Chapter 52: First Place
Translator: Translation Nation/chuchutrain Editor: - -
The night was getting late, and the weather was getting colder. Lanterns were all around, shining brightly across the yard.
Outside the Academic Institution, the soldiers have not left and were still guarding the entrance. They were not to let unauthorised personnel in. A few of them were sent to patrol the area for suspicious activities.
Within the Academic Institution, there were several soldiers with a feather in their helmets patrolling the examination hall. Should anyone dare to barge in, the soldiers have been authorized to kill on sight.
Outside the Academic Institution, there was a table of food being prepared. There were roasted chickens and ducks, vegetables of different variety and many fruits. The soldiers were to consume their meals here and weren't allowed to leave as well.
The Room Examiners were not allowed to leave the room as well. They had to grade all the scripts within the halls and were not permitted to leave until it's been done. The guards acted like a double-edged knife, frightening outsiders away and preventing the examiners from leaving.
A Room Examiner put down the quill in his hand and rubbed his eyes. They had been cooped up in this room, grading scripts for the past few days. Having seen nothing but examinations scripts, his vision was a blur. He rubbed his eyes once more, "These numerous of scripts have been divided according to their standards. A few more scripts until I'm finished. My head is painful and my vision is blurry."
Another Room Examiner laughed and said, "It's our duty to handpick the best candidates in the nation. But it's been 7 or 8 days already, and indeed, we're all tired."
Hearing this, another Room Examiner replied, "Alright, stop complaining. We will finish all this today. Tomorrow I'm going to sleep the entire day away. What's left is for the Assistant Chief Examiner to review these grades, before we can pass the rankings to the Chief Examiner to confirm."
After the establishment of the dynasty, there are only four branches of education, but practices and routines have already been formed. In the capital examinations, most of the Room Examiners were from local institutions. The Assistant Chief Examiner was from another prefecture, his job was to prevent any mistakes or favouritism to be shown.
The Assistant Chief Examiner was the director of an institution outside the capital. He was tasked with selecting High Scholars from within the examinations.
"Each room has finished grading!"
"The checking of the grades has been completed. We shall now pass the marks and High Scholars list to the Chief Examiner."
Hu Ying Zhen read the first fifty essays and felt that the standards for this examination was rather good, "These candidates are conscientious, and most of them are worthy of official placements. I've read up till now and have yet to find a poor essay."
When he read the script placed in 7th position, his eyes brightened up, "This candidate's knowledge surpasses everyone else. It is an ace script."
He then continued reading and thought to himself, "This candidate has the potential to become a Grand Scholar!"
"Why has this script been placed in position 7th? Are the first six scripts truly better than this? If that's the case, it's astonishing." He then started reading the scripts which had been ranked in the first six.
When he had finished, he returned to the 7th script and frowned. He thought to himself, "What rubbish. This script is better than the first six by an entire league. He made no mistakes, and included no taboos. He should be placed in the top three at least."
Usually the first three scripts were all of Grand Scholar standard, thus the differences between them wouldn't be too much as each had their strong points. But in this particular examination, the best script, which was initially placed 7th, was way better than the other three scripts.
He paced for several steps in the room before reaching a decision, "Although the names of the candidates have been blurred out, with an essay of this standard, it was like a furnace burning brightly in the night. Even if his name was blurred out, to be this outstanding, a local examiner would probably know who this candidate is."
"It must've been that these local Room Examiners had their doubts about this candidate, or that he had offended somebody, or that his age was too old." He then shook his head, feeling very dissatisfied, "The establishment of the new dynasty should follow the positive ways of the older dynasty. A good essay should receive the necessary recognition."
He then picked up this essay and placed it in the first position. He looked around and asked, "Who here has any objections."
"We have no objections." The Room Examiners all replied in unison.
The day starting to get bright, as the sun shone brightly overhead. A rooster from within the institution crew, signalling the start of a new day. Hu Ying Zhen announced, "If that's the case, the rankings have been determined. Let's reveal the candidate's names!"
