In 1959, Mao was one hell of a proud man. As the new Emperor of China, he’d led an unbelievable boom in food production, completely eliminated the need for medicine and science, and “enticed the snakes out of their caves” with a hundred flowers — all in just ten years!
So he decided to erect ten great buildings to honor his grand achievements. They would represent the people, the peasants, the army, the minorities — each building had a great semantic purpose. He would name them The Ten Great Buildings!
On my way out of Deshengmen Tower — where you’ll find a strange collection of ramshackle museums crammed in together — I noticed the most remarkable thing for sale: old North Korean stamps, celebrating European regal excess!
There was the Versailles stamp, which reeks of excessive opulence…
“Why not start today with a plate of freshly-fried old enema,” I thought. It was bright, garish, and advertised on the wall. “It must be good.”
Dripping in oil and yet crispy enough to snap a molar, it tasted like a bad plate of pork cracklings. The dipping sauce — chopped garlic in water — left it with a flavor and me with a breath from hell.
I’d assumed “enema” was a gross mismangling of “sausage” — 灌肠 can mean either. But I was wrong.
The name was an augury of what you’d need after lunch.
It wasn’t officially called AIDS soup. Not now. Shortly after I’d blogged about their deviant menus, the restaurant had crossed out every appearance of the word “AIDS” with a sharpie. Now it was simply “Strong Tibetan Sheep Placenta Nourishing Soup [XXXX].”
Still a mouthful.
But I’d had a few beers, and scraped at the sharpie with my fingernail. The AIDS came back. Now I knew what I was getting. Strong Tibetan Sheep Placenta Nourishing Soup AIDS.
A few hundred yards westward of (the Shun-chih-men) is the place for the Imperial elephants, the Hsün-hsiang-so, a large enclosure in which the elephants of the Court are kept… The intelligent animals are taught to salute the Emperor by kneeling down, and receive a kind of adoration.
Did you know that Beijing has a dozen or so elephants that kneel as the emperor passes by? Seriously.
At least that’s what my book says. It’s a Beijing travel guide from 1897, author unknown, that Charlie Custer found on archive.org. The copy originally belonged to Herbert Hoover, China expat and one-time US President.
The first time I ever met The Professor, he told me about the eunuch museum. He didn’t say much. Just that there was one. In West Beijing.
“You really should go,” he said. “It’s… well, it’s interesting.” He adjusted his glasses the way a professor should, but he wouldn’t say more.
A few weeks later, I found myself staring through smudged plexiglas at the only remaining inhabitant of the Beijing Eunuch Culture Exhibition Hall. He was, of course, dead.
Covered by an imperial yellow sheet, this junkless monk apparently died of lead poisoning. 400 years later, he was dug up and stuck in a case. His name wasn’t recorded, but I doubt it was Tian Yi.
Tian Yi (田以) was the most famous Chinese eunuch that ever lived. He served a series of three Emperors, and carried his genitals in a jug. His 1605 funeral was insane: the government shut for days, hundreds of eunuchs attended, and he was buried like a king. And just like any other Chinese royal, his grave was robbed.