Court Life in China by Isaac Taylor Headland

Scanned by Charles Keller for Sarah with OmniPage Professional OCR software donated by Caere Corporation, 1-800-535-7226. Contact Mike Lough ISAAC TAYLOR HEADLAND’S THREE BOOKS THAT “LINK EAST AND WEST” Court Life in China: The Capital Its Officials and People. The Chinese Boy and Girl Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes COURT LIFE IN CHINA THE CAPITAL ITS
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Scanned by Charles Keller for Sarah with OmniPage Professional OCR software donated by Caere Corporation, 1-800-535-7226. Contact Mike Lough


Court Life in China: The Capital Its Officials and People.

The Chinese Boy and Girl

Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes


By ISAAC TAYLOR HEADLAND Professor in the Peking University


Until within the past ten years a study of Chinese court life would have been an impossibility. The Emperor, the Empress Dowager, and the court ladies were shut up within the Forbidden City, away from a world they were anxious to see, and which was equally anxious to see them. Then the Emperor instituted reform, the Empress Dowager came out from behind the screen, and the court entered into social relations with Europeans.

For twenty years and more Mrs. Headland has been physician to the family of the Empress Dowager’s mother, the Empress’ sister, and many of the princesses and high official ladies in Peking. She has visited them in a social as well as a professional way, has taken with her her friends, to whom the princesses have shown many favours, and they have themselves been constant callers at our home. It is to my wife, therefore, that I am indebted for much of the information contained in this book.

There are many who have thought that the Empress Dowager has been misrepresented. The world has based its judgment of her character upon her greatest mistake, her participation in the Boxer movement, which seems unjust, and has closed its eyes to the tremendous reforms which only her mind could conceive and her hand carry out. The great Chinese officials to a man recognized in her a mistress of every situation; the foreigners who have come into most intimate contact with her, voice her praise; while her hostile critics are confined for the most part to those who have never known her. It was for this reason that a more thorough study of her life was undertaken.

It has also been thought that the Emperor has been misunderstood, being overestimated by some, and underestimated by others, and this because of his peculiar type of mind and character. That he was unusual, no one will deny; that he was the originator of many of China’s greatest reform measures, is equally true; but that he lacked the power to execute what he conceived, and the ability to select great statesmen to assist him, seems to have been his chief shortcoming.

To my wife for her help in the preparation of this volume, and to my father-in-law, Mr. William Sinclair, M. A., for his suggestions, I am under many obligations.

I. T. H.




The Empress Dowager-Her Early Life

All the period since 1861 should be rightly recorded as the reign of Tze Hsi An, a more eventful period than all the two hundred and forty-four reigns that had preceded her three usurpations. It began after a conquering army had made terms of peace in her capital, and with the Tai-ping rebellion in full swing of success. . . .

Those few who have looked upon the countenance of the Dowager describe her as a tall, erect, fine-looking woman of distinguished and imperious bearing, with pronounced Tartar features, the eye of an eagle, and the voice of determined authority and absolute command. –Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore in “China, The Long-Lived Empire.”



One day when one of the princesses was calling at our home in Peking, I inquired of her where the Empress Dowager was born. She gazed at me for a moment with a queer expression wreathing her features, as she finally said with just the faintest shadow of a smile: “We never talk about the early history of Her Majesty.” I smiled in return and continued: “I have been told that she was born in a small house, in a narrow street inside of the east gate of the Tartar city–the gate blown up by the Japanese when they entered Peking in 1900.” The princess nodded. “I have also heard that her father’s name was Chao, and that he was a small military official (she nodded again) who was afterwards beheaded for some neglect of duty.” To this the visitor also nodded assent.

A few days later several well-educated young Chinese ladies, daughters of one of the most distinguished scholars in Peking, were calling on my wife, and again I pursued my inquiries. “Do you know anything about the early life of the Empress Dowager?” I asked of the eldest. She hesitated a moment, with that same blank expression I had seen on the face of the princess, and then answered very deliberately,–“Yes, everybody knows, but nobody talks about it.” And this is, no doubt, the reason why the early life of the greatest woman of the Mongol race, and, as some who knew her best think, the most remarkable woman of the nineteenth century, has ever been shrouded in mystery. Whether the Empress desired thus to efface all knowledge of her childhood by refusing to allow it to be talked about, I do not know, but I said to myself: “What everybody knows, I can know,” and I proceeded to find out.

I discovered that she was one of a family of several brothers and sisters and born about 1834; that the financial condition of her parents was such that when a child she had to help in caring for the younger children, carrying them on her back, as girls do in China, and amusing them with such simple toys as are hawked about the streets or sold in the shops for a cash or two apiece; that she and her brothers and little sisters amused themselves with such games as blind man’s buff, prisoner’s base, kicking marbles and flying kites in company with the other children of their neighbourhood. During these early years she was as fond of the puppet plays, trained mice shows, bear shows, and “Punch and Judy” as she was in later years of the theatrical performances with which she entertained her visitors at the palace. She was compelled to run errands for her mother, going to the shops, as occasion required, for the daily supply of oils, onions, garlic, and other vegetables that constituted the larger portion of their food. I found out also that there is not the slightest foundation for the story that in her childhood she was sold as a slave and taken to the south of China.

The outdoor life she led, the games she played, and the work she was forced to do in the absence of household servants, gave to the little girl a well-developed body, a strong constitution and a fund of experience and information which can be obtained in no other way. She was one of the great middle class. She knew the troubles and trials of the poor. She had felt the pangs of hunger. She could sympathize with the millions of ambitious girls struggling to be freed from the trammels of ignorance and the age-old customs of the past–a combat which was the more real because it must be carried on in silence. And who can say that it was not the struggles and privations of her own childhood which led to the wish in her last years that “the girls of my empire may be educated”?

When little Miss Chao had reached the age of fourteen or fifteen she was taken by her parents to an office in the northern part of the imperial city of Peking where her name, age, personal appearance, and estimated degree of intelligence and potential ability were registered, as is done in the case of all the daughters of the Manchu people. The reason for this singular proceeding is that when the time comes for the selection of a wife or a concubine for the Emperor, or the choosing of serving girls for the palace, those in charge of these matters will know where they can be obtained.

This custom is not considered an unalloyed blessing by the Manchu people, and many of them would gladly avoid registering their daughters if only they dared. But the rule is compulsory, and every one belonging to the eight Banners or companies into which the Manchus are divided must have their daughters registered. Their aversion to this custom is well illustrated in the following incident:

In one of the girls’ schools in Peking there was a beautiful child, the daughter of a Manchu woman whose husband was dead. One day this widow came to the principal of the school and said: “A summons has come from the court for the girls of our clan to appear before the officials that a certain number may be chosen and sent into the palace as serving girls.” “When is she to appear?” inquired the teacher. “On the sixteenth,” answered the mother. “I suppose you are anxious that she should be one of the fortunate ones,” said the teacher, “though I should be sorry to lose her from the school.” “On the contrary,” said the mother, “I should be distressed if she were chosen, and have come to consult with you as to whether we might not hire a substitute.” The teacher expressed surprise and asked her why. “When our daughters are taken into the palace,” answered the mother, “they are dead to us until they are twenty-five, when they are allowed to return home. If they are incompetent or dull they are often severely punished. They may contract disease and die, and their death is not even announced to us; while if they prove themselves efficient and win the approval of the authorities they are retained in the palace and we may never see them or hear from them again.”

At first the teacher was inclined to favour the hiring of a substitute, but on further consideration concluded that it would be contrary to the law, and advised that the girl be allowed to go. The mother, however, was so anxious to prevent her being chosen that she sent her with uncombed hair, soiled clothes and a dirty face, that she might appear as unattractive as possible.

The prospects for a concubine are even less promising than for a serving maid, as when she once enters the palace she has little if any hope of ever leaving it. She is neither mistress nor servant, wife nor slave, she is but one of a hundred buds in a garden of roses which have little if any prospect of ever blooming or being plucked for the court bouquet. When, therefore, the gates of the Forbidden City close behind the young girls who are taken in as concubines of an emperor they shut out an attractive, busy, beautiful world, filled with men and women, boys and girls, homes and children, green fields and rich harvests, and confine them within the narrow limits of one square mile of brick-paved earth, surrounded by a wall twenty-five feet high and thirty feet thick, in which there is but one solitary man who is neither father, brother, husband nor friend to them, and whom they may never even see.

When therefore the time came for the selection of concubines for the Emperor Hsien Feng, and our little Miss Chao was taken into the palace, her parents, like many others, had every reason to consider it a piece of ill-fortune which had visited their home. The future was veiled from them. The Forbidden City, surrounded by its great crenelated wall, may have seemed more like a prison than like a palace. True, they had other children, and she was “only a girl, but even girls are a small blessing,” as they tell us in their proverbs. She had grown old enough to be useful in the home, and they no doubt had cherished plans of betrothing her to the son of some merchant or official who would add wealth or honour to their family. Neither father nor mother, brother nor sister, could have conceived of the potential power, honour and even glory, that were wrapped up in that girl, and that were finally to come to them as a family, as well as to many of them as individuals. Their wildest dreams at that time could not have pictured themselves dukes and princesses, with their daughters as empresses, duchesses, or ladies-in-waiting in the palace. But such it proved to be.


The Empress Dowager–Her Years of Training

The kindness of the Empress is as boundless as the sea. Her person too is holy, she is like a deity. With boldness, from seclusion, she ascends the Dragon Throne, And saves her suffering country from a fate we dare not own.

–“Yuan Fan,” Translated by I. T. C.



