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    Chapter 259 - Zeng Ziqian Has Caused Trouble Again!!!

    "Did you really bring a few pigs?" Upon returning to the Zeng family, the elder asked this as his first question upon seeing his grandson.

    Zeng Sanlang had anticipated this reaction from the capital and grinned, revealing his white teeth.

    Of course, Elder Zeng did not think that his grandson was showcasing his daughter-in-law's accomplishments by sending a few pigs. He merely reminded, "The tribute will be presented in the imperial court on New Year's Day. You've attracted quite a bit of envy this year. The censors have been rather idle lately, so be careful they don't find fault with you."

    If one were to forcefully interpret it, bringing live pigs into the palace could be seen as disrespect to the emperor or an offense during the imperial audience. However, judging from the elder's smile, he wasn't worried about it.

    ...

    New Year's Day was the first day of the lunar month, and all officials in the capital were required to attend. There were barely over a hundred officials in the capital of Great Qi, and this December's New Year's Day was particularly unique. In addition to the capital officials, there were over three hundred provincial governors. Before the morning court session, the tribute from each province was displayed outside the hall. As the officials entered the palace according to their ranks, they passed through the tributes lining the walkway.

    Due to the poor state of the people's livelihood, the current emperor had emphasized the principle of using local resources for tribute. Nevertheless, who would treat the items offered to the emperor casually? Hence, the six pigs, which had been bathed the day before and were now being carried into the palace before dawn, were especially noticeable as they grunted loudly in their wooden cages, reacting to the sight of hundreds of unfamiliar people lining up.

    The officials could easily recognize these as the tribute from Xizhou without even looking at the labels. As they walked past the large wooden cages, they couldn't help but suppress their laughter, eagerly awaiting the spectacle when Xizhou presented its tribute.

    With over three hundred provinces taking turns to present their tributes, every time a new province was called, servants would carry the tribute into the hall. Items like ginseng, deer antlers, silk, and brocades were no longer considered rare. All the officials in the hall were eagerly anticipating Xizhou's turn, even the emperor, who had already heard about the tribute from Xizhou. He was curious to see if the castrated pigs truly grew faster, just as An Qi had reported.

    Amidst the anticipation, Cen Xi sang the tribute from the Shexiu Governor, and the officials in the hall, holding their ceremonial tablets with bowed heads, suspiciously trembled. Zeng Zixuan stepped forward, as attendants entered the palace behind him. Without turning back, he could already hear the grunting of pigs.

    Unable to hold back any longer, the entire court burst into laughter, transforming from suppressed giggles to uproarious mirth.

    As predicted by Elder Zeng, an inspector indeed emerged, charging with a more elaborate offense than Elder Zeng had imagined. The emperor, however, was in high spirits, jesting that since it was a day of tribute, why couldn't live pigs be included? With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the matter and stretched his neck to examine the pigs.

    "The tribute you've brought, my dear minister, is quite novel."

    Zeng Zixuan dared to accept the compliment, expressing gratitude and saying, "Indeed, these six pigs possess unique qualities."

    The officials chuckled once more. While the emperor was known for his decisiveness on the battlefield, he was also renowned for his affability towards his subjects. One mischievous official quipped, "A pig is still a pig, what could be so unique about them? Are they perhaps fed human milk, mimicking the Wang family of Western Jin?"

    Zeng Zixuan gave him a sidelong glance and replied, "Lord Lin jests. The people of Shexiu can barely afford bean meals this autumn. As their governor, how dare I indulge in such extravagance? The peculiarity of these pigs lies in..."

    He intentionally created suspense before turning to the Vice Director of the Ministry of Finance and saying, "I would be grateful if you could read out the list of Shexiu's tribute."

    This was indeed within the Vice Director's responsibilities, and he was well aware of the pigs' uniqueness. Suppressing a smile, he adopted a serious demeanor and unfurled a scroll in his hand.

    "The tribute from Shexiu Governor for the fourth year of Wuding: Four castrated pigs aged seven months, two breeding boars aged seven months, two hundred pounds of cultivated yams, sixty pounds of Daxing Village noodles, sixty jars of Daxing Village fermented tofu, sixty jars of Daxing Village meat preserves, and sixty jars of Daxing Village meat floss."

    Amidst the grand array of Daxing Village, others were still perplexed when the mention of meat floss and preserved tofu provoked a barely noticeable twinkle in the emperor's eyes.

    Indeed, it had to be Zeng Sanlang!

    But what about the fans and fermented bean curd?

    As this thought crossed his mind, the more intriguing sight was the expressions of the officials below.

    The mere mention of "castration" caused an odd shift in the faces of the laughing civil and military officials. Only then did the ones standing closer divert their gazes to the pigs' hindquarters, while those further back strained their necks for a better view.

    Four castrated pigs and two breeding boars.

    Arranged in pairs across three rows within the hall, the setup was rather peculiar. The four castrated pigs were positioned at the ends of the first and third rows, leaving the officials to discern the difference among the animals. Suddenly, a chill ran down their spines, and someone cried out, "Zeng Zixuan, what kind of bizarre preference is this?"

    Why would anyone castrate perfectly fine pigs? No man could bear to witness such a sight!

    Zeng Zixuan focused on the elder statesman, who appeared to be in his fifties but was unfamiliar to him. Presumably, he was one of the officials appointed by the emperor after entering the capital. With a bow and a smile, Zeng replied, "Esteemed official, you haven't paid close attention to the list read by the Director of the Imperial Treasury. They specified four seven-month-old castrated pigs and two seven-month-old breeding boars. Please take another look at these six pigs."

    The elder statesman was still baffled. "How does that justify you gelding the pigs?"

    The emperor raised an eyebrow; this elderly official seemed rather slow on the uptake.

    Li Yu had already grasped the situation and cleared his throat to prompt, "Venerable Minister Liu, these six pigs are all seven months old. Take a look at their physiques."

    Minister Liu, along with the other officials who had initially failed to catch on, swiftly turned their attention back to the six pigs. Even without economic expertise, it was evident that the castrated pigs and the uncastrated ones displayed a significant difference in body size.

    Some officials, who had been eagerly anticipating some excitement, suddenly realized what was happening—Zeng Zixuan was stirring up trouble again!

    Observing the reactions of the assembled officials, the emperor asked the courtiers, "Esteemed ministers, can any of you tell me how much a seven-month-old pig should weigh?"

    Over four hundred officials were left dumbfounded - not just the court officials, but also the provincial governors, who mostly shared similar expressions, either looking at each other or lowering their heads. Only a few, scattered among both the court and provincial officials, seemed to possess some knowledge. Among those in the capital, the ones who knew were originally of humble origins and had rebelled against Great Kan a few years prior, later defecting to Great Qi.

    In the end, the majority of officials in the court hailed from noble families or scholarly backgrounds. How many had truly risen from the lowest ranks of society? This was especially true for the civil servants. The children of high-born clans wouldn't deign to eat pork, let alone know what a pig looked like or how it grew at different stages.

    Furthermore, even if they did have some knowledge, agricultural matters were typically handled by tenants and servants on their estates. Thus, no one immediately stepped forward with an answer.

    The emperor surveyed the assembly. "I won't ask the court and military officials. Let's hear from the provincial governors. The welfare of the people rests on your shoulders. Is there anyone among you who knows?"

    The hall was deathly quiet. After a few breaths, a governor stepped forward from the ranks. "Your Majesty, I might be able to shed some light on the matter."

    "The Governor of Meizhou, Lu Jiang?"

    "Yes."

    "Tell us about it."

    With the emperor's encouragement, Lu Jiang began his report, speaking modestly yet coherently. He tactfully mentioned how he had purchased livestock from commoners and distributed them among the people for breeding. He also visited to inspect the progress and reported the approximate weight of seven-month-old pigs. Those raised less effectively weighed around eighty pounds, while those raised better could reach a hundred.

    In the hall, more than three hundred governors regretted their actions as they felt overshadowed by both the previous governor of Shezhou and now Lu Jiang. They were all eager to please the emperor, but their efforts seemed to have been buried in the dirt.

    While the governors were calculating their future and the emperor's favor, a few court officials, who were close confidants of the emperor, took note of Lu Jiang's reported weights. The Censor-in-Chief, Xue Yan, couldn't help but ask the Imperial Treasury Vice-Minister, who was in charge of offerings, "How much do the six pigs presented by Governor Zeng weigh?"

    The weights had already been recorded during the initial inspection. The Vice-Minister replied, "The two boars were weighed a few days ago and weighed one hundred and ten and one hundred and fifteen pounds each. The four castrated pigs ranged between one hundred and ninety to two hundred pounds."

    The entire court erupted in an uproar.

    Those who could serve in the imperial court, especially in the new dynasty, were either accomplished or talented. While some might be rigid and ignorant of economics, none were fools. The difference of seventy to eighty pounds between castrated and non-castrated pigs of the same age—what did that signify?

    Seventy to eighty pounds.

    Even though they found pigs with a slightly stronger scent unappetizing once they grew past the piglet stage, common folk still consumed them.

    Xue Yan was somewhat excited. "Vice Governor Zeng, are these four pigs truly seven months old?"

    Zeng Zixuan chuckled. "How dare I deceive the emperor?"

    Indeed.

    Xue Yan realized he had asked a redundant question out of disbelief and changed his line of inquiry. "Is there any particular technique to castrating pigs? Can any pig be castrated? Will they fall ill or die from the procedure? Also, your uncastrated pigs weigh over ten jin more than those reported by the governor of Meizhou. Are there any secrets to your breeding methods?"

