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  1. #1


    Chapter 1

    However powerful, you cannotpull back the chariot of Time; however powerful, you cannot refusethe visit of Death; however wealthy, you cannot bribe the king ofHades; however wealthy, you cannot buy immortality.
    She had beenbeautiful when young. She hated aging. She hated having white hair,but the silver threads stealthily crept onto her head in the duecourse of time. Li Lianying, whenever he saw a gossamer of snow amongher sable silky hair, would bury it under the black ones. If, by anychance, a piece of white hair came off and entwined itself on thecomb, he would hide it in his sleeve. He was the one who did the hairof Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-190. He knew what Empress DowagerCixi would feel when she saw some snowy hair on her head. He reallyknew what she liked and what she did not. He was her favorite eunuch.In a short time, he was promoted to be her head eunuch.
    Sometimes whenEmpress Dowager Cixi noticed that he put his fingers into his sleeveshe would ask what he was doing. ?ust itching. Scratching a bit, myrespected Old Buddha.Later in her life everyone in the Forbidden Citycalled Empress Dowager Cixi Old Buddha (The word OLD here does notreally mean old in age in Chinese, but instead is a respectedepithet.) and she liked it. He had to please her if he wanted to stayin her favor forever. Everyone wanted to please her. No doubt. Eventhe emperor, though afraid of her, sometimes wanted to please her,too. That is why people wish to seize power and remain in it. As longas possible.
    It was a newhairstyle. Li Lianying, now the head eunuch, but still doing herhair, called it ? Butterfly Among Flowers He always invented newhairstyles and gave them fanciful names. And while combing her hair,he would tell jokes, mostly vulgar jokes, which sent Empress DowagerCixi into laughter. He knew a lot of such jokes, which he had heardwhen he had been a small boy. Thanks to his good memory, heremembered all of these vulgar jokes after so many years. Sometimeshe made up some when an occasion arose. Eunuchs all came from poorfamilies, or no families at all. Who wanted to be a eunuch if hecould live otherwise? The cutting of the genital was no fun, not tomention the pain, and a lot of blood. The genitals, once cut, weredried and kept in a jar, which hung from the beam in his bedroom. Itwas the custom to bury the genital with the body when a eunuch died,to make the corpse whole with nothing lacking, although something?not in its original and natural place. But it was the best that couldbe done.
    When her hairwas done and breakfast finished, Empress Dowager Cixi changed intoformal attire. She put on heavy headgears. The adorned piece on thetop looked somewhat like a fan with fringes hanging down from the twoends. On her feet were special shoes that looked something likeshort stilts in the shape of a small upside-down flowerpot attachedon the middle of the sole. Then she went to hold court, sittingbehind a pearl screen. Emperor Guangxu, still under age, sat on thehuge throne before the pearl screen. Though he said nothing, he heardeverything. He knew everything. He was a clever boy, ambitious andanxious to do something to make the weakened empire strong andprosperous again.

