“Yu, shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing, to recognize that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to recognize that you do not know it. That is knowledge.”
I step inside, the door slamming shut behind me. Warm summer air of Quanzhou blows on my neck and smells of various meats flood into my nose. I wear my best robe, which is nothing compared to those of the wealthy. I was now inside the examination hall of the Emperor's palace, and would be so for several days. Memory, rather than imagination would be crucial to success. I have studied day and night for this moment, preparing for a win since the last time I tested, ready to gain wealth for my family and myself. I look upwards and admire the curved roof as I stride inside the room confidently. I stood before a table where a heavy stack of papers was put before me with a thud and a cloud of dust. I coughed, and as the man who lead me here left for the door, a sly smile played on my lips, knowing I wouldn’t leave unsuccessful.
They renamed me, like before, as 657. They use numbers to call people instead of using their real names during the exam for fairness. I am 32 years old, as most men are when they pass. I stand and examine the room. No doors, except for the one where I entered, no windows, and no large cracks in the walls. No one would be let in or out, so cheating was eliminated. Neither would anyone next to me be able to watch me as I test, because of the walls between us. I pick up the long black brush to write and dipped it into the bowl of ink that had been set on the desk next to the exam. I look at the first couple pages of questions. Texts of about 400,000 characters,
quotes of Confucius, agriculture, and ethics were all questions on the first fifteen pages. I glance around the room, and slowly unwrapped the thick, ball of hair on the top of my head. I then pulled out three long skinny pieces of paper that had been tied around it and two that had been scrunched up inside the knot, then slide them into my sleeve. These would be necessary for my success.
I proceed cautiously, not wanting to answer to fast and cause suspicion. I pretend to ponder on each question, then neatly paint characters onto the thin paper. It is not difficult now, with the help of the tiny coded characters on the skinny rolled up sheets. When I look at the cheat papers, I open it up underneath the desk and take a very short time reading over the coded answers, so the people around me at their own desks wouldn’t notice.
I turn over the last page and sigh in relief of finishing, knowing I got a perfect score. I make sure the pages are stacked in order, then follow the instructions I was given for after I was finished. I redo my rough hair and pick up the exam papers. I quickly walk to the door and it opens with a groan. There are men waiting outside that take my exam, and I am lead to another hall where results are posted. I sit and wait for another three hours before I assume my results have been posted. Many people are crowded around the wall, and I shove through the crowd towards the wall, when the door bursts open and my number is called.
I follow them, scenarios running through my head of what has happened, or what I have done. Of course, the first one you already know. I am lead to a very large room, and am stood before the Emperor. He looks down upon me with disappointment and anger. They found out, it was nearly impossible to get a perfect score by just memorizing. I’m doomed. They will surely execute me, and I will never have a glimpse of the living world again. I am forced to admit what I had done. I pull the papers from out of my sleeve. They tie my hands together tightly and I am pushed and shoved towards a small, square room where my life was to be ended. I pass paintings and art, one portrait displaying a woman with extremely small feet, achieved by bounding. I steal a glance through a window and see theGuyueBridge, then hear a faint firework in the distance, made with gunpowder. We arrive to the execution room, and I am pushed onto my knees, and the last thing I see is my cheat papers, torn in front of me.