On the sixteenth day of the first month of the first year of Southern Chu’s Tongtian era, the eleventh year of the sixty-year cycle, the heir of the Prince of Yong prepared to journey far from home. A banquet with all of officialdom was held to see him off. Jiang Zhe did not participate. During the banquet, the General of Tiger Might, Qin Qing, requested a private meeting, listening to rumors and blaming Jiang Zhe. Jiang Zhe persuaded him otherwise and Qin Qing withdrew.…”
—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
I comfortably stretched my body. These past few days, I had received the news that the crown prince had already taken the bait. As such, I could temporarily set aside these troublesome matters. Today, the entire Prince of Yong’s residence was extremely busy, as Li Zhi’s heir was preparing to go administer his father’s fief in Youzhou. According to custom, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, must hold a banquet with all of officialdom. I was not interested in these kinds of events. As a result, I asked for the day off from His Imperial Highness, preparing to stay in the Cold Courtyard and take a look at the several out-of-print books that Li Zhi had gifted me. His Highness was awfully understanding of my mood that disliked the hustle and bustle of banquets. The Prince of Yong’s outer residence would be chaotic today as there were numerous nobles and aristocrats coming to attend. After all, many of them had the qualifications to wander about the residence. There was nothing to be concerned about as long as they did not approach any of the restricted areas. In order to prevent these individuals from disturbing me, His Imperial Highness specifically dispatched several men to guard the entrance to my courtyard, not permitting anyone entry without permission. His Imperial Highness originally believed that there would be no harm for me to go hide in the inner residence. However, to prevent suspicion,1 I declined his offer. In any case, with men outside guarding the Cold Courtyard, what did I have to fear?
Xiaoshunzi knew best my temperament. When he rose in the morning, he opened the doors and windows, releasing the turbid atmosphere accrued overnight. Afterwards, he ignited a furnace of sweet fragrance. After I had changed into a set of comfortable robes, I drank a cup of fragrant tea steeped for me by Xiaoshunzi. This was truly the life of the immortals! As I was reading, I unintentionally raised my head, catching sight of Xiaoshunzi carving white jade using a silver knife. He had picked up this habit recently after I had forced him to whittle a wooden doll for Roulan. After that, he had suddenly become fond of carving. When he had nothing to do, he would frequently hold a knife and carve. I once had asked him why he had abruptly become so fond of carving. He mysteriously told me that this was a good way for him to train martial arts. A while ago, he had always felt that his martial arts weren’t improving. Surprisingly, while whittling a wooden doll, he discovered that his martial art techniques’ flow and naturalness had improved. Through this, he found a new way of training. Although I did not understand the link between carving and training martial arts, I still comprehended how performing analogous tasks would help. Watching Xiaoshunzi’s skill with the knife improve from a stiff and chaotic mess to become flowing and uninterrupted, I could feel that he was seemingly making progress. At the very least, his carvings were becoming increasingly lifelike. Therefore, I decided to purchase for him a pile of ordinary pieces of jade for him to practice with. As a matter of fact, he had carved the paper weight on my desk a few days ago.
Watching him, I suddenly began to laugh and spoke, “Xiaoshunzi, although you are fond of carving, is there really a need for you to practice daily? Today, His Imperial Highness is holding a feast. In the front courtyard, there are juggling, acrobatics, and music. You should go take a break and relieve your boredom.”
Xiaoshunzi indifferently replied, “There are too many people outside. I won’t feel easy leaving you here by yourself.”
I smiled and said, “You are being too careful. This is the residence of the Prince of Yong. I am no more than a lowly surrendered subject. Who would come to assassinate me? All right, go enjoy yourself. Don’t forget, you’re only twenty years old. Don’t always be like an old man. That would be my sin if that continues.”
Xiaoshunzi glared at me for a moment. However, he was still young after all. The juggling and acrobatics were extremely attractive for him. But he didn’t feel comfortable leaving me here alone. I smiled and stated, “How about this? Call Hu Wei in here and have him substitute for you and guard me. You should feel at ease with that arrangement, right?”
Xiaoshunzi glanced at the teacup on the desk and replied, “But there has to be somewhere here to attend upon you with tea and water.”
I helplessly remarked, “Xiaoshunzi, don’t forget that it was I who taught you how to steep tea. All right, go enjoy yourself. Today, you are not permitted to follow me. The Lantern Festival lasts for three days.2 It’s enough that you guarded me last night. Today, go take a stroll and take in the sights. You are not permitted to spend all of your time within the residence. I don’t go out, so there are unlikely to be any dangers.”
