Chapter 16: Quality

Translator: Translation Nation/chuchutrain Editor: - -

Once he had awaken from his slumber, the sun was already out and shining. Most of the candidates were already up and making rustling noises as they started writing again. Pei Zi Yun stood up and stretched himself. With a patrolling official following him, he went to the toilet and back to the room. He drank some water, taking small sips at a time.

After having more pastries and an egg, Pei Zi Yun felt rejuvenated. He then began to check the answers on the scrap paper and ensured that he had solved the three big questions without mistakes. As he sighed, he knew that if he did not become an Elementary Scholar, something was seriously wrong.

He then started to copy the answers from the scrap paper into the actual answer script.

"The last section is the final part, poetry."

"Frankly, regardless of which discipline is the emphasis, poetry is the least important. The last question thus tested the candidates literary abilities."

"All I can say is, if it is an outstanding piece, bonus marks will be rewarded."

Although Pei Zi Yun was not the most poetical person, he had many poems in his memories.

Between these two worlds, surely there will not be two identical poets.

Looking at the topic, "Start of Spring", Pei Zi Yun was shocked. This looked familiar to him. His head felt slightly painful from the number of poems he could choose from to write.

As he was thinking, he held the inkstone and his gaze was fixed on the question. He finally decided on which poem he would write, "I shall write the poem by Xi Han Yu"

"This poet was part of the Tang dynasty, and poems from the Tang dynasty are the most expensive. This was because no other dynasties could compete in poetry with them. And this person was conferred numerous titles for his ability in literature. Bring me some luck!"

Pei Zi Yun's heart was glad with confidence. This time, there was no need for the scrap paper, he decided to write directly onto the actual sheet.

The streets were wet with light drizzle as the grass swayed in the wind.

The best time of the year is spring, infinitely better than having smoke filled skies.


When he had finished, Pei Zi Yun relaxed every muscle in his body. He checked the entire script three times to ensure no mistakes were made. He looked around him to see everyone was still buried in their writings, each of them looking pale. He had finished before time was up as he shouted, "Submitting my paper!"

The official asked him curiously, "It's not even dark, yet you have finished writing?"

Pei Zi Yun replied, "I have finished."

Without delay the official called for the official in charge of receiving scripts. He checked that everything was in order before saying, "Release!"

All these submitted scripts will then be stamped with the candidate's names to prevent fraud of any sort. Several officials will then transcribe the contents of the paper and pass the copies for marking. Only after the top percentile of candidates have been selected will they be able to view the actual papers. At this point if it was well done, marks can be added. Before this process nobody was allowed to see the actual test scripts, not even the officials collecting the papers.

Pei Zi Yun exited the examination hall and realized how stuffy and stifling the atmosphere had been. He did not want to stay longer than he had to. It was rumoured that the next tier of examinations required three days to complete and candidates were not allowed to leave early. He wondered how blank he would be if he had to do that.

He recalled that just as he was copying the answers down onto the actual answer sheet, a student had to be carried out. He had an entire head of white hair and was wailing to be let back in again. Pei Zi Yun watched from afar and felt somewhat distressed.

That was how it was for the examinations. If you did not pass the Elementary Scholar examination once, and succeeded even after several attempts, you will end up like that.

Unless the candidate is exceptionally lucky, or exceptionally talented, the higher tier examinations would usually require a few attempts. Pei Zi Yun felt completely drained and exhausted but completely relieved as well.

Since the examinations are over, and he should become an Elementary Scholar with the relevant status, the Plum Blossom mission would be completed.

As he stepped out, Pei Zi Yun realized how blank his mind felt.

Apart from a High Scholar's family, scholars, servants and cart drivers, everyone else traveled by riding. In the history of examination candidates, many have collapsed from exhaustion and sickness. Walking under exhaustion like this would not be safe, and since he did not feel like walking anyway, he waved his hand for transport.

An oxcart stopped beside him, as Pei Zi Yun said, "Safe Travels Inn!"

"Sure, have a seat, passenger."

The ride back to the inn was very bumpy, but at least the hotel serving staff were on the ball. As soon as they saw him, they shouted, "Prepare the hot water!"

Pei Zi Yun immediately took a warm shower before coming out to some meat porridge. After having his meal and some tea, he started seeing candidates returning from the examination hall. He noticed that Tang Zhen looked extremely pale. The moment he saw Pei Zi Yun he hurriedly approached him and bowed.

Pei Zi Yun was shocked and said, "Brother Tang why do you have to be so formal?"

He looked up and saw Tang Zhen looking embarrassed as he said, "I am thankful for the scolding you gave me a few days ago, and forced me to revise in my room before the examinations. One of the questions that came out, I had just revised during that period. And so I have to thank you."

"Haha, that really happened? Then it is your destiny." Pei Zi Yun smiled as he spoke sincerely. This man truly has some good fortune, having a question that came out during his revision.

As he finished his porridge, he noticed a few more candidates returning but was not bothered. He went up to his room and lay on his bed. Within moments he was immersed in sweet dreams.


