1636 The China Venture – Snippet 38

The book is available now so this is the last snippet.

1636 The China Venture – Snippet 38

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“Well, well, it looks like I am going to do even better from this USE mission than I expected,” Zheng Zhilong mused. He had spoken to his legal expert, who had explained how one could adapt the contracts used for drilling partnerships in Szechwan for this purpose. It was fortunate that the mine was in Taiwan, as Taiwan was not considered Chinese territory, and thus was unaffected by the state monopoly on the mining of coinage metals.

As for the percentage, Zhilong couldn’t hold back a chuckle. Mike was getting a good price for his information, but Zhilong would have been willing to offer substantially more if Mike had pressed the matter. Mike was definitely a bright young man, but he was not a skilled negotiator. And even if he had been, he didn’t know or at least appreciate several key facts. The first was that Zhilong had recently negotiated a deal with the Spanish in Keelung, and would have a free hand there. And the second was that if the mine had been more than three miles from the coast, Zhilong would have complained about the dangers of aborigine attack and the cost of transporting men and tools to the mine and ore from it. So Zhilong had turned what was really an asset–the short distance to the coast–into an apparent liability. And from the sound of it, Mike was keeping this mine a secret, so it wasn’t likely that he would discuss the deal with someone who would know better, like Lyell or Vries.

Still, now that Zhilong knew that there really was gold in Taiwan, he needed to give some thought to the Dutch presence in Zeelandia, in southwest Taiwan. He knew that in the old time line, the Dutch forced out the Spanish in 1642, and were in turn forced out by his son in 1662.

Besides, Zhilong had been thinking lately that it might be nice to be King of Taiwan, just in case the Ming Dynasty fell in the new time line, too.

The Dutch were vulnerable. A good part of their European fleet had been destroyed in the Battle of Dunkirk in 1633, and the Dutch economy had been damaged by the siege of Amsterdam in 1633-34. The country was now at peace, but it wasn’t clear whether the Dutch in Asia would acknowledge the sovereignty of King Ferdinand–there were a lot of hardline Calvinists in Batavia.

In addition, the Dutch of Asia were now heavily committed to the alliance with the Japanese, including the occupation of Manila and the transport of the Japanese Christians to the new colony in California. Which Zheng Zhilong knew all about because Chinese ships, indeed some Zheng family ships, had been hired by the Japanese “First Fleet.”

Zhilong made a mental note: Try to get more information from the Americans on the resources of California and instruct Chinese crews of the colony ships to investigate.

Could he buy Zeelandia from the Dutch, now that they could trade with the Japanese via Manila? Did he have the strength to seize Zeelandia if they balked?

****

Once Mike secured a written contract with Zheng Zhilong, he was willing to explain all he knew about the location of the mining area.

“My uncle says that the mining was carried out in the hill town of Jinguashi, which of course doesn’t exist yet,” Mike told the admiral.

“So how will we find it?”

“Maps. My aunt and uncle grew up in Taiwan, and they moved all their belongings to Grantville, so they have all their books. Since they drove around Taiwan, they own a road atlas, and the maps of Taiwan in that atlas are certainly the best in the world now. ”

“What is a road atlas?”

“It is a book of maps for travelers who intend to ride from place to place.”

“Ah. We have such things in China. There are guides for officials explaining what routes they must take to their posts, and how soon they must arrive in order to avoid reprimand. And there are guides for traveling merchants, with route maps and commentaries on distances, road conditions, bandit ambush points, inns, local products, and famous sites.”

“Well, the road maps definitely show the location of Jinguashi. And I brought with me copies of the relevant pages. Of course, the problem is that the roads don’t exist yet, and the coastlines and river courses may have changed over the four centuries between now and when the atlas was written.” The map, unfortunately, was without precise indications of latitude and longitude. So the position of Jinguashi had to be guesstimated from what the map showed concerning the course of the Keelung River, and other vague geographical clues.

“But you have been there? You will recognize the profiles of the mountains perhaps, when you come to the right place.”

Mike shook his head. “Sorry. Never went there. The mines were closed in the 1980s. Anyway, I can’t go to Taiwan. My official obligations to the USE embassy trump my personal interest in this venture; that’s why we drew up the contract the way we did. Considering that we don’t even yet have permission to go to Hangzhou, let alone Beijing, it seems hard to believe that I will be free to lark off to Taiwan anytime soon, returning who knows when.

“But based on the road map, Jinguashi is a little more than a mile SSE of Shuinandong. I have been there, it’s the town nearest a tourist attraction, the Yingyang Sea. There’s no way your sailors could miss the Yingyang Sea if you just sailed east along the northern coast.”

The admiral looked puzzled. Yin and Yang, of course were reference to opposing forces in Chinese philosophy. But he plainly had no clue as to what they might mean in this context.

“A sea that burns?” he guessed.

“The upper waters of the bay are yellowish-brown in color,” Mike explained. “But the lower waters, say ten feet deep, and the open sea beyond the bay, are blue.” If the special coloration of the bay was the result of pollution from mining activities, then of course it wouldn’t exist in the seventeenth century. But Mike was taught in school that the gold rush in the Jinguashi area was in the 1890s, and his teacher had insisted that the bay was yellow before then.

“Ah,” said the admiral. “The yellow of gold.”

“Something like that,” said Mike. He knew that the real explanation was actually more complicated. When Mike toured Shuinandong, he had been told that it was natural runoff. Specifically, that the heavy rains that afflicted Taiwan leached ferric ions out of iron pyrite ore and these ions were imparting the yellow color. The yellow of fool’s gold, and it was simply fortunate that pyrites are often associated with gold ore.

“Excellent,” said Zheng Zhilong. “I will need some time to recruit persons with experience in gold prospecting and mining. This has to be done circumspectly.”

“Is there mining in Fujian?” asked Mike.

“Mostly silver mining. The main gold mines are elsewhere. But don’t worry, I’ll find the people we need. If your information is good, you are going to become a rich man, Mike Song.”

 

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