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As Qiu Jun had been one of the head authenticators of the provincial exam, he naturally became the respected teacher of that very batch of examinees.
Among the crowd of students, Tang Fan had gained the most of his good graces. Qiu Jun believed that if he industriously forged ahead in his studies, then his future accomplishments would be in no way inferior to his own. Thus, Tang Fan was accepted into his branch as a disciple, and this moment also became a tale that spread in Shilin.
After Tang Fan got into the roll of qualifiers, he stayed in Hanlin Academy for three years, then was allocated to Shuntian Prefecture by the Ministry of Appointments. This study-brother Pan of his had definitely contributed to that, as unless there was a vacancy in Court, he would have proceeded to be kept waiting in the Academy, or undergone the also-common event of getting assigned to some remote little county to serve as an official there. ‘Head of Politics of a Region’ sounded more impressive than ‘Judge’, but the Heavens would be high up, and the Emperor far away — who knew how many months or years it would take to get one’s talent remembered by the latter? Once three years passed, there would once again be new candidates to appoint to posts. Who could still remember one name in a vast sea of people?
From having this layer of a connection, the relationship between Tang Fan and Pan Bin couldn’t be described as distant.
Tang Fan was also aware that the man was indeed not any sort of traitor; his talent was simply a bit mediocre, and he was a bit scared of getting into trouble. Because of that, he still did everything he could to calculate on the other’s behalf. Hearing Pan Bin’s grumbling, he didn’t get angry, but instead smiled a bit. “How about you and I make a bet, Brother?”
Pan Bin was somewhat displeased, thinking to himself, even though there’s no harm in calling me ‘Brother’ in private, I’m still your superior. How can a senior-junior pair be like so? However, due to his teacher Qiu Jun’s reputation, it wouldn’t be good for him to bicker too much about it, so he lightly coughed. “You’re feeling lucky?”
Tang Fan pointed at the empty bowl in front of him. “If I win, you’ll have to treat me to a bowl of mincepork noodles.”
“Very well. Seems you want to treat me to another one, then,” Pan Bin answered with a grin.
It was on account of his generous teacher that Pan Bin looked after his younger schoolmate more, but he really didn’t take Tang Fan’s words too seriously. From how he saw it, Tang Fan was young in age when he had first entered officialdom, so how could he comprehend what was at stake in this? It’d be great if he didn’t invite calamity for him.
As for said teacher’s words of praise towards Tang Fan, Pan Bin took those even less to heart. He thought that although the former was an expert in the field of knowledge, he was severely average at being an official. So many years wouldn’t have passed like this where his rank would still be lower than his student’s, otherwise.
The abrupt death of the Marquis Estate’s eldest son was swiftly reported to the higher-ups. On Shuntian’s side, Pan Bin didn’t adopt Tang Fan’s suggestion of proceeding with investigation; rather, a private communication with the Marquis directly resulted in Zheng Cheng’s determination as ‘death by a sudden development of acute shed-yang illness.’ In this way, the maid Ah-Lin, who had been on-scene at the time, couldn’t shake free of blame.
Yet, how the judgement would ultimately go was not Shuntian’s say at all. Due to the involvement of the Estate, Marquis Wu’an himself would definitely have to go seek out the Emperor, and he would definitely be the one that would ultimately come to a decision.
It stood to reason that Ah-Lin hadn’t killed him directly. Even if she really had seduced him and indirectly caused him to die, that wouldn’t reach the level of a crime punishable by death, being banishment at most. However, were a lone woman to get sentenced to exile, how many atrocities would she then be subjected to? Come to think of it, she might not be even able to reach her destination on the road there. That was all saying nothing of the fact that it was the Estate that she had offended; the Marquis wanted to strangle a weak, powerless woman to death, and he wouldn’t even need to think to make it happen. It would practically be as easy as a flip of the hand.
Regardless of how this would happen, Pan Bin would be seen as cleared of responsibility.
However, the Heavens did not follow the wishes of humans. The more he wanted to make a big event a small one, the more the development of things instead ran counter to his desire.
