# 59. This Child is too Difficult, I Can't Teach Her A line of horses and carts slowly stopped at the foot of Qingyun mountain. From the opulent carriage, the eldest princess walked down the steps, and under guard of her soldiers started climbing the mountain. The mountain zephyrs slowly swirled past, ruffling her dress and silken hair. The cold, proud and noble princess faced the oncoming breeze, and squinted her bright eyes. She saw that in the pavilion on the mountainside, there was an old man with salt-and-pepper white hair. The old man sat in front of a table, and opposite him was a young child. Beside the young child was a young woman, with her head lowered, her appearance stunningly beautiful. The old teacher said solemnly, “I’ve told you many times, your posture must be upright when holding a brush.” The child replied: “I know, Sir.” The old teacher: “Then you should change to it.” The child: “Change what?” “Ah whatever, we’ll not write today. Recite the *Sanzijing*[^1] with me.” The old man sighed, and then cleared his throat: “*When man is born, their nature is good.*” Child: “When man is born, their what?” Teacher: “When man is born, their nature is good.” Child: “When… nature is good.” Teacher: “Why did you stop in the middle.” Child: “I forgot.” Teacher: “From the top. When man is born, their nature is good.” Child: “When man is born, their what?” The old teacher was driven crazy. Outside the pavilion, the eldest princess could not help but laugh. Her bright clear eyes flashed with laughter, and in an instant a fragrance seemed to arise around her, as the jade beauty came to life. The old teacher knew the eldest princess, and immediately rose, respectfully cupping his hands, “Greetings, Eldest Princess.” The noble, cold princess nodded slightly, and with a voice as crisp as early spring ice, replied “When did the Cloud Deer Academy gain a new child?” The old teacher turned, indicating that the sisters should also show their respects. Xu Lingyue rose, and bowed, whereas Xu Lingyin just looked vacuously at this woman, whose breasts rivalled those of her mother’s, and whose appearance even beat her by one or two points. The teacher said awkwardly “The young child does not know respect, please do not pay her any mind.” He wasn’t particularly worried; even if the eldest princess was cold and proud, with an aura that made people not dare to offend her, but she was still an intellectual, and had the temperament of one too. He continued, “These two are the family of a student here at the academy. Because their family faced issues, they sent their women to live for a while here.” *To avoid danger…* The extremely astute eldest princess immediately read the hidden meaning within those words, and examined the extremely beautiful young woman, and the not particularly bright young child, laughing slightly, “Which student?” She could count as half a student of the academy, and knew deeply the regulations the Cloud Deer Academy had; students’ families could not live on Qingyun Mountain. Xu Lingyue said quietly, “My brother Xu Xinnian.” She did not mention Xu Qi’an, because big brother was not a student of the Academy. *Xu Xinnian…* the eldest princess’s eyes flashed slightly; she had looked into Xu Qi’an’s background, and immediately remembered the relationship between the two people. The main perpetrator of the tax silver case was Deputy Minister Zhou, and roughly ten days ago, Xu Qi’an and Zhou’s son had an altercation in the market street… the eldest princess looked at the graceful, delicate young woman, and said with a kindly tone, “Since when did you come here?” “Nearly ten days ago.” Xu Lingyue replied. *He knows Caiwei, and Caiwei knows that Deputy Minister Zhou was behind the tax silver case. It is easy to see then, that that ordinary civil servant would also have known about this… He knew he raised the ire of Deputy Minister Zhou, and so sending the women in his family to the academy was one of his plans. But- wouldn’t it have been better to send his family far away from the capital?* *He sent the women to the academy, but the men still remained in the capital, so… what was he planning?* Thinking back to how Deputy Minister Zhou was relieved of his position, and sent into the military, the eldest princess narrowed her eyes, nodding her head slightly, and along with her soldiers carried on up the mountain. … Ya Ge hall! The eldest princess examined Zhao Shou, and felt surprised, “Being apart for ten days, your complexion is worlds apart.” Before, the dean did not take care of his looks, letting his speckled white hair fall loose, a gloomy aura brewing on his face. But today, his eyes were clear and lively, and his aura was incredibly different, almost radiant. Zhao Shou did not respond, laughing loudly, “The sage said: study prioritises not young or old, only those who are learned.” *Study prioritises not young or old, only those who are learned… his meaning is, that there is someone who could be his teacher, and they are much younger than him… does this have something to do with the lesser sage hall, and the azure qi rushing to the sky?* She was very interested in the events that had happened in the Lesser Sage Hall, her thirst for knowledge brimming, because this involved the fight over Confucian Orthodoxy, involved the balance of power at court. What happened that day? The hall was sealed off, no one was allowed to enter, and the Nightwatchers could do nothing about it. The eldest princess’s thoughts spread out, as she looked out of the window towards the green bamboo forest, sighing “Does the dean know about Deputy Minister Zhou being sent into the military?” “In terms of the Great Feng’s officialdom, this is merely the opening act to the party conflicts.” Zhao Shou laughed, shaking his head, not wanting to talk about it further. He waved his hand, summoning a Go board, and said: “Ever since Li Mubai lost three times to Wei Yuan, he never played Go again. In the academy, the number of people who could play with this old man are not many. Since your Highness has come today, then why not play a game with me?” The eldest princess said helplessly, “You wish to play Go with me, what point is there for you to bring shame upon yourself?” … On the other side of the academy, in a building built beside a cliff. The three great scholar’s philosophical debates ended. A student delivered a letter, saying that the eldest princess has visited the academy, and asked him to deliver. In the letter, the eldest princess said that recently in the capital came a new great work, appreciated by all the scholars in the city. The Imperial Academy had proclaimed it this century’s greatest work, surpassing the send-off poem of the Cloud Deer Academy. Furthermore, compared to the send-off poem, this ‘hundred-year masterpiece’ came from the Jiaofangsi. A gifted scholar and a beautiful girl, the stories were bound to be much more colourful, spreading much further… At the end of the letter, the eldest princess added as a post-script that poem that had been talked about for days on end in the capital. *This old man’s only been in seclusion for a few days, and already a new masterpiece has appeared in the capital?* Zhang Shen appraised the poem with a serious expression. *Given to Fuxiang in Reflecting Plum Pavilion* *Among the multitude of fallen flowers, its shining beauty warms;
full of grace, centre of attention, it leans into a little garden.
