THE revolution in China in 1911 was, to me, so interesting that I propose to devote a separate chapter to it, and I hope that I shall make the chapter attractive enough to be read and not merely skipped.
The Manchu dynasty, which had ruled over the destiny of China for some four hundred years, had by 1911 become corrupt, and it was obvious to all students of the situation that there was certain to be a great development, and that quickly.
Now normally China was ripe for a new conqueror. Students of her history will have noted that of the many successive dynasties several have been foreign. Thus the Manchus were foreign, so also were the Mongolians, and Kubla Khan, who befriended Marco Polo, was a foreign emperor. But in 1911 such a move would not have been allowed by the foreign powers surrounding China, powers with one eye on the vast undeveloped resources .of this now wretched country and the other on one another.
And so the rebels, as they were then called, had it their own way and China became a republic.
At the beginning of the revolution, in the summer of 1911, I was at Nanking on the Yangtse River. The country below Nanking had speedily fallen, and the success of the movement depended a great deal upon the surrender of the city.
Nanking is a very large walled city, at one time the capital, and the northern point of it touches the river with a fortification called Lion Hill. Just two miles down the river is another fort called Tiger Hill. Both these forts mount comparatively modern 8-inch guns, so that when these two forts started bombarding one another at 4,000 yards range, we, lying out in the river, expected something to happen pretty soon. And something did happen very soon, but not what we expected.
At this port on the river, in common with all the others, a number of hulks are moored to the bank for the use of the river steamers, which proceed alongside for the purpose of discharging cargo and filling up again. They have accommodation on board for foreigners who may have to evacuate the city at short notice. At this time these hulks were full of such business men and others as were necessary
to carry on during the trouble, the remainder having been sent down to Shanghai.
I estimated that the angle between a line joining Tiger Hill and Lion Hill and Tiger Hill and the hulks was some forty or fifty degrees, consequently I did not consider that this bombardment would be dangerous to the foreign community. But I was entirely mistaken in my assumption, and very soon we had to get such tugs as we had under way and tow these hulks far up the river, where they could be anchored in safety.
This bombardment went on at intervals for two weeks. I say "at intervals," because it soon became very noticeable that the two forts fired at regular times, though never at the same time, and that they knocked off for meals and for the night, which was a refreshing departure from the ordinary deadly routine of bombardment.
At the end of two weeks of this terrible business Nanking surrendered and the republican flag was hoisted above Lion Hill. I learnt later that General Chang Shun, who was in command at Nanking, had agreed, under pressure, to evacuate the town if he were allowed to do so with his arms intact and given
twenty-four hours' start. I heard also that his terms were willingly agreed to.
So the sanguinary Battle of Nanking ended, and here be it noted that all Chinese battles were sanguinary on paper; it was the exception, however, for a Chinaman to be killed. It must be remembered, however, that I am writing of 1911. To a great extent all this has changed, and, from a foreign point of view, changed for the worse. At the time of writing (1926) the southern troops are being led by a Russian general and staffed by a Russian staff. When one recalls that a British ex-officer is in the employ of the northern commander (Chang-tso-lin) it is evident that the whole outlook in China from a military point of view is changing rapidly, and that battles on Chinese soil are beginning to assume the sanguinary character of those in the western and more "civilised" parts of the world.
Very naturally we all hurried ashore to view the dreadful results of this two weeks' bombardment of 8-inch guns at 4,000 yards, and our first place of visit was Lion Hill.
There was not a sign of any damage whatever !
Every soldier we met wore a white band on his sleeve to denote his conversion to republicanism.
The same gunners who had manned the guns during the siege were now quietly cleaning and polishing their breech mechanism as if it were a matter of daily routine.
But we noticed that behind each gun was a pile of prism black powder. Each prism was only partly consumed, and so it was evident that this powder had deteriorated to such an extent that it could never have been known what proportion of the charge was going to explode.
Allowing that the same thing had gone on at Tiger Hill, it was pretty evident that the damage was not at the point aimed at. Also I noticed that the guns were trained in all directions and fixed in these positions with training-stops. This again would account for the danger to the ships in the Yangtse, some forty degrees out of the line of fire.
Later I had it explained to me that the average Chinaman knows nothing about aiming a gun. He thinks it is the noise of the weapon going off that does the damage and terrifies and destroys his enemy.
But there was still one thing about which I was not clear, and, finding a Chinaman who could speak a little English, he was able to give me an explanation.
I wanted to know how it was that the two forts fired at regular intervals and never at the same time, and I was told that it was because it was so arranged between the commanding officers before the bombardment commenced. It was agreed that Lion Hill should fire at the hours and Tiger Hill at half-past the hours. There should be certain intervals for meals, and guns should cease fire at 6 p.m. for the night. Thus each fort knew exactly when the other was going to fire, and the guns' crews could take cover accordingly.
"Hardly warfare?" you suggest. Not at all. The objective of both forts was to knock the other's guns out, not to kill harmless Chinamen. Once an 8-inch gun is destroyed there is nothing to replace it and the objective is achieved; but there are thousands of Chinamen to take the place of those killed, so what possible object can there be in killing one another ? That was the line of reasoning, and from the celestial's point of view it was eminently satisfactory.
Only in China can such things happen, but there is a good deal of logic about it, all the same !
This experience reminded me of a statement an officer who took part in the Boxer campaign once
made to me. He said that after one of the actions a number of Boxer rifles were found with their back-sights pushed up as far as they would go. It was discovered later on that their owners believed that the higher the back-sight the harder the bullet went. This belief must have resulted in far fewer casualties to our men than would otherwise have occurred.
But to return to the revolution of 1911. The British bluejacket was splendid during the trouble. He looked upon the Chinese soldier with unspeakable contempt, and he certainly put the fear of the Lord into any who crossed his path in the execution of his duty.
It was when I was returning from this visit to the fort that I found a dead Manchu lying across the gangway leading to the hulk alongside which my ship was then lying.
The quartermaster explained that this Manchu had been arrested by soldiers just after I left the ship, and searched for arms, which all Manchus were prohibited from carrying.
Finding a loaded revolver on him, the soldiers had proceeded to shoot him through the back until he was dead. But as no Chinaman is officially dead
until his head is off, they drew their bayonets, which were very blunt, and attempted to carry out this operation. Not making much headway, some of them came on board and asked the quartermaster if they could borrow the ship's chopper for a few minutes. "So I says to 'em," added the quartermaster,
This is your perishin' war, not mine. You clear out of this ship."'
And so the soldiers had to do the best they could and finish the job with their sword-bayonets. When I complained to the authorities that it was an insult to the British Navy to leave the body of a dead Chinaman lying across my gangway they sent a couple of soldiers down, who threw it into the river. And that was the end of what was looked upon as quite an ordinary episode.
Here I might remark that during this revolution the Chinese were particularly anxious not to do anything which might be construed by other nations as being" uncivilised." An order was therefore given out that all Manchus who were captured were to be searched, and, if no arms were found upon them, were to be released, and as a rule this order was faithfully obeyed.
My second visit to this city was further afield
to the Tartar city where the Manchus had been quartered and which had been completely destroyed. Owing to the rapidity of the evacuation, the cruel and cowardly Manchus had left many of their womenfolk behind, and, these being naturally terrified of the approach of the Chinese conquerors, had committed suicide by drowning themselves in some artificial lakes in the vicinity.
The sight of hundreds of drowned bodies of refined Manchu ladies of noble estate, for it was these who had been left behind, was truly awful. In no place was the depth of the water more than two feet ! This shows the desperate determination of these helpless womenfolk.
We went on from Nanking to Kiu Kiang, where the situation was supposed to be rather acute, but, as a matter of fact, nothing happened of consequence.
The feeling during the revolution was decidedly not anti-foreign. Each side was most anxious to keep in the good graces of the foreigner, lest he might be angered and help the other side ; and in the circumstances this was very natural.
Kiu Kiang is a small British concession about four hundred miles up the river. It is in the form of a square, and its three land sides are
composed of high walls, pierced by three large iron gates.
I landed a couple of Maxims, placed sentries on the gates with orders to allow no Chinese with arms to enter, and awaited events.
At this time the entire responsibility of the defence of the concession fell upon me, no other warship being present, and I naturally felt a little nervous.
One day, in the usual course of routine, I asked a sentry on one of the far gates if he had anything to report.
The sentry was one of our able seamen, an excellent man in every way but one, and that was an incorrigible habit of getting drunk and breaking things up ashore about once every three months. This habit had interfered with the normal course of advancement in H.M. Navy in his case, and he thus remained an A.B., no badges. But he was the type of man one would unhesitatingly choose to assist in a tight corner, and his contempt for the Chinese soldier was profound and inexpressible.
"No, sir," said the sentry, "nothing to report."
