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Once it had undergone the storytellers’ embellishment process, the tale of Censor Tang sagely cracking the case-within-a-case became widely popular, and quickly spread. In spite of transportation to faraway places not being at all convenient in this day and age, commonfolk enjoyed listening to stories like this the most; in no more than a few months, even the Jiangnan region had heard something of it, with adaptations into folk songs sung by bands even being made, purportedly.
Ever since he had entered Shuntian Prefecture, Tang Fan had handled an unknowable amount of cases. Amongst them had been complex cases like the Marquis Wu’an Estate’s, and ones as dangerous as the case of the ancient coffin in Luo River, but not many people knew of those. It wasn’t until the Xianghe County case’s outbreak that he gained the reputation of being able to solve cases like a god, truly having a name that shook the land.
The cause of that was that those previous cases had been too far removed from the average person, so no matter how dangerous or weird they were, everyone only took them as some trivia. The two tomb guardians Tang Fan and the others had encountered before were rarely-seen, for example, but whenever spoken about, no one else believed that they had actually ever existed. On the contrary, they would merely believe this to be an exaggeration, resulting in its acceptance level not being high.
The Xianghe case was different. Its details were unpredictable, yet it didn’t appear to be so far-removed. Listeners would be astonished and feel sympathy, sighing for the Hu father’s misfortune, pitying Lady Hu’s actions.
Therefore, the names of everyone else that had participated in the case’s solving — Magistrate Weng, Sui Zhou, the rest of them — were also raised up high.
With all the rumors, Tang Fan was theorized to be the reincarnation of Lord Bao, while Sui Zhou was theorized to be the ‘Zhang Long’ or ‘Zhao Hu’ or other enforcer at the side of this ‘Lord Bao’, which was preposterous.
But, that was all stuff for later. Just as Tang Fan had said to Magistrate Weng, commonfolk viewed right and wrong very simply. Despite Lady Hu being a murderer, her starting point had been vengeance for her father, that bit of filial piety enough to move people.
Furthermore, even though present facts couldn’t verify the suspicion that Wei Ce had directly framed Hu Hanyin, it had at least proved that Hu Hanyin had indeed been accused wrongly. That also didn’t stop everyone from starting to fantasize about what disgraceful role Wei Ce had played in the case…
He was very likely his wife’s murderer, which he had framed his own sworn father for in order to steal the Hu’s assets. Now, despite twenty years passing, Hu Hanyin’s injustice had finally been cleared. It could be seen that even though the world might not be just, justice yet might not come too late.
After Tang Fan returned to the capital, the case was expectedly reported up to the Shuntian Prefect by Magistrate Weng, which alarmed the Court. In addition to that, rumors had spread so far across the commonfolk, even high officials in Court were talking about it.
A lot of people dared not offend Wan An, but they were quite willing to comment on one-hundred-percent dramatic cases like this. In quick succession, many censors presented memorials. Some spoke on Lady Hu’s behalf, admonishing Wei Ce as a monster with a human face, yet a beast’s heart. Some, similarly to Daming’s former Magistrate, believed that since Wei Ce was a scholar, him having killed his wife to frame his sworn father was unlikely. Lady Zhang might not have been killed by him, making him similar to Hu Hanyin — an unwitting victim.
Talk was abuzz over this, and quarrels were abuzz between two opposing troops with their own opinions. This ended up shocking even the Emperor, who also became interested in the case. As Tang Fan had directly participated in it, he summoned him into the palace to ask about it.
Tang Fan naturally had not forgotten his own promise. He immediately presented Magistrate Weng’s contributions for him, then described the entire sequence of events as they had happened in reality. With his eloquence, it was likely that he could narrate even ordinary stories vividly, to say nothing of this very intriguing case of repeated twists and turns, which he spoke of quite smoothly.
The Emperor did not differ too much from the commoners on the streets, holding his breath as he listened from start to finish. He probably had never been this focused while reading memorials before in his life. At the end of it, he exhaled, smacking his table. “That Wei Ce had to be his wife’s murderer! Otherwise, how would he have been able to abruptly get rich once the Hu family fell, and also give up his opportunity for continuing to get scholarly fame, turning to trade? Clearly, it was to conceal the source of his capital!”
“You are wise, Your Majesty,” Tang Fan answered. “This subject also inferred as much. However, inferences alone cannot be used to convict him of that crime. Now that so many years have passed, Lady Zhang’s corpse has long rotted away, and there would be no way to glean anything off of it no matter how brilliant the coroner is. Hu Hanyin is also long dead. Unless Wei Ce himself admits to it, no one can say who killed his wife.”
Chenghua was quite concerned about Lady Hu being unsatisfied. “How could allowing a scoundrel to go free not be wronging good people?”
He had done many ill-advised things himself, but now that he was hearing of someone else’s story, he was filled with righteous fury.
Tang Fan, unsure of how to react, automatically looked at Sui Zhou.
The latter spoke out, not betraying his hopes. “Your Majesty, the cause of Hu Hanyin’s injustice was because Daming’s Magistrate had judged the case foolishly, having no concrete evidence, yet drawing a conviction indiscriminately. Later generations should look to this as an example to fine-comb details even more, get the confidence of others that way, and not imitate that foolish Prefectural Magistrate by charging Wei Ce with a crime before the evidence is clear.”
“Nowadays, there’s much public opinion going about, where most people are crying out about unfairness for Lady Hu and urging Xianghe’s Magistrate to convict Wei Ce as soon as possible,” Tang Fan promptly picked up. “That Magistrate Weng can withstand the pressure and keep to his morals is truly commendable.”
Chenghua burst out laughing. “All we did was say a few words of discontent, and it drew the two of you’s lengthy chiding. Tang Fan, Guangchuan is always so earnestly boring — does he not bore you to death, too?”
Hearing the familiarity towards Sui Zhou in his tone, Tang Fan laughed as well. “Guangchuan is someone cold on the outside, yet warm on the inside, with high capabilities. When this subject interacts with him, there’s always pleasant surprises abound, never boredom.”
The Emperor nodded, rather proud. “Amongst our in-laws, Guangchuan alone gives us the most hardworking repute! Speaking of which, since you are adept with cracking cases, we will have you go to the Inspectorate, not back to the Ministry of Justice to handle them. Do you feel dissatisfied with that?”
“That I could be promoted a rank is entirely by your grace; I have not had enough time yet to be thankful, so how could I ever be dissatisfied? Furthermore, I truly did have some fault in what happened before. Your Majesty’s handling of that is something I have accepted wholeheartedly.”
Chenghua didn’t want to see the person both Huai En and Sui Zhou strove to protect be a thankless wolf that knew no gratitude, becoming satisfied at this. “The Inspectorate is not the Ministry of Justice with the prisons of all the nation held in its hand, but investigating and denouncing all the departments, plus rectifying injustice, is all your responsibility. Remember to be just like your performance in the Xianghe County case; look into everything regardless of its size, get the full details on everything, and don’t be confused about the distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil.”
“This subject will certainly bear your words in mind, Your Majesty, and spare no effort in doing my duties to the utmost.”
In truth, after Tang Fan had been promoted to Left Metropolitan Censor, some had denounced him for having a prior misconduct record, and thus being unsuited for the post. Their implication was that Censors were posts of weight, yet Tang Fan had already made a mistake; how could he set examples for other officials?
Regardless of what original intent the detractors had had, they had demonstrated that some did not want to see Tang Fan return to officialdom. However, the Xianghe case had presently spread to the capital, and Tang Fan’s performance in overturning Hu Hanyin’s case had been truly extraordinary, which meant that those people had had no choice but to shut their mouths. This also gave great face to the Emperor for appointing him.
Chenghua, whenever loving someone’s home, would love all the crows that came with it, so he had no dissatisfaction towards Tang Fan.
This case of far-reaching concern did not reach its curtain call just yet. Despite it shocking the Court and even drawing the Emperor’s personal questions, the Daming Magistrate from that year had long passed, and there was no definite proof that Wei Ce had killed his wife to frame his sworn father. Lady Hu’s murder of the Wei son was not regarded as revenge for her father, but rather held the significance of killing the innocent; even so, the Emperor came to pity her filial piety, and exempted her from the death penalty, sentencing her to a banishment of three thousand li with the allowance that her family could see her off.
