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The Life of J. Hudson Taylor: Chapter 14 - The Yang-Chau Riot


      Yang-Chau Fu, the city in which the travelers now found themselves, is one of the most ancient, populous, and wealthy commercial centers in China. Situated upon the Grand Canal, about fifteen miles above Chin-kiang, it occupies a favorable position for purposes of trade, and represents more than twenty other important neighboring towns, of which it is the governing center. As long ago as the close of the thirteenth century the celebrated Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, wrote with enthusiastic appreciation of the wealth and magnificence of this "noble city," describing it as exceedingly populous, with walls that embraced a circuit of three to four miles in extent.

      Marco Polo was probably the first foreigner to visit Yang-Chau, of which he was appointed governor, under his patron and friend the enlightened Emperor Kublai-khan, founder of the Yuen dynasty. At the time of Mr. Taylor's visit, six hundred years later, the Jesuit fathers were at work through their native agents in the city, but no foreign missionaries as yet were resident there, and the whole of its vast population was steeped in the grossest heathen darkness.

      It was still early in the summer when boat-life was exchanged, as we have seen, for the comforts of a native inn; but not until the great heat was upon them, well on in the sultry days of July, did the missionaries succeed in renting a house of their own within the walls of the city. For a little while all seemed quiet and friendly, and it appeared as though no greater trial would be experienced in obtaining a settlement than the persistent but very natural curiosity of the neighbors on all hands; but when the news of the rebuff and failure experienced at Chin-kiang became known to the scholars of the place, they at once concluded that with very little trouble they might eject the foreigners from Yang-Chau also.

      Agitating rumors were spread abroad confounding the missionaries with the Romanists, who were in strong disfavor among the people, and stating that they were all baby-eaters, and were in the habit of using various parts of the body for magical purposes! Just at this juncture, also, circumstances occurred in connection with the Jesuit foundling home which greatly excited the mass of the people, and seemed to confirm their worst suspicions. The manager of this institution, an unscrupulous native in the employment of the priests, was in the habit of pocketing fully two-thirds of the money entrusted to him for the support of the children, supplying Only one wet nurse to three infants, many of whom consequently died. Rumors of foul play becoming rife, the man, in alarm, attempted to bury one of the dead children by stealth; but the messenger was caught in the very act of taking the poor little body secretly out of the city, and in a moment the thing became known. To satisfy the enraged populace, the chief mandarin caused some of the bodies recently interred to be taken up and examined, proving that they were all unmutilated. He put out no proclamation, however, and for several days the Mission premises were kept in almost a state of siege by the angry mob.

      Hardly had this excitement passed away when fresh suspicion was aroused by the arrival of two additional foreigners from Chinkiang, on the morning of Saturday, August 22nd. The missionary party was already a large one -- Mr. and Mrs. Rudland having been obliged to come on to Yang-Chau, and Messrs. Duncan and Reid, from Nan-king, being also there on business; and although the gentlemen in question only came over to spend a few hours in visiting the beautiful temples and gardens of the city, and quietly returned to Chin-kiang the same day, the fact of their appearance was made use of to stir up fresh alarm. A rumor was widely circulated that more foreigners had come, and that twenty-four children were missing; and very soon a large crowd gathered again around the premises of the Mission.

      About four o'clock that Saturday afternoon, it became apparent that serious danger threatened, and Mr. Taylor was called out to the front of the house to find both the inner and outer gates burst open, and a large part of the angry mob already on the premises. Patiently he succeeded in inducing them to retire, until, at the end of the entrance lane, he was enabled to make a stand, while the gates were repaired by some carpenters who were fortunately at work within. A little later, however, the uproar increased; and as the long summer evening deepened into dusk, the people, instead of dispersing, began to gather in ever larger numbers. At intervals messengers were sent to the prefect, or chief local mandarin; but he put out no proclamations, and appeared disinclined to interfere. At last the attack became general, the people finding their way round to the back parts of the house; stones were thrown, some of the windows and shutters were dashed in, part of the garden wall was being pulled down, and it was evident that the crowd could no longer be kept out.

