Road to Slaying God: Chapter 16

Translator: Yuyj

Rewriter: Nyamh

Zhang Yang began reading A River of Blossoms from the blackboard.

“My anger ascends the skies and parapets as the gentle rain stops. Looking up, I roar at the skies, long and furious. Thirty years of merit have become dust and earth, eight thousand li of war under the moon and clouds. Without rest, my youthful hair turns white, full of hollow despair.

“Jing Kang’s humiliation, snow has yet to fall; this minister’s hate, when will it resolve? I yearn to ride war chariots down on the Helan Mountains, to feast on foreign flesh while laughing and drinking Xiong Nu blood [1]. Completely and utterly, I will reclaim our old mountains and rivers and proclaim our victory to the imperial capital and the emperor!”

As if waking from a stupor, everyone’s faces looked blank and dazed. They couldn’t believe Zhang Yang had read A River of Blossoms from the blackboard. Zhang Yang’s voice had sounded slightly husky, giving off a strong sense of manliness. Furthermore, his voice had been penetrating; even the old professor couldn’t help but nod in satisfaction. Just from Zhang Yang’s recitation, it was obvious he was extremely outstanding. Zhang Yang fully expressed the frustration and anger contained within Yue Fei’s verses.

“Teacher,” Zhang Yang said. “If we only look at the verses themselves, Yue Fei’s A River of Blossoms is undoubtedly a grand classic. But, if we look at the ideology behind it, A River of Blossoms still has some severe limitations…” Zhang Yang’s expression suddenly changed. He adopted a calm, casual manner which shocked the class.

“What do you mean?” The professor looked more serious. He had a sudden feeling that the cowardly kid who snuck into his class had suddenly changed. He could see that Zhang Yang’s eyes were flashing with intelligence and confidence. In this old professor’s life, he had only seen such an expression twice, yet in these past few days, he had seen it several times. In fact, the last time he had seen such an expression, the person had also been sitting in Zhang Yang’s chair.

“Undoubtedly, this is a famous ancient, patriotic piece. Assuredly, among the vast ocean of  poetry in our country’s history, none can compare to this poem’s impact on our society, and none can compare to the power of this poem to raise one’s fighting spirit, to stir us to defeat our enemies. This poem expresses Yue Fei’s loyalty, his courage, and evokes deep emotions in its readers. The verses flow like a mighty river over golden rocks…”

“Yes, continue!” The professor nodded in agreement while the students stared at Zhang Yang.

They couldn’t believe that even though Zhang Yang had said, “I don’t like it,” he would still have such glowing praise for the poem. Now they were full of anticipation for what exactly Zhang Yang “didn’t like” about A River of Blossoms.

“Actually…I do like these verses, and I especially love Yue Fei’s heroic tone. That line, ‘Riding down the Helan Mountains to feast on foreign flesh and to drink XiongNu blood’ possesses such a powerful arrogance. However, this verse has some severe limitations. First, this only encourages fighting but doesn’t contain a conquering spirit. Indeed, he merely wants to repel the invader’s of Song, but he never even thinks of turning around and swallowing up the invader’s lands. In fact, that line, ‘I will reclaim our old mountains and rivers,’ perfectly reflects this face. Of course, this is only the first limitation…”

“What’s the second one?” The old professor nodded once again, his eyes fixated on Zhang Yang. In fact, Zhang Yang had truly pointed out a limitation of Yue Fei’s ideology. At that time, Yue Fei truly only wanted to reclaim the lands of the Great Song; he never even thought about expanding the territory of the Great Song. Later on, many other nomadic tribes, including the Xiong Nu, ended up becoming a part of the Chinese nation.

“Secondly, although Yue Fei’s patriotic attitude was correct under his circumstances, this also resulted in him making an erroneous decision. There are two parts to patriotism [2]: loyalty to the emperor and love for the nation. He selected loyalty to his emperor over love for his nation. Because, in his eyes, his emperor was more important than his country. ‘Jing Kang’s humiliation, snow has yet to fall; this minister’s hate, when will it resolve?’ This verse explains General Yue’s ideology [3]. Of course, this was a result of the circumstances at that time. In those times, the emperor was basically the symbol of the nation. Loyalty to one’s emperor basically meant the same thing as loving one’s nation…”

Zhang Yang paused and looked at his surrounding classmates. “I’d like to know: if my fellow students were to face such a decision, would you decide to select loyalty to your emperor or loyalty toward your nation?”

