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  1. #61
    Justas everyone was getting prepared on a return journey, a report ofsuggestion written by Critique Official Dong came from the capital onSeptember 12, which was like a stone thrown into the alreadyundulating lake, causing not ripples, but a big wave. The reportsaid that since the emperor was so young and couldn't handle thestate affairs, the two empress dowagers should sit behind a screen atthe back of the throne, holding court in behalf of the young emperor. The suggestion was just what West Empress Dowager wanted. It wasanother political system, the empress dowager system, for the empressdowagers to take over power from the counselors. In the wholeChinese history, this system for an empress dowager to handle stateaffairs had existed in other dynasties before, but not in QingDynasty ever since. But West Empress Dowager felt that it was notthe ripe time to suggest such a thing, like food undercooked. So sheshowed it to East Empress Dowager and they decided to keep the reportfor the time being.
    Theusual procedures were that all the reports must be registered by theSecretarial Bureau, then sent in through the Internal Registrarsituated at the palace gate to the emperor, now to the two empressdowagers. After reading, the emperor, now the two empress dowagers,would make marks on the reports that needed a reply or a decision. The different marks showed different meanings like known, agree, etc. Then all the reports would be returned to the Secretarial Bureau,who would draft written replies or decisions in the emperor's nameaccording to the meanings of the marks on the reports. If they haddifferent opinions, they could send in their own reports. Otherwise,they sent in the drafts for the emperor to approve, now for theempress dowagers to use seals on them. The drafts, once back to theSecretarial Bureau, if there were corrections, must be rewritten andthen sent back to where the reports came. Occasionally the emperor,now the empress dowagers, would keep an awkward report and never giveit back to the Secretarial Bureau. It was called Flooded Over likesomething submerged under water and seemed having never existed. Itwould save further troubles.
    Thatday, all the reports, except one, were returned to the SecretarialBureau. When the counselors found from the registration that onereport was missing, they sent a royal servant to the InternalRegistrar to inquire about the missing report, which was unnecessarybecause they should know that it was kept by the empress dowagers. The registrar sent in someone to ask the empress dowagers and afteracquiring the answer he told the servant that West Empress Dowagerkept it. The servant brought back the message.
    Whenthe counselors got the answer, Zaihuan, one of the three chiefcounselors, cried in wrath, “If reports are not given back, whatshould we work on?”
    “Thatreport must be given back to us.” said Tu Han, one of thecounselors. Then he ordered the servant to go to the InternalRegistrar to ask for the report back.

  2. #62
    Whenthe two empress dowagers knew that they could not keep the report anylonger, they got together to discuss how to deal with the counselors. In normal situations no courtier dared to do such a thing unless hewanted to be punished or even beheaded, depending on the emperor'smood at that time. But the counselors were now in charge of theemperor's bodyguards, which made them bold enough to challenge theempress dowagers.
    Thetwo empress dowagers were in a dilemma. They knew that thecounselors were in charge of the armed men and might do somethingdesperate if they were forced too hard. But if the empress dowagersyielded too easily, they would take an ell when getting an inch.
    EastEmpress Dowager maintained that they should not get into a hotdispute with the counselors, but West Empress Dowager thought thatthey should do to the counselors as the dignity of the empressdowagers required. Anyway, they decided that they had to face thecounselors next day.
    Whenthey discussed important things with the counselors, the youngemperor was always present to show that they spoke only in hisbehalf. So was that day.
    Afterconsideration,West Empress Dowager began, “We decide that we agreeto the report. So draft a written reply.”
    “Empressdowagers cannot do that.” Zaihuan protested.
    “Whynot?”
    Sushunthought it was not easy to explain it. He was struck with an idea.He said, “We will discuss it and send in a draft of a written replytomorrow.” Thus saying, they retired from the presence of the twoempress dowagers and the young emperor.
    Whenthe counselors were back in their resting room, they got angry. Theysuspected that it was the result of the meeting between the empressdowagers and Yixin.
    Duanhua,one of the chief counselors, said, “If we don't contradict it, suchreports will come in over and over again.”
    Right.”Zaihuan remarked, “We must contradict it severely.”
    Theydrafted a written reply in the name of the young emperor, saying thatit was against the tradition of Qing Dynasty to have the empressdowagers hiding behind a screen, handling the state affairs and thatthe courtiers should never suggest such a thing.
    Itis the same that a political group can always find reasons to statewhy they should do such a thing or why the other group should not dosuch a thing.
    Thereport of suggestion was lying before them now. The reason of thesuggestion was: “We are now in an unusual time and in an unusualsituation, which requires us to take unusual steps.”

