Twilight in the forbidden city

Material Information

Twilight in the forbidden city
Translated Title:
Zi jin cheng de huang hun
Johnston, Reginald Fleming, Sir, 1874-1938
Puyi, 1906-1967
Place of Publication:
Victor Gollancz
Camelot Press
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
xi, 486 p. : illus., facsims., 2 plans, ports, 1 geneal. table ; 21cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Forbidden City (Beijing, China) -- Social life and customs -- History ( lcsh )
Zi jin cheng -- Social life and customs -- History
China -- History -- 20th century ( lcsh )
China. Sovereign (1909-1911: Pu yi)
Temporal Coverage:
1406 - 1934
Spatial Coverage:
Asia -- China -- Beijing -- Beijing -- Forbidden City
亞洲 -- 中國 -- 北京 -- 北京 -- 紫禁城
亚洲 -- 中国 -- 北京 -- 北京 -- 紫禁城
39.915987 x 116.397925


General Note:
VIAF (name authority) : Johnston, Reginald Fleming, Sir, 1874-1938 : URI
General Note:
Digitised for preservation (brittle pages, disintegrating binding) -- FOR SOAS USE ONLY
General Note:
"By Emperor Puyi's tutor"
General Note:
Includes index
General Note:
Chinese documents and plans (4 folded sheets) as inserts
General Note:
"With a preface by the Emperor" -- Title Page
General Note:
VIAF (name authority) : Puyi, 1906-1967 : URI

Record Information

Source Institution:
SOAS University of London
Holding Location:
SOAS University of London
Rights Management:
This item is licensed with the Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial License. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this work non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.
Resource Identifier:
103683 ( ALEPH )
QC.951.03 /28997


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Full Text

• ft!? Kilir
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figSl Jgfr :

K.C.M.G., C.B.E., HON. LL.D.
Professor of Chinese in the University of London ;
last British Commissioner of Weihaiwei; Tutor
to His Majesty the Emperor Hsiian-T‘ung :
Author of
From Peking to Mandalay, Lion and Dragon in
Northern China, Buddhist China, A Chinese
Appeal to Christendom Concerning
Christian Missions, Letters to
a Missionary, The
Chinese Drama,
14 Henrietta Street Covent Garden

Printed in Great Britain by
The Camelot Press Ltd., London and Southampton

In memory of a happy relationship begun fifteen
years ago in the Forbidden City,
and in the earnest hope that, after the passing
of the twilight and the long night, the dawn
of a new and happier day for himself, and also
for his people on both sides of the Great Wall,
is now breaking,
His faithful and affectionate servant and tutor

Introduction ..... page 15
I. The Reform Movement of 1898 ... 19
II. The Collapse of the Reform Movement . . 25
III. Reaction and the Boxer Movement, 1898-1901 . 39
IV. The Last Years of Kuang-Hsii, 1901-1908 . . 50
V. The Empress-Dowager, T‘zu-Hsi ... 64
VI. The Revolution, 1911 ..... 78
VII. The “ Articles of Favourable Treatment ” of the
Manchu Imperial House .... 95
VIII. The Ta Ch‘ing and the Hung Hsien Emperors . Ill
/IX. Chang Hsiin and the Restoration of 1917 . . 131
X. Autobiography of the Old Man of the Pine-Tree
(Translated from the Chinese) . . . 146
/ XI. The Forbidden City, 1919-1924 . . .160
XII. The Imperial Tutors . . . . .180
XIII. The Manchu Court in Twilight . . . .196
XIV. The Imperial Household Department (Nei Wu Fu) 209
XV. The Dragon Unfledged ..... 226
XVI. Monarchist Hopes and Dreams . . . 249
XVII. The Dragon Restless ..... 266
XVIII. The Dragon Flaps His Wings .... 278
XIX. Dragon and Phoenix ..... 304
/XX. Plots and Stratagems ..... 321
XXI. The Imperia] Garden ..... 341
XXII. The Summer Palace ..... 354

XXIII. The Fifth of November .... page 376
XXIV. The Dragon Caged ...... 397
XXV. The Flight of the Dragon . . . .412
Epilogue: The Dragon goes Home . . . 434
Pedigree of the Manchu Emperors . facing page 454
Notes . . . 455
Indices . . .477

The Emperor on his Throne in the Palace of Cloudless
Heaven, Forbidden City .... Frontispiece
H.I.H. Prince Ch‘un and Sir Henry Blake, Governor of
Hong Kong, 1901 ..... facing page 18
K‘ang Yu-wei ........ 24
A Verandah on the Island, Summer Palace ... 34
The Forbidden City (North-West Corner) ... 64
Temple on the Summit of the Hill of Imperial Longevity,
Summer Palace . . . . . . .76
Summer Palace, Lake, Pavilions and Island ... 96
A Pavilion in the Summer Palace ..... 118
Chang Hsiin ........ 146
Cook’s Skeleton Map of Peking . . . . .160
Map of the Purple Forbidden City . . . .160
The Palace of Cloudless Heaven (Throne-Hall) . .170
The Palace of Tranquil Earth and the Hall of Blended
Forces ......... 172
A Pavilion in the Imperial Garden, with Prospect Hill . 178
Autograph Poem addressed to the Author by the Grand
Guardian and Tutor Ch‘en Pao-shen .... 192
The Gate of Spiritual Valour (North Gate of the For-
bidden City) . . . . . . . .196
Court Gazette ........ 198
The Throne-Hall of the Palace of Cloudless Heaven on the
Emperor’s Birthday ...... 206
P‘u-Chia (cousin of the Emperor and fellow-pupil) on
horseback in the Forbidden City beside a Tutor’s Chair 230
Yu Ch‘ung, son of Prince P‘u-Lun, in Japanese Armour
dated 1351 ................... 232

facing page
Specimen of the Emperor’s English Handwriting . . 246
Bridge in the grounds of the Mausoleum of the family of
Prince Ch‘un, Western Hills, Peking .... 266
Chinese document concerning Palace Treasures . . 300
The Phoenix Wedding-Chair ..... 308
The Dragon-Phoenix Couch . . . . . .312
Imperial Invitation to Theatricals in Forbidden City . 318
Site of the Palace of Established Happiness after the fire . 336
Lodge of Nature-Nourishment (Yang Hsing Chai) in the
Imperial Garden, Forbidden City .... 344
The Emperor and Rabindranath Tagore in the Forbidden
City................................... 348
Card of the Marquis of Extended Grace . . . 350
• The Marquis of Extended Grace ..... 352
Imperial Edict of Appointment as Comptroller of the
Summer Palace ....... 358
Cherry Glen, Western Hills ..... 360
In the Garden of the Author’s Quarters in the Summer
Palace ........ 362
The Marble Boat, Summer Palace ..... 368
Reception Room of the Emperor Kuang-Hsu in the Hall of
Rippling Jade, Summer Palace ..... 372
Walled-up Room in the residence of the Emperor Kuang-
Hsu (Hall of Waters of Rippling Jade, Summer Palace) 374
Some Roofs in the Forbidden City with Prospect Hill in
background (the figure on the roof is the Emperor) . 380
Mandate by Huang Fu 66 Cabinet,” November, 1924 . 402
The Flight of the Dragon .... . 430
Chang Yuan, the Emperor’s House in Tientsin . . 434
Fan presented to the Author by the Emperor with auto-
graph copy of a Chinese Poem of Farewell . . . 448
Articles providing for the Favourable Treatment of the
Ta Ch‘ing Emperor after his Abdication . . . 463

His Majesty the Emperor Hsuan-T‘ung

In the tenth month of the chia-tzu year,1 after leaving the
residence of prince Ch‘un,21 took refuge in the Japanese Lega-
tion. It was Johnston, my tutor, who was chiefly instrumental
in rescuing me from peril. Moreover, he it was who first inter-
viewed the Japanese Minister, Fang Tse,3 on my behalf, after
which Fang Tse received me courteously and allowed me to use
his Legation as a place of refuge from the wild soldiery. In the
second month of the i-ch‘ou year4 I made another move, and
went to reside in Tientsin. That was seven years ago, and John-
ston from first to last, both in Peking and subsequently in
Tientsin, was my companion, throughout a period of thirteen
years. No one has a more intimate knowledge than he of the
disasters and hardships of that critical period. He is therefore
well fitted to take up his pen and make a record of events in
which he himself played a part. To those who look back upon
the sorrows and disorders of that time, this true record of his,
based on personal experience and observation, will indeed be
a thing of value. As a writer and as a man Johnston is one who
is not surpassed by the best of our native scholars. When his
book appears I know it will be highly prized by the world.
Ninth month of the hsin-wei year.5
(Authenticated by two seals of the emperor Hsuan-T‘ung.)
1 The chia-tzu year (which happened to be the first of the present Chinese cycle)
roughly corresponds with 1924.
2 Literally “ the Northern Mansion ” (Pei Fu). It was in the house of his father,
prince Ch‘un, ex-regent of China, that the emperor was a state-prisoner after the
“ Christian General,” Feng Yii-hsiang, had forcibly expelled him, in November
1924, from his palace in the Forbidden City.
3 Fang Tse—the Chinese name of Mr. K. Yoshizawa, then Japanese Minister
in Peking.
4 1-ch‘ou year—1925.
6 Hsin-wei year—1931. The Preface was written by the emperor at Tientsin
and transcribed by his devoted servant the famous poet, statesman and calli-
graphist, Cheng Hsiao-hsu, about a week before they both left for Manchuria, to
become Chief Executive and Prime Minister, respectively, of the new State.

At about eleven o’clock on the morning of July 25th, 1901,
there stepped ashore at Hong-Kong a shy and boyish figure
attired in the rich silk costume of a Chinese noble and wearing
on his hat the red “ button ” of a mandarin of the highest rank.
At the pier, he and his little suite were met by a group of British
officials, of whom the writer of these pages was one, who wel-
comed him to British territory on behalf of the local govern-
ment. Accompanied by an escort of police whose business it was
to keep at a respectful distance the throng of inquisitive but
undemonstrative Chinese who lined the streets, four red-coated
chair-bearers bore him swiftly away from the water-front.
Fifteen minutes later his chair was set down at the front door-
way of Government House, where he was received and greeted
by the Governor of the Crown Colony.
The distinguished visitor was his imperial highness prince
Ch‘un, brother of the reigning emperor of China. His host was
his excellency Sir Henry Blake, representative in Hong-Kong
of his majesty king Edward VII.
The occasion was a memorable one, for this was the first time
that a Chinese prince had set foot in British territory. Yet his
visit was shorn of most of the ceremonial courtesies that would
have been extended to him by the British authorities had he
been willing to accept them. No salute from British men-of-war
or from the shore-batteries greeted him as he entered the harbour
in the German ship Bayern, no guard of honour received him at
his landing. This was in accordance with his own wish ; for he
was travelling on a mission of humiliation, and while it remained
unfulfilled he preferred to receive none of the honours due to
a prince of the blood-royal of China. One year and thirty-five
days before prince Chcun set foot in Hong-Kong, the German
plenipotentiary in China had been murdered by a “ Boxer ” in
the streets of Peking. The shot that killed baron Von Ketteler
on June 20th, 1900, reverberated round the world, for it marked

the beginning of the lamentable episode known to history as the
Siege of the Legations ; and now, in accordance with one of the
conditions of peace imposed by the victorious allies on the abased
Chinese court, a Manchu imperial prince was on his way to Ger-
many to lay the humble regrets and apologies of the “ Son of
Heaven ” before the throne of one who in Chinese eyes had lately
been at best a tributary prince, at worst a contumelious bar-
barian kinglet.
Among some notes which I made at the time, and which were
afterwards embodied in a document now in Downing Street, were
the following words: “ Though prince Ch‘un cannot, according
to the dynastic customs of China, himself become a candidate
for the imperial throne, it is not impossible that if he has any®
children his son may eventually become emperor. This would
certainly make prince Ch‘un himself a very important factor in
the future politics of China.”
This remark correctly foreshadowed what fortune had in store
for prince Ch‘un. After his return from Germany, the empress-
dowager married him to a daughter of her trusted friend and
kinsman Jung-Lu, viceroy and grand-councillor. Early in 1906
their first son was born, and that son, whose personal name was
P‘u-Yi, became the last sovereign of the Ta Ch‘ing (Manchu)
dynasty in China ; while prince Ch‘un himself, as regent for his
own son, became for a few disturbed and anxious years ruler of
the Chinese Empire.1
Not long after prince Ch‘un had come and gone, another
member of the reigning house passed through Hong-Kong on
a mission that involved no degradation for China. In his case,
therefore, there was no abatement of royal honours. This was
prince Tsai-Chen, afterwards (in succession to his father) prince
Ch‘ing, who was on his way to England to represent his sovereign
at king Edward’s coronation.
It was on these two occasions that I first came in contact with
members of the Manchu imperial family, whom long afterwards
I was to know more intimately than any other foreigner. But
I had already made the acquaintance of a man whose fortunes
were also linked with those of the Manchu dynasty and who will
deservedly occupy a far more honourable place in the annals of
his country than either of the princes I have named. I first

arrived in Hong-Kong, an “ Eastern Cadet ” fresh from Mag-
dalen, on Christmas Day, 1898. Epoch-making events had been
taking place in China during that year, and the leading figure
in those events had recently arrived in Hong-Kong as a refugee.
It was in Government House that I first met K‘ang Yu-wei, the
most admired and the most hated member of the Chinese race
at that time : admired, even reverenced, by those who combined
loyalty to the dynasty with a patriotic longing to see their
country honoured among the nations ; hated, and also feared,
by those who believed that China had nothing to learn from
Western “barbarians” and that the Chinese emperor was de jure
King of kings.
When I first met this great reformer and “ Modern Sage ” he
was in mourning for those six martyrs who, less fortunate than
himself, had fallen victims to the rage and hate of the empress-
dowager and her minions and deceivers. One of the six was his
brother K‘ang Kuang-jen. For his own capture, alive or dead,
very large rewards had been offered not only by the central
government at Peking but also by the provincial authorities. At
Hong-Kong, though carefully guarded by the British govern-
ment, he was in constant danger of assassination. It was under
the protection of a police escort that he called upon Lord Charles
Beresford, then a visitor to the Far East, and had the interesting
conversation with him which is recorded in Lord Charles’s
account of his travels and impressions.2 After a short sojourn
in Hong-Kong, K‘ang Yu-wei went to Singapore and ultimately
to Europe and America, always with a price on his head, always
in danger of his life from watchful spies and agents of the imperial
government. As long as the old empress-dowager lived he was
a homeless wanderer, and indeed, even after his return to his
own country, a wanderer he remained to the end of his life.
My main purpose in writing this book has been to give some
account of what I have called the Twilight period of the Manchu
occupation of the Forbidden City—the thirteen years that
elapsed between the establishment of the so-called Republic at
the beginning of 1912 and the expulsion of the emperor Phi-Yi
(or Hsuan-T‘ung, to use his reign-title) from the imperial palace
by the “ Christian General ” and his associates in November,
1924. But to make the story clear to those who are not familiar

with the recent political history of China I have found it neces-
sary to say something about the sunlight that preceded the twi-
light—a sunlight already obscured by thunder-clouds—and also
about the tempestuous night by which the twilight was followed.
There is a twilight of the dawn as well as a twilight of the
evening ; and it may be that the night which swallowed up the
twilight described in these pages will be followed in due time by
another twilight which will brighten into a new day of radiant
sunshine. That is what all those who admire and respect the
Chinese people (and who, knowing them, does not?) ardently
hope or steadfastly believe. Many of us are convinced that we can
already detect the first glimmer of that new dawn, in the very
quarter of the heavens which to others seems blackest. It is only
the evening twilight, however, not the morning twilight, with
which we shall be directly concerned in the following chapters.
My story will therefore be confined to the thirty-four years that
began in 1898 with the noble but hopeless attempt of the un-
happy emperor Te Tsung (Kuang-Hsii) to carry out the compre-
hensive programme of reform laid before him by K‘ang Yu-wei,
and ended with the return of the last of the Manchu emperors
of China to the land of his forefathers at the end of 1931 and
with the emergence of Manchuria, in the following year, as one
of the storm-centres of world-politics.


