Thursday, 29 November 2018


65. Li Zheng has a big announcement

 Whenever there’s a huge issue, each village's Li Zheng would gather everyone at a particular place for a discussion. In Da Fang village, the appointed spot was under the camphor tree in the middle of the village. For example, in the spring planting time, he would give a reminder to quickly sow the seed in order not to miss the period. In autumn, a caution against fire hazard in the dry season; or announce when to hand in tax after harvest season. Also when the imperial court is in need of soldiers and other corvee matters like that. It’s all announced by the Li Zheng.

However, matters like recruiting soldiers and corvee rarely happen. Usually, it’s about the spring planting or harvest matters. To have an announcement at this time and an urgent one as well, one can't help but worry. No wonder that Third Aunt is sighing here and there.

Lian Fang Zhou declared. “Let it be! When the time comes, we’ll know. Our family consists of half-grown children so we might not get affected.”

Third Aunt pondered about it and felt that her words make sense. So she didn’t bother with it anymore. 

 As soon as evening came, Lian Fang Zhou, Lian Ze and the Li couple returned first. They have done a simple clean up, and as prearranged, they headed the giant camphor tree together.

When they arrived, there were already villagers scattered around the camphor tree. Everyone was in a group of two or three, discussing something.
It was clear, that Li Zheng’s lip was tight. Even till the last second, nobody knew what was happening. These discussion and guessing were just to pass the time.

More and more people gathered. It had already become tightly packed in the area. Lian Li and Mrs. Qiao had also arrived. When they saw that the Lian siblings had come with the Li couple, one remained silent, and the other spat on the ground as she criticized them. Afterward, she didn’t bother looking at them anymore.

Not long later, Zhang Li Zheng had arrived and stood on the high stone platform under the camphor tree. He swept a gaze around, on the top of his vocal cord, he asked a few times, “Is everyone here?”
Everyone answered over each other, “We're all here! Quickly tell us!”

Zhang Li Zheng cleared his throat, loudly called out, “Everyone, quiet down. Quiet down for a bit and listen to me!”

After a few rounds of yelling did everyone become silent and they all focus their eyes on Zhang Li Zheng.

Then Zhang Li Zheng slowly announced, “ The county hall had just passed down a notice. The state has two new seedlings to pass out that everyone is required to try growing next year--”
He had yet to finish before below broke out into chaos.

“What! New seedlings? Are they reliable?”

“Try growing? Using our own land?”

“Waste of saliva! If not using your own land, then where are you going to plant them?”

“That can't do! What will happen to the crops? If we don’t plant crops, we going to starve next year!”

“I agree. Now they are forcing us to grow some unknown thing and when the time comes, will the officials care about us being starved?”

“You must be dreaming. Which officials ever care about us common people’s life or death!”

 “Oh, please don’t argue yet! Quiet down the noise first. We haven't heard what Zhang Li Zheng have to say.” 

Zhang Li Zheng wasn’t anxious when the crowd broke into chaos. As if he knew everyone would react like this. He stood there and watched silently with steady composure.   

"Oh, why did this happen out of nowhere!? This unknown seed, can it be better than grain? Oh my!" Aunt Zhang deeply sighed.

 "What else can we do? The official has passed down the words, we can't disobey, right?" Uncle Li is an honest man.  Giving it some more thoughts, he continued, "At most, we'll just make a few more charcoal and save some more money. So when the time comes, we can buy grains. We won't starve."

At his reasonable words, Aunt Zhang nodded and let go of her anxiety and dilemma.

But she did feel a bit depressed because she initially thought this year they can have a prosperous New Year and get a lot more stuff. But now, they'll have to come up with a new plan.

Lian Fang Zhou gave a slight encouraging smile, "Uncle Li, Aunt Zhang, let's listen so more first. There's a chance it might be a good matter!"

Uncle Li and Aunt Zhang gave a grim laugh. They both have the same thought. Is there ever a good matter from the official? If there is, it would have already snatched by someone else and not become like this!

Seeing everyone chattered enough, Zhang Li Zheng loudly called for everyone to quiet down again. He continued on, "Well, these two things, one is called potato, and the other is called cotton. Potato can be eaten like grains. As for cotton, it can be used to made clothes..."

Reaching to this part, below exploded into chaos again.

 Lian Fang Zhou's mind also exploded. She immediately shot her head toward Zhang Li Zheng and tried to control her agitation.

Potato! Cotton! These are stuff with great value!

But, no matter how good things are, people need to know its benefits for it to become good things! To those who never seen it, they have other thoughts about it.

For instance, the crowd of country folks here is reacting extremely angrily.

"I have farmed my whole and have never heard of a bean[2] growing in the soil! Who are you trying to hoodwink? Why not just call it peanut!"

"It definitely can't compare to peanut. So it can't even match up to that name!"

"That cotton[3]  thing is even worst. Flowers can be turned into clothes! Why not just wear leaves then!"

