Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 2 Part 8)
Chapter 2: Noticing You Since That Time We Met
Part 8 – Plundering One’s Niece (盗甥)
Translation assistant: Petrified
English proofreaders: 247Reader & Nyamachi
Ever since I had seen the Ministers’ poem cards before the Dragon Boat Festival, I always thought about wanting to read through them and select some of the best lines to copy out and memorize.
However, there were many matters to attend to after the festival. It was only after the latter part of June that I was able to carve out some time to go to the Classical Institute to look for Zhang Chengzhao and ask him for the Dragon Boat Festival poem cards that were stored there.
He quickly found and brought them over to me, and even transcribed them together with me.
While we copied them out, I casually asked him: “Has Scholar Ouyang published any new works recently?”
“Ouyang Xiu?” Zhang Chengzhao said, “Wasn’t his latest work that memorial that talked about Du Yan, Han Qi, Fan Zhongyan, and Fu Bi? He really poked a bee’s nest this time and stirred up a lot of trouble! Not only will it be difficult for him to keep his governmental post, 乌纱 (wūsha) is short for 烏紗高屋帽 (wūshā gāowūmào), a type of tall hat made of black gauze that court ministers wore. Zhang Chengzhao says that it’ll be hard for him to keep wearing his hat/keep his post, let alone his life. but it’s hard to say whether he will even be able to keep his head! I reckon that he is in no mood to recite poetry or compose poems these days.”
I was utterly shocked: “Wasn’t he fine during the Dragon Boat Festival? What happened?”
“Where do I start? There are quite a few reasons for this matter. Let’s go through them one by one.” Zhang Chengzhao started to explain Ouyang Xiu’s matters to me in detail.
As it turned out, during the month of May, Ouyang Xiu had presented a memorial arguing that Du Yan, Han Qi, Fan Zhongyan, and Fu Bi should not be dismissed, saying:
“‘These four could be described as just and virtuous. They lead quiet and peaceful lives, with no time to stay idle. They discuss official business, working for the public’s best interests and not for selfish gains. Thus, this subject regards Du Yan and the rest as embodying the meaning of the saying, ‘loyal ministers disagree,‘ recorded in the History of the Han Dynasty. Yet villainous characters slander them as forming a political clique. This is a false accusation… When these virtuous officials are dismissed, this group of evildoers will congratulate each other inside our government while the barbarians will rejoice outside our borders. Therefore, this humble subject believes that Your Majesty should cherish these officials.’” Another difficult translation… Any feedback is appreciated!! Chinese: “此四人者, 可谓至公之贤也. 平日闲居, 则相称美之不暇, 为国议事, 则公言廷争而无私. 以此而言, 臣见杜衍等真得汉史所谓‘忠臣有不和之节’, 而小人谗为朋党, 可谓诬矣……一旦罢去, 而使群邪相贺于内, 四夷相贺于外, 此臣所以为陛下惜也.”
He openly referred to the faction of ministers who had replaced those who tried to reform the Northern Song government as “villainous characters” and “a group of evildoers.” It was precisely these people who currently held political power, and thus he implied that they would be the cause of all future trouble.
Ouyang Xiu’s younger sister’s husband, Zhang Guizheng, had passed away prematurely. He had no sons, only a daughter from his late wife.
Ouyang Xiu’s younger sister brought this girl back to her maternal home and asked Ouyang Xiu to help raise her.
At the time, this girl was seven years old. Once she reached a marriageable age 15 years-old back then. Ouyang Xiu married her off to a fellow clansman’s son, He married the girl to the son of his ‘older brother’ in the clan who shares the same last name but might not necessarily be closely-related to him. Anyone in the same generation with the same last name was considered a ‘sibling’ even though they might actually be ‘cousins’ or ‘second cousins’ depending on which branch of the family they come from. Ouyang Sheng.
However, five to six years after Ms. Zhang got married, she had an affair with a family servant, Chen Jian. Not long after this took place, she was brought to Kaifeng City’s municipal government office.
