TIGR Chapter 85

The Imperial Guard’s Revenge

Chapter 85 Replacements

New Year in the thirteenth year of Jiajing was very quiet, and even banquets were far and few in the capital. Not long after New Year’s Day, however, came more bad news from the palace.

Senior Concubine Yan became depressed following the death of the emperor’s eldest son, and additionally, she faced postpartum physical weakness. The medicine she was taking proved ineffective, and she died on the sixth day of the first month.

She was only in her twenties, the prime of her youth, when she met an early death. The emperor felt great remorse and named Yan with a posthumous title, Rong’an Huishun Duanxi, the Imperial Noble Concubine.

Historically, the Imperial Noble Concubine title did not exist. An empress was an empress, and a concubine was a concubine. Even if they were given a high-ranking title, they were still a concubine. However, there were several favored concubines in this dynasty, such as Emperor Xuande’s favored Concubine Sun. During the reign of Chenghua, that position was filled by the famous Senior Concubine Wan. The emperor gave her another title using the same golden book and seal he used to crown his empress, installing her as a secondary empress, and in this manner, he had an Imperial Noble Concubine.

|| This distinguishment is made because empress in Chinese has the character for emperor 皇, while imperial concubine uses 贵 meaning valuable (just not on the level of emperor), and this new title essentially combines both.

But no matter how honorable one was, they still had a life to enjoy. The people in the harem briefly grieved for the beautiful and unfortunate Imperial Senior Concubine Yan and soon turned their attention to other things. After the first concubine became pregnant, the emperor seemed to have learned how to have more children, and good news came from the harem one after another. Imperial Concubine Duan and Concubine Wang would soon be delivering their children. In the first month of the year, Concubine Du Kang was found out she was pregnant. Concubine Lu Jing, who had always been at odds with Concubine Du Kang, seemed unwilling to be outdone and she was found to be pregnant shortly after, only one month behind Concubine Du Kang.

There were now four imperial concubines in the harem who were pregnant with the emperor’s heirs, all of whom were due this year. The next few months in the palace were expected to be very busy and the unfortunate deaths of the emperor’s eldest son and Imperial Noble Concubine Yan were like a stone that was plopped into the water, it made a big splash but was soon forgotten by everyone. The attention of the former harem turned to the remaining four pregnant concubines.

As many as four people were chosen by luck, however, Empress Fang was not among them.

An undercurrent in the harem was surging, as was internal scheming from the former court. Although the emperor was angry that Zhang Jinggong used him, the reform still needed to continue. So, in the second month, the emperor found a pretext to reinstate Zhang Jinggong as Head Auxiliary.

Every dynasty was generally the same. At their peak, the Han, Tang, and Song dynasties were quite varied, but their demises were rooted in territory annexations. It had been more than a hundred years since the founding of the Ming Dynasty when Emperor Hongwu was just a peasant leading an insurrection. But now, the Ming Dynasty was having grave problems with land and refugees.

When the emperor first ascended the throne, half of the world’s farmland had already been swallowed up by interest groups under various names. Refugees accounted for one-tenth of the total population and small-scale peasant uprisings broke out everywhere.

The emperor had a rough start, yet needed to stabilize the country’s internal affairs before he could begin tackling the foreign aggression. After he ascended the throne, he spent the first half of his reign faced with the Grand Rites Controversy which he used to stabilize his position and eliminate disloyal court officials. Now, all power had completely returned to the emperor, and he had begun to take action to address the country’s long-standing problems.

|| The Grand Rites Controversy was the dispute about the validity of the emperor’s succession, as the chain of emperors before him died leaving no direct successor.

The emperor initially appointed Zhang Jinggong, first, because he made great contributions during the Great Rites Controversy, and secondly, because he was indeed capable. Zhang Jinggong’s political opponents accused him of being obstinate and making decisions unilaterally. However, this also showed that he was not afraid of offending others and truly acted on his words.

Since Zhang Jinggong entered the cabinet, he enacted change for people and the fields. He surveyed the land around the capital and liquidated more than fifty thousand fields of land that had been encroached upon by meritorious officials, powerful individuals, and people with high connections. He confiscated more than 500 farms from these noblemen, returning some of them to their original owners, and handing the rest to the national treasury.

Outside the capital, there were still vast provinces, and because of that, the emperor would never give Zhang Jinggong up.

Zhang Jinggong’s assumption was on point. Not long after the Lantern Festival, the emperor restored him to his original position. However, this time, something was different.

After Zhang Jinggong returned to the cabinet, he was full of energy and wanted to show everyone some concrete achievements. He immediately expanded the scope of his land surveying project to the whole country and focused his restoration efforts on places where land loss was most dire, the Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces. At the same time, he also vigorously cut unnecessary officials and investigated corruption. These actions, unexpectedly, stirred up the hornet’s nest.

