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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 40

Chapter 40
The wait for rabbit suspecting the tree trunk can be guard against, the search for fish regretting the tree is difficult to foretell.

The sedan chair carrying Madame Hong had just left, Wei Xiaobao was just about to turn around to go inside, a large sedan chair arrived at the main gate; Yangzhou Prefectural Magistrate had come to pay his respect. Seeing that the beauties he had in his hand left one by one, Wei Xiaobao was in a particularly bad mood, he had no interest to chitchat. “What do you want?” he asked.

Prefectural Magistrate Wu Zhirong paid his respect and saluted before saying, “Lowly officer has some classified military intelligence to report to Daren.”

Only after hearing the words ‘classified military intelligence’ did Wei Xiaobao let him come in. He said in his heart, “If it is not important classified matter, I will beat your butts.”

When they got to the inner study room, Wei Xiaobao sat down, but did not offer any seat to Wu Zhirong. “What classified military intelligence?” he asked.

Wu Zhirong said, “Would Daren please dismiss these people?” Wei Xiaobao waved his hand to order the personal guards to go out.

Wu Zhirong walked over and said in a low voice, “Imperial Envoy Daren, this is a very important matter, if Daren submits a memorial to the Emperor, your merit will be extraordinarily big. Lowly officer will also receive the benefit of the light behind the shade of Daren’s good fortune. Therefore, lowly officer was thinking of not reporting this to Futai [inspector-general (old)] and Fantai [vassal state governor (old)], the two Daren just yet.”

Wei Xiaobao frowned, “What important matter?” he asked, “Why is it so urgent?”

Wu Zhirong said, “Reporting to Daren: only because His Majesty’s good fortune is great, Daren’s good fortune is great that lowly officer managed to obtain this information.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You, Wu Daren’s good fortune is also great.”

“I don’t dare, I don’t dare,” Wu Zhirong replied, “Lowly officer has received His Majesty’s grace and Imperial Envoy Daren’s promotion that day and night I always think about how to repay the great kindness. After accompanying Daren enjoying the Chinese peony outside the Chanzhi Temple yesterday, I thought about Daren talking about elegant styles, the admiration in my heart is exceedingly great, I only wish that I can work for Daren every day, to receive Daren’s advice at all times.”

“That’s great,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Then you don’t need to be a prefectural magistrate. I can see that you are clever and quick-witted, it would be better to … be better to …”

Wu Zhirong was greatly delighted; busily he bowed with cupped fist, “Thank you for Daren’s benefaction.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “It would be better for you to be my door keeper, or else my sedan chair carrier. Every day when I go out, you will be able to see me. Ha ha, ha ha …!”

Wu Zhirong was furious; his countenance changed slightly, but immediately he said with a forced laugh, “That will be wonderful. Being Daren’s door keeper is definitely better than being a prefectural magistrate in Yangzhou. Lowly officer usually sends quite a lot of idle people to make discreet inquiry and find information everywhere, if there is someone who harbor the desire to rebel or slander His Majesty, or disparage cabinet minister, lowly officer will find out immediately. This kind of heresy confuses the people and incites those who hear it; it is a major crime, lowly officer always take more rigorous precautions to administer justice.”

“Oh,” Wei Xiaobao said, thinking that this man was capable of skirting the issue of being door keeper or sedan chair carrier in just one sentence; he really knew how to be a government official, he was indeed amazing.

Wu Zhirong said, “If it were peddlers and carriers, lowly people of marketplace babbling some nonsense, it would not create much harm; the ones we must be most vigilant are the intelectuals. This kind of people compose poems and write essays, oftentimes they take events from the past to mock the imperial court politics, when ordinary people read it, oftentimes they do not know that these scholars are having malicious intention by using the past to disparage the present.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If others read it and don’t understand, then there’s no harm done.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Zhirong said, “Although that is true, in the end this malicious intention must be punished. These poisonous poetry and literature of treason and heresy must never be allowed to spread throughout the world.” From his sleeve he took out a piece of letter and presented it with both hands. “Daren please take a look,” he said, “This is a poetry antology lowly officer obtained yesterday.”

If he fetched a stack of banknotes from his sleeve, Wei Xiaobao’s countenance would immediately show favorable expression toward him, but seeing that it was a document, he was quite disappointed, when he heard that it was a poetry anthology, immediately he yawned big. Without receiving the document, he looked up and did not pay him any attention.

Wu Zhirong felt rather awkward; he slowly withdrew his hands that were holding the poetry anthology. “During the banquet yesterday,” he said, “There was a woman singing a new poetry depicting peasant women of Yangzhou, Daren was not too happy listening to it, hence lowly officer went out to investigate the poetry anthology from which the song came. I found quite a number of offensive and heretical sentences.”

“Is that so?” Wei Xiaobao lazily said.

Wu Zhirong opened up the book and pointed to a poem, “Daren, please look at this,” he said, “The title of this poem is ‘Hongwu’s Copper Cannon Song’ written by Zha Shenxing; it was about the previous dynasty’s Zhu Yuanzhang using copper cannon.”

When he heard this, Wei Xiaobao’s interest was mildly piqued. “Did Zhu Yuanzhang also use cannon?” he asked.

“Yes, yes,” Wu Zhirong replied, “Presently our Great Qing’s Holy Sage Son of Heaven is on the throne, yet this man surnamed Zha wrote a song to praise Zhu Yuanzhang’s copper cannon; won’t that incite everybody to cherish the memory of the previous dynasty? This poem exaggerates Zhu Yuanzhang’s power and prestige, this is not right. The last four sentences say, ‘I have come to see you in thistles and thorns, not at all like the rivers and mountain in my memory. Golden low-ranking public official gently wipe the everflowing tears, passionately strive for and endure the ever-rising ascend to gaze afar.’ The content of this man’s heart cannot be more clear than this. Our Great Qing received the Mandate of Heaven to drive out the Zhu’s Ming, all common people are overjoyed to no end, but why did this man look at Zhu Yuanzhang’s cannon and want to visit the rivers and mountains of his memory? Why must he shed tears?”

(Book note: Zha Shenxing’s earlier poem had considerable reminiscent of the previous Ming; later on Kangxi’s literature chamberlain minister changed the style of the poem.)

“Where is this copper cannon?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “I want to see it. Can you locate it? His Majesty loves cannon very much.”

Wu Zhirong replied, “According to the poem, these copper cannon are in Jingzhou.”

With a wooden expression Wei Xiaobao said, “Since they are not in Yangzhou, why do you bother? You are the Prefectural Magistrate of Yangzhou, not the Prefectural Magistrate of Jingzhou. Wait till you become the county head magistrate of Jingzhou before you investigate these copper cannon.”

Wu Zhirong was greatly shocked; being the county head magistrate of Jingzhou would mean that he was being demoted. He must not raise this subject anymore; hence he put the poetry anthology back into his sleeve and took out two other books. “Imperial Envoy Daren,” he said, “That Zha Shenxing’s book has slight improper tone; by Daren’s grace we won’t make further investigation. But these two books absolutely must not be ignored.”

Wei Xiaobao frowned, “Which fellow wrote them?” he asked.

Wu Zhirong replied, “One was written by Zha Yihuang, called ‘The Diary of a Country’, the content is a full commendation of the anti-Qing movement. The other is Gu Yanwu’s poetry anthology; it is even more extremely disregarding the ruler and superior, disregarding the law and natural morality.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly shocked. “Mr. Gu Yanwu and my Shifu are the military strategists of the Turtle Slaying Assembly,” he mused, “How did his book fall into this government official’s hands? I wonder if our Tian Di Hui is mentioned there?” He asked, “What is written in the book? Tell me in detail.”

Seeing that Wei Xiaobao was suddenly interested, Wu Zhirong’s spirit was aroused. He opened up the book ‘Diary of a Country’ and said, “Reporting to Daren: this book is calling all the anti-Qing rebels as loyal subjects and patriots. In this chapter, ‘The Narrative on the Investigation of Master of the Ministry of War On Bestowing Supervisory Authority To The Imperial Censor’, he is talking about his [paternal male] cousin Zha Meiji fighting our Great Qing, about how he conspired with the insurgents, how he placed himself in opposition to our elite troops.”

With his right hand index finger he pointed to the book and read, “’On the seventeenth of the fourth month, the Qing troops attacked Yuan Huaji, they retreated via Tong Yuan. Meiji supervised Ling, Yang, Zhou and Wang, various patriots, leading five hundred ships, more than five thousand men, all with white cloth wrapped around their heads, by the seventh earthly branch [between 11am – 1pm, noon] the battle was over, they pursued the enemy to the end, beheading the first hundred or more low-rank troops, achieving great victory, striking fear to the enemy, that they went ashore and ran away.’ You see Daren, they called the rebels ‘patriots’, but called our Great Qing’s elite troops ‘the enemy’. Don’t you think he really deserve to die?”

Wei Xiaobao asked, “What did Gu Yanwu write in his book?”

Wu Zhirong put down the ‘Diary of a Country’ and picked up Gu Yanwu’s poetry anthology. Shaking his head he said, “The poems that this man wrote, not a single one does not speak of rebellion and conspiracy against the state. This poem’s title is ‘Qiang Hu’[1]; this is clearly a slander against our Great Qing.”

