Empress: A Novel by Shan Sa

By Shan Sa

This can be a ravishing ancient novel of 1 of China's such a lot arguable historic figures: its first and purely lady emperor, Empress Wu, who emerged within the Tang Dynasty and ushered in a golden age.

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I found comfort in the thought of all those aunts and cousins who had never left their corner of the ONE MORNING LONG 35 Shan Sa countryside. I thought of my mother, who had given up all this; of Little Sister, who would marry a country peasant; of her square courtyard; her beasts of burden; and her fields. I swore to myself that one day I would give them new dignity. My carriage was already traveling through eternity. I was tiny, alone, and naked. I was moving toward a man, a god, and an empire.

An elderly woman arrived escorted by a legion of young women in men’s dress. She wore the tunic of a woman of letters, a man’s headdress, and shoes with square toes that curled backwards. She introduced herself and then took my pulse and inspected my hair, my eyes, my tongue, and my breath. In a high, curt voice, she dictated to two scribes the color, smell, and shape of my orifices. She asked me to undress, then measured my hands, arms, shoulders, breasts, hips, thighs, ankles, feet, and toes. “Round, square, triangular, bony .

Without me, she would wither and dry up. Peace detached itself from the clouds on the horizon. Lit up by the sun, its tall ramparts topped with armed pavilions and surveillance towers looked like a celestial crown laid down on the Central Plain. A crowd had gathered at the gates. The blues, reds, yellows, and greens of trousers and tunics jostled together, and the wind spread the smell of spices, incense, urine, and fruit. Under the willow trees along the moat, there were horses, oxen, and camels grazing, sneezing lazily, and dozing.

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