THE EMPEROR KWANG HSU
THE next day I arose earlier than usual and dressed in a great hurry, as I feared I might be late. When I got to Her Majesty's Palace there were a few Court ladies there sitting on the veranda. They smiled and asked me to sit down with them as it was still too early, being only five o'clock. I had been told to wake Her Majesty at five thirty. The Young Empress came up a few minutes later and we all courtesied and wished her "good morning." After talking with us a few minutes, she asked if Her Majesty was awake and which one of us was on duty that day. When I informed her that it was my turn, she immediately ordered me to go to Her Majesty's room at once. I went very quietly and found some servant girls standing about and one Court lady, who was sitting on the floor. She had been on duty all night. When she saw me she got up and whispered to me, that now that I had come, she would go and change her clothes and brush up a bit, and for me not to leave the room until Her Majesty was awake. After this Court lady had gone, I went near to the bed and said: "Lao Tsu Tsung, it is half-past five." She was sleeping with her face toward the wall, and without looking to see who had called her, she said: "Go away and leave me alone. I did not tell you to call me at half-past five. Call me at six," and immediately went off to sleep again. I waited until six and called her again. She woke and said: "This is dreadful. What a nuisance you are." After she had said this, she looked around and saw me standing by the bed. "Oh! it is you, is it? Who told you to come and wake me?" I replied: "One of the Court ladies told me that it was my turn to be on duty in Lao Tsu Tsung's bedchamber." "That is funny. How dare they give orders without receiving instructions from me first? They know that this part of their duty is not very pleasant and have put it off on you because they know you are new here." I made no reply to this. I got along as best I could that day and found it no easy matter, as Her Majesty was very exacting in everything. However, the next time I managed to divert her attention to things new or interesting in order to take her mind off of what she was doing, and in this way had much less trouble getting her out of bed.
My reader can't imagine how very glad we were to get back to our rooms, and it was just 10:30 P. M. I was very tired and sleepy, so I undressed and went to bed at once. I think that as soon as my head touched the pillow I was asleep.
The following day there was the same thing, the usual audience in the morning, of course busy all the time, which went on for fifteen days before I realized it. I began to take great interest in the Court life, and liked it better every day. Her Majesty was very sweet and kind to us always, and took us to see the different places in the Summer Palace. We went to see Her Majesty's farm, situated on the west side of the lake, and had to cross over a high bridge to get there. This bridge is called Tu Tai Chiao (Jade Girdle Bridge). Her Majesty often took us under this bridge in a boat, or we walked round on the border. She seemed very fond of sitting on the top of this bridge on her stool and taking her tea, in fact this was one of her favorite places. She used to go and see her farm once every four or five days, and it always pleased her if she could take some vegetables and rice or corn from her own farm. She cooked these things herself in one of the courtyards. I thought that was good fun, and also turned up my sleeves to help her cook. We brought fresh eggs also from the farm and Her Majesty taught us how to cook them with black tea leaves.
Her Majesty's cooking stoves were very peculiar. They were made of brass, lined with bricks. They could be moved anywhere, for they had no chimneys. Her Majesty told me to boil the eggs first until they were hard, and to crack them but to keep the shells on, and add half a cup of black tea, salt and spices. Her Majesty said: "I like the country life. It seems more natural than the Court life. I am always glad to see young people having fun, and not such grand dames when we are by ourselves. Although I am not young any more, I am still very fond of play." Her Majesty would taste first what we had been cooking, and would give us all to taste. She asked: "Do you not think this food has more flavor than that prepared by the cooks?" We all said it was fine. So we spent the long days at the Court having good fun.
