# 40. A Fight Li Mubai looked over at the bulletin wall, as more and more students went over, with even some teachers accompanying them, smacking their thighs with excitement, praising this poem as being so clever, delicate, and refined, and though ordinary of word, deep in meaning. Li’s ears twitched, hearing some of the conversation that drifted by on the wind: “First there was *for on the road, is there anyone who knows not you*, and now a poem exalting learning, could it be that the poetic tradition of our Great Feng’s Confucianists is going to rise again?” “For two hundred years, there were only a handful of truly great works, but today there are now two… us intellectuals finally have face to face our descendants.” “Compared to *on the road, is there anyone who knows not you*, this poem exalting learning will definitely spread even further, and will be used time and time again to teach and warn scholars.” “Why doesn’t it have a signature, which great scholar wrote it?” *No signature… this poem definitely will spread far…* Li Mubai had a thought, glanced over at his two friends, who were talking quietly to each other, and silently backed away, leaving them there. Zhang Shen suddenly found Li Mubai absent, “Eh, where’s Brother Chunjing?” “Was he not just over here…” Chen Tai looked left and right, and then pointed towards the bulletin board, “Over there.” Zhang Shen looked over, seeing Li Mubai pushing away the crowd of students, a brush in his hand, writing something on the large piece of paper. Both of them concentrated, their pupils suddenly turning deep and boundless, as if they could see a speck of dust a hundred metres away. They saw clearly, that Li Mubai had wrote a small column of characters next to the poem’s title: *The tail of Geng-zi year, the start of Xin-chou, my teacher Li Mubai asked to encourage learning, I had an inspiration, and so wrote this poem.* Even this could do? The two great scholars were instantly in uproar. “Shamless old bastard, put down your brush!” … Situated at the back of the academy was a refined hall, built next to the mountain. To its east it bordered a six-tiered waterfall, and to its west was a bamboo forest that was green all year round. In the north, bamboo was a rare material, not easy to grow, not easy to breed. The sight of wind swishing through the bamboo leaves, after a cool spring night’s rain, was a sight only seen in the south. The teachers of the Academy brought bamboo from the south, and raised it here with great effort, spending five decades to raise this thick flourishing bamboo forest. The Confucianists had a particular liking for bamboo, praising its grace and stature, and commonly compared bamboo to people, to oneself (especially in praise). The dean of the Cloud Deer Academy one day came over to look, and thought *woah, this bamboo forest is really thick and lush. Bamboo is not afraid of deep cold, and keeps its stature for all four seasons, doesn’t that describe me?* *Everyone else shoo, this is my home now.* Thus, that hall became the private meditative space for the dean. In the simple but elegant tea room, a hemp-robe wearing old man sat drinking tea with a young woman in colourful attire. A group of armoured well-trained bodyguards stood outside the building. The old man’s salt-and-pepper white hair hung loose over his shoulders, giving him an unkempt and carefree aura. The creases beside his nose, and between his brows, were very deep, but when he smiled, the ones at the corners of his eyes beat out both those. Just from his appearance, it would be extremely difficult for people to link this unkempt old man in Confucian clothing to the dean of the Academy. The current top of the Confucian world. The young woman sat with him was just over twenty, with her hair in a simple conch-shell shaped knot, adorned with a headdress flashing brilliant gold, but together a clear sign that this woman had not yet married. She wore a beautiful moon-white dress, its hems dragging on the floor. Her face was clear and graceful, more than any common woman, like a beautiful but not bewitching lotus flower. Her two bright eyes were like two mirrors, and gave off an unmistakeable cold and noble aura. Her body was curvy and well shaped, in a way that would draw the eyes of any man. “After half a year apart, your silver hairs have increased significantly.” The eldest princess spoke, her voice clear and cold. “All through frustration,” the dean laughed, taking a sip. “Today when I climbed the mountain, I heard the Academy’s disciples reciting a poem… *On the road ahead, surely will there be friends dear and true; throughout the land is there anyone who knows not you?