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CHF Newsletter August 14, 2010


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#1 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:06 AM

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Dear reader,

Firstly, I am sorry that the newsletter was published one week after the proposed date. There were some technical difficulties publishing the newsletter while the CHF software system was being migrated.

This edition of the newsletter is slightly different from previous editions. The Emperor’s Court, which included featured member and topics, shall not be featured in this newsletter or in subsequent editions. Instead, we shall focus on producing quality articles. In addition, the new features of the article, such as Classical Chinese, Chinese Gallery and Trivia, shall complement the existing newsletter format.

All members of the Editorial Board have contributed to this newsletter, such as writing articles, editing and producing banners. I would personally like to thank them for their contributions! I would also like to thank Yizheng for his Classical Chinese poem translation! If you would like to submit an article or complete one of the features, please send me a PM.

The Editorial Board are planning to publish the Han Lin Journal sometime at the beginning of next year. The Han Lin Journal has been on hiatus for nearly two years. We hope to publish the Han Lin Journal twice a year. If you are interested in submitting an article for the HLJ, please send me a PM. As a result, the newsletter will now be published every three months. The next newsletter will be published in November. Finally, I would like to congratulate WuXiaHer0 for his promotion to Editor! He has worked diligently over this year and deserves to be commended.

I hope you enjoy the August 2010 Newsletter!

HappyHistorian
Chief Editor
CHF Newsletter
CHF Han Lin Journal


Edited by HappyHistorian, 14 August 2010 - 07:44 AM.


#2 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:09 AM

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Page 3
CHF Community News

Page 4
Trade between Siam and China

Page 5
Billy Sing - a study in ethnic identity, truth and intellectual beauty

Page 6
In The Harem: Part Two

Page 7
Classical Chinese

Page 8
Chinese Gallery

Page 9
Multimedia

Page 10
Trivia

Page 11
IMPERIAL PROCLAMATION

Page 12
CHF EDITORIAL STAFF



#3 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

    Prime Minister (Situ/Chengxiang 司徒/丞相)

  • Supreme Scholar (Jinshi)
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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:11 AM

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*****


Chinese Artifacts and Antiques subforum opened!


Hi all,

This is to inform you that I've created a new subforum called "Chinese Arifacts and Antiques" specifically for the discussion of Chinese Artifacts and Antiques.

To access the forum, you can go to

http://www.chinahist...s-and-antiques/


*****


CHF Software upgraded to IPB 3.1.2


Hi all,

This is to inform you that CHF software has been successfully upgraded to latest version 3.1.2.

I had to do some re-customization of skin.

For any new features, refer to http://www.invisionp...d/whats_new.php



#4 HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:28 AM

Trade between Siam and China Before 1850


by Hock G. Tjoa



How fortunate we are to have TWO books on the same subject! Both books started as Ph. D. dissertations completed around 1976. Sarasin Viraphol’s was published in 1977 as Tribute and Profit: Sino-Siamese Trade 1652-1853 by Harvard University, while Jennifer Cushman’s was not published until 1993 as Fields from the sea: Chinese junk trade with Siam during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by Cornell University. Due to her untimely death, this did not receive the kind of revision that she might have wished; for instance, her bibliography cites few works published later than 1970 and none after 1975.

Trade with the lands outside All under Heaven was an on-again, off-again affair in China. The Tang dynasty entertained all sorts of foreign traders. Overland trade via the Silk Road was superseded by the 10th century by ocean trade and Chinese vessels competed with those of Arabian or Indian origins to carry the goods of the Western/Southern Ocean. The Ming dynasty sponsored the great voyages of Zheng He in the early 15th century, but this was not a sustained effort, and the mandarins and imperial court were as likely as not to turn inwards. That piracy was widespread and persistent, and that the Ming loyalists fled overseas in the middle of the 17th century probably strengthened the hands of the isolationists.

Late in the 17th century, between 1662 and 1681, all inhabitants of the coastal region (Fujian and parts of Guangdong) were required by imperial edict to move inland (about 50 miles). This cruel decree caused great hardship and was soon reversed. Nevertheless, isolationism flourished in China as it did in Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868).

Despite this isolationism, the trade continued. Zhao Rugua (Chau Ju-kua) a customs inspector in Quanzhou had written around 1200 about the Chinese and Arab trade in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in his Zhufan Zhi (Chu-fan-chi, translated into English in 1911) in which many place-names in Southeast Asia appear. Fujian, and to a lesser extent Guangdong, desperately needed to import rice (export from Siam to China of this important commodity is first recorded in 1722). During the 17th century, Fujian traders were to be found in the Philippines where their number had to be limited by Spanish edict to fewer than five thousand. On mainland Southeast Asia, the Chinese established many small settlements for trade. Both Viraphol and Cushman make introductory reference to this early trade.

Viraphol acknowledges that for the Chinese imperial court trade was secondary but argues that it was a much needed source of revenue for Siam’s royal coffers. King Narai of Autthaya(ruled 1656-88) saw the importance of making trade a royal monopoly and trading with China either through the guise of paying tribute (the first record of Siamese tribute to China is dated 1652) or “illegally.” Royal finances were especially needy due to the exhausting work of driving out the Burmese. Taksin (ruled 1768-82), the only king of the Thonburi kingdom, finally achieved this and then set about to consolidate and build royal finances and authority. (His boyhood friend succeeded him as Rama I of the Bangkok dynasty.) Taksin persisted in the attempt to obtain Chinese recognition of his kingdom and to send tribute to China. The ships sent were manned by Chinese crews and the king shared with them the profit from the trade that accompanied the tribute and especially the “ballast” cargo returning from China to Siam. The imperial court tried spasmodically but without success to prohibit tribute bearers to employ Chinese crew in their ships. Shipbuilding in Siam flourished due to the ready availability of timber. But the crews were mainly Chinese as few Thais had any experience with these ships and trade required knowledgeable merchants. When in China, the trade was disposed of by local “yang hang” (洋行).

