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  1. #1


    Chapter 15

    When the written reply was sent in, West Empress Dowager read it first. As East Empress Dowager had no ambition and was a happy-go-lucky good-for-nothing, she let West Empress Dowager handle all the state affairs. Only for important things, West Empress Dowager went to seek her consultation.
    Now after she read only the first few sentences, West Empress Dowager flared up. When she finished, she took the written reply to the chamber of East Empress Dowager.
    “They want to rebel.” She yelled while handing the written reply to East Empress Dowager.
    “What do you mean?”
    “What they wrote here is totally different from what we wanted them to write yesterday.” If anything a courtier did was against the wish of the emperor, now against the wish of the empress dowagers, it was deemed as rebellion or betrayal. The result could be execution.
    “Calm down first.” warned East Empress Dowager, “We don’t want them to actually rebel.”
    “I know, but we can’t let them have their way over ours, or they will tread on our heads before long.” West Empress Dowager complained.
    “We’d better deal with them when we return to the capital. We’ll have Yixin’s support then.”
    “But what should we do with this written reply now?” After a while, seeing that East Empress Dowager said nothing, she continued, “At least we should ask them why they wrote the reply like this and see what they’ll have to say.”
    East Empress Dowager acquiesced.
    On September 15, the counselors were summoned to their presence. The empress dowagers received them in the main room of their building. Everyone seemed a bit nervous except the young emperor, who hid in the arms of East Empress Dowager. They all knew that a conflict of words could not be avoided since their views were so far apart and their personal interests were almost opposite.
    “Who wrote this reply?” West Empress Dowager asked sternly.
    “The result of our discussion.” answered Zaihuan.
    “Do you know that this reply should be the emperor’s opinion?”
    “Yes.” Tu Han cut in, “But since the emperor is so young, the late emperor appointed us to handle things.”
    “But it’s written in the emperor’s name. How can the emperor oppose his own mothers?”
    “We didn’t write such things. We only contradict Critique Official Dong, who sent in this report.” Said Zaihuan.
    “Why is what he said in his report wrong?”
    “It’s already refuted in the written reply.” Sushun said, “Empress Dowagers can read it for yourselves.”
    That was not suitable for a courtier to say to the empress dowagers. But he had said it. He spoke so loudly that the young emperor was frightened and turned to hide his face in the bosom of East Empress Dowager.
    “Can a courtier express his opinion to the emperor?” asked West Empress Dowager.
    “No, he can’t, since the counselors will take care of things one by one in proper order.” said Sushun stubbornly.
    “Do you have any respect for the emperor and the empress dowagers?” West Empress Dowager got angrier by the minute.
    “It’s really not necessary for the empress dowagers to read reports.” He said aloud.
    The face of East Empress Dowager became pale and the face of West Empress Dowager became red.
    “Here’s the emperor. Can he read the reports? If he can’t, who can act for him, if not his mothers?” The voice of West Empress Dowager grew a bit higher, too.
    “Why did the late emperor appoint us as counselors?” said Sushun.
    But West Empress Dowager went on, “Now in the emperor’s name, I order you to rewrite the reply.”
    “According to our tradition, Empress Dowagers can only look after the young emperor, but can’t interfere in the state affairs.”
    “Do you want to resist the emperor’s order?” She slapped on the table.
    “We are not resisting any orders from the emperor, but Empress Dowagers must abide by the tradition.” said Tu Han.
    They sounded like quarreling and the voices were escalating. The young emperor was so terrified that he began to cry out and wetted his pants, and also wetted the clothes of East Empress Dowager as he clung to her so closely. The cry of the young emperor interrupted the brawling. The counselors felt awkward and retreated silently to their resting room.

    * * *

    Sushun asked his elder brother Duanhua and his nephew Zaihuan, who was really older than the brothers, to have dinner at his house. They wanted to have a discussion about what to do to deal with the situation. They talked while eating.
    “If she wants to be in charge, good, let her take the rein. But if the horse has no legs, where can she go?” Duanhua blurted after downing a cup of wine.
    It was their strategy. They were on strike. If no one worked for the emperor, hence for the empress dowagers, how could their orders go out of the palace and be carried out?

