1636 The China Venture – Snippet 37

Fuzhou, China

The Rode Draak and the Groen Feniks sailed to Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province, escorted by Admiral Zheng Zhilong’s victorious fleet. On arrival, Zhilong sent word ahead to the port authorities that he had important foreign guests and would be gratified if they were permitted to visit the city. They granted permission–Zheng Zhilong’s name had great power in Fuzhou–and directed the foreign vessels to Mawei harbor.

After some further cajoling and judicious gift giving, the port authorities had permitted the members of the USE mission to disembark, but making it clear that they held the Zhengs responsible for the visitors’ behavior. They also made it clear that the visitors were being welcomed as tourists, not as diplomatic envoys. Diplomatic status would have to be accorded by the imperial court in Beijing.

Mission Lodgings, Fuzhou

“Well,” said Doctor Carvalhal, “you are definitely ‘showing,’ Martina. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

Something in Marina’s expression troubled the doctor. “It’s the news you’ve been expecting for months now, isn’t it?”

“Yes, of course, doctor. So I am due in December?”

“That would be my best guess. Women show at twelve to sixteen weeks gestation, and the normal gestation period is forty weeks. Well, call it thirty-seven to forty-two weeks to be safe.”

“And you are confident that you can deliver me safely?”

“Absolutely. Of course, I would have no objection if you retained a local midwife, but I would monitor the situation, and I have the tools–obstetric forceps, for example–on hand if something goes wrong. Which I am sure it won’t, you being a healthy young woman with, if I may say so, ample hips.”

He offered her his hand, and she shook it. “Now, go off and tell your husband the good news.”

As he watched her walk toward her room, Doctor Carvalhal fervently hoped that his presence in the birthing chamber would not be required. Back in Europe, babies were usually delivered by midwives.

Once Doctor Carvalhal knew that he was going on the USE mission to China, and that the mission staff would include women of childbearing age, but no midwife, he had approached Beulah McDonald, the Dean of the College of Nursing, and asked for advice. She in turn had put Carvalhal in touch with some of the resident craft midwives.

They gave the Jewish physicians some helpful tips, of which the most important, really, was “find a midwife once you’re in China.”

City Street in Fuzhou

Mike Song cupped his hands around his mouth and called out, “Admiral Zheng!”

The admiral, who had been about to turn into a shop, halted and looked around. The street was so crowded–much more than even Grantville–that it took a few seconds before he spotted Mike.

“Ah, Michael Song. Nephew of Jason Cheng. My distant-in-time-and-space kinsman. What may I do for you?”

Mike came closer. “Actually, Admiral, it is what you and I can do together that I wish to discuss,” he said, speaking just loudly enough to be heard over the hubbub of the street. “You have gone out of the way to help us establish ourselves, in Xianmen, and Fuzhou, and I have heard that you are working to clear the way for us to continue on to Hangzhou. I don’t know whether the USE mission will ultimately succeed in its goal of talking to the imperial court. I hope it does, and I will help all I can. But I also have to look out for my family’s interests. First, I have a lot of ginseng to sell. Some of it is from my family’s land, some was collected elsewhere in the Grantville countryside, and some is from the America of this time. It is not quite the same plant that you have here in China, but in the old time line, American ginseng sold well over here.”

“When you get to Hangzhou, there is an entire market in that city devoted to medicinal plants,” said Zhilong. “Pose first as a buyer, and learn the prices, then come back as a seller. I am sure you will do well.”

“But there’s another matter. I already told you that I grew up on Taiwan. Specifically, in Taipei. Well, my uncle remembered…” Mike glanced around to make sure no passersby were listening to their conversation. The precaution was probably unnecessary, since the noise of the crowd in the streets was half-deafening. “There used to be gold mining in one of the suburbs of New Taipei City,” he finished.

Mike now had the admiral’s undivided attention.

“And since we are from Taiwan, we have good detailed maps of it. Maps, of course, of Taiwan of the 20th century, but the location of the gold deposit would still be the same. So what I want is an agreement under which I share the maps and memories with you, and my family gets a percentage of the gold.”

Mike didn’t feel the least bit of guilt in advancing the proposition, since he wasn’t doing anything wrong. As was commonly done with long-distance trading ventures, individuals were allowed to engage in private transactions. In essence, they offset the tremendous risks of such voyages–both physical as well as financial–by piggy-backing their own trade goods onto the cargo carried by the vessels being used. The quid pro quo was well-understood by everyone involved. Someone like Mike Song was provided with a portion of the cargo space, in exchange for which he would not let his own business dealings interfere with his responsibilities to the mission as a whole.

“How interesting,” said Zhilong. “‘You know, I have a branch office in this town, it is a pleasant walk away, and it is a place we can speak with greater comfort. Let us continue this conversation there.

Mike agreed, and they walked to Zheng’s local office without further discussion of Taiwanese gold. Zhilong led Mike in and through the offices, and out at last into an inner courtyard with a fountain.

Zhilong motioned to a bench close to the fountain. “Here we can speak without being overheard. No one can come close to us without being seen, and the sound of the water will mask our voices if we speak softly.”

“Convenient,” said Mike.

Zhilong cocked his head. “Where in Taiwan are we talking about?”

Mike smiled. “If I tell you then I have nothing left to bargain with!”

“You misunderstand me. I am just asking whether it is in the north, south, east or west, and how far inland. The answer affects how much trouble it would be to find the gold and hold it. And that in turn affects what sort of royalty would be reasonable.”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense. New Taipei City is in the north. I’d say that the mine isn’t more than three miles from the coast. That’s good, isn’t it?”

Zhilong shook his head sorrowfully. “It’s bad. It means that once the Dutch and the Spanish learn of its location, they can land troops to seize it. It’s surely not far from the old Spanish fort at Keelung. But let’s keep talking, I am sure we can come up with a fair deal.”

After some further discussion, they reached agreement, and Zheng Zhilong promised to have it put in writing for Mike to look over.