The year our little Miss Chao entered the palace was a memorable one in the history of China. The Tai-ping rebellion, which had begun in the south some three years earlier (1850), had established its capital at Nanking, on the Yangtse River, and had sent its “long-haired” rebels north on an expedition of conquest, the ultimate aim of which was Peking. By the end of the year 1853 they had arrived within one hundred miles of the capital, conquering everything before them, and leaving devastation and destruction in their wake.

Their success had been extraordinary. Starting in the southwest with an army of ten thousand men they had eighty thousand when they arrived before the walls of Nanking. They were an undisciplined horde, without commissariat, without drilled military leaders, but with such reckless daring and bravery that the imperial troops were paralyzed with fear and never dared to meet them in the open field. Thousands of common thieves and robbers flocked to their standards with every new conquest, impelled by no higher motive than that of pillage and gain. Rumours became rife in every village and hamlet, and as they neared the capital the wildest tales were told in every nook and corner of the city, from the palace of the young Emperor in the Forbidden City to the mat shed of the meanest beggar beneath the city wall.

My wife says: “I remember just after going to China, sitting one evening on a kang, or brick bed, with Yin-ma, an old nurse, our only light being a wick floating in a dish of oil. Yin-ma was about the age of the Empress Dowager, but, unlike Her Majesty, her locks were snow-white. When I entered the dimly lighted room she was sitting in the midst of a group of women and girls–patients in the hospital–who listened with bated breath as she told them of the horrors of the Tai-ping rebellion.

” ‘Why!’ said the old nurse, ‘all that the rebels had to do on their way to Peking, was to cut out as many paper soldiers as they wanted, put them in boxes, and breathe upon them when they met the imperial troops, and they were transformed into such fierce warriors that no one was able to withstand them. Then when the battle was over and they had come off victors they only needed to breathe upon them again, when they were changed into paper images and packed in their boxes, requiring neither food nor clothing. Indeed the spirits of the rebels were everywhere, and no matter who cut out paper troops they could change them into real soldiers.’

” ‘But, Yin-ma, you do not believe those superstitions, do you?’

” ‘These are not superstitions, doctor, these are facts, which everybody believed in those days, and it was not safe for a woman to be seen with scissors and paper, lest her neighbours report that she was cutting out troops for the rebels. The country was filled with all kinds of rumours, and every one had to be very careful of all their conduct, and of everything they said, lest they be arrested for sympathizing with the enemy.’

” ‘But, Yin-ma, did you ever see any of these paper images transformed into soldiers?’

” ‘No, I never did myself, but there was an old woman lived near our place, who was said to be in sympathy with the rebels. One night my father saw soldiers going into her house and when he had followed them he could find nothing but paper images. You may not have anything of this kind happen in America, but very many people saw them in those terrible days of pillage and bloodshed here.’ “

Such stories are common in all parts of China during every period of rebellion, war, riot or disturbance of any kind. The people go about with fear on their faces, and horror in their voices, telling each other in undertones of what some one, somewhere, is said to have seen or heard. Nor are these superstitions confined to the common people. Many of the better classes believe them and are filled with fear.

As the Tai-ping rebellion broke out when Miss Chao was about fifteen or sixteen years of age, she would hear these stories for two or three years before she entered the palace. After she had been taken into the Forbidden City she would continue to hear them, brought in by the eunuchs and circulated not only among all the women of the palace, but among their own associates as well, and here they would take on a more mysterious and alarming aspect to these people shut away from the world, as ghost stories become more terrifying when told in the dim twilight. May this not account in some measure for the attitude assumed by the Empress Dowager towards the Boxer superstitions of 1900, and their pretentions to be able at will to call to their aid legions of spirit-soldiers, while at the same time they were themselves invulnerable to the bullets of their enemies?

It was when Miss Chao was ten years old that the conflict known as the Opium War was brought to an end. It has been said that when the Emperor was asked to sanction the importation of opium, he answered, “I will never legalize a traffic that will be an injury to my people,” but whether this be true or not, it is admitted by all that the central government was strongly opposed to the sale and use of the drug within its domains. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the first time the Chinese came into collision with European governments was over a matter of this kind, and it is to the credit of the Chinese commissioner when the twenty thousand chests of opium, over which the dispute arose, were handed over to him, he mixed it with quicklime in huge vats that it might be utterly destroyed rather than be an injury to his people. They may have exhibited an ignorance of international law, they may have manifested an unwise contempt for the foreigner, but it remains a fact of history that they were ready to suffer great financial loss rather than get revenue from the ruin of their subjects, and that England went to war for the purpose of securing indemnity for the opium destroyed.

The common name for opium among the Chinese is yang yen–foreign tobacco, and my wife says: “When calling at the Chinese homes, I have frequently been offered the opium-pipe, and when I refused it the ladies expressed surprise, saying that they were under the impression that all foreigners used it.”

What now were the results of the Opium War as viewed from the standpoint of the Chinese people, and what impression would it make upon them as a whole? Great Britain demanded an indemnity of $21,000,000, the cession to them of Hongkong, an island on the southern coast, and the opening of five ports to British trade. China lost her standing as suzerain among the peoples of the Orient and got her first glimpse of the White Peril from the West.

Although the Empress Dowager was but a child of ten at this time she would receive her first impression of the foreigner, which was that he was a pirate who had come to carry away their wealth, to filch from them their land, and to overrun their country. He became a veritable bugaboo to men, women and children alike, and this impression was crystallized in the expression yang huei, “foreign devil,” which is the only term among a large proportion of the Chinese by which the foreigner is known. One day when walking on the street in Peking I met a woman with a child of two years in her arms, and as I passed them, the child patted its mother on the cheek and said in an undertone,–“The foreign devil’s coming,” which led the frightened mother to cover its eyes with her hand that it might not be injured by the sight.

On one occasion a friend was travelling through the country when a Chinese gentleman, dressed in silk and wearing an official hat, called on him at the inn where he was stopping and with a profound bow addressed him as “Old Mr. Foreign Devil.”

My wife says that: “Not infrequently when I have been called for the first time to the homes of the better classes I have seen the children run into the house from the outer court exclaiming, –‘The devil doctor’s coming.’ Indeed, I have heard the women use this term in speaking of me to my assistant until I objected, when they asked with surprise,–‘Doesn’t she like to be called foreign devil?’ ” And so the Empress Dowager’s first impression of the foreigner would be that of a devil.

Colonel Denby tells us that “A Frenchman and his wife were carried off from Tonquin by bandits who took refuge in China. The Chinese government was asked to rescue these prisoners and restore them to liberty. China sent a brigade of troops, who pursued the bandits to their den and recovered the prisoners. The French government thanked the Chinese government for its assistance, and bestowed the decoration of the Legion of Honour on the brigade commander, and then shortly afterwards demanded the payment of an enormous indemnity for the outrage on the ground that China had delayed to effect the rescue. The Chinese were aghast, but they paid the money.”

This incident does not stand alone, but is one of a number of similar experiences which the Chinese government had in her relation with the powers of Europe, and which have been reported by such writers as Holcomb, Beresford, Gorst Colquhoun and others in trying to account for the feelings the Chinese have towards us, all of which was embodied in the years of training of our little concubine.

It should be remembered that many concubines are selected whom the Emperor never takes the trouble to see. After being taken in, their temper and disposition are carefully noted, their faithfulness in the duties assigned them, their diligence in the performance of their tasks, their kindness to their inferiors, their treatment of their equals, and their politeness and obedience to their superiors, and upon all these things, with many others, as we shall see, their promotion will finally depend.

When Miss Chao entered the palace, like most girls of her class or station in life, she was uneducated. She may have studied the small “Classic for Girls” in which she learned:

“You should rise from bed as early in the morning as the sun, Nor retire at evening’s closing till your work is wholly done.”

Or, further, she may have been told,

When the wheel of life’s at fifteen,
Or when twenty years have passed,
As a girl with home and kindred these will surely be your last; While expert in all employments that compose a woman’s life, You should study as a daughter all the duties of a wife.”

Or she may have read the “Filial Piety Classic for Girls” in which she learned the importance of the attitude she assumed towards those who were in authority over her, but certain it is she was not educated.

She had, however, what was better than education–a disposition to learn. And so when she had the good fortune,–or shall we say misfortune,– for as we have seen it is variously regarded by Chinese parents to be taken into the palace, she found there educated eunuchs who were set aside as teachers of the imperial harem. She was bright, attractive, and I think I may add without fear of contradiction, very ambitious, and this in no bad sense. She devoted herself to her studies with such energy and diligence as not only to attract the attention of the teacher, but to make herself a fair scholar, a good penman, and an exceptional painter, and it was not long until, from among all the concubines, she had gained the attention and won the admiration–and shall we say affection–not only of the Empress, but of the Emperor himself, and she was selected as the first concubine or kuei fei, and from that time until the death of the Empress the two women were the staunchest of friends.

The new favourite had been a healthy and vigorous girl, with plenty of outdoor life in childhood, and it was not long before she became the happy mother of Hsien Feng’s only son. She was thenceforward known as the Empress-mother. In a short time she was raised to the position of wife, and given the title of Western Empress, as the other was known as the Eastern, from which time the two women were equal in rank, and, in the eyes of the world, equal in power.

The first Empress was a pampered daughter of wealth, neither vigorous of body nor strong of mind, caring nothing for political power if only she might have ease and comfort, and there is nothing that exhibits the Empress Dowager’s real greatness more convincingly than the fact that she was able to live for thirty years the more fortunate mother of her country’s ruler, and, in power, the mistress of her superior, without arousing the latter’s envy, jealousy, anger, or enmity. Let any woman who reads this imagine, if she can, herself placed in the position of either of these ladies without being inclined to despise the less fortunate, ease-loving Empress if she be the dowager, or hating the more powerful dowager if she be the Empress. Such a state of affairs as these two women lived in for more than a quarter of a century is almost if not entirely unique in history.

