In the quiet inner hall of the Rong Da Da Ya, Xu Ziling was receiving his second lesson after his arrival in Chang’an. Yesterday he was mainly listening to Rong Da’s manager Chen Fu explaining Pingyao’s local conditions and customs, their livelihood and habit, while also learning his Pingyao accent. In term of language, both Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong had innate talent, they could quickly speak Tujue language, learning a bit of local accent naturally did not pose any problem for him.
The round table in front of him was full of things such as ‘pawn-money card’, ‘money ticket’, ‘account book’ and so on, items common to the pawnshop business. When Xu Ziling was dazzled upon seeing all these things, Chen Fu, sitting on the other side of the table, said, “Our pawn industry could be described in four words, which are ‘yi cai sheng cai’ [using money to make money]: to use wealth to provide loans and make a profit, to earn money on the basis of high interest, using trust to borrow or lend money, or using collateral to provide loans. The security could vary from moveable property, for example pearl and jewel, jade and stone, to immovable property like real estate: house and land, so much so that a person could be used as collateral.” Translated by foxs
Stunned, Xu Ziling said, “How can a person be a collateral? If there is no money to pay back, are you saying we can sell the person?”
Chen Fu’s build was slim, he was gifted with a horse face, around fifty years of age, his considerably high sideburns were somewhat grizzled, his manner was friendly and warm; hearing the question, he revealed a vague smile and responded in low voice, “Debt must be paid with money, if no money, then they can work to pay the debts; if the collateral is a pretty woman, she could be sold to the pleasure house. But our Chang’an Rong Da will never do such things; however, in the villages or some remote areas, I do not dare to guarantee that such things will not happen. Since it is a mutual consent, it’s very difficult for government authorities to interfere. What’s more, we open a pawnshop, the first critical phase is open access to the government officials; one side keeps a low profile, the other side has one eye open, the other eye closed, everybody lives together in harmony.” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Hearing that, Xu Ziling’s confidence increased steeply; merely this aspect of using person as collateral, it should be greatly attractive to the Xiang Family, tantamount to later on they could openly buying and selling people. “How did the pawn industry begin?” he asked with a frown.
Sketching it in light shades, Chen Fu replied, “The pawn industry was rampant during the Northern and Southern dynasties [420-589], it originated from the Buddhist temples’ storehouse system.”
Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, “How could it relate to the Buddhist temple? How could Buddhist temple do shady business to accumulate wealth? Wouldn’t it go against the people-who-left-their-homes’ principle of four elements are vanity?”
Chen Fu smiled and said, “Don’t the people-who-left-their-homes need to eat? Monastery, via various social classes’ Dana [Buddhist practice of giving], amasses great amount of wealth, in order to maintain numerous monks’ livelihood, to carry out all kinds of religious activities, to maintain and extend the monastery. All these are not possible without money; therefore, they thought about this religious way of using money to make money, to rely on providing loans to make a profit.”
After a short pause, he went on, “As for whether it goes against the original idea of Buddhism, as far as I know, it does not. However, at least in the Buddhist scripture and law, there are records of ‘endless storehouse’, also ‘continuous habitation, inexhaustible benefit’, ‘at that time, there were all kinds of prosperity of the six congregations, either taking, or with, or raw, or qualitative’ [sorry, no idea … I can only deduce from Google that this passage is from Tripitaka], so that the monks could feel at ease in providing loans to obtain profit as sacrificial offering to be used by Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, the Three Precious Treasures.” Translated by foxs
Listening to that, Xu Ziling’s horizon was greatly broadened; he asked, “Such a profitable business, the competition must be very fierce, how did Situ Furong distinguish himself and become the boss of the nation’s biggest pawnshop business?”
Chen Fu cheerfully said, “In this aspect, anybody would admire Da Laoban [big boss]; the reason he can be so successful was simply because of the introduction of ‘grain pawn’ and the issuance of ‘money ticket’, two new businesses. ‘Grain pawn’ is not limited to grains of rice, but numerous other grain goods. This is particularly popular in rural areas and villages. Just think of exchanging grain goods for money. Although the price is substantially lower than direct selling, but in terms of convenience and meeting a contingency, no other commercial method can compare.”
“As for ‘money ticket’, it could be said as some kind of favor to business people. The method is the pawnshop issued vouchers to take the place of currency in circulation in the market, which could be cashed in at any time, and thus we make a profit by charging premium for the exchange.” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Xu Ziling understood. No wonder it was said that the pawn business attached most importance to reputation of the company; therefore, although in term of financial resources the Xiang Family surpassed Situ Furong, but because of their pleasure house and casino trademarks, plus they had background in human trafficking, they could meet misfortune any time by being wiped out and closed down by the government, so who would put their trust in the ‘money ticket’ that they issued?