At last, Xiaoshunzi nodded his head before he agreed, “Fine, I’ll go. Young master, be at ease and continue reading. I will arrange everything.”
I watched his receding figure, smiling with gratification. This was the way it should be. Why did a kid who had just turned twenty have to always be so mature? He should by all rights take the time to have fun and enjoy himself. Although when I was twenty years old, my money had been stolen by this little fellow and I had no choice but to take the examinations, he did not necessarily have to mistreat himself.
After seeing Xiaoshunzi off, I continued to be engrossed with these out-of-print books. When Hu Wei entered, kneeling and greeting me, he saw that I did not make any response. Having followed me for some time now, he knew that I would sometimes become so engrossed in reading and forget everything else. He thus quietly withdrew outside and did not disturb me. At this moment, I did not yet know that the closest point I ever got to death in my life was swiftly approaching.
At the same time he was dealing with his colleagues next him, Qin Qing also had a load on his mind. Today, he had come on his father’s behalf to attend the banquet. However, he wasn’t interested in chatting with these old foxes. Therefore, after he had promptly congratulated the Prince of Yong, he left the banquet chambers and walked outside. Although he was watching the juggling and acrobatics performance on the stage, his mind was not into it, entirely consumed by the shadows of Princess Changle and Jiang Zhe.
Years ago, he had invited the princess to elope, but had been forcibly rejected. At the time, his youthful recklessness caused him to talk irresponsibly, denouncing the princess for her ingratitude, coveting the honor and glory that came with being the Queen of Southern Chu. After the princess tearfully departed, watching her still proud figure caused him to be painfully filled with regret. Unfortunately, he did not have the opportunity to apologize. Afterwards, he had been heavily criticized by his father before being tossed into the army. He had fought with blade and spear to rise to his current position as a fourth-ranked General of Tiger Might. It was a pity, but he never had the opportunity to fight and quench the grudge that he harbored against Southern Chu. When he learned the news of the princess’s return, he was both happy and sad. He had most dearly wished to be able to lead an army to defeat Southern Chu before personally kneeling before the princess to beg for her forgiveness. But now, he did not have the opportunity anymore.
After the princess returned, he had at once asked his mother to enter the palace to pass on his intentions. However, all he received was a bowl of cold water in the face. Unexpectedly, the princess did not have a shred of affection left for him. He felt such pain in his heart that it was killing him. Embracing the last thread of hope, he participated in the exhibition, but only fought to a draw with that pretty boy. Although he knew that this didn’t represent that he was inferior to Xiahou Yuanfeng, Qin Qing understood that he had completely lost any hope of reconciling with the princess. Furthermore, after the competition, he had been punished by his father by being locked into the family ancestral hall to kneel, because of the dispute that he had gotten into with that surrendered subject from Southern Chu. Qin Qing loathed Southern Chu, also transferring his hate to the people of Southern Chu. This person, Jiang Zhe, had an undeserved reputation, having kneeled and surrendered, and yet still argued with the courage of his convictions.3 What was the big deal about mocking him? However, his father had unexpectedly used family regulations and punished him seriously. Even right now, Qin Qing could still remember his father’s ashen face and reprimands.
“Bastard! I don’t blame you for your past misbehavior and I don’t blame you for taking out your anger for no reason on someone who doesn’t deserve it. However, you unexpectedly insulted a virtuous person in front of everyone. If this continues, what future does our Qin family have to speak of? Do you understand how big of a mistake you’ve made? That man, Jiang Zhe, is not a mediocrity. He was an adviser to the Prince of De, permitting Southern Chu to gain an easy victory in Sichuan. With a single tune, he took the life of the King of Shu. With one essay, he caused all the lofty individuals of Great Yong to feel fear and trepidation.4 This man is worthy of becoming a great minister of the state. You would lightly disparage him just because he is a surrendered subject. You must know that if this man’s character were even just a bit narrow-minded, then your life would be lost to his hand.”
