Table of Contents



By Mary Gaunt

Author Of "Alone In West Africa," "The Uncounted Cost,"



My grandmother’s curios—Camels and elephants—Dr Morrison—Chinese in Australia—Feared for his virtues—Racial animosity—Great Northern Plain—A city of silence—A land of exile—The Holy Sea—Frost flowers on a birch forest—Chaos at Manchuria and Kharbin—Japanese efficiency—A Peking dust storm.

When I was a little girl and was taken to see my grandmother, she set out for my amusement, to be looked at but not touched by little fingers, various curios brought home by my grandfather from China in the old days when he was a sailor in the Honourable East India Company’s service; beautifully carved ivory chessmen, a model of a Chinese lady’s foot about three inches long, dainty mother-of-pearl counters made in the likeness of all manner of strange beasts, lacquer boxes and ivory balls; models of palankeens in ivory, and fans that seemed to me, brought up in the somewhat rough-and-ready surroundings of a new country, dreams of loveliness. The impression was made, I felt the fascination of China, the fascination of a thing far beyond me. Like the pretty things, so out of my reach it seemed that I did not even add it to the list of places I intended to visit when I grew up, for even then my great desire was to travel all over the world; I was born with the wander fever in my blood, but unfortunately with small means of satisfying it. As I grew older I used to read every travel book I could get hold of, and later on when I began to live by my pen I got into the habit of gauging my chances of seeing a country by the number of books written about it. China, judged by this standard, fell naturally into the place assigned to it by my grandmother’s curios; for from the days of Marco Polo men have gone up and down the land, painfully, sorrowfully, gladly, triumphantly, and at least half of them seem to have put pen to paper to describe what they have seen. Was it likely there would be anything left for me to write about?

Then one bright Sunday morning when the sun was shining, as he does occasionally shine in England, the spirit moved me to go down the Brighton line to spend a day with Parry Truscott, a fellow storyteller. The unkind Fates have seen to it that I live alone, and arriving at Victoria that bright morning I felt amiably disposed and desirous of exchanging ideas with somebody. In the carriage I had chosen were already seated two nicely dressed women, and coming along the platform was a porter with hot-water bottles. The morning was sharp and the opportunity was not to be lost, I turned to them and asked them if they would not like a hot-water bottle. Alas! Alas! Those women towards whom I had felt so friendly evidently did not reciprocate my feelings. In chilly accents calculated to discourage the boldest—and I am not the boldest—they gave me to understand that they required neither the hot-water bottle nor my conversation, so, snubbed, I retired to the other side of the carriage and amused myself with my own thoughts and the sunshine and shadow on the green country through which we were passing. Half the journey was done when I saw, to my astonishment, a sight that is not often seen in the Sussex lanes, a train of camels and elephants marching along. It seemed to me something worth seeing, and entirely forgetting that I had been put in my place earlier in the morning I cried, “Oh, look! Look! Camels and elephants!”

Those two ladies were a credit to the English nation. They bore themselves with the utmost propriety. What they thought of me I can only dimly guess, but they never even raised their eyes from their papers. Of course the train rushed on, the camels and elephants were left behind, and there was nothing to show they had ever been there. Then I regret to state that I lay back and laughed till I cried, and whenever I felt a little better the sight of those two studious women solemnly reading their papers set me off again. When I got out at Hassocks they did not allow themselves to look relieved, that perhaps would have been expressing too much emotion before a stranger who had behaved in so eccentric a fashion, but they literally drew their skirts around them so that they should not touch mine and be contaminated as I passed.

There is always more than one side to a story; how I should love to hear the version of that journey told by those two ladies; doubtless it would not in the faintest degree resemble mine. And yet there really were camels and elephants. And so it occurred to me why not go to a country and try and write about it, although many had written before. If the gods were kind might I not find a story even in China.

Meanwhile one of my brothers had married a sister of Dr Morrison, and I had come into touch with the famous Times correspondent, an Australian like myself, and when he came to England he used to come and see me, and we talked about China. When I met him again after my elephant and camel experience I asked his opinion, would it be worth my while to go to China?

He was quite of opinion it would, more, he and his newly-wedded wife gave me a cordial invitation to stay with them, and the thing was settled. I decided to go to Peking. Accordingly, on the last day of January in the year of Our Lord 1913, I left Charing Cross in a thick fog for the Far East. It is a little thing to do, to get into a train and be whirled eastward. There is nothing wonderful about it and yet—and yet—to me it was the beginning of romance. I was bound across the old world for a land where people had lived as a civilised people for thousands of years before we of the West emerged from barbarism, for a country which the new nation from which I have sprung regards with peculiar interest. Australia has armed herself. Why? Because of China’s millions to the north. Australia has voted solid for a white Australia, and rigidly excluded the coloured man. Why? Not because she fears the Kanaka who helped to develop her sugar plantations, but because she fears the yellow man and his tireless energy and his low standard of living.



