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Thread: Empress dowager cixi

  1. #61
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    That afternoon, forgetful of the nap they took everyday, the two empress dowagers had a discussion about the serious situation.
    “It's surprised that they couldn't behave themselves.” said East Empress Dowager.
    “They looked like they wanted to beat us to pulps.” said West Empress Dowager.
    “Now what?” asked East Empress Dowager.
    “I intended to keep it quiet for a while, but they forced my hand. Now we have to go back to the old ruse and forget about it till the broth cools.”
    But they forgot that their rivals were not wooden mummies.
    Next morning they waited for the reports to be delivered to them, but none came. It was not until late in the morning that the bad news came instead of the reports. The head eunuch of the palace dashed in to report to them that the counselors were on strike and the whole palace was in panic. Everyone was afraid that something terrible would happen. The two empress dowagers looked at each other without a word. They bade the head eunuch to go for further information.
    They conversed about the situation once more. What could they do when no one listened to them in the Summer Palace? Unless they returned to the capital, where they had Yixin for support. Suddenly a Chinese saying occurred in the mind of West Empress Dowager, which goes like that, “It's not too late for a gentleman to revenge after ten years.” So at last they gave in and imprinted their seals on the written reply to contradict the suggestion. When the counselors got it back, they enjoyed their victory over the empress dowagers. They won the second round, regardless of the obvious fact that the empress dowagers were always over them in power and rank, like a sword hanging by a hair over their heads.
    Commander Shengbao had passed a government test and was deemed a scholar. After two promotions as an official, he had been made a general since rebellion occurred in many provinces. He had victory over the enemies in quite a few battles. As a result, he got many gifts of honor from the emperor, like a peacock's tail feather and a yellow coat. (The color yellow was the imperial color in Qing Dynasty. No one should use this color except with the permission of the emperor, like the gift of the yellow coat.) And finally he had acquired the promotion to be a commander with several generals under him. Although he had been beaten in the fight against the foreign troops in the defense of the capital, no one had challenged his authority and reputation, because at that time, defeat by the foreign armies was thought of as a matter of course. If someone could defeat a foreign army with guns and cannons, it would be a great surprise and this person was a wonder-worker. For most weapons used by the government armies were still swords and spears, bows and arrows. It was said that China had invented gunpowder, but only utilized it to make firecrackers.

  2. #62
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    When Commander Shengbao sent in a request that he wished to come in person to pay his last respects to the late emperor to show his loyalty and gratitude, Sushun wanted at first to refuse him, but at the insistence of the empress dowagers, he had to give in. Commander Shengbao brought his five hundred bodyguards for his own safety. Everyone in Rehe wanted to get on his good side. He was more than warmly welcomed. After he kowtowed and mourned before the coffin of the late emperor, he returned to his lodging place and received many visitors. But an important visitor he was expecting came at night. It was Head Clerical Official Zao. Commander Shengbao was haughty and arrogant as he had had so many merits. He treated his generals and officers as his slaves, many of whom were illiterate. But he esteemed scholars and talented officials. He received Head Clerical Official Zao with due decorum, though his rank was much higher than that of the visitor. He told Zao that he had met Yixin on the way here as Yixin was on his way back to the capital. Zao gathered that he had known most of the things already and told him only new developments.
    “Critique Official Dong is a blockhead.” commented Commander Shengbao, “He deserved the reprimand from Sushun.”
    “I think such a suggestion should be made by someone with a much higher rank.” said Zao.
    Commander Shengbao agreed and added, “I've half a mind to do it myself, but now's not the right time.”
    “Better after the empress dowagers and the emperor get safely back to the capital.” Commander Shengbao nodded his head and the strategy was thus settled.
    Before Commander Shengbao left, he gave two hundred taels of silver to every official there as a gift. The problem was that if anyone rejected it, it would be like to smear a speck of mud on his face. No one wanted to offend him. Besides, officials living on mere salary were really poor and always needed extra money. So everyone accepted it. They thought it was a gift, not a bribery. But what's the difference between the two?