Chapter I
The Reform Movement of 1898
Throughout the nineteenth century the power and the
prestige of the Manchu reigning house were crumbling. Internal
revolts and disastrous foreign wars not only shook the throne
to its foundations but seemed to be the prelude to that “ break-
up ” of China which provided Lord Charles Beresford with what
he not unnaturally believed to be the most appropriate of all
possible titles for the book published by him in 1899. Four years
before that date, China lay beaten and helpless at the feet of the
little island-empire which—not for the first nor for the last time
—she had despised and defied. Formosa—which indeed had not
become Chinese territory until it was annexed by the Manchu
dynasty in^the course of its triumphant career of conquest—
became paTt of the Japanese Empire ; and but for the interven-
tion of three great European Powers (Germany, Russia and
France) she would have lost that important part of Manchuria
(the Liaotung Peninsula) which contains Port Arthur and
Dairen. She lost it in any case only three years later, when
Russia not only seized for herself the very territory which with
simulated magnanimity she had compelled Japan to restore to
China, but so strengthened her own military position throughout
Manchuria that she became the dominant power in that ancestral
home of the Manchu imperial family. British merchants residing
there in 1898 spoke of “ the practical annexation of the country
going on under their very eyes,” and a leading British missionary
“ declared that both he himself and all his missions looked upon
Manchuria as Russian in all but name.”1 These are facts which
should not be forgotten by those who seek to understand the
background of the Manchurian problem as it exists to-day. The
Chinese took no part whatever in the work of expelling the
Russians from Manchurian territory; and there can be no
reasonable doubt that if Japan had not fought and beaten
Russia on Manchurian soil in the war of 1904-5, not only the

Liaotung Peninsula but all Manchuria would have been in fact,
perhaps also in name, a Russian province to-day.2
But Formosa and Manchuria were not the only portions of
the Empire that had passed into alien hands before the close
of 1898. That was the culminating year of a scramble among
the Western Powers for harbours and leased territories on the
coast of China and for the delimitation of “ spheres of influ-
ence.” The territory of Kiao-chou, with its splendid harbour
of Tsingtao, was seized by Germany ; nearly three hundred
square miles of territory were “ leased ” to Great Britain at
Weihaiwei which for the next thirty-two years was adminis-
tered as a British colony ; another area of similar dimensions
was acquired as an annexe to the colony of Hong-Kong on a
lease of ninety-nine years ; and the territory of Kuangchou-wan
on the southern coast of the Canton province was similarly
“ leased ” to France. Italy put in a claim to a harbour on the
coast of the province of Chehkiang, and when this demand was
successfully resisted by China (this was in pre-Mussolinian days)
the discomfiture of the Italians at their failure to win a prize
in the great game of land-grabbing was matched by the aston-
ishment of the Chinese at their own hardihood in withholding it.
If the Western nations thought that the partition of China
was likely to go merrily forward without more than a few
grimaces from the Chinese government and people, they soon
discovered their mistake. Foreign aggression was beginning to
turn a “ civilisation ” into a nation. The Chinese who had
hardly known what patriotism meant began to realise that they
lived in a world of competing and often antagonistic national
groups, and that their group which was numerically the greatest
of all and occupied (if dependencies be included) a larger geo-
graphical area than any other, exercised less influence and was
treated with less respect than many Western countries possess-
ing scarcely one twentieth of the territory and population of
The Chinese were then, as they are now, too proud and sensi-
tive a race to reconcile themselves to a position of permanent
inferiority among the nations. They could not be expected to
acquiesce in the theory that the Western races or the Japanese
were their racial superiors ; and as any such theory is (in the

opinion of those who know them best) patently false, it was some-
thingbetter than vanity that made them reject it. Therefore when
the educated and thinking classes contemplated the condition of
their country as it actually was, and compared it with what they
very reasonably thought it ought to be, they were obliged to look
for the causes of that condition not in a law of nature against
which it would be futile to struggle but in circumstances that
could be altered or in mistakes that could be rectified. The rise
of a reform party was therefore inevitable. Equally unavoidable
was the division of that party into two main sections. The sec-
tion of the right put its trust in gradual evolution without any
catastrophic constitutional upheaval; the section of the left
insisted that a fundamental reconstruction of the national life
on a new basis was essential to the salvation of the country,
and that such a reconstruction would be impossible so long as
the Manchu dynasty (believed by them to be inert, incompetent
and incorrigibly corrupt) was allowed to cumber the ground.
Kcang Yu-wei, or “ Nan-Hai ” as he was known to his dis-
ciples from the name of his native district, was by far the most
prominent figure in the Chinese reform movement of the last
decade of the nineteenth century. He must be classed among
the moderates on account of his unswerving loyalty to the
throne. Yet in the eyes of the great majority of those who con-
trolled China’s destinies in 1898, his memorials to the emperor,
which led directly to the famous “ Hundred Days ” of helter-
skelter reform, stamped him as the most dangerous extremist
in the Empire. The fear and hate with which he and his writings
filled the orthodox and “ respectable ” members of the Chinese
and Manchu official hierarchy may be compared with the horror
and detestation which heresy and witchcraft aroused in medieval
. Europe, or which Communism, Fascism and Hitlerism arouse
among their respective opponents to-day. If the solecism may
be permitted, K‘ang Yu-wei was in 1898 the “ arch-bolshevik ”
of his time in China ; and although his views underwent no
fundamental change throughout his life, he was destined, only
fifteen years later, to be derided and thrust aside with con-
temptuous indifference as a “ die-hard ” and a reactionary.
KSuch is the fate that has befallen many reformers, religious,
social and political, at other times and in other places.3

obstruction which must be removed from the path of China’s
progress. If thoughts of doing so had ever entered the mind of
K‘ang Yu-wei in his early days, they were driven out as soon as
he came into direct contact with his sovereign, whom he found
to be not only willing to give support and sympathy to the reform
movement but ready and anxious to place himself at its head.
K‘ang Yu-wei has sometimes been described as an imperial
tutor. He never occupied that position, and his interviews with
the emperor were very few. But at one of those audiences the
emperor conferred upon him the high privilege of submitting
memorials direct to the throne instead of through the ordinary
official channels, and the privilege was one which K‘ang accepted
with eagerness and gratitude. His memorials resulted in the
issue of the famous series of reform-edicts which were pro-
mulgated with breathless haste one after another during the
summer of 1898—the period known as “ the Hundred Days.”
The edicts amazed as much as they gratified the small minority
of liberal thinkers in the China of that day, and shocked and
violently antagonised the vast conservative majority.
It is customary to criticise K‘ang Yu-wei’s reform schemes,
and the imperial edicts in which they were embodied, as rashly
conceived, inappropriate to the conditions of Chinese political
and social life at that time, and irreconcilable with the spirit of
Chinese civilisation. Such criticisms are not altogether invalid,
though they might be applied with far greater force and truth
to the later attempt to thrust China, suddenly and without
preparation, into the mould of Western parliamentary democ-
racy. Kcang Yu-wei himself admitted, in his late middle age,
that a few of his schemes were ill-advised—such as the recom-
mendation that Chinese clothing should be abandoned in favour
of Western, which would have meant the ruin of the Chinese silk
industry. But there was nothing fantastic or unreasonable in the
bulk of his proposals, or in the arguments with which he sup-
ported them. Kcang and his imperial colleague failed in their
attempt to establish the New China of their dreams not because
their dreams were intrinsically absurd or impossible of fulfilment
but for reasons which do no discredit to the character or the
intelligence of either. Something will be said of them in the
chapters that follow.


Chapter II
The Collapse of the Reform Movement
For a proper understanding of the events which led to the
abrupt termination of the 44 hundred days ” of reform, it is
necessary to devote some preliminary attention to a subject
which has never been adequately dealt with by any Western
student of modern Chinese political history. I refer to those
ethical and constitutional theories and practices which rendered
possible if not inevitable the triumph of political reaction under
the real or nominal leadership of the empress-dowager.
From the beginning of the reign of Kuang-Hsu in 1875 up to
the year 1888 the exercise of the imperial functions was in the
hands of the empress-dowager, T4zu-Hsi, widow of the emperor
Hsien-Feng (1851-1861) and mother of Hsien-Feng’s childless
successor T4ung-Chih (1862-1874). She was known as the
44 Western empress-dowager ” (Hsi T'ai-Hou) because she
occupied a palace in the western part of the Forbidden City.
Her colleague, Hsien-Feng’s senior consort, who predeceased
her, was similarly known as the 44 Eastern empress-dowager.”
In later years the Western empress-dowager was also popularly
known as 44 the Venerable Buddha ” (Lao Fo-yeh) and as Lao
Tsu.Tsung—44 the Venerable Ancestor.”
The position of T4zu-Hsi between 1875 and 1888 was practic-
ally that of regent, though the title used in China for a regent—
she-cheng-wang—was never bestowed on a woman. The process
by which an empress or an empress-dowager exercised the
functions of regent was known as ch^ui lien t‘ing cheng—4 ‘ lower-
ing the screen and attending to state business ”—the allusion
being to the theory that when transacting affairs of state the
empress-regent concealed her august figure behind a screen. The
phrase has been in use since the time of the emperor Kao Tsung
(650—683) of the T4ang dynasty. An empress-dowager’s sur-
render of the functions of regency to the emperor on his coming
of age was known as kuei cheng— 4 the giving back of the

government ”—or ch6& lien—“ the removal of the screen.” Two
empresses-dowager of the Sung dynasty (tenth to thirteenth
centuries) exercised regency functions similar to those conferred
upon the “ Western empress-dowager.”
In 1888 two important imperial edicts were issued, one
announcing the forthcoming marriage of the emperor (an event
which by Chinese custom implied his “ coming of age ”), the
other stating that in the second month of the following year the
empress-dowager would kuei cheng—resign the functions of
government to the emperor. During the same year it was offici-
ally announced that the buildings of the new Summer Palace
(the Yi-Ho Park) were nearing completion, and in court circles
it was well known that on her retirement from the regency she
looked forward to making that palace her country residence.
The wedding duly took place at the beginning of 1889, when
the emperor was nineteen years of age, and immediately after-
wards he assumed in person the imperial duties and prerogatives
—a ceremony known in Chinese as eWin cheng. His empress
(afterwards known as Lung-Yu) was a daughter of the empress-
dowager’s brother Kuei Hsiang. By bringing about this alliance
the empress-dowager looked forward to the further consolidation
of the influence and prestige of herself and the Yehonala clan
to which she belonged.
In accordance with custom the emperor was simultaneously
provided with various secondary consorts. Two of these young
ladies were sisters, aged fifteen and thirteen respectively. The
elder, named Chin (“ Lustrous ”) survived till 1924, under the
later name or title of Tuan-K‘ang ; the younger, whose name was
Chen (“ Pearl ”) met, as we shall see, with a tragic death at the
age of twenty-five.
The empress-dowager, with every appearance of willingness,
resigned into the emperor’s hands the functions of government
which she had exercised, without either glory or discredit,
during two minorities.1 She was at that time fifty-four years of
age. As an outward indication of her acquiescence in the new
order of things she followed a well-recognised palace custom by
changing her official abode in the Forbidden City. From the
“ Palace of Kindliness and Tranquillity ” (T‘zu-Ning Kung) she
moved to the “ Palace of Tranquil Old Age ” (Ning-Shou Kung).

This change of residence might be described as part of the out-
ward ceremonial connected with the assumption by the emperor
of full imperial responsibilities. Its significance was well under-
stood by the Court, and was in strict accordance with precedent.
When the emperor Chfien-Lung, for example, retired from the
throne and went into retirement after completing the sixtieth
year of his reign in 1795, he transferred his residence from one
part of the Forbidden City to another. The palace chosen by the
empress-dowager T‘zu-Hsi ninety-four years later was indeed
the very palace selected for a similar purpose by the great
Chfien-Lung (more correctly known by his “ temple-name ” of
Kao Tsung), and it is probable that her reason for choosing it
was that it had been the last residence of one of the most famous
monarchs of Chinese history and had received its appropriate
name from him.
Neither the emperor Chfien-Lung nor the empress-dowager
suffered any diminution of dignity or prestige, or even of power,
by reason of their nominal surrender of the imperial functions.
This is a point of practical importance in connection with our
present subject, and is one which is certain to be overlooked by
readers who are unfamiliar with Chinese dynastic custom and
ritual. The words “ abdication ” and “ retirement ” when
applied to the action taken by Ch‘ien-Lung in 1795 and by the
empress-dowager in 1872 and again in 1889 are likely to create a
false impression in Western minds. After celebrating his jubilee
with great pomp in 1795, Chfien-Lung exchanged the position of
emperor (huang-ti) for that of super-emperor (t‘ai shang huang)
in virtue of which he took precedence of his successor on the
throne for the remainder of his life. Ch‘ien-Lung was indeed a
more august and splendid personage in the Court and in the
Empire after his “ abdication ” than before it. Nor was his
exalted position a purely honorary one. Though relieved of the
routine functions of the throne, he had the right and the power
to reserve to himself the final decision in all matters of import-
ance and to over-rule and set aside, if he felt so disposed, the
mandates of his successor. No doubt a “ super-emperor ” who was
weary of the burden and the trappings of monarchy, or had truly
> set his heart on imperishable things, would be glad to leave his
successor in undisturbed enjoyment of his imperial prerogatives;

but he would still be regarded by ministers of state as the
ultimate source of authority and as a final court of appeal. The
elevation of his name above that of the emperor in all state
documents was only one of many reminders, for all who could
read, that there was one living being in the empire to whom even
the emperor must kneel.
Now if the position of the empress-dowager after her “ retire-
ment ” was hardly as exalted as that of the venerable Chfien-
Lung, it was superior, not only in practice but in theory, to that
of the emperor. There was nothing extraordinary about the
honours conferred on or assumed by the “ Venerable Buddha.”2
They were hers in virtue of her place in the genealogical table
of the imperial family ; and even if she had never acted as regent #
during two minorities she would have taken precedence of the
emperor Kuang-Hsii, not merely because she was the mother of
his predecessor but also because she belonged to the senior
generation. Similarly, it was known to all concerned that if she
survived the emperor and thereby became senior to his successor
by two generations, she would qualify for the still higher rank of
T‘ai-huang-t‘ai-hou or “ Grand ” empress-dowager. As a matter
of fact she did, as we shall see, become “ Grand ” empress-
dowager for the few hours of life that remained to her after the
death of Kuang-Hsxi in 1908, and it was as “ Grand empress-
dowager ” that she was buried and took her place in the dynastic
Thus we see that our term “ dowager ” is not an adequate
translation of the Chinese term t‘ai, which indeed has no precise
equivalent in our language. It is unfortunate that this is so,
because in the case of the “ Venerable Buddha ” the use of the
term “ empress-dowager ” has in itself tended to create the
belief that she must have been a woman of extraordinary ability
and strength of character. Otherwise, it is asked, how could she,
a mere “dowager,” have become all-powerful in the State?
Those who ask such a question do not understand that not only
did an empress-dowager as such take precedence of the emperor
and empress but that even the secondary consort of a deceased
emperor—a t‘aifei—also took precedence of the reigning emperor
and empress. So well-recognised was this precedence that wheni
the emperor and empress visited either an empress-dowager or

a Vaifei, or received her in one of their own palaces, they could
not sit in her presence until she had invited them to do so. On
several occasions I accompanied the emperor Hsuan-T‘ung to the
palace of Tuan K£ang, one of the secondary consorts referred to
above, of his predecessor the emperor Kuang-Hsii, and observed
that he never failed to treat her with the respect due to one of
rank more exalted than his own.4 Still more marked would have
been his deference to an empress-dowager. Thus when we read
in certain popular Western accounts of the empress-dowager
and her court that she sat on a throne more elevated than that
of the emperor Kuang-Hsii, we should be wrong to assume that
there was anything anomalous or humiliating to the emperor
in this arrangement. That she took a malicious and vindictive
pleasure, after September 1898, in humiliating and insulting him
is true, but the mere exaltation of her own state-chair above the
emperor’s cannot rightly be regarded as a proof of this.5
I do not wish it to be inferred that all imperial “ dowagers,”
whether they had occupied the position of empress or not, were
expected or allowed to supersede the reigning emperor in the
exercise of his imperial functions. It would be impossible, in
practice, for a Vai fei—a dowager secondary-consort—to do so
in any case, at least until she had been elevated by imperial
decree to the rank of Vai hou or empress-dowager ; and even an
empress-dowager could not supersede the emperor altogether
until (like the “ Venerable Buddha ”) she had “ lowered the
screen.” The point is that her exalted position “ above ” the
emperor entitled her, in an emergency, to over-rule him tem-
porarily or permanently, by measures which in China would be
regarded as constitutional or at least not revolutionary. She
would naturally refrain from doing so if she had reason to believe
that she would find inadequate support in government circles,
for in that case the practical difficulties of the situation would be
insurmountable. There might be something of the nature of a
“ strike ” among the officers of state. But her position made her
the obvious person to lead the opposition against an emperor
whose wings she or others were desirous of clipping.
Perhaps we might say that in China an empress-dowager’s
functions were to some extent analogous to those exercised by
the British House of Lords. Even without going the length of

“ lowering the screen ” she could act as a constitutional check
on “ hasty legislation ” ; and if she had the country—or the
Chinese equivalent of “ the country ”—at her back, there was
hardly any limit to her influence or her authority.
This may help us to understand how it comes about that
even among the most loyal of Chinese monarchists it is com-
paratively rare to find anyone expressing more than lukewarm
sympathy for Kuang-Hsu in his misfortunes. The very fact of
their loyalty to the throne tends to make them oblivious of or
merciful towards the faults and crimes of T‘zu-Hsi, and more
or less indifferent to the fate of Kuang-Hsu, because in their
eyes it was the “ Venerable Buddha ” rather than Kuang-Hsu
who represented the apex of the dynastic system and was there-
fore the proper object of loyalty.6
I have often discussed this question with Chinese who prided
themselves on their devotion to the throne and to the Manchu
dynasty, and who had themselves suffered very severely as a
result of their loyalty. Apart from men like K‘ang Yu-wei and
his disciples, and a small number of political students who
realised the dangers and drawbacks involved in the Chinese
recognition of a power (sometimes dormant but often active)
behind or above the throne, I have found very few who were
willing to take the side of the emperor against the empress-
dowager. Republicans, of course, and all those to whom the
monarchic idea is anathema, are naturally ready enough to
denounce the empress-dowager for her opposition to reform ;
but even they, as a rule, show but little respect for the memory
of their martyred emperor. In their case, this seems to be mainly
due to an unwillingness to admit that any good thing could
come out of Manchuria—or rather out of the Manchu dynasty.
We may expect that after the revolutionary fever has passed
away there will be an increasing tendency on the part of Chinese
historians and political students to elevate Kuang-Hsu to his
proper place in the annals of his country and do justice to his
The theories underlying the exaltation of an empress-dowager
over the reigning sovereign may seem to the Western mind
puzzling and anomalous. But they are easy to understand
when we learn to associate them with the traditional Chinese

code of ethics, in which filial piety holds the place of honour as
the first and most fundamental of virtues. In Chinese eyes,
the elder generation can never wholly abdicate its functions
of authority over the younger ; the younger must never fail in
respect for and obedience to the elder. This is (or was till
recently) the rule in Chinese domestic relationships ; and the
imperial family was expected to set an example in these matters
to the whole empire. The decrees issued by the great Kcang-
Hsi (1662-1722)—certainly one of the strongest and ablest
monarchs who have occupied the throne of China—bear ample
witness, in their phraseology, to the deep respect and deference
shown by him to the empress-dowager of those days and to the
filial devotion with which he accepted and acted upon that
illustrious lady’s “ commands.” It is needless to ask whether
K?ang-Hsi and his successors on the throne of China were
sincere in their professions of devotion to the principles of filial
piety. Perhaps at times they merely paid lip-service to what
they knew to be a fundamental law of Chinese ethics. In any
case, they were fully conscious of the excellent effect that their
pious language would have on the Confucian literati whose
support and loyalty were essential to the stability of the dynasty.
A typical illustration of the power exercised by an empress-
dowager may be found in an imperial edict of the eleventh
month of the second year (1821-22) of Tao-Kuang, which an-
nounces that “ the emperor has received the commands of the
empress-dowager to elevate the fei (an imperial concubine)
named Tfiung Chia to the rank of huang-hou (empress).” From
this we see that even in so purely personal a matter as the
regulation of the rank and precedence of the various imperial
consorts it was not the emperor but his mother the empress-
dowager who laid down the law. There was nothing whatever
peculiar or exceptional about this announcement. It was in
strict accordance with precedent, and so long as the empress-
dowager lived, the promotion of a secondary consort to a higher
rank could have been carried out in no other way. Even the
marriage of an emperor had to be ordained by the empress-
dowager, and it was she who selected the empress (in theory at
least) and fixed the date of the wedding.
Now when we realise how exalted was the position of the

