On the third day of the eleventh month of the twenty-third year of Great Yong’s Wuwei era (the first year of Southern Chu’s Zhihua era), the Emperor issued a decree, giving specials honors to the Prince of Qi. Everyone knew that the intentions of this decree were directed at the Prince of Yong.…
—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Taizong
Leaving the Jade Phoenix Hall, Noble Consort Ji inhaled deeply, venting the depression within her heart. Liang Wan was the beloved disciple of sect master Fan Huiyao and was also one of the Fengyi Sect’s most important chess pieces. She had made many meritorious contributions while in Jiangnan and had also come to an agreement with the crown prince. Unexpectedly, she had been ruined while in Jiangnan, causing heartache and distress. The sect master had issued a secret order, commanding her to investigate all the details of how Liang Wan went insane. Noble Consort Ji knew that the sect master suspected the Prince of Yong’s involvement. The prince was already dissatisfied with Liang Wan. Otherwise, he would not have set up an alternate intelligence network. Unfortunately, the only witness, Princess Changle, could not provide any useful information.
Noble Consort Ji smiled callously. There were no suspects besides the Prince of Yong. If it were Southern Chu, then it would not have allowed Princess Changle to return. Other than the prince’s subordinates, there was no one who would treat the princess with such courtesy and respect. But there was no evidence. As such, she could not accuse Li Zhi without good reason. Recalling the emperor’s rewards, Noble Consort Ji grew ice-cold. During the celebrations, Li Yuan had announced that because of Li Zhi’s matchless accomplishments and deeds, including the destruction of Shu and the heavy defeat inflicted upon Southern Chu, an edict was issued decreeing that Li Zhi be appointed to the rank of Marshal of Heavenly Strategies and Grand Minister Over the Masses,1 placing him above all of the princes and dukes, and was granted tax revenue from twenty thousand households. He was further bestowed with a set of imperial robes and a crown, a golden chariot and palanquin, a pair of jade discs, three thousand kilograms2 of gold; permitted musical accompaniment as he traveled; and permitted a unit of forty swordsmen to accompany him wherever he went. These were tremendous honors. In comparison, it was only slightly inferior to the crown prince’s ceremonial retinue.
What caused the noble consort further bitter disappointment was the emperor permitting the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies to set up its own household. From Li Zhi’s petition, the organization of the household would include: a chief clerk and major, two gentleman of the household aides, two military affairs advisers, four document clerks, two registrars, two overseers, two secretarial aides, two adjuncts for each of the six sections (merit, granaries, military, mounted, armory, and levy), and six adjuncts. With this structure, Li Zhi, had a miniature court that although small, was complete in every detail.3 Would the Emperor change his mind and name Li Zhi the heir apparent? Thinking it over, Noble Consort Ji shook her head. Although the Prince of Yong had many accomplishments, the crown prince had no obvious transgressions. In addition, from what she knew about the emperor, it was likely that he would greatly regret giving the Prince of Yong such generous rewards. After a few days, the emperor would likely think of ways to reduce the prince’s strength. Since antiquity, very few overachievers received good endings. Thinking of this, Noble Consort Ji revealed a complacent smile.
At this moment, a eunuch in purple hurriedly rushed over, reporting, “Your Imperial Highness, the Emperor has decreed that he will rest at Your Imperial Highness’s chambers tonight. Your Imperial Highness, please return. The Emperor should arrive within the hour.”
Noble Consort Ji exulted. She understood that although her appearance was excellent, she was not much favored or loved by the emperor. In addition, because she cared not for the emperor’s favor, she rarely had sexual relations with the emperor. But she had a special status as the contact between the Fengyi Sect and the emperor. As a result, the emperor frequently allowed her to participate in decisions that pertained to matters of state. The emperor’s decision to rest in her chambers tonight was likely to discuss the Prince of Yong. It looks like she was right. The emperor greatly feared the Prince of Yong. Thinking of this, a smile like a blossoming spring flower appeared on her face.
While some were delighted, others were worried. After the conclusion of the celebratory banquet, within the dazzling Crown Prince’s residence, Li An wrathfully knocked everything on his desk onto the floor, wildly shouting, “Li Zhi, We swear that We kill you one day!” Finished shouting, he sat down in the chair, fiercely staring at the entrance to the study as if the Prince of Yong was going to enter. After a good while, he tiredly requested, “Someone come, invite the junior mentor to see Us.”
After a while, an ordinary-looking, bearded scholar entered the study. He wore the attire of the Junior Mentor of the Crown Prince. He did not bow when he saw the crown prince, instead sitting down in a chair on the left-hand side. With a smile, he inquired, “Why is Your Imperial Highness so angry?”
In a rage, Li An yelled, “Li Zhi is already the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies. The old man almost transferred the title of Crown Prince to him. How can I not be angry?”
The scholar smiled and stated, “Your Imperial Highness is overthinking matters. The Emperor will protect Your Imperial Highness in every possible way. If he wished for the Prince of Yong to be the heir apparent, he would have done so long ago. Why would he wait until now?”
Disheartened, Li An replied, “Junior Mentor isn’t aware that the Prince of Yong’s mother was Imperial Father’s original wife. Although I am the eldest son, I was born of a concubine. His mother died early, allowing my mother to become the first wife. After Imperial Father established the empire, he posthumously honored the Prince of Yong’s mother as the Filial and Virtuous Empress. If we consider this, then I cannot compare. I am only heir apparent because I am the eldest son and my Imperial Mother is the current Empress. Now … now I don’t know what to do. There is nothing I can do if Imperial Father changes his mind.”
“Your Imperial Highness is too close to this situation,” responded the scholar, his gaze flickering, “This vassal believes that although it seems like you would fall from the position of Crown Prince,4 in reality your position is as steady as Mount Tai. Your Imperial Highness only sees about the Emperor’s favor towards the Prince of Yong. This subject believes this favor to actually be the Emperor’s suspicions and jealousy. Think about it … the Prince of Yong has fought many wars. More than half of Great Yong’s territory was conquered by him. Inevitably, the Emperor feels that he has received his son’s grace. It would be only natural if the Emperor awarded the Prince of Yong for his invaluable accomplishments by naming him the heir apparent. However, the Emperor would rather bestow special rewards upon the Prince and refuses to consider changing the heir apparent. He clearly is biased towards Your Imperial Highness. This subject believes that this is not a result of the Emperor’s love for Your Imperial Highness, but rather Your Imperial Highness’s position represents the Emperor’s supreme authority. As such, the Emperor will never change his decision. As long as Your Imperial Highness displays your filial piety to the Emperor and the Empress, your courtesy to other members of harem, respect the Prince of Yong, and be friendly with your other brothers, then the Emperor will not change the heir apparent. Furthermore, there is still the Fengyi Sect. Does Your Imperial Highness believe that Liang Wan’s support was her own personal decision? After a few days, the Emperor will try to anticipate what will happen after he passes. What would happen if Your Imperial Highness is unable to force the Prince of Yong’s submission? He will think of ways to suppress the Prince of Yong. As long as Your Imperial Highness succeeds the throne, supported by the Prince of Qi externally and the Fengyi Sect internally, it would easy to take the Prince of Yong’s life.”
Hearing this, after some time, Li An finally beamed with joy and asked, “Junior Mentor, much thanks for your enlightening words. In your view, what should we do right now?”
The scholar laughed mischievously, replying, “The more we do, the greater the number of mistakes. The less we do, the fewer the mistakes. There is no harm for Your Imperial Highness to refrain from vying with others. As for the Prince of Qi, Your Imperial Highness should do more to win him over. A few days ago, because of the defeats he suffered, Your Imperial Highness gave him not a few angry looks. This was wrong. Without the Prince of Qi’s support, then Your Imperial Highness will not have a general who is willing to raise his hands against the Heavens to protect the Emperor.”
Li An stood and bowed deeply, stating, “Solemnly receiving Sir’s advice.” An ambiguous look appeared on his face, as he continued, “Sixth brother loves beautiful women. I have newly selected two stunning beauties. I originally had planned to gift them to Imperial Father, but now I think I will gift one of the two to sixth brother.”
An ambiguous smile also appeared on the scholar’s face before his face became stern. Glancing at him, Li An said with a smile, “There is no need for Junior Mentor to pretend to be so serious. Those beauties cannot be given you. However, this Prince has other women. There is no reason not to send you two of them.”
The scholar lowered his gaze and remarked, “If that is the case, then many thanks for Your Imperial Highness’s rewards.”
Li An laughed heartily, the sound traveling far, far away from the study.
