As an outsider, Wei Chongrong could see very clearly that in the witchcraft scourge that eventually brought down the Eastern Palace, whether it was the Shangguan family and Zhao Ji behind the scenes, or Xue Rui and Su Wen in the front stage, they were all just the external factors; but in essence, it was a problem between the emperor and the Crown Prince.
The emperor was getting older and the Crown Prince was in his prime. No matter how harmonious the relationship between father and son used to be, at this point, it became very delicate. If you looked through the history books, you would find that there were quite a few crown princes who lost their positions as a result.
There was obviously a similar problem between Wei Su and Wei Ming. Although it was not serious, it had already begun to show signs, and it would deepen over time.
In Wei Chongrong’s view, his uncle, the Crown Prince, was doing a good enough job. He supervised the country’s governance but did not exercise arbitrary power. He did not form cliques for personal gain. For his own political opinions, he could argue with the emperor to the end; however, no one could deny that among the emperor’s many children, His Imperial Highness Crown Prince was the most filial. Wei Ming always considered his actions from the perspective of the country. At the same time, he also saw his own position very clearly, and never showed the slightest intention to try to encroach on the emperor’s power.
However, the monarch’s heart is unpredictable, especially the one of the elderly emperor, who will look at his successor with an extraordinarily critical eye, and the slightest indiscretion will be seen by him as misconduct.
In this context, if there were people with ulterior motives sowing discord from the side, the situation would become very difficult to manage. Unfortunately for Wei Ming, there were more than one “person with ulterior motives”, and the father-son bond between him and Wei Su was no longer there.
With Wei Ming’s mentality, how could he embark on the road of starting a rebellion if he wasn’t forced to a desperate end? He had to rise, because if he didn’t rise, he could only die. If he rebelled, there was still a glimmer of hope.
The second year after Wei Ming’s death, Wei Su came to his senses and realised that his son had been wronged. As a result, he issued an edict of guilt, restored Sizi Palace(1) and wiped out Xue Rui, the initiator of the witchcraft incident. He even said “I have no son” in front of Wei Yang.
It was this sentence that made Wei Yang resentful all his life, and he mentioned it repeatedly in front of Wei Chongrong. Wei Chongrong was shocked and angry when he heard this. You had to know that when Wei Su said that he “had no son”, except for Wei Xu, who died prematurely, there were Wei Xiao, Wei Shi, and Wei Yang…
Even Wei Zhao, who was far away in Fuyu, was alive, but the emperor said that he “had no son.” It could be seen that in Wei Su’s heart, all his sons combined were no better than Wei Ming.
It was a pity that the emperor’s awakening came too late, and his Crown Prince was no longer alive.
If Wei Ming hadn’t died, Wei Chongrong didn’t think Wei Su would have really forgiven him for his rebellion, he would only want to get rid of him quickly. Only when Wei Ming died was Wei Su distraught enough and thinking of how good he used to be.
The ultimate contradiction between the emperor and the Crown Prince was unresolved. Wei Chongrong understood very well that it was impossible for him to influence Wei Su’s thoughts, and neither could Wei Zhao do it. But the close servants around Wei Su were clearly against the Eastern Palace and they could strike if they had the chance.
Up to now, the emperor had no tendency to distrust the Crown Prince – even if they often faced each other during the court sessions due to different political opinions – otherwise, Wei Su wouldn’t travel so freely, leaving Yujing. His precautions against the Crown Prince came entirely from the instinct of the emperor.
Wei Ming was born as the Crown Prince – although he wasn’t appointed at birth, Ji Wan’s position as the empress already predestined him for becoming the Crown Prince. He was brought up in the orthodoxal imperial ways and if he wanted something, the emperor would often have it prepared without him having to ask for it. The Crown Prince had never experienced such a thing as asking for something and not getting it. Wei Ming had a gentle nature and treated people kindly. He never treated the palace maids and servants in a superior manner. Nor would he ever deliberately try to get close to or please someone; he had no such habit.
