Kidnapped in London/Chapter 2

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Kidnapped in London (1897)
by Sun Yat-sen
Chapter II: My Capture
1597093Kidnapped in London — Chapter II: My Capture1897Sun Yat-sen



I DID not see Mr. Cantlie again, as Mr. Dennis, who directed my steps, constrained me to get away at once.

In two days time I went by Japanese steamer to Kobe, whence, after a few days' stay, I proceeded to Yokohama. There I changed my Chinese attire for a European costume à la Japanese. I removed my queue, allowed my hair to grow naturally and cultivated my moustache. In a few days I sailed from Yokohama for the Hawaiian Islands and there took up my quarters in the town of Honolulu, where I had many relations, friends and well-wishers. Wherever I went, whether in Japan, Honolulu, or America, I found all intelligent Chinese imbued with the spirit of reform and eager to obtain a form of representative government for their native land.

Whilst walking in the streets of Honolulu I met Mr. and Mrs. Cantlie and family, who were then on their way to England. They did not at first recognise me in my European dress, and their Japanese nurse at once addressed me in the Japanese language, taking me for a countryman. This happened frequently, Japanese everywhere at first taking me for one of themselves and only finding their mistake when they spoke to me.

I left Honolulu in June, 1896, for San Francisco, where I remained for a month before proceeding eastward. There I met many of my countrymen and was well received by them. I spent three months in America, and came to Liverpool by the s.s. Majestic, In New York I was advised to beware the Chinese Minister to the United States, as he is a Manchurian, and has but little sympathy with Chinese generally and a reformer in particular.

On October 1st, 1896, I arrived in London and put up at Haxell's Hotel in the Strand. I went next day to Mr. Cantlie's, at 46 Devonshire Street, Portland Place, W., where I received a hearty welcome from my old friend and his wife. Lodgings were found for me at 8 Gray's Inn Place, Gray's Inn, Holborn. Henceforward I proceeded to settle down to enjoy my stay in London and to become acquainted with the many sights, the museums and the historical relics in this the very centre of the universe. What impressed me, a Chinaman, most was the enormous vehicular traffic, the endless and unceasing stream of omnibusses, cabs, carriages, wagons, and wheeled conveyances of humbler character which held the streets; the wonderful way in which the police controlled and directed the traffic, and the good humour of the people. The foot passengers are, of course, many, but they are not in such crowds as we find in Chinese streets. For one thing, our streets are much narrower, being, in fact, mere alleys; and, in the second place, all our goods are conveyed by human carriage, everything being slung from a bamboo pole carried across the shoulders. Yet even in the wide streets of Hong Kong our foot passenger traffic is in swarms.

I was just beginning to know Holborn from the Strand, and Oxford Circus from Piccadilly Circus, when I was deprived of my liberty in the fashion so fully described by the public press of the country.

I had been frequently at Mr. Cantlie's, almost daily in fact, and spent most of my time in his study. One day at luncheon he alluded to the Chinese Legation being in the neighbourhood, and jokingly suggested that I might go round and call there; whereat his wife remarked, "You had better not. Don't you go near it; they'll catch you and ship you off to China." We all enjoyed a good laugh over the remark, little knowing how true the womanly instinct was, and how soon we were to experience the reality. While dining one evening at Dr. Manson's, whom I had also known in Hong Kong, as my teacher in medicine, I was jokingly advised by him also to keep away from the Chinese Legation. I was well warned, therefore; but as I did not know where the Legation was, the warning was of little use. I knew that to get to Devonshire Street I had to get off the omnibus at Oxford Circus, and from thence go straight north up a wide street till I found the name Devonshire on the corner house. That was the extent of my knowledge of the locality at this time.

