There once were more than 110 families having a private library in Jiaxing at its peak. With the change of dynasties, early in the Republic of China, most of the buildings used for collecting books became the first private libraries in China. However, most of them had been destroyed during the war; less than ten to one had survived. Jiang Guangyu had undergone hardships and spent his lifetime savings for Yanfen Cottage.
The Jiangs were a thriving family in Jiaxing with a lot of talents, among which the most famous had been Jiang Baili, Qian Xuesen's1 father-in-law, who had been the headmaster of Baoding Military Academy and the general of National Revolution Army, and had written: "On Nation Defense". The existence of Yanfen Cottage relied on the support of the family, but no every book collector had a powerful family. Many books had been ruined in ruthless wars.
Famous buildings such as She Garden, Deshu Building, Hairi Building, Xiangshan Pavilion and so on would be gone because of the war ten years later, but for the time being, Jiang Shiguang treasured them very much. Seeing Huang Xuan was listening to him carefully, the old man got more and more excited while talking. It was time to eat, but he was still longing for more. The sun was setting down. His third son came in and said: "Dad, time for dinner."
Jiang Shiguang looked at him with a little anger and didn't realize the room had become dim until then. He said with a smile to Huang Xuan in embarrassment: "I didn't realize it had been so long. I bet you are hungry."
"No, I'm not," Huang Xuan said politely. Then he said to Jiang's third son: "I thank saozi2."
Jiang's third son was simple and inarticulate who was middle-aged. Years of hard work had polished his sharpness. Hearing that Huang Xuan was a scholar, he waved his hand repeatedly in excitement, moved his mouth, but eventually, he just said: "Nothing, nothing."
Jiang Shiguang was used to his son's simpleness. Putting on his shoes, he said to Huang Xuan: "Let's go eat. The food in the village is simple. I'm sorry you have to put up with it."
Huang Xuan made polite remarks again. Since he had been used to them when he was at home, this time was just a review.
Zhejiang was a place full of rich people. Jiang Shiguang who had some lands, five sons and some shops in town, also lived in affluence. There was fish and meat served on six plates on the table. It was a life in Republic of China much different from the one Huang Xuan had known of.
The third son ate some rice silently while his father started talking again. After a moment, Huang Xuan seized an opportunity and asked: "I wonder what is the price of grains nowadays?" Speaking of grains, Jiang Shiguang was dazed at first, then sighed and put down the chopsticks.
In 1927, the southern areas of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River suffered from food scarcity. Some vendors and landlords stored grains which made them scarcer. People of later generations thought that many revolts and riots of that year were related to grains. The Jiangs experienced grain shortage first-hand.
Before Huang Xuan asked another question, Jiang Shiguang sighed and said: "While before New Year brown rice was four silver dollars a dan3, nowadays, someone is selling it at the price of 17 yuan a dan. Even we don't dare to eat our stored grains easily.
Huang Xuan exhaled. He didn't understand much about the people's livelihood, less about the reason why farmers were worried about the rise of grain price. He was just calculating the grains he had brought here. dan had different volumes, but even if a dan equaled 120 jin4, one million grains would be 1600 dan which would be 16000 silver dollars even though sold at the medium price which was a fortune in 1927 and could even buy a ship.
Rolin had done the maths for Huang Xuan. Huang Xuan was thrilled inside. Jiang Shiguang had lost the interest in talking, so he said "good night" and went to sleep.
At dawn the next morning, Huang Xuan greeted Jiang Shiguang and left with his third son, Jiang Yisheng for Ganpu Town. Jiang Yisheng was introverted but knew the way very well. Huang Xuan kept talking with him on the way and knew more about the local conditions and customs.
Although this was a small town, the market was bustling with a steady stream of people and vehicles. Many shops were soliciting businesses in front of their cyan curtains. Having walked Huang Xuan to this place, Jiang Yisheng wanted to go home, but Huang Xuan wouldn't let him go. Before he could say a word, Huang Xuan said: "Brother Jiang, I am new here. Could you please stay with me for two days until my family comes and finds me? Otherwise, I am afraid I wouldn't even be able to find a place to stay by myself."
