Book 30 Chapter 9 – Eternal Imperial Capital
A nation of a thousand li of mountains and rivers, imperial city with nine-level watchtower gate; without seeing how grand the Capital is, how would people understand that the Son of Heaven was being revered? Historical relics gathered together, the imperial capital for a thousand years.
Chang’an was located at the ‘eight-hundred-li Qin River’, which was known as the Guanzhong Plain, on the south bank of Wei River. Zhou, Qin, Han, Western Jin, Former Zhao, Former Qin, Later Qin, Western Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui, and Tang, all established their capital here.
To the south was the Zhongnan Mountains, the middle section of Qinling Mountain Range; range upon range of mountains, precipitous, harsh and difficult to surpass, became the natural barrier on the south side, with its layers-of-mountain-ranges-looking-down-on-Wei-River, bluish-green-cliffs-reaching-up-to-the-heavens-in-the-distance majestic grandeur.
To the north were the Yao Mountain, Huanglong Mountain, Cuo’e Mountain, Liang Mountain, and the others, forming a winding, extending-continuously, Beishan’s [or northern mountain] cluster of mountains, its peaks standing opposite to Qinling’s in the distance.
The city of Chang’an resided imposingly in this wide expanse of fertile plain delimited by these mountain ridges as its boundary, where the Jing, Wei, Feng, Jue, Hao, Chan, Ba, and Lao, various rivers, just like sparkling and translucent, flickering tassels of fluttering-in-the-wind string of beads of pearl, winding around it, forming the ‘Eight Rivers Winding Around Chang’an’. These rivers were like streams of blood vessels, which provided Chang’an with abundant water supply, and thus also made Chang’an brimming with vitality.
The saying ‘Qin Zhong Zigu Diwang Zhou’ [monarch prefecture within the Qin since ancient times] was precisely because of all kinds of advantageous circumstances in strategy and economy that since ancient times, Chang’an obtained the favor of monarchs of the past dynasties.
Qin Shihuang [the first emperor, 259-210 BC] won the government by putting in order the chaotic situation of various hegemons setting up an independent regime during the Warring States period, by creating a centralized state power, the unification of the nation. By the time of Western Han, Zhang Qian [(-114 BC), Han dynasty explorer of 2nd century BC] went to the Western Regions twice; he opened up the Silk Road between Chang’an and the Western Regions, promoting the economic and cultural exchange between the East and the West, and thus Chang’an was upgraded even more to a city of an international level, as the link connecting Chinese and foreign civilization.
The feel of its situation, only the Eastern Capital Luoyang might be able to compare. At the founding of the Sui Dynasty, they established new capital called Daxing. The Tang Dynasty continued to use Daxing as the capital and changed its name to Chang’an; the idea behind it was the ‘Chang Zhi Jiu An’ [long-term peace and stability (of governments)], and was constantly building and expanding it, to make it even more imposing and majestic.
During the Sui and the Tang, the city of Chang’an consisted of Waiguocheng [outer city wall], Gongcheng [lit. palace city] and Huangcheng [lit. emperor/imperial city], three sections. The Gongcheng and Huangcheng were located at the central, northern part of the capital city. In the Waiguocheng, each square on the left, right, and south, three sides surrounded and protected the Gongcheng and Huangcheng.
Right in the middle was Zhuque Dajie [Vermillion Bird Boulevard] as the boundary, separating Wan Nian [lit. ten thousand years] and Chang An [lit. perpetual peace], two counties.
Gongcheng and Huangcheng were the House of Tang’s imperial family residence, where Waiguocheng was the place where common people lived and made their living; each one had its own distinct layout.
Hundreds and thousands of houses appeared like in the game of Go; the twelve streets were like fields to grow vegetables. Chang’an outer city wall altogether had eleven north-south big streets and fourteen east-west big streets, crisscrossing the outer city wall and dividing it up into a hundred and ten squares. Among those were three north-south direction big streets and east-west direction big streets connecting the city gates, forming the main traffic links within the city of Chang’an, of which the widest was Vermillion Bird Boulevard, which was comparable to Luoyang’s Heavenly Street; its width reached forty zhang. As for the other streets, although they are not as wide as the Vermillion Bird Boulevard, their scale could be easily inferred.
