[Remember to read on chichilations. Reposts are not allowed anywhere else.]
I toss and turn in the middle of the night, half thinking about the journey the relief money had taken and half thinking of where it had gone, and pushed Jinzi to ask if I should get someone to check for evidence at that rice store now as another warning shot. Jinzi looked back at me for a long time, sighed, and finally whispered, “Qiaochu, have you not run into this aspect of the government yet? How are you so impulsive? For one, what you need to deal with first isn’t this, and two, don’t you already have a clear idea of those who use this road to climb up socially? Wouldn’t it be inconvenient to move now?”
That actually hadn’t occurred to me, but I’ve really got some anxiety and anger attacking my heart today. This brat Jinzi seized the opportunity to pretentiously chide me. I hatefully glare and glare at him, but that ended up provoking him into a new round of pleasure-seeking. This kind of role, though my internal force is back, is something I don’t much like enduring. I thereupon discussed with him, “No way, it’d be better for me to be on top next round. It’s much less uncomfortable.”
The result was him pulling me into his arms again, and in addition to assaulting my mouth, his hands randomly groped and kneaded my body as if he’s trying to pass this off as a massage to get rid of my fatigue for me. Since ancient times, men have been the best at diverting attention and subjects of discussion, so it seems I’ll have to have a serious chat about this issue next time.
On the second day of Court, the noise predictably continued. Zhou Zizhu didn’t say anything more, but neither did Old Gu.
Zhou Zizhu is of quite outstanding position within the Qingliu Party. His family, in the truest sense of it, could be said to be the most influential in Jiangnan, producing many important military and political people over the generations and having close marital connections with other families. For example, the Qingliu’s biggest military pillar, Wang Hejing, is Zhou Zizhu’s older maternal cousin. Compared with the Qingliu’s current standing leader Gu Yunzhi, who doesn’t have a deep foundation, it’s only a matter of course that Zhou Zizhu would be the next appointed leader of the Qingliu due to the party’s alliance with the Jiangnan upper-class. People would gladly expect it.
Truthfully speaking, I think he’s pretty idealistic and won’t become a successful politician. However, he does have the passion and integrity of a legislator. If he straightens out that disadvantageous factor, he could very likely become an age-old famed minister.
They all quarreled back and forth, but I found that everyone’s opposing attitude wasn’t as resolute as it was yesterday. Thinking about it carefully, it’s probably because that after news got around, many of the capital’s biggest merchants and common-class landowners had already started to walk that road, and that the most intensely-opposing Qingliu people are completely silent, naturally due to Zhou Zizhu’s work.
After a long period of a lot of noise, the core of the problem turned out to be the amount of grain donated. Gu Yunzhi took the moment to propose that only 100,000 dan of contributed food could allow people to shed their commonality and enter the gentry, and also to restrict the number eligible to the first ten. Receiving the Zhongli party’s approval, Li Minguo said to restrict it to the first five.
At present, Court politics are almost completely monopolized by the gentry. The Qingliu is Jiangnan’s gentry, Shao Qing’s party is the Northern gentry, and the Waiqi is the capital’s higher gentry and one part the Empress’s kin. Zhang Qinglian doesn’t have much in the way of anything yet is adhered to the Shao party, with the greater part of the troupe under his command social-climbing lower people like Gao Yushu. I’m not much better than him, as I’ve always been busy with adapting and passively dealing with all kinds of situations following him, helping to sort out his chaotic operations and not particularly active in seeking out improvements in myself, only developing some underling officials like Liu Chunxi.
However, I have been thoroughly thinking about the next step of expansion. I don’t want to keep sticking to Shao Qing and must have my own political power, and I believe my best option is the upper layer of the common-class who resent their current situation. They’re mostly very wealthy, yet don’t have the social status corresponding to that wealth. Even if they’re rich enough to fund a small country and are people of great talent, they suffer discrimination from even fallen gentry.
Nowadays, the number of big gentry families like the Zhou and Shao are only in the double digits nationwide, and recorded names on the regular gentry registers are probably a thousand or so families, with those thousand or so enjoying more than half of the wealth in the country and almost all of the political rights.
It’s beyond reason, of course.
I really want to formulate a plan and implement it step by step. For instance, I can take this matter as the first step, imperial examination reform as the second step, and the third step is to promote as many talented, common-class officials like Liu Chunxi up a few levels. That will slowly pay for the hearts of the upper-echelon of commoners, roping them in.
