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[August 1917] 
On the Taikoo launch, Taikoo Hoong 
En route to Taichow. 

Dear Mamma:- 

You will note from the above that I am again en route to somewhere which is true enough. You may have read that hell has broken loose in China and so it has but for the first time since I have been out here it has affected me directly. You know that Chang Hsun [Zhang Xun] attempted to restore the Little Emperor and the consequent complicated developments, but the thing that has not yet become widespread is the fact that Chang Hsun’s men, located at many points all through four provinces, have become bandits of a most pernicious description, their meal ticket having disappeared from the face of the earth. 

For a long time it has been known that various cities in Northern Kiangsu would have to be looted but unfortunately I failed to give the idea much consideration until the trouble broke loose in full blaze of loot and slaughter. As you know, Hsuchowfu [Xuzhou], the seat of Chang, was looted seven times in the four days following his collapse in Pekin and afterwards Haichow and Sinpuchen were sacked in succession. These points are just 300 li from Tsingkiangpu down the Salt Canal and used to be under the jurisdiction of this place. 

On Monday last I received a long telegram from the Yaowan agent advising that the soldiers had mutinied and sacked the town empty. Following this we heard that the whole North country was in a state worse than anarchy and that all of the officials had fled. Just as soon as I got the word that much of our stocks were missing I knew that it was up to me to head for the Upper Canal which surely was Hades especially in view of the fact that there might be a lot of blame to be attached to this office for allowing the Yaowan agent to consign so much stocks on the market where loss was certain. 

I wired for a launch but Drayson of Taikoo [Butterfield & Swire] in whose boat I am now meandering along came up, having heard that the Yaowan country was being looted by soldiers and brigands. The water in the Canal has risen to such a height that [it] was absolutely impossible to pass the three big locks 36 li above the city even though I advised Drayson I was willing to try it in somebody else’s boat. 

Just about this time Chinkiang wired to say that I had better not go because anybody going above Chunghing might be finished. However we figured that there would not be too much danger for foreigners as all that the soldiers, tufei [bandits], and brigands wanted was loot. We had to go overland by chair to Yanchwang and then went aboard two rotten little native junks in which we stayed for six days. 

Rumor was rife everywhere and the people at all villages we passed were terrified though many of course put on this for effect as they themselves were in reality only tufei. That is the great difficulty in this part of the country. The tufei cannot be detected from ordinary citizens of the small village wai-tzus. 

The canal was empty of all boats except those coming down from the Yaowan country. Yaowan was looted on the 18th of the Chinese month as you will note from the letter attached. At Chunghing the 240 soldiers there advised that they would have to loot that place but the merchants pleaded with them and finally gave them 13,000 tiao which saved the town for the time being. 

At Chunghing 200 citizens of all classes had been captured by bands of tufei who hide in the high reeds around the lakes and were being held for ransom for sums varying from P$100 to P$26000 and, while it seems unbelievable, not a man in Chunghing of any property whatever who was not a hidden tufei dared to go outside of 5 li from his waitzu walls. This was absolutely true because I requested our agent to go to Yanghuachi to try to save our stocks there but he said that he did not dare to do so. 

The soldiers were walking around with kindly faces and one officer told me that they were going to protect the citizens, which of course was simply bunk as they were waiting for the Suiyang soldiers to come when they would start the loot of Chunghing. 

While we were in Chunghing we heard that Suiyang had been looted empty and when we reached Sutsien [Suqian] we heard that it had been looted again and burned and that the Suiyang soldiers were loose in the country somewhere. There were just a few boats in the Canal and when we reached Sutsien they all crowded around ours for protection. Numbers of merchants asked if we would take them up past the Yaowan country as they did not dare to go any other way.


Not a single man could travel in the 400 miles between Sutsien and Tenghsien with $10 in his pocket and not have it taken from him. Men’s clothing was stripped from them everywhere by Chang Hsun's men and they were not allowed to get off the T.P.R. trains if they had anything more than coppers in their clothing nor could they leave any city gate guarded by Chang Hsun’s braves if they had a cent. 

Above Sutsien we commenced to see a lot of bodies in the Canal and 3 li above Ch’a Ho [Zaohezhen] there were 18 in a bunch all stuck together and quite bloated having been in the water since the day following the second looting of Yaowan. They were all naked and did not look human but the boatmen pointed out the bullet holes where they had been shot by the Chamber of Commerce. It was the most horrible sight I ever saw or perhaps may see as we came on them just at twilight in the most desolate swampy country of all the Yaowan department. The Canal had flooded the entire country with pieces of land sticking out here and there surrounded by tall reeds and willow trees. The bodies were all caught in the latter and on the piece of land were a great army of Chinese mongrel dogs who were eating the bodies up on the shore. It was quite a fierce sight. We passed many more dead bodies most of whom had been shot at the order of the Chamber of Commerce. 

Yaowan was the most awful sight I have ever witnessed. It is an empty shell of a city, an example of the wanton loot of 900 of Chang Hsun’s cut-throats, assisted by 1200 tufei who followed them, and a great assortment of village rascals and beggars. The city is as one of the dead places. I walked through miles of streets with every shop boarded with great beams so that not a crack as big as a knife blade remained. Few of the heads of the house remained and to get into any shop required much pounding and the insertion of a written message through a little opening made by the withdrawal of a heavy plug. No one was on the streets except Chang Hsun’s men, beggars, and local rascals. 