When I was a child my father, warden of the goldfield where he was stationed, was also, by virtue of his office, protector of the Chinese; and Heaven knows the unfortunate Chinese, industrious, hardworking men of the coolie class from Amoy and Canton, badly needed a protector. Many a time have I seen an unfortunate Chinaman, cut and bleeding, come to my father’s house to claim his protection. The larrikins, as we used to call the roughs, had stoned him for no reason that they or anyone else could understand but only because he was a Chinaman. Now I understand what puzzled and shocked me then, and what shocks me still. It is that racial animosity that is so difficult to explain to the home-staying Englishman: that animosity which is aroused because, subconsciously, the white man knows that the yellow man, in lowering the standard of living, will literally take away much of the bread and all chance of butter from the community in which he has a foothold.

Here I was going to see the land whence had come that subservient, patient, hard-working coolie of my childhood. And the wonder of that rush across the old world, the twelve days’ railway journey that takes us from the most modern of civilisations to the most ancient—it grew upon me as we crossed the great northern plain—historic ground whereon the great battles of Europe have been fought. The people in the train were dining, supping, playing cards, sleeping, and the cities we passed in the darkness seemed mere clusters of dancing lights, such lights as I have seen after rain on many a hot and steamy night in West Africa. When morning dawned we had passed Berlin and were slowly leaving the packed civilisation behind us. A grey low sky was overhead and there were clumps of fir-trees. Dirty snow was in the hollows, and there were long, straight roads drawn with a ruler as they are in Australia, with little bare trees at regular intervals on either side, and then again dark fir woods and rain everywhere. Soon we had passed the frontier and were in Russia, and I felt I could not rush through without one glimpse of it, so I stayed one little week in Moscow, and I shall always be glad I did, though there, for the first time in my life, I was in a country where my nationality did not count, and it was not a pleasant feeling. But Moscow is the city of a dream. I arrived there at night to streets all covered with a mantle of snow. The many lights shone clear in the keen, cold, windless air and the sleighs drawn by sturdy little horses glided over the white snow as silently as if they had been moving shadows. And when morning came it was snowing. Softly, softly, fell the flakes and the city was a city of silence, white everywhere, and when the sun came out dazzling, sparkling white, only the cupolas of the many churches—Moscow in the heart of holy Russia has sixteen hundred—were golden or bright blue, or dark vivid green, for the snow that hid the brilliant roofs could not lie on their rounded surfaces. Above the cupolas are crosses, and from the crosses hang long chains, and ever and again on the silence rang out the musical clang of some deep-toned bell. But it is the silence that impresses. The bells were but incidental, trifling—the silence is eternal. The snow fell with a hush, there was no rush nor roar nor crash of storm, but every snowflake counted. The little sledges were half buried in it, the drivers in their fur-edged caps and blue coats girt in at the waist with a red sash or silver embroidered band, shook it out of their eyes and out of their great beards and brushed it from their shoulders; in every crevice of the old grey walls of the Kremlin it piled up.

A dream city! A city of silence!! The snow reigned, deadening all sound save the insistent bells that rang to the glory of God, and the cawing of the black and grey crows that were everywhere. What have scavenger crows to do in this beautiful city? They were there flying round the churches, darting down the spotless roads, gathering in little conclaves, raising their raucous voices as if in protest against the all-embracing silence. They were the discordant note that emphasised the harmony.

Cold, was there ever such cold? The air crackled with it. It cut like a knife, for all its clear purity. At every street corner I passed as I drove to the railway station were little piles of fir logs, and little braziers were burning, glowing red spots of brightness where the miserable for a moment might warm their hands.

They say one should leave Moscow in summer to cross the Siberian plain, because then there are the flowers—such flowers—and the green trees, and the sunshine, and you may see the road—the long and sorrowful road—along which for years the exiles have passed. I have heard many complaints about the weariness of the journey in winter. There is nothing to be seen say the grumblers. For these luckless ones I have the sincerest pity. They have missed something goodly. I suppose for most of us life, as it unfolds itself, is a disappointing thing, full of bitterness and—worse still—of unattainable desires, but of one thing I shall always be glad, that I crossed the Siberian plain in the heart of winter, and saw it beneath its mantle of spotless snow. Possibly I may never see it in summer, but its winter beauty is something to be remembered to my dying day.

