Emperor's Conquest

 
 
 

Emperor's Conquest Volume 1 Chapter 2


2. Refinement

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I was born into the Wang family of Lang Ya1.

The Wang family of Lang Ya, in the three hundred years since the founding of the empire, had always been preeminent among the land-owning class, the most prosperous among the wealthy and powerful aristocracy. Over generations, the family forged many marriage alliances with the Imperial family and came to wield much power at court. At the same time, the House of Wang had produced innumerable high-ranked scholars, imbuing the name with a reputation for outstanding scholarship. So the family came to be revered as refined literati, peerless among the distinguished families at court.

A step down from the Wang family were the Xie family, the Wen family, the Wei family, and the Gu family. These made up the Four Great Families, cornerstones of landed aristocratic strength, enabling the power and influence of the land-owning class to expand without limit. At its peak, the landed aristocracy could almost stand equal to the Imperial family. Thereafter, the land-owning class continued to flourish, even until the the late Emperor’s reign.

When the late Emperor first ascended to the throne, the succession was disputed by three princes, who colluded to raise an armed rebellion.

The fighting in that conflict lasted a full seven years. Of the sons of the land-owning class, close to half went to join in the fighting.

In times of peace and prosperity, no one could have predicted that the war would last so long.

Year after year of warfare caused the people to abandon their farms, their fields grown wild while they wandered destitute and homeless in search of refuge. Worse misfortune followed in the form of a great drought that had not been experienced for years. After seven years of chaos and bloodshed, the common people who had died of famine and war numbered in the tens of thousands.

And, too, many young sons of the land-owning class left their roiling hot blood and vigorous young life on the battlefield.

When this calamity passed, the strength of the land-owning class was greatly diminished. Great swathes of fertile land had been ruined. The great and old families could not themselves farm, having always relied on the field peasants to work the land. Many land-owning families, having lost the financial resources to support themselves, could no longer maintain their sprawling households, and collapsed as if overnight.

But for the soldiers born of the lower classes, the war came at a serendipitous time. As a result of their battlefield service and achievements, they gained wealth and promotion, rapidly expanding their power and influence. Controlling enormous military strength, they overturned the precept of the past several hundred years to “prefer the pen to the sword”. Those humble and low generals who had previously been so overlooked and disregarded, now gradually came to stand at the summit of power and authority.

When the current Emperor ascended the throne, the Göktürks to the north and the neighboring countries to the south often provoked trouble, constantly invading the border.

At the same time, after the long drought, the imperial treasury was emptied, disease ran rampant, the poor were desperate enough to resort to crime. Finally, in the sixth year of the Jian’an era2, a hundred thousand disaster victims rose in rebellion.

All over the country, bureaucrats took advantage of the disorder to line their own pockets, committing large scale fraud. But in the army, where the soldiers conducted themselves with dignity, the generals instead took advantage of the warfare to expand their strength. So it was that the military-led lower classes gradually gained the advantage in power, forcing the imperial court to concede step after step.

That bright prosperous age of land-owning power in the end was gone without hope of return.

In these ten years of war, the great old families one after another suffered great losses, their power and influence falling to the wayside.

The only families who could still stand at the heart of the struggle, where the wind and the waves were strongest, were those of the Lord Chancellors, the Wang and Xie families.

Especially the Wang family, whose foundation was strong, whose supporters were widespread among various factions, and who moreover had the Qing Yang Prince’s two hundred thousand troops stationed in the south.

While this country still existed, my family’s stability could not be undermined — not even by the Emperor himself.

Father held two of the most important positions at court, as Lord Chancellor of the Right3 and as the Minister of War. He was given the title the Jing Guo Duke.

Uncle4 commanded the imperial guards at court. He held the office of chief administrator of the Ministry of War5.

The Wang family had never been an especially large family. By the time of my grandfather’s generation, we had already become few in number. At present, from the main branch of the family, there was only the pair of my brother and me. However, my relatives among the cadet branches of the family were numerous. Found throughout our old hometown in Lang Ya, among the wealthy families in the capital, and posted to important government positions at major crossroads, the Wang family was deeply entwined in all levels of government and all aspects of the imperial court.

My mother, the only sister6 of the current Emperor, was the Jin Min Princess, who the Dowager Empress doted upon.

My Aunt was the Empress, mother to the entire world, who by her own power pushed my cousin to the position of heir apparent.