For the rest of the palace, Wei Ming’s attitude was fine, but the people of Zichen Palace, due to the emperor’s deliberate screening, were rarely close to the Eastern Palace. Also, because of the long-term close service to the emperor, these people felt superior. The other nobles in the palace were extremely polite and courteous towards them, except for His Imperial Highness Crown Prince, whose attitude was too high and cold, clearly not respectful enough.
It didn’t matter if this was the case alone. Who could hold a grudge against His Imperial Highness because he was not courteous enough to them? He was the Crown Prince and the future emperor. He was the monarch and they were the subjects, and there was nothing to think about.
The same was true of Huangmen Ling Su Wen. Although he didn’t like the Crown Prince, he never thought about doing something against him. That was until his nephew committed a crime and fell into the hands of Luo Fu, the capital’s magistrate, and this Lord Luo happened to start his career as the lesser official of the Crown Prince and had an excellent relationship with Wei Ming.
When Su Wen was young, his family was poor, and his elder brother couldn’t afford a bride price for his wife. His widowed mother had no choice but to send Su Wen to the palace. Later, Su Wen’s mother and elder brother died one after another, and his sister-in-law remarried, leaving behind a nephew who Su Wen always treated as his own son. Because Su Wen had some face in front of the emperor, his nephew was spoiled rotten, and it was inevitable that some troubles would arise. In the past, people would let his nephew off the hook for Su Wen’s sake, but Luo Fu was determined and didn’t care about who was whose relative, insisting on sentencing Su Wen’s nephew to exile.
Exiled for three thousand li, few people could survive it, not to mention Su Wen’s nephew who had been pampered since he was a child. Su Wen begged people everywhere, trying to reduce the punishment for his nephew, but it was a pity that Luo Fu couldn’t be persuaded and insisted on the original sentence.
Su Wen was helpless, so he had to ask Wei Ming, hoping that the Crown Prince could say a few good things in front of Luo Fu. Even if his nephew couldn’t be spared from punishment, anyway, if his exile could be changed to a slightly closer place, Su Wen still could take care of him.
Wei Ming was not ignorant of world affairs, and he would not disregard any of the people around him if they were in trouble, as long as they were not unreasonable. However, Su Wen was Huangmen Ling and one of Wei Su’s men, so if Wei Ming helped him, he would be suspected of soliciting people. No matter how much his father trusted him, he would not want the people around him to owe favours to the Crown Prince. Besides, Su Wen’s nephew was only sentenced to five years in exile. The time wasn’t long, and there was no danger to his life. With Luo Fu’s stubbornness, even if Wei Ming said hello, it wouldn’t reduce the punishment. It was meaningless, so Wei Ming politely declined Su Wen.
Su Wen couldn’t get help, so he endured the pain and sent his nephew on the road. His dissatisfaction with the Crown Prince naturally deepened. To make matters worse, in the second year of Su Wen’s nephew’s exile, the mine where he worked collapsed, and he was crushed underneath and died on the spot.
When the bad news came, Su Wen almost went crazy. That was the only child of his Su family. Since then, Su Wen completely hated the Crown Prince, and whenever he had the opportunity, he would speak ill of Wei Ming in front of the emperor, sometimes by himself, and sometimes through others.
The people in Zichen Palace were not close to the Eastern Palace. In the past, no one took the lead, and everyone was just grumbling in their hearts. Now that Su Wen started, the wind direction gradually began to change.
As the saying goes, public opinion is powerful enough to melt metal and destroy bones. Wei Su was away from the imperial city for a long time, and from time to time he could hear unfavourable statements about the Crown Prince. Even if he didn’t believe them, it was inevitable that there would be a bit of a niggle in his heart left, and once the Crown Prince did do something, it was only a matter of time before the emperor would latch on to it.
Wei Chongrong was very familiar with the terrain of Shanglin Park. In addition to studying and practising martial arts, he wandered around in the park every day. Who was to blame that Wei Su liked to abduct people and summoned Wei Zhao to talk whenever he had nothing to do, so Wei Chongrong had no one to play with him!
