RETURNING from the Swimming Baths, in the torrid forenoon of June 6, 1925, my little daughter and I found hundreds of Chinese people pouring over the British Concession Bridge from Canton city to Shameen. We counted sixteen bedridden old mothers carried on the backs of strong young daughters-in-law. Scores of rheumatic old men leaned on sons and grandsons. Hastily dressed ladies from luxurious homes hobbled along on ‘lily’ feet, supported by natural-footed women servants. Babes were strapped to the frail shoulders of brothers and sisters of five and six years.
The more able-bodied folk had been left free to transport household goods — charcoal stoves, saucepans, crockery, bundles of chopsticks, foodstuffs, rolls of bedding, bunches of cloth shoes, silver water pipes, tobacco, red firecrackers for saluting the heavens, lanterns, and kitchen gods snatched from the slumbering peace of kitchen nooks.
‘Whither goest thou, Respected Grandfather?’ my child asked an old man.
‘We flee before the God of War, Small Girl, ’ was his reply.
With childlike simplicity the Chinese populace took for granted the protection of the French and British flags. All that day and the following, which was Sunday, they continued to flock to Shameen. Shameen is a small island, originally a sand bar, around which one can walk in twenty minutes. It was set aside, in the days of early Occidental trade, as a place of segregation for the Westerners, who were not permitted to associate with the ‘ Celestial Inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom.’ As many of these traders were forced to spend the most of their lives on this concession, with a trip home probably only once in twenty years, they proceeded to turn it into a garden spot. The ballast of many trading ships was used to build it up; shrubs and trees were brought from all over the world. Great banyan trees from India, native to the tropics, spread wide arms of cool shade. Under these trees the refugees prepared to wait in comfort for accommodation by river boat to the still more certain protection of Hongkong. The island was soon as crowded as a native bazaar.
The people sat in groups and talked of the rising strength of a new party kindled from the embers of the late Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s ideals. They murmured rumors of a fierce conflict with guns soon to take place. They said that the mercenary army had been ‘even without the grace of lambs — who suck kneeling.’ They spoke of Dr. Sun Yatsen suffering silently and dying with ‘tears flowing into his own stomach’ because his hired henchmen had broken the yoke of control to bleed the city privately. They told tales of the collection of unauthorized taxes at the points of guns, of the emptying of shopkeepers1 tills by force, of swoopings down by night to secure the savings of many years. But they said it was better that things should continue as they were, even with the Yunnanese making such trouble, rather than that there should be civil war again, with the future uncertain.
‘This new party echoes winged words of freedom — but how are we, the people, to know the future? Since 1911, by the republican calendar, we have heard many golden words and been “ dolls of yellow gentian. ” Change is not good. It is best always for life to continue in the ways of the past, and then when disaster occurs it is disaster to which we are accustomed.’
As fast as opportunity came, the refugees moved on to Hongkong, to wait there until the future should be revealed to them.
In the brilliant moonlight, about ten o’clock on Sunday evening, the Radicals opened fire. On Monday defenses were organized on Shameen as a precaution against a rush of refugees from whichever side might lose. Tuesday and Wednesday occasional bullets whizzed across the island, — one of them cutting a hole in our neighbor’s chimney, — but with no decisive victory on either side. On Wednesday afternoon three Soviet Russian women, wives of men said to be in charge of the Radical army, came to stay at the Victoria Hotel on Shameen.
So far, the Chinese gunboats had manœuvred aimlessly up and down the river, taking no part in the conflict. On Thursday morning my gardener told me that the ‘navy ’ had been bought at a good price, paid in silver coin, by the Radicals. Walking along the Bund just before lunch, I saw a Russian man in civilian clothes summon a sampan to the French Concession steps and go out to a Chinese gunboat in midstream. The boat got up steam and entered into the firing against the Conservatives.
On Friday, June 12, I was awakened from my afternoon nap by our old Chinese nurse shaking the foot of my bed violently. I sat up and stared at her face, which was overspread with a greenish-yellow pallor.
‘Kuan Yin have mercy on my ten parentless children in Peking,’ she wailed. ‘The Radicals have control of the City of Rams. We Chinese know that the Cantonese mass will now rise up and butcher all the Chinese of other provinces found here. The anger of the populace has seethed for many months against the strangers within their gates — they will not distinguish between the Yunnanese and Chinese from other provinces. Murder and death! Ai-yah, ai-yah—’
Unable to stop her wails, I rose and began to dress. I opened the door of a wardrobe and found fat three-year-old Chung Hung, son of my cook, wrapped up in the filmy mass of my favorite chiffon dress. As I went through the house I discovered most of the Chinese members of the household crouched in fear in dark corners. Chou, the cook, had pasted thick brown paper over the glass door and windows of the kitchen. Chang had laid tea in the stuffy tightly closed dining room and refused to move it to the usual cool corner of the verandah.
