View Full Version : Adventure of an American Girl in Ancient China 8

November 23rd, 2013, 04:45 PM
Chapter 7

One day she was invited to the palace for a royal feast. Indeed, all the high officials and their wives were invited, because it was the birthday of the empress dowager. All the men sat with the emperor in the outer hall while all the women were with the empress dowager in the inner hall. In old China, generally the female and the male did not mingle together in a gathering.
The whole palace was adorned with red streamers and lanterns. The color red was connected with happiness in Chinese culture, hence, with wedding and birthday parties. The color white was used in funeral.
Long before the birthday, the presents flowed in from both the capital and all the provinces. All the high-rank officials in Peking and all the governors in the provinces sent in their most precious or priceless birthday gifts. Everyone wanted his gift appreciated by the empress dowager or the emperor so that the promotion would be certain.
The ladies gathered in an anteroom before the banquet began. Then they were led into another room to look at all the birthday presents. There were a necklace of best biggest pearls, a statue of the God of Longevity carved from the best-quality white jade set with rubies and sapphires, and bracelets of best quality emerald.
Lindaís eyes were very busy to move from this item to the next. She had never seen so many sparkling precious gems on display all her life. That was her new experience and she would tell her parents and Frank all about them if she could return home. She regretted that she had not had a camera with her, or she could take in all these on the film.
It seemed that every item had a story. The statue, two feet high, was sent by the governor of Jiangsu Province, who had spent fifty thousand taels of silver to have it made. Such a big jade was worth a lot of money. It had originally belonged to the Zuo family. The governor wanted Zuo to donate it to him, not sell it to him. Of course Zuo rejected. A few days later Zuo was arrested because a burglar already in prison had confessed that Zuo was his accomplice. The governor questioned Zuo and wanted him to confess how he had done the burglary with the burglar. As Zuo had not done any such things, he refused to plead that he was guilty of it. The governor had Zuo tortured. Under the torments Zuo had to confess to whatever the governor wanted him to. Then he was put into prison. A counselor came to see him in the cell and advised him to donate the jade. Zuo had to part with his precious jade for his dear life. Then he was released, having been told that it was a mistake.
"The empress dowager likes this gift. He will soon get promotion." A lady near Linda whispered to another lady. Then they all returned to the anteroom and were waiting there for the arrival of the empress dowager.
Dressed up in red embroidered clothes with the crown on head, the empress dowager came out, ensued by the empress and all the royal concubines, all dressed up in almost the same color. The empress dowager took her seat on a dais at the far end of the inner hall. The empress was seated at her side. The concubines were positioned on the lower floor on both sides, but closest to the dais. Then all the ladies came in from the anteroom and sat one after another in two lines from the concubines down the hall almost to the door.
There was a table set before the empress dowager and the empress with fruits and sweets on it. There were two rows of small tables arranged on either side before every diner down the hall with an aisle in the middle for the eunuchs and palace maids to use to serve food. Every two ladies, including the concubines, shared a table. They sat behind it with their backs to the wall so that food could be served by a maid or a eunuch from the front side in the aisle. The order of the ladyís seat was arranged according to the rank of their husbands. Lindaís seat was in the middle, because the official rank of the head eunuch was not high though he had great power. Actually his power came from the emperor since the emperor believed him. He could say anything, even wrong things, about a courtier, who would then get blame, demotion or even imprisonment from the emperor.
Before the banquet began, all the ladies kowtowed to the empress dowager for her birthday. They shouted thrice in unison, "May Empress Dowager long live!"
Each diner got the same food in an individual bowl or plate just like in the western style. Tables could be shared, but not the food. The dinner consisted of ten courses, including the final soup. Every course had only a small quantity for the ladies.
The food service went on the same way in the outer hall. There were only two differences: instead of the empress dowager, the emperor sat on the dais alone and the food served to the men were in large quantity.
Chinese wine was also served, but no one dared to drink to their heart's content lest they get drunk and do something against the palace etiquette, which might cost them their positions or even lives.
The whole dining process was accompanied by music. There were rows of carillons set up in one innermost corner of the hall. The musicians struck the bronze bells with something like small drumsticks. The bells had different sizes so that they gave out different notes. Meanwhile, some girl dancers put on a performance in the center of the hall. They wore loose colorful silk dress with long sleeves. They flung the long sleeves into the air and drew them along as they made gliding movements like swans on the smooth lake. The colorful sleeves fluttered in the air like beautiful butterflies. Linda had never seen such performance before. It had a classical beauty, totally different from modern American dances. And the musical sound coming from the bells were resonant and lingered long as it was echoing in the colossal hall. Linda was intoxicated with the Chinese classical music.
The royal feast went on until the empress dowager felt tired and wanted to rest. The ladies kowtowed to the empress dowager as thanks to her for the feast.
Unlike other couples who left together, Linda came home alone because the head eunuch was doing overtime on such an occasion. Linda was happy to have such experience. The empress dowager and the empress both liked her. They often sent for her to the palace. They asked her about America though they did not know where it was. Linda told them American history only, the Independent War and the Civil War, how the colonists took up arms against the Great Britain; how the Civil War broke out and as a result the slaves in the south were emancipated. As Linda now had better knowledge about China and the Chinese, especially those in power, she did not dare to tell them anything about modern America. She was afraid that they might call her a liar to her face if she did so. People anywhere living in the sixteen century certainly could not understand or even imagine such things as television, airplane, satellite and computer, etc.
Linda was happy with her life in ancient China. She was liked by those VVIP's (very very important persons). Sometimes she felt that she could live the rest of her life like this in China. The only regret for her was to miss her family and Frank for ever.
However, things would never develop so smoothly in life, at least for Linda. The head eunuch had stolen a precious bronze mirror from the palace storage room. What was so special with this mirror? In ancient China, before the glass mirror was introduced into it, people used bronze mirrors, polished bright on one side, and on the other there were always some pictures in relief. On the back of this mirror, there was a dragon. The specialty about this mirror was that when one held it in the sunlight just above the ground, an image of dragon would be seen on the ground under the mirror. It looked as if the sunís rays could penetrate the bronze mirror on the part of the dragon picture and form the dragon shape on the ground. It was so wonderful and this mirror was a treasure.
It happened like this. One day the eunuch in charge of the storage room found the mirror was missing and reported to the head eunuch, but he said that he would take care of it and never did anything to recover it. The eunuch in charge suspected something wrong and reported to a royal concubine, who told the empress, who told the emperor. When the emperor questioned the head eunuch, he did not dare to lie to the emperor and so confessed his theft.
Therefore, he was put into prison. His estate was confiscated and his family, Linda and the adopted son, were exiled to the remotest province, Yunnan Province, in the southwestern China, bordering on Burma.