Baptist History Homepage

Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford
By L. S. Foster

Chapter XI
Visit to the Tai Ping Rebels

[p. 75]
      Soon after the return of the Crawfords from the United States in May, 1860, the great city of Su Chow, ninety miles west of Shanghai, was captured by the Tai Ping rebels. As already stated, they had held Nankin about seven years. The army they had sent against Peking, suffering much from the cold, had been repulsed with great loss. But now, after recuperating, they turned their arms against the districts of the Plain, capturing Yang Chow, Su Chow, Woosih, Hang Chow, and innumerable other populous cities. At their capital they busied themselves in making laws, and printing the Bible and other Christian books The Bible was adopted as the principle text book in their schools, and from it themes were selected for their government examinations, superceding the old classics still used by the Tartar dynasty. Missionaries were naturally anxious that these semi-converts to Christianity should not be left to their own wild vagaries and interpretation of the Scriptures, and longed for an opportunity to become their religious guides.

      Mr. Crawford now decided to visit Su Chow in order to examine the prospects for opening a mission there. Messrs. Holmes and Hartwell and a native Christian teacher were invited to accompany him on this perilous journey. Passing up the Su Chow creek for about fifteen miles they came to a desolated region lying between the lines of the two belligerent parties, and the boatmen, seeing the danger before them, refused to advance. Either to remain stationary or to turn back and give up the enterprise would be equally dangerous. Kind and considerate reasoning finally induced them to proceed, and to push boldly on to Kwen San, the nearest rebel city. As they approached the gates, Mr. Crawford stood out on the prow of the boat in full view with a New Testament in his hand, and cried to the pickets on the wall, "We are brethren, brethren!" and at once met with a most cordial welcome. The commander received them at his residence in great state, surrounded by his body guard. An inconsiderate breach of etiquette on the part of one of the missionaries (taking a seat without being invited to do so),

[p. 76]
highly incensed the general, and for a while threatened the object of the mission with signal defeat. Good humor, however, was soon restored by an apology, tact and suavity, and a written permission was procured to go on to Su Chow, now in command of Tsoong Wang, or Middle King.

      The next day the boat proceeded on its way among numerous dead bodies in the canal and wrecked villages on the banks, with now and then a few despairing natives standing upon the ruins. On they went all that day and most of the next, the number of swollen, putrifying bodies increasing as they proceeded, and made a sight sickening beyond all expression. No wounds were visible on these nude floating corpses, and inquiry brought out the fact that on the approach of the rebels these people had drowned themselves. It has been estimated that at the capture of Su Chow eighty thousand of its inhabitants committed suicide. As the boat neared its destination, the dead bodies became so numerous as to impede its progress. The sight and odor were so offensive that Mr. Crawford became very sick. About two miles from Su Chow, the people of a large town had extemporized a rude battery on the bank of the stream. The approach of the boat threw them into a state of great excitement. Beating their gongs, they called together the inhabitants, men and women, with spears, hoes, pitchforks and other implements, to prevent the advance of the boat, supposing its occupants to be rebels. Being detained for some time in explaining themselves to the excited people, the missionaries discovered a rebel army approaching the doomed place. Fearing they might share the fate of the resisting town, the boat was ordered to make its escape by a small canal into the middle of a lake, where the party remained without being discovered for a couple of hours, listening to the cries of the people and seeing the flames rise from their burning dwellings. When all was quiet they pursued their journey by a more circuitous route toward the city.

      The entrance to Su Chow proved a more hazardous undertaking than that to Kwen San. The boat pulled up some distance from the city. Mr. Crawford, being prostrated by his late sickness, remained on board, while the other two missionaries and the teacher went ashore and walked toward the gate, carrying in their hands bottles of drinking water. The guards on the wall, seeing the strangers coming and mistaking the water bottles for weapons of war, raised an alarm and created a great commotion. Dropping their bottles and throwing up their hands, the missionaries cried out, "Brethren, brethren!" and were finally received within the gates, The guards

[p. 77]
becoming satisfied, sent a young officer to remain with Mr. Crawford on the boat. In an hour or two messengers came to escort him into the city, where the whole visiting party became the guests of General Leo, the commander-in-chief. General Leo told Mr. Crawford that Su Chow was then in too unsettled a state for missionary residence, but he hoped in the near future a better day would come when Christian teachers would be welcome among them. At a second interview, a number of officers being present, they requested Mr. Crawford to take letters to the American, English and French ministers, then at Shanghai, asking recognition as a government. They bore these letters, which were written upon Imperial yellow satin, with them upon their return which was by the same route and with similar incidents to their coming. These documents were declined by the ministers to whom they were offered and remained long in Mr. Crawford's possession.

      In the latter part of the summer of 1860, the Tai Pings having taken all the intervening country, made demonstrations against Shanghai, doubtless expecting the foreigners would not interfere, but permit its capture. But by this time the British were beginning to feel in a less neutral mood and somewhat impatient of the interruption of their trade caused by this long continued war. When, therefore, the rebel army entered the southern suburb (the Imperial troops flying before them), to their surprise and chagrin great shells from the British men-of-war came shriek into their midst, and they retired without firing an answering shot.

