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The Emperor Yuentsoong, of the dynasty Chow, was the most
magnificent of the long-descended succession of Chinese sove
reigns. On his first accession to the throne, his character was so
little understood, that a conspiracy was set on foot among tho
yellow-caps, or eunuchs, to put out his eyes, and place upon the
throne the rebel Szema, in whose warlike hands, they asserted,
the empire would more properly maintain its ancient glory. The
gravity and reserve which these myrmidons of the palace had construed
into stupidity and fear, soon assumed another complexion,
however. The eunuchs silently disappeared; the mandarins and
princes whom they had seduced from their allegiance, were made
loyal subjects by a generous pardon; and in a few days after the
period fixed upon for the consummation of the plot, Yuentsoong
set forth in complete armor at the head of his troops to give battle
to the rebel in the mountains.

In Chinese annals this first enterprise of the youthful Yuentsoong
is recorded with great pomp and particularity. Szema was
a Tartar prince of uncommon ability, young like the emperor,
and, during the few last imbecile years of the old sovereign, he
had gathered strength in his rebellion, till now he was at the head


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of ninety thousand men, all soldiers of repute and tried valor.
The historian has unfortunately dimmed the emperor's fame to
European eyes, by attributing his wonderful achievements in this
expedition to his superiority in arts of magic. As this account
of his exploits is only prefatory to our tale, we will simply give
the reader an idea of the style of the historian, by translating literally
a passage or two of his description of the battle:—

“Szema now took refuge within a cleft of the mountain, and
Yuentsoong, upon his swift steed, outstripping the body-guard in
his ardor, dashed amid the paralyzed troops with poised spear, his
eyes fixed only on the rebel. There was a silence of an instant,
broken only by the rattling hoofs of the intruder, and then, with
dishevelled hair and waving sword, Szema uttered a fearful imprecation.
In a moment the wind rushed, the air blackened, and
with the suddenness of a fallen rock, a large cloud enveloped the
rebel, and innumerable men and horses issued out of it. Wings
flapped against the eyes of the emperor's horse, hellish noises
screamed in his ears, and, completely beyond control, the animal
turned and fled back through the narrow pass, bearing his imperial
master safe into the heart of his army.

“Yuentsoong, that night, commanded some of his most expert
soldiers to scale the beetling heights of the ravine, bearing upon
their backs the blood of swine, sheep, and dogs, with other impure
things, and these they were ordered to shower upon the
combatants at the sound of the imperial clarion. On the following
morning, Szema came forth again to offer battle, with flags
displayed, drums beating, and shouts of triumph and defiance.
As on the day previous, the bold emperor divided, in his impatience,
rank after rank of his own soldiery, and, followed closely
by his body-guard, drove the rebel army once more into their


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fastness. Szema sat upon his war-horse as before, entrenched
amid his officers and ranks of the tallest Tartar spearmen, and
as the emperor contended hand to hand with one of the opposing
rebels, the magic imprecation was again uttered, the air again
filled with cloudy horsemen and chariots, and the mountain shaken
with discordant thunder. Backing his willing steed, the emperor
blew a long sharp note upon his silver clarion, and in an
instant the sun broke through the darkness, and the air seemed
filled with paper men, horses of straw, and phantoms dissolving
into smoke. Yuentsoong and Szema now stood face to face, with
only mortal aid and weapons.”

The historian goes on to record that the two armies suspended
hostilities at the command of their leaders, and that the emperor
and his rebel subject having engaged in single combat, Yeuntsoong
was victorious, and returned to his capital with the formidable
enemy, whose life he had spared, riding beside him like a
brother. The conqueror's career, for several years after this,
seems to have been a series of exploits of personal valor, and the
Tartar prince shared in all his dangers and pleasures, his inseparable
friend. It was during this period of romantic friendship
that the events occurred which have made Yuentsoong one of the
idols of Chinese poetry.