      At this crisis Mr. Taylor decided to make his way if possible through the excited mob, and obtain what help he could from the official Ya-mun, though late enough in the day. Mr. Duncan volunteered to accompany him; and commending themselves and those left behind to God, knowing full well that a violent death might await any or all of them ere they could meet again, they made their way to the front of the house by the long entrance lane. Here they saw at a glance that it would be impossible to pass through the crowd; but a small door opening into a neighbor's dwelling suggested a way of escape, and availing themselves of it, under cover of darkness, they got out into the open street. They had not gone far, however, before they were recognized and pursued, the cry being raised that the foreign devils were fleeing. Happily Mr. Taylor knew of a by-path leading through some fields, and following this they eluded most of the crowd, the gathering gloom of night being much in their favor.

      "The path we had taken," writes Mr. Taylor "'misled many of the people, who thought we were fleeing to the East Gate to escape from the city, and consequently ran off by a short cut, expecting to meet us there. All this was providential, as it gave us a slight advantage at a time when every moment was precious. But when we had to turn into the main street again we were assaulted with stones, and a mob gathered behind us, increasing at every step. Our rapid strides still kept a clear space between us and the people, but we were nearly exhausted, and our legs so hurt by the stones and bricks thrown at us that we were almost failing, when we reached the door of the Yamun. But for the protection afforded us by darkness, we should have scarcely reached it alive.

      "The gate-keepers, alarmed at the yells of the mob behind us, were just shutting the doors as we approached; the crowd closed in upon us, and the still unbarred gates gave way to the pressure, precipitating us into the entrance hall. Had the gates but been barred, they would not have been opened for us, and we should have been torn to pieces by the enraged mob. Once inside the Ya-mun, we rushed into the judgment-hall, crying, 'Kiu-ming! kiuming!' ('Save life! save life!') -- a cry to which a Chinese mandarin is bound to attend at any hour of the day or night.

      "We were kept waiting for about three-quarters of an hour before we could gain an audience with the prefect, hearing all the while the yells of the mob a mile or more away, destroying, for ought we knew, not only the property, but possibly the lives of those so dear to us. And at last, when we did see him, it was almost more than we could bear with composure to be asked as to what we really did do with the babies: whether it was true that we had bought them, and how many; what was really the cause of all this rioting, etc., etc. At last I told his excellency that the real cause of the trouble was his own neglect in not taking active measures when the matter was small and manageable, that I must now request him first to repress the riot and save any of our friends who might still be alive, and afterwards to make such inquiries as he might deem desirable, otherwise I would not answer for the result. 'Ah,' said he, 'very true, very true; first quiet the people, and then inquire. Sit still, and I will go and see what can be done.'

      "He went out, telling us to remain, as the only chance of his effecting anything depended on our keeping out of sight; for by this time the numbers of rioters had increased to eight or ten thousand. The natives estimated them at twenty thousand.

      "We were kept in torture of suspense for fully two hours before the prefect returned, with the governor of the military forces of the city, and told us that all was quiet now; that they and the two district magistrates had been to the scene of the disturbance, had seized several of those who were plundering the premises, and would have them punished. He had sent for chairs, and we returned under escort.

      "On the way back we were told that all the foreigners left in the house had been killed. We had to cry to God to support us, though we hoped this report might prove exaggerated or untrue.

      "When we reached the house, the scene was such as to baffle all description. Here a pile of half-burned reeds showed where an attempt had been made to set the premises on fire; there debris of a broken down wall were to be seen; and strewn about everywhere were the remains of boxes and furniture, scattered papers and letters, broken workboxes, writing-desks, surgical and other instrument cases, smoldering. remains of valuable books, etc.; but no trace of inhabitants could we find within!

