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"What? The Governor Mansion is about to become relatives with the Mingyi School? Governor Ma's daughter Ma Linglong will marry the White Blademaster Lu Shaoyou?"

No matter where you are in the world, the spread of rumor always runs neck and neck with the spread of news.

After entering Qinlingjun City and reporting in at the Wu clan central residency, Junior Leopard's group went to the Happiness Inn where they were staying. This inn was also part of the Wu's estate, and in the last month, due to the Wu's Selection Contest, every inn in Qinlingjun City was fully booked. The Happiness Inn owned by the Wu clan had already ceased doing business to the general public, and was responsible only for receiving disciples of Wu for the Selection Contest; this was the usual custom.

After returning from registering at the Wu's central residency, Junior Leopard's group was exhausted. As they still had 10 days until the Selection Contest began, everyone decided they should have a good rest, so that they could preserve and nurture their strength for the big day.

They had just arrived at the inn and were yet to finish eating their dinner when they heard this sensational news.

Junior Leopard usually just smiled at this kind of news. No matter Governor Ma or Mingyi School, they were both too far from his more pressing concerns for him to pay close attention.

But it was without a doubt that the spread of this sensational news would make waves, causing huge controversy. It would not only make waves amongst those who were directly concerned by it, but also among the lower ranks of the Jianghu, including those staying at the inn with Junior Leopard.

Junior Leopard did not care, but this did not mean that his companions shared his disinterest, and so their excited gossip naturally reached his ears too.

I don't get it, why do they all care so much about this? It sounds like they're fascinated by this gossip, but it's just a marriage after all, how could it have such a big impact?

Junior Leopard didn't quite understand. The reaction to the news of the marriage between the Ma family and Mingyi School, whether true or false, had revealed that such an affair was not a straightforward matter. He surmised that this news must reveal something about the general direction of Jin politics, and was worth pondering over.

Ma Tianchang was the Governor of Yunzhou, and the Emperor's trusted lieutenant and aide. But it was beyond doubt that even if he did not have this status, he would have still been able to sit stably as Governor of this divided state — his talent and competence was acknowledged by all, and in 10 short years he had transformed Yunzhou from an impoverished backwater into one of the most prosperous places in the land. He had resisted attacks from the north, opened new trade routes, the tax burden had been reduced and the population had increased dramatically… all of these things showed that he was a man of exceptional ability. But because of this, a series of problems had been set off in a chain reaction.

"The people of Yunzhou, they know the Governor Mansion but not the imperial court; they know Governor Ma, but do not know the Emperor."

Three years ago, these words were composed in a memorial written by an imperial official, hoping to use them to impeach Ma Tianchang. The release of this memorial was blocked by the Emperor, but it was mysteriously leaked, and soon spread far and wide. At that time, the Emperor was furious, and banished the official who penned those words to work as a prefectural judge in a remote part of the Northern Mountains. Ma Tianchang reported to the Emperor that he was guilty and had it repressed, however through this incident, people who were paying attention could see that beneath the amiable and united appearance of the Emperor and his officials, the first small crack had started to appear.

In fact, those who were paying attention knew that this crack must have existed for some time, but that official was merely the first unlucky enough to tumble through this crack. In other words, he was merely a pawn.

Right from the very beginning of Ma Tianchang taking office, everybody believed that the first thing this close aide of the Emperor had to deal with was Yunzhou's wealthy family, the Wu clan. The Wu clan had monopolized Yunzhou, including even the Jin's smelting business; they were not only rich enough to threaten the nation, but they even had the armies of Jin by the throat, as a large part of their standard weaponry and equipment was supplied by them.

Additionally, the Wu's acted as a vassal of the Tian Long Taoism.

Tian Long Taoism, despite being one of Jin's three great schools, did not have as harmonious a relationship with the imperial court as one might imagine; quite different to Mingyi School. Although they did not have an openly antagonistic relationship with the court like the Sect of Flame, they did not strive to uphold the orthodoxies of the Great Jin imperial court as the Mingyi School did either. Tian Long Taoism had close relationships with the wealthy families throughout the land, and often received tribute from them; these families were never so reverent to the imperial court. Because of this, the Jin court's enmity toward Tian Long Taoism was, in fact, often even deeper than it was toward the Sect of Flame. Even though the Sect of Flame was openly antagonistic to the imperial court, they could only incite ordinary commoners who were weak, easy to intimidate, and would only revolt as an absolute last resort, and certainly not be willing to risk their lives rising up out of conviction.

For many years, the Great Jin — while not having perfect conditions every year — had not suffered from any major catastrophes, and the last few Emperors were fairly accomplished, or at least competent enough. Because of this, the Sect of Flame had been unable to make any waves. But the Tian Long Taoism had mixed in with the wealthy and influential families, helping them train people of talent; and in recent years, a new generation of talent had emerged who were becoming bolder and more assertive. The well-known families were working together to control areas of land, and officials in some areas, if they did not pay their respects, were rendered unable to govern. There were even a few officials who had harmed the interests of the well-known families and turned up dead; this was not a rare occurrence, and although still in the early stages, if this trend was left to develop unchecked, and if there was an inexperienced Emperor on the throne, then it could reach a point where government decrees were powerless outside the capital city.

