Chapter 15: Examinations
Translator: Translation Nation/chuchutrain Editor: - -
- Day of Imperial Examinations
It was early in the morning, everything seemed white and the morning mist filled the air. Not far away, a small boat was gradually reaching shore. Pei Zi Yun lit up a lantern, picked up his examination basket and headed towards the examination destination.
"The seven counties belonging to this city, please line up according to your counties. And no shouting!" Three rounds of firecrackers could be heard being fired from within the school as someone was giving these instructions.
They were lined up in this order, County School of Literature, Capital Schools and Middle Literature School.
The candidates all came from different schools, each with their own systems. The morning mist was cold and breezy as the stars remained in their usual constellations, echoing the seven Dao Ways. The students were all carrying their examination baskets as they proceeded to line up.
Pei Zi Yun finally managed to locate his Slow River County line as he saw many candidates jostling and cramming in the queue, hands holding lanterns. He heard someone say from behind, "Brother Pei, you are here!"
Pei Zi Yun spun around and found that the person who was speaking to him was Tang Zhen, and he was with Scholars Wang and Li. They acknowledged his presence coldly and didn't bother to even utter a word.
Pei Zi Yun was not bothered as he warmly greeted Tang Zheng before he too acknowledged Scholars Wang and Li with a smile, without speaking. A few days ago, the three of them had invited him out to a literary event. But seeing as the examinations were fast approaching, he declined. Tang Zhen did not seem to mind, but it was evident the other two were offended.
"With a heart and mind like that, it's certain they would not be able to become Elementary Scholars." Pei Zi Yun recalled how the two of them had expected some examination questions to be leaked at the literary gathering and scolded them for their stupidity inside his head., "At an event like that, the organisers would never discuss examination related affairs and risk compromising their reputation. Doing so would only cause a huge fraud case that would implicate themselves."
When he met them, he still behaved with civility and exchanged a few words although nobody had any mood for small talk.
Different venues were meant for different examinations. There were three tiers, to become an Elementary Scholar, to become a High Scholar and finally to become a Grand Scholar. The present arrangements were very different from the original owner's own imperial examinations. But that was normal, it would have been strange if it was exactly the same.
Scholars don't have the authority of skipping the poetry section in the examinations, and so the magistrate had to make frequent trips into the city to teach poetry. There were strict selections held for the positions of patrolling officials and examiners. There were eventually only 33 selected due to the strict criterias.
Boom boom boom! The drum sounded.
The huge doors slowly opened.
The scholars flooded the halls.
Pei ZI Yun recalled his first tier examination he had taken to become an Elementary Scholar and thought to himself, "here it comes!"
After reporting for the exam, he was given a handbook and an examination plate number. The examiners first checked their guarantors letters, and then scrutinized their features before double checking against their descriptions to ensure it was them who were taking the examinations.
After the identity of the candidates had been confirmed, the next procedures were the checks.
The examination baskets were being checked first, followed by the ink and paper materials. They would even open the buns and sandwiches brought to prevent cheating materials being smuggled in.
Pei Zi Yun had experienced examinations before and knew that food was allowed in the hall. He knew to not bring in greasy food because it would because it could spoil easily, and would cause a mess upon inspection. Greasy food could also cause a stomach upset, which was not desirable. So he brought some pastries and eggs, and was planning to rely on them to provide water.
Next they had to undress and remove their shoes. Even their hair had to be checked.
The candidates took their turns to be checked and soon it was Pei Zi Yun's turn. After the checks were conducted, the examiners would affix a stamp to prove that this procedure had been conducted. The examiner then shouted, "Take your respective seats!"
Pei Zi Yun took his confirmation slip and proceeded to the hall. The confirmation slip had his seat number and had a stamp on it as well. Should a fraud be detected in the hall, the examiners would immediately conduct investigations.
Once he entered the great hall, he had to search for his room number. Within the hall were several smaller rooms joined together. It was the same for the rooms across. The distance between the rooms across from each other was about the space of five meters. And the rooms went on for as far as the eye could see.
Inside the smaller rooms were a small bed, a table and a chair. There were three candles on the table and a bowl of water to clean the quills.
"Aye, the conditions here are better than that of the previous tier examinations with the additional bed."
This was probably because the first tier examinations only lasted for a day, whereas the examinations to Elementary Scholar would take two days. It had been rumoured that the examinations to attain High Scholar status takes three days.
Pei Zi Yun carefully placed his inkstone on the table. Across him was a youth who looked to be around 25 or 26. As soon as everyone was seated, an announcement was made, before a final patrol was conducted by officials. A bell rang as the examination papers were being distributed.
As soon as Pei Zi Yun received his examination papers, he noticed that they had provided additional scrap paper for drafts to be written. Pei Zi Yun lit his candle. The sun had just risen, but the room was still dark. He took a quick look at the entire paper and realized there were no questions that looked especially difficult, before relaxing.
His experience with examinations in his previous life thought him there if there were any issues with the examination papers he should immediately raise it up and the papers could still be changed. If there was an issue and it was not raised beyond a particular point, a change in paper might not be allowed. Nobody knew what would happen then.
When he finished looking through, he thought to himself, "This is much harder than the first tier examinations."
In the first tier examinations, many examples were being provided.
The justice segment required blanks to be filled in, which was easy. However, the economics section memory writing. The testing officials will randomly pick a chapter from the texts and provide the first line. According to this first line, the candidates have to continue writing the rest of the text.
