THE SUMMER PALACE
JUST about the end of the ninth moon Her Majesty began to tire of doing nothing day after day, and said: "What is the use of waiting until the first of the month to have the theatrical performance? Let us have a performance to-morrow." So she gave instructions for the eunuchs to prepare for the play, which should be staged without the assistance of any outside actors. I might here mention that certain of the eunuchs were specially trained as actors and used to study their parts every day. Indeed, they were far cleverer than the professionals from outside.
Her Majesty gave the head eunuch the list of the plays she wished to be performed, which were for the most part dramatised fairy tales, and we had a performance the next day.
After Her Majesty had gone to rest in the afternoon, during the theatrical performance I met the Emperor returning to his own Palace. I was surprised to see only one eunuch in attendance. This was the Emperor's own private eunuch and he trusted him implicitly. He asked me where I was going and I told him I was going to my room to rest a while. He remarked that he had not seen me for quite a long time, which made me laugh as I saw him every morning at the audience. He said: "I don't get as much chance of chatting with you as formerly since this portrait painting began. I am afraid I am not making much progress with my English as I have nobody to help me now that your time is occupied with this lady artist. You appear to enjoy her company very much. All the same I suppose it is very monotonous. Has she found out yet that you are there simply to keep an eye upon her?" I told him that I was very careful not to betray myself in any way and that I did not think she suspected she was being watched.
The Emperor then said: "I understand there is a rumor to the effect that when this lady has finished Her Majesty's portrait she is going to paint mine. I should very much like to know who says so." I told him this was the first I had heard about it so could not say. I asked him whether he would like to have his portrait painted but he only answered: "That is rather a difficult question for me to answer. You know best whether I ought to have it painted or not.
"I see Her Majesty having so many photographs taken and even the eunuchs are in the picture." I understood at once what he meant, so I asked him if he wished me to take him with my little kodak. He looked surprised and asked: "Can you take pictures, too? If it is not too risky for us, we might try it some day when we have an opportunity. Don't forget, but I think we must be very careful."
He then changed the conversation by saying: "Well, now that we have time to talk I want to ask you a question and I expect you to answer me truly. What is the general opinion amongst the foreigners regarding myself? Do they consider me a man of character and do they think me clever? I am very anxious to know." Before I could say anything in answer to this question he continued: "I know very well that they regard me as nothing more than a boy, and as being of no consequence at all. Tell me, is not this so?" I replied that many foreigners had asked me about him -- as to what kind of man he was, but that they had never expressed any opinion of their own regarding him excepting that they understood he was in the best of health. "If any wrong impression does exist regarding myself and my position at the Court," continued the Emperor, "it is owing to the very conservative customs of the Chinese Court. I am not expected to either say or do anything on my own initiative, consequently outsiders never hear much about me and I am regarded as being nothing more than a figure-head. I know this is so. Whenever they ask you about me in the future just explain to them exactly what my position here is. I have plenty of ideas regarding the development of this country but you know I am not able to carry them out as I am not my own master. I don't think the Empress Dowager herself has sufficient power to alter the state of things existing in China at present, and even if she has, she is not willing to. I am afraid it will be a long time before anything can be done towards reform."
The Emperor went on to say how nice it would be if he were allowed to travel about from place to place the same as the European monarchs, but of course such a thing was out of the question for him. I told him that several Princesses had expressed a wish to visit the St. Louis Exposition and said I thought it would be a good thing if that could be arranged as they would see for themselves the difference between their own country and customs and foreign countries and customs. The Emperor expressed doubts as to this permission being granted as such a thing had never been heard of before.
We talked for quite a long time, mostly about foreign customs, and the Emperor remarked that he would very much like to visit Europe and see for himself how things were carried on there.
Just then one of my eunuchs came and said that Her Majesty was awake, so I had to hurry off to her room.
We now arrive at the tenth moon.