Li Zhi returned to his residence somewhat intoxicated. After taking medication to dispel the effects of the alcohol, he quickly took a cold water bath. Soon after, Li Zhi arrived at the conference room, feeling fresh and relaxed. Already seated within the room were the prince’s advisors: Shi Yu, Guan Xiu, Dong Zhi, and Gou Lian. All of the military officers had returned completely drunk. Seeing this, Li Zhi did not have them participate in this meeting. Seeing that his advisers were quietly discussing something, he turned to Sima Xiong and ordered him to maintain security outside before entering. With a smile, he said, “This Prince has arrived late, causing Sirs to wait long.”
Seeing his arrival, the advisers stood and bowed before returning to their seats. Li Zhi looked at Shi Yu and asked, “You have met with Jiang Zhe. What do you think?”
With a wry smile, Shi Yu answered, “Jiang Zhe has been perfectly composed ever since arriving at the Prince’s residence, almost as if he were in his own home. When this subordinate had arranged the best courtyard for him, he only smiled peacefully before moving in. He had no objections to the servants that Your Imperial Highness had arranged for him. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that he had already declared loyalty to Your Imperial Highness. In my view, he would not object if Your Imperial Highness arranged an official position. He seems to greatly enjoy living comfortably. At the very least, he would not resist to the death.”
Also smiling wryly, Li Zhi opining, “This Prince understands this. This Prince does have some methods if this weren’t the case. If he wished to die to protect his integrity, this Prince could only treat him carefully and attentively, hoping he would change his mind one day. But he is able to accept any circumstances without complaint. Even if this Prince gives him an official position, I fear that he would not take the position seriously, choosing to write prose and poetry, and discuss the four arts. Unfortunately, he is stingy with what this Prince requires. This Prince wishes that he can embody the Prince of De, Zhao Jue. Although Zhao Jue is already dead, he once received Jiang Zhe’s heartfelt assistance. Alas … this Prince is most worried about the Prince of Qi. Although he is reckless, he is not without his schemes. He has stated to Us that he is willing to respect Jiang Zhe as his teacher.”
Guan Xiu and the others looked one another with smiles before responding in unison, “Your Imperial Highness is worrying excessively. We wouldn’t have to be so worried if this man would be so easily moved by the Prince of Qi.”
Thinking it over, Li Zhi agreed that he was too anxious. Just as he was about to ridicule himself, he saw that Shi Yu had some thoughts. Somewhat worried, he inquired, “Ziyou, do you think the Prince of Qi is able to recruit Jiang Zhe?”
Returning to his senses, Shi You smiled and replied, “Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi’s idea isn’t bad. It’s unavoidably too flattering. However, we can borrow this idea. The heir to the principality is bright and intelligent. Although he is only five years old, he has already learned some characters. If we were to have the heir formally become his student, then wouldn’t he become Your Imperial Highness’s support? I believe that once he’s met someone talented, he would not let such a great opportunity slip by.”
Joyously, Li Zhi agreed, “Ziyou’s plan is ingenious! Excellent! Tomorrow, we will hold a welcoming banquet and have the heir come forward to formally select a teacher. We must move quickly. To fool everyone, I have already reported his situation to Imperial Father. Once Imperial Father grants him an audience, we will no longer be able to continue to hold him under house arrest.”
Although he had yet to accomplish his objective, there was finally a possible solution. Li Zhi felt his entire body relax. With a smile, he asked, “That’s right … Ziyou, can you explain what happened to Princess Changle? I sent people to investigate, but time was too short, and they weren’t able to find clues. I sent people to explore the ambush location and discovered signs of a small-scale unit. But who would abduct the princess at that time? In addition, this Prince cannot understand why those returned spies would commit suicide. The Princess was safe and unharmed. Their accomplishments far outweighed any wrongdoings. Even if they committed suicide to absolve their guilt, they should have still explained what had happened.”
Guan Xiu and others had already discussed this matter on numerous occasions. Li Zhi brought this matter up now to purposely consider Shi Yu’s opinion. Shi Yu answered, “This subordinate has also thought about this incident. We can only come to the following conclusions: They were not targeting the Princess. Their target was Liang Wan. Otherwise, Liang Wan would not be only person to be harmed. As for the suicides, this subordinate believes that they did so not because of any wrongdoing, but rather because they had made an arrangement. They had seen the kidnappers, and possibly knew many things. But they were able to safely bring the Princess back. From this, not only can we tell that the kidnappers had no ill intentions towards the Princess, but also that they knew that the spies would not reveal their secrets. From beginning to end, the Princess didn’t know anything. If that is the case, the spies must have promised to commit suicide to keep secrets.”
“If that is the case, then they should have said something,” lamented Li Zhi. “Although these spies are Great Yong’s warriors, and should keep their promises, they had already returned to this Prince. Shouldn’t the importance of telling this Prince the truth surpass the need to keep their promise?”
Shi Yu sighed and replied, “That is probably the most terrifying aspect of this incident. They must have believed that dying from suicide would be more advantageous than telling Your Imperial Highness the truth.”
Li Zhi trembled, inquiring, “You’re saying that those kidnappers have the strength to threaten this prince?”
Shi Yu nodded his head, continuing, “That’s right. From Yongquan, I’ve heard that Your Imperial Highness investigated those spies’ corpses. Although there were signs of torture, the inflicted wounds were not severe. This tells us that the kidnappers did not indiscriminately use torture. But from what we can see from Liang Wan, the method used to eliminate all of her memories is extremely mysterious. In other words, the method used by the other side was sinister and brutal. I believe that the pressure on the hearts of those spies must have been enormous, and ultimately surpassed their ability to endure. Only then did they comply by their promise and commit suicide.”
Vexed, Li Zhi asked, “Who would have thought there were such people operating in secret? Ziyou, can you tell their backgrounds?”
Shi You answered, “The sole conjecture that this subordinate can make is that these individuals do not have any hostility towards Great Yong. Otherwise, Her Imperial Highness, the Princess would not have been able to return safely. But from the way those men targeted Liang Wan, this subordinate believes that if this matter is not related to the Fengyi Sect, then it is connected to Liang Wan’s behavior and actions while in Southern Chu. There is no harm for Your Imperial Highness to investigate along these two fronts.”
Li Zhi nodded his head repeatedly, stating, “Ziyou is this Prince’s courage. Without Ziyou, there is no way that this Prince has any fighting spirit.”
Shi Yu smiled and replied, “Jiang Zhe is Your Imperial Highness’s wings. Your Imperial Highness acquiring his service would be akin to a tiger gaining wings.”
Everyone looked at one another with smiles.
On this sleepless night, I also did not rest. I stood before the window, looking out at the beautiful scenery before me—a courtyard covered with snow. Xiaoshunzi walked over and complained, “Young master, your body has only just recovered somewhat, and yet you choose to stand here enduring the blowing wind. You don’t know how to take care of your body. It is too cold here. I have had them prepare a hand-held furnace.” So speaking, he shoved a hand furnace into my bosom before draping a foxskin cloak around my shoulders.
I smiled and stated, “Be at ease. My body is not so weak. How about it? Have you taken a look at the defenses of this residence?”
Xiaoshunzi smiled and replied, “Their surveillance is very tight. I could only take a casual look. If I were alone, there wouldn’t be any problems. But if I had to bring young master along, then I fear we would not be able to escape.”
I shook my head in response. “It’s not important. I have no intentions of having you rescue me. No matter what happens, I will be able to protect my life. I am only disinterested in sacrificing myself for someone else. Those people will continue to fight. One day, the world will be reunited. It isn’t important who does so. To say nothing of the Prince of Yong’s chances. Xiaoshunzi, look! It’s snowing again.”
Xiaoshunzi’s eyes moved from gazing at me to looking out the window. Like the fluttering of leaves, snow silently fell to the ground, as the cold northern wind blew directly into one’s face. He could not help but smile as he inquired, “In Southern Chu, when it occasionally lightly snowed, young master would always appreciate the beauty of the snow while drinking wine. Now that it is snowing here, has young master’s mood changed again?”
I nodded my head, responding, “That’s right. Tomorrow, ask them for some first-rate charcoal and some good wine. I suspect that it will continue to snow tomorrow. I want to drink wine and compose poetry.”
Xiaoshunzi replied, “I can only help warm the wine for you. I don’t understand anything about poetry.”
I sighed. “That’s right. The only thing about you that leaves me dissatisfied is your inability to accompany me and compose poetry and pen essays. But without you, I would lose the mood to drink. Neither one of good friends, good wine, or falling snow can be missing. Alas, if only Piaoxiang were still alive.”
Consoling me, Xiaoshunzi said, “Young master, the dead have long departed. Do not be sad.”
Once again I looked out the window at the falling snow; there were no more words that needed to be spoken.
