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   Chapter 19 THE SEA PALACE

Two Years in the Forbidden City By Princess Der Ling Characters: 23456

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06

THIS year we had a very hot spring and Her Majesty was desirous of getting back again to the Sea Palace. However, as war had already been declared between Russia and Japan it was thought best to remain in the Forbidden City until things were more settled. Her Majesty was very much worried over this war and spent most of her time in offering prayers to the different divinities for the welfare of China and we, of course, were expected to join her. Things were very monotonous about this time and nothing particular occurred until the beginning of the second moon. By this time Her Majesty was quite sick of staying in the Forbidden City and said that no matter what happened she would remove the Court to the Sea Palace, where Miss Carl could get along and finish the portrait which had been hanging on for nearly a year. So on the sixth day of the second moon we moved back to the Sea Palace. Everything looked fresh and green and many of the trees had commenced to blossom. Her Majesty took us around the lake and we were in such good spirits that Her Majesty remarked that we acted more like a lot of wild animals escaped from a menagerie than human beings. She was much brighter now, but said that she would be happier still to get to the Summer Palace.

Miss Carl was summoned to the Palace, and Her Majesty visited her and asked to see the portrait. She again asked me how long it would be before it was finished, and I told her that unless she gave a little more of her time to posing it might not be finished for quite a long time. After a lot of consideration Her Majesty finally agreed to give Miss Carl five minutes each day after the morning audience, but that she desired it to be distinctly understood that she did not intend to pose for anything but the face. She accordingly sat for two mornings, but on the third morning she made an excuse saying that she was not feeling well. I told her that Miss Carl could not proceed further unless she sat for the face, so, although she was very angry, she gave Miss Carl a few more sittings until the face was finished. She absolutely refused to sit again whether it was finished or not, saying that she would have nothing more to do with the portrait. I myself sat for the remainder of the portrait, viz.:-for Her Majesty's dress, jewels, etc., and so by degrees the portrait was completed.

When Her Majesty learned that the portrait was nearing completion she was very much pleased, and I thought it a good opportunity to again broach the subject of payment. Her Majesty asked me whether I really thought it necessary to pay cash for the portrait and how much. I told her that as painting was Miss Carl's profession, if she had not been engaged on painting Her Majesty's portrait she would most probably have been engaged on other similar work for which she would have received compensation, and that therefore she would naturally expect to be paid even more handsomely in this instance. It was difficult to make Her Majesty understand this and she asked if I was quite certain that Miss Carl would not be offended by an offer of money, also Mrs. Conger who had presented her. I explained that in America and Europe it was quite customary for ladies to earn their own living either by painting, teaching or in some other similar manner, and that it was no disgrace but rather the opposite. Her Majesty seemed very much surprised to learn this, and asked why Miss Carl's brother did not support her himself. I told Her Majesty that Miss Carl did not desire him to provide for her, besides which he was married and had a family to support. Her Majesty gave it as her opinion that this was a funny kind of civilization. In China when the parents were dead it was the duty of the sons to provide for their unmarried sisters until such time as they married. She also said that if Chinese ladies were to work for their living it would only set people talking about them. However, she promised to speak with Her Ministers about paying Miss Carl, and I felt somewhat relieved as there seemed to be a probability of something satisfactory being arranged after all.

The twelfth day of the second moon was the anniversary of another interesting ceremony, viz.:-the birthday of the flowers and trees. After the morning audience we all went into the Palace grounds, where the eunuchs were waiting with huge rolls of red silk. These we all commenced to cut into narrow strips about two inches wide and three feet long. When we had cut sufficient Her Majesty took a strip of red silk and another of yellow silk which she tied round the stem of one of the peony trees (in China the peony is considered to be the queen of flowers). Then all the Court ladies, eunuchs and servant girls set to work to decorate every single tree and plant in the grounds with red silk ribbons, in the same manner as Her Majesty had done. This took up nearly the entire morning and it made a very pretty picture, with the bright costumes of the Court ladies, green trees and beautiful flowers.

We then went to a theatrical performance. This represented all the tree fairies and flower fairies celebrating their birthday. The Chinese believe that all the trees and flowers have their own particular fairies, the tree fairies being men and the flower fairies being women. The costumes were very pretty and were chosen to blend with the green trees and flowers which were on the stage. One of the costumes worn by a lotus fairy was made of pink silk, worked so as to represent the petals of the flower, the skirt being of green silk to represent the lotus leaves. Whenever this fairy moved about the petals would move just as though wafted by the breeze, like a natural flower. Several other costumes representing different flowers were made in the same manner. The scene was a woodland dell, surrounded with huge rocks perforated with caves, out of which came innumerable small fairies bearing decanters of wine. These small fairies represented the smaller flowers, daisies, pomegranate blossoms, etc. The result can be better imagined than described. All the fairies gathered together and drank the wine, after which they commenced to sing, accompanied by stringed instruments, played very softly. The final scene was a very fitting ending to the performance. It represented a small rainbow which gradually descended until it rested on the rocks; then each fairy in turn would sit upon the rainbow which rose again and conveyed them through the clouds into Heaven. This completed the celebration and we all retired to our rooms.

On the fourteenth day of the second moon (March 2, 1904), I completed my first year at Court. I had quite forgotten this fact until Her Majesty reminded me of it. She asked whether I was comfortable and happy where I was or did I long to return to Paris. I answered truly that although I had enjoyed myself while in France still I preferred the life of the Court, it was so interesting, besides which I was in my own native land and among all my friends and relations, and naturally I preferred that to living in a strange land. Her Majesty smiled and said she was afraid that sooner or later I would tire of the life in the Palace and fly away again across the ocean. She said that the only way to make sure of me was to marry me off. She again asked me what was my objection to getting married; was I afraid of having a mother-in-law, or what was it? If that was all, I need not worry, for so long as she was alive there was nothing to be afraid of. Her Majesty said that even if I were married it would not be necessary for me to stay at home all the time, but that I would be able to spend my time in the Palace as usual. Continuing, she said: "Last year when this marriage question came up I was willing to make allowances as you had been brought up somewhat differently from the rest of my Court ladies, but do not run away with the idea that I have forgotten all about it. I am still on the lookout for a suitable husband for you." I simply answered as before-that I had absolutely no desire to marry, but that I wanted to stay where I was and live at the Court so long as Her Majesty was willing to have me there. She made some remark about my being stubborn and said that I should probably change my mind before long.

During the latter part of the second moon Miss Carl worked very hard to get the portrait finished and Her Majesty again consulted her book in order to select a lucky day on which to put the final touches to the picture. The 19th of April, 1904, was chosen by Her Majesty as the best time, and Miss Carl was duly notified. Miss Carl most emphatically stated that it was quite impossible to finish the portrait properly by the time named, and I told Her Majesty what Miss Carl said, explaining that there were many small finishing touches to be added and I suggested it would be better to give Miss Carl a few days longer if possible. However, Her Majesty said that it must be finished by four o'clock on the 19th day of April, and therefore there was nothing further to be said.

About a week before the time fixed for completion Her Majesty paid a visit to the studio to finally inspect the picture. She seemed very much pleased with it, but still objected to her face being painted dark on one side and light on the other. As I have said before, I had explained that this was the shading, but Her Majesty insisted on my telling Miss Carl to make both sides of her face alike. This led to a pretty hot discussion between Miss Carl and myself but she finally saw that it was no use going against Her Majesty's wishes in the matter, so consented to make some slight alteration. Happening to catch sight of some foreign characters at the foot of the painting Her Majesty inquired what they were and on being informed that they were simply the artist's name, said: "Well, I know foreigners do some funny things, but I think this about the funniest I ever heard of. Fancy putting her own name on my picture. This will naturally convey the impression that it is a portrait of Miss Carl, and not a portrait of myself at all." I again had to explain the reason for this, saying that it was always customary for foreign artists to write their names at the foot of any picture they painted, whether portrait or otherwise. So Her Majesty said she supposed it was all right, and would have to remain, but she looked anything but satisfied with it.

By working practically all night and all day, Miss Carl managed to get the portrait finished by the time stipulated, and Her Majesty arranged that Mrs. Conger and the other ladies of the Diplomatic Corps should come to the Palace and see the portrait. This was quite a private audience and Her Majesty received them in one of the small Audience Halls. After the usual greetings Her Majesty ordered us to conduct the ladies to the studio, which we did, Her Majesty bidding them good-bye and remaining in her own apartments. The Young Empress in accordance with instructions from Her Majesty, accompanied us to the studio, and acted as hostess. Everybody expressed great admiration for the portrait and it was voted a marvellous likeness. After inspecting the picture we all adjourned for refreshments. The Young Empress sat at the head of the table and asked me to sit next to her. Shortly after everybody was seated a eunuch came and asked the Young Empress to inform these ladies that the Emperor was slightly indisposed and was unable to be present. I interpreted this, and everybody appeared satisfied. As a matter of fact the Emperor was quite well, but we had forgotten all about him. And so the guests departed without seeing him on this occasion.

On reporting everything to Her Maj

esty as usual, she asked what they thought of the portrait, and we told her that they had admired it very much. Her Majesty said: "Of course they did, it was painted by a foreign artist." She didn't appear to be very much interested and was quite cross about something, which caused me great disappointment after all the trouble Miss Carl had taken to finish the portrait. Her Majesty then remarked that Miss Carl had taken a long time to get the portrait finished, and asked why nobody had reminded her to inform the Emperor about the audience, being particularly angry with the head eunuch on this occasion. Her Majesty said that as soon as she remembered, she immediately sent a eunuch to make excuses, as the ladies might very well think that something had happened to the Emperor and it might cause talk. I told her that I explained to them that the Emperor was not well and they evidently thought nothing further of his absence.

By the next day the carpenters in the Palace had finished the frame for the portrait and when it had been properly fitted Her Majesty ordered my brother to take a photograph of it. This photograph turned out so well that Her Majesty said it was better than the portrait itself.

The picture being now quite finished, Miss Carl prepared to take her leave, which she did a few days later, having received a handsome present in cash from Her Majesty in addition to a decoration and many other presents as remuneration for her services. For quite a long time after Miss Carl had left the Palace I felt very lonely, as during her stay I had found her a genial companion and we had many things in common to talk about. Her Majesty noticed that I was rather quiet, and asked me the cause. She said: "I suppose you are beginning to miss your friend, the lady artist." I did not care to admit that this was so, for fear she might think me ungrateful to herself, besides which I knew she did not like the idea of my being too friendly with foreigners. So I explained to Her Majesty that I always did regret losing old friends but that I would get used to the change very soon. Her Majesty was very nice about it and said she wished that she was a little more sentimental over such small things, but that when I got to her age I should be able to take things more philosophically.

After Miss Carl had left the Court, Her Majesty asked me one day: "Did she ever ask you much about the Boxer movement of 1900?" I told her that I knew very little of the Boxer movement myself, as I was in Paris at the time and I could not say very much. I assured her that the lady artist never mentioned the subject to me. Her Majesty said: "I hate to mention about that affair and I would not like to have foreigners ask my people questions on that subject. Do you know, I have often thought that I am the most clever woman that ever lived and others cannot compare with me. Although I have heard much about Queen Victoria and read a part of her life which someone has translated into Chinese, still I don't think her life was half so interesting and eventful as mine. My life is not finished yet and no one knows what is going to happen in the future. I may surprise the foreigners some day with something extraordinary and do something quite contrary to anything I have yet done. England is one of great powers of the world, but this has not been brought about by Queen Victoria's absolute rule. She had the able men of parliament back of her at all times and of course they discussed everything until the best result was obtained, then she would sign the necessary documents and really had nothing to say about the policy of the country. Now look at me. I have 400,000,000 people, all dependent on my judgment. Although I have the Grand Council to consult with, they only look after the different appointments, but anything of an important nature I must decide myself. What does the Emperor know? I have been very successful so far, but I never dreamt that the Boxer movement would end with such serious results for China. That is the only mistake I have made in my life. I should have issued an Edict at once to stop the Boxers practising their belief, but both Prince Tuan and Duke Lan told me that they firmly believed the Boxers were sent by Heaven to enable China to get rid of all the undesirable and hated foreigners. Of course they meant mostly missionaries, and you know how I hate them and how very religious I always am, so I thought I would not say anything then but would wait and see what would happen. I felt sure they were going too far as one day Prince Tuan brought the Boxer leader to the Summer Palace and summoned all the eunuchs into the courtyard of the Audience Hall and examined each eunuch on the head to see if there was a cross. He said, 'This cross is not visible to you, but I can identify a Christian by finding a cross on the head.' Prince Tuan then came to my private Palace and told me that the Boxer leader was at the Palace Gate and had found two eunuchs who were Christians and asked me what was to be done. I immediately became very angry and told him that he had no right to bring any Boxers to the Palace without my permission; but he said this leader was so powerful that he was able to kill all the foreigners and was not afraid of the foreign guns, as all the gods were protecting him. Prince Tuan told me that he had witnessed this himself. A Boxer shot another with a revolver and the bullet hit him, but did not harm him in the least. Then Prince Tuan suggested that I hand these two eunuchs supposed to be Christians to the Boxer leader, which I did. I heard afterwards that these two eunuchs were beheaded right in the country somewhere near here. This chief Boxer came to the Palace the next day, accompanied by Prince Tuan and Duke Lan, to make all the eunuchs burn incense sticks to prove that they were not Christians. After that Prince Tuan also suggested that we had better let the chief Boxer come every day and teach the eunuchs their belief; that nearly all of Peking was studying with the Boxers. The next day I was very much surprised to see all my eunuchs dressed as Boxers. They wore red jackets, red turbans and yellow trousers. I was sorry to see all my attendants discard their official robes and wear a funny costume like that. Duke Lan presented me with a suit of Boxer clothes. At that time Yung Lu, who was the head of the Grand Council, was ill and asked leave of absence for a month. While he was sick, I used to send one of the eunuchs to see him every day, and that day the eunuch returned and informed me that Yung Lu was quite well and would come to the Palace the next day, although he still had fifteen days more leave. I was puzzled to know why he should give up the balance of his leave. However, I was very anxious to see him, as I wished to consult him about this chief Boxer. Yung Lu looked grieved when he learned what had taken place at the Palace, and said that these Boxers were nothing but revolutionaries and agitators. They were trying to get the people to help them to kill the foreigners, but he was very much afraid the result would be against the Government. I told him that probably he was right, and asked him what should be done. He told me that he would talk to Prince Tuan, but the next day Prince Tuan told me that he had had a fight with Yung Lu about the Boxer question, and said that all of Peking had become Boxers, and if we tried to turn them, they would do all they could to kill everyone in Peking, including the Court; that they (the Boxer party) had the day selected to kill all the foreign representatives; that Tung Fou Hsiang, a very conservative General and one of the Boxers, had promised to bring his troops out to help the Boxers to fire on the Legations. When I heard this I was very much worried and anticipated serious trouble, so I sent for Yung Lu at once and kept Prince Tuan with me. Yung Lu came, looking very much worried, and he was more so after I had told him what the Boxers were going to do. He immediately suggested that I should issue an Edict, saying that these Boxers were a secret society and that no one should believe their teaching, and to instruct the Generals of the nine gates to drive all the Boxers out of the city at once. When Prince Tuan heard this he was very angry and told Yung Lu that if such an Edict was issued, the Boxers would come to the Court and kill everybody. When Prince Tuan told me this, I thought I had better leave everything to him. After he left the Palace, Yung Lu said that Prince Tuan was absolutely crazy and that he was sure these Boxers would be the cause of a great deal of trouble. Yung Lu also said that Prince Tuan must be insane to be helping the Boxers to destroy the Legations; that these Boxers were a very common lot, without education, and they imagined the few foreigners in China were the only ones on the earth and if they were killed it would be the end of them. They forgot how very strong these foreign countries are, and that if the foreigners in China were all killed, thousands would come to avenge their death. Yung Lu assured me that one foreign soldier could kill one hundred Boxers without the slightest trouble, and begged me to give him instructions to order General Nieh, who was afterwards killed by the Boxers, to bring his troops to protect the Legations. Of course I gave him this instruction at once, and also told him that he must see Prince Tuan at once and Duke Lan to tell them that this was a very serious affair and that they had better not interfere with Yung Lu's plans. Matters became worse day by day and Yung Lu was the only one against the Boxers, but what could one man accomplish against so many? One day Prince Tuan and Duke Lan came and asked me to issue an Edict ordering the Boxers to kill all the Legation people first and then all remaining foreigners. I was very angry and refused to issue this Edict. After we had talked a very long time, Prince Tuan said that this must be done without delay, for the Boxers were getting ready to fire on the Legations and would do so the very next day. I was furious and ordered several of the eunuchs to drive him out, and he said as he was going out: 'If you refuse to issue that Edict, I will do it for you whether you are willing or not,' and he did. After that you know what happened. He issued these Edicts unknown to me and was responsible for a great many deaths. He found that he could not carry his plans through and heard that the foreign troops were not very far from Peking. He was so frightened that he made us all leave Peking." As she finished saying this, she started to cry, and I told her that I felt very sorry for her. She said: "You need not feel sorry for me for what I have gone through; but you must feel sorry that my fair name is ruined. That is the only mistake I have made in my whole life and it was done in a moment of weakness. Before I was just like a piece of pure jade; everyone admired me for what I have done for my country, but the jade has a flaw in it since this Boxer movement and it will remain there to the end of my life. I have regretted many, many times that I had such confidence in, and believed that wicked Prince Tuan; he was responsible for everything."

By the end of the third moon Her Majesty had had enough of the Sea Palace and the Court moved into the Summer Palace. This time we travelled by boat as it was very beautiful weather. On reaching the water-gates of the Palace we found everything just lovely and the peach blossoms were in full bloom. Her Majesty plainly showed how glad she was to be back once more and for the time being seemed to have forgotten everything else, even the war.

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