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Officialdom Unmasked

T.L. Yang

Publication Year: 2001

Officialdom Unmasked (官場現形記) was written by Li Boyuan in the early years of the twentieth century as the dynasty crumbled. Bizarre though they may seem, the stories told in the novel are based on true stories.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xi

Li Boyuan, author of Officialdom Unmasked, was also know as Li Baojia. He also gave himself the title of Nanting Tingzhang (the Head of the South Pavilion). Born in 1867 in Shandong Province, his ancestral home was in fact in Distric of Wujin in Jiangsu Province. He received the kind of traditional education designed for the civil examinations which ultimately lead to official ...

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1. The Importance of Passing an Examination

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pp. 1-8

There was from time immemorial, a village situated some thirty li to the south of the city in Chaoyi District, in the Tong Prefecture of Shaanxi Province. Only two clans lived in this medium-sized village, one bearing the family name of Zhao, the other that of Fang. In all, some twenty to thirty families lived there. Like their forefathers before them, their only occupation was farming. ...

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2. The Plight of an Examination Candidate

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pp. 9-17

Soon after the celebration, the local Inspector of Schools sent his attendant to inform Zhao Wen that he should go to the Provincial Capital to fill in his registration form. The Zhao family bought wine and meat, and treated the attendant to a sumptuous meal. Before the attendant left they also gave him a few hundred copper coins. Zhao Wen had no idea at all as to how he should fill in a registration form. ...

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3. The Ups and Downs in Officialdom

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pp. 18-24

Zhao Wen had been away from home for nearly three months and was eager to return. Unexpectedly, a letter from his grandfather arrived. Still anxious for his grandson to make a name for himself, he wrote this letter and sent two thousand-odd taels of silver, saying, 'It will be a joy if you succeeded, but if you have failed then you should urgently obtain by purchase the post of a Secretary and serve ...

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4. A Disaster Was Averted; A Birthday Celebration Followed

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pp. 25-33

After dinner and not before satisfying his craving for opium, the Intendant was at last ready to enter his sedan chair to go out—with much coughing and sighing. When he arrived at the Governor's residence, he was met by Hu the Civil Orderly Officer. 'The Governor is seeing a visitor, you may wait for a while before going in Has your lordship had dinner yet?' Officer Hu asked kindly. ...

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5. All for Money and Money for All

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pp. 34-41

After Third Money Purse and Earth Buddha had agreed on the terms, they parted company. On seeing the return of his third brother, the Lieutenant-Governor asked impatiently, 'How are things?' 'Don't even talk about it,' Old Three said. 'The whole thing is ruined Elder brother, you better appoint someone else to deal with it! In my view, this deal cannot succeed.' ...

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6. The Might of the Army

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pp. 42-50

When Jiang Fu entered the accounts office, the nephew could do nothing but prevaricate, 'The master has promised that your money will be paid back in full—not a copper less, but you have to wait a few days more. In any case, your family is here with you, so you cannot leave right away even if you had wanted to. The money will most certainly be repaid on the day of your departure.' ...

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7. The First Steps Towards Forging Foreign Relations

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pp. 51-57

The eastern half of Shangdong Province had gradually come under foreign influence. Fortunately, there was much harmony between China and the foreign powers, so the occasional negotiations could be peacefully settled. When the Chinese Governor arrived, the foreign governor especially dispatched a company of soldiers to welcome him. For this reason, the Governor ...

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8. Doing Business in a Brothel

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pp. 58-64

Behind the so-called teashop was a lane, packed with people going hither and thither. Particularly noticeable were the sedan chairs coming in and going out of the lane without stop. Wei told Tao, 'Inside the sedan chairs are the courtesans on call. Just look at the way they come and go! They must be doing a thriving business in the course of the night!' ...