The first day it snowed, and the head eunuch enquired of Her Majesty whether it was her intention to celebrate her birthday at the Summer Palace as usual. As previously explained the Summer Palace was Her Majesty's favorite place of abode; so she replied in the affirmative and arrangements were accordingly made for the celebration to be held there as usual. The head eunuch then brought Her Majesty a list giving the names and ranks of all the Princesses and the names of the wives and daughters of the Manchu officials, and she selected those whom she wished to be present at the celebrations. On this occasion she selected forty-five ladies, who were duly informed that she desired their presence at the Palace. I was standing behind Her Majesty's chair all this time, and she turned and said: "Usually I do not ask many people to my birthday celebrations, but on this occasion I have made an exception as I want you to see the way they dress and how ignorant they are of Court etiquette."
The celebrations commenced on the sixth day of the tenth moon. Miss Carl, having returned to the American Legation in Peking for the time being, my mother, my sister and myself went back to the Palace again. Early on the morning of the sixth, the eunuchs decorated the verandas with different colored silks and hung lanterns all over the place and amongst the trees. At about seven o'clock in the morning the visitors began to arrive and I quite agreed with what Her Majesty had told me about them. The eunuchs introduced them to all the Court ladies, but they seemed to have very little to say, appearing very shy. They were then conducted to the waiting room, but there were so many of them that we Court ladies had to stand outside on the veranda. Some of them were very expensively dressed, but their colors were, for the most part, very old fashioned, and their manners very awkward. We watched them for quite a while and then went off to report to Her Majesty.
On such occasions as this Her Majesty was generally in pretty good spirits. She commenced asking us a lot of questions. Amongst other things she asked whether we had noticed an elderly lady among the visitors, dressed as a bride. She explained that this lady was the only Manchu lady present who was married to a Chinese official, and had been invited because of her previous connection with the Court. Her Majesty said she had never seen her herself, but understood that she was a very clever woman. We had not noticed such a person, and suggested that perhaps she had not yet arrived.
Her Majesty dressed very quickly, and as soon as she was ready she came into the hall, where the head eunuch brought in the visitors and presented them to Her Majesty. We Court ladies were all standing in a row behind the Throne. As they came in, some kowtowed; others courtesied, while others did not do anything at all, in fact nobody appeared to know what to do with herself. Her Majesty spoke a few words of welcome and thanked them for the presents they had sent her.
I would like to say here that, contrary to the general idea which exists, Her Majesty always expressed her thanks for any present or service rendered, no matter how insignificant.
Her Majesty could see plainly that everybody was embarrassed and ordered the head eunuch to show them to their respective rooms, and told them to make themselves at home and to go and take a rest. They hesitated a moment, not knowing whether to go or not, until Her Majesty said to us: "Take them and present them to the Young Empress."
When we arrived at the Palace of the Young Empress they were duly presented and were not nearly so shy as before. The Young Empress informed them that in case they desired to know anything or to be put right on any point of Court etiquette, the Court ladies would be pleased to give them all necessary information and she decided that the best way would be for each Court lady to have charge of so many of the visitors, as it would not be nice to have any mistakes occur during the ceremony, on the tenth. So we each were allotted so many guests and had to look after them and instruct them how to act on the different occasions.
During Her Majesty's afternoon rest I paid a visit to the guests I was to take charge of. Among them was the bride referred to by Her Majesty. So I went and made myself agreeable to her and found her very interesting. She had evidently received a good education, unlike the majority of Manchu ladies, as I found she could read and write Chinese exceptionally well. I then explained to all of them what they would have to do, and how to address Her Majesty, should it be necessary to do so. I don't know whether I have mentioned it previously, but whenever anybody spoke to Her Majesty, they always addressed her as "Great Ancestor," and when referring to themselves, instead of the pronoun "I," they would say "Your slave." In all Manchu families a similar rule is observed, the pronouns "You" and "I" being dispensed with and the titles "Mother" and "Father" and the son's or daughter's first name being substituted.
Her Majesty was very particular about this rule being strictly observed.
For the next four days, until the day of the ceremony, these visitors passed their time in learning the Court etiquette and going to the theatre.