‘The Cantonese loves only himself’ was the refrain. There was no interest in the theory, which I presented in the kitchen, that perhaps it was a natural thing for the Cantonese to dislike the Yunnanese who had bled their city.
I pushed open a shutter and went out on the verandah. A hundred yards away in the Pearl River floated a badly mutilated body. I heard my husband enter the front door and speak to Chang in his usual quiet voice, asking him to tell the servants that they were all quite safe so long as they did not leave the place until the trouble was over. I saw Lee, the gardener, come around and fasten the high garden gates, with the double bolts. My husband said nothing as we had our tea, but I knew by the slight twitching of his face that he must have walked through hell on his way home from his office in the centre of Canton city.
From three o’clock that afternoon until Monday morning the Cantonese massacred the ‘strangers within their gates’ with the unrestricted cruelty of mob insanity. The Yunnanese surrendered their arms when the Radicals defeated them in battle. They cast aside their uniforms at once to hide their identity, but in the arena of the masses this did not save them from death. All ‘strangers’ alike were the prey of the maddened crowd. Only those who could speak the native dialect were passed over. A victim beseeching mercy was cornered, and while he kotowed the persecutors pierced holes in his head with nails on the end of long sticks. They shrieked with crazy delight at the welts which rose on bambooed flesh. They vied with each other in dexterity with sharp-cornered stones. Women and children screamed wild approval when a can of oil was poured over a man and a match set to his trousers. The mob secured flat-bottomed boats and carried on their massacre drifting before my verandah. They flung dying men into the Back Creek, allowed them to strike out for the Shameen shore, then gently pushed their heads under water with broad boards.
We Westerners sought to intercede in the unequal conflict, and one man brought three wounded Yunnanese on to the island; but the consuls, knowing the grave danger of Western interference in native affairs, forbade participation in the trouble.
On Shameen, nerves were taut as violin strings. Unable to succor the afflicted, we threw ourselves into artificial activities as a means of escape from thought. There was a nervous whirl of dancing, bridge, and high poker stakes. Cocktails fomented laughter. Men dreading to be alone filled the Club Bar.
Chang, our faithful old boy, who had served my husband loyally for eighteen years and twice saved his life, went raving mad and attempted to assassinate all three of us. Frothing at the mouth, he attacked my little daughter with a pair of long scissors, cut me through the cheek, and struggled desperately, slashing right and left, before my husband could control him. He had to be sent away to an insane hospital, babbling that the Cantonese were after us in ten motor cars.
On Monday morning, June 15, a proclamation was issued from the Government Buildings, announcing that a new government had been formed and that peace and order were now restored for the good of the people.
The massacre stopped. Crowds dissolved. The city waited with empty streets for the first move of the new government.
The Government announced that it consisted of two parts: National and Provincial. Hu Han-min, a returned student from Japan, later replaced by Eugene Chen, was Minister of Foreign Affairs. Liao Chung-kai, born in San Francisco and well known as a leader of the Canton Labor Party, was Minister of Finance for both divisions. Later Sung Tze-ven, educated in the United States and a brother-in-law of Dr. Sun, became Minister of Finance. Hsu Sung-chi, later replaced by Chiang Kaishek, was Commander in Chief of the Army. Hsu Him, a teacher at Canton College, headed the Supreme Court. Hsu Sung-ching, a returned student from Japan, headed the Department of Agriculture. Sun Fo, son of Dr. Sun, was announced as head of the Department of Reconstruction and thus left free to make himself generally useful. Chan Kung-pok, a returned student from the United States, headed the Department of Labor.
All remained quiet in the city. On the morning of the eighteenth I spent two or three hours roaming about the streets, as is my custom when I have nothing else to do. I stopped to listen to an ardent youth of about fifteen years, wearing foreign clothes, who stood on an overturned fish tub making a speech. He wore his hair pompadour fashion and kept tossing it out of his eyes as the violence of his oratory disturbed its arrangement. His remarks were a stirring appeal to the citizens of China to unite against the ‘Imperialistic Foreign Devil. ’
At six o’clock on Sunday morning a small Cantonese boy came into my kitchen court with a red paper ordering all my servants to cease work and march off the island at nine o’clock, and stating that a general strike had been ordered by the Labor Department. Chou, fearing the treachery of the Cantonese, brought the paper to me.
That morning a general strike of employees on Shameen went into effect. In long rows the strikers paraded through the avenues and went into the city, leaving kitchens and warehouses empty. My ‘helpers,’ since they were Pekingese, hid themselves in a dark storeroom and refused to come out even for food. I carrried rice and tea to them twice a day.
On Tuesday forenoon Chou, realizing that I was cooking for a household of twelve, with the heat at ninety in the shade, volunteered to come from the storeroom and cook as usual if I would move the oil stove and necessary utensils into an inner hallway. We sat down that day to a delicious lunch. Amah insisted upon changing the plates to prove her devotion equal to that of her husband. They refused my offer of help with the dishes.
At lunch there was much laughing banter about a Chinese procession rumored to pass along the Shaki Bund at two o’clock. One of the men who lunched with us was of the Volunteer Corps assigned to afternoon duty. He went to his post on the Back Creek with unloaded rifle, according to orders. I settled down to read The Divine Lady, which had arrived from the States the day before.
I had quite forgotten China and her civil wars when I found a British marine shaking my arm. He ordered me to get my household together and join the women and children who were to be carried by naval launch out to the American gunboat Ashville. Then I became conscious of the sound of battle — the rapid snap-snap of rifle fire and the rumble of machine guns. My servants pushed through the door. ‘The Cantonese are on Shameen!’ they wailed hysterically.
My little daughter sat up wide-awake and pulled the old nurse down on the bed, admonishing her to be quiet. Not trusting Amah, I gathered my child up on one hip, thrust a bag, which stood packed and ready, into Amah’s left hand, grasped her right one, and sped down to the waiting launch at the foot of our steps. While bullets splashed in the water we dashed across to the Ashville. Not until we were on board did I notice that Chou held my skirt tight in his fist — and thus was safely quartered with the women and children.
On the Ashville we waited for real news of what had happened. A ship’s officer came aboard with a report that the Chinese procession had passed peacefully at first, headed by school children and by representatives of the various guilds, with nothing save banners, declaring their unity with their fellow citizens against the Westerner. Then there had come a group of soldiers with guns, who presented arms quite harmlessly. Then suddenly from behind them the first shots were fired toward Shameen, followed by a volley from the soldiers — and the battle was started. We learned that three bullets had struck the wall beside the chair of an American woman we knew as she sat on the verandah of the Victoria Hotel, but that she had escaped uninjured; that one of the men who lunched with us had been shot through the leg below the knee; and that an elderly Frenchman, much beloved, had been instantly killed while walking near the Catholic church. The marines on the Ashville got ready for action and fretted to be off. On the decks of two Japanese battleships we could see other restless marines eager for the order to go ashore. Then word came that it was over and no naval help was needed. About seven o’clock we were told to go on shore in the naval launches provided and pack small bags to take with us to Hongkong. We were not asked whether or not we wanted to go to Hongkong; we were simply told that we should be conveyed there by naval escort.
The island was in complete darkness. I groped my way into my house and got out candles. Then I busied myself putting out supplies of matches, food, and towels. At last my husband came in. He told me that I should have to obey the order to go to Hongkong, as Shameen was to be completely evacuated of women and children, and he urged me to return to my home in the States until the trouble was over.
Hongkong was full to overflowing with Western refugees from all over South China. Women from Swatow repeated tales of atrocities and of starvation by boycott. People from interior towns told of mob cruelty and long treks across country to river boats; of red pamphlets inciting the natives to drive out the ‘Imperialistic Devil,’which came in advance of every instance of hostility.
A friend had taken us into her house. My child was happy in the nursery. My two servants were fitted into the household and given work. I had long, idle hours in which to do nothing but listen to wild talk. Soviet Russia was blamed for the situation. Days passed; the Governments took no action.
People began to say we were forgotten. Inconvenienced by the Hongkong servants’ strike, the shipping boycott, the fear of financial ruin, the crowded discomfort of the city, they found it hard to understand that local action might only start a world war which would destroy civilization.
Telegraph lines to Canton were cut. Mails were interrupted. Only an occasional naval boat ran up the river carrying food supplies. I knew that in Canton my husband, an official under the Chinese Government at Peking, though an Englishman, would be going into the city every day, maintaining an attitude of absolute neutrality.
Unable to leave for the United States in contentment, and still more unable to stand the idle uncertainty in Hongkong, I boarded a native Chinese boat one afternoon just as it was leaving the dock for Canton. I have never known fear. Through all the years of my life in China I had seen the masses in their passion commit frightful cruelties, but I personally had always been treated with gentle courtesy.
I stood on the dock as the boat was preparing to leave. I asked a woman where the boat was going. She answered, ‘Canton.’ I handed her my purse. A young girl grasped my wrists and helped me aboard. The vessel was packed with Cantonese men, women, and children, and I recognized many faces I had seen among the refugees who ran away before the Radical capture of Canton.
‘Thou returnest home, Honored One?’ I said to the woman who held my purse and who now made room for me to sit beside her.
‘We return — and thou?’ she responded.
‘I also return to my home,’ I replied.
The afternoon passed in idle talk, in which we women compared ages, told the number of our children, and sympathized with each other over babies we had lost. We ate salted watermelon seeds, nibbled chocolate, and quenched our thirst with fresh lichi fruit. They smoked their water pipes and laughed at my clumsy attempts to keep one alight. At the Tiger Forts we discussed the signs of new fortifications — earth had been thrown up and rough shelters of bamboo placed at intervals over the hills. They explained to me that in ‘old’ China the forts had had no guns; only pictures of fierce tigers pasted over the windows. My friends said these had served as a device to remind the people of the power of the law and had been much better than modern methods.