Cushman asserts that the Japanese were involved only in a small way or not all, but Viraphol shows convincingly that trade from Siam was conducted at Nagasaki in the second half of the 17th century and for some reason the Japanese required that this be carried on Chinese ships--not only the goods from Bangkok but also that from Ligor, Pattani and Songkla--and also that a “triangular” trade existed throughout the 18th and early 19th century among Siam, China and Japan. Both China and Siam wanted copper from Japan; Chinese sugar and silks sold well in Japan while cloth of various sorts were sold in Siam, and the Siamese sent rice, timber and spices to China. According to Viraphol, Siamese ships to and from Japan invariably stopped in China and in any case delivered their goods in Japan to a Chinese guild for further handling. Cushman conceives of “triangular trade” as meaning India, Siam and China and did not use Japanese sources because “they have not handled Sino-Siamese trade specifically” while Viraphol argues that “a great deal of information about political and economic conditions in Asia … may be discovered from the triangular trade.” He noted further that while Siam and China kept few records on their trade, the Japanese Shogunate did.

While the Chinese in Siam before the middle of the 18th century were from Fujian, the closing of Xiamen (Amoy) to foreign trade in 1758 forced most of the ships to shift to Chenghai (澄 海), a suburb of Chaozhou ( 潮州), the home town of Taksin’s father (his mother was Thai). Thereafter, the preponderance of immigrants from Chinese to Thailand came from that area. An interesting development noted by Viraphol was that the Chinese in Siam who became more assimilated were less inclined to remain in sailing or trading and turned instead to a career path in service to the king(dom).

Both Cushman and Viraphol agree that trade between Siam and China were carried on Chinese style ships, hence the “junk” trade. Cushman follows previous authorities in attributing this to the Westernization of the Javanese/Malay word jong, while Viraphol points out further that this was probably taken from the Fujian/Minnan “joon” (船). Viraphol also points out that as late as the 1820s the tonnage of Chinese junks in trade between China and Southeast Asia still exceeded that of Great Britain. But by the middle of the 19th century, the dominance of Western shipping was established.

Cushman’s work provides valuable descriptions of the working of the Chinese Maritime Customs collection and arrives at conclusions similar to Viraphol’s regarding the items traded. Despite the promise of her title, however, her work discusses Siam as it was in the 19th century. Of Thai sources that she lists, those from the reign of Rama IV (Mongkut, ruled 1851-68) predominate. Also, in ignoring Japanese works, she is led to the view that H. B. Morse’s Gilds of China is a “classic study”; this is alas not so, being barely more than a pamphlet. Viraphol was correct in assessing this (kindly) as a “pioneer” study. Viraphol suggests in its stead three studies (in Japanese) of Negishi Tadashi on Chinese guilds published in the 1940s and 50s. (As students of Chinese history have discovered, one cannot rely only on a mastery of Chinese because some of the best scholarship has been done by the Japanese, Korean, Russian, etc.—depending on the area of one’s study.)

Finally, Cushman is misdirected by the Qing edict of 1807 that foreigners should not use Chinese to trade for them and so asserted that since Siamese trade was carried in Chinese vessels and handled by Chinese seamen, it cannot therefore be considered an intermingling of tribute and trade. In this she greatly underestimated the flexibility with which the Thais approached such edicts. Viraphol captures this in his delicate remark that “the Siamese case is exemplary in illustrating the adroitness of a tributary in capitalizing on the commercial aspect of such a ritual.”

#5 HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:32 AM

Billy Sing - a study in ethnic identity, truth and intellectual beauty


by William O’Chee


Earlier this year there was a public furore when it was revealed that television producers were planning to make a mini series based loosely on the life of Billy Sing, the Eurasian hero of the First World War who was Australia’s greatest sniper at Gallipoli, and who was twice decorated for bravery.

Surely this must have been a good thing. What should give rise to any outrage over this? Not much, were it not for the fact the producers chose to deny his Chinese heritage, as well as taking considerable liberties with his actual life story. For example, Billy Sing suddenly spawns a fictional brother, and a fictional cousin, who rescues both of them from German captivity on the Western Front, winning a Victoria Cross in so doing.

Of course none of this was true. In reality, Billy Sing fought bravely as a sniper at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. At the war's end he returned to some modicum of fame in Australia before slipping into obscurity, but not before becoming a flag bearer for the rights of Chinese Australians in a young Australia which had less than 20 years before enacted swingeing discriminatory laws known as the White Australia Policy.

In consequence of this, many within the Chinese community demanded that the producers rectify the historical errors, or abandon the mini series.

It is the competing claims of the representatives of the Chinese community and the television producers to the life of Billy Sing which I have been invited to address today. This story has resonance outside Australia, and concerns ethnic Chinese communities throughout the world, and many other ethnic communities as well.

My starting point is to ask who is entitled to lay claim to represent the legacy of someone who has passed? Is it their descendants, or can a life lived large create a broader set of heirs, albeit heirs of a moral rather than a legal kind? Also does belonging to a distinct ethnic group create a legacy for people of that same ethnic group?

In so doing, I shall also make some observations on the somewhat unique issues concerning people who are Eurasian, or indeed of any mixed race background.