A wave of silence settled over the class. Although they had all briefly thought about patriotism from this angle before, they had never thought to use it to overthrow Yue Fei’s patriotism. In fact, from the viewpoint of modern society, Zhang Yang’s stance was clearly more logical. When the nation is in danger, would it be better to work for a particular political party, or would it be better to unite as a nation? This didn’t even require thought. Anyone would choose to sacrifice for the good of the nation. A political faction can fall from power, but the nation must never die; this logic anyone would understand.

The professor nodded at Zhang Yang and asked, “Student, do you believe there is any other General or Minister of the North Song Dynasty worthy of bringing up alongside Yue Fei?”

“There are far too many worthy names in the North Song dynasty.” And, indeed, Zhang Yang felt countless names well up from within his brain, all of the North Song Dynasty.

“Yes, say them.” The old professor smiled slightly.

“Zhao Kuang Yin. Although he established the North Song dynasty, it was later, during the Five Dynasties Era, that General Zhao commanded the punitive army and stabilized the entire nation. At the Coup of Chen Qiao, he achieved victory and established the North Song Dynasty. Afterward, in a mere three years, he quelled all the rebel forces. Then, he set out to conquer and unite the entirety of China. He executed a strategy of first south then north, first conquering the easy targets before tackling the stronger kingdoms. He fought in the south for over ten years, conquering Jing Nan, Hou Shu, and South Han kingdoms, as well as the other southern kingdoms.

“During this time, he also instigated several reforms in various fields, including military, political, financial, and the structure of the imperial examination. This helped greatly to consolidate his power base. He reigned for 17 years and was titled Tai Zu, the Great Ancestor. During this time, he basically ended the unrest of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Era [4] and helped rebuild the wartorn society and economy of China. Not only was he the ancestor of an empire, he was also a brilliant General!”

“Continue!” The old professor’s eyes lit up. He couldn’t believe that Zhang Yang actually understood the founding emperor of the North Song Dynasty so clearly. Even more unlikely, he actually memorized the dates extremely well. At this time, the ridiculing gazes of his fellow classmates had already been replaced with shocked disbelief. Many of them were hoping that Zhang Yang would continue to talk while others hoped for him to embarrass himself.

“Cao Bin pacified the Ling Shou. After the Hou Zhou era, he arranged the first municipal committees and used them to incorporate the Ling Shou into the North Song Dynasty. After the establishment of the North Song Dynasty, he was responsible for managing the privileges of the provinces. In the two years of the Qian De reign title, he united the Eastern Han region without excess bloodshed and was awarded the position of South Xuan Hui official, as well as the Jie Du official position [5]. He was later ordered to conquer the South Tang Kingdom and was constrained to minimal use of violence in order to preserve the governing structure of the South Tang.

“Shortly after returning from his victory, he was promoted to the office of Shu Mi. During the reign of Zhao Kuang Yin, he had Cao Bin’s name added to Tong Ping Zhang Shi [6], as well as the Lu Guo Gong [7]. In the three years of Yong Xin, Song Tai Zong [8] ordered a three pronged attack on the Liao Kingdom. Cao Bin was deployed at the You Zhou Road to lead the main force of the Song Army from the state of Xiong to the state of Zhou.

“Due to poor leadership, Cao Bin was unable to control his underlings, which resulted in their disastrous defeat at the Qi Gou Pass. This led to the other two forces of the invasion being forced into retreat. Due to this, he was demoted. In the second year of the Xian Ping reign title [9], he died of unknown illnesses at the age of 69.

“If it weren’t for his failure at the Qi Gou pass, then Cao Bin could’ve definitely left a legendary legacy. What a pity.” Zhang Yang sighed. Then he continued, expounding on another influential name from history.

