March 3rd Qing Calendar, Dragon Rise.
Under the escort of the Jiangnan sailors, a large ship slowly edged close to the dock. Aboard the ship they dropped anchor and cast their mooring lines. The officers quickly completed their actions and immediately laid down the gangplank, which had been shaped like stairs, across the gap between the dock and deck. The officials on land went forward to spread a thick cloth over it to prevent slipping.
In the distant horizon, a roll of thunder sounded as if to welcome the arrival of the imperial envoy. At the same time, firecrackers and drums popped and rolled. The rocket prepared earlier on the shore was lit and went off with a bang and even managed to muffle the sound of heaven's might.
The officials on the dock furrowed their brows but were too embarrassed to cover their ears. They only swung their gazes toward the gangplank.
In a moment, a young official appeared on deck and led a group of guards silently off the ship before splitting into two lines.
In another moment, a young handsome official wearing purple official robes walked out with a slight smile. They saw he was wearing a white robe over official robes, which immediately dulled the eye-piercing purple. This attracted the gazes of the people on the dock to his warm, friendly, and delicate face.
Only officials above the third-level had the privilege of wearing purple official robes. The officials on the dock knew that the much-anticipated imperial envoy, Commissioner Fan, was the person before them. They instinctively shuffled two steps forward to align their feet and raised their hands in salute.
Fan Xian did not rush to stop the crowd saluting, instead he extended his hand to the side and grasped a small hand that extended from the air and led to a young boy standing shoulder to shoulder on the deck. Stepping on the ladder, they disembarked.
The little boy wore a light yellow robe. Fur peeked out from the top of the jacket's collar. The jacket was embroidered with cute but unknown beasts. Matched with the delicately beautiful face, and spirited eyes, he appeared very loveable.
The crowd of officials was startled. They knew this was the Third Prince the Emperor had chased away to Commissioner Fan's side. They quickly adjusted their directions and uniformly saluted the Third Prince. "Officials of Jiangnan Road greet Your Highness."
The Third Prince smiled and nodded. In a not yet matured voice he said, "Today is very cold, and you have all worked hard. I am just here with my teacher to learn. There is no need to be overly courteous."
Reminded by the words "my teacher," the officials quickly turned to Fan Xian again and saluted. Many things were said, such as, "Sir, must be tired after all the traveling," or "how about…"
Other than saluting, the they sneaked glances at the two males who had walked off the ship. They officials found that although the two were vastly different in age, their appearances were similar. Standing on the shore, the river wind blew and shifted the boys' clothing. They both exuded an air of high nobility as well as a rare sense of harmony and distance from the world.
The crowd couldn't help but begin to think that maybe the rumors about Commissioner Fan's past might very well be true. Their thoughts stopped there and apprehension grew in their hearts. They didn't know if saluting the Third Prince first had made Fan Xian unhappy. After all, he was the proper master, furthermore, he had the identity of an imperial envoy. In regards to court regulations, he was much more precious than a prince not yet fully grown.
Fan Xian did not think this much. He gazed at the unfamiliar faces of the officials on the docks and placed his friendliest smile on his face. Meeting them all with smiles, he worked hard to remember each of the officials' positions and names. He demonstrated the expected etiquette and self-confidence of a new political star.
Him bringing the prince to Jiangnan was an important event, and so there were many officials who had come to the court today to welcome them. Of the civil servants there were the direct officials of the inspector general of the government office and two groups of people each led by the Zhizhous of Suzhou and Hangzhou. The Zhizhous of a few provinces further away did not dare leave their territories to welcome them, but many local magistrates, litong, and other officials of similar rank in the provinces came. Furthermore, there were officials in charge of transport on the Jiangnan salt roads. Of the military servants, there were guards and other participants of the army. All the officials now under the direct command of Fan Xian's subordinates who managed the palace treasury transport were also present..
Added together, there were almost a hundred people. The majority of the Jiangnan parent officials were squeezed onto the dock. If Dongyi stole some of Third Bureau of the Overwatch Council's fire powder and made a few bangs here, the wealthiest region of the Qing Kingdom, Jiangnan, would probably be crippled in one day.
