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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 37

Chapter 37
Whoever in Yamen submits a plan to pacify the barbarian, the imperial court will suggest to send out an Imperial Edict of Sichuan Document first.

One day Wei Xiaobao and the Luocha Country Ambassador arrived in Beijing. Seeing his return, Prince Kang, Songgotu and all the other princes, dukes and ministers were surprised and delighted at the same time. Ever since he went out to sea with the Navy, nobody knew his whereabouts. Several times the imperial court sent expeditions trying to locate him, all came back saying that on the boundless ocean there was no track of him at all, unexpectedly not a single battleship, not a single soldier came back. Kangxi thought that the fleet came across hurricane in the ocean and everybody perished; each time he remembered this, he was always downhearted. As the news reached the Palace, Kangxi immediately summoned Wei Xiaobao for an audience.

Wei Xiaobao saw smile all across Kangxi’s whole face; after kowtowing to him, Wei Xiaobao summarized his experience straight away. This time Kangxi sent him out to sea, the primary mission was to exterminate Divine Dragon Cult and capture the fake empress dowager. At this moment, as he heard that the Divine Dragon Cult was destroyed, although the fake empress dowager had not been captured, they had forged an alliance with the Luocha Country. Ever since Kangxi interrogated Hantiemo, the Mongolian envoy who was sent to visit Kunming, and learned that Wu Sangui was colluding with Luocha Country, Mongolia, and Tibet, three strong allies, Kangxi was deeply concerned. As for Shang and Geng, two border defenses, as well as Taiwan rebel Zheng Clan, he merely consider them as secondary. Seeing Wei Xiaobao returned safe and sound, he was already genuinely delighted, now that he learned about the arrival of the Luocha Country Ambassador to cultivate friendship, he was even more pleased. Busily he asked for more details.

Wei Xiaobao told him from head to tail, about how he taught Sophia to instigate the firearm brigades to rebel, how he taught her to set up two little Tsars, while she herself became the regent. Kangxi laughed aloud and said, “Damn it, you have learned our Great Qing’s shrewdness, and was able to teach this Luocha Country’s female demon.”

The next day during the morning audience, Kangxi summoned the Luocha Country Ambassador. In the imperial court, Wei Xiaobao was the only one who understood Luocha language. Actually, Luocha language was very difficult to learn, in those short several months, he only learned limited numbers of Luocha words, while the Luocha Country Ambassador’s words were full of eulogy. Out of ten words, he did not understand nine of them. Taking advantage of the fact that the others did not understand either, he fabricated the speech, he went as far as to recite the inscription made up by Lu Gaoxuan the other day, such as ‘In a thousand years, the Great Qing will be loved’, and ‘its supernatural spirit reaches out to relieve, its grand, awe-inspiring might is all powerful’; subsequently he recited several sentences.

While reciting, he stole a glance to see Kangxi’s expression, but he saw Kangxi was beaming with smile; hence Wei Xiaobao knew that the inscription had come in useful. Thereupon he continued with a loud voice, “Subduing monsters conquering demons like a rising sun. The feathered wings support his rule, breathing out stale air and breathing in fresh air. Ten thousands luck a hundred good fortune, there will never be a year without plentiful harvest. Immortal happiness will be enjoyed forever, all the world will venerate. Its long life will be the same as the Heaven’s, a kind sage of both pen and sword. In a moment, in the sky …”

As the words ‘in the sky’ came out of his mouth, he stopped talking immediately; thinking that if he continued, he would expose the fox’s tail[1]. Therefore, he said, “Luocha Country young Tsar, the Queen Regent, respectfully wish Chinese Great Emperor, the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, the Holy Sage, good health.”

These sentences were originally composed by Lu Gaoxuan as a eulogy to the Cult Leader Hong, and now Wei Xiaobao recited it out; although it felt a bit nondescript, but ‘all the world will venerate’, or ‘sage of both pen and sword’ and so on were well-disposed praise and good wishes. As they heard it, the numerous ministers repeatedly nodded their heads.

Kangxi knew that in his belly Wei Xiaobao did not have this kind of speech, he did not have these ancient and elegant sentences, hence it was impossible that he translated these sentences on the spot; Kangxi guessed that Wei Xiaobao must have asked the gunmen to translate in advance, and then recited it in the Palace. Kangxi would never have guessed that it was originally praise to the cult leader of a heretical cult; Wei Xiaobao was simply using it like ‘grafting flowers onto a tree’, or ‘leading away a goat in passing’[2].

Immediately the Luocha Country Ambassador presented the gifts. Luocha Country was even colder than Liaodong, the black fox and mink furs it produced were even more gorgeous and richer than Liaodong products. Manchu high-ranking officials were people who can judge the quality of goods; as soon as they saw it, no body did not utter praise. Immediately Kangxi ordered Wei Xiaobao to receive the gifts properly and prepare Chinese gifts in return.

After the morning audience was over, Kangxi summoned Tang Ruowang and Nan Huairen, two people, he ordered them to see the Luocha Country Ambassador. Nan Huairen was a Belgian, whose language was similar to French. The Luocha Country Ambassador could speak French, hence the two of them were able to communicate. Nan Huairen praised Kangxi’s brilliance and benevolence, which was seldom found among the monarchs since times immemorial. He told other things so that the Luocha Country Ambassador was convinced.

The next day, Kangxi ordered Tang Ruowang and Nan Huairen, two people to demonstrate the cannon on Nanyuan [lit. southern park], and then, along with Wei Xiaobao, he accompanied to Luocha Country Ambassador for an inspection. Seeing the sharpness and accuracy of the cannon, he was inwardly quite impressed. He asked Nan Huairen to convey to the Emperor that the Queen Regent of Luocha Country was determined to cultivate friendship with China, and to be nation brothers forever.

After the Luocha Country Ambassador took his leave and returned to his country, Kangxi recalled that Wei Xiaobao went to a military campaign this time, he managed to get rid of two strong allies of Wu Sangui in one stroke, his merit was indeed not small. Thereupon Kangxi issued an edict to grant Wei Xiaobao the title of First Class Loyal and Brave Count. Immediately the princes, dukes and cabinet ministers thronged to congratulate him.

Wei Xiaobao remembered Shi Lang, Regional Commander Huang, and the others, who, unexpectedly, not a single person returned. He presumed it was because their commander-in-chief went missing on the sea. He was the number one favorite of the Emperor, the person closest to him. If the Emperor was furious, he might charge them with ‘fault in military operation, shrinking back on approaching the battlefield, crime for letting the commander-in-chief fallen into the deathtrap’, et cetera, all kinds of criminal charges added together, so that everybody was afraid to be beheaded, hence they wander destitute around the Tong Chi Island and did not dare to come back.

When the Manchurians sent the troops for the first time, their military law was extremely strict; when they went to war, if the captain of a unit died in battle, and the troops shrank back and ran away, frequently the entire unit would be executed. Even until the Manchus enters the peaceful years, this law still existed; for this reason, Manchurian troops were very refined and unrivalled. Thereupon Wei Xiaobao sent out two envoys toward Tong Chi Island and Shen Long Island, to summon Shi Lang and the others back to the Capital.

One day Kangxi summoned Wei Xiaobao to the Upper Study Room. Pointing to three memorials lying on the desk, he said, “Xiao Guizi, these three memorials came from three different places; can you guess whose memorials these are?”

Wei Xiaobao craned his neck to look at the three memorials; but he did not see anything that would give him any clue. “Your Majesty must give me a bit of clue, then your servant can guess well,” he said.

Kangxi smiled; he raised his right palm and made chopping gestures, as if he was beheading someone, three times. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Ah, that’s right; it must be that big … big treacherous officials Wu Sangui, Shang Kexi and Geng Jingzhong, those three fellows’ memorial.”

Kangxi laughed. “You are very smart,” he said, “Guess again: what do these three memorials say?”

Wei Xiaobao scratched his head. “It’s very hard to guess,” he said, “Did those three memorials arrive at the same time?”

“Some arrived earlier than the other,” Kangxi replied, “But the difference is not much.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those three treacherous officials are harboring malicious intentions, they must have the same ideas; your servant guesses that the content of the memorials are more or less the same.”

Kangxi lightly patted the memorials on the desk and said, “Precisely. The first memorial arrived was from that old fellow Shang Kexi. He said that he is old, and wanted to return to Liaodong. He asked to have his son, Shang Zhixin to replace him in guarding Guangdong. I wrote a comment on the memorial: if Shang Kexi wants to return to Liaodong, he does not need to leave his son in Guangdong. When Wu Sangui and Geng Jingzhong heard the news, one after another they also submitted memorial to the throne.”

Picking up a memorial, Kangxi said, “This one is the old fellow Wu Sangui’s. He said, ‘For twenty years the minister has received the Heaven’s kindness, with wasted contribution it is hard to repay; only wearily guarding the border for a period of time, how can I dare to ask rest from responsibility? Today I heard Ping Nan Wang [king who pacify the south] Shang Kexi has given a full account in a memorial to the Emperor, and has already received favor, to be allowed to withdraw completely from guarding the border. Relying on great compassion, I boldly ask the Heaven to listen, asking to be removed from this assignment.’ Humph, he is testing me, he wants to see whether I dare to remove him from guarding the border? He is not doing it alone, he must have communicated with Shang Kexi and Geng Jingzhong, the three of them together trying to scare me!”

Kangxi picked up another memorial and said, “This one is Geng Jingzhong’s. He said, ‘Minister has held two hereditary rank of nobility simultaneously, my heart longs for the Emperor’s imperial city watchtower, only because of the ocean atmosphere I dare not suddenly ask to cease leading the troops. Recently I saw Ping Nan Wang Shang Kexi submitted a memorial begging to return, and has received the imperial decree. Remembering that minister has led officers and men into punitive expedition to the south for more than twenty years, I am looking up in earnest on the Emperor’s kindness, asking to be removed from this assignment.’ One in Yunnan, the other in Fujian, separated by ten thousand li, how could the wording of these two letters be similar? In one hand they say they must not cease leading the troops, on the other hand they beg to withdraw. These fellows, do you think they still have me in their eyes?” While saying that, he angrily tossed the memorials unto the desk.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “These three memorials contain heresy and treason, it is actually rebellion’s war declaration. Your Majesty, we dispatch the troops, seize the three rebel thieves and bring them to the Capital, the whole families … humph, the whole family, the males must be killed, the females must be given to meritorious ministers as slaves.” He was about to say ‘the whole family must be executed unto the third generation’, but suddenly remembered Ah Ke and Chen Yuanyuan; thereupon midway he changed his statement.