And yet it is a land of exile. Even in childhood I had read of the sufferings of those who have been sent there; and my conception of the land and the reality before my eyes as I rushed through it in an express train were always starting up in comparison with each other. A land of exile, and yet from the plains of Eastern Russia in the west to the frozen hills round Kharbin in the east it is a lovely land. It is a plain, of course—a plain thousands of miles in extent, and the vastness and the beauty of the snow-clad solitudes cry aloud in praise to the God Who made them. Overhead, far, far away, is the great arch of the deep blue sky, clear, bright, enticing, delightful, with no threat in its translucent depths such as one knows is latent in tropical lands, and below is the snow-clad plain, stretching far as the eye can see, bathed in the brilliant sunshine. From the desert and the mountains in the south it stretches away north to the frozen sea; and from the busy towns of the Baltic in the west, in close touch with modern civilisation, to the busy toiling millions of the East with their own civilisation that comes from a dateless antiquity; and in all those thousands of miles it changes its character but little.

But first there were the Urals. I had looked upon them as mountains all my life; and I saw one evening only some very minor hills, deep in snow, with steep sides covered with a forest of fir and leafless larch, dark against the white background; next morning all trace of them was gone, and we were in Asia. On the station platforms were men and women, Cossacks of the west, Buriats of the centre, Tartars of the east, Christians, Buddhists, Mohammedans; there was little difference in outward appearance, muffled as they were against the cold which was often thirty degrees below freezing-point. The men were in long-skirted coats, and the women in short petticoats and high boots, so that it would have been difficult to tell one from the other save that on their heads the men wore fur caps, ragged, dirty, but still fur, while the women muffled themselves in shawls still dirtier. Though they looked as if they had not given water a thought from the day they were born, I, the daughter of a subtropical land, could forgive them. Who could face water in such a biting atmosphere? I sympathised but I did not desire to go too close when we passengers bundled out for exercise on the station platforms, at least most of us did. Some preferred bridge.

“My God! my God!” said an old military man with unnecessary fervour. “What are the idiots getting out for. I go one no trump, partner. Where is my partner? The donkey ‘ll be slipping and hurting himself on those slippery steps next and then our four ‘ll be spoilt,” and he looked round for sympathy.

Someone murmured something about seeing the country, but he shrivelled him with his scorn.

“Seeing the country! This is the eleventh time I’ve been across and I never even look out if I can help myself. Know better. Oh, here you are, partner,” slightly mollified. “I’ve gone one no trump, and there are two hearts against you.”

It was a curious thing to me that most of the passengers in that luxuriously equipped train, with every comfort for the asking save fresh air, grumbled so continuously. It seems to be the accepted thing that the traveller who travels luxuriously should grumble. Our old soldier considered himself a much-injured individual when the attendants did not know by instinct when he required lemon and tea and when whisky-and-soda; and the breaking up of a game of auction bridge because the tables were wanted for dinner reduced him to blackest despair. The hordes which through the ages have swept, conquering, westwards probably never complained, their lives were too strenuous, either they fought and died and were at peace, or they fought and conquered, and small discomforts were swallowed up in the joy of victory. It is left to these modern travellers flying eastward at a rate that would have made the old-time nomads think of witchcraft and sorcery to make a fuss about trifles, to complain of the discomforts and hardships of the long journey across the old world.

I knew the country. In the days when I was a little girl studying my map with diligence I should have counted it a joy unspeakable if I had thought that ever I should be crossing Siberia; crossing the great rivers, the Obi, the Yenesei and the Angara that were then as far away and distant to me as the river that Christian crossed to gain high Heaven; that I should watch the sledges travelling in the sunlight along their hard, frozen surfaces, I to whom a small piece of ice on a saucer of water, which by luck we might get if there happened to be an exceptionally cold night in the winter, was a wonder and a delight. I suppose my joy would have’ been tempered could I have known how many years must pass over my head before this wonderful thing would happen, for in those days five-and-twenty seemed extraordinarily old, and I was very sure that at thirty life would not be worth living. And I have passed that terrible age limit and have missed most things I have set my heart upon, but still there are moments when life is well worth living. Strange and bitter is the teaching of the years—bitter but kindly, too.

We passed Irkutsk where East and West meet, a great city with church spires and cupolas and buildings overlooking the broad and frozen Angara. We raced along by leafless woods, by barren stretches of spotless snow, and sometimes the swiftly running river was piling up the ice in great slabs and blocks and girding and fretting at its chains, and sometimes it was flowing free for a few miles, the only flowing river in all the long, long journey from the old Russian capital. The water was black, and dark, and cold, looking far colder than the ice. The duck rose, leaving long wakes on the water; then there was a little steam, and then a greater steam in the clear sunlight, but by the time we reached Lake Baikal, the Fortunate Sea, the Holy Sea, the frost had gripped the water again, the lake was a sheet of white, and the afternoon sun shone on hills snow-clad on the eastern side. The hills, hardly worth mentioning when one thinks of the great plain across which we had come, are down to the very ice edge. The great lake, the eighth in the world, is but a cleft in them, and the railway track runs on a ledge cut out of the steep hill-side overhanging its waters, waters that were now smooth and white and hard as marble. Here and there little jetties run out; here and there were boats, useless now, close against them; here and there were piles of wood that would be burned up before the thaw. It had been Siberia for days but Baikal struck the true Siberian note.

