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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.

  6. #226
    Theimperial nuptial cost more than four thousand taels of gold and morethan four million eight hundred thousand taels of silver. It was themost expensive royal wedding in Qing Dynasty.
    Sincethe emperor didn't love the queen, who had been forced upon himagainst his will, he treated her only with due respect. He likedConcubine Zhen best, because she was so young and so naive that sheoften did or said funny things, which made the emperor delighted, butfunny things often went against the palace rules.
    Theemperor and Concubine Zhen had a lot of things to talk for mutualamusement. The emperor told Concubine Zhen something that hadhappened in the Forbidden City. The natural father of the emperor,Yihuan, was the seventh son of the late Emperor Xianfeng. Prince Cunwas the fifth son, the uncle of the emperor, but now deceased. “Hewas a funny man.” said the emperor, “Once Empress Dowager waslistening to some girls summoned from outside the Forbidden City,singing some folk tunes. This was against the tradition. Fifth Unclewent to see Empress Dowager, singing the same tunes all the way whileentering the room. Empress Dowager became aware of the roundaboutcriticism and sent the singing girls away. Another time when FifthUncle wanted to present a special fish to Empress Dowager, a eunuchrefused to report to Empress Dowager unless Fifth Uncle gave him somemoney. It is an old custom, but Fifth Uncle never liked it. So nexttime when Empress Dowager wanted to see Fifth Uncle, Fifth Unclebrought a fish himself and offered it to Empress Dowager in person.When Empress Dowager asked why Fifth Uncle didn't let a eunuch do it,Fifth Uncle told the story and the eunuch got a beating.”
    ConcubineZhen could write poetry. She had read many books, especially historybooks. She told the emperor a story from Song Dynasty. An emperor hadhad no son of his own and wanted to select his successor and heirfrom the sons of his imperial relatives. They should be good boys andunder seven years old. Ten boys had been selected, but after siftingonly two left, one lean and the other fat. He would have chosen oneout of the two. When the boys had been standing before the emperor,the emperor had wanted to choose the fat one, because in theconception of the Chinese people, fat people meant they werefortunate ones. But just then a cat had wandered by. The fat boy hadbeen always naughty and kicked the cat unconsciously out of habitwhile the lean boy had stood there quietly. Therefore, the emperorhad decided on the lean boy. The emperor had explained later that thecat had walked by and hadn't done anything to deserve the kick. Ifthe fat boy could have kicked an innocent cat, he would have killedinnocent people when he had become the emperor. Historians said thatthe fat boy kicked away his throne, not just the cat.

  7. #227
    GovernorLi of Zhidi Province had established a fleet of twenty-five ships.West Empress Dowager didn't want him to have more power and set upthe Navy Yamen and put Prince Yihuan as the head. The fleet wasnaturally under the command of the Navy Yamen. West Empress Dowagerwished to have a clear idea about the fleet. She sent Yihuan toinspect it with her head eunuch Li as his attendant. It was againstthe rule set up by the ancestors that eunuchs were not permitted togo outside the capital. But since the demise of East Empress Dowagerand the removal of Prince Yixin, no one had been bold enough tooppose her decision. Someone blamed Yihuan when he didn't sayanything about it. Yihuan could not say that he was afraid of WestEmpress Dowager and so he said, “That's my fault. I asked Eunuch Lito accompany me there.” He didn't want to think that West EmpressDowager didn't trust him. Then Ronglu came to visit him. Ronglu wasnot in a good health recently and didn't have a post. Ronglu consoledYihuan, “Since we have spent so much money on the navy, EmpressDowager wants to know how the navy is now and how well it can combat.That's why Empress Dowager sends Li with Your Highness.” But hecould not explain why it was Eunuch Li who was supposed to report toWest Empress Dowager about the navy while it should be Yihuan whoshould report to her. Ronglu didn't want to hint anything negativeabout West Empress Dowager. He was always faithful to her. There waseven a rumor that sometimes when Ronglu was summoned into theForbidden City, he had sex with West Empress Dowager. But that wasonly a rumor.

  8. #228
    HeadEunuch Li was cleverer than Little An. He played down his role justto be the attendant of Yihuan. Yihuan reached the place where thefleet was at anchor. He went on board the flagship with hisentourage. Yihuan stayed in the captain's cabin when the fleet waspulled out onto the sea to operate a sham battle. When cruising onthe vast expanse of billowy salty water, the fleet formed a lineforward, then changed into a file and then fell into a shape of avise. There were some old junk ships in the distance as targets. At asignal from the flagship, the cannons aiming at the targets boomedand some torpedoes darted forth. In a flash of fire and thunder, theold junk ships exploded into a rain of fragments. Then somethingfloated and dotted on the distant blue water surface. Prince Yihuanslowly clapped his hands a few times as if he was watching an opera.All the navy officers around him were exhilarated at his approbation.
    Atthe dinner party for celebration, head eunuch Li sat with the navyofficers. He told them a story about how champagne was treated in theForbidden City. The French envoy had presented some bottles ofchampagne to West Empress Dowager as gifts. On a festival day, WestEmpress Dowager ordered a eunuch to open a bottle of champagne. Whenbottle was being opened the noise the bottle startled West EmpressDowager, and the champagne gushed out, wetting the clothes of BigPrincess, who was just standing at the side to have a look. So theeunuch got a beating. It was not really his fault. One of theofficers asked if West Empress Dowager drank champagne any more afterthat. Eunuch Li said that someone got an idea that before opening thebottle, a hole was punched on the cork stopper to let out the gas.

  9. #229
    Ex-GovernorTang had been in the jail of Judicial Ministry for two years. Thereason for his imprisonment was that he had withdrawn from Vietnamduring Sino-French war without first asking for the approval of thecentral government. The verdict was death penalty, but not immediatedeath, something like suspended till a later time, like waiting inthe line on the death list. In the feudal China, the prisoners ofdeath sentence were executed once a year in Autumn. For the prisonersas former courtiers, their treatment was different from otherprisoners of death sentence. On the execution day, though all theprisoners of death verdict should be taken to the execution ground,only those whose names were crossed out with red marks on the deathlist were actually executed. Others were taken back to the jail totry their luck next year. The emperor, now West Empress Dowager,would decide whose names would be crossed out. Sometimes a pardonorder would be issued for a certain person. The pardoned ones wereusually exiled to some remote provinces. This was the fate awaitingTang. Tang was a man of ability. Many courtiers had thrown quite afew good words for him in their reports to West Empress Dowager,saying that it was a pity to execute such a talented man for such apetty crime. So his name had remained on the death list for twoyears. Tang had two sons. Through some channel, his eldest son got incontact with head eunuch Li and begged him for his father's life.Taking the bribery, Li promised to try.
    Sincethe miscarriage of the banknote issue, other suggestions had been putup. One of them was to mint more bronze coins, which could alsoincrease the currency. West Empress Dowager accepted the suggestion.But they should first have copper. Copper mines were mostly in YunnanProvince and Tang had been the governor of that province and kneweverything of copper mining. So on the execution day, he was pardonedand sent to Yunnan Province to take care of the copper mining.

  10. #230
    Chapter 39

    Nowlet us have a look at how the everyday life of West Empress Dowagerwas like. West Empress Dowager had some hobbies if they could becalled hobbies, or better to say, things she liked to do.
    Generallyshe lived a comparatively routine but busy life. She got up early.After her hair done and apparel changed from sleeping garb intoeveryday formal dress, she had her breakfast. After that (reallyafter every meal), she strolled along the wrap-around porch for halfan hour. “Help to digest.” She would say. Then she went to seecourtiers. If no urgent affairs needed her attention she wouldretire to her living quarters.
    Everydayshe would read reports except on holidays, but sometimes when thereports were for emergencies, she had to read them on holidays andmake decisions accordingly or hold special court to discuss theproblems with courtiers.
    Everydayshe had a nap after lunch. Then she would sometimes play mahjong. BigPrincess was often her playmate. Other two playmates she chose fromthe wives of her high-rank courtiers. The wives of courtiers wereoften invited into the Forbidden City on any festival days. Whoevercould flatter her best would get her preference and became herplaymates of mahjong. Of course, everyone who was playing mahjongwith her would intentionally lose since she liked to win, but theyshould lose tactfully so that it would not look like they lost onpurpose, but like they were not so clever or skilful as she. Suchpretence was not easily carried to a perfect end at first. It mightneed practice or genius. But their husbands would get quickpromotions.
    Itwas said that she played a sort of Chinese chess a little. This kindof chess is somewhat like the western chess. It has two chessmen likeknights, but called horse in the Chinese chess. It has two chessmenlike rook, but called chariot. It has two cannons for each side. Ithas a general for the blue side and a marshal for the red side. Thecapture of either one means the loss of the game on that side. Thereare five pawns and two scholars, and two prime ministers for the redside and two elephants for the blue side with the same function. Whenthe chessmen of the western chess are placed in spaces, the chessmenof the Chinese chess are put on the dots where the lines cross eachother.


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