      "It was some time ere I was able to learn that our friends had escaped, and then it was not easy to ascertain where they were. At last I found them in the house of one of the neighbors, under the care of an official, who allowed us to return to our own dwelling. When we were once more together in the midst of the ruins, we gave thanks to God for life spared and quiet restored, attended to those who had been injured, and learned particulars as to the events which had taken place during our absence."

      "It was now past midnight," continues Mr. Taylor; "the dear children were put to bed, the wounded were dressed, and we all had a few hours' sleep, the guard of soldiers keeping watch till dawn; and then it appeared that none had been appointed to take their place. The people began to reassemble, and again we passed four or five long, anxious hours. Mr. Reid was absolutely helpless; Mrs. Taylor, Miss Blatchley and Mr. Rudland were seriously injured; and others were so stiff and bruised, as well as exhausted, that nothing but absolute necessity made us move. But something had to be done; the rioters had made a clean sweep of doors, walls, and partitions at the entrance from the main street; and already some were beginning to enter the premises in hope of further loot. We induced them to leave, however; and barricading the openings as best we could, I commended all to the care of our covenant-keeping God, and left them to report matters at the prefect's Ya-mun. On reaching the front of the house, having passed quietly through the mob inside, I mounted a broken chair and addressed the people in a tone of indignant remonstrance... I told them that we, a party of strangers from a distance, had come among them to seek their good. Had we any evil intentions, should we have come unarmed? Should we have come in small numbers? Should we have brought women and children with us? And yet last night, without provocation, they had broken into our dwelling, plundered our property, wounded our persons, and tried to burn down the premises. Not satisfied with all this, they must now recollect, and in their greed of plunder seek to do further mischief. I appealed to them whether, in such an attack as that of last night, we should not have been justified, even by themselves, in standing in our own defense and attacking them in return. But, on the contrary, we had not even raised a stick nor thrown a stone. 'Are you not ashamed,' I said, 'in the face of Heaven, to perpetrate such outrages? And now we are perfectly defenseless; we could not withstand you if we would; we would not if we could. We come to do good, and not evil. If you kill us, we will die with a good conscience that we have not hurt any man's eye or injured any man's limbs. Within are sick and wounded, women and children. If you abuse or kill us, we will not retaliate. But High Heaven will avenge any wrongs you may commit. Our God, in whom we trust, is able to protect us and to punish you, if you offend against Him with a high hand.' The people around me stood like statues; but those within were breaking up and carrying off whatever they could lay their hands on. Availing myself, therefore, of what I saw was but a temporary lull, I stepped down, walked through the mob unmolested, and went to the prefect's. Not a stone was thrown at me on the way.

      "Another long and anxious delay here awaited me. The prefect had not risen, had not bathed, had not breakfasted. I sent a message in that I did not wish for an interview, but that the riotous proceedings had again commenced, and that there was no one there to repress the mob. After a time I was told that the prefect had sent for the magistrate, and that he would soon be here, and would accompany me to the house. A long, long while elapsed ere he did come. Then he told me that he had been first to the house, had dispersed the mob, and then had come on to the Ya-mun. He requested me at once to write a letter to the prefect; to be careful to call the proceedings a disturbance, not a riot, or the people would be more incensed than ever; and to ask him to punish those who had been arrested, and to quiet the people by proclamations. 'Thus,' said he, 'we may restore peace before night, and you will not be under the necessity of leaving the city.' I promised to write a very mild letter, and we returned together to the house.

      "To those I had left behind the time had been one of peculiarly painful suspense; indeed, it had seemed a climax to the anxieties and dangers of the night. As I have before remarked, several were already injured. There was no darkness now to favor an escape; the back and front of the house were both equally surrounded, and the main walls were all broken through. Messrs. Duncan and Rudland took their stand at the entrance immediately in front of the dwelling-house, the garden and rockery before them being covered by a crowd which increased every moment. A few stones were thrown in at the open front of the upstairs rooms, but the Lord graciously restrained the crowd. Just as anxiety was at its height, God sent help through the arrival of the magistrate. His soldiers began to disperse the people, the grounds were gradually cleared, and ere long his retainers had the privilege of looting all to themselves -- an opportunity they did not fail to improve.

