The Rise of the Last Rebellion (The Poison Lotus Book 2)

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No contemporary image of the empress exists. Most nations of note have had at least one great female leader.

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These women were rarely chosen by their people. They came to power, mostly, by default or stealth; a king had no sons, or an intelligent queen usurped the powers of her useless husband. However they rose, though, it has always been harder for a woman to rule effectively than it was for a man—more so in the earlier periods of history, when monarchs were first and foremost military leaders, and power was often seized by force. So queens and empresses regnant were forced to rule like men, and yet roundly criticized when they did so. Her name was Wu Zetian, and in the seventh century A.

Wu she is always known by her surname has every claim to be considered a great empress. She held power, in one guise or another, for more than half a century, first as consort of the ineffectual Gaozong Emperor , then as the power behind the throne held by her youngest son, and finally from until shortly before her death in as monarch.

Ruthless and decisive, she stabilized and consolidated the Tang dynasty at a time when it appeared to be crumbling—a significant achievement, since the Tang period is reckoned the golden age of Chinese civilization. Yet Wu has had a pretty bad press. For centuries she was excoriated by Chinese historians as an offender against a way of life. She is hated by gods and men alike. Just how accurate this picture of Wu is remains a matter of debate. One reason, as we have already had cause to note in this blog , is the official nature and lack of diversity among the sources that survive for early Chinese history; another is that imperial history was written to provide lessons for future rulers, and as such tended to be weighted heavily against usurpers which Wu was and anyone who offended the Confucian sensibilities of the scholars who labored over them which Wu did simply by being a woman.

A third problem is that the empress, who was well aware of both these biases, was not averse to tampering with the record herself; a fourth is that some other accounts of her reign were written by relatives who had good cause to loathe her. It is a challenge to recover real people from this morass of bias.

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Among a raft of other allegations are the suggestions that she ordered the suicides of a grandson and granddaughter who had dared to criticize her and later poisoned her husband, who—very unusually for a Chinese emperor—died unobserved and alone, even though tradition held that the entire family should assemble around the imperial death bed to attest to any last words. The emperor believed her story, and Wang was demoted and imprisoned in a distant part of the palace, soon to be joined by the Pure Concubine.

As if infanticide, torture and murder were not scandalous enough, Wu was also believed to have ended her reign by enjoying a succession of erotic encounters which the historians of the day portrayed as all the more shocking for being the indulgences of a woman of advanced age. According to Anderson, servants. In her seventies, Wu showered special favor on two smooth-cheeked brothers, the Zhang brothers, former boy singers, the nature of whose private relationship with their imperial mistress has never been precisely determined.

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Palace ladies of the Tang dynasty, from a contemporary wall painting in an imperial tomb in Shaanxi. True, Taizong—an old warrior-ruler so conscientious that he had official documents pasted onto his bedroom walls so that he would have something to work on if he woke in the night—had lost his empress shortly before Wu entered the palace. But 28 other consorts still stood between her and the throne.

Though Wu was unusually well-read and self-willed for a mere concubine, she had only one real advantage over her higher-ranked rivals: Her duties included changing the imperial sheets, which potentially gave her bedroom access to Taizong. Even if she took full advantage, however, she must have possessed not only looks but remarkable intelligence and determination to emerge, as she did two decades later, as empress. By , the annals state, Wu was permitted to make offerings to the gods beside Gaozong and even to sit in audience with him—behind a screen, admittedly, but on a throne that was equal in elevation to his own.

Not until , when she was more than 80 years old, was Wu finally overthrown by yet another son—one whom she had banished years before. Her one mistake had been to marry this boy to a concubine nearly as ruthless and ambitious as herself. So much for the supposed facts; what about the interpretation? How did a woman with such limited expectations as Wu emerge triumphant in the cutthroat world of the Tang court?

How did she hold on to power? And does she deserve the harsh verdict that history has passed on her? She installed a series of copper boxes in the capital in which citizens could post anonymous denunciations of one another, and passed legislation, R. A history known as the Comprehensive Mirror records that, during the s, 36 senior bureaucrats were executed or forced to commit suicide, and a thousand members of their families enslaved.

