The Princesses -- Their Schools

The position accorded to woman in Chinese society is strictly a domestic one, and, as is the case in other Eastern countries, she is denied the liberty which threatens to attain such amazing proportions in the West. There is no reason to suppose that woman in China is treated worse than elsewhere; but people can of course paint her condition just as fancy seizes them. They are rarely admitted into the domestic surroundings of Chinese homes, therefore there is nothing to curb the imagination. The truth is that just as much may be said on one side as on the other. Domestic happiness is in China -- as everywhere else the world over -- a lottery. The parents invariably select partners in marriage for their sons and daughters, and sometimes make as great blunders as the young people would if left to themselves.
-- Harold E. Gorst in "China."

[1] Taken from Mrs. Headland's note-book.

One day while making a professional call on the Princess Su our conversation turned to female education in China. I was deeply interested in the subject, and was aware that the Prince had established a school for the education of his daughters and the women of his palace, and was naturally pleased when the Princess asked:

"Would you care to visit our school when it is in session?"

"Nothing would please me more," I answered. "When may I do so?"

"Could you come to-morrow morning?" she inquired.

"With pleasure; at what time?"

"I will send my cart for you."

The following morning the Prince's cart appeared. It was lined with fur, upholstered in satin, furnished with cushions, and encircled by a red band which indicated the rank of its owner. A venerable eunuch, the head of the palace servants, preceded it as an outrider, and assisted me in mounting and dismounting, while the driver in red-tasselled hat walked decorously by the side.

The school occupies a large court in the palace grounds. Another evidence of Western influence in the same court is a large two-story house of foreign architecture where the Prince receives his guests. Prince Su was the first to have this foreign reception hall, but he has been followed in this respect by other officials and princes as well as by the Empress Dowager.

"This is not unlike our foreign compounds," I remarked to the Princess as we entered the court.

"Yes," she replied, "the Prince does not care to have the court paved, but prefers to have it sodded and filled with flowers and shrubs."

The school building was evidently designed for that purpose, being light and airy with the whole southern exposure made into windows, and covered with a thin white paper which gives a soft, restful light and shuts out the glare of the sun. The floor is covered with a heavy rope matting while the walls are hung with botanical, zoological and other charts. Besides the usual furniture for a well-equipped schoolroom, it was heated with a foreign stove, had glass cases for their embroidery and drawing materials, and a good American organ to direct them in singing, dancing and calisthenics.

I arrived at recess. The Princess took me into the teacher's den, which was cut off from the main room by a beautifully carved screen. Here I was introduced to the Japanese lady teacher and served with tea. She spoke no English and but little Chinese, and the embarrassment of our effort to converse was only relieved by the ringing of the bell for school. The pupils, consisting of the secondary wives and daughters of the Prince, his son's wife, and the wives and daughters of his dead brother who make their home with him, entered in an orderly way and took their seats. When the teacher came into the room the ladies all arose and remained standing until she took her place before her desk and made a low bow to which they all responded in unison. This is the custom in all of the schools I have visited. Even where the superintendent is Chinese, the pupils stand and make a low Japanese bow at the beginning and close of each recitation.

"How long has the school been in session?" I asked the Princess.

"Three and a half months," she replied.

"And they have done all this embroidery and painting in that time?"

"They have, and in addition have pursued their Western studies," she explained.

In arithmetic the teacher placed the examples on the board, the pupils worked them on their slates, after which each was called upon for an explanation, which she gave in Japanese. While this class was reciting the Prince came in and asked if we might not have calisthenics, evidently thinking that I would enjoy the drill more than the mathematics. It was interesting to see those Manchu ladies stand and go through a thorough physical drill to the tune of a lively march on a foreign organ. The Japanese are masters in matters of physical drill, and in the schools I have visited I have been pleased at the quiet dignity, and the reserve force and sweetness of their Japanese teachers. The precision and unanimity with which orders were executed both surprised and delighted me. Everything about these schools was good except the singing, which was excruciatingly poor. The Chinese have naturally clear, sweet voices, with a tendency to a minor tone, which, with proper training, admit of fair development. But the Japanese teacher dragged and sang in a nasal tone, in which the pupils followed her, evidently thinking it was proper Western music. I was rather amused to see the younger pupils go through a dignified dance or march to the familiar strains of "Shall we gather at the river," which the eldest daughter played on the organ.

"The young ladies do not comb their hair in the regular Manchu style," I observed to the Princess.