His finger pointed to a verse and read, “Our country’s golden bowl was originally whole, it was thrown into confusion like a newborn from a barbarian concubine. Recruiting the troops to establish provinces, accumulating soldier’s pay to establish provinces. There’s concern over tribal chieftains rebelling against the Western Sichuan, a worry about bewitched people singing over Shandong, so much so that among Shenzhou’s [old name for China] half-banished thieves, whoever raise his voice and make a vow can be barbarian tribal chief. Four adjoining outskirts and boundaries opressing Shandong culture, destroying villages and massacre uncountable people. Cut open abdomen, broken intestines, snapped necks and fractured jaws, pile of corpse like a pond. Those fortunate enough were taken prisoners and join the barbarians. Barbarians speak ‘ya, ya’, like chisling tooth to mend the denture. Establishing worm banners[2], mounting thick weeds carriages. Looking at shedding blood in thousand cities, gathering beautiful women like flowers. Alas, the barbarians destroyed it like this, but speaking as if that it was the Heaven’s will for the country …”

Wei Xiaobao waved his hands and said, “Enough, stop reading. Yi yi[3] ya ya, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Reporting to Daren,” Wu Zhirong said, “The poem says that we, the people of Manchuria, are barbarians, it says that it was in order to fight the war against Manchu people to keep the provinces that the Ming Dynasty recruited troops and raised the soldiers’ pay, inciting the whole country to rise in rebellion. It also says that we, Manchu people, massacred people, cut open their belly, broke their intestines, and seized beautiful women.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Seizing beautiful women, that’s very good. When the Qing troops broke into Yangzhou, didn’t they kill a lot of common people? If not because of this matter, how could His Majesty exempt Yangzhou of three years’ land tax? Hm, this Gu Yanwu’s poem is so honest.”

Wu Zhirong was greatly shocked; he thought, “You are too young and do not know what’s important. Luckily it was you who said it; if it were from someone else’s mouth, I report it up, do you think the gauze hat [i.e. job as an official] you are wearing would stay steady on your head?” But he knew that Wei Xiaobao was the Emperor’s most favorite person; how could he dare to set himself against the Imperial Envoy Minister? Repeatedly he said several ‘yes’, and with a forced laugh said, “Indeed Daren has wise opinion; lowly officer was in murky darkness and suddenly it opens. Would Daren please give direction on this poem, ‘Song of the history of the heart inside the well’? This poem has a rather lengthy preface; it is indeed wildly rebellious.”

Holding the book up, his head swayed in time with his reading: “In the winter of Chongzhen’s eleventh year, the drought of the well in the Chengtian [lit. bearing (the load) of heaven] Temple in Suzhou’s capital had already deepened; obtaining a case, on the outside was written ‘The Great Song (Dynasty) Iron Case Sutra’, and it was very heavy …”

(“Daren, it tells about finding an iron box inside the well.”

“Iron box?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Was there any gold, silver or treasure inside?”)

“Inside there was a scroll of book, the title was ‘Xin Shi’ [history of the heart], it said ‘the solitary minister of the Great Song Zheng Sixiao’s hundred songs of worship’. The nickname ‘Sixiao’ actually means ‘south’, the Song lost its people, its reputation was recorded in ancient history book. The days of the book collection enjoyed divine protection were nine years. After the demise of Song, just as day and night expecting Prime Minister Chen, Zhang Shaobao [junior guardian] gathered the troops overseas, trying to restore the Great Song’s three hundred years of soil.”

(“Daren, the essay was talking about the Song Dynasty, but actually he was referring to the Great Qing. Gu Yanwu is hoping that Taiwan’s rebel Zheng would gather the troops overseas to restore the soil of the Great Ming.”)

“Not yet repelling the barbarian Yuan back to the northern desert, could only weep in bitter tears, and pray to the Heaven and the Earth, submitting oneself to the Great God, speech failed, attention diverted, certainly there would be a day the barbarians will turn into summer.”

(“Daren, he cursed us, Manchurian Qing as Tatars, he wanted to repel us out.”

“Are you a Manchu?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“This … this … lowly officer is a servant of His Majesty of the Great Qing, a subordinate of Manchu Daren, indeed I am concentrating my thoughts and my efforts in dedication to Manchu people.”)

“Thereupon when the people of the country saw this, none did not bow their head in amazement. The Xunfu [inspector general] Duke Du Yuanzhang preserved the writing for later time, as well as set up a memorial hall in the south, and hid the box in the memorial hall. Before long, the country met with difficulties, just like the final years of the divine protection. Alas, what a sorrow!”

(“Daren, the Great Qing’s army entered the Pass, it was to console the people and punish the tyrant, yet this Gu Yanwu said that the country met with difficulties, he also said ‘alas, what a sorrow’; can we bear not to question this man’s intention?”)

“The number of books trasmitted to the north was less, and after the misfortune, many have become taboo, hence these books were not seen in the last thirty years or so; nowadays it resurfaces at the Zhu Clan of Fuping [county, Weinan, Shanxi]. When this book first appeared in the past, the Taicang [county, Suzhou, Jiangsu] Guard Regiment’s Qian Jun respectfully composed two chapters of poetry, Kunshan’s [county, Suzhou, Jiangsu] Gui Sheng solemnly added eight chapters. When Zhejiang East fallen, Duke Zhang returned to Dongyang [county, Jinhua, Zhejiang]; he went to the moat and died there. Qian Jun escaped overseas, and died on Lang Qi Mountain. Gui Sheng changed his name to Zuo Ming, and continued to be particularly fervent and intense, until in the end he died of exhaustion and hunger.”

(“Daren, these three rebels did not acknowledge allegiance to our Great Qing, fortunately they died early, otherwise, they would definitely be executed along with their families unto the third generation.”)

“Only the untalented me, drifting along in this life, heading toward the grieving years, enduring the net that is getting tighter and tighter.”

(“Daren, he said that the imperial court supresses essays with rebellious intent, it’s getting harder and harder; yet this fellow is clearly has the audacity [orig. ‘hair grows on his guts’] and is unafraid.”)

“See whatever is worthy, think to imitate; standing alone without fear, expressing this matter, showing the ministers how to change in conducting themselves, pretending to write this song.”

As he was listening to this, Wei Xiaobao repeatedly yawn; he only wanted to know what was written in Gu Yanwu’s book, hence he endured patiently until Wu Zhirong finished reading the lengthy preface. “Are you done?” he asked.

“Next comes the poem,” Wu Zhirong said.

“If there is nothing important, you don’t need to read,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Very important, very important,” Wu Zhirong replied. He read, “Minister Zheng Sixiao of the late Song, cried bitterly over barbarian Yuan [i.e. Mongol] moving nine ancestral shrines, all by himself holding on to Han cauldron with difficulty, alone devotedly desiring and wishing with lamentation on the weary Hunan. Writing a book, roll by roll to become ‘Xin Shi’, the content of ten thousand ancient hearts. A thousand searches hidden away inside the iron case in the well, a hundred worship songs that have yet to die today. In barbarian captivity not even a hundred years, perhaps by chance the divine ancestor would re-open the Heaven …”

(“Daren, by saying this sentence ‘In barbarian captivity not even a hundred years’, he is really really deserve to die. He is cursing our Great Qing to reign not even a hundred years, saying that Han people may have some ‘divine ancestor’, which will come to open the Heaven. What opening the Heaven? He is thinking of overthrowing our Great Qing!”)

“I heard His Majesty said,” Wei Xiaobao spoke up, “Only if the Great Qing treats the common people well will our rivers and mountain be steady. Otherwise any empty talk of thousand years, ten thousand years, everything will be in vain. There is a foreigner by the name Tang Ruowang, he is the Director of Imperial Observatory; do you know him?”

“Yes,” Wu Zhirong replied, “Lowly officer has heard about him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This man wrote an almanac, his projection is for 200 years. Some people accused him, saying that the Great Qing’s dominion will last for tens of thousands of years; why did he project only 200 years? At that time Oboi was in charge of the nation, he was completely muddleheaded, unexpectedly he was going to chop his head. Fortunately His Majesty is an enlightened sage, he reprimanded Oboi severely, and had the person who lodged the complain executed, along with his entire family unto the third generation. His Majesty dislikes the most people who wrongly accused good people, by saying nonsense about the Great Qing dominion lasts for a hundred years, or two hundred years to harm others. His Majesty said that really good ministers will cherish common people, and work diligently for the imperial court. As for people who love to lodge false accusation against others, always pick mistakes inside a poem or an essay, which is called ‘seeking for bone inside the egg’, definitely those people are the painted face treacherous officials [in the opera], he ordered me that if I see this kind of fellow, to immediately tie him up and chop his damn head.”

Wei Xiaobao was determined to protect Gu Yanwu at all cost, he was afraid that Wu Zhirong reported to him but failed, he might go to different government official and raise some noise. Thereupon Wei Xiaobao spoke more and more harshly, trying to scare Wu Zhirong that henceforth he would not dare to raise this matter anymore.

He did not know that Wu Zhirong obtained his prefectural magistrate position entirely because he reported the ‘Ming Shi’ [history of the Ming Dynasty], the writing of Zhuang Tinglong of Huzhou, Zhejiang, which talked about the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, which had words and sentences that were disrespectful toward the Qing Dynasty. Provoking literrary inquisition to seek fame and fortune was this man’s expertise.

This time Wu Zhirong found some flaws in the literary work of Gu Yanwu, Zha Yihuang and the others, he was unable to contain his joy. He believed that he found heaven-sent wealth and promotion, he might even gain three classes of promotion at once; who would have thought that the Imperial Envoy Minister would talk to him like that? In that instant, cold sweat started to drench his back; he thought, “In the ‘Ming Shi’ case, Oboi Daren personally handled this matter. Now Oboi Daren has been deposed by His Majesty, it seems that His Majesty’s temper is totally different from Oboi Daren; this time I am indeed in a very bad situation.”