By the side of a lake in a distant province of the empire,
stood one of the imperial palaces of pleasure, seldom visited, and
almost in ruins. Hither, in one of his moody periods of repose
from war, came the conqueror Yuentsoong, for the first time in
years separated from his faithful Szema. In disguise, and with
only one or two attendants, he established himself in the long
silent halls of his ancestor Tsinchemong, and with his boat upon
the lake, and his spear in the forest, seemed to find all the amusement


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of which his melancholy was susceptible. On a certain day
in the latter part of April, the emperor had set his sail to a fragrant
south wind, and reclining on the cushions of his bark,
watched the shore as it softly and silently glided past, and, the lake
being entirely encircled by the imperial forest, he felt immersed in
what he believed to be the solitude of a deserted paradise. After
skirting the fringed sheet of water in this manner for several
hours, he suddenly observed that he had shot through a streak of
peach-blossoms floating from the shore, and at the same moment
he became conscious that his boat was slightly headed off by
a current setting outward. Putting up his helm, he returned to
the spot, and beneath the drooping branches of some luxuriant
willows, thus early in leaf, he discovered the mouth of an inlet,
which, but for the floating blossoms it brought to the lake, would
have escaped the notice of the closest observer. The emperor
now lowered his sail, unshipped the slender mast, and betook him
to the oars, and as the current was gentle, and the inlet wider
within the mouth, he sped rapidly on, through what appeared to
be but a lovely and luxuriant vale of the forest. Still, those
blushing betrayers of some flowering spot beyond, extended like
a rosy clue before him, and with impulse of muscles swelled and
indurated in warlike exercise, the swift keel divided the besprent
mirror winding temptingly onward, and, for a long hour, the royal
oarsman untiringly threaded this sweet vein of the wilderness.

Resting a moment on his oars while the slender bark still kept
her way, he turned his head toward what seemed to be an opening
in the forest on the left, and in the same instant the boat ran,
head on, to the shore, the inlet at this point almost doubling on
its course. Beyond, by the humming of bees, and the singing of
birds, there should be a spot more open than the tangled wilder


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ness he had passed, and disengaging his prow from the alders, he
shoved the boat again into the stream, and pulled round a high
rock, by which the inlet seemed to have been compelled to curve
its channel. The edge of a bright green meadow now stole into
the perspective, and, still widening with his approach, disclosed a
slightly rising terrace clustered with shrubs, and studded here and
there with vases; and farther on, upon the same side of the
stream, a skirting edge of peach-trees, loaded with the gay blossoms
which had guided him hither.

Astonished at these signs of habitation in what was well understood
to be a privileged wilderness, Yuentsoong kept his boat in
mid-stream, and with his eyes vigilantly on the alert, slowly
made headway against the current. A few strokes with his oars,
however, traced another curve of the inlet, and brought into view
a grove of ancient trees scattered over a gently ascending lawn,
beyond which, hidden by the river till now by the projecting
shoulder of a mound, lay a small pavilion with gilded pillars,
glittering like fairy-work in the sun. The emperor fastened his
boat to a tree leaning over the water, and with his short spear in
his hand, bounded upon the shore, and took his way toward the
shining structure, his heart beating with a feeling of wonder and
interest altogether new. On a nearer approach, the bases of the
pillars seemed decayed by time, and the gilding weather-stained
and tarnished, but the trellised porticoes on the southern aspect
were laden with flowering shrubs, in vases of porcelain, and caged
birds sang between the pointed arches, and there were manifest
signs of luxurious taste, elegance, and care.

A moment, with an indefinable timidity, the emperor paused
before stepping from the green sward upon the marble floor of the
pavilion, and in that moment a curtain was withdrawn from the


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door, and a female, with step suddenly arrested by the sight of
the stranger, stood motionless before him. Ravished with her
extraordinary beauty, and awe-struck with the suddenness of the
apparition and the novelty of the adventure, the emperor's tongue
cleaved to his mouth, and ere he could summon resolution, even
for a gesture of courtesy, the fair creature had fled within, and
the curtain closed the entrance as before.

Wishing to recover his composure, so strangely troubled, and
taking it for granted that some other inmate of the house would
soon appear, Yuentsoong turned his steps aside to the grove, and
with his head bowed, and his spear in the hollow of his arm, tried
to recall more vividly the features of the vision he had seen. He
had walked but a few paces, when there came toward him from
the upper skirt of the grove, a man of unusual stature and erectness,
with white hair, unbraided on his shoulders, and every sign
of age except infirmity of step and mien. The emperor's habitual
dignity had now rallied, and on his first salutation, the countenance
of the old man softened, and he quickened his pace to meet
and give him welcome.

“You are noble?” he said, with confident inquiry.

Yuentsoong colored slightly.

“I am,” he replied, “Lew-melin, a prince of the empire.”

“And by what accident here?”

Yuentsoong explained the clue of the peach-blossoms, and
represented himself as exiled for a time to the deserted palace
upon the lakes.

“I have a daughter,” said the old man, abruptly, “who has
never looked on human face, save mine.”

“Pardon me!” replied his visitor; “I have thoughtlessly intruded
on her sight, and a face more heavenly fair—”


Page 182

The emperor hesitated, but the old man smiled encouragingly.

“It is time,” he said, “that I should provide a younger defender
for my bright Teh-leen, and Heaven has sent you in the
season of peach-blossoms, with provident kindness.[1] You have
frankly revealed to me your name and rank. Before I offer you
the hospitality of my roof, I must tell you mine. I am Chootseen,
the outlaw, once of your own rank, and the general of the
Celestial army.”

The emperor started, remembering that this celebrated rebel
was the terror of his father's throne.

“You have heard my history,” the old man continued. “I
had been, before my rebellion, in charge of the imperial palace on
the lake. Anticipating an evil day, I secretly prepared this retreat
for my family; and when my soldiers deserted me at the
battle of Ke chow, and a price was set upon my head, hither I
fled with my women and children; and the last alive is my beautiful
Teh-leen. With this brief outline of my life, you are at
liberty to leave me as you came, or to enter my house, on the
condition that you become the protector of my child.”

The emperor eagerly turned toward the pavilion, and with a
step as light as his own, the erect and stately outlaw hastened to
life the curtain before him. Leaving his guest for a moment in
the outer apartment, he entered to an inner chamber in search of
his daughter, whom he brought, panting with fear, and blushing
with surprise and delight, to her future lover and protector. A
portion of an historical tale so delicate as the description of the
heroine is not work for imitators, however, and we must copy
strictly the portrait of the matchless Teh-leen, as drawn by Lepih,


Page 183
the Anacreon of Chinese poetry, and the contemporary and
favorite of Yuentsoong.

“Teh-leen was born while the morning star shone upon the
bosom of her mother. Her eye was like the unblemished blue
lily, and its light like the white gem unfractured. The plumblossom
is most fragrant when the cold has penetrated its stem,
and the mother of Teh-leen had known sorrow. The head of her
child drooped in thought, like a violet overladen with dew. Bewildering
was Teh-leen. Her mouth's corners were dimpled, yet
pensive. The arch of her brows was like the vein in the tulip's
heart, and the lashes shaded the blushes on her cheek. With the
delicacy of a pale rose, her complexion put to shame the floating
light of day. Her waist, like a thread in fineness, seemed ready
to break; yet was it straight and erect, and feared not the fanning
breeze; and her shadowy grace was as difficult to delineate,
as the form of the white bird rising from the ground by moonlight.
The natural gloss of her hair resembled the uncertain
sheen of calm water, yet without the false did of unguents. The
native intelligence of her mind seemed to have gained strength
by retirement, and he who beheld her, thought not of her as human.
Of rare beauty, of rarer intellect was Teh-leen, and her
heart responded to the poet's lute.”

We have not space, nor could we, without copying directly
from the admired Le-pih, venture to describe the bringing of
Teh-leen to court, and her surprise at finding herself the favorite
of the emperor. It is a romantic circumstance, besides, which
has had its parallels in other countries. But the sad sequel to
the loves of poor Teh-leen is but recorded in the cold page of history;
and if the poet, who wound up the climax of her perfections,
with her susceptibility to his lute, embalmed her sorrows in


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verse, he was probably too politic to bring it ever to light. Pass
we to these neglected and unadorned passages of her history.

Yuentsoong's nature was passionately devoted and confiding;
and, like two brothers with one favorite sister, lived together
Teh-leen, Szema, and the emperor. The Tartar prince, if his
heart knew a mistress before the arrival of Teh-leen at the palace,
owned afterward no other than her; and fearless of check or suspicion
from the noble confidence and generous friendship of
Yuentsoong, he seemed to live but for her service, and to have
neither energies nor ambition except for the winning of her
smiles. Szema was of great personal beauty, frank when it did
not serve him to be wily, bold in his pleasures, and of manners
almost femininely soft and voluptuous. He was renowned as a
soldier, and for Teh-leen, he became a poet and master of the
lute; and, like all men formed for ensnaring the heart of women,
he seemed to forget himself in the absorbing devotion of his idolatry.
His friend, the emperor, was of another mould. Yuentsoong's
heart had three chambers—love, friendship, and glory.
Teh-leen was but a third in his existence, yet he loved her—the
sequel will show how well! In person he was less beautiful than
majestic, of large stature, and with a brow and lip naturally stern
and lofty. He seldom smiled, even upon Teh-leen, whom he
would watch for hours in pensive and absorbed delight; but his
smile, when it did awake, broke over his sad countenance like
morning. All men loved and honored Yuentsoong, and all men,
except only the emperor, looked on Szema with antipathy. To
such natures as the former, women give all honor and approbation;
but for such as the latter, they reserve their weakness!

Wrapt up in his friend and mistress, and reserved in his intercourse
with his counsellors, Yuentsoong knew not that, throughout


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the imperial city, Szema was called “the kieu,” or robber-bird,
and his fair Teh-leen openly charged with dishonor. Going
out alone to hunt as was his custom, and having left his signet
with Szema, to pass and repass through the private apartments at his
pleasure, his horse fell with him unaccountably in the open field.
Somewhat superstitious, and remembering that good spirits sometimes
“knit the grass,” when other obstacles fail to bar our way
into danger, the emperor drew rein and returned to his palace. It
was an hour after noon, and having dismissed his attendants at
the city gate, he entered by a postern to the imperial garden, and
bethought himself of the concealed couch in a cool grot by a
fountain (a favorite retreat, sacred to himself and Teh-leen),
where he fancied it would be refreshing to sleep away the sultriness
of the remaining hours till evening. Sitting down by the
side of the murmuring fount, he bathed his feet, and left his slippers
on the lip of the basin to be unencumbered in his repose
within, and so with unechoing step entered the resounding grotto.
Alas! there slumbered the faithless friend with the guilty Teh-leen
upon his bosom!

Grief struck through the noble heart of the emperor like a
sword in cold blood. With a word he could consign to torture
and death the robber of his honor, but there was agony in his
bosom deeper than revenge. He turned silently away, recalled
his horse and huntsmen, and, outstripping all, plunged on
through the forest till night gathered around him.

Yuentsoong had been absent many days from his capitol, and
his subjects were murmuring their fears for his safety, when
a messenger arrived to the counsellors, informing them of the appointment
of the captive Tartar prince to the government of the
province of Szechuen, the second honor of the Celestial empire.


Page 186
A private order accompanied the announcement, commanding the
immediate departure of Szema for the scene of his new authority.
Inexplicable as was this riddle to the multitude, there were those
who read it truly by their knowledge of the magnanimous soul of
the emperor; and among these was the crafty object of his generosity.
Losing no time, he set forward with great pomp for
Szechuen, and in their joy to see him no more at the palace, the
slighted princes of the empire forgave his unmerited advancement.
Yuentsoong returned to his capitol; but to the terror of his
counsellors and people, his hair was blanched white as the head
of an old man! He was pale as well, but he was cheerful and
kind beyond his wont, and to Teh-leen untiring in pensive and
humble attentions. He pleaded only impaired health and restless
slumbers as an apology for nights of solitude. Once, Teh-leen
penetrated to his lonely chamber, but by the dim night-lamp
she saw that the scroll over her window[2] was changed, and
instead of the stimulus to glory which formerly hung in golden
letters before his eyes, there was a sentence written tremblingly
in black:—

“The close wing of love covers the death-throb of honor.”

Six months from this period the capital was thrown into a
tumult with the intelligence that the province of Szechuen was in
rebellion, and Szema at the head of a numerous army on his way


Page 187
to seize the throne of Yuentsoong. This last sting betrayed the
serpent even to the forgiving emperor, and tearing the reptile at
last from his heart, he entered with the spirit of other times into
the warlike preparations. The imperial army was in a few days
on its march, and at Keo-yang the opposing forces met and prepared
for encounter.

With a dread of the popular feeling towards Teh-leen, Yuentsoong
had commanded for her a close litter, and she was borne
after the imperial standard in the centre of the army. On the
eve before the battle, ere the watch-fires were lit, the emperor
came to her tent, set apart from his own, and with the delicate
care and kind gentleness from which he never varied, inquired
how her wants were supplied, and bade her, thus early, farewell
for the night; his own custom of passing among his soldiers on
the evening previous to an engagement, promising to interfere
with what was usually his last duty before retiring to his couch.
Teh-leen on this occasion seemed moved by some irrepressible
emotion, and as he rose to depart, she fell forward upon her face,
and bathed his feet with her tears. Attributing it to one of those
excesses of feeling to which all, but especially hearts ill at ease,
are liable, the noble monarch gently raised her, and, with repeated
efforts at reassurance, committed her to the hands of her
women. His own heart beat far from tranquilly, for, in the
excess of his pity for her grief he had unguardedly called her by
one of the sweet names of their early days of love—strange word
now upon his lip—and it brought back, spite of memory and truth,
happiness that would not be forgotten!

It was past midnight, and the moon was riding high in heaven,
when the emperor, returning between the lengthening watch-fires,
sought the small lamp which, suspended like a star above his own


Page 188
tent, guided him back from the irregular mazes of the camp.
Paled by the intense radiance of the moonlight, the small globe
of alabaster at length became apparent to his weary eye, and
with one glance at the peaceful beauty of the heavens, he parted
the curtained door beneath it, and stood within. The Chinese
historian asserts that a bird, from whose wing Teh-leen had
once plucked an arrow, restoring it to liberty and life, and in
grateful attachment to her destiny, removed the lamp from the
imperial tent, and suspended it over hers. The emperor
stood beside her couch. Startled at his inadvertent error, he
turned to retire; but the lifted curtain let in a flood of moonlight
upon the sleeping features of Teh-leen, and like dew-drops,
the undried tears glistened in her silken lashes. A lamp burned
faintly in the inner apartment of the tent, and her attendants
slept soundly. His soft heart gave way. Taking up the lamp,
he held it over his beautiful mistress, and once more gazed passionately
and unrestrainedly on her unparalleled beauty. The
past—the early past was alone before him. He forgave her—
there, as she slept, unconscious of the throbbing of his injured,
but noble heart, so close beside her—he forgave her in the long
silent abysses of his soul! Unwilling to wake her from her
tranquil slumber, but promising to himself, from that hour, such
sweets of confiding love as had well nigh been lost to him for
ever, he imprinted one kiss upon the parted lips of Teh-leen, and
sought his couch for slumber.

Ere daybreak the emperor was aroused by one of his attendants
with news too important for delay. Szema, the rebel, had
been arrested in the imperial camp, disguised, and on his way
back to his own forces, and like wild-fire, the information had
spread among the soldiery, who in a state of mutinous excitement,


Page 189
were with difficulty restrained from rushing upon the tent of Teh-leen.
At the door of his tent, Yuentsoong found messengers
from the alarmed princes and officers of the different commands,
imploring immediate aid and the imperial presence to allay the
excitement, and while the emperor prepared to mount his horse,
the guard arrived with the Tartar prince, ignominiously tied, and
bearing marks of rough usage from his indignant captors.

“Loose him!” cried the emperor, in a voice of thunder.

The cords were severed, and with a glance whose ferocity expressed
no thanks, Szema reared himself up to his fullest height,
and looked scornfully around him. Daylight had now broke,
and as the group stood upon an eminence in sight of the whole
army, shouts began to ascend, and the armed multitude, breaking
through all restraint, rolled in toward the centre. Attracted by
the commotion, Yuentsoong turned to give some orders to those
near him, when Szema suddenly sprung upon an officer of the
guard, wrenched his drawn sword from his grasp, and in an
instant was lost to sight in the tent of Teh-leen. A sharp
scream, a second of thought, and forth again rushed the desperate
murderer, with his sword flinging drops of blood, and ere a
foot stirred in the paralyzed group, the avenging cimeter of
Yuentsoong had cleft him to the chin.

A hush, as if the whole army was struck dumb by a bolt from
heaven, followed this rapid tragedy. Dropping the polluted
sword from his hand, the emperor, with uncertain step, and the
pallor of death upon his countenance, entered the fatal tent.

He came no more forth that day. The army was marshalled
by the princes, and the rebels were routed with great slaughter;
but Yuentsoong never more wielded sword. “He pined to
death,” says the historian, “with the wane of the same moon
that shone upon the forgiveness of Teh-leen.”


The season of peach-blossoms was the only season of marriage in ancient


The most common decorations of rooms, halls and temples, in China, are
ornamental scrolls or labels of colored paper, or wood painted and gilded, and
hung over doors or windows, and inscribed with a line or couplet conveying
some allusion to the circumstances of the inhabitant, or some pious or philosophical
axiom. For instance, a poetical one recorded by Dr. Morrison:—

“From the pine forest the azute dragon ascends to the milky way,”

typical of the prosperous man arising to wealth and honors.