empress-dowager T‘zu-Hsi after her “ retirement,” and how
far-reaching were the powers and prerogatives which were still
at her disposal if she chose to exercise them, we shall find no
great difficulty in understanding how it was that she was able
to emerge from her seclusion, crush the unhappy young emperor,
and put the reform party in China to utter confusion and dis-
may. It is quite unnecessary to assume, as the Western-
trained onlooker is apt to do, that her success proved the strength
and vigour of her own character and intellect and that the
emperor’s failure proved the weakness and imbecility of his. It
is unfair to dismiss K‘ang Yu-wei, as Morse does, “ as a visionary
enthusiast,” and the emperor as “an inexperienced weakling.”
The empress-dowager’s position, both theoretically and prac-
tically, was an immensely stronger one than the emperor’s :
theoretically, because of her super-imperial rank which she
owed not to her abilities but to the fact that she belonged to
the senior generation ; and practically, because her position
made her the personage to whom all the conservative forces of
the empire would naturally turn in their search for a rallying-
point against the forces of reform. The conservatives turned
to her not because she possessed consummate qualities of states-
manship and leadership ; not because they regarded her as the
embodiment of wisdom and prudent statecraft; but because by
inducing her to place herself at the head of militant conservatism
they would be able to annihilate the reform-movement under
cover of what in China would pass for orderly constitutional
Had there been no empress-dowager, the conservatives
might have attempted a palace-revolution. They might
have succeeded in getting rid of Kuang-Hsu and replacing him
by a less “ dangerous ” member of the imperial family. But
palace-revolutions cannot always be confined to palaces ; and
to let loose the dogs of revolution in a wider area than the For-
bidden City was the last thing the conservatives wanted to do.
In existing circumstances there was only one obvious way by
which the exigencies of the case might be met, there was only
one method which would be sufficiently drastic to put an end to
the reform movement and yet remain “ constitutional ” and non-
revolutionary in outward appearance. That method was to

invoke the aid of the one personage in China who could claim
the constitutional and (what was in China more important) the
ethical right to over-rule the emperor.
It was by no means a foregone conclusion that she would do so.
K‘ang Yu-wei and the emperor both hoped, at first, not without
some reason, that she would refuse to return to the world of
politics. She was delighted with her new plaything, the Summer
Palace, she took an almost childish pleasure in her picnics and
her theatricals (she had two theatres of her own in the Summer
Palace), she loved dabbling in art and poetry, and she was, in her
peculiar way, a devout Buddhist. There was much to interest her
in her quiet life in her new country home, and there was no
reason to suppose that she was bored or craved excitement. It
is true that she had no sympathy whatever with reform schemes
of any kind, but it was mainly in matters affecting the status
and privileges of members of the imperial clan, the regulation of
precedence and the distribution of rewards and punishments
among the ladies and officers of the Court, that she still loved to
exercise authority. It was by her command, for example, that
the sisters “ Lustrous ” and “ Pearl ” were censured, in 1895, for
alleged “ extravagance ” and temporarily degraded to the rank
of kueijen or “ honourable person ”—a lowly degree among the
emperor’s secondary consorts. The emperor’s views on the
subject were not known, or if known were ignored. In 1896
prince Tsai Chu disobeyed one of her orders, whereupon he was
deprived of his rank and handed over to the Imperial Clan Court
(Tsung-jen Fu) to receive eighty strokes and to be incarcerated
“ for ever ” in “ an empty room.” Many other instances of her
activities in respect of court and family discipline during the
period of her “ retirement ” might be adduced. The most
ominous sign that she might interfere in weightier matters of
state consisted in her demand (which the emperor was obliged to
obey) that the imperial tutor Weng T‘ung-ho should be dis-
missed from office on account of his reforming sympathies.
Nevertheless the action taken by her in this affair was excep-
tional, and on the whole she seemed willing to allow the routine
business of the State to be transacted by the emperor and his
counsellors without reference to her. Thus the young emperor
felt justified in at least hoping that she would refrain from

interfering with his measures of political and social reform which,
after all, had nothing to do with those palace and family matters
in which she insisted on having the controlling voice.
There is more than one version of how his hopes were shat-
tered and of the events that led to the dramatic episode of
wu-hsu.1 According to a well-attested account, a group of
influential Manchu and Chinese officials in the capital, alarmed
at the effect which the emperor’s policy of drastic retrenchment
and reform would have on themselves and their profitable sine-
cures, sent a deputation headed by the censor Yang Ch‘ung-yi to
interview Jung Lu, then commander-in-chief of the Northern
Army, at his headquarters in Tientsin, and to convince him of the
imperative necessity of inducing the empress-dowager to re-
assume the regency.
Jung Lu’s upbringing and environment—he was a Manchu of
high birth—had been such that his sympathies were naturally
with the conservatives ; but he was an able and enlightened man
and an honest and loyal servant of the State. Unfortunately, for
the reasons already given, and for other reasons of a more per-
sonal nature, his loyalty was directed towards the person of the
empress-dowager rather than towards that of the emperor. Yet
it is very doubtful whether he would have taken any steps against
the reformers on his own initiative, for there is justification for
the belief that in spite of his conservatism he was one of the few
high Manchu officials who realised that if China was to be saved
from the internal and external dangers by which she was
threatened, she must follow the example of Japan and tread
the path of reform. It is questionable whether even the censor
Yang Ch‘ung-yi and his colleagues would have been able, of
themselves, to divert him from a policy of non-interference.
What prompted him to take the action he did was something
which weighed with him more heavily than the censor’s argu-
The emperor Kuang-Hsu was by no means oblivious of the
magnitude of the forces against which he and K‘ang Yu-wei had
to struggle. This was one of the reasons why they decided to
rush the reform-decrees through as quickly as possible, before
the opposition could gather momentum. Kuang-Hsu knew that
he was taking a serious risk and he took it with his eyes open.


He knew that if the reforms were introduced by gradual stages
his opponents would have ample time to consolidate and organise
themselves against him. Rightly or wrongly, both he and K‘ang
Yu-wei felt that a policy of swiftness and boldness, however
perilous it might be, had greater chances of success than a timid
policy of “ wait and see.”8
Nor was Kuang-Hsii ignorant of the nature of the action which
the reactionaries were likely to take if they were given time and
opportunity to think out their plan of campaign. He knew that
in the empress-dowager they would find a ready sympathiser ; he
knew that she hated and despised foreigners and foreign ways,
and that any scheme of political or social reform that implied the
recognition of foreign methods and institutions as superior to
Chinese or worthy of adoption by China would stand in her eyes
self-condemned. He knew that her position in the State, in spite
of her withdrawal from the regency nine years earlier, invested
her with an authority which in the last resort was superior to his
own. He knew that she was ignorant and superstitious and
extremely susceptible to flattery; and he was fully aware of the
risk that the enemies of reform might find in her a willing, active
and all-powerful leader. She had already, as we have seen,
compelled him to dismiss from office the imperial tutor Weng
T‘ung-ho, and though she had not yet vetoed the reform-edicts
already issued she might at any moment order their cancellation.
His clear understanding of all these facts and possibilities con-
vinced the emperor that there was only one means by which the
danger that threatened him from the Summer Palace might be
averted. Something had to be done to make it impossible for the
reactionaries to put the empress-dowager at the head of the
opposition. In other words, it was necessary for the emperor to
summon to his aid someone whose power and influence in official
circles were such as to make him feared and respected, who had
command of an efficient body of troops, who was a strong and
resourceful man of action, who held enlightened views on the
subject of reform, and who was incapable of betraying a great
trust. The person on whom Kuang-Hsii’s choice fell possessed all
the desired qualifications except the last.
No blame attaches to the lonely young emperor for his failure
to discern a fatal flaw in the character of Yuan Shih-k^i. How

indeed could he or anyone else have foreseen that the man in
whom he was placing his trust would reveal himself as one of the
arch-traitors of Chinese history? How could anyone have guessed
that after betraying his imperial master in 1898 he would betray
the throne in 1911 and the Republic five years later ?
The emperor entrusted Yuan Shih-k‘ai with the delicate duty
of preventing the empress-dowager from re-entering public life
on the side of the opponents of reform. The secret audience at
which Yuan received his instructions and apparently promised to
obey them is said to have taken place early in September, 1898.
There are varying accounts of the instructions given him, and it
is doubtful whether the true story is now known to any living
soul. Some people connected with the palace say that the em-
peror’s orders were conveyed to Yuan by a third person who for
his own purposes gave them in a distorted form. In any case
there is little probability in the story that the emperor ordered
Yuan Shih-k‘ai to have Jung Lu put out of the way, by assas-
sination if necessary, and to place the empress-dowager under
close arrest.9 It would not have been to the emperor’s advantage,
or to the advantage of the cause of reform which he had at heart,
to have had either of these acts carried out. Drastic action
against the empress-dowager would have caused a public
scandal which he could never have lived down; and political
assassinations were much less common in the China of that day
than they have since become. Nor is there the smallest reason
to believe that Kuang-Hsu was by nature either bloodthirsty or
vindictive. It would have been amply sufficient for all the prac-
tical purposes he had in view if Yuan Shih-keai had so disposed
his forces as to make it impossible for the reactionaries to get into
direct communication with T‘zu-Hsi, and impossible for Tfizu-
Hsi to return to her quarters in the Forbidden City. This, it
seems probable, is all that the emperor desired him to do.
Yuan Shih-k‘ai had no sooner received his orders from the
emperor than he betrayed the whole secret to Jung Lu. Whether
Jung Lu had already learned enough from the censor Yang
Ch‘ung-yi to determine him to place the affair in the hands of the
empress-dowager is doubtful. However, the merest suspicion of
a plot directed against both her majesty and himself was more
than sufficient to make him take decisive action without a

moment’s delay. Messengers were immediately despatched to the
Summer Palace to warn the “ Venerable Buddha ” that her
liberty if not her life was in danger, and that if she now failed to
act promptly and with vigour, fresh opportunities for doing so
might never arise.
There seems to be no doubt that the old lady was shaken out of
any tendency to lethargy by wildly-exaggerated reports of
what the emperor and his gang of reformers intended to do with
her when they had her in their power. She was to be humiliated,
degraded, imprisoned, starved to death. Perhaps the fabricators
of these lies were actuated not so much by a desire to blacken the
character of the emperor and to magnify his crimes as by the
belief that only a sense of imminent peril could stimulate her
into effective action. However this may be, the methods adopted
were thoroughly satisfactory from the point of view of the con-
servatives. The empress-dowager’s coup d'etat took place next
day. Having issued one bright September morning from the
“ stately pleasure-dome ” that she had created (out of naval
funds) for the solace of her old age, she made a sudden and
dramatic appearance in the Forbidden City and stood in all the
thunderous splendour of outraged majesty before her helpless
and shuddering victim. After upbraiding him in unmeasured
language for what she described as his treachery and ingratitude,
and charging him with having entertained murderous designs
against her own person, she had him removed under guard to an
island in one of the lakes adjoining the Forbidden City, resumed
the position she had vacated in 1889, and promulgated one of
the most humiliating edicts ever issued in the name of the
monarch of a great State. In this edict the emperor was forced
to confess to his subjects that he had realised his own incompe-
tence and unfitness to be their ruler. He was made to say that in
response to his earnest and repeated supplications her imperial
majesty the dowager-empress had graciously condescended to
reassume the onerous duties of the regency which in former
years she had discharged with such conspicuous ability and
success ; and the edict concluded by saying that he, the em-
peror, was about to prostrate himself before her imperial
majesty’s throne in order that he might have the honour
of returning thanks on behalf of his people for her gracious

benevolence in undertaking once more the oppressive burden of
Another and more laconic announcement of very sinister
import was simultaneously issued to the public. It consisted of
these nine Chinese words : Ti yu chi, huang t‘ai houfu, hsun cheng
—“ the emperor being ill, the empress-dowager has resumed the

Chapter III
Reaction and the Boxer Movement, 1898-1901
“ The emperor being ill, the empress-dowager has resumed the
The Peking public had a vague knowledge of the grave events
that had taken place in “ the Great Within,”1 and they were
quick to realise what this brief announcement really meant—
that their emperor stood in imminent peril of his life, but not
from disease.
There is a curious story, in which some credulous Chinese have
expressed belief, that while the “ Venerable Buddha ” was on her
way from the Summer Palace to the Forbidden City—a distance
of about seven miles—the emperor Kuang-Hsu, warned of her
intentions, made a desperate effort to save himself from her
vengeance by fleeing in disguise to the British Legation. There
is nothing intrinsically impossible or absurd about this, but the
continuation is such as to make the whole story incredible. It is
to the effect that the British Minister refused to grant him the
hospitality of his Legation and compelled him to return to the
Forbidden City—to confront his judge and jaileress. Even if the
wildly improbable had happened, and the British Legation had
brutally closed its gates in the face of the imperial fugitive, the
British was not the only foreign Legation in Peking and there
were other Ministers to whom the emperor would not have
appealed in vain.2
It may be that the unfortunate young monarch contemplated
making his escape but was prevented by the palace-eunuchs
from doing so. I have been informed by some of the eunuchs of
a later day that such was the case, and it may well be true ; for
the whole of the enormous palace staff—numbering about three
thousand—not only stood in awe of the powerful empress but
also had personal and selfish reasons for hating the emperor’s
reform schemes. Almost to a man—or to a semi-man—they were
on the side of the most bigoted of the conservatives. They well

knew that the triumph of the cause of reform would lead, sooner
or later, to a catastrophic upheaval if not in the State at least
in the Forbidden City ; and it was to the empress-dowager that
they looked for the maintenance of the. corrupt system by which
they lived and throve.
But though unable to ensure his own safety the emperor had
not been unmindful of the welfare of his friends. He could not
save the lives of all the reformers, but he succeeded in sending an
urgent message of warning to K‘ang Yu-wei. One of the first
acts of the empress-dowager on her reassumption of the regency
was to cause warrants to be issued for the arrest of all the leading
men of the reform party ; but by the time this had been done
E?ang Yu-wei and his disciple Liang Ch‘i-chcao (afterwards one
of the most famous men of letters of his day) were already out
of her reach.
K£ang Yu-wei, as we know, took refuge at first in Hong-Kong,
and it was there that he received the pitiful news of the fate that
had befallen several of his most intimate friends and supporters,
including his own brother.3
The victory of the conservatives and reactionaries was com-
plete. Very few of the more prominent leaders of the reform
movement shared the good fortune of K‘ang Yu-wei and Liang
Ch‘i-chfao. Among those sentenced to lifelong imprisonment
was the censor Hsu Chih-ching, whose sole crime was that he
had recommended K‘ang Yu-wei for government employment.
Ch‘en Pao-chen, governor of Hunan, was lucky to get off with
mere dismissal from office. The censor Sung Po-lu was dismissed
also, and it was placed on record that he was never to be re-
employed. Weng T‘ung-ho, the imperial tutor, who had already
been dismissed, would certainly have received capital punish-
ment had it not been that his friends in high places were so
numerous and his fame as a scholar so great that his execution
might have led to serious discontent among many of those whom
the conservatives could not afford to antagonise. But he was
deprived of his honours, and special instructions were issued to
the local authorities to spy upon his movements. He died not
long afterwards, poor and disgraced. Eleven years later, when
the empress-dowager and her imperial captive were both dead,
the time came for his merits to be remembered and recognised.

