Why Harem Intrigue When You Can Just Raise A Dog Instead? (Chp 80)
Chapter 80: The Grand Selection (殿选)
Translation assistant: 247Reader
English proofreaders: 247Reader, Tygris & Nyamachi
The Concubine Candidates rested for a day, and then the day of the Grand Selection finally arrived. This was another day of good weather, sunny and warm with fragrant greenery. Every now and then, the crisp cries of cuckoos and orioles could be heard through the window.
Meng Sangyu helped to straighten Emperor Zhou’wu’s lapels while inquiring, “Your Majesty, are you really not going to select a few that suit your taste to stay? This concubine fears that you will not like the ones this concubine selects.”
Emperor Zhou’wu lowered his head and gave her a kiss on the cheek, smiling. “Apart from you, no one else is to Zhen’s liking. Whether or not they go or stay is completely up to you.”
“Your Majesty doesn’t need to select the daughters of your honoured self’s important ministers or trusted aides to form marriage connections? This concubine simply doesn’t understand the twists and turns of the imperial court and is afraid of making a blunder and ruining your plans.” Meng Sangyu wasn’t moved by the man’s honeyed words and continued to question him.
“Presently, the imperial court is entirely in Zhen’s grasp. Why would there be any need to rely on marriage ties to win over the ministers’ hearts?” Emperor Zhou’wu scoffed.
Pinning a luxurious flower-shaped hairpin 华胜 (huā shènɡ) A flower-shaped hair ornament worn by Han women in ancient times. The second video on Baidu’s page offers a great explanation if you can understand Chinese. near Sangyu’s temple, he tried to appease her in a gentle voice. “You can choose whomever you want to stay. Zhen has no objections.”
He had absolutely no interest in attending this round of the Grand Selection and had left all the decisions to Sangyu. If it weren’t for the rules set down by his ancestors, he would abolish the practice of the Grand Selection. However, considering that his sons would need to marry in the future, he was obliged to suppress this idea.
Meng Sangyu looked askance at him and asked, arching an eyebrow, “What if this concubine decides that not a single one should remain?”
“Then not a single one will remain! Zhen will deal with the aftermath for you!” Emperor Zhou’wu hugged her close while laughing heartily. As he nibbled her lips, he softly whispered, “Vinegar jar.” 醋坛子 (cùtánzi) or ‘vinegar jar’ plays on the phrase 吃醋 (chīcù) or ‘eating vinegar’, meaning that someone is jealous.
He then immediately headed over to the imperial court, in an unprecedentedly joyful mood. He liked the thought of Sangyu monopolizing him because he felt the same way.
Meng Sangyu stood outside her palace’s gates and watched him depart, a complicated expression on her face.
Nurse Feng stepped forward and softly asked, “Your Ladyship, are we truly not going to let anyone stay?” She was excited at the very idea! Yin’cui and Bi’shui also looked over with shining eyes.
“Is His Majesty joking? If I truly didn’t let anyone stay, then there would be no need for me to remain as Imperial Noble Consort.” Meng Sangyu waved a hand and returned to her inner chambers to catch up on sleep.
The Grand Selection could only start after Morning Court had adjourned, and there were still two hours left, 时辰 (shíchen) Ancient Chinese unit of time lasting approximately 2 hours. Learn more about Chinese timekeeping~ thus there was no need to rush.
Two hours later, the new group of Concubine Candidates, who had long since gotten dressed up, stood in an orderly manner in the courtyard of Chu’xiu Palace’s main hall in groups of five, waiting for the Grand Selection. Without the support of one of the imperial concubines, this would be their only chance to see the Emperor. Naturally, they needed to put on a good performance.
Meng Rui’zhu was dressed in a pink and green muslin dress. With the addition of her fresh and clean, simple yet elegant makeup, she did not lose out to anyone in the crowd of candidates. Her features had always been quite extraordinary, but beside Yu Ya’ge, she had gone unnoticed.
Now that Yu Ya’ge was no longer present, her looks were naturally revealed. 脱颖而出 (tuōyǐng érchū) Chinese idiom meaning to reveal one’s talent, to rise above others, to distinguish oneself.
Those in her group knew that she was the Imperial Noble Consort’s younger sister. One after another, they approached her to curry favour but were all repelled by her cold expression.