Jiangxi and Zhejiang were both major provinces contributing to the Imperial Examination. Every year, half the palace graduates and scholars came from either of these provinces, and the land that Zhang Jinggong wanted to liquidate was under the names of these scholarly families.

Previously, when Zhang Jinggong surveyed the land around the capital, the government officials were buzzing with excitement. But now their support wavered and half of the government officials in court could no longer sit still. Many people jumped out to criticize Zhang Jinggong and an overwhelming amount of impeachment petitions flooded in. It was not only the officials in the capital that were vehement, but many officials from other places also raised their voices.

The most outrageous event occurred when a comet appeared in the sky. The Imperial Censor of Nanjing, Feng En, submitted a memorial to the emperor, saying that this was a warning from the heavens and that Zhang Jinggong was the comet that would sweep disaster into the court. If Zhang Jinggong was not removed, there would be endless discord among the officials, the government would become unbalanced, and the world would break out into catastrophe. He urged the emperor to behead the treacherous official, Zhang Jinggong.

The emperor was a wise man and knew that the so-called catastrophe from heaven was nothing but nonsense. It was his idea to reform the land. Although Feng En seemed to be scolding Zhang Jinggong, wasn’t he actually scolding the emperor for bringing bad luck? The emperor thoroughly criticized the memorial in a morning court session, angrily saying: “Feng En was not pointing fingers at Zhang Jinggong, but was instead, used this opportunity to attack me, and he deserves death.”

The emperor lashed out in anger, but the impeachment disputes did not stop there. Instead, they became even more intense. In the chaos, the impeachment gradually turned into a mix of rumors, slander, and insults. The rumors spread like wildfire, and some true stories were mixed with lies, making it impossible to distinguish the real from the fake.

Zhang Jinggong had long anticipated that he might offend people, but he did not expect that his fellow scholars, who were well-read in the books of sages and always spoke for the people, would want him dead even more than the nobles and well-connected elites when they feared for their interests. The impeachment disputes were much more serious than Zhang Jinggong had expected. It was out of control and showing signs of escalating.

Of course, the Marquis of Wuding also contributed to this wave. After all, a good deal of the more than five hundred farms in the capital previously confiscated by Zhang Jinggong belonged to Guo Xun.

As the old saying goes, three men talking make a tiger. Originally, Zhang Jinggong was not afraid, but shortly before New Year, the trust between him and the emperor had begun to crack. If Zhang Jinggong could use a small person like Xue Kan to fight against his opponents, then couldn’t he use the liquidation from land surveying to seek other personal gains?

When the first person said this, the emperor ignored it, firmly believing that Zhang Jinggong’s work threatened their interests and they simply wanted to denounce him. But as more and more people spoke up, the emperor began to waver.

Once seeds of suspicion are planted, they will take root and sprout like parasitic vines, and any slight inconsistency will cause suspicion to grow wildly. As a result, the day came when Zhang Jinggong suddenly discovered that the emperor no longer met his requests unconditionally. When he wrote petitions requesting the removal of certain officials, the emperor kept the memorials in his pocket for longer and longer periods of time, and his eyes were unconsciously filled with scrutiny when he looked at him.

Zhang Jinggong felt like he had been slapped in the face. It was like a bucket of cold water had been poured over his head and it extinguished his enthusiasm for reform.

The climate changed often at the beginning of the year, infectious diseases were prevalent, and the elderly became sick easily. Zhang Jinggong had been impeached for two months and now he was facing mental pressure and additional exhaustion from overworking. While waiting in the duty room for a court session one day, he suddenly fainted and everyone quickly sent Zhang Jinggong home. When the emperor heard about this, he personally sent an imperial physician to the Zhang Mansion.

Zhang Jinggong was unconscious for more than a day and did not wake up until noon the next day. However, after Zhang Jinggong woke up this time, his energy and spirit seemed to have dissipated, and his body was not as good as before.

The emperor personally arranged his medicine and ordered Zhang Jinggong to rest and recuperate, but Zhang Jinggong requested to retire and resigned from the position of Head Auxiliary.

Zhang Jinggong only realized after this illness that those who dared to be the first in this world would not have a good death. There were smarter, more capable, and more prestigious reformers across all the dynasties, but none of them had a good ending. When Shang Yang carried out his reforms, he was run over by five horse-drawn carts in the city market. When An Shi carried out his reforms, his old friends didn’t dare visit him anymore. Why did he think he could be an exception?