In 1909, at the beginning of the reign of Hsuan-T‘ung, his titles
and honours were posthumously restored and he was “ canon-
ised ” under the name of Wen-Kung, which may be rendered
with fair accuracy as “ Scholar and Gentleman.”
Among those who were barbarously executed were six whose
names deserve a place in China’s long roll of political martyrs.
They were Yang Shen-hsiu, Yang Jui, Lin Hsii, T‘an Ssu-t£ung,
Liu Kuang-ti, and K‘ang Yu-wei’s brother K‘ang Kuang-jen.
Before their execution the Board of Punishments ventured to
submit the request that they should be arraigned before a
special tribunal; but the un-Buddhistic comment of the “ Ven-
erable Buddha ” was brief and to the point: “ A trial is un-
necessary. Let them be executed at once.”
Unfortunately for these and other martyrs, the death-
sentences pronounced by China’s empress-dowager were not so
harmless as those of a royal lady of kindred temper—the Queen
of Wonderland. When the “ Venerable Buddha ” said “ Off
with his head ” there was no Alice to retort “ stuff and non-
As for the emperor himself, he would have been saved ten
years of misery and degradation had he shared the fate of the
six martyrs. It was not from any pity or tenderness that his life
was spared. Rumours that he was likely to die were rife in Peking.
In China it was customary to break the news of the impending
death of an emperor by the issue of public summonses to the
leading members of the medical fraternity throughout the land
to hasten at once with their bottles and remedies to the imperial
bedside. When therefore the high provincial authorities were
commanded to hunt out the most distinguished physicians and
send them forthwith to the Forbidden City, it was universally
assumed that the emperor was on the point of 64 ascending to be
a guest on high.”4 This assumption was confirmed by the reports
which were simultaneously noised abroad to the effect that the
childless emperor’s successor had already been selected from
among the eligible members of the imperial clan.
No one seriously believed the stories of the emperor’s illness,
and although none of the high officers of state were bold enough
to demand that the emperor be released from custody and
restored to his throne, some of the “ liberal ” statesmen among

them protested in vigorous language against the arrangements
that were obviously being made to have him put out of the way.
One of the Yangtse viceroys, Liu K‘un-yi, sent a strongly-worded
remonstrance to his brother-viceroy Jung Lu, and a multitude
of other protests, some of them in threatening language, poured
in from various parts of the country, from Chinese merchants
who were living under foreign protection in the treaty-ports,
and from overseas Chinese colonists. The man mainly responsible
for the protests from the merchants of Shanghai was one Yuan
Shan, for whose arrest a warrant was promptly issued. In
Shanghai he felt himself in danger of being kidnapped ; but he
escaped the capital punishment which would have been the
reward of his temerity by taking refuge under the Portuguese
flag in Macao.
Meanwhile, as may be readily understood, K‘ang Yu-wei was
not idle. He it was who was mainly responsible for organising
the opposition of overseas Chinese to the threatened removal of
Kuang-Hsii. He founded a society called the Pao-Huang-Tang—
“ Association for the Protection of the Emperor ”—and estab-
lished branches of it in every country outside China inhabited
by Chinese merchants and colonists. These Chinese had nothing
to fear from the vengeance of the Peking authorities, and used
language which gravely upset the equanimity of the Court. But
T‘zu-Hsi and her party bowed to the storm, and though the
project of nominating a successor to the throne was not given up,
the idea of dethroning or taking the life of the emperor was for
the time reluctantly abandoned.
Its abandonment brought no joy or relief to Kuang-Hsii,
whose position from that time onwards was always one of nerve-
destroying peril, misery and humiliation. He was fated to become
a pitiable fragment of shattered humanity and to endure a living
death for ten long years. He had done all in his power to save
China and to promote the welfare of his people, but he had been
overwhelmed. Yuan Shih-kcai, who had betrayed him, never
raised a hand to help him or to soften the rigours of his imprison-
ment. Nor has the Nationalist China of our own day had the
manliness, the generosity or the chivalry to do homage to his
When the empress-dowager resumed the regency in September,

1898, she was a physically vigorous and intellectually alert
woman of sixty-four. Her imperial captive was twenty-eight.
During the ensuing years she divided her time between the
Forbidden City and her beloved Summer Palace ; and she always
took the precaution of compelling her prisoner to travel to and
fro as a humble member of her suite. For her, it was a triumphal
progress from one sumptuous palace to another ; for him, a
dismal journey from prison to prison. In the Summer Palace his
prison was a building called the Yu-lan T‘ang—“ the Hall of
the Waters of Rippling Jade.” Those jade-like waters rippled,
indeed, against the walls of his prison, but not for his ears to
hear nor for his eyes to see.5 In Peking, his prison was a miniature
island known as Ying-T'ai, in the southernmost of the Three
Lakes {San Hai) just beyond the west wall of the Forbidden
City. “ Ying-T‘ai ” has the same signification as Ying-chou,
which in Chinese mythology is one of the names given to the
Isles of the Blest or Fairyland. After the establishment of the
republic the “ Three Lakes ” were included in that part of the
palace grounds which were given up to the president, and it was
as the guest of the president of the republic that I sometimes
visited poor Kuang-Hsu’s island-prison—the little “ fairyland ”
in which he died. I may have disturbed the minds of some of my
republican friends by my suggestion that it should be main-
tained for all time by the people of China as a shrine dedicated
to the memory of the one sad and lonely spirit by which it will
always be haunted.
Only a few months passed before T‘zu-Hsi felt sure enough
of her position to carry out her cherished design of nominating
a successor to the throne. The person she selected was a son of
prince Tuan, a boy named P‘u-Tsun. Tuan was one of the
dowager’s favourites because he shared to the full her hatred
and distrust of all foreigners and all reformers, and because his
conservatism was of the same bigoted, ignorant and obscurantist
type as her own. Having caused P‘u-Tsun to be designated heir-
apparent {huang-t‘ai-tzu) she was determined that he should not
have access to a more liberal school of thought than that in
which she herself had been brought up ; so two fanatical re-
actionaries—Ch‘ung Ch‘i and Hsu T‘ung—were put in charge
of his education.6

The public announcement of the nomination of an heir to the
throne immediately resuscitated the rumours about the em-
peror’s serious “ illness ” ; but the dowager, not wishing to stir
up another hornets’ nest, decided to allow a decent interval to
lapse before his majesty’s illness should once more become acute.
Meanwhile, however, startling events were occurring in the
great world outside the Forbidden City which diverted the
attention of the empress and the reactionary Manchu princes
from purely dynastic questions and compelled them to face an
entirely new problem.
I do not propose to deal at length with the Boxer Movement
or with the siege of the Legations. What I have to say may be
regarded merely as a footnote to the detailed accounts
of those events which are in the hands of all students of modern
Chinese history.
The remark has frequently been made that the Boxer out-
break began as an anti-dynastic movement and was “ astutely
turned into an anti-foreign attack.” This statement though
repeated with great persistence is not wholly accurate. The
movement was a strongly anti-foreign and anti-Christian one
from the first, and as Sir Robert Hart frankly and candidly
recognised and emphasised, the Boxers were inspired by a very
real though blind and ignorant patriotism.7 That the movement
first broke out in Shantung was no accident. The events which
culminated in the seizure by Germany of the port and territory
of Kiao-chou had made the people of that province vividly
conscious of the wrongs and losses which China had suffered in
the recent past at the hands of foreigners. That corruption,
misgovernment and military incapacity had contributed to their
country’s shame, and that the Manchu dynasty was partially,
at least, responsible for the condition to which China had been
reduced, was only dimly recognised by the uneducated masses.
What they saw clearly, or thought they saw, was that the evils
from which their country suffered were due to the machinations
of the “ foreign devils,” who if China was to be saved must be
exterminated or expelled along with all their cunning inventions
and contrivances, their strange and intolerant religion, their
insufferable airs of superiority.
Had the Boxers appeared a generation later, they would have

learned much from the principles and practices of Hitlerite
Germany. They would have sought justification for their anti-
foreign activities on grounds almost identical with those on
which German anti-Semitism is based to-day. As for the swas-
tika, they would have had at least as good a right as the Germans
to make it their badge, for their religion was Buddhistic, and the
swastika was and is a familiar object in all Buddhist temples.
The Boxers made a mess of things because of their ignorance
and superstition. But to-day their less ignorant and more
experienced successors are watching with eager interest the
progress of Fascist and Hitlerite Nationalism in modern Europe,
i Principles which are held (rightly or wrongly) to justify the
cleansing of a European State from alien contamination can
hardly be held inapplicable to conditions in an Eastern country.
If Germany may expel “ non-Nordic ” elements from her body-
politic, we cannot complain if the Chinese claim a similar right
to rid themselves of those aliens (European or Asiatic) who
threaten or seem to threaten their national integrity. Nor can
we justly blame them if they deliberately set themselves to
acquire the power that will enable them to enforce that right.
Already there are Chinese writers and speakers who in their
demand not only for the return of lost territories but also for the
cancellation of foreign concessions and the abolition of foreign
consular jurisdiction are using arguments directly and admit-
tedly drawn from the utterances of the spokesmen of Hitlerite
Germany. Just as Soviet Russia provided them in recent years
with useful slogans to encourage them in their struggles against
Western imperialism and capitalism, so will Hitlerite Germany
equip them with a new theory of Nationalism and a new tech-
For obvious reasons the Manchu court was ready to encourage
the anti-foreign instincts and impulses of the Chinese people
whenever it seemed possible that popular rage and discontent
might ally themselves with the underground forces that always
threatened the stability of the political fabric established in the
seventeenth century by the Manchu conquerors. But it is incon-
ceivable that the government would have allied itself with the
Boxers if the emperor Kuang-Hsu had been allowed to carry
out his schemes of reform. There is no doubt that the movement

could have been crushed with ease, as many lawless move-
ments in different parts of China had previously been crushed, if
the ignorance, fanaticism and superstition of the Boxers had
not been matched by the much less excusable ignorance, fanati-
cism and superstition of the court. The military forces at the
disposal of Jung-Lu and Yuan Shih-k‘ai would have been far
more than adequate to crush a few thousand peasants armed
mainly with bows and spears. It was only when the government
troops under Tung Fu-hsiang and other sympathisers with
reaction were allowed by the Court to join forces with the
Boxers that the latter became more than a rabble.
It is clear that the party in power in Peking “ secretly sympa-
thised ” as an American writer has said “ with these so-called
patriots, and looked upon them as a powerful ally in furthering
the secret plot for driving out foreigners from the Empire.”8
It happened, most unfortunately for China and the dynasty,
that the governor of Shantung at the time when the Boxers
began to break out in 1899, was Yu Hsien, a Manchu whose
temperament, upbringing and character made him a hearty
supporter of the policy of blind reaction which had triumphed
so completely over the reforming policy of the emperor. The
advice he tendered to the throne as to how the Boxer trouble
should be dealt with was one of the principal ‘factors which
determined the pro-Boxer policy of the Court. Another American
writer, who was in Peking at the time, goes so far as to say “ it
is to him the whole Boxer rising is due.”9 Yii Hsien was, indeed,
regarded by the Boxers as their patron and defender, almost as
their tutelary divinity; and it must be admitted that he did his
utmost to show himself worthy of their reverence.10
At first, the Boxers were regarded (probably rightly) as des-
cendants of the dangerous White Lily Sect {Pai Lien Chiao)
which had been responsible for rebellious movements in the past,
and edicts were issued ordering their suppression. Yu Hsien,
however, speedily came to their rescue. His own anti-foreign
proclivities had been greatly intensified by the successful
demand made by the foreign Legations for his dismissal from
the Shantung governorship on the ground that he had failed
to prevent the murder of two German missionaries in 1897—•
the murder which quickly resulted in the German occupation

of Kiao-chou. Though dismissed from Shantung, under foreign
pressure, he had not lost favour at Court. He was transferred to
the governorship of the province of Shansi, where not long after-
wards, at the height of the Boxer madness in 1900, he distin-
guished himself by a particularly brutal and cold-blooded
massacre of missionaries in his own provincial capital.11 The
fact that the Boxers were anti-foreign was sufficient to make
him sympathise with their cause, and he explained in memorials
to the throne that the Boxers were righteous people who could
be usefully employed in the great work of rescuing the nation
from foreign aggression. He further explained that they possessed
miraculous powers which could be turned to excellent account
in foreign warfare. To destroy the Boxers, he said, would be a
disastrous procedure, “ like cutting off one’s own wings.”
It is unnecessary to continue the pitiful story of how the
influence of the Boxers was allowed to spread to Peking and
how the tales of their prowess and the potency of their magic
charms were accepted as true, first by such men as the brutal
and ignorant Kang Yi and prince Tuan—father of the heir to
the throne—and finally by the empress-dowager herself. Men
like Yuan Shih-k‘ai—who succeeded Yu Hsien in Shantung—
took the measure of the Boxers at once and demonstrated in
a practical way the falsity of their claim to be invulnerable ;
but the “ will to believe ” was overpoweringly strong in court
circles, and the urgent warnings and entreaties of enlightened
viceroys and other high officers of state, including the influential
Jung-Lu, fell on deaf or incredulous ears.
The murder of the German minister on June 20th, 1900, and
of a Japanese diplomatic secretary, may be said to have marked
the beginning of the siege of the Legations. The end of that
pitiful episode came with the entry of the allied troops into
Peking on August 14th.
It is not surprising that the empress-dowager, with her guilty
conscience, was afraid to remain in Peking and face the vic-
torious “ foreign devils.” What she could and would have done
had she been actuated by a lofty patriotism and a noble readi-
ness to sacrifice her private interests for the sake of the people
she had so grossly misgoverned, was to resign her regency,
reinstate the emperor on the throne from which she had hurled

him, and trust to his mercy and “ filial piety ” to escape the
just punishment for her crimes and blunders. The emperor had
nothing whatever to fear from the foreign armies, and she knew
it. That indeed was precisely why, in her rage and jealousy, she
compelled him to accompany her into exile. Not even to save
China from foreign occupation and spoliation would she allow
that presumptuous and rebellious nephew of hers to gloat over
her misfortunes. If ruin must come to her, she would see to it
that he, the emperor, shared that ruin.
Kuang-Hsii himself pleaded in vain that he might be allowed
to remain in Peking. Chen Fei—known to foreigners as the
“ Pearl Concubine ”—knelt before the frenzied empress and
implored her not to compel the emperor to join her in her flight.
Chen Fei was the emperor’s favourite consort, she knew that he
was willing and anxious to remain behind and face the allied
commanders, and she, if anyone, had the right, at this supreme
crisis in the fortunes of their House, to present this humble
petition to the all-powerful arbitress of their destinies. The
common country cart in which the imperial fugitives were to
flee in disguise was awaiting them at the northern gate of the
Forbidden City. At any time the foreign devils might be upon
them. There was not a moment to be lost. According to one
version of what followed, the empress-dowager vouchsafed no
reply to Chen Fei, who was kneeling and pleading before her,
but turned in a tempest of rage and hate to the attendant
eunuchs and ordered them to throw the weeping girl into a
There is another version which I have heard repeated by
palace-eunuchs who were careful to explain that they spoke
from hearsay only, because they took no part in the tragedy and
were not present. (I never came across one who would admit
that he was either participator or witness.) According to this
story, the empress-dowager answered Chen Fei’s pleadings with
some such words as these. “ We will all stay where we are, but
we cannot allow ourselves to be taken alive by Western bar-
barians. There is only one way out for you and me—we must
both die. It is easy. You go first—I promise to follow you.”
Then at a sign from their mistress the eunuchs seized the girl and
hurled her into the well, where she was left to drown—alone.

The well (never used, I believe, after 1900) was in the eastern
section of the Forbidden City, behind that “ Palace of Tranquil
Old Age ” which had been the empress-dowager’s official resi-
dence since 1889. I have often passed the well in the company
of the emperor Hsuan-T‘ung. We have sat by its side and
talked of the tragedy that had taken place there less than six
years before he was born. It is another of the spots that will
perhaps be haunted for ever by one lonely Manchu spirit. If the
emperor Kuang-Hsu is to have his shrine on the islet of Ying-
T‘ai or in the Hall of the Waters of Rippling Jade, the people
of China should not forget to raise another at the side of this
well in the Forbidden City to the memory of his murdered
Many months afterwards, when the empress-dowager had
returned from exile and had ordered the cancellation (“in the
interests of historic truth ”) of her ferocious anti-foreign and
pro-Boxer edicts, she deigned to confer posthumous honours on
the dead princess by raising her from the relatively humble grade
of fei to that of huang kueifei—“ imperial honourable consort ”
—and giving her the title of K‘o Shun—“ Respectful and
Obedient.” Simultaneously it was given out that Chen Fei had
committed suicide out of chagrin and dismay at having found
herself accidentally left behind when the “ tour of inspection to
the west ” was begun.12 It is hardly necessary to say that these
steps were taken not primarily to do honour to the memory of
the dead girl or to placate her spirit, but in order that the
empress-dowager might be officially exonerated from the charge
of murder.
Did she ever again find tranquillity in her Palace of Tranquil
Old Age ?

Chapter IV
The Last Years of Kuang-Hsu, 1901-1908
It is very doubtful whether the empress-dowager, during the
eight years of life that remained to her after the collapse of the
Boxer movement, ever realised the depth of humiliation to
which her policy—or the policy accepted and carried out by
her—had reduced the empire. Still more doubtful is it whether
she had any suspicion that she had brought the dynasty to the
edge of an abyss. Always surrounded by flatterers and deceivers,
always attended by persons whose interest it was to remove
any misgivings she might have as to her own wisdom, she was
unable to see things as they really were or to profit, except to a
very limited extent, from experience. Had she been endowed
with outstanding qualities of character and brain she might
have risen superior to the corrupt influences that surrounded
her ; but she possessed no such qualities. Her ignorance of the
world outside China was abysmal. She learned little of any value
to herself or to China from previous contacts with the militant
West. More than once in her lifetime had she heard the tramp
of the legions of the wild men from overseas, and more than once
she had bowed low before the blast. What did it matter ? They
were only barbarians, and barbarians are here to-day and gone
The “ Venerable Buddha ” had plenty of time for reflection
during her long journey in 1900, and her thoughts must often
have carried her back to those far-off days in 1860, when the
foreign devils forced the emperor Hsien-Feng and herself to
flee to Jehol, just as now they were obliging her to abandon
Peking once more and flee to Hsi-an. Perhaps they would
burn the Forbidden City as they had burned the Old Summer
Palace forty years before. Perhaps they would even have the
effrontery to repeat their performance of 1860 and burn that
beautiful new home of hers in the Yi-Ho Park, in which she had
hoped to spend a happy and tranquil old age. Be it so. When

they had glutted themselves with booty and burned and an-
nihilated all the beautiful things they could not carry away,
they would return to their own rocky islands, beyond the limits
of the civilised world, and China would be left in peace, to return
to the good old ways. As for herself, she might have to suffer
something like hardship for a few months, but it would soon be
over. She knew those foreign devils. The day would come when
they would be begging her to return to her capital and put
things in order. Her palaces might have to be rebuilt, and new
treasures collected to take the place of those that had been
destroyed or carried off, but that would be an easy matter with
four hundred million loyal and obedient subjects ready to bear
the whole burden. Then, when the last of the barbarian legions
had thundered past, she would plunge again, not into thought—
too much thought was to be deprecated—but into the old
delights of play-acting and flower-painting and calligraphy and
poetry, and picnics in the company of her adoring ladies-in-
waiting and her faithful eunuchs on the jade-like waters of the
Kfiun-ming Lake. She would have earned some relaxation after
the trouble and anxiety she had endured for the sake of her
loyal but sometimes tiresome subjects. Did not the great sage
Mencius declare that monarchs were justified in enjoying their
parks and lakes and palaces and music and other beautiful
things, and could do so without any prickings of conscience?1
No doubt there would be much fatiguing work to be done as
well, and some rather disagreeable duties to attend to. Some of
those princes and ministers who had given her foolish advice
and misled her about the Boxers and their magic charms would
have to be chastised. They deserved it, indeed, for having got
her into such a mess. It might even be necessary to cut off a few
heads, if those ill-mannered foreign devils were tactless enough
to insist upon it. Some regrettable concessions would have to be
made to those queer people who had become infatuated with
what they called Western civilisation, and had ridiculous fancies
about a constitution and popular assemblies and a new system
of education, but no doubt it would be possible to introduce the
essential safeguards. Those pestilential missionaries of the
“Ye-su” (Jesus) and “Heavenly Lord” heresies, who had been
at the root of all the trouble, would probably show themselves

