And all of the things used by these miscellaneous people who lived in the palace were purchased for them through the palace’s Imperial Household Department. Moreover, many merchants would use all kinds of means to pass their goods into their hands in order to increase their own publicity. After all, any merchant who did any kind of business with the Imperial Household Department could say they were an “imperial merchant”.
(tl note: I translated “内务府” as “Imperial Household Department”. The 内务府 was a real historical institution in China’s Qing Dynasty that was responsible for various internal palace affairs.)
“But, in reality, many of the wares peddled by those so-call imperial merchants couldn’t be more ordinary, only a little better than what you can find anywhere else. Those goods are used by the maids and internal officials who live within the palace. Moreover, if you are unlucky and encounter a particularly greedy person from the Imperial Household Department then the goods won’t even be a little better than what you can find outside. They will be very expensive, but the goods themselves might be even worse.”
This kind of matter was something that only merchants themselves could clearly understand. Even if Su Tang were to ask Song Yi about it, he probably wouldn’t be able to give an answer as accurately as Luo Xingchen was giving her now. After all, Song Yi was a high-up minister of the dynasty when he lived in the capital, how could he have time to understand these trifling matters?
“However, the tribute is different. The tribute goods must be the best of the best, because they are goods that will be used by the harem and the royal family. If the merchant is lucky and their goods are outstanding, they can even receive a commendation from the palace. For instance, there was a brewer in the south a few years ago and his wine was noticed by His Majesty. All the other merchants could only watch on in envy as he was directly conferred with a title. Although the title didn’t give him any real powers, he had been stamped with the word ‘official’ after all.”
As Luo Xingchen talked about that brewer from the south, her face was covered by a slightly dreamy expression. After all, in the era where status was so important, it was basically extremely rare for a merchant to be able to use their tribute goods to jump classes like this.
In fact, what Luo Xingchen was explaining wasn’t anything too complicated. To put it simply, although they were all imperial merchants, in reality, there was still a difference between them. The imperial merchants who could provide tribute goods were of higher status because their goods were destined to end up in the hands of nobles. Meanwhile, the other imperial merchants who could only provide goods for the maids and eunuchs were of lower status comparatively. Although they were all called imperial merchants, many of them were just using the title of “imperial merchant” to puff up their own status.
Su Tang clearly understood and said slowly, “So it’s like this… I’ll consider it.”
Luo Xingchen thought that she had made clear that, because they were both women and could not rely on the imperial examination to improve their status, using the imperial tribute was probably their best option to get ahead. However, Su Tang unexpectedly didn’t immediately agree and only said that she would consider it.
“If your goods are chosen, it’s even possible you could earn a title, but you want to consider? What is there to consider? Do you really want to be a small peasant girl for the rest of your life?” Luo Xingchen said directly.
Don’t listen that nonsense that said among the four groups, scholars, farmers, merchants, and officials, farmers actually had the highest status. In reality, farmers were all poor and only had this bit of false reputation. Their lives were hard and weren’t good at all. In reality, only the officials had real status. Even if it was just an official title without any true power, it was still a status that no farmer could match up to.
Luo Xingchen could obviously see that Su Tang had both smarts and ability, so why was she content to stay as a small peasant girl?
Of course, Su Tang understood what Luo Xingchen was trying to say, but she truly had some reservations. After all, Su Tang knew some things that Luo Xingchen, who was from an ordinary merchant family, did not know. She knew that the capital was currently full of unrest.
Even her master, Song Yi, used the excuse of needing to rest and recuperate in order to come and hide in Qinghe Town. Coupled with some of the things she had learned from Pei Xuan’s letter, she could tell that the situation in the capital was not as peaceful as the ordinary people might think.
There was a major event related to who would next sit on the throne currently underway. Of course, it seemed as if a merchant who could receive a title thanks to their tribute goods was a great thing, but with her identity, it was hard to say for sure. If she wasn’t careful, she might even end up dragging Song Yi down.
Su Tang needed to consider these aspects before making a decision, but she also couldn’t just tell Luo Xingchen directly about these things. After all, Luo Xingchen was just an ordinary businesswoman.
“If you say things like this, what will happen to our goal of being righteous merchants? Even if we are merchants, we should strive to serve the broad masses of the public. Serving the millions of people in the public is much more meaningful than serving the handful of members of the royal family. Our merit is in serving and improving the lives of the people, understand?”
Finally, Su Tang could only open her mouth and say some high-sounding words in order to bluff her friend.
Luo Xingchen heard Su Tang’s righteous words and suddenly felt that her own moral fiber was really too lacking. Unexpectedly, she had only ever thought of being a merchant to increase her own wealth and never spared a thought to helping the people of the world.
tl begging corner: