In June of the 29th year of Wanli, Ge Cheng, a 34 year old man from Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, decided to do a big thing.
He used to be an ordinary textile worker. He has been living in Suzhou for many years.
At that time, Suzhou was one of the centers of silk weaving industry in Jiangnan, and silk processing industry (such as dyeing) was also very developed. Guyanwu, a Kunshan native, later recalled that at the end of the Ming Dynasty, there were “thousands of machine households” in Suzhou city. According to the estimation that three workers were required to operate each loom, there were about 1000 to 2000 looms in Suzhou at that time. Considering that there were only 173 official looms in Suzhou during the Jiajing era, Cao Shiping, Ge Cheng’s “parent official” and the then governor of Jiangsu, said that every household in the east city of Suzhou was engaged in the textile industry, it can be inferred that the vast majority of looms were operated by small family workshops at that time.
This kind of small family workshop has weak anti risk ability. The profit of the workshop owner is unstable, and the career of the employed weaver will inevitably be displaced. In his memorial to the imperial court, caoshiping described the living conditions of weavers in Suzhou as follows:
“Wu people’s livelihood has the most numerous teeth, and there is very little permanent property,… Floating food is sent to the people, and it takes only a short time to get a job, then you will live, and if you lose your job, you will die.”
Trying to find a job and keep themselves and their families alive has exhausted all the efforts of these weavers. Ge Cheng is no exception.
But the times often do not pity those who strive to live, because they have never had the opportunity to participate in the formulation of the operating rules of the times. Two years ago, in February of the 27th year of Wanli, a new era variable suddenly came to Suzhou City – a eunuch named sunlong, a ceremonial eunuch, was ordered by Emperor Wanli to “lead the collection of Su Song and other government taxes”.
Sun long had previously worked as a weaving supervisor in Suzhou and Hangzhou, and had a deep understanding of the silk weaving industry in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The emperor asked him to take charge of the “Su Song and other government tax classes” because he was more able to extract more “tax” from the people than others. Since the 24th year of Wanli, the emperor Shenzong of the Ming Dynasty has frantically sent eunuchs to serve as mine supervisors and tax envoys under the pretext of the three major levies (the use of troops in Ningxia in the 20th year of Wanli, the use of troops in Korea, and the use of troops in Bozhou in the 27th year of Wanli). These people bypass the bureaucratic system, They directly raided the people for the imperial power. In just three years, Emperor Wanli took advantage of the eunuchs and established a new wealth collection system covering the whole country. This move was called “the disaster of mining tax” in history.
The reason why Emperor Wanli was more willing to employ eunuchs rather than rely on the traditional ruling basic bureaucratic group was that there were always some people who “followed the Tao rather than the monarch” within the bureaucratic group. They not only refused to implement his plan to amass wealth, but also criticized him. Moreover, the corruption of the bureaucratic group also gave him a headache. He felt that the gains of the bureaucratic system in the money collection plan had far exceeded the gains of imperial power. Therefore, Emperor Wanli would rather have a large number of vacancies in central and local officials for a long time. He would rather have such vacancies affect the normal operation of government affairs than appoint them to fill them. He preferred to organize a new learning machine composed of eunuchs.
Sunlong is a part of this new acquisition machine, that is, the so-called “mining supervision and tax envoy”.
At that time, the core work of the mine supervisors was to supervise the people to mine gold and silver on behalf of the imperial power. The imperial power did not pay any money in the mining process, the people were responsible for all mining work and costs, the local government was responsible for force prevention and control, and the mining income was distributed by the imperial power and the people by 50%. The mine supervisors are not interested in prospecting, let alone going to the mine cave. When they arrive with the task assigned by the emperor, they often choose to directly apportion the amount of money collected to the local people, and they must pay it up when it is due. As for whether there are gold and silver mines and whether the mining is smooth, the mine supervisors do not care.
The core duty of the tax emissary is to directly collect extra legal taxes from the people on behalf of the imperial power. That is, in addition to the tax card controlled by the original bureaucratic system, a tax card controlled by eunuchs was added. These tax cards created ingenious names. At that time, people once lamented that there was a chicken tax for chickens, a pig tax for pigs, a road tax for passers-by, a land tax for landing, and a fish tax for places that did not produce fish. Another means is to directly formulate the amount of money to be collected and apportion it to local merchants, which must be paid in full when due. As for the business status of the merchant, whether it is a profit or a loss, the tax makes people care nothing.