Perhaps the incident which made most impression upon her was one which happened in 1860 and is recorded in history as the Arrow War. A few years before a number of Chinese, who owned a boat called the Arrow, had it registered in Hongkong and hence were allowed to sail under the British flag. There is no question I think but that these Chinese were committing acts of piracy, and as this was one of the causes of disturbance on that southern coast for centuries past, the viceroy decided to rid the country of this pest. Nine days after the time for which the boat had been registered, but while it continued unlawfully to float the British colours, the viceroy seized the boat, imprisoned all her crew, and dragged down the British flag. This was an insult which Great Britain could not or would not brook and so the viceroy was ordered to release the prisoners, all of whom were Chinese subjects, on penalty of being blown up in his own yamen if he refused.

Frightened at the threat, and remembering the result of the former war, the viceroy sent the prisoners to the consulate in chains without proper apologies for his insult to the flag. This angered the consul and he returned them to the viceroy, who promptly cut off their heads without so much as the semblance of a trial, and Britain, anxious, as she was, to have every door of the Chinese empire opened to foreign trade, found in this another pretext for war. We do not pretend to argue that this was not the best thing for China and for the world, but it can only be considered so from the bitter medicine, and corporal punishment point of view, neither of which are agreeable to either the patient or the pupil.

Britain went to war. The viceroy was taken a prisoner to India, whence he never returned. As though ashamed to enter upon a second unprovoked and unjust war alone, she invited France, Russia, and America to join her. France was quite ready to do so in the hope of strengthening her position in Indo-China, and with nothing more than the murder of a missionary in Kuangsi as a pretext she put a body of troops in the field large enough to enable her to checkmate England, or humiliate China as the exigencies of the occasion, and her own interests, might demand. America and Russia having no cause for war, no wrongs to redress, and no desire for territory, refused to join her in sending troops, but gave her such sympathy and support as would enable her to bring about a more satisfactory arrangement of China’s foreign relations–that is more satisfactory to themselves regardless of the wishes, though not perhaps the interests, of China.

We know how the British and French marched upon Peking in 1860; how the summer palace was left a heap of ruins as a punishment for the murder of a company of men under a flag of truce; and how the Emperor Hsien Feng, with his wife, and the mother of his only son, our Empress Dowager, were compelled to flee for the first time before a foreign invader. Their refuge was Jehol, a fortified town, in a wild and rugged mountain pass, on the borders of China and Tartary, a hundred miles northeast of Peking. At this place the Emperor died, whether of disease, chagrin, or of a broken heart–or of all combined, it is impossible to say, and the Empress-mother was left AN EXILE AND A WIDOW, with the capital and the throne for the first time at the mercy of the Western barbarian.

This was the beginning of two important phases of the Empress Dowager’s life–her affliction and her power, and her greatness is exhibited as well by the way in which she bore the one as by the way in which she wielded the other. In most cases a woman would have been so overcome by sorrow at the loss of her husband, as to have forgotten the affairs of state, or to have placed them for the time in the hands of others. Not so with this great woman. Prince Kung the brother of Hsien Feng, had been left in Peking to arrange a treaty with the Europeans, which he succeeded in doing to the satisfaction of both the Chinese and the foreigners.

On the death of the Emperor, a regency was organized by two of the princes, which did not include Prince Kung, and disregarded both of the dowagers, and it seemed as though Prince Kung was doomed. His father-in-law, however, the old statesman who had signed the treaties, urged him to be the first to get the ear of the two women on their return to the capital. This he did, and as it seemed evident that the regency and the council had been organized for the express purpose of tyrannizing over the Empresses and the child, they were at once arrested, the leader beheaded, and the others condemned to exile or to suicide. The child had been placed upon the throne as “good-luck,” but now a new regency was formed, consisting of the two dowagers, with Prince Kung as joint regent, and the title of the reign was changed to Tung Chih or “joint government.” Thus ended the Empress Dowager’s years of training.


The Empress Dowager–As a Ruler

That a Manchu woman who had had such narrow opportunities of obtaining a knowledge of things as they really are, in distinction from the tissue of shams which constitute the warp and the woof of an Oriental Palace, should have been able to hold her own in every situation, and never be crushed by the opposing forces about her, is a phenomenon in itself only to be explained by due recognition of the influence of individual qualities in a ruler even in the semi-absolutism of China. –Arthur H. Smith in “China in Convulsion.”



In considering the policy pursued by the Empress-mother after her accession to the regency, one cannot but feel that she was fully aware of the fact that she had been the wife of an emperor, and was the mother of the heir, of a decaying house. Of the 218 years that her dynasty had been in power, 120 had been occupied by the reigns of two emperors, and only seven monarchs had sat upon the throne, a smaller number than ever ruled during the same period in all Chinese history. These two Emperors, Kang Hsi and Chien Lung, the second and fourth, had each reigned for sixty years, the most brilliant period of the “Great Pure Dynasty,” unless we except the last six years of the Empress Dowager’s regency. The other ninety-eight years saw five rulers rise and pass away, each one becoming weaker than his predecessor both in character and in physique, until with the death of her son, Tung Chih, the dynasty was left without a direct heir.

The decay of the imperial house, the encroachments of the foreigner, and the opposition of the native Chinese to the rule of the Manchus, awoke the Empress Dowager to a realization of the fact that a stronger hand than that of her husband must be at the helm if the dynasty of her people were to be preserved. “It may be said with emphasis,” says Colonel Denby, who was for thirteen years minister to China, “that the Empress Dowager has been the first of her race to apprehend the problem of the relation of China to the outer world, and to make use of this relation to strengthen her dynasty and to promote material progress.” She was fortunate in having Prince Kung associated with her in the regency, a man tall, handsome and dignified, and the greatest statesman that has come from the royal house since the time of Chien Lung.

Here appears one of the chief characteristics of the Empress Dowager as a ruler–her ability to choose the greatest statesmen, the wisest advisers, the safest leaders, and the best guides, from the great mass of Chinese officials, whether progressive or conservative. Prince Kung was for forty years the leading figure of the Chinese capital outside of the Forbidden City. He appeared first, at the age of twenty-six, as a member of the commission that tried the minister who failed to make good his promise to induce Lord Elgin and his men-of-war to withdraw from Tientsin in 1858. The following year he was made a member of the Colonial Board that controlled the affairs of the “outer Barbarians,” and a year later was left in Peking, when the court fled, to arrange a treaty of peace with the victorious British and French after they had taken the capital. “In these trying circumstances,” says Professor Giles, “the tact and resource of Prince Kung won the admiration of his opponents,” and when the Foreign Office was formed in 1861, it began with the Prince as its first president, a position which he continued to hold for many years.

It was he, as we have seen, who succeeded in outwitting and overthrowing the self-constituted regency on the death of his brother Hsien Feng, and, with the Empress Dowager, seated her infant son upon the throne, with the two Empresses and himself as joint regents. This condition continued for some years, with the senior Empress exercising no authority, and Prince Kung continually growing in power. The arrangement seemed satisfactory to all but one–the Empress-mother. To her it appeared as though he were fast becoming the government, and she and the Empress were as rapidly receding into the background, while in reality the design had been to make him “joint regent” with them. In all the receptions of the officials by the court, Prince Kung alone could see them face to face, while the ladies were compelled to remain behind a screen, listening to the deliberations but without taking any part therein, other than by such suggestions as they might make.

Being the visible head of the government, and the only avenue to positions of preferment, he would naturally be flattered by the Chinese officials. This led him to assume an air of importance which consciously or unconsciously he carried into the presence of their Majesties, and one morning he awoke to find himself stripped of all his rank and power, and confined and guarded a prisoner in his palace, by a joint decree from the two Empresses accusing him of “lack of respect for their Majesties.” The deposed Prince at once begged their forgiveness, whereupon all his honours were restored with their accompanying dignities, but none of his former power as joint regent, and thus the first obstacle to her reestablishment of the dynasty was eliminated by the Empress-mother. To show Prince Kung, however, that they bore him no ill will, the Empresses adopted his daughter as their own, raising her to the rank of an imperial princess, and though the Prince has long since passed away his daughter still lives, and next to the Empress Dowager has been the leading figure in court circles during the past ten years’ association with the foreigners.

During her son’s minority, after the dismissal of Prince Kung as joint regent, the Empress-mother year by year took a more active part in the affairs of state, while the Empress as gradually sank into the background. She was far-sighted. Having but one son, and knowing the uncertainty of life, she originated a plan to secure the succession to her family. To this end she arranged for the marriage of her younger sister to her husband’s younger brother commonly known as the Seventh Prince, in the hope that from this union there might come a son who would be a worthy occupant of the dragon throne in case her own son died without issue. She felt that the country needed a great central figure capable of inspiring confidence and banishing uncertainty, a strong, well-balanced, broad-minded, self-abnegating chief executive, and she proposed to furnish one. Whether she would succeed or not must be left to the future to reveal, but the one great task set by destiny for her to accomplish was to prepare the mind of a worthy successor to meet openly and intelligently the problems which had been too vast, too new and too complicated for her predecessors, if not for herself, to solve.

When her son was seventeen years old he was married to Alute, a young Manchu lady of one of the best families in Peking and was nominally given the reins of power, though as a matter of fact the supreme control of affairs was still in the hands of his more powerful mother. The ministers of the European countries, England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, now resident at Peking, thought this a good time for bringing up the matter of an audience with the new ruler, and after a long discussion with Prince Kung and the Empress-mother, the matter was arranged without the ceremony of prostration which all previous rulers had demanded.

The married life of this young couple was a short one. Three years after their wedding ceremonies the young monarch contracted smallpox and died without issue, and was followed shortly afterwards by his young wife who heeded literally the instruction of one of their female teachers in her duty to her husband to

Share his joy as well as sorrow, riches, poverty or guilt, And in death be buried with him, as in life you shared his guilt.

