Joy of Life - Chapter 357

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:48:34]
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Chapter 357: Choking The Throat Of Life

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

There were not many people who had the privilege to visit Chen Garden, where Director Chen Pingping of the Overwatch Council lived. In their eyes, the Li Palace in Xinyang, the Sword House in Donggu, and the Ming family’s Ming Garden in Jiangnan were the three most beautiful and expensive private constructions. This ranking did not take into account the immortal beauty of the black and green Shang Royal Palace in Shangjing, Northern Qi.

Nobility lived in the Li Palace, and a great grandmaster lived in the Sword House. Their existences were both far removed from that of the common people. It was only the Ming Garden, not far from Suzhou in Jiangnan, that gave the common people a chance to admire from a closer distance.

The Ming family had never been one to bully others through strength, and they did not purposely maintain the mysteriousness of an elite large family. Many Jiangnan scholars and travelers would, after they had wandered around Suzhou, followed the wide road beside the trees and wound their way away from the city. They would go some distance to get a glimpse of the beautiful garden.

Although they could not enjoy it up close, a look from a distance was enough to satisfy their eyes.

The Ming family kept a low profile, but were not mysterious. Ming Garden, which had been built almost 40 years ago, still maintained the clear marks of their family. Every brick and tile, every grass and tree, every step and pavilion, were not eye-piercingly extravagant, on the contrary, they exuded a faint sense of intimacy. Furthermore, the garden wall built along the foot of the mountain was not too high. Travelers standing on the official road could easily see the soaring roofs within. Standing slightly closer, they could hear the sound of running water from inside.

Intimate did not mean domestic, and concise, of course, did not mean simple. In the eyes of knowledgeable people, they were certain to see that there were no criticisms to be made about any detail of this large garden. All the materials and design were exceedingly clever and skillful. Yet, in the eyes of a soldier, they could see that this garden did not have any defense capabilities. With a few simple changes, it could quickly become a castle that could withstand half a year of siege.

Due to a spring chill and dense, thin rain, as Young master Ming sat in the carriage making a lonely trip along the road heading home, he did not see the usual two or three travelers and girls taking walks on the green.

The carriage arrived at the side door and stopped strangely. Young master Ming lifted a corner of the carriage curtains to reveal a slice of a dark and somber face watching the main door of his home. It seemed like someone was being sent off there. A middle-aged man wearing official’s robes was walking toward his own carriage with an angry expression.

Ming Lanshi released the carriage curtains. He turned to look at Zou Lei and angrily said, “Speak of Guo Zheng, and Guo Zheng arrives. Why does your superior have no sense of discretion?”

Zou Lei was silent. Guo Zheng was his direct superior and had served as Imperial Censor of the Left in the Imperial Censorate in Jingdou last year. After the spring examination incidence, Guo Zheng questioned Fan Xian under a mixed division in the Ministry of Justice. At the time, he relied on the Eldest Princess’ support and beat Fan Xian a few times, hoping to force a confession from him. He had not expected Fan Xian’s support in the background to be so powerful. Not only did they not topple the Fan family, but because of having offended Prime Minister Lin, the Fan family, and Overwatch Council, these three giants struck out. Without making much noise, they easily had the Minister of Justice, Han Zhiwei, lose his position. At the same time, Guo Zheng was sent to Jiangnan.

The biggest loss Imperial Censorate Guo Zhen suffered in this lifetime was because of Fan Xian, so he had always wanted revenge. Now that Fan Xian had come to Jiangnan, it looked like Guo Zheng wanted to incite the Ming family into opposition against the imperial envoy. Thus Ming Lanshi’s expression was very unpleasant. He thought the foolish old Guo was acting out of a private anger. He had come to his home today probably to add some kind of pressure.

“Father, the orders have been sent down.” Ming Lanshi stood respectfully at the bottom of the steps of a small garden inside Ming Garden and spoke toward the inside of the room.

From inside came the somewhat tired and comforted voice of the current Ming family master, Ming Qingda. “Good, we somehow have to get through this year before we talk of anything else. Remind the people in the family to not let the government get hold of anything that can be used against them. That is enough…Lanshi, you have always been steady, now you need to be even more careful.”