My name was Wang Xuan. At birth, I was granted the title the Shang Yang Princess.

But my family liked to call me by my pet name, Ah Wu7.

When I was little, I could never tell whether the imperial palace or the Jing Guo ducal manor was really my home.

The greater part of my childhood was spent within the gates of the imperial palace, such that even today, there remain in Feng Chi palace my own sleeping quarters.

Mother was the Dowager Empress’s favorite daughter, and I was Mother’s only daughter. Aunt once joked, “The Jin Min Princess is the most beautiful flower in the empire, and this little princess is the dewdrop on that flower” — at that time, neither Aunt nor I realized, the dewdrop might be pretty, but it could withstand the glare of the sun. Things which were too beautiful never stayed long.

Aunt had no daughter. So, she frequently kept me by her side, personally teaching me literature and deportment, allowing me to study together with their highnesses8. Her affection was to the point that when I had tired myself playing, she would even let me sleep in on the Empress’s phoenix bed in Zhao Yang palace.

I liked being on Aunt’s bed. I clung to Mother, wanting a bed exactly the same for myself.

Aunt and Mother exchanged looks, smiling, but Brother from one side laughed wickedly, “Ah Wu, you dummy, only the Empress is allowed to sleep on the phoenix bed. Or could it be you want to marry the Crown Prince9?”

Mother was startled in laughter. But Aunt sighed, “What a pity that Ah Wu is too young.”

That year, I was only seven, and didn’t understand very well what it mean to marry someone. Only, I had never liked the rude and unreasonable Crown Prince.

Two years after that, when the Crown Prince took a wife, I was only nine — still too young to be married. The one who was chosen to be Crown Princess ended up being the daughter of the Xie family10.

The Crown Princess Xie Wan Ru, by her talents, appearance, and elegance, was a nonpareil in the capital. I liked her very much. The Emperor also praised her motherly style11.

However, Aunt didn’t like her. The Crown Prince was also coldly indifferent.

This was because Wan Ru was the niece of Xie Guifei12, the Emperor’s most beloved imperial concubine.

Xie Guifei had been for many years a thorn in Aunt’s side.

Though the Xie family had suffered setbacks and was in decline, yet Aunt remained uneasy about Xie Guifei’s son — his third highness, Zi Tan13.

Among all the young men in the capital, the one most suited to the title of “a beautiful youth” — first would be Zi Tan, and then secondly, Brother.

Since we were little, Brother and I often came into the imperial palace as study companions for the princes. The Crown Prince was difficult and unruly, Second Highness was weak and sickly, so it was only Third Highness who grew up with us, studying together and playing together, the most intimate of friends.

Back then, relying on the Dowager Empress’s indulgence and disregarding any reprimands, we were always running wild.

No matter what kind of scrapes we got into, as long as we escaped to Wan Shou palace, and ducked into grandmother’s embrace, she would turn away any punishment and send it far, far away. She was like a canopy spread sturdily over our heads, so that we never had to worry about the wind or the rain. Even the Emperor could not do anything.

Usually, the one who planned the most mischief was always Brother, and the one who gained the most profit was me. But the one who always stood in front of me like a firm shield was Third Highness.

This kindly youth had inherited the noble and elegant looks of the imperial family, but his temperament was mild and gentle. He took after his fragile, sensitive mother. It was as if they had been born without the capacity for anger, not toward anything; no matter what happened, they would only smile softly, quietly gazing at you.

Those happy, carefree days, passed by so quickly without my notice . . . .

The three of us gradually grew up, becoming adolescents displaying the first glimmers of charm.

Whenever we went out together, we always drew the admiring chatter of passersby.

Wherever Brother and Zi Tan went, there were always palace maids ducked behind a door or around a corner, peeking.

During palace banquets, the ladies all vied for Brother’s attention. But Zi Tan, though he was a prince, and though his graceful appearance and elegant manners surpassed Brother’s, did not receive the same welcome from the ladies. . . . because, there was always my presence by his side.

The first time we stood beside each other, to drink a toast to the Emperor’s health at his birthday celebration, the Emperor rather drunkenly set down his wine cup and said to Xie Guifei who sat beside him, “My dear, look, fairies from the highest heavens have come down to wish us good health14!”

Xie Guifei was very fond of me.

But Aunt was not fond of Zi Tan.

After that birthday banquet, Aunt said that I was growing up, and it was no longer proper for me to be so close to the princes.

