View Full Version : EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI (18)

January 3rd, 2015, 09:04 PM
Chapter 18

There was another tradition that everything the late emperor had used must be either given to the courtiers as mementos or burned. So almost everything was given to certain courtiers, four items each, even including clothes and shoes. A list was made who could be given the late emperor’s things. Some special ones, like Yixin, got more than four. But the courtiers, who got the late emperor’s things, could not use them. They should be displayed as an honor from the emperor.
Then a red-letter day was chosen to carry the late emperor’s coffin to his tomb and was interred there. It was said that every emperor’s tomb, no matter of which dynasty, was always equipped with arrows, swords and other defensive devices to prevent any unauthorized entry to steal valuables buried there. And the door into the tomb should be kept as a top secret and the tomb builders who knew the secret were buried alive in the tomb.
From the day the late emperor died till the hundredth day, all the courtiers wore the same white linen mourning clothes. By the end of that period, the white clothes looked like dark gray, and shabby. As shaving was not allowed, the beard and the hair on the front half part of the pate were long. The courtiers looked like beggars. The customs of the Mandarin Clan about the hairstyle for a male was that the hair on the front half part of the pate should be shaved and the back part be made into a pigtail. When the Mandarin Clan had just entered the territory of the Han Clan, they had forced the Han Clan male to do the same. If anyone had refused, he would be beheaded, because it meant that he wouldn’t accept the reign of the Mandarin Clan.. The slogan then was “If you want your head, you can’t have your hair. If you want your hair, you can’t have your head.” So the first thing every courtier did on the hundred-first day was to shave and change clothes.
Now the young emperor was back in the Forbidden City. The empress dowagers decided to get more tutors for him. Three more tutors were appointed. All were scholars. The empress dowagers made Prince Wei in charge of the emperor’s education. He should manage everything concerning the education except teaching. The most difficult task was how to discipline the young emperor, who was still a child. No one should really blame the emperor except for the empress dowagers. So he decided that he would report to the empress dowagers if the young emperor really needed to be disciplined. But he could not report everything trivial, or the empress dowagers would think that he was a useless old fop. As a tradition, the emperor could have some boy of his age as a study-mate to have lessons together, even to play together in recesses. So Prince Wei sent his own son, Yiqiang , as the study-mate. This was looked upon as an honor, to be able to study with the emperor, but the study-mate was really a scapegoat. Whenever the emperor made a mistake, his father, Prince Wei, or even the tutors, could scold him, since they couldn’t blame the emperor. When the emperor saw that his playmate, as well as study-mate, took the blame for him, he would behave better or study harder. But the study-mate had an advantage as a scapegoat when the emperor and he both became adults. The emperor would surely make amends for his study-mate for all the undue censures he had taken for him. The former study-mate would get special favors from the emperor.

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West Empress Dowager was very eager to get the empress dowager system going, but it was unsuitable to urge Yixin. So she seized every opportunity to bestow some favors on Yixin, like to double his Prince salary. Yixin took the hint and had a meeting with all the courtiers who were familiar with the empress dowager system in the previous dynasties. In reference to all the examples in the history, they drafted some rules about this system and handed in for the empress dowagers to approve, West Empress Dowager was not satisfied with some of the items and sent it back for the courtiers to re-draft. So the document was like a ball kicked up and down for several times, till at last West Empress Dowager felt contented.
The essential rules were that the empress dowagers could receive the government officials and officers to discuss the state affairs in lieu of the emperor (The tradition was that the empress dowagers could only see the male family members, not the male courtiers) and that the empress dowagers decided on the appointments and removals, the promotions and demotions of all the government officials and officers in behalf of the young emperor and that the empress dowagers could issue orders in the name of the young emperor.
Although West Empress Dowager had some experience to handle the reports, she thought it was not enough if she wanted to rule the country independently. So she had some scholars to compile a book, taking all the good ruling examples from the history for her reference. West Empress Dowager knew that there had been a real empress, the first and the last, and therefore the sole empress in the long history of China. She wanted to learn from her ruling experience. When the book was finished, she ordered the scholars to be in her presence by turns to explain to her all the texts one by one. They were not her tutors, though they really gave her lessons.
A new secretarial bureau had been organized, headed by Yixin. The emperor’s coronation took place on November 11, and a ceremony for the two empress dowagers to handle the state affairs took place on December 2. Every day after that, the young emperor sat on the throne to hold court, with a desk before him. A screen, a frame covered with yellow gauze, stood behind the throne. The two empress dowagers sat behind the screen, vaguely seen through the gauze, like flowers seen through mists, by two rows of courtiers standing in front of the emperor’s desk, after the ritual of kowtows. Yixin, the young emperor’s uncle, stood to the left of the desk.

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Ambitious people always want to make things better whenever they have the power for the change. So did West Empress Dowager. Since a scholar courtier had been giving her history lessons based on the book the courtier had compiled, she had learned that most of the previous dynasties had crumbled owing to the corruptions of the officialdom. So she desired strongly to change it. She encouraged the critique officials to reveal all the corruptions. Many such reports came to her notice. They all criticized Commander Shengbao, who was fighting now in Anhui Province.
Commander Shengbao was a man of self-importance and bad temper. The only one he esteemed and obeyed had been the late Emperor Xianfeng, who had raised him to the present position. Now Emperor Xianfeng was dead. So no one alive was worthy of his homage and absolute obedience. He looked upon the young emperor as a mere child. He looked upon the empress dowagers as useless women. He looked upon Yixin as the one who needed his support. Without him, how could they have got the upper hand of Sushun and other counselors? He loved the quotation from the “Art Of War” written by Sunzi, an ancient strategist and commander, which was “When a commander is away fighting, he can ignore the king’s orders.” The theory was based on that the king was far away from the battlefield and his orders were not practical and fit for the situation.
Commander Shengbao was deemed as a scholar-commander. He had passed the government tests and had held some official’s positions before he had been made a commander. So he despised his generals, some of them were illiterate. He often chided them for no particular reasons. If any general offended him, he would have him beaten publicly. He spent money freely. So he had to accept briberies. He always had women with him wherever he went with his troops. This was really against the military law. He didn’t care about law. Law was not made for the individuals like him. Whenever he saw a beautiful woman on the way of his march, he just ordered his bodyguards to take her along despite the family’s protestation.
The empress dowagers and Yixin were always lenient to him because of his support in their contention with Sushun. But the last straw came and made the situation unbearable. There lived a landlord by the name of Miao Peiling, who recruited and trained an army of his own, in 1856, to defend his homeland against the Nian Army. In 1857 when Commander Shengbao was sent to fight with the Nian Army in Anhui Province, Miao had already won a reputation of bravery in combat. Commander Shengbao liked such persons and sent someone to persuade Miao to join the government army. He enticed Miao with the title of a general. So Miao accepted and brought his army to where Commander Shengbao camped.
In 1860 when the foreign troops approached Peking, Commander Shengbao was summoned there to defend the capital. He wanted Miao to go with him, but Miao had his own plan and refused to go north with Commander Shengbao. It was because Miao looked at the situation in a wrong light and thought that Qing government would soon be overthrown. He wished to be a warlord, having a stretch of land of his own to rule independently. In April of 1861, Miao began to fight openly against the government. In August of the same year, he took a city from the government army. He sent someone to contact the Peaceful Army and invited the Shrewdness King to come north to form an alliance. In February, 1862, Shrewdness King sent a detachment north. Leader Zhang of the Nian Army joined them and the three of them attacked a town under the government control. Qing government ordered Commander Shengbao to the rescue because Miao had been under him before his betrayal. Commander Chengbao wrote a letter to Miao, promising the restoration of his former title and rights if he could turn over to the side of the government. All that time, Younger Zeng had beaten Shrewdness King and occupied Anqing City. Miao thought that the Peaceful Army would soon be annihilated and Qing government was safe now. So he came to join Commander Shengbao again. Commander Shengbao kept his promise and handed in a report for that matter, but West Empress Dowager rejected to give his former title back to him because of his betrayal.