  3. #63
    Chapter 15


    Whenthe written reply was sent in, West Empress Dowager read it first. AsEast Empress Dowager had no ambition and was a happy-go-luckygood-for-nothing, she let West Empress Dowager handle all the stateaffairs. Only for important things, West Empress Dowager went toseek her consultation.
    Nowafter she read only the first few sentences, West Empress Dowagerflared up. When she finished, she took the written reply to thechamber of East Empress Dowager.
    “Theywant to rebel.” She yelled while handing the written reply to EastEmpress Dowager.
    “Whatdo you mean?”
    “Thatthey wrote here is totally different from what we wanted them towrite yesterday.” If anything a courtier did was against the wishof the emperor, now against the wish of the empress dowagers, it wasdeemed as rebellion or betrayal. The result could be execution.
    “Calmdown first.” warned East Empress Dowager, “We don't want them toactually rebel.”
    “Iknow, but we can't let them have their way over ours, or they willtread on our heads before long.” West Empress Dowager complained.
    “We'dbetter deal with them when we return to the capital. We'll haveYixin's support then.”
    “Butwhat should we do with this written reply now?” After a while,seeing that East Empress Dowager said nothing, she continued, “Atleast we should ask them why they wrote the reply like this and seewhat they'll have to say.”
    EastEmpress Dowager acquiesced.
    OnSeptember 15, the counselors were summoned to their presence. Theempress dowagers received them in the main room of their building. Everyone seemed a bit nervous except the young emperor, who hid inthe arms of East Empress Dowager. They all knew that a conflict ofwords could not be avoided since their views were so far apart andtheir personal interests were almost opposite.
    “Whowrote this reply?” West Empress Dowager asked sternly.
    “Theresult of our discussion.” answered Zaihuan.
    “Doyou know that this reply should be the emperor's opinion?”
    “Yes.”Tu Han cut in, “But since the emperor is so young, the late emperorappointed us to handle things.”
    “Butit's written in the emperor's name. How can the emperor oppose hisown mothers?”
    “Wedidn't write such things. We only contradict Critique Official Dong,who sent in this report.” Said Zaihuan.
    “Whyis what he said in his report wrong?”
    “It'salready refuted in the written reply.” Sushun said, “EmpressDowagers can read it for yourselves.”
    Thatwas not suitable for a courtier to say to the empress dowagers. Buthe had said it. He spoke so loudly that the young emperor wasfrightened and turned to hide his face in the bosom of East EmpressDowager.
    “Cana courtier express his opinion to the emperor?” asked West EmpressDowager.
    “No,he can't, since the counselors will take care of things one by one inproper order.” said Sushun stubbornly.

  4. #64
    It'sreally not necessary for the empress dowagers to read reports.” Hesaid aloud.
    Theface of East Empress Dowager became pale and the face of West EmpressDowager became red.
    “Here'sthe emperor. Can he read the reports? If he can't, who can act forhim, if not his mothers?” The voice of West Empress Dowager grew abit higher, too.
    “Whydid the late emperor appoint us as counselors?” said Sushun.
    ButWest Empress Dowager went on, ?ow in the emperor's name, I order youto rewrite the reply.”
    “Accordingto our tradition, Empress Dowagers can only look after the youngemperor, but can't interfere in the state affairs.”
    “Doyou want to resist the emperor's order?” She slapped on the table.
    “Weare not resisting any orders from the emperor, but Empress Dowagersmust abide by the tradition.” said Tu Han.
    Theysounded like quarreling and the voices were escalating. The youngemperor was so terrified that he began to cry out and wetted hispants, and also wetted the clothes of East Empress Dowager as heclung to her so closely. The cry of the young emperor interrupted thebrawling. The counselors felt awkward and retreated silently to theirresting room.


    * * *


    Sushunasked his elder brother Duanhua and his nephew Zaihuan, who wasreally older than the brothers, to have dinner at his house. Theywanted to have a discussion about what to do to deal with thesituation. They talked while eating.
    “Ifshe wants to be in charge, good, let her take the rein. But if thehorse has no legs, where can she go?Duanhua blurted after downing acup of wine.
    Itwas their strategy. They were on strike. If no one worked for theemperor, hence for the empress dowagers, how could their orders goout of the palace and be carried out?