Kangxi said, “If we dispatch the troops, we will give the common people of the world a reason to say that I slaughter meritorious ministers; to say that the birds are no more, the bow is put away; the rabbit is dead, the dog is boiled alive. It would be better to remove their posts as border defense, and see what those three men would react. If they obey the Emperor’s decree and withdraw from the border, respectfully and submissively obey the Mandate of Heaven, so be it; otherwise, if they deploy the troops to battle, I will have enough reason to send the troops on a punitive expedition.”

“Your Majesty prophecy with supernatural accuracy, your servant has only utmost admiration,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just like in the opera: Your Majesty asked: ‘Who’s there kneeling down?’ Wu Sangui replied, “Minister Wu Sangui is here to have an audience with the Emperor.’ Your Majesty shouted, ‘How dare you Wu Sangui, why don’t you look up?’ Wu Sangui said, ‘Minister is guilty and does not dare to look up.’ Your Majesty said in singing, ‘What offense have you committed?’ Wu Sangui replied, ‘Your servant is unwilling to withdraw from the border, I want to revolt.’ Your Majesty shouted, “Ay, what a brazen thing! Wei Xiaobao!’ And then I strode into the stage and sank to my knees, saying, ‘Xiao Jiang [little general, referring to self] is here!’ Your Majesty called out, ‘Here is the arrow banner of command! I send you to lead a hundred thousand troops to suppress the rebel thief Wu Sangui!’ Your servant received the arrow banner of command, and called out, ‘I obey!’ and my leg flew, kicking Wu Sangui on his buttocks; immediately Wu Sangui was kicked around that he piss in his pants in terror. All is lost!”

Kangxi roared in laughter. “You want to lead the troops to attack Wu Sangui?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao could see the teasing in Kangxi’s eyes, hence he knew the young Emperor was just joking. He said, “Your servant is so young, and has no ability at all, how can I lead the army? It would be best if Your Majesty personally becomes the Grand Marshal, I will become your vanguard officer; coming across a mountain I will open up a path, encountering water I will build a bridge. Majestically we will rush to Yunnan to strike.”

Listening to him, Kangxi’s heart leaped in excitement, thinking that if the Emperor personally leads his troops into battle against Wu Sangui, it would be so much fun. He said, “Let me give it a careful thought.”

Early morning the next day, Kangxi convened the princes, dukes and cabinet ministers at the Hall of Supreme Harmony to discuss military and national affairs. Although Wei Xiaobao had been promoted several ranks in succession, his official position in the imperial court was still low; actually, he was not qualified to participate in discussion of national affairs at the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Kangxi issued a special decree, saying that since Wei Xiaobao was sent as the imperial envoy to Yunnan, he was privy of Border Defense Wu’s inside information, hence he was summoned to accompany the Emperor in this high-level meeting.

The young Emperor was seated on the dragon chair, Qin Wang [prince, royal blood], Jun Wang [prince, not of royal blood], Bei Lei [see chapter 13], Bei Zi [son of Beilei], Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, and other high-ranking officials were standing according to their rank, Wei Xiaobao stood at the very end of the line.

Kangxi handed over Shang Kexi, Wu Sangui, Geng Jingzhong’s, three memorials to the Hall of Central Harmony’s [Zhong He Dian] Da Xue Shi [lit. senior ministerial of great learning], who simultaneously acting as the Director of Board of Rites, Batai; he said, “Three border defenses submitted memorial, pleading to be removed from the border. How we should respond, everybody present me your own memorial.”

After the various princes, dukes and ministers read and circulated the memorials, Prince Kang Giyesu said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: in your servant’s humble opinion, the three border defenses pleading to be removed from the border, it was not due to their own conscience; it seems that they are merely feeling out the imperial court.”

“How did you see it?” Kangxi asked, “Explain.”

Giyesu said, “In these three memorials, they all said that the responsibility over local military affairs is heavy, they did not dare to depart without authority. Since they knew that the military affair is a heavy responsibility, why would they plead to withdraw from the border? Obviously it is self-contradictory.” Kangxi nodded.

The Hall of Preserving Harmony’s [Bao He Dian] Da Xue Shi Wei Zhouzuo was a very old man with white hair and white beard; he said, “In minister’s humble opinion, the imperial court should issue a warm imperial decree to comfort and exhort them, saying that the three border defenses’ meritorious service were outstanding, His Imperial Majesty rely heavily upon them, they must do their jobs diligently, acting as the screen to guard the border. The matter of withdrawing from the border need not be considered.”

Kangxi said, “So in your opinion, the three border defenses should not be removed from their posts?”

Wei Zhouzuo said, “The Holy Sage [referring to the Emperor] understands it very well: Lao-tze[3] said, ‘Fine soldier is inauspicious’; even if they are good soldiers, they are still inauspicious. Some critics said that the character ‘fine’ (佳) was an error, it should be ‘only’ (惟); thus it should say ‘only soldier is inauspicious’, then it will be even clearer. Laozi had another saying, ‘troops are inauspicious tool, the wrong tool of a nobleman, to be used against his will’.”

Wei Xiaobao was inwardly bewildered, “This old fellow is so brazen; in the Emperor’s presence he unexpectedly dared to say Laozi this and Laozi that. And the Emperor is not angry.” He did not know that this ‘laozi’ was a sage of antiquity, Li Er, not the ‘laozi’ [I, your father] used jocularly by the people of the marketplace to refer to themselves.

Kangxi nodded and said, “Troops are vicious, battles are dangerous; the ancient has clear examples. When there was military expedition, inevitably the living thing would turn into charcoal. So you say that if Zhen issue a warm imperial decree to comfort and exhort them, not allowing them to withdraw from the border, this matter will be settled?”

The Da Xue Shi of Hall of Literary Glory [Wen Hua Dian] Dui Kana said, “Please Your Majesty understand: since Wu Sangui guarding Yunnan, that region is peaceful, the barbarians do not dare to disturb, the southern part of our Dynasty does not have any trouble. If he is relocated to Liaodong, perhaps Yunnan and Guizhou will suffer. If the imperial court does not allow him to withdraw from the border, Wu Sangui will be grateful and will strive to repay the kindness, Geng and Shang, two border defenses, as well as the Kong army of Guangxi, will definitely look up to respect the Heaven’s kindness. Henceforth the Yellow River is clear and the sea is calm, the whole world is at peace.”

Kangxi said, “You are very much afraid that after the border defense is removed, the southwest region will lack a strategic town, and perhaps there would be foreign invasion?”

“Yes,” Dui Kana said, “Wu Sangui’s troops and defense is highly perfected, it usually is prestigious, the barbarians are afraid and submit to him. Once this defense is removed, whether it will bring good fortune or calamity, it will be hard to predict. In minister’s humble opinion, one more problem we have is not as good as one less problem.”

Minister of Revenue Mi Sihan said, “Since the ancient time the Holy Sages ruling the country, they always esteem Huang Lao’s technique [not sure]. When Western Han governed the world, they abide by the rules laid down by their predecessor, seeking peace and inaction [referring to Taoist doctrine of inaction] in politics. Your Majesty is an enlightened sage, your virtue is nearing the Three Sovereigns, who is rarely matched even by people in the most flourishing period of Han and Tang. In the years that Your Majesty rises in position, you grasp the political power, give the people rest, and harmonize the four barbarians; all the world is grateful for your kindness. In minister’s shallow opinion, the matter of the three border defenses can only be handled according to the old rule, there is no need to restring our bow by having a reform and start all over again, since right now we have favorable weather for the crops, the country prospers, the people at peace. The Holy Son of Heaven rules by hanging down the bow, there is no need to entertain such thought.”

Kangxi asked Da Xue Shi Du Lide, “What do you think?”

Du Lide said, “The three defenses were originally established as a reward and an opportunity to render merit. Right now the three defenses do not have any serious offense, if they are suddenly withdrawn, I am afraid there will be ignorant people who will say that the imperial court fails to be lenient toward former minister who has given outstanding service, perhaps there will be someone who would hinder the Sage’s court political aspiration.”

After much discussion, the princes, dukes and cabinet ministers all stated their position that the border defenses must not be removed.

Listening to all these people’s speech, where everybody dropped quotations to appear learned, although he did not understand what they were saying, Wei Xiaobao knew that everybody advised against removing the border defenses; in his heart he was anxious. Busily he tried to attract Songgotu’s attention and signaled him with his eyes, while slightly shaking his head, hinting him to speak against everybody else’s proposition.

Seeing him shaking his head, Songgotu misunderstood his meaning, he thought that Wei Xiaobao also advised him to oppose the removal of the defense. He thought that Wei Xiaobao understood clearly the Emperor’s true regard, and he noticed how Kangxi showed neither approval nor disapproval to the discussion, he presumed the young Emperor must be afraid to fight with Wu Sangui. Songgotu said, “Wu, Shang, and Geng, three people are adept at using military force, if the imperial court removes the border defense, and in spite of everything the three defenses refuse to accept orders, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong, Fujian, and Guangxi, five provinces deploy their troops at the same time, perhaps there will be other rebels responding by sending out their troops, it won’t be easy to deal with. In your servant’s opinion, Wu Sangui and Shang Kexi are already old, they won’t live too much longer, there is no harm in waiting a few more years, let those two people die of old age. The three defenses’ veterans of a hundred battles, a large number of the old troops and veteran generals will also die; if the border defense is removed at that time, our chance of victory will increase a lot.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “That is the plan coming from your experience and knowledge.”

Songgotu thought the Emperor was praising him; busily he kneeled down and kowtowed to express his gratitude. “In discussing the important matter of the country, your servant does not dare not to be completely loyal and exhaust all considerations to come up with a completely safe plan.”

Kangxi asked Da Xue Shi Tu Hai, “You are skilled with both the pen and sword, have deep understanding of three military strategies and six plans, adept at maneuvering troops; what do you think of this matter?”

“Your servant’s talent and wisdom is mediocre, it was all due to Your Majesty’s grace that I am promoted to this position,” Tu Hai replied, “Your Majesty can see clearly for ten thousand li; imperial court’s military forces are in excellent condition, if the three defenses have rebellious intention, they won’t be a major problem. It’s just that if all tens of thousands people under the three defenses’ command depart for Liaodong at the same time, we have to carefully consider one thing.”

