Chapter 4 – Other people’s children

Fang Yun sighed lightly and said, “As I said before, I was completely awakened. But as fortune always accompanies disaster, I met a strange person last night who taught me a lot. I remembered things I couldn’t before and suddenly understood things I didn’t before, as if I had an epiphany.”

Yang Yuhuan looked at Fang Yun with mixed feelings and asked in a low voice, “Who was that person?”

“He didn’t give me his name. He said I was his half-closed-door disciple. If I can’t become an Imperial Scholar, then I’m not worthy of knowing his name.” Fang Yun knew that he had become different, so he made up this story to ease other people’s suspicions.

Yang Yuhuan’s beautiful eyes were full of surprise as she asked, “Imperial Scholar? Only an Imperial Scholar can know him? Then who is he? A Grand Academician? A Great Scholar? Could he be a Half-Sage?”

“I don’t know,” Fang Yun shook his head with a bitter smile.

“Since you have a famous teacher to guide you, you must be able to become a Child Scholar! I’ll go back and buy two taels of meat. You can eat as much as you want tonight!” Yang Yuhuan smiled happily, her smile more radiant than the spring sunshine.

“Then buy more, a whole jin, and let’s stew a chicken.” Fang Yun knew that if he couldn’t become a Child Scholar, he would undoubtedly die. Buying more meat was just a last luxury, and even if he did become a Child Scholar, this little amount of money wouldn’t make a difference.

Yang Yuhuan nodded without hesitation, “Then let’s do that! You are the head of the family.”

Fang Yun didn’t expect Yang Yuhuan to not only be beautiful but also so sensible, always upholding his dignity. In her eyes, eating so much in one day was already extravagant, but she still didn’t hesitate, fearing that Fang Yun’s self-esteem would be hurt.

Fang Yun secretly sighed, “Perhaps she thinks to herself that if she works a little harder and endures a little more hardship, she can earn back this money. How can I disappoint such a woman? If I become a Child Scholar, I will never let her suffer or work hard again!”

Yang Yuhuan took out a sugar cake she had made that morning from the book box and said, “I made two extra. You didn’t eat breakfast this morning, so eat it now.”

Fang Yun took the sugar cake and slowly ate it.

The meal on the day of the exam was always better than usual. They had to stay in the academy at noon, eating and answering questions at the same time. They had to bring their own food and water. The Child Scholar exam was still easy to write, but the Imperial Scholar exam had to be taken for three consecutive days, eating, drinking, sleeping, and living in a small exam room. If there were any health problems, they wouldn’t be able to hold on.

The old yellow cow walked unsteadily towards the east of the city and soon arrived outside the academy.

The academy had a red wall and green tiles, with trees covering it. In the morning light, it was full of life.

There were a large number of people standing outside the academy, including children in their teens and old people with white hair. They were lining up in ten rows to enter the academy. Roughly speaking, there were more than two thousand people, and there were even more parents and friends who didn’t line up.Fang Yun was stunned. He didn’t expect that the number of people taking the Child Scholar examination in Jixian, with a population of less than ninety thousand, would reach two thousand.

Fang Yun knew that the literacy rate in ancient times was very low. In ancient China, the literacy rate of men was around 10%. Even in the Republican era, it was only about 15%, and more than half of them still needed to recognize characters for various crafts and artisans. The proportion of scholars and students was less than 5%, but this proportion was already the highest among various countries in ancient times. Most Western aristocrats in ancient times were illiterate, and the literacy rate of many countries was less than 1%.

In Fang Yun’s opinion, it would be enough to have three to four hundred Child Scholars taking the exam in Jixian once. He didn’t expect that there would be two thousand people. This number was too scary.

And Jixian was a lower county that could only enroll fifty Child Scholars a year!

Fang Yun was surprised. He didn’t expect that he had underestimated the intensity of the Child Scholar examination.

Fang Yun quickly remembered that the population density in the Holy Origin Mainland was much higher than that in ancient China.

The county government was divided into upper, middle, and lower levels according to its wealth. Jixian was a lower county, and its land resources were relatively poor. However, because of the existence of talented people, as long as the common people were not lazy, they would not starve to death. Fang Yun and Yang Yuhuan were the best examples. Even if they were just two children, they could still support themselves and even barely afford to send one person to school.