That her nearest relatives did not believe, as has often been suggested, that there was any “foul play” in regard to her death, is evident from the fact that her father continued to hold office until the time of the Boxer uprising, at which time he followed the fleeing court as far as Paotingfu, where having heard that the capital was in the hands of the hated foreigners, he sent word back to his family that he would neither eat the foreigners’ bread nor drink their water, but would prefer to die by his own hand. When his family received this message they commanded their servants to dig a great pit in their own court in which they all lay and ordered the coolies to bury them. This they at first refused to do, but they were finally prevailed upon, and thus perished all the male members of her father’s household except one child that was rescued and carried away by a faithful nurse.

When Tung Chih died there was a formidable party in the palace opposed to the two dowagers, anxious to oust them and their party and place upon the throne a dissolute son of Prince Kung. But it would require a master mind from the outside to learn of the death of her son and select and proclaim a successor quicker than the Empress Dowager herself could do so from the inside. She first sent a secret messenger to Li Hung-chang whom she had appointed viceroy of the metropolitan province at Tientsin eighty miles away, informing him of the illness of her son and urging him to come to Peking with his troops post-haste and be ready to prevent any disturbance in case of his death and the announcement of a successor.

When Li Hung-chang received her orders, he began at once to put them into execution. Taking with him four thousand of his most reliable Anhui men, all well-armed horse, foot and artillery, he made a secret forced march to Peking. The distance of eighty miles was covered in thirty-six hours and he planned to arrive at midnight. Exactly on the hour Li and his picked guard were admitted, and in dead silence they marched into the Forbidden City. Every man had in his mouth a wooden bit to prevent talking, while the metal trappings of the horses were muffled to deaden all sound. When they arrived at the forbidden precincts, the Manchu Bannermen on guard at the various city gates were replaced by Li’s Anhui braves, and as the Empress Dowager had sent eunuchs to point out the palace troops which were doubtful or that had openly declared for the conspirators, these were at once disarmed, bound and sent to prison. The artillery were ordered to guard the gates of the Forbidden City, the cavalry to patrol the grounds, and the foot-soldiers to pick up any stray conspirators that could be found. A strong detachment was stationed so as to surround the Empress Dowager and the child whom she had selected as a successor to her son, and when the morning sun rose bright and clear over the Forbidden City the surprise of the conspirators who had slept the night away was complete. Of the disaffected that remained, some were put in prison and others sent into perpetual exile to the Amoor beyond their native borders, and when the Empress Dowager announced the death of her son, she proclaimed the son of her sister, Kuang Hsu, as his successor, with herself and the Empress as regents during his minority. When everything was settled, Li folded his tent like the Arab, and stole away as silently as he had come.

The wisdom and greatness of the Empress Dowager were thus manifested in binding to the throne the greatest men not only in the capital but in the provinces. Li Hung-chang had won his title to greatness during the Tai-ping rebellion, for his part in the final extinction of which he was ennobled as an Earl. From this time onward she placed him in the highest positions of honour and power within sufficient proximity to the capital to have his services within easy reach. For twenty-four years he was kept as viceroy of the metropolitan province of Chihli, with the largest and best drilled army at his command that China had ever had, and yet during all this time he realized that he was watched with the eyes of an eagle lest he manifest any signs of rebellion, while his nephew was kept in the capital as a hostage for his good conduct. Once and again when he had reached the zenith of his power, or had been feted by foreign potentates enough to turn the head of a bronze Buddha, his yellow jacket and peacock feather were kindly but firmly removed to remind him that there was a power in Peking on whom he was dependent.

Li Hung-chang’s greatness made him many enemies. Those whom he defeated, those whom he would not or could not help, those whom he punished or put out of office, and those whose enmity was the result of jealousy. When the war with Japan closed and the Chinese government sent Chang Yin-huan to negotiate a treaty of peace, the Japanese refused to accept him, nor were they willing to take up the matter until “Li Hung-chang was appointed envoy, chiefly because of his great influence over the government, and the respect in which he was held by the people.” We all know how he went, how he was shot in the face by a Japanese fanatic, the ball lodging under the left eye, where it remained a memento which he carried to the grave. We all know how he recovered from the wound, and how because of his sufferings he was able to negotiate a better treaty than he could otherwise have done. Then he returned home, and only “the friendship of the Empress and his own personal sufferings saved his life,” says Colonel Denby, for “the new treaty was urgently denounced in China” by carping critics who would not have been recognized as envoys by their Japanese enemies.

In 1896 he was appointed to attend the coronation of the Czar at Moscow, and thence continued his trip around the world. Never before nor since has a Chinese statesman or even a prince been feted as he was in every country through which he passed. When he was about to start, at his request I had a round fan painted for him, with a map of the Eastern hemisphere on one side and the Western on the other, on which all the steamship lines and railroads over which he was to travel were clearly marked, with all the ports and cities at which he expected to stop. He was photographed with Gladstone, and hailed as the “Bismarck of the East,” but when he returned to Peking, for no reason but jealousy, “he was treated as an extinct volcano.” The Empress Dowager invited him to the Summer Palace where he was shown about the place by the eunuchs, treated to tea and pipes, and led into pavilions where only Her Majesty was allowed to enter, and then denounced to the Board of Punishments who were against him to a man. And now this Grand Secretary whom kings and courts had honoured, whom emperors and presidents had feted, and our own government had spent thirty thousand dollars in entertaining, was once more stripped of his yellow jacket and peacock feather, and fined the half of a year’s salary as a member of the Foreign Office, which was the amusing sum of forty-five taels or about thirty-five dollars gold, and it was said in Peking at the time that only the intercession of the Empress Dowager saved him from imprisonment or further disgrace.

During the whole regency of the Empress Dowager only two men have occupied the position of President of the Grand Council–Prince Kung and Prince Ching. While the former was degraded many times and had his honours all taken from him, the latter “has kept himself on top of a rolling log for thirty years” without losing any of the honours which were originally conferred upon him. The same is true of Chang Chih-tung, Liu Kun-yi and Wang Wen-shao, three great viceroys and Grand Secretaries whom the Empress Dowager has never allowed to be without an important office, but whom she has never degraded. Need we ask the reason why? The answer is not far to seek. They were the most eminent progressive officials she had in her empire, but none of them were great enough to be a menace to her dynasty, and hence need not be reminded that there was a power above them which by a stroke of her pen could transfer them from stars in the official firmament to dandelions in the grass. Not so with Yuan Shih-kai–but we will speak of him in another chapter.

All the great officials thus far mentioned have belonged to the progressive rather than the conservative party, all of them the favourites of the Empress Dowager, placed in positions of influence and kept in office by her, all of them working for progress and reform, and yet she has been constantly spoken of by European writers as a reactionary. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as we shall see. Nevertheless she kept some of the great conservative officials in office either as viceroys or Grand Secretaries that she might be able to hear both sides of all important questions.

One of these conservatives was Jung Lu, the father-in-law of the present Regent. When she placed Yuan Shih-kai in charge of the army of north China, she also appointed Jung Lu as Governor-General of the metropolitan province of Chihli. One was a progressive, the other a conservative. Neither could make any important move without the knowledge and consent of the other. Whether the Empress Dowager foresaw the danger that was likely to arise, we do not know, but she provided against it. We refer to the occasion when in 1898 the Emperor ordered Yuan Shih-kai to bring his troops to Peking, guard the Empress Dowager a prisoner in the Summer Palace, and protect him in his efforts at reform. The story belongs in another chapter, but we refer to it here to show how the Empress Dowager played one official against another, and one party against another, to prevent any such calamity or surprise. It would have been impossible for Yuan Shih-kai to have taken his troops to Peking for any purpose without first informing his superior officer Jung Lu unless he put him to death, much less to have gone on such a mission as that of imprisoning as important a personage as the Empress Dowager, to whom they were both indebted for their office.

Another instance of the way in which the Empress Dowager played one party against another was the appointment of Prince Tuan as a member of the Foreign Office. After his son had been selected as the heir-apparent it seemed to the Empress Dowager that for his own education and development he should be made to come in contact with the foreigners. Most of the foreigners considered the appointment objectionable on account of the “Prince’s anti- foreign tendencies. But to my mind,” says Sir Robert Hart, “it was a good one; the Empress Dowager had probably said to the Prince, ‘You and your party pull one way, Prince Ching and his another–what am I to do between you? You, however, are the father of the future Emperor, and have your son’s interests to take care of; you are also head of the Boxers and chief of the Peking Field Force, and ought therefore to know what can and what cannot be done. I therefore appoint you to the yamen; do what you consider most expedient, and take care that the throne of your ancestors descends untarnished to your son, and their empire undiminished! yours is the power,–yours the responsibility–and yours the chief interests!’ I can imagine the Empress Dowager taking this line with the Prince, and, inasmuch as various ministers who had been very anti-foreign before entering the yamen had turned round and behaved very sensibly afterwards, I felt sure that responsibility and actual personal dealings with foreigners would be a good experience and a useful education for this Prince, and that he would eventually be one of the sturdiest supporters of progress and good relations.”


The Empress Dowager–As a Reactionist

The most interesting personage in China during the past thirty years has been and still is without doubt the lady whom we style the Empress Dowager. The character of the Empress’s rule can only be judged by what it was during the regency, when she was at the head of every movement that partook of the character of reform. Foreign diplomacy has failed, for want of a definite centre of volition and sensation to act upon. It had no fulcrum for its lever. Hence only force has ever succeeded in China. With a woman like the Empress might it not be possible really to transact business? –Blackwood’s Magazine.



It was between November 1, 1897, and April 16, 1898, that Germany, Russia, France and England wrested from the weak hands of the Emperor Kuang Hsu the four best ports in the Chinese empire, leaving China without a place to rendezvous a fleet. The whole empire was aroused to indignation, and even in our Christian schools, every essay, oration, dialogue or debate was a discussion of some phase of the subject, “How to reform and strengthen China.” The students all thought, the young reformers all thought, and the foreigners all thought that Kuang Hsu had struck the right track. The great Chinese officials, however, were in doubt, and it was because of their doubt–progressives as well as conservatives–that the Empress Dowager was again called to the throne.

Now may I request the enemies of the Empress Dowager to ask themselves what they would have done if they had been placed at the head of their own government when it was thus being filched from them? You say she was anti-foreign–would you have been very much in love with Germany, Russia, France and England under those circumstances? That she acted unwisely in placing herself in the hands of the conservatives and allying herself with the superstitious Boxers, we must all frankly admit. But what would you have done? Might you not–I do not say you would with your intelligence–but might you not have been induced to have clutched at as great a log as the patriotic Boxers seemed to present, if you had been as near drowning as she was?

“It is generally supposed,” says one of her critics, “that Kang Yu-wei suggested to the Emperor, that if he would render his own position secure, he must retire the Empress Dowager, and decapitate Jung Lu.” If that be true, and I think it very reasonable, the condition must have been desperate, when the reformers had to begin killing the greatest of their opponents, and imprisoning those who had given them their power, though neither of these at that time had raised a hand against them. Have you noticed how ready we are to forgive those on our side for doing that for which we would bitterly condemn our opponents? The same people who condemn the Empress Dowager for beheading the six young reformers stand ready to forgive Kuang Hsu for ordering the decapitation of Jung Lu, and the imprisonment of his foster-mother.

There were two powerful factions in Peking, the progressives, headed by Prince Ching; and the conservatives, headed by Jung Lu. Now the Empress Dowager may have reasoned thus: “The progressives and reformers have had their day. They have tried their plans and they have failed. The only result they have secured is peace–but peace always at the expense of territory. Now I propose to try another plan. I will part with no more ports, and I will resist to the death every encroachment.” She therefore took up Li Ping-heng, who had been deposed from the governorship of Shantung at the time of the murder of the German missionaries, and appointed him Generalissimo of the forces of the Yangtse, where he no doubt promised to resist to the last all encroachments of the foreigners in that part of the empire while Jung Lu was retained in Peking as head of all the forces of the province of Chihli and the Northern Squadron. She then appointed Kang Yi, another conservative, equally as anti-foreign as Li Ping-heng, to inspect the fortifications and garrisons of the empire, and to raise an immense sum of money for the depleted treasury. In his visits to the southern provinces, Kang Yi at this time raised not less than two million taels, which was no doubt spent in the purchase of guns and ammunition and other preparations for war. Yu Hsien, another equally conservative Manchu, she appointed Governor of Shantung to succeed Li Ping-heng, and it is to him the whole Boxer uprising is due. Moreover when he, at the repeated requests of the foreigners, was removed from Shantung, she received him in audience at Peking, conferred upon him additional honours and appointed him Governor of the adjoining province of Shansi, where, and under whose jurisdiction, almost all the massacres were committed. Indeed Yu Hsien may be considered the whole Boxer movement, for this seems to have been his plan for getting rid of the foreigners.

But while thus allying herself with the conservatives, the Empress Dowager did not cut herself off from the progressives. Li Hung-chang was appointed Viceroy of Kuangtung, Yuan Shih-kai Governor of Shantung and Tuan Fang of Shensi while Liu Kun-yi, Chang Chih-tung, and Kuei Chun were kept at their posts, so that she had all the greatest men of both parties once more in her service. Then she began sending out edicts, retracting those issued by Kuang Hsu, and what could be more considerate of the feelings of the Emperor, or more diplomatic as a state paper than the following, issued in the name of Kuang Hsu, September 26, 1898.

“Our real desire was to make away with superfluous posts for the sake of economy: whereas, on the contrary, we find rumours flying abroad that we intended to change wholesale the customs of the empire, and, in consequence, innumerable impossible suggestions of reform have been presented to us. If we allowed this to go on, none of us would know to what pass matters would come. Hence, unless we hasten to put our present wishes clearly before all, we greatly fear that the petty yamen officials and their underlings will put their own construction on what commands have gone before, and create a ferment in the midst of the usual calm of the people. This will indeed be contrary to our desire, and put our reforms for strengthening and enriching our empire to naught.

“We therefore hereby command that the Supervisorate of Instruction and other five minor Courts and Boards, which were recently abolished by us and their duties amalgamated with other Boards for the sake of economy, etc., be forthwith restored to their original state and duties, because we have learned that the process of amalgamation contains many difficulties and will require too much labour. We think, therefore, it is best that these offices be not abolished at all, there being no actual necessity for doing this. As for the provincial bureaus and official posts ordered to be abolished, the work in this connection can go on as usual, and the viceroys and governors are exhorted to work earnestly and diligently in the above duty. Again as to the edict ordering the establishment of an official newspaper, the Chinese Progress, and the privilege granted to all scholars and commoners to memorialize us on reforms, etc., this was issued in order that a way might be opened by which we could come into touch with our subjects, high and low. But as we have also given extra liberty to our censors and high officers to report to us on all matters pertaining to the people and their government, any reforms necessary, suggested by these officers, will be attended to at once by us. Hence we consider that our former edict allowing all persons to report to us is, for obvious reasons, superfluous, with the present legitimate machinery at hand. And we now command that the privilege be withdrawn, and only the proper officers be permitted to report to us as to what is going on in our empire. As for the newspaper Chinese Progress, it is really of no use to the government, while, on the other hand, it will excite the masses to evil; hence we command the said paper to be suppressed.

“With regard to the proposed Peking University and the middle schools in the provincial capitals, they may go on as usual, as they are a nursery for the perfection of true ability and talents. But with reference to the lower schools in the sub-prefectures and districts there need be no compulsion, full liberty being given to the people thereof to do what they please in this connection. As for the unofficial Buddhist, Taoist, and memorial temples which were ordered to be turned into district schools, etc., so long as these institutions have not broken the laws by any improper conduct of the inmates, or the deities worshipped in them are not of the seditious kind, they are hereby excused from the edict above noted. At the present moment, when the country is undergoing a crisis of danger and difficulty, we must be careful of what may be done, or what may not, and select only such measures as may be really of benefit to the empire.”

I submit the above edict to the reader requesting him to study it, and, if necessary to its understanding, to copy it, and see if the Empress Dowager has not preserved the best there is in it, viz., “the Peking University, and the middle schools in the provincial capitals,” “full liberty being given to the people with reference to the lower schools in the sub-prefectures and districts to do as they please.” How much oil would be cast on how many troubled waters can only be realized by the unfortunate priests and dismissed officials and people upon whom “there need be no compulsion”!

Three days after the foregoing, on September 29th, she issued another edict purporting to come from the Emperor, ordering the punishment of Kang Yu-wei and others of his confreres. Now, if it is true that Kang Yu-wei advised the Emperor to behead Jung Lu and imprison the Empress Dowager, for no cause whatsoever, how would you have been inclined to treat him supposing you had been in her place? The decree says:

“All know that we try to rule this empire by our filial piety towards the Empress Dowager; but Kang Yu-wei’s doctrines have always been opposed to the ancient Confucian tenets. Owing, however, to the ability shown by the said Kang Yu-wei in modern and practical matters, we sought to take advantage of it by appointing him a secretary of the Foreign Office, and subsequently ordered him to Shanghai to direct the management of the official newspaper there. Instead of this, however, he dared to remain in Peking pursuing his nefarious designs against the dynasty, and had it not been for the protection given by the spirits of our ancestors he certainly would have succeeded. Kang Yu-wei is therefore the arch conspirator, and his chief assistant is Liang Chi-tsao, M. A., and they are both to be immediately arrested and punished for the crime of rebellion. The other principal conspirators, namely, the Censor Yang Shen-hsin, Kang Kuang-jen–the brother of Kang Yu-wei–and the four secretaries of the Tsungli Yamen, Tan Sze-tung, Liu Hsin, Yang Jui, and Liu Kuang-ti, we immediately ordered to be arrested and imprisoned by the Board of Punishments: but fearing that if any delay ensued in sentencing them they would endeavour to entangle a number of others, we accordingly commanded yesterday (September 28th) their immediate execution, so as to close the matter entirely and prevent further troubles.”

This with the execution of one or two other officials is the greatest crime that can be laid at the door of the Empress Dowager–great enough in all conscience–yet not to be compared to those of “good Queen Bess.”

We now come to what is said to have been a secret edict issued by the Empress Dowager to her viceroys, governors, Tartar generals and the commanders-in-chief of the provinces, dated November 21, 1899. And this I regard as one of the greatest and most daring things that great woman ever undertook.

After the Empress Dowager had taken the throne, Italy, following the example set by the other powers, demanded the cession of Sanmen Bay in the province of Chekiang. But she found a different ruler on the throne, and to her great surprise, as well as that of every one else, China returned a stubborn refusal. Moreover, she began to prepare to resist the demand, and it soon became evident that to obtain it, Italy must go to war. This she had not the stomach for and so the demand was withdrawn. This explanation will go far towards helping us to understand the following secret edict of November 21st, to which I have already referred.

