Translator’s note: Here is that odd thing that those who read my translations have already met: a sudden flash-forward chapter. It means that the chapter suddenly tells about some events from the future, and after that the timeline goes back on track. I don’t know why 🙂 Perhaps the author couldn’t resist messing up the readers, like making them ask “what the hell is going on?” 🙂
I am Wei Tuantuan(1) and I am three years old. When I was born, my father had already been appointed the Crown Prince of the Great Yan, so I was the most honoured newborn baby in the whole world.
I once overheard the young palace maids who took care of me saying that the moment I was born, the sky was filled with colourful floating clouds, the red sun came out from the east, shining so brightly that hundreds of birds sang in unison; a great auspicious omen from Heaven.
Grandfather Emperor was overjoyed about my birth and immediately named me the Taisun, making me the second Taisun of the Great Yan to be appointed on arrival. I don’t quite understand what Taisun means, but I know that Grandfather Emperor must like me very much.
The guy lying on his side next to me, with his arms and legs all wrapped around me and his spit bubbles almost in my face, is called Wei Yuanyuan(2). He is my younger brother, also three years old this year, and looks exactly like me. His biggest hobby is to hug me in his sleep.
In fact, I don’t really like Wei Yuanyuan hugging me when he sleeps. Although his body smells good and is soft, he is too lazy. He has to sleep until the sun is three poles high every day(3), which means I do not have enough time to practise.
Grandfather Emperor says that I am the Taisun and will be the Crown Prince and the emperor in the future, so I have to work hard from an early age and can’t slacken off. But every time I try to work hard, Wei Yuanyuan will be around to hold me back, which is really troublesome.
For example, right now, it’s dawn and I’m already awake, so I can go to the martial arts training ground and practise with Youngest Aunt.
Before I can free myself from Wei Yuanyuan’s arms and legs, he seems to sense that I am going to “abandon” him and not only hugs me tighter but also softly and stickily shouts: “Big Brother, don’t move… “
So, I don’t dare to move.
I’ve been told by Father that I’m the elder brother and should know how to take care of my younger siblings.
Yes, in addition to Wei Yuanyuan, I have a sister, her name is Wei Nannan(4). She is only four months old. She is white and tender. She likes to sleep more than Wei Yuanyuan, but Wei Nannan sleeps with Daddy and it doesn’t matter how long she likes to sleep.
Wei Yuanyuan is a different story. He cries a lot when he is woken up, and no one can coax him.
I am most afraid of Wei Yuanyuan’s crying, so I have to give in to him at every turn. If he tells me not to move, I won’t move.
It’s boring to lie in bed with my eyes open. I have nothing to do but go to sleep again. Anyway, Youngest Aunt is used to the absence of Wei Yuanyuan and me, and she won’t say much.
When I wake up again, the sky is already bright. Wei Yuanyuan has woken up before me this time, sitting cross-legged beside me with a proud smile: “Big Brother is sleeping so late, I’m going to tell Daddy, hehehe…”
I roll my eyes speechlessly, not bothering to talk to him.
Seeing that Wei Yuanyuan and I are awake, the palace maids come in and help us to get dressed and wash up.
Although my father is the Crown Prince, our family doesn’t live in the Eastern Palace – the place where only Crown Princes are said to be qualified to live – but in Yongfu Palace, the closest to Zichen Palace. The Eastern Palace is where Father works and he returns from there every night to sleep.
Before, there was no Wei Nannan, and Wei Yuanyuan and I lived with Daddy, but after we were going to have a younger sister, we were moved to the Xipei Hall.
I was fine, I just lost my temper for a few days and refused to pay any attention to Father and Daddy, but Wei Yuanyuan was worse. He cried so much that no one could coax him. Finally, Grandfather Emperor packed us up and took us away, and it was the end of the matter.
Wei Yuanyuan and I lived in the Chengqian Hall, the main hall of Zichen Palace, for almost half a year. When Wei Nannan was a month old, we moved back to Yongfu Palace.
Although there are times when I get annoyed with Wei Nannan crying, every morning Wei Yuanyuan and I will go to see her, without exception.
