Sarah Pike Conger.

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

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The Emperor, being the "Son from Heaven," rules
supreme, and appoints his many helpers, among whom
are the viceroys for the Provinces and other high officials.
There are many boards through which the Emperor
governs his people. The Tsung Li Yamen is the avenue
through which the foreigner may have intercourse with
His Imperial Majesty. The whole system seems to be
wheels within wheels, and it really appears as though
every official were afraid of every other official, and yet
the wheels keep moving.

In the first century A. D., Buddhism was introduced
into China. The Emperor Ming-ti sent an embassy to
bring tidings of the "foreign god" (was it the Christ?),
of whose fame he had learned. This embassy reached


India and learned of Buddha. Feeling that they had
found in him the god that they sought, they returned
to their Emperor with the doctrines and images of
Buddhism. The Christ was not found, and apparently
no conception of Him. Buddhism became the established
religion of China, and shrines with their images in gold
or silver, bronze, brass, clay, or wood, are found every-
where throughout the entire Empire. Without per-
manency, Christianity found its way into China between
500 A. D. and 805 A. D. In 1582 the Jesuits obtained
a permanent foothold. About 1557 the Portuguese
established at Macao the first foreign settlement on
Chinese soil, and Macao still bears the appearance of a
Portuguese city.

Progress in acknowledging Christianity has seemed
slow to observers, but the faithful workers give thanks
that Jesus' teachings have had a hearing, and that even
a measure of the Christ-spirit has been revealed to this
self-satisfied people.

I am going to tell you of one little "big" thing that
has come into my life. It was wonderful, because never
done before — a great departure for the Chinese. Li
Hung Chang called upon Mr. Conger; after making his
official call he asked to meet the ladies. On his first call
after his visit of several months to the devastating floods
of the Yellow River districts he seemed unusually happy,
and I ventured to say, "Your Excellency, Li Hung
Chang, if in accordance with your thought, and that of
your family, I should be much pleased to pay my respects
to Lady Li." His reply was, "I will see." His Excel-
lency shook hands with each of us as he departed.
We were delighted to converse with this great scholar,


high official, and strong man of China. The next day
word came that his wife and family would be pleased to
receive the ladies of the American Legation, on such a
day and at such an hour.

[To a Niece]

American Legation, Peking,
May 14, i8gg.

ON our way to Shan-hai Kwan, the point at which the
Great Wall of China begins, a Scotch railroad superin-
tendent said, " Chinese do well when there are no emer-
gencies — when they can continue to do the same thing
in the same way; but if for any reason they have to change
their actions at once, their judgment, which they have
not cultivated, does not serve them quickly. This is
in cases where everything is new to them. When they
comprehend what is wanted they are clever in bringing
about the result. It seems necessary to leave them alone
and to give them time. How they gain these results
you can only vaguely guess." This superintendent said
that his railroad company at first had all the responsible
places filled by foreigners, and that they took Chinese as
students. These students are now able to occupy many
responsible positions. Many of the engine-drivers, con-
ductors, and those under him are Chinese.

Chinese coolies do the work of beasts and work with
beasts in the streets and in the fields. We often see
coolies with wheelbarrows heavily loaded. One man
holds the handles; a strap passes over his shoulders and
is so fastened as to help steady the wheelbarrow. Other
coolies, one on either side, help to pull and balance. Far


Camels and the Peking Wall

A Coolie at His Work

A Sample of Coolie Labor in Shanghai


ahead, a small donkey with ropes reaching back to the
barrow, is doing his best. The coolies use no lines, but
talk to this little fellow and guide him in this way.

We saw on the canal many boats with men hauling
them. They were walking or running in a tow-path,
with ropes. We saw also in the fields a man holding a
plough, while a mule and an ox, with a man between
them, hauled it. Each wore about his neck and shoul-
ders a sort of yoke and harness. The use of a man be-
tween the animals is not uncommon. The Chinese often
have ponies, mules, donkeys, oxen, and men all doing
the same work together. But, remember, this is not all
of China or her people. Still, the trait of industry is a
national characteristic, and is bound to work for good.

The undeveloped power slumbering in the Chinese
nature cannot now be truly estimated. The great Si-
berian desert has been found to have plenty of good water
treasured a little below her unattractive and seemingly
useless barren surface. Thus may this great mass of
people be found to have beneath their seemingly barren
existence the rich springs of true life ready to pour forth
l their living treasures.

China has received ruthless piercings from the con-
istant "pecking" of the foreigner with his so-called pro-
jgressive ideas. In the past year there have been telling
|: strokes made by the foreigner, and at first glance it would
appear that China is doomed. But, on closer examina-
tion, it almost seems that with this old, great nation, and
per wonderful traits of character, this barbarous treatment
by the foreigner may break the hardened crust of super-
stition and customs, and reveal a strength of character
:hat will act well its part, and China may yet be found


harmoniously working with the sisterhood of nations.
This strength of character surely is in her, and time must
and will test its quality. True, the Chinese do not think
or act as does the foreigner; but the foreigner has not
made a perfect success of life through his trials, struggles,
and "superior" thinking. May it not be found that the
weaving together of the qualities of all nations will soften
and complement the whole? I do not mean that this
weaving should be by intermarriage; of that I am no

The attitude that China has always held of superior-
ity over all the world has made her so self-satisfied that
she has ignored what the outside world was thinking or
doing. It may be that it will take severity to waken her
to the reality that there is something beyond herself.
China is not dead, nor will she die. I prophesy that she
will in time unlock her barred gates and mingle and inter-
mingle with other peoples, and, with a desire to do so,
cooperate in the great struggle for a better and higher
civilization. China is at present passing through an
awful ordeal. She has battles within and battles with-
out. The Chinese blot out with bloodshed all thoughts
new to them, leave their thinkers headless — and press
on with their bloody banner and crude weapons to defy
the world. This unrest causes the diplomatic duties to
multiply and become more and more intricate. The
foreign Ministers work harmoniously together in their
efforts to solve the knotty problems.

We continue our outings upon our ponies, our walks
upon the city wall, and our social duties are not neg-
lected. Social duty in the Diplomatic Service requires
its book-keeping, which must be as accurately performed


as that of a cash book in the bank. The book must be
balanced each day, and not neglected. The diplomat
is dealing with nations, not with individuals. Diplo-
matically you have no favorites, but in your inmost
heart you can have, and do have, intimate friends; and
in many ways this intimacy is manifested.

Each nation's flag takes an active part in Peking.
On Sunday the Legations in unison hoist their flags early
in the morning, and throughout the day these flags pro-
claim the acknowledged day of worship in all Christian
lands. The language of the flag is carefully watched.
If a holiday or a day of rejoicing comes to one of the
eleven nations here represented, that nation proclaims it
through the waving of its flag at its height, and at once the
flag of each sister nation waves back hearty congratula-
tions. If in case of sorrow the flag goes not to its height,
but bows its head midway, each sister flag bows in sym-
pathy. Some time during the day each Minister and his
staff bear their personal congratulations or condolences.
Is it not well for nations, as for individuals, to have a
little rhythm of sentiment in their intercourse with one

Thursdays are my days "at home," and on these
days our rooms are well filled with a medley of foreign-
ers. We sip our tea, partake of our simple refreshments,
and have a happy visit. Each nation reveals its indi-
viduality in the Diplomatic Corps, as well as elsewhere,
and it is like a feast of many courses when the members
of this Corps come together. I am quite sure that this
mingling gives strength and breadth in its influence.
Seeing and acknowledging the worth in others always


[To a Sister]

Peking, June 3, i8gg.

I AM going to tell you of a few things that I have
seen in Peking since I last wrote. It seems strange to
find all that the Chinese do is part of a system. How I
should like to know something of this system! Every-
thing I learn urges me on to learn more.