On the dock, Fan Xian met the officials with a slight smile. The problem was that their heads were close together and the court robes were mixed together. In the middle of winter, the stench of sweat was prominent. Face after unfamiliar but flattering face moved passed his eyes. How could he recognize who was who? These officials did not know how he truly felt. Seeing that the smile on Sir Fan junior's face had not lessened, they felt the gifts they had sent were working. They boldly squeezed toward Fan Xian and the Third Prince's side. No matter what, they had to exchange some greetings and become more familiar, otherwise how could they be worthy of all the money they sent out?
Officials of provinces and counties slightly further away from Jiangnan never had the opportunity to present gifts, so they were not as confident. They watched, with sideways glances of envy and jealousy from the outskirts of the crowd, as their colleagues endlessly fawned.
For the moment, the stench of fawn was unbearable. Fan Xian's smooth chin was stroked countless times. The situation was very lively. Gradually, what the officials said became unbearable, particularly those from the Zhizhou of Suzhou. They were people of the system from the Imperial College and insisted, due to his position as a siye in the Imperial College, on calling him Teacher Fan.
Fan Xian forced the irritation down in his heart and maintained that he was not worthy. What a joke, he was not yet 20 and was to be the teacher of a Zhizhou. Once this got back to Jingdou, the Emperor would probably die laughing! Held by his hand, the Third Prince endured the shameless talking beside him. He was also unhappy, thinking, Sir Fan junior is MY teacher. You doddering old men dare to take what is mine? The child finally could not take anymore and coughed. His face was cold.
The scene immediately quieted. The Zhizhou of Hangzhou was an old sly one who was quick to see an opportunity. Quietly happy that the Suzhou Zhizhou was humiliated, he said solemnly, "Today is very cold. I think we should quickly invite the imperial envoy and His Highness to rest."
Once the words went out, Fan Xian and the Third Prince felt great comfort. Simultaneously they glanced at the Hangzhou Zhizhou with appreciation in their eyes. Being swept by this gaze, the Hangzhou Zhizhou immediately felt his whole body warm and was very pleased, like he had just eaten a strand of ginseng.
Rest? It wasn't that easy. Even after the various officials retreated, the related honor guards still took a long time. Surrounded by officials, Fan Xian and the Third Prince headed toward a hill on the shore. There was a large bamboo canopy on the hill that looked fairly new, like it had been put up for the sole purpose of Fan Xian's visit.
Walking up the slope, there were two important officials in purple robes waiting respectfully outside of the bamboo canopy. When Fan Xian saw them, he pulled on the Third Prince's hand and hurried forward to show respect.
The identity of these officials were unlike the previous ones. One was the Governor of Jiangnan, Xue Qing, and the other was inspector general Dai Sicheng.
In the bureaucracy of the Qing Kingdom there was a saying: "One palace, two chief secretaries, three ministries, and seven roads." The one palace naturally referred to the imperial palace. The two chief secretaries who worked together handled government affairs. The three ministries were the Overwatch Council, Bureau of Military Affairs, and the Ministry of Education, except the Ministry of Education had been partitioned into the Imperial College, Tongwen Institute, and the Board of Rites in the first year of the Qing calendar.
The seven roads referred to how Qing Kingdom was split into seven major roads. The governor of each road inspected the land on behalf of the Emperor. Recently the jun level of administration between the road and province in the Qing Kingdom had gradually been phased out. Besides military affairs, the governor of a road began to directly control the counties and provinces in their territories. They had great power and were truly guardians of the borderlands.
Of course the Emperor would have to choose someone he trusted to taken on this important position, furthermore, the governor had to be an extremely capable person.
Compared to the fiery power of the governor, the inspector general was more politically based, but paled in significance next to the governor.
