The Bridge That Would Not Burn

January 10th, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne presents
a serialization in 14 parts

Week Three:

in which the highly recommended Lt. Atchison takes the top apartment at Number 14 K Street, and Charlotte ponders how most to dislike him.

Lieutenant Thomas Atchison came highly recommended to the bank and didn’t disappoint. Atchison proved indispensable at the office and displayed a chilly and distinguished aversion to small talk, which impressed his employer. In this regard he reminded Laurence Foster Worthington—now Senior Vice President—of Charlotte, but unlike his daughter, Atchison possessed a delightful lack of passion and a statuesque heartlessness. Worthington’s recovery since the substantial loss in his railroad investment during The Panic wasn’t entirely as complete as he’d let on. Finding a Vice President of such youth and life experience was sure to promote Worthington’s own appeal as the board prepared to choose the next Managing Director. And when rumors reached him that Lieutenant Thomas Atchison had been in the 1st Maryland Infantry regiment, possibly even in the — platoon itself during ’65, Worthington felt his legacy at the Bank of Columbia was secure.  He hadn’t forgotten the significant talk of confiscated valuables missing in the confusion and frustration at the surrender near Burke’s Station. It became essential to him that Atchison be invited to every private dinner party hosted by the partners, included in every public gathering he himself attended, and generally integrated into as many facets of his own professional life as possible. At each turn this Atchison struck Worthington as a stoic and reliable article of both curiosity and detachment. More importantly, from what Worthington had gleaned with near catholic patience and devotion, Atchison could very well be in possession of the valuables.

His best chance: create a place for Atchison at Number 14 K Street. Laurence Foster Worthington became obsessed with the fruition of a still unformed plan. Charlotte was clever, frightening, and the last of him. And nothing of his would be wasted. This Thomas Atchison would live in the top apartment left vacant by that fool of an aid, Coleburn. This Atchison. He would be their future.


Atchison made his way down the staircase after settling in his new apartment at the top of Number 14 K Street. His legs were stiff. No one had observed any change in him, he was certain. Still, something was different. Wrong. Atchison knew somewhere inside his body was a spreading death.

He paused at the foot of the stairs, peering at his face in the gilded mirror to his right. Well-groomed, sandy hair still waved slightly in rebellion against the pomade. Clear, narrow, hazel eyes, no sign of the fog he felt behind them. Smart brown suit, shined shoes. The cough had returned and he did his best to suppress it.

He met calculating brown eyes in the mirror and, coughing softly into his hand, turned slowly to face Charlotte. She said nothing. He angled his head slightly and raised his eyebrows in expectation. She appraised him openly in silence.

“It’s nearly eleven. We eat at noon.”

He stood aside as she passed, the wake of skirts chilling the air around him as much as the creature’s eyes as she surveyed him.

Charlotte wondered in which manner she was to dislike Atchison. He was no sycophant, to his credit. He was twice her age but wasn’t fat or unattractive. He didn’t seem a stupid man and he had a potentially interesting past. That evening she was in the parlor doorway, with no real memory of walking down the corridor.

Atchison sat in the chair near the fireplace, a small notebook on the arm of the chair, and a book in one hand, fidgeting with a pencil in the other.

“Sorry to disturb you,” she lied.

“You don’t disturb me,” he shrugged.

“I’ve misplaced my bookmark. It’s sterling and was a gift from my mother.” That was true.

She waited for his reply. His head tilted back down to the book. The pencil did acrobatics. She sighed and reached for a novel from one of the shelves lining the wall. He stilled the pencil to mark in the notebook.

“Do you always read with a pencil to hand?” She cleared her throat and went on. “Marking your favorite passages?”

 “Only notes to myself.”

She made a noise in her throat and replaced the novel she had taken.

“I write things down too sometimes.” She turned to the side and paid particular attention to the crystal dish on the sideboard. “You,” she tried to contain her curiosity and lower her register, “keep a journal then?”

“I did once.” His eyes dragged up the wall behind her. “It seemed the thing to do.” She felt something in the air shift. She read once that hunters and hunted animals could sense such things. She made no sudden movements. 

“I’m sure it’s interesting to look back on. If you kept it, that is.”

“I lost it in those last weeks. But yes,” his eyes settled on her own in a very unsettling manner. “I don’t always trust my memory of things.” Then, “I don’t tend to look back on things at all really.”

The next morning, she finished dressing in darkness. She experimented with combs and twists when she heard a light swish at her door. Dropping her hair as if it burned her, she went to the door where a small, pale blue page, folded once, lay on the floor. Nothing so mysterious had ever happened to her! That thought in itself was infuriating. She snatched the note and opened it, darting glances at the door as if it would burst open and her ridiculous excitement would be exposed.

Two words scrolled neatly across the middle.

Good morning.

Hours later, reading her book in the chair near the window, Charlotte pulled the note from between the pages. Good morning. She refolded it and smiled very slightly as she placed it back under the cover.

Atchison began to feel quite pleased with his situation.  It was a large and very fine house.  The soft tapping of shoes on the polished planks of the floor, the gentle rustling of skirts, his own height measuring up neatly shoulder-length with the framed artwork and tapestries along the walls, and the general smell of antiquity, finery, and stability encouraged him that if he were to suffer physical deterioration at least it would be done in style.

Then a very faint sound settled on him.  It was singing from very far away.  At first, he thought he had imagined it, but finally he was forced to stop and concentrate.

“Ma’am?” he called to the housekeeper who had only just reached out her smooth hand to the glass doorknob of the study.  She indulged him with a tilt of her head.

“Yes, sir?”

Atchison hesitated to be sure he did in fact still hear the voice.  “Is there a …musician… in the house?”  He tried to sound amused and impressed, to be every bit the politely complimentary guest.  The voice was high in the air it seemed.  He could barely make out the words, but they made him feel uneasy.

The housekeeper’s eyes flickered to the wall beside him, and breathing in she pronounced, “It’s chimney cleaning week. I’m afraid the girl is a bit queer sometimes.  Does she disturb you?”

“She sings while in the chimney?” He ignored her irrelevant question.

“Yes.  I have mentioned it to Mr. Worthington, but he says he cannot hear her from his study,” she gestured to the room they stood outside, “and so she remains. But if at any time she bothers you from your apartment, she’ll be released.”

“No need,” Atchison was anxious to leave the hallway and commence his meeting with Mr. Worthington. He had not been listening well to the woman. The words from the voice were closer, descending. He moved toward the door as she opened it.

Mr. Worthington stood behind his large oak desk to greet Atchison with a broad smile.


Join us Sunday of the Seventeenth, for Week Four:
in which Charlotte slurps her tea, again, and does not ask Lt. Atchison if he found confederate treasure.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.

Vote now for 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest
Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
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The Bridge That Would Not Burn

January 6th, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne presents
a serialization in 14 parts

Week Two:
in which Mr. Porter performs admirably in games of skill, and Mrs. Fellows is devilishly delicate.

Back in the much-appreciated sunshine of the cold day, the trio made their way to the game area. As expected, Mr. Porter performed superbly in every contest in which he participated. The ladies were suitably encouraging and complementary and after three or four proofs of his excellence they set off in search of lunch.

            There was a café across the small field, and they joined the many others heading in that direction. It was crowded and tables were scarce. Mr. Porter, no longer amused by forbearance, objected to the wait. Charlotte backed up and over to the windows while he disputed the order in which he and the gentleman nearby had arrived. Very civilly of course, but it embarrassed her. She sighed and distanced herself by observing the cream and gold interior of the café. The atmosphere was warm and pleasant and vaguely French, waiters bustled about, appetizing aromas drifted by her nose, cheerful faces conversed and laughed and glanced over menus.

            Mrs. Fellows joined her by the windows. “Do you suppose your friend would allow us to join him?” Charlotte furrowed her brow and followed her mischievous gaze. Atchison sat at his own table near the back of the room. Three empty chairs accompanied him.

            “He isn’t my friend.” It was all Charlotte could think to say.

            Mrs. Fellows was already waving at him delicately. Charlotte saw the rise and fall of Atchison’s chest and shoulders; such was the depth of his sigh and resignation.

            “Oh, Mrs. Fellows, I wish you hadn’t done that,” she murmured.

            “Nonsense. We are acquainted. He has enough seats.” She smiled devilishly. “And I’d like to see what Mr. Porter makes of him. Jealousy is a useful tool, my dear.”

            Charlotte lowered her face in shame. Or concealment. She was not sure.

            “Mr. Porter, I do believe our starvation has been thwarted!” Mrs. Fellows flounced over to him and directed his attention to Mr. Atchison, who was now standing at his table, a man without a country.

Join us Sunday of the tenth, for Week Three:
in which the highly recommended Lt. Atchison takes the top apartment at Number 14 K Street, and Charlotte ponders how most to dislike him.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.

Vote now for 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest
Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
Bonafides/ home

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The Bridge That Would Not Burn

January 3rd, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne presents
a serialization in 14 parts

Week One:
in which Charlotte attends a most tedious carnival, with the even more tedious Mr. Porter.

Part I
Washington DC, 1880

It was during the early hours that Charlotte disposed of her corpses. She ended in the parlor where she had last seen her mother in the splendid coffin. Only the mustard painted walls, the floorboards, and the elaborate muted blue wainscoting of Number 14 K Street knew Charlotte Worthington wandered the fine row house like an immaterial specter. Each night before slipping into bed, she filled one sheet of creamy stationary with observations. She carefully crafted her words until they pleased her, the way she imagined parents must be pleased when their children perform. The next morning, she carried the fine page into the stirring daylight outside her room, walked it down the hall, the stairs, and paused in the chaotically beautiful moss green and eggshell tiled entryway while choosing a room in which to kill it. Each room had a lovely fireplace. Some were mantled in marble. Some in delicately carved wood. She chose a suitable altar, gazed at the page one last time, touched a lit match to the bottom left corner, and let the ink that had sunk deep into pressed cotton and linen curl and blacken into nothing. Sometimes she wept. But not often. She lay the last flaming corner gently to the metal grate and inhaled deeply of the smoke.


Carnivals were not Charlotte’s preferred entertainment. If she wanted to walk about observing the exploitation of humanity’s most irritating and humiliating errors while pretending to be amused and amazed, she would simply attend one of her father’s dinner parties. Mr. Porter had invited her to accompany him and she quickly enlisted her only friend, Mrs. Margaret Fellows, to join as chaperone. Mrs. Margaret Fellows was five years older, married, and was everything Charlotte’s father wished her to be.

Mrs. Fellows, bright and glittering as the morning itself, arrived at Number 14 K Street shortly before 9:00 and joined Charlotte in the parlor. She swept through the doorway in an icy cloud of heavy green linen and did not remove her blue velvet coat or gloves. “My dear!” she gasped. “It’s precisely your type of day—every soul on the street is huddled into himself, bracing against the cold with a grimace on his face and a swear word on his lips.” She smiled, pressing her rosy cheeks to Charlotte’s in greeting. 

An elegant black carriage sailed over the cobblestones, drawn by a fine brown standardbred and Mr. Jacob Porter arrived. His blue eyes twinkled merrily above a wide attractive smile and well-groomed brown beard, yet Charlotte saw only a slightly taller puppet version of her father.

“Ladies! What a morning.” He removed his hat with a flourish and took each of them briefly by the hand and then focused on Charlotte. “Shall we?”

Mrs. Fellows linked arms with Charlotte. “We shall. Get your coat, my dear.”


Charlotte’s voice was very high, making people coo and sigh over her as though she were a baby. Her father’s voice was even, indifferent, and vaguely despondent. He was tiresome, often speaking to Charlotte in the same voice he spoke to Ursula, the housekeeper. He was never cruel though, which had assured the child Charlotte of his affection for her. She had brought her tall father offerings: wilted flowers from the dilapidated garden on top of the house, wounded baby birds pink and ugly and rejected by their mothers, and drawings. Lots of drawings. She drew purple cliffs, mad purple oceans, and tall strangled trees with no leaves. They were winter trees, she would explain to her father, but he only thanked her coolly and piled papers under an iron paperweight shaped like a horse’s head on his oak desk. Once she had asked her father what the iron shape was, and he replied it was a knight. Child Charlotte had nodded, but the shape didn’t look like a soldier. Even now, adult Charlotte looked at the paperweight as she perused her father’s bookshelf or took a tour of the house while everyone slept. She knew about games and strategy, but even now she had no use for a warrior most valuable in the center of a crowd. A regular horse would have done her more good.


At the Watson and Standish Mesmeric Co. stage tent, Mr. Porter addressed both ladies, though directly at Charlotte, “I saw this company in Connecticut and you won’t believe it. I must warn you though,” he was suddenly very serious and looked intently into Charlotte’s eyes, “it may disturb you.” He took her hands gently. “Can you be brave, Miss Worthington?”

She set her jaw and resisted the instinct to pull her hands away. Glancing at Mrs. Fellows, she inhaled and said very seriously, “I’ll try.” Mrs. Fellows pressed her smile into the back of her gloved hand.

“Courageous girl, well done.” He reached behind her back, but she moved forward.

“I’ve seen advertisements about this,” Mrs. Fellows said. “Magnetism or some such? Used with moderate success on victims of paralysis and nervous afflictions? It sounds quite odd.” She smiled, “How exciting.”

Mr. Porter grinned. “And the practice of catalepsy, the human bridge, they call it—I hope they haven’t started yet.” He waited his turn to pay a rather grubby and surly man in a checkered cap for three tickets and then ushered them through the entrance booth. They found three seats toward the back, as the show had indeed begun.

“What on earth?” Mrs. Fellows gasped as two men stood on stage at either side of a woman lying horizontally between two chairs. An enormous stone, the length of the woman’s torso, lay on top of her. She seemed peacefully asleep.

Charlotte adjusted in the folding chair, her bustle forcing her forward. Mrs. Fellows gasped again as one of the men produced a sledgehammer from behind his back. “Oh heavens! Surely he’s not going to…”

The man on stage spoke, but the murmuring and expressions of astonishment from the back area muffled his voice. Charlotte sat up straighter and leaned further to the side to see more clearly. Mr. Porter, eyeing her with a mixture of mirth and curiosity, leaned close to say, “Don’t worry, Miss Worthington. All shall be well.”

She threw him an irritated look.

The sledgehammer came down to the outcry of the crowd, and the stone shattered over the woman’s body. Mrs. Fellows covered her mouth with one gloved hand and grabbed Charlotte’s arm with the other. All eyes watched the peacefully sleeping woman. The indiscernible collective voice of the audience drowned anything the men on stage said. One leaned down, spoke to the woman, waved his hand over her face, and then helped her sit up to the mad applause of the crowd.

“Simply splendid!” Mr. Porter said as he clapped. Charlotte nodded and clapped.

The next performances required volunteers from the audience, a prospect that terrified Charlotte. She scanned the crowd, trying to guess which would be next to go forward. In her perusal she recognized a sandy head, ramrod straight back, and chilly demeanor that had nothing to do with the month of the year. It was that man, Atchison. She had been introduced to him months ago at a gathering when he joined her father at the Bank of Columbia, and further subjected to his calculating glares at the Wilcox dinner party last month. He seemed intelligent and of some standing in the community, but considerably lacking in personality. A magic show was hardly the setting in which she expected to find his sort.

He reached into his vest pocket, and when an elegantly dressed middle aged man in the row before him leaned to say something to the woman to his left, Atchison very deftly dropped something into the man’s right overcoat pocket. The man laughed and raised his right hand in the air just as Atchison leaned back in his seat. Atchison crossed one leg over the other and folded his arms.

The elegantly dressed man was brought forward, drawn into a series of simple questions, and was soon clucking like a chicken to the guffaws of the crowd. Mr. Porter in particular found it hilarious. “My God! That’s William Harris of Chesterton’s!” he laughed. “Fantastic!”

Charlotte tried to smile but leaned to her other side and said to Mrs. Fellows, “Are you acquainted with that man, there? His name is Atchison” She indicated him with her jaw. Mrs. Fellows laughed heartily and only half inclined her head in response to Charlotte.

“Pardon, my dear? Who?” She tried to follow Charlotte’s direction. “Ah, I don’t know much about him other than– Oh! Hahaha!” The man on the stage snapped his fingers and Mr. William Harris, attorney at Chesterton and Phillips, found himself applauded and cheered as he returned in a pleased yet bewildered state to his seat.

“Go on,” Charlotte encouraged.

Mrs. Fellows, still laughing, turned to her. “All I know is his war record is something impressive and his work ethic and intelligence are excellent. That’s what Martin says, anyway.” She inclined her head and half smiled. “Why?”

“No reason. My father mentions him sometimes.” Her friend lifted her eyebrows. “It’s nothing.” Charlotte said.

“What’s nothing?” Mr. Porter injected. People rose from their chairs and exited the tent happily.

“Is the show over? Had we missed so much?” Mrs. Fellows pouted.

“I apologize for my lack of planning, ladies. But there’s plenty of amusement to be had, I assure you!” He rose and offered his hand to Charlotte.

She saw no option but to accept it and stood. As her face reached Mr. Porter’s shoulder her eyes met Atchison’s behind him. Unsure why, Charlotte was taken aback. Mr. Porter was talking. People and faces were everywhere. She was moved forward by Mrs. Fellows behind her and led forward by Mr. Porter before her. The man Atchison had no expression but watched her as he would a leaf blown down a path. Something light and insubstantial, not worth the effort or interest to pursue. Perhaps it was indignation at that blank face, but she felt herself the woman trapped under a large immovable stone, a bridge between two balance points.


Join us Wednesday of the Sixth, for Week Two:
in which Mr. Porter performs admirably in games of skill, and Mrs. Fellows is devilishly delicate.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burn, here.

Vote now for 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest
Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
Bonafides/ home

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Welcome to 2021

January 1st, 2021

Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen and Everyone Else–
welcome to .

We are pleased to present to you,

[wild applause]

Traffic Update for the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest:
in 31 days of daily posts, we received
3,913 visits from 1,450 unique IPs
— before Fan Voting even began.
What a contest indeed.

Now available on the menu, somewhere around here,
FAN VOTING is now open
for the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest
— and it will stay open until January 16th.

And here’s what we’ll be publishing in 2021
on :

January 1st-16th,
Fan Voting for the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest

January 3rd- March 28th,
The Bridge That Would Not Burn
by Christina Rauh Fishburne

January 18th
Winners Announced for the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest

April, 2021
Lengthy Poem Contest

Who’s responsible for this mad-cap affair? Masthead
Back to the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest
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New Year’s 2021 Party on

December 31st, 2020

!Welcome to the Western Hemisphere, 2021 !

In two hours (and probably 10 minutes or so)
FAN VOTING begins for the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest–
so read the stories, here.

In more exciting Defenestrationism Family news,
contest judge Glenn A. Bruce has a brand new book,
the Western-flavored, “He Rode“.
And may I assure you, it is quite the ride.

Rio de Janeiro in Brazil,
Montevideo in Uruguay,
and Buenos Aries in Argentina
these are to name but a few
of the monumental cities
in which it is now 2021.

Keep checking-in,
we’ll be back with more of the
2021 New Year’s Party

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New Year’s 2021 Party at

December 31st, 2020

!Hoorah!– 2021 has breached continental Europe and Africa.

There are mere hours till FAN VOTING begins
for the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest–
so read the stories, here.

The party will continue on
in three hours, as we welcome 2021 to

Brazil, Iceland, and parts of Argentina and Uruguay

To bide your time until then,
here is an interview featuring Paul-Newell Reaves
— in which he talks about success as owner and co-editor
along some practical advice on brand-growing.

Many, many thanks to the fantastic interviewer,
Suvi Mahonen–
one of the contest judges for our !Short Story Contest!

A few cities just liberated by 2021:

Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso
Douglas on the Isle of Mann
Timbuktu in Mali
London in England
Dublin in Ireland

You are running out of time to submit to
Lengthy Poem Contest– you only have until
it is no longer January 1st, anywhere on Earth.

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New Year’s 2021 Party at

December 31st, 2020

!Congrats, Central Europe and Africa!
for you have made it through 2020.

Cities where it is now 2021 include,

Tunis in Tunisia
Rome in Italy
Windhoek in Nimibia
Berlin in Germany
Lagos in Nigeria
Copenhagen in Denmark

We have begun the countdown to FAN VOTING
for the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest,
beginning in less than six hours!–
as soon as 2021 hits the East Coast Standard Time.

Remember, you are running out of time to submit to
Lengthy Poem Contest– you only have until
it is no longer January 1st, anywhere on Earth.

Join us in an hour, when we welcome 2021
to the rest of Western Europe and Africa.

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New Year’s 2021 Party at

December 31st, 2020

Welcome to our countdown to FAN VOTING
for the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest,
beginning as soon as 2021 hits the East Coast Standard Time.

And remember, you are running out of time to submit to
Lengthy Poem Contest– you have until
it is no longer January 1st, anywhere on Earth.

It is, however, already the New Year in many places across the globe–
most recently:

Cairo in Egypt
Beirut in Lebanon
Athens in Greece
Gaborone in Botswana
Bucharest in Romania

Join us in ten minutes as we
welcome in 2021 to Central Europe and Africa.

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The First Empress

December 31st, 2020

by Long Tang

This is part four. Read the suite from the beginning.

Act III – The Wise Ruler

In 195 BC, Lu Zhi, the first Imperial Empress, and the first Dowager Empress of Imperial China was forced by circumstance to become the first female ruler of China. She used drastic measures to secure the stability of the realm. Her penchant for violence cowered the courtiers and no one dared to challenge her authority.

The Dowager Empress was determined to lay a solid foundation for a great empire. The empire had yet recover from 500 years of civil war and tyrannical rule (of the Ch’in dynasty). She might have rode roughshod over the aristocrats, but she was gentle in her treatment of the people. She lowered taxes and eliminated labor levees to ease the burden of the people. She replaced the harsh penal codes of the Ch’in Empire and reduced the degrees of punishments. The measure removed frivolous crimes and limited penalties, thus devoting more manpower to production and commerce. Lu Zhi established a military conscription system, and discouraged lavish spending. She brought coinage mints under government management for quality control (of the coins), stabilize market prices and encouraged trade and commerce.

Politically, Lu Zhi relied on the legacy courtiers of Emperor Liu Bang’s regime to provide stability and continuity for the people. After suffering a major defeat at the Battle of Bai-Deng, Liu Bang was forced to sign a peace treaty with the powerful Xiongnu Empire. Xiongnu were a nomadic people in northern and western China and Siberia. Under the agreement, the Imperial Han Empire would marry its princesses to Xiongu chieftains and send gifts of grain and silk. In return, the nomads would not invade the Han Empire. When Liu Bang died, Mào Dùn Chán Yú, the Xiongnu chieftain, sent a message to the Han Dowager Empress, ‘You lost your husband, and I lost my wife. We two ruler are unhappy, but there is no reason for distress. I propose a union of what we have to make up for which were lost.’  The Dowager Empress was insulted and infuriated, but she took the counsel of her courtiers and suppressed her rage. Instead of sending an army, she sent a return message, ‘I am old and feeble, with falling hair and missing teeth, it would be most difficult for me to travel.” She sent the message with gifts of horses and carriages. The diplomatic response alleviated a military confrontation and allowed peace to reign. For 70 years, Lu Zhi and the ensuing Han emperors abided by the appeasement policy which allowed China to recover from her civil wars and grew strong, strong enough to eventually evict the Xiongnu from eastern Asia.

Lu Zhi was a visionary ruler. While the First Emperor Ch’in (Qin) Shi Huang Di physically unified China in 221 BC under the Ch’in banner, the average person still thought of himself as a member of various kingdoms of the pre-unification era. It was Empress Lu Zhi’s policy that laid the foundation for the melting pot that melded the diverse people into one race. It was the reason that majority of the ethnic Chinese were called the Han people. Historians regarded Empress Lu Zhi as an effective ruler whose astute administration laid the foundation for benign government that made significant contributions to the building of China. Nevertheless, they often referred to her as “The Manipulator.”

Ch’in (Qin) Shi Huang Di never named an empress and neither did his heirs. After the fall of the Ch’in dynasty, Liu Bang defeated all contenders and established the Imperial Han dynasty. He name Lu Zhi as empress, thus Lu Zhi became the first Empress of Imperial China; by circumstances, she was also the first Dowager Empress and the first female ruler of China.


Join us tonight and into tomorrow
for an internet New Years party!

back to the 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest
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The First Empress

December 30th, 2020

by Long Tang

This is part three. Read the suite from the beginning.

Act II – The Conniving Regent

In 202 BC, Liu Bang became the first Emperor of the Imperial Han dynasty, with Lu Zhi as the empress and their son Liu Ying as the Crown Prince. However, it was not long before Liu Bang’s favorite concubine, Lady Chi, started nagging the emperor to name her own son Liu Ruyi as the crown prince. Liu Bang consulted with his courtiers, who opposed the removal of Liu Yang without cause. Empress Lu Zhi was concerned about Lady Chi’s schemes, and decided to secure her son’s position.

Lu Zhi knew Liu Bang admired four famous sages, and sought to recruit them into his service, but the four men did not want to be bothered and went into hiding in the mountains. Lu Zhi sent men with gifts to the four sages and wrote a personal letter requesting their assistance as tutors for Crown Prince Liu Ying. Her humble plead convinced the four sages to become Liu Ying’s mentors and advisors. Lu Zhi then arranged a banquet for Crown Prince Liu Ying to showcase his corps of advisors to the emperor. The presence of the four sages in the crown prince’s entourage convinced the emperor not to remove Liu Ying as the heir to the throne.

In 195 BC, Liu Bang died. The 17 year old Crown Prince Liu Ying ascended to the throne with Lu Zhi as the Dowager Empress/Regent until Liu Ying reached his majority. Without Liu Bang as a restraint, Lu Zhi’s psychopathic streak came to the fore when she took the helm of the empire. The Dowager Empress sensed the tenuousness of her authority which was derived from her young son, the immature young emperor; and paranoia surged to the surface. She decided to kill all senior military commanders to eliminate the threats to her realm. They were the men who had helped her husband built the empire, held high positions and maintained large followings thus posed threats to her power. Shen Yiji, the senior minister became aware of her intentions, he dissuaded the Dowager Empress from the rash deed which would have provoked revolts, followed by a civil war and the destruction of the still fragile empire.

Lu Zhi heeded the advice of her friend who had been her guardian and protector while they were prisoner of Xiang Yu, and avoided the political crisis. As an alternative solution, she chose Liu Bang’s favorite concubine Lady Chi to demonstrate her power. She first poisoned Prince Liu Ruyi, the son of Lady Chi (fathered by Liu Bang) then cut off Lady Chi’s four limbs, gouged out her eyes, smoked her ears to deafness, and muted her with drugs. The empress then forced all senior courtiers and generals to view the sufferings of Lady Chi who had been left in a stench-filled toilet chamber. The lady suffered for three whole days before she expired. The demonstration put to rest any thought of rebellion against her authority.

Lu Zhi also ordered her son Liu Ying, the young emperor, to visit Lady Chi in her tortured state. It was Lu Zhi’s idea of tough love, to harden the young man for his duties as the emperor. The empress’ technique worked with the battle hardened courtiers and generals, however, in the case of her son the emperor, her show of violence backfired. The experience traumatized the 17-year-old emperor. He was shocked by his mother’s sadistic cruelty. The young emperor had a caring personality. Viewing the tortured body of Lady Chi devastated the psyche of the young emperor. He felt distraught and helpless in spite of his august position of an emperor. She was his mother, and Confucian ethics does not condone disobedience to one’s parent. The emperor distanced himself from his mother then in a fit of anger, he declared his resolution to not serve as the emperor. The Dowager Empress was surprised by her son’s petulant reaction to her endeavors. The young man did not properly appreciate the purpose of her deeds – to secure the empire for him, the Emperor. Nevertheless, the empire needed a ruler. Lu Zhi shook her head in anguish then charged ahead with herself holding the reins of the empire.

As for the emperor, he withdrew into his private wonderland and sought solace in his imperial stable of courtesans, both males, and females. Within seven years, he expired from overindulgence.

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