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Thread: Empress dowager cixi

  1. #46
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    Everyone in the room watched the emperor, who lay there still and motionless now. It was dawn. After a long while, Sushun burned a stick of incense and put it before the emperor's nostrils to see whether he was breathing. The smoke rose straight in the air, which meant that no breath came out of the emperor's nose any more. The emperor was gone to Heavens, as it should be referred to. Everyone in the room began to cry loudly in mourning. That was also a tradition.
    When the queen was mourning, her favorite maid brought her a sad information that Concubine Li had committed suicide, but didn't die, because the opium she had swallowed was not enough. The queen had to summon Concubine Li to her presence and consoled her. It was not an unusual event that a concubine wanted to end her own life to follow the emperor to Heavens in the history of China. But Concubine Li had her own reason for doing so. She was always afraid of Concubine Yan, who, in her opinion, was shrewd and cruel. She feared that since Concubine Yan would become an empress dowager she would maltreat her some day out of old jealousy, which would easily turn into abhorrence and killing. And it was not unusual that when Concubine Yan wanted to kill her, she would accuse her of something, anything she didn't do, which would also impair her good reputation. When she died for the emperor, she would leave a good reputation behind her.
    The queen knew why she wanted to die. So she promised to protect her from any potential imaginable harm and bade her to live on. Concubine Li promised to do no more such stupid things.

  2. #47
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    After Emperor Xianfeng died on August 22, 1861, his son succeeded the throne accordingly, who was Emperor Tongzhi (1856-1875), six years old at that time. The queen then became Empress Dowager XiAn, who lived in an eastern chamber, so was habitually called East Empress Dowager. According to tradition, the young emperor? biological mother, Concubine Yan, was made Empress Dowager Cixi, who lived in a western chamber, so was habitually called West Empress Dowager. But the courtiers and maids and eunuchs addressed them as the Mother Queen Empress Dowager for East Empress Dowager and the Holy Mother Empress Dowager for West Empress Dowager. The maids and the eunuchs would also call East Side for East Empress Dowager and West Side for West Empress Dowager behind their backs.
    Since Emperor Tongzhi was too young to make any decisions about the state affairs, there arose the problem: who would make the decisions for him till he became of age? Different people had different opinions, of course. Some of the counselors, especially Sushun, the younger brother, thought that the counselors should make decisions for the young emperor since the late emperor had appointed them to help his son to rule the empire. But the empress dowagers, especially West Empress Dowager, had the concept that they should make the decisions for him since they were his mothers. (By tradition, the queen was treated as his mother, too.)
    Before Emperor Xianfeng died, there were two groups to assist him in handling the state affairs: one headed by Sushun in the Summer Palace, the other headed by Yixin, the emperor's brother, in the capital. Now after his demise, there appeared a third group in this political game: the two empress dowagers, mainly West Side as she was called informally behind her back.
    The late emperor had made a vague decision on his deathbed that whenever any written orders were to be issued in the name of the new emperor, the queen should use the seal he had given her at the beginning of the orders and Concubine Yan should use the other seal at the end. His purpose was to prevent the counselors from taking over the power from his son, the young emperor.
    As this decision lacked detailed procedures, there was a dispute between the two empress dowagers and the counselors. The counselors argued that as the emperor was too young to read, no more reports would be turned in. The counselors would read all the reports, make decisions and send in the written orders for the two empress dowagers to use the seals on them, and the empress dowagers could not make any changes on the written orders. But the empress dowagers persisted that they should read all the reports for the young emperor and if they didn't agree to any decision the counselors had made, they had the right to change it, or they wouldn't use the seals, which would make the written orders invalid according to the arrangement of the late emperor. What's the use of an invalid written order? The counselors had to give in. The empress dowagers won the first round.

  3. #48
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    Chapter 12

    Before Emperor Xianfeng died, a rumor came to his ear that Yixin, his own brother, would usurp his throne. So when he was very sick and when Yixin sent in a written request for a visit to the emperor in the Summer Palace, he rebuffed him to come to see him, maybe for the last time. And in his appointment of the counselors, he didn't want to include Yixin for fear that his brother might do something harmful to his son. Flesh and blood relationship holds nothing in politics, though blood always sheds for it.
    But Yixin didn't care about the rumor. Let time tell everything. Sometimes, explanations will only go the opposite way. However, the courtiers that remained in Peking were greatly dissatisfied about the late emperor's second will. In their opinion, it was reasonable that the late emperor's brother should help his young nephew as a counselor. It was unbelievable, they thought, since the will had not been written in the late emperor's handwriting.