"The order by the Chief Examiner had been issued. Reveal their names."
The grades have been confirmed, and the High Scholars have been decided upon.
They then started revealing the candidates as they matched their papers to the namelist.
The person who had come in first place was Pei Zi Yun.
"First place in the capital's imperial examinations, Pei Zi Yun from Slow River County!"
Just as the name was revealed, the examiners in the room were all shocked. Even Hu Ying Zhen was unable to mask to surprise on his face, "He's only 15, isn't he too young?"
But since the rankings had already been confirmed, he did not utter a word.
One by one, the names of the candidates were revealed to the examiners on a red table. There were 33 successful candidates, split into three bands. The first bad had 3 candidates. The next had 10, and the final band has 20.
"Since there are no objections, let's transfix our seal onto the final results."
More than 20 examiners thus proceeded to transfix their own deals onto the name list with the candidates ranking. This was to be the finalized results.
"Open the doors. We shall announce the results immediately."
Apart from the candidates who were able to contain their anxiety and excitement, and had remained in their inns, the others were waiting outside the institution. All eager to know how they fared.
"The soldiers have all dispersed. The results will be out any moment now." In the courtyard outside the institution, Elementary Scholars crowded the entire area.
"Boom!" The sounds of the huge door opened as it rumbled against its hinges. The Elementary Scholars were all shouting in excitement, "The results are out, the results are out!"
The clamor did not abate for a long time, as everyone around was screaming and talking loudly. The results of an examination that's held once every three years, bringing along with it the hopes and dreams of many students.
The morning sun pierced through the windows and left a ray of light imprinted on the wall. The rooster was crowing merrily through the morning. More than ten Elementary Scholars were in the dining hall. Although the waitress had served up this morning's meat porridge, nobody had any appetite to eat. Yu Guang Mao has sweated buckets, causing his shirt to seem wet as his gaze was fixed on the door before him.
The Fu Mansion was a stone throw away from the institution and before long, there was the sound of horse hooves outside. Following that, the din of drums started kicking up. Everyone that was around stared wide eyed, at the door waiting for something to happen.
"In the 30th place, Chen Jing Chun of Dong Ann Prefecture, Great Marquis County!" A group of people reporting the results barged in and shouted loudly.
Everyone around had been prepared for this. When someone came in to report the joyous news, another would hold the door, while the person reporting would follow a soldier into the room the candidate was in. The servants of Fu Mansion started lighting up firecrackers to welcome the good news.
Chen Jing Chun's expression remained somber for some time before a thud could be heard. He had slammed himself down on his knees and started sobbing, "Mother, Father, I've made it. I've finally made it."
"I've been studying till I'm 35, and I've finally made it!"
He acted like how a child would, wailing and crying on the ground. Yi Zhi Quan forced a smile and helped him up, "Congratulations, congratulations. This is a joyful thing."
The atmosphere was very tense, as all their hearts froze. Someone among them had made it. What about themselves?
Even Yu Guang Mao's face was white as sheet.
"In the 21st place, Dong Ann Prefecture, Happy Blessings County, Yu Guang Mao!"
"Congratulations!" Everyone around turned to him and partook in the celebrations. Yu Guang Mao heaved a sigh of relief as his face regained some color. He wiped his face and replied, "I forgot myself, and ask for your forgiveness."
Nobody replied and everyone around were still staring at the door. There were many people outside Fu Mansion talking, "This Fu Mansion is really something. In just 5 minutes they've already had two High Scholars."
Once again, it was quiet and everyone continued eyeing the door. The group of results reporters then walked past, away from Fu Mansion. After some time passed, the sound of drums started getting closer and louder again. Without caring about being too loud, the reporters shouted, "As for the final result, coming in top of the nation, Dong Ann Prefecture's Slow River County, master Pei Zi Yun has achieved first place!"
Yi Zhi Quan and everyone else felt their entire world crumbling down upon them as they looked down in shame. The moment had passed and they haven't been able to make it for this examination.They sat, slumped into their chairs in dejection. Pei Zi Yun felt his head swim in dizziness as he fought to keep his composure. He took out some coins and tipped the reporters as per tradition.