Based on position levels, the governor was a full second-level and the inspector-general was a low second-level; neither were particularly high levels. However, to help the governors of the seven roads focus on their governing and not be controlled by the Six Ministries, the rule had always been for the governor to also take on the position of Scholar, Imperial Censor of the Right, or Minister of War. This made him a low first-level official. Thus, when faced with the prime minister and chief secretaries, he had the necessary standing to weigh in.
Jiangnan was one of the most important regions in the Qing Kingdom. The current Jiangnan Governor, Xue Qing, was deeply trusted by the Emperor, thus he directly held the position of Grand Scholar, a true and proper full first-level super official.
Given Xue Qing's position, even Fan Xian and the Third Prince did not dare show irreverence, so they quickened their steps.
Once they reached the bamboo canopy, Fan Xian glanced at Xue Qing with a warm gaze but did not open his mouth to speak. These were the rules. Xue Qing and Dai Sicheng understood. The other party was an imperial envoy. No matter how powerful they were or how high their position, they would have to salute first. This was not to show respect to Fan Xian or prince, but to the Emperor.
They officials placed the incense burner table, invited forth the imperial edict, showed the sword, and then, under the canopy, fell to their knees. After completing the ceremony, Fan Xian quickly helped up the Xue Qing and then turned to help the inspector general. Only then did he lead the Third Prince in respectfully greeting Xue Qing.
With his position, Xue Qing could accept Fan Xian and the Third Prince's deep salutes. He did seem surprised that the legendary Commissioner Fan did not have any of the aloofness of young officials and literati, and was willing to smooth over the small things. Approval flashed through the Governor's eyes.
The inspector general stood to the side and quickly turned to return their greetings. Xue Qing would not stand around stupidly and allow these two "brothers" to finish their greetings. He had already warmly helped them up and said, "Sir Fan, you're treating us like strangers."
Fan Xian paused. Looking to his side it appeared the Third Prince was embarrassed to see Xue Qing, which was even more confusing.
Xue Qing smiled slightly and said, "Before I came to Jiangnan, I worked in the Cabinet of Official Papers. The so-called Scholar is not a complete lie. When His Third Highness was small, he would often play beside me…only, many years have passed and I don't know if Your Highness still remembers."
The Third Prince gave a pained laugh and re-greeted Xue Qing as a disciple. "Every year sir went back to the capital to report on his position, father would take me to your manor to greet you. How could I forget?"
Fan Xian was a bit confused. Thinking about it closely, he became more unsure about what that Emperor in Jingdou was thinking. He then heard Xue Qing say, "Speaking of which, Sir Fan and I have also met before."
Fan Xian couldn't try to curry favor from this official so he replied, "To be honest, Sir, I had no idea."
Xue Qing liked his straightforwardness and smiled, stroking his whiskers. "When I was passing my provincial level imperial exams, the examiner was Prime Minister Ling. To talk of generations, you should call me older brother."
Now Fan Xian understood what was happening. However, the other party was now the governor of a road. Those old memories were just to talk about. Furthermore, no matter how thick-skinned, black-hearted, and daring he was, he was too embarrassed to follow this pole up. To be brothers with the governor? Even though the power he held gave him the right, their ages and experiences seemed much too far apart.
A group of people rested under the canopy. Fan Xian and Xue Qing chatted about what he heard and saw along the way. Xue Qing furrowed his brows and asked again if the Emperor was well in the capital. All in all it was a bunch of superfluous rubbish, however, it did pull them a little closer and they became more familiar. Watching this official, Fan Xian found that there was a trace of undisguised worry on the quiet face. After a little thought, he understood why.
As the Jiangnan Governor, it was uncomfortable for a long term imperial envoy to suddenly appear in the territory, just as it would be for the governor of any road. Furthermore, this imperial envoy was taking over the palace treasury and would likely strike out at the nobility in the capital. Although the governor was powerful, had an important position, and was deeply trusted by the Emperor, being stuck in the middle was never a good place to be.
Xue Qing raised his tea cup and took a sip before saying nonchalantly, "Sir Fan junior will have to suffer a little for the next few years. Although His Majesty trusts, Jiangnan is still not Jingdou. Although it is wealthy, it is not somewhere to stay too long. Another two years and I'll be asking the Emperor if I can resign due to age. I'll go back to the capital and become a fisherman…to be able to be close to the Emperor is better than being in Jiangnan."