After freshening up with the help of the palace maids, Wei Yuanyuan and I walk out the door hand in hand and go to the next bedchamber to say our greetings. Father and Daddy have gotten up early and are playing with Wei Nannan, who has just eaten her milk. We hear her laughing before we enter.
Wei Nannan has occupied Father’s arms and Wei Yuanyuan rushes to Daddy and smiles at me proudly when he is picked up. Does he think I will care? He is really naive.
Although I can’t see the expression on my own face, I personally feel that I must look very serious. Who can expect that Father will only take one look at me and laugh hard, pointing at me and saying to Daddy, “Huaixi, look, Tuantuan is so cute, Father really didn’t choose the wrong guy.”
Daddy glances at Father, holding Wei Yuanyuan with his left arm and picking me up with his right arm, saying with a soft smile, “Tuantuan and Yuanyuan are still little, how can you tell the difference?” After saying this, he gives Wei Yuanyuan and me a kiss on each cheek.
Not to be outdone, Father also comes over and kisses us, causing Wei Nannan, who is being ignored, to cry “woo woo”. Father kisses Wei Nannan and says seriously, “Of course they are different, but Tuantuan is the Taisun, so it’s good for them both.”
Father’s words are so profound that I basically don’t understand them, but I understand one thing: Wei Yuanyuan and I, we are different.
It’s just that I still don’t understand the difference between Taisun and Wang Linjiang, exactly.
Time flies, and in the blink of an eye it is the 5th year of Zhenghe, and Wei Yuanyuan and I are going to go to the palace school to study.
Wei Yuanyuan seems to be very resistant to this matter. He pesters Daddy every day, he wants to go to the palace school to study next year, but Daddy disagrees. He says that we should have gone last year and just because Wei Yuanyuan refused, it has been postponed for a year. This time it can’t be delayed anymore.
Wei Yuanyuan isn’t reconciled and continues to struggle. I watch from the side, very anxious. I am afraid that Daddy won’t be able to resist him.
But to my surprise, Daddy says nothing and cries out in pain, holding his belly, and then Wei Yuanyuan and I are asked to go out.
Three shichen later, I have a second younger brother, whose name is Wei Quanquan(5). This is the name I have given to him.
Because Wei Yuanyuan quarrelled with Daddy, our little brother was born half a month early. Father was very angry when he heard the news and sent us to the palace school on time. I have no objection to this. Even when I didn’t go to the palace school, Youngest Aunt taught me to memorise those books I couldn’t understand.
Grandfather Emperor said that when we entered the palace school, we would be taught by a master who would slowly explain the contents of the books to us, and I was looking forward to that.
But what I didn’t expect was that two days before I entered the palace school, Grandfather Emperor would suddenly issue a decree that I should move into Changhe Palace, one of the three palaces behind Zichen Palace, and live with him from now on.
I didn’t understand why Wei Yuanyuan, Wei Nannan and Wei Quanquan were allowed to stay with Father and Daddy, but not me.
But I didn’t ask anyone about this, because I thought that while Father and Daddy had my younger siblings, Grandfather Emperor was alone. Youngest Aunt spent more time outside the palace than in it, so I could spend more time with Grandfather Emperor if I moved to Changhe Palace.
Some years later, when I was already the Crown Prince of the Great Yan, I realised one thing: Grandfather Emperor wanted to raise me himself, not because he was lonely and wanted someone to keep him company, but because he wanted everyone to understand that my status was different from Wei Yuanyuan’s.
Wei Quanquan was still less than a month old and he couldn’t do anything but drink milk and cry. Wei Nannan was fussy and jealous of her younger brother at every turn. Wei Yuanyuan was taught a lesson by Father and immediately went to the palace school to study. He was also unhappy, and the whole Yongfu Palace was in a mess like a pot of porridge.
It was at this time that I had to pack my bags and leave Father and Daddy to move to Changhe Palace to live alone.
Probably because he was afraid that I would have any bad thoughts, Father spoke to me gently and softly during that time, either saying that he could visit me at Zichen Palace every day and telling me not to be afraid, or urging me to listen to Grandfather Emperor and not to mess around like a child anymore.