According to incomplete statistics, from the 25th year to the 34th year of Wanli, the mining supervision and tax envoys offered an average of 1.71 million liang of silver and 3600 liang of gold to Emperor Wanli every year. The income of eunuchs and their minions was about 3-10 times that of the emperor. For example, chengshouxun, a small attendant under Chen Zeng, the Shandong mining supervisor, found “more than 400000 (two) pieces of prohibited jewelry and silver” when he was seized.
Sun long’s ability to amass wealth is equally excellent. In March of the 38th year of Wanli, that is, one year after he was in charge of the “Su Song and other government taxes”, Sun long paid 30000 liang of inner Treasury silver to Emperor Wanli. This means that the wealth he and his minions actually scraped from Su Song and other places this year was about 100000-300000 liang of silver. Sunlong’s search is so effective because he has two basic means:
(1) A large number of bachelors and local ruffians are employed. His attendant Huang Jian was originally a cruel official, while the appointed tax officials Tang Shen and Xu Cheng were local singles in Suzhou. These people do not care about the local wind review and the affection of their parents, and do their job of collecting money by unscrupulous means.
(2) Set up a large number of tax cards. At that time, it was called “the establishment of the discussion network is as dense as autumn tea”. Sun long declared to the outside world that “no business is allowed, and no household is levied”. It seems that he is lenient. In fact, he has made great efforts to amass wealth by “setting up nine customs and five customs respectively”.
The so-called “stop discussing business, do not collect business”, means that the new tax card will only tax outsiders, not local businesses. However, tax cards are piled up, and foreign businessmen are unwilling to throw themselves into the net, which has triggered a chain reaction. First of all, there are fewer and fewer vendors in Wuzhong, and the number of weaving mills is decreasing. Without foreign businessmen to purchase, the silk fabrics of weaving households can not be sold, and the funds can not be recycled. Many family textile workshops can only stop production. Then, the shutdown of the textile workshop also affected that the dyeing workshop had no business and could only stop production. Finally, the outcome witnessed by Cao Shiping, governor of Jiangsu Province:
“As I have seen and remembered, thousands of dyeing workers were scattered after the dyeing workshop; thousands of weavers were scattered after the machine room. These are good people who earn their own living.”
In the 29th year of Wanli, man-made disasters still exist and are getting worse – Sun long wants to complete the amount of money collection. However, the economy of Suzhou and other places has been seriously depressed due to previous raids, so Sun long can only expand the scale of his minions and increase the intensity of money collection. The natural disaster came again – in that year, “there was no wheat in the flood” and “the price of silk was very high”. The flood not only reduced the food production of Suzhou people, but also affected the local silk supply. If grain production is reduced, the price of rice will rise; Silk production will be reduced, and the price of silk will also rise. The former has seriously increased the living cost of textile and printing and dyeing workers; The latter has seriously increased the production costs of textile mill owners. So: at this end, it is more and more difficult for workers to find jobs; At the other end, the cost of living for workers is still soaring.
In Suzhou that year, there was a popular song “tax official ballad”:
In April, water kills wheat, in May, water kills rice, and the vast paddies become rivers.
What is wrong with the people? Don’t shout when you look up everyday!
It’s still OK to kill wheat and grass. The tax official will kill me!
The flood in April destroyed the wheat, and the flood in May destroyed the rice. All the fields and paths have become vast rivers. God, what have we people at the bottom done wrong? We looked up and asked the sky, but the sky was so high that we couldn’t hear our call sign. It’s just that the flood kills wheat and rice, but the tax official also wants to kill us!
When the weavers looked up and asked the sky, “why am I so miserable”, Sun long’s head was as big as a fight. He has been unable to complete this year’s amount of money, but he must complete this year’s amount of money. So he did three things:
(1) Misappropriate funds. “Temporary loan of Treasury bank”. A sum of silver was misappropriated from the local government’s Treasury to make up for the amount of money collected for the emperor.
(2) Intensify the search. Twelve tax officials, including Huang Jianjie, Tang Shen and Xu Cheng, were sent to the grass-roots level to investigate taxes and “increase taxes without authorization”; At that time, it was said that “rogues enter into the curtain”. As long as they enter and leave Suzhou, a chicken and a bunch of vegetables have to pay taxes.
