Sarah Pike Conger.

Letters from China, with particular reference to the empress dowager and the women of China online

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give expression to his smile. He did not impress me as
being a frail person.

When we arose from the table, the Empress Dowager
said, "I hope that we shall meet oftener and become
friends by knowing one another better." She passed on
to the other tables, talked with the ladies and children,
and then left the room.

Through beautiful apartments and grounds we were
escorted to our chairs and, as we passed out from the
Imperial Court, the gates of the Forbidden City were
locked behind us. We departed with the same ceremony
with which we came. This historic day cannot do harm ;
surely its deeds must have enough of life in them to root,
to branch, to blossom, and to fruit into strength for the
nations. After this audience, the Diplomatic Corps
requested the Chinese Court to present no gifts at future

There were sharp and bitter criticisms of the ladies'
acceptance of the Imperial invitation. Individual bitter-
ness still has its poison and would keep the breach open
and even widen it if possible ; but national wisdom, through
peace negotiations, seeks to close the breach. Pressing
the thorns of sorrow and revenge deeper into our hearts
will never lessen the sting of the horrible past nor permit
us to rest in peace.

These are strange days here in this strange land, but


they are most interesting and instructive. Never before
have we been permitted to see so many of the Chinese
officials as we are this winter. The frequent association,
socially and politically, brings a better understanding
between the Chinese and foreigners, but it is going to
take much patient work and forbearance before they can
think and act in harmony.

[To Daughter Laura]

American Legation, Peking,
March 16, 1Q02.

YOUR letters we look forward to with a love that is
warm and true. Bless your dear heart ! You are always
doing good — manifesting that Good which never fails.
God is with us. Love reigns, let the human seeming
be what it may.

The siege at Peking, the awful troubles, the fearful
sacrifices, introduced the different nations of the earth as
they never had been introduced before, and opened the
way to a broader knowledge of one another that is big
with promise. What China and the other nations have
done during 1900 and 1901 is beyond any human power
to tell. The wonderful Joint Note, the Protocol, the safe
returning of the Imperial Court to its undestroyed pal-
aces, which had been protected and turned over to the
Chinese Government by foreign troops, all now show
that the nations did better than they knew.

Being Dean of the ladies of the Diplomatic Corps,
I was brought in close contact with the Empress Dow-
ager at the audiences given to the ladies. I have not
written to you of the second audience, February twenty-


seventh. While much of it was like the first in ceremony,
there was much that was not formal; our visit was de-
lightful and full of womanly significance. The foreign
Ministers requested that no presents be given to the
ladies by the Court. The Empress Dowager, after sit-
ting with us at their bountifully spread table, took us
into her own apartments. When we were taken into the
most private room, Her Majesty seemed greatly pleased
and waved her hand toward a richly draped and cush-
ioned Wang that reached across one end of the long room.
At the back of the Wang there was a shelf filled with beau-
tiful jade and other ornaments, and seven rather small
clocks, all running. At the end of the Wang was another
shelf on which were dishes of fruit. Her Majesty got
upon the Wang and motioned for me and others to do the
same. She took a small jade baby boy from the shelf,
tucked it into my hand, and with actions interpreted her
unspoken words, "Don't tell." I took the dear little
thing home, and I prize it. It showed good will, and I
do not intend to let go of that thought. We drank
tea and chatted informally. I must tell you right here
that the Empress Dowager is learning English. I will
have to explain how when you are with us. I knew
this before we went, and strove all the while to detect her
efforts and to acknowledge them. After the audience
was over and we were quiet in our dear home of comfort,
I was truly grateful that I could see the good spirit mani-
fested in that woman whom the world has so bitterly

Your father and I talked the situation over, and I
said that I believed I should and could return the com-
pliment of the Court in a simple way acceptable to the