In Chang’an, in addition to the Vermillion Bird Boulevard, the most famous were the Du Hui [lit. city/metropolis] Market and Li Ren [lit. benefiting mankind] Market, located at the southeast and southwest corners of the Huangcheng; each market occupied two city blocks. There were four streets inside the market, forming an intersecting # [井 (jing) character] arrangement, so that the entire market was divided into nine sections, each section had its four sides facing the street, shops of all kinds of businesses were setup facing the street. Within each section there were still small alleyways, acting as the internal passageways.
These two markets were the liveliest place in Chang’an city. There were restaurants and eateries; many of them open all night long, so they became the famous night-and-day bustling scenic spots of Chang’an city.
Xu Ziling, following Bu Ting and Tian Santang, safely entered the city via the Ming De [lit. illustrious virtue] Gate. As he stepped into the Vermillion Bird Boulevard, also because this flourishing city exuded the intimidatingly extraordinary and deep hegemon aura of the Emperor, he felt that carrying the Duke Yang Treasure out of such place has now become such a distant and indistinct matter.
Walking along this main axis linking Chang’an’s north and south parts, how could his heart not sigh with emotion? Thinking about the countless dangerous and difficult paths he had to go through before finally came here; the feeling in his heart was really difficult to describe.
To prevent stagnant water, all the main streets in the city had gutters on both sides, as wide as a small stream. At the junction of the sewers at the mouth of the street, there were stone bridges, which became one distinguishing feature of Chang’an.
Locust trees were planted on both sides of the main streets; but since it was wintertime, the dense branches and leaves were already replaced with snow and icicles, which made the people felt the majestic of the depth of the winter even more. But the bitter cold weather did not diminish Chang’an’s prosperous and grand atmosphere. Endless stream of horses and carriages filled the streets, pedestrians were as crowded as school of fish, the liveliness was not inferior to Luoyang in any aspects.
Xing Chang Long’s main store in Chang’an was located in the Metropolis Market at the southeast corner of Imperial City; their three large warehouses were setup separately in the Outer City, at the He Ping [peaceful] Lane on the southwest corner, and the Dun Hua [kindhearted flower] Lane on the southeast corner.
After ordering Chen Liang to be in charge of transporting the salt into their warehouses, Bu Ting took Tian Santang and Xu Ziling to go to their main store. It was a clear sign that he valued Xu Ziling highly.
On both sides of the Vermillion Bird Boulevard, whether it was a store or a house, all were large buildings with courtyard of magnanimous style and structure; the courtyards were in layers, all had atrium and side halls. The houses along the lanes and alleys had white walls with roof tile on top. Single-story buildings lined up in continuous row along the street. Most of the residences’ gates were tastefully decorated wooden door with roof tile on it, with high walls and deep courtyards, located at the alleys and roads that were deep and long, serene, auspicious and peaceful; it was vastly different from the big streets bustling with noise and excitement.
The houses of the rich families were extremely gorgeous and towering, but the shops’ construction was not without exhausting thoughts, knowledge and skill either. The columns and roof beams were carved delicately, the beams and the square wooden pillars interspersed with interlocking wooden brackets protruding out of the eaves, the shapes and techniques were different from each other.
When Xu Ziling, who has obtained Lu Miaozi’s handed-down teachings in architecture – saw this, his interest was overflowing; he enthusiastically absorbed everything.
While he was enjoying the feast for his eyes, the Imperial City’s Vermillion Bird Gate appeared in sight. Following Bu Ting and Tian Santang, Xu Ziling urged his horse to turn into the Guang Ming [radiance] Avenue connecting the Chun Ming [spring bright] Gate on the city’s east side with the Jin Guang [golden light] Gate on the city’s west side. Under the light of the inclining setting sun, they were galloping toward the Metropolis Market, which was also known as the East Market.
Kou Zhong was invited into the cabin hall for the evening meal. The attendees included the Sha Family’s three brothers, Sha Chengjiu, Sha Chenggong, and Sha Chengde, plus Sha Fu, Chen Laiman, and a man called Mao Shichang.
Mao Shichang was only of medium build, but his back was thick, his shoulders round, his gait was steady; he must be a martial art master with ‘hard’ skill as his expertise, and was the Chief Bodyguard of the Sha Family. Around forty years old, his manner in speaking had a bit of slick-and-sly Jianghu flavor, but his demeanor was not annoying; he had a bit of wit, and from time to time he revealed amiable smile.
