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Yao Chen-Yuan:

My Adventures During the Boxer War, 1900

WHEN the letters of the various ministers had been committed to my care, I returned to Su Wang Fu, saying to myself, "How shall I ever be able to take these letters to Tientsin?" I breathed a simple prayer to God to give me some method by which I might reach my destination in safety. The words had scarcely left my lips when I noticed on the wall a large straw hat, such as is commonly used by coolies in the summer-time, and as it was composed of two layers of straw, I wet it, ripped it apart, and concealed my letters between the two sections, after which I carefully sewed it together as before, with the prayer upon my lips, "Lord, when do you wish me to start?"When I left the Legation, I crossed the bridge and climbed over a wall of barricades into Su Wang Fu, where two Japanese soldiers said to me: "What are you doing here?" "I am going to Tientsin with letters," I replied. "What is your name?" inquired one of them. When I told him, he said in a kind but warning tone "You must be careful or you will be killed before you are well started on your way." He took me to a small lane at the outskirts of the barricades, where he left me to go on alone; but I had not gone far when I discovered that a Boxer watchman was stationed at the other end of the street and my heart almost stood still. I had gone too far, however, to turn back, so I put on a bold front, prayed the Lord for guidance, and walked boldly onward. "Give me ten cents, and I will let you pass," was all he said, which I was quite ready to do.

My way through the East Gate was without incident; but when halfway to Tung Chou I overtook some three hundred of Tung Fuhsiang's soldiers to whom I joined myself and continued on my way. The canal had overflowed its banks at the Eight Li Bridge, and at their suggestion we had our dinner, for which they paid, after which one of them offered to swim across with me on his back, which kindness I was glad to accept, as I saw no other way of getting to the opposite side. I continued with the soldiers, stopping with them that night at a Mohammedan inn, the proprietor of which was very kind to me. He refused to accept payment for my entertainment and asked me to take vows of friendship before I left.

During the night, a crowd passed by, led by a woman Boxer---a member of the Society of the Red Lantern---who asked me my name, my business, and where I was going. As I seemed to satisfy them with my answer, they went about their business, which was the destruction of a Catholic village, and the murder of the Christians. The next morning I continued on my way, being early joined by a Boxer who invited me to dine with him, after which we separated.That night I heard the keeper of the inn at which I stopped say to a Boxer, "We have no Christians here," and I spent the night in peace. The following day a child warned me not to go through a certain village, saying that the Boxers were taking every one they suspected, and I saw the fire kindled at which they burnt twenty Christians, while I at the same time thanked the Lord for putting it into the mind of a child to warn me, and thus save me, and perhaps the people of the Legation, from a like horrible fate. The country was flooded. I was compelled to wade through water the depth of which I knew nothing about, and I was wet and discouraged. I had just emerged from the water when a man with a gun on his shoulder called out to me in a loud voice "Where are you going?"

"I am going to Tientsin," I answered. "What for?"

"To find the head of a flower establishment in which I was employed before this trouble broke out." The readiness of my answer seemed to satisfy him, and he allowed me to continue on my way. At the next village a shoemaker informed me that the road was dangerous, being crowded with Chinese troops; a thing which I soon found to be true by being made prisoner and having my money taken from me. My money being all they wanted, the soldiers at once set me free, and I in turn complained to the officer that I had been robbed by his troops. "Wait," said he, "until I see who did it." "No, no," said I, "do not let me trouble you to that extent; the day is far spent, and I should like to spend the night in your camp." "With pleasure," said he. So I spent the night in the protection of my enemies.

"Please search me," said I in the morning, "to see that I have taken nothing, and I will proceed on my way." He returned my money, warning me not to go on the Great Road lest I fall into the hands of the foreign troops and suffer at their hands. "I understand," said I, with a meaning which he did not comprehend, and I left. When I came to the river, I noticed a boatman and accosted him as follows "Will you take me to the Red Bridge in Tientsin?" "We do not dare to go as far as the Red Bridge," he answered, "the Japanese soldiers are there, and they will shoot us." "You need not be afraid," said I, "I can protect you from Japanese soldiers."

On hearing this he readily consented, but he put me off some distance from the bridge. I saw the soldiers in the distance, but waved my handkerchief as a token that I was a messenger, and thus encountered no danger. They escorted me to the Foreign Settlement and then left me to go alone, but the Russians refused to allow me to pass and I was compelled to return to the Red Bridge. I took one of the letters out of the hat and showed it to three Japanese officers who happened to be passing. "Where do you come from?" they asked.

"From Peking."

"Were you not afraid of the Boxers?"


"You are a good man; wait till I give you a pass." While he was writing, it began to rain, and they took me to their headquarters, where I saw a high official, dined with him, and related all my adventures by the way as well as the condition of affairs in Peking; all of which he wrote down, and then sent four of his soldiers to accompany me to the British and American Consulates. When I saw the American Consul, I burst into tears and told him of all that the people in Peking were suffering; how the Boxers were firing on them from all sides and trying to burn them out; how each man was limited to a small cup of grain a day, while at the same time they were compelled to labor like coolies, under a burning sun, in employments to which they were not accustomed, and I urged him to send soldiers at once to relieve them.