On how Kangxi captured Oboi, since it was not too honorable, it was not openly discussed. The high-ranking ministers racked their brains with ideas, but among the government officials, very few talked about it. Wu Zhirong’s official rank was rather low, plus he was stationed in a prefecture far away from Beijing, thereupon he did not know that the only connection he had in the high place, Oboi Daren was dead precisely in the hand on this Wei Daren in front of his eyes. Otherwise, he would be even more terrified.

Seeing his earthly gray countenance and his trembling body, Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted; he asked, “Have you finished reading?”

Wu Zhirong replied, “This poem, there is still … still … half.”

“So, what does it say?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Trembling with fear, Wu Zhirong continued reading, “The Yellow River did not wait for clear person [Qing], the deep water retain its splendor. Suddenly appeared strange book out of the world, alarming the barbarian riders filling the rivers and mountains. The Heaven knows the way of the world will be repeated, hence this book revealed the goal of the government ministers. To meet again more than thirty years later, with one heart one mind restored at the same time. Duke Lu died at the cliff’s door, those who trust the country sacrifice their lives at swallow market. In olden days reciting poetry lamenting people of old, in secluded bamboo groove and restful woods worrying about mountain ghosts. Alas, cattail yellow’s [蒲黄 – ‘pu huang’, cattail pollen or pollen typhae] lifetime is so long! How would the South see it?” He read it without taking a breath, and he did not dare to add explanation either; with great difficulty he finally finished reading, his sweats dripped on the pages of the book.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “There is nothing out of ordinary in the poem. It talks about some mountain ghosts, some faded old woman [黄脸婆 – ‘huang lian po’ (yellow-faced old woman)]; it’s really amusing.”

Wu Zhirong said, “Reporting to Daren: the ‘pu huang’ in the poem was referring to Song Dynasty’s high-ranking ministers Pu Shougeng and Huang Wanshi who surrendered to the Yuan Dynasty; it is a ridicule to the Han people who become government officials of the Great Qing.”

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance sank. “I said it was ‘huang lian po’, then it is faded old woman,” he said sternly, “Is your wife’s [lao po, same ‘po’ character] face very yellow? Why did anybody write a poem to make fun of faded old woman and you cannot stand it?”

Wu Zhirong took a step back, his hands trembling, ‘pat!’ the book in his hands fell. “Yes, yes,” he said, “Lowly officer deserves to die.”

Wei Xiaobao seized the opportunity to flare-up; he shouted, “What a nerve! I courteously recited His Majesty’s imperial edict to enlighten you. You are a very minor government official, yet you dare to throw things at me, to lose your temper at me! You look down upon His Majesty’s imperial edict; aren’t you rebelling?”

‘Bonk!’ Wu Zhirong dropped on his knees and repeatedly kowtowed. “DaDaren please spare my life, forgive … forgive Xiaoren’s muddleheadedness.”

With a cold laugh Wei Xiaobao said, “You threw things at me, you lost your temper, that’s fine, at most you will be charged with humiliating the Imperial Envoy. Heavy punishment would be beheading, light punishment would be banishment; it’s a trivial matter …”

Hearing the charge was getting heavier, from banishment to beheading, Wu Zhirong kowtowed even more fervently, his head was like pounding on garlic. “Daren, please be magnanimous, XiaoXiaode [lowly one] knew my guilt.”

“You look down on His Majesty’s imperial edict,” Wei Xiaobao barked, “Can I let it pass just like that? Your family, wife, sister-in-law, son, daughter, mother-in-law, paternal aunt, servant girl, mistress, a bunch of heads must be chopped down.”

Wu Zhirong was shaking all over, his teeth chattered, making a clicking noise, he no longer dare to say anything.

Seeing that he had scared him enough, Wei Xiaobao asked sternly, “Where is that Gu Yanwu now?”

Wu Zhirong replied in trembling voice, “Report … reporting to Daren … he … he … he is at …” his teeth bit his own tongue that his speech was not clear. After quite a while, he managed to continue, trembling with fear, “Lowly officer was too brazen, I had Gu Yanwu and that surnamed Zha, also … also one surnamed Lu, detained … detained at the yamen.”

“Have you torture and question them?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “What did they say?”

Wu Zhirong said, “Lowly officer only casually asked a few questions, the three of them were unwilling to confess.”

“Are they really unwilling to say anything?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Wu Zhirong said, “They … they are not. But … but we found a letter in that surnamed Zha’s pocket; as a matter of fact, it carries great responsibility. Daren, please take a look.” From his side he took a cloth bundle, opened it to produce a letter, and presented it with both hands.

Wei Xiaobao did not take the letter, he asked, “What does it say? What kind of essay?”

“No, it’s not that,” Wu Zhirong said, “It was written by Guangdong Tidu [local commander] Wu … Wu Liuqi.”

When Wei Xiaobao heard ‘Guangdong Tidu Wu Liuqi’, seven characters, he was shocked. “Wu Liuqi?” he busily asked, “He also write poetry?”

“It’s not that,” Wu Zhirong replied, “Wu Liuqi is plotting rebellion, this letter is irrefutable evidence, he won’t be able to deny at all. When a while ago lowly officer mentioned military intelligence and that we will render great merit, I was talking about this matter.”

“Oh,” Wei Xiaobao said, while in his heart he groaned, “It’s bad!”

“Reporting to Daren,” Wu Zhirong continued, “Scholars compose poem or write articles with somewhat rebellious content, Daren bravely made decision that it was not a big deal; lowly officer is full of admiration. There’s a common saying: Xiucai [a person who has passed county level imperial exam] rebelling, in three years he won’t have any result. Presumably it’s not something we should be worried about. But this Wu Liuqi is in command of the entire province’s troops. If he wanted to rise in rebellion, and the imperial court did not gain the initiative by striking first, then … then it would desperately serious.” Talking about Wu Liuqi rising in rebellion, immediately his eloquence came back.

All along he had been kneeling on the floor; now that he saw Wei Xiaobao’s expression alternated between grim and clear, obviously he was very interested in this matter, Wu Zhirong slowly stood up. “Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, and glowered at him. Wu Zhirong was startled; he immediately dropped down on his knees again.

“What does the letter say?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Reporting to Daren,” Wu Zhirong replied, “The writing in the letter is very obscure; he said something about the important event in the southwest, that the undertaking of the real men is in full swing. He invited the one surnamed Zha to visit Guangdong to give directions and principles of action. The letter says, ‘Passionately planning the matter of Zhong Shan [lit. central mountain], the great feat of Kaiping [county, Jiangmen, Guangdong], will not be accomplished without Mr. Qing Tian’s [lit. clear (rice) field; see next section] planning the operation.’ That was definitely a reference to rebellion.”

“You are talking rubbish again,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Do you know what important matter they are talking about? You are a minor official, how would you know His Majesty and the imperial court’s classified strategic decision?”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Zhirong replied, “But in his letter he clearly mentioned the plan to rebel; we really must not easily neglect it.”

Wei Xiaobao took the envelope and extracted the letter; he saw the paper was full of walnut-size characters. He could tell that the ink was very dense, the strokes were very coarse, but he did not recognize a single character. He said, “The letter did not mention anything about rebellion.”

“Reporting to Daren,” Wu Zhirong said, “About the rebellion, naturally he cannot write it openly. This Wu Liuqi wanted to be Zhong Shan King, Kaiping King, and he wanted that surnamed Zha to be Mr. Qing Tian; that is rebellion.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “Rubbish! People who take official post, which one does not wish to become ‘King’ or ‘Duke’? Are you saying you don’t want to? This Wu Junmen [lit. army gate, no idea what it is] has rendered great merit, he wanted to set up another great service for the imperial court, hoping that His Majesty would grant him the title King, it is a sign of great loyalty.”

Wu Zhirong had a very awkward expression on his face; he thought, “Talking with an ignorant and incompetent disciple like you, I can’t make anything clear. Today I have offended you; if I do not set up a merit through this matter, my career will most likely not have any future.” Thereupon suppressing his temper, he forced a laughter and said, “Reporting to Daren: the Ming Dynasty had two great generals. One was called Xu Da, the other Chang Yuchun.”

Ever since he was little, Wei Xiaobao had heard mister storytellers talked about ‘The Great Ming’s Legend of Heroic Deeds’; he knew the stories surrounding the founding of the Ming Dynasty by heart [orig. ‘ripe as a melon that rolls from its vine’]. As soon as he heard Wu Zhirong mentioning Xu and Chang, two great generals, immediately his spirit was aroused, totally unlike when he was drowsily listening to him reciting poetry and literature. He laughed and said, “Those two great generals’ prestige is known in eight directions, they are indeed very formidable. Do you know what weapon Xu Da used? What weapon Chang Yuchun used?”

This time he stumped Wu Zhirong. Because of the ‘Ming Shi’ Wu Zhirong enjoyed meteoric rise in his political career, hence he was very familiar with the history of the Ming Dynasty; however, nothing was said about the kind of weapon Xu Da and Chang Yuchun used. With a forced laugh he said, “Lowly officer is of humble talent and shallow learning; I do not know. Would Daren please advise?”

Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. He said with a smile, “You guys only read the book rotten, but don’t know about this kind of matters. Let me tell you: Great General Xu was the reincarnation of the Song Dynasty’s Yue Fei, Yue Yeye [grandpa]; he used a steel spear with cast iron point, on his waist he carried eighteen wolf tooth arrows, he shot with great precision, his arrows never missed. General Chang was the reincarnation of Yan man Zhang Yide from the Three Kingdom era; he used an eight-snake spear one zhang [about 10ft/3m] long, ten thousand men could not withstand his bravery.” And then he rambled on and on about how these two generals Xu and Chang broke the Yuan army. These stories came from the storytellers, naturally it was a lot more fantastic, but not much of the actual fact.

Wu Zhirong was listening to the stories while he was kneeling on the floor. His knees were growing more and more painful. However, in order to make Wei Xiaobao happy, he had no choice but to pretend that he was listening with keen interest; he repeatedly gasped in admiration, and with great difficulty forcing himself to listen to the end before saying, “Daren has wide learning and retentive memory, lowly officer is full of admiration. Those two, Xu Da and Chang Yuchun’s merit was indeed very great; after their deaths, Zhu Yuanzhang bestowed the title of ‘King’ to the two of them, one was Zhong Shan Wang [king], the other was Kaiping Wang. Zhu Yuanzhang also had a military strategist …”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao cut him off, “That military strategist was Liu Bowen; looking up he knew astronomy, looking down he knew geography, looking ahead he knew three thousand years, looking back he knew a thousand years.” And then like an unceasing torrent he narrated about how Liu Bowen gained his capability of knowing everything under the heavens, that even the gods and demons could not understand his scheme, how he planned this and that strategy in fighting this war or that, how to predict things that happened a thousand li away.

Wu Zhirong’s legs went numb, he could not endure anymore; he slid back and sat on the floor, and said with a forced laugh, “Daren’s story is so pleasant to hear, lowly officer’s spirit is aroused. By Daren’s grace, lowly officer is thinking of listening while standing up, I wonder if it is possible?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Alright, stand up.”

Propping himself against a chair, Wu Zhirong slowly stood up. “Reporting to Daren,” he said, “The ‘Mr. Qing Tian’ Wu Liuqi mentioned in his letter was precisely Liu Ji, Liu Bowen. That Liu Bowen was a Qingtian [county, Lishui] man from Zhejiang. Wu Liuqi himself wanted to be Xu Da or Chang Yuchun, and wanted that man surnamed Zha to be the Liu Bowen.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “He wants to be Xu Da or Chang Yuchun, that’s great. That man surnamed Zha wants to be the Liu Bowen, humph, he may not necessarily have that kind of skill. Do you think it’s easy to be Liu Bowen? Liu Bowen’s ‘Shaobing Song’ [lit. baked sesame seed-coated cake] said, ‘Hand grasping a steel knife ninety-nine, killing the barbarians to the end before putting it down.’ Hey, formidable, formidable!”

Wu Zhirong said, “Daren is really smart, you are absolutely correct. That Xu Da, Chang Yuchun and Liu Bowen, three men, were all fighting the Yuan army, they help Zhu Yuanzhang driving out the barbarians. The things that Wu Liuqi said in his letter clearly mean that he wanted to rise in rebellion, he wanted to kill Manchu people.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he thought, “Wu Dage’s intention, how can I not know? Do I need you to tell me? This letter indeed has enormous repercussion; it is by Heaven’s providence that it fell into my hands.” Thereupon he repeatedly nodded and reached out to pat Wu Zhirong’s shoulder. “Good!” he said, “Our luck is very good! If you did not come and tell me about this, it would be terrible. His Majesty said that I am a general who depends on good luck; indeed the Holy Sage’s golden mouth is proven to be right again.”

Having his shoulder patted several times, Wu Zhirong felt the bones in his entire body went soft; he felt that ever since he came out of his mother’s womb, he had never had such glory. He could not help but was deeply touched; with a choking voice he said, “Daren showed such affection, this kindness and grace, even if lowly officer has my body torn and my bones crushed, it is still hard to repay. Daren is good-luck general, lowly officer will follow you, being a good-luck soldier or good-luck servant, or even good-luck dog or good-luck horse; that will still bring honor to my ancestors.”

Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter; he raised his hand to stroke Wu Zhirong’s head. “Very good! Very good!” he said.

Wu Zhirong was tall. Realizing that it was not too convenient for Wei Xiaobao to reach out and stroke his head, he busily lowered his head to let him stroking the top of his head. Previously Wei Xiaobao was very angry; Wu Zhirong kneeled down, kowtowed and took off his hat, Wei Xiaobao pressed his palm on the smooth scalp where the hair was shaved, and slowly stroked toward his back, just like stroking a dog who begged to be petted while wagging its tail. When his palm reached the back of Wu Zhirong’s head, Wei Xiaobao thought, “I don’t want your torn body and crushed bones either, I just need to chop a damn blade right here.” He asked, “Other than you, is there anybody else who knew about this matter?”

“No one, no one,” Wu Zhirong replied, “Lowly officer realized the stake is very high, I did not dare to leak the least bit of rumor. If that rebel thief Wu Liuqi finds out that his rebellious conspiracy has been exposed, he might immediately rise in rebellion, and then Daren and lowly officer will not have the least bit of merit.”

“True,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are very thoughtful. We must be very careful, we must not let Futai and Fantai know about it, they might rush to submit a report to the imperial court, hence snatching away your great contribution.”

Wu Zhirong was over the moon; he bowed with cupped fist repeatedly. “Yes, yes,” he said, “I completely rely on Daren’s support.”

Wei Xiaobao put Gu Yanwu’s letter into his pocket and said, “Just leave all these poetry anthology here, you quietly get Gu Yanwu, those several people here, after I interrogate them clearly, I will select troops and horses to escort you to Beijing. I will personally submit a report to His Majesty. In this great contribution, you are the first, I receive the benefit of your splendor and be the second.”

Wu Zhirong was unable to contain his joy. “No, no,” he busily said, “Daren is the first, lowly officer is second.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “After you go to see His Majesty, whatever you want to say to him, I will carefully teach you. As long as His Majesty is pleased, you want to be Xunfu or Fantai, just leave it to me.”

Wu Zhirong was so happy that he almost fainted; with both hands he put the poetry anthology books on the table, and ‘dong, dong, dong’ knocking his head on the floor before taking his leave. Wei Xiaobao was afraid he might change his mind midway, hence he appointed a team of Valiant Cavalry sergeants under the leadership of a Zuoling to accompany Wu Zhirong in escorting prisoners.

Upon returning to the inner hall, he sent someone to summon Li Lishi and the others for a discussion. Suddenly he saw Shuang’er came into his presence, kneeled down, and crying, “Xianggong,” she said with a sob, “I want to ask you something.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly baffled; hastily he reached out to hold her hands and pull her up. Without letting her hands off he said tenderly, “Good Shuang’er, you are my lifeblood. Whatever it is, I will definitely do it for you.” Seeing the tears kept streaming down her cheeks, he raised his left hand and wiped the tears with his sleeve.

Xianggong,” Shuang’er said, “This is a very difficult matter, but I … I simply must ask you.”

Wei Xiaobao wrapped his left arm around her waistand said, “The more difficult thing to do, if I can get it done for you, the more it will prove that I dote on my good Shuang’er. What is it? Quickly tell me.”

A hint of blush appeared on Shuang’er’s pale face. “Xianggong,” she said in a low voice, “I … I want to kill that government official who has just left. But you must not be angry with me.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “In this matter you and I are like-minded; now you came to ask me, this is extremely wonderful.” He asked, “How did this government official offend you?”

Sobbing and sniffling, Shuang’er replied, “He did not offend me. This Wu Zhirong is my family’s archenemy. The Zhuang Family’s Laoye, Shaoye [old and young master, respectively] were all killed because of him.”

Wei Xiaobao immediately understood; that night at the Zhuang Family’s house, he saw everybody there was a widow, and there were a lof of memorial tablet arranged in one of the rooms, turned out the criminal ringleader, the main offender, was this man. “Are you sure you did not misidentify the person?” he asked.

Shuang’er’s tears poured down her cheeks again as she said with a sob, “No … I can’t possibly mistook him for someone else. That day he … he brought officers from yamen to the Zhuang Family to arrest people. I was still little, but his ferocious appearance, I cannot forget it no matter what.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I must appear to be in a very difficult situation, then she would greatly see the favor I am giving her.” Knitting his brows, he pretended to ponder deeply for half a day before hesitantly said, “He is a government official appointed by the imperial court, the Prefectural Magistrate of Yangzhou prefecture, the Emperor happened to send me to Yangzhou on a mission, if you killed him, I am afraid my official position will be in jeopardy. Just now he came to me with a very important matter; if you kill him, I am afraid … I am afraid …”

Shuang’er was deeply anxious, she said in tears, “I … I actually knew that I am going to give Xianggong a lot of trouble, but … Zhuang Family’s Laotaitai [old Madame], San Shaonainai [third young mistress], they … they kowtowed in front of the memorial tablets every day, vowing to kill this evil government official surnamed Wu to take revenge and wipe out the grudge.”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his thigh and said, “Alright! It’s my good Shuang’er who asked me, even if you asked me to kill the Emperor, you asked me to kill myself, I will comply to your request, much less just one tiny Zhifu? But you have to give me a kiss on the mouth.”

Shuang’er’s entire face turned beet-red, she was happy and bashful at the same time; turning her head away, she said in a low voice, “Xianggong treats me this well, I … I have been yours long time ago. You … you …” Speaking to this point, she lowered her head.

Seeing her graceful, beautiful, and submissive demeanor, Wei Xiaobao’s heart turned soft. He could not bear to be frivolous toward her anymore. “Very well,” he said with a laugh, “When we achieve great success, I am going to kiss you on the mouth, you must not flee.”

Shuang’er blushed even deeper; she nodded her head slowly.

“If you killed him right now,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The revenge will not be sweet enough. I will let you bring him to the Zhuang Family, have him kneel down before all Zhuang Family Laoye, Shaoye’s memorial tablets, let San Shaonainai and the others kill this dog’s head with their own hands. What do you say?”

Shuang’er thought that it was a really great idea, but may not be necessarily real. With her round eyes opened wide, she looked at Wei Xiaobao, not daring to believe. “Xianggong,” she said, “You are not lying to me, are you?”