    He fired off a barrage of questions.

    Zeng Zixuan welcomed the inquiries and provided a general response. Then, he bowed to the emperor on the throne. "Your Majesty, you must have heard about the tribute items from Shezhou that I brought. Many of the items listed bear the name 'Daxing Village.' In fact, not only do the fermented bean curd, bean threads, meat floss, and jerky come from Daxing Village, but also the techniques for cultivating yam, castrating pigs, and raising live pigs were developed by the Sang family in Daxing Village."

    Li Yu recalled Sang Luo. "Are you referring to the Sang family who presented the curved plow, Vice Governor Zeng?"

    "Indeed," Zeng Zixuan smiled. "The Sang family is very dedicated to agriculture and research. They use purple clover as a green manure crop, cutting it and mixing it with a small amount of bran or soybean residue to feed their pigs. The pigs grow faster compared to when they consume other forage crops."

    "She first experimented with castration at home before reporting it to the government. I was worried that it might have been a coincidence. At the time, my wife had brought a batch of sows to Shezhou but failed to sell them all. We raised them on our estate and obtained several piglets, which we used for experimentation. We confirmed that this method was indeed effective. Now, the people around Daxing Village have adopted this castration technique after keeping the strongest boars for breeding. Considering the same feeding method yields nearly a hundred extra pounds of lean meat within seven to eight months, I believed this method should be introduced to the capital for testing and then promoted throughout the Qi Kingdom. That's why I presented live pigs as tribute before the imperial court."

    The emperor was now beaming with laughter. He rose and walked down a few steps, circling around the castrated pigs. "What an excellent contribution! Silks and treasures may fill my private store, but the method of castration and the potato cultivation technique benefit the people of Great Qi. The curved plow from Quyuan and the tribute soil from Shezhou are the finest offerings I've received this year."

    Zeng Ziqian bowed and said, "There is another matter. According to San, the meat of a castrated pig is exceptionally tender, and the usual unpleasant odor is gone. San slaughtered an eight-month-old castrated pig and, two weeks ago, borrowed a six-month-old one from my wife for the purpose of selecting the best ingredients for the meat jerky to present to Your Majesty. My wife's servant cooked a piece of the meat, and indeed, as San claimed, the quality far surpasses that of ordinary pork."

    "Is that so?" Now not only the emperor, but also the ministers were intrigued. The emperor glanced at the six pigs and turned to the vice grandee of the imperial treasury. "Have these six pigs carried away. Keep four of them well and immediately slaughter two of the castrated pigs. It's getting late, so today, I invite all of you to sample this castrated pork and see how delicious it is."

    The vice grandee naturally agreed. After their half-day tour of the Great Qi palace and halls, the six pigs were respectfully carried out by the attendants, each about to embark on a different fate.

    That morning's court session in Great Qi lasted until the afternoon. A group who had once detested the strong smell of pork found themselves indulging in a genuine pork feast.

    To be honest, with courage mustered, she was also curious to find out if it was truly as miraculous as Zeng Ziqian had described. She consumed the entire portion and savored it attentively. Surprisingly, the flavor that they originally found unappealing had indeed vanished...

    Just a few days ago, those who had mocked Zeng Ziqian were now savoring the succulent, tender, and unctuous braised pork, which was entirely distinct from mutton and surpassed it in taste. As they did so, they glanced at the emperor on his throne, his face beaming with joy. Even Zeng Ziqian, a mere provincial governor, had been granted the honor of sitting beside the emperor.

    Quyuan Plow, castrating pigs technique, planting yam.

    In the fourth year of Wu Ding, Zeng Zixuan stole the limelight entirely from the entire officialdom of Great Qi.

    The civil and military officials, in unison, entertained a thought: What divine being of extraordinary caliber hails from the prestigious Sang family of Xizhou's Great Prosperity Estate? How is it that they have not produced such a remarkable figure among their own ranks?

    Absolutely convinced.

    In all uppercase letters!

    I'm utterly awed by Zeng Ziqian's fortune, it makes me want to kneel in admiration!

    ...

    The emperor savored the braised pork in his mouth, his mood equally delightful. After years of warfare, he was not as delicate as those scholar-officials; he had consumed his fair share of pork. Yet, this was the first time he realized that pork could taste so delectable.

    As he chewed on the meat, his mind was still preoccupied with economic and civilian affairs. He imagined the common people enjoying such delights on their tables and pondered over the possibility of raising pigs for eight months to yield two hundred and thirty pounds of white meat, which would provide fertilizers for more than twenty carts of fertile soil.

    Moreover, he recalled the paper mills established in several provinces that had relieved the court's predicament and filled the national treasury with silver. In his heart, he truly believed that Sang Luo was a blessing sent from heaven to the great Qi dynasty.

    Sang Luo, Sang Luo, how should I reward you this time?

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