Jiang Yisheng was simple-minded and honest. Looking at Huang Xuan, he guessed that he was just a 15-year-old boy of the same height as him. He was worried about leaving him alone in a strange town. After thinking for a while, he said: "My brother lives in the town. How about me sending you to his place?"
"No need to hurry," Huang Xuan giggled and said: "Let's wander around first. We can find a hotel later. You can stay in the town tonight and go back early tomorrow morning."
Jiang Yisheng wanted to decline, but before he could come up with a right word, Huang Xuan was already at the market. He had to follow him.
Rice and cloth had been traded in bulk since ancient times and the best choice of the merchants seeking reliable investment and steady profit. There were nearly ten rice shops and many landlords and merchants in Ganpu. Maybe it was because of the grain shortage, rice shops were much busier than cloth shops.
Huang Xuan visited the shops one by one. He stopped in one named Xieqiao Rice Shop which was moderate-scaled with assistants twice as many as others. The assistants took up specific posts and were working in a systematic way. The customers were all well-dressed, who obviously didn't come for a small amount.
"Is the shopkeeper in?" Huang Xuan tapped at the counter with the knuckle of his middle finger, which was his fourth uncle's habit and he borrowed temporarily.
The assistant behind the counter looked capable and shrewd. Blue veins could be seen on his thin chin. Hearing Huang Xuan ask, he stopped working on the abacus and said: "The shopkeeper is busy with the inventory. Can I help you?" After that, he looked at Jiang Yisheng standing behind Huang Xuan, said something to the assistant behind him and walked out from behind the counter. Stretching his hand, he led the way and said: "This way, please. Let's talk in the room."
"Are you the second shopkeeper?" Seeing this assistant was discerning, Huang Xuan asked while following him into the wing-room. However, Jiang Yisheng kept shaking his head and almost exclaimed.
"The second shopkeeper has gone to the city," the assistant denied with a smile. He poured some tea for Huang Xuan and said: "Are you from Beijing?"
"Nanjing," Huang Xuan corrected, knowing that his Mandarin must have caused some misunderstanding. "I want to sell some wheat to your shop," he said seriously.
The assistant smiled professionally, checked his curiosity and said: "We are a rice shop but also accept wheat. May I ask how much you have?"
Huang Xuan smiled but didn't answer him. He thrust out one finger which he had learned from his mom. When he had been little, every time his mom had talked about his prize, she had spread her fingers, but when the real number came out, it was completely different.
The assistant was puzzled by Huang Xuan. He wondered what kind of person this young man who had come from Nanjing to a Zhejiang rice shop to sell wheat was. Looking at Huang Xuan's complexion and clothes, he felt he couldn't handle the matter, so said: "Please wait a moment. The shopkeeper will come soon," then he added: "And you are…"
The shopkeeper was a local, 50-odd years old. His surname was Zhu, one of the biggest family names in that place. He looked at Huang Xuan and Jiang Yisheng from outside the window, unable to figure out their backgrounds. If they were master and servant, he hadn't seen any servant had been allowed to drink tea when his master was present. If they were relatives, their looks and air were totally different. While considering and observing, he walked into the room with a smile, folded his hands in front and said: "I am sorry for the waiting."
When the shopkeeper came in, Huang Xuan still sat there. Seeing him giving a salute to him, he stood up a little and sat back. "Please have a seat, Mr. shopkeeper."
"All right." The shopkeeper didn't get angry. He lifted his gown and sat down. He refilled Huang Xuan's teacup and said directly: "I am wondering how much wheat Mr. Huang wants to sell."
Jiang Yisheng sat there stupidly, not having a clue what was happening before his eyes. Huang Xuan smiled slightly, sipped some tea and said: "It depends on how much you can take."
"Oh?" The shopkeeper smiled and lowered his head to look at his teacup. Unlike before, nowadays, the money grain businesses made was the price differences between a bumper harvest year and a famine year. Big shops did business by other channels too, except ordinary ones while the moderate-scaled shops like his, usually by buying grains in bulk at low prices in good years and storing them in famine years. Constrained by funds, most of moderate-scaled shops were doing business by buying low and selling high all the year around. Currently, brown rice was around 16 yuan a dan. This place didn't grow wheat yet this person had traveled such a long distance to sell wheat. Apparently, he wanted to make a fortune. Thinking this, the shopkeeper probed: "This young man must be successful in business in the future. Our shop is small, but the boss is very strong. Hundreds of dans won't be a problem. If you are interested, we can talk about more."
