Elizabeth Adda Robinson Ratcliffe
Harold and Mary Robinson
This is an excerpt from the July 1926 Chinese Chimes, highlighting an extraordinary reflection of living in China in that time period - and a testament to the sacredness of the lost art of letter writing.


An account of a trip to the country by the Pretender has received such favorable comment by friends at home who have read it that we have decided to include it with this issue of the Chimes. Because of its length, however, we do not want anyone to feel that we are trying to burden busy people with an arduous task of reading so much so we have separated it from the rest of the material so that those whose time is limited and who do not have personal contacts with the staff of the Chimes sufficient to create a live interest may still have the rest of the “news” without having to wade thru so much material.

In a sense this is a supplement to our regular, or irregular, sheet, but inasmuch as we consider the Chimes as an organ for the promotion of Harmony we prefer to consider this extra section as Variations, rather than as a supplement. In order to economize space we have put more on a page than usual. For that reason this part might be considered what is sometimes known as "close harmony".

China’s Kaleidoscope Continues to Change.
(Notes from the Pretender’s diary)

As a young lad I was once the proud possessor of a kaleidos­cope which provided me with no little amusement. The two features of that small toy which fascinated me were that it contained many pieces of colored glass and that they tumbled about from one pattern to another as the cylinder was made to revolve. I have been reminded of that boyhood play thing these last few weeks as I have been permitted to see at close range some of the politico-military changes that have been taking place in North China.

Unfortunately for my comparison the many armies of North China all wear the same colored uniforms (a slate colored gray) so the changes are not always as spectacular as they would otherwise be but in times of military activity each “army” selects sleeve bands of some special color so that its own soldiers can be detected from the enemy, and, incidentally, when an army changes to the other side they have only to adopt the new sleeve bands and their old uniforms are still usable. While this system has its advantages it also has its drawbacks. By putting on the sleeve bands of the enemy, soldiers are sometimes able to get into the opponents camp and to commit there much damage. As a precaution against this one army which I saw recently has a variety of sleeve bands and changes colors every day. It all helps to make the kaleidoscope more fascinating.

Here is the pattern of colors that surrounded Paotingfu March 23 - the day I started for Tinghsien which is 40 miles south of our home on the Peking-Hankow Railway. The army in control of Paotingfu at that time, was known as the Fourth People’s Array (Kuo min chun), under the command of Wei Yu San, an underling of Kuo Sung Ling who paid the death penalty a few months ago when he revolted from Chang Tso Lin. To the northeast of Paotingfu was the First People’s Army formerly commanded by the Christian General Feng Yu Hsiang, To the southwest was the Fifth People’s Army which had formerly belonged to the enemy side in Shantung but had changed its colors some weeks before. A little more directly to the south were several thousand “tag-ends” of the Second and Third People’s Armies, some of whom had been disarmed beoause of their uncertain character, and all of whom were a thorn in the countryside where they were stationed as they made life miserable wherever they went. They were considered parasites when they came into this province last November and their reputation has been going from bad to worse ever since. I carry in my pocket as a souvenir one of their bullets which landed on our sleeping porch in the early hours of November 18 last year when they had a battle here with Li Ching’ Lin’s men. On March 23 Li was southeast of Paotingfu trying to fight his way back to his old stronghold. Wu Pei Fu, who had his headquarters in Paotingfu four years ago when he fought and defeated Chang Tso Lin, was down in Honan trying to fight his way back to Paotingfu and from there to Peking. Finally to the west of Paotingfu the “nodal governor,” Yen Hsi Shan, had moved his troops from Shansi to the Peking-Hankow Railway at Shihchia-chuang and had started to move both north and south along the railroad. Such was the kaleidoscope around Paotingfu on March 23rd.

I knew that this kaleidoscope was in an unstable state of equilibrium and when I left home for a week’s journey in the country I planned accordingly. For one thing, I took my passport which I had never done before, tho I have travelled much alone in this section of the country during the past nine years. I took it this time because an American in Tientsin had suffered no little inconvenience recently while traveling in the country by being held up by soldiers who took him for a Russian. I don’t know as an American passport would have done much good had I been detained but I thought it worth taking along. Another innovation of this trip was that I went without any baggage. I have al­ways taken a camp bed, bedding and extra clothes with me before but this trip I took only some toilet articles, pajamas and socks, such as I could carry easily on bicycle. The country through which I was to travel was flooded with soldiers and I knew if a man tried to carry baggage for me he probably would be held up and the baggage might be confiscated.

Ordinarily I would have taken the train to Tinghsi on but as train service was interrupted I had to furnish my own power of locomotion and with a stiff head wind bicycle riding was about twice as difficult as it would have been with the wind in my back.

