Book II: China
the Long Journey Home
Haifang led Diego to a large dining hall with lavishly set tables built
low to the ground. There
were at least three-dozen people in attendance, apparently high-placed
officials who sat at the tables apart from the royal nephew.
Everyone bowed as they passed on their way to Qing Kang Zhu’s
table, one that was a bit smaller than the rest.
It was near a back wall, which was entirely covered with a
tapestry showing a mountain scene complete with a lake and a small
village in the foreground. Diego
bowed to the prince.
you are looking so much better, Diego,” Kang Zhu said with a smile.
Zhaou Haifang gestured to an empty place near the prince and
Diego settled himself down on the cushions provided.
The doctor sat nearby.
better, your highness.”
then you will be able to appreciate all that will happen this
evening,” Kang Zhu said exuberantly.
Diego couldn’t help but wonder what His Highness had in mind.
“May I present my wife, Liu Mei Ling.
We were supposed to marry during the time that I was in
California. My Imperial
Uncle had sent a ransom, but he and Mei Ling both had felt I would never
return home. Our reunion was sweet and our marriage all the more special
because of you and your friends.”
blushed at Kang Zhu’s pronouncement and bowed to the young lady.
“It is an honor to meet you, Your Highness.
And I only did what any real Californiano would have
I am most grateful for you having saved my honored husband and allowing
him to return home to me,” she answered with a demure smile. “For I fully believe that the vile European captain would
have kept the ransom and killed my husband-to-be.”
Diego didn’t doubt that she was correct in her assessment.
Something pricked at his memory.
He turned to the prince, but saw that he was busy talking to
someone else. Turning back
to Mei Ling, Diego addressed the young woman. “Your Highness, may I ask you a question?”
it is my ignorance of Hanyu names, but when he was in California,
your husband wrote a note explaining how he was kidnapped. In it he said his name was Tsin Tsin. But the priest gave a different name, one much closer to that
which was pronounced here.”
Ling laughed softly. “The
name he put on the note was a nickname.
Very quick to write. In
his agitation, he did not put his full name and title.”
see. Thank you, Your
you have longer names in Cal-for-nee-a than just Diego Zorro,” the
princess added, smiling.
happiness was infectious; he smiled with her.
“Zorro is somewhat of a nickname as well. It means ‘fox’ in my language.
It is the name I am known by when I wear the black clothing.
My real name is Diego de la Vega y de la Cruz.”
my people are not the only ones with many names.” She laughed. “And
how appropriate for a nickname! I
suppose that no one knows who this crafty fox is in your homeland,”
she replied, her eyes twinkling.
my father and servant,” Diego admitted.
there is a reason for wearing this disguise, other than to save
justice can only be given . . . um, in disguise,” Diego answered,
having trouble finding the right word.
He had wanted to say ‘anonymously.’
Then he told her a bit of his background.
Ling bowed slightly. “Thank
you for your confidence, Diego the fox.”
Again she smiled, and her eyes held the sparkle of joyful
smiled, feeling that the prince had been very fortunate indeed, in the
matters of marriage. He
thought of another question, but he felt awkward asking it.
As though reading his thoughts, the princess asked, “There is
something on your mind?”
excuse me if this is a taboo subject….”
will tell you if it is, Diego,” Mei Ling said gently.
had noticed that all Chinese women had their feet bound . . . that is
until I came here. You do
not,” Diego said hesitantly.
you approve of bound feet? Most
do in China.” She looked
at him expectantly, but her face otherwise devoid of expression.
gulped, not sure what the best answer would be, but then he decided that
he could only be honest. He
also decided that even though the status of women in China was well
below that of women in California; the prince had married a woman of
unusual independence and forthrightness.
“Your Highness, I do not understand this foot binding practice.
It seems harsh and senseless to me, even though the reasoning has
concur with you, Diego. The
family to which my honored husband and I belong, the Ch’ing family,
came into and conquered a land where this practice had been going on for
over eight hundred years. Manchu
women do not do this to themselves,” she said.
Diego bowed his thanks for her openness.
that moment, Kang Zhu clapped his hands and the doors at the end of the
dining hall opened to admit about a dozen men.
Most had instruments of various kinds, flutes, long-necked
guitars, drums of different sizes, while the other members of the group
wore multi-colored clothes and carried vibrantly hued flags, banners and
other things. The band set
up just below their table and began playing.
Some of the music was slow and haunting, making Diego feel very
relaxed. Then they would play fast, rollicking tunes while the other
members of the troupe, obviously dancers and acrobats, performed in the
middle of the hall for them.
the while foods of various colors, shapes and tastes were being served
at each of the tables. The
meal could only be termed a banquet, of a proportion more prodigious
than any of the big fiestas he had been to in California.
Diego was astonished to see that not only was there huge
quantities and varieties, but that the food was laid out on the plates
almost like art work. There
were even some vegetables carved in the shapes of animals and birds.
Indeed, I think that even the king of Spain would term this
huge, he thought. Diego
had never seen so many different dishes, and didn’t think he had eaten
so much in his entire life. Some were hot with spice as most food was in
California, while some were sweet and sour at the same time.
Kang Zhu suggested that he dip the food that resembled a rolled
up tortilla in a yellow paste. Diego complied and almost choked when the
spicy paste hit his tongue, which felt as though a hole had been burned
in it. “Ah, your
Highness, that is food that could bring the dead to life,” Diego
commented, using a compliment common in California.
Kang Zhu looked puzzled until his guest explained the saying,
then the prince laughed, Diego joining in his host’s laughter.
I remember that you had some dishes that did the same thing to me,” he
said, still laughing. “I
believe that you called them chilies.”
is true, Your Highness,” Diego said, enjoying himself more than he had
for weeks. The meal and the
entertainment went on for some time, punctuated with much talking and
laughter. Kang Zhu’s wife
excused herself before the end of the meal and Diego couldn’t help but
notice, as she left with her attendants, that she did not hobble, nor
did her feet look like little round ‘flowers’ peeping out from under
after the meal, it was announced that representatives of the British
Trade Commission and the hongs they dealt with desired an
audience with His Highness. Kang
Zhu looked at the physician and said,
“I told you they would come.
Diego, if you will follow my servant you can watch the
proceedings in secret. ” Diego sat in the next room, peering through a curtain, where
he could see and hear the meeting without being seen by the British
almost laughed out loud at the list of crimes against him.
Most were real, but exaggerated, and some were way out of
proportion. Kang Zhu
sympathized, but said that he had already had the bandit executed for
stealing Imperial property. As a
horse thief, Diego translated to himself.
The execution had taken place the previous night, Kang Zhu
explained, shortly after the bandit’s capture.
Then the body had been thrown into the ocean, he added.
Diego could almost hear the visitors grind their teeth.
The British representative said something in English to another
member of the delegation that Diego wasn’t able to completely discern.
paling, one of the Chinese visitors addressed the prince, “Your
Highness, our business partners want to know how they can be sure that
the bandit is truly dead?” Diego
thought the visitors were treading on very soft quicksand, asking such a
question of Qing Kang Zhu.
you dealt with the Europeans so long that you are stupid?” Kang Zhu
demanded of the leader of the Wu Shan Hong, the Five Mountain
Company. They openly sold
tea to the British, but it was rumored that they also dealt in opium.
“That you would presume to question the Emperor’s nephew?”
the spokeman cried out, kowtowing repeatedly. “Please accept my most humble apologies, Your Highness.
My question was most stupid.”
it was, but because the British had much against this bandit, here is
his cape. This can be taken
to the British leader in Guangzhou to show the veracity of what I have
said,” Kang Zhu said, handing the black cape to a servant, who in turn
handed it to the visiting delegation.
“Now if you have no further business with me, tell this
European what I just told you and then leave.”
bowed and begged Kang Zhu’s pardon, then left.
Zhaou Haifang came to get Diego, he found the Californiano still
laughing at the discomfiture of the representatives of the British
Imperial Captain was a patient man, but it seemed to him that Diego de
la Vega wanted to learn all about wushu in one evening.
His curiosity was insatiable.
Whenever his men executed a certain maneuver, he stopped them and
asked the purpose of each foot position, hand position and the movement
of their bodies. Much
to the chagrin of the royal physician, Diego even started practicing
some of the basic defensive blocks that the captain and another guard
I have not worked diligently trying to restore your health this day to
have you reinjure yourself tonight!” the physician declared
emphatically. “You must be careful, Diego,” he added, his tone more
conciliatory. Turning to
the captain, he admonished, “And you must not work His Highness’s
guest too greatly, nor reinjure the shoulder.”
The captain smiled knowingly and nodded.
With a sigh, Diego acquiesced but the men still spent almost hour
discussing the use of the hands to incapacitate an armed enemy.
thought of numerous times when the aide of wushu might have
prevented needless death or injury.
Feeling his left arm bound tightly across his chest made him
acutely aware of his limitations, but he still wanted to learn as much
as he could before he began his journey home.
the captain tried to explain to him that this was a discipline of the
mind as well as the body, Diego paused and pondered a moment.
“Captain, I believe that I understand what you are saying.
The wushu is not just hands and feet, not just using power
to hurt someone or to beat them. It
is how you think as much as how you act.
For instance, I have a sword and I feel I am good at its use, but
my mind has to be focused. I
am not as effective if I am angry or afraid,” Diego explained.
The Captain of the Guard nodded his understanding.
continued, “And though I feel I am good with the sword, I do not use
it unless I have to and almost never with the intent to kill.
Am I making sense?”
Diego, with wushu one must discipline his mind before using his
hands and feet. Your mind
must be centered on the wushu, it must be clear of unwanted
thoughts. You cannot have
anger and be a good student of wushu.
Kung Fu, which is a part of wushu, has as its heart
the idea that one should avoid injury to his opponent at all costs.
Let us work on the breathing exercises which will help you focus
your energies, and condition not only your mind but also your body to
use the wushu.”
nodded and followed the instructions implicitly, breathing deeply,
listening to his heart slow to a steady, strong rhythm.
When they finished, Diego looked at the Captain.
“This is similar to the warm up exercises that I learned when I
was taking fencing classed in Spain, but I feel even better than I did
there. I feel very calm and
relaxed.” He paused and
searched for the right words to describe what he was feeling.
“But I also feel as though I have energy, as though I could
ride with the vaqueros all day or face my fiercest enemy.”
“Yes, although you must remember, sometimes our worst enemy is that which is within us,” the captain said.
pondered for a short moment. “Yes,
I think I understand what you are saying,” he concurred.
“And what I am saying is that you must get some sleep. Even though you are much better then you were this morning, even though you slept during the middle of the day, your body still requires more sleep to restore your vital energies,” Zhaou Haifang said testily.
Diego nodded. He did feel tired. Very tired. It was not the despair-laden exhaustion that he had experienced in his flight from Canton, but a good kind of tired, the kind that came from enjoyable work or fulfilling experiences. Following the doctor to his room, the caballero submitted to another examination. He had a cup of tea with the physician and then lay down. Diego didn’t remember the doctor leaving.