Anh, you are welcome. Crazee, thank you.
Holding the book in his hands inside the bookstore, he stared blankly as if he was entranced for half a day. And then he suddenly cried out, “That’s it!” He saw the cover and the pages of this book were spotlessly white and looked brand new; when he asked the shopkeeper, as expected, the books were new delivery, sent from Huzhou book distributor, arrived not even seven or eight days ago. He said in his heart, “This Zhuang Yuncheng is really formidable! Indeed money can reach anything. He pulled the books back, redid the engraving, and printed another set of new books, removing all the taboo in the original edition. Humph, do you think I will drop it just like that?”
Wu Zhirong’s guess was indeed not wrong. What happened was that Hangzhou general Songkui did not know Chinese characters, when the administrative secretary saw Wu Zhirong’s report, he was so scared that cold sweats broke on his entire body; he knew that the implication of this matter was very grave, without realizing it, his hands holding the report did not stop trembling.
This secretary was surnamed Cheng, given name Weifan, a native of Shaoxing [prefecture], Zhejiang. During Ming and Qing dynasties, eight or nine out of ten aids and advisors to top feudal officials were Shaoxing natives, therefore, often times two characters ‘Shaoxing’ were added in front of the word ‘secretary’, became ‘Shaoxing secretary’ [i.e. experts in legal briefs]. These secretaries first learned the trade secret from their hometown former generations, afterwards, they would be very experienced and careful in handling criminal law, money and grain. All documents in the feudal office were handled by these secretaries. Since they all were from the same town, documents prepared by low ranking administrative assistants to be presented to their superior in yamen [government office in feudal China] seldom met with nitpicking criticism. As a result, when new officials, big and small, took office, the most urgent business was to employ the service of a Shaoxing secretary. During Ming and Qing dynasties, the number of Shaoxing natives who became high-ranking officials was really not many, yet they held control over numerous government affairs in China for several hundred years; they could be considered a marvel in Chinese political history.
This Cheng Weifan was honest and considerate, he believed in ‘religious practice in public life’. That is to say that the feudal officials grasped the life-and-death power over common people, the several characters drafted by the secretaries were serious, it could cause common people’s family bankrupt and the people dead, it could justify or condemn, it could help people to escape alive from mortal danger. Consequently, helping people in public office was more effective than performing religious practice in the temple. He saw that if this case of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ led to investigation, countless people in southern Jiangsu and western Zhejiang would lose their lives and had their families destroyed. Thereupon he asked for several days off from the general, and left that very same night by boat to Nanxun town in Huzhou, and informed Zhuang Yuncheng about this matter.
Suddenly faced with imminent catastrophe, Zhuang Yuncheng’s soul flew to the outer sky, he was so scared that his whole body went weak, his saliva trickled down his chin, he was completely at a loss. After a long while he finally stood up, bent his knees and kowtowed to Cheng Weifan to express his gratitude, afterwards he asked for advice.
During his journey from Hanzhou to Nanxun, Cheng Weifan had already gone through this matter over and over, and he thought of a good plan. Since the book ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’ had been in circulation for quite a while, they could not conceal it; they had to take drastic measures to deal with this situation: while sending people to book shops everywhere to purchase these books back and destroyed them completely, they had to hasten day and night to engrave new printing blocks, delete all the taboo phrases and print new books, and sell them outside. If the authorities investigated this matter, they would look into the new edition, and would discover that Wu Zhirong’s accusation was unsubstantiated; hence they would put an end to this unexpected calamity.
Immediately they put this plan into action. Zhuang Yuncheng was frightened but happy at the same time, he repeatedly kowtowed to say thanks. Cheng Weifan also taught him quite a bit of urgent matters, how to give a present to government official so-and-so, how to clear away obstruction and communicated with such-and-such yamen, et cetera. Zhuang Yuncheng diligently did everything.
Cheng Weifan returned to Hangzhou. He waited more than half a month before transferring the original book, along with Wu Zhirong’s report, to the inspector-general of Zhejiang, Zhu Changzuo. He downplayed the report, saying that the submitter was a deposed county head magistrate due to corruption, who appeared to hold a grudge and hence blowing his whistle to vent his resentment, asking Futai [inspector-general] Daren to investigate in details.
