The selection of Prince Chun as Regent for the Chinese empire during the minority of his son, Pu I, the new Emperor, would seem to be the wisest choice that could be made at the present time. In the first place, he is the younger brother of Kuang Hsu, the late Emperor, and was in sympathy with all the reforms the latter undertook to introduce in 1898. If Kuang Hsu had chosen his successor, having no son of his own, there is no reason why he should not have selected Pu I to occupy the throne, with Prince Chun as Regent, for there is no other prince in whom he could have reposed greater confidence of having all his reform measures carried to a successful issue; and a brother with whom he had always lived in sympathy would be more likely to continue his policy than any one else.
But, in the second place, as we may suppose, Prince Chun was selected by the Empress Dowager, whatever the edicts issued, and will thus have the confidence of the party of which she has been the leader. It is quite wrong to suppose that this is the conservative party, or even a conservative party. China has both reform and conservative parties, but, in addition to these, she has many wise men and great officials who are neither radical reformers nor ultra-conservatives. It was these men with whom the Empress Dowager allied herself after the Boxer troubles of 1900.
These men were Li Hung-chang, Chang Chih-tung, Yuan Shih-kai, Prince Ching, and others, and it is they who, in ten years, with the Empress Dowager, put into operation, in a statesmanlike way, all the reforms that Kuang Hsu, with his hot-headed young radical advisers, attempted to force upon the country in as many weeks. There is every reason to believe that Prince Chun, the present Regent, has the support of all the wiser and better element of the Reform party, as well as those great men who have been successful in tiding China over the ten most difficult years of her history, while the ultra-conservatives at this late date are too few or too weak to deserve serious consideration. We, therefore, think that the choice of Pu I as Emperor, with Prince Chun as Regent, whether by the Empress Dowager, the Emperor, or both, was, all things considered, the best selection that could have been made.
Prince Chun is the son of the Seventh Prince, the nephew of the Emperor Hsien Feng and the Empress Dowager, and grandson of the Emperor Tao Kuang. He has a fine face, clear eye, firm mouth, with a tendency to reticence. He carries himself very straight, and while below the average in height, is every inch a prince. He is dignified, intelligent, and, though not loquacious, never at a loss for a topic of conversation. He is not inclined to small talk, but when among men of his own rank, he does not hesitate to indulge in bits of humour.
This was rather amusingly illustrated at a dinner given by the late Major Conger, American minister to China. Major and Mrs. Conger introduced many innovations into the social life of Peking, and none more important than the dinners and luncheons given to the princes and high officials, and also to the princesses and ladies of the court. In 1904, I was invited to dine with Major Conger and help entertain Prince Chun, Prince Pu Lun, Prince Ching, Governor Hu, Na T'ung, and a number of other princes and officials of high rank. I sat between Prince Chun and Governor Hu. Having met them both on several former occasions, I was not a stranger to either of them, and as they were well acquainted with each other, though one was a Manchu prince and the other a Chinese official, conversation was easy and natural.
We talked, of course, in Chinese only, of the improvements and advantages that railroads bring to a country, for Governor Hu, among other things, was the superintendent of the Imperial Railways of north China. This led us to speak of the relative comforts of travel by land and by sea, for Prince Chun had gone half round the world and back. We listened to the American minister toasting the young Emperor of China, his princes, and his subjects; and then to Prince Ching toasting the young President of the United States, his officials, and his people, in a most dignified and eloquent manner. And then as the buzz of conversation went round the table again, and perhaps because of their having spoken of the YOUNG Emperor and the young President, I turned to Governor Hu, who had an unusually long, white beard which reached almost to his waist as he sat at table, and said:
"Your Excellency, what is your honourable age?"
"I was seventy years old my last birthday," he replied.
"And he is still as strong as either of us young men," said I, turning to Prince Chun.
"Oh, yes," said the Prince; "he is good for ten years yet, and by that time he can use his beard as an apron."
"It is an ill wind that blows no one good," says the proverb, and this was never more forcibly illustrated than in the case of the death of the lamented Baron von Kettler. Had it not been for this unfortunate occurrence, Prince Chun would not have been sent to Germany to convey the apologies of the Chinese government to the German Emperor, and he would thus never have had the opportunity of a trip to Europe; and the world might once more have beheld a regent on the dragon throne who had never seen anything a hundred miles from his own capital.
Prince Chun started on this journey with such a retinue as only the Chinese government can furnish. He had educated foreign physicians and interpreters, and, like the great Viceroy Li Hung- chang, he had a round fan with the Eastern hemisphere painted on one side and the Western on the other, and the route he was to travel distinctly outlined on both, with all the places he was to pass through, or to stop at on the trip, plainly marked. He was intelligent enough to observe everything of importance in the ports through which he passed, and it was interesting to hear him tell of the things he had seen, and his characterization of some of the people he had visited.
"What did Your Highness think of the relative characteristics of the Germans and the French, as you saw them?" I asked him at the same dinner.
"The people in Berlin," said he, "get up early in the morning and go to their business, while the people in Paris get up in the evening and go to the theatre."
This may have been a bit exaggerated, but it indicated that the Prince did not travel, as many do on their first trip, with his mouth open and his eyes closed.
After his return to Peking he purchased a brougham, as did most of the other leading officials and princes at the close of the Boxer troubles, and driving about in this carriage, he has been a familiar figure from that time until the present. As straws show the direction of the wind, these incidents ought to indicate that Prince Chun will not be a conservative to the detriment of his government, or to the hindrance of Chinas progress.
It is a well-known fact that the Empress Dowager, in addition to her other duties, took charge of the arrangement of the marriages of all her nieces and nephews. One of her favourite Manchu officials, and indeed one of the greatest Manchus of recent years, though very conservative, and hence little associated with foreigners, was Jung Lu. As the affianced bride of Prince Chun had drowned herself in a well during the Boxer troubles, the Empress Dowager engaged him to the daughter of the lady who had been Jung Lu's first concubine, but who, as his consort was dead, was raised to the position of wife.
"This Lady Jung," says Mrs. Headland, "is some forty years of age, very pretty, talkative, and vivacious, and she told me with a good deal of pride, on one occasion, of the engagement of her son to the sixth daughter of Prince Ching. And then with equal enthusiasm she told me how her daughter had been married to Prince Chun, 'which of course relates me with the two most powerful families of the empire.'
"I have met the Princess Chun on several occasions at the audiences in the palace, at luncheons with Mrs. Conger, at a feast with the Imperial Princess, at a tea with the Princess Tsai Chen, and at the palaces of many of the princesses. She is a very quiet little woman, and looked almost infantile as she gazed at one with her big, black eyes. She is very circumspect in her movements, and with such a mother and father as she had, I should think may be very brilliant. Naturally she had to be specially dignified and sedate at these public functions, as she and the Imperial Princess were the only ones belonging to the old imperial household, the descendants of Tao Kuang, who were intimately associated with the Empress Dowager's court. She is small, but pretty, and, as I have indicated, quiet and reticent. She was fond of her father, and naturally fond of the Empress Dowager, who selected her as a wife for her favourite nephew, Prince Chun, to whom she promised the succession at the time of their marriage. After her father's death, and while she was in mourning, she was invited into the palace by the Empress Dowager, where she appeared wearing blue shoes, the colour used in second mourning.
" 'Why do you wear blue shoes?' asked Her Majesty.
" 'On account of the death of my father,' replied the Princess.
" 'And do you mourn over your dead father more than you rejoice over being in the presence of your living ruler?' the Empress Dowager inquired.
"It is unnecessary to add that the Princess 'changed the blue shoes for red ones while she remained in the palace, so careful has the Empress Dowager always been of the respect due to her dignity and position."
Having promised the regency to Prince Chun, we may infer that the Empress Dowager would do all in her power to prepare him to occupy the position with credit to himself, and in the hope that he would continue the policy which she has followed during the last ten years. Whenever, therefore, opportunity offered for a prince to represent the government at any public function with which foreigners were connected, Prince Chun was asked or appointed to attend. I have said that it was the murder of the German minister, Baron von Kettler, that gave Prince Chun his opportunity to see the world. And just here I might add that an account of the massacre of Von Kettler, sent from Canton, was published in a New York paper three days before it occurred. This indicates that his death had been premeditated and ordered by some high authorities, -- perhaps Prince Tuan or Prince Chuang, Boxer leaders, -- because the Germans had taken the port of Kiaochou, and had compelled the Chinese government to promise to allow them to open all the mines and build all the railroads in the province of Shantung.