    * * *

  5. #65
    Thatafternoon, forgetful of the nap they took everyday, the two empressdowagers had a discussion about the serious situation.
    “It'ssurprised that they couldn't behave themselves.” said East EmpressDowager.
    “Theylooked like they wanted to beat us to pulps.” said West EmpressDowager.
    “Nowwhat?” asked East Empress Dowager.
    “Iintended to keep it quiet for a while, but they forced my hand. Nowwe have to go back to the old ruse and forget about it till the brothcools.”
    Butthey forgot that their rivals were not wooden mummies.
    Nextmorning they waited for the reports to be delivered to them, but nonecame. It was not until late in the morning that the bad news cameinstead of the reports. The head eunuch of the palace dashed in toreport to them that the counselors were on strike and the wholepalace was in panic. Everyone was afraid that something terriblewould happen. The two empress dowagers looked at each other withouta word. They bade the head eunuch to go for further information.
    Theyconversed about the situation once more. What could they do when noone listened to them in the Summer Palace? Unless they returned tothe capital, where they had Yixin for support. Suddenly a Chinesesaying occurred in the mind of West Empress Dowager, which goes likethat, “It's not too late for a gentleman to revenge after tenyears.” So at last they gave in and imprinted their seals on thewritten reply to contradict the suggestion. When the counselors gotit back, they enjoyed their victory over the empress dowagers. Theywon the second round, regardless of the obvious fact that the empressdowagers were always over them in power and rank, like a swordhanging by a hair over their heads.
    CommanderShengbao had passed a government test and was deemed a scholar. After two promotions as an official, he had been made a general sincerebellion occurred in many provinces. He had victory over theenemies in quite a few battles. As a result, he got many gifts ofhonor from the emperor, like a peacock's tail feather and a yellowcoat. (The color yellow was the imperial color in Qing Dynasty. Noone should use this color except with the permission of the emperor,like the gift of the yellow coat.) And finally he had acquired thepromotion to be a commander with several generals under him. Although he had been beaten in the fight against the foreign troopsin the defense of the capital, no one had challenged his authorityand reputation, because at that time, defeat by the foreign armieswas thought of as a matter of course. If someone could defeat aforeign army with guns and cannons, it would be a great surprise andthis person was a wonder-worker. For most weapons used by thegovernment armies were still swords and spears, bows and arrows. Itwas said that China had invented gunpowder, but only utilized it tomake firecrackers.

  6. #66
    WhenCommander Shengbao sent in a request that he wished to come in personto pay his last respects to the late emperor to show his loyalty andgratitude, Sushun wanted at first to refuse him, but at theinsistence of the empress dowagers, he had to give in. CommanderShengbao brought his five hundred bodyguards for his own safety. Everyone in Rehe wanted to get on his good side. He was more thanwarmly welcomed. After he kowtowed and mourned before the coffin ofthe late emperor, he returned to his lodging place and received manyvisitors. But an important visitor he was expecting came at night. It was Head Clerical Official Zao. Commander Shengbao was haughtyand arrogant as he had had so many merits. He treated his generalsand officers as his slaves, many of whom were illiterate. But heesteemed scholars and talented officials. He received Head ClericalOfficial Zao with due decorum, though his rank was much higher thanthat of the visitor. He told Zao that he had met Yixin on the wayhere as Yixin was on his way back to the capital. Zao gathered thathe had known most of the things already and told him only newdevelopments.
    “CritiqueOfficial Dong is a blockhead.” commented Commander Shengbao, “Hedeserved the reprimand from Sushun.”
    “Ithink such a suggestion should be made by someone with a much higherrank.” said Zao.
    CommanderShengbao agreed and added, “I've half a mind to do it myself, butnow's not the right time.”
    “Betterafter the empress dowagers and the emperor get safely back to thecapital.” Commander Shengbao nodded his head and the strategy wasthus settled.
    BeforeCommander Shengbao left, he gave two hundred taels of silver to everyofficial there as a gift. The problem was that if anyone rejectedit, it would be like to smear a speck of mud on his face. No onewanted to offend him. Besides, officials living on mere salary werereally poor and always needed extra money. So everyone accepted it. They thought it was a gift, not a bribery. But what's the differencebetween the two?

  7. #67
    Chapter 16


    Sushunalways wanted to belittle West Empress Dowager, because she was theambitious one, but he didn't succeed. Now he got another idea to seethe two empress dowagers separately. He figured that he might getmore things done with East Empress Dowager alone. When the twoempress dowagers were made known to his demand, they had aconversation.
    “Idon't know why they want that.” said East Empress Dowager.
    “Becauseyou are so good-hearted that they can cheat you.”
    That'swhat I'm afraid of. We'll still see them together.”
    Butif we receive them separately, you may hear things different thanwhen we are together.”
    Whatif they ask me to make some decisions?”
    Youcan say you'll think about it.”
    Whatif it's emergency and they need an immediate solution?”
    WestEmpress Dowager knew that's the problem, but after a while ofconsideration, she was struck with an idea. She said, “Forimportant things, we must use two seals on the papers. After you useyour seal, they must come to me for mine. If it's inappropriate,I'll refuse. We'll play white face and red face.” (Just likeplaying good cop and bad cop.)
    Afterthe crisis, even the courtiers in the capital knew that there hadbeen a quarrel between the empress dowagers and the counselors.Sushun wanted to show to all the courtiers and governors that theempress dowagers still trusted him; so he asked East Empress Dowagerto receive him alone. Two empress dowagers had a talk about it andthen consented to his request.
    Sushunkowtowed to East Empress Dowager before he spoke. “I put my wholeheart to work for the benefits of our empire, but still someonecomplains against me. How can I continue to work like that?” Hecomplained to East Empress Dowager, who assuaged him accordingly.

