To help research this book, my husband and I visited China in August 1998. I wanted to be there at the same time of year that the international relief force fought its way through to Peking so I could experience and understand something of the conditions described so vividly in the accounts.
Our journey began in the former international settlement in Tientsin (Tianjin), along the banks of the Peiho River. We sat on the veranda of the handsome Astor Hotel, where Russian officers once noisily toasted each other with vodka and which Herbert Hoover called his "home from home." The veranda has been enclosed but otherwise the old part of the hotel, with its woodpaneled corridors, brass fittings, service bells, and antique lift, is little changed.
In fact, Tientsin's former foreign quarter still has a very distinct identity. Many turn-of-the-century customs and commercial buildings have survived, together with some later, very sumptuous Art Deco ones. In a way it did not seem strange to walk across the wide, tree-shaded road from the Astor to find Gordon Hall largely intact but somewhat truncated. Wedged between two modern buildings, it looks a little cramped, but with its neat masonry, pointed Gothic windows, and crenelations it is unmistakable. I re