Some officials in the Holy Academy Mainland, such as the county magistrate, had an important duty: to assist agriculture.

When there was less rain, the local officials would hold a “Prayer for Rain Literary Meeting” to gather local literati to write poems and articles to pray for rain. If the poems and articles were good enough, the talent would attract the elemental qi of heaven and earth, and then it would rain.

If the scholars failed to pray for rain or the weather was too dry, the officials would prepare “Treasures of Literature” and “Holy Pages” to write famous works of ancient celebrities to pray for rain.

When there was too much rain, they would hold a “Flood Control Literary Meeting.” When there was a locust plague, they would hold a “Locust Control Literary Meeting” and compose songs to drive away the locusts.

There were countless literary meetings like this.

It was the credit of talent that the grain production here was much higher than that of ancient Earth, feeding more people. Coupled with the attraction of literary status, many people tightened their belts to send their children to school. Therefore, there were so many Child Scholars taking the exam in one county.

“Here, talent is the primary productive force.”

Fang Yun thought to himself as he was helped down from the carriage by Yang Yuhuan.

The nearby examinees looked over. Not many of them knew Fang Yun, but everyone knew the name of Jiangzhou’s Xi Shi. Even if they had never seen her, they could guess it now because Yang Yuhuan was too beautiful.

Many people were itching to make a move, but the county exam was about to begin, and they couldn’t afford to create trouble. They had to suppress their desire for talented men and beautiful women.Since childhood, Yang Yuhuan had been used to people looking at her, and the shallow shyness in her eyes would disappear in an instant. She casually helped Fang Yun carry his book box, and the onlookers were even more envious, thinking that she was such a virtuous woman that they wished they could become Fang Yun themselves.

“Fang Yun!”

“Jie Yu Huan!”

Four people walked quickly towards them, each carrying a bamboo book box on their back. Except for the one who was obviously younger than Fang Yun, the other three were several years older than him. Fang Yun recognized them as his classmates from the private school where they had studied together for more than three years. Except for Liang Yuan, whose family owned a rice shop and was relatively wealthy, the other three were from ordinary families like Fang Yun.

Their parents were alive and their families were better off than Fang Yun’s, but they had never looked down on him. Their relationships with each other were very sincere. However, when they were twelve years old, Ge Xiaomao blushed and said that he wanted to befriend Fang Yun so that he could see more of Jie Yu Huan.

“What’s wrong with you, Fang Yun?” Liang Yuan, the tallest of the five, ran over and frowned at Fang Yun, who was wearing clean clothes but had a bandage on his head and obvious bruises and wounds on his face.

“I slipped and fell on the slippery road last night. It’s just a minor injury and won’t affect the exam,” Fang Yun smiled.

Ge Xiaomao worriedly asked, “You’re still okay with such serious injuries? Can you really do it?”

Fang Yun half-jokingly said, “Mencius said, ‘Heaven is about to place a great responsibility on a man, it always first frustrates his spirit and will, exposes his muscles and bones to hard work, pains his body and drains his energy so that he may accomplish his mission.’ I encountered obstacles and received guidance from a teacher before the exam, which shows that heaven is about to place a great responsibility on me.”

“Teacher? Did Mr. Sun give you special guidance?” Liang Yuan asked curiously.

“It wasn’t Mr. Sun, it was another teacher you don’t know. Let’s not talk about that. Let’s line up and enter the academy. Jie Yu Huan, I’ll carry the book box.”

Although Liang Yuan was tall and strong, he grabbed the book box and said, “I’ll help you carry it. Let’s go.”

Another classmate, Lu Zhan, supported Fang Yun, said goodbye to Yang Yuhuan, and lined up to enter the academy.

Fang Yun looked around. He had taken the exam for Child Scholar last year, but this was his first time here.

