Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 1 Part 7)

Chapter 1: Autumn Riverside, Esteemed Guests, A Pair of Geese Fly Overhead

Part 7 – Marriage Alliance (和亲)

Translator: Nyamachi
Translation assistant:
Saltnpepper
English proofreader: JimmyfromIT

The next time I heard someone mention Princess Fukang again was incidentally in the Privy Council.  

At the end of spring this year, the Khitan troops added military pressure at the border. Their sovereign sent Xiao Ying, an envoy from the Southern Court of the Palace Provisions Commission, and Liu Liufu, a Hanlin scholar, to come to Court and deliver a letter to Great Song demanding the “land south of the mountain pass”, the Ying and Mo prefectures. 

The Ying and Mo prefectures were part of the sixteen prefectures that comprised Yanyun Province. They were previously ceded to the Khitan by the ‘Child Emperor’, Shi Jingtan, but were regained during the reign of Emperor Shizong of the Zhou Dynasty, remaining under the control of the current dynasty to this day. For many years, the Khitan desired to order Great Song to “return” the two prefectures. As part of the Chanyuan Treaty, [1]Here is more info about it! Emperor Zhenzong promised to give them an annual tribute, so the Khitans were satisfied and gave up on demanding the land. However, now this old matter had been brought up again to the extent that the envoys’ manner of speaking implied that it was a done deal.

The court ministers agreed that the land shouldn’t be divided. They decided to make peace with the Khitans by proposing a marriage alliance between an eligible maiden from Great Song’s Imperial clan and the eldest son of the Khitan Emperor, Liang Wang, Yelu Hongji, and thereby resolve the land claim matter. [2]Many of you are probably aware, but the title of Wang in Imperial China was the rough equivalent to a Duke today. There are two meanings. Here, Liang Wang’s ‘Wang’/’Duke’ refers to a member of royalty or nobility, historically of highest rank e.g. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. Before China was unified under one ruler, sovereigns of various nations styled themselves as Wang (Lit. King). In this sense, ‘Wang’/’Duke’ refers to a monarch ranked below the emperor, a king. See my post on Ancient Ranks and Titles for more~

The chosen nominee was Xin’an County’s Junwang, Xijian Wang, Zhao Yunning’s daughter. 

The Emperor assigned the Official Transcriber of Imperial Decrees, Fu Bi, as the Welcoming Commissioner and Jia Changzhao, the Hospitality Commissioner, to mediate and welcome the Khitan envoys to the consulate.

Originally, the Khitan envoys also had the intention to establish a marriage alliance, but hearing that the Emperor had recently conferred the title of Princess to an eligible young lady from the Imperial clan to marry Liang Wang, Xiao Ying voiced his displeasure: “Didn’t the Song Emperor have a biological daughter? I heard that Princess Fukang is very beautiful and our subjects admire her very much.”

Fu Bi explained that the Princess was still young and the marriage would have to wait until approximately ten years later. Liu Liufu smiled, saying: “Liang Wang is also only ten years old. As a matter of fact, his age is about the same as Princess Fukang, so waiting more than ten years isn’t a problem. Since this is a marriage alliance, naturally it ought to be a marriage between the biological children of the respective Emperors of the two countries to demonstrate strong national ties. Liang Wang is my sovereign’s eldest son whereas your esteemed Emperor merely promised a maiden from the Imperial clan. Could it be that he looks down on our country as being small and weak, and therefore not fit for such a noble match?”  

Fu Bi and Jia Changzhao submitted a memorial about this matter. The Emperor took the bait and refused on the spot. No matter what, he wouldn’t consent to a marriage alliance with Princess Fukang. So Fu Bi was ordered to go to Khitan as an envoy and meet with their Emperor. He was allowed to increase the funds per annum, but he must refuse the marriage alliance with the Princess.

Fu Bi also agreed, saying: “For a lord to be worried is his subject’s disgrace. Other than the yearly funds, this subject will never rashly agree to anything without due consideration during this trip.” 

Before setting out, the Emperor awarded Fu Bi the positions of Deputy Director for the Ministry of Rites and Privy Counsellor, but he shockingly refused. 

After the Imperial Court session ended, Fu Bi returned to the Privy Council again to discuss the details of the diplomatic mission and the content of the peace talks with various ministers. After the discussion was over, everyone left the Palace, but he stayed behind to mull over countermeasures.

Suddenly, a eunuch from the External Department arrived bearing brushes, ink, jewels, and trinkets. All of them were valuable items from the Imperial Treasury. He said that they were especially rewarded to Fu Bi by the Emperor.  

It just so happened that I was there on duty. After Fu Bi bowed and expressed his thanks, he ordered me to take the proffered bestowments and sat down in a dejected manner. His brows were knit tightly in contemplation.

