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CHF Newsletter June 7, 2010


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#1 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 09:14 AM

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JUNE 2010 NEWSLETTER


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This month's edition of the CHF newsletter is packed with articles and new features. Firstly, let me introduce to you our new columnist Tjoa. He is an enthusiastic and intelligent columnist, who has previously worked as a history lecturer. I'm sure you will find his articles enjoyable and insightful. Secondly, I would like to thank WuXiaHer0 for diligently contributing to the newsletter. Classical Chinese, Chinese Gallery and Trivia are all WuXiaHer0's ideas. Thirdly, as you may already know, I have been appointed the new Chief Editor. I'd like to thank Kaiselin for all her hard work and energy in making the newsletter what it is today and for guiding past and present editorial staff. Recently, Kaiselin has been absent, so it has been decided that it is in the best interests of the Editorial Board to appoint a permanent Chief Editor. I am very honoured to be serving as Chief Editor and I shall strive to improve CHF publications.

I hope you all enjoy this month's newsletter. I have plans to continue publishing the Han Lin Journal. Please consider submitting an article or becoming a columnist, we need the continued support of the CHF community to create the best possible publication for you.

Finally, it is worth noting that the CHF Newsletter has been around for five years! It has changed a lot since its first inception. The first generation of newsletters (2005-07) were only one post long and provided basic details of the activities on CHF. Since 2008, the second generation of newsletters came into existence, these newsletters provided more choice for readers, featuring articles and special features. Hopefully, there will be new opportunities and ways for the CHF Newsletter to improve.

Enjoy!

HappyHistorian
Chief Editor
CHF Newsletter
CHF Han Lin Journal



#2 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

    Prime Minister (Situ/Chengxiang 司徒/丞相)

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 09:28 AM

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Page 3
CHF Community News


The Emperor's Court

FEATURED MEMBER AND TOPICS


Page 4
HappyHistorian

Page 5
Featured Topics


MAIN ARTICLES & FEATURES



Page 6
Women in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Page 7
In The Harem

Page 8
Under Heaven

Page 9
Classical Chinese

Page 10
Chinese Gallery

Page 11
Multimedia

Page 12
Trivia

Page 13
IMPERIAL PROCLAMATION

Page 14
CHF EDITORIAL STAFF


Edited by HappyHistorian, 06 June 2010 - 09:29 AM.


#3 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

    Prime Minister (Situ/Chengxiang 司徒/丞相)

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  • Main Interest in CHF:
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Posted 06 June 2010 - 09:30 AM

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*****


CHF launches Jinshi exam - the final and highest level exam


Hi all,

After months of discussion, I am pleased to inform you that CHF is launching the final highest level exam: the Jinshi exam.

I would like to apologise for the delay as I've been so caught up by my busy MBA studies as well as daily work that I do not have much time to help lead the development of this exam.

However, in any case, we have already developed the exam in a simplified way.

For details about the Jinshi exam, refer to http://www.chinahist...am-jinshi-exam/

We hope to have some Juren exam participating in this exam. The exam is considered to be quite 'easy' to pass. Technically, we do not fail any exam candidate. All you have to do is to research and write a good article to be published in our CHF Han Lin Journal. Once completed, you will receive you Jinshi scholar title.


*****


Welcome Introduction Video to CHF by Founder (GZ)


I've finally decided to make a short video speech of a welcome introduction to CHF (will move this to the introduction forum later on) in 4 languages. As you can tell, Mandarin Chinese is my best spoken language, followed by English and Taiwanese. My German is really simple and 'broken'.

Note that I didn't plan the speech.. just think and talk..

Do enjoy my video speech:

Welcome Introduction to CHF in English
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxjL3g1-_v8

Welcome Introduction to CHF in Chinese (Mandarin)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDqlnIEJd5g

Welcome Introduction to CHF in Taiwanese (Hokkien)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKytWSonmaE

Welcome Introduction to CHF in German (broken German!!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHK-ftdeFAk


*****


HappyHistorian becomes Chief Editor


Hi all,

This is to inform you that after some discussion with CHF Editorial board, Happyhistorian (who has been acting as the chief editor for quite sometime) will be officially the new Chief Editor of CHF Editorial Board.

Unfortunately, Kaiselin has been absent from CHF for almost 1 year and the organizations of Editorial board has been left to the hands of Happyhistorian. Should Kaiselin returns to CHF, we will return Kaiselin to her Chief editor position. But for now, we are happy to have Happyhistorian to help revamp of CHE Editorial Boards and to recruit new staff members for that.

Thanks to Happyhistorian for his continuous effort even after CHF has been rather quiet since 2009. In any case, CHF continues to function as a premier portal for Chinese history and culture.

Welcome Happyhistorian!

:greeting::greeting:



#4 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 09:38 AM

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Hello everyone!

Usually I ask other CHF members to write about themselves, but this time I'll briefly introduce myself. My real name is Henry Kha and my CHF username is HappyHistorian. You may be wondering why I chose such a pseudonym, well I have always been interested in history and I wanted a positive name, so that's why chose to be called HappyHistorian! I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. I have Chinese background and I can speak English and Mandarin Chinese. At the moment, I am completing an Advanced Arts degree at the University of Sydney, majoring in history and Chinese Studies.