“Our empire is now labouring under great difficulties which are becoming daily more and more serious. The various Powers cast upon us looks of tiger-like voracity, hustling each other in their endeavours to be the first to seize upon our innermost territories. They think that China, having neither money nor troops, would never venture to go to war with them. They fail to understand, however, that there are certain things that this empire can never consent to, and that, if hardly pressed upon, we have no alternative but to rely upon the justice of our cause, the knowledge of which in our breasts strengthens our resolves and steels us to present a united front against our aggressors. No one can guarantee, under such circumstances, who will be the victor and who the vanquished in the end. But there is an evil habit which has become almost a custom among our viceroys and governors which, however, must be eradicated at all costs. For instance, whenever these high officials have had on their hands cases of international dispute, all their actions seem to be guided by the belief in their breasts that such cases would eventually be ‘amicably arranged.’ These words seem never to be out of their thoughts: hence, when matters do come to a crisis, they, of course, find themselves utterly unprepared to resist any hostile aggressions on the part of the foreigner. We, indeed, consider this the most serious failure in the duty which the highest provincial authorities owe to the throne, and we now find it incumbent upon ourselves to censure such conduct in the most severe terms.

“It is our special command, therefore, that should any high official find himself so hard pressed by circumstances that nothing short of war would settle matters, he is expected to set himself resolutely to work out his duty to this end. Or, perhaps, it would be that war has already actually been declared; under such circumstances there is no possible chance of the imperial government consenting to an immediate conference for the restoration of peace. It behooves, therefore, that our viceroys, governors, and commanders-in-chief throughout the whole empire unite forces and act together without distinction or particularizing of jurisdictions so as to present a combined front to the enemy, exhorting and encouraging their officers and soldiers in person to fight for the preservation of their homes and native soil from the encroaching footsteps of the foreign aggressor. Never should the word ‘Peace’ fall from the mouths of our high officials, nor should they even allow it to rest for a moment within their breasts. With such a country as ours, with her vast area, stretching out several tens of thousands of li, her immense natural resources, and her hundreds of millions of inhabitants, if only each and all of you would prove his loyalty to his Emperor and love of country, what, indeed, is there to fear from any invader? Let no one think of making peace, but let each strive to preserve from destruction and spoliation his ancestral home and graves from the ruthless hands of the invader.”

One of her critics, referring to the last sentence of the above edict, asks: “Do not these words throw down the gauntlet?” And we answer, yes. Did not the thirteen colonies throw down the gauntlet to England for less cause? Did not Japan throw down the gauntlet to Russia for less cause than the Empress Dowager had for desiring that “each strive TO PRESERVE FROM DESTRUCTION AND SPOLIATION HIS ANCESTRAL HOME AND GRAVES”? It was not for conquest but for self-preservation the Empress Dowager was ready to go to war; not for glory but for home; not against a taunting neighbour, but against a “ruthless invader.” Her unwisdom did not consist in her being ready to go to war, but in allowing herself to be allied to, and depend upon, the superstitious rabble of Boxers, and to believe that her “hundreds of millions” of undisciplined “inhabitants” could withstand the thousands or tens of thousands of well-drilled, well-led, intelligent soldiers from the West.

That she was ready to go to war rather than weakly yield to the demands for territory from the European powers is further evidenced by the following edict issued by the Tsungli Yamen to the viceroys and governors:

“This yamen has received the special commands of her Imperial Majesty the Empress Dowager, and his Imperial Majesty the Emperor, to grant you full power and liberty to resist by force of arms all aggressions upon your several jurisdictions, proclaiming a state of war, if necessary, without first asking instructions from Peking; for this loss of time may be fatal to your security, and enable the enemy to make good his footing against your forces.”

In order to strengthen her position she appointed two commissioners whom she sent to Japan in the hope of forming a secret defensive alliance with that nation against the White Peril from the West. For once, however, she made a mistake in the selection of her men, for these commissioners, unlike what we usually find the yellow man, revealed too much of the important mission on which they were bent, and were recalled in disgrace, and the treaty came to naught.


The Empress Dowager–As a Reformer

Taught by the failure of a reaction on which she had staked her life and her throne, the Dowager has become a convert to the policy of progress. She has, in fact, outstripped her nephew. “Long may she live!” “Late may she rule us!” During her lifetime she may be counted on to carry forward the cause she has so ardently espoused. She grasps the reins with a firm hand; and her courage is such that she does not hesitate to drive the chariot of state over many a new and untried road. She knows she can rely on the support of her viceroys–men of her own appointment. She knows too that the spirit of reform is abroad in the land, and that the heart of the people is with her. –W. A. P. Martin in “The Awakening of China.”



In June, 1902, soon after the return of the court from Hsian to Peking, a company of ladies from the various legations in Peking who had received invitations to an audience and a banquet with the Empress Dowager were asked to meet at one of the legations for the purpose of consultation. The meeting was unusual. Many of those who were present had no higher motive than the ordinary tourist who goes sightseeing. With the exception of one or two who had been in once before, none of these ladies had ever been present at an audience. Several of them however had passed through the Boxer siege of 1900, had witnessed the guns from the wall of the Imperial City pouring shot and shell into the British legation, where they were confined during those eight memorable weeks of June, July and August, and had come out with their hearts filled with resentment. One of them had received a decoration from her government for her bravery in standing beside her husband on the fortifications when buildings were crumbling and walls falling, and her husband was buried by an exploding mine, and then vomited out unhurt by a second explosion. Among the number were several recent arrivals in Peking who had had none of these bitter experiences, but had heard much of the Empress Dowager, and above all things else they were anxious to see her whom they called the “She Dragon.”

The presiding officer had been longest in Peking, and as doyen of these diplomatic ladies, she acted as chairman of the meeting. The first question to be decided was the mode of conveyance to the “Forbidden City.” Without much discussion it was decided to use the sedan chair, as being the most dignified, and used only by Chinese ladies of rank. The chairman then called for an expression of opinion as to the method of procedure in presentation to the throne. One suggested that they have no ceremony about it, but all go up to the throne together, for in this way none would take precedence, but all would have an equal opportunity of satisfying their curiosity and scrutinizing this female dragon ad libitum. Another said: “It will be broiling hot on that June day, and it will be better to keep at a safe distance from her, with plenty of guards to protect us, or we may be broiled in more senses than one.” The chairman looked worried at these suggestions, but still kept her dignity and her equilibrium. Then a mild voice suggested that it was customary in all audiences for those presented to courtesy to the one on the throne. “Courtesy!” broke in an indignant voice, “it would be more appropriate for her to prostrate herself at our feet and beg us to forgive her for trying to shoot us, than for us to courtesy to her.” It was finally decided, however, that the same formalities be observed as were followed by the ministers when received at court. I give these incidents to show the temper that prevailed among the members of some of the legations at Peking at the time of this first audience.

“When a few days later we followed the long line of richly-robed princesses into the audience-hall, all this was changed. As we looked at the Empress Dowager seated upon her throne on a raised dais, with the Emperor to her left and members of the Grand Council kneeling beside her, and these dignified, stately princesses courtesying until their knees touched the floor, we forgot the resentful feeling expressed in the meeting a few days before, and, awed by her majestic bearing and surroundings, we involuntarily gave the three courtesies required from those entering the imperial presence. We could not but feel that this stately woman who sat upon the throne was every inch an empress. In her hands rested the weal or woe of one-third of the human race. Her brilliant black eyes seemed to read our thoughts. Indeed she prides herself upon the fact that at a glance she can read the character of every one that appears before her.”

After the ladies had taken their position in order of their rank, the doyen presented their good wishes to Her Majesty, which was replied to by a few gracious words from the throne. Each lady’s name was then announced and as she was formally presented she ascended the dais, and as she courtesied, the Empress Dowager extended her hand which she took, and then passed to the left to be introduced in a similar way to the Emperor.

It was thus she began her reforms in the customs of the court, which up to this time had kept her ever behind the screen, compelled to wield the sceptre from her place of concealment, equally shut out from the eyes of the world and blind to the needs of her people. Up to her time the people and the nation were the slaves of age-old customs, but before the power of her personality rites and ceremonies became the servants of the people. In the words of the poet she seemed to feel that

Are well; but never fear to break The scaffolding of other souls; It was not meant for thee to mount, Though it may serve thee.”

Without taking away from the Emperor the credit of introducing the railroad, the telegraph, the telephone, the new system of education, and many other reforms, we must still admit that it was the personality, power and statesmanship of the Empress Dowager that brought about the realization of his dreams. The movement towards female education as described in another chapter must ever be placed to the credit of this great woman. From the time she came from behind the screen, and allowed her portrait to be painted, the freedom of woman was assured.

One day when calling at the American legation I was shown two large photographs of Her Majesty. One some three feet square was to be sent to President Roosevelt, the other was a gift to Major Conger. Similar photographs had been sent to all the ministers and rulers represented at Peking, and I said to myself: “The Empress Dowager is shrewd. She knows that false pictures of her have gone forth. She knows that the painted portrait is not a good likeness, and so she proposes to have genuine pictures in the possession of all civilized governments.” This shrewdness was not necessarily native on her part, but was engendered by the arguments that had been used by those who induced her to be the first Chinese monarch to have her portrait painted by a foreign artist.

A few years ago the Empress Dowager had a dream, which, like every act of hers, was greater than any of those of her brilliant nephew. This dream was to give a constitution to China. Of course, if this were done it would have to be by the Manchus, as the government was theirs, and any radical changes that were made would have to be made by the people in power. The Empress Dowager, however, wanted the honour of this move to reflect upon herself, and hoped to be able to bring it to a successful issue during her lifetime.

There was strenuous opposition, and this most vigorous in the party in which she had placed herself when she dethroned Kuang Hsu. The conservatives regarded this as the wildest venture that had yet been made, and were ready to use all their influence to prevent it; nevertheless the Empress Dowager called to her aid the greatest and most progressive of the Manchus, the Viceroy Tuan Fang, and appointed him head of a commission which she proposed to send on a tour of the world to examine carefully the various forms of government, with the purpose of advising her, on their return, as to the possibility of giving a constitution to China.

