Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger.

The life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order online

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power and the total annihilation of the national government. The
Ameer in thus resigning reserved to himself the right of seeking, when
occasion offered, restoration to his heritage and its reversion to his
heir. Nothing has occurred to justify the ignoring of these undeniable

Gordon's resignation was handed in to Lord Ripon on the night of
the 2nd of June, the news appeared in the London papers of the 4th,
and it had one immediate consequence which no one could have fore-
seen. But before referring to that matter I must make clear the heavy
pecuniary sacrifice his resignation of this post entailed upon Gordon,
lie repaid every farthing of his expenses as to passage money, etc., to
Lord Ripon, which left him very much out of pocket. He wrote
himself on the subject : " All this Private Secretaryship and its conse-
quent expenses are all due to my not acting on my ozvn instinct.
However, for the future I will be wiser. ... It was a living crucifixion.
... I nearly burst with the trammels. ... A ;;^ioo,ooo a year would
not have kept me there. I resigned on 2 June, and never unpacked
my official dress."

The immediate consequence referred to was as follows : In the
drawer of Mr J. D. Campbell, at the office at Storey's Gate of the
Chinese Imperial Customs, had been lying for some little time the
following telegram for Colonel Gordon from Sir Robert Hart, the
Inspector-General of the Department in China : —

" I am directed to invite you here (Peking). Please come and see
for yourself. The opportunity of doing really useful work on a large
scale ought not to be lost. Work, position, conditions, can all be
arranged with yourself here to your satisfaction. Do take six months'
leave and come."

As Mr Campbell was aware of Gordon's absence in India, he had
thought it useless to forward the message, and it was not until the
resignation was announced that he did so. In dealing with this intricate
matter, which was complicated by extraneous considerations, it is neces-
sary to clear up point by point. When Gordon received the message
he at once concluded that the invitation came from his old colleauue

214 ^'^^ ^^f^ ^f ^07'don.

Li Hung Chang, and accepted it on that assumption, which in the end
proved erroneous. It is desirable to state that since Gordon's departure
from China in 1865 at least one communication had passed between
these former associates in a great enterprise. The following character-
istic letter, dated Tientsin, 22nd March 1879, reached Gordon while he
was at Khartoum : —

" Dear Sir,— I am instructed by His Excellency the Grand Secretary,
Li, to answer your esteemed favour, dated the 27th October 1878, from
Khartoum, which was duly received. I am right glad to hear from you. It
is now over fourteen years since we parted from each other. Although I
have not written to you, but I often speak of you, and remember you with
very great interest. The benefit you have conferred on China does not dis-
appear with vour person, but is felt throughout the regions in which you
played so important and active a part. All those people bless you for the
blessings of peace and prosperity which they now enjoy.

" Your achievements in Egypt are well known throughout the civilized
world. I see often in the papers of your noble works on the Upper Nile.
You are a man of ample resources, with which you suit yourself to any kind
of emergency. My hope is that you may long be spared to improve the
conditions of the people amongst whom your lot is cast. I am striving hard
to advance my people to a higher state of development, and to unite both
this and all other nations within the ' Four Seas ' under one common brother-
hood. To the several questions put in your note the following are the
answers : — Kwoh Sung-Ling has retired from official life, and is now living
at home. Yang Ta Jen died a great many years ago. Na Wang's adopted
son is doing well, and is the colonel of a regiment, with 500 men under
him. The'Pa to' Chiaow Bridge, which you destroyed, was rebuilt very
soon after you left China, and it is now in very good condition.

" Kwoh Ta jen, the Chinese Minister, wrote to me that he had the
pleasure of seeing you in London. I wished I had been there also to
see you ; but the responsibilities of life are so distributed to different
individuals in different parts of the world, that it is a wise economy of
Providence that we are not all in the same spot.

" I wish you all manner of happiness and prosperity. With my highest
regards, — I remain, yours very truly a

" (For Li Hung Chang), Tseng Laisun."

Under the belief that Hart's telegram emanated from Li Hung
Chang, and inspired by loyalty to a friend in a difficulty, as well as
by affection for the Chinese people, whom in his own words he "liked
best next after his own," Gordon replied to this telegram in the follow-
ing message: "Inform Hart Gordon will leave for Shanghai first
opportunity. As for conditions, Gordon indifferent."

