TWO YEARS IN THE FORBIDDEN CITY
By The Princess Der Ling
First Lady In Waiting To The Empress Dowager
TO MY BELOVED FATHER LORD YU KENG
THE author of the following narrative has peculiar qualifications for her task. She is a daughter of Lord Yu Keng, a member of the Manchu White Banner Corps, and one of the most advanced and progressive Chinese officials of his generation. Lord Yu Keng entered the army when very young, and served in the Taiping rebellion and the Formosan war with France, and as Vice Minister of War during the China-Japan war in 1895. Later he was Minister to Japan, which post he quitted in 1898 to become President of the Tsung-li-yamen (Chinese Foreign Office). In 1899 he was appointed Minister to France, where he remained four years. At a period when the Chinese Government was extremely conservative and reactionary, Lord Yu Keng labored indefatigably for reform. He was instrumental in reorganizing China's postal service on modern lines, but failed in efforts to revise the revenue system and modernize the army and navy, from being ahead of his times. He died in 1905. The progressive spirit of Lord Yu Keng was shown in the education of his children. When it became known that his daughters were receiving a foreign education—then an almost unheard—of proceeding among high Manchu officials-attempts were made to impeach him as pro-foreign and revolutionary, but he was not deterred. His children got their early education in missionary schools, and the daughters later attended a convent in France, where the author of this work finished her schooling and entered society. On returning to China, she became First Lady-in-Waiting to the Empress Dowager, and while serving at the Court in that capacity she received the impressions which provide the subject-matter of this book. Her opportunity to observe and estimate the characteristics of the remarkable woman who ruled China for so long was unique, and her narrative throws a new light on one of the most extraordinary personalities of modern times. While on leave from her duties to attend upon her father, who was fatally ill in Shanghai, Princess Der Ling took a step which terminated connexion with the Chinese Court. This was her engagement to Mr. Thaddeus C. White, an American, to whom she was married on May 21, 1907. Yielding to the urgent solicitation of friends, she consented to put some of her experiences into literary form, and the following chronicle, in which the most famous of Chinese women, the customs and atmosphere of her Court are portrayed by an intimate of the same race, is a result.
THOMAS F. MILLARD.
SHANGHAI, July 24, 1911.
I. INTRODUCTORY II. AT THE PALACE III. A PLAY AT THE COURT IV. A LUNCHEON WITH THE EMPRESS V. AN AUDIENCE WITH THE EMPRESS VI. IN ATTENDANCE ON HER MAJESTY VII. SOME INCIDENTS OF THE COURT VIII. THE COURT LADIES IX. THE EMPEROR KWANG HSU X. THE YOUNG EMPRESS XI. OUR COSTUMES XII. THE EMPRESS AND MRS. CONGER XIII. THE EMPRESS'S PORTRAIT XIV. THE EMPEROR'S BIRTHDAY XV. THE MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL XVI. THE SUMMER PALACE XVII. THE AUDIENCE HALL XVIII. THE NEW YEAR FESTIVALS XIX. THE SEA PALACE XX. CONCLUSION
TWO YEARS IN THE FORBIDDEN CITY
MY father and mother, Lord and Lady Yu Keng, and family, together with our suite consisting of the First Secretary, Second Secretary, Naval and Military Attaches, Chancellors, their families, servants, etc.,—altogether fifty-five people,—arrived in Shanghai on January 2, 1903, on the S.S. "Annam" from Paris, where for four years my father had been Chinese Minister. Our arrival was anything but pleasant, as the rain came down in torrents, and we had the greatest difficulty getting our numerous retinue landed and safely housed, not to mention the tons of baggage that had to be looked after. We had found from previous experience that none of our Legation people or servants could be depended upon to do anything when travelling, in consequence of which the entire charge devolved upon my mother, who was without doubt the genius of the party in arranging matters and straightening out difficulties.
When the launch from the steamer arrived at the jetty off the French Bund, we were met by the Shanghai Taotai (the highest official in the city), the Shanghai Magistrate and numerous other officials, all dressed in their official robes. The Taotai told my father that he had prepared the Tien Ho Gung (Temple of the Queen of Heaven) for us to reside in during our stay in Shanghai, but my father refused the offer, saying that he had telegraphed from Hong Kong and made all arrangements to go to the Hotel des Colonies in the French Concession. We had had previous experience staying in this temple while on our way to Japan, where my father went as Minister in 1895, and did not care to try it a second time. The building is very old and very much out of repair. It was a beautiful place in its prime, but had been allowed to go to rack and ruin. The custom is that the magistrate has to find a place and supply the food, etc., for high officials when passing through, and it is not exactly the thing to refuse their kind offer, but my father was always very independent and politely declined all proffers of assistance.
At last we did safely arrive in the Hotel des Colonies, where my father found awaiting him two telegrams from the Imperial Palace. These telegrams ordered my father to go to Peking at once, but, as the river to Tientsin was frozen, it was out of the question for us to go by that route, and as my father was very old and quite ill at that time, in fact constantly under the doctor's care, the only accessible way, via Chinwangtao, was equally out of the question, as it was a long and most tedious journey and quite beyond his strength. In view of all these difficulties, he telegraphed that, after the ice had broken up in the Peiho River, we would come by the first steamer leaving Shanghai for Tientsin.
We left Shanghai on the 22d of February and arrived at Tientsin on the 26th, and, as before, were met by the Customs Taotai of the port and numerous other officials (the same as when we arrived at Shanghai).
There is a very curious custom of reverence, which must be performed by all high officials on their return from abroad. Immediately upon landing on the shores of China, arrangements are made with the nearest Viceroy or Governor to receive their obeisance to Ching Sheng An (to worship the Emperor of Peace), a Taotai being considered of too low a rank for such an honor. As soon as we arrived, Yuan Shih Kai, who was then Viceroy of Chihli Province at Tientsin, sent an official to my father to prepare the time and place for this function, which is an extremely pretty one. When arrangements had been made, both my father and Yuan Shih Kai dressed in their full ceremonial robes, which is the dragon long robe, with a reddish black three-quarter length coat over it, chao chu (amber beads), hat with peacock feather and red coral button, and repaired at once to the Wan Shou Kung (10,000 years palace), which is especially built for functions of this kind, where they were met by a large number of officials of the lower grades. At the back centre of this Temple, or Palace, stands a very long narrow table on which are placed the tablets of the Emperor and Empress Dowager, on which is written, "Wan sway, wan sway, wan wan sway" (10,000 years times 10,000 years times 10,000 10,000 years). The Viceroy, or in this case Yuan Shih Kai, and the other officials arrived first. Yuan stood at the left side of this table and the others arranged themselves in two diminishing lines starting from the front corners of the table. Soon afterward my father came and knelt directly in front of the centre of the table and said, "Ah ha Ching Sheng An" (Your servant gives you greeting). After this ceremony was over my father immediately arose and inquired after Their Majesties' health, and Yuan replied that they were quite well. This closed the function.
We stayed in Tientsin for three days, arriving in Peking on the twenty-ninth. My father's condition was much worse and he begged for four months' leave of absence, in which to recuperate, which was granted by Her Majesty, the Empress Dowager. As our beautiful mansion, which we had built and furnished just before leaving for Paris, was burned during the Boxer Rising of 1900, entailing a loss of over taels 100,000, we rented and moved into a Chinese house. Our old house was not entirely new. When we bought the place there was a very fine but old Chinese house, the palace of a Duke, standing on the ground, and by some clever re-arrangement and building on, it was transformed into a beautiful foreign style house with all the fine hardwood carving of the old house worked into it. By using the words "foreign style," it is meant that, in so far as the Chinese house could be made to look like a foreign house, without tearing it down entirely, it was changed, that is the doors and windows, passageways, furnishings, etc., were foreign, but the arrangement of the house itself and courtyard was Chinese. This, like all Chinese houses in Peking, was built in a very rambling fashion, and with the gardens, covered about ten acres of ground. We had just finished furnishing it and moved in only four days when we left for Paris; and it has always been a great sorrow to my family that we should lose this magnificent place, after having spent so much time and money in building and beautifying it. However, this is only one of the many trials that a high official in China is called upon to bear.
The houses in Peking are built in a very rambling fashion, covering a large amount of ground, and our former house was no exception to the rule. It had sixteen small houses, one story high, containing about 175 rooms, arranged in quadrangles facing the courtyard, which went to make up the whole; and so placed, that without having to actually go out of doors, you could go from one to the other by verandas built along the front and enclosed in glass. My reader will wonder what possible use we could make of all of these rooms; but what with our large family, numerous secretaries, Chinese writers, messengers, servants, mafoos (coachmen), and chair coolies, it was not a difficult task to use them.
The gardens surrounding the houses were arranged in the Chinese way, with small lakes, stocked with gold fish, and in which the beautiful lotus flower grew; crossed by bridges; large weeping willows along the banks; and many different varieties of flowers in prettily arranged flower beds, running along winding paths, which wound in and out between the lakes. At the time we left for Paris, in the month of June, 1899, the gardens were a solid mass of flowers and foliage, and much admired by all who saw them.
As we now had no place of our own in Peking we did not know where to go, so, while we were at Tientsin, my father telegraphed to one of his friends to find him a house. After some little trouble one was secured, and it turned out to be a very famous place indeed. It was the house where Li Hung Chang signed the treaties with the Foreign Powers after the Boxer Rising and also where he died. We were the first people to live there since the death of Li Hung Chang, as the Chinese people were very superstitious and were afraid that, if they went there to live, something dreadful would happen to them. We soon made ourselves very comfortable, and while we lived there, none of the dreadful things happened to us that all of our good friends told us would be visited upon us if we dared to take this place. However, in view of our having lost our place by fire, I am inclined to think that their fears were well founded.
The loss sustained by having this house burned we never recovered, as my father, being an official of the Government, it would have been very bad form to have tried to recover this money, besides a possible loss of standing, as Government officials are supposed never to consider themselves or families in the service of their country, and any private losses in the service must be borne without complaint.
On the first of March, 1903, Prince Ching and his son, Prince Tsai Chen, came to see us and told us that Her Majesty wished to see my mother, my sister, and myself at once; that we should be at the Summer Palace (Wan Shou Shan) at six o'clock the following morning. My mother told Prince Ching that we had been wearing foreign clothes all these years, while abroad, and had no suitable Manchu clothes to wear. He replied that he had told Her Majesty all about us and also mentioned that he had seen us in European attire and she had said that it would not be necessary for us to wear Manchu costume to go to the Palace, that she would be glad to have us wear foreign clothes, as it would give her an opportunity to study the foreign way of dressing. Both my sister and myself had a very difficult time deciding what we should wear for this occasion; she wished to wear her pale blue velvet gown, as she thought that color suited her the best. My mother had always made us dress exactly alike, ever since we were little girls. I said that I preferred to wear my red velvet gown, as I had the idea it might please Her Majesty. After a long discussion I had my way. We had lovely red hats trimmed with plumes and the same color shoes, and stockings to match. My mother wore a lovely gown of sea green chiffon cloth embroidered with pale mauve iris and trimmed with mauve velvet; she wore her large black velvet hat with long white plumes.
As we lived in the central part of the city and the only means of travel was by sedan chair and the distance from our house to the Palace was about thirty-six Chinese li (a three-hour ride), we had to start at three o'clock in the morning, in order to be there at six. As this was our first visit to the Palace, Prince Ching's message threw us into a great state of excitement, and we were naturally anxious to look our best and to be there on time. It had been the dream of my life to go to the Palace and see what it was like, and up to this time I had never had an opportunity, as most of my life had been spent out of Peking,—in fact, out of China. Another reason why this chance had never come before was, that my father had never registered our names (my sister and myself) in the Government book for the registration of births of Manchu children, in consequence of which the Empress Dowager did not know until we came back from Paris that Lord Yu Keng had any daughters. My father told me the reason why he did not put our names in this book was, that he wished to give us the best education obtainable, and the only way he could do it was not to let the Empress Dowager know. Besides this, according to the Manchu custom, the daughters of all Manchu officials of the second rank and above, after reaching the age of fourteen years, should go to the Palace, in order that the Emperor may select them for secondary wives if he so desires, and my father had other plans and ambitions for us. It was in this way that the late Empress Dowager was selected by the Emperor Hsien Feng.
(comment: li is 1/3 mile or 1/2 km)
We started at three o'clock that morning in total darkness riding in four coolie sedan chairs, one on each side of the chair. In going such a long distance it was necessary to have two relays of chair coolies. This meant twenty-four coolies for the three chairs, not counting an extra coolie for each chair who acted as a sort of head chair bearer. Besides this there were three military officers on horses, one for each chair and two servants riding at the back of each chair. In addition there were three big Chinese carts following behind for the chair coolies to ride in and rest. This made a cavalcade consisting of forty-five men, nine horses and three carts.
I had a rather nervous feeling riding along in the chair surrounded by inky blackness, with nothing to relieve the stillness of the night but the rough voices of the chair bearers calling back and forth to each other to be careful of stones and holes in the road, which was very uneven, and the clump, clump of the horses. To my readers who have never had the experience of riding a long distance in a sedan chair I would say that it is a most uncomfortable conveyance, as you have to sit perfectly still and absolutely straight, otherwise the chair is liable to upset. This ride was a very long one and I felt quite stiff and tired by the time I reached the Palace gates.
CHAPTER TWO—AT THE PALACE
WHEN we reached the City gates, which were about half way between our house and the Summer Palace, they were wide open for us to pass. This quite surprised us, as all gates are closed at seven o'clock in the evening and are not opened except on special occasions until daylight. We inquired of the guard why this was, and were told that orders had been given for the gates to be opened for us to pass. The officials who had charge were standing in a double line dressed in full official dress and saluted us as we passed.
It was still quite dark when we had passed through the gate and I thought of the many experiences of my short life; but this was by far the strangest of them all. I wondered what Her Majesty would be like and whether she would like me or not. We were told that probably we would be asked to stay at the Court, and I thought that if that came to pass, I would possibly be able to influence Her Majesty in favor of reform and so be of valuable assistance to China. These thoughts made me feel happy and I made up my mind then and there that I would do all I could and use any influence I might have in the future towards the advancement of China and for her welfare. While I was still dreaming of these pleasant prospects, a faint red line appeared on the horizon heralding the coming of a most perfect day, and so it proved. As the light grew brighter and I could distinguish objects, a very pretty view gradually opened to me, and as we came nearer to the Palace I could see a high red wall which zigzagged from hill to hill and enclosed the Palace grounds. The tops of the wall and buildings were covered with yellow and green tiles and made a most dazzling picture in the bright sunlight. Pagodas of different sizes and styles were passed, and when we arrived at the village of Hai Tien, about four li from the Palace gates, we were told by the officers we only had a short distance further to go. This was good news, as I began to think we would never get there. This village was quite a pretty country place of one-story houses built of brick, which were very neat and clean as are most of the houses in the northern part of China. The children trouped out to see the procession pass, and I heard one remark to another: "Those ladies are going to the Palace to become Empresses," which amused me very much.
Soon after leaving Hai Tien we came to a pai lou (archway), a very beautiful piece of old Chinese architecture and carved work, and from here got our first view of the Palace gates, which were about 100 yards ahead. These gates are cut into the solid wall surrounding the Palace and consist of one very large gate in the center and two smaller ones on each side. The center gate is only opened when their Majesties pass in and out of the Palace. Our chairs were set down in front of the left gate, which was open. Outside of these gates, at a distance of about 500 yards, were two buildings where the guard stayed at night.
Just as we arrived I saw a number of officials talking excitedly, and some of them went into the gate shouting "Li la, doula" (have come, have arrived). When we got out of our chairs, we were met by two eunuchs of the fourth rank (chrystal button and feather). This feather which is worn by eunuchs of the fourth rank, comes from a bird called the magh (horse-fowl) which is found in Szechuen Province. They are grey and are dyed black, and are much wider than the peacock feather. These two eunuchs were accompanied by ten small eunuchs carrying yellow silk screens, which they placed around our chairs when we alighted. It appeared that Her Majesty had given orders that these screens (huang wai mor) should be brought to us. This is considered a great honor. They were ten feet long and twenty feet high and were held by two eunuchs.
These two eunuchs of high rank were extremely polite and stood at each side of the gate and invited us to enter. Passing through this gate we came into a very large paved courtyard about three hundred feet square, in which there were a great many small flower beds and old pine trees from which hung all kinds of birds in cages. On the side opposite to the gates we had entered was a red brick wall with three gates exactly like the others; on the right and left side were long rows of low buildings each containing twelve rooms, used as waiting rooms. The courtyard was full of people dressed in official robes of the different ranks, and, after the Chinese fashion, all seemed to be very busy doing nothing. When they saw us they stood still and stared. The two eunuchs who were showing us the way conducted us to one of these rooms. This room was about twenty feet square, just ordinarily furnished in black wood furniture with red cloth cushions and silk curtains hanging from the three windows. We were not in this room more than five minutes when a gorgeously dressed eunuch came and said: "Imperial Edict says to invite Yu tai tai (Lady Yu) and young ladies to wait in the East side Palace." On his saying this, the two eunuchs who were with us knelt down and replied "Jur" (Yes). Whenever Her Majesty gives an order it is considered an Imperial Edict or command and all servants are required to kneel when any command is transmitted to them the same as they would if in Her Majesty's presence, Then they told us to follow them and we went through another left gate to another courtyard laid out exactly the same as the former, except that the Ren Shou Dien (audience hall) is situated on the north side and the other buildings were a little larger. The eunuchs showed us into the east side building, which was beautifully furnished with reddish blackwood exquisitely carved, the chairs and tables covered with blue satin and the walls hung with the same material. In different parts of the room were fourteen clocks of all sizes and shapes. I know this, for I counted them.
In a little while two servant girls came and waited on us and told us that Her Majesty was dressing and that we were to wait a little time. This little time proved to be a matter of more than two hours and a half, but as this is considered nothing in China, we did not get impatient. From time to time eunuchs came and brought milk to drink and about twenty or more dishes of various kinds of food which Her Majesty sent. She also sent us each a gold ring with a large pearl in the center. Later the chief eunuch, Li Lien Ying, came dressed in his official clothes. He was of the second rank and wore a red button and peacock feather and was the only eunuch that was ever allowed to wear the peacock feather. He was a very ugly man, very old and his face was full of wrinkles; but he had beautiful manners and said that Her Majesty would receive us in a little while, and brought us each a jade ring which she had sent us. We were very much surprised that she should give us such beautiful presents before she had even seen us, and felt most kindly disposed toward her for her generosity.
Soon after Li Lien Ying had gone, two court ladies, daughters of Prince Ching, came in and asked the eunuchs who were attending us if we could speak Chinese, which we thought a great joke. I was the first one to speak, and told them of course we could speak our own language, although we knew several others. They were very much surprised and said: "Oh! how funny, they can talk the language as well as we do." We in turn were very much surprised to find such ignorant people in the Imperial Palace and concluded that their opportunities for acquiring knowledge were very limited. Then they told us Her Majesty was waiting to receive us, and we went immediately.
After walking through three courtyards very similar to those we had previously passed through, we came to a magnificent building just one mass of exquisite carving. Large lanterns made of buffalo horns hung all over the veranda covered with red silk from which red silk tassels were hanging and from each of these tassels was suspended a beautiful piece of jade. There were two smaller buildings flanking this large one, also one mass of carvings and hung with lanterns.
At the door of the large building we met a lady, dressed the same as Prince Ching's daughters, with the exception that she had a phoenix in the center of her headdress which distinguished her from the others. This lady came out to meet us, smiling, and shook hands with us in the most approved foreign fashion. We were told later that this was the Young Empress, wife of the Emperor Kwang Hsu. She said: "Her Majesty has sent me to meet you," and was very sweet and polite, and had beautiful manners; but was not very pretty. Then we heard a loud voice from the hall saying, "Tell them to come in at once." We went into this hall immediately and saw an old lady dressed in a beautiful yellow satin gown embroidered all over with pink peonies, and wearing the same kind of headdress with flowers on each side made of pearls and jade, a pearl tassel on the left side and a beautiful phoenix in the center made of purest jade. Over her gown she wore a cape, the most magnificent and costly thing I ever saw. This cape was made of about three thousand five hundred pearls the size of a canary bird's egg, all exactly alike in color and perfectly round. It was made on the fish net pattern and had a fringe of jade pendants and was joined with two pure jade clasps. In addition to this Her Majesty wore two pairs of pearl bracelets, one pair of jade bracelets, several jade rings and on her third and little fingers of her right hand she wore gold finger nail protectors about three inches long and on the left hand two finger nail protectors made of jade and about the same length. Her shoes were trimmed with small tassels made of pearls and embroidered with tiny pieces of different colored jade.
Her Majesty stood up when she saw us and shook hands with us. She had a most fascinating smile and was very much surprised that we knew the Court etiquette so well. After she had greeted us, she said to my mother: "Yu tai tai (Lady Yu), you are a wonder the way you have brought your daughters up. They speak Chinese just as well as I do, although I know they have been abroad for so many years, and how is it that they have such beautiful manners?" "Their father was always very strict with them," my mother replied; "he made them study their own language first and they had to study very hard." "I am pleased to hear their father has been so careful with them," Her Majesty said, "and given them such a fine education." She took my hands and looked into my face and smiled and kissed me on both cheeks and said to my mother: "I wish to have your daughters and hope they will stay with me." We were very much pleased at this and thanked her for her kindness. Her Majesty asked all sorts of questions about our Paris gowns and said we must wear them all the time, as she had very little chance to see them at the Court. She was particularly in love with our Louis XV high heel shoes. While we were talking to her we saw a gentleman standing at a little distance and after a while she said, "Let me introduce you to the Emperor Kwang Hsu, but you must call him Wan Sway Yeh (Master of 10,000 years) and call me Lao Tsu Tsung (the Great Ancestor)." His Majesty shyly shook hands with us. He was a man about five feet, seven inches in height, very thin, but with very strong features; high nose and forehead, large, brilliant black eyes, strong mouth, very white, even teeth; altogether good looking. I noticed he had a very sad look, although he was smiling all the time we were there. At this juncture the head eunuch came, knelt down on the marble floor and announced that Her Majesty's chair was ready and she asked us to go with her to the Audience Hall, distant about two minutes' walk, where she was going to receive the heads of the different Boards. It was a beautiful day and her open chair was waiting. This chair is carried by eight eunuchs all dressed in official robes, a most unusual sight. The head eunuch walked on her left side and the second eunuch on her right side, each with a steadying hand on the chair pole. Four eunuchs of the fifth rank in front and twelve eunuchs of the sixth rank walked behind. Each eunuch carried something in his hand, such as Her Majesty's clothes, shoes, handkerchiefs, combs, brushes, powder boxes, looking glasses of different sizes, perfumes, pins, black and red ink, yellow paper, cigarettes, water pipes, and the last one carried her yellow satin-covered stool. Besides this there were two amahs (old women servants) and four servant girls all carrying something. This procession was most interesting to see and made one think it a lady's dressing room on legs. The Emperor walked on Her Majesty's right and the Young Empress on the left, as did also the Court ladies.
The Audience Hall was about two hundred feet long by about one hundred and fifty feet wide, and at the left side was a long table covered with yellow satin. When Her Majesty came down from the chair she went into the Hall and mounted her throne just behind this table, and His Majesty mounted a smaller one at her left side, the Ministers all kneeling on the floor in front of her and on the opposite side of the table.
At the back of the Hall was a large dais about twenty feet long by about eighteen feet wide, enclosed by a magnificently carved railing about two feet high running all the way round, open only in the front in two places just large enough for a person to pass through. These two openings were reached by a flight of six steps. At the back of this dais was a small screen and immediately in front of this, in the center, was Her Majesty's throne. Immediately behind was an immense carved wood screen, the most beautiful thing I ever saw, twenty feet long by ten feet high. In front of Her Majesty's throne was a long narrow table. At the left side was a smaller throne for the Emperor.
The theme of the carving and furnishings of this dais was the phoenix and peony most exquisitely carved in ebony wood, in fact the theme of the entire room was the same. On each side of Her Majesty's throne were two upright ebony poles on the top of which were peacock feathers made into the shape of a fan The upholstery was entirely of yellow Chinese velvet.
Just before Her Majesty took her seat on her throne she ordered us to go behind this screen with the Young Empress and the Court ladies. This we did, and could hear the conversation between Her Majesty and the Ministers very plainly, and as my readers will see later, I made good use of this.
CHAPTER THREE—A PLAY AT THE COURT
THIS day to me was a medley of brilliant impressions. I was a great novelty among these exclusive Court ladies, brought up rigidly apart from foreign life and customs, and I was subjected to a rapid fire of questions. I soon found that these women were the same as others the world over in point of curiosity and love of gossip. The fourth daughter of Prince Ching (Sze Gurgur), a young widow and a strikingly handsome woman, spoke to me. "Were you brought up in Europe and educated?" she asked. "I am told that when people go to that country and drink the water there, they quickly forget their own country. Did you really study to acquire all those languages or was it drinking the water that gave them to you?" I mentioned that I met her brother, Prince Tsai Chen, in Paris on his way to London for the coronation of King Edward, and that we should have liked to have gone also, as my father had a special invitation, but were prevented from doing so by his urgent duties in Paris in settling the Yunnan question, to which the Princess replied: "Is there a king in England? I had thought that our Empress Dowager was Queen of the world." Her sister, wife of the brother of the Young Empress, a most intelligent, quiet and dignified lady, stood by smiling and listening to the eager questions. After numerous questions had been asked the Young Empress finally said: "How ignorant you are. I know that each country has its ruler and that some countries are republics. The United States is a republic and very friendly toward us, but I am sorry that such a common class of people go there, as they will think we are all the same. What I should like to see is some of our good Manchu people go, as then they would see what we really are." She afterwards told me she had been reading a history of the different countries, which had been translated into Chinese, and she seemed to be very well informed.
After the Audience was over, Her Majesty called us out from behind the screen and told us to go with her to see the theatre. She said, as it was such a beautiful day, she preferred to walk, so we started, walking a little behind her, as is the custom. Along the way she pointed out from time to time different places and things that were her particular favorites, and as she had to keep turning around all the time, she finally told us to come and walk alongside of her. This, as I afterwards found out, was a great condescension on her part and a thing that she very seldom ever did. She, like everybody else, had her pets and hobbies, such as flowers, trees, plants, dogs, horses, etc., and there was one dog in particular that was her favorite pet. This dog was with Her Majesty always and followed her wherever she went, and a more homely dog I never saw. It had absolutely nothing to recommend it in any way. Her Majesty thought it beautiful, and called it Shui Ta (Sea Otter).
A short distance from the Audience Hall we came to a large courtyard. On each side of this courtyard were two immense baskets fifteen feet in height, built of natural logs and literally covered with purple wisteria. They were simply gorgeous and great favorites of Her Majesty. She was always very proud of them when in bloom and took great delight in showing them to the people.
From this courtyard we entered a sort of passageway which ran along the sides of a big hill and led directly to the theatre, where we soon arrived. This theatre is quite unlike anything that you can imagine. It is built around the four sides of an open courtyard, each side being separate and distinct. The building has five stories. It is entirely open on the front and has two stages, one above the other. The three top stories are used for holding the drops and for store rooms. The stage on the first floor is of the ordinary kind; but that on the second floor is built to represent a temple and used when playing religious plays, of which Her Majesty was very fond.
On the two sides were long, low buildings with large verandas running their entire length, where the Princes and Ministers sat when invited by Her Majesty to witness the play. Directly opposite this stage was a spacious building, containing three large rooms, which was used exclusively by Her Majesty. The floor was raised about ten feet above the ground, which brought it on a level with the stage. Large glass windows ran along in front, so made that they could be removed in the summer and replaced with pale blue gauze screens. Two of these rooms were used as sitting rooms and the third, the one on the right, she used as a bedroom, and it had a long couch running across the front, on which she used to sit or lie according to her mood. This day she invited us to go to this room with her. Later I was told that she would very often come to this room, look at the play for a while and then take her siesta. She could certainly sleep soundly, for the din and noise did not disturb her in the least. If any of my readers have ever been to a Chinese theatre, they can well imagine how difficult it would be to woo the God of Sleep in such a pandemonium.
As soon as we were in this bedroom the play commenced. It was a religious play called "The Empress of Heaven's Party or Feast to all the Buddhist Priests to eat her famous peaches and drink her best wine." This party or feast is given on the third day of the third moon of each year.
The first act opens with a Buddhist Priest, dressed in a yellow coat robe with a red scarf draped over his left shoulder, descending in a cloud from Heaven to invite all the priests to this party. I was very much surprised to see this actor apparently suspended in the air and actually floating on this cloud, which was made of cotton. The clever way in which they moved the scenery, etc., was most interesting, and before the play was finished I concluded that any theatre manager could well take lessons from these people; and it was all done without the slightest bit of machinery.
As this Buddhist Priest was descending, a large pagoda began to slowly rise from the center of the stage in which was a buddha singing and holding an incense burner in front of him. Then four other smaller pagodas slowly rose from the four corners of the stage, each containing a buddha the same as the first. When the first Buddhist Priest had descended, the five buddhas came out of the pagodas, which immediately disappeared, and walked about the stage, still singing. Gradually from the wing came numbers of buddhas singing until the stage was full, and they all formed into a ring. Then I saw a large lotus flower, made of pink silk, and two large green leaves appearing from the bottom of the stage, and as it rose the petals and leaves gradually opened and I saw a beautiful lady buddha (Goddess of Mercy) dressed all in white silk, with a white hood on her head, standing in the center of this flower. As the leaves opened I saw a girl and a boy in the center of them. When the petals of the lotus flower were wide open this lady buddha began to gradually ascend herself, and as she ascended, the petals closed until she seemed to be standing on a lotus bud. The girl standing in the leaf on the Goddess' right side held a bottle made of jade and a willow branch. The legend of this is that if the Goddess dips the willow branch into the jade bottle and spreads it over a dead person it will bring the person to life. The boy and the girl are the two attendants of the buddha.
Finally the three came down from the flower and leaves and joined the rest of the buddhas. Then the Empress of Heaven came, a good old lady with snow-white hair, dressed from head to foot in Imperial yellow, followed by many attendants, and ascended the throne, which was in the center of the stage, and said: "We will go to the banquet hall." This ended the first scene.
The second scene opened with tables set for the feast to be given by the Empress of Heaven. These tables were loaded down with peaches and wine and four attendants guarding them. Suddenly a bee came buzzing near and scattered a powder under the nostrils of the attendants, which made them sleepy. When they had fallen asleep, this bee transformed itself into a big monkey and this monkey ate all the peaches and drank all the wine. As soon as he had finished he disappeared.
A blast of trumpets announced the coming of the Empress of Heaven and she soon arrived accompanied by all the Buddhist Priests and their attendants. When the Empress of Heaven saw all the peaches and wine had disappeared, she woke the attendants and asked them why they were asleep and where the peaches and wine had gone. They said that they did not know, that they were waiting for her to come and fell asleep. Then one of the guests suggested that she should find out what had become of the feast, and attendants were sent out to the guard to find out from the soldiers if anyone had gone out of the gate recently. Before the messenger had time to return, the Guard of Heaven came and informed the Empress that a big monkey, who was very drunk and carrying a big stick, had just gone out of the gate. When she was told this, she ordered the soldiers of heaven and several buddhas to go and find him at his place. It seems that this monkey had originally been made from a piece of stone and lived in a large hole in a mountain on the earth. He was endowed with supernatural powers and could walk on the clouds. He was allowed to come to heaven and the Empress of Heaven gave him a position looking after the Imperial orchards.
When they got to his place on the earth, they found that he had taken some of the peaches with him and he, with other monkeys, was having a feast. The soldiers challenged him to come out and fight. He immediately accepted this challenge, but the soldiers could do nothing with him. He pulled the hair out of his coat and transformed each hair into a little monkey and each monkey had an iron rod in its hand. He himself had a special iron rod, which had been given to him by the King of Sea Dragons. This rod he could make any size he wanted from a needle to a crowbar.
Among the buddhas who had gone with the soldiers was one named Erh Lang Yeh, who was the most powerful of them all and had three eyes. This buddha had a dog which was very powerful and he told the dog to bite this monkey, which he did, and the monkey fell down and they caught him and brought him up to heaven. When they got there the Empress of Heaven ordered that he should be handed to Lao Chun, an old taoist god, and that he should burn him in his incense burner. The incense burner was very large, and when they took the monkey to him he placed him inside this burner and watched him very carefully to see that he did not get out. After he had watched for a long time he thought the monkey must be dead and went out for a few minutes. The monkey, however, was not dead and as soon as Lao Chun went out, he escaped and stole some golden pills which Lao Chun kept in a gourd and went back to his hole in the mountains. These pills were very powerful and if one of them were eaten it would give eternal life, and the monkey knew this. The monkey ate one and it tasted good and he gave the little monkeys some. When Lao Chun came back and found both the monkey and the pills gone he went and informed the Empress of Heaven. This ended the second scene.
The third scene opened with the buddhas and soldiers at the monkey's place in the mountains and they again asked him to come out and fight. The monkey said: "What! Coming again?" and laughed at them. They started to fight again, but he was so strong they could not get the best of him. Even the dog who had bit him before was powerless this time, and they finally gave it up and returned to heaven and told the Empress of Heaven that they could not capture him the second time, as he was too strong. Then the Empress of Heaven called a little god about fifteen years old by the name of Neur Cha, who had supernatural powers, and told him to go down to earth to the monkey's place and see if he could finish him. This god was made of lotus flowers and leaves, that is, his bones were made of flowers and his flesh made of leaves and he could transform himself into anything that he wished. When Neur Cha got to the monkey's place and the monkey saw him, he said: "What! A little boy like you come to fight me? Well, if you think you can beat me, come on," and the boy transformed himself into an immense man with three heads and six arms. When the monkey saw this, he transformed himself also into the same thing. When the little god saw that this would not do, he transformed himself into a very big man and started to take the monkey, but the monkey transformed himself into a very large sword and cut this man into two pieces. The little god again transformed himself into fire to burn the monkey, but the monkey transformed himself into water and put the fire out. Again the little god transformed himself, this time into a very fierce lion, but the monkey transformed himself into a big net to catch the lion. So this little god, seeing that he could not get the best of the monkey, gave it up and went back to heaven, and told the Empress of Heaven that the monkey was too strong for him. The Empress of Heaven was in despair, so she sent for Ju Li, an old ancestor of the buddhas, who was the all-powerful one of them all; and Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, and sent them down to the monkey's place to see if they could capture him. When they arrived at the hole in the mountain the monkey came out and looked at Ju Li, but did not say a word, as he knew who this god was. This god pointed a finger at him and he knelt down and submitted. Ju Li said: "Come with me," and took the monkey and put him under another mountain and told him he would have to stay there until he promised he would be good. Ju Li said: "You stay here until one day I lift this mountain up for you to come out to go with a Buddhist Priest to the West side of heaven and demand the prayer books that are kept there. You will have to suffer a great deal on the way and face many dangers, but if you come back with this Buddhist Priest and the prayer books, by that time your savage temper will be gone and you will be put in a nice place in heaven and enjoy life forever afterwards."
This finished the play, which was very interesting, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. It was acted very cleverly and quite realistic, and I was very much surprised to know that the eunuchs could act so well. Her Majesty told us that the scenery was all painted by the eunuchs and that she had taught them about all they knew. Unlike most theatres in China, it had a curtain which was closed between the acts, also wing slides and drop scenes. Her Majesty had never seen a foreign theatre and I could not understand where she got all her ideas from. She was very fond of reading religious books and fairy tales, and wrote them into plays and staged them herself, and was extremely proud of her achievement.
Her Majesty sat talking, we standing, for some little time and she asked me if I understood the play, and I told her that I did and she seemed quite pleased. Then she said in such a charming way: "Oh! I am so interested in talking with you that I have forgotten to order my lunch. Are you hungry? Could you get Chinese food when you were abroad, and were you homesick? I know I would be if I left my own country for so long a time; but the reason why you were abroad so long was not your fault. It was my order that sent Yu Keng to Paris and I am not a bit sorry, for you see how much you can help me now, and I am proud of you and will show you to the foreigners that they may see our Manchu ladies can speak other languages than their own." While she was talking I noticed that the eunuchs were laying three large tables with nice white table cloths, and I could see a number of other eunuchs standing in the courtyard with boxes of food. These boxes or trays are made of wood painted yellow and are large enough to hold four small and two large bowls of food. After the tables were laid ready, the eunuchs outside formed themselves into a double line from the courtyard to a little gate running into another courtyard and passed these trays from one to the other up to the entrance of the room, where they were taken by four nicely dressed eunuchs and placed on the tables.
It seems that it was a habit of Her Majesty to take her meals wherever she happened to be, so that there was no particular place that she used as a dining room. I should also mention that these bowls were of Imperial yellow with silver covers. Some were ornamented with green dragons and some with the Chinese character Shou (Long Life).
There were about one hundred and fifty different kinds of food, for I counted them. They were placed in long rows, one row of large bowls and one row of small plates, and then another row of small bowls, and so on. As the setting of the tables was going on, two Court ladies came into the bedroom, each carrying a large yellow box. I was very much surprised to see Court ladies doing this kind of work and I said to myself, if I come here will I have to do this sort of thing? Although these boxes appeared to be quite heavy, they brought them in very gracefully. Two small tables were placed in front of Her Majesty, then they opened the boxes and placed a number of very cute plates containing all sorts of sweets, lotus flower seeds, dried and cooked with sugar, watermelon seeds, walnuts cooked in different ways, and fruits of the season cut and sliced. As these plates were being placed on the tables Her Majesty said that she liked these dainties better than meat and gave us some and told us to make ourselves at home. We thanked her for her kindness and enjoyed them very much. I noticed that she ate quite a quantity from the different plates and wondered how she would be able to eat her lunch. When she had finished, two of the Court ladies came and took the plates away and Her Majesty told us that she always gave what was left to the Court ladies after she had finished eating.
After this a eunuch came in carrying a cup of tea. This tea cup was made of pure white jade and the saucer and cover was of solid gold. Then another eunuch came in carrying a silver tray on which were two jade cups similar to the others, one containing honeysuckle flowers and the other rose petals. He also brought a pair of gold chopsticks. They both knelt on the floor in front of Her Majesty and held the trays up so that she could reach them. She took the golden cover off of the cup containing tea and took some of the honeysuckle flowers and placed them in the tea. While she was doing this and sipping the tea, she was telling how fond she was of flowers and what a delicate flavor they gave to the tea. Then she said: "I will let you taste some of my tea and see if you like it," and ordered one of the eunuchs to bring us some tea, the same as she was drinking. When it came, she put some of the honeysuckle flowers in the cup for us and watched us drink it. It was the most delicious tea I had ever tasted and the putting of flowers in it gave it an extremely delicate flavour.
CHAPTER FOUR—A LUNCHEON WITH THE EMPRESS
WHEN we had finished drinking tea, she told us to go with her into the next room, where the tables had been prepared for lunch, and I wondered if she had any room for lunch, after all that she had just eaten, but I soon found out. As soon as she was inside the room, she ordered the covers to be removed and they were all taken off at one time. Then she took her seat at the head of the table and told us to stand at the foot. She then said: "generally the Emperor takes lunch with me when we have the theatre, but he is shy to-day, as you are all new to him. I hope he will get over it and not be so bashful. You three had better eat with me to-day." Of course, we knew that this was an especial favor, and thanked her by kowtowing before we commenced to eat. This kowtowing, or bowing our heads to the ground, was very tiring at first and made us dizzy, until we got used to it.
When we commenced to eat, Her Majesty ordered the eunuchs to place plates for us and give us silver chopsticks, spoons, etc., and said:
"I am sorry you have to eat standing, but I cannot break the law of our great ancestors. Even the Young Empress cannot sit in my presence. I am sure the foreigners must think we are barbarians to treat our Court ladies in this way and I don't wish them to know anything about our customs. You will see how differently I act in their presence, so that they cannot see my true self."
I was watching her while she was talking to my mother and marvelled to see how she could eat, after having eaten such a quantity of candy, walnuts, etc., while in her bedroom.
Beef was a thing that was tabooed within the precincts of the Palace, as it was considered a great sin to kill and eat animals that were used as beasts of burden. The food consisted mostly of pork, mutton and game, fowls and vegetables. This day we had pork cooked in ten different ways, such as meat balls, sliced cold in two different ways, red and white, the red being cooked with a special kind of sauce made of beans which gives it the red color and has a delicious taste. Chopped pork with chopped bamboo shoots, pork cut in cubes and cooked with cherries and pork cooked with onions and sliced thin. This last dish was Her Majesty's favorite and I must say it was good. Then there was a sort of pancake made of eggs, pork and mushrooms chopped fine and fried, also pork cooked with cabbage and another dish cooked with turnips. The fowl and mutton was cooked in several different ways. In the center of the table was a very large bowl about two feet in diameter of the same yellow porcelain, in which there was a chicken, a duck and some shark fins in a clear soup. Shark fins are considered a great delicacy in China. Besides this there was roast chicken, boneless chicken and roast duck. Ducks and chickens are stuffed with little pine needles to give them a fine flavor and roasted in open air ovens.
There was another dish that Her Majesty was very fond of and that was the skin of roast pork cut into very small slices and fried until it curls up like a rasher of bacon.
As a rule the Manchu people seldom eat rice, but are very fond of bread and this day we had bread, made in a number of different ways, such as baked, steamed, fried, some with sugar and some with salt and pepper, cut in fancy shapes or made in fancy moulds such as dragons, butterflies, flowers, etc., and one kind was made with mincemeat inside. Then we had a number of different kinds of pickles, of which Her Majesty was very fond. Then there was beans and green peas, and peanuts made into cakes and served with sugarcane syrup.
I did not eat very much, as I was too busy watching Her Majesty and listening to what she said, although she told us to eat all we could. In addition to all I have mentioned, we had many different kinds of porridge, some made of sweet corn and some with tiny yellow rice (like bird seed), and Her Majesty said that we must all eat porridge after our meat.
After we had finally finished eating, Her Majesty rose from the table and said: "Come into my bedroom and you will see the Young Empress and the Court ladies eat; they always eat after I am finished." We went with her and I stood near the door between the two rooms and saw the Young Empress and Court ladies come in and stand around the table eating very quietly. They were never allowed to sit down and eat their food.
All this time the theatre had been going on playing some fairy tales, but they were not near as interesting as the first play that we had seen. Her Majesty sat on her long couch in the bedroom and the eunuch brought her some tea and she ordered some brought for us. My reader can imagine how delighted I was to be treated in this way. In China the people think their sovereign is the supreme being and that her word is law. One must never raise their eyes when talking to her. This is a sign of great respect. I thought these extreme favors must be most unusual. I had been told that Her Majesty had a very fierce temper, but seeing her so kind and gracious to us and talking to us in such a motherly way, I thought my informant must be wrong and that she was the sweetest woman in the world.
When Her Majesty had rested a while, she told us that it was time we were returning to the city, as it was getting late. She gave us eight big yellow boxes of fruit and cakes to take home with us. She said to my mother: "Tell Yu Keng (my father) to get better soon and tell him to take the medicine I am sending by you and to rest well. Also give him these eight boxes of fruit and cakes." I thought my father, who had been quite ill since we returned from Paris, would not be much benefited if he ate all those cakes. However, I knew he would appreciate her kind thoughtfulness even if it were detrimental to his health.
As perhaps most of my readers know, it is the custom to kowtow when Her Majesty gives presents and we kowtowed to her when she gave us the fruit and cakes and thanked her for her kindness.
Just as we were leaving, Her Majesty said to my mother that she liked us very much and wanted us to come and be her Court ladies and stay at the Palace. We thought this was another great favor and again thanked her, and she asked us when we could come and told us to bring our clothes and things only, as she would fix everything for us and showed us the house we would live in when we came and told us to come back inside of two days. This house contained three very large rooms and was situated on the right side of her own or private Palace. This Palace Ler Shou Tong (Ever Happy Palace) is situated on the shores of the lake and was Her Majesty's favorite place and where she spent most of her time, reading and resting and when the spirit moved her she would go for a sail on the lake. In this Palace she had quite a number of bedrooms and made use of them all.
