Chapter 43: This is Aristocracy!
“I’m going to teach you all how to be aristocrats.” As the words hung in the air, nearly every face held a disdainful smirk. A few openly sneered. Tang Mi was one of those, but Zhou Qianlin merely revealed a knowing smile.
“Qianlin, you really want to listen to this? Teaching us how to be noble, it’s laughable,” Tang Mi whispered in to Qianlin’s ear, her tone full of contempt. “The teacher’s definitely more handsome than I expected, but he’s probably just eye candy. All looks and no brains.”
“Stop spouting nonsense,” Qianlin muttered, her face red. Visions of that night not long ago swam through her head.
Lan Jue turned to the blackboard and began to write. And though Tang Mi’s voice was low, he heard every word.
“All looks and no brains.” His chalk snapped.
He took a deep breath, then finished writing.
The words he’d written were scrawled in a bold and fine script. Director Wu looked at them in appreciation. In this high-tech day and age few took the time or effort to work on their penmanship.
What is aristocracy? These three words stared back at the congregated students from the blackboard.
“So, who can tell me. What is aristocracy?” Lan Jue set the chalk aside and turned to regard the forest of students splayed out below him.
A girl with massive hoop earrings dangling from her ears chimed in. “Isn’t it just about about living in a mansion, driving a high-alt verti-car, being surrounded by bodyguards, having a beautiful girl on your arm? Is that not what you guys think?”
“Nonsense, bodyguards don’t mean anything. You need at least a unit of mechas. That’s style,” Jin Tao interjected. “And one girl’s hardly enough. If you wanna be a noble your whole mecha unit should be piloted by smokin’ hot babes. So that means board-cheated, flat butt girls like you are out.”
“You lookin’ to die eh, Dumb-Mutt?!” The girl slammed her fist against the table top and rose to her feet. Clearly she’d forgotten the director seated quietly in the back.
Jin Tao extended his pinky finger and motioned her over.* “Bring it.”
“Silence!” Wu Junyi’s deep voice boomed through the classroom. The ruckus threatening to engulf the auditorium was instantly suppressed. Director Wu hadn’t planned to intervene, but a flash of surprise had fluttered across Lan Jue’s face, a look as though he were questioning the integrity of the school. Embarrassment had forced him speak out.
The blond haired girl with the giant hoop earrings pointed at Jin Tao, the sinister look in her eye almost capable of ending him right there.
“You’re both wrong. What you’re talking about isn’t nobility. That is the nouveau riche. The new money,” Lan Jue replied in even tones.
“Pfft.” A few students in the front couldn’t stop themselves from expressing their opinion.
Lan Jue acted like he hadn’t heard, and continued. “Today, the first day of our new class, I’ll simply explain exactly what I mean by aristocracy.”
“In the minds of most, attending a noble school would afford you noble treatment. You would live a noble lifestyle. As a result many richer families send their children to the Western Alliance for nobility finishing school in the hopes they will be aristocracy when they graduate. But when they discover that even in the best schools students sleep on plank beds, eat simple fare, endure strict training drills – they find that their lives are more difficult than the students of public schools. They don’t understand that this Buddhist-like asceticism is the key to the noble spirit.”
“In fact this shouldn’t be the least bit surprising. Aristocracy is different from the nouveau riche. It’s does not conflict with spirit of civilians, and especially different from a lifestyle of leisure and self-aggrandizement. Instead it is about cultivating a pioneering character based on courage, honor, self-discipline and responsibility. “
There was no change in the students as Lan Jue spoke, but seated in the back Wu Junyi’s eyes were fixed upon him. He gave a slight, almost unconscious nod of approval.
“The most famous nobility finishing schools in the Western Alliance implement strict, arduous military drills for the purpose of instilling cooperation and self-discipline in their students. True nobles are possessed of an iron will, and a mighty strength of spirit. It’s a sense of character that must be instilled from a young age. Public schools in their alliance also employ these methods to foster many first-class citizens such as General Wellings, who defeated Admiral Hu Na and his Tiger Brigade of the Northern Alliance. He was the top student of a Western public school. His name is renowned in the three alliances, famous in military history. There is a story about that decisive battle with the Admiral: At the time he was at the front, observing enemy positions while taking heavy mecha artillery fire. His staff repeatedly urged him to withdraw but he refused. Seeing that he would not be swayed, they asked him for his last words in case he were to fall in battle. Without turning his head to regard them he said, ‘Tell them my final words were like me, unbowed.”
Lan Jue recounted the story in ordinary tones, but as he finished the tale of General Wellings the classroom had lapsed in to an attentive silence.
The disdain upon Tang Mi’s face had melted away, and Zhou Qianlin listened in rapt silence. Wu Junyi remained as stoic as before, and Jin Yan’s eyes glittered.
“Wealth is about things, but nobility is about the soul. A noble spirit means first and foremost that the individual has self-control. Restraint. They sacrifice themselves in service to the people. Take for instance Prince William and Prince Harry, royals of the ancient Western Alliance. Both were sent to military officer school for training, and after graduation Prince Harry went directly to the front lines to do battle with the North. As an ordinary pilot. The royal house of the ancient Western Alliance knew, of course, of Harry’s royal blood. They also knew the risks of fighting on the front lines. But sacrifice, the assumption of risk for the people, is what makes a man truly noble. During the Eastern Alliance’s first war with the West a photo saw wide circulation. The commander in chief of the Eastern forces, Field Marshal Qi Mu, went to the trenches to survey the situation. He stood before the door of a ramshackle house, staring in at a woman as poor as a church mouse and asked her ‘Pardon me madam, would it be alright if I entered?’ He was showing respect to the most vulnerable of society. Because a true noble knows that respect is not reserved for the rich.”
“1910, October 28th of the Former Era. An old man gave up all of his possessions to the poor in order to save his suffering spirit. He left his vast manor, dying as a vagabond in some train station. That man was Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, celebrated writer of Former Era Russia. Years later another famous Former Era writer called Stefan Zweig said of Tolstoy: ‘This inglorious, menial death in no way diminished his greatness. If he did not bear the suffering of the people, then Lev Tolstoy would not be considered a human treasure, as he is today.”
His words hung in the air, and in the silence he swept his eyes over the gathered students. Suddenly, his voice grew fierce, and rang through the auditorium. “This… this is aristocracy.”
*I asked around concerning this particular motion, trying to see if there was some sort of particular significance for pinky come-hithers in Chinese society. I’ve determined that Jin Tao is just weird.