Don’t Be a Kept Man
Chapter 44: What Would I Even Covet From You
Upon hearing Chen Miao Ping say this, the Emperor realized that there must be an interesting trick to this, yet he could not pinpoint the exact meaning of this exercise.
His expression was skeptical, but he did not interrupt.
To the side, Xie Su Zhi was also deep in thought, and she had quite a vested interest in this story.
Chen Miao Ping continued,
“Your Majesty’s explanation is correct in how the relative wanted it to be interpreted, ‘A raining day keeps guest, heavens keep I do not’.
The student scholar could also understand that meaning, but he instead used the original words to create a different meaning as, ‘A raining day, keeps guest day; keep me not? Keep.’”
Everyone laughed in response and thought that this was quite an interesting tale.
The Emperor said as he chuckled,
“That is quite ingenious.”
Chen Miao Ping continued,
“A stopping point used at different points of a sentence, or with a different inflicted tone, they can all create a different meaning.
This poetry line can actually have many more interpretations.
For example, ‘A raining day, keep guest day; keep me or not keep?’ or ‘A raining day, keep guest day.
Keep? I do not keep!’ These are exemplary examples that can only be interpreted differently by the person reading and understanding it.
With each lesson by a different teacher, it would naturally be taught to produce different levels of students with different levels of understanding.”1
Based on his explanation, a feeling of delight and admiration emerged in the Emperor for this kind of reasoning.
He repeated Chen Miao Ping’s explanations once more to himself and this time, he couldn’t help but release a long sigh of appreciation and understanding.
With some feelings of lament and gratitude in his voice, he said,
“Zhen also hopes that all the talents under this sky could be used as they are talented, but the core, the basis of this country rests on those families with weighted backgrounds.
How could we just shake the foundations? Zhen, however, does understand your meaning……”
Chen Miao Ping lowered his eyes.
The whole point to his long speech was to tell the Emperor that the sons of high status families have too many things in their favor.
Whether it was from the strength of their teachers or their networking, it all exceeded far beyond those who come from poor families and no backgrounds.
Hence, it was a completely normal result for this examination to have more than 70% of the examinees who passed be from high status families.
But if the Emperor wanted to solve the root of the problem, he must focus all his energy on shrinking that gap between the rich and the poor, letting everyone walking on this earth have a chance to study and read…….
But the possibility of this was slim to none.
Even with the focus and power of a few generations tackling this problem, it was not enough to bring this change to completion, as that’s what had happened in the history of his original world.
The palace was completely surrounded in silence where one could have heard a pin drop to the ground.
In the midst of this silence, outraged yells could be heard echoing faintly throughout the entire Imperial Palace, so much so that it could be heard from as deep as Zhi Feng Palace.
Those who heard these calls of rage and anguish from the poor scholars could feel those cries of protest sincerely from the bottom of their hearts.
Those scholars had been gathered around the entrance to the Imperial Palace since this morning.
The Emperor gritted his teeth tightly, and holding onto the chair’s armrest, he solemnly said the next few words,
“Those officials that are involved in this law breaking case must be punished without question! The names of all examinees who have cheated will have their rank removed, flogged a hundred times and jailed for three months.
For the rest of their life, they will be barred from being an official of this country!”
Those officials involved in this case would be punished by death and as for those students involved in this cheating scandal, being flogged a hundred times would probably take away most of their lives.
Even if they would be lucky enough to survive that beating, they will never be able to participate in the examinations again, letting all those years that they spent studying waste away, never again to have a chance to stand above anyone else.
There were no walls under this all encompassing sky that does not let wind in or out.
To hide one thing means a million more lies are needed to cover it up.
Chen Miao Ping furrowed his eyebrows and hesitated for a while before seemingly cementing his decision.
He suddenly looked at Xie Yu Zhi deeply……
Bro, when the Emperor decides to chop my head off, you must, MUST, try and stop him.
That look was too complicated and Xie Yu Zhi was unable to understand his meaning.
He only saw Chen Miao Ping suddenly lift up the bottom of his robe and fall onto his knees, kneeling before the Emperor.
What he said next in his calm voice was like dropping a bomb in the palace, making everyone’s brains blow up into pieces and replace it with a ringing silence,
“Miao Ping deserves death.
I humbly request for Your Majesty’s punishment, to take away my rank nomination.”