Now Old Gu and Li are increasing the threshold and limiting the amount because, as expected, they wanted to use this current opportunity to promote the families of a few major merchants they had deep connections to, and my method for buying off the hearts of the people is certainly unsuitable for that.
I argued strongly according to my reason, and the outcome was 60,000 dan, with a limit of 20 people. That’s the best I can get, though I can’t say that I’ve exhausted all my effort on it. The status of ‘upper-class’ isn’t that sacred, after all, and several of my goals have been more or less achieved.
Nothing in this world is without price; the main thing is how much that price is. Faced with a group of a hundred women who, for the most part, are virtuous women intending to die for their husbands, there are few in the watching million whose hearts wouldn’t be stirred.
Then the question of who the candidate for implementing this triggered a 10-times fiercer war than before, the Court’s officials becoming the embodiment of hungry dogs fighting over uniquely big bones, the racket unceasing. Ultimately, such a fine matter can’t be grasped by any one party or tossed to outsiders, so the decided implementers are the Minister of Appointments, Minister of Ceremonies, a high official of the Ministry of Ceremonies, and Liu Chunxi. All candidates must get through all three of us sitting Guardian Ministers, and imperial censor Zhou Zizhu has naturally burdened the duty of supervision.
I thought about whether or not to bring up the incident with the relief money, but it’s hearsay with no evidence, and as this is at a critical point, I can’t be too anxious. I still need to wait a day or two, and bring it up after this grain-paying event is settled some.
When I returned to the Residence, Old Gao and Lin Guiquan were waiting for me, with old fox Lin covered in dust and looking haggard. After greeting me properly, he said that when he received my notice beckoning him over he rushed here overnight, the wind only slightly washing that dust from him as he came straight here.
As old fox Lin’s arrived, so inevitably have gifts. This batch was probably procured quickly; there was a half-person tall white jade Guanyin, three tael of Da Hong Pao, and two flowerpots of Kaido crabapple. I don’t know if it stems from something psychological, but I’m not very interested in treasures and fineries with regards to how inconvenient they are to have around, and giving me Da Hong Pao to drink is like giving a cow a peony to chew on. As for flowers and plants, I can’t even keep a cactus alive. I’m outwardly unenthusiastic as a result, until old fox Lin then slips me a pack of money in an embroidered box as he did last time and my expression softens a bit.
I don’t beat around the bush, opening my mouth and asking who the owner of the Everfragrant Mansion was. Old fox Lin said straightaway that he didn’t know them, adding on that behind-the-scenes owner of the original unlicensed brothel wasn’t the same individual. That was actually a friend of his, another Shanxi merchant surnamed Huang. Following the smashing fiasco by Old Gao’s family tigress, he didn’t reopen it, and Lan Guan went looking for someone else to do so.
I repeatedly probed him, but didn’t find any holes in his story and had to stop. Lin Guiquan had already heard Old Gao mention the rewards for donating grain and was beyond excited, expressing that 60,000 dan is something he can cope with, and wanted a few friends and relatives who were similarly rich merchants to be written down for it; they’re probably from the Shanxi Merchant Federation.
“As this matter benefits both country and citizenry, this official must work hard to make sure it’s mutual,” I say with smiling eyes, then urging him to go to the Ministry of Revenue’s office and find Liu Chunxi to get the names written down. Lin Guiquan, with his dream of many years about to be realized, doesn’t stay sitting down and promptly gets up to do so. I recall the letter Zhou Zizhu had written me beforehand, and point out with a solemn look, “Both of you, sneak out from the back entrance. Did you alert anyone when you came? It’s the point of a needle here, you must be on your toes and guard a bit. Don’t come again for several days. If you have some sort of information you need to pass on, use your heads, and be careful above all.”
The two nodded and said they would take caution.
In order to escape people’s eyes and ears, I had Lin Guiquan go first. As Old Gao watched him leave, his shameless face said, “Father Sir, there’s some old friends in my hometown that will seek this.”
I smile. “Then haste must be made. You’re aware that there’s only 20 spots, and slow steps aren’t the way to getting what’s wanted.”
Gao Yushu nodded weightily, then said lowly, “Lin Guiquan requested this child to ask if 40,000 liang a person would be enough to pay you off, Father Sir. This child asserted his own opinion and told him 50,000 liang.”
