Manchu Decadence by Edmund Backhouse
Updated: Jan 21, 2019
In his controversial memoirs “Manchu decadence”, Sir Edmund Backhouse, writes about a feast he is presented while waiting to meet with “Grand Secretary” Jung-lu (or Ronglu). Junglu, a favourite of the powerful empress dowager Cixi, was an official and general during the last years of the Qing dynasty.
A sumptuous luncheon was now brought, bird’s nest soup, shark’s fins in scrambled eggs, whiting stewed in a wonderful spicy ginger, braised duckling, bamboo shoots, a delectable fruit salad, with Moët Chandon nicely chilled though not extra sec and an anisette type of liqueur from the Caucasus whose name I forgot (Anisovka, perhaps), a case of which had been presented (so the servants said) to the Grand Secretary by S.E.M. Lessar, the Russian Minister. With a temperature (as I later learned) of 115 in the shade, it was not possible to do justice to these manifold delicacies. I wondered if H.E.’s regular menu was as elaborate as this, or whether a special lunch had been ordered in honour of Grand Secretary Wang Wen-shao. I was fortunate in gaining the approval of the two waiters and the attendant aforesaid by presenting each of the with Taels 5 tip; “he has big ideas”, said they.