My life in China and America/10 My Visit to the Taipings
MY VISIT TO THE TAIPINGS
In the fall of 1859 a small party of two missionaries, accompanied by Tsang Laisun, planned a trip to visit the Taiping rebels in Nanking. I was asked to join them, and I decided to do so. My object in going was to find out for my own satisfaction the character of the Taipings; whether or not they were the men fitted to set up a new government in the place of the Manchu Dynasty. Accordingly, on the 6th of November, 1859, we left Shanghai in a Woo-Sik-Kwei boat, with a stiff northeast breeze in our favor, though we had to stem an ebb tide for an hour. The weather was fine and the whole party was in fine spirits. We happened to have an American flag on board, and on the spur of the moment, it was flung to the breeze, but on a sober second thought, we had it hauled down so as not to attract undue attention and have it become the means of thwarting the purpose of our journey. Instead of taking the Sung-Kiang route which was the highway to Suchau, we turned off into another one in order to avoid the possibility of being hauled up by the imperialists and sent back to Shanghai, as we were told that an imperial fleet of Chinese gun-boats was at anchor at Sung Kiang. We found the surrounding country within a radius of thirty miles of Shanghai to be very quiet and saw no signs of political disturbance. The farmers were busily engaged in gathering in their rice crops.
It might be well to mention here that during my sojourn in the interior, the Taiping rebels had captured the city of Suchau, and there was some apprehension on the part of foreigners in the settlement that they might swoop down to take possession of the city of Shanghai, as well as the foreign settlement. That was the reason the Sung Kiang River was picketed by Chinese gun-boats, and the foreign pickets were extended miles beyond the boundary line of the foreign concession.
We reached Suchau on the morning of the 9th of November without meeting with any difficulty or obstacles all the way, nor were we challenged either by the imperialists or rebels, which went to show how loosely and negligently even in time of war, things were conducted in China. On arriving at the Lau Gate of the city, we had to wait at the station where tickets were issued to those who went into the city and taken from those who left, for Suchau was then under martial law. As we wished to go into the city to see the commandant, in order to get letters of introduction from him to the chiefs of other cities along our route to Nanking, we had to send two of our party to headquarters to find out whether we were permitted to enter. At the station, close to the Lau Gate, we waited over an hour. Finally our party appeared accompanied by the same messenger who had been deputed by the head of the police to accompany them to the commandant's office. Permission was given us, and all four went in. The civil officer was absent, but we were introduced to the military commandant, Liu. He was a tall man, dressed in red. His affected hauteur at the start was too thin to disguise his want of a solid character. He became very inquisitive and asked the object of our journey to Nanking. He treated us very kindly, however, and gave us a letter of introduction to the commandant in Tan Yang, and furnished us with passports all the way through the cities of Woo Sik and Cheong Chow. In the audience hall of Commandant Liu, we were introduced to four foreigners — two Americans, one Englishman, and a French noble. One of the Americans said he was a doctor, the Englishman was supposed to be a military officer, and the Frenchman, as stated above, claimed to be a nobleman. Doubtless they were all adventurers. Each had his own ax to grind. One of the Americans had a rifle and cartridges for sale. He asked quite an exorbitant price for them and they were summarily rejected. The Frenchman said he had lost a fortune and had come out to China to make it up. Our missionary companions were much pleased after being entertained by Liu in hearing him recite the doxology, which he did glibly. Towards evening, when we returned to our boat, he sent us a number of chickens and a goat to boot. We were thus amply provisioned to prosecute our journey to Tan Yang. We left Suchau on the morning of the 11th of November. On our arrival at Woo Sik, our passports were examined and we were very courteously treated by the rebels. We were invited to dinner by the chief in command. After that he sent us fruits and nuts, and came on board himself to see us off. We held quite a long conversation with him, which ended in his repeating the doxology.