      "As soon after my return as possible, I called my teacher, and had a letter written to the prefect. I stated the case as mildly as truth would permit, but did not withhold the facts that the mob had plundered and attempted to set on fire the premises. When it was finished, I sent the letter off; but it was opened on the way by the magistrate, and returned to me as unsuitable. I went to him, and pointed out that, much as we might regret it, we could not alter the past; that he was at liberty to deal as leniently as possible with the prisoners, but that the truth must be told. He replied, 'If you persist in sending that letter to the prefect, I will go back and have nothing more to do with the affair. You may protect yourself as best you can. But I forewarn you that the lives of all your party will probably be sacrificed.' I saw very well that he wished to get such a letter from me as might be used to his superiors as evidence to prove that there had been no serious disturbance; but I felt that in the threatening aspect of affairs there was no time to be lost, and that he might really be, as he said he feared, unable to restrain the mob through another night. At his direction, therefore, and almost at his dictation, a second letter was written, omitting the mention of the fire and robbery. This letter he took away, but told us that he found his subordinates unable to keep down the people, and that the only safe plan would be for him to take boats, and remove us, for the present, to Chin-kiang. 'We will gradually quiet the people and repair the house,' said he, 'and then will invite you to return.'

      "In the afternoon be engaged boats, and sent us to the South Gate. Next morning, under escort, we set out for Chin-kiang. We had not proceeded far on our way when we were met by a party of friends from Chin-kiang coming to our relief. They were headed by the British Consular Assistant in charge. After seeing our disabled condition, they went on to Yang-Chau, and viewed the scene of desolation that we had left behind. This proved providential, for the mandarins afterwards tried to repair the damages and to remove all trace of the riot, denying that there had been any serious disturbance.

      "One member of this little company, the then French Consul at Chin-kiang, kindly gave most of our party shelter until we were able to secure a house for temporary use in the settlement; he also told me that the matter would be sure to be taken up by the British Government, as secret orders had been received only a few days before by the consul at Shanghai to take the first reasonable opportunity of making an armed demonstration up the Yang-tse, to overawe the Chinese authorities and put a stop to the frequent violations of treaty, which threatened the arising of some casus belli. Obeying these orders, the Shanghai Consul at once came up to Chin-kiang in a ship of war; examined us officially as to the character of the riot, and as to our losses, as far as ascertained; and taking up this grievance, together with the larger losses of some of the Chin-kiang merchants from various violations of treaty, he proceeded in the Rinaldo to Nan-king, demanding reparation. For this action he received the warm commendation of the Home Government. With the subsequent unfaithfulness of the viceroy to his promise, the insult to the British Consul, the larger demonstration of six or seven war-ships at Nan-king ordered by the ambassador at Pekin, we had obviously nothing to do, any more than with the first steps, which never would have been taken but for the secret orders from home. Just at this juncture a change of Government took place in England; the action of our authorities in China, commended by the previous Government, was now censured; and an attempt was made to throw all the blame on the unfortunate missionaries. This was no small trial to us; but in the meantime we were restored to Yang-Chau, and the Lord cheered us by the conversion of souls.

      "And now as to some of the lessons learned from this and similar experiences. One was to be longer known in a city, through itinerant visits, before seeking to rent houses and attempting to settle down. Another was not to take much luggage to a newly opened station. We are convinced that our opponents would not have been able to get up the riot had the lawless people of the city not imagined, from the amount of our luggage, that they would obtain far richer spoil than they did. A third lesson was not to commence work with too large a staff, and not to attempt to open contiguous stations simultaneously. The failure in Chinkiang threw the staff intended for that station, together with the Mission press and all its plant, on to Yang-Chau, more than doubling our effects. Messrs. Duncan and Reid calling in further increased the number of persons; and the accidental visit of the two foreigners from Chin-kiang proved to be the match which caused the explosion. The lessons thus learned have stood us in good stead, and have since enabled us peacefully to open many cities in remote parts of the Empire.

