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[What a wordy t.i.tle…
Make sure you're reading this on chichilations. No reposts are allowed.]
My body was finally better a few days later, and I started to resume going to Court. The coachman had been switched out, the one that had left me to dry outside the forbidden city nowhere to be seen.
Jinzi only indifferently told me that that man was a double agent of both the Qingliu and Waiqi. That day, because the man had suddenly driven the carriage away in a suspcious manner, Jinzi had decided to tail him, resulting in my meeting with a mishap. Unfortunately, even though Jinzi caught him, he took advantage of Jinzi's lack of attention, and bit open a small sack of poison hidden in his mouth to kill himself. Seems someone was keeping a death-ward. 
Jinzi followed his trail to find that the person who was looking for him was a Waiqi. That old codger Li Minguo was apparently feeling indignant and planned something to do me harm, but Yuan Qingyun was quick on the draw and stole me first.
Fearing that he would recall that he couldn't protect me while reciting that incident and injured his self-esteem, I promptly s.h.i.+ft his attention a bit, pointedly side-eyeing him. “So you were secretly following me this whole time. You were treating me so coldly a few days ago, I thought you didn't care whether I lived or died!”
‘Pretending to be cool' is Jinzi's default facial expression, especially for when he's bashful. He slightly turned his head away and huffed.
Old Tian, who had been sitting to the side in the carriage, chuckles and winks (I don't want to say something like this, but the face he made was really terrible). “How did he not care? The night you just came back from getting the Li family's debt, Sir, Young Master Yao spent all night crouched in the big willow tree outside your Water Pavilion! His martial arts are naturally incomparable to ours. If it weren't for him suddenly jumping down and making me patrol the water well, I would've never known!”
I stared. Those words pa.s.sing through to Jinzi probably made him greatly shy, as his face immediately stiffened. Looking straight ahead, he said coolly, “I was afraid there was a spy mixed in with Luo Meng's people.”
I find it touching and laughable. I take Jinzi's hand and say softly, “Jinzi, I'm someone who's used to being headstrong, and sometimes I make mistakes. You don't have to worry about them with me.”
Jinzi hadn't expected such a sincere and forthcoming att.i.tude from and got embarra.s.sed, looking a bit at a loss and saying nothing. He just tightly gripped my hand back, only released it when we arrived outside the forbidden city.
During Court, the emphasized topics were naturally still the stored silver, the price of rice, and the disaster relief. My proposed method to deduct official's salaries by half to pay off their debt isn't openly opposed by anyone. As for the current price of rice in the capital, it's still no less than overpriced. The major grain merchants don't dare to completely not sell their stock, but they're selling very little of it, setting out some small measured amount every day. They go on to say that the harvest wasn't good last year, and with this year's flood, there's a deficit in edible grain, they have no way to get goods in, they're going to take a financial loss in compliance with the price-party mandate, and so on. Because of the word I put out, the large granaries they always stored food in were empty, as they scattered the contents elsewhere and were adamant about their being no stock. The more worrying thing now is a wave of panic-buying within the citizenry, with slightly more wealthy families buying 10+ piculs and storing them in their homes, this moment an omen of panic already within in the people.
This is a rather th.o.r.n.y issue. Handling it poorly will cause an uproar, and with the capital being at the Son of Heaven's feet, unrest can't be casually made within it. Its for that reason that the Court's ministers all have their brows furrowed in worry, but are unable to think up of any good plans. Li Minguo said that the amount of grain citizens can purchase could be restricted, with each person not allowed to buy more than ten catties each time. I really wanted to unscrew his head after I heard that. Leaving aside the practicality of enforcing that, would those citizens not be able to go back more than once to buy more? Would we have to issue ? The household registration system here is incomplete, accomplis.h.i.+ng this would be way too difficult. Furthermore, if you do something like this, it's not going to lessen the people's panic. This old guy's scheme is lacking.
Thankfully, not every is on his page, and I don't have to say anything. I simply interlace my fingers while several people headed by Gu Yunzhi jump out and declare his method awful, that it would would the nation's dignity and frighten the populace.
