In the third month, old Madam Cheng’s yard was full of people as usual. Qingfu was sitting at the small tea table, holding Cheng Enbao. Cheng Enbao was a four-year-old boy, but he was still being hugged all day long, too lazy to walk.
Ruan-shi was not as calm as Qingfu. She stood beside old Madam Cheng, constantly squeezing her handkerchief, and seemed to be a little uneasy. After a while, a servant boy finally ran in and kowtowed from beyond the threshold: “This small one pays respect to the old madam! To madams, to young master, to young miss.”
Ruan-shi eyes lighted up suddenly. Even Qingfu also raised her head. Old Madam Cheng was the oldest and had the best disposition. Seemingly unstirred, she asked: “Does the ninth master’s official notification come down? What did the announcing people say?”
“Great joy. The ninth master was granted the office at the Ministry of Public Work, as the Director of the Bureau of Forestry and Hunting.” (1)
The womenfolk exclaimed, “Ah.” But the thing Ruan-shi most concerned about wasn’t this, since she didn’t understand the long names of official positions. The only thing she knew was: “What rank is he?”
“Standard fifth rank.” (2)
“Standard fifth rank.” Ruan-shi murmured, her mood was a bit complicated. On the one hand, she was happy seeing Cheng Yuanjing appointed only the standard fifth rank. He got an official’s position, but his rank lowered. But on the other hand, she was a bit worried about the Cheng family. After all, Cheng Yuanjing was the man with the highest official position in the manor and also the one with the best future prospect. If he couldn’t climb up, then Yichun marquis manor would only decline more and more.
No one else in the room had spoken, but undoubtedly, Ruan-shi’s muttering had conveyed everyone’s thought. Cheng Min persuaded old Madam Cheng to spend some money on Cheng Yuanjing’s career. Both the old Madam and her eldest son was reluctant, but knew that Cheng Min was right. Old Madam Cheng planned to use this matter as a handle, to let this shu son knew his position: even after becoming an official, he couldn’t get rid of his legal mother’s control. As a result, old Madam Cheng still didn’t have a chance to put on the air, but Cheng Yuanjing’s official order had been issued.
Standard fifth rank, moreover it was only the Ministry of Public Work. This official position made Old Madam Cheng a little disappointed, but also secretly joyful. This position couldn’t be said to be not high, but just as everyone imagined, it was far away from the orthodox path of entering the cabinet via the Hanlin Academy.
The road towards officialdom was very orderly. The really smooth career path was to become a jinshi, entered Hanlin, then endured a few years of hardship. After that, being sent outside the capital to become a prefectural magistrate. After two appointments, transferred back to the capital to enter the six ministries. Those who could enter the Ministry of Revenue and Ministry of Personnel were the default future cabinet members. After another seven or eight years in the six ministries, steadily getting promoted into assistant minister before finally, a head minister. If there were no major mistakes during the tenure, he could enter the cabinet and become a cabinet minister.
This was the most ideal career path for aspiring scholars in the country. If one couldn’t even get the erjia(3), they might as well not participate in the exam, since their career in the second half of life was destined to be mediocre at best. If the first assignment after getting the jinshi wasn’t good and they didn’t enter the Hanlin, their future promotion would also be limited.
Cheng Yuanjing was directly sent to an outside post right after passing the palace test. He was indeed starting high and walking low. No wonder Chang duke manor felt that the Cheng family couldn’t manage their affair properly and delayed the future of their own descendants. Now it wasn’t easy for Cheng Yuanjing to be transferred back to the capital, everyone was waiting for him to be admitted to such a prestigious place like the Official Historian. As a result, he went to the Ministry of Public Work.
The six ministries had their own hierarchy. Ministry of Personnel was the first, continued by Ministry of Revenue, then Ministry of War… and at last, Ministry of Public Work.
