EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI - Page 24

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  1. #231
    Anyone,who played chess with her, would pretend to lose the game, becauseshe hated to lose. To win meant that she was wiser than herantagonist. There was a story, probably a rumor, that once when shewas playing chess with a eunuch, the eunuch warned lest she shouldlose a chessman, “Your slave will kill Old Buddha's Horse.” Shesuddenly flared up and said, “I will kill your family.” And theeunuch and his family were all killed. It meant that her behaviorcould never be predicted.
    Shealso liked reading. She read many Chinese classical novels, such asThree Kingdoms, The Beach, The Red Chamber Dream, The Journey ToWest, etc. She read history books, too, by which she learnedexperiences of the ancient people how to rule the country. But shedidn't learn how to benefit people. She only learned how to keepherself in power. She often let some old eunuchs tell her storiesfrom the history.
    Shepracticed Chinese calligraphy. She liked to write with a long brushthe big Chinese characters like blessing and longevity It wasamazing for a woman to write such big characters. She had thecharacters she had written made into scrolls and gave to her favoritecourtiers, who would treasure them as gifts of honor from her. Shelearned how to paint, but she never did a complete painting. Shewould paint something like an outline and the palace painters wouldfill in the details and colors and write her name on the painting.

  2. #232
    Towatch Peking operas was the thing she loved best. She organized someyoung eunuchs into an opera cast and loved to write stage scripts forthem with the help of another courtier's wife who was versed inwriting and poetry. She would look at the scripts when the actorswere singing so that she could follow the words they sang. Operaswere performed regularly on her birthdays or the birthdays of theemperor and the queen, and on festivals, and on the first day andfifteenth day of every month of the lunar calendar. She had severalstages built at the places she frequented so that she could watchoperas whenever she felt like it. The biggest stage called theImperial Theater had three stories and is the largest of its kind inChina today. It is twenty-one meters high. The ground floor had afew dry wells dug for special effects, like an actor in a ghostcostume could come out of a well as if he emerged from the ground. Anopening is in the ceiling of the first floor, in which a winch couldlower performers and props down onto the first floor. Performerscould appear on the three floors at the same time.
    Thenext thing she liked was to have her photographs taken. It was saidthat she had hated the photography at first, because she had thoughtthat since a person's image had been on the photograph, thephotograph must have taken the person's spirit on it and it was notgood to the person. But later, as gradually so many foreign thingscame and as she got used to them, especially when she saw thatnothing happened to the person whose pictures had been taken, shebegan to have her photographs taken, too. She even enjoyed lookingat her own image on the photographs. The photographs she liked bestwere those on which she was attired in a Buddha's costume, hence shewas called Old Buddha And she liked it.

  3. #233
    Itwas said that during fifties of nineteen century, a Japanese came toChina and asked to see her. When he got admittance, he took aphotograph of her. It was said that later this photograph was boughtat an auction by a British museum in London at the surprisingly highprice of thirteen thousand British pounds. On this picture, she waswearing a gown of satin embroidered with peonies, a lot of jewelry onher hair, a shawl wrapped on her shoulders looking like a fishingnet, but made of thirty-five thousand pearls, some as big as a bird'seggs. She had jade bangles on her wrists, with nail-protecting casesmade of gold on her right hand and of jade on her left hand. Hershoes were decorated with large pearls round the sides.
    Aftershe returned from escape to XiAn City in 1900, she must receive thewives and daughters of foreign envoys to enhance the relationshipwith foreign governments. The Foreign Affairs Ministry wrote downfor her some English sentences that she could say to them, but sinceshe could not speak the language correctly, she commenced to learnEnglish from the wives and daughters of some courtiers who had beenenvoys living in foreign countries for several years. All these kepther busy, but she loved a busy life.
    Sheliked to take bath, but not really sitting in the bathtub, which wasmade of silver and in the shape of a kidney. When the bath was readywith warm water in the tub, she sat on a low chair close to the tub. Four maids waited on her with another four maids as their assistants. They washed her upper torso first. First step: they dipped towelsin the warm water and wrung them till no water came out. Then theyrubbed everywhere on her upper torso softly. When the towels were nomore warm, they changed towels. They did it for several times. Theassistants would take the used towels away and keep pouring warmwater into the tub to keep the water always warm. Second step: theyput soap on clean wet towels and rubbed her upper torso again. Themaid who rubbed her chest must hold breath. If the maid exhaled onher face, she would be punished. The maid might be trained for that. Third step: they used wet towels to wipe the soap clean off herskin, making sure no trace of soap left. Then they used some cottonpads to tap some perfume on her. Then they put some kind of sleepingblouse on her. The wash of the upper torso finished.

