Loti's style is a combination of the French realist school, such as Émile Zola, and a form of literary impressionism. As Jules Cambon says, Loti wrote at a "..time when M. Zola and his school stood at the head of the literary movement. There breathed forth from Loti's writings an all-penetrating fragrance of poesy , which liberated French literary ideals from the heavy and oppressive yoke of the Naturalistic school."Loti uses a simple vocabulary, "but these words, as used by him, take on a value we did not know they possessed; they awaken sensations that linger deeply within us." The characters are humble and simple working-class people, the incidents are normal every day affairs, dealing with the themes of love and separation.
Loti's greatest strength is in the depictions of nature, placing it center stage, as Cambon says:
He writes with extreme simplicity, and is not averse to the use of vague and indefinite expressions. And yet the wealth and precision of Gautier's and Hugo's language fail to endow their landscapes with the striking charm and intense life which are to be found in those of Loti. I can find no other reason for this than that which I have suggested above: the landscape, in Hugo's and in Gautier's scenes, is a background and nothing more; while Loti makes it the predominating figure of his drama. Our sensibilities are necessarily aroused before this apparition of Nature, blind, inaccessible, and all-powerful as the Fates of old.
Thoroughly to understand China, one must realize that it has for three hundred years cherished in its heart a deep and continually bleeding wound. When the country was conquered by the Manchus of Tartary, the ancient dynasty of the Mings was forced to yield the throne to the Tzin invaders, but the Chinese nation never ceased to mourn the ancient dynasty nor to hope for its restoration. Revolution is therefore a permanent thing in China—a fire which smoulders eternally, breaking into flame in one province only to be smothered and blaze out again presently in another.
No doubt the Yellow Empire is too immense to permit of complete understanding among the revolutionaries, or of collective effort to break off the Tartar yoke. Several times, nevertheless, the Chinese race has been near to victory. When, some twenty years ago, certain events, which Europe never really understood, brought about an upheaval in China, the revolutionaries, victorious for a time, proclaimed at Nang-King an emperor of Chinese blood and of the dynasty of the Mings. His name was Ron-Tsin-Tse, which means: The Final Flowering, and by the faithful his era was called Tai-Ping-Tien-Ko, which is as much as to say: The Empire of the Great Celestial Peace. He reigned seventeen years, concurrently with the Tartar Emperor at Pekin and almost within the shadow of that city.
Later, the authorities forced a complete suppression of his history: all records of it were confiscated and burned, and men were forbidden, under penalty of death, even to utter his name. Here, however, is the translation of a passage relating to him which occurs in a voluminous report addressed by the Tartar general Tsen-Konan-Wei, to the Emperor at Pekin:
"When the revolutionaries rose in the province of Chan-Tung (he says) they possessed themselves of sixteen provinces and six hundred cities. Their guilty chief and his criminal friends had become really formidable. All their generals fortified themselves in the places they had taken, and not until they had stood three years of siege were we again Masters in Nang-King. At this time the rebel army numbered more than two hundred thousand men, but not one of them would surrender. The moment they perceived themselves lost they set fire to the palace and burned themselves alive. Many of the women hanged or strangled themselves, or threw themselves into the lakes in the gardens. However, I succeeded in making one young woman prisoner, and pressed her to tell me where the Emperor was. 'He is dead,' she replied; 'vanquished, he poisoned himself.' But immediately the new Emperor was proclaimed in the person of his son, Hon-Fo-Tsen. She led me to the old Emperor's tomb, which I ordered broken open. In it was found in fact the Emperor's body, enveloped in a shroud of yellow silk embroidered with dragons. He was old, bald, and had a white mustache. I caused his body to be burned and his ashes to be thrown to the winds. Our soldiers destroyed all that remained within the walls: there were three days and nights of killing and pillage. However, one troop of several thousands of rebels, very well-armed, succeeded in escaping from the city, dressed in the costumes of our dead, and it is to be feared that the new Emperor was able to escape with them."
This Emperor, Hon-Fo-Tsen, who, in fact, did succeed in fleeing from Nang-King, was looked upon by the real Chinese as their legitimate sovereign, and his descendants in secret no doubt reigned after him uninterruptedly.
To be continue in this ebook