The more he gained understanding of the pawnshop industry, the more confidence he had that the Xiang Family would take the bait, that the Xiang Family would seize this once-in-a-thousand-years golden opportunity to fully use their ‘changing-the-sky-exchanging-the-sun’ big method.
“All right!” Chen Fu said, “Now it’s Gongzi’s turn to gain an in-depth understanding of our operation and business practices.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling smiled bitterly, he had no choice but to pull himself together and rouse his spirit to focus his attention to listen, in order to be the best Situ Furong impersonator.
Inside the imperial palace’s study room, finished reading Dou Jiande’s secret letter, Wang Shichong, wearing full dragon robe, handed the letter to Wang Xuanying, sitting on the lower right side’s head seat, to have him take a look as well. Frowning, he said, “Why would Dou Jiande want to help me to deal with Li Shimin?”
Before Kou Zhong had any chance to respond, Wang Xuanying, while still reading Dou Jiande’s letter, without even looking up, laughed coldly and said, “Perhaps it’s beating a tiger from the front door, only to have a wolf come in at the back!”
Immediately Kou Zhong’s anger flared up; he was about to brush his sleeve away and rise up, Wang Xuanshu, sitting next to Kou Zhong, hurriedly interjected, “Currently Xia Wang and our Great Zheng are as close as lips and teeth; if Luoyang fell, the next one …” Translated by foxs
“How can Luoyang fall?” Wang Shichong cut him off, “Li Shimin has always been good at controlling people by moving later; that was how Xue Ju, father and son, and Song JinGang were defeated in his hands. This time I am going to use that same method to control him; by the time he attacks for a long time without success and move his troops back, that will be the moment he suffers total defeat of his army.”
Although Kou Zhong absolutely had no good impression toward Wang Shichong, he had to admit that this was the proper strategy to deal with Li Shimin’s main forces. The question was whether the Zheng Army could hold fast to that moment.
His eyes flickering, Wang Shichong stared fixedly at Kou Zhong, but he did not immediately speak. Without the least bit of respect, Wang Xuanying carelessly tossed Dou Jiande’s letter on the small table by his side; with a hint of cold smile in his face, he looked at Kou Zhong, who was sitting in the head seat on Wang Shichong’s left. Wang Xuanshu revealed a helpless wry smile, but he kept silent. The air inside the study room was thick with awkwardness. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Suddenly Wang Shichong threw his head back in long laughter and said, “Shaoshuai is so concerned over my Great Zheng’s affair, I am very appreciative; if Li Shimin attacked one year sooner, I might act with confusion, but after a whole year of preparation against war, I have complete confidence in fighting this war. Now our Luoyang has elite soldiers, ample provisions, as long as we could hold out until the winter’s Great Snow [21st of the 24 solar terms], how could Li Shimin press on?”
Inwardly Kou Zhong was greatly astonished; the last time he saw Wang Shichong, at least on the surface, this old fox was giving him very deep deferential treatment, but this time obviously there was a major change in attitude, what exactly was he relying on? Or just like he said, why did he have complete confidence to win this battle?
Kou Zhong was overcome with a having-nothing-to-say dejected feeling; smiling wryly, he said, “I wonder if Shengshang [courtier’s or minister’s form of address for the current Emperor] is asking me to leave?”
Shaken, Wang Xuanshu looked at his father.
Wang Shichong sighed and said, “Shaoshuai is truly a figure that I admire very much, but unfortunately you cannot be used by me, Wang Shichong; the bigger problem is that Shaoshuai has already become the Song Family of Lingnan’s man. Song Que has always regarded people of foreign background as the enemy, he and I are as incompatible as fire and water. Shaoshuai, please tell me how am I supposed to trust you?”
Kou Zhong said, “Things have slight or important, urgent or non-urgent distinction; if you, Shengshang have complete confidence to put Li Shimin in order on your own, naturally this kid has nothing to say. But the fact before our eyes is that in the end, everybody who had complete confidence to put Li Shimin in order has been proven to be wrong. If I were Shengshang, I would not cut my escape route before starting the war. That is all I have to say! As for how to do it, would Shengshang please make your decision?” Translated by foxs
Wang Shichong smiled and said, “We have worked together to bring Li Mi down, this time naturally we could join hands to make Li Shimin suffer a big defeat, Shaoshuai must not be paranoid, but we must all speak out the words in our heart.”
Wang Xuanying spoke indifferently, “Beating back Li Shimin, what benefit will it bring Shaoshuai?”
Kou Zhong really wanted to punch Wang Xuanying’s face, to see what would his pale little face look like afterwards. This person failed to see the larger issue, just because he suffered disgrace by being captured twice, he still harbored hard feelings toward Kou Zhong. After taking a deep breath, he spoke in heavy voice, “How about we make an about-turn? If Li Shimin capture Luoyang, what harm will it bring me?”