    * * *

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    Sushun always wanted to mint new heavy coins so that the inflation could be under control. Now as Emperor Xianfeng died, he must discuss the matter with the empress dowagers. The counselors went to see the empress dowagers everyday to report and talk over the state affairs. When Sushun mentioned the mintage of the new coins, West Empress Dowager asked, “Is it so urgent? Can't it wait till we return to the capital?”
    “Yes, it's urgent if we want to control the inflation. If the inflation gets worse, the majority of the people will become dissatisfied with the government and riots may occur, even in the capital.” Sushun replied.
    “I know we need copper to make coins. Do you have enough copper?queried West Empress Dowager.
    “I”m getting copper transported from Yunnan Province to the capital. Once the new coins get into circulation, the situation will be better.”
    West Empress Dowager looked sideways at East Empress Dowager and asked for her opinion. All the while, East Empress Dowager was whispering to the young emperor, telling him to keep quiet. When asked, she just said, “I sounds good.” That meant that she had no objection. West Empress Dowager doubted if East Empress Dowager had heard what she had been talking about with the counselors. But her asking for her opinion was just a formality. So Sushun got the green light for that matter.
    The clerical officials in the Summer Palace were very careful to choose sides. Someone would choose to follow Sushun because he had power. Someone thought if Sushun was compared to a mountain, it was a sturdy mountain on the surface. He was really like an ice mountain, which would thaw in no time. That was the opinion of Head Clerical Official Zao and quite a few of his colleagues agreed with him. But most clerical officials wanted to be onlookers, i.e., audience to watch the political opera in the real life and to see how it would end.

    * * *

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    When the sad news reached the capital that Emperor Xianfeng died, Yixin wanted to go to the Summer Palace to mourn in person before the late emperor's coffin. This was a tradition, too.
    Just then, suddenly came a secret written message from the two empress dowagers to summon Yixin to the Summer Palace. So Yixin sent in a formal report, demanding to go to the palace to mourn for his late brother. The counselors could not say NO to this. Yixin began on his trip to the Summer Palace as the late emperor's brother, not as a courtier.
    The Summer Palace was totally under Sushun's control. He even had spies among the eunuchs to eavesdrop what the empress dowagers would say about him. So it was not easy to send a secret letter to Yixin. It was said that one day Little An, the head eunuch of West Empress Dowager, had a quarrel with the head maid of East Empress Dowager. Little An cursed the head maid when they were bickering. The head maid began to cry and went to complain to East Empress Dowager. As Little An was the head eunuch of West Empress Dowager, East Empress Dowager thought that it would be better to let West Empress Dowager handle it. So she told her head maid to complain to West Empress Dowager. Accordingly, the head maid went to West Empress Dowager, who sent for Little An immediately after she listened to the complaint. She decided that Little An was at fault. Then she sent for the head eunuch of the Palace, who already knew the quarrel, but just played dumb, because he didn't want to offend either side, one, the head maid of East Empress Dowager and the other, the head eunuch of West Empress Dowager, though he ranked higher than both of them.
    When he came and kowtowed to West Empress Dowager, she said, “Little An always annoys me. I don't want to see him here anymore.” The head eunuch of the Palace said, still on his knees, “I'll send him back to the Forbidden City.” West Empress Dowager nodded and added, “Give him twenty slaps before he leaves.” Little An, prostrating before West Empress Dowager, kowtowed, begging West Empress Dowager to pardon him, but West Empress Dowager was firm this time.