I have been a CHF member for nearly two years. Two years ago, I was trying to find a history forum where I could discuss my scholarly interests, then I stumbled across China History Forum. I found the CHF community friendly and passionate about their interest in Chinese history and history in general, so I decided to join. After a few months on CHF, I knew straight away that I wanted to get more involved. So I decided to become a CHF columnist. All of a sudden, I'm now Chief Editor! Initially I was primarily interested in British Imperial history, because I was very fascinated to learn how such a vast empire could manage its realms across many different peoples and cultures over a long period of time. I still am interesting in British imperial history, but I'm also a very keen student of Chinese history. It is such a deep and rich history, spanning thousands of years with many different stories to tell. I'm more interested in modern history, but I still find ancient history very interesting to read about.

At the moment, I am not really sure what I should pursue as a career. However, sinology is a very rich and rewarding academic discipline. I am sure it will be very useful and practical to have a good understanding of sinology. Chinese history is not only important to learn about the past, but also to understand contemporary society and the world around us.

Edited by HappyHistorian, 06 June 2010 - 09:39 AM.


#5 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 09:40 AM

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Meiji Restoration & Westernization Movement This topic compares the reasons why Japan's Meiji Restoration was successful and why China's attempts of modernisation in the nineteenth century failed.

What would China be like today if the KMT won the war This topic imagines the possibilities of how China would look like, if the KMT won the civil war and was leading China today.

#6 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 09:47 AM

Women in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms


by Hock G. Tjoa



Confucius’ allegedly negative attitude towards women has been much criticized. This is unfair as many anti-feminist remarks in Chinese classics were actually made by Ming or Qing commentators. It is worth exploring what works not strictly philosophical or polemical have to say. Of the Four Great Classics of Chinese literature, it can be argued that the one that most/best reflects Confucian ideals is the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The Outlaws of the Marsh (The Water Margin, All Men are Brothers) celebrates banditry and it is no surprise that its attitude towards women is despicable; the Journey to the West celebrates the many fantastic victories of Buddhism over Daoism, and of that work as well as of Jin Ping Mei (various inexplicable translations) or Hong lou men (The Dream of the Red Chamber), we need only say that Confucianism did not concern itself directly with such matters as are described in them.

The proper place for women is first touched upon in ROTK in the first chapter in which many signs appear suggesting the decay of the Han Dynasty. Cai Yong, a senior minister called upon to explain these unusual conditions, wrote a memorial to the Emperor “asserting that the rainbow in the harem and the metamorphosis of the hens signified the improper influence of the imperial consorts and the eunuchs in public policy.” The Emperor being indeed under the influence of the eunuchs did not do anything and civil unrest in the form of the Huang Jin rebellion ensued. Cai Yong’s criticism of the imperial consorts could be taken to be a criticism of women but is more likely and simply a reminder that the Emperor had obligations in matters of state that should have been beyond the influence of his wives or concubines or of their servants. This is a common political ideal even though it was often enough subverted and that not only in Chinese history.

When the Emperor Ling lay a-dying (chapter 2 of the ROTK), the succession was uncertain as his wife and his mother ech had a different choice; that is, Empress He who naturally supported her own son Bian, and the Empress Dowager Dong who protected Xie, the son born to one of Ling’s concubines. Both had the conflicted support of the eunuchs, who were inclined in the final analysis to support the Empress Dowager (secretly) since they had less to fear from her. As she watched the Empress Dowager’s political moves, the Empress He decided to confront her at a banquet. She declared: “As women, it is not proper for us to participate in court matters. In ancient times, the Empress Dowager Lu, wife of the first Han emperor, attempted to obtain power and as a result her paternal clan was totally exterminated. Now I believe, we should seclude ourselves, ‘under nine layers’ as the saying goes, and leave matters of state to the councilors and our elders. Thus, our nation will continue to enjoy good fortune.”

Dong overplayed her hand when she replied accusing He of having Xie’s mother poisoned and declared that she, Dong, could eliminate both the empress and her brother, the military commander-in-chief. The Empress He protested and said: “I have tried to urge a positive approach, why such anger on your part?” To which Dong replied: “You are from a family of small-time butchers, what would you know?”

Even though it portrays them as less than inspiring figures, this episode does not demean the position of the women; it simply shows them with motives and actions more or less comparable to that of the male actors in the story. Indeed, He’s reference to the consequences of the Dowager Empress Lu’s attempt to gain more authority than was her due, makes it clear that she at least recognized what the ground rules were, i.e., she recognized the limits of female intrigue.

The case of Lady Cai, second wife of Liu Biao, is very similar; she wanted to increase the influence of the Cai family in Jingzhou and relied on her brother Cai Mao. Together they made Biao’s younger son Liu Cong his heir over Liu Qi, the oldest son. (Whether Cong was her own son or not is beyond the scope of this essay; my own opinion is that he was not.) Again, it should be noted that the ROTK does not demonize Lady Cai or otherwise suggest that she or women in general were less favored by Chinese civilization.