The crowd burst into a wave of mocking laughter. After the laughter died, they were even moodier and furious.
They all have the same thought: the officials are going too far! They clearly want the farmers' life.

"Sister, don't worry! We can make some more charcoal with Uncle Li. And also next year, I can enter the mountain to hunt!" Lian Ze assumed Lian Fang Zhou was drowning in worry and hurried to comfort her in a small voice.

"Sister is fine! You don't have to worry!" Lian Fang Zhou gave him a faint smile.

The amount of rejection and rage from everyone was well over Zhang Li Zheng's expectation. Zhang Li Zheng was also losing his patience and loudly yelled. "Quiet down everyone! Listen to me!  What use is there to your ruckus? You think after complaining you don't have to get the seed?"

His words were undoubtedly the truth. So at his words and Zhang Li Zheng's wrath, they all depressingly closed their mouth.

"Zhang Li Zheng, you must think of a solution for everyone! It can't be this way! Next year, my family of old and young would starve!" Someone pleaded with a bitter face. This obtained everyone else's support.

"How could I not know your difficulties!" Zhang Li Zheng then let out a long sigh. "But this is the imperial court's decision.  The three southwest provinces had to choose three counties each to experiment the new seeds. Our Yu He County is one of them. What else can we say? You come to me for an idea, then who do I turn to? Aren't I still in the same position as you? I must also grow them! No one can avoid planting them. Alright then, when you get pressed charged against and get sent to the Yamen[1], don't say I didn't warn you!"

Once Zhang Li Zheng declared this, they all became so quiet that a pin drop could be heard and drooped down their head with a frown locked in place.

"Zhang Li Zheng, It can't be that every household must plant all their field with these things?" Someone questioned.

Everyone's mood surged up as their head all swoop up toward Zhang Li Zheng at the same time. Since we can't escape from it, then we'll plant them. But at least let us plant grains in the leftover field!

Zhang Li Zheng's expression loosened when he saw everyone firmly within grasp. "The official did have everyone in their mind, so how could they possibly do that? Each household only needs to plant one half of the field with potato and cotton. The rest, you can plant whatever you want! The potato seed is two wen per one jin, and cottonseed is five wen per one jin!"

"What! We need to give money!" Someone cried out in surprise.

[1] [local bureaucrat - handle local finance, capital works, judging of civil and criminal cases, and issuing decrees and policies.]
[2] [in Chinese potato literally mean soil bean]
[3][in Chinese cotton literally mean fibre flower]

Friday, 9 November 2018


64. Li Zheng has a big announcement (1)

The weather wasn’t cold yet. This time all the freshly made charcoal were placed in Li Family’s storage shed. They plan to sell them after a while. While the weather is good, everyone used the time they had to make more.

One day, Lian Fang Zhou bumped into Zhang Li Zheng (-junior village official)’s wife, Mrs. Niu on the road. Lian Fang Zhou warmly greeted her. Mrs. Niu returned with a smile, and as passing, she mentioned about her and Li Family’s charcoal business. Her words were underlined with absolute envy and also carried a bit of hidden tartness.

This Mrs. Niu considered herself mighty, and what's more, she got a trait of loving small gain. Relying on her status as the village official's wife, she benefited a lot from others. At most, it's just some garlic and scallion or a trivial matter snatching to receive gains first. Because of Li Zheng's face, everyone just grumbled a bit behind her back. No one would hold a grudge against her.

In response to her words, Lian Fang Zhou's mind began turning. Somewhat sheepishly, she confessed. “To tell you the truth, Uncle Li and Aunt Zhang saw that we're pitiful, so they supported us out a bit. How much strength could we have? We can't call it a partnership! However, we did bring home a good bit of broken charcoal chunks that aren't worth much. If  Aunt Niu doesn’t mind, I'll send some down to you later on. It's still good charcoal, and you can use it for the stove in the winter time.”

Mrs. Niu’s face blossomed into a giant grin straight away. Her eyes shone as her mouth joyously uttered, “Oh my, how could I possibly take it? Charcoal chunks are still charcoal. You can still use it as normal.  ”

“There’s a lot! We can't use it all anyway. In any case, we still need to give it away, so giving it to anyone is still giving away.” Lian Fang Zhou decided. “Later in the afternoon, I’ll send some down to your home!”

“Hoho, look at you lass, you're becoming smooth-spoken! Since you said it like this, what else can I say!” Mrs. Niu eyes twinkled but then contemplated.  “I’m afraid there's nobody home in the afternoon. How about this, send them over after dinner.”

Mrs. Niu grandson just turned six months, so how could there be no one home? The nogs in Lian Fang Zhou head turned. Then she understood Mrs. Niu's misgiving. Her family is parentless, so Mrs. Niu is afraid of others speaking poorly of her for taking their stuff. This is a roundabout way of hinting her to go over in the dark.

Currently,  the weather isn't like summer, so people don't out much in the evening.