I more or less understood what had happened. From the snippets I had heard and the sections of official documents I transcribed when I was waiting upon the cabinet ministers in the Privy Council, I knew what Fu Bi was worried about. 

Looking at the treasures I held, I had an idea. I selected an imperially granted inkstone from amongst the valuable items and placed it in an eye-catching spot. Then, I brought the items over and placed them on the small table beside Fu Bi.

In recent years, it was custom to bestow officials with an inkstone, specifically inkstones made by the Li family in the She Prefecture. The She Prefecture’s Li clan was a household name who have been manufacturing inkstones for generations. Their inkstones were as strong as jade and had a very fine grain, a rich texture, and a lacquer-like shine. They were well-renowned and classified as imperial tributes. [3]Once again Mi Lan Lady did her research. The inkstone referenced here might be the She inkstone? This was a helpful article for translating this part of the chapter.

Li inkstones were always placed in a red sandalwood box when they were conferred to the ministers. The box’s lid was delicately carved with the Imperial Treasury’s coat of arms. Yet, the inkstone awarded to Fu Bi this time was not a Li inkstone, but rather Wang Di’s inkstone from Xiluo Town presented inside a leopard fur pouch. [4]I’m not sure about this translation. It could be an inkstone manufactured by the Di clan that Xiluo Wang favours or it could be an ‘enlightened’ inkstone or an inkstone made by Wang Di from Xiluo River… Later on it seems to be referred to as the ‘Wang Di inkstone.’ There’s actually a town called Xiluo Zhen in China, too. The river translation also makes sense because stones that have been immersed in water for a long time have a very fine grain and are very smooth, making for better inkstones. Chinese: [西洛王迪墨] To any translators out there, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts! The rest of the inkstones in this chapter use a similar naming convention: [place/school] [maker] inkstone. 

There was a light clatter as the items were placed on the table. Fu Bi looked over and felt that something was off. He then picked up the Wang Di inkstone and examined it carefully.

“Nowadays, are Li inkstones no longer used as tributes?” He asked me.

I knew the reason for this and explained: “Li inkstones are still used as tributes, but since red sandalwood ran out of stock this year and couldn’t be made into boxes, the Li clan asked if they could use laurel boxes instead. His Majesty refused, citing that so far, all Li inkstones that have been awarded to the ministers have come in a red sandalwood box. If they changed it to a laurel box, there are fears that the ministers’ gratitude would lessen due to misgivings, so they might as well not receive it. Xiluo Town’s Wang Di inkstones only use soot [5]Guessing here. 远烟 is a raw material for making inkstones that literally translates to ‘faraway smoke’. and deer hide glue, are scented with imperial deer musk, and are of rare and high quality. Moreover, they are contained in an expensive leopard fur pouch, giving them a rather exotic quality. Therefore, the Emperor ordered that this year’s imperial bestowments be changed to Wang Di inkstones.”

Fu Bi said: “The people adore Li inkstones. If the issue is because of the box, wouldn’t that be like keeping the wooden case but returning the pearl inside?” [6]买椟还珠 (mǎi dú huán zhū) This is an idiom for showing poor judgement, only caring about how things look on the outside, but not what’s important on the inside. It’s based on the story of a person from Chu who found a pearl and decided to sell it inside a pretty wooden box. When the customer came, they liked the wooden box so much they bought it, but then came back and returned the pearl inside.

I replied: “If Huaiji may be so bold to ask Sir Scholar, is Yingzhou’s Li inkstone your favourite inkstone?”

Fu Bi chuckled, saying: “Not at all! I prefer the Cai Shun school’s inkstones by Dong Yao.” [7]Not 100% sure about this. Based on my research, Cai Shun 柴珣 was a famous maker of inkstones who had at least 130 students. I’m guessing that Dong Yao is one of them.

“So it was like that,” I continued, “While Li inkstones are great, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be replaced. There are also people who love Xiluo Town’s Wang Di inkstones, Cai Shun school’s Dong Yao inkstones, Xuanzhou’s Sheng clan inkstones, or Dongshan’s Chen clan inkstones even more. People’s preferences are dependent on ever-changing popularity. However when it comes to imperial bestowments, then everyone wants a Li inkstone. That red sandalwood box is especially well-regarded. Once it is revealed, people will immediately know that it was imperially bestowed. If Li inkstones were bestowed without the red sandalwood box, some would bound to have unfounded suspicions that it was inferior to other famous inkstones.”

“That’s very true. Although my colleagues in Imperial Court desire Li inkstones, many have no need for it. In contrast, there’s no one who would dislike that red sandalwood box.” Fu Bi repeatedly nodded his head in agreement, “There are also others who have joked, saying ‘Why not ask the Emperor to only award that red sandalwood box to us? Or he could give us a sum of money so that we can buy our own preferred name-brand inkstone to put inside it…’”  

He beamed and was in a much better mood. I also smiled lightly and didn’t say any more.

