Visiting a Duke’s palace

When entering the gate of the duke’s palace, he walked in stealthily. He never stood in the middle of the gateway, nor did he step on the threshold. When he passed in front of the duke’s throne, he adopted a serious expression on his face, quickened his step, and showed great reluctance to speak. When he lifted up the hem of his gown in preparation for walking up the steps of the audience hall, he inhaled deeply as if he didn’t dare to breathe. On leaving, after descending the first step, an expression of relief enveloped his face. When he reached the bottom step, he walked swiftly, as if on wings. On returning to his original position, he assumed a respectful look again.

Painful: and I’m not just talking about the translation! It’s difficult to imagine how stultifying it must have been to have to control your behavior like this when in palaces of the elite – when a single gesture or smile or word out of place could mean career suicide or perhaps even a more gruesome fate.

Some people may find these passages quite boring, but to me they provide a fascinating glimpse of the sheer drudgery of daily court life in ancient China.

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