more exacting and arrogant than ever, and as they had
the support of their barbarian princes they would have to be
placated. As for that troublesome and half-witted young man
who had shown her such base ingratitude for his elevation to the
throne, let him continue to reflect in solitude on his misdeeds,
and be thankful to her for having spared his life when he so
richly deserved to die.
Such may have been some of the thoughts that passed through
the mind of the “ Venerable Buddha ” as she was borne in her
sedan-chair day after day and week after week on her “ tour of
inspection ” to those parts of the empire to which the foreign
devils were least likely to follow her. She knew that some things
would have to be mended and ended, that nothing would be
again precisely as it had been before the rude awakening of
1900, but she never seems to have realised, to the day of her
death, what a narrow escape from destruction the dynasty had
had in that year, and what a strenuous uphill task lay before
her and her successors if its prestige and power were to be
restored. In spite of all the information which she undoubtedly
possessed regarding the activities of revolutionary societies at
home and abroad, and the anti-dynastic propaganda traceable
to men like Sun Yat-sen, she was never told, and she had not
the keen vision to see for herself, how dangerously near to the
throne was creeping the spectre of revolution.
This is no place to describe the long and tedious negotiations
between the allies and the Chinese government which resulted
in the empress-dowager’s return to Peking in 1901 and in her
resumption of power. The settlement arrived at was far from
satisfactory, whether it be viewed from the side of China or
from that of the allies. A few of the ringleaders of the Boxer
movement and perpetrators of anti-foreign outrages, such as
governor Yu Hsien, were executed, and some, like Kang Yi,
would have suffered the same fate had they not died of disease
or by their own hands. Hsu Tung, Ch‘ung Ch‘i and others were
banished to Turkestan, several members of the imperial clan
(prince Chuang, prince Yi and duke Tsai-Lan among them)
were exiled or subjected to varying degrees of punishment.
Prince Tuan was degraded and banished, and the nomination
of his son as heir to the throne was cancelled. China was required

to agree to the payment of large indemnities in consideration of
the losses suffered by foreigners during the troubles, and for the
expenses incurred by the various expeditionary forces which
had taken part in the military operations. The story of the
“ Boxer indemnities ” is a long one, of which the last chapter
has not yet been told.2 Prince Ch‘un, as we have seen, was sent
on a mission of expiation to Germany. Humiliating as this
mission was, much happier was the lot of prince Ch‘un than
that of his imperial brother whom he represented. The emperor
would have rejoiced if he could have conducted it in person and
thereby have escaped from the thraldom in which he continued
to drag out his wretched existence for another seven years.
The unsatisfactory features of the settlement were mainly
due to the lack of frankness and cordiality between the repre-
sentatives of the various foreign powers, some of whom regarded
one another with constant suspicion and jealousy. It was also
due to their ignorance of the background of recent Chinese
politics and palace-intrigues, and to the fact that Russia, while
participating without enthusiasm in the activities of the allies
in north China, was playing a separate game in Manchuria and
sought to negotiate with the Chinese government on lines of
her own.3 As we know from what British residents in Manchuria
had said two years earlier, that part of the Chinese or rather
the Manchu empire had already become Russian in all but
name.4 What the Russians did in 1900, therefore, was merely
to extend and consolidate their previous gains. But this they
did with such ability and success that a Chinese historian has
summed up the result in five Chinese characters—Tung-San-
Sheng ch'uan shih : 66 The Three Eastern (i.e. Manchurian) Pro-
vinces were totally lost.”5
The handling by the Powers of the various questions arising
out of the Boxer tragedy was naturally watched with intense
interest and anxiety by K‘ang Yu-wei. He heartily approved of
the punishments meted out to such ruffians as Yu Hsien, prince
Tuan, and other Boxer ringleaders, though the failure of the
allies to insist upon the retirement of the empress-dowager and
the reinstatement of the emperor caused him much distress.
He knew, of course, that so long as the empress held the reins
of power there was no possibility of his own return to court

favour and no hope that he might again become the trusted
counsellor of an enlightened and progressive sovereign. His chief
concern, however, was not for himself and his official prospects
but for the welfare of his imperial master, for whose pitiable
sufferings he naturally felt largely responsible.
In June, 1901, after the allies had already dictated their terms
of peace to the chastened Manchu court and punishments had
been duly administered to most of the guilty—the empress-
dowager herself being one of the conspicuous exceptions—
K‘ang Yu-wei was still an exile from his native land. He was
at that time in Penang, living under the protection of the British
governor of the Straits Settlements ; and there he wrote a
memorandum of which he had an English translation made for
the information of two or three English friends. In it he strongly
criticised the allies for having failed to insist on the chastisement
of those whom he believed to have been the worst criminals,
and expressed the earnest hope that they would not leave this
very necessary part of their work undone. What has become of
the Chinese original of this document I do not know. The English
translation, signed by Kcang Yu-wei himself, is in my posses-
sion. Although it has never, as far as I know, been published
either in Chinese or English, I do not propose to give here even
an outline of its contents, which fill twenty-eight quarto pages
of manuscript. Of these pages twenty-three are mainly devoted
to a denunciation of Jung-Lu, who is described as “ the prin-
cipal culprit.” The remaining five contain a similar denuncia-
tion of the empress-dowager’s favourite eunuch Li Lien-ying.
My reason for not printing or analysing this interesting docu-
ment is that K?ang Yu-wei, as I happen to have learned in the
course of conversations with him in later years, subsequently
realised that he had spoken unfairly of Jung-Lu. His strong bias
against him was clearly due to the vitally important part taken
by Jung-Lu in bringing about the empress-dowager’s coup d'etat
of September, 1898. I have little doubt that the chief reason
why “ Nan-Hai ” came to modify his views about Jung-Lu was
that as the father-in-law of prince Ch‘un, Jung-Lu was the
maternal grandfather of Kuang-Hsii’s successor on the throne
—the emperor Hsuan T‘ung. K?ang “ Nan-hai ” remained
to the end of his life as devotedly loyal to the dethroned

Hsuan-T‘ung as he had been to the emperor Kuang-Hsii, and
he could no longer bring himself to denounce the man whose
blood ran in the veins of his revered sovereign.
According to K‘ang’s memorandum, Jung-Lu was largely
responsible for the Court’s adhesion to the Boxer movement
and therefore had a guilty share in the subsequent excesses. In
this matter K‘ang was undoubtedly wrong, as he afterwards
frankly admitted to his friends. That he erred in this respect is
not surprising, for there was much circumstantial evidence
against Jung-Lu which was accepted by the allied commanders
and by the diplomatic body in Peking. For a considerable time
the allies regarded him as one of those who were mainly respon-
sible for the siege of the Legations. Thus when the empress-
dowager appointed him to co-operate with prince Ch‘ing, Li
Hung-chang and one or two others, in the negotiation of a treaty
of peace, the allies refused to recognise him as a plenipotentiary.
Yet it subsequently became clear that if the empress-dowager
had listened to his counsels there would have been no declar-
ation of war on the foreign Powers, no siege of the Legations,
and no ^massacres of foreigners either in Peking or in the pro-
vinces. We know now that Jung-Lu made strenuous efforts to
oppose the pro-Boxer activities of such princely fanatics as
prince Tuan, and that he risked his own place at court, even
his life, in his steady refusal to let the Boxers get hold of those
heavy guns and other implements of war of which he was the
custodian and the possession of which would have enabled the
Boxers to reduce the Legation Quarter to a heap of ruins in
a few hours.6 When the Boxer madness was all over, the empress-
dowager realised how wise his counsel had been and she bitterly
regretted that she had not taken it. Until his death in 1903 she
regarded him as the most loyal and trustworthy of her ministers,
and it was as a token of her gratitude that after having brought
about a marriage between his daughter and prince Ch‘un she
decreed that their son should succeed the childless Kuang-Hsti
on the throne of China.
Although after 1900 the empress-dowager (acting largely on
the urgent advice of Jung-Lu) threw herself with apparent energy
into various schemes of reform—social, educational, constitu-
tional and military—her conversion from the reactionary policy

of the past came too late to satisfy the radicals, who, though
very few in number at first, were active and irreconcilable. Her
simulated zeal for reform (the necessity for which she reluctantly
recognised) deceived a number of optimistic foreigners but was
regarded with cynicism by those Chinese whose antagonism to
the reigning House was beginning to become dangerous. Some of
the edicts issued by Tczu-Hsi soon after her return to Peking—
such as that which permitted the intermarriage of Manchus and
Chinese—were intended to show that the court wished to
obliterate the remaining distinctions between the two races, but
they did little to stem the tide of anti-Manchu sentiment. In
1905 an imperial duke (Tsai-Tse) was appointed head of a com-
mission to visit foreign countries and study systems of govern-
ment. At the railway station in Peking a bomb was thrown
among the commissioners, and the duke himself and one of his
colleagues (Shao-Ying) were wounded. Orders were issued for
the drawing up of a draft constitution, under which the form of
government would approximate to a limited monarchy with
popular representative institutions. As the dowager’s sincerity
was doubted, even this failed to arouse enthusiasm or allay dis-
content among the small but active band of radicals.7 In the
same year an imperial edict was issued ordering the provincial
authorities to suppress with severity ko-ming p‘ai manchih shuo
—“ revolutionary and anti-Manchu talk ”—but the effect was
In 1907 Hsu Shih-ch‘ang was appointed first viceroy of the
three Manchurian provinces. This was an important move, and
was the most impressive of all indications that the Court had
grasped the necessity of breaking down existing barriers between
Manchus and Chinese. Up to that time Manchuria, as the an-
cestral home of the Manchu dynasty, had always been ruled by
military governors under the direct control of the throne. It
should be remembered in this connection that the so-called
Chinese Empire was really (and had been since 1644) the Manchu
Empire. One of the main justifications advanced by the revolu-
tionaries for their rebellion in 1911 was that the Manchus were
aliens and conquerors and had therefore no right to rule the
Chinese people. These facts should not be overlooked, as they
have an obvious bearing on the part played by the Manchu

imperial House in recent Manchurian politics. In 1907 Man-
churia was for the first time brought into line, for administrative
purposes, with the provinces of China Proper, and it was only
then that restrictions on free Chinese immigration into that
great region were finally abolished.
It should be noted that this administrative change was
initiated by the Manchu court itself not because it had any
intention of making a present of the “ three eastern provinces ”
to China but for practical reasons of state and in the hope of
demonstrating to the Chinese that the reigning House regarded
Manchus and Chinese as members of one great family. It should
also be noted that the change in the status of Manchuria was
brought about after the Russia-Japan war, which had resulted
in the expulsion of the Russians from the Liaotung peninsula
(with Port Arthur and Dairen) and Southern Manchuria, and in
the transfer of the Russian rights in those regions to Japan. It
will be remembered that as early as 1898 Manchuria had already
(in the words of British residents there) become “ Russian in all
but name ” ; and that the Russian hold on Manchuria had been
so strengthened in 1900 that a Chinese historian could state that
the three provinces had been “ totally lost ” to China.8 After
her victorious war against Russia in 1904-5, which had been
fought on Manchurian soil, Japan retained the rights and
privileges she had won from Russia on the battlefield, but re-
stored the provinces (subject to those rights and privileges) to
the government from which Russia had wrested them. That, of
course, was the government of the Manchu dynasty. To describe
it as “ the government of China ” would not be technically
correct, for the official designation of the Empire in the Chinese
language was not Chung Kuo (“ China ”) but Ta Ch'ing Kuo,
the nearest equivalent of which is “ the Manchu Empire.” Ta
Ch‘ing was the dynastic title assumed by the Manchu sovereigns
some years before they entered China as conquerors, and it was
subsequently retained by them and applied to the whole of their
vast dominions, of which China was merely the largest and most
important part. This use of the dynastic title as the name of the
State was not a Manchu invention. The Manchus followed the
practice of former dynasties, foreign and native. The terms
“ Chinese Empire ” and “ Emperor of China ” were unknown to

Chinese or Manchu constitutional law, though the Chinese
authorities acquiesced in the use of these terms by Western
foreigners, to whom Chinese constitutional or dynastic termin-
ology was a mystery.
Although Hsu Shih-ch‘ang, the first viceroy of Manchuria,
was a Chinese, it should be observed that the Court continued to
regard Manchuria as still having special associations with the
imperial House. Thus we find that Hsu Shih-ch‘ang’s successor,
Hsi Liang, was a Mongol, who had already held, among other
posts, that of governor of Jehol, which like Manchuria had been
treated as a special region under the direct control of the throne.
Hsi Liang’s successor in 1911, the last year of the reign of Hsiian-
T‘ung, was Chao Erh-hsun, who being a “ Chinese bannerman ”
was practically a Manchu by adoption.
In 1907 Wang Ta-hsieh (afterwards Chinese minister in
London) was sent as head of a second mission to various Euro-
pean countries to study constitutional government. In the same
year an attempt at rebellion was made by Sun Yat-sen and
Huang Hsing in the province of Kuang-si. It was quelled with-
out much difficulty and Sun Yat-sen was obliged to resume his
foreign travels.
About this time was issued the first of many edicts forbidding
students to interfere in politics. It had very little effect, though
it was not till 1919, long after the Revolution, that the “ student
movement ” in China assumed serious political importance.
We come now to 1908, the year of the death of the dowager-
empress and the captive-emperor. As this is not a detailed his-
tory of the reform movement in China I have not dealt with the
various reforms—political, educational and other—which re-
ceived the more or less grudging approval of the throne and
were in some cases carried into effect during the closing years
of the reign.9 We must pass on to the measures taken to provide
for the succession.
As the emperor Kuang-Hsu was childless, it was necessary to
select an heir from among his nephews, for in China the throne
could not go to a brother or to a member of the same genera-
tion, though indeed that rule had been broken in his own case.
He had several brothers, the eldest of whom was prince Ch‘un.
This was the prince who was sent to Germany in 1901 to apologise

for the murder of baron Von Ketteler. Soon after his return
from that mission the empress-dowager, as we have seen, chose
a bride for him in the person of a daughter of Jung-Lu, and
promised that if they had a son that son should become heir to
the throne.
The promise was duly kept. A son was born to prince Ch‘un in
February, 1906, and was given the name of P‘u-Yi. When Kuang-
Hsu lay dying, the empress-dowager issued commands that this
child, then less than three years old, should be brought from his
father’s mansion—the “ Pei Fu ”—into the Forbidden City,
which remained his home from that day till November, 1924.
In the name of the dying emperor a valedictory edict declared
that he had “ reverently received the commands of the empress-
dowager T’zu-Hsi ” to declare the child P‘u-Yi to be his successor.
Whether Kuang-Hsii was in fact told who his successor was to
be is doubtful. It is almost certain that he never saw his own
valedictory edict, and quite certain that he was not consulted
as to its contents. Simultaneously, it may be noted, Kuang-
Hsii’s empress (the “ Venerable Buddha’s ” niece) was raised to
the rank of dowager-empress (t‘ai-hou) and given the name
Lung-Yu by which she was thereafter known10; and T‘zu-Hsi
herself was elevated from the rank of empress-dowager to that
of “ Grand ” or “ Super ” empress-dowager (f ai-huang-Vai-hou)
and given a new series of honorific titles. All this, as already
explained, was in strict accordance with dynastic usage and
Prince Ch‘un, the father of the new emperor-designate, was
appointed regent. At first sight the appointment seems a natural
one and almost inevitable. The new monarch was an infant of
less than three years old. There would be a long minority. There
must be a regent. Who could fill that post more fittingly than
the child-emperor’s own father ? He was a brother of the late
emperor and an imperial prince of the highest degree. To pass
him over in favour of another member of the imperial family
would surely be an unpardonable slight. Nevertheless in making
this appointment the “ Venerable Buddha ” committed one of
the last and greatest of her mistakes. Unfortunately for the
Manchu dynasty, and also, as I believe, for China and the
Chinese people, she was blind to the transcendent importance of

selecting as regent a statesman of first-rate ability. Very grave
dangers threatened the throne. It was no time to consider the
susceptibilities of this or that imperial prince. Unless her know-
ledge of character and her political sagacity were even smaller
than I believe them to have been, she cannot have been ignorant
of the glaring fact that prince Chfiun was too small a man for
the enormously difficult task of guiding the ship of the Chinese
monarchy through the wild waters that were threatening to
engulf it.
When he was appointed regent it was already a matter of
common knowledge in official and other circles that he was not
qualified to undertake the great task that lay before him, and
that the appointment was of ill omen for the dynasty. A current
saying was “ the Ch‘ing House began with a regency and will
perish with a regency,”—the earlier reference being, of course,
to the great regent Durgan, uncle of Shih-Tsu (Shun-Chih) the
first of the Manchu emperors to reign in China. One is reminded
of the saying attributed to James V of Scotland on his deathbed
—“ it cam’ wi’ a lass and. it will gang wi’ a lass ”—though he
was wrong about the “ ganging.”
There is good reason to believe that Yuan Shih-k‘ai strove
hard to prevent the nomination of Pcu-Yi as heir to the throne,
because he knew that this would mean the elevation to power
of prince Ch‘un, with disastrous results to his own career. Yuan’s
choice for the throne was prince P‘u-Lun, who was senior great-
grandson of the emperor Tao-Kuang.12 Had Yuan’s advocacy of
P‘u-Lun’s claims been successful, Yuan, of course, would have
remained in office and would doubtless have enjoyed the high
favour of the new sovereign. It is difficult to over-estimate the
difference this might have made to the course of Chinese history.
Prince Ch‘un was, and is, a man of some amiable qualities, free
from malice or vindictiveness, sociable, as interested in the
Chinese drama as he is uninterested in politics or in the affairs
of the great world. He must be given credit for being one of the
two Manchu princes (Tsai-Hsiin is the other) who has a respect-
able knowledge of the Manchu language. He is well-intentioned,
tries in his languid and ineffectual way to please everyone,
succeeds in pleasing no one, shrinks from responsibility, is
thoroughly unbusinesslike, is disastrously deficient in energy,

