Chapter 89: The Political Insight of Suzhou prefecture Literati
Suzhou Prefect Yao Shan finished his official duties, changed into casual clothes, and holding a scroll of book, he entered the Confucian Temple.
In the courtyard of the Minglun Hall, Wang Bin, Han Yi, Yu Zhenmu, and Qian Qin were gathered, engaged in a scholarly discussion. Wang Bin lifted his head, spotted Yao Shan, and smiled faintly, signaling the discussion to pause. He bowed his hand, “Brother Ke Yi has arrived.”
Others turned slightly to pay their respects.
Yao Shan smiled heartily, tinged with a hint of apology, “Apologies, I’ve been occupied with official matters lately, and came a bit late.”
“It seems Brother Ke Yi is determined to secure the position of Suzhou as one of the top ten prefectures. If that day comes and your salary increases, you must treat us to more than three drinks,” Qian Qin teased.
Yao Shan patted the book in his hand, saying, “If Suzhou is selected as one of the top ten prefectures, don’t mention three drinks, I can afford five.”
Yu Zhenmu disapproved.
Han Yi and the others burst into laughter, and even Yao Shan couldn’t help shaking his head.
Qian Qin led everyone to sit at the prepared seats nearby, then said, “Discussing classics and scholarly works is not our agenda for today.”
Yao Shan looked at Qian Qin in surprise, asking, “If not discussing classics and scholarly works, then what are we going to talk about?”
Qian Qin chuckled, taking out a small booklet from his sleeve. Yao Shan received it and saw that it was filled with suggestions about lifting restrictions on business and increasing commercial taxes.
After glancing through it, Yao Shan looked up at Qian Qin, saying, “Brother Qian, although your surname is Qian, you are ultimately one of Suzhou’s literati. In the past, you ridiculed and dismissed the ways of merchants, not approving of their practices. Why have you changed your stance today?”
Qian Qin smiled slightly, saying, “In the past, I disapproved because I believed business harms the people and is detrimental to the livelihood of the masses. However, as I wandered through Suzhou, I found countless traders and merchants bustling about. Brother Yao, aren’t you striving to make Suzhou one of the top ten prefectures? This, I believe, is the way to achieve victory.”
“Your so-called way to victory is to lift the bans on merchants and then heavily tax them? If that’s the case, I’d rather Suzhou not become one of the top ten prefectures!”
Yao Shan’s expression darkened.
Seeing the two men stiffening, Yu Zhenmu hurriedly intervened, “Brother Yao, please don’t get angry. Allow us to discuss and debate this matter.”
Yao Shan said solemnly.
Yu Zhenmu looked at Qian Qin and said, “Brother Qian, go ahead.”
Qian Qin nodded earnestly and said to Yao Shan, “Brother Yao, we’ve known each other for many years, and I believe you know my character. But today, there are some things that I, Qian Qin, want to say, for the sake of Suzhou prefecture, for the sake of Great Ming!”
Yao Shan looked at Qian Qin, and the anger on his face gradually subsided.
Indeed, as Qian Qin said, they had been close friends for many years, and Yao Shan knew that he was not a materialistic person.
Qian Qin looked at Yao Shan seriously and said, “The court’s Single Whip Method’ and the strategy to curb land consolidation, I ask Brother Yao, has Suzhou implemented them?”
“All seven counties and one prefecture have fully implemented them, without delay.”
Yao Shan replied.
Suzhou prefecture comprised seven counties and one prefecture. The seven counties were Wuxian County, Changzhou County, Changshu County, Wujiang County, Kunshan County, Jiading County, and Chongming County. The prefecture was Taicang Prefecture.
Qian Qin then asked, “And the court’s changing the the tax rate from 1/30 to 1/15 rate, do you, Brother Yao, consider it heavy taxation?”
Yao Shan’s eyebrows furrowed slightly, “Compared to the various taxes and corvée labor mixed in previous years, 1/15 is not heavy.”
“Then why is it that when merchants are subjected to a 1/15 tax, it’s suddenly considered heavy taxation?”
Qian Qin countered.
Yao Shan hesitated for a moment, thought, and then said, “Merchants make their living by selling goods and making profits. Once the taxes increase, their profits will naturally decrease. At that point, Suzhou may likely suffer a decline in prosperity, with no more bustling trade.”
