View Full Version : Adventure of a US Girl in Ancient China (6)

August 29th, 2015, 01:53 PM
Chapter 6

The day came for the palace reception. All the girls were attired suitably. They were waiting in the large yard before the main hall of the palace. They must arrive early when the emperor was still having his breakfast. It was a long waiting and they must stand there. They were not allowed even to sit on the ground because their clothes would get dirty, and dirty clothes were a sign of disrespect in the presence of the emperor. In the history of China, on such an occasion, a feeble girl would indeed faint when the sun rose high and hot.
It was autumn then and the weather was comfortable. Linda’s curiosity was so keen that she kept her eyes wide open to take in all the details of the scenes she had passed on her way here. Once in the palace her excitement reached its apex. She had been told by other girls on their way to Peking that a Chinese emperor was said to be the impersonation of a dragon. She had seen a picture of the Chinese dragon, which was totally different from a Greek dragon. The Chinese dragon had two horns on the head and four talons on the side of the body, which was like a gigantic serpent and covered with huge bright scales. It could ride on the clouds and fly in the sky. Chinese people in the olden times believed that the rain from the sky was the function of the dragon that sucked the water from the ocean and spat it out to form the rain. The myth was so wonderful that Linda wanted to see if the emperor had really two horns on his head or his face would look fierce like that of the dragon.

At long last the emperor came. Everyone must get down on their knees in his presence. Everyone must prostrate on the ground till he got into the hall. This etiquette must be designed for fear of some assassins. When anyone prostrated on the ground, an assassin would be slow in action and the palace guards had enough time to react. Anyway, it became part of the etiquette.
The girls were summoned into the hall one by one. The emperor scrutinized every girl and sometimes asked a few questions. There were some groups formed. When the emperor finished with a girl, he would make a sign and the head eunuch would tell the girl to which group she belonged. The group having the fewest girls would be the emperor’s concubines and the group with the most girls would be sent out of the palace to the courtiers, princes, dukes or earls.
Now it was Linda’s turn. She stepped into the hall with her eyes glancing at the emperor, who looked like anyone else, normal and handsome. The emperor watched her coming in. Her golden hair was very conspicuous, the first thing on her that attracted the attention of the emperor. The emperor liked her very much since she was so beautiful and elegant. He asked Linda where she had come from. Linda answered in a gentle voice, “From America, Your Majesty.” The emperor did not know where America was. He was map-illiterate. He asked, “Where is America?”
“On the other side of the earth, Your Majesty.”
The emperor looked confused. At that time Chinese people also believed in the flat earth with an immense piece of land surrounded by the seas and beyond the sea in the east there was an island on which lived some gods and goddesses. There had been a story about the elixir that the gods and goddesses had. According to a legend, if whoever could get the elixir and drink it would become immortal. The First Emperor of Qin Dynasty (221—207 B. C.) sent a man by the name of Xu Fu to search for the island. The order was that he must bring back the elixir. He went with one hundred boys and one hundred girls in several ships. The history book recorded that he never returned, but settled down in Japan when he reached it. Therefore, these people were the ancestors of the Japanese. It could be true since there are so many similarities between Chinese and Japanese cultures.
Although the emperor did not know where America was, he at least knew that the girl was a western beauty. He had seen a few when some foreign delegations came to pay their respect to him. He liked the boldness of this girl. All Chinese girls were timid and hung their heads when speaking. The emperor could not really see all the faces clearly except that of Linda’s, who looked at the emperor in the eyes all the time.
The head eunuch told the emperor that this girl could sing and dance in a totally new style no one here had seen before. The head eunuch had asked every girl about her talents, which he had jotted down on his notebook, so that he could report to the emperor when he showed the interest to know. The emperor was very fond of singing and dancing performance. So Linda was directed to the group with the least girls.
It almost took a whole day for the event. As the emperor retired to his royal study the girls were put up in different places for the night. Five girls, Linda among them, were led into a palace bedroom. They were decided to be the emperor’s concubines. But fate seemed against Linda, or in other words, helped Linda to avoid being a royal concubine in ancient China for the rest of her life.