I saw Emperor Kwang Hsu every morning, and whenever I had the time he would always ask some words in English. I was surprised to learn that he knew quite a bit of spelling, too. I found him extremely interesting. He had very expressive eyes. He was entirely a different person when he was alone with us. He would laugh and tease, but as soon as he was in the presence of Her Majesty he would look serious, and as if he were worried to death. At times he looked stupid. I was told by a great many people who were presented to him at the different audiences that he did not look intelligent, and that he would never talk. I knew better, for I used to see him every day. I was at the Court long enough to study him, and found him to be one of the most intelligent men in China. He was a capital diplomat and had wonderful brains, only he had no opportunities. Now a great many people have asked me the same question, if our Emperor Kwang Hsu had any courage or brains. Of course outsiders have no idea how strict the law is, and the way we have to respect our parents. He was compelled to give up a great many things on account of the law. I have had many long talks with him and found him a wise man, with any amount of patience. His life was not a happy one; ever since his childhood his health was poor. He told me that he never had studied literature very much, but it came natural to him. He was a born musician and could play any instrument without studying. He loved the piano, and was always after me to teach him. There were several beautiful grand pianos at the Audience Hall. He had very good taste for foreign music, too. I taught him some easy waltzes and he kept the time beautifully. I found him a good companion and a good friend, and he confided in me and told me his troubles and sorrows. We talked a great deal about western civilization, and I was surprised to learn he was so well informed in everything. He used to tell me, time after time, his ambitions for the welfare of his country. He loved his people and would have done anything to help them whenever there was famine or flood. I noticed that he felt for them. I know that some eunuchs gave false reports about his character, -- that he was cruel, etc. I had heard the same thing before I went to the Palace. He was kind to the eunuchs, but there was always that distinction between the master and the servants. He would never allow the eunuchs to speak to him unless they were spoken to, and never listened to any kind of gossip. I lived there long enough, and I know just what kind of cruel people those eunuchs were. They had no respect for their master. They came from the lowest class of people from the country, had no education, no morals, no feeling for anything, not even between themselves. The outside world has heard so many things against His Majesty, the Emperor Kwang Hsu's character, but I assure my readers that these things were told by the eunuchs to their families, and of course they always stretched it out as far as possible in order to make the conversation interesting. The majority of the people living in Peking get all kinds of information through them. I have witnessed the same thing many a time during my stay at the Palace.
One day during the time of Her Majesty's afternoon rest we heard a dreadful noise. It sounded just like the firing off of fire-crackers. Such a noise was quite unusual in the Palace for such things are not allowed to be brought into the Palace grounds. Of course Her Majesty woke up. In a few seconds time everyone became excited and were running to and fro as if the building was on fire. Her Majesty was giving orders and telling the eunuchs to be quiet, but no one listened to her and kept yelling and running around like crazy people, all talking at the same time. Her Majesty was furious and ordered us to bring the yellow bag to her. (I must explain about this bag. It was made of ordinary yellow cloth and contained bamboo sticks of all sorts and sizes and are made to beat the eunuchs, servant girls and old women servants with.) This bag was carried everywhere Her Majesty went, to be handy in case of emergency. Everyone of us knew where this bag was kept. We took all the sticks from the bag and Her Majesty ordered us to go to the courtyard and beat the eunuchs. It was such a funny sight to see all the Court ladies and servant girls each with a stick trying to separate the excited crowd. On my part I thought I was having good fun so I laughed and found the rest were laughing too. Her Majesty was standing on the veranda watching us but she was too far away to see well and with all that noise, we knew she could not hear us laughing. We tried our best to separate the crowd, but were laughing so much we did not have enough strength to hurt any of them. All of a sudden all the eunuchs became quiet and stopped talking, for one of them saw the head eunuch, Li Lien Ying, followed by all his attendants coming towards them. Everyone of them became frightened and stood there like statues. We stopped laughing, too, and turned back each with a stick in our hand, walking toward Her Majesty. Li Lien Ying was having a nap, too, and had heard the noise and had come to enquire what the trouble was and to report it to Her Majesty. It seemed one of the young eunuchs caught a crow. (The eunuchs hated crows, as they are considered an unlucky bird. The people in China called eunuchs crows because they were very disagreeable. That was the reason why the eunuchs hated them so.) They always set traps to catch them and then tied a huge fire-cracker to their legs, set fire to the cracker and then set the unfortunate birds free. Naturally the poor birds would be glad to fly away and by the time the powder exploded would be high up in the air and the poor bird would be blown to pieces. It seemed this was not the first time the eunuchs had played this cruel trick. I was told it always delighted them so much to see blood and torture. They always invited others to drink some wine with them to celebrate an occasion such as this. This cruel deed was always done outside of the wall of the Audience Hall but that day the crow flew towards Her Majesty's own Palace while she was sleeping and the powder exploded while the bird was passing the courtyard. After the head eunuch had told Her Majesty what had happened, she was very angry and ordered that this young eunuch be brought in and receive punishment in her presence. I noticed one of the head eunuch's attendants push the culprit out from the crowd. The head eunuch immediately gave orders to lay this man on the ground and two eunuchs stood on each side of him and beat him on his legs with two heavy bamboo sticks one at a time. The victim never uttered a word while this was going on. The head eunuch counted until this man had received one hundred blows, then he gave orders to stop. Then he knelt in front of Her Majesty waiting for her orders and at the same time kowtowed on the ground until his head made a noise on the stone steps, asking to be punished for his carelessness and neglect of duty. Her Majesty said that it was not his fault and ordered him to take the offender away. During all this time the offender was still on the ground, and did not dare to move. Two eunuchs each took hold of a foot and dragged him out of the courtyard. We were all afraid even to breathe aloud for fear Her Majesty would say that we were pretending to be frightened at witnessing this punishment, at the same time when it was over we would go and gossip about how cruel she was. No one was surprised at what had happened, as we were accustomed to seeing it almost every day and were quite used to it. I used to pity them, but I changed my mind very soon after I had arrived.
