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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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    empress dowager cixi

    At three year's intervals, the selection of girls for the emperor would begin. It lasted for several months. First, every family of the Mandarin Clan would report their unmarried daughters between ages 13 and 17 to the Clan Affairs Management. The management would send some officials and eunuchs to check out the girls on the list. That was the first stage of the selection. Many names on the long list would be crossed out. Those still on the list would be sent into the Forbidden City for further sifting. Among those selected, some would be sent to the princes. If lucky, they would become the concubines of the princes. Some of the selected would be the royal waiting maids in the palaces. Only a handful of luckiest girls would be in the presence of the emperor.
    Most girls, however, still longed to be selected and live in the Forbidden City, either as royal maids or as royal concubines. Even as a royal maid, if she took the emperor's fancy and had sex with him, she would become a royal concubine. But as a royal concubine, if the emperor was never interested in her, she would always live alone, till death released her from the solitary confinement. Just try luck when selected. But whether a girl was selected or not depended on the emperor himself or the empress dowager if there was one. The girl could do nothing to that effect.
    As destiny had it, LanEr was selected as a royal concubine and sent to live in the Round-Bright Garden, the Garden of All Gardens, as the foreigners called it. But getting into the palace was only the first step. If the emperor never looked at her, her fate would be miserable. Actually the emperor lived in the Forbidden City, not in the Garden. So LanEr was disappointed. But no worry. The lucky star was shining over her. The rebels in the southern provinces had founded their own regime. It was named The Peaceful Heavenly Kingdom The Qing government armies had been defeated. Reports came in from these provinces, bearing bad news. The emperor felt a headache whenever he read these reports. Therefore, he moved into the Round-bright Garden with the queen, wishing a better environment would assuage his headache when he had to read those reports in dismay. Now LanEr had the chance. She wanted to approach the emperor, but didn't dare to do so, because there were strict rules of etiquette everywhere in the palace. One step amiss, regret the whole life. If she could not go near the emperor, why not let the emperor come to her? Good idea. She always got good ideas. She was so proud of herself.
    Emperor Xianfeng (1831-1861 and succeeded to the throne in 1850) came out from the queen's chamber. The queen was from Nugulu family. Her father was one of the prime ministers. (There was more than one prime ministers in Qing Dynasty, because the decision was made by the emperor himself, not by a prime minister.) The queen was kind, benevolent and demure. She never showed her teeth even when grinning. Okay. She never grinned, only smiled. That's what demureness required from a lady.
    The emperor sauntered in the royal garden towards his study. Suddenly he heard someone singing from behind a cluster of trees. The voice was so sweet that it magnetized him to it, like the song of the sirens. No resistance offered on his part. Indeed, the emperor never thought of resisting it. He was willing to be drawn to it, to so sweet a voice, a female voice. He was a man. How can a man resist a woman? Besides, he could conclude, from the sweet voice, that she must be a beautiful young girl. Never did an ugly woman have such a sweet voice. Is there any woman like that? Ugly but with a sweet voice? He had best explore it and find the answer for himself.
    Behind the grove there was a pavilion, in which a girl sat leaning on the railing. From the attire, he knew she was a royal concubine, but a new one he had never set his eyes on before.
    LanEr sat in the pavilion, singing her heart out. A bait she threw out. She had studied the location. It lay near the everyday route the emperor would take when he went to the queen? chamber from his study and then back. Now she saw the emperor coming. The fish to her hook. The biggest fish she could get.
    She got on her knees to welcome the emperor, who helped her on her feet. The emperor looked attentively at the new concubine. Beautiful. Really beautiful. The most beautiful among all his concubines. The queen was not so beautiful. But an emperor chose a queen for her demureness and decency of behavior, not for her beauty, but chose a concubine for her beauty. The emperor couldn't take his eyes away from the oval face, the straight nose, crescent-shaped eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes, clear as crystal, peach-colored cheeks with two dimples when smiling, ebony-black hair in a tress, a pretty contrast to her fair skin. She was dressed in a red brocade gown of the Mandarin style. The emperor touched her hand, jade-white, with red nails. He felt his heart beating wildly against his rib cage like he were having a palpitation. The emperor was only in his early twenties. His hormones rushed up.
    So that night the emperor slept with LanEr. She became known later as Royal Concubine Yan, the emperor's favorite concubine. Before long, Concubine Yan got pregnant. The queen didn? have any children of her own and Concubine Yan was the only one pregnant among all the concubines at the time. So she got special treatment. Andehai (known later as Little An), the emperor's favorite eunuch, was sent to wait on her and then became her favorite eunuch. Andehai was a young eunuch with a handsome face and fair complexion. And the most important thing was that he knew how to flatter and to please. If he were to open a school to teach the skills of flattering, he would have had a lot of students.
    Emperor Xianfeng was expecting a son, an heir and a successor. If Concubine Yan gave birth to a girl, her side of the scales would tip up and lose the favorite balance, and also her importance in the eye of the emperor. And also her ambition. But as fate would have it, she bore a son to the great expectation of the emperor. Now her side of the scales sank. Her position in the palace was unshakable. Even the queen sometimes would yield to her wishes.

