Chapter 43: Ma Enhui Does Not Understand Business
As the New Year approached, Nanjing City became even livelier. Troupes, performers, and merchants from all over the country flocked to the capital, banging gongs and drums to attract customers.
The restaurants and teahouses were bustling with people. The streets and alleys were filled with visitors, friends, and families walking together, shoulder to shoulder. Particularly in the area near Wuding Bridge, Chaoku Street, the ten-mile Qinhuai River, and the Confucius Temple, the atmosphere was especially lively.
As dusk fell, many small courtyards along the Qinhuai River lit up lanterns, waiting for a romantic encounter.
Upon the river, the boat glides gracefully, accompanied by the sounds of flute and drum, and the rhythm of counting boards. A small boat with a black canopy approaches leisurely, and the copper bells on the canopy sway with the motion of the boat, producing a continuous and melodious tinkling sound.
Ma Enhui tightly held Zhu Yunwen’s hand, her face somewhat pale, and pleaded weakly for help.
Zhu Yunwen, however, was delighted and said to Ma Enhui, “How long has it been since you last visited this bustling place? Keeping to yourself all the time, you will fall ill.”
Ma Enhui pinched Zhu Yunwen forcefully, feeling somewhat wronged.
Where do the emperor and empress of an empire go to the Qinhuai River? If people find out, how can they continue to live? Is this what you call inspecting the people’s sentiments? Visiting the common folk?
I think you despise the beauties of the palace!
Ma Enhui lowered her head, afraid to look outside, fearing that some officials might see her, feeling utterly ashamed.
She blamed her own naivety. Zhu Yunwen said something, and she believed it without any doubts. Innocently, she followed him, walking through the streets and watching performances during the daytime, which was exciting. But now it was nightfall, and they didn’t return to the palace; instead, they arrived at the Qinhuai River…
Ma Enhui held onto Zhu Yungui and pleaded, “Let’s go back quickly. This is not the place we should be.”
“Why not? There are many delicious foods along the Qinhuai River. There’s Fang’s lotus silk candy and Liu’s scalded pancake… Don’t you want to taste them?”
Zhu Yunwen asked with a smile.
Ma Enhui swallowed and asked, “Your Majesty… Did you bring me here just for the food?”
Zhu Yunwen laughed heartily, “Why not? Lately, your appetite hasn’t been good, and you barely eat anything. In the end, it’s because you’ve been staying indoors for too long. Going out, seeing things, and relaxing will be good for you. What do you think I came here for?”
Ma Enhui blushed and said, “I, I thought you brought me here just to eat delicious food.”
“You’re not lying?”
Haiya, women’s words should not be exposed. Zhu Yunwen rubbed his waist and sternly glared at Ma Enhui. Ma Enhui hummed and directed Liu Changge, “Pass through here quickly.”
Liu Changge didn’t dare to provoke, she even dare to pinch the Emperor, and disobedience might result in being kicked into the Qinhuai River.
On both sides of the Qinhuai River, there were narrow waterways, and water gates were set up at the mouths of these waterways. When the water gates were opened, boats could travel along the waterways to reach picturesque places.
A larger flower boat came head-on, and the people on the boat shouted, “Boats in front, move aside and give way.”
Liu Changge turned to look at Zhu Yunwen, Zhu Yunwen chuckled and said, “Since when have we ever given way to others?”
Hearing this, Liu Changge felt relieved. Truly, he was an emperor, so domineering. he shouted, “Boats in front, move aside and give way!”
The people on the flower boat were immediately stunned. They looked at the inconspicuous small awning boat in front of them, then looked at their own large flower boat beneath their feet, and only then realized that their boat was much grander.
“Make way! If you don’t move, we’ll capsize your boat!”
The people on the flower boat shouted loudly.
Liu Changge swiftly raised the bamboo pole in his hand, and a splash of water shot out, as he shouted sternly, “If you dare to come, you’re seeking death!”
The water splashed onto the face of the person on the flower boat, even from a distance of over ten meters.
“How dare you!”