      "We are now thankful to have had this experience; and though gained at much cost, feel that its value has far exceeded. We cannot but regret, however, that the cost was necessary, as we see clearly that a fuller study of the Scriptures and a closer following of our Lord's teaching and of Apostolic example would have saved the need for it. There is no command to open mission stations in the Word of God, and there is no precedent to be found there. The command is to evangelize, to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature; and the examples recorded in the New Testament of the methods followed by the earliest missionaries might have led us from the first to give itineration a greater prominence than we did. It must be admitted that stations do become necessary to a certain extent; the itinerant work of the Church cannot long be carried on without them; but it is surely a grave mistake to make location our first aim, instead of keeping it in a strictly subordinate position, as an auxiliary."

      During the autumn succeeding the Yang-Chau riot, most of the missionary party remained in the premises temporarily secured in the suburbs of Chin-kiang; while Mr. Hudson Taylor, accompanied by Mr. Williamson, made a rapid journey of exploration in the northern part of Kiang-Su, as far as to the important city of Ts'ing-kiang-p'u, situated on the Grand Canal about a hundred miles above Yang-Chau. During this journey they visited four large cities and no less than five-and-twenty towns and villages of considerable size, besides many smaller places; but found in them all no witness for Christ. With a burdened heart Mr. Taylor wrote:-

      "Is it not sad to think that Of all the Protestant Christians of various lands there are none laboring for the easily accessible inhabitants of this populous province, north of the Yang-tse-kiang? May God soon clear our way to return to Yang-Chau, and open up new stations for us farther inland also."

      It was not very long ere both these desires were graciously fulfilled; for only a fortnight later, on November 18th, 1868, Mr. Taylor added, in another letter:-

      "It is with a heart full of joy I am able once more to pen 'Yang-Chau' at the head of my paper! We have today been reinstated in our house here by our consul, Mr. Medhurst, the Tao-t'ai from Shanghai as the viceroy's deputy, and the two district magistrates of the city. The result of this case will probably be greatly to facilitate missionary work in the interior; and I know not how to express our indebtedness to Mr. Medhurst, whose kindness and courtesy have only been equaled by the ability with which he has conducted the whole investigation. He has shown an acquaintance with the Chinese mind rarely seen, which has enabled him to make the best of every circumstance.

      "The house in Chin-kiang is being repaired, and I hope ere the end of the year to see the Mission presses at work again. Once more we may raise our Ebenezer, 'Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.'"

      Thus was Yang-Chau finally opened to the missionaries; and only a few months later another important station was given them farther inland; for Ts'ing-kiang-p'u was again visited, and a house obtained there, in July, 1869, by Mr. George Duncan, who was enabled to occupy it in peace. Upon his return to Nan-king, Mr. Reid replaced him, and commenced regular work in Ts'ing-kiang-p'u, which was much blessed of God.

      Yang-Chau now became, for a short time, Mr. and Mrs. Hudson Taylor's home -- as far as it could ever be said that they had any settled dwelling-place in China. The work rapidly grew up around them, and we read of large attendances at the Sunday meetings, and considerable interest being manifested in the Gospel message. Mr. and Mrs. Judd soon took charge of the local work, and Miss Desgraz was encouraged in the schools.

      Later on another attempt was made to raise trouble in the city; but in the providence of God this effort entirely failed, and peace was maintained. The story is remarkable, and is given as follows in Mr. Taylor's own words:-

      "Early in the year 1871 the landlord of the premises we hold at Yang-Chau -- a high military mandarin named Li -- visited that city with the intention of disposing of his property there. He had previously, through his agents, engaged to sell the premises we occupied to a native friend of our. There was at this time in Yang-Chau a military mandarin named Ch'un, the man who spurred on the rioters at T'ien-tsin to the barbarous massacre of the Sisters of Charity in 1870. This Ch'un persuaded the landlord not to dispose of the property to our friend, But rather to join him in getting up a riot against us, 'which,' said he, 'will immortalize our names, and sooner or later secure for us Imperial favor.' But the Yang-Chau people would have nothing to do with it; they noticed that all those who had taken part against us three years before had since been unfortunate, and they looked upon those misfortunes as the judgment of Heaven, or Providence.