Wang Shichong revealed displeasure; letting out a cold snort, he said, “Shaoshuai, please explain your wise opinion.”
Kou Zhong’s gaze moved from Wang Xuanying’s face to Wang Shichong; he said, “If Luoyang falls, then Dou Jiande will be forced to retreat and defend Hebei. At that time, Li Shimin could send any great general from his Tian Ce Fu, he would be able to defend Luoyang as securely as a city protected by wall of metal and a moat of boiling water. At that time, the first person Li Shimin is going to kill will not be Dou Jiande, but me, Kou Zhong.” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Wang Xuanying sneered and said, “Perhaps Shaoshuai overestimates his own importance in Li Shimin’s heart? The mighty army division under Dou Jiande’s command reaches four hundred thousand men, Shao Shuai Army is merely several tens of thousands, plus there is no solid city wall and rugged terrain to defend.”
Kou Zhong returned his mocking gaze, he smiled and said, “This is not a question of who is a bit more important, but a question of strategy. If Li Shimin attacked and captured Luoyang, the Li Clan’s House of Tang’s prestige would rise greatly, so that some people who are watching the wind and steer the rudder accordingly [i.e. on the lookout] like Gao Kaidao, Luo Yizhi, and so on would have no choice but to rush to surrender to the House of Tang, which would make Dou Jiande facing the enemy in front and behind, unable to move a single step. Li Shimin is not a fool, he might lure Dou Jiande to toil his army in military expedition to attack him, while he himself calmly deploy his army to the south. Once I am eliminated, he would establish his navy fleet in Bashu. On top of that, there’s Du Fuwei’s Jianghuai Army ready to respond, then the various hegemons of the south’s allotted share is to be slaughtered. At that time, Dou Jiande’s only way to survive is to attack Luo, to meet the world’s best in city defense, Li Shimin. With Guanzhong ready to support him, what would the outcome be? There seem to be no need for Xiaodi to explain!”
Wang Xuanying was dumbstruck and unable to reply, because what Kou Zhong said was entirely the truth, and Wang Xuanying had never thought about any of it.
Wang Xuanshu’s pair of eyes emitted an esteeming, admiring expression, he repeatedly nodded his head.
The refined light in Wang Shichong’s two eyes was flaring greatly, he had no choice but to nod his head in agreement. He said, “Shaoshuai’s view on the current political situation is extremely thorough; however, Luoyang definitely won’t fall.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Since Shengshang already indicated that we ought to speak forthrightly, then I will be blunt as well; Shengshang, why are you so confident?” Translated by foxs
With a card up his sleeve, Wang Shichong replied, “Because even though Shaoshuai calculated a thousand times, considered it ten thousand times, you still leave out the internal variable of the Li Clan. If Li Shimin can conquer Luoyang in one move, naturally there won’t be any problem. But if he attacks for a long time without success, the other big enemies will begin to stir. Li Yuan might change his mind and order Li Shimin to retreat. Shaoshuai understand what I mean?”
Kou Zhong was shocked inwardly; he suddenly understood the reason Wang Shichong was this secure in the knowledge that he had backing, all because he secretly obtained the support of the Tujue people. Precisely because of this that he did not consider Dou Jiande’s help worthy in his eyes. When Li Shimin besieged Luoyang, if Xieli helped Liang Shidou or the likes to come again to attack Taiyuan, since it would be difficult for Li Shimin to look after his head and tail, he had no choice but to pull his troops to defend Guanzhong.
After staring fixedly at each other with Wang Shichong for half a day, he laughed aloud, leaned back into his chair, and said with a sigh, “If Shengshang really thinks like that, you have fallen into the Tujue people’s evil scheme.”
For the first time, Wang Shichong’s countenance changed; he spoke in displeasure, “What relationship do the Tujue people have with me? How did I fall into the Tujue people’s scheme?” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “What relationship Shengshang has with the Tujue people, naturally I do not know. I just hope that it’s not a relationship with Zhao Deyan or Da Ming Zun Jiao building the bridge. There might be the day where Xieli will be able to unify the various tribes beyond the Great Wall and come to invade our territory, but definitely it will not happen in a few months. I have just come back from beyond the Great Wall, I should understand the situation beyond the Great Wall a bit better than you do.”
Wang Xuanshu could not help asking, “What is the current situation beyond the Great Wall?”