When she had finished showing us this house we took leave of Her Majesty, the Young Empress and the Court ladies, and after a long and tiresome ride, reached home exhausted but happy, after the most eventful day of our lives. When we got into the house, we were surprised to find several eunuchs waiting our return. They had brought us each four rolls of Imperial brocade from Her Majesty. Once more we had to bend to custom in thanking her for these gifts. This time, the gift having been sent to the house, we placed the silk on a table in the center of the room and kowtowed to thank Her Majesty and told the eunuchs to tell Her Majesty how grateful we were to her for all her kindness and for the beautiful gifts.
There is another thing that had to be done according to the custom, and that was to give the eunuchs a present or tip, and we had to give each of the eunuchs ten taels for their trouble. We afterwards found out that when eunuchs went anywhere to take presents for Her Majesty, they were required to report to her when they returned how the recipient had thanked her and what had been given them, which she allowed them to keep. She also asked them numerous questions about our house, whether we were pleased with her, etc. These people are extremely fond of talking and after we had returned to the Palace again, they told us what Her Majesty had said about us the first day we were there.
My mother felt very much worried to go to the Palace and leave my father all alone owing to his being in poor health, but we could not disobey Her Majesty's order, so we returned to the Palace three days later.
Our first day there was a busy one for us. When we first arrived we went and thanked Her Majesty for the present that she had sent us. She told us that she was very busy to-day, as she was going to receive a Russian lady, Madame Plancon, wife of the Russian Minister to China, who was bringing a miniature portrait of the Czar and Czarina and family as a present from the Czar to her, the Empress Dowager. She asked me if I could speak Russian. I told her that I could not, but that most Russians spoke French, which seemed to satisfy her. She, however, said: "Why don't you tell me you speak Russian, I won't know or be able to find out," and at the same time was looking at one of the Court ladies. I concluded that someone must be fooling her, for she seemed to appreciate the fact that I had told her the truth. This afterwards proved to be true and one of the Court ladies was dismissed for pretending she could talk foreign languages when she could not speak a word.
Besides this audience there was the theatre and the engagement ceremony of Her Majesty's nephew, Ter Ju. The engagement ceremony, according to the Manchu custom, is performed by two of the Princesses of the Royal family going to the house of the prospective bride, who sits on her bed cross-legged, her eyes closed and awaits their coming. When they arrive at the house, they go to her bedroom and place a symbol called Ru Yee, made of pure jade about one and a half feet long, in her lap and suspend two small bags made of silk and beautifully embroidered, each containing a gold coin, from the buttons of her gown, and place two gold rings on her fingers, on which is carved the characters Ta Hsi (Great Happiness). The meaning of the symbol or sceptre Ru Yee is "May all joy be yours."
During this entire ceremony absolute silence is maintained and immediately they have finished, they return to the Palace and inform Her Majesty that the ceremony has been completed.
CHAPTER FIVE—AN AUDIENCE WITH THE EMPRESS
No one informed us the day before that there was to be an audience to receive the Russian Minister's wife on that very day. We told Her Majesty that we must go and change our clothes in order to receive this lady. The dresses we wore that day were very simply made and short. The reason we wore this kind of costume was that there was no carpet and the bare brick floor had ruined our beautiful red velvet gowns, also the clumsy eunuchs had kept stepping on our trains all the time. We had made up our minds that short dresses for general wear every day would be more practical. Her Majesty said: "Why must you change your clothes? I see you look much better without that tail dragging behind you on the floor. I laughed at the idea of having a tail on one's dresses. I noticed that the first day when you came to the Court." Before we had time to explain to her, she said: "I see, dresses with tails behind must be more dignified than short ones, am I right?" We told her it was so. Then she said: "Go and put on your most beautiful gowns at once." We immediately went and changed. My sister and myself wore our pink crepe de chine gowns, trimmed with Brussels lace and transparent yokes of the same color chiffon. My mother wore her gray crepe de chine embroidered with black roses and a little touch of pale blue satin on her collar and belt. We dressed in a great hurry, as Her Majesty had sent eunuchs to see if we were ready. When she saw us she exclaimed: "Here are three fairies with long tails." Then she asked us: "Is it very tiring to hold half of your dress in your hand when you are walking? The costume is pretty, but I do dislike the tail, there is no sense having a thing like that. I wonder what these foreigners will think of me having you dressed in their costume. I am sure they won't like the idea. My reason is this: I want them to see you in foreign clothes in order to let them understand I know something about the way they dress. I must say that no foreign ladies have yet been presented to me dressed in such lovely gowns as you three have. I don't believe foreigners are as wealthy as the Chinese. I also notice they wear very little jewelry. I was told that I have more jewelry than any sovereign in the world and yet I am getting more all the time."
We were very busy getting ready to receive Mdme. Plancon, who arrived about eleven o'clock and was received in the waiting room of the first courtyard by my sister and from there conducted to the audience hall, Ren Shou Dien, where she was received by Her Majesty, who was sitting on her big throne on the raised dais. The Emperor was present, sitting on Her Majesty's left hand and I stood on her right to interpret for her. Her Majesty was dressed in a yellow transparent satin brocade gown, embroidered with hollyhocks and the Chinese character "Shou" (Long Life) and trimmed with gold braid. She wore her big pearl, which is about the size and shape of an egg, suspended from the button of her dress, also numerous bracelets and rings and gold finger nail protectors. Her hair was dressed in the same style as usual.
When Mdme. Plancon entered the hall, my sister brought her to the steps of the dais and she courtesied to Her Majesty. I then went forward and brought her up onto the dais and Her Majesty shook hands with her and she presented the photograph which she had brought to Her Majesty. Her Majesty made a very pretty speech of acceptance, expressing her appreciation of the gift of their Majesties, the Czar and Czarina. I interpreted this speech in French to Mdme. Plancon, as she could not speak English. After this, Her Majesty told me to take Mdme. Plancon to the Emperor, which I did. He stood up when she came near and shook hands with her and asked after their Majesties' health. This over, Her Majesty stepped down from her throne and took Mdme. Plancon to her own Palace, the one with so many bedrooms, and when they arrived, Her Majesty asked her to sit down, and they talked together for about ten minutes, I interpreting for them, after which I took her to see the Young Empress.
The Manchu law is very strict as regards the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law, and the Young Empress had been sitting behind the screen at the back of the throne during the audience, and it was there that I found her. From there we went to the banquet hall, where luncheon was served in Manchu style.
Here I must explain the difference between the Chinese way of eating and the Manchu. The Chinese place the bowls of food, one at a time, in the center of the table and everyone eats out of these bowls, sticking their chopsticks in and helping themselves to what they want. The Manchus eat quite differently and are served with individual bowls and dishes, the same as in any other country. Her Majesty was very proud of this and said that it saved time, not to mention being cleaner. The food in the Palace was always very good and clean, especially when we had foreign guests, and of course we had a variety of dishes for such occasions, such as sharkfins, birds' nest pudding, not to mention a great quantity of other things.
Her Majesty had given me the order that morning to have the tables nicely decorated and they did look very nice when we sat down. Besides the usual tableware, we had gold dragon menu holders, little peach-shaped silver saucers filled with almonds and dried watermelon seeds, and knives and forks in addition to chopsticks.
Her Majesty and the Emperor never ate with guests, so Mdme. Plancon was entertained by the Imperial Princess and the Court ladies. When luncheon was half over a eunuch came and told me that Her Majesty wanted to see me at once. The thought flashed through my head that something had gone wrong, or that some of the eunuchs had been making false reports, a bad habit of the Court; and I was much surprised to find her all smiles. She told me what a nice, polite lady Mdme. Plancon was, that she had seen many ladies who had come to the Court, but none with manners like this one, that she was sorry to say that some of the ladies who came did not behave very well. She said: "They seem to think we are only Chinese and do not know anything, and look down upon us. I notice these things very quickly and am surprised to see people who claim to be well educated and civilized acting the way they do. I think we whom they call barbarians are much more civilized and have better manners." She was always very polite to the foreign ladies, no matter how badly they behaved, but after they had gone, she would tell us who was nice and who was not. After she had finished saying this, she gave me a beautiful piece of green jade to give to Madame Plancon. When I gave it to her, she said she wished to thank Her Majesty, and I took her to the Palace again.
When we had finished luncheon, she told me how pleased she was with her reception and the kindness that Her Majesty had shown her, and took her departure, we accompanying her to the courtyard of the Audience Hall, where her chair was waiting.
Her Majesty had made a rule or custom that after all guests had departed, we must go to her and report everything. I suppose she was like all women, a bit of a gossip as well as the rest; it appeared so at any rate. She wanted to know what Mdme. Plancon said, whether she liked the jade and whether she enjoyed her luncheon, etc.
Her Majesty was very well pleased that I had interpreted so well for her and said: "I have never had anyone to interpret for me this way before. Although I don't understand the language, I can see that you speak it fluently. How did you learn? I will never let you go away from me any more. Sometimes the foreign ladies bring their own interpreters, but I can't understand their Chinese and have to guess at what they are saying, especially some of the missionaries Mrs. Conger brings with her. I am very happy to have you and want you to stay with me as long as I live and I will arrange a marriage for you, but won't tell you just now."
I felt very happy at what Her Majesty had said and thought I had made my debut under very favorable auspices, and was very glad that Her Majesty liked me; but this marriage question worried me, for nothing was farther from my mind than this. I afterwards told my mother about it and she told me not to worry, as I could always refuse when the time came.
When we had told Her Majesty all that Mdme. Plancon had said, she told us we could go to our rooms, that as we had risen early that morning and had worked very hard, we must be tired and needed rest, that she would not need us any more that day. We courtesied to her according to the custom when saying good night, and retired.
CHAPTER SIX—IN ATTENDANCE ON HER MAJESTY
THE building where we had our rooms, as I have said before, contained four large rooms and a hall, and we three, my mother, sister and myself, each took a room and gave the fourth to our maids. Her Majesty had ordered a eunuch to accompany us and this eunuch told us that Her Majesty had ordered four young eunuchs to attend on us and that if they did not behave, we should tell him. He also said his name was Li, but as there were so many by this name, including the head eunuch, it was very hard to tell them apart.
When we arrived, which took some time, he pointed to a building on our right and said that it was Her Majesty's own Palace and the one which we had just left. I could not understand why it had taken us so long to come, when the Palace was so near, and asked him about it. He told us that our little buildings were at the left side of the Emperor's Palace and that Her Majesty had had the entrance leading from our place to her Palace closed up for certain reasons which he would not tell, but said: "You see this place ought to face East instead of towards the lake." The view on the lake was beautiful and I told him I liked it much better the way it was. He smiled and said: "You will have to learn a lot before you find out this wicked place." I was surprised at what the eunuch said, but did not like to ask him any questions. He also told us that the Emperor's Palace was just behind our place and was a large building similar to Her Majesty's Palace. We looked and could see the trees of his courtyard above the roof. Then he pointed to another building behind the Emperor's, which was larger but lower than the Emperor's Palace, and also had a large courtyard, and said it was the Young Empress's Palace. It had two buildings flanking it on each side and the eunuch told us that the one on the left was the Secondary Wife's bedroom. That there had been an entrance between the two Palaces, but that Lao Fo Yeh (The great old Buddha), as the eunuchs called Her Majesty, had blocked it up so that the Emperor and Empress could not communicate with each other, except through Her Majesty's own Palace. I suppose this was the way she kept watch over them and knew at all times what they were doing. This was all news to me and I did not know what to think of it. I was afraid that this eunuch Li would tell me more of these curious things, so I told him I was tired and would go to my room and rest, and he went away.
When I finally got inside my room and had a chance to look around, I saw that it was very prettily furnished with ebonywood furniture, which was covered with red satin cushions and the windows were hung with red silk curtains. All the bedrooms were just alike. The kong (bed) was made of brick covered with the same kind of wood and ran along the wall under the front window. It had high teaster posts with slats running across on which red curtains were hung. These kongs are very curiously built. They are made of brick and have a hole in the front center in which fire is placed to heat the brick in winter time. During the day a sort of table is placed on top of the kong and removed again at night.
Shortly after we had gone to our rooms, some eunuchs came and brought our dinner, which they placed on a table in the center of the hall. They told us the food had been sent by Her Majesty and that she had ordered them to tell us to make ourselves comfortable. We were so tired that we could not eat very much and were about to retire for the night when this eunuch Li came again and told us that we must be up at five o'clock, not later, so I told my eunuch to knock on my window at five. Immediately after this we went to bed, but did not sleep immediately, as we wanted to talk over the events of the day, which had been many and strange. After we did finally get to bed, it seemed as if we had just fallen asleep when I heard someone knocking on my window. I woke up with a start and asked what the matter was and a eunuch told me it was five o'clock and time to get up.
I immediately got up and opened my window and looked out. The day was just dawning and the sky was a beautiful deep red which was reflected in the lake, which was perfectly calm. The scenery was lovely and in the distance I could see Her Majesty's peony mountain, which was literally covered with these beautiful flowers. I dressed at once and went to Her Majesty's Palace and there met the Young Empress sitting on the veranda. I courtesied to her as a good morning salute. The Emperor's Secondary wife was there also, but we had been ordered not to courtesy to her, as she was considered not to have any standing there. There was also a number of young Court ladies, many of whom I had never seen before. The Young Empress introduced me to them, saying that they were also Court ladies. They were daughters of high Manchu officials and some were very pretty and bright. The Young Empress told me that these ten (there were just ten there) were never allowed to go near Her Majesty, as they were just learning the court etiquette. They were all dressed very nicely in pretty Manchu gowns, the same design as that worn by the Young Empress.
After I had been introduced to these young ladies and talked with them a while, I went inside with the Young Empress and there met Sze Gurgur, fourth daughter of Prince Ching and a young widow twenty-four years of age, Yuen Da Nai Nai, widow of Her Majesty's nephew. Both were busy getting things ready for Her Majesty. The Young Empress told us that we must go at once to Her Majesty's bedroom and assist Her Majesty to dress, so we went at once and courtesied to her and said: "Lao Tsu Tsung Chi Hsiang" (old ancestor, all joy be with you). Her Majesty was still in bed and smiled to us and asked us if we had slept well. We told her the rooms were very comfortable, etc. I thought to myself, we had slept very well for the little time we had, but I had not had half enough. The day before had been very hard for us and we were quite unused to it and it had made us very lame and sore running around so much.
She asked us if we had had any breakfast and we told her not yet. She scolded Li for not having given the order for our breakfast to be brought to our rooms and said: "You must not feel like strangers, order anything you may want." Then she arose and started to dress. She put on her white silk socks first, having slept in her pantaloons as is the custom, and tied them at the ankle with pretty ribbon. I must tell you here that although she always slept in her clothes, she changed them for clean ones every day. Then she put on a pale pink shirt of soft material and over that a short silk gown, that was embroidered with bamboo leaves, as she always wore low heeled shoes in the morning and consequently could not wear her long gowns. After she had dressed she walked over to a window in front of which were two long tables covered with toilet articles of every kind and description.
As she was washing her face and dressing her hair, she said to my mother that she could not bear to have the servant girls, eunuchs, or old women, touch her bed, that they were dirty, so the Court ladies must make it. When she said this she turned to my sister and myself, we were standing a little to one side, and said: "You two must not think for a moment that the Court ladies do servant's work, but you know I am an old woman and could easily be your grandmother and it will do you no harm to work a little for me. When it comes your turn, you can superintend the others and don't have to do the work with your own hands." Then Her Majesty said to me: "Der Ling you are a great help to me in every way and I make you my first lady-in-waiting. You must not work too much for you will have to make all the arrangements for the audiences for foreigners and you will have to interpret for me. I also want you to look after my jewels and don't want you to do rough work at all. Roon Ling (my sister) can choose what she likes to do. I have two more besides you, Sze Gurgur and Yuen Da Nai Nai, making four altogether and you must all work together. It is not necessary to be too polite to them and if they are not nice to you, you let me know." Although I was very happy at receiving this appointment, I knew that according to custom I must refuse it, so I thanked Her Majesty very kindly for the honor she had given me and said that I did not know enough to hold such an important position and would prefer to be just an ordinary Court lady, and that I would learn as quickly as possible to be useful to her. She hardly let me finish what I was saying, when she laughed and said: "Stop! don't say anything like that; you are too modest, which shows you are very clever and not a bit conceited. I am surprised to see what a perfect little Manchu lady you are, knowing even such small etiquette as this, although you have spent many years outside of China." She was very fond of making fun and liked very much to tease, and said that I could try and if she saw that I could not do the work, she would scold me and put someone else in my place. After all this that she had said, I accepted the appointment and went over to her bed to see how it was made, and I found that it was very easy work to do. As this would be one of my duties, I watched while the bed was being fixed. First of all, after Her Majesty had risen, the bedclothes were taken out into the courtyard by the eunuchs and aired, then the bed, which was made of beautifully carved wood, was brushed off with a sort of whiskbroom, and a piece of felt placed over it. Then three thick mattresses made of yellow brocade were placed over the felt. After this came the sheets made of different colored soft silk, and over the whole thing was placed a covering of plain yellow satin embroidered with gold dragons and blue clouds. She had a great many pillows, all beautifully embroidered, which were placed on the bed during the daytime; but had a particular one stuffed with tea leaves on which she slept. It is said that stuffing the pillow on which you sleep with tea leaves is good for the eyes. In addition to all these, she had another very curiously shaped pillow about twelve inches long in the middle of which was a hole about three inches square. It was stuffed with dried flowers, and the idea of the hole was that when she laid on it she could place her ear in this hole and in this way hear any and every sound. I suppose in that way no one could come on her unawares.