At that moment China seemed on the verge of war with Russia,
in consequence of the disinclination of the latter power to restore the
province of Kuldja, which she had occupied at the time of the Mahom-
medan uprising in Central Asia. The Chinese official, Chung How,
who had signed an unpopular treaty at Livadia, had been sentenced
to death — the treaty itself had been repudiated — and hostilities were

Minor Missions — India dnd China. 215

even said to have commenced. The announcement that the Chinese
Government had invited Gordon to Peking, and that he had promptly
repHed that he would come, was also interpreted as signifying the
resolve to carry matters with a high hand, and to show the world that
China was determined to obtain what she was entitled to. Those
persons who have a contemptuous disregard for dates went so far even
as to assert that Gordon had resigned because of the Chinese invitation.
Never was there a clearer case oi post hoc, propter hoc; but even the
officials at the War Office were suspicious in the matter, and their
attitude towards Gordon went near to precipitate the very catastrophe
they wanted to avoid.

On the same day (Sth June) as he telegraphed his reply to the
Chinese invitation, he telegraphed to Colonel Grant, Deputy Adjutant-
General for the Royal Engineers at the Horse Guards : " Obtain me
leave until end of the year; am invited to China; will not involve
Government." Considering the position between China and Russia, and
the concern of the Russian press and Government at the report about
Gordon, it is not surprising that this request was not granted a ready
approval. The official reply came back : " Must state more specifically
purpose and position for and in which you go to China." To this
Gordon sent the following characteristic answer : " Am ignorant ; will
write from China before the expiration of my leave." An answer like
this savoured of insubordination, and shows how deeply Gordon was
hurt by the want of confidence reposed in him. In saying this I
disclaim all intention of criticising the authorities, for whose view there
was some reasonable justification ; but the line they took, while right
enough for an ordinary Colonel of Engineers, was not quite a con-
siderate one in the case of an officer of such an exceptional position
and well-known idiosyncrasies as " Chinese " Gordon. On that ground
alone may it be suggested that the blunt decision thus given in the
final official telegram — "Reasons insufficient; your going to China is
not approved," was somewhat harsh.

It was also impotent, for it rather made Gordon persist in carrying
out his resolve than deterred him from doing so. His reply was thus
worded : " Arrange retirement, commutation, or resignation of service ;
ask Campbell reasons. My counsel, if asked, would be for peace, not war.
I return by America." Gordon's mind was fully made up to go, even if
he had to sacrifice his commission. Without waiting for any further
communication he left Bombay. As he had insisted on repaying Lord
Ripon his passage-money from England to India which, owing to his
resignation, the Viceroy would otherwise have had to pay out of his own
pocket, Gordon was quite without funds, and he had to borrow the sum

21 6 TJie Life of Gordon.

required to defray his passage to China. But having made up his mind,
such trifling difficuUies were not likely to deter him. He sailed from
Bombay, not merely under the displeasure of his superiors and uncertain
as to his own status, but also in that penniless condition, which was not
wholly out of place in his character of knight-errant. But with that
solid good sense, which so often retrieved his reputation in the eyes of
the world, he left behind him the following public proclamation as to
his mission and intentions. It was at once a public explanation of his
proceedings, and a declaration of a pacific policy calculated to appease
both official and Russian irritation :

"My fixed desire is to persuade the Chinese not to go to war with
Russia, both in their own interests and for the sake of those of the world,
especially those of England. In the event of war breaking out I cannot
answer how I should act for the present, but I should ardently desire a
speedy peace. It is my fixed desire, as I have said, to persuade the
Chinese not to go to war with Russia. To me it appears that the
question in dispute cannot be of such vital importance that an arrange-
ment could not be come to by concessions upon both sides. Whether
I succeed in being heard or not is not in my hands. I protest, how-
ever, at being regarded as one who wishes for war in any country, still
less in China. Inclined as I am, with only a small degree of admira-
tion for military exploits, I esteem it a far greater honour to promote
peace than to gain any paltry honours in a wretched war."