Hearing the surrounding Concubine Candidates discuss the scandal of Yu Ya’ge being driven out of the palace as “unclean,” she pursed her lips and coldly sneered, an ambitious light flashing in her eyes.
Inside Chu’xiu Palace’s main hall, apart from the Imperial Noble Consort, the Four Consorts had already arrived.
Worthy Consort sat alone in a corner with a dark expression. Her fierce aura made others feel intimidated. The three other, newly-appointed consorts had originally intended to chat with her, but after meeting her gaze, all of them decided to retreat. Worthy Consort had already been difficult to get along with, but now she was like a malicious spirit, frightening others to the bottom of their hearts.
Furthermore, there was also that group of imperial concubines who had once been favoured by the Emperor. Nowadays, they all stayed inside their own residences and seldom stepped out, making it a rare event to see them.
This transformation had been too abrupt, and no one knew exactly what had happened that day.
Even though they were dying with curiosity, all of the imperial concubines were well-versed in the imperial harem’s unwritten rules of survival. There were some matters that weren’t for them to investigate.
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A short while later, Meng Sangyu led a group of servants into the main hall in an orderly fashion. Once she was seated in the host’s seat, the Four Consorts paid their respects. Seeing that she had come alone, the newly-appointed Gracious Consort and Pure Consort Normally the Four Consorts are named after the Four Virtues – 贤 (xián) Worthy, 良 (liáng) Gracious, 淑 (shū) Pure, 德 (dé) Virtuous. Some Emperors bestow titles based on other virtues e.g. 宸 (chén) Imperial or 丽/麗 (lì) Beautiful. Learn more about the Imperial Harem in our post about Ancient Chinese Ranks and Titles. couldn’t help but show their disappointment. It had been several months since they had last seen the Emperor.
“All of you may rise.” Meng Sangyu lifted a hand, wearing a tired expression. Spring weather was great for sleeping. Recently, she always felt like she hadn’t had enough sleep.
“Venturing to ask Your Highness, does your honoured self know why His Majesty did not come?” Gracious Consort boldly inquired without rising from her kneeling position.
The corners of Meng Sangyu’s mouth pursed. “The Emperor is occupied with governmental affairs, and did not come.”
Once the visibly disappointed Gracious Consort and Pure Consort were seated, she ordered the eunuch standing at the doorway, “Invite the first group of Concubine Candidates inside.”
A group of five slender and elegant young ladies slowly entered the hall and knelt down in salute. They were truly as beautiful as hibiscus flowers, with the voices of orioles, making those watching forget themselves even though they had already seen their paintings.
Despite knowing that this year’s group of Concubine Candidates was exceptionally outstanding, it was still entirely different to see them in the flesh.
Pure Consort and Gracious Consort, who had been extremely disappointed up until now, couldn’t help but secretly rejoice that the Emperor hadn’t come. Otherwise, he would have been bewitched by their beauty.
The two consorts glanced at the Imperial Noble Consort with relieved expressions.
The Imperial Noble Consort’s methods were out of the ordinary. Just the day before yesterday, she had used a small pup to dispose of Yu Ya’ge. Today would likely be no different. She wasn’t someone to let a formidable opponent remain.
However, they quickly realized that they were mistaken. The Imperial Noble Consort selected candidates who were extremely earnest and responsible. Each and every one was a talented individual with outstanding features or a prominent family background. She kept all of their nameplates, and, to the endless surprise of Pure Consort and Gracious Consort, unexpectedly seemed to have no intention of suppressing them in the least. Even Virtuous Consort and Worthy Consort glanced her way several times.
Meng Sangyu took notes on the roster of names. After she put down her brush, she summoned in the next group.
Taking advantage of the time between groups, she massaged her throbbing temples. When she had first entered the palace hall, she had only felt tired, but after smelling the incense inside the hall for a long time and listening to the Concubine Candidates’ musical performances, she unexpectedly felt dizzier and dizzier. Her stomach also seemed like it was churning and made her want to vomit.
The next group of Concubine Candidates quickly entered and paid their respects in a reverent and respectful manner. She collected herself at lightning speed and scanned the five people’s faces. Catching sight of the smiling Meng Rui’zhu, her eyes darkened.
“Begin.” She waved a hand and a Concubine Candidate answered, stepping out of the row and giving a simple self-introduction. After answering the questions of the Four Consorts, she began to exhibit her painting skills.
