REMARKS UPON OUR POSITION AFTER THE ENGAGEMENT — HALT AT PALE-CHEAOU — ARRANGEMENTS FOR AN ADVANCE UPON PEKIN, AND ARRIVAL OF REINFORCEMENTS. DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY, AND THE SPECIES OF TRANSPORT PECULIAR TO IT — RENEWAL OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE PEKIN MINISTERS — THE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THEM AND LORD ELGIN.
Although we had in the space of three days gained two battles, our position at Pa-le-cheaou was far from satisfactory. Our force was very small, and unprovided with the material required for a siege. Our heavy guns were still on the river, and great difficulty was experienced in getting them over the shallows. To have marched direct upon Pekin the day after our fight of the 21st September, would have been a grand movement, had we have been in a position to enforce our threats of taking that city; but to have gone on idly swaggering about what we intended to do, unprovided with heavy guns for breaching purposes, would have placed us in a most false position, when under the very walls of the place. Non-combatants are at all times anxious to push on and make light of military precautions. After any successful operation, it is easy to speak of the facility with which it was accomplished, and, adducing the smallness of your losses in proof thereof, to remark, “Oh, you might have done it with half the [p. 192] number,” forgetting or ignoring the fact that the rapid success was very much to be attributed to the display of force, which ever carries with it great moral power in war, and that the precautions taken were the means of saving your soldiers’ lives.
I have no doubt there are some who would have liked us to have pushed on to the gates of Pekin upon the 22nd, on the chance of bullying the Chinese into surrendering the city to us; but suppose they had not done so, what a degrading position we should have obtained for ourselves, whilst remaining inactive under the very walls, awaiting the arrival of reinforcements and the heavy guns, &c. &c., required for assaulting the place? Before leaving Ho-se-woo, it was unfortunately believed that all fighting was over, and that the Chinese Government was anxious for peace. Had it been otherwise, and the whole affair merely a military operation, we should never have left that place until our heavy guns, and all our available troops had reached it. As it was, relying upon the negotiations then pending, we had advanced with a small force, unprepared for a siege; so that when our diplomacy failed, we found ourselves in a false position, unable to take advantage of the success with which our movements had been attended.
On the 29th September the siege guns reached us, and by the 2nd October, all available troops from the rear had joined us, with the exception of the 1st Royals, which marched into camp upon the evening following, when we had crossed the canal. Sir R. Napier had been sent for after the fight of the 18th at Chang-kiawan, and it was determined that no movement in ad- [p. 193] vance should be effected until the arrival of his division and the heavy siege guns. The regiments advanced by double marches from Tien-tsin, and the following preparations were made for pushing forward. A battalion of marines was posted at Tung-chow, between which and Tien-tsin, regular flotillas of country boats were established. By means of these large quantities of commissariat supplies were collected at the former place as a reserve store, whilst enough for ten days’ consumption was forwarded on from thence in carts and waggons to the front. A post of one hundred French infantry, and an officer and ten sowars was established at Chang-kia-wan for the protection of our mails and dispatches sent by means of mounted orderlies. This was at first most necessary, as our rear was for some time infested with armed banditti, who frequently attacked small parties and fired upon our messengers. In one instance, two sowars, carrying letters, reported they had been fired upon five times between Matow and Chang-kia-wan; and another party had to cut their way through a crowd of armed villagers in the former place. To stop these annoyances, orders were sent back to Colonel Urquahart, then at Matow, directing him to burn that village, which was done by a party of the 8th Punjaub Infantry, and produced the effect desired. Proclamations were at the same time posted up there and at the neighbouring villages, informing the people that it was owing to their own misconduct that that punishment had been inflicted, and warning others of what they might expect in case they acted similarly.
A bridge of boats was established over the canal [p. 194] opposite our camp, and a defensible position selected close by the paved road to Pekin, where it was determined to leave, under a strong guard, all our baggage, surplus ammunition, and siege material, whilst the allied armies advanced to attack Sang-ko-lin-sin’s army, which was reported to be in position to the north of the city, and close to it. His army having been well beaten and driven off from the neighbourhood, the heavy guns were to be brought up and placed in battery beneath the walls, and breach them in the event of the Chinese still holding out.
