Chapter 7

Despite that it was already over the hunting season, Emperor Xianfeng declared that he would go to the Summer Palace in Rehe. Emperors in Qing Dynasty went there in hunting season, (generally from May to September) really for the purpose of training their armies. But this time Emperor Xianfeng used it as a pretext, because the joint armies of the foreign invaders had occupied Tianjin City in July, 1860, and would soon reach the capital, Peking. It was called “The Second Opium War” in the history of China.
Some courtiers tried to dissuade the emperor from flight, but in vain. On September 21, the combined foreign troops were very close to the capital. The emperor could hear the sound of cannons in the Forbidden City. On September 22, in the late morning, the emperor left Peking with his family, followed by a few courtiers and two thousand bodyguards.
The Autumn scenes along the escaping route, the yellow leaves on the trees and on the ground, the chilly winds blowing, the melancholy caws of the crow, all added up to the sorrow of the emperor having to flee from his warm luxury Forbidden City. He felt he was a sinner to his ancestors.
Now the royal family was in the Summer Palace: the emperor, the queen, Concubine Yan and her son, and Concubine Li and her daughter. Other concubines didn’t have time to follow the emperor. When they came to learn the tidings that the emperor had fled, it was too late for them to catch up with him. The emperor left his brother Prince Yixin in Peking to negotiate with the foreigners, who entered the Round-Bright Garden on October 6, to pillage and then set fire to it. (The burned ruins can still be seen even when the author is writing this book.)
The emperor was sick and weary of dealing with all the troubles. He trusted the state affairs to his favorite courtier, the younger brother Sushun, even though he was not a secretary of state then. Emperors of Qing Dynasty had established a secretarial bureau and appointed five or sometimes six courtiers as secretaries of state, with one as the head secretary. The bureau handled all the state affairs, and the military affairs as well, working under the emperor. The prime ministers were no longer in charge of the national affairs. But they still had some indefinite duties to perform.
There were six ministries. Every ministry had two ministers, one from the Mandarin Clan and the other from the Han Clan. And it had four deputy ministers. One Right Deputy Minister and one Left Deputy Minister were appointed from the Mandarin Clan and the other Right Deputy Minister and the other Left Deputy Minister were chosen from the Han Clan, to balance the racial problem.
Personnel Ministry took care of the appointments and the removals of all the officials and officers in the central and local governments all over the country and of their promotions and demotions based on their self-evaluations and criticisms from others. For that matter, a critique official could throw a lot of weight around and a critique report on any officials or officers would count. So there were good critique officials and there were bad critique officials. Corrupt officials and officers were afraid of good ones since they wouldn’t take money or even gifts, but all officials and officers dreaded bad ones, who would hint a bribery, or a critique report would appear on the emperor’s desk, based on mere rumors and gossips. And it was allowed by law. If no critique came in for an official or officer, it meant that he was good. If instead there were praises, it would be better. Therefore, some mayors, though corrupt, forced the people in his district to give him something as an evidence of praise when he left his office, such as an umbrella with as many signatures on it as possible. It was called “People’s Petition Umbrella”, which denoted that people there wanted him to remain in office, the highest form of praise for a mayor.
Internal Revenue Ministry kept the records of population statistics, and based on them, made decisions how many taxes the local governments should collect and a certain percentage of the local tax collections should be sent to the central government. It also determined the special tax collections like salt tax. There was a lot of salt smuggling going on to avoid paying salt tax. An officer was thereby placed in the area that yielded salt. He headed an army to force the tax collection. This ministry also controlled the expenditure of the central government since it had the control of the national financial affairs. The local governments had their departments for that purpose. This ministry often had the most difficult time among all the ministries. If there was a war, it must provide the financial support for armies to get provisions and arms. If the emperor needed more money for his personal use, it was the responsibility of this ministry to gratify him. If the emperor was dissatisfied with the performance of their duties, the minister would be removed from office or even put into prison and a new one appointed. But it also served the minister and his subordinates as Ali Baba’s cave. They were buried in treasure and could embezzle the hoard bit by bit. If they were discreet enough, no one could notice it.
Etiquette Ministry was a poor but respected ministry, which would make rules of rituals for certain occasions in reference to the rules used by the previous dynasties and act as master of ceremony where needed. Any new rules must be discussed among the high-rank officials and then approved by the emperor. The job was easy. Only no extra money came in. People would bribe the Personnel Minister for a better position. But for what purpose would they bribe the Etiquette Minister?