  3. #63
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    Chapter 16

    Sushun always wanted to belittle West Empress Dowager, because she was the ambitious one, but he didn't succeed. Now he got another idea to see the two empress dowagers separately. He figured that he might get more things done with East Empress Dowager alone. When the two empress dowagers were made known to his demand, they had a conversation.
    “I don't know why they want that.” said East Empress Dowager.
    “Because you are so good-hearted that they can cheat you.”
    “That's what I'm afraid of. We'll still see them together.”
    “But if we receive them separately, you may hear things different than when we are together.”
    “What if they ask me to make some decisions?”
    “You can say you'll think about it.”
    “What if it's emergency and they need an immediate solution?”
    West Empress Dowager knew that's the problem, but after a while of consideration, she was struck with an idea. She said, “For important things, we must use two seals on the papers. After you use your seal, they must come to me for mine. If it's inappropriate, I'll refuse. We'll play white face and red face.” (Just like playing good cop and bad cop.)
    After the crisis, even the courtiers in the capital knew that there had been a quarrel between the empress dowagers and the counselors. Sushun wanted to show to all the courtiers and governors that the empress dowagers still trusted him; so he asked East Empress Dowager to receive him alone. Two empress dowagers had a talk about it and then consented to his request.
    Sushun kowtowed to East Empress Dowager before he spoke. “I put my whole heart to work for the benefits of our empire, but still someone complains against me. How can I continue to work like that?” He complained to East Empress Dowager, who assuaged him accordingly.

  4. #64
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    “Since there are still wars in the southern provinces, we must save every tael of silver to support the wars.” observed Sushun.
    “You are right.” responded East Empress Dowager.
    “But not everyone thinks so.” Sushun complained again.
    “What happened?” asked East Empress Dowager.
    “Holy Mother Empress Dowager wants too many unnecessary things.”
    “Like What?”
    ”Like more bowls, plates and some such things.”
    “Such things won't make us poorer.”
    “What if everyone else follow her example?”
    “She is an empress dowager. Not everyone here is an empress dowager. And I know you work hard and are loyal to the emperor.”
    “But still, many are complaining behind my back.”
    “Don't listen to others. Just do your job. We trust you.” East Empress Dowager comforted him.
    “One thing more. There's gossip that Holy Mother Empress Dowager (West Empress Dowager) often receives male relative. It's against etiquette. Mother Queen Empress Dowager's (East Empress Dowager) better advise Hole Mother Empress Dowager not to do so.” East Empress Dowager just nodded.

  5. #65
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    Sushun could think of nothing more to say and had to retire. His goal wasn't achieved. He had wished that when he complained, East Empress Dowager would have given him some kind of gifts or bestowed on him some kind of an honorary title. But nothing, only an empty word of praise.
    The two empress dowagers met when Sushun left. East Empress Dowager told West Empress Dowager everything she could remember. Though indignant, West Empress Dowager said, “Sushun is right. We still have war going on in the southern provinces. We must save every coin for it. From now on I won't ask him for a thing.” Meanwhile, she said to herself, “If I have power some day, I'll make himself kneel before me and let a eunuch slap his face hard and then execute him.” She gnashed her teeth secretly.
    Then the chief counselors had a meeting. Duanhua said to Sushun, “East Side is dumb. She might not get what you said.” Then he suggested to Zaihuan, “We must use the strategy: Retreat First For the Purpose of Advance.” They decided to try it. So next day when they went to see the two empress dowagers, they put up an oral resignation from some of the insignificant positions. Generally when a courtier sent in a resignation, the emperor, now the empress dowagers, would always refuse the resignation and say some words of encouragement, even give a gift or an honorary title, which was what they just wanted. But this time, unusually, the empress dowagers accepted their resignations and gave all these positions to some other courtiers. Their subterfuge failed. And they could not withdraw the resignations.

  6. #66
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    On the day they were to leave the Summer Palace, they were divided into two groups. One group started first, which mainly comprised the empress dowagers, the young emperor and seven counselors and all the other courtiers. The other group departed later, which chiefly were Sushun and Yihuan, escorting the late emperor's coffin. This group could not move fast because of the coffin. They were not in a hurry, as a matter of fact. But the two empress dowagers wanted to reach the capital as soon as possible. They urged others to hurry. They wished that they could have grown a pair of wings and flown to Peking, out of any danger that could come from the counselors. They were not even in a mood to look at the beautiful scenery along the road, the colored leaves, the blue sky dotted sparsely with a few banks of white fluffy clouds and sometimes a vulture swooping down upon a prey somewhere at a distance.
    At length they arrived at a place very close to the capital. All the courtiers remaining in Peking, headed by Yixin, came here to welcome the return of the empress dowagers and the emperor. The sight of Yixin and those courtiers incurred a feeling of safety in the two empress dowagers. Ronglu was among them. He was now a high-rank officer in command of an army guarding the capital.
    There was a temporary residence for the emperor. They lodged there for the night. After a rest, to wash dust off of their faces and hands, to have some tea and snacks, the two empress dowagers received Yixin. East Empress Dowager asked, “Is everything all right in the capital?”
    “Everything's all right and ready.” was the answer. (A vague assurance.) But both empress dowagers understood. East Empress Dowager queried, “How about the Forbidden City?”
    “They are ready to welcome Empress Dowagers and Emperor back.”
    They arrived in the capital on November 1. Once inside the Forbidden City, the two empress dowagers felt really safe. Even assassins could not easily get in. After a rest, the empress dowagers sent for Yixin, who came immediately and reported to the empress dowagers all the arrangements he had made. Everything was ready for the action.

  7. #67
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    Yixin had had a meeting with three prime ministers, who disliked Sushun and had great influence among courtiers. They readily gave their support when Yixin made his plan acquainted with them. A prime minister should often be a scholar, who often had a lot of pupils among courtiers, like an old tree with many branches. It was because when one became a minister he had had chances to be a head examiner in government tests. The testees who passed the test were traditionally deemed as the pupils of the examiners. And a prime minister was promoted from a minister.
    Next day when all the courtiers were in the resting room, the empress dowagers summoned Yixin and those prime ministers and Wenqiang, who was Yixin's first follower, excluding the counselors, of course. Zaihuan shouted, “The empress dowagers can't summon courtiers. That's against the tradition.” But they ignored him and went to see the empress dowagers.
    The empress dowagers told those prime ministers how the counselors disobeyed them, even bullied them. Once the counselors had been so fierce that when arguing with the empress dowagers that the young emperor had been so frightened that he had begun to cry and even wetted his pants, and also wetted the clothes of East Empress Dowager. The prime ministers were thus instigated and wanted justice to be done. One of them, Prime Minister Zhou, said in ire, “Why didn't the empress dowagers punish them?”
    “They are counselors appointed by the late emperor. Can counselors be punished?” asked West Empress Dowager.
    “Why Not?” said Prime Minister Zhou, “Empress dowagers can issue an order to deprive them of the title of counselorship first, and then punish them.”
    At the suggestion, East Empress Dowager turned her back to them and like a magician produced from her inner pocket a small scroll, the order prewritten on October 21 when still in the Summer Palace. East Empress Dowager had hidden it on her person all the way to the capital. She handed it to Yixin, telling him to read it to those prime ministers. Yixin unrolled the scroll open and read it to them.

  8. #68
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    It accused the counselors, especially the three chief counselors, of the following main crimes: When they assisted the late emperor, they handled the state affairs improperly, causing the foreign countries to invade and the late emperor had to leave the capital; when in the Summer Palace they dissuaded the late emperor from returning to the capital when peace was restored so that the late emperor's health deteriorated and the late emperor died there; they opposed to the empress dowagers to handle the state affairs.
    Each of the crimes would put the counselors to death sentence, but the order only declared that the counselors be deprived of the title. That's not enough now, for they could counterattack later. So the second order was issued for the arrest of the three chief counselors and the removal of the other five counselors from office.
    Yixin took the written orders and went back to the resting room with the prime ministers and Wenqiang. When he read the orders, Zaihuan yelled, “We've just arrived, where came the orders?” He meant that only counselors could issue orders, in the emperor's name of course. He didn't know that anyone could issue orders, once he or she had powerful support, namely, support of forces.
    Yixin ordered the palace guards to tie Zaihuan and Duanhua and put them into the royal prison, where only high rank courtiers were entitled to be imprisoned. Other five counselors were sent home for further orders. It was November 2, 1861.
    Sushun was still free since he didn't arrive yet. He was on the way. He must be in irons and fetters before the news reached him. If he got the wind that his partners were in jail, he would either rebel or escape, either of which would be trouble.