Reconnoitring parties went out daily towards Pekin during our halt at Pa-le-cheaou, by which means a good knowledge of the country was obtained. Our cavalry was, indeed, of the utmost use to us throughout the whole campaign. Our allies being unprovided with that arm, and engaged in the same work with us, gave us a fair opportunity of judging as to its value. Some people seem to consider that the military inventions of modern times have so changed the principles of war that cavalry can be of no further use, and, in fact, regard its existence now merely in the same light with many other relics of past ages maintained through that influence of conservativism, which has more or less hold over the minds of all. The China campaign has taught us differently. Our two regiments and a half of cavalry there rendered most valuable service. With even that small force we were enabled to scour the country all round our camps to a great distance; and in action against an enemy, whose mounted force was considerable, they gave us the power of following up by rapid charges the effect produced at long ranges [p. 195] by our Armstrong guns. In contending against an enemy similarly provided with a formidable artillery, its use would be all the more valuable, as by its rapidity in getting over the ground an onslaught might be effected upon the enemy’s batteries, which would so employ them and distract their attention, that the infantry might have time for an advance in hue without incurring that heavy loss inevitable if they themselves had commenced the attack. In our actions in the field, the Chinese suffered but very little from our infantry, our cavalry and artillery playing the principal parts, and inflicting almost all the loss which the enemy sustained.
During our halt at Pa-le-cheaou, reconnoitring parties went out almost daily, some of which advanced to within a few hundred yards of the Pekin walls, enabling the staff to acquire a knowledge of the surrounding country, and to glean much valuable information of Sang-ko-lin-sin’s movements from the inhabitants. The people which they met with were civil and obliging, so that in a few days good markets were established, where fowls, vegetables, and fruit were obtainable at cheap rates. Tung-chow, which was about three miles to our right, was completely in our power, as a battalion held one of its gates. The civic authorities there thought it was their best policy to save their city by aiding and supplying us with provisions, &c. &c., in return for which we prevented any of our men or followers from entering the place.
Our Chinese coolies were with difficulty kept under restraint, being most lawless and cruel. The country people had the greatest dread of them, and feared their [p. 196] approach ten times more than that of our soldiers. At night they frequently broke out of camp and prowled about into the neighbouring villages, plundering and frequently ill-using women. One of them, taken in the act, was tried and hanged before all the other coolies. One evening a party of them succeeded in entering Tung-chow, where they made a regular attack upon a pawnshop; but the citizens turned out and beat them off, killing four or five of them.
A fine road runs from Tung-chow to Pekin, passing along from the former place south of the canal as far as Pa-le-cheaou, where it crosses the canal by the fine stone bridge there, and runs along nearly parallel with it, until it reaches the capital at the Che-ho-mun. That road is paved with blocks of granite of about five feet long by eighteen inches wide and deep. At present its condition is very bad, many of the stones having sunk considerably, and those at the sides, where the road is raised, having fallen away. We found that our carts and waggons would not, in passing along it, stand the jar occasioned by its unevenness; so an unmetalled country road, which ran from Tung-chow to Pekin all the way along the north side of the canal, was chosen as our means ofcommunicationn. It was at first hoped that we should have been able to use the canal for transporting our supplies from the Peiho; but upon examination it was found that there were six or seven regular weirs between its two extremities, which would have entailed as many transhipments — the Chinese being ignorant of the use of locks, and that canal being unprovided with the long slips common upon the far [p. 197] famed Imperial Canal, up which the boats are hauled by manual labour. Upon our arrival at Pa-le-cheaou we found a considerable number of very large barges upon the canal, two of which were heavily laden with rice, which we seized for our own commissariat. This canal is called by the natives the lihang-ho (grain-bearing river); there is scarcely any current through it, and its water is consequently of a dark yellow colour, covered along its edge with slimy-looking weeds. It is fed by the mountain streams which pass through the grounds of Yuen-ming-yuen, sweeping in their course round Pekin, to which they form the ditches. In former times much care was paid to the waterworks of the capital, the reservoirs and weirs of which were well built, displaying considerable ingenuity of construction; for years past, however, they have had no attention paid to them, and consequently have fallen into a ruinous condition — the stone weirs having in some places disappeared altogether, and the supply of water being allowed to find its own way across the adjacent country. Since that time the Liliang-ho has been meagrely fed, and at the weirs, where there had evidently been, in days gone by a considerable overflow, there is now only a tiny trickling. The canal ends abruptly at Tung-chow, there being an intervening space of about a hundred and fifty yards between it and the Peiho. The surplus water from the canal flows into that river over a very fine weir, built of granite, fast falling into decay. The Peiho becomes two distinct rivers above Tung-chow, one branch passing close under its walls. It is there only twelve or fifteen yards in width; but below the [p. 197] junction of the two streams it widens out to from thirty to fifty yards.
At Pa-le-cheaou we procured a considerable number of carts and mules; and had we driven the country about, we might have obtained any reasonable amount of them, but all coercion was avoided as much as possible, and money paid for those we took. The conveyances of the country are two-wheeled waggons and wheel-barrows; the former are of two sorts, one being a small covered-in cart with shafts, drawn by a mule or pony, or sometimes by two in tandem. The other is a much larger and more substantially built waggon, also with shafts, drawn by four mules or ponies, one being in the shafts, the other three abreast in front, the traces from which are fastened to the axle-tree. The harness is all made of strong rope made up of twisted untanned thongs. The mules we obtained were fine animals, in good condition, and well suited for transport purposes. The Chinese drivers had most complete power over them and managed them well, talking to them whilst yoking them in and starting them off, which was no easy matter. As the three leading animals were in no way fastened to each other, it was a matter of difficulty to get them to pull all at one moment in starting, and if one turned rusty he prevented the others from going on. It was a curious sight watching our English soldiers yoking them in and endeavouring to start them. The animals, unaccustomed to the Britishers’ voice and mode of treatment, invariably hung back or dragged in different directions. To take a leader by the head was a sure signal for general action amongst [p. 199] the entire team, each animal kicking and biting furiously at his next neighbour. I have often pitied the soldier left behind upon baggage guard, in charge of some such cart without a Chinese driver, when I have seen him making attempt after attempt to get his team in motion. I cannot imagine anything more trying to the temper than such an operation; having, after much difficulty, perhaps, induced all the animals to face in one direction — always a matter of serious labour — and when inwardly congratulating himself upon his success, thinking that all was right and that they were upon the point of all pulling together, he sees one of the beasts put his leg over the loose trace. To rectify this entails a fresh disarrangement of the whole team, and a fresh series of kicks, &c., from the mules, and hearty curses from the warrior. That same team, in charge of a Chinese driver, who would talk and chirrup in some peculiar manner to his beasts, would have been a mile upon its road in the same time that the soldier took in getting it fairly started. Once off, the sturdy mules and ponies draw it at a brisk pace, and all goes well until some obstacle necessitates a halt, when the same tiring process gone through at first starting has to be gone through afresh. The wheel-barrows are similar to those used in the south of China, being a sort of outside Irish jaunting car, with one wheel upon a small scale. They are driven by one man generally; but when the load carried is heavy, a second man is yoked in as a leader, in rope traces, joined in front by a wooden bar which fits across his chest. The country about our camp maintained the same features as in the neighbourhood of Chang-kia-wan, [p. 200] being, however, more wooded, and dotted over more thickly with enclosed tombs of all sizes, some very large and imposing in appearance. Many were adorned with handsome marble monuments, and all those of any importance were surrounded by groves of trees, and neatly built brick walls. Pine trees, planted close together in long lines, enclosed those of the greatest pretensions, and formed an impassable fence for their protection. One of the largest and best kept burial-places was near the stone bridge, and close in rear of the French lines. The Tartar cavalry had encamped around it the evening before our fight of the 21st September, and a considerable number of them were killed there by the French artillery fire during the action. In front of it stood two high pillars of white marble, and a quaintly designed bridge over nothing, of the same material. These and the monuments in the enclosure were richly carved in a grotesque manner, and the entire space covered by the tombs was neatly laid out in paved walks and well-trimmed grass-plots. All the tombs of importance have dwelling-houses attached to them, in which those in charge of the place reside, and where the members of the deceased’s family find quarters, during their annual visits to the spot for the purpose of sacrificing to the manes of their departed relations.
About Canton no ground is ever devoted to purposes of interment which is capable of producing crops, the bleak sides of hills or other barren spots being used as graveyards. There the dead are congregated together, whilst in the neighbourhood of Pekin the tombs are scattered indiscriminately about through the richest [p. 201] farms, large spaces being given up to each, and in no instance is there any considerable number collected within any one enclosure. Every family has, seemingly, its own place of interment.
The weather continued very fine during our halt at Pa-le-cheaou. In August and the early part of September the heat at midday was very oppressive when exposed to the sun, but towards the latter end of September the temperature by day resembled that of an English summer, the nights being deliciously cool; towards October it was so cold at night that blankets and warm clothing were in great requisition. Whenever a northerly wind blew it was chilly even at noon, and in the early morning it was quite unpleasantly cold. We had one or two slight showers during our halt, which were most acceptable in laying the dust, which until then had been most disagreeable, covering everything, even within our tents, so that at any time during the day one could write his name upon the table. Penmanship under such circumstances was a matter of difficulty, the ink and pens becoming clogged with fine sand, which found its way into our very food, rendering one’s camp fare disagreeable irom the highly earthy flavour imparted to it.
The inhabitants, who fled from the surrounding villages during our action, returned gradually in small parties, as the few who had originally stood their ground had been well treated. Before we broke up our camp a considerable portion of the males had come back. They seemed puzzled to understand how it was that a nation, whom they had always been taught to [p. 202] consider as barbarous and fierce, should evince any care for their protection.
Whilst we were awaiting the arrival of our siege guns and reinforcements, almost daily communications passed between the allied ambassadors and the Imperial Government. The first letter received was upon the 22nd September, from the Prince of Kung, the Emperor’s brother, dated the day before, and written, I suppose, after the battle. It said, that as Tsai, Prince of I, and Muh, President of the Board of War, had failed in arranging matters with us satisfactorily, he, the Prince of Kung, had been appointed Imperial Commissioner with full powers to negotiate. As he was anxious to send in Hang-ki and Lou-wei-wan to our camp to discuss affairs, he requested the ambassadors to suspend hostilities temporarily, so that friendly relations might be established. Lord Elgin’s answer informed his Imperial Highness that no arrangements could be entered upon, nor any suspension of hostilities allowed, until the English and French subjects, then prisoners with the Chinese, were sent back; and further, that should any hindrance be made to their return, the consequences would be most serious to the Imperial Government. A good opportunity was also afforded to the newly-appointed Commissioners of disowning all complication in the capture of those who were missing, by an order which Lord Elgin forwarded to the Prince of Kung, with his answer, directing all her Britannic Majesty’s subjects then in Pekin, to return at once to our camp, and instructing them at the same time to warn any of the Chinese authorities, who might oppose their departure, of the danger which they incurred in doing so. [p. 203]
That our ambassador should refrain from violent language in declaiming against the treacherous capture of the prisoners, and appear inclined to overlook it, provided they were at once sent back, and to view it rather as an error committed by subordinates, was so essentially Chinese in its conception, that very probably, had all those captured upon the 18th instant been then in Pekin, or within the new Commissioner’s immediate jurisdiction, he would have availed himself of the opportunity of fixing the crime upon some military inferiors, by disclaiming any participation in it, and by returning the prisoners. Such a line of conduct would have been in accordance with their traditional policy. It is to be remarked that in the Prince of Kung’s letter, there was no mention of the prisoners made by the Tartar army, nor do I believe that he or other members of the Government attached much importance to them, or thought that we should do so either, until, of course, Lord Elgin’s answer reached Pekin.
On the 23rd September another flag of truce came in to our camp, with a letter from the Prince of Kung, in which with more ingenuity than success he attempted to prove that our people, then in Pekin, had been captured owing to their own want of temper, which brought them into collision with some Chinese troops; that they were then in good health, having received no serious bodily harm; but as peace was still unconcluded and the Takoo forts and Tien-tsin still in our possession, it could not be expected that our prisoners should be returned until we evacuated the country. “What occasion is there for alarm about a few British subjects [p. 204] who may be missing?” If we restored the positions which we had captured from the Chinese, they would be sent back upon the withdrawal of our troops from the country. A statement of the circumstances under which the prisoners had been made, as far as we knew them, was returned in answer by Lord Elgin, who stated that the Prince of Kung must have been deceived, if he had been otherwise informed. This gave his Imperial Highness another loophole to retreat through with Chinese respectability: he might have pretended that he had been misinformed, and behead half-a-dozen petty officials to sustain the untruth. The first application for the return of our prisoners having failed, a higher tone was adopted in the second, and the treachery of taking our people prisoners whilst under a flag of truce was denounced in strong terms. That several of our people should be prisoners in the hands of a nation celebrated for cruelty, was a regular millstone around the necks of the Commanders-in-Chief. All were eager to avenge their capture, yet wished to postpone the commencement of operations in hopes of obtaining their release, and fearing lest the assault of Pekin should be the signal for their massacre. As the prisoners had been taken when employed upon diplomatic duty, our ambassador was naturally all the more anxious for their safety; and yet a due regard to public duty prevented him from seeking their surrender by conceding one whit of the original demands made to Kweiliang at Tien-tsin. To have ignored them altogether, would have been not only inhuman, but have allowed an idea to spread abroad in China, that the lives of such a small party of our countrymen was a matter of little moment to [p. 205] us — an impression that might entail serious consequences hereafter at the various ports of the empire, where the moral influence of our nation is the main stay upon which individuals must ever principally depend for protection. To have conceded the most insignificant clause of our original demands, in exchange for the return of our prisoners, would have been a most dangerous precedent in any future war with China, by showing the Imperial rulers the advantages open to them at such times from the kidnapping of Englishmen. The course adopted was a wise one. Lord Elgin refused to recognise Mr. Parkes and his party as prisoners of war taken in battle; all through his subsequent negotiations he spoke of them as persons kidnapped under the most treacherous circumstances, in defiance of all international law and the customs of war. He made their surrender a sine qua non, before he would even suspend hostilities. The Prince of Kung, on the other hand, endeavoured to negotiate for their release, making it contingent upon the withdrawal of our army.
In Lord Elgin’s answer to the Prince of Kung’s letter of the 23rd September, he held out a threat of condign punishment in the event of any injury happening to the prisoners, or of his refusal to send them back. To do so in decided terms was no easy matter, as, from the general rumours we had heard, it was tolerably certain that the statement of their being all well was untrue, and common sense told us that if a melee had really occurred when the prisoners were taken (as stated in the Prince of Kung’s letter), that the officers and men of Mr. Parkes’s escort were not likely to be [p. 206] all taken alive. Therefore, if some had been killed, it would not do to declare finally that no peace would be made until all had been returned, lest such might drive the Imperial Government to despair, and induce them to fight to the last. To conclude peace as rapidly as possible was of great importance; and as but one more month of fine weather remained for military operations, a protracted struggle was of all things to be avoided. Such must have entailed upon us great additional expense, and perhaps loss of life, and could only end by the overthrow of the ruling dynasty, which was not our policy. Our object was, not to weaken the Imperial Government, but to show China how immeasurably stronger and greater in war we were. On the supposition that the Prince of Kung really considered the capture of Mr. Parkes and party as a minor matter, and did not deem them of sufficient importance to be treated for specifically, he would still be naturally disinclined to send back those who then survived until peace had been signed. He knew that all the prisoners had been barbarously used, and would consequently conclude that, if their tale of woe was known to us before peace had been signed, we should base farther demands in the way of indemnification or concessions upon that ground. All along, during the negotiations entered upon subsequent to our departure from Tien-tsin, the Imperial Government appears to have thought that we had some hitherto concealed demands, which we intended to bring forward at the last moment, and that we were only too anxious to have some plausible excuse for doing so. If in our ambassador’s letters to the Prince of Kung it was positively stated [p. 207] that, unless all the prisoners were returned, the reigning dynasty would be overthrown by us, the Imperial Commissioners might argue “that, as some have been already killed, we cannot by resisting to the last and trusting to the chance of war, suffer more than the barbarians have announced that they will impose upon us, if we fail to return all the prisoners, which is now out of our power.” We should consequently gain nothing by such a definite threat.
All these considerations had to be weighed carefully before an answer was returned to the Prince of Kung’s letter.
Lord Elgin’s letter was a masterpiece of its kind, commencing, as I have before stated, by a statement of facts in connection with Mr. Parkes’s capture, and winding up in the form of an ultimatum setting forth the terms upon which he would make peace. The terms were, that if, within three days from the date of writing, the British and French subjects detained in Pekin were sent back, and if the Prince of Kung would consent to sign the convention handed to Kweiliang at Tien-tsin, our army would not advance beyond Pa-le-cheaou. Should those conditions be rejected, the allied armies would advance upon Pekin, a movement which would probably cause the destruction of the Mantchoo dynasty. It was intimated that these conditions were final, and only made from the sincere desire for peace entertained by Lord Elgin, in order to give the Commissioners one further opportunity of averting the destruction of their capital.
The Prince of Kung replied to this dispatch on the 27th September, and evaded giving any positive [p. 208] answer. His policy seems to have been most vacillating. It must have been apparent to him, and to all who acted with him, that, in a military point of view, they were totally unable to contend against us. Much as they might boast of their vast Tartar armies and the Mongol hoards ready to pour down upon us from beyond the Great Wall under their forty-eight princes, yet, after their several defeats in battles fought by them under the most favourable circumstances, their inability to contend against us must have been well known to them.
An apathy seems to have seized upon the Chinese Government. The passive and mulish obstructiveness, for which it has long been celebrated, will not account for their want of decision at that most critical moment. No man seemed to have the determination requisite for saving his country, and by which alone the impending blow might be averted. All lacked the moral courage to confess their weakness before the world. Obstinate pride, or the dread of future punishment, had taken possession of them, and prevented them from acting.
The Prince of Kung’s answer was most curious. Like a true Asiatic he seemed to have acquired a gleam of hope from the fact of some time being given him for decision. Even that trifling concession was construed, by an Eastern train of thought, into an indication of weakness or want of confidence upon our parts; and he consequently considered himself entitled to talk somewhat bigger than he had done in any of his previous dispatches. He asserted that he had had nothing to do in any way with the capture of the Europeans. It was solely an act of the late Commis- [p. 209] sioners; and when the fact of their being bound and in prison came to his notice, he ordered them to be cared for and their wounds attended to. He could not, however, send them back or even appoint deputies for the arrangement of preliminiaries with us, until the allied armies had retreated to Chang-kia-wan. The proximity of our troops to Pekin had already considerably disturbed the people’s minds there; and in the event of any attack being made upon the city by us, he feared it would be difficult to ensure the safety of the prisoners; but he promised that when peace as signed and our armies withdrawn, he would send back Mr. Parkes and party with all honour.
Strange to say the Prince of Kung in his letter to Baron Gros, of the same date, was not so courteous, and wrote in a far more decided manner, intimating that if the French army advanced upon Pekin, all of that nation who might then be prisoners in the capital would be put to death.
As the time granted to the Imperial Commissioners for deciding upon their line of conduct drew to a close, they evidently became frightened at their own temerity, and wrote to Lord Elgin in the most apologetic strain, saying that our interpreters must have misunderstood the meaning of their letters; that they were ready and willing to sign the convention; that that, in the existing state of excitement amongst the Pekin people, it was impossible to send the prisoners back. A hint was also thrown out that Mr Parkes should be used as a negotiator between them. A letter from him, written in Chinese, was forwarded to Lord Elgin at the same time, stating that, at the request of the Chinese [p. 210] authorities, he begged to intimate their wish of opening negotiations, &c, &c. A private note asking for clothes for himself and Mr Loch, also accompanied it, upon the margin of which the latter gentleman had written in Hindostani that the letter was written “by order”; or, in other words, that all that they had written was to be taken cum grano. This was the firts intimation we had had of Messrs Loch and Parkes being together.
