In a corner of the capital, at a small teahouse…
“Did you hear about the news? A father and daughter pair from a fishing village were summoned to see the emperor because they are good at growing crops and were even awarded with an official’s position!” The person who was speaking was a man around the age of forty. He was dressed in homespun clothes that had patches on it, and his feet were crusted over with yellow mud. He was a sturdy fellow with a full beard on his face.
“What? Someone can become an official from planting fields? Don’t take everyone for a fool! Who doesn’t know that if you want to become an official you need to spend decades studying your pants off and slowly test your way up? Even during the most disorderly times of the past dynasty, you needed a lot of money in order to become even a lowly official.” This person looked like a county official who had fallen on hard times. He was dressed in a long robe that was going white from being washed and he had a thin figure. His whole head had gone white with age and the look he gave the peasant farmer was full of disdain.
“County Official Suan, did you just come to the capital ah? The whole capital has heard about this, so who wouldn’t know? It’s said that the Yu Family is truly spectacular. The winter wheat they grew yielded up to five to six hundred catties per mu, which is multitudes higher than what other people have done! If this type of wheat can be disseminated throughout the country, we would all be able to eat white flour every day and then eat some meat every few days…” The peasant farmer who had mud on his feet had a face full of longing. Becoming an official was a goal that was too far away for him. His true desire was to be able to eat until he was full and allow his wife and children to eat some delicious foods.
“Older Brother Zhang, my youngest brother-in-law’s second aunt’s cousin works at the yamen. I heard that the imperial court will set aside a portion of these high-yielding seeds to be sold at a fair price. The seeds sold will be the wheat seeds that they got from the Yu Family as well as last year’s seeds, which were from some kind of new plant that can yield a thousand catties per mu. I asked my youngest brother-in-law’s relatives to help with keeping an eye on things. As soon as news gets out, we can rush over to stand in line to buy some…”
The person who just spoke was a man who was a bit younger than the other peasant farmer. He had tanned skin and the corners of his eyes had some faint wrinkles. His clothes had a few patches in them and he had rolled up his pant legs high. He had one foot on the bench and when he spoke, his voice sounded like thunder as it was quite loud.
County Official Suan snorted sardonically and shook his head with disdain, “Can such a good thing actually fall upon lowly people like you? Who doesn’t want to get their hands on high-yielding seeds? I’m afraid that, as soon as word gets out, all of the wealthier families will buy them out!”
The younger man who had patches on his clothing glanced at him and noticed that the man surnamed Zhang was now worried. He hurriedly reassured him, “Older Brother Zhang, don’t panic. My youngest brother-in-law’s family said that the emperor sent Royal Prince Yang to oversee the seeds. Have you heard of Royal Prince Yang yet? All of the members of the imperial family and the high-ranking officials’ families have to tread softly around him. Even the officials at court are afraid of offending him. With Royal Prince Yang in charge, none of those noble and wealthy people will try to hoard the seeds without thinking about the consequences. Our village isn’t very far from the capital. If we come here as soon as the news gets out, we can probably buy some before it runs out.”
The man surnamed Zhang let out a sigh of relief, “If it’s truly like that, then we will soon have better lives! Let’s not talk about the grain that can yield a thousand catties per mu, even the Yu Family’s winter wheat could help us better our situations if we plant a few mu with those seeds. If this can allow us peasant farmers to live a life where we can get enough to eat and not freeze to death, I have no objections to the Yu Family’s father and daughter becoming officials, no matter how high ranked they are!”
“What nonsense! People who plant crops well can also become officials? Then where does that place us scholars? It’s truly too scandalous to even think about! Doesn’t that mean Zhang so-and-so who raises pigs well and Li so-and-so who raises cows well can also become officials too?” County Official Suan thought about how hard he had studied for fifteen years and he had only passed the county level exams after all that work. The fact that someone else could become an official simply from planting crops well was too unfair!