"No," she answered, "we do not think that best. It is not very convenient, and so we have them dress it in the small coil on top of the head as you see. Neither do we allow them to wear flowers in their hair, nor to paint or powder, or wear shoes with centre elevations on the soles. We try to give them the greatest possible convenience and comfort."

They were proud of their bits of crocheting and embroidery, each of which was marked with the name of the person who did it and the date when it was completed. Many of them were made of pretty silk thread in a very intricate pattern, though I admired their drawing and painting still more.

"Of what does their course of study consist?" I asked the Princess.

She went to the wall and took down a neat gilt frame which contained their curriculum, and which she asked her eldest daughter to copy for me. They had five studies each day, six days of the week, Sunday being a holiday. They began with arithmetic, followed it up with Japanese language, needlework, music and calisthenics, then took Chinese language, drawing, and Chinese history with the writing of the ideographs of their own language, which was one of the most difficult tasks they had to perform. The dignified way in which the pupils conducted themselves, the respect which they showed their teacher, and the way in which they went about their work, delighted me. The discipline it gave them, the self-respect it engendered, and the power of acquisition that came with it were worth more perhaps than the knowledge they acquired, useful as that information must have been.

The Princess Ka-la-chin, the fifth sister of Prince Su, is married to the Mongolian Prince Ka-la. It is a rule among the Manchus that no prince can marry a princess of their own people, but like the Emperor himself, must seek their wives from among the untitled. These ladies after their marriage are raised to the rank of their husbands. It is the same with the daughters of a prince. Their husbands must come from among the people, but unlike the princes they cannot raise them to their own rank, and so their children have no place in the imperial clan. Many of the princesses therefore prefer to marry Mongolian princes, by which they retain their rank as well as that of their children.

Naturally a marriage of this kind brings changes into the life of the princess. She has been brought up in a palace in the capital, lives on Chinese food, and is not inured to hardships. When she marries a Mongol prince, she is taken to the Mongolian plains, is not infrequently compelled to live in a tent, and her food consists largely of milk, butter, cheese and meat, most of which are an abomination to the Chinese. They especially loathe butter and cheese, and not infrequently speak of the foreigner smelling like the Mongol -- an odour which they say is the result of these two articles of diet.

Prince Su's fifth sister was fortunate in being married to a Mongol prince who was not a nomad. He had established a sort of village capital of his possessions, the chief feature of which was his own palace. Here he lives during the summers and part of the winters; though once in three years he is compelled to spend at least three months in his palace in Peking when he comes to do homage to the Emperor.

During one of these visits to Peking the Princess sent for me to come to her palace. I naturally supposed she was ill, and so took with me my medical outfit, but her first greeting was:

"I am not ill, nor is any member of my family, but I wanted to see you to have a talk with you about foreign countries."

She had prepared elaborate refreshments, and while we sat eating, she directed the conversation towards mines and mining, and then said:

"My husband, the Prince, is very much interested in this subject, and believes that there are rich stores of ore on his principality in Mongolia."

"Indeed, that is very interesting," I answered.

"You know, of course, it is a rule," she went on to say, "that no prince of the realm is allowed to go more than a few miles from the capital without special permission from the throne."

"No, I was not aware of that fact."

She then went on to say that her husband was anxious to attend the St. Louis Exposition, and study this subject in America, but so long as these hindrances remained it was impossible for him to do so. She then said:

"I am very much interested in the educational system of your honourable country, and especially in your method of conducting girls' schools."

"Would you not like to come and visit our girls' high school?" I asked.

"I should be delighted," she replied.

This she did, and before leaving the capital she sent for a Japanese lady teacher whom she took with her to her Mongolian home, where she established a school for Mongolian girls.

In this school she had a regular system of rules, which did not tally with the undisciplined methods of the Mongolians, and it was amusing to hear her tell how it was often necessary for the Prince to go about in the morning and wake up the girls in order to get them into school at nine o'clock.

The next time she came to Peking she brought with her seventeen of her brightest girls to see the sights of the city and visit some of the girls' schools, both Christian and non-Christian. Everything was new to them and it was interesting to hear their remarks as I showed them through our home and our high school. When the Princess returned to Mongolia she took with her a cultured young Chinese lady of unusual literary attainments to teach the Chinese classics in the school. This is the only school I have known that was established by a Manchu princess, for Mongolian girls, and taught by Chinese and Japanese teachers. This young lady was the daughter of the president of the Board of Rites, head examiner for literary degrees for all China, and was himself a chuang yuan, or graduate of the highest standing. Before going, this Chinese teacher had small bound feet, but she had not been long on the plains before she unbound her feet, dressed herself in suitable clothing, and went with the Princess and the Japanese teacher for a horseback ride across the plains in the early morning, a thing which a Chinese lady, under ordinary circumstances, is never known to do. The school is still growing in size and usefulness.