will-power and grit, and there is reason to believe that he lacks
both physical and moral courage. He is helpless in an emergency,
has no original ideas, and is liable to be swayed by any smooth
talker. After he became regent, however, the flattery of syco-
phants tended to make him obstinately tenacious of his own
opinions, which almost invariably turned out to be wrong.
During several years of fairly intimate contact with prince
Ch‘un I came to be so deeply impressed by his fatal tendency to
do the wrong thing or choose the wrong course in matters affect-
ing the imperial House or the interests of the young emperor his
son, that I once made the suggestion to my colleagues in the
Forbidden City that we might actually turn that tendency of his
to good account by adopting the following general principle :
If two possible courses of action present themselves, ask prince
Ch‘un which in his opinion should be followed—then follow the
Credit should be given him for having done his best, such as it
was, to honour the memories of his martyred brother and of some
at least of those who had served him. To prince Ch‘un it was due
that posthumous honours were conferred upon the imperial
tutor, Weng T‘ung-ho. But he dared not go so far as to recall
K‘ang Yu-wei, and the manner in which he dealt with Yuan
Shih-k‘ai, whether we regard it as too lenient or too harsh, was
disastrous in its results.
After 1908, and especially after the death of the Lung-Yu
empress-dowager, of whom he stood in awe, he began to develop
a curious strain of vanity which manifested itself in odd ways
and may have been due to what in the fashionable jargon is
called an inferiority complex. To this day he is blissfully ignor-
ant of any political or other shortcomings in himself, or of any-
thing whatever in his career as a ruler or as a statesman that
deserves censure or contempt. He has about him an air of bland
self-satisfaction which seems to be the outward sign of an inward
malaise and which may indeed have its defensive uses ; for if that
malaise were to emerge above subconsciousness it might drive
him mad with shame and despair.
The mere fact that the new sovereign was prince Ch’un’s son
did not make the prince’s appointment as regent inevitable,
though it would certainly have been difficult or impossible to

appoint another member of the imperial clan in his place. There
was another course open to the empress-dowager which, had she
adopted it, might have saved the dynasty from ruin and China
from decades of chaos and civil war. She could have passed over
all the imperial princes and appointed a Council of Regency
consisting of a small group of the ablest and most enlightened
statesmen in the Empire. A feasible scheme would have been to
create a council of five members, two being Manchus (but not
imperial princes) and three Chinese. The fact that the Chinese
members of the council outnumbered the Manchus would have
been gratifying to Chinese pride and might have convinced all
except a few anti-Manchu irreconcilables like Sun Yat-sen that
the court was sincere in its determination to obliterate all dis-
tinctions between the two races and to put the interests of all the
peoples of the Empire above every other consideration. To make
the scheme workable it would have been essential to surrender
once and for all the pernicious theory that the throne was the
private property of the ruling House, and to accept the principle
that it was an organic part of the Chinese State, existing not for
the glorification and profit of one family but for the benefit of
the people.
It would have been a difficult but by no means an impossible
task to select the members of the Council of Regency. The
reactionaries and obscurantists, though still numerous, were no
longer in a position to stem the tide of reform by allying them-
selves with Boxers. Men were not afraid to say openly that
changes were overdue and that China must modernise herself or
perish ; and there was no dearth of able, patriotic and liberal-
minded officials and statesmen in the country who had not yet
lost all faith in the dynasty. I need only mention such men as
Hsu Shih-ch‘ang, Chao Erh-hsxin, Cheng Hsiao-hsii, Li Ching-
mai (son of the viceroy Li Hung-chang) and at least a dozen
other eligible men, besides the strong Cantonese contingent of
loyalists headed by K‘ang Yu-wei. Had Yuan Shih-k‘ai himself
been appointed one of the regents, this might have satisfied his
ambition and saved the throne. The very knowledge that to the
regents were entrusted the interests and welfare of their infant
sovereign would in itself have been a spur to their loyalty, if
such were needed. One of their principal duties would have been

to see that their imperial charge was brought up in wholesome
surroundings and shielded from the demoralising influences of
the Forbidden City. This would have necessitated the abolition
of the eunuch-system and the severe curtailment of the authority
and influence of the corrupt and extravagant Nei Wu Fu—the
imperial household department. It would also have been the
duty of the Council of Regency to see that the young emperor’s
education was entrusted to tutors who were neither bigoted con-
servatives, blind to the merits of all civilisations but their own,
nor extreme radicals, intoxicated with what draughts they had
imbibed of Western learning and ready to break up the founda-
tions of Chinese culture. Such tutors could have put him in sym-
pathetic touch with the thought and art and science of both East
and West and taught him to fit himself, under modern condi-
tions, for the constitutional rulership of a great world-state.
Under the conditions which I have imagined, the minority of
Hsuan-Tfiung, so far from being a source of additional weakness
or danger to the dynasty, as royal minorities have so often been,
might have inaugurated a new era of prosperity and glory both
for the Chinese people and for their monarchy. But those condi-
tions were never realised. Instead of a Council of Regency, China
was given a prince Ch’un, and the result—or shall we say the
sequence ?—was Revolution.

Chapter V
The Empress-Dowager T'zu-Hsi
If the judgments contained in the foregoing pages are approxi-
mately correct, it will be seen that the allies, when they were
drawing up the terms of peace in 1901, made a disastrous mistake
in failing to insist upon the elimination of the empress-dowager
from active politics and upon the reinstatement of the emperor.
If it be objected that the mere whisper of such a policy would
have condemned the unhappy Kuang-Hsii to immediate death,
it may be replied that this risk, though perhaps unavoidable,
might have been minimised by the timely issue of a solemn
declaration addressed by the united Powers to T(zu-Hsi herself
giving her a guarantee of personal immunity from all punishment
other than removal from the regency but holding her personally
responsible for the safety of Kuang-Hsii up to the moment of his
The great desirability of restoring Kuang-Hsu to the full
exercise of his imperial authority (assuming that under the
terrible conditions of his imprisonment he had not already be-
come a mental wreck) was fully realised by many of the clearest-
sighted Chinese of the day. That E?ang Yu-wei and his party
earnestly desired the emperor’s reinstatement goes without
saying. Instead of quoting K‘ang Yu-wei on this subject I will
draw attention to some passages in the able letters published in
book-form in 1901 under the title The Chinese Crisis from
Within. The author’s name was given as “ Wen Ching,” but it is
now known that this was a name assumed by that well-known
pioneer of Chinese educational and social reform Dr. Lim
Boon Keng.
“ The empress-dowager must be made to resign her regency,
unless the allies can get hold of the person of the emperor and can
restore him as the de facto ruler. In that case he could, with one
stroke of the vermilion pencil, deprive the empress-dowager of


all legal authority to interfere in State affairs. . . . The reaction-
aries are very unpopular in the middle and southern provinces,
and millions would hail with joy the return of the emperor to
power. There is no real difficulty in establishing his authority, for
it is universally acknowledged throughout the Empire. . . . The
most progressive Chinese will come to the front, and with the
assistance of the Powers the new government of Kuang-Hsii is
sure to advance by leaps and bounds. ... If Kuang-Hsii be not
restored, it would not be surprising to find that the reform
associations would become revolutionary societies, and before
long a great revolution would sweep over China, and entail
untold misery on the land, with incalculable loss to the commerce
of the world. . . . Now the seeds of a great revolution are all
germinating in China. The allies have just now the means of
averting the threatening danger. Will they see it ? ”1
Alas, the allies did not see it, and “ Wen Ching’s ” prophecy
was verified ten years later.
At first glance it may appear that the passages I have quoted
contain a fatal contradiction, inasmuch as the writer says in one
sentence that the emperor’s authority “ is universally acknow-
ledged throughout the Empire,” and in another that “ the seeds
of a great revolution are all germinating in China.” But there is
no contradiction. What “Wen Ching ” meant and said was that
“ a great revolution would sweep over China ” if the govern-
ment remained in the hands of reactionaries like the empress-
dowager. But the emperor was not a reactionary. On the con-
trary he was, as we know, an enthusiast for reform. Let him be
restored to the throne from which the reactionaries had forcibly
removed him and the world would hear little more of revolution
in China. That was the view of “Wen Ching ” and of many
others, and I believe it to have been correct.2
The objection will probably be raised that the empress-dowager
herself became a reformer while she was still in exile in Hsi-an,
that reforms of various kinds received her approval and were
carried out with some energy during the remaining years of her
life, yet that the country was not, after all, saved from revolu-
tion. But, as pointed out in the last chapter, very few Chinese
took the empress-dowager and her new-born zeal for reform as
seriously as many foreigners have done. It has been declared by

Western writers that after the collapse of the Boxer movement
and the return of the Court to Peking, if not before it, the em-
press-dowager experienced a real “ change of heart,” and that
her apparent eagerness both to cultivate friendly relations with
foreigners and to adopt a policy of reform was sincere. Few if any
Chinese, who ought to know best, have said this or believe it.
There was no “ change of heart,” there was only a “ change of
head ” ; and a change of both heart and head were necessary if
the “ reform associations ” spoken of by “ Wen Ching ” were to
be prevented from becoming “ revolutionary societies.” More-
over, the head that changed was not a well-endowed head, either
before or after the change. It was a head that possessed no inner
source of illumination and was incapable of borrowing the light
it needed from external sources.
An accomplished writer declares that after 1900 T‘zu-Hsi
“ adopted a policy of modernisation on Western lines and by
sheer force of character compelled a partial observance of her
commands.”3 I believe it would be truer to say that in the post-
Boxer reform movement she followed rather than led. She had
the sense to accept the assurances of wiser people than herself
who insisted that the reforms she hated must come, that the
Westernisation which she detested could no longer be wholly
excluded. Like Charles II of England she did not relish the idea
of setting out on her travels again. Hard facts and the exhorta-
tions of men like Jung-Lu and the great viceroy Li Hung-chang
had rubbed it into her that it was not by “ Boxer ” methods
that the foreign devils could be kept at bay or driven out of
China. But she neither forgot nor forgave those who had ven-
tured to defy her in 1898. She had not the magnanimity to
acknowledge that she had been wrong, nor the sense of justice
to incline her to make such reparation as was possible for the
crimes she had committed. The K‘ang tang (K'ang Yu-wei’s
party) remained on her black list, and E?ang Yu-wei himself
would have suffered the death penalty, probably without any
pretence of a trial, had he come within her grasp. The emperor
continued to be her despised and hated prisoner, and on him she
never ceased to heap insult and indignity. The fact that he
had initiated a policy of reform which she herself was now
reluctantly compelled to endorse and carry into effect,

increased the fire of her hatred by adding to it the fuel of
There are two diametrically opposed views of T‘zu Hsi as a
ruler. One view is that she possessed consummate gifts of
statesmanship and kept the dynasty alive long after it had
ceased to hold the “ mandate of Heaven.” The other view is
that she was largely or mainly responsible for its collapse. I
know of no Chinese authority of any standing who takes the
former view, but it is a common one among Western students.
Stephen King-Hall, for example, tells us that the downfall of
the dynasty “was retarded by the genius of a woman ”4; while
Dr. Cameron says that “ only her indomitable energy kept life
in the dynasty after the Taiping rebellion had brought it
perilously near its end ” ; and that had she not held the regency
the decline “ would have been more rapid and disastrous than
it was.”5
Of those who hold the opposite opinion one British and one
Chinese authority may be cited as representative. W. E. Soothill
says that by the destruction of the reform movement of 1898,
the empress-dowager “ tore down the last supports of the
shaken throne.”6 A Chinese writer already quoted, “ Wen
Ching,” declared in 1900 that for many years T‘zu-Hsi had been
“ rushing the empire to the verge of ruin.”7
Of the two opposing views, I believe the second is nearer the
truth than the first, though it fails to take account of the fact,
which should be emphasised, that Tczu-Hsi was only an ignorant
woman who should not be held responsible for all the things
done badly or left undone in her name.
Of four American writers, the first describes her as “ the most
remarkable woman sovereign and the most unbridled despot
the world has known ”8 ; the second asks the question, “ is it
too much to say that she was the greatest woman of the last
half century ? ”9; the third declares that she was “ a strong
character such as history has seldom recorded ”10 ; and the
fourth has said of her that she was one whom “ history will rank
among the greatest rulers of mankind.”11
I do not think so meanly of history’s ability to discern true
greatness. Several years before I entered the service of the
Manchu court and had access to fuller information, I described

the empress-dowager as one “ who through the pitiful misuse of
her unrivalled opportunities must be held mainly responsible
for the ignominious collapse of the most ancient of imperial
thrones.”12 I should now substitute “ largely ” for “ mainly ” ;
and I should add that her responsibility as a moral agent was
limited by the facts that she was in the grip of a vicious system
which was not her creation (it existed not only before her time
but before the days of the Manchu dynasty) and that she was
bound by corrupt traditions of which she was the inheritor.
Had she been one of the “ greatest rulers of mankind,” however,
or “ the greatest woman of the last half-century,” or “the most
remarkable woman sovereign the world has known,” she could
have loosened that vicious grip and set herself free from those
corrupt traditions. She had neither the strength of character nor
the will that would have been necessary for so great an accom-
Had the “ Great ” empress-dowager been the statesmanlike,
wise and patriotic ruler some of her Western admirers declare
her to have been, there is far more than a mere possibility that
there would have been no China-Japan war in 1894, no neces-
sity to alienate ports and concessions to foreign Powers in 1898,
no opposition on the part of court and government to measures
of reform, no imperial association with any such movement as
that of the Boxers, no siege of the Legations, no indemnities,
no revolution, no “republic,” no collapse of law and order, no
loss of Mongolia, Turkestan, Tibet, Jehol, and Manchuria. All
“ unequal treaties ” might have been abrogated by mutual agree-
ment long ago without any detriment to her friendly relations
with other countries, and China might now be taking a leading
part in the great task of saving humanity from the economic,
nationalistic and other perils in which the whole world is
involved to-day.
No doubt it is futile to speculate on all these might-have-
beens. Moreover, it is unjust to blame T‘zu-Hsi for not having
been other than nature made her. It was not her fault that she
was not endowed with great qualities of statesmanship. Never-
theless, that is no reason why we should gratuitously bestow
on her the admiration due to those whom “ history will rank
among the greatest rulers of mankind.”

Lady Susan Townley, describing an interview with the
empress-dowager at the Summer Palace after the Boxer war
was over, commented on the difficulty of realising that “ this
friendly little woman with the brown face of a kindly Italian
peasant ” was “ the mysterious and powerful autocrat . . .
who had deliberately debased and degraded the unfortunate
emperor sitting beside her, the fiend who had egged on the
Boxers to nameless outrages.” And she concludes by asking
whether T‘zu-Hsi was “ really responsible for all this ” or “ only
a tool in the compelling hand of destiny.”14
My reply would be that she was indeed a tool but a willing
one, and that the compelling hand was not that of destiny but
that of patriotic but bigoted conservatives who were themselves
the victims of a corrupt gang of Manchu and Chinese knaves and
fools. They found her useful for their purposes ; her position in
the State and at court, as I have explained, made her their
appropriate and indispensable instrument; and her education,
her environment and the limitations of her own character and
intellect made it easy and almost inevitable for her to become
their nominal leader, their protectress and their dupe.
Among her minor characteristics, vanity was one of the most
conspicuous. It was such that if she did not receive from others
the full measure of flattery that she craved, she did not hesitate
to lay it on herself with a trowel that would have excited the
covetous admiration of Lord Beaconsfield. “ Do you know, I
have often thought ”—so she remarked to the “ princess ” Der
Ling—“ that I am the most clever woman that ever lived and
others cannot compare with me.”15 We may take it that neither
the ‘‘princess ” Der Ling nor anyone else at court had the daring
or the inclination to contradict her.
But if she loved flattery, she was shrewd enough to know that
others loved it too, and her knowledge of human nature was
sound enough to enable her to turn the heads of many of the
Legation ladies who attended her receptions. She hated them all,
but it amused her to observe how readily they absorbed her loving
assurances of esteem. She entertained parties of foreign ladies
several times before, as well as after, the siege of the Legations ;
and it is on record that on one of those occasions she murmured
gently to each of the wives of the foreign plenipotentiaries,

“We are all one family,” and sent them home full of
admiration for her grace and charm and rejoicing in tangible
tokens of her affectionate regard. Very soon afterwards, as an
American missionary observed, she was issuing edicts ordering
her troops to slaughter all the foreigners within reach, so that
only the Chinese and Manchu contingents of the “ one family ”
might be left surviving.16
After her return from exile her hatred of foreigners was
probably more intense than it had been before. Had they not
caused her to “ lose face ” to a degree that was never to be
forgotten or forgiven ? There was no sincerity in the protestations
of friendship with which she renewed her acquaintance with the
ladies of the foreign Legations after 1900, though some of them
listened to her prattle with childish delight. Perhaps “ charm-
ing ” empresses, like “ dear ” duchesses, start on the race for
popularity with rather unfair advantages.
She liked to hear herself compared with Queen Victoria,
always provided, of course, that the comparison was made with
due discretion. Much more apt, however, would be a comparison
with Queen Elizabeth in her less Elizabethan moments. Some
of the stories which illustrate the vanity of the “ Venerable
Buddha ” are comparable with that told by the Scottish am-
bassador who in answer to one of Elizabeth’s questions had to
inform her that her height was not equal to that of his queen.
“ Then,” said Elizabeth, “ she is too high ; for I myself am
neither too high nor too low.” And although Queen Elizabeth
may never have ordered an emperor’s consort to be flogged in
her presence, far less thrown into a well to drown, we know that
Elizabeth did not shrink from publicly boxing the ears of her
courtiers and ladies-in-waiting. Someone ought to have told the
“ Venerable Buddha ” about that. It would have amused her.17
She liked to compare herself not only with queens but with
divine beings. One of her favourite pastimes in the Summer
Palace was to assume the guise of Kuan-Yin—the Buddhist
bodhisattva whom foreigners know as the Goddess of Mercy—
emerging gracefully from a lotus sea for the purpose of bestowing
the “ sweet dew ” of her love and compassion on suffering
humanity. The attendant angels on these happy occasions,
standing beside her with clasped hands in attitudes of blissful