(3) Tax increase. “Each piece of satin is taxed for three cents; each piece of satin is taxed for five cents; each piece of yarn is taxed for two cents” – this tax rate seems very low, but in fact it is a repeated levy on weavers on the premise that each piece of satin and yarn must be paid a high tax by the merchants when it is transported out of Suzhou.
The consequences are:
“All the machine owners stopped weaving, and the weavers starved to death by dividing themselves.”
“The people of Wu went on strike and cried on the road.”
Weavers and businessmen are not fools. When they know that they can only lose money if they continue to operate, they will naturally choose to close down their business, or even switch to other businesses (they were called “machine households’ dental banks’ paying taxes and changing their business at the same time”). After they went out of business, they could more or less support a period of time with their previous savings. The textile workers who depended on their employment came to a dead end. At that time, it was said that “people were terrified when they heard that they would stop weaving, and everyone would starve to death” – starvation had become their predictable fate.
On June 3, when all the people were suffering, Ge Cheng summoned dozens of influential figures in the weaving circle to hold a meeting in Xuanmiao temple in the city (some materials said that GE Cheng was just one of the leaders, not the top commander). At the meeting, the people decided to start work the next day, “kill the staff to chase sun”, kill those tax officials acted by local ruffians, and drive Sun long out of Suzhou. Ge Cheng is willing to be the leader who starts work. Naturally, this also means that he has a great probability of being killed as the “chief villain” afterwards. Ge also asked people not to affect innocent people, and all actions “depend on what my banana fan means”.
When GE Cheng led more than 2000 weavers to Huang Jianjie’s tax card, Huang was exploiting a melon seller. He had already paid the melon tax when he entered the city. After selling the melon, he bought four liters of rice in the city. When he left the city, he was asked to leave one liter of rice as the rice tax. The weavers saw this, “so they attacked and built the festival and killed it.”. Later, he turned to other tax cards, killed Xucheng and others, and set fire to the houses of Tang Xin and others. “All tax officials who were in the local area were beaten” (some materials said that the victims also included the families of these people, and had the act of splitting their bodies to vent their anger).
Finally, the team surrounded the weaving Yamen. Ge Chengze went to visit zhuxieyuan, the governor of Suzhou, and said that he was “willing to get sun shuijian”. No one dared to hand over Sun long in the Suzhou officialdom. They had to appease the textile workers and help Sun long escape to Hangzhou.
On the third day after the incident, the tax officials had been punished by the weavers. On the fourth day, the weavers posted a list at the six gates of the city, saying that the work of “eliminating pests for the people” had been completed, and that “all the residents in the four directions were safe” and could resume their normal lives. On the fifth day, the local government began to act and ordered the arrest of “rioters”. Ge Cheng volunteered to turn himself in and said:
“I, the proponent of justice, will be able to correct the law. If there are no civilians involved, there will be chaos.”
Ge chengsui was jailed for this. The local official was so moved that he renamed him “Ge Xian”. At that time, it was said that when GE Cheng was imprisoned, “ten thousand people cried and gave him away.”.
Since then, Ge Cheng has been imprisoned for a long time. This kind of disposition may be because the government considered that GE Cheng’s death sentence and immediate execution might trigger another riot – in order to make an example of others, Sun long later killed a horse returning gun and designated Wang Zhi, a machine user who took part in the Xuanmiao Temple oath, and AO Zhen, a toothed man, as leaders. Wang Zhi was eighty years old and died in prison; Ao Zhen was exiled.
More than ten years later, Ge Cheng was released from prison by the “four amnesties” (the occasional large-scale amnesty held by the imperial court). The local gentry and people did not forget him, and used “general Ge” as their honorific title. There was a wealthy Xin’an merchant named chengshangfu. Perhaps he saw that GE Cheng was alone and gave him an “Ai Ji”. Ge took it and sent it back to his mother’s family.
In the third year of Chongzhen, Ge Cheng died at the age of 63. People buried this great people at the bottom of the Ming Dynasty next to five other great people at the bottom of the Ming Dynasty – the five people, Yan Peiwei, Yang nianru, Zhou Wenyuan, Shen Yang and Ma Jie, who had beaten the royal guards and scolded WeiZhongxian, and then led their necks to the sword and went to justice generously.
Ge Cheng’s tomb