In a flash, his smiling expression vanished as if he had thought of something. He slapped the table, saying: “Right, right! How could I have not thought of that before?”

He stood and solemnly gave me a cupped-hand salute: [8]拱手礼 (gǒngshǒu lǐ) The Cupped-hands Ritual is a formal greeting using hand gestures that’s been part of Chinese etiquette since ancient times. There are many variations accompanied by various degrees of bowing. Here is a quick rundown of different hand gestures, courtesy of samurailoveballadhistory on Tumblr, or a more detailed article about this particular gesture of thanks. For another example~ Watch 22:02 to 23:40 of The Song of Glory (錦繡南歌) ep. 17. Keep watching to the end of the clash at 25:25 :3  “Thank you for the reminder, your half-eminence.” 

After this encounter, he left on his diplomatic mission to Khitan and told their sovereign: “The Prince and Princess’ temperaments may not necessarily be compatible. Marriage is prone to disputes and it’s hard for a couple to maintain a harmonious relationship. Life is short and subject to change. If the relationship with the person to whom the Princess’ future is entrusted isn’t strong, there will likely be changes in the future. In this case, wouldn’t it be better to increase the amount of gold and silk instead? 

“Moreover, according to the practice of marrying off a first-born princess since the Northern and Southern Dynasties, [9]420-569 AD – 4 dynasties before the Song Dynasty. the dowry was only a hundred thousand strings of coin. Even if the Emperor marries off his biological daughter, it’s improbable that the dowry would exceed this amount, which is far less than the profit for the year.”   

The Khitan ruler was originally more interested in obtaining more gold and silk. Upon hearing that the Princess would only supply a hundred thousand strings of coin, he agreed with the proposal of receiving an increased annual tribute of a hundred thousand liang of silver and a hundred thousand bolts of silk. Hence, the two countries dispatched envoys to deliver the agreement in writing and each side no longer brought up the matter of forming a marriage alliance or dividing the land.  

Several months after Fu Bi returned from his diplomatic mission, a woman who was around 30-years-old came from the Inner Palace. She proclaimed herself as Princess Fukang’s wet nurse, Ms Han, and spoke to me warmly: “Scholar Fu fulfilled the mission assigned to him. His Majesty was very pleased and wanted to reward him, but he spoke of how you inspired him. When the Emperor recounted the event to the Empress and Zhaorong Miao, the Empress also praised you, adding: ‘This child is bright. If he remains in the Privy Council too long, it would be a waste of his abilities.’ She continued, suggesting: ‘Why not transfer him to the Interior Department?’ Zhaorong Miao then asked her to allow you to attend to Princess Fukang, saying how you had assisted the Princess out of trouble twice before and that it must be fate. Thereafter, the Empress sent me to ask for your opinion. If you are willing, you can transfer right away…… Good child, are you willing to serve the Princess?”

I agreed without much hesitation.

Not long afterwards, I was officially transferred to the Interior Department of Service and promoted one rank, becoming a Senior Eunuch. I was assigned to Zhaorong Miao to serve Princess Fukang.  

My living quarters also changed from the External Department to the Inner Palace. On moving day, Zhang Chengzhao came to see me off. Grasping my hands as if reluctant to part, he urged again and again: “Once you make it big, don’t forget your friends.” [10]苟富贵,勿相忘 (gǒu fùguì, wù xiāng wàng) This is an actual saying that’s common between friends. It’s similar to the phrase 感恩戴德 (gǎnēn dàidé) ‘feeling deeply grateful and acting with virtue’.

 


TL Thoughts:

Hello lovely readers~

Here is the last part of Chapter 1! All seven parts together, including the second prologue, are almost 25,800 Chinese characters. (@[email protected]) I’m so sorry updates have been so slow, but thank you for sticking with me!! I especially appreciate the likes and comments <3 They make translating this novel worth it <3

As always, please let me know if you notice any typos or mistranslations. This novel uses a lot of ancient literary Chinese that I’m not well versed in.

Onwards to Chapter 2~

Until next time,

Nyamachi

 

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2 Comments

  • Thank you for this chapter! Yes, finally we’ll have more Huiaji and Huirou interactions. Huaiji is so clever here, without even reading about their future interactions, I can see why Huirou would fall in love with him later on. I binged all of the translations in one go after finding out about the drama adaptation. I appreciate your detailed terminologies, I love learning more about the hierarchy among eunuchs in ancient China. I really wished the drama did more justice to their story because I was very much bored after watching a couple of episodes and dropped it midway through. If only the drama actually focused more on the heart of the source material it adapted from.

    • Hi daylightstanding! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment <3 Yeah, that's a pitfall many IP dramas leap into… I hope you'll enjoy the translations and thanks in advance for your patience between chapters!

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