“What matter we have to consider carefully?” Kangxi asked.

Tu Hai said, “Liaodong is the place where our Great Qing originated, the place where our ancestors and predecessors were buried; if the three defenses indeed have disloyal intention, tens of thousands people making a ruckus and acting unreasonably in Liaodong, it would not be easy to guard against.”

Kangxi nodded. Tu Hai continued, “If the three border defenses’ troops withdraw from their original posts, the imperial court must deploy other military forces toward Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian to be stationed there. Several tens of thousands large army moving north, several tens of thousands large army moving south, no matter how you look at it, it is a great waste of resources, undoubtedly there will be trouble in those places. The three border defenses’ troops have been quite harmonious with the local people for quite some time, and there is no news of any conflict. Guangdong and Fujian’s dialect is very strange and unusual, when the new army arrived, they have to adjust, everybody can’t understand each other, the custom is different, perhaps it will stir up mass uprising; and then Your Majesty’s sacred intention to love common people as your own children would be harmed.”

The more Wei Xiaobao listened, the more anxious he was; he knew the young Emperor had made up his mind to remove the border defense, yet each and everyone of the princes, dukes, and cabinet ministers was timid and was afraid of getting involved. His own official position was too low, in term of age, he was too young, he could not speak rubbish in the imperial court; hence he was in a very difficult position.

Kangxi asked the high official of the Ministry of War, Ming Zhu, “Ming Zhu, this is the Ministry of War’s business. What do you think?”

Ming Zhu replied, “The Holy Sage Son of Heaven is very bright, you stand tall and see far, your view of this matter is a hundred times better than the ministers. After giving this matter a careful consideration, your servant thinks that removing the border defense has some advantages, but not removing the border defense also has its own advantages; in my heart I find it difficult to make up my mind, for several days I lost sleep over this matter. Afterward I suddenly recalled something, and then I was relieved immediately, and last night I was able to fall asleep. Your servant thought that Your Majesty has given this matter meticulous consideration. All the thoughts that the ministers have, Your Majesty has already foreseen each and everyone accurately. The stratagems that all your servants could think of, even if it were more brilliant, it would not be more brilliant than Your Majesty’s direction. Your servant only has to listen to Your Majesty’s instruction on how to handle this matter. Whatever Your Majesty say, all your servants need to do is advance bravely with dead heart, without any plan for anything new. In the end we will definitely obtain great luck, great profit, and have everything our hearts desire.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard this, he was admired him greatly; he mused, “All these civil and military ministers of the court, nobody surpasses this fellow’s skill in becoming a government official. This man’s skill in bootlicking has reached perfection; laozi should do obeisance to him and take him as my master. In the future this fellow’s career will enjoy meteoric rise; his scholarly achievement, fame and honor will be immeasurable.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “I asked you to think of an idea, not to sing praises.”

Ming Zhu kowtowed and said, “Holy Sage, please understand: your servant is not singing the praise, it was really the truth. Ever since the Ministry of War learned the news about the instability of the three border defenses, day and night your servant was anxious, thinking about how to deal with this matter. If by any chance we must use military force, how to move the troops and send the generals. If we want to assure victory, we must let the Master not to have the least bit of worry. However, after thinking back and forth, in all honesty the Master is simply too brilliant, while your servants are too worthless. We rack our brains painstakingly, the end result will definitely be inferior to Your Majesty’s casual thought. The Holy Sage Son of Heaven is the crape myrtle star descending to the world, naturally not someone ordinary people like your servant could even reach. For this reason, your servant thought that as long as Your Majesty issues your order, I am sure it will be the best. Even if your servants do not understand, as long as we do it with all our hearts, in the end we will see the light.”

When the numerous ministers heard this, they all cursed him in their hearts as being shameless, flattering the Emperor in front of everyone else, being completely unscrupulous; yet they had no choice but to parrot him.

Kangxi said, “Wei Xiaobao, you have been to Yunnan, let me hear your thought: how should we deal with this matter?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, please understand: your servant does not understand national affairs, it’s just that Wu Sangui has spoken a few words to your servant. He said, ‘Wei Dutong, if there is some unforeseen event in the future, you don’t have to worry. Your Dutong [commander] position can only go up, not go down.’ Your servant did not understand, hence I asked, ‘What unforeseen event in the future?’ Wu Sangui laughed and said, ‘When the moment comes, you will naturally know.’ Your Majesty, Wu Sangui is thinking of rebelling. This matter is absolutely true; right now I am afraid he has already prepared the dragon robe. He compared himself as a fierce tiger, and compared Your Majesty as a black-naped oriole.”

Kangxi knitted his brows slightly, “What fierce tiger, black-naped oriole?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed several times and said, “That servant Wu Sangui has spoken a good deal of treason and heresy talks, your servant will not dare to repeat it no matter what.”

“You’d better repeat it,” Kangxi said, “It’s not like you are speaking on your own account.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wu Sangui has three treasured items. He said that although these three treasures are fine, he regrets the fact that there is a fly in the ointment. The first treasure is a red ruby as big as a pigeon egg, it’s really as red as chicken blood; he has it embedded in his hat. He said, ‘The gem is very big, it’s a pity the hat is too small.’”

“Humph,” Kangxi snorted. The numerous ministers were looking at each other; they all thought that by saying ‘the gem is very big, it’s a pity the hat is too small’, he was implying that he wanted to wear the crown on his head.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “His second treasure is white-based, black-striped white tiger skin. Your servant has been waiting upon Your Majesty in the Palace for a while, yet I have never seen this kind of white tiger skin. Wu Sangui said that this kind of white tiger is rarely seen even once in several hundred years. In the past the Song Taizu [founding emperor of Song] Zhao Kuangyin had one, Zhu Yuanzhang also found one, Cao Cao and Liu Bei each has also had one. He has the white tiger skin draped on his chair, saying, ‘White tiger skin is hard to come by, it’s a pity the chair is too ordinary.’”

Kangxi nodded again; he was secretly amused, he knew that Wei Xiaobao was speaking without thinking, framing Wu Sangui. He also knew that Wei Xiaobao was completely uneducated, thinking that Cao Cao was also an emperor.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “The third treasure is a piece of large marble screen, with painting of natural scenery. In the painting there was a little black-naped oriole perching on a tree, underneath the tree there was a big tiger. Wu Sangui said, ‘This screen is very valuable; it’s a pity that the tiger is underneath the tree, yet the little black-naped oriole is standing on high branch.’”

Kangxi said, “Those three things he said are no more than metaphors, it does not necessarily mean that he had a mind to rebel.”

“Your Majesty is magnanimous, you are cherishing your servants,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If Wu Sangui only has thirty-percent of conscience, and know how to be grateful and seek to repay the kindness, that would be great. However, it’s a pity that he gives present to the princes, dukes and ministers of the court; this prince a thousand taels of yellow gold, that duke twenty-thousand taels of white silver. He is desperately serious in spending his money. Those three treasures of his, however, are not part of the tribute to Your Majesty.”

Kangxi laughed. “I do not covet his belongings,” he said.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Sangui always want to pay the imperial court’s salary, to treat them with rewards; most of the money he obtained stay in Beijing, given to civil and military officials. Your servant said to him, ‘Wangye, you sent all those gold and silver to the high-ranking officials of the court, you are indeed too generous, I can do the spending for you.’ Wu Sangui laughed and said, ‘Xiao Xiongdi, all those gold and silver only stay in their homes temporarily, let each and every one of them help me speak good words on my behalf. In a few years, they will nicely add the interest, and then both principal and interest will return to me.’ Your servant did not understand it, so I asked, ‘Wangye, once those belongings enter other people’s home, how can they return it to you? You were willingly giving it to them, it’s not that they borrow the money from you, how can you expect any interest?’ Wu Sangui laughed aloud; he patted my shoulder, took a brocade bag and gave it to me, and said, ‘Xiao Xiongdi, this is a small token Xiao Wang is giving you, with the hope that in front of His Majesty, you would speak good words on my behalf a lot. If His Majesty wanted to remove the border defense, you must say that the border defense must never be removed. Ha ha … don’t worry, these things, I will not ask you to return to me in the future.’”

While saying that, Wei Xiaobao took a brocade bag from his pocket and held it up high above his head. Everybody could see that the bag was embroidered with four red characters, ‘Ping Xi Wang Fu’ [King who pacify the west’s mansion]. He bent down to squat, opened up the bag’s mouth and poured out the contents. A series of ‘ding ding dang dang’ was heard, pearls, precious stones, emerald, gems, several dozens of valuable objects scattered on the Hall’s floor. The pearls sparkled the gems shone, the light dazzled everybody’s eyes. Some of these gems were indeed gifts from Wu Sangui, some were given by other people as gifts or bribes to Wei Xiaobao. But in that moment, who would know the difference?

Kangxi smiled and said, “You went to Yunnan this time, you have actually attained much.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “These pearls and jewels, your servant does not dare to desire, would Your Majesty bestow it to others?”

Kangxi giggled and said, “They were gifts from Wu Sangui, how can I take them from you and gave to others?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Sangui gave them to your servant, because he wanted me to tell lies in front of Your Majesty, to help him speaking good words on his behalf, to say that the border defense must never be removed. Your servant is loyal and devoted to Your Majesty, I must not covet a bit of gold, silver, money and valuables, and say that a rebel thief was a loyal minister. But on the other hands, having received Wu Sangui’s thing, I feel a bit unfair to him. In any case, gold, silver, money and valuables throughout the world belong to Your Majesty. Whomever Your Majesty wishes to give it to, it is Your Majesty’s benevolence, no need to make Wu Sangui a good person by letting him buy the people’s heart.”

Kangxi roared in laughter. “You are exceptionally loyal to Zhen,” he said, “In that case, just consider I give these pearls and jewels as a reward to you.” From his pocket he took out a western spring gold watch and said, “And I am giving you another treasure from the west.”

Wei Xiaobao hastily kneeled down and kowtowed. He took several steps forward and received the gold watch with both hands.

These two, a ruler and his minister, were displaying such an artificial show, the numerous high-ranking ministers were watching with knowing expressions; who did not understand Kangxi’s intention? These high-ranking ministers had received Wu Sangui’s bribe, the most recent it was delivered by Wei Xiaobao himself. They thought that if they were not being tactful, and Wei Xiaobao shook the imperial court with ‘venerating Yunnan’ tactic again, the Emperor might be furious, and then all of them might be charged with ‘acting as liaison of foreign vassal state, conspiring against the law’; if they were not beheaded, then they would be banished to an army post.

