In black silk, head covered over in a yellow and white scarf, she hobbles in pain down the street. An elderly woman, her feet and four toes had been mangled and bound as an infant, a relic of yesteryear's Confucian ideal of elite Han beauty—a bizarre and aberrant statement of protest against the bestial behavior of the Manchu barbarians—that foot fetish of the three to five-inch lotus root.
He bends down before her, kneeling upon the dirt. Gently she came to him, unleashing her clogs. As a doctor, he inspects her shattered limbs—each foot shaped like the crescent of a new moon.
All around the strange pair, an American with bright curly ginger hair and freckles and a Han Chinese woman as old as the Yellow Earth itself, the throng stares in amazement.
Hand-drawn rickshaws steer clear of their way. It was not entirely uncommon for commoners to be run over by mandarins in their imperial rush back to the Forbidden City. But even the ones forced by the Manchus to sport pigtails stopped dead in their tracks to regard this weird encounter: Who was this foreigner?
Incense burns in the temple across the street and the monks strike a gong at the very moment that he touches her feet, as wild birds with bright plumage look on.
The strange pair walks side by side in silence into the temple, busy with people chanting, rolling joss sticks in the hope for a better future.
As if in a marriage ceremony, the two stroll until they reach the base of the jade Buddha. The metamorphosis was startling. Before the eyes of the crowd, her feet begin to expand from their binds and open up as the roots of the lotus blossom into a full flower revealing its beauty to the world.
The old woman begins to dance a very sensual dance, sowing rice in the field to the resonant cry of an ancient pipa, an ancient pear-shaped lute. Yet it was not long before the crowd could no longer bear this dance that they could not understand―a pantomime too erotic to be behold…
Gasping, the crowd cries that it is a farce, that her feet had never been bound. Others claim it was a dirty trick of a sorcerer. Or it was a trick of that foreign devil who had sailed across the ocean to plant suspicion and fear in the hearts of good Chinese.
The crowd hurls colored stones―smoothed after the centuries under rapids on display in small bowls of water as works of art. The stones bruise her body and face. Yet still she dances.
In midst of the stoning, a dagger strikes her heart. In fainting, she hands the Westerner a sheet of rice paper stamped in red with Chinese characters, now smeared in blood. Her feet wither back to their original contortion.
Turning to run, he is quickly captured and carried away by the crowd. They would not kill him instantly. They had to take him before the Son of Heaven to tell him of the strange story, to ask for his advice, to demand whether he should live or die.
They strap him on the back of a yak along with sacks of tiger skin, nails, bones, bear gall bladders and musk that they had received from the borders of Nepal and India in exchange for the raw shahtoosh wool of the rare chiru antelope that is to be knitted for the shawls of wealthy Indian brides.
Having left the feuding lands of Gog and Magog, the caravan proceeds along the Silk Road. Silver and golden snakes and monkeys swarm beside them. One great White Ape runs up, snickers in the foreigner’s face.
After weeks of travel, the caravan knocks to demand entry through the gates to the Purple and Forbidden City. The men and women from the lands of Gog and Magog sell their luscious melons and the fruits of their golden poppies.
Thousands of eunuchs chortle in high pitch voices at his plight, "Soon you will become one of us" they chant. The concubines stare from their windows in delight at thought of the touch of such a pale man's flesh.
In the doorway appears the Beauty of Kiruran, a vision of a dried desert flower in the midst of the Taklimakan desert, a distant cousin of Celtic bog men with her bright yellow-brown hair, her body wrinkled like an apricot in her stockings and hat. Her robes are woven with a diagonal twill―a fashion statement of the year 500BC. Her mummified enigma beckons them to enter with a boney finger...
Carrying the Foreigner upon their shoulders, the hoard is permitted to approach the Child Emperor. The Son of Heaven plays with his toys. His servants surround and cuddle him. He dictates his desires and in an instant his wishes are fulfilled. They throw the orange-haired Foreigner to the floor. "Here is a new playmate for you, sire; he is a magician. He opened the toes of the golden lotus root so that an old woman could dance once more. If you believe him to be evil, you should order him to be beheaded. If not, you may find him of some amusement―although you must always keep him under lock and key so that he will not escape to harm others."
The Son of Heaven looks with childish inquisitiveness at this strange being with carrot hair, scraggly beard, and strange cardboard clothes: "Let us see what you can do, if you are what you say you are."
The Westerner replied, "I was not responsible; I was taken by the sweep of events... It was purely accidental... I myself was transfixed at what transpired.... I have no explanation."
But there must be some magic potion, some concoction that you fed that elderly woman so that she would dance her last dance. Did the potion you give her stop her heart in its tracks?"
"But sire I gave her no potion, I assure you, she was killed by a dagger and not by me."
"But my learned scholars have assured me that there have never been any records of a woman behaving in such a fashion and no one has ever died from shaping the feet in the form of the lotus."
"Here, then, read the note that she handed me just prior to her death. I cannot read it. I believe it will exonerate me."
The Child Emperor, with his pudgy red face, took the scrawled paper and showed it to his advisors. He himself had not yet learned to read.
The advisors consulted among themselves before bringing their verdict back to the Emperor. "It is written here as clear as the moon, that the foreign devil is responsible for poisoning her," they said.
"So be it! The woman herself has testified in her final words how the foreigner had molested her and forced some strange liquor down her throat when he forced her to lie beside him. She believed that it was Milk of Paradise. Never had she experienced such pleasure before and never had she felt such depression and despair afterwards. Take him to the chopping block!!!"
With that the Child Emperor tore the paper into tiny shreds, where it was carried off by the birds to build a nest. He returned to his toys.
The mob then grabbed the Foreigner, and jerked him around, before roping his hands and hoisting him on their shoulders. They carry him through the Gate of Proclaimed Military Prowess―where convicts in the hundreds of thousands pass on their way to execution. The knives of the balding butcher glisten in the sun as the eunuchs chant, "Now your body will be dragged through the streets for all to see. Your head will be just like our balls!!!"
Just as he approaches the chopping block, a large crowd burst through the Gates of Heavenly Peace. The crowd chants a mystic dirge―an inner voice that arises from a time and place that is even farther removed. Like the prayers in a Tibetan monastery, the music moves him until he felt a shifting of his weight―his body becoming lighter than air.
Suddenly he begins to ascend, somehow pulled away for their arms and upward into the sky. The troops move in and began to crack the heads of rebellious monks in glowing orange gowns. The people did not know which way to turn, but soon join with the monks against the army.
The battle is one-sided: Even with flaming arrows, stink pots and rock-heaving catapults, the martial arts experts among the crowd could not equal the force of raw steel and rapid-fire Da Pao Gatling guns deployed upon one-wheel carts by the dull intelligence of the red-faced Emperor's masked loyalists.
Looking up, the orange-headed man saw that he was now suspended by a silkworm's thread, which had formed a perfect parasail, that permitted him to soar just above and beyond the blood bath―and thus barely avoiding a horrid fate himself.
But in looking up, he could not see the pudgy, gray silkworm that now held him and many others who had joined the struggle aloft like a black umbrella protecting them all from the driving rains of red-brown clouds…