About three miles out of Paotingfu I saw groups of soldiers who had conscripted villagers for trench digging and when I asked them if they were being paid for their work they said, no they were not even being raished with food. Altho they must have been reluctant to dig war trenches right past their own villages, so that bullets might riddle their homes in case of fighting, they were digging awway cheerfully and I wondered “how they got that way”. Altho my home was three miles away I did not fool any happy to see trenches there for it looked to me as if preparations were being made for a defence line in that re­gion in case Yen Hsi Shan’s soldiers come as far north as that.

At Fang Hsun Chi’ao, about 15 miles from Paotingfu, I saw more trenches which had been dug two weeks earlier. They seemed to have been abandoned though there were soldiers still living in freight cars along the railway. Those trenches wore the most elaborate I have seen. They were dug in zig-zag lines and there wore occasional roofs where men could spend the night.

Because of the wind I did not reach Wang Tu (22 miles from Paotingfu) till noon so I stopped there fer lunch. This is an ancient city, even for China, and within its walls is a large mound which is supposed to be the grave of the mother of Emperor Yao who ruled China some 4000 years ago. He is said to have given China a very good government in his day but whether he could do as much were he living now is a question for speculation.

The postmaster at Wang Tu is a former pupil of mine so I called on him and ate my lunch at the postoffice. The postmaster had a new dish which I had never tasted and he wanted me to try it. It was made of millet flour, beef-bone marrow and sugar and had the consistency of thick paste. It tasted good and was very nutritious so that two bowls of it along with the sandwiches and cookios which I had, made a very satisfactory meal.

Altho there were not many soldiers in Wang Tu the people there were greatly disturbed by a “Robin Hood” bandit named Men Lien Chun who had his headquarters in tho mountains of T’anghsien. He and a group of followers visited villages and captursd men of wealth whom they would release only on payment of large sums of money. They were very considerate of poor people and gave money to them. Only a few days before I reached Wang Tu they bad boen to some villages in that district and carried off nearly 20 people. One man whose friends had paid $13,000 for his release had been so frightened that he soon died and the people of that village say he was frightened to death. These bandits seemed to be taking advantage of tho tense military situation knowing that no soldiers could be spared to pursue them. No one dared say anything against “Mr. Men”, as,ho was called, for fear their words might get to his ears anh he would make trouble for them. There is a story to the effect that Men was travelling about as a common citizen one day when he met a poor peddler. He fell into conversation with the peddler and asked him what he knew about this man Men. Not knowing to whom he was speaking the peddler said that he had heard that Men was a good friend of poor people whereupon Men made himself known and handed the peddler $50. Whether the story be true or not it certainly had the effect of preventing gossip about Men among the poorer classes.

But the Chinese kaleidoscope has been changing more rapidly than our story is moving. “Let us get on”, as an Englishman whom I knew in Tinghsien a few years ago used to say. I reached Tinghsien late in the afternoon and felt that 40 milos against a head wind was quite sufficient for a day’s ride on a bicycle. I had supper with some Chinese friends named Sun and spent the night with an English family at the Salvation Army. Those people are just building a medical unit at Tlnghsien which is to cost $80,000, Mexican, and includo a hospital, residences for doctors and some other buildings. Since there is no hospital in that large county of 700 villages at present they should have no difficulty in finding plenty of patients when their hospital is completed.

The following day (Wednesday) I rode about 18 miles to a village oalled Hsing where I spent the night. On the way I visited a mass education class where boys aro being taught the most common Chinese characters. This movement is meeting with muoh success in its attempt to overcome China’s great problem of illiteraoy. As I had no bedding at Hsing I had to borrow from an evangelist and slept with him on a “Kang” such as is common in this part of tho country.

Thursday I rode on to Wu Chi where two or three thousand soldiers of the 2nd and 3rd People’s Armies had been living for several weeks, keeping the people in a stato of fear by their unreasonable demands and highhanded dealings. Most of them left the day before I arrived and I think I met the very last one as I was passing thru a village. He was riding a horse at a good pace and apparently did not see me till we were nearly opposite each other in the narrow village street. As soon as he spied me he flashed out a revolver end I thought for a minute that I was to serve for a target. I stepped on the—no, not gas, it was only a pedal but it helped to put distance between us and I breathed more freely when I was out of gun shot from the man on horseback. I had a red sweater tied on my handle bars so perhaps that was what aroused his fighting flood.

I reached Wu Chi at noon and that evening about 5000 of Yen Hsi Shan’s soldiers marched into town. They were orderly, had money with which they paid for everything they used and the people of the city welcomed them by putting out flags and preparing hot water for them to drink. They wero well equipped with rifles, cartridges, knapsacks and canteens and each soldier carried several hand grenados, the first I had seen in China; on the left shoulder was a motto to the effect that any one who could not kill the enemy with a grenade was a poor stick. Some of those soldiers also wore metal helmits and when the country people saw them they said “See the men with wash basins on their heads.” There was quite a troop of mules laden with machine guns in the crowd and several cart loads of gunny sacks full of steamed bread which takes the place of hard tack in some armies.