Upon some of the clothes sent to them, we had written around the name marked on them, “In three days we shall commence hostilities again,” and, “What is the name of the place in which you are confined?” These sentences were in Hindostani also, so that if noticed, they should be unintelligble to the Chinese, but would be understood by Mr Loch, who knew that language.
By the next letter received from from we learnt that they were lodged in the Kaou-meaou Temple, near the Teh-shun gate.
Before advancing upon Pekin from the Pa-le-cheaou, deputations from the merchants of the Chinese city, came into our camp, bringing presents of fruits and vegetables, and promising that we should be furnished with all the supplies we required, provided we spared that part of Pekin.
Upon the 3rd October, as no satisfactory answer had been returned to our ultimatum, and all the expected reinforcements and heavy guns had arrived, we broke up camp at Pa-le-cheaou, and crossed the canal by the bridge of boats which we had prepared for the purpose, and encamped a cheval upon the paved road [p. 211] leading to Pekin. Head-quarters were established in the Mahomedan village of Chang-chia-ying.
The house occupied by the Commander-in-Chief was a mosque, in which it was curious to see how the architecture peculiar to the Prophet’s religion was mingled with that used in Buddhistic structures. The inscriptions upon the walls and within the building were in Arabic, not Persian, characters. Although the latter is used by all Mussulmen in India, the followers of that religion in China know nothing of it. Close by that village was the large enclosed tomb which had been previously selected as the position for our depot, which, it had been arranged, should be established before we advanced finally upon the capital. It was well suited for the purpose required, being easily capable of defence, and, from its size, well suited for parking therein all our siege train, baggage, &c., which was to be left behind until Sang-ko-hn-sin’s army had been driven from the field. Commissariat supplies sufficient for all our troops up to the 20th October had been collected, and were stored at this depot.
It was arranged between the Commanders-in-Chief, that the allied force was to advance upon the 4th October; but as a large French convoy, which had been expected to arrive on the 3rd, did not make its appearance until the day after, the movement was postponed until the 5th October.
Up to the time of marching, begging letters kept coming in daily from the Prince of Kung, sometimes two in one day; all were concocted in a half-cunning, half-frightened tone. He evidently dreaded our advancing above all things. He felt his inability to pre- [p. 212] vent it, and yet lacked moral courage enough to adopt the only course by which he could avert such a national calamity.
The absolute necessity of conceding all our demands, must have been evident to the dullest of the Chinese Ministers. There was a shilly-shallying about all the later dispatches, for which, in any other country under similar circumstances, it would have been impossible to account. Not so, however, in China, with an absolute monarch, who had left his capital and retired to such a distance from the theatre of operations that all reference to him involved the loss of several days, and from whom it was impossible to obtain any more definite instructions than the vague order “to keep the barbarians at a distance.” His Majesty contented himself with announcing the object desired, but cunningly forbore from entering into any detail of the method by which such was to be effected. By such conduct he reserved to himself at all times the right of beheading his Ministers for the policy they had pursued, even though they had succeeded through it in attaining the object desired. Success does not always secure the Chinese statesman from censure. His Imperial Majesty is capable, at any moment, of sacrificing his faithful agents, in order to give a plausibility to some statement which he wished to be believed. Thus Kweihang was disgraced for not finally settling matters with us at Tien-tsin, although it was never intended by the Government that he should do so. It was deemed necessary to give those mock negotiations the semblance of intentional [p. 213] reality, and so an old and faithful public servant was degraded, apparently, without the least compunction.
With the dread of death or disgrace before a minister, in case of failure, or even of a success which does not exactly dovetail in with his master’s whims or pride, it is not surprising that all Chinese political officers should hesitate before they arrive at any decision in dealing with foreigners.
If the Chinese deputy concedes too little, negotiations will be broken off, and his degradation follow most certainly; whilst, if he concedes too much, his life will be in jeopardy for daring to “sacrifice national honour.”
The Prince of Kung found himself thus unfortunately situated, and his vacillation was the consequence. [p. 214]