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xlwoo
December 13th, 2014, 03:41 PM
Chapter 16
Sushun always wanted to belittle West Empress Dowager, because she was the ambitious one, but he didn’t succeed. Now he got another idea to see the two empress dowagers separately. He figured that he might get more things done with East Empress Dowager alone. When the two empress dowagers were made known to his demand, they had a conversation.
“I don’t know why they want that.” said East Empress Dowager.
“Because you are so good-hearted that they can cheat you.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. We’ll still see them together.”
“But if we receive them separately, you may hear things different than when we are together.”
“What if they ask me to make some decisions?”
“You can say you’ll think about it.”
“What if it’s emergency and they need an immediate solution?”
West Empress Dowager knew that’s the problem, but after a while of consideration, she was struck with an idea. She said, “For important things, we must use two seals on the papers. After you use your seal, they must come to me for mine. If it’s inappropriate, I’ll refuse. We’ll play white face and red face.” (Just like playing good cop and bad cop.)
After the crisis, even the courtiers in the capital knew that there had been a quarrel between the empress dowagers and the counselors. Sushun wanted to show to all the courtiers and governors that the empress dowagers still trusted him; so he asked East Empress Dowager to receive him alone. Two empress dowagers had a talk about it and then consented to his request.
Sushun kowtowed to East Empress Dowager before he spoke. “I put my whole heart to work for the benefits of our empire, but still someone complains against me. How can I continue to work like that?” He complained to East Empress Dowager, who assuaged him accordingly.
“Since there are still wars in the southern provinces, we must save every tael of silver to support the wars.” observed Sushun.
“You are right.” responded East Empress Dowager.
“But not everyone thinks so.” Sushun complained again.
“What happened?” asked East Empress Dowager.
“Holy Mother Empress Dowager wants too many unnecessary things.”
“Like What?”
“Like more bowls, plates and some such things.”
“Such things won’t make us poorer.”
“What if everyone else follow her example?”
“She is an empress dowager. Not everyone here is an empress dowager. And I know you work hard and are loyal to the emperor.”
“But still, many are complaining behind my back.”
“Don’t listen to others. Just do your job. We trust you.” East Empress Dowager comforted him.
“One thing more. There’s gossip that Holy Mother Empress Dowager (West Empress Dowager) often receives male relative. It’s against etiquette. Mother Queen Empress Dowager’d (East Empress Dowager) better advise Hole Mother Empress Dowager not to do so.” East Empress Dowager just nodded.
Sushun could think of nothing more to say and had to retire. His goal wasn’t achieved. He had wished that when he complained, East Empress Dowager would have given him some kind of gifts or bestowed on him some kind of an honorary title. But nothing, only an empty word of praise.
The two empress dowagers met when Sushun left. East Empress Dowager told West Empress Dowager everything she could remember. Though indignant, West Empress Dowager said, “Sushun is right. We still have war going on in the southern provinces. We must save every coin for it. From now on I won’t ask him for a thing.” Meanwhile, she said to herself, “If I have power some day, I’ll make himself kneel before me and let a eunuch slap his face hard and then execute him.” She gnashed her teeth secretly.
Then the chief counselors had a meeting. Duanhua said to Sushun, “East Side is dumb. She might not get what you said.” Then he suggested to Zaihuan, “We must use the strategy: Retreat First For the Purpose of Advance.” They decided to try it. So next day when they went to see the two empress dowagers, they put up an oral resignation from some of the insignificant positions. Generally when a courtier sent in a resignation, the emperor, now the empress dowagers, would always refuse the resignation and say some words of encouragement, even give a gift or an honorary title, which was what they just wanted. But this time, unusually, the empress dowagers accepted their resignations and gave all these positions to some other courtiers. Their subterfuge failed. And they could not withdraw the resignations.


* * *


On the day they were to leave the Summer Palace, they were divided into two groups. One group started first, which mainly comprised the empress dowagers, the young emperor and seven counselors and all the other courtiers. The other group departed later, which chiefly were Sushun and Yihuan, escorting the late emperor’s coffin. This group could not move fast because of the coffin. They were not in a hurry, as a matter of fact. But the two empress dowagers wanted to reach the capital as soon as possible. They urged others to hurry. They wished that they could have grown a pair of wings and flown to Peking, out of any danger that could come from the counselors. They were not even in a mood to look at the beautiful scenery along the road, the colored leaves, the blue sky dotted sparsely with a few banks of white fluffy clouds and sometimes a vulture swooping down upon a prey somewhere at a distance.
At length they arrived at a place very close to the capital. All the courtiers remaining in Peking, headed by Yixin, came here to welcome the return of the empress dowagers and the emperor. The sight of Yixin and those courtiers incurred a feeling of safety in the two empress dowagers. Ronglu was among them. He was now a high-rank officer in command of an army guarding the capital.
There was a temporary residence for the emperor. They lodged there for the night. After a rest, to wash dust off of their faces and hands, to have some tea and snacks, the two empress dowagers received Yixin. East Empress Dowager asked, “Is everything all right in the capital?”
“Everything’s all right and ready.” was the answer. (A vague assurance.) But both empress dowagers understood. East Empress Dowager queried, “How about the Forbidden City?”