Yet, she felt that with her father exonerated, her wish had been fulfilled. As her husband had long passed and son married, she felt that she had no worries left, and died after a seven-day hunger strike.
Wei Ce was not convicted, but everyone was already convinced that he had killed his wife, following which he had conspired to steal the Hu’s assets. The Wei family received glares wherever they went in Xianghe, to the point that Lady Wei couldn’t resist going back to her natal family and making a big scene, interrogating her father to get the truth out of him.
Not long after, the Head Educator of Northern Zhili patrolled Xianghe, then stripped Wei Ce of his County Honorate status on the basis of his trading being an insult to culture, ordering him to reflect upon himself in seclusion at home.
Magistrate Weng also paid several visits. Apart from the old case, he couldn’t find any other information on Wei Ce’s crimes — the man’s deep calculations were truly beyond his expectations. He could only place his hopes onto positively influencing Wei Ce, so that he would confess the truth of what had happened.
There was no way Wei Ce would say that, though. Now that there was no evidence to convict him with, even the Emperor couldn’t have him arrested for no reason, making it natural that he wouldn’t groundlessly surrender of his own accord. Yet, following the ghost-haunting rumors spreading, he had remained in his sickbed, his health never once taking a good turn. It was gradually worsening, even.
Bystanders claimed that he had a guilty conscience and was suffering retribution, while some said that Lady Hu’s wronged soul hadn’t yet dissipated, transforming into a fierce ghost that had come to take his life in vengeance. To be brief, in the colder season of this year, Wei Ce genuinely would breathe his last, his life returned to dust.
Rumors on the street would say that before his demise, he’d been shouting desperately at the side of his bed, where no one was: “Don’t get closer, don’t get closer…”
Well, no matter what, none of that would have anything to do with Tang Fan. After his return to the capital, he began to help his sister and nephew settle in.
The residence that Sui Zhou had helped him buy was quite nice. It wasn’t as big as the Sui home, but it was still a dual-courtyard. Past the gate, the first courtyard had two side-rooms, where the servants of the original family had stayed. A lot of plants were planted before their doors, making them unlike the simpleness of average servant quarters. After the second gate, there was the inner courtyard; the main hall was in the middle, with a study and bedroom flanking it. The skywell in the center of the yard was predominantly arranged with bonsais.
Tang Fan also listened to Sui Zhou’s suggestion, continuing to live with him while the mother-son pair moved into the other place with Ah-Dong. After coming to the capital and meeting the girl, Tang Yu felt compassion towards her life experience, and was also quite fond of the lively little lass. The sisters hit it off, but He Cheng was only three years younger than Ah-Dong, so… having to call her ‘Auntie’ was pretty awkward for a time.
Tang Yu, meanwhile, used the silver taels the He’s had given her to open up a cosmetics shop in the capital. Before she had married off, she had loved to tinker with such things, even manufacturing a lot of them based on recipes written in ancient books, only for her to set them aside after marrying. Now that she had picked it back up, she was having quite a bit of fun.
Owing to her being a woman, there were many business matters that would be bad for her to show up personally for, so Tang Fan had Qian San’r go be her shopkeeper and help her arrange for things at the fore. This was actually precisely to Qian San’r’s taste, as he was uneducated and unskilled, yet had wandered the world at his Master’s side — dealing with all sorts of people was what he excelled in. Judging by his damned mouth that could say anything to survive, there was no need to worry about business being bad.
However, cosmetics shops sold women’s goods, and the women of large families would inevitably come over to pick them out themselves at times, whereupon Tang Yu would need to show her face. She had come from a wealthy household and carried the air of a well-bred Jiangnan lady, making her different in presence from typical merchants.
Leaving that aside, her beautiful looks and graceful loquacity alone were enough to make her a living advertisement. As such, even though the store might not see profits for the time being, as long as it was well-managed, it would gain fame sooner or later.
A few months later, Tang Fan received news from the He’s. Apparently, after Tang Yu and her son left, He Lin had been dejected for a time, then later caught some unknown influence. Following him cutting off those friends of his, he wholeheartedly studied in his home, seemingly having the intent to change his evil ways.
