Chapter 17

Since all the counselors were either arrested or removed from office, a new power center should be established. Yixin gathered his main followers in his residence for a meeting. This time they decided that there should be six secretaries in the Bureau. Besides Yixin himself, Wenqiang, Baojun and the former head clerical official Zao were all made secretaries. Yixin gave away the positions as political gifts to his followers for their loyalty to him. Yixinís father-in-law would be a secretary, too. He was too old to do any actual duties. He was put there as an advisor. Another secretary was chosen from courtiers of Han Clan to balance the race proportion in the Bureau. The list was approved by the empress dowagers. Yixin was made the head secretary. There had been an unspoken bargain between Yixin and West Empress Dowager. She made Yixin the head secretary and Yixin supported the empress dowager system. Power re-allotted.
When Yihuan brought Sushun to the capital, he reported to Yixin how he had arrested Sushun. Yixin asked him if Sushun had said anything on the way here. Yihuan told his brother that Sushun had said that West Empress Dowager was a poisonous snake and would bite anyone anytime when she thought it was necessary. Yixin ignored the warning.
Sushun was put into the same prison with the other two counselors. Sushun had advised them to kill the empress dowagers on the way to the capital, but they didnít follow his advice, being scornful of women. Now the three of them accused one another of being slow in decision, negligent in stratagem and unnecessarily merciful to enemies, but all to no avail. Sushun wanted to send a letter out secretly to his faithful followers so that they could think of some way to rescue him, but no jailor dared to do such a thing. So this cock of his wouldnít fight. He then planned that if they would try him in a court, he would plead vehemently and ask for hard evidence to delay the verdict as long as possible that he might find a way to escape. But that cock of his wouldnít fight, either. They simply didnít try him in a court.
The Secretarial Bureau had a meeting to discuss what were the offences that the three chief counselors had committed. There was no debate, no opposition. No one defended Sushun. They concluded unanimously that there were eight offences.
(1) When the late emperor was lying on the deathbed and wanted them to draft a will for the late emperor, they put in some words that were not what the late emperor meant. And they refused to follow the instructions of the empress dowagers and did everything, using their own free will.
(2) They always said that they were the counselors and could not listen to the empress dowagers and that the empress dowagers should not read the reports.
(3) They always said that the empress dowagers should not see the princes, who were the emperorís relatives. They wanted to alienate them and isolated the empress dowagers.
(4) Sushun even sat on the throne and used the late emperorís things.
(5) Sushun refused to give the things that the empress dowagers asked for.
(6) Sushun always wanted to estrange one empress dowager from the other.
(7) When Sushun was under custody, he still said nasty things about the empress dowagers.
( When Sushun escorted the late emperorís coffin to the capital, he lived with his concubines. (It was against the tradition and showed that he was not in a mourning state of mind.)
When the accusations were passed in the Secretarial Bureau, Yixin reported the result of the meeting to the empress dowagers, who just signed an order to execute the chief counselors, Sushun, Duanhua and Zaihuan, immediately, without giving them a chance to plead.
Sushun was executed publicly and hastily. A courtier was sent to supervise the execution of Sushun. Sushun would be carried in a wooden cage on a cart drawn by a donkey. The courtier knew if Sushun was aware that heís going to die, he would use his last strength to resist. He would surely be subdued at last, but it was a trouble no one liked. So when he saw Sushun in the prison cell, he lied to him, ďThey are having a meeting and want me to bring you there for the interrogation.Ē
ďThey treat me so unfair. I helped the late emperor to handle the state affairs in such a difficult time. I must let them know.Ē Sushun complained. So he walked out of the cell and followed the courtier to the prison gate. But when he was put into the cage on a cart and went to a different direction, he knew he was trapped. He didnít say anything then, only closing his eyes. He intended to tell the onlookers what he knew about West Empress Dowager and Yixin before he was beheaded. Jailors knew that there were three kinds of prisoners with a death sentence. If a prisoner heard the death sentence and was scared shit out, it was the first kind and easy to deal with. The second kind was the one, who would cry aloud and stamp feet, hearing the penalty of death, but when his energy was thus exhausted, nothing would happen at the execution site. The last kind was the most difficult to handle. Aware of the death sentence, the prisoner was very calm and said nothing, then something would surely happen before the execution. And Sushun could be classified in the last category.
The news of the execution of Sushun spread out fast. So people thronged to where the execution spot was set. It was always at a spacious market place. All the vendors were cleared and a guillotine was set up. Behind the guillotine was a table, where the courtier would sit to oversee the execution. The place was crowded with onlookers. More people lined on either side along the route the prisonerís cart was supposed to pass. It was not until noon that the prisonerís cart arrived at the execution spot. There were all sorts of things covering the cage, the cart, even on Sushun, from the vegetable bits to broken eggs, from traces of phlegm to small stones and mud lumps. It was no wonder because all those who hated him came and those who liked him didnít come. It was customary to behead the prisoner at noon when the sun was at its brightest. It was superstitiously believed that when the sun was shining overhead, the ghost of the prisoner when escaped from the dead body could do no harm to the executioner.
