Jiang Xun’s voice was so loud that he was heard by those nearby, and they all turned to look at him. With his head raised, he appeared lofty and haughty, as if he had no care towards other people’s strange gazes. He then fished out a book and started reading.
“Even the rat has teeth, so why are people still like this! If one continues on, what could they be waiting for if not death…”1Jiang Xun quoted the line “相鼠有齿，人而无止！人而无止，不死何俟?” from the old poem called 相鼠 (literally “like a rat”). It generally means “Even the rat has teeth, so why do people still disregard their moral conduct! If one lacks moral conduct, what could they be waiting for if not death…”
Tang BaiShan’s face turned ugly, and Zhuang Zhong could not help frowning. Although Jiang Xun did not explicitly name the person, they clearly knew who he meant. This kind of provocation was also the most distasteful. If one took the initiative to attack, he would have “lost” and become someone with a guilty conscience who got angry because he was embarrassed. On the other hand, if one did not attack, he would have to nurse his grievance flusteredly. Hence, despite coming across two people who were clearly quarreling, they would have their backs to each other, saying their own words. If one scolded another, the opposite person would retort back without naming each other. This made those observing even more anxious as they wondered why both sides had not come to blows yet.
Tang BaiShan pursed his lips and managed to smile with difficulty. He said in a soft and weak voice, “My dear brother, Brother Jiang Xun has a principled disposition. Maybe he was just…”
“Without much effort, ambitious words were sprouted from the mouth. Such deceitful words are just like guhuang2“鼓簧” (guhuang) here probably refers to the blowing of the 笙 (sheng), a reed pipe wind instrument., this shameless behavior is really contemptible.3“蛇蛇硕言，出自口矣。巧言如簧，颜之厚矣” is also from an old poem called 巧言 (literally “deceitful talk”). It generally means something along the line of It is easy to talk big + such deceitful words are as moving as guhuang, this shameless behavior is contemptible. Such self-righteousness will only make it difficult for you to enter the court!” These words were spoken in a clear and loud voice by a man in a silver pink hualuo4 花罗 (hualuo) is a type of decorative patterned silk fabric. robe with a paper fan in his hand.
When Tang BaiShan saw him, he cupped his hands in front of his chest and greeted, “Brother Yuan.”
Yuan LiangJun was exasperated that he did not live up to his expectations. “Tang BaiShan, you uncontentious person, still treating others with such warmth despite them not showing any attention to you again. Even if you are cowardly, you should not fool others. Some people would not know the immensity of things without a lesson. So, if you give in every time, it is not necessarily as boundless as the sea and sky, but the bottom of the cliff for you.”
After Tang BaiShan heard this, he became even more embarrassed. He fake coughed and said, “Brother Yuan, we all study in the same school, we should still…”
Yuan LiangJun impatiently interrupted, “Do not keep on raising the matter of us studying in the same school, as I simply do not care for some people. The sewer rat does not know how to hide. When it crosses the street, it still thinks that there is no one else in the world except itself.”
Towards Jiang Xun, Yuan LiangJun sneered such words without fear. In response, Jiang Xun put down the book in his hand and said with chilling eyes, “Yuan LiangJun, who are you calling a sewer rat!”
Yuan LiangJun paper fan opened with a “shua” sound as he replied with a raised eyebrow, “It is who it should be.”
“You—” Jiang Xun did not expect that Yuan LiangJun would answer him directly. He was so furious that he yelled out, “A monkey may dress like a scholar, but in actual fact, he is just an embroidered pillow.5 Here, Jiang Xun is probably trying to say that LiangJun is a worthless person attired like a scholar but in actual fact, he is more like an embroidered pillow (I not too sure but I think the embroidered pillow reference means that the embroidered pillowcase acts like a cover-up/disguise).”
Yuan LiangJun retorted, “Instead of saving himself from poverty, he slandered others for being money-hungry. He may think that he is a blue lotus, but in actuality, he is just mud in the pond.”
With one sentence here and another retorting back, these two people mocked each other till their faces turned red. They had completely forgotten about the original two main characters – Tang BaiShan and Zhuang Zhong. Tang BaiShan thought about resolving the problem between them several times, but they both snapped back, telling him not to interfere. They even argued until the main subject had shifted, escalating to their comments on certain political arguments before the use of literary quotations to directly attack each other. It was here that Zhuang Zhong could not help but sigh. If he were to fight with people like this, it would be a complete defeat, as he did not have any knowledge at all.
He and Tang BaiShan looked at each other before shaking their heads and laughing bitterly.
Tang BaiShan said, “Brother Jiang and Brother Yuan are just like the same needle tips meeting the awn of wheat6 “同针尖对麦芒” (literally “same needle tips meeting the wheat”) means that in a dispute, the two sides are at each other’s throats.. Essentially, they are just learning from each other by exchanging views, so there is no need for you to take it too seriously. Now, if we do not hear their arguments with each other every day, it will be really too quiet and desolate.”