All about us was the drone of men’s voices discussing political events - the discomfort to be borne if there should be a boycott against all Western imports, and at the same time the necessity of teaching the Western merchant certain truths regarding the supremacy of the ‘Celestial’ people.
Night came. The boat dropped anchor. The last breeze died down. Mosquitoes came in millions to torment us as we lay in sultry heat, crowded so close that our bodies touched.
My nostrils rebelled at the mingled odors of putrid water, sour salt perspiration from my unbathed fellow passengers, and the nasty offal of our cargo of live pigs. From nightfall to dawn the hours dragged to the slow torture of the squeal of thirsty pigs and the rancorous voice of a political agitator haranguing the assembled multitude, who were attempting to sleep, on their cowardly submission to the indignity of Western interference in China. My new friend and I moved restlessly in vain attempts to find comfort on the hard boards of the deck. I longed for a drink of water.
With the dawn my eyes rested upon the muddy waters from which had risen the rancid odor of the night. Lifted high on strong clean stocks above glossy wide leaves, lotus buds were opening to the light. They covered all the space to the shore— pure white just touched with shell pink. Dainty beauty rising out of foul slime — each blossom as fragile as a floating wisp of sun-kissed morning cloud.
When we were within sight of Canton two launches flying red flags came out and escorted us to a position opposite the Customs wharf. Delegates came aboard from the launches, wearing sleeve bands announcing that they came from the strikers’ headquarters and the Seamen’s Union. They made speeches of greeting, welcoming the returned refugees to their homes and assuring them that all former discomfort had been the fault of interfering Westerners; that the back of Western influence in China had been broken by the new Nationalist Party; that missionaries were to go; that all the teaching of the young was to be done under government control. One of the speakers asked me in English if I was a missionary. I answered no. He said it was a good thing, because the new régime would not tolerate Christian teaching.
Another delegate asked me about my business. I said I was just a housekeeper. A crowd gathered. Someone suggested that I must be a spy. They shook their heads and agreed that there was something wrong about a white woman speaking both Mandarin and the local dialect. The woman who had befriended me said that she thought I was quite harmless, but a little queer in the head. I sat down on a box and waited for the business of disembarking to draw their attention away from me.
The wealthier of my fellow travelers, suspicious of the free ride to shore offered by the launches, gave polite evasive answers to the invitation and hired private sampans. The launches finally went away with the shabbier of our company. Two slipper-boat women vied with each other for the opportunity to row a passenger ashore. The one who lost cried, ‘You take the bread out of my mouth!’ after her successful rival.
I leaned over the rail and offered her a good sum to convey me to shore.
‘I have no leisure,’ was her calm reply, as she rocked on idle oars.
The red flag with the Rising Sun, symbol of the Nationalist Government, fastened by the Labor delegates to the mast of our boat, drooped in the breathless heat. My friendly companions of the voyage had melted away the instant suspicion was pointed at me by the red-necktied committee. Even the woman who had vouchsafed that I was harmless had gone without farewell.
Red flags hung like strings from buildings on the Canton Bund, and from every junk, steam vessel, flower boat, and sampan in sight. The boatwoman who had declined to accept me as a passenger lay down in the bottom of her craft. I saw a bright twist of red cotton cloth plaited in her long black hair. Then I noticed similar red in the braids of all the other boatwomen.
On the faces of the cook’s coolie, the boat’s guard, and all the women and children on near-by craft lay a blank mask of unconcern — which I knew meant intense excitement at the drama of a white woman stranded in midharbor on an empty vessel. They are a race of infinite patience — they waited for the next act in the play. Life among the Chinese has taught me the art of patient waiting also. I stretched out on the top of a long packing box and closed my eyes as though to sleep.
After a weary, apprehensive hour I saw a trim government launch, flying the new flag. I signaled it audaciously, on the chance that no officials would be aboard at six in the morning, and that the men in charge, accustomed to obey commands and rattled by the rapid changes in authority of recent days, would obey me without question as to what right I had to give orders.
I berated them soundly in Mandarin for their slackness in keeping me waiting. The wrinkled old boatswain murmured polite apologies. I was bowed aboard. The folk on near-by craft waved a cheery farewell. The launch landed me without question at the steps of the British Concession.
The British sentinel — a young civilian volunteer — stared at me in amazement as I came off the ‘enemy’ launch. Then he recovered his senses sufficiently to repeat the order that no women were allowed to return to Shameen. He had been a guest many times in my house — he could n’t very well push me backward into the river. I suggested that he walk to the other end of his beat so that he could n’t see me come up the steps. He did.
