Ming Dynasty: Reborn as Zhu Yunwen
Ming Dynasty: Reborn as Zhu Yunwen Chapter 37

Chapter 37: Cotton, Gauze, and the Central Bank

Confucius said, “Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject be a subject, the father be a father, and the son be a son.”

Mencius said, “There is affection between father and son, righteousness between ruler and subject, distinction between husband and wife, order between elder and younger, and trust between friends.”

Dong Zhongshu[1]Dong Zhongshu (Chinese: 董仲舒; Wade–Giles: Tung Chung-shu; 179–104 BC) was a Chinese philosopher, politician, and writer of the Han dynasty. He is traditionally associated … Continue reading inherited the views of Confucius and Mencius, and based on the theory of “respecting the yang and belittling the yin,” he put forward the Three Bonds and Five Constants.

This theory has strong vitality and has been passed down from generation to generation, gradually becoming a core element of Chinese culture and the spiritual pursuit of literati.

Whether it is Li He’s “To return the favor on the Golden Stage, I tote my Yulong Sword to die for him,” or Yue Fei’s “We have not yet avenged the shame of the Jingkang era, and the ministers’ hatred remains. When will it be extinguished?” or Xin Qiji’s “Nation’s matters of Emperor have to be done. That would earn fame before and after death.,” or Lu You’s “In my humble position, I dare not forget my concern for the country. When matters are settled, I still await the closing of my coffin,” they all reflect these ideas.

Loyalty to the ruler, respect for the ruler, and serving the ruler are the core values of traditional scholars!

As the emperor of the Great Ming Empire, Zhu Yunwen accepted this kind of thinking, but he did not expect that there would be a drawback behind it. When these officials were thinking, analyzing, and judging issues, their first thought was not whether the matter was right or good, but rather how the emperor perceived it.

If the emperor thought it was bad, they would oppose it, which was considered loyal.

If the emperor thought it was good, they would also oppose it, which was still considered loyal.

Only “loyalty” mattered.

Some people have been holding the Four Books and Five Classics for decades, which has given them nearsightedness. They speak of loyalty to the ruler at every turn, but when it comes to specific methods, they are at a loss.

Officials with rigid thinking and a lack of adaptability may not necessarily have any negative consequences, but they certainly won’t have any positive outcomes either.

Give them a prefecture or a county, and look at them ten years later. Alas, they are still the same, stagnating in place, which is heart-wrenching.

This is also one of the reasons why Zhu Yunwen wanted to Dao Yan stay behind. Although this guy was wicked, he had great insight, knew how to adapt, had a creative mind, and was talented in finding solutions in desperate situations. It was a waste to leave him to Zhu Di.

“What is this?”

Zhu Yunwen looked at Ma Enhui picking up a needle and thread, sewing winter clothes, and couldn’t help but ask.

Ma Enhui smiled and said, “The winter is getting cold. I plan to make a long coat for Your Majesty.”

Zhu Yunwen walked over, looked at the cotton inside the coat, and suddenly became stunned. He couldn’t help but ask, “Isn’t this cotton?”

Ma Enhui smiled and said, “Your Majesty rules the world, yet you have seen cotton?”

Zhu Yunwen took out a bit of cotton, looked at it carefully, and a pleased expression appeared on his face. He said to Ma Enhui, “Weren’t you worried about the livelihood of the Artistry troupe? Now, I have an idea.”

Ma Enhui took the cotton from Zhu Yunwen’s hand and said sarcastically, “Take it back, it won’t keep you warm. What idea? Making winter clothes? If the soldiers in the northern border lack winter clothes, I can mobilize the internal palace and sew them overnight.”

“The winter clothes for the soldiers have already been arranged. I’m talking about a big deal. However, we need to find an agent for this matter.”

Zhu Yunwen became excited.

“An agent?” Ma Enhui looked at Zhu Yunwen with confusion and asked, “What is an agent?”

Zhu Yunwen laughed and said, “It means finding someone to handle the matter. Although the King of Liao has been granted Songjiang prefecture, he has not yet taken up his fief. I think we can entrust this matter to him.”

Ma Enhui looked at the joyful Zhu Yunwen and put down her work. She asked eagerly, “Your Majesty hasn’t mentioned the good news yet. If it’s profitable, will you also take care of our family?”