Gu Yunzhi's method is slightly better than his. He said we could purchase the provisions at their high price from several major merchants, then sell it to the citizens at a low price, having the country subsidize the difference. If this were used when there really was a crisis, then it wouldn't be impossible once in a while, but where would unused money like that come from now? I give Liu Chunxi a look. He understands implicitly, standing to speak. “Though Sir Gu's words are an honest sentiment to helping the nation, the cost would be impractically enormous. The treasury is currently empty and doesn't have the funds to do so.” He's saying not to forget the accounts again, leaving Old Gu with nothing to say.
Actually, I'm even more suspicious of Old Gu's motives. Jiangnan is a land of fish and rice, booming and prosperous, with the place providing most of the capital's food. Of those major grain merchants, more than half of them are backed by major landowning Jiangnan families. Is Old Gu wanting to pull in business for them? Whether this seemingly virtuous n.o.bleman might be someone of uncommon business, with very refined selfish calculations in his mind, is difficult to say. When they want to do someone harm, they believe in their hearts that it's against their morals but they're forced to do it for the greater good of the country, making this type no different from a corrupt official that might think themselves as saving the world. Always br.i.m.m.i.n.g with heart-stirring tragedy, yet always confident that their conviction is correct.
Gives me the chills.
That G.o.dson of mine, who never doesn't know what ‘good timing' should be, deferentially asks for my wise opinion. This is what I've been waiting for. Clearing my throat to speak, I start with saying that we should kill one to warn a hundred, capturing one of the grain-h.o.a.rding merchants to do so, the shock of which will shake the remaining's courage. As expected, quite a few of the Qingliu opposed it, stating that it was unsuitable for a path of benevolence, with the Zhongli party also stammering over in the corner. Though those under me don't make a sound, it's only to not hinder my reputation.
I inwardly mock them. Politicians and big business truly have always existed together like symbiotic creatures.
However, they've got their fingers in every faction. These businessmen are also very thorough. In a life or death matter, it's a huge a.s.set.
These past few days, there have been several extreme generous gifts sent over to me; gold, pearls, jade, silk, and pretty youths, but this time I'm not not affected by my like for money.
The most hilarious thing was when I once incidentally witnessed the outer gate's keeper reprimanding some gift-givers, “Your Master is too ignorant and out-of-the-loop! Our Sir is favoring Young Master Yao exclusively these days, what use does he have for these pretty trinkets?”
Secretly hearing that, I didn't show my face, and looking at that keeper's own self-proud and confident face, I had to hide my smile for half the day.
Since there was disagreement, I propose another idea. “Every single merchant in this land knows to come and go with where the profits are. As there's no money to be given, a notice will be given that those who are willing to donate rice to the capital or disaster area. 10,000 dan and up will get a written Testimony of Virtue and their ancestors granted a seal; 50,000 dan and up and they are allowed to be of the upper cla.s.ses.”
That statement alarms everyone seated. Gu Yunzhi raised finger to point at me, speechless with anger, his hand shaking like he had Parkinson's. Li Minguo jumped three chi in the air, saying, “You! You're thinking of putting officialdom and n.o.bility up for sale!”
Even the Minister of Appointments, who was always determined not to express his opinions to the Court, knit his brows and said, “The division between n.o.ble and common cla.s.ses, no matter how critical the event, how could it be blurred because of insignificant rice and coin? It'll run the prestige of the gentry to the ground!”
Many people are expressing their opinions simultaneously, the Court boiling over, every one of the bigshots in opposition. In fact, only those few talented people of poorer backgrounds who are in the minority, like Liu Chunxi, don't voice any opposition.
I refute, “But it's not a proper officialdom, nor is it entering n.o.bility with a t.i.tle, and it doesn't hurt the Court in the slightest. How is it selling officialdom and n.o.bility? The distinction between upper and lower cla.s.ses didn't always exist. I originally also had my upper-cla.s.sdom conferred by the Emperor, and now it's just a pretty t.i.tle. As there's no fiefdom and no n.o.bility with no a.s.sociated salary, why can't that regulation be unenforced?”
