“Hey! Have you heard? We no longer have enough food in the city!” One man whispered to another.
“Not enough food? No way! Where did you even hear that from? His Highness should no longer have a shortage of food. Otherwise, he would not have given us land and even low taxes.” Another replied in astonishment. This man believed that the low taxes was evidence that the Liu Mang’s Army had enough provisions. Otherwise, Liu Mang would not be able to raise a large army.
“There is no need to ask. You can see for yourself. How much food did you get yesterday?” The first guy asked disdainfully.
“Two portions!” The second guy replied, failing to understand the purpose of the question.
“Exactly! At the start, we received four portions each. It then decreased to three portions and now, two portions! Children were given one portion and now, only half a portion! How is this enough to eat? Is this enough of an explanation?”
It was true that at the start, everyone received four portions. It was enough to make them full and even have left overs. Now, they only received two portions. It was not enough to make them filled. One should remember that this is during ancient times. They do not have many dishes that allowed them to eat less rice. All they could eat during those turbulent times was rice. So, the consumption was larger.
“Two portions is already good enough. We would not starve to death! This is better than last time!” One old man with favourable impressions to Liu Mang’s Army replied. He was a man that survived the Yellow Turban Rebellion and have personally experienced what it was like to starve. It was truly a world where men eat men and corpses were everywhere. Right now, two portions were enough.
“Better than last time? Old man. Let me tell you that in a few days, you would not even have two portions! To stop the Liu Bei’s Army outside the city, they would provide more provisions to the defenders and cut off our rations! The only way we can eat is if we climb the walls!” The man that looked like a simple farmer continued to say.
“Only the people on the walls can eat?” The old man frowned. It was not so bad for young men if this was true. However, the old, women, and children would not be able to eat unless they go up the walls and get themselves killed. Seeing the old man frown, the young man continued to slander Liu Mang’s Army, saying that the common people would only be given rotten food and other malicious remarks.
“You have things to eat and you are still picky about it. Would you prefer the Liu Bei’s Army to break into the city and kill you?” Another man could no longer bear to listen to this and denounced him.
“Who told you that Lord Xuande would massacre everyone? These are all lies! Lord Xuande is the Left General of the Han! He is the Imperial Uncle and is extremely benevolent. If you do not believe me, ask the people that came from Xuzhou. Look at how many common people from Xuzhou willing to follow him when he left Xuzhou!” The man started to praise Liu Bei.
“That’s right! I came from Xuzhou. Lord Xuande is a saint! He saved us from being massacred by the evil Cao!” Pang Tong’s spy was not the only one amongst them. There had also been the common people from Xuzhou. Even until now, the people from Xuzhou were thankful to Liu Bei.
Many started to waver when they heard so many others say such things.
The man finally said, “The Left General also prepared a banquet for us outside the city! If you do not believe me, go and see for yourself! He said that he forgives us for our actions on the walls and that he is here under orders to supress those that do not submit to the Emperor. He has no grudges against us!”
“Supress those that do not submit? What do you mean by that? Shouchun belongs to His Highness the Sage King.”
“You would not understand. The Sage King had been deceived by others, like that Military Advisor Xu Shu and also people like Yang Hong. I am sure you know him. Yang Hong was Yuan Shu’s advisor and is a crafty person!” Yang Hong truly had bad reputation amongst the people. This was because he plundered many of the common people for Yuan Shu to ascend the throne and to provide enough provisions to Yuan Shu. As a result, many people hated Yang Hong. None of them would have thought that Yang Hong was just following orders.
“You mean?” The common people started to think too much. Yuan Shu had been in Shouchun for a long time. He claimed to be Emperor, causing the whole of Yangzhou to fall into decline. This was a miserable ending. The one that incited Yuan Shu to become Emperor, Yang Hong, is still around. The same thing might happen once again in Shouchun. The people could still remember the tragic ending of Yangzhou.
“What about the taxes and land?” The real concern of the common people were their small profits. This is because these were their foundations.
