Friday, August 29, 2008

Forty Years in South China The "little Knife" Insurrection

China has maintained her integrity as an empire for hundreds of years. But not without struggle. There have been rebellions and dynastic overthrows that threatened to cleave the empire to its foundations. Indeed rebellion has often had the sanction of religion in China. Let a government be unsuccessful; let a dynasty see the gaunt hand of famine, or the poison hand of pestilence laid on the land, that is the mute voice of Heaven speaking against those who rule. And what nobler than to be self-chosen executors of Heaven's vengeance. Green-eyed envy in imperial pavilion and courtrooms has often stood sponsor to the wildest lawlessness. A base and extortionate government has often driven men in sheer self-defence to tearing down yamens and hunting down the "tiger" mandarin.
The present Manchu dynasty seized the Dragon throne in 1644. For one hundred and fifty years China enjoyed comparative peace and prosperity. The emperor Kang-hi and his grandson Keenlung, each reigned sixty years, to the Chinese a manifest token of Heaven's favor. The past one hundred years have been troublous. There has been internal strife. There have been momentous issues to settle in the opening of China's gates to the outside world. When she needed Emperors of the broadest statesmanship, she has had to blunder along with mediocre men or bend an unwilling neck under the sway of puppets. Had it not been for her great Prime Ministers, such as Prince Kung and Li Hung Chang, the days would have been fuller of dark-presaging omens and their disastrous fulfillment.
The beginning of this century found a secret society in existence known as the "Triads," whose avowed object was the expulsion of the Manchus and the restoration of the Mings. In 1803 the emperor Kiaking was attacked in open day while being carried in a chair of state through the streets of Peking. He was saved by his attendants, several of whom lost their lives.
In 1851 the Tai-ping Rebellion began. The fuel that fed the flame was various. It was reaction against oppressive government. It was iconoclasm inspired by a spurious Christianity. It was pride of race that would not tolerate a Manchu on the throne. For fourteen years China staggered under this awful scourge. Whole provinces were devastated and almost depopulated. For a long time the issue was uncertain. At length the united strength of foreigners and Chinese battered the serpent's head and destroyed its vitals.
While the boa of rebellion was stretching itself across the heart of the empire a whole brood of little serpents were poisoning and devouring other outlying provinces. An insurrection was organized in the neighborhood of Amoy early in 1853. Mr. Talmage writes fully concerning it.
Jan. 25, 1853. To the Sunday-school, Flushing, New York.
"The streets of Amoy are very narrow. The widest are only a few yards wide. At very short distances apart, there are gates across the streets. The object of these gates, and the principal cause of the streets being so narrow, are to protect the inhabitants from gangs of thieves. In the winter season, when men have more leisure and more temptation to plunder, these gates are closed every night. During the present winter the people seem to have had more fear of robbers than usual. Old gates have been repaired and many new gates have been built. The inhabitants of a Christian land, like America, do not fear to live alone in the country without any near neighbors. But in this region a house standing alone in the country is scarcely ever seen. The people always collect together in villages or towns or cities. The villages are usually provided with small watchtowers, built of stone or brick, in which a few men may sleep as sentinels to give notice of the approach of robbers, and to fire on them. Even in the towns and cities you seldom see a dwelling-house with an outside window. If there be such a window, it is usually guarded by slabs of granite, or by mason-work with only small openings, like the windows of a prison, so that a person cannot pass through."
June 3, 1853. To Dr. Anderson.
"In March last one of the members of our church, Chheng-choan, requested that he might be sent in company with the colporteur on a trip to the city of Chiangchiu to preach the Gospel and distribute tracts. He said that his heart was very ardent to go and make known the Gospel. He was willing to give the time and bear his own expenses. He is a native of the city of Chiangchiu."
"They made two visits, one in company with Rev. W. C. Burns. Many of the people requested them to establish a permanent place. Houses were offered them for rent. A few days after their return to Amoy two men who had been much interested in their preaching came down and spent several days with us in order that they might learn the way of the Lord more perfectly."
"On the 3d of May we called a meeting of the male members of our church, to take into consideration the subject of immediately sending two of their number to Chiangchiu, to commence permanent operations. The members were unanimous in the opinion that the Master had opened the way before us, and was calling us to go forward. It was decided that if two men qualified for the work would volunteer, they should immediately be sent. It was then suggested that if two more men were ready perhaps it would be well to appoint them for the region north of us, to carry the Gospel to the villages and towns between Amoy and Chinchew and see whether the way might not be open to begin operations in that city. Chinchew is an important city near the seacoast, about one-third of the way from Amoy to Foochow. The suggestion concerning the appointment of men for Chinchew was new to us. Everything seemed favorable for adopting the new suggestion. Four men immediately offered themselves for the work, two for Chiangchiu, and two for the region of Chinchew. They were men whom we thought well qualified for the work, probably just the men we would have chosen.