      "It is remarkable how manifestly all those who were concerned in the riot of 1868 have since met with trouble. The prefect, through whose remissness we suffered, a year later fell into the hands of banditti when on his way to Pekin. He and his son both lost their lives, all his property was pillaged, his servants scattered, and his wives and one or two of his children had to beg their way along the latter part of the journey. The district magistrate, at a later period, also fell into trouble. The whole family of the literary man Koh, who was one of the chief inciters of the people, has become impoverished. The man who attempted to murder Mr. Rudland, and who was the leader of the ruffians that broke into our house, has not only himself been punished by the authorities, but his family -- on account of misdeeds committed since his imprisonment, and with which he was in no way connected -- has become infamous in the eyes of the Chinese.

      "In the face of these facts the people were afraid to join in any further attempt against us; and many who are friendly to us warned Li and Ch'un that they would lose their good luck -- a terrible thought to the Chinese -- if they molested us. Moreover, the Governor of Chinkiang, who has more than once befriended us, hearing of these things, went over himself to Yang-Chau, saw Li and Ch'un, warned them that he would report them to the Emperor if they caused any disturbance, and finally purchased the premises himself to prevent, as he told us, any future difficulty. Thus the Lord helped us.

      "But what of the landlord Li and the mandarin Ch'un? Within a month or two of the settlement of these matters, they had a quarrel between themselves, in which the people took part. The details are unfit for publication; but it is worthy of notice how the shameful treatment of the Sisters of Charity at T'ien-tsin and the attempt to make trouble at Yang-Chau were visited on their own families, in which one of the wives drowned herself to escape the public outrage perpetrated on the others. Since that time Li himself has been sentenced to be beheaded for this disturbance; and Ch'un has been degraded from his high rank to that of a colonel in the army, in which he has been ordered to active service, being banished from Yang-Chau for life. In this again the Yang-Chau people see the retributive visitation of Heaven, and are the more convinced that we may not be molested with impunity. God can yet say to a people, 'Touch not Mine Anointed, and do My prophets no harm;' and not infrequently He does so."

      Some time after these troubles had passed away, it transpired that the heavy sentences passed upon the landlord Li and the mandarin Ch'un had been evaded by them in great measure-no rare occurrence among the rich in China. Li had not actually been beheaded, but was reported to be living in retirement in his native place; while Ch'un had returned again to Yang-Chau, from which he had nominally been banished, and continued to lead a private life in that city, though without his former rank, wealth, and influence.

Back to J. Hudson Taylor index.

See Also:
   Publishers' Note and Preface
   Chapter 1 - The Power of Prayer
   Chapter 2 - The Call to Service
   Chapter 3 - Life in London
   Chapter 4 - Voyage to China
   Chapter 5 - Early Missionary Experiences
   Chapter 6 - Man Proposes, God Disposes
   Chapter 7 - Settlement in Ningpo
   Chapter 8 - Timely Supplies -- Return to England
   Chapter 9 - The New Mission
   Chapter 10 - Launching Forth
   Chapter 11 - Christmas in China
   Chapter 12 - Safe in the Arms of Jesus
   Chapter 13 - New Developments
   Chapter 14 - The Yang-Chau Riot
   Chapter 15 - Thick Darkness Where God was
   Chapter 16 - Ask and Ye shall Receive
   Chapter 17 - Ye Did It unto Me
   Chapter 18 - Founding the Western Branch of China Inland Mission
   Chapter 19 - The Lowest Ebb, and the Turn of the Tide
   Chapter 20 - Closing Events

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