Liu Mang frowned and was on guard. It was possible that they would need to fight.
“Haha, don’t worry. I won’t kill you! How would I get any money if I kill you? I won’t let you starve either. In fact, I will give you fields!” The greedy gatekeeper said to Liu Mang’s group.
“Give us fields?” Liu Mang was confused. He knew that this gatekeeper did not have any good intentions so why is he giving away farmland?
“Milord. How about we just kill our way out?” Zhou Cang suggested.
“No.” Liu Mang shook his head. He did not want to fight at all if he could help it since these people were also ‘his people’. If he were to kill his own people, wouldn’t the enemy laugh at him?
“Then Milord, how about we tell them our identity?”
“No need to hurry.” In actual fact, Liu Mang did not want to act at all because he was afraid of revealing his own identity. Once that happened, he would be forced to return to Shouchun. He have not yet figured out how to confront those guys at Shouchun.
Besides that, based on the actions and the reactions of the people around here, there was definitely something going on. Liu Mang wasn’t entirely sure yet.
“General. Let me arrange things for my wife first before following you.” Liu Mang said to the gatekeeper.
“Go quickly!” The gatekeeper gave Liu Mang face. Though he could not see her face that was covered in cloth, he could see her tanned skin. This was like a girl from the countryside. In that era, the people liked whitish skin as that was the skin of a woman from a rich family. Not women with healthy tans. He lost interest in women that need to work under the sun to make a living.
“Husband. Let me go with you.” Liu Mang’s wife, Qian Yu spoke.
“Stay here. I will return quickly. Nothing will happen to me if these two are protecting me.” Liu Mang said and made arrangements for her before leaving.
“General. Where are we going?” Liu Mang asked after travelling for a while. They were headed towards outside the city and more people were joining the group along the way.
“We are going somewhere good!” The gatekeeper replied in a very cooperative manner since he was happy that he was going to profit.
Soon, they arrived at a large camp. However, the camp was filled with common people in ragged clothing instead of soldiers.
“We’re here!” The gatekeeper said as he got off his horse. Guo Yi had given away his horse to his underlings after riding away on the good stolen horse.
“Oh! If it isn’t Officer Hao! Why trouble are you going to bring here?” The gatekeeper named Hao Liu was a troublemaker. However, having connections with the Guo Family allowed him to get out of prison early. When Yangzhou took control of Xinye, he joined the garrison while the original group returned to Jingzhou.
The Guo Family was originally a small noble family. They were not powerful enough to gain control of the whole of Xinye. However, they became the top influential family when almost everyone else migrated. After all, Liu Mang had the reputation of killing the nobles in Wancheng.
That was why all the nobles left even though Jingzhou and Yangzhou allied with each other.
The Guo Family were just a small family in Xinye. If they were to leave, they would not be able to obtain any posts. That was why they stayed. It was their good luck that they managed to obtain a lot of power from the power vacuum caused. Liu Qi wanted Yangzhou to send people for administration but Xu Shu was already too understaffed at Yangzhou. Liu Qi who could only recruit people from Xinye ended up with the Guo Family who were growing in power. Hao Liu benefitted from his connection with the Guo Family, turning from a rogue idler to a gatekeeper. Unfortunately, Hao Liu’s attitude have not changed.
“Old Xu! This is to give you money!” Hao Liu replied respectfully even though he was speaking to someone of lower rank as they were all here for money.
“How many of them are there this time?” Old Xu asked happily when he saw that there are more people.
“Altogether, there are thirty two people! Based on old practices, you get twenty percent!” Hao Liu got off his horse and pointed at the thirty two people.
“Twenty percent? Haha. Officer Hao. That is not feasible!” Old Xu shook his head.
“Wasn’t it twenty percent last time?” Hao Liu frowned. Twenty percent is a lot. One person receives three mu worth of land so thirty two people would be ninety six mu. Twenty percent of that is almost twenty mu worth of land. That is already worth several gold.
