dijous, 30 d’abril del 2009

A wife for the emperor

"In the last resort the choice had to be made by the "emperor". The way that this had been done in the time of Tung Chih and Kuang Hsu was for the girls who were candidates to stand in a line and the future bridgeroom to select one of them. I have heard two versions of how he indicated his choice. One was that he handed a jade symbol to the girl who took his fancy; the other was that he hung a pouch on the girl's buckle. When it came to my time the princes felt that lining up a row of maidens would no longer be suitable and decided that I should choose from photopraphs instead. I was to pencil a mark on the picture of one I liked best.

Four photos were sent to the Mind Nurture Palace. To me the girls seemed much the same and their bodies looked as shapeless as tubes in their dresses. Their faces were very small in the pictures so that I could not see whether they were beauties or not. The only comparison I could make was between the styles of their clothes. It did not occur to me at the time that this was one of the great events of my life, and I had no standards to guide me. I casually drew a circle on a pretty picture.

She was the daughter of Tuan Kunf of the Manchu Order clan. She was called Wen Hsin (her other name was Hui Sin) and she was three years younger than me, so that she would have been twelve when I saw her picture. As she was the girl favoured by the high consort Ching Yi her rival Tuan Kang was most displeased and, overruling Ching Yi's protests, she insisted on summoning the princes to persuade me to choose her candidate. She said that Wen Hsiu came of an impoverished family and was ugly, whereas the girl she supported, Wan Jung, was of a rich family, wondering why they had not explained things at the beginning, instead of letting me think that there was nothing to this business of making a pencil mark and drew a circle on the photo of Wan Jung.

This met with the disapproval of the high High Consorts Ching Yi and Jung Hui. After a series of arguments among the High Consorts and princes the high consort Jung Hui came out with this suggestion: "As His Majesty has marked Wen Hsiu's picture it wouldn't do for her to be married to one of his subjects, so he had better take her as a consort." I did not feel that I had much need for one wife, let alone two, and was not at all keen on this proposal; but when the princes and the high officials pointed out to me that according to the customs of my ancestors "the emperor has to have an empress and a consort" this was an argument I could not resist."