THE next day we got up earlier than usual and dressed ourselves in our new gowns. I could not believe my own eyes, and asked several times whether that was myself or not. I found that I looked all right, although I hadn't been wearing this sort of costume for so long. They seemed to think that we would look awkward. Our own eunuchs were delighted to see us dressed that way. The Young Empress came in while passing our rooms on her way to the Empress Dowager's Palace, and waited for us to go with her. When we arrived at the waiting room a lot of people came in and looked at us, and talked so much about us, that it made me feel rather shy. Everyone told us that we looked much better that way than in foreign clothes, except the Emperor Kwang Hsu. He said to me: "I think your Parisian gowns are far prettier than this." I smiled and said nothing. He shook his head at me, and went into Her Majesty's bedroom. Li Lien Ying came and saw us, and was very much excited and told me to go and see Her Majesty at once. I told him that everyone was looking at us, as if we were curios. He said: "You don't know how nice you look now, and I wish that you would not wear foreign clothes at all." Her Majesty laughed so loud when she saw us that it made me uncomfortable, for I was afraid we looked unnatural to her. She said: "I cannot believe you are the same girls. Just look at yourselves in this looking- glass." She pointed to a large mirror in her room. "See how you have changed. I feel that you belong to me now. I must have some more gowns made for you." Then Li Lien Ying said that the twenty-fourth would be the first day of the Summer. On that day everyone would begin to wear jade hairpins instead of gold, and we had none. Her Majesty said to Li: "I am very glad you told me that. I must give them each a jade hairpin after having asked them to change into Manchu dress." Li went away and came back with a box of hairpins of pure green jade. Her Majesty took a beautiful one and handed it to my mother and told her that that pin had been worn by three Empresses. She took two very nice ones, and gave one to me and one to my sister. She told us that these two were a pair, and that the other Empress Dowager (the East Empress Dowager) used to wear one, and that the other was worn by herself when she was young. I felt ashamed that Her Majesty had given us so many presents and I had done nothing for her in any way. However, we thanked her most sincerely, and showed our appreciation. She said: "I look upon you as my own people, and the gowns I have made for you are the very best. I have also decided to let you wear the full Court dress, the same as one of the Princesses. You are my Court lady, so you are equally ranked here." Li stood there behind her and made a sign to us to kowtow to her. I cannot remember how many times I kowtowed that day. The headdress was very heavy, and I was not quite used to it; I was afraid it might fall off. Her Majesty also said that she would make our rank known to the Court on her seventieth birthday. I will explain this. On every decade from the time of her birth Her Majesty used to give special favors to anyone she liked, or to anyone who had done something for her, and had been useful to her. She could promote anyone at any time, but on these occasions it was something special. The Young Empress congratulated us, and said that Her Majesty was looking for a young Prince to marry me. She was also very fond of teasing. I wrote to my father about all the favors that had been given to me. He wrote me he hoped that I deserved them all, and that I must do all I could to be useful and loyal to Her Majesty as long as she lived.
I was very happy. Life was perfectly lovely at the Palace. Her Majesty was always nice and kind. I noticed the difference in the way she had treated us since (as she said) we had become Manchus once more. One day Her Majesty asked me while we were sailing on the lake in the moonlight, if I wanted to go to Europe any more. It was a superb night, and several boats were sailing behind us. In one boat several eunuchs were playing a kind of sweet music on the flute and an instrument very much like the mandolin, called Yeuh Chin (small harp, like the shape of the moon), with Her Majesty singing very softly to herself. I told her I was satisfied to be with her, and did not wish to go anywhere at all. She said that I must learn to sing poetry and that she would teach me every day. I told her that my father had made me study all kinds of poetry and I had composed some myself. She looked surprised and said: "Why didn't you tell me that before? I love poems. You must read to me sometimes. I have many books here containing poems of different dynasties." I told her that my knowledge of Chinese literature was very limited, and I dared not let her see how little I knew. I had only studied eight years. Her Majesty told me that the Young Empress and herself were the only ones who were familiar with Chinese literature at the Court. She told me that she tried to teach the Court ladies to read and write some time ago, but having found them so lazy she gave them up. My father told me to be very careful not to show them what I could do until I was asked, so I kept it to myself. After they found this out, some of the Court ladies were very disagreeable to me, and this went on day after day.