  6. #51
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    The head eunuch of the Palace took Little An to his place and told a eunuch to give twenty slaps on his face. Then he sent Little An on his way back to the capital. A clerk and two soldiers escorted Little An. When they arrived in the capital, the clerk dropped Little An to the Royal Family Affairs Management. A petty official on duty there received them and gave a body receipt to the clerk, who returned to the Summer Palace with two soldiers. Then the petty official registered Little An's name. When he was about to detain Little An in a cell there for the night, Little An said, “Excuse me, Official. I have something very important to say.” The petty official said, “All right. Say it to me.” Little An said, “I can't say it to you.” The petty official was irritated and shouted, “Are you joking with me?” Little An said, “No. I'm not joking. Even if I tell you, you cannot do anything about it.” The petty official asked, “Who do you want to speak to?” Little An replied, “I must speak to His Excellency Baojun.” (Baojun was one of the courtiers in charge of the Royal Family Affairs Management.) The petty official knew that Little An had been the head eunuch of West Empress Dowager and he didn't want to offend him. So he sent somebody to let Baojun know. After two hours, Little An was taken to Baojun's residence.
    After Little An kowtowed to him, Baojun asked, “What do you want to tell me?” Little An replied “Here's a letter. Your Excellency'd better read it first.” He produced a letter from his inner pocket. It was a short letter from the two empress dowagers, just ordering Yixin to go to the Summer Palace. Baojun realized the significance of the letter. After he sent Little An back to the Forbidden City, he went to see Wenqiang first. Then they went together to see Yixin.
    They figured that if they wanted to deprive Sushun of his power, they had to ally with the empress dowagers. As Yixin hadn't been appointed a counselor, if he wanted to take over power from Sushun, he must denounce the counselor system, not just driving Sushun out of the Secretarial Bureau. If the counselor system was denounced, they had to take to the empress dowager system. It was exactly the purpose of the empress dowagers when they sent Yixin this secret letter. For backup, they had a letter delivered to Commander Shengbao to tell him to bring his troops to the capital.

  7. #52
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    Chapter 13

    After the funeral, the two empress dowagers wanted to see Yixin, their brother-in-law. They had confidence that they could find an ally in him, because he was unwilling to be excluded from power center the Secretarial Bureau. But they were afraid that Sushun might say that young widows could not see young brother-in-law. That was also a social tradition in old China. But before they received Yixin, West Empress Dowager wanted to make sure that no one would eavesdrop, because Sushun had some spies among the eunuchs. She sent some suspicious eunuchs on some fool's errand to some places far enough that they couldn't get back in a couple of hours. Then they sent the head eunuch of the palace to summon Yixin, telling him to use some trick if necessary.
    The head eunuch waited outside the building till Yixin came out, accompanied by other courtiers, including Sushun. He rushed out to announce formally that the empress dowagers summoned Yixin. To avoid the suspicion of a conspiracy between the empress dowagers and himself against Sushun, Yixin asked Sushun if he could see the late emperor's widows. Sushun asked the head eunuch why the empress dowagers wanted to see Yixin. Having got the instruction, the head eunuch replied that the empress dowagers wanted to know how things stood in the Forbidden City and how all those left there had fared. It sounded like it was entirely a family concern. Since Sushun didn't show any opposition, Yixin went with the head eunuch to see the empress dowagers.
    “We should have someone to accompany Prince Yixin to listen in so that we can at least know exactly what they will talk about.” Tu Han said after Yixin and the head eunuch left.
    “You always lock the door after the sheep is stolen. It's too late now.” Zaihuan criticized him. They could not send someone following them.

  8. #53
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    After he kowtowed to the two empress dowagers, Yixin was seated. The empress dowagers wanted it to be looked like a family reunion. It was supposed that East Empress Dowager should begin the conversation, but she was not a talkative woman and didn't even know how to mention the important topic. So she began with:
    “When did you start from the capital?”
    “Early on the twenty-sixth of the seventh moon.”
    “How long did it take you to reach here?”
    “Five whole days.”
    “How's everything in the capital?”
    “Everything's fine there. We are making all the preparations for the return of Empress Dowagers and Emperor.”
    “I hope we will return before the end of this year.”
    “It will be too late. The earlier, the better.” He said in a serious low deep voice.
    “Better after everything's properly prepared. Can't have any oversight.” Cut in West Empress Dowager.
    “That's for sure. Can't afford anything going wrong.” Yixin agreed. “I'll take care of all the preparations myself when I am back there.”
    “Good. I think next month is the earliest we can leave here.” said West Empress Dowager.
    “That sounds good.”
    “What are people saying about the late emperor's will in the capital” She wanted to lead the conversation to more significant things.