When Prefecture Prefect Yang Riyan presided over Yi Prefecture in the past, Ouyang Xiu had once presented a memorial regarding his corruption, causing Yang Riyan to harbour a grudge. Thus, he had been waiting for an opportunity to take his revenge.
He instructed the prison guard to interrogate Ms. Zhang more harshly and persuaded her to talk about Ouyang Xiu.
Ms. Zhang was afraid of being found guilty and sought to protect herself by talking about a love affair with Ouyang Xiu that had transpired before she had got married. There were many shameful and ugly details.
Yang Riyan had reported it accordingly and a Remonstrance Official, Qian Mingyi, presented a memorial to the Emperor impeaching Ouyang Xiu, claiming that he had fornicated with his niece and cheated the orphan girl of her family’s wealth.
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The Military Adjudicator, Sun Kui, received orders to review the case again, sensing that Ms. Zhang’s testimony was not necessarily the truth.
Likely because he also harboured respect towards Ouyang Xiu, he hadn’t brought up any unrelated issues and investigated only the case of Ms. Zhang and Chen Jian’s affair.
This method of handling the problem made the Ministers who had planned to trap Ouyang Xiu angry, so they ordered the Minister of Ceremonies, 太常 (tàicháng) Minister of Ceremonies; one of the nine ministers in the Three Lords, Nine Ministers organizational system of Imperial Court. Court Academian Su Anshi, to reinvestigate the case with the intention of eliminating Ouyang Xiu in one move.
“Did Scholar Ouyang really have a relationship with his niece?” I asked Zhang Chengzhao, thinking that this sounded outrageous. “Ms. Zhang’s confession was very strange. She said that she was seeking to protect herself, but she committed the crime of adultery. Moreover, it was with the family’s servant! Taking all these into account, not only would she be unable to absolve herself, but on the contrary, it would add another serious charge to her case. Could it be that her confession was obtained under duress?”
“The people who vouched for Ouyang Xiu also said this, however…” Zhang Chengzhao immediately stood up and said, “Wait here, I’ll look for the statement and bring it for you to read.”
He flipped through a pile of essay scrolls and finally took out a record that had a tag with the words [Gazing Towards Jiangnan] attached to the end. He presented it to me.
I opened it to take a look, but saw the following written: “The Jiangnan willow; its leaves are small and yet unable to create shade. People regard them as light as silk, unwilling to snap them. The oriole pities its tender branches and cannot bear to complain, so it waits until the height of spring before it comes to fetch one. At fourteen or fifteen, the idle leisurely carry pipa 琵琶 (pípa) A Chinese lute with four strings. It has a large pear-shaped body and a fretted fingerboard. Here is a video so you can see and hear what it sounds like. Solo performance by Chinese-Canadian Pipa Virtuoso Liu Fang. while seeking fun. Tossing coins in the halls above or walking in the streets below, the pair have already noticed each other since the time they first met, to say nothing of the present.” Another poem~ Here is the Chinese: 江南柳，叶小未成荫，人为丝轻那忍折，莺怜枝嫩不堪吟，留取待春深。十四五，闲抱琵琶寻，堂上簸钱堂下走，恁时相见已留心，何况到如今。I would appreciate any feedback you have regarding my translation!
Zhang Chengzhao explained to me: “This is an old work of Ouyang Xiu’s. After the rumour of his scandal with his niece got around, he had his ruling overturned again by Qian Mingyi’s clansman, Qian Xie, who laughed, pointing at these words and saying: ‘When Ms. Zhang arrived at the Ouyang Household, she was seven years old, exactly the age when a girl would learn how to toss coins.’”
“Qian Mingyi, Qian Xie…” Once more, I felt that this was strange, “Their last name is Qian – could they be descendants of Wuyue Wang, Qian Chu?”
