“Private salt? You-You-You . . .” Yang Jing instantly turned pale and suddenly closed his mouth, looking left and right. 

He was relieved when he found that there was no one near them and then said, “Are you crazy? This is a capital crime punished by beheading!” 

Everyone would buy private salt, but the idea of selling private salt . . .

“I know,” Jiang Zhen said, “so I want to know about the situation from you.” Jiang Zhen had some knowledge about the ancient private salt business.

No matter which dynasty or generation, the private salt business was rampant. There was no other way. Legal salt has always been too expensive.

They were on the coast, and legal salt was sold for 40 copper pennies for a kilo. Its quality was not good . . . So what about the inland?

Before, when Jiang Zhen read history books, he happened to see the records of some local officials selling salt for two silver per kilo. It was no wonder that ordinary people weren’t able to consume salt at all, and everyone would buy private salt.

Of course, although he came up with the idea of selling private salt, he didn’t plan on doing it right away or blindly walking on this road. He knew that it would be OK to earn some initial funds by his own skills. It was impossible to make a big profit from selling private salt right at the moment.

After all, he had no background whatsoever, and today’s salt smugglers . . .

For such a big profit, even those private salt dealers had all exceptional backgrounds.

Yang Jing looked at Jiang Zhen a few times, and seeing that Jiang Zhen was very calm, as if they were talking about what to eat later, an idea suddenly came to him. Should I encourage Jiang Zhen to sell private salt, so that he can be beheaded?

As soon as this idea of Yang Jing was born, he immediately suppressed it.

Even if Jiang Zhen were to sell salt, those private dealers might not be able to catch him, and it would mean he would become even more vicious in the future.

That’s what Yang Jing was thinking, but he still said everything he knew about private salt. “I’ve caught this private salt dealer, and I know a little about the inside situation . . .”

Just east of Hecheng County, there was the Hongjiang salt field that belonged to the imperial court, and the nearest official salt supply came from there. But at the same time, most of the close-by private salt also came from there.

To put it simply, after the salt was produced in the salt farm, some of the salt was sold as official salt while some was sold to private salt dealers.

As Jiang Zhen thought, no one would remain unmoved by such large profits. But ordinary people, even if they were tempted, they only dared to boil some salt for sale secretly. The people who really dared to make a fortune out of it were all big shots with backgrounds.

They had money and people, captained big boats, swaggered to the salt farm to buy salt, and sent it to other places. They were very arrogant, but no one dared to check them out.

“Boss, I won’t hide it from you. We usually catch smugglers who secretly sell hundreds of kilograms of salt. It’s these really big people that we don’t dare to touch. We would even avoid the big people’s subordinates. They are also very smooth when they sell salt. They would even pay the toll when they come to sell salt,” Yang Jing said. “The illegal salt dealers in Hongjiang salt field are even more powerful than those in our area. Only those small salt dealers who sell 180 kilograms of salt would be caught and killed immediately. But those who catch them and kill them . . . in fact, most of them work directly for those big smugglers.”

Rural people like Eldest Jiang knew nothing of what Yang Jing said, but in fact, of all the people in this town, the local yamen were very clear about this. 

Speaking of which, why was the legal salt so expensive? Wasn’t it just to make the private salt sell better? As a matter of fact, legal salt and private salt were actually all sold by the same family here.

The Hongjiang salt farm was another’s territory, and no one was allowed to touch it. Therefore, small traders who dared to go to the seaside to sell private salt would be ruthlessly killed as soon as they were spotted.

“Before the imperial court reorganized the salt industry, an imperial emissary was busy for several years. In the end, he only found some abandoned sons and outcasts,” Yang Jing spoke again. The top-level private salt dealers who control countless salt fields would sell their salt to other families. Those families had few connections. They would probably be  just a wealthy merchant, and the court could only find them after conducting an investigation every time. 

Of course, by just finding them, with the confiscated silver, they could already satisfy the court, and one could imagine how much profit there was in this. 

Hearing Yang Jing’s words, Jiang Zhen knew that legal salt and private salt had created a great network of interests, and all important officials on this side had been entangled in it.

Actually, it was not surprising. 

Nowadays, common people were poor, and the officials, who were secretly trying to raise the taxes which would most likely suffocate the common people, still couldn’t gain much money out of it. If they wanted to make a lot of money, they still needed to rely on those special situations, such as the salt industry.

And since they wanted to make money from it, no one was allowed to poach from them, so they hit particularly the hard-to-crack-down small-scale peddlers.

This way, it was very difficult for small peddlers to earn money by getting a few hundred kilos of salt. 

Jiang Zhen wanted to make money, but he really didn’t plan to lose his life. After thinking about it for a moment, he asked, “I think there is also seafood for sale at the market. Where did it come from?”

The main seafood products in Hecheng County are salted fish and dried kelp, both of which are not expensive, so people here like them very much. For example, when entertaining guests, they like to stew a bowl of kelp.

“Boss, if you want to join in this business, it’s not difficult. Just hire a boat to go to the seaside to purchase goods. But if there is no special way, people will take it as a way to sell private salt . . .” Yang Jing giggled twice and said, “Anyway, if you go over there, you have to be careful and don’t touch the salt. Of course, if you take three or five kilos, they won’t care.”

“Do you have a way?” Jiang Zhen asked again.

