Sunday, June 8, 2014
They speak as if I, the Iron Empress, was cruel.....
This hurts me deeply. Would these poets and useless old men have preferred the view from atop the spiked gate of the White Horse Temple, along with twenty-five of their traitorous compatriots? I had to send my mother, Madame Yang, on daily tours of inspection past the temple gate to ensure that the heads were not interfered with.
There are silly people who attribute sacred significance to corpses, or in this case, parts of corpses; Madame Yang took upon herself the tiresome task of seeing to it that the old mothers of several of the men whose heads decorated the spikes did not disturb the display. There was one particularly persistent old lady who appeared at dawn every morning with a long stick in her hands, with which she would try to reach up and knock down her son's head. I could have had the woman arrested, but I did not! Instead, my mother and I agreed that we would simply have the monks shoo her away, until, after the ravens and the elements had done their work, her son's jawbone should detach itself and fall naturally to the paving stones, at which point she would be allowed to take it home with her. And they say I am without mercy!
The men I sent to Hainan went with their heads attached to their bodies. Poets and scholars, mostly, followers, not leaders. They should have been grateful not only for their lives, but for the opportunity to inhabit such a rich environment. Scholars, we are told, are hungry for knowledge, and poets for inspiration! The seething life in the tropics should more than satiate the hungers of both scholar and poet. My grandson, Minghuang, who became the Emperor fifty years after my death (a weakling, scarcely worthy of my blood, but that is another story) had a brilliant Chief Minister. His name was Li Lin-fu--or, as he was fond of calling himself--The Lizard, and he was, as you in the distant future might put it, a man after my own heart, the true Emperor. He said this of my lovely Shore of Pearls, describing it to some poor trembling fool standing before him:
"It is very hot there, General. And there is abundant life such as is always found in the tropical climes; a fascinating variety of insects, serpents, and plants which inhabitants of temperate zones cannot even imagine. Think of the contrast, General, between such life-forms and those of the far north, where nature must practice economy. Plants and animals existing under rigid conditions have no time for any sort of experimental frivolity. Colors are subdued, practical. But in the tropics, it is different. There, with the excess of heat, light, and moisture, we find out what nature really yearns to do. We see her true mind. I’ve heard that the trees are laden with the most delectable-looking fruit. Some varieties are good and will nourish you, while others ... one bite and you will die in agony. Poison, General. Nature dearly loves to put poison in things that jump, crawl, and grow. And she loves to decorate them in the most brilliant colors and let them multiply in feverish profusion. It is no wonder that the Empress Wu had an affinity for the tropics. I don’t believe that she ever visited there herself, but I know that the island of Hainan received many ‘guests,’ courtesy of Her Highness. Those who were troublesome to her soon forgot any court business as they occupied themselves with their immediate surroundings. There are people there, too, if you can call them that: an indigenous race of savages scarcely distinguishable from the monkeys who scream and chatter in the treetops.”
It is true that I never visited the island myself. But I didn't need to. The interior of my own mind seethed with equal richness, fecundity, and inventiveness.
Yes, I was the authoress of many an unprecedented device for the extraction of information or the exposure and execution of a traitor--and in one instance, all three! I defy any of you to surpass, for sheer ingenuity and practicality, with a touch of whimsy, my "Voice of the Thunder Owl." I feel the warmth of life again just remembering it. Picture a man-sized box, of sturdy iron, on wheels. Into the court a man--an informer, an accuser--could ride, anonymous and secure, to give his testimony against anyone at all whom he suspected of plotting against my rule. And picture, on the outside of the wheeled box, a protuberance resembling the beaked head of a huge owl, and within that protuberance, an ingenious system of sliding flutelike tubes and narrow bamboo baffles through which the accuser spoke. Those on the outside would be quite able to distinguish the words, but the voice emanating from the box--buzzing, humming, muffled and distorted--would be thoroughly unrecognizable! The pitch of the accuser's voice could even be raised or lowered by manipulation of the sliding tubes within!
What happened in a certain instance will surely make you smile. An ambitious informer had chosen the anonymity of the Thunder Owl. He was wheeled into court, and speaking through the apparatus in his reedy, buzzing, high-pitched voice, proceeded to accuse his father of being a traitor, and his mother of hiding the father's traitorous activities.
This was more than the court could stomach! The crimes of the parents were one thing, but the grotesque lapse in filial piety, especially against a mother, was another altogether. The mother-incriminating informer was told that the court would have to recess for a short time until it reached a decision, and that he was to remain safely inside the box until then. The box was then wheeled into the courtyard and left there. After several weeks of deliberation, a verdict of guilt against the parents was delivered. The crying and screaming from within the box, distorted by the Voice of the Thunder Owl, had lasted nearly ten days, so it was said. The informer himself was found posthumously guilty of transgression of the bounds of filial respect. It is imperative that certain standards are vigilantly maintained!
But I must admit to a nearly overwhelming envy that I have no doubt Chief Minister Li Lin-fu--himself no "slouch" (as you in the future might say) at ingenious methods, mechanisms and systems--would share. I speak, of course of the Moon Door in your shared electronic dream you call the Game of Thrones.
The Moon Door is a thing of transcendent beauty. No spikes, no blades, no crushing weights or wicked screw devices. Just air, with puffy white drifting clouds and distant rocks below, the Moon Door itself nothing more elaborate than a big hole in the elegant stone floor of a great throne room of a great castle, high, high, high on a craggy mountain. The throne room with its dreadful beautiful Moon Door occupies an outcropping of solid rock protruding out over empty space, a decorative but only partial stone railing embracing the hole. And always a cold wind rising from it, lifting one's hair, one's clothing. To look at the Moon Door is to feel one's foot stepping off into nothing, and the thrill of the body, still living, breathing, and intact, built for solid ground beneath it, beginning its plunge. Only the gentlest push is needed. Just the slightest loss of balance, a tip, a slip, a stumble.
Of course I am envious.
And oh, I fret over the fate of the imp, Tyrion Lannister. Would that I could transport him to my own court. I would make him a monk of the White Cloud Sect, and I would dress him in robes, and I would have him walk alongside the tallest of the monks, the man who towers over all the others, my very own Tibetan monk-magician holy man Hsueh-Huai-i
Do stop by. I am in an excellent mood!
And likely to remain so. For now.