On Sunday morning, October 11th, at almost half-past ten, I was walking towards Devonshire Street, hoping to be in time to go to church with the doctor and his family, when a Chinaman approached in a surreptitious manner from behind and asked, in English, whether I was Japanese or Chinese. I replied, "I am Chinese." He then inquired from what province I came, and when I told him I was from Canton he said, "We are countrymen, and speak the same language; I am from Canton." It should be observed that English or "Pidgin," that is "business" English, is the common language between Chinamen from different localities. A Swatow and a Cantonese merchant, although their towns are but 180 miles apart (less than the distance between London and Liverpool), may be entirely ignorant of each other's spoken language. The written language is the same all over China, but the written and spoken languages are totally different, and the spoken languages are many. A Swatow merchant, therefore, doing business in Hong Kong with a Cantonese man, speaks English, but writes in the common language of China. While upon this subject it may be well to state that the Japanese written language is the same in its characters as that used by the Chinese; so that a Chinaman and a Japanese when they meet, although having no spoken words in common, can figure to each other on the ground or on paper, and frequently make imaginary figures on one hand with the forefinger of the other to their mutual understanding.

My would-be Chinese friend, therefore, addressed me in English until he found my dialect. We then conversed in the Cantonese dialect. Whilst he was talking we were slowly advancing along the street, and presently a second Chinaman joined us, so that I had now one on each side. They pressed me to go in to their "lodgings" and enjoy a smoke and chat with them. I gently demurred, and we stopped on the pavement. A third Chinaman now appeared and my first acquaintance left us. The two who remained further pressed me to accompany them, and I was gradually, and in a seemingly friendly manner, led to the upper edge of the pavement, when the door of an adjacent house suddenly opened and I was half-jokingly and half-persistently compelled to enter by my companions, one on either side, who reinforced their entreaties by a quasi-friendly push. Suspecting nothing, for I knew not what house I was entering, I only hesitated because of my desire to get to Mr. Cantlie's in time for church, and I felt I should be too late did I delay. However, in good faith I entered, and was not a little surprised when the front door was somewhat hurriedly closed and barred behind me. All at once it flashed upon me that the house must be the Chinese Legation, thereby accounting for the number of Chinamen in mandarin attire, and for the large size of the house; while I also recollected that the Minister resided somewhere in the neighbourhood of Devonshire Street, near to which I must then be.

I was taken to a room on the ground floor whilst one or two men talked to me and to each other. I was then sent upstairs, two men, one on either side, conducting and partly forcing me to ascend. I was next shown into a room on the second floor and told I was to remain there. This room, however, did not seem to satisfy my captors, as I was shortly afterwards taken to another on the third floor with a barred window looking out to the back of the house. Here an old gentleman with white hair and beard came into the room in rather a bumptious fashion and said:

"Here is China for you; you are now in China."

Sitting down, he proceeded to interrogate me.

Asked what my name was, I replied "Sun."

"Your name," he replied, "is Sun Wen; and we have a telegram from the Chinese Minister in America informing us that you were a passenger to this country by the s.s. Majestic; and the Minister asks me to arrest you."

"What does that mean?" I enquired.

To which he replied:

"You have previously sent in a petition for reform to the Tsung-Li-Yamen in Peking asking that it be presented to the Emperor. That may be considered a very good petition; but now the Tsung-Li-Yamen want you, and therefore you are detained here until we learn what the Emperor wishes us to do with you."

"Can I let my friend know I am here?" I asked.

"No," he replied; "but you can write to your lodging for your luggage to be sent you."

On my expressing a wish to write to Dr. Manson, he provided me with pen, ink and paper. I wrote to Dr. Manson informing him that I was confined in the Chinese Legation, and asking him to tell Mr. Cantlie to get my baggage sent to me. The old gentleman, however,—whom I afterwards learned to be Sir Halliday Macartney,—objected to my using the word "confined," and asked me to substitute another. Accordingly I wrote: "I am in the Chinese Legation; please tell Mr. Cantlie to send my luggage here."

He then said he did not want me to write to my friend, and asked me to write to my hotel. I informed him that I was not at a hotel, and that only Mr. Cantlie knew where I was living. It was very evident my interrogator was playing a crafty game to get hold of my effects, and more especially my papers, in the hope of finding correspondence whereby to ascertain who my Chinese accomplices or correspondents were. I handed him the letter to Dr. Manson, which he read and returned, saying, "That is all right." I put it in an envelope and gave it to Sir Halliday Macartney in all good faith that it would be delivered.