Every morning, as usual, we waited on Her Majesty and reported anything of interest which had occurred during the previous day. Then we all preceded Her Majesty to the theatre, where we awaited her arrival standing in the courtyard. On Her Majesty appearing, we would all kneel down until she had passed into the building opposite the stage, kneeling in rows -- first the Emperor, behind him the Young Princess, next the Secondary wife, then the Princesses and Court ladies, and last of all the visitors. The first two days everything went of all right, but on the third morning the Emperor, from whom we received the signal, suddenly turned and said: "Her Majesty is coming." Down we all went on our knees, the Emperor alone remaining standing and laughing at us. Of course there was no sign of Her Majesty and everybody joined in the laugh. He was never so happy as when he could work off a joke like this.
On the evening of the ninth, none of the Court ladies went to bed, as we all had to be up betimes on the morning of the tenth. The visitors were told to proceed by chair to Her Majesty's special Audience Hall on the top of the hill, where they were to await our arrival. They arrived at the Audience Hall at three o'clock in the morning, and we followed soon afterwards, arriving there about daybreak. By and bye Her Majesty arrived and the ceremony commenced. This ceremony in no way differed from the one previously described in connection with the Emperor's birthday, so there is no need to give particulars, except one thing. Very early on the morning of the tenth, we had to bring another present to her and each of us brought a hundred birds of various kinds. Each year, on her birthday, Her Majesty did a very peculiar thing. She would buy 10,000 birds with her own money, from her private purse and set them free. It was a very pretty sight to see those huge cages hung in the courtyard of the Audience Hall. Her Majesty would select the most lucky hour and order the eunuchs to carry the cages and to follow her. The hour selected was four o'clock in the afternoon. Her Majesty took the whole Court with her to the top of the hill, where there was a Temple. First she burnt sandal wood and offered up prayers to the Gods, then the eunuchs, each with a cage of birds, knelt in front of Her Majesty and she opened each cage one after another and watched the birds fly away, and prayed to the Gods that these birds should not be caught again. Her Majesty did this very seriously and we asked each other in whispers which bird we thought was the prettiest and would like to keep it for ourselves. Among this lot there were a few parrots. Some were pink; others were red and green; all were chained on stands, and when the eunuchs broke the chains, the parrots would not move. Her Majesty said: "How funny; each year a few parrots will not go away at all and I have kept them until they died. Look at them now. They won't go away." By this time the head eunuch arrived. Her Majesty told him what had happened and he immediately knelt down and said: "Your Majesty's great luck. These parrots understand Your Majesty's kindness and would rather stay here and serve Your Majesty." This ceremony is called "Fang Sheng." It is considered a very meritorious action and will not fail of reward in Heaven.
One of the Court ladies asked me what I thought of the parrots that would not fly away, and I told her that it was really very strange. She said: "It is very simple and not strange at all. These eunuchs, ordered by the head one, have bought these parrots long ago and trained them. During Her Majesty's afternoon rest, these parrots were brought to the top of the very same hill every day to accustom them to the place. The object of this is just to please and otherwise fool Her Majesty, to make her feel happy and believe that she is so merciful that even such dumb things would rather stay with her." Continuing, she said: "The huge joke is this: while Her Majesty is letting the birds free, there are a few eunuchs waiting at the rear of the hill to capture them and sell them again, and so, no matter how Her Majesty prays for their freedom, they will be caught at once."
The celebrations were continued until the thirteenth day. Nobody did any work and all was gaiety and enjoyment, the theatre being open every day. Towards the close of the thirteenth day the visitors were informed that the celebrations were at an end and they made arrangements to leave early the next morning. They all bade Her Majesty good-bye that evening and departed early the following day.