“Lord Xuande had already said that he is taking Shouchun to supress rebellious ministers. Once the treacherous ministers were executed, he would comply with the Sage King’s demands to show respect to us.” The man continued to say. All of his words were part of Pang Tong’s schemes. ‘Thirty percent tax? What a joke. Even the virtuous Liu Bei would not do such a thing. Otherwise, how would he raise an army and provide a salary to the officers?’ The war at Guandu is about to be over. The only way to conquer the Central Plains was to have a powerful army. The only reason why the man said all that was to pacify the people. Everything else can be explained by someone else after Shouchun is captured. Once Shouchun is taken, the taxes would go back to normal. When the people rebel, the infamy would be received by Liu Mang. Liu Mang would be framed for setting these taxes and the people would be asked to go and find Liu Mang. Liu Bei would be able to receive the original amount of taxes and Liu Mang’s reputation would be finished. The people would also support Liu Bei.
A discussion started after the man said all that. Most of the common people had second thoughts. As simple men, they do not have any undying loyalty. All they wanted was for their own small family. All they thought about was that it would be great if Liu Bei had no intentions of killing the people in the city. They do not care about who ruled the area. It was not just them. Even the temporary garrison started to have second thoughts. This is because Liu Bei said that they would be forgiven if they were to drop their weapons and not fight back.
“Haha. The Military Advisor is truly like a deity. This way, Shouchun would soon fall!” The man that looked like a simple farmer suddenly gave a cunning smile. He simply changed clothes and went to the different districts to start the rumors.
“Captain. Should we arrest him?” The spy did not know that he had been watched since earlier.
“No. Not right now!” This captain was an intelligence officer left behind by Yang Hong. They had already knew that Pang Tong had sneaked spies in much earlier but was unable to find them as there were millions of people in Shouchun. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. Pang Tong’s stratagem had then exposed these people but it hadn’t been the time to catch them. The ringleaders were still in hiding. Once all of them came out, they can be all be caught in one fell swoop.
Just as a riot was about to start, soldiers from the White Horse shouted loudly. “People. A corrupt provision officer will soon be executed! Go and watch if you want to. The Military Advisor will bring justice for you!”
“The execution of a corrupt official? What is so nice to see about that? I am not going! What is the point of going to such a sullen place?” Some of them did not want to go. However, they immediately changed their opinion when another shouted, “Provision official? What kind of official is that?”
“Idiot. How could you not know this? That is the officer that distributes food to us!” Someone else disparaged him.
“The one that distributes food to us? Is this about the provisions?”
“Everyone, let us go and see this! The Military Advisor said that he will give us justice. They may give us more food!” Both Liu Mang and Pang Tong’s men made this look big. Just by saying that food may be given, all those that did not want to go initially changed their minds. They immediately followed the crowd.
Amongst them was a woman. As a married woman, she should not go out even if she was worried about food. However, she had a different reason for joining the crowd.
Two women had entered her house and shouted, “Miss Xie, quickly come with us to the walls at the East!”
“Go to the walls at the East?” Miss Xie was stunned not knowing why she should go. It was only an execution and the place was crowded. On top of that, she was pregnant. “Miss Liu. What are you so anxious? Speak slowly and drink some water!” Miss Xie replied and then gave a small cup of water.
After drinking water, Miss Liu became more relaxed and said, “Come, Miss Xie. Let us quickly go to the walls! It is Xie Wen!”
“What happened to my husband?” Hearing her husband’s name being mentioned, she became uneasy.
“He is going to be executed! Go! Go now!”
“What? Impossible!” Xie Wen had lost his arm in service to the Lu Bu’s Army and still fought for the Lu Bu’s Army. How could such a person be executed?
“Isn’t Xie Wen the provision officer?” Miss Liu asked only to receive a nod from Miss Xie. “Then I am not wrong! The people on those horses said that he is going to be executed to seek justice for us!”
“Take me there!” Miss Xie panicked as this Xie Wen was her husband.
Miss Liu was afraid that something might happen to the pregnant Miss Xie and had her husband and her little brother bring her to the walls. The four of them were stopped by a sea of people blocking the roads before reaching the walls. They only managed to squeeze their way to the front with the help of the two men.
“Give way! Give way!” Everyone looked up and saw horses pulling a prisoner’s cart. Inside it was Xie Wen.
