A Western Account of the Boxer Rebellion
[Excerpted from W. A. P. Martin, The Siege in Peking,
China against the World., By an New York, F. H. Revell Company, 1900].
This siege in Peking will undoubtedly take rank as one of the most
notable in the annals of history. Others have been longer. The besieged
have been in most cases more numerous, their sufferings have oftentimes
been greater, yet this siege stands out uniquely as the uprising of a great
nation against the whole of the civilized world.
Cooped up within the narrow bounds of one legation - the British, which
covered the largest area and contained the largest number of buildings
- were people of fourteen nationalities and the Ministers of eleven nations,
the whole number of foreigners not much short of one thousand, and having
under their protection about two thousand native Christians. Outside of
the city gates, somewhere between the city and the sea, was an army under
the banners of the eight foremost Powers of the world advancing to the
rescue, and the eyes of the world were fixed on that movement with an intensity
of interest which no tragedy has ever awakened in the spectators of the
most moving scenes of a theatre.
All the appliances of modern civilization contributed to this effect.
The telegraph flashed the news of our distress beneath the waves of the
ocean, and the navy-yards and camps in the four quarters of the earth were
set in commotion. The politics of nations gave way to the interest of the
universal public in the one great question of the possibility of rescue.
From day to day the daily papers chronicled now the advance, then the retreat,
of the rescuing party. Hopes and fears rose and fell in alternate fluctuation.
At one time the besieged were reported as comfortably enjoying themselves,
protected and well fed; at another they were represented as having been
massacred to a man with all imaginable attendant horrors.
The siege was divided into two distinct stages. During the first of
these, of only ten days' duration, the Boxers were our conspicuous enemies,
the Government and soldiers of the Chinese Empire keeping themselves studiously
in the background. In the second stage, which lasted eight weeks, the Government
and its soldiers came prominently forward, and the Boxers almost disappeared.
The guards summoned for the eight legations were not over four hundred
fifty, including officers, yet they saved the situation. Had they been
delayed no more than forty-eight hours the whole foreign community in Peking
must have perished, for reliable rumor affirmed that the Boxers had resolved
to attack the legations and destroy all foreign residents during the midsummer
festival, which occurs early in June. Without that handful of marines defence
would have been hopeless.
Rumor (in this case also reliable) further affirmed that the Empress-Dowager
had resolved to give the Boxers a free hand in their conflict. Should they
succeed, so much the better. Should they fail, there would still be room
to represent (as Chinese diplomacy has industriously done) that the Government
had been overpowered and its good intentions thwarted by the uprising of
an irresistible mob.
Rumor further asserted that, by way of clearing the ground for their
operations, the Empress-Dowager had given consent to the complete destruction
of the quarter of the city occupied by the foreign colony, viz., a street
called, from the number of legations on or near it, "Legation Street,"
together with blocks of Chinese buildings to a considerable distance on
On June 9th, buildings and property belonging to foreigners in the
southern, or Chinese, division of the capital were destroyed by fire. Foreigners,
whether missionaries or civilians, living at outlying points in the Tartar
city took refuge under their respective national flags. Missionaries brought
with them their flocks, small or great, of native converts, who were equally
exposed to the rage of their enemies.
All possible measures were preconcerted for defence. Notice of our
peril was flashed to the seaboard by a roundabout route, and it was hoped
that we might maintain ourselves for a few days until the promised relief
should arrive. A strong body of marines, led by Admiral Seymour and Captain
McCalla, set out from Tientsin by rail, intending to repair the road, not
knowing how much it was damaged, and hoping to reach us in two or three
days. That hope proved illusory, for week succeeded week, during which
we were encouraged by fictitious reports of their advance, while in reality
they had been driven back upon their base and the destruction of the railway
completed. Had they in the first instance abandoned the railway, and pressed
forward across the remaining interval of forty miles, they might perhaps
have succeeded in reenforcing our legation guards, placing our community
in security, and perhaps averted the subsequent declaration of war; but
this is anticipating.