Since he entered the officialdom, he has experienced three ups and downs. His previous reform was also criticized by people, but at that time the emperor trusted him, so the more people wanted to impeach him, the safer he was. Now, there was a crack in the emperor’s heart. At the moment, the emperor was still willing to stand on Zhang Jinggong’s side, but what about after a while?

When he was in a low position, no one paid any attention to him. When he was in a high position he reached the rank of auxiliary. When he was down on luck, he was beaten down by the Yang Party and imprisoned. The majority of the court scolded him for currying favors with higher-ups and having no integrity. When things were going smoothly, he was promoted from a seventh-rank official to cabinet member in three years, and now most people in the capital would bow and call him “Cabinet Elder” when they saw him.

His career was full of ups and downs, and he was met with many difficulties. However, the path he traveled in his life was not in vain.

The emperor rejected Zhang Jinggong’s request to retire several times. But Zhang Jinggong had worked with the young emperor for so many years and had long since figured out the emperor’s way of thinking. Zhang Jinggong knew that the emperor was giving him face, and it was indeed time for him to retire and return home. Zhang Jinggong once again submitted a memorial requesting to retire due to illness and the emperor had no choice but to halt his position as Head Auxiliary and allow Zhang Jinggong to return home to recuperate.

Head Auxiliary Zhang, who once held great power, had left.

Another Head Auxiliary stepped down, and before the capital could begin to panic, a new cycle of replacing positions had already begun. According to the seniority in the cabinet, Li Shi would be the next to serve as Head Auxiliary.

It was not until Li Shi took the position of Head Auxiliary that he realized it was not something an ordinary person could do. He didn’t have the courage to continue managing the land affairs, nor could he settle the complex matter of conflicting interests. For what purpose did the emperor need a Head Auxiliary who was unable to implement his wishes and carry out imperial decrees? The emperor was not satisfied, and Li Shi himself quit his job, resigning within two months.

Li Shi’s failure to perform made way for the next in line. Xia Wenjin, enjoying popular support, took over the baton and became the new Head Auxiliary of the cabinet as expected.

Zhang Jinggong and Li Shi resigned one after another, leaving two positions vacant in the cabinet. As Xia Wenjin was busy taking over the responsibilities of Head Auxiliary, the Department of Rites’ Minister Yan Wei, was quietly appointed as the Grand Scholar of the Wuying Palace and officially entered the cabinet.

When Xia Wenjin finally settled in, he looked behind him and found a familiar face. Yan Wei was very well-known everywhere. He was a person of conduct who did not offend anyone and held a very good reputation in the court. However, Xia Wenjin knew that Yan Wei, like Lu Heng, was a slippery old fox.

Even worse, Yan Wei had a son, Yan Qinglou, who was wily and mischievous and an expert at pleasing the emperor. Before, he was also good friends with Zhang Jinggong. He was definitely not of the good sort. Lu Heng had the merit of saving the emperor and Xia Wenjin could not do anything for the time being. However, Yan Wei and his son must be nipped in the bud, otherwise, they would become a great threat to him in the future.

As Xia Wenjin was silently scheming about what to do with the Yan father and son duo, he did not forget his other arch-enemy — the Marquis of Wuding, Guo Xun.

That’s right, although Guo Xun fanned the flames that removed the powerful former Head Auxiliary Zhang Jinggong, he also offended the new Head Auxiliary, Xia Wenjin. Guo Xun thought he had saved Xia Wenjin’s life in the Xue Kan case and had done Xia Wenjin a great favor, but Xia Wenjin did not receive those feelings. Unexpectedly, the two became enemies.

Lu Heng completely expected these changes in power, even including the animosity between Guo Xun and Xia Wenjin. Lu Heng saw it very clearly. It was not Xia Wenjin who defeated Zhang Jinggong, but Zhang Jinggong who made a big mistake and ended up ruining himself, so that he finally had to resign.

In the officialdom, the one who has the last laugh is not the one with the most supreme methods, rather it is the one who makes no mistakes. It is with this perspective that Lu Heng never fails to predict what changes will unfold. And based on his judgment, the next person in danger was likely to be Guo Xun.

Lu Heng knew Guo Xun had been doing well for too long and had become a little complacent. Once people start thinking highly of themselves, they are not far from downfall.

As Xia Wenjin was busy settling Zhang Jinggong’s remaining accounts, Lu Heng once again disappeared among the chaos of the power changes and was ordered by the emperor to investigate a case.

To be precise, a banned book.

|| Translator’s Note: Hello all, thank you so much for loving this novel! It is really encouraging to see you follow chapter releases and comment ❤️ I wanted to let you know we will be traveling for a couple months and releases will be paused during this period. Wishing you all a wonderful summer!

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