Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Understanding the Emperor

Americans had a self-proclaimed Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.  Among many of his decrees, two good ones listed below:
  • March 23, 1872 – Decree by Norton I that a suspension bridge be built as soon as convenient between Oakland Point and Goat Island, and then on to San Francisco.
  • September 21, 1872 – Norton I ordered a survey to determine if a bridge or tunnel would be the best possible means to connect Oakland and San Francisco. He also ordered the arrest of the Board of Supervisors for ignoring his decrees.
     Chinese still prefer "Old Gold Mountains 舊金山" over San Francisco because of the Golden Gate Bridge for the Gold Rush .  Somewhere on the bridge is still a note to the traveler to please stop and thank the Emperor of the United States and Mexico "asylee" Norton I (reigned 1859-1880), since he had the foresight, conceived and ordered in the San Francisco Bay the construction of a bridge.   Over 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay respect to Norton when he died among the homeless street people.        
        Chinese emperors used to seem so old and far away to me. I knew about them from watching movies and these depictions did not leave much good impression on me. In terms of dictatorship, they were the worst of all leaders. They killed anyone, anytime, anywhere, and owned everything. Even a few seemingly righteous emperors turned bad after they had become corrupted by power. When they fell from power, Chinese emperors always brought down the whole country along with them, then blamed it all on their lovers (mostly women) around them.  Kangxi (康熙) and Qianlong (乾隆) were the two strongest emperors for a little over 120 years. My Guan ancestors finally did accept the Qing Emperors, at least in the sense that they were working with them, not against them.
The Manchu people are a Tungusic people who originated in Manchuria. During their rise in the seventeenth century, they came to power in China, founding the Qing Dynasty with the help of defectors from the Ming dynasty. They ruled China until the Xinhai Revolution of 1911.
After the fall of Beijing and northern China to the Manchu in 1644, Yangzhou remained under the control of Ming loyalists. The city fell on May 20, 1645 after a brief siege. During a ten-day massacre, 800,000 people died, simply because Chinese refused Manchu's pigtail hairstyle, a test of loyalty to Manchu. The city's rapid recovery from these events and its great prosperity through the middle years of the Qing Dynasty were both due to the government’s salt monopoly. It was famous for literature, art, and the splendid gardens of merchant families, many of which were visited by the Kangxi and Qianlong during their tours in southern China.  My ancestors really looked up to the Qing emperors, with the exception of the first two; they were always eager to help the emperors and the country. Our four family history books did not list the first two Qing Emperors, but started with Emperor Kangxi's (康熙) father. They did not accept the first two invaders, but did accept the Kangxi. Zhu Xi (朱熹 1130-1200, Youxi, Fujian 福建) was a leading Confucian scholar of the School of Principle and the most influential rationalist Neo-Confucian in the Song Dynasty (宋 960-1279). His works included Analects of Confucius, the Mencius, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean (the Four Books), and his Famous Family Rules 朱子家训.  Emperor Kangxi had a lot of respect for him, as did my ancestors; after all, Zhu Xi was their hometown boy, he even wrote an introduction to our earlier Shangguan Zhu Pu in Fujian.  I visited his courtyard back in the 1980s, not knowing anything about him or my own family. His rules were listed right after the Emperor’s Sixteen Sacred Edicts.
When Qianlong (乾隆) was still a young prince, he ran into the room of an imperial concubine by accident while she was putting on her make-up. The prince decided to play a prank on the imperial concubine, tiptoeing behind her and scaring her. The concubine jumped and hit him with her comb; some say with her fist. This was a direct breach of imperial protocol and another court lady who was passing by witnessed her action. The imperial concubine was then promptly demoted and she hanged herself. Qianlong felt terrible and indebted to her, so he bit his finger and left his bloody mark on her neck, so he would recognize her in her next life. He could then pay her back. In 1775, when Qianlong was sixty-five years old, he noticed Heshen, a young, attractive Manchu guardsman. He looked very similar to the imperial concubine, so Qianlong thought Heshen was the reincarnation of the imperial concubine. He was born in the year of her death and even carried a red birthmark on his neck. Heshen became Qianlong’s favorite male companion. Heshen’s son later married Qianlong's tenth and favorite daughter. 
Heshen was not just attractive, but was also a very intelligent man. He spoke many languages, including Manchu, Han, Japanese, Korean, Mogo, Tibetan, English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish. In addition, he took advantage of his power. He placed his people in key positions at every administrative level in the empire. He enjoyed complete freedom in the Palace. Heshen’s corruption was so great that after his execution ordered by Qianlong’s son Jiaqing in 1799, five days after Emperor Qianlong died, it was discovered that his personal fortune was greater than the imperial treasury itself. The country had been in decline ever since.
Daoguang Emperor (道光) was the sixth Emperor and first oldest son as a Emperor, his father the Jiaqing Emperor suddenly died of unknown causes at the age of 38 in 1820. His reign was facing external disaster and internal rebellion, the Sikh Empire attempted an occupation of Tibet which was defeated in the Sino-Sikh war (1841–1842), the First Opium War, and the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion. China lost the Opium War and surrendered Hong Kong by way of the Treaty of Nanking in August 1842, resulting more than 30,000 chests of Opium legally entered China. He was a poor emperor had to change his robe once a month (衣非三浣不易) and he had very simple meals. He was so humiliated and shamed that he could not face his ancestor. He asked not to enter the family altar in the Imperial Ancestral Hall (太庙). Daoguang died from heartbroken on 25 February 1850, at the Old Summer Palace (圓明園) which was destroyed in 1860 British and French durning the Second Opium War. The palace was completely ruined in 1900 during the Eight-Nation Alliance invasion.
The Imperial Ancestral Hall
  My mother’s family rose and prospered with Emperors Kangxi (康熙) and Qianlong (乾隆), then declined with the Qing Dynasty, foreign invaders made it worse. They finished their new addition of family Zhu Pu (族谱) in Daoguang (道光) year. The Guangxu Emperor (光緒 1871-1908) was a nephew of Empress Dowager Cixi. He was the second to last emperor of China, but it was in name only from age four until his death. The real ruler during this time was Dowager Cixi. Unlike EmpressWu in the Tang Dynasty, Empress Dowager Cixi did not declare herself Emperor. In fact, her nephew, the real Emperor and Empress were living with her; however, she drugged and controlled him, and he only kept his name. She did make herself a longpao (dragon robe), however, which is only worn by the Emperor. For some reason, she never wore it once, at least in public.
The only Real face of Wu Zetian (武则天 625-705) in her hometown Sichuan and the only female emperor in China. She started Wu Ju Ren (武举人)

Wu Ju Ren Competition, the highest martial 武举人選拔圖

Photo of Empress Cixi (慈禧1835-1908) did not declare herself Emperor and she ended Wu Ju Ren (武举人)
The Guangxu Emperor (光緒) ordered a series of reforms in response to weaknesses exposed by China's defeat by Japan, not long after the Opium Wars. He tried the Hundred Days' Reform (百日維新); he believed this reform would make China more politically and economically powerful, since it would be following a constitutional monarchy like Japan.
Japan’s victory was a major shock to the Chinese. Japan had always been a tributary state of China, being much smaller and regarded as inferior. Most conservatives were awakened by foreign powers inside of China, and Kang Youwei (康有为) was allowed to speak with the Emperor. Some reforms would include:
  • Modernizing the old exam system
  • Elimination of positions that provided a salary for no work
  • Creation of a modern education system (added math and science instead of focusing on Confucian texts only)
  • Changing the government from an absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy with democracy.
  • Applying principles of capitalism.
  • Modernizing the military (learning from Western powers).
  • Industrializing China.
The Guangxu Emperor failed, however, and was put under house arrest until his death. He died a day before the Empress Dowager Cixi. Official court records from the time suggested that Guangxu indeed died from natural causes, but the illness could have been caused by a slow-working poison. Forensic tests showed that the level of arsenic in the Emperor's remains was 2,000 times higher than normal. Scientists concluded that the poison could only have been administered in a high dose at one time. Chinese historian Dai Yi speculated that Empress Cixi knew her death was coming and worried that Guangxu would continue making reforms after her death.
     Empress Cixi tried her best to keep the Chinese traditions and whatever she inherited from her ancestors. It was a great shame to her, as well as to all Chinese, that the Old Summer Palace was gone. She attempted to build a new Summer Palace, even if it meant taking the money from modernization of the navy (30 million taels of silver). She built a stone pavilion shaped like a boat at the Summer Palace -- the only boat that did not sink. For her construction was always better than destruction. 
Cixi's Marble Boat (36 m long) is here today and it will likely stay for few more thousand years in the Summer Palace 
     My family supported these reforms of course. My grandfather’s older brother’s name was Guan Wei Xin (新), which means reform, specifically "Hundred Days' Reform" (百日維新); a few of my ancestors worked on these reforms as well. This was stated in my family’s history book. 
     From the movies, I have always known that the Emperor killed three generations and ninth cousins if one family member was in trouble.  Both sides of my surname’s ancestors ran for their lives throughout Chinese history and were killed for no good reason.  I never knew the Emperor actually wrote this set of Imperial Edicts (皇帝制曰) by himself on a scroll of silk to award and promote each of our ancestors for three generations.  Three ranks higher than the one good son they brought up, one for his father and mother, one for grandfather and grandmothers, and one for great-grandfather and great-grandmother.  I would never believe it if it had not been for the black and white words printed with my ancestor’s name in his three imperial edicts (圣旨).  I could picture when the Imperial Edicts were presented in front of them while they knelt on the ground “奉天承运,皇帝制曰.”  This means that with heaven above, these are the Emperor’s Imperial Edicts.  I did not understand it word for word, something about three ranks higher was clear.  I was impressed.
      After looking into the history, I found out that the Guangxu Emperor (光緒) was only 10 years old when he gave my family promotions.  Therefore, they were from the Empress Dowager Cixi with the Guangxu Emperor (光緒)’s name.  I am not sure what was on her mind when she decided to award my Guan family ancestors.
China was in a volatile state with the Emperor and foreign powers made the situation worse. My family was no exception. My family history documented my first ancestors from 1400 during the Ming Dynasty in Fujian for nine generations. They then moved southward from their burial records. In 1724, Wen Gung brought his own boat up the Yangzi River and settled in Sichuan, the Western part of the country. His father lived on the coast of Fujian with two wives under Emperor Kangxi (康熙 1661-1772), who was one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. My ancestors decided to follow the emperor’s call to “Fill Sichuan” in 1724 under Emperor Yongzheng (雍正). Our male member of the Guans lived close to eighty years old and their wives lived to around eighty-five years old with the oldest one living until ninety-three. Over 6 wives and over 2000 Guan in the Guan farm today still a miracle, all happened in my grandfather's generation. One of my cousins in the farm said "the real Shangguan is coming searching root", I asked him what he meat, his comment was rejected by the other elders right away.
     Close to the end of the Qing Dynasty, the Qing Empire had already fallen apart. The Guangxu Emperor died without an heir. Puyi (溥仪), who was only three years old, but had close ties to Empress Dowager Cixi, became the last Emperor of China. Puyi was expelled from the Forbidden City in 1924 by warlord Feng Yuxiang (冯玉祥). Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) then became the Founding Father of the Republic of China. Today, there is a question of where Sun Yat-sen was born, in China or Hawaii? He went to the same school that Barack Obama later attended. Legally, Sun Yat-sen was an American, but China and all the Chinese around the world accepted him as Chinese.
In the chaos, my family declined; adults were addicted to opium and the children were dying. My grandfather’s generation went down and lost the salt well business. 
China's Examination Hell: Video Lecture