The [Standard Oil] agency was a fearful sight but it was only one of among 500 shops and business houses looted from the doorsill to the most most distant compound. Our agent, one of the biggest men in the entire district, formerly wealthy and respected, was dressed in coolie clothing as were all his family. Everything else had been taken. To get into his compound we had to crawl through a window from the adjoining native bank because the shop opening onto the street was boarded so heavily that it could not be opened. Everything in the entire compound was stripped and taken including all kitchen utensils. The front of the shop had been blown open with a 4 pound gun and the visitors’ hall was riddled with bullets. Nothing remained, not even a rag or stitch of clothing. All floors were covered with torn letters and smashed china. Everything that was not taken was smashed, but a Chinese beggar will take everything, even an old rag or empty bottle. All furniture was taken. The agent was calm and said little. His father, who is a very old man, cried during the two days I was in Yaowan. The agent said that his father had cried all day for every day since the second loot which was just a week before my arrival. 

The Hsuchowfu soldiers [arrived] on Sunday the 18th of the Chinese month at 10 o’clock and were feasted by the merchants who thought that they had come to protect the city [Yaowan] from the local soldiers who numbered 600. After the feasts at 3 o’clock they started the sack of the city, dragging small cannon and machine guns to blow open the front of the shops and banks. They only wanted money and fine clothes. They were immediately joined by the local soldiers and they went through the streets shooting at everything in sight. They looted for 7 hrs and after them came the canaille and the offal who looted all night. 

The next day not a man was seen in the streets all morning and at noon the Hsuchowfu soldiers fled for the hills near Taierchwang. The local men then came out and said that they had driven the Hsuchowfu men away and had saved and protected the city. For this they demanded P$30000 from the Chamber of Commerce President. At 2 o’clock they started the loot of the homes of the middle class and everything that they saw in these houses they took on the pretence that it was loot secured on the day before. They looted the middle class homes until dark and there was nothing left in Yaowan. The canaille and beggars looted after them and there was nothing left in Yaowan as the town had been cleaned. 

Then the local soldiers went to the telegraph office and forced the operator to wire to Nanking to the Civil Governor that they had saved Yaowan and had driven the reptiles from Hsuchowfu away. The Civil Governor telegraphed back saying that $500 would be given [to] them for this. For seven days after this until I came to Yaowan there was not a soul to be seen on the streets except soldiers and beggars as well as bandits. After the sack of Yaowan the Chamber of Commerce, who of course did not dare to touch Chang Hsun’s cut-throats who remained in the city, rounded up some score of local banditti and shot them on the bridge crossing the Canal. Those were the corpses that I saw. 

When I came to Yaowan and stayed there two days, I did not see a single merchant, gentry, or middle class person on the streets, nothing but soldiers, beggars, and rascals. The soldiers all wore very honest expressions. They said that they were upright men and a lot of them told me this. When I wanted to get into some shop or building or to see some particularly horrible detail of the loot of Yaowan it would be a soldier that would assist me and point out all of the interesting facts connected with the episode in a bright and happy way just as though they had been innocent spectators and had not looted a dollar in their lives. 

Thousands of the merchants were still hiding in cellars and in mud huts in the outskirts of the city. None of them had even seen what damage had been done to their establishments. They did not need to. They knew that every stick of wood, every stitch of clothing, every copper cash had been taken. Thousands of merchants had fled south. 

Absolutely nothing remained in Yaowan. Lots and lots of people cried all of the time but for the most part every one was in a daze and had an inane look on their faces. The old men always showed me the spots on their bodies where they had been beaten by the soldiers who wished to find if any money had been hidden. 

At Sutsien times were terrible. All night long our boat was tied up in the Canal about 3 li from the city walls and we could hear the guns going in the country all night. The southern men were fighting the tufei. Drayson and I sat on the roof of the boat, and talked all night. 

Thursday we reached Tsingkiangpu. I am now en route for Fowning, Yilin, and Yencheng, and am making a very long trip probably not to return for a long time. The country between Yilin and Hwaianfu is pretty bad but I don’t expect to have any trouble as I never have had any there before. I imagine Chinkiang is very sore because I have not yet reported to them the Yaowan situation in detail but am waiting to get a chance. 

I trust that you and Cora are well and will take care of yourselves. I am feeling pretty well my self and will be all right as long as I don’t have to take any Chinese food which I hope will not be necessary. However I have been very tired ever since I first heard the news of the loot of Yaowan and will have no rest for some time. 

I stopped last night in the great city of Taichow where Phil Clover was formerly stationed. There is no one of our staff there now. We were entertained by Evans of the Salt Gabelle of the Chinese Government which is one of those colateral guarantees for foreign loans which have to be under the control of foreigners with a Chinese colleague. We went to a big Chinese feast today and consumed a lot of assorted foods and native samshus.


Evans lives in a great compound, formerly an old temple, of several hundred rooms and any number of courtyards. It is a very beautiful place. The buildings are all very ancient and the courtyards filled with flowers and trees with fine red blossoms. There are long arched collonades that surround the courts and huge trees that hang over them. The whole place is in a state of sort of interesting ruin and Evans says that the temple was built before the Ming Dynasty, 600 years ago. Next to the compound is a Buddhist nunnery. Because of his position, Evans’s home and Salt office is guarded by the Salt soldiers. He, of course, is absolutely at ease as far as Chinese is concerned, which is natural as he was born in Shanghai. 

I trust that you will write often and that Cora will do the same. With much love 

Henry B. Keeler 

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