November 12th we left Woo Sik and started for Cheong Chow. From Suchau onward we were on the Grand Canal. The road on the bank of the canal was in good condition. Most of the people we saw and met were rebels, traveling between Tan Yang and Suchau, and but few boats were seen passing each other. All the country surrounding the canal between those cities seemed to have been abandoned by the peasantry and the cultivated fields were covered with rank grass and weeds, instead of flourishing crops. A traveler, not knowing the circumstances, would naturally lay the blame wholly upon the Taiping rebels, but the imperialists in their conflicts with the rebels, were as culpable as their enemies. The rebels whom we met on the public road were generally very civil and tried in every way to protect the people in order to gain their confidence. Incendiarism, pillage, robbery and ill-treatment of the people by the rebels, were punished by death. We reached Cheong Chow in the night. We found nearly all the houses along the road between Woo Sik and Cheong Chow to be completely deserted and emptied of all their inmates. There were occasionally a few of the inhabitants to be seen standing on the bank with small baskets, peddling eggs, oranges and cakes, vegetables and pork. They were principally old people, with countenances showing their suffering and despair. On November 13, at six o'clock in the morning, we resumed our journey to Tan Yang. As we drew near Tan Yang, the people seemed to have regained their confidence and the fields seemed to be cultivated. The conduct of the rebels towards them was considerate and commendable. During the morning we saw a force of one thousand men marching towards Tan Yang. We did not quite reach Tan Yang and came to anchor for the night in plain sight of it.
Early next morning, we went into the city to see the Commandant Liu, to present to him the letter we received in Suchau, but he was absent from the city. The man next to Liu, a civilian, came out to meet us. He was very affable and treated us kindly and with great civility. One of our party referred to the religious character of the Taipings.
Chin then gave us his views of Christianity, as taught by Hung Siu Chune — the leader of the rebellion. He said:
“We worship God the Heavenly Father, with whom Jesus and the Holy Spirit constitute the true God; that Shang Ti is the True Spirit.”
He then repeated the doxology. He said the rebels had two doxologies — the old and the new; they had discarded the new and adopted the old. He said, the Tien Wong — the Celestial Emperor — was taken up to Heaven and received orders from the Heavenly Father to come and exterminate all evil and rectify all wrong; to destroy idolatry and evil spirits, and finally to teach the people the knowledge of God. He did not know whether the Tien Wong was translated to Heaven bodily or in spirit, or both. He said the Tien Wong himself explained that he could not hold the same footing with God himself; that the homage paid to God was an act of religious worship, but that rendered to the Tien Wong was merely an act of court etiquette, which ministers and officers always paid to their sovereigns in every dynasty, and could not be construed as acts of worship. He also said that Tien Wong was a younger brother of Christ, but that it did not follow that he was born of the same mother. Tien Wong, he claimed, was a younger brother of Christ in the sense that he was especially appointed by God to instruct the people. Christ was also appointed by God to reform and redeem the world. With regard to the three cups of tea, — he said that they were intended as a thank-offering, and were not propitiatory in their character.
“Whenever we drink a cup of tea, we offer thanksgiving to the Heavenly Father. The three cups of tea have no reference to the Trinity whatever. One cup answers the same purpose. The number three was purposely chosen, because it is the favorite number with the Chinese, — it is even mentioned in the Chinese classics.”
As for redemption, he said, — “No sacrificial offering can take away our sins; the power of redemption is in Christ; he redeems us and it is our duty to repent of our sins. Even the Tien Wong is very circumspect and is afraid to sin against God.”
In the matter of the soldiery keeping aloof from the people in time of war, he said, — “It has been an immemorial custom, adopted by almost every dynasty, that the people should go to the country, and the soldiers be quartered in the city. When a city is captured or taken, it is easy to subjugate the surrounding country.”
The places we saw in ruins, both at Suchau and all the way up the canal, were partly destroyed by Cheong Yuh Leang's troops in their retreat, partly by local predatory parties for the sake of plunder, and partly by the Taipings themselves. When Chung Wong was in Suchau, he did all he could to suppress incendiarism by offering rewards of both money and rank to those who took an active part in suppressing it. He issued three orders: 1. That soldiers were not allowed to kill or slaughter the inhabitants. 2. They were prohibited from slaughtering cattle. 3. They were prohibited from setting fire to houses. A violation of any of these orders was attended with capital punishment. When he came down to Woo Sik, he had a country elder decapitated for allowing local bandits to burn down the houses of the people. This was the information we gathered from our conversation with Chin. He also said that Ying Wong and Chung Wong were both talented men — not only in military but also in civil affairs.
He gave us a long account of the capture of different places by the rebels, and how they had been defeated before Nanking, when that city was laid siege to by the imperialists in the early part of 1860. He also showed us a letter by a chief at Hwui Chow regarding the utter defeat and rout of Tsang Kwoh Fan, who was hemmed in by an immense force of the rebels. Tsang was supposed to have been killed in the great battle. He said that Cheong Yuh Leang, the imperialist general, who laid siege to Nanking, after his defeat went to Hangchau for medical treatment for hemorrhage of the lungs; that all the country along the canal, north of the Yangtze, was in the hands of the rebels, and that Princes Chung and Ying were marching up the river to take possession of Hupeh, and that Shih Ta Kai, another chief, was assigned the conquest of Yun Nan, Kwai Chow and Sze Chune provinces. At that time Chin Kiang was being besieged by the rebels, and Chi Wong was in command of an army of observation in Kiang Nan. Such was the rambling statement given us by Chin regarding the disposition of the rebel forces under different chiefs or princes.
After dining with him in the evening, we repaired to our boat for the night. The next morning, November 15th, we again went into the city and called upon Liu, but, failing to see him, we again called upon Chin to arrange for the conveyance of our luggage and ourselves from Tan Yang to Nanking. The aide told us to send all our things to Chin's office and that our boat, if left in Tan Yang until our return, would be well cared for and protected during our absence. So next morning, the 16th of November, we started on foot and walked fifteen miles from Tan Yang to a village called Po Ying, about six miles from the city of Ku Yung, where we halted to pass the night. We had some difficulty in securing a resting place. The people were poor and had no confidence in strangers. We, however, after some coaxing, were supplied with straws spread out on the ground, and the next morning we gave the old women a dollar. We had boiled rice gruel, cold chicken and crackers for our breakfast. When we reached Ku Yung about nine o'clock on the 17th of November, we found that every gate of the city was closed against us, as well as all others, because a rumor was afloat that the rebels before Chin Kiang were defeated, and that they were flocking towards Ku Yung for shelter. So we concluded to continue on our journey towards Nanking, though our missionary friends came near deciding to return to Tan Yang and wend our way back to Shanghai. We proceeded not far from Ku Yung, when we finally succeeded in getting chairs and mules to prosecute our journey.
On the 18th of November, after a trying and wearisome journey, we reached Nanking. I was the first one to reach the South Gate, waiting for the rest of the party to come up before entering. We were reported inside of the gate and messengers accompanied us to the headquarters of the Rev. Mr. Roberts, close by the headquarters of Hung Jin, styled Prince Kan.
After our preliminary introduction to the Rev. Mr. Roberts, I excused myself, and leaving the rest of the party to continue their conversation with him, retired to my quarters to clean up and get rested from the long and tedious journey. In fact, I had little or nothing to say while in Mr. Roberts' presence, nor did I attempt to make myself known to him. I had seen him often in Macao when in Mrs. Gutzlaff's school, twenty or more years before, and I had recognized him at once as soon as I set my eyes on him. He certainly appeared old to me, being dressed in his yellow satin robe of state and moving leisurely in his clumsy Chinese shoes. Exactly in what capacity he was acting in Nanking, I was at a loss to know; whether still as a religious adviser to Hung Siu Chune, or playing the part of secretary of state for the Taiping Dynasty, no one seemed able to tell.