Here there were convicts too. Some alterations or repairs were being carried out on the line, and drab-coloured convicts were working at them, guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets. Siberia! Siberia of the story-teller! On every little point of vantage stood a soldier with high fur cap, looking out over the men working below him, and they, splitting wood, digging holes in the iron-bound ground, paused in their labours and lifted their faces to the passing train. Did it speak to them of home and culture and love and happiness and freedom, or were they merely the brutal criminal justly punished, and the peasant, poor and simple, here because the Government want workers, and that he cannot pay his taxes is excuse enough.

The sun was brilliant but it was cold, bitter cold, such cold as I had never dreamed of. Men’s breath came like solid steam, and the hair on their faces was fringed with white hoar-frost. The earth was so hard frozen that they were building great fires to thaw it before working; and as the darkness fell the flames leapt yellow and red and blue, glowing spots of colour against the whiteness and the night. And with the night came the full moon high in the clear sky, a disc of dazzling silver. The Providence that has guided my wandering footsteps surely gives sometimes with a lavish hand; that which I have sought earnestly with many tears is not for me, but this still moonlight winter’s night in Siberia was mine, and all the world that we were rushing past was fairyland. There was in it nothing sordid, nothing unclean, nothing sorrowful.

And it was still fairyland when I awoke in the morning to a brilliant sun shining upon a forest of dainty, delicate, graceful birches with every branch, every little twig, clothed in sparkling white, for the sunbeams were caught and reflected a million times on the frost flowers, and the whole forest was a thing of beauty and wonder that to see once is to remember for a lifetime. It is worth living to have seen it. I have seen great rivers and mountains and been awed by mighty forests, I have watched the thundering surf and listened to the roar of the tornado; but this was something quite different. Awe was not the predominant feeling, but joy—joy that such beauty exists, that I was alive to look upon it. Behind us lay a long, long trail. We in the rushing train represented the onward march of a mighty civilisation, but all around us in the brilliant winter sunshine lay the limitless plains of Siberia, and the birch forest, and the snow, and the frost, and the beauty that is not made with hands, that defies civilisation, that was before civilisation, and we were moved to raise our eyes with the psalmist and cry aloud: “How wonderful are thy works, O Lord!”

But I did not appreciate the beauty of the winter or the moonlight when they roused me at three o’clock in the morning at Manchuria because my luggage had to be examined at the Chinese Customs. The scanty lights on the station, the silver moon in the heaven above lit up the platform as we passengers of the train de luxe made our way to the baggage-room along a path between heaped-up frozen snow and ice, and the difference in temperature between that station platform and the carriages from which the hot air gushed was perhaps one hundred degrees. The reek from those carriages went up to heaven, but the sudden change was cruel.

Our pessimistic old soldier wailed loudest. “My God! My God! this is unbearable!” and I wondered why, because on his way through the world he must have encountered worse things than bitter cold that has only to be borne for a few minutes. Probably that was the reason. If he had had something really hard to bear he would very likely have said nothing about it. The baggage-room was confusion, worse confounded, and nobody seemed to know what was being looked for, opium, or arms or both. This place is the Port Said of the East, and people from all corners of the earth were gathered round their belongings. There were groups of Chinese with women and children and weird bundles; there were the very latest dressing-cases and despatch-boxes from Bond Street and Piccadilly; there was a babel of tongues, Russian and French and German and English and the unknown tongues of Asia. China, China at last, and I was within two days of my destination.

And when the day dawned we had left beautiful Siberia behind, and instead there were flat lands, deserts of stones and dry earth, with but little snow to veil the apparent barrenness, and hills first with scanty trees, but growing more and more barren as we approached Kharbin. It looked desolate, cold, uninviting. The land may be rich, it is I am told, but when I passed there was no outward sign of that richness; the covering of beautiful white was gone, there was only a patch or two of snow here and there in the hollows, and the brilliant sunshine was like gleams of light on steel. At Kharbin they examined our baggage again—why I know not—and again it was chaos, chaos in the bitter cold with the mercury many degrees below freezing-point and screeching demons with a Mongolian type of countenance, muffled in furs and rags that seemed the cast-off clothes of all the nations of the earth, hauled the luggage about, pored over tickets and made entries in books with all the elaborate effort of the unlearned, and finally marked the unhappy boxes with great sprawling figures in tar or some such compound.



