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xlwoo
August 28th, 2015, 01:43 PM
Chapter 5

Linda was glad to see Green Phoenix again, who was her sole friend in China. Linda had an impulse to hug Green Phoenix, but she knew that Chinese women in old time were not accustomed to such intimacy. So she restrained herself and was only satisfied with saying "thank you" again and again till Green Phoenix stopped her.
They had the horsepool (created after carpool) and left the spot. Green Phoenix explained to Linda what kind of a job she had been doing. Linda was ashamed of herself that she had been a prostitute without herself knowing it. It had been lucky for her that no patron had asked her to have sex. For that, she was grateful to the bawd to have placed her in the highest class of the business.
They went further south and came to a city. When they sat in a restaurant having lunch, they heard the diners talking about a disease-healing marriage. Linda was curious to know what it was. So Green Phoenix explained to her.
When a young man was seriously sick, his parents would arrange a wedding for him. If he had some girl already engaged, it was easy to proceed with the ceremony, but if none, the parents must find someone for that. It was a bad tradition in which people believed that the marriage would have a healing effect to any serious disease. Nevertheless, the result was often that the bridegroom died shortly after the marriage and the bride became a widow.
“But” asked Linda, “since the bridegroom is seriously ill, how can he stand up for the ritual?”
“Good question.” was the answer. “The parents will find a substitute for the ceremony. But the girl is still the wife of the sick person. After the ceremony, she is sent into the room the sick young man is lying in bed and waiting for his bride.”
“What about the substitute?”
“He’s sent away with some money. Generally they will find a poor young man for that.”
Linda thought it very ridiculous. It was. However, every race has ridiculous traditions.
After the lunch, they continued on their trip. The next city they arrived in two days later was Yangchow City. Yangchow was a big city at the north side of the Yangtze River. It had a large population at that time and was famous for beautiful girls. It was said that a girl, once living in this city for a long time, would become beautiful if she had not been so before.
Green Phoenix and Linda entered the city and took lodging in a big inn. As they were not in a hurry, they went to some scenic spots of renown for sightseeing. Linda saw a church and went in followed by Green Phoenix. She wanted to talk to the priest. She felt as if she had not spoken English for a long time. But when she found him, he spoke only Italian because he had come from Italy. Linda was disappointed.
One day when they roamed in the busy streets for the last time as they would leave the city that day, pulling the horse behind, they viewed all sorts of shops lined on either side. Linda had Chinese money now and she wanted to buy something for her parents and boyfriend if she could return there. She went into a shop that sold knickknacks. Green Phoenix stayed outside, being with a horse.
All of a sudden there arose chaos at the far end of the street. People were running this way, shouting, “Girls, run!” Green Phoenix had known when she had been in the capital that the emperor had issued an order that he would have the beautiful girls in the country sent to the palace. As the women in the palace had grown old, he wanted young girls to replace them. He would select the most beautiful girls as his royal concubines, and less beautiful to be the palace maids. And those left from his selection would be given to his courtiers, the princes, dukes and earls to be their concubines or maids.
A girl to be chosen had advantages and disadvantages. If she was chosen as a royal concubine, she would live in luxury, with eunuchs and palace maids to wait on her hand and foot. Her father or relatives might be appointed as government officials. But if as a maid, she was not permitted to leave the palace and to visit her parents until old age when her prime time of youth was gone. It was more miserable to be a palace maid, who always got scolding or even beating for petty offences or even for nothing at all when the emperor, the empress or the concubine she served was unhappy and wanted to vent their irritation. If she actually made some serious mistake she might lose her life, depending on the mood of the emperor, the empress or the concubine she served. Therefore, most girls would not like the idea to be sent into the palace, especially nor would their parents.
When Green Phoenix had been in the capital, the emperor’s order had not been executed yet. The heralds were sent out just when she left for the south. Now a herald must arrive in this city. The mayor sent out his soldiers to seek and seize beautiful girls whenever they set their eyes on one. They would take the girls even in the streets and if it was not enough, they would search door by door. For such a big and famous city, the mayor got a quota bigger than the other cities. He might detain one or two for his own use at the risk of being found out and losing the position.
Some soldiers dashed up from the other end of the street. Green Phoenix had no time to get Linda and she had to jump onto her horse and galloped away. She thought that if Linda was seized she could come back to deliver her later, if she was still free.
The soldiers searched every shop, especially those that girls loved to visit. Many girls had already escaped and those who were in the shops stole away from the back doors helped by the owners. But Linda didn't know and was seized by the soldiers. She was taken to the presence of the mayor. As she was so special the mayor had to let her be sent to the palace though he had half a mind to detain her for himself if he dared.
For the time being, Linda lived in the mayor’s yamen and was treated well. The mayor thought that as she was so beautiful, the emperor would certainly like her. So he treated her well in hopes that she would throw in a few good words for him when she became the emperor’s favorite.
Now Linda came to know that she would be sent to the palace of the Chinese emperor. She had never been to a palace, any palace. It must be a beautiful place. And she was curious to see it and see the ancient Chinese emperor. It would be a fantastic experience in her life. Since she did not know any possible danger living in the palace, she was excited and longed to be there soon. When the mayor fulfilled the female quota, he sent all the girls, except two, on the way to the capital, escorted by a battalion of soldiers.
Linda looked at the other girls. They were all beautiful and the only thing on them that was ugly and unnatural, in her opinion, was their little deformed feet, generally three inches long, and the sole was triangular. It was said that the tradition to bind the female feet had begun in Sung Dynasty (960—1279 A. D.) and lasted till the Republic of China was established. (1912 A.D.) But even when the tradition prevailed, it was only kept within a small circle, only in those families from well-to-do to wealthy ones. In the countryside, most peasant families would not force their girls to bind feet because they must work in the fields. Therefore, the little feet were really a token of richness, for the girls from poor families could not afford to bind their feet.
When the girls reached the capital, they lodged in a pretty big house, particularly arranged for them. They would wait till all the girls from every corner of the country gathered here. Then the eunuch in charge of this assignment would report to the emperor, who would fix a day to summon all the girls to his presence.
The girls were trained to perform all the palace etiquette. And on that day they would don palace clothes, specially made to fit each of them. Linda could speak more Chinese now, though in a foreign accent, but understandable. She had learned a little Chinese history in the high school and now she was continuing to learn it from life in China. There would be no better chance for her, if she was keen on it, but she was forced. She had nothing to do with China except that her destiny landed her here.