Qian Qin shook his head slightly, saying, “Brother Yao, you’re only half right. It’s true that merchants make profits, and higher taxes will reduce those profits. But it won’t necessarily lead to a decline.”
“Heh, without profits, won’t merchants seek greener pastures elsewhere?”
Yao Shan asked coldly.
Qian Qin took out a letter and handed it to Yao Shan, saying, “This is a letter from a friend in the capital’s Ministry of Revenue. Brother Yao, as an official in the prefectural government, you must be aware of the affairs of the Arts Troupe, right? It’s known that although the troupe is under the inner palace, its performances are high-priced and profit-oriented. Yet, they are subject to the 1/15 commercial tax. The Ministry of Revenue has reportedly gained thousands of taels of profit due to this.”
“While it’s a heavy tax, the Arts Troupe still makes substantial profits. Even after the implementation of the strategy to curb land consolidation, their performances continue unabated. This shows that the fifteen percent tax brings significant gains. Now, looking at the Ministry of Revenue, it has a richer treasury due to the increased taxes. If Brother Yao petitions the court and implements the 1/15 tax law, Suzhou’s merchants might not necessarily leave. However, the commercial tax revenue in Suzhou will substantially increase.”
Yao Shan glanced at the letter and said, “The Arts Troupe is merely women’s performances, not the trade of goods.”
“What about the medical gauze produced by the King of Liao and the King of Min? Isn’t that goods? Aren’t they also subject to the 1/15 tax?”
Qian Qin countered.
Yao Shan stood up and said, “The King of Liao and King of Min engage in commerce as kings. If we don’t tax them heavily, wouldn’t they dominate the market? Who could compete with them for profit?”
Qian Qin chuckled and took out another letter from his sleeve, saying, “Brother Yao, since you’ve put it this way, you seem to be falling behind. Don’t blame us for not reminding you.”
Perplexed, Yao Shan unfolded the letter and widened his eyes, asking, “This, this can’t be true, can it?”
Confidently, Qian Qin said, “Brother Yao, playing chess isn’t just about the current move, it’s about considering the next move. After the ‘Single Whip method’ and the National policies, there will undoubtedly be abundant goods, and surplus among the farmers. And what becomes of these surplus goods? Those surplus will be exchanged for silver, and people will purchase cloth and goods from traders. The Flourishing of merchant and traders are just in one or two years.”
“Zhang Bing, the Administration Commissioner in Beiping, lifted restrictions on merchants last year, boosting commerce. I’ve heard that the court is already preparing to implement the 1/15 commercial tax in Beiping. If Brother Yao dares to be a pioneer for the whole world, Suzhou Prefecture will surpass Beiping and become the foremost prefecture in our Ming Dynasty’s new commercial strategy.”
Yao Shan looked deeply at the letter. While these news might not be entirely accurate, they certainly weren’t baseless rumors.
If Beiping was indeed implementing the 1/15 tax, it wouldn’t be the end but just the beginning!
The Emperor had already accustomed the merchants in the capital and the Ministry of Revenue to the existence of the 1/15 tax through the two kings and the Arts Troupe. Although these taxes hadn’t been levied on the merchants in the capital, the Ministry of Revenue had already seen the benefits of increased taxation.
With the treasury overflowing and merchant profits unceasing, what could be better?
The Ministry of Revenue likely had no reason to oppose increased commercial taxation anymore.
Furthermore, the court had recently incorporated petty officials into the salary system. While this reduced the exploitation of the lower-class farmers by these officials, it also increased the court’s expenditure. It was reasonable to assume that when the court needed funds, implementing the new commercial strategy and increasing taxation on merchants would be a natural step.
If that were the case, would Suzhou Prefecture dare to be the first to implement this new commercial strategy?
And would he dare to push for the implementation of the new commercial strategy in Suzhou Prefecture?
Yao Shan looked at Wang Bin, Han Yi, and Yu Zhenmu. The three nodded slightly, indicating their support.
In the Kunning Palace in the capital.
Xu Miaojin held Zhu Wenkui in her arms, her face radiant with a smile. She occasionally glanced at Zhu Yunwen behind the desk, observing him intently reviewing her documents. This sight filled her with a sense of pride.
She had identified the issues with the Imperial Academy.
Previously, she hadn’t thought much about problems within the Imperial Academy. But when she delved into it, she was surprised by the multitude of issues plaguing the institution. If left unaddressed, these problems would limit the potential of the eight thousand students in the academy.