The farmer named Zhang had long gotten annoyed with this haughty scholar’s demeanor and couldn’t help but interject, “What’s the point of becoming an official from studying alone if you can’t help the common people better their lives? The emperor himself has said that the commoners are the backbone of our country. The country will only be stable and prosperous once everyone has enough to eat and enough to wear! Can raising pigs and cows well help us commoners eat to our fill and not freeze to death? The Yu Family’s father and daughter are just this skilled, so their official titles were also given to them on basis of their hard work. There’s no point in being angry about this!”
County Official Suan sneered. People who walked different paths couldn’t see eye to eye. It was useless for him to argue with these coarse people who couldn’t read a single word! He picked up his teacup and drank a mouthful of bitter tea. Although his heart was full of disdain, he didn’t say anything else.
The younger man dressed in clothes full of patches started talking again, “I heard that the Yu Family’s daughter is only around twelve to thirteen years of age but she had also been given the title of a sixth rank official under the Ministry of Revenue. I’ve only heard of women becoming officials in plays and stories. Whether in the previous dynasty or this one, this is the first time I’ve heard of a female becoming an official!”
When he heard this, County Official Suan, who had originally planned on staying silent, couldn’t hold himself back. He slapped the table and raised his voice, “This is a woman who usurps authority and is turning society upside down! Can a twelve to thirteen year old girl plow the land or turn dirt? Yet she was given a sixth rank official title?? How can this be so?!”
“Are you questioning the emperor’s wise decision?” The younger man wasn’t very impressed by this county official who only knew how to make acerbic and stinging remarks. He snorted and said, “My youngest brother-in-law’s relatives also said that although this Miss Yu is young, she’s very clever and hardworking. The minister from the Ministry of Revenue looks highly upon her. Last year, they were only able to nurture that new grain to produce a thousand catties per mu because Miss Yu had gone over and helped them plant. That’s the only reason why they had such a great harvest! Also, she’s the one who came up with the pesticide that helped the Yu Family’s winter wheat get yields higher than the Imperial Plantation can get!”
The young man paused to take a breath and then continued, “That being said, ever since the emperor ascended to his throne, he has elevated the status of women over and over again. Now, there are plenty of women who don’t wear veils when they go out on the streets. Furthermore, there are more and more women working in business now. The young woman from the Jiang Family is talented at crafting and sewing clothing. Even the empress and imperial consorts have bought custom made clothing from her. What’s so odd about the Yu Family’s daughter being elevated to a small official position?”
The man surnamed Zhang guffawed, “If they could sell me enough high-yielding seeds to plant a few mu, I wouldn’t protest her becoming a sixth level official or an even higher one! Brother, I bet the Yu Family probably has a lot of seeds back home. Your connections, can they…”
The younger man gave him a look and replied, “That Yu Family’s ancestral home is in the Tanggu area and nowhere near the capital. Even if my youngest brother-in-law’s relatives had good connections, they can’t possibly reach all the way to Tanggu Town! However, I heard that the Yu Family only sent up around eight hundred mu of grain to the court out of their almost one thousand mu plantation. As for the remaining one hundred or so mu of grain, other than keeping enough back to plant for next year, they sold the rest at a higher price. In fact, the price they set was five times the current market price for wheat. Can you afford it?”
“What? Five times the regular market price? Then isn’t that saying that a catty of seeds is around fifty copper coins? So planting one mu with these seeds would cost one tael? That’s a bit too expensive, right?” Farmer Zhang was stupefied at the price and immediately backtracked. His family had five mu back home, so the cost of seeds alone would be five taels to plant it all. Even if he sacrificed everything he had, he wouldn’t be able to come up with that much money.
The younger man shook his head and smiled, “Brother Zhang, I was telling you the price that they set for the grain that they sold to people in Tanggu Town. The Yu Family sold this grain to the rich and wealthy families in town, so those people don’t lack for that bit of money. You only see the high price but have you ever thought that if you could get six hundred catties of wheat per mu, you could still earn around three taels per mu even if you sold it at the regular market price? Do you think those rich merchants and families are stupid and would go into a business to lose money?”