Fan Xian understood the meaning in his words and smiled. "Sir has worked hard and achieved much patrolling this area for the Emperor."
Xue Qing smiled slightly. "Have you decided where you are staying? There are many salt merchants in Suzhou. They are all willing to offer up their manors for you to choose from."
Everyone knew the salt merchants were wealthy. Fan Xian knew just how extravagant the manors they were offering up with both hands would be without needing to ask. Instead he changed the topic and said, "It would not be good to be such a disturbance. Once I return to the capital it will weigh on me." He spoke straightforwardly and caused Xue Qing to smile and think: The only downside to poets is that they hide everything do. Why didn't you hide when you were collecting money on the river?
Fan Xian asked, "I hope Sir will be able to tell me, for the past officials responsible for the transport of the palace treasury, what were the arrangements?"
Xue Qing looked at him in surprise. "Sir Fan, your identity cannot be compared to the palace treasury transport officials of the past. As to arrangements, the manor of the palace treasury is far away in the northeast, however, none of the officials have lived there in the past dozen years. To take your predecessor as an example, Sir Huang, he often lived in Xinyang."
Speaking of Xinyang, this Jiangnan Governor glanced casually at Fan Xian.
Fan Xian furrowed his eyebrows and said, "It is possible to not live in the manor arranged by the court?"
This words were puzzling and probing.
Xue Qing nodded.
Fan Xian smiled and said, "Not to hide anything from you, Sir. I've lived in Hangzhou this month, and it is my bad for not coming to Suzhou to visit you…but that manor was really very good. If I could choose, then I would like to live in Hangzhou."
Xue Qing was slightly startled. He hadn't expected the other party to raise the idea of living in Hangzhou. He met Fan Xian's eyes with a period of silence, as if guessing if this popular young official was telling the truth. The manor of the Jiangnan Governor was in Suzhou, and he most feared Fan Xian also staying in Suzhou. Not taking into account interfering with government affairs, a situation where both parties were equally powerful would cause headaches for all of the Jiangnan Road officials and be a great obstruction to handling his own affairs.
He watched Fan Xian's sincere expression and a strange look flashed through his eyes. He smiled slightly and said, "Naturally that is fine. Sir Fan may live wherever you wish."
Fan Xian chuckled. "Of course, even if I live in Hangzhou, I'll have to come to Suzhou to trouble you plenty for a few meals. I've heard that you have a famous Northern Qi chef, and all the Jingdou people are very jealous. I hope to have the good fortune to try it."
Governor Xue laughed out loud. "I like these things. I didn't think Sir Fan was of the same mind. Why wait until the future? My colleagues have prepared a welcome banquet, and we will gather in Jiangnan. Tomorrow, I will invite you to my house to sit for a while."
Having received Fan Xian's implicit promise to not interfere with his business, the Jiangnan Governor began to relax.
Their oud laughs spread inside and outside of the bamboo canopy. The Jiangnan officials followed the laugh with their gaze to see the governor and commissioner talking and laughing. After they relaxed, they were secretly admiring and thinking that indeed Sir Fan junior was unlike ordinary people. The tense situation officials were so secretly afraid of did not happen. Who knew what he said to make the governor so happy?
They saw Fan Xian lean toward the governor's ear and gently said a few sentences. After a moment of slight surprise, Xue Qing's expression immediately became serious and he nodded his head with slight anger. With a cold sneer he said, "Sir Fan has thought too much. You don't need to watch my face. These people…most days I remember the Emperor being kind and so have endured it for now. Your discussion thus is reasonable."
Having received his nod, Fan Xian knew he was repaying the favor of him not staying in Suzhou and thanked him sincerely before slowly standing.
As Fan Xian rose, there was instant silence under the canopy. The sun shone through the bamboo canopy onto the lake, scattering the light. The lake's wind was slightly cold, and there was a sense of solemness in the air.
