Chapter 5: Battle Over the Heir Apparent
- Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of King Yang of Chu6
In the nineteenth year of Xiande, the King passed away. As this was the King, this was a significant event. Prior to the King’s death, we members of the Hanlin Academy had completed the bibliography detailing all of the works to be collected in the Palace of Sublime Culture and submitted for His Majesty’s perusal. While he was not able to witness the completion of the palace, the King should have died without any regrets.
Without any controversy, Crown Prince Zhao Jia ascended to the throne, followed by setting a new era name and to issue a nationwide amnesty. The Hanlin Academy became awfully7 busy. There were also some important matters that we lowly ranked officials could not freely discuss, but still worried about; matters such as the appointing the Queen and heir apparent. There was no dissension about the choice for the Queen. Although Princess Changle had long lived in the secondary royal residence on the outskirts of the city to heal and had not conscientiously performed her duties, but as Southern Chu was a vassal of Great Yong and Princess Changle was the Crown Princess, she ultimately successfully took control of the harem. But the matter of appointing the heir apparent was a thorny issue. Princess Changle had no son. Although she was only nineteen years old, she had long been ill after suffering the miscarriage. Many were skeptical that she would be able to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Without an heir apparent, the state would not be peaceful. Therefore, the officials all wished that a crown prince be named. Zhao Jia had four sons and seven daughters. As Princess Changle had dispatched the court ladies from her dowry to attend to the Crown Prince Zhao Jia, most of his children were born of ladies from Yong. This raised the disapproval of the influential and powerful figures within the royal court. Thankfully, two years, the former King had married the Prime Minister’s daughter, Shang Zhilan, to the Crown Prince as his second wife. Although Zhao Jia especially favored the ladies of Yong, Consort Shang still became pregnant and gave birth to third son, Zhao Long. In the eyes of the ranking court officials, if it was a child of Princess Changle, then the child was naturally worthy of respect and honor, but the children of the ladies from Yong were not sufficiently pure. Therefore, they all requested that Zhao Long be named heir apparent.
Although King Zhao Jia was extremely lecherous, he was still an intelligent individual. He naturally understood that the ranking officials were correct on this matter. Though he did not particularly like Lady Shang, he still named her a Noble Consort. He also agreed to name Zhao Long as heir apparent. But Princess Changle became furious, quarreling with the King. She returned alone back to the secondary royal residence on the outskirts of the capital. This put the King in a tough spot.8 Although he and Princess Changle were more frequently separated than together, but the princess was virtuous, allowing the court ladies from her dowry to attend to him. In addition, Princess Changle would frequently even select additional beauties to enter the harem. Therefore, he was extremely respectful, and perhaps even a bit fearful, towards her. In addition, that the endorsements towards Lady Shang being predicated upon her status as a native-born daughter could not brought to the surface. With no options, Zhao Jia temporarily halted plans to name an heir apparent. He hinted to the court officials that unless they were able to convince the Queen, an heir apparent could not be named.
This was extremely difficult for the court officials to do. After being married to Southern Chu, Princess Changle had spent significant time at the secondary royal residence on the outskirts of the capital. Even if the court officials had the will to curry favor with her, there was no way to do so. As for the court ladies close to the Princess, almost all of them were now concubines much favored by the King. As their sons had no chance to become the heir apparent, they already resented the meddling of the court officials and were unlikely to make any attempt to convince the Princess. Ultimately, everyone’s eyes fell on one person – Liang Wan.
Liang Wan was not only a close friend of the Princess, but also the adopted daughter of the former King. As she was unable to find a worthy husband, she maintained good relations with all of the outstanding civil and military talents in Southern Chu. Reasonably speaking, she was the perfect lobbyist, but she refused. As a result, the usually tranquil Bright Moon Pavilion saw heavy traffic9 come to and fro.
Under these circumstances, I once again came to the Bright Moon Pavilion. I originally did not want to come, but I had received an invitation from Liang Wan. Though I had no intentions towards her, delusional imaginations were hard to avoid. Furthermore, to directly reject her invitation would be discourteous.
