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Leave Tien-thin for Peking — My passport — Mode of travelling — Carts and wretched roads — Hotel at Tsai-tsoun — Towns of loose-woo, Nan-ping, and Matao — Hotel at Chan-chow-wan — Poor accommodation — Moderate charges — Appearance of the country — Crops and cultivation — Mountains in the distance — Walls and ramparts of Peking — Foreign embassies — English Legation — Medical missions — Chinese observatory — Views from it — Tartar and Chinese cities.
HAVING received permission to visit Peking from his Excellency the Hon. F. W. A. Bruce, Her Majesty's Minister at the Chinese Court, I left Tien-tsin for that place on the 17th of September. A passport, written in Chinese and English, and signed by Her Majesty's Consul, was necessary before I could set out on this journey. As the passport system in China is something new, here is the English portion of the one with which I was furnished: —
Passport No. 53.
BRITISH CONSULATE, 16th Sept. 1861.
The undersigned, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul at Tien-tsin, requests the Civil and Military Authorities of the Emperor of China, in conformity with the ninth article of the Treaty of Tien-tsin, to allow , a British subject, to travel freely, and without hindrance or molestation, in the Chinese Empire, and to give him protection and aid in case of necessity.
Mr. being a person of known respectability, is desirous of proceeding to , and this passport is given him on condition of his not visiting the cities or towns occupied by the Insurgents.
H. B. M.'s Consul.
This passport will remain in force for a year from the date thereof.
Signature of the bearer:
This passport was countersigned by the Chinese authority of the place.
There are two modes of travelling from Tien-tsin to the capital — by boat up the Pei-ho as far as Tong-chow, and then on by land, or by cart on the common highway. In going up I chose the latter, in order to save time, and also to enable me to see more of the country and its productions. The carts used by travellers are strongly made, and covered over so as to afford protection from sun and rain. They look in the distance like little oblong boxes on wheels, and are generally drawn by two mules.
The Peking road starts from the north gate of the city of Tien-tsin, crosses the Grand Canal by a bridge of boats, and enters a dense suburb which extends across towards the Pei-ho. My troubles now began. The road was one of the worst I had ever travelled upon. It was full of deep holes at every step of our way; now one of my wheels plunged into one of these up to the axle, and it was scarcely up when down went the other. Although I had before starting packed my cart carefully with bedding and pillows, I was every now and then jolted against its sides with great violence. These carts are not furnished with springs of any kind; indeed the strongest springs, if subjected to such jolting, would soon get broken.
On our way through the suburb I observed a great number of large hotels for the accommodation of travellers in going to or returning from the capital. Travelling onwards in a northerly direction, we soon reached the banks of the Pei-ho, near a point where another river falls into it. This river is called the "Small Pei-ho," and is the one I have already mentioned as leading up to the important town of Pow-ting-foo, the chief town of the district. Having crossed the river by a bridge of boats, we found that we had left Tien-tsin and its suburbs entirely behind us, and were now in the open country. For many miles the country around was perfectly flat, and covered in all directions with Kow-leang, the tall millet already noticed. Now and then, during the journey, we got glimpses of the Pei-ho as it wound, snake-like, through the plain; and the tall masts and sails of boats showed themselves here and there, in the distance, above the tops of the millet.
During the day we passed through the towns of Puh-kow and Yang-tsoun, and arrived at Tsai-tsoun in the evening, having come a distance of eighty-five le, or somewhere about twenty-eight English miles. There are two large inns in this place, and in one of these I determined on putting up for the night. The town in which I had taken up my quarters, as well as the others passed through during the day, was chiefly built of mud; and I must say all of them had a poor, dirty, and uninviting appearance, very different from those I had been in the habit of visiting in the provinces further south.
The inn which I had chosen was entered by a covered way; and in the courtyard I found fifteen other carts like my own, some going to the capital and others returning from it. The courtyard was a square, with bedrooms on three sides, and the kitchen occupied the greater part of the fourth. Each traveller had his cart drawn up in front of his room. Mine host presented himself on my arrival, and wished to know what it was my pleasure to order for the evening meal. I made it an invariable rule, when placed in circumstances of this kind, to live upon the simplest food, and to abstain from mixtures and made dishes. I therefore replied that I wished to dine on rice and eggs, two articles which I had generally found plentiful in the country, as well as clean and wholesome; but, to my surprise, mine host informed me that he had no rice in his house, and he did not think there was any to be had in the town. "What! no rice in China! "I could scarcely credit the man until I began to reflect that this was not a rice-producing district, and that the empty granaries I had visited showed too plainly that the rebellion and foreign wars had prevented the arrival of the usual supplies from the south. However, I obtained a mutton chop, hard-boiled eggs, and soft bread made of millet, and with these I made up a dinner. Animal food appears to be consumed by these northern Chinese to a far greater extent than by their countrymen in the south. Butchers' shops are met with in all the towns, and both beef and mutton can be had anywhere. This is probably owing to the circumstance that a large number of the people are Mahomedans, whose prejudices, as regards the use of animal food, are not like those of the Buddhists.
Nearly shaken to pieces, and thoroughly tired with the day's journey, I retired early to rest. The bed-place in these inns is a raised mud platform erected at one end of the room, beneath which there is a chamber which can be heated during the winter months when the weather is cold. A mat is spread out on the top of this platform, and this is all that is furnished by the innkeeper; the traveller in China always carries his own bedding with him. As the Chinese are early in their habits — going early to bed, and rising early in the morning — the inn was soon perfectly quiet, and nothing disturbed our slumbers, except perhaps the occasional bark of a dog or the neighing of a horse in the courtyard.
At daylight next morning we resumed our journey. The country through which we passed was still flat, but rather better wooded than what we had passed through the day before. The trees were chiefly weeping willows, elms, and Sophora japonica, the latter yielding a yellow dye called by the Chinese whi-hwa. The first town we passed to-day was Hoose-woo, now well known as the head-quarters of the English army when on its way to Peking. About six miles further on a place called Nan-ping was reached, and here I found a large and comfortable hotel, where I stopped to breakfast, and then went on to Matao, another town occupied by the English and French troops when on their way to the capital. Every now and then the road brought us near the banks of the Pei-ho; and sometimes mud dykes or embankments were seen stretching across the country, evidently as a preventive against floods.
The main road was at some places impassable, being several feet deep with mud and water. The carters, however, did not seem very particular; and temporary roads were made through the fields in every direction. The tall millet-stems, towering above our heads on each side, oftentimes prevented us from seeing anything of the country around us, and there appeared no landmarks to guide us on our way. The carters themselves had frequently to halt, not knowing where they were; and on more than one occasion we had to retrace our steps and get into another by-road.
In the evening we reached the town of Chanchow-wan, and took up quarters at a hotel similar in all respects to the one I had stopped at the night before. The accommodation at these Chinese hotels is certainly not of a very high order, but the charges are moderate enough. Dinner and rooms for myself and servant amounted to the large sum of two hundred and fifty "cash," or little more than one shilling of English money. It will be observed, therefore, that poor accommodation and high charges did not go hand in hand as they are sometimes said to do in more civilized countries.
At grey dawn on the following morning we left our inn, and, with many other travellers, went rumbling along the old rough streets of Chanchow-wan. When we reached the open country it was found to be less flat and of an undulating character, and more trees were also observed. That the country was higher was evident from the kinds of productions which were now met with in the fields. Large quantities of Indian corn, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, and soy-beans were here under cultivation. The gigantic egg-apples were very luxuriant here; and the oily grain grew to a height of five feet and seemed to be very productive.
The mountains which had been seen, now and then, during the journey from Tien-tsin, appeared but a short distance to the north and westward, and the situation of the capital was pointed out by the drivers of our carts. By noon of this day the high walls and ramparts of Peking were distinctly visible, and shortly afterwards my cart rattled through the gate of the Chinese city, and I found myself for the first time in the capital of China. As I approached the gate one of the guard rushed out to inquire who I was and whence I came. When my servant informed him that I was an Englishman, and that I was on my way to Her Majesty's Legation, he appeared perfectly satisfied, and did not even ask me for my passport.
The paved streets through which we now passed were in a most dilapidated condition, and the jolting of my cart was so great that I was glad to get out and walk. After we had gone about a mile in a northerly direction we came to the wall which divides the Chinese city from the Tartar one, and entered the latter through a huge and massive gateway, crowned with a guard-house loopholed for guns, many of which are said to be wooden ones and only for show! On my arrival at the residence of the English Ambassador, I was kindly received by His Excellency Mr. Bruce.
The British, French, and Russian Legations are located in the Tartar city, near the south wall, and close to the palace of the Emperor. The residence of the English Minister is a most gorgeous place. It belongs or belonged at one time to a Duke Leang, and is called Leang-kung-foo, or the Palace of Leang. It covers many acres of land, and consists of a series of large and lofty halls, four or five in number, rising one behind the other by flights of broad stone steps, and separated from each other by paved courts. The wood carving in these halls is of the most elaborate kind; and as the whole place has been put into admirable order, it is a fitting residence for the Minister of Great Britain, and one in which he can worthily receive the high officials of the Court of the Emperor.
