Chapter 671 - Metropolitan Civil Service Exam

The sun’s rays were harsher in the south and they were out longer as well. Zhu Junya had once written a letter to her lady mother, complaining that she had gotten tanner there. Her mother then sent her a set of brightening skin care items. After using it for less than a year, the effects were very obvious. Not only was her skin brighter but the texture of her skin had also perceptively improved. The other married matrons within her circle all asked her about her skin care routine.

She would have never expected that the mastermind behind ‘Blossoming Beauty’, the blazingly popular shop that all women under the heavens clamored to buy from, was actually a young maiden who hadn’t even reached the age of eighteen. Furthermore, this legendary figure was also going to become her future younger sister-in-law. 

Yu Xiaocao was currently helping Pei’er hold onto his box of sweets. The little fellow stretched out a plump little hand and picked out an orange colored gummy candy that smelled of tangerines. He plopped it into his mouth. It was soft with a sweet and sour taste. He immediately fell in love with the flavor of the candy. 

When she heard the request, Xiaocao raised her head and carefully observed her future older sister-in-law’s face for a bit before she finally smiled, “Older Sister Junya’s skin foundation is very good as the texture is quite fine and tender. However, you probably didn’t protect it from sun exposure in the past, so your skin is on the duller side. My shop has just made a set of brightening and hydrating skin care items. On another day, I’ll bring it over for Older Sister. Added onto some suitable medicinal cuisine, I guarantee that Older Sister’s skin will become brighter and more tender in less than three months!” 

“Will it be as white as Auntie’s skin ah?” Lu Jiapei, who had been preoccupied with eating his new candy, suddenly made his presence known. Third Maternal Aunt’s face resembled a freshly peeled boiled egg and he wanted to feel if it felt as soft and slippery as it looked... 

Zhu Junyang’s expression immediately darkened. He reached over and grabbed his nephew’s hand, which was sticky with saliva. He couldn’t allow him to touch his little lass’s tender and fair face, ‘Stinky brat, men and women should not touch when they give and receive things! Only I, your maternal uncle, have the rights to touch her face!’ 

Yu Xiaocao looked down and pinched the little guy’s bun-like face and grinned, “That’s right ah! It’ll be as white and tender as my own face. Wouldn’t that be great ah?” 

When Zhu Junya heard this, she felt her own face. Her future third younger sister-in-law’s skin had to be the best she had ever seen in her life and it didn’t have a single flaw that she could see. In actuality, before she married and was still a young maiden, she often liked to spend a lot of time outside exercising and playing around. Thus, her complexion was often tanner compared to other young maidens. If these products truly were as efficacious as her sister-in-law claimed, then she’d be able to smile happily in her dreams. After all, who else had to endure the pressure of having a husband who was fairer and prettier than herself?  

It was very easy for women to become closer to each other when they started to talk about cosmetics and skin care routines. In a short period of time, Zhu Junya now saw her future sister-in-law as a close younger sister and was pouring out all of her thoughts to her. 

The little radishes from the Lu Family finished their daily quota of five gummy candies and one dessert under the supervision of their eldest brother. They were all completely conquered by their Third Maternal Aunt’s culinary talents. When they came out to perform the formal greeting, Xiaocao took out her greeting gifts to the children——exquisite little animals carved out of glassy blue jade. The children all loved the carvings and immediately strung them around their necks. 

Only Lu Jiayu, the shrewd little kid, sidled over to Xiaocao as he asked in a perplexed manner, “Third Maternal Aunt, you’ve already given us meeting gifts, why did you give out a second set to us?” 

“I did? I don’t think so ah. These jadeite carvings are the greeting gifts that I’m giving to you all ah!” Yu Xiaocao looked at him with a flabbergasted expression, waiting for his explanation. 

“That box of sweet and sour candies ah! If I had to choose between the candies and animal carvings, I would definitely choose the candies. Third Maternal Aunt’s candies are really tasty and Yu’er has never eaten such tasty candies before. If the box was just a little bit bigger, then that would be the best!” The little fellow hemmed and hawed for quite a bit of time and finally reached the true subject manner! 