I entered the pavilion and skirted the green pond. Pear trees were planted in front of the building. As it was the fourth month, the pear trees had blossomed. The petals were like the clouds and snow. Breathing in deeply, one could sense a delicate fragrance that gladdened the heart and refreshed the mind.10 Towards the female attendant guiding me, I asked, “Young lady, for what purpose has Lady Liang requested my presence?”
The attendant wittily replied, “You will have to ask my Lady. I am only a lowly serving girl and wouldn’t know. This servant dare not accept daren’s courtesy.”
I solemnly replied, “It is commonly said that the prime minister’s servants have a rank equal to that of a qipin11 rated official. Lady Liang is the former King’s adopted daughter and is a good friend of the Queen. Her power and influence probably even surpasses that of the Prime Minister. If we speak thusly, then your rank is at least of liupin12. This lowly official’s13 rank is merely rated at cong liupin,14 thus I have to be courteous.”
Staring blankly for a moment, the female attendant giggled. In a low voice, she said, “This servant has heard my lady tell the Prime Minister that the only person who can convince the Queen is daren.”
I stared blankly. When did I, a mere Hanlin Academy Senior Compiler, become able to convince a stately princess of Great Yong, the current Queen of Southern Chu? Half-believing the attendant’s words, I entered the building. I immediately caught sight of the presence of the Prime Minister and the Hanlin Academy Chancellor in the seats of honor, accompanied on the side by Liang Wan. I almost turned and ran, but realized that was not possible. Respectfully, I performed a salute and said, “This lowly official greets the Prime Minister and the Academy Chancellor.”
Prime Minister Shang Weijun nodded his head and said, “Good, good. I have heard Xie daren say that you are hardworking and will soon be promote, definitely a pillar of the state. Lady Liang, the person you asked for has come. Lady has said before that Academician Jiang can convince the Queen. How is this possible?”
I immediately turned to regard Liang Wan. We had no grudges past or present. Why would she conspire to entrap me? Under the gaze of her three guests, Liang Wan took a sip of a cup of fragrant tea before replying, “Speaking from the heart, your servant15 hails from Great Yong. Everyone understands the real reason behind all the discussion regarding naming an heir apparent. How can the Queen not understand? She has angrily left the royal palace and is now currently full of grievances. This servant has been favored by the Princess and is treated as a sister by her. If I were to convince her to accept the wishes of the King and the officials, would that not chill her heart? When the time comes, even if the Princess were to yield ground, there is no way that she would agree. Therefore, I, Liang Wan, definitely cannot go to convince her. But this servant has received the former King’s favor and am extremely grateful. I cannot, in good conscience, allow him to be unable to rest peacefully in the beyond. I must, therefore, intercede with all of my ability. Thinking matters over, I remembered that ever since the Princess arrived in Southern Chu, she has loved poetic verse. She would read them daily without rest. She regrets being unable to meet the poetic masters of the past as they have long since passed. But today, there is a comparable master of the verse in Southern Chu’s zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe. Not only are Jiang Zhe’s poems heartrendingly beautiful, but both she and he and are in Southern Chu. She constantly wishes to meet him, but cannot due to the necessary separation between sovereign and vassal, and separation of the genders. She considers this to be one of her life’s regrets. This servant believes that if Jiang Zhe is granted an audience with the Queen to fulfill her long-cherished wish, and Jiang Zhe lobbies the Queen, she may be moved to agree.”
I almost fainted. Am I an idiot? I am but a lowly zhuangyuan. In the eyes of the Queen, I am but a lowly courtier. How can I influence her? I urgently turned to look at the Prime Minister, hoping that he would stop this nonsensical thinking. But my hopes were dashed. The old bastard, Shang Weijun, had a look of deep contemplation on his features, while the Academy Chancellor nodded his head. As a result, I did not even have the chance to refuse before I was hauled aboard the carriage by Liang Wan to travel to the secondary royal residence.
On the way, I turned to face Liang Wan and asked, “Lady Liang, has this lowly official ever offended you?”
I took a look after accepting the book. It was definitely a handwritten copy of verses, each of the small characters extremely beautiful and graceful. Opening to the first page was the poem, the Patterned Zither.21
“Mere chance that the patterned lute has fifty strings.