Truth and Beauty

Having outlined the concerns of the Chinese community in Australia, it would probably not aid the discussion at this point to expand them any further. Rather, it seems that the defence of the producers is more deserving of examination first.

The producers' rejected these pleas, and responded by saying that in other cases, for example Robin Hood, film-makers have shown considerable licence towards their subject, and that they should be similarly allowed to do so as well.

They sought the defend themselves by invoking the right to artistic freedom, or more precisely, they wanted the right to supplement fact, or truth, with artistic freedom. Let me make it clear that I do not believe the producers’ actions were entirely driven by questions of artistic freedom. On their own admissions, it would appear the decision to portray Billy Sing as exclusively white was driven mainly by laziness. Be that as it may, I intend to be generous and treat their claims to artistic freedom at face value.

There are lots of ways that this argument can be considered. Is artistic freedom, once invoked, a right to do as one wishes? Is there such a thing as artistic freedom at all?

Not so long ago that the question of artistic freedom versus the offence that it might cause was considered by the courts. In Whitehouse v Lemon [1979] 2 WLR 281, the proprietors of a gay newspaper were charged with blasphemous libel for printing a poem which sought to describe a Roman centurion performing homosexual acts with Christ after his crucifixion, as well as other things. The defendants were convicted, with understandable reason. This, and the more general law of defamation shows that artistic freedom is not without its limits.

I am not proposing some sort of Hitleresque burning of art and literature, nor am I even concerned with the legal limits of artistic freedom. I am concerned however, to explore the moral and social contexts in which such a freedom can or must operate.

It also strikes me that if there is such a thing as artistic freedom, it must serve some purpose. Presumably, it must be directed to achieving a form of artistic merit, which can be generically be termed beauty. Now, I know there will be many who will disagree with me at this point. They will say that not all art is about Da Vincis or Carravagios. What of the angry young man whose art is about screaming out to make himself heard, to wake society to some hidden truth?

To those people I say that there is a place for art which reveals truths, but if this is to be the debate, then in the narrow sense it cannot admit altering the truth, and the producers must be found wanting.

In the broader sense, though, truth is also a form of beauty, and in this context the debate may be considered a contest between two different forms of beauty.

As regarding truth, it was long ago argued by Plato that truth was the highest form of beauty. In his Symposium he stated:

"For he who would proceed aright in this matter should begin in youth to visit beautiful forms; and first, if he be guided by his instructor aright, to love one such form only—out of that he should create fair thoughts; and soon he will of himself perceive that the beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another; and then if beauty of form in general is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize that the beauty in every form is one and the same! And when he perceives this he will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms; in the next stage he will consider that the beauty of the mind is more honourable than the beauty of the outward form....until he is compelled to contemplate and see the beauty of institutions and laws, and to understand that the beauty of them all is of one family, and that personal beauty is a trifle; and after laws and institutions he will go on to the sciences...."


Nor is this simply an ancient discussion. In her book On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry argues that beauty is a form of symmetry, which is connected to justice and also truth. It is the symmetry directed towards uncovering some truth which allows us to speak of a beautiful proof in mathematics, for example.

Charles Fried, (Beneficial Professor of Law at Harvard, and formerly Solicitor-General in the Reagan administration) picks up on this in Modern Liberty and the Limits of Government when he states:

"Perhaps beauty that grows out of evil and injustice is tainted and mocks, as it enchants those who enjoy it. Think of the slavery, misery and death visited by the conquistadors, whose American gold was used to adorn the ceiling of Santa Maria Maggiore."


Fried’s mention of justice is also apposite to the discussion here. In the opening line of Book One of his Institutes, the Emperor Justinian wrote, “Justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render every one his due.” I struggle to find anyone in the subsequent 1500 years who has managed to offer a better definition.

It behoves us then, to render to historical figures, especially those for whom we have some reasonable detail, that which are their due: a faithful and true rendering of those aspects of their lives which are important. Certainly, details which are minor, or inconsequential may be safely deleted to make a film manageable, or biography readable, but justice demands intellectual honesty.

So, for Billy Sing, what does this all mean? I submit it means that one can make an argument for artistic freedom, but it is conditional, and not unlimited.

If that artistic freedom is used to create something which is false and untrue, which does not do justice to its subject, then it is tainted and deformed. It mocks the creator and those who partake of it.

Billy Sing didn't have to go to war. He could have stayed at home. He, like other Chinese Anzacs, joined up because they believed that it was their ethical and civic duty to do so. Although we do not have Billy Sing's words anymore, we do know that others who joined up felt that they were doing something to create a more just society, and that they were fighting, metaphorically, to relieve themselves of the civic injustice imposed on them by the racial policies of the day.

Truth is the highest form of beauty, and an artistic vision which seeks to ignore or cast aside the truth is base and deformed. Moreover it does an injustice to Billy Sing and the society for which he fought.

Ethnicity

Another argument used by the producers to excuse themselves was that Billy Sing was not entirely Chinese. He was Eurasian, and therefore it was as fair to portray him as European as to portray him as Chinese. This is a more dangerous and insidious argument, for it invokes overtones of racial purity.

To properly consider the issue of identity, especially identity for people who are Eurasian, it is necessary to understand that identity has both external and internal components, that is, it depends on how people are perceived by others, and how they perceive themselves.