    * * *

  2. #2
    EmpressDowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu lived in the Forbidden City. TheForbidden City, also called the Purple Forbidden City, was located inthe center of the capital. The Forbidden City was built between 1406and 1420 during Ming Dynasty. It had been the imperial home totwenty-four emperors of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty(1644-1911). The magnificent and awe-inspiring Forbidden City alsoserved as the seat of imperial power during Ming and Qing Dynasties(1368-1911).Fromtheir throne in the Forbidden City, the emperors governed the countryby holding court sessions with their courtiers, secretaries andministers, issuing imperial edicts and initiating militaryexpeditions.
    TheForbidden City extends seven hundred and fifty meters from east towest and nine hundred and sixty meters from north to south. The cityof seven hundred twenty thousand square meters is the largest andbest-preserved palatial complex in the world. It is surrounded by amoat, which is fifty-two meters wide and six meters deep, and by awall, which is three kilometers long and ten meters high. There arefour gates with towers above them: Noon Gate in the south, ShenwuGate in the north, Donghua Gate in the east and Xihua Gate in thewest. On the four corners of the city walls stand four turret towers,each with three roofs and seventy-two roof ridges. They aremasterpieces of ancient Chinese architecture.
    TheForbidden City is divided into southern and northern parts, theformer serving as the work area of the emperors and the latter astheir living quarters. The main structures are arranged along acentral axis and constructions on both sides of it are symmetrical.The three most imposing structures in the work area of the ForbiddenCity are the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Medium Harmony, andthe Hall of Protective Harmony. The most magnificent of them is theHall of Supreme Harmony. Here the most important ceremonies of thefeudal dynasties were held, including the ascension of the emperorsto the throne, their marriage, and their conferring of titles onofficials. The Hall of Medium Harmony standing behind it was wherethe emperors rested before ceremonies and receiving officials. TheHall of Protective Harmony was where the emperors gave banquets andinterviewed in person successful candidates of imperial exams for theselection of government officials. In the living quarters are nineseparate housing complexes, where the emperors and their familieslived. North of the living quarters is a small imperial garden. TheMind Cultivation Hall in the living quarters was where most Qingemperors lived and handled state affairs. It was also here thatEmpress Dowager Cixi attended to state affairs for as long as 48years. The Forbidden City is a city within a city and was off limitsto the common people.
    Thelayout of the palatial complex, whose full name should be the PurpleForbidden City, is patterned after the legendary Heavenly Palace. Inthe ancient Chinese astrology, the heavenly area of Purple ForbiddenEnclosure centering on the North Star was seen to be at the center ofheaven. The palatial complex, regarded as being at the center ofhuman society on earth was therefore named the Purple Forbidden City.
    Thenumber nine received special emphasis in the city design. The numberof houses in the Forbidden City is 9,999, and nails on every door arearranged in lines of nine nails. This is because the ancientsregarded nine as the biggest number, which only emperors wereentitled to use. Also, since the numeral has the same sound aseverlasting in the Chinese language, it best reflected the wish ofemperors that their rule would last forever. Names of places in theForbidden City contain such words as benevolence, harmony and peace,which reflect the essence of Confucianism.
    Thepredominant color of the Forbidden City is yellow. Nearly all thehouses, for example, have roofs of yellow glazed tiles. According toancient Chinese, the universe was made up of five elements: metal,wood, water, fire and earth, and earth was the most basic of themall. As a result, yellow, the color of earth, was most extensivelyused for the emperors, who were regarded as the supreme rulers of theworld.
    Theonly house with a roof of black tiles is Wenyuan Pavilion, serving asthe royal library. This is because the color black represents wateramong the five elements and water can overcome fire, a constantthreat to the collection of books inside.
    In1406, Emperor Yongle of Ming Dynasty began building the ForbiddenCity. Historical records show that it took one million laborers andone hundred thousand craftsmen fifteen years to complete the project.The Forbidden City remains more or less the same in appearance andscale despite repeated renovations and expansions by later emperors.All buildings in the Forbidden City are of a wood and brickstructure. A total of 3.1 billion bricks were used for theconstruction of the Forbidden City. A special glue was used to cementbricks and stone slabs. The glue was made from steamed glutinous riceand egg white. Timber came from mountains in the suburbs of FangshanTown as well as from remote Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Tens ofthousands of huge stone slabs were transported to the capital fromafar. The biggest piece, which lies behind the Hall of ProtectiveHarmony, weighs 250 tons. The slab, 16.57 meters long, 3.07 meterswide and 1.7 meters thick, was hauled over a distance of 50kilometers from the suburbs of Fangshan Town to the site by 20,000laborers at a cost of 176,000 taels of silver. The hauling was donein winter on man-made ice and took 28 days.
    TheForbidden City is a national treasure in terms of materials used,architectural style, layout and designed connotation. Besides, it isa storehouse of numerous priceless handicraft articles, rare curios,paintings and calligraphic works by famous artists as well asofficial documents and historical records. The Wenhua Hall in theForbidden City stores more than 10 million official documents drawnup over 500 years by central and local governments of the Ming andQing dynasties. They are the largest and most valuable collection ofhistorical records in the country. Wenyuan Pavilion, or the ImperialLibrary, keeps a complete collection of all the books published tillthen like an encyclopedia and a 79,337-volume compendium ofhistorical records and feudal rites compiled over ten years(1772-1781) by the nation's most accomplished scholars.

  3. #3
    I would first make the formatting consistent (spacing, font and layout) and proofread as there are random emoticons and compounded words. Overall, there's a lot of information being passed along our way and I'm not sure I agree with the opening two sentences. They seem sort of repetitive (refusing death, not being able to buy immortality).
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  4. #4
    in my manuscript, everything is ok, but I don't know why some words stick together here. It's not like this in another forum.

