Chapter 47: Examination
Translator: Translation Nation/chuchutrain Editor: - -
It was almost Pei Zi Yun's turn, the scholar in front of him had nothing but an inner coat left on.
Under the light, it was obvious he had words written on his body. The examiners came to verify the words.
The official then ordered, "Take him away!" The scholar was swiftly dragged out, weeping and wailing, to be locked up. The official then proceeded to address the rest of the candidates, "Listen up, those who are yet to enter the examination hall, surrender all written materials. If you are caught, you will be charged with malpractice. You will be caned and stripped of your title."
Now that two people have been made an example of, the scholars glanced at each other and sneakily disposed of the notes they were concealing. Instantaneously, the floor was filled with crushed balls of paper. The officials paid no heed to the papers that were discarded.
The examiner checked Pei Zi Yun identity, he was then escorted in by a foot soldier and successfully entered the examination hall. The examination was conducted in rows of small pale brick houses with rough straw ceilings.
Pei Zi Yun entered one of the houses that had his assigned number. There was only a single table, chair and wooden bed. There was nothing but a bamboo mat on the bed, not even a blanket was given. However, the room did have a brazier, flint and coal.
The door of every house was guarded by a foot soldier. At the extreme end of the row of houses was a latrine, Pei Zi Yun was fortunate that he was a fair distance from it.
The examination would only start at noon, the morning was when all the candidates would enter, undergo the checks and be assigned to their rooms, a process that would take the whole morning.
For the hungry, the foot soldier would give out a pastry and water. Once Pei Zi Yun entered, he was hard at work. The first step was to clear out the dust and spider webs in his room.
Next was to take out the items he brought. He carefully spread the blanket onto the bamboo mat. When he was done, he thought, 'It would have been disastrous if I hadn't brought this blanket in this rainy weather, I would have been freezing if I slept, but if I didn't I would have no energy for the examinations. Hopefully I had the experience of the old High Scholar.'
Although there was a brazier, flint and coal, they were not a lot of those and thus shouldn't be wasted. It should only be utilised when he was hungry, or he would have to eat cold food everyday.
But of course he had just entered, so the food that he brought was still warm and could be consumed as they were. So he took out the salted egg, pastry and meat. It was essential he finished the meat on the first day as it would spoil easily and give him a bad stomach otherwise.
He took a nap after he finished his food. Then noon came, and the sound of a cannon shot echoed in the horizon. The examinations had begun and scripts were being handed out.
When Pei Zi Yun received the paper, he examined it. The paper was white as snow, it might not be as valuable in the future, but they were considered to be of the highest quality right now. He exclaimed, "To use paper of this quality, the imperial court must be treating this examination very seriously."
Once the papers were given out, average paper, ink, and pen were given out as well. There were many pens to choose from on the shelf and concurrently, the examiner was reading out loud the questions on the scripts.
Like the previous time, Pei Zi Yun checked the scripts for flaws against the examiner's words.
Once he confirmed the scripts were as they should be, he began to analyze the questions.
The first page contained nothing but the instructions for the examinations.
The following pages were filled with seven big questions, out of which five were classical questions. The first question was on "breaking rules." Upon seeing this, Pei Zi Yun heaved a sigh of relief. The questions make him recall some of the lines from a famous scripture on governance, "San Dao Ce Lun" on the leniency and harshness of governing provinces.
'The first question is on governance, the second on ideological reforms, and the third tests the ability to think. At first glance, the answers would display the ones with governing aptitudes.' Pei Zi Yun thought.
'All seven questions demand lengthy essays as answers, a examination that spans three days and two nights, this is both physically and mentally exhausting.'
'Endurance and health are important factors during examinations. Good management will make the key difference. This would eliminate all the bookworms who neglect to take care of their bodies.'
It was drizzling outside, beside the sound of the examiners patrolling outside, there was only the rustling sound of pens.
'Elite scholars swarm into this examination like fishes to water.' Pei Zi Yun took one look and knew by heart its meaning, and he began grinding his inkstone.
When grinding the inkstone, one must be patient, not apply too much strength so that the ink produced would be thin, the words thus written would be neat. The inkstones given for this examination were of medium quality. Carefully grinding, then using his pen, he began writing on the paper.
Even as an elite scholar, one must take heed before rushing into writing on paper.
The question is based on one of Mencius's pieces, "Li Lou Shang." It talked about the absolute nature of law. Pei Zi Yun understood it straight away as he had received his knowledge from Han Lin school. It speaks of how officials played around the law to their own advantages.
Pei Zi Yun took the pen and inked it on the inkstone, thought for awhile and begun writing, one sentence after another.
"Rules are absolute, but there are room to navigate around it" was the essence of the question.
