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The Boxer Rising page 3


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Meanwhile in Peking, some 900 people had been executed by the Boxers at one time, without trial, at which even the old Buddha was indignant. She said that the Boxers should be kept in better order.

The Boxers in the provinces were still terrorising the Christian missionaries. Some stations under the control of Mgr. Hamer had been captured by the soldiers, 800 to 1,000 Christians killed, and more than 100 women and children carried off. The episcopal residence was attacked, it resisted for a time, but presently it was destroyed. Mgr. Hamer was taken by the soldiers, all his hair was pulled out, his fingers, nose and ears were cut off. Then he was wrapped in cloth soaked in oil and made to hang head downwards while they set fire to his feet. After his death his heart was eaten by two beggars.

Another European was escorted to a place near a court with his hands tied behind his back. Swords were drawn and great gashes were cut all over his body especially his arms and legs. Later his head was cut off. Some were tortured with 1,000 cuts. Boxers were sent to attack Tai Hai where two priests and 1,000 Christians resided; the inmates repulsed three attacks. Then soldiers appeared claiming to be an escort to take them to safety. Accepting these assurances the Christians accompanied the soldiers, but before they had gone a mile, they saw their churches burning and the Mandarins sitting on their housetops, laughing at their fate. One missionary's wife was stoned while she was giving birth to a child. Both were killed.

The Belgian and Italian engineers operating the railway at Pao-ting-fu were besieged by Boxers. They escaped in junks and proceeded down the river where they were continuously assailed. A terrific fusillade was opened on them from old cannon, and the Europeans made desperate attempts to land on the opposite side of the river. One turned back but the attempt was fatal. The junk became stuck in the mud and the Chinese, rushing into the water, scrambled aboard, brandishing tridents, swords and guns. Some of the Europeans who had landed, crept back in the darkness, trying to help their friends. They saw the swollen body of a European woman, ripped open, floating down the river. All the others had similarly perished. About thirty of the remainder, insulted and yelled at by a threatening mob, struggled to safety in Tientsin. They were barefooted and bleeding, ragged and almost naked. Everything they wore had been torn. Some of them were with child.

Whilst at the first the Chinese Government had raised no objection to the co-operation of the Allied Powers in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion, they refused almost every request for assistance. The big ships of the Allies lay some miles outside the Taku Bar and the Taku Forts had to be forced to take Tientsin. When that city had fallen and was ablaze the looting by the Allies began. All seemed to take part - Americans, Russians, Englishmen, Japanese. As justification it was explained that the goods were better looted than burnt. This burning and looting of Tientsin caused the Chinese greater annoyance than almost any action of the Allies.

A Boxer leader who had been captured in Tienstin was quite calm and composed as he was being led to the execution ground. But then he recognised that one of two heads swinging on a pole was that of his mother. He became siezed with horror, crying out with fear. Presently he regained his self-control and asked to be beheaded as his mother had been. A half-witted Chinese cripple, prowling round the streets of the city, found a new coat worn by a soldier of the Empress. He was so pleased that he put it on, but was caught by the Japanese and mistaken for a soldier. After being roughly handled he was tied up and exposed at a road junction. Several hours later he was dead. This terrible treatment was revenge for the conduct of the Boxers towards the women of the Allies.

After continuous heavy fighting, the Allies fought their way into the capital. The Legations, which had been holding out under bombardment for weeks, were relieved. A European lady, running out to welcome the deliverers, fell severely wounded by a Chinese bullet. As the Hindoo regiments marched in to the relief their bronzed faces were kissed by joyful women. The Relief Expedition had not changed their clothing since they left Tientsin, and loked dirty and unshaven, whilst those in the British Legation were spotless in their linen clothes. A few of the men kept the newcomers at a distance, as though they should have apologised for relieving them when in such an unkempt state.

The west side of the Chinese city was placed under the protection of the American troops and when the Chinese begged them to write notices on their doors to keep away the looters one soldier wrote on one, "Plenty of whisky and tobacco in here." The puzzled occupant took some time to find out the reason why every American soldier, passing his door, gave it a kick and demanded a smoke and drink. One Englishman made about a thousand pounds from selling small British flags and a certificate guaranteeing the life of the purchaser. He was arrested, court-martialled and condemned to be shot. When released he made a quick getaway to the coast. There was a good deal of looting in Peking though not so much as in Tientsin, for the Boxers had done this before the Allies arrived.