Zhuangzi dreams at sunrise that a butterfly lost its way,
The moon is full on the vast sea, a tear on the pearl.
Did it wait this mood, to mature with hindsight?
In a trance from the beginning, then as now.”
These verses that I recited was from a poem that I written at the age of fifteen upon the passing of my father. At the time, my father was dying. He gazed unceasingly at a painting of my mother, sometimes muttering, sometimes laughing lightly, but mostly there was faint sadness. Faint, because he was about to see my mother. As a result, there was happiness in his sorrow. For this reason, I did not force my father to drink the bitter medicine. Since there no way to prevent my father from dying, there was no point for me to force him to continue to endure seemingly endless suffering. I remember one night, kneeling before my father’s deathbed, promising that I would be able to take care of myself. With a gratified look, my father stopped breathing. The expression on his face was peaceful. I could help but begin to cry heavily. It wasn’t until today that I finally realized how painful it was to lose my father.
Seeing my tears, Princess Changle could not sit still. Raising her head, she gave Liang Wan a look. Acknowledging the look, Liang Wan turned to me and offered a handkerchief.
Wiping away the tears, I smiled faintly and spoke, “I have ridiculed myself before Your Majesty. This poem was written by this vassal when my father passed away. In life, my parents were extremely affectionate. When my mother passed, my father found it difficult to accept. On his deathbed, his mood became calm, for he knew that he was going to see my mother. I did not realize that the Princess would have a copy here.”
Softly, Princess Changle replied, “When we celebrated reaching adulthood, someone brought this poem to us from Southern Chu. At the time, we did not know who Jiang Zhe was. When we later came to Southern Chu, I heard and liked the Recollections Under the Moon very much. From the Crown Prince, I learned that it was a masterpiece by the zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe. From that point on, we have had older sister Wan’er to help me collect zhuangyuan’s poems. Over these years living deep within the royal palace, I have read zhuangyuan’s poems to relieve my melancholy.
Kneeling, I said, “For this vassal’s poems to receive Your Majesty’s appreciation is this vassal’s fortune.”
Seeing that I had calmed down, she asked, “We like this poem, the Patterned Zither, very much. But we do not understand the verse: ‘on Blue Mountain the sun warms, a smoke issues from the jade.’ Do jade from the blue mountain emit smoke when exposed to sunlight?”
With a smile on my face, I replied, “This verse originates in a saying by the late Tang Dynasty poet, Sikong Tu, who said, “Dai Shulun once said that the scene presented by a poet is like the smoke which issues from fine jade when the sun is warm on Blue Mountain; it can be seen from a distance but not from up close.”
In a flash, Princess Changle understood, replying “So that is why. We understand. We wonder if the zhuangyuanhas any new poetry to share?”
After thinking it over, I replied, “This vassal has been busy in recent days with official business and have not composed any worthy verses. If Your Majesty does not mind, please allow this vassal to record a verse that I playfully composed.”
Extremely happy, Princess Changle called for an attendant to grind the inkstick against an inkstone. On a nearby table, I used the four treasures of the study to write out the topic of the poem: ‘Moving in the spring to Willow Manor to listen to the warblers.’ I continued by writing down the poem verse by verse:
‘The return of spring brings heaven harmony between rain and smoke,
Several days under shady trees to restore one’s delicate color,
Flying to come along the journey through the clear skies,
Rising in spirals, the wind blows open the jade curtains,
From morning, the sounds of sunset seem opportune,
A few strands vaguely bewilder the Han gardens,
But to hold appeal and leisurely listen to each other,
Pampered and smooth like pearls, born with a base tongue,
Under the concentrated lights one quickly sees the truth of receiving life,
To consider shadows but to suspect the intermittent sounds of the voice,
By what means are we to entertain the appearance of a general today,
To fall down before the greatest respect to forward gold flat baskets.’22
Walking forward, Princess Changle recited the verses in a low voice. After some time, she said, “The gifted scholars of Southern Chu are really extraordinary. We have read it and the articulation is excellent.”
Seeing that Princess Changle was tired, I replied, bidding my farewell, “The Queen must be tired. This vassal dares not stay and wishes to bid my farewell. May the Queen please take care of yourself.”