I felt that Father wronged me a bit. I wasn’t Wei Yuanyuan, petulant and willful. When did I mess around? But I still nodded obediently and told him and Daddy that I would behave myself and study carefully, and I would definitely not disturb Grandfather Emperor.
Daddy had just given birth to my little brother, so Father made him rest in bed all day and forbade him to come down, so he simply let me sit on the edge of the bed, hugged me and asked me in a soft voice, “Tuantuan, are you angry with Daddy and Father?”
I thought for a moment and shook my head gently. Why was Daddy asking the same question as Father?
Daddy seemed a little unconvinced as he repeated the question again, “Really? Won’t you feel that this is unfair to you?”
I didn’t hesitate and said straight away, “No.” I was the Taisun and Wei Yuanyuan was not, so he couldn’t be the one to move away.
Perhaps my answer was too quick. Daddy was surprised and didn’t say anything for a long time. I was afraid he still didn’t believe me, so I said seriously, “Daddy, I am the elder brother and have to take care of my younger brother. Wei Yuanyuan is so timid, he will be scared if he moves away to live alone.”
Daddy’s eyes became even more incredulous, and without saying anything, he suddenly wrapped me tightly into his arms.
This move to Zichen Palace was completely different from the temporary stay when I was three years old. Back then, feeling sorry for my and Wei Yuanyuan’s young age, Grandfather Emperor didn’t put us in Changhe Palace or Yongxing Palace alone, but in the main bedchamber of the Chengqian Hall, separated from his residence by only one wall.
But this time, it seemed that Grandfather Emperor felt that I was no longer a child, so he put me in Changhe Palace alone, and let me arrange all the servants by myself, without any intention of interfering.
But this was not a problem for me. At any rate, I had seen Daddy handle the palace affairs – Grandfather Emperor didn’t have an empress, so the phoenix seal was naturally in Daddy’s hands, as he was the Crown Prince’s Lord Consort – as long as the work was divided among the palace staff, it wasn’t complicated.
Grandfather Emperor was very satisfied with my performance. Although he didn’t show it in front of me, I heard him tell Father that I was much smarter than Father was when he was a child. Father glared at me defiantly, his eyes fierce, but I wasn’t afraid of him at all.
The homework at the palace school was easier than I thought. I understood it once I listened to it and it was quite boring.
Wei Yuanyuan didn’t like to read since he was a child, and never listened carefully to Youngest Aunt when she taught him, so when he entered the palace school he did the same thing and slept in class.
Wei Yuanyuan and I sat in the middle of the first row. The teacher could see us as soon as he raised his eyes. I was afraid that Wei Yuanyuan would be scolded, so I poked him with my finger, but he ignored me and continued to sleep in a different position very soundly.
When I saw this, I reached out to pinch Wei Yuanyuan, trying to wake him up.
Perhaps I pinched him a little too hard and Wei Yuanyuan cried out before he opened his eyes.
I was at a loss for words. In the six years we had lived together, I had never made Wei Yuanyuan cry before.
The teacher came over when he heard the sound and asked us what was going on. I was still stunned. Wei Yuanyuan was the first to say, “Big Brother pinched me…”
The young teacher turned his head to look at me. I inexplicably felt a little aggrieved, so I argued, “Yuanyuan was asleep, I just… pinched him.”
If it was some other teacher at school, he might have said some words to us separately, but this Teacher Jiang, his identity was not ordinary, ah. He was not only my teacher, but also the hereditary Wang Yong’an. He was always the strictest to me.
It was obvious that Wei Yuanyuan was sleeping in class and not listening to the teacher’s lecture and I just woke him up in the wrong way, but he was punished by copying the Analects once, and I was punished by copying the Analects three times.
What made me feel even more depressed was that I had to copy almost half of Wei Yuanyuan’s Analects for him.
Grandfather Emperor, who obviously knew all about what Wei Yuanyuan and I were doing, asked me afterwards why I did that.
I frowned and said bitterly, “If I don’t help him, Yuanyuan will definitely cry, and I don’t want to see him cry.”
Grandfather Emperor sighed quietly, and a strange look that I couldn’t understand appeared on his face. Was there something wrong with what I said?