The boatman wiped the water off his face and angrily yelled.
“What’s happening? Why aren’t we moving forward?”
King of Liao, Zhu Zhi walked out, noticing the commotion outside.
King of Min, Zhu Geng followed and admired the bustling night scene, sighing, “The capital is prosperous. If I could spend my whole life here, it wouldn’t be in vain.”
“Sir, there’s a small boat blocking the way ahead.”
The boatman pointed to the nearby small boat and said.
Zhu Zhi and Zhu Geng looked down.
Zhu Zhi rubbed his eyes and said, “I feel like I’ve seen the person at the bow somewhere before.”
Zhu Geng nodded in agreement, “It does seem familiar, but the lights on the shore are too dim to see clearly.”
Liu Changge widened his eyes and looked at Zhu Yunwen and Ma Enhui, saying, “It’s King of Liao and King of Min.”
Ma Enhui snorted, expressing her dissatisfaction.
Zhu Yunwen smiled knowingly. It might not be a bad thing that these vassal kings were obsessed with a peaceful life. When the time was ripe, their fiefdoms could be reclaimed, thus resolving the issue of vassal kings annexing land.
Stepping onto the bow of the boat, Zhu Yunwen shouted amidst the shocked gazes of Ma Enhui and Liu Changge, “If you don’t move aside now, I’ll capsize your boat into the river!”
The boatmen and boatmen on the flower boat refused to back down. They rolled up their sleeves, and some started to curse. However, they had only uttered two words when Zhu Zhi kicked them into the water.
Zhu Zhi and Zhu Geng were dumbfounded, unsure of how to address Zhu Yunwen here.
If they called him “Your Majesty,” the Qinhuai River would explode. If they didn’t, would it be disrespectful?
Heavens, Your Royal Highness, wouldn’t it be better for you to stay obediently in the palace?
Why did you come to the Qinhuai River? Isn’t this asking for our lives?
What if this news reaches Kunji’s ears? It would lead to a fire burning down the three palaces and six courts!
“Clear the way!”
Zhu Yunwen shouted.
“Move, move! Move aside quickly!”
Zhu Zhi hurriedly shouted at the boatmen.
Liu Changge looked at the unobstructed waterway, smiled, and rowed the boat. As the small awning boat brushed against the flower boat, Zhu Zhi and Zhu Geng waved repeatedly, watching the small boat depart.
“Did you see that?”
Zhu Zhi asked Zhu Geng.
Zhu Geng shook his head firmly and said, “I didn’t see anything, didn’t see a thing!”
Zhu Zhi nodded emphatically. He didn’t see any woman on the emperor’s boat either!
He couldn’t even say it even if his life depended on it!
“Are you still going to find your beloved beauty?”
Zhu Geng asked tremblingly.
Zhu Zhi looked down, with a mournful expression, and said, “Let’s go back to the mansion.”
After getting off the boat, Zhu Yunwen took Ma Enhui and entered a shop, inquired for a while, then entered another shop and chatted with the shopkeeper. It was late at night and the streets were quiet before they returned to the palace.
Having too many royal banquets, occasionally enjoying some popular snacks and delicacies was also good. At least Ma Enhui’s appetite had improved a lot.
On the bed, Zhu Yunxuan flipped through the “History of the Song Dynasty”, and Ma Enhui brought a bowl of ginseng soup and sat beside him, asking, “Was Your Majesty’s trip for the matter of commercial taxes?”
Zhu Yunwen nodded and said to Ma Enhui, “For thousands of years, the four classes of people—scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants—have been mentioned. Merchants have always been in the lowest position, which is inappropriate.”
“I dare not disagree with Your Majesty’s words, but merchants are constantly on the move and do not engage in production. They accumulate wealth and exploit the common people. Emperor Taizu prohibited commerce, which was well-received by the people.”
Ma Enhui countered.
Zhu Yunwen closed the “History of the Song Dynasty” and sighed, “Even the beloved consort thinks the same. It shows that commercial reform is a hundred times more difficult than agricultural reform.”
