Confucius (2010)

In mourning for His Imperial Majesty Emperor Guangxu on the 101th anniversary of his death, I'd like to share a link of the trailer of the coming Chinese epic film 'Confucius'(due to be released in the Spring Festival of 2010), which cast Yun-Fat Chow as the sage Chinese philosopher and educator, who spent his whole lifetime preaching and teaching his thoughts throughout China, which would only become highly esteemed many years after his death but which would change the whole course not only of Chinese but of the whole East Asian history for the next two thousand years to come, just as how Jesus Christ had shaped the Western Civilization.

I now begin to call myself a Confucian and I think that the reason why I have discovered the values of Confucianism is none other than my veneration and love towards Emperor Guangxu, for the basis of Confucianism is that a soverain who loves and cares for his people should be loved back and be paid loyalty. I shall always remember that Emperor Guangxu sacrificed his own life for the good of his country and the cause of his people, a courageous and selfless deed that few other soverains would ever match.

Guangxu himself was raised in a Confucian education (thanks to Weng Tonghe), and only recently do I realize that the very power that had pushed such a seemingly weak and frail young man to take the heavy responsibility of reviving China upon his shoulders is his faith in Confucianism, for faith always prevails over natural cowardice; and this is the very reason why Confucius says in the "Analects" : "The courageous are not necessarily humane(ren); while the humane must be courageous". For humanity is so strong and noble an ideal that courage can naturally yield from it.

Guangxu, along with the martyres of the 1898 reform such as Tan Sitong, had "not tried to save their own lives by undermining humanity, but rather sacrificed their lives to make humanity prevail" (also from "The Analects")

Emperor Guangxu had formed such an idea at a very young age, therefore his risking all in 1898 was not out of impulse and infatuation, but rather out of a long-established sense of duty. It is said that in the winter when Guangxu was merely 7 years old, he ran out barefoot into the snow to thank heaven that his prayers finally came true. (For snow is good for crops in spring), and when both his tutor and his servants tried to persuade him back into the room, he yelled to them resentfully, "You fellows don't understand me at all, just as those who didn' t understand Confucius."

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing the film "Confucius" next year although I will always be in France.For me, the greatness of China is due to Confucianism. If we lose this tradition, we will find not even a foothold in the contemporary world.


Beijing Impressions I: Prince Gong Mansion

Amidst the meandering Hutongs near Shichahai Lake in central Beijing north to the Forbidden City and in the shades of bending scholar trees, hides one of the most beautiful prince mansions in China: Prince Gong Mansion, whose two lords in the old days were amongst the most celebrated figures in Qing Dynasty: one of them is Prince Gong, brother of Emperor Xianfeng as well as a very important figure in the 19th century modernization of China. The other was the notoriously corrupt Manchu minister Heshen, of Niohuru clan, who claimed, in his serving Emperor Qianlong, to have gathered a wealth equivalent to the revenue of Qing government for 15 years.

On entering the back garden of the mansion through the baroque-style marble gate, I was especially impressed by the elegance and tranquility of it (Yes, tranquility, albeit that there was a large flock of tourists). Clear streams of waterfall poured down from the 'Taihu Stone' into the bat-shaped pond (which symbolizes the notion of prosperity) beneath, and it is said that when the gingko leaves turn yellow in autumn, they would drop into the pond and drift gently amidst the ripples; in beams of sunshine, the leaves would look as if they were pieces of gold clustered in a basin. Careful tourists would notice that whereas running water flows through Heshen's garden, there is no single drop of it to be found in the cloistered imperial garden in the Forbidden City, which fact later became one of the accusations against Heshen in bringing him to his downfall. However, history seemed to me too heavy a subject in such a romantic ambiance: I thought I could spend the whole afternoon half-lying on the bench in the water pavilion only to watch the ducks being chased by the geese in the lovely pond, and all the nuisance of life seemed to be blown away by the breeze to melt into the ripples.

Yet, I cannot help but once more think of that legendary figure who ordered this garden to be built, only to realize that I had felt by now more or less identified with Heshen: Although he was accused for being the most corrupt minister in Chinese history, compared to the Emperor, he was the one who really knew how to enjoy life. Despite all those traditional Chinese symbols that indicate wealth and fortune, the garden itself is not at all frivolous, but rather conveys an air of purity and serenity, and such is the magic of the place.

Moreover, Heshen might not have been the antagonist after all. To me, his figure was closer to that of an antihero. I was well conscious that Chinese official records are not always reliable, just as some scholars have pointed out, many of Heshen's treasures were given by Emperor Qianlong as gifts. Whether Heshen enriched himself avariciously or not, I feel almost sure that the main reason why Emperor Jiaqing, son of Qianlong, wanted to get rid of him was the fear for his overwhelming power in court rather than repulsiveness against corruption. It is still so common today that 'corrupt officials' are convicted only when they begin to threaten 'the balance of power' of the centre government.


Reflections on Emperor Guangxu's Residence in the Summer Palace

'Yulan Tang', Guangxu's residence

.....surrounded by walls built by Cixi

'Mother and Son' stones, put in front of the hall by Cixi to warn Guangxu

Viewed at the gate of 'Yulan Tang'

I had the chance to pay a visit to Emperor Guangxu's residence, more precisely his prison in the Summer Palace several days ago. It's a traditional four-section compound with three rooms around one yard, a residence called 'YuLan Tang', namely 'The Hall of the Jade Wave'. It was first used as his residence when he attended the levee of Empress Dowager Cixi, after the coup in 1898, this very place became his prison in summer months.

Yulan Tang is faced to Kunming Lake at the front gate and thus has a panorama of the beautiful imperial garden, that even mountains in the distant Western suburbs can be seen from that very place. Nonetheless, in order to warn Emperor Guangxu that he was no more than a prisoner, Cixi ordered walls to be built around the yard that all view from afar would be blocked.

The yard was so crowded with tourists that we had to stand upon our toes to take a look at the Emperor's bedchamber through the window pane, it is said that all the furniture have been arranged in the way it used to be when Guangxu lived here. I felt a nameless pain in my heart as my eyes wandered from the bed on which he slept to the clock he had once repaired.

What struck me the most were the relics of the thick grey walls. Before that day, I had always been somewhat skeptical towards the mentality of Cixi, that she might not have been that evil and distorted after all. However, ever since that day when I saw all those cold walls myself, I immediately realized that she hated her nephew to death that it was no surprise that she finally poisoned him.

The trees surrounding the house are mostly more than one hundred years old, after one day's exhausting walk in the garden under the blazing summer sun, I stood beneath an old tree and rubbed its wrinkled trunk with my palm, imagining that not much more than one century ago, a handsome yet melancholic young man had stroked on the very same spot of the tree, looking towards the very same pagoda upon the mountain, only to bend down his head again, lamenting his fate...


A Visit to Emperor Guangxu's Mausoleum on His Birthday

The 14th of August was the 138th anniversary of Emperor Guangxu's birth according to solar calendar while tomorrow, the 18th of August, is his birthday according to lunar calendar this year (which should have been the 28th of June).

I paid a visit to His Majesty's mausoleum: the Chong Mausoleum on the 14th of August last Friday. Chong Mausoleum is the smallest among all four 'Western Mausoleums' , the place where four Emperors of Qing Dynasty had been buried: Yongzheng, Jiaqing, Daoguang and Guangxu respectively. Although Emperor Guangxu died in 1908, the construction of his mausoleum was not totally finished until 1915, which was highly unusual in Chinese history: most Emperors built their grand mausoleums while they were alive to prepare for their permanent resting place in foreseeable future. Such was not the case for Guangxu: he believed that he would not die any time soon and therefore never thought of building a mausoleum for himself while he was alive. As a result, when Emperor Guangxu and his aunt Empress Dowager Cixi died one day after another, while the coffin of the latter was immediately transported to the luxurious mausoleum she had prepared for herself, that of the Emperor had to be kept temporarily in the Forbidden City as the construction of his mausoleum had just begun.

After Emperor Guangxu's wife, the then Empress Dowager Longyu signed the declaration of abdication of throne for Emperor Puyi, China declared itself to be a newborn republic. The new government was exceptionally benign to the imperial family: not only were the imperial members allowed to continue to live in the Forbidden City, the government was also willing to take over the construction of Chong Mausoleum. Therefore, only after the underground mausoleum was completed in 1913 had Emperor Guangxu being carried to his final resting place. Empress Dowager Longyu died that year and was buried there alongside her husband.

In 1938, one year after the Japanese invasion, Chong Mausoleum was forced open by an anonymous armed bandit and the treasures in the coffins were plundered. When archeologists discovered the underground mausoleum in 1982, they found that Emperor Guangxu's legs had already being pulled out while the lid upon Longyu's coffin overturned. Guangxu's remains had kept its relatively complete skeleton structure while that of Longyu had turned into mud. The bandit that plundered the tomb were indeed despicable, however, paradoxically, it was thanks to them that Guangxu's mysterious death could finally be resolved as archeologists were able to take his hair and bones for examination.

I stayed for quite a long time in the underground mausoleum, kneeling down in front of the coffin in which lies the man I have been admiring for more than a decade. Before I left, I put down the printed paper presented by several fans of the Emperor(including me, it was June who originally came up with this idea) on a small table in front of his coffin, hoping that it would be a consolation for this tragic son of heaven.

To my great delight, I came across another fan of Emperor Guangxu that day. She is a girl one year older than me and has also been loving the Emperor for one decade. We exchanged our mutual commitment to the Emperor and planned to visit the Summer Palace together the next day for the sake of Guangxu~


Very Modern Elements inside Our Beloved Emperor

One of the main reasons why I admire Guangxu Emperor so much is due to some modern elements embodied by him, elements that have not been accepted by a great many Chinese until this day. Without much exaggeration, we can title Guangxu as a 'democratic Emperor' for even though he was neither democratically elected nor did he succeed in establishing parliaments, he did believe in almost all modern values esteemed in the Western world: on macro level, he identified with an open free economy based on industry and trade (thus breaking the Confucian dogma of despising commerce) as well as constitutional monarchy with Emperor merely as a figurehead (See the quote: 'As long as the people can be saved, what matters even if I lose power?' ) On micro level, he defended unanimously the freedom of religion as well as the freedom of speech. Guangxu was indeed, to some extent, the first to declare openly, on behalf of the ruler of China, that certain basic human rights are divine and inviolable.

During the Hundred Days Reform, according to 'Court Life in China' by Issac Taylor Headland, Guangxu Emperor issued a decree to allow all Chinese people to memorialize the emperor in sealed memorials. Then, Headland recorded in his book the following incident relating to this decree:

There was at this time a third-class secretary of the Board of Rites named Wang Chao who sent in a memorial in which he advocated:

1. The abolition of the queue.

2. The changing of the Chinese style of dress to that of the West.

3. The adoption of Christianity as a state religion.

4. A prospective national parliament.

5. A journey to Japan by the Emperor and Empress Dowager.

The Board of Rites opened and read this memorial, and, astounded at its boldness, they summoned the offender before them, and ordered him to withdraw his paper. This he refused to do and the two presidents and four vice-presidents of the Board accompanied it with a counter memorial denouncing him to the Emperor as a man who was making narrow-minded and wild suggestions to His Majesty.

Partly because they had opened and read the memorial and partly because of their effort to prevent freedom of speech, Kuang Hsu issued another edict explaining why he had invited sealed memorials, and censuring them for explaining to him what was narrow-minded and wild, as if he lacked the intelligence to grasp that feature of the paper. He then turned them all over to the Board of Civil Office ordering that body to decide upon a suitable punishment for their offense, and assuring them that if they made it too mild, his righteous wrath would fall upon them. The latter decided that they be degraded three steps and removed to posts befitting their lowered rank, but the Emperor revised the sentence and dismissed them all from office, and this was the beginning of his downfall.

Guangxu Emperor could never have agreed with all these radical proposals by that bold young man, yet he would still go at any length to defend his right to express his opinions.

I also found in Charles Denby's 'China and Her People' an excerpt on Guangxu's attitudes towards religious matters, which presented him as a pioneer of freedom and tolerance of religion in China:

In 1891 the present Emperor Kuang Hsu issued a very strong edict commanding good treatment of the missionaries. He therein made the following statement: "The religions of the West have for their object the inculcation of virtue, and, though our people become converted, they continue to be Chinese subjects. There is no reason why there should not be harmony between the people and the adherents of foreign religions."


A Really Worthy Chinese Cartoon!

I came across a very interesting Chinese cartoon on the web recently. Its title can be roughly translated into 'Fugui the Magical Chef'. The backdrop of the story was set during the late reign of Empress Dowager Cixi and Guangxu Emperor. The general synopsis goes like this: On her way fleeing to the west from the Eight Allies invasion in Beijing in 1900, Cixi asked for a chef to cook meals for her; meanwhile, Lord K, a mysterious antagonist, sought every means to have Guangxu Emperor abdicated so that he could benefit from recommending a new Emperor. Eunuch Li would carry out his plot: Li first impressed Chef Hong from a small village to cook for Cixi, when the dish was ready, Li poisoned it and accused Chef Hong for seeking to assassinate the Empress Dowager under the secret order of Guangxu Emperor. However, this was not enough to evoke Cixi's determination of getting rid of Guangxu, nevertheless, Chef Hong was imprisoned and charged and would be executed in autumn. Fugui, grandson of Chef Hong, a filial, intelligent and optimistic boy made up his mind to save his grandfather by becoming the Imperial Chef, seeking to win Cixi's favor so that he would obtain a set of golden cookery equivalent to a death-exemption card...

The Cartoon series is not only for Chinese children, but I have found it great for foreign people to learn Chinese. The language is simple, lively and in vogue; the story is told in the most vivid manner and every character has his/her attractive facet of personality. Besides many impressively funny scenes that would make the audience laugh out their tears, the cartoon also presents the essence of the extraordinary Chinese cuisine culture through every trial endured by Fugui. Finally, and best of all, it's not a mediocre cartoon that wins laughter by vulgarity and kitsch, but by quick wit and a warm sense of humor. A main message transmitted by this cartoon is as much as positive as it is Chinese: filial piety to the elders, which was not only shown through Fugui's persistent endeavors to save his grandfather, but also through Guangxu Emperor's unconditional piety towards Cixi however the latter treated him, that he would exchange his own life for hers if necessary, which might not be acceptable by modern values but was nevertheless the true mental status of Guangxu. Therefore it denies the other assumption that Guangxu had ever plotted to murder his stepmother.

I was almost astonished to see how well Guangxu had been presented in this cartoon, so close to the his image in my imagination, so close to facts cleared off prejudices produced by Machiavellians historians who judge characters only through their conquests and 'achievements'. Besides his filial piety towards Cixi, Guangxu was also portrayed as a persevering man at core who never gave up his dream of reforming China. In a word, it seems that more and more Chinese people have begun to know the real Guangxu Emperor now, moreover, young children would get the right impression of the Emperor from the beginning, which is something I really feel happy about.


Sketches and Random Thoughts on Turkey

Turkey is a country I have dreamt of visiting from childhood, in my imagination, the strait of Bosporus always flickered out the colour of azure in the Mediterranean sun. And I was not turned down when I finally got the chance to visit Istanbul this summer, from the backyard pavilion of Topkapi Palace, the bridge that connects Asia and Europe can be seen at distance across the narrow passage while the sea of Marmara extends beyond sight. The mind is set free, immerging in the nostlagia for the past glories of Byzantium and Osman, sometimes wondering at the fact how great many ancient civilizations had ever originated in this magical land of Anatolia and after sometime, those who created the civilizations perished, leaving only deserted ruins and relics behind. Indeed, to some extent, the land which is occupied by the Republic of Turkey today can be regarded as the site where Western civilization originated.

However, the people who occupied this piece of land come and go: first the Greek, then came the Romans; on the Eastern side were the Armenians and the Kurds. Centuries later came the normads: the Mongols swept Asia Minor like a tornado but retreated soon and left no trace; while the Turks settled down to build a new Empire which would last half a millennium and changed the course of European development remarkably. On lands occupied by the Turks, Christian churches were pulled down or transformed into mosques, Christian boys were converted into Muslims and were later impressed into the Empire army as Janissaries, Christian girls enslaved and sold to become concubines in the Harem. Such was the case for the Caucasian and Balkan regions, however, for Western Europeans, the aggressiveness of the Ottoman Empire exerted considerable pressure upon them and this very pressure later became their motivation to lead explorations, refine techniques and reform political systems. The envoy from Holy Roman Empire Ogiers Busbecq explicitly expressed his concerns that Europe would be wholly conquered by the Ottoman Empire someday, however, what happened in the next two centuries displayed an almost opposite scenario.

Turkey was obliged to take reform measures under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the republic established. In my opinion, what became best of this country is its success of showing the world that it is possible to seperate politics and religion in a predominant Muslim country, thus challenging such urges that Islam being a backward religion incompatible with modern society. However, what remains to be the largest problem of Turkey, is its pretentious ideology of 'pan-Turkism', which not only impedes the Republic from recogizing the Armenian genocide as well as the rights of the Kurdish minority, but also leads this country to go at odds with China on the Muslim Uighur issue in Xinjiang.