THE EMPRESS AND MRS. CONGER
ON the twenty-sixth day of the fifth moon, during the morning audience, Prince Ching told Her Majesty that Mrs. Conger, the wife of the American Minister to Peking, had asked for a private audience, and would Her Majesty please mention a day. She told him not to give any answer until the next day, just to give her time to think it over. I was sitting behind the large screen, listening, but the other Court ladies made too much noise, so Her Majesty ordered them not to say a word during audience. I was very glad myself, because I could listen to some of the interesting conversations between the Empress Dowager and her Ministers. After the audience, Her Majesty ordered her lunch to be served on the top of the hill at Pai Yuen Dien (Spreading Cloud Pavilion). She said that she preferred to walk, so we followed her very slowly. To get to this place we had to mount two hundred and seventy-two steps, besides ten minutes' climbing over rough stones. She did not seem to mind the climbing part at all. It was the funniest thing to see two little eunuchs on either side, to support her arms, trying to keep pace with her. I noticed that she was very much preoccupied, and did not speak to any of us. When we arrived at our destination we were very tired and quite exhausted. Her Majesty, who was a good walker herself, laughed at us. She was always very much pleased when she excelled in games of skill or endurance. She said: "You see I am old, and can walk much faster than you young people. You are all no use. What is the matter with you?" Her Majesty was very fond of receiving compliments. I had been there long enough to know and had learned to say things which would please her. She also hated anyone to pay her compliments at the wrong moment, so one had to be very careful even in paying her compliments.
This "spreading cloud" pavilion was a beautiful Palace. It had an open space in front of the building, just like one of the courtyards, with pink and white oleanders all over the place. There was a porcelain table and several porcelain stools. Her Majesty sat on her own yellow satin stool and was drinking her tea in silence. It was very windy that day, although the sky was blue with warm sunshine. Her Majesty sat there just for a few minutes, and then said it was too windy and went into the building. I was more than glad to go in, too, and whispered to the Young Empress that I thought the wind might blow off my headdress. The eunuchs brought the luncheon and placed everything upon the table. The Young Empress made a sign for us to follow her, which we did. When we came to the back veranda we sat down on the window seats. I will explain about these seats. All the windows were built low at the Palace, and on the veranda there was something like a bench built along the window, about a foot wide. There were no chairs to be seen excepting Her Majesty's thrones. The Young Empress asked me whether I had noticed that Her Majesty had something on her mind. I told her that perhaps she was thinking about the private audience which Prince Ching had mentioned that morning. She said that I had guessed right, and asked: "Do you know anything about this audience? When will it take place?" I said that Her Majesty had not yet given her answer.
By this time Her Majesty had finished eating and was walking up and down the room, watching us eating. She came over to my mother and said: "I am just wondering why Mrs. Conger asks for a private audience. Perhaps she has something to say to me. I would like to know just what it is so I can prepare an answer." My mother said that probably Mrs. Conger had someone visiting her who wished to be presented to Her Majesty. "No, it can't be that, because they must give the list of names of those who wish to come to the Palace. I don't mind the formal audiences, but I don't think that I should have private ones at all. I don't like to be questioned, as you all know. The foreigners are, of course, very nice and polite, according to their own way, but they cannot compare with us, so far as etiquette is concerned. I may be conservative in saying that I admire our custom and will not change it as long as I live. You see our people are taught to be polite from their earliest childhood, and just look back at the oldest teachings and compare them with the new. People seem to like the latter the best. I mean that the new idea is to be Christians, to chop up their Ancestral Tablets and burn them. I know many families here who have broken up because of the missionaries, who are always influencing the young people to believe their religion. Now I tell you why I feel uneasy about this audience is because we are too polite to refuse anyone who asks any favors in person. The foreigners don't seem to understand that. I'll tell you what I will do. Whenever they ask me anything, I'll simply tell them that I am not my own boss, but have to consult with my Ministers; that although I am the Empress Dowager of China, I must also obey the law. To tell the truth, I like Madame Uchida (wife of the Japanese Minister to Peking) very much. She is always very nice and doesn't ask any silly questions. Of course the Japanese are very much like ourselves, not at all forward. Last year, before you came to the Court, a missionary lady came with Mrs. Conger, and suggested that I should establish a school for girls at the Palace. I did not like to offend her, and said that I would take it into consideration. Now, just imagine it for a moment. Wouldn't it be foolish to have a school at the Palace; besides, where am I going to get so many girls to study? I have enough to do as it is. I don't want all the children of the Imperial family studying at my Palace."