The first person I saw punished was a servant girl, she had made a mistake about Her Majesty's socks and had brought two which were not mates, Her Majesty finding that out, ordered another servant girl to slap her face ten times on each cheek. This girl did not slap hard enough, so Her Majesty said they were all good friends and would not obey her orders, so she told the one who had been slapped to slap the other. I thought that was too funny for anything and wanted to laugh the worst way, but of course did not dare. That night I asked those two girls how they felt slapping each other that way. The reason why I asked them was because they were laughing and joking as usual immediately they were out of Her Majesty's bedchamber. They told me that was nothing; that they were quite used to it and never bothered themselves about such small things. I in turn soon became used to it, and was as callous as they were.
Now regarding the servant girls, they are a much better class of people than the eunuchs. They are the daughters of Manchu soldiers, and must stay ten years at the Palace to wait upon Her Majesty, and then they are free to marry. One got married after my first month at the Court. Her Majesty gave her a small sum of money, five hundred taels. This girl was so attached to Her Majesty that it was very hard for her to leave the Court. She was an extremely clever girl. Her name was Chiu Yuen (Autumn's Cloud). Her Majesty named her that because she was so very delicate looking and slight. I liked her very much during the short time that we were together. She told me not to listen to anyone's gossip at the Court, also that Her Majesty had told her she was very fond of me. On the twenty-second day of the third moon she left the Palace, and we were all sorry to lose her. Her Majesty did not realize how much she missed her until after she had gone. For a few days we had nothing but troubles. It seemed as if everything went wrong. Her Majesty was not at all satisfied without Chiu Yuen. The rest of the servant girls were scared, and tried their best to please Her Majesty, but they had not the ability, so we had to help and do a part of their work so as not to make Her Majesty nervous. Unfortunately, she stopped us, and said: "You have enough to do of your own work, and I do not want you to help the servants. You don't please me a bit that way." She could see that I was not accustomed to her ways, for she had spoken severely, so she smiled and said to me: "I know you are good to help them so as not to make me angry, but these servants are very cunning. It isn't that they cannot do their work. They know very well that I always select the clever ones to wait on me in my bedroom and they don't like that, so they pretend to be stupid and make me angry so that I will send them to do the common work. The eunuchs are worse. They are all afraid to take Chiu Yuen's place. Now I have found them out, and I will only keep the stupid ones to wait on me from now." I almost laughed when I noticed that they all looked serious for a moment. I thought these people must be really stupid, and not lazy, but I had dealings with them every day and found them out all right. The eunuchs don't seem to have any brains at all. They are such queer people and have no feelings. They have the same mood all day long -- I should say they are in a cruel mood. Whenever Her Majesty gave an order they always said "Jer" (Yes) and as soon as they got to our waiting room they would say to each other: "What was the order? I have forgotten all about it." Then they used to come to one of us who had happened to be present when the order was given: "Please tell us what the order was. I did not listen while Her Majesty was talking." We used to laugh and make fun of them. We knew they were afraid to ask Her Majesty, and of course we had to tell them. One of the eunuch writers had to keep writing down the orders that had been given during the day, for Her Majesty wanted to keep records of everything. There were twenty eunuchs who were educated and they were excellent scholars. These had to answer any questions which Her Majesty happened to ask them about Chinese literature, while she had a good knowledge of it herself. I noticed that it pleased her a great deal if anyone could not answer a question, or knew less than she did. She took delight in laughing at them. Her Majesty was also very fond of teasing. She knew that the Court ladies