Zhui Xu Chapter Seven “Mount Yu School”

Recap of previous chapter: Ning Yi went to Elder Kang’s home after falling into the river to save someone. Then Elder Kang remarks on his observations and opinion of Ning Yi.

 

Chapter Seven Mount Yu School

Just when Elder Qin was feeling pity for Ning Yi who had some talent and married into a merchant family, Ning Yu was welcoming the light of morning and entering Mount Yu School. He started to prepare for accompanying a group of students for a whole morning.

Mount Yu School was not located at a place called Mount Yu. This was a private school set up by the Su Family for their children but they would accept students from the outside who had connections to the Su Family. The school was not large, and it was primarily because there were not many students. Mount Yu was the name of a mountain back in the Su Clan’s hometown.

The Mount Yu School  was located on a road that was near the Su Family Compound. It was not a street filled with businesses so the environment was relatively serene. The grey slate and white walls surrounded a small patch of forest. With the sign of “Mount Yu School” that the Su Family had invited a great scholar to write, it had some scholarly aura.

Presently, the school had forty nine students, and seven teachers. This included the principal of the school, Su Chong Hua. The ratio of teachers to students was very high. Su Chong Hua was a member of the Su Family and had been a graduate candidate of the imperial examinations. He had been an official for a few years, but he had not accomplished anything in that time. There were also rumors that he had committed unlawful dealings. There were also two  former officials that been hired at great expense . Other than the teachers and the students, there were also the cooks and other servants.

The Su Family had put great effort into this school but it was a pity that the teachers were either unreliable or that the cohort of students were not smart. The school had not produced any results in the past. Some of the students that it produced, when they found out they did not have any hopes in the imperial examination, entered the Su Family’s shops. Due to this, the school was more like a technical college. If the family really wanted their child to take the imperial exames, then they would mostly have their child transfer to another school before the child turned twelve.

Ning Yi had been teaching here for three days. Su Chong Hua treated him well and did not bully him due to his status as a zhuixu of the Su Family. Those that were experienced in society would not do things as dull as that. Considering that Ning Yi didn’t really have any talent in schoarlship—everyone said this—Ning Yi was put to teaching about a dozen students that were just starting to learn. There were sixteen students in total between the ages of six and twelve. There were even two girls. They two were relatives of the Su Family and here to learn to read. Their previous teacher had finished teaching them the Classics of Filial Piety and started the Analects of Confucius. NIng Yi would have a set period of teaching in the morning and relax in the afternoon. Manners, music, shooting, riding, and mathematics. The primary forcus was mathematics, the rest would be dependent on the mood of the teacher and his ability.

If this was a better and proper school, these things would be set, and clearly defined. However, Mount Yu School did not have the resources to do so. In Ning Yi’s view, teaching the Analects of Confucius was easy. He himself could not recite the Analects of Confucius or say where a phrase was located, but if one just asked for reading and simple explanation of the text, then it was a very easy matter. Any person from the modern era that had received a high-school education would be able to give a perfunctory answer after some time. Of course, it would be shallow.

In this medieval era, truly great scholars that would make a study of the four books and the five classics would have a extremely deep and profound understanding. Maybe just the writings of a famous courtesan would be enough for a modern professor to feel ashamed of themselves, however, most scholars did not have the chance to receive higher education. They might be unable to even find Mencius after reading the Analects of Confucius. But the lowest standard of a teacher was just teaching them to read. That was what the predecessor to Ning Yi did. He taught this group of children to shake their heads as they recited. When he was interested, he would give a basic explanation of the meaning of the text. AFter a while, he would have the students recite or write a part of the text. This was the test. If one failed, then they would be hit on the hand.

This was very simple! Ning Yi did not plan on modifying the schedule too much. In the first two hours, he had the students shake their heads as they recited the Analects—in truth, Ning Yi felt it was a great pain to recite continuously for more than two hours, but the children were used to it. In the next two hours, Ning Yi would use the first half to explain the contents of the chapter, and then go off tangent to tell stories, say some more realistic things, and this would be used to relax the children.