Although he was unconvinced, he could only bow his head and acknowledge his mistake towards his father’s violent rage. It was only yesterday that his father finally released him. Sighing, his father stated, “Little flunky, tomorrow, the Prince of Yong is hosting a banquet. You will go on my behalf to congratulate the prince’s heir on departing for his father’s fief. Remember, you must find the opportunity to meet Major Jiang and apologize to him. If this man bears a grudge against you, I’m afraid that this will be a calamity after all is said and done. I made inquiries. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, regards this man as one of his confidants. Even the Prince of Qi regards this man highly. Neither of the two Imperial Highnesses are mediocre individuals. It can be clearly seen that this man is difficult to deal with. If you cannot obtain his understanding and forgiveness, then even your younger brothers and sisters will likely be implicated.”
As a result, he had gone to the Prince of Yong’s residence filled with resentment and indignation. Originally, he had thought it would be sufficient if he randomly acknowledged his mistake. However, just a moment ago, he had learned news that nearly caused him to faint from anger. Unexpectedly, Princess Changle had had a love affair with that shameless surrendered subject.
It was a coincidence that he learned this information. After meeting the Prince of Yong and expressing congratulations on behalf of his father, Qin Qing raised the matter of going to apologize to Jiang Zhe no matter how uncomfortable he felt. The Prince of Yong cheerfully agreed, but had stated that Major Jiang was usually ill and weak, and probably would not be able to greet visitors until sishi,5 as he had to first relax. He could only helplessly agree, silently cursing the useless scholar and looking with pleasure at the landscape within the Prince of Yong’s residence. But before he had gone far, he found a pair of eunuchs whispering behind some pine trees. He originally had no intention of eavesdropping, but he heard something that immediately left him dumbfounded.
One of the eunuchs proclaimed proudly to his colleague that when Princess Changle had come to this residence, she had a secret rendezvous with Major Jiang. It seemed that the two had a love affair while both were in Southern Chu. Were it not for this eunuch attending to Major Jiang under orders, it was likely that this enormous matter wouldn’t have been known. The eunuch had stated that Major Jiang had given him a thousand taels of silver and promised him the position of supervisor when Major Jiang had become the emperor’s son-in-law as long as he was willing to keep this secret.6
Listening to this point, Qin Qing was so angry that his head spun. It was quite a while before he became clear-headed. Just as he was about to go forward to question, the two eunuchs had already departed. Qin Qing foolishly remained where he was, considering repeatedly. If the princess married Wei Ying or Xiahou Yuanfeng, even though he would feel sad, he would still accept this. But if the princess really had a love affair with that feeble scholar, then he would definitely not conciliate with this fact. After thinking it over, as the princess was virtuous and tender since youth, it surely must be that surrendered subject who seduced the princess. Were it not for the words the Prince of Yong had spoken previously, Qin Qing would probably have immediately hurried to interrogate Jiang Zhe. As a result, during the following period of time, regardless if it was watching the juggling and acrobatics or doing other things, Qin Qing was preoccupied with other matters. When the time had come and seeing that the low- and mid-ranked officials had basically all arrived, Qin Qing found one of the imperial bodyguards to guide him to meet Jiang Zhe. These imperial bodyguards had long ago received the Prince of Yong’s instructions, so this particular guard led Qin Qing to the Cold Courtyard.
Although Qin Qing was filled with hot anger, he was after all a descendant from a distinguished martial family. The entire trip, he was full of curiosity. With this Jiang Zhe being the major in the household of the Marshal of Heavenly Strategies and with Chief Clerk Shi Yu departing for Youzhou to assist the heir, then wouldn’t Jiang Zhe’s position in the Prince of Yong’s residence be second only to the prince? However, as he walked, the path became increasingly lonely as if this guest courtyard was exceedingly remote. Qin Qing could not help but ask his guide, “Why does Major Jiang live in such a remote place?”
The imperial bodyguard smiled and replied, “Qin Qing is not aware, but Major Jiang is fond of tranquility. Therefore, he specially chose to reside at this Cold Courtyard. He rarely leaves this courtyard.”
As he was filled with suspicion and jealousy, Qin Qing inevitably let his imagination run wild. This man lived so remotely … could it be possible that this was to facilitate his private assignations with the princess? Arriving at the Cold Courtyard, Qin Qing discovered that this location was heavily guarded as expected. He could see over a dozen imperial bodyguards out in the open. His guiding imperial bodyguard stepped forward to report the situation to those stationed at the door. One of the imperial bodyguards entered into the courtyard to deliver the message. After a moment, the man returned and reported, “The Major invites General Qin.”
