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Lady Cao’s last hope

Isaac Titsingh (1745-1812), in my novel at times Chinesified into Ti Qing, was a historical person. According to Frank Lequin, who leads the eponymous academic institute in Leiden (NL), he was the only philosophical mind who ever graced the halls of the Dutch East India Company. Titsingh served the moribund company for over thirty years, holding posts in Batavia (now Jakarta) and being Chief of Deshima during the 1780’s.

He crowned his career as an ambassador to the court of the Qianlong Emperor in Peking. On this Lady Cao’s hope is founded. If she is allowed to be Titsingh’s interpreter, she’ll prove that she had not erred when Macartney floundered.

In Pavilion, she reminisces in a letter to Isaac Titsingh over their bygone Deshima days:

[…] On Deshima, living under your hospitable roof, it dawned on me that I was likely to remain childless forever, a prospect that had never worried me before. And during that conversation (…) this well-nigh forgotten wish came back to me, the deep-seated desire to give birth—although I am past the age now. Weightless like dandelion fluff I am, blown over a grey and endless sea, an unnoticed nothing in a raging storm. My life has ended in loss—loss and remorse and regret. Since a very young age, I had missed my mother; later I missed my prematurely deceased master Cao Xueqin: and after that the clientele of courtesan days in Nanking, colourful, prominent; and then—yes, I even missed my illiterate compatriots of the Chinese trading post, at less than a mile’s distance from Deshima. I missed my unborn children and I missed missing those children. […]

Titsingh, a prolific publicist and letter writer, and a scholar at heart, took a keen, unusually open-minded interest in all the cultures he encountered. And he was something of a polyglot: he knew Latin, French, English, German, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese. While in Deshima, he became an expert on Japan and won the esteem of Japanese scholars and western orientalists alike.

Sayings by Titsingh

“I despise money, for it cannot satisfy my curiosity.”
“Our life is all too brief to waste it on trifles.”
“My sole ambition is to live in peace—a forgotten cosmopolitan man.”