I am not afraid of the Chinese. There is nothing about
them to create fear in me, but they can annoy me if I
oppose their thought and their customs of propriety. It
is not well for women to go out alone in Peking. If no
foreign gentleman is with them, they should have a
Chinese "boy" or mafoo. The city wall is a quiet,
clean walking place; Chinese are seldom allowed upon
the wall, and you feel safe and free. To-day daughter
Laura started out alone with our guests. They walked
to the tower over the Ch'ienmen, meeting no one but a
wall-keeper and they threw him cash. They sat down
to rest and watch the people below. A beggar came and
asked for cash; they had none and paid no attention
to him. Then another and another came, half clad in
their filthy rags. This was a new phase on the wall.
Laura, seeing the situation, said, "I don't understand this;
let us move on, or retrace our steps." They retraced.
The beggars followed, gathering more in numbers as
they went. These half-covered wretches would run in
front of them, form lines, fall upon their knees at their
feet, kotow (bump their heads on the bricks), and yell
and cry in the most horrible way. They stood on their
heads, turned over and over, and kept up a loud noise
all the while. These people kept increasing in numbers


and yells, until the foreigners reached the place to leave
the wall and descended upon the ramp, leaving their
train of twenty native escorts looking down upon them.
Where these dirty, ragged people came from is still
a mystery. There were two well-dressed Chinamen on
the wall who saw it all. I made inquiries why these men
did not stop the beggars; the answer was, "They dare
not." These beggars are organized bands, and woe to
the Chinamen who interfere with their business.

During the winter Mr. Conger and his secretary saw
a beggar with nothing on but an old sack thrown about
him. He came to them crying and with teeth chattering.
In sympathy they gave him "silver." They returned
shortly and saw that same fellow in a corner putting on
fairly good clothes and plenty of them.

Some beggars have nothing on but a large covering
over their shoulders. They carry a small stove under
this rag and when cold, squat down and warm themselves.
Others lie upon the sidewalk and wail and cry in the most
pitiful way, and you will think they are dying in the great-
est agonies. We learn this is a business with them. A
friend said to me, "Do not give more than one cash to a
beggar; if you give more he will tell others and many
will follow you and cry for cash in the most distressing
tones, and will bitterly curse you if you refuse to give

The Chinese never interfere with one another. For
their own safety they dare not. We saw a man hauling
sacks of grain; one sack was broken and the grain was
flowing out in the street. Many Chinese saw it, but it was
not their business and they did not interfere by telling
him. Again we were passing and saw that a man with


his two baskets on the end of a pole had fallen and could
not get up. The Chinese on the street passed by him
and so did we; on cur return the man was still lying there
but was lifeless. His baskets and pole were beside him
undisturbed. The authorities alone had the right to
touch that dead man and his belongings. Upon another
occasion we were going through the crowded streets in the
Native City. An obstruction was lying in the centre of
the thoroughfare; this obstruction was a dead man
covered from public view with reed matting. Each
person's rights are so positively and so rigidly observed
that no one interferes; these systems are "as old as the
hills." The Chinese will do all they can for their sick,
then give them into the hands of the spirits to cure — or
to kill. After they have assigned their sick to the care
of the spirits or gods, they do not molest or interfere. If
any person should dare to interfere he would so anger
the spirits that a curse would ever follow the would-be
helper, and this helper would render himself forever
responsible for the sick man, dead or alive, because he has
wronged the sick man, has taken him out of the hands of
the spirits and caused him to be a wandering devil at the
heels of the one who interfered.

The Chinese do not worship the idol, but the thought
or the spirit that the idol represents. They worship at
the shrine of "Long Life," "Happiness," "Offspring,"
"Ancestors," "Agriculture," "Heaven," "Earth,"
"Rain," "Sunshine." The bat means "Happiness";
the peach, "Long Life"; the pomegranate, "Many
Children"; the dragon means "Power"; in fact, every-
thing has its significance. It is interesting to listen to
one who has lived long in China and who has been a


student read the meanings of the designs upon cloth,
embroideries, cloisonne, and porcelain; there is a mean-
ing to every stroke. Even in their gods and Buddhas
they place some material thing to represent a thought.
To illustrate: in their eyes looking-glasses are placed;
in the heart, pearls; in the bowels, money. Do you
see the thought — reflection, value, plenty ? The Chinese
love children. There is a mother Buddha holding a
small child in her hand. Women visit this idol and
pray for children and leave gifts. It is the mother-
thought going to the mother-spirit for help to bear a

In the sight of a Chinese the worst crime that a person
can commit is to take the life of his father or mother. In
such a case the guilty child is sliced alive, cut up little by
little; thus they destroy his spirit as completely as they
can. The Chinese are terrified over losing any part of
their bodies, because if any part is lost their spirits be-
come crippled. If a man is beheaded his friends will
often beg or buy the privilege of sewing the head to the
body that his spirit may not go about headless. Have
I not written enough to show you that persecutions are
a blow at the spirits?

The Chinese form themselves into all sorts of clans,
and work systematically in them. Each season has its
shop goods. In the season for the lantern festival the
shops are filled with all sorts and styles of lanterns, from
the smallest to the largest and most elegant ones. Some
are richly ornamented with beautiful, colored hangings
and designs. The Chinese patience and cunning multi-
ply the shapes and designs to a wonderfully large number.
After visiting the fairy streets of the festival, all aglow in


their exquisite beauty, I was anxious to obtain many of
these lanterns and went into the Native City to purchase
them. Not one was to be found! These full shops that
I had visited and admired a few days before, were now
empty. It looked as though lanterns were unknown
there. They were all put away until another "proper
time" for their appearing.

When the edict is issued for changing the clothing
from winter to summer, the fan shops are full of all sorts
of fans. They all disappear at the change to winter
clothing. Everything has its season, or " proper time."

This old, old country with customs unchanged since
centuries before the Christian era, is unfolding to me
many Bible mysteries. I can now understand how the
money-changers were in the Temple. The Chinese
temples are in large walled enclosures, the interior of
which is divided into many courts and buildings. On
certain dates, the merchants, by paying a percentage to
the temple, are allowed to bring their goods into these
courts and sell them. There are all sorts of treasures and
goods gathered together here, and people throng these
courts and buy these goods.

In the summer we take our rides early in the morning.
We have coffee and start out for a two or three hours'
ride, returning at eight for breakfast. Mr. Conger is
always seeking new paths, and on our ponies we can tra-
verse narrow byways. One morning we went into an un-
familiar street through which we could scarcely make our
way. It was brilliant on either side with artificial flowers
of all descriptions. Wonderful, beautiful, almost perfect
they were in their imitation of the living flower. We
wended our way slowly, for we were delighted and wanted


to tarry. After riding less than an hour we returned to
see more of the flower street. It was empty! The
flowers were gone, the people were gone! What did it
mean? We asked our mafoo; he said, "Oh, no proper
time now."

Mr. Pethick, Li Hung Chang's American secretary
for over twenty-five years, brought word that arrange-
ments were made for us to pay a visit to Lady Li, the
wife of Viceroy Li Hung Chang. Five ladies started out
in five sedan chairs with twenty-four chair- bearers, four
outriders, and our head boy. After travelling about forty-
five minutes we reached the home of His Excellency, Li
Hung Chang. Mr. Pethick met us at the gate and intro-
duced us to Mr. Li, Li Hung Chang's youngest son, who
escorted us through courts to the reception room, where
he introduced us to his mother, sister, wife, and cousin,
who were standing in a semi-circle near the door. They
shook hands with us, then Lady Li motioned for me to be
seated at her left, with a Chinese table between us. The
room was large and mostly furnished with foreign furni-
ture. How I did wish that we could enter one of their
purely Chinese rooms!

These ladies were dressed in the richest of Chinese
attire — choice satin embroideries and brocades, and the
finest of foreign jewels. Their hair was plain, with a
large coil behind, and flat jewelled ornaments. Their
faces were delicately painted. Their feet were extremely
small, and were encased in embroidered shoes. Their
skirts were quite long, and they wore short over-garments.

During the conversation Mr. Li asked how I liked the
Chinese costume. Wnen I told him I liked it very much,
he said, "Chinese gentlemen can wear pretty colors as


well as the ladies." I replied, " Bright colors complement
gentlemen as well as ladies." I think it would be a great
pity and mistake to change their wearing apparel until the
people themselves are changed in many ways.

Our visit was a strange delight to us. We remained
about thirty minutes, talking, drinking tea, and partaking
of refreshments; then paid our compliments to the ladies,
and Mr. Li escorted us to our chairs. This son speaks
English fluently, and is fine in looks and manners. The
ladies were pretty, gentle, and attractive in every act.
We were among the first foreign ladies that they had ever
met; they have never met foreign gentlemen.

A week later Li Hung Chang's son, daughter, son's
wife, and cousin returned our call, and the wife of the
Viceroy sent her compliments. No foreign gentlemen
were expected to be present, and they were not. Mr. Li
told us that these ladies had never before visited a foreign
home. But they were not surprised at anything. They
were richly dressed in fine embroidered satins and trim-
mings, choice ornaments, and jewels of great value, many
pearls, diamonds, and other precious stones. They
remained nearly an hour and we were greatly pleased
with their visit. In accordance with Chinese custom,
the sister took the official chair and started out ahead of
the brother's wife.

Mr. Pethick said, "You should consider yourselves
complimented and much honored, because the Viceroy Li
Hung Chang is very strict about his daughter. He forbids
her going out, but has let her come here. This is a com-
pliment to the American Minister and to his country."


[To a Nephew]

Western Hills,
July 14., i8gg.

AGAIN we are in our temple home at the Western
Hills. Before coming to China I gave myself needless
trouble by questioning how we could live in a temple.
They are in reality walled compounds which include many
buildings besides the shrine buildings. The American
Minister has for many years rented one of these temples,
and this we are now occupying. The place is attractive
with its large trees, shrubs, and flowers. The outlook to-
ward the city is grand and stretches over a vast plain dotted
with many cemetery groves and fertile fields. With our
field-glass we can recognize Mr. Conger at a great distance,
when he is returning from the city. We then have time to
descend the hills and walk far out to meet him. Some of
the temples are very large and cover many acres with
their different courts and buildings, shrines, and beauti-
ful gardens with clear lakes and running brooks. The
lakes almost invariably are well filled with gold fish and
blooming lotus. Most of these Western Hill temples
are very old. The buildings where the priests live and
hold their worship are apart from those rented to foreign-
ers. These priests do not interfere with us; they are
kind and often let us see them in their religious services.

We spent the Fourth of July out here. A celebration
we had to have, and sent to Peking for fireworks. Mr.
Bainbridge, American secretary, and his wife, live in a
temple about half a mile distant. On the Fourth Mr.
Bainbridge arose very early, climbed far up Mount Bruce,
and made a great noise with double cannon-crackers


which echoed and re-echoed. The top of Mount Bruce
was enveloped in dense smoke, as though a battle were
raging. We enthusiastically responded with our double
cannon-crackers, and boom — boom — boom — boom they
echoed back ! Early we raised our large American flag
and "the stripes and bright stars" waved the good tidings
of our Independence Day to the great city below.

Guests from America were with us, and after breakfast
we gathered upon our large veranda for our celebration
exercises, with the dear flag before us. Our numbers
were few, but our heart-beats were many and strong. We
sang with intense feeling,

" My country, 't is of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing."

We found, when too late to get it, that the Declaration
of Independence was at the Legation in Peking; but we
had the Constitution and we read it and commented upon
its rich wisdom. We also read "The Star-spangled
Banner," because our voices refused to show the honor
due the song.

Then the Chinese servants came to help us fire
the long strings with their hundreds of fire-crackers.
These strings they attached to a high pole, and the many
crackers were very enthusiastic, each striving to be first
in giving its loud welcome to the great American day.
The cannon-cracker boomed its double load with wonder-
ful vigor. Our servants seemed to enjoy the exciting,
noisy part of the celebration. As you know, China is
the home of fire-crackers and fireworks, and the Chinese
are exceedingly clever in their manufacture. Our veranda


faces the east and is high above the path below, as the
wall of the terrace rises many feet. Little half-clad boys
gathered to pick up the "crumbs" as they fell. As we
threw crackers below, these little boys struggled for them
in great glee.

Online LibrarySarah Pike CongerLetters from China, with particular reference to the empress dowager and the women of China → online text (page 6 of 29)