Silver Pheasant — Kaifeng Chronicles, Book Four

Robert Campbell
Jun 20, 2019 · 3 min read
Cover design and original artwork by Danielle Mugridge

The paperback version of Silver Pheasant, fourth installment in my Kaifeng Chronicles Series of novellas, is now available from Amazon in numerous markets, including the USA, Canada, the UK, and Japan. Electronic versions will be released in the next couple of weeks.

The series follows the life of Li Bing, an aspiring imperial civil servant, from the time he writes the provincial level examinations in the year 1630 up to the point in 1642 when the city of Kaifeng is deliberately destroyed by a flood, as warring factions attempt to drive each other’s forces out of the ancient capital. In writing the series, I have tried to strike a balance between producing a compelling piece of historical fiction and providing insights into the history and culture of late Ming Dynasty China.

In case you’re new to the series, the first three novellas are 18 Cranes, Mandarin Ducks, and Grand Canal, all of which are available in print versions from Amazon, as well as Kindle, Kobo, and iBook formats.

Here is a short excerpt from Silver Pheasant concerning the career of Li Bing’s father Li Gong, that doesn’t contain spoilers.

“Li Gong had little taste for the capital,” responded Kun. “He’s a man of great honor and dedication, and one who has found more than adequate fulfilment as a provincial official. Though he may be far removed from the center of power, I would hardly refer to Hangzhou as a frontier outpost. The duties he performs there are as critical to the smooth operation of the empire as any that take place within this city, especially when it comes to ensuring that a steady supply of food finds its way here from the south.”

“Perhaps the trajectory of Li Gong’s career has had less to do with his lack of affinity for the capital than it has with his open affinity for the precepts of the Donglin Academy,” added Hao.

The original Donglin Academy had been established in the city of Wuxi as an educational institute in 1111, but Bing understood that Hao’s reference was to the Academy’s more recent restoration in 1604 under the direction of grand secretary Gu Xiancheng, and to the ideological movement it spawned. The objective of the movement was to restore moral integrity to the empire by ensuring its scholars and administrators thought and acted in strict adherence to Confucian moral principles. Li Gong had indeed been a vocal supporter of the movement, and Bing suspected that despite Hao’s remarks the assembled officials were all likely inclined toward its precepts, even if they hadn’t been as forthcoming about their allegiance as his father apparently had been.

During the reign of the Tianqi emperor, the eunuch Wei Zhongxian was able to seize control of the central administration, killing off large numbers of senior officials, especially those affiliated with the Donglin movement. At the same time, his co-conspirator Madam Ke, who had been the emperor’s wet nurse, systematically went about locking up the emperor’s concubines and starving them to death. All of this was possible because the emperor was a simple-minded man, barely able to read, and much more interested in crafting fine wooden furniture, than in running an empire. When the Chongzhen emperor ascended the throne, he dealt quickly with Wei and Ke, but he proved to be a suspicious ruler, wary of further dissent and disobedience within the administration. Consequently, he regularly punished or dismissed officials.

Kun and the other high-ranking officials in the room had survived that dark period of the Tianqi reign and were united in their hopes that the current emperor would not find them wanting. They were not, however, naively optimistic.

Thanks for reading. I welcome any comments or questions.

Robert Campbell

Written by

sociologist teaching in the MBA program in community economic development at Cape Breton University

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