This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
In the first imperial examination after Jin Yang started to govern on his own, many talented people appeared. When their essays were published, many people were attracted to them, and they were very popular.
But no one could have expected for a stunning thing to occur during the imperial examination.
Everyone knew the imperial examination was the world of men. Court rarely had examples of women as officials. Even when that female emperor in history was in power, she only used a few of her female officials, and the important officials in court were all men.
But this time, the imperial examination revealed that the fourth-ranked was a woman.
Before each imperial examination, from county examination to the court examination, while the candidates would not strip themselves for inspection, they would be searched. There were all kinds of investigations relating to one’s moral reputation. But even under such strict rules, a woman managed to make her way in.
Some scolded the woman for corrupting the court. Others suspected some were cheating in the imperial examination, so a woman was able to disguise herself as a man and appear at Zhaoyang Hall. Everyone was in a hurry to criticize this woman, especially the scholars who seemed to have been fatally insulted and who were jumping up and down to express their discontent.
Everyone forgot how they had worshiped, been in awe of, and wanted to gain a connection to this fourth-ranked examinee before this.
Gu Ru Jiu heard of this matter, and disapproved of the scholars. She became interested in the fourth rank.
“Great Feng’s imperial examinations are always to recruit the talents of the world. Who said that such talents must be men?” Gu Ru Jiu sneered and said disdainfully, “In the end, these scholars just feel that women cannot be in those positions, and should not be there.”
Jin Yang heard Gu Ru Jiu’s words, and said with a smile, “Jiu Jiu, what do you think should be done?”
“I do not care about this.” Gu Ru Jiu snorted. “You should do the things that take up brain power. I will be responsible for beauty, eating and drinking.”
This Zhang Tai’s greatest crime was not that she attended the imperial examination as a woman, but that she was a woman while her household registration had her recorded as a man, and she still came to participate in the imperial examination. If this matter was pursued, this was a crime of deceiving the emperor. If someone was at odds with her, just this crime alone was enough that Zhang Tai could not come back up.
Jin Yang smiled helplessly. “Why, after having Zhuang Zhuang, you are like him?”
“That can only be blamed on you.” Gu Ru Jiu propped her chin on her hand and looked at him with a smile. “Who let you spoil me like this?”
“Really?” Jin Yang came close to Gu Ru Jiu, his expression innocent. “How come I do not know I spoiled you?”
Gu Ru Jiu held his face and looked left and right. She jerked with her hands. “Thick skin.”
Already used to the emperor and empress interacting like this, the palace attendant nearby looked calmly at the tip of his toes, and tried to see if there was a flower blooming.
He Ming finally knew why Bai Xian, that sly old fox, was happy to follow the empress. From how the emperor was enthusiastic about the empress, following the empress was no different from following His Majesty.
He originally felt that Bai Xian had made a bad move. What was the use in having the emperor’s favour for a while? Men were all greedy and lusty. Today, they could be good to this woman, and tomorrow, be just as good to the other woman. Even if the empress was no ordinary woman, serving the empress could not compare to serving the emperor.
But Bai Xian, because he served the empress well, gained the favour of the empress, and even His Majesty started to value him again. The matter of being bribed by the Sima Family was smoothed over.
He just knew that a person like this, who would not get up early except for his own benefit, would not do something that was bad for him.
“This fourth rank who dressed as a man is slightly interesting,” Gu Ru Jiu suddenly said. “Where is she now?”
Jin Yang said, “At this stage, she should be imprisoned.” He himself did not care too much about this matter. But the outside world had made such a great fuss that he had to pay attention.
He was not very pleased about such a problem during his first imperial examination after governing on his own. Because of this matter, he saw the power of the pens of the literati.
Sometimes, powerful pens were not a good thing to the emperor.
Jin Yang caressed Gu Ru Jiu’s fine hand, and his expression gradually grew serious.