“Xie Wen! Xie Wen!” Miss Xie shouted out. However, there were too many people present and her voice silenced by the crowd.
Xie Wen was escorted near the walls. Behind him was Xu Shu and a bodyguard. Meanwhile, Zhao Yun was keeping watch on the walls in case Liu Bei decided to suddenly attack.
“Everyone, quiet!” A scholarly person requested for the crowd to be silent so that Xu Shu’s words could be heard. However, a single scholar was not enough. Just as the scholar did not know what to do, Xu Shu stood up and walked towards the market. Xie Wen then knelt in front of him. Xu Shu suddenly took a deep breath and roared. “Silence!” As Xu Shu was also a warrior, his roar was powerful. This caused the people to turn silent.
Once everyone became quiet, Xu Shu breathed a sigh of relief. His injury worsened from his earlier action. After a while, Xu Shu said, “People of the city. I am Xu Shu Xu Yuanzhi, a subordinate of His Highness the Sage King. I am indebted to His Highness for thinking highly of me and giving me the post of Military Advisor. I have always been cautious for any negligence. His Highness builds his foundation based on the common people. For the common people, he benevolently set the taxes to be at thirty percent and gave fertile land so that you could live happily and peacefully. He did all this for the people.” Xu Shu spoke of Liu Mang’s benevolence as his opening speech. There were those thankful to him but there were even more that had forgotten Liu Mang’s goodwill. More people would forget goodwill after a long period of time. Xu Shu wanted to remind them of this so that they would once again feel thankful.
“That’s right! His Highness is a good man! He set the taxes to thirty percent and even gave us land! He would even give us more land if we have children. He is a saint!” Ancient China also had a history of agriculture besides its history of war. This was their main occupation. With land and thirty percent tax, the people would be able to eat their fill. This was a huge benefit that they could definitely see.
Xu Shu felt satisfied at the people’s gratitude. Only bastards would think badly of them after receiving so much benefits. “However, not everyone thinks that way. Just a few days ago, that bandit Liu Bei seek the riches of Yangzhou and wanted to take possession of Shouchun. He also wants to confiscate your land. They also want to increase the tax back to fifty percent. Don’t you think such people are very detestable?” Xu Shu started to rouse to people.
“Yes!” The people cried out. The people came to Shouchun for the fertile land. If take their land away, they would not be able to survive. There was also the fifty percent tax. During those turbulent times, it was actually not much. However, they could no longer go back after tasting luxury. Such an action would only stimulate their wrath.
Xu Shu wanted to direct their anger to Liu Bei. If Liu Bei wanted to beautify himself, Xu Shu wanted to demonize him. He would make Liu Bei into a demon that wants the people to starve.
“Liar!” Xu Shu’s words provoked a hatred amongst the people. Liu Bei’s hidden spies could not allow this. If the people start to hate Liu Bei, everything they worked for would be finished. Even if they still managed to capture Shouchun after that, the Liu Bei’s Army would become helpless. The spy stood up and pointed at Xu Shu as he yelled, “The Left General came to supress rebellious ministers. Why would he take away our land and increase our taxes? These are just your one sided slander!”
Everyone’s attention gathered onto the spy. Xu Shu also looked at the man. Xu Shu did not show any expression but was sneering in his heart. “Distinguished person. Who are you?”
“I am not any kind of distinguished person. I am simply a common person from Yuzhou. At Yuzhou, we all worship and thank Lord Xuande for his kindness. Even the people from Xuzhou have the same opinion as us. Lord Xuande had been chased away from Xuzhou by that bandit Cao but the people of Xuzhou followed him all the way to Yuzhou! How could such a saint take away our land and raise our taxes? Lord Xuande is still outside. If we surrender, he would let bygones be bygones. You have humiliated Lord Xuande here. Isn’t this just to have us fight on the walls and die for you?” The man that stood up spoke confidently.
The man’s words made the people, especially those from Xuzhou, angry again as they were truly thankful to Liu Bei. The people never cared about who was in charge. All they wanted was a safe environment to live in. If Liu Bei had given such a condition, it would be better to surrender to Liu Bei. Their favourable impressions of Liu Bei made the spy feel proud.