Smiling lightly, Princess Changle replied, “Thank you. Liang Wan, please escort the daren out.”
Answering in the affirmative, Liang Wan came over and led me out. After we had gone far, she suddenly stopped, coldly asking, “Jiang daren, did you forget something?”
Freezing momentarily, I suddenly remembered that I was to lobby the Queen over the issue of the heir apparent. Thinking it over, I indifferently replied, “Why has Lady Liang spoken in such a manner? Whether I lobbied or not is of no importance.”
Angrily, she replied, “What? Do you vassals of Southern Chu think the Princess can be bullied?”
Seeing through the bewilderment in her eyes, but made no effort to conceal anything and replied, “Surely Lady Liang must understand. The issue over naming an heir apparent has already been decided. The Queen understand this fact. To so readily agree would be to harm the prestige of Great Yong.”
Her complexion heavy, she asked, “What are you bullshitting about?”
Thinking it over, rather than allowing her to think that I was easily manipulated, it was better for her to realize that I was difficult to deal with, forcing her to remain at a respectful distance23 and preventing her from harming me in the future. Therefore, using a barely discernable voice, I replied, “For the Princess of Great Yong to be wed to Southern Chu was originally not something she did willingly. Therefore, the Queen cares little about winning the favor of the King. The Yong Emperor sent so many beautiful women as part of the dowry for the sole purpose of confusing the King and prevent the Queen from having to deal with a husband she does not like. As for Lady Liang, able to easily employ money and power to further your goals, are the perfect person to command Great Yong’s spies in Southern Chu. My lady is in a unique and subtle position, and are able to act with impunity. If the Princess were to handle this matter, it would be difficult for her to prevent others from finding out. To Great Yong, the Princess has already fulfilled her duties by being wed to Southern Chu.”
Although Liang Wan made an effort to remain cool at any cost, her face paled and her eyes emitted a cold light.
Hurriedly, I continued, “This lowly official is no more than a member of the Hanlin Academy. I have never shown and am disinclined to show an interest in these matters of state. But for my lady to involve me is not an intelligent decision. If something were to happen to this lowly official, it would be hard to prevent people from harboring suspicions regarding my lady’s motives.”
Freezing momentarily, her face gradually regained its color, sweetly saying, “The Queen loves daren’s poems. From now on, once in a while, this servant15 will send someone to daren’s home to fetch your latest works. Surely, darenwould be unlikely to refuse.”
Calmly, I replied, “This lowly official comes from a poor background and do not have an official residence. I merely rent a house near the Hanlin Academy. Under ordinary circumstances, if my lady were to send someone to my home, they would be unable to find this lowly official. If my lady does not mind, this lowly official would be willing to send my new verses to the Bright Moon Pavilion to pass along to the Queen.”
Liang Wan regarded me with an admiringly look before she said, “Okay. This servant still has to return to lobby the Queen. The carriage has been prepared. They will take daren to the Prime Minister’s residence to report on the mission.”
I respectfully thanked her before boarding the carriage and departing.
Late at night, I returned without incident to the city. Arriving at the Prime Minister’s residence, I told the extremely worried Shang Weijun the truth about what had transpired, “This lowly official was granted an audience with the Queen. Her Majesty does indeed like this lowly official’s poetry very much, asking many questions regarding poetic verse. This lowly official’s tongue is clumsy and did not know how to lobby the Queen. The Queen later became tired and this lowly official could only depart. Afterwards, Lady Liang told this lowly official that she knew that I could not say anything. Her Majesty wished for this lowly official to alleviate the Queen’s melancholy in order. The Queen is highly principled and long ago understood that only one person can be named the heir apparent. Annoyed, Her Majesty could not easily change her mind. Taking advantage of her cheerful mood, Lady Liang should be able to convince Her Majesty to change her mind. But Lady Liang also said that the King must personally go to bring the Queen in order for Her Majesty to be able to back off.”
