One Ingot Short
In the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu called dumplings bobo, and they referred to the cooking of dumplings “boiling bobo” rather than “boiling dumplings.” During the Spring Festival, the first pot of “bobo” the imperial palace made was for the imperial temple.
The Manchu believed in Shamanism, and the temple was the home of their god. The Shaman god was said to be vegetarian, so the first pot of “bobo” were filled with a vegetarian stuffing. In fact, it was a pointless gesture, as they were just taken away by the eunuchs, made into jam and sold to aristocrats on business in the imperial palace.
The second pot was made for the nobility themselves. When Empress Dowager Cixi was in power, she ate dumplings with the empress and the imperial concubines on every Chinese New Year’s Eve, claiming that it stopped petty fools from gossiping. Of course, she claimed that she made them herself, but in fact, it was the eunuchs and palace maids who did everything, with the empress dowager merely making a token appearance in the kitchen.
Four small gold ingots were wrapped in dumplings in this pot. Clever eunuchs would make sure to remember which dumplings were stuffed with the gold ingots, as they were meant to be offered to the empress dowager.
Every year when they gathered to eat the dumplings, Empress Dowager Cixi would bite on her dumplings and wince with pain.
However, she was not really in pain, as she was well aware what was inside and careful not to really hurt herself. Empress Dowager Cixi would get her four gold ingots, everybody would congratulate her and she would feel lucky. Did not she know that this was all just a charade? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Anyway, they were hers to enjoy and she was used to it.
Oddly enough, in the year Empress Dowager Cixi died, she only received three gold ingots, leaving her feeling unlucky. The Qing Dynasty had reached the end of its fortunes and the eunuchs had stopped caring. Quite by accident, the remaining gold ingot was found by Empress Longyu.
Instead of revealing this, Empress Longyu quietly passed it to the eunuch in charge, and the eunuch put it discretely back into the pot, saying, “Perhaps the dumpling wrapping split open and the gold ingot ended up in the pot.” They scooped around in the pot with a ladle and found that the ingot was indeed there, making Cixi finally feel a bit better. However, by the end of the year, she had come down with malignant dysentery and although she struggled on for more than two months, the illness eventually got the better of her.
Luck does not come from ingots. During 1894, she received all four gold ingots, but China suffered a crushing defeat against the Japanese, and in 1900, she also received all four gold ingots, but the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded the empire. Luck that is merely a charade is clearly not real luck.
(From Honesty Outlook, February 2016. Translation: Trans) 里贾母打牌，总是能赢一样。她自己明不明白这是人家故意做出来的呢？知道，也不知道。反正这个头彩该她拿，她也习惯了。
● Empress Dowager Cixi 慈禧
● Empress Longyu 隆裕皇后