Zhang Chengzhao nodded: “That’s right. I heard that Ouyang Xiu had criticized Wuyue Wang many times when he was revising [History of the Five Dynasties] 五代史 (wǔdàishǐ) Eighteenth of the twenty-four dynastic histories of China compiled under Xue Juzheng in 974 during the Northern Song Dynasty. Consists of 150 scrolls. and the Qian family’s descendants had long since been resentful of this.”
I pondered before asking: “Then did he really write [Gazing Towards Jiangnan]? Did he admit that it was one of his old works?”
Zhang Chengzhao replied: “He didn’t admit it, but he also didn’t deny it. It could be considered a tacit agreement.”
I was speechless, and re-read the poem in my hands. My gaze lingered on the last lines of verse: Tossing coins in the halls above or walking in the streets below, the pair have already noticed each other since the time they first met, to say nothing of the present.
Something jogged my mind. I remembered the time when I first entered the Princess’ pavilion; she was also in the middle of tossing coins. At first I thought that I had merely taken a casual glance at her, but her loveable charming looks that day seemed to have been seared into my mind, to the extent that even now, her smiling face immediately floated into my mind the minute I saw the words “tossing coins.”
“Perhaps, Scholar Ouyang and Ms. Zhang were innocently in love without crossing a line.” I sighed.
“In love without crossing a line?” Zhang Chengzhao’s voice rose a pitch higher as he repeated these words. They carried an inexpressible excitement as he mocked me: “In the end, we’re just little eunuchs who can’t even touch a woman. How could you know what is innocent love and what is crossing a line?”
Suddenly it felt like someone had slapped me twice on the face. While my face burned, I lowered my gaze, unable to respond.
This drove Zhang Chengzhao to cover his mouth, laughing: “At first I thought that after you entered the Interior Department, you would have seen a wider world and been taught by the concubines, so you ought to have made some progress. I didn’t expect that even now your skin would still be so thin.”
I forced a smile, only wanting to divert the conversation from myself. “Then what about His Majesty? What does he think about Ouyang Xiu’s matter?”
“Hearing the scholars talk, His Majesty is also very angry about it. Originally, he was very partial to Ouyang Xiu’s talent. Let alone assigning him an important position as a Remonstrance Official, he even especially instructed us that the minute Ouyang Xiu publishes a new work, he wanted us to find it and bring it to him, regardless of the genre or subject.”
“Now that this matter has come to light, naturally His Majesty was furious! Reportedly when he heard of this matter in the Imperial Court, the Emperor’s expression turned very grave and he didn’t speak for a good while.”
After saying this, Zhang Chengzhao asked me a question in return: “You see His Majesty fairly often, how come you haven’t heard him mention it?”
I shook my head and replied: “I attend to the Princess. How could His Majesty talk about something like this with her?”
“Then he didn’t bring it up with the other concubines?” Zhang Chengzhao’s interest was suddenly piqued again. “Have you heard that Beautiful Lady Zhang might also cast another stone in Ouyang Xiu’s well?”
“Lady Zhang?” I was surprised. “That seems unlikely. After the matter with Madam Combing Lady, the Empress specifically warned all of the imperial concubines not to concern themselves with governmental affairs. Besides, Beautiful Lady Zhang and Ouyang Xiu ought to have no animosity between them, right?”
Zhang Chengzhao laughed mischievously and asked me: “Do you still remember that the year that Beautiful Lady Zhang gave birth to the Eighth Princess, Ouyang Xiu presented a memorial titled [Discussing Whether Beautiful Lady Zhang’s Favour Ought to be Reduced]?”
Only after he reminded me did I recall that this matter had indeed happened.
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When the Eighth Imperial Princess, Youwu, was born, His Majesty had ordered for eight thousand bolts of damask gauze to be retrieved from the Left Imperial Warehouse. It just so happened to be a severe winter. In order for the artisans in the Dyeing Department to complete His Majesty’s order, they had no choice but to break the ice to fetch water, enduring the bitter cold during a snowstorm in order to prepare the cloth.
