China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change

By Emily Hahn | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine

The treaties were at last ratified. Before the ink was dry they had been carried out of Peking, at least the English ones, in the care of Loch, who had orders to take them back to London as fast as the ship would go. Loch was delighted: after his kidnaping, London was going to look very good to him. Lord Elgin too was delighted, for the packet carried proof that everything the Allies bad demanded was ceded by Prince Kung. The smoke from the Summer Palace disappeared into the sky and the embers cooled, while Elgin made himself as comfortable as he could in a splendid house belonging to Prince I, but be didn't find his quarters cozy. Like many other foreigners he felt that Chinese houses, however lovely their gardens and grounds might be, were austere and unpleasantly open to the elements. The palace that bad just been made over to him to use for the British Legation would have to be altered radically before his brother could move in with a suitable staff. A novelist who knows old China has given an accurate description of the sort of lodging Elgin had:

"You must not expect too much. . . . Chinese gentlemen live in what you would call great discomfort. . . . Wenkwang has no fire by day, except a charcoal brazier, but puts on furs and wadded clothing; he does not sleep on a comfortable bed, but on a quilt laid on a brick kang, which is heated in winter; his chairs are all rectilinear and rectangular; his table has no linen cloth; his floor is tiled and uncarpeted; his walls are undecorated except by scrolls; his windows are without glass, closed to sight by thin paper and against rain by wooden shutters--but then they all open to an inner courtyard, and are sheltered by a portico; his rooms extend to the roof tiles except that some may have a paper ceiling." [ H. B. Morse, In the Days of the Taipings ( Salem, Massachusetts, 1927), p. 111.]

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