"The evangelist U, and the colporteur Lotia, left Amoy on their mission to Chiangchiu, May 12th. A few days after their arrival, about midnight on the 17th of May, the insurrection broke at Chiangchiu, which interrupted their labors. The evangelist thought that quiet would soon be restored and therefore resolved to remain a few days. The people rushed upon the insurgents, wrested their arms from them, and slew many of them. The insurgents finding themselves overpowered attempted to flee. The gates of the streets were closed against them. The people along the streets attacked them by throwing missiles from the tops of the houses. All strangers in the city were in great danger of being suspected and treated as insurgents. The evangelist in leaving the city was seized by some of the mob. Some said he was one of the insurgents, others said he was not. He succeeded in making his escape to the house of a friend outside of the city walls. The colporteur made his escape over the wall of the city and fled to the house of some friends in the suburbs near the river-side. By my letter of May 19th, it will be seen that Amoy was attacked by the insurgents on the morning , after they entered the city of Chiangchiu. The insurgents are members of a secret society. For very many years there has existed in this region a society by the name of 'Thian-te-hoe,' Heaven and Earth Society. This is the name by which the members designate their society. But as the members are generally provided with knives or small swords, the society is designated by the people as 'Sio-to-hoe,' Small Sword Society. The professed object of this society has been the overthrow of the present Tartar dynasty. Between this and Chiangchiu the members of this society are very numerous. After the breaking out of the insurrection at Hai-teng, and Chioh-be , the whole populace appeared to sympathize with the movement. Large bodies of the insurgents moved up the river to Chiangchiu, others came down the river to Amoy. At the same time there was a rising of the insurgents at Tong-an and An-khoe, districts to the north of Amoy. At the first outbreak the officials and soldiers fled. The people of Amoy have been in continual excitement and fear. They are afraid to engage in business. On Sabbath morning we went to our chapels as usual. Shortly after commencing services, news came that a fleet of war junks under the command of the Admiral was anchoring a short distance from the city. Soon the whole city was in commotion. About noon a detachment of a thousand soldiers was landed from the junks. They marched with very little opposition through the town to the gates of the city. They were attacked simultaneously by the insurgents from within, and by those in ambush without. The insurgents were victorious.
"By three o'clock in the afternoon the city was comparatively quiet, and we repaired to our church. Most of the church members were assembled. Our church edifice is situated on the great thoroughfare which had been the principal scene of excitement. It was thought best to suspend the usual exercises, to close the street doors, and hold if possible a quiet prayer-meeting. It was a solemn time. The 'confused noise' of war had just been heard, human blood had been flowing, the angry passions of men were not yet calmed, and we knew not what the end would be. We felt it a suitable time to draw near to God and make Him our refuge. This afternoon we received tidings from Chiangchiu. The evangelist was arrested by twelve men, delivered to an official and beheaded."
"June 10, 1853. The state of affairs through the whole of this region remains very unsettled. The insurgents are endeavoring to regain possession of the city of Chiangchiu. They have command of the whole region, between this place and that city. They still are in possession of Amoy. We are almost daily expecting an attack by the government authorities.
"Amoy is cut off from all trade with the large towns around. The insurgents probably would not permit goods to be carried to Chiangchiu and other places with which they are at war. Besides, this whole region is infested with pirates. It is only at great risk that any merchant junk can at present come to or depart from Amoy. We cannot yet form any definite opinion as to the final result of this movement. The forces of the insurgents are none of them drilled soldiers. Their appearance is that of an armed mob. Their weapons are mostly spears, and knives and matchlocks.
"At the time the insurrection broke out in our neighborhood and while we were expecting an attack on our city by the insurgents, we felt some anxiety. We had no means of deciding how they would feel towards foreigners. We supposed they would feel it to be for their own interest not to meddle with foreigners. They knew that they would have enough to do to contend with their own government, without at the same time involving themselves with foreign powers. More than all this, we had the doctrines and promises of God's word on which to rely. These we feel at all times give us the only unfailing security. They are worth more than armies and navies. It is only when God uses armies and navies for the fulfillment of His own promises that they are worth anything to us."
July 28, 1853. To his brother, Daniel.