A special train was provided to take the commission from Peking to Tientsin. It was drawn up at the station just outside the gate in front of the Emperor’s palace. The commission had entered the car, and the narrow hall or aisle along the side was crowded with those who had come to see them off, when, BANG, there was an explosion, the side of the car was blown out, several were injured, including slight wounds to some of the members of the commission, and the man carrying the bomb was blown into an unrecognizable mass. For a few days the city was in an uproar. Guards were placed at all the gates, especially those leading to the palace, and every possible effort was made to identify the nihilist. But as all efforts failed, and nothing further transpired to indicate that he had accomplices, the commission separated and departing individually without display, reunited at Tientsin and started on their tour of inspection.

This commission was splendidly entertained wherever it went, given every possible opportunity to examine the constitutions of the countries through which it passed, and on its return to Peking the report of the trip was published in one hundred and twenty volumes, the most important item of which was that a constitution, modelled after that of Japan, should be given to China at as early a date as possible.

The leader of this expedition, His Excellency the Viceroy Tuan Fang, is one of the greatest, if not the greatest living Manchu statesman. Like Yuan Shih-kai, during the Boxer uprising, he protected all the foreigners within his domains. That he appreciates the work done by Americans in the opening up of China is evidenced by a statement made in his address at the Waldorf Astoria, in February, 1906, in which he said:

“We take pleasure this evening in bearing testimony to the part taken by American missionaries in promoting the progress of the Chinese people. They have borne the light of Western civilization into every nook and corner of the empire. They have rendered inestimable service to China by the laborious task of translating into the Chinese language religious and scientific works of the West. They help us to bring happiness and comfort to the poor and the suffering, by the establishment of hospitals and schools. The awakening of China, which now seems to be at hand, may be traced in no small measure to the influence of the missionary. For this service you will find China not ungrateful.”

Some may think that this was simply a sentiment expressed on this particular occasion because he happened to be surrounded by secretaries and others interested in this cause. That this is not the case is further indicated by the fact that since that time he has on two separate occasions attended the commencement exercises of the Nanking University, on one of which he addressed the students as follows:

“This is the second time I have attended the commencement exercises of your school. I appreciate the good order I find here. I rejoice at the evidences I see of your knowledge of the proprieties, the depth of your learning, and the character of the students of this institution. I am deeply grateful to the president and faculty for the goodness manifested to these my people. I have seen evidences of it in every detail. It is my hope that when these graduates go out into the world, they will remember the love of their teachers, and will practice that virtue in their dealing with others. The fundamental principle of all great teachers whether of the East or the West is love, and it remains for you, young gentlemen, to practice this virtue. Thus your knowledge will be practical and your talents useful.”

I have given these quotations as evidences of the breadth of the man whom the Empress Dowager selected as the head of this commission. It is not generally known, however, that Duke Tse, another important member of this commission, is married to a sister of the young Empress Yehonala, and consequently a niece of the Empress Dowager. Such relations existed between Her Majesty and the viceroy, as ruler and subject, that it would be impossible for him to give her the intimate account of their trip that a relative could give. It would be equally impossible, with all her other duties, to wade through a report such as they published after their return of one hundred and twenty volumes. But it would be a delight to call in this nephew-in-law, and have him sit or kneel, and may we not believe she allowed him to sit? and give her a full and intimate account of the trip and the countries through which they passed. She was anxious that this constitution should be given to the people before she passed away. This, however, could not be. Whether it will be adopted within the time allotted is a question which the future alone can answer.

The next great reform undertaken by the Empress Dowager was her crusade against opium. The importance of this can only be estimated when we consider the prevalence of the use of the drug throughout the empire. The Chinese tell us that thirty to forty per cent. of the adult population are addicted to the use of the drug.

One day while walking along the street in Peking, I passed a gateway from which there came an odour that was not only offensive but sickening. I went on a little distance further and entered one of the best curio shops of the city, and going into the back room, I found the odour of the street emphasized tenfold, as one of the employees of the firm had just finished his smoke. I left this shop and went to another where the proprietor had entirely ruined his business by his use of the drug, and it was about this time that the Empress Dowager issued the following edict:

“Since the first prohibition of opium, almost the whole of China has been flooded with the poison. Smokers of opium have wasted their time, neglected their employment, ruined their constitutions, and impoverished their households. For several decades therefore China has presented a spectacle of increasing poverty and weakness. To merely mention the matter, arouses our indignation. The court has now determined to make China powerful, and to this end we urge our people to reformation in this respect.

“We, therefore, decree that within a limit of ten years this injurious filth shall be completely swept away. We further order the Council of State to consider means of prohibition both of growing the poppy and smoking the opium.”

The Council of State at once drew up regulations designed to carry out this decree. They were among others:

That all opium-smokers be required to report and take out a license.

Officials using the drug were divided into two classes. Young men must be cured of the habit within six months, while for old men no limit was fixed. But both classes, while under treatment, must furnish satisfactory substitutes, at their own expense, to attend to the duties of their office.

All opium dens must be closed within six months, after which time no opium-pipes nor lamps may be either made or sold. Though shops for the sale of the drug may continue for ten years, the limit of the traffic.

The government promises to provide medicine for the cure of the habit, and encourages the formation of anti-opium societies, but will not allow these societies to discuss other political matters.

Next to China Great Britain is the party most affected by this movement towards reform. When this edict was issued Great Britain was shipping annually fifty thousand chests of opium to the Chinese market, but at once agreed that if China was sincere in her desire for reform, and cut off her own domestic productions at the rate of ten per cent. per annum, she would decrease her trade at a similar rate. It is unfortunate that the Empress Dowager should have died before this reform had been carried to a successful culmination, but whatever may be the result of the movement the fact and the credit of its initiation will ever belong to her.

Such are some of the special reform measures instituted by the Empress Dowager, but in addition to these she has seen to it that the Emperor’s efforts to establish a Board of Railroads, a Board of Mines, educational institutions on the plans of those of the West, should all be carried out. She has not only done away with the old system of examinations, but has introduced a new scheme by which all those who have graduated from American or European colleges may obtain Chinese degrees and be entitled to hold office under the government, by passing satisfactory examinations, not a small part of which is the diploma or diplomas which they hold. Such an examination has already been held and a large number of Western graduates, most of them Christian, were given the Chu-jen or Han-lin degrees.


The Empress Dowager–As an Artist

There is no genre that the Chinese artist has not attempted. They have treated in turn mythological, religious and historical subjects of every kind; they have painted scenes of daily familiar life, as well as those inspired by poetry and romance; sketched still life, landscapes and portraits. Their highest achievements, perhaps, have been in landscapes, which reveal a passionate love for nature, and show with how delicate a charm, how sincere and lively a poetic feeling, they have interpreted its every aspect. They have excelled too at all periods in the painting of animals and birds, especially of birds and flying insects in conjunction with flowers. –S. W. Bushell in “Chinese Art.”



One day the head eunuch from the palace of the Princess Shun called at our home to ask Mrs. Headland to go and see the Princess. While sitting in my study and looking at the Chinese paintings hanging on the wall, two of which were from the brush of Her Majesty, he remarked:

“You are fond of Chinese art?”

“I am indeed fond of it,” I answered.

“I notice you have some pictures painted by the Old Buddha,” he continued, referring to the Empress Dowager by a name by which she is popularly known in Peking.

“Yes, I have seven pictures from her brush,” I answered.

“Do you happen to have any from the brush of the Lady Miao, her painting teacher?” he inquired.

“I am sorry to say I have not,” I replied. “I have tried repeatedly to secure one, but thus far have failed. I have inquired at all the best stores on Liu Li Chang, the great curio street, but they have none, and cannot tell me where I can find one.”

“No, you cannot get them in the stores; she does not paint for the trade,” he explained.

“I am sorry,” I continued, “for I should like very much to get one. I am told she is a very good artist.”

“Oh, yes, she paints very well,” he went on in a careless way. “She lives over near our palace. We have a good many of her paintings. They are very easily gotten.”

“It may be easy for you to get them,” I replied, “but it is no small task for me.”

“If you want some,” he volunteered, “I’ll get some for you.”

“That would be very kind of you,” I answered, “but how would you undertake to get them?”

“Oh, I would just steal a few and bring them over to you.”

It is hardly necessary to assure my readers as I did him that I could not approve of this method of obtaining paintings from the Lady Miao’s brush. However he must have told the Princess of my desire, for the next time Mrs. Headland called at the palace the Princess entertained her by showing her a number of paintings by the Lady Miao, together with others from the brush of the Empress Dowager.

“And these are really the work of Her Majesty?” said Mrs. Headland with a rising inflection.

“Yes, indeed,” replied the Princess. “I watched her at work on them. They are genuine.”

It was some weeks thereafter that Mrs. Headland was again invited to call and see the Princess, and to her surprise she was introduced to the Lady Miao, with whom and the Princess she spent a very pleasant social hour or two. When she was about to leave, the Princess, who is the youngest sister of the Empress Yehonala, brought out a picture of a cock about to catch a beetle, which she said she had asked Lady Miao to paint, and which she begged Mrs. Headland to receive as a present from the artist and herself.

During the conversation Mrs. Headland remarked that the Empress Dowager must have begun her study of art many years ago.

“Yes,” said Lady Miao. “We were both young when she began. Shortly after she was taken into the palace she began the study of books, and partly as a diversion, but largely out of her love for art, she took up the brush. She studied the old masters as they have been reproduced by woodcuts in books, and from the paintings that have been preserved in the palace collection, and soon she exhibited rare talent. I was then a young woman, my brothers were artists, my husband had passed away, and I was ordered to appear in the palace and work with her.”

“You are a Chinese, are you not, Lady Miao?”