Filled with happiness, Shang Weijun replied, “Good, good. Academician Jiang is definitely a pillar of the state. I have already discussed matters with Academy Chancellor Xie. You have performed meritorious deeds in the establishment of the Palace of Sublime Culture. In a few days, you will be rewarded. Alright, go home and rest.”
Fatigued, I returned home. Seeing that a single light, I knew immediately that Xiaoshunzi had come to see me. Lazily, I entered my bedroom and collapsed onto the bed, asking him, “How do you have free time today? If I remember correctly, you shouldn’t be free for another two days.”
Xiaoshunzi smiled lightly and walked over. Pulling me up, he helped me undress and said, “I was originally supposed to be on duty today, but I overheard Prime Minister Shang tell the King that you had gone to the royal residence on the outskirts of the city, so I changed shifts with someone else. You must be tired from the trip. When I saw you enter the Prime Minister’s residence, I knew there was no danger, so I came over to prepare the bath. Once you have bathed, the midnight snack should be ready.”
With my eyes half closed, he dragged me to the kitchen. Inside was a barrel bathtub seventy percent filled with water. On the stove was a snack being heated. In a low voice, I asked, “Did you follow me into the royal residence?”
Helping me into the barrel, replied lightly, “My martial arts aren’t that good. The royal residence and the Prime Minister’s residence both have tight security.”
Yawning, I replied, “Under my pillow there is a sword manual. I don’t know if it is useful, you should go take a look.”
Indifferently, Xiaoshunzi replied, “I have already taken a look. Although the sword techniques aren’t bad, they are useless for me as they require rigid, yang-principled inner qi. As a eunuch, my inner qi is yin-principled.”
Almost asleep, I replied, somewhat in a daze, “I understand. I will go back and search. The more powerful your martial arts, the safer I become.”
Although Xiaoshunzi said something in response, I did not hear anything.
Half a month later, the Queen returned to the main royal palace inside Jianye, and the King held the ceremony naming the heir apparent. The hundreds of officials all were rewarded. I was promoted to become a Reader-in-waiting rated as a cong wupin24.
Footnotes:???, chu lingwang – King Ling of Chu; ?, ling means spirited; thus the Spirited King of Chu ????, jianyi dafu – the Minister Who Remonstrates and Advises is an official who served as an imperial censor with the duty of protesting wrongful actions of the government and of the sovereigns ??, guifei – the third highest rank in the harem ????, ziyimugui – lit. son’s position is based off his mother’s social status ??, aijia – royal we used by women ???, chu yangwang – King Yang of Chu; ?, yang means molten and has a negative connotation ????, buyilehu – idiom, a quote from Confucius, lit. isn’t that a joy; extremely, awful in a sarcastic manner ????, jiaotoulan’e – idiom, lit. badly burned about the head (from trying to put out a fire); fig. hard-pressed, under pressure ????, cheshuimalong – idiom, lit. endless stream of horses and carriages; heavy traffic ????, qinrenxinpi – idiom, lit. to penetrate deeply into the heart; to gladden the heart, to refresh the mind ??, qipin – seventh-ranked ??, liupin – sixth-ranked ??, xiaguan – lit. this lower-ranked official; used by officials as a deferential way of referring to themselves when talking with higher-ranking officials ???, cong liupin – lower sixth-ranked ??, qieshen – lit. your servant (deprecatory self-reference for women) Jiang Zhe is basically saying that since we have no grudges or grievances, why are you trying to harm me? ????, changxiushanwu – idiom, lit. long sleeves help one dance beautifully; money and power will help you in any occupation ????, ruyudeshui – idiom, lit. like a fish back in water; glad to be back in one’s proper surroundings ??, wan’er – an affectionate way of calling Liang Wan by her given name ???????, wanghou qiansui qianqiansui – lit. long live the Queen; may the Queen live a thousand years ??, jinse – this is a poem by the late Tang Dynasty poet, Li Shangyin. This poem was originally untitled, but ultimately took its title from the first two characters of the poem; the ? (se) is a type of zither with 25-50 strings This topic and poem comes from an early Qing Dynasty book entitled ????, pingshanlengyan ????, jing’eryuanzhi – idiom, lit. to show respect from a distance; to remain at a respectful distance ???, congwupin – lower fifth-ranked