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   Chapter 2 AT THE PALACE

Two Years in the Forbidden City By Princess Der Ling Characters: 14612

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06

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.

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