“In any case, she is a woman, and it will be fine if I summon her to the palace for an audience?” Gu Ru Jiu smiled fawningly at Jin Yang, and ignored his strict expression.
“All right, summon her if you want.” Jin Yang knew that she must be curious about this “woman dressed as a man.” Because it was so rare that a woman dressed as a man was not discovered in reality. This was not a novel—no one would be blind and think that a young woman was a man just because she wore men’s clothes.
The heavenly prison was the place where important criminals were imprisoned. Zhang Tai sat in the dim cell, listening to the sounds of other prisoners shouting or pleading. She could not help but hug her knees and curl up into a ball.
The female prisoner in the same cell as her said scornfully, “Once you enter here, it is hard to leave. You are a capable person to dare to deceive the emperor.” Then she examined Zhang Tai, shaking her head and saying emotionally, “If you were not imprisoned here with me, I would think you are a man.”
Zhang Tai looked at her and did not speak.
“Oh.” The female prisoner raised her eyebrows in sarcasm. “You scholars are all good except for this—being noble, proud, and arrogant. In reality, who in the world is not made of grains and does not work one’s entire life for one’s benefit?”
Zhang Tai looked at this female prisoner and said after a moment, “Men can make contributions and achieve their goals in the world. Why can’t us women?”
The female prisoner’s expression dimmed slightly. After a moment, she sighed. “The world is unfair—so what if we are unwilling?” She looked with pity at Zhang Tai. “So what if you are full of talent? It cannot overcome the fact you are a woman.”
Zhang Tai saw that this woman looked to be in her fifties, and had a beautiful face. But because life in prison was very hard, and she frequently went out to labor, she looked very fragile. Zhang Tai did not know what crime she had committed to be prisoned in a place like this. “You… what crime did you commit to be imprisoned here?”
In her view, this woman had a friendly face, and did not seem like an evil woman.
“I…” The female prisoner smiled bitterly. “I was stupid; nothing to mention.”
Zhang Tai wanted to ask more, but saw several guards of the prison approach, escorting an eunuch in a blue robe. She immediately did not dare to say more. She watched carefully as these people walked closer, and stopped at her cell door.
“You are Zhang Tai?” The blue-robed eunuch looked at her with a neutral expression.
“This one is.” Zhang Tai did not know what was going on, but she did not dare to be disrespectful and hurriedly bowed to the blue-robed eunuch.
“Ah.” The blue-robed eunuch nodded. “The empress wants to see you; come with me.”
The empress?! Zhang Tai’s eyes widened in shock. She looked in disbelief at the blue-robed eunuch. How come the empress would want to see her?
The female prisoner curled up in the corner heard the word “empress,” shuddered, and glanced up at Zhang Tai before slowly lowering her head.
“Does Teacher Zhang know how to ride?” Bai Xian looked at Zhang Tai. He did not call her miss, but teacher.
“The academy teachers taught riding; this one did not learn well, but can make do.” Zhang Tai walked out of the prison and saw an imperial guard troop standing outside. She was in even greater awe.
“If so, then Teacher Zhang, please mount the horse.” Bai Xian briskly got onto the horse’s back, and looked down on Zhang Tai. “Do not delay Her Majesty’s summons.”
“Yes.” Zhang Tai bowed to Bai Xian and then got on the horse. Her speech was brisk and free, without any of the delicate nature of an unmarried girl.
Bai Xian saw this and understood. This Zhang Tai was likely raised as a man from young. Otherwise, her movements could not be so natural.
Zhang Tai did not know what Bai Xian was thinking. In her view, the empress summoning her was a major matter. Back before she came to the capital, she had heard the love story between the emperor and empress. In the story, the emperor was gentle and in love, the empress beautiful and charming; the two were a match made in heaven, and protected by the heavens.
She did not believe in gods, and snorted at such rumors. But she believed in the great feelings between the emperor and empress. So towards the empress she had never seen before, she felt some yearning.
