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OF SOME OF THE CONCLUSIONS WHICH MAY BE DRAWN FROM THE SIEGE OF THE FOREIGN LEGATIONS IN PEKING.
BY THE REV. ROLAND ALLEN,
OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND MISSION, PEKING.
THAT a memorable siege like that of the foreign Legations in Peking cannot pass without throwing valuable light upon the character of the people who engaged in it, the nature of the causes which led up to it, and the results which may be likely to grow out of it, is obvious; but it may seem premature at this season to attempt to estimate what conclusions may justly be drawn. Nevertheless it would appear that a few of them are sufficiently clear to deserve consideration, even if the maturer knowledge of later days should modify or annul some of them. They may be briefly stated under six heads, as touching the condition of the capital, the advance of Russia, the retirement of the Court to Sian-fu, the Chinese attitude towards foreigners, the Chinese method of resistance, and the influence of Christian missions.
1. The city of Peking has been desecrated, despoiled, ruined, depopulated. This is in itself no light thing. The Chinese recognise no more terrible humiliation than the occupation of a capital by an enemy. This has been for centuries the last insult which a ruler can receive, only less terrible than absolute extinction. In that most entertaining and instructive history, the Tso Chüan, a State which, beset by foes, could find no means of escape other than unconditional surrender, was by the courtesy of nations nearly always entitled to demand, and generally received, the concession that the enemy should retire thirty miles and there negotiate, and the statement that terms were dictated beneath the walls is made always with the most decent brevity and with a sense of pity even for the most wicked of men reduced to such misery and degradation. But the foreigner in Peking not only dictates terms beneath the walls, he passes in triumph through the palace itself, and is hardly restrained from destroying it. After
such desecration it becomes a serious question whether the Chinese Government can and will return to Peking, and will not rather prefer to establish a new capital, or rather re-establish an old one, in order to represent their action as a free and deliberate movement. State considerations have often led the Emperor to such a course before; there would be no loss of face' in such a course of action now. But if the Court were induced to return what course could it take but to publish the story that the city had been sacked during a temporary absence of the Emperor by brigands or pirates from foreign lands, and that upon the return of his Majesty they had been driven out? The same tale was told in 1861, such an account was current amongst the people about Peking of the sacking of the Summer Palace, such a tale is already passing current in Peking itself. In the 'Standard' of November 27 Sir Robert Hart is quoted as having written to a friend a conversation with a native banker of considerable position in the city, in the course of which the Chinese asked, 'What are all these foreign troops doing in Peking? Have they just come here to make a raid on the capital?' He evidently regarded the whole expedition as having no higher object than loot. The conclusion is that the foreign Powers will be forced either to allow and so tacitly acknowledge that account of the present occupation, or else, by insisting upon their present demands for a fortified, armed, permanent settlement, to render the capital impossible as a future seat of government. To move to Sian-fu, and to save face,' is possible; to return to Peking whilst the allies are there with an armed force, and to admit the compulsion, to acknowledge defeat, to reside in a city which is held, so to speak, by the enemy, and to save face,' are impossible. The Chinese must'save face,' or
But the city is not only desecrated; it is despoiled, ruined, depopulated. Peking is a city like Nineveh, artificially created by the presence of the Court. It is not a natural centre of trade; it is not situated on any great river or any great trade route. It is not even the capital of the province. Neither is it a place of strategic importance from a military point of view. Its merchants, its princes, its generals, its army of soldiers and hangers-on are all dependent upon the Court-simply a heterogeneous collection of units drawn together by the single object of ministering to the Court, and supplying the multitude of wants, necessaries and luxuries, which a Court demands. If the
Court were removed elsewhere the whole would break up and vanish away. It would be as if a multitude of waters artificially forced into a reservoir were suddenly released. Each stream would revert to its natural bed, and a few drops only remain in the bottom of the great cistern. The history of Nineveh would be repeated; Peking would cease to be a city and sink into the condition of a second-class market town. But what would have happened in the natural course of events more slowly if the Court had simply, by the free will of the Emperor, migrated elsewhere, has been hastened artificially in this case by the inroad of the foreigner. It is not merely that the pumps which had hitherto filled the reservoir have ceased to work: other pumps have been used to empty it, and drive out the water which might otherwise have found its way thither. Peking is demolished, depopulated. After the siege I was at some pains to inquire of those who were best able to judge what proportion of the population was left in the city. Mr. Pethick, Li Hung Chang's well-known foreign adviser, gave the highest estimate when he said two-thirds still remained, but his estimate was confessedly based upon very inadequate observation. The lowest estimate was one-twelfth, most men varied between one-third and one-quarter, and probably one-quarter is nearest to the truth.