These children were very easy to teach. Even though he had been here for just three days, Ning Yi could clearly feel the “teacher is the master” mood in the room. The children at this time did not have any set personalities, and they were not spoiled. They treasured this chance of education, were not arrogant or rebellious. If there was minor trouble, and you spanked the child until their behinds were swollen, their families would find it normal. This was like a heaven for teachers. Ning Yi found teaching a comfortable role. In just three days, after just teaching some Analects and some stories, these children were very content. Also, Ning Yi didn’t have to make any lesson plans, and could go as he pleased.

From Chapter 5 of Book IV of the Analects of Confucious. Translation by James Legge.

Today, they started to discuss the section on “Riches and honors are what men desire … …”[1]. Ning Yi went from talking about how to obtain wealth to how to act in business. In the middle, he scattered concepts such as “a gentleman would make his wealth by ethical and moral ways.” Ning Yi’s job had been this in his past life. Regardless of how it was a historical text, if he was just to give his own understandings, it would be something that was enough to make up a class for doctorate students. But facing a group of children not yet twelve, he would not say much more than a few sentences. He gave some minor examples to stir interest, and then talked about the six interconnected boats of the Pu Part Poetry Conference, and then to the Battle of the Red Cliffs. Ning Yi started to talk about the Battle of the Red Cliffs to this group of children.

Chen Shou wrote the “Record of the Three Kingdoms” and was an official in the Jin Dynasty, the dynasty that took over after the Wei dynasty which was established by Cao Cao.

In this era, the stories about the Era of the Three Kingdoms were primarily by Chen Shou.[2] Ning Yi had never read it before so what he told was the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It was modern, and after being polished through all kinds of artistic productions, it was interesting and fantastical. From Cao Cao’s eighty thousand strong army moving south, to Zhou Yu fighting Huang Gai, borrowing arrows with thatched ships, and the fire ships filled with oil and grass. The children who usually didn’t get to hear stories were flushed and kept on asking, “Mister, Mister, what happened next … …” When he was halfway through, the children quieted down because the principal, Su Chong Hua, had walked next to the classroom and stood there with an expressionless visage. But even so, that did not hamper the excited expressions of these children.

Du Mu was an author from the late Tang Dynasty, known for lyrical and romantic quatrains.

Since Ning Yi had started to talk, he would not divide his attention to such a minor matter and continued to tell the story. When it was close to noon, he finished narrating the section on the fire burning the ships chained together. Su Chong Hua had stood outside and listened for the whole entire time. It was hard to say what expression he had on. After Ning Yi finished the story, he wrote down a poem by Du Mu[3] that he liked.

The broken spear uncorroded by the sand, an artefact of the previous dynasty when washed clean.[4]

If the eastern wind had not aided Zhou, then the two Jiao would be locked in the Copper Sparrow Palace.

Simple explanation: A man finds a broken spear, and after cleaning it up, it is recognized as something from the previous dynasty. In the Battle of the Red Cliffs, Eastern Wu was lead by Sun Quan and Zhou Yu. When Zhou Yu set fire to Cao Cao’s ships, he was aided by a strong eastern wind. Jiao is the family name of two famous beauties, elder Jiao and younger Jiao. Elder Jiao was the wife of Sun Quan’s older brother, Sun Ce. Younger Jiao was the wife of Zhou Yu. If Cao Cao won, then the two beauties would be stolen and locked in the palace.

There weren’t any blackboards in the room and it was not convenient to write things down. Ning Yi felt some affection for this profession of teaching and as he wrote on the paper, he thought he should “invent” the white board. Writing with charcoal would be much better than writing in the sand. After he finished writing, the students hurried to copy it down. When he walked outside the door, Su Chong Hua came towards him and a smile came onto his expressionless face.

“Virtuous Nephew is talented, and has made such a deep study of the Three Kingdoms, Jin and Wei histories in order to have such a story. Did this originate from Chen Shou’s Three Kingdoms?”

If Elder Qin was here, he would scold Ning Yi for speaking nonsense and being a bad teacher. The true history was not so exciting. For example, the event of borrowing arrows with thatched ships was just Sun Quan taking the ships out to wander and got shot at. There were too many arrows on one side of the ship and it almost upturned. So Sun Quan ordered the ship turned around for the other side to face the arrows. This made it possible for the ship to balance and move away. Ning Yi had only ever seen television dramas of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Su Chong Hua had never read the Record of the Three Kingdoms. Just now, he had been thinking of Ning Yi as a storyteller and found it pleasurable to listen. Now, he had come to praise Ning Yi’s breadth of knowledge and how his story could pull people in.