Her Majesty laughed while she was telling us this, and everyone else laughed, too. She said: "I am sure you will laugh. Mrs. Conger is a very nice lady. America is always very friendly towards China, and I appreciate their nice behavior at the Palace during the twenty-sixth year of Kwang Hsu (1900), but I cannot say that I love the missionaries, too. Li Lien Ying told me that these missionaries here give the Chinese a certain medicine, and that after that they wish to become Christians, and then they would pretend to tell the Chinese to think it over very carefully, for they would never force anyone to believe their religion against their own will. Missionaries also take the poor Chinese children and gouge their eyes out, and use them as a kind of medicine." I told her that that was not true; that I had met a great many missionaries, and that they were very kind-hearted and willing to do anything to help the poor Chinese. I also told her what they had done for the poor orphans -- given them a home, food and clothing; that sometimes they went into the interior and found the blind children who might be useless to their parents, and when they get them they have to support them. I know several cases like that. These country people offer their deformed children to the missionaries, as they are too poor to feed and take care of them. I told her about their schools, and how they helped the poor people. Her Majesty then laughed, and said: "Of course I believe what you say, but why don't these missionaries stay in their own country and be useful to their own people?" I thought it would be of no use for me to talk too much, but at the same time I would like her to know of the dreadful times some of the missionaries had in China. Some time ago, two of them were murdered at Wu Shuih, in June, 1892 (a little below Hankow), the church being burnt down by the mob. My father was appointed by Viceroy Chang Chih Tung to investigate the matter. After much trouble he caught three of the murderers and, according to the Chinese law, they were put to death by hanging in wooden cages, and the Government paid an indemnity to the families of the murdered missionaries. The year after, 1893, a Catholic church was burnt down at Mar Cheng, on the Yangtse, near Ichang. The mob said they saw many blind children at the church, who were made to work after having their eyes gouged out. The Prefect of Ichang Province said it was true that missionaries did get the Chinese childrens' eyes for making medicine, so my father suggested having those blind children brought into the Yamen and ask them. The Prefect was a most wicked man, and was very anti-foreign also. He gave the poor children plenty of food, and taught them to say that the missionaries did gouge their eyes out, but when they were brought in the next day they said that the missionaries treated them very kindly and gave them a nice home, good food and clothing. They said they were blind long before they became Catholics, and also said that the Prefect had taught them to say that the missionaries were cruel to them, which was not true. The blind children begged to go back to the school and said that they were very happy there.
