The Seizure of Dr. Sun Yat Sen
EDITOR'S NOTE.—This is the first article of a series by a famous English journalist, writing under a nom,-de-plume. The articles will be in th&t;t nature of reminiscences of the great men he has met on an intimate basis, together with facts about historical happenings that came under his notice. His experience as a journalist covered a period of unusual interest, when world's history was in the making, a,nd the reminiscences will present information that has never yet found its way into print, as well as throwing new light on diplomatic matters, political tangles and famous criminal cases. The vivid style of the writer, combined with his authentic “inside” information and the unusual opportunities for observation that he enjoyed, should make this series one of deepest interest.
IN the year 1896 I wrote:—“Li Hung Chang, the aged Premier of China.
had a more significant purpose in visiting Europe and America than pleasure-seeking. A great revolution is imminent in the wonderful empire of which he was so remarkable an ambassador. The Emperor of China has as much, if not more, to fear from his subjects who have been driven into exile than from those who surround his court; and the value of the venerable Li Hung Chang’s head will be determined by the value of the information he has taken home about the doings and power of his fellowcountrymen abroad. Sun Yat Sen is the most remarkable of these exiles, and if he survives the many attempts which will yet be made to compass his death, is destined to be one of the most eminent personages in the future history of China.”
Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the first President of the Chinese Republic, is to-day the most illustrious man in the Celestial Empire. My prophesy has been more than fulfilled; his rise to the head of China’s hundreds of millions has marked an epoch in the history of the East.
That I alone among British writers should have written so prophetically was probably due to my having met the young future Chinese President under dramatic circumstances, herein described, while the attention of the world was centered on his more picturesque fellow countryman, the veteran Li Hung Chang.
The excitement and enthusiasm over Li Hung Chang’s journey through Canada that year, by C.P.R. to Vancouver, many Canadians can recall. He had ostensibly visited Europe for the purpose of representing the Chinese Emperor at the coronation of the Czar of Russia.
Nevertheless there had appeared to me at least a suggestive significance in his having loitered, apparently in holiday mood, about the cities of Russia, Germany, Belgium, France, England and America while the secret Imperial officers of China were searching in all those countries for the wealthy, resolute young reformer, Sun Yat Sen, who was at that time a nonentity to the world at large.
Sun Yat Sen first came under public notice, shortly after Li Hung Chang’s return home, as “A Chinese gentleman ” who had met with a romantic adventure in London while on a visit to the British capital. This adventure it was that led to my making his personal acquaintance.
A note which had been cast from an upper window of a mansion in Portland Place, in the most fashionable part of the west end of the great city, by providential fortuitousness carried its message to the person for whom it was intended, an eminent English physician, who, to his consternation, learned that one Dr. Sun Yat Sen, a physician whom he had met in Hong Kong, and whose professional and social qualities had gained his admiration, was detained against his will in an upper room in the Chinese Legation and was in danger of being assassinated.
The English physician at once appealed to the British authorities at the Foreign Office, and the Legation was visited. All knowledge of the imprisoned doctor was at first denied, but on pressure being brought to bear upon the staff and detectives being undisguisedly placed to surround and watch the building, the occupants of the Legation became alarmed They changed their tactics, admitted the existence of Sun Yat Sen as, they stated, a political prisoner in the Legation, charged with being concerned in an attempted revolution at Canton some months previously. They expressed indignation at any British official daring to question what took place inside the doors of the Chinese Embassy and threatened to make an international affair of the interference, declaring that the space within the walls of the building was Chinese territory and that to attempt to enter without permission would be a violation of the rights and privileges of the Emperor.
Nevertheless, they became afraid to put their designs into execution and the timely and persistent action of the British physician undoubtedly saved the life of his friend. The Embassy found they had to deal with a British minister who was, of all the Premiers who ever presided
over the affairs of England, the one most competent and most ready to teach them a lesson. Lord Salisbury was in office and acted with characteristic promptitude and firmness. By his instructions a police inspector, accompanied by a staff of armed officers, entered the Legation and carried Dr. Sun Yat Sen away to a place of safety. It came as a surprise to the Chinese Embassy to be sternly told that, notwithstanding the privileges the British Government granted them for the administration of their business within the walls of the Legation, they were subject to the same penalties as individual ordinary citizens if they presumed to break the laws of the land by tampering with the liberties of any individual person who was a member of the community at large, no matter what his nationality. They had the lesson driven home pretty strongly that had they murdered Sun Yat Sen, as it transpired was their intention, nothing would have saved them from the gallows.
