Chapter 51: Time to Kill
The imperial examination was a system that had been used to single out the greatest talents of Ziyun. However, it was different from the one Ye Yin knew previously. Only those born from influential families could take the exam. This was why the poor had few opportunities. At best, a talented poor person could become an advisor for a nobleman.
Zhi nation once held imperial exams, but ever since the split between East and West Zhi, West Zhi never held a single one for the past twenty years. The court officials had attained their positions through bribery or through recommendations.
When Ye Yin proposed holding imperial examinations, Hua Jianli protested vehemently.
With an expression of disapproval, Hua Jianli shook his head repeatedly. “Little Qi, you know what dire straits West Zhi is currently in. Do you think of any of the large clans would participate? How can you choose people if no one takes part?”
“Who said I’m only choosing those from large clans? I’m willing to let anyone who wants to take the test to take it, whether they are rich, poor, or even a beggar. I’ll even let those from other countries participate.”
Hua Jianli’s jaw dropped. “No matter who they are? Is.. is that alright?”
“Why not?” Ye Yin retorted. “Do you think there are no talented people among the poor? Did you forget about Shi Xia? He is a commoner.”
Hua Jianli laughed bitterly. “Shi Xia is an exception. Most commoners cannot even read, they only know a few words at least, none who have had education. Alas! None of the noblemen will participate, and the commoners are mostly illiterate. How could you implement the imperial examination under these circumstances?”
Ye Yin smiled. “Who said that I need educated? And don’t look down on commoners. There are quite a few talented individuals among them. They will look for any opportunity to distinguish themselves, so they will come. And I simply want capable people, not just people who can read.”
Hua Jianli seemed unconvinced. Ye Yin sighed. “I don’t plan on holding exams the old way. Talented people will compete for their posts!”
“What? Compete for posts*?” Hua Jianli had difficulty understanding Ye Yin’s sudden neologism.
*Ye Yin uses a modern Chinese phrase
Ye Yin did not really feel like explaining. “Brother Jianli, just remember this: status is not important. What is important is capability! I don’t need people who can write poems. Even if they cannot write a single word, so long as they are capable, I will allow them to be an official.”
Now, Hua Jianli was thoroughly flabbergasted. An official that couldn’t read? What was Little Qi planning?
“I will send you the concrete details later. You just need to carry out my orders. Even if I tried to explain, you wouldn’t get it.” He fell silent, starting to unconsciously draw circles on the table. After a while, he spoke. “As for those old chancellors… I have an idea. However, I still have a question for you.”
“What question? Ask me!” He still did not understand what Ye Yin was planning, but did not dwell on it.
Ye Yin looked up, staring Hua Jianli straight in the eye. His lustrous eyes flashed resolutely. “Are you certain that that the current chancellors are all from small clans?”
Hua Jianli was almost intimidated by the complex, staunch look in Ye Yin’s eyes. He composed himself, nodding. “Yes. After returning from Yue city, I investigated them all thoroughly. Aside from the people I have already eliminated, none of the remaining ones come from major clans. Is there a problem?”
Ye Yin’s expression turned strange, as if constrained. He stared off into the distance for some time before finally speaking. “Brother Jianli, I may have to kill once more!”
“K…kill? You’re going to kill those chancellors?” Hua Jianli was shocked. “Why? They… they…”
Ye Yin did not answer him. “I once told you that every new emperor of West Zhi would kill all the previous chancellors, correct?”
“Yes, you also said that was why no one from the major clans dared to become officials. They feared if they became officials, their entire family could be implicated. Little Qi, what do you plan to do? They haven’t done anything wrong, they…”
Ye Yin still did not answer his questions. “If that is the case, then why did none of them escape or resign the moment they heard rumors of another usurpation?”
Hua Jianli froze. Ye Yin continued, “Is it that they view it as fate, or that there is not enough time to escape? You have already sat on the throne for so long, it should not be a matter of time. But still, not a single one has resigned. They even try to oppose you. Why do you suppose that is the case?”
“This…” Hua Jianli smiled bitterly. “I have also been confused about this matter. To them, is their position really that important? So important that they risk the lives of their entire family?”
“Of course it is important. Because if they stay behind, their loved ones will be protected, but if they try to escape or resign, they will be chased and killed in two ways.”
“Two ways?” Hua Jianli was baffled. “What two ways?”
Ye Yin stood up. He took a few steps forward, stopping at the small pavilion. “If an official resigns or attempts to flee immediately after the new emperor ascends the throne, he will arouse the emperor’s suspicion. The emperor will assume they are guilty of something or have some kind of secret, so they will be ruthlessly chased down and killed by the new emperor. Perhaps, their entire family will be exterminated. Perhaps originally, the death of one person caused many.” He sighed deeply. “As for the other…”
Ye Yin suddenly stopped. He turned back to face Hua Jianli. “Are you certain they are from small clans? Do you really believe the large clans have no connections with the current chancellors? Do you really believe the large clans would give up legal advocates?”
“Are you saying…” Hua Jianli’s voice trailed off, because Ye Yin suddenly smiled. However, the smile was too fake.
Ye Yin turned to look into the distance. The sun still had not set. “Among the chancellors, aside from Qi Teng’s relatives, the others all have small families. That alone is not enough to arouse suspicion, however they come from fewer than nine clans in total. Is that normal?”
“I can’t think of what’s wrong. For there to be less than nine small clans seems fairly normal.” Hua Jianli frowned.
“Then take a look at these.” Ye Yin pulled out a sheet of paper completely filled with words. “This is what I’ve discovered over the past few days. Take a look, perhaps you’ll understand.”
Hua Jianli received it, reading over it with a perplexed expression. He muttered, “… Fourth day of the fifth month, Chancellor Wang’s son dies from falling off a horse. Eighteenth day of the sixth month, Chancellor Mu’s young son dies unfortunately from drowning. First day of the seventh month, Chancellor Li’s wife encountered bandits and died from falling off a cliff…”
“This, this is…” He became even more perplexed, frowning. He raised the paper higher in the air. “This is…”
“You don’t understand? Nearly someone from every chancellor’s family died within such a short period of time. Could such a coincidence happen?” Ye Yin leaned on the wall, arms crossed. He smiled, yet was not smiling. “You still don’t understand? These chancellors do not fear death, because their fears have already been resolved.”
Hua Jianli’s expression changed. “So these people are still alive. They merely faked their deaths, but are secretly living safely somewhere? This is so terrifying, they acted so early. At that time, we barely had a few people in West Zhi.”
Ye Yin shook his head, smiling coldly. “It is not these chancellors who are terrifying, but the large clans backing them. How could a small clan coordinate their actions so well, so meticulously without leaving any traces? The large clans of West Zhi are full of hidden talents. They are not only foresighted, but also cunning and calculative. They also have wide connections. The moment something is slightly wrong, they start their preparations. By the time the new emperor ascends the throne, they have already settled everything without any loose ends. If I didn’t find the chancellors suspicious and investigated them, I would have not known such an expected fact. That no members of the large clans assume posts is only a pretense, it seems. They are only acting out a show.”
“Little Qi, I don’t understand. What exactly is going on?”
Ye Yin’s eyes flashed with derision. “The rich and government officials are always in collusion. West Zhi is no exception to this rule. The large clans were unwilling to give up their influence at court, but also did not wish to risk implicating themselves whenever the throne changed hands. Thus, they developed a flexible plan.”
“Why does West Zhi have so many businesses? Because all the large clans engage in trade. Not only does it make them money, every new monarch has treated merchants graciously. On the surface, they treat trade as most important, while secretly, they coerce the weakest members of the clan to take up governmental positions on their behalf. Trade and government are mutually dependent, and only with both will they get most benefits. This is why they’re all dirty businessmen!”
“But those weakest members are still from the clan, they can’t just discard them!”
“Idiot!” Ye Yin rolled his eyes. “They make up new identities for them as members of a small clan completely unrelated to them. They might even appear to be enemy factions. That way, no one would think that secretly, they are profiting.”