Upon reaching White Tiger Gates, the group dismounted. Zhang Tai followed Bai Xian. She listened to him introduce some rules of the palace, and secretly memorized them.
When she looked at the beautiful palace again, she profoundly felt that this place had such strict rules, and she could not breathe.
There was a distance from White Tiger Gates to Qiankun Palace. Zhang Tai did not know how far she walked before she heard Bai Xian say, “Teacher Zhang, we have arrived at Qiankun Palace.”
She looked up, and saw a glorious golden palace standing in front of her. There was a plaque hanging from the main gates of the palace. Written on it were the words “Qiankun Palace.” The writing was majestic and vast.
Entering the main gates, Bai Xian led her directly outside Purple Imperial Hall. Seeing the person standing there was Qiu Luo, he said, “Miss Qiu Luo, the person the empress wants to see has arrived.”
Qiu Luo smiled at him and then nodded at Zhang Tai. Then she said, “Please wait a moment.”
Zhang Tai thought dazedly, even the empress’ palace maids were like goddesses on earth. How beautiful and majestic was the empress?
Soon, she saw the beautiful palace maid walk out with a smile on her face.
“Her Majesty has called you in.” Qiu Luo made a gesture of invitation.
“Thank you, Miss Qiu Luo.” Bai Xian smiled politely at Qiu Luo, and then turned to say to Zhang Tai, “Teacher Zhang, please come in with me.”
Stepping inside Purple Imperial Hall, Zhang Tai felt the hall was fragrant, and the decor was like a heavenly palace. She immediately did not know what to do with her hands. When she entered the inner hall, she saw the red-robed woman sitting at the front, and was momentarily dazed before she recovered and bowed. “This student Zhang Tai greets Your Majesty.”
Her scholarly honors had not yet been taken away, and there was no wrong in calling herself as student.
“You are Zhang Tai?” Gu Ru Jiu looked at the girl bowing to her from the waist. If she had not known that the other was a woman to start with, she would not have believed that the other was a woman dressed as a man.
The other looked very masculine, and she even had a slightly raised throat that looked like a man’s Adam’s apple. It was just not as obvious as a normal man’s.
Her shoulders were wide, and she was tall. Her chest may have been bound or she did not have full breasts. She looked like a normal man, and did not have any of the traits of a woman.
“This student is.” Zhang Tai did not know why the empress had summoned her, so she answered whatever the other asked.
“I saw the essays you wrote—you are very talented.” Gu Ru Jiu gave her a seat. “What you mentioned about irrigation in the essays was interesting.”
Zhang Tai had not expected the empress to admire her essays, and she was slightly excited. She said, “This student is not well learned, and it is embarrassing.”
“No, you are a rare talent. Even His Majesty praised your essays.” Gu Ru Jiu shook her head and sighed. She looked at Zhang Tai and found it a pity. If this person was a man, she would have great achievements in court. Pitifully…
Zhang Tai knew what the empress did not say. She thought of her present situation, and felt despair.
“Tell this palace, why did you dress like a man to attend the imperial examination?” Gu Ru Jiu thought. “If there is a reason, this palace is willing to speak for you in front of His Majesty.”
Standing in the corner, Bai Xian looked with envy at Zhang Tai. This girl was really lucky. Usually, the empress did not plead with His Majesty for mercy for other people.
Zhang Tai’s heart moved, and she told her story.
In conclusion, before she was born, her father died in an accident. Her mother, to save their farm lands, lied and said that she was a boy, and on the household registration, wrote her gender as male. Then her mother married a village gentleman, and she started to learn to read and write. Because she was smart, she tested into an academy, and then there was the village examination, the county examination…
She was raised as a man from childhood, and before she was ten, she thought of herself as a boy. Later, she learned that she was different from a true boy. When she attended the court examination, she even thought, if she could display her ambitions, it was worth it if she had to be a man her entire life and not marry.