Except for this unpleasantness the fourth moon passed very agreeably. The first day of the fifth moon was a busy day for us all, as from the first to the fifth of the fifth moon was the festival of five poisonous insects, which I will explain later -- also called the Dragon Boat Festival. All the Viceroys, Governors and high officials, besides the Imperial Family, Court ladies and eunuchs, all offer Her Majesty beautiful presents. I never saw such a lot of things as came into the Palace during this festival. Each person who sent in presents must accompany them with a sheet of yellow paper, and at the right lower corner the sender's name must be written and also the word Kuai Jin, meaning to present their gifts kneeling, also to write what the presents were. The eunuchs took big yellow trays to bring them in. During these five days everyone was busy, especially the eunuchs. I could not count just how many people sent presents to Her Majesty. The presents were of every kind, such as things for the household; silks and jewelry of all kinds and description. A large part of the presents were foreign goods of the ordinary kind. I also saw lovely carved thrones and embroideries. Her Majesty ordered them to be put away, and the foreign things to be kept in her Palace, for those were new to her.
The third day of the fifth moon was the day for just the people of the Palace to make presents. It was a most beautiful sight to see. We were busy all night making preparations, and had to go and help the Young Empress. The next morning we placed our presents in the big courtyard in these big yellow trays. The Young Empress had her trays in the first row. The presents from the Young Empress to the Empress Dowager were made by her own hands. There were ten pairs of shoes, silk embroidered handkerchiefs, little bags for betel nuts, and bags for tobacco, all exquisitely done. The Secondary wife of the Emperor Kwang Hsu presented about the same to Her Majesty. The Court ladies' presents were all different, as we could ask permission to go out shopping before the Feast. We could not go out together, for one or two of us must be there at all times, and it was very exciting to tell each other what we had bought. We ourselves did not ask permission to go out of the Palace, for we had our presents ready long before. Everyone seemed to be talking about presents, whether Her Majesty would like them or not. My mother, my sister and myself had written to Paris to get some lovely French brocades, one set of furniture, French Empire style. We had learned Her Majesty's taste already during our short stay there, so including those presents we also gave her fans, perfumes, soaps and some other French novelties. Her Majesty always looked over everything, and noticed some of the presents were of very poor quality, and wanted to know the sender's name. The eunuchs and servant girls also made her good and useful presents. Her Majesty would select the articles she liked the best, and order the rest to be put away, and she might never see them again. I must say that Her Majesty liked and admired some foreign things very much, she especially loved the French fancy brocades, for she was making new gowns almost every day. She was also pleased with soaps and powder that would beautify the skin. She always thanked us in a very nice way and said how very thoughtful we were in selecting beautiful articles for her. Her Majesty would also say something nice to the eunuchs and girls, and that made everyone feel pleased.
The fourth day of the fifth moon was the day that Her Majesty gave presents to us all, the different Princes, high officials, servant girls and eunuchs. Her memory was something extraordinary, for she could remember every one of the presents that had been given to her the day before, and the names of the givers also. That was a busy day for us. Her Majesty gave people presents according to the way they gave her. We had yellow sheets of paper and wrote out the names of those to whom she wished to give. That day Her Majesty was very angry with one of the wives of a certain Prince because her presents were the poorest. Her Majesty told me to keep that tray in her room and said she would go over them and see what they were. I knew she was not pleased, for she had a telltale face. She told us to measure the silks and ribbons in that tray, and leave it in the hall. The ribbons were all of different lengths, all too short to trim a gown, and the dress materials were not of good quality. Her Majesty said to me: "Now you look for yourself. Are these good presents? I know very well all these things were given to them by other people and they of course would select the best for themselves, and give me what was left. They know they are obliged to send me something. I am surprised to see how careless they are. Probably they thought as I receive so many presents I would not notice. They are mistaken, for I notice the poorest the first, in fact I can remember everything. I can see those who gave me things in order to please me, and those who gave because they were obliged to. I will return them the same way." She gave the Court ladies each a beautiful embroidered gown and a few hundred taels, the same to the Young Empress and the Secondary wife. The presents which she gave us were a little different, consisting of two embroidered gowns, several simple ones, jackets and sleeveless jackets, shoes, and flowers for the Manchu headdress. She said that we had not so many gowns, and instead of giving us the money, she had things made for us. Besides that, she gave me a pair of very pretty earrings, but none to my sister, for she noticed that I had a pair of ordinary gold earrings, while my sister had a pair set with pearls and jade. Her Majesty said to my mother: "Yu Tai Tai. I can see you love one daughter better than the other. Roonling has such pretty earrings and poor Derling has none." Before my mother could answer her she had turned to me while I was standing at the back of her chair: "I will have a nice pair made for you. You are mine now." My mother told her that I did not like to wear heavy earrings. Her Majesty laughed and said: "Never mind, she is mine now, and I will give her everything she needs. You have nothing to do with her." The earrings she gave me were very heavy. Her Majesty said that if I would wear them every day I would get used to them, and so it proved that after some time I thought nothing of it.