In Tai Xue, debates between the students were very common. Even if it escalated, they would not end up fighting with each other, as it was too disgraceful for an educated class like them. It was just like the court, where people seldom fought openly despite having different views and were unwilling to budge. Mostly, they would taunt each other with facts and historical theories to prove themselves. Each time, they would also argue with the intention to see who was inferior, but in the end, it would remain unresolved until they see each other again and start to argue once more. This kind of phenomenon could be described as a characteristic of Tai Xue. If one did not hear the sound of arguments one day, something must have happened.
Both Jiang Xun and Yuan LiangJun were very exceptional students in Tai Xue. However, their family backgrounds were the opposite. One was very poor, while the other was very rich. Their views were also poles apart, so they found each other unpleasant to the eye.
Zhuang Zhong managed to deeply internalize this in the later days. He did not have much contact with the Tai Xue students, but the few times he saw them involved Jiang Xun squabbling with Yuan LiangJun, looking like they wanted to kill each other. Initially, Zhuang Zhong was even worried they would get into a brawl, but he eventually got used to it and would just pass by them calmly. Later, as Tang BaiShan said, Zhuang Zhong would also feel uncomfortable if he would not hear their squabbles for a day.
Jiang Xun’s attitude towards Zhuang Zhong had always been bad. Whenever they met, Jiang Xun could not help but insinuate him. Zhuang Zhong would then pretend he did not hear it, so Jiang Xun ended up finding it uninteresting and also pretended he did not exist. Thus, they actually lived together quite peacefully.
Although Jian Xun was a bit prickly, he worked very hard. He even slept with his books under his pillow and walked with a book in his hand. Every day, he would also get up at 3:30 a.m. and sleep at midnight. Sometimes, he would stay in the library all night too. Despite sleeping so little, he faced every day full of fight and spirit, which Zhuang Zhong found very admirable.
As a result, their relationship did not aggravate due to the lack of contact between them. Zhuang Zhong also felt that rooming with him was not something unbearable either.
Law students were stricter and not as unstructured as the Tai Xue ones. When Zhuang Zhong attended the first lesson, he did not get any special treatment and was unable to get into it for a while.
“Since ancient times, emperors have ruled the world with the top priority of setting regulations. After the establishment of the legal system, everything has its own rules, and the way of governance was determined. ” The learned law scholar, Teacher Zhang Shi said, “As officials, one can only judge right and wrong by knowing the law, and help settle civil disputes. If you are not knowledgeable enough and settle a case wrongly, you will be unfair and unreliable.”
When Zhuang Zhong started studying, he became informed and realized that DaYou paid more attention to legislation than the “ancient times” he knew. They also focused more on the “law for the public”. Although power still eclipsed the law, they were already much more enlightened than many of the past dynasties.
After his classes, Tang BaiShan searched for him and asked, “Dear brother, will you be free later? I would like to discuss with you some mathematical problems.”
As DaYou stipulated that the official examination contained law, all the Tai Xue students often headed to the law school to attend classes and get familiar with the legislation system so they could settle cases in the future, etc. Therefore, they had many chances to meet, and Tang BaiShan became his first friend in school.
Not long ago, Tang BaiShan was stumped by a problem, and when Zhuang Zhong saw him frowning, he took a look at it. With the help of the mathematical skills from the future, he solved the problem very quickly. However, he did spend quite a lot of effort in explaining it. Essentially, with mathematics omnipotence and strong practicability, there was great importance attached to it in Tai Xue. So, when Tang BaiShan saw that Zhuang Zhong was good at mathematics, he would seek Zhuang Zhong’s advice whenever he was free, and they ended up getting closer.
Before Zhuang Zhong could answer though, Yuan LiangJun, who was standing on one side, said, “Brother Tang, you should not make things difficult for others. Tomorrow will be a day off, and Brother Zhuang might have other arrangements.”
It was then that Tang BaiShan remembered and patted his head, “Such memory, I had forgotten about this.”
Tang BaiShan was not from the capital and disliked going out, so he could not remember the vacation days. Zhuang Zhong also did not return to Marquis WenYuan’s house every vacation. After all, the marquis’ attitude towards him was still unclear, and Zhuang Zhong did not know what he was thinking, so he decided not to get closer. Besides, Madam Hou’s earnest attitude towards him made him a little overwhelmed, and Concubine Yin was deliberately ambiguous. Thus, Zhuang Zhong did not like to go back to a place where he originally did not belong to either.
“It is fine. I will not be going home tomorrow.”