Everyone looked him, not knowing how this imperial envoy's speech about assuming the post would start.
"I am someone who does not play his cards the normal play." Fan Xian looked around at the officials and smiled. "Although I have not worked with you before, I have a little fame and think everyone knows a little bit. My personality, when put nicely, often does not follow conventions. To put it badly, I am something of a troublemaker and a young man who doesn't understand the gravity of things."
The officials laughed and agreed that the imperial envoy spoke with humor and was humble.
Fan Xian said, not at all humbly, "I won't need to say those conventional things. The Emperor is well, so no need for everyone to ask. The empress dowager is healthy. The capital is harmonious. Thus, we will not need to spend any more time on these topics. However, everyone will soon have great trust placed in them by the court to govern Jiangnan, an important place. The taxation from these years are all here. The people and cities I saw along the way were not false. I will also not need to bring up the good work and hard work…"
The Jiangnan officials knew that Fan Xian had investigated secretly along the way. Hearing these words, they all let out a breath. They hoped that Fan Xian would say a bit more, ideally about his secret memorial to the Emperor.
Unexpectedly, Fan Xian changed the topic.
"I will not talk about the good things. I will instead talk about what everyone has done wrong." Fan Xian's face continued to wear a slight smile, but a chill began to grow under the canopy. "It is perhaps a little ungenerous, but I will still talk about it. Why? Because it seems like everyone has forgotten my birth."
Fan Xian's birth? Wasn't he the immortal poet, proctor of the imperial exam, Taichang Temple, or was it the dark and gloomy Overwatch Council? All the officials felt their heart jump and didn't know what he was going to say next. We've all given enough silver, what more do you want? The Overwatch Council can't bully people like this!
"I came over land, along Shazhou and Hangzhou, but the ship sailed on the Yangtze River." Fan Xian narrowed his eyes. "I heard that the Great River was a silver river. Everyone sent plenty of silver and gifts onto the ship and forced many laborers to haul the ship. I understand here, in my heart, everyone's generous friendship…only, such open bribery is admirable…everyone, you are very daring!"
Without waiting for the officials to speak, Fan Xian turned around and bowed to the Jiangnan Governor Xue Qing. He smiled slightly and said, "When you saw me today, you were greatly angry and scolded me to my face. I couldn't help feeling terrified and did not understand why. Fortunately, you sympathized with my ignorance and told me the truth. Only then did I know that everyone had gone behind my back…and done something so daring."
His voice grew gradually louder, and he coldly smiled. "The Overwatch Council supervises the governance of the entire country, and the ones we capture are the corrupt officials. Yet, everyone dared to send gifts and bribes. Perhaps you think now that I have left Jingdou, this knife in my hand cannot kill anymore?"
The officials stared dumbfoundedly. They were shocked into speechlessness by Fan Xian's words. They shot pleading gazes toward the governor to discover that the he was stroking his whiskers deep in thought, seemingly to have put himself out of the situation.
It was only now that the officials realized that Fan Xian's earlier words, saying that these officials along the river had given gifts behind his back, was to easily remove himself from the situation. He also took the opportunity to say that the governor was very angry and thus absolved him of all involvement. He had also capped the governor as a figure unafraid to stand against important people as well as a noble character of unquestionable integrity.
Giving gifts along the river? Your subordinates didn't decline either! The communication channels of the Overwatch Council were very smooth. Even if you were in Hangzhou how could you not know? However, at this moment, Fan Xian insisted that he did not know anything, and, of course, the Jiangnan Road officials could not clash with him. They could only swallow this massive misfortune. The looks they gave Fan Xian again were not quite right anymore. This Commissioner Fan was indeed like the rumors had said. A warm and harmless, delicate and smiling face hid shamelessness, vulgarity, and ruthlessness.
The officials didn't know what Fan Xian was going to do next. The instinctively stood up and stared in a daze.
They saw him clap his hands. The sound traveled out of the canopy. An official of the Overwatch Council walked off the ship from Jingdou with a thick stack of gift lists. If the list was this thick, then the gifts on the ship must be like a small mountain.