  4. #234
    Themaids removed the tub for the upper torso and put another tub for thelower torso before her. She didn't want to use the same tub for herwhole body since she could afford two. Her thought was that theupper torso was like the master and the lower torso was like theservant. How could the master and the servant share the same thing? The maids washed her lower torso just in the same way. The soledifference was that she must stand up to let the maids wash herbuttocks.
    Whenthe bath was over, two maids remained to wash her face and hands,especially do her nails. They used the warm wet towels and thenrolled a short round stick of jade to massage the skin on her face,to iron the wrinkles as they would call it. Then they did her nails. She only grew her long nails on thumbs, ring fingers and littlefingers. They steeped her nails in warm water in jade bowls. Theybrushed the nails clean, straightened the long nails because longnails were apt to curve. They filed the nails where needed. Afterapplying some nail polish, they put case made of yellow brocade onthe long nails to protect them. That was the last thing before shewent to bed. It was said that she always had white soft smooth skinand looked much younger than her real age.
    Shepaid particular attention to her long black bright-oily hair. BeforeLi Lianying came, other eunuchs had never done her hair to hergratification. She had often tried a new eunuch to do her hair, butthe new eunuch could never have stayed long on the job. Many eunuchshad been scolded or even beaten for not doing their jobsatisfactorily. If a few pieces of her hair fell when combing, theeunuch would be beaten on the buttocks with a stick. She preferred tohave a new hairdo as often as possible, but the eunuchs didn't haveexperience enough to invent new hairstyles until Li Lianying came totry on the job. Before Li asked her permission to do her hair, hehad visited some whorehouses in the capital and learned from whoresthe skills and how to do hair beautifully and how to design newhairdo. Since he did her hair to her heart's content he was made thegeneral head eunuch in the Forbidden City.

  5. #235
    Shewas very fastidious about food. Besides the royal kitchen thatprovided for all the royal household in the Forbidden City, she hadher own private kitchen, called West Kitchen. Every cook had thesole charge of certain sorts of food, like some only cookingvegetables, some making pastries, some supplying snacks of variouskinds and some cooking only meat of dainties including shark's fins,sea cucumbers and abalones. West Kitchen could provide more thanfour hundred kinds of snacks and more than four thousand kinds ofdishes.
    Breakfastwas generally at six in the morning, lunch at noon, twelve o'lock,and dinner at six in the evening. And snacks at any time when shefelt like to eat some. Food was carried from kitchen to her diningplace in warm boxes, which had pewter containers at the bottom tohold hot water to keep the food warm. The lid of the box was verytight so that the warmth could stay inside for a long time. It wassaid that there were always one hundred dishes when she had mainmeals. When a main meal, say, dinner, was served, one young eunuchcarried one food box on his right shoulder, all the eunuchs coming ina file. Some other eunuchs, a bit older, took out the dishes from theboxes and laid them one by one on the big oblong table. When shelooked at a dish, a eunuch got the dish and put in front of her. Butbefore she tasted it, the head eunuch Li would dip a pair of silverchopsticks into the dish. If the silver chopsticks turned black,they believed that there was poison in the dish. Of course, shecould not eat so many dishes. She often ordered such and such dishessent to a certain favorite courtier or given to head eunuch Li, whichwas considered an honor. It was said that the cost of one meal forher could feed a family of four for one year.

  6. #236
    Chapter 40


    Everydynasty in Chinese history had corruption in the government, whichalways led to the crumble of the old dynasty and the rise of a newone. Corruption mostly included embezzlement, bribery and selling ofgovernment official positions. In late Qing Dynasty the positionssold had fixed prices, which were open secrets.
    Beforepower was returned to the emperor, all the courtiers were appointedby West Empress Dowager. These courtiers were still loyal to hereven after the emperor took over the power. They were called theEmpress Dowager's Party. When the emperor came into power, he wantedto fight the corruption. There were quite a few upright courtiers,who hated corruption and supported the emperor, hence called theEmperor's Party. The former comprised all the governors and thosecourtiers, who were experienced in government administration. All ofthem had great power. The latter consisted of those courtiers, whowere mostly young and inexperienced and didn't have much power. Thetwo parties held hostility against each other because of theirdifferent political concepts.
    Whilethe emperor was doing his utmost to battle the national corruption,his beloved Concubine Zhen was planning how to get more income. Bytradition, the queen got a thousand taels of silver every year fromthe government and a concubine only three hundred annually.
    ConcubineZhen was in her teens and had no experience to the outside world. Itwas all her head eunuch's idea to ask the emperor to appoint acertain person as an official of a certain rank, then got a certainamount of money for it. But her head eunuch got the idea from headeunuch Li of West Empress Dowager. Li had been accepting hugebriberies for the sales of official positions. He didn't dare to askWest Empress Dowager to make the appointments. He just asked certainmembers of the Secretarial Bureau to suggest to West Empress Dowagerwho was suitable to fill such and such a position. In return Liwould throw in a few good words for them when he had chances to speakto West Empress Dowager, because she used him as her spy to detectanything she wanted to know.
    AfterWest Empress Dowager had dinner and before she went to bed, she wouldsummon her head eunuch Li to her presence and commanded him to tellher whatever he had learned during the day. It was the story time,as Li would say. He got everything just from hearsay. He could notmake investigations to check how much truth was in gossip. If shereally wanted to know the truth, Li would send some eunuch to pryinto it and then told her. That was how Concubine Zhen's doings cameinto her ears.

  7. #237
    AlthoughWest Empress Dowager returned power to Emperor Guangxu, she stillcontrolled him. The power was returned only in name. West EmpressDowager developed a hobby to accumulate wealth. So she began to sellthe official titles and posts on a large scale. Her head eunuch Licould also get some briberies through the transactions. He acted as ago-between, but he didn't dare to let West Empress Dowager know thathe had gains in the deals. The emperor could not refuse whomever WestEmpress Dowager wanted to appoint to any vacant positions. Theemperor could only notice that some of the officials were not fit forthe position he got. The emperor knew that head eunuch Li was ago-between, but there should be another go-between to get clients,because Li could not always go out of the Forbidden City for that andhe could not put up an advertisement. It would be too obvious.Gradually the emperor learned that a Taoist Gao often came to seehead eunuch Li.
    Therewas a Taoist temple, called White Cloud Temple, in the western suburbof the capital, where the Taoists worshiped a statue of Taoist Qiu,who had lived in Ming Dynasty and had castrated himself for thepurpose of exercising some special kind of kungfu. As Toaist Qiu hademasculated himself, the eunuchs thought him as their protective godand came to worship him. Taoist Gao was the head Taoist of thattemple.
    Gaohad been born in Shandong Province and had been an apprentice in ashop. Once he had embezzled some money that had passed through hishands. The owner of the shop had wanted to beat him and he had fledto a Taoist temple there to become a Taoist. Somehow the owner hadlearned that he had been hiding in the Taoist temple and had sentsomeone there to catch him. He had escaped to the capital, into theWhite Cloud Temple. Through years of flattery and other efforts, hehad slowly clambered the ladder to the top rung as the head Taoist.Since head eunuch Li often came to the temple, they began to knoweach other and then became sworn brothers. Whenever Taoist Gao cameinto the capital, he always lodged in a certain inn. He had a roomreserved there.