Zhu Yunwen laughed and said, “Of course, we will take care of it. My dear, do you know that cotton is not only for keeping warm? If it is processed and turned into gauze, it becomes an excellent healing material. In the battlefield, apart from soldiers who sacrifice their lives, the largest number of casualties occurs in the field hospitals.”

“When soldiers are injured and their wounds cannot be healed in time, once infected, the wounds can fester and even lead to death. However, if we use this gauze with alcohol, we can reduce the chances of infection in soldiers’ wounds. With proper rest, they can recover. If I have a hundred thousand veteran soldiers in my hands, who in the world would dare not submit to the Great Ming?”

Ma Enhui looked at the spirited Zhu Yunwen with admiration in her eyes. Her husband was not a timid and weak scholar; he was an emperor with heroic qualities.

“If that’s the case, it will be a great matter benefiting the country and the people. Your Majesty, why not entrust it to the internal palace?” Ma Enhui stood up and saluted Zhu Yunwen, looking solemnly at him, saying, “I also want to contribute my efforts for the soldiers of the Great Ming.”

Zhu Yunwen helped Ma Enhui up and nodded slightly, saying, “The internal palace will be responsible for production, the King of Liao will be responsible for sales, the Ministry of War will be responsible for procurement, and we will be responsible for collecting money. How about that?”

Ma Enhui widened her eyes and for a moment, she couldn’t understand what he meant.

What does this mean?

Is the emperor planning to rob the treasury?

Zhu Yunwen smiled and said, “I plan to set up a Central Bank outside the Imperial Treasury.”

“Central Bank?”

Ma Enhui became even more confused.

Zhu Yunwen pulled Ma Enhui to sit down and patiently explained, “The current internal treasury is, in fact, the national treasury. The resources used in the imperial palace and by the state, all come from the internal treasury. I have the power to manage it, but I won’t use the funds of the internal treasury without authorization. But what about our future generations? They might not be able to do the same. If they misuse the internal treasury and deplete it, when the court faces a crisis and there’s no money left, wouldn’t it be a big problem?”

“Bringing the internal treasury under the national treasury is an inevitable matter. It’s just that the timing is not ripe yet. So, let’s take the first step and establish a Central Bank specifically responsible for managing the profits generated by the harem. First, we’ll see if the harem can sustain itself without relying on the national treasury and reduce the expenses from the national treasury. Second, if the country needs it, the Central Bank can also operate with funds, borrowing from the internal treasury and collecting interest, which won’t result in much loss.”

Ma Enhui finally understood. The emperor intended to merge the internal treasury with the national treasury and establish the Central Bank as the treasury of the imperial household, creating two separate sources.

The reason it hadn’t been explicitly mentioned yet was that their own source wasn’t fully established, and the funds were still insufficient.

“Your Majesty, I understand what you mean. But can we really make money from the gauze?”

Ma Enhui was uncertain.

Zhu Yunwen confidently smiled and said, “As long as the harem produces it, the Ministry of War will certainly purchase it. As for the price, it can be negotiated between the King of Liao and the Ministry of War. We will reap the benefits.”

Ma Enhui smiled and slowly said, “Your Majesty, is there another meaning behind this?”


Zhu Yunwen looked at Ma Enhui.

Ma Enhui softly said, “The King of Liaodong, the King of Qin, the King of Jin, and the King of Min haven’t been granted their own fiefs. Now, Your Majesty is considering this way of generating wealth. Could it be that you don’t want them to establish their own fiefs?”

Zhu Yunwen’s eyes lit up, and he burst into laughter, exclaiming, “My dear, you’re so clever!”

The issue of the vassal kings was a major problem that Zhu Yunwen faced. Although the Kings of Liao, Qin, Jin, and Min had “voluntarily” relocated their fiefs, Zhu Yunwen didn’t want them to harm the local people. Besides, the Empress Dowager was fond of these children, so he didn’t allow them to establish their own fiefs.

But if they weren’t allowed to establish their own fiefs, they couldn’t remain idle, right?

Idleness often leads to trouble.