With that message to his official superiors, as well as to the world,
Gordon left Bombay on 13th June. His message of the day before
saying, " Consult Campbell," had induced the authorities at the Horse
Guards to make inquiries of that gentleman, who had no difficulty in
satisfying them that the course of events was exactly as has here been
set forth, and coupling that with Gordon's own declaration that he was
for peace not war, permission was granted to Gordon to do that which
at all cost he had determined to do. When he reached Ceylon he
found this telegram : " Leave granted on your engaging to take no
military service in China," and he somewhat too comprehensively, and
it may even be feared rashly if events had turned out otherwise, replied :
" I will take no military service in China : I would never embarrass the
British Government."

Having thus got clear of the difficulties which beset him on the
threshold of his mission, Gordon had to prepare himself for those that
were inherent to the task he had taken up. He knew of old how
averse the Chinese are to take advice from any one, how they waste time
in fathoming motives, and how when they say a thing shall be done it
is never performed. Yet the memory of his former disinterested and

Minor Missions — India and China. 2\y

splendid service afforded a guarantee that if they would take advice and
listen to unflattering criticism from any one, that man was Gordon. Still,
from the most favourable point of view, the mission was fraught with
difficulty, and circumstances over which he had no control, and of which
he was even ignorant, added immensely to it. There is no doubt that
Peking was at that moment the centre of intrigues, not only between the
different Chinese leaders, but also among the representatives.of the Foreign
Powers. The secret history of these transactions has still to be revealed,
and as our Foreign Office never gives up the private instructions it trans-
mits to its representatives, the full truth may never be recorded. l)Ut
so far as the British Government was concerned, its action was limited
to giving the Minister, Sir Thomas Wade, instructions to muzzle Gordon
and prevent his doing anything that wasn't strictly in accordance with
official etiquette and quite safe, or, in a word, to make him do nothing.
The late Sir Thomas Wade was a most excellent Chinese scholar and
estimable person in every way, but when he tried to do what the British
Government and the whole arrayed body of the Horse Guards, from
the Commander-in-Chief down to the Deputy-Adjutant General, had
failed to do, viz. to keep Gordon in leading strings, he egregiously
failed. Sir Thomas Wade went so far as to order Gordon to stay in the
British Legation, and to visit no one without his express permission.
Gordon's reply was to ignore the British Legation and to never enter
its portals during the whole of his stay in China.

That was one difficulty in the situation apart from the Russian
question, but it was not the greatest, and as it was the first occasion on
which European politics re-acted in a marked way on the situation in
China, such details as are ascertainable are well worth recording at
some length.

There is no doubt that the Russian Government was very much dis-
turbed at what seemed an inevitable hostile collision with China. The
uncertain result of such a contest along an enormous land-frontier, with
which, at that time, Russia had very imperfect means of communication,
was the least cause of its disquietude. A war with China signified to
Russia something much more serious than this, viz., a breach of the
policy of friendship to its vast neighbour, which it had consistently
pursued for two centuries, and which it will pursue until it is ready
to absorb, and then in the same friendly guise, its share of China.
Under these circumstances the Russian Government looked round for
every means of averting the catastrophe. It is necessary to guard
oneself from seeming to imply that Russia was in any sense afraid,
or doubtful as to the result of a war with China ; her sole motives
were those of astute and far-seeing policy. Whether the Russian

2i8 The Life of Gordon.

Ambassador at Berlin mooted the matter to Prince Bismarck, or whether
that statesman, without inspiration, saw his chance of doing Russia a
good turn at no cost to himself is not certain, but instructions were
sent to Herr von Brandt, the German Minister at Peking, a man of great
energy, and in favour of bold measures, to support the Peace Party in
every way. He was exactly a man after Prince Bismarck's own heart,
prepared to go to any lengths to attain his object, and fully persuaded
that the end justifies the means. His plan was startlingly simple and
bold. Li Hung Chang, the only prominent advocate of peace, was
to rebel, march on Peking with his P^lack Flag army, and establish
a Government of his own. There is no doubt whatever that this
scheme was formed and impressed on Li Hung Chang as the acme
of wisdom. INIore than that, it was supported by two other Foreign
Ministers at Peking, with greater or less warmth, and one of them was
Sir Thomas Wade. These plots were dispelled by the sound sense and
candid but firm representations of Gordon. But for him, as will be
seen, there would have been a rebellion in the country, and Li Hung
Chang would now be either Emperor of China or a mere instance of
a subject who had lost his head in trying to be supreme.