After the Boxer troubles were settled, the Germans, at the expense of the Chinese government, erected a large stone memorial arch on the spot where Von Kettler fell. At its dedication, members of the diplomatic corps of all the legations in Peking were present, including ladies and children, together with a large number of Chinese officials representing the city, the government, and the Foreign Office, and Prince Chun was selected to pour the sacrificial wine. He did it with all the dignity of a prince, however much he may or may not have enjoyed it. On this occasion he used one of the ancient, three-legged, sacrificial wine-cups, which he held in both hands, while Na Tung, President of the Foreign Office, poured the wine into the cup from a tankard of a very beautiful and unique design. It is the only occasion on which I have seen the Prince when he did not seem to enjoy what he was doing. I ought to add just here that I have heard the Chinese refer to this arch as the monument erected by the Chinese government in memory of the man who murdered Baron von Kettler!
It is a well-known fact that the Boxers destroyed all buildings that had any indication of a foreign style of architecture, whether they belonged to Chinese or foreigner, Christian or non-Christian, legation, merchant, or missionary. In the rebuilding of the Peking legations, missions, and educational institutions, there were naturally a large number of dedicatory services. Many of the Chinese officials attended them, but I shall refer to only one or two at which I remember meeting Prince Chun. I believe it was the design of the Empress Dowager, as soon as she had decided upon him as the Regent, to give him as liberal an education in foreign affairs as the facilities in Peking would allow.
For many years the Methodist mission had tried to secure funds from America to erect a hospital and medical school in connection with the mission and the Peking University. This they found to be impossible, and finally Dr. N. S. Hopkins of Massachusetts, who was in charge of that work, consulted with his brother and brother-in-law, who subscribed the funds and built the institution. This act of benevolence on the part of Dr. Hopkins and his friends appealed to the Chinese sense of generosity, and when the building was completed, a large number of Chinese officials, together with Prince Chun and Prince Pu Lun, were present at its dedication. A number of addresses were made by such men as Major Conger, the American minister, Bishop Moore, Na Tung, Governor Hu, General Chiang, and others of the older representatives, in which they expressed their appreciation of the generosity which prompted a man like Dr. Hopkins to give not only himself, but his money, for the education of the Chinese youth and the healing of their poor. And I might add that Dr. Hopkins is physician to many of the princes and officials in Peking at the present time.
During this reconstruction, a number of the colleges of north China united to form a union educational institution. One part of this scheme was a union medical college, situated on the Ha- ta-men great street not a hundred yards north of the Von Kettler memorial arch. To the erection of this building the wealthy officials of Peking subscribed liberally, and the Empress Dowager sent her check for 11,000 taels, equal to $9,000 in American gold, and appointed Prince Chun to represent the Chinese government at its dedication. At this meeting Sir Robert Hart made an address on behalf of the foreigners, and Na Tung on behalf of the Chinese. Although Prince Chun took no public part in the exercises, he privately expressed his gratification at seeing the completion of such an up-to-date hospital and medical school in the Chinese capital.
I have given these incidents in the life of Prince Chun to show that he has had facilities for knowing the world better than any other Chinese monarch or regent that has ever sat upon the dragon throne, and that he has grasped the opportunities as they came to him. He has been intimately associated with the diplomatic life of the various legations, which is perhaps the most important knowledge he has acquired in dealing with foreign affairs, as these ministers are the channels through which he must come in contact with foreign governments. He has been present at the dedication of a number of missionary educational institutions, and hence from personal contact he will have some comprehension of the animus and work of missions and the character of the men engaged in that work. He may have as a councillor, if he so desires, the Prince Pu Lun, who has had a trip around the world, with the best possible facilities for seeing Japan, America, Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy, and who has been in even more intimate contact with the diplomats and other foreigners than has Prince Chun himself. My wife and I have dined with him and the Princess both at the American legation and at his own palace, and when we left China, they came together in their brougham to bid us good-bye, a thing which could not have happened a few years ago, and an indication of how wide open the doors in China are now standing.
On the whole, therefore, Prince Chun begins his regency with a brighter outlook for his foreign relations than any other ruler China has ever had. What shall we say of his Chinese relations? Being the brother of Kuang Hsu, and himself a progressive young man, he ought to have the support of the Reform party, and being the choice of the Empress Dowager, he will have the support of the great progressive officials who have had the conduct of affairs for the last quarter of a century and more, and especially for the past ten years, since the Emperor Kuang Hsu was deposed.