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The Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1894, p.13:|
MIGHTY PEKING,The Capital of One-third of the World.
(From Our Own Correspondent.)
The destruction of the Chinese army at Ping Yang [Pyongyang] in Korea, and the crippling of their fleet at the mouth of the Yalu River, indicates that the threat of the Japanese that they will march their soldiers into Peking before winter is by no means an idle one.
The Yalu River is the boundary between Korea and China, and as it is now the Japanese practically control the country...
Peking is by no means hard to reach. The ground between it and the sea is as flat as a floor, and if the Japanese can be landed on the east coast of the Gulf of Pechili, they will be within a few days march of the great Chinese capital. The only thing that prevents them from getting near it by water is the big forts at the mouth of the Peiho River [Hai River]. These are manned with Krupp and Armstrong guns, and Li-Hung-Chang's army is behind them. Wherever they land, they will have to fight what remains of this army, but a victory would mean the capture of Peking, and the practical subjugation of China.
Peking is perhaps one of the least known cities of the world... It is an immense city. It contains about fifteen hundred thousand, but these are scattered over an area of twenty-five square miles, and the people, as a rule, live in one-story houses.
The city is surrounded by walls which were built hundreds of years ago, and which must have cost many millions of dollars. These walls are in good condition with the exception of one or two places, where the floods of last winter undermined them, and carried parts of their facings away.
It is hard to give an American an idea of the walled cities of China. The walls of Peking are sixty feet thick at the bottom. They would fill the average country road or city street, and they are as tall as a four-story house. They are so wide that you could run three railroad trains side by side around them. They are so solid that the cars would move more smoothly over these tracks than they do on the trunk lines between New York and Chicago.
These walls are faced inside and out with bricks, each as large as a four-dollar Bible, and the space between is filled with earth and stones so rammed down that the ages have made the whole one solid mass. They are built, in fact, much like the Great Wall of China, and the bricks of the two are almost exactly the same. I have before me a brick which I brought from the Great Wall. It weighs about twenty pounds... It is blue-gray in color, and it is covered with patches of white lime mortar, just like those I saw in the broken places of the walls of Peking.
In approaching Peking, long before you get to the city, you see the immense towers which stand on the top of this wall over the gates which enter the city. These towers are tall as a big New York flat. They rise nine stories above the wall, and they have roofs of blue tiles. They were used in the past as watch towers, and they have many portholes for cannon.
There are thirteen gates which lead into this city, and the towers and the walls near these are plastered over with proclamations and bills much like a theater billboard. The gates of Peking are merely holes through this wall, and they are about as wide as the ordinary street, and perhaps twenty feet high. They are lined with stone and are beautifully arched. They are closed at night with great doors sheathed with iron, and they are paved with heavy slabs of stone.
The walls of Peking are twenty-seven miles long, and the area which they inclose is irregular in shape, and it consists of two big parallelograms. The one at the north is the real capital of China, for it contains the Tartar city, the great government departments, the foreign legations, and the imperial city, in which, surrounded by from five to ten thousand eunuchs, the Emperor lives.
The lower parallelogram [the Chinese city] joins the Tartar city. It has a half dozen temples, including the Temple of Heaven, which was burned down not long ago, and which is now being rebuilt of Oregon pine.
The Chinese city is where all the mercantile business of this great capital is done. It is cut up into narrow streets, and it is filled with all sorts of stores... You can buy sables for about $3 a skin, and tiger skins for $75, which would be worth twice that amount anywhere else in the world...
This Chinese city is a city of banks and stock exchanges... It is a city of book stores, and there are some streets that contain no other shops. We have the idea that the Chinese merely live on rice and rats, and that their chief industries are the making of matting, of fans and of silks. The truth is that China does a vast business, and she produces all sorts of commodities... The nobles dress in the finest of silks, and there are hundreds of stores which sell nothing but pictures...
I wish I could show you the markets of Peking. You can get as good meat there as you can in New York, and there is no finer mutton in the world than that of China... They have no slaughter-houses, and the sheep is often butchered in front of the shop and the blood lies on the ground while you buy.
There are all sorts of fish, and they are always sold alive. No Chinaman would buy a dead fish, and in case you want to buy less than a whole fish at a time, the Chinese peddler will pull the fish out of the water, lay him squirming on the block, and cut a piece of flesh out of his side for you while you wait. He does not kill the fish, and after you are through he throws it back into a separate tank of water and waits for another customer to take the rest.
One of the chief meats sold is pork, and you see hogs trotting about through the streets of Peking. They wallow in the puddles right under the shadows of the Emperor's palaces... There are are all sorts of game for sale in the markets, and you can get snipe and quail and squirrels of all kinds.
The Chinese are the best raisers of poultry in the world. They have duck farms and goose farms, and they know all about artificial incubation. They sell great quantities of dried geese and dried ducks, and they carry bushel baskets of dried ducks about the city for sale.
They sell all kinds of fruit, and are adept in the raising of the choicest of vegetables. They bury their grape vines in the north in the winter, and you can buy your nuts by the bushel...
I could tell you of stores where thousands of dollars worth of incense or joss sticks are sold every month, and I could take you into establishments shich sell nothing but birds and gold fishes. There are big stores full of furniture, and shops which make nothing but porcelain stoves. There are places where wood is sold in bundles by weight, and establishments where coal dust is mixed up with mud and sold in lumps the size and shape of a baseball at so much apiece. There are great markets for the selling of chickens and flowers, and all sorts of toy stores and stores for the selling of paper and cloth... There are places for gambling and dime museum shows. There are restaurants of every description and opium joints without number. There are, in fact, stores of every sort and description, and the best things in China come to Peking.
The most interesting part of Peking, however, is the big Tartar city. It is the capital of one-third of the population of the globe, and in it lives the son of heaven, the Emperor of China, to whom all his subjects must bend their knees. It contains the thousands of Manchu officials, the foreign legations, the government departments and all of the paraphernalia of the queer Chinese court...
From the walls the whole city looks like an immense orchard, with here and there one-story buildings shining out through the trees. In its center there is a walled-off inclosure filled with massive buildings, roofed with yellow tiles. This is the imperial city, in the innermost part of which is a brick pen inclosing several square miles, where the Emperor lives, surrounded by eunuchs. He is perhaps the rarest bird in the entire Chinese aviary... He is kept apart from Chinese and foreigners, and you might live in Peking fifty years and not see him...
No better idea of the government of China could be gotten than by a trip through this Tartar city. It is one of the oldest towns in the world. It was founded more than a thousand years before Christ, and it has been the capital of millions for ages. It ought to be the greatest city on the face of the globe, but there is no spot more slimy and filthy and foul.
The city knows nothing of modern improvements. It is cut up into wide streets, but the roads have no sidewalks, and the rude Chinese carts sink up to their hubs as they move through the city. There are no water closets. The streets are the sewers, and the most degraded savage of our western plains has a greater regard for the exposure of his person than have these pig-tailed, silk-dressed, gaudy, fat Pekingese.
The city has absolutely no sanitary improvements, and the street lamps are framework boxes backed with white paper, and they are seldom lighted except during full moon. It is absolutely unsafe to move about in the night time without a lantern, if you wish to keep your feet clean, and you have to balance yourself in the day to keep out of the mud.
All of the houses are of one story, and the government departments look more like broken-down barns than the offices of a great empire... everything was filthy and the picture of ruin. The only really new things in the city seemed to be the clothes of the officials, and I laughed again and again as I saw these mandarins bow down in the mud and go through the forms of the Chinese court amid their filthy surroundings.
They are among themselves, as far as words go, the most polite of all nations, and they look upon us as boors and barbarians. The most of the people believe that they will conquer the world, and I doubt whether a thousand out of the million and a half people in Peking know anything of the Japanese victories... They have nicknamed the street upon which the foreign Ministers live "the street of the subject nations..."
I found the people of every Chinese State different, and the dialects are as various as the languages of Europe... Thibet, Mongolia, Manchuria, and parts of Afghanistan are all tributary to China, and the people of a half dozen religions jostle each other as they wade through the streets.
The strangest sights to me at first entrance were the nomadic Mongolians, who rode into the city on great camels or dromedaries, which were covered with wool from six to twelve inches long. These come from the cold regions of Mongolia or Siberia, and during my visit to the Chinese wall I passed caravans of these camels marching in single file and fastened together by sticks stuck through the thick flesh of their noses. They were loaded with great bundles of furs which they had brought down from the north for the dilettante mandarins of Peking, and were carrying back brick tea and coal to the Tartars and Russians. Many of these were ridden by Mongolian women, who, in coats, pantaloons and fur caps, rode astride, and in other cases by men, who were clad in sheepskins with fur caps pulled well down over their fierce Tartar eyes.
I saw hundreds of Thibetan lamas in their gorgeous robes, and I met many Mohammedans from the west part of China.
There is no place in the world where the contrasts are so great, and for nine-tenths of the people it would seem to me their condition could not be worse. These Chinese are as industrious as any race on the globe. They are peaceable and easily governed, and if the celestial officials, including the Emperor and all his court, could be wiped from the face of the globe, the people would quickly grow rich and China would be one of the most favored spots on the face of the earth.
FRANK G. CARPENTER.
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