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Attack on the Taku Forts

On their return to Shanghai, the Doctor informed his young companions that they would take the first steamer up the coast in the direction of Beijing.

They had only a day to wait, as the regular steamer for Tianjin was advertised to leave on the afternoon following their return. She was not so large and comfortable as the one that had carried them to Wuhan and back, but she was far better than no steamer at all, and they did not hesitate a moment at taking passage in her. They found that she had a Chinese crew, with foreign officers, the same as they had found the riverboat and the steamers from Japan. The captain was an American, who had spent twenty years in China, and knew all the peculiarities of the navigation of its waters. He had passed through two or three shipwrecks and been chased by pirates. Once he was in the hands of the rebels, who led him out for execution, but their attention was diverted by an attack on the town where they were, and he was left to take care of himself, which you can be sure he did. Another time he saved himself by crawling through a small window and letting himself fall about ten feet into a river. The night was dark, and he did not know where to go, but he thought it better to take the chance of an escape in this way, as he felt sure he would have his head taken off the next morning if he remained. Luckily he floated down to where a foreign ship was lying, and managed to be taken on board. He thought he had had quite enough of that sort of thing, and was willing to lead a quiet life for the rest of his days.

They descended the river to the sea, and then turned to the northward. Nothing of moment occurred as the steamer moved along on her course, and on the morning of the third day from Shanghai they were entering the mouth of the Hai River. The Doctor pointed out the famous Taku forts through the thin mist that overhung the water, and the boys naturally asked what the Taku forts had done to make themselves famous.

"There is quite a history connected with them," the Doctor answered. "They were the scene of the repulse of the British fleet in 1859, when an American commander came to its relief, with the remark, which has become historic, 'Blood is thicker than water!' In the following year the English returned, and had better success. They captured the forts and entered the river in spite of all that the Chinese could do to stop them. Do you see that low bank there, in front of a mud wall to the left of the fort?"

"Certainly," was the reply.

"Well, that is the place where the sailors landed from the small boats for the purpose of storming the forts, while the gunboats were shelling them farther up the river."
Temple of the Sea God at Taku

"But it looks from here as if there were a long stretch of mud," Fred remarked.

"You are right," the Doctor responded, "there is a long stretch of mud, and it was that mud which partly led to the failure at the time of the first attack. The storming force was compelled to wade through it, and many of the men perished. The fire of the Chinese was more severe than had been expected, and the ships of the fleet were badly injured. But when the attack was made the following year, the muddy belt was much narrower, and the sailors passed through it very quickly, and were at the walls of the fort before the Chinese were ready for them.

"The navigation is difficult along the Hai River, and the steamers of the attacking fleet found the passage barred by cables stretched across the stream. They had considerable trouble to break through these obstructions, but they finally succeeded, and the rest of the voyage to Tianjin was accomplished far more easily than the capture of the forts."

As the steamer moved on against the muddy current, and turned in the very crooked channel of the Hai River, Frank espied a double-storied building with a wide veranda, and asked what it was.

He was interested to learn that it was known as the Temple of the Sea god, and had been at one time the residence of the Chinese commander of the Taku forts. It had a handsome front on the river, and a fleet of junks was moored directly above it. Each junk appeared to be staring with all the power of the great eyes painted on its bows, and some of the junks more distinguished than the rest were equipped with two eyes on each side, in order that they might see better than the ordinary craft. Flags floated from the masts of all the junks, and in nearly every instance they were attached to little rods, and swung from the center. A Chinese flag twists and turns in the breeze in a manner quite unknown to a banner hung after the ways of Europe and America.

The river from Taku to Tianjin was crowded with junks and small boats, and it was easy to see that the empire of China has a large commerce on all its waterways. The Grand Canal begins at Tianjin, and the city stands on an angle formed by the canal and the Hai River. It is not far from a mile square, and has a wall surrounding it. Each of the four walls has a gate in the center, and a wide street leads from this gate to the middle of the city, where there is a pagoda. The streets are wider than in most of the Chinese cities, and there is less danger of being knocked down by the pole of a sedan chair, or of a worker bearing a load of merchandise. In spite of its great commercial activity, the city does not appear very prosperous. Beggars are numerous, and wherever our friends went they were constantly importuned by men and women, who appeared to be in the severest want.

The usual way of going to Beijing is by the road from Tianjin, while the return journey is by boat along the river. The road is about ninety miles long, and is one of the worst in the world, when we consider how long it has been in use. According to Chinese history, it was built about two thousand years ago. Frank said he could readily believe that it was at least two thousand years old, and Fred thought it had never been repaired since it was first opened to the public. It was paved with large stones for a good portion of the way, and these stones have been worn into deep ruts, so that the track is anything but agreeable for a carriage. The only wheeled vehicles in this part of China are carts without springs, and mounted on a single axle. The body rests directly on the axle, so that every jolt is conveyed to the person inside, and he feels after a day's journey very much as though he had been run through a winnowing-machine.

The Chinese cart is too short for an average-sized person to lie in at full length, and too low to allow him to sit erect. It has a small window on each side, so placed that it is next to impossible to look out and see what there is along the route. Altogether it is a most uncomfortable vehicle to travel in, and the boys thought they would go on foot rather than ride in one of them.
Signing the Treaty of Tianjin

But it was not necessary to go on foot, as they were able to hire ponies for the journey, and it was agreed all around that a little roughness on horseback for a couple of days would do no harm. So they made a contract with a Chinese, who had been recommended to them by the consul as a good man, to carry them to Beijing. It was arranged that they should take an early start, so as to reach a village a little more than half way by nightfall, and they retired early in order to have a good night's sleep. They had time for a little stroll before they went to bed, and so they employed it in visiting the "Temple of the Oceanic Influences," where the treaty of Tianjin was signed after the capture of the Taku forts and the advance of the English to the city. The temple is on a plain outside of the walls, and contains a large hall, which was very convenient for the important ceremonial that took place there. At the time the treaty was signed the British officers were in full uniform, and made a fine appearance, while the Chinese were not a whit behind them in gorgeousness of apparel. Contrary to their usual custom, the Chinese did not think it necessary to hang up any elaborate decorations in the hall, and the attention of the spectators was concentrated on the dignitaries who managed the affair.

There is another way of traveling in China, which is by means of a mule litter. This is a sort of sedan chair carried by mules instead of men. One mule walks in front, and another in the rear, and the litter is supported between them on a couple of long shafts. The pace is slow, being always at a walk, except at the times when the mules run away and smash things generally, as happens not unfrequently. The straps that hold the shafts to the saddles of the mules have a way of getting loose, and leaving the box to fall to the ground with a heavy thud, which interferes materially with the comfort of the occupant. For invalids and ladies the mule litter is to be recommended, as well as for persons who are fond of having the greatest amount of comfort, but our young friends disdained anything so effeminate, and determined to make the journey on horseback.

They took as little baggage as possible, leaving everything superfluous at Tianjin. Six horses were sufficient for all the wants of the party, four for themselves and the guide, and two for the baggage. It was necessary to carry the most of the provisions needed for the journey to Beijing, as the Chinese hotels along the route could not be relied on with any certainty. No rain had fallen for some time, and the way was very dusty, but this circumstance only made it more amusing to the boys, though it was not so pleasing to the Doctor. Before they had been an hour on the road, it was not easy to say which was Fred and which Frank, until they had rendered themselves recognizable by washing their faces. Water was scarce, and not particularly good, and, besides, the operation of washing the face was an affair of much inconvenience. So they contented themselves with the dust, and concluded that for the present they wouldn't be particular about names or identity.
The Doctor's Bedroom

At noon they had gone twenty-five miles through a country which abounded in villages and gardens, and had a great many fields of wheat, millet, cotton, and other products of China. The fields were not unlike those they had seen on their voyage up the Yangtze, and as for the villages, they were exactly alike, especially in the items of dirt and general repulsiveness. The modes of performing field labor were more interesting than the villages. The most of the fields were watered artificially, and the process of pumping water attracted the attention of the boys. An endless chain, with floats on it, was propelled through an inclined box by a couple of men who kept up a steady walk on a sort of treadmill. There were spokes in a horizontal shaft, and on the ends of the spokes there were little pieces of board, with just sufficient space for a man's foot to rest. The men walked on these spokes, and steadied themselves on a horizontal pole which was held between a couple of upright posts. Labor is so cheap in China that there is no occasion for employing steam or wind machinery. It was said that a pump worker was able to earn from five to ten cents a day in the season when the fields needed irrigation, and he had nothing to do at other times.

The night was passed at a village where there was a Chinese tavern, but it was so full that the party were sent to a temple to sleep. Beds were made on the floor, and the travelers managed to get along very well, in spite of the fleas that supped and breakfasted on their bodies, and would have been pleased to dine there. The boys were in a corner of the temple under the shadow of one of the idols to whom the place belonged, while the Doctor had his couch in front of a canopy where there was a deity that watched over him all night with uplifted hands. Two smaller idols, one near his head and the other at his feet, kept company with the larger one, but whether they took turns in staying awake, the Doctor was too sleepy to inquire.

They were up very early in the morning, and off at daylight, somewhat to the reluctance of the guide, who had counted on sleeping a little longer. The scenes along the road were much like those of the day before, and they were glad when, just at nightfall, the guide pointed to a high wall in front of them, and pronounced the word "Beijing." They were in sight of the city.

"I'm disappointed," said Fred. "Beijing isn't what I thought it was."

"Well, what did you expect to find?" queried Frank.
Part of the Wall of Beijing

"Why, I thought it was on a hill, or something of the sort. I had no reason to think so, of course, but I had formed that picture of it."

"Nearly everyone who comes to Beijing is thus disappointed," said Doctor Bronson. "He expects to see the city from a distance, while, in reality, it is not visible until you are quite close to it."

The walls were high, and there was nothing to be seen inside of them, as none of the buildings in that quarter were equally lofty. But the effect of the walls was imposing. There were towers at regular intervals, and the most of them were two stories above the level of the surrounding structure. For nearly a mile they rode along the base of one of the walls until they came to a gate that led them into the principal street. Once inside, they found themselves transferred very suddenly from the stillness of the country to the bustling life of the great city.

