Sunday, 7 October 2007

Invited by the Empress of China

Recently, on a beautiful early September morning, I payed a visit to Beijing's Summer Palace (yiheyuan).

I had received an invitation to an audience with the Empress Dowager Cixi.

I was in company of three other elegant ladies from various embassies in Peking.

At the Summer Palace, we were accompanied by an eunuch guard and greeted by two young Princesses.

"None of us had ever been present at an audience. We all had heard much of the Empress Dowager Cixi, and above all things else we were anxious to see her whom they called the "The Dragon Lady."

"As we looked at the Empress Dowager seated upon her throne (...) awed by her majestic bearing and surroundings, we involuntarily gave the three courtesies required from those entering the imperial presence. We could not but feel that this stately woman who sat upon the throne was every inch an empress. In her hands rested the weal or woe of one-third of the human race. Her brilliant black eyes seemed to read our thoughts. Indeed she prides herself upon the fact that at a glance she can read the character of every one that appears before her."

Do you follow me?

The above real story took place in summer 1903.

In reality, my invitation to the Summer Palace was not by the Empress herself but by CCTV, the biggest Chinese television company. After they had made a documentary about the Forbidden City, they now are working on a documentary about the Summer Palace. Four foreign actresses were wanted for the scene in 1903, when Empress Cixi met ladies from foreign embassies for an audience in her Summer Palace. This took place after the boxer rebellion in Beijing against foreigners and foreign-influences.

My western colleagues, an American, a Spanish and a Russian lady, and I enjoyed our new job a lot. Although we had to start early in the morning around 3am and 5am respectively for make-up and hair. The dressing was done later on the scene - with tourists taking pictures of us.

The End...

Our last picture shows us, the foreign diplomatic ladies, together with Empress Cixi and handsome director Wang Wei Da in front of the last setting, the Hall of Longevity at the Summer Palace in Beijing.

The documentary will be on air on Channel CCTV 1 next year, in February or March, reaching out to 1,300,000,000 Chinese and some foreigners.

The Summer Palace was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1998.

more links:
Court Life in China by Isaac Taylor Headland (source of the quotation)
About Cixi or TzuhSi
About Boxer Rebellion
About Summer Palace

more pictures:
View my flickr Set


julia said...

would love to see the doco. thanks for the insights.

Princess Haiku said...

You might like to read the book, "Empress" by Shan Sa.

Alkemie said...

This must have been SUCH a fun project! There are very few woman monarchs in China's long history and the dowager empress is certainly a fasicnating one. I was fascinated by her story. There many books about her but this one below is very accurate about her life. Fascinating read.

The Dragon Empress: The life and times of Tzu-hsi, Empress Dowager of China, 1835-1908
by Marina Warner (Author)


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