A larger expedition was being organized by the admirals of the combined
squadron at the mouth of the river. On June 19th a circular from the Yamen
notified the foreign Ministers that their admirals had demanded the surrender
of the forts (they did not say had carried the forts by storm, which was
the fact), adding: "This is an act of war. Our country is therefore
at war with yours. You must accordingly quit our capital within twenty-four
hours, accompanied by all your nationals." Exit Boxers - enter the
regular Chinese army.
Thenceforward we were exposed to all the force the Government could
bring against us.
Warned by a kind letter from Mr. Squiers, secretary of the American
Legation, offering me the hospitality of his house, I had previously there
taken refuge from the university, where I had been living alone at a distance
of two miles. While we remained in the United States Legation no direct
attack was made upon us with firearms, but we were in hourly danger of
being destroyed by fire or trampled down by a rush of the Big Swords.
The fires of which I have spoken as having first shown themselves in
the outer city were not confined to mission chapels. A large quarter, containing
the richest magazines of foreign goods and estimated to be worth from five
to ten millions of pounds sterling, was laid in ashes by the infuriated
Boxers, not merely with a view to ridding themselves of industrial competition:
perhaps also in the expectation that a fair wind would carry the conflagration
over the walls and destroy the foreign settlement.
As a matter of fact, the high tower overlooking the great central gate
of the Tartar city caught fire and was consumed. The firebrands fell in
profusion on the inside of the walls, and we all turned out in expectation
of having to fight the flames. Happily a change of wind rendered this unnecessary.
Within a few days conflagrations were kindled by the Boxers themselves
in the inner city - missionary chapels, schoolhouses, churches, and cathedrals
were wrapped in flames, and lighted the lurid sky night by night for a
The new, or northern, cathedral, standing in an open ground by itself,
was considered capable of defence. Monsignor Favier bravely resolved to
hold it at all hazards, and thus preserve the lives of three thousand converts
who had there taken refuge. In this he was aided by a volunteer band of
forty brave marines, French, Italian, and Austrian, together with a disciplined
force of native Christians. The defence of that cathedral forms the most
brilliant page in the history of the siege.
Not until the siege was raised, however, had we any conception of the
severity of the conflict that devoted band had to wage in order to keep
the enemy at bay; for from us, though separated only by an interval of
two miles in a direct line, they were cut off from communication as completely
as if they had been situated at the north pole.
After the declaration of war and the ultimatum above referred to, the
Ministers had a meeting, at which they agreed that it would be impossible
to comply with the demand of the Chinese Government. They resolved to request
an extension of time, or at least to gain time by parleying over the conditions,
until our expected relief should arrive. With this view they agreed to
go separately to the Yamen to make remonstrance against the harsh treatment
implied in this ultimatum.
On the 18th two Boxers, mounted in a cart, had ostentatiously paraded
the street, by way of challenge, as heralds were wont to do in feudal times.
As they passed the German Legation the Minister ordered them to be arrested.
One made his escape; the other was captured and brought to the United States
Legation. On consultation it was decided to keep him a prisoner, and he
was led away, the Baron giving him a beating with his cane.
On the morning of the 20th Baron Ketteler set out for the Yamen, in
pursuance of the arrangement. No sooner had he reached a great street than
he was shot in the back, falling dead immediately. His secretary was wounded
at the same time, but succeeded in escaping to a mission hospital, whence,
after his blood was stanched, he was carried back to his legation.
The news produced a panic in all the legations. They considered that
the projected massacre had begun, and, as the British Legation alone was
regarded as capable of defence, to that they fell back, accompanied by
all their nationals. Sir Claude MacDonald placed its resources at the disposal
of his colleagues.
Had the enemy followed up their advantage and poured into the outlying
legations (abandoned as they were), they might have reduced them to ashes,
or, pursuing us into that of Great Britain, they might have overpowered
us in the midst of panic and confusion. Happily they were held in awe by
their opinion of foreign prowess, and carefully abstained at that time
from coming to close quarters. In the course of the day it was found that
the legations had not been invaded by the enemy, and they were reoccupied
by their proper guards, with the exception of the Belgian, Austrian, Dutch,
and Italian, which lay beyond the line of defence, and were speedily destroyed
Baron Ketteler's life was in no unimportant sense a ransom for many,
but his was not the only foreign life offered up that day. In the afternoon
Professor James, of the Imperial University, while returning from the fu
of a Mongol prince on the opposite side of the canal, was shot dead in
crossing the bridge. He, too, sacrificed his life in a noble cause; for
he, along with Dr. Morrison, of the London Times, had there made arrangements
for the shelter of native Christians.
That very evening, and thenceforward every day, we were fired on by
our besiegers. The fusillades were particularly fierce when a thunder-storm
occurred, the Chinese seeming to regard heaven's artillery as coming to
supplement their own weapons.
The most dangerous of their attacks were, however, made with the firebrand.
Numerous buildings beyond our outer wall were successively fired for no
other object than to burn us out. Of these the principal was the magnificent
palace of the Hanlin Academy, containing the most costly library in the
Chinese Empire. That library only served the ruthless vandals for the purpose
of kindling a conflagration, and manuscripts of priceless value, five or
six centuries old, were consumed by the flames or trodden under foot. By
almost superhuman effort the flames were subdued and the enemy driven back.
That building henceforward became a bloody battle-ground between the contending
forces, which at times approached so near each other that the enemy assailed
us by throwing kerosene oil, and our people replied with oil of vitriol
in hand-to-hand encounters.
Early in this part of the siege a struggle occurred which more than
any other was the pivot of our destiny. This was on the wall. It had been
held by Chinese soldiers, but, as it dominated all the legations, had heavy
artillery been there planted, defence would have been impossible. The Chinese
were driven back from a portion of it by a combined force of Americans
and Germans; but, returning in greater numbers, they gradually forced our
troops to abandon their position. The situation appeared desperate. The
Germans being insufficient in number to defend their own legation, a combined
force of Americans, British, and Russians, amounting to about sixty men,
was organized under the lead of Captain Myers, of the United States marines.
Before the onslaught which was to decide our destiny Captain Myers
made a remarkable harangue. Pointing to the British legation, "My
men," he said, "yonder are four hundred women and children whose
lives are dependent upon our success. If we fail, they perish, and we perish
also. When I say go, then go." The Americans and English must have
been moved beyond expression by this appeal. The Russians, too, though
they knew not a word of his speech, fully comprehended the meaning of his
gesture. They, as well as the others, were willing to offer their life's
blood for the success of this forlorn hope.
The Chinese, taken by surprise, were driven from their barricades,
and a large space fronting the legations remained in the possession of
our foreign guards. But the victory cost us dear, for, besides several
others killed or wounded, the gallant leader, who deserves to be regarded
as one of the heroes of the siege, fell wounded to the ground. Thenceforward
he was unable to take that share in our defence for which his soul thirsted.
Within the legation all was bustle and activity. The marines, reenforced
by a volunteer corps of a hundred or more, were occupying commanding points
on the legation walls, or making sorties from the legation gates - sometimes
to capture a gun which threatened to breach our defences, sometimes to
disperse a force that was gathering for an assault. Night and day this
went on, week after week, but not without loss. Several of the leaders
of these sorties fell in not futile attempts, and many of their soldiers
were wounded. Our fortifications were strengthened partly by sand-bags
that were made by many thousand by the ladies, who incessantly plied the
sewing-machine - an instrument which on that occasion proved to be no less
effective than our machine-guns.
Much work was also done in the way of digging trenches to countermine
the operations of the enemy. Most of this was superintended with great
skill by missionaries, whose merit has been frankly acknowledged by diplomatists
and generals. It was carried out by the bone and muscle of native Christians.
With regard to these unhappy refugees, who were destitute of home and livelihood,
it has also been acknowledged that without their aid the defence would
have been impossible.
For eight long weeks we were sickened by hope deferred. The forces
of our defenders were weakened by daily losses. Our store of provisions
was running low. Had the rescue been delayed another fortnight we must
have suffered the fate of Cawnpore, rather than the fortune of Lucknow.
We had eaten up all our horses and mules, to the number of eighty! Only
three or four remained, affording meat for not more than two days. Our
meal-barrels had also reached the bottom, and unhappily the widow's cruse
of oil was not within our reach. Our clothing even (many of us had no change
of raiment) was worn to shreds, and it became unfashionable to appear with
a clean shirt.