I began to walk away.
"Oh, beg pardon, sir, perhaps I had better mention
it," the sentry called out, as if by way of an afterthought. " A Chinese army tried to march in 'ere about an hour ago ; so I told 'em to 'op it."
This halted me with a jerk, and I said to the sentry: " Do you mind making yourself a bit clearer ? "
" Well, sir, your orders are that no armed Chinamen are to be allowed to enter this 'ere concession. When this 'ere army marches up towards this 'ere gate, I advances two or three paces, comes on guard with my rifle with bayonet attached, and says '' Alt!' The army 'alts, and the general who was leading with his staff on 'orseback sends one of 'em up to me to ask what the trouble is. I explains, and he goes back to 'is general, and there's a good bit of parleying going on before 'e comes back again.
" ' General says,' 'e says, ' that 'e only wants to pay 'is compliments to the British consul and report that the republic 'ave come out on top in this 'ere district, and that 'e 'as no more to fear,' or words to that effect.
" ' You can tell the general from me,' I says, `that neither the consul nor me never 'ad anything to fear in this 'ere concession, and that if he is so anxious to pay 'is compliments, 'e can enter with
two of 'is staff, provided that 'e 'ands 'is arms over to me, and that the army piles arms in the interval.'
" ' Well, sir, there was a good deal more parleying then, and I 'ears an order, and the army piles arms.
" Then the general and two of 'is staff comes up to me, bows and 'ands me their swords, and I leans them up against the gate there. ' You 'urry up,' I says ; ` I don't want to 'ave to wait 'ere all day for the likes of you ! This 'ere revolution 'as given us quite enough trouble already,' I says.
" In about five minutes 'e was back again and I gives 'im 'is sword. The army unpiles arms, forms up and marches off. I 'ope I 'aven't done anything wrong, sir, but I 'ardly thought it worth mentioning at first."
And having finished his explanation this true British sentry carried on.
I think the secret of this and many similar episodes can be put into a nutshell: The Chinaman can understand a soldier ashore carrying a rifle ; he can understand a sailor afloat pulling a rope ; but when he sees a sailor ashore, gaitered, bandoliered, and carrying a rifle - well, he 's done !
Shortly after this happening things got so critical at Hankow, another concession further up the river,
that the authorities decided to send a portion of a British regiment there from Hong Kong, and the Whiting was ordered to escort the transport carrying these troops up the Yangtse to their destination.
Before sailing I was instructed that if called upon to stop by any of the forts on the way I was to do so and show my papers, which gave me a clear pass up the river. This was necessary, it was explained to me, because owing to disorganisation due to the recent fighting, one fort might not be in communication with the next, and might take us for hostile troops.
The troopship, of course, flew the Blue Ensign, a flag seldom seen on the Yangtse. We started off, and everything went swimmingly until we reached a fort called Hukow, off the entrance to the Poyang Lake and just below Kiu Kiang. We had previously been stopped by several forts, and our papers examined, and allowed to proceed, without any trouble on the part of the Chinese authorities, but when off this fort of Hukow a gun was fired and a junk 200 yards ahead of us was very nearly hit. Another " bang " and a village on the opposite bank and well astern of us had become the target. The
third " bang " resulted in a shell being dropped clear over the Whiting's mast.
With my Nanking experience of Chinese marksmanship, and by averaging out the fall of shot, I came to the conclusion that we were the target, and ordered the troopship to stop.
Presently alongside came a boat with a Chinese officer on board who could talk a little English. His first question was to ask what flag we were flying. He had apparently never heard of the Blue Ensign. After consideration it occurred to me that this was probably quite true, but I had to complain pretty forcibly about the Union Jack being fired on, and he was most apologetic.
When I got to Kiu Kiang the news had arrived before me, and the consul told me that the local general, being anxious not to offend the English, was visiting him that afternoon to apologise, and that I had better be present.
The general and his staff duly arrived and were received by the consul, and after preliminary compliments had been exchanged, the general said that he was very sorry that this unfortunate episode had occurred.
The consul replied accepting the general's apology
and stating that he would convey it to the higher authorities, who would no doubt accept it in the spirit in which it was offered. The consul, however, asked the general if, as a matter of interest, he would say what steps he had taken to prevent such a situation arising again ?
" Oh, yes," replied the general readily, " I punished the officer in charge and ten others."
" You punished them-how ? " asked the consul.
" Oh, I cut their heads off ! " answered the general.
Nothing really changes in China.
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