School, Marking Hall

The top papers had already been arranged by merit, but had to wait for the rest to be sorted before they could be released. The marking hall consisted of people who recorded the marks, script collectors and seal affixers. In the west hall, officials were in charge of reading and internal circulation.

The script collectors will ferry the scrips to the seal room, where they will be stamped to protect the integrity of the papers before they are delivered to the recording room to be copied.

Once copies had been made, both the original and copies would be transported across the hall to reading rooms. The officials will read both documents to ensure that they are exactly the same. They will retain the original and pass the copied version to the great hall.

The great hall was some distance away and the scripts have to be handed outside. Within the great hall, an official would be reading the scripts behind a screen, making it resemble an office of sorts.

When every official had finished reading the scripts and were satisfied with its quality, they would each indicate with a circle on top, before handing it to the room chief.

After the room chief was satisfied, he too would affix a circle onto the top of the script before sending it over to the deputy chief examiner. Likewise, when the deputy chief examiner was content with the quality of the script he would indicate with a circle and finally send it to the chief examiner.

The night sky was littered with an abundance of stars. Just as the room was littered with candles, illuminating the entire place.

The layout of the room was very simple. There were a couple of tables and chairs. The table was full of examination scripts. The chief examiner was called Ye Xiang Gao and he was a 50 years old man with an entire head of white hair. He was looking at the reading officials, "Today you are here grading examination papers, do not forget those hard years of studying. But more importantly, do not forget the trust invested in you by the dynasty. Be alert when marking the scripts, if there are any discrepancies, be sure to voice it out."

The officials acknowledged and proceeded with their duties.

The reading officials were all professors in the relevant subjects, and there were fixed answers to the first section, so the grading for this part was straightforward.

After a short while, one of the officials shouted, "Question five of the justice segment had been answered wrongly. Everyone was able to get this question right but this candidate made a mistake."

As he said this, he threw that script into the bottom percentile.

In this examination, there were around two thousand seven hundred scripts. But with many marking officials, within moments the first part of it had been graded.

"Your excellency, of two thousand seven hundred and forty one scripts, three hundred and ninety one had fallen behind due to error in answers and are at the bottom of the cohort.

Those scripts that had fallen to the bottom are deemed hopeless and will only receive attention when all the scripts had been marked. Unless a miracle happens, chances of these scripts making it are very slim.

"Two thousand three hundred and fifty scripts shall now be marked on the next segment." Announced the chief examiner.

"Yes!" Now that they were marking the big questions, the speed would be much slower. Late in the night, one of the officials yawned. Even if there were many marking officials, with so many words to read, they would surely feel dizzy and see stars after some time. Holding on to one script, he read the contents before shouting, "What rubbish is he writing."

It was then tossed to the bottom of the cohort.

Moving on to the next script, he straightened up and smiled, "Not bad, this is a good piece!"

He then circled the top of the paper and was about to put it aside but could not bear to, "A script of this quality is hard to come by. I shall enjoy reading it once more."

The white haired official read it through once more, sampling the quality and sighed, "Rare, a rare quality piece."

He then wrote, 'top quality' below the circle. The official in the room will take a closer look. In a heartbeat, the script had been delivered to the inner room.

If the reading officials were likened to tired dogs, the official in the room was as free as a cat. All he had to read were scripts with a circle on top.

The official in the room was not tired, as he read the scripts without expression. He then called out to the official outside and asked, "This script, was it you who deemed it to be top quality?"

"Yes it was."

The room official considered for a moment before drawing a circle on top too. He then wrote, "Matured piece of writing, possible top scorer."

The reading official saw and was shocked. The room official then told a scribe, "Take this to the assistant chief examiner."

There were only a few scripts with circles, and even fewer were those that had two circles. When the assistant chief examiner picked up the essay he smiled and said, "There is indeed an outstanding script."

After reading it, he paused for some time and was stumped. He then drew another circle before handing it to the chief examiner.

When the chief examiner saw three circles on the paper, he knew that it had been justified by the reading official, the room official and the assistant chief examiner. He then started to read it.

Before long, the chief examiner sank deep into thought.

"How is it?" Asked the assistant chief examiner.

The chief examiner paused for some time before saying, "This piece had a certain maturity and depth to it. It is not treacherous, and was written wisely. As for discussion, he has the potential to become a High Scholar. In this examination, he would at least be in third in the first band. However, I noticed a certain regret and self reproach. I am afraid this candidate is not young anymore.

The assistant chief examiner paused for a second before understanding, "What a shame."

To say that the road to becoming a High Scholar is free of discrimination is not true. Although merit is important, the candidate in question matters too. Awarding High Scholar status would mean that the dynasty has selected the candidate to potentially become a government official. If the candidate is too old, he would face some discrimination.

You are already forty five, how many years can you serve after appointing you as an official?

It is evident that an old age comes with a lower chance of scoring well. Many old candidates actually do not stand much chance in succeeding.

There is some depth to the essay. But someone like this, might not be good for the dynasty. The chief examiner was not satisfied, "So he shall drop?"

"That is so, he shall drop." The chief examiner considered for some time before saying, "Place him in the middle of the second band!"