Therefore, from the beginning, Zhu Yunwen planned to break the prohibition set by Zhu Yuanzhang, allowing these vassal kings to engage in commerce and become wealthy, instead of exploiting the common people under their rule, wouldn’t it be more comfortable to earn money openly and honestly?

Although it would be more challenging, the achievements would be worth it.

Moreover, as vassal kings, they already had an advantage in commerce. State enterprises are not afraid of losses, as they have abundant channels for sourcing goods, and labor costs can be almost negligible. Plus, there’s no worry about sales…

Monopolizing the market, there’s no reason not to make money.

Cotton originated from India and Arab countries and was introduced to China during the Southern and Northern Dynasties. However, it was mostly cultivated in border regions.

During the Tang and Song dynasties, cotton fabric was referred to as “white folded cloth” or “cotton quilt.” Due to limited domestic production, it was considered a luxury item of that era, affordable only to the wealthy. 

The poem written by Du Fu, “Fine soft silk shoes, bright white cotton cap. Deeply hidden, used now for my own body,” bears witness to this.

These delicate and soft green silk shoes, the bright and clean white fine cotton cloth, these hidden items were originally intended for the high-ranking officials’ use, but now Lord Zan has presented them to me…

By the end of the Song Dynasty and the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty, cotton began to be extensively cultivated in the inner regions.

According to the “History of Yuan Dynasty,” in the 26th year of the Yuan Dynasty (1289), the government required the submission of 100,000 pieces of cotton fabric from Zhejiang, Jiangdong, Jiangxi, Huguang, and Fujian, indicating that the cotton industry had reached a considerable scale during the Yuan Dynasty and was concentrated in the Yangtze River Basin and southern China.

In the second year of the Yuanzhen era (1296), during the reign of Emperor Chengzong(Temur Khan) of the Yuan Dynasty, it was stipulated that “summer taxes shall be paid in the form of Cotton Tree, cloth, silk, cotton, and other materials.” Cotton was included in the government’s tax levies. Huang Daopo[2]Huang Daopo (simplified Chinese: 黄道婆; traditional Chinese: 黃道婆; pinyin: Huáng Dàopó; c. 1245 – 1330) rose from poverty to become one of the most famous women in … Continue reading, a renowned expert in textile innovation known to later generations, lived during the Yuan Dynasty.

During the period of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty, he recognized the importance of cotton and implemented its cultivation forcefully. It was stipulated that any self-farming peasant with more than five mu of land must plant half a mu of cotton.

If they cultivated it well, they would be exempt from rent and taxes.

Benefiting from Zhu Yuanzhang’s measures, by the time of Emperor Zhu Yunwen, cotton production in the Ming Dynasty had become significant and gradually transitioned from a luxury item to a daily necessity for people of all social classes.

The tens of thousands of border troops could securely guard the northern region during winter, and one of the essential resources for them was cotton clothing, or more accurately, cotton armor.

Cotton armor was not only easy to produce, cost-effective, and warm, but it was also lightweight and provided decent protection against firearms, bows, and arrows.

After all, traditional heavy armor was too costly, and during the Ming Dynasty, there was a shortage of money but an abundance of cotton. As a result, cotton armor was used to replace some of the heavy armor. Later, the Qing army suffered significant losses in firearms and made cotton armor the mainstream equipment.

Zhu Yunwen planned to produce gauze, bandages, and alcohol to improve the medical care of the army.

Whether there would be a fight with Zhu Di in the future was still uncertain, but the battle with the Mongols was a known fact.

Regardless of the considerations, these things needed to be prepared early.

“Summon the King of Liao, King of Qin, King of Jin, and King of Min.”

Standing at the doorway, Zhu Yunwen looked at the falling snow and instructed Shuangxi.

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1 Dong Zhongshu (Chinese: 董仲舒; Wade–GilesTung Chung-shu; 179–104 BC) was a Chinese philosopher, politician, and writer of the Han dynasty. He is traditionally associated with the promotion of Confucianism as the official ideology of the Chinese imperial state. He apparently favored heaven worship over the tradition of cults celebrating the five elements.
2 Huang Daopo (simplified Chinese: 黄道婆; traditional Chinese: 黃道婆; pinyinHuáng Dàopó; c. 1245 – 1330) rose from poverty to become one of the most famous women in the early Chinese textile industry.

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