The most friendly to Kou Zhong was of course the Third Young Master Sha Chengde, Chen Laiman and Sha Fu, simply because they had different relationship with him.
The First Young Master Sha Chengjiu was polite, but kept a bit of distance; he was neither warm nor cold-and-detached toward him. But the Second Young Master Sha Chenggong, with his second-generation-rich-family’s-younger-generation appearance, although he restrained his arrogant manner to some extent, unconsciously he still showed some contempt toward Kou Zhong.
After the maids served fine dishes and good wine, the First Young Master introduced everybody around the banquet table; he said with a smile, “The brilliance of Mo Xiansheng’s medical expertise really astonished and convinced people. Not concealing anything from Xiansheng, after Jiafu fell ill before the New Year, we have invited famous doctors from everywhere Luoyang, yet there was still no improvement at all. But Xiansheng only took two days, and Jiafu already looks like he sheds his mortal body and exchanges his bones; he is able to eat, walk, and talk as usual. Xiansheng’s medical expertise is indeed extremely skillful.”
The Third Young Master Sha Chengde asked with deep concern, “What illness did Jiafu actually suffer? According to Mo Xiansheng’s opinion, how long will it take to be fully recovered?”
Kou Zhong secretly mused that the illness broke out more than a year ago, which was precisely the time when the battle between Wang Shichong and Yang Dong/ Dugu Clan’s side was in full swing; but looking at how the entire Sha Family was moving to Guanzhong now, he could guess that to some extent, the Sha Family must have some relationship with the Dugu Clan. Inwardly he started to form a hypothesis, so he calmly replied, “Laoyezi’s illness is not typhoid at all; it’s because of excessive anxiety to such an extent as to become an illness. His heart melancholy, his qi is knotted; therefore, any medicine won’t be effective, hence the reason I did not prescribe medicine, but was using needles instead to improve the blood circulation and the flow of qi, and the result is divine. Hey! Actually it is not any special skill, only I was able to prescribe the right cure for an illness by … hey! By using needles!”
Submitting cheerfully, Sha Fu said, “Mo Xiansheng is just like your honorable uncle; always modest, having self-control, and did not claim credit for himself. It is indeed very rare.”
The Second Young Master Sha Chenggong asked, “This time Xiansheng is going to Guanzhong, are you going to open up a shop to treat other people’s illnesses, to spread your expertise?”
Kou Zhong mused inwardly that if he told him frankly the real purpose behind his trip to Chang’an, it would almost be guaranteed that he would be scared half-dead; thereupon he laughed and replied, “I still have not made up my mind; I am just following Jiashu’s direction to roam everywhere to broaden my horizon.”
Mao Shichang smiled and said, “Looking at Xiansheng’s deeply concentrated bearing, well-built and formidable physique, plus your saber never leaves your side, evidently you possess consummate skill. I wonder if Xiansheng’s martial art skill is also your honorable uncle’s passed on teaching?”
Chen Laiman gladly replied on Kou Zhong’s behalf, “Xiansheng’s consummate skill, we have already witnessed it personally. That day Xiansheng made your move, in just two strokes that crafty villain Ma Xuran was captured alive. If he was not a front ranking martial art master, I don’t know how he did that.”
The strange thing was that Sha Chengjiu, Sha Chenggong, and the others were completely oblivious of this matter, so they promptly inquired. Finished listening, none was not emotionally moved. Even the Second Young Master Sha Chenggong’s attitude toward Kou Zhong was greatly improving.
Kou Zhong could not help asking, “That fellow surnamed Ma, what happened to him afterwards? Did you find out why he and that Xiao Zhu plotted against Jin Ge’er?”
The Third Young Master Sha Chengde apologetically responded, “After Xiansheng and your honorable uncle left that night, Ma Xuran struggled free off the rope and escaped; he even took Xiao Zhu together with him. Therefore, even until now we are still unclear why they did what they did.”
Displeased, Sha Chengjiu said, “Such a serious matter, why didn’t you tell me?”
Sha Chengde replied, “Dage, please don’t blame me. It was Die’s idea. It seems to me to that Die did not feel comfortable in telling everybody.”