They had just finished talking about the cheating scandal and right after that, for Chen Miao Ping to say such a thing was, without a doubt, akin to something like throwing a bucket of poop onto his head.
The Emperor’s face immediately blackened to the point where it was as black as the bottom of a pan.
Xie Su Zhi was also shocked out of her mind, almost unable to react.
“I beg for Your Majesty’s mercy! He is talking about things he has no idea about.
Please do not take it as truth!”
“In front of the Son of Heaven, you dare to speak such nonsense!”
The Emperor’s chest began to heave irregularly and he slammed his hand on top of the table.
Immediately, all the servants in the palace knelt to the ground and bowed with their faces touching the floor in response to his anger.
His eyes looked like they were setting fires to everywhere they landed, and he said to Chen Miao Ping,
“You dare speak such words out loud, then say everything slowly and clearly one at a time to Zhen.
You should be careful to keep your head attached to you!”
Ignoring his hand that was tightening up from the pressure, Chen Miao Ping said,
“Miao Ping has come from a small background and was lucky enough to rise above my fellow group of classmates.
A straight road all the way to the Metropolitan Exam and had somehow blindly walked into Chang Guo Gong’s eyes to be picked up to become his son-in-law.
“Before the Imperial Exam, the main examiner Yan Dong Qing somehow received the news through some vine and tried to become overly friendly with me.
It had happened a few too many times.
And within the exchange of friendly words, he hinted to me some implications and extra information.
At that time, Miao Ping did not realize what he had done, and when Miao Ping got to the Imperial Examination, Miao Ping realized then that some of the things he said were related to the testing questions……”
The Emperor immediately became more enraged upon hearing this.
The questions on the Imperial Palace Examination were thought up by his most trusted ministers and then screened by him.
He never would have thought that there would be such traitors among these trusted aides.
He stood up in a rage and swept all the objects on the table off onto the ground.
Taking big steps forward to point angrily at Chen Miao Ping before switching to pace in front of him, he was the poster image of an enraged lion,
“A group of spineless idiots! Zhen thought they were all important officials to this country, hence the duty Zhen has bestowed them with, ordering them to pick excellence from the people of this country.
How could they all be maggots living as parasites! Death should be their sentence! Death!”
The silence that dropped in the air when he vented his outrage strangled all the servants with fear.
Each and every one of them wished they could bury their heads deeper into the ground if it was physically possible.
Xie Su Zhi immediately left her seat and knelt down in front of the Emperor,
“Your Majesty, please forgive this grievous crime.
The Flower Seeker was also blinded in this issue, being played by outside influences.
I humbly request for Your Majesty, please look on his honest and loyal heart and pass on to him a light punishment instead.”
Xie Yu Zhi subconsciously looked at Chen Miao Ping with a very complicated expression, as if to blame him for saying this out loud, as if he was looking for his own death, and as if there was something else as well, but that hand that was grasping onto him never let go.
Chen Miao Ping believed that there was a huge possibility that the Emperor would not kill him.
If he decided to vaguely pass over this issue today, when the Emperor investigates later on, it would no doubt be found.
Besides, if no one found him out, then should he even take the position bestowed on him from the Emperor?
If he took it, he would receive a punishment from the system.
If he didn’t, that was just like stomping on the Emperor’s head, ignoring his authority.
There are times where you must take some steps backward to continue onwards as no matter which way you step, you will be either worse off or a little more worse off.
If it was like this, why not just say it himself, to fight for the most generous downfall on his own terms?
Since the scandal erupted this morning, Chen Miao Ping could feel that everything was under the system’s control.
Once he got through this, it must have another trick up its sleeves.
To try and look for a loophole would be difficulty adding onto difficulty.
If it was not his, then it was not to be his.
Trying to wrangle and hold it by force, that was impossible.
It did not matter whether he had the original host’s Flower Seeker rank or not.
It was always better in every case to live without fear in his future.
He could see just from looking at Xie Yu Zhi’s face that he was very tense.
Chen Miao Ping couldn’t help but tease him and soundlessly moved his lips,
“If you want to cut off all ties with me now, it’s still possible.”
Xie Yu Zhi narrowed his eyes slightly, staring back with an emotionless face, and did not reply.