Her Majesty said: "That may be all right for them to help the poor and relieve their suffering. For instance, like our great Buddha Ju Lai, who fed the hungry birds with his own flesh. I would love them if they would leave my people alone. Let us believe our own religion. Do you know how the Boxer rising began? Why, the Chinese Christians were to blame. The Boxers were treated badly by them, and wanted revenge. Of course that is always the trouble with the low class of people. They went too far, and at the same time thought to make themselves rich by setting fire to every house in Peking. It made no difference whose house. They wanted to burn so long as they could get money. These Chinese Christians are the worst people in China. They rob the poor country people of their land and property, and the missionaries, of course, always protect them, in order to get a share themselves. Whenever a Chinese Christian is taken to the Magistrate's Yamen, he is not supposed to kneel down on the ground and obey the Chinese law, as others do, and is always very rude to his own Government Officials. Then these missionaries do the best they can to protect him, whether he is wrong or not, and believe everything he says and make the magistrate set the prisoner free. Do you remember that your father established rules in the twenty-fourth year of Kwang Hsu, how the Chinese officials should treat the Bishops whenever they had dealings with each other? I know the common class of people become Christians -- also those who are in trouble -- but I don't believe that any of the high officials are Christians." Her Majesty looked around and whispered: "Kang Yue Wai (the reformer in 1898) tried to make the Emperor believe that religion. No one shall believe as long as I live. I must say that I admire the foreigners in some ways. For instance, their navies and armies, and engineers, but as regards civilization I should say that China is the first country by all means. I know that many people believe that the Government had connections with the Boxers, but that is not true. As soon as we found out the trouble we issued several Edicts, and ordered the soldiers to drive them out, but they had gone too far already. I made up my mind not to go out of the Palace at all. I am an old woman, and did not care whether I died or not, but Prince Tuang and Duke Lan suggested that we should go at once. They also suggested that we should go in disguise, which made me very angry, and I refused. After the return of the Court to Peking, I was told that many people believed that I did go in disguise, and said that I was dressed in one of my servant's clothes, and rode in a broken cart drawn by a mule, and that this old woman servant of mine was dressed as the Empress Dowager, and rode in my sedan chair. I wonder who made that story up? Of course everyone believed it, and such a story would get to the foreigners in Peking without any trouble.
"Now to come back to the question of the Boxer Rising. How badly I was treated by my own servants. No one seemed anxious to go with me, and a great many ran away before the Court had any idea of leaving the Capital at all, and those who stayed would not work, but stood around and waited to see what was going to happen. I made up my mind to ask and see how many would be willing to go, so I said to everyone: `If you servants are willing to go with me, you can do so, and those who are not willing, can leave me.' I was very much surprised to find that there were very few standing around listening. Only seventeen eunuchs, two old women servants and one servant girl, that was Sho Chu. Those people said they would go with me, no matter what happened. I had 3,000 eunuchs, but they were nearly all gone before I had the chance of counting them. Some of the wicked ones were even rude to me, and threw my valuable vases on the stone floor, and smashed them. They knew that I could not punish them at that important moment, for we were leaving. I cried very much and prayed for our Great Ancestors' Souls to protect us. Everyone knelt with me and prayed. The Young Empress was the only one of my family who went with me. A certain relative of mine, whom I was very fond of, and gave her everything she asked, refused to go with me. I knew that the reason she would not go was because she thought the foreign soldiers would catch up the runaway Court, and kill everyone.
"After we had been gone about seven days, I sent one eunuch back, to find out who was still in Peking. She asked this eunuch whether there were any foreign soldiers chasing us, and whether I was killed. Soon after the Japanese soldiers took her Palace, and drove her out. She thought she was going to die anyway, and as I was not yet assassinated, she might catch up with the Court, and go with us. I could not understand how she traveled so fast. One evening we were staying at a little country house, when she came in with her husband, a nice man. She was telling me how much she had missed me, and how very anxious she had been all that time to know whether I was safe or not, and cried. I refused to listen to what she was saying and told her plainly that I did not believe a word. From that time she was finished for me. I had a very hard time, traveling in a sedan chair, from early morning, before the sun rose, until dark and in the evening had to stop at some country place. I am sure you would pity me, old as I am, that I should have had to suffer in that way.
"The Emperor went all the way in a cart, drawn by a mule, also the Empress. I went along, and was praying to our Great Ancestors for protection, but the Emperor was very quiet, and never opened his mouth. One day something happened. It rained so much and some of the chair carriers ran away. Some of the mules died suddenly. It was very hot, and the rain was pouring down on our heads. Five small eunuchs ran away also, because we were obliged to punish them the night before on account of their bad behavior to the Magistrate, who did all he could to make me comfortable, but of course food was scarce. I heard these eunuchs quarreling with the Magistrate, who bowed to the ground, begging them to keep quiet, and promised them everything. I was of course very angry. Traveling under such circumstances one ought to be satisfied that one was provided for.
"It took us more than a month before we reached Shi An. I cannot tell you how fatigued I was, and was of course worrying very much, which made me quite ill for almost three months. So long as I live I cannot forget it.
"We returned to Peking early in the twenty-eighth year of Kwang Hsu and I had another dreadful feeling when I saw my own Palace again. Oh! it was quite changed; a great many valuable ornaments broken or stolen. All the valuable things at the Sea Palace had been taken away, and someone had broken the fingers of my white jade Buddha, to whom I used to worship every day. Several foreigners sat on my throne and had their photos taken. When I was at the Shi An I was just like being sent into exile, although the Viceroy's Yamen was prepared for us, but the building was very old, damp and unhealthy. The Emperor became ill. It would take a long time to tell you everything; I thought I had enough trouble, but this last was the worst. When I have time, I will tell you more about it. I want you to know the absolute truth.
"Now let us come back to the question of Mrs. Conger's private audience. There must be something special, but I hope that she will not ask for anything, for I hate to refuse her. Can you guess what it is?" I told Her Majesty that there could not be anything special; besides, Mrs. Conger considered herself to be a person who knew Chinese etiquette very well, and I didn't believe she would ask for anything at all. Her Majesty said: "The only objection I have is that Mrs. Conger always brings one of the missionaries as her interpreter, when I have your mother, your sister and yourself, which I think should be sufficient. I don't think it is right for her to do that; besides, I cannot understand their Chinese very well. I like to see the ladies of the Diplomatic body sometimes, but not the missionaries. I will stop that when the opportunity comes."
The next morning Prince Ching told Her Majesty that the American Admiral, and Mrs. Evans, and suite wished to be presented to her. The American Minister asked two private audiences. He said he had made a mistake by telling her that Mrs. Conger had asked an audience for herself, the day before.
After the regular morning audience was over Her Majesty laughed and said: "Didn't I tell you yesterday that there must be a reason for asking an audience? I rather would like to meet the American Admiral and his wife." Turning to us she said: "Be sure and fix everything up pretty, change everything in my bedroom, so as not to show them our daily life." We all said "Jur" (yes), but we knew it was going to be a hard task to turn the Palace upside down.
It was just the night before the appointed audience. We started to work taking off the pink silk curtains from every window, and changing them for sky blue (the color she hated); then we changed the cushions on the chairs to the same color. While we were watching the eunuchs doing the work, several of them came into the room, carrying a large tray full of clocks. By this time her Majesty had come into the room, and ordered us to remove all her white and green jade Buddhas and take some of the jade ornaments away, for those things were sacred, and no foreigners should see them, so we replaced them with these clocks, instead. We also took away the three embroidered door curtains, and changed them for ordinary blue satin ones. I must explain that these three curtains were sacred, too. They were embroidered to represent five hundred Buddhist deities, on old gold satin, and had been used by Emperor Tou Kwang. Her Majesty believed that by hanging these curtains at her door they would guard against evil spirits entering her room. The order was that one of us should remember to place them back again when the audience was over. We fixed every piece of furniture in her bedroom. Her toilet table was the most important thing. She would not let anyone see it-not even the wives of the Officials who came in, so of course we had to put it in a safe place, and lock it up. We changed her bed from pink color into blue. All her furniture was made of sandalwood, also carvings on her bed. This sandalwood, before it was made into furniture, was placed in different temples, to be sanctified, so of course no foreigner could see it. As we could not take this carving from her bed, we covered it up with embroidered hangings. While we were working Her Majesty came in and told us not to hurry in her bedroom, because the audience the next day would only be for Admiral Robley Evans and his staff, and they would not visit the private rooms. The audience for Mrs. Evans and the other ladies would be the day after. She said it was important to see that the Audience Hall was fixed up properly. She said: "Place the only carpet we have here in the hall. I don't like carpets anyway, but it cannot be helped."