He relayed this news to Tang Yu, but she shook her head, saying that scenery was easy to change, but nature was difficult to. If wastrels often turned themselves around like so, there wouldn’t be so many travesties in the world. She wasn’t too optimistic about He Lin’s alleged transformation.
Speaking of, ever since Sister Tang had moved out of the He’s and to the capital, despite her being so busy all day long that her feet never hit the ground, she was smiling a lot more than she had been before. Since she was able to cheer up, Tang Fan was naturally happy for her, and didn’t bother her about He Lin anymore.
At the Inspectorate, unlike how things had been when he had first entered the Ministry of Justice, Tang Fan encountered little difficulty in spite of being a newbie.
For one, that was because he was in the Inspectorate now, where censors of all weights could be considered half-Ministers, and a large batch of officials of lower rank were below him. Those lower than him would naturally not try to humiliate him, while those higher than him generally wouldn’t go start trouble.
Moreover, he was not a newborn that didn’t understand how the world worked. The reason for his previous cold reception at the Ministry had been that he had snatched someone else’s position, but Left Metropolitan Censor was not a post of fixed number, so it made sense that there was no discussion of anyone stealing stuff from anyone else.
Of more importance were the posts above him right now in the capital — there was one Left Capital Censor, Chang Zhiyuan, and one Right Deputy Censor, Lu Shaojun. The two posts of Right Capital Censor and Left Deputy Censor were vacant. With few people came few conflicts, and their daily work was never done, so they would be eager to have him come in and share their burden. Who was so bored as to try to crowd him out for no reason?
Thus, with a hello to you, hello to me, hello to everyone, Tang Fan finally got back the popularity he had had in Shuntian Prefecture, now in the Inspectorate. Every rank was polite to each other, the atmosphere harmonious, and it made outsiders walking in believe they had gone into the wrong building, under the impression that this was not the Inspectorate that had a reputation of arresting and denouncing whoever it wanted, but the warm Ministry of Rites.
However, even in such a friendly environment, there were some unfriendly elements.
For example, every level of the Inspectorate had recently caught onto a bizarre trend, where many had taken Third Vizier Liu Ji as the denouncement target they were going to pursue for all time.
Yes, it was true; for these censors, denouncing Liu Ji until he was knocked off his pedestal was a lifelong pursuit of the highest realm. Tang Fan thought that he had misheard, at first, but later discovered that this was true.
Liu Ji was a Cabinet Solon and High Scholar of the Pavilion of Literary Profundity. He ranked third in the Cabinet, with Head Vizier Wan An and Vice Vizier Liu Xu preceding him. Had Solon Liu had done something so outrageous, everyone was looking at him with hate?
All of this had burgeoned from the Inspectorate’s role. To put it simply, it served as the Emperor’s eyes and ears, supervising all officials, which was to say that if censors saw what you did, and you violated the country’s rules, they could denounce you.
Still, censors were all human, and there was no way they would forever strictly uphold the law like they were frigid enforcers. Wherever there were people, there were the ways of the world, and once there came to be more people, they would start to form cliques and parties, cooking up their own careful schemes.
When it came to the current Solons in the Cabinet, Wan An tightly hugged Consort Wan’s thigh, would not be able to be ousted for a time, and was pretty vengeful. No one wanted to offend him, as that wouldn’t bear good fruit. Tang Fan, for example, had caused Liang Wenhua to get sent to Nanjing for retirement, and Wan An was certain to have jotted that debt down, ready to retaliate at some unknown time.
All people sped towards advantages and shunned disadvantages. It wasn’t that no one had never denounced Wan An before, but Wan An wouldn’t fall — all of his opponents would be the ones to. Over time, everyone learned that he wasn’t someone easy to bully, and thus they wouldn’t go looking to embarrass themselves.
The Vice Vizier, Liu Xu, did not have as much of a crowd of cronies behind him, was relatively aloof, and had offended plenty of people, but the censors still weren’t willing to denounce him, as he was the Emperor’s most revered teacher. Whenever the Emperor met him, he never called him by name, but as ‘Mister Liu of the East’.
