against ‘virtue’!
“Mr. Su once said that the big powers of the world are like torrential river waters; they flow in the direction of prosperity and kill all those that rebel against them. If we do things that we are incapable of doing, failure is definite! Thus, we must not confine ourselves to the Dishu system and hold up the talented! Only then will our survival be guaranteed and only then can we strengthen our nation!”
Tian Heng stared at the son that he no longer wanted to recognize as his own while muttering. “Treacherous son, treacherous son…”
Several days later, Tian Heng heard something shocking before news from Chu state could arrive. The King of Chen had summoned the lecturers of the bamboo forest!
“The King… The King actually summoned them…” His legs went soft and he fell limply on the straw mat.
Inside the royal court of Chen state.
Meng Qi and the others had just kowtowed in greeting to the King of Chen. When they had taken their seats, they heard the King of Chen say, “I’ve heard of your great talents. However, Chen is a peaceful and happy nation with harmonious relations between the common folk and the aristocrats. I fear your talents have no use here.”
He wore a standard long black beard and had a vigorous spirit. He was a grandmaster.
This was a small nation that Meng Qi and his friends had carefully selected, where the authority of the monarch surpassed the power of the aristocrats!
When the King of Chen was done speaking, Meng Qi smiled. His expression soon turned serious as he lowered his voice and said,
“Chen Guowei is in a precarious state, and calamity for this nation straddles the fine line between dawn and dusk. Where is the peace and happiness that you speak of?”