Wei Xiaobao’s speech to frame Wu Sangui was indeed very childish and ridiculous; even if Wu Sangui really had the intention to rebel, he would never divulge his secret in front of an imperial envoy sent by the Emperor himself. Wei Xiaobao also spoke about Wu Sangui sending gold and silver to the high-ranking ministers of the imperial court, and that in the future he would want to get both the principal and the interest back, suggesting that when the rebellion succeeded in the future and he became the emperor, he would want the high-ranking ministers to pay him back the gold and silver. This was definitely a child’s idea; Wu Sangui was a man of rigorous schemes and deep foresight, how could he haggle over how much gold and silver he had given to each minister? Yet they knew perfectly well that Wei Xiaobao could not be contradicted, he had the Emperor’s support; who would dare to bring trouble to himself by saying anything to refute him?

Ming Zhu’s brain was the quickest; he immediately said, “Wei Dutong is young, yet he is brave and talented; he understands the matter of the world and has a red-bellied devotion toward His Majesty, he can see through Wu Sangui’s tiger cave, and obtain the actual facts, indeed he is worthy of other people’s admiration. If not for Your Majesty was able to illuminate the cave, seeing the plot first by sending Wei Dutong to personally investigate, how would we, who work in Beijing, know that Wu Sangui that old fellow has received the country’s kindness, yet unexpectedly harboring the desire to rebel?”

With these words, he had flattered Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao, while gently exonerated himself and the entire court, and asserting the criminal charge against Wu Sangui. Everybody in the Hall of Supreme Harmony felt that his speech was really pleasant to their ears. The various high-ranking ministers were originally anxious and uneasy; this moment they could not help but heaving a sigh of relief.

Prince Kang and Songgotu were always in good terms with Wei Xiaobao, naturally at this time they threw their lot with him and threw their stones to one who fell down the well; they loudly said Wu Sangui was wrong. The numerous ministers also ‘you said a sentence, I said a sentence’, everybody said the border defense should be removed, some even chided themselves for being muddled, fortunately the Emperor had straightened them up, as if the clouds and mist were pushed aside that they saw the blue sky. Some even went farther by offering plans how to remove the border defense, how to seize Wu Sangui’s capital, how to raid his house. Wu Sangui’s riches matched those of the enemy’s country, as soon as they talked about how to raid his house, everybody thought that it was a greatly profitable mission; but then they had a second thought, they felt it may not be easy to do, when Wu Sangui became hostile, before you could raid his house, he would chop your head first.

Kangxi waited until everybody finished talking before saying, “Although Wu Sangui has intention that is against the law, this rebellion accusation has not been revealed. Our discussion in this place today, nobody can leak it out even for one sentence. We must give him an opportunity to reform and start afresh.”

The numerous ministers chorused their praises of the Emperor’s vast and mighty benevolence, for his broad and deep mercy.

From his pocket Kangxi extracted a piece of yellow paper; he said, “Here is the imperial edict, I want you to see if there is anything improper.”

Batai bowed and received it. Holding it high with both hands, he read aloud, “Receiver of the Mandate of Heaven the Emperor’s imperial order says: From time immemorial the Emperors and Kings pacify the world, always rely on ministers, master of military affair’s strength. Reaching up to the peace and quiet of the ocean and the universe, rousing the spirit to travel and return in triumph, resting the soldiers, enabling the important minister of the border region to leisurely look after it, bestowing him with prolonged abundant life, pampering him with the rivers and the mountains, in an extremely grand ceremony!”

Reading to this point, he paused. The numerous ministers broke into murmur, clucking their tongues, praising the Emperor for producing such a magnificent writing. Batai let out a gentle cough, turned his head around twice, as if he was enjoying a Han Liu Ou Su’s[4] exquisite literary work; and then with elongated intonation he continued reading, “The King has always been sincere, loyal and dependable, subduing, setting forth, planning and strategizing, with all his strength exerting himself on behalf of others, guarding the cliff of the border, releasing Zhen from concern over the South, rendering such a splendid meritorious deed!” Reading to this point, he paused, sighed softly and said, “What an excellent literary work!”

Songgotu said, “Your Majesty’s kindness reaches the heavens, if Wu Sangui has a bit of humanity in him, when he kneeled to read this imperial edict, perhaps he would be ashamed to death.”

Batai continued reading, “Remembering the King’s years already high, master and followers are laid bare, for a long time stationed in an out-of-the-way places, yearning for good rest. Since the adjacent places are in order, it’s only fair to grant the King’s request to be removed from your position. Now, such-and-such and such-and-such are especially sent to announce Zhen’s imperial intention. The King’s, along with the officers and men under his command, interest in packing up and go north, has reassured Zhen to think fondly of you all; if only the cycle of dawn and dusk stops, the ruler and his ministers share the joy, guaranteed endless rest forever. When this matter is settled, a place will be meticulously prepared. The day the King arrives, there will be peaceful place so that you will not have any worry. By the Emperor himself.”

Batai read with sonorous voice, the intonation with which he read the imperial edict was as if he was reading literary work. When he finished reading, none of the numerous ministers did not praise him. Ming Zhu said, “If only the cycle of dawn and dusk stops, the ruler and his ministers share the joy, these eight characters [dan xi gou zhi, jun chen xie le] truly make people feel unsurpassed gratitude. When your servants heard it, there was a burst of nice and warm feeling in the pit of our stomachs.”

Tu Hai said, “Your Majesty has given this matter a very careful consideration, you have stated in advance that as soon as he arrives in Beijing, there will be a place for him to stay. Otherwise, he might use all sorts of excuses, saying that he must send people come to the Capital to set up a house. Stalling and delaying, he might tarry three or five more years.”

Kangxi said, “It would be best if Wu Sangui can follow orders and respond to the imperial court, so that the common people will be exempt from the horrors of war. We must send two people who can talk really well to Yunnan to announce Zhen’s intention.”

When the numerous ministers heard what the Emperor just said, they all turned their gaze toward Wei Xiaobao. Being at the receiving end of everybody’s gaze, Wei Xiaobao was flustered; he thought, “My goodness, this is not a plaything. Last time I delivered the new daughter-in-law, I nearly delivered my own life as well. This time I go to remove the border defense, how could Wu Sangui not have the intention to kill the imperial envoy minister?” Thinking that if he went to Yunnan he might see Ah Ke, his heart warmed up involuntarily; but in the end his life is still more important.

Ming Zhu saw Wei Xiaobao’s ashen countenance, he deduced correctly that Wei Xiaobao did not dare to go; thereupon he said, “Your Majesty, please understand: with regard to the ability to talk really well, Dutong Wei Xiaobao is very competent. However, Wei Dutong hates the wicked as if they were his personal enemies; knowing that Wu Sangui disrespected the Emperor, he hates him to the bones. If he sees even half of his face, he would reprimand Wu Sangui immediately; I am afraid that he might spoil this important matter. In your servant’s humble opinion, it would be better to send the Ministry of Rites’ assistant minister Zhe’erken, and Imperial Hanlin Academy Xueshi [equivalent to bachelor’s degree] Da’erli to go to Yunnan and announce the imperial edict. These two people are refined in manner and have fine reputation, they might be able to influence mischievous wicked man to a better life; we never know.”

What he said suited Kangxi’s intention, he approved on the spot for Zhe’erken and Da’erli two people to go and announce the imperial decree.

The numerous ministers realized that the Emperor had decided early on to remove the border defense that he even prepared the imperial edict in advance; they all regretted that they spoke good words on Wu Sangui’s behalf earlier. By now they all changed direction, they said many fabricated indictments, that Wu Sangui was big traitor, major criminal, that his crime must not be pardoned.

Kangxi nodded and said, “Although Wu Sangui is bad, it’s unlikely that he would go as far as that. All of us must seek the truth from facts, and handle this matter carefully.” Standing up, he beckoned Wei Xiaobao to follow him into the rear hall.

Wei Xiaobao followed behind the Emperor toward the imperial garden. Kangxi laughed and said, “Xiao Guizi, you are really quite something! If you did not take that bag of pearls and jewels and poured them out on the floor, those damn old fellows would still speak good words about Wu Sangui.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, Your Majesty only needs to say, ‘Removing the border defense is better’, then everyone would say, ‘Indeed removing the border defense is better’. It’s just that to have them say it with their own mouth is a bit more interesting.”

Kang nodded and said, “Those old fellows are striving to secure their positions, everything they have in their mind cannot be spoken incorrectly. However, as the matter stands, if we let Wu Sangui act whenever he wants to act, everything will be in his hand, and then it will be greatly disadvantageous to us. By removing his border defense first, we may greatly disturb his footsteps.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just like playing Pai Jiu, how can we always let Wu Sangui be the banker? Your Majesty must also throw several throws of dice.”

“Your analogy is correct, we must not let him be the banker all the time,” Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, we have thrown the dice, but that fellow Wu Sangui is really not easy to fight. The generals and soldiers under his command are all formidable veterans of a hundred battles. When he deploys his troops in rebellion, if the Han people throughout the world respond to him, that will be bad!”

For the last several years Wei Xiaobao went around all over the country, the number of time he heard Han people cursed the Tatars was indeed not a few. Han people were numerous, for every hundred of Han people, there might not necessarily be one Manchu person. If the Han people throughout the world rose in rebellion, no matter what Manchu people would not be able to resist. However, although the number of people who curses the Tatars was many, there were even more people who detested Wu Sangui. Thinking about this fact, he said, “Your Majesty, please don’t worry. Not one of the Han people throughout the world likes that fellow Wu Sangui. If he wants to revolt, other than his own trusted aides, nobody would support his effort.”

Kangxi nodded. “I have thought about that too,” he said, “Previous Ming’s King Gui ran away to Burma, it was Wu Sangui who captured him and killed him. Wu Sangui wants to rebel, he can only say Han people rebelling against the Manchu, he cannot say fighting the Qing to restore the Ming.” Speaking to this point, he took a short pause, and then asked, “Previous Ming’s Emperor Chongzhen, when did he die?”

Wei Xiaobao scratched his head. “This …” he stammered, “At that time your servant has not been born; actually I am not … not too clear.”

Kangxi laughed aloud. “I was asking blindly,” he said, “At that time I have not been born either. Right, on the anniversary of his death, I will send several Princes and Beilei to go to Chongzhen’s tomb and offer sacrifice, so that the common people throughout the world will be grateful to me and hate Wu Sangui even more.”

