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MY VISIT TO THE TAIPINGS
In the fall of 1859 a small party of two missionaries, accompanied by Tsang Laisun, planned a trip to visit the Taiping rebels in Nanking. I was asked to join them, and I decided to do so. My object in going was to find out for my own satisfaction the character of the Taipings; whether or not they were the men fitted to set up a new government in the place of the Manchu Dynasty. Accordingly, on the 6th of November, 1859, we left Shanghai in a Woo-Sik-Kwei boat, with a stiff northeast breeze in our favor, though we had to stem an ebb tide for an hour. The weather was fine and the whole party was in fine spirits. We happened to have an American flag on board, and on the spur of the moment, it was flung to the breeze, but on a sober second thought, we had it hauled down so as not to attract undue attention and have it become the means of thwarting the purpose of our journey. Instead of taking
the Sung-Kiang route which was the highway to Suchau, we turned off into another one in order to avoid the possibility of being hauled up by the imperialists and sent back to Shanghai, as we were told that an imperial fleet of Chinese gun-boats was at anchor at Sung Kiang. We found the surrounding country within a radius of thirty miles of Shanghai to be very quiet and saw no signs of political disturbance. The farmers were busily engaged in gathering in their rice crops.
It might be well to mention here that during my sojourn in the interior, the Taiping rebels had captured the city of Suchau, and there was some apprehension on the part of foreigners in the settlement that they might swoop down to take possession of the city of Shanghai, as well as the foreign settlement. That was the reason the Sung Kiang River was picketed by Chinese gun-boats, and the foreign pickets were extended miles beyond the boundary line of the foreign concession.
We reached Suchau on the morning of the 9th of November without meeting with any difficulty or obstacles all the way, nor were we challenged either by the imperialists or rebels, which went to show how loosely and negligently even in time of war, things were conducted in China. On arriving at the Lau Gate of the city, we had to wait at the station where tickets were issued to those who went into the city and taken from those who left, for Such was then under martial law. As we wished to go into the city to see the commandant, in order to get letters of introduction from him to the chiefs of other cities along our route to Nanking, we had to send two of our party to headquarters to find out whether we were permitted to enter. At the station, close to the Lau Gate, we waited over an hour. Finally our party appeared accompanied by the same messenger who had been deputed by the head of the police to accompany them to the commandant's office. Permission was given us, and all four went in. The civil officer was absent, but we were introduced to the military commandant, Liu. He was a tall man, dressed in red. His affected hauteur at the start was too thin to disguise his want of a solid character. He became very inquisitive and asked the object of our journey to Nanking. He treated us very kindly, however, and gave us a letter of introduction to the commandant in Tan Yang, and furnished us with passports all the way through the cities of Woo Sik and Cheong Chow. In the audience hall of Commandant Liu, we were introduced to four foreigners—two Americans, one Englishman, and a French noble. One of the Americans said he was a doctor, the Englishman was supposed to be a military officer, and the Frenchman, as stated above, claimed to be a nobleman. Doubtless they were all adventurers. Each had his own ax to grind. One of the Americans had a rifle and cartridges for sale. He asked quite an exorbitant price for them and they were summarily rejected. The Frenchman said he had lost a fortune and had come out to China to make it up. Our missionary companions were much pleased after being entertained by Liu in hearing him recite the doxology, which he did glibly. Towards evening, when we returned to our boat, he sent us a number of chickens and a goat to boot. We were thus amply provisioned to prosecute our journey to Tan Yang. We left Suchau on the morning of the 11th of November. On our arrival at Woo Sik, our passports were examined and we were very courteously treated by the rebels. We were invited to dinner by the chief in command. After that he sent us fruits and nuts, and came on board himself to see us off. We held quite a long conversation with him, which ended in his repeating the doxology.
November 12th we left Woo Sik and started for Cheong Chow. From Suchau onward we were on the Grand Canal. The road on the bank of the canal was in good condition. Most of the people we saw and met were rebels, traveling between Tan Yang and Suchau, and but few boats were seen passing each other. All the country surrounding the canal between those cities seemed to have been abandoned by the peasantry and the cultivated fields were covered with rank grass and weeds, instead of flourishing crops. ^A. traveler, not knowing the circumstances, would naturally lay the blame wholly upon the Taiping rebels, but the imperialists in their conflicts with the rebels, were as culpable as their enemies. The rebels whom we met on the public road were generally very civil and tried in every way to protect the people in order to gain their confidence. Incendiarism, pillage, robbery and ill-treatment of the people by the rebels, were punished by death. We reached Cheong Chow in the night. We found nearly all the houses along the road between Woo Sik and Cheong Chow to be completely deserted and emptied of all their inmates. There were occasionally a few of the inhabitants to be seen standing on the bank with small baskets,