Liu Shan Men and the Three Departments – Prudent Emperor
After receiving the Emperor’s orders, the secretaries headed back to their offices with their new students to get started on their case as soon as possible. After we left, only the Emperor and Wang Tushui remained in the room.
The eunuchs at the door tucked their limbs in to bear the winter breeze. A black smoke whisked into the atmosphere from the bronze and gold-plated furnace. The fire kept the hall as warm as in spring. Wuying Hall was similar to the majority of palaces in the imperial palace. Other palaces also used furnaces and had small adjacent rooms in their rooms for their furnaces. That was how they kept warm in winter. Underneath the palace was a passageway that led to other places. People in the small adjacent rooms for furnaces were in charge of controlling the firewood and flames.
Exhausted, the Emperor gradually fell asleep in the warm room not long after Ming Feizhen and the others left.
The ministers had to wait outside the imperial city between one to three in the morning. The Emperor went through documents late into the night and had to wake early for morning conferences. He slept as much as they did; that was the routine he abided to ever since he ascended the throne almost thirty years ago. Emperor Yuansheng probably wasn’t evaluated as the most talented; however, he would be crowned among the most diligent without a doubt.
Eunuch Wang Tushui silently stood still in place. He was a veteran who had worked in the imperial palace for decades. Because he and Liu Shan Men’s Eunuch Sui Tuwan entered the imperial court’s employment at the same time, the two were best friends. Nevertheless, Eunuch Sui Tuwan was diligent with his studies and, eventually, successfully completed the examinations. While Eunuch Wang Tushui also read a lot of books and poetry, he refused to leave the palace. For that reason, he remained a servant for the imperial household.
Eunuch Wang Tushui wanted to remind the Emperor to go to the Imperial Study. Alas, the Emperor was asleep. He quietly stepped back until the eunuch outside saw him. Wang Tushui signalled with a gentle hand gesture. One of the eunuchs immediately heeded the call and folded a thin blanket properly. He placed it onto a tray and courteously handed it over.
It was the low-ranking eunuch’s first time on duty at Wuying Hall. He never met the Emperor before. Due to his tension, he accidentally dropped the blanket and stepped on it, resulting in him almost tripping. Eunuch Wang reproached him with a scowl. The low-ranking eunuch shuddered. Luckily, he was swift and didn’t wake the Emperor. Still, he was ghastly pale. He made sure to be extra careful when he went to drape the blanket on for the Emperor. Before he could, though, Eunuch Wang gently tugged him back with a frown.
Wang Tushui glanced over to the Emperor, who was still sleeping, and dragged the eunuch out. Once they arrived outside, Eunuch Wang called over a guard and indifferently commanded, “Take him away and cane him five times.”
The startled eunuch looked deathly pale. There was nothing more ruthless in the imperial palace than canes. They could hit gently or hard. Some could withstand eighty canes, but some were finished with one strike. Given he angered Eunuch Wang, those five canes were most likely to be lethal. He immediately dropped to his knees and kowtowed: “Sorry, sorry. Please spare me, Eunuch Wang.”
“Do you know what your mistake was?” asked Eunuch Wang, coldly grabbing the blanket. He shook it in front of the eunuch and whispered: “How dare you put this on His Majesty after stepping on it?”
The low-ranking eunuch was rendered speechless. Before he realised it, the guard hauled him away. Eunuch Wang frigidly watched the guard drag him off. He stood with his torso upright. His black robe blended it with the night sky. Another low-ranking eunuch quickly brought over a blanket. Eunuch Wang personally took the blanket in. He paused next to the furnace to warm up before draping it on for the Emperor.
“Wang Tushui,” the Emperor suddenly said with a smile. “It was just a blanket. Did you need to punish him so harshly?”
“Oh, Your Majesty,” exclaimed Eunuch Wang. Sincerely apologetic, he said, “I apologise for waking you.”
It was obvious the low-ranking eunuch woke the Emperor before; he merely feigned ignorance to see how Eunuch Wang would deal with the eunuch. The Emperor could easily hear the dialogue outside the door with his internal energy.
The Emperor said, “The eunuch has only just started work. There’s no reason to be too strict and harsh. Let us be considerate of his parents who devoted so much to raise him. Don’t be too harsh over minor mistakes.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. Your subjects must learn to practice benevolence as you do. Rest assured, Your Majesty. Your subject notified the guard to hit hard once and light for the remaining four. He must be taught a lesson; nevertheless, he needs to be in shape for work tomorrow. He will be all right. In saying that, your subject is to blame for failing to train him property, resulting in us disturbing your sleep. Please see to it that your subject is punished.”
“Okay, okay, I’m sick of hearing those lines even if you aren’t sick of repeating them,” scolded the Emperor, with a smile. “It’s just a minor matter. By the way, do you remember the looks on the secretaries’ faces when they left?”
Respectfully, Eunuch Wang answered, “Yes. Secretary Lie and Secretary Lu looked somewhat unhappy. Secretary Zhang, Secretary Kong and Secretary Qian looked jubilant. Secretary Leng was straight faced as always. Prime Minister Li was still chuckling.”