  8. #238
    Oncewhen Taoist Gao stayed in the inn a man came to see him. The man wasa wood merchant by the name of Yuming, recommended by someone workingin the Royal Family Affairs Management. Merchant Yuming supplied woodto the Management whenever there were repairs or constructions in theForbidden City. He was very rich and recently earned thousands andthousands of taels of silver from the repair work in the Garden ofGood Health & Harmony. Someone had hinted to him that the head ofthe Department of Salt & Tea Tax Collection in Sichuan Provincehad been accused of corruption and the position would soon be vacant.That was a fat position, involving lots and lots of money, becauseSichuan Province yields tea and halite (rock salt), which were soldto Tibet, Yunnan Province, Guizhou Province, Hunan Province and HubeiProvince for huge profit. He desired to acquire the post. He offeredone hundred thousand taels of silver for the post. Taoist Gaopromised to get the post for him, but he must contact head eunuch Lifirst. Anyway, the merchant Yuming gave him the silver note of onehundred thousand taels. But eunuch Li was busy these days and TaoistGao could not find him.
    Themerchant was anxious and afraid that the vacancy would be given tosomeone else. He also knew that Concubine Zhen was now the favoriteconcubine of the emperor. If Concubine Zhen could ask the emperor togive the vacancy to a certain person as a favor, the emperor wouldn'treject. And it was more direct, because any order of appointment wasissued by the emperor. So through another clerk in the Royal FamilyAffairs Management, he got in touch with the head eunuch Wang ofConcubine Zhen. Eunuch Wang always envied Eunuch Li for getting easymoney. Now this was the chance for him to show how he could make easymoney, too. One hundred thousand taels was considerably a big amountof money. Only if he could persuade Concubine Zhen. Eunuch Wang knewthat Concubine Zhen needed money to give to her parents. Her father,though a high-rank government official, was not rich, but as ahigh-rank official the expenditure was enormous. If her father wentto visit some superiors or princes as etiquette demanded, he mustfirst give money to the doorkeepers there, or they wouldn't report totheir masters that he was there waiting to be received. How could hissuperiors or princes know that he came to pay respects, but theirdoorkeepers wouldn't report? They would even think that he neglectedwhat the etiquette required and began to dislike him. Thus he couldnever get a promotion. Of course he could mention to the masters thattheir doorkeepers wanted money, or they wouldn't let him in. But thiswas a long-established custom and no one could change it.

  9. #239
    EunuchWang and the merchant struck up a bargain that the eunuch would gethim the post within twenty-five days and the merchant would pay himone hundred thousand taels of silver. If the eunuch couldn't get himthe post within that period of time, the deal would be off. Then atthe earliest chance Eunuch Wang mentioned to Concubine Zhen that ifshe could say one word to the emperor she would get one hundredthousand taels. Concubine Zhen looked doubtful. She was only thirteenthen and had no experience whatever in life. Although she neededmoney, she knew that was the interference with the handling of thestate affairs and West Empress Dowager would be mad at her if shecame to know it. But eunuch Wang assuaged her fear, saying that WestEmpress Dowager sold posts for money herself. This message gaveConcubine Zhen a little encouragement. “Who wants the position?”She asked timidly. Eunuch Wang presented her with a slip of paperwith a name on it. Concubine Zhen glanced at the name. Of course shedidn't know it. She bade eunuch Wang to leave the paper on the table.“Is the post worth so much money?” She was curious. “Yes. It isone of the fattest positions in the country.” Eunuch Wang saidrespectfully. “I'll consider about it.” She dismissed him.
    Theemperor finished his routine and came to see Concubine Zhen as usual.After some pleasant chat, the emperor noticed the paper on the tableand asked what it was. Concubine Zhen replied nonchalantly that thisman wanted to have this position and begged her to say a few goodwords for him to the emperor, but she knew that she should notinterfere with the appointment of the government officials and so shedidn't promise him anything. Though young, Concubine Zhen was aclever girl. She adopted the ruse: Retreat before advance The emperorloved Concubine Zhen so much and always wanted to do her a favor. Sohe picked up the paper and put it into his pocket.

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