To elaborate, he wrote, "Rules should be followed strictly, but there are certain aspects of law and legislation that can be played around to some degree."
"The officials of earlier times played around the rules for their own gains. There are rules that are open to interpretation and hence leaves room for circumventing them, and there are those that are absolute and demands strict compliances. Society would crumble if no law was followed."
And so the essay was penned in a single sitting. When he put down the pen, he felt exhausted.
"This is very tiring" He exclaimed.
It will take some time for the ink on the paper to dry. Even longer still as it was a rainy day. Pei Zi Yun put the papers aside. He closed his eyes to rest them and sipped some sugar water.
Moving on to the second question now, it contained the shortened version of an adage. This question was a tricky one, as the question would be unclear if one did not know the original adage in its entirety.
The adage spoke of how one must first obtain knowledge, before he is able to endeavor in the arts and literature. Pei Zi Yun noted the keywords he had to use and similarly, penned his essay in a single sitting.
Once he was done, he put both his hands on the bamboo mat to cool them.
At this time, he felt exhausted, he looked outside and realised it was already dusk. It was still raining outside, and the foot soldiers were in straw coats. They were carrying packs of meat-stuffed pastry and porridge and were distributing them to the scholars. They were still a distance off, but the aroma of the food was already seeping in.
Pei Zi Yun took the pastry and porridge, which were still hot when he got it, and begun eating. It was a dark rainy day and the lightings were dim, some of the foot soldiers were carrying torches for light.
At this moment, some of the scholars were wringing their brains, some were slowly but painfully scribbling away, some were completely dumbfounded and stuck while staring blankly at the straw ceilings of their rooms, Some were wailing loudly, which prompted the examiners to shout, "Any more noise, and you will be disqualified!"
The examination was full of diversity.
Rumor has it that a few examinations ago, there were scholars who went crazy in the examination hall. This was the first examination for some of the scholars here, they may have not felt it in the morning but once it's dusk, they might crumble.
"Let's complete three questions then." Pei Zi Yun exclaimed.
Although there were people with torches outside, they were far from the doors of the shacks, so it was still dim within the room. So he lighted a candle and went back to work. Those experienced with the Imperial Examination would understand, the first day is when one's energy is the highest and one should utilize it to complete more question. Once the second and third day comes, it might not be the same.
But even so, answering three questions was his limit for today, anymore and it would be pushing too much.
With a clear mind, the third question was also easily deciphered and answered by Pei Zi Yun. And so, night descended, the examination hall was still well-lit with torches, and the foot soldier changed shifts regularly.
The examiners did not rest. The chief examiner Hu Ying Zhen took some foot soldiers and other men with him and went on patrol around the examination hall
"I finished the third question." Said Pei Zi Yun as he ignited the brazier which was given and placed it near his feet as it was getting deeper into the night. He put his scripts on the table and placed a paperweight on top to prevent it from flying away.
At this time, the pastry and water he put on the brazier was done, and his room was well-lit with candles still. Pei Zi Yun begun slowing biting away at his food.
He took a sip of his water as he watched Chief examiner Hu Ying Zhen with a troupe of men walk past his shack.
His young age brought him a few gazes from the passing crowd, but Pei Zi Yun did not flinch and pretended nothing happened. He carried on enjoying his feast and thought to himself, 'For someone who learnt from Han Lin, to only complete three questions on the first day, perhaps I have been taking it too easy.'
'A normal scholar who had no problem in school would be very anxious right now.'
The examiners finished a round of patrol just as Pei Zi Yun finished his meal. The examination scripts were now cold and so he placed them in the box next to the bed. He blew out the candles and laid on the bed and put on the blankets which he prepared. He laid another layer of his clothes on top of that and felt warm.
Without any hesitation, he fell asleep.
At Night, Hu Ying Zhen went for a second round of patrol, at that time, the silence was only disturbed by the sounds of the wind blowing. The entire area was well-illuminated by torches. Some of the scholars were on their beds while others were still scribbling away. The mood in the examination hall was still one of high tension. Everyone understands the importance of being well-rested so that they can tackle the script the next day, but most could not sleep properly due to their anxiety. Squeaking sounds were coming from them twisting and turning on their bed.
Nobody was allowed to talk in the examination hall, but Hu Ying Zhen still joked, "These scholars are still young."
And another examiner replied, "Yes Sir, they are indeed inexperienced."
That was the end of the conversation. After a while of patrolling, they noticed that someone was sound asleep in their room. They moved a little closer to look inside the room. On the table was a paper weight lying atop the snowy white script, on the bed was a young man covered in layers of blanket and clothes.
"This young man is well-prepared, not bad." Hu Ying Zhen thought to himself as he turned around to continue his patrol.