Wilbur J. Chamberlin.

Ordered to China; letters of Wilbur J. Chamberlin written from China while under commission from the New York Sun during the Boxer uprising of 1900 and the international complications which followed online

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Online LibraryWilbur J. ChamberlinOrdered to China; letters of Wilbur J. Chamberlin written from China while under commission from the New York Sun during the Boxer uprising of 1900 and the international complications which followed → online text (page 1 of 30)
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WILBUR J. cham:



















Copyright, 1903

All rights reserved

Publisbed in September, 1903

C3S6 ^ ^


the vast army of men unnamed who serve their,

country with pen and brain
no less truly and with no smaller share of heroism
than they who bear the country's colors into battle,
especially to the memory of three brothers wha
early spent themselves, and who,
in great crises, laid down their lives
in loyalty to duty,
this volume is dedicated in token of^
deepest appreciation.



In preparing for publication the letters which form the
contents of this book there has been no attempt to polish
or to make more readable the hastily written letters, in-
tended only for the entertainment of an indulgent family
and intimate friends. From the public, therefore, similar
indulgence is asked, since to many the frankness and
simplicity of the letters will constitute their greatest
charm. With few exceptions they are addressed to the
author's wife, and the superscription, also the most affec-
tionate and characteristic messages to family and friends
with which the letters uniformly close, are left to the
imagination of the reader. The letters cover a period
of just one year in the writer's life.

The object in publishing the material has been, not to
call attention to an individual as such, but to pay a well-
deserved tribute to his profession. If in any small degree
the self-portrayal of keen, honest, earnest, affectionate
character shall lead to a greater appreciation of the men
who travel far and wide, around the world if need be, at
the call of duty, equally alert and ready, whether to view
some splendid pageant or to face danger and sudden
death, the printing of these simple letters will be justified.

G. L. C.


It is with a degree of emotion which might not be quite
understood by others, that I undertake the loving duty
of writing a few words of introduction to this most inter-
esting book.

It was my privilege to know Wilbur J. Chamberlin, the
author, in all his walks for many years. The familiar
days and nights spent with him on many a newspaper
field in the United States demonstrated his courageous,
tender, faithful, and truthful soul. Only those thus asso-
ciated with him could estimate his marvelous ability, or
speak of the esteem and fondness in which he was held
by newspaper men, statesmen, politicians, and all sorts
and conditions of public men. His career reflected credit
on his colleagues, whether on the Nczv York Sun or on
other newspapers.

This book is made up of Mr. Chamberlain's letters to
his wife and sister while at Peking and other cities in
China as the correspondent of the Nczu York Sim. They
breathe a humor distinctly his own; they attest uncon-
sciously his probity of purpose; and they give a faithful
and accurate insight into the everyday life and customs
of the people with whom he dwelt in the Chinese Empire
in the troublesome times which followed the Boxer insur-

The qualities which make this book valuable are
summed up in the editorial of the Nczv York Sun of Fri-
day, August i6, 1901, which said:

" Wilbur J. Chamberlin, who died on Wednesday at
Carlsbad, was one of the best reporters that ever served
this newspaper and its readers.

" His honesty of purpose, modest fidelity, clearness of
vision, and power of graphic and accurate narrative were
manifest in small things and in great; and the course of
his duty in the last years of his life brought him into the



presence of some of the most memorable happenings of
the world's recent history.

" Such men are the real historians. There is no higher
journalistic function than that which Mr. Chamberlin
performed for fourteen years on the Sim with entire
loyalty to his paper and to his own professional and per-
sonal honor."

Edward G. Riggs.


Sunday^ August 5, 1900,

It is Sunday morning now, about 10 o'clock, and I'm
speeding on toward Chicago. The railroad runs along-
side of Lake Erie, and I have been looking at the water
for an hour, thinking. We got into Cleveland this morn-
ing at 8 o'clock. I had been up for two hours. I had an
upper berth, and didn't sleep very well last night. We
took on a dining-car at Cleveland and I got the morning
papers there. I glanced over the China news at break-
fast, and I can tell you I wasn't at all happy at seeing it
so favorable. It is a paradox, of course, but the worse the
news is now the more favorable it is, for the reason that
the worse it is, the sooner the trouble will be over.

I have traveled so much on this railroad, by the way,
that the people know me. When I went into the dining-
car this morning, the conductor greeted me with a " Hello !
Back again ? Where now ? " I told him I wasn't going
far this time — only to China — and he came very near fall-
ing through the floor. Then he said he was going to have
me leave with a good impression of him, anyway, and he
sent the best waiter to me and gave me the finest meal that
the car could put up. I had musk melon first, then some
broiled salt mackerel ; after that, broiled chops, poached
eggs on anchovy toast, pop-overs and corn-meal muffins,
creamed potatoes, and coffee. Pretty fair for a dining-
car, wasn't it? I'll have lunch on the same car at I
o'clock. Will be somewhere near Elkhart, Indiana, then.

I wonder how Billy is getting on, and if he has begun to
sing yet. I hope he has, and I hope that from now on he
.will do his best to cheer up the best little woman in the

We are running into that hot wave out here. It was


cool and nice last night, but this morning it began to get
hot as soon as we left Cleveland, and it's getting unen-
durable now. I guess I'll have a broiling trip through
the West. I hope I'm all right for a lower berth from
Chicago on, for I dread uppers in hot weather.

I expect to get into Omaha, Nebraska, to-morrow morn-
ing, and my next letter will be posted from there, probably.
You won't get it until two days after you get this, though.
You see, I'm traveling in one direction, and the letter has
to travel back over the same road.

Good-bye; stay outdoors as much as possible. Don't
worry, and don't let the children worry you. Tell them
papa hopes that this time when he gets back home he
will not have to do any scolding at all.

Monday Morning.

You will notice that I have changed my paper and hence
my train. I got to Chicago yesterday afternoon at 4.30
o'clock, on time to the minute, and two hours later I started
out in this train. I can tell you I wasn't sorry to leave
Chicago, either. The thermometer there stood at 102,
and it was one of the hottest days of the year. It was

One of my fellow passengers on the train from New
York was a tall, thin young fellow whose face was familiar
to me, but I could not place him. We watched each other
all the way out to Chicago. I noticed that he had a sword
with the rest of his baggage, and made up my mind he
must be an army officer. So when we got to Chicago I
said to him, " Are not you one of General James H. Wil-
son's stafif?"

" At your service, sir," he said.

He turned out to be Major Ives, General Wilson's chief
surgeon and an old Santiago and Porto Rico friend of
mine. He remembered me as soon as I spoke. I had had
him on the boat in Cuba once or twice. He had orders
for China and had missed the boat General Wilson took.
He was mighty glad to see me and I was to see him, too,
for we were both lonesome. He had left his wife and
four children, and that made a bond between us. We sat
up till midnight, talking over old times.


Well, the train is coming into Omaha now, and I must
close this letter if I want to get it posted here. We have
been running through Illinois and Iowa all night and now
we are just on the border of Nebraska. The weather has
cooled off remarkably and it is almost comfortable. Don't
forget my numerous injunctions. Don't worry. Keep
out of doors all you can and never fail to excuse my writ-
ing in these blooming trains. They are worse in the
West than they are in the East, and if they keep get-
ting worse you will have nothing but hen-scratches
from me.

Palace Hotel, San Francisco, Cal.,

Thursday Morning, August 9, 1900.

San Francisco at last. I thought I was never going
to get here. The last two days over the Rocky and the
Sierra Nevada Mountains were almost endless. I told
you in my letter Tuesday that if the travel got any
rougher you'd get nothing but chicken-scratches from me.
Well, chicken-scratching time came Wednesday, and I
simply could not write with all the jolting and shaking up
there was. The train never stopped long enough for
me to write more than a line, so I gave up the undertak-
ing, trusting that under the circumstances you would
forgive me.

I told you, I think, in Tuesday's letter that it was getting
cold. Well, about an hour after I wrote that, we ran
into a beautiful snowstorm. How is that for August
in the Rockies ? It didn't last long, and it was followed
by a ride through a country that, once seen, is not to be
forgotten. In the afternoon we passed Salt Lake. We
must have run along the shores of it for at least a hundred
miles, and all the time we were climbing the mountains
and getting higher and higher above the water. Follow-
ing that came the Great Salt Desert. You haven't the re-
motest idea what that is, and you could not have unless
you saw it with your own eyes — forty miles of absolutely
flat country, the ground dazzlingly white or dirty brown
by turns. There was not a living thing in sight — not a
bird, not a blade of grass — just barrenness. In the dis-
tance, surrounding it, were hills on which there was not a


tree. When we got well into the desert the dust began
flying — the most penetrating dust you can imagine. The
cars had double windows and they were closed tight, but
the dust was driven in just the same, and the interior of
the cars was so thick with it that we almost choked. This
kept up all night. I went to bed in dust, and in the morn-
ing I had to dig myself out. That's no joke, either. You
actually could have shoveled it off the bedclothes. It
was about nine in the morning when we got out of the
dust belt, and we began to ascend the next range of
mountains, which are snow-capped.

I was severely rebuked about this time by one of the
brakemen on the train. I stood on the platform of the
dining-car, waiting for a chance to get inside, when right
near us loomed up a whale of a mountain. It looked to
me to be a million feet high, more or less, and I turned
to the brakeman who was standing there and said, " Can
you tell me what mountain that is? " He looked at me.
He started at my feet and carefully scanned me to my
head and then back again, the look of supreme disgust on
his face growing more pronounced every second. Finally
he said, " Come from the East, don't cha ? "

" Yes," I said.

" Thought so," said he. " That ain't no mountain ;
that's a foothill."

Of course all I could say was " Oh ! "

After we got out of the dust belt and began to climH
the second range of mountains, we ran into the most
marvelous lot of snowsheds you can imagine — forty miles
of them ! Think of forty miles of wooden sheds ! It was
like a tunnel forty miles long. After we got out of these,
though, the scenery was magnificent. At one place we
could look down a cafion, 5,000 feet below, and above, in
the distance, we counted eleven snow-capped peaks.

The ride through California was a ride through a gar-
den — miles and miles of peach, pear, apricot, and plum
orchards ; miles and miles of vineyards, and thousands
upon thousands of acres of wheat-fields. Our train was
two hours and a half late leaving Ogden, Utah. We
made up the whole of that coming through the mountain
deserts of Utah and Nevada, and got into San Francisco


practically on time. There was no mail out, so it was
useless to write you last night. I have seen nothing of
San Francisco yet, and so can tell you nothing about it,
except that it seems to be a pretty nice town.

I have read up on the China news, and to me the situa-
tion seems to be about the same as it was before I left
New York. It is not safe for me to turn back here, but
everything points to an early end of the trouble and my
turning back at Yokohama. If there is no change in the
situation I will be on my way there by the time you get
this letter. I will telegraph you the day I sail. From
now on until you receive further instructions you had
better address my letters, care of the Chartered ,Bank of
India, China and Australia, Yokohama, Japan. If noth-
ing happens I shall sail on the Peking, of the Pacific Mail
Steamship line, but you will know all this by telegraph
before you get this letter, so it is useless for me to tell you

S. S. City of Peking, Monday, August 13, 1900.
I promised you in my letter yesterday that I would tell
you something about my fellow passengers in this packet
that is carrying me to the Far East by going west. There
is not a great deal to tell about them. We have about
seventy in the first cabin, of whom about seven or eight
are ladies. There is a Mr. A. and his wife; Mr. A., I
learned yesterday, is a friend of my friend Mr. Eddy,
whose letter to the Flint, Eddy & American Trading Co.,
in Yokohama, I showed to you. A. is connected with
one of these concerns and is making his semi-annual trip
to Japan and China. He is taking his wife along for the
first time, though they have been married a long time.
They also have their daughter, a young girl, with them.
Mrs. A. and the girl are going to stay in Japan, while he
goes on to China and does the business that he has to
do. Another passenger is Lieutenant H., of the navy ; he
has orders to go to Hong Kong to join a ship, but he
doesn't know which ship. He was with Dewey at
Manila, and he knows D. of The Sun, whom I am going
to send home. The Lieutenant has a bulldog with him
for a mascot.


Other passengers are sixteen contract doctors, with
orders to the Philippines or China. You know that in
our army we were short of regular doctors, and the govern-
ment offered to employ a certain number and give them
the rank of Lieutenant; all so employed are called con-
tract doctors. They get $1,500 a year. The sixteen
are of the lot ; they are most of them pretty nice
fellows ; but. Great Scott ! I'd hate to be hurt and have
one of them doctor me ; I think I'd feel better if I
doctored myself. Besides these doctors, there are two
others. Dr. S. and Dr. McW. from New York. They
are both of them hospital men, and they are going to
Hong Kong for service on the hospital ship Maine. The
Maine is the hospital ship that the American women fitted
out for service in the South African war. It has now
been sent to China, and they will join it there. They are
fine young fellows, and we have become quite friendly;
they insist that if I should ever get out of sorts in any
way, I must come straight to the Maine to brace up. I
don't suppose I ever shall see the Maine. Still it might
come in handy some day, and they are two good traveling
companions for the present at any rate.

Two other passengers are a French Count and his wife,
who has bleached blond hair, and who insists upon sing-
ing, though she can sing no better than I can myself.
She also plays the piano, but she knows how to do that,
so the passengers have forgiven her. The Count is an
image of the pictured Mephistopheles. He is tall and
thin, with a pointed beard that sticks straight out like that
of Carl Schurz. He seems to be all right, but he can't
talk English, so I haven't carried on any extended con-
versation with him yet. These are about the only interest-
ing passengers in the cabin, and I don't suppose that you
will be interested in reading about them, but on ship-
board things are monotonous and it is hard to find in-
teresting things to write about. Oh ! there is another
passenger ; his name is S., and he is a doctor, and he hasn't
left his cabin since the ship sailed from the dock at San
Francisco. He is homesick so badly that he is down in
bed. How is that for a doctor — sick in bed with home-
sickness? The Peking is sailing along at the rate of


thirteen miles an hour. She is not an Atlantic liner by
any means, but she is good and comfortable.

Now, I'll bid you good-by for another day, and will go
up on deck. It's getting very much warmer than it was,
and by to-morrow we expect to have typical tropical
weather. Quite a change from a snowstorm in the
Rockies !

S. S. City of Peking, Wednesday, August 15, 1900.

Here is another day of the finest weather that the
weather man can shake out of the box, and though there
is nothing in sight but water, we are about four hundred
miles nearer land than we were yesterday. Yesterday
afternoon we passed the first ship that we had seen since
leaving San Francisco. It was the Hong Kong, of the
Japanese line. It was about 3 o'clock when it was
sighted, and the passengers all crowded on the starboard
rail and watched her until she had passed us and was out
of sight, in the direction of San Francisco. She was the
ship we expected to meet in the harbor of Honolulu, and
we expected to send back our mail on her, but we mis-
calculated, and it may be that now there will be a delay
of a day or two in Hawaii before a ship comes along to get
the mail.

We have had one death on board since we started. A
Chinamen in the steerage, died yesterday morning, of con-
sumption. He was sick when he came aboard, and it was
doubtful then if he could live the trip out. He was found
in his berth by other Chinamen, and they all came
running out on deck. Then I learned something about
Chinamen that I did not know before ; it seems that they
have a horror of the dead, and no good Chinaman will
have anything to do with a dead body ; he will not touch it.
In China all the burying is done by a certain set of men
who are ostracized. Other Chinamen will have nothing
to do with them ; everything connected with the dead is
evil. Yesterday morning, as I said, the other Chinamen
came running up on deck ; not one of them could be in-
duced to go below again. The doctor of the ship went
down and found that the man was dead, and embalmed
the body.


It seems that another superstition of the Chinamen is
that no Chinaman that is buried at sea can ever reach the
" happy hunting ground," so that they have a horror of
being buried at sea. There is, in San Francisco, an or-
ganization known as the Chinese Six Companies. In the
district of Canton, China, from which nearly all the
Chinese who get to the United States come, there are six
dififerent dialects. The Six Companions embraces the six
dialects, and when a Chinaman comes to America, he pays
a certain amount to this organization and the Six Com-
panies promises to look out for him. One of the ways it
looks out for him is to see that his body is not buried at
sea. The Six Companies makes a contract with the
various steamship companies to pay them $25.00 for the
body of any Chinaman who dies at sea. Of this, the
doctor who embalms the body gets half, $12.50, for his
work, and the company gets $12.50.

Everybody in the Peking thought that there would be a
burial at sea when they heard that one of the steerage
passengers had died, but they slipped up on it. After
the doctor had finished his work the body was put in a
coffin and was dragged up on deck, and then it was lifted
up into one of the life boats over the deck, where it will
stay until the ship gets to Hong Kong; there, it will be
turned over to the men of the Six Companies to be buried.
If the body had been that of a man of any other nation-
ality, it would have been buried at sea. So you see that
the Chinese are not so devoid of feeling as they are
generally supposed to be, though the feeling is wholly
superstition in this case.

Well, I guess that's all you care to know about dead
Chinamen. I think the live men deserve some mention.
They are certainly a peculiar lot ; I have a heap more
respect for them than I ever had before. As servants
they are willing and obliging. There are some splendid
specimens of physical manhood among the crew of this
boat ; two or three of them are a great deal bigger than
the average big white man, broad-shouldered, muscular,
and seemingly as strong as oxen ; they are good workmen
too. I will tell you more about them when I have a
chance to study them more, to-morrow maybe; there is


no more time to-day, for they are around my ears now,
insisting on getting the table on which I am writing so
that they can prepare it for lunch.

S. S. City of Peking, Thursday, August i6, 1900.

I discovered last night that this ship I'm floating west-
ward on is a gilded palace of vice. Perhaps we might
leave out the gilded palace, for there isn't much gilt about
the old tub, but the vice is here just the same. I was in
the storekeeper's room about 9 o'clock, and he asked
me if I wanted to go up into the joint. I didn't know
what that meant, and so I said I did. You know there
is only one way to find things out in this world, and that
is to see them. He led the way up, forward, to the part
of the ship occupied by the steerage passengers, and then
down two chutes to the hold of the ship, and then back
to a little square room ; a dim light burned there. There
was a long table on which were lying six or eight China-
men, each with an opium pipe in his mouth. They were
smoking opium. I learned then that so common is the
vice among the Celestials that all the steamships that
travel between the United States and Chinese ports have
to have an opium joint aboard of them to accommodate
the victims of the drug. The joint, the ship's officer told
me, is always full.

My visit gave me an opportunity to see how the poor
devils of Chinamen live on board of ships, when they are
traveling in the steerage. The part of the ship that I
was in was given over entirely to bunks ; the bunks were
huge iron racks with strips of canvas spread across ; the
strips were laid five deep. The bottom one was almost
on the floor and the top one was almost touching the deck
above. There was just room between the strips for a
Chinaman to crawl in and lie perfectly flat. There the
poor fellows were stacked up like a load of cordwood.
I found that there were two or three hundred of them.
Many of them were consumptives who were returning
home to die. Stacked up as they all were, breathing the
foul air over and over again, of course it would be a won-
der if the germs of the disease did not spread, and if many
who were healthy at the start of the voyage did not end


with the disease firmly imbedded in their systems. I can
tell you that ten thousand dollars would not tempt me to
make a trip under the conditions that these men travel
under. It's a wonder that they live at all.

Another interesting sight that I watched once or twice
to-day was the feeding of these men. The steamship com-
pany charges them $50 fare and gives them the necessaries
of life, such as rice and a little meat. They furnish the
luxuries themselves. The regular fare is $325 ; so you
see the saving is very great. The luxuries that the
" Celestials " get consist of fresh vegetables, canned
mushrooms, and some other canned stufif. The ship's
cook cooks for them. Tables are provided for them to
eat from, but they scorn to use them. They eat in groups
of a dozen or less ; the food is all in pans which are set in
the middle of the groups. Each Chinaman has a little
round bowl and two chopsticks. He dips his bowl into
the rice and stacks it up full ; he packs it tight with his
chopsticks, and then he is ready to begin, which he does
much after the fashion of a hog. He bows his head and
holds the rice bowl to his mouth ; with the chopsticks he
shoves the rice into his mouth until the mouth is crowded

Online LibraryWilbur J. ChamberlinOrdered to China; letters of Wilbur J. Chamberlin written from China while under commission from the New York Sun during the Boxer uprising of 1900 and the international complications which followed → online text (page 1 of 30)