“Yang Yan Zhao, originally named Yan Lang. Since his youth, he followed General Yang Ye, his father, into war in the northern front campaign. Yang Ye chose the 29 year old Yang Yan Zhao to lead the vanguard of the assault of the state of Shuo. After valiantly fighting a bitter battle at the capital of Shuo, he finally defeated the state of Shuo. After his father died, the burden of resisting the Liao invasion fell to Yang Yan Zhao’s shoulders. In the state of Jing, he was in command of the resistance against the Liao army incursion.

“Yang Yan Zhao was like his father on the field: brave, heroic, and intelligent. He developed extremely good camaraderie with his soldiers by leading from the front, spearheading assaults, and showcasing his bravery. His soldiers greatly loved him. He guarded the border for over 20 years, causing his name to spread far and wide, especially to the common people. The common folk even gave him a nickname, ‘Yang Six Wolves.’ After his death, they weeped rivers of tears and even his enemies paid him tribute out of respect. He left three sons after his death: Yang Chuan Yong, Yang De Zheng, and Yang Wen Guang.

“Yang Yan Zhao and his father, Yang Ye, were both generals that commanded the greatest respect in the North Song dynasty!” Zhang Yang gave his verdict.

“Continue.” The old professor and the entire class all looked at Zhang Yang with expressions of surprise. Zhang Yang somehow knew even the names of the ancient reign titles that the events took place in. Even the old professor himself would need to consult some references for such a precise recounting.

“Di Qing, a minister of Han. Originally from the state of Fen. He was born a peasant, but after enlisting in the army as a young man, he was selected as an aid to one of the emperor’s guards. At the start of the Bao Yuan reign title, he became the commander of the state of Yan and led the defense force against the Western Xia, also known as the Tangut Empire. In his defensive battles, he earned great fame and merit and was regarded highly amongst the common soldiers. Unfortunately, the political environment at the time was very antagonistic towards the military, and he was removed from the imperial court after merely four years, retiring to the state of Chen. In the second year of the Jia You reign title, he passed away. His fate was even worse than Yue Fei’s and he passed away in depression.”

Zhang Yang continued his recitation. “Here, we must remember a name that has almost been completely forgotten by society, Pan Mei, also known as Pan Ren Mei. He was yet another North Song General. He was born in Zhong Xun and was a very famous person. He first gained office during the Hou Zhou reign title and managed many provinces. He was deeply loyal to the North Song Emperor, Zhao Kuang Yin, who made heavy use of his military prowess. Pan Mei fought on fronts throughout the north and the south and played a critical role in the North Song Dynasty’s conquering of the Ten Kingdoms. In the third year of the Yong Xi reign title, when the North Song Army was invading the Liao Kingdom with their three pronged attack, Pan Mei led the Yun, Ying, and Shuo armies with Yang Ye as his deputy [10]. He led them out of Yan Men toward Ke Jie.

“However, before long, news of Cao Bin’s defeat forced Pan Mei to retreat. In the process of his armies’ retreat, Pan Mei and Wang forced Yang Ye to cover their retreat, resulting in Yang Ye’s demise. Due to this, Pan Mei was demoted three ranks. However, in the following year, he returned to his former office. In the second year of the Chun Hua reign title, he was added to the Tong Ping Zhang Shi, though he passed away a few months later.

“If it weren’t for the fact that he forced Yang Ye to his death, then Pan Mei would not have been forgotten by history!

“Of course, the famous generals of the Song Dynasty number in the thousands. It would take many days and nights for me to recite all of their names. Actually, the history of the Song Dynasty is very similar to the history of the Ming Dynasty; it gives one a feeling of desolation.

From the ‘valuing pens while belittling arms’ to ‘the axe’s shadow in candle light [11].’ From the ‘Xi Ning Reform’ to the ‘Yuan You Changes,’ the already weakened Song Dynasty was thrown into further chaos. In the end, it was evaluated as an era of ignorant militantism…How pitiful…” Zhang Yang spoke earnestly, the serious tone in his voice easy to hear.

On top of the fact that he had talked about many obscure military figures of the North Song Dynasty, the entire classroom was filled with a somber air. Some of the student’s gazes that were directed at Zhang Yang had already changed from before. From when Zhang Yang had listed off the histories of multiple Song Dynasty officials, to his final evaluation, they could see that Zhang Yang absolutely wasn’t an ignorant piece of garbage.