    * * *

    That afternoon, forgetful of the nap they took everyday, the two empress dowagers had a discussion about the serious situation.
    “I’m surprised that they couldn’t behave themselves.” said East Empress Dowager.
    “I’m not. They looked like they wanted to beat us to pulps.” said West Empress Dowager.
    “Now what?” asked East Empress Dowager.
    “I intended to keep it quiet for a while, but they forced my hand. Now we have to go back to the old ruse and forget about it till the broth cools.”
    But they forgot that their rivals were not wooden mummies.
    Next morning they waited for the reports to be delivered to them, but none came. It was not until late in the morning that the bad news came instead of the reports. The head eunuch of the palace dashed in to report to them that the counselors were on strike and the whole palace was in panic. Everyone was afraid that something terrible would happen. The two empress dowagers looked at each other without a word. They bade the head eunuch to go for further information.
    They conversed about the situation once more. What could they do when no one listened to them in the Summer Palace? Unless they returned to the capital, where they had Yixin for support. Suddenly a Chinese saying occurred in the mind of West Empress Dowager, which goes like that, “It’s not too late for a gentleman to revenge after ten years.” So at last they gave in and imprinted their seals on the written reply to contradict the suggestion. When the counselors got it back, they enjoyed their victory over the empress dowagers. They won the second round, regardless of the obvious fact that the empress dowagers were always over them in power and rank, like a sword hanging by a hair over their heads.
    Commander Shengbao had passed a government test and was deemed a scholar. After two promotions as an official, he had been made a general since rebellion occurred in many provinces. He had victory over the enemies in quite a few battles. As a result, he got many gifts of honor from the emperor, like a peacock’s tail feather and a yellow coat. (The color yellow was the imperial color in Qing Dynasty. No one should use this color except with the permission of the emperor, like the gift of the yellow coat.) And finally he had acquired the promotion to be a commander with several generals under him. Although he had been beaten in the fight against the foreign troops in the defense of the capital, no one had challenged his authority and reputation, because at that time, defeat by the foreign armies was thought of as a matter of course. If someone could defeat a foreign army with guns and cannons, it would be a great surprise and this person was a wonder-worker. For most weapons used by the government armies were still swords and spears, bows and arrows. It was said that China had invented gunpowder, but only utilized it to make firecrackers.
    When Commander Shengbao sent in a request that he wished to come in person to pay his last respects to the late emperor to show his loyalty and gratitude, Sushun wanted at first to refuse him, but at the insistence of the empress dowagers, he had to give in. Commander Shengbao brought his five hundred bodyguards for his own safety. Everyone in Rehe wanted to get on his good side. He was more than warmly welcomed. After he kowtowed and mourned before the coffin of the late emperor, he returned to his lodging place and received many visitors. But an important visitor he was expecting came at night. It was Head Clerical Official Zao. Commander Shengbao was haughty and arrogant as he had had so many merits. He treated his generals and officers as his slaves, many of whom were illiterate. But he esteemed scholars and talented officials. He received Head Clerical Official Zao with due decorum, though his rank was much higher than that of the visitor. He told Zao that he had met Yixin on the way here as Yixin was on his way back to the capital. Zao gathered that he had known most of the things already and told him only new developments.
    “Critique Official Dong is a blockhead.” commented Commander Shengbao, “He deserved the reprimand from Sushun.”
    “I think such a suggestion should be made by someone with a much higher rank.” said Zao.
    Commander Shengbao agreed and added, “I’ve half a mind to do it myself, but now’s not the right time.”
    “Better after the empress dowagers and the emperor get safely back to the capital.” Commander Shengbao nodded his head and the strategy was thus settled.
    Before Commander Shengbao left, he gave two hundred taels of silver to every official there as a gift. The problem was that if anyone rejected it, it would be like to smear a speck of mud on his face. No one wanted to offend him. Besides, officials living on mere salary were really poor and always needed extra money. So everyone accepted it. They thought it was a gift, not a bribery. But what’s the difference between the two?

  2. #2
    Make an effort to delete any unnecessary dialogue tags; hearing: said West Empress Dowager, said East Empress Dowager, said West Empress Dowager, is slightly redundant, and given the length of the tags, slightly annoying as well.

  3. #3
    thanks for the suggestion. As the editor didn't delete it, I think it is ok. this book is published.


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