"I'm not disappointed now," Fred remarked, as they rode along in the direction indicated by the guide. "The streets are so wide in comparison with those of the cities we have seen that they seem very grand, indeed."

"You've hit it exactly, Fred," Doctor Bronson replied, "Beijing is called the 'City of Magnificent Distances' on account of the width of its streets, the great extent of the city, and the long walks or rides that are necessary for going about in it."
A Beijing Cab

"Evidently they took plenty of room when they laid it out," said Frank, "for it isn't crowded like Shanghai and the other places we have seen."

It was dark when they reached the little hotel where they were to stay. It was kept by a German, who thought Beijing was an excellent place for a hotel, but would be better if more strangers would visit the city. His establishment was not large, and its facilities were not great, but they were quite sufficient for the wants of our friends, who were too tired to be particular about trifles. They took a hearty supper, and then went to bed to sleep away the fatigues of their journey.

Next morning they were not very early risers, and the whole trio were weary and sore from the effect of the ride of ninety miles on the backs of Chinese ponies. Frank said that when he was sitting down he hesitated to rise for fear he should break in two, and Fred asserted that it was dangerous to go from a standing to a sitting position for the same reason.

They determined to take things easily for the first day of their stay in Beijing, and confine their studies to the neighborhood of the hotel. With this object in view, they took short walks on the streets, and in the afternoon ventured on a ride in a small cart, or, rather, they hired two carts, as one was not sufficient to hold them. These carts are very abundant at Beijing, and are to be hired like cabs in European or American cities. They are not dear, being only sixty or seventy cents a day, and they are so abundant that one can generally find them at the principal public places.

The carts, or cabs, are quite light in construction, and in summer they have shelters over the horses to protect them from the heat of the sun. The driver walks at the side of his team, and when the pace of the horse quickens to a run, he runs with it. No matter how rapidly the horse may go, the man does not seem troubled to keep alongside. The carts take the place of sedan chairs, of which very few are to be seen in Beijing.
A Chinese Dragon

Another kind of cart which is used in the North to carry merchandise, and also for passengers, is much stronger than the cab, but, like it, is mounted on two wheels. The frame is of wood, and there is generally a cover of matting to keep off the heat of the sun. This cover is supported on posts that rise from the sides of the cart, but while useful against the sun, it is of no consequence in a storm, owing to its facility for letting the water run through. The teams for propelling these carts are more curious than the vehicles themselves, as they are indifferently made up of whatever animals are at hand. Oxen, cows, horses, mules, donkeys, and sometimes goats and dogs, are the beasts of burden that were seen by the boys in their rambles in Beijing and its vicinity, and on one occasion Fred saw a team which contained a camel harnessed with a mule and a cow. Camels come to Beijing from the Desert of Gobi, where great numbers of them are used in the overland trade between China and Russia. They are quite similar to the Arabian camel, but are smaller, and their hair is thicker, to enable them to endure the severe cold of the northern winter. In the season when tea is ready for export, thousands of camels are employed in transporting the fragrant herb to the Russian frontier, and the roads to the northward from Beijing are blocked with them.

Walking was not altogether a pleasant amusement for our friends, as the streets were a mass of dust, owing to the carelessness of the authorities about allowing the refuse to accumulate in them. There is a tradition that one of the emperors, in a period that is lost in the mazes of antiquity, attempted to sweep the streets in order to make himself popular with the people, but he found the task too large, and, moreover, he had serious doubts about its being accomplished in his lifetime. So he gave it up, as he did not care to do something that would go more to the credit of his successor than of himself, and no one has had the courage to try it since that time. The amount of dirt that accumulates in a Chinese city would breed a pestilence in any other part of the world. Not only do the Chinese appear uninjured by it, but there are some who assert that it is a necessity of their existence, and they would lose their health if compelled to live in an atmosphere of cleanliness.

One of the most interesting street sights of their first day in Beijing was a procession carrying a dragon made of bamboo covered with painted paper. There was a great noise of tom-toms and drums to give warning of the approach of the procession, and there was the usual rabble of small boys that precedes similar festivities everywhere. The dragon was carried by five men, who held him aloft on sticks that also served to give his body an undulating motion in imitation of life. He was not pretty to look upon, and his head seemed too large for his body. The Chinese idea of the dragon is, that he is something very frightening, and they certainly succeed in representing their conception of him. Dr. Bronson explained that the dragon was frequently carried in procession at night, and on these occasions the hollow body was illuminated, so that it was more frightening, if possible, than in the daytime.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Shipwreck: A ship that has sunk or run aground so that it is no longer seaworthy.
Pirate: A criminal who plunders at sea, commonly attacking merchant vessels and often pillaging port towns.
Treaty: A formal agreement between two or more states.
Tavern: A building containing a bar licensed to sell alcoholic drinks, and usually offering accommodation.
Tom-tom: A small joined pair of drums, beaten with the hand.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: The capital city of Beijing, China.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

  • Find the country of China on the map of the world.
  • Trace the ocean path taken by the boys from Shanghai to Tianjin to Beijing on the map of China.
  • Through which sea did the boys pass on this route?

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.