View Full Version : EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI (12)

November 15th, 2014, 02:54 PM
Chapter 12

Before Emperor Xianfeng died, a rumor came to his ear that Yixin, his own brother, would usurp his throne. So when he was very sick and when Yixin sent in a written request for a visit to the emperor in the Summer Palace, he rebuffed him to come to see him, maybe for the last time. And in his appointment of the counselors, he didn’t want to include Yixin for fear that his brother might do something harmful to his son. Flesh and blood relationship holds nothing in politics, though blood always sheds for it.
But Yixin didn’t care about the rumor. Let time tell everything. Sometimes, explanations will only go the opposite way. However, the courtiers that remained in Peking were greatly dissatisfied about the late emperor’s second will. In their opinion, it was reasonable that the late emperor’s brother should help his young nephew as a counselor. It was unbelievable, they thought, since the will had not been written in the late emperor’s handwriting.

* * *
Sushun always wanted to mint new heavy coins so that the inflation could be under control. Now as Emperor Xianfeng died, he must discuss the matter with the empress dowagers. The counselors went to see the empress dowagers everyday to report and talk over the state affairs. When Sushun mentioned the mintage of the new coins, West Empress Dowager asked, “Is it so urgent? Can’t it wait till we return to the capital?”
“Yes, it’s urgent if we want to control the inflation. If the inflation gets worse, the majority of the people will become dissatisfied with the government and riots may occur, even in the capital.” Sushun replied.
“I know we need copper to make coins. Do you have enough copper?” queried West Empress Dowager.
“I’m getting copper transported from Yunnan Province to the capital. Once the new coins get into circulation, the situation will be better.”
West Empress Dowager looked sideways at East Empress Dowager and asked for her opinion. All the while, East Empress Dowager was whispering to the young emperor, telling him to keep quiet. When asked, she just said, “It sounds good.” That meant that she had no objection. West Empress Dowager doubted if East Empress Dowager had heard what she had been talking about with the counselors. But her asking for her opinion was just a formality. So Sushun got the green light for that matter.
The clerical officials in the Summer Palace were very careful to choose sides. Someone would choose to follow Sushun because he had power. Someone thought if Sushun was compared to a mountain, it was a sturdy mountain on the surface. He was really like an ice mountain, which would thaw in no time. That was the opinion of Head Clerical Official Zao and quite a few of his colleagues agreed with him. But most clerical officials wanted to be onlookers, i.e., audience to watch the political opera in the real life and to see how it would end.