Dr Kate Bagnall has undertaken a landmark study of Eurasian Australians between 1855 and 1915, which is very instructive. She noted that identity was a complex issue but said that:

“in the face of ... prejudices and difficulties, Anglo-Chinese Australians lived, worked, played, married and raised families as part of Australian communities. Which of these communities they identified with was dependent in part on the way in which they were raised. White mothers and Chinese fathers brought up their children with particular combinations of linguistic and cultural knowledge, which varied between families and even between siblings, and it was this knowledge—operating in combination with other markers of identity such as names and appearance—which contributed to their participation in and acceptance by one or both communities.”


From my experience, and from my discussions with other Eurasian people, this is as true today as it was 100 years ago. It also depends on how “different” a person is perceived to be.

As a young boy growing up in Brisbane, I was the only ethnic-Chinese child in my school, so I was naturally perceived as different - as Chinese - and treated as such. I am sure for Eurasians growing up in Hong Kong this is not quite so much an issue. Appearance, therefore, is a powerful factor in determining personality, because it can govern the external aspects of identity.

Internal identity is, however, entirely dependent upon the way in which an individual identifies themselves. Eurasians therefore have some possibility of choice. They may be able to choose to be European, or Chinese, or a mixture of both. This is manifested in their maintenance of cultural traditions, language, patterns of thinking, and associations. Historically, maintaining Chinese language was always difficult for the Chinese community in Australia because of the White Australia policy being imposed through the language test, as well as various immigration and emigration permits. For this reason the small number of Chinese who remained in Australia between 1901 and 1975 - down to as few as 8,000 in 1948 - generally abandoned language in favour of maintaining cultural traditions and close association and inter-marriage. In rural Australia, the absence of sufficiently large communities who spoke Chinese contributed to the functional decline of Chinese language skills amongst these people. Moreover, most Chinese Australians who retained Chinese spoke Cantonese, Hakka, or some other dialectic variant, not Mandarin.

Perversely, the absence of Chinese language has sometimes led to a kind of snobbery from those Chinese migrants who have arrived in Australia in the last 20 years. They have been known to discriminate against he established Chinese community on the basis that they do not speak Mandarin, and are somehow “not really Chinese”. Such attitudes are not only ignorant and offensive, but overlook the fact that overseas Chinese communities everywhere often did a better job of maintaining Chinese traditions than those on the mainland who were deprived of these by the Cultural Revolution.

As for Billy Sing, he identified himself as Chinese-Australian, and was certainly seen as such during his lifetime, so it is wrong to attempt to ignore this aspect of his personality, or to make him out to be other than what he was. To do so is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty.

Who should speak for Billy?

We now come to the vexed question of who should speak for Billy Sing. Normally, a person’s descendants, would be expected to speak for the memory of their deceased ancestors. In the case of Billy Sing, he died without known heirs, and there are no other known next-of-kin.

This does not detract, however, for the fact that like many public figures, or people of historical significance, he is held in deep affection by the ethnic-Chinese community. Should they, however, have a monopoly on his legacy?

I believe that the legend of Billy Sing should not belong only to ethnic-Chinese Australians, but to all those who can somehow identify with some aspect of his story, be that be on the basis of ethnicity, military service, general admiration, or geography (he is celebrated in his birthplace of Clermont, for example).

The duty of truthfulness, which we have identified as the highest form of beauty, still prevails, however. Those who wish to speak for Billy Sing are morally bound to be truthful to the whole of the man, and his life. That means people should not attempt to pervert his story to make it “sexier”, nor should they ignore fundamental aspects of his personality, including his ethnicity.

Finally, I am indebted to the counsel of a deeply learned friend, Fr Dimitri Tsakas, for an insight that was external to the debate about being Chinese or Eurasian, or anything else. His viewpoint is that Billy Sing was actually more than merely the sum of his parts. He sees Billy Sing’s story as a challenge to narrow ethnic self-interest, and an invitation to people from all backgrounds to reflect more widely on the national interest.

If my friend is correct, then are we wrong to be so concerned about the ethnicity of Billy Sing?

No, but we are wrong if we make the debate solely about ethnicity, and not the ideals he represents, and for which he undoubtedly lived his life.

Australia must eventually see itself as more than a refuge and place of financial prosperity for those who would rather be somewhere else if circumstances allowed. We as a people must recognise that we have an ever-emerging national identity, free to pick and choose the best of old worlds for the creation of a new one.

The sense of national identity was what compelled so many young Australians of Billy Sing’s generation to go away to war.

The significance of Billy Sing is that he was an exemplar for an Australia which we have inherited today, and which we continue to build. I could not achieve the things I did if it was not for Billy Sing, and Caleb Shang, and Jack Sue, and William Liu, and all those who went before me. To discard an integral element of Billy Sing's personality is an injustice against his memory, and also removes him from the canon of Chinese Australian history. It marginalises all Chinese Australians. Far and above all of this, however, is that it weakens the pluralistic society which is modern Australia.

Edited by HappyHistorian, 14 August 2010 - 08:23 AM.


#6 HappyHistorian

HappyHistorian

    Prime Minister (Situ/Chengxiang 司徒/丞相)

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:37 AM

In The Harem: Part Two


by WuXiaHer0


Dancer Empress - Zhao Feiyan

Zhao Feiyan was originally a singer and dancer for the elder sister of Emperor Chengdi (32-7 BC) of the Han Dynasty. Lithe as a swallow, her singing and dancing attracted the attention of Emperor Chengdi who took her back to the palace. Once when Zhao Feiyan was dancing on the stage near the Taiye Pond in the palace, a wind blew and it looked as though Zhao Feiyan might be carried away by the wind. Emperor Chengdi called for the palace women to grab hold of her.