Trying to smooth things over, Mao Shichang changed the subject, “Mo Xiansheng is good in medicine and martial art, when you get to Guanzhong, you will certainly accomplish much. Let me congratulate you in advance, wishing Mo Xiansheng’s ‘the horse arrives, the work succeeds’.” And then he raised his cup.
One after another everybody raised their cup to toast Kou Zhong, and thus the slightly unpleasant atmosphere was diluted.
In friendly tone, Sha Chengjiu said, “When Xiansheng starts your medical practice in Guanzhong, I am sure because of the countless people you will help, you will become the most well-received person. If we also give proper testimony on Xiansheng’s behalf, you won’t need much time before Xiansheng’s influence and reputation will flourish even more, your virtue spread in all directions.”
Kou Zhong groaned inwardly; if that was really the case, the more precise remark would be that he was facing imminent catastrophe.
Sha Chengjiu placed a heavy-looking, gorgeously-lined bag, which presumably contained gold ingots and silver taels in front of Kou Zhong, and spoke cheerfully, “This is advance payment, half of the monetary reward due Mo Xiansheng as a token of our gratitude for treating Jiafu’s illness; just a tiny bit of kindly feelings. Xiansheng must not decline.”
The silver inside Kou Zhong’s pouch had already been used until it was nearly gone. Upon seeing this, he took it, half declining and half loving it. Immediately his mood improved considerably; he talked and joked more.
At the same time he knew for sure that the Sha Family, from top to bottom, have accepted him, this outsider, which would be greatly beneficial to his endeavor in treasure hunting in Guanzhong.
The evening meal ended in this kind of harmonious atmosphere. After dinner, unexpectedly the Second Young Master Sha Chenggong personally walked him back to his room. He said in low voice, “I have a young concubine who suffers migraine all year long; is there any way to bring this kind of illness under permanent control?”
Hardening his heart, Kou Zhong vigorously slapped his shoulder and said, “Leave this matter to me. Tomorrow morning, after treating Laoyezi’s illness, I will take care of Er Shaoye’s concubine.”
Greatly delighted, Sha Chenggong left with thousand graces and ten thousand gratitude.
Kou Zhong closed the door to his room. Leaning against the door, he fiercely clenched his teeth while making a decision in his heart. He had to rely on the Secret to Long Life’s true qi plus a set of moxibustion needles to become Mo something Divine Doctor, to study in great depth and force himself to master medical knowledge. Only by using this identity would he be able to come and go freely in Chang’an, so that no one could associate him with his true identity.
He also had to wear different clothing and personal adornment; he had to alter the intonation of his voice, all the way to his posture and habit in moving, sitting, and lying down. All kinds of changes ought to be gradual, so that even the people of Sha Family would not sense it.
When he arrived in Guanzhong three days later, he would become a new person.
Xing Chang Long’s main store at the Metropolis Market of Chang’an was under the Bu Family’s second son Bu Jie’s management. This man looked poised and elegant, his clothes and ornaments were tastefully chosen, his speech was refined. He did not know martial art, but possessed superb social skill.
Hearing that the salt shipment has arrived safely, he already prepared a grand banquet in the hall behind the store to wash the dust from Bu Ting, Tian Santang, and Xu Ziling’s journey. Accompanying them on the banquet table were the chief financial officer of the main store, Bu Jie and Bu Ting’s uncle, Bu Lian, who was in charge of the expenses of all business transactions, and personal guards Xiao Xiuming and Xie Jiarong. The last two persons were Bu Ting’s Shixiong from the Guanzhong Jian Pai. Xie Jiarong was even a member of Chang’an Bang [gang], one of the famous gangs in Chang’an.
All these people had vast network of friends in Guanzhong, the kind of people who was getting on well locally.
Upon finding out that Jingzhao Lian and Guang Sheng Long’s coalition forces were nearly completely wiped out, Bu Jie and the others were greatly astonished.
Tian Santang said, “This time we relied completely on Mo Laoshi’s being able to see through Liang Juzhong, that traitor who ate-inside-but-cling-to-the-outside’s real inside information. He also skillfully carried out the brilliant scheme to defeat the enemy. Otherwise, the situation might be completely reversed.”
Immediately Bu Jie and the others viewed Xu Ziling in a new light; they praised him endlessly.
Bu Jie asked Bu Ting, “How did you guys handle that traitor?”
