Outside Yongzhou there were weird snakes: black skin with white stripes. When they crawled, all grasses and weeds they touched would all shrivel and die. When they bit human, no one could resist their lethal venom. However, if they were caught, killed, cured, and dehydrated, they could be used as an efficacy-enhancer added to the mdicine as to treat leprosy, paralysis, disablement, pandemic, removal of dead flesh and parasites. At the begining, royal doctors conscripted the snake skins twice a year under the order from emperors; later the order changed to hire snake-catchers and exempted their taxes in exchange of the skins they contributed. So the people of Yongzhou scrambled to engage in such a work.
A guy named Jiang, did for living on the tax-exemption job of snake-catching which had been descending from his father and grandfather. I asked for his comments. He said, "Both of my grandfather and my father died of snake bite. As having been the successor of them for twelve years, I almost died of the same way many times," The sad look evinced on his face when he recalled; I sympathized him and asked him, "If you dislike such a job, I will tell the officers in charge to find you a new job and you resume paying the tax. How about that?"
My words made Jiang even more saddened, and his eyes were watering. He contiuned to recount his misfortune, "Are you pitying me and going to let me survive? But the misfortune I am encountering now is far less disastroous than the one that I should resume paying tax. Supposed government started to levy tax on me, my life would have long been much more unfortunate. Since my grandfather, three generation of my family had been living in this place for sixty years. The lives of my neighbors were stuck in extremely reduced circumstance day after day. Government took all of their harvests out of fields away, and further conscripted all the belongings from their houses. They all started to roam in wail and despair, trudging and stumbling upon roads with hunger and thirsty, fighting against the strom and the tempest, braving all kinds of inclemencies, breathing the miasma. They died one after another en route, then dead bodies piled up on roads.
"The next door neighbors used to live with my grandfather now only one tenth of them left; with my father, two or three tenth left; with I, four or five tenth left. Those neighbors had only one choice between death and departure. But I could live and continue staying here merely because of my snake-catching job. When those oppressive officials came, they were shouting and swearing everwhere, crashing and smashing everything, making people, even chickens and dogs, extremely uneasy and fearful. During the tumult, I got up slowly with exceptional caution, checking the clay pot and making sure the snakes were still there, then lying down again in ease. I fed the snakes cautiously and submitted them in due course, then I could come back to eat the harvest I sowed with ease till the end of my days. I estimate that I had to take great risk twice a year in catching the snakes, but I could enjoy my life the rest days of the year, being unlike my neighbors who were living in fear of death everyday. Even someday I was to die of snake bite, I would have outlived my neighbors. So how could I dare harbor hatred on my job?"
I felt even sadder after the woeful recounts finished. Confuscius says, "Tyranny is more vicious than tiger!" I used to doubt the words, but now I believe they are true from the experience of Jiang. Alas! Who would have ever known that the exorbitant taxes and levies are more venomous than poisonous snakes! Therefore I write this piece of essay here, waiting for those watchdog officials to read it.