Emperor Xie Yu had been having a headache recently.
The country was currently in the hot mid-summer, but the long-awaited rain had not fallen on the Central Plains for an unfortunately long time. Agricultural problems, such as drought and locust plagues, have been reported from one place to another, so the relief of grain and silver was indispensable. Yet, the Ministry of Revenue sadly reported that the treasury was nearly seeing its bottom. With the national debt yet to be repaid in full, Emperor Xie Yu’s anger was pushed to the brim. Moreover, even if he forced all of the nobles who ‘borrowed’ from the national treasure to return their mountainous debts, the aid would still come too slow to be of any help for the relief for disaster could not be delayed.
Because of Chu Dahai’s convenient appearance, Shen Zhen had come up with a new plan that would surely kill two birds with one stone. He secretly met up with the Holy Emperor and quickly reported this to him. Emperor Xie Yu excitedly slapped the table and applauded in amazement, immediately calling in a few more of his trusted aides to discuss the plan more carefully. They all waited till today when Gongsun Mu had finally naively bitten the bait.
Because Shen Zhen was the Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Appointments, he was responsible for almost all the appointments and dismissals of officials, but appointing a close relative to an official position using his power was an outright dereliction of his duty. According to the law, the heaviest punishment that could be imposed would be the execution of his relatives while the lightest punishment would be removing him from his post.
“Official Shen! What’s going on?”
Emperor Xie Yu fiercely slammed his palm against his dragon seat, his face carrying a solemn look as though dark clouds had rushed forth, signaling a brewing heavy storm.
All the ministers attending court lowered their eyebrows and pretended to be unconcerned, however, on the inside, they all uttered the same thing in their hearts, ‘Shen Zhen was doomed this time.’
On the other hand, Gongsun Mu’s face carried sheer bliss as though he could already see Shen Zhen’s beaten body being dragged away by the inner guards, cutting a sorry figure and losing his official position.
Shen Zhen calmly stepped out of the orderly line of ministers and quietly stood beside Gongsun Mu.
He gestured a respectful salute, but the words that came out of his mouth made Gongsun Mu’s heart drop down with a loud ‘clunk.’
“Reporting to the Holy Emperor, this official did not abuse his power. This matter also doesn’t concern whether that man is this official’s relative or not. This official only wants to ease the emperor’s burden. Moreover, there is already a precedent for this matter!”
“Oh?” Emperor Xie Yu jovially played along and further inquired, “How can zhen be involved in this matter of arranging official positions? And how does Official Shen plan to ease my burden with this?”
“Reporting to the Holy Emperor, due to the onslaught of successive droughts and several plagues of locusts, the people have no way to make a living and this widespread famine has run rampant. The most important matter at hand is to make sure that relief from disaster is given. However, the national treasury’s funds have been stretched too thin and the sizable debts of silver remain unpaid. When this official saw all of these factors, this official couldn’t help but feel even more anxious.”
“Hmph!” At the mention of the troublesome debts, Emperor Xie Yu seemed even more furious. Sweeping a cold glance at the silent officials in the hall, everybody appeared to be scared witless. “Silver. Zhen really wants to ask my beloved officials, where is the silver!? Ministry of Revenue! Where are the people who borrowed them!? What use are all of you to zhen!?”
The Ministry of Revenue’s Grand Minister and Assistant Minister hurriedly stepped out of the line and pitifully kneeled on the ground as fast as they could, repeatedly calling out that they had committed a severe crime.
Once Gongsun Mu saw the topic running the other way, he quickly wanted to pull Emperor Xie Yu’s attention back to the current matter.
“Emperor, Lord Shen’s dereliction of duty, has nothing to do with this matter…”
“Hehe,” Shen Zhen responded to Gongsun Mu with a smile, “Lord Gongsun, why are you in such a hurry? Wasn’t I just about to continue my explanation…” Following this, he then turned to the Assistant Minister of Revenue Zhang Feng and the two exchanged glances. Shen Zhen took the lead and spoke with confidence, “As the saying goes, ‘Take history as a mirror and you will know how the country rises and falls.’ Not long ago, this official went to the Imperial Hanlin Academy to refer to the historical records regarding the current problem and had coincidentally bumped into Lord Zhang.”
Zhang Feng bowed towards Shen Zhen and continued, “That is true, Holy Emperor. At that time, this official was concerned about the matter of the disaster relief and had discussed it extensively with Lord Shen, coincidentally reaching the topic of an action taken in the previous dynasty. This official wanted to enlighten you with great wisdom and found the perfect way to solve the matter of utter urgency!”
“This official has already prepared a memorial to the emperor and is preparing to report too, but didn’t expect that Lord Gongsun was a step faster than this official in discovering this measure. Hehe.”
Gongsun Mu appeared stupefied at this moment. He did not understand how the matter of Shen Zhen’s dereliction of duty involved the Ministry of Revenue’s disaster relief.
Zhang Feng said slowly, “In the first year of Emperor Wu De’s reign in the previous dynasty, after the “Donglin Incident,” the treasury was left completely empty, and Emperor Wu De had implemented a policy that only carried out for three months.”
“It was called ‘Donate to Become an Official’!”
‘Donate to Become an Official,’ as the name implied, was a policy that allowed people to become officials through their generous donation.