Such a person had a set special place in the Emperor’s heart, and could not be rashly acted against. Some had denounced him several times before, to no result. Furthermore, he was proud in personality, refusing to adhere to Wan An and his filth, which thereupon gave him less information to grab onto and use against him. Even if he did fall from the denouncing, there would be no point to it.
Unlike the previous two, the third-ranked Solon Liu Ji was transcendent in bearing and distinguished in self, turning him into the favorite target of the censors.
He was sly in nature, socializing between Wan An and Liu Xu, and had formed his own party that stood apart from them, his influence not small. This demonstrated that if someone like that could be taken down, the one who wrote the denouncing memorial would get their name lauded.
A most important saying of the people about Liu Ji was: ‘A hundred bullets couldn’t make Liu Cottonflower fall over.’ He was very thick-skinned. When others were denounced, they would generally remove themselves from their posts, shut themself up in reflection at home, then present their resignation upwards (this was not a clearly-written rule to follow, but an unspoken principle), which portrayed that they were pure, and not greedy for power.
Liu Cottonflower was not like that, though. In spite of others denouncing him, he still kept on as usual, sitting firm in his seat and too lazy to budge, having an abundant air of ‘no matter what weather may come, I will be as unmoving as a mountain.’ This made the teeth of those denouncing him itch to see, and they would wonder to themselves how this guy could have skin thicker than a city wall’s.
Wan An didn’t like Liu Ji, either. Had the latter ever submitted his resignation at the time of his denouncements, Wan An would have long pushed the boat along the river to have him go retire, but Liu Ji simply wouldn’t conform to the rules of the world. The Emperor cared not for the intrigue of high officials, so Wan An had no opportunity to tear Liu Ji off of his stage.
To censors, their lifelong pursuit was to get their names in the annals of history. The more tricky the target was to strike, the higher their sense of accomplishment would be after they knocked him down.
For that reason, on the Inspectorate’s denouncement roll, Liu Ji doubtlessly had the top spot, and had held that rank for several consecutive years. Everyone was throwing their all into trying to topple him with denouncements, resulting in the formation of a ‘shooting at the cottonflower’ trend — no one thought it strange, but rather glorious, making noise after every little thing that happened. Even the inconsequential matters that occurred at Liu Ji’s household would be put forward and criticized by those dog-nosed censors.
As one of the ‘dog-nosers’, Tang Fan really disapproved of this trend, but he was only a Left Metropolitan Censor. The switch-out of ‘Capital’ for ‘Metropolitan’ made a huge difference, as he was not the first-in-command, but the third.
In any case, even if he was the first-in-command as a Left or Right Capital Censor, there still wouldn’t be a way to prevent his subordinates from denouncing anyone, because that was a censor’s role to begin with. Them supervising officials was within their rights, and no one could say anything against it.
He also wouldn’t wildly criticize others or brazenly interfere. The daily tasks of the Inspectorate were not many, unlike the Ministry of Justice, where important cases from various places would be reported upwards on the daily for him to handle. When he had free time, he proceeded to work on things he hadn’t been able to finish before, completing the in-progress supplement to the Great Ming Code’s vacancies.
Right at this time, the Inspectorate transferred another person in, directly using him to fill the vacancy of Right Capital Censor. That gentlemen was none other than that previously-dismissed teacher of Tang Fan’s, Mr. Qiu Jun.
Qiu Jun had presented a memorial aimed at Wang Zhi, henceforth annoying the Emperor until he had kicked him straight to Nanjing. Following that, he had never made a comeback. It wasn’t that Tang Fan and Pan Bin had never thought to help their teacher, but that their posts were never high enough, speech never weighed enough, and they just didn’t have the ability to.
However, Qiu Jun’s pupils filled the land. In the capital, although he only had two direct disciples, he had been the head verifier for the eleventh year of Chenghua’s metropolitan exams. The Honorates of that branch that had later passed all revered him as a teacher. Their relationships to him were not as close as Tang Fan and Pan Bin’s, but they were still linked up into one vein as him. Broken bones were still connected to their tendons.