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    Chapter 4

    Emperor Xianfeng had such a strong desire for sex that he couldn't spend a single night sleeping without a woman beside him in bed. The emperor had nineteen concubines. According to the palace records about the procedures for the emperor's sex life, the emperor never went to the chamber of any concubines. Every night before the emperor went to bed, a eunuch brought in a tray on which lay many small rectangular wooden pieces with the names of all the concubines inscribed on them. The eunuch held the tray high above his head on his knees before the emperor. If the emperor decided on someone, he would turn upside down the wooden piece with the name on it. Then the eunuch went to the chamber of the concubine the emperor had chosen. The concubine was stripped naked. Two other eunuchs put a blanket around her and carried her on their shoulders to the emperor's bedroom. The eunuchs laid down the concubine at the foot of the emperor's bed and taking the blanket off of the concubine, they left the emperor's bedroom. The nude concubine crawled to the pillows and lay down beside the emperor. In the morning, the two eunuchs came back to wrap the concubine in the blanket and carried her back to her own chamber. The date and the name of the concubine were recorded so that if the concubine got pregnant, they could count the days to make sure the child was the emperor's flesh and blood, not someone else's. Since he was so fond of Royal Concubine Yan, he sent for her into his bedroom almost every night, even when she was with child. They were happy together in bed. Sometimes the emperor slept so late that he missed holding his court.
    His courtiers came early and waited in the resting room, but the emperor never showed up to meet them to hear their reports or have discussions about all the national affairs. The written instructions set up and handed down by the ancestors wouldn't allow such negligence of state affairs. But the courtiers could do nothing about it. They were not permitted to go to the emperor's chamber to rouse him. The queen could, nevertheless. When she learned it from the eunuchs, (eunuchs were all gossips.) she sent her head eunuch to the chamber the emperor was sleeping in. The head eunuch carried on his head the book, in which the instructions of the ancestors had been written. He knelt before the chamber door and began to recite the instructions aloud. When the emperor heard it, he must get down from the bed and listen to the recitation on his knees. If the emperor was still sound asleep and didn't hear it, his head eunuch would go to wake him up. Of course, the emperor would be annoyed, but he couldn't ignore the instructions of his ancestors. He had to dress up and go to meet his courtiers. This happened too often lately, to the queen's liking. So one day, the queen went there herself with the book on her head. The emperor's head eunuch saw the queen coming and went immediately into the chamber to report to the emperor, who jumped out of bed and had barely time to put on his shoes. He opened the door and found himself face to face with the queen. He said hastily, ?nough, enough. I'll go now.So the queen waited at the door till the emperor left for his court session.
    Then the queen ordered Royal Concubine Yan to follow her to Kunning Palace. (The whole Forbidden City was the emperor's residence, inside which there were many buildings. Each building was called a palace in Chinese.) Kunning Palace was a place where the queen held her court generally when she wanted to punish someone. The queen was the second in power in the Forbidden City.
    "You shouldn't let the emperor sleep so late and neglect the state affairs. Do you know it's your fault?" The queen accused Concubine Yan.
    In the Forbidden City, if anyone was accused of anything by his or her superiors, no matter it's his or her fault or not, he or she must say, "It's my fault." And then he or she must beg to be punished. If the punishment was inflicted, when it was over, he or she must thank his or her superiors for being punished. Likewise, if anyone was to be executed by the order of the emperor or the queen, he or she must thank the emperor or the queen for the execution. That's feudal China. Ridiculous?

