MoboReader> Literature > Two Years in the Forbidden City

   Chapter 20 CONCLUSION 20

Two Years in the Forbidden City By Princess Der Ling Characters: 25754

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06

MY second year at the Palace was very much the same as the first. We celebrated each anniversary and festival in the same way as before: the usual audience was held each morning by Her Majesty, after which the day was given up to enjoyment. Amongst other things Her Majesty took great interest in her vegetable gardens, and superintended the planting of the different seeds. When vegetables were ready for pulling, from time to time, all the Court ladies were supplied with a kind of small pruning fork and gathered in the crop. Her Majesty seemed to enjoy seeing us work in the fields, and when the fit seized her she would come along and help. In order to encourage us in this work, Her Majesty would give a small present to the one who showed the best results so we naturally did our best in order to please her, as much as for the reward. Another hobby of Her Majesty's was the rearing of chickens, and a certain number of birds were allotted to each of the Court ladies. We were supposed to look after these ourselves and the eggs had to be taken to Her Majesty every morning. I could not understand why it was that my chickens gave less eggs than any of the others until one day my eunuch informed me that he had seen one of the other eunuchs stealing the eggs from my hen house and transferring them to another, in order to help his mistress to head the list.

Her Majesty was very particular not to encourage untidyness or extravagance among the Court ladies. On one occasion she told me to open a parcel which was lying in her room. I was about to cut the string when Her Majesty stopped me and told me to untie it. This I managed to do after a lot of trouble, and opened the parcel. Her Majesty next made me fold the paper neatly and place it in a drawer along with the string so that I would know where to find it should it be wanted again. From time to time Her Majesty would give each of us money for our own private use and whenever we wanted to buy anything, say flowers, handkerchiefs, shoes, ribbons, etc., these could be bought from the servant girls who used to make them in the Palace and we would enter each item in a small note book supplied by Her Majesty for the purpose. At the end of each month Her Majesty examined our accounts and in case she considered that we had been extravagant she would give us a good scolding, while on the other hand, if we managed to show a good balance she would compliment us on our good management. Thus under Her Majesty's tuition we learned to be careful and tidy against such time as we might be called upon to look after homes of our own.

About this time my father began to show signs of breaking down and asked for permission to withdraw from public life. However, Her Majesty would not hear of this and decided to give him another six months vacation instead. It was his intention to go to Shanghai and see the family physician, but Her Majesty did not approve of this, maintaining that her own doctors were quite as good as any foreign doctor. These doctors therefore attended him for some time, prescribing all kinds of different concoctions daily. After a while he seemed to pick up a little but was still unable to get about on account of having chronic rheumatism. We therefore again suggested that it would be better for him to see his own doctor in Shanghai, who understood my father thoroughly, but Her Majesty could not be made to see it in that light. She said that what we wanted was a little patience, that the Chinese doctors might be slow, but they were sure, and she was convinced they would completely cure my father very soon. The fact of the matter was she was afraid that if my father went to stay in Shanghai the rest of the family would want to be there with him, which was not in her programme at all. So we decided to remain in Peking unless my father showed signs of getting worse.

