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A Memorial on Higher Valuation of Grains..........Chao Cuo

2023-03-25 00:35Source:Chinese Literature Translation




民贫,则奸邪生。贫生于不足,不足生于不农,不农则不地著,不地著则离乡轻家,民如鸟兽。虽有高城深池,严法重刑,犹不能禁也。夫寒之于衣,不待轻暖;饥之于食,不待甘旨;饥寒至身,不顾廉耻。人情一日不再食则饥,终岁不制衣则寒。夫腹饥不得食,肤寒不得衣,虽慈母不能保其子,君安能以有其民哉?明主知其然也,故务民于农桑,薄赋敛,广畜积,以实仓廪,备水旱, 故民可得而有也。




A Memorial on Higher Valuation of Grains

Chao Cuo

Under the reign of wise monarchs, people did not starve or suffer from cold, not because the monarchs themselves grew food or weaved cloth for them, but because they opened up financial resources for the people. Therefore, although there were nine years of floods during the reign of Tang Yao and Xia Yu, and seven years of drought during the reign of Shang Tang, no one starved to death in the country, as there was plenty of stock and adequate preparations made in advance. Now the country is unified, the land and the population are no less than those of Tang’s and Yu’s time, and we have no successive years of floods and droughts, but we do not have as plenty of stock as in those times. What is the reason? The reason is that the land still has potential; the people still have strength to spare; the land that can produce grain has not been fully cultivated; the resources of mountains, rivers and lakes have not been fully exploited, and the idlers have not all returned to engage in agriculture.

When people are poor, they will do evil things. Poverty is due to lack of wealth, and lack of wealth is due to shunning of agriculture. If people do not engage in agriculture, they will not settle down in a place. If people do not settle down in a place, they will leave their native land and despise their homes, and run away like birds and beasts. Then the state, despite its high walls, its deep moats, its harsh laws and its cruel punishments, could not stop them from going away. People suffering from cold do not require clothes to be both light and warm; the hungry do not require their food to be tasty. When hunger and cold come upon people, they have no sense of shame. It is human nature that if one does not eat two meals a day, one will feel hungry, and if one does not make clothes and get dressed all year round, one will feel cold. When one is hungry but has nothing to eat, and when one feels cold but has no clothes to wear, even a loving mother cannot keep her sons, and how can a monarch keep his people? A wise monarch understands this, so he makes his people engage in agriculture, reduces their taxes, and stores grain in large quantities to replenish the storehouses against floods and droughts, thus winning over people and enjoying their support.

As for the people, it depends on how the monarchs govern them, as they pursue their interests like water flowing downhill in whatever direction. Pearls, jade, gold and silver cannot be eaten as food when one is hungry, nor can they be worn as clothes when one feels cold. Yet people still value them because monarchs use them. Items like pearls, jade, gold and silver are light in weight and small in size, and easy to carry around. With these at hand, one can travel around the country without being threatened by hunger and cold. This makes it easy for the subjects to desert their monarch, for the people to leave their homes, for the thieves to get encouraged, and for the fugitives to flee easily carrying their possessions. Grain and raw materials of cloth grow in the fields, mature in timely seasons; their harvest also requires labor and cannot be done overnight.Grain weighing about a hundred kilograms is too heavy for ordinary people to carry, nor is it coveted by the wicked, but without it for a whole day people will feel hungry and cold. Therefore, wise monarchs value the five cereals and despise gold and jade.

Now, supposing a household has five people, more than two of them have to work as corvee laborers, but they own no more than 100 mu of arable land, which can yield less than 3 tons of grain. They plough the fields in spring, cultivate crops in summer, harvest them in autumn, and store them in winter. Besides, they have to cut wood, build and repair government houses, and serve as corvee laborers. In spring they cannot shun wind and dust, in summer they cannot shun heat, in autumn they cannot shun rains, in winter they cannot shun cold, and they have not a day of rest all the year round. On their private side, they have friends and relatives to receive and see off, pay condolence calls and visit the sick, take care of the elderly and the young, for which all the expenses come out of the agricultural income. Peasants fare so hard and suffer from floods and droughts in addition; governments levy taxes in a manner harsh and urgent and at irregular time, and orders are issued in the morning and changed in the evening. When it is time to pay taxes, those who have grain sell it at half price for tax payment. Those who have no grain are forced to borrow money at double interest to pay taxes. As a result, land, houses, wives and children are sold in order to pay off debts. Whereas the affluent merchants hoard goods and reap double interest; the petty merchants set up their stalls to sell goods for a good profit, and wander the streets every day to inquire about the market. By taking advantage of the government’s need for goods, the merchants double the prices of the goods they sell. Therefore, the men of merchants’ families do not have to plow the fields and the women do not have to raise silkworms and weave cloth. The clothes they wear are surely fine, and the foods they eat are the best rice and choice meat. Without suffering hardship of labor, they reap abundant profit from farming and sericulture. Relying on their wealth, the merchants make friends with the nobility, surpass officials in power, and contend with each other on the strength of their wealth. They travel thousands of miles in endless caravans and sturdy chariots whipping stout horses while wearing silk shoes and silk robes. That is why the merchants can annex the land of the peasants and the peasants can only flee their native land. Now although the law despises the merchants, they are already wealthy and glorified. The peasants are valued but they are already poverty-stricken. Therefore what is valued by the common people is what the monarch despises; What the officials despise is what the law respects. The upside is regarded as the downside, while the right and wrong are reversed. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to make the country rich and to enforce the laws right.

Today there is no task more pressing than enable people to engage in agriculture. The key to getting people into agriculture is to raise the price of grain. The way to raise the price of grain is to let the people exchange grain for rewards or exemption from punishment. Now it is time to call on all the people to pay grain to the government. Those who pay grain should be granted title or atoned for their sins. In this way, the rich can get titles, the peasants can own money, and the grain can circulate instead of being hoarded. Those who can pay grain to get titles have considerable property. By taking goods from the rich for the government’s use, the taxes of the poor can be reduced. This is called taking from the rich to compensate for deficiency of the poor, and as soon as the decree is issued, the people will benefit. There are three advantages in complying with the wishes of the people: first, the monarch will have enough to supply his needs; second, the people will be taxed less; third, people will be encouraged to engage in agricultural production. According to the current law, if the people supply one battle steed, three men will be exempted from military service. As battle steeds belong to the country’s war preparations, they can exempt men from military service. The teaching of Shennong reads: “Despite its stone walls seven or eight feet high, a moat a hundred paces wide filled with boiling water and a million armed men, a city cannot be held without grain .” From this perspective, grain constitutes the monarch’s most needed asset, and concerns the most fundamental state affairs. At present, the common people are required to pay grain in exchange for titles, and only when they have attained the rank of Wudafu and above can one man be exempted from military service, which is far from the worthiness of a battle steed. The conferment of titles being the monarch’s exclusive power, as long as he gives the order out of his mouth, titles can be conferred on infinite number of people, while grain, which is planted by the people, grows in the soil and is never lacking. When it can be exchanged for titles and atone for sins, people will yearn for this privilege using grain. When all the people in the country supply grain to the frontier in exchange for a title or atonement, there the amount of grain will surely increase within three years.

Translated by Jin Deming