Delicate, tilting branches reflected on clear and shallow water;
its subtle fragrance drifts with the rising moon at dusk.* Zhang Shen became like a statue, silent for a long while. He lightly put down the paper, and looked towards Li Mubai and Chen Tai, who were drinking tea and chatting. “Chunjing, Youping, come look at this.” Zhang Shen said. His sudden serious expression made the two great scholars do a double take. Li Mubai took the paper, and quickly scanned it over. Then, his gaze solidified, as the relaxed, carefree attitude slowly left his body. “Let me see,” Chen Tai saw the two of them with this reaction, took the paper from Li Mubai’s hand, and after reading it, appreciated it for a long while. Great Scholar Chen sighed a long sigh, “A delicate reflection, a subtle fragrance, these two lines fully express the beauty of a plum blossom, what an exquisite picture it paints.” Li Mubai followed, “Even though Ningyan’s *Yellow clouds covering a thousand li, and the sun setting dim; In whirling snow, the north wind drives south wild geese;* made one feel proud, but the depth of meaning, the beauty of description, the aura that it creates, is indeed not comparable to this work.” Zhang Shen stroked his goatee, and sighed, “No one else could beat this poem in praising the plum blossom. Who is this Yang Ling? With this talent, how have I never heard of him?” Chen Tai looked at the letter again, saying “He seems to be a Xiucai from Changle County, who in the Jiaofangsi, wrote this poem to give to the oiran Fuxiang…” The whole tea room quietened, and none of the three great scholars spoke. A sour jealousy started brewing in the air, spreading outwards. Zhang Shen thought for a long while, saying “I feel like we must immediately notify the dean, and get this xiucai into the academy at once. A talent of this magnitude must not be buried.” Chen Tai and Li Mubai agreed appreciatively, “Good idea.” … They came here to take back Auntie and the sisters, but as students of the academy, Xu Ningyan and Xu Cijiu must first pay a visit to their teachers. The three great scholars had just finished teaching, and knowing that their “favoured student” had come to visit, immediately gathered in the hall, drinking tea. Zhang Shen first examined his disciple, whose aura had somewhat changed, and said contentedly, “Cijiu, it seems that copying the sage’s works has done a lot of good for you.” Xu Cijiu was immediately covered in a layer of sweat, as he nodded. Li Mubai said with surprise, “Copying the Sage’s records helps one enter the Self-Cultivation sage? How did this old man not realise.” Xu Erlang opened his mouth, and then closed it again, choosing silence. He had indeed felt the doorstep towards Self Cultivation, but that was after seeing the words his big brother had wrote on the stone stele. This was a silent and gradual change. But this thing was not appropriate to say in front of everyone, even if everyone knew deep in their hearts who wrote those four phrases. After making small talk for a while, Chen Tai glanced over at Zhang Shen and Li Mubai, and laughed, “You two live in the capital, have you heard of the masterpiece poem that had recently appeared? … *Delicate, tilting branches reflected on clear and shallow water; its subtle fragrance drifts with the rising moon at dusk.* A beautiful piece. “Ningyan, you have talent in poetry, but you must not think too highly yourself. You must know of the crouching tigers and hidden dragons amongst all the scholars under heaven.” *This old bastard is just jealous that I took in such a good student… but for this established wisdom, there is no real retort against it.* Zhang Shen could only say, “This poem is indeed stunningly beautiful. Ningyan, you don’t need to compete against that in earnest; this piece praising plum blossoms is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, there’s no use to really compete against it.” Li Mubai nodded, “Even if people say that the intellectuals of today have no liveliness, but at the end of the day there will be a few who stand out. That Yang Ling may not be able to write a second poem, and with Ningyan’s talent, to have a third, or even fourth poem in the future is most certainly likely.” Xu Xinnian gave his older cousin a glance, and said, “This poem was written by my big brother.” --- [^1]: 《三字经》Three character classic, a text arranged in blocks of three characters used to teach children literacy in Imperial China.