Of course, this was not to say that the well-known families would rise up in revolt, raise armies to sack the capital and make themselves Emperors; such a foolish thing would be only be the work of bastards!

This world had well-known families with a lineage stretching back millennia, but it was difficult to find imperial dynasties with such long and illustrious lineage!

True well-known families, would disdain to sit upon such a throne.

Because although the power of that throne was great, it was also extremely dangerous!

There had never been a dynastic change, in which the former dynasties' Royalty had not been eradicated root and branch, and their bloodline brought violently to an end. But nobody had ever heard of a well-known family which had disappeared as the result of a dynastic change. Even if they had backed the wrong side, at most they would just have to keep their heads down for a few decades, and would eventually recover their strength and continue to pass on the family bloodline.

well-known families were well-known families, and a true well-known family would never conspire for this kind of position, and certainly would never openly oppose the imperial court for the sake of profit; they would only struggle to maximize the family's benefit within the boundaries of the tacit acceptance of the court. The boundaries of this imperial court's acceptance were elastic, sometimes big and sometimes small.

And so a vicious circle had emerged. When Royalty was weak, the well-known families' influence would expand massively, and they would be able to dominate court administration, even usurping the Emperor's power as they tried to gain as much advantage as they possibly could; and when Royalty became strong again and was able to monopolize power, the well-known families would become silent and obedient, even sacrificing a lot of wealth in order to reach a compromise with the imperial court, so as to give the court no cause to tackle them.

Over countless years, there had been many mighty and heroic Emperors possessed of lofty aspirations and high ideals who had tried to repress the well-known families by hook or by crook, to weaken them or even wipe them out. But as soon as they tried to do this, the families would shrink back like tortoises shrinking their heads back into their thick shells, making them impossible to get at.

There had once been a powerful Emperor who had tried to enact brutal and bloody measures to senselessly put down and massacre these families; but in the end, this Emperor was killed in his own palace, poisoned by his most cherished concubine while eating soup. 20 years later, his court was wiped out, destroyed not by the well-known families but simply by a mob of commoners.

Nobody knew how strong these families would be if they united, but everyone understood that if all these families decided collectively to be rid of a dynasty, then no matter how heroic and mighty leaders that dynasty commanded, the end of its rule was inevitable.

The well-known families could tolerate their power being weakened, and could tolerate being suppressed; in their eyes, their power growing and shrinking was just heaven's law. If Royalty was strong, they would retreat; if Royalty was weak, they would advance. There had never been a dynasty who could guarantee that every Emperor would be mighty, and there had never been a well-known family who could guarantee that every generation had people of talent.

The general direction of the world was determined by the relationship between Royalty and the well-known families, endlessly pushing forward, as timeless yet unchanging as the stars in the night sky.

At present, the Kingdom of Jin was at a time in this cycle when Royalty was strong and the influence of well-known families had scaled back. However, although their influence was on a low ebb, this did not mean that they had abandoned their interests, and although the Royal family was strong, this did not mean that they were not working hard to claw back what they had lost.

Profit, only with strength could it be won!

The Jin Dynasty presently had the strength to vie for some of the profits which had belonged to those families, but how much could they get hold of was a question yet to be answered.

Ma Tianchang was a man of the court, who had come to Yunzhou to serve as Governor; naturally, it was expected that he would serve the imperial court in trying to extract a share of the profits of the big local families. As for the Wu family, as one of Yunzhou's well-known families and a vassal of the Tian Long Taoisms, it was naturally expected to be a target for suppression. So nobody had expected that upon arriving in Yunzhou, Ma Tianchang would do all he could to aid the Wu family. With his strong support, the influence of the Wu clan had skyrocketed over the last 10 years, and their strength had increased several times over, completely contrary to people's expectations. Because of this, most people believed that Ma Tianchang had already been bought by the well-known families, and this was why he was standing by their side. But what Ma Tianchang did next, astonished everybody; in the process of him joining hands with the Wu Clan, their strength had increased, but at the same time the advantages accrued from Yunzhou by the imperial court exceeded those garnered by the Wu clan. It was not just that the finances of Yunzhou were in good stead, but it had also became a key source of imperial finance, due to the fairs and trade routes which created by Yunzhou and the Northern Yuan. Every year they could contribute to 10,000 high-quality war horses to Jin, and in the last 10 years, the strength of Jin's cavalry had increased tenfold. Ma Tianchang had, through his actions, strengthened enormously Jin's military strength; he had served as Yunzhou's Governor for 10 years, and based on the news of this marriage, he intended to continue serving here.

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