This time around, it had been Huai En who had helped speak for Qiu Jun. That had stemmed from Tang Fan’s branch’s top metropolitan scorer — the later-Third Scorer Wang Ao — being one of the Crown Prince’s current teachers. When Wang Ao had accidentally brought up Qiu Jun while giving lessons, lamenting that his teacher was upright in conduct yet not allowed to be in officialdom, the Prince had become interested in pleading for leniency for Qiu Jun, so that he could come back to the capital.
Naturally, he could not go call on the Emperor directly himself, so the Prince sought out Huai En. Through Huai En’s words in the Emperor’s presence, Qiu Jun had been transferred back to the capital at last, then directly appointed to be Tang Fan’s superior.
Tang Fan and Pan Bin were delighted that their teacher had been able to come back, of course. On the day of Qiu Jun’s return, they, Wang Ao, Xie Qian, and the others personally went ten li outside of the city to welcome him. The teacher and his students reuniting after so long were beyond ecstatic, and they immediately brought their teacher to a reservation at a restaurant, thus cleansing him of the weariness of travel.
Unlike Tang Fan, who had mucked around for over half a month in Xianghe after his appointment before actually taking up his post, Mr. Qiu was devoted to his position. On the first day, everyone drank ’til midnight, and only then did the party break up, yet the very next day, he reported to the Ministry of Appointments, then went straight to work at the Inspectorate.
Tang Fan had his own principles, but overall, he was a relatively sly and pragmatic person, able to accept that some things could not be changed, then draw back. Mr. Qiu was not the same; he was an aged, honest, and righteous old man with a fiery temper. Within just a few days at the Inspectorate, he discovered the improper work that the censors were doing by focusing exclusively on Liu Ji.
In his view, the Great Ming was overflowing with corruption, and there were a lot of things that were much more important than the denouncement of Liu Ji. There were the imperial farmlands, the Western Depot, and, at the bare minimum, Wan An. Why denounce Liu Ji alone? Didn’t they have anything else to do?
Qiu Jun had the decisiveness of a thunderstorm, presenting a memorial on the spot. He enumerated three major malpractices of the present court, even scolding every layer of the Inspectorate, saying that they weren’t doing their jobs properly, thought of how to curry favor all day long, used public services for private gains, and wielded the power bestowed to them by the Great Ancestor for their personal benefit.
Who wanted to get told off like that by him? His scolding particularly chastised Chang Zhiyuan, the Left Capital Censor. For a time, there was a right mess going about, no peace to be had.
To be fair, Tang Fan supported Qiu Jun’s point of view, as his teacher had brought up genuine problems that existed at present. However, Qiu Jun was too impatient in nature, wanting to stuff himself full in one bite, which would unavoidably offend many.
Doing such a thing was bad for the self, but that didn’t mean that it was the wrong thing to do.
The way the world was now had sprouted precisely from there being a lack of people like Qiu Jun springing up. Tang Fan grasped the notion of when to advance and retreat better than Qiu Jun did, but that did not hinder his esteem for his teacher.
This period coincided with the fiftieth birthday of Wan Tong, who was also known as Consort Wan’s little brother, and the newly-appointed Commanding Envoy of the Brocade Guard. He sent out mass invitations, with every official in the capital that was higher than fifth rank getting one — Qiu Jun, Tang Fan, and the rest of them were no exceptions.
The translator says: c r a s h t h e p a r t y
So, did Wei Ce actually kill his wife? Well, an innocent man wouldn’t go to such great lengths to cover his tracks if he’d done nothing wrong.
The author’s mini-theatre:
Tang Yu: Fluffy, I plan to open a shop. What do you think would be good to sell?
Tang Fan: Buns? Dumplings? Spring rolls? Wontons? Sis, the wontons at that business in the city’s north are delicious.
Tang Yu: …
Sui Zhou: Sister, if you open a shop that sells food, how am I supposed to manifest how important I am?
Tang Yu: Fine. For the sake of that major turning point in my baby brother’s life, I’d best sell cosmetics.
 As opposed to Sui Zhou’s three-courtyard setup, this one is basically the same, but missing its rearmost, smaller ‘courtyard’ section.