The Emperor was clouded with rage, but at the end of the day he was still the Emperor, so after taking a few breaths, he forced himself to think clearly.
He sat back on his seat and stared right into Chen Miao Ping’s eyes, saying,
“You have quite some courage, to dare to do the same as those cheating scoundrels.
And you even have the backbone to say it out loud now.
Are you not afraid that Zhen will chop your head off or send you to become fodder!”
The military was under the rule of the Xie family, so to become fodder for the army or to be placed under grueling work there, he should not suffer too much.
At most, maybe a tattoo carving on his face2 would be the most he would suffer…… maybe.
Chen Miao Ping raised his hands in a bow and said,
“Your Majesty, Miao Ping must ask for a correction in your most gracious understanding.
Yan Dong Qing’s words did indeed mention parts of the examination questions, but Miao Ping has never put them to heart.
Treated his words only as wind blowing through the ears.
Miao Ping has never even thought or had the time to complete any preparations.
If that is considered cheating, it feels a bit like erring on the wrong side.”
The Emperor said,
“Then why do you want to let Zhen take away your titled rank? An obvious indication that you have guilt in your heart!”
Chen Miao Ping paused in silence for a moment before saying,
“…… If it is to say that I have guilt in my heart, then yes, there is.
But that is towards those with actual talent and excellence but have failed to rank.
Miao Ping did not purposefully cheat, but has still used his reputation and name.
Miao Ping has borrowed Chang Guo Gong’s estate’s name and reputation to let those testing officials keep him in mind.
My talents are average, and to occupy the rank of Flower Seeker, that is not fair to others nor is it fair to myself.”
The Emperor’s face still looked ominous and dark,
“A ranking that you worked so hard for.
To say that you don’t want it, to take it away out of fairness, do you not feel any pain if Zhen does as you desire?”
Xie Su Zhi tried to help from her side and sighed lightly,
“Your Majesty, Miao Ping is but an honest man.
This noble consort was just saying Han Lin Academy was quite busy and had wanted to request Your Majesty to give him a good position.
But Miao Ping had actually rejected it.
And said that no matter what position it is, as long as it is for this country, it was fine.
Indeed, a man that is not greedy for money nor authority.”
Chen Miao Ping followed up with,
“In harsh conditions and poor environments, Miao Ping has studied for more than ten years.
To become known in one night throughout the entire country, Miao Ping is a regular human being, so naturally Miao Ping is elated.
For the rest of his life, Miao Ping was certainly not willing to become nameless, but compared to living forever with a heart of fear clouding the days, well.
Reputation and name, neither of which really matters anymore.
“To become a hermit living in the mountains has its own interest and happiness.
Studying and understanding the literary arts is to understand this world, to open our eyes.
These two deeds are much more important than a ranking achievement.”
The moment he opens his mouth is another vomit of chicken soup to soothe the soul.
But his words did make those in the palace at this moment think that he has an elegance, an elevated quality, a man of honesty and truthfulness.
And the Emperor’s growing rage inside his chest was somehow strangely settling down because of that blathering of words.
Just from the few speeches he was exposed to, Chen Miao Ping did not seem like someone without smarts.
He said so himself that he has not cheated, this much the Emperor believed, so it would not be too much of a stretch to say that he has been dragged into this issue.
The simplest solution was to take away his ranking and to never give him an official position, but to actually do so, with Chen Miao Ping’s eloquence and talent, it made it quite pitiful to let him go like this.
Chen Miao Ping kept his head lowered with a look that made the Emperor see true honesty in his regret, and he waited silently for the punishment to be passed.
But after a while, he could only feel a sudden cold wind blow past him and he looked up in reflex.
The shadow of the Emperor was the only thing that greeted his eyes and his ears heard the eunuch sing out —
“Preparation to return (to the palace)–!”
And no word was ever passed on how to deal with him.
With that cry, the tension in Zhi Feng Palace dissipated.
Xie Su Zhi’s eyes were very convoluted, never expecting that a simple greeting after her little brother’s marriage could turn out like this.
Looking at Xie Yu Zhi and Chen Miao Ping still bowing on the ground, she didn’t want to deal with them and said,
His Majesty has already left, who are you kneeling for?”
Hearing this, Xie Yu Zhi snorted coldly at Chen Miao Ping and flung off his arm.