“Alright,” she outright agreed. "After dinner, I still need to wash some dish and tidy up the house. So I might be much later.”

“That’s fine! We head to bed pretty late! Our little grandson is very colicky.” Mrs. Niu became even more delighted hearing the words that match her desire.

Lian Fang Zhou followed up her words with praises for her grandson. This made Mrs. Niu so overjoyed that flowers bloomed around her.

Li Zheng is neither small or big position, but it is the one in control at the moment. So there’s no disadvantage in having a better relationship with them.

Just like Aunt Zhang said, Lian Li and Mrs. Qiao are elders after all. With that kind of personality, who knows what they would do in the future.

When the time comes, they might need to ask for justice from Li Zheng.

She doesn’t hope for him to be partial, but at least being reasonable is enough for her.

These matters, she must plan while she can.

When she returned home, she brought Lian Fang Qing and Lian Che with her to the attic. They pack some good charcoal chunks that were piled there into a sack, so it was ready to be taken over to Mrs. Niu's.

Even though it was called broken charcoal chunks, it wasn't broken pieces. Compare to the one-meter long charcoal; they were obviously bits and bobs. Some were two fingers long, some were around one finger long, and some were also split into halves. It's unavoidable to have broken chunks like these in each patch of charcoal. Those that can't be sold were brought home to use.

When Mrs. Niu saw that Lian Fang Zhou actually came, she felt completely satisfied on the inside and received it with a beaming grin.  She also lamented how it wasn't easy for the siblings. And also mentioned if they ever need help, ask!

These were courtesy words. But with Mrs. Niu, it's most likely that she was afraid that she got request and decided to test the water. Without saying, Lian Fang Zhou just politely gave thanks and didn't make any demand. After some small talks, she left.

Zhang Li Zheng observed his wife glowing with joy as she carried a sack of something into the house and questioned. "Who was it just now? Why did they leave before even coming in? What is that? Did you ask for something from others again?"

"What are you saying!" Mrs. Niu glared at Zhang Li Zheng. Full of displeasure, she rebutted. "What with 'I ask for something from others again'? Oh, take a look! It's just some worthless charcoal pieces! I have to say; it's so sweet of that child, Fang  Zhou. She knew that our family needs to dry our grandson's nappies every day, so she sent over some charcoal chunks.  Anyway, this thing doesn't cost her anything, so why can't I accept them?"

With this, Zhang Li Zheng didn't say anything. He also dotes on their grandson.

Right now, it's the beginning of winter. Every day the sun rises as usual however despite it being brighter than summer, it doesn't have the warmth.

And Li Zheng's grandson needed to change at least around a dozen of nappies each day.  They can only use charcoal fire to dry them.

Last winter, they had some charcoal left over. But they became damp since they had left it at a random corner. Now when they use it, it would make a horrid, choking smell and fill the house with that scent.

It's a stroke of good luck that Lian Fang Zhou sent some charcoal chunk now.  This act makes one's heart feel moved.

"Oh fine then, since she seldom shows her consideration. But if it was other things, you can't just take!  After all, " Zhang Li Zheng paused a moment. " they are different from other families!"

Their family consisted of orphans. Accepting their things is asking to be spoken poorly.

"I know! I still have a sense of moderation, no?" Mrs. Niu rolled her eyes. "They are working with Li Da Mu's family in making charcoal. I don't know how much profit they get, but they have access to an endless amount of these charcoal pieces! While ours here isn't that much!"

With an approving tone, she commented as she sighed. "Oh, I had never noticed before, that lass, Fang Zhou is so warm-hearted and so agreeable. She and her siblings are quite pitiful. In the future, if we can speak a few words for them, then let's help them! It can count as accumulating blessing for our grandson!"

Zhang Li Zheng gave her a withering glance and stated. "That goes without saying, do you even need to say it? I didn't become the Li Zheng for no reason!"

Early one day, Zhang Li Zheng's youngest daughter, Zhang Yan came over to Lian Fang Zhou's home. In a benevolent smile, she passed on a message. "Sister Fang Zhou, you must come back from work early today. Best to be back when the sun is starting to set. My father said that every household must have a decision-maker go to the big camphor tree for a discussion! There's an urgent matter to be announced!"

Lian Fang Zhou quickly acknowledged.

Zhang Yan also mentioned that she still need to notify other families and left.

Lian Ze shot a glance at Zhang Yan who was leaving. And remarked, " It's strange. Usually, when there's an announcement in the village, Li Zheng would only tell Uncle and not us. This year we had nearly missing tax payment. Thank god Aunt Zhang reminded us. Can't believe Zhang Yan would come knocking today!"

Lian Fang Zhou's mind turned and then realized it was most likely the perk of that big sack of charcoal. And cheerful spoke, "Isn't this a good thing? This means they aren't treating us as nothing!"

“Sister is right!” Lian Ze chuckled.

“Discussion? This is so sudden, what matter is there? oh”Third Aunt sighed at the side.