THE AUDIENCE HALL
ON the fourteenth day of the eleventh moon, after the morning audience, Her Majesty informed us that there was a likelihood of war breaking out between Russia and Japan and that she was very much troubled, as although it actually had nothing whatever to do with China, she was afraid they would fight on Chinese territory and that in the long run China would suffer in some way or other. Of course we did not bother ourselves about it much at the moment, but the next morning the head eunuch reported to Her Majesty that fifty eunuchs were missing. As there was no apparent reason for this, everybody was much excited. There was no rule against any of the eunuchs going into the city after their duties were ended, providing they returned before the Palace Gate was closed, but when on the following morning it was reported that another hundred eunuchs had also disappeared, Her Majesty at once said: "I know now what the trouble is; they must have heard what I said about this war coming on and are afraid there may be a repetition of the Boxer trouble, and so they have cleared out." It was the custom whenever a eunuch was missing to send out search parties and have him brought back and punished, but in the present instance Her Majesty gave instructions that nothing was to be done about recapturing them. One morning, however, one of Her Majesty's personal attendants was missing, which made her furious. She said that she had been very kind to this particular eunuch in many ways, and this was all the thanks she got; he ran away at the first sign of trouble. I myself had noticed how good she had been to this eunuch, but I was not really sorry that he had left, as he used to take advantage of every opportunity of getting some of the Court ladies into trouble.
These disappearances continued from day to day until Her Majesty decided that it would be safer for us to remain in the Forbidden City until the following spring at any rate.
On inquiring from my eunuch the cause of these disappearances, he said that it was just as Her Majesty suspected; they were afraid of getting mixed up in another such affair as the Boxer trouble, and added that he was not a bit surprised at Her Majesty's favorite eunuch going along with the rest. He further told me that even Li Lien Ying himself was not to be absolutely relied upon, as at the time of Her Majesty's leaving Peking for Shi An during the Boxer movement, he had feigned sickness, and followed a little later, so that in the event of anything happening, he would be able to return and make his escape. While talking about Li Lien Ying, my eunuch told me in confidence that he was responsible for the death of many innocent people, mostly eunuchs. He had unlimited power at the Court, and it was very easy for him to get anybody put away who offended him or to whom, for some reason or another, he took a dislike. Furthermore, the eunuch informed me that, although not generally known, Li Lien Ying was addicted to opium-smoking, which habit he indulged in very freely. Even Her Majesty was unaware of this, as opium-smoking was strictly forbidden in the Palace.
Each morning there was fresh news regarding the trouble between Russia and Japan, and of course everybody gradually became very much excited at the Palace. One day Her Majesty summoned the whole of the Court to a special audience and there informed us that there was no need for us to get excited at all; that if any trouble did occur, it was none of our business and we should not be interfered with, as the spirits of our ancestors were watching over us, and she did not want to hear any more talk and gossip on the subject. However, she summoned all of the Court ladies to her apartment and there commanded us to pray to the spirits of our ancestors to protect us, which plainly showed that she was just as much worried as we were ourselves. In spite of what she had said with reference to gossiping about this trouble, Her Majesty often spoke about it herself, and during one of our conversations she said she wished she could get information each day as to what was actually occurring, so I suggested that it would be very easy to get all the latest news by taking the foreign papers and also Reuter's specials. Her Majesty jumped at the suggestion and told me to have these sent each day to my father's house in his name, and have them brought to the Palace, where I could translate them for her. I told her that my father received all these papers as they were published, so I arranged that they should be brought along as directed by Her Majesty. Each morning during the audience I translated into Chinese all the war news, but the telegrams began to arrive so rapidly that it soon became quite impossible for me to write them all out in Chinese, so I told Her Majesty that I would read and translate them into Chinese as they arrived. This was much quicker and interested Her Majesty so much that she insisted on my not only translating the war news, but everything else of interest in the papers. Especially was she interested in all news appertaining to the movements, etc., of the crowned heads of Europe, and was very plainly astonished when she learned that their every movement was known. She said: "Here, at any rate, it is more private, for nobody outside the Palace ever knows what is going on inside, not even my own people. It would be a good thing if they did know a little more, then perhaps all these rumors about the Palace would stop."
Of course, during our stay in the Forbidden City, Miss Carl attended each morning to work on the portrait. We had given her a nice room, which seemed to suit her very well, and Her Majesty had instructed me to let her have every convenience possible to assist her, as she was getting tired of the business and would like to see it finished quickly. Her Majesty hardly ever went near the place herself, but when she did go, she would be most affable and, really, one would think that it was the greatest pleasure of her life to go and inspect the portrait.
Things went very slowly during this eleventh moon on account of the Court being in mourning, so one day Her Majesty suggested that she should show us round the Forbidden City. First we proceeded to the Audience Hall. This differs somewhat from the Audience Hall of the Summer Palace. To enter, one must mount some twenty odd steps of white marble, with rails on either side of the steps made of the same material. At the top of the steps a large veranda, supported by huge pillars of wood, painted red, surrounded the building. The windows along this verandah were of marvellously carved trellis-work, designed to represent the character "Shou" arranged in different positions. Then we entered the hall itself. The floor is of brick, and Her Majesty told us that all these bricks were of solid gold and had been there for centuries. They were of a peculiar black color, doubtless painted over, and were so slippery that it was most difficult to keep on one's feet. The furnishing was similar to that in the Audience Halls in the Summer Palace and in the Sea Palace, with the exception that the throne was made of dark brown wood inlaid with jade of different colors.
The Hall was only used for audience on very rare occasions, such as the birthday of the Empress Dowager and New Year's Day, and no foreigner has ever entered this building. All the usual audiences were held in a smaller building in the Forbidden City.
After spending some little time in the Audience Hall, we next visited the Emperor's quarters. These were much smaller than those occupied by Her Majesty, but were very elaborately furnished. There were thirty-two rooms, many of which were never used, but all were furnished in the same expensive style. In the rear of this building was the Palace of the Young Empress, which was smaller still, having about twenty-four rooms in all, and in the same building three rooms were set apart for the use of the Secondary wife of the Emperor. Although close together, the Palaces of the Emperor and his wife were not connected by any entrance, but both buildings were surrounded by verandas connecting with Her Majesty's apartments, which were quite a distance away. There were several other buildings, which were used as waiting rooms for visitors. In addition to the above, there were several buildings which were not used at all; these were sealed and nobody seemed to know what they contained, or whether they contained anything at all. Even Her Majesty said she had never been inside these buildings, as they had been sealed for many years. Even the entrance to the enclosure containing these buildings was always closed, and this was the only occasion that any of us ever even passed through. They were quite different in appearance from any other buildings in the Palace, being very dirty and evidently of great age. We were commanded not to talk about the place at all.
The apartments of the Court ladies were connected with those of Her Majesty, but the rooms were so small one could hardly turn round in them; also they were very cold in winter. The servants' quarters were at the end of our apartments, but there was no entrance and they could only be reached by passing along our veranda, while the only entrance we ourselves had to our rooms was by passing along Her Majesty's veranda. This was Her Majesty's own idea, in order that she could keep an eye on all of us and could see when we either went out or came in.