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    So Royal Concubine Yan said accordingly, “Yes, it's my fault.” But she pleaded, “I can't refuse to be carried to the emperor's chamber.” (Implied, that is no use to be jealous? “I can't tell the emperor what to do if he wants to sleep late.” (Implied, don't blame me.)”
    The queen flared up and ordered her eunuchs to beat Concubine Yan. Two eunuchs held her down on the floor. A third eunuch fetched a wooden stick. Just as the stick was being brought down, a voice, panting, shouted, “Stop!” The emperor came to her rescue.
    When the emperor was holding the meeting with his courtiers, one of his eunuchs came running to whisper to the emperor that the queen took Concubine Yan to Kunning Palace. The emperor knew at once what would happen. He adjourned the meeting till tomorrow and hurried to Kunning Palace, just in time to prevent the beating.
    “Oh, my dear queen,” said the emperor sweetly, “Though Queen have the right to beat her, Queen can't beat her today.(In Qing Dynasty, Emperor and Queen were used to address the emperor and the queen. Or Empress Dowager was used to address an empress dowager.)

    “Why not?” The queen looked dubious.
    “Because Concubine Yan is pregnant.” The emperor acquainted the queen with the surprising happy news.
    The emperor had no son yet. If an emperor had no heir, it was deemed as a sin to his ancestors. So pregnancy in the palace was very significant in the eye of the queen. Concubine Yan was spared and sent back to her own chamber.
    “Since Concubine Yan is pregnant, Emperor should let her have more rest. Emperor should no longer sleep with her till her child is born.The queen warned the emperor. (The superiors could use pronouns and names to address or mention the subordinates.)

    * * *

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    Sushun and Duanhua were brothers. Since Duanhua was the elder one, he inherited the title of Prince Zheng when their father died. But the younger brother was a man of ability and determination. The brothers, especially the younger one, had won the emperor's favor by offering things to the emperor's liking. They often suggested to the emperor how to have fun and even provided him with every possible diversion and pastime. The most desired fun to the emperor was sex.
    The younger brother, Sushun, knew that the emperor could no longer sleep in Concubine Yan's chamber at present. Therefore, he found some very beautiful women, who belonged to Han Clan (The ruling class of Qing Dynasty was Mandarin Clan.) and stole them into the Round-Bright Garden, where the emperor lived most of the year while he should live in the Forbidden City. The Round-Bright Garden was located outside the capital, Peking. The garden had hills and lakes, trees and flowers that covered almost every inch of the ground with footpaths zigzagging among them. Even in the winter, the snowy scene was also beautiful. All the buildings, the pavilions and the arbors, were imitated from the architecture of the famous structures all over the country. The emperor liked to live in the Round-Bright Garden, not just because of its beautiful scenery, but mostly because when he was in the Forbidden City, he must do almost everything in accordance with certain etiquette set up by his ancestors, but when he dwelt in the Garden, there were not so many rules required to observe. Life was a bit easier there for him.
    But his ancestors had set up a rule that women with small deformed feet were inhibited to enter any of the emperor's residences. Women of Han Clan had such feet. So the emperor broke the rule to accept them. Among these Han Clan women, one was a widow, some were whores from brothels. All were beauties. One of the whores was originally the mistress of a courtier, who, when aware of it, sent in a report of advice, saying that the emperor should not keep Han Clan women in the Garden. The emperor wrote a sentence on the report and gave it back to the courtier. It said, “You are jealous.” Among all the women of Han Clan, there were four beauties the emperor liked best. He named them Apricot Spring, Peach Spring, Peony Spring and Crabapple Spring (Crabapple here means Chinese flowering crabapple.) They were called Four Springs by the maids and eunuchs in the Garden.