Fish were a very important part of the ordinary diet of the Chinese, as fish rather than meat often provided the protein. Fish are often eaten at the Spring Festival symbolizing a wish for abundance in the year to come. Fish are often shown in pairs, some think this is a metaphor for the shape of the taiji figure, as a pair they are one of the eight treasures , others that is about conjugal bliss.

There are legends of drunken men turning into fish demons , who could be unmasked because they need to bathe each day. Because fish breed prolifically and are frequently seen in pairs they can symbolize marriage and wish for many children. The art of government has been likened to the art of fishing as it requires both patience and careful observation.

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There is a legend that Emperor Fuxi learned the art of fishing and invented the fish trap. While many creatures in the West have a worse reputation than in China for example rats ; pigs and dragons , for the fox it is the other way around. In the West a fox is admired for its cleverness and determination, in China it has a much more evil connotation. It is reputed to live to a great age, when it reaches fifty it can turn itself into a woman , at hundred a seductive girl and at a thousand it becomes a powerful god with nine tails. The association with spirits may originate from the observation that foxes raided graves for the food laid out for the ancestors , and so were thought to be the departing spirit of the deceased.

The fox spirit had to be appeased with offerings. The gecko is a common sight in Chinese houses, scampering over the walls and ceilings to catch insects. It is considered one of the five poisonous creatures and so a mixture of all five together was very potent.

Another powerful potion was prepared by feeding a gecko with cinnabar for a year; the pounded remains were then applied to the skin to both detect and prevent infidelity. The glow-worm Lampyris noctiluca is common across from Europe into Asia, it is the female that gives the brightest glow to attract males. Symbolically it stands for beauty, perseverance and loyalty. He went on to pass the exams and became a senior government official. The hare has its place in the astrological zodiac of twelve animals.

It was thought that the gray shape on the moon is the form of a hare where it accompanies the goddess of the moon Chang'e while mixing the elixir of immortality , and this associates the hare with longevity. A red hare is an auspicious animal and appears when rule is virtuous. There are legends that a hare becomes pregnant by gazing at the moon or just licking the fur of the female. Horses as pasture animals feature more in ancient times when the center of civilization was further north around the Yellow River.

Horses came from central Asia, Mongolia and Tibet. The god of war Guan yu Guan di rode a red-haired horse. Horses are associated with the element metal and west. Eight horses drew his chariot with which he toured the provinces in search of the palace of the Queen Mother of the West. In the Tang and Mongol dynasties - both peoples from the northern pasture lands - horses were greatly admired animals and appear in a wide range of artwork. Horse meat was and is still eaten in China and medicines are made from body parts.

One Tang Emperor had a troupe of dancing horses to keep him entertained. In symbolism a horse laden with goods is a wish for a government post. It often also indicates swiftness. A picture of an official on horseback under a canopy and accompanied with nine other people, commemorates the legend of Liang Hao Song dynasty who passed the Imperial Examinations at the age of 84, a symbol of dogged determination. Although the lion has never dwelt in China, it is a common art motif with lion statues guarding the entrances to temples. Although some lions were given to the emperor as tribute from vassal kingdoms most knowledge of the beast came indirectly so representations are often more like pet dogs than fierce cats.

The lion is usually depicted resting on the ground with forefeet pointing outward and is mostly associated with Buddhism. At entrances to temples the lion on the right is male and holds a ball in its paw while the left lion is female and holds a cub. A pair of lions symbolize happiness and wish for a prosperous career. The number of curls of hair on the lion's mane used to be a measure of seniority, a high official would have up to 13 coils of hair on lion statues outside his home.

A lion was also the emblem of some grades of official. The lion dance was traditionally associated with the Lantern festival but is now seen on other Chinese festivals. If the dancing lion can be enticed into a home it will bring good luck. The monkey is seen a cheeky, irreverent creature in China always bringing fun and laughter.