“Your Majesty can calculate and scheme like deity,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But if the anniversary of Chongzhen’s death is still some time away, what if Wu Sangui rise in rebellion first?”

Kangxi paced back and forth, and then he smiled and said, “All these times you were on imperial orders to work for me, you have indeed suffered not a few hardships. Mount Wutai, Yunnan, Shen Long Island, Liaodong, and lastly you even went to Luocha Country. This time I am going to send you to a good place, to make up for it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The best place in the world is by Your Majesty’s side. As long as I can hear Your Majesty’s voice, I can see Your Majesty’s face, my entire body will be filled with vigor, my heart will be unspeakably comfortable. Your Majesty, this word is absolutely true, it’s not boot-licking.”

Kangxi nodded. “I know it’s the truth,” he said, “I and you, a ruler and his minister, are congenial, that is also predestined affinity. You and I have friendship that goes far to our fights when we were children, this friendship indeed stands out from the masses. When I see you, my heart is also very happy. Xiao Guizi, that half a year when I did not hear anything about you, I thought you drowned in the ocean; I was full of regret, I should have not sent you to take that kind of risk, I was really broken-hearted and grieved.”

Wei Xiaobao was deeply touched. “If … if only I can take care of you for the rest of my life,” he said, with a hint of sob in his voice.

“Alright, alright,” Kangxi said, “I will become the Emperor for sixty years, you will become high-ranking officer for sixty years. We, a ruler and his minister, have kindness and brotherhood, we will carry things through to the end.” It was extremely rare for an emperor to say such word toward his subject. One, Kangxi was young, he spoke frankly; two, he and Wei Xiaobao had been friends since their teenage years, they were mutually since.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You will become the Emperor for a hundred years, I will work for you for a hundred years; whether I become high-ranking official or not, I don’t care.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Isn’t sixty years as the Emperor enough? One must not not knowing enough is enough.” He paused a moment, and then continued, “Xiao Guizi, this time I am sending you to Yangzhou, to come back to your hometown in silken robes.”

As he heard ‘go to Yangzhou’ three characters, Wei Xiaobao’s heart skipped a beat. “What is ‘come back to one’s hometown in silken robes’?” he asked.

“You have become a high-ranking minister in Beijing,” Kangxi said, “Returning to your hometown to see your relatives and friends, you must create quite a stir; let everybody envy you, won’t that be great? Have your subordinate help you write a memorial to the throne, to have your father, mother, and your household be granted titles, let them be well-regarded, well-off.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Many thanks for Your Majesty’s kindness.”

Kangxi noticed Wei Xiaobao’s somewhat awkward expression. “Uh, you don’t like it?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I like it very much,” he said, “It’s just that … it’s just that I don’t know who my father is.”

Kangxi was taken aback; recalling that his own father had left home to become a monk on Mount Wutai, he felt that the two of them were fellow sufferers who empathize with each other. He patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said warmly, “When you get to Yangzhou, there is no harm in investigating it slowly. Perhaps the Heaven will have pity on you and let you, father and son, have a reunion. Xiao Guizi, you go to Yangzhou, your mission this time may be very easy to accomplish, I am sending you to build a martyr shrine [忠烈祠 zhong lie ci].”

Wei Xiaobao scratched his head, “Grow chestnut [种栗子 zhong li zi]?” he asked, “Your Majesty, if you want to eat chestnut, I’ll go to the street and buy some for you; sugar-coated deep-fried Liangxiang [town in Beijing municipality] sweet-scented osmanthus chestnut is savory and glutinous; we don’t need to go to Yangzhou to grow some.”

Kangxi roared in laughter. “Damn it,” he said, “Xiao Guizi is unlearned. I said ‘Martyr Shrine’, but you muddle things together and changed it to ‘grow chestnut’. Martyr shrine is a memorial hall, to enshrine and worship loyal minister who was martyred.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Your servant is indeed very stupid,” he said, “Turns out you want me to build something like Guan Di [I am not sure, but I think it refers to Guan Gong (Romance of the Three Kingdoms)] temple.”

“Now you are talking,” Kangxi said, “When the Qing troops entered the Pass, their massacre of Yangzhou and Jiading people was very tragic, to such an extent as to create those ‘Ten Days of Yangzhou’, ‘Three-slaughter of Jiading’, and so on. Thinking about these matters, my heart is always uneasy.”

“The massacre was indeed very tragic,” Wei Xiaobao said, “There were bodies everywhere within Yangzhou’s city wall. Even after ten years, it was not uncommon to find human bones in the wells and in the rivers. But that time I was not even born yet, you have not been born either; the blame cannot be placed on our heads.”

Kangxi said, “You said it right; however, it was my ancestor’s affair, hence it is my affair. At that time, there was this Shi Kefa; have you heard of him?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shi Gebu, Shi Daren defended Yangzhou to the death, he was a greatly loyal minister. When the older people of our Yangzhou mentioned him, they all shed some tears. In our courtyards we have a memorial tablet that reads ‘Memorial Tablet of Nine-Tattooed-Dragon Shi Jin[5]’. On the first and the fifteenth of each month, everybody would kowtow to this memorial tablet. I heard people say that it was actually Shi Gebu, but was hidden from the government officials.”

Kangxi nodded, “Loyal minister martyred, leaving behind affection in the people’s hearts,” he said, “Turns out the common people enshrine and worship Nine-Tattooed-Dragon Shi Jin’s memorial tablet, burn incense and kowtow to it, is actually to commemorate Shi Kefa. Xiao Guizi, what kind of courtyard do you have at home?”

Wei Xiaobao’s entire face blushed. “Your Majesty,” he said, “This is actually not too pleasant to hear. In our home we open a brothel, called the Lovely Spring Hall; it is reckoned to be first or second best brothel in Yangzhou.”

Kangxi smiled; in his heart he said, “Your mouth is full of marketplace nonsense, I knew early on that you did not come from any scholar or aristocratic family. This boy is very loyal to me that he did not conceal even this kind of shameful matter from me.”

Actually, by saying that his family opened a brothel or whatever, Wei Xiaobao was merely tooting his horn; his mother was no more than a prostitute, not some brothel proprietress.

Kangxi said, “You present my imperial edict and announce it in Yangzhou. I am commending Shi Kefa’s loyalty to the end in his dedication to the service of his country, loyal to his lord and loving the people, a greatly loyal minister, a great hero and warrior. We, the Great Qing, respect loyal ministers and patriots, while looking down upon rebels and traitors. I am building a nice memorial hall for Shi Kefa, for his bravery as the loyal minister who sacrificed himself in defending Yangzhou city in the past, everybody can enshrine and worship him in the memorial hall. Take another three hundred thousand taels, to comfort and aid bereaved families, to give relief to the needy in Yangzhou and Jiading, two cities. I will issue another edict, to excuse these two places from taxes for three years.”

Wei Xiaobao let out a deep breath. “Your Majesty,” he said, “Your grace this time is indeed too great. I must simply kneel down and kowtow to you several times in sincerity and wholeheartedly.” While saying that, he went down on his knees, and ‘dong, dong, dong’ kowtowed three times.

Kangxi laughed and asked, “When you kowtowed to me in the past, you were not being sincere and wholehearted?”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “Sometimes it was sincere and wholehearted, other times it was no more than half-heartedly.”

Kangxi laughed aloud; he did not consider it a disobedience. He thought, “Those people who kowtow to me, out of a hundred, perhaps 99 are doing it half-heartedly, yet only Xiao Guizi dares to say it out loud.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, this stratagem of yours is indeed shooting two birds with one arrow.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “What do you mean shooting two birds with one arrow? It is called ‘one arrow, two golden eagles’. Tell me, which two birds are you talking about?”

“By building this Martyr Shrine,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The Han people under the heavens will know that Your Majesty treats the common people very well. Formerly, the Ta … formerly, the Qing troops massacred Han people in Yangzhou and Jiading randomly, Your Majesty is full of remorse in your heart, and thought of something to make amend. If Wu Sangui rebels, or perhaps Shang Kexi, Geng Jingzhong rise in rebellion, saying they want to restore the Ming Dynasty or whatever, common people will say, what’s not good about the Manchurian Qing? The Emperor is very good.”

Kangxi nodded. “You are right,” he said, “But you are a bit ‘gauging the abdomen of a gentleman with a lowly man’s heart’. I think that ‘Ten Days of Yangzhou’ and ‘Three Massacres of Jiading’ of the past were definitely the sorrow of their hearts; sending out money to comfort and aid bereaved families and reducing taxes, it is not entirely for the sake of buying the hearts of the people. So what’s the second bird?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty builds this memorial hall, everybody will know that being a loyal minister and a patriot is good, being a rebel and a traitor is not good. Wu Sangui wants to rebel, he is a rebellious thief, hence the common people will look down on him.”

Kangxi reached out to slap Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder heavily; he laughed and said, “Right! We must proclaim it without restraint, loyal subjects who repay their lord are good people. Of the common people in the world, which one is willing to become a bad person? If Wu Sangui does not deploy his troops, then that’s the end of it; but if he does, nobody will follow him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard the storytellers tell the tales, the most amazing loyal minister and patriot, one was Yue Fei, Yue Yeye [grandpa], the other was Guan Di, Guan Wangye. Your Majesty, this time we go to Yangzhou to build Martyr Shrine, it would be better to also repair Yue Yeye, Guan Wangye’s memorial halls.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Your mind is exceptionally quick; it’s a pity that you don’t read books, you don’t have knowledge. Repairing Guan Di Temple is very good; Guan Yu repaid his lord with loyalty, he had strong yi qi, I can grant him an honorary title. But that Yue Fei fought Jin troops. Our Great Qing was originally called Later Jin (Dynasty). Jin is Qing, Jin troops are Qing troops. This Yue Wang [King Yue] Temple, you don’t need to pay attention.”

“Yes, yes, so that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao replied; in his heart he mused, “Turns out you, Tatars, are Jinwuzhu, Hamichi’s descendants. Your ancestors are very disappointing.”

Kangxi said, “Henan Province’s Wangwu Mountain, there seem to be a group of troops and horses who lean toward Wu Sangui, is that right?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “That’s right,” he replied, but in his heart he said, “If you did not mention it, I would have forgotten about this matter.”

Kangxi said, “That time you investigated Wu Sangui’s plan to rebel, and sent people to submit memorial to me, I rebuked you instead; do you know the reason?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Presumably because we are not prepared to deal with Wu Sangui’s military force yet, thus Your Majesty pretended not to believe, to avoid beating the grass to scare the snake.”

Kangxi laughed. “Correct!” he said, “Beat the grass to scare the snake, you have used this idiom correctly. In the imperial court, Wu Sangui must have a lot of confidants. This old thief knows our each and every move very clearly. The matter of Situ Bolei of Wangwu Mountain, if I followed up with the investigation at that time, Wu Sangui would definitely find out. If he was alerted, he might dispatch his troops immediately in rebellion. At that time he knew the real situation of the imperial court, but of his military strength, deployment and what have you, I did not have the slightest idea. If we went to war, we would definitely lose. We must know ourselves, and know our enemy, then we will emerge victorious in every battle.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “At that time Your Majesty sent people to scold me a bit, the entire brigade’s officers knew about it. If Wu Sangui had spies in my military camp, they were bound to report to the old fellow. Perhaps in his heart the old fellow snickered at Your Majesty’s muddle-headedness.”

Kangxi said, “This time you go to Yangzhou, take with you five thousand troops and horses, go to Henan’s Jiyuan, take them by surprise, destroy the bandit cave on Mount Wangwu completely. Wu Sangui has supporting troops hidden too close to the Capital, it is calamity within our bosom.”

“That’s much more wonderful,” Wei Xiaobao said happily, “Your Majesty, it would be better for you to personally lead the troops into battle, kill Wu Sangui in an initial show of strength.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “There are only a thousand or two bandits on Mount Wangwu, among those, more than half are the old, the weak, women and children. That man surnamed Yuan was boasting, he said more than thirty thousand men, it’s entirely bogus. I have already sent people to go up the mountain to investigate clearly. Against a thousand or so bandits, you want me to personally lead the troops into battle, I will be the laughingstock of the people! Ha ha, ha ha …!”

Wei Xiaobao followed with some hollow laughs, he thought that the young Emperor was indeed very astute, false report of large number would not work on him.

Kangxi said, “On how to exterminate Mount Wangwu bandits, you think about it, come back here in one or two days to make your report.”

Wei Xiaobao complied and withdrew. He pondered it over, “This matter of marching an army and go to war, laozi is not too adept at it. That day in the naval battle I relied on Shi Lang; in the land battle, whom should I rely on? Get it. I should have Guangdong Tidu [local commander] Wu Liuqi as my assistant, I simply must listen to his advice in everything. This man is an expert in fighting battles.” But then he had a second thought, “His Majesty wanted me to think of a good strategy and report to him in one or two days. Going to Guangdong to invite Wu Liuqi and come back here, at least I need a month; there won’t be enough time. In Beijing, who is the expert in fighting battles?”

After thinking for half a day, the number of well-known military leaders in Beijing was actually not a few, but they were mostly Manchu generals; if not they had received the title ‘Gong’ [duke] or ‘Hou’ [marquis], then they must be high-ranking military officer or local commander. Wei Xiaobao was a lowly Dutong [commander], he could not order them around.

His own nobility title was ‘Bojue’ [count/earl]. Within the Manchurian Qing system of government, ‘Zijue’ [viscount] was one-pin rank, ‘Bojue’ was above it; it was above the pin rank system, it was even higher compared to the Da Xueshi [great bachelor (master’s degree?)] and Shangshu[6] pin rank. But of course it was an empty title, although he was respected, in reality he did not have real power. He was really young, it was really not easy if he wanted a famous minister or brave general to obey his order.

He paced back and forth in his room, lost in thought. He saw the jade bowl presented by Shi Lang as a gift sitting on the table, and thought, “In Beijing Shi Lang was dissatisfied, hence he came to me for help. The number of dissatisfied military officers in Beijing should be a lot. But those who are dissatisfied and those who have skills may not necessarily be together. Those without skills but enjoy meteoric rise in career advancement, in Beijing there are not a few; I, Wei Xiaobao, am one. Ha ha …!”

Walking over to the table he held the jade bowl with both hands; he thought, “The choice of these four characters ‘jia guan jin jue’ [to confer a title of official position/to be promoted] is very effective; when he sent me this jade bowl, I was a ‘Zijue’, but now I am promoted to ‘Bojue’. What kind of skill do I rely on to be ‘jia guan jin jue’? My biggest skill is boot-licking, patting the young Emperor’s back so that he would feel comfortable. Other than that, laozi’s real skill is damn too ordinary. Looks like people with real skill do not like to flatter; those who like to flatter will be more or less the same as laozi.”

Looking up, he pondered deeply: among his acquaintances, which military officer was unwilling to flatter? Tian Di Hui warriors were heroes who definitely would not flatter casually; but other than his shifu Chen Jinnan and Wu Liuqi, everybody else only knew internal strength and external skill, they could not lead troops and fight a battle. Shifu’s subordinate Lin Xingzhu could fight a battle, too bad he had returned to Taiwan.

Suddenly he remembered something: that day when he and Shi Lang led the troops to Tianjin, and then detoured to Tanggu and went out to sea, the Naval Zongbing [regional commander] Huang Fu fawned on him attentively; yet there was a military officer in Tianjian, one with big beard, who received him with knitted brows and flat mouth, someone who acted as if he was looking down on him, who was not willing to utter even a sentence of boot-licking. Who was that fellow? If at that time he did not pay attention to this military officer’s name, by now naturally he could not remember even more. He mused, “Those who flatter have no skill; this big beard was unwilling to flatter, he must have skills.”

He got an idea; immediately he went to Ministry of War Shangshu yamen to find Shangshu Ming Zhu, asking him to send for a big-bearded officer of the Tianjin Guard Regiment and have him by carriage to Beijing as quickly as possible. This big beard’s military rank was neither high nor low, if not a Fujiang [deputy general/regional vice-commander, equivalent to brigadier general], then he must be a Canjiang [administrator, equivalent to colonel].

Ming Zhu felt this matter was rather strange; this big beard had no name no surname, how to summon him? However, Wei Xiaobao was presently the Emperor’s most favorite person, forget that he had to send for a military officer from Tianjin, even something ten times more difficult, he must find a way to accomplish it; with a smile on his face he complied at once. He personally wrote a ‘600-li urgent message’ to the Tianjin Guard Regiment Zongbing, ordering him to send all military officers with big beard under his command to go to Beijing and have an audience at the Ministry of War.

Around noon the next day, Wei Xiaobao had just finished his lunch when his personal guard came in to report that Ministry of War Shangshu was asking for an audience. Wei Xiaobao went to the front door to welcome the visitor, he saw Ming Zhu and about twenty big bearded military officers behind him; some had black beard, some white beard, some grizzled beard. All of them were covered in sweat and dust. Ming Zhu said, “Wei Jueye [master noble], you instructed me to summon a man, Xiongdi found a group of men. Please make the selection yourself, I don’t know which one you wanted.”

Suddenly seeing these many big-bearded military officers, Wei Xiaobao was startled, and then he could not help but bursting in laughter. “Shangshu Daren,” he said, “I only ask you to find a big-bearded man, you are handling this matter really thoroughly. Once you looked for people, you found twenty. Ha ha, ha ha …!”

Mingzhu said with a laugh, “I was afraid I might summon the wrong person, not the one Wei Jueye has in your mind.”

Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter again; he said, “Turns out under Tianjin Guard Regiment Zongbing there are so many men with big beard …” He had not finished speaking, someone from among the crown suddenly bellowed in his thundering voice, “So what about the big beard? You created a lot of trouble just for a joke?”

Wei Xiaobao and Ming Zhu were shocked; they turned their heads toward that man. They saw a tall and sturdy man; standing among the other military officers, he was still half a head taller. There was an angry look on his entire face, his thick big beard looked as if they were standing up from the roots. Wei Xiaobao was startled, but then he delightedly said, “That’s right, that’s right, it’s precisely laoxiong [ol’ big brother] that I wanted to see.”

The big beard angrily said, “Last time you came to Tianjin, I have offended you. I knew early on that you would retaliate to vent your anger. Humph, I have not committed any crime; if you want to lodge an accusation against me, I am afraid it won’t be easy.”

“What’s your name?” Ming Zhu rebuked him, “Why are you this rude in front of your superior?”

The big beard had just arrived at the Ministry of War’s yamen and paid his respect to Ming Zhu, hence he knew that Ming Zhu was his big boss; therefore, he did not dare to recklessly contradict him. Immediately he bowed down and said, “Reporting to Daren: lowly officer is Tianjin Fujiang Zhao Liangdong.”

Ming Zhu said, “This is Wei Dutong, whose nobility is revered; he is generous and is a good friend of our ministry. How did you offend him? Quickly step forward and admit your guilt.”

Zhao Liangdong struggled hard to suppress his anger; furiously he cast a sidelong glance toward Wei Xiaobao, thinking, “This playboy’s smell of mother’s milk has not yet dried, why would I want to admit my guilt to you?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Zhao Dage, please don’t blame me. It was Xiongdi who offended you, Xiongdi is the one who should admit my guilt to you.” Turning around, he addressed the group of military officers, “Xiongdi has something important I need to discuss with Zhao Fujiang, but momentarily I could not remember his honored surname and great given name, thereupon the Ministry of War Daren invited all of you gentlemen to come to Beijing, tiring everybody in an all-night journey. In actuality I feel very bad.” While saying that he repeatedly cupped his fist and bowed.

The crowd of military officers hastily returned the propriety. Seeing his modesty, which was entirely beyond his imagination, the anger in Zhao Liangdong’s heart vanished immediately; he said to Wei Xiaobao, “Xiaojiang [lowly general] apologize,” and bowed with cupped fist.

Wei Xiaobao returned his salute and said with a laugh, “No need to be polite.” Turning toward Ming Zhu, he said, “Daren, would you honor me with your presence? Please come inside and sit, Xiongdi wants to propose a toast to express my gratitude. Friends of Tianjin Guard Regiment, please also come in.” Ming Zhu had a mind to befriend Wei Xiaobao, hence he happily complied.

Wei Xiaobao prepared a grand banquet; he asked Ming Zhu to sit on the seat of honor [lit. ‘head seat’], and invited Zhao Liangdong to sit on the second seat, while he himself accompanied on the host position. The rest of Tianjin military officers sat on three separate tables. The Count Mansion banquet was extremely sumptuous, the wine made three rounds, the performers put on a play in front of the banquet tables. Among the military officers from Tianjin who went to the Capital this time, some were no more than low-ranking officers; it was only due to their big beard that they unexpectedly were able to drink wine and watch a play together with Ministry of War Shangshu and Bojue Daren [Lord Count] in the Count Mansion. It was indeed a chance in a lifetime that even in their dreams they did not dare to expect.

Although Zhao Liangdong was temperamental and obstinate, he was a careful man; seeing Wei Xiaobao did not mention anything about what he wanted to discuss during the banquet, he did not ask. He only listened to Wei Xiaobao recounting strange manners and different customs of Luocha Country. He thought, “Little child is talking nonsense, how can there be any man and woman hugging and jumping around in public? How can there be such shameless matter in the world?”

After drinking several cups of wine and watching a round of play, Ming Zhu stood up to take his leave. Wei Xiaobao sent him off to the main gate, and then he returned to the main hall to accompany the military officers until the play was finished and they had drunk and ate to their hearts’ content, before he invited Zhao Liangdong to the inside study room to speak in detail.

Noticing that the bookshelf was full of books, Zhao Liangdong could not help but feeling deep veneration toward Wei Xiaobao, “Although this child is young, he is actually very well-learned; he must be a lot wiser than us, crude people.”

Seeing his eyes were on the books, Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Zhao Dage, let me be honest with you: these books are here to keep up appearances only. The number of characters that Xiongdi knows, added together is less than ten. My own name ‘Wei Xiaobao’, three characters, if they are put together, I always recognize them; but put them apart, there’s no guarantee I would know them. Apart from those characters, I have no choice but to watch these damn books helplessly.”

Zhao Liangdong burst into loud laughter; he relaxed considerably, thinking that this young commander was actually very frank, he did not put on airs. “Wei Daren,” he said, “Lowly officer has offended you previously, please don’t take any offense.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “What offense? There is no harm in you and I become brothers. You are older, I call you Zhao Dage, you call me Wei Xiongdi.”

Zhao Liangdong hastily stood up and bowed with cupped fist. “Dutong Daren must not speak such words,” he said, “Xiaoren is too undeserving.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Please sit down, please sit down,” he said, “I just have good luck, I happened to accomplish some matters which satisfied His Majesty and made him happy; you still think I really have some dog fart skill? I became this high-ranking official, honestly I am very ashamed. How could I be like Zhao Dage, who gain merit by hard work, one saber one spear at a time, completely depending on your real skill to achieve it.”

Zhao Liangdong was very pleased to hear him. “Wei Daren,” he said, “I am a coarse man, whatever it is that you want, do not hesitate to instruct me. As long as Xiaojiang can do it, I will definitely stake my life in doing it for you. Even if it is impossible for me to achieve it, I will still stake my life in doing it.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “I don’t have anything important,” he said, “It’s just that last time at the Tianjin Guard Regiment I saw Zhao Dage, I noticed your grand appearance, a model of a man of talent. I was the imperial envoy minister, everybody else was patting my behind, only Zhao Dage was unwilling to sell your integrity.”

Zhao Liangdong looked rather awkward, he said, “Xiaojiang is an uncouth military man, I am not good in flattering my superiors; it was not that I deliberately wanted to be rude to the imperial envoy minister.”

“I did not mind at all,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Otherwise, I would not ask you to come here. I have a logical explanation: those without any skills will have no choice but to rely of flattery to be promoted and gain wealth; those who are unwilling to flatter must be people with real skill.”

Zhao Liangdong delightedly said, “Indeed Wei Daren’s word is extremely refreshing. Xiaojiang does not have any skill, but when I hear people tooting their horn and patting the horse’s butt, I would become angry, and thus offended my superior and had a row with my colleague. The reason I cannot win a promotion, is precisely due to this stubbornness [orig. ‘ox temperament’].”

“You are not willing to flatter, you must have skills,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Zhao Liangdong’s jaw dropped; he did not know what to say, he only thought, ‘my father and mother who gave birth to me did not know me as well as Wei Daren.’

Wei Xiaobao ordered another banquet in his study room; the two of them sat face-to-face, drinking and chatting. Zhao Liangdong told him about his lot in life; he was a native of Shaanxi, started his career as a leader of a squad of five soldiers, he advanced bravely in battles, amassing merit and gained promotion until he reached the rank of Fujiang. Hearing he was adept in fighting battles, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he mused, “I really did not misread this man.” Thereupon he asked him about how to attack the enemy on a mountaintop.

Zhao Liangdong did not read any military book, but he was battle trained, his experience was extremely vast; as soon as he heard Wei Xiaobao’s question, he thought his skill was being tested. Like an unceasing torrent he immediately talked with great gusto; he took down the four books and five classics from the bookshelf, and spread it around on table, using the books to model mountain peak, valley, river, and pathways. He explained where to set up ambush, where to feign an attack, where to intercept the enemy, where to assault; one by one he explained in great detail.

What he explained was a battle strategy where presumably both sides have equal strength. Wei Xiaobao asked, “If the enemy only has one thousand men, and we have five thousand troops and horses, how do we attack to guarantee victory?”

“There is no such thing as guaranteed victory,” Zhao Liangdong replied, “But our military strength is several times bigger than the enemy’s; if it were Xiaojiang who is leading the troops, if we lost, how could we consider ourselves human beings? We simply must capture the enemy alive, don’t let even one escape our net; only then will it be great.”

Wei Xiaobao ordered his servant to get several thousand-wen worth of copper coins, which he used as troops and horses. Zhao Liangdong thus spread it out to make battle formation. Wei Xiaobao memorized everything he said. That night he had Zhao Liangdong stayed in his Mansion for the night.

The next day he saw Kangxi, he imitated Zhao Liangdong by spreading the formation around the Upper Study Room. He did not dare to recklessly move the Emperor’s books, as long as he could roughly capture the scope, it would be good enough.

Kangxi pondered for half a day. “Who taught you this strategy?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao did not conceal the truth, he told Kangxi about Zhao Liangdong. Hearing that Ming Zhu summoned twenty some big bearded military officers to travel overnight from Tianjin to Beijing just to let Wei Xiaobao select one, Kangxi could not help but burst out in loud laughter. “How did you know Zhao Liangdong has skill?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao did not dare to say that it was because this big beard was unwilling to flatter. He himself was the ‘big king’ of bootlicking; naturally he could not let the Emperor know this trade secret. Thereupon he said, “Last time Your Majesty sent your servant to Tianjin, I noticed that this big beard performed the military drill very well. I thought that the day will come that we must deal with Wu Sangui’s troops movement, this big beard is a very good talent.”

Kangxi nodded and said, “You have ‘how to deal with Wu Sangui’ constantly in your mind; that is very good. Those old fellows in the imperial court, humph, they have ‘how to curry favor with Wu Sangui’ constantly in their minds, how to get him to bribe them. That Zhao Liangdong is currently a Fujiang, isn’t he? When you return, promise him that you will do your best to ensure that he will get good recommendation for promotion. I will especially issue an imperial edict to promote him to Zongbing, let him owe you, so that in the future he will help you in your mission with all his heart.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, “Your Majesty is very considerate toward your subjects, you are very meticulous.”

Returning to his Count Mansion, he told Zhao Liangdong about the promotion. Sure enough, a few days later the Ministry of War issued a statement, promoting Zhao Liangdong to be a Zongbing, assigned to serve under Dutong Wei Xiaobao. Zhao Liangdong was deeply grateful, thinking that following this young boss, even without flattery he could enjoy rapid promotion; indeed it was the number one great pleasure of one’s life.

In recent days the high-ranking ministers of the imperial court were waiting for the news whether the three border defenses accepted the imperial order of the removing of the defenses, or they would rise in rebellion; in their hearts they were quite anxious.

One day Wei Xiaobao was chatting with Zhao Liangdong in his mansion when someone came to ask for an audience; the Prince Consort Wu Yingxiong invited him to his mansion for little drink and refreshments. The messenger was Wu Yingxiong’s personal attendant; he said, “Prince Consort has not seen Wei Daren for a long time, he is very concerned; he is asking Wei Daren for the honor of your presence. Prince Consort said that the ‘thank-the-matchmaker’ wine has not been drunk by you, Senior.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This Fuma Ye [emperor’s son-in-law] has a name but no reality, you want to thank what matchmaker? However, speaking about this word ‘thank you’, you guys surnamed Wu cannot simply settle your matter with me over a cup of wine. There is no harm in going, here’s a chance to get rich easily, why not?” Therefore, taking Zhao Liangdong along with his personal guards from the Valiant Cavalry Brigade, he went to the Prince Consort’s mansion.

After Wu Yingxiong got married with Princess Jianning, he was given a residence in Beijing, which was different from the temporary residence he used to stay when he visited Beijing in the past. Leading several military officers, Wu Yingxiong went out the main gate to greet him. “Wei Daren,” he said, “We are brothers, today we are going to chat, there is no other guest. I only have these several friends who have just arrived from Yunnan, I invited them over to accompany Zhao Zongbing drinking wine.”

The military officers introduced themselves. One man grew long beard, his appearance majestic; he was Yunnan’s Tidu [local commander] Zhang Yong. The other two were Fujiang; the one with valiant expression was Wang Jinbao, the one with mild and deferential appearance was Sun Sike. Wei Xiaobao pulled Wang Jinbao’s hand and said, “Wang Dage, you are a treasure [‘bao’], I am also a treasure, but you are a Dabao [big treasure], I am a Xiaobao [little treasure]. The two of us brothers are ‘a pair of treasures’, we can only make a kill without having to compensate.” [Translator’s note: the context is (you guess it) gambling.] The three generals from Yunnan roared in laughter. They were delighted to see Wei Xiaobao was so easy-going.

“Zhang Dage,” Wei Xiaobao asked Zhang Yong, “Last time Xiongdi went to Yunnan, how come I did not see the three of you?”

Zhang Yong replied, “At that time Wangye happened to send Xiaojiang, three people, to go out on border patrol, we could not be in Kunming to wait upon Wei Daren.”

“Ay, what Daren, Xiaojiang?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s just be straightforward; I call you Zhang Dage, you call me Wei Xiongdi. We are brothers who are happy to meet by chance!”

Zhang Yong laughed and said, “If Wei Daren say it that way, how can we dare not to do it?”