The imported shrubs and flowers which had made Shameen a beautiful garden were dead for lack of artificial watering. The native grass had in one short week grown to a tangled mass. Only the banyan trees, native to the tropics, were in full leaf. Hastily thrown-up trenches, barbed wire, and walls of sandbags added to the desolation. The Punjabi troops had been quartered next to our house. They had flung out white tents and tethered black goats on the grass. Brightturbaned cooks were preparing food over open charcoal burners. A circle of men, in odd khaki shirts with long tails outside knee breeches, played cards under our flame-of-the-woods tree. A little black boy, with a brilliant striped shawl-like garment draped over one shoulder, leaving the right arm and side bare, was pouring a pail of water around the tree’s trunk. Two bearded men were smoking a hookah between them. Several others were enjoying a morning dip from the stone embankment in front of our gate; they rubbed their copper bodies with oil from a green bottle until they glistened in the morning sun, then one by one they dived slowly and gracefully into the muddy river. Each swimmer exhibited a different dive.
The loved flowers of my garden were withered corpses. I hastened past them and pushed open a side door. In the dusty, littered breakfast room my husband explained to me the enormity of the offense I had committed in returning to my home when I had been sent away by the British and American consuls. But a man in our house lay very ill. I busied myself with the tasks which a woman can do better than men and kept quietly out of everyone’s way. So they let me stay.
Despite the intense heat, — the thermometer hung around ninety in the shade for three months, — the Western men shut up on the tiny island kept up a wonderful spirit. The heads of big businesses, who faced bankruptcy because of the stoppage of trade, whistled as they trundled home their daily supply of food from the distributing station and prepared it in stifling kitchens. They kept up their morale, their clothes washed, their faces shaved; they took pride in inventing edible dishes out of available ingredients; and they accepted without grumbling the heavy community duties assigned them by the Emergency Council.
Once we did not have bread or flour for eight days. Fruit, fowl, and green vegetables were a far-between luxury sent up from Hongkong when possible, but a scarcity there also because of the boycott. Down the river past us floated flat-bottomed craft piled high with the rich produce of Kwangtung Province: plump young chickens and ducks, high pyramids of juicy oranges, pale yellow much-needed lemons, great clusters of bananas, baskets of papayas, spinach, lettuce, new potatoes, and snowy cauliflower — all those foods that the palate, fed too long on salt and storage meat and canned stuffs, craves.
Once, just at twilight, I sat alone on the steps of the deserted boathouse. A boat loaded with golden papayas floated slowly downstream, poled by a kind-faced old man. Scarce above a whisper I bartered with him. His boat drew close, a coin passed from my hand to his, and when he had gone two ripe melons lay under the fold of my skirt. Many months later I learned that the poor old man paid with his life for that transgression of the boycott against Westerners. Convicted in the Hall of Justice, he was wrapped with thin wire and laid out in the sun to die of slow strangulation. A sampan woman whom neither of us noticed made the charge against him.
Long, monotonous days passed. The Chinese Nationalist officials, still uncertain of their own saddle, refused to treat with the Western world. Internal disruption claimed their attention, and with canny wisdom they knew that only by distracting the attention of the multitude with the decoy of a common Western enemy could they mould a national unity.
On July 29, Jacob Boradin, a Russian from Moscow, was openly announced as the chief adviser to the Government. Mr. Norman, an American, and formerly adviser to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, sailed for home. The morning of August 1, five hundred thousand dollars consigned from Russia was brought in at Whampoa to aid the Nationalist Party. A day later ships laden with badly needed oil arrived from the Black Sea.
On August 4 an order was issued by the newly formed Central Bank of China that henceforth only notes issued by that bank would be legal tender in South China. The telegraphs, customs, railways, and post offices were directed to accept only such notes after the fifteenth of August. Western officials in these departments chafed under the order, which had no authority from Peking; but such was the strength of the rising Nationalist Party that it was put into effect. The Bank redeems its notes daily with the posts and the customs, giving to them the face value in silver.
New import duties were declared, in addition to the regular customs tariff. No boat was allowed to move cargo until these duties were paid. Contrary to the regulation that all customs returns are to be sent to Peking, the local party declared its right to put them into the Nationalists’ coffers. Thus the long battle between the customs authorities and the Nationalists was inaugurated.
Unsigned letters began to reach Shameen showing great apprehension on the part of certain Chinese Conservatives and calling upon the Foreign Powers to use their ‘magnificent’ battleships to ‘break the back of the bloodsucking, upstart’ Nationalist Party. Letters came from servants who had left their Western jobs at the instigation of the general strike of June 21. They told of the horrors of road building, under Russian overseers, into which they had been conscripted; they complained that they were paid no wages and given only one small bowl of rice a day. They begged their ‘masters’ to find a way to smuggle them back to the island.
