Other & miscellaneous

A Land of Forlorn Wild Geese

John Sheng

A Land of Forlorn Wild Geese

A Collection of Short Stories


The Vulva Array

In 1770, Captain Cook, a sea adventurer, discovered Australia. And it was not till 1783 when the Independence of the United States of America led Great Britain to send its convicts onward to Australia. In 1788, when the first boatload of English convicts came to Australia, the continent had become a place for them, also the first colony set up by convicts alone in the world. In 1858, when Great Britain established its colonial regions in the subcontinent of India, they included the now Republics of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Burma. And in 1877, Queen Victoria was officially crowned Empress of India.
The end of the eighteenth century coincided with a period of capitalism in Europe that was becoming imperialism. In 1793, to seek an overseas market, a gunboat, called, The Lion, departed from the English Channel, under the leadership of George Macartney, its leader, and covered a distance of tens of thousands of miles to reach China. They carried with them some foreign stuff and, in the name of offering birthday felicitations to the emperor, were received by the Emperor Qianlong in the Qing court. Assuming this was a visit from a foreigner paying tribute to his court, the emperor granted him an audience in an overbearing manner, with the requirement that the Englishman be on his knees and that he kowtow to the distinguished emperor. But the Englishman refused, much to the emperor’s chagrin. However, he was delighted with a young Englishman by the name of Thomas who could speak Mandarin, so much so that he granted him a reward. Because the Englishman did not observe the kneeing manners, the emperor had to allow that he go down on one knee because he knew no manners. In going through the things he had brought with him, they found that there were products representative of a most advanced industrial civilisation then, including such scientific instruments as astronomical instruments, globes, telescopes, optical lens and barometers as well as such pieces of industrial equipment as steam engines, cotton textile machines, carding machines and weaving machines. There was also military equipment such as howitzers, mortars, rifles and fire guns. To respond to these presumptuous foreigners, Emperor Qianlong got them to pay a visit to the Old Summer Palace as he would like to use the Garden of Gardens to completely crush the arrogant Englishmen. Qianlong had spent his childhood in the Old Summer Palace. It was there that he had first met his grandfather, Emperor Kangxi, and had much impressed him. After expansion by generations of emperors, the Old Summer Palace had been built into one that was grand and majestic, with everything that one could wish to find. Showered with generosity and manners of a great nation, the English went home on a ship loaded with silk, tea and porcelain, worth much more than their gifts, as that was part of a consistent etiquette the royal court had always been using in dealing with tribute-paying foreign countries. However, Qianlong was shocked and made unhappy by the gifts from the English emissary as he thought they were being provocative and the Qing ministers dismissed the gifts as strange, obscene trickery, putting in the warehouse all the scientific instruments that they knew nothing about. The visit to China, on the other hand, acquainted the English with a legendary ancient civilisation in the East, an old empire of theocracy, where they saw people living in fear of being thrashed with pieces of bamboo, men with long queues, women with bound feet, all living in extreme poverty, and semi-starvation, who would eat anything, not even letting go of the rotten stuff. When they saw the dead pigs and dead chickens the English threw into the river, the people watching from the bank would vie with each other in jumping into the river and retrieving them, to be salted. On one occasion, one boat was overturned because there were too many people in it and people fell into the water. Although many boats were sailing past it, no one stopped to rescue the ones struggling in the water and those standing on the bank remained unmoved until the English came with their ship to rescue them while the rest of the Chinese boats or ships paid no attention. There were beggars everywhere on the street. Nearly everyone was illiterate, in tatters and even naked. People were fearful and dirty, and they were insensitively cruel. The English also saw the Chinese ports where the coolies, nearly all hunch-backed, worked their arses off, completely unlike the workers in the West with a sense of their citizens’ rights of the person. In the end, they found that “The Chinese Empire is but an old broken-down ship that drifts everywhere, like a wreckage, before it dashes itself into pieces against the shore.” One Englishman sighed and said, “It is the fortune of a ruler that his country has such a low society as its foundation.”It was a flat no to all the requirements made by the English emissary that they send an ambassador to China, that they engage in port trade and that no tax be charged on the goods or that the tax be reduced. The aged Emperor Qianlong issued an edict to Macartney, saying, “Your country is so tiny that I won’t send an envoy there with a decree. You’ll have to do that on my behalf.”