A couple of episodes show how women were treated or manipulated without indicating any particularly negative or dismissive attitude to women. Lu Bu was tempted to turn against his adoptive father Dong Zhuo in part by his lust for one of Zhuo’s concubines. In the Wu Southland, one of Sun Quan’s brothers was assassinated by a couple of his commanders who then wished to marry his attractive wife. This incidentally suggests that it was not such a moral scandal for widows to remarry. The widow was able to extricate herself by appealing to other commanders loyal to her husband’s memory. But as far as the ROTK was concerned her actions were remarkable not because she had remained “chaste” but because she had outwitted some particularly bad characters.

When, after the Battle of Chibi, the leaders of Jiangdong schemed to regain Jingzhou, the role of women is shown to be more complex. Much has been made of Sun Quan’s filial piety to his mother; in addition one should consider the mother’s actions. When she found out about the scheme to offer Quan’s sister in marriage as a ploy to lure Liu Bei to Jiangdong, she was furious. When Quan tried to pass the blame to Zhou Yu, Lady Wu grew even more angry: “So the great Zhou Yu, protector of six prefectures and eighty-one cities, cannot think of a better way of getting Jingzhou than to use my daughter as bait! If you kill Bei, her life will be ruined; who in the world will consider a proposal for her marriage? You all are such geniuses!” Sun Quan is cowed by this outburst into doing the right thing.

After the marriage of Lady Sun to Liu Bei, their relationship appears to be that almost of equals. Bei wanted to get back to Jingzhou but, he told Lady Sun, he did not want to do so without her and she of her own free will decided to leave Jiangdong with him. When troops sent after them to prevent Bei’s escape finally caught up with their party, she faced the men down: “Do you only obey Zhou Yu? Do you dare act against me? If Yu has the power of life and death over you, do you think that I do not have the same power over him?”

Of course, women do not play a major role in the ROTK; it is after all about the future of “all under Heaven.” Only in the twentieth century did women gain the right to vote. But the ROTK is supposed to be reflective of the popular culture seen through the prism of 15th century literati neo-Confucianism. The position of women in China would get worse; it was under the Qing that various chastity laws were promulgated. (The Qing, however, also tried to put an end to foot-binding, but in this they failed so miserably that Manchu women actually wore shoes that made it appear as if their feet were bound; on the other hand, the Manchus succeeded in making Chinese men wear the queue.) All this is to say that generalizations about Confucius/Chinese men being anti-feminist are misguided. At the same time, whether or not Chinese men behave badly towards women today cannot be explained or excused by their “traditional values.”

Those interested in a more detailed analysis of whether or not the “ancients” were hostile towards women might take a look at Lisa Raphals, Sharing the Light: representations of women and virtue in early China, 1998, SUNY Press. In this interesting work, she shows, among other things how women were defined by and celebrated for “maternal rectitude” (母 儀), “sage intelligence” (賢 明), “benevolent wisdom” (仁 智), and “skill in argument” ( 辯 通 ).

Edited by HappyHistorian, 06 June 2010 - 09:50 AM.


#7 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 09:49 AM

In The Harem: Part One


by WuXiaHer0


The word 'harem' often conjures up images of beautiful, seductive oriental women lounging in some stately pleasure dome, waiting for an opportunity to satisfy their masters. In some ways, this was not far from the truth. Read on if you want to know more. Happy reading!

If the harem is in order, the country is stable;
if the harem is in turmoil, the country is lost.

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Ever wonder how a woman can influence the progress and the decline of a dynasty? The role of women in the history of China is not as well-documented as that of men since most Chinese historians were male and tended to play down their contributions and play up their faults. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that women played significant roles in shaping Chinese history.

The harem was where the emperor's family (his empress and concubines) lived. History usually focuses on the emperor, but in reality, the women behind the emperor was a considerable force which controlled the rise and fall of dynasties. The harem, often relegated to some hidden corner of history, was in fact the scene of murder, intrigue and power struggles.


The System of Empresses and Concubines

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The Chinese emperors enjoyed a polygamous marital system. The wives were collectively known as imperial consorts. The empress was the official or legal wife of the emperor while the concubines were imperial consorts other than the empress. Polygamy was a legal institution for the emperor. According to the known regulations, the emperor could have a hundred and twenty concubines and one empress. In The Rites of Zhou 周禮, it is written that "the emperor has one empress, three wives, nine high-ranking concubines, twenty seven mid-ranking concubines and eighty one low-ranking concubines". The structure of the harem therefore mirrored the structure of the men's world of the outer court. The Zhou court had established the system of magistrates or officers of the court who were responsible for teaching the imperial women of the six palaces the female rituals.

What are The Six Palaces?

The six palaces were divided into one front palace and five rear palaces. The five rear palaces included one palace for the empress, one for the three wives, one for the nine high-ranking concubines, one for the twenty seven mid-ranking concubines and one for the eighty one low-ranking concubines.

Who were the palace women?

The Rear Palace was where the emperor and his family lived. Numerous people worked in the Rear Palace to serve the imperial family. The lowest-ranked of these workers were the palace women. They were responsible for sweeping, cleaning and sundry tasks which kept them busy throughout their uneventful lives, living like caged birds within the confines of the palace, growing old and eventually dying. Only the rare minority would be lucky enough to become one of the emperor's glittering phoenixes and perch on a higher branch in the pecking order.

The vast majority of palace women came from among the commoners, but all needed to have come from "good families" that were not doctors, witches, merchants or artisans. Anually in the month of August during the Eastern Han Dynasty, the court would send people out to recruit women from good families. The women who were selected to enter the palace not only had to be beautiful but their faces must conform to fortune-telling rules.

It was recorded in The Unofficial Biography of Ming Empress Yian by Ji Yun 记昀 of the way in which the Ming Dynasty Emperor Xizong selected palace women:

The tall and short, fat and thin would be rejected; then the eyes, ears, nose, lips and tongue as well as muscle, skin, hair would be inspected and those who failed to reach palace standards would be rejected; then hearing would be tested and those with hearing problems or stammers would be rejected; then they would be asked to walk several paces to inspect their movements, rejecting several more. Those who remained would be sent to the palace to become palace women. According to their personalities, words and actions as well as the emperor's liking, a few of these would be selected to be concubines.

Most of the populace did not wish for their daughters to be sent to the palace because the women would lose their freedom. As a result, each time the emperor set out to find palace women from a place, the people would quickly marry off their daughters or flee to another part of the country. Such was the problem for the emperor that before set off to find palace women, he would order that in the place that he was going to choose women, all marriages were prohibited until after the campaign. Court officials, however, were often eager for their daughters to be taken into the palace as palace women. Unlike ordinary people, court officials were able to influence the emperor's treatment of their daughters so that most of these girls were given titles upon entering the palace. In order to foster kinship with the emperor, some officials would go to elaborate lengths to have their daughters taken into the palaces that they could have the opportunity to win the emperor's favour. Emperors also sometimes gave away palace women as rewards or gifts to ministers or family members and to foreign rulers to form diplomatic relationships with them.

The lot of palace women who did not win the favour of the emperor was grim. During the Qing Dynasty, those women who were not chosen by the emperor would be sent from the palace when they reached twenty four or twenty five years of age to be married off. In the palace, there were also strange phenomena of dui shi 对食 and cai hu 菜户. Dui shi referred to two palace women coupled together as "husband and wife", while cai hu referred to palace women coupled with eunuchs as "husband and wife".


The Empress

The emperor could have unlimited number of concubines but there could only be one official wife, the empress. The emperor was known as the "ruler of the world" while the empress was known as the "mother of the world". The empress was the most venerated and revered figurehead for women in China. Everyone in the harem, apart from the queen mother and the emperor, would have to obey the empress. Throughout all the dynasties of Chinese history, during the new moon and full moon, the empress would ascend the throne of the inner pavilion and receive the veneration of all the concubines of the harem.

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In archaic times, the word for empress actually referred to the son of heaven (the emperor) while the consorts of the emperor were all called "concubines" with the official wife referred to as "official concubine" or "premier concubine". All the other consorts were referred to as "secondary concubines". The word for "concubine" 妃 (fēi) was originally pronounced as "pèi" and was used interchangeably with the word 配 (pèi) meaning "spouse". It was not until the Western Zhou Dynasty when the ruler came to be called "king" that the word "empress" was used to refer the wife of the emperor who till then had been referred to as "queen". The other wives of the emperor continued to be called "concubines".

After Emperor Qin Shihuang established the imperial system and the word "emperor" was used for the ruler of China, the wife of the emperor began to be called "empress". Qin Shihuang was the first to use the title "emperor" but there was no empress during his reign. Right after Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty and ruled as Emperor Gaozu, his wife from the Lü family was referred to as the "empress". Hence, she was the first woman in Chinese history to bear the title "empress". This nomenclature remained in use right until the end of the Qing Dynasty.

In order to obtain and secure the position as an empress, innumerable bloody acts and scandals were committed in the harem.

Here are some examples:

  • Wu Zetian killed her newborn and blamed Empress Wang for the crime in order to get rid of the empress.
  • Empress Jia of the Jin Dynasty killed a pregnant palace maid in order to secure her position as an empress.
  • Zhao Hede, the highest ranked of the nine concubines chosen by Emperor Chengdi, also the sister of Zhao Feiyan, killed Lady Cao's and Lady Xu's newborn sons in order to be the favourites of the harem along with her sister Zhao Feiyan.

Who can become an empress?

The first empress of any emperor is usually not his own choice but that of the empress dowager if he is already enthroned as emperor, or the choice of his father (reigning emperor) and his mother (reigning empress) if he is yet to ascend the throne. Majority of these empresses were of aristocratic and noble origins. The empress was revered as the mother of the country, but if the emperor didn't like her, he could find some excuse to dispose of her and install another in her place.

The fate of a deposed empress was tragic. Some of them were imprisoned while others were sent to temples or other palaces to study Buddhism or Taoism. Some were even ordered to commit suicide.


The Empress Dowager

When an emperor died, the empress was promoted to empress dowager. If the new emperor was still young, the empress dowager would govern the court and government. As the empress dowager governed, she would sit in person in the front palace and meet with the ministers. Physical contact between men and women was forbidden. Hence, the empress dowager would sit behind a curtain so that the ministers would not see her face. This was called "holding court from behind the curtain".

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The Four Concubines of Huangdi


The royal family of the archaic period implemented a polygamous marriage system and the first semi-mythological ruler, Huangdi (Yellow Emperor), had four concubines.

The official concubine was Lei Zu 嫘祖. Short and dark-skinned, she learned how to make use of silk worms to produce silk. The populace was taught the art of making silk, thus her era saw a great cultural leap forward as the practice of making silk clothing replaced clothes that was made up of tree barks and animal hides.

Two of Huangdi's secondary concubines were called Tongyu 彤鱼 and Fanglei 方雷. Tongyu invented chopsticks and Fanglei invented the comb.

Another secondary concubine of Huangdi's was Momu 嫫母. She was extremely ugly but was hard-working and thrifty, ever happy to help other people and she earned the love of the people. Huangdi brought her back to the palace and made her a secondary concubine, putting her in charge of the harem and the concubines.

It has been said that Huangdi gave Momu the position of fang xiang shi方相氏 (the spirit who drives away ghosts), using her ugly countenance to drive off evil. Her spirit is said to live on today in the qi tou (a spirit mask that drives away ghosts) that are pasted on the doors of some farm houses. According to some traditions, these qi tou are said to be fashioned by her ugly appearance.

The Yellow Emperor did not choose his wives according to how they looked. Neither his official concubine nor secondary concubines were good looking but all of them proved to be very competent, thus providing great assistance to Huangdi in his work ruling the country.



"Disastrously Beautiful" Imperial Women

· Meixi 妹喜

Meixi was the last king's favourite concubine, King Jie 夏桀 of the Xia Dynasty. He was infatuated with her beauty. King Jie worked the people and depleted his wealth by building luxurious palaces in order to please her and spending days in debauchery. In the end, King Jie lost the goodwill of his people and was eventually overthrown by King Tang 商湯 of the Shang Dynasty.

· Daji 妲己

Just like Meixi, Daji was the favourite concubine of King Zhou 商紂王, the last emperor of the Shang Dynasty. Captivatingly beautiful, King Zhou spent the whole day feasting and entertaining for her sake and neglected the affairs of state. It is said that Daji liked to hear the terrible cries of prisoners being tortured. In order to make her happy, King Zhou tried to make her happy by increasing the use of heavy punishment. The tyrannical King Zhou caused the resistance led by King Wu 周武王 of the Zhou Dynasty and was overthrown. King Zhou burnt himself to death and the once glamorous Daji hanged herself.

· Baosi 褒姒

Baosi was the queen of the last king of the Western Zhou Dynasty, King You 周幽王. As usual, she was a beauty sent as a present to King You by the country of Bao. Baosi bore him a son, Bofu, and became King You's favourite. Blinded by love, King You deposed his long-standing queen, Queen Shen and her son, Crown Prince Jiu, and installed Baosi as queen with the young Bofu as Crown Prince.

Making Baosi laugh was not an easy task but King You wanted to see his sweetheart smile and tried very hard in doing so. Once when travelling to Lishan, he played a trick on the nobles by lighting the warning signal beacons. Baosi laughed when she saw troops rushing to the border line to meet a non-existant danger. Soon, King You lost the trust of his people. Duke Shen, the father of the deposed Queen Shen, united with the ethnic group Quanrong from the northwest in ancient times to avenge his daughter and his grandson's deposal and attacked the capital. King You ordered the signals to be lit but the dukes thought this was another trick and did not send troops to his assistance. King You was killed and Baosi was taken away by the Quanrong.

"Disastrously Beautiful"?

Here's something for you to ponder about. A few historians believed that the decline and collapse of dynasties were caused by women and they called these women "disastrously beautiful".The earliest dynasties in China collapsed due to the "disastrous" beauties mentioned earlier. However, the prosperity of a dynasty cannot be attributed solely to the emperor and the collapse of a dynasty cannot be concluded to be the work of "disastrously beautiful" women either.

The modern literary master, Lu Xun 魯迅, had this to say about the "disastrous beauties" theory:

I feel that in a patriarchal society, women could not possibly have this power. The responsibility for the prosperity or collapse of a society is principally the work of men.


That is to say if an emperor was not muddle-headed or debauched, then the women around him did not have the opportunity to become "disastrous". If there was nothing that could save the emperor himself, then the virtuous imperial women around him couldn't change the fate of a decaying dynasty. Take Empress Xiao of the Sui Dynasty for instance. She often tried to persuade the tyrannical Emperor Yangdi to be thrifty and give up his debauched lifestyle. Alas, he did not listen and the empress could only watch the dynasty move towards its eventual collapse.


The Period of Qin and Han

Mother of the First Emperor – Zhao Ji

Qin Shihuang, the man who first united the various states that existed in China into one nation in 221 BC, was the first person to be called "emperor" in Chinese history. For such an important historical figure who remains famous to this day, the true situation regarding his birth is still a mystery. It seems that only his mother, the Empress Dowager Zhao Ji, was clear about it.

In the beginning, Zhao Ji was a favourite concubine of Lü Buwei. Lü Buwei travelled to Zhao to conduct business and became familiar with a hostage of the Zhao state, the grandson of the King of Qin – Ying Yiren. Lü Buwei had the foresight to see that Ying Yiren was a "rare commodity" who would one day become an important person. He spent money "sponsoring" Ying Yiren, and succeeded in getting him adopted as a son by Lady Huayang (the official concubine of An Guojun, the crown prince of Qin, who originally had no son) and he changed his name to Zichu.

Zichu saw Lü Buwei's beautiful concubine, Zhao Ji, and requested as a favour that she be given to him. Lü Buwei agreed and Zhao Ji went with Zichu. It has been said that Zhao Ji was two months pregnant at the time for soon after she married Zichu, she gave birth to a son called Ying Zheng, who later became the first emperor, Qin Shihuang.

Soon after Zichu came to the throne as King Zhuangxiang after King Xiaowen (An Guojun) died, Ying Zheng became the Crown Prince. Ying Zheng was only thirteen when he ascended the throne. The power rested with his prime minister, Lü Buwei. Zhao Ji was made queen mother, and with her husband gone, continued her old romance with Lü Buwei. As Ying Zheng grew older, Lü Buwei began to worry that his illicit relationship with the queen mother become known, so he got a person called Lao Ai to pretend to be a eunuch to wait upon the queen mother. Lao Ai soon became her favourite and was made Duke of Changxin. He started to gradually develop some power in the court. The queen mother also bore him two sons out of wedlock.

In 238 BC, when Ying Zheng started to rule in his own right at the age of twenty two, Lao Ai took the opportunity to stage a rebellion which Ying Zheng succeeded in suppressing. As a result, Lao Ai was executed and the two sons were killed. Because it was Lü Buwei who had advanced Lao Ai, he was dismissed from his position as prime minister and he committed suicide two years later. Zhao Ji was put under house arrest but was later pardoned. In 228 BC, the queen mother died when she was over fifty years old. Qin Shihuang posthumously gave his mother the respectful title of "empress dowager".

The Ruthless Empress Lü


She was the wife of the founding emperor of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang, who became emperor Gaozu. In 202 BC, Liu Bang became emperor and Empress Lü became the first empress of the Han Dynasty.

Empress Lü was a decisive and ruthless person. She did two things the emperor wanted to do but did not have the courage – she executed two former military leaders, Han Xin and Peng Yue, who, although achieving much for the country, were seen as threats to the sovereign. Emperor Gaozu resented Han Xin's high position and influence. He demoted him from Prince of Chu to Marquis of Huaiyin, but was not brave enough to have him killed.

Once when Emperor Gaozu was out suppressing an uprising, Han Xin plotted a rebellion in Changan. Empress Lü, with the help of Xiao He, killed Han Xin. Another time, Prince of Liang Peng Yue was unwilling to join Emperor Gaozu in his attack against the conspirator Chen Xi and was banished to Sichuan. Peng Yue pleaded with Empress Lü to intervene on his behalf. Afterwards, she told Emperor Gaozu that Peng Yue must be killed, afraid that he might stir up more troubles in the future.

After Peng Yue was killed, Empress Lü had his body minced to a pulp and sent to the other princes and nobles as a warning that they should not consider rebelling. Although Empress Lü was ruthless and merciless, she succeeded in destroying the separatist movement and helped consolidate the rule of the Han Dynasty.

The son of Empress Lü, Liu Ying was weak willed and Liu Bang preferred to make Ru Yu, the son of his beloved concubine, Qi Ji, crown prince in his place. But some of his chief ministers opposed him and he was forced to abandon the idea. After Emperor Gaozu died, Liu Ying became the emperor as was known as Emperor Huidi. Emperor Huidi was weak and cowardly and it was Empress Dowager Lü who wielded power. Empress Dowager Lü was finally able to vent her jealousy and hatred of Qi Ji. She had Qi Ji imprisoned in Yongxiang palace and punished her by shaving her head bald and doing hard labour. But the Empress Dowager was still not satisfied, so she had Qi Ji's hands and feet cut off, her eyes gouged out, ears deafened and throat made mute. Then, she had her locked up in a cesspit where she was called the "human sow". Qi Ji's son was killed by the empress dowager soon after.

In order for her family to accumulate as much power as possible, Empress Dowager Lü arranged for Emperor Huidi to take her granddaughter, Zhang Yan as his empress. (Zhang Yan was the daughter of Emperor Huidi's sister, Princess Luyuan, and was therefore his niece.) Empress Zhang was childless and so Empress Dowager Lü killed one of the concubines of Emperor Huidi who had given birth and pretended that the baby was Empress Zhang's. His name was Liu Gong. After Emperor Huidi died, Empress Dowager Lü installed Liu Gong as a child emperor while she ruled as great empress dowager. Liu Gong was emperor for four years when he found out the truth about his real mother being killed by Empress Dowager Lü and came to hate her. So, Empress Dowager Lü had him killed and installed the young Liu Hong as the emperor.

