Robert Hart from My Splendid Concubine
The 60th President of the United States is about to have his first scheduled interview with Sir Robert Hart’s cloned double—a man brought back to life in a desperate attempt to save civilization outside China from collapsing into mankind’s second dark-age.
Super viruses and famines rage across the globe. Billions were starving. Only China with its twenty-four hundred year old Grand Canal was capable of growing enough food to feed it’s people during times of drought. The one-child policy that China was condemned for during the 20th century had paid off. And China was the only country to hold onto its ancient, tried and proven ways of growing food that had fed China for thousands of years. Genetic manipulation had backfired. Only China was capable of feeding its billion people without imports. Starvation was a fact of life in every nation on the earth—even the United States—except China. Because of the power of its one party political system, fifty years earlier China declared war on pollution and cleaned up its rivers and air almost overnight.
* * * *
“Is this going to work? I mean, I’ve been skeptical of this project and its costs since the beginning.” The President paused. He shook his head. The 60th President of the United States was a tall man. His family had been poor. Even though his father and mother had been willing to work, jobs had been scarce and what was available did not pay a living wage. This President knew what it was like to grow up hungry. He had watched his father die without the medical care that would have saved his life. His mother had died of grief a year later. That was when this President had decided to do what he could to change America for the better. That was when he had become a politician three decades earlier.
“Mr. President, the world’s economy has collapsed for the last time. Nothing is going to revive the world’s economy without China’s help. China is the only country that did not spend more than it earned. Chaos rules. Europe is in flames as food riots consume cities. Unrest in American is increasing. World civilization is on the verge of total collapse. The civilized world hasn’t faced anything like this since the Roman Empire went under. This project may sound crazy and desperate but desperate time call for desperate measures.”
The President turned to his White House Chief-of-Staff, “Sam, you are sure there will be no leaks. If it gets out that I’m sitting down to sip tea and talk to a man that’s been dead almost two hundred years …”
“Mr. President, I assure you, security is tight. We have taken all precautions. There will be no leaks.”
The President shook his head. “I’ve heard that before. If the opposition learns of this, they will have a field day during the next election. My popularity rating is already heading for the gutter. God knows I tried to implement the promises I made during the election.” His voice dropped and the pain was evident. “I can only blame myself for believing I could make a difference.”
“Mr. President, what choice do we have? Ever since the United States defaulted on paying back the ten trillion China loaned America during the twenty-first century starting with the second Bush administration, nothing has worked. Every plea the United Nations, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and even India has made hasn’t budged the Communist Party to listen to us. Japan is afraid to say anything. The Chinese are still angry at them for what the Japanese did to China during World War II, and the Japanese still have not apologized.
“China has withdrawn from the international community and closed its doors like it did in the 15th century and tried to do again during the Ch’ing Dynasty. China is the only country in the world with money to loan so we can survive and keep bailing out the private sector. They even grow enough rice and wheat for export but that has been cut off too. Instead of selling their excess crops, they are storing food.”
“And you think talking to a dead man that’s been revived through cloning and reconstructing his personality and memory by using letters he wrote and journals he kept most of his life along with what was gleaned from two historical novels written about his early years in China is going to give us the wedge we need to convince China to open its doors and loan us more money? I hope you’re right. Ever since China threw GM, Ford, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, KFC, and Amway out five years ago, the handwriting has been on the wall.”
“Don’t give up yet, Mr. President. Pick Robert Hart’s brain. No one else from the West in history understood China like Hart did. The Harvard scholars that studied his letters and journals and published them felt it was the love affair he had with his concubine that made the difference. We hope that with his understanding of the Chinese, he will give us the key we need to convince China to open its doors again”
“I admit that I learned a lot about China from reading My Splendid Concubine, that historical fiction novel about Hart’s early years there. I forget. What did Hart eventually predict about China? Remind me.”
“Mr. President, in 1889, Hart said that after China finished picking its conqueror’s brains, it would assert herself once more; when that day came, he hoped wisdom and not revenge would shape her actions.”
The President huffed. “He got it wrong. When China finally made a choice, it was isolation. No one expected that to happen. We thought after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China had joined the world community for good. Didn’t Hart also predict that China would be a super power by 2100. He was off by a few decades. They reached super power status early.”
“Hart could read the collective Chinese mind. He predicted the Boxer Rebellion and the reasons for it. He knew the Chinese better than they know themselves.”
“And all because of the love of one woman,” the President said. He sighed. “Even I wish I could have been in love with someone like he was with Ayaou.”
“After four bad marriages, I’ve feel the same way,” Sam replied.
The President went on. “I enjoyed reading that book by Lofthouse, My Splendid Concubine, and the sequel, Our Hart. Did the Chinese really call Robert ‘Our Hart’?”
“Yes, Prince Kung, the sixth prince and the younger brother to Emperor Hsien Feng, tagged Hart with that name after Hart proved his loyalty and found creative ways to keep China from being torn apart by Russia, Japan, Germany, France, and England after the Opium Wars; the Taiping Rebellion; the Sino Japanese War, and the Boxer Rebellion. Robert Hart earned China’s trust during a time when China felt it couldn’t trust anyone, even members of its own government.”
The President ran a hand through his thinning hair. “I’m tired, Sam. This partisanship that has plagued America for more than a hundred years makes it impossible to get any meaningful legislation through congress—the far left and right are constantly bickering like Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burns. The government is gridlocked. Without another loan from China, America is going to vanish as a country. Until I read My Splendid Concubine, I had no idea that England and France fought two wars with China to force China to allow opium to be sold to the Chinese people while forcing China to allow Christian missionaries in against its will.” He shook his head. “Imagine the drug cartels doing that to America or the Islamic terrorists forcing America to convert to Islam?”
