Mr. Denby to Mr. Blaine.
Peking , December 22, 1891 . (Received February 8, 1892.)
Sir: The insurrection in the northern part of this province, which once threatened to assume alarming proportions, has been so far overcome as to render certain its ultimate complete repression.
As to the progress of this movement, the official reports in the Peking Gazette, unreliable as such reports are, have so far been our only sources of information. Of the true causes of the uprising almost nothing can be known. The rumors which have succeeded one another in Peking are most contradictory. At one time it was reported that the rebellion had originated in the action of a young man of an influential family whose father had been unjustly executed. Later it was reported that a Mongol noble had carried off the daughter of a Chinese settler. A mob was organized for her recovery; some members of the mob were imprisoned, and the rebellion began with an armed attack upon the Yamen for their release.[Page 78]
Antagonism to Christianity probably did not figure to any great extent in the movement. Many hundreds of native Catholics have doubtless been killed, but this is to be accounted for by the fact that in wide areas north of the Great Wall, converts to the Catholic church comprise almost the total population. It is certain that when once under way, the uprising took the form of a revolt against the reigning dynasty. The leader of the movement called himself Mieh Ch’ing Wang,” which may be translated “Prince overthrower of the Chings.” Ching being the dynastic title of the present Emperor. The rebel troops carried flags on which were displayed a painted or embroidered cock, in allusion to a saying for many years current amongst the people: “Fear not the tiger which comes from the south, but fear the chicken which comes from the north.” The power of proverbs is very great among the populace in China, and the rebels doubtless hoped to enlist under their banners many believers in the destiny of this dynasty to be overthrown by a northern enemy.
The past history of China affords many instances of the fulfillment of such prophetic sayings. It was said of Shih Hwang-ti, the builder of the Great Wall and one of China’s greatest emperors, that his empire would be endangered by Hu. He accordingly devoted all his energies to the conquest of the barbarous tribes on his northern frontier, who were known as the Hu, but the prophecy was unexpectedly accomplished when he was assassinated by his own son and successor, Hu Hai.
It is probable that the present rebellion is only an exaggerated instance of the depredations of organized bands of robbers, such as occur every year north of the Great Wall on a smaller scale. One peculiar feature this year is the presence among the rebels of many Taoist priests, who are supposed to be able with magic spells to protect their followers from the bullets of the enemy.
The locality to which the operations of the rebels have thus far been confined is that part of the province of Chihli northeast of Peking, beyond the Great Wall, adjoining the Palisades which mark the Manchurian frontier. The reports in the Gazette, however, indicate a fear of further disturbance near Urga, the capital of Mongolia, and also near the Amur River in Manchuria. Should the insurgents be able to reach Urga and involve the Mongol tribes in their movements, the matter would become much graver than it has been. The vigorous action of the imperial troops, however, renders this improbable.
As to the loss of life, nothing definite can be known. Twelve hundred Catholics are said to have been killed by the insurgents and great atrocities committed against them. The lists of killed and captured of the enemy in the Gazette will not exceed three thousand, while the losses to the Government troops are represented as less than one hundred. The people, as is usual in China, have suffered from both sides. For some time it was impossible to hire carters or muleteers to go out of Peking, as the Government troops were ruthlessly impressing all vehicles to transport materials of war.
This uprising has never occasioned the uneasiness among the foreign residents of Peking which certain telegrams sent abroad might lead one to imagine. The missionaries at Tsun-hua were much nearer the scene of the disturbance and in much greater danger. Upon the orders of the local authorities they were compelled to abandon their mission and take refuge in Tien-Tsin. As to Peking there was scarcely any evidence of the hostilities going on just beyond the northern passes, and no apprehension as to personal safety was at any time felt.[Page 79]
Translations of some of the notices of the progress of the war, which have appeared in the Gazette up this date, are inclosed herewith. These inclosures and that in my dispatch No. 1441 of the 8th instant constitute the only official information to be obtained on the subject.
I have, etc.,