Fan Xian turned around to ask the governor something. Xue Qing smiled slightly looking at the scene before him. He waved his hand to signal the bailiffs of the yamen to follow the official of the Overwatch Council onboard the ship. Not long after, the bailiffs carefully and with great effort pulled a number of giant chests off the ship and brought them to the bamboo canopy.
The chests were opened to show sparkling gold. The gold and precious goods inside were beyond calculating. It was all gifts from the officials along the river.
It was breezy within the canopy, so there was a fire pit. Fan Xian took over the list his subordinate handed him and roughly flipped through a few pages. His eyebrow twitched. "There really is a lot."
The officials felt equal measures of shame and anger. Their thoughts wandered: This imperial envoy was too unkind when handling matters, fabricating crimes. It was truly disgusting. Was he going to punish all the officials? Do you want to wipe out the entire Jiangnan bureaucracy? The governor couldn't keep watching the show and thought: You broke the rules and offended the Jiangnan officials, let's see how you will wrap all this up later.
Who could have guessed Fan Xian's next move would have the officials staring so hard their eyes almost fell out? They saw him casually toss out his hand and threw the thick list into the fire pit. The fire immediately grew, and the list of gifts that were evidence of the officials' bribery quickly became ash.
Fan Xian stood by the fire pit and was silent for a moment before saying, "Don't think I am using a childish trick to win your hearts. You are not that stupid, and I am not that foolish. I have burned these as a warning to you all and to offer an out."
He placed his hands behind his back and a trace of unswerving determination flashed across his face. "I am the commissioner of the Overwatch Council. I do not need to sell you face. What I am here to do in Jiangnan also does not need your cooperation. Thus, I hope everyone is alert. If similar things happen in the future, do not blame me for capturing people without mercy."
The Overwatch Council was able to investigate any official below third-level, he dared to say this because he had the courage. As for the question of face, his identity was too special, more special than any other court official, so he indeed didn't have to sell it. As for the question of cooperation in later days…without face, would the Jiangnan officials dare to secretly clash with the commissioner?
"Later, after the welcome feast, everyone take back the money in these chests." Fan Xian furrowed his brows. "What should be returned has all been returned. As for the labor of the commoners, it will be converted into wages. If those poor counties cannot raise the money right now, send a notice to me. I have enough silver for this."
The officials were helpless and acknowledged his words with their heads down.
Suddenly the crane on the Suzhou dock began to move. This new plaything from 20 years ago could carry the heaviest loads. They watched as the crane extended onto the ship from the capital and slowly lowered a large chest down. No one knew what was in this chest that made it so heavy the metal rope of the crane quivered with the strain.
Fan Xian had checked the numbers earlier. He knew that the Suzhou port was a large dock responsible for sending out goods from the palace treasury and had this hoisting capability, so was not very worried. However, the officials who had just been scared by him were scared again.
Once that massive chest had been lifted to the shore, it took another dozen people to push it with great difficulty to the hill and straight into the bamboo canopy. An Overwatch Council official respectfully reported, "Commissioner, the chest as arrived."
Fan Xian walked to the side of the chest. The outside of it was wrapped in wicker, but the inside seemed to be made of metal.
The officials were all confused. What kind of game is he playing at now? At this moment, even Governor Xue Qing and inspector general Dai Sicheng became interested and walked up to see exactly what treasure was hidden inside.
Fan Xian took out the key from his chest and lifted up the lid.
It was the same as when Guan Wumei[JW2] saw the contents of the chest for the first time. After the flash of silver under the canopy, the eyes of the officials were a little dazed…silver. Inside was full of brilliant, eye-catching silver. Who knew how many silver ingots there were lined up neatly inside the chest? In reality, the previous chests of gifts were probably not any less valuable than this chest of silver ingots, however, since ancient times, people have become accustomed to using silver. For this much silver to suddenly appear before them, this kind of attack on the senses was too intoxicating.
After a while, the crowd reluctantly withdrew their gazes from the chest. They watched Fan Xian, waiting for the next step of his performance.
