It’s early February and the ice has melted and the willows are turning green. Although it was still a bit chilly, there were already flowers being sold everywhere.
As dawn approaches the tall and heavy city gate slowly opens accompanied by the sound of drums, allowing the full brilliance of the rising sun inside the city gate.
People began to fill the city when they saw the city squares next to JingGuang city-gate opening up. With that, its residents started venturing out in group of two and threes. The city is waking up to life slowly from it’s nightly slumber.
A small river flows through Qunxian square towards the West City. As pedestrians walk along the river bank, they’ll see a small lake being formed by the river. It’s exceptionally lively today near the lakeside as the mysterious shop that everyone was curious about is finally opening.
It is rumored that the shop belongs to the newly titled Prince of Teng who is the Emperor’s youngest brother. He was raised by His Majesty’s side since young.
It’s also rumored that people from all walks of life have came and gone to the store in the past few months. This includes students from the Imperial College, officials from the Ministry of Justice & Criminology and personal soldiers from General Li Jing’s mansion and so on!
It’s rumored that there are lots of desks and bookshelves filled of books! Anyway, the people who spread these words have never seen so many books before in their life!
It’s precisely because of all these strange rumors that the crowd came to watch with excitement. Hearsay was passed from one person to ten people to a hundred others, the entire Western city was filled with people. Hawkers saw business opportunities and started crowding around to sell snacks!
While waiting for the auspicious time to arrive, a group of people came out of this mysterious shop. Looking at their attire, they were all students of the Imperial academy.
On normal days, these people were all gifted individuals and when they’re out they’ll be greeted with envy. They are now wearing red jackets outside of their usual uniforms with the word “volunteer” written on the front and back making is very eye-catching!
They were getting everyone’s attention.
Zhangsun Quan was among those wearing red jackets. He’s a cousin of Zhangsun Wuji and Empress Zhangsun but is much younger than them and has only entered the Imperial College this year.
Another close ally to Zhangsun Quan is Yu Shinan’s youngest grandson, Yu Zhi. After Yu Shinan’s death, the Yu family was no longer prominent and he wanted to use this opportunity to rebuild their clan’s reputation.
These two are of the highest status among the group of library volunteers. The rest were children from less prestigious background. Distinguished children like Du He and Fang Yiai would never be willing to do such things!
This all started with Yuanying’s visit to Kong Yingda after the New Year Festival. Yuanying fully demonstrated into action the saying one never goes to the Buddhist temple for no reason. When he met Kong Yingda, he began to talking about his business aspirations.
According to the young boy the library is targeted towards people who cannot afford books. Therefore some of them might no be able to comprehend the notices posted and the rules for entering and leaving. To counter that, he wants to borrow students from the academy and make them act as volunteers- to explain to the public what’s a library, its uses and to answer questions to avoid confusion on the opening day.
These so-called volunteers should have a heart to help the world and a desire to help the poor and the weak!
After Yuanying buckled his high hat, he continues persuading Kong Yingda: Our students are always reading at home and have not put their knowledge into practical use, it’s easy for them to turn into nerds and that’s a scary conclusion! This is an opportunity for them to practice, have contact with the public and learn how to convey their thoughts in a way that is easily understood by the mass public.
Kong Yingda thought about it and felt that the child was right. His job is to cultivate talents for the court. Shouldn’t he want them to be able to apply what they’ve learned and become the middleman for the court?
And so Zhangsun Quan and others were selected as volunteers.
Yuanying brought Sizi and Wei Shu to the library early and they were waiting for the auspicious timing to officially open the red silk covering the imperial plaque.
Sizi asked nervously, “Young uncle, do you really want me to unreel the red silk?”
“Yes, it’s up to you to reveal it.”
This was actually the result from a game of rock-paper-scissors. It’s such an important occasion, if we were to directly determine the person to do the deed, it would be too boring. Yuanying chose a few people to play a few rounds of rock-paper-scissors instead. In the end, lucky Sizi won!
Sizi blushed happily: “So many people came to observe our library opening?”
“Yes, there will be more after the volunteers go out to preach! What, are you afraid?”
“No I’m not!”
Li Yuanying smiled.
The boy arranged simple tasks for the volunteers to carry out.
First, go to the each and every gate to post notices.
Second, to read the contents to the public who had their attention drawn.
The announcement was written by Yuanying himself. When Kong Yingda read it, he was tempted to write it on behalf but Yuangying firmly rejected the offer. Yuanying felt that the common people would not be able to understand Kong Yingda! I still wrote it better, for it is simple and easy to understand!
All the hard-work were being carried out by others, so Yuanying strolled around the library with the children and introduced them to the area and books. With the help of his system, the classification of books in his library was straightforward and clear. Each bookshelf specifies the books’ genre making it easy to identify with jus a walk through it!
On this day, His Majesty and Wei Zheng were discussing business affairs. Thinking that it’s a rare occasion of his useless younger brother actually doing something serious, he thinks he deserves support and so they decided to visit him.
Others wanted to see it too and unanimously agreed with the proposal.
