One morning, around 10 o’clock, Wong Ma ran up to Yu Wen and said:”Hurry up, my lady! Madam wants to see you. She is in the Main Room. If you are late, Madam will blame me for neglecting my duty.”
Yu-Wen went into the Main Room unwillingly. To her surprise, after she entered the room, she saw some of her distant relatives dressed in their fancy traditional garments were there with her mother. They sat in those visitors’ chairs on each side of her mother. They were all looking at her. Yu-Wen had a funny feeling as if she was standing in front of a group of judges. She did in her very best manners, ceremoniously greeted those aunts. Before Yu Wen had a chance to find out why her mother sent for her, one of them said: “Oh my! What a pretty child! But I say, it’s supposed to be the right time to teach her our basic princesses’ etiquette now.” Yu was around seven years!
Yu Wen’s heart beating fast! She saw her mother’s face getting longer. She knew something bad is on its way! Yu-Wen was right! Mrs. Lyan perfunctorily saw those ladies left, she came back to the main room. With a long face and unpleasant voice, she said to Yu Wen:”Start from tomorrow I have to teach you the princesses’ etiquette. You’d better learn it with your all your effort. Wong Ma, move that big dressing mirror here. From tomorrow on, you’ll watch your lady practicing the traditional court princesses etiquette correctly.”
After Mrs. Lyan laid down her orders, she stood up and raised up her right hand with palm down in the air about equal height to her shoulder. Her maid quickly came forward to receive her hand humbly into her left hand. They walked out of the main room gracefully! Left many questions and wonderings behind to Yu Wen.
After her mother was totally out of sight, Yu-Wen asked Wong Ma: “What is princesses’ etiquette anyway? You can do it, right?”Yu-Wen asked
“No! My lady, I’m just a servant, how could I ever learn these kinds of court etiquette! I’ve been with Madam to visit many royal families, I saw how those unmarried ladies salute your mother. Their gestures were so graceful, so beautiful! They squat down slowly and balance with their two hands folded and landed on one knee, their upper bodies were straight up but not stiff. Looked like a beautiful petal float down slightly. Anyway, it is very difficult for me to describe. I suppose it is not that easy to learned!”
“……..?”Yu Wen’s mind was floating in the clouds.
Next morning before Mrs. Lyan’s teaching, she sat down on her armed padauk chair with her two arms on the chair arms. She looked like a commander in chief to Yu Wen. Not wearing too much facial expression.
Mrs. Lyan began her speech with a stiff look: “I was going to teach you the basic princesses etiquette earlier. But your father always interceded for you. He said it’s a republican China now! It is out of fashion to those unnecessary and over-elaborate formalities. Yesterday I got your father’s agreement and will start teaching you formally. I don’t want to have anyone say our girl is not educated. Listen to me, don’t you dare to tell any rubbish to your father.” Yu Wen dare not to say anything to resist nor to answer back. She knew her mother would not tolerate with anything that disgraced her. She understood that what had happened the other day was really embarrass her mother.——
Yu-Wen stood there obediently. She watched mother demonstrated the whole processes of the princesses etiquette, Yu-Wen understood what Wong Ma was trying to tell her.
“Your body must be well balanced when squatting down. It looked so gracefully noble and dignified.”
She saw her mother’s right foot stepped out half a step, and curved a little which brought her upper body forward and down, but she kept her body straight upward. Gracefully she put the right hand on top of the left one and rest them on the right knee slightly and squat down a little bit. Then she stood back up gently. Mrs. Lyan’s gesture looked so graceful, lofty and dignified.
Now, the show dropped down to Yu Wen! She felt like a puppet, doing each movement whatever her mother told her to do. And the way her mother posted her.
From her mother’s demonstration and her first lesson, Yu-Wen realized it was not an easy task at all. Especially for a seven-year-old youngster. When Yu Wen was trying to squat down, not only her upper body swayed her legs wobbled too. She fell down and sat on the ground. She couldn’t help but burst into laughter. All of a sudden she felt a burning pain on her forehead which brought her tears out. That was given by her mother who knocked her forehead with a clenched middle finger. She felt her head slipped into her neck. Wong Ma quickly assisted her to get back on her feet. A small lump added to Yu Wen’s forehead “Look into the mirror when you working on it.” Mrs. Lyan said to Yu Wen with a cold voice. Then she turned to Wang Ma: “Wong Ma, watch your lady when she practiced every morning until she will fall down again.” Mrs. Lyan walked out of the Main Room without looking at her daughter who was sobbing silently.
Wong Ma’s palm and the gentle rubbed were some refreshing medication for Yu Wen , not only eased off the pain on her forehead temporarily it also warmed up her heart. For Wang Ma, each time when she saw Yu Wen was crying, she wished that she could do more than just rubbing on Yu Wen’s lump she shed her tears with her poor lady quietly. All she could say was: “Oh my! Oh my! Try harder next time my lady.”
All the women of Manchu nobility were not foot-binding. Even though Yu Wen’s feet were born with small size because she was rather small in stature. This kind of gesture was very difficult for her from not swaying, especially for her age. Sometimes she had to be assisted by Wong Ma before she fell onto the ground.
When Yu Wen was a little girl, she didn’t understand why each time when she was trying to squat down, a childhood memory always came up to her. She remembered when she was 5 or younger, she saw some ladies wearing some embroidered shoes with Flower Pot High Heels. When they walk with them, they looked so gracefully slandered, very pretty and charming. Once she sneaked into a dresser and found a pair of those kinds of shoes. She put them on! While she was trying to stand up with them, the Flowerpot at the soles stood right in the middle of the arch of her feet. That made her dizzy and lost her balance. Fortunately, she grabbed the corner of the table close to before she fell onto it and broken into pieces.
“Flowerpot high heels”, looked at a very small up-side-down flower pot. They were hollow in the middle. The small side attached to the middle of the sole. The bottom of the bigger side was sealed and drilled with so many small holes, designed as Lotus flowers or other good luck sketches. Some perfumed powers were stuffed inside the up-side-down flower pots. After each step the lady stepped out, the powdered prints from the heels would be left on the ground. Whoever wears this kind of shoes had to keep their heads high and chest out. the walking movement looked so elegant, graceful and so feminine. Yu Wen wished that someday she could be able to wear them. But never did Yu Wen had a chance to do so after she grew up. Not only because the changing of the age and also fashion, she married to the Han man
Yu Wen understood what her mother asked her to do was for her good. Who would not wish to be a respectable lady? She tried very hard to work on it and overcome the difficulty.
Sometimes Mr. Lyan came to Yu Wen’s room to give her some comfort and moral support. Though only tears and complaints, he would get from Yu Wen, whose fatherly love Yu Wen treasured her whole life.
From Mr. Lyan, Yu-Wen learned that there were many different kinds of court etiquettes. Different etiquette for unmarried girls, married ladies, men, servants and when officials meeting with the emperor in the feudal times. They were all different from each other.
“But who cares!” Yu Wen thought, “Now it is a republican China. No one would ever care about those different etiquettes anymore.” Yu Wen would never realize that how much it would benefit her in her future.
—To be continued.
- The Young Idiot—