Old Madam Cheng didn’t understand what ‘Director of the Bureau of Forestry and Hunting’ was. She only knew that Cheng Yuanjing had entered the Ministry of Public Work with the lowest standing and largest amount of work. According to her many years of life experience, after failing to enter the Hanlin and joining the Ministry of Public Work instead, Cheng Yuanjing’s future promotion very likely had been cut off.
Old Madam Cheng’s mind unconsciously calmed down. She secretly mused: what was a young fourth rank official, what was a jinshi. All of those sounded grand, but at the end, wasn’t he merely a mediocre? Qingfu obviously thought the same thing. In her heart, she was secretly scorning, but didn’t show it on the surface, and instead said with a smile: “It is a good thing for the ninth master to be granted an official position. How many people are idle in the capital for two or three years before finally getting a post? Come, give a reward.”
The servant boy received his reward and went out with joy. Seeing the expressions of Qingfu and the others, Cheng Yujin shook her head secretly. In order to accurately find potential stocks, Cheng Yujin purposely studied the official positions of the court. Her knowledge was more extensive than this womenfolks, and she understood the knack of officialdom.
For example, this time, although the bureau director’s standard fifth rank was lower than that ofCheng Yuanjing’s original fourth rank, officials in the provinces couldn’t be compared to the officials in the capital. Even if someone may hold a standard second rank official in the provinces, in terms of power and authority, they were still less than a fourth rank official with a real post in capital.
Therefore, Cheng Yuanjing transferred back to the capital and successfully received the official post, it was an upright promotion, even with the lower rank that entrailed. He even entered the six ministries. Although the Ministry of Public Work might be less prestigious, the Bureau of Forestry and Hunting managed the manufacturing process of the government shops in various regions, military spending, military supplies, arms manufacturing, and accounting in provinces, even smelting and casting money. The Director of such a bureau had real power, and still a vital one.
Although small and unobtrusive, it was extremely important.
Cheng Yujin did not feel that Cheng Yuanjing’s career path had been broken, but since old Madam Cheng and Qingfu were willing to think so, she didn’t need to destroy their thoughts. Cheng Yujin smiled and did not comment.
However, it was still a happy event to be granted an official post. No one in Cheng family has entered the six ministries before. Cheng Yuanjing’s achievement still far exceeded the average level of the other men in this family. Old Madam Cheng pretended to be regretful with her two daughters-in-law in law for a while, and then said: “It is common for officials to rise and fall. Tell the ninth master not to worry, don’t let one failure to destroy him. After all, I’m his di mother. No matter what, I’ll always do my duty as a mother. So, get one hundred silver taels from the public account to subsidy the ninth master and hold a celebratory promotion banquet. As for who to invite and how to do it, let him decide.”
One hundred silver taels, Ruan-shi secretly stunned. Her monthly allowance was only thirty silver taels. She wasn’t like Qingfu, who had a massive dowry as a source of income. She needed to be careful and meticulous simply to maintain a decent appearance. But now, with just one wave of her hand, the old Madam gave Cheng Yuanjing one hundred taels.
There was a vast difference between those who held an official post with those who didn’t.
(1) Six Ministries and Twenty-Four Bureaus: Important central government agencies in imperial China. A head minister (尚书, Shangsu) led each ministry. These were, in hierarchical order, the Ministry of Personnel, the Ministry of Revenue, the Ministry of Rites, the Ministry of War, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Public Works. Beneath each Ministry were many Bureaus (司; sī), bodies responsible for grassroots administration.
(2) Nine Rank System: Official ranks in imperial China divided into nine ranks, nine as the bottom. Some rank further divided into zheng(正; standard), cong (從; deputy), shang (上; upper) and xia (下; lower) grades.
(3) Erjia : 2nd rank of candidates who passed the imperial examination (i.e., 4th place and up)
I have to thanks whoever put the searchable pdf of the dictionary of imperial china’s official job on the internet. I literally only have to paste the raw term in the search bar, add ‘english’, click enter, and voila! The result is on the second or third rank. If only architecture and fashion items can also be searched this easy…..
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