Now about this Feast. It is also called the Dragon Boat Feast. The fifth of the fifth moon at noon was the most poisonous hour for the poisonous insects, and reptiles such as frogs, lizards, snakes, hide themselves in the mud, for that hour they are paralyzed. Some medical men search for them at that hour and place them in jars, and when they are dried, sometime use them as medicine. Her Majesty told me this, so that day I went all over everywhere and dug into the ground, but found nothing. The usual custom was that at noon Her Majesty took a small cup filled with spirits of wine, and added a kind of yellow powder (something like sulphur). She took a small brush and dipped it into the cup and made a few spots of this yellow paint under our nostrils and ears. This was to prevent any insects from crawling on us during the coming summer. The reason why it was also called the Dragon Boat Festival was because at the time of the Chou Dynasty the country was divided into several parts. Each place had a ruler. The Emperor Chou had a Prime Minister named Chi Yuan, who advised him to make alliance with the other six countries, but the Emperor refused, and Chi Yuan thought that the country would be taken by others in the near future. He could not influence the Emperor, so he made up his mind to commit suicide and jumped into the river, taking a large piece of stone with him. This happened on the fifth day of the fifth moon, so the year afterwards, the Emperor got into a Dragon boat to worship his soul, and throw rice cakes, called Tzu Tsi, into the river. On that day the people have celebrated this feast ever since. At the Palace the theatre played first this history, which was very interesting, and also played the insects trying to hide themselves before the most poisonous hour arrived. On that day we all wore tiger shoes, the front part of which was made of a tiger's head, with little tigers made of yellow silk to wear on the headdress. These tigers were only for the children to wear, and signified that they would be as strong as a tiger, but Her Majesty wanted us to wear them also. The wives of the Manchu officials came to the Court, and when they saw us they laughed at us. We told them it was by Her Majesty's orders.
A register recording the birthdays of all the Court ladies was kept by the head eunuch, and a few days before my own birthday came around, the tenth day of the fifth moon, he informed me that the custom of the Court was to make a present to Her Majesty and said that the present should take the form of fruit, cakes, etc., so I ordered eight boxes of different kinds.
Early in the morning I put on full Court dress, and made myself look as nice as possible and went to wish Her Majesty good morning. When she had finished dressing, the eunuchs brought in the presents and, kneeling, I presented them to Her Majesty, bowing to the ground nine times. She thanked me and wished me a happy birthday. She then made me a present of a pair of sandalwood bracelets, beautifully carved, also a few rolls of brocade silk. She also informed me that she had ordered some macaroni in honor of my birthday. This macaroni is called (Chang Shou Me'en) long life macaroni. This was the custom. I again bowed and thanked her for her kindness and thoughtfulness. After bowing to the Young Empress and receiving in return two pairs of shoes and several embroidered neckties, I returned to my room, where I found presents from all the Court ladies.
Altogether I had a very happy birthday.
I can never forget the fifteenth day of the fifth moon as long as I live, for that was a bad day for everyone. As usual we went to Her Majesty's bedroom quite early that morning. She could not get up and complained that her back ached so much. We rubbed her back, in turns, and finally she got up, though a little late. She was not satisfied. The Emperor came in and knelt down to wish her good morning, but she scarcely took any notice of him. I noticed that when the Emperor saw that Her Majesty was not well, he said very little to her. The eunuch who dressed her hair every morning was ill, and had ordered another one to help her. Her Majesty told us to watch him very closely to see that he did not pull her hair off. She could not bear to see even one or two hairs fall out. This eunuch was not used to trickery, for instance, in case the hair was falling off, he could not hide it like the other one did. This poor man did not know what to do with any that came out. He was frightened, and Her Majesty, seeing him through the mirror, asked him whether he had pulled her hair out. He said that he had. This made her furious, and she told him to replace it. I almost laughed, but the eunuch was very much frightened and started to cry. Her Majesty ordered him to leave the room, and said she would punish him later. We helped her to fix up her hair. I must say it was not an easy job, for she had very long hair and it was difficult to comb.
She went to the morning audience, as usual, and after that she told the head eunuch what had happened. This Li was indeed a bad and cruel man, and said: "Why not beat him to death?" Immediately she ordered Li to take this man to his own quarters to receive punishment. Then Her Majesty said the food was bad, and ordered the cooks to be punished also. They told me that whenever Her Majesty was angry everything went wrong, so I was not surprised that so many things happened that day. Her Majesty said that we all looked too vain with our hair too low down at the back of the head. (This Manchu headdress is placed right in the center of one's head and the back part is called the swallow's tail, and must reach the bottom part of one's collar.) We had our hair done up the same way every day, and she had previously never said a word about it. She looked at us, and said: "Now I am going to the audience, and don't need you all here. Go back to your rooms and fix your hair all over again. If I ever see you all like that again I am going to cut your hair off." I was never more surprised in my life when I heard her speak so sharply to us. I don't know whether I was spoken to or not, but I thought it well to be wise, and I answered I would. We were all ready to go and Her Majesty stood there watching us. When we were about five or six feet away we heard her scolding Chun Shou (the girl who was neither a Court lady nor a servant). Her Majesty said she was pretending she was all right, and Her Majesty ordered her to go also. When we were walking towards our own place, some of them laughed at Chun Shou, which made her angry. When Her Majesty was angry with anyone, she would say that we were all doing something on purpose to make her angry. I must say that everyone of us was scared, and wondered who would have dared to do that. On the contrary, we tried our best to please her in every way.
But that day she was furious all day and I tried to stay away from her. I noticed some of the eunuchs went to her to ask questions concerning important matters, but she would not look at them, but kept on reading her book. To tell the truth, I felt miserable that day. At the beginning I thought all the eunuchs were faithful servants, but seeing them every day, I got to know them. It did not do them any harm to be punished once in a while.
The Young Empress told me to go in and wait on Her Majesty as usual. She said that probably if I would suggest playing dice with her, she might forget her troubles. At first I did not want to go, for I was afraid that she might say something to me, but seeing that the poor Young Empress spoke to me so nicely, I told her I would try. When I entered Her Majesty's sitting room I found her reading a book. She looked at me and said: "Come over here, I would like to tell you something. You know these people at the Palace are no good and I don't like them at all. I don't want them to poison your ears by telling you how wicked I am. Don't talk to them. You must not fix your hair too low down at the back of your head. I was not angry with you this morning. I know you are different. Don't let them influence you. I want you to be on my side, and do as I tell you." Her Majesty spoke very kindly to me, and her face changed also -- not at all the same face she had that morning. Of course I promised her that I would be only too happy to do all I could to please her. She spoke to me just like a good mother would speak to a dear child. I changed my opinion and thought that perhaps after all she was right, but I had often heard from the officials that one cannot be good to a eunuch, as he would do all he could to injure you without any reason whatsoever.
I noticed that day they all seemed to be more careful in doing their work. I was told that when once Her Majesty got angry, she would never finish. On the contrary, she talked to me very nicely, just as if there had been no troubles at all. She was not difficult to wait upon, only one had to watch her moods. I thought how fascinating she was, and I had already forgotten that she had been angry. She seemed to have guessed what I was thinking, and said: "I can make people hate me worse than poison, and can also make them love me. I have that power." I thought she was right there.