And, with a condescending attitude, he greeted George III of the United Kingdom in these words, “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders.” As a rule, we do not deal in anything with other foreign countries. However, because you deem it necessary to have silk, china and rhubarb, I sympathise with that and grant you a certain quantity without charging you any money as you are loyal to the Celestial Empire even though you are a remote island.”
After Qianlong died, the English came again, in the Jiaqing Emperor’s time. Similarly, they brought the gifts and the Chinese officials, as a rule, put the small flags, written with the words Gongpin (Tribute), on them to show that they were tributes from all over the world. The English came to talk to the Qing government about commerce and trade. But the Jiaqing Emperor got so impatient that he also issued an edict after receiving them, again on one knee only, saying, “The Celestial Empire is so rich in four seas that it does not need a few little things from a small country.”
He had a pronouncement specifically made for the King of England that went,
I am delighted with your sincerity in endearing yourself to us. But your emissaries were so rude that I had them chased off. As England and China are so far apart, with tens of thousands of kilometres in between, it is not easy for you to have been here. In the future, though, you do not have to come here so frequently as long as you show a thorough sense of filial piety.
Following the return of the English to their own country, the Chinese products poured into England, with the result that in a few years a huge trade surplus was created. The English had intended to explore the market in China without realising that it was impossible to break into it without being taken advantage of by the Chinese. They then hit on a bright idea of importing massive quantities of opium into China to offset the surplus. As a result, the Chinese began smoking opium on a grand scale as ships loaded with opium went to China nearly on a daily basis. It wasn’t long before the Qing government got displeased so much so that, in the period of Daoguang, Lin Zexu, an imperial envoy, was dispatched to Humen, Guangdong, to initiate a campaign against opium-smoking and to confiscate large quantities of opium on board the English ships; the Chinese officials had wantonly seized the ships to the extent that both sides had come to military conflicts and that the English commercial interests got hurt. It was not till then that the Great Britain far away in the Atlantic Ocean began debating whether they ought to wage war against China but Queen Victoria was not quite sure. In the end, it was Thomas, the little boy given gifts by Qian Long, who went to the parliamentary debate about whether they should wage war, and he explained in the parliament that “the Chinese do not understand commercial language but they will acknowledge the power of cannon fire.”
Eventually, the British Parliament agreed to declare war on China as the British Empire was finally determined to have war, then business, with China.
Queen Victoria was the one who had succeeded to the throne of England. On learning that the English would wage war against China, Emperor Daoguang wanted to give the barbarians a lesson. But, over there in Taiwan, the Chinese were beaten by the Brits. As soon as he heard that a number of English soldiers had been taken prisoner, Daoguang ordered an arraignment and it was reassuring for him to learn that England was a mere nation that consisted of three small islands, whose population was less than twenty percent of that of the Great Qing’s. He learnt further from the prisoners that the King of England was a beautiful young woman, aged twenty-two. Daoguang found it irresistible to ask three questions, one after another, the first question being: Is the woman king married and what does her husband do? The second question was: How can a twenty-two- year-old woman be the king of a country? The third question was: If a woman is young and pretty, how can she run the country? When the English informed the Chinese man that their country had instituted the “constitutional monarchy”, no one understood what sort of a game that was in running the barbarians’ country.