This reminded me of a few lines from a well-known poet, referring to
another city, which I had written in my note-book on my first visit to
Peking, forty-one years ago. (They are a photograph of the city as it then
was. And now its condition is tenfold worse.)
"Whoso entereth within this town Which sheening far celestial
seems to be, Disconsolate will wander up and down 'Mid many things unsightly
to strange e'e. For hut and palace show like filthily; The dingy denizens
are reared in dirt; Nor personage of high or low degree Doth care for cleanness
of surtout or shirt." - Byron.
If asked how we spent our time, I answer, there was no time for amusement
and no unseemly frivolity. Fear and anxiety dwelt in every bosom, but we
took care that they should not show themselves upon our faces. Especially
did our brave women strive to look cheerful in order to strengthen the
arms of their defenders. In the midst of the fiercest attacks, when rifle-shots
were accompanied by bursting bombs, only one gave way to hysteric shrieks
(she was not American); and it may be added, by way of offset, that one
man, a Norwegian, went stark mad.
The place was overcrowded, and such was the want of room that forty
or fifty from the Roman Catholic missions were domiciled in an open pavilion,
where some of them were wounded by stray shots. Of Protestant missionaries,
forty-three were lodged in the legation chapel. The chapel was employed,
I need hardly say, more like a hotel than a meeting house. There was no
time for praying or singing. Sunday was as busily devoted to fighting as
week-days, nor did I once hear of a prayer-meeting. Yet never was more
heartfelt praying done than during this period.
Within the British Legation I was transferred from the table of Mrs.
Squiers to that of Mrs. Conger, both families occupying only a part of
the small house of the legation doctor. Had I been her brother I could
not have been treated with more affectionate kindness than I received at
her hand and those of the Minister. Calm, resolute, hopeful, and a devout
Christian, Mrs. Conger is one of the most admirable women it has been my
privilege to know. I wished many a time that, like her, I could look on
all those events as nothing more than a horrid nightmare, conjured up by
a distempered imagination. The round shot with which our walls were pierced
was too tangible to be resolved into fanciful ideas. The United States
has had in Peking no worthier representative than Major Conger. He had
been a soldier through all the War of Secession, and he met this outbreak
with a fortitude and good sense preeminently conspicuous.
Some incidents of the siege may here be introduced. First among them
was the fall of the British flag, not in the order of time, but in the
impression which it made upon our minds. Charged with the duty of inspecting
the passes of Chinese coming and going between the legations, my post was
at the gate over which it waved so proudly (and there, through the whole
siege, I passed my days from 5 a.m. until 8 or 9 p.m.). Never did it wave
more proudly than during those days when, beneath its ample folds, it gave
asylum to the ministers of eleven legations and to persons of fourteen
nationalities. Never was the preeminent position of Great Britain more
conspicuous - a position in keeping with her history in the opening of
China, and the paramount influence she has exerted on the commerce and
politics of that empire. One day, in the early morning, down came the flag,
the staff having been shot away. We had observed that for several days
it had been made a target by the enemy. The Chinese seem to take as reality
what to us is no more than poetry in speaking of the protection of a flag.
With them the flag is supposed to be accompanied by a guardian spirit.
In this case they would call it the tutelar genius of the British Empire.
Before going into battle they offer a sacrifice to their own banner.
If they are able to seize or in any way destroy the banner of their enemy,
they consider the battle as more than half grained. To us the fall of the
flag had the effect of ill-omen. It was not replaced for several days,
and the aspect of the gatetower, deprived of its glorious crest, was certainly
depressing. When replaced it was not exalted to its former height - the
flagmast being purposely shortened in some degree to guard against a repetition
of the misfortune.
On one of the first days of my service at the gate-house a marine belonging
to the guard there stationed was shot down and died instantly. Where the
shot came from it was not easy to determine, but on all sides, at no great
distance, were trees and high buildings in which it was possible for sharpshooters
to conceal themselves. So much, indeed, were we apprehensive of unseen
messengers of death that at night we seldom lighted a lamp, taking our
dinner before nightfall, and when it was necessary to light lamps they
were always extinguished as soon as possible, not to attract the aim of
hidden marksmen who might at night occupy commanding positions that would
be too dangerous for them during the day. Let it not be supposed that,
because the Chinese are backward in the military art, they were deficient
in weapons of precision or in the skill to use them.
