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I was able to escape after carefully repeating the names of all three books, and writing out the names of all three authors so everyone had the right characters for looking them up in the library indexes. Because I was intending to spend a solid slice of the next two hours in the library, I took myself off to the camellia nook to eat my lunch. Sitting among the plants and the odour of moist mulch was very centring, and I enjoyed it quietly for a little while longer after I finished eating.
Then I went into the library and borrowed the held readings for all my subjects that I hadn’t already read. I found the next two hours very satisfactory, and I emerged with the wonderful feeling of being all caught up. I even had a completed draft that I was happy with for the review that was due in the next morning’s tutorial. I savoured the moment because I still had two classes left for the day.
My first Introductory Literature lecture was up first. Again, because it was a compulsory subject for all first-year subjects, there were four lecture rooms listed, and I headed for the fourth. It was a principle that had served me well so far. That put me in Classical Studies Building Three, Room 111 with Professor Wu Shan. Admittedly the other lectures were being held in Buildings One and Two, but I still thought it was odd when, five minutes before the lecture was due to begin, there were only ten of us seated in the room. Three minutes before the lecture, Liang Ai from my tutorial group came in and sat down next to me.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” She looked around, “I was turned away from both lecture rooms in Building Two, and they’re directing everyone over here now. Everyone over in Water Sciences says to avoid Professor Wu Shan, so I’m not sure how this will go…”
That was when the bulk of the crowd of refugees from the other three lecture rooms arrived and started filling up the room from the back. This struck me as odd, but I replied, “I suppose it will be a learning experience, one way or another.”
“That’s a positive way of looking at it,” Liang Ai nodded, and opened her notebook just as a man strode up to the lectern from the staff entrance.
He was a physically unextraordinary man who radiated anger. It was in his posture and, when he spoke, in his voice. “I am Professor Wu Shan. You may address me as Sir, Professor, or Scholar Wu. Professor Wu in this school is a far pleasanter gentleman who specialises in writers of the Fu Period. Questions on the lecture will be taken at the end by a show of raised hands. I am available for intelligent questions, or for questions that attempt to relieve a fundamental ignorance on your part, in my office at the times stated on its door.” He glared around the room, and the some of the front row quailed. “I see my reputation precedes me,” and he gave a snarky smile. “Let us begin to consider the beginnings of literature in our culture.”
Professor Wu attacked the subject like a dog tearing at a carcase. Information came in disconnected chunks, or so it seemed, and with snark and sarcasm. It wasn’t until you had all the chunks, when the lecture was almost over, that you could see the shape of the whole thing. It wasn’t an easy lecture style, but I thought I could work with it. Plus, there were a couple of great one liners in among the snark, although the Professor had glared at anyone who’d dared to laugh at them while he was talking. He finished by setting a reading from our text book for us to go over before the next lecture. Then he took questions.
The room just sat there.
“So, all of you understood that perfectly?” He glowered around the room at us. “If we ran a test, you’d all get perfect marks?”
I looked around and caught the eye of someone else who was doing the same thing. We both raised our hands.
Professor Wu pointed to the other student, whom I didn’t recognise, first. “Who are you, and what’s your question?”
“Wan Dou, Professor. Do the subsequent changes to the characters of our script after these texts were originally written create a problem with regard to correct transcription and understanding? As an example, are there passages of Exhortations to the Young by Cao Xing which no longer read as they did when written?” The speaker lowered his hand.
“In general, one can trust that changes in characters have been faithfully and correctly made,” replied Professor Wu. “When the physical copy of a text is venerable, the form of various characters is one way of dating that copy. There are several notable exceptions to this rule through malice, exercise of perceived superior virtue, or accident, and some very solid academic careers have been based on the examination of the differences in those texts. Second question, young woman?” He pointed at me.
“Sung Nai, Professor. I’ve noted in the textbook and an assigned reading that divinities were included in noble and royal genealogies. My first impulse is to dismiss such claims, but then I remember Reincarnated or Immortal Scholars. In your opinion, are such genealogies likely to be records of folk tales, fabrications to enhance family standing, or something else?”
Professor Wu sighed. “Miss Sung, your question is so commonplace, but so not a waste of time that there is an entire module of the second year Literature course that considers it. You may consult the second-year curriculum, module four, for readings on the subject. I also commend your avoidance of the word “lie”. More tactful than I was at your age. Anyone else?”
There were no more questions and the professor gave us leave to disperse. I packed up my things, chatting with Liang Ai as I did so. That was when I discovered that she had a Statistics tutorial at the same time I did, and a few questions later we’d established that we were in the same tutorial group. Naturally, I invited her to come and have a cup of tea with Ong Tien and me.
