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