While Wu Zhirong painstakingly waited for news in an inn in Hangzhou, Zhuang Yuncheng’s money flowed out like water. By this time Zhuang Yuncheng’s heavy bribery had already reached the general’s yamen, inspector-general’s yamen, and literary office yamen. Upon receiving this case, Zhu Changzuo thought that this kind of publication matter belonged to the literary office; after another ten-day delay, he transferred the documents to Hu Shangheng of the literary office. Literary office yamen’s secretary put it on the shelf for more than half a month, and then he took another month sick leave, before finally slowly he drafted the official document and sent it to Huzhou prefecture.
In the Huzhou prefecture office, the case sat for more twenty days before it was passed on to Gui An and Wu Cheng counties’ literature offices, asking these offices to respond. The two literary offices had already received Zhuang Yuncheng’s bribe, by this time the new edition of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ had been printed. The two officers handed over the new edition to their superior with this report: ‘The book is mediocre and is of low quality, it will not help the ways of the world or the heart of human being in any way. We have gone through the entire book and did not find any taboo or offending words.’ And thus by stretching and delaying the matter was settled by leaving it unsettled.
It was not until he found the new edition of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ in the book store that Wu Zhirong found out the inside story. He thought if only he could find the original edition of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ he would be able to re-expose this case. In all the book stores in Hangzhou the original edition had been bought back by the Zhuang family, thereupon he went to remote counties in eastern Zhejiang trying to find it; who would have thought that even there he failed to find a single copy? Destitute and troubled, he had no choice but to return home dejectedly.
As chance has it, along his journey home, he stopped by an inn, where he saw the innkeeper was swaying his head while reading a book. When he looked at the cover, it was indeed a copy of ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’. He asked to borrow the book, and found out that it was unexpectedly the original edition. He was overjoyed at unexpected good news, and thought that if he wanted to buy it from the innkeeper, on one hand he might not be willing to sell, on the other hand Wu Zhirong did not have any money, he could not afford it anyway. Without any better option, he had to steal.
In the middle of the night he quietly got out of bed, stole the book, and slipped out of the inn. Thinking that in the whole province of Zhejiang all government officials had received Zhuang Yuncheng’s bribe, he had to either give up, or go through to the end; hence he might as well go to Beijing to report this case.
Upon his arrival in Beijing, Wu Zhirong wrote the report and sent it to the Ministry of Rites, the Capital Investigative Bureau, and the General Secretary Office, three yamen. He explained how the Zhuang family bribed local officials and published the new edition by altering the printing. Unexpectedly, in just less than a month one after another all three yamen refuted his claim. They all stated that Zhuang Tinglong’s ‘Compilation of Ming Documents’ has been investigated carefully and the content did not have any taboo in it, the deposed county head magistrate Wu Zhirong’s report was not based on truth, obviously he held a grudge and has accused someone falsely. As for the government officials received bribes and so on, it was chasing the wind and clutching at shadows, groundless accusations that should be dismissed.
The General Secretary Office’s rebuttal was even more severe; it said, “The deposed county head magistrate Wu Zhirong is corrupt and hence was expelled from office, thereupon he considers all honest and upright officials in the world as corrupt as he is.” Turned out Zhuang Yuncheng had received Cheng Weifan’s instruction and had early on sent the new edition of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ to the Ministry of Rites, the Capital Investigative Bureau, and the General Secretary Office, three yamen; he had also sent generous gifts to the officers and secretaries in charge of this matter.
Once again Wu Zhirong had bumped into a wall; he had no travel expensed to return home, and was wandering destitute in a place far from home. At that time the Qing court treatment of Han intellectuals was extremely strict, if they found the slightest bit of taboo in their writings, they would be immediately put to death. If Wu Zhirong’s accusation was against an ordinary scholar, he would have succeeded early on; it’s just happened that his opponent was a very rich and powerful family that he was thwarted again and again. Since he had no way to retreat, even if he risked imprisonment, he simply must continue this case to the end. Thereupon he wrote four reports to be sent separately to the four Advisroy Board Ministers; while in the inn he simultaneously writing several hundred accusation letters exposing this matter and posted the letters everywhere in the city of Beijing. This was a very risky move, since if the authorities decided to investigate, he might be charged with spreading frightening words to scare people, trying to disturb the people’s mind, inevitably a serious crime punishable by execution.