Han Chuan, Yuan LiangJun’s roommate, then said, “In that case, we might as well go out together tonight. I know a small shop that sells very good tadpole noodles7“蝌蚪粉” (literally “tadpole powder”) is one of the easiest Song dynasty Chinese dish that looked like tadpoles. Usually classified under 凉粉 (liangfen), a starch jelly dish that is commonly served cold in summer with a savory sauce, it is generally white or off-white in color, translucent, and thick. It is also usually made from mung bean starch, but may also be made from pea or potato starch. I also decided to translate it into tadpole noodles instead of tadpole powder because “粉” could also be used to refer to noodles/starch dishes and it makes more sense..”
Tadpole noodles is a certain type of noodle. One has to add water to flour, stir it into paste, scoop it into a zeng8 “甑” (zeng) is an ancient earthen utensil for steaming rice or distilling water, etc. It has many small holes at the bottom., and apply pressure. The paste will then drop from the holes at the bottom of the zeng into the boiling water pot. When it floats at the top, it is cooked and can be scooped up with a strainer. Season with garlic juice, minced green onion, shredded ginger, coriander, rice vinegar, etc., before pouring the brine9“卤水” is a certain type of liquid that is commonly cooked with the use of many Chinese spices and soy sauce. There is not really a translation for it but most would call it brine or stock. over it. After mixing it with vegetables, it will become tadpole noodles that taste tender, fresh, and fragrant. As the final shape of the noodles is very similar to tadpoles, it is called tadpole noodles.
Yuan LiangJun narrowed his eyes. “Your treat?”
Han Chuan was famous for coveting little advantages. If one was not careful, he would be “led” along. He also took it as a refined interest where he would complacently talk to others. This way, it would not be easy to blame him, as doing so would make one appear stingy. Had it not been for the fact that Yuan LiangJun’s family was rich and generous, he would have been angered to death many times already. Zhuang Zhong’s hat was also almost taken away by Han Chuan, and it was only retrieved back after thickening his skin10“脸皮厚” (thick skin) means to ignore one’s embarrassment to do something/remain unembarrassed when doing something..
This time, the extremely stingy Han Chuan actually patted his chest and replied, “My treat! All this while, I have been eating and drinking from you all, now is my time to play the host.”
Originally Zhuang Zhong thought it was a lie, as he once had a friend like Han Chuan who used the excuse of going to the toilet to run away. However, unexpectedly, they did not have to pay in the end, surprising several people, and they enjoyed themselves. The tadpole noodles were really delicious, and the large group of people ate bowl after bowl until they were full. It was not easy to take advantage of Han Chuan, and most of these people suffered a lot, so they wanted to take this chance to enact revenge by spending all his money.
However, they did not expect for Han Chuan to remain uncaring, and he even asked everyone to eat as much as they wanted. “How is it? It’s a small thing, but it does not taste bad, right?”
Yuan LiangJun, who probably ate an abundance of good food in his life, affirmed, “It is really quite good.”
Zhuang Zhong also thought that it was delicious. He had this dish before he transmigrated, but he did not like it at that time. He always felt itchy when the noodles flowed down his throat –like he was eating insects. Therefore, he originally did not want to come, but in the end, he was still dragged along by Yuan LiangJun. He said it would be a waste if they did not take advantage of Han Chuan now, as there may not be such a chance in the future. It was just unexpected that the taste was really good, and as it flowed down, it did not make him feel sick.
Yuan LiangJun had planned to cause great damage. When he heard that Han Chuan was treating people, he called a large group of people to come to eat together, and at least 20 or 30 people were crowded into the small shop. It turned out that no matter how wealthy one was, one should not wrong another greatly. People usually did not utter a word because they found it not worth it, but once they had a chance, they would knock one down hard.
Everyone was waiting for Han Chuan to suddenly turn hostile. Although it was not very expensive, it was still a lot of bowls, and it added up to quite a lot. However, Han Chuan did not seem to care at all and even asked if everyone wanted to pack for supper. Everyone found it hard to understand, and they thought that Han Chuan had changed.
Eating to their fill, the group of people left. As they walked down the street, they attracted other people’s attention.
Yuan LiangJun put his hand on Han Chuan’s shoulder. “Not bad, I thought that you were just a miserly person, but it turned out to be wrong.”
Han Chuan said with a smile, “Since we are all classmates, there is no need to fuss over it. Since everyone ate well, I will treat you all again next time. If I am not free, you all can put it on my account.”
When the group of people heard this, they kicked up a fuss and expressed that they would come the next time they went out. The tadpole noodles really tasted authentic, the ingredients were exquisite, and the cooking was meticulous. In Tai Xue, there were many students from poor families. Although there were subsidies, there was still not enough for their expenses, and they usually economized. If it were someone else, they would have been embarrassed, but it was Han Chuan, so they took advantage unceremoniously. All the people present had suffered from him, and it ranged from excellent brush, ink, and paper inkstone to a thread. The things may not be very expensive, but it really vexed them.