I didn’t pay her much mind. Shielded by the Dowager Empress’s and mother’s indulgence, I continued as before, going behind the Empress’s back to secretly look for Zi Tan.

Then, in the sixth year of the Yongxi era15, in the second month of autumn, the Dowager Empress passed away.

It was my first experience with the concept of death. No matter how my tearful mother explained or consoled, I was not willing to accept the truth of it.

Even after the funeral, I went about as if the Dowager Empress were still here. Every day, I ran to Wan Shou palace. Hugging grandmother’s favorite cat, I sat by myself in the palace hall, waiting for grandmother to come out from the inner chambers and smilingly call me, “Little Ah Wu . . . .”

One evening, I was reprimanded by Aunt. In a fit of pique, I ran to Wan Shou palace, dismissed all the palace servants, and blankly sat there by myself.

Sitting beside the wisteria that grandmother had planted with her own hands, I lifted my head and watched the autumn wind scatter about withered tree leaves. Such was the transience of life. In the blink of an eye, it all might come to an end.

The chill of early autumn seeped through the thin fabric of my muslin dress and burrowed into my heart. I felt cold, so cold my fingertips were like ice, so cold that it seemed there was no one in the world to rely on.

Suddenly, warmth draped over my shoulders. A pair of warm hands lightly drew me close.

A familiar scent enveloped me. In an instant, the faint fragrance of magnolia filled my entire world.

Zi Tan looked down at me. His gaze was penetrating, and held a kind of expression I had never seen before and could not make out.

His face, his eyes, his countenance, the familiar and yet strange masculine scent of his jacket — all left me embarrassed and at a loss. My heart was bewildered, agitated, and sweetly happy.

A fallen leaf came floating down, and blown by a serendipitous wind, stuck to my cheek.

He reached out to brush away that fallen leaf. One long, slender finger skimmed against my brow. A marvelous quiver passed between my eyebrows and though my body.

“A frowning Ah Wu is very beautiful, but my heart pains for her.” His voice was low and soft and grieved. My cheeks immediately reddened.

Seeing my blush and lowered head, he only smiled a little and slowly tightened his arms around me, holding me more closely.

This was his first time calling me beautiful. These many years, he had watched me grow up: he had called me obedient, he had called me foolish, he had called me naughty — only, he had never called me beautiful. He was like Brother, countless times holding my hand, pulling my braids — only, he had never held me like this before.

His embrace was warm and comfortable. I didn’t ever want to leave.

That day, he said to me, age and death were inevitable in this world, regardless of wealth or class. What hardship was there to life, then? What pain was there to death, then?

When he said this, his gaze was gentle. There was in his expression faint melancholy, and in his eyes enormous compassion.

As if mountain spring water were trickling over my heart — in that moment, my heart became very very soft.

After that, I was no longer afraid of death.

Grandmother’s passing did not grieve me for too long. After all, I still had a child’s temperament; no matter how deep the wound, it soon healed.

Besides, I had a new secret.

In my heart, a kind of subtle change was quietly taking place.

Not long after that, Brother had his coming-of-age ceremony16 and thereafter entered into official court business. Father sent him to Uncle’s side to learn and gain some experience. Uncle had received an imperial commission to manage the river-way in Huaizhou17, so he took Brother along with him.

With Brother gone, it suddenly seemed as if at home and in the palace there remained only Zi Tan and me.

In the spring warmth of the third month, the willows by the palace walls were grown green. A lovely girl on the cusp of womanhood, dressed in a thin-sleeved spring dress, called out to the elegant youth before her —

Zi Tan, I want to watch you paint

Zi Tan, let’s go horseriding

Zi Tan, come play chess with me

Zi Tan, I’ll play a new song for you

Zi Tan, Zi Tan, Zi Tan . . . . . .

Each time, he would smile, patient like no one else, and accompany me, satisfying my every demand.

When finally rendered helpless by my clamoring, he would feign severity and sigh heavily — Misbehaving like this, how will you be my princess in the future18?

Whenever he said this, my face would always flush crimson in embarrassment, and like a cat whose tail had been stepped on, I would immediately turn and flee.

From behind came floating Zi Tan’s low laughter. Even after a long time, the sound of that laughter remained with me, lingering.

Other girls were all unwilling to grow up and leaves their homes. They were all afraid of their coming of age ceremony.