"I suppose you will feel more desirous to learn about the state of politics and war at Amoy. At present everything is quiet. Three weeks ago another attempt was made by the Mandarins to retake Amoy. They landed a body of troops on the opposite side of the island. These were to march across the island and attack the city by land. Simultaneously an attack was to be made on the city from the water side by the Mandarin fleet. It is said that the land forces amounted to about 10,000. The fleet consisted of about forty sail. On Wednesday morning , about daybreak, the troops were put in motion. They were met with about an equal number of rebel troops. They fought until the Mandarin soldiers became hungry . Not being relieved at that time, as they expected, they withdrew to cook their rice. The Mandarin in command considering that his life was much more important than that of the soldiers, kept himself at a safe distance from the scene of action. At about breakfast-time he started to go down in his sedan chair nearer the scene of action. When he saw that his troops were retiring to cook their breakfast, he supposed that they were giving way before the enemy. Prudence being the better part of valor, he ordered his chair-bearers to face about and carry him in the other direction. The soldiers, finding that their chief officer had fled, thought there was no further need of risking their lives, so they all retired. I cannot vouch for the truth of the whole of the above statement. Such, however, is the story soberly related by some of the Chinese. We could see the smoke and hear the reports of the guns from the top of our house. The fighting commenced very early. We thought that the Mandarin troops were gradually approaching the city, until about Chinese breakfast-time , when the firing ceased. We know not how many lives were lost in the engagement. The rebels brought into the city some seventeen or eighteen heads which they had decapitated. I know not whether these were all killed in the fight or whether they were the heads of some villagers on whom the rebels took vengeance for assisting the Mandarins."
"Now for the engagement on the water. The rebel forces on the water were much inferior to the Mandarin forces, but the Chinese say they fought more desperately. The engagement opened on Wednesday about noon and lasted until nearly evening. Towards evening the Mandarin fleet withdrew a few miles and came to anchor. On Thursday at high-tide the engagement was renewed. Towards evening the Mandarin fleet again withdrew as before. On Friday the engagement was again renewed with similar results. On Saturday the Mandarin fleet withdrew entirely and left the harbor.
"During the three days of the fight, as you would expect, there was much excitement in Amoy. The tops of the houses and the hills around about, at the time of the engagement, were thronged with people, and there was a continual discharge of cannon. But I have not given the number of the killed and wounded in the three days' naval action. Reports, you know, are often much exaggerated on such occasions. According to the most reliable statements , the list stands thus:
"Killed-None! "Wounded-None! "Prisoners-None!
"It is said that one ball from a Mandarin junk did strike a rebel junk, but did not hurt any one. During the fighting the vessels kept so far apart that the balls almost always fell into the water between them. On the second day of the fight, a boat from the city in which were three men, who were not engaged in the fight, was captured by the Mandarin fleet, and the three men were beheaded. War is too serious a matter to be laughed at, but the kind of war we have thus far seen at Amoy is only like children's play."
Nov. 1, 1853. To his brother, Daniel.
"Our war still continues, fighting almost every day. The day I sent off my last package to you, two more balls struck our house. One came through the roof of an unoccupied part of the premises. I did not weigh it, but suppose it was about a six-pounder. The other struck against a pillar in the outside wall and fell down and was picked up by some one outside of the house, so that I do not know the size of it. It was a merciful Providence that it struck the pillar. If it had struck on either side of the pillar, it would have come into a room in which many Chinese were collected. On Sunday last there was much fighting again. A small ball came into our veranda. A small ball entered Mr. Doty's house, one entered Mr. Alexander Stronach's house, several entered Dr. Hirschberg's house; other houses also were struck. Dr. Hirschberg's house has been the most exposed. We have all been preserved from harm thus far. He, who has thus far preserved us, I trust will continue to preserve us. The fighting is more serious than at first. A little more courage is manifested and more execution is done. But I do not see any prospect of either party being victorious. The party whose funds are completely used up first, will doubtless have to yield to the other. I cannot tell which that will be. I shall be heartily glad when one of the armies withdraws from Amoy. The country around Amoy is becoming desolated. Houses and whole villages are plundered and burned. In Amoy suffering abounds, and I suppose is increasing. When I go out into the street I usually put a handful of cash into my pocket to distribute to the beggars."
In November, 1853, Imperial authority asserted itself.
"The Imperial forces having collected from the neighboring garrisons, appeared in such overwhelming strength that the insurgents hastily put off to sea. Many succeeded in escaping to Formosa and Singapore. The leader was accidentally shot off Macao. The restoration of Imperial authority was followed, however, by terrible scenes of official cruelty and bloodthirstiness. The guilty had escaped, but the Emperor Hienfung's officials wreaked their rage on the helpless and unoffending townspeople. Hundreds of both sexes were slain in cold blood, and on more than one occasion English officers and seamen interfered to protect the weak and to arrest the progress of an undiscriminating and insensate massacre."

No comments: