This is a quote from "The Great Wall of China" by Franz Kafka. What's the difference between "emperor" and "living emperor"?

Our land is so huge, that no fairy tale can adequately deal with its size. Heaven hardly covers it all. And Peking is only a point, the imperial palace only a tiny dot. It’s true that, by contrast, throughout all the different levels of the world the emperor, as emperor, is great. But the living emperor, a man like us, lies on a peaceful bed, just as we do. It is, no doubt, of ample proportions, but it could be merely narrow and short. Like us, he sometime stretches out his limbs and, if he is very tired, yawns with his delicately delineated mouth. But how are we to know about that thousands of miles to the south, where we almost border on the Tibetan highlands? Besides, any report which came, even if it reached us, would get there much too late and would be long out of date.

  • Is the difference really between "emperor" and "living emperor", or is the first supposed to be "the emperor"? If either is really fine, what research says so? Oct 7, 2022 at 23:15

1 Answer 1


The post of emperor is very important. It has influence and impact and power "throughout all the different levels of the world." Everything is done in the name of the emperor.

This has little to do with the actual flesh-and-blood living man who holds the post and may have very little influence on his own government.

It's a contrast between the empire done in his name, and himself.

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