Unbeknownst to him, Su Wen and some others were equally unhappy about this situation. In the past, the reason they were able to call a stag a horse and sow discord was because the Crown Prince and the emperor were far apart, so what they said wouldn’t reach the Eastern Palace at all and the Crown Prince wouldn’t even have a chance to defend himself.
Now, the emperor had Wang Qin to accompany him in his study at Linguang Palace every day. They were internal servants and were not allowed to discuss imperial affairs, but the emperor’s study was full of maps and sand tables, so what else could he and Wang Qin be discussing if not military matters?
The biggest subject of disagreement between the emperor and the Crown Prince was the war in the north. The emperor was all for war and insisted on recovering all the lost territories. The Crown Prince was in favour of peace, believing that Tiele had retreated and that Fuyu was no longer a threat, and that the constant wars, conscription and taxation would burden the people and leave the fields abandoned, with the gain not worth the loss. Neither of them could convince the other, and when it came to war affairs, they were at a standstill. Of course, family and state affairs were not to be mixed up, but family affairs of the imperial family were state affairs, and too many arguments couldn’t help but have an effect on the relationship between father and son.
After all, the emperor had said that “like father, like son was not true”. So if the Crown Prince was replaced, it would do these people more good than harm, and even if he couldn’t be replaced, they wouldn’t be worse off if they followed the customary practice of guarding the emperor’s mausoleum.
Wang Qin was different from the Crown Prince. Wei Zhao had been practising martial arts and swordsmanship since he was a child. He was thrown into the military camp by the emperor at the age of twelve. At the age of sixteen, he marched to Fuyu and won a great victory in the first battle. Although the matter of being captured and having a child wasn’t that pleasant, and Wang Qin and the king of Fuyu must have formed a bond, Wei Zhao and the emperor’s views on the war in the north were completely the same. It didn’t matter if these people didn’t have a chance to say bad things about the Crown Prince, the problem was that Wang Qin’s actions were all in favour of the Eastern Palace. Even if one assumed that Wang Qin and the Crown Prince were not on the same page and the Crown Prince was really removed by them, with the current level of favourability of Wang Qin, it would be him to take the throne, not the Fifth Prince Wei Shi who had no one left in his mother’s clan and had no support. In that case, these people were completely finished. The Crown Prince was gentle and would not settle personal grievances. Wang Qin was willful, God knows what he would do.
The emperor talked with Wang Qin by candlelight several times in a row, and Su Wen quickly made a decision. He was going to shift his goal and deal with Wang Qin first. However, Wei Zhao’s martial arts were good and his temper was bad. He couldn’t be touched but his little wolf cub was easier to start with.
Wei Su didn’t want to see Wei Chongrong. This was known to everyone in the palace. To what extent did he not want to see him? The emperor stayed with Wang Qin every day to eat at Linguang Palace and never called Wei Chongrong. Wei Chongrong arrived at Shanglin Park more than ten days ago, and he had never officially met the emperor.
Moreover, Wei Chongrong was a mischievous kid. He either climbed walls or climbed trees all day long. He was not well-behaved at all. He wandered around the park and didn’t like to bring people along. He always ran around on his own, so one didn’t have to deliberately look for opportunities to catch him alone.
There were many ponds in Shanglin Park, more than a dozen large and small ones. Since it was built more than two hundred years ago, there had been quite a few people who had drowned in them. It was cold in winter, the edges of the pond were slippery, and it couldn’t be easier for a child to stumble and fall or something.
That day, Wei Chongrong, wrapped in a white fox cloak, ran alone to the edge of Kunming Pond to look at the water. As he watched, he recalled that it was in this place that he had become familiar with Jun Hua.
Since Jun Hua tried to get close to Wei Chongrong with the puppy for the first time and was pushed by him, Wei Su was very angry and they were strictly forbidden to have any more contact. It wasn’t until Wei Yang ascended to the throne and Jun Hua served as his studying companion that the two met again. However, they were unfamiliar with each other.
When Wei Yang was young and the power was still in the hands of others, he had no interest in living in Zichen Palace, so he often stayed in Shanglin Park, and Wei Chongrong and Jun Hua, naturally, followed him.