One British captain, Halliday, was grievously wounded in a sortie.
His successor, Captain Strouts, was shot dead in crossing the canal in
front of our gate. Captain Wray was shot in the head, but not killed, in
attempting to capture a gun. The captain of French marines was killed.
He had complained a few weeks earlier that in Peking he had nothing to
do, and that the marines had been summoned on a false alarm. The sad procession
closes with Captain Riley, of the United States Navy, who in the hour of
occupation, while playing his artillery on the palace gates, fell a victim
to a sharpshooter. It seemed, indeed, as if those sharpshooters, as in
other lands, knew how to pick off the officers at the head of their troops,
yet so numerous were the casualties among our men as to show that their
attention was not confined to officers.
As rifle-shots were parried by our high walls, our chief danger was
from cannon. With these the enemy appeared to be insufficiently provided,
but gradually one after another opened its Cerberean mouth until big guns
and little guns were barking at us on all sides. The most dangerous gun
was distant only a few yards. The expedition for its capture was not successful
in accomplishing that object, yet so frightened were the Chinese soldiers
by the daring of that attack that they thought fit to remove the precious
piece of artillery to a safer distance, and its roar was no more heard.
Guns of heavy calibre were erected on the northeast of the Fu, which
played havoc with the French and German legations, and almost daily kept
us awake by the explosion of shells over our heads. Guns of less weight
were placed on an angle of the imperial city wall, close to British Legation.
They commanded both sides of the canal, and threatened to demolish a flimsy
fort hastily thrown up for the protection of our gate.
Hitherto we had nothing with which to respond larger than a machine-gun.
The want of heavier metal was deeply felt, and one of our marines, Mitchell
by name, aided by an ingenious Welshman named Thomas, undertook to construct
a cannon out of a brass pump - putting two pieces together and wrapping
them with steel wire somewhat as Milton represents the devils as doing
in the construction of a cannon out of a hollow pine. Before it was completed,
however, Sir Claude forbade its use, saying that to keep the pump to meet
a possible conflagration was of more vital importance.
Luckily, while this work was going on, the gunners were informed by
a Chinese that in an old junk-shop within our lines they had discovered
an iron cannon of considerable size. It was brought in, and so good was
it that they resolved to rig it up for use. Examination proved it to be
of Chinese manufacture.
Mounted on an Italian gun-carriage, and provided with Russian bomb-shells,
it became useful to us and formidable to our enemies. The Russians, though
bringing ammunition, had forgotten their gun. The Italians, no doubt, had
found theirs too heavy, and brought the empty carriage. Put together and
served by American and British gunners it was not unfitly christened the
International. It led the way in many a sortie, prostrating barricades,
and frightening the enemy by its terrible thunder. But as it was not a
breech-loader, and the ammunition was ill-adapted, it was inconvenient
In one of these sorties Mitchell, the brave gunner, who seemed to love
the cannon as if it had been his sweetheart, had his arm shattered.
The first shells that rained upon us led us to apprehend a heavier
shower, and to contrive umbrellas for our protection. These so-called "bomb-proofs"
were excavations in the ground in front of the building occupied by each
legation. They were barely large enough for the women and children: the
men were expected to stand outside to fight the enemy. They were covered
with heavy beams, and these with earth and sand-bags.
No man kept up his spirits better than Sir Robert Hart, who was always
cheerful, and his conversation sparkled with humor, notwithstanding the
customs headquarters and imperial post-offices, erected and organized by
him as the visible fruit of forty years of service, had all been laid in
ashes. On arriving in the legation he said to me, "Dr. Martin, I have
no other clothes than those you see me standing in."
As we looked each other in the face, we could not help blushing for
shame at the thought that our life-long services had been so little valued.
The man who had nursed their customs revenue from three to thirty millions,
the Chinese were trying to butcher; while from my thirty years' teaching
of international law they had learned that the lives of ambassadors were
not to be held sacred!
He was accompanied in this place of refuge by Mr. Bredon, Assistant
Inspector-General, and all the customs staff, as well as by the professor
in the Tungwuen College, and I was accompanied by seven of the professors
in the imperial university - one having fallen a martyr to his good works.
All those cooperated with the missionaries and others in discharging various
duties, the humblest of which was made honorable by the circumstances of
Some spent their days in digging trenches, others inspected latrines
in the interest of sanitation. One of our professors superintended the
butchery of horses and the distribution of horse-meat, while a commissioner
of customs presided over the operations of a Chinese laundry.
In the way of food-supply the greatest service was rendered by a Swiss
named Chamot. Though he was only an innkeeper, his name will be recorded
on the roll of fame, and the French Minister purposes to procure for him
the cordon of the Legion of Honor. He had newly opened a hotel, which,
aided by his brave wife, who carried a rifle and used it with effect, he
fortified and defended. He opened a flour-mill for the occasion, and kept
his bakery running at high speed to supply bread (sour and coarse it was),
barely sufficient for a thousand mouths. As he crossed the bridge, often
was he fired on, his bread-cart was pierced by many bullets, and once his
flag was shot away.
I recall a notable expedition in which Chamot and his wife bore a conspicuous
part. After the burning of the churches several parties were sent out to
bring in the surviving Christians. One of these parties was accompanied
by Chamot and his wife - she discharging the full duty of an armed soldier.
Another of these parties proceeding to the Nan Tang southern cathedral
was accompanied by Dr. Morrison, a man equally skilled with gun and pen,
and no less brave in the use of the latter. His opinions are worth a broadside
When this last company of refugees came in I saw them in the street
before they proceeded to the Fu. Never had I witnessed such a heart-moving
spectacle. Two hundred of the forlornest objects I ever beheld had been
raked up from the ashes of their dwellings. They were starving and weary,
and appeared hardly able to stand. They were old and young, men and women,
all apparently ready to perish. One woman was the mother of Ching Chang,
a student of mine, former Minister to France. She, like the others, was
on foot and destitute of all things. Her family has been Christian for
The most striking object was a man of fifty-bearing on his shoulders
his mother, a white-haired women of threescore and ten.
In the Fu were domiciled nearly two thousand such fugitives, of whom
four or five hundred were Protestant. The latter were subsequently removed
to other quarters.
The Fu was, as I have said, defended by Austrians, French, Italians,
and especially by the Japanese, at the cost of much bloodshed, though assailed
by the heaviest guns and the fiercest forces of the enemy. Its importance
came not only from its covering the approach to the four legations - Spanish,
Japanese, German, and French - it also commanded the canal front of the
British Legation. To this (in part at least) our Christians owed the protection
of their asylum.
In these engagements more than half the Japanese, under the lead of
Colonel Shiba, were killed or wounded, and many of the other nationalities.
Daily some were brought through the gate only to die in the hospital. Often
have I saluted bright young soldiers as they passed out, and seen them
return in a few hours dead, dying, or maimed for life.
Never had I so vivid an impression of the vanity of human life.
-"O Great Eternity, Our little life is but a gust That bends the
branches of thy tree And trails its blossoms in the dust."
Within our walls few were killed or wounded by shot or shell. The health
of the imprisoned community was remarkably good, perhaps the better because
they had to live on low diet. The only deaths from disease were those of
small children, who, deprived of milk and exposed to heat, withered away
Ordinarily in Peking the heat of summer is unendurable, and every foreigner
escapes to the mountains or the sea. On this occasion the heat was not
excessive for a single day, yet what Holmes calls "intramural aestivation"
was far from agreeable. Our experience was true to the picture in that
"His ardent front, the cive anheling wipes And dreams of erring
on ventiferous ripes."
We all lost flesh from perspiration and want of food - some ten, some
twenty, some fifty pounds. After the siege many strong men were brought
down by fevers produced no doubt by the privations of that trying time.
My post was a vantage-ground for observation, and one of the deepest
impressions made upon me was by seeing men of all nationalities passing
to and fro cooperating for the common weal. It presented a foretaste of
that union which, we trust, may be realized in the coming millennium, with
this difference, that then the nations shall "learn war no more."
The lines of creed and nationality appeared to be obliterated. An orthodox
Russian priest filled sand-bags or dug trenches side by side with a Roman
Catholic or Protestant missionary. Often did I converse with the Catholic
missionaries of France, and I felt myself irresistibly drawn to them by
their spirituality and devotion.
Having heard of the approach of the army of relief, we became more
cheerful. That we were able to hold out was, perhaps, in some degree due
to divided counsels among our enemies; for we learned, with deep sorrow,
from the Court Gazette, which had been surreptitiously brought in, that
four Ministers in the Tsung-Li-Yamen had been executed by order of the
Empress-Dowager. We mourned them as our friends, who had employed their
influence as far as possible in our favor. Of this I feel assured, for
one of them was the High Commissioner for Education, who had the supervision
of our new university. Two others were directors of the Tungwen College,
the diplomatic school of which I was president for so long a time, and
I had come to hold them in the highest estimation. One of them had sent
three sons to be under my instruction in the new university.
Prince Ching undoubtedly exerted a powerful, though secret, influence
in our favor. Commanding, as he did, the city guard, a Manchu force of
fifty thousand men, had he chosen to let them loose upon us all at once,
we must have been inevitably overwhelmed. Though he lacked the courage
to remonstrate with the tyrant Empress he had the power and the tact to
restrain the fury of his soldiery.
One of our greatest privations was the want of newspapers. Not merely
were we without intelligence from the great world beyond the sea, we were
for the most part in absolute ignorance as to what was going on outside
of our own walls. From time to time we sought to remedy this state of things
by endeavoring in one way or another to get a glimpse, by means of messengers
let down at night, as Paul was let down in a basket from the wall of Damascus,
or by purchasing intelligence from our enemies.
In this last way Colonel Shiba considered himself peculiarly fortunate
in finding a man who gave him daily intelligence of the approach of our
relief. One day they had reached Lang Fang; another, they had got to Chang
Kia Wan, and, after passing five or six stations, it seemed as if they
were just about to reach Peking, when he felt it necessary to turn them
about and make them fall back a stage or two in order to keep up the flow
of remuneration. He was paid about thirty dollars a day for this cheering
news. Needless to say that for the whole of it he had drawn on his imagination.
One of our messengers who was most successful, having succeeded in
the guise of a blind beggar in reaching Tientsin and bringing back most
encouraging letters, was a lad of sixteen. Though not a Christian, he had
begged to be taken under the protection of a Christian mission, and nobly
did he reward their kindness. Having sewed the letters between the soles
of his shoe he was three times searched without discovery.
On August 14th, after midnight, a sentry burst into our sleeping-room,
calling aloud, "They are coming!"
The Minister and I arose and rushed out into the open air, not taking
time to put on our clothes, for we never had put them off. True enough,
we heard the playing of machine-guns on the outside of the city. Never
was music so sweet. We awakened the ladies. They also listened. The news
spread from one building to another, until all were under the open sky
listening to the playing of those guns, as the women at Lucknow listened
to the bagpipes of Havelock's Highlanders. Overwhelmed with joy, some impulsive
women threw themselves on one another's neck and wept aloud.
The next morning, at ten o'clock, the great gates of the legation were
thrown open, and in came a company of mounted Sikhs, the finest cavalry
I ever beheld; and with their long spears and high turbans they appeared
the handsomest men on whom my eyes had ever rested. So, perhaps, by the
magnifying effect of time and circumstance, they appeared to all of us
as the vanguard of the army of relief. They had come in through the water-gate,
by which the passage would have been impossible but for the occupation
of the wall by our marines.
The rest of our troops, of various nationalities, entered later in
the day by the great front gate, the key of which Mr. Squiers, acting as
chief of staff to Sir Claude MacDonald, had captured from the flying enemy.
Among the Roman Catholic missionaries, one white-haired father especially
attracted my attention. I had seen him walking on the bank of the canal
amid a shower of bullets, apparently courting death, yet in words he expressed
the hope of rescue. The morning of our deliverance he grasped my hand,
and, looking up with streaming eyes, exclaimed, "Te Deum, Te Deum,
Laudamus!" Setting off alone to carry the good news to the Bishop
at the northern cathedral, he was shot dead by some enemy in ambush. Mr.
