Leaves from my Chinese Scrapbook/Chapter 3

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A contemporaneous account of Yicong, Prince Dun.



Of the three surviving brothers of the late Emperor Hsien Fêng, the one best known to foreigners is of course His Imperial Highness Kung Ch'in-wang, usually referred to in Chinese as the Sixth Prince. His younger brother Ch'un, the Seventh Prince, and father of the reigning Emperor, is less familiar to us, and for many years was credited with being the uncompromising foe of foreigners. This may have been true in a political sense, though recent events tell a far more favourable tale; and we are able to recall at least one instance in which the Seventh Prince, who happened to be staying at the same temple as a foreign gentleman intent on botanical researches, treated him with the utmost courtesy and cordiality, even going so far as to appoint an hour to receive him for a friendly conversation and the inevitable cup of tea. The position of Prince Ch'un at Court is, of course, of an exceedingly difficult and delicate nature. It is probable that when the Emperor attains his majority the Seventh Prince may be raised to the otium cum dignitate of T'ai Shang Huang-ti ("Emperor above the Emperor"), in which he would hold precisely the same position quoad his son as an Empress-Dowager towards the reigning monarch. But, as matters stand at present, it is impossibe for him to see his son except in private and in an informal manner. Were he to attend Court in public he would either have to k'o-t'ou to his own child—which is a sufficiently horrifying idea to a Chinese—or the Emperor would have to k'o-t'ou to one of his own subjects—which would be an equal outrage on propriety. He, therefore, only sees his son unofficially, and devotes himself to supervising the lad's education in the privacy of the inner apartments. But there is yet another member of the Imperial fraternity, the eldest of the three, who is known as the Fifth Prince. This gentleman lives in a rather tumble-down-looking palace with green tiles just inside the Ch'i-hua Men, and is said to be a very original character. He holds the sinecure post of President of the Tsung Jên Fu, or Court of the Imperial Clan—a department which regulates all affairs relating to the Emperor's kindred, and preserves the Yü Tieh or Genealogical Record. In this capacity he has the title of Tsung Ch'ing, or Prince-regulator of the Affairs of the Imperial Clan. The Prince is both popular and poor. Many are the stories told at the capital about the escapades of the Prince of Tun. On one occasion he went to the palace in a very seedy sedan-chair. After he had been there some time the Prince of Kung arrived, and also went in for audience. While the latter was engaged inside, the Prince of Tun came out again, and espied the handsome palanquin of his younger brother. "Whose is this chair?" he asked the attendants. "It belongs to the Sixth Prince," was the reply. "Just the one I wanted," rejoined His Imperial Highness, and before the servants of Prince Kung could recover from their surprise the Fifth Prince stepped nimbly into his brother's chair, and was carried off in triumph. Whether the Sixth Prince saw the point of the joke when he came out and found the shabby equipage that had been left behind in the place of his own handsome turn-out, history does not record; but this much is vouched for, that, sooner than accept the exchange, His Imperial Highness trudged back to his palace on foot. Soon afterwards the brothers met, and the interview is described as having been like that of the two augurs who did not laugh. Not a word was said about the elder Prince's escapade, and the demeanour of the two was characterised by the most scrupulous solemnity and politeness. Sometimes, however, the Prince of Tun's vagaries take a more generous form. One day, so the story goes, a very poor carter, with a cart of the worst and most rickety description, and drawn by a donkey instead of the mule which is employed by all but the very poorest, was hailed by a shabby-looking person about half a mile from the palace of the Prince of Tun. The shabby man took the inside place, and began to chat with the carter, who was sitting, as usual, on the shaft. The conversation turned upon the Imperial family; and the fare, who was apparently a stranger in Peking, evinced a good deal of curiosity to hear all about the much-talked-of Prince of Tun. The carter, who, like the rest of his race, was a gossipy, simple sort of man, informed the stranger of everything he knew. The Prince of Kung, he said, was not very popular; he had the reputation of receiving too many presents, and enriching himself at the expense of the people. But the Prince of Tun, he thought, was not open to that sort of charge. "What kind of a person is the Fifth Prince?" inquired the shabby man. "A very good man indeed," replied the carter. "And does he never take bribes?" pursued the fare. "Not he," was the reply; "but people do say that he sometimes waylays the fine presents that are being carried to the Prince of Kung, and keeps them for himself—just by way of a joke, you know; and of course the Prince of Kung does not dare object." This idea seemed to amuse the stranger vastly. Then the carter asked where he should set him down. "Drive me to the Liu-yeh Fu" (Prince Kung's palace), said the fare. When they were within a reasonable distance of the door the carter stopped. The stranger asked why he did not go on. The carter replied that it was not permitted to go farther in that direction. The shabby person, however, insisted on his proceeding, and the carter eventually did so, protesting that if he got into trouble his fare should bear the blame. In a few minutes the dirty cart, with the donkey, and the shabby man inside, drew up at the palace of the Sixth Prince. The front doors were immediately flung open, and a cry was raised by all the servants in attendance, "The Fifth Prince has arrived!" The carter looked round in trepidation for the approaching cortège, and heartily wished himself a mile underground; when his shabby fare, jumping out, indulged in a good-natured laugh at the poor man's terror, telling him he need not fear, for he was no other than the Prince of Tun himself. That was the last occasion, however, on which the carter drove that cart and donkey, for the next day the Fifth Prince sent him a present of a new and handsome vehicle, with a good stout mule, by means of which he has been earning a comfortable living ever since. Stories of this kind, be they strictly true in every particular or not, are constantly told about the Prince of Tun, and we may see in him a member of the Imperial family who, without any political position to compare with that of his more illustrious brothers, has achieved an amount of popularity amongst the common people that cannot be without its value to the reigning dynasty.