  5. #5
    Chapter 2

    EmpressDowager Cixi was born in a government official's family. Her fatherwas appointed a position as a general, though he had never fought anybattles. It was said that when Empress Dowager Cixi was born, therewas the scent of the orchid in the room. So her given name was LanEr(meaning the Child of Orchid). She had two brothers and a youngersister, but she was the favorite child of her parents, the apple oftheir eye. She was beautiful, clever and talented. When she waseleven, her father was transferred to Wuwu, which is a big citysituated near the Yangtze River, and later was transferred again,this time, to Canton, a bigger city facing the sea.
    “Youropium is ready, Dad.LanEr called to her father, who stood at thewindow, looking at the front yard where a cock was bullying somehens.
    Hewas proud of her. She could load opium for him now. Since China hadbeen defeated in the Opium War in 1840, opium trade became open andmany government officials and officers formed the habit of smokingit. Even Empress Dowager Cixi herself smoked it when she was inpower. Someone had recommended opium to her when she had astomachache. And it was said that when she smoked some opium, herstomachache ceased.
    “Hm.”Her father ummed as a reply. In China at that time, parents neversaid THANK YOU to children. It was taken for granted that childrenshould do things for parents. It was their filial duties.
    Manyaristocrats of the Mandarin Clan loved to watch operas. So did herfather. And her father often brought her to wherever an opera wasperformed. Therefore, LanEr loved to watch operas, too. When shestayed in power, she watched a lot of operas, specially performed forher in the Forbidden City.
    LanErwas sixteen now with an oval face, a straight nose, crescent-shapedeyebrows, almond-shaped eyes that were as clear as crystal,peach-colored cheeks with two dimples when she smiled, ebony-blackhair in a tress, looking so oily and smooth that if flies had haltedon it they would have slid down. Now she sat at the table in thecenter of the room, sipping tea and looking at her father lying onthe bed and smoking opium, and sighing deeply at intervals.
    “What'swrong?” LanEr asked. Her father put down the long-stemmed opiumpipe on the lacquer opium tray and looked up from the bed at hisdaughter. ?he situation in Guangxi Province is getting worse. Therebellion, I mean. They are fighting their way eastward and will soonreach here.The daughter agreed, but didn't look worried. Hers was aworriless age.
    “Theywill kill us. Everyone of the Mandarin Clan.” Her father could notsuppress the anxiety in his voice. That he was appointed a generalwas because his destiny would have it, not because he was talented asa fighter. He was really no fighter.
    “Then,what should we do?”
    “Idon't know. Perhaps waiting to be killed.”
    “Whynot ask for a sick leave? We can go back to Peking.”
    “Goodidea.” Her father said in approbation.

    * * *

  6. #6
    LanEr'sfamily left Canton City in a ship they had rented with the crew onboard. Actually, the word rent is not correct. At that time, suchships, or ferryboats, belonged to a family or an individual. Thefamily or the individual was the sole crew on the ship or theferryboat. The ship they were on belonged to a family, husband andwife with a teenage boy. The husband rowed the ship with the help ofthe teenager. The wife cooked for the passengers who paid the familywho owned the ship. Their relationship was just like lodgers in aninn. Only this was a mobile inn. Their destination was Peking.
    Theship had a cabin in the middle of the deck. The cabin was dividedinto two sections with a partition. The larger front section was forthe passengers, the smaller back section for the owner? family,including a cooking space. There were no railings all round theship, which was not too big. The ship had a mast. When the wind wasfavorable, the husband would put up the sails and he only needed tohandle the rudder. A lot of energy saved. Every time they reached avillage or a town, the husband would get on shore for provisions andthe passengers would also step on shore, but for sightseeing.
    Everythingwas all right so far along the route till one night when the ship wasat anchor for the night. It was already deep into the night whensome robbers got on board with sharp swords in hand, reflecting themoonlight. Everyone in the cabin woke up in alarm and panic. Theybegged the intruders to spare their lives. The robbers took all thevaluables from the passenger family, but didn't touch anything thatbelonged to the ship owner. It was the unwritten rule among theoutlaws. After these thugs left, no one could go back to sleep. Theship owner's family were hiding in their back cabin while thepassenger family were crying bitterly. How could they pay for theirlodging and food on the ship since they had been robbed of almosteverything. LanEr's father was taken seriously ill after they wereleft alone.
    Herfamily had been rich. Rich people generally got their daughtersmarried early lest they should be selected to be the palace maids inthe Forbidden City. Life in the Forbidden City as maids was not sodesirable as imagined by the people who had never been in there. Aslight mistake or offense would bring a severe punishment, or even abeating to death. It all depended on the mood of the emperor or thequeen at the time of the offense. Only the emperor or the queen hadthe right for the infliction of such penalties in the Forbidden City.If her family hadn't undergone the loss of wealth, LanEr would havebeen married already, at such an age.
    Whenher father held his position in Canton City, an officer working underhim offended a critique official. A critique official was in such aposition by law that he could criticize anyone, including theemperor. The ancestors of Qing Dynasty had made such a law in hopesthat their descendants, the future emperors, would have some peopleto look over their behavior and urge them to do things good andsuitable as befitting them as emperors.
    Theofficer detained the ship the critique official was on board andblackmailed him for three thousand taels of silver. The critiqueofficial was very angry and as soon as he reached the capital, hewrote a critique report to the emperor, who sent someone down southto investigate. The investigation revealed that her father had takenbriberies, which was against law. To make his superiors go easy onhim, he scraped all his means to bribe them. As a result, he wasremoved from his post before he could send in a request for the sickleave. At least, he didn't need to go to jail. He sold some of hisestates and bribed the governor of Anhui Province in the hope that hewould be appointed another position there. But as a Chinese sayinggoes, misfortune never comes alone. The governor died from some kindof disease. So his money was like pebbles thrown in water, withouteven some ripples being seen. Now he was really sick. So he took aship to go back to the capital with his family, where he still had atleast a house and some farms to live on.
    Theship got under way at dawn. When the wife served breakfast, LanEr'smother promised her that they would pay her when they arrived inPeking. The old man was a government official, at the least. Atthat time, the fare for a trip on board a ship cost some ten taels ofsilver at most. It was not much money to a government official. Theowner of the ship was not worried about that.

