Kidnapped in London/Chapter 3

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Kidnapped in London (1897)
by Sun Yat-sen
Chapter III: My Imprisonment
1597693Kidnapped in London — Chapter III: My Imprisonment1897Sun Yat-sen



SIR HALLIDAY then left the room, shut the door and locked it, and I was a prisoner under lock and key. Shortly afterwards I was disturbed by the sound of carpentry at the door of my room, and found that an additional lock was being fixed thereto. Outside the door was stationed a guard of never less than two people, one of whom was a European; sometimes a third guard was added. During the first twenty-four hours the Chinese guards at the door frequently came in and spoke to me in their own dialect, which I understood fairly well. They did not give me any information as to my imprisonment—nor did I ask them any questions—further than that the old gentleman who had locked me up was Sir Halliday Macartney, the Ma-Ta-Yen, as they called him: Ma standing for "Macartney," Ta-Yen being the equivalent for "His Excellency." This is in the same category with the name under which the Chinese Minister passes here, Kung-Ta-Yen. Kung is his family name or surname; Ta-Yen indicates his title, meaning "His Excellency." He never gives his real name in public matters, thereby compelling every foreigner to unconsciously style him "His Excellency." I often wonder if he deals with the British Government under this cognomen solely; if he does, it is a disparagement and slight that is meant. Court and diplomatic etiquette in China is so nice, that the mere inflection of a syllable is quite enough to change the meaning of any communication to the foreigner from a compliment to a slight. This is constantly striven after in all dealings with foreigners, and it requires a very good knowledge of Chinese literature and culture indeed, to know that any message delivered to a foreigner does not leave the Chinese diplomatist hugging himself with delight at having insulted a foreigner of high rank, without his knowing it. To the people around him he thereby shows his own preëminence, and how the "foreign devils"—the Yang Quei Tze—are his inferiors.

Several hours after my imprisonment, one of the guard came into my room and told me that Sir Halliday Macartney had ordered him to search me. He proceeded to take my keys, pencil and knife. He did not find my pocket in which I had a few bank notes; but he took the few unimportant papers I had. They asked me what food I wanted, and at my request brought me some milk which I drank.

During the day two English servants came to light the fire, bring coals and sweep the room. I asked the first who came to take a letter out for me, and being promised that this would be done, I wrote a note addressed to Mr. Cantlie, 46 Devonshire Street, W. When the second servant came I did the same thing. I did not, of course, know till later what had happened to my letters, but both men said they had sent them. That (Sunday) evening an English woman came in to make up my bed. I did not address her at all. All that night I had no sleep, and lay with my clothes on.

On the following day—Monday, 12th October—the two English servants came again to attend to the room, and brought coals, water and food. One said he had sent the note with which I had entrusted him, while the other. Cole, said he could not get out to do so. I suspected, however, that my notes had never reached their destination.

On Tuesday, the 13th, I again asked the younger manservant—not Cole—if he had delivered my letter and had seen Mr. Cantlie. He said he had; but as I still doubted him, he swore he had seen Mr. Cantlie, who on receiving the note said, "All right!" Having no more paper, I wrote with pencil on the corner of my handkerchief, and asked him to take it to my friend. At the same time I put a half-sovereign in his hand, and hoped for the best. I was dubious about his good faith, and I found that my suspicions were but too well-founded; for I ascertained subsequently he went immediately to his employers and disclosed all.

On the fourth day of my imprisonment Mr. Tang, as he is called, came to see me, and I recognised in him the man who had kidnapped me. He sat down and proceeded to converse with me.

"When I last saw you," he began, "and took you in here, I did so as part of my official duty: I now come to talk with you as a friend. You had better confess that you are Sun Wen; it is no use denying it: everything is settled." In a vein of sarcastic-pseudo flattery he continued: "You are well known in China: the Emperor and the Tsung-Li-Yamen are well acquainted with your history; it is surely worth your while dying with so distinguished a name as you have made for yourself upon you." (This is a species of Oriental flattery scarcely perhaps to be appreciated by Western minds; but it is considered everything in China, how and under what name and reputation you die.) "Your being here," he proceeded, "means life or death. Do you know that?"

"How?" I asked. "This is England, not China. What do you propose to do with me? If you wish extradition, you must let my imprisonment be known to the British Government; and I do not think the Government of this country will give me up."

"We are not going to ask legal extradition for you," he replied. "Everything is ready; the steamer is engaged; you are to be bound and gagged and taken from here, so that there will be no disturbance; and you will be placed on board in safe keeping. Outside Hong Kong harbour there will be a Chinese gunboat to meet you, and you will be transferred to that and taken to Canton for trial and execution."

I pointed out that this would be a risky proceeding, as I might have the chance of communicating with the English on board on the way. This, however, Tang declared would be impossible, as, said he, "You will be as carefully guarded as you are here, so that all possibility of escape will be cut off." I then suggested that the officers on board might not be of the same mind as my captors, and that some of them might sympathise with me and help me.

"The steamboat company," replied Tang, "are friends of Sir Halliday Macartney's and will do what they are told."

In reply to my questions he told me that I should be taken by one of the "Glen" Line of Steamers, but that my departure would not take place that week (this was October 14th), as the Minister was unwilling to go to the expense of exclusively chartering the steamer, and he wished to have the cargo shipped first, so that only the passenger tickets would have to be paid for.

"Some time next week," he added, "the cargo will be embarked and you will go then."

On my remarking that this was a very difficult plan to put into execution, he merely said:

"Were we afraid of that, we could kill you here, because this is China, and no one can interfere with us in the Legation."

For my edification and consolation he then quoted the case of a Korean patriot, who, escaping from Korea to Japan, was induced by a countryman of his to go to Shanghai, where he was put to death in the British concession. His dead body was sent back by the Chinese to Korea for punishment, and on arrival there it was decapitated, while the murderer was rewarded and given a high political post. Tang was evidently fondly cherishing the belief that he would be similarly promoted by his government for arresting me and securing my death.

I asked him why he should be so cruel, to which he replied:

"This is by order of the Emperor, who wants you captured at any price, alive or dead."

I urged that the Korean case was one of the causes of the Japanese war, and that my capture and execution might lead to further trouble and great complications.

"The British Government," I said, "may ask for the punishment of all the members of this Legation; and, as you are a countryman of mine, my people in the province of Kwang-Tung may revenge themselves on you and your family for your treatment of me."

He then changed his tone, desisted from his arrogant utterances, and remarked that all he was doing was by the direction of the Legation, and that he was merely warning me in a friendly way of my plight.