The story of Chini-Bagh and its proprietor

The story of Chini-Bagh and its proprietor

On the Sketch Map of Kashgar City produced in 1908 (shown in Image 48), we can see the British Embassy is situated outside the northern city gate. While we previously ascertained that Lady Catherine, the wife of an English ambassador, lived these faint dotted lines, we have yet to delve into the fascinating subjects of her dwelling "Chini-Bagh" and her husband George Macartney.

In 1890, aged 24, George Macartney was sent to live in Kashgar by the British government. His initial residence was located on the grounds of the embassy, outside the northern city gates, and boasted a beautiful garden. Macartney called this residence Chini-Bagh: a mixture of the English word 'Chinese' and the Uyghur word bagh meaning 'garden'. This name was later adopted by the local population to refer to the Embassy.

Image 48: Part of the Sketch Map of Kashgar from 1908

The British Embassy shown in Image 49 was actually completed in 1913, 23 years after Macartney arrived in Kashgar. The embassy, which was designed by the Swedish missionary Lars Erik Högberg, is a delicate fusion of European and Central Asian architecture comprising 22 buildings. Its construction began in January 1912 and finished in October of the next year. The materials used in its construction were chosen with great care — many of them were imported from all the way in Europe.

In addition to George and Catherine Macartney and their three children (Eric, Robin and Silvia), these resplendent grounds were also home to the families of five Uyghur servants, two Indian secretaries, one Indian doctor and a number of guards. Renowned Western explorers — such as Sven Hedin, from Sweden; Aurel Stein, from England; Albert Von Le Coq, from Germany; and George Ernest Morrison, from Australia — were all hospitably entertained at Chini-Bagh during their lifetime.

Image 49: Outside the entrance to the British Embassy in Kashgar, 1929

The grounds of Chini-Bagh were immense and divided into two tiers linked by stairs. Growing in the garden on the higher tier were a number of fruit trees, as well as different kinds of vegetables. "A profusion of fruits contend for one's gaze: there are peaches, apricots, figs, pomegranates, and mulberries — some white and some black." Macartney used to graft shoots from English apple trees, pear trees, plums, and cherries onto local plants. Meanwhile, the garden on the lower tier was shrouded in dark, luxuriant foliage: there were willows, elms, and white poplars, "as well as a local species from Kashgar known in Chinese as the desert jujube." "However, the most soul-stirring sight in the whole garden was the lookout point", from which one could see the whole of Kashgar: its roads, people toiling in the fields, and even the Tuman river bed in the distance.

In the mid-20th Century, as English forces pulled out of Xinjiang and the People's Republic was founded, Chini-Bagh was eventually abandoned. Today, this centennial building is occupied by a Chinese restaurant. Images 50 and 51 show the interior and exterior of Chini-Bagh, which in recent years has become a popular tourist site. Perhaps readers will have the urge to visit this rare European-style building and gain a sense of its history — the stories it has witnessed, and the important people it has accommodated.

Image 49: Outside the entrance to the British Embassy in Kashgar, 1929

There is many a story to be told about the proprietor of Chini-Bagh, George Macartney. Macartney was of partially Chinese descent. If we look closely at his photo (Image 52), it is not hard to see that his face has distinctly Chinese features.

George Macartney's father, Halliday, was a Scotsman; his name was translated into Chinese as Ma Geli. Halliday Macartney is a legendary figure in China's modern history: he helped Li Hongzhang suppress the Taiping Rebellion and founded China's first munitions factory, the Jinling Machine Manufacturing Bureau. George's mother was a local Chinese woman of Han descent whose identity is shrouded in mystery. Some say she is the daughter of an upper-class family, while others say she was a princess of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.

In December 1863, the Huai Army and the army in which Halliday fought, the Changsheng or "Ever-Victorious" Army (also known in Chinese history books as the "Western rifle squad"), joined forces and launched an attack on the Taiping soldiers in Suzhou.

Image 51: Recent photo from inside the former embassy

Although they initially incurred heavy losses, they were able to exploit factions in the Taiping Army and convince them to surrender. The two sides reached a peace agreement in which Charles George Gordon, the leader of the Ever-Victorious Army, acted as a personal guarantor. According to the agreement, the Heavenly Kingdom's "King of Tributes", Gao Yongkuan, would surrender the city after killing the "King of Admiration", Tan Shaoguang.

However, Li Hongzhang violated the agreement only three days after the Taiping army surrendered. Much like the myth of the "feast at Hong Gate" (in which Xiang Zhuang, the cousin of warlord Xiang Yu, performs a sword dance with the intent of killing rival warlord Liu Bang), Li Hongzhang invited the former kings of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom to a banquet, where they were ambushed and killed by soldiers. Charles George Gordon and Halliday Macartney were both furious about the kings' assassination and declared that they wished to end their alliance with Li Hongzhang, although they were eventually able to make amends. Macartney and his allies would later devote themselves to protecting the families of the fallen kings, leading many to believe that his wife was the niece or close relative of the King of Tributes, Gao Yongkuan.

Halliday Macartney and his Chinese wife lived in Nanjing for 12 years, during which they had four children together (three boys and one girl). In 1876, he returned to England with the first Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Guo Songtao, on what he claimed was a temporary business trip, but was in reality a permanent departure. Macartney's 10-year-old son, George, also accompanied his father back to