But she had not thought that she would be exposed. She committed the crime of deceiving the emperor, and may even drag down her family and the academy. So she was anxious, and wanted to pay with her death.
She did not fear death. She feared affecting her family and her teachers.
But she was unwilling. Why could she not be an official? Because she was a woman? Because she was a woman, she could not inherit land? Because she was a woman, she had to marry and have children? Because she was a woman, she could not have talent and ambitions?
She was unwilling, but helpless.
After hearing Zhang Tai speak of her story, Gu Ru Jiu felt that Zhang Tai had an impairment in recognizing gender. While she accepted that she was a woman, because she thought she was a boy before the age of ten, her words and the way she acted were not restrained by “what a woman should be.”
Gu Ru Jiu always felt that male and female ways of thinking were lies. There were no differences in how men and women thought, but men hoped that women would be weak and content with one’s lot, so they made rules for women. They told women over and over what women should be like, how women should act, and that if they went out of the boundaries, they did not fulfill the duties of a woman.
Women gradually lost themselves in the box, and thought that women should be like this. Then they forgot how to jump out of the box, and taught other women not to jump out either.
They would say, it was terrible out of the box, and it went against morality.
Even Gu Ru Jiu herself was standing in the center of the box, and looked at the world outside, not daring to take a step out. So she had some admiration towards a woman like Zhang Tai.
A person with talent should be respected, no matter their gender.
“You… are very talented.” Gu Ru Jiu looked at Zhang Tai and said. “I remember in history, there have been women as officials, and examples of women being a touring censoring inspector?”
Zhang Tai stood up and bowed to Gu Ru Jiu. “Your Majesty, there was such precedent.”
But they were just flashes in a pan, like a little wave in the ocean, and did not cause many ripples.
Gu Ru Jiu nodded. She said after a moment, “Return for now.” She turned to Bai Xian and said, “Bai *Gonggong, see Teacher Zhang back. Tell the guards to not make things difficult for Teacher Zhang.”
Hearing the empress call Zhang Tai “Teacher Zhang,” Bai Xian understood, and acknowledged.
Leaving Qiankun Palace, Bai Xian said to Zhang Tai with a smile, “Teacher Zhang is a lucky person. You will have great fortune after a great disaster. Please do not worry.”
Zhang Tai was not stupid, and knew what Bai Xian meant. She turned and bowed in the direction of Qiankun Palace. After bowing three times, she left behind Bai Xian.
At court, the civil officials were arguing without rest about Zhang Tai. Many people thought that Zhang Tai had deceived the emperor, and her crime was unpardonable. Some thought that Zhang Tai was a rare talent, and one could not deny everything about her just because she was a woman.
The two sides fought, sticking to their sides, and did not get a result. To everyone’s surprise, even His Majesty did not immediately make a decision about this case, and let the civil officials discuss. He seemed not to have made any decisions at all.
Most people who were standing here were not truly mediocre. They had seen Zhang Tai’s examination papers, knew she was a rare talent, and before they learned she was a woman, most people thought she would have great accomplishments.
But the world could not be predicted. Who could have guessed that this great talent was a woman?
“Your Majesty, this subject thinks that Zhang Tai’s actions corrupted the court, and have affected Your Majesty’s reputation. Such a great crime of deceiving the emperor should be punished by execution.” One official came out. “Otherwise, in the future, more women will copy this woman, and cause chaos in the world. Such a precedent cannot be started.”
“Yes.” Jin Yang looked at the official and said thoughtfully, “But this woman is so talented. If she is executed, won’t it be a pity?”
This official said, “Your Majesty, Great Feng is full of talent, and will not lack for talent. But the rules cannot be broken.” Women should not participate in the imperial examination—they should stay at home.
At such words, the people who did not agree with him started to argue again.
