Recap of last chapter: Ning Yi goes exercising and then rescues someone from drowning in the river on his morning run. Unfortunately, he is assumed to be a pervert.
Chapter Six Elder Qin
According to Ning Yi’s previous plan, he was to run a lap and then go to the Mount Yu School. Yet he was completely soaked now so he could only go back to change his clothing. It was already the eighth month by the lunar calendar and he did not feel good about going home while he was wet. His health had not become much better since he came and he would probably get sick tomorrow. Fortunately, not long after he started to walk, he met someone he knew. It was the concubine of Elder Qin who he had seen a few times before.
Ning Yi naturally would not pick a direction where the city was busy when he went out to exercise. What he was most familiar with was naturally the road where he frequently came to play weiqi with Elder Qin. Elder Qin’s concubine was called Yun Niang. She was over thirty, and had been a female in the red-light district in her earlier years. However, there was no seduction in her conduct. When Ning Yi had met her during the times she came to deliver the noon meal to Elder Qin, her appearance was dignified, and she could exchange poetry with Elder Qin. When he encountered her on the road, Yun Niang was dressed in a plain hemp robe like that of a country wife. She was holding a vine basket in her hand and there was freshly picked vegetables inside. Seeing Ning Yi, her expression was shocked.
After exchanging greetings, Yun Niang asked what had happened. Ning Yi pointed at the nearby Qinhuai River. “I feel into the river.” That Yun Niang smiled and did not ask further. She only had Ning Yi follow her into a compound nearby. “The wind is strong in the autumn. If Young Master goes home like this, you will most likely get a cold. Since Young Master Ning is a friend of Master, do not be courteous. Master is at home right now … … oh, yesterday, he mentioned that Young Master has not gone to play.”
Ning Yi and Elder Qin had their matches on the nearby street and he only knew the other lived in this direction. However, he had never known the specific location. When he followed Yun Niang into the room, he saw an old person that was holding an old scroll. At this time, his expression was focused, serious, and even held a hint of authority. It was completely different than his state when he was setting up a weiqi stall by the river. Seeing someone come in, he raised his head and his eyes narrowed for a few seconds before he reacted. Then he seemed to smile. Yun Niang walked over with a smile. Before she spoke, he nodded. It was clear what was most needed at this moment.
“Have Xiao Hong prepare hot water. Yun Niang, get some of Eldest Young Master’s clothing … … Ha ha, Little Friend Li Heng, what happened?”
After attending to the serious matters, the old person started to laugh. His laugh contained the schadenfreude that was similar to what he held when he had made a very good move on the board. They had become familiar due to playing together these past days. Usually, the old person would impolitely call him Li Heng Brat. Seeing his sorry state, he mocked Ning Yi by calling him Little Fiend, but his expression was very happy. Ning Yi could only grimace helplessly and spread his hands. Since the other’s concubine was present, he could not casually say, “You are laughing at my misfortune.”
Compared to the Su Family Compound that sprawled over a large part of Jiangning City, the Qin Family compound was not large and naturally could not compare in the degree of richness. However, relatively speaking, it was a well-of family. Both the outside and inside was well taken care off and neatly organized. It was a compound that called people to feel that it was full of vitality, and scholarly presence. It gave the feeling of having a strong foundation. Even though Yun Niang had gone out early in the morning to pick vegetables herself, but there were also servants in this family. A family that could support several servants could not lack in their wealth.
Elder Qin’s wife was a matron that was extremely harmonious in presence. In the past, she was a country wife but she did not hold the selfish presence of those people that might also be shrewish. Right now, she was more than fifty years ago. Usually, she would manage the household and raise some fruits. The garden that Ning Yi had seen Yun Niang go to pick fruit and vegetables from was one that Mistress Qin had created with her servants. Elder Qin probably also had worked. Maybe it required a person of this temperament to keep the household running smoothly. Mistress Qin and Yun Niang were on very good terms. The three could be considered a perfect example of a family with one male and several females.
