Ayaou placed a platter of steamed buns filled with a sweat bean paste on the table. Ping took one between his chopsticks and held it in front of his mouth. “It is a long story,” he said. “After the last Ming emperor hung himself, two Chinese generals named Wu and Li met in battle with their armies to see who would sit on the Dragon throne. To gain an advantage, Wu made a mistake by seeking help from the Manchu.” Ping tore off half the bun with his teeth and sucked at the beans paste that filled the hollow space inside.
“Robert, you are a lucky man,” Ping said, as he finished the steamed bun.
“Don’t forget, I’m trading Ayaou’s food to learn more about the Ch’ing Dynasty.”
“Of course.” Ping popped a ribbon of seaweed into his mouth. There were three types of tofu on the table. He selected a piece of each. “Dorgon, the commander of the Manchu army, waited until the armies of Li and Wu were battered senseless. When the earth was soaked with Han blood, Dorgon’s army slaughtered the survivors.
“A few days later, Dorgon arrived in Peking and claimed the throne for his six-year-old Khan, Shunzhi, who became China’s emperor instead of just emperor of the Manchu people.”
Ayaou set a bowl on the table filled with fresh green beans she had stir fried with peanut oil, ginger and garlic. Master Ping used his chopsticks to pick one. “So fresh; so crunchy; so much flavor.” He rolled his eyes as he chewed. His chopsticks flashed back and forth from the string bean bowl to his wide mouth.
“You can’t leave me hanging like this,” Robert said. “I want to hear the rest of the story.”
Ayaou poured Master Ping a cup of jasmine tea. He drank half. “The Manchu held power for three reasons. The first is the structure of the Manchu army. It was organized into eight banner armies and through these eight armies they controlled China.”
A steamed fish arrived, head and all. Ping used his chopsticks to peel back the skin and selected pieces of the white meat that the chopsticks plucked from the bones.
“The second reason is that the Manchu leaders were absorbed into the larger Han majority by not changing the way the Ming Dynasty ruled the country. The Manchu adopted Han ways.
“The third is that a balance of Taoism and Confucianism influences the way the Chinese think. Because of that, the Manchu were allowed to rule China.”
Master Ping leaned back in his chair, patted his swollen belly and belched. He looked contented. “I am stuffed,” he said. “Ayaou, you are trying to make me into a fat man.” He stifled a yawn. “It is getting late. I must be on my way.” He stood and walked to the front door.
When he reached the door, he looked back. “Do not forget this fact. The Manchu fear the Han will depose the Ch’ing Dynasty. That is the reason so few Han hold important positions in the government and army.
“The Ch’ing often hires foreigners to run important parts of the government and to command elements of the imperial army as General Ward does near Shanghai. If you stay in China long enough, you will see for yourself. The Manchu may even offer you a position.”
“Does the Dynasty pay more than I earn as an interpreter for the British Consulate?”
Ping’s bushy eyebrows danced. “Robert, I’ve heard that foreigners working for China are well rewarded. I do not know how much. Are you planning to work for the Dynasty?”
“It was a thought,” Robert said.
“The emperor would be lucky to have you. You understand the Chinese and do not judge them like most foreigners. You do not want to exploit China or convert the Chinese to become Christians. I appreciate the fact that you have always treated me as an equal. No other Westerner has done that.”
* * *
Months later in Canton, Robert was not surprised when he was approached by Heng-ch’i, the Hoppo for Canton, along with Governor General Lao Ch’ung-kuang.
They offered him a position as the new Deputy Commissioner of Customs for Canton, the same job Horatio Lay held in Shanghai. Horatio had recently left the British consulate to work for the Dynasty.
He knew Horatio. They had met in 1854.
He was pleased to discover that if he accepted the position, his pay would leap from five hundred to fifteen hundred pounds a year—a three-hundred percent increase.
It didn’t take long to decide. On May 29, 1859, he turned in his resignation to the British Consul.
Links to Reviews for "Our Hart"
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction