|For an event to be great, two things must be united -- the lofty sentiment of those who
accomplish it, and the lofty sentiment of those
who witness it. No event is great in itself, even
though it be the disappearance of whole
constellations, the destruction of several
nations, the establishment of vast empires, or the
prosecution of wars at the cost of enormous
forces: over things of this sort the breath of
history blows as if they were flocks of wool. . . . Hence the anxiety which every one must feel who,
observing the approach of an event, wonders
whether those about to witness it will be worthy
of it.| -- F. NIETZSCHE.
THE REVOLUTION OF 1911
AND HOW WE WERE AFFECTED BY IT
THE revolution of 1911 burst on us like a bolt from the blue. One day we were mildly interested at the signs of trouble in far-removed provinces, and the next, the thing was in our very midst. The first intimation of local disturbance met me in the shape of a contingent of men, parents of some of my scholars, who were introduced to my presence with the startling information that they had come to fetch away their daughters, not daring to leave them in a marked place such as the girls' school would inevitably be, and afraid to delay, lest roads should become so dangerous that their removal would be impossible. I had no option but to agree, and at earliest dawn the next day a few carts and a string of donkeys conveyed them from a side door as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
Two days later the news of a massacre of the Manchu population of Taiyueanfu reached us; and in accordance with the request of the parents, we hastily scattered all the remaining pupils whose homes were nearer at hand, and the whole city yielded itself to a condition of panic when every wild report was spread and believed.
The little group of foreigners in this town is popularly supposed to have access to the most far-reaching sources of information on matters national and international; therefore when we saw fit to scatter our resident pupils to their homes, the city concluded that secret information had been conveyed to us of trouble ahead. That same night, whilst we slept peacefully in our beds, terror so seized the populace that every young woman who had a village home to which she could withdraw, fled to it. Where horse or donkey was not available they escaped on foot, carrying the bundle which held their clothes, and the gates being shut at dark, numbers climbed down the steep incline of the city wall rather than risk the dangers which they feared might threaten them in the town.
Certainly an anxious time was ahead for all of us. Postal service was interrupted, and we were completely cut off from intercourse by post or telegraph with the outer world. It was uncertain whether the movement would declare itself anti-foreign or anti-Christian, anti-dynastic or anti-Republican. Such uncertainty was felt on this latter political point, that it was a difficult time indeed for the large number whose plain object was to be on the winning side, whichever it might be. Even the commander of the military forces, sent to restore peace in a neighbouring city, provided himself with the badge of either party, that he might, at the city gate, affix that which was representative of the predominant feeling. The Chinaman has for so long held the view that politics are no individual concern of his, seeing that statesmen are paid to give their time and brains to the consideration of such questions, that it would seem unnatural to be expected to have an opinion on such a technical matter as to whether the Government of the land should remain Imperial or become Republican.
On our compound were collected seven foreign women and about a dozen Chinese girls whose homes were in distant towns, varying from the borders of Mongolia in the north to places twelve days' journey by road in the south.
Much anxious thought was devoted to the question of how the various members of our community could be placed in safe keeping, should it become imperative for us to leave the place.
Finally, Sir John Jordan's recall of all British women and children reached us, and feeling it our duty to obey orders, we hastily boarded a few girls in suitable Christian homes, and left with the others by the North road. A long line of nine litters swung through the great archways of the city gates, soon after dawn on 4th December 1911, to convey us to our nearest point on the railway line, five days' journey away, passing en route through a city where we knew that a trustworthy Christian family would take charge, pro tem, of some of our Chinese girls.
It was with relief that we saw the distant railway embankment, which indicated to us that we had reached the end of our litter journey, and might now expect to be shortly whirled back to the midst of Western civilisation.
The time-table indicated 9 a.m. as the hour of departure for the morning train, and long ere this our shivering group assembled on the bleak platform. We were evidently not to be kept waiting, for the train stood ready on a siding, and our slight baggage was soon placed in the racks of the only third-class carriage attached to a goods train. Those who have spent years away from the sight of a train will understand the sense of luxury with which we seated ourselves, and waited to hear the whistle which would be the sign of our departure, and feel the swift, easy movement which would carry us over so many miles of road almost without a trace of weariness. Our number had increased to about twenty foreigners, assembled in response to Sir John Jordan's command from various stations, and pleasant conversation so engaged the time that impatience was under control, even though the sun was high in the heavens and still the train was stationary. Our servants, who had heard much of the marvels of steam-engines, still sat on patient heels at the edge of the platform; but doubt of the superiority of this Western notion gained on their minds as the sun passed the meridian and they, with twelve miles to walk for their night's lodging, left us still standing motionless. |A train is a handsome thing to look at, and the amount of iron used in its manufacture must be immense, but for practical purposes give me a cart,| was the report they brought home to inquiring friends at Hwochow. In the afternoon we steamed away, under escort of a young man who had just been appointed Secretary of the Foreign Office in the provincial capital by the new revolutionary party. His qualifications for the post consisted chiefly in the fact that, having been employed by a foreign firm as piano-tuner, he could make himself understood in the English tongue on simple subjects.
As far as the station of Yangchuen all went well, but here fresh delay and the unwelcome announcement from our escort that a battle was in progress farther down the line, the metals were required for the conveyance of soldiers, and he must beg of us to make ourselves as comfortable as possible for the night in our compartment. Protest was useless, and we had to submit to see the engine detached and ourselves abandoned, a useless derelict, on a rusty siding. The Secretary of the Foreign Office supplied us with hard-boiled eggs and biscuits, and made his exit, leaving in charge of the gentlemen of the party a packet of silver which he begged might be handed to his mother. By morning stationmaster, guards, porters, and clerks had all vanished from the scene, for the news had come of a reverse to the Revolutionary forces.
Four days and nights we stuck to our third-class carriage and our siding; for part of the time, trains thundered past carrying men to the front, and we were informed that the famous regiment called |Dare-to-die| had gone to crush the Imperial troops. With a thrill we saw these brave warriors pass, but a brief period sufficed to dispel |the great illusion,| and twelve hours later the same men were dashing back to Taiyueanfu, carrying a terrible tale. |Had we stayed longer we should have been dead men; the bullets were falling in our midst.| The officer, however, gave a different explanation of their return. |Poor chaps, they are worn out, and I must take them back to get a night's rest,| he said. No one cared for our plight, as cold, hungry, and deserted we watched the weary day pass to night, and the yet more weary night give place to a dreary dawn. Such experiences are not to be desired, for they who know China best, and the anti-foreign feeling which may at any time manifest itself, are aware how quickly such a position may become critical.
One thing only besides our miserable carriage had been left on the line, and that was three trolleys. The hour dawned on the fourth day when our exhausted patience refused further service, and we determined those trolleys should be made to carry us and our goods to some inhabited region, be it friendly or inimical. That day and the next we spent racing down and crawling up the gradients of the line to Niangtzekwan. The |Dare-to-dies| boasted of having mined the line, and this did not conduce to ease of mind in being the first to travel over it, especially when we rushed through long tunnels. The line is one which taxed the ingenuity of engineers to the utmost in its construction, and is one succession of light bridges spanning deep chasms, tunnels, and long gradients. Luckily for us, we were travelling in the downhill direction, else our journey had been impossible. If the brave |Dare-to-dies| were too hurried to leave the line mined, they had taken time to destroy it in some places, and once a broken-down engine blocked our path. The fleeing soldiers had found the engine-driver preparing to take in water, but they would have none of his lagging ways, and compelling him to drive ahead, were soon forced to abandon the useless locomotive. Each such obstacle was a lengthy hindrance, and the kind gentlemen of our party were obliged to organise a breakdown gang to overcome the difficulty. Our trolleys, with all the baggage, had to be transferred to another line. Effort and energy were not spared, and the following midday brought us face to face with the first engine carrying Imperial soldiery towards Taiyueanfu. At Niangtzekwan Pass we were under the Dragon flag once more. The houses of the foreigners there were completely wrecked, and my recollection of that place is a land of feathers, contents of the beds of the Frenchmen who had left their homes, and would return to find nothing but a heap of ruins and a litter of broken glass, china, and furniture, smothered in feathers and presenting a sad wreckage of what had once been a home. That evening we reached an inn where food -- warm, satisfying food -- was to be had, and twenty-four hours later we steamed into Tientsin station, greeted by a hearty cheer from a friendly group, for we had been missing and untraced since we left Yutze.