Moreover, the city is not only depopulated: much of it is destroyed. On June 13 the Boxers began burning inside the Tartar city, and the fires extended over an enormous area through the eastern city. On June 14 and 15 there were large fires in the western city; on June 16 the whole of the great and populous trading quarter outside the Chien mên, the central gate of the south Tartar wall, was destroyed, and the silver market, one of the richest parts in the city, reduced to ashes. On June 22 Mr. Bredon told me that Sir Robert Hart, the manager of the Russian Bank, M. Pokotiloff, and himself had separately estimated the loss of property by fire during the past few days and had all reached the same conclusion, that it was about 1,500,000l.; but many people laughed such an estimate to scorn as ridiculously below the real value. But this was not all. During the course of the siege a vast amount of destruction was wrought in the city: the Legation Street from the Chien mên to the American Legation was razed to the ground, and countless shops and houses destroyed, and where the buildings were not wrecked they were pillaged. The city was looted by the Boxers,
the imperial troops, and the foreigners. That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten, and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten, and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten.' Nor are even the great walls, the pride of the city, left. The Boxers burnt the outside gate of the Chien mên, the invaders burnt the Sha Huo mên, the Ha ta mên, the Chi Hua mên, the Tung Chih mên, the Hou mên; the inner tower of the Chien mên was later accidentally burnt by the Americans. When I left the city on August 23 it was, in comparison with its former busy prosperity and multitudinous traffic, a desert. Of old it was one of the finest sights in Peking to stand on the Chien mên and watch the ceaseless procession of carts, wagons, wheelbarrows, donkeys, mules, horses and men, magistrates and coolies. All the stir of the city, all the poetry of life was there. Country folk visiting the place for the first time were struck dumb with astonishment. I suppose there is a great fair to-day,' they would say. Now the great enceinte of this gate is a waste of bare open flagstones, across which a solitary coolie, or a commissariat cart, or a small band of foreign soldiers occasionally passes. The Chien mên is a true type of the city into which it leads. What it is, that the stranger who enters by its gates may expect to find within. If the Chien mên is brimming with life and bustle the city is prosperous, trade good, life joyous; if the Chien mên is dull the city is dull; if the Chien mên is desolate the city is desolate also.
It would be hard to guess how long it would take even in times of peace and security, under good government, good guidance, to restore the wreck; it is almost impossible to believe that even if the Court returned to-day the city could for many years recover its wonted vigorous activity, Latest reports from Peking add another horror to the scene. The refuse of this huge hive of men is usually removed, in part at least, by a vast army of scavengers who, aided by the kites and crows, preserve from pestilence a population which heaps all its filth at its doors. For four months now that army has been scattered. The houses, deserted, are full of the accumulated horrors of months of neglect; in many the dead bodies of the inhabitants rot. The winter cold may seal it all up for a few months, and then the spring will come, and who can tell what woes the warmth may let loose? is never a very pleasant duty to walk the streets in the early spring; it may chance that next spring it will be death to walk the streets at all.
Nor is the city alone worthy of consideration. The misery which the present disturbances have caused in the whole district round Peking is incalculable. When we came away we saw villages in flames, we saw villages still standing, we saw good crops; but we saw no husbandmen. At a time when, in other years, the fields are full of busy workers, when every crop has its watcher's booth to ward off thieves, when carts go to and fro laden with fruit and grain, when threshing-floors are busy and every man, woman, and child is called out to labour, there was everywhere the same dull stillness. We went into houses and farmsteads; broken cups and plates lay about on the floor, an evil stench warned the visitor from corners, the water from the wells had a peculiar and ominous taste suggestive of disease and death. 'Where can all the people be?' we asked, but no one could answer. They were not all dead. Many were, perhaps, hiding in the rich crops for want of which they will now perish of hunger. Since then foreign troops have pushed their way in and out through many villages. Wherever they went the same signs followed. The fear of the invader was stronger than the fear of starvation, and the crops were deserted. Now during this winter the price must be paid. The harvest is past, the cold has set in, and the poor people are naked and destitute. What a land into which to invite a sovereign who must call the sorrows of his people the punishment of his own sins!
2. Of all the Powers which have been the instruments of such misery Russia alone has gained any material advantage. Russia has undertaken to 'pacify' Manchuria, and doubtless after her own fashion will succeed in pacifying' it. She has got all that she wants. She will be fully employed for the next few years in restoring and enlarging the Manchurian railway system, making good her hold upon the new territory, and preparing for the next step. She can afford to pose as the friend of China, urging lenient measures, anxious to pass over past misrule and to make things easy for the present Government to return to Peking. By so doing she not only secures what she has already gained, she not only takes up an apparently gentle and friendly attitude towards the Chinese, which will deceive them into yielding more and more easily to her influence, but she avoids the one great danger to her future progress which would be raised in the establishment of a strong, progressive Chinese Government, able to defend its own territory in the future. The danger to the West,