Battle of the Bloggers (#127)

Get ready to rumble!

In today’s post, blogger Mary of The Ruby Ronin and I go head-to-head on Tang Dynasty Trivia.

Author photo original (1)
This is Weina. Don’t be fooled by how nice she looks. She’s devious.

Weina Randel will be officiating the match. Randel spent six years researching China’s only female Emperor. She’s got some brutal questions for us about both her books (The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon), as well as Chinese history and culture in general.

Who will win? The woman who actually speaks Mandarin and lived in China, or the woman who took one class on Chinese history over a decade ago in college?

Let’s find out. Here’s the completely slightly edited version of our game show, conducted primarily via Skype.


WEINA: Ladies, thank you so much for agreeing to do this. I have seven questions for each of you, plus a tie-breaker if necessary.

AUTUMN: It’s not going to be necessary. Mary is going to crush me. Especially if you’re dinging us on pronunciation. I don’t even know what tones ARE.

WEINA: I’ll give you a break on pronunciation.

AUTUMN: Whoo-hoo! You’re going DOWN, Mary!

MARY: whispers something intelligible in Mandarin.

WEINA laughs.

AUTUMN: Wait! What did she say? Is she talking trash in Mandarin?! You’re not giving her bonus points for that, are you?

WEINA: First question, to Mary.

AUTUMN: Teacher’s pet.

WEINA: Negative one point for Autumn!


WEINA: I’m kidding. This time. Mary, the ancient Tang China was a highly stratified, hierarchical society with classes and distinctions. The emperor used clothing color to mark the status and distinction. For example: the highest-ranking aristocrats wore purple, middle-ranking red and green, and lowest-ranking blue, and the commoners and scholars white.

Will my old textbooks help me win? Spoiler alert: No.
Will my old textbooks help me win? Spoiler alert: No.

AUTUMN: Oh, crap. I don’t remember ANYTHING about this in C.P. Fitzgerald’s China: A Short Cultural History.

WEINA: Ah-hem. The question is to Mary. True or false: the butchers and the merchants, considered one of the lower class, must wear the color black.

MARY: True!

WEINA: Correct! A point for Mary! Yes, that law was made during the Sui Dynasty.

AUTUMN: Clearly a lucky guess.

WEINA: Now, Autumn. Emperor Taizong came from a military family with strong women. It was said his aunt, a princess, was a superb swordswoman and an archer, who helped her father, Emperor Gaozu, lead cavalry and crushed the Sui Armies during their rebellion. True or false.

Empress of Bright MoonAUTUMN: Well, maybe the character of Pheasant’s sister in the Empress of Bright Moon is based on Emperor Taizong’s aunt. I’m gonna go with true. Mainly because I want an ass-kicking heroine to be true.

WEINA: True!

AUTUMN: I have a point!

WEINA: Mary — beauty for women in the Tang Dynasty was not only an asset –

AUTUMN: Wait! I want the beauty question. Why didn’t I get the beauty question?!

WEINA: Minus one for Autumn for interrupting.

AUTUMN: Goodbye, point.

WEINA: Mary, beauty was also insurance for a better and comfortable life. Naturally, women in the Tang Dynasty took great lengths to obtain beauty – a fair complexion that bordered being pale. True or false: one way women achieved a pale complexion was to smear the face with the blood of a black-boned, silky bird on the seventh day of the seventh moon.

MARY: Oh, yeah, I totally know this one.

AUTUMN: Holy shit, really?

MARY: Yeah. Killed some black birds myself.

AUTUMN: You did NOT!

MARY: Of course not. But this is really specific, so I think it has to be true, because otherwise Weina’s just too good at making stuff up.

WEINA: Yes! It is true! Another point for Mary. Now, Autumn, it is said that Chinese people considered boiled hump of Bactrian camel as a delicacy, and fat marmots savory. True or false: To please the emperors, people in the north sent bamboo rats — animals fed on bamboo roots that were the size of rabbits — to the palace. To eat.

AUTUMN (whining): Why didn’t you give THIS one to Mary? I cannot imagine anyone likes rats, but I also cannot imagine people willingly eating chicken feet and my husband’s family does it all the time, but, uh…I’m gonna say false, because no one wants to eat rats.

MARY: I’m with you on this one, Autumn.

WEINA: Wrong. It’s true. People in China also ate cats, and in the Tang Dynasty, Chinese people ate all sorts of unusual animals.

AUTUMN: ARGH! We suck.

MARY: Speak for yourself. I’m winning! But I am surprised. I never saw anyone in China eat rats.

AUTUMN: But they eat pigeons, and those are really just rats with wings, right?

WEINA: Back to Mary. During a major festival in the Tang Dynasty, the emperor lifted the curfew of the city for three days, during which citizens could freely stroll the streets and mingle with people of different classes. True or false: this time was called the Festival of Light and the festival happened on the New Year.

MARY: I’m gonna say false cuz I don’t remember Chinese New Year ever being referred to as “the Festival of Light.”

Just one of the gorgeous pictures of the Lantern Festival from Foreign Sanctuary.
Just one of the gorgeous pictures of the Lantern Festival from Foreign Sanctuary.

WEINA: You are correct! It’s actually called the Lantern Festival. Autumn, in ancient China, the emperors trained the troops by encouraging people to wrestle. First called “horn butting,” and later “paired shoving,”  it is similar to Japanese sumo. True or false: the sport existed in China as early as third century B.C.

AUTUMN: Uuuuuuhhhhh, I don’t remember reading anything about this. So I’m gonna say false and hope my man C.P. doesn’t let me down. AGAIN.

WEINA: Wrong! It’s true! I discovered this during my research.

AUTUMN: Oh, great, I have one point and Mary has three! C.P., you have much to answer for.

WEINA: Mary, Chinese people were very superstitious during the Tang Dynasty–

AUTUMN: Clearly, much has changed in the intervening centuries. [Author’s note: Think I’m just being snarky? Check out this post.)

WEINA: As I was saying to Mary… True or false: They were so superstitious that they liked twins, but disliked triplets and quadruplets.

MARY: Four is an unlucky number in China –

AUTUMN: I’ll say! [Seriously, see this post.]

MARY: And in Japan, three was bad because it is “not harmonious” – there’s no pairs there. So I’m gonna say true.

WEINA: You’re right! Twins were fine, but triplets were considered abnormal and quadruplets were a very bad omen suggesting an over-abundance of yin and lack of yang.

AUTUMN: Yin is the female, of course, right?

WEINA and MARY: Yes.

AUTUMN: Figures. Stupid neo-Confucian sexists.

WEINA: Autumn. True or false: to be considered successful, the young men of the Tang Dynasty had the goal of acquiring a government post, civil or military, by taking examinations given by the government.

AUTUMN: TRUE! TRUE! Exams are all you ever hear about in Chinese History class! I think we got an entire exam on the exams, even.

WEINA: Yes. They were required to assemble in the capital on the eleventh moon, and the exam would take place the next spring.

AUTUMN: Yes! Two points! Epic comeback starts right here!

WEINA: Mary, scholars in the Tang Dynasty often used seals on their official papers and greeting cards. True or false: because of this, they developed the technique of multiple stamping, an important precursor of the invention of printing in the Tang Dynasty.

MARY: I know the Chinese invented printing, so I’m gonna go with true. And they did have a ton of seals and stamps.

WEINA: False.

MARY: Damn it!

WEINA: It was actually the silk dyers. They applied their tints to threads or the whole cloth and stamped it on the fabric. The process would eventually require them to use the desired design on a block of wood and swap the blocks to create the design.MooninthePalace Next question, for Autumn — in the novel The Moon in the Palace, Pheasant gave Mei an expensive gift to show his love and devotion. True or false: the gift was a horse carved out of jade.

AUTUMN: Aw, crap. I know Pheasant gave Mei the jade piece that belonged to his mother, but I can’t remember the shape. So sure, it can be a horse!

WEINA: No. It was a jade silkworm.


WEINA: Mary, in The Moon in the Palace, Mei made a mortuary tablet to honor her father on a special day when many people in China showed their respect to their ancestors. True or false: the special day was called Qingming Festival and it occurred on the seventh day of the seventh month.

MARY: Yes – that’s the tomb sweeping festival.

WEINA: False. Quingming festival was a solar celebration set on April 5th.

MARY: Oh, man! I need to learn my moon calendar better.

AUTUMN: Haha, she got you with a trick question, too. We’re tied for sucking.

WEINA: Autumn — true or false: in the novel The Empress of Bright Moon, Mei managed to escape the fate of exile. She hid in a Buddhist Monastery for three years until Emperor Gaozong sought her out.

AUTUMN: Ha, I see you trying to trick me again, but no! Mei was exiled TO a Buddhist Monastery for three years until she snuck away. So false!

WEINA: You are correct. Mary, in the novel The Empress of Bright Moon, Mei quoted Zhuang Tzu’s classic story of Zhuang Zhou’s Dream to debate with the Regent, in order to impress him with her knowledge of philosophy. True or false?

MARY: I’m gonna say true!

WEINA: False! Wrong Zhou – Mei quoted Lao Tzu.

MARY: GAH! Trickery!

WEINA: Autumn, in the novel The Empress of Bright Moon, Mei had a favorite pet, who comforted her greatly in her loneliness. True or false: the pet was called Lion, and it was a cat.

AUTUMN: FALSE! It was a mastiff and he was awesome and you killed him off and I am still mad about that!

WEINA: You are correct, but shhh! Spoilers, Autumn!

AUTUMN: He was a GREAT character, and he even had a bad leg, but he didn’t let that stop him. And if killing him wasn’t bad enough, then you–

WEINA: And that’s it for the questions today! Thank you for playing, ladies!

Weina signs off Skype. Mary and Autumn stare at each other.

MARY: You just couldn’t let the dog thing go.

AUTUMN: Did you not read my last post? About my dog?

MARY: So…who won? I have four points.

AUTUMN: Me, too.

MARY: Was that before or after Weina dinged you a point for interrupting?

AUTUMN: Mary wins! Congrats to Mary! Yay!


But actually, we both won, because we were fortunate enough to get advanced copies of Randel’s books. Which we enjoyed, despite the whole dog issue.

If you’re interested in learning more about Empress Wu, check out Randel’s incredibly well-researched historical fiction: The Moon in the Palace, and the Empress of Bright Moon. Despite the six years of research, Randel’s books are readable and engrossing. Life in the palace is filled with luxury, but it is also fraught with intrigue and danger.

Just ask the poor dog.

Yeah. Still mad about that.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

27 thoughts on “Battle of the Bloggers (#127)”

  1. I can’t believe I’m here first.

    My parents always tell me: “Ew. How can you eat rat meat? Or is it cat?” or “Ew, you’re eating dog meat.” Of course, that’s not the case. It’s chicken/beef, but that’s how they refer to Chinese cuisine. Usually. So, I would’ve gotten that food question right. Just because I would have assumed that since they eat dog meat… they’d eat some other weird stuff too. Gross.

    1. I know, having been brought up in a western household, in a city where rats and roaches are the ultimate in vermin, well, eating rats is unthinkable. Especially as a delicacy.

      Andy, on the other hand, who was brought up in a culture that efficiently utilizes any source of food (because it’s either that or starve), was all, “Oh, I totally would have said they ate rats.”

      I still shudder over the chicken feet, or eating dogs, even though it’s a hypocritical prejudice. I mean, if you are going to eat an animal, you should make use of the whole carcass. And why does the type of animal matter? Why doesn’t bacon give me the heebie-jeebies and dog meat does? Pigs are supposed to be smarter than dogs.

      We are inconsistent creatures.

      1. Well, I’m the same as you. Though I think people DO eat chicken feet in my culture too. I think. I don’t because I find them gross.
        I don’t agree with eating dogs and cats and any other animal like that, and it’s most likely because I see them as friends. While pigs, and chickens, and cows are simply food because I have no idea why. (I swear I’ll have a nightmare. Or I’ll turn vegetarian.)

        1. Right, I think it all depends on how you were raised. Some cultures see every creature as food, and some see every animal as friend. There are multiple ethical and practical and environmental considerations when it comes to what humans eat. It’s a huge topic.

          We will, of course, solve this problem today.

          1. Yes, that is definitely one of the things that impact our views the most.

            You’re right. It surely is a huge topic.

            Somehow, this whole discussion makes me think of Grills (If I spelled his name right). I heard he ate whatever he found in his “travels”. So he won’t starve.

            Oh, and at some point, I saw in a Ramsey TV show, that Malaysians eat something like bat saliva. They prepare it with sugar and water, if I’m not wrong.

              1. Oh, you’re right! I couldn’t remember it exactly, as some time passed ever since then. All I could remember was him going inside some obscure cave looking for that.

                  1. Honestly, I don’t even remember how he did it. Maybe you can find it on the Internet? Something like Ramsey collecting bird saliva, pfft-

  2. Autumn and Mary, thank you so much for this entertaining post! I laughed so hard. This is sooooo funny! So happy I fooled you guys!! (Aside: Am I really that stern at Skype?)

    1. Weina, we decided you could have been one of those terrifying college professors who live to trick their students and glories in wrong answers. 😉

      But other than that, no, no, not stern at all.

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