After we had finished, Her Majesty started to tell us what to wear for the ladies' audience. She said to me: "You need not come to the throne to-morrow, there will only be gentlemen. I will get one of the Ministers from Wai-Wu-Pu (Bureau of Foreign Affairs). I don't want you to talk to so many strange men. It is not the Manchu custom. These people are all strangers. They might go back to America and tell everybody what you look like." At the same time Her Majesty gave orders for the Imperial Yellow Gown to be brought in next day, for the gentleman's audience. She said that she must dress in her official robe for this occasion. This robe was made of yellow satin, embroidered with gold dragons. She wore a necklace composed of one hundred and eight pearls, which formed part of this official dress. She said: "I don't like to wear this official robe. It is not pretty, but I am afraid I will have to." She said to all of us: "You need not dress especially."
The next morning Her Majesty got up early, and was busier than ever. It seemed to me that whenever we had an audience we always had so much trouble. Something was sure to go wrong and make Her Majesty angry. She said: "I want to look nice, and be amiable, but these people always make me angry. I know the American Admiral will go home and tell his people about me, and I don't want him to have a wrong impression." It took her almost two hours to dress her hair, and by that time it was too late for her usual morning audience, so she proposed holding that after the foreigners had gone away. She looked at herself in the looking-glass, with her Imperial robe on, and told me that she did not like it, and asked me whether I thought the foreigners would know that it was an official robe. "I look too ugly in yellow. It makes my face look the same color as my robe," she said. I suggested that as it was only a private audience, if she wished to dress differently, it would not matter at all. She seemed delighted, and I was afraid lest I had not made a proper suggestion, but anyway I was too busy to worry. Her Majesty ordered that her different gowns should be brought in, and after looking them over she selected one embroidered all over with the character "Shou" (long life), covered with precious stones and pearls, on pale green satin. She tried it on, and said that it was becoming to her, so she ordered me to go to the jewel-room and get flowers to match for her hair. On one side of the headdress was the character (shou) and on the other side was a bat (the bat in China is considered to be lucky). Of course her shoes, handkerchiefs and everything else were embroidered in the same way. After she was dressed, she smiled and said: "I look all right now. We had better go to the audience hall and wait for them, and at the same time we can play a game of dice." Then to us all she said: "All of you will stay at the back of the screen during the audience. You can see all right, but I don't wish that you should be seen." The eunuchs had laid the map down on the table and were just going to commence playing dice, when one of the high rank eunuchs came into the Hall and, kneeling down, said that the American Admiral had arrived at the Palace Gate, together with the American Minister -- ten or twelve people altogether. Her Majesty smiled and said to me: "I thought it was just going to be the American Minister and the Admiral, and one or two of his staff. Who can the rest of the people be? However, never mind, I will receive them anyway." We helped her to mount her throne upon the dais, fixed her clothes, and handed her the paper containing the speech she was to give. Then we went back of the screen, with the Young Empress. It was so very quiet, not a sound anywhere, that we could hear the boots of the visitors as they walked over the stones in the courtyard. We were peeping from behind the screen, and could see several of the Princes mounting the steps, conducting these people to the Hall. The Admiral and the American Minister came in, and stood in a line. They bowed three times to the Empress Dowager. The Emperor was also on his throne, sitting at her left hand. His throne was very small, just like an ordinary chair. Her Majesty's speech was simply to welcome the Admiral to China. They then came up to the dais and shook hands with their Majesties, ascending on one side, and retiring down the other. Prince Ching took them into another Palace building, where they had lunch, and the audience was over. It was very simple and formal.
After the audience was over Her Majesty said that she could hear us laughing behind the screen, and that maybe the people would talk about it, and did not like it at all. I told her that it was not myself who laughed. She said: "The next time when I have men in audience you need not come into the Audience Hall at all. Of course it is different when I have my own people at the morning audiences."