Empress Dowager and the high officials. It has occurred
to me that I could invite the Court Princesses to a
tiffin. He said that it would do no harm to try, and told
me to consult Lien Fang, who could present the matter
to Prince Ch'ing, and that he in turn could see the
Empress Dowager and ascertain her position before I
issued my invitations. They seemed greatly pleased,
and I sent back word for them to please make the selec-
tion of the Princesses, and send a list of names according
to rank. This they did. The day was set, and invita-
tions were sent out. I will not write their names, as
that would not make you any wiser, but I will tell you
who they are: the Empress Dowager's adopted daugh-
ter, the Imperial Princess, the Empress Dowager's niece,
who is a sister of the Empress, Prince Ch'ing's two wives
and three daughters; the granddaughter of Prince Kung,
Prince Ch'ing's son's wife, a lady who had married into
the "order," but is a widow, and the little Chinese Court
interpreter; these were our "honorable Chinese guests."
There were eleven of them. I wanted this tiffin to be
the very best that I could make it and the house to look
its best. Our servants one and all entered into the spirit
of the occasion. I told Wang that I wanted flowers,
flowers, flowers everywhere. The little potted trees
filled full of red and white buds and blossoms came into
the compound in processions. We placed some in cool,
dark rooms and some in the warm sunshine. When
needed, they were aglow with living smiles in abundance,
to welcome the Princesses who love them. They are
all potted in decorated porcelain jardinieres, and so were
the large palms that were placed here and there through
the rooms. Some of the flowers were banked, while


others stood alone singing their praises. No one can
appreciate these dwarf flower-trees without seeing them.
You really want to talk to them. The patient, gentle
Chinese thought makes them do just what they desire
them to do. The Chinese change them from one pot to
another when in bud or in blossom and the plants do not
bow their heads or look hurt, but keep their beauty and
smile right on.

We hung on the wall the banner that the Empress
Dowager painted and gave to me. We also hung fine
Chinese embroideries showing that we appreciated their
beautiful, choice work. The rooms were very pretty
when ready for the Imperial ladies. The large dining-
room had its long table stretched to its utmost. Flowers
arranged low reached its entire length. The decora-
tions were in dark pink and green. We had red menu
cards, as red is the Princesses' color. The plate cards
were in red Chinese characters. I invited all the ladies
in the American Legation and army post to assist at this
tiffin, and one lady from each American mission to assist
as interpreters and otherwise. They entered most en-
thusiastically into the spirit of entertaining these Court
ladies, the highest in China with the exception of Their
Majesties. There were eleven Chinese and eleven Ameri-
cans present. The Americans came early and had their
parts assigned. Each knew how to receive the Chinese
ladies and how to go to the table; each had her number
and knew just where to fall in line. Promptly at half-
past twelve o'clock the procession entered the American
Compound. The yellow Imperial chair, with gold knob,
came first with the Imperial Princess, then followed the
red chairs bearing the other Princesses, then green chairs


with others of lesser rank. The third daughter of Prince
Ch'ing was in a red Princess' cart and the "little inter-
preter" was in an official cart. What a sight! The
compound was full. The yellow chair came to the
door and I stepped out to receive the Imperial Princess,
whom I had seen twice before. I took her hand
and we walked into the house. The others followed
according to rank. Each Princess had with her eight
eunuchs and there were several minor officials in attend-
ance. Aside from the officials and eunuchs, there were
nine bearers to each chair.

My missionary assistants were most proficient, and ere
long had indicated to each American the Princess whom
she was to escort to the table. We had tea, after which
I took the hand of the Imperial Princess and led the way
to the dining-room, the others falling at once into line.
When in our places at table and while standing, I said,
"Let us lift our glasses filled to the brim with the best of
good wishes for the health and happiness of the Emperor,
the Empress Dowager, and Empress of China and to the
prosperity of their people. May China and America con-
tinue in their friendly relations!" Mrs. Gattrel at once
interpreted my words. Then the Imperial Princess
without hesitation said, "I bring the greetings of the
Empress Dowager herself to this company, and she
hopes that the pleasant relations that now exist between
America and China will always continue as they now are. ' '

We were seated. The little Chinese interpreter did
not seat herself with the others, but stood behind the
Imperial Princess' chair during the toasts. Then, cour-
tesying and bowing low to her, she passed to each Chinese
lady in the same manner. All recognized her, and she


then was seated. As she did not rank with these ladies,
she asked permission to sit with them. The Chinese
are taught etiquette from their earliest childhood. Their
grace of manner, gentleness, politeness, and respect are
most beautiful and attractive.