“Why would I lie to you?” Wei Xiaobao said, “This dog official is your enemy, he is not mine. He was going to send me great riches and honor, yet I don’t give it a damn. As long as little Shuang’er is sincerely nice to me, it is stronger than anything in the world!”

Shuang’er was very grateful in her heart, she leaned on him, and could not help but broke out in crying again. Wei Xiaobao pulled her soft, slender waist closer, he was very happy in his heart; he mused, “This readily available passion, even having it ten or eight a day, it’s can’t be considered too much. Why didn’t that dog official Wu Zhirong kill Ah Ke’s father? If Ah Ke also came to me asking me to avenge her, and let me to embrace her tightly, wouldn’t it be nice?” But he immediately had a second thought: Ah Ke’s father was either Li Zicheng or Wu Sangui, how could Wu Zhirong kill them?

They heard footsteps outside, and knew that Li Lishi and the others have arrived. “Don’t worry about it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Right now I have something important I need to discuss with these people, go guard outside the door, don’t let anybody come in, and don’t eavesdrop our conversation either.”

“Yes,” Shuang’er replied, “I have never eavesdropped on your conversations.”  Suddenly she pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand, stooped down and kissed his hand, and then slipped out of the door.

Li Lishi and the other Tian Di Hui warriors entered the room and sat down. Wei Xiaobao said, “All Gege, last night I heard big news, it was an urgent matter, there was not enough time to discuss it with you all, hastily I went to Lovely Spring Courtyard. In the end my luck was not bad, although I created chaos, in the end I managed to save Mr. Gu Yanwu and Wu Liuqi Dage’s lives.”

The warriors were greatly surprised; the previous night Wei Xiangzhu did indeed create preposterous scene. Visiting prostitute in a brothel was not a big deal, but taking out a big bed out of the brothel, transporting seven women and parading the bed along the streets, it was indeed a hideous mess; turned out it was in order to save Gu Yanwu and Wu Liuqi. Even if they think until their heads explode, they would never have figured it out. Immediately everybody asked him for the details.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “When we were in Kunming, all Gege masqueraded as Wu Sangui’s warriors and went to the brothel to drink and fight. Xiongdi thought this trick was not bad, hence last night I repeated the fun and went one more time.”

The crowd of warriors nodded; they all thought, “So that’s what happened.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that if he talked too much, he would inevitably reveal the cloven foot; thereupon he said, “We do not need to talk about this matter in details.” Putting his hand into his pocket, he groped for Wu Liuqi’s letter and took it out.

Qian Laoben received it, spread it out on the table, and they all reviewed it together. They saw at the beginning of the letter it was written ‘To be inspected by my dear friend Mister Yihuang’, while at the end the signature said, ‘Iron Beggar in the snow’, four characters [xue zhong tie gai]. Everybody knew that ‘Iron Beggar in the snow’ was Wu Liuqi’s nickname, but they did not know who Mr. Yihuang was.

These people’s knowledge about literature was rather limited, when they read about ‘important event in the southwest’ they thought he was referring to Wu Sangui’s rebellion, but about ‘Passionately planning the matter of Zhong Shan, the great feat of Kaiping’, or something about ‘can’t be accomplished without Mr. Qing Tian’s planning’, et cetera, the secret language, allusion to classic story, they were completely at a loss. They all looked at each other in dismay, quietly waiting for Wei Xiaobao to explain.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Xiongdi’s tummy is stuffed with Yangzhou’s steamed dumpling and long fish noodle, there is not the least bit of ink in it. I presume that in all Gege’s tummy there are more old wine than ink. Mr. Gu Yanwu will arrive shortly, we will invite him, old mister, to explain.”

While they were still talking, a personal guard came to report that there were guests came to visit, one was a Great Lama, the other was a Mongolian Prince. Wei Xiaobao asked the Tian Di Hui warriors to act as his personal guards in receiving the guests, he was afraid that these two ‘sworn brothers’ would become hostile to him, while at the same time he also invited Ah Qi to come out.

When they met, Sangjie and Galdan was very warm, they praised Wei Xiaobao for holding yi qi in a very high regard. When Ah Qi finally appeared, they happily met each other, Galdan was bursting with joy. By this time Ah Qi’s manacles had been removed, she wore heavy make-up and was dressed neatly.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Fortunately two Gege’s martial art skill is unrivalled that the sorcerers were killed and drove out; otherwise, Xiongdi’s little life could not be protected. That bunch of sorcerers’ martial art skill was not weak, their number was superior. Two Gege used the few to defeat the many, you beat them until they piss in their pants in terror, and flee to the wilderness; Xiongdi is full of admiration. Let us have a feast to celebrate the heroic deed, to congratulate two Gege for your formidable renown over all the world, for your triumphal return.”

Sangjie and Galdan understood clearly that they were captured by the Divine Dragon Cult, fortunately Wei Xiaobao released Madame Hong for an exchange of the two of them, yet going by Wei Xiaobao’s speech it appeared that the two of them had defeated the enemy and inflicted heavy loss on them. Sangjie’s face looked ashamed, but in his heart he was appreciative. But Galdan was radiant with delight, he was immensely proud in front of his sweetheart.

As soon as the Imperial Envoy mentioned a ‘feast’, the feast was immediately set up in the main hall. Wei Xiaobao stood up with a wine cup in his hand, flattering words continuously bubbling up toward his two sworn brothers, until finally even Sangjie had forgotten about the disgrace of being captured. Only when Wei Xiaobao praised his martial art skill as number one under the heavens that he repeatedly shook his hand, realizing that compared to Cult Leader Hong he was far inferior.

After drinking for a while, Sangjie and Galdan rose up to take their leave. Wei Xiaobao said, “Two Gege, I think it would be best if each of you write a memorial to the throne, let Xiongdi present it to the Emperor. In the future Dage wants to be Tibet’s Living Buddha, Er’ge wants to be ‘zheng ge’er hao’ [see Chapter 39], in the Emperor’s presence, Xiongdi will definitely ‘beat the drum on the side’.” Speaking to this point, he lowered his voice and said, “Later on when that old fellow Wu Sangui deploys the troops in rebellion, and two Gege help the Emperor fighting the old fellow, how could our matter be possibly fail?”

The two of them were greatly delighted; they both saw the logic behind it. Wei Xiaobao took the two of them into the study room. Galdan said, “Your uncouth brother is not too competent in writing, how about Xiongdi write the memorial for me?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Xiongdi’s own name, only the character ‘Xiao’ (小) I can guarantee I write it correctly, my character ‘Wei’ is not reliable, and the character ‘Bao’, no matter how I do it, there’s always something not right about it. Let’s just get the secretary to write it for us.”

Sangjie said, “This matter is highly confidential, we can’t let other people know about it. Your uncouth brother’s writing is not too favorable either, but just let me do it. Fortunately we are not taking the exam for ‘zhuangyuan’ title, His Majesty also will not care if the writing style is good or not, as long as the intent is correct.”

Every single one of his fingers lost one section, but he was still able to write; thereupon he wrote is own memorial, and then wrote another one on Galdan’s behalf, and have Galdan put down his hand print and draw his signature.

The three of them reaffirmed their oath earlier that in the future they would enjoy riches and honor together, and support one another in trials and tribulations, and that they would never turn their back on the brotherhood sentiment. Wei Xiaobao ordered his men to fetch three trays of gold and presented the gold to his two sworn brothers and Ah Qi. He also had the men prepared horses and sedan chair and respectfully walked them out of the door.

Back to the main hall, his personal guard reported that Prefectural Magistrate Wu has arrived with the prisoners. Wei Xiaobao ordered Wu Zhirong to wait in the eastern reception hall, while he took Gu Yanwu and the others, three men, into the inner hall. He personally opened their manacles, and then ordered his personal guards to withdraw, only Tian Di Hui warriors remained. Then he closed the door and bowed and saluted. “Tian Di Hui Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu Wei Xiaobao, leading my fellow brethren pays our respect to Gu Junshi [military strategist] and Mr. Zha, Mr. Lu.”

That day when Zha Yihuang received Wu Liuqi’s secret letter, in his delight he sent a message to Lu Liuliang to go to Yangzhou to see Gu Yanwu to discuss this matter. Unexpectedly Wu Zhirong happened to be investigating Gu Yanwu’s poetry anthology, so that when the officers from yamen came to arrest him, they also arrest Zha and Lu, two people along. When the three of them were searched, Wu Liuqi’s secret letter was found in Zha Yihuang’s pocket. They were so ashamed and remorseful that they wished to die, thinking that their own lives were not a big deal, but if Wu Liuqi’s conspiracy was exposed, their great undertaking might be spoiled. Who would have thought that a strange mountain peak suddenly appeared, the Imperial Envoy Minister unexpectedly professed himself as a Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui? They could not help but were astonished and delighted, they felt as if they were dreaming.

During the Turtle-Slaying Assembly at Hejianfu the other day, Wei Xiaobao did not show his face at all, but Li Lishi, Xu Tianchuan, Priest Xuanzhen, Qian Laoben and the others were acquainted with Gu Yanwu. In the past, when Gu, Zha and Lu, three people were in distress on the boat at the canal, they received help from Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu Chen Jinnan. When they learned that the young imperial envoy in front of them was none other than Chen Jinnan’s own disciple, all their doubts were gone; hence they happily chatted with each other.

Zha Yihuang explained the allusions of ‘Zhong Shan, Kaiping, Mr. Qingtian’, and so on in Wu Liuqi’s letter for the benefit of Tian Di Hui warriors; they all agreed that it was indeed dangerous. Lu Liuliang sighed and said, “In the past, the three of us, plus Huang Lizhou, Huang Xiong, have received your revered master’s help. Today we were not being careful and stirred up trouble, again we are rescued from disaster by Wei Xiongdi. Ay, indeed out of a hundred scholars not one is useful; worthy master and disciple’s great benevolence and kindness will be even more difficult to repay.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We are all on the same side, why would Mr. Lu be modest?”