Her Majesty now conducted us to her own Palace, and pausing a little said: "I will now show you something which will be quite new to you." We entered a room adjoining her bedroom, which was connected by a narrow passage some fifteen feet in length. On either side the walls were painted and decorated very beautifully. Her Majesty spoke to one of the eunuch attendants, who stooped down and removed from the ground at each end of this passage two wooden plugs which were fitted into holes in the basement. I then began to realize that what I had hitherto regarded as solid walls were in reality sliding panels of wood. These panels when opened revealed a kind of grotto. There were no windows, but in the roof was a skylight. At one end of this room or grotto was a large rock, on the top of which was a seat with a yellow cushion, and beside the cushion an incense burner. Everything had the appearance of being very old. The room contained no furniture of any description. One end of this room led into another passage similar to the one already described, having sliding panels, which led into another grotto, and so on; in fact the whole of the palace walls were intersected by these secret passages, each concealing an inner room. Her Majesty told us that during the Ming dynasty these rooms had been used for various purposes, principally by the Emperor when he wished to be alone. One of these secret rooms was used by Her Majesty as a treasure room where she kept her valuables. During the time of the Boxer trouble, she hid all her valuables here before she fled. When she returned and opened this secret room she found everything intact, not one of the vandals who ransacked the Palace even suspecting there was such a place.
We returned to our veranda, and on looking around for the rooms we had just vacated, could see nothing excepting black stone walls, so well were they hidden. One of the principal reasons for Her Majesty's dislike to the Forbidden City was the mysteries which it contained, many of which she did not know of herself. She said: "I don't even talk about these places at all, as people might think that they were used for all kinds of purposes."
While at the Palace in the Forbidden City I met the three Secondary wives of the previous Emperor Tung Chi, son of the Empress Dowager, who, since the death of the Emperor, had resided in the Forbidden City and spent their time in doing needlework, etc., for Her Majesty. When I got to know them I found that they were highly educated, one of them, Yu Fai, being exceptionally clever. She could write poetry and play many musical instruments, and was considered to be the best educated lady in the Empire of China. Her knowledge of western countries and their customs surprised me very much; she seemed to know a little bit of everything. I asked how it was that I had never seen them before, and was informed that they never visited Her Majesty unless commanded by her to do so, but that when Her Majesty stayed in the Forbidden City, of course they had to call and pay their respects each day. One day I received an invitation to visit them in their Palace. This was separated from all the other buildings in the city. It was rather a small building, and very simply furnished, with just a few eunuchs and servant girls to wait upon them. They said they preferred this simple life, as they never received any visitors and had nobody to please but themselves. Yu Fai's room was literally packed with literature of all descriptions. She showed me several poems which she had written, but they were of a melancholy character, plainly showing the trend of her thoughts. She was in favor of establishing schools for the education of young girls, as only very few could even read or write their own language, and she suggested that I should speak to Her Majesty about it at the first opportunity. In spite of her desire to see western reforms introduced into China, however, she was not in favor of employing missionary teachers, as these people always taught their religion at the expense of other subjects, which she feared would set the Chinese against the movement.
Toward the end of the eleventh moon Her Majesty granted an audience to the Viceroy of Chihli, Yuan Shih Kai, and as this particular day was a holiday and Miss Carl was absent, I was able to attend. Her Majesty asked him for his opinion of the trouble between Russia and Japan. He said that although these two countries might make war against each other, China would not be implicated in any way, but that after the war was over, there was sure to be trouble over Manchuria. Her Majesty said she was quite aware of that, as they were fighting on Chinese territory, and that the best thing for China to do would be to keep absolutely neutral in the matter, as she had quite enough of war during the China-Japan war. She said it would be best to issue orders to all the officials to see that the Chinese did not interfere in any way, so as not to give any excuse for being brought into the trouble.
She then asked his opinion as to what would be the result in the event of war -- who would win. He said that it was very hard to say, but that he thought Japan would win. Her Majesty thought that if Japan were victorious, she would not have so much trouble over the matter, although she expressed doubts as to the outcome, saying that Russia was a large country and had many soldiers, and that the result was far from certain.
Her Majesty then spoke about the condition of things in China. She said that in case China were forced into war with another nation, we should be nowhere. We had nothing ready, no navy and no trained army, in fact nothing to enable us to protect ourselves. Yuan Shih Kai, however, assured her there was no need to anticipate any trouble at present so far as China was concerned. Her Majesty replied that in any event it was time China began to wake up and endeavor to straighten things out in some way or other, but she did not know where to begin; that it was her ambition to see China holding a prominent position among the nations of the world and that she was constantly receiving memorials suggesting this reform and that reform, but that we never seemed to get any further.