Having thus explained the situation that awaited Gordon, it is
necessary to briefly trace his movements after leaving Ceylon. He
reached Hongkong on 2nd July, and not only stayed there for a day
or two as the guest of the Governor, Sir T. Pope Hennessey, but
found sufficient time to pay a flying visit to the Chinese city of Canton.
Thence he proceeded to Shanghai and Chefoo. At the latter place
he found news, which opened his eyes to part of the situation, in a
letter from Sir Robert Hart, begging him to come direct to him at
Peking, and not to stop en route to visit Li Hung Chang at Tientsin.
As has been explained, Gordon went to China in the full belief that,
whatever names were used, it was his old colleague Li Hung Chang
who sent for him, and the very first definite information he
received on approaching the Chinese caj)ital was that not Li, but
persons whom by inference were inimical to Li, had sent for him.
The first question that arises then was who was the real author of
the invitation to Gordon that bore the name of Hart. It cannot be
answered, for Gordon assured me that he himself did not know; but
there is no doubt that it formed part of the plot and counter-plot
originated by the German Minister, and responded to by those who
were resolved, in the event of Li's rebellion, to uphold the Dragon
Throne. Sir Robert Hart is a man of long-proved ability and address,
who has rendered the Chinese almost as signal service as did Gordon
himself, and on this occasion he was actuated by the highest possible

Mino7'- Missions — India and China. 219

motives, but it must be recorded that his letter led to a temporary
estrangement between himself and Gordon, who I am happy to be able
to state positively did realise long afterwards that he and Hart were
fighting in the same camp, and had the same objects in view — only
this was not apparent at the time. Gordon went to China only
because he thought Li Hung Chang sent for him, but when he found
that powerful persons were inciting him to revolt, he became the
first and most strenuous in his advice against so imprudent and un-
patriotic a measure. Sir Robert Hart knew exactly what was being
done by the German Minister. He wished to save Gordon from
being drawn into a dangerous and discreditable plot, and also in the
extreme eventuality to deprive any rebellion of the support of Gordon's
military genius.

But without this perfect information, and for the best, as in the
end it proved, Gordon, hot with disappointment that the original
summons was not from Li Hung Chang, went straight to that states-
man's yamen at Tientsin, ignored Hart, and proclaimed that he had
come as the friend of the only man who had given any sign of an
inclination to regenerate China. He resided as long as he was in
Northern China with Li Hung Chang, whom he found being goaded
towards high treason by persons who had no regard for China's
interests, and who thought only of the attainment of their own selfish
designs. The German Minister, thinking that he had obtained an
ally who would render the success of his own plan certain, proposed
that Gordon should put himself at the head of Li's army, march on
Peking, and depose the Emperor. Gordon's droll comment on this
is : "I told him I was equal to a good deal of filibustering, but that
this was beyond me, and that I did not think there was the slightest
chance of such a project succeeding, as Li had not a sufficient follow-
ing to give it any chance of success." He recorded his views of the
situation in the following note: "The only thing that keeps me in
China is Li Hung Chang's safety — if he were safe I would not care —
but some people are egging him on to rebel, some to this, and some
to that, and all appears m a helpless drift. There are parties at Peking
who would drive the Chinese into war for their own ends." Having
measured the position and found it bristling with unexpected difficulties
and dangers, Gordon at once regretted the promise he had given his
own Government in the message from Ceylon. He thought it was
above all things necessary for him to have a free hand, and he
consequently sent the following telegram to the Horse Guards : " I
have seen Li Hung Chang, and he wishes me to stay with him. I
cannot desert China in her present crisis, and would be free to act

2 20 The Life of Gordon.