We met Ong Tien at the door of Views of the Kwaizhu under the Third Moon, and I introduced them. Apparently, they had seen each other at orientation and around the Water Sciences buildings, but didn’t share any other classes. I ordered tea and biscuits, and the three of us spent half an hour discussing whether the tea house’s name should be shortened to Views of the Kwaizhu or Under the Third Moon.
When we arrived at the tutorial room, we had five minutes to spare and half the class was already there. We grabbed a block of three seats between Cheng Qu, a girl studying Physical Sciences, and four students from Life Sciences. The rest of the class arrived before the tutor, if you counted arriving in time to hold the door open for the tutor as being on time. Ai Kwan dressed in a style that I would have interpreted as being mannish on a woman, but as Ai Kwan wasn’t a woman I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The student who held the door open was still wearing an apron and name tag from a store where he apparently had a job. He slid into the last seat, pulled out some pens and a notebook and the class began.
“Our first week,” announced Ai Kwan, “will be a review of terminology and formulae that you should have covered in secondary school so that I can make sure that you’re all at the same starting point. Please bear with the rest of us if you find the process boring, but keep an ear out in case we cover something you don’t remember. If you don’t know it, tell me so we can work on it, and remember that it may not be your fault. When I was doing my degree, the Mathematics faculty discovered that a large local secondary school had managed to miss a critical module for their entire final year class in the previous year. So, definitions.” He wrote a list of characters on the board, “Now, from your right, one character each, please. What is the word and what does it mean?”
I got to identify and define mean deviation, so it could have been worse. No-one in our class seemed to have any problems with the terminology, so we moved happily from there into the formulas. We left with revision problem homework to be done for the next class.
Ong Tien excused herself with a polite bow, “My apologies. I’d love to stay and talk, but they may be waiting on me to have dinner at home, and tonight is my grandmother’s mah jong night.” She left heading northwards across the university grounds.
The rest of us didn’t hang around in a group. Some of the others lived in the same residential colleges together, so they headed home for their own meals in their own groups. Cheng Qu was one of those, heading back to the Tulong Island Student Residence with two others. Liang Ai, the apron-wearing Sou Pan who’d taken off his apron, Ao Xian who lived with his family somewhere downstream near the river, and I walked back to the bus stops at the main entrance together. I said good bye to them there, and set off to walk home while they waited for their buses. Later in the year, when it would be dark at this hour, I might get the bus too but it was still going to be light for a while yet and I saw no reason not to get the exercise.
I arrived home to a fresh fish dinner. There was steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables, and a large fish of a type I didn’t recognise steamed whole with ginger which was accompanied by a sticky red sauce. “I got to the fish markets today,” said Master Que serenely. “This is a snapper, caught this morning. I think you’ll like it, so go clean up so we can eat.”
Master Que was right, the snapper was very good. There was also enough meat on it for another meal for the two of us. I asked, “Could we have the rest of this for lunch tomorrow? I only have two classes, so I thought that, unless you have other plans, I could put in some serious gi practice as well as doing some study.”
“In the interests of encouraging you to lead a balanced life,” observed Master Que, “do you have social plans? Once the tournament schedule and the televised competition start up, you are going to have less time to cement friendships so you should work on them now.”
“I thought I’d go and see a movie the theatre at the university is showing. I saw it back in the capital, but I want to try and figure out what is really going on. It’s a Nihonga samurai thing – would you like to come? I’ve a later start the next morning.”
Master Que looked at me over his teacup of…something. “I will come if, afterwards, you allow me to select a bar for you to frequent. You do not need to drink alcohol, but you do need to learn the dynamics of such places – if only so you can rescue me from my own follies. Besides, such places often feature live music, and I think you would enjoy that.” He smiled beatifically me, and I wondered what he was up to.
I revised my notes, making them more legible in places, worked on my statistics revision problems, and neatly wrote out the final version of the literature review that was due in the morning. I had done mine on The Genealogy of the Wu Clan of Dengxu, and managed to hit the mid-point of the length range we’d been given, so I had hopes that it would be marked favourably. I finished the evening with a few gi connecting exercises, followed by a shower. The night was quiet and slept until my alarm went off.
The He household started their day with a listing of He Ban’s faults in a penetrating female voice that was not Madam He’s. This voice was then joined, or opposed, by Madam He who managed to both tell the strange voice not to speak like that to He Ban, and to castigate him herself. While getting dressed in my room I learned that the new voice was that of Madam He’s older sister, Madam Ying. I quickly came to hope that Aunty Ying, as He Ban called her, was only staying for a short visit.
Breakfast was tea, rice and pickles that I shared with the Lao family shrine, and then I was out the door to get to my Literature tutorial. We were back in the same room we’d first met in, and today Scholar Tao’s fan was of carved sandalwood, wafting its scent around when it was used. Scholar Tao began by collecting our reviews, and then moved on to a general discussion of all three texts and of their forms in general. Finally, he gave us our readings for the review we had to write for the class in a week’s time and dismissed us.