The reporters smiled and accepted his tips while congratulating him profusely.
As for the scholars who didn't make it, their faces were all pale in despair. Some even cried out in disappointment. Only Chen Jing Chin and Yu Mao Guang saluted him, "Congratulations brother Pei, you're the top scorer!"
"We rejoice together, we rejoice together." Pei Zi Yun responded politely. In reality, the perks of coming in first is not much different from coming in last. What actually matters is passing the examinations and becoming a High Scholar.
Every new High Scholar will receive a plaque, indicating which year and which position a person came in the examinations. They will also be exempted from tax for their first 20 mu of land owned. Due to an issue that had happened in the previous dynasty, where people would put their land under these High Scholars so that they too would be exempted from taxes. In return, they would pay these High Scholars a small sum of money. The current government has learnt from their lessons and thus only permit tax exemptions for up to 20 mu of land for High Scholars.
They were also given a new robe to wear, signifying their statuses. This new robe is not much different from the robe an official wears.
They were also given a signboard and 20 silvers taels. As for the top scorer, he is entitled to receive 30 silvers taels. This is the only difference between Pei Zi Yun's standing and everyone else.
High Scholars can place the signboard outside their doors. This represented the glory of a family. When an outsider saw this, he knew that this family had produced a High Scholar before.
When officials or bailiffs saw a signboard like that hanging from a door, they would be very polite to the family and would not dare to take advantage of them.
Amidst the noise, High Scholar Fu walked over and congratulated them, "Congratulations to the three new High Scholars. I've already organized a banquet to celebrate, please enjoy."
As he said this, he waved his hands and firecrackers burst forth once more, filling the entire house with smoke and a whole lot of noise. Tables were arranged neatly within the mansion. The gentle breeze along with the bright sun made for a perfect weather.
This banquet followed the traditions of old, where each person had a small table to himself. The only exception was Mistress Cloud and the little girl. Everyone else had a table scattered across the entire yard within the mansion. A sumptuous meal was prepared that included duck soup, mutton, mooncakes and even sliced fruits. There were more than 20 tables around.
High Scholar Fu smiled and said, "All of you please enjoy yourselves. As for those who haven't managed to pass this time, you can try again in three years time. You all are still very young."
"Come, let's drink!"
Some of the Elementary Scholars were down and disappointed but they could not refuse. What if they became a High Scholar next time? Will others offer toasts to them?
Forcing a smile, they all raised their glasses and drank together. High Scholar Fu understood how some of these Elementary Scholars are feeling, and did not force them to drink beyond what they wished to. He placed down his wine cup after the toast and ordered, "Start the performance!"
Immediately an entire swarm of girls appeared, singing as they stepped up on stage. Many of these students who have failed, turned to wine to appease their disappointments. Within the blink of an eye, they had already drank several cups. Yi Zhi Quan was one of them, he drank three cups in rapid succession. His face turned pale as he forced a laugh, "Brother Pei, Brother Yu, I still remember that day we met on the ship, waiting to take the examinations. The difference between that day and today is tremendous."
As he said this, he clapped along to the beat of the drums, as two drops of tears rolled down his cheeks.
Pei Zi Yun could not help but sigh as well. He had interacted with Yi Zhi Quan and knew that he came from a poor family. He was hardworking and humble, asking for help whenever he needed.
It's a pity that in this world, hard work does not necessarily pay off. Pei Zi Yun recalled what he said about settling down as a teacher if he did not make it this time. Pei Zi Yun wasn't depressed, and had no words that could console him. He just shook his head and finished his cup in one gulp.
The little girl's face was red with happiness. Seeing everyone have a good time she asked, "Aunt, it's only just an examination, why would it make such a big difference."
Mistress Cloud sighed and said, "That's the way it is. Being a High Scholar sets them apart from everyone else. And it's their destiny, and not by their own merits. You have to remember this."
The little girl nodded her head as if she understood, although it couldn't be confirmed if she really did.