In due course the time arrived on which it had been arranged to hold the Spring Garden Party for the Diplomatic Corps, and as usual one day was set apart for the Ministers, Secretaries and members of the various Legations, and the following day for their wives, etc. This year very few guests attended the Garden Party but among those who did come were several strangers. About half a dozen ladies from the Japanese Legation came with Madame Uchida, wife of the Japanese Minister. Her Majesty was always very pleased to see this lady whom she very much admired on account of her extreme politeness. After the usual presentation we conducted the ladies to luncheon, showed them over the Palace grounds, after which we wished them good-bye and they took their leave. We reported everything to Her Majesty, and as usual were asked many questions. Among the guests there was one lady (English so far as I could make out) dressed in a heavy tweed travelling costume, having enormous pockets, into which she thrust her hands as though it were extremely cold. She wore a cap of the same material. Her Majesty asked if I had noticed this lady with the clothes made out of "rice bags," and wasn't it rather unusual to be presented at Court in such a dress. Her Majesty wanted to know who she was and where she came from. I replied that she certainly did not belong to any of the Legations as I was acquainted with everybody there. Her Majesty said that whoever she was she certainly was not accustomed to moving in decent society as she (Her Majesty) was quite certain that it was not the thing to appear at a European Court in such a costume. "I can tell in a moment," Her Majesty added, "whether any of these people are desirous of showing proper respect to me, or whether they consider that I am not entitled to it. These foreigners seem to have the idea that the Chinese are ignorant and that therefore they need not be so particular as in European Society. I think it would be best to let it be understood for the future what dress should be worn at the different Court Functions, and at the same time use a certain amount of discretion in issuing invitations. In that way I can also keep the missionary element out, as well as other undesirables. I like to meet any distinguished foreigners who may be visiting in China, but I do not want any common people at my Court." I suggested that the Japanese custom could be followed, viz.: to issue proper invitation cards, stipulating at the foot the dress to be worn on each particular occasion. Her Majesty thought this would meet the case and it was decided to introduce a similar rule in China.

Whenever the weather permitted, Her Majesty would pass quite a lot of her time in the open air watching the eunuchs at work in the gardens. During the early Spring the lotus plants were transplanted and she would take keen interest in this work. All the old roots had to be cut away and the new bulbs planted in fresh soil. Although the lotus grew in the shallowest part of the lake (the West side) it was necessary for the eunuchs to wade into the water sometimes up to their waists in order to weed out the old plants and set the young ones. Her Majesty would sit for hours on her favorite bridge (The Jade Girdle Bridge) and superintend the eunuchs at their work, suggesting from time to time as to how the bulbs were to be planted. This work generally took three or four days, and the Court ladies in attendance would stand beside Her Majesty and pass the time making fancy tassels for Her Majesty's cushions, in fact doing anything so long as we did not idle.

It was during the Spring that Yuan Shih Kai paid another visit to the Palace, and among other subjects discussed was the Russo-Japan war. He told Her Majesty that it was developing into a very serious affair and that he feared China would be the principal sufferer in the long run. Her Majesty was very much upset by this news, and mentioned that she had been advised by one of the censors to make a present to the Japanese of a large quantity of rice, but had decided to take no action whatever in the matter, which resolve Yuan Shih Kai strongly supported.

I was still working each day translating the various newspaper reports and telegrams relating to the war and one morning, seeing a paragraph to the effect that Kang Yu Wei (Leader of the Reform Movement in China in 1898) had arrived at Singapore from Batavia, I thought it might interest Her Majesty and so translated it along with the rest. Her Majesty immediately became very much excited which made me feel frightened as I did not know what could be the matter. However, she explained to me that this man had caused all kinds of trouble in China, that before meeting Kang Yu Wei the Emperor had been a zealous adherent to the traditions of his ancestors but since then had plainly shown his desire to introduce reforms and even Christianity into the country. "On one occasion," continued Her Majesty, "he caused the Emperor to issue instructions for the Summer Palace to be surrounded by soldiers so as to keep me prisoner until these reforms could be put into effect, but through the faithfulness of Yung Lu, a member of the Grand Council, and Yuan Shill Kai, Viceroy of Chihli, I was able to frustrate the plot. I immediately proceeded to the Forbidden City, where the Emperor was then staying and after discussing the question with him he replied that he realized his mistake and asked me to take over the reins of government and act in his stead."

(The result of this was, of course, the Edict of 1898

appointing the Empress Dowager as Regent of China.)

Her Majesty had immediately ordered the capture of Kang Yu Wei and his followers, but he had managed to effect his escape and she had heard nothing further about him until I translated this report in the newspaper. She seemed relieved, however, to know where he was, and seemed anxious to hear what he was doing. She suddenly became very angry again and asked why it was that the foreign governments offered protection to Chinese political agitators and criminals. Why couldn't they leave China to deal with her own subjects and mind their own business a little more? She gave me instructions to keep a lookout for any further news of this gentleman and report to her immediately, but I made up my mind that in any case, I would not mention anything about him again and so the matter gradually died away.