  9. #54
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    “Can Holy Mother Empress Dowager be more specific?” He didn't want to be easily led to where he already knew the conversation would go.
    “About the counselor system?”
    “We had counselor system before.”
    “Does it mean it's a life-long title?”
    “Of course not. As soon as the emperor was grown up and took over the power, there would be no need to have counselors any more. Besides, the emperor has the right to take back the title. But generally the succeeding emperor won't do it, since the title was bestowed by the preceding emperor, unless . . .”
    “Unless what?” West Empress Dowager prodded eagerly.
    “Unless the counselors do something seriously wrong. But now, the emperor can't denounce their titles, because the emperor's orders must go through their hands to be announced to the whole country. They won't let such an order go out of the palace. What's the use if no one knows there is such an order?” It implicated that such an order must be issued through the hands of those other than the counselors.
    “What if we appoint you as a counselor?” asked West Empress Dowager.
    “I beg that Empress Dowagers will not do that.” Yixin said modestly.
    “Why not?” wondered West Empress Dowager.
    “What's the use? They are eight and I am single.”
    No use indeed. A plan was fermented in the busy mind of West Empress Dowager.

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    Although they hated each other politically, Sushun and Yixin were polite to each other socially. Sushun invited Yixin to his house for dinner after Yixin left the Summer Palace. Other counselors were there, too. A servant came in, carrying a small package. When Sushun opened it, everyone stared at the object inside in surprise. It was a bright new coin, the sample one.
    “When will you put it into circulation?” Yixin asked Sushun.
    “On the new emperor's coronation day. The coronation would be held when the empress dowagers and the emperor returned to the capital.”
    “Very good. It seems that you want to return to Peking as early as possible.” That's what Yixin wanted.
    “It depends on you.” Observed Sushun.
    “Why me?” Yixin queried, baffled.
    “You are in charge there. When you finish preparations to receive the empress dowagers and the emperor, we'll come.” Sushun said with a smile. So, the man could smile, Yixin thought.
    It was late when Yixin went to his lodging place after the dinner. He sent a servant to fetch Head Clerical Official Zao, who came in plain clothes and entered by a side door. They had a serious talk in an innermost room. Yixin inquired, “What do the counselors think of West Empress Dowager?”
    “They think West Side is shrewd.” answered Zao.
    “Not only shrewd, but she can also pretend ignorance and say things to put you into a plight.”
    “That's a new insight into her character. But why do Prince (address Yixin) say that?” said Zao.
    “She wanted me in the Secretarial Bureau, working with the counselors.”
    “That's also a way out. If Prince heads the Secretarial Bureau, some counselors will take Prince's side. If anyone disobeys, Prince can squeeze him out of the Secretarial Bureau, though Prince can't take away his title of a counselor. If he's no longer in the Secretarial Bureau, what can he do?” Zao offered his opinion.
    “That means I'll have a hand-to-hand combat with Sushun. I'd like to solve this problem when back to the capital.” Now Head Clerical Official Zao knew that Prince Yixin intended to do away with the counselor system, not just to deprive the counselors of their power. It must bring in the empress dowager system. When Yihuan came to see his brother Yixin, Zao took his leave. Yihuan was the seventh brother of Yixin.
    “I can't stand him any more.” cried Yihuan before he sat down. He referred to Sushun. Though twenty-two years old, he still behaved like a teenager. “If you don't grow up, how can I trust you?” Yixin warned him, who blushed a little. “I won't say anything before an outsider. Now it's only Sixth Brother and me.” Yixin could not but smile.