After Ouyang Xiu learned of this, he immediately presented a memorial to the Emperor.
Not only did he criticize this matter, but he also proposed demoting Beautiful Lady Zhang’s relatives in rank, believing that this was akin to ‘smearing dirt in the face of the Emperor’s imperial grace,’ making it ‘difficult to avoid the wrath of Heaven.’ He wished for His Majesty to nip the problem in the bud and quickly issue the demotion.
According to Beautiful Lady Zhang’s character, it was impossible for her to not take these matters to heart.
I asked Zhang Chengzhao: “Even so, Beautiful Lady Zhang lives in the Inner Palace. Even if she wanted to interfere in this matter, she would avoid doing so out of fear of His Majesty, so how would she be able to interfere?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t know!” Zhang Chengzhao pointed in the direction of the gate towards the Imperial Chancellery, “It’s publicly known that Chancellor Jia has acknowledged Lady Zhang’s adopted mother as his paternal aunt.”
Beautiful Lady Zhang’s foster mother was named Jia Cheng, and she also lived in the Palace. Relying on Beautiful Lady Zhang’s favour, she freely used her powerful connections to brandish around her might. Her words and actions were very arrogant and everyone in the Palace called her “Grandmother Jia.’ 婆婆 (pópo) can mean ‘Mother-in-Law’ as well as ‘Grandmother.’ ‘Mother-in-Law’ might fit better based on context, but ‘Grandmother’ flows better in English. Since there’s the practice of calling elders ‘Grandmother/Grandfather’ due to respect, the team went with ‘Grandmother.’
Head Chancellor Jia Changzhao had the same surname as her, so he publically acknowledged her as his aunt. They often interacted with each other.
I knew about this but hadn’t connected it with Ouyang Xiu’s matter.
“Beautiful Lady Zhang wouldn’t need to make a move herself for something so trivial. It would be sufficient if she passed a message to Chancellor Jia via Grandmother Jia,” said Zhang Chengzhao. “This time, Chancellor Jia’s ruthlessness towards Ouyang Xiu may not have necessarily been incited by Beautiful Lady Zhang either. I heard that Chancellor Jia is requesting His Majesty to dispatch Wang Zhaoming to investigate Ouyang Xiu’s case together with Su Anshi right now. I’m afraid that this was also Lady Zhang’s idea.”
Wang Zhaoming? I inwardly sighed. Scholar Ouyang was truly drowning in misfortune.
Due to his rash behaviour in the past, he had offended many people. Now that he was trapped in this predicament, the people who secretly wanted to hit him when he was down were quickly coming out of the woodwork one by one.
When Ouyang Xiu was previously appointed as the Transport Surveillance Commissioner for Hebei City, His Majesty wanted to order his close attendant, Wang Zhaoming, to accompany him and supervise the irrigation works and water transport in Hebei.
But Ouyang Xiu firmly declined, citing the fact that there was no precedent for a eunuch to accompany an official together on an assignment. He said, “This subject is truly ashamed.”
The Emperor agreed to his request and hadn’t let Wang Zhaoming go with him.
From Wang Zhaoming’s perspective, this was clearly an embarrassing incident that was difficult to swallow.
Now that Jia Changzhao was requesting to send him to investigate the case, he clearly intended to use this public assignment to avenge his personal grudge, leaving Ouyang Xiu with no hope of reprieve.
“Will His Majesty allow Sir Wang to go?” I asked Zhang Chengzhao.
Zhang Chengzhao smiled and said: “You’re asking me? I’m the one that wants to ask you! Look at how you’re doing after becoming a Senior Eunuch in the Interior Department! You don’t even know what your own Interior Department is up to, and you’re even running over to the Exterior Department to ask me!” Sorry – I previously mistranslated LHJ’s rank in Chapter 2 Part 3 as First-Class Eunuch – It has been fixed!