The Chinese ladies, without apparently doing so,
watched every movement and used fork, knife, or spoon
as I used them. They surprised us with the ease with
which they handled knives and forks for the first time
in their lives. We had five interpreters at the table,
so our conversation did not lag. We arose and left the
table as we came to it. Eunuchs were standing about
and many were in the drawing-room ready at all times
to serve the ladies. We served tea, played duets on the
piano, sang, and looked at pictures. I had two baby
pictures, and the ladies looked lovingly upon them and
asked if I had more. I wish that you would get little
fancy pictures of babies and children and send them.
We talked, drank more tea, and then came the good-byes.
I escorted the Imperial Princess to her chair, sent a happy
message to the Empress Dowager, and recognized the
others as they passed. And so the grand procession
passed from under the American flag and into the streets
of the Dragon flag. Chinese soldiers were stationed
about the gate and to the east. Many hundreds of sol-
diers, with heads bowed, were standing along the route
to the ladies' homes, and all Chinese were kept from the
streets through which the procession passed, but thou-
sands were standing elsewhere enjoying the sight.

Some of these first ladies of China had never seen
foreign ladies before; the others had seen them only at
audiences given by the Empress Dowager. These


Princesses brought four hundred and eighty-one servants
with them including the sixty soldiers at the gate. The
higher the person in rank, the more servants he brings.

Your father gave a dinner the other night to Prince
Ch'ing and the other highest officials of the Court. They
brought two hundred and thirty-two servants. This
was the first large dinner given in Peking by a foreign
Minister, or any foreigner, to the highest officials. They
were a happy, dignified body.

After the wonderful return of the Court in peace, the
Empress Dowager opened the doors of the Palace, invited
us in, and we accepted the invitation. Why should we not
return the compliment ? When this tiffin was over — and
it was pronounced a complete success — I was truly grate-
ful. If the Empress Dowager and the husbands had not
consented, the ladies could not have come to my home.
Their acceptance was a wonderful departure from old cus-
toms. These ladies are all Manchus. They wear their
hair extended at the sides with rich, elaborate hair decora-
tions. Their hair is black, heavy, long, and combed with
greatest accuracy. Their faces are painted white and pink,
with a red spot on the lower lip. They wore many jewels
and gold jewelled finger shields for the protection of their
long nails. Their gowns were most exquisite in texture,
embroidery, and coloring. These ladies formed a beauti-
ful picture. I cannot give it to you as I saw it there and
shall always see it. Photographs of these Princesses in
black and white would not fairly represent them. I am a
great admirer of the Chinese costumes both for ladies and

After the ladies had gone, Wang came to us all smiles
and said, "Might stay hundred year, never see like this.


Servants come from all Legations to see who come. The
front gate and street blocked against Chinese. They
all come back way. They say to me, 'You see ladies?
You wait on them?'" He laughed and said, "They
think very great; all eunuchs serve big ladies. No like
this ever before." I had five house-boys in uniform
serving, and they looked well and did well. They were
delighted over their unheard-of privilege in seeing these

My dear girl, I bow my head low in most earnest prayer
that love and love's wisdom may be revealed to me in all
my intercourse with the Chinese, as well as with the other
nationalities, and with my own dear people.

[To My Laura]

Legation Home, Peking,
March 25, IQ02.
OUR people are insane about coming to Peking, yes,
insane to get to Peking and see. They reason like this:
The American Legation is there; the American army is
there; it is safe to go, and we shall be protected. Many
come to your father with letters and some without.
Public accommodations are literally nothing for taking
care of visitors. In this country women, travelling unpro-
tected or without an escort, are considered the lowest of
the low. If people travel, it is wise to comply with the
customs of propriety. To illustrate this point: Before
my return, when your father was here alone, Wang came
to him one night saying, "Mr. Minister, lady at door
wishes to see you." Mr. Conger replied, "Invite her in,
and I will see her."