Ming Lanshi quickly nodded his head in acknowledgement.

Ming Qingda walked slowly from the room. There was a trace of tiredness on his face. “Did you see Guo Zheng earlier?”

Ming Lanshi furrowed his brows and replied, “Yes, father. I’m afraid that his brazen visit to our door will be noticed by the imperial envoy.”

Ming Qingda gave a bitter laugh. “Never mind. The marks on our body are already deep enough. If we want to shed our relationship with that matter now, it is impossible, and no one would believe it. Don’t think about these problems anymore.”

“Did he come for himself or on behalf of the people in the capital?” Ming Lanshi asked hesitantly.

Hearing these words, the lines around Ming Qingda’s eyes deepened. A moment later he sighed and said, “When can these officials ever have their own identities?”

Ming Lanshi’s felt his heart clench. He understood the meaning of his father’s words. Guo Zheng was here to pass on the Eldest Princess and His Highness’ suggestions. He looked at his father nervously.

“Don’t worry, and don’t pay attention to the intentions of the capital. His Highness wants us to hinder the imperial envoy,” Ming Qingda, the leading millionaire of a generation, smiled coldly and said. “This is to use us as a knife. Could I be so stupid? Of course, on the surface we will still have to do as they say because no one knows what will happen or who will sit on that dragon chair.”

Ming Lanshi slightly furrowed his brows. “The order has already been sent out. As long as the imperial envoy is in Jiangnan, we will stay quiet, only…always showing weakness is not a long-term strategy.”

“It is a good idea.” A faint smile rose on Ming Qingda’s face. “Commissioner Fan is not a devil that eats people without spitting out the bones. If he can’t find anything to use against us publically and is worried about the backlash from local gentlemen officials, then he cannot carry a bowl of water and swallow us whole. As long as we are well-behaved and give him more than sufficient face, I think he will give us some face.”

“This Sir Fan junior didn’t even give His Second Highness face,” Ming Lanshi said with a pained smile.

Ming Qingda smiled self-deprecatingly and said, “Historically, the merchant identity has always been too inferior to be shown in public, but right now it is the opposite. Sir Fan is the son of Lady Ye. Looking at the way he acts, he always harms the officials but not the people, and he does not have any prejudice toward merchants. Just because he did not give His Second Highness any face, does not mean he will not give us some face. When is all said and done, no matter how the Second Prince retaliated, it would at most be laying a trap for him at court. But, we have the ability to leverage the power of the people.”

“Of course, until matters have developed to the point of meeting each other with swords drawn, be sure to not provoke him,” Ming Qingda said.

Ming Lanshi was irritated. His father had said this countless of times recently. His father was appearing overly careful and cautious on this matter, and it made people feel uncomfortable. Although he knew the reason, he still found it difficult to accept. Seeing the faint worry on his father’s face, he couldn’t help but be comforting. “Father, if it won’t work then let’s pull back.”

It was silent for a moment on the steps. Ming Qingda slowly shook his head. A moment later, a severe look flashed through the eyes of this half-a-century old elder.

“There are some things from which I cannot pull back my hand just because I want to,” he smiled coldly and said. “If I pull back, what will the tens of thousands in our family eat? Don’t forget the shares nobility in the capital have taken. Even if we stopped, are they not going to stretch their hands out to us for silver? The Eldest Princess, the Crown Prince, the Second Prince, and a number of large families in the capital have all grown used to eating from us all these years. If we really pulled back this time, with all the powers together, who knows what they will do? Never underestimate the greed of the royal family and officials.”

Ming Lanshi gazed at his father and felt a thread of sympathy flash through his heart. Who knew that the leading millionaire in Jiangnan also had various things he had no choice but to do.

With a face full of hatred, Ming Qingda said, “The Ming family looks grand, but in reality we are nothing more than an egg laying hen in their eyes. If the hen can no longer lay eggs, then those people who supported us will probably want to kill us even more than the imperial envoy to have one last meal of delicious chicken meat.”