Zha Yihuang said, “When the Yangzhou yamen officers suddenly broke in, it was indeed like lightning on our ears. Realizing the situation was amiss, I hastily picked up Wu Xiong’s letter to rip it up, but my arms were grabbed by the officers and twisted behind my back. I knew the catastrophe would not be minor. Xiongdi then decided on a plan, if I am tortured, I will confess that the writer of this letter, the ‘Iron Beggar in the snow’ is Wu Sangui. In any case Xiongdi’s old life cannot be guaranteed, but I must do everything I can to protect Wu Liuqi, Wu Xiong’s life.”

Everybody burst into loud laughter; they all said that this trick was very clever. Zha Yihuang said, “That would be my last effort if I have no other choice. The name ‘Iron Beggar in the snow’ is renowned throughout the world, I am afraid I cannot put it on Wu Sangui’s head. If the interrogator examined Wu Xiong’s handwriting, upon investigation it will be found to be a match, and then the truth will be revealed for sure.”

Gu Yanwu said, “Twice we have leaked Wu Xiong’s secret, and twice we were saved; it can clearly be seen that there is an invisible Will of Heaven at work. Tatars’ fate won’t last long, Wu Xiong’s great merit will succeed. But from now on this matter can never be mentioned anymore. Perhaps for the third time we won’t be as fortunate.”

Everybody voiced their agreement. “Wei Xiangzhu,” Gu Yanwu asked Wei Xiaobao, “What do you think we have to do for damage control?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It is rare that we can meet with the three gentlemen, please stay here for a few days, we can enjoy wine together. We’ll have that dog official Wu Zhirong come and let him stand on the side to watch, and so we will scare him to death. In the event that the dog official has guts and he did not die of fear, we’ll simply chop his dog head with a saber.”

Gu Yanwu laughed and said, “Although by doing this we vent the resentment in our hearts, I am afraid the information will leak. This dog official was appointed by the imperial court, if Wei Xiangzhu wants to kill him, we must have a criminal charge on him.”

Wei Xiaobao pondered for a moment and then said, “I got it. I am going to ask Mr. Zha to forge a letter, supposedly written by Wu Sangui, addressed to the dog official. This dog official loves to brag, he said that according to the genealogy, Wu Sangui is his distant uncle. If forging a letter is too much trouble, just copy Wu Dage’s letter all the way through, but change the names on top and bottom. No matter who colludes with Wu Sangui, I will chop his head, the young Emperor will definitely approve.”

Everybody agreed that it was a good plan. Gu Yanwu laughed and said, “Wei Xiangzhu is creative and quick-thinking. This ‘grafting flowers onto a tree’ stratagem can be said ‘one arrow, two golden eagles’; namely, we use the opponent’s own methods to obtain retribution. Yihuang Xiong, please pick up your brush and start to write.”

Zha Yihuang laughed and said, “I would never imagine that today I will write a letter on Wu Sangui, that old thief’s behalf.”

Wei Xiaobao had judged others by himself, thinking that forging a letter would be very difficult; hence he proposed to simply make a copy. But Gu, Zha and Lu, three people were famous scholars, to them, writing letters was just like Wei Xiaobao throwing dice or play Paigow, it was right down their alley; why would they want to copy someone else’s letter?

Zha Yihuang picked up the brush and was ready to write; he asked, “I wonder if Wu Zhirong has an alias? If Wu Sangui wrote a letter using his alias, it will appear even more authentic.”

“Gao Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please ask the dog official.”

Gao Yanchao went out to inquire. When he returned, he said with a laugh, “The dog official’s alias is ‘Xianyang’. He asked why we wanted to know his alias, I said that Imperial Envoy Minister wanted to write a letter to the two Shangshu of the Ministry of Appointments and Ministry of Justice in Beijing, to commend his meritorious service in details, submitting his official position and alias. The dog official smiled so wide that his mouth could not close, he rewarded me ten taels of silver.” While saying that, he tossed a silver ingot in his hand up and down. Everybody roared in laughter.

Zha Yihuang finished the letter and handed it to Gu Yanwu; he said, “Ting Lin Xiong, do you think it can be used?”

Gu Yanwu took the letter. Lu Liuliang scooted next to him, they read together. “Marvelous,” they both said.

Lu Liuliang laughed and said, “This sentence, ‘Who would have known that our Taizu [great ancestor, posthumous title for the founder of a dynasty] Emperor Gao’s title Wu Guo [Wu state] unexpectedly agrees with our uncle and nephew’s family name of three hundred years later?’ This ‘Wu’ character will seal his death sentence; he can’t offer excuses anymore.”

Gu Yanwu laughed and said, “These two sentences, ‘Desiring to behead the white snake and bestow a gale, hoping for my nephew to retrieve the shoe from underneath the bridge; consider to strive to get out of the trench and answer all calls from heaven, I sincerely hope my nephew will reach nobility.’ That is a modification of Liuqi Xiong’s ‘Passionately planning the matter of Zhong Shan, the great feat of Kaiping, will not be accomplished without Mr. Qing Tian’s planning the operation.’”

Zha Yihuang laughed and said, “Blindly using the same pattern, copying the way they walk in Handan [i.e. slavishly copying others, one risks becoming a caricature].”

Tian Di Hui warriors looked at each other in dismay; they did not know what these three were talking about, they thought it was a code word of some secret society or secret language of Jianghu. Thereupon Gu Yanwu explained to everybody: Ming Taizu Zhu Yuanzhang at first called himself ‘Wu Guo Gong’ [state duke Wu], afterwards he was also known as ‘Wu Wang’ [king Wu]; the ‘Wu’ was identical to Wu Sangui, Wu Zhirong’s family name. Beheading the white snake, bestowing a gale was a reference to Han Gaozu Liu Bang [first Han emperor, reigned 207-195 BC]. Retrieving a shoe from underneath the bridge was the old story of Zhang Liang. Zhu Yuanzhang rose up from the trench and was determined to answer all calls from heaven. Conferring nobility title in sincerity was a reference to Liu Bowen.

Wei Xiaobao clapped his hands and said, “This letter is better than the one Wu Liuqi Dage wrote; that Wu Sangui actually wanted to be the Emperor, it’s just that comparing him to Hao Gaozu and Zhu Yuanzhang is holding him a bit too high.”

Lu Liuliang laughed and said, “This is Wu Sangui holding himself too high, not Mr. Zha holding him up.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Right, right! I forgot that it was written by Wu Sangui himself.”

Zha Yihuang asked, “How do we sign the letter?”

“This letter,” Gu Yanwu replied, “No matter who look at it, will know that it was written by Wu Sangui. The more obscure the signature, the more it will look authentic. Just sign it ‘shu xi shou zha’ [lit. uncle west hand write-down], four characters.” Turning to Qian Laoben he said, “Qian Xiong, would you write down these four characters? Our writing is too scholarly, not like a military man who is used to lead troops.”

Qian Laoben picked up the brush and gingerly wrote the four characters. He said apologetically, “These four characters are wobbly, they are too shapeless.”

Gu Yanwu said, “Wu Sangui is a military man, naturally he would have this letter written by a scribe. These four-character signature is very good, they do not follow certain stroke rule, but look very bold, just like a military general’s handwriting.”

On the envelope, Zha Yihuang wrote, ‘Personally presented to Yangzhou Zhifu Laoye [Prefectural Magistrate Master], private.’ He put the letter into the envelope, and gave it to Wei Xiaobao. He smiled and said, “Forging a letter will unavoidably be harmful to our secret virtue, it’s not men of honor’s conduct, but in order to achieve the great undertaking, we are forced not to bother about trifles.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “To deal with this kind of dog thief Wu Zhirong, what’s the big deal about forging a letter? Scholars are really ridiculous.” He received the letter and said, “After this matter is accomplished, we are going to have a drink, we will have a reception for the three gentlemen.”

Gu Yanwu said, “Wei Xiongdi and Liuqi Xiong, one ‘wen’ the other ‘wu’ [civil and military], are definitely the pillars of Ming family resurgence; Deng Gaomi and Guo Fenyang were no more than this. If we can really pull down that old thief Wu Sangui, it will be like severing one arm of the Tatars. Wei Xiongdi’s cup of wine, we’ll wait until we achieve great success before we drink it. Hereby the three of us are taking our leave, so as not to tarry here too long, the information might leak, and spoil the important matter.”

Although in his heart Wei Xiaobao held Gu Yanwu in high regard, but these three scholars talked like they were ‘biting words and chewing characters’, with an allusion in every sentence so that even to understand half of what they say was not too easy; if he talked to them a bit too long, he would not feel comfortable. Thereupon when he heard that they were leaving, it was exactly what he had been hoping for. He thought, “I am sure the three of you gentlemen do not like to gamble; I am afraid if I asked you to go to the brothel to see the young women, your body and soul will be separated. If I cursed one time, ‘damn it’, your eyes will grow big, and your beard will stick out. It’s better for you to quickly excuse yourselves.” Thereupon he took out a fold of banknotes, and presented three thousand taels to each person as their traveling expense. And then he asked Xu Tianchuan and Gao Yanchao to escort them via the back door, and out of the city.

As soon as Gu, Zha and Lu, three people left, Wei Xiaobao immediately felt relieved. He thought, “Those people in the imperial court are also scholars, but they are interesting. Those high-ranking officers of Jiangsu province, such as Ma Futai, Mu Fantai, are also more interesting than Mr. Gu, Mr. Zha, and the other. Speaking about making friends, that dog head Wu Zhirong is still better than those three old misters.”

