Burton Holmes, the man who brought the world home

Excerpt from the book "Burton Holmes Travelogues"

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China: Opening the forbidden city

China is a colossal puzzle. The outside world has tried in vain to solve it, by means of force, railways and Christianity. To force, China opposes weakness, and weakness is victorious; to railways, she opposes unquenchable superstition, and superstition conquers; and Christianity, she opposes the weight of accumulated tradition, and thus far tradition has prevailed. The tide of Progress is sweeping the nations of the West out upon the oceans in this new century. But China, moored to the rocks of immutability, resists the modern current, despite the efforts of all Christendom to cut the cables of conservatism that bind her to the past.

Far more interesting to the traveler of 1901 was the China of the Imperial yesterday, the China of old-time art and ancient mystery of quaint costume and quainter customs - the China that revered Confucius and feared that most masterful woman of her generation, the indomitable Empress Dowager.

Peking is not only the capital of China, but it is one of the important capitals of the world, so absolutely unique that the traveler will consider it one of the world's great spectacles. It is a city in three parts, the Imperial Palace lying deep within the confines of The Forbidden City, which in itself is surrounded by the Tatar City, and, outside of all, the Chinese City.

The once invisible Peking - the Peking of the privileged and semi-sacred few, was now available to my cameras. Peking, capital of the Celestial Empire - half hidden in a haze of incandescent dust - dominated by sixteen towering city gates - shut in by miles of jealous walls now breached and tunneled for the invading locomotive. Here the troops of many nations quarter in her sacred places -
her innermost "Forbidden City" becomes the playground of the curious - the palaces of the "Son of Heaven" are profaned and despoiled - her population cowed and embittered, regarding with mute defiance the exodus of the avengers and the rebuilding of the fortress-like legations - this is the Peking of the year of Our Lord 1901 in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion.
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Burton Holmes, ca. 1902