did not know very much about literature, so she used to try it on us. We had to say something whether it was appropriate to her questions or not, and that would make her laugh. I was told that Her Majesty did not like anyone to be too clever, and yet she could not bear stupid people, so I was rather nervous, and did not know how to act for the first three weeks I was there, but it did not take me very long to study her. She certainly admired clever girls, but she did not like those who would show their cleverness too much. How I won her heart was this way. Whenever I was with her I used to fix my whole attention on her and watched her very closely (not staring, for she hated that) and always carried out her orders properly. I noticed another thing, and that was that whenever she wanted anything to be brought to her, such as cigarettes, handkerchief, etc., she would only look at the article and then look at anyone who happened to be there at the time. (There was always a table in the room, on which everything she needed for the day was placed.) I got so used to her habits that after a short time I knew just what she wanted by looking at her eyes, and I was very seldom mistaken. This pleased her a great deal. She was strong-minded, and would always act the way she thought was right, and had perfect confidence in herself. At times I have seen her looking very sad. She had strong emotions, but her will was stronger. She could control herself beautifully, and yet she liked people to sympathize with her -- only by actions, not by words, for she did not like anyone to know her thoughts. I am sure my readers will think how hard it was to be the Court lady of Her Majesty, the Empress Dowager of China, but on the contrary I enjoyed myself very much, as she was so interesting, and I found that she was not at all difficult to please.
The first day of the fourth moon Her Majesty was worried over the lack of rain. She prayed every day after the audience for ten days, without any result. Every one of us kept very quiet. Her Majesty did not even give any orders that day, and spoke to no one. I noticed that the eunuchs were scared, so we went without our luncheon. I worked so hard that morning, and was so hungry -- in fact all the Court ladies were. I felt sorry for Her Majesty. Finally she told me I could go, as she wanted to rest a while, so we came back to our own quarters. I questioned our own eunuch Wang as to why Her Majesty was worrying about rain, for we were having lovely weather then, day after day. He told me that Lao Fo Yeh (Old Buddha) was worried for the poor farmers, as all their crops were dead without rain for so long. Wang also reminded me that it had not rained once since I came to live at the Palace. I did not realize that it was so long as two months and seven days, and on the other hand it seemed to me longer than that, for the life was very nice and pleasant, and Her Majesty was very kind to me, as if she had known me for years already. Her Majesty took very little food at dinner that night. There was not a sound anywhere, and everyone kept quiet. The Young Empress told us to eat as fast as we could, which puzzled me. When we came back to our waiting room, the Young Empress said to me that Her Majesty was very much worried for the poor farmers and that she would pray for rain, and stop eating meat for two or three days. That same night, before Her Majesty retired, she gave orders that no pigs were to be slaughtered within the gates of Peking. The reason of this was that by sacrificing ourselves by not eating meat the Gods would have pity on us and send rain. She also gave orders that everyone should bathe the body and wash out the mouth in order that we might be cleansed from all impurities and be ready to fast and pray to the Gods. Also that the Emperor should go to the temple inside the Forbidden City, to perform a ceremony of sacrifice (called Chin Tan). He was not to eat meat or hold converse with anyone, and to pray to the Gods to be merciful and send rain to the poor farmers. His Majesty, the Emperor Kwang Hsu, wore a piece of jade tablet about three inches square, engraved "Chai Chieh" (the meaning being just like Chin Tan-not to eat meat but to pray three times a day), both in Manchu and Chinese, and all the eunuchs who went with the Emperor wore the same kind of tablets. The idea was that this jade tablet was to remind one to be serious in performing the ceremonies.
The next morning Her Majesty got up very early and ordered me not to bring any jewels for her. She dressed herself in great haste. Her breakfast was very simple that day, just milk and steamed bread. Our own breakfast was cabbage and rice cooked together, with a little salt. It was tasteless. Her Majesty did not talk to us at all, except when giving orders, and so, of course, we kept silent. Her Majesty wore a pale gray gown, made very plain, with no embroidery or trimmings of any kind. She wore gray shoes to match, not to mention her gray handkerchief. We followed her into the hall where a eunuch knelt with a large branch of willow tree. Her Majesty picked a little bunch of leaves and stuck it on her head. The Young Empress did the same, and told us to follow her example. Emperor Kwang Hsu took a branch and stuck it on his hat. After that Her Majesty ordered the eunuchs and the servant girls to do the same thing. It was a funny sight, and everyone did look queer with a bunch of leaves on the head. The head eunuch came and knelt in front of Her Majesty and said that everything was prepared for the ceremony in the little pavilion in front of her own palace. She told us that she preferred to walk, as she was going to pray. It took us only a few minutes to cross the courtyard. When we arrived at this pavilion I noticed a large square table was placed in the center of the room. A few large sheets of yellow paper and a jade slab, containing some vermilion powder instead of ink, with two little brushes to write with. At each side of the table stood a pair of large porcelain vases, with two large branches of willow. Of course no one was allowed to speak, but I was curious and wanted to find out why everyone had to wear the willow leaves on the head. Her Majesty's yellow satin cushion was placed in front of this table. She stood there and took a piece of sandalwood and placed it in the incense burner filled with live charcoal. The Young Empress whispered to me to go over and help Her Majesty to burn them. I placed several pieces in until she told me that was enough. Then Her Majesty knelt on her cushion, the Young Empress knelt behind her, and we all knelt in a row behind the Young Empress, and commenced to pray. The Young Empress taught us that very morning how to say the prayer: "We worship the Heavens, and beg all the Buddhas to take pity on us and save the poor farmers from starving. We are willing to sacrifice for them. Pray Heaven send us rain." We repeated the same prayer three times, and bowed three times -- nine times in all. After that Her Majesty went to her usual morning audience. It was much earlier than usual that morning for the Court was returning to the Forbidden City at noon. His Majesty, the Emperor Kwang Hsu, was to pray at the Forbidden City and Her Majesty always wanted to accompany him wherever he went. It was nine o'clock in the morning when the audience was over. She ordered me not to bring any jewels for her to the Forbidden City this time, for she would not need them at all. I went to the jewel-room and locked everything up, and placed the keys in a yellow envelope, sealed it, and placed the envelope among the others, and gave them to a eunuch who takes care of these things. We packed all her favorite things. Her gowns were the most important things to pack, she had so many and it was impossible to take all. I noticed that the Court lady who was looking after her gowns was the busiest amongst us. She had to select gowns enough to last four or five days. She told me that she had selected about fifty different ones. I told her that Lao Tsu Tsung might stay at the Forbidden City four or five days, and that she would not need so many gowns. She said it was safer to bring many, for one was not sure what would be Her Majesty's idea for the day. Packing at the Court was very simple. Eunuchs brought many yellow trays, which are made of wood, painted yellow, about five feet by four feet and one foot deep. We placed a large yellow silk scarf in the tray, then the gowns, and covered them with a thick yellow cloth. Everything was packed the same way. It took us about two hours to pack fifty-six trays. These things always started off first, carried by the eunuchs. His Majesty, the Emperor Kwang Hsu, the Young Empress and all the Court ladies, had to kneel on the ground for Her Majesty's sedan chair to pass the Palace Gate, then we went in search of our own chairs. The procession as usual was pretty, soldiers marching in front of her chair, four young Princes riding on horseback on each side of her, and from forty to fifty eunuchs also on horseback behind her, all dressed in their official robes. The Emperor's chair and the Young Empress' chair were of the same color as Her Majesty's. The Secondary wife of the Emperor had a deep yellow chair. The chairs of the Court ladies were red, and were carried by four chair bearers, instead of eight like their Majesties. Our own eunuchs also rode on horseback, behind us. We rode a long time, it seemed to me, before I noticed the Emperor's chair begin to descend from the stone-paved road, and we all followed him. I could see that Her Majesty's chair was still going straight on, and we took a nearer route to reach Wan Shou Si (The long life temple), to await Her Majesty's arrival. We alighted from our chairs and started at once to prepare Her Majesty's tea and her little dishes. I went to help her to alight, and supported her right arm to mount the steps. Her Majesty sat on Her Throne, and we placed a table in front of her and my sister brought her tea. (The custom was, that if she went anywhere, or during the festivals, we must bring to her everything, instead of the eunuchs.) We placed all the dainties in front of her, and then we went to rest. Her Majesty always stopped at this temple on the way from the Summer Palace to the Forbidden City.