Kidnapped in London/Chapter 1

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Kidnapped in London (1897)
by Sun Yat-sen
Chapter I: The Imbroglio
1596726Kidnapped in London — Chapter I: The Imbroglio1897Sun Yat-sen

Kidnapped in London.



WHEN in 1892 I settled in Macao, a small island near the mouth of the Canton river, to practise medicine, I little dreamt that in four years time I should find myself a prisoner in the Chinese Legation in London, and the unwitting cause of a political sensation which culminated in the active interference of the British Government to procure my release. It was in that year however, and at Macao, that my first acquaintance was made with political life; and there began the part of my career which has been the means of bringing my name so prominently before the British people.

I had been studying medicine, during the year 1886, in Canton at the Anglo-American Mission, under the direction of the venerable Dr. Kerr, when in 1887 I heard of the opening of a College of Medicine at Hong Kong, and determined immediately to avail myself of the advantages it offered.

After five years' study (1887–1892) I obtained the diploma entitling me to style myself "Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery, Hong Kong."

Macao has belonged to Portugal for 360 years; but although the Government is Europeanised, the inhabitants are mostly Chinese, and the section of the population which styles itself Portuguese, consists really of Eurasians of several in-bred generations.

In my newly selected home, I found the Chinese authorities of the native hospital willing to help me forward in the matter of affording me opportunities to practise European medicine and surgery. They placed a ward at my disposal, supplied me with drugs and appliances from London, and granted me every privilege whereby to secure my introduction amongst them on a fair footing.

This event deserves special notice as marking a new and significant departure in China; for never before had the Board of Directors of any Chinese hospital throughout the length and breadth of the great empire given any direct official encouragement to Western medicine. Many patients, more especially surgical cases, came to my wards, and I had the opportunity of performing several of the major operations before the Directors. On the other hand, I had difficulty from the first with the Portuguese authorities. It was not the obstructive ignorance of the East, but the jealousy of the West, which stepped in to thwart my progress. The law of Portugal forbids the practice of medicine, within Portuguese territory, by any one who is not possessed of a Portuguese diploma, obtainable only in Europe. Under this rule the Portuguese doctors took refuge and fought my claims to practise. They first forbade me to practise amongst, or prescribe for, Portuguese; the dispensers in the pharmacies were not allowed to dispense prescriptions from the pen of a doctor of any alien nationality; consequently my progress was hampered from the first. After futile attempts to establish myself in Macao, and at considerable pecuniary loss, for I had settled down little dreaming of opposition, I was induced to go to Canton.

It was in Macao that I first learned of the existence of a political movement which I might best describe as the formation of a "Young China" party. Its objects were so wise, so modest, and so hopeful, that my sympathies were at once enlisted in its behalf, and I believed I was doing my best to further the interests of my country by joining it. The idea was to bring about a peaceful reformation, and we hoped, by forwarding modest schemes of reform to the Throne, to initiate a form of government more consistent with modern requirements. The prime essence of the movement was the establishment of a form of constitutional government to supplement the old-fashioned, corrupt, and worn-out system under which China is groaning.

It is unnecessary to enter into details as to what form of rule obtains in China at present. It may be summed up, however, in a few words. The people have no say whatever in the management of Imperial, National, or even Municipal affairs. The mandarins, or local magnistrates, have full power of adjudication, from which there is no appeal. Their word is law, and they have full scope to practise their machinations with complete irresponsibility, and every officer may fatten himself with impunity. Extortion by officials is an institution; it is the condition on which they take office; and it is only when the bleeder is a bungler that the government steps in with pretended benevolence to ameliorate but more often to complete the depletion.

English readers are probably unaware of the smallness of the established salaries of provincial magnates. They will scarcely credit that the Viceroy of, say, Canton, ruling a country with a population larger than that of Great Britain, is allowed as his legal salary the paltry sum of £60 a year; so that, in order to live and maintain himself in office, accumulating fabulous riches the while, he resorts to extortion and the selling of justice. So-called education and the results of examinations are the one means of obtaining official notice. Granted that a young scholar gains distinction, he proceeds to seek public employment, and, by bribing the Peking authorities, an official post is hoped for. Once obtained, as he cannot live on his salary, perhaps he even pays so much annually for his post, licence to squeeze is the result, and the man must be stupid indeed who cannot, when backed up by government, make himself rich enough to buy a still higher post in a few years. With advancement comes increased licence and additional facility for self-enrichment, so that the cleverest "squeezer" ultimately can obtain money enough to purchase the highest positions.

This official thief, with his mind warped by his mode of life, is the ultimate authority in all matters of social, political, and criminal life. It is a feudal system, an imperium in imperio, an unjust autocracy, which thrives by its own rottenness. But this system of fattening on the public vitals—the selling of power—is the chief means by which the Manchu dynasty continues to exist. With this legalised corruption stamped as the highest ideal of government, who can wonder at the existence of a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction among the people?

The masses of China, although kept officially in ignorance of what is going on in the world around them, are anything but a stupid people. All European authorities on this matter state that the latent intellectual ability of the Chinese is considerable; and many place it even above that of the masses in any other country, European or Asiatic. Books on politics are not allowed; daily newspapers are prohibited in China; the world around, its people and politics, are shut out; while no one below the grade of a mandarin of the seventh rank is allowed to read Chinese geography, far less foreign. The laws of the present dynasty are not for public reading; they are known only to the highest officials. The reading of books on military subjects is, in common with that of other prohibited matter, not only forbidden, but is even punishable by death. No one is allowed, on pain of death, to invent anything new, or to make known any new discovery. In this way are the people kept in darkness, while the government doles out to them what scraps of information it finds will suit its own ends.

The so-called "Literati" of China are allowed to study only the Chinese classics and the commentaries thereon. These consist of the writings of ancient philosophers, the works of Confucius and others. But of even these, all parts relating to the criticism of their superiors are carefully expunged, and only those parts are published for public reading which teach obedience to authorities as the essence of all instruction. In this way is China ruled—or rather misruled—namely, by the enforcement of blind obedience to all existing laws and formalities.

To keep the masses in ignorance is the constant endeavour of Chinese rule. In this way it happened, that during the last Japanese incursion, absolutely nothing was known of the war by the masses of China, in parts other than those where the campaign was actually waged. Not only did the people a short way inland never hear of the war, but the masses had never even heard of a people called Japanese; and even where the whisper had been echoed, it was discussed as being a "rebellion" of the "foreign man."

With this incubus hanging over her, China has no chance of reform except it come from the Throne; and it was to induce the Throne to modify this pernicious state of things that the "Young China" party was formed. Hoping that the Peking authorities, by their more extended contact during recent years with foreign diplomatists, might have learned something of constitutional rule, and might be willing to aid the people in throwing off their deplorable ignorance, I ventured, with others, to approach them, beseeching them, in all humility, to move in this direction for the welfare of China. These petitions only resulted in the infliction of many rigorous punishments. We had seized the moment when the Japanese were threatening Peking, and the Emperor, fearing that harsh dealings with the reformers might alienate many of his people, took no notice of them until peace was assured. Then an edict was issued denouncing the petitioners and commanding the immediate cessation of all suggestions of reform.

Finding the door closed to mild means, we grew more concrete in our notions and demands, and gradually came to see that some degree of coercion would be necessary. In all quarters we found supporters. The better classes were dissatisfied with the behaviour of our armies and fleets, and knew that corruption in its worst forms was the cause of their failure. This feeling was not confined to one locality, but was widespread and deep-rooted, and promised to take shape and find expression in decided action.

The headquarters of the "Young China" party was really in Shanghai, but the scene of action was to be laid in Canton. The party was aided in its course by one or two circumstances. First among these was the existence of discontented soldiery. Three-fourths of the Cantonese contingent were disbanded when the war in the North had ceased in 1895. This set loose a number of idle, lawless men; and the small section of their comrades who were retained in service were no better pleased than those dismissed. Either disband all or retain all, was their cry; but the authorities were deaf to the remonstrance. The reform party at once enlisted the sympathies of these men in their cause, and so gained numerical strength to their military resources.

Another chance coincidence hastened events. For some reason or other a body of police, discarding their uniform, set to work to loot and plunder a section of the city. After an hour or two, the inhabitants rose, and obtaining mastery of the quondam police, shut some half-dozen of the ringleaders up in their Guildhall. The superintendent of the official police then sent out a force to release the marauders, and proceeded forthwith to plunder the Guildhall itself. A meeting of the inhabitants was immediately held, and a deputation of 1000 men sent to the Governor's residence to appeal against the action of the police. The authorities, however, told the deputation that such a proceeding was tantamount to a rebellion, and that they had no right to threaten their superiors. They thereupon arrested the ringleaders of the deputation, and sent the others about their business. The discontents soon became disaffected, and, the "Young China" party making advances, they readily joined the reformers.

Yet a third and a fourth incident helped to swell their ranks. The Viceroy, Li Han Chang (brother of the famous Viceroy Li), put a fixed tariff on all official posts throughout his two provinces, Kwang-Tung and Kwang-Si. This was an innovation which meant a further "squeeze" of the people, as the officials, of course, made the people pay to indemnify them for their extra payments. The fourth, and the most characteristically Chinese, method of extortion was afforded in the occasion of the Viceroy's birthday. The officials in his provinces combined to give their master a present, and collected money to the amount of a million taels (about £200,000). Of course the officials took the money from the richer merchants in the usual way, by threats, by promises, and by blackmailing. A follower of Li Han Chang, Che Fa Nung by name, further angered all the "Literati" by selling, to all who could afford to pay, diplomas of graduation for 3000 taels (about £500) each. The richer men and the "Literati" became thereby disaffected and threw in their lot with "Young China."

In this way the reform movement acquired great strength and coherence and wide-spread influence, and brought matters all too soon to a climax. The plan was to capture the city of Canton and depose the authorities, taking them by surprise and securing them in as quiet a way as possible, or, at any rate, without bloodshed. To ensure a complete coup, it was considered necessary to bring an overwhelming force to bear; consequently, two bodies of men were employed, one in Swatow and the other from the banks of the West river. These places were fixed upon as the Swatow men, for instance, were totally ignorant of the Cantonese language. Although only 180 miles north of Canton, the language of Swatow differs as much from that of Canton as English does from Italian. It was deemed wise to bring strangers in, as they were more likely to be staunch to the cause, since they could not communicate with, and therefore could not be tampered with by, Cantonese men. Nor would it be safe for them to disband or desert, as they would be known as strangers, and suspicion would at once fall on them were they found in Canton after the disturbance.

It was arranged that on a certain day in October, 1895, these men should march across country, one body from the south-west, the other from the north-east, towards Canton. All proceeded satisfactorily, and they commenced their advance. Frequent meetings of the Committee of Reformers were held, and arms, ammunition and dynamite were accumulated at the headquarters. The soldiers advancing across the country were to be still further strengthened by a contingent of four hundred men from Hong Kong. The day for the assemblage came and the southern men were halted within four hours march of the city. A guard of one hundred men, fully armed, was stationed around the Committee in their Guild; runners, some thirty in number, were despatched to the disaffected over the city to be ready for the following morning. Whilst the conspirators sat within their hall a telegram was received to the effect that the advancing soldiers had been stayed in their progress, and the reform movement forthwith became disconcerted. It was impossible to recall the messengers, and others could not be found who knew where the disaffected were resident. Further news came to hand rendering it impossible to proceed, and the cry arose "Sauve qui peut." A general stampede followed; papers were burnt, arms hidden, and telegrams despatched to Hong Kong to stop the contingent from that place. The telegram to the Hong Kong agent, however, only reached him after all his men had been got on board a steamer, which also carried many barrels of revolvers. Instead of dismissing the men as he should have done, he allowed them to proceed, and they landed on the wharf of Canton only to find themselves placed under arrest. The leaders in Canton fled, some one way, some another; I myself, after several hairbreadth escapes, getting on board a steam launch in which I sailed to Macao. Remaining there for twenty-four hours only, I proceeded to Hong Kong, where, after calling on some friends, I sought my old teacher and friend, Mr. James Cantlie. Having informed him that I was in trouble through having offended the Cantonese authorities, and fearing that I should be arrested and sent to Canton for execution, he advised me to consult a lawyer, which I immediately proceeded to do.