Reports of its death, though it has taken a few on the chin, are always exaggerated. As Mao once said, there is a several thousand year tradition of emperor worship, to deeply embedded to be disregarded, as distasteful as some of its aspects may have been…
The pinnacle of unjustified extravagance came in the nineteenth-century with the dowager empress Tzu Hsi. While the Chinese state tottered from neglect, corruption,misrule,and foreign predations, the empress maintained the empty traditions os splendor at court. One of her capes had more than three thousand pearls , and one of her dressing rooms contained several thousand boxes of percious jewelry for everyday wear. Her four inch long nails on each third and little finger were shielded by jade or filigreed nail-guards, so that shaking her hand was like “clutching a handful of pencils.” Tzu Hsi swallowed a potion of crushed pearls religiously every ten days in the belief that it was a pwerful elixir. Her skin was sprayed daily with a mixture of gylcerin and honeysuckle, and her lady in waiting, Princess Te-ling. claimed that the empress drank human milk every morning.
The court at this time included one man-the emperor- surrounded by three thousand women and three thousand eunuchs. The latter often acquired considerable power, and though the surgical operation was painful, the rewards were attractive, especially in times of general poverty. Tzu Hsi’s chief eunuch is said to hve castrated himself with his cobbler’s knife in order to enter the court. He charged others an exhorbitant fee for a five minute audience with the dowager, with whom he split the fee, something like $25,000 in those times, and finished his career with five million dollars worth of goods and real estate.
Tzu Hsi herself was a good businesswoman. On her sixtieth birthday all her officials were expected to contribute a quarter of their annual salary, and her cut of the tributes that constantly poured in from the provinces was half- the rest was shared by the eunuchs and army. Her personal fortune on her death in 1908 was estimated at more than 75 million dollars. Perhaps her most honest word was her alleged last: “Never again allow any woman to hold the supreme power in the state, and never again allow the eunuchs to meddle in government affairs.”
In postimperial China, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the most famous of the three Soong sisters, adopted a life style that strongly suggested that of an empress in single minded pursuit of power and luxury. By contrast, Chiang himself cultivated a colder, almost puritanical image, and Mao Zedong had some severe flaws, but never exhibited greed. Indeed, no greater contrast to the finery of the emperors could be found than the costume favored by Chairman Mao for his public appearances: frayed cuffs and collars, baggy tunic, unpressed trousers, and overworked socks, all in drab hues.
(see link at end)…Mao is famous for saying that he was subject to neither “law nor god.” That is what Dr. Li’s astounding book is about. I say astounding deliberately. Dr. Li was Mao’s doctor for twenty-two years, and although it is not exactly true to say, as he does, that he saw Mao every day from 1954 until his death in 1976, he was with him most of the time as a truly intimate member of the inner court, of Group One, or the Swimming Pool (Mao spent much of his time in the building housing his private pool), and there is nothing about Mao that his doctor did not know. He never brushed his teeth or bathed; he transmitted venereal infections to his dozens or hundreds of young women; his wife Jiang Qing had six toes on her right foot; he fo
d his handsome male guards; and he couldn’t sleep just before he did something especially horrible, either to a person or to the whole country….Read More:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1994/nov/17/unmasking-the-monster/?pagination=false