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xlwoo
February 14th, 2015, 03:27 PM
Chapter 22

At last the rupture in the relationship between West Empress Dowager and Yixin broke out in the open. It was caused by Critique Official Cai who sent in a report of accusation, saying that Yixin was haughty, took briberies, aspired after absolute power and had unequal treatments of courtiers. At the end of his report he suggested to remove Yixin from power and appointed Yihuan (Yixin’s brother and the brother-in-law of West Empress Dowager) as the head of Secretarial Bureau.
Critique Official Cai was a man as sly as a fox and as greedy as a wolf. He was not contented with his present position. He wanted to have a promotion. Who could give him a promotion? West Empress Dowager. He wanted to do something to please her. As he learned that West Empress Dowager was displeased with Yixin, he looked upon it as his chance. But he didn’t want to do anything rash. He wished to make sure through Little An, but Little An didn’t want to be seen with him. He didn’t want to be directly involved, lest Yixin should be angry with him and take it all out on him when West Empress Dowager did give Yixin beans. Through a detour, Little An gave Critique Official Cai an affirmative hint and an encouragement. At the same time Little An assured Cai that he would save him if Yixin wanted his head. In fact a critique official would never be beheaded for writing a critique report. It was protected by law and tradition.
Now Critique Official Cai took pains to choose the right words while he was drafting the report. Every word should have the right weight so that when it hit, it could make a dent. The collective weight of all the words could knock over the powerful man. When he finished the drafting, he read through it several times and made a couple of changes. Then he copied it in a formal writing pattern. He spent a whole night on it and handed it in next day.
West Empress Dowager didn’t expect to read such a report when she came across it, but she felt that it scratched right on her itching spot. She knew Yixin had many followers like a huge tree with deep roots in the ground. She needed an ally. So she went to see East Empress Dowager and showed her the critique report, adding, “If we don’t pull him back now, he’ll go over the edge of the cliff.” From the report East Empress Dowager thought that Yixin had really made all the offenses accused and so she agreed with West Empress Dowager.
“We’ll remove him from all his offices to teach him a lesson.” suggested West Empress Dowager.
“Do we really need to do that?” East Empress Dowager doubted.
“Will he listen to you if you tell him not to do such things?” pressed West Empress Dowager.
“I’m not sure.” East Empress Dowager remembered having witnessed Yixin’s contradiction of what West Empress Dowager had said. So they decided that if Yixin didn’t take their advice, they had to remove him from power as a lesson to him. In the opinion of East Empress Dowager, they would play a take-away-and-give-back game with Yixin so that he could learn the lesson, but West Empress Dowager wanted to remove Yixin for good.
West Empress Dowager told Yixin on March 30, 1865, that some critique official sent in a report accusing him of certain things. Yixin was so surprised that he asked who had accused him. West Empress Dowager gave him the name: Critique Official Cai, who had been a private advisor of Commander Shengbao. After the arrest of Shengbao, Cai had come to the capital and got a position as Critique Official through bribery.
“He’s not a good official. He has still a case of cheating against him in Sichuan Province. He should be under arrest.” said Yixin while by tradition he should say, “I know I’m wrong. I deserve to be executed.” And he must kneel and kowtow to beg pardon.
West Empress Dowager was infuriated at his attitude. It was really an example of hauteur and no decorum toward her. She convened Prime Minister Zhou and other high rank courtiers. She had believed that Prime Minister Zhou would have sided with her since he had done so in her struggle for power with Sushun. When she told them to discuss what punishment should be inflicted on Yixin, all the courtiers were stunned. At that time, rebellions were not yet entirely eliminated throughout the country. The situation required unison and unity in the ruling group. So none said anything.
West Empress Dowager got angry and commanded Prime Minister Zhou to give his opinion. He could not but promise to discuss it with other courtiers. They were only then allowed to withdraw to their resting room. She knew now that Prime Minister Zhou was Yixin’s follower. At that time he had sided with Yixin, not with her. So she added another Prime Minister Woren to the list of those handling Yixin’s case.
Prime Minister Woren was known to be conservative. He hated anything new and modern. He hated the foreigners. Therefore, he had no opinion of Yixin since he had been dealing with foreigners in the negotiation during the war and in the diplomatic affairs later. He was the one with the same aim as West Empress Dowager and wanted to ax down Yixin from power.