Yu Xiaocao stifled back her laughter and replied, “Not to worry. When you finish, I’ll make other kinds of candies for you. They will definitely taste good too!” 

Lu Jialong also scurried over. He still had some egg tart crumbs leftover on his face and his lively little tongue swiped back and forth to sweep them up. He chuckled, “Third Maternal Aunt, your egg tarts and cream puffs are also very, very delicious ah!” 

“I’ll make them all! I also know how to make pudding, flavored gelatin, frozen dairy desserts...when I have the opportunity, I’ll bring them all for you to try!”  The children all swallowed down saliva when they heard Yu Xiaocao’s words and their eyes were so bright that they could scare a person. 

Lu Jiayu muttered, “Third Maternal Aunt, quickly marry over ah!” In his eyes, the earlier she married over, the earlier they’d be able to see her at the residence. At that time, whenever she made something delicious, he’d be able to eat it faster. 

Zhu Junya pulled her son over and grinned until her spotlessly white teeth were shown to the world. She didn’t have the grand and dignified demeanor of most noble women as she said, “Your Third Maternal Uncle and Aunt have their own residence. Even when she marries over, they wouldn’t be living with us. That being said, we can’t spend all of our time at your maternal grandmother’s home. Once our estate in the capital has been renovated, we’ll be moving there!” 

When Princess Consort Jing heard this, a shot of happiness went through her heart and she smiled, “You are planning on renovating the Lu Family’s Estate? Does that mean you are planning on staying at the capital for a long time and won’t be returning back to the south?” 

“That’s right ah! Zijin has been instituted at the Imperial College as a special teacher. In the next few years, he’ll be taking a post there!” Zijin was Lu Nianhua’s courtesy name. In the Hubei and Hunan districts, the Lu Family was famous for their scholarly achievements. Lu Nianhua, who was skilled in both scholarly and martial fields, naturally had many people admiring him. Jiangnan’s famous Donglin Academy and Yuelu Academy had both extended out invitations for him to teach there. However, who would have thought that the Imperial College would strike first and claimed him before all of the other schools? 

Pure joy filled Princess Consort Jing’s heart when she found out that her daughter, who had previously lived far away from her and could only meet up every few years or so, would be staying in the capital. However, she still asked out of confusion, “Didn’t Old Lu set down a family rule that the next four generations of the Lu Family were not allowed to enter officialdom ah? What changed?” 

“Zijin is only a ‘visiting scholar’ and only lectures, so he’s not actually entering officialdom as he wasn’t given an official rank and posting.” Without an official rank or post, it didn’t count as entering officialdom. Thus, it didn't conflict with the family’s rules. Before they had traveled to the capital, they had already obtained the old patriarch’s permission. 

The happiest person here naturally was Princess Consort Jing. The Lu Family’s residence in the capital wasn’t very far from Imperial Prince Jing’s estate, so her daughter would be able to come over often to chat with her. However, when she thought of her youngest son moving out as soon as he was married, a feeling of reluctance entered her heart. 

Although her youngest son didn't spend much time at home these past few years since he often had tasks to do, he always came back to pay his respects to her when he was done with his affairs. If he moved out, that meant they would have fewer interactions with each other in the future. What made her more sad was that she had originally thought that Xiaocao was entering the estate and would keep her company; who would have thought… 

However, she very quickly regained her spirits. Her husband was right. When the children grew up, they all had their own lives to live. She had a husband who loved her with his whole heart and all of her children were sensible and filial. Thus, she should be satisfied with this lifetime. 

After she got back from Imperial Prince Jing’s Estate, Xiaocao became busy again. Not only did she have to prepare for her upcoming wedding, but her youngest brother would also be attending the metropolitan civil service exams a few days earlier. Originally, ever since the Tang Dynasty, the spring exams were set on the ninth, twelfth, and fifteen day of the second month for a total of three sessions separated by three days. However, during that time, the capital was very cold and many of the students who attended these exams did poorly because of nerves, getting ill, or the cold conditions. Thus, once Zhu Junfan ascended the throne, he pushed back the exams by one month and had them held in the third month. The exams were ending only three days before Zhu Junyang’s wedding with Xiaocao. 