Later, Emperor Chengdi built the Leeward Stage of the Seven Treasures and carved an enormous crystal plate which he instructed the people of the palace to lift up while Zhao Feiyan danced on top. It commanded the attention of Emperor Chengdi who deposed Empress Xu so that he could install Zhao Feiyan as empress.

Emperor Chengdi brought Zhao Feiyan's younger sister, Zhao Hede, to the palace and gave her the position of zhaoyi (the highest rank of the nine senior concubine), then built her the Zhaoyang Palace, a building more luxurious than the harem. Although the Zhao sisters were the favourites of the harem, they never bore any children and in order to maintain their positions, they prevented the other concubines from having children. When Lady Cao and Lady Xu gave birth to sons, both the children were killed by Zhao Hede. In order to increase their chances of becoming pregnant, they even cuckolded the emperor and had sex with the vice prime minister.

In 7 BC, Emperor Chengdi suddenly died and the sisters were caught. Zhao Hede was exposed for the crime of killing the emperor's children twice and in order to escape punishment, she took her own life. Zhao Feiyan was made empress dowager during the reign of Emperor Aidi, but when he died, Emperor Pingdi came to the throne with his uncle, Wang Mang. Zhao Feiyan was demoted to an ordinary citizen and committed suicide not long afterwards.


Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties

Dark-skinned Empress - Jia Nanfeng

Jia Nanfeng was empress during the reign of Emperor Huidi (Sima Zhong) of the Western Jin Dynasty.

Short of stature and with coarse, dark skin, Jia Nanfeng was no beauty. How did she become empress?

When Sima Zhong was crown prince, his father, Emperor Wudi, decided to look for a wife for him. Her father, minister Jia Chong, bribed Empress Yang who then worked hard to recommend her to the emperor. Sima Zhong was muddle-headed that some ministers suggested that a new crown prince be chosen. Emperor Wudi decided to test Sima Zhong's intelligence. Jia Nanfeng was able to find someone to answer the test and gave the answers to Sima Zhong to rewrite and pass the test. Emperor Wudi ordered that the crown prince should not be changed.

Jia Nanfeng was an extremely jealous person, and did not allow Sima Zhong to touch the other palace women. When one of the palace women became pregnant, Jia Nanfeng killed her. Emperor Wudi realised that Jia Nanfeng was too ruthless and would like to get rid of her. But under the persuasion of the empress and the ministers, he did not do so.

In 290, Sima Zhong came to the throne as Emperor Huidi and Jia Nanfeng as empress asserted her influence in court. She demoted the empress dowager to a commoner and jailed her in Jinyong Palace, where she starved herself to death. The good ministers who had supported the Jin Dynasty and ruled the country effectively under Emperor Wudi were gradually replaced by her cronies.

Jia Nanfeng did not have a son and Sima Yu, the son of a palace woman, Xie Jiu, was made crown prince. Jia Nanfeng killed not only Sima Yu, but also his mother, Xie Jiu, his wife and his child. Jia Nanfeng then pretended that she was pregnant and brought the newly-born son of her sister, Jia Xu, to the palace and passed him off as her own son.

Jia Nanfeng's sexual life was no less immoral. Not only did she have an affair with the official in charge of the medicine at the palace, Cheng Ju, she also had a preference for handsome young men who she would bring back to the palace to satisfy her appetite. Thereafter, she would have them murdered.

However, it was not Empress Jia's debauchery that caused her downfall but rather her mismanagement of court affairs. The Sima clan were unhappy to see their empire falling apart. The dukes led by Sima Lun, the King of Zhao, staged an insurrection in three hundred, taking troops into the palace. Emperor Huidi was forced to depose Jia Nanfeng, who was then imprisoned in Jinyong Palace. Afterwards, Sima Lun, under the pretext of an imperial edict, had Jia Nanfeng killed with poisoned wine. She was then forty five.

Empress Dowager Feng

Toba Jun, who reigned as Emperor Wencheng of the Northern Wei Dynasty, had an ethnic Han Chinese as his empress, Empress Feng. Empress Feng was originally installed as a concubine, but owing to her skill and intelligence, she managed to ascend the throne.

After Emperor Wencheng died, the twenty-four-year-old Feng became Empress Dowager. At that time, Crown Prince Toba Hong was only twelve years old and so the empress dowager held court. When he was eighteen, Toba Hong gave up the throne to his five-year-old son, Yuan Hong who became the famous Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty. Empress Dowager Feng continued to hold court and rule the country. Empress Dowager Feng taught Emperor Xiaowen to be more Han-like. She wrote The Song of Discipline and Eighteen Articles on the Emperor's Admonitions for Emperor Xiaowen to study and prepare him to be the successor of her reform work.

She advocated simplicity. She did not wear luxurious clothing and ate simply. The food expense was only twenty percent of what it was under the preceding court. Empress Dowager was very lenient to subordinates. Once when she was eating, she found a centipede in her food. Emperor Xiaowen was furious and wanted to execute the chef but was stopped by her.

However, towards political rivals, Empress Dowager Feng was ruthless. The minister at Lantai, Zhang Qiu, and the Master of Tiangong Temple, Fa Xiu, plotted against the emperor. Planning to take advantage of Empress Feng's visit to Tiangong Temple, they intended to rebel and overthrow her and the Wei Dynasty. When this plot became known to Empress Dowager Feng, she had all the schemers beheaded, followed by the execution of the plotters' clan, exterminating three generations of each family. This resulted in the killing of three thousand to four thousand people.