In this examinations, there was also the justice and economics section. There were five questions for justice, and twenty questions for economics. The scale had increased tremendously from the previous examinations. The point of this segment was to test memory skills. Since the original owner had a good memory, and he had been through this particular examinations, Pei Zi Yun was confident and had no difficulties.
Next up was calculus and law.
"Aiya, the subjects in this dynasty are much more practical than in the previous dynasty!"
Calculus involved being able to count properly. Law required understanding of basic laws. Although the scale was not large, it was not limited to just the four books and five classics.
"All these seem quite easy." Calculus involved memorising formulas and law relied heavily on formulas as well. Using the original owner's memory, he breezed past.
"Let's do these questions first!"
He noticed that the sky was already bright. Raising his head, he noticed that the candidates across him looked very sluggish. Pei Zi Yun smiled and dipped his quill into the ink and started writing his answers for on the scrap paper before carefully writing it onto the actual answer scripts.
"For such an examination, those who write their answers directly onto the actual answer scripts are either geniuses or impulsive candidates." As he finished the questions for this examination paper, he sighed and felt his entire back was wet with perspiration. He took a towel out and began to clean himself dry. He noticed that the youth across him looked pale and tired as if he was almost going to pass out.
"Ah! It is noon." In the blink of an eye, noon was here. Pei Zi Yun drank some water and had some pastries. He peeled a couple of eggs and ate them before having some of his lean meat. Although the food was already cold, he could not ask for more. After his meal, he rested for a little while before moving on to the big questions."
"The next topic is Confucius philosophies and is the main component of the examination. There are three questions."
The Confucius philosophies question discussed the arguments surrounding the philosophies. Pei Zi Yun looked at the first question, 'How vast was his virtue, that no man could find words to describe it? How glorious was the elegant regulations which he instituted?'
"This question has to do with the norms of society!" Pei Zi Yun thought to himself. This was spoken by Confucius of someone very great.
With the knowledge of the old High Scholar, he had an answer.
'In essence, to praise a predecessor of his great works and contributions. Its origins are from the classics and speaks of Emperor Yao who did good things with great advisors to achieve success.'
'To continue, it was describing what happened in the dynasty before, where the Emperor was loyal and faithful to his subjects, so as to encourage his advisors to do likewise.'
With this discussion, he had a solution to the question, "That was accomplished with a spurt of energy!"
This solution has to be written in a concise and fluid manner in order to score well. Pei Zi Yun thought for a moment before starting to write his thoughts. All was going well!
As he finished writing, he put the scrap paper aside and proceeded to the next question.
'Keep old friends around, to prevent loneliness in future!'
This question was very obvious. It spoke of someone writing to his son, telling him that it is important to keep old friend's close so as not to demand perfection of them.
As soon as Pei Zi Yun saw this question, he subconsciously slapped his head a few times. This made a sound and the people around him turned around as an examiner walked over to him.
"Do not be complacent, do not be complacent." The subject of this question was from an old Elementary Scholar who did not manage to become a High Scholar. These thoughts were his regrets, and thus told his son not to abandon his friends and not to expect them to be perfect. Pei Zi Yun had practiced writing this topic many times and it was clear in his memory. It was almost like copying the answers, guaranteed to score well.
With luck this good, he could cry tears of joy. When Pei Zi Yun looked at the questions, numerous essays floated into his mind waiting for him to choose one to write. The minute he started, he did not stop until it was completed to perfection.
He blew onto his writing to dry the ink and nodded his head in satisfaction thinking, "I did not have to put in much energy into answering this question. Maybe just a little sore from writing."
As with just now, he shelved his scrap paper and looked at the final question.
"Water, Fire, Metal, Wood and Earth, discuss!"
"The question towards the end was always the hardest. Pei Zi Yun frowned and knew that this question had some difficulty to it.
'Water can be used to irrigate and fire can be used to cook. Metal can be used to cut and wood can be used to make items. Earth is used for growing crops. These are natural elements given to us by the heavens to sustain life.'
"All these had been mentioned in the three important manuals of survival."
As soon as Pei Zi Yun thought of the answers to the question, he started writing. Although the speed which he wrote was not as fast this time, it was not slow as well. He rubbed his eyes and realized it was already evening.
Pei Zi Yun felt slightly dizzy as his sweat stained his clothing. He arranged his papers and lit another candle. The entire examination hall was filled with the smell of burning candles. The examiners also started lighting the torches in the hall one by one.
The head examiner took an entire team of officials to patrol the hall. Pei Zi Yun felt hungry at this point, and without a care in the world, he gobbled his food. The head examiner looked at him with raised eyebrows and laughed.
Pei Zi Yun looked down as he was deep in thought. When the patrol team had finished walking down his lane, he counted the remaining time. Today was just the first night, if there was any writing he had not completed, it could be done tomorrow. Seeing the scripts had been dried of ink, he arranged them, blew out the candle and lay on the wooden bed. He took out a blanket he had brought and put it over himself.
Just before he went to sleep he looked at the youth across him once more. He noticed that he was still working under the candle light. Pei Zi Yun shut his eyes and fell asleep amidst the rustling sound of paper.
"It is different once I have the Plum Blossom." He did not know why, maybe it was an effect of receiving the host, but all he had to do to fall asleep was to close his eyes and take a few deep breaths and he would enter sleep. This time in the examination hall was no exception. He lay down, and a few minutes later was snoring softly.
At this point, a patrolling official walked past and was stumped. The examination atmosphere was tense. Although once night came surely there would be some candidates who have decided to rest, majority would be tossing and turning in their beds unable to sleep. This candidate however was sound asleep. Was he that confident or had he already given up, thus feeling bliss?