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    Chapter 272 - Radiant Lamps

    Sang Luo was not at all averse to adding more excitement. She raised her hand and pointed at Shen Ning, Xu Wenying, Chen Xiaoya, Shen Yin, and Shi Qiaoer, who were standing on one side of the classroom. "I believe many of you recognize these few. They are the tutors from our village's school."

    Pian Nang, who sat in the front row due to her small stature, suddenly became excited. She whispered to the children from the Feng and Zheng families beside her, "That's my cousin! The one on the far right is my cousin!"

    Madame Xu and Old Lady Chen, who were watching from outside, felt a sense of pride. Old Lady Chen was so happy that her mouth could hardly close.

    Indeed, most people recognized these children, but there were a few who did not. Some whispered, "Can such young kids teach?"

    Someone immediately refuted, "You don't know, do you? That lady beside Madam Sang is Madam An. She's Madam Sang's sister-in-law. Didn't you hear what Madam Sang said? Madam Sang brought her up and taught her since she was little. If she were a boy, she would have taken the entrance exam for the provincial school just like her two brothers."

    "The lady next to her is Madam Xu. Her father runs Dongfu Lou. Her siblings are all studying at the provincial school. She's been reading and writing since she was little. As for the other children, they've also been taught by Madam Sang and those who have now passed the provincial school entrance exam. Madam Sang started teaching them back when they were in the mountains. They would recite... What was it called again?"

    Old Lady Zhao helped him continue when he stumbled, "Runic Language."

    "Right, right, right, Runic Language. It sounds particularly nice, but I can't quite understand it. So, don't underestimate them just because they're young. They're incredibly capable!"

    Fan Fei turned to glance at Old Lady Zhao. It was dark, and she had not examined her closely before. Now, she noticed that the old lady's clothes were patched with many patches.

    It's quite unusual that you're familiar with The Analects.

    Inside the room, the soft chatter subsided as she continued, "Ah Ning and Wen Yin are instructors for the basic class, responsible for the daytime lessons at the school. Xiao Ya, Xiao Yin, and Qiao'er teach the night classes. Though they are young, it's unnecessary for me to comment on whether or not they can instruct you. You'll know after attending just one lesson. What I want to emphasize is that, despite their tender age, they receive a teaching fee of fifteen copper coins per lesson from me.

    "What?!" A voice exclaimed from outside.

    Fifteen copper coins per lesson?

    If they teach in the day and night, that's thirty copper coins?

    A half-grown child earns thirty copper coins just by attending two lessons a day?

    Those who hadn't enrolled felt regret, especially those whose families had daughters who wanted to attend but were denied because they believed girls didn't need an education. They now bitterly regretted their decision, feeling weak-kneed and dispirited.

    It was free education, after all. Whatever they learned would only benefit them in the future. Why weren't they willing back then?

    Yes, it was because their father-in-law said that daughters would be married off soon, and reading might lead them astray. It wasn't suitable for them to go out at night.

    He also mentioned that they could weave mats, fans, and baskets or do sewing work during the evenings.


    Sang Luo tapped the desk and continued, "I say all this to emphasize that reading is invaluable in every aspect. Whether it's buying or selling land, drafting contracts, or writing IOUs, can any of these tasks be done without literacy? If you can't read, you'll have to rely on others. How many families have been taken advantage of, lost their lands or homes, or even entrapped themselves and their loved ones due to illiteracy during hard times or when seeking loans?"

    "A lot!"

    "Therefore, it's better to rely on yourself than others. Since you've been given the chance to learn, cherish this opportunity. You must abide by the rules here, which your teacher will explain later. If you can't even follow the basic rules, I'll have no choice but to ask you to leave."

    "Alright, that's all from me. Let's welcome Mister Chen Xiaoya to give the first lesson."

    With that, she stepped aside from the lectern, retreating to the back of the classroom with Shen Ning and the others to observe Chen Xiaoya's teaching.


    Eleven-year-old Chen Xiaoya had started her education under Shen Ning at six and became a young teacher in Da Xing Village at ten. Despite the larger audience, with older students and many spectators outside, most were from their own village, including her mother as a student. Chen Xiaoya remained composed.

    She began with an introduction and picked up where Sang Luo left off, outlining the class rules. Then, she explained the uniqueness of night classes.

    "We'll approach literacy in two ways. The first fifteen minutes will be focused on fun literacy, starting with common characters, learning two new words per day. The rest of the time will be for conventional teaching, beginning with the Thousand Character Classic. There will also be two arithmetic lessons per week."

    Then he said, "The first character I'll teach you all today is closely related to each and every one of you. It's present in every household."

    He turned around and, using chalk on that rather prominent blackboard that everyone had been wondering about, he sketched a simple outline of a field.

    Begins with a tale of a field.

    As a professional novel translator, I will provide an elegant and contextually appropriate translation for each line. Please provide the lines you would like translated.

    Madam Fan was attentively listening to the lesson, observing earnestly as Chen Xiaoya drew a square paddy field on the blackboard. Next to the neat diagram, she sketched a character for "field," enhancing the visual representation.

    Employing the method of explaining characters through their pictographic origins, he even invited several students to engage in an interactive session where they came up to the front to write the character for "field" with chalk.

    The character "Tián" was indeed simple to write, and chalk was a rare commodity. The elders of Daxing Village lent their support, and the younger students from outside the village, filled with eagerness, also requested to have a try. Three of them were called up to write, and the classroom atmosphere instantly came alive.

    After Tiantian finished her explanation, she drew two more rice seedlings in the paddy field, thus connecting the shape to the character, leading to the introduction of the 'seedling' character...

    Madam Fan was immediately struck by the effectiveness of using a blackboard and chalk as teaching aids. She couldn't help but marvel. This boy, who appeared no more than ten years old, was lecturing to dozens of people with such poise and expertise, and he truly knew what he was talking about. How on earth did Sang Luo manage to teach him so well?

    Glancing sideways, I noticed the elderly lady beside me unwittingly craning her neck, engrossed in the lecture with great delight. She would occasionally steal glances at the group of students seated in the classroom, her laughter lines multiplying at the corners of her eyes as she smiled with sheer joy and satisfaction.

    Fei Niang's heart stirred, and she whispered, "Auntie, do you have any children studying inside?"

    "Yes, my two sons work as laborers for Lady Fan's family. Last year, my granddaughter and grandson started studying with Ah Ning and the others in the village. Now, my eldest and second daughters-in-law also work in Lady Fan's silk fan workshop. We have eight spots for schooling at home. The other six older grandchildren have come as well. Lady Fan is so kind, understanding our farm work is busy, so she schedules classes at night. Just think of how much lamp oil that must consume."

    The old lady had already been counting, her neck craning as she tried to make out the twelve lamps, almost blurring her vision.

    Upon hearing the old lady mention eight spots for schooling, Fei Niang immediately turned to look at Mother Zhao. "You must be Auntie Zhao that Ah Luo talked about?"

    Mother Zhao's smile wrinkles around her eyes danced merrily. "Yes, Lady Fan is kind-hearted. She takes great care of those who work for her family."

    Indeed, she was kind-hearted, born with a gentle and compassionate nature.

    Fei Niang smiled, but she couldn't help but admire the elderly woman beside her and feel puzzled. "I heard this school doesn't charge tuition, but books, brushes, ink, and paper still cost money, right? How can you afford to educate eight children?"

    The government had long encouraged the establishment of schools, and state and county schools had gradually opened. However, rural schools were slow to start. Limited funds in the government offices were one reason, unable to cover the stipends for many teachers. Another was that common people couldn't afford it, didn't place as much importance on education, or simply didn't have the leisure time to read.