Besides this last yellow embroidered cover, there were six covers of different colors, pale mauve, blue, pink, green and violet, and were placed one on top of the other. Over the top of the bed was a frame of wood handsomely carved and from this frame white crepe curtains, beautifully embroidered, hung, and numerous little gauze silk bags filled with scent were suspended from the carved work of the frame. The odor from these bags was very strong and made one feel sick until they became used to it. Her Majesty was also very fond of musk and used it on all occasions.
It took us about fifteen minutes to make the bed, and when I had finished, I turned around and saw that Her Majesty was dressing her hair. I stood beside her Majesty while the eunuch was dressing it and saw that as old as she was, she still had beautiful long hair which was as soft as velvet and raven black. She parted it in the center and brought it low at the back of her ears, and the back braid was brushed up on the top of her head and made it into a tight knot. When she had finished doing this, she was ready to have the Gu'un Dzan (Manchu headdress) placed on and pinned through the knot with two large pins. Her Majesty always dressed her hair first and then washed her face. She was as fussy and particular as a young girl and would give it to the eunuch if he did not get it just to suit her. She had dozens of bottles of all kinds of perfume, also perfumed soap. When she had finished washing her face, she dried it on a soft towel and sprayed it with a kind of glycerine made of honey and flower petals. After that she put some kind of strong scented pink powder on her face.
When she had completed her toilet, she turned to me and said: "It must seem to you quite funny to see an old lady like me taking so much care and pains in dressing and fixing up. Well! I like to dress myself up and to see others dress nicely. It always gives me pleasure to see pretty girls dressed nicely; it makes you want to be young again yourself." I told her that she looked quite young and was still beautiful, and that although we were young we would never dare compare ourselves with her. This pleased her very much, as she was very fond of compliments, and I took great pains that morning to study her and to find out what she liked and what she didn't.
After this Her Majesty took me into another room and showed me where her jewels were kept. This room was covered with shelves on three sides of the room from top to bottom, on which were placed piles of ebony boxes all containing jewels. Small yellow strips were pasted on some of the boxes on which was written the contents. Her Majesty pointed to a row of boxes on the right side of the room and said: "Here is where I keep my favorite everyday jewels, and some day you must go over them and see that they are all there. The rest are all jewels which I wear on special occasions. There are about three thousand boxes in this room and I have a lot more locked up in my safety room, which I will show you when I am not busy." Then she said: "I am sorry you cannot read and write Chinese, otherwise I would give you a list of these things and you could keep a check on them." I was very much surprised at this and wondered who had told her I couldn't. I was anxious to know, but did not dare to ask her, so I told her that although I was not a scholar, I had studied Chinese for some time and could read and write a little, that if she would give me a list I would try and read it. She said: "That is funny, someone told me the first day you were here, I forget now who it was, that you could not read or write your own language at all." While she was saying this, she was looking all around the room and I was sure she knew who it was that had told her, but she would not tell me. Then she said: "When we have time this afternoon, I will go over this list with you. Bring me those five boxes on the first row of shelves." I brought the boxes to her room and placed them on the table. She opened the first one and it contained a most beautiful peony made of coral and jade and each petal trembled like a real flower. This flower was made by stringing the petals which were made of coral on very fine brass wire, also the leaves which were made of pure jade. She took this flower and placed it on the right side of her headdress. Then she opened another box and took from it a magnificent jade butterfly made in the same way. This was an invention of her own and it was done by carving the coral and jade into petals and leaves and boring holes in the lower ends through which brass wire was run. The other two boxes contained bracelets and rings of different patterns. There was a pair of gold bracelets set with pearls, another pair set with jade, with a piece of jade hanging from the end of a small gold chain, etc. The last two contained chains of pearls, the like of which I never saw before, and I fell in love with them at once. Her Majesty took one which was made into a plum blossom string by winding a circle of five pearls around a larger one, then one single pearl, then another circle of five pearls around a large one, and so on, making quite a long chain, which she suspended from one of the buttons of her gown.
At this juncture one of the Court ladies came in carrying several gowns for Her Majesty to select from. She looked at them and said that none of them suited her, to take them back and bring more. I had a look at them and thought they were perfectly lovely, such pretty colors and so beautifully embroidered. In a short while the same Court lady came back carrying more, and from these Her Majesty selected a sea-green one embroidered all over with white storks. She put this gown on and looked at herself in the mirror for a while, then took off her jade butterfly. She said: "You see I am very particular about little details. The jade butterfly is too green and it kills my gown. Put it back in the box and bring me a pearl stork in No. 35 box." I went back to the jewel room and fortunately found No. 35 box and brought it to her. She opened the box and took from it a stork made entirely of pearls set in silver, the bird's bill being made of coral. The pearls making the body of the bird were so cleverly set that the silver could not be seen at all unless one looked at it very closely. It was a most magnificent piece of workmanship and the pearls were of perfect color and shape. Her Majesty took it and placed it in her hair and did look very graceful and pretty. Then she picked out a mauve-colored short jacket, also embroidered with storks, which she put on over her gown. Her handkerchief and shoes were also embroidered with storks and when she was entirely dressed she looked like the stork lady.
Just as she had finished dressing, the Emperor Kwang Hsu came into the bedroom dressed in his official clothes. These clothes were exactly like other official clothes, except that he had no button on his hat and did not wear the peacock feather. He knelt down before Her Majesty and said: "Chin Baba, Chi Hsiang" (dear father, all joy be with you). It may seem curious that the Emperor and all of us should call Her Majesty father, and the reason why this was done was because Her Majesty always wanted to be a man and compelled everyone to address her as if she were actually one. This was only one of her many peculiarities.
I did not know whether to courtesy to the Emperor or not, not having received any orders as to what I should do. However, I thought it better to be too polite than not enough, so I waited until either he or Her Majesty went out of the room, as we were not allowed to salute or courtesy to anyone in her presence. In a little while the Emperor went out and I followed him out into the hall and just as I was in the act of courtesying Her Majesty came out. She looked at me in a very peculiar way, as if she did not approve of what I had done, but said nothing. I felt very uncomfortable and made up my mind that being too polite did not always pay after all.
I then returned to the room again and saw a small eunuch placing several yellow boxes on a table at the left side of the room. Her Majesty seated herself in a large chair, which was called her little throne, and this eunuch opened the boxes, took a yellow envelope from each box and handed them to Her Majesty. She opened these envelopes with an ivory paper knife and read their contents. They were memorials from the heads of the different Boards, or from the Viceroys of the different Provinces. The Emperor had come back and was standing at the side of this table and after she had finished reading, she handed them over to him. While all this was being done I stood at the back of her chair. I watched the Emperor as the different papers were handed to him and noticed that it did not take him very long to finish reading their contents. After he was finished reading the papers, they were placed back in the boxes. During all this time absolute silence was maintained. Just as they had finished the head eunuch came in, knelt down and announced that Her Majesty's chair was ready. She immediately got up and went out of the house, we following her, and I took her arm while she was descending the steps to go to her chair. When she had entered the chair to go to the Audience Hall, the Emperor and Young Empress and we all followed in our usual places, the eunuchs, amahs and servant girls carrying all the things exactly the same as was done the first day I came to the Palace. When we arrived at the Audience Hall, we took our places behind the big screen and the audience commenced. I was very curious to find out just how the audiences were conducted and wanted to listen to what was going on, but the Court ladies would not leave me alone. However, when they were all talking together with my sister, I stole away into a corner where I could sit and rest and listen to the conversation between the different Ministers and Her Majesty. Trust a woman for being inquisitive.
The first part of the audience I could not hear very well, as so many people were whispering and talking at the same time, but by peeping through the carved-work of the screen, I could see a General talking to Her Majesty. I also saw the members of the Grand Council come in headed by Prince Ching, who was the Councillor-in-Chief. After the General had finished, Her Majesty talked with Prince Ching about the appointment of some minor officials, a list of whose names had been handed to her. She looked over this list and spoke about several of the people, but Prince Ching suggested some others, saying: "Although these people whose names have been submitted to Your Majesty should receive appointments, those that I have suggested are better fitted for the positions." Her Majesty said: "All right, I leave it all to you." Then I heard Her Majesty say to the Emperor, "Is that correct?" and he replied, "Yes." This finished the Audience for the morning and the Ministers and Grand Councillors took their leave. We came out from behind the screen to Her Majesty and she said that she wanted to go for a walk to get some fresh air. The servant girls brought her a mirror, placed it on a table, and Her Majesty took off her heavy headdress, leaving the simple knot on the top of her head, which was quite becoming. She wanted to change some of the flower jewels and I opened a box which one of the eunuchs had brought and took out some very dainty flowers made of pearls. I handed her one which she placed at the side of this knot, then she selected a jade dragonfly which she placed on the other side. She said these small flowers were favorites of hers and she liked to wear them when she took off her heavy headdress. I was watching her very closely and wondered what I was going to do with the flowers she had taken off. I had not brought the boxes to put them in, as I did not know she was going to change again after the audience, and felt a little nervous as to what was the right thing to do, or as to what she would say. However, I saw a eunuch come in carrying these boxes and felt much relieved. I quickly placed the things in the boxes where they belonged.