Seeing that everyone was deep in thought, Zhang Yang hurriedly turned to the girl. “Where’s my wallet?” he asked her.

“…I don’t have it on me.” The girl’s expression dulled. Zhang Yang’s previous cold and serious manner instantly shifted to his normal, wretched manner, which was something the girl hated.

“Ah! That’s terrible!” Zhang Yang grimaced as if he would cry.

“What’s wrong?” The girl couldn’t help but ask out of curiosity.

“I’ve already eaten bread for four days straight.” Zhang Yang sat down.

Another person stood at the door, several books in his hand [12]. “Teacher, may I enter?” he said. He had a very earnest expression on his face. When the old professor saw this young person, his eyes lit up, and he nodded happily. He had thought this person wasn’t going to come.

The young man walked directly to Zhang Yang’s side. “I’m sorry, but this is my seat.” The young man gave Zhang Yang a look that was filled with firmness. But then, the earnest expression he’d showed the teacher was suddenly exuding a demonic air.

“Ah…uhh…Here you go.” Zhang Yang hurriedly stood before saying to the professor, “Teacher, I’m going to the restroom.”

“Go ahead.” The old professor said while writing something on the blackboard.

Actually, Zhang Yang didn’t need to go to the restroom at all. But since his wallet wasn’t with the girl, there wasn’t any point to him staying there any longer. He had no interest in language arts, after all.

Zhang Yang leaned over and whispered in the girl’s ear. “Do you have any money on you?”

“Yes…” Feeling Zhang Yang’s hot breath on her ear, the girl’s face instantly turned beet red.

“Lend me 10 bucks. When you give me my wallet, just take 10 out, and we’ll be good.”

“Ah.”

“Thanks.”

After getting the money from the girl, Zhang Yang left the class like a wisp of smoke. Right then, he wasn’t thinking of anything but eating food, even a bento box would do [13].

In a flurry of ravenous activity, a bento box disappeared into the wind; in less than three minutes, Zhang Yang completely disposed of the contents. Afterwards, he even touched his lips as if he wasn’t quite satisfied yet. After eating plain bread for several days straight, the taste of rice was really good.

Once his meal was completely finished, Zhang Yang felt torn. What should he do next? It was a bit early to go back to the dorm. There was no way he would spend another entire day cooped up inside. After being tormented for four days by Zhang Yang, that math book didn’t have many interesting things left, yet Zhang Yang didn’t have any money to go to an Internet cafe either.

Finally, Zhang Yang decided to go to the library. That book alone was no longer enough to satisfy Zhang Yang’s thirst for knowledge.

Translator’s Notes:

[1] A northern nomadic tribe that invaded the Song Dynasty.

[2] In Chinese, the word, “patriotism,” is composed of 4 words. The first two mean “loyalty to your emperor,” and the second two  mean “love your country.”

[3] Yue Fei was a Minister as well as a General.

[4] China was split under 5 different ruling factions and 10 kingdoms (sometimes called states), each commanding a large swath of territory. Hence, the Five Dynasties Era. Also known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Era (902 – 979 a.d.).

[5] These are names of the offices that he was awarded. He basically received a lot of power as his reward.

[6,7] Kind of like an honor roll for ancient officials.

[8] This was a title of the Song Emperor, Zhao Kuang Yin.

[9] Ancient emperors named certain periods of times during their reign with reign titles.

[10] The “Yun, Ying, and Shuo” were smaller armies within the main North Song army.

[11] “Valuing pens while belittling arms” is an idiom referring to the policy of preferring administration related officials over military officials. “The axe’s shadow in candle light” is an idiom that refers to the death of the North Song Emperor, Zhao Kuang Yin.

[12] The author never mentioned this character’s gender in this chapter. Though, it’s known this character is a male in subsequent chapters, so we included that as it doesn’t make sense to hide that character’s gender since this story is from Zhang Yang’s perspective and is known by Zhang Yang in that moment. And in future chapters, there was never any special mention from Zhang Yang or the author about this character’s gender. So, the lack of gender reveal has been decided to be inconsequential.

[13] A convenience store, pre-packed, lunch box.

<<Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >>

4 thoughts on “Road to Slaying God: Chapter 16

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *