Pairing: Oscar Wilde x Zhaoji (Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty) Word count: ~3k Bed-ridden and feverish, Oscar Wilde has fallen into a strange dream. Or is it a dream?

[Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor playing in the background]

Behind the chipped paint of the door marked ‘Numero16’ at L’hotel d’Alsace, Oscar, bed-ridden and feverish, has fallen into a strange dream. He found himself strolling by a riverbank. Just in front, half-hidden amid the sedges and grasses was an arched bridge, standing lonelily under the livid sky. The murky water was covered with leaves, flowed quietly. As he looked down, what he found wasn’t his own weary reflection, but a spray of daffodils. He couldn’t help but act like the young Narcissus, drawing closer to the water, and the flowers drew closer to him. The sky was flaming behind him, he could almost see the glowing tips of those exquisite pallid, petals and smell the aroma that heralds the arrival of spring.

Suddenly, he blacked out and lost consciousness in the fragrance of the daffodils.

When he opened his eyes again, he realized he was in a strangly captivating painting. It was not a watercolour, nor was it an oil painting; it resembles more of an ink on paper but more refined; the lines were simple, yet sufficient to depict mountains and rivers, even to convey a sense of motion; the colours were subdued yet carefully and tastefully chosen…is this a picture from the Far East? Oscar paced within the painting, thinking, then he looked up and saw a magnified face.

The face had the beauty of Raphael’s Madonna without the religious solemnity, the liveliness of a Greek sculpture. The owner of the face knitted his eyebrows, his laurel-leaf eyes were fixed on Oscar, while his long, silky dark hair was elegantly held in place by a ribbon. Oscar heard words in a language that he could not understand muttered from those rosy lips, the tone suggested that the man was perhaps just as confused as Oscar. Oscar waved at him.

‘Bonjour, Monsieur.’ Oscar said.

The man from the Far East raised his eyebrows, appearing even more confused. His flowing red robe danced with his motion. He made a call, possibly summoning his servant.

Amused by his expression, Oscar chuckled. ‘This is not bad,’ Oscar thought, exploring the room with curious eyes. The room is clean and comfortably spacious, which his dingy, cramped hotel room cannot compare to. There was just the right amount of sunlight in the room, enough to illuminate the gracious silhouette of wooden furniture; Oscar still had no clue where he was, but he was certain the owner of this room had a better taste for house decoration than most Americans he had met. Ah, that trans-Atlantic trip. He still remembered how he enjoyed the admiration of the crowds. High society adorned him, even worshipped him. He was the centre of conversations. Yet now, he couldn’t even afford his rent. He was detested by everyone… How long had it been since he had put pen to paper? He remembered how pleased he used to be when he was pointed out, or stared at, or talked about. He was tired of hearing his own name now.

Oscar Wilde, a name that he used to be so proud of, with the belief that it would eventually be etched in history in a spectacular way. A spectacle there was, at the cost of his own demise. The man pointed at him and spoke swiftly to his servant; Oscar greeted politely, as he had in his glory days at Oxford. The man uttered something with rising intonation, appearing to be interrogative, just when another man in a white robe walked into the room and bowed.

“I don’t know how I ended up here,” Oscar said, making another attempt to communicate. Perhaps the man in the white robe behind him was a translator? “Kind stranger, do you know where I am?” he asked innocently, gesturing toward the landscape in the picture.

The man blinked and turned his head to whisper to his companion. Looking at the white-robed man, Oscar had a sudden recollection of a Chinese screen he once owned, depicting Chuang Tzu riding a dragon. Was he in China?

The man in the white robe looked at Oscar, a glimpse of confusion passing over his face before he resumed his inscrutable manner, akin to that of a preacher, answering the male Madonna in a plain tone. The two men went back and forth; the preacher didn’t appear to welcome the unexpected presence of Oscar, but the beautiful man seemed composed.

Oscar stood patiently, his eyes continuing to roam the interior of the house. Two years of hard labour had undermined his health, but for the moment, he felt the strength and energy had returned to his body. He took a deep breath. No longer suffering from the maladies, now, he had all the patience in the world to wait for the master of the house to render his final judgement.

Nothing had happened in the end; it seemed the master of the house had decided to spare him. In the following days, Oscar remained in his painted world of landscapes. He was quite lonely, because most of the time, the picture was rolled up and the image hidden from unsolicited eyes. However, when the man was in the room, he would sometimes spread out the picture and inspect it with curiosity. Luckily, this room appeared to be a study, and the man came over often.

While the man was inspecting Oscar, Oscar was also observing the man. He noticed that the man’s wardrobe had a fixed color scheme: vanilla, vermillion, ochre, and earthy tones, and the cloth usually some kind of tussore or silk jacquard. This quickly became dull and bored him. Was there no velvet in this world? The only colors to look forward to were the flowers worn on the man’s hat, such as today, a pale peony with a hint of green at its heart is sitting elegantly by his left ear, while yesterday’s was a chrysanthemum in ivory.

He also discovered that the man must have kept some rare creatures in his yard, as one day a phoenix-like bird flew into the study and perched on the man’s shoulder. The servants who rushed in after it turned pale and fell to their knees, but the man showed no displeasure; instead, he set down his paintbrush and gently touched the bird’s feathers. A piece of downy feather landed in front of Oscar; he remembered seeing this bird before, in one of the man’s paintings. Seeing the bird in person, Oscar could appreciate how vividly the painting depicted it. What a marvelous artist!

One day, after meeting his eyes again, Oscar spoke out: ‘Kwan Ka.’ The man seemed impressed and responded with something that sounded like a question. He didn’t object to this form of address, so Oscar assumed he had guessed correctly that ‘Kwan Ka’ was his name or title.

Looking at the bamboo-handled painting brush in Kwan Ka’s hand, Oscar continued, ‘I did not foresee myself being transported into a picture, you know? I’ve written two stories about portraits.’

And he continued, ‘Pardon me, I know you probably don’t understand a single word that I am saying, but silence is bliss for a bit before it becomes something horrid and perilous. I must talk. Do you know that solitude can be a form of punishment? Solitude can wear a man’s health and his spirit, and I don’t have much of either left in me.

To Oscar’s surprise, Kwan Ka replied, of course in the language that he could not understand. So, the conversation, or duo-monologue, started. If one can have a conversation with animals, then why can’t one have a conversation with another person who speaks an alien language?

“I see you are an artist, but you also appear to be a man in power. However, an artist can only rule his own artistic kingdom, and the best situation being the public world leaves them unbothered. An artist’s charm comes from pure self-expression, but the rulers cannot be their true selves. Plus, there is also a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinctions, be it art, wealth, status, or anything extraordinary; gifted people are doomed to suffer, terribly.” said Oscar.

Kwan Ka replied calmly and briefly, his eyes fixed on the drawing paper spread out across the tabletop.

‘Status is not as desirable as it seems, not only because it can be lost, but also because of the sort of antithesis between beauty and morality that comes with it. I have written a story about a young king, have you ever read about it? No man looks kinglike, kings are kings because of the specters in their hands and the clothing they’re wearing, but robes of tissued gold and crowns with rubies came with a price. The young king could forgo his passion for exquisite, mystical beauty, and risk his life to refuse a king’s raiment, but the rich still live in the luxury at the lives of the poor. He was saved by a miracle in the end, but alas, the world we are living in is far from a fairy tale.’

Kwan Ka turned his head and smiled friendly at Oscar. Suddenly, Oscar discovered that he had regained his long-parted joy in being witty and cunning.

‘You laughed, you laughed because you don’t understand my words, so you weren’t troubled by them as the others, which is in fact a good thing. Thoughts aren’t necessary for one to be alive, intellectuality mars any kind of real beauty. I am very fond of the ceramic vessel on your side table, it is in such a delightful color.’ That reminded him of a rare sunny day on an Irish beachside.

There were more than he wanted to say, but lo! The whole world turned upside-down, and he woke up disoriented.

Oscar pursed his lips, it seemed Death had missed his appointment, which was good, he had regretted not getting someone to call a priest. Stumbling out of bed and pouring himself a glass of water, Oscar drifted off into a trance, thinking about that strange dream, or was it a dream? Were it a few years ago, he would have been excited to write it down, maybe even into a story. But now it was too late, not to mention that he was no longer the Wilde he used to be, and even if he was still capable of writing, he wouldn’t live long enough to finish it; and oh, how he always hated unfinished works. He pressed the glass against his forehead, the glass passed a slightly chilling sensation.

With no apparent reason, he decided to take a walk.

Gone days without grooming really wasn’t his style, but he had no time to take care of that. Having donned his overcoat, Oscar pulled open the spotted door, wavered down the narrow and squeaky stairs, and had his feet on the stony pavement.

The world hadn’t changed much without his presence. The left side still leads to Café de Flore and the oldest church in Paris: Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. He used to go there when he was in better health, contemplating the stained glasses and intricate decorations; the abbey was a fusion of Gothic and Roman architecture, quite interesting to look at, he’d wish to have his funeral held there, under the protégé of Germain d’Autun, the ‘Father of the Poor’. Today, however, he decided to turn left instead, taking another route that he used to take.

The ancient Latin Quatre was situated in the river gauche of Paris, strolling by the riverbank on a gloomy winter day like this was chilling, but as if being summoned by some supernatural spirit, Oscar went on with determination. His heart palpating and breath shallow, on his rear vision, he might have seen a man with a green coronation on his lapel tipping his hat to him, but when he turned towards that man, he saw nothing but the apathetic Parisan faces of the pedestrians.  Suddenly, he realized that was the only colour he had seen since he woke up, he had been walking in a world of black and white.

Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream? He thought.

With some effort he looked up. Not far away was the spire of the Notre Dame, a black hole ready to engulf everything was sitting on top of it; no, that was a solar eclipse, no…that was just his blurry eyesight. The icy north wind was relentless, he could no longer feel his legs, and then he could not feel his arms, what happened next, he could not exactly remember, but he was again in bed, in that filthy hotel, surrounded by a group of people. There was Robbie, and in his vague vision, Oscar recognized a priest. Someone would be singing him requiem, just as he had wished, he would die as a Christian. Oh, dear Robbie, he always has things arranged properly.

And Bosie, where is his poor Bosie? Oscar had no strength left to think.

“My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us must go.” He sighed, and closed his eyes.

Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?

Oscar wouldn’t have thought that he could see Kwan Ka again, although he had changed so much that Oscar could barely recognize him. The man stood in the darkness, exquisite medieval-style robe replaced by a suit of shabby grey, his rosy cheek turned ragged, wrinkles climbing all over his face, and those brilliant eyes now dim and tired. A trace of the past glory still hangs over this face, Oscar thought, but any reminder of what had been lost is pure cruelty.

Had he also done something impermissible? Had he become a prisoner as well?  Great sadness filled Oscar’s heart, he reached his hand to the lost middle-aged man, Kwan Ka reached his hand as well, and the two hands met in the air.

Oscar looked at the clasped hands in surprise, murmured: ‘Kwan Ka?’

The man being called ‘Kwan Ka’ also looked at him: ‘The man in the picture?’

Oscar took a step back: ‘You can understand me now! Do language barriers no longer exist? No, perhaps there are no longer languages. The Tower of Babel has divided us, but there is no Tower of Babel in the afterlife. Perhaps we get to look straight into each other’s souls and communicate.’

Kwan Ka was dazed, he asked: ‘What is the Tower of Babel?’

Oscar thought about it and explained: ‘a mythological tower that is said to have divided mankind, so they can no longer understand each other.’

‘Ne’er have I heard of such a tower, interesting. Was this thy wished to say years ago?’

‘…well, I said I quite like your vase,’ Oscar said, ‘What has happened to you, Kwan Ka? Why are you looking like this?’

Hearing Oscar’s inquiry, there was a momentary painful look on his face, that was quickly covered by a meek smile. Kwan Ka looked at the tall foreigner and said: ‘The fault lies with me. I couldn’t bear the role that I was trusted with, and I am no longer the Kwan Ka of the Song dynasty…If thou wishst, call me Tao Kun, nay, simply call me Zhaoji.’

Oscar felt as if he was looking into a mirror, he saw upon another person’s face the pain that belonged to himself, he heard from the hesitation in Zhaoji’s tone the self-debate he once had with himself upon his release from prison. He had to change his name to Sebastian Melmoth for the ‘gross indecency’ that he had stained his name with, and his children had also abandoned his name. Indeed, a name means a lot.

‘Is Zhaoji your real name?’ he asked.


‘Then ‘Kwan Ka’ was…?’

‘The title for an emperor’s personage.’

‘Ah, I see, Sire. So, after the pain that you had suffered, all that’s left is your real name; after the toil that I’ve been through, what had been lost was my real name. How interesting names are.’

Zhaoji took a moment of silence and said: ‘Back then, Lin Lingsu did tell of thee as a lost soul from a different world. Where dost thy abode lie? Why art thou, too, in this liminal space?’ He still remembered that it was the second year of Xuanhe, auspicious omens emerged across the country, he himself also had witnessed the appearance of divine spirits, he had no doubt that he was the one chosen by Tao, the principle of the universe.

‘Perhaps where you’ve belonged is another universe, perhaps you are just my dream; perhaps all that we see or seem, is just a dream within a dream.’ Oscar said, gazing into the abysmal darkness.

‘Hmm, have thou heard of Chuang Tzu?’

‘I have, actually! Let me think, that was almost ten years ago, a Chinese sage born before Christ. Of course, I recall that his philosophy was intriguing, akin to the idea of many philosophers of early Greek, especially Heraclitus, with his belief in the identity of contraries.’

‘Materials are the subjects, materials are the objects, this be that, and that be this.’Zhaoji said, ‘There is no self, we are the same under the ONE of Tao.’ When subjective and objective are both without their correlates, that is the very axis of Tao. And when that axis passes through the centre at which all Infinities converge, positive and negative alike blend into an infinite One.

‘Aha, the middle classes will not like this idea. Nowadays, in this world of capitalism, men are content with their very mediocre characters–whilst true noble properties are in danger of extinction. I am quite fond of Chuang Tzu’s advocacy of getting rid of self-consciousness, and maybe what we have in common is that we are different, or vice versa. You seem wiser than an average king, you could have been Plato’s philosopher king, yet unfortunately, you are an artist.’ Oscar said.

Zhaoji didn’t mind Oscar’s teasing tone, he was now engaged and excited about the discussion: ‘So, who is Plato, and who is Heraclitus? Art they sages in thy world? What is a philosopher king?’

‘That is going to be a lengthy account. Well, the time is infinite for us. If in the afterlife we are still under the limit of fleeting time, that would be too boring, don’t you think?’

A door of light appeared in front, and they entered.