The Emperor took Wei Zheng and his confidants to the Western City together.
The two didn’t need to go far to see a group of people crowded together listening to someone preaching.
Standing next to the notice, it was a student from the Imperial College. Li Er thought he looked a little familiar but Wei Zheng recognized him instantly.
“Isn’t he from the Yu family?”
The group stopped to observe how he would respond to the common people.
The kid from the Yu family is Yu Zhi. He read out the contents of the notice in all seriousness.
“There’s a library located in the Western City, you can read books for free, everyone hurry up and go have a look.”
The statement was so blunt and straightforward that it was rather difficult for Yu Zhi who has been reading fine literature since young to articulate it.
But when it comes to being arrogant and having his own way, who can compare to Li Yuanying? If Li Yuanying wanted it written this way, they had to read it accordingly.
Seeing that the people accepted it well without laughing, Yu Zhi wiped his sweat quietly and continue with the library’s lending rules.
Due to limited space, only those who managed to get a bamboo card can enter. There are two types: round and square.
Round bamboo cards are available in limited quantity and allows you to sit in the reading area. With the more common square bamboo cards, you can look for books and read them but there aren’t seats for you. However, you’re more than welcome to sit on the floor.
As for borrowing books, you need to verify your identity and address. After all, it’s wise to take pre-caution about dishonest people who do not return things. If you arrive late and don’t secure a bamboo card, you’ll have to wait for someone to return theirs before you get one.
An old peasant quietly listens to the briefing while clenching his worn-out pole excitedly. He then spoke with a heavy accent: “I have a son who has never been to school but he recognizes a few words, can he enter? “
“Yes, everyone is welcome.”
A woman bystander saw that the volunteer had soft features so she teasingly asked: “How about a girl?”
“Women are welcome too.”
There was an uproar and the crowd were all surprised.
Yu Zhi’s expression remained unchanged and he continues to answer questions.
At first, some volunteers were also of the opinion that women shouldn’t be allowed into the library. After all, this is a place to study; what reputation will it carry if it allows women to enter and leave?
Li Yuanying got agitated and scolded them on the spot: “What do you mean bad reputation if it allows women to enter? Does it affect your reading? If you are affected, it means that your will is not firm and you should leave instead of the girl! If it doesn’t affect you, who are you to disallow others from reading?”
After his outburst, the boy sent away all those who raised such concerns and barred them from becoming volunteers.
The remaining ones honestly preached to the public in accordance to Yuanying’s request.
At first, the volunteers felt that it would be more appropriate to just send minor officials for this task and they shouldn’t be burdened like this. But after several rounds of talk, more and more people gathered and were asking many questions, their faces thin, dirty or yellowish and their hands calloused; all speaking in different accents.
However, their eyes lit up when they found out that the library provided recycle paper for public use as they couldn’t afford it. Originally, their sons and grandsons could not afford to read books. If now such a facility exists then their sons can read —I heard that there are even books on various topics like mathematics, law, calligraphy, agriculture and so on. Even if one fails the imperial exam, you’ll still learn skills and can become an accountant or a writer.
Everyone could see the urgency and eagerness of these people.
Looking at eyes that were getting brighter, Yu Zhi felt for the first time that the things he took for granted and was accustomed to are things that this crowd could only dream about but could never achieve. Their desires and their needs are clearly laid out before him!
He no longer felt tired. Even though his mouth was dry, he patiently answered one question after another.
His Majesty and his party watched on and their hearts were touched. They exclaimed to Zhangsun Wuji: “This child is doing pretty well.”
Zhangsun Wuji smiled, “That’s natural. The students of the Imperial College are all future pillars of the country.”
They continue to walk towards the West City and upon turning onto a corner, they saw that the whole street was crowded with people!
This library is free for all and the idea is fresh. Naturally people who hears the news flock to it.
His Majesty and his entourage couldn’t do anything due to the crowd, they could only observe the commotion.
Not long after the sharp-eye Zhangsun Wuji saw Kong Yingda squeezing out from the crowd.
The ministers present felt that this commotion was exaggerated. It’s probably caused by Li Yuanying who had assigned several groups to post notices and preach along the streets.
However, what’s irritating is that this brat who is able to create such a huge commotion didn’t even think about inviting them.
The Emperor was in disguise so Kong Yingda silently greeted his Majesty.
Li Er smiled and joked: “Teacher Kong, you’re being treated as a demolished bridge after he had crossed the river.”
The person who contributed the most to today’s event is Kong Yingda. He requested that the volunteers copy books and then make them go around publicizing the news. But Li Yuanying within a heartbeat of not being satisfied by his volunteers instantly “returned” them. And when the library opened, he didn’t even think to invite him to the ceremony!
Kong Yingda twitched his cheeks and replied, “I wasn’t expecting to get an invitation.”
It’s good enough if the kid doesn’t make him jump in anger. He’ll not expect too much from him about being courteous and respecting his teachers!
Clang, clang, clang~
The sound from the gong interrupted the conversation.
The auspicious time is now!