On August 18, with the heat at ninety-nine degrees, the workers in the native waterworks, which supplies the entire city, walked out in protest against an order of the Nationalist Government. The people were forced to carry water from the river, which is the emptying place for all sewage. An epidemic of typhoid broke out. People died by hundreds.
Life on August 19 was brightened by a visit of the British flagship Petersfield with Prince George, the fourth son of the King of England, on board. He came ashore dressed in gray trousers and blue coat. He proved a tall, goodlooking, nice-mannered youth, and was much interested in the way in which life on Shameen was conducted.
On August 21, Liao Chung-kai, the ‘strong man’ of the Nationalist Government, was shot as he left a public meeting. News travels on wings in China. There was a difference in attitude at once on the part of the boat people in front of our house. For the first time since my return to Shameen they passed the time of day with me as I watered the flowers in my garden. They commented upon my clean starched frock and asked me if I had laundered it myself. They explained that the fifth day of the Seventh Moon (August 23, Western calendar) was the Festival of Ch’u shu — or the Stopping of Great Heat.
On the afternoon of that day I ventured to suggest that it would give me great pleasure if one of them had ‘ leisure’ to row me across the river to the White Heron’s Nest so that I might have a change of air and take tea with some friends there. Several of the sampan women exchanged glances, but all shook their heads. An hour later, however, the tap-tap-tap of an oar on the stones in front of my verandah called me to a conference with one of them. She said that she had occasion to cross the river, and as I was of no weight at all I might just as well sit out of sight under the hood of her boat.
My Chinese friends gave away the secret of their uneasiness at my arrival by not commenting upon it. They drew me into the house and gave me tea. I learned that Hu Han-min was suspected of jealousy of Liao Chungkai and was rumored to have hired his assassin. Whampoa Cadets had been stationed around his house, but he had not yet been arrested. I heard that the wives of the Russian Advisers were known to have packed their personal belongings in readiness for flight if necessary and were keeping out of sight. My friends told me that, despite some disruptions within the Nationalist Party, it would go in a united body to greet four Soviet Russians expected at Whampoa the following morning.
A week later I received a check from the Atlantic Monthly for the exact amount for which Lou Fong, a dealer in the city, had promised me an old Chinese painting which I coveted. Elated by my secret journey abroad the previous week, I cashed my check at the bank and journeyed under the hood of a sampan to the foot of the Street of One Thousand Blessings.
Canton presented much the same appearance as ten weeks previous, except that the streets were cleaner, the police were in new uniforms with Colt revolvers, and the river front was picketed by men in blue costume with red arm bands — the new examiners of entering and departing goods.
Seemingly no one took any notice of me. In the Street of the Water Lily Well I met a German woman of my acquaintance, accompanied by her husband. They said that they had lived unmolested through the trouble, in their home in the heart of the city, but that all Germans had been given arm bands to wear so that the common people would know that they belonged to a Western country whose foreign privileges in China had been abolished. They told me that there were possibly two hundred and fifty young modern foreign-educated Chinese men and women gathered in Canton city - drawn there by the new social freedom as much as by political feeling. These young people held all sorts of offices, working by day and enjoying themselves when off duty in dances and parties much the same as in Western countries. My friends had been to such a party the evening previous. They commented on the fresh beauty of the girls and the good figures of the men. They mentioned especially the charm of young brown-eyed Mrs. Sun Yat-sen and her attractive sister, Mai Ling-sung.
Just after I left these Germans I came upon a crowd gathered around a street orator. The speaker was a pretty young girl in Chinese dress. She spoke to the people in cultured Mandarin about the beauty and the natural wealth of their country. A murmur stirred the crowd. A man pushed his way to the front. He explained to her that the people were so badly educated that they could understand only the native dialect. He offered himself as interpreter. She accepted his offer, and the lecture proceeded. It was a call to the people to rally around the Nationalist standard and throw off the shackles of the military tuchuns and their imperialistic Western allies. She assured them of the purity of the Nationalists’ purpose. The crowd began to drift away.
Then the interpreter ceased to interpret truthfully — he threw in human interest to draw the crowd back to attention. He said that what was wanted was for people to punish Wong, the cigarette seller at the near-by corner, for having wares with ‘British made’ stamped on them. Interest picked up at once. The first stone was thrown at Wong. His goods were trampled underfoot. He was surrounded and mauled about. The new police stood at ease, offering no interference. I went quickly on to the shelter of Lou Fong’s shop.
Lou Fong had been my friend for several years. He had invited me to the China New Year celebration at his shop, and had been my personal adviser in my collection of Chinese art treasures. Formerly he had served me personally when I went to his shop. To-day his lowest clerk asked my desire. I could see Lou Fong drinking tea in his office. I asked the clerk to carry my name to him. I knew that Lou saw me through the door as the clerk passed in. The clerk came back with word that the master had nothing worthy of my notice.
On the wall in front of me hung the painting I had been promised. I knew Chinese etiquette well enough to feel this treatment like a slap in the face.
I left the shop with tears smarting in my eyes. I cut through a side passage to compose myself and came upon the chubby little grandson of Madame Kwong, who had sat on my lap and played at games dozens of times. He hissed, ‘ Christian — Christian! ’ after me with absurdly rosebud-like lips.
At the Flowing Flowers Bridge I saw the young Chinese poetess whose name in English is Little White Jade. I hastened to overtake her to tell her how much I had enjoyed her verses in the last number of the Shaio Bo. She returned my greeting with an icy stare and turned quickly down a byway.
At the water front I was allowed to depart in peace after my pockets and my handbag had been carefully searched by the blue-clad pickets. They counted my money and returned it to my purse. They turned around in every possible direction a piece of paper found in my pocket. One of them put on a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and peered at it upside down. In the end he said that they would have to retain it. It was a list of my menus for the week.
I did not get into the city again until November, as someone reported to my husband that I had left the island on two occasions and I was forbidden to venture abroad again under threat of being sent immediately to Philadelphia if I did.
The British shipping boycott continued; but the Chinese desired Western products, to which they have become accustomed, and any vessel was allowed to do business so long as it paid the duties and had not put in at any British port on the way. The harbor was soon busy with the coming and going of Norwegian, American, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Russian ships.
The latter were managed in a true communistic way — no orders were given by the captain, but even the smallest move had to be voted upon by all the workers on board. One huge Soviet merchant boat made four false starts to leave the port, and each time had to drop anchor again above our house because the vote to proceed had not been unanimous.
Once a Norwegian ship was turned away because she had put in at Hongkong for water.
The Nationalists chose to use the cry against the British to incite the masses; but they permitted British firms to do business directly under their noses, so long as they acted under Chinese names.
At last the barriers to the gates of the French and British Concessions were opened. American, French, and British women again returned to their homes. Missionaries came back and took up the difficult task of carrying on their work in the face of government interference and supervision. Things took on the face of normal life — with the exception that the order forbidding domestic servants to work for Westerners was enforced. Later this order was slackened in cases where a heavy contribution was made monthly to the Labor division of the Nationalist Party.
Pickets continued to search everyone who went into the city. I foolishly purchased some roses to decorate my house for Christmas — the picket took them away from me quite gently, but he threw them into the Back Creek. He told me almost sadly that ‘ the wives of barbarian devils must not barter with the inhabitants of the Celestial land.’
An Englishman caught attempting to smuggle an old servant back to his house, in answer to a piteous letter, was led through the streets with a chain halter on his face and head and tied up in an open barred cage for the night. He was released unhurt the following day on the application of the British Consul-General. But the offending servant was hung up by the thumbs and beaten to death, by order of the Laborers’ Court of Justice.
January 1, 1926, the Nationalist Government circulated a printed report showing a credit balance in their finances and a statement that all employees of the government — including teachers, clerks, and soldiers — had been paid regularly since the party came into power. They truthfully stated that they were the only party since the revolution of 1911 who had accomplished such a feat. They showed that a definite sum was regularly applied to the education of the people concerning the Nationalist movement, and that propagandists trained in publicity were sent out systematically in advance of the army to convince the people of the high purpose of their cause and to espouse support without bloodshed.
In February I heard from an authoritative source within the Nationalist Party that a split between the left and right wings of the party had been averted by the timely arrival of Mrs. Sun Yat-sen from Shanghai, where she had been visiting her parents. On election day she mounted a platform in the room where the party was assembled and made a passionate appeal to both sides to hold fast to the ideals of their departed leader, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and forget slight personal differences. She was supported on the platform by her stepson, Sun Fo.
Near the end of the month I was invited to a party at the home of one of the Nationalist officials. It proved to be an afternoon tea dance — with Western sandwiches, sweet biscuits, tea, and a jazz orchestra. The spacious rooms were filled with young officers, both Chinese and Russian, in smart uniforms, dancing Western dances with self-possessed young Chinese girls. There were shingled heads, Eton crops, and straight bobs; heads with long braids wound in smooth coronets; heads with firmly set marcel waves; and heads smartly chic, yet dressed in Chinese fashion with flowers caught in shining ebony coils. The dancing feet were clad in dainty high-heeled shoes fashioned of brocades to match dresses of Chinese fashion or of materials to match Western gowns.
The note of the party was youth. Youth with the shackles of old Chinese convention kicked off and the albatross of Chinese fear dropped. Youth selfconfident; a little hard; very practical beneath a dash of ‘ devil may care.’
They had set up a government and it had run for several months. Life was good; they had a flaming ideal to live for; before them lay the whole of China — a wondrous unconquered adventure.
Their eyes shone with the joy of life. In the play of bantered words were the same compliments which fly between young people in the Western world. Keeping pace with this banter were half-spoken dreams of the future when all of China should be under the flag of the Nationalists and they would meet in the ancient city of the Mings, Nanking, proclaiming it again the ‘Golden City’ and making it their capital.