Whilst the Legations conducted their defence during the siege of Peking with great heroism, a marvellous stand was maintained in the cathedral at Pe-Tang, or North Church, which was not relieved until two days after the troops had entered the capital. This handsome building of white marble had been struck by many bullets and badly shattered. Bishop Favier was the hero of its defence. He opined that it was almost a pity that they were not all massacred as then they would have died martyrs and have been spared the pain of rebuilding their wrecked cathedral. At first they had had no arms at all, but by making sorties through the Boxer ranks they had secured a number of staves, some rifles and ammunition. Some of the troops, marching in to protect the Legations, had been lent to the beleaguered Christians and in time they had 500 men manning the cathedral walls. The Boxers advanced against them, led by Buddhist priests, chanting the wildest incantations, and working themselves into uncontrollable fury. They believed that they were bullet-proof until three or four volleys from the cathedral caused a stampede leaving fifty dead at the gate. They sneaked back at night and set fire to the houses round the cathedral but the internes saved their building from the flames. Next the Christians were subjected to fire from a heavy gun, and to volleys from the regular troops. Whilst the women and children inside the cathedral were inclined to panic, the men made a sudden gallant sortie, captured the big gun and some of the ammunition, and actually brought it into the cathedral. Among the defenders was an artilleryman who knew how to work it, and work it he did. But when his fellow Christians were feeling proud of his exploits, a Chinese shell cut him in two.

And now the Chinese brought a battery of new Krupp guns to bear on the facade of the cathedral; in one day they sent over 536 shells. Amid wild cries the cross on the pinnacle was brought down. After three days' bombardment the batteries were suddenly taken away. The defenders could not have endured that form of attack had it continued longer.

Now the Boxers began to explode mines about the building one of which did much damage, killing many defenders, including the priest in charge of that section. The food ration had to be reduced to two ounces a day per person, and when the Cathedral was relieved this had just run out. When the Relief Expedition arrived the defenders found it difficult to believe that they were friends. During the siege the Boxers had constantly shot in messages, attached to arrows, offering to spare the lives of all converts if they would deliver up the Bishops and all Europeans. But not one of the 3,000 converts inside wavered. When they sent out to try and communicate with the Legations, the scouts were caught and killed. The first messenger was seized as he left the compound and was actually skinned alive. Then his skin and head were hung outside the main gate of the cathedral. In a sixty-day siege they had received no message from their friends.

One of the most amusing things that happened in the city after the arrival of the Allied troops was - a call on the Russian general made by the Chinese Minister for War, to thank the Allies for entering the city to put an end to the Boxer trouble. This was repeated to some of the other generals. In view of the tremendous opposition which the Chinese Government had put up to prevent the Allies from entering, this cermony of welcome to the conquerors seemed to be ironic.

The Empress Dowager had elected not to stay and join in the ceremonious welcome. When news came of the defeat of her forces, Jung Lu strongly urged her to remain. At first she said that she would commit suicide, but for a while she still clung to her faith in the supernatural powers of her Boxers. Then, on Aug. 14, 1900, one of her high officials, Duke Lan, burst into her palace with the news that the foreign devils had entered the city, and that their soldiery were encamped in the Temple of Heaven.

"Perhaps they are our Mohammedan braves."

"No, your majesty. They are foreigners. You must escape at once. They will murder you!"

The Old Buddha held a midnight audience but only three members of her Grand Council were present. She remarked bitterly that she supposed the rest had run away. Well, they must look after themselves as best they could. She had made up her mind.

Next day, at the Hour of the Tiger (3 a.m.) she dressed herself carefully and prepared for ignominious flight. She decided to depart with the Emperor and a few others in three common carts so that she would not be recognised. The concubines were ordered not to accompany the fleeing party. But the Pearl Concubine, who had always been somewhat insubordinate, now appeared on the scene. Unluckily for her she suggested that the Emperor, who adored her, should stay. The Empress turned on her in wrath. "Throw this wretched minion down a well!" she commanded.

This was too much for the Emperor. He fell on his knees and begged for the life of the beautiful Pearl. But the Empress Dowager, remembering her acts of quiet insubordination, was in no mood for pardons.

"Let her die at once as a warning to all undutiful children, and to all young owls who peck out their mother's eyes."

And so the unhappy Pearl Concubine was taken by the Chief Eunuch to the large well outside the palace gate and thrown to the bottom.

The Imperial Party drove away at a fast pace leaving the city, quaintly enough, by the Gate of Victory, where for a long time they were held up by a throng of other carts laden with refugees, all struggling to get away. The soldiers at the Summer Palace, seeing the dust-begrimed equipages, found it difficult to believe that they contained the Empress Dowager and the Emperor whom they were more used to seeing ride in state in the "Sacred Chariot." But the Old Buddha thrust her head out and spoke in her accustomed tone. Then they believed.

Some of her high officials disdained to take refuge in flight; some who did not follow their example and commit suicide, afterwards regretted that they had not done so. The Imperial Tutor and Grand Secretary hanged himself, and his grim example was followed by eighteen of his womenfolk. "Alas! alas!" said they, "that the proudest of the Manchus should come to this miserable end!"

A relative of the Empress left a diary which was found by British troops and deciphered. It contained the inner history of the Empress' Court in those last days, and is quoted extensively in "China under the Empress Dowager," by Bland and Backhouse. He wrote at the end. "Jung Lu was right. The Boxers' so-called magic was nothing but child's talk. My wife and the other women (stupidly obstinate like all females) intend to take opium. I cannot prevent them. All my servants have fled and there is none to cook my evening meal."

But the old man had no need of that repast, for his son whom he had named in the diary as having robbed him of much of his money, now returned home and threw his father down a well. Not the correct thing to do in a country which worshipped its ancestors.

Before the situation in China was settled the Powers made some very firm demands of the Old Buddha, some of which she strove hard to evade, especially the one that commanded the execution of the leaders of the Boxer Movement. At last, however, she consented to a decree, drafted by Jung Lu, which abandoned them to their fate. Some of the Boxer chiefs, who were already dead, had to suffer the further terrible disgrace of posthumous decapitation. Others were ordered to commit suicide. One of her Grand Councillors, Chao Shu Ch'iao, refused to believe that the Empress Dowager really intended that he should die, although she had ordered him to be dead by 5 p.m. on a given day. In the presence of his sympathetic wife he took poison at 3 p.m., but he must have helped himself rather sparingly, as it took no effect. Nevertheless the expected reprieve did not arrive. He talked a long time and made arrangements for his funeral, and 5 p.m. drew near. The officer in charge of his suicide became anxious. The people crowded in to watch the great one's departure from this world, and he was still very much alive; his voice was clear and firm. The guards brought him opium and this had no effect; so they Drought him a liberal dose of arsenic. This caused him to roll about on the ground in much pain, but he still lived. Midnight drew on and still the man who had urged the Boxers to kill and torture was breathing. After a consultation, the attendants decided to plug his breathing tubes with pieces of paper, dipped in strong spirit. Death ensued after five of these had been used.

When the Imperial Commissioner brought the death warrant to Prince Chiang, he searched the premises for an empty room in which he hung a silken cord, and then led the Prince to the spot. The Prince was sarcastic. "Your Excellency has indeed made excellent arrangements." But he put the cord quickly round his neck and swung himself to his death.

The Boxer leader whose punishment was most desired by the Allies was Governor Yu Hsien, the "Chinese Nero." The first order which the Empress Dowager had made against him was one of banishment; but death was still demanded. He was a sick old man, just setting out for his place of banishment, when he received the news that he was to be decapitated. But he took his fate with calmness. "I slew others; now it is my turn," he said, not realising that he was in effect quoting the Christian Scriptures which say that he who takes the sword shall perish by the sword; and that he who doeth wrong shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done; and there is no respect of persons.

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