The Records Of The Human Emperor Chapter 1224
Chapter 1224: Challenge
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
Not long after King Qi's lackey departed, a loud voice rang out from the crowd. "Minister of Ceremonies Zhou Taiqin pays respects to Lord Marquis!"
Wang Chong suddenly stopped and turned toward the voice.
The crowd parted to allow a man with a composed expression, his robes flapping in the air, to stride forward.
At almost the same moment, another figure began to follow him.
"Assistant Minister of Revenue Zheng Chengli pays respects to Lord Marquis!"
These two had been waiting in the back of the crowd for some time, and it was only now that they chose to confidently stride out. The sound of these two names caught everyone by surprise.
"Milords, there is no need for such courtesy!" Wang Chong indifferently said to the pair.
All was quiet for a moment. Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli quietly inspected Wang Chong while Wang Chong did the same to this pair of ministers.
In the Battle of Talas, Abu Muslim and Qutaybah, commanding an army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, were marching eastward. At this crucial moment, Wang Chong and Gao Xianzhi had almost died because they were lacking in soldiers. And on the topic of sending reinforcements, the loudest voices of opposition had been Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli.
If not for Jiang Yunrang and Cao Qianzong strenuously arguing the other position, and Wang Chong's grandfather Duke Jiu emerging to save the day, all of the Great Tang from the Western Regions to Longxi would probably be in the hands of Arabia by now.
"Young Marquis has achieved unrivalled merit in the west and has been made King of Foreign Lands by His Majesty, an unprecedented show of favor. And on Lord Marquis's return to the capital, more than half of the officials of the Imperial Court and all the noble clans have come out to welcome you. But I cannot help but ask this question. In the bitter fighting over Talas and the additional Battle of Khorasan, the Great Tang lost more than one hundred thousand soldiers. And for these two battles, several hundred thousand peasants and laborers were called up for service. Does Young Marquis not feel ashamed? Can Lord Marquis truly rest easy on the throne of King of Foreign Lands as a general who builds success atop ten thousand bleached bones?"
The words of Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli caused everyone around the city gate to pale.
Wang Chong had returned victorious, and at this moment of high spirits, the ministers and generals of court had all come out to visit him. Even King Qi knew to avoid this edge and sent only a minor official, his message only secretly mocking Wang Chong. But there was no one like Zhou Taiqin or Zheng Chengli who dared to directly criticize Wang Chong.
'A general who builds success atop ten thousand bleached bones' was a taboo phrase in front of generals, because this clearly accused the generals that Wang Chong represented of relying on the deaths of others to obtain promotions.
The air instantly tensed, even more than when King Qi's man had appeared.
Before Wang Chong could speak, Jiang Yunrang and Cao Qianzong exploded with angry rebukes. In the court debate back then, the two had been Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli's fiercest opponents.
"Zhou Taiqin, Zheng Chengli! What do you two mean with this! The Young Marquis led his army fearlessly on foreign lands, putting his life on the line, and you dare come here and criticize him? Will you only be happy if the Imperial Court is defeated?"
The two of them were utterly enraged by Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli's words. Arguments in court were one thing, but they hadn't expected that even though today's court session was over, the two of them would move the Imperial Court to the city gate and make trouble for Wang Chong right in front of so many people.
Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli stepped forward and fearlessly proclaimed, "Hmph, right or wrong, straight or crooked… 'what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong'? Must we lose ourselves in trivialities? Just because the Young Marquis has returned, black should become white and lines should become squares? It's not that we hope for defeat, but the prosperity of the Great Tang is the result of many people's efforts. At present, the Imperial Court is neglecting its roots and warmongering without restraint. Even if he has rendered the greatest of military achievements, what exactly is there to celebrate?"
Wang Chong had not been present for that crucial court debate, and Duke Jiu's prestige had been far above theirs. Thus, the two had been aching for an opportunity to argue with Wang Chong. Now that he was back at the capital and surrounded by so many officials and generals, they could not let this opportunity pass by.
"Have Milords finished?"
At this moment, Wang Chong spoke, preventing Jiang Yunrang and Cao Qianzong from arguing on his behalf any further.
Wang Chong slowly took two steps forward, his eyes as sharp as swords as his body exploded with a powerful aura.
Ever since ancient times, officials could use their brushes to turn even the greatest of achievements into nothing. Thus, even though they were criticized, generals rarely argued. But this time, Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli had run into Wang Chong.
"Zhou Taiqin is willing to hear Milord's wise words!"
Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli showed no sign of backing down. On the contrary, they shook their robes and took two steps forward of their own. Everyone waited with bated breath, as it was clear from their attitudes that it would be very difficult to smooth matters over.
"I have only two words: stale pedantry!"
Wang Chong coldly stared at the two officials. It was sometimes said that 'literati endanger the realm'. Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli didn't have bad intentions, but there were many times when 'good intentions' led to the destruction of an empire, dragging countless lives into the abyss of calamity.
Zhou Taiqin's and Zheng Chengli's eyes bulged in rage. Even Jiang Yunrang and Cao Qianzong were astonished by these words.
'Stale pedantry' was truly an appropriate description for those inflexible and conservative officials in the court, but not even someone as highly ranked as Wang Zhongsi, the Great Tang War God, would have dared to say it in front of Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli.
It had nothing to do with position. This was a taboo that would offend many other civil officials. No one had expected this to be Wang Chong's reply.
"Young Marquis, if you do not give an explanation, even if you're returning victorious, do not blame Brother Zheng and me for writing a memorial accusing you of insolence and pride, and pulling you up in front of His Divine Majesty to be judged!"
Zhou Taiqin had a chilling expression as he glared at Wang Chong, his eyes so filled with loathing that it seemed like they wanted to swallow Wang Chong up.
The crowd fell into an uproar. To their surprise, a fine welcoming ceremony had been made into a complete mess. The slightest error would lead a celebratory feast to become another fierce court debate.
"Since Milords wish to listen, I will tell you. With love, there is great love and little love. For loyalty, there is great loyalty and little loyalty. Little love is to love one's father and brothers, to love one's relatives. To those above, it is filial piety and fraternal duty, and to those below, it is to love friends as brothers. Great love is to love the country and its people, treating all the people as one's fathers, brothers and relatives.
"As for great loyalty and little loyalty, for little loyalty, one must practice restraint, uphold rites, and do one's utmost to fulfill one's duties, to assist the sovereign above and calm the common people down below. Great loyalty is to soothe the world, to keep one's eyes on the present while pondering ten years, one hundred years, one thousand years into the future. One must worry not just about the country and people, but also all the generations to come!"
Wang Chong's words left the crowd dumbstruck. They had never heard of this concept of 'great love and little love, great loyalty and little loyalty'.
"The losses at the Battle of Talas truly do add up to one hundred thousand, and hundreds of thousands of peasants and laborers truly were mobilized for this effort. But have you imagined the consequences if the Great Tang lost this battle?"
Wang Chong stared at the pair, his eyes sharp.
"The number of dead would not be one hundred thousand, but hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions. And what do you think would happen once the Arabs broke through Talas, advanced from the Western Regions all the way to Longxi, and threatened the capital?"
Wang Chong's voice could awaken the deaf, and Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli were left slack-jawed and speechless.
"If it really came to that point, where rivers of blood irrigated the earth, the land was painted scarlet, and the Central Plains became a battleground of Asuras, the situation would not be salvaged by a few vigorous arguments and censures from Milords. When one must pick between two evils, one should pick the lesser. Mobilizing soldiers for a distant expedition was a necessity. Worse than the loss of one hundred thousand soldiers at Talas on my campaign, the greatest damage to the country comes from old officials like you, the true enemy of the people. If something really did happen, would you be able to bear the burden?"
Wang Chong's voice was deafening, his words thumping against the ground.
Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli remained stunned and speechless.
The pair had been arguing for the difference between civil officials and generals while Wang Chong was talking about the terrible crisis that came after defeat in a war, and no one could deny his conclusions.
Even Zhou Taiqin and Zheng Chengli had to admit that they had underestimated Arabia's strength before this war. If one million cavalry had charged into the interior, they didn't even dare to imagine the consequences.
"Zhou Taiqin, Zheng Chengli, why haven't you withdrawn yet!" Jiang Yunrang and Cao Qianzong chose this moment to speak. "Confucian pedants like you only know about war and peace, only about how many common people were put to work, but you've never imagined what would happen if these prices weren't paid. At the very least, those common people who were put to work are still alive and the millions of common folk living between Longxi and Anxi can sleep peacefully at night.
"As for the economic cost, the Young Marquis has already given one billion taels of gold to the Imperial Court, far more than our expenses. And moreover, despite how powerful this opponent was and how large-scale the war, the Young Marquis mobilized far fewer peasants than usual.
"The number of peasants mobilized to transport goods over the long road between the capital and Suiye truly is vast, but all the expenses were paid by the Young Marquis and the great clans. If this was what you meant by 'mobilizing so many peasants', then you should turn in your seals and resign to apologize to the world."
Jiang Yunrang and Cao Qianzong finally vented their feelings.