“Yes,” she replied, “and as it has not been customary for Chinese ladies to appear at court during the present dynasty, I was allowed to unbind my feet, comb my hair in the Manchu style, and wear the gowns of her people.”

“And did you go into the palace every day?”

“When I was young I did. Ten Thousand Years”–another method of speaking of the Empress Dowager–“was very enthusiastic over her art work in those days, and often we spent a large part of the day either with our brushes, or studying the history of art, the examples in the books, or the works of the old masters in the gallery. One of her favourite presents to her friends, as you probably know, is a picture from her own brush, decorated with the impress of her great jade seal, the date, and an appropriate poem by one of the members of the College of Inscriptions. And no presents that she ever gives are prized more highly by the recipients than these paintings.”

I had seen pictures painted by Her Majesty decorating the walls of the palaces of several of the princes, as well as the homes of a number of my official friends. Some of them I thought very attractive, and they seemed to be well done. They were highly prized by their owners, but I was anxious to know what the Lady Miao thought of her ability as an artist, and so I asked:

“Do you consider the Empress Dowager a good painter?”

“The Empress Dowager is a great woman,” she answered. “Of course, as an artist, she is an amateur rather than a professional. Had she devoted herself wholly to art, hers would have been one of the great names among our artists. She wields her brush with a power and precision which only genius added to practice can give. She has a keen appreciation of art, and it is a pity that the cares of state might not have been borne by others, leaving her free to develop her instinct for art.”

The Empress Dowager kept eighteen court painters, selected from among the best artists of the country, and appointed by herself, whose whole duty it was to paint for her. They were divided into three groups, and each group of six persons was required to be on duty ten days of each month. As I was deeply interested in the study of Chinese art I became intimately acquainted with most of the court painters and knew the character of their work. The head of this group was Mr. Kuan. I called on him one day, knowing that he was not well enough to be on duty in the palace, and I found him hard at work. Like the small boy who told his mother that he was too sick to go to school but not sick enough to go to bed, so he assured me that his troubles were not such as to prevent his working, but only such as make it impossible for him to appear at court. Incidentally I learned that the drain on his purse from the squeezes to the eunuchs aggravated his disease.

“When Her Majesty excused me from appearing at the palace,” he explained, “she required that I paint for her a minimum of sixty pictures a year, to be sent in about the time of the leading feasts. These she decorates with her seals, and with appropriate sentiments written by members of the College of Inscriptions, and she gives them, as she gives her own, as presents during the feasts.” Mr. Kuan and I became intimate friends and he painted three pictures which he presented to me for my collection.

One day another of the court painters came to call on me and during the conversation told me that he was painting a picture of the Empress Dowager as the goddess of mercy. Up to that time I had not been accustomed to think of her as a goddess of mercy, but he told me that she not infrequently copied the gospel of that goddess with her own pen, had her portrait painted in the form of the goddess which she used as a frontispiece, bound the whole up in yellow silk or satin and gave it as a present to her favourite officials. Of course I thought at once of my collection of paintings, and said:

“How much I should like to have a picture of the Empress Dowager as the goddess of mercy!”

“I’ll paint one for you,” said he.

All this conversation I soon discovered was only a diplomatic preliminary to what he had really come to tell me, which was that he had been eating fish in the palace a few days before, and had swallowed a fish-bone which had unfortunately stuck in his throat. He said that the court physicians had given him medicine to dissolve the fish-bone, but it had not been effective; he therefore wondered whether one of the physicians of my honourable country could remove it. I took him to my friend Dr. Hopkins who lived near by, and told him of the dilemma. The doctor set him down in front of the window, had him open his mouth, looked into his throat where he saw a small red spot, and with a pair of tweezers removed the offending fish-bone. And had it not been for this service on the part of Dr. Hopkins, I am afraid I should never have received the promised picture, for he hesitated as to the propriety of him, a court painter, doing pictures of Her Majesty for his friends. However as he often thereafter found it necessary to call Mrs. Headland to minister to his wife and children he came to the conclusion that it was proper for him to do so, and one day he brought me the picture.

The Empress Dowager not only loved to be painted as the goddess of mercy, but she clothed herself in the garments suitable to that deity, dressed certain ladies of the court as her attendants, with the head eunuch Li Lien-ying as their protector, ordered the court artists to paint appropriate foreground and background and then called young Yu, her court photographer, to snap his camera and allow Old Sol the great artist of the universe with a pencil of his light to paint her as she was.

One day while visiting a curio store on Liu Li Chang, the great book street of Peking, my attention was called by the dealer to four small paintings of peach blossoms in black and white, from the brush of the Empress Dowager. These pictures had been in the panels of the partition between two of the rooms of Her Majesty’s apartments in the Summer Palace, and so I considered myself fortunate in securing them.

“You notice,” said he, “that each section of these branches must be drawn by a single stroke of the brush. This is no easy task. She must be able to ink her brush in such a way as to give a clear outline of the limb, and at the same time to produce such shading as she may desire. Should her outline be defective, she dare not retouch it; should her shading be too heavy or insufficient, she cannot take from it and she may not add to it, as this would make it defective in the matter of calligraphy. A stroke once placed upon her paper, for they are done on paper, is there forever. This style of work is among the most difficult in Chinese art.”

After securing these paintings, I showed them to a number of the best artists of the present day in Peking, and they all pronounced them good specimens of plum blossom work in monochrome, and they agreed with Lady Miao, that if the Empress Dowager had given her whole time to painting she would have passed into history as one of the great artists of the present dynasty.

One day when one of her court painters called I showed him these pictures. He agreed with all the others as to the quality of her brush work, but called my attention to a diamond shaped twining of the branches in one of them.

“That,” said he, “is proof positive that it is her work.”

“Why?” I inquired.

“Because a professional artist would never twine the twigs in that fashion.”

“And why not?”

“They would not do it,” he replied. “It is not artistic.”

“And why do not her friends call her attention to this fact?” I inquired.

“Who would do it?” was his counter question.


The Empress Dowager–As a Woman

The first audience given by Her Imperial Majesty to the seven ladies of the Diplomatic Corps was sought and urged by the foreign ministers. After the troubles of 1900 and the return of the court, Her Majesty assumed a different attitude, and, of her own accord, issued many invitations for audiences, and these invitations were accepted. Then followed my tiffin to the court princesses and their tiffin in return. This opened the way for other princesses and wives of high officials to call, receive calls, to entertain and be entertained. In many cases arrangements were made through our mutual friend Mrs. Headland, an accepted physician and beloved friend of many of the higher Chinese families; and through her innate tact, broad thought, and great love for the good she may do, I have been able to come into personal touch with many of these Chinese ladies. –Mrs. E. H. Conger in “Letters from China.



Although the great Dowager has passed away, it may be interesting to know something about her life and character as a woman as those saw her who came in contact with her in public and private audiences. In order to appreciate how quick she was to adopt foreign customs, let me give in some detail the difference in her table decorations at the earlier and later audiences as they have been related by my wife.

“At the close of the formalities of our introduction to the Empress Dowager and the Emperor at one of the first audiences, we, with the ladies of the court, repaired to the banqueting hall. After we were seated, each with a princess beside her, the great Dowager appeared. We rose and remained standing while she took her place at the head of the table, with the Emperor standing at her left a little distance behind her. As she sat down she requested us to be seated, though the princesses and the Emperor all remained standing, it being improper for them to sit in the presence of Her Majesty. Long-robed eunuchs then appeared with an elaborate Chinese banquet, and the one who served the Empress Dowager always knelt when presenting her with a dish.

“After we had eaten for some little time, the doyen asked if the princesses might not be seated. The Empress Dowager first turned to the Emperor, and said, ‘Your Majesty, please be seated’; then turning to the princesses and waving her hand, she told them to sit down. They sat down in a timid, rather uncomfortable way on the edge of the chair, but did not presume to touch any of the food.

“The conversation ran upon various topics, and, among others, the Boxer troubles. One of the ladies wore a badge. The Empress Dowager noticing it, asked what it meant.

” ‘Your Majesty,’ was the reply, ‘this was presented to me by my Emperor because I was wounded in the Boxer insurrection.’

“The Empress Dowager took the hands of this lady in both her own, and as the tears stood in her eyes, she said:

” ‘I deeply regret all that occurred during those troublous times. The Boxers for a time overpowered the government, and even brought their guns in and placed them on the walls of the palace. Such a thing shall never occur again.’

“The table was covered with brilliantly coloured oilcloth, and was without tablecloth or napkins properly so called, but we used as napkins square, coloured bits of calico about the size of a large bandana handkerchief. There were no flowers, the table decorations consisting of large stands of cakes and fruit. I speak of this because it was all changed at future audiences, when the table was spread with snow-white cloths, and smiled with its load of most gorgeous flowers. Especially was this true after the luncheons given to the princesses and ladies of the court by Mrs. Conger at the American legation, showing that the eyes of these ladies were open to receive whatever suggestions might come to them even in so small a matter as the spreading and decoration of a table. The banquets thereafter were made up of alternating courses of Chinese and foreign food.

“With but one exception, the Empress Dowager thereafter never appeared at table with her guests. But at the close of the formal audiences, after descending from the throne, and speaking to those whom she had formerly met, she requested her guests to enter the banquet hall and enjoy the feast with the princesses, saying that the customs of her country forbade their being seated or partaking of food if she were present. After the banquet, however, the Empress Dowager always appeared and conversed cordially with her guests.

“Her failure to appear at table may have been influenced by the following incident: One of the leading lady guests, anxious, no doubt, to obtain a unique curio, requested the Empress Dowager to present her with the bowl from which Her Majesty was eating–a bowl which was different from those used by her guests, as the dishes from which her food was served were never the same as those used by others at the table!

“After an instant’s hesitation she turned to a eunuch and said:

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