Shrewdness King escaped and wanted to traverse the area controlled by Miao. Miao lured Shrewdness King to his camping place and detained him as his captive. Miao gave his captive to Commander Shengbao, who reported to West Empress Dowager and asked to escort the captive to the capital himself, but West Empress Dowager said NO and ordered him to execute the captive immediately, which he did accordingly. Then Commander Shengbao had the conception that Miao should be rewarded for the capture of Shrewdness King, one of the two powerful kings of the Peaceful Army at the time. The most suitable reward, in his opinion, was to give his title back. So he wrote a report to that effect. Then a reply came, saying that Miao was pardoned for his betrayal, but the capture of Shrewdness King was not enough and if he could wipe out Leader Zhang of the Nian Army, he could get back his title. Commander Shengbao felt like he couldn’t keep his promise and was persistent by writing more than one reports, but all in vain.
Elder Zeng governed four provinces, including Anhui Province. He didn’t like to have Commander Shengbao to stay in his governing area. And Shengbao, though a commander, had no province of his own to govern. He stayed there like a quest to assist the host to fight the thief. He wrote to ask West Empress Dowager to make him the governor of Anhui Province. West Empress Dowager began to dislike him for his disgustingly domineering attitude, and trusted him no more owing to his relationship with Miao, who was fickle and easy to change sides. She gave the post to one of Elder Zeng’s commanders and ordered Commander Shengbao to move his army to Shanxi Province to fight the Hui Clan rebels. At first Commander Shengbao declined with a lame excuse and suggested another commander to go instead, but at the insistence of West Empress Dowager, he had to leave Anhui Province for Shanxi Province in August, 1862. In September, he was repulsed by the rebels. He thereby summoned Miao to Shanxi Province to help him without even writing a report for the permission. West Empress Dowager and Yixin were shocked to find this and ordered other government troops to encircle Miao’s army. They feared that if Miao would betray again and ally with Hui Clan rebels, the situation there would be critical.
West Empress Dowager and Yixin wanted to deprive Shengbao of the power to command any troops. Shengbao was offered the position of Military Minister, or if he loved money, he could be the head of the Royal Family Affairs Management, where there were a lot of chances to get money. They wanted him in the capital for fear that he might rebel, too. Nevertheless, Shengbao rebuffed either offer. He mistook it for the ruse to allure him into the capital and kill him. Now he got himself into the dead end. No one could save him.
On January 22, 1863, an order was secretly dispatched to have Shengbao taken under custody and escorted to the capital. The difficult task was given to a general in his area. If he did it improperly, Shengbao might actually rebel. The general moved his troops as if he was to assault the Hui Clan rebels. All of a sudden, he closed on Shengbao and surrounded his residence at night when Shengbao was still asleep with one of his women. As the order in the emperor’s name was read to him to remove him from his post and put him under arrest, he was frustrated like a balloon leaking. He was accused of the following crimes:

Took women with him against the military law.

Embezzled the money supposed to use for military purposes.

Kept the wife of Shrewdness King as his concubine while she should be delivered to the government as the family member of the rebel leader.

Took bribery from the two brothers of Shrewdness King and hid them in his army while they should delivered to the government for execution.

When Shengbao was arrested, most of his women deserted him and ran away with their own belongings. The wife of Shrewdness King remained because she had nowhere to go. Shengbao was not in irons and fetters. He was carried in a palanquin just like he were still the commander. An officer and two hundred soldiers escorted him. The group proceeded very slowly. One night when they lodged in a deserted house in a small village, suddenly came a regiment of infantry. They took all the luggage belonging to Shengbao and the wife of Shrewdness King. Some infantrymen were recognized. Another general who hated Shengbao sent them. Shengbao was very angry. He refused to go further and wanted his things back. He wrote a letter to the new commander who had been the general arresting him and was now commanding his army. So the commander ordered the general to return Shengbao’s things. Shengbao got back his luggage, but not the wife of Shrewdness King. The general sent these words to Shengbao, “Since she was the wife of a rebel leader, I must deliver her to the government.” Actually he hid her in his backroom as his own concubine, because the wife was so beautiful that no man would resist the charm of her beauty.
The group reached the capital on March 23 without any further disturbance on the way. The officer escorted Shengbao directly to the imperial prison, where only high-rank courtiers were privileged to be held. Shengbao was put in a room, not in a cell. A former private advisor of his came to see him and solaced him. His
former advisor, Cai by name, promised to do his best to help him with his case as the advisor was now a critique
official. He had got this position through bribery. But before he could do anything, a report came from a general called Li. General Li had originally been with the Nian Army and later had joined the Peaceful Army under Shrewdness King. He had occupied an important town connecting the part of the Peaceful Army north of the town and the part of the Peaceful Army south of the town. The messages passed between the two parts must be through his area. Somehow, Shrewdness King had held him in scorn and hadn’t trusted him. No trust is always dangerous in politics. General Li had feared for his life. Commander Shengbao had learned his situation and persuaded him to turn over to the government. He had been given the title of a general as a reward. Since he had worked for the government, he had cut off the connection between the two parts of the Peaceful Army. It meant a lot to the war. He had always been grateful to Commander Shengbao, especially now as the cause of the Peaceful Army was sliding down the slope. He suggested in his report that he was willing to give up his title of generalship for the pardon of Shengbao. This was really ridiculous. But Yixin was afraid that if the government gave him a flat refusal, he might turn back to the Peaceful Army or the Nian Army. This would make a big difference in the war since he was controlling a geographically significant area. After a meeting among the secretaries, they determined to put his request in suspension for the time being and wrote a letter to Elder Zeng. The letter advised him to make necessary preparations if General Li would betray the government.
(Much later, General Li had a dispute with General Chen. As General Chen was the favorite general of Prince Yihuan, he always got the upper hand of General Li, who was angry for the unfairness and wanted to revolt. He had a secret plan, but it leaked out. The governor of Anhui Province knew it. He invited General Li to his place for dinner and detained him and killed him in his back garden. Then he sent money to his family to assuage them. The troops of General Li dispersed. The family of the late General Li was happy and satisfied with the treatment, because if General Li had openly rebelled the whole family would have been executed.)
Critique Official Cai was as sly as a fox. If he couldn’t be sure of the result, he wouldn’t take the action. He was in no way to know the attitude of West Empress Dowager towards Shengbao. But he had promised and so he must do something to keep his promise if he wanted to build up his good fame. He went to see another critique official, whose brother had also been a former private advisor of Shengbao. He convinced that critique official to write a report to plead for Shengbao. At first Yixin had wished to spare Shengbao’s life. So he had played dumb as if he had forgotten Shengbao’s case. When the two reports came, he could no longer play dumb. He had to assign Prime Minister Zhou and Secretary Li to judge the case. They interrogated Shengbao and he pleaded for himself that he had done nothing wrong. He said, “If I did so many things wrong, why not arrest me earlier?” What a reason. But they took time to cross-question him item by item until General Li was talked into submission and withdrew his request. Then the critique official who had pleaded for Shengbao was removed from his office while his report was refuted.
If Shengbao had begged for life, he might have been pardoned, since his problem was different from that of Sushun. However, he insulted the two judges by saying nasty things about them to their face. When Prime Minister Zhou asked him if he had taken women against their will, he shouted that he had also raped many women, including the female household of Prime Minister Zhou, because Shengbao had passed Zhou’s home town on his march to the war zone. In a matter of fact, Shengbao hadn’t done such a thing. The reason for him to say so was that when Sushun had been in power, he had often bullied Zhou, who had then been a minister. Zhou hadn’t even dared to complain. The death of Sushun had been achieved only under the support of Shengbao. If without Shengbao, how could Zhou become a prime minister? In his opinion, Prime Minister Zhou should be grateful to him. How could he come to judge him? So he said it just to vent his own anger, but it was really against the moral standard of that time so that even Yixin was disgusted. His behavior in the whole process of the questioning showed that he didn’t even regret for all the wrong things he had done. If they let him live, he would still be a pest to the government. Besides, West Empress Dowager persisted in death penalty. So he was sentenced to death by hanging himself. They didn’t dare to execute him in public like Sushun for fear that he would cry out some palace secrets before his head fell off.
The reasons for West Empress Dowager to put Shengbao to death were: (1) She couldn’t stand anyone to disobey her; (2) Since she had disagreement with Yixin, she wished to remove Yixin from office at a proper time so that she could do everything her way. She feared that Yixin and Shengbao would unite against her like she and Yixin had done against Sushun. She wanted to get rid of a potential ally of Yixin; (3) She was afraid that Shengbao might reveal some secrets in her contention with Sushun or say things disrespectful about her.