Her Majesty did not go to her bedroom that afternoon. She said she wanted to wait until these people had gone and hear what they had to say. After a couple of hours Prince Ching came in and reported that they had lunched, and that they were very pleased to have seen Her Majesty, and had gone away. I must here explain that the Admiral had entered by the left gate of the Palace. The middle gate was only used for Their Majesties, with one exception, viz.: in the case of anyone presenting credentials. Then they entered by the center gate. The Admiral left by the same gate he had entered. Her Majesty asked Prince Ching whether he had showed them around the Palace buildings or not (this was in the Summer Palace), and what they had thought about it. Did they say anything, and were they pleased or not. She said to Prince Ching: "You can go now, and make the necessary preparations for the ladies' audience next day." That same evening Her Majesty said to us: "You must all dress alike to-morrow, and wear your prettiest clothes. These foreign ladies who are coming to the Palace may never see us again, and if we don't show them what we have now, we will not have another opportunity." She ordered us all, including the Young Empress, to wear pale blue, also the Secondary wife of the Emperor. She said to me: "If the ladies ask who the Secondary wife is, you can tell them; but if they don't ask, I don't want you to introduce her to them at all. I have to be very careful. These people at the Palace here are not used to seeing so many people and they might not have nice manners, and the foreigners will laugh at them." Then she said to us again: "I always give presents when ladies come to the Court, but don't know whether I will give this time or not, for at the last audience I did not give anything at all." Addressing me, she said: "You can prepare some pieces of jade, in case I need them. Put them in a nice box and have them all ready. Don't bring them to me until I ask for them." She said: "We have talked enough now, and you can all go to rest." We courtesied good night. I was only too glad to go to my own room.
The next morning everything went on very nicely and there was no trouble at all. Her Majesty was well satisfied, for we had all taken great care in fixing ourselves up. She said to me: "You never put enough paint on your face. People might take you for a widow. You will have to paint your lips, as that is the custom. I don't need you yet, so go back and put some more paint on." So I went back to my room and painted myself just like the rest of them, but I could not help laughing at seeing myself so changed. By the time I got to her room again, she said: "Now you look all right. If you think that powder is expensive, I will buy some for you." She said that with a laugh, for she always liked to tease me.
By the time Her Majesty had finished her toilet, one of the ladies brought a number of gowns for her to select one from. She said she would wear pale blue that day. She looked over twenty or thirty gowns, but found nothing which suited her, so she gave orders for some more to be brought in. Finally she chose a blue gown embroidered with one hundred butterflies, and wore a purple sleeveless jacket, which was also embroidered with butterflies. At the bottom of this gown were pearl tassels. She wore her largest pearls, one of which was almost as large as an egg, and was her favorite jewel. She only wore this on special occasions. She wore two jade butterflies on each side of her headdress. Her bracelets and rings were also all designed in butterflies, in fact everything matched. Among her beautiful jewels, she always wore some kind of fresh flowers. White jessamine was her favorite flower. The Young Empress and the Court ladies were not allowed to wear fresh flowers at all unless given to them by Her Majesty as a special favor. We could wear pearls and jade, etc., but she said that the fresh flowers were for her, her idea being that we were too young, and might spoil fresh flowers if we wore them. After she was dressed we went into the Audience Hall. She ordered her cards to be brought in as she wanted to play solitaire. She talked all the time she was playing, and said that we must all be very nice and polite to the American ladies, and show them everywhere. She said: "It doesn't matter now, for we have everything changed." She said: "I want to laugh myself. What is the use of changing everything? They will imagine we are always like this. By and bye, if they question you about anything, just tell them that it is not so, and that we change everything at each audience, just to give them a bit of surprise. You must tell it some day, otherwise no one will know it at all, and the trouble would not be worth the while." It was a private audience for ladies, and Her Majesty did not use the big throne, but was sitting on her little throne at the left side of the Audience Hall, where she received her own Ministers every morning; the Emperor was standing. A eunuch came in, the same as the day before, and announced that the ladies had arrived at the Palace Gate, nine in all. Her Majesty sent some of the Court ladies to meet them in the courtyard, and bring them to the Audience Hall, which they did. I was standing at the right side of Her Majesty's chair, and could see them mounting the steps. Her Majesty whispered to me, and asked: "Which one is Mrs. Evans?" As I had never seen the lady, I answered that I could not tell, but when they got nearer I saw a lady walking with the American Minister's wife, and concluded that she must be Mrs. Evans, and told Her Majesty. As they got nearer, Her Majesty said: "Again that missionary lady with Mrs. Conger. I think she must like to see me. She comes every time. I will tell her I am very glad to see her always, and see if she understands what I mean."
