Indiscreet Letters From Peking Being the Notes of an Eye-Witness, Which Set Forth in Some Detail, fr

Start from the beginning

Of course the Peking seige has already been amply described in many volumes and much magazine literature. Dr. Morrison, the famous Peking correspondent of the _Times_, informs me that he has in his library no less than forty-three accounts in English alone. The majority of these, however, are not as complete or enlightening as they might be; nor has the extraordinarily dramatic nature of the Warning, the Siege, and the Sack been shown. Thus few people, outside of a small circle in the Far East, have been able to understand from such accounts what actually occurred in Peking, or to realise the nature of the fighting which took place. The two best accounts, Dr. Morrison's own statement and the French Minister's graphic report-to his government, were both written rather to fix the principal events immediately after they had occurred than to attempt to probe beneath the surface, or to deal with the strictly personal or private side. Nor did they embrace that most remarkable portion of the Boxer year, the entire sack of Peking and the extraordinary scenes which marked this latter-day Vandalism. A veil has been habitually drawn over these little-known events, but in the narrative which follows it is boldly lifted for the first time.

The eye-witness whose account follows was careful to establish with as much lucidity as possible each phase of existence during five months of extraordinary interest. Much in these notes has had to be suppressed for many reasons, and much that remains may create some astonishment. Yet it is well to remember that "one eye-witness, however dull and prejudiced, is worth a wilderness of sentimental historians." The historians are already beginning to arise; these pages may serve as a corrective to many erroneous ideas. Perhaps some also will allow that this curious tragedy, swept into Peking and playing madly round the entrenched European Legations, has intense human interest still. The vague terror which oppressed everyone before the storm actually burst; the manner in which the feeble chain of fighting men were locked round the European lines, and suffered grievously but were providentially saved from annihilation; the curious way in which diplomacy made itself felt from time to time only to disappear as the rude shock of events taking place near Tientsin and the sea were reflected in Peking; the final coming of the strange relief--all these points and many others are made in such a manner that everyone should be able to understand and to believe. The description of the last act of the upheaval--the complete sack of Peking--shows clearly how the lust for loot gains all men, and hand in hand invites such terrible things as wholesale rape and murder.

The eye-witness attempts to account for all that happened; to make real and living the hoarse roll of musketry, the savage cries of desperadoes stripped to the waist and glistening in their sweat; to give echo to the blood-curdling notes of Chinese trumpets; to limn the tall mountains of flames licking sky high. If there is failure in these efforts, it is due to the editing.

The summer of 1900 in Peking will ever remain as famous in the annals of the world's history as the Indian Mutiny; it was something unique and unparalleled. With the curious movements now at work in the Far East, it may not be unwise to study the story again. And after Port Arthur these pages may show something about which little has been written--the psychology of the seige. The seige is still the rudest test in the world. It is well to know it.


CHINA, June, 1906.





12th May, 1900.

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The weather is becoming hot, even here in latitude 40 and in the month of May. The Peking dust, distinguished among all the dusts of the earth for its blackness, its disagreeable insistence in sticking to one's clothes, one's hair, one's very eyebrows, until a grey-brown coating its visible to every eye, is rising in heavier clouds than ever. In the market-places, and near the great gates of the city, where Peking carts and camels from beyond the passes--_k'ou wai_, to use the correct vernacular--jostle one another, the dust has become damnable beyond words, and there can be no health possibly in us. The Peking dust rises, therefore, in clouds and obscures the very sun at times; for the sun always shines here in our Northern China, except during a brief summer rainy season, and a few other days you can count on your fingers. The dust is without significance, you will say, since it is always there more or less. It is in any case--healthy; it chokes you, but is reputed also to choke germs; therefore it is good. All of which is true, only this year there is more of it than ever, meaning very dry weather indeed for this city, hanging near the gates of Mongolian deserts--a dry weather spelling the devil for the Northern farmer.

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