The Emperor valued Wang Tushui’s ability to handle matters appropriately, but he also valued the latter’s observation skills. That was why the Emperor often had him serve by his side in conference hall. In essence, he maintained surveillance on the officials and would report back what he saw afterwards. The Emperor factored in the observation reports when analysing and theorising.
Smiling, the Emperor said, “Liezu Faction will learn to stop pushing the envelope now. I won’t have to come up with ways to remind them to stay in line anymore.”
The Emperor had Liu Shan Men’s three new recruits join different departments, but left out the reformist faction’s two secretaries. It, therefore, stood to reason that the two of them were unhappy.
The reformist faction’s influence in the imperial court gradually overtook the neutral and peace-advocate factions. Noticing the trend, the Emperor used the opportunity to send them a warning. His intent was obvious. If he never planned to involve them, there was no reason to call for them on both occasions. In other words, competition was all right; however, they had to stay within the boundaries.
The reformist faction was formed with Secretary Lie and Secretary Lu as the leaders. Secretary Lie was the grand marshal back then. The majority of military generals were his pupils. Secretary Lu also had a military background. He was their blacksmith. He climbed the ranks through rendering merits. He was a master of his craft and more knowledgeable than many in the imperial court, leading to some crediting him as Laozi’s incarnation. Hence, the people even sided with the two. In turn, they gradually built up a big faction the people combined their names and titles to coin the faction “Liezu Faction”.
As for the peace advocate faction, the three were legitimate imperial scholars. All three were renowned for their talent throughout the lands and wielded tremendous influence in the martial world. Secretary Kong Duan, in particular, was the descendant of the sage Confucius. Thus, people combined Feng from Secretary Zhang Chunfeng’s name with Confucius exalted title of a sage and coined their faction “Wind Sage Faction”.
Ever since the dynasty’s establishment over a century ago, the dynasty fought many wars. Besides the internal war thirty years ago that arose as a result of the contention for the throne, the others were always against foreign enemies at the borders. That explained why the imperial court always placed a big importance on their military and respecting the military personnel. Having said that, few were truly valued highly. In the last century or so, the denizens of the Central Plain focused on their own livelihood and growth. Martial arts flourished as per usual, but the same couldn’t be said of literacy. That was the root of the military personnel and scholars’ conflict.
The two factions quarrelled over anything and everything. They were supposed to be evenly matched; but nonetheless, in recent years, there was a slight change to the status quo. Aforementioned change was attributed to the termination of Divine Moon Cult years ago. With the imperial court’s full force, the orthodox martial world’s sects and the Ultimate Three launching a concerted attack on the Demon Sect, failure was not an option
The Emperor equipped his forces with a large batch of weapons Secretary Lu was credited with making. In addition, he placed a number of generals under the Qilin Guard’s command to promote the generals. They racked up an inconceivable injury and death toll in the skirmishes. The Emperor, consequently, rewarded them handsomely for their contribution. Owing to the magnitude of the rewards, the generals still had their rewards to use despite it being years ago. From that time henceforward, Liezu Faction overtook Feng Sage Faction.
The bickering between the scholars and military personnel in the imperial court lasted since forever. The key to take note of was that it wasn’t because scholars looked down on military personnel. You would never find someone from the martial world picking a fight with a government office. Conversely, you would never find a scholar from the imperial court trying to start trouble with an illiterate hilly billy martial artist. Interestingly, the intensity of the conflict between scholars and martial artists not instated as government officials wasn’t so heated.
The first reason those situations never happened was because many scholars practiced martial arts. A decent number of them were actually adepts. A number of adepts were also equally learned. The second reason was because the wealthy was able to learn more martial arts under reputable masters. The poor, to the contrary, read lots of books. That was why there was a saying that went, “The wealthy are martial artists. The poor are scholars.”
When referring to scholars and military personnel in the imperial court, the referrer is actually pointing to the discord among the two groups. They didn’t argue for Confucian orthodoxy or for emotional needs. They argued to protect what they held closest to them.
When the world was in turmoil, the Emperor needed a blade to fight for supremacy. Once the dust settled and he wanted to restore peace, he needed his brush. When he gave one party attention, he had to reduce his attention on the other. It had always been a balancing act that was difficult to play perfectly throughout the ages. It was a simple battle of benefits. The strong restrained the weak. Morals and sympathy? There were none to speak of.
Smiling, the Emperor said, “Liezu and Wind Sage are all the imperial court’s vassals. Hah, they resemble the pugilistic world’s sects now. Prime Minister Li is the easiest to deal with. He can be prime minister, for he never takes either side.”
Eunuch Wang laughed: “The ministers merely fight for your favour, Your Majesty. Liezu Faction will have understood the warning after what you did. They will be conscious of when to push and when to back down.”
“When to push and when to back down? I would argue… it’s not just them who need to learn that,” responded the Emperor.
The Emperor rested his chin in one hand and stared at the mountain of accordions on the table to mull. Not only was it a tall stack, but also very weird. They had covers with the text “To His Majesty”.
The Emperor added, “I’m… afraid I won’t get to sleep well for some time.”
*Laozi – also rendered as Lao Tzu (Lao Zu in mandarin pinyin). He was a Chinese philosopher