Kou Zhong replied, “It could pretty much be described with one word ‘chaotic’. Tuli, under pressure from Bi Xuan, had to restore his relationship with Xieli, but both sides, because of the battle of the Rushing Wolf Plain and the establishment of the Bohai Kingdom, their army is strained, the troops weary. Before they could reorganize their troop disposition and establish new relationship with the other various tribes, they definitely will not dare to act blindly without thinking. If I am guessing correctly, Xieli expressing his support to your Great Zheng, I am afraid he only wants you to fall without even fighting, so that Li Shimin, without wasting a single soldier a lone troop – would seize control of the Yellow River. At that time, he could conveniently stretch his hand and snatch the world. For Xieli, the most ideal situation would be because of his attack to Luoyang, Li Shimin’s strength suffers great harm, so that when the Tujue allied armies seize the opportunity to strike to the south, with the Li Clan powerless to strike back, he would occupy the Great Plain first, to get a firm foothold, and then gradually nibble away to accomplish his beautiful dream of engulfing the Central Plains.” Translated by foxs
The study room was silent as if it was weighed down by a piece of lead.
Wang Shichong stared at Kou Zhong, and then he took a deep and long breath, and said, “Xieli did not make any commitment to me.”
He spoke those words feebly and lacking strength, clearly he said it without meaning it, which convinced Kou Zhong even more that his guess was spot on.
Wang Xuanying spoke heavily, “Just now Shaoshuai said something about Zhao Deyan or Da Ming Zun Jiao paving the way, what do you mean by that?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “Nothing. Zhao Deyan has a close relationship with Rong Fengxiang, and Rong Fengxiang himself is a Da Ming Zun Jiao man, yet you guys showed particular tolerance toward him, so I made a guess following the line of reasoning; it should be a fair guess!”
Wang Xuanying was at a loss for words; in this verbal battle, Kou Zhong opposed him with equal harshness; how could he be Kou Zhong’s match?
With his thoughts wandering, Wang Shichong said, “Let’s not argue over these little things, what good proposal does Shaoshuai have?” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Kou Zhong breathed a sigh of relief secretly; after wasting that much lips and tongue, this was the response that he strived for from Wang Shichong. He spoke with serious expression, “My proposal can be summed up in three sentences, which are: defense as the top priority, form alliance with Dou Army, and solidify Hulao.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Wang Shichong said, “I thought Shaoshuai would have some previously unimagined proposal; these … hey! These are the strategies that we have already formulated.”
Kou Zhong cursed him inwardly; at least forming alliance with the Dou Army was not the strategy that he already established. He said, “Defense as the top priority strategy is easy to say, but the implementation is surely difficult. The second item of forming alliance with the Dou Army, Shengshang must postpone your self-proclamation as the emperor, only then will we have discussion.”
Wang Xuanying finally found the opportunity to strike back, he spoke in displeasure, “If the name is unfavorable, then the words will be unsatisfactory. Currently the old Sui’s deposed monarch abdicate to Fuhuang, which made the heart of our Great Zheng’s Army greatly aroused; what does it have to do with Dou Jiande? If he like, he could change his title from Xia Wang [King of Xia] to Xia Di [Emperor of Xia], this is the issue of title; otherwise, Fuhuang will appear that he yields to Li Yuan.”
Wang Shichong remained silent without saying anything; he seemed to agree, but he also seemed to be thinking deeply about the emperor title.
Whether Wang Shichong had the dialogue with Dou Jiande in his capacity as Zheng Wang or Zheng Di, naturally there was a great difference. If he chose the latter, it would be very difficult for the two sides to have a common basis for cooperation.
Wang Xuanshu wanted to speak, but decided to remain silent.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “This is the Great Zheng’s business, it’s up to you to decide. Any battlefront can be lost, but we definitely must not lose Hulao and Yanshi, these most important battlefronts on the east side. Not only that is the route Dou Jiande has to take to help, it is also the life and death line to enable my Shao Shuai Army to provide endless supply of army provisions and equipment. I have a brazen proposal, hoping Shengshang to trust me and give your consent to appoint me the defender, to give me your absolute trust.” Translated by foxs
Shaken, Wang Shichong said, “Shaoshuai wants to defend Hulao for me?”
Kou Zhong spoke slowly, word by word, “This is of course the most ideal; nevertheless, it would put Shengshang in difficult position. I only hope that I can have Yang Gongqing, Zhang Zhenzhou, and perhaps Xuanshu Gongzi as my principals, and then I’ll have my men to run errands. In that case, I dare say that even if Li Shimin has three heads and six arms, he cannot isolate Luoyang, and I can say that we will have 90% chance that we will fight a big victory.”
“You can’t do that!” Wang Xuanying blurted out.
But Wang Shichong stretched out his hand to stop Wang Xuanying from continuing. He said, “Let me give it a careful thought.” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Disregarding Wang Xuanying’s eye signal, he turned to Wang Xuanshu and said, “Shaoshuai’s accommodation in here, let Xuanshu make the arrangement. Tomorrow morning we have an important military meeting, Shaoshuai please come on time.”