The caste system is abolished in 1962, but discrimination thrives up till today
ȑȑprimitive bronze seals are invented, with pictographic characters and simple patterns
ȑȑthe first imperial jade seal is made for Emperor Qin Shi Huang after the unification of China
7th century or later
ȑȑthe use of personal seals for non-official but important documents becomes common
14th century or later
ȑȑpersonal seals grow popular among the masses, with artists using them to sign their work
ȑȑas handwritten signatures grow in popularity, seals fade from general use
After the show there was a traditional Chinese game called lantern-riddles. This took place in two separate halls, one for the men and one for the women. In each room were dozens of elaborate paper lanterns, stuck on which were a number of riddles in verse. The person who guessed the most answers won a prize. Among the men General Xue was the winner, naturally. Among the women, it was my grandmother.
Yang had now given General Xue a chance to appreciate his daughter’s beauty and her intelligence. The final qualification was artistic talent. Two nights later he invited the general to his house for dinner. It was a clear, warm night, with a full moon – a classic setting for listening to the qin. After dinner, the men sat on the veranda and my grandmother was summoned to play in the courtyard. Sitting under a trellis, with the scent of syringa in the air, her performance enchanted General Xue. Later he was to tell her that her playing that evening in the moonlight had captured his heart. When my mother was born, he gave her the name Bao Qin, which means “Precious Zither”.
Before the evening was over he had proposed – not to my grandmother, of course, but to her father. He did not offer marriage, only that my grandmother should become his concubine. But Yang had not expected anything else. The Xue family would have arranged a marriage for the general long before on the basis of social positions. In any case, the Yangs were too humble to provide a wife. But it was expected that a man like General Xue should take concubines. Wives were not for pleasure – that was what concubines were for. Concubines might acquire considerable power, but their social status was quite different from that of a wife. A concubine was a kind of institutionalised mistress, acquired and discarded at will.
The first my grandmother knew of her impending liaison was when her mother broke the news to her a few days before the event. My grandmother bent her head and wept. She hated the idea of being a concubine, but her father had already made the decision, and it was unthinkable to oppose one’s parents. To question a parental decision was considered “unfilial” – and to be unfilial was tantamount to treason. Even if she refused to consent to her father’s wishes, she would not be taken seriously; her action would be interpreted as indicating that she wanted to stay with her parents. The only way to say no and be taken seriously was to commit suicide. My grandmother bit her lip and said nothing. In fact, there was nothing she could say. Even to say yes would be considered unladylike, as it would be taken to imply that she was eager to leave her parents.
Seeing how unhappy she was, her mother started telling her that this was the best match possible. Her husband had told her about General Xue’s power: “In Peking they say, ‘ When General Xue stamps his foot, the whole city shakes.’” In fact, my grandmother had been rather taken with the general’s handsome, martial demeanour. And she had been flattered by all the admiring words he had said about her to her father, which were now elaborated and embroidered upon. None of the men in Yixian were as impressive as the warlord general. At fifteen, she had no idea what being a concubine really meant, and thought she could win General Xue’s love and lead a happy life.
Before the evening was over he had proposed – not to my grandmother, of course, but to her father. He did not offer marriage, only that my grandmother should become his concubine