Notwithstanding, on April 1, when West Empress Dowager received prime ministers Zhou and Woren and others, she declared her decision to remove Yixin from all his offices. Once when Yixin had argued with her, she had threatened him with it. But Yixin had replied that she could have done so, but he was still a prince by birth and she could never have deprived him of this title.
West Empress Dowager always resented Yixin’s impertinence and disrespect to her. Now it was the opportunity to let him know her authority as an empress dowager. She wanted him to obey her. She wanted everyone to obey her. She wanted to enjoy herself in the absolute power.
The prime ministers then called for Critique Official Cai to provide evidence for his accusation of Yixin. But he said he had no evidence. He had made the accusation from gossip and rumor. When Prime Minister Woren asked from whom he had heard the rumor, Cai mentioned two names. The two officials he mentioned worked in Judicial Ministry and were then summoned before the prime ministers and other courtiers. When they were questioned, they answered that they hadn’t said anything to Critique Official Cai and they were not even familiar with him. Prime Minister Zhou asked Cai, “Now what else do you have to say?” Cai replied, “I have nothing more to say since they denied it.”
However, some of the princes sent in a petition to restore Yixin to all the former offices, saying that the accusations of the head of Secretarial Bureau should be backed with evidence and that such an important decision should not be made based on personal liking or disliking and that the foreign countries might not want to talk to any other person since they knew Yixin so well and this would cause international trouble. West Empress Dowager hadn’t thought that so many courtiers and even princes pleaded for Yixin. She knew that it was not the right time to establish her absolute authority yet. So she didn’t insist on her own decision and wanted the princes and courtiers to discuss the matter. When she met other secretaries she placated them and said that if all the courtiers wanted Yixin still to be the head of the Secretarial Bureau, they could hand in a petition. The secretaries were happy and went about to prepare a petition. But before the cabinet meeting to discuss the case on April 4, West Empress Dowager summoned the two prime ministers and some other cabinet members and said to them that Yixin was no longer suitable to be the head of the Secretarial Bureau.
At the cabinet meeting when Wenqiang, who was now in charge of the Secretarial Bureau, quoted what West Empress Dowager had said to them, the members of the cabinet were surprised to hear it. It was totally unbelievable that West Empress Dowager could have said one thing to the secretaries and another thing to the members of the cabinet. It they knew the reason for it, they wouldn’t be surprised. After West Empress Dowager had met with the secretaries, Little An reported to her that Yixin was organizing his followers to fight back with her to the end, which was of course not true, but she believed him and got angry again. So the group of secretaries and the group of cabinet members called each other liars. Wenqiang said that if West Empress Dowager meant what she had said yesterday, she could not have said what the cabinet members supposed she had said this morning before the meeting. But a cabinet member retorted that West Empress Dowager had indeed said it, not they supposed.
In Qing Dynasty every time when the courtiers came to see the emperor, now the empress dowagers, there was someone, called Courtier Before Throne, who would lead the other courtiers to the throne. Yesterday and today, the Courtier Before Throne was the eighth prince, the eighth brother of the late emperor. So both groups agreed to ask the eighth prince what West Empress Dowager had really said. The eighth prince came and gave his words of honor to assert that what West Empress Dowager had said yesterday was true and what she had said this morning was true, too. That meant that West Empress Dowager had actually said different things on different days. Now no one could be sure what West Empress Dowager really wanted. So they had to adjourn the meeting.
On April 5, West Empress Dowager issued some orders to give some of Yixin’s posts to others. (Yixin had been given a lot f positions as rewards for his help to get West Empress Dowager into power.) On April 8, Yihuan came back from his task to oversee the building of the late emperor’s tomb. He had a talk with Secretary Zao, former Clerical Official Zao. He asked Zao to draft a report for him to the empress dowagers. He handed in the report, saying that Yixin had done his duties so well and that the only fault was his attitude towards the empress dowagers and that if the empress dowagers could forgive him it would be a blessing to our country. The gist of the report was to say that it was Yixin’s fault, but it was not a serious fault, only a fault of wrong attitude towards the empress dowagers. It was not proper to deprive him of power for such a minor fault. West Empress Dowager also gave this report to the cabinet for discussion.