Tian Santang smiled and replied, “Those men must not be taken prisoner, simply because we did not want to reveal Mo Laoshi’s real ability; only this way we’ll make it difficult for the enemy to see what is true and what is false.”
Actually, it was due to Xu Ziling’s personal request. He even used this as a pretext to ask Bu Ting to say that he had joined Xing Chang Long a year earlier, so that even if someone wanted to investigate him, this would dispel any doubts.
Bu Jie agreed; he said, “If this is so important, Jingzhao Lian definitely would not let the matter drop. Mo Laoshi is our Xing Chang Long’s secret weapon. And we must unify our mouths, so that even if someone inquire about it, we will not reveal any flaw.”
After Tian Santang laid out the plan and explain their strategy one more time, everybody nodded their heads indicating their understanding.
Bu Ting asked, “How’s the current situation in Chang’an?”
Revealing an anxious expression, Bu Jie sighed and said, “Ours, as well as Qin Wang’s situation is quite bad. After Qin Wang defeated Xue Ju, father and son, Qin Wang incurred Crown Prince Jiancheng’s jealousy even more. Under the instigation of Qi Wang Yuanji, who is harboring evil intentions of retaliation, Crown Prince Jiancheng adopted three simultaneous measures to deal with it. First, against his will he curry favor from Huangshang’s [the Emperor] imperial concubines to obtain inside help. Due to all year-round Qin Wang is out on military campaigns, long-distance brings distant relation, close-proximity brings intimate relations, plus Qin Wang has never settled the account with all the imperial concubines. This side vanishing the other side growing, all the imperial concubines, headed by Zhang Jie Fei and Yin De Fei [both ‘fei’ means imperial concubine] have their hearts leaning toward Crown Prince Jiancheng. They sow discord in front of Huangshang’s good self, slandering Qin Wang, making Huangshang gradually grow suspicious toward Qin Wang. This situation is extremely worrisome.”
Xing Chang Long’s biggest supporter was the King of Qin. Li Shimin’s downfall was surely related to their anxiety and grief.
Xu Ziling had originally decided to abandon his plan of disguising himself as Yue Shan to go see Li Yuan in order to avoid more knots growing out of the branch; but hearing about this situation, which was detrimental to Li Shimin – he had another idea.
Now that he was in Chang’an and has observed the situation and formed a judgment, he has more or less determined with complete confidence that Kou Zhong would not be able to take Duke Yang’s Treasure out. Since that was the case, for the sake of the common people’s happiness, he ought to secretly lend Li Shimin a hand, so that the common people of the world – due to this wise ruler ascended the throne – would obtain long-term peace and stability.
Only by transforming himself as the ‘Overbearing Saber’ Yue Shan would he have the opportunity to come in touch with Li Yuan, to see how he could exert himself on Li Shimin’s behalf.
Tian Santang inquired further, “Da Gongzi [first young master; it was ‘second’ son above] mentioned three simultaneous measures, what are the other two strategies?”
Xiao Xiuming let out a cold humph first before saying, “Naturally by expanding their strength. From the time Li Mi and the Dugu Clan surrendered, Nanhai Pai has openly cast their support to Li Jiancheng, and then he and the Tujue are pulling up a relationship, which resulted in Li Jiancheng’s Chang Lin Army grew in strength. On top of that, he colluded with Yang WenGan. Right away Qin Wang’s Heavenly Policy Mansion fell into the inferior position. As for the third strategy, it is a continuation of the second strategy, which is, sparing no effort in intimidating and luring by bribing the troops under Qin Wang’s command. Just the day before yesterday Da Shixiong told me that Crown Prince Jiancheng was using a huge sum of gold to lure him; their trick is extremely despicable.”
Frowning, Bu Ting said, “In that case, the situation is very disadvantageous toward Qin Wang. It seems that sooner or later it might deteriorate into a disaster.”
This moment a servant came to report that Duan Zhixuan has arrived.
Everybody hurriedly stood up. Either in his capacity as an important minister in the Heavenly Policy Mansion or as the head disciple of Guanzhong Jian Pai, Duan Zhixuan was a very important figure.