“We’re here, Mr. President.” They stood in front of a reinforced, titanium alloy door that was a foot thick.
“To think that I’m going to be sipping tea with a man that loved a woman so much, he dedicated his life to serving her country even when he was crushed with loneliness.”
“Mr. President, be careful what you say. Hart doesn’t know that this is the year 2100. He doesn’t know he died in 1913. He thinks he is the Inspector General for Chinese Maritime Customs and that he works for the Emperor of China. He thinks he is fifty-four.”
“Well, I’m dressed the part,” the President said. The President was dressed as if he were a nineteenth century Victorian gentleman. He even had a top hat. “I’m nervous, Gus. This guy helped defeat the man they call ‘God’s Chinese Son’, Hong Xiuquan. With Hart’s advice and the money he raised through the customs service, the Manchu Dynasty put down the Taiping Rebellion, the second bloodiest conflict in history. More than twenty million died because of the Taipings and their Chinese Christian emperor that claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. The historians called Hart ‘the godfather of China’s modernism’. He was a selfless man. He patiently urged China to modernize while finding the money to do so. He was behind building the rail roads and creating a postal system that worked. The list goes on. I’ve never met anyone like him. If we had a few like him in our government, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“The Chinese felt the same way. Prince Kung once said if they had a hundred Robert Hart’s, China could have solved all of its problems. Queen Victoria knighted him for what he accomplished. More than a dozen other countries honored him too. Even the Vatican honored Hart. Don’t forget Mr. President, the evidence says he did all this because of his love for one woman, Ayaou, his concubine.”
“I wonder what she looked like. There are no pictures. I wished he hadn’t burned the journals that dealt with his early years in China to hide that affair. I wonder if he was trying to hide anything else? With those journals we might have had the clues needed to unlock China and convince her to open the doors to the world again.”
“He couldn’t help himself, Mr. President. Hart grew up in the Victorian era. After all, his father was a pastor of the Wesleyan faith. They believed that women were equal to men before most of the Western world felt that way. I suspect he was embarrassed that he had a concubine even if he did love her.”
The titanium door clicked as the bolts unlocked and with a hiss, the door swung open. The President walked into the next chamber and stopped as the door swung shut behind him. He was a thousand feet below ground in a top secret lab run by the Defense Intelligence Agency. In a moment, he was going to be ushered into an office that was a duplicate of the office Robert Hart had worked from when in Shanghai during the late 19th century. Hart had no idea that he had died one hundred and eighty-seven years ago at seventy-eight, fifty-eight years after he had met Ayaou, the love of his life.”
The President hoped that he could learn enough from Robert Hart to communicate to China and get that great country’s help. There had to be a way to regain China’s trust. China was behind its wall—not the Great Wall China had built more than two thousand years ago, but the wall China had built with modern weapons and the largest army on earth. The Chinese had learned their lesson during the 19th century and the early part of the 20th during World War II when the Japanese had invaded and slaughtered the Chinese by the millions. They had learned that walls and oceans were not going to protect them from a world interested in quick profits instead of getting to know and understand people and cultures that were different.
A DIA agent, a Chinese American that spoke fluent Mandarin, opened the second door. The agent was dressed like a Chinese peasant from the 19th century. His head was shaved except for a rope of hair called a queue growing from the back of his skull. Hart thought this man was his trusted servant, Guan-jiah. The programmers reconstructing Hart’s memory had been careful. After reading My Splendid Concubine, the President felt he understood why Hart had trusted Guan-jiah with his life on more than one occasion. The President knew that Guan-jiah had stayed with Hart to the end of the great man’s life. He even went with Hart back to England in 1908.
Robert Hart stood by his standing desk working. “Master,” Guan-jiah said. “The ambassador from the United States is here to see you.”
“Yes, I recall an appointment had been made.” Hart turned and offered a hand to shake. The President of the United States took the offered hand. He studied the man that he hoped would teach him to understand the Chinese people and the culture. Hart’s hair was thin but dark, his beard neatly trimmed. He wore a frock coat and tie and a box of Shah brand gold-tipped Egyptian cigarettes could be seen in a top shirt pocket. Hart was five foot seven—a small, slender man.
The President recalled an entry in one of Hart’s later diaries, “I am utterly alone and have not a single friend or confident … there are spasms of loneliness which hit hard.” After Ayaou, Hart allowed few to get close to him. The President wanted to make Hart his friend. He hated the fact that they were keeping the truth from him that he had been born in a test tube from recovered DNA.
“Your people told me that you want to understand the Chinese better,” Hart said, “so you could become their friend instead of their enemy like so many others have done. I commend you for that. I commend your President for wanting to be friends with China and sending you to see me.
“No other nation has done that. Once you understand their culture, I’m confident you will respect the Chinese as a cultured people. They are industrious and do not need the Christian God to be moral.
“When the Roman Empire was at its strongest, the Han Dynasty was more technologically advanced and more powerful. Although dynasties come and go, the moral foundation of Chinese culture has not changed for more than twenty-four hundred years. You see, no matter what happens to the rest of the world, the Chinese will always survive and be a civilized people. However, they are not as forgiving as Christians.
“They do not need the rest of the world to survive and exist. Wars, famines, pestilence, drought, invasion, rebellion—nothing has changed China or caused it to collapse like Western Empires have done time and again. Please, sit down.”
Hart turned toward a small table with two chairs sitting against one wall. “Guan-jiah, bring us tea.”