On April 9, at the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Woren as the chairman began, “It’ll take too much time for everyone to express his opinion. So I have drafted a report. I’ll read it to you and if no one disagrees, we can hand in to the empress dowagers.” Prime Minister Zhou saw through him, understanding that he wanted everyone to accept his opinion. So Zhou said, “We are not in a hurry. Besides, we must discuss the report by Prince Yihuan.” The ruse of Prime Minister Woren failed. Many courtiers opposed to remove Yixin from the post of the head of Secretarial Bureau. Another prince produced a draft of his that coincided with the opinion of most people at the meeting. Even Prime Minister Woren had to accept it. When the report was handed in, West Empress Dowager realized that if she insisted, all the courtiers might send in their resignations. But she tried another tactics. On April 11, she gave back only the post as the head of the Foreign Affairs Yamen since some of the courtiers had explained their fear that the foreign governments would make troubles if Yixin was no more the head there to deal with the foreigners. Now for the second round. Till the end of April, the investigations of the accusations of Yixin had finished and produced no evidence whatsoever. How could Yixin be punished for the false accusations? Besides, to make it easier, Yixin resigned the position as the head of Royal Family Affairs Management, because West Empress Dowager often sent Little An to go there for things and Yixin often refused to give more than necessary. When Yixin resigned the post, West Empress Dowager could appoint someone who would obey her and give her everything she wanted. That meant as a condition. At the same time the other secretaries persuaded Yixin to file in a self-criticism report. Fear of foreign aggression, realization of little support for her among the courtiers and submission shown by Yixin, all added up softened West Empress Dowager. She yielded this time.
On May 8, the empress dowagers received Yixin, who wept tears of being wrongly accused, but the empress dowagers took it as tears of repentance. Even West Empress Dowager was touched and gave an order to restore him to be the head of Secretarial Bureau. A political storm subsided to everyone’s relief.

* * *


Since a lot of water flew under the bridge, the emperor was not so young any more. He was fifteen now. The empress dowagers began to select the queen and some royal concubines for him. Even wedding preparations were slowly getting under way. That would be a grand ceremony. The empress dowagers and the emperor must wear new gowns with dragons embroidered on them. Generally, these special royal apparels were sewn and embroidered in a southern province where the best embroidery work was produced, and then transported to the capital. All southern provinces were well-known for wealth and scenery. People in the north always envied people living in the south.
Little An thought to himself that if he could be sent there on a royal errand, he would not only enjoy the sightseeing, but also get many expensive gifts from the governors and local officials. Who wouldn’t wish to be in his favor as he was the favorite head eunuch of the most powerful person in the entire empire? Although there were rules to forbid eunuchs to go out of the capital, who would say NO if West Empress Dowager agreed to it?
It was customary that whenever the royal family had things specially made, the expenses reported were always much higher than the real costs. People handling the orders could make some extra money from it. It was also an open secret.
“Empress Dowager,” Little An said to West Empress Dowager one day, “Since the emperor’s wedding needs a lot of money, we can’t let them charge us more than necessary.”
“How can we do that as we don’t even know the real cost of everything?”
“It’s easy. If Empress Dowager send me to oversee the work done there, I’ll know how much expense they should report. With extra money saved, we can buy more things for the wedding.”
West Empress Dowager acquiesced. So he made preparations to travel. He would take two huge ships to sail down south on the Grand Canal, which had been dug hundreds of years ago in Sui Dynasty and ran from north to south through many provinces. One of them was Shandong Province. The governor of that province was a brave and upright courtier, who hated Little An for all the bad things he had done.
Little An thought that it would be better if he could get the consent of the emperor to his journey to the southern provinces. But he could not just go to ask for the permission of the emperor. He talked to the emperor’s head eunuch and asked him to talk to the emperor in his behalf. The emperor’s head eunuch hated Little An, too, because he was loyal to the emperor. When he mentioned the request of Little An, the emperor asked his head eunuch what he should do, since he was still young and had no experience about such things. The head eunuch told the emperor that he would say whatever was suitable to Little An and that the emperor should pretend to know nothing of it.
When Little An saw him next day and asked him what was the emperor’s attitude, the head eunuch said, “The emperor didn’t say anything. I think he won’t have any objection to it since Holy Mother Empress Dowager thinks it’s all right.”
Little An was so excited that he bragged about his trip. Almost everyone knew it, but none said anything to him. When Yixin knew it, he was happy. Most of the courtiers were also delighted. Those who had had favors from Little An didn’t dare to speak to him about it. This was really a serious matter, which involved West Empress Dowager. Everyone knew that they should act very cautiously. A step or a word amiss, they would be condemned. Through his head eunuch the emperor learned everything about Little An. He sent a secret message to the governor of Shandong Province to instruct him to arrest and execute Little An if he traveled through his domain.