“Heritage”: a short story
Shanghai mogul Li Shihquan, hands quivering, heart numb, read the macabre details of the post-war research study on the twenty-six, and last, surviving eunuchs of “Last Emperor” Pu Yi. Not just the family jewels, but all the genitals of these Imperial bond-servants were gone, had been for half a century or more. Subjects of the Dragon Throne of the Middle Kingdom, they had been coaxed or coerced as children into royal servitude by families seeking wealth and courtly favor, or just rice for starving mouths. Commitment to this servitude meant the path of cold-steel resection. Because of a lifetime without testosterone, the research said, their prostates were smooth and small—glazed leather buttons.
These carnal images made Li’s eyes ache and his mouth dry up. Since Shang times, twenty centuries before Calvary, such pitiful creatures had been deconstructed into half-men, dispatched to the Emperor’s harems, and debased as lowly clowns. Though, in some bristling cultural drama, one of them may have been awarded a fleet command or a high ministerial role, they were nonetheless tethered, as all subjects were, to the whim of their liege, The Son of Heaven.
Legend said the eunuch kept his pao in a jar on his apartment’s highest shelf, that all of him might rise to greater heights, phoenix-like, and might win acclaim as Cai Lun and Sima Qian and Zheng He had won acclaim for themselves and their otherwise yang-less, impotent tribe—ancient traditions and a powerful few. But Destiny is harsh, and life for the many in that tribe was miserable and low.
All these things Li knew. So, blinking, he was startled by the group photograph in the science journal. He shook his head, first squinting at the eunuch Sun Yaoting, naked from the waist, “third from left, second row,” then gaping at this unsettling image of his father’s mother’s uncle.
Raised in rural California, Lance Mason worked blue-collar jobs during his studies at UCSB, Loyola (BSc), and UCLA (doctorate). He has taught at UCLA, the National University in Natal, Brazil, and Otago University in New Zealand; has presented at UCSB’s College of Creative Studies; attended VCFA 2016 Post-grad Writers Conference on scholarship. His work has appeared in Upstreet, The Santa Barbara Independent, The Packinghouse Review, Newborders, Solo Novo, Travelers’ Tales, Tales to Go, The Roar, The Evening Street Review, Sport Literate, New Millennium Writing, and several other magazines and professional journals.