In face of the possible treachery of the doctor’s enemies, it cannot be matter of surprise that the London police spirited him away into hiding so completely as to render it a difficult task to find him. Some days elapsed after his rescue, therefore, before I located him, and as, for aught I know, he may even still adopt the same hiding place for his privacy whenever he visits England, I may be pardoned for not stating precisely where we met. Suffice it that the building in which he had rooms was an ancient picturesque and substantially erected stone house, the outer walls of which were black with age,
moss grown and worn with centuries of rainstorms. The door, a bolt-studded black oak, heavy and substantial, in keeping with the rest of the building, I reached by way of a narrow passage, the pavement of which was of Yorkshire flags that were uneven in places and here and there rimmed with dark green moss that betrayed how few persons trod the passage.
In answer to my ring, the door was heavily pulled open to the extent of a thick chain, and a sweet-faced, dark-eyed middle-aged lady, whose voice was as musical as her face was kindly, and who spoke with a French accent, satisfied herself of my bona-fides and harmlessness before releasing the chain and admitting me into a small square hall that was walled with old oak and hidden from the interior of the house by thick darkcolored curtains.
The lady passed through these curtains to some mysterious beyond, leaving me in the small hall. Presently she returned and smilingly told me that the doctor would see me. I was ushered up an oaken staircase and into a room that was artificially lighted with a shaded reading lamp. The windows were so closely curtained with thick green hangings as to prevent either speck of light or the slightest shadow being observable from the outside of the house. Sun Yat Sen was standing in the semi-darkness of the furthermost corner of the room. He advanced with pleasant courtesy, invited me to take a seat at a round covered table which stood between us, and seated himself at the opposite side of it.
Some slight movement which I cannot exactly describe told me that he had a revolver in the dark jacket he was wearing and his position in the room at the moment of my entering, the expression of his first glance at me, the placing of the table between us and the reading lamp upon it so that at first the light fell full upon me, were obvious precautions in receiving a stranger. He was quick to read me, however, and in much shorter time than it has taken me to write this, satisfied himself that I was a friendly visitor. And in a few minutes we were chatting away together with all the freedom and absence of reserve of two old acquaintances.
He was then a few years under thirty years of age, broad shouldered, wiry and below the medium height. He wore his
jet black hair cut short and smoothed to the head and had a bristly, short, scanty moustache. On the surface there was an air of modesty and good humor that might have led the casual observer to doubt that he was a man of any exceptional power. But one could not be long in his company without discovering that beneath his mildness of demeanour lay a keenly observant instinct, cool courage, despisal of danger, and an indomitable will. He dressed like a European in good taste and fed like a European, but with moderation and admitted that he avoided alcoholic drinks.
I found him an apt linguist, an insatiable student of political and historical literature and fond of writing. He carried with him everywhere an expensive, selffilling gold pen, which always stood upright in the watch fob of his vest. His command of the English language was peculiarly interesting. His pronounciation had a quite musical nicety of the vowel sounds that would astonish every Englishman whose dialect rendered him hopeless of speaking his own language with absolute purity.
A peculiarity which impressed me was that, while his eyes were bright with the enjoyment of good-humored conversation, they had a kindly fascination, yet when he talked of the cruelties inflicted on his fellow-countrymen that brightness gradually lessened into dullness and the eyes
themselves seemed to recede, giving his whole facial expression one of deep sorrow. This was particularly noticeable when he described to me the failure of the rising in Canton which he was instrumental in organizing the previous autumn and which gave the excuse for his being kidnapped in London.
It was quite true, he assured me, that his captors had intended to compass his death. They were actuated by the fact of there being a great price upon his head. As a matter of fact, they would have received a reward if they succeeded in sending only his corpse to China, where, dead or alive, his body would be beheaded. Their reward, however, would have been the greater for sending him home alive, and the hope of shipping him away by a steamer lying in readiness in the Thames, without killing him first, was the secret of their not having murdered him before his rescue took place. Delay had, too, resulted from the difficulty of devising a means of conveying him to the steamer without detection. This difficulty had given rise to the suggestion they had debated to slay him in the Embassy and convey his body to the docks packed as merchandise, but the danger of detection through the possible inquisitiveness of customs officials had caused hesitancy to carry out this plan.
His capture, as he described it, was simply yet cleverly effected by the action of a betrayer. He was walking quietly along Portland Place, not knowing he was close to the Chinese Embassy, when a fellow-countryman who was a stranger to him stopped him with an affable greeting, spoke for a while sympathetically about the misrule of their empire, and finally invited him into “his chambers” near by. Momentarily taken off his guard by the feigned enthusiasm of this “friendly patriot,” pe went with him into the chambers, and immediately on reaching an upper corridor he was thrust into a room and told he was in the Embassy and a prisoner, charged with complicity in the attempted seizure o f Canton in the October of the previous year. He had, he told me, been pursued round the world and, while in New York a few weeks back, been shadowed night and day, but there were so many patriotic Chinamen in that city his pursuers feared the vengeance of these adherents and eventu-
ally allowed him to leave without molesting him. He had felt equally safe in London and now, when he found himself under lock and key in the Embassy, though his chance of escape was very remote, he did not lose heart.
The romantic, if not miraculous, way in which he had been rescued, the steadfast loyalty to his English medical friend, and the prompt, vigorous action of the British Foreign Minister he regarded as attributes of the English character and strengthened his hope that he would live to see something of the British nobleness enter the spirit of his own people under the constitutional system of government the whole object of his life was to establish in China.
He frankly admitted his having been one of the leaders of the conspiracy at Canton. That conspiracy had failed, but his escape, while sixteen other persons were seized ánd beheaded, had almost justified the belief of many of his friends that he bore a charmed life, for that escape was as remarkable as his rescue from the Embassy in London.
After the failure at Canton, he simply went on board his own steam launch and sailed down to Hong Kong. 'There he made his preparations for a sea trip openly, under the eyes of the Imperial officers who were commissioned at the risk of their own lives to secure him. While they were pursuing and slaughtering others, the business-like unconcern of this “ Chinese gentleman ” was so contrary to their conception of the conduct of a fugitive they were thrown off the scent. He remained in Hong Kong a week, making arrangements for his wife and children and his mother and servants to follow him. These arrangements completed, he walked calmly through the cordon of his would-be captors on to a steamer sailing for the Sandwich Islands. At Honolulu he waited the arrival of his family, was joined there by them, equally unsuspected by the minions of the hated mandarins who watched them embark, and a few weeks later he and his were in safety in San Francisco. There they were surrounded by friends who feted them in thanksgiving for their extraordinary escape.
The rejoicing of his friends in America was equally great over his rescue in England. He had established safe means of communication with them, and the very day I sat chatting with him his mail brought him several congratulatory letters from America. One of these he translated for me literally
In his own words, too, may I repeat the description he gave me of the ambitions and hopes of the exiles and what was then being done in America to achieve the success which has since crowned their efforts.
“ Our■ greatest hope,” he said, “is to make the Bible and education, as we have come to know them by residence in America and Europe, the means of conveying to our unhappy fellow countrymen what blessings may lie in the way of just laws, what relief from their sufferings may be found through civilization.
“ In America we have a powerful or-
ganization of exiles, with a center in San Francisco and headquarters in New York. The society is called the ‘ Hing Chung Woey,’ a phrase which may be translated into the English phrase, the Chinese Progressive Society. The American chief of the Hing Chung Woey is Walter N. Feng, the first Chinese graduate of Stanford University, and his principal colleagues are graduates of Yale, Harvard, and other universities.
“ One of our chief societies in China, the Keung Hock Woey, organized among the most intelligent Mandarins in Pekin, has been suppressed by the Emperor. Yet we are filled with hope.
“ We intend to try every means in our power to seize the country, and create a Government, without bloodshed. I think we shall, but if I am doomed to disappointment in this, then there is no engine of warfare we can invoke to our aid that we shall hesitate to use. Our four hundred millions must and shall be released from the cruel tyranny of barbaric misrule, and be brought to enjoy the blessings of control by the merciful, just government by the arts of civilization.”
Now the revolution is an accomplished fact, the actual words of the young refomer, describing the wrongs he sought to redress, are worth recording; indeed, they form an historic document of considerable value. As we sat together in the mantled room of the old English mansion I have described, he catalogued, in brief, crisp sentences, which I then and there wrote down and preserved, the crimes of misrule of which his country was guilty, as follows:—
The ruling of the dynasty is not government.
There is no Government at all in
All is oppression.
Corruption is universal.
Over each province there is what the English would call a governor.
There are no laws as you know laws.
The Governor of each province makes his own laws.
The will of each officer is the law.
There is no appeal against the law created for his own purposes by the officer or Governor, no matter how unjust, no matter how cruelly carried out.
These Governors universally persecute the people, and grow wealthy by squeezing them all into poverty.
Taxes, as taxation is understood by the English, are unknown. We pay only a land tax, but the Governors and officers take money from the masses by innumerable systems of extortion.
Every time a Governor or magistrate, or chief officer, takes charge of a district, the first thing he does is to find out who are the rich, who are favorably disposed towards him, and who against him.
He selects first one of those who he has reason to believe dislike him, forces one of those on his side to make a criminal charge against the selected man, and has him arrested on the charge, which is invariably a false charge.
The Governor enriches himself by each case, the only thing he knows in the nature of a law being that the Dynasty empowers •
him to take as much as he likes as his own, usually the whole, of the property of every man whom he arrests and pun-
The arrested man has no appeal; he has no advocates; he has no hearing; only his accusers are heard.
Then he is barbarously tortured to confess the guilt he knows not.
Any man who has influence with the magistrate or chief officer, or is in any way a creature of his, can arrest at his own will any person against whom he has a grievance, choose any crime he likes to name for the purpose, drag the person before the magistrate and accuse him, and ask for him to be punished. If the accused person denies the accusation he is put under torture for three days.
If at the end of the three days he refuses to confess himself guilty, punishment is meted out to him in severity according to the influence of the accuser and the necessity the magistrate feels of appeasing him.
The punishment for every offence charged, from petty larceny upwards, is almost invariably beheading. Beheading saves prison expense and effectually silences the accused person. There is one pretence of justice. The three days’ torture is stated, for the soothing of the official conscience, to be three days of grace to enable the prisoner to bring witnesses to prove his innocence. The prisoner is carefully prevented from having intercourse with his friends, if they know of his imprisonment. Hundreds of persons thus disappear daily, their friends never knowing what has become of them, but guessing shrewdly.
Should an accused person suspect his arrest is pending and he goes in hiding, he is sought among his friends. If he is not among them the commissioner who makes the search selects one of his friends, sometimes two or three. The friends are taken out and beheaded.
In the event of a charge, say of theft, against some person of whose identity the accuser is uncertain, or pretends to be, the commissioner does not hesitate to capture eight or ten innocent persons living in the locality frequented by the accused person and take them out and slay
One of the most successful of these commissioners, well-known in Hong Kong, seized and beheaded between 3,000 and 4,000 people in this way during the twelve months previous to my leaving
The torture inflicted on the accused persons during the three days allowed for them to confess is as brutal as the most horrible tortures ever known in the most barbaric ages. Every possible species of mechanical instrument for causing excruciating pain is brought into use.
A favorite form of torture is to tie a man down near a heated stove and gradually roast him. If he cries out he is innocent, he is sneered at and told : “No innocent man comes here ; your being here is proof of your guilt.”
The burning is continued till the point of death is reached. The sufferer is reContinued on Page 133.
Continued, from. Page 16.
leased for just sufficient length of time to admit of restoratives bringing him back to consciousness, in order to have the demand for a confession renewed.
Hoping against hope that the punishment may in his particular case not be death, most of the poor wretches endure the torture through, to be taken out and beheaded after the restoratives have been applied.
There is no government, no organization, no legal system, no form of official control—except the influential citizens who, under the favor of the magistrates or governors, usurp the use of the Imperial commissioners and the soldiers to carry out their barbarous tyranny.
Picture the scene of Sun Yat Sen, an exile hunted by the minions of a barbarous dynasty, an enormous reward offered for his head, sitting alone with me in that old English dwelling, glad to have found, in me, a stranger but an hour previously, a sympathetic listener, while he recounted, in accents of grief, the wrongs of his fellow-countrymen. Then imagine the scene suggested by the one item alone on the minutes of the recent meetings of the National Assembly of China, to wit, “The Temple of Heaven, Agriculture, and Earth, with their extensive parks, placed in the hands of the Board of Agriculture for educational purposes: honors conferred upon Sun Yat Sen and his war
minister, Huang Hsing, for their loyalty to China.”
The comparison of what China is today with what it might have been but for the prompt action of the British Government in the simple matter of preventing an outrage on an unknown stranger within their gates affords a cogent object lesson in the wisdom of the conception of crime under conditions of civilization.
The pursuit of Sun Yat Sen was not discontinued. The receipt of a cable at Pekin from the Chinese Embassy in London, advising the Imperial staff of the notoriously courageous English Premier, Lord Salisbury, having rescued the young revolutionist they most feared, created an uproar in the palace of the Dowager Empress, and—curious coincidence—immediately after the receipt of the cable, the veteran Li Hung Chang, upon whom honors had just been showered for his services while touring Europe and America, was summarily disgraced and punished for the crime—as was pretended to the world at large—of having
omitted an essential ceremony on entering the summer palace of the Empress Dowager.
To have proclaimed the real reason of this act of passion in the guise of Imperial law, would have been to open the eyes of the civilized world to the true light in which Sun Yat Sen was them regarded by the adherents to the dynasty. The stern assertion of civilized criminal procedure in London had an immediate and salutary effect in another respect: it
paralyzed the machinations of the Chinese Imperial secret police who were scattered all over the world. They feared the new wave of popularity created in favor of Sun Yat Sen among the exiles— and hundreds of thousands of these have lived to see the “Chinese gentleman” use the Bible and education as they had come to know them by residence in America and Europe, as the means of conveying to their unhappy fellow-countrymen what blessings lay in the way of just laws, what relief from their sufferings are to be found through civilization.”