After painstakingly copying half of the Analects, Wei Yuanyuan became much more obedient. Not to say that he was serious in class, but at least he didn’t dare to fall asleep anymore, and the homework set by the teachers would be completed on time. As for its quality, I can’t say anything about it.
Grandfather Emperor, Father and Daddy weren’t very demanding of Wei Yuanyuan’s schoolwork, but they had a completely different attitude towards me, and what Wei Yuanyuan could do perfunctorily, I could not.
That was the first time I really felt the meaning of the status of the Taisun.
Apart from the daily lessons at the palace school, Grandfather Emperor would sometimes take me with him when he was in the Xuanshi Hall reviewing memorials or summoning ministers, allowing me to listen to their conversations. He didn’t seem to have thought about whether I could understand those state affairs at my age.
It was a good thing that my job was to listen and not to express my opinion. However, if Grandfather Emperor had a whim, he would tell me the details of certain memorials and then ask me what to do. Most of the time, he couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably at my answers.
I used to worry if I said something wrong to get such a reaction from Grandfather Emperor.
But he maintained this habit for several years until he passed the throne of the empire to Father.
In the beginning, when Grandfather Emperor asked me about something, I just had to give a general idea, but later on, he wanted specific methods and steps to solve things. I had no choice but to look up precedents, or ask the relevant officials for advice, and then try to write my own essays.
The days were flowing like water, but my life kept a constant rhythm.
In the 10th year of Zhenghe, Grandfather Emperor did two unexpected things. One, he named Youngest Aunt Princess Leyi and gave her marriage to Wang Yong’an Jiang Yao, also known as Teacher Jiang; and two, he announced his abdication, passing the throne to Father, who had been the Crown Prince for ten years.
It was the custom since ancient times for the emperor’s daughters to be named princesses, which wasn’t unusual, but it was rather inappropriate for Youngest Aunt, who was nominally only the adopted daughter of Grandfather Emperor, to be named a princess – at least according to the old guy the Minister of the Imperial Clan.
The Minister of the Imperial Clan told Grandfather Emperor that Youngest Aunt was Hou Wu’an’s daughter(6), and that according to the example of Hou Zhennan, it would be generous enough to name her a county lord. After all, the daughter of Hou Zhennan was given the title of county lord because he died without sons(7). Although Hou Wu’an didn’t have sons either, he was still alive, only in his early forties and in good health; who could guarantee that he would not have a son in the future. Even though he had outstanding military achievements and his daughter was the adopted daughter of Grandfather Emperor, the title of county lord was the limit, and the princess was too unreasonable.
Grandfather Emperor was born a fighter, and his personality was the most stubborn. He didn’t like to hear such things. Besides, because of Father’s name, he had long hated the Minister of the Imperial Clan. The more he opposed it, the more Grandfather Emperor insisted on it and didn’t back down at all.
Naming a princess with a different surname was a family matter of the imperial family. Although it was a bit out of ordinary, it would not endanger the state of society. The civil and military officials cleverly remained silent.
The Minister of the Imperial Clan made trouble for a while, but Grandfather Emperor didn’t listen, and Youngest Aunt’s title and marriage were decided.
Compared to what happened afterwards, Princess Leyi was a minor incident that hardly made a ripple.
In the mid-autumn of the 10th year of Zhenghe, Grandfather Emperor announced his intention to abdicate, and all the court officials were shocked, kneeling down to ask His Majesty to think twice.
Only Father, without being polite at all, bowed respectfully and said, “This son and subject obeys the decree!”
To be honest, I was a bit dumbfounded. Father, do you have to be so rude when you agree?
It was not common for emperors to abdicate, but it was not without precedent either. As far as I knew, the emperor had to say repeatedly that he wanted to abdicate and the ministers had to beg in every way and the Crown Prince had to refuse a thousand times and only reluctantly agree in the end.
But Father, on the contrary, nodded and agreed without hesitation, which was really surprising.
I asked him afterwards why he had been so direct; at least he could have made a good impression.
He smiled and said that there was no need to do so, that it was something he and Grandfather Emperor had discussed a long time ago, and that there was no point in pushing it around.