Mysterious forces were at play, dooming this year to be an eventful one.
The cause of the incident was actually two months back. In March, Chen Yue, the Right Deputy Capital Censor, submitted a letter to Emperor requesting that Liaodong’s horse market be reopened. Old grudges between the Three Guards of Duoyan and the Ming Dynasty were involved regarding this matter, and to speak of them, one would need to first trace their origins back to Adept Ancestor Yongle’s time. Like an old woman’s foot-binding wrap, it was smelly and long, and would best go unmentioned.
Only, there was considerable controversy over this in Court. Some people believed that the Three Guards threw away the reputation they had been afforded, so their throats should be clutched, not let go, and reopening the horse market was equivalent to actively backing down — the Dynasty’s prestige would be non-existent afterwards, while allowing those people to want a li when given a cun. However, on account of this having Wang Zhi’s backing, the Emperor still ended up not only approving Chen Yue’s proposal, but also permitting him to go ahead and act as Liaodong’s Grand Coordinator.
Consequently, in not even two months’ time, Chen Yue falsely claimed that the Jianzhou Jurchens were rebelling, then passed off the headcount of those murdered by surprise as a contribution when he sent the report up, triggering a riot in Liaodong. Following someone bringing all this to the light, the Emperor was naturally going to send people to investigate and find the truth, placating those of the border division that Chen Yue had harassed. Then, Western Depot Director Wang Zhi volunteered for the assignment, saying that he was willing to work for the Emperor.
That he was doing this to snatch some merits was a given, but many people had done things of this sort before. It was a common sight in the Great Ming’s political circle that could be found all over the place.
Yet, Yu Zijun, the Minister of War, stood up in opposition, believing that the current top priority should be to send someone that was well-versed in army matters to go, as only they could resolve the tangled issue efficiently — the implication being that an amateur like Wang Zhi wasn’t to go join in on the excitement and be an inconvenience.
Wang Zhi, of course, was enraged. He discovered that, in spite of both receiving the Emperor’s favor and establishing the Western Depot, he still didn’t cover the sky with one hand, and there were yet people everywhere in Court that fought against him.
Right at that time, Guanxi’s Taiping Prefecture and Sichuan’s Yanjing vassal were hit by successive earthquakes. On the pretext that the Heavens were issuing a warning that there were scoundrels haunting the Emperor’s surroundings, Wang Zhi fought to be the first to lodge a complaint before the man. First, he got Yu Zijun’s diehard follower, Right Assistant Minister of War Ma Wensheng, booted off to Liaozheng, thus breaking Yu Zijun’s arm, then also called for Imperial Censors to supervise the area’s disaster relief, in the name of avoiding someone pocketing the funds. Every one of the couple of Censors that spoke on Yu Zijun’s behalf got kicked over to the place, thoroughly isolating him.
The wrestling of these Dynasty Pivot bigwigs hadn’t had anything to do with Pan Bin in the least, but, by either good or bad luck, the murder case of the Marquis Estate happened to be at exactly the right time. Wang Zhi thereby presented a memorial to the Emperor requesting a complete investigation of it to the last, and expressed that, if needed, the Western Depot could also join in to provide assistance with it, as the truth had to be given to Marquis Wu’an. On top of that, Shuntian Prefecture’s hasty conclusion of the case had a further air of half-assedness, and ought to be punished.
When this news came in, Pan Bin couldn’t remain sitting still. The way things went was exactly how his younger schoolmate had said it would!
Just imagine; the other was no more than a bit over twenty, and although he was brimming with talent, commanded their teacher’s endless appreciation, and got accepted as a disciple, he was merely a novice that had just entered officialdom, when all was said and done. Pan Bin hadn’t taken his words to heart before, and it was precisely because of this that he thought Tang Fan was nothing more than an overly arrogant youngster that didn’t know harms from benefits and randomly passed judgement on everything from where he was standing. Unexpectedly, after a short interim, everything his junior had said had come true, one after the other, without the least bit of error.