Next day, under the guidance of the head eunuch, the girls who would be the royal concubines should go to see the empress dowager, the emperor’s mother, the widow of the late emperor. When she saw all the five girls she frowned at Linda because there was a rule that the emperor must marry Chinese girls to keep the blood pure. He should not have a girl of the other race. So she told the head eunuch to erase Linda’s name from the list.
The head eunuch liked Linda very much and so he begged the empress dowager to give Linda to him as his wife. The empress dowager gladly granted his wish. It solved her dilemma because she did not know how to dispose of the girl from another race. She could not kill her and could not send her back to her parents if she had her parents in China. To send a selected girl back to her parents was also against the rules. Now she gave her to the head eunuch. Everything would be fine.
But did it sound ridiculous? Since as a common knowledge, eunuchs were castrated, how could a eunuch have sex with a girl even if he married her? Such things did happen in the history of China. As a eunuch was also a man, only having a little something taken from him, he had all the more a desire to have a family and live like any other ordinary men. So a eunuch with a high position in the palace would have a house of his own, buy some poor girl as his wife and adopt sons and daughters to bear his surname, for the purpose to form a family and to enjoy the happiness of the family union. It looked like Linda’s fate was sealed. She would be the wife of a eunuch for the rest of her life.
The emperor learned it, but he could do nothing against the decision of the empress dowager, his mother. He could only tell the head eunuch that he must treat her well. If anything befell her or he maltreated her, he would have his head cut off.
A nuptial ceremony was held in the house of the head eunuch. A lot of guests were present. They were all courtiers, who came because perhaps some day they would need the help of the head eunuch to speak a few good words for them privately to the emperor. Of course, they sent precious wedding gifts. Even the empress dowager, the emperor and the empress sent them gold ingots, scrolls of brocade, satin and silk, and precious gems.
In accordance with the tradition, Linda must live separately from the eunuch before the wedding and so the emperor gave her a big house and some menservants and maidservants. On the wedding day some noble ladies, the wives of some courtiers, came to attire her in a red dress of an old Chinese style, embroidered with colorful flowers, and a coronet made of pearls on her head, which was then covered with a red cloth. She was put on a little makeup and her natural feet were encased in a red pair of embroidered brocade shoes especially made for her.
At noon a red palanquin came to pick her. She was led to it by one of the ladies because she could not see owing to the cloth covered on her head. She stepped into the palanquin and sat inside. The palanquin was carried toward the residence of the head eunuch. The wedding procession lasted for two miles. Musicians went ahead, followed by those who were carrying the dowry. The bride's palanquin was in the middle with other palanquins in the wake. The noble ladies rode in those palanquins of their own. Then some soldiers brought up the rear. The emperor ordered his royal troops to line up the streets from the bride’s house to where the head eunuch lived for protection.
When Linda arrived, she was led into her bedroom. She must sit there till the ceremony began. The ladies kept her company, but they chatted among themselves. The bride should keep silent all the time. It was also the tradition. When the ceremony started, Linda was led out into the main room. On the wall opposite the door was pasted a big red Chinese character, meaning DOUBLE HAPPINESS, and underneath it there was a long table with red burning candles and joss-sticks. The bride and bridegroom knelt on a thick red rug and kowtowed toward the red character. Then they turned ninety degrees and kowtowed to each other. If they had had parents present, they should have kowtowed to them, too. Then they both got up on their feet. The bridegroom led the bride by a red cloth rope back to the bedroom. The bride should still sit there in the company of some ladies while the bridegroom returned to that main room where a wedding feast would be held.
When the feast ended, the bridegroom went back to the bedroom to sleep with the bride. Once he appeared the ladies left the room after congratulating him. The bride was sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for the bridegroom to come. She was still covered with the red cloth. Now the bridegroom used a short stick to lift the cloth away from the head of the bride. Generally only at that time did the bridegroom see the face of the bride. The tradition never allowed the bridegroom and the bride to meet each other before the wedding ceremony. So the bridegroom only knew whether the bride was pretty or not from the mouth of the matchmaker. But matchmakers were always not reliable. When they said that the bride was pretty, the bridegroom would find on the first night that the bride was ordinary or only tolerable. But the head eunuch had seen Linda in the palace. Therefore, there was no surprise waiting for him. Only his dream of a beautiful wife came true after so many years.
Three days later, Linda went to the palace to thank the empress dowager and the empress for the gifts they had given her. She should not see the emperor. The head eunuch would see the emperor to express their gratitude.
Now Linda lived comfortably in the big house, bigger than her own home in New Jersey. Every evening the head eunuch came home from palace. He was off duty. They had dinner together. All the dishes were to Linda’s taste because she told the cooks what to prepare. She was the mistress of the household. Once at lunch she was served fried wonton, she asked for some catchup like she were eating French fries. She was used to having catchup to go with everything fried.
“Catchup? What’s it?” The maid serving it looked perplexed.
Linda forgot that she was now in the sixteenth century in China. Surely there was no catchup then and there. “Forget it!” She said evasively.
When the maid asked the cooks what catchup was, one of the cooks said, “Never heard of.”
At first Linda wanted to tell the cooks how to make catchup from tomatoes, but she did not have the recipe. So she had to give up.
After dinner with the head eunuch, they talked for a while before bedtime. The head eunuch told Linda all the things in the palace, and also the interesting or sad stories that had happened there. The emperors in the Ming Dynasty all believed in Taoism, not Buddhism. The Taoists loved to practice alchemy. They used chemicals, especially mercury, to make pills. They called them Immortal Pills and declared that whoever took one would become immortal. One of the emperors did take one and died. The Taoists said that His Majesty was gone to Heaven and became immortal. So he was not immortal in this world, but immortal in Heaven. Everyone will be immortal in Heaven, or in Hell.
At bedtime they lay side by side on the big bed like king size. This was a special bed. In fact, all rich families had a bed of this kind. The bed had a huge canopy over it. The canopy hung down from all sides with a curtain in the front, by which they entered the bed area. The canopy with four-side hangings looked like a tent with square top. The bed was almost in the middle within the canopy with four posts to support it. Besides the headboard and footboard, there was a side board at the far side of the bed from the canopy curtain so that a person could only get off bed from one side that was near the curtain. In front of the bed beside the headboard generally stood a small cabinet with sweets and other necessary things inside the drawers and a tea set on top of the cabinet in case that the person was thirsty. Behind the bed there was some space to put a stool to be used at night.
Before going to bed, they would wash their mouths with tea because there was no toothbrush and toothpaste yet. Then they washed their faces and hands, and then some maid came in to wash their feet for them, first Linda’s and then the head eunuch’s.
Since the eunuch could not have sex, the best thing he could do was to feel her body to get some sort of sexual touch. Linda had to tolerate it though she felt disgusted. She did not dare to resist for fear of losing her life. She wanted to see how things would develop for her. She secretly harbored the hope that some day she could be back at home and reunite with her parents.
In bed the eunuch also stripped himself naked. Linda unconsciously had a glance at his lower torso. He had no genital. Linda almost forgot that he was a eunuch. How could a eunuch have a genital? Out of curiosity, she asked him about the genital thing.
“I came from a poor family." The eunuch told his own story. "I am the youngest. I have three brothers. As my parents could not support all of us, they had to give one away. My brothers were old enough to help with the work in the crop fields and that left only me, a boy of nine at that time. The choice was that they could send me to a Buddhist temple to be a monk or to some rich family to be a page. The coincidence was that someone in our neighborhood was a eunuch in the palace. He asked for a leave of ten days to come to visit his parents. When he met my mother, my mother who saw him well-dressed asked him to take me to the palace to be a eunuch. I did not know what a eunuch was at that time. I only knew that the palace was a beautiful place. So I agreed to go. But the custom was that I must have my genital cut off, which was dried and put in a jar. I wanted to back off, but it was too late. So I became a eunuch.”
It was a sad story, Linda thought. Now her curiosity turned toward his dried genital. Before she could ask the question, the eunuch continued, “I have kept the jug until now.”
“What will you do with it?”
“The tradition is like that when I die you should put the jar in my coffin so that my body will be buried as a whole.” What a ridiculous tradition!
Then the eunuch adopted a son of ten years old. Linda thought that the boy was too old to be her son, but she did not care. It would be too much trouble if they adopted a baby. The son must kowtow to Linda and call her mother. There were also rules of etiquette in this family, like every morning the son must kowtow to the parents while he said “Good morning”, and so must he in the evening when he said “Good night”. But Linda ignored those rules behind the back of the eunuch. She was a big girl herself.