For the next few days we were all busy preparing for removing to the Sea Palace. Her Majesty consulted her book and finally selected the 22d as being the most favorable day for this removal. So at six o'clock on the morning of the 22d the whole Court left the Summer Palace. It was snowing very heavily and the journey was only accomplished with great difficulty. Of course we were all in chairs, as usual, and the eunuchs who were not employed as chair-bearers rode horseback. Many of the horses fell on the slippery stones and one of Her Majesty's chair-bearers also slipped and brought Her Majesty to the ground. All of a sudden I thought something dreadful had happened, horses galloping and eunuchs howling: "Stop! Stop!!" I heard someone saying: "See if she is still alive." The whole procession stopped and blocked the way. This happened on the stone road just before entering the Western Gate. Finally we saw that Her Majesty's chair was resting on the ground, so we all alighted and went forward to see what had happened. A great many people were talking excitedly all at the same time, and for a moment I was rather frightened (for just about that time we heard a rumor that some of the revolutionists were going to take the life of the whole Court, and, although we heard that, we did not dare tell Her Majesty), so I immediately went to her chair and found her sitting there composedly giving orders to the chief eunuch not to punish this chair-bearer, for he was not to blame, the stones being wet and very slippery. Li Lien Ying said that would never do, for this chair-bearer must have been careless, and how dare he carry the Old Buddha in this careless way. After saying this, he turned his head to the beaters (these beaters, carrying bamboo sticks, went everywhere with the Court, for such occasions as this) and said: "Give him eighty blows on his back." This poor victim, who was kneeling on the muddy ground, heard the order. The beaters took him about a hundred yards away from us, pushed him down and started to do their duty. It did not take very long to give the eighty blows and, much to my surprise, this man got up, after receiving the punishment, as if nothing had happened to him. He looked just as calm as could be. While we were waiting a eunuch handed me a cup of tea, which I presented to Her Majesty, and asked her if she was hurt. She smiled and said it was nothing, ordering us to proceed on our journey. I must explain about this tea; the eunuchs had it prepared all the time and always carried a little stove along with hot water. Although this went every time when the Court moved, it was seldom used.
As usual, all the Court ladies take a short cut to the Palace, so as to be ready to receive Her Majesty, when she arrived. After waiting in the courtyard for quite a long time, during which we were nearly frozen, Her Majesty arrived, and we all knelt until she had passed, and then followed her into the Palace. Her Majesty also complained of the cold and ordered that fires should be brought into the hall. These fires were built in brass portable stoves lined with clay, and were lighted outside and brought into the hall after the smoke had passed off somewhat. There were four stoves in all. All the windows and doors were closed, there being no ventilation of any description, and very soon I began to feel sick. However, I went on with my work getting Her Majesty's things in order until I must have fainted, for the next thing I remembered was waking up in a strange bed and inquiring where I was, but on hearing Her Majesty giving orders in the next room, I knew it was all right. One of the Court ladies brought me a cup of turnip juice which Her Majesty said I was to drink. I drank it and felt much better. I was informed that Her Majesty had gone to rest, and so I went off to sleep again myself. When I awoke, Her Majesty was standing by my bedside. I tried to get up, but found that I was too weak, so Her Majesty told me to lie still and keep quiet and I would soon be all right again. She said that I had better have a room close to her bedroom, and gave instructions for the eunuchs to remove me there as soon as it was prepared. Every few minutes Her Majesty would send to inquire how I was progressing and whether I wanted anything to eat. It was the custom to stand up whenever receiving a message from Her Majesty, but it was out of the question for me to do so, although I tried, with the result that I made myself worse than ever.
Towards evening the head eunuch came to see me and brought several plates of sweetmeats. He was very nice, and told me that I was very fortunate, as Her Majesty very rarely bothered herself about any of the Court ladies and that evidently she had taken a fancy to me. He sat talking for some little time, and told me to eat some of the sweetmeats. Of course I was not able to eat anything at all, let alone sweetmeats, so I told him to leave them and I would eat them later. Before leaving he said that in case I wanted anything I was to let him know. This visit was a great surprise to me, as usually he took very little notice of any of us, but I was told afterwards that the reason he was so nice was because Her Majesty showed such an interest in me.