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    Chapter 14

    Yixin and his followers had plotted against the counselors long before he came to the Summer Palace, but it was too early to let the empress dowagers know, because women were generally known unable to keep a secret. It was a life and death secret, something like coup detat.
    He didn't go to see the empress dowagers alone again during his stay in Rehe, lest it should rouse the suspicion of the counselors. The necessary message between the empress dowagers and Yixin was exchanged through his younger brother, Yihuan, who married the younger sister of West Empress Dowager. It was natural for his wife to visit her sister.
    After certain arrangements were made, Yixin left the Summer Palace in haste on September 16, for fear of being detained if the counselors smelled a rat. Besides, he had preparations to finish in the capital.
    The date was fixed for the young emperor and the empress dowagers to return to the capital. It was 26 of October. It was nearly a year staying here. Everyone was happy to go back home.
    Just at the joyous time, a letter came from Commander Shengbao to pay respects to the empress dowagers and the emperor. Such a thing had never happened before, because according to tradition, queens and empress dowagers could not have any contact with the outside world. Anyone working in the government could pay homage to the emperor via mail. That was normal. So this letter itself had a special meaning to deliver, which was to support the authority of the empress dowagers and deny that of the counselors. For the disagreement between the empress dowagers and the counselors had surely leaked out to those high-rank courtiers. Now the counselors, especially Sushun, had an uneasy feeling. They had to do something to rebuff it, to refute it; or if any other commanders or governors followed the example, it would be a real challenge to their authorities as counselors. One of the counselors drafted a reply. They went to see the empress dowagers, taking the letter and the draft of reply. First, they reported that the government armies had taken Anqing City, which had been occupied by the rebels. Then they had a discussion about some government affairs. At last Zaihuan mentioned the letter from Commander Shengbao and their reply, explaining that such a letter was against the tradition. East Empress Dowager was surprised to hear that they would actually criticize somebody who just wanted to pay respects to the empress dowagers, but West Empress Dowager said, “Now that it's against the tradition, you can criticize him.” So she printed her seal on the reply and so did East Empress Dowager. Later she explained to East Empress Dowager that she wanted to add a little more gunpowder into the barrel, on which the counselors were sitting. Furthermore, from the information exchange with Yixin through her sister, she knew Commander Shengbao would soon send in a request to come to the Summer Palace to show his last reverence in person to the late emperor before his coffin. She reckoned that if she yielded this time, she could persist next time when they discussed his request.

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    Just as everyone was getting prepared on a return journey, a report of suggestion written by Critique Official Dong came from the capital on September 12, which was like a stone thrown into the already undulating lake, causing not ripples, but a big wave. The report said that since the emperor was so young and couldn't handle the state affairs, the two empress dowagers should sit behind a screen at the back of the throne, holding court in behalf of the young emperor. The suggestion was just what West Empress Dowager wanted. It was another political system, the empress dowager system, for the empress dowagers to take over power from the counselors. In the whole Chinese history, this system for an empress dowager to handle state affairs had existed in other dynasties before, but not in Qing Dynasty ever since. But West Empress Dowager felt that it was not the ripe time to suggest such a thing, like food undercooked. So she showed it to East Empress Dowager and they decided to keep the report for the time being.
    The usual procedures were that all the reports must be registered by the Secretarial Bureau, then sent in through the Internal Registrar situated at the palace gate to the emperor, now to the two empress dowagers. 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 name according to the meanings of the marks on the reports. If they had different opinions, they could send in their own reports. Otherwise, they sent in the drafts for the emperor to approve, now for the empress dowagers to use seals on them. The drafts, once back to the Secretarial Bureau, if there were corrections, must be rewritten and then sent back to where the reports came. Occasionally the emperor, now the empress dowagers, would keep an awkward report and never give it back to the Secretarial Bureau. It was called Flooded Over like something submerged under water and seemed having never existed. It would save further troubles.
    That day, all the reports, except one, were returned to the Secretarial Bureau. When the counselors found from the registration that one report was missing, they sent a royal servant to the Internal Registrar to inquire about the missing report, which was unnecessary because they should know that it was kept by the empress dowagers. The registrar sent in someone to ask the empress dowagers and after acquiring the answer he told the servant that West Empress Dowager kept it. The servant brought back the message.
    When the counselors got the answer, Zaihuan, one of the three chief counselors, cried in wrath, “If reports are not given back, what should we work on?”
    “That report must be given back to us.” said Tu Han, one of the counselors. Then he ordered the servant to go to the Internal Registrar to ask for the report back.