The hatred on Ming Lanshi’s face was immediately hidden. He cursed in a low voice, “If those people in Jingdou didn’t take so much silver every year, we could honestly export the palace treasury goods and wouldn’t be much worse off than right now. Even if the palace treasury side is intercepted by the imperial envoy, with our businesses spread out across Jiangnan, we could still continue to support the family.”

Ming Qingda waved his hands to show that he was not going to continue this topic of conversation. He smiled coldly and said, “These years, the Ming family has always been doing shady business so we can fill in those people’s appetites. Perhaps Sir Fan junior coming to Jiangnan is an opportunity given to me by the heavens to allow me to escape from those matters. We could gradually decrease the tribute we send to the capital, and the Eldest Princess and them would not have much to say. As long as we can win at least 60 percent of last year’s at the opening this time, it will be fine. We shouldn’t be like the Cui family; the sudden collapse of a big family. Speaking of doing business legally, can the Ming family not do it?”

Ming Lanshi inclined his body slightly and said, “What you say makes sense.” However, he felt upset. Having given up the smuggling route to Dongyi and severing their overseas pirates, they were going to lose out on a huge amount of silver this year outside of the account books. The shareholders would still have to be paid their dividends. With this, at least for this year, the family would have a loss. They would also need to use their principal money to fill in. If the imperial envoy stayed in Jiangnan, then was the family going to have to keep filling in the silver themselves? No matter how wealthy the family was, they couldn’t stand against ants moving a mountain.

Knowing what his son was worried about, Ming Qingda did not want to explain more or provide assurances because the reality was just as it was. If the Ming family had to be cut apart to protect itself, then the sacrifices of these two years must be paid.

Thinking of the opening bidding of the palace treasury, Ming Lanshi said quietly, “I met with everyone these two days.”

The “everyone” he referred to was the official merchants in the Jiangnan area who were at least a little famous and had the power to enter the palace treasury bidding.

He continued to report, “I’ve asked the families we are familiar with. The Xiong family in Lingnan and Sun family in Quanzhou both know the current situation. Although it seems they are both greedy for the right to sell on behalf of the palace treasury, their targets were still on the portions the Cui family had left behind. They also promised me that they will not raise the price against us.”

Ming Qingda nodded and said, “This is a golden rice bowl, and everyone wants to hold one. However, since we are early in the order, they cannot act in opposition against us openly, unless they don’t want to do business anymore in Jiangnan.”

It was only now that the master of the Ming family faintly showed a few threads of the confidence and pride that the leading millionaire of Jiangnan should have.

“Most important are those private salt dealing families.” Ming Qingda furrowed his brows slightly. “Those salt dealers are ruthless figures who scoop money out between the space of life and death. They have enough spare money at hand. If they enter the matter of the bidding, it will cause some problems. Although it is nothing to be afraid off, it will just use more silver. The court regulations are fixed at a 40 percent deposit…” He shook his head and continued, “If we take too much, I’m worried the flow of money may not turn around fast enough during the first half of the year.”

The wealthiest people in Jiangnan were the so-called royal merchants and salt merchants. The two minded their own businesses, but now that the Cui family had fallen, who knew whether or not the salt merchants were looking greedily at the palace treasury business. The salt merchants held a robust amount of capital in their hands, and had supporters in court. The Ming family were somewhat worried about this.

“I’ve paid a visit to all the salt merchants in Suzhou.” Ming Lanshi thought about all that he had seen and heard over the last few days and said with surprise, “They said very straightforwardly that this year they will definitely not enter the palace treasury…I don’t know what this is all about.”

Ming Qingda was a bit surprised. He thought it about it before understanding what was happening. “It looks like everyone knows that Sir Fan junior is regulating the palace treasury export routes this year, and no one dares to, at the moment, make a grab for this bowl of rice to eat. They are waiting to see how we and the imperial envoy will clean things up. It seems like the salt merchants are preparing to enter the field next year.”

Ming Lanshi raised his head and furrowed his brows. “Those salt merchants do not seem like such prudent people.”