"This chest of silver has come with me from Jingdou to Jiangnan. In the future, no matter where I am located, I will always have this chest of silver," Fan Xian said evenly. "Why? This is to tell various officials, I have silver. I'm not afraid you will laugh. I, Fan An Zhi, am someone who was born with a golden key in his mouth. Anyone who wishes to use money as a weapon to bribe me, forget about it now."
He continued coldly. "This trip to Jiangnan, I am investigating the matter of your silver. I will not interfere in any politics. However, if anyone is bribing or being bribed, any who are corrupt and take advantage of the people, don't blame me for being ruthless."
"There was a person of virtue in an older generation who deeply understood the terrible consequences of corrupt governance. So he brought hundreds of coffins with him, saying that even if he had to kill all of the corrupt officials he would stop this noxious influence." Fan Xian said slowly, "I am not someone who likes to kill people, so I did not bring coffins, I only brought silver."
The officials were silent and scared.
"There are exactly 138,880 liang of silver in the chest. I will say something here, before all the officials and seniors who have come to welcome me. Jiangnan is populous and affluent. I cannot promise how much of this silver will be used on the lives of the people, but I promise, when I leave Jiangnan, there will not be a single extra liang in this chest!"
Fan Xian swept his gaze over those of the officials. "I hope everyone here will remember that."
After this performance, one part of the welcoming reception on the docks came to an end. Fan Xian sat back in his chair and felt the goosebumps rising on his arms. He was glad that he hadn't let his mouth run away from him earlier and said something deep and resounding that was bold and visionary.
The study of the Governor's manor was completely silent.
A first-level official, Jiangnan Governor Xue Qing sat in the imperial tutor's chair in the middle and a small smile rose on his face. Beside him sat two advisors that had followed him for many years. One of the advisors shook his head and sighed, "I didn't expect this imperial envoy to be so good at raising trouble."
The other advisor furrowed his brows. "I don't understand. By doing this, Sir Fan junior completely swept away the face of the Jiangnan officials. Although with his identity, naturally he does not fear this. However, it does seem as if he isn't mature enough."
Xue Qing smiled slightly. "Both of you think his display was a little affected?"
The two advisor's met each other's eyes and nodded.
Governor Xue sighed. "Young people, they always have a desire for performance."
One of the advisor's carefully asked, "What does Sir think of this Sir Fan junior?"
Xue Qing paused. He thought for a moment before replying. "A clever man, a very clever man. He is someone to befriend…to befriend well."
The advisors were a bit confused, thinking that it didn't seem to align with their earlier conclusion.
Xue Qing smiled self-deprecatingly. "So what if it was affected? How many commoners under heaven were able to see the scene at the time? How will those officials in Jingdou know the true situation of this month? Rumors are just rumors, passed from person to person, mouth to mouth. There will always be some unconscious adjusting to the truth so it better aligns with one's biases."
"Sir Fan junior has an excellent reputation among the people. Naturally the commoners will spare no effort to spread this news. Because of their affection for him, even if Sir Fan junior had done something inappropriate, it will be removed in the telling and sidelined. As for those scenes of not fearing the bureaucratic and long-established corrupt practices, of scolding the officials to their face, will naturally be exaggerated greatly…"
The governor gave a pleased laugh. "A chest with 100,000 liang, sailing down Suzhou. Before long, this will probably be another story in our Qing court. These people of the Overwatch Council have indeed some spirited quick wit."
The other advisor was still confused. "Since he is a clever man, there were clearly better ways to solve today's issue. Why would Sir Fan junior choose such an intense and absurd method?"
Governor Xue Qing looked at him and smirked. "What do you know?"
He closed his mouth and didn't continue to explain. There were some things that even his closest advisors should not know. Fan Xian flashed his sword today and offended all the officials. Wasn't it all because he wanted to show his sincerity to me, the governor? The other party took the initiative and explicitly stated he was going to live in Hangzhou, which meant he deeply understood the three rules of bureaucracy. Now that he had scared the officials, they would not surround him, thus, the governor was still the foremost figure.
