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Thread: Empress dowager cixi

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    Empress dowager cixi

    Chapter 1

    However powerful, you cannot pull back the chariot of Time; however powerful, you cannot refuse the visit of Death; however wealthy, you cannot bribe the king of Hades; however wealthy, you cannot buy immortality.
    She had been beautiful when young. She hated aging. She hated having white hair, but the silver threads stealthily crept onto her head in the due course of time. Li Lianying, whenever he saw a gossamer of snow among her sable silky hair, would bury it under the black ones. If, by any chance, a piece of white hair came off and entwined itself on the comb, he would hide it in his sleeve. He was the one who did the hair of Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908). He knew what Empress Dowager Cixi would feel when she saw some snowy hair on her head. He really knew 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 when Empress Dowager Cixi noticed that he put his fingers into his sleeve she would ask what he was doing. ?ust itching. Scratching a bit, my respected Old Buddha.Later in her life everyone in the Forbidden City called Empress Dowager Cixi Old Buddha (The word OLD here does not really mean old in age in Chinese, but instead is a respected epithet.) and she liked it. He had to please her if he wanted to stay in her favor forever. Everyone wanted to please her. No doubt. Even the emperor, though afraid of her, sometimes wanted to please her, too. That is why people wish to seize power and remain in it. As long as possible.
    It was a new hairstyle. Li Lianying, now the head eunuch, but still doing her hair, called it ? Butterfly Among Flowers He always invented new hairstyles and gave them fanciful names. And while combing her hair, he would tell jokes, mostly vulgar jokes, which sent Empress Dowager Cixi into laughter. He knew a lot of such jokes, which he had heard when he had been a small boy. Thanks to his good memory, he remembered all of these vulgar jokes after so many years. Sometimes he made up some when an occasion arose. Eunuchs all came from poor families, or no families at all. Who wanted to be a eunuch if he could live otherwise? The cutting of the genital was no fun, not to mention the pain, and a lot of blood. The genitals, once cut, were dried and kept in a jar, which hung from the beam in his bedroom. It was 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 could be done.
    When her hair was done and breakfast finished, Empress Dowager Cixi changed into formal attire. She put on heavy headgears. The adorned piece on the top looked somewhat like a fan with fringes hanging down from the two ends. On her feet were special shoes that looked something like short stilts in the shape of a small upside-down flowerpot attached on the middle of the sole. Then she went to hold court, sitting behind a pearl screen. Emperor Guangxu, still under age, sat on the huge throne before the pearl screen. Though he said nothing, he heard everything. He knew everything. He was a clever boy, ambitious and anxious to do something to make the weakened empire strong and prosperous again.