Military Ministry took charge of all the war business. It would make all the necessary preparations for a war, including to suggest who could be the generals for armies, what were the best strategies to use, which should be discussed among all the high-rank officials and officers and then be approved by the emperor. Since war was a life and death business and the empire was staked on it, the emperor made the final decisions for everything concerning the war. This ministry would be in joint efforts with the Internal Revenue Ministry to supply the armies with equipment and provisions. In the peaceful time, it would look over how the local garrison troops worked and would train recruits to replace those not fit any more to fight.
Judicial Ministry made all kinds of laws, which would be discussed among all the high-rank officials and then be approved by the emperor. It would interpret laws and try cases concerning government officials and officers. If common people wanted to bring in a lawsuit against an official to the Judicial Ministry, he or she must go through a fatal procedure to prove that he or she had nowhere else to go for justice. A piece of wood was put before the gate of the ministry building with the sharp ends of the nails upward on it. He or she must throw himself and herself on it. If he or she was not dead after that, the judicial minister would accept the lawsuit. But often, he or she would wear enough thick clothes to do that, even in summer time. This was allowed. The ministry didn’t accept lawsuits of common people against other common people.
The duties of Construction Ministry were to build new structures and fix old ones that belonged to the central government within the capital. Although its power was limited, it had extra money to be embezzled. The approved budget for the building was always much higher than the real cost. It’s the same everywhere, the same anytime through the history, and will remain the same till the remotest future. The government is always like a gigantic cake and everyone around it thinks that he has a right to bite a morsel from it. The greedy ones will have two morsels or more.
Besides these six ministries, there were some departments in the central government. The Critique Department had the responsibilities to watch that no officials and officers did anything wrong and against laws. If they came to know or hear of such wrong doings, they could send in critique reports to the emperor. They were even assigned the right to criticize the emperor himself if he did something against etiquette rules or laws. The positions in that department could not be bought. Only those who had passed the final test in the capital were entitled to such appointments. Since all the officials in that department were deemed scholars, they wrote their critique reports in great endeavors for the beautiful wording that sometimes the wording gave the emperor a deep impression even if he didn’t agree to the opinions. The impression would inevitably imprint the name of the writer on the mind of the emperor and later when the emperor needed somebody to fill a certain position, the name would pop up first. Besides that advantage, those who could write better-worded reports were more esteemed among the scholars and had hereby more influence. So those so-called scholars would not condescend to mingle with the officials who had bought their titles, which created ill feelings among the latter.
There was a Supreme Court, which would try all cases that came its way. The head judge was lower in rank than the ministers and the head critique official. If there was a specially important case, like treason of a high official or officer, it should be tried by the three heads: the judicial minister, the head critique official and the head judge in the supreme court building. The huge courtroom had a big long table put in the center near the back wall. The judge sat behind it on a chair. If three heads were present in a special case, three chairs were put behind the long table. Sometimes three smaller tables were placed there instead of a big long one. Some torture equipments were displayed along both sidewalls and the prison police stood in two rows on either side before the long table. When a prisoner was being brought in, a threatening sound was issued in unison from the policemen standing straight there: “Huuuuuuuuuu—weiiiiiiiiii----” till the prisoner was on his knees before the long table. Then the trial began. Usually the prisoner would claim his innocence, but sometimes he really didn’t commit the alleged crime. But in either case, since the judge couldn’t be sure that the prisoner was innocent or guilty, he invariably ordered the torture equipment used. The first torture for a man was the beating on his bare butts with a thick wooden stick. How many beatings he would get depended on the mood of the judge or the seriousness of the offense. Generally thirty to a hundred. Often the prisoner would bleed on the butts. But the first torment for a woman was slaps on the face with a leather piece shaped like a hand. If the judge was not satisfied with the prisoner’s confession, if any, a second torment would be administered. For a man, it was two long pieces of wood with ropes on both ends. The prisoner’s forelegs were put between the two wooden pieces. When the ropes were tightened on both ends, there would be sharp pain on the shins, which could even be broken when really pressed hard. For a woman, it was ten short wooden sticks with ropes connected, looking like toy fences. The woman’s eight fingers were put in, each between two sticks. Then the ropes were tightened. The pain on the fingers for a woman was also unbearable. Under such tortures, even the innocent would repeat whatever the judge wanted him or her to confess. If the prisoner was a high-rank official or officer, the judge was prohibited to use tortures and he must produce evidence. Even if the judge made the verdict, it should be approved by the emperor, who could change any verdict, even death sentence, as a special favor.
Since many foreign countries established their legations in Peking, the Qing government had to have set up a new department to deal with foreign governments. On January 13, 1861, Prince Yixin sent in a report from Peking to the Summer Palace, requesting the setup of the Foreign Affairs Yamen. On January 20, the emperor approved it. Its head was always a prince. And now Prince Yixin was the head.