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xlwoo
October 25th, 2014, 03:23 PM
Chapter 10

What the emperor mostly did in the Summer Palace was to watch performances of Peking Operas, which, when in the Forbidden City, he could do only on certain occasions like for celebration of birthdays or festivals.
There were three stages in the Summer Palace. The frequently-used one was close to the living quarters of the emperor. The emperor liked to have many people accompanying him when he was watching the operas. The queen didn’t like some of the operas, especially the one with a young nun stealing out of the nunnery and a young monk climbing over the wall of the temple. They met at the foot of the mountain and flirted with each other. The queen thought it was against the moral conceptions, but the emperor loved it because it was really fun when the two actors performed the flirting actions in a ridiculous way. (At that time there were no actresses yet. Female parts were acted by actors in female costumes.) At that, the queen kept whispering to herself, “It’s sinful. It’s sinful. Pardon us, Buddha. Pardon us, Buddha.”
But she had her favorite opera, which was acted by young boys about the age of ten. When the performance finished, the chief actor was brought to the queen’s presence. The actor kowtowed to the queen, who patted his head and gave him two taels of gold out of her own purse.
Concubine Yan loved another opera with the owner of an inn and a sick lodger. Since the man lodged in the inn, he had fallen sick and spent all his money on medicine and rent and food. Though he was recovered now, he could not leave the inn without paying the owner for what he owed to him. The owner said all sorts of nasty things about him and to him. He had to swallow the bitter fruit of humiliation. At long last he had to pawn his weapon and sell his horse. He had been on his way to join the army. She thought that Sushun was very much like the inn owner in behavior, always nasty to people.
The emperor was happy these days, because the military reports said that all the rebellious troops were surrounded and the final victory would soon be due. Besides, it would soon be his birthday. To please the emperor, Sushun was preparing a celebration in the Summer Palace. The celebration would last for three days with the birthday arranged on the second day. The day before the birthday was to “warm the celebration” so that the next day could get really hot. And the third day was to get things to cool down a little so that everything would be normal again after the three days’ celebration. If it weren’t for the rebellion in the southern provinces and the foreign invasion, the celebration might last for ten days.
On the day before the birthday, only the royal family watched the operas in the daytime and a feast was given in the evening for all to attend, the royal family as well as the courtiers. On the birthday, the emperor got up early. After he had breakfast and was dressed in full, he went to the building where the portraits of his ancestors were hung on the wall opposite the double doors and he kowtowed to the portraits. Then he made his way to another building to receive his male family members and the courtiers. On this formal occasion the emperor went everywhere in a procession. Before the emperor walked two files of bodyguards side by side, carrying yellow flags each with a curved dragon embroidered on them and long-handled weird-shaped weapons reflecting the sunshine, the symbols of power. The emperor sat on a big wide sedan-chair with a yellow canopy over his head to shut out the sun. The sedan-chair was carried by eight eunuchs. After the emperor walked two files of eunuchs carrying all kinds of things the emperor might use, such as clothes to change, towels, teacups, etc. More bodyguards brought up the rear.
When the emperor reached the building, his family and all the courtiers were already there. They were all dressed in full, wearing the blue gowns with pictures of different birds embroidered on the front and the back of the gowns. The different birds showed different ranks. A rosary of beads was hanging down from the neck, almost reaching the knees. The beads were made from different materials for different ranks, the size between a pigeon’s egg and a hen’s egg. The hats were decorated on the top with a bead of the same material and the same size. Quite a few courtiers received from the emperor a peacock’s tail feather as an honor and ornament, which was stuck in the hole of the bead on their hats.
All went down on their knees when they heard the emperor’s procession coming and prostrated there till the emperor entered the building. Then they followed in. When the emperor settled on his throne, they arranged themselves in an array according to their different ranks, the highest in the front, and kowtowed nine times while shouting in unison, “Long live the emperor, long live the emperor, long live the emperor!” Music was accompanying during the whole ritual. It was almost noon when the ceremony ended. The feast then began with all the dainties available, like the bear’s paws, the shark’s fins, the swallow’s nests and sea cucumbers, etc.
After the banquet the operas began, which lasted late into the night. Before they left, they were each given a gift. But the emperor didn’t stay long with them. He had gone to the back palace, to his queen and concubines with whom the emperor had his feast dinner and watched operas on another stage. The evening operas were different, especially the first one which had no scenario. All characters, imaginable from legends, myths, folk songs and fairy tales, got on the stage, dressed in due costumes. All the actors sang the same words in a chorus to praise the emperor. The accompanying music was loud with gongs and drums. When the opera ended and music stopped, everyone felt the ears were still ringing and the silence was deep in between.
During the three feasting days, ignoring the advice of the doctors, the emperor ate too much and got too tired so that on the evening of the last day the emperor felt really sick while watching an opera, which threw everyone in panic. After rest and treatment, he felt a little better. Then came the queen’s birthday. The emperor remembered that in 1856, on August 12, it had been the queen’s twentieth birthday. By Chinese tradition, every ten-year’s birthday is more important and should be celebrated on a larger scale. A grand banquet had been held for it. They both had had a time of their lives. But now as the emperor was sick, the queen didn’t want to celebrate her birthday, but the emperor insisted. Therefore, the queen agreed to have it only for one day. On that day, when the celebration began, the queen kowtowed to the emperor for making her the queen. Then the queen sat there and all the concubines came to kowtow to the queen and then all the eunuchs and maids followed suit. All the relatives and courtiers kowtowed outside the queen’s chamber. Operas were performed and a feast was given. They ate while watching the operas. Since it was the queen’s birthday, the emperor let the queen decide what operas she wanted to watch. All the operas the queen chose were those of moral instructions or of the good being rewarded and the bad being punished. The queen was always deemed as a lady saint in the Forbidden City.


* * *


The sickness of the emperor became serious. He coughed blood more often. Although Concubine Yan helped him to read the daily reports, he still needed someone else to wait on him, to console him. He sent for Concubine Li. But when Concubine Yan learned it, she was jealous. She could do nothing and say nothing, but the queen could, she thought. How could she talk the queen into interfering with it? She should adopt some kind of ruse, whatever kind of ruse that she should take pains to think of.
Next day, after a sleepless night with her brain-cudgeling, she went to the queen’s chamber. After the ritual of kowtowing on her knees before the queen, she began, “Does Queen know . . .” She trailed off for emphasis.
“What should I know?” the queen was curious. That’s the effect of an incomplete sentence.
“The emperor coughs blood again.” She raised her handkerchief to her eyes, making some sort of a sound like sobbing. “I always think that the emperor should have more rest. But how can he when Concubine Li is with him day and night?” It hinted that the emperor had sex with Concubine Li, which was not good to the health of the emperor.
The queen was concerned, too. “Leave that to me.” She solaced Concubine Yan. After Concubine Yan left, she sent for Concubine Li, but the queen was a good-for-nothing and she didn’t scold Concubine Li as Concubine Yan would have expected.
“How’s the emperor’s sickness these days?” She asked Concubine Li.
“Not good.” was the reply.
“The emperor must have more rest.” It meant that Concubine Li should not have sex with him.
“I know, but how can I reject whatever the emperor wants me to do?” It implied the truth that if the emperor wanted sex with her how she could refuse.


* * *


When the emperor had been well and healthy, almost everyday he had given out written orders about this and that, however trivial it was. Now since the emperor was sick, he couldn’t have done it everyday. So there were rumors prevalent in the capital about the emperor’s health. Some rumors said that the emperor was lingering on his death bed. Some rumors even had it that the emperor was already dead and that Sushun kept it a secret to make his arrangements to seize the power. Rumors were ensued by inflation. The value of currency and the prices of goods were pitching up and down greatly. It was the responsibilities of Sushun who was still the minister of Internal Revenue Ministry after he had been made one of the secretaries of state. Sushun wanted to do something about it. He planned to rectify the four government money shops (i.e. banks) run by the Internal Revenue Ministry and to cast new coins, which should be heavier than the old ones and to issue new money shop notes. Before Sushun had been appointed the minister of the Internal Revenue Ministry, the corruption in the Ministry had been obvious and publicly known. Some officials in the Ministry and some clerks in the money shops worked hand in glove to embezzle money. The minister at that time had been an old man of no ability. Sushun had asked the emperor to remove the old minister and made him the new minister. Then he had made his fame as a man of talent by investigating the embezzlement case. But he couldn’t uproot the evil and the corruption was still there. Only the people working there were different. Now Sushun wanted to do it again. But the emperor was so sick that he couldn’t get his approval and had to wait.