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  1. #221
    Theemperor was seventeen now. It was high time for him to get married.West Empress Dowager would take care of it as the emperor's adoptedmother. On January 20, 1888, she issued an order that all thepreparations should begin for the emperor's marriage. On February28, she gave another order that the Internal Revenue Ministry of thegovernment should get ready five million taels of silver. On June 17,she announced her decision that the emperor's wedding would takeplace in February next year and after that she would let the emperorhave full power, making decisions all by himself. On July 27, 1888,a formal statement was made to that effect. On September 3, shedecided that the wedding day would be on February 26, 1889. So theselection of girls began in late September, 1888. At first therewere ninety-six girls, but even before West Empress Dowager couldlook at all of them, the names of sixty-five girls were crossed outowing to some reason or the other, among whom three would get intomarriage by the order of West Empress Dowager. On September 24,thirty-one girls gathered before West Empress Dowager and theemperor. Among them two girls were her nieces, which was againsttradition. But West Empress Dowager didn't care about tradition andno one dared to stand up against her. It was the evening on that daybecause West Empress Dowager wanted to look at the girls undercandlelight. And there were other two pairs of sisters. The processstarted from late in the evening and lasted till early in the nextmorning. As a result, sixteen girls were left after the firstsifting. On September 28, four days later, only eight girls out ofthe remaining sixteen were chosen. These eight girls were told tolive in the Forbidden City for close observation of their behavior. Then three girls out of the eight were sent home. One of the threewas a niece of West Empress Dowager. The other niece remained. Theemperor would choose the queen and two concubines from the fiveleftover girls.

  2. #222
    Amongthe five girls, besides the other niece, who was twenty-one yearsold, well over the traditional age between thirteen and seventeen,the two pairs of sisters remained. One pair was the daughters of thegovernor of Jiangxi Province. The other pair was the daughters of acourtier in the capital. They were the only girls that had learned towrite poetry. The eldest daughter of the governor of Jiangxi Provincehad been the royal concubine of the late Emperor Tongzhi, now a royalwidow, the one that West Empress Dowager had liked best and hadwanted her natural son to choose as his queen, but his natural sonhad chosen another girl. So this time West Empress Dowager selectedthe other two daughters. But her goal was to let her niece to be thequeen, not one of the sisters. This pair of the sisters stayed forthe night with their eldest sister, the royal widow. The eldestsister complained how she had lived alone even when Emperor Tongzhihad been alive. Any concubine in this status was called a widow withhusband alive in the Forbidden City. So the sisters wished that theywould not be selected. The eldest sister smiled, “it is easier notto be selected than you want to be selected.” She told her sistersthat they should wear blue clothes, because West Empress Dowagerdidn't like the color blue, and they should act a little listlessly,but not too much. West Empress Dowager liked girls to look alive.

  3. #223
    OnNovember 8, the five girls were lined before West Empress Dowager andthe emperor. The niece stood foremost, who should stand behindothers by tradition. The younger ones should stand in the front. The daughters of the governor were stationed near the emperor, alittle behind the niece. They were beautiful girls while the niecewas just ordinary. West Empress Dowager had often ordered that nieceto come and live for a few days in the Forbidden City to play withthe emperor when they were both children. She had thought that theirrelationship would have become from playmates to lifemates, but theemperor had never liked his cousin.
    Whenthe emperor was told to give the symbol, a ruyi,to whichever girl he wanted to be his queen, he walked towards one ofthe governor's daughters, the beautiful pair, but not intended byWest Empress Dowager as the queen. So she called, “Emperor.” Hervoice a little too loud for the occasion and not without someirritation. The emperor was startled and turned his head aside tolook at West Empress Dowager, who pointed to her niece with hermouth. The emperor was unhappy, but had to obey. He walked past thebeautiful couple and handed the ruyito the niece, who went down on her knees to take it.
    WestEmpress Dowager didn't let the emperor choose the concubines. Shechose for him the daughters of the courtier. The elder girl wasfifteen and the younger thirteen, named Concubine Jin and ConcubineZhen. The other two girls were returned to their parents. Westempress Dowager was afraid that if she let the two beautiful girlsstay in the Forbidden City also as concubines, the emperor wouldalways go to their place and ignore her niece entirely.

  4. #224
    Afterthe selection, Big Princess said to West Empress Dowager that if shehad desired her niece to be the queen, why she hadn't told theemperor directly so that he could choose as she had wished. Suchawkward situation would not have happened. West Empress Dowagerconfessed that it had partly been her fault.
    OnDecember 4, 1888, the emperor sent wedding things to the queen'sfamily. The father of the selected queen was the brother of WestEmpress Dowager and had a title of duke. He was a useless man,smoking opium all the time. He wanted to hold a banquet at home andinvited all the princes and courtiers, but was afraid that manyinvitees would not come, because they really looked down upon him. Sohe requested West Empress Dowager to order all of them come to thefeast. But West Empress Dowager advised him to invite the courtiersonly, not the princes, because princes were higher in rank than aduke. And West Empress Dowager said that it was not suitable to issuesuch an order. Her brother had to go along with what West EmpressDowager had suggested.
    OnFebruary 24, 1889, Concubines Jin and Zhen were carried into theForbidden City, but could not see the emperor yet. February 26 wasthe long-fixed wedding date. The queen was carried into theForbidden City in a magnificently-decorated royal palanquin. Theroyal couple went through a series of rituals. So when they wereescorted into their bedroom, the emperor was so exhausted that hejust fell asleep. Next day, the emperor should give a feast for thecelebration of the wedding, but the emperor suddenly fell sick. Thena eunuch was sent to announce that the feast was called off. All thecourtiers sensed that this was a bad omen. West Empress Dowager wasunhappy because it made the queen's family look bad. She went to seethe emperor to check if he was really sick. When she saw that theemperor looked sick, she could say nothing and just told him to takecare. But celebration in general still went on and lasted till March9.

  5. #225
    Celebrationsin the Forbidden City always involved opera performances. There was aroyal cast for all the occasions, but after the death of East EmpressDowager, West Empress Dowager often got actors from outside theForbidden City for a change. This time there was a new actor, justcoming to the capital from Shanghai. West Empress Dowager was sofascinated by his performance that she decided to interview him afterthe performance. The actor had liked the operas as a child andlearned it since very young. Then he had joined the army to fight thePeaceful Army and had been promoted to be a high-rank officer. Whenwar had ended, he had returned to live in Shanghai, but sometimes heacted as a guest performer in some theater. As a rule an officershould not act in public and he was criticized for that. He then gaveup his title as the officer and began to be an actor by profession.He became a famous actor. When he was told that West Empress Dowagerwould interview him, he was very excited, but he sighed, sayingsarcastically, “When I risked my life to fight the Peaceful Army,no one treated me like that, but when I am only an actor, EmpressDowager wants to interview me.” Eunuch Li said to him, “Youshould know that there are so many officers like you, but there isonly one actor like you. You should be satisfied.” So he assumed ahappy attitude and went to see West Empress Dowager. She wanted togive back his title, but he refused, saying that it was unsuitablefor an actor to have an official title. So West Empress Dowager gavehim other things as a memento.


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