      During the panic caused by this raid a characteristic Chinese incident occurred, which is related by Mr. Crawford:

"The teacher of a certain missionary fled with his family, consisting of a wife and a grown-up son in search of a place of safety beyond the Whong Poo river. On reaching the bank they found but one small boat and that on the point of pushing off. Only two more persons could take passage, and it became necessary for them to decide at once which two of them should be saved and which one should be left to perish. All readily agreed that the son's life was of first importance. Should he be slain there would be no one to take care of the old people, or to sacrifice to their spirits after death. It was next decided that the old man could get along better without the woman than she could without him. So the two men got into the boat as it pushed off to the opposite shore, leaving the old woman, with her little bound feet, to the mercy of the rebels who spared neither age not sex. Fortunately all survived, and the old teacher told the story after his return with evident complacency."

[p. 78]       Late in the autumn, the dead bodies having now disappeared from the canal, Mr. Crawford decided to make a second tour of observation, accompanied this time by his wife and Mr. Wong on one boat, and Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter of the Seventh-day Baptist mission on another. These Sabbatarian friends having heard that the rebels kept Saturday as their Sabbath, were anxious to confirm them in it. With a little American flag flying, the boats passed a large fleet of Imperial junks, stationed a few miles above Shanghai, without provoking an investigation. Further on was another large fleet beyond which lay a region of anarchy and desolation, subject to raids from both belligerents. Here the travelers were in the greatest danger. Most of the inhabitants had fled or committed suicide, but a few remained by their old homes, constantly robbed, they said, alike by rebels and Imperialists; so they themselves turned robbers with impunity when opportunity offered.

      One afternoon, as the two little boats pulled up to the bank of the canal, the whole atmosphere seemed filled with desolation. The usually merry villages were hushed in despair, and nothing could be heard all night but the mournful howlings of dogs in every direction. It is generally known that when society is disturbed the dogs are also disturbed. So here their weird howlings chimed in to intensify the sense of danger and grief. It was a most anxious, sleepless night, no one knowing what might happen before morning.

      The rebels offered no objection to the visitors entering their lines. Some foreigners had been supplying them with munitions of war, and they looked upon these as friends. It was with a tinge of bitterness that some of them asked why they had not been permitted to take possession of Shanghai. The boats drew up a few hundred yards from one of the gates of Su Chow, and the gentlemen were escorted to the residence of General Leo, where they explained the object of their visit. General Leo requested to see the ladies of the party, and accordingly Mrs. Crawford and Mrs. Carpenter accompanied their husbands to the next interview, not realizing that the officials had not brought their families with them. General Leo, a handsome, brave looking man, said that he highly appreciated their wish to instruct his people. "But," he continued, "Nankin, our capital, is the place for you. Our families are all there in a more settled condition, and will be glad to have you with them. Here as you see we are only a garrison of soldiers, constantly going out to battle, and liable at any time to be attacked by the enemy."

[p. 79]
      The formality of explaining their presence was necessary, but the reply of General Leo was not required to convince them that a residence in Su Chow would be impossible and useless. The state of things around them had filled them with unutterable grief and loathing. They should have known that before going; but they had in mind conditions similar to those which had existed in Shanghai during her eighteen months' siege, when their labors were so warmly welcomed by the people of that city. At Su Chow there were none of the original inhabitants. All had fled or died, or become involuntary rebel soldiers. No women or children were to be seen. The woodwork of many of the houses had been torn out for fuel, and palatial residences had been turned into stables. Fragments of handsome furniture lay scattered about; ornaments that once decorated the bridal boudoir were trampled under foot. Here a child's shoe, there a maiden's bonnet or tuft of hair, lay moldering on the ground. Rude young rebels were practicing their newly purchased firearms on mutilated stumps of their fathers' gods as targets. Most of them were dressed in dirty silks, green, red and blue, which they had looted in this lately opulent emporium of fashion and style. Their repulsive, hopeless countenances made the hearts of the missionaries sick. It was altogether a scene never to be forgotten. They could hardly wait for the time to come when they might turn their faces away from such depressing surroundings. They got permission from the general to start next morning. He sent with his permit to depart a fat young sheep and a basket of oranges. The missionaries dared not refuse the gift, but they could no more have tasted that mutton or fruit than they could have drunk human blood. Their possession was associated with the destruction of too many human lives. They were presented to the boatmen who accepted them with gratitude. Just before their boat pushed off, some soldiers came aboard to look at the foreign articles. Thus delaying them quite a while, Mr. Wong said to the boatmen, "It is time to start. Instantly a young rebel drew his sword from its scabbard and rushed at Wong, crying, "Who says be off, do you say start?" Wong, turning pale, expecting instant death, replied, "It is not I, but the general, who has commanded to depart." This brought the soldiers to their senses and they left the boat without delay.