    Currently, the future students of county and state schools still relied on privately run academies in each region. Those who could attend private academies typically came from well-off families. The official rural schools, which the government genuinely wanted to establish, had only managed to open three or four before running into the same issues mentioned earlier.

    Supporting one teacher for a rural school with only three or two students was too costly.

    The old lady before her, with her patched clothes, had a son working as a laborer for the Shen family. Clearly, her financial situation wasn't prosperous. How could she afford to educate so many children?

    Fan Feiniang found it inconceivable.

    Lady Zhao turned her head and gave Fan Feiniang a serious look. Earlier, when it was dark, she had been focused on the classroom, only aware that a young woman was standing beside her without paying much attention. Now, under the faint light seeping out from the classroom, she noticed that this woman was entirely different from a typical villager. The fabric and color of her clothes were of high quality.

    "Are you from an affluent family? Here in the city for some amusement?"

    Fan Feiniang nodded. "We manage quite well at home."

    Lady Zhao replied, "Our approach to education is different from the city folk's. We learn under Madam Sang too. There's a way to study even if we're poor. We haven't spent much on educating our children."

    A way to study even if one is poor?

    Fan Feiniang's eyes lit up. She asked, "How does that work? You can't avoid the cost of books, brushes, ink, and paper, can you?"

    None of these items were cheap. Books, for instance, were not easily obtainable, especially good ones. Even with the increasing popularity of learning, a copy of the Thousand Character Classic, a primer for young children, would cost eight hundred coins. A basic brush would set you back over thirty coins, while a block of ink might be around one hundred coins. Paper was slightly cheaper than before, but Fan Feiniang recalled that even the most affordable kind cost sixty coins per bundle.

    Ink and paper were consumables, after all.

    "There's no need to buy books; we make our own bamboo scrolls at home. The older two children used copies that were transcribed by A'ning. For the other six, they can ask their younger siblings for help. As for paper and ink, we don't need them regularly. We can write on sandboxes using twigs or practice calligraphy on stone slates with water and a brush. During the hottest months of summer, the water dries quickly. So essentially, all you need to buy for the children is a brush, and perhaps some ink later for copying books. The siblings can take turns using them, and they'll last a long time."

    With eight children, spending around two hundred copper coins on brushes and ink was a reasonable expense for Elder Lady Zhao.

    As she listed these items, Fan Feiniang's eyes sparkled with increasing brightness.

    So it could be done like this!

    Seeing her attentiveness, Elder Lady Zhao became more enthusiastic in her explanation. Lowering her voice, she said, "Madam Sang has been kind to us, but we know how to repay kindness. My husband and our grandchildren have been working through the night to craft three desks. See those in front? They're modeled after the desks in the village school. The others might be from different families, but we'll keep making more until there are ten for Madam Sang's school. If everyone pitches in, Madam Sang won't have to spend any more money on desks."

    —If everyone pitches in, Madam Sang won't have to spend any more money on desks.

    Fan Feiniang's mind lit up, and she felt a sudden clarity. Suddenly, she smiled and bowed to Elder Lady Zhao, saying, "Well spoken, thank you very much."

    Elder Lady Zhao was puzzled. "What are you thanking me for? For making desks? That's what we should do."

    Fan Feiniang smiled and turned to Aunt Zhong beside her. "Let's go back."

    "Shouldn't we say goodbye to Madam Sang?"

    "No need, A Luo is occupied. Let's proceed first."

    The classroom had moved past the playful literacy stage, and as the servants followed, they soon heard a young girl leading the recitation, with dozens of voices echoing in unison.

    " Heaven and earth, dark and bright, the vast universe, ancient and untamed."

    Fan Feiniang paused in her steps. Amidst the resonant reading, she glanced back at the small patch of glowing lamplight reflected in the classroom window. A spark ignited in her eyes, and she whispered to the maid beside her, "Ask Historian He to meet me early tomorrow morning."


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