20th cen­tury


Asian Geographic - - Front Page -

The caste sys­tem is abol­ished in 1962, but dis­crim­i­na­tion thrives up till to­day

carv­ing his­tory

1600 BCE

ȑȑprim­i­tive bronze seals are in­vented, with pic­to­graphic char­ac­ters and sim­ple pat­terns

221 BCE

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

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