Prince Su's third sister is married to a commoner, but as is usual with these ladies who marry beneath their own rank, she retains her maiden title of Third Princess, by which she is always addressed.

"How did you obtain your education?" I once asked her.

"During my childhood," she answered, "my mother was opposed to having her daughters learn to read, but like most wealthy families, she had old men come into the palace to read stories or recite poetry for our entertainment. I not infrequently followed the old men out, bought the books from which they read, and then bribed some of the eunuchs to teach me to read them. In this way I obtained a fair knowledge of the Chinese character."

She is as deeply interested in the new educational movement among girls as is her sister. When this desire for Western education began, she organized a school, in which she has eighty girls or more, taken from various grades of society, whom she and some of her friends, in addition to employing teachers and providing the school-rooms, gave a good part of their time to teaching the Chinese classics, while a Japanese lady taught them calisthenics and the rudiments of Western mathematics.

She is aggressively pro-foreign, and is ready to do anything that will contribute to the success of the new educational movement, and the freedom of the Chinese woman. On one occasion when the Chinese in Peking undertook to raise a fund for famine relief, they called a large public meeting to which men and women were alike invited, the first meeting of the kind ever held in Peking. Such a gathering could not have occurred before the Boxer rebellion. The Third Princess, having promised to help provide the programme, took a number of her girls, and on a large rostrum, had them go through their calisthenic exercises for the entertainment of the audience. On another occasion she took all her girls to a private box at a Chinese circus, where men and women acrobats and horseback riders performed in a ring not unlike that of our own circus riders. In this circus small-footed women rode horseback as well as the women in our own circus, and one woman with bound feet lay down on her back, balanced a cart-wheel, weighing at least a hundred pounds, on her feet, whirling it rapidly all the time, and then after it stopped she continued to hold it while two women and a child climbed on top. The Princess was determined to allow her girls to have all the advantages the city afforded.

At the school of this Third Princess I once attended a unique memorial service. A lady of Hang Chou, finding it impossible to secure sufficient money by ordinary methods for the support of a school that she had established, cut a deep gash in her arm and then sat in the temple court during the day of the fair, with a board beside her on which was inscribed the explanation of her unusual conduct. This brought her in some three hundred ounces of silver with which she provided for her school the first year. When it was exhausted and she could get no more, she wrote letters to the officials of her province, in which she asked for subscriptions and urged the importance of female education, to which she said she was willing to give her life. To her appeal the officials paid no heed, and she finally wrote other letters renewing her request for help to establish the school, after which she committed suicide. The letters were sent, and later published in the local and general newspapers. Memorial services were held in various parts of the empire at all of which funds were gathered not only for her school but for establishing other schools throughout the provinces.

The school of the Third Princess at which this service was held was profusely decorated. Chinese flags floated over the gates and door-ways. Beautifully written scrolls, telling the reason for the service and lauding the virtues of the lady, covered the walls of the schoolroom. At the second entrance there was a table at which sat a scribe who took our name and address and gave us a copy of the "order of exercises." Here we were met by the Third Princess, who conducted us into the main hall. Opposite the doorway was hung a portrait of the lady, wreathed in artificial flowers, and painted by a Chinese artist. A table stood before it on which was a plate of fragrant quinces, candles, and burning incense, giving it the appearance of a shrine. Pots of flowers were arranged about the room, which was unusually clean and beautiful. The Chinese guests bowed three times before the picture on entering the room, which I thought a very pretty ceremony.

The girls of this school, to the number of about sixty, appeared in blue uniform, courtesying to the guests. Sixteen other girls' schools of Peking were represented either by teachers or pupils or both. One of the boys' schools came en masse, dressed in military uniform, led by a band, and a drillmaster with a sword dangling at his side. Addresses were made by both ladies and gentlemen, chief among whom were the Third Princess and the editress of the Woman's Daily Newspaper, the only woman's daily at that time in the world, who urged the importance of the establishment and endowment of schools for the education of girls throughout the empire.

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