  9. #69
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    Yihuan, Yixin's brother, was with Sushun. They would stay for the night in a small town. Yixin dispatched a messenger there with a written order to take Sushun into custody. The order was delivered to Yihuan, who was to carry it out. A plan was formed for the arrest. Yihuan sent for the head bodyguard of Sushun. When he came, Yihuan asked him whether he would be loyal to the emperor or to Sushun. It was a difficult question to answer, worth careful consideration, and it meant that something serious happened between Sushun and the emperor, namely, the two empress dowagers. He was given a chance to choose which side he would be on since he was Sushun's head bodyguard. Of course, he could not say to Yihuan that he was loyal to Sushun. Only one choice left for him. So he vowed his loyalty to the emperor.
    Yihuan ordered him to lead the way to Sushun's temporary residence. A group of soldiers followed Yihuan. When Sushun's other guards saw this, they didn't know what to do as their head guard was among them. They looked at the head guard, hoping to see some hint in his eyes, but the head guard looked down at the ground. So they just let Yihuan and the group of soldiers pass before them. The residence was already surrounded by other soldiers. Most of Sushun's guards were staying with the coffin of the late emperor, as if someone wanted to steal the coffin or the corpse. But in reality, many valuable things were in the coffin to be buried with the late emperor. If anything happened to the coffin, even if nothing was stolen, anyone in charge would be severely punished. So Sushun had sent most of his guards there to assure the absolute safety.
    The soldiers disarmed all Sushun's guards for assurance that there would not be a riot. When the soldiers broke into his room, he slept with his two concubines. Sushun was very angry that his slumber was interrupted, the soldiers seized him by force. Two soldiers held him in a kneeling pose when Yihuan read him the written order in the young emperor's name. It was midnight of the fourth date of the eleventh moon.

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    Chapter 17

    Since all the counselors were either arrested or removed from office, a new power center should be established. Yixin gathered his main followers in his residence for a meeting. This time they decided that there should be six secretaries in the Bureau. Besides Yixin himself, Wenqiang, Baojun and the former head clerical official Zao were all made secretaries. Yixin gave away the positions as political gifts to his followers for their loyalty to him. Yixin's father-in-law would be a secretary, too. He was too old to do any actual duties. He was put there as an adviser. Another secretary was chosen from courtiers of Han Clan to balance the race proportion in the Bureau. The list was approved by the empress dowagers. Yixin was made the head secretary. There had been an unspoken bargain between Yixin and West Empress Dowager. She made Yixin the head secretary and Yixin supported the empress dowager system. Power re-allotted.
    When Yihuan brought Sushun to the capital, he reported to Yixin how he had arrested Sushun. Yixin asked him if Sushun had said anything on the way here. Yihuan told his brother that Sushun had said that West Empress Dowager was a poisonous snake and would bite anyone anytime when she thought it was necessary. Yixin ignored the warning.
    Sushun was put into the same prison with the other two counselors. Sushun had advised them to kill the empress dowagers on the way to the capital, but they didn't follow his advice, being scornful of women. Now the three of them accused one another of being slow in decision, negligent in stratagem and unnecessarily merciful to enemies, but all to no avail. Sushun wanted to send a letter out secretly to his faithful followers so that they could think of some way to rescue him, but no jailer dared to do such a thing. So this **** of his wouldn't fight. He then planned that if they would try him in a court, he would plead vehemently and ask for hard evidence to delay the verdict as long as possible that he might find a way to escape. But that **** of his wouldn't fight, either. They simply didn't try him in a court.