Xue Qing suddenly thought of another matter, and he unconsciously frowned. His estimation of Fan Xian just rose another level—the display the young official put on today was perhaps not just as simple as showing him his sincerity—with the imperial examinations approaching Jiangnan, it seemed like Fan Xian wished he could offend all the officials under heaven. The court officials had seen clearly these two years. Fan Xian had not even bothered to maintain his father-in-law's relations from before, he…he…he was going to be an isolated official?
As a trusted confidant of the Emperor, Xue Qing had many eyes and ears at court. He knew the rumors about Fan Xian's past were true. Once he thought of Fan Xian's past, he immediately understood why the other party was set on being an isolated official.
It was preventing taboo.
Xue Qing sighed and shook his head. Everyone worked hard, both in body and mind. It seemed like he should interact more with this young Commissioner Fan for the future of Jiangnan.
The warm afternoon sun slightly dispersed the initial spring chill. The people of Suzhou were sitting in tea houses drinking tea and chatting. They were too wealthy—wealthy to the point they had too much leisure time and enjoyed passing the time in tea houses. Since such a big thing had happened in the city today, saliva and tea water both boiled in the tea houses.
Everyone discussed the arrival of the imperial envoy, the world famous Commissioner Fan.
"Have you heard? Those officials' faces were all scared green." A middle-aged merchant chuckled. The people always were happy to watch officials be humiliated.
Another person shook his head and sighed, "A pity it was still a case of turning big problems into small ones, and small problems into no problems. I think that if the imperial envoy truly pitied the people, he should throw all those corrupt officials into jail."
"What stupidity!" The middle-aged merchant from earlier laughed at him mockingly. "If all the officials are in jail, who will try cases? Who will handle business? Sir Fan junior is a prodigy and plans far ahead. How could he be like us and not know the seriousness of a matter? This is called a deliberate show of strength as a warning. You just watch, the best is yet to come. I think the Jiangnan Road officials are about to truly taste the power of the Overwatch Council."
That person nodded and agreed. "That is true. Fortunately, the Emperor is wise and has sent the commissioner to Jiangnan."
The merchant lowered his voice and smiled. "It should be, the Emperor was wise to have had the commissioner."
The tea table instantly became silent. A moment later, it exploded with a light laugh of tacit mutual understanding. In the end that merchant said, "Earlier, the guy from my shop went to the dock to see…the commissioner really is ruthless. Those subordinates who took the boat down the river were each given 30 lashes."
The man opposite righteously replied, "This is the right thing to do. Although it was the subordinates who went behind Sir Fan junior's back to collect silver, the offense is already done. Since they silver has been returned and the list of gifts burned, it would not be right to punish them. However, if he is not severe with his subordinates, how will the Jiangnan Road officials be satisfied? I went to see earlier. That whip really came down ruthlessly. Each whip seemed like it was going to take chunks of flesh with it. It was all bloody and rather scary."
In the manor of a salt merchant that the imperial envoy was temporarily borrowing, a miserable howl came from a side room.
Fan Xian looked at his trusted aides lined up in order and the strips of whip marks on their backs. He placed medicine on the table. He jokingly scolded, "I'm not rubbing it in for you anymore. I'm being sympathetic, but you are all howling miserably. Why didn't you yell miserably when you were being whipped? You're not afraid people will get suspicious?"
Su Wenmao lowered his head miserably and said, "We have to save face for Sir. Of course we can't tell from a few lashes…but Sir, is there a problem with your medicine? How come the more you put on the more it hurts?"
Fan Xian smiled and said, "The whipping was so light, of course you need to suffer a little right now!"
He rose and left. As he walked he shook his head thinking that sometimes what Wanli said was very accurate. He was not a good official, and he didn't have the face to ask that his subordinates were honest officials. It was not easy twisting both the top and bottom beam.
[JW1]Also translated as Dragon Head Raising Festival.
[JW2]Original text said "苏妩媚"– Su Wumei, which is a typo.