He pushed himself up to stand and bowed towards Xie Su Zhi,
“It has been the fault of your little brother today, to burden you with such trouble.
It is high time for us to leave.
We will be back another day for our greeting.
We will take our leave now.”
Xie Su Zhi’s head was aching in pain and she waved her hand in approval.
Chen Miao Ping also rose up from the ground,
“Miao Ping will take his leave as well.”
And within a moment’s breath, Xie Yu Zhi had already walked away without leaving a shadow behind.
Chen Miao Ping shook his head and sighed, Xie Yu Zhi must be the fastest walking cripple he has seen.
He quickly followed and not long after, he had already caught up.
On a normal day, Xie Yu Zhi walking would be slow upon slow.
Today, he had dramatically increased his speed, but his disability was still there.
With a face shrouded with darkness, he remembered Chen Miao Ping’s soundless “cut off all ties with me” from the situation then, and he couldn’t help but be more angered.
Chen Miao Ping did not know what he was thinking about however and he quickly ran forward to grab Xie Yu Zhi’s hand.
With a smiling face, he said,
“What is up with you, walking so fast? Are you not afraid of tripping?”
Xie Yu Zhi angrily brushed him off,
“Leave me be to trip to death.”
Chen Miao Ping only realized now that Xie Yu Zhi was a bit unhappy.
He was at first clueless, but then he thought about it and realized what was wrong.
It was indeed something to be angered by.
To think at first that he had found a Flower Seeker to be his husband, but then it turned out that he was a cheating scammer.
Perhaps even in a few moments, his ranking would be taken away.
Who would be happy from this situation?
After “understanding” the problem, he was too lazy to warm up that cold shoulder.
The two of them walked like this, separated by a certain distance, one following the other with a maid following each of them.
The two of them did not interact in any way, perfectly acting as if they were strangers.
Seeing that Chen Miao Ping only pulled him once and no more movement came about, Xie Yu Zhi couldn’t help but turn his head to look back.
The only sight that greeted him was a man with both hands behind his back, looking left and right around the Imperial Palace, whistling as if it was a casual walk.
This side of him was sending all the maids around into a mesmerized daze to the point where they couldn’t walk straight.
Xie Yu Zhi brushed off his sleeves and gave out another cold snort.
The horse carriage was stopped right outside the entrance of the Imperial Palace.
Both of them did not speak to each other as they climbed up and sat on opposite sides.
Chen Miao Ping sat leisurely, lifting one of his ankles to rest on the opposite leg’s knee.
He lifted the curtain to check the activity outside and found that in the span of one afternoon, the poor scholars had slowly stopped their protests.
His heart settled down a bit after knowing that.
Xie Yu Zhi played with the tea cup on the table and mockingly said,
“What are you looking at? Afraid your head will be chopped off by his majesty?”
Chen Miao Ping smiled,
“This crime is too small.
If the punishment is to end my life and all those related to me by nine generations, then I must bring Second Master along with me.
Have you never heard of the saying, to be alive together is to be under the same sheets, and to die together is to be buried in the same hole?”
Xie Yu Zhi laughed coldly and raised his eyebrows to say,
“And who just said that they wanted to be cut off from me? Now you already want to drag me to death with you.”
Chen Miao Ping replied,
“No, no, I said that only in fear of implicating Second Master along with me, that’s all.
Second Master is such an amazing talented individual, why should you hang yourself on only me? Perhaps, even before we arrive back at the estate, the decree from His Majesty would have already arrived, and my ranking is popped like a bubble……”
Before he finished his words, Xie Yu Zhi suddenly kicked him.
He leaned forward slightly and stared straight into Chen Miao Ping’s eyes,
“What is the point of being an official minister? What is the point of being nothing? Am I supposed to be coveting your empty reputation and name?”
Click here to bypass all the footnotes!
*1 So just to explain a little further on the poetry line there:
“A raining day keeps guest day(heavens) keeps I do not keep”
This phrase is usually used to denote how punctuation works/the importance of punctuation, but obviously, Chen Miao Ping is using it for his own agenda here. The meaning of this exercise is to basically see how if you put different punctuation into the sentence (or if you don’t do it), you get a different interpretation/meaning every time.
I tried to keep it as original to the translation as possible so it might sound a bit awkward, but it won’t really work the way it gets intended to otherwise.