In June 1840, the sound of artillery, never heard before, shook the land of China. It came from the English navy and the Qing army was resisting it in coastal Guangdong. The English artillery was so fierce that generals of the defending troops thought that the English must have used the evil craft if their cannons could hit the defending troops on land from the sea. The Chinese regarded the cannon as a male yang spiritual animal as they believed that the yin things, known as the Vulva Array, such as a woman’s private parts, her periods, her piss and shit, and her pants, would render useless the magic arts of the guns and cannons. Legend has it that, at the end of the Ming dynasty, rebels in a peasant uprising, to disable the artillery of the Ming army, had killed hundreds of women by cutting off their heads and planting their bodies in the ground upside down, with their private parts exposed, in the belief that this would render the enemy artillery powerless. It so happened that when the defending army put on an ugly show, the enemy artillery didn’t seem to work, so the defending army went on an offensive by making an array of matong, horse barrels, or close stools, that had collected women’s excrement. Strange enough, the artillery resumed its normal power. In the face of the English cannon fire, the defending troops of Guangdong suffered a crushing defeat despite an array of horse barrels collected from women.
The English expedition had more than one hundred sailing warships and paddle steamers. But, with its army and navy numbering no more than ten thousand people, the expedition covered the southeast coast, pressing down upon Dagu Portwith direct access to Tianjin and Beijing, with cities falling, one after another, like Guangzhou, Xiamen, Dinghai and Shanghai, till they went up the Yangtze River, capturing Zhenjiang and reaching the gates of Nanjing city. Despite their bravery, the Qing soldiers were in no way able to hold out against the English gunboats and the sea defence, over ten thousand li long, collapsed in an instant. China, forced to surrender and open its doors to foreign trade, signed an unequal treaty, Nanjing Treaty, on board HMS Cornwallis, ceding its territory and paying indemnities to Great Britain on top of having to open many ports for the English businessmen to engage in business activities in and ceding Hong Kong to Great Britain. The Chinese government, hitherto with a closed-door policy and a ban on maritime trade, had since learned about sea power and navies.
The Qing government had assumed that the treaty would ensure an eternal peace. However, the English commodities had a hard time getting sold in China where the economy was a self-sufficient one. And because the Chinese had their own fixed ways of doing things they would often run into conflicts with the English to the extent that even French missionaries got killed. By the Xianfeng Period (1858), the English and French organised an expedition to China, arriving in Tianjin along the route of the Sino-English War. At the time, the Qing government was making an all-out effort to crush the Taiping Rebellion, a peasant uprising in the name of God Worship. In a great flurry, they started negotiating with the allied forces. After a number of failed talks, Emperor Xianfeng issued an edict to fight against the English-French allied forces when the chief Chinese commanding officer detained thirty-nine English representatives and tortured a dozen of them to death while in detention. In the decisive battle at Baliqiao, about eighth thousand troops from the English-French allied forces defeated tens of thousands of the Qing forces, including the cavalrymen and infantrymen, with the Qing casualties amounting to twenty thousand-odd, while the allied forces had only five deaths and a few scores wounded. The Qing soldiers, however, fought bravely in the battle, commanding respect from the allied forces. At the end of the battle, Emperor Xianfeng escaped to the Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples at Chengde, with the empress and his imperial concubines on the pretext of hunting.
On 13 October 1860, the English-French allied forces stormed into Beijing from its Anding Gate. When they found many corpses of diplomatic envoys, murdered by the Qing army, in the royal Old Summer Palace in the northwest suburbs, they were determined to revenge themselves upon the Chinese atrocities. On 18 October, the English-French allied forces looted the Palace as they set fire to it. The fire kept burning for two days and two nights, with more than three hundred eunuchs and palace maids burnt to ashes. The allied forces kept burning and killing for fifty days in the outskirts of Beijing, with gardens like Qingyi Garden, Jingming Garden, Jingyi Garden and Changchun Garden all destroyed in the fire. Gong Banlun (son of Gong Zizhen, thinker, poet and man of letters in the Qing dynasty), an interpreter for the English envoy, negotiated with the Chinese government on behalf of Great Britain, and did his best to make things difficult when Prince Gong yelled at him in anger, “People like you have been enjoying the state’s favours for generations. But you are helping the tiger to pounce upon its victims by acting as traitors.”
As he had a profound hatred for the corrupt and inept Qing government that regarded people as its slaves, Gong Banlun retorted by saying, “I am a good citizen. But my way ahead is being blocked by guys like you. And the corrupt officials have also made it impossible for me to be well-clothed and well-fed, so much so that I have to seek food from a foreign country. If you accuse me of being a traitor, I think you are a thief of the state.”