Meng Sangyu leaned back against the chair and sipped the tea that Nurse Feng had handed her. A sourness surged in the back of her throat, and she clenched her teeth, resisting the urge to vomit with great difficulty.
When it was Meng Ruizhu’s turn, she leisurely stepped forward and introduced herself in a soft, gentle manner. From beginning to end, her movements were graceful, her smile tranquil. Her beauty was a gentle kind, not at all as sharp or intense as Meng Sangyu’s.
Virtuous Consort wore the same expression as usual and didn’t ask her any questions. Gracious Consort and Pure Consort, on the other hand, repeatedly questioned her. Even the cold-faced Worthy Consort, who always put on airs/put down others, deigned to ask her a few questions as well.
Seeing their attitudes/behaviour, how could Meng Sangyu not know what they were thinking? Sisters serving the same husband 姐妹共侍一夫 (jiěmèi gòngshì yīfū) is a phrase used to describe a man taking two sisters as his wives as was possible in ancient China where polygamy was legal. – they were looking for someone to split the favour she received. Even if [Meng Rui’zhu] couldn’t split that favour, it would still leave her disgusted.
Meng Rui’zhu also had a few schemes up her sleeve. After leaving Bi’xiao Palace yesterday, in the blink of an eye, she had met with Worthy Consort.
After she heard the news of Shen Hui’ru being bestowed with death by imperial decree, [Meng Sangyu] immediately guessed that [Worthy Consort] had disclosed the matter of the body double. If it were her, she would have done the same if she was seeking a quick death. At least she would have been able to pull down several others to serve as sacrificial victims to share her fate. It was tricky to decide who ‘she’ was referring to in this section. Everything in square brackets were our own guesses. Logically it seems like Sangyu was thinking to herself. If anyone has read the raws, we welcome you to comment below with your thoughts!
The Emperor keeping Shen Hui’ru’s life didn’t necessarily mean that he didn’t have some kind of sinister motive. After all, a large group of thirsty women was very difficult to handle. Why not let them give up completely?
[Meng Sangyu] was the only one amongst the high-ranking imperial concubines to have avoided an unpleasant fate. With Worthy Consort’s twisted personality, it was natural for her to resent Meng Sangyu.
After the Grand Selection was over, it was time to make Worthy Consort acknowledge reality.
At that thought, Meng Sangyu lifted her head and gave a playful smile. Her razor-sharp gaze made Meng Rui’zhu, who was sitting below giving a musical performance, play several wrong notes. Meng Rui’zhu’s expression changed abruptly, but she quickly adapted.
When her performance was over, the Four Consorts looked towards Meng Sangyu, waiting for her to speak.
“Rejected.” Meng Sangyu carelessly waved a hand.
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The Four Consorts’ expressions showed that they had all expected this outcome.
Following the Imperial Noble Consort’s example, Virtuous Consort also raised a hand and simply declared, “Rejected!” making Meng Sangyu smile as she glanced at her.
Worthy Consort put down her teacup and smirked, clearly full of malice. “Bengong is truly fond of Miss Meng. Keep her nameplate.” Saying this, she giggled, giving everyone the feeling that she was unhinged.
“Keep her.” Pure Consort and Gracious Consort spoke one after the other. If something were to make the Imperial Noble Consort unhappy, they would be willing to support it.
Amongst the five senior imperial concubines, if there were three in favour of keeping her nameplate, then she could smoothly pass the evaluation. This implied that after Meng Rui’zhu was selected, then she would be able to be appointed to the position of a minor mistress, The title used here was “小主”, something the servants would call a low-levelled concubine. becoming one of the Emperor’s low-level concubines. Meng Rui’zhu knelt and expressed her thanks. Her eyes showed a hint of ambitious hope and satisfaction.
Meng Sangyu smiled ambiguously at her and circled her name. Just as she was about to set down her pen, suddenly the world started spinning and her body couldn’t help but fall to the side.
Nurse Feng cried out in fear, “Your Highness!” and quickly advanced forward to catch her as her body slumped. Afterwards, she immediately called for an Imperial Physician.
The Four Consorts promptly stood up to see what was going on, and the Concubine Candidates who had yet to withdraw also looked as if they would lose their heads out of fear. The scene in the palace hall immediately became chaotic.
Meng Rui’zhu raised her eyebrows in astonishment and proudly thought to herself: Was she provoked by me? How weak! Meng Sangyu, this is just the beginning! After today, there’s still more for you to suffer!