After this audience was over, Her Majesty held an audience with the Grand Council. She told them what had been said during her interview with Yuan Shih Kai, and of course they all agreed that something should be done. Several suggestions were discussed with regard to national defense, etc., but a certain Prince said that although he was in perfect sympathy with reform generally, he was very much against the adoption of foreign clothing, foreign modes of living, and the doing away with the queue. Her Majesty quite agreed with these remarks and said that it would not be wise to change any Chinese custom for one which was less civilized. As usual, nothing definite was decided upon when the audience was over.
For the next few days nothing was talked of but the war, and many Chinese generals were received in audience by Her Majesty. These audiences were sometimes very amusing, as these soldiers were quite unaccustomed to the rules of the Court and did not know the mode of procedure when in the presence of Her Majesty. Many foolish suggestions were made by these generals. During one of the conversations Her Majesty remarked on the inefficiency of the navy and referred to the fact that we had no trained naval officers. One of the generals replied that we had more men in China than in any other country, and as for ships, why we had dozens of river boats and China merchant boats, which could be used in case of war. Her Majesty ordered him to retire, saying that it was perfectly true that we had plenty of men in China, but that the majority of them were like himself, of very little use to the country. After he had retired, everybody commenced to laugh, but Her Majesty stopped us, saying that she did not feel at all like laughing, she was too angry to think that such men held positions as officers in the army and navy. One of the Court ladies asked me why Her Majesty was so angry with the man for mentioning the river boats, and was very much surprised when I informed her that the whole of them would be worse than useless against a single war vessel.
Just about the end of the eleventh moon Chang Chih Tung, Viceroy of Wuchang, arrived, and was received in audience. Her Majesty said to him: "Now, you are one of the oldest officials in the country, and I want you to give me your unbiased opinion as to what effect this war is going to have on China. Do not be afraid to give your firm opinion, as I want to be prepared for anything which is likely to happen." He answered that no matter what the result of the war might be, China would in all probability have to make certain concessions to the Powers with regard to Manchuria for trade purposes, but that we should not otherwise be interfered with. Her Majesty repeated what had been discussed at the previous audiences on this subject and also regarding reform in China. Chang Chih Tung replied that we had plenty of time for reform, and that if we were in too great a hurry, we should not accomplish anything at all. He suggested that the matter be discussed at length before deciding upon anything definite. In his opinion it would be foolish to go to extremes in the matter of reform. He said that ten or fifteen years ago he would have been very much against any reform whatsoever, but that he now saw the need for it to a certain extent, as circumstances had changed very much. He said that we should adhere strictly to our own mode of living and not abandon the traditions of our ancestors. In other words, he simply advised the adoption of western civilization where it was an improvement on our own, and nothing more. Her Majesty was delighted with the interview, for Chang Chih Tung's opinions coincided exactly with her own.
During the whole of these audiences the Emperor, although present each time, never opened his lips to say a word, but sat listening all the time. As a rule, Her Majesty would ask his opinion, just as a matter of form, but he invariably replied that he was quite in accord with what Her Majesty had said or decided upon.
Of the many religious ceremonies in connection with the Buddhist religion the "La-pachow" was the most important. This was held on the 8th day of the twelfth moon each year. According to the common belief, on this eighth day of the twelfth moon, many centuries ago, a certain Buddhist priest Ju Lai set out to beg for food, and after receiving a good supply of rice and beans from the people, he returned and divided it with his brother priests, giving each an equal share, and he became celebrated for his great charity. This day was therefore set apart as an anniversary to commemorate the event. The idea was that by practising self-denial on this day, one would gain favor in the sight of this Buddha Ju Lai, therefore the only food eaten was rice, grain and beans, all mixed together in a sort of porridge, but without any salt or other flavoring. It was not at all pleasant to eat, being absolutely tasteless.