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

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Meanwhile, is there anything special for me to chronicle? Not much, although there is a cloud no bigger than your hand in Shantung not a thousand miles from Weihaiwei, and the German Legation is consequently somewhat irate. It was noticed at our club, for instance, which, by the way, is a humble affair, that the German military attache, a gentleman who wears bracelets, is somewhat effeminate, and plays vile tennis and worse billiards, had a "hostile attitude" towards the British Legation--that is, such of the British Legation as gather together each day at the "ice-shed"--which happens to be the club's peculiar Chinese name. The military attache is somewhat irate, because the spectacle of the Weihaiwei regiment, six hundred yellow men under twelve white Englishmen, chasing malcontents in Shantung, is derogatory to Teutonic aspirations. Germany has earmarked Shantung, and it is just like English bluntness to remind the would-be dominant Power that there is a British sphere and a British colony in the Chinese province, as well as a German sphere and a German colony. But the German Minister, a _beau garcon_ with blue eyes and a handsome moustache, says nothing, and is quite calm.

Meanwhile the cloud no bigger than your hand is quite unremarked by the rank and file of Legation Street--that I will swear. Chinese malcontents--"the Society of Harmonious Fists," particular habitat Shantung province--are casually mentioned; but it is remembered that the provincial governor of Shantung is a strong Chinaman, one Yuan Shih-kai, who has some knowledge of military matters, and, better still, ten thousand foreign-drilled troops. Shantung is all right, never fear--such is the comment of the day.

But the political situation--the _situation politique_ as we call it in our several conversations, which always have a diplomatic turn--although not grave, is unhappy; everybody at least acknowledges that. Peking has never been what it was before the Japanese war. In the old days we were all something of a happy family. There were merely the eleven Legations, the Inspectorate of Chinese Customs, with the aged Sir R---- H---- at its head, and perhaps a few favoured globe-trotters or nondescripts looking for rich concessions. Picnics and dinners, races and excursions, were the order of the day, and politics and political situations were not burning. Ministers plenipotentiary and envoys extraordinary wore Terai hats, very old clothes, and had an affable air--something like what Teheran must still be. Then came the Japanese war, and the eternal political situation. Russia started the ball rolling and the others kicked it along. The Russo-Chinese Bank, appeared on the scenes led by the great P----, a man with an ominous black portfolio continually under his arm, as he hurried along Legation Street, and an intriguing expression always on his dark face--a veritable master of men and moneys, they say. This intriguing soon found Expression in the Cassini Convention, denounced as untrue, and followed by a perfectly open and frank Manchurian railway convention, a convention which, in spite of its frankness, had future trouble written unmistakably on the face of it. Besides these things there were always ominous reports of other things--of great things being done secretly.

After the Russo-Chinese Bank and the Manchurian railway business, there was the Kiaochow affair, then the Port Arthur affair, the Weihaiwei and Kwangchowwan affairs, nothing but "affairs" all tending in the same direction--the making of a very grave political situation. The juniors to-day make fun of it, it is true, and greet each other daily with the salutation, "_La situation politique est tres grave_," and laugh at the good words. But it is grave notwithstanding the laughter. Once in 1899, after the Empress Dowager's _coup d'etat_ and the virtual imprisonment of the Emperor, Legation Guards had to be sent for, a few files for each of the Legations that possess squadrons in the Far East, and, what is more, these guards had to stay for a good many months. The guards are now no more, but it is curious that the men they came mainly to protect us against--Tung Fu-hsiang's Mohammedan braves from the savage back province of Kansu who love the reactionary Empress Dowager--are still encamped near the Northern capital.

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