While he was still thinking about the inspector-general and the provincial administrative commissioner, his personal guard came to report than the inspector-general and the administrative commissioner were asking for an audience. Wei Xiaobao shivered, “Could it be that the information has leaked already?” he mused.

Wei Xiaobao went out of the hall to see the guests; seeing the two men’s solemn expression, he could not help but feeling anxious.

The host and guests saluted each other and sat. The inspector-general Ma You took out a document from his sleeve pocket, stood up, and presented it with both hands. “Imperial Envoy Daren,” he said, “There is an important matter.”

Wei Xiaobao received the document, and handed it over to the provincial administrative commissioner Mu Tianyan; he said, “Xiongdi is illiterate, would Laoxiong please read it?”

“Yes,” Mu Tianyan said, and opened the document. He already knew the content of the document; thereupon he said, “Daren, the Ministry of War in the Capital sent a 600-li urgent message, instructed us to pass it on to Daren: Wu Sangui, that rebel thief has raised arm in rebellion.”

As soon as he heard it, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he could not refrain from springing up and called out, “Damn it, that old fellow has really done it.”

Ma You and Mu Tianyan looked at each other in consternation. The imperial envoy minister heard the big news of Wu Sangui’s rebellion, unexpectedly he was wildly delighted; they wondered why he did that.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “His Majesty has a divine foresight; he had foreseen this matter long ago. Gentlemen do not need to panic, His Majesty’s troops and horses, army provisions, cannon, gunpowder, money for soldier’s pay, weapons, everything has been adequately prepared. It’s fine if that old fellow Wu Sangui does not revolt, but if he rebelled, we will definitely capture his Chen Yuanyuan.”

Although to Ma You and Mu Tianyan his words were neither fish nor fowl, when they heard that the Emperor was well-prepared, they were quite relieved. Wu Sangui was adept in the art of war, and under his command there were strong soldiers and sturdy horses. When they heard that Wu Sangui rose in rebellion, all government officials were trembling with fear; they were apprehensive that the black hat on their heads [i.e. official position] could not be guaranteed anymore.

Wei Xiaobao said, “There’s one thing I found it very strange.”

“Please advise,” the two men said together.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This news, did gentlemen learn about it just now?”

“Yes,” Ma You replied, “As soon as lowly officer received the Ministry of War’s document, I immediately notified Fantai Daren, and rushed over to Daren’s field headquarters.”

“Really no leak?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The two of them replied together, “This is national affair involving military intelligence, we must ask Daren to decide. Lowly officer absolutely did not dare to leak it out.”

“But Yangzhou’s Zhifu already knew about it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t you think it’s a bit strange?”

Ma You and Mu Tianyan looked at each other again, they were very surprised. Ma You said, “May I ask Daren, what did Prefectural Magistrate Wu say?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Just now he secretively came to see me, telling me that there is something big happening in the southwest, someone wanted to make him Liu Bowen. He advised me to adapt to circumstances, and to close my mouth in front of the two of you. When I heard it, I did not understand; what Zhu Yuanzhang, Liu Bowen, and all that nonsense? While I was about to scold him, the two gentlemen arrived.”

The two men were shocked; their countenance changed greatly. Ma You’s intelligence was mediocre, but Mu Tianyan was rather good at adapting himself to changes, he said in a low voice, “If that Ol’ Wu really said that, it means that he was advising Daren to rebel. He really does not want his head anymore.”

“I don’t understand what he was talking about,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I was going to ask him to explain a bit clearer. He always throws literary stuff, something about arising first [xian fa] or arising later [hou fa]. I said Lao Tze was young, yet he had become high-ranking official, couldn’t it be regarded as arising first?”

Ma You and Mu Tianyan both thought, “That Wu Zhifu must have said, ‘gaining the initiative by striking first [xian fa zhi ren], arising later to control the people [hou fa zhi ren]’. Imperial Envoy Daren is unlearned, he thought it was ‘developing first, developing later’ [xian fa da, hou fa da].” The two of them were mature and experienced, they did not say anything.

Actually, Wei Xiaobao had heard the expression ‘gaining the initiative by striking first’ countless times from the storytellers since he was little; this time it was not because he was unlearned, rather, he was playing dumb.

Ma You said, “What a big guts this Wu Zhifu has! I wonder if he has left?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “He is still waiting here, he said he wanted to discuss important matters with me. Humph, he is just a tiny prefectural magistrate, what large-scale program of lasting importance he can possibly discuss with me? If it is Wu Sangui’s large-scale program, Xiongdi would rather discuss it with the two gentlemen, I won’t possibly listen to minor prefectural magistrate’s long-winded words.”

“Yes, yes,” Ma You said, “Is it possible for Daren to call Wu Zhifu over? Let lowly officer ask him a few questions.”

“Very good!” Wei Xiaobao said. He turned toward his personal guard, “Invite Wu Zhifu here.”

As Wu Zhirong entered the hall, seeing the inspector-general and the provincial administrative commissioner were present, he could not help feeling delighted and anxious and the same time. Delighted because the Imperial Envoy Minister attached great importance to his secret report that he unexpectedly summon both Futai and Fantai over to discuss this matter, anxious because since the information already leaked out, the inspector-general and the administrative commissioner would inevitably share his great merit. Immediately he stepped forward to salute and pay his respect, and then stood with arms hung down.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wu Zhifu, please sit down.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Zhirong replied, “Thank you very much Daren for granting me a seat.” He sat with his buttocks barely covered the chair.

“Wu Zhifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have an important matter you wanted to discuss with Xiongdi, although you repeatedly said that we can’t let Futai Daren and Fantai Daren know about it, this matter is of an utmost importance, I have no choice but to invite two Daren to discuss it over; please do not take offense.”

Wu Zhirong’s countenance looked awkward; hastily he stood up and bowed to Wei Xiaobao and Futai and Fantai and said with a forced laugh, “Lowly officer was too brazen, would three Daren please understand, this … this …” He wanted to gloss over several things, but Wei Xiaobao got right to the point [orig. ‘open the door and see the mountain’] and said it out, hence he found it very difficult to cover up. No wonder the inspector-general and the provincial administrative commissioner’s countenance looked very unsightly.

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “Wu Zhifu’s information is very quick; he said that in the southwest there is a great general with authority over troops and horses that is going to deploy troops in rebellion one of these days. The way he deploy troops is desperately serious, it will shake the world, His Majesty’s dragon palace courtyard will be unstable, can’t say for sure our heads might also fall down. Is that right?”

“Yes,” Wu Zhirong replied, “But three Daren’s flood of good fortune fills the heavens, naturally the misfortune will turn into blessing, ominousness will turn into auspiciousness, definitely all taboos are off.”

“In this matter we will have to depend on Wu Daren’s good fortune,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Daren, this general shares the same ancestor with you, he is also surnamed Wu?”

“Yes,” Wu Zhirong replied, “This is our ancestor’s …”

Wei Xiaobao cut him off, “You have obtained this general’s letter, it was written personally by him, are you sure it is not fake?”

“Absolutely not,” Wu Zhirong replied, “Definitely it is not fake.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “Although in this letter there is no mention of deploying troops in rebellion, but it did mention Zhu Yuanzhang, Liu Bowen, what have you. Xiongdi did not study books, I do not understand what is written in the letter, Wu Daren explained in details the meaning of the letter, you wanted Xiongdi to take immediate action, something about arising first or arising later, you said it’s a chance that’s hard to come by in a hundred years, that great riches and honor certainly cannot be disposed of, that Xiongdi may be granted the title Wang [king], and Wu Daren may be granted the title Bojue [earl], is that right?”

Wu Zhirong replied, “That was lowly officer’s erroneous views, Daren’s clear judgment is a hundred times better compared lowly officer’s. The content of the letter is indeed as Daren said.”

From his right hand sleeve Wei Xiaobao took out Wu Liuqi’s letter and held it in front of Wu Zhirong. His body leaned sideways to cover up the letter. “This is the letter, isn’t it?” he asked, “Look carefully, this is of a grave importance, must not make mistake.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Zhirong replied, “This is the letter, it can’t be wrong.”

“Very good,” Wei Xiaobao said.” He put the letter back into his right hand sleeve, and returned to his seat. “Wu Zhifu,” he said, “Please withdraw momentarily, I will discuss it over with Futai Daren and Fantai Daren. It seems that our three people’s glory, riches and honor, will have to depend entirely on you, Wu Daren. Ha ha …”

Wu Zhirong could not conceal the complacent look on his face; he bowed to salute the three men again, and said, “I depend entirely on three Daren’s cultivation.” Bowing, he slowly withdrew.

Wei Xiaobao waited until he reached the door before asking, ““Wu Zhifu, what is your alias?”

“I don’t dare,” Wu Zhirong said, “Lowly officer’s humble name is Zhirong [lit. his glory], in manuscript character Xianyang [to praise/commend/hallow].”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “That’s all,” he said.

When Wei Xiaobao was interrogating Wu Zhirong, in their hearts Ma You and Mu Tianyan were furious, but according to bureaucratic rule, when the superior officer was talking, the subordinate must not interrupt. Ma You was hot-tempered, he was about to lash it out, but Wei Xiaobao ordered Wu Zhirong to withdraw, hence he could not help the veins from bulging out his forehead, his entire face from swelling deep red.

From his left hand sleeve Wei Xiaobao took out the letter Zha Yihuang forged. “Gentlemen, please take a look at this letter,” he said, “That servant [usually used in derogatory way] Wu Zhirong said that this letter is indeed serious. Xiongdi has never learned books, I don’t know if he was telling the truth or a lie.”