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    The Secretarial Bureau had a meeting to discuss what were the offences that the three chief counselors had committed. There was no debate, no opposition. No one defended Sushun. They concluded unanimously that there were eight offenses.
    (1) When the late emperor was lying on the deathbed and wanted them to draft a will for the late emperor, they put in some words that were not what the late emperor meant. And they refused to follow the instructions of the empress dowagers and did everything, using their own free will.
    (2) They always said that they were the counselors and could not listen to the empress dowagers and that the empress dowagers should not read the reports.
    (3) They always said that the empress dowagers should not see the princes, who were the emperor's relatives. They wanted to alienate them and isolated the empress dowagers.
    (4) Sushun even sat on the throne and used the late emperor's things.
    (5) Sushun refused to give the things that the empress dowagers asked for.
    (6) Sushun always wanted to estrange one empress dowager from the other.
    (7) When Sushun was under custody, he still said nasty things about the empress dowagers.
    (8) When Sushun escorted the late emperor's coffin to the capital, he lived with his concubines. (It was against the tradition and showed that he was not in a mourning state of mind.)
    When the accusations were passed in the Secretarial Bureau, Yixin reported the result of the meeting to the empress dowagers, who just signed an order to execute the chief counselors, Sushun, Duanhua and Zaihuan, immediately, without giving them a chance to plead.
    Sushun was executed publicly and hastily. A courtier was sent to supervise the execution of Sushun. Sushun would be carried in a wooden cage on a cart drawn by a donkey. The courtier knew if Sushun was aware that he's going to die, he would use his last strength to resist. He would surely be subdued at last, but it was a trouble no one liked. So when he saw Sushun in the prison cell, he lied to him, “They are having a meeting and want me to bring you there for the interrogation.”

  12. #72
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    “They treat me so unfair. I helped the late emperor to handle the state affairs in such a difficult time. I must let them know.” Sushun complained. So he walked out of the cell and followed the courtier to the prison gate. But when he was put into the cage on a cart and went to a different direction, he knew he was trapped. He didn't say anything then, only closing his eyes. He intended to tell the onlookers what he knew about West Empress Dowager and Yixin before he was beheaded. Jailers knew that there were three kinds of prisoners with a death sentence. If a prisoner heard the death sentence and was scared **** out, it was the first kind and easy to deal with. The second kind was the one, who would cry aloud and stamp feet, hearing the penalty of death, but when his energy was thus exhausted, nothing would happen at the execution site. The last kind was the most difficult to handle. Aware of the death sentence, the prisoner was very calm and said nothing, then something would surely happen before the execution. And Sushun could be classified in the last category.
    The news of the execution of Sushun spread out fast. So people thronged to where the execution spot was set. It was always at a spacious market place. All the vendors were cleared and a guillotine was set up. Behind the guillotine was a table, where the courtier would sit to oversee the execution. The place was crowded with onlookers. More people lined on either side along the route the prisoner's cart was supposed to pass. It was not until noon that the prisoner's cart arrived at the execution spot. There were all sorts of things covering the cage, the cart, even on Sushun, from the vegetable bits to broken eggs, from traces of phlegm to small stones and mud lumps. It was no wonder because all those who hated him came and those who liked him didn't come. It was customary to behead the prisoner at noon when the sun was at its brightest. It was superstitiously believed that when the sun was shining overhead, the ghost of the prisoner when escaped from the dead body could do no harm to the executioner.

