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There is an old Chinese saying that “the mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” Which basically means that—for those people living in the remoter areas of the empire--though they may have been Chinese subjects, for the most part they were free and left alone to do their own thing.
I live in Iowa about a mile down the road from a beautiful, old church. It's empty now but I was reading in the town bulletin that in the late 1800's, it was packed with 300 people every weekend. The town had two stores and a doctor and it made me think of life back then.
There was no federal income tax at that time. There was probably no sales tax. Most people didn't have insurance. There was no medicaid or social security. And to get to Parnell from Des Moines using a horse and buggy would have taken at least a couple of days.
For all intents and purposes—and even though Iowa is mostly made up of rolling hills—the maountains were high and the emperor (governor) was far away. If a person needed help, all he or she had to count on was the good will of neighbors and friends. Which is probably why there were 300 people in that church every week.
It may be a stretch to call them free. I am sure everybody was involved in everybody's business. The social restricitions must have been as stifling as the multitude of laws that have been put on the books since that time. And I am sure they must have toiled mightily in that black Iowa dirt.
But as I spend a day doing my taxes and hoping I got it all right, I can't help feel a little bit of envy for that time when the mountains were high and the emperor was far away.