      The return journey to Shanghai was similar to the one going up, only they were more conscious of the dangers of the way. On nearing the Imperial lines, a heavy cannonading led them to believe that a battle was raging; yet there seemed nothing for them to

[p. 80]
do but to go forward, hoping to find a way among the many canals to avoid the fleets. Finding none, they got out of the boats to walk along the banks, in the hope that by being recognized as foreigners they might go on unmolested. On they went, meeting the advancing fleet, but found to their great relief that it was gun practice in which they were engaged, and their boats passed without a challenge. No doubt these Imperialists thought, "What will not the foolhardy foreigners undertake?" Mrs. Crawford, who was in this party, says, "In after years I have appreciated more fully than I did then what an elderly friend said to me on our return to Shanghai, 'This going to Su Chow is the only rash act I ever knew you to be guilty of.'" On all the journey they saw no boats but war junks, with here and there a little skiff rowing from one village to another. No general traveling was to be seen anywhere, death and destruction reigned all around.

      During the winter of 1860 and 1861, the rebels threatened Shanghai again, keeping it for weeks in constant alarm. But in January a fall of snow thirty-two inches deep put an end to their last menace. By this time western nations were getting impatient of the unsettled state of affairs. A few foreign adventurers joined the Imperialists, and aided them in drilling their soldiers. The best modern weapons were furnished them by foreign merchants. General Ward, a prominent leader in this line, had been a companion of the noted filibuster, General William Walker, in Nicaraugua. After several years of efficient service in the Imperial cause he was slain in battle. Then Colonel Gordon of the English Royal Artillery took command, and with his trained troops enable Li Hung Chang to recapture Su Chow. This was shortly followed by the fall of Nankin and the collapse of the rebellion. It is estimated that not less than one hundred millions of people lost their lives by this fruitless and apparently foolish attempt at revolution. This is perhaps unparalleled in the history of the world. After its termination General Ward was deified by the Emperor and a temple was erected to his memory at Sung Kiang Fu. Colonel Gordon's fate at Khartoum some years later will be remembered by the reader. He went by the soubriquet of "Chinese Gordon."

      The French-English war with China was terminated by the treaty of Tientsin in 1860. By this treaty was secured the opening of several new cities to foreign residence and the missionaries began to scatter in various directions. Yet a goodly number remained in Shanghai. In December of that year Messrs. Holmes and Hartwell with their families removed to open up new stations at Chefoo

[p. 81]
and Teng Chow, in Shantung province. Mr. Hartwell's departure left the Crawfords alone at Te Hwo Dong, and Mr. Holmes removal left vacant his dwelling near the north gate. Dr. Burton, who was now supporting himself, bought the Te Hwo Dong property from the mission, and the Crawfords moved into the Holmes house. Mr. Crawford gave up all hope of work among the rebels, but still longed to advance into the interior. In the spring of 1861, a British squadron proceeded up the Yang Tsze river to inspect the ports thrown open along its banks. Mr. Crawford with some other missionaries got permission of the Admiral to accompany the expedition, hoping to make arrangements to settle either in the great commercial center of Han Kow, or in Wu Chang, the provincial capital of Hu Pei, on the opposite side of the river. The fleet stopping for a while at Nankin, Mr. Crawford, accompanied by two other missionaries, embraced the opportunity for visiting Mr. Roberts, who had some months previously succeeded in reaching that city and his former inquirer now styled "The Celestial Emperor." While passing along the streets, they were urged by some well-dressed men to enter a certain palace. Yielding to the pressing invitation they were ushered in and received in royal state by the wang (king), who sat upon a throne and wore a large glittering crown. The rebel leaders supposed the English had come to communicate with them, and that these gentlemen had landed for that purpose, but the missionaries explained that they were ministers of the gospel, not officials, and desired to call upon their friend Mr. Roberts. The king looked at his guards with a humorous smile, but ordered two of them to conduct the visitors to Mr. Roberts' room in the Celestial Palace. Here they found Mr. Roberts living alone in a large empty loft. He spoke rather discouragingly of his prospects for guiding the rebels in the way of the Lord. About a year after this, Mr. Roberts fled from Nankin for his life, going first to Shanghai, and then to the United States where he died.

      Being pleased with Wu Chang, Mr. Crawford began negotiating for a lot to build a residence, when an alarm of the approach of the rebel army threw the whole city into confusion. The people fled in all directions, and business of every kind was entirely suspended. Indeed the whole city was deserted. The British fleet on its return trip touched again at Nankin, where Mr. Crawford heard of the secession of South Carolina, saw the American war in the near future, and relinquished for the time all hope of opening a new station. Just previous to this had occurred the Indian Mutiny, one of the most horrible tragedies of modern times, and the allied English-

[p. 82]
French war with China. These struggles covered a period of about four years, 1856-1860, and by both of them missionary operations in Shanghai were greatly affected. During this same period the Tai Ping rebellion was raging all around the missionaries, filling the city of Shanghai and vicinity with myriads of refugees, while famine and pestilence followed as a natural consequence. The trials and heartaches brought on by this state of things on the Crawfords and all other missionaries could not be told by the writer nor easily appreciated by the reader.
Go to Chapter 12

[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909; reprinted and reformatted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Baptist China Missionaries
Baptist History Homepage