    * * *

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    Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu lived in the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City, also called the Purple Forbidden City, was located in the center of the capital. The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420 during Ming Dynasty. It had been the imperial home to twenty-four emperors of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The magnificent and awe-inspiring Forbidden City also served as the seat of imperial power during Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911). From their throne in the Forbidden City, the emperors governed the country by holding court sessions with their courtiers, secretaries and ministers, issuing imperial edicts and initiating military expeditions.
    The Forbidden City extends seven hundred and fifty meters from east to west and nine hundred and sixty meters from north to south. The city of seven hundred twenty thousand square meters is the largest and best-preserved palatial complex in the world. It is surrounded by a moat, which is fifty-two meters wide and six meters deep, and by a wall, which is three kilometers long and ten meters high. There are four gates with towers above them: Noon Gate in the south, Shenwu Gate in the north, Donghua Gate in the east and Xihua Gate in the west. On the four corners of the city walls stand four turret towers, each with three roofs and seventy-two roof ridges. They are masterpieces of ancient Chinese architecture.
    The Forbidden City is divided into southern and northern parts, the former serving as the work area of the emperors and the latter as their living quarters. The main structures are arranged along a central axis and constructions on both sides of it are symmetrical. The three most imposing structures in the work area of the Forbidden City are the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Medium Harmony, and the Hall of Protective Harmony. The most magnificent of them is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Here the most important ceremonies of the feudal dynasties were held, including the ascension of the emperors to the throne, their marriage, and their conferring of titles on officials. The Hall of Medium Harmony standing behind it was where the emperors rested before ceremonies and receiving officials. The Hall of Protective Harmony was where the emperors gave banquets and interviewed in person successful candidates of imperial exams for the selection of government officials. In the living quarters are nine separate housing complexes, where the emperors and their families lived. North of the living quarters is a small imperial garden. The Mind Cultivation Hall in the living quarters was where most Qing emperors lived and handled state affairs. It was also here that Empress Dowager Cixi attended to state affairs for as long as 48 years. The Forbidden City is a city within a city and was off limits to the common people.
    The layout of the palatial complex, whose full name should be the Purple Forbidden City, is patterned after the legendary Heavenly Palace. In the ancient Chinese astrology, the heavenly area of Purple Forbidden Enclosure centering on the North Star was seen to be at the center of heaven. The palatial complex, regarded as being at the center of human society on earth was therefore named the Purple Forbidden City.
    The number nine received special emphasis in the city design. The number of houses in the Forbidden City is 9,999, and nails on every door are arranged in lines of nine nails. This is because the ancients regarded nine as the biggest number, which only emperors were entitled to use. Also, since the numeral has the same sound as everlasting in the Chinese language, it best reflected the wish of emperors that their rule would last forever. Names of places in the Forbidden City contain such words as benevolence, harmony and peace, which reflect the essence of Confucianism.
    The predominant color of the Forbidden City is yellow. Nearly all the houses, for example, have roofs of yellow glazed tiles. According to ancient Chinese, the universe was made up of five elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth, and earth was the most basic of them all. As a result, yellow, the color of earth, was most extensively used for the emperors, who were regarded as the supreme rulers of the world.
    The only house with a roof of black tiles is Wenyuan Pavilion, serving as the royal library. This is because the color black represents water among the five elements and water can overcome fire, a constant threat to the collection of books inside.
    In 1406, Emperor Yongle of Ming Dynasty began building the Forbidden City. Historical records show that it took one million laborers and one hundred thousand craftsmen fifteen years to complete the project. The Forbidden City remains more or less the same in appearance and scale despite repeated renovations and expansions by later emperors. All buildings in the Forbidden City are of a wood and brick structure. A total of 3.1 billion bricks were used for the construction of the Forbidden City. A special glue was used to cement bricks and stone slabs. The glue was made from steamed glutinous rice and egg white. Timber came from mountains in the suburbs of Fangshan Town as well as from remote Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Tens of thousands of huge stone slabs were transported to the capital from afar. The biggest piece, which lies behind the Hall of Protective Harmony, weighs 250 tons. The slab, 16.57 meters long, 3.07 meters wide and 1.7 meters thick, was hauled over a distance of 50 kilometers from the suburbs of Fangshan Town to the site by 20,000 laborers at a cost of 176,000 taels of silver. The hauling was done in winter on man-made ice and took 28 days.
    The Forbidden City is a national treasure in terms of materials used, architectural style, layout and designed connotation. Besides, it is a storehouse of numerous priceless handicraft articles, rare curios, paintings and calligraphic works by famous artists as well as official documents and historical records. The Wenhua Hall in the Forbidden City stores more than 10 million official documents drawn up over 500 years by central and local governments of the Ming and Qing dynasties. They are the largest and most valuable collection of historical records in the country. Wenyuan Pavilion, or the Imperial Library, keeps a complete collection of all the books published till then like an encyclopedia and a 79,337-volume compendium of historical records and feudal rites compiled over ten years (1772-1781) by the nation's most accomplished scholars.

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    Chapter 2

    Empress Dowager Cixi was born in a government official's family. Her father was appointed a position as a general, though he had never fought any battles. It was said that when Empress Dowager Cixi was born, there was 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 younger sister, but she was the favorite child of her parents, the apple of their eye. She was beautiful, clever and talented. When she was eleven, her father was transferred to Wuwu, which is a big city situated near the Yangtze River, and later was transferred again, this time, to Canton, a bigger city facing the sea.
    “Your opium is ready, Dad.LanEr called to her father, who stood at the window, looking at the front yard where a **** was bullying some hens.
    He was proud of her. She could load opium for him now. Since China had been defeated in the Opium War in 1840, opium trade became open and many government officials and officers formed the habit of smoking it. Even Empress Dowager Cixi herself smoked it when she was in power. Someone had recommended opium to her when she had a stomachache. And it was said that when she smoked some opium, her stomachache ceased.
    “Hm.” Her father ummed as a reply. In China at that time, parents never said THANK YOU to children. It was taken for granted that children should do things for parents. It was their filial duties.
    Many aristocrats of the Mandarin Clan loved to watch operas. So did her father. And her father often brought her to wherever an opera was performed. Therefore, LanEr loved to watch operas, too. When she stayed in power, she watched a lot of operas, specially performed for her in the Forbidden City.
    LanEr was sixteen now with an oval face, a straight nose, crescent-shaped eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes that were as clear as crystal, peach-colored cheeks with two dimples when she smiled, ebony-black hair in a tress, looking so oily and smooth that if flies had halted on it they would have slid down. Now she sat at the table in the center of the room, sipping tea and looking at her father lying on the bed and smoking opium, and sighing deeply at intervals.
    “What's wrong?” LanEr asked. Her father put down the long-stemmed opium pipe on the lacquer opium tray and looked up from the bed at his daughter. ?he situation in Guangxi Province is getting worse. The rebellion, I mean. They are fighting their way eastward and will soon reach here.The daughter agreed, but didn't look worried. Hers was a worriless age.
    “They will kill us. Everyone of the Mandarin Clan.” Her father could not suppress the anxiety in his voice. That he was appointed a general was because his destiny would have it, not because he was talented as a fighter. He was really no fighter.
    “Then, what should we do?”
    “I don't know. Perhaps waiting to be killed.”
    “Why not ask for a sick leave? We can go back to Peking.”
    “Good idea.” Her father said in approbation.