*” Her eyes trembled, like a ripple on a mirror-clear lake, “Such a beautiful work, this princess is very pleased by it. May I know which great scholar wrote this work?” The dean Zhao Shou[^1] shook his head, laughing. “Why does the good dean laugh?” “This old man is not laughing at your highness, rather I am laughing at how this Cloud Deer Academy is full of talent, yet none could surpass another’s work of whim. No, the entire Confucian circle of the Great Feng’s thoughts have become stiff, stuck in old ways, with no spirit. And what poetry needs most of all is spirit.” “…The good dean’s words do confuse this princess.” The Eldest Princess’s expression was calm and peaceful, her hand like orchid flowers gently held the teacup, her way of drinking tea noble and refined. Zhao Shou sighed, “The one who wrote this poem is not a scholar, rather he art a petty official of Changle County.” The princess ever so slightly stirred. This eldest princess of the Great Feng was different from ordinary women. She was an unmarried woman of intellectual upbringing, having great talent in all the scholarly talents of Guqin, Go, calligraphy, and illustration. This eldest princess played Go with Wei Yuan, learned military strategy with Zhang Shen, learned governance with Chen Tai. The sage’s classics she could recite backwards without hesitation, essays and debates she was a match for any disciple of the Imperial Academy. Well read, clever, astute. When she was eighteen, the Emperor specifically allowed her to engage in the Hanlinyuan[^2]’s work of compiling texts. Last year, the eldest princess tried to re-edit the previous dynasty’s history annals, and brought about many civil servant’s protest, thus ultimately nothing was finished. “Does the good dean really not want to take up official duties?” The Eldest Princess’s eyes were sincere, her tone of voice thorough, “The Confucianists are at their origin men, and their lives are not long. The good Dean shouldn’t waste the many years of talent he has.” Very few knew that the official governor post in Qingzhou was originally for Zhao Shou. But Zhao Shou refused to take it up, and wrote a letter of recommendation to the court for Ziyang Jushi. “If I can waste these years of talent, and instead open up a new path of learning for my students and their students, then why should this old man not be happy to do so?” Zhao Shou sighed, “But it is a shame that I have sat in the bamboo forest, pondering the way for more than a decade, have put in blood, sweat and tears, yet still cannot leap over the chasm that the Lesser Sage Chen split open.” “The good dean’s will is too deep, why should it be like this?” The eldest princess poured herself more tea, expression as calm as ever, “My father his majesty has offered you an official job, because he is planning to employ heavily the talents of the Academy again. If you’re thinking about the futures of the Academy’s students, then you should not have refused.” Zhao Shou sneered, “Heh, is it that he is finding it harder and harder to control Wei Yuan, or is it that that bunch of purple wearing aristocrats’ dragon killing art getting too sharp?” “It’s for the common people of Feng, for all under heaven.” she replied, one word at a time, those words coming from her heart. Zhao Shou’s smile became even more mocking. The eldest princess’s cold and aloof attitude melted somewhat, and she sighed, “After the Campaign of Mountains and Seas, the influence of our Great Feng has been getting weaker by the day, disaster after disaster hit the land, banditry, raiding, deaths, and refugees are too numerous to count. The calamity facing the civil servants is getting clearer and clearer. “The dukes and nobles at court only know party politics, are only full of empty-handed jabber. Those who actually do anything make up the very few. Good dean, the country needs a tailor to repair it.” She did not wait for Zhao Shou to respond, and continued, speaking directly “Three years ago, the northern barbarians ripped up our treaty, and repeatedly raided our northern border, pillaging and capturing our people. “The southern barbarians plunder our trade routes, ambush garrisons, madly trying to regain their lost territory. “The states of the western realms watch from the side with cold eyes. The Buddhist Sect will use this threat to try to spread their religion throughout the central planes.” She slowly increased her volume, her tone no longer cold, “Good dean, you are a scholar, will you not return to your place, to manage this country?” Zhao Shou looked at the princess for a while, and then his gaze shifted from those elegant and refined features, from that face that carried a noble aura, looking out towards the flourishing green bamboo garden, shaking his head and sighing, “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that the time is not right. May Your Highness return.” The eldest princess showed a hard-to-hide disappointment, and was just about to say her goodbyes and leave, when outside the hall came hurried steps, as a teacher of the Academy ran over, shouting, “Dean, things are not good! Li Mubai, Zhang Shen and Chen Tai are fighting!” --- [^1]: 赵守 [^2]: Belonging to the Imperial Academy, the Hanlinyuan was responsible for keeping records, compiling histories, and the like.