I smiled embarrassedly, finding that when it came to this kind of thing, I was truly the last one to know.
The situation changed constantly in the Palace, yet I was slow to react.
It was a surprise that I was promoted to the rank of Senior Eunuch in the Interior Department despite being so muddle-headed. It could be considered to be quite unusual.
After we finished copying the Dragon Boat Festival Poem Cards, I took my leave from Zhang Chengzhao and was about to return to Yearning Phoenix Pavilion when he insisted on seeing me off until I reached the Inner Eastern Gate.
Ever since I had been transferred to the Interior Department, every time I saw him I would always feel that his attitude towards me was even friendlier than before. It had a subtle, eager solicitousness to it and I couldn’t help but think that he was truly very well suited to surviving in the Palace.
When we were close to the Office of the Inner Eastern Gate, we chanced upon Grandmother Jia, who we had been talking about a moment ago.
She was returning from outside and had alighted from her palanquin in front of the Inner Eastern Gate.
An Apprentice Eunuch, who was trailing behind her, came over to support her.
He was inattentive as he lifted the curtain and his hand accidentally hit the heavy crown on Grandmother Jia’s head.
She immediately slapped him hard across the face, reprimanding: “You’re courting death, you little brute! Your mother certainly didn’t wrap her hands well when she was pregnant with you to give birth to you with your mangy and offensive claws!”
That little eunuch didn’t dare to refute her and immediately knelt down to apologize for his offence.
However, Grandmother Jia’s anger had not yet subsided. She swore at him while extending her hand with its two-inch long nails to twist the eunuch’s ear.
The Apprentice Eunuch extended his neck, frowning in pain. He grimaced but still did his utmost to smile and say: “It was this one’s fault. Grandmother, please permit this little one to slap ourselves, so as to not damage Grandmother’s nails.”
When he raised his head, I stared blankly. I recognized him as the little eunuch who originally wanted me to deliver the colourful glazed cup.
Grandma Jia eventually let go and the Apprentice Eunuch proceeded to kneel and began to continuously slap his own face.
Grandma Jia no longer paid him any attention and walked in the direction of the Inner Palace herself.
She shot a glance at me as she passed. I turned to face her and bowed slightly and she nonchalantly smiled and said: “Oh, it’s Senior Eunuch Liang… Give this old one’s regards to Princess Fu’kang.”
She turned her obese body and swaggered off.
Once she had walked a good distance away, I walked to the side of the Apprentice Eunuch, who was still kneeling on the ground slapping his face, and said: “She’s gone now, why don’t you return?”
He turned his head to look at me and immediately turned pale with fright. He quickly scrambled up and ran off like a wisp of smoke.
Upon seeing this, Zhang Chengzhao asked me for the reason, and I told him that this person was the one who had given me the coloured glazed cup.
Zhang Chengzhao sighed and said: “Luckily, you’re following a good master now. You have the Princess’s protection and she has His Majesty’s protection, so they will let you off… The ‘they’ used here indicates that the other party is female[plural], 她们. Considering the fact we’ve been buddies for a time, recommend me if there’s a job at the Princess’ Pavilion someday. The longer one stays in the Exterior Department, the lower their value becomes.”
Hello dear readers,
Sorry for the delay in uploading this. I came down with stomach flu 🙁 (See March TL Goals).
We’re finally done Chapter 2! It turns out that the chapter title referenced Ouyang Xiu’s poem… I feel kind of bad for the guy. Obviously, he offended many people by calling them out, but isn’t that also his job? Not fair to get charged with r*** after he took in this girl who isn’t even related to his sister by blood and raised her up… Haa I wonder what his end will be.
Onto Chapter 3~
There were a few tricky paragraphs here – the memorial and the poem. As always, I appreciate any feedback you have about my translation.
Until next time,
PS – Sorry if some of the links aren’t working. They were fine when I uploaded the chapter but might have been taken down since 🙁
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