However,after some praise, Su Chong Hua also implied that Ning Yi did not need to be so polite with these students. If Ning Yi was an old scholar of fifty or sixty, Su Chong Hua probably would not have said this. However, he only appeared to be in his twenties and didn’t have many hairs on his chin. He needed to be stricter with the students and assert his authority. He was slightly discontent that Ning Yi was talking about the three kingdoms during class, especially since he had made it such a moving story. It clearly was something that the storytellers would do in the teahouses. Ning Yi nodded in acceptance with a humble attitude. When he turned around, he pretended he didn’t hear it.

Then Su Chong Hua invited him to eat lunch at the school. Usually, common families ate two meals a day, and there were those who couldn’t even afford two meals. But the Su Family was wealthy enough to add an extra meal even though it was not properly set out. Sometimes, it would be replaced by snacks. Ning Yi gently refused the other’s invitation. After returning home and changing, he gave the clothes to Xiao Chan. He prepared to have her wash them before returning them to Elder Qin. He did not tell her that he had fallen into the Qinhuai River to prevent her from making a big deal of it and forcing him to eat medicine. In the last few days that Ning Yi had been teaching at the school, Xiao Chan had stopped following him at every moment. In the morning, she would do other t hings.

When it was afternoon, he went to the shore of the Qinhuai River to play with Elder Qin. Truthfully speaking, ELder Qin was also a strange person. Ning Yi had felt before that he probably had once been an official. After seeing his home this morning, Ning Yi was even more certain. There were many decorations in the home and styles that were ones that common families could not have. Adding on Elder Qin’s breadth of view and his manner of speech, it was very strange for a person like that to put out a stall at the shore of the Qinhuai River every day.

 

When Ning Yi arrived, there was also another old man that was playing a match against Elder Qin. The old man was called Kang, and of the same age as Elder Qin. He was from a wealthy family, and he acted like a master. He was always dressed in gold clothing and had two manservants and maids that cleared the way for him. This person was strict and his mouth was also harsh. However, his weiqi skill was high. Every time he saw Ning Yi, he would call the other’s playing “Low-class” and “Without any honor,” “cannot do such a lowly thing” and “this junior is horrid.” But then he would turn and learn these moves. After some modification, he would use them as Elder Qin. Actually, Elder Qin was more skilled than he was and Elder Qin would modify the moves after absorbing the new way of thinking.

Ning Yi had seen many people after arriving here. Normal people, children that had not been greatly educated, or those that had been educated slightly but still had pedantic ways of thinking. Pedantic or simple, their breadth of mind and way of thinking could not compare to the nimbleness of modern people. However, when it came to the higher-classes, they were not lacking in comparison. For example, Elder Qin. While he didn’t say much, he was slowly digesting what he found novel and pondered the rational and ways of thinking. This old man called Kang had a mouth that always spoke of honor, manners, and being a gentleman. It didn’t show how vicious he was when he truly played weiqi. He was just lacking in comparison with Elder Qin but was much higher than the common people.

Elder Qin and his friends was studying Ning Yi’s way of playing recently as it was something novel to them and there was worth in studying it. Ning Yi was not very modest towards old people. Sometimes, he would ignore Elder Kang glaring and huffing at him, or sometimes he would say, “You old man, you say one thing and do another, you are not a good person.” “You dare to play this move! Play it! Play it and watch!” Elder Kang probably never had any juniors that dare to argue with him usually. The two would have arguments at the stall and Elder Qin would laugh at the side. If he was playing against Elder Kang, he would say “Li Heng is right.” If his opponent was Ning Yi, he would help the other discuss how cunning and lowly Ning Yi’s move was.

But even in argument, there was no malicious intent. At the start, Elder Kang had thought of Ning Yi as an ignorant junior and lectured him so. Later, he understood that that Ning Yi was worthy as an opponent, and the other did not think of himself as a junior. No matter what, there would always be a good pot of tea when Elder Kang came. He would have the servants come with a tea set, tea leaves, and water. The servant girl would boil and make the tea at the tea stall next to them. Ning Yi was not polite. He took a cup, moved a stool to sit next to the board and said after taking a drink, “Oh, Elder Kang is about to lose.”