The next morning I was able to get up and resume my duties. I went in to see Her Majesty and kowtowed to her, thanking her for her kindness during my indisposition. Her Majesty said that the head eunuch had told her the previous evening that I was much better and that she was glad I was up and about again. She said it was nothing serious, simply that I was unaccustomed to the fumes from the fires, which had gone to my head.
As the snow had stopped falling, Her Majesty decided that the next day we would go and choose a place for Miss Carl to continue the painting. I suggested that perhaps it would be better if we waited until Miss Carl arrived herself, so that she could choose a suitable place for her work, but Her Majesty said that would not do at all, because if it were left to Miss Carl, doubtless she would choose some impossible place. Of course there were many parts of the Palace which were kept quite private and Miss Carl would not be allowed to go there. So the next day Her Majesty and myself set out to find a place. After visiting many different rooms, all of which were too dark, we finally fixed on a room on the lake side of the Palace. Her Majesty said: "This is very convenient, as you can go to and fro either by chair or by water. I found that it took about three-quarters of an hour by chair to get to the Palace Gate, and rather less than that by boat. I was expecting to return to stay at the Palace with Her Majesty, but it was finally decided that this would not do, as it would not be policy to allow Miss Carl, who was staying at the American Legation, to go in and out of the Palace Gate alone, so Her Majesty said it would be better for me to stay at my father's place in the city and bring Miss Carl to the Palace each morning, returning with her in the evening. This was anything but pleasant, but I had no other alternative than to obey Her Majesty's instructions.
When Miss Carl arrived at the Palace the next day and saw the room which had been selected for her to work in, she was not at all pleased. In the first place she said it was too dark, so Her Majesty ordered the paper windows to be replaced by glass. This made the room too bright, and Miss Carl asked for some curtains so as to focus the light on the picture. When I informed Her Majesty of this request, she said: "Well, this is the first time I have ever changed anything in the Palace except to suit myself. First I alter the windows, and she is not satisfied, but must have curtains. I think we had better take the roof off, then perhaps she may be suited." However, we fixed up the curtains to Miss Carl's satisfaction.
When Her Majesty examined the portrait to see how it was progressing, she said to me: "After all the trouble we have had over this picture, I am afraid it is not going to be anything very wonderful. I notice that the pearls in my cape are painted in different colors; some look white, some pink, while others are green. You tell her about it." I tried to explain to Her Majesty that Miss Carl had simply painted the pearls as she saw them, according to the different shades of light, but Her Majesty could not understand that at all and asked if I could see anything green about them, or pink either. I again explained that this was simply the tints caused by the light falling on the pearls, but she replied that she could not see any shade except white. However, after a while she did not seem to trouble any further about the matter.
Situated in a room near Her Majesty's bedroom in the Sea Palace was a Pagoda, about ten feet in height, made of carved sandalwood. This contained various images of Buddha, which Her Majesty used to worship every morning. The ceremony consisted of Her Majesty burning incense before the Pagoda, while a Court lady was told off each day to kowtow before the images. Her Majesty told me that this Pagoda had been in the Palace for more than a hundred years. Among the different images was one representing the Goddess of Mercy. This image was only about five inches in height and was made of pure gold. The inside was hollow and contained all the principal anatomical parts of the human body, made out of jade and pearls. This Goddess of Mercy was supposed to possess wonderful powers and Her Majesty often worshiped before it when in any trouble, and maintained that on many occasions her prayers had been answered. She said: "Of course, when I pray to the image, I pray earnestly, not the same as you girls, who simply kowtow because it is your duty and then get away as quickly as possible." Her Majesty went on to say that she was quite aware that many of the people in China were discarding the religion of their ancestors in favor of Christianity, and that she was very much grieved that this was so.