That’s even more than I had figured. My heart is blossoming with enthusiasm, yet my face is the opposite. “I’m not the one who has the final say in this matter. The other Sirs should have some payoff as well, and the amount should be no less. Only Sir Gu and Sir Zhou can’t act rashly; Sir Zhang has something of a generous hand.”
“By Father Sir’s instructions, would it be alright for this child to follow the example of 50,000 for those of the same hometown?”
I nod lightly. Old Gao’s dredged up quite a few for this, but… but the money will be issued to everyone.
Before Old Gao departed, I implored him to look up that Huang merchant. He understood implicitly, accepted the order, and left.
Everyone’s efficiency is terrifically high; the day we let the world know, the documents hadn’t yet reached each province, yet the day after there were already 30 or 40 major merchants and landowners that had signed up. Going through an intense contest that included picking at the occupations of a family’s ancestors three generations back and other such nonsense, it was ultimately narrowed down to 27 people, to take precautions against the event that someone doesn’t actually have 60,000 dan of rice. As it stands, the real conferring of title must wait until after the rice is shipped over and enters the government granary.
My harvest has been plentiful. 13 of those 27 people have gone my way; 8 of those sent 50,000 each; 2 retail investors came to visit me in person, both presenting me separately with 100,000 and 80,000 liang; another 2 came from Liu Chunxi’s channel, and in consideration for his reputation, each person was restrained to only 30,000-40,000. The strangest was the last one, who was actually a big name in the martial artist community, and found me in the middle of the night through Hong Feng. The gift they sent me wasn’t money, but a piece of soft armor made of Japanese silk, a bottle of vermilion-colored Nine-Turned cinnabar  that’s supposedly able to make one rise from the dead, and a golden, cylindrical hidden weapon  that immediately reminds me of a peacock’s feather. I can’t help but be taken by eagerness, swiftly promising them.
Lin Guiquan set money aside for four people, as that embroidered box was loaded up with ten 10,000 liang banknotes. Later on, he gave me another 100,000 liang.
On the subject of that box, inside it was also a pair of highest-quality, glass-like ornaments made of green jade that resembled the color of water; one dragon and one phoenix. Their carving is also exceptionally delicate, and I’m attached just looking at them. Recalling that Jinzi and I don’t have any sort of love-token or anything, the next thing I do is take one of them to him.
Because the dragon’s appearance speaks more to me, I gave him the phoenix, and the punk gave it a cold glance and said he didn’t want it. I really don’t understand. He first scorned it, saying it was ‘womanly’, and under my repeated interrogation and feigned anger he only said he ‘didn’t like the phoenix’.
I stared blankly upon hearing that, and then he said, “The phoenix would fit you well.”
So this guy’s actually having a sense of crisis, and wants to confirm who wears the pants here!
I believe he’s just going to have to suffer through this. I don’t need to be muddling along in this lifetime, so I firmly remain uncompromising, but this guy’s a real rascal, lazily putting on an indifferent look that says ‘it doesn’t matter if you won’t give me the dragon, I’m not interested anyways’. Only when I grew despondent and sulky, letting out short sighs and long whines, did his heart soften up, reluctantly allowing me to give him the phoenix ornament to wear.
By nightfall of the second day, several urgent palace reports were sent to the capital one after another, breaking the seemingly relaxed situation because of resolving the food problem:
- Guo Zhengtong’s immediate superior, the governor-general of Zhongnan Lu Liang, along with the senior provincial officials of a few counties neighboring Lingyang all accused Guo Zhengtong of exagerrating the water situation, unnerving and confusing the citizens.
- Xinyang’s provincial governor accused Guo Zhengtong of inciting the victims to create a disturbance.
- Guo Zhengtong accused his superior Lu Liang of lusting for money and not providing it as relief.
Because of this, several of us big players gathered that night to discuss all that.
In case you’re wondering which of the Jinchu pair is the husband and which is the wife: they’re both wives. This is non-negotiable. (Jinzi is fighting hard against the label but the tsundereness is only working against him lol)
 In Chinese Alchemy, cinnabar could undergo the Divine Nine Turns, where it goes through nine different processes to become the highest of quality.
 This is such a vague term, it could literally be anything that you could hide under your big, layered hanfu. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s a thin blade like this that one could hide in their sleeve pockets.