"Let's settle at 100 dans," Huang Xuan said simply. Although 100 dans were just about 10 tons, it was a big deal to a shop in a small town and wouldn't cause other ideas. Huang Xuan thought it would be safer, after all, he was in a strange place.
No one knew what the shopkeeper was thinking, the expression on his face changed slightly as he agreed. Jiang Yisheng who didn't react until then, asked Huang Xuan quietly: "Huang Xuan, do you have so many grains?"
Although Zhejiang had beautiful waters and fertile soil, 100 dans of grains would be enough to make a small landlord bankrupt and feed Jiang Yisheng's whole clan for a year. Seeing that Huang Xuan had closed a deal about 100 dans of grains within minutes, he couldn't help worrying.
Huang Xuan smiled and comforted him by patting his palm. He said to the shopkeeper: "If there are no questions, please ask your assistants to get the dock and warehouse ready. We will complete the transaction tomorrow morning."
"No problem," the shopkeeper answered. He asked an assistant to come over and whispered in his ear, then said: "When will Mr. Huang's ship arrive? I will ask my assistants to get everything ready."
Although Ganpu was a small town, there were people who wanted to take kickbacks both on waterways and lands. The shopkeeper worried that Huang Xuan was new and wouldn't understand these things so that his business would be messed up.
Huang Xuan didn't know what he was thinking. He thought that the grains were in the plane passage; as long as he told Rolin about it, everything would be set. He smiled inside, waved his hand and said: "Don't worry. As long as the warehouse is ready, my people will take care of the rest." Hearing this, a sense of respect rose in the shopkeeper's heart. He folded his hands in front and kept saying "Thank you!" Huang Xuan saluted back only once and was ready to leave. Jiang Yisheng was still in shock.
Huang Xuan wandered in the shop proudly for some time, then went to the dock outside the town. Two assistants of Xieqiao Rice Shop were already waiting there. "Mr. Huang," they said respectfully and took him to the warehouse.
The warehouse was less than 1 li5 away from the dock, much smaller than the storage room in his house, mostly wooden, but some modern material too. World War One was the peak of Chinese national capital, the eruption of which hadn't stopped until World War Two, accompanied by the booming of the docks and rice shops.
Huang Xuan didn't even know about business. He just had a superficial knowledge of it by hearing and seeing things at home, which could make do temporarily. He couldn't tell whether the warehouse was suitable or not, just made a sound of "Oh" vaguely, stepped out and said: "Does the warehouse have a room? I will sleep here tonight."
"Yes, it does." One of the assistants looked at Huang Xuan, who was still wearing the gown given by Jiang Shiguang and looked weird, but didn't dare to comment. He led Huang Xuan to the porter's lodge and settled him there.
"Have a seat." After the assistant had left, Huang Xuan sat on the bed, tired, regardless of the smelly cover. Jiang Yisheng cared less and sat down. To him, this room was better than his own.
"Thank you," Huang Xuan said to Jiang Yisheng, sweeping the bed with his hands. "I will thank you better tomorrow after I sell the grains."
"Don't mention it." As an adult, Jiang Yisheng wasn't mature but a little overcautious. Looking at the ceiling, he said: "The grains are your own. I didn't help at all, so you don't need to thank me."
Huang Xuan smiled and said no more. The money wasn't paid yet. It was too early to talk about splitting it. After a little chatter, they both went to sleep. Huang Xuan was too tired. He just told Rolin to put some grains in the warehouse and fell asleep.
Qian Xuesen: a Chinese scientist, aerodynamicist, father of Chinese aerospace, father of Chinese missile, father of Chinese automatic control, king of rockets.
Saozi: a polite way to call the wife of a friend in China.
Dan: a unit of dry measure for grain in China, roughly equivalent to 1 hectolitre (100L) or 22 US gallons (Dry).
Jin: a unit of weight in China, 1 jin=500g
Li: a unit of length in China, 1 li=500 meters