Her Majesty was a firm believer in the old Chinese superstitions connected with the Sea Palace, and during one of our conversations she told me I was not to be surprised at anything I saw. She said it was quite a common occurrence for a person walking beside you to suddenly disappear altogether, and explained that they were simply foxes who took human shape to suit their purpose. They had probably lived in the Sea Palace for thousands of years and possessed this power of changing their form at will. She said that no doubt the eunuchs would tell me they were spirits or ghosts, but that was not true: they were sacred foxes and would harm nobody. As if to confirm this superstition, one evening, a few days later, my fire having gone out, I sent my eunuch to see if any of the other Court ladies were awake, and if so, to try to get me some hot water. He went out taking his lantern along with him, but he returned almost immediately with a face as white as chalk. On inquiring what was the matter, he replied: "I have seen a ghost: a woman, who came up to me, blew the light out and disappeared." I told him that perhaps it was one of the servant girls, but he said "No"; he knew all the women attached to the Palace and he had never seen this one before. He stuck to it that it was a ghost. I told him that Her Majesty had said there were no ghosts, but that it might be a fox which had taken human shape. He replied: "It was not a fox. Her Majesty calls them foxes, because she is afraid to call them ghosts." He went on to tell me that many years previously the head eunuch, Li Lien Ying, while walking in the courtyard back of Her Majesty's Palace, saw a young servant girl sitting on the edge of the well. He went over to ask her what she was doing there, but on getting closer he found that there were several other girls there also, and on seeing him approach, they all deliberately jumped down the well. He immediately raised the alarm, and on one of the attendants coming forward with a lantern, he explained what had occurred. The attendant showed him that it was impossible for anybody to jump into the well, as it was covered with a large stone. My eunuch said that a long time before this several girls did actually commit suicide by jumping down this well, and that what Li Lien Ying had seen were the ghosts of these girls, and nothing more. It is believed by the Chinese that when a person commits suicide their spirit remains in the neighborhood until such time as they can entice somebody else to commit suicide, when they are free to go to another world, and not before. I told him that I did not believe such things and that I would very much like to see for myself. He replied: "You will only want to see it once; that will be sufficient."
Things went along in the usual way until the first day of the eleventh moon, when Her Majesty issued orders to the Court that as the eleventh moon contained so many anniversaries of the deaths of previous rulers of China, the usual theatrical performance would be eliminated and the Court dress would in addition be modified to suit the occasion. On the ninth day the Emperor was to go and worship at the Temple of Heaven. So, as was customary on all these occasions, he confined himself to his own private apartments for three days before the ninth, during which time he held no communication whatsoever with anybody excepting his private eunuchs. Not even the Young Empress, his wife, was allowed to see him during these three days.
This ceremony did not differ very materially from the other sacrifices, except that pigs were killed and placed on the numerous altars of the Temple, where they remained for a time, after which they were distributed among the different officials. The eating of the flesh of these pigs, which had been blessed, was believed to bring good luck and prosperity, and the officials who were presented with them considered themselves greatly favored by Her Majesty. Another difference was that the Emperor could not appoint a substitute to officiate for him; but must attend in person, no matter what the circumstances might be. The reason for this was, that according to the ancient law, the Emperor signs the death warrant of every person sentenced to death, record of which is kept in the Board of Punishments. At the end of the year the name of each person executed is written on a piece of yellow paper and sent to the Emperor. When the time for worshiping at the Temple arrives, he takes this yellow paper and burns it in order that the ashes may go up to Heaven and his ancestors know that he has been fearless and faithful, and has done his duty according to the law.
As this ceremony of worshiping at the Temple of Heaven was to take place in the Forbidden City, in spite of Her Majesty's dislike to the place, she commanded that the whole of the Court be transferred there, her reason for this being that she did not wish to be away from the Emperor's side even for an hour. So we all moved to the Palace in the Forbidden City. After the ceremony was over, the Court was to return to the Sea Palace, but as the thirteenth day was the anniversary of the death of the Emperor Kang Hsi, it was decided that we should remain in the Forbidden City, where the ceremony was to be held. The Emperor Kang Hsi ruled over the Chinese Empire for sixty-one years, the longest reign of any Chinese Ruler up to the present time, and Her Majesty told us that he was the most wonderful Emperor China had ever had and that we must respect his memory accordingly.