“Four roubles, twenty kopecks.” Why I had to pay I know not, that was beyond me, but I was glad to get off so lightly, for had they seen fit to ask me one hundred roubles, I should have been equally helpless. I was thankful to get out of the cold back to my warm and evil-smelling coupé.

And at Ch’ang Ch’un I fairly felt I had crossed half the world, and the oldest old world greeted me with active winter. I did not know then, as I do now, how wonderful a thing is a snowstorm in Northern China. Here the snow was falling, falling. We had left behind us the great spaces of the earth, and come back to agriculture. Through the whirling snowflakes, little low-roofed houses, surrounded with walls of stone with little portholes for guns—the Japanese block-houses, for Japan holds Manchuria by force of arms—alternated with farmhouses, with fences of high yellow millet stalks. The doors were marked with brilliant red paper with inscriptions in Chinese characters upon it—a spot of brightness amidst the prevailing white that lent tone and colour to the picture.

Here it was that the Russians and the sons of Nippon had been at death-grips, and we who were in this train realised why the Eastern nation had won. At Kharbin and at Manchuria, with things managed by Chinese, reigned confusion. That we ever emerged with a scrap of luggage seemed to be more by good luck than good management. From Ch’ang Ch’un to Mukden the little men from the islands in the eastern sea run the railway, and they know what they are about; everything is in order, and everything marches without apparent effort. They bought this land with their blood, and they are holding it now with the sure grip that efficiency gives.

At Mukden a blizzard was raging, and the old Tartar City was veiled in snow. When the snow went, the sunshine was bleak and bright, and everywhere, far as the eye could see, stretched tilled fields, bare of every green thing. Flatter and flatter grew the land. It was half ice and half earth, and the little sledges that were hitherto drawn by ponies were now drawn by men. Once we had left behind the Siberian fir, there was not a green thing to be seen all the way to Peking. The earth of the fields was streaked, dark brown and lighter brown; there were bare trees with their promise for the future; and once we were in China proper, there were the graves—graves solitary, and graves in clusters—just neatly kept little heaps of earth piled up and pointed, something like an ant-hill. The air was clear and sparkling, the outlook was wide. We passed town after town, and where on the Siberian border the names of the stations were in Russian and Chinese, and so equally unintelligible, here in China they were in English and Chinese.

“Do you like China?” I asked a Frenchman who sat opposite me at tiffin.

“No,” said he frankly. “It is too English.” But he laughed when I said that naturally I considered that a distinct point in the Chinaman’s favour.

A wind rose, and it was as if the brown earth were literally lifted into the air. Everything was smothered in a dust storm. The atmosphere was heavy as a London fog, a fog that had been dried by some freezing process. The air was full of dry brown particles that shrivelled the skin, and parched the lips, and made me weigh in my mind the respective merits of a soft, moist air, and a clear and sparkling one. I had left London in a yellow fog that veiled the tops of the houses, and lent an air of mystery to the street in the near distance, I arrived at Peking in a typical North China dust storm. We came through the wall, the wall of the Chinese city, that until I had seen the Tartar wall looked grey, and grim, and stern, and solid, and I wondered at the curved tiled roofs, and the low houses, and the great bare spaces that go to make up the city.

The East at last, the Far East! All across the old world I had come; and here on a bitter cold February afternoon, with a wild wind blowing, the train drew up outside the Tartar wall, the wall that Kublai Khan and the Ming Emperors built in the capital city of the civilisation that was old when the Roman legions planted their eagles in the marshes of the Thames. I had reached China, the land of blue skies and of sunshine; the land of desperate poverty and of wonderful wealth; the land of triumph, and of martyrdom, and of mystery. What was it going to hold for me?





Chien Men Railway Station—Driver Chow—“Urgent speed in high disdain”—Peking dust storm—Joys of a bath—The glories of Peking—The Imperial City—The Forbidden City—Memorial arches—The observatory—The little Tartar princess—Life in the streets—Street stalls—A mercenary marriage—Courtly gentlemen.

I looked out of the carriage window as the train ran through the Chinese city on its way to the Chien Men railway station, and wondered what the future was going to be like, and I wondered aloud.

“How will I get on?”

Opposite me sat an amusing young gentleman with a ready tongue.

“Oh you’ll be all right,” said he. “The Chinese ‘ll like you because you’re fat and o——” and then he checked himself seeing, I suppose, the dawning wrath in my eyes. The Chinese admire fat people and they respect the old, but I had not been accustomed to looking upon myself as old yet, though I had certainly seen more years than he had, and as for fat—well I had fondly hoped my friends looked upon it as a pleasing plumpness. With these chastening remarks sinking into my soul, we rolled into the railway station.