During one of our visits to the Sea Palace Her Majesty drew attention to a large piece of vacant ground and said that it had formerly been the site of the Audience Hall which had been destroyed by fire during the Boxer trouble. Her Majesty explained that this had been purely an accident and was not deliberately destroyed by the foreign troops. She said that it had long been an eyesore to her as it was so ugly, and that she had now determined to build another Audience Hall on the same site, as the present Audience Hall was too small to accommodate the foreign guests when they paid their respects at New Year. She therefore commanded the Board of Works to prepare a model of the new building in accordance with her own ideas, and submit it for her approval. Up to that time all the buildings in the Palace Grounds were typically Chinese but this new Audience Hall was to be more or less on the foreign plan and up to date in every respect. This model was accordingly prepared and submitted to Her Majesty. It was only a small wooden model but was complete in every detail, even to the pattern of the windows and the carving on the ceilings and panels. However, I never knew anything to quite come up to Her Majesty's ideas, and this was no exception. She criticised the model from every standpoint, ordering this room to be enlarged and that room to be made smaller: this window to be moved to another place, etc., etc. So the model went back for reconstruction. When it was again brought for Her Majesty's inspection everybody agreed that it was an improvement on the first one, and even Her Majesty expressed great satisfaction. The next thing was to find a name for the new building and after serious and mature consideration it was decided to name it Hai Yen Tang (Sea Coast Audience Hall). Building operations were commenced immediately and Her Majesty took great interest in the progress of the work. It had already been decided that this Audience Hall was to be furnished throughout in foreign style, with the exception of the throne, which, of course, retained its Manchu appearance. Her Majesty compared the different styles of furniture with the catalogues we had brought with us from France and finally decided on the Louis Fifteenth style, but everything was to be covered with Imperial Yellow, with curtains and carpets to match. When everything had been selected to Her Majesty's satisfaction, my mother asked permission to defray the expense herself and make a present of this furniture. This Her Majesty agreed to and the order

was accordingly placed with a well-known Paris firm from whom we had purchased furniture when in France. By the time the building was completed the furniture had arrived, and it was quickly installed. Her Majesty went to inspect it and, of course, had to find fault as usual. She didn't seem at all pleased with the result of the experiment and said that after all a Chinese building would have been the best as it would have had a more dignified appearance. However, the thing was finished and it was no use finding fault now, as it could not be changed.

During the Summer months I had plenty of leisure time and devoted about an hour each day to helping the Emperor with his English. He was a most intelligent man with a wonderful memory and learned very quickly. His pronunciation, however, was not good. In a very short time he was able to read short stories out of an ordinary school reader and could write from dictation fairly well. His handwriting was exceptionally fine, while in copying old English and ornamental characters, he was an expert. Her Majesty seemed pleased that the Emperor had taken up this study, and said she thought of taking it up herself as she was quite sure she would learn it very quickly if she tried. After two lessons she lost patience, and did not mention the matter again.

Of course these lessons gave me plenty of opportunity to talk with His Majesty, and on one occasion he ventured the remark that I didn't seem to have made much progress with Her Majesty in the matter of reform. I told him that many things had been accomplished since my arrival at Court, and mentioned the new Audience Hall as an instance. He didn't appear to think that anything worth talking about, and advised me to give up the matter altogether. He said when the proper time arrived-if it ever did arrive-then I might be of use, but expressed grave doubts on the subject. He also enquired about my father and I told him that unless his health improved very soon it would be necessary for us to leave the Court for a while at any rate. He replied that although he should very much regret such a necessity, he really believed that it would be for the best. He said he felt certain that I should never be able to settle down permanently to Court life after spending so many years abroad, and for his part would put no obstacles in the way of my leaving the Court if I desired to do so.

Her Majesty had given me permission to visit my father twice every month, and everything appeared to be going along nicely until one day one of Her Majesty's servant girls told me that Her Majesty was trying to arrange another marriage for me. At first I did not take any notice of this, but shortly afterwards Her Majesty informed me that everything was arranged and that I was to be married to a certain Prince whom she had chosen. I could see that Her Majesty was waiting for me to say something, so I told her that I was very much worried at that time about my father and begged her to allow the matter to stand over for the time being at any rate. This made Her Majesty very angry, and she told me that she considered me very ungrateful after all she had done for me. I didn't reply, and as her Majesty did not say anything more at the time, I tried to forget about it. However, on my next visit home, I told my father all about it, and as before he was strongly opposed to such a marriage. He suggested that on my return to the Palace I should lay the whole matter before Li Lien Ying, the head eunuch, and explain my position, for if anybody could influence Her Majesty, he was the one. I, therefore, took the first opportunity of speaking to him. At first he appeared very reluctant to interfere in the matter, and said he thought I ought to do as Her Majesty wished, but on my stating that I had no desire to marry at all, but was quite willing to remain at Court in my present position, he promised to do his best for me. I never heard anything further about my marriage, either from Her Majesty or Li Lien Ying, and therefore concluded that he had been able to arrange the matter satisfactorily.

The Summer passed without anything further important occurring. During the eighth moon the bamboos were cut down and here again the Court ladies were called upon to assist, our work being to carve designs and characters on the cut trees, Her Majesty assisting. These were afterwards made into chairs, tables and other useful articles for Her Majesty's teahouse. During the long Autumn evenings Her Majesty would teach us Chinese history and poetry and every tenth day would put us through an examination in order to find out how much we had learned, prizes being awarded for proficiency. The younger eunuchs also took part in these lessons and some of their answers to Her Majesty's questions were very amusing. If Her Majesty were in a good humor she would laugh with the rest of us, but sometimes she would order them to be punished for their ignorance and stupidity. However, as they were quite accustomed to being punished they did not seem to mind very much and forgot all about it the next minute.

As Her Majesty's seventieth birthday was approaching the Emperor proposed to celebrate this event on an unusually grand scale, but Her Majesty would not give her consent to this proposal on account of the war trouble, for fear people might comment on it. The only difference, therefore, between this birthday and former ones was that Her Majesty gave presents to the Court, in addition to receiving them. These included the bestowal of titles, promotions and increases in salary. Among the titles conferred by Her Majesty, my sister and myself received the title of Chun Chu Hsien (Princess). These titles, however, were confined to members of the Court, and were granted specially by the Empress Dowager. Similar promotions to outside officials were always conferred by the Emperor. It was proposed to hold the celebrations in the Forbidden City as it was more suited for such an important event. However, Her Majesty did not like this idea at all, and gave instructions that the Court should not be moved until three days before the 10th of the tenth moon, the date of her birthday. This entailed a lot of unnecessary work as it necessitated decorating both the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City. Everything was hurry and bustle. To add to this, it snowed very heavily during the few days previous to the tenth. Her Majesty was in a very good mood. She was very fond of being out in the snow and expressed a wish to have some photographs taken of herself on the hillside. So my brother was commanded to bring his camera, and took several very good pictures of Her Majesty.

On the seventh day the Court moved into the Forbidden City and the celebrations commenced. The decorations were beautiful; the Courtyards being covered with glass roofs to keep out the snow. The theatres were in full swing each day. The actual ceremony, which took place on the tenth, did not differ in any respect from previous ones. Everything passed off smoothly, and the Court removed again into the Sea Palace.