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    Not long after the prisoner arrived, an official came on horseback to announce the emperor's order of execution. Sushun rejected to kneel and began to say nasty things about West Empress Dowager and Yixin. A jailer slapped hard on his face. Another kicked him behind his knees so that he went down, but before he could fall on his stomach, the jailer who had kicked him pulled his pigtail to stop his falling, thus making him stay on his knees. Then the executioner came forward. He didn't bring down the sharp wide-bladed sword like people imagined. He aimed the sharp edge of his sword behind the prisoner's neck and pushed very swiftly between two cervical vertebrae, thus severing the head. At the same time, he kicked the body down to elude the blood spurting out on his clothes.
    Prison was always the worst place in the world. No matter where and when. Once in a prison, whether guilty or not, the prisoner's family must bribe the jailers, or the prisoner would be ill-treated. Same with the executioner. He could make the prisoner die fast or die slow.
    Then another courtier was dispatched to the prison to announce to Duanhua and Zaihuan that they were to put an end to their lives with their own hands. But before he made the announcement, he had a sumptuous meal ready to give them. The last meal for them. He sat with them and drank with them like an old friend. But at least they knew one another since they worked together for the same emperor. After the meal was finished, he made the announcement that they were to end their own lives, if necessary, with a little help from jailors. It was always like that that they could choose between poisoning or hanging themselves. They were locked separately in a room. In each room on a table there were a rope and a cup of wine with poison in it. But when neither of them was willing to take his own life, the jailors had to step in to help. They were tied down on a long bench with a very thin piece of paper over their nose and mouth. Then the jailors sprinkled water on the paper, which stuck on the face to block the air from going in. They were smothered. It happened on November 8.

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    Another order was issued that Sushun's estate, including his personal properties, should be confiscated. Government clerks, headed by Secretary Wenqiang, went to his residences to register all the items and moved them into the national treasury.
    Sushun had two sons. The elder one had been adopted by his brother Duanhua, who had been in the royal prison. Duanhua had no son of his own. If he died and no one inherited his title of prince, the emperor would take back the title. Therefore, Duanhua had adopted his brother, Sushun's, son. Since Duanhua had followed the late emperor to the Summer Palace, the son had been living with his brother in Sushun's residence. Secretary Wenqiang knew the situation and sent the two sons to live at Duanhua's place, because this residence would be confiscated and given to another courtier, who should have made great contributions to the empire to deserve it. The sons were allowed to take whatever they liked, besides their personal belongings. While the sons were picking things, some servants and maids also picked up some valuables furtively and slipped them into their pockets. Even the tutor of the sons joined in the stealthy plundering. His servants and maids were dismissed with some money and their own belongings. His family members were moved to smaller houses with enough means to live on. This was lenient. The severe one could be that his family members became the slaves for heavy toil or even were executed together.

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    A lot of letters were found in Sushun's study. When Sushun had been in power, many officials and officers had written to him to vie into his favor. Some of his faithful followers had even implied in their letters that Sushun should have usurped the throne. Secretary Wenqiang knew that these letters were top secrets. If the contents of these letters were known to the public, it would put the government in a dilemma. So Secretary Wenqiang handled the matter very carefully. He wrapped up these letters himself into a package and took it to see Yixin. Yixin called for all the members of the Bureau and they discussed how to dispose of them. They thought that it was impossible to punish everyone who had had correspondence with Sushun. It would involve too many courtiers. It would cause great panic among courtiers. So the best way was to burn all the letters as if they never existed. The empress dowagers gave their assent to the decision. The letters were burned publicly among the courtiers.
    Then there was another order for the other five counselors. The late emperor's brother-in-law was pardoned, because everyone knew he was innocent. Others were removed from office and would never be employed again by the government. One of the other four was banished to a distant province, because he worked the longest as a secretary of state, but could not stand up against Sushun.
    West Empress Dowager resented Tu Han, also a counselor, who had often contradicted her when they had been in the Summer Palace. But she had to go easy with him, because his father had been the head tutor of the late emperor and East Empress Dowager forgave him on account of that. So West Empress Dowager couldn't insist on a severe punishment as the late emperor had been her husband, too. The wheel of destiny turns around the human relationship.
    When a formal statement about who were the new secretaries was made known to the public, both the courtiers and people at large welcomed it. When the late emperor hadn't appointed his own brother one of the counselors, many had held the view that it had been unfair and the recent appointment of him as the head secretary was thought of by the people as amends. Yihuan, his brother, was now in charge of the garrison troops of the Forbidden City. It was just the job after his heart. The dream of his childhood came true now. He had always wished to be a general or a commander.

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