The railways in China, with a few exceptions, have been built by the English or French—mostly by the English—and are managed to a great extent on European lines, so that arriving at the railway station in Peking does not differ very much from arriving at any other great terminus, save for the absence of cabs; but I imagine there must be differences, and that those who run the lines have little difficulties to contend with that would not occur on the London and North Western for example.

“Dear Sir,”—wrote a stationmaster once to the locomotive superintendent—“I have, with many tears, to call your attention to your driver, Chow, who holds urgent speed in high disdain.”

The locomotive superintendent, without any tears, investigated the charge against this driver, Chow. The line was worked on the staff system. No driver could leave a station without giving up the staff he had brought in, and receiving the corresponding one for the next stretch of line. The staff—to follow the directions—is to be handed to the driver by the stationmaster, but the stationmaster on this, and I expect on many other occasions, for the Chinese are past-masters in the art of delegating work to someone else, had handed the staff to a coolie and gone about his pleasure. Now Chow evidently had a grudge against him, for, I fear me, no one believed in his altruism. He insisted on the strict letter of the law and declined to take the staff until it was handed to him by the important man himself, and he kept the whole train waiting, while that worthy was searched for, and hauled out of the particular gambling-house he most affected. When the gentleman appeared, furious and angry, on the platform, Chow calmly lifted up his staff to effect an exchange, and he swore on investigation he had forgotten that the end the stationmaster received had been reposing for all the long wait upon the nearly red-hot boiler! That the stationmaster burnt his fingers is a mild statement of the case.

There was a wild wind blowing when I stepped out of the train and looked around me at the frowning walls, at least I looked as much as I could, for the day was bitterly cold, and most of the ground was in the air. A London fog was nothing to it, that is soft and still and filthy, this was hard and gritty, moving fast and equally filthy, and every one of the passengers was desperately anxious to exchange the bleak railway station for the warmth and comfort and cleanliness to be found between four walls.

I was just as anxious as anybody else, but by the time I had collected my luggage the awful facts were borne in on me that all the people with whom I had made friends on the way across, were rapidly departing, and that there was no one to meet me. Peking was wonderful, I knew it was wonderful; there were such walls as I had never even dreamt of, towering above me, but I was not able to rise above the fact that I was in a strange city, among quaint-looking people who spoke an unknown tongue, and that I did not know where to go. And the Morrisons’ invitation had been most cordial. I had rejected all offers of help, because I was so sure someone from their house would be there to meet me, now I seized the last remaining passenger who could speak a little Chinese, and, with his help, got a hand-cart for my gear, drawn by two ragged men, and a rickshaw for myself—this man haulage, this cheapness of human labour, made me realise more quickly than anything else could have done, that I had really arrived in the Eastern world—and after a little debate with myself I started for Dr Morrison’s. I had been asked to stay there, and I felt it would be rude to go to the hotel, but as we drove through the streets I thought—as much as the dust, the filthy dust—that the violent gusts of wind were blowing in my face would allow—not of the wonders of this new world upon which I was entering, but of how I should announce myself to these people who apparently were not expecting me. I had such a lot of luggage too!



At last the coolies stopped opposite a door guarded by two stone lions, and as I got out of my rickshaw, entered the porch, and stood outside a little green wicket gate, the doorkeeper stepped out of his room and looked at me. He was clad all in blue cotton and he had an impassive face and just enough English for a doorkeeper.

No, Missie was not at home, he announced calmly. “Master?” I asked frantically, but he shook his head, Master was out too. Here was a dilemma. I would have gone straight to the hotel I had discovered Peking boasted, but I feared they might think it rude. I made him understand I would come in and wait a little, and my luggage, my dilapidated luggage, for Kharbin and Manchuria had been hard on it, was carried into the courtyard of the first Chinese house I had ever seen. But I wasn’t thinking of sight-seeing then; I was wondering what I should do. I questioned the No. 1 boy, as I subsequently found he was, a pleasant-faced little man in a long blue coat or dress, whichever you please to call it, and a little round silk cap suppressing his somewhat wild hair. I learned afterwards that some students, enthusiastic for the new regime, had caught him the day before and shorn off his queue with no skilful hands. It was his opinion that Missie was not expecting a guest, but he suggested I should come inside and have-some tea. The thought of tea was distinctly comforting, and so was his attitude. It suggested that unexpected guests were evidently received with hospitality, and dirty as I felt myself to be, I went in and sat down to a meal of tea and cakes.

“I makee room ready chop chop,” announced the boy, and I drank tea and ate cakes, wondering whether I ought not to stop him, and say he had better wait till his mistress came home. And I felt so horribly dirty, too. Then there came in a lady who also looked at me with surprise.

She had come to tea with Mrs Morrison, and she was quite sure Mrs Morrison was expecting no guest. This was awful. I became so desperate that nothing seemed to matter, and I went on eating cake and drinking tea till presently the No. 1 boy came in again, and calmly announced:

“Barf ready.”