Though they have no logical grounds to contradict me with, their clamoring is vicious, then repeatedly affirm that the cla.s.s division is sacred and inviolable, their att.i.tude as if they were righteously reciting the Declaration of Human Rights. A Waiqi official actually said harshly and unkindly, “So Sir Zhang isn't of the gentry, it's just from the former Emperor's favor. No wonder he doesn't understand how crucial distinguis.h.i.+ng the high from the low is.”
Those excessive words made the surroundings suddenly still. I can only stare, unsure for a moment on whether or not to deal with him tolerantly or fly into a rage, when Zhou Zizhu stepped forward and accused the man of misconduct for insulting a senior major minister on palace grounds.
It was so quiet in the Court for a moment, one could hear a pin drop.
Zhou Zizhu went on to say, “What Sir Zhang said is reasonable. It's a sophisticated way to maintain the country, and antiquated ways can't be kept in desperate times. The cla.s.s distinction is important, but not over human life. 50,000 dan of rice can save over 10,000 people's lives; are that many people not worth granting one family a n.o.ble t.i.tle?”
Zhou Zizhu publicly sticking up for me really had a lot of people's jaws dropping, and a lot of the Qingliu's folks quickly went bug-eyed.
The heated debate went on, several att.i.tudes softening a bit, but most remain rigidly unwilling, only agreeing with the first part: 10,000 or more dan gets the Testimony. I'm deeply familiar with the nature of businessmen; this bit of sweetness doesn't have much great practical advantage and won't attract many people. So I persist in my own viewpoint, rigidly not letting up.
The outcome was a noisy morning, no result by wus.h.i.+ (11AM-1PM), and a temporary reprieve from Court so that the continued noise could be dealt with tomorrow.
When I came down, I saw the far-away Zhou Zizhu saying something rather fiercely to Gu Yunzhi, but I couldn't hear anything distinct. Gao Yushu caught up with me and complained, “Why did Father Sir not consult with this child beforehand about such a big thing? Proposing that is honestly rash.”
“It was a sudden idea,” I said.
He was probably used to Zhang Qinglian being willful, as he wasn't too surprised, simply talking over the pros of this matter with me. He's pragmatic above all; though he was born in the gentry, he's not very attached to the cla.s.s division, even saying, “What's the upper cla.s.s? And what's the lower cla.s.s? This child was born in the upper and once almost starved to death when he was young. Just because you're born well doesn't mean you're less likely to die from hunger than others!”
This is first time I've heard him talk about the hard times of his childhood, startling me some.
However, Old Gao is supporting me so enthusiastically more because he's keenly sniffing out the scent of profits among this. Rich merchants like Lin Guiquan who want to shed their commoner cla.s.s won't hesitate at the price, and naturally won't forget to come give a us when that time comes. Those sorts of people aren't low in number, that much is true!
After returning, I privately brought up the matter with Jinzi. He also said I was brash. “The cla.s.s division is unreasonable, but it's long-established. Lots of people still see their ancestors' lives as more important, so how could they agree to compromise easily? Were you a commoner before, Qiaochu? You actually don't know how serious this is.”
I could definitely be considered a commoner. I shoot him a glance. “The elite and common cla.s.ses don't intermarry. Will you turn your back on me, Jinzi?” His response was a wild kiss.
Shao Qing sent a letter saying that he'd be returning to the capital in a few days. I'm somewhat hopeful yet apprehensively hesitant. Jinzi saw right through me and said, “Shao Qing won't help you this time.” I'm a bit astounded, but when I also thought about it, Shao Qing has the entire Northern elite cla.s.s standing behind him. With his intelligence, even if he knew my idea was good, he wouldn't be able to stand up for me.
It's for that reason I increasingly feel that Zhou Zizhu's behavior this time is both rare and quite rousing of suspicion.
I'm still hung up over the situation and price of rice in capital today, so when lunch is over, I drag Jinzi to sneak out and carefully observe the Southwestern sector.
To reiterate, cla.s.ses in most ancient societies were mostly hereditary and caste-like. Your parents are rich, you're rich. Your parents are poor, you're poor. So, even if you're a wealthy ‘commoner', you're still a commoner, and even if you're a poor ‘elite', you're still an elite.
 死士 – lit. “dead warrior”, generally a jianghu folk who helps another get revenge at the cost of their own life.