On the ninth day of the third month would be the first session, which consisted of three whole days. The second session was on the twelfth day and the third session was on the fifteenth. The students sitting for the exams needed to spend nine days and seven nights in the cramped and stifling exam stalls. After entering the exam hall, the candidates needed to bring a prepared exam basket. Inside these baskets they were allowed to bring some dried rations, ink, brushes, ink stones, and other necessities. 

Yu Xiaocao had prepared some special dried rations for her younger brother. These foods were all well preserved, which prevented them from spoiling while he was at the examinations. There were instant noodle blocks that were about the size of a square inch each and small and exquisite biscuits. The newest type of rations she came up with was a type of dried soup dumpling. Inside these dumplings were dehydrated vegetables and seasonings. As long as he used some hot water to soak these dried dumplings when he was about to eat, it would create a bowl of delicious vegetable soup. If he also added the instant noodles to the soup, then he would have a bowl of tasty and delicious vegetable noodle soup! 

In order to avoid the candidates smuggling in cheat sheets within their food, the rations they brought in could not surpass a square inch per ration. Thus, the instant noodle blocks she made used thin and slender noodles that were piled into blocks about the size of a copper coin. A regular bowl of noodles required about a dozen coin sized noodle blocks to be rehydrated. Xiaocao had packed more than half of the basket full with instant noodles. When Great Scholar Yuan saw the food basket that his little disciple had, he also asked Xiaocao for some instant noodle blocks too, so he could give them to his youngest grandson, Yuan Yunxi, to bring along. 

The examinations in ancient times were truly too horrifying! Each exam stall was only about a meter and a third in length. About two thirds of a meter above the ground, there were two brick props which allowed wooden planks to be placed on them. 

During the day, the upper plank was the table and the lower plank was the seat for the examinees as they answered the questions. At night, the plank on the top could be put on the bottom, making a hard bed for the exam takers. However, the stalls were very narrow, so Little Shitou, who was already over 1.75 meters tall, could only sleep with his body curled up. Furthermore, who could possibly sleep well on the hard wooden planks? Luckily, Xiaocao had packed some instant coffee powder for him. The exam grounds provided a ready supply of hot water for the examinees, so when he was feeling fatigued, he could make a cup to perk himself up. 

During the exams, Little Shitou ate pretty well. When he wanted to eat sweets, there were all sorts of fragrant and tasty biscuits and cookies for him to eat. When he was tired of sweet foods, he would make a bowl of delicious vegetable noodle soup. From time to time, he would even make a cup of instant and fragrant coffee for himself. The students on either side of him, however, were truly suffering an odious ordeal. Not only did they have to endure the vile and horrible exam stalls, but they also had to smell the delicious food from their neighbor. When they looked at the dried rations, which resembled pig food, that they brought along, they truly felt sad inside! 

The students who participated in the preliminary rounds of the imperial examinations, which lasted nine whole days, became completely different people when they left. Many of them had to be carried out by other people and a lot of them ended up becoming extremely ill post-examination. The metropolitan civil examinations were still tolerable as the temperatures were still cool. Thus, the food they brought along wouldn’t spoil. However, during the autumnal examinations, the weather was blistering hot. Oftentimes, the examinees would faint from sunstroke after eating and living in the tiny and narrow exam stalls or end up getting food poisoning from eating spoiled rations. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for people to die during the exams either.  

The precautions to prevent cheating in these ancient times were quite strict. Other than the fact that they could only bring in food that was cut up into pieces no bigger than a square inch in size, if any person was caught bringing in cheat materials, then their scholarly achievements would be erased and they would never be permitted to take an exam again in their life. Furthermore, they would be bound in front of the exam hall and publicly exposed for two months.  

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Myst.2's Thoughts

Sanguine’s thoughts: I’ll take modern day exams over this any day. Author is not exaggerating...people literally did die from taking these exams: “If a candidate died, officials wrapped his body in a straw mat and tossed it over the high walls that ringed the compound.”

Translator: Sanguine