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    When the two empress dowagers knew that they could not keep the report any longer, they got together to discuss how to deal with the counselors. In normal situations no courtier dared to do such a thing unless he wanted to be punished or even beheaded, depending on the emperor's mood at that time. But the counselors were now in charge of the emperor's bodyguards, which made them bold enough to challenge the empress dowagers.
    The two empress dowagers were in a dilemma. They knew that the counselors were in charge of the armed men and might do something desperate if they were forced too hard. But if the empress dowagers yielded too easily, they would take an ell when getting an inch.
    East Empress Dowager maintained that they should not get into a hot dispute with the counselors, but West Empress Dowager thought that they should do to the counselors as the dignity of the empress dowagers required. Anyway, they decided that they had to face the counselors next day.
    When they discussed important things with the counselors, the young emperor was always present to show that they spoke only in his behalf. So was that day.
    After consideration,West Empress Dowager began, “We decide that we agree to the report. So draft a written reply.”
    “Empress dowagers cannot do that.” Zaihuan protested.
    “Why not?”
    Sushun thought 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 reply tomorrow.” Thus saying, they retired from the presence of the two empress dowagers and the young emperor.
    When the counselors were back in their resting room, they got angry. They suspected that it was the result of the meeting between the empress dowagers and Yixin.
    Duanhua, one of the chief counselors, said, “If we don't contradict it, such reports will come in over and over again.”
    “Right.” Zaihuan remarked, “We must contradict it severely.”
    They drafted a written reply in the name of the young emperor, saying that it was against the tradition of Qing Dynasty to have the empress dowagers hiding behind a screen, handling the state affairs and that the courtiers should never suggest such a thing.
    It is the same that a political group can always find reasons to state why they should do such a thing or why the other group should not do such a thing.
    The report of suggestion was lying before them now. The reason of the suggestion was: “We are now in an unusual time and in an unusual situation, which requires us to take unusual steps.”

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    Chapter 15

    When the written reply was sent in, West Empress Dowager read it first. As East Empress Dowager had no ambition and was a happy-go-lucky good-for-nothing, she let West Empress Dowager handle all the state affairs. Only for important things, West Empress Dowager went to seek her consultation.
    Now after she read only the first few sentences, West Empress Dowager flared up. When she finished, she took the written reply to the chamber of East Empress Dowager.
    “They want to rebel.” She yelled while handing the written reply to East Empress Dowager.
    “What do you mean?”
    “That they wrote here is totally different from what we wanted them to write yesterday.” If anything a courtier did was against the wish of the emperor, now against the wish of the empress dowagers, it was deemed as rebellion or betrayal. The result could be execution.
    “Calm down first.” warned East Empress Dowager, “We don't want them to actually rebel.”
    “I know, but we can't let them have their way over ours, or they will tread on our heads before long.” West Empress Dowager complained.
    “We'd better deal with them when we return to the capital. We'll have Yixin's support then.”
    “But what should we do with this written reply now?” After a while, seeing that East Empress Dowager said nothing, she continued, “At least we should ask them why they wrote the reply like this and see what they'll have to say.”
    East Empress Dowager acquiesced.
    On September 15, the counselors were summoned to their presence. The empress dowagers received them in the main room of their building. Everyone seemed a bit nervous except the young emperor, who hid in the arms of East Empress Dowager. They all knew that a conflict of words could not be avoided since their views were so far apart and their personal interests were almost opposite.
    “Who wrote this reply?” West Empress Dowager asked sternly.
    “The result of our discussion.” answered Zaihuan.
    “Do you know that this reply should be the emperor's opinion?”
    “Yes.” Tu Han cut in, “But since the emperor is so young, the late emperor appointed us to handle things.”
    “But it's written in the emperor's name. How can the emperor oppose his own mothers?”
    “We didn't write such things. We only contradict Critique Official Dong, who sent in this report.” Said Zaihuan.
    “Why is what he said in his report wrong?”
    “It's already refuted in the written reply.” Sushun said, “Empress Dowagers can read it for yourselves.”
    That was not suitable for a courtier to say to the empress dowagers. But he had said it. He spoke so loudly that the young emperor was frightened and turned to hide his face in the bosom of East Empress Dowager.
    “Can a courtier express his opinion to the emperor?” asked West Empress Dowager.
    “No, he can't, since the counselors will take care of things one by one in proper order.” said Sushun stubbornly.

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