Qin Qing entered the Cold Courtyard, discovering that the inside was indeed beautiful, secluded and desolate. It seemed that this Jiang Zhe was truly fond of tranquility. With one glance, he saw Hu Wei standing at the entrance of an elegant pavilion. Qin Qing was extremely clear that Hu Wei was one of the Prince of Yong’s trusted subordinates. It seemed that the Prince of Yong attached extreme importance to Jiang Zhe as expected. It was even possible that the matter between Jiang Zhe and Princess Changle was supported by the Prince of Yong. The rage within Qin Qing’s heart blazed even hotter.
I was in the middle of reading when Hu Wei abruptly entered and reported that Qin Qing, General Qin, had come to request a meeting. I stared back blankly. This man had been rude to me in front of everyone. Why had he come to see me today? At first, I considered refusing to meet him, but I realized that he would not have come if there wasn’t something important. But why would the Prince of Yong arrange for him to come meet me? I could only lower the book. I was too lazy to change my clothes, since this was not an official matter. Since this wouldn’t be for long, it was not worthwhile troubling myself.
After a moment, Qin Qing entered. When he entered, he stared blankly at me. I was baffled, gesturing to have Hu Wei to withdraw. I asked, “General, why have you come today? Please forgive this lowly official for my casual garb. I am accustomed to doing as I wish within my chambers. General, please sit.”
Qin Qing silently sat down, looking at the youth sitting opposite him. This youth was wearing a cozy and relaxed set of azure colored robes. His hair had not been bound and was only drawn together with a hairpin. This youth’s expression was leisurely and serene. Qin Qing had an intense feeling that this youth opposite him was fundamentally someone not of this vulgar world. Qin Qing thought in his mind, Did this youth really have a love affair with Princess Changle?
Watching this big and handsome general staying silent and not speaking, I could not help but feel somewhat vexed. I impersonally asked, “What matter does the general have? If there is nothing, then please forgive my infirmities. I cannot be seated for long.”
Finished speaking, I picked up my teacup, taking a sip of top-quality Mengding Ganlu tea. This was a top-quality tribute. Even His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, only had a few taels.7 The prince had given me half of what he had received. This was my favorite. I would only steep this tea during these kinds of leisurely days. Who knew that I would only have the opportunity to take one sip before I heard Qin Qing coldly inquire, “Did you really have an affair with Princess Changle?”
PUCHI! The tea in my mouth completely spewed out. I stared blankly at Qin Qing. Somewhat stuttering, I asked, “General Qin, what … what did you say?”
Qin Qing coldly looked at me and said, “I asked you whether you had a love affair with Princess Changle.”
I subconsciously employed my senses. Right, Hu Wei was far from here, he should not be able to listen. Why was there such a question? I looked at Qin Qing and asked, “General Qin, forgive me for speaking so bluntly, but do you have a relationship with the Princess?”
Hearing this, Qin Qing’s face blushed deep red as he replied, “There is none.”
I could feel goosebumps all over my body, knowing that this man’s killing intent had been stirred. However, after thinking it over, I could not allow Hu Wei to come in. If this kind of rumor-mongering were spread, then even the Prince of Yong would be unable to protect me. I calmly stated, “Since General does not have any relationship with the princess, isn’t it inappropriate to investigate the princess’s love affairs? However, since the general has asked, if I do not respond, then unavoidably it would appear that I have a guilty conscience. However, this matter can happen once and only once. I hope that the general will use his brains first before he asks.”
I looked at Qin Qing’s green complexion, feeling that there was still some leeway. I therefore continued, “Jiang Zhe is a surrendered subject from Southern Chu. That General disdains me is understandable. However, the sole good aspect of Jiang Zhe’s life is that I keep my nose clean. Aside from my deceased wife, I have never had relations with any other woman. If General reprimands Jiang Zhe for bending my knee and surrendering, no matter how much offense I take, I must still listen. However, with this kind of filthy speech, as far as I’m concerned, although I treat it as floating smoke and allow it to pass, I still cannot allow you talk nonsense.”
Qin Qing’s complexion changed several times before he coldly replied, “Do you dare swear?”
I laughed scornfully, indifferently stating, “General, Jiang Zhe, in this life, can swear above to the firmaments and gods and below to the common people that I have never done this kind of thing. However, there is no harm for me to speak bluntly. I have only met and spoken with the Princess on two occasions. The first was in Southern Chu, as I was granted an audience. The second time was the other day, a chance encounter here in the Prince of Yong’s residence. The Princess is blue-blooded nobility and was once the Queen of Southern Chu. We are separated as liege and vassal. If General Qin considers these matters as a love affair, then there is no innocence left in this world.”