“How can you compare that time to now?” Old Xu curled his lips. Before this, Old Xu was satisfied with twenty percent as Jingzhou was too close to Xinye. When Jingzhou and Yangzhou were at war, the people feared that Jingzhou would attack from the Yangtze River. However, it is different now that Yangzhou was the strongest at the Yangtze River. Jingzhou cannot even defend themselves, how could they attack? That was why twenty percent was no longer enough.
“Officer Hao. You must know that we are all risking our heads here!” Old Xu continued to speak.
“Alright, alright. Tell me how much you want!” Hao Liu was very unhappy. The risk of execution? If one was scared, one wouldn’t have started doing this in the first place.
Old Xu laughed and raised five fingers.
“Fifty percent? Haha! Old Xu, why don’t you just rob people?” Hao Liu laughed. If Old Xu were to take that much, then Hao Liu would be the one cold and hungry.
“Old Xu. We have already done this so many times. Fifty percent is not feasible! I don’t believe that you would refuse to do business! How about twenty five percent!”
“Forty five percent!” Old Xu lowered his price as Hao Liu was right. Why would he not want to do business when the money is there?
“Old Xu. Let it be thirty five percent. Otherwise, there is no point doing this business.” Hao Liu said after the two argued for a while. If it goes higher than thirty five percent, Hao Liu would not be able to earn much. On top of that, he would have to risk getting executed. He might as well not do it. However, losing one’s livelihood was like losing one’s parents. Hao Liu was beginning to feel very resentful. If Old Xu were to cut off his livelihood, he too, would have ways to keep Old Xu in check.
“Alright, alright. I will give you face!” Old Xu was also sharp enough to understand that Hao Liu could ruin him at any time so he did not want to offend Hao Liu too much. Thirty five percent was enough to earn a profit.
Hao Liu then ordered for the thirty two people to be handed over to Old Xu. Liu Mang saw these common people lifelessly headed towards Old Xu while being shoved around by Hao Liu’s subordinates.
In front of Old Xu was a table, books and a pen.
“What is your name? Where are you from?” Old Xu asked as he opened one of the empty books and asked one of the commoners.
“This one is Gou Sheng from Yuzhou!” The man answered and Old Xu wrote down the details in the book. He then looked at Gou Sheng and added the an extra line detailing Gou Sheng’s appearance such as the mole Gou Sheng has on his lower lip.
Old Xu was already accustomed to names like Gou Sheng. As the world is in chaos, the people were hungry and many lives were lost. In order for their next generation to survive, many of these common people chose demeaning names like Gou Sheng (dog remains) or Gou Dan (Dog egg). This is to hope that Heavens don’t ask for them too early.
Eventually, it was Liu Mang’s turn.
“What is your name?” Old Xu asked.
“I…” Liu Mang hesitated. Old Xu raised his head and asked again. “I am talking to you. What is your name?”
“I am… My surname is Han, my name is Yang.” Liu Mang replied.
“Han Yang?” Old Xu could not help but take note of this. Most of the common people have lowly names like Gou Sheng or Gou Dan. Yet suddenly there was a normal name. Yet he still wrote down the name Han Yang.
“My surname is Guan, my name is Hai. I am also from Xuzhou!”
“This one is named Zhou Cang! I am with them.”
After writing their names down, they were led to a large camp with many other commoners. There were several thousand people here.
“Another group arrives.” The people at the camp saw the newcomers and shook their heads. It might be from pity, empathy, or maybe they simply took joy in someone else’s misfortune.
“Uncle. What is going on here? Why are there so many commoners at this camp?” Liu Mang asked one of the people that had been staying at the camp while Old Xu was still busy registering others.
“Brother, do not address me as uncle. I am not much older than you are. I am only twenty seven years old.”
“Haha, I am sorry.” Liu Mang replied awkwardly. The man really did look older than his age. Liu Mang then asked. “What is going on here?”
“You still don’t know? Lord Xu is distributing fertile land.”
“Distributing fertile land?”
“Didn’t you come from outside? Once you enter Yangzhou, you can go to the authorities and obtain fertile land. Each person will be given three mu worth of land.” The man replied.
Liu Mang nodded. He remembered approving something like this to attract people to Yangzhou. He also lowered the tax to thirty percent. Thanks to this policy, Yangzhou was once again bustling with people.
