Living leisurely in Tang Dynasty
Living Leisurely in Tang Dynasty Chapter 14

Since Li Yuanying grew up in Da’an and Taiji Palace, formal ceremonies like accolades are not something foreign to him.

He even specifically invited Wei Zheng and Xiao Deyan to attend his ceremony. Kong Yingda who he didn’t invite was instead attending on the Emperor’s invitation. It could be said to be a grand-scale event.

Yuanying’s only regret is that his mother isn’t present and couldn’t watch him receive his title in person.

The Emperor saw that his youngest brother and Xiao Deyan were close and thinks that it’s strange.

Last year when his son Li Tai wanted to compile a book called <<Comprehensive Gazetteer>> [1]in Pinyin: Kuodi Zhi which is an early Tang Dynasty survey of Tang China’s geography and administrative divisions. His Majesty requested that Xiao Deyan and his men to assist the prince with the book. Isn’t it more reasonable to assume that Xiao Deyan would be on Li Tai’s side? Why then did Li Yuanying invite him?

“Has the kid been harassing Minister Xiao often?”

Xiao Deyan is already an old man who has experienced many storms in life so he’s no longer nervous in front of the Emperor. He merely smiles then glances over at Wei Zheng and said in a joking manner: “It’s all Wei Zheng’s doing.”

Wei Zheng’s current post is as a chancellor and is in charge of handling edicts issued by the Emperor. If he thinks an edict is feasible, he approves and issues it under his name. Otherwise, he would respectfully pass it back to the Emperor for a second review and amendment. In short, he was someone highly regarded by the Emperor. During the 10th year of Zhengguan, he was already a minister with status second only to the three Ducal ministers and was already in charge of the Chancellery.

After being specifically named by Xiao Deyan, Wei Zheng responded: “When I was compiling <<Writings on important governing principles>>, I had deep conversations with Scholar Xiao and realized that I was not as proficient as he is in the topic in Analectic hence I recommended his Highness to seek advice from him”.  

“How is Yuanying learning?”

Li Yuanying immediately looked at Xiao Deyan expectantly with bright round watery eyes that implied that today is my big day please say something nice and praise me.

Xiao Deyan understood this and decided to accommodate the child’s wish.  

“His Royal Highness is extremely intelligent and he is willing to work hard. With this progress, I’m afraid that there will be nothing left to teach him soon.”

Li Yuanying loves to hear this. If he has a tail it would be wagging proudly with a face full of pride.

Since it’s Yuanying’s birthday, Li Er and Kong Yingda did not speak ill about him but merely reminded him to be more serious and stop fooling around in the future.  

After the ceremony, everyone gave him gifts including Kong Yingda who gave him a good inkstone.

Li Yuanying happily accepted them but secretly thinks that Old man Kong gave him an inkstone to subtly ridicule him for his bad handwriting.  

After a meal together, everyone departed.  Yuanying then told Li Zhi about his suspicion of Kong Yingda’s gift.

“But minister Wei also gave you ink ingots; why don’t you think the same about his gift?”

“How can it be the same?!”

Wei Zheng has been kind to him and he even has a wonderful granddaughter like Wei Shu. Kong Yingda doesn’t have any of those! Even if he has a granddaughter no one can beat sister Shu!

Li Zhi thinks he’s talking nonsense and got tired of him so he just left.

As soon as Li Zhi has left, Yuanying felt lonely so he went to the library. He was no longer surprised to see Consort Wu here anymore and simply asked for her help to locate books.  At the same time, he didn’t forget to tell her about the ink ingot and stones that he has received.

He actually felt a little strange about his thoughts. Why did he feel that Kong Yingda was mocking him but not Wei Zheng?

“Then you should read one more book.”

“What book?”

Consort Wu stretched out her slender arms to take a book and handed it to Yuanying.

Yuanying open it and said in confusion: “Hanzi?” [2]Han Feizi – a collection of writing from Han Fei of Eastern Zhou

Consort Wu nodded.

Yuanying took it suspiciously and left with his pile of books.

Consort Wu looked at Yuanying’s back and the corners of her lips raised subconsciously.