In contrast, he, as the Shuntian Prefect, was a major truethird-rank official, and could be considered being half a step inside the Pivot, but he was as oblivious as ever. Things didn’t come as clearly into view to him as they did to a sixth-rank official.
Since things had come to this point, he called for Tang Fan at once, trying to find a doctor to fix his critical condition. In the past, he had affected the airs of never calling for his junior, but now, he had no mental blockade in the least. After explaining the entire sequence of events, he ended it with, “Brother, in your view, is there still any margin for redeeming this situation?”
In accordance with Pan Bin’s status and position, the rate at which he received news was inevitably much faster than Tang Fan’s. The latter wasn’t surprised, either, with even less of a flaunting look. “Let’s start with seeing what you want to do,” he said, after a short moment of silence.
Pan Bin thought to himself, what I want to do? I’m wanting to keep my rank as an official and not get looked into, of course!
He coughed lightly. “Marquis Wu’an had told me in private that he wished for this case to be de-emphasized, but Wang Zhi then came in with vicious momentum. His Majesty usually trusts him, too, so I’m afraid that it’ll be very difficult to settle this in a good way. Me being accused of misdoings is a small matter, but it goes without saying that the Prefecture will suffer implication from it, as well. If you have a means, there’s no harm in stating it.”
“Neither you nor the Marquis have any enmity with Wang Zhi, nor does Zheng Cheng’s murder have anything to do with him. He wouldn’t make life hard for you without rhyme or reason. A disturbance like this is simply him wanting to build his might up with this as an excuse, thus intimidating the Court officials.”
Pan Bin looked pained. “What does him building his might have to do with me? I’m not Yu Zijun, nor have I ever offended him!”
“Minister Yu is an old subject of the former Court, and has always had prominence. There’s nothing Wang Zhi can do for the time being, so he’s forced to find a bystander to vent his anger on. It’s just as the saying goes: ‘The city gate catching fire brings calamity to the fish of a pond.”’
Not in a good mood, Pan Bin arbitrarily took it out on him. “You still have the mind to think up jokes? Your Brother here is about to be dismissed from his post and condemned, yet you’re glad?”
Tamg Fan wasn’t scared, cupping his hands. “Forgive me, Sir. Did you ever ask your couple of aides? What did they say?”
Pan Bin had two aides, one named Lu Feng, and one named Jiang Dongyuan. Tang Fan had met them both once before.
Pan Bin sighed. “One of them said to go to Wang Zhi, apologize, and give him gifts, while the other said to send a memorial begging for forgiveness!”
The memorial was a necessity. Now that Wang Zhi was criticizing Shuntian Prefecture’s incompetence in the presence of the Emperor, Pan Bin definitely needed the memorial, but the way of writing one was an art form. Even more importantly was that everything depended on the Emperor’s mood, as well as whether or not the one that wrote the memorial was allowed to speak before the Emperor. Pan Bin worried that once his was submitted, Wang Zhi would then give the Emperor a few provoking words that would make him think Pan Bin incapable, bringing him, the Shuntian Prefect, to an end.
As for going to Wang Zhi to apologize and give gifts, Pan Bin was still a bit hesitant.
At present, the Court was divided into three main groups; those that adhered themselves to Wang Zhi, those that Wang Zhi went against, and additional neutrally-standing ones, such as Pan Bin and Tang Fan’s teacher, Qiu Jun. He was an old man that merely served as an Imperial College Chancellor, so his neutrality was fine, and no one would bother about roping him in.
Pan Bin also wanted to be a neutral party, inoffensive to both, but that was a bit difficult when it came to his position.
See, this had been a small case — even if the deceased’s identity was complicated, giving it an attentive investigation and handling would be enough. Yet, because it was now getting involved in the various factional disputes of mutual deception in Court, it became complex all of a sudden as a result.
“Brother, how do you view Wang Zhi?”
Pan Bin was startled, then thought about it. “He’s complicated.”
An interior eunuch that was even younger than Tang Fan had abruptly sprung up in the span of a brief year, obtained the confidence of the Emperor and Consort Wan, organized the Western Depot, and became overwhelmingly powerful. Pan Bin heard that there had been an official that once came into the capital to relate his duties, then had bumped into Wang Zhi, who had no sense of personal proportion; unlike all those others that flattered and curried favor with him, he instead scolded him in public. After the event, Wang Zhi not only didn’t bicker with him, but instead praised that official for his strength of character to anyone he came across. Pan Bin didn’t know whether the rumors were true or false, but they claimed that he was an immensely tolerant person, while he contrarily arrested and killed many officials using the Western Depot, constructed a lot of enemies, behaved unreasonably, and was additionally fond of recklessly conducting trouble for others.
In short, he was a man very capable of seizing opportunities. Were the world to go into chaos, he might be a formidable sort of hero then, but were one to treat him with that same sort of disdainful attitude that civil officials looked upon eunuchs with, they would ultimately be the only one suffering.
“Generally, there’s no eunuch that doesn’t lust for money, but Wang Zhi is an exception. He doesn’t covet wealth, but fame and power. You know of that event he helped His Majesty deal with two years ago. Taking advantage of the ‘demon fox case’, he was able to go with the momentum and raise a big flag, found the Depot, and pull together his own influence. Prior to those two years, how many people had ever heard of the name ‘Wang Zhi’? If you go ask that same thing again now, how many won’t know of Wang Zhi? For this reason, giving gifts or bribes would work on attending eunuchs, but not on Eunuch Wang.”
The way he talked was not fast, and he spoke garrulously, but it gave one a sense of steadiness and reliability.
This logical analysis made Pan Bin even more wholly convinced by this schoolmate of his, and he nodded over and over again. “Right. That waste of space Old Jiang has been my aide for some years, too, but he doesn’t understand Wang Zhi as much as you do. What’s your thoughts, then, on what I should do?”
“A memorial must be sent, but you can do something like…”
Once he was done listening, Pan Bin’s eyes shined, and he laughed happily. “That’s a great way!”
On the morrow, Pan Bin presented a memorial.
He wasn’t that great at judging cases, but he had skill at being an official, and a memorial, which underwent some finishing touches once it passed through his aides, had unexpectedly been compiled into a document that listed out how he had been wronged. First, he sincerely expressed his humble apologies and recounted all sorts of difficulties he’d had where he didn’t have options, striving for the Emperor’s sympathy. After, he turned the topic around, saying that since Director Wang had denounced Shuntian Prefecture, it was surely their group of subjects that had indeed not done things satisfactorily — it would be better for the Western Depot, Eastern Depot, Brocade Guard, Ministry of Justice, and Court of Judicial Review to come together and get involved in the investigation of this case, so that the truth could properly be paid back to the Marquis Estate.
The pond hadn’t been clean to start with, and Pan Bin’s move simply muddied it into further chaos.
This was the plan Tang Fan had made for him.
Wang Zhi’s conduct was much too tyrannical, and there weren’t just a few that found him displeasing to the eye. This suggestion happened to coincide with the ideas of certain people in Court, and Tang Fan had taken their mindsets into his calculations. Pan Bin presented the memorial on this side, some outsiders then gave a few instigating words on that side, and it speedily received the Emperor’s approval.
So many departments participated in this that it didn’t matter what outcome was finally sussed out, as Shuntian Prefecture’s responsibility for it would inevitably be a lot lighter. As the saying went, when a club came down, the fish would all scatter in a panic in different directions, and then none of them would get beaten to death. Like this, Pan Bin didn’t need to worry about having to throw out his black silk official’s hat.
As such, things wound around in a big circle. The Estate’s murder case, which had been on the cusp of being concluded, returned to its point of origin once more and started anew, which really made one want to both laugh and cry.
No one could have thought that in the billowing waves behind the scenes, there would be a minor, sixth-rank official.
The translator says: Welcome to ancient patriarchal China, where 9 out of 10 men in power are DICKS
 I can’t, in good conscience, directly link to the wiki page on this without a severe body horror warning. Now that I’ve given it, take caution.