He sent a man to take me to my room, and I found among the servants one of my old acquaintances, with whom I spent a pleasant evening, and then had a good night's rest. The following day I went to the Methodist Mission, where I met those who had passed through a siege similar to the one I had left. When Dr. Benn saw how sore my feet were, she washed and bandaged them with her own hands. After a rest of two days I secured the letters of the various consuls, together with others from friends of some of the besieged, and started on my return journey, depending upon the Lord for his protection. I had not gone a mile from the city when I was arrested by two foreign soldiers, robbed of all my money, and taken to the tent of their officer, who, when he saw my pass, recognized it as that of a messenger from Peking and restored both my money and my liberty. Two miles from the city I came to a stream I was unable to cross, and found myself compelled to return and leave by way of the North Gate of the city.

Seven miles from the city I fell into a nest of Boxers, the head of whom asked me "Where have you been?" "To Tientsin," I replied. "What for?" "To see the head of the flower establishment with which I was connected before this trouble broke out," I answered. "How old is he?" "Seventy-six years," I replied, without hesitation. He said no more, and I asked if I could dine with them. After dinner I said to the head Boxer "I wish to go to Peking; can you tell me the safest route for me to take?" He told me, and after wishing him good-bye I left, taking the direction he suggested. The following day, when passing a melon-patch watched by Boxers, I walked up to them and asked them to give me a melon, thinking that they would be less likely to disturb me if I first addressed them.

"Where are you going?" they asked. "To Peking," I answered; "can you tell me which road it would be safest for me to take?" They told me, and, as in the former case, I followed their directions, reaching the city without further adventure other than that of avoiding several crowds of Boxers and Chinese soldiers. Outside the East Gate I ate two bowls of vermicelli, while I watched the soldiers and Boxers on top of the city wall. I went west to the Ssu P'ai Lou, thence south to the Tan P'ai Lou, where I turned west toward the British Legation. All the way through the city I was compelled to saunter slowly, as though I was merely looking about and not going anywhere, so that it took me from noon till evening to go from the East Gate to the Legation. The soldiers in the lines between the Chinese and foreign quarters were gambling as I passed and paid no attention to me. In the Austrian Legation grounds I noticed a Chinese soldier digging as though for treasure. Walking up to him I addressed him thus: "Hello! Captain. What are you doing?" "What are you doing here?" said he, staring at me and speaking in a loud voice. "Please do not speak so loud," said I in an undertone, as though to enter into a secret alliance with him; "I was originally a coolie in this place. My home is in the country, and I have just been to see if my family were killed, and finding them safe, I have returned to get some treasure I have in the Su Wang Fu."

"How much have you?" he inquired. "About one thousand dollars." "What is your name?" he inquired further. "Yao Chen-yuan. What is your honorable name?" "Wu Lien-t'ai," he replied.

"Now you go and get your silver and we two will open an opium shop." "Very well," I replied. "Have you any silver with you?" he asked. "Only about four or five ounces." "Well, you give that to me. Not that I want the silver, but it will cement our friendship, and I will return it to you when you come back." "Very well," said I, giving him what silver I had.

While we were talking, an officer with forty or fifty soldiers came up and wanted to have me killed.

"Do not kill him," said the soldier to whom I had been talking; "he is an old friend of mine from the country, here to make money out of the foreigners." "If he is a friend of yours, what is his name?"

"Yao Chen-yuan," he replied. "What is this soldier's name?" asked the officer, turning to me. "Wu Lien-t'ai," I answered without hesitation. "Quite right," he said, and passed on to the Great Street.

Just then a crowd of Boxers came up, and the leader asked "What is this fellow doing here?" "Do not meddle with my affairs," said the soldier, "he is my friend." And with this they passed on, leaving us alone. "Now you go into Su Wang Fu," said the soldier, "and get your money; and if you cannot come out tomorrow, stand behind the wall and hold your hand aloft that I may know you are safe."

"Very well," I replied, "but how am I to get in?" "I will take you to the end of that alley, where youwill be safe," he said, at which place I bade him good afternoon. In a few moments the Japanese soldiers, who had observed and recognized me, pulled me up over the wall, and I was once more safe. I was at once taken to the officer and met Mr. Squiers, to whom I delivered the letters. When he saw me ripping open the hat and taking them out, one after another until I had given him eleven, he could not refrain from laughing. He took me with him to the American Legation, where as we entered he held aloft the letters. The people clapped their hands and cheered, and many of them wanted to talk with me, but I was led out through the Russian into the British Legation. Here I met Mr. King, who after a short conversation asked me for my hat. "It is all ripped apart," I replied. "I can sew it together again," he answered. "What do you want to do with it?" I inquired. "Take it back to America as a relic of your trip," said he.



Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art, Volume I: China, Japan, and the Islands of the Pacific, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), pp. 239-247.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
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© Paul Halsall, October 1998

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