She often took the boy to play in the back garden. She had a swing set up there and a sliding tube made for the boy. She taught him how to play hopscotch and other simple games as she had played in America. She looked upon the boy as her brother, not her son. She felt that she was not mature enough to be a mother.
She had a two-horse-drawn coach to herself, with two guardsmen on horseback following her everywhere she would go. The coach was so luxurious as to befit her status as the wife of the head eunuch in the emperor’s palace. She could go in it anywhere as long as she was guarded.
They got a tutor for the boy. At that time, a private tutor lodged in the house of the host, who treated the tutor as a special guest. Linda would sometimes go into the teaching room to listen in. She thought that if she would live here for ever, she should learn more Chinese. She even started to learn how to write Chinese characters, which were really difficult to write. It was much easier for her to write English though she had seldom had chances to write it when in America as she could have so conveniently typed everything on her laptop.
The tutor was a learned scholar. The curriculum for any pupil in Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368—1644 and 1644—1911) comprised a collection of ballads, a book of quotations of what Confucius had said, a book of quotations of what Mencius had said and a history book, etc. Besides, a pupil must practice calligraphy with a Chinese brush. For the sons of nobilities, they must also learn the book of "Arts of War" by Sunzi and practice horsemanship and martial arts, including how to use a bow and arrows.
The foster boy was only taught how to read and write with a brush. The foster father did not want him to learn how to fight. When Linda sat in the room, she just learned what she thought she needed. She was clever and learned fast. During a couple of months she could write short compositions. At first she had had some difficulties in handling the brush. She felt it was more difficult to use a brush than to use chopsticks. For chopsticks, Linda had at least practiced the usage of them when in America. But she had never used a brush until now. However, gradually she mastered the art of handling the brush. The tutor was surprised at fast-learning ability of Linda.
The boy was trained to take the government tests. It was the intention of the head eunuch. Generally in the feudal China, the son would succeed the father to be engaged in whatever the father did for a living. Of course, no eunuch would have his son, though adopted, to be a eunuch, too. Luckily there was this system to choose government officials through the tests. Anyone, no matter he was the son of a peasant or a blacksmith, who could pass three tests held by the government, would be assigned a position as a government official. There was equal opportunity for that just like the employment policy in America.
Once in a while Linda would receive some valuable gifts sent to the eunuch. She did not know why people wanted to send her so-called husband such valuable gifts. But once she overheard a conversation between the eunuch and a government official. The official wished to have a promotion and so bribed the eunuch to say a few good words before the emperor. Another time another official had done something against the law and would be put into prison. He gave the eunuch a large amount of money and begged him for help. Linda was not interested in such things.
Once in a while Linda would go into the palace to visit the empress dowager. One day when she passed the study of the emperor, she saw someone kneeling before the study door and kowtowing from time to time. She heard him saying, “If Your Majesty don’t accept my advice, your humble servant will kneel here forever.” Then the emperor shouted from within, “You’re threatening me?”
“Your humble servant doesn’t dare. He only considers the safety of Your Majesty.”
At night when they lay side by side, Linda told the eunuch what she had seen in the palace and asked him what all this meant.
“He is a prime minister. (In the official system of Ming Dynasty there were six ministers in respective charge of the appointment or removal of officials and officers, of the military affairs, of the setup of palace etiquette and arrangement of all state ceremonies, of the national finance, of the law enforcement and of the construction duties in the palace and capital. There were a few prime ministers and one of them was the chief prime minister who was in overall charge of the state affairs. The other prime ministers helped him. And the title of the prime minister was sometimes granted to some old and respected courtiers as an honorary one.) He did this only to beg the emperor not to go out alone in plain clothes. It’s not safe for the emperor.”
“So the emperor often steals out of the palace in disguise?”
“Seems so. It’s the sole way a courtier can take to advise the emperor not to do something improper.”
“What if the emperor refuses to take the advice? Will he kneel there forever?”
“Once a courtier knelt there for three days and three nights, even in the heavy rain.”
“Then what happened?”
“Then the empress dowager learned it and intervened. The emperor must listen to his mother.”