Those men carried banners of three pieces of cloth, red, white and yellow and on their left arms they wore bands of white cloth. The next day tho white bands were changed to red and tho third day the color was half red and half white. I was told that they used this method of changing oolors because some of their enemies had adopted sleeve bands like theirs, come into their midst and killed a good many beforo they were recognized as enemies. By changing every day it was thought the enemy would not know what color to adopt in case they attempted to repeat their deception.

In as much as these soldiers were pursuing the Second and Third People’s Armies and the latter were retreating towards Paotingfu where I had seen trenches being dug as I left that city I was some what anxious to be starting back home but spent two days visiting mass education classes, training classes and holding meetings, telling stories and singing songs for groups of Christians and inquirers. I found that the “Ha, He, ha,” “My Little Brown Jug” and the “Caw, caw, caw” in “Billy Magoo, Ma Gaw” were understood and appreciated by these county people even when the songs were sing in English and since one of the purposes of the trip was to try and cheer up these people who had been frightened half out of their wits I assumed, the role of Harry Lauder altho I had no kilts or bare knees. At night my bed consisted of three benches about 8 feet long and 8 inches wide placed side by side. It wasn’t particularly soft but I imagine I was more comfortable than most of tho soldiers who like me were spending a couple of days in Wu Chi.

Saturday I returned to Hsing and I visited some other villages in that neighborhood. Here I learned from Chinese newspapers that “colors” had been changing rapidly around Peking and Tientsin and I was more anxious than ever to get back to Paotingfu. A troop of Shansi cavalry arrived in Hsing just bofore I did and thoy were up at three o’clock the next morning and off towards Paotingfu. I began to wonder whether I might not find mysolf behind the lines before I reached home but I stayed on until after ohurch servioe Sunday morning.

In the afternoon I rode back to Tinghsien and found that city full of Shansi soldiers. The Poople’s Army had withdrawn towards Paotingfu and had taken every last car and locomotive with them. To make it still more certain that no soldiers would get up from the south by rail this army had aLso destroyed a part of a railroad bridge near Tinghsien.

After a church service in tho evening and a night in a foreign bed at tho Salvation Army Headquarters I started early Monday morning for Paotingfu. For a vhilo I made good progress but gradually a head wind came up and by eleven o’clock I was ready for a rest. At Wang Tu I saw a train being loaded with Shansi soldiers and their equiperaont, including several Ford, Dodge and Graham cars and trucks. I was told that no tickets were being sold and the station master said there would bo no room for me on the train. However, I stuck around and fell into conversation with an army officer who invited me to ride on the train with him. I had to wait three hours for them to get loadod but it was bettor than pushing a wheel against a strong wind.

As wo passed the trenches at Feng Hsun Chi’ao and those outside of Paotingfu tho Shansi soldiers saw them and laughed for they were riding into Paotingfu on a train without having to fire a shot. The Commander of the People’s Army at Paotingfu had apparently seen that the Shansi troops were likely to win so he sent a telegram to them saying ho would welcome them. Not only did the army in Paotingfu change its “colors” but its name was changed as well. When I get back I found that it was no longer called the People’s Army but the “Array of Justice”

By the time I reached Paotingfu some of Wu Pei Fu’s soldiers, wearing red and white arm bands, had reached this city from the southwest and some of Li Ching Lin’s men wearing black arm bands, had arrived from the southeast. Four different armies were here together but fortunately there was no fighting.

That was a little more than 6 months ago. The “kaleidoscope” has been in perpetual motion ever since. Our heads are dizzy trying to follow the changes of colors. The People’s Army (what is left of it) has withdrawn to the north of Peking which city is in the hands of Chang Tso Lin and Wu Pei Fu. The “Central Government” has disappeared and there is no president, or parliament. Tsao K’un who was the last president, and has been held a prisoner for over a year, has been released, has sent in his resignation and is back in Paotingifu. Tuan Chi Jui who has been acting as “Chief Executive” during Ts’ao’s imprisonment has escaped to Tientsin and Feng Yu Hsiang is said to be in Russia. Wu Pei Fu end Chang Tso Lin who have been arch enemies for years have becomo “Blood brothers” and met in Peking a few o.ays ago for a conference. Chang has returned to Fengtien and Wu is at the front north of Peking. Those of us who are still here are asking ourselves, “Where are we at?” “Where do we go from here?” “What is it all about?” “Will it over stop?” and a few other unanswerable questions. The best answer that we can think of is that “China’s Kaleidosoopo is and has bean changing. Probably it will oontinue to do so for some time to come.”

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