“Who is their support in the back?” Ming Qingda smiled coldly. “The parent official of our Jiangnan Road, Sir Xue Qing knows Sir Fan’s intentions. At least within this year, he will suppress the salt merchants and not allow them to enter the palace treasury to cause trouble for Sir Fan. This is the face that Sir Xue is giving Sir Fan junior, the old Minister Fan in the capital, and the director.”

Ming Lanshi was silent and had nothing to say.

“It’s fine this way.” Ming Qingda thought for a bit then said, “With the might of the imperial envoy holding down the fort, no one would dare enter and mess up the situation, and we can plan carefully. As long as we can get the bid and get through this year safely, everything will be fine.”

“The imperial envoy…will let us?” Ming Lanshi asked.

Qing Mingda replied, “If we do everything in the open, why should we be afraid of the imperial envoy? In the matter of doing business, he can’t be as good as us. As for the palace treasury opening bid, it goes to the highest bidder. There will be people coming from the Palace, and Jiangnan Road will be watching from the side. It is not something that the palace transport company can run by itself. As long as the Ming family is willing to spend the silver, Sir Fan junior can’t hold on and refuse to give it to us.”

“What I meant was, will the imperial envoy incite other families to purposely raise the price? This is the simplest method. They won’t lose anything but can make us suffer a huge loss.”

Ming Qing shook his head with great confidence. “There are probably none in Jiangnan Road who dare offend Sir Fan junior, but other than him, there are probably also none who dare to offend the Ming family. You have already asked about the news. Those families that have some capability should all be watching from the side this year.”

“If he wants to find a puppet to raise the price,” Ming Qingda furrowed his brows and said, “bidding needs visible silver. The imperial envoy does not have this much silver. He won’t be able to raise it much.”

A faint sense of mockery rose on his face. “Don’t be blinded by that chest of 130,000 liang of silver. When it comes to beating people with silver, officials are still not very good.”

As for beating people with silver, naturally it was the Ming family who did so the most shockingly by throwing out 400,000 liang of silver at one time in a magnificent, ever-changing, awe-inspiring way with the intention of knocking Fan Xian dizzy. Although it didn’t work, this kind of boldness was not a realm that the bribes in the capital could touch.

“The father of the imperial envoy…old master Fan is the Minister of Revenue of our great Qing court and manages the national treasury,” Ming Lanshi reminded him with a pained smile. “If we are speaking silver, he has much more than the Ming family.”

“Minister Fan?” Ming Qingda said in a slightly mocking tone. “It would be fine if the Ministry of Revenue did not move. If the imperial envoy uses his father’s power to suppress the Ming family, then this matter will become very interesting. Believe me, the Eldest Princess has been quiet for this entire time, she is definitely waiting for that moment.”

It suddenly became silent in the Ming Garden. Ming Lanshi felt a slight chill in his heart. He knew that although it appeared his father was retreating step by step, he had long decided on a method to defeat the imperial envoy with the nobility in the capital. Who knew how much blood and danger was concealed behind the palace treasury bidding?

The matter involved the national treasury and the Minister. Ming Lanshi did not dare to keep asking these questions that should not be said aloud. He steadily changed the topic and reported, “Like the previous years, the money in Taiping money house is already prepared. You warned us repeatedly, so we have prepared an extra 30 percent of silver in case we are caught off guard during the bidding.”

The palace treasury bidding used open bid and open money. Putting aside the 40 percent deposit after the deal, the bidding money itself needed to be prepared ahead of time. It was either real gold and silver or banknotes from court-recognized money houses. They both needed to be sent to a special location before the opening.

This was an accumulated amount that was terrifying. It was difficult even for a leading millionaire family of Jiangnan like the Ming family to immediately withdraw this much silver. After all, they couldn’t sell land and houses, furthermore, 60 percent of the bidding silver would be immediately returned. Royal merchants didn’t want to use their cash flow money and would borrow from outside. For large families like the Cui and Ming families, every year they needed a massive amount of money when it came time to bid. They had Taiping money house pull together the money and used their production goods as collateral. It had become a common practice.

Expecting there to be trouble at the palace treasury opening this year, Fan Xian would think of ways to make the Ming family bleed, so the Ming family had asked Taiping money house prepare an extra 20 percent of the banknotes they were issuing. This 20 percent was in itself a terrifying number that forced the Ming family to put up many things as collateral.

“Taiping money house can be trusted,” Ming Qingda said in a serious voice. “It’s an old relationship. Furthermore, it’s a Dongyi business after all, and the Dongyi people will always depend on us to provide goods.”

“Yes,” Ming Lanshi agreed quietly. “Besides, we are not moving the money for nothing. There are always supercilious people in Jiangnan who want to laugh at the expense of the Ming family. If we can get the bid this time, it would be like a slap to their faces. At the same time, it will ensure that the imperial envoy knows the only family that can manage a business deal as big as the palace treasury is our family.”

Ming Qingda looked at him with approval. “That is precisely our intention, so we must take down this bid. The regulations of the court necessitating this much money to be held in the transport company was originally meant to weed out those merchants who did not have the capabilities. At the same time, it has also swept away many of our opponents. Of the people who can move this much, one family has already fallen. Who else can there be? Unless the imperial envoy wants to watch as there is no one to take over the palace treasury goods next year, otherwise he has to give it to me. We have to make sure two things. First is the question of price. Iit can’t be ridiculously high. Second is the question of binding. There will be pressure from the capital to pressure the transport company to follow the old rules and divide the 16 items into four groups of eight, six, one, and one. As always, we only want the eight.”

One half of the items, yet the master of the Ming family still said “only.” The confidence was clear in his words.

Ming Lanshi was happy to accept this. What looked like a tense situation became much easier after his father analyzed the court regulations. It seemed like only their family had this capability to win the big bid under the absurd rules the court had set.

“The matter on the sea is already settled,” Master Ming said slowly. “Have that one in the family keep their mouths shut.”

Hearing the matter on the sea was settled, Ming Lanshi couldn’t help but feel his whole body relax. That was the biggest weapon against the Ming family. As long as it had been cleaned away, given the steady way the Ming family acted in Jiangnan itself, Fan Xian shouldn’t be able to find any excuse to defeat him. However, hearing his father’s last words, the young master of the Ming family still felt a chill.

He didn’t know how his father dealt with the matter on the sea or how those pirates entrenched on the island were silenced. As for the help the Ming family received, a portion of it was certainly from the military side. However, his father kept his mouth closed tight so even him, the young master of the Ming family, did not know which military troops were mobilized by the capital this time.

The matter on the sea was solved by his father. The matters at home were up to him to solve. A ruthlessness flashed across Ming Lanshi’s face.

As night entered, the young master of the Ming family was in an isolated golden room in Suzhou. He was lying on the bed staring at the sky, thinking about something. In his arms was a naked girl curled up as cute as a cat. Her slender fingers were drawing circles on his naked chest. She was Ming Lanshi’s third concubine. Since her identity was special, she was always kept outside of the Ming Garden.

“Lanshi.” The concubine’s breath was warm. She said breathily, “I still want.”

Men most hated hearing these words after the act. Ming Lanshi smiled coldly, “What else do you want? Do you not know how to be satisfied?”

Suddenly the concubine’s face changed color and she ground her teeth. “What do you mean? Is it because the imperial envoy is keeping a close watch and ships don’t dare to sail out, so you think my brother and I are no longer useful?”

Ming Lanshi smiled slightly and turned around. In a gently voice he said, “Darling, you’ve earned so much silver for the Ming family these years, how could you not be useful?”

As his words fell, his hands landed heavily on her snow-white buttocks, sending up a white ripple. She pouted playfully.

The concubine’s eyebrows were thin like silk and full of expectation.

Ming Lanshi’s face was all smiles. One palm chopped down on the back of her neck. He watched as the concubine gave a cry and fainted, then he wrapped his hands to steadily and emotionlessly choke the snow-white throat he had kissed countless times.