Ma Enhui asked puzzledly, “Why does Your Majesty want to lift the ban on merchants? If that happens, everyone in the country will engage in commerce. Wouldn’t the land of the Ming Dynasty become barren? The farmland will be overgrown with weeds. How can the Ming Dynasty be prosperous?”
Zhu Yunwen furrowed his brows.
In the future, when the market economy is implemented, not all people engage in commerce despite fierce competition in the business world. But why in this ancient era, are there so many concerns?
Engaging in commerce also requires intelligence. It’s not as simple as bringing a few coins, purchasing goods in Guangzhou, and selling them in Nanjing to make a profit.
It requires capital, costs, sales, and distribution channels.
Of course, it also requires taxation.
The marketplace is like a battlefield, and the proportion of heroics in the marketplace may not be lower than that on the battlefield.
“Lifting the ban on merchants can increase tax revenue and improve the financial situation. The future Ming Dynasty will need a lot of money to support it.”
Zhu Yunwen wanted to build a truly prosperous and wealthy Ming Empire. His ambitious plan was always constrained by limited finances.
Looking at it from the perspective of the New Military Policy alone, these soldiers are guarding the borders for the country. The people of the Ming Dynasty owe them gratitude! With the current financial resources of the Ming Dynasty, it is simply not enough to implement the New Military Policy throughout the entire army!
The Ministry of Revenue cannot invest all its financial resources into the military. After all, people need to eat, wives need to buy jewelry, and children need to attend private schools. If the court doesn’t have money to pay salaries, how can they work?
What to do without money?
The biggest way for historical dynasties to make money is to increase taxes and ask the common people for money.
Open your mouth and add another tax item, isn’t it easy?
Are bizarre taxes in history too few?
King Li of Zhou, Ji Hu’s drinking water tax, Emperor Hui of Han, Liu Ying’s bachelor tax, the shoe tax and barefoot tax in the late Qing Dynasty, the sunbathing tax imposed by warlords during the Republic of China…
Apart from bragging, what can’t be taxed?
But the common people have no money. By squeezing out half a tael of silver from one person, the entire empire will have thirty million taels of silver, enough to feed the people for a year.
As for the life and death of the common people, how many people really care?
Cannot blame Ma Enhui for not understanding the power of merchants. Because Zhu Yuanzhang was too vigorous, he suppressed the merchants to the extreme. The proportion of commercial taxes in the central finance of the Ming Dynasty was pitifully small, enough to make people cry.
Except for monopolistic salt taxes, all commercial taxes, such as tea tax, market ship tax, transaction tax, and business tax, added up to less than one million taels.
Relative to the thirty million taels in the central finance, the proportion is only in the single digits, a negligible amount.
Ma Enhui put away the book and asked softly, “If Your Majesty lifts the ban on merchants, how much more tax can be collected?”
Zhu Yunxuan got up and took the inkstone from the desk, handing it to Ma Enhui with a smile, “Beloved Consort, how much do you think this inkstone is worth?”
Ma Enhui played with the inkstone and looked at the carving of a dragon on it. She uncertainly said, “This jade inkstone should be worth a thousand taels?”
Zhu Yunxuan sat beside her and smiled, “Good, let’s price this jade inkstone at a thousand taels. How much tax should we collect?”
Ma Enhui furrowed her brows and calculated, “According to Emperor Taizu’s commercial tax, its 1/30. So, for this thousand taels, it should be a little over thirty-three taels.”
Zhu Yunwen looked at the inkstone and said with a bitter smile, “Thirty-three taels will go into the national treasury, but they will take away the majority. Hehe, lifting the ban on merchants wouldn’t be of much use either. But what if we adjust the tax rate from 1/30, to 1/20, or even 1/10?”
Ma Enhui stood up in alarm and said, “Your Majesty, absolutely not. Setting aside the fact that the commercial tax was set by Emperor Taizu, adjusting it from 1/30 to 1/10 would suppress the merchants, which does not align with Your Majesty’s original intention, right?”
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