After Ning Yi had a hot bath and changed his clothes, he came out. Mistress Qin examined his attired and said with affection, “Master, Young Master Ning looks like our eldest son with the robe.” Ning Yi looked at the clothing. It really was a style for a young person. The clothing was also new. It probably was the clothing of Elder Qin’s son. The old man had two sons that were all in distant places. Hearing his wife say this, Elder Qin nodded. Then he asked Ning Yi why he fell into the river. Ning Yi narrated the unfortunate matter, and caused the old person to have a bout of laughter again.
“You boy, you ruined someone’s innocent, so horrid.”
“These words are such slander; you strike me with a mud rake … …”
“Haha … … however, what is ‘strike with a mud rake?’ Is there some classical allusion in this?”
“… …” It was not good to talk with people that are educated. They will frequently ask about the origins of allusions. When they played a match, Ning Yi would explain. However, he only said at this time, “It is a long story.” After a short while, Mistress Qin prepared breakfast. Along with Yun Niang, she called Elder Qin and Ning Yi over. When they talked during the meal, they chatted about what Ning Yi’s original impressions of teaching at Mount Yu School were like. If Elder Qin had a say, Ning Yi was a complete greenhorn as a teacher and naturally mocked him for delaying his students. Then they moved onto the matters of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
“Pu Park Poetry Conference … … the Pu Family’s six interconnected boats are slightly interesting, but the people that go mostly do not have talent in poetry. The one that the gifted scholars want to pursue is the Pan Family’s Water Point Poetry Conference … …”
“Oh, gifted scholars … … those with lots of talent?”
“Haha, it is very hard to say what is great and small talent. At least, they have poetic talent. Of the Mid-Autumn poetry conferences, the Water Point School will always have some good poems produced. The Pan Family has three generations of the Hanlin Imperial Academy. If those with talent want to move up, they are those that are willing to go to that path … …”
On the Mid-Autumn night of Qinhuai, the gifted scholars competed in words, the beauties competed in song. There would be many poetry conferences, and there was a hidden competition between the conferences. When a conference produced a good poem, another conference would produce an even better one. These would be promoted into a hot topic and then would spread in the following months and even years to become good stories to tell. Of course, there was naturally effort involved from the merchant houses and even the government. No matter what, the name of the Qinhuai River was elevated through this kind of atmosphere.
The Pu Park Poetry Conference and the Water Point Poetry Conference were some of the most influential poetry conferences in that night. The Pu Park Poetry Conference was called Pu Park, but in reality, it was hosted on six boats connected together which would float on the Qinhuai River all night. The people would drink, recite poetry, and look at the fireworks as well as the lights on the two shorelines. There would also be performances on the boat.
The Pu Family was a rich business family, and after becoming rich, they tried to move themselves closer to the identity of scholars. It was a pity that this was not something that could be accomplished in a few years or even decades. The family was large, and in the last few years, they had produced several scholars with talent. They were better off than the Su Family. However, in the eyes of the world, they were still not a scholarly family. The Pu Park Poetry Conference was famed for its largeness, luxuriousness, and heated atmosphere, but most of the people who attended were people that had similar merchant backgrounds like the Pu Family or were connected to them. For example, Su Tan Er and Xu Jing would go. There would be poetry works from those that thought themselves scholars, but the other half were people there to network for business. The quality of the poetry was not consistent. It was the most luxurious poetry conference, but it could not compare to the reputations of the top poetry conferences.
Water Point Poetry Conference was the gathering for the true gifted scholars in the Qinhuai Region. The host was the Pan Family which was a true scholarly family. Three generations of Hanlin Imperial Academy scholars. In this generation, Pan Ming Chen was a scholar of the Hanlin Imperial Academy as well as an assistant minister of the Ministry of Rights. There were many students that came in hopes of getting a good ranking. Of course, other than some gifted scholars that were famous already, those that could attend the poetry conference had to have a certain level of talent or background. Before each year’s Mid-Autumn Festival, there would be many gifted scholars that would send their cards to the Pan Compound, present their poetry in the hopes they could receive favor. Other than this, there would also be many pleasure towers that thought it was an honor to receive an invitation to the Water Point Poetry Conference. It was completely different from the meaning of the Pu Park Poetry Conference that paid a large amount in order to invite people.
“Since you are prepared to attend, has Little Friend Li Heng prepared any poetic works? If you are interested, I have some friends in the Pan Family and can request an invitation.”
After Elder Qin finished speaking, he looked at Ning Yi on the opposite side of the table. Ning Yi shook his head with a smile, “I do not understand poetry and am going purely to see the spectacle of Pu Park.”
His refusal was simple and light. Elder Qin did not have anything else to say. After eating the morning meal, the sun was high in the sky. Ning Yi had to bid farewell and go to the Mount Yu School. After seeing him off at the gate, Yun Niang asked Elder Qin with a smile, “Master, does this Young Master Ning really not understand poetry?”
“Xiao Yun’er, what do you think?”
Yun Niang blinked her eyes. “He is lying.”
“Haha, even I do not know if he understands or not. If he said this in the first few days, I would believe it, but now, it is hard to say.” Elder Qin shook his head with a smile, “I have seen many people in this lifetime, seen young people that only have the reputation or those that really have the talent, of those that have true talent, there are those that walk the orthodox path of Confucius and Mencius, humble and polite. There are also unorthodox mad students that are flamboyant in their conduct, rebellious, but those are also truly talented and will shock people at every turn. But no matter what, those are all the same. But this boy, this Ning Family son, I really cannot see what he thinks.”
“When I first played weiqi with him, I felt that he was unorthodox and each of his actions were pressuring. However, they can always get people to think. I assumed that this was a young person with a flamboyant personality, gifted and nimble of thought, and there was not much we touched on in conversation. However, after playing for a long time, I found that his play can be orthodox or strange, completely unrestrained by the rules. After chatting for a while, I feel this young Ning is casual in his speech, but inside, he is calm. He would occasionally say things that causes deep thought, are strange to hear, but they do not leave behind the orthodox path.”
“I remember when he said he was going to teach at the school a few days ago, he said a few words. Teaching was not to teach people how to do things, but why to do them. The ancient great ones wrote books that, at the core, are about the ways of the world, how the world runs and how people’s minds work. After understanding this, one should know why one should do something. That is what a true scholar is. He said it casually, and if it is heard by people that are shallow, they would accuse him of being a mad scholar. However… … the rationale, this really is the rationale. See the mountain, it is the mountain, see the water, it is the water. See the mountain, it is not the mountain, see the water it is not the water. Once you turn back, you see the mountain and it is the mountain, you see the water, it is the water. That is a person that truly understands the books. En, do not tell others about his words, otherwise, people would make trouble for him.”
“This servant knows.”
“We have not been acquainted for a long time, and it is too early to conclude anything profound. However, he also said a few phrases of poetry when we were playing. That poetry line was very good but I never heard them before. If it is just poetry, if he says he does not understand, ha, I don’t believe it.”
Elder Qin turned to leave. Yun Niang followed. “When does this Young Master Ning stay so low-key all this time, no matter what … …”
“This is what I do not understand. However, there is one thing that I understand,” When he spoke of this, Elder Qin’s brow furrowed slightly and then he shook his head, sighing lightly, “if it is like what you say, some young people are talented or deliberately conceal themselves to rest, they might be able to endure the loneliness, and the temptation. This is all in hopes of getting more results in the future, to leap the dragon door to ascend, however, any person that desires to do this will not chose to marry into a merchant family before they accomplish anything. In history, how many that are zhuixu have accomplished something? Oh, if he really has great talent, then it is a pity … …”
When he mentioned this, Elder Qin still felt slight pity. It was normal for men to have ambitions. In these days of interaction, Ning Yi would not have married into a merchant family if he had one bit of ambition. At this time, there was not a lot of intelligence among the people. It was very simple to see the difference between those that were uneducated and the scholars that were. Regardless of whether if he really had talent at all, just a person like this who has such presence and manner of speech, he wouldn’t die if he did any profession. Why did he go marry into a family?
 Buddhist saying about enlightenment.
There are three stages of life.
The first is when one first comes into the world and everything is new. The person is naive and thinks everything is true.
The second is when a person becomes experienced in the world. They start to learn more and then a mountain and water are not just mountains and water, also, there are many illusions in the world so what is seen is not always the truth.
The third is when one sees through the illusions and returns to seeing the mountain and water as they truly are.
Translator Ramblings: I thought I understood the Buddhist saying, then I researched, and then I confused myself. I hope the general gist made it through.