Ge Xiaomao complained in a low voice, “I’m only twelve years old. It’s a waste of money for me to come here. Writing a crooked poem is one thing, but ‘Inviting the Words of the Saints’ is too difficult. In addition to the Thirteen Classics, there are also some works by All the Saints. Since Confucius conferred sainthood more than a thousand years ago, dozens of people have been conferred sainthood. ‘Inviting the Words of the Saints’ tests the works of many saints. I have been studying in a private school for five years, but I can’t even memorize The Analects, Mencius, Book of Changes, Rites of Zhou, and Spring and Autumn Annals. How can I pass the Child Scholar exam?”Fang Yun knew that the so-called “Plea to the Saints” was similar to the question-and-answer, fill-in-the-blank, and dictation exams of later generations. The exam required the examinee to fill in the missing words based on the prompts given, and some even required the examinee to dictate an entire chapter.

This reminded Fang Yun of the imperial examination system in the Tang Dynasty of ancient China.

In the Tang Dynasty, the imperial examination included a “copying classics” section, which was an important subject for admitting candidates. The examinees were required to copy a few sentences from the classics and then cover up some of the characters, leaving the examinees to fill them in. This was even simpler than the “Plea to the Saints.”

The reason why Tang poetry flourished was mainly due to the fact that the imperial examination system in the Tang Dynasty also included the examination of poetry and essays, which accounted for a significant proportion.

In the Holy Origin Continent, the Holy Academy found that poetry and talent were most in line with each other, especially the war poetry and songs that could be passed down through the ages, which could influence the rise and fall of the human race. Therefore, the imperial examination must include poetry and essays, with a special emphasis on the borderland poetry.

Liang Yuan smiled and said, “You are young, and you are here not for fame and fortune, but to broaden your horizons. Just do your best. The ‘Plea to the Saints’ exam for the Child Scholar has thirty exam papers, and the ‘Plea to the Saints’ exam for the Talented Scholar in the Prefecture Exam has even reached one hundred papers. It is jokingly called the ‘one hundred pages of death for hardworking oxen,’ how could anyone answer all of them correctly?”

Lu Zhan said, “Little Mao, don’t be discouraged. Except for the Four Great Talents, no one can answer all the ‘Plea to the Saints’ exam questions for the Child Scholar. We can’t answer them all either, let alone you. Fortunately, the range of topics for the Child Scholar’s exam is relatively small. The ‘Plea to the Saints’ exam for the Talented Scholar is even more tricky and bizarre. For hundreds of years of the imperial examination, no talented person has ever answered all the questions correctly, even those who were later canonized as saints.”

Ge Xiaomao breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Liang Yuan, we are counting on you for the Child Scholar exam this time. No one from Master Sun’s disciples has become a Child Scholar in recent years, and people from other private schools are laughing at us. We can’t compare to the prodigy Fang Zhongyong, who has an eidetic memory. We can’t let others surpass us! I hope our ancestors and all the saints will bless us.”

“You!” Liang Yuan shook his head and laughed.

Fang Yun was slightly stunned when he heard the name Fang Zhongyong.

Just then, someone nearby suddenly exclaimed, “Fang Zhongyong is here!”

The crowd immediately turned to look, and saw a young boy of about thirteen or fourteen years old getting off a carriage. The boy had a serious expression and no trace of childishness. His eyes lacked the agility that a prodigy should have, and he seemed more mature than his peers.

Then, a middle-aged man in a gorgeous brocade robe got off the carriage with a look of pride. Many parents immediately went up to compliment him.

There were about three or four thousand examinees and their families in front of the Holy Academy, but when Fang Zhongyong and his father arrived, most of them stopped talking and looked towards them.

Fang Yun had not expected that, even though they shared the same surname, this father and son pair would be so dazzling.Fang Yun recognized Fang Zhongyong and his father Fang Li. They were his distant relatives, and in terms of seniority, Fang Yun was the uncle of the child scholar Fang Zhongyong. However, the two families had little contact due to the distance between them.

Ge Xiaomao said enviously, “Fang Zhongyong’s reputation as a child prodigy surpasses even the beauty of Miss Yu Huan in Jixian County. Not only does he have photographic memory, but he is also far better than us at composing poetry. His father said that he could have passed the child scholar exam when he was ten years old. The reason he participated in the exam for the first time this year is because he has accumulated enough knowledge and skills to compete for the top spot.”

“This time, the top spot belongs to him. The top spot allows him to enter the Prefecture Academy in Dayuan Prefecture without taking the exam. That is the best school within the prefecture and far better than our private schools,” said Liang Yuan.

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