After they carefully and cautiously carried the Imperial Noble Consort to a side chamber and paused the Grand Selection in the main hall, Yu Ya’an immediately sent someone to notify the Emperor. Considering how much His Majesty cared for the Imperial Noble Consort, if one didn’t notify him first, he was bound to be provoked into a fit of rage.
It was just as Yu Ya’an had predicted. The Emperor arrived faster than the imperial physician. The bright yellow sleeves of his robe were stained with ink. From this, it could be seen how much of a rush he was in.
“How could she suddenly faint? Where is the imperial physician? Hurry up and send someone to rush him!” He sat at Meng Sangyu’s bedside and gently caressed the woman’s pale complexion with both hands. His gloomy tone could cause rain to fall.
Chang’xi bowed and accepted the command. He withdrew from the main hall and gave a few hand signals, and the normally concealed hidden guards made for/were dispatched to the Imperial Institute of Medicine 太医院 (tàiyīyuàn) in Chinese. posthaste.
Virtuous Consort was about to reply but Gracious Consort rushed to speak first, “Replying to Your Majesty, we lowly concubines observed that the Second Miss of the Meng family’s virtuous words and accomplishments were extraordinary and had decided to keep her nameplate. Who would have thought that Her Highness, the Imperial Noble Consort, would suddenly faint?”
Pure Consort followed suit and said a few words in agreement.
Since the Emperor entered the hall, only Worthy Consort cowered in fear and withdrew to a corner of the room, deathly afraid of being seen by him.
Virtuous Consort remained silent. Sweeping her gaze over the Emperor’s terrified eyes and slightly trembling fingertips, she inwardly gave a mocking smile.
[Meng Sangyu] merely fainted yet the Emperor was frightened to this extent. It was clear just how much he cared for the Imperial Noble Consort. If one were to imply that the Imperial Noble Consort was jealous and wanted to oppress the competition within her own clan under these circumstances, they had best take care that their losses don’t outweigh their gains! 得不偿失 (débùchángshī) The gains do not make up for the losses.
Keep her nameplate? Meng Rui’zhu? Emperor Zhou’wu’s expression became even darker upon hearing what was said.
Sisters serving the same husband – were they looking to humiliate Zhen or Sangyu? Zhen feels disgusted even just hearing the words. No wonder Sangyu fainted!
“Imperial Duke Meng’s memorial requesting exemption from being selected is on Zhen’s desk. After the Grand Selection, he would like to personally make arrangements for Meng Rui’zhu’s marriage. Who asked you all to act on your own accord?” His voice cut through the room like the biting chill of winter, The phrase used here is “数九寒冰” (shùjiǔ hánbīng) which relates to the idiom “数九寒天” (shǔjiǔ hántiān). It literally translates to “Counting nine cold days” and describes a folk method in China to calculate the coldest days of the year and the number of days from the winter solstice until the spring equinox. The method has a long history amongst Chinese farmers and has been passed down orally based on ecological reflections of nature and weather signs. Nowadays, it’s been turned into a children’s folk song known as 九九消寒歌 (jiǔjiǔxiāohángē) “Nine nine songs to chase away the cold” or more commonly, 九九歌 (jiǔjiǔgē) “nine nine song”. Here is a Youtube video with the song. 数九 (shùjiǔ) “Counting to 9” – The number 9 is traditionally a number signifying extremes and is considered the “biggest” number in Chinese culture. Hence why it’s also associated with the Emperor or Chinese mythology e.g. 九五至尊, 九天, 九泉, 九尾狐. making Worthy Consort, Pure Consort, and Gracious Consort all turn deathly pale with fright.
“On Zhen’s order, reject Meng Rui’zhu’s nameplate!”
Noticing Sangyu move slightly with a countenance filled with unease, he immediately lowered his voice and tightly grasped her hands.
Worthy Consort’s eyes were blood-red; Pure Consort and Gracious Consort silently cried in protest but didn’t dare to speak, showing aggrieved expressions. Only Virtuous Consort stepped forward and softly acknowledged the order.
She lamented inwardly: As expected, this was the outcome. The Emperor truly loves the Imperial Noble Consort as much as his own life! 爱之若命 (ài zhī rú mìng) is a play on words on “爱之若子” (ài zhī rú zǐ) which means to love/treat the subject as though they are their own 子, or child
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