"What can I do for you?" was his greeting. She
was an American, and had come from the train, bag
in hand. How did she get here ? She introduced herself

as Mrs. and said, "My father and you were young

men friends. I often hear him speak of you. I wished
to visit Peking, but my friends would not come farther
than Japan. Knowing that you knew my father, I
came without them."

Mr. Conger asked her for her father's card or a letter
from him. She had none! He kindly explained the
situation, and rebuked her for coming to a strange land
unprotected and without credentials of any kind. He
told her that he was alone and could not take her into his
home, but that he would send his boy Wang with her to
the best inn for the night. Wang returned and said,
"Very bad! No proper place for lady!" Your father
meditated. "This woman may be all right — she looks
it. What if my daughter was in a strange land unpro-
tected?" The battle was fought. He went to Mrs.
Bainbridge, the Secretary's wife in the Legation, and pre-
sented the case, asking if she could take this woman for
the night. A bed was made on the sofa. Wang went
for the woman; she returned with him and was saved.
Later it was proved that her statements were true. This
is only one of the demands of attention in this line. Your
father's good judgment guides him through the little
waters as well as the greater ones.

After our tiffin to the Princesses, they sent an invi-
tation to the same eleven Americans and to Mrs. Uchida,
the Japanese Minister's wife, to tiffin with them. We
made arrangements for all to go together and went in
chairs, carts, and on ponies. There were six chairs with


eight bearers each, seven carts with their escorts, and
each lady had two or three outriders and two or three
amahs. We had nearly one hundred servants, but we
were obliged to have them in order to conform to Chinese
custom. The Princesses had four hundred and eighty-one
servants when they came to our tiffin. Well, we got there !
The Princesses met us in the court and welcomed us
most graciously. We have met these ladies now four
times and feel quite well acquainted. Each took one of
us by the hand, escorted us into the house, and tea was
served. We had not been there long before two eunuchs
entered, each with a pretty new basket with red satin
pad upon which was a beautiful little black dog. Around
the neck of each was a rich collar with gold bells, tassels,
and other ornaments in most fanciful arrangement;
there was also, for each dog, a gold-mounted harness with
a long silk cord and gold hook. One little dog was
placed in my lap and the other in Mrs. Uchida's and we
were told that the Empress Dowager had sent them to us.
I have been wanting one of these dogs ever since my
return, and to think of its coming in this way! I was
delighted. He is a bright little fellow, full of life, not at
all afraid, and he now rules the household.

I had not been long rejoicing over my dog when I was
asked to see the feast that the Empress Dowager had sent
to me. I stepped forward, admired, and expressed my
appreciation. There were six decorated yellow boxes
filled with Chinese candies, candied fruit, and other
Chinese sweets. They looked beautiful; when I reached
home I found them awaiting me. After mine were taken
away more were brought for Mrs. Uchida. Tea was
again served, then we were invited to the dining-


room. Each Chinese lady escorted a foreign lady.
How I wish you could see these living pictures! Be-
fore we were seated, the Imperial Princess lifted her glass
of wine and read a toast to us. Those of our party most
conversant with Chinese said that the characters used
were in the best style of Mandarin. A young Chinese
girl translated it into English and I replied for the foreign
ladies. We were seated, and good cheer, lively conversa-
tion, the Princesses in their rich clothing, their dainty
ways and graces, made the day glow with enjoyable
beauty. I am truly grateful to have this little knowledge
of the inner lives of these strange yet attractive people.
It is best to pause before we condemn people of whom
we know little. We visited in a friendly way until nearly
three o'clock, then we took our departure. Each Chinese
lady had learned to say "Good-bye," and laughingly,
distinctly uttered the words.

We returned home feeling better for having visited
with the Imperial Princess and the other Princesses of the
Chinese Court. You remember who told me to nourish
every little tendril of kindness that it might grow strong.

Your father and I often take our rides together over
the places so familiar to you and Mary. But these places
seem to be losing their old customs and putting on new
ones. Where are the five thousand camels and their
masters which were bringing coal into Peking before the
troubles of 1900? In our rides these days we never see
them. The men and animals are gone. It takes manage-
ment to get our supply of coal now. Fuel is scarce and
expensive, and so is everything. We miss our dear girls
at every turn, but the joys in their wedded lives cancel
all our selfish regrets.