All the way to Tai Xue, the group of people remained excited. Zhuang Zhong laughed in his heart. Most of them were poor, but they were not greedy to take such an advantage. It was only because Han Chuan was the one being taken advantage of that made them this happy. This Han Chuan must have angered and caused resentment among many.
However, as soon as LiangJun appeared, it was as if ice-cold water was poured on everyone.
“One’s mouth may be rowdy, but their heart does not grow.”
Yuan LiangJun became angry when he heard this, “Who are you scolding?!”
“The one who should be scolded.”
Yuan LiangJun hummed coldly, “He is poor because of laziness. He felt sour because of jealousy.”
Jiang Xun was also angered and counterattacked, “Wealth cannot live past three generations and is short-lived.”
They often argued, but they had never been so vicious as they cursed each other. Initial onlookers quickly restrained them, and Zhuang Zhong pulled Jiang Xun away. “We are still classmates after all. Let us be more restrained in our words to others.”
On the other side, Yuan LiangJun was also being restrained by another person, stopping them from fighting each other.
“Get your dirty hands off me!” Jiang Xun angrily shouted with a face of dislike.
It was only when Zhuang Zhong and Tang BaiShan saw that they had separated them that both let go. Upon gaining freedom, Jiang Xun swung his sleeves and left while still scolding and swearing along the way.
Tang BaiShan sighed, “With such a disposition, Brother Jiang will suffer greatly after entering officialdom. Just pray that nothing big happens, or it will be a pity with his talent.”
“Why can’t he get along with Yuan LiangJun?”
“Like a hedgehog, Jiang Xun is very unsociable. He also cannot control his mouth, so except for his teacher, everyone else has been pricked by him before. However, the most unpleasant person for him is Yuan LiangJun. Even if there is nothing, he has to cause one to be satisfied.”
Tang BaiShan thought for a moment and continued, “They come from the same village. If one beats about the bush, they could be considered relatives. They are also equally excellent, so it is hard to distinguish who is better between them. In the examination room, it is either you who pressed me down or I who stepped on you. This coupled with being recalcitrant probably makes it easier for them to go against each other.”
Zhuang Zhong understood his words. It was really easy for such two people to either have an extremely good or bad relationship. Besides, even though Yuan LiangJun had an unrestrained personality, he was also prickly. It would be strange if he could get along with Jiang Xun, who was similar to him.
So far, Zhuang Zhong’s days in school could be considered easy and comfortable, so he had never thought that Yuan LiangJun would be killed that night.
- 1Jiang Xun quoted the line “相鼠有齿，人而无止！人而无止，不死何俟?” from the old poem called 相鼠 (literally “like a rat”). It generally means “Even the rat has teeth, so why do people still disregard their moral conduct! If one lacks moral conduct, what could they be waiting for if not death…”
- 2“鼓簧” (guhuang) here probably refers to the blowing of the 笙 (sheng), a reed pipe wind instrument.
- 3“蛇蛇硕言，出自口矣。巧言如簧，颜之厚矣” is also from an old poem called 巧言 (literally “deceitful talk”). It generally means something along the line of It is easy to talk big + such deceitful words are as moving as guhuang, this shameless behavior is contemptible.
- 4花罗 (hualuo) is a type of decorative patterned silk fabric.
- 5Here, Jiang Xun is probably trying to say that LiangJun is a worthless person attired like a scholar but in actual fact, he is more like an embroidered pillow (I not too sure but I think the embroidered pillow reference means that the embroidered pillowcase acts like a cover-up/disguise).
- 6“同针尖对麦芒” (literally “same needle tips meeting the wheat”) means that in a dispute, the two sides are at each other’s throats.
- 7“蝌蚪粉” (literally “tadpole powder”) is one of the easiest Song dynasty Chinese dish that looked like tadpoles. Usually classified under 凉粉 (liangfen), a starch jelly dish that is commonly served cold in summer with a savory sauce, it is generally white or off-white in color, translucent, and thick. It is also usually made from mung bean starch, but may also be made from pea or potato starch. I also decided to translate it into tadpole noodles instead of tadpole powder because “粉” could also be used to refer to noodles/starch dishes and it makes more sense.
- 8“甑” (zeng) is an ancient earthen utensil for steaming rice or distilling water, etc. It has many small holes at the bottom.
- 9“卤水” is a certain type of liquid that is commonly cooked with the use of many Chinese spices and soy sauce. There is not really a translation for it but most would call it brine or stock.
- 10“脸皮厚” (thick skin) means to ignore one’s embarrassment to do something/remain unembarrassed when doing something.