Qin Qing calmed down. He could hear that although my words were fierce and forceful, they contained no falsehoods. Thinking of how he had come to interrogate after listening to gossip and ended up being badly bruised, and had not acted in accordance with his father’s wishes in apologizing to Jiang Zhe, Qin Qing clasped his hands together and apologized, “This is my mistake. This is what I had overheard from two eunuchs in this residence. Would the major please forgive me?”
I grew cold, immediately raising my voice and calling, “Hu Wei.”
Hu Wei immediately pushed open the door and entered. In a stony voice, I said, “There is someone babbling nonsense, angering General Qin. You will immediately go and bring them to see me. General Qin, what did those two look like? Where did you meet them?”
Qin Qing originally did not intend to speak, but seeing the icy coldness in Jiang Zhe’s eyes, his heart actually trembled and he indeed revealed those two eunuchs’ age and appearance. Hearing this, Hu Wei thought it over before he spoke, “Daren, this subordinate knows who those two are. They are eunuchs that have come here from the palace. May I ask daren, should I bring them here?”
Thinking it over, I replied, “Today, His Imperial Highness is hosting a banquet. We cannot alarm any of the guests. Capture those two and have them imprisoned, allowing His Imperial Highness to handle it.”
After Hu Wei departed, I looked at Qin Qing and said indifferently, “General Qin, listen to my advice. The reason why your esteemed father has received glory and favor to this day is not because he relied upon his power and influence to intimidate others. I have heard that the personal character of the Grand General Who Pacifies Remote Lands is reserved. He will act according to his words, and if he acts, there will be results. He is most deserving of admiration. Grand General handles affairs fairly and firmly. If there are no offenses, he does not even mistreat a mere soldier. If there are offenses, he does not yield even to imperial kinsmen. General should consider your behavior these last few days. Is there anything for you to brag about? It is not that I am having an intimate conversation when we are only acquaintances,8 but I cannot bear for the Grand General’s descendants to disappear.”
Qin Qing originally should have been indignant, but he felt that Jiang Zhe’s words seemed to share similar intent with the words spoken on a daily basis by his father, and did not dare refute them. Thinking back to how he had been eaten up by anger and jealousy, the more Qin Qing thought, the more he became ashamed. He was originally a descendant of a martial family and had received the earnest guidance from his stern father. Although he was momentarily muddled, this was not his true nature. Having thought this through, he felt leisurely and bright. Respectfully, he kneeled on the ground and acknowledged, “Many thanks for Sir’s guidance. That day, Qin Qing offended Sir. Would Sir please forgive me?”
I was greatly surprised. Remarkably, this man was capable of acknowledging his mistakes and changing. I could not but help him rise to his feet, and respond, “For the general to give such great courtesy, this lowly official does not dare to accept. If there are points where I have offended you, would General please forgive me?”
Qin Qing calmly replied, “Sir, originally Qin Qing wished to listen to Sir’s guidance. However, I have come to offer my congratulations. The banquet will soon start and Qin Qing will have no choice but to go congratulate His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong. Someday in the future, if there is the opportunity, would Sir please grant me your guidance?”
I could not help but rejoice that our hostility had unexpectedly transformed into friendship. I personally saw Qin Qing out of the Cold Courtyard. After seeing him walk off into the distance, I suddenly heard a voice excoriate, “Who dares trespass into the Cold Courtyard? Quickly surrender and be bound!”
瓜田不納履，李下不整冠, guatianbunalü, lixiabuzhengguan – idiom, lit. don’t tie your shoelaces in a melon patch, and don’t adjust your hat under a plum tree; fig. don’t do anything that might arouse suspicion, innocent acts may be misconstrued
The lantern displays of the Lantern Festival (元宵节), marking the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations, typically last three days.
振振有辞, zhenzhenyouci – idiom, lit. to speak forcefully and with justice; to argue with the courage of one’s convictions
心惊肉跳, xinjingroutiao – idiom, lit. heart alarmed, body leaping; fear and trepidation in the face of disaster
巳时, sishi – 9-11AM
守口如瓶, shoukouruping – idiom, lit. to guard one’s mouth like a closed bottle; tight-lipped, reticent, not breathing a word
A unit of weight measurement that is about 50 grams.
交浅言深, jiaoqianyanshen – idiom, lit. to talk intimately while being comparative strangers