They were chatting and laughing as they went into the reception hall. As soon as they were seated, the servants appeared to serve them tea. Another servant came to Wu Yingxiong and said, “Princess is asking the Prince Consort to accompany Wei Daren to come in for a visit.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping madly, he thought, “Maybe I should not see this Princess.” He recalled the time she and he together during their journey to Yunnan, along the way ‘the wind and the light were charming and gentle’, just like newly married couple; he could not stop his blood from boiling and bubbling up inside him, his face turned deep red.

Wu Yingxiong laughed and said, “Princess often says that our marriage, predestined by fate was brought together by Wei Daren; we simply must present the ‘thank-the-matchmaker’ cup of wine to you.” Finished speaking he stood up and said to Zhang Yong and the others with a laugh, “Gentlemen, please sit and relax here.” Accompanied by Wei Xiaobao, he went into the inner hall.

Passing through two halls, they arrived at the wing. Wu Yingxiong held his hand against the door, with serious expression on his face, he said, “Wei Daren, I have a big favor I must ask for your help.”

Wei Xiaobao’s face turned red again; he thought, “You were castrated by the Princess, you can’t be a husband, do you want me to do you this big favor?” He stammered, “This … this … this is rather improper.”

Wu Yingxiong was taken aback, “If not for Wei Daren lending your hand for the sake of loyalty, helping us in this dire distress, who else has this kind of ability?”

Wei Xiaobao looked even more embarrassed; he thought, “The Princess must have forced him to ask me; otherwise, why would she insist on me and not allow others to help?”

Looking at Wei Xiaobao’s strange expression, Wu Yingxiong thought he was unwilling to lend his hand. “This matter,” he said, “I understand it is very difficult to do. But if we succeed, Fu Wang [father king] and Xiongdi will never forget Wei Daren’s favor.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Why would even Wu Sangui be grateful to me?” Ah, right, Wu Sangui does not have any grandson, he wants me to help him get one. But whether I can get him a grandson or not, I have no guarantee.” He said, “Fuma Ye, I cannot guarantee anything. Wangye and you want to thank me in advance, if I fail, won’t I let you down?”

“Not a big deal, not a big deal,” Wu Yingxiong said, “As long as Wei Daren is doing everything in your power, we, father and son, will be grateful just the same. Even the Princess will also be deeply grateful.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You want me to really put out my energy for you, that is for sure.” And then he continued in serious voice, “Regardless of success or failure, I will definitely guard my mouth like a closed bottle; Wangye and Prince Consort can set your hundred and twenty hearts at ease.”

“Naturally,” Wu Yingxiong replied, “Who would dare to leak the secret? I must ask for Wei Daren’s kind effort, the quicker the better.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “Can’t we just do it now?” Suddenly he remembered something, “Aiyo, it’s not right! I am helping him to get a son is not a big deal, but he, father and son, are going to rebel, inevitably they will be executed unto the third generation. Won’t that mean including my son’s head will be chopped down?” But then he had another thought, “The young Emperor can’t possibly kill Princess Jianning. To the Princess’ son he will naturally also open up two sides or three sides of the net.”

Seeing Wei Xiaobao’s expression alternated between gloomy and bright, Wu Yingxiong took a step forward and said in a low voice, “The news of border defense removal has not reached Yunnan yet, Zhang Tidu and the others do not know. If Wei Daren can hurry to see Your Majesty and speak to him to withdraw the order to remove the border defense, we can send a ‘600-li urgent message’ to Yunnan, the edict to remove the border defense can still be intercepted and withdrawn.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “You … you are talking about the border defense removal?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Wu Yingxiong replied, “What other matter at present is more important than the border defense removal? It can be said that toward Wei Daren, His Majesty would see, hear and obey; only if Wei Daren act will we be able to pull back the raging tide.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out I misunderstood completely; it’s really funny.” He could not help but roaring in laughter.

Wu Yingxiong was bewildered. “Why does Wei Daren laugh? Did I say anything wrong?” he asked.

“No, no,” Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “I am sorry, I suddenly remember something funny.”

Wu Yingxiong’s face showed a rather hurtful look; he secretly gnashed his teeth in anger, “Right now I have to bear your savageness, wait till Fu Wang raise up his righteous banner, we will sweep our way to Beijing. You, this boy will be captured; it will be a wonder if I don’t hack you into pieces.”

Fuma Ye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Early in the morning tomorrow, I am going to kowtow to His Majesty, I will tell him that Prince Consort Wu is His Majesty’s younger sister’s husband, Ping Xi Wang is His Majesty’s honorable relative; even if he will no longer confer a title or official position, he must not take away his honorable relative’s title of nobility, since doing that will wrong the Princess.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Yingxiong happily said, “Wei Daren’s brain moves so fast, in just a short while you are able to come up with great argument; please do as you suggested. Let us see the Princess now.”

He led Wei Xiaobao to the Princess’ door and asked for an audience. From the Princess’ room a palace maid came out, inviting Wei Xiaobao to wait in the reception pavilion at the side of the room. Not too long afterwards the Princess came out to the pavilion. “Xiao Guizi,” she sternly said, “You did not see me for such a long time; you want to die? Get lost!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and paid his respect; he said with a laugh, “Princess, may you have ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold. Xiao Guizi is thinking about Princess daily, it’s just that His Majesty sent me out on a mission all the way to Luocha Country; I just got back a few days ago.”

Princess’ eyes turned red. “You are thinking about me daily?” she said, “Looking at your craftiness, I … I …” speaking to here, her tears flowed down like rain.

Wei Xiaobao noticed the Princess’ jade countenance was gloomy, her face looked thin and pallid, presumably after she got married to Wu Yingxiong she was depressed. He thought, “This fellow Wu Yingxiong is a eunuch; married to a eunuch, naturally she is not happy.” Seeing the Princess’ situation, and remembering the feeling of the former days, he could not help but feeling tenderness toward her. He said, “Princess misses His Majesty, His Majesty also misses the Princess; in a few days, he is going to invite Princess into the Palace to chat about the sentiment of the brother and sister.” He made up a fake imperial decree; Kangxi had never said anything about the Princess.

For the last several months Princess Jianning had lived in the Prince Consort Mansion, she was extremely bored. Hearing Wei Xiaobao, she was greatly delighted. “When?” she eagerly asked, “Tell Huangdi Gege [big brother Emperor], tomorrow I am going to see him.”

“That’s great!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Prince Consort has something he wanted me to present to His Majesty tomorrow, I’ll present another memorial to ask His Majesty to receive Princess into the Palace.”

Wu Yingxiong was also very happy, “With the Princess helping to talk, His Majesty can’t possibly refuse even more,” he said.

The Princess pouted and said, “Humph, I only talk about daily life of a family with Huangdi Gege, I won’t help you talk about any national affair.”

Wu Yingxiong laughed with her, “Very well,” he said, “Whatever you love to talk, just talk about that.”

The Princess rose up slowly, “Xiao Guizi,” she said, “I haven’t seen you for such a long time, you have grown tall and big. I heard in Luocha Country you have a very good demon miss friend; is that true?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “How can there be such matter?” Suddenly ‘slap!’ his face was burning, as he took the Princess’ slap on his face. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out and jumped.

The Princess laughed and said, “You speak dishonest words endlessly, you dare to lie to me?” Raising her hand, she wanted to slap him again. Wei Xiaobao leaned sideways to evade, her palm did not strrike him. The Princess said to Wu Yingxiong, “I have something I’d like to question Xiao Guizi, I don’t want you to be here to hear it.”

Wu Yingxiong smiled and said, “Fine, I’ll accompany the military officers outside drinking wine.” He thought that if Wei Xiaobao was taking a beating and he could only look helplessly, it would not be good for his ‘face’; thereupon he withdrew from the reception pavilion.

The Princess reached out to twist Wei Xiaobao’s ear. “Dead little demon,” she shouted, “You have forgotten me.” While saying that, she twisted his ear really hard.

Wei Xiaobao yelped in pain. “No, I have not!” he busily said, “Haven’t I come to see you?”

The Princess’ foot flew up and kicked his lower abdomen. “You have no conscience,” she cursed, “See if I don’t cut you to pieces. If I did not call you to come, even after three years you won’t possibly come to see me.”

Seeing there was no one else in the hall, Wei Xiaobao reached out to embrace her; he said in a low voice, “Don’t punch and kick, tomorrow you and I can chat in the Palace.”

The Princess blushed, “Chatting what?” she asked, “Chatting about you, this little demon!” She reached out toward his forehead and knocked him that he grew a bump the size of a chestnut.

Wei Xiaobao wrapped his arms around her tightly, he said, “I use the move ‘A pair of dragons fighting over a pearl’!” The Princess spat at him and struggled hard to free herself. Wei Xiaobao said, “If we are being intimate in here, I am afraid Fuma Ye will be suspicious. Tomorrow I’ll see you in the Palace.”

The Princess’ cheeks blushed, “What does he suspect?” she said. Her coquettish glances as smooth as silk as she looked at him with the corner of her eyes. With a smile that did not look like a smile she said, “Little demon, get out of here!”

Book Note: During the Jin Dynasty, the pacifying of barbarian region in the present day Qujing, Yunnan area, the classical quotation ‘Imperial Edict of Sichuan Document’ was referring to Han Wudi [Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty (141-87 BC)], when he wanted to communicate with the barbarian in southwest China, he sent Sima Xiangru to visit Bashu [i.e. Sichuan] first to announce the edict, telling the officers and people of southwest region to comply with the imperial decree.

[1] According to legend, fox demon often disguise itself as beautiful woman, but it was not able to hid its tail; hence the saying ‘exposing the fox tail’ means ‘revealing one’s evil nature’.

[2] These idioms mean ‘surreptitiously substitute one thing for another’, and ‘walk off with someone else’s possession’, respectively.

[3] Lao-tze, Chinese philosopher (c. 500BC), the founder of Taoism.

[4] These four characters are surnames. I don’t know what it is, but I am guessing it refers to some great literary talent of the past.

[5] Shi Jin is a fictional character in the Water Margin. He ranks twenty third of the thirty Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Liangshan heroes and is nicknamed Nine Tattooed Dragons. He is one of the Eight Tiger Cub Vanguard Generals of the Liangshan cavalry. He sports flowery tattoos all over his body, as well as nine dragon tattoos on his upper torso, which earns him the nickname Nine Tattooed Dragons. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[6] A shàngshū (尚書) is a board chairman, president or in this case, a minister. Ming Zhu is a Chairman/President of Board of War, or the Minister of War, possible the Left Minister of War. (Courtesy of Ace High)

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