    * * *

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    LanEr's family left Canton City in a ship they had rented with the crew on board. Actually, the word rent is not correct. At that time, such ships, or ferryboats, belonged to a family or an individual. The family or the individual was the sole crew on the ship or the ferryboat. The ship they were on belonged to a family, husband and wife with a teenage boy. The husband rowed the ship with the help of the teenager. The wife cooked for the passengers who paid the family who owned the ship. Their relationship was just like lodgers in an inn. Only this was a mobile inn. Their destination was Peking.
    The ship had a cabin in the middle of the deck. The cabin was divided into two sections with a partition. The larger front section was for the passengers, the smaller back section for the owner? family, including a cooking space. There were no railings all round the ship, which was not too big. The ship had a mast. When the wind was favorable, the husband would put up the sails and he only needed to handle the rudder. A lot of energy saved. Every time they reached a village or a town, the husband would get on shore for provisions and the passengers would also step on shore, but for sightseeing.
    Everything was all right so far along the route till one night when the ship was at anchor for the night. It was already deep into the night when some robbers got on board with sharp swords in hand, reflecting the moonlight. Everyone in the cabin woke up in alarm and panic. They begged the intruders to spare their lives. The robbers took all the valuables from the passenger family, but didn't touch anything that belonged to the ship owner. It was the unwritten rule among the outlaws. After these thugs left, no one could go back to sleep. The ship owner's family were hiding in their back cabin while the passenger family were crying bitterly. How could they pay for their lodging and food on the ship since they had been robbed of almost everything. LanEr's father was taken seriously ill after they were left alone.
    Her family had been rich. Rich people generally got their daughters married early lest they should be selected to be the palace maids in the Forbidden City. Life in the Forbidden City as maids was not so desirable as imagined by the people who had never been in there. A slight mistake or offense would bring a severe punishment, or even a beating to death. It all depended on the mood of the emperor or the queen at the time of the offense. Only the emperor or the queen had the right for the infliction of such penalties in the Forbidden City. If her family hadn't undergone the loss of wealth, LanEr would have been married already, at such an age.
    When her father held his position in Canton City, an officer working under him offended a critique official. A critique official was in such a position by law that he could criticize anyone, including the emperor. The ancestors of Qing Dynasty had made such a law in hopes that their descendants, the future emperors, would have some people to look over their behavior and urge them to do things good and suitable as befitting them as emperors.
    The officer detained the ship the critique official was on board and blackmailed him for three thousand taels of silver. The critique official was very angry and as soon as he reached the capital, he wrote a critique report to the emperor, who sent someone down south to investigate. The investigation revealed that her father had taken briberies, which was against law. To make his superiors go easy on him, he scraped all his means to bribe them. As a result, he was removed from his post before he could send in a request for the sick leave. At least, he didn't need to go to jail. He sold some of his estates and bribed the governor of Anhui Province in the hope that he would be appointed another position there. But as a Chinese saying goes, misfortune never comes alone. The governor died from some kind of disease. So his money was like pebbles thrown in water, without even some ripples being seen. Now he was really sick. So he took a ship to go back to the capital with his family, where he still had at least a house and some farms to live on.
    The ship got under way at dawn. When the wife served breakfast, LanEr's mother promised her that they would pay her when they arrived in Peking. The old man was a government official, at the least. At that time, the fare for a trip on board a ship cost some ten taels of silver at most. It was not much money to a government official. The owner of the ship was not worried about that.