The old man had been counting in his head and his brow raised. “You boy with no hair, what do you know? You are drinking this old man’s tea yet you dare to say such a thing … … humph, this old man has a move … …”

He was about to put down a stone when Ning Yi coughed. The old man immediately stopped moving and looked suspiciously a few times before taking his hand away. Ning Yi took another sip of tea. “This cup of tea is only worth so much … … en, what tea is this?”

“You ignorant boy, this is really a waste of a treasure. Have you heard of Purple Shoot?”

Elder Qin was savoring tea as well. At this time, he laughed and said, “Guzhu Purple Shoots, very good tea. It is a pity to have it made so on the street. If I knew beforehand that you were bringing this, we should have gone home to play this match.”

Elder Kang did not care. At this moment, he finally made a move and put down the stone. “Tea is to be drunk. We are all interested in weiqi and so we will drink the tea together. This is what is most important. Tea is something inanimate, it is made to pleasure you and I. If you and I feel it is acceptable to taste, then it has value. There is no pity to be had.”

“Elder Kang has some presence when you say this, you seem like someone important.”

“Someone important, this old man is … …”

“This old man, you have lost.”

“Uh … …”

Ning Yi patted Elder Kang’s shoulder and stood with a laugh. The scenery at Qinhuai River was pleasing now and he walked away with a teacup. Behind him, Elder Qin put down a stone with a laugh. Elder Kang said, “How can this be … …”

“Haha, I had originally wanted to go easy on you because you have come with good tea and let you win a match. But your words are energizing. Gentlemanly interactions, we should be so. This old one will not be argumentative, hahahaha … …”

Elder Kang was clearly discontent over having brought tea and losing. But since he lost, he still accepted it. He called Ning Yi over for the three of them to discuss the match. Then Elder Kang and Elder Qin had another match. During this time, Elder Qin mentioned how Ning Yi had fallen into the river to rescue someone and been slapped afterwards. Ning Yi could not avoid being mocked by Elder Kang. Then Ning Yi heard the two old men talk about the Liao people invading the north border recently.

The light at the end of autumn was still bright but wind started to blow in the afternoon at the Qinhuai River. After this match, it was not early and they all returned to their own homes.

Because he had stood in the wind for half an afternoon, when Ning Yi woke up the next morning, he felt his head was stuffed. He didn’t know if he had a cold or not.

 

[1] From Chapter 5 of Book IV of the Analects of Confucious. Translation by James Legge.

[2] Chen Shou wrote the “Record of the Three Kingdoms” and was an official in the Jin Dynasty, the dynasty that took over after the Wei dynasty which was established by Cao Cao.

[3] Du Mu was an author from the late Tang Dynasty, known for lyrical and romantic quatrains.

[4] Simple explanation: A man finds a broken spear, and after cleaning it up, it is recognized as something from the previous dynasty. In the Battle of the Red Cliffs, Eastern Wu was lead by Sun Quan and Zhou Yu. When Zhou Yu set fire to Cao Cao’s ships, he was aided by a strong eastern wind. Jiao is the family name of two famous beauties, elder Jiao and younger Jiao. Elder Jiao was the wife of Sun Quan’s older brother, Sun Ce. Younger Jiao was the wife of Zhou Yu.  If Cao Cao won, then the two beauties would be stolen and locked in the palace.

 

Translator Ramblings: I tried with the poem, I probably epically ruined it so if anyone can find a good English translation, please tell me. These chapters are so long. Just paragraph and paragraph of text.

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10 thoughts on “Zhui Xu Chapter Seven “Mount Yu School”

  1. This chapter was interesting. I was wondering how he’d get to teach kids of a different era, and it seems he’s managing (maybe more). I also like his interactions with the old guys. It probably looks strange for a young man to join them, but he’d lived his life and seen it all when he traveled to the past so you can technically say he’s an old soul.

    I can sympathize with you finding it difficult to translate poems. I’ve done translations before and it was exhausting trying to find a good English translation for a poem. What I did then was translate the meaning since I couldn’t find one. It works, somehow. xP

    Thank you so much for the translation! This was a treat.

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