as I think fit. I therefore beg to resign my commission in Her
Majesty's Service." Having thus reheved, as he thought, his Govern-
ment of all responsibility for his acts — although they responded to
this message by accusing him of insubordination, and by instructing
Sir Thomas ^Vade to jjlace him under moral arrest — Gordon threw
himself into the China difficulty with his usual ardour. Nothing more
remained to be done at Tientsin, where he had effectually checked the
pernicious counsel pressed on Li Hung Chang most strongly by the
German Minister, and in a minor degree by the representatives of
France and England. In order to influence the Central Government
it was necessary for him to proceed to Peking, and the following
unpublished letter graphically describes his views at the particular
moment : —

" I am on my way to Peking. There are three parties — Li Hung
Chang (i), the Court (2), the Literary Class (3). The two first are for
peace, but dare not say it for fear of the third party. I have told Li
that he, in alliance with the Court, must coerce the third party, and
have written this to Li and to the Court Party. By so doing I put
my head in jeopardy in going to Peking. I do not wish Li to act alone.
It is not good he should do anything except support the Court Party
morally. God will overrule for the best. If neither the Court Party nor
Li can act, if these two remain and let things drift, then there will be
a disastrous war, of which I shall not see the end. You know I do not
mourn this. Having given up my commission, I have nothing to look
for, and indeed I long for the quiet of the future. ... If the third
party hear of my recommendation before the Court Party acts, then I
may be doomed to a quick exit at Peking. Li Hung Chang is a noble
fellow, and worth giving one's life for; but he must not rebel and lose
his good name. It is a sort of general election which is going on, but
where heads are in gage."

Writing to me some months later. General Gordon entered into
various matters relating to this period, and as the letter indirectly
throws light on what may be called the Li Hung Chang episode, I
quote it here, although somewhat out of its proper place : —

" Thanks for your kind note. I send you the two papers which were
made public in China, and through the Shen-pao some of it was sent over.
Another paper of fifty-two articles I gave Li Hung Chang, but I purposely
kept no copy of it. for it went into —

" I. The contraband of salt and opium at Hongkong.

" 2. The advantages of telegraphs and canals, not railways, which have
ruined Egypt and Turkey by adding to the financial difficulties.

"3. The effctencss of the Chinese representatives abroad, etc, etc., etc.

" I wrote as a Chinaman for the Chinese. I recommended Chinese
merchants to do away with middle-men, and to have Government aid and

Minor Missions — India and China.

22 1

encouragement to create houses or firms in London, etc.; to make their own
cotton goods, etc. In fact, I wrote as a Chinaman. I see now and then
symptoms that they are awake to the situation, for my object has been
always to put myself into the skin of those I may be with, and I like these
people as much — well, say nearly as much — as I like my countrymen.

" There are a lot of people in China who would egg on revolts of A and B.
All this is wrong. China xwwii fani da se. I painted this picture to the Chinese
of 1900 : 'Who are those people hanging about with jinrickshas?' 'The
sons of the European merchants.' 'What are those ruins?' 'The Hongs
of the European merchants,' etc., etc.

" People have asked me what I thought of the advance of China during
the sixteen years I was absent. They looked superficially at the power
military of China. I said they are unchanged. You come, I must go; but
I go on to say that the stride China has made in commerce is immense, and
commerce and wealth are the power of nations, not the troops. Like the
Chinese, I have a great contempt for military prowess. It is ephemeral. I
admire administrators, not generals. A military Red-Button mandarin has
to bow low to a Blue-Button civil mandarin, and rightly so to my mind.

" I wrote the other day to Li Hung Chang to protest against the railway
from Ichang to Peking along the Grand Canal. In making it they would
enter into no end of expenses, the coin would leave the country and they
would not understand it, and would be fleeced by the financial cormorants of
Great Britain. They can understand canals. Let them repair the Grand

Having arrived at Peking, Gordon was received in several councils
by Prince Chun, the father of the young Emperor and the recognised
leader of the War Party. The leading members of the Grand Council
were also present, and Gordon explained his views to them at length.
Ifi the first place, he said, if there were war he would only stay to help
them on condition that they destroyed the suburbs of Peking, allowed

Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 25 of 40)