adoration, were such persons as her trusty henchman and
major-domo, the eunuch Li Lien-ying.18
The fact that she liked to think of herself as a Buddhist
divinity has nothing whatever to do with the appellation so often
bestowed upon her of Lao Fo-yeh. The usual foreign rendering of
this phrase is “ the Old Buddha.” I have preferred “ the Vener-
able Buddha,” because in this connection the Chinese character
lao (especially when combined with yeh) has a respectful signifi-
cation which “ Old ” hardly possesses in English. But although
it is respectful, and was actually used by persons addressing her
orally at the foot of the throne, it would be erroneous to suppose
that it indicated a degree of reverence not accorded to her pre-
decessors. The term Tang Chin Fo Yeh—“ the Buddha of the
present age ”—was one of the popular appellations of all
emperors. Father Ripa, who resided at the Chinese court early in
the eighteenth century, has the following remarks on this subject.
The emperor K‘ang-Hsi, he says, “ was held in such veneration
throughout China, that he often received the appellation of Fo,
a national deity universally adored, both by Tartars and Chinese.
I myself very frequently heard him designated as the living Fo.”19
Evidently the good Jesuit Father was not aware that Fo was the
Chinese (Pekingese) word for “ Buddha,” and that it was a
popular designation of Chinese emperors. Another popular title
of respect bestowed upon imperial personages was Chu Tzu—
Master or Lord, Mistress or Lady. During my residence at the
Manchu court this was the term commonly used by the eunuchs
and other palace-servants when they were speaking of the
huang-kuei-fei or dowager-consorts.
In spite of the reverential language in which her courtiers
spoke of and to her, the empress-dowager was not a typical
product of Chinese civilisation at its best. Her manners were not
always those which Confucian ethics attribute to the chun-tzu—
the fine flower of civilised humanity—or to the royal sages who
laid the foundations of Chinese culture. When in 1897 she
dismissed from all his posts a high military official named Lin
Hsiu-ch‘uan merely because at an audience in the palace he was
slow in assuming the correct kneeling posture, her reaction to
this misdemeanour stands out in startling contrast to that of a
certain provincial governor of whom we read in the official

history of the Han dynasty. We are there told of a man who
failed to make a respectful obeisance to the governor and was
brought before him for punishment. Instead of ordering the
man’s execution, as apparently he might have been expected to
do, the governor said “ Let him go. It is my fault, not his, that
he is bad-mannered. It shows that I have failed to civilise those
whom I have been called upon to rule.” Someone should have
told that story, too, to the “ Venerable Buddha.” It would not
have amused her, but it might have made her think.
Mr. Robert Loraine has recently informed us that if we turn
the pages of history we shall find that the outstanding women
—with the possible exception of Queen Victoria—were chiefly
of the “ tiger-cat type.” T‘zu-Hsi was, I think, a woman of
that type, though perhaps from deference to the Chinese symbol
of imperial dignity it might be preferable to say that she was
of the type of the dragon—a creature whose potentialities for
both good and evil are of a far more awe-inspiring character
than those of a mere cat, however tigerish.
I have said that the empress-dowager loved to pose as the
“ Goddess of Mercy.” It is not surprising that such was the
case, for she believed, and was encouraged by the court to
believe, that she was actually an incarnation of that bodhisattva.
Thereby hangs a tale which we may, if we choose, regard as a
tragic one. It happened that in 1908 the empress-dowager was
not the only avatar of the bodhisattva Kuan-Yin then exist-
ing in China. Every Dalai Lama is—according to Lamaistic
doctrine—an incarnation of that divine being, and the Dalai
Lama had recently arrived at the sacred mountain of Wu-t‘ai
in the Chinese province of Shansi. I happened to be travelling
in Western China soon after his arrival—he had but recently
fled from Lhasa on the approach of the Younghusband expedi-
tion—and during a short stay at one of the monasteries of Wu-t‘ai
in the summer of 1908 I was granted the privilege of a private
Shortly afterwards—in September—the incarnate Kuan-Yin
from Tibet proceeded at the invitation of the court from Wu-t‘ai
to Peking, where he was accorded a state-reception by the
incarnate Kuan-Yin of China. For a short time, therefore, there
were two Kuan-Yins living in Peking at the same time. Within

a few weeks, however, there were no longer two but only one,
that one being the Dalai Lama. His rival, the empress-dowager,
was dead. In her death the lama fraternity in Peking, and many
of the Peking populace, found a striking illustration of the
well-known fact that if two 44 Living Buddhas ” or two
incarnations of the same bodhisattva are rash enough to mani-
fest themselves simultaneously in the same locality, one of
them must perforce withdraw to another world to await
in patience the result of one more revolution of the wheel of
On the subject of the relations between the empress-dowager
and the emperor, I have been assured by many of the old palace
eunuchs that her dislike for her imperial nephew antedated the
events of 1898. A story told by them will be barely intelligible
to those who are not acquainted with the ancient and still
popular Chinese belief that a sick person may be restored to
health by partaking of medicine consisting of a piece of human
flesh voluntarily sacrificed by a son or other near relative or by
a faithful friend or servant. The theory underlying this repulsive
superstition is that the divine powers are touched by the act
of filial piety or loyal devotion shown by the painful sacrifice,
and therefore allow the patient to recover. Shortly before the
China-Japan war, so the story goes, the empress-dowager had
a severe illness. The emperor paid her a sympathetic visit.
While he was at her bedside—the only third person in the room
being the head-eunuch Li Lien-ying—she remarked, with a deep
sigh of self-commiseration, 441 know I am going to die, because
I have no one so devoted to me that he will give me the only
medicine that would cure me of my sickness.” As she spoke,
she gazed first at the emperor, then at the eunuch, but though
both well knew what the medicine was which she had in mind,
neither of them made any audible response.
Shortly afterwards, the 44 Venerable Buddha ” began to
make a rapid and complete recovery. Noticing that Li Lien-ying
had apparently been absent from duty for a few days, she en-
quired the reason. She was told that he was ill. Later on, the
nature of his illness was disclosed to her, no doubt by one of
Li’s own eunuch-subordinates. He had cut off a piece of flesh
from his thigh; it had been cooked, and her imperial majesty

had eaten it. From that time, according to the story, Li Lien-
ying rose rapidly in his mistress’s favour, and the emperor who
as her son by adoption had “ lost face ” by failing to demonstrate
the sincerity of his filial piety in the disgusting manner expected
of him, became an object of dislike and contempt.21
A member of the imperial family is my authority for a little
anecdote relating to the emperor’s last interview with his august
jailoress. One of his regular duties or punishments was to visit
her palace at frequent intervals and to prostrate himself before
her throne. It was a pure formality, kept up by the empress-
dowager partly because she wished to satisfy herself from time
to time that he was still her prisoner, and partly because the
sight of his humiliation gave her grim satisfaction. One day, in
the autumn of 1908, he went to the Ning-Shou palace to per-
form the usual ceremonial observance, but his illness was enter-
ing its last stage and he knew that he was dying. With drooping
head and trembling limbs, supported by eunuchs, he tottered
into the throne-hall, obviously on the verge of collapse. As he
prepared to go down on his knees, in the usual way, the empress-
dowager was struck by his extreme weakness and emaciation.
The sight moved her, and the attendant eunuchs observed to
their astonishment that there were tears in her eyes and on her
cheeks. The ceremony of the emperor’s kotow before the empress-
dowager was usually carried out in complete silence on both
sides. On this occasion she suddenly broke the silence with
these words—pu yung hsing li—“ you need not kneel.” But
wearily the dying man sank to his knees, and as he did so he
murmured in a scarcely audible voice, “ I will kneel. It is for the
last time.” And the last time, indeed, it proved to be.
A few days later there were two imperial corpses in Peking
—one in the “ Palace of Tranquil Old Age,” the other in the
“ Fairyland ” of the Three Lakes.22 It may have been that the
“ Venerable Buddha ” had a premonition that they were both
about to enter the shadows, in which hatreds, perhaps, are
extinguished for ever. Or was it merely that she suddenly
remembered that she was the “ Goddess of Mercy ” and that
the time had come for her to show that mercy was a quality not
wholly alien to her nature ?
The death of the empress-dowager, on November 15th, 1908,

took place less than a day after that of the emperor. The coinci-
dence inevitably gave rise to the rumour that the “ Venerable
Buddha,” knowing her illness to be fatal, and determined that
her victim should not survive to triumph over her dead body,
took steps to ensure that he should be the first to die. Another
story is to the effect that certain palace eunuchs, who had been
the agents of her tyranny, had lived in dread of the day when
the emperor would be restored to the plenitude of his power,
and therefore administered the poison that would end his life
and save their own.23 I do not believe the first story, and al-
though the second one seems much more probable, I am aware
of no evidence to support it. I have in my possession a report
by a well-informed British medical man, prepared from evidence
supplied by the palace physicians, regarding the physical condi-
tion and last illness of Kuang-Hsii, and it justifies the belief that
he died a natural death—hastened, no doubt, by the barbarous
treatment of which he had been the helpless victim for ten long
years. After all, perhaps, it would make very little difference to
our estimate of the empress-dowager’s character whether she
brought about his death by methods employed over a period of
several years or by a dose of poison taking effect in ten minutes.
But if credit is due to her for having refrained from committing
murder at a moment when she was herself on her death-bed, we
need not begrudge it.
The emperor Kuang-Hsii was born in 1870. He succeeded to
the throne in his fifth year, and till 1889 when he married and
attained his majority at nineteen the government was in the
hands of the empress-dowager. From 1889 to 1898 he was actual
reigning emperor, subject to the old lady’s occasional interfer-
ence. By far the most serious example of her interference during
that period was in connection with the events that led to the
China-Japan war, which first made China’s weakness manifest
to the whole world. Her share of responsibility for that catas-
trophe was very great. From 1898, when Kuang-Hsu was
twenty-eight, to his death in 1908 at the age of thirty-eight, he
was again, as we have seen, emperor only in name. Had he lived
to the present time (1934) he would have been no more than
sixty-four years of age. Had there been no interference with the
reform-schemes of 1898, his reign in spite of the disaster of the

China-Japan war, might have gone on record in Chinese history
as one of prosperity and progress both for the Manchu dynasty
and for the people of China. He might have left a name equal
to that of his illustrious Japanese contemporary, the emperor
Meiji, under whom Japan entered upon her wonderful period
of reform and development. The reign of Meiji began only seven
years before Kuang-Hsu ascended the Dragon throne and ended
four years after Kuang-Hsu’s pitiful death.
It is true that during the previous century the Manchu
dynasty had received a series of terrific shocks and had experi-
enced almost overwhelming disasters, that its influence and
prestige had suffered such grave damage that it is legitimate to
doubt whether a recovery was possible. But the dynasty had
suffered shocks and disasters for several decades without collaps-
ing, and even the unprecedented humiliations of 1900 did not
bring about its immediate overthrow. This seems to show that
it possessed reserves of strength hidden from foreign and even
from most Chinese eyes, and that its recuperative powers were
much greater than foreign observers suspected in the latter half
of the nineteenth century. In 1898 the dynasty stood at the
parting of the ways. It might have taken a turning that would
have led it from the valley of defeat and dishonour to the
uplands of prosperity and renewed glory. It took the wrong
turning that led ultimately into a morass of decay and death.
The city of Peking, enclosing the splendid yellow-roofed
palaces of its vanished emperors and surrounded by hundreds
of square miles of great plains and mountains, stands between
the two magnificent mausolea, constructed, in imitation of
those of past dynasties, for the Manchu imperial House. The
body of Kuang-Hsu lies among the Hsi Ling or Western Tombs ;
the body of the “ Great ” empress-dowager—or what remains
of it after the hideous outrage of less than six years ago—lies
among the Tung Ling or Eastern Tombs.24 Just as in their
life-times emperor and empress-dowager were sundered from
one another by a spiritual abyss, so in death they remain
physically sundered by the width of half a province.
Odysseus in Hecuba declared that he would be content with
a mean subsistence in this life if in death he could be assured of
the abiding grace of a noble tomb.25 The “ Venerable Buddha”


liked to have it both ways. She loved her costly Summer Palace
in the West, which she found a pleasant camping-ground in this
transitory life ; and she loved to contemplate that sumptuous
tomb in the East, wherein her body—so she fondly dreamed—
would rest in everlasting peace amid the mingled glories of
mountain and forest and the imperial splendours added thereto
by the hand of man. Could she have looked a few years into
the future, and have seen what was to become of that peace
and those imperial splendours in July, 1928, the stubborn spirit
of the “ Venerable Buddha ” would have been stricken and
humbled to the dust.

Chapter VI
The Revolution, 1911
The child P4u-Yi ascended the throne in October, 1908. In
accordance with Chinese dynastic usage a title was chosen for
his reign—Hsuan-T‘ung—and it is therefore customary, espe-
cially among foreigners, to use that reign-title (nien-hao) as if it
were his personal name. To do so is, indeed, very convenient,
because in China an emperor’s personal or private name (what
we would call his Christian name) is under a kind of taboo, and
throughout his lifetime he is not named, but is referred to by
the Chinese equivalent of “ his majesty the emperor ” (huang
shang). Even after an emperor’s death his personal name is not
used ; he is then given a miao-hao or 44 temple-name,” under
which sacrifices are offered to him in accordance with the rites
of ancestor-worship. It is by his 44 temple-name ” that he goes
down to history and is properly referred to in speech and writ-
ing. The personal (and therefore unused) name of Hsuan-Tcung’s
predecessor was Tsai-T4ien. This name—or rather the second
syllable of it—was taboo, and could not be used by the public or
even at court. His 44 reign-title ” was Kuang-Hsii (to which of
course no taboo was attached) and the 44 temple-name ” con-
ferred upon him after death was Te Tsung. In educated Chinese
circles it is often considered a mark of carelessness, or ignorance,
even of slight ill-breeding, to speak of 44 the emperor Kuang-
Hsii ” ; his correct designation is 44 the emperor Te Tsung,” just
as the emperor whom foreigners generally know by his reign-
title of Ch4ien Lung is more correctly described as Kao Tsung.
The title of a new reign is not changed till the beginning of the
year following the former emperor’s death. Hence the whole of
the year which roughly corresponds with 1908 was the thirty-
fourth and last year of Kuang-Hsu, and 1909 was the first year
of Hsuan-T4ung.
One of the first acts of the regent, prince Ch4un, was to remove
Yuan Shih-k4ai from alThis posts and invite him to go home and

nurse an imaginary ailment in his leg. It will be remembered
that Yuan had taken a prominent part in the events of 1898
and had betrayed the confidence reposed in him by the emperor.
After this he naturally stood high in favour with the empress-
dowager to the end of the reign. He became viceroy of the metro-
politan province in 1901, a minister of the Army Reorganisation
Council in 1903, president of the Board of Foreign Affairs in 1907
and a Grand Councillor in the same year. He doubtless knew that
his official life—perhaps his physical life—depended on the
maintenance in power of his patroness the empress-dowager,
and it is easy to understand why, after the Boxer troubles, he
was strenuously opposed to her removal from the regency or to
the reinstatement of Kuang-Hsii.
Unfortunately for Kuang-Hsu, Yuan Shih-k‘ai’s prestige
among foreigners stood very high, for he had seen through the
pretensions of the Boxers from the beginning, and in 1900 had
used his position as governor of Shantung to protect all the
foreigners in his province. Moreover, he was an opportunist, and
readily adapted his principles to circumstances. Having been
clearly conscious of the folly of the empress-dowager in allying
herself with the Boxers and in defying the Powers, and being
himself a man of comparatively enlightened views, it is very pos-
sible that had it not been for the unhappy episode of 1898 and
the hopelessness of obtaining forgiveness from the sovereign
whom he had betrayed, he would have used his great influence
with the foreign Powers to bring about a settlement which would
have included the retirement of the empress-dowager and the
reinstatement of the emperor. As it was, his fortunes were
inextricably linked with hers, and in doing his utmost to protect
her interests he had the much greater satisfaction of knowing
that he was also safeguarding his own.
Not only was there no possibility of reconciliation between
Yuan Shih-k‘ai and the emperor, but there was undying hate
between Yuan and the survivors of the reform party of 1898.
Keang Yu-wei and his friends not unnaturally regarded Yuan
not only as a traitor to his sovereign but also as the person who
was mainly responsible for the execution of their six colleagues
after the empress-dowager’s coup d'etat of that year. Yuan on
the other hand dreaded the vengeance of K‘ang Yu-wei and his

party if they were allowed to renew their activities in China and
obtain a footing at Court. This partially explains why it was
that even after the inauguration of a new reform policy under
the auspices of the empress-dowager herself, K‘ang Yu-wei and
his friends were never invited to take part in the development
of that new policy and never received forgiveness for their past
There is a story that after Kuang-Hsii’s death there was found
among his papers a document on which was written an order for
the immediate execution of Yuan Shih-k‘ai. This was regarded
by certain members of the imperial family as having the sanctity
of a dying wish ; and as they themselves regarded Yuan with
jealousy and mistrust they expressed the opinion that Kuang-
Hsii’s last commands should be obeyed. Prince Ch‘un vacillated,
and after some delay decided to spare Yuan’s life but to dismiss
him from all his offices. Hence the command that he should
retire to his native village and recuperate his health.
Prince Ch‘un acted very rashly and foolishly in this matter,
because Yuan’s influence with the powerful Pei-yang party and
with the new model army was very great, and the regent ought
to have foreseen that a man of Yuan’s vigour, ability and in-
fluential connections would not be content to devote the rest of
his life to studying the Buddhist sutras or practising the art of
calligraphy. Nevertheless he obeyed orders without an audible
murmur and without a moment’s delay. The fact that the affair
was settled in this prompt and peaceful manner is in itself in-
structive as showing that even in the last decade of the dynasty’s
existence the commands of the Throne were still obeyed by the
highest and most powerful officials in the land. Had this episode
taken place fifteen or twenty years later, under the so-called
republic, Yuan’s dismissal from office would probably have been
followed by a “ declaration of independence ” on his part and
a ruinous civil war. Yuan’s influence over the northern army—
by far the best-trained fighting organisation in the Empire—
was undoubtedly very great; but armies had not yet become
the personal property of their commanders, to be used as the
instruments of their private ambitions and aggrandisement. The
monarchy, in fact, was still a going concern. The emperor still