Mrs. Conger shook hands with Her Majesty and presented Mrs. Evans and also the wives of the American officers. I was watching Her Majesty and saw that she was very nice and amiable, with such a pleasant smile -- so different from her everyday manner. She told them she was delighted to see them. Her Majesty ordered the eunuchs to have chairs brought in for the ladies, and at the same time other eunuchs brought in tea. Her Majesty asked Mrs. Evans whether she liked China; what she thought of Peking; how long she had been there; how long she was going to stay, and where she was staying. I was so accustomed to Her Majesty's questions that I knew exactly what she would ask. Mrs. Conger told her interpreter to tell Her Majesty that she had not seen her for such a long time, and enquired about Her Majesty's health. Her Majesty said to me: "You tell Mrs. Conger that I am in good health and that I am delighted to see her. It is a pity that I cannot hold an audience more frequently, otherwise I could see more of her." She continued: "The Imperial Princess (her adopted daughter-daughter of Prince Kung) will accompany them to lunch." This ended the audience.
Lunch was served at the back of her own Palace building (Yang Yuen Hsuen -- the place where the clouds gather to rest). This room was specially furnished as a banqueting room where refreshments could be served. All the Court ladies went to the lunch, except Her Majesty, the Young Empress and the Secondary wife. It had taken me two hours to fix the table for the luncheon. Her Majesty ordered that a white foreign tablecloth should be used, as it looked cleaner. The eunuch gardeners had decorated the table with fresh flowers, and Her Majesty gave instructions as to how the seats were to be placed. She said: "Mrs. Evans is the guest of honor. Although Mrs. Conger is the wife of the American Minister, she is more of a resident, so Mrs. Evans must have the principal seat." She also told me to arrange to seat everybody according to their respective ranks. The Imperial Princess and Princess Shun (Her Majesty's niece, sister of the Young Empress) were hostesses, and were to sit opposite each other. We placed golden menu holders and little gold plates for almonds and watermelon seeds; the rest all silver ware, including chopsticks. Her Majesty ordered that foreign knives and forks should be provided also. The food was served in Manchu style, and was composed of twenty-four courses, besides sweetmeats -- candies and fruits. Her Majesty instructed us that only the best champagne was to be served. She said: "I know that foreign ladies love to drink."
I think I was the only one who was really happy to meet these ladies, more so than the rest of the Court ladies, the reason being that Her Majesty lectured them too severely, telling them how to behave, so that they had grown to hate the very mention of a foreign audience. While we were eating, a eunuch came in and told me that Her Majesty was waiting at her private Palace, and that I should bring these ladies there after the lunch was over. So when we had finished we entered her own Palace and found her waiting there for us. She got up and told me to ask Mrs. Evans whether she had had anything to eat -- that the food was not very good. (This is a custom with the Chinese when entertaining, always to underrate the food.) She said that she would like to show Mrs. Evans her private apartments, so that she could form some idea of the way we lived, so she took Mrs. Evans to one of her bedrooms. She invited Mrs. Evans and Mrs. Conger to sit down, and the eunuchs brought in tea, as usual. Her Majesty asked Mrs. Evans to stay a little while in Peking, and to visit the different temples. She said: "Our country, although very old, has not such fine buildings as there are in America. I suppose you will find everything very strange. I am rather too old now, otherwise I would like to travel around the world. I have read much about different countries, but of course there is nothing like visiting the different places and seeing them yourself. However, one cannot tell. I may be able to go after all, by and bye, but I am afraid to leave my own country. By the time I returned I should not know the place any more, I'm afraid. Here everything seems to depend on me. Our Emperor is quite young."