They spoke of the rightness of the burial of their leader, Sun Yat-sen, on the hillside above Nanking. They said it was logical that he should sleep his long sleep in company with the other native rulers of the country — his had been the genius that had accomplished the overthrow of the usurping Manchus.
Two weeks later I accepted an invitation to lunch with an elderly Syrian Jew who has dwelt for many years in Canton city. I knew him to be a merchant much respected by the Chinese people. With his halo of abundant white hair, he is a well-known figure in the streets, and his pithy speech is often quoted by teashop minstrels. I had heard that the local merchants were suffering great loss of trade — in fact were facing bankruptcy — because of the hostilities against Westerners and the absence of tourists. He had promised to take me on a tour which would disprove this statement.
We went first to the Pearl Market, which had been closed during the two previous years. The shops were open. Elaborately clad women sat at velvetcovered tables making their selections. We were shown pearls of a milky beauty which took on the warm color of flesh when held in the palm. We saw necklaces worth thousands of dollars, matched in marvelous perfection.
‘There is law and order under the new régime — we no longer need to hide our treasures,’ one merchant stated.
We went to the Street of Jade. Jade is the most sought after of all ornaments by the Chinese. Here again was the same story—men and women making their selections.
‘Chinese customers are buying again because they no longer fear to possess beautiful things — formerly they feared looting and wholesale robbery. We have brought up rare jade from the underground cellars where it has lain buried for years,’ the shopkeeper said.
We went through Blackwood Street. The wares usually displayed to catch the eye of tourists were gone. In their places were rare pieces fashioned to conform to Chinese use. I ran my hand over the satiny surface of a long table. The figures in it were carved three inches deep.
‘There is no work like this done now,’ the blackwood dealer said. ‘This new age has no artistic patience.’
‘But this is the altar table from the Temple of Five Hundred Buddhas!’ I exclaimed.
‘You have recognized it,’ he replied. ‘The temple is to be abolished — the new régime does not believe in religion. The furnishings have nearly all been disposed of. The money goes into the coffers of the Nationalists.’
After lunch we went out to what was formerly the golf course. It had been turned into a drilling ground for the Nationalist army. Officered by Russians, clad in well-tailored uniforms, smartly trained, the soldiers were an impressive sight.
‘It is a small army to conquer all of China,’ I said to the Chinese who accompanied us.
He laughed. ‘This is only a part of Chiang Kai-shek’s army — yet you have spoken the truth. It is not by military force but by propaganda that the Nationalists campaign to conquer our land province by province. The army will come up behind to give form to the advance. It is wise at this time to have it small. China has been bled too long by unruly troops. While the army is small it can be well controlled, well clad, and well paid. Then the trail of our conquests need not be dirtied by looting or by mutiny and desertion.’
On March 19, I had occasion to go to Shanghai. My husband accompanied me as far as Hongkong and we went out to the boat the night before to save the trouble of coming aboard in the early morning. About six o’clock next morning I heard a lot of noise outside and peeped through my cabin window to see a group of people coming on board from a launch flying the red flag.
Mrs. Sun Yat-sen came first. Then Sun Fo. Next came Mr. Cohen, a Russian Jew formerly Sun Yat-sen’s personal bodyguard, who is reputed to be able to throw two coins in the air, draw two pistols from concealed pockets inside his coat, and shoot a hole through each of the coins before they touch the ground. After him came C. V. Sung, who was followed by two young women whom I did not know. Coolies from the launch lifted two heavy boxes up after them.
I woke my husband to tell him what I had seen. He did not show any particular interest.
‘But they preach a British boycott,’ I protested. ‘They signed the order forbidding any vessel which touched at a British port to drop anchor in Canton harbor. This boat moves only under British naval protection; it carries armed guards; and it is going to Hongkong.’
’British hostility is only a political ruse to create support for the Nationalist Party. They have to have an “enemy” for their cause. That does not mean that they have any personal feeling which would prevent them from traveling to Hongkong under the British flag and proceeding on to Shanghai under the British flag again — when it is the safest and most comfortable way.’
‘Won’t the captain put them off?’
‘Put them off? What in thunder would the captain put them off for?’
So they journeyed with us — playing cards, eating British food, and chatting genially with their declared political enemies.
They transshipped at Hongkong on to the Empress of Asia, as I did, so that I was able to write back and tell my husband that his guess was correct.
That was eight months ago. The Nationalist Party has moved steadily northward. Its propagandists are still farther ahead of the ‘conquered’ territory, honeycombing the ground for still greater advance.
On January 12 of this year I had a letter in England from a young Chinese novelist in Tientsin. In it she tells me that she has gone over to the Nationalist Party in her affiliations. She ends with these words: ‘ But I do not expect you, who must look at the world always through Western spectacles, to understand.’