But he did not reign much longer. The remainder of the dismal
story is soon told. The prince-regent found himself overwhelmed
with difficulties far beyond his capacity to overcome. He wanted,
for the sake of peace, to please everyone, but this he soon found
he could not do, one reason being that he had to cope with a new
empress-dowager, the widow of Kuang-Hsii and niece of the
“ Venerable Buddha.” Kuang-Hsii’s valedictory edict contained
a clause to the effect that in all matters of importance the prince-
regent must consult the new empress-dowager and “ take her
instructions.”1 It has been supposed that this clause was de-
liberately inserted with a view to maintaining and strengthening
the position of the Yehonala clan ; but though this may have
been true, there was nothing in the clause that conflicted with
orthodox Chinese principles. As has been explained above, an
empress-dowager had rights and privileges merely in virtue of
her relationship to the emperor ; and even if she had not been
mentioned in the valedictory edict it would have been possible
for her (and from the Chinese point of view not illegitimate) to
make her will prevail in matters affecting the child-emperor and
even in ordinary affairs of state.2 Not only was she the emperor’s
aunt by marriage, not only empress-dowager, but she could also
claim the relationship and the rights of a mother, inasmuch as
by his elevation to the throne he became the adopted son of her
consort, the emperor Kuang-Hsii.
The movement towards constitutional reform continued to
make progress. It had already gone so far, indeed, that to check
its further advance would have been dangerous, and neither
prince Ch‘un nor his rival the empress-dowager Lung-Yu was
anxious to run unnecessary risks. Early in 1909 a decree was
issued stating that the Court positively intended to establish
a constitutional government, and some conservative officials
who opposed reform were removed from office or otherwise
punished. Tsai-Hsun, one of the emperor’s uncles, was sent to
England as head of a mission to investigate naval affairs with
a view to building up a modern fleet for China. He spent some
time in Europe, and has often spoken to me of his pleasant
glimpses of king Edward’s court. His brother Tsai-T‘ao was sent
as head of a similar mission to Germany, to study military affairs,
and was so well-treated by kaiser Wilhelm that he never ceased

to be a friend of Germany. Both these missions were costly futili-
ties, for it was useless for China to attempt to provide herself
with a modern fleet and army before she had remodelled the
internal administration of the country and established a sound
fiscal system.3 It was hoped, however, that the greatest naval
and the greatest military Powers of Europe would feel gratified
by China’s evident desire to accept them as models.
Meanwhile petitions were continually being sent to Peking
from all parts of the country pressing for an early opening of
the promised parliament and the establishment of a responsible
cabinet. As a result of these representations it was announced in
an edict by the prince-regent issued on November 4th, 1910,
that the time originally fixed for preparation was to be shortened,
and that parliament was to be opened in the fifth year of the
reign, which would have been 1913. The edict also declared that
the constitution, rules and conditions governing the selection of
members of the upper and lower houses, and all other necessary
things pertaining to constitutional reform should be made ready
and put into force before the opening of parliament.
In the same year an attempt was made by Wang Ching-wei,
a disciple of Sun Yat-sen, to assassinate the prince-regent. The
attempt failed, and prince Ch‘un, who wished to be conciliatory,
commuted his death-sentence to one of imprisonment for life,
Wang Ching-wei subsequently became a leading member of the
Kuomintang and of the Nationalist government at Nanking.
In 1911 an edict was issued in the name of the empress-
dowager (Lung-Yii) appointing three imperial tutors under
whom the little emperor (then in his sixth year) was to com-
mence his education in the Yu-ch‘ing Kung. This is the building
in the Forbidden City which for a long time past has been used
as the imperial schoolroom. Of the tutors, two of whom were
afterwards my colleagues, more will be said hereafter.
Throughout 1910 and 1911 rebellious mutterings were heard
in various parts of the country. The concessions to liberal ideas
granted by the Throne, the promises to establish a parliamentary
constitution and turn the autocracy into a limited monarchy,
did not allay the unrest; in fact they aggravated it, because all
concessions were regarded by the rebels as indications not of
the sincerity of the Court but of its weakness. A dangerous revolt

took place at Canton under Huang Hsing, afterwards a noted
revolutionary general, and the headquarters of the viceroy were
destroyed. Huang Hsing was defeated and fled to Hong-Kong,
where like many revolutionaries before and after his time he
continued to conspire against the dynasty under the protection
of the British flag.
The regent then tried to conciliate his foes by appointing a
Cabinet more or less on the Western model, but objections were
at once raised that it contained too many Manchu princes, which
was quite true. This had been a very serious and very just cause
of complaint against the Manchu court during its last years.
Imperial princes were put into high posts for which they were
in no respect qualified, merely because they belonged to the
ruling house, and many of them brought discredit on the Throne
by their avarice or incompetence or both. Contrary to a common
assumption, the imperial clan was very far from being degenerate
—it included several men of ability and good character—but
unfortunately under the two empresses-dowager and prince
Ch‘un it was not always, or usually, the ablest and best members
of the clan who received high appointments.
The unfortunate attempt to bring the railway system of China
under a unified central control—an attempt which for various
reasons aroused strong opposition in various quarters though in
principle it was sound—is usually mentioned as one of the
immediate causes of the revolution. However this may be, the
actual outbreaks in Ssu-chcuan in September and at Wu-ch‘ang
in October, 1911, were only a repetition of what had already
occurred at several other centres on a somewhat smaller scale.
At Wu-ch6ang, which became the headquarters of the revolu-
tionary movement almost by accident (owing to the fortuitous
discovery of a conspiracy), general Li Yuan-hung was forced
reluctantly into the position of commander-in-chief of the rebel
The government at Peking, under its ignorant and incapable
empress-dowager Lung-Yu and its weak and “ feckless ”
prince-regent, was quickly reduced to a state bordering on
imbecility. Prince Ch‘un had already committed serious blunders
in his short life ; he now proceeded to commit one which was
fatal. He decided, or allowed himself to be persuaded, to recall

to office a man who was his most dangerous foe—a man whom
he had degraded and humiliated three years before.
No doubt an apparently good case could be made out for the
re-employment of Yuan Shih-k‘ai. His name was still one to
conjure with among the rank and file of the only well-trained
army in China ; his influence with various political groups was
still very great; no one doubted that he was a capable leader of
men and a competent and level-headed statesman ; and his
prestige among foreigners stood high. This last point was one of
great importance, for the suppression of the rebellion would be
a costly business and there would be little chance of raising
foreign loans unless there was at the head of affairs a responsible
man who enjoyed the confidence of the foreign Legations and had
a good reputation in foreign money-markets. Nearly a year before
the Wu-chcang rebellion broke out—namely on December 17th,
1910—The Times published “ an excellent, if gloomy, descrip-
tion of the plight in which China found herself, together with
a plea for the recall of Yuan Shih-k‘ai as the only man able to
save the situation.”6 This was, indeed, an opinion which was
shared by most foreigners in China at that time ; but prince
Ch‘un knew, or ought to have known, more about Yuan Shih-
k‘ai’s character than foreigners could be expected to know.
Foreigners, moreover, were not particularly interested in the
preservation of the dynasty ; on the contrary, they nearly all
welcomed the revolution when it came, as the dawn of a brilliant
new era of peace and prosperity for China, the profits if not the
glories of which they confidently looked forward to sharing with
four hundred million contented Chinese all longing for ever-
increasing consignments of Lancashire cotton. But prince Ch‘un
had his dynasty to think of as well as the problematical golden
age of tranquil commercial activity anticipated by the British
and other foreigners of Shanghai, and he should have known,
as they could not be expected to know, even if they cared, that
Yuan was the last man to be relied on as saviour of the throne
of the Manchus.
The first reply sent by Yuan Shih-k‘ai to the Court’s pressing
invitation to Peking was an ominous one on account of its
sarcasm. He regretted that he could not obey the imperial sum-
mons at the moment because his leg, which three years earlier

he had been bidden to go home and nurse, was still giving him
trouble. That attitude, however, was not maintained, and merely
had the result of driving the wretched prince Ch‘un to profounder
depths of shame.
No sooner had Yuan arrived in Peking than he perceived that
he was master of the situation. He could impose his own terms
and feel sure that no one was strong enough to stand in his
way. Several of the imperial princes were required to resign
their posts ; he himself was made viceroy of Hukuang, com-
mander-in-chief of the imperial forces, and premier in the new
cabinet. He then proceeded to take military affairs in hand,
and quickly turned the tide of battle against the revolutionaries
in the middle Yangtse. Hankow and Hanyang, on the northern
bank of the river opposite Wu-ch‘ang, were recaptured from the
rebels.6 Yuan struck hard enough to show that he was not to
be trifled with, and that in any final settlement of the revolu-
tionary issue his views must be respected ; but he refrained from
striking as hard as he could have struck, and loyalists in all
parts of the country were both perplexed and indignant when
he failed to follow up his initial military successes. Yuan was
evidently pursuing a policy of his own, and it soon became clear
to all observers that loyalty to the throne was not the guiding
motive of his actions.7
It is not my purpose to give a history of the revolution, of
which detailed accounts exist in English and other languages.
I will therefore pass on to the peace conference which took place
at Shanghai at the end of 1911 and the beginning of 1912,
between the revolutionaries on one side and the Throne on the
other. The imperial delegate, Pang Shao-yi, was the nominee
and henchman of Yuan Shih-k‘ai. He was a native of the Canton
province (his home is near Macao) and in the early days of his
official career he was appointed secretary to Yuan Shih-k‘ai
when the latter was Resident in Korea. During Yuan’s governor-
ship of Shantung in 1900 he was again associated with him.
Among many other later appointments, he held that of special
commissioner to Tibet in 1904, and in 1906 he was the Chinese
envoy who negotiated the Tibet Convention with Great Britain.
When Hsu Shih-ch‘ang was appointed viceroy of Manchuria in
1907 Pang served under him as civil governor of Mukden.

When we remember that Tang Shao-yi had had close official
relations with Yuan for many years, that their relationsip was
that of disciple to master (a binding one in China) and that
Yuan had entrusted him with the delicate and responsible duty
of acting as imperial delegate to discuss terms of peace with the
rebels, we may feel sure that Tang would not have expressed
views at the conference which he knew to be distasteful to his
patron in Peking. What secret instructions or advice may have
been given by Yuan to Tang before the latter set out for
Shanghai, we do not know ; nor do we know of the secret com-
munications that passed between them when the conference was
in session. What we do know is that, to the amazement and con-
sternation of all who were still loyal to the dynasty, Tang
Shao-yi made a public declaration, at the conference, of his
conversion to republican principles. Having made this declar-
ation, which in the circumstances was as embarrassing as it
was humiliating to the Throne, Tang Shao-yi resigned his
position as delegate, and subsequent negotiations were carried
on in a dilatory and unsatisfactory manner between Peking and
The upshot of it all was that the parties to the negotiations
arrived at a compromise of a most remarkable nature—a com-
promise which in any country but China would probably be
considered too fantastic for serious consideration. A republican
form of government was established by imperial decree ; the
emperor announced his own abdication ; and in acknowledgment
of his willingness to grant the alleged wishes of his people the
republic guaranteed that he should be allowed to keep various
privileges, including the retention of the full imperial title, and
that besides being confirmed in the ownership of his own prop-
erty he should be granted a large annual subsidy for the con-
tinued maintenance of his court in one of the imperial palaces.
Details of this extraordinary arrangement will be given in the
next chapter.
The imperial edict which announced the abdication of the
emperor and the establishment of the republic was issued by
the Lung-Yu empress-dowager on February 12th, 1912. The
following translation of its essential clauses was made by me
shortly after its issue, for publication in an English review.8

“ The whole nation is now inclined towards a republican
form of government. The southern and central provinces first
gave clear evidence of this inclination, and the military-
leaders of the northern provinces have since promised their
support to the same cause. By observing the nature of the
people’s aspirations we learn the Will of Heaven (T‘ien-ming).
It is not fitting that We should withstand the desires of the
nation merely for the sake of the glorification of Our own
House. We recognise the signs of the age, and We have
tested the trend of popular opinion ; and We now, with the
Emperor at Our side, invest the nation with the sovereign
power, and decree the establishment of a constitutional gov-
ernment on a republican basis. In coming to this decision,
We are actuated not only by a hope to bring solace to Our
subjects, who long for the cessation of political tumult, but
also by a desire to follow the precepts of the sages of old who
taught that political sovereignty rests ultimately with the
I may perhaps be permitted to quote my own comment on this
edict. After observing that “ the abdication of the Chinese
emperor has been accompanied by the establishment of a
republic which has still to prove itself worthy of a patriot’s
devotion,” I wrote the words that follow.
“ The Abdication Edict cannot fail to be of interest to students
of the science of politics. The Throne itself is converted into a
bridge to facilitate the transition from the monarchical to the
republican form of government. The emperor remains absolute
to the last, and the very republican constitution, which involves
his own disappearance from political existence, is created by the
fiat of the emperor in his last official utterance. Theoretically,
the republic is established not by a people in arms acting in
opposition to the imperial will, but by the emperor acting with
august benevolence for his people’s good. The cynic may smile
at the transparency of the attempt to represent the abdication
as entirely voluntary, but in this procedure we find something
more than a mere ‘ face-saving ’ device invented for the purpose
of effecting a dignified retreat in the hour of disaster.9
“ Perhaps the greatest interest of the decree centres in its

appeal to the wisdom of the national sages, and its acceptance
of their theory as to the ultimate seat of political sovereignty.
The heart of the drafter may have quailed when he wrote the
words that signified the surrender of the imperial power, but
the spirit of Mencius guided his hand. It now remains for us to
hope that the teachings of the wise men of old, which have been
obeyed to such momentous issues by the last of the emperors,
will not be treated with contempt by his republican successors.
Let them remember that those wise men were wise not only in
matters affecting statecraft and kingly rule. They were teachers
of morals and builders of human character before they were
political theorisers. Let the architects of the New China remem-
ber that they, too, will assuredly be called upon to choose—not
once but many times—between obeying and disobeying ‘ the
precepts of the sages of old,’ and that the fate of their country
and the welfare of mankind may be dependent on the way in
which they exercise their choice.”10
In the same article I made a brief reference to the unhappy
prince Ch‘un.
“ Those of us who remember prince Ch‘un as a courteous and
gentle-mannered youth of nineteen years of age, who signalised
his entrance into public life by bearing the weight of his country’s
disgrace at the court of a Western monarch, will not be niggards
of our pity for one whose brief and ill-starred career of earthly
greatness ended, as it began, in the ashes of humiliation. Brother
of a puppet-emperor whose life was ruined by a woman’s lust
for power, father of an emperor whose three years’ reign came
to an ignoble end before he had reached his sixth birthday, the
ex-regent must now prostrate himself before the shrines of his
imperial ancestors and confess to the spirits of the august dead
his share in the ruin of their House. ‘ There is a sacred veil,’
said Burke, c to be drawn over the beginnings of all government.
It is sometimes fitting to draw a sacred veil over the end as
The ever-loyal Ku Hung-ming loved telling his friends, in
after years, of how he and some others first received the news
of the emperor’s abdication. They were at a dinner-party in
Shanghai, at the house of the well-known scholar Shen Tzu-p‘ei.
46 The house-boy,” he says, in a published account of the incident,

“ brought in an evening express sold in the streets contain-
ing the news that the decree of abdication had been issued.
. . . The whole company simultaneously rose to their feet and
turning their faces towards the north fell on their knees and
with weeping and sobbing knocked their heads on the floor. . . .
When, after this, late in the night, before parting from him,
I said to Mr. Shen, ‘ The catastrophe has come. What is there
more for us to do ? ’ he again grasped me by both hands and,
with tears flowing from his eyes, said to me in a voice which I
shall never forget, Shih shou kuo en ssu sheng i chih—‘ For
generations we have received benefits from the Imperial House ;
dead or alive I shall remain faithful to it.’ ”12
At the time when these great events were taking place in
Peking and Nanking, I was at Weihaiwei, where several dis-
tinguished Chinese loyalists were glad to take refuge under the
British flag, and where we had found it no easy task to convince
the 180,000 Chinese inhabitants of that territory that the em-
peror had indeed abdicated. For weeks their attitude was one
of silent incredulity. Enthusiasm for the revolution was wholly
lacking in that little section of Confucius’s native province, and
probably not fifty of its inhabitants had the slightest conception
of what a republic was. Nor did they show any desire to learn.
It is doubtful whether five hundred of them could define a
republic to-day, in spite of the fact that since October 1st, 1930,
they have ceased to groan under the lash of British “ imperi-
alism ” and (in spite of their petitions to be allowed to remain
under that lash) are now “ republican ” citizens.
The ignorance (or apathy, if it is fair to use that word) of the
people of Weihaiwei was shared by that of the vast masses of
their fellow-countrymen. In the article from which I have already
quoted, and which was written at Weihaiwei, I wrote as follows :
“ Whether the Chinese people—as distinct from a few foreign-
educated reformers—do, as a matter of fact, honestly believe that
a republican government is adapted to the needs of the country,
is a very different question. It certainly has not been proved that
‘ the whole nation is now inclined towards a Republic ’—in
spite of the admission to that effect contained in the imperial
edict of abdication. Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say
that the overwhelming majority of the people of China have not

the slightest idea what a republic means, and how their lives and
fortunes will be affected by its establishment, and therefore hold
no strong opinions concerning the advantages or disadvantages
of republican government.”13
Nevertheless, if in the days before the revolution a Chinese
had asked me what a republic was, I think I should have felt
justified in telling him to use his eyes and contemplate his own
surroundings. Si rempublicam requiras, circumspice. One of the
best authorities on Chinese civilisation, writing when the
monarchy was still in existence, described China as “ the greatest
republic the world has ever seen.”14 If we do not insist on too
narrow or rigid a definition of the word, that is true. China was
far more of a republic under the monarchy than it has ever
been since.
If it be true to say that there was no demand among the
people of China for a republican government in the Western sense
of the term (there has been no “ parliament ” in China since
1924 and no one seems to show any anxiety for a renewal of the
experiment which ended so ignominiously) it is equally true to
say that though there was discontent with the feebleness of the
government there was no widespread “ hate ” of the Manchus.
The anti-Manchu slogans invented by the revolutionaries were
soon taken up by vast numbers of Chinese who had no clear
conception of what they were doing or saying. Parrot-like, they
learned to cry “ Down with the Manchus,” just as countless
students and others have since learned to cry “ Down with
capitalism, imperialism, England, Japan,the ‘unequal treaties,”’
or this or that particular general or politician as the case may
be, according to the prevailing mode or the exigencies of the
moment. Numberless Chinese were infected in 1911 with the
revolutionary germ and suddenly became violently anti-Manchu
and anti-monarchic without any distinct idea of what had
happened to them. In many cases which came to my own know-
ledge they were thoroughly ashamed of themselves afterwards,
and admitted that when they were caught in the political
maelstrom they temporarily lost their wits. We have witnessed
very similar phenomena in other parts of the world, and they
only remind us that the Chinese share our common human
nature. We have seen something of the kind in contemporary