  7. #7
    You open with an info-dump of backstory, a guaranteed rejection point. Why? Because history lessons inform, but they don't entertain. Remember, the reader doesn't need that information in order to understand the scene you open with. Better to add such information where and when it's needed, as enrichment to necessary lines. There's also the point that the reader will probably have forgotten the information by the time they actually need it.
    LanErwas sixteen now with an oval face, a straight nose, crescent-shapedeyebrows, almond-shaped eyes that were as clear as crystal,peach-colored cheeks with two dimples when she smiled, ebony-blackhair in a tress, looking so oily and smooth that if flies had haltedon it they would have slid down.
    We'd know her age if someone said, "But you're only sixteen. so, better to..." This way it's something she hears and reacts to. Phrased as an info-dump it comes from someone unknown in a voice devoid of all life. And, all the information you give is a fragment of what a reader would need to actually visualize her. Remember, it's truly said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But that's for a still picture, and the image you hold is one that's dynamic, and in constant motion, expressing her feelings. No way in hell can you give the reader that, so why bother? In reality, unless some aspect of her appearance matters to someone she's interacting with, let the reader visualize her as looking like someone they would like. Instead of making them know what she looks like, make them know her as a person, though her behavior and interaction with other people.

    You're telling the reader about the situation, just as you would on stage, to an audience. But there you would be performing the piece, and the audience would hear the emotion in your voice. They'd see your expression, movement, and gesture, and be given the emotional part of the piece. But the page reproduces none of that, so the voice telling the story is the one you'll hear if you have your computer read this aloud.

    Have your computer do that and you'll hear what a reader gets. One listen and you'll know why this approach can't work. Fiction for the page must be emotion, not fact-based, so transcribing the voice of a storyteller can't work. And since the "voice" of the narrator can't be heard—and so is inherently dispassionate—an entirely different approach is required, one unique to the profession of fiction-writer. Unfortunately, it's not one touched on in our school-days.

    Under its guidance fiction begins with story, not history. Under the mandates and restrictions of our medium we provide only those visual items that the protagonist is presently focused on, then the protagonist's evaluation of it's importance and what the best course is to address it. So instead of just learning that she watched her father we would know why, and why she decided to ask him her question. Her reasoning.

    The tricks of writing fiction for the page aren't hard to find or learn—though mastering them, like any other field, takes time, study, and practice. But learn them you must, if your goal is to have your reader anxious to learn what happens next. Why? Because unless you make them hold that view they won't be motivated to turn to page two, and onward, And that's our goal.

    Some time spent digesting a few books on the skills and tricks of the field would pay huge dividends.

  8. #8
    this is really a historical novel, not just a history book.

  9. #9
    Oneday, they arrived at the Town of Qinghe. Their ship anchored at thethird berth along the wharf. The ship at the second berth in frontwas a little bigger than theirs. The passengers on board that shipwere escorting a coffin of an old friend of the mayor of this town tobe back to their homeland. The mayor, by the name of Wu Tang, was ascholar.
    Inlate Qing Dynasty, anyone who wanted to serve in the government hadtwo ways to achieve his goal. One was to buy a title and wait for avacancy corresponding to the title. For instance, if someone bought atitle of mayor, he would get a mayoral vacancy. Briberies calleddonations could speed the process. The other was to take part intests held by the government. First was the local test. Whoeverpassed it could participate in the test on the provincial level. After that, the testees who didn't fail the provincial test should goto the capital joining in the final test, which held every threeyears. This test was very strict, because the winners would be madethe government officials. The test system had originally begun inTang Dynasty and had been adopted by all the subsequent dynasties.
    Forthis test, several examiners were chosen by the emperor himself fromthe high officials of the central government, with one of them incharge. They would read and score the test papers. There were manyattendants to do all sorts of jobs that needed to be done at the testsite.
    Thesite had been built long ago. There were rows of bungalows, whichwere partitioned into booths. Every testee was assigned a booth, thedoor of which was locked. The testee could leave only after hefinished all the test papers. He slept inside the booth, for thetest would take a couple of days. The testee would bring his ownfood in a basket, and also the brush, the ink and the blank paper towrite on. All these things were examined before the testee enteredthe booth to prevent from cheating. If he wanted to go to thetoilet, an attendant would be with him to and back, and locked him inagain.
    Thetest consisted of two parts. One was to write an article under agiven title in a certain fixed style, which was literally translatedas Eight-Legged Style A testee, in preparation for this kind oftest, must learn how to begin, how to carry on and how to end thearticle, which should have eight paragraphs, hence the nameEight-Legged. It had strict rules to follow. Anything inconsistentwith the rules would fail the testee. In the second part, a testeemust express his opinions about certain political ideas or about howto handle political affairs. His opinions carried great weight inhis score.
    Whenthe examiners were reading and scoring the papers, the names of thetestees on the papers were covered. Ten first best ones werecarefully selected. Once the selection was over, the names wereuncovered. Then the papers were handed in for the emperor to readand decide the order of the winners. But before he made any decision,the emperor would give an additional test, called the imperial exam,to the ten best testees in his palace. The best one (in the opinionof the emperor) would be conferred the title of Zhuangyuan, thesecond best Tanhua, the third Bangyan and the fourth Zhuanlu. Therest were called Jinshi. Next day, the first winner, Zhuangyuan,would go round on horseback through the main streets in the capital,a special honor. In the evening, the emperor would give a banquet toall those who had passed the final test. Generally the first threewould be given jobs in the Forbidden City, close to the emperor,which would provide good opportunities for fast promotion. Otherswould be appointed officials, some working in the central government,some sent away to be mayors of small towns if there were vacancies.

  10. #10
    Chapter 3

    Ascholar should always care for a scholar friend, or his family whenhe was dead. It was required by old Chinese customs and etiquette. Mayor Wu knew that this late friend of his was not rich. Therefore,he sent a servant to give the friend three hundred taels of silver. The servant was told where the late friend's ship was, at the secondberth along the wharf. But before the servant arrived there, thelate friend's ship left and the next ship at the third berth moved upone berth. At fate had it, just as LanEr's family was in great needof money, some unknown mayor sent the former friend three hundredtaels of silver. The servant didn't know who the friend was. Heonly did his job by sending the silver to the ship at the secondberth. LanEr's family didn't know whether the father had had such afriend before. Who cared since they got the money to pay for thingsin urgent need. Right then, they needed a coffin badly because thefather died last night. Also lucky for Mayor Wu, LanEr remembered toask the servant the name of his master. LanEr had a long memory. And Mayor Wu had a bright future.

    * * *

    Onceback in their old house, they buried the old master's coffin. Now itshould be the duties of the sons to shoulder the life's burden forthe family. But LanEr's two brothers were lame ducks. They justidled away their time in teahouses, carrying cages of their favoritebirds. That was the common life style of the sons of the richfamilies of the Mandarin Clan, but they were not rich anymore. NowLanEr had to take care of the family chores.
    Whatcould Empress Dowager Cixi still remember about the life of hergirlhood living with her parents? Almost everything. She had adistant cousin by the name of Ronglu, a few years younger than she. They were playmates. She liked Ronglu better than she did herbrothers and sister. Ronglu was clever and talented, too, while herbrothers were a little dumb and her sister just ordinary both in thelook and in brains. Does it mean that birds of a feather gettogether? Normally so.
    ?fyou'll be the queen, I'll be your bodyguard.Ronglu often said toLanEr as her family deemed her as someone special since she was bornwith the scent of the orchid. She loved it that way. She would playthe part of the queen and Ronglu the part of bodyguard. He even wentso far as down on his knees before her to make it look real, or feelreal. All these served to rouse in her the ambition for power.

    * * *

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