I was stunned. It turned out that Father trusted Grandfather Emperor much more than I trusted him.
Grandfather Emperor made up his mind and the ministers shouted “Your Majesty, think twice” several times and accepted the facts one after another.
When Father was still Wang Qin’s Shizi, he had outstanding achievements in the restoration of Yizhou and Qiongzhou. After he became the Crown Prince, because Grandfather Emperor’s health wasn’t very good, Father already handled most of the government affairs. Although his methods of doing things were relatively simple and crude, they were also effective.
With his military and political achievements, and being the emperor’s only son, Father’s ascension to the throne was absolutely justified.
The first thing the new emperor did was to change the name of the era to “Wanchang”, a name given by Grandfather Emperor to mean eternal prosperity.
Father became the emperor, and Daddy and I were upgraded. Daddy became the empress and I became the Crown Prince. Wei Yuanyuan was still Wang Linjiang, and Wei Nannan and Wei Quanquan didn’t reach the age, so naturally they didn’t have a title yet.
Father’s harem was no more lively than Grandfather’s, but on his first day on the throne, he had me move to the Eastern Palace, a place that he had never lived in for a single day when he was the Crown Prince, purely using it as his office.
I was a little surprised, but said nothing and did as I was told.
Grandfather Emperor said that I was different from Father; his position as the Crown Prince was unshakable, while I couldn’t afford to make mistakes.
The Eastern Palace was huge, not much smaller than Zichen Palace, and there were many servants in the Eastern Palace, but I had the feeling that I was the only one here.
When Father ascended the throne, all the neighbouring countries sent envoys to congratulate him, including Nanyue. The relationship between Nanyue and the Great Yan was somewhat unusual, as their late Queen Mother was Princess Yunmeng, the eldest daughter of Emperor Renzong, and Father’s most beloved cousin.
Ruan Meng, who came to the Great Yan this time, was the youngest son of my aunt. He had lived in Changle Palace as a child and didn’t return to his homeland until the death of Empress Xiaoren.
The other envoys congratulated Father and didn’t stay long, except for Ruan Meng, who stayed in Yujing under the pretext of a study trip. Father and Daddy treated Ruan Meng very well; not only did they let him live in the palace, but they also let him study with me and Wei Yuanyuan.
At first, I was unimpressed by Ruan Meng’s presence. He was just a young prince from a foreign country, who had an additional blood relationship with the imperial family. I had many companions, so he was nothing to pay special attention to.
However, Ruan Meng took an unusual interest in me and came to visit me at the Eastern Palace whenever he felt like it.
The first time I received a message from Ruan Meng, I thought he had something serious to say, but the first thing he said when he saw me was, “Tuantuan, I haven’t seen you for a few years. Why are you getting more and more unlovable the more you grow up?”
Since moving to Changhe Palace, even Father and Daddy rarely called me by my nickname Tuantuan anymore, so when I heard this name, my first reaction wasn’t anger but surprise, and then I subconsciously asked, “Have we met before?”
In theory, it was possible that Ruan Meng and I had met before, but I had no recollection of it at all.
“Of course we’ve met.” Ruan Meng immediately nodded, “Tuantuan, you used to call me Brother Meng, and when I was leaving, you cried and followed me to the palace gate, tugging at my sleeve and not letting go.”
I looked at him dumbfounded, but in my heart I was shouting: this can’t be, I could never do something so humiliating.
- 团 tuán – means “round” or “dumpling”
- 圆 yuán – also “round” or “circle”
- 8:00-9:00 in the morning; oh horror, right? 🙂 Used to describe someone who sleeps till late
- 囡囡 nānnān – little darling, baby
- You probably can guess it, 圈 quān means “circle”
- Yes, it’s Huo Feifei, the little fat girl 🙂 Wei Zhao’s daughter marries Jiang Che’s son…
- Just to remind, Hou Zhennan was Shangguan Yi, the guy who made great achievements in defending/retaking the southern territories. His daughter, Guantao County Lord Shangguan Pinting, the wife of Li Kang (who betrayed Wei Zhao) and the mother of Li Jing (who was last seen impersonating Qingcheng)