Day can be basically synonymous to heavens in this particular phrase as they are two meanings of the character “天” (which you may also recognize this as “sky” which is a more common understanding besides day).
There are 4 explanations here that Chen Meng Piao goes through including the one mentioned by the Emperor at the end of the last chapter (there can be quite a few more actually) but just explaining specifically and briefly the ones he goes through:
1) A raining day keeps guest, heavens keep I do not keep.
A raining day can keep a guest at bay, but even though the heavens want to hold back this guest here, I do not wish to keep this guest here.
(the relative’s perspective, or you could consider it as the “owner’s”, of where this “guest” is staying; this is what the Emperor interpreted)
2) A raining day, keeps guest day; Keep me not? Keep.
A raining day can keep a guest at bay(a raining day, a day that makes guests unable to leave), (guest asking himself) does the heavens want to keep me here? (in the sense that I translate it to day, the guest is asking himself, “is this a day that the heavens want to keep me here?”) I will stay because the heavens want me to.
(This is what Chen Miao Ping said the scholar interpreted).
3) A raining day, keeps guest day; Keep me not keep? (“下雨天，留客天 ; 留我不留？”):
A raining day, a day to keep guests at bay; (guest asking himself) Would the owners let me stay here or not?
4) A raining day, keeps guest day.
Keep? I do not keep! (“下雨天，留客天，留 ? 我不留。”):
A raining day, a day to keep guests at bay.
(owner of place says to himself) Should I keep the guests here? I do not (want to) let them stay!
Plum: I understand it as like the panda eats, shoots and leaves story by Lynne Truss: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Click for wikipedia explanation).
Instead of the complicated example above, if you see “the panda eats, shoots and leaves”, it can turn into the story as Lynne says, a panda eats in a restaurant, shoots a gun and leaves versus what it is supposed to mean as a panda eats (bamboo) shoots and leaves.
In this sense then, Chen Miao Ping’s explanation is that without an exact definition, a teacher can explain and interpret that in many different ways based on how they are taught.
Without something more standardized like the education we have or the textbooks we use today (although that also differs by other factors, but just more generally), there’s too much room for interpretations.
Especially given that books and words were written mostly without punctuation, it’s really up to how the teacher interprets it.
Hence it’s very important in that era to belong under a teacher besides their networking (to pass on name and all that Chen Miao Ping had explained) and each teacher has their own, I guess, school of thought and that dictates under that group, the understanding of the texts and the knowledge a student would know.
And thus, this is one of the reasons why in the list of rankings, there would only be mostly those who have an association with higher status families because having the right teacher (and the tools + networking you would receive based on the status of the teacher) or being able to even have a chance to learn under a good teacher, even if you are average, determines almost everything.
This is especially so when the exams are biased in the Emperor’s and his ministers’ viewpoint, and the exams are less structured and more theory/thought based (kind of like an English class where you write an essay debating a point), which an example of this will come up soon!
*2 Tattoo carved on his face: Not quite the modern tattoo practice.
This is literally taking a knife and carving a word or words onto the face of the “criminal”, sometimes as deep as into the bone (which there is a story of where a guy wandering through some village found a pile of bones and he picked up a skull to look at it.
What he found was a carving etched into the skull of a word that signified this was a maid who ran away from her master).
Crimes can range from stealing, running away from the estate as a servant/escaping your responsibility, betrayal of the state, etc.
This is a very painful punishment, so much so that sometimes the person can die while the word(s) are carved into them.
It also depends on the dynasty on what the crime/word being carved on is, where and how.
TL’s tidbit corner:
(´；ω；`) To those who have left me and Plum your kind comments last chapter, I can’t really describe the feelings you have all evoked in me! ｡ﾟ･（>﹏<）･ﾟ｡ I may or may not have had a particularly bad day that day, and some of your comments just… You might be tired of this, but I can never be: I’m so very grateful for everyone who left a supporting comment for Plum and me and please know I treasure each comment very dearly! And even those silent readers and those that keep liking almost or every single chapter, seriously, please know I am very grateful for all of you.
I kind of have no words for what I’ve been feeling these past couple of days, but for something that I started on a whim, I just have to say thank you.
I had never expected so many people to have read this and enjoyed it for what it is (and I’m pretty happy that people like this story that I really like and wanted to share).
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