THE MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL
ON the fifteenth day of the eighth moon came the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, sometimes called the Moon Festival.
This name is derived from the belief which the Chinese hold that the moon is not permanently round when full, but that on this particular day it is a perfect circle. The ceremony which is gone through is conducted entirely by the Court ladies and consists of worshiping the moon as soon as it appears in the sky. In other respects the celebrations are exactly the same as in the Dragon Boat Festival, presents were exchanged between Her Majesty and the Court officials. The festival concluded with a theatrical performance which describes a scene in the moon. The belief is that a beautiful maiden lives in the moon, her only companion being a white rabbit, called a Jade Rabbit. According to the play this rabbit escapes from the moon to the Earth and becomes a young and beautiful girl. A golden rooster which lives in the sun, becoming aware of the rabbit's descent to the earth, himself descends from the sun and changes into a handsome prince. Of course they very naturally meet and immediately fall in love. Now, on the earth lived another rabbit -- a red one, who, on finding out what was going on, changed himself into a prince also and set about making love to the beautiful maiden with the object of cutting out the rooster. However, he was seriously handicapped inasmuch as he was unable to change the color of his face, which remained red, therefore his love making met with no success and the rooster prince had it all his own way. At this point, the beautiful maiden in the moon, on discovering her loss, sent the soldiers of Heaven to re-capture her rabbit, with the result that she was taken back to the moon and the rooster being left alone, had no alternative but to reluctantly return to his home in the sun.
During this performance the head eunuch brought a young man into the courtyard, who kowtowed to Her Majesty. This was such an unusual occurrence that everybody noticed it. I could see that he was a stranger and did not belong to the Court and I wondered who he could be. At the other end of the veranda I saw two or three of the Court ladies whispering together and smiling. They finally came over to me and asked if I knew who he was. I told them that he was a stranger to me and they ought to know better than I did as they had been at the Court much longer. Anyhow I gave it as my opinion that he was decidedly ugly. That same evening Her Majesty asked me whether I had noticed this young man, and told me that he was the son of a very high Manchu official; that his father was dead and that he had succeeded to the title and to a large amount of money. I was surprised that Her Majesty should give such a lengthy explanation about this young man, but I told her that I did not think him very handsome. Her Majesty was talking in a very serious manner but I did not think anything of the occurrence at the time but a few days later while I was posing for the portrait I heard Her Majesty whispering to my mother at the other end of the room. I saw that Her Majesty was holding a photograph in her hands which she showed to my mother, at the same time asking whether my mother considered him good looking. My mother answered "not very." On Her Majesty replying that beauty was not everything I began to suspect that there was something going on which directly concerned me. I began to think of some excuse in order to get out of what I could plainly see was a proposed marriage between myself and this gentleman. I knew that if Her Majesty had made up her mind that I was to marry him I could not help myself, but, at the same time, I made up my own mind that rather than marry anyone whom I did not like, especially one I had never seen before, I would leave the Court altogether. When Her Majesty retired for her usual afternoon rest she told me she wanted to see me for a moment. After beating about the bush for some time, she asked me whether I would like to stay with her always or whether I would like to go away again to some foreign country. I at once answered that I was quite satisfied to stay with her as long as she cared to have me but that when she was tired of me she could then send me away. Her Majesty informed me that it had been her intention to marry me to this young gentleman and asked my opinion. I told her that I did not want to get married at all, especially seeing that my father was sick at this time, and leaving home to go to live apart from my family would break his heart and perhaps be the cause of his premature death. Her Majesty said that was no excuse as I should not have to go out of China but would be able to see my father and family any time I wished. I told Her Majesty that I would much rather stay with her altogether and that I did not want to marry anybody. Her Majesty then said: "I won't listen to any excuse. I have already explained everything to your mother, but much to my surprise she said it would be better to mention it to you first, on account of your having been brought up differently from the rest of the Court ladies. Had it not been for this fact I would simply have arranged everything with your mother and the matter would have been settled so far as you were concerned." I could not say anything in answer to this, so commenced to cry. I told Her Majesty that I was not like the rest of the Court ladies who pretended they did not want to marry, when all the time they were simply looking forward to getting married, if only for the change from the monotony of Court life. I promised that I would stay with her forever, and that I had no desire to go away from China again. I explained that I should not have gone away at all had it not been that my father was transferred to Paris. Her Majesty said: "Oh, well, I am very glad that you did go away as you are more useful to me than you would have been had you stayed in China all your life." After a lot more discussion Her Majesty said: "Well, I will leave you to think the matter over. If you don't like the young man I have chosen there are plenty of others," which remark did not help me very much as I could see that she meant to marry me off anyway. However, I had managed to get out of it this time, and thought I would be able to arrange matters satisfactorily should the question come up again. Nothing further was said about the matter until nearly a month later when I heard that a marriage had been arranged between this gentleman and the daughter of one of the princes. So everything ended very satisfactorily from my point of view.
The twenty-sixth day of the eighth moon was the occasion of another celebration. At the time the Manchu Dynasty began, Emperor Shung Chih, who had fought very hard to gain the throne, found himself on the twenty-sixth day of the eighth moon, absolutely out of provisions of every kind and it was necessary for him and his army to live on the leaves of trees, which was the only form of food obtainable at the time. Thus the anniversary of this day, even up to the present time, is always celebrated by the Manchu people, who deny themselves all luxuries, especially at the Court. We did not eat any meat on that day, but only rice wrapped in lettuce leaves. Chopsticks were also discarded and the food was conveyed to the mouth by the hands alone. Even the Empress Dowager was no exception to this rule. This is done in order to remind the present generation of the privation suffered by their ancestors who established the Manchu Dynasty.
Towards the close of the eighth moon Her Majesty's gourd plants, which had been planted early in the spring, were ripening, and each day she would take us all to see what progress they were making. She would pick out those which she considered to be the most perfect in form, i. e., those with the smallest waist and tie ribbons around them so as not to lose sight of them. She pointed to one of these plants one day, and said to me: "This reminds me of yourself when dressed in foreign clothes. Surely you feel more comfortable in the clothes you are now wearing." When these gourds were quite ripe they were cut down and Her Majesty would scrape the outer skin with a bamboo knife, afterwards wiping the fruit with a wet cloth. They were then allowed to dry and after a few days they would assume a brownish color, when they were ready for hanging as ornaments in the Summer Palace. In one room alone there were over 10,000 of these gourds, of different shapes. It was the duty of the Court ladies to periodically wipe these gourds with a cloth, in order to give them a shiny appearance, and also to scrape any new ones which were pulled and prepare them for the Palace. None of us cared very much about this work excepting Her Majesty. One day whilst attending to these gourds I happened to knock the top off one of the old ones which was Her Majesty's particular favorite. I dared not go and tell Her Majesty what had happened and one of the Court ladies suggested throwing the thing away altogether and saying nothing about it as Her Majesty would not be likely to find it out, having so many of them. However, I finally decided to go and tell Her Majesty about it, and take punishment if necessary. For a wonder Her Majesty did not make much bother about it. She said: "Well it was quite an old one in any case and the top was ready to drop off at any time; it so happens that you were the one to wipe it, and of course it came off. It can't be helped." I told Her Majesty that I was very much ashamed at being so careless, especially as I knew it was one of her favorites, and there the matter ended. All the rest of the Court ladies were in the waiting room and were anxious to know how I would get out of it, and when I told them they said that had it been any of them there would have been a fine row. They laughed, and said it must be nice to be a favorite which made me feel very uncomfortable. I told the Young Empress exactly what had happened, and she said I was quite right to tell Her Majesty the truth and told me to be very careful as there was much jealousy going on.
At the beginning of the ninth moon the chrysanthemums commence to bud and it was the duty of the ladies of the Court to go and trim them each day by cutting away all the buds except one on each stalk. This trimming gives the flower a better chance of developing, a much larger blossom being the result. Even Her Majesty would help with this work. She was very particular about these plants, and would not allow any of us to meddle with them if our hands were not perfectly cool, as to touch them with hot hands would cause the leaves to shrivel up. These flowers are generally in full bloom about the end of the ninth moon or beginning of the tenth moon. Her Majesty had a wonderful gift of being able to tell what kind of flower would bloom from each separate plant, even before the buds appeared. She would say: "This is going to be a red flower," and we would place a bamboo stick in the flower pot, with the name written on it. Then another, Her Majesty would declare to be a white one and we would place a similar bamboo stick in the flower pot, with the description, and so on. Her Majesty said: "This is your first year at the Palace and no doubt you are surprised at what you have just seen and heard me say, but I have never yet made a mistake. For you will see when the flowers commence to bloom." It was a fact as everything turned out exactly as she had predicted. None of us ever knew how she was able to distinguish one from the other, but she was always right. I did once ask her to explain how she was able to tell but she answered that it was a secret.
All this time the portrait was proceeding very slowly and one day Her Majesty asked me how long I thought it would be before it was finished and what the custom in Europe was as regards remuneration for such a portrait. I replied that it was customary to pay very handsomely, but she would not hear of such a suggestion, saying that in China it was not the custom and that it would be regarded as an insult to offer money for such a service. She suggested decorating Miss Carl as a reward for her services, which she considered would be appreciated far more than a money present. There was nothing for me to say at this time but I determined to mention the matter again when a favorable opportunity occurred.
During the ninth moon a Russian circus visited Peking and of course everybody talked of little else. Her Majesty, hearing so much talk about this circus asked what it was like, and after we had explained to her, she became very interested and said that she would like to see it. My mother thought it would be a good idea to have the circus brought up to the Summer Palace, where they could perform, so she asked Her Majesty whether this might be done. Her Majesty was delighted with the idea, and arrangements were accordingly made for the performance. While everything was being fixed, the people belonging to the circus, and the animals, were quartered near our own house and we had to feed them at our own expense. However, we wanted to show Her Majesty what a circus was like so the expense did not matter. It took them two days to erect the tent and make all necessary preparations, and during this time Her Majesty received reports as to what was being done, and the progress they were making.
The day before the performance, we noticed that Her Majesty, on coming from her audience, looked very angry, and on our enquiring what was the matter she informed my mother and myself that some censors had raised objections against having this circus in the Palace grounds, as there had never been anything of this kind allowed before and they had begged Her Majesty to give up the idea. Her Majesty was very angry, and said: "You see how much power I have here; I cannot even have a circus without somebody raising objections. I think we had better pay them something and let them go away." Of course we agreed to anything she thought best. After considering for a time Her Majesty jumped up and said: "They have the tent up already; they will talk just the same whether we have the circus or not; I will have it anyway." So the performance duly took place and Her Majesty and all the Court were delighted. One item consisted of a young girl walking and dancing on a large globe. This especially pleased Her Majesty and she insisted on the performance being repeated several times. Another item of interest was the trapeze act. Of course nobody present with the exception of my mother, sister and myself had ever seen a circus performance before, and Her Majesty was very much afraid that the man would fall from the trapeze and kill himself. Another thing which interested Her Majesty was the bare-back riding, which she thought simply wonderful. The only objection to the whole show which she raised was when it was suggested to bring in the lions and tigers, etc. She said it was not safe to bring wild beasts into the Palace and that she would rather not see this part of the performance. The proprietor of the circus, however, brought in a small baby elephant which performed several clever tricks. This delighted Her Majesty more than anything else and when the proprietor saw how pleased she was he offered the elephant as a present, which she accepted. However, after the performance was over we tried to make him go through his tricks again but he would not budge an inch, so we had to give it up as a bad job and send him away to be placed along with the other elephants belonging to the Palace.
Altogether there were three performances given by the circus, and before the final performance, the circus Manager told me that he would very much like to show the lions and tigers: there was no chance of any accident and it really would be worth seeing. So after a lot of discussion Her Majesty finally consented to allow them to be brought in but on the distinct understanding that they should not be let out of their cages.
When they were brought in the ring all the eunuchs gathered around Her Majesty, and after remaining in the ring for a few minutes Her Majesty ordered them to be taken away again. She said: "I am not afraid for myself, but they might get loose and hurt some of the people." This item finished the whole of the performance and the circus departed richer by some Taels 10,000 which Her Majesty had ordered to be given to them.
For the next couple of days we discussed the merits of the circus but afterwards, Her Majesty, when referring to the subject, expressed great disappointment with the whole thing. She said she had expected something entirely different and far more wonderful. This was another characteristic of Her Majesty; nothing pleased her for more than five minutes at a time. She said to me: "I don't see anything at all wonderful in foreign accomplishments. Take for instance this portrait which this lady is painting. I don't think it is going to be at all a good picture, it seems so rough. (Her Majesty did not understand oil painting). Then again why should she always want to have the things before her while painting them. An ordinary Chinese artist could paint my dress, shoes, etc., after seeing the things once. She cannot be very much of an artist in my opinion, though you need not tell her that I said so." Continuing, Her Majesty said: "By the way, what do you talk about when you are posing for this portrait of mine; although I don't understand what she is saying, still I can see she has a lot to say. Be sure not to tell her anything connected with the Court life and do not teach her any Chinese. I hear that she often asks what different things are called in Chinese, but don't tell her. The less she knows the better for us. I can see that she has seen nothing of our ordinary Court life, as yet. I wonder what she would say if she were to see one of the eunuchs being punished, or anything like that. She would think that we were savages, I suppose. I noticed the other day, when I was angry, that you took this lady artist away. This was very wise of you; it is better that she should not see me in a temper, she might talk about it afterwards. I wish this portrait was finished. The cool weather is coming on and we have to open up the boxes and get our winter clothes ready. You girls need winter clothes I know as you have none but foreign dresses. Then, again, my birthday is next month and there will be the usual celebrations. After that we return to the Sea Palace, and what can we do with this artist? I suppose she will have to go back and stay at the American Legation and come to the Sea Palace each day until the work is finished. This will be a lot of trouble as it is not ten minutes' drive as at present, but nearer an hour's drive. And even if this can be satisfactorily arranged, what about the Winter Palace in the Forbidden City? Try and get to know how long she expects to be before it is finished." This gave me an opportunity to tell Her Majesty that Miss Carl was just as anxious to get the work finished as she was to have it finished, but explained that Miss Carl had very little time to paint as Her Majesty could spare very little time to give personal sittings, and again, when Her Majesty went to lie down each afternoon, Miss Carl had to stop painting as she was working in the next room to Her Majesty's bedroom. Her Majesty replied: "Well, if she expects me to sit for her all day long I will give up the whole thing at once," and then added: "I think you yourself are getting tired of sitting, and want me to take it up again, but I have already had quite enough of it." Of course, I told her that instead of being tired of it, I enjoyed sitting on Her Throne, which I regarded as a great honor. I explained to Her Majesty that Miss Carl did not like me to pose in her place, as she could not get along so quickly as if she were to sit herself; but she simply said that I was acting under her commands, and that should be sufficient for me.
For the next ten days we were kept very busy selecting materials for winter clothing and also official robes for my sister and myself to be worn during the forthcoming birthday celebrations. These dresses were full winter Court dresses, of red satin embroidered with golden dragons and blue clouds, and were trimmed with gold braid and lined with grey squirrel. The cuffs and collars (which were turned down) were of sable. While Her Majesty was giving one of the eunuchs instructions as to how these were to be made, the Young Empress beckoned to me, and I went out. She said: "You go and kowtow to Her Majesty as it is a great favor for her to give you a dress trimmed with sable. This is usually only worn by a Princess." So when I returned to the room I availed myself of the first opportunity to kowtow and thank Her Majesty for the great favor she had granted me. She answered: "You deserve it, and I see no reason why you should not be treated as a Princess anyway; many of the Princesses are not of the Imperial family. Any title may be bestowed for special services rendered to the country and you have been of more help to me than any other Court lady I have ever had, and I can see that you are faithful in the discharge of your duties. You may think I do not notice these things, but I do. You are certainly entitled to be ranked as a Princess, and in fact I never treat you different from the Princesses, but rather better in many ways." Turning to a eunuch she said: "Bring my fur cap here." This cap was made of sable, trimmed with pearls and jade and Her Majesty explained that our caps would be something after the same style except that the crown, instead of being yellow as in the case of Her Majesty's cap, would be red. I was naturally delighted. In addition to the cap and full Court dress Her Majesty had two ordinary dresses made for everyday wear, one lined with sheepskin and the other lined with grey squirrel. Then she gave us four other dresses of finer material, lined with black and white fox skin, and all trimmed with gold braid and embroidered ribbons. In addition there were two other dresses, one of a pale pink color, embroidered with one hundred butterflies and the other of a reddish color embroidered with green bamboo leaves. Several short jackets, also lined with fur, were also included in Her Majesty's present, and several sleeveless jackets went to complete the lot.
On coming out of the room, one of the Court ladies remarked that I was very lucky to receive so many clothes from Her Majesty and said that she had never received so many during the whole time she had been at the Palace -- nearly ten years. I could see she was jealous. The young Empress, overhearing this conversation, joined us and told her that when I arrived at the Palace I had nothing but foreign clothes and how was I to manage if Her Majesty did not get me the proper dresses. This incident was the beginning of another unpleasant time for me with the ladies of the Court. At first I took no notice until one day one of the girls attached to the Palace joined in the unkind remarks. She said that before my arrival she had been Her Majesty's particular favorite, but I gave her to understand that she had no right to discuss me in any way whatsoever. The Young Empress, who was present, spoke to them about their treatment of me and said that some fine day I would be telling Her Majesty about it. This seemed to have a good effect for they never troubled me much afterwards with their talk.