That gave me five minutes to get to my Arts tutorial, in Classical Studies Building Three, right across a laneway from the building my Literature tutorial had been in. I wasn’t the last student into the room, but it was close. Our Arts tutor, Huai Huai, sat at the front of the room and counted us in. On the dot of when the timetable said the class would start, she stood and said, “You are here to gain traditional elements of the classical scholar’s repertoire that are often overlooked and underestimated in the modern world. You are here to learn how to appreciate and create art. Appreciation will take in all the arts: calligraphy; painting; sculpture; and the decorative arts. Creation in this course will cover calligraphy and painting. Sculpture and the decorative arts are certainly worthy of study, but their practice was not in the oeuvre of scholars, rather it was the domain of skilled and talented craftsmen. Having said that, they can be pursued on the practical level in later, specialised classes.” She took a deep breath and went on, “Not all of you will display talent in either painting or calligraphy, but talent is not required to pass this class. What is required is diligence and hard work; if nothing else you will learn the effort that goes into learning and implementing the skills that make art look easy and graceful.” She looked around the room, seemed satisfied, and went on, “We will be beginning with the oldest known preserved works of art in Tang-ji, which are the funerary trappings of a minor bronze age nobleman named Zhe Mung. One of the interesting things about his grave goods is this formal petition to his new overlord,” she turned on a projector which put a picture of a scroll up on a white section of the wall, the characters large enough to be read – if you knew them. “Many of the characters have changed since then, and we have no evidence that calligraphy was a practiced art at the time, but note the way that the writing has been arranged to create a pleasing balance between the black of the script and the white of the page. At the time, of course, script was more often used on baked turtle shells, billets of wood, or stone.”
A student four places to my right put up her hand, and when acknowledged said, “Ying Li, Scholar Huai. Beg my pardon, but was Zhe Mung complaining that the new lord had stolen Zhe Mung’s wife?”
Scholar Huai smiled, “Very good. Yes, Zhe Mung was complaining that the new lord had taken Zhe Mung’s fourth wife from him without compensation. He goes on to say that it doesn’t matter that he didn’t, well, engage with the lady, he should still be compensated for the loss of her family connections. Historically this document is interesting because the new lord was Chan Zhu, the first recorded incarnation of the Solar Emperor.”
The rest of the session went through the other contents of Zhe Mung’s tomb, and then compared them to other, randomly discovered items of the same period. The assignment from the class was to write detailed descriptions of three of the items we covered in the class that not only described their physicality but their artistic attributes. Coloured handouts were provided.
Instead of going straight home when the tutorial finished, as I’d intended, I went to the library to see if I could borrow a book with the full text of Zhe Mung’s petition in it. I hadn’t been able to read a lot of the old characters when it had been up on the screen, but having heard the gist of it, I wanted to see if I could decipher the text for myself or at least read someone else’s translation. It also occurred to me that the story would amuse Master Que.
I was in luck at the library, as I was explaining to one librarian that I was trying to find the full text of the scroll and where it came from, someone else handed back a book on early documents which had exactly that in it. The student who handed it in heard something of my conversation with the librarian and interrupted us to say, “Excuse me, but this book has that.” He bowed and added awkwardly, “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but if it’s going to save you both time…” He went on, looking I might add at the librarian, “My name is Qiu Jiu.”
The librarian and I thanked him, and then the librarian checked whether the book had been reserved. It hadn’t been and I was able to borrow it straight away. Then I walked home.
Master Que wasn’t around when I arrived, so I made myself a cup of tea, and cheated outrageously by reading the full translation of the petition straight off. I was still laughing over it when Master Que arrived home from whatever he had been doing, and I pushed the open book over to him when he asked me what was so funny.
Master Que read the whole thing in silence, and then said, “So, having been condemned to death for dallying with a neglected lady, the first Solar Emperor escaped from gaol, raised a rebellion, successfully seized power, and then took then lady from her husband. Zhe Mung should have been worried about keeping his head on his neck, not about compensation – his death would have uncomplicated the situation.”
“Perhaps Chan Zhu didn’t want to have to deal with the other wives?” I offered. “There were five of them.”
Master Que’s mouth twitched. “Taking one widow to your bosom is one thing,” he conceded. “Taking on six when you only want one of them is something else.” Then he laughed. “Do you think he started taking over Tang-ji so he could have her?”
“In that case, why not send his army against Zhe Mung?” I asked. “He actually rebelled against Zhe Mung’s overlord, Zhou Jiang. What I find funny is Zhe Mung’s complete obliviousness in his petition.”
“He is completely clueless, isn’t he?” agreed Master Que. “I wonder if I could have sold him a mustard mine?”
This is now followed by Mostly An Evening Out.