Not long after the prisoner arrived, an official came on horseback to announce the emperorís order of execution. Sushun rejected to kneel and began to say nasty things about West Empress Dowager and Yixin. A jailor slapped hard on his face. Another kicked him behind his knees so that he went down, but before he could fall on his stomach, the jailor who had kicked him pulled his pigtail to stop his falling, thus making him stay on his knees. Then the executioner came forward. He didnít bring down the sharp wide-bladed sword like people imagined. He aimed the sharp edge of his sword behind the prisonerís neck and pushed very swiftly between two cervical vertebrae, thus severing the head. At the same time, he kicked the body down to elude the blood spurting out on his clothes.
Prison was always the worst place in the world. No matter where and when. Once in a prison, whether guilty or not, the prisonerís family must bribe the jailors, or the prisoner would be ill-treated. Same with the executioner. He could make the prisoner die fast or die slow.
Then another courtier was dispatched to the prison to announce to Duanhua and Zaihuan that they were to put an end to their lives with their own hands. But before he made the announcement, he had a sumptuous meal ready to give them. The last meal for them. He sat with them and drank with them like an old friend. But at least they knew one another since they worked together for the same emperor. After the meal was finished, he made the announcement that they were to end their own lives, if necessary, with a little help from jailors. It was always like that that they could choose between poisoning or hanging themselves. They were locked separately in a room. In each room on a table there were a rope and a cup of wine with poison in it. But when neither of them was willing to take his own life, the jailors had to step in to help. They were tied down on a long bench with a very thin piece of paper over their nose and mouth. Then the jailors sprinkled water on the paper, which stuck on the face to block the air from going in. They were smothered. It happened on November 8.
Another order was issued that Sushunís estate, including his personal properties, should be confiscated. Government clerks, headed by Secretary Wenqiang, went to his residences to register all the items and moved them into the national treasury.
Sushun had two sons. The elder one had been adopted by his brother Duanhua, who had been in the royal prison. Duanhua had no son of his own. If he died and no one inherited his title of prince, the emperor would take back the title. Therefore, Duanhua had adopted his brother, Sushunís, son. Since Duanhua had followed the late emperor to the Summer Palace, the son had been living with his brother in Sushunís residence. Secretary Wenqiang knew the situation and sent the two sons to live at Duanhuaís place, because this residence would be confiscated and given to another courtier, who should have made great contributions to the empire to deserve it. The sons were allowed to take whatever they liked, besides their personal belongings. While the sons were picking things, some servants and maids also picked up some valuables furtively and slipped them into their pockets. Even the tutor of the sons joined in the stealthy plundering. His servants and maids were dismissed with some money and their own belongings. His family members were moved to smaller houses with enough means to live on. This was lenient. The severe one could be that his family members became the slaves for heavy toil or even were executed together.
A lot of letters were found in Sushunís study. When Sushun had been in power, many officials and officers had written to him to vie into his favor. Some of his faithful followers had even implied in their letters that Sushun should have usurped the throne. Secretary Wenqiang knew that these letters were top secrets. If the contents of these letters were known to the public, it would put the government in a dilemma. So Secretary Wenqiang handled the matter very carefully. He wrapped up these letters himself into a package and took it to see Yixin. Yixin called for all the members of the Bureau and they discussed how to dispose of them. They thought that it was impossible to punish everyone who had had correspondence with Sushun. It would involve too many courtiers. It would cause great panic among courtiers. So the best way was to burn all the letters as if they never existed. The empress dowagers gave their assent to the decision. The letters were burned publicly among the courtiers.
Then there was another order for the other five counselors. The late emperorís brother-in-law was pardoned, because everyone knew he was innocent. Others were removed from office and would never be employed again by the government. One of the other four was banished to a distant province, because he worked the longest as a secretary of state, but could not stand up against Sushun.
West Empress Dowager resented Tu Han, also a counselor, who had often contradicted her when they had been in the Summer Palace. But she had to go easy with him, because his father had been the head tutor of the late emperor and East Empress Dowager forgave him on account of that. So West Empress Dowager couldnít insist on a severe punishment as the late emperor had been her husband, too. The wheel of destiny turns around the human relationship.
When a formal statement about who were the new secretaries was made known to the public, both the courtiers and people at large welcomed it. When the late emperor hadnít appointed his own brother an one of the counselors, many had held the view that it had been unfair and the recent appointment of him as the head secretary was thought of by the people as amends. Yihuan, his brother, was now in charge of the garrison troops of the Forbidden City. It was just the job after his heart. The dream of his childhood came true now. He had always wished to be a general or a commander.