“But...there’s no one in our village who could come up with that much money to buy seeds right? Argh, it looks like such a good thing can’t fall upon us commoners!” Farmer Zhang was a bit dispirited as he sighed over this.
The younger man immediately comforted him, “Brother Zhang, you probably don’t know all of the news. The emperor loves us commoners as if we were his children. He absolutely wouldn’t try to earn a profit from us. I heard that the high-yielding seeds will be sold to the public at the regular market price for wheat, which is ten copper coins a catty. That new grain is already being sown in the Imperial Plantation. They’re probably planning on selling the rest in a few days!”
“Is the news about the new grain that yields a thousand catties per mu reliable?” Farmer Zhang was a bit hesitant about this.
“How could it not be reliable? I heard the emperor specifically sent down the order to have Royal Prince Yang go to the western hemisphere so he can find some. What was it called...ah! I remember now, it’s called corn! Corn can be ground into cornmeal and then carefully filtered. The steamed buns made from corn are a golden yellow and have a sweet fragrance. They are very delicious!” The younger man wanted to show off his superior knowledge and had a very self-satisfied look on his face.
County Official Suan interjected to deflate the young man, “You say it as if you have personally eaten some! The rarer something is, the greater the value. For a crop that has such a high-yield, it definitely won’t be expensive in the future. That being said, most of the commoners don’t know anything about the corn that you’re talking about, so who would dare to buy it? It’s possible that after you plant it, you might not be able to sell it. That’d be a gigantic waste of your time, fertilizer, and money!”
“Stop being such a wet blanket! If you don’t talk, no one will mistake you for being mute! My youngest brother-in-law’s relative said that his immediate superior was fortunate enough to get to eat corn once at a friend’s house. Steamed buns made out of fine corn flour were fragrant and delicious. They even have a slight sweet flavor and the more you chew the better they taste! Older Brother Zhang, just think, one mu can produce a thousand catties. Even if one catty can only be sold at the price of coarse grain, you can still make around three to four taels per field ah! In any case, my family has three mu of farmland and we plan on using one to try to plant some corn. Even if we can’t sell any, for the next year, at least we’ll have grain to eat! I heard that the leaves and stalks from the corn plant can also be used to feed pigs and other farm animals. Next year, my family plans on grabbing two extra pigs and we won’t have to worry about finding food for them to eat!! Just thinking about it makes me happy…” The younger man rambled as his eyes shone with light. It was as if he could already see himself in better times.
Farmer Zhang hesitated for a second and then slapped the table and grimaced, “Since you have already said it out loud, then I too will also get around two mu worth of seeds to plant back home. In any case, it’s still grain. If I can’t sell it, my family can still eat it ah! Two mu of corn at the very least can produce around two thousand catties at harvest time. At least for the upcoming year, my whole family won’t have to starve with that much grain on hand!”
The younger man nodded his head approvingly. County Official Suan was still preoccupied with the thought of the Yu Family becoming officials. He stated in a manner that belied his disapproval of the matter, “A silly little lass was given a sixth rank official position. Then what about her father? Would he be given a higher ranked position, like a third level?”
These people were just a bunch of muddy peasants who couldn’t read a single word. If they could become a third ranked official just by being good at raising crops, would the other officials at court be okay with that?
However, the younger man burst out into giggles and said, “It’s actually quite interesting. The Yu Family’s daughter is now a sixth ranked official under the Ministry of Revenue, but her father is only a lowly seventh ranked official. I heard that he’s stationed at Tanggu Town and is especially in charge of managing Royal Prince Yang’s feudal grounds’ farmlands…”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s Thoughts: Fun fact, the character for the salty county official’s last name is actually the word for ‘sour/tart’. Fits his personality, eh?