In the previous dynasty, the Donglin Party forcefully gained power, resulting in the state treasury being plundered empty. After Emperor Wu De assumed the throne, it coincided with the Turkic invasion. The military supplies and army provisions were in a state of insufficiency, so Emperor Wu De relied on the consensus and enacted a brand new policy where merchants who can lavishly donate to the army provisions and military supplies, will be granted an official position by the Emperor.
Although such official positions that were obtained through donations cannot be granted with real power and official seals, there were still a large number of merchants who donated money to buy false reputations.
Because of this, the military supplies and army provisions were quickly replenished, and the morale of the army was greatly boosted. Three months later, the Turks were utterly defeated.
After the imperial army returned in triumph, Emperor Wu De also halted the implementation of this policy.
It can be said that ‘Donate to Become an Official’ was a last resort made due to the urgent situation at that time, so there was a group of officials without real power during the previous dynasty. However, such a policy has not affected the dynamic of the imperial government. Instead, it resolved an urgent need.
It’s just that in the eyes of the nobles of the Xie Dynasty, those who gained their fame and title from this policy, were considered unworthy. They merely thought of them as merchants who stank with the stench of copper. As such, they never thought of it. They were also unwilling to propose such a measure to Emperor Xie Yu because it would damage their reputation and interests.
At this moment, Shen Zhen elaborated on his explanation.
“This official thought that now that our treasury is completely used up and we are currently struck with famine. For the sake of the common people, we’ll use these ‘donations’ to raise funds and replenish the disaster relief reserves as soon as possible to save the lives of millions of people!”
“Chu Dahai took the initiative and donated one million silver to the Ministry of Revenue. A mere magistrate position could save hundreds of thousands of citizens from disaster. This official believes that this method is reasonable and justified!”
Zhang Feng promptly took the baton, “This official also seconds this motion!”
After Emperor Xie Yu listened to this, he remained silent for a long while.
The hall was chillingly quiet. So much so that the drop of a needle could be heard.
At this moment, Gongsun Mu was still holding onto his last sliver of hope. He had wished that the emperor would ultimately rebuke and oppose this proposal.
However, reality wasn’t on his side.
Hearing only Emperor Xie Yu loudly clap his hands and release a hearty laugh, “Official Shen, Official Zhang, you both really are zhen’s timely rain!”
“Emperor!” Gongsun Mu felt anxious, “Please reconsider, Emperor!”
He had finally reacted to Shen Zhen’s scheme and wanted to put a curb to it. “‘Donate to Become an Official’ is putting the cart before the horse1 Putting the cart before the horses: To place the unimportant before the important. . Officials are the supporting pillars of the country. If any merchant is easily allowed to become an official, I fear that the scholars would become bitterly disappointed by this new policy!”
Contrary to what one might expect, Gongsun Mu had a sharp mouth by using the pretext of the scholars to suppress Emperor Xie Yu and pushing Emperor Xie Yu to reach a compromise.
But he had completely forgotten who had pushed Emperor Xie Yu to this point.
“Bitterly disappointed!?” Emperor Xie Yu sneered and raised his finger to the people standing in the hall with their hearts lowered, “Zhen is the one who’s bitterly disappointed!”
“Why is zhen’s national treasury still empty!? Huh?” He turned to attack Gongsun Mu, “Gongsun Mu! Do you want zhen to list out for you exactly how much silver the Gongsun Clan has ‘borrowed’!?”
“Zhang Feng!” Emperor Xie Yu shouted.
“This official is here!” Zhang Feng was alert and ready for the Holy Emperor’s instructions.
“Report the amount to Lord Gongsun!”
“Understood!” Zhang Feng promptly took out the memorial he had been carrying from his clothes. “Yongxing Year 18, Lord Gongsun Zhi borrowed thirty thousand silvers from the Ministry of Revenue; Yongxing Year 20, Lord Gongsun Chang borrowed fifty thousand silvers; Tianbao Year 3, Lord Gongsun Hui borrowed twenty thousand silvers…”
“The Gongsun clan had borrowed a total of three hundred and fifty thousand silvers, all of which has not yet been returned.”
Gongsun Mu’s legs had already started quivering.
Every time Zhang Feng reported a case, the sweat seeping out of his smooth forehead increased. Although this incident was thoroughly investigated before, during the early reign of Emperor Xie Yu, due to the large number of people involved, all of whom were ministers and relatives of the emperor, this matter was left unsettled. He was completely unaware that Emperor Xie Yu had even asked the Ministry of Revenue to check every account and waited for him here.
“Hmph,” Emperor Xie Yu saw that the effect of killing the chicken to scare the monkey2Killing the chicken to scare the monkey: Refers to making an example out of someone to threaten others. was successfully achieved and sneered, “If the Son of Heaven committed a crime then he shares the same crime as the common people, what do you think will happen? As important ministers of the imperial court, you have failed to set an example for your countrymen and instead, schemed and embezzled all day. Where do you place zhen! Where do you place the thousands of people of my Xie Kingdom!?”
“Begging the emperor to quell your anger!”
“Begging the emperor to quell your anger!”
“Begging the emperor to quell your anger!”
The successive sounds of kowtows resounded in the hall as all the officials became apprehensive. They had not seen Emperor Xie Yu’s brutal rage in a long time.
As the saying goes, once the Son of Heaven rages, millions of corpses would be laid.
This time, it looked like the one who had run into trouble, was not Shen Zhen, but Gongsun Mu.
TOC for advanced chapter – ICD
Translation status of advanced chapters: 4th and 5th world Completed