She died when she was 49, and was given the posthumous epithet of "Cultured Great Empress Dowager". The historical appraisal of her rule has been very positive. In The History of Wei: The Biography of the Empresses, she is described as "a wise planner, able to carry out great deeds and bringing prestige and wealth, astonishing people in the palace and the country".


The Sui and Tang Dynasties

The "Strict Wife" - Empress Dugu

Empress Dugu was the empress of the first Sui Dynasty emperor, Yang Jian. She was an ethnic Xianbei; her father was the Northern Wei Dynasty Grand General, Dugu Xin. When she was fourteen, she married Yang Jian and made him swear on his life that he would never love another woman.

In 581, Yang Jian established the Sui Dynasty and became Emperor Wendi. Emperor Wendi kept his word and apart from the empress there was no ranking of the concubines and the positions of high-ranking concubines were empty. Empress Dugu ruled the harem very strictly, and no concubine was permitted to come near the emperor.

Each time Emperor Wendi held court, Empress Dugu would accompany him, and they would return to the palace together. She paid attention to Emperor Wendi's food and living conditions. Empress Dugu did not advance the careers of her relatives. Her cousin Cui Changren, broke the law and Emperor Wendi intended to pardon him but Empress Dugu did not allow it. As a result, Cui Changren was beheaded. When Emperor Wendi encountered a problem that was difficult to solve, he would seek Empress Dugu's views. People called Emperor Wendi and Empress Dugu the "two sages".

Empress Dugu bore five sons. The oldest, Yang Yong, was made crown prince. Empress Dugu selected a daughter of the Yuan family as consort of the crown prince, but Yang Yong liked his concubine, Lady Yun. This made Empress Dugu very dissatisfied. Then the second son Yang Guang falsely incriminated Yang Yong in a plot to kill him. As a result, Empress Dugu asked Emperor Wendi to depose Yang Yong and install Yang Guang as crown prince instead. Yang Guang later became the infamous Emperor Yangdi.

Once when Empress Dugu was sick, Emperor Wendi was walking in the Renshou Palace when he encountered the enchanting Miss Weichi, one of the palace women. That night he called her to his room. When Empress Dugu found out about this, she had Miss Weichi killed. The upset emperor left the palace on horseback and officials pleaded with him to return. After Emperor Wendi returned, Empress Dugu begged for forgiveness and it was only through the intervention of the ministers that their relationship recovered.

A few months later, Empress Dugu died. Emperor Wendi brought many women into the harem and indulged in all the sexual pleasure that he had been missing out on. Not long afterwards, Emperor Wendi contracted a disease and his body wasted away. As he lay on his sickbed, he finally understood what Empress Dugu had been protecting him from.

The Virtuous Wife - Empress Changsun

Li Shimin, ruling as Emperor Tang Taizong, is regarded as one of the most outstanding emperors in Chinese history. He had a virtuous wife - Empress Changsun. Empress Changsun, originally called Changsun Hui, was a Xianbei, born in the family of an official. From young she received proper education, learning knowledge and customs, becoming civilised and virtuous. She married Li Shimin when she was thirteen.

Empress Changsun was in many respects the model empress. She treated people with respect, defending good ministers against the machinations of their opponents. She matched the Confucian ideal of the perfect woman. She wrote a book, Women's Principles, summarising the strengths and weaknesses of women throughout the ages, and earning the praise of Emperor Taizong who thought that this book "is good enough to set an example for a hundred generations".

Empress Changsun advocated thrift. Once when her most beloved Princess Changle was about to be married, Emperor Tang Taizong ordered that a sumptuous wedding gift, more than twice as much as that given to the other princesses, be prepared. The minister Wei Zheng tried to dissuade the emperor. He said that it went against tradition to give much to one person and a little to another. Emperor Taizong told this to Empress Changsun. He did not expect her reaction. She praised Wei Zheng, even sending him a present to express praise for his righteousness.

Her brother Changsun Wuji was trusted by Emperor Tang Taizong who made him Imperial Secretary, which was a central position in court. Taking the historic examples of the family of the empress coming to power, Empress Changsun persuaded him not to give her brothers high office. Emperor Tang Taizong did not listen and so Empress Changsun could only plead with her brother to resign from his position.

Empress Changsun did not interfere in the affairs of state, but Emperor Tang Taizong would sometimes get into a muddle and she would admonish him, playing the part of a virtuous wife. Once, Wei Zheng, famous for his direct talk, confronted Emperor Tang Taizong in front of other people. The ruler felt that he had lost face. Emperor Tang Taizong swore that one day he would kill Wei Zheng. Empress Changsun then put on her imperial robes every time when she wanted to meet the emperor. She did so to congratulate him for ruling the country well with the help of good ministers such as Wei Zheng. Emperor Tang Taizong realised that she was preventing him from killing Wei Zheng. He then changed his mind.

Empress Changsun fell sick later on. Her illness worsened and Crown Prince Li Chenqian sought to declare an amnesty but Empress Changsun stated that the country's law cannot be turned upside down just to pray for her well-being. As the empress lay dying, she instructed people that her funeral should not be too lavish, and she hoped that Emperor Tang Taizong would not make more of her relatives nobles. When Empress Changsun died, she was thirty six.

It could be said that Empress Changsun was the model "mother of the country". She was wise and wholeheartedly supported Emperor Tang Taizong. Emperor Tang Taizong established the "Reign of Zhenguan", an era of peace and prosperity that was brought about by his good rule. The woman behind him, Empress Changsun, played her part in making this possible.

The Female Emperor - Wu Zetian

An emperor emerged from the harem of the Tang court - Wu Zetian. When she was fourteen, she entered the palace as a servant to Emperor Taizong and was made a cairen (the lowest rank of the mid-ranking concubines) with the title wumei. After Emperor Taizong died, Crown Prince Li Zhi came to the throne as Emperor Gaozong. All the concubines who had not given Emperor Taizong children including the sixteen-year-old Wu Zetian were sent to the Ganye Temple to be nuns.

While Emperor Gaozong was crown prince, he had already exchanged furtive glances with his father's concubine. After becoming emperor, he often went to the temple to meet her secretly. Emperor Gaozong's empress, Empress Wang, was busy having a fight with Lady Xiao, and in order to suppress Lady Xiao, Empress Wang ordered Wu Zetian to grow her hair and return to the palace, hoping to use her to control Lady Xiao.

After Wu Zetian returned to the harem, Emperor Gaozong made her zhaoyi (the highest ranked concubine of the nine high-ranking concubines). Within a short time Wu Zetian made Lady Xiao lose her position as the emperor's favourite and earned the trust of Empress Wang. Wu Zetian's next step was to replace Empress Wang. She had just given birth to a daughter and earned the affection of Emperor Gaozong. In order to trap the empress, after Empress Wang came to visit her daughter, Wu Zetian strangled the child. When Emperor Gaozong came to visit his daughter, he found that she was lifeless and after asking palace attendants, he found that Empress Wang had just left. Emperor Gaozong thought that Empress Wang was a murderer and was determined to replace her, but advisors and important officials opposed him.

In order to become empress, Wu Zetian had another plan to accuse Empress Wang and her mother, Lady Liu, of cursing the emperor with evil spells. As it turned out, when the palace of the empress was searched, they found wooden figurines used in witchcraft that were first planted by Wu Zetian. Emperor Gaozong was furious and demoted Empress Wang and Lady Xiao to ordinary citizens and were thrown into the "cold palace" while Lady Xiu was barred from entering the palace. Wu Zetian finally became empress. Her cruel plan to exchange her daughter's life for the throne had succeeded.

Soft-hearted Emperor Gaozong once went to visit Empress Wang and Lady Xiao in prison and after Wu Zetian found out about it, she punished them with one hundred lashes each. Their arms and legs were cut offand they were thrown into a vat of wine. Wu Zetian taunted them as they drowned in the vat, "now you can intoxicate yourselves in your own beauty".

Emperor Gaozong was weak both in willpower and physically, and Wu Zetian moved in to fill the role of leadership. She got rid of the advisors and ministers who had opposed her and installed officials who supported her. She personally presided over the sacrificial ceremonies and read and approved the documents from the ministers on behalf of the emperor. When court was in session, Emperor Gaozong sat in front of a curtain while Wu Zetian sat behind it, being called by the people at the time the "two sages".

But Wu Zetian was not content with just being the "emperor" in the background. In order to ascend the highest throne, she removed all obstacles in her way, including her own sons. She killed two crown princes one after the other - Li Hong (poisoned) and Li Jian (forced to commit suicide). After Emperor Gaozong died, the crown prince, Li Xian, ruled for only fifty five days before he was deposed by Wu Zetian. She then installed her youngest son, Li Dan, as emperor, but she still remained in control of the government. Six years later, she deposed Li Dan and reigned as emperor in her own name, changing the name of the dynasty to Zhou, claiming ancestry from the Zhou Dynasty. By this time, she was already sixty seven years old.

While she was on the throne, Wu Zetian paid particular attention to promoting people of talent. In order to recruit talented people, she actively promoted a graded system of promotion, and created a system of military examinations to choose military and state officials. On the other hand, she punished corrupt bureaucrats harshly, setting straight the behaviour of officials. She also applied herself to raising production with a policy of minimal enforced labour and low taxes.

Like the emperor who can have unlimited numbers of concubines, Wu Zetian had many male favourites. Among them were Feng Xiaobao (also known as Xue Huaiyi) who was a Buddhist monk, and the brothers Zhang Changzong and Zhang Yizhi.

After Wu Zetian had reigned as emperor for fifteen years, she became ill. While she was ill, the prime minister Zhang Jianzhi, took the opportunity to install Li Xian as emperor to restore the Tang Dynasty.

When Wu Zetian was about to die, she willingly changed her title from "Emperor" to "Empress" and instructed that in front of her tomb a blank stele should be set up. No words were to be carved on the stele, meaning that whether she has committed any crime should be left to future generations to decide.

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Wu Zetian's Blank Stele at Qianling

After Wu Zetian's death, she was buried with her husband Emperor Tang Taizong at Qianling.

Although Wu Zetian had to resort to underhanded methods to gain her position, she was an outstanding political genius. She helped the Tang Dynasty to develop, continuing the "Era of Zhenguan" and helping create the "Prosperous Era of Kaiyuan" after her.

Get This!

The precedent of Wu Zetian becoming a female emperor caused the succeeding empress, Empress Wei, to emulate her and become the next female emperor. However, she lacked political skills and was demoted.

Also, Wu Zetian was not the only female emperor in Chinese history. Before Wu Zetian, there was another female "peasant" emperor, Chen Shuozhen, who claimed herself as "Wen Jia Emperor". She was supported by many poor local people. Soon, her army grew and she captured several cities. However, she soon encountered a tougher opponent in one of her sieges, Cui Yixuan. Since she had no military experience and her army were not drilled, some of her troops were taken captives while some died in battle. Unfortunately, she was caught and killed.

(to be continued...)



#7 HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:44 AM

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A Poem of Exile


translated by Yizheng



燕山亭。北行见杏花
宋徽宗 (赵佶)

裁剪冰绡,轻叠数量,淡着燕脂匀注。
新样靓妆,艳溢香融,羞杀蕊珠宫女。
易得凋零,更多少,无情风雨。
愁苦!问院落凄凉,几番春暮?
凭寄离恨重重,者双燕何曾,会人言语?
天遥地远,万水千山,知他故宫何处?
怎不思量,除梦里,有时曾去。
无据,和梦也新来不做。

Resting on the swallow mountain
Seeing an apricot tree in flower on the road north into exile

Song Huizong (Zhao Ji)

As if cut of ice this silk hangs dense yet gently draped,
Smooth dabbed in blushing powder’s pale hues.
So splendid an attire, so flowing full in drifting scent,
as to shame even the sweet maiden of that palace in the sky.
But in heartless wind and ruthless rain,
Too easily this marvel wilts and fades.
And such deep sorrow swells my heart!
Can I but ask then of this desolate yard,
How many moments more to sup this last of spring?
Exile’s dreary load of sadness I would send
With this pair of swallows passing by
Only would they understand our human tongue?
And in this vast land of endless stretched sky,
And the countless rivers and mountains passed along my road,
How would I even know where to find my palace of old?
No matter what measure of longing I give,
There are but my dreams that sometimes carry me home.
Only why, I cannot know, but even these dreams have grown scarce.

Here we have a poem that mixes history and literature. Song Huizong was emperor from 1100 to 1126. He was one of those rulers who was not primed from his earliest years to lead the country, but came to power somewhat accidentally in a way, inheriting the throne after his older brother died without an heir. He was deeply interested in the arts and is especially well known for his painting and calligraphy. This artistic talent was both his fame and his curse as an emperor, as he has gone down in history as a ruler to preoccupied with artistic pursuits and lavish living, and not paying enough attention to more practical matters like defending the empire against encroaching enemies.

The encroaching enemy in this case were the Jurchens, whose Jin dynasty in the north was eager to spread its territory. In 1126, they attacked the Song capital, Kaifeng, and panicked Huizong abdicated in favour of his son. In 1127, the Jin succeeded in taking Kaifeng, took Huizong and his son prisoner and sent them north to Manchuria, where Huizong died eight years later.

This poem was written on the road into exile and expresses the fallen emperor’s feelings of sorrow for all he has lost and left behind. In the simple sight of an apricot tree in flower he finds beauty, but it is too fleeting and fragile, and not enough to make him forget the reality around him.

Edited by HappyHistorian, 14 August 2010 - 07:45 AM.


#8 HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:48 AM

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Sanxingdui bronze mask - one of the two largest found

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Neolithic tomb #344 at Jiahu (Henan Provincial Museum)


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Northern Wei stone coffin (Kaifeng Museum)

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Mould for casting bronze belt hooks, Warring States Period (Xinzheng City Museum)


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Jade burial suit, Western Han, Yongcheng City (Henan Provincial Museum)

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King of Zheng Tomb, Xinzheng, Henan


Edited by HappyHistorian, 14 August 2010 - 07:49 AM.


#9 HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 07:53 AM

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Erhu Unison - Galloping on the Vast Grassland 奔驰在千里草原


Edited by HappyHistorian, 14 August 2010 - 07:55 AM.


#10 HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 08:06 AM

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1. In The Romance of The Three Kingdoms, Liu Bei is described as seven feet five inches tall, Zhang Fei eight feet tall and Guan Yu nine feet tall. This makes Guan Yu 2.07 metres tall, Zhang Fei 1.84 metres tall and Liu Bei 1.72 metres tall. Cao Cao's seven feet makes him 1.61 metres tall.

2. In The Romance of The Three Kingdoms, Zhang Fei was a forthright man who loved drinking, without a trace of refined scholars. Yet according to historical records, Zhang Fei was skilled at drawing portraits of beauties and cursive script in Chinese calligraphy. The unscrupulous Cao Cao in history was not only a canny politician but also a man of letters.

3. In The Romance of The Three Kingdoms, Sun Quan had an extraordinary appearance, having "blue eyes and purple hairs on the temples". He thus has a nickname, "the blue-eyed".

4. After the death of Jia Nanfeng, Emperor Huidi installed a new empress, Yang Xianrong, who was later widowed when Emperor Huidi was poisoned by Sima Yue. His brother, Sima Chi, who became Emperor Huaidi, was taken captive in 311 when Liu Yao stormed Luoyang. In that same raid, Yang Xianrong was kidnapped by Liu Yao and after he became the first emperor of the Former Zhao Dynasty, she was declared empress. Thus Yang Xianrong became one of the rarities of history, an empress of two different dynasties.

5. Yuwen Yun, who ruled as Emperor Xuandi of the Northern Zhou Dynasty, installed five empresses in his one year of rule (597). After his accession to the throne, he called himself "First Heavenly Emperor" and because it was stated in ancient texts that "the consort's behaviour is refined, the world is made of five elements", he thought that five was a lucky number and decided to have five empresses. The original empress, Empress Yang Lihua, was made First Heavenly Empress, and the other four concubines were made Heavenly Empress, Left Heavenly Empress, Right Heavenly Empress and Middle Heavenly Empress. After Yuwen Yun died, the four empresses other than Yang Lihua were sent to the nunnery to become Buddhist nuns.

Edited by HappyHistorian, 14 August 2010 - 08:06 AM.


#11 HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 08:13 AM

Posted Image


Edited by HappyHistorian, 14 August 2010 - 08:14 AM.


#12 HappyHistorian

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 08:18 AM

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


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