The next day (the 19th of November) I was invited to call on Kan Wong. He was a nephew of Hung Siu Chune, the rebel chief who was styled Tien Wong or the Celestial Sovereign. Before Hung Jin came to Nanking, I had made his acquaintance, in 1856, at Hong Kong. He was then connected with the London Mission Association as a native preacher and was under Dr. James Legge, the distinguished translator of the Chinese classics. I saw considerable of him while in Hong Kong and even then he had expressed a wish that he might see me some day in Nanking. He was then called Hung Jin, but since he had joined his uncle in Nanking, he was raised to the position of a prince. Kan means “Protecting,” and Kan Wong signifies “Protecting Prince.” He greeted me very cordially and evidently was glad to see me. After the usual exchange of conventionalities, he wanted to know what I thought of the Taipings; whether I thought well enough of their cause to identify myself with it. In reply, I said I had no intention of casting my lot with them, but came simply to see him and pay my respects. At the same time, I wanted to find out for my own satisfaction the actual condition of things in Nanking. I said the journey from Suchau to Nanking had suggested several things to me, which I thought might be of interest to him. They were as follows:
- To organize an army on scientific principles.
- To establish a military school for the training of competent military officers.
- To establish a naval school for a navy.
- To organize a civil government with able and experienced men to act as advisers in the different departments of administration.
- To establish a banking system, and to determine on a standard of weight and measure.
- To establish an educational system of graded schools for the people, making the Bible one of the text books.
- To organize a system of industrial schools.
These were the topics that suggested themselves to me during the journey. If the Taiping government would be willing, I said, to adopt these measures and set to work to make suitable appropriations for them, I would be perfectly willing to offer my services to help carry them out. It was in that capacity that I felt I could be of the most service to the Taiping cause. In any other, I would simply be an encumbrance and a hindrance to them.
Such was the outcome of my first interview. Two days later, I was again invited to call. In the second interview, we discussed the merits and the importance of the seven proposals stated in our first interview. Kan Wong, who had seen more of the outside world than the other princes or leaders, and even more than Hung Siu Chune himself, knew wherein lay the secret of the strength and power of the British government and other European powers, and fully appreciated the paramount importance and bearing of these proposals. But he was alone and had no one to back him in advocating them. The other princes, or leaders, were absent from the city, carrying on their campaign against the imperialists. He said he was well aware of the importance of these measures, but nothing could be done until they returned, as it required the consent of the majority to any measure before it could be carried out.
A few days after this a small parcel was presented to me as coming from Kan Wong. On opening it, I found to my great surprise a wooden seal about four inches long and an inch wide, having my name carved with the title of “E,”
which means “Righteousness,” and designates the fourth official rank under that of a prince, which is the first. My title was written out on a piece of yellow satin stamped with the official seal of the Kan Wong. I was placed in a quandary and was at a loss to know its purport, — whether it was intended to detain me in Nanking for good or to commit me irretrievably to the Taiping cause, nolens volens. At all events, I had not been consulted in the matter and Kan Wong had evidently acted on his own responsibility and taken it for granted that by conferring on me such a high rank as the fourth in the official scale of the Taipings, I might be induced to accept and thus identify myself with the Taiping cause — of the final success of which I had strong doubts, judging from the conduct, character and policy of the leading men connected with it. I talked the matter over with my associates, and came to the decision that I must forthwith return the seal and decline the tempting bauble. I went in person to thank Kan Wong for this distinguished mark of his high consideration, and told him that at any time when the leaders of the Taipings decided to carry out either one or all of my suggestions, made in my first interview with him, I should be most happy to serve them, if my services were needed to help in the matter. I then asked him as a special favor for a passport that would guarantee me a safe conduct in traveling through the territory under the jurisdiction of the Taipings, whether on business or pleasure. The passport was issued to me the next day, on the 24th of December, and we were furnished with proper conveyances and provisions to take us back to the city of Tan Yang, where our boat lay under the protection of Chin, second in command of the city, waiting our return from Nanking. We started on our return trip for Shanghai on the 27th of December by the same route as we came, and arrived safely in Tan Yang in the early part of January, 1861.
On my way back to Shanghai, I had ample time to form an estimate of the Taiping Rebellion — its origin, character and significance.