The next day, the snow continued to fall as expected. Li Zhi received news that Li Yuan had issued an edict rewarding the Prince of Qi for his arduous efforts during the two campaigns against Southern Chu and for mortally wounding the Prince of De. As such, Li Xian was granted the title of Grand Minister of the Works,5 and was also bestowed a set of imperial robes and a crown, a golden chariot and palanquin, a pair of jade discs, one thousand kilograms of gold; permitted musical accompaniment as he traveled; and permitted a unit of twenty swordsmen to accompany him wherever he went.
Learning this news, Li Zhi did not become indignant. Rather, he was completely disappointed. He had fought hard and attained victories, only to gain Imperial Father’s suspicion and jealousy. These rewards were bestowed upon the Prince of Qi for the sake of checks and balances. Apathetic, he told Shi Yu, “Ziyou, Imperial Father treats me so poorly.”
Shi Yu also could not stop sighing. Just as he was about to assuage Li Zhi, Gou Lian hurriedly entered and reported, “Your Imperial Highness, Your Imperial Highness, Jiang Suiyun has had his servant ask for charcoal and wine. He intends to appreciate the beauty of the snow. I have already had someone lead him to the Overlooking Wave Pavilion.”
Li Zhi’s anger immediately transformed into delight, as he replied, “Good! You have done well. Let’s go and take part. Ziyou, make the arrangements to bring the heir to the pavilion in one hour.”
At this moment, I was already sitting within the pavilion. The rear gardens of the Prince of Yong’s residence had a small lake measuring about two mu6 in size. Supposedly, there was a clear spring in the garden originally with abundant water flow. The decision had been made to dig this small lake and use Chang’an’s drainage system to allow the water to travel along the Yong’an Canal.7 The Yong’an Canal was connected to the Wei River and provided the city with half of its water supply. It was also a major waterway. As a result, even though this lake was within the Imperial City, there was water flow.
As he was heating the wine, Xiaoshunzi spoke, “Young master, why isn’t this pavilion cold?”
I smiled and replied, “I’ve only read about this in books. You can only see that the roof of the pavilion is covered by a layer of straw. However, there is something below this layer of straw that is more than meets the eye. Below the straw, there is a layer of oiled felt followed by a layer of straw and another layer of oiled felt. There are three of these double layers. Lastly, after that, on top of the uppermost layer of oiled felt, are tiles. These tiles were also specially manufactured. They are hollow. As a result, there is no fear of heat loss. After that, let’s look at the pavilion’s stone floor and the stools around the pavilion’s sides. Furthermore, look at the copper pillars. There are fires burning underneath the pillars and the floor. The idea is similar to the bed stove7 found in the homes of the common people. Further, let’s consider this water. Water is warm during the winter and cold during the summer. With the water flowing, it will bring along the heat from the ground. The closer one is to water, the warmer it is. As such, how can this pavilion be cold? This pavilion was specifically designed to allow rich and powerful families in the north to appreciate the beauty of snow. As long as one wears a light fur coat and carries a hand-held furnace, there is no possibility one would be cold. That’s enough … Look at the continuous snowfall outside, dancing chaotically like flowers, precious jade all over. This really is an excellent place.”
大司徒, da situ – Grand Minister of the Masses was one of the Three Excellencies established during the Han Dynasty that stood at the head of officialdom and tasked with overseeing land and the common people; by this era, with the establishment of the Six Ministries, the Three Excellencies had largely become ceremonial honors
斤, jin – a catty, a unit of weight measurement equal to 0.5 kilograms
麻雀虽小，五脏俱全, maquesuixiao, wuzhangjuquan – idiom, lit. the sparrow may be small, but all its vital organs are there; fig. small, but complete in every detail
危如累卵, weiruleiluan – idiom, lit. precarious as a pile of eggs; ready to fall and break at any moment, in a dangerous state
大司空, da sikong – Grand Minister of the Works was one of the Three Excellencies established during the Han Dynasty that stood at the head of officialdom and tasked with overseeing construction of buildings and dams; by this era, with the establishment of the Six Ministries, the Three Excellencies had largely become ceremonial honors
亩, mu – a Chinese unit of measure, equivalent to one-fifteenth of a hectare
永安渠, yong’an qu – the Yong’an Canal was built during the Sui Dynasty and provided the city of Chang’an with water.
炕, kang – is a heated bed that was used for general living, working, entertaining, and sleeping; it possesses an internal cavity that is heated by a fireplace