“How foresighted indeed. With their loved ones hidden, the chancellors have nothing to complain about. The scheme would never see the light of day either.”
Hua Jianli stood up, supporting himself with one hand on the table. He shook his head. “I can’t believe it. Those people are willing to throw their lives away? It’s not just the chancellors who die, but also…”
“You don’t believe it? But it is true. Every person has a weakness, a person they want to protect the most, so as long as their most important person is safe, nothing else matters. That these people agreed to become officials means that they have long accepted their death.” Ye Yin sighed. Seeing Hua Jianli’s incredulous expression, he continued, “I took a look at some records on the chancellor when the previous monarch ascended the throne. It was nearly identical to this list. People died from all the chancellors’ families, all within a few months, sometimes within days.”
“Then Little Qi, what do you intend to do?”
Ye Yin’s expression turned cold. “I will find these already dead people, then kill them while pinning the blame on the large clan backing them. The large clans will be forced their hand and take the stage. I already found where Chancellor Mu’s son is living. We’ll start with him!”
“You want to kill a child? He…”
“You can’t bear it? These large clans are the greatest threat to West Zhi. We must weaken their power and think of a way to throw them into disarray, destroy them from within. I previously thought of many ways, but these clans have too strong of a defense. I cannot find a chink in their amor except this. So… After killing the child, we will make Chancellor Mu think it was his own clan who was guilty, and convert him to join our side. It is easiest to conquer a man who has lost all hope. The clan behind him will surface and cause unease among the other major clans. My goal is for them to become disorganized so they will be easier to crush.”
Hua Jianli sat down, utterly defeated. He said blankly, “Little Qi, you just needed to carry it out. There was no need to tell me. I.. I simply am not smart enough to understand. I would rather be plain and simple.”
Ye Yin understood that Hua Jianli could not understand the major clan hurting its own people. But Hua Jianli could not accept killing a child in cold blood even more so. He had always been a straight-forward man who never had the need to secretly kill someone and had never harmed a child before, but…
Ye Yin did not want to harm a child either, but if this one life could change West Zhi’s circumstances, he would harden his heart. He could not give himself the chance to regret nor Hua Jianli the chance to shrink back. There were some things he and Hua Jianli would face inevitably. If one is weak in heart and too reluctant, they cannot achieve great things. He and Hua Jianli would have to commit many more cruel acts in the future.
“What? You find it hard to accept?” Ye Yin’s expression was now icy. He assumed a disdainful look in his eyes. “If you have chosen this path, you must accept what you must face. Do you think the path of reuniting a country is an easy task? Are you afraid? Do you regret?”
Hua Jianli’s breathing quickened. “What is there to regret? What is there to fear? I just dislike it, you know as well. Little Qi, I don’t like killing people, especially… If they were evil, I could kill them by the thousands, but a child…”
Hua Jianli shook his head, his voice bitter. “I have never cowered in the face of battle. I have faced countless experts and never turned down any duels. I do not fear death or killing, but I like to fight openly, not… I cannot give the order to kill the child.”
“Are you a general at war right now? Are you a wandering swordsman right now?” Ye Yin smiled coldly. “No. You are now the emperor of West Zhi. If you want to see a unified Zhi nation, if you want Zhi nation to be glittering splendidly, you must accept all necessary plots and machinations. You must learn how to stab someone in the back, to kill without seeing blood. This is the price you must pay to reunite Zhi nation!”
“Don’t force me, Little Qi!” Hua Jianli closed his eyes, then opened them. His eyes flashed with sorrow. “Little Qi,” he said in a low voice. “You have changed!”
“I have changed?” Ye Yin smiled brightly, but without any warmth. “Don’t forget, it was you who set me on this path.”
“If you cannot do it, I will! I will bear all the sins. Afterall, I am not going to simply kill just one or two people. One more life does not amount to much, even if it is that of a child’s.”
The night wind blew. Ye Yin turned around, his thin figure exuding resolution and loneliness.