Province Of Chihli
( Originally Published 1910 )
Taku— Tientsin — Peking — The Summer Palace—Patachu—Temples of Heaven, Earth, and Agriculture—Foreign Quarter—The Forbidden City—King-Han Railway Paoting- f u
CROSSING the gulf we reach Taku, at the mouth of the Peiho, and, passing the dismantled forts, ascend the river to Tientsin.
In 1858 I spent two months at Taku and Tientsin in connection with the tedious negotiations of that year. At the latter place I became familiar with the dusty road to the treaty temple; and at the former I witnessed the capture of the forts by the combined squadrons of Great Britain and France. The next year on the same ground I saw the allied forces repulsed with heavy loss-a defeat avenged by the capture of Peking in 1860.
In the Boxer War the relief force met with formidable opposition at Tientsin. The place has, however, risen with new splendour from its half-ruined condition, and now poses as the principal residence of the most powerful of the viceroys. Connected by the river with the seaboard, by the Grand Canal with several provinces to the south, and by rail with Peking, Hankow and Manchuria, Tientsin commands the chief lines of communication in northern China. In point of trade it ranks as the third in importance of the treaty ports.
Three hours by rail bring us to the gates of Peking, the northern capital. Formerly it took another hour to get within the city. Superstition or suspicion kept the railway station at a distance ; now, however, it is at the Great Central Gate. Unlike Nanking, Peking has nothing picturesque or commanding in its location. On the west and north, at a distance of ten to twenty miles, ranges of blue hills form a feature in the landscape. Within these limits the eye rests on nothing but flat fields, interspersed with clumps of trees over-shadowing some family cemetery or the grave of some grandee.
Between the city and the hills are the Yuen Ming Yuen, the Emperor's summer palace, burnt in 1860 and still an unsightly ruin, and the Eho Yuen, the summer residence of the Empress Dowager. Enclosing two or three pretty hills and near to a lofty range, the latter occupies a site of rare beauty. It also possesses mountain water in rich abundance. No fewer than twenty-four springs gush from the base of one of its hills, feeding a pretty lake and numberless canals. Partly destroyed in 1860, this palace was for many years as silent as the halls of Palmyra. I have often wandered through its neglected grounds. Now, every prominent rock is crowned with pagoda or pavilion. There are, however, some things which the slave of the lamp is unable to produce even at the command of an empress—there are no venerable oaks or tall pines to lend their majesty to the scene.
Patachu, in the adjacent hills, used to be a favourite summer resort for the legations and other foreigners before the seaside became accessible by rail. Its name, signifying the " eight great places," denotes that number of Buddhist temples, built one above another in a winding gorge on the hillside. In the highest, called Pearl Grotto, ',z00 feet above the sea, I have found repose for many a summer. I am there now (June, 1906), and there I expect to write the closing chapters of this work. These temples are at my feet; the great city is in full view. To that shrine the emperors sometimes made excursions to obtain a distant prospect of the world. One of them, Kien Lung, somewhat noted as a poet, has left, inscribed on a rock, a few lines commemorative of his visit:
"Why have I scaled this dizzy height?
"Beneath my feet my realm
The capital consists of two parts: the Tartar city, a square of four miles; and the Chinese city, measuring five miles by three. They are separated by imposing walls with lofty towers, the outer wall being twenty-one miles in circuit. At present the subject people are permitted to mingle freely with their conquerors; but most of the business is done in the Chinese city. Resembling other Chinese towns in its unsavoury condition, this section contains two imperial temples of great sanctity. One of these, the Temple of Heaven, has a circular altar of fine white marble with an azure dome in its centre in imitation of the celestial vault. Here the Emperor announces his accession, prays for rain, and offers an ox as a burnt sacrifice at the winter solstice—addressing himself to Shang-ti, the supreme ruler, "by whom kings reign and princes decree justice."
The Temple of Agriculture, which stands at a short distance from that just mentioned, was erected in honour of the first man who cultivated the earth. In Chinese, he has no name, his title, Shin-nung signifying the " divine husbandman "—a masculine Ceres. Might we not call the place the Temple of Cain? There the Emperor does honour to husbandry by ploughing a few furrows at the vernal equinox. His example no doubt tends to encourage and comfort his toiling subjects.
Another temple associated with these is that of Mother Earth, the personified consort of Heaven; but it is not in this locality. The eternal fitness of things requires that it should be outside of the walls and on the north. It has a square altar, because the earth is supposed to have "four corners." "Heaven is round and Earth square," is the first line of a school reader for boys. The Tartar city is laid out with perfect regularity, and its streets and alleys are all of convenient width.