At right angles with these halls, and ranged along each side, are numerous buildings of a less pretending kind, which are used as rooms for the officers of the Legation, and for visitors. In one of these rooms I found my old friend Dr. Lockhart, of the Medical Missionary Society, who had come to establish an hospital in the capital, similar to that which he had carried on so successfully for many years in Shanghae. Before I left the city he had obtained, through the influence of Mr. Bruce and the assistance of Mr. Wade, possession of an adjoining building, which he intended to fit up as a residence and as an hospital. This is a matter of no slight importance, and will doubtless be productive of a great amount of good. I believe no religious efforts in China are likely to be crowned with so much success as those of the medical missionary. The Chinese, cold and unimpressible as they are, can understand and appreciate his labours. Skilful, disinterested, "healing all manner of diseases" without "money and without price," he can make an impression on their "stony hearts," and thus prepare a soil for the reception of the good seed which may be sown either by himself or by those who come after him.
In the afternoon I went, in company with Dr. Lockhart, to visit the Observatory, a place famous for its collection of astronomical instruments, and for the fine view of the city which can be obtained from its summit. It is placed inside the Tartar city, and close to the eastern wall. On entering its precincts we presented our cards and were politely received by the keepers. In their room they showed us a map of the world, prepared under the direction of Father Ricci upwards of two hundred years ago. We then ascended a flight of steps leading to the top of the Observatory, which is fully sixty feet above the level of the ground. Here we found a number of large astronomical instruments beautifully cast. Large celestial globes, quadrants, and other instruments, particularly attracted our attention. These were evidently the work of foreign missionaries, and had probably been imported from Europe. If cast in China during Father Ricci's time, they are well calculated to excite our wonder, but this I think can hardly have been the case. An iron rail of beautiful workmanship surrounded the whole.
The view from the top of the Observatory on a clear day is exceedingly fine. Looking southwards the Chinese city was seen to stretch for miles away in that direction. To the west and north the Tartar city lay spread out before us, having the Imperial city and its palaces, with their yellow-tiled roofs, in its centre. King-shan, a charming little hill, called by foreigners "Prospect Hill," with its temples and summer-houses, presented a very pretty object. This hill is said to be artificial, and formed almost entirely of coal, which had been stored up to be used in case of a siege. As we looked over the immense city we observed that, as in other Chinese towns, the houses were all about one uniform height, and the whole place was green with trees. The tree most common here is the Sophora japonica already named as one which grows on the plain of Tien-tsin. We could trace the walls and ramparts on all sides of the city, and discern the different gates, marked as they were by the huge guard-houses erected over each of them. Far away to the westward appeared some pagodas and minarets; and in the Chinese city, to the south, we could see the tower of the temple sacred to the God of Agriculture, to which the Emperor is said to repair once in every year to worship and to hold the plough.
The Tartar city has nine gates, is oblong in form, and is about three miles from east to west and four miles from north to south. The Imperial city, situated inside the Tartar city, is of a square or rather oblong form, and encloses the palaces and gardens of the Emperor, and the pretty little "Prospect Hill" already noticed. It is situated in the centre of the Tartar city, and is about one-third of its width from east to west, and one-half of its length from north to south. Here reside the Emperor and the ladies of the court; the eunuchs in waiting, who amounted in Father Ripa's time to six thousand; and the family of the Emperor, some of whom have, when of age, separate establishments. This is the only part of Peking which foreigners are not allowed to visit.
The Chinese city is situated on the south side of the Tartar one. It is of a different form, being broader from east to west than from north to south. From the east to the west wall the distance is about four miles, while from the north to the south it is only about two miles, or perhaps rather less. It has seven gates, in addition to three which lead through the wall dividing it from the Tartar city, so that, taking the two cities together, the number of gates is sixteen in all.
We lingered long on the top of the Observatory, and certainly the view we had was no common one, and was well worth coming a long way to enjoy. This view was bounded on the west and north by a range of mountains of considerable height, while on the south and east lay the vast plain through which I had been travelling for three days, and in which, as far as the eye could reach, there was no sign of either mountain or hill — like the ocean, it stretched far away to the distant horizon.
There is no place in Peking whence a better idea of the size of the city and the positions of its various objects of interest can be obtained than from the top of the Observatory. Having marked well the different objects and places most worthy of closer inspection, I determined to visit them in order during the following days of my stay in the capital.