Peking, May g, 1902.
Dear Mrs. Conger:

A LETTER has come from Mrs. asking me to

answer some questions in regard to your attitude toward
the Empress Dowager. I enclose the part of her letter
in which she asks these questions. Will you please tell
me just how you would like to have them answered ? Or
perhaps you prefer to answer them yourself. I feel that
it is necessary to give Mrs. as correct an idea as pos-
sible of the whole affair as she reaches a great number of
our thinking women through her paper. She had, unfor-
tunately, heard only the newspaper criticisms before she
came to Peking, but she seemed very glad to get all the
light that she could, and the broader, truer view. I think
it will be necessary to mail a letter to her to-morrow, if it
reaches her before she leaves Korea. A boat leaves on
Monday and not another for two weeks.

If I did not think that this would do a great deal of
good, I should be sorry to add to your many duties.

Most sincerely,

Maud Mackey.

The part of the letter enclosed and referred to above
is as follows:

"Send me a note to Seoul, Korea, before end of May.
I may use it in print. Mrs. Conger's party: (a) Was it a
luncheon? (b) What is the foundation for newspaper
reports that Dowager wept on neck of Mrs. Conger?
(c) Can you get for me copy of Mrs. Conger's speech on
that occasion? (d) and substance of what Empress
said ? (e) Has there been an interchange of social cour-
tesies since party No. 3, when Imperial Princesses re-


ceived? (f) Was hers a luncheon, or reception, or what?
I am sorry that I was not more awake on this subject when
in Peking, so as to get satisfactory data in case it seems
best to send a brief article home. I find myself half
inclined to write in advocacy of Mrs. Conger's cause,
though when I first heard of it, I was quite of another

American Legation, Peking,
May 10, 1902.
Dear Dr. Mackey:

IN answer to your letter of the ninth I will say, there
is so much connected with what has passed and with the
steps that led to the events mentioned that a statement
of a few facts will signify but little. For the sake of the
reading public, I often regret the remarks and criticisms
of the press, because they are many times misleading. If
the opportunity had been given me, I should have been
pleased to talk with your friend about the different phases
of Chinese character with which I have come in contact.
I am willing to answer your friend's questions, as I do not
see that they could do any harm and, on the other hand,
but little good, as they signify so little.

(a) I gave a "tiffin" (mid-day meal) to eleven Court
Princesses. It was the first time that any of these ladies
had ever entered a foreign home, and several of them had
never before seen a foreign lady. It was an historic day
and the details are intensely interesting.

(b) The Empress Dowager did not weep upon my
neck. After a dignified ceremony in the throne building,
we were invited to a reception room. Her Majesty asked


for Mrs. Conger and I was escorted to her. She took
both my hands in hers and said with emotion that she
deeply regretted the terrible troubles and our great suffer-
ing during the siege. She said that it was a great mistake,
and that it should never happen again. She declared that
the foreigners should henceforth be protected in China.
There was nothing said by either of us about forgiving
and forgetting. Her Majesty's manner in the banquet
hall was dignified and earnest and our conversation was
full of interest and instruction for me. I was seated for
more than an hour with Her Majesty and was astonished
and pleased with her varied conversation and courtesies.
The details in a picture enhance its beauty and value,
so did the details add to this event. I cannot write them
— they are better told.

(c) Enclosed please find a copy of what I said at the
first Imperial audience given by the Empress Dowager
to the Diplomatic ladies after the Court's return, (d) also
Her Majesty's reply, (e) There have been interchanges
of social courtesies since the Imperial Princess received,
(f) It was an elaborate luncheon and the Imperial Prin-
cess was assisted by many Princesses.

I have been living among these Chinese people for
nearly four years and have tried to learn about them and
from them. While there is much that I find undesirable,
I also find in their characters much to admire. That I
might learn of the home life of the better classes, I have
patiently and carefully watched to discover and improve

Online LibrarySarah Pike CongerLetters from China, with particular reference to the empress dowager and the women of China → online text (page 17 of 29)