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    After giving birth to a son, Concubine Yan expected the emperor's visit everyday, but for a long time the emperor seemed forgetting her. At length she came to the knowledge that the emperor kept a lot of Han Clan women in the Garden. But she could do nothing about it. Only the queen could produce the book containing the ancestral instructions. She must seek alliance in the queen. So she went to pay her respect to the queen. She knelt before the queen and kowtowed. The queen bade her to stand up after the ritual.
    “Queen.” She began, “Does Queen know why the emperor looks thinner day by day?”
    “No idea.” Replied the queen. “What have you heard?”
    “The emperor has many Han Clan women hidden somewhere in the Garden.”
    “That's against the rule.”
    “So. That's why I must report to Queen. Queen must interfere. I'm not jealous. I'm only concerned with the emperor's health.”
    Therefore, the queen decided to search the garden. Early one morning, many maids and eunuchs followed the queen into the Round-Bright Garden. Concubine Yan accompanied the queen there. They searched every building, every corner in the buildings, but couldn? find any of the Han Clan women supposed to be there. They had been there before, but when the emperor got the wind that the queen would search the garden, he ordered them to be removed to some secret place.
    It was said that the emperor liked to have fun outside the Forbidden City. He went out in plain clothes. Once he stole out of the Forbidden City, strolling in the streets, followed by a eunuch and some bodyguards, also in plain clothes. He looked this way and that, at all the interesting things he had never seen before. Someone was kneading a few colored doughs. Then picking pieces of dough off from here and there, he made a female figure out of them. The hair, the face with a mouth, a nose, eyes and ears, colored clothes, the hands and shoes. Nothing missing. Then he made another, a male figure. The figures were taken after the characters from well-known operas. Looking so vivid. Just wonderful. So the emperor told the eunuch to buy both and bring them back to his palace. He had them displayed on his desk. But after a while when the dough dried, there appeared some cracks on the figures. And the last place the figures ended up in was among the garbage.
    Another time when the emperor was sauntering along a narrow street, he saw a young beautiful woman standing at the door of a dye shop. She was the owner's wife. When he made for the door, the woman stepped aside to let him in. He walked in like he was a customer and talked to the woman since the husband was in the back of the shop. He said to the woman that he could make her husband rich if she was willing to be his concubine. The woman was at a loss what to say to such an improper proposal. Just then, the husband came out. The emperor left with his attendants. Next day a stranger came into the shop. His servants carried in two boxes. A big heavy box they left on the floor and a small one they put on the table. The man announced that the emperor wanted his wife. If he refused, he must drink the poisonous wine in the cup in the small box. If he agreed, he could keep this big box full of gold. Besides, the emperor would make him a government official. He must choose between the two. He had to choose the latter, even if he loved his wife. The wife was taken and sent to live with the women of Han Clan. Sushun had done another favor to the emperor.

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    Chapter 5

    Unfortunately for Emperor Xianfeng, in the second year of his reign, 1851, a great rebellion broke out in the south of China on a large scale, in a religious cloak. But before that, there had been other rebellions in a religious cloak, too. These rebellions had lasted very long. There were two main rebellious organizations. First was the White Lotus Taoists, which had originated in the Yuan Dynasty to fight against the Mongolian Clan, who had galloped down south from Mongolia in the far north and after occupying China, had established the Yuan Dynasty. When the Mongolian Clan had been driven back after their reign of a little less than a hundred years, the White Lotus Taoists had been dormant, because the next dynasty, Ming Dynasty, had been founded by the same Han Clan. Sometimes, they had killed some corrupted officials. When the Mandarin Clan had set up their Qing Dynasty, the White Lotus Taoists had risen up to arms again like an awakened lion or a phoenix rising from the ashes. Especially from 1793 to 1802, they had combated against the Mandarin Clan in five provinces in Midwest China. The other main rebellious organization was Heaven & Earth Society, first organized in 1786 in Taiwan. After 1793, they had set foot on the mainland. Their branches had scattered over many provinces, but battled separately, never united.

