Cixi, a Gour­mand on the Lam

慈禧西逃中的故事

Special Focus - - Contents - Zhou Xinx­ing 周新行

In 1900, when the EightNa­tion Al­liance con­quered Beijing, 13 roy­als and of­fi­cials from the im­pe­rial court, in­clud­ing Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi and Em­peror Guangxu, fled the city in three horse- drawn car­riages and evac­u­ated all the way to Western China.

Pre­cious Corn Soup

Along the way, the shop­keep­ers shut up their business to escape from the dis­as­ter caused by the de­feated troops and the Box­ers ( the Boxer Re­bel­lion a. k. a. the Yi­het­uan Move­ment). There was sim­ply nowhere to buy food, even if you had money. On the night of the evac­u­a­tion, they ar­rived at a vil­lage, and the en­tire force was ex­hausted. The coach­man sug­gested buy­ing some cow­peas and a few earns of corn from the vil­lagers for food.

After a while, the cooked cow­peas and corn soup were served on the ta­ble.

“The Em­press Dowa­ger found it dif­fi­cult to swal­low soup so plain and un­re­fined, but ev­ery­one else scram­bled for it. Em­peror Guangxu also fin­ished a bowl of soup.” Cixi’s maid Rong’er re­called, but she didn’t men­tion any­thing about oil and salt, so it is easy to pic­ture how bland and in­sipid the food was. She ul­ti­mately had to peel off the corn ker­nels for Cixi.

It was red hot in­side the car­riage, and ev­ery­one was thirsty. Cixi and her maids had to chew corn­stalks to quench their thirst. The next af­ter­noon, they ar­rived at Xiguan­shi Vil­lage in Chang­ping, a set­tle­ment of the Hui eth­nic mi­nor­ity. The Im­pe­rial Eunuch Li Liany­ing asked for a bowl of “liq­uid rice” (a cool mix­ture of boiled mil­let and beans, soaked in cool wa­ter) from a vil­lager. Cixi had no other op­tion but to take a lit­tle.

Fight­ing for a Pot of Congee On the day after Cixi fled Beijing, Yan­qing County is­sued an of­fi­cial doc­u­ment, say­ing that the lo­cal of­fi­cials on the way must give a re­cep­tion to the Em­press Dowa­ger and the Em­peror, and the stan­dard of which should be a Manchu Han Im­pe­rial Feast, “First- class Hot­pot” for each prince, and some ra­tions and for­age.

When Wu Yong, the mag­is­trate of Huailai County, re­ceived the above- men­tioned doc­u­ment, Cixi’s car­riage was only a few miles from his county. He was sud­denly stuck be­tween a rock and a hard place. Be­ing a small county mag­is­trate, how could he han­dle such a grand feast? How­ever, if he didn’t fol­low the or­der, he would of­fend the great Em­press Dowa­ger. After pon­der­ing the mat­ter for a spell, he de­cided to give it his best ef­fort and de­manded that his at­ten­dants cook rice, steam buns, bake pan­cakes and boil congee. Upon hear­ing the news, the lo­cal ban­dits in the city rushed to the

county hall, grabbed the food and stabbed the cook, leav­ing only a pot of green bean and mil­let congee. Wu Yong had to carry weapon him­self with his sub­or­di­nates to de­fend the pot of congee.

His ef­forts were even­tu­ally paid off. As soon as Cixi met Wu Yong, she asked if there was any­thing to eat. “There is only a pot of green bean and mil­let congee.” Wu Yong an­swered. “In times as hard as th­ese, a pot of congee is good enough. Why worry about the qual­ity?” Cixi said with a hint of weari­ness in her voice. Wu Yong served the congee with a pair of chop­sticks at once. Then, Li Liany­ing thrust a dif­fi­cult task onto his shoul­ders; he asked Wu Yong to find some eggs and ci­garettes for Cixi. After rum­mag­ing through the whole vil­lage with his at­ten­dants, Wu Yong only found five eggs, and he even tore off the win­dow pa­per of a vil­lager to make five ci­garettes and pre­sented them to Cixi.

Wu Yong set up a cozy bed­room in his of­fi­cial res­i­dence, so that Cixi and oth­ers could rest there. He also rum­maged through his cab­i­nets and dug out a padded jacket from his late mother for Cixi, and he also pre­pared a full dress­ing set, with combs and cos­met­ics in­side, for Cixi and her princesses. Be­sides, Wu Yong of­fered them a dozen fine white li­nen socks, so that they could change out of their socks that were lit­er­ally drenched in sweat.

Wu Yong was later pro­moted, and his of­fi­cial rank rose in­cre­men­tally. Even his cook Zhou Fu was awarded the po­si­tion of a sixth-rank of­fi­cial, all just for a bowl of hand-stretched noo­dles and a plate of stir-fried shred­ded pork.

A Pa­rade of Lo­cal Shanxi and Shaanxi Cui­sine

After stay­ing at Huailai County for three days, Cixi gath­ered more peo­ple to join her posse, with 30 car­riages and nearly a thou­sand mem­bers in to­tal. Cixi then moved on to the west, and the of­fi­cial doc­u­ments ask­ing for re­cep­tion had been sent to var­i­ous re­gions in Shanxi and Shaanxi, prov­inces yet to ar­rive on their map, in ad­vance. Hear­ing that Wu Yong had been pro­moted, the of­fi­cials in those places had a tacit un­der­stand­ing, and, with the self­im­por­tant wealthy mer­chants giv­ing alms lib­er­ally, such as taels, del­i­ca­cies and food­stuffs, they were fully pre­pared to greet Cixi and her group.

Da­tong County mag­is­trate Qi Futian had asked a chef fa­mous in his lo­cal­ity to make a spe­cialty called “Phoenix Ly­ing in the Nest,” which was a dish made of deep-fried spring chicken served with fried sweet po­tato noo­dles, eggs and tofu. Cixi liked the dish very much and asked about the name of it. At that mo­ment, Qi Futian thought it in­ap­pro­pri­ate to call it “Phoenix Ly­ing in the Nest,” so he changed the name into “Golden Phoenix Ly­ing on Pure Snow,” which was highly ap­pre­ci­ated by Cixi. In the pre­fec­ture of Taiyuan, Cixi was also pleased with a dish called “Fish- shaped Noo­dle with Crab Cream and Shark Fin” pre­sented by Shanxi Provin­cial Gov­er­nor Lu Zhongqi. Be­sides the main cour­ses, Cixi tried all sorts of lo­cal snacks and treats on the way.

In the in­ter­calary Au­gust of 1900, there were two mi­dau­tumn fes­ti­vals. Seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity to serve the Royal fam­ily, the renowned Shanxi Qiao Fam­ily of mer­chants of­fered “Snow Lo­tus Cakes” to Cixi on the sec­ond mid- au­tumn day. It was a crys­tal white pas­try with a flower shape, mean­ing to present the “flower” to the Bud­dha, as in the im­pe­rial Palace, Cixi was ad­dressed as “Lao Fo Ye” (Grand Em­press Dowa­ger), lit­er­ally mean­ing the old Bud­dha. Cixi was highly sat­is­fied with the dessert, and after she ar­rived in Xi’an in Shaanxi Prov­ince, she sent peo­ple back to the Qiao fam­ily hun­dreds of miles away to pick up more Snow Lo­tus Cakes. In the sub­se­quent mid-au­tumn fes­ti­vals, Qiao Fam­ily would send peo­ple to

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