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9. The Officials' Fear of Foreigners

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pp. 65-72

The telegram from Tao's brother-in-law stated: 'The Governor refuses to give permission for the purchase of machinery. You should negotiate a refund of the twenty thousand and hand the total sum to Circuit Intendant Wang.' Before finished reading the message, he was already so angry that his hands went icy cold. Staring straight ahead of him, he was unable to speak for a long time. ...

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10. Dishonesty Is the Best Policy

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pp. 73-79

With trepidation Hu Litu opened the telegram thinking that the matter about the purchase of machines must have come to a head. But when he read the message, he was relieved to find it was not a matter of any significance. He said to his colleagues, 'My life will surely be taken away by foreigners. Don't you doubt my words, just wait and see!' ...

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11. A Box of Refreshments for an Official Post

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pp. 80-89

When Intendant Wang heard that a monk was outside to pay him a call, he frowned and complained, 'How do I get a monk out of the blue?', turning to his attendant, he said. 'You go and tell him, I have nothing to do with Buddhists or Taoists. Tell him to go somewhere else.' Even as the Intendant was debating what he should do, the monk was getting ...

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12. A Military Expedition on Floating Brothels

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pp. 90-98

Dai Dali lost his official appointment because of Zhou Yin's intervention. Though he hated Zhou Yin to the very bone marrow, he did not show a hint of it either in words or demeanour. Throughout the night, his fury prevented him from sleeping, instead he spent the whole time hatching a plot for revenge. On the pretext that he was sick, he took five days off from work. One day ...

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13. A Prostitute's Life for Fifty Dollars

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pp. 99-108

The following morning, all members of staff came over to the Commander's ship to pay respects. Though Lord Wen the Seventh was drunk the previous night, he was woken up by his servant. Having forced himself to struggle out of bed, he followed the others into the Commander's cabin. He was deeply embarrassed when he recalled the incident of the previous night, but fortunately for him, ...

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14. A Punitive Attack on the Innocent

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pp. 109-117

When the wardress saw that Orchid Fairy was dead, she immediately raised an alarm. It was an extremely serious matter for a woman prisoner to have committed suicide whilst in custody. At the risk of forfeiting her own life, the wardress lost no time in reporting the death to Magistrate Zhuang. The Magistrate was also frightened by the report. But he was an experienced ...

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15. How the Accusers Become the Accused

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pp. 118-128

Turning now to Magistrate Zhuang of Jiande District, he left Commander Hu's ship at the end of the banquet and returned to his yamen. As expected, the moment he arrived at the main entrance, numerous villagers were already kneeling beside his sedan chair begging him to redress their grievances. When the Magistrate saw this, he alighted from the sedan chair and personally ...

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16. An Officer's Theft

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pp. 129-137

You will recall the policeman of Jiande District, who recommended himself to be an attendant on Lieutenant Lu's gunboat. He changed his name to Gao Sheng, meaning high promotion. From time immemorial, all officials aspired to promotion. With a name like this, he was bound to please his new master! Since Commander Hu had restored peace to the area, he and his troops were ...

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17. Crooks vs. Crooks

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pp. 138-146

One day, the Provincial Governor's orders for Commander Hu arrived. He was commanded to use his judgement in deciding how many of his troops were required to stay behind in defence of the remaining bandits. The rest would be withdrawn and dispatched to different defence posts. He was also instructed to quickly complete all arrangements for the rehabilitation of the region and then ...

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18. No Honour Among Officials

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pp. 147-158

At long last, the time had come for Commander Hu to make his departure from the territory. Of the three hundred and eighty thousand he claimed in his inflated account, part of it had been paid, the balance awaited collection upon his return to the Provincial Capital. Though fully satisfied, the Commander was not entirely free from a guilty...

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19. How to be Corrupt and Stay Respectable

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pp. 159-168

When Intendant Guo received the copy of the charges from Lada, he saw that the list of names was very long. Starting with the Governor, the list went all the way down to petty officials, local squires, clerks and even domestic servants. There were over twenty charges implicating two hundred persons or more He made an appointment to meet Lada on the following day and left. ...

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20. The Idiosyncrasy of an Acting Governor

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pp. 169-176

When Liu the Country Bumpkin and Huang Slip the Third arrived, they saw that all the other officials there were in mourning clothes, Liu then realized that this was the anniversary of the death of the Acting Governor's father. Aiyah! I've forgotten even this!' he exclaimed, and ordered his servants to go home quickly and brought back clothes suitable for the occasion. ...

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21. How Best to Rid Oneself of Opium Addiction

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pp. 177-183

When Liu the Country Bumpkin reached home, the hundred packets of pills had already been delivered to him. This time Liu was determined to rid himself of his addiction. Each day he took his pills without fail—you would not believe it, soon he no longer wanted his opium! There was, however, one drawback, taking the pills too could be habit-forming. ...

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22. Hypocrisy in Different Forms

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pp. 184-192

In the time it took to snap one's fingers, the Acting Governor had been in his post for half a year. Since he had the reputation of being an upright and incorruptible official, an Imperial Edict was issued for him to assume the substantive position of Governor. When he left the Capital, he was an official of the Third Degree yet in barely half a year, he had already reached the exalted rank of a Provincial Governor. ...

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23. The Judge, His Mother and His Son

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pp. 193-202

Because of his encounter with the fortune-teller, Judge Jia was in a state of bad temper for several days. One day when he was burning with rage, an appeal came before him. The appellant was surnamed Kong. His native place was Qufu District of Shandong Province. For many years his father ran a small business in Guide Prefecture in ...

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24. The Official, the Whore and the Nun

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pp. 203-210

Young Jia obtained his assignment by means of a forged letter purported to have been written by Grand Secretary Zhou. Yet his ambition did not end there. What he desired was a substantive appointment to a senior position. But to achieve this, he must have connections, and to have connections, he must spend money. ...

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25. Shopping Around for an Official Post

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pp. 211-221

After he had finished reading the letter, he thrust it into his pocket without saying anything. That evening he was unusually dejected, and had no appetite for tea or food. The concubine who had come with him asked him what it was when she saw him in this mood, but he gave her no answer He rose early the next morning and ordered his carriage to be made ready for ...

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26. When Is a Gift Not a Bribe?

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pp. 222-232

Jia was still short of a hundred thousand taels of silver, so he begged Fat Aunty Huang to stand surety for him and negotiate a loan for the time being. Huang thought of just the right person. Who do you think he was? It was Prefect Shi who had been a fellow guest at Hei Baiguo's dinner This Prefect Shi was immensely wealthy. This time he too came to the Capital ...

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27. The Disappointed Expectant Intendant

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pp. 233-243

Clerk Wang was a kind-hearted and mild-mannered man. He wanted to make a scene but was quite unable to do so. Being a native of Hangzhou, he did not communicate easily with people from other provinces. Each day, when he had nothing to do, he would always come to the Renqian Guildhall to talk with those coming from his native place and have his meals there. In this way, ...

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28. Justice Must Be Bought

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pp. 244-256

Let us put aside for the time being Jia's return to Henan to raise funds, but come back again to Prefect Shi Xiaoren. The interest on the hundred thousand taels of silver which Fat Aunty Huang lent out for him came to quite a few hundred taels. At the time, he was in hiding and dared not show his face. He neither went visiting nor received visitors. Leading ...

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29. The Pious Governor-General

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pp. 257-264

Prefect Shi eventually succeeded in becoming a disciple of Grand Secretary Xu. In spite of the Grand Secretary's hatred for Lieutenant-General Shu and his repeated petitions to His Majesty to have him executed, he was unable to have his wish due to His Majesty's magnanimity and unwillingness to punish great officials without very compelling reasons. Besides, with the efforts of Grand ...

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30. Neither One's Own Name or Daughter Is Sacred

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pp. 265-280

Commander Yang was a Brigadier General from another province. It was not a lucrative post, so he went to the Governor-General of the Two Rivers and obtained through him an order for him to remain in Nanjing for the defence of the city. This was how the Emperor allowed the Commander to make up for his lean years in the earlier station. ...

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31. Only Fools Show Off

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pp. 281-294

When Mao returned home, he instructed his wife to see that their daughter was made up presentably and settled in a tidy room. Having made sure that everyone in the household, from top to bottom, understood his role, he came out to give a message to the Commander's servant, impressing upon him 'to assiduously bring the liaison to a successful end'! He himself then took refuge in a friend's ...

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32. Different Ways of Achieving the Same End

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pp. 295-306

Though Commander Yang had dealt with Officer Long, he was still deeply troubled for fear that the foreign instructor might come and pick a quarrel. Another two days passed. The foreign instructor had not sought to speak with him, so a load was lifted from his heart. Officer Long's immediate superior then came and spoke on his behalf, begging that he be allowed to keep his appointment ...

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33. The Lieutenant-Governor's First Visit to the Bank

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pp. 307-320

Sun the Big Beard laughed scornfully at Intendant Yu's stubbornness and said, 'Yes, he asked a prostitute to seek an official assignment, this is his fault. But you are a very senior official. If you do not frequent the brothels, how would you know he is asking a prostitute to help him in obtaining an assignment? As far as this incident is concerned, you're still in the wrong.' ...

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34. The Thriving Trade Called Charity

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pp. 321-333

On the day that Wang Mushan was giving a party, two serving maids from the brothel came in giggling and said to him, 'Our mistress will soon come!' These were the serving maids of his lover Flower Doll, one was called Goldie, the other Clever Girl. On a certain festival a few months ago, he held a party at Flower Doll's establishment and owed her money for twelve tables ...

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35. A Birthday Gift to the Emperor

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pp. 334-347

Ever since Yan became the Acting Prefect of Taiyuan, he saw the Governor every day on official business. On the surface, the Governor treated him with due deference and courtesy. Though the office was anything but lucrative, he enjoyed harmonious relationship with his superior. However, one day when he was in his own yamen, an official notice arrived ...

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36. Beware the Concubines

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pp. 348-360

Tang the Troublemaker was full of grievances on his return from presenting the gifts at the palace gate. When he arrived at his residence, he first indulged in his opium smoking, then he relived the events of the day: 'Clearly, today's calamity was attributable to the Three Eggs' incompetence. I have treated him not badly and regarded him as a human being. And yet he is so unreliable! If you ...

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37. The Governor-General Outwitted by His Concubine

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pp. 361-371

Governor-General Tuan used to be the Provincial Judge in the Yunnan Province. The Lieutenant-Governor in Yunnan at the time belonged to the Han race. His name was Liu Jinji. The two men shared the same likes and dislikes. Being in the same province, they swore brotherhood and exchanged the usual certificates confirming their close friendship. ...

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38. The Ascendancy of a Slave Girl

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pp. 372-381

Now let it be told that Ninth Concubine's trusted slave girl, mentioned in the previous chapter, was well aware that Governor-General Tuan had his eye on her. So she took every available opportunity to seduce him. However, when the Governor-General accepted two more concubines, she knew there would be no place for her. From that moment onwards, she always had her lips curled up in ...

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39. The Importance of an Official's Leg

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pp. 382-391

Madam Qu was terrified when she heard that her husband had broken a leg. How is that he's broken his leg in a fall? When did it happen?' she asked. The attendant reported, 'This morning after the master had seen you off, he went to the bureau. But he was most listless today. With his head bowed, he seemed full of worcies. He returned home without his lunch, and as soon as he entered, he ...

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40. Conduct Unbecoming

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pp. 392-406

In an instant, Madam Qu had crossed the river. As no one knew where Master Qu was lodged, the lady ordered her attendant to call at Master Ma's yamen at the Xiakou Sub-Prefecture. He was to say that he had come from the Governor- General's yamen to look for Master Qu. Further, he was to request help in finding his master. With this order, the attendant ran out as if he was winged. Madam Qu ...

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41. On Assuming a New Office

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pp. 407-416

Master Qu had good reasons for detesting former Sub-Prefect Wang because he was not able to get his hands on the taxes and levies. Everywhere Master Qu sought information about the former Sub-Prefect's misdeeds, for example, when it was that he offered a discount, and when he reported his father's death. According to reason, the report should precede the discount, but his investigations revealed ...

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42. The Eccentric Governor-General

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pp. 417-424

The Grains Clerk vehemently objected to his salary being withheld and threatened to resign. Master Qu was deeply worried and asked someone to persuade him to remain. Madam Qu, however, continued to argue for withholding the Clerk's salary saying, 'If it is not possible do it in one season, do it over four seasons. But he can't give me a copper less.' ...

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43. The Destitute Petty Officials

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pp. 425-435

Three or four days after Little Rabbit had gone, Acting Governor-General Jia received a report from the Prefect of the Qi Prefecture. It was about Little Rabbit. The report said that all the money in his luggage had been stolen, and he was now stranded in the prefectural yamen awaiting instruction as to how best to deal with him. When Little Rabbit boarded the ship to go home, he looked about him out of ...

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44. Small Officials, Small Money

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pp. 436-448

The servant was a shrew and not easily cowed. She just lay on the floor and shrieked, 'Master, you can beat me to your heart's content. Even if you beat me to death, I shall not get up!' Having thus spoken, she bawled even more loudly. The commotion attracted a lot of attention, and many people crowded around to watch. Blushing, Master Shen bent down to pull her up. When he failed in his ...

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45. Meddling in a Betrothal Dispute

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pp. 449-457

Police Chief Sui argued, 'I did not ask you to hand the seal of office back to me when I came back, so how can you say that I have returned to my post without authority?' Qian Qiongguang, the one acting in the post, said, 'If you do not have the seal of office with you, how can you receive these gifts under the table?' 'I am the substantive Police Chief, of course the gifts should come to me,' ...

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46. Greedy Father, Greedier Son

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pp. 458-470

Several days were devoted to the celebrations of Prefect Ou's assumption of his new office. Just as he was about to take up his duties, an order arrived from the Lieutenant-Governor which obliged him to change his plans. The order stated that the Imperial Court was sending an Imperial Envoy Tong Ziliang to examine the public accounts in Jiangsu, Anhui and some other provinces. He was now ...

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47. How the Prefect Profits From His Sons' Illegal Gambling

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pp. 471-478

The Imperial Envoy Tong Ziliang arrived in Suzhou City for two purposes. One was to examine the old accounts, the other was to raise new funds. Though the city was well-known for its wealth, the officials there were frightened out of their wits even before the great man's arrival. The Governor of Jiangsu Province, in which Suzhou was situated, was Xu. ...

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48. Anything to Please One's Superior

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pp. 479-489

In another half a month, Tong Ziliang had concluded all his official business. In all, he had raised about a million taels of silver. There was nothing else to detain him in Nanjing, so he made ready to sail north. Shortly before his departure, an Intendant and two Magistrates arrived from Anhui Province to accompany him to the province. Knowing that the Envoy ...

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49. The Plight of a Deceased Commander's Concubines

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pp. 490-501

Since Diao had won the favour of Imperial Envoy Tong and the Governor of Anhui Province, his prestige was even greater than before. The Envoy obtained an audience for him in the Capital, as a result of which he was made an expectant Intendant by special Imperial appointment. On his return to Anqing, he was so highly regarded by everyone that people gave him the nickname ...

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50. The Conspiracy Between Officials and Criminals

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pp. 502-518

Of the fifteen concubines who wanted to move out of the Zhang residence, they divided themselves into groups of three or five and shared accommodation so as to save on the rent and enjoy each other's company. There was at the time the son of a senior official who had purchased a large lot in Wuhu. Emulating the style in Shanghai, he built a lot of houses of varying sizes ...

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51. The Intendant Steals From a Trusting Widow

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pp. 519-532

Having heard the waiter's words, Commander Zhang's concubines came to realize that Intendant Diao regarded them as his targeted victims, so it would be difficult for them to continue living there. They debated the question for a few days and finally concluded that other than 'eating religion', there was no other way whereby they could protect themselves. ...

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52. How to Steal a Mansion and a Mine

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pp. 533-544

Young Zhang Guozhu had succeeded in convincing everyone that he was Commander Zhang's son. Always speaking with reason, and spending money without stint, he soon secured the friendship and confidence of all and sundry in the Zhang residence. When he saw that the situation was now completely in his favour, he said, 'It is not right that the bodies of my father ...

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53. How to Handle Foreigners

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pp. 545-556

In the west room, the foreigner produced the two sheets of paper bearing Grand Secretary Xu's signatures: they were the two copies of contract for the sale of all the mines in Auhui Province. The foreigner also signed them and handed a copy of it to Glass Egg. Thus Glass Egg had brought his great enterprise to a successful conclusion. With his ill-gotten gains, he gave a ...

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54. The Privileged Christian and the Underprivileged Muslim

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pp. 557-565

Some months ago, a well-known foreign priest passed away somewhere. He was not young anymore, and he had always urged people to be good. In truth, he had performed many kindnesses. If there was any dispute between the local folk and the Christians in any place, he would resolve their difficulties the moment he presented himself, no matter how problematical the question was. For this ...

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55. The Arrival of the Foreign Gunboats

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pp. 566-580

Having heard the conversation between Magistrate Mei and Assistant Secretary Lao, Secretary Feng thought in his heart, 'This man is devoid of any national feelings. He only hopes to preserve his own office and assets. Even if the whole of the southern region of the River Yangzi is given away to the foreigners, it does not concern him. But there is one problem: while the people can remain submissive, ...

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56. The Kudos of Having Been Overseas

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pp. 581-594

When the Assistant Magistrate arrived at his yamen with the interpreter from the ship, he could not wait to find out from the interpreter whether the foreign commander was prepared to write a letter of recommendation for them. The interpreter began by saying that the foreign commander had been most reluctant to write such a recommendation, but it was only after his repeated requests ...

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57. The Spearman and the Consul

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pp. 595-606

Though the Governor had hoped to do something meaningful by conducting the test, it came to nothing because of his relative's indiscretion. Fearing that he might be criticized, he asked someone to drop a hint to the Chief Prefect to use his own judgement. Realizing what the Governor's desire was, the Chief Prefect sent someone to give the spearman a talk. ...

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58. The Governor's Foreign Adviser

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pp. 607-619

When the ambassador received his consul's report, he was determined to put up a fight. To start with, he sent an ultimatum to the Yamen of Foreign Affairs, demanding compliance. Readers all! You know very well that the great officials in China have all risen through the ranks. By the time they are entitled to wear a red button, they have reached the top of their official ladder. ...

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59. The Official's Relatives

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pp. 620-625

In accordance with Sub-Chancellor Zhen's plan, the new Hanlins were mercilessly ostracized by the others. They were rebuffed everywhere and no one would see them. In the end, they realized that they were ahead of their times in Beijing, so each went their own way to seek his fortune elsewhere. When people in the Capital learned that they had gone, they all praised old Zhen for his strategy. ...

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60. The Joys and Sadness of Official Life

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pp. 626-634

When Pockmarked Huang finished his work on the river, he was already in possession of a large sum of money. After weighing the pros and cons, he decided that of all the trades in the world, the best dividends came from being an official. Though he had earned a considerable amount, it was not sufficient for him to aspire to a high office. Having hesitated for several days, he obtained by ...

E-ISBN-13: 9789882202320
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622095434

Page Count: 648
Publication Year: 2001