* * *

When the sad news reached the capital that Emperor Xianfeng died, Yixin wanted to go to the Summer Palace to mourn in person before the late emperor’s coffin. This was a tradition, too.
Just then, suddenly came a secret written message from the two empress dowagers to summon Yixin to the Summer Palace. So Yixin sent in a formal report, demanding to go to the palace to mourn for his late brother. The counselors could not say NO to this. Yixin began on his trip to the Summer Palace as the late emperor’s brother, not as a courtier.
The Summer Palace was totally under Sushun’s control. He even had spies among the eunuchs to eavesdrop what the empress dowagers would say about him. So it was not easy to send a secret letter to Yixin. It was said that one day Little An, the head eunuch of West Empress Dowager, had a quarrel with the head maid of East Empress Dowager. Little An cursed the head maid when they were bickering. The head maid began to cry and went to complain to East Empress Dowager. As Little An was the head eunuch of West Empress Dowager, East Empress Dowager thought that it would be better to let West Empress Dowager handle it. So she told her head maid to complain to West Empress Dowager. Accordingly, the head maid went to West Empress Dowager, who sent for Little An immediately after she listened to the complaint. She decided that Little An was at fault. Then she sent for the head eunuch of the Palace, who already knew the quarrel, but just played dumb, because he didn’t want to offend either side, one the head maid of East Empress Dowager and the other the head eunuch of West Empress Dowager, though he ranked higher than both of them.
When he came and kowtowed to West Empress Dowager, she said, “Little An always annoys me. I don’t want to see him here anymore.” The head eunuch of the Palace said, still on his knees, “I’ll send him back to the Forbidden City.” West Empress Dowager nodded and added, “Give him twenty slaps before he leaves.” Little An, prostrating before West Empress Dowager, kowtowed, begging West Empress Dowager to pardon him, but West Empress Dowager was firm this time.
The head eunuch of the Palace took Little An to his place and told a eunuch to give twenty slaps on his face. Then he sent Little An on his way back to the capital. A clerk and two soldiers escorted Little An. When they arrived in the capital, the clerk dropped Little An to the Royal Family Affairs Management. A petty official on duty there received them and gave a body receipt to the clerk, who returned to the Summer Palace with two soldiers. Then the petty official registered Little An’s name. When he was about to detain Little An in a cell there for the night, Little An said, “Excuse me, Official. I have something very important to say.” The petty official said, “All right. Say it to me.” Little An said, “I can’t say it to you.” The petty official was irritated and shouted, “Are you joking with me?” Little An said, “No. I’m not joking. Even if I tell you, you cannot do anything about it.” The petty official asked, “Who do you want to speak to?” Little An replied, “I must speak to His Excellency Baojun.” (Baojun was one of the courtiers in charge of the Royal Family Affairs Management.) the petty official knew that Little An had been the head eunuch of West Empress Dowager and he didn’t want to offend him. So he sent somebody to let Baojun know. After two hours, Little An was taken to Baojun’s residence.
After Little An kowtowed to him, Baojun asked, “What do you want to tell me?” Little An replied, “There’s a letter. Your Excellency’d better read it first.” He produced a letter from his inner pocket. It was a short letter from the two empress dowagers, just ordering Yixin to go to the Summer Palace. Baojun realized the significance of the letter. After he sent Little An back to the Forbidden City, he went to see Wenqiang first. Then they went together to see Yixin.
They figured that if they wanted to deprive Sushun of his power, they had to ally with the empress dowagers. As Yixin hadn’t been appointed a counselor, if he wanted to take over power from Sushun, he must denounce the counselor system, not just driving Sushun out of the Secretarial Bureau. If the counselor system was denounced, they had to take to the empress dowager system. It was exactly the purpose of the empress dowagers when they sent Yixin this secret letter. For backup, they had a letter delivered to Commander Shengbao to tell him to bring his troops to the capital.

* * *

There was a lot of work to do after an emperor’s demise. First, everyone must wear white linen mourning clothes, which were made in a great hurry, because these clothes could not be sewn before the emperor took his last breath, as it would look like to curse him to die. Then the departed emperor should be dressed in thirteen layers of clothes, from the innermost thin summer clothes to the outside thick winter clothes. It would be too much trouble to dress the stiff corpse with the thirteen layers of clothes one after another. So a eunuch was used as a mummy. All the clothes for the dead emperor were put on him one by one. When this was done, other eunuchs took the stack of clothes down from the mummy eunuch and put on the dead body of the emperor. Then there should be two funerals, the initial one and the final one. The initial funeral was a little simpler. The late emperor was properly dressed, still lying on the deathbed. A table was set before the bed with all the dishes he preferred when alive. His son and all the courtiers knelt before the table and kowtowed nine times, howling in mourning. Then the cup of wine on the table was carried by his head eunuch out of the building and was poured on the ground as a libation to the ghost of the deceased underground. The ritual was thus finished.
After that, the son and all the courtiers went to the main room where the late emperor had held court. The son was put on the throne and all the courtiers knelt before him and kowtowed nine times. Thus, he was made the new emperor. The coronation would be held later, when they returned to the capital.
Next day, the young emperor and all the courtiers attended the final funeral. The late emperor had already been laid into the coffin, which had been removed to another building. Before the coffin on a big table lay many dishes, with candles and incense burning on one end of the table. A courtier from the Etiquette Ministry recited the “Eulogy To The Deceased”. The young emperor and courtiers went down on their knees and wailed. Then wine on the table was poured on the ground again.
According to Chinese customs, a ceremony would be performed every seventh day from the day of the demise, till the seventh seventh-day (forty-nine days in all) and then on the one-hundredth day. After that , the white mourning clothes could be taken off and normal clothes be donned.
It was on the second seventh-day that Yixin arrived. The ritual just got to an end. A lot of paper money was being burned. Just then someone in white rushed in and prostrated before the coffin, bewailing so grievously. It was the late emperor’s brother, Yixin. The wailing of the other courtiers became louder, because it was the belief that the louder the wailing in mourning, the more loyal to the emperor. (The word “loyal” mustn’t have a comparative form in grammar, but it’s the life described here.)
The late emperor’s tomb had been built outside Peking. The coffin would be carried there for the burial after they returned to the capital.