  8. #68
    Sincethere are still wars in the southern provinces, we must save everytael of silver to support the wars.” observed Sushun.
    “Youare right.” responded East Empress Dowager.
    “Butnot everyone thinks so.” Sushun complained again.
    “Whathappened?” asked East Empress Dowager.
    “HolyMother Empress Dowager wants too many unnecessary things.”
    “LikeWhat?”
    ”Likemore bowls, plates and some such things.”
    “Suchthings won't make us poorer.”
    “Whatif everyone else follow her example?”
    “Sheis an empress dowager. Not everyone here is an empress dowager. AndI know you work hard and are loyal to the emperor.”
    “Butstill, many are complaining behind my back.”
    Don'tlisten to others. Just do your job. We trust you.” East EmpressDowager comforted him.
    Onething more. There's gossip that Holy Mother Empress Dowager (WestEmpress Dowager) often receives male relative. It's againstetiquette. Mother Queen Empress Dowager's (East Empress Dowager)better advise Hole Mother Empress Dowager not to do so.” EastEmpress Dowager just nodded.

  9. #69
    Sushuncould think of nothing more to say and had to retire. His goalwasn't achieved. He had wished that when he complained, East EmpressDowager would have given him some kind of gifts or bestowed on himsome kind of an honorary title. But nothing, only an empty word ofpraise.
    Thetwo empress dowagers met when Sushun left. East Empress Dowager toldWest Empress Dowager everything she could remember. Thoughindignant, West Empress Dowager said, “Sushun is right. We stillhave war going on in the southern provinces. We must save every coinfor it. From now on I won't ask him for a thing.” Meanwhile, shesaid to herself, “If I have power some day, I'll make himself kneelbefore me and let a eunuch slap his face hard and then execute him.”She gnashed her teeth secretly.
    Thenthe chief counselors had a meeting. Duanhua said to Sushun, “EastSide is dumb. She might not get what you said.” Then he suggestedto Zaihuan, “We must use the strategy: Retreat First For thePurpose of Advance.” They decided to try it. So next day when theywent to see the two empress dowagers, they put up an oral resignationfrom some of the insignificant positions. Generally when a courtiersent in a resignation, the emperor, now the empress dowagers, wouldalways refuse the resignation and say some words of encouragement,even give a gift or an honorary title, which was what they justwanted. But this time, unusually, the empress dowagers acceptedtheir resignations and gave all these positions to some othercourtiers. Their subterfuge failed. And they could not withdraw theresignations.

  10. #70
    Onthe day they were to leave the Summer Palace, they were divided intotwo groups. One group started first, which mainly comprised theempress dowagers, the young emperor and seven counselors and all theother courtiers. The other group departed later, which chiefly wereSushun and Yihuan, escorting the late emperor's coffin. This groupcould not move fast because of the coffin. They were not in a hurry,as a matter of fact. But the two empress dowagers wanted to reachthe capital as soon as possible. They urged others to hurry. Theywished that they could have grown a pair of wings and flown toPeking, out of any danger that could come from the counselors. Theywere not even in a mood to look at the beautiful scenery along theroad, the colored leaves, the blue sky dotted sparsely with a fewbanks of white fluffy clouds and sometimes a vulture swooping downupon a prey somewhere at a distance.
    Atlength they arrived at a place very close to the capital. All thecourtiers remaining in Peking, headed by Yixin, came here to welcomethe return of the empress dowagers and the emperor. The sight ofYixin and those courtiers incurred a feeling of safety in the twoempress dowagers. Ronglu was among them. He was now a high-rankofficer in command of an army guarding the capital.
    Therewas a temporary residence for the emperor. They lodged there for thenight. After a rest, to wash dust off of their faces and hands, tohave some tea and snacks, the two empress dowagers received Yixin. East Empress Dowager asked, “Is everything all right in thecapital?”
    “Everything'sall right and ready.” was the answer. (Avague assurance.) Butboth empress dowagers understood. East Empress Dowager queried, “Howabout the Forbidden City?”
    “Theyare ready to welcome Empress Dowagers and Emperor back.”
    Theyarrived in the capital on November 1. Once inside the ForbiddenCity, the two empress dowagers felt really safe. Even assassinscould not easily get in. After a rest, the empress dowagers sent forYixin, who came immediately and reported to the empress dowagers allthe arrangements he had made. Everything was ready for the action.

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