Monkeys live in central and southern China but not in the north. It has a high place in the zodiac of twelve animals. In southern China some minority people were presumed to be the descendents of monkeys. Monkeys were considered able to drive away evil spirits and for this reason were worshiped and tolerated near houses. A legend has a monkey stealing the peaches of immortality from the garden of the Queen Mother of the West Xi wang mu and so a monkey is often depicted carrying off a peach. Two monkeys in a pine tree symbolize a wish for promotion to last many generations. The ox has for centuries toiled in the fields of China.

The same character niu is used for oxen; water buffalo as well as cattle. Because it is such a useful animal some Chinese will not eat beef, although this custom may come from the India because of the ban in both Hinduism and Buddhism. It is an animal of proverbial strength and water buffalo are often associated with rivers and water. Beef tea has for long been considered a potent medicinal tonic. At New Year the Emperor himself dug a ritual furrow with an ox-driven plow. The ox is associated with spring plowing ; harvest and fertility and is one of the twelve animals of the zodiac.

The panther and the same character denotes leopards as well symbolizes the taming of cruelty. They were uncommon animals in China and do not feature greatly in paintings. The pig has long been domesticated in China. It is one of the twelve zodiac animals. It is a very widely eaten meat — except by the sizable Muslim population — so symbolically it represents feasting. A legend has it that the founder of the Khitan people of northern China had a pig's head and so the Khitan people would not eat pork.

A superstition to protect new born babies was to give them pig's trotters for shoes and a pig head mask so demons would think it was a pig not a human and leave them alone. The rat is rather surprisingly the first in the cycle of twelve zodiacal animals , the story goes that a rat was smart enough to jump onto the back of the ox to get to the head of the queue of animals when they were being named.

It is considered a ' yin ' female animal. The constant activity of rats has been paralleled with the acquisitive action of misers and so rats are associated with money. In one legend it was rats that brought rice to people's attention as a nutritious food. However it is also thought they can turn into demons ; some legends have them becoming quails at spring time. Rats and squirrels are often shown with trailing plants such as vines to give the wish for generations of children.

If rats move into your house it is a bad sign as cats will follow and it indicates the house will soon be derelict and abandoned. Not so long ago the local rat catcher would demonstrate his skill by laying out bundles of rat corpses on the street. The herbivore is now restricted to a few localities just south of the Himalayas, Indonesia and central Africa.

It could originally be found in Sichuan and then also in recent years in Thailand and Vietnam. It has for two thousand years been hunted because its horn was considered the best antidote to poison and impotence. The horn is in fact modified hair and is made up of coarse filaments.

Cups made of rhino horn were said to detect any poison in their contents. Poachers still hunt wild rhinos because its horn fetches its weight in gold in Vietnam and China. Its hide was considered impervious to weapons. The immortal Cao Guojiu has a belt made of rhino hide. In symbolism the rhinoceros appears as an emblem for one grade of court official. It is also one of the eight precious things. Sheep are one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. It also represents docility and satisfaction.

The character is an ancient pictogram of the animal showing its horns and body as seen from above. Mutton is considered a strong source of yang energy. Lamb and mutton are commonly used by the Muslim Hui minority as a substitute for pork. It is one the five noxious creatures with centipede ; gecko ; scorpion and toad. A snake is one of the twelve astrological year animals. Snakes are considered wise and cunning but treacherous. As a snake sloughs its skin it may symbolize transformation.

It also symbolizes fertility and flexibility and the female yin element. The ancient deities Fuxi and Nuwa are often portrayed with snake-like lower halves. The second novel Kinslayer was released in , and the final novel Endsinger was released in Additionally, two free prequels Praying for Rain and The Last Stormdancer were released digitally detailing events that occurred earlier in the land of Shima.

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Dying is easy. Anyone can throw themselves onto the pyre and rest a happy martyr. Enduring the suffering that comes with sacrifice is the real test. Remember, kids.