Empress Dowager Lü betrayed Emperor Gaozu's dying request that "no one other than a Liu be made prince" by making many of her relatives princes and dukes, who then controlled all the important posts. Another aspect of her betrayal was that she plotted to kill or harm Emperor Gaozu's sons, Liu You and Liu Hui, so as to supplant the owner of the house of Liu.

In 180 BC, Empress Dowager Lü died of illness. She was sixty two years old. Following her death, some of Emperor Gaozu's old ministers such as Chen Ping and Zhou Bo took control of the military and then set about eradicating the Lü clan that Empress Dowager Lü had meticulously created. She led to the annihilation of the Lü family.

The Divorcee Empress - Empress Wang

Emperor Han Wudi of the Han Dynasty was the son of Emperor Jingdi and a divorcee. His mother, Wang Zhi, who was born into an ordinary family, married a man called Jin Wangsu and gave birth to a daughter. But her life changed when her mother had Wang Zhi's fortune read. The fortune teller predicted that Wang Zhi's fate is to be extremely rich and influential.

Driven by the fortune teller's prophesy, Wang Zhi's mother instructed her to leave Jin Wangsu and did everything possible to get her into the imperial harem, expecting this would lead to the prophesied honour and wealth. It turned out that Wang Zhi did make it into the harem and she was made to wait on the crown prince, Liu Qi. She soon bore Liu Qi a son, Liu Che.

Liu Qi became Emperor Jingdi. His empress, Empress Bo, did not have a son. Hence, Liu Rong, the son of his concubine, Li Ji, and the third oldest of Liu Che's brothers, was installed as crown prince. Emperor Jingdi planned to do away Empress Bo and install another empress. In the harem, the rank of the mother depended on her son's position and so it would have seemed natural that Li Ji should be the new empress but Wang Zhi took the crown. What happened was the Emperor Jingdi's sister, Liu Piao, planned to give her daughter, Ajiao, in marriage to Liu Rong so that Ajiao would become empress in the future. However, Li Ji refused to let her son marry his cousin. Liu Piao took the refusal as a slap in the face and made Li Ji her enemy.

Wang Zhi reckoned that Liu Piao, as the sister of the emperor, had the power to influence Emperor Jingdi's opinion and it would not bode well to snub her. She therefore actively sought to get on Liu Piao's good side, proposing that their son and daughter be married. Liu Piao agreed and Liu Che and Ajiao were married. Liu Piao now had a strong vested interest in supporting Liu Che. She continually said bad things about Li Ji and Liu Rong and talked highly of Wang Zhi and Liu Che in the emperor's presence.

This added to Li Ji's anxiety about becoming an empress, such that a number of times she shouted and got angry in Emperor Jingdi's presence, making him very annoyed. Wang Zhi skilfully inflamed the situation by inciting the official in charge of receiving guests, Da Xing, to make a written appeal for Li Ji to become empress. When he saw this interference in palace affairs, the emperor flew into a rage and had Da Xing beheaded. Before long, he revoked Liu Rong's status as crown prince and Li Ji, overwhelmed with grief, fell sick and died.

Wang Zhi succeeded in rising to the position of empress to become the revered mother of the country. Her son, Liu Che, became crown prince and he finally became Emperor Wudi after Emperor Jingdi died. It was believed that Liu Che's success in becoming emperor was largely due to his mother's quick assessment and manipulation.

(to be continued...)



#8 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 05:50 PM

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Under Heaven
by Guy Gavriel Kay

Reviewed by Victoria Dixon


To honor his deceased father, a general who led imperial forces in their last great war, Shen Tai has spent two years alone at a battle site by a mountain lake, burying the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir. When a voice falls silent he knows that a ghost has been laid to rest.
One morning he learns that his vigil has been noticed at the highest level: the court of their one-time enemy is pleased to bestow on him two hundred and fifty coveted western horses. The Heavenly Horses are an overwhelming gift. They exalt Tai, and could bring him great power – or have him killed before he ever leaves the mountains, let alone reaches the imperial city.
Before he leaves the lake, he is threatened and a friend, murdered. Then things get more difficult as Tai hires a female body guard who annoys and attracts him, is tempted and threatened by local magistrates and entwines himself in an Empire-shaking rebellion. “Under Heaven” is the story of Tai’s journey home to his former life and all the unrest entailed there; it is a tale filled with love, loyalty and secret machinations.
The novel is set in an alternative world’s version of the Tang Dynasty during the An Lushan Rebellion (circa 755-763 A.D.) and is Kay’s first foray beyond a European setting. He does a memorable job. There are no jarring moments of modernism or western thought. He did a few atypical things, including a list of names due to the wide cast of characters. He also draws out the ending more than his norm, using it to tie up the various characters’ stories and leaving little ambiguity to the novel’s conclusion. This book has all of the characters and lovely language of a typical Kay novel, but strikes a balance between the plot’s strengths and Kay’s characterizations. Although he’s had stronger characters in previous novels, the denizens of Kitai were real individuals whom I cared for, identified with and plan on re-visiting soon.
For instance, the following extraordinary moment of characterization evokes young love, and the creation of life-long friendships within five sentences:
She shook her golden hair and gave him a look he knew well by then. I am enamoured of an idiot who will never amount to anything was, more or less, the import of the glance.
Tai found it amusing, sometimes said so. She found his saying so a cause of more extreme irritation. This, too, amused him, and she knew it.