Once a girl came of age, there would soon be people coming to ask for her hand. Her parents would marry her off, and the rest of her life would be spent with some man she didn’t know, till death do they part — thinking of it, how terrifying it was.

Fortunately, I had Zi Tan.

The Crown Prince and Second Highness were already wed. In the capital then, the only one whose status and age were suitable to match me was Zi Tan.

I was not a bit worried. Even if Aunt didn’t like Zi Tan, she liked even less other spoiled sons of money.

Mother had already quietly accepted my wishes. Occasionally, she would even visit Xie Guifei in the palace.

When I turned thirteen, so many well-born sons of nobility came asking Father for my hand, the front steps of the Jing Guo ducal manor were almost worn smooth by their tread.

Father, explaining that I had not yet reached maturity, tactfully declined all their suits.

At that time, I hated how slowly time passed and despaired of ever turning fifteen. Not having reached marriageable age, I could not receive any proposals.

Zi Tan was already nineteen and soon would soon be expected to find a bride19. If not for how young I was, Xie Guifei would long have already gone to the Emperor to request him to grant our marriage20. I worried that he would not be able to wait for me to grow up. What if one day the Emperor granted him marriage to someone else?

One time in anger, I castigated him, “Why are you so old? When I’m grown up, you’ll be an old man!”

When I turned fifteen, Zi Tan would be twenty-one. Though that was just past his coming-of-age, yet in my eyes, that seemed very old.

Zi Tan stared at me blankly. For a long time, he could not speak. He seemed not to know whether to laugh or cry — and only looked at me.

Not long after that, I heard him quietly ask Second Highness, “Do I look kind of old?”

Zi Lü21 was baffled.

I calmly turned away, but in the end, could not stifle my laughter . . . . . .

But then, before I reached my fifteenth birthday coming of age ceremony, Xie Guifei passed away.

Xie Guifei was only thirty-seven years old, as beautiful as a watercolor painting. It was as if even the passing years could not bear leaving their marks on her.

No matter how unreasonable Aunt was, no matter how Aunt bullied her, Xie Guifei never engaged in the fight. Nor was she arrogant about the favor the Emperor bestowed on her. She only quietly bore it all.

I was again convinced, things which were too beautiful never stayed long.

Because she took a chill from the wind, she fell ill. And then, not even waiting for the plums that were specially sent to her every spring from thousands of miles away, she departed.

She was always fragile and sickly, but she never complained. Even bedridden, she was always neatly made up and tidy. Even toward the end, she never revealed even half a glimpse of a haggard or pitiable appearance. . . .only, with a faintly smiling expression, passed away in her sleep.

It rained that night, as the mourning bells tolled, and the six palaces of the inner court grieved22.

That night, Zi Tan kept watch by himself in front his mother’s coffin23. Silently, tears made their way down his cheeks, down his neck, dampening his collar.

I stood behind him for a long while. He didn’t notice, until I handed him a silk handkerchief.

He looked up. A teardrop fell on the handkerchief.

As prized and fragile as raw silk was, it was easily stained by water. Once stained, the mark could not be removed.

I used the handkerchief to wipe away his tears. But he suddenly took me into his arms, telling me not to cry.

Oh — it turned out, my tears were flowing even more heavily than his.

In the days after, I put away that silk handkerchief and kept it locked in a keepsake box. The silk was all marred with faint water stains — those were Zi Tan’s tears.

Having lost his mother, he no longer had anyone to rely on in this enormous palace.

Unworldly though I was, yet I knew how important his mother’s family was to an imperial prince.

The Xie family had already lost its power. This whole time, Zi Tan’s position had been dependent on the Emperor’s favor toward Xie Guifei, which had not wavered these many decades. And yet, it was precisely this favoritism which had drawn Aunt’s resentment and animosity his way. . . . An Emperor could, for a favored concubine, disregard the Empress; but he could not, for an imperial prince, disregard his powerful and influential in-laws24. The former was only the personal affairs of the imperial family; the latter was a matter of national concern.

At that time, I still thought, as long as Zi Tan married me, he could gain the support of the Wang family. Then he could safely remain in the palace.

But instead, Aunt acted swiftly and crushingly. What she did, I never could have predicted.

According to ancestral rites, after their parent’s death, sons and daughters are to observe mourning for three years.