“They are ready to welcome Empress Dowagers and Emperor back.”
They arrived in the capital on November 1. Once inside the Forbidden City, the two empress dowagers felt really safe. Even assassins could not easily get in. After a rest, the empress dowagers sent for Yixin, who came immediately and reported to the empress dowagers all the arrangements he had made. Everything was ready for the action.
Yixin had had a meeting with three prime ministers, who disliked Sushun and had great influence among courtiers. They readily gave their support when Yixin made his plan acquainted with them. A prime minister should often be a scholar, who often had a lot of pupils among courtiers, like an old tree with many branches. It was because when one became a minister he had had chances to be a head examiner in government tests. The testees who passed the test were traditionally deemed as the pupils of the examiners. And a prime minister was promoted from a minister.
Next day when all the courtiers were in the resting room, the empress dowagers summoned Yixin and those prime ministers and Wenqiang, who was Yixin’s first follower, excluding the counselors, of course. Zaihuan shouted, “The empress dowagers can’t summon courtiers. That’s against the tradition.” But they ignored him and went to see the empress dowagers.
The empress dowagers told those prime ministers how the counselors disobeyed them, even bullied them. Once the counselors had been so fierce that when arguing with the empress dowagers that the young emperor had been so frightened that he had begun to cry and even wetted his pants, and also wetted the clothes of East Empress Dowager. The prime ministers were thus instigated and wanted justice to be done. One of them, Prime Minister Zhou, said in ire, “Why didn’t the empress dowagers punish them?”
“They are counselors appointed by the late emperor. Can counselors be punished?” asked West Empress Dowager.
“Why Not?” said Prime Minister Zhou, “Empress dowagers can issue an order to deprive them of the title of counselorship first, and then punish them.”
At the suggestion, East Empress Dowager turned her back to them and like a magician produced from her inner pocket a small scroll, the order prewritten on October 21 when still in the Summer Palace. East Empress Dowager had hidden it on her person all the way to the capital. She handed it to Yixin, telling him to read it to those prime ministers. Yixin unrolled the scroll open and read it to them.
It accused the counselors, especially the three chief counselors, of the following main crimes: When they assisted the late emperor, they handled the state affairs improperly, causing the foreign countries to invade and the late emperor had to leave the capital; when in the Summer Palace they dissuaded the late emperor from returning to the capital when peace was restored so that the late emperor’s health deteriorated and the late emperor died there; they opposed to the empress dowagers to handle the state affairs.
Each of the crimes would put the counselors to death sentence, but the order only declared that the counselors be deprived of the title. That’s not enough now, for they could counterattack later. So the second order was issued for the arrest of the three chief counselors and the removal of the other five counselors from office.
Yixin took the written orders and went back to the resting room with the prime ministers and Wenqiang. When he read the orders, Zaihuan yelled, “We’ve just arrived, where came the orders?” He meant that only counselors could issue orders, in the emperor’s name of course. He didn’t know that anyone could issue orders, once he or she had powerful support, namely, support of forces.
Yixin ordered the palace guards to tie Zaihuan and Duanhua and put them into the royal prison, where only high rank courtiers were entitled to be imprisoned. Other five counselors were sent home for further orders. It was November 2, 1861.
Sushun was still free since he didn’t arrive yet. He was on the way. He must be in irons and fetters before the news reached him. If he got the wind that his partners were in jail, he would either rebel or escape, either of which would be trouble.
Yihuan, Yixin’s brother, was with Sushun. They would stay for the night in a small town. Yixin dispatched a messenger there with a written order to take Sushun into custody. The order was delivered to Yihuan, who was to carry it out. A plan was formed for the arrest. Yihuan sent for the head bodyguard of Sushun. When he came, Yihuan asked him whether he would be loyal to the emperor or to Sushun. It was a difficult question to answer, worth careful consideration, and it meant that something serious happened between Sushun and the emperor, namely, the two empress dowagers. He was given a chance to choose which side he would be on since he was Sushun’s head bodyguard. Of course, he could not say to Yihuan that he was loyal to Sushun. Only one choice left for him. So he vowed his loyalty to the emperor.
Yihuan ordered him to lead the way to Sushun’s temporary residence. A group of soldiers followed Yihuan. When Sushun’s other guards saw this, they didn’t know what to do as their head guard was among them. They looked at the head guard hoping to see some hint in his eyes, but the head guard looked down at the ground. So they just let Yihuan and the group of soldiers pass before them. The residence was already surrounded by other soldiers. Most of Sushun’s guards were staying with the coffin of the late emperor, as if someone wanted to steal the coffin or the corpse. But in reality, many valuable things were in the coffin to be buried with the late emperor. If anything happened to the coffin, even if nothing was stolen, anyone in charge would be severely punished. So Sushun had sent most of his guards there to assure the absolute safety.
The soldiers disarmed all Sushun’s guards for assurance that there would not be a riot. When the soldiers broke into his room, he slept with his two concubines. Sushun was very angry that his slumber was interrupted, the soldiers seized him by force. Two soldiers held him in a kneeling pose when Yihuan read him the written order in the young emperor’s name. It was midnight of the fourth date of the eleventh moon.