She then turned and ordered us to take these ladies to visit the different buildings of the Palace, also the famous temple of the King of Dragons. This is on a little island in the center of the lake of the Summer Palace. Mrs. Conger said that she had something to ask Her Majesty, and told the Missionary lady to proceed. While Mrs. Conger was speaking to this lady Her Majesty became rather impatient as she wanted to know what they were talking about, so she asked me. It was very hard for me to listen to both of the ladies and to Her Majesty at the same time. The only words I heard were: "The portrait," so I guessed the rest. Before I had a chance to tell Her Majesty this Missionary lady said: "Mrs. Conger has come with the special object of asking permission to have Her Majesty's portrait painted by an American lady artist, Miss Carl, as she is desirous of sending it to the St. Louis Exhibition, in order that the American people may form some idea of what a beautiful lady the Empress Dowager of China is." Miss Carl is the sister of Mr. F. Carl who was for so many years Commissioner of Customs in Chefoo.
Her Majesty looked surprised, for she had been listening very carefully whilst this lady was talking. She did not like to say that she did not quite understand, so she turned to me, as had been previously arranged, -- a sign for me to interpret. I did not, however, do so immediately, so Mrs. Conger told her missionary friend to repeat the request in case Her Majesty had not quite understood it. Her Majesty then said to me: "I cannot quite understand what this lady says. I think perhaps you can tell me better." So I explained everything, but I knew that Her Majesty did not know what a portrait was like, as, up to that time she had never even had a photograph taken of herself.
I must here explain that in China a portrait is only painted after death, in memorium of the deceased, in order that the following generations may worship the deceased. I noticed that Her Majesty was somewhat shocked when the request was made known to her. I did not want Her Majesty to appear ignorant before these foreign ladies, so I pulled her sleeve and told her that I would explain everything to her later. She replied: "Explain a little to me now." This was spoken in the Court language, which the visitors were unable to understand, it being somewhat different from the ordinary Chinese language. This enabled Her Majesty to form some idea of the conversation, so she thanked Mrs. Conger for her kind thought, and promised to give her answer later. She said to me: "Tell Mrs. Conger that I cannot decide anything alone, as she is probably aware that I have to consult with my Ministers before deciding anything of an important character. Tell her that I have to be very careful not to do anything which would give my people an opportunity to criticize my actions. I have to adhere to the rules and customs of my ancestors." I noticed that Her Majesty did not seem inclined to discuss the subject further at the moment.
Just then the head eunuch came in and, kneeling down, informed Her Majesty that the boats for the ladies were ready to take them across the lake, to see the temple. This action on the part of the eunuch was owing to his having received a signal from one of the Court ladies, which implied that Her Majesty was getting tired of the conversation, and wished to change the subject. I must explain that on every occasion when a foreign audience was taking place, one of the Court ladies was always told off to watch Her Majesty, and whenever she appeared to be displeased or tired of any particular subject under discussion, she, the Court lady, would give the signal to the head eunuch, who would break in upon the conversation in the above manner, and thus save the situation from becoming embarrassing. So Her Majesty said good-bye to the ladies, as she thought it would be too late for them to have to return to say good-bye, besides which it would give them more time to see the various sights.
The ladies then proceeded to the island in the Empress Dowager's pleasure boat known as the Imperial barge, previously described, and visited the temple. This temple is built on top of a small rock, in the center of which is a natural cave, and it was generally supposed that no human being had ever been inside of this cave. The Empress Dowager believed the popular superstition that this hole was the home of the King of Dragons -- from which the temple derives its name.