Everyone in this deep palace lives a life of fear and cautiousness but this child is truly fearless; living freely and with indulgences.

She’s curious to know the kind of person he would be in the future. Will his carefree and innocent ways be taken away by the cruel and ruthless palace life? Or will he be able to live a life that is different from everyone else?

Li Yuanying didn’t care what consort Wu thinks about himself so he took his books, returned to his residence, and started reading <<Hanzi>>.

The book was divided into many volumes and the one given to him was on the difficulties of persuasion; not too hard to read as there weren’t a lot of words.

At first glance, Yuanying only found the book quite interesting but when he finishes it he understood why Consort Wu gave him this book.  

There was a story within it that was related to his doubts. The overall gist is about a family who had a broken fence and both his son and neighbor advised him to fix it quickly to prevent thieves from sneaking in and stealing his possession. The next day his house was really broken into and as a result, he praised his son’s cleverness but suspected that the neighbor robbed him!

There was also another story about how a man who was initially favored by his King. When his mother has fallen ill he secretly used his liege’s horse carriage to visit her.  The King was touched and admired his sense of filial piety. “How filial he is, so anxious that he has forgotten the rules!” Another time, the same man took a bite out of a peach and found it sweet, so he gave the half-eaten peach to the king. “How deep is his love for me that if he eats sweet peaches, he will share it with me!” However, this man later fell out of favor and the King got irritated. Both incidents became “How dare he drive a carriage that can only be used by the king and how dare he gives me half-eaten peach!”

This shows that the same incident can lead to very different views based on one’s relationship with the other!

Within <<Han Zi>> was also this saying “Dragons have scales and so do kings. If you want to succeed, do not touch a King’s scales! [3]Scales here when referred to a person would imply a person’s bottom-line

Yuanying likes this book very much and went back to the library to collect the remaining volumes.

When he went to class the next day, Yuanying not only changed his outfit because of his new title but went with volumes of <<Han Zi>> in hand.

Li Zhi hadn’t read this book yet and seeing that teacher isn’t here yet he borrowed a volume and started reading.

Coincidentally, Li Zhi picked the volume on <<The five vermin>> [4]Han Feizi- Wudu which talks about the five ills affecting a country. First, those who are overly devoted to learnings of Confucianism. Second, those who strategize and deceive others through words. Third, free-spirited nomads are uncontrollable. Fourth, those who pledge loyalty to nobility to escape hardships and finally merchants and craftsmen.

Han Fei also sarcastically mentioned in his works that, letting scholars use decorum and etiquette to govern a country is tantamount to a stupid farmer who stands by the wayside waiting to trap the rabbit [5]means the foolish act of waiting for harvest without toiling.

The illustrations were so well and vividly written that Li Zhi almost felt convinced by Han Fei’s teaching.

Seeing his frined holding another volume and reading it, he couldn’t help but ask: “Young uncle, where did you find these books?”

“From the library.”

Seeing Li Zhi’s shocked face from reading <<Han Zi>> he took away the volume on Five vermin and handed him the volume on Eight Traitors instead.

<<Eight Traitors>> is relatively short and discusses about treacherous people serving the king. These include but are not limited to the king’s wife, his brothers, his attendants, and ministers who do things behind his back.

Li Yuanying didn’t feel that he could be considered as one of those treacherous people mentioned in the book and said with relish: “These books are so interesting. The author is really daring; no wonder he was killed.”

Looking at the scope of this book it’s as if it’s implying that everyone around the King is wicked. So beware of everybody!”

With such writings how could others sleep well without killing him off!  

Both boys finished both books on five vermin and eight traitors and have developed great admiration for Han Zi’s guts!

<<Eight traitors>> only mocks those who serves the King but <<Five Vermin>> talks ill about even normal citizens! It’s as if the author thinks everyone are traitors and worms except for farmers who tend to crops. Whether you’re a scholar, a merchant or a craftsman, you are all up to no good!

 If this book was read by someone with bad mentality, he would probably think that this is a dark and depressing world!

“This person is amazing.” It’s as if the author wanted to offend the whole world and just wouldn’t stop!

Li Zhi having a forgiving personality and dislikes evil thoughts shook his head and tried to persuade Li Yuanying to stop: ” Young uncle, you should really stop reading such books.”