Passing from the Chinese city through the Great Central Gate we enter Legation Street, so called because most of the legations are situated on or near it. Architecturally they make no show, being of one story, or at most two stories, in height and hidden behind high walls. So high and strong are the walls of the British Legation that in the Boxer War of 1900 it served the whole community for a fortress, wherein we sustained a siege of eight weeks. A marble obelisk near the Legation gate commemorates the siege, and a marble gateway on a neighbouring street marks the spot where Baron Ketteler was shot. Since that war a foreign quarter has been marked out, the approaches to which have been partially fortified. The streets are now greatly improved; ruined buildings have been repaired; and the general appearance of the old city has been altered for the better.
Two more walled enclosures have to be passed before we arrive at the palace. One of them forms a protected barrack or camping-ground for the palace guards and other officials attendant on the court. The other is a sacred precinct shielded from vulgar eyes and intrusive feet, and bears the name "Forbidden City." In the year following the flight of the court these palaces were guarded by foreign troops, and were thrown open to foreign visitors.
Marble bridges, balustrades, and stairways bewilder a stranger. Dragons, phoenixes and other imaginary monsters carved on doorways and pillars warn him that he is treading on sacred ground. The ground, though paved with granite, is far from clean; and the costly carvings within remind one of the saying of an Oriental monarch, " The spider taketh hold with her hands and is in kings' houses." None of the buildings has more than one story, but the throne-rooms and great halls are so lofty as to suggest the dome of a cathedral. The roofs are all covered with tiles of a yellow hue, a colour which even princes are not permitted to use.
Separated from the palace by a moat and a wall is Prospect Hill, a charming elevation which serves as an imperial garden. On the fall of the city in 1643 the last of the Mings hanged himself there—after having stabbed his daughter, like another Virginius, as a last proof of paternal affection.
From the gate of the Forbidden City to the palace officials high and low must go on foot, unless His Majesty by special favour confers the privilege of riding on horseback, a distinction which is always announced in the Gazette by the statement that His Majesty has "given a horse" to So-and-So. No trolleys are to be seen in the streets, and four-wheeled carriages are rare and recent. Carts, camels, wheel-barrows, and the ubiquitous rickshaw are the means of transport and locomotion. The canals are open sewers never used for boats.
Not lacking in barbaric splendour, as regards the convenience of living this famous capital will not compare with a country village of the Western world. On the same parallel as Philadelphia, but dryer, hotter, and colder, the climate is so superb that the city, though lacking a system of sanitation, has a remark-ably low death-rate. In 1859 I first entered its gates. In 1863 I came here to reside. More than any other place on earth it has been to me a home; and here I am not unlikely to close my pilgrimage.
On my first visit, I made use of Byron's lines on Lisbon to express my impressions of Peking. Though there are now some signs of improvement in the city the quotation can hardly be considered as inapplicable at the present time. Here it is for the convenience of the next traveller:
Whoso entereth within this town,
(Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto the First, st. xvii.)
Returning to the station we face about for the south and take tickets for Paoting-fu. We are on the first grand trunk railway of this empire. It might indeed be described as a vertebral column from which iron roads will ere long be extended laterally on either side, like ribs, to support and bind together the huge frame. Undertaken about twelve years ago it has only recently been completed as far as Hankow, about six hundred miles. The last spike in the bridge across the Yellow River was driven in August, 1905, and since that time through trains have been running from the capital to the banks of the Yang-tse Kiang.
This portion has been constructed by a Belgian syndicate, and their task has been admirably performed.' I wish I could say as much of the other half (from Hankow to Canton), the contract for which was given, to an American company. After a preliminary survey this company did no work, but, under pretext of waiting for tranquil times, watched the fluctuations of the share market. The whole enterprise was eventually taken over by a native company opposed to foreign ownership—at an advance of 300 per cent. It was a clever deal; but the Americans sacrificed the credit and the influence of their country, and a grand opportunity was lost through cupidity and want of patriotism.
This iron highway is destined in the near future to exert a mighty influence on people and government. It will bring the provinces together and make them feel their unity. It will also insure that communication between the north and the south shall not be interrupted as it might be were it dependent on sea or canal. These advantages must have been so patent as to overcome an inbred hostility to development. Instead of being a danger, these railways are bound to become a source of incalculable strength.
Paoting-fu was the scene of a sad tragedy in 1900, and when avenging troops appeared on the scene, and saw the charred bones of missionaries among the ashes of their dwellings, they were bent on destroying the whole city, but a missionary who served as guide begged them to spare the place. So grateful were the inhabitants for his kindly intervention that they bestowed on the mission a large plot of ground—showing that, however easily wrought up, they were not altogether destitute of the better feelings of humanity.
Continuing our journey through half a dozen considerable cities, at one of which, Shunteh-fu, an American mission has recently been opened, we reach the borders of the province of Honan.