Ma You received the letter. He saw written on the envelope was ‘Personally presented to Yangzhou Zhifu Laoye, private.’ He pulled the letter out and look at it together with Mu Tianyan. They saw the addressee was ‘Xianyang my nephew’.

The more the two people looked, the angrier they were. Without waiting until he finished reading, Ma You slapped the table and shouted, “That dog head is too audacious, let me kill him with a saber.”

Mu Tianyan was more careful, he thought Wu Zhirong dared to openly advise a superior officer to rebel, it was a bit too unreasonable. However, just now Wei Xiaobao questioned him in their presence, they heard each sentence the opposite party gave in answer, why would he doubt it? The previous day in front of the Chanzhi Temple enjoying the Chinese peony, Wu Zhirong did say that Wu Sangui was his distant uncle. Apparently Wu Zhirong knew that Wu Sangui rebellion would be successful, he must be so pleased that he lost his senses and hence had been acting absolutely unrestrained.

“Is this letter really written by Wu Sangui for him?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“That dog head himself said that it absolutely true,” Ma You replied.

“The letter is lengthy and talked about many things,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What exactly is it saying? Would two gentlemen explain it to Xiongdi?”

Thereupon Mu Tianyan explained line by line, the classical quotations about ‘Beheading the white snake and bestow a gale’, and ‘Retrieving the shoe from underneath the bridge’, ‘Striving to get out of the trench and answer all calls from heaven’, and ‘reaching nobility in sincerity’, and so on.

Ma You said, “Just this sentence alone, ‘Our Taizu Emperor Gao’s title Wu Guo’ is enough to have his entire family exterminated.”

Mu Tianyan nodded; he said, “I heard that in this rebel Wu matter, it has something to do with the third Zhu crown prince’s appeal, something about restoring Ming Family.”

While they were still talking, suddenly came the report that the Imperial Bodyguards from the Capital had arrived to announce the Imperial Edict. Wei Xiaobao and Ma You and Mu Tianyan kneeled down to receive the decree; actually, Kangxi was summoning Wei Xiaobao to hurry back to the Capital, as for the imperial order to build Martyr Shrine in Yangzhou, it was to be handed over to Jiangsu Province’s Administrative Commisioner to finish it. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, he thought, “The young Emperor is fighting Wu Sangui; if he sent me to be the Grand Marshal, that would be very impressive.”

Ma You and Mu Tianyan could hear the encouragement and exhortation tone in the Imperial Edict, they immediately congratulated him on his coming promotion. Wei Xiaobao said, “Tomorrow Xiongdi will return to the Capital. When I kowtow in front of His Majesty, I will commend on two gentlemen’s great accomplishment in your official duty. It’s just that how well two gentlemen are doing your official duty, I am ashamed to admit, but honestly Xiongdi is not too clear; I am forced to ask two gentlemen to tell me.”

Futai and Fantai were greatly delighted, they cupped their fist to express their thanks. And thus Mu Tianyan spoke highly of the inspector-general’s political achievements. He racked his brains to recall Kangxi’s temperament, and tried his best to explain how Ma You worked diligently in the government, how he loved the people, how he promoted religion and virtue, and so on. Among these, nine out of ten were bogus. Ma You listened with smile so wide that he was unable to put his lips together. Afterwards Mu Tianyan also listed several achievements of his own; although the words were simple, all were real meritorious service.

“I have remembered all of these,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We will also add another big contribution: Rebel Wu’s Rebellion. His Majesty abhorred this matter extremely, this Wu Zhirong wanted to be the one who respond from within, he wanted all civil and military officials of the entire province of Jiangsu to revolt together, fortunately the three of us investigated and found it out. Once this report goes up, we won’t be able to avoid titles and rewards. Tomorrow Xiongdi will leave for the Capital, two gentlemen please write a memorial to the Emperor.”

Futai and Fantai spoke together, “This is Wei Daren’s great merit, lowly officers do not dare to claim credit due to others.”

“No need to be polite,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s just consider the three of us render the merit together.”

Mu Tianyan added, “Zongdu [governor-general] Ma Daren has returned to Jiangning, when Imperial Envoy Minister returns to present the memorial to the Holy Sage, it would be best if you also speak a few good words on Ma Daren’s behalf.”

“Very well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Speaking a few good words does not need any capital.”

Ma You and Mu Tianyan expressed their gratitude again before taking their leave. Wei Xiaobao immediately ordered Xu Tianchuan and the others to bind Wu Zhirong and stuffed his mouth with a piece of hemp cloth so that he could not talk even if he wanted to. The fear and bewilderment in Wu Zhirong’s heart was unspeakable.

Early in the morning the next day, each and every one of civil and military officials in the city of Yangzhou had already lined up in the hall, waiting for the Imperial Envoy Minister to grant them audience. Each one had a heavy gift. Actually, being a government official in Yangzhou, they were already stationed at the world’s most plentiful place; each government official was not looking for promotion, they were only hoping that when the Imperial Envoy Minister returned to Beijing, he would say a few good words on their behalf, then they would be perfectly contented if they could occupy their current position for a few more years.

The previous day the governor-general had also obtained the news, and had travelled overnight to Yangzhou. Naturally the gift he and the inspector-general brought was more serious. Yangzhou prefecture received three years of land tax exemption, there would be considerable amount of commission all-around. Although Wei Xiaobao did not have time to personally manage it, the Fantai had already presented the commission due him. The military leaders and personal attendants who came with Wei Xiaobao also received ample gifts and gold.

Ma You already prepared a memorial to the throne, which he asked Wei Xiaobao to personally present it to the Emperor. In the memorial it was detailed how Wei Xiaobao opened inquiries and secret investigation, how he personally enter dangerous zone before he could uncover Wu Sangui and Wu Zhirong conspiracy, et cetera; naturally it was greatly exaggerated, even the governor-general, the inspector-general, and the administrative commissioner, three people, who were rendering their assistance on the side, were not without merit.

Mu Tianyan said, “His Majesty is deploying the troops against Wu Sangui, it’s a pity that lowly officer is a civil officer, I do not have the skill to go into battle and kill the traitor. Lowly officer has received order from Zongdu Daren and Futai Daren that within ten days we are going to send a batch of army provisions to Hunan, to be used by His Majesty.”

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “The main force has not been deployed, the army provisions are already in place. Three gentlemen are very thoughtful, His Majesty will definitely be very happy.”

After all the government officials were dismissed, Wei Xiaobao sent his personal guard to Lovely Spring Courtyard to pick his mother. He changed into civilian clothes and met his mother. Wei Chunfang did not know that her son was a high-ranking official, she thought he cheated in gambling, and had won a large sum of money. When she heard that he wanted to take her to Beijing to have a happy and prosperous life there, she shook her head at once and said, “Money from gambling, today the left hand wins it, tomorrow the right hand loses it. By the time I get to Beijing, you will have lost everything; perhaps you will sell Laoniang [your old mother] to the joy house. If Laoniang wants to do business, staying in Yangzhou is better. In Beijing, that bent-tongue language of the bureaucrat, Laoniang cannot speak.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Ma, please set your hundred and twenty hearts at ease. When we get to Beijing, you will have servant girls and older female servants, you won’t need to do anything. The money that I have, we won’t be able to spend it forever.”

Wei Chunfang did not stop shaking her head, “If I don’t have anything to do, I will be suffocated to death of boredom. Servant girls and older female servants, Laoniang has never had the good fortune to enjoy it, in less than three days I would have to cut my braids.”

Wei Xiaobao knew his mother’s temperament; he thought that if she had to sit all day long in a big courtyard without doing anything, she would not have the least bit of interest. Thereupon he took out a stack of banknotes, altogether there were fifty thousand taels, and said, “Ma, I am giving you this money. Go and buy the Lovely Spring Courtyard, you can be the proprietress. I’ll say you can also buy three more courtyards; we can open Lovely Spring Courtyard, Lovely Summer Courtyard, Lovely Autumn Courtyard and Lovely Winter Courtyard, the four seasons. We can make money all year long.”

But in her bosom Wei Chunfang did not have high aims; she laughed and said, “I will go have someone look at these banknotes, whether they are genuine or fake. If they indeed can be cashed, Laoniang will be very happy to manage a small courtyard. If you want to open big courtyard, we’ll wait until you grow up, and then you can be the boss.” Lowering her voice, she asked, “Xiaobao, your large sum of money, you did not get it from stealing or robbing, did you?”

From his pouch Wei Xiaobao took four dice and called out, “House full of red!” [See also note 22, Chapter 34] while throwing the dice onto the table. Sure enough, all four dice showed four dots on the top face.

Wei Chunfang was greatly delighted and felt relieved instantly. She laughed and said, “Little b@stard has mastered this trick, even if you lose, you won’t be poor.”

(Book note: In the original block printed edition of Gu Yanwu’s poem, there were a lot of codeword, rhyming characters to substitute the intended words, such as ‘yu’ [expect/anticipate] for ‘hu’ [non-Han people, barbarian], ‘zhi’ [support/sustain] for ‘yi’ [barbarian], and so on, to avoid violating the taboo, making it hard for the later generations to decipher. Mr. Pan Zhonggui wrote ‘Examination on Ting Lin Poems’ [‘pavilion forest’ was Gu Yanwu’s alias]; he added comprehensive explanation to make the poems clear. Our book uses Mr. Pan’s work as reference.)

[1] Qiang – ethnic group of northwestern Sichuan, Hu – non-Han people, barbarian.

[2] The word ‘banner’ here refers to Manchurian ruling class (Eight Banners).

[3] Wu Zhirong read ‘yi’ – barbarians, Wei Xiaobao said ‘yi’ – onomatopoeia.

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