While She Ning started to prepare for the big act, the scholars in the Academy were sitting together with the director, looking over the results of the competition that had been held a few weeks prior. All of the documents had been evaluated by their Academy’s teachers and some officials that His Majesty had sent. In fact, it was said that the emperor himself had taken a look at the results of the essay competition for which he had provided the topic.
The scholars didn’t know what he thought about them though as no words had been sent back or announced to the public. It was as if His Majesty had just been curious what the highly-attained scholars of his Chen country had been able to come up with in response to the bullshit topic he threw at them.
Well, that was what most scholars thought to themselves but none of them dared to say it out loud. They all praised His Majesty’s nimble mind and creative approach, praising him to the High Heavens as if he was more knowledgeable than all of them together.
Seeing the scholars sit there with bad expressions, Ming Xiang Wen, the Academy’s director, cleared his throat. “The competition has been wrapped up successfully. Quite a few of the younger generation were able to showcase their talents in front of the guests. Many of them securing positions at court.”
The scholars murmured some agreement before sighing. Yes, yes, some had been able to showcase their talents. But the poor youngsters that had decided to compete in writing essays … They sighed again, feeling that it was too unfair to them. Their high hopes had been dashed by His Majesty himself. The pride they had felt before for being provided with a topic by the emperor himself had made place for doubts about whether or not His Majesty was even taking them seriously. What was the meaning of that topic?
While the others mourned the fates of the young talents, Teacher Lian had a thoughtful gaze. He had also been full of pride on the day of the competition only to deflate when he finally heard what kind of topic His Majesty had chosen. He had been even more appalled at people’s behavior that day though. Even that Zhang Shi Lan … Well, it wasn’t the boy himself who made a bad impression but he still hadn’t been able to feel disappointed that something like that had happened. Now, though …
Teacher Lian cleared his throat, making the other scholars stop their lament and look over.
Ming Xiang Wen also turned to him, giving a smile. “Teacher Lian, what might be the matter?”
“I was thinking … A lot of young talents got opportunities but some were rather … unfortunate. The essay competition didn’t gain much recognition this time around.”
The other scholars nodded vehemently, agreeing quietly. They really had some more to say but even when Teacher Lian went ahead, they didn’t dare to openly criticize the emperor.
“That was indeed unfortunate. We can’t do anything about that though.”
“Mn.” Teacher Lian nodded and brushed his beard. “But what if there was something we could do, after all?”
Ming Xiang Wen perked up. “Could there be such a thing? Please do tell, Teacher Lian.” Their Academy relied on the students as much as the students relied on the Academy. After all, even though they had been founded by the emperor, that also meant that they depended on the emperor’s grace to a large part as well. If the emperor forgot about them or his successor didn’t care, then they wouldn’t be allocated any funds. How were they supposed to teach the students then? How were they supposed to take care of the premises? Some scholars might be willing to contribute but they also wouldn’t have much money if there weren’t any students.
Thus they could only try to groom their students as well as they could, ensuring that they reached high positions at court and would have a say in important matters. That way, the Academy would be taken care of at the important times. After all, the students wouldn’t forget the teachers that had previously helped them attain these heights and they knew that they might be able to make use of this relationship in the future as well.
Now, an excellent opportunity in providing the students with chances had been wasted. If they could make up for that somehow, then Ming Xiang Wen as the Academy’s director who had to take care of all these organizational matters would be the happiest.
The old teacher nodded slowly. “Those talents lacked recognition because of the subject matter that didn’t allow them to showcase skills that would be valued by the ministries. There is no way to change that. But … even though the subject might not be the most practical, it still allowed them to show how flexible their minds are and how they are able to adapt to new situations. Going further, we could also say that how well they did this time compared to their previous results at the Academy indicates their willingness to engage in scholarly considerations outside of their scope of knowledge. All these things are very important to a scholar and his future career.”
“So you think that … we should honor them especially?” Ming Xiang Wen wasn’t too happy with this. It was a nice gesture to show that they cared but nothing more. It still couldn’t get these students a position at court.
Teacher Lian furrowed his brows and gave him a look that seemed to say ‘young people these days’. Only when he was sure that Ming Xiang Wen wouldn’t interrupt him again, did the old scholar continue. “We should honor their achievements. On the day of the competition, a young scholar came to greet me. I remembered him from the time when he attended the Academy. In fact, he was one of our best students back then even though he didn’t manage to be among the first three. If I had to describe him, I’d say he was … a brilliant mind but not too daring enough. He would think things through calmly and if asked to solve a problem, he would find the way that would offend the least people. He lacked the arrogance many of these youngsters have.”
The director’s brows twitched. He didn’t see how this and that had anything to do with each other but he didn’t dare to say anything after the look he had just gotten. This Teacher Lian was very valued in the whole Academy. He couldn’t make him resent him.
“I didn’t think of this youngster much since he left the Academy and only remembered him every now and then when one of the new students would make trouble, thinking that it would be good if more people could be as calm and grounded as he was …” Teacher Lian’s gaze grew distant as if he was remembering the time when this youngster had attended his lectures.
In fact, he did precisely that. He thought back to that very first day when Zhang Shi Lan had attended his lecture for the first time. The boy had sat there clad in a clean, blue robe, sitting straight with his eyes wide as if he could somehow take in more of the knowledge taught to them this way. While some of the students drifted off with their thoughts quietly or even got loud because they couldn’t take it, Zhang Shi Lan had listened this intently the whole time, not daring to miss even a single word.
Back then, as a teacher, he had hated the other students for not living up to his expectations while he was gratified that there was somebody like Zhang Shi Lan. The only problem was that Zhang Shi Lan was a little too quiet. He didn’t dare to ask further questions. He didn’t even dare to ask if he didn’t understand anything. You could just pay attention to his eyes and the way his gaze would lower when he couldn’t comprehend. Really an obedient child. He didn’t dare to make trouble for his teachers and would instead try to figure it out on his own, maybe going to ask his father if he really couldn’t.
Only when he got older did Zhang Shi Lan open up a bit. But even then he had been careful with what he said. It had been a little worrying but what could a teacher do other than advising him? So in the end, these children grew up. Some stayed the same troublemakers they had been in the beginning, just relying on their families to gain a position and live out their lives, some achieving greatness on their own, while only this quiet child … quietly faded away.
If not for that friend who loudly announced what Zhang Shi Lan hoped for on the day of the competition, he never would have figured it out. Well, now that he knew … the longer he had thought about it, the more he felt that this should be made possible. This kind of person might not be suited for a life at court but he was suitable to have a position at the Academy. In fact, he might be a useful addition.
“Teacher Lian?” The director finally dared to call out to him in a quiet voice, trying to call him back to attention. “Teacher Lian. What did you want to say about … how to honor the achievements of these scholars?”
“Ah.” Teacher Lian was pulled out of his thought and startled awake. “Right, right. We all don’t get younger. I think it might be time to let the younger generation try their hand. So how about offering them a position in the Academy for the time being? When the next opportunity arises, they can still go and try to gain a position at court. But they won’t be given the cold shoulder right now.”
Ming Xiang Wen raised his brows. “All of them?”
Teacher Lian furrowed his brows. “How could that be? Naturally, we can only let those have a position that are worthy. The ones who showed in the competition that they truly have the mind of a scholar. Wasn’t that what I talked about the whole time?”
“Uh … Sure. Sure, that was what you said. I’m sorry.” Ming Xiang Wen nodded and then turned to the other scholars. “What do you say? If there are no objections, then I will draft an invitation for them.”
The scholars discussed among themselves for a while, finally coming up with some restrictions but they still agreed overall.