After the officials were about done with their arguing, Jin Yang said, “In history, King Wen greatly desired talents, and did not care about their gender. As long as they were willing to help King Wen, he rewarded them richly. Our dynasty also had female generals leading armies and fighting on the battlefield. If Zhen cannot tolerate a talented woman, what will the world think of Zhen and what will future generations think of us?”
The officials that had been discussing executing Zhang Tai were dumbstruck. From His Majesty’s words, he did not plan to investigate Zhang Tai’s crime?
There had been examples of female generals in Feng Dynasty’s history. A hundred years ago, when Gaoluo invaded, the general in charge of a city had died of illness. His wife, to guard the city gates, took charge of the army in place of her husband. Later, because of her outstanding abilities, she won over the soldiers. She managed to guard the city gates, and sent the army to help neighboring villages fend off the enemy. This female general was one of the hundred generals of Great Feng, a second rank general, one praised by the ruler of Great Feng for being as good as a man.
Thinking of this, the civil officials of Great Feng felt slightly bitter. Was it not enough that there had been a woman who embarrassed the military officials—now there was also a woman who embarrassed the civil officials?
But at this time, no one could come out and say, yes, as men, we are jealous of talent, and jealous of a woman for being better than us, so we want Your Majesty to execute her.
No matter if they truly felt jealous or not, if they spoke now, later generations would think that they were jealous of a woman’s talent.
As an official, one wanted to be remembered in history. Who did not care about their reputation?
In any case, this woman would not achieve anything. What was the meaning in them jumping up and down here? Even if she entered court, she would not have many choices to advance. A pheasant falling into the nest of phoenixes, no matter how they tried, could not become a phoenix.
“Your Majesty is right. Although Zhang Tai has committed a crime, it is excusable. This subject asks Your Majesty to lessen her punishment.” The officials that were speaking for Zhang Tai took the chance and spoke up.
This group was one that had more modern thoughts, and was not attached to the rules. Gu Zhi Yu was one of them.
“This subject agrees!”
“This subject agrees!”
Military officials came out as well and used their actions to support Zhang Tai. There was Zhang Tai to embarrass the civil officials, and they liked that.
In the end, Zhang Tai was spared of her serious crimes, but she could not be forgiven. So she was sent to be the district magistrate in a remote area, to benefit the people there.
The remote place had complex local people, and their agriculture was backwards. It also had a bad climate. People who had some connections would not go to such a place to be an official.
So everyone was happy. Zhang Tai got to keep her scholarly honors, but she went to a harsh place. The people who disliked her were satisfied. Going to be a magistrate in such a place, if one did not die of illness, they had to think of ways to get transferred. How long could Zhang Tai, a woman, last in such a place?
If she persisted, she might die of illness. If she did not persist, she would lose her scholarly honors. So people in these circumstances did not matter.
But no one knew that when Zhang Tai went to take office, the empress sent her a doctor.
The matter of the court examination finally came to an end. After a while, Zhang Tai’s matter was gradually forgotten, and the court resumed normality.
Just as everything stabilized, there was a shock in the capital, this one related to the aristocratic Li Family.
A woman accused Li Guang Ji of pretending an illegitimate child was legitimate.
At this, the court was in an uproar. Wasn’t Li Guang Ji’s legitimate son one of the famous young masters of the capital, Li Huai Gu?
But when Wu shi had been pregnant back then, many people saw her belly. How could there be any concealment?
If Li Guang Ji had done this himself, then did the Wu Family and Wu shi know?
Even more importantly, Li Huai Gu was so old now, and no one had spoken up all these years. Now, suddenly someone said such a thing. Who would believe there was no intrigue in this?
The Li Family was embarrassed when the matter made its way to court. Li Guang Ji swore up and down that this was nonsense and asked the emperor to investigate thoroughly.
“How can a mother not know if the child comes from herself?” Jin Yang looked at Li Guang Ji who had a slighted and angry expression. “How about asking Mistress Li to come help in the investigation?”