“Who is this?” When the man stood up, the intelligence personnel of Liu Mang’s Army were closely watching him. Nobody seemed to know about him and he was also not amongst those watching the crowd. This meant that this person should be the leader of the spies.
“Haha. Then let me address you as brother! Brother. You said you came from Yuzhou. Am I right?” Xu Shu asked lightly.
“Yes. I am from Yuzhou!” The man repeated.
“Good! Come. Someone bring him here!” Xu Shu directly pointed at the man and shouted. Two guards then moved to grab that person.
Seeing the guards moving towards him, the man calmly said, “What’s wrong? Do you want to kill me after I speak the truth? Does my words hurt? If that is the case, come and kill me! Killing me alone would not help you from the others!” The man provoked. He was certain that Xu Shu would not kill him as that would only prove that Xu Shu was slandering Liu Bei.
“Kill you? Haha. I, Xu Shu, am afraid of killing people and treat such actions in disdain!” Xu Shu replied disdainfully, causing the man to feel ashamed.
“You said that you are from Yuzhou and that Liu Bei, Liu Xuande, is a saint. In that case, why did you come to my Sage King at Yangzhou instead of Liu Bei?” Xu Shu asked. If Liu Bei was so good, go to Liu Bei. Coming to Shouchun is indirectly saying that Yuzhou was inferior to Yangzhou.
“What’s wrong? Nothing left to say?” Xu Shu asked indifferently. The common people started to express their opinion again. They agreed with Xu Shu’s words that if this man came to Yangzhou from Yuzhou, it would mean that the man had a hard time living in Yuzhou.
“Hmph! I came to Yangzhou to study and pay respects to the Sage King. I wanted to see if he is a Saint like our Lord Xuande!” The man quickly refuted Xu Shu’s words by claiming to be a traveller and not a citizen. Such people would only be forced to stick around because a war broke out.
“Good. A studious person!” Xu Shu did not expect such a reply but would Xu Shu allow the man to go? Of course not! “Since you are a student, I am sure you know some mathematics1. In that case, let me ask how much is the tax in Yuzhou?”
“The tax in Yuzhou is… This is…” The tax at Yuzhou was sixty percent. This was a fact.
“If you do not want to say it, I will say it! The taxes in Yuzhou is sixty percent! It is double the taxes set in Yangzhou! Liu Bei Liu Xuande is a villain that attacked us because he does not want us to maintain thirty percent taxes! He does not want the people to have fertile lands! The reason for this is because our taxes has caused his people in Yuzhou to come to Yangzhou, to our Sage King! Liu Bei did not want to see his people move away while our people live good lives! In his jealousy, he sent troops and using the excuse that he is here to supress rebellious ministers! His real reason is to annex our land in Yangzhou! He wants the people to once again pay sixty percent tax! Tell me! Is such a person a hypocrite? Is he not a vile and treacherous person?”
“Yes! Yes he is!” The people’s eyes turned red. They now believed that Liu Bei wanted to take away their lifeblood and make them pay sixty percent tax.
Pang Tong wanted to drive a wedge between the people of Shouchun. On the other hand, Xu Shu used the people’s interest to make them united.
“For the good of the people? How can you say you are thinking of the people’s benefits when they cannot eat enough? You no longer have enough provisions! In order to defend Shouchun, you can only let the people starve. Right now, they are fed with two portions! Tomorrow, they may only be fed with one portion! You may even start confiscating food if the war goes on! Even if you have fertile land, the harvest would only come in the autumn. We would starve to death by then! We might as well choose to survive! Open the gates! That way, we would not starve to death in Shouchun!” The man continued.
The people became silent again. It was an objective fact that Shouchun does not have enough provisions. It was true that their four portions of food slowly became two portions. Their fertile land would mean nothing if they starve to death. In the end, they might as well choose to live a hard life. Such were the people in ancient times. They would rebel when there is no food.
几何 Technically, it means geometry, the mathematical study of shapes but it has nothing to do with taxes. Read separately, it means ‘how much’. So I changed it back to mathematics to make the English flow better.