At that time the four Advisory Board Ministers were Suoni, Suksaha, Ebilong and Oboi, all were Manchuria’s outstanding founding ministers. When Emperor Shunzhi passed away, the posthumous edict was to appoint these four high-ranking ministers to assist in running the government. Among these four, Oboi was the most vicious and harsh, his henchmen among the imperial court were extremely numerous, his power in the imperial court was great, it was almost as if the power was in his hand alone. He was always afraid the party of his opponents was against him, hence he sent out countless informants inside and outside the Capital to make discreet inquiries and listen to the sound of people’s acitivities. One day he received a secret report about the appearance of many posters in the city of Beijing, exposing Zhejiang’s civilian surnamed Zhuang writing a book scheming rebellion, treason and heresy, Zhejiang’s officials received bribe and ignored the situation, and so on.
As soon as Oboi was notified, he investigated immediately; his people passed like thunder and moved like the wind. Right this moment Wu Zhirong’s report arrived at Oboi’s mansion. He summoned Wu Zhirong at once, asked him about this matter in details, and he also had his secretary, a Han, to inspect in details the original edition of the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ presented by Wu Zhirong; the result was that the report was true.
Oboi achieved his dukedom and became a high-ranking official from his meritorious service in military, he always looked down on Han officials and intellectuals. After he grasped power, he wanted to run a few big cases to suppress and intimidate the hearts of the people, not only to make the Han people not dare to have any thought of rebellion, but also to make his political opponents in the imperial court not dare to act against him. Immediately he dispatched an imperial commissioner to Zhejiang to follow up. Naturally the entire Zhuang family was arrested and brought to the Capital, but even General Songkui of Hangzhou, Inspector-general Zhu Changzuo of Zhejiang, along with the government officials under them, big and small, were all deposed and investigated. All the scholars listed on the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, not a single one escaped shackles and imprisonment.
At Lu Liuliang’s house, Gu Yanwu, Huang Zongxi, two people narrated this case’s sequence of events [orig. ‘mountain has a connecting pulse throughout like a dragon’, an idiom from fengshui] in details. Lu Liuliang listened while sighing incessantly.
That evening the three of them lay on the couch and continued their long talk about the affairs of life. When they talked about how during the late Ming period Wei Zhongxian and the others eunuchs framed loyal and good subjects, how they gained control of the imperial court and committed all kinds of things against the tide, until finally the House of Ming perished, how after the Qing entered the Pass Han people suffered massacre and unbearable and deep misfortune; none did not wring their hands and gnash their teeth in anger.
Early in the morning the next day, Lu Liuliang’s entire family, along with Gu and Huang, two people, took a boat heading east. In Jiangnan, middle-class families or higher owned their own boat. Jiangnan countryside was criss-crossed with water, river ways opened in all directions, dense like spider web. Average people travelled afar by boats; it was called ‘northern people ride horses, southern people ride boats’, and it has always been so since ancient times.
Upon reaching Hangzhou, the canal branched to the north. One evening they stopped outside the city of Hangzhou to hear the news. The Qing court had already executed not a few government officials and common people because of this case; Zhuang Tinglong had already died, they opened his coffin and mutilated his remains; Zhuang Yuncheng could not endure the mistreatment in prison and died; several dozen of Zhuang family members, fifteen years old and up, were beheaded, their wives and children were sent away to Shenyang [Liaoning, northeast China] to serve a penal sentence, becoming Manchurian soldiers’ slaves.
The former assistant minister of the Ministry of Rites Li Lingxi who wrote the preface of the book was executed by death of a thousand cuts, his four sons were beheaded. Li Lingxi’s youngest son had just turned sixteen, when the prosecutor saw that the number of people to be killed was a lot, his heart softened; he ordered him to reduce his age by a year, because according to Qing law, fifteen years and under were exempt from execution or banishment. The youngster said, “My Die-die and Gege are all dead, I don’t want to live alone.” In the end he refused to change his confession and was beheaded as well.
 ‘Daren’ (lit. big person), a term used by common people (or an officer of lower rank) to address government official (or his/her superior).
 Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627), infamous eunuch politician of late Ming. (See also ‘White Hair Demoness’, translated by Faerie Queene and yours truly.)