However, within the imperial family, such strictures had never been followed very scrupulously. It was sufficient to wear mourning clothes within the palace for three months, and select a relative at court to go as substitute to the imperial tombs to observe mourning. And after a year, marriage was allowed.

But after Xie Guifei’s funeral, an imperial decree from the Empress came down: in light of Zi Tan’s laudable filial piety, his request to go to the imperial tombs and mourn his mother for three years would be granted25.

No matter how I pled, kneeling outside Zhao Yang palace, Aunt refused to see me . . . . Mother too could do nothing. Hiding it from Father, she went with me to see the Emperor, to ask the Emperor to issue an imperial edict to have Zi Tan stay.

With Xie Guifei’s passing, the Emperor appeared to have aged ten years overnight.

Usually, only with Zi Tan was he an affectionate father, and not the grave and serious Emperor.

But now, he would not consent to issue any edict to stay his own beloved son.

He said, the imperial tombs were a very safe place, it was not a bad thing to go.

Seeing my tears, the Emperor sighed deeply, “Such a good child26. What a pity you are a Wang as well . . . . ”

The day that Zi Tan left the capital, I did not go to see him off. I was afraid that if he saw me crying, he would be even more grieved.

I wanted Zi Tan to be able to maintain all his old composure when he left, to maintain that smiling expression of old, to still be my heart’s proudest and noblest prince — to not let anyone see him sorrowful or tearful.

When Zi Tan’s carriage reached Tai Hua gate, my personal servant Jin’er had already been waiting there a long, long time.

Jin’er had brought with her an old wooden box. There was something inside, to accompany Zi Tan in my place.

From where I sorrowfully stood on the city wall ramparts, far distant from him, I watched him reign in his horse, lean down, and accept the old wooden box.

He only gave it a glance, and then turned his face away, hiding his expression from everyone.

Jin’er bowed deeply to him. Then she rose and retreated to the side of the road.

He did not look back. Raising his whip, he urged his horse forward, and was gone in a cloud of dust.

Footnotes:

1 – “Lang Ya” – from pre-Qin to Tang times, this was the name for what is now the area around Qingdao and Linyi, in Shandong province

2 – “Jian’an” – the reign name for 196 – 220, or possibly 1082 – ? More likely, as this is fiction, “Jian’an” is the reign name of the current Emperor; the sixth year would be six years after the Emperor ascended to the throne.

3 – “Lord Chancellor of the Right” – 右相/youxiang is maybe better translated as ‘the right prime minister’. There is of course a corresponding ‘left prime minister’. These prime ministers are not the head of government, though probably still the two highest government positions (under, of course, the Emperor, and maybe Crown Prince). I have gone with ‘chancellor’ to match the chancellery under the three departments and six ministers government set up of imperial China — but, frankly, I have no idea how any of this works. . . .

4 – “uncle” – specifically, 叔父/shufu, her father’s younger brother

5 – “chief administrator of the Ministry of War” – this is not entirely clear. Her father is the 大司馬/dasima, her uncle is 兵部尚書/bingbushangshu, which Chinese wikipedia assures me are two names for the same position, i.e. the Minister of War. Since 尚書/shangshu can mean both minister and high official, I have gone with the second meaning: her father and her uncle both hold high office in the Ministry of War, but her father holds the slightly higher position

6 – “only sister” – specifically, 妹妹/meimei, “younger sister”

7 – “Wang Xuan” – one Chinese reviewer called this novel the book where each of the three protagonists have unpronounceable first names, haha. The names are a bit obscure. Wang Xuan’s name (王儇) can be broken down to 王 – “king” and 儇 – “ingenious”, “cunning”, or “frivolous”. Her granted title is 上阳郡主/shangyangjunzhu, where 郡主/junzhu is princess (the daughter of a 王/wang, not the emperor); and 上阳/shangyang means “up”+”sun/positive/yang energy” — more romantically, you might render it as “the rising sun princess”. Her pet name/childhood name 阿妩/Ah Wu is not intended to hold too much meaning. 阿/Ah is a prefix for monosyllabic names that functions like placeholder, usually denoting familiarity on the part of the speaker. 妩/Wu means “to flatter” or “to please”.

8 – “their highnesses” – 殿下/dianxia means either “highness” or “majesty” and is the style used for 王/wang. In this case, “their highnesses” refers to the sons of the Emperor.

9 – “the Crown Prince” – specifically, they call him 太子哥哥/taizigege /”the crown prince our older brother”. Since he is an older male cousin, he is termed “older brother”/哥哥/gege. This is a fairly familiar term of address; not necessarily that Ah Wu is so fond of him, but because of their close ties of kinship.

10 – “the daughter of the Xie family” – Ah Wu actually uses 谢家姐姐/xiejiajiejie here, meaning “older sister from the Xie family”. They are not related, but “older sister” can be used for any older girl the speaker is close to. So, Ah Wu is familiar with and fond of the Crown Princess.

11 – “motherly style” – maybe a weird compliment for a new bride, but since she is marrying the Crown Prince, presumably she will be Empress one day. As the Empress is considered the mother of the country — the Emperor is complimenting her that she is suited for the position of Empress, i.e. this is a good match.

12 – “Guifei” – 贵妃 – I have left this untranslated, since that seems to be the practice (see Yang Guifei).  Basically, imperial concubines are ranked, and while the exact ranks may change from dynasty to dynasty, generally guifei is the highest ranked (under the Empress). Likely, this is modeled on the Tang dynasty harem system.

13 – “his third highness, Zi Tan” – that is, the Emperor’s third son, 子澹/Zi Tan. 子 is the generational name, so it’s shared with his siblings, and means “child” or “son”. 澹 means “tranquil”, “placid”, “quiet”.

14 – “to wish us” – the Emperor uses a first person pronoun here (朕/zhen) to refer to himself. 朕 is used only by the emperor. I have translated it as the royal “we”.

15 – “Yongxi” – 永僖/yongxi/”forever joyful” – this is not entirely clear. 僖 is such an obscure character that I suspect this must be a name; but we had previously already mentioned the Jian’an era, so I am not sure why the era name has changed. In any case, she is specifying a year here.

16 – “coming-of-age ceremony” – 弱冠之年/ruoguanzhinian – when a man turns twenty

17 – “Huaizhou” – also known as Huai Prefecture

18 – “Misbehaving like this, how will you. . . ” – he calls her 调皮/tiaopi which may translate to “mischievous”, “naughty”, or “unruly”; it is not a severe admonishment, more affectionate than not. A more literal translation might be: demonstrating such mischievousness, how can you in the future be suited to be my 王妃/wangfei/princess.  王妃/wangfei differs from her current title (郡主/junzhu) in that 王妃/wangfei is explicitly the wife of a 王/wang.

19 – “would soon be expected to find a bride” – the literal translation of this is is that Zi Tan would soon be able to confer the title of 王妃/wangfei on someone; but as these sort of things are usually not long delayed, I have translated this as an “expectation” on Zi Tan.

20 – “grant our marriage” – this is more official than it sounds. Since Zi Tan is an imperial prince, his marriage would be conferred upon him and his bride by an imperial edict. Xie Guifei would be asking the Emperor to issue such an edict.

21 – “Zi Lü” – 子律 – name of Second Highness. 律 means “law”. Here, Ah Wu actually calls him 子律哥哥/zilügege, or “big brother Zi Lü”. So, though she professes to not be close to him, yet they are not entirely distant.

22 – “six palaces of the inner court” – 六宫/liugong/the six palaces are ruled by the Empress. It indicates the residence of the imperial concubines.

23 – “kept watch by himself” – the literal translation is “guard”, not to defend against anything, but as an expression of filial piety. Zi Tan is probably kneeling in front of the coffin in this scene.

24 – “his in-laws” – 外戚/waiqi refers to the relatives of the Emperor on the side of his mother or wife. In this context, it probably refers to the Wang family. Zi Tan is a son of the Xie family; the Wang family, of which the Empress is a member, would naturally instead support the Crown Prince.

25 – “would be granted” – the decree is worded in such a way as to suggest that Zi Tan had virtuously asked for this, and the Empress was granting his request; but imperial decrees in general tend to be worded to make it not sound like an order; it’s fairly clear from context that Zi Tan had not asked for this, and that this decree is banishing him to the imperial tombs.

26 – “Such a good child” – the Emperor calls her 乖巧/guaiqiao, which means some mix of “clever”, “adorable”, and “cute”. It’s made up of 乖/guai, meaning “obedient” or “well-behaved” and  巧/qiao meaning “clever” or “skillful”. I have translated it as “good” instead of “clever”, because the Emperor does not mean to imply that her tears are a clever trick; he is sincerely praising her