Knobel, the Netherlands Minister, was wounded in the same way the day after
the siege was raised, while standing on a bridge near the legation.
In the batch of Peking Gazettes were several decrees of considerable
interest. One of them referred to the murder of the Japanese Chancellor
on June 11th. He had gone to the railway station in the hope of getting
news of Seymour's relief column. He was there set upon by soldiers and
Boxers, dragged from his cart, and slain. This being nearly a week before
the capture of the forts, the Empress-Dowager, wishing still to shun responsibility,
issued a decree in which she said: "On hearing this intelligence we
were exceedingly grieved. Officials of a neighboring nation stationed in
Peking ought to be protected in every possible way. We now order all the
Yamens concerned to set a limit of time for the arrest of these criminals,
that they may suffer the extreme penalty of the law."
A colored print, extensively circulated in Shanghai and elsewhere,
depicts this event with a view to firing the loyal heart, representing
the murder not as the act of a mob, but as an execution by court-martial,
with Boxers drawn up in one file and soldiers in another; the whole presided
over by General Sung, a high commander of the imperial forces.
On June 21st, two days after the declaration of war, the Dowager sent
forth a manifesto, in the name of the Emperor, for the purpose of announcing
her action and justifying it to her subjects:
"Ever since the foundation of the dynasty, foreigners coming to
China have been kindly treated. In the reign of Tao Kwang and Hien Fund
they were allowed to trade and to propagate their religion. At first they
were amenable to Chinese control, but for the past thirty years they have
taken advantage of our forbearance to encroach on our territory, to trample
on the Chinese people, and to absorb the wealth of the empire. Every concession
made only serves to increase their insolence. They oppress our peaceful
subjects, and insult the gods and sages, exciting burning indignation among
the people. Hence the burning of chapels and the slaughter of converts
by the patriotic braves. The Throne was desirous to avoid war, and issued
edicts enjoining protection of legations and pity toward converts, declaring
Boxers and converts to be equally the children of the State. With tears
have we announced in our ancestral shrines the outbreak of war. Better
it is to do our utmost and enter on the struggle than to seek self-preservation
involving eternal disgrace. All our officials, high and low, are of one
mind. There have also assembled, without official summons, several hundred
thousands of patriotic soldiers (Boxers). Even children carry spears in
the defence of their country."
On June 24th the Board of Revenue was ordered to give Kang Yi two hundred
bags of rice as provision for general distribution among the Boxers.
A decree of the same date appointed one of the princes to be the official
head of the Boxer organization.
Nothing could show more distinctly the complicity of the Government
in the Boxer movement - and its responsibility for the outrages perpetrated
by the Boxers - than these documents. Yet our admirals, in demanding the
surrender of the forts, took care to announce their purpose as that of
coming to the aid of the Government against the Boxers!
About the middle of July a white flag, or rather a white sheet of paper,
was displayed on the upper bridge, announcing to us, in large letters visible
with the aid of a telescope, that "We have received orders to protect
the foreign Ministers." The same day a small supply of melons, vegetables,
and flour was sent in to us, accompanied by overtures for an armistice,
and proposing that Princes Tuan and Ching be admitted to an interview.
The melons and vegetables were eaten with gusto, but the flour was shunned
as probably not conducive to health. The proposed meeting with the princes
was conceded, though regarded with suspicion. But when the time came, they
failed to appear, excusing themselves on the ground that we had not observed
the armistice, and had killed a vast number of their people. The fact is
that, the very day on which they showed the decree ordering protection
for the Ministers, they fired on us in the evening, and through the night
they were seen preparing for a general assault, which our people averted
by a successful sortie.
During this time the good offices of our Government, as well as those
of the courts of Europe and Japan, were solicited by China. The Secretary
of State replied by demanding a communication from Minister Conger as a
condition indispensable to compliance with that request. Our Minister was
accordingly permitted to send a despatch in cipher, which, so far from
tending to stop the advance of the army of relief, set forth our peril,
and had a mighty influence in quickening their movements.