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    One day, they arrived at the Town of Qinghe. Their ship anchored at the third berth along the wharf. The ship at the second berth in front was a little bigger than theirs. The passengers on board that ship were escorting a coffin of an old friend of the mayor of this town to be back to their homeland. The mayor, by the name of Wu Tang, was a scholar.
    In late Qing Dynasty, anyone who wanted to serve in the government had two ways to achieve his goal. One was to buy a title and wait for a vacancy corresponding to the title. For instance, if someone bought a title of mayor, he would get a mayoral vacancy. Briberies called donations could speed the process. The other was to take part in tests held by the government. First was the local test. Whoever passed it could participate in the test on the provincial level. After that, the testees who didn't fail the provincial test should go to the capital joining in the final test, which held every three years. This test was very strict, because the winners would be made the government officials. The test system had originally begun in Tang Dynasty and had been adopted by all the subsequent dynasties.
    For this test, several examiners were chosen by the emperor himself from the high officials of the central government, with one of them in charge. They would read and score the test papers. There were many attendants to do all sorts of jobs that needed to be done at the test site.
    The site had been built long ago. There were rows of bungalows, which were partitioned into booths. Every testee was assigned a booth, the door of which was locked. The testee could leave only after he finished all the test papers. He slept inside the booth, for the test would take a couple of days. The testee would bring his own food in a basket, and also the brush, the ink and the blank paper to write on. All these things were examined before the testee entered the booth to prevent from cheating. If he wanted to go to the toilet, an attendant would be with him to and back, and locked him in again.
    The test consisted of two parts. One was to write an article under a given title in a certain fixed style, which was literally translated as Eight-Legged Style A testee, in preparation for this kind of test, must learn how to begin, how to carry on and how to end the article, which should have eight paragraphs, hence the name Eight-Legged. It had strict rules to follow. Anything inconsistent with the rules would fail the testee. In the second part, a testee must express his opinions about certain political ideas or about how to handle political affairs. His opinions carried great weight in his score.
    When the examiners were reading and scoring the papers, the names of the testees on the papers were covered. Ten first best ones were carefully selected. Once the selection was over, the names were uncovered. Then the papers were handed in for the emperor to read and 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 opinion of the emperor) would be conferred the title of Zhuangyuan, the second best Tanhua, the third Bangyan and the fourth Zhuanlu. The rest 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 to all those who had passed the final test. Generally the first three would be given jobs in the Forbidden City, close to the emperor, which would provide good opportunities for fast promotion. Others would be appointed officials, some working in the central government, some sent away to be mayors of small towns if there were vacancies.

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    Chapter 3

    A scholar should always care for a scholar friend, or his family when he 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 second berth along the wharf. But before the servant arrived there, the late friend's ship left and the next ship at the third berth moved up one berth. At fate had it, just as LanEr's family was in great need of money, some unknown mayor sent the former friend three hundred taels of silver. The servant didn't know who the friend was. He only did his job by sending the silver to the ship at the second berth. LanEr's family didn't know whether the father had had such a friend before. Who cared since they got the money to pay for things in urgent need. Right then, they needed a coffin badly because the father died last night. Also lucky for Mayor Wu, LanEr remembered to ask the servant the name of his master. LanEr had a long memory. And Mayor Wu had a bright future.

    * * *

    Once back in their old house, they buried the old master's coffin. Now it should be the duties of the sons to shoulder the life's burden for the family. But LanEr's two brothers were lame ducks. They just idled away their time in teahouses, carrying cages of their favorite birds. That was the common life style of the sons of the rich families of the Mandarin Clan, but they were not rich anymore. Now LanEr had to take care of the family chores.
    What could Empress Dowager Cixi still remember about the life of her girlhood living with her parents? Almost everything. She had a distant cousin by the name of Ronglu, a few years younger than she. They were playmates. She liked Ronglu better than she did her brothers and sister. Ronglu was clever and talented, too, while her brothers were a little dumb and her sister just ordinary both in the look and in brains. Does it mean that birds of a feather get together? Normally so.
    ?f you'll be the queen, I'll be your bodyguard.Ronglu often said to LanEr as her family deemed her as someone special since she was born with the scent of the orchid. She loved it that way. She would play the part of the queen and Ronglu the part of bodyguard. He even went so far as down on his knees before her to make it look real, or feel real. All these served to rouse in her the ambition for power.

    * * *

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