“I know some people who sell seafood. If you want to go, you can join them.” Yang Jing said. Those who sold seafood were all small peddlers. They were very happy to go together with several additional people, at least for safety reasons.

Jiang Zhen nodded and settled the matter with Yang Jing.

After that Jiang Zhen went to the pharmacy again. 

Wang Haisheng was still tending to Sun Xiaoshan. The twenty silver he gave him before was enough to cure his illness. Jiang Zhen greeted him and planned to go home first. 

He did not rush to bring Wang Haisheng’s boat back home just because he had already given him the money. He believed in Wang Haisheng’s character and believed that, after he had taken Yang Jing with him, Wang Haisheng would not dare to run away with his silver.

Wang Haisheng really didn’t have that idea. When he learned that Jiang Zhen was willing to hire him to do business in the future, he was very grateful to Jiang Zhen. He didn’t want to run away at all. Instead, he took Jiang Zhen to the boat and gave him some fish.

The fish were not big; they were said to have been  caught by Wang Haisheng’s two children in the past two days. They had grown up on that fishing boat since young, and they were already able to fish.

Naturally Jiang Zhen couldn’t refuse. He took the fish and went home.

It had rained for several days in a row, and all the roads were very muddy and hard to traverse. Jiang Zhen, who walked all the way, not only got his clothes and shoes wet but was also covered in mud.

Hence, it took Jiang Zhen a lot longer to walk home than usual. When he got home, it was almost dark.

He scooped water and washed his feet. Jiang Zhen dealt with the small fishes outside his house. He scraped the scales and dug out the intestines. As he was working hard, he saw five ducklings swinging their butts and waving their little wings in the Zhaos’ vegetable field not far away.

It was not raining now, so Zhao Liu let them out for some fresh air.

Thinking of this, Jiang Zhen looked around and saw that, not far away, Zhao Liu was holding a cylinder on one side and cutting half of the bamboo on the other side to dig for earthworms.

People who raised chicken and ducks in the village often sent their children to dig for earthworms because chicken and ducks grew faster and laid more eggs after eating earthworms, but people Zhao Liu’s age generally didn’t do such things.

Jiang Zhen looked at Zhao Liu, who was digging earthworms. He found it a kind of funny, then he cut the fish intestines in his hand with a knife.

Jiang Zhen took those fish intestines and went to the Zhao family’s fields. Without looking at Zhao Liu’s frightened eyes, he scattered the fish intestines on the ground.

Zhao Liu was afraid of Jiang Zhen, but those ducklings were not afraid of him. They chirped and soon gathered around Jiang Zhen to eat the fish intestines.

Jiang Zhen had come back late, but Zhao Jinge came back even later.

The reason why the Zhao Dahu family was called a big family in Hexi Village was that this family had a lot of money, land, and the long-term worker Zhao Jinge.

Zhao Jinge could still have some free time when the farm was not busy, but when it was busy, he would be busy all the time. Of course, because of his low requirements and his hard work, the Zhao Dahu family would give him something when he was busy farming, like for example the couple of eggs today.

When he handed the eggs to Zhao Liu, Zhao Jinge went to the patio to wash the mud from his body. When he took a bath, Zhao Liu had already prepared food for him.

When the farm became busy, the Zhao family would also eat dry rice; otherwise, their bodies wouldn’t be able to support them. In addition to the dry rice, Zhao Liu also used the dry rice brought back by Zhao Jinge to make some egg and vegetable soup.

“Mom, you can have the egg soup,” Zhao Jinge said. Jiang Zhen had sent him a meal at noon, so he had even had meat . . .

“I didn’t do anything at home. What kind of egg soup should I eat?” Zhao Liu said, but Zhao Jinge still insisted on leaving half a bowl of egg soup for Zhao Liu. 

As for Zhao Fugui, he worked as a part-time worker in a place that was a little further away, and he wasn’t able to come home these days.

Zhao Jinge was not very talkative, but Zhao Liu liked to talk very much. While watching Zhao Jinge eat, she talked about their family’s affairs. Of course, she also talked about their current neighbor, Jiang Zhen.

“Jiang Zhen came to feed our ducks with fish intestines today. What do you think his intention is? He won’t steal our ducks when they are raised, will he?” The more Zhao Liu talked, the more worried she got.

Old Madam Jiang was a very efficient person. She told the villagers all the things Jiang Zhen had ever done to the Jiang family. 

In other words, people in the village were now all afraid of Jiang Zhen. They thought that there was something wrong with Jiang Zhen, which was also related to old Madam Jiang’s behaviour.

Eldest Jiang never said a word when he was wronged before. Even if they knew that old lady Jiang was not good to him, they didn’t know how bad it had been. Old lady Jiang shouted, so they clearly knew what kind of “evil” things Jiang Zhen had done.

It was only when Zhao Liu heard that Jiang Zhen robbed their chicken, that she got worried. 

“Mother, have you ever seen him steal other people’s chicken?” Zhao Jinge asked.

Zhao Liu thought about it. Although Jiang Zhen looked everywhere for food, she hadn’t seen him steal other people’s chicken.

After thinking about this, Zhao Liu remembered another thing. “Jinge, Jiang Zhen didn’t grow his own vegetables, and he didn’t come to our house to steal these past two days. What kind of vegetables do you think he ate?”

She was worried because of Jiang Zhen again.


Edited by : Faro

Proofreader: Taalia

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