“The courtier must have taken ill, I guess.”
“You are right. He’s seriously sick for three months. The emperor sent royal doctors to him and gave him a lot of precious gifts as a reward for his loyalty.”
“So he didn’t kneel there and get sick for nothing.”
“I don’t want to get gifts this way.” The eunuch sighed.
Another day, the eunuch came home unhappy. When Linda hinted her intention to know the reason of it, he said, “A petty eunuch, a smart boy, I like him. He offended the emperor today and was punished by kneeling in the courtyard before the emperor’s study for the whole afternoon and meanwhile he must slap his own face hard. The poor boy!”
“Does the emperor like to punish people by ordering them to kneel on the ground for a long time and box their own ears?”
“That’s only one way of punishment. The worse one is to get a good beating on the bare butts and the offender will be kept on bed for a month to heal the wound. Besides, he can only lie prone, or his butts will hurt.”
“Will the palace maids be punished like that?”
“Generally they are punished by kneeling and face-slapping, but never beating on the butts. It’s not suitable to beat a girl on the bare butts. Once two maids were punished. They knelt on the ground and slapped each other’s face. That’s only for minor offenses. For serious ones, an offender may be beheaded, which depends totally on the mood of the emperor.”
Life in the palace as maids and eunuchs was not interesting, Linda thought. Luckily she had not been selected as a royal maid at the time.
Linda had loved shopping when she had been in America. Although the shops here were small and shabby, she still went shopping a lot out of habit. Since she had abundance of money, she began to visit antique stores. All the antiques she loved were artworks, beautiful and wonderful. Even looking at them could give her a feeling of enjoyment. The colorful china plates and bowls had been made in Tang Dynasty. (618—907 A. D.) The paintings had been drawn in Sung Dynasty. (960—1279 A. D.) The bronze wine cups and bronze mirrors had been cast even earlier, in Shang Dynasty. (1765—1122 B. C.) In another store there displayed on the shelves big round pearls, rubies, emeralds and ivory carvings. She already had a lot of such things at home and so she bought only those curiosities that really took her fancy. The owners of the curiosity shops welcomed the wife of the head eunuch even though she did not buy anything. Her coming would be publicity for their shops. For Linda was now a celebrity that attracted the attention throughout the capital.
She had heard so much about the Great Wall in China when she had been still in America. Now she was in China and so went one day to the Great Wall in her coach. The coach had to stop at the foot and she climbed the stone steps. It was amazing to stand on the Great Wall watching the scenes on both sides. She learned that it had been built in Qin Dynasty. (221—207 B. C.) The purpose was to hinder the invasion of the Mongols in the north. But the history showed that it did not. The Mongols got across the Great Wall and established their own empire in China, called Yuan Dynasty (1271—1368 A. D.) It was the founder of this Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, who had driven the Mongols back to the north. However, the fact bespoke that the Great Wall did not function as the original builder had supposed.
Sometimes she took the boy along and would stop at a restaurant to have lunch. Every time when she went out, she would buy some sweets from a confectionery for her husband in name only.
Now she had become a celebrity among the nobilities as well and there were quite a few young men from noble families following her everywhere. They did not dare to flirt with her, being afraid of the powerful head eunuch. Besides, Linda was the emperor’s favorite. Otherwise, they would pounce on her like hawks on a rabbit. They all felt sorry for her to marry a eunuch. In their opinion, she was like a beautiful flower sticking in a heap of manure as a Chinese saying goes. They only wanted to look at her or speak with her just like American teenagers running after the modern American celebrities they worshiped. The only difference was that those young men never asked Linda to sign her name on their bodies, their clothes, or even on a slip of paper. There was no such vogue yet in ancient China.
She still had the watch with her because no one knew what it was and so no one took it away from her. She could keep up with the modern time and dates. She even remembered the time difference between America and China. As it was in the ancient China and there was no telephone, nor telegram, whatsoever, she could not make long-distance call or send a message to America. She could not even write to her parents because there was no mail service, either local, nationwide or international. Even if there did have had long distance calls to make, she could not have reached her parents across four centuries. She only dreamt twice that she was back at home. If she could have controlled the dreaming process, she would have dreamt more often than she was now. She was of course nostalgic.