Books are easy to find, but interesting ones are hard to come by. So why would I not read them?

“No, I have to read them all.”

The more he read, the more interested Yuanying was in this book. He even felt that there are many vivid examples in it which he can use as stories to tell the other children.

For several days, Li Yuanying was absorbed in reading <<Han Zi>> until Dong Xiaoyi reported that the sunflower had buds. Hearing that he threw away his books and excitedly took Sizi and Wei Shu to see the sunflower buds.

This time, Li Zhi has no class to attend and can finally join the flower team!

Perhaps the seeds were tenacious and under Dong Xiaoyi’s careful tending, all ten seeds survived and sprouted into healthy sunflowers. One of them was even taller than the boy.

The children were admiring the flowers when His Majesty arrives with his entourage to do the same.

Seeing the children, Li Er waved his hand to exempt them from any salutations.

Looking at the ten sunflowers in full bloom, His Majesty inevitably had to warn Yuanying again.

“In the future, if you find any rare crops that can be grown, do not fry them and eat them!”

Yuanying nodded obediently.

After that, the Emperor took the children with him. He then noticed an unfamiliar little boy among the group of children. “Whose child is this?”

“Lord brother, do guess!”

“I will not.” Said his Majesty annoyed.

Wei Zheng quickly stepped forward to confess: “Your Majesty, this is your minister’s … granddaughter.”

Li Er took a closer look and saw that the child had red lips with pearl white teeth and beautiful eyebrows. He really a girl.

Seeing Wei Shu dressed in boy’s clothing, Li Er remembered Princess Gao Yang who wasn’t able to come along to Jiucheng Palace and smiled: “I wonder who would be more handsome when standing side by side, your granddaughter and my Gao Yang!”

Wei Zheng glared at Wei Shu and quickly asked the Emperor for forgiveness over his lax upbringing on his granddaughter.  

Li Er just smiled over this trivial matter. He instead asked Li Yuanying: “I heard that lately you’ve been engrossed in reading that you wouldn’t even stop while eating. What are you reading?”

Li Zhi hurriedly gave Li Yuanying a cautious stare.

Although he doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of <<Han Zi>>, Li Zhi knows that most people do not agree with his teachings. In fact, his father outright mentioned that Han Zi’s teaching is not applicable for peaceful and prosperous times. Instead, Confucianism should be the governing principle instead.

Li Yuanying obviously never thought so far and innocently answered in all honestly that he was reading <<Han Zi>>

Li Er frowned. Isn’t this kid reading about rites and analects? Why is he reading Han Zi?

When Li Er was younger he followed Li Yuan to war. It could be said that he won over his empire on horseback. Due to his past, he decided after being the Emperor that he needed to pay more attention to enlightenment. On one hand, he asked Fang Xuanling and his men to establish laws to govern the country while on the other hand he worked on relaxing restrictions and tried to reduce sentences of serious crimes.

In fact, Li Er was renowned for letting more than two hundred death row prisoners return home to celebrate the New Year and delayed their sentences to the coming year. In the second year, surprisingly all two hundred prisoners returned without fail!

He then pardoned all the condemned prisoners, expressing that since they have remorse they should be given a second chance.

From this, it can be seen that His Majesty believes in ruling the country by virtue.

Li Er looked at Yuanying without emotions and asked: “Have you finished reading? What do you think?”

T/L notes: Honestly, this chapter is extremely difficult to translate because of the many references to actual Tang Dynasty books and their interpretation. I’ve actually taken quite a lot of liberty in localizing it into English. Am also leaving the actual pinyin of the raw text under footnote so that if ever anyone has a better recommendation on word choice do let me know and we can replace them.


1 in Pinyin: Kuodi Zhi which is an early Tang Dynasty survey of Tang China’s geography and administrative divisions
2 Han Feizi – a collection of writing from Han Fei of Eastern Zhou
3 Scales here when referred to a person would imply a person’s bottom-line
4 Han Feizi- Wudu
5 means the foolish act of waiting for harvest without toiling
1 comment
  1. Jun has spoken 6 months ago

    Thank you for your hard work. This is an interesting novel.


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