“Each person three mu worth of land and thirty percent tax! What a pity!” The man added.
“Hm?” Liu Mang thought that something was strange. “What’s wrong? Is thirty percent tax too high?” Liu Mang was not too knowledgeable about the taxes because in his era, farmers were subsidized instead of taxed. The thirty percent tax he gave was based on other states.
“No, of course not! There are nothing else as good as this in this world! We even get fertile land!”
“Then what is wrong?”
“The important thing is, how can commoners like us obtain these benefits? We have been lied to! I should have known that this King of Shu does not have any good intentions. He is just scamming us!”
“What are you saying!” Guan Hai said angrily.
“Withdraw.” Guan Hai was about to rush ahead angrily but he stopped when Liu Mang gave the order. The man patted his chest. “What are you so fierce for? We are all in the same condition!”
“Brother. Are you really able to say that the King of Shu is a scammer?” Liu Mang asked.
“Is there even a need to? You will understand soon enough!” The man curled his lips.
“Come! Come over here!” Hao Liu shouted. He had not yet left.
“He is calling you.” The man said to the group.
“Let us go and see.” Liu Mang said and walked over.
“Let me give you the good news! From today onwards, you are Yangzhou’s people!” Hao Liu said to the thirty two newcomers.
Liu Mang felt uncomfortable listening to him.
“You listened to our King of Shu’s generosity so now you are all given three mu worth of land!” Hao Liu continued.
The eyes of the commoners glinted. What they wanted the most was land to do farming. That way, they would not starve to death.
“Of course, this land isn’t given to you all but rented!” Hao Liu said loudly.
The man from earlier gave a smile full of disdain.
“Yangzhou is only making you all pay thirty percent tax! If you all work properly, you can eat your fill! You can even have enough money to buy additional things!”
The thirty percent tax was tempting. A single mu of fertile land can provide three hundred to four hundred catties worth of food during a bumper harvest. The thirty percent tax meant that they could keep about two hundred catties worth of food. This was enough to eat especially if they have three mu worth of land.
“Once you take this, you can have your own land! Old Xu, take those things out!” Hao Liu added.
Old Xu nodded. His men went into a tent and came out carrying a few straw papers.
“Each person are to take one. These are your household registers. Once you put your hand print here, you will become Yangzhou’s people!” Hao Liu said and distributed the papers.
Once Liu Mang took the paper, he understood what Hao Liu meant by rented.
This is because the paper was not the household register. The household register was what Old Xu had written down earlier. It was pretty much an agreement to become a slave. Guan Hai and Zhou Cang also received the same thing. The only difference was that it was their names written on the paper instead of Liu Mang.
The thing written on the paper was that they agree to sell their three mu of land to Hao Liu for five thousand coins. It was also written that they are to pay the thirty percent tax to Hao Liu, and the tax rate would increase by ten percent for each of the following year until it is sixty percent.
“Haha!” Liu Mang laughed at this. He never expected someone to make use of his policy like this.
Hao Liu was truly smart for not taking everything at the start. Instead, he tricks them into selling the deed to the land. When someone investigates, he would be able to evade investigation. After all, he bought it with money and the other party agreed to sell the deed to the land. Hao Liu also did not force them to do anything and allowed them to have the sweet taste of the thirty percent tax. After all, when they arrived, they had nothing. Hao Liu also allowed them to have thirty percent tax simply because he was afraid of a rebellion.
Once someone gains a foothold, the tax increased by ten percent. That person would no longer walk away by this point. The tax then keeps increasing every year until sixty percent. At this point, the victim could no longer eat their fill but at the very least, they would not starve to death. Besides that, they would have been in Yangzhou long enough to be reluctant to leave. The commoners of that era were like cockroaches. They would be able to endure anything as long as you do not purposefully kill them.
Old Xu and Hao Liu had learned of these traits and the policies to trick several thousand mu’s worth of land from the common people.
“You. Aren’t you making us sell the deed to the land?” Someone asked. Liu Mang turned to look at the person that had learned how to read.