The flood in Jiangnan was an urgent matter, and it didn’t take long for the disaster relief team to set off from the capital and rush to the affected area with silver money and grains.
This disaster relief team could be said to carry the hope of the whole court. The cabinet was urging questions every day, and the relay stations were on full standby. However, no news related to the disaster ever came after a long time.
Even if Xu Wen sent a memorial, it was full of flowery language of the court, and the most important news about the flood and disaster relief was written in just a few words. The Emperor thought that the delay was caused by the distance between the capital and the Jiangnan area. Moreover, Xu Wen should be busy relocating the victims and had little time to deal with paperwork. Thinking like this, the Emperor forcibly suppressed the anxiety in his heart and waited patiently.
However, the Emperor’s patience was not rewarded with the news that the disaster had ended and everything was returning to the right track. Instead, bad news came from the official placed by Li Chengjing as Xu Wen’s deputy. This person had persuaded Xu Wen for a long time, but to no avail. In the end, he sent an urgent report to the capital at the risk of insubordination. The report was sent in multiple copies using several different routes, but only one reached Li Chengjing safely. Li Chengjing’s expression sank immediately after reading the report. The next day, he presented the report to the Emperor during the morning court session.
“Your Majesty, there is an urgent report from Jiangnan. Blinded by greed, Xu Wen, the appointed leader of the disaster relief team, embezzled the silver allocated for disaster relief and replaced new rice with moldy ones. The flood victims who ate the rice vomited and had diarrhea, and the death toll soared to more than 1,300 in just ten days. After causing such a catastrophe, Xu Wen tried to cover it up in vain and never reported the matter to the court. He also suppressed his subordinates and did not allow anyone to send a report to the capital. As a result of his cover-up attempt, the bodies of the victims were not disposed of in time, causing a plague to break out. Jiangnan has been raining continuously these past few days. The climate is humid, and the plague spreads very fast. By the time Zhao Liang took the risk to send this report against Xu Wen’s order, an entire village had been infected with the plague.”
“Plague!” The court was shocked. What a government feared the most after floods and droughts were plagues. In history, it was not uncommon for a plague to kill up to 90% population of the infected area. If not handled well, it was a catastrophe that could damage the foundation of the country.
Like a drop of water falling into the boiling oil, the court immediately exploded. Yang Fucheng swiped his sleeve angrily and shouted: “Ridiculous! Zhao Liang is only a deputy and has no power to report to the court. He dares to skip his superior and commits the crime of disrespect. This person is not credible and should be removed from his position immediately, never to be used again.”
“This remark is misplaced.” Li Chengjing argued. “The problem here is not Zhao Liang’s so-called offense to his superior, but Xu Wen’s greed and incompetence that caused the disaster to expand and a plague to break out. Senior Grand Secretary Yang blames Zhao Liang for not sticking to the rules and skipping his superior to report to the court, does it mean that you want him to wait until all the people in Jiangnan die and Xu Wen can no longer hide the matter? As an official, the first priority is to be loyal to the monarch, the second is to love the common people, and the third is to respect one’s superiors. By showing this kind of attitude, what does Senior Grand Secretary Yang think of the common people? Where do you put your loyalty towards the court and the dynasty?”
“Zhao Liang skipped his superior and disobeyed rules, which shows that his character is flawed. Who knows if he is deliberately making up false charges to frame his superior in order to snatch merits?”
“True or false can be found by sending another envoy to Jiangnan. Senior Grand Secretary Yang wants to dismiss Zhao Liang and punish him without even trying to investigate. Could it be that you want to cover up for someone?”
The argument in the court continued until noon and only stopped after the Emperor suffered a headache. Even though the two sides temporarily stopped the fight, sparks of fire could be seen everywhere, and the atmosphere in the palace was tense throughout the afternoon.
Li Chengjing saw the tiredness on the Emperor’s face and followed him back to his palace. Later, Li Chengjing stayed with the Emperor for an afternoon, summoning imperial physicians and discussing Jiangnan’s matter with the six ministries and the cabinet. He was busy all day and only returned to the Ciqing Palace late in the evening.
Although Cheng Yujin stayed inside the inner palace, she also knew that a major matter was happening in the court. The flood in Jiangnan had not been resolved yet, but now a plague had broken out. Medicinal plants were scarce at this season, and among folk doctors, few had learned proper medicinal knowledge. Most of the population had to rely mostly on their natural recovery to survive a sickness, not to mention that plagues were highly contagious, had a rapid onset, and with an extremely high mortality rate. Just hearing the word plague was enough to make people tremble in fear.
Li Chengjing didn’t come back until late at night.
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