After China was forced to sign treaties of indemnities and ports with Britain and France, America and Russia vied with each other to sign treaties, too, with China, as Russia not only wanted commercial interests; it also carved up large pieces of land in China.
After the short-lived Emperor Xianfeng died, the power of the Qing dynasty fell, via a coup, into the hands of Empress Cixi when the continued expansion of the Western power sled to the rise of the Boxers, a folk resistant force. They burnt the embassies, killed foreigners and did not even let go of the Chinese Christians and the Chinese who chose to use foreign goods. Because the Qing government instigated such anti-foreign and anti-foreign-goods sentiments, the Boxers became even more rampantly active as they travelled all the way to the Beijing and Tianjin regions. With red headgear, they burned the churches, demolished electrical wires, destroyed the railway lines and attacked the foreign settlements in Tianjin. When calls came from the embassies for an abolition of the Boxers, there was no response.
From 16 June 1900, over sixteen-thousand members of the Boxers launched an attack on the Church of the Saviour within the Tianjin embassy district. At the time, and in the church, there were about forty French and Italian soldiers, with forty-one guns, apart from French missionaries and Chinese or foreign Christians. Despite its flimsy defence, the church held its ground for a long time against the combined forces of the Qing army and of the Boxers. Soon, someone made the discovery that the walls of the church were stuck with human skin and blood, with countless foreign women standing naked on the walls, holding dirty stuff in their hands, and it was on account of this that the fire of the Qing army and of the Boxers was not powerful enough to win over the enemy as it was weakened by the dirty evil stuff. Confucian scholars in the royal court, after having had an audience with the emperor, talked about how French missionaries had cut off the private parts of the female Christians to put them in a vulva array in defence of the guns and cannons. When they became aware of the foreigners’ magic arts, the imperial court ministers proposed that Buddhist monks engage in the battle, realising that the power of the Boxers was not sufficient. The Boxers also said that their magic didn’t work and that they had to fight back by pasting all the household chimneys with paper and leaving all the women’s faces unwashed. But the monks were in no position to stop the foreigners’ bullets. As a result, some of the Boxers died and others were left crawling about, unable to stand the attack. When the mules and warhorses in the Church of the Saviour were all eaten up, the people there began eating the tree bark and wild grasses in the churchyard. The Boxers and the Qing army, numbering thirty thousand, had thought that it would take them only days to raze the embassy to the ground without realising that the embassy area remained intact fifty-five days into the battle despite its near fall on several occasions.
The reinforcements from the Eight-Nation Alliance finally arrived at the Tianjin-Beijing region. On 21 June, on learning that the foreigners wanted her to give the government over to Guangxu, who had been put in prison after his reform had failed, an enraged Cixi declared war on the eleven nations of Britain, America, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Austria. On the one hand, she did not believe in the myth of the Boxers that they were impenetrable with knives or bullets, and, on the other, she had had her taste of how ferocious the foreign soldiers were. In 1860, she, aged twenty-five, and Emperor Xianfeng were chased out of the Old Summer Palace by the English-French allied forces. She ran in such a hurry that a tiny poodle of hers was taken prisoner by the allied forces. When the Eight-Nation Alliance fought its way into Beijing, Emperor Guangxu proposed to Cixi (after her son, Emperor Tongzhi died, she appointed Guangxu the emperor, son of her own younger sister and Prince Chunxian) that he remain and have negotiations with the foreigners. But Cixi did not agree; instead, she held him hostage and was getting ready to run away with a number of court people. Everyone had changed into ordinary people’s clothes, gathering in the Ningshou Palace when Cixi was suddenly moved to have the imperial concubine Zhen brought out from her imprisonment as she deemed her own predicament as a source of amusement on Zhen’s part. Finding herself an excuse that it was inconvenient to take Zhen with them and that it would be trouble to leave her behind, she ordered the eunuchs to remove the cover from the well in front of the Leshou Hall, for Zhen to kill herself. Because Zhen refused to obey, the eunuchs pushed Zhen headlong into the well and she drowned.
Before the Eight-Nation Alliance reached Beijing, Tianjin had fallen on 14 July. The day the Alliance entered Tianjin, the residents all ran away, rushing towards the North Gate, and many of them were killed by the foreign soldiers. These soldiers went looting, so the pawnshops, gold shops and silver shops were the first to bear the brunt. They then plundered other businesses and wealthy families. Yashu government buildings were also ravaged. The result was massive deaths. There was a drum-tower in the city to which the foreigners had ascended, followed by the Christians, and they released volleys of rifle fire, each volley felling ten people. They then sent forth what was known as kaihua pao (flowering cannon) shots that killed people en masse. Amidst the crowd of people running away, there were those beaten to death or blasted to death, and there were also those who were trodden to death after they fell onto the ground. On the day the city fell, corpses covered an area that was miles long, from the drum-tower to Shuige, outside the North Gate, in the old town of the city. In the central business district, Youyi Street, Guodian Street, Zhugan Street and Roushikou in the northern part of the city were all sacked. Gongnan, Gongbei and Xiaoyanghuo Street in the eastern part of the city were also plundered. Countless people were killed at the West Gate, their corpses mountain-high. On the Haihe River, the drifting corpses crowded the passageway, making it impossible to clear them off for three days.
Two days after the Eight-Nation Alliance occupied Tianjin, its commanders had a meeting in which they discussed how to put the city back in order and, for that purpose, the three nations of Britain, Japan and Russia that had dispatched the majority of the soldiers commissioned three officials to be the committee members in setting up an interim government, called the Tianjin Provisional Government, for the purpose of maintaining the governance by the Alliance of Tianjin. But after its establishment, this government faced a Tianjin left in bad shape by the war. They drafted a number of tasks to quickly recover order in the city which had been thrown into chaos and to organise a patrol team mainly made up of the foreign armies for the maintenance of order. For the first time, police appeared on the streets to preserve law and order. In the beginning, the government ran its finances with the five thousand pounds each as advanced money from every one of the nations involved, and it set up its first taxation system as well. With the taxes collected, the badly damaged districts were restored and an engineering bureau was also built with responsibilities for the recovery and repair of the roads. Because only a small part of the old city was laid with stone roads, the rest of it being mud roads that got muddy after a rain, they built roads and repaired the drainage system. When there was no drainage system, they would dig sewers. There were also those who promoted the enterprise of constructing private tap water services as the water supply system was very backward in Tianjin and people drank directly from a river that was full of excrement and rubbish that would easily lead to contagious diseases.
The provisional government, after its establishment, decided to introduce the idea of public toilets, with a professional team of cleaners set up as well and an order issued against indiscriminate defecation and urination, accompanied with a fine of one to two dollars. This government made a strenuous effort on the public management of hygiene in the city, along with tough measures. If anyone committed any acts of indiscriminate defecation and urination, they would have to be fined by doing hard labour on public works. The Chinese, however, particularly the peasants who went to the city, did not have such habits, and they had to be forced to adopt those habits and go to the toilets by the soldiers from the Alliance, bayonets pointed at their backs. In November, the provisional government decided to install road lamp sat an interval of one-hundred steps on either side of the street so that nights would be lit up like broad day. The provisional government also had the city walls removed and, at the site of their removal, the first streetcar appeared in 1901. While the foreign government was ruthlessly suppressing the resistant forces in China, it had also begun registering private properties left in chaos after the war, providing deeds to those who could produce evidence of ownership and issuing rules regarding the registration of the deeds to protect the private properties of the Tianjin residents from robbery till they eventually found that civil disputes in the foreign settlement could be resolved in legal proceedings, that ordinary people did not have to kowtow to the officials and that they wouldn’t suffer from punishment by beating or collective punishment. When the Eight-Nation Alliance occupied Tianjin, it had never occurred to them that they had brought the spirit of contract and civil rights awareness to Tianjin from their motherlands.

Format: 15 x 21cm
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 978-3-99064-295-5
Release Date: 18.10.2018
GBP 17,10
GBP 11,59