    * * *

    Since early in Qing Dynasty, many clergymen and priests had come to China to save the souls of the Chinese people. They had left their footprints everywhere, even in the remote villages. Using the western religious theory as their basic creeds, the largest and longest rebellious organization was born in 1851. It was called God-Worshipper Society. There had been quite a few rebellions since the Mandarin Clan had crossed the Great Wall and conquered the Han Clan. These were really political organizations in a religious cloak. So was the God-Worshipper Society.
    The leader of the God-Worshipper Society was then a young man, Hong by name, born on January 10, 1813, in Guangdong Province. His father was a peasant, tilling the fields to grow vegetables and raising poultries. Hong had two older brothers, who helped their father with the sowing and reaping work. At that time cows were used to plough the ground. They had two cows. Though the family was not rich, they had enough to live on. So the father sent his youngest son, Hong, to a local tutor for education, pinning the hope on the son that some day he would pass the government tests and become an official. But karma arranged for him to take another road in his life. He failed all the tests. In 1836 after his last test failed, he met with someone in the streets of Canton City, who was distributing some books. Hong was given a copy, but he kept it at home and never read it. The failure in the tests made him so downhearted that he decided he would no longer take the tests. He became a tutor giving classes to children in his village.

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    One day in May of 1843, he found time heavy on hands. As he wanted to get some book to read for pastime, he came across the copy long forgotten. It was a gospel book written by a Chinese Christian. The book charmed him so much after he finished it that he wanted to tell people things in the book. So he quit tutoring and started preaching. He no more believed in Buddha. He no more believed in Confucius, whom almost all the scholars worshipped. He believed in God now and created the God-Worshipper Society. He left home for another province, Guangxi Province (west to Guangdong Province he was born in), and turned over a new leaf in his life. He preached in villages after villages there, sowing his seeds. His believers increased rapidly. He set up his headquarters in Jintian Village, which was like a gunpowder barrel that only needed a match.
    In 1850, there were droughts in Guangxi Province. Food was scarce. The food merchants raised the prices. People who were starving began to attack the rich people's residences for food. The rich people organized their own guards to resist. The God-Worshipper Society had its believers in many places all over the province. The believers consisted of all kinds of people, from rich residents to poor tramps, from charcoal burners to peasants. In 1851, a match was applied to the gunpowder barrel. A small town police officer, who had been sent to arrest a thief, came across the charcoal burners in the woods near Jintian Village on his way back. He was a corrupted officer and often racketeered people for money. This time he asked for money from the charcoal burners, who made charcoals from the tree branches and lived from hand to mouth. Of course, they refused his demand. As the charcoal burners greatly outnumbered his policemen, he had to leave empty-handed, but he threatened to come back with more policemen to arrest them as rebels. The charcoal burners were afraid and gathered in a rich believer's yard for a discussion what to do. Meantime, the police officer happened to meet another rich believer and took his concubine away from him as a vengeance on the believers. Now the gunpowder was ignited. All the believers came to Jintian Village and the leader Hong declared that God was Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ was Heavenly Brother and that he was Heavenly Son sent down by Heavenly Father to save the world. Then he organized them. They called themselves the Peaceful Army, because their purpose was to bring peace to this world. The uprising took place on January 11, 1851.
    The emperor received the report about the riot seven days later. He sent government armies to quench the rebellion. The Peaceful Army marched eastbound. They defeated the armies of Qing government and took over quite a few towns, but they didn't stay there long. They continued the eastward advance till they came to YongAn City. The word YongAn means long safety It's a good name for a city. So they founded a kingdom there, called Peaceful Heavenly Kingdom. Hong made himself the Heavenly King and gave titles to his chief followers, who were also leaders of troops. There were so many kings in this kingdom: East King, North King, West King, South King, Shrewdness King, Swallow King, Protection King, Assistant King and Wing King, who should be like the wings of a bird to make it fly up.

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    Sorry for noticing this work only now, xiwoo.
    It reads like a great Chinese epic with historical background.It reminds me of Tolstois´s War and Peace.
    I suppose it already exists in bookform in Chinese.
    I am a bit curious to know what made you chose LitNet as your English platform.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    I wrote it directly in English. No such a book in Chinese. It was already published in bookform and can be bought on amazon.com

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