Duan Zhixuan was about thirty-five, thirty-six years old, he looked like a talent, with a sturdy and rugged build. Whether it was his shoulder, back, neck, or his bulky palms and fingers, everything revealed some kind of restrained fierce and severe overbearing power; he was worthy to be the Heavenly Policy Mansion’s famous martial art master and brave general.
He was in such a cordial relationship with Bu Jie, Bu Ting, and the others, to the point that there was no need of pleasantries or polite words. As soon as he sat down, he said, “I just received information that Jingzhao Lian and Guang Sheng Xing’s men clashed against you before entering the Pass, Jingzhao Lian’s Li Xiong even suffered injury from an arrow on his left shoulder. Is that true?”
Bu Jie cheerfully replied, “Da Shixiong’s information is indeed fast and abundant; the fact is rightfully so.”
Duan Zhixuan’s eyes fell onto Xu Ziling’s face; he said, “And this gentleman is …”
Tian Santang replied, “This is Mo Wei Laoshi; his swordsmanship is brilliant. This time we were able to achieve such an impressive outcome is entirely due to him being able to see through that Liang Juzhong has already been bought by the enemy to become their spy. Otherwise, the outcome would be too horrible to contemplate.”
Finished listening, Duan Zhixuan could not help casting a couple more glances toward Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling hurriedly smiled and said, “I have been working for Tian Ye for some time; it’s just that because I was always rushing about on the outside and seldom came to Guanzhong that I did not have the opportunity to pay my respect to Duan Ye!”
Duan Zhixuan revealed a relieved expression.
Tian Santang and the others originally did not intend to conceal anything from Duan Zhixuan, someone from their own side, but since Xu Ziling has said so, they had no choice but accept the error and adapt to it [orig. if it’s wrong, it’s wrong], and vaguely let it go.
Xu Ziling did not have any choice but to tell him that, or else if Duan Zhixuan found out that he had just joined Xing Chang Long before entering the Pass, it would be strange indeed if it did not give rise to suspicion.
Duan Zhixuan laughed aloud and said, “Very good! To be able to pierce Yang WenGan’s arrogance is always something to the satisfaction of everyone. Yang WenGan was not even willing to give me half a face. In the future we don’t need to be polite to him.”
And then he said, “This time you were able to ship a large quantity of salt into Guanzhong, Du Gong [duke, or simply honorable gentleman] is extremely appreciative, because it would put Guang Sheng Xing’s desire to hoard the salt to jack up the price to nothing. Du Gong specifically came to talk to me, he is hoping to reduce the price, so that the commodity prices could be stabilized.”
Already Xu Ziling had a good impression on this Du Gong character; he asked Tian Santang, who was sitting next to him, and learned that Du Gong was the Heavenly Policy Mansion’s Junshi [military advisor], an expert on strategy, Du Ruhui.
Bu Jie quickly answered, “Since that is Du Gong’s desire, naturally we will comply.”
Duan Zhixuan raised his cup to offer a toast. After three rounds of wine, he happily said, “Xing Chang Long greatly dampened Jingzhao Lian and Guang Sheng Xing’s prestige, this news has already reached Qin Wang’s ears. Let me see if I could arrange for you guys to see him.”
Bu Ting, Bu Jie, and Tian Santang immediately showed a happy and touched expression; it has put them in extremely high spirits. To be able to attract the King of Qin, Li Shimin’s attention was an incomparable honor, much less to obtain an interview with him.
Duan Zhixuan went on, “Let me take Xiao Ting [little Ting] and Santang to Du Gong’s place to say hello to him first, to discuss the salt price. Xiuming, you need to act as the host to take a good care of Mo Xiong.”
“Duan Ye is too courteous!” Xu Ziling hastily said, “I am thinking of looking for a friend of mine, there’s no need to inconvenience Xiao Xiong.”
Xiao Xiuming laughed and said, “Everything is unfamiliar [idiom]; let Xiaodi be the guide!”
The person Xu Ziling wanted to look for was naturally Lei Jiuzhi. Since it was difficult to decline, he had no choice but to accept.
Hereby the treasure hunt game in Chang’an started under this kind of circumstances. As soon as Kou Zhong entered the city, the operation could be carried out immediately.
For the first time Xu Ziling felt the meaning and the fun in coming to Chang’an.
 Vermillion Bird (the seven mansions of the south sky) was part of the Twenty-Eight Mansions of the Chinese constellations system. More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-Eight_Mansions.