For a moment after reading that passage, I flashed back to college. My (future) husband said something intended to exasperate and I responded with this exact look, or perhaps with a comment designed to make him laugh. Remembering that, I became Tai’s lover in this scene. That’s where Kay’s greatest skill lies; he doesn’t write fiction. He writes about us. Throughout his novels, Guy Gavriel Kay enlarges our foibles, failings, successes and courage into an enormous ongoing scene – a tapestry we love examining to find where he put us this time.
A fan asked me recently, “Am I going to hate him for being so good? Am I going to be inspired?” My response: “Was there ever any doubt?”
At the first viewing, one is dazzled by the audacity and beauty of “Under Heaven,” but like so many works of great art, it cannot be consumed in one sitting or in one reading. The reader will need to view it many times before appreciating the depth of craftsmanship. I expect to find the book grows in power upon a second and third reading.
“Under Heaven” is an adult novel, but is accessible to mature young adult readers. It will be released April 27th by Roc.

Victoria Dixon writes book reviews and writer advice columns at http://ronempress.blogspot.com.

#9 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 05:53 PM

Classical Chinese


by WuXiaHer0


不為五斗米折腰,拳拳事鄉里小人。

Bu wei wu dou mi zhe yao, quan quan shi xiang li xiao ren
- 陶渊明
(Tao Yuanming, AD 365-427)


Translation:

I won't bend my back* for five dou** of rice, serving despicable people.


* In this saying, bending one's back means bowing down which symbolises a show of reverence and respect.
** dou was a unit measurement in ancient China.

Origin:

Tao Yuanming was born into a family of officials. His father died when he was twelve. After he grew up, he did not want an official post, preferring to stay at home reading, farming and taking care of his mother. Later, when it became harder to make ends meet, he was forced to take an official post. When Tao Yuanming was working as a magistrate in Pengze County, an inspector sent by the prefect came for an inspection. However, the inspector was a corrupt officer who oppressed the citizens. So, Tao Yuanming resigned from his post and surrendered his official seal. From then on, Tao Yuanming retired to the countryside he loved, working for himself, relating well to the farmers and composing many beautiful pastoral poems.

Get this!

Tao Yuanming was a famous poet, also known as the "pastoral poet", hailing from the Eastern Jin. He was unaffected in mannerisms and loved nature, and these qualities are clearly reflected in his poetry. His style is elegant and unadorned, expressing his carefree and imperturbable state of mind. Before him, pastoral imagery was rare but through his brush, these subjects become fresh and filled with interest. Many writers from later dynasties were all lavish in their praise of Tao Yuanming's works.



#10 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 06:01 PM

Chinese Gallery



Three of the Four Beauties of Ancient China

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Diao Chan


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Yang Guifei


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Xi Shi


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Bronze sacrificial vessels of the late Shang Dynasty


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Replica of a sacrificial bronze vessel, jue


Edited by HappyHistorian, 06 June 2010 - 06:02 PM.


#11 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 06:06 PM

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Traditional Chinese Music:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9011mhrGwc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Voa4uiFVrIk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HW6ff1Lr0Q&feature=related


Chinese Martial Arts:

Counting down the top ten deadliest Kung Fu weapons - National Geographic's Kung Fu Killers

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http://video.google....35844811471684#



#12 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 06:09 PM

Trivia



1. In more than two thousand years from the reign of Qin Shihuang until the end of the Qing Dynasty, there were over two hundred and eighty emperors and over three hundred empresses.

2. Approximately forty empress dowagers ruled the country or became involved in government. Relatively well-known empress dowagers who ruled the country include Empress Dowager Lü of the Western Han Dynasty, Empress Wu Zetian who later became known as China's first female emperor, Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang and Cixi of the Qing Dynasty.

3. Emperor Xuandi of the Northern Zhou Dynasty installed five empresses in his one year of rule.

4. Eighty three-year-old Emperor Qianlong spurned British overtures and said of the six hundred packages of gifts, which included scientific instruments sent by the British: "I set no value on strange or ingenious objects and have no use for your country's manufactures".

5. Emperor Qianlong ruled China for sixty one years from 1735 to 1796. His reign marked the final period of prosperity and stability in ancient Chinese history. He was also the emperor who lived the longest amount of time. Qianlong, however, did not pass away until 1799, three years after his abdication. The reason for his abdication was because in 1796, he had already reigned for 61 years, equalling the length of his grandfather, Kangxi's, reign. He refused to surpass his highly-respected grandfather, and thus served as regent until his death of his son, Jiaqing, who succeeded him as emperor.

Edited by HappyHistorian, 06 June 2010 - 06:09 PM.


#13 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 06:14 PM

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#14 HappyHistorian

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 06:18 PM

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HappyHistorian, Chief Editor
Aaron, Columnist
Tjoa, Columnist
William O'Chee, Columnist
WuXiaHer0, Columnist


Special Thanks to the CHF Community



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