Although Su Tang didn’t finish her thought, Mrs. Zhou understood what she meant. Her brows furrowed slightly and she said carefully, “Miss Su, it seems you’re a very kind-hearted person. However, perhaps you aren’t aware, but it really isn’t very easy for these types of tenant farmers. If they meet a kind landlord that collects less rent, then they at least won’t starve to death, but if they meet a less kind landlord, then they are often left with no choice but to starve.”
“What? No way.” Su Tang was surprised.
From her reactions, Mrs. Zhou could see that Su Tang was still a bit young and naive. Although she had the money to buy a few farms all at once, for these young misses from rich families how could they understand the hardships of the people at the bottom rung of society? Mrs. Zhou decided to gently try to educate her a little.
“Young miss, you might not know, but if a peasant has any sort of skills at all they probably won’t be willing to become a tenant farmer to make their living. In general, the people who become tenant farmers are the people who have no other choice at all. In fact, their standard of living is usually even worse than people who sell themselves as slaves. Mostly, these people are either people with no choice or people who are unwilling to leave their homeland and choose to barely eke out a living this way.”
Mrs. Zhou tried to carefully tell her little client that, in fact, her act of “mercy” would probably actually make things worse. It seemed that Su Tang felt that for these tenant farmers renting land was similar to renting a house. They just paid to use the land and that was that, right? But in fact, it wasn’t so simple.
Whenever a landlord leased their land to these tenant farmers, they would all require the tenant farmers to hand in a certain amount of grain each year as rent. However, farming depended on the will of the heavens, so the amount of grain a piece of farmland could produce wasn’t fixed at all. Moreover, a “good” piece of land like the ones Su Tang had bought would have correspondingly higher rent, but just because the land was “good” that didn’t actually guarantee a good harvest every year. Thus, oftentimes these tenant farmers would have to work hard all year round only to discover at the end that their harvest could only barely cover their rent and that they would have to let their families go hungry.
Therefore, anyone who had any sort of skills, whether it was the ability to hunt and forage in the mountains, or to work as a craftsman, or whatever, they would go ply that trade instead. After all, it was basically impossible for a tenant farmer to earn enough money to buy the land they worked. There was just no future in renting land as a tenant farmer, the only result was being exploited for as long as they lived.
All this was to say that, in reality, the lives of these tenant farmers generally weren’t as good as the lives who sold themselves as slaves. Moreover, even if these tenant farmers were willing to sell themselves, it was hard to find buyers because many of them were unwilling to leave the land they lived on or had unrealistic hopes that their whole family could stay together.
But where could you find such a kind buyer that would be willing to buy a whole family all at once, including men and women, old and young? Of course, unexpectedly, Mrs. Zhou seemed to have stumbled across such a buyer today. After all, Su Tang said herself that she wanted to buy farmers to work her land, so Mrs. Zhou’s suggestion was just to buy the tenant farmers who had previously been renting her land directly.
With this arrangement, the tenant farmers wouldn’t have to leave their land, nor would they have to be separated from their families. Moreover, once they were bought they would only need to work hard to cultivate the land the same way they had always done and they would also be under the protection of this little miss who would be responsible for providing them food and clothing.
They wouldn’t have to leave their land, their whole families would be able to stay together, and their lives would even improve. Where else would they find such a good thing?
Su Tang was a bit at a loss. Before this, she had only ever come into contact with peasant families like the ones headed by Su Yongshun or Su Yongqiang in Sujia Village. Those families all had their own fields at home and, while they couldn’t be said to be leading good lives, they were at least doing okay. Meanwhile, the people in town all seemed to be living fairly well, so she was slightly shocked that these tenant farmers seemed so miserable by comparison.
Of course, this was just reality. In any society, there would always be a bottom rung. In this era, it was these tenant farmers who could only struggle and pray that they would meet a kind-hearted landlord.
But, obviously, in a landlord’s eyes, the best thing would be to leave the tenant farmers with just barely enough food that the tenant farmers wouldn’t starve to death while keeping the rest for themselves. The two parties were inherently at odds with one another.
Plus, it wasn’t like landlords were Holy Mothers or Virgin Marys. Oftentimes a landlord wouldn’t be engaged enough with the process to even be aware of what kind of lives their tenant farmers were living, just like Su Tang today. After all, they had their own lives to lead and had no concept of these sorts of things.
Hearing all this, Su Tang couldn’t help but sigh a bit. Back when she and Su Nuo had been adopted into Su Laochuan’s household, she had felt that their starting point was very low. After all, Su Laochuan’s household didn’t own any fields or property aside from that old house, plus both his son and his daughter-in-law had just unexpectedly died while trying to do business outside. With just one broken-down house and absolutely nothing else, Su Tang hadn’t thought it could have been much worse. But now it seemed that even like that they were actually still doing slightly better than some other unlucky people.
With Mrs. Zhou’s suggestion, Su Tang was more or less persuaded. She agreed to go over to those farms first and ask the tenant farmers if they were willing to sell themselves to her and continue working the land.
Mrs. Zhou was happy to hear that and quickly planned for the trip. The two of them cleaned up a bit and then boarded carriages to head out to Su Tang’s three farms near Qinghe Town.
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