And I had just been told that my hostess did not expect me!

I looked at the lady sitting opposite me, I looked at the boy, and I considered my very dirty and dishevelled self. I had not even seen a bath since I left Moscow. I had come through the Peking streets in a Peking dust storm, and I felt a bath was a temptation not to be resisted, wherever that bath was offered; so I arose and followed the boy, and presently Mrs Morrison, coming into her own courtyard, was confronted by a heap of strange luggage, and a boy standing over it with a feather duster, no mere feather duster could have coped with the dirt upon it, but a Chinese servant would attack a hornet’s nest with one; it is his badge of office. He looked up at her and remarked, in that friendly and conversational manner with which the Chinese servant makes the wheels of life go smoothly for his Missie when he has her alone.

“One piecey gentleman in barf!”

She came and knocked at the bedroom door when I was doing my hair and feeling much more able to face the world, and made me most cordially welcome, and, when I was fully dressed and back in the drawing-room, Dr Morrison appeared, and said he was glad to see me, and no one mentioned that my arrival had been unexpected, till a week later, when the letter I had written saying by what train I was coming, turned up.

I stayed with Dr Morrison and his pretty young wife for close on a fortnight, and they gave me most kindly hospitality, and not only did I view the wonders of Peking, make some acquaintances and friends, but saw just a little of the peculiarities of Chinese servants. They are good, there is no gainsaying it, but sometimes they did surprise me. Dr Morrison has a secretary, young and slim and clever, who in the early days of our acquaintanceship was wont very kindly to come over and help me in the important matter of fastening up dresses at the back. One evening, being greatly in need of her assistance, I sent across the courtyard to her, and the startled young lady was calmly informed by a bland and smiling boy as if it were the most natural thing in the world:

“One piecey gentleman wanchee in he’s bedroom.”

At first I don’t think I appreciated Peking. It left me cold, and my heart sank, for I had come to write about it, to gain material perhaps for a novel, and this most certainly is a truth, you cannot write well about a place unless you either love or hate it. Still, I have always had a great distaste for dashing through a country like an American tourist, and so I settled down at the Wagons Lits Hotel, surely the most cosmopolitan hotel in the world.

And then by slow degrees my eyes were opened, and I saw. Blind, blind, how could I have been so blind? It makes me troubled. Have other good things been offered me in life? And have I turned away and missed them? The wonder of what I have seen in Peking never palls, it grows upon me daily.

“Walk about Zion and go round about her... consider her palaces that ye may tell it to the generation following.” So chanted the psalmist, not so much, perhaps, for the sake of future generations, but because her beauty and charm so filled his soul that his lips were forced to song. “Tell the towers thereof, mark ye well her bulwarks.” Far back in the ages, a nation great and civilised on the eastern edge of the plain that stretches half across the world, builded themselves a mighty city. Peking first came into being when we Western nations, who pride ourselves upon our intense civilisation, were but naked savages, hunters and nomads, and she, spoiled and sacked and looted, taking fresh masters, and absorbing them, Chinese and Tartar, Ming and Manchu, has endured even unto the present day. To-day, the spirit of the West is breathing over her and she responds a little, ever so little, and murmurs of change, yet she remains the same at heart as she has been through the ages. How should she change? She is wedded to her past, she can no more be divorced from it than can the morning from the evening.

There is something wonderful and antique about any walled city, but a walled city like Peking stands alone. The very modern railway comes into the Chinese City through an archway in the wall, and the railway station, the hideous modern railway station, lies just outside the great wall of the Tartar City. There are three cities in Peking, indeed for the last few years there have been four—four distinct cities. There is the Imperial City, enclosed in seven miles of pinkish red wall, close on twenty feet high, and in the Imperial City, the very heart of it, behind more pinkish red walls, is the Forbidden City, where dwell the remnant of the Manchu Dynasty, the baby emperor and his guardians, the women, the eunuchs, the attendants that make up such a gathering as waited in bygone days on Darius, King of the Medes, or Ahasuerus, King of Babylon. Here there are spacious courtyards and ancient temples and palaces, and audience halls with yellowish-brown tiled roofs, extensive lakes, where multitudes of wild duck, flying north for the summer, or south for the winter, find a resting-place, watch-towers and walls, and tunnelled gateways through those walls. When through the ages the greatest artists of a nation have been giving their minds to the beautifying of a city, the things of beauty in that city are so numerous that it seems impossible for one mind to grasp them, to realise the wonder and the charm, especially when that charm is exotic and evasive.

The Imperial City, all round the Forbidden City, consists of a network of narrow streets and alleys lined with low buildings with windows of delicate lattice-work, and curved tiled roofs. Here, hidden away in silent peaceful courtyards shaded by gnarled old trees, are temples guarded by shaven priests in faded red robes. Their hangings are torn and faded, the dust lies on their altars, and the scent of the incense is stale in their courts, for the gods are dead; and yet because the dead are never forgotten in China—China that clings to her past—they linger on. Here are shops, low one-storied shops, with fronts richly carved and gilded, streets deep in mud or dust, narrow alley-ways and high walls with mysterious little doors in them leading into secluded houses, and all the clatter and clamour of a Chinese city, laden donkeys, mules and horses, rickshaws from Japan, glass broughams weirdly reflecting the glory of modern London, and blue, tilted Peking carts with studded wheels, such as have been part and parcel of the Imperial City for thousands of years, all the life of the city much as it is outside the pinkish red walls, only here and there are carved pillars and broad causeways that, if the stones could speak, might tell a tale of human woe and Human weariness, of joy and magnificence, that would surpass any told of any city in the world.

And outside the Imperial City, hemming it in, in a great square fourteen miles round, is the Tartar City with splendid walls. Outside that again, forming a sort of suburb, lies to the south the Chinese City with thirteen miles of wall enclosing not only its teeming population, but the great open spaces and parks of the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Agriculture. But though the Tartar City and the Chinese City are distinct divisions of Peking, walled off from each other, all difference between the people has long ago disappeared. The Tartars conquered the Chinese, and the Chinese, patient, industrious, persistent, drew the Tartars to themselves. But still the walls that divided them endure.

The Tartar City is crossed by broad highways cutting each other at right angles, three run north and south, and three run east and west, they are broad and are usually divided into three parts, the centre part being a good, hard, well-tended roadway, while on either side the soil is loose, and since the streets are thronged, the side ways are churned up in the summer into a slough that requires some daring to cross, and in the winter—the dry, cold rainless winter, the soil is ground into a powdery dust that the faintest breeze raises into the air, and many of the breezes of Northern China are by no means faint. The authorities try to grapple with the evil—at regular intervals are stationed a couple of men with a pail of muddy water, which with a basket-work scoop they distribute lavishly in order to try and keep down the rising dust. But the dust of Peking is a problem beyond a mere pail and scoop. This spattering of water has about as much effect upon it as a thimbleful of water flung on a raging fiery furnace.



Still, in spite of the mud and the dust, the streets are not without charm. They are lined with trees; indeed I think no city of its size was ever better planted. When once one has realised how treeless is the greater part of China, this is rather surprising. For look which way you will from the wall in the summer and autumn, you feel you might be looking down upon a wood instead of a city; the roofs of the single-storied houses are hidden by the greenery, and only here and there peeps out the tiled roof of a temple or hall of audience with the eaves curving upwards, things of beauty against the background of green branches. Curiously enough it is only from the walls that Peking has this aspect. Once in the network of alley-ways it seems as if a wilderness of houses and shops were crowding one on top of the other, as if humanity were crushing out every sign of green life. This is because there is to all things Chinese two sides. There is the life of the streets, mud-begrimed, dusty, seething with humanity, odoriferous, ragged, dirty, patient, hardworking; and there is a hidden life shut away in those networks of narrow alley-ways.

There is many a gateway between two gilded shop fronts, some black Chinese characters on a red background set out the owner’s name and titles, and, passing through, you are straightway admitted into courtyard after courtyard, some planted with trees, some with flowering plants in pots—because of the cruel winter all Chinese gardens in the north here are in pots, sometimes with fruit-trees thick with blossom or heavy with fruit, and in the paved courtyards, secluded, retired as a convent, you find the various apartments of a well-arranged Chinese house; there are shady verandas, and dainty lattice-work windows looking out upon miniature landscapes with little hills and streams and graceful bridges crossing the streams. But only a favoured few may see these oases. For the majority Peking must be the wide-open boulevards and narrow hu t’ungs, fronted by low and highly ornamental houses, and shops so close together that there is no more room for a garden or growing green life than there is in Piccadilly. True there are trees in these boulevards, in Morrison Street, in Ha Ta Men Street, in the street of Eternal Repose that cuts them at right angles, but they would be but small things in the mass of buildings were it not for the courtyards of the private houses and temples that are hidden behind.

There are, too, in the streets p’ia lous or memorial arches, generally of three archways with tiled roofs of blue or green or yellow rising in tiers one above the other, put up in memory of some deed the Chinese delight to honour. And what the Chinese think worthy of honour, and what the Westerner delights to honour are generally as far apart, I find, as the Poles. In Ha Ta Men Street, however, there is a p’ia lou all of white marble, put up by the last Manchu Emperor in memory of gallant Baron von Kettler, done to death in the Boxer rising, but there, I am afraid, Chinese appreciation was quickened by European force.