Wei Chongrong didn’t know how Jun Hua fell into the water. Anyway, when he passed by Kunming Pond, he saw Jun Hua struggling in the water, and there was no one around. Without hesitation, he took off his clothes and jumped in, knocking Jun Hua unconscious and fishing him out.
At that time, Jun Hua passed out and couldn’t breathe on his own. Wei Chongrong pressed his chest and helped him inhale and exhale, busy for a long time before Ju Hua woke up.
As a result, Jun Hua woke up and gave him a palm blow. Fortunately, it was soft and not painful, and then he hugged Wei Chongrong and started crying, very aggrieved.
How could Wei Chongrong coax people? He didn’t know what to say when he was holding Jun Hua. Later, he found that Jun Hua’s whole body was cold, so he came back to his senses, took the drenched little guy back to his residence, boiled water, helped him take a bath and changed his clothes.
Even so, Jun Hua was still sick afterwards. He burned for three days and he had nightmares when he fell asleep. He would desperately shout “Daddy, help” but he wouldn’t speak when he woke up. He would stare at Wei Chongrong with wet eyes, making Wei Chongrong’s heart itchy.
Thinking of this, Wei Chongrong secretly made up his mind that when Jun Hua was born, he had to teach him to swim, so that if he was thrown into the water, he could save himself without having to struggle in vain there.
The correct statement was that he had to protect Jun Hua from being thrown into the water again. Of course, swimming still had to be learned, just in case; Wei Chongrong amended his wrong thoughts in time.
Wei Chongrong had enough of thinking about it and planned to change places to continue wandering around. He had lived in Shanglin Park for no shorter time than in the palace. There were countless places he had been to with Jun Hua. So for now, he would go and visit those spots first, so that he could bring Jun Hua to play with him there later.
Although he couldn’t be sure that the last thing he saw in the dream was what happened after his death, but with Wei Chongrong’s knowledge of Jun Hua’s character, this kind of burning both jade and common stone approach(2) was in line with his style and he was capable of doing such things.
In that case, there was one more thing he owed Jun Hua. It turned out that after he died, someone was willing to pay such a price to avenge him. In addition to being sad, Wei Chongrong was a little indescribably proud. Maybe he was really not the most unlucky person.
Wei Chongrong was about to turn around and leave Kunming Pond, when he was suddenly grabbed from behind. Then someone blindfolded his eyes and covered his mouth, and lifted him up in the air.
As Wei Chongrong was about to struggle, he heard the person behind him speak in confusion: “I don’t know what Gonggong(3) Su means, this little wild cub, His Majesty doesn’t care about him at all.”
“Isn’t that right…” The one in front agreed: “Wang Qin accompanies His Majesty every day, but this one can’t even see His Majesty’s face. His Majesty keeps Wang Qin for dinner, not to mention calling him, he doesn’t even send him food. It’s just like he doesn’t exist, tsk tsk…”
Wei Chongrong’s hands and feet were held separately. If he struggled, he might be able to break away, but after listening to the conversation between the two eunuchs, he quickly changed his mind and didn’t try to escape.
Gonggong Su, it should be Su Wen. When did Wei Chongrong get in his way that he decided to strike so soon? And the two who performed the task, did they already treat him as a dead man and dare to say anything, not afraid that he would escape and identify them?…
Sure enough, the eunuch behind continued: “Let’s go quickly and find a secluded corner to throw him and finish the job.” After these words were said, the two accelerated their pace.
They made a few turns, looking for a route where no one could see them and soon turned behind a rockery. The two stopped, and one of them sighed: “The little wild cub is really heavy, I’m exhausted.”
The other hurriedly said: “Cut the nonsense, hurry up, let’s throw him. It’s remote enough here, no one can hear him even if he calls for help.”
The two of them combined their strength and threw Wei Chongrong out.
- The witchcraft incident is apparently inspired by the events from Emperor Wu’s life. Sizi (“thinking of son”) Palace comes from there, too.
- Destroy indiscriminately
- A respectful way to address an eunuch