While at the Sea Palace we received news that my father's condition was becoming serious, and he again tendered his resignation to Her Majesty. She sent her eunuchs to find out exactly what the matter was, and on learning that he was really very ill, accepted his resignation. Her Majesty agreed that it might be better for him to go to Shanghai and see if the foreign physicians could do him any good. She said she supposed it would be necessary for my mother to accompany him to Shanghai, but did not consider it serious enough to send my sister and myself along also. I tried to explain that it was my duty to go along with him as he might be taken worse and die before I could get down to see him again, and I begged Her Majesty to allow me to go. She offered all kinds of objections but eventually, seeing that I was bent on going, she said: "Well, he is your father, and I suppose you want to be with him, so you may go on the understanding that you return to Court as soon as ever possible." We did not get away until the middle of the eleventh moon, as Her Majesty insisted on making clothes for us and other preparations for our journey. Of course we could do nothing but await Her Majesty's pleasure.

When everything was ready Her Majesty referred to her book to choose a suitable day for our departure, and fixed on the thirteenth as being the best. We therefore left the Palace for our own house on the twelfth. We kowtowed and said good-bye to Her Majesty, thanking her for her many kindnesses during our stay with her. Everybody cried, even Her Majesty. We then went to say good-bye to the Emperor and Young Empress. The Emperor simply shook hands and wished us "Good Luck" in English. Everybody appeared sorry to see us leave. After standing about for a long time Her Majesty said it was no use wasting any more time and that we had better start. At the gate the head eunuch bade us good-bye and we entered our carriage and drove to my father's house, our own eunuchs accompanying us to the door. We found everything prepared for our journey, and early the next morning we took train to Tientsin where we just managed to catch the last steamer of the season leaving for Shanghai. As it was, the water was so shallow that we ran aground on the Taku bar.

On arrival in Shanghai my father immediately consulted his physician who examined him and prescribed medicine. The trip itself seemed to have done him a lot of good. I very soon began to miss my life at Court, and, although I had many friends in Shanghai and was invited to dinner parties and dances; still I did not seem to be able to enjoy myself. Everything seemed different to what I had been accustomed to in Peking and I simply longed for the time when I should be able to return to Her Majesty. About two weeks after our arrival, Her Majesty sent a special messenger down to Shanghai to see how we were getting along. He brought us many beautiful presents and also a lot of medicine for my father. We were very glad to see him. He informed us that we were missed very much at Court and advised us to return as soon as it was possible for us to do so. As my father began to show signs of improvement he suggested that there was no further need for me to stay in Shanghai, and thought it better that I should return to Peking and resume my duties at Court. I therefore returned early in the New Year. The river was frozen and I had to travel by boat to Chinwantao, from thence by rail to Peking. It was a most miserable journey and I was very glad when it was over. Her Majesty had sent my eunuchs to the station to meet me and I at once proceeded to the Palace. On meeting Her Majesty we both cried again by way of expressing our happiness. I informed her that my father was progressing favorably and that I hoped to be able to remain with her permanently.

I resumed my previous duties, but this time I had neither my sister for a companion nor my mother to chat with and everything appeared changed. Her Majesty was just the same, however, and treated me most kindly. Still, I was not comfortable, and heartily wished myself back again in Shanghai. I stayed at the Court, going through pretty much the same daily routine as before until the second moon (March 1905), when I received a telegram summoning me to Shanghai as my father had become worse, and was in a critical condition and wished to see me. I showed Her Majesty the telegram and waited for her decision. She commenced by telling me that my father was a very old man, and therefore his chances of recovery were not so great as if he were younger, finally winding up by telling me that I could go to him at once. I again wished everybody good-bye, fully expecting to return very soon; but this was not to be. I found my father in a very dangerous condition, and after a lingering illness, he died on the 18th of December, 1905. Of course we went into mourning for one hundred days which in itself prevented my returning to the Court.

While in Shanghai I made many new friends and acquaintances and gradually began to realize that after all, the attractions of Court life had not been able to eradicate the influences which had been brought to bear upon me while in Europe. At heart I was a foreigner, educated in a foreign country, and, having already met my husband the matter was soon settled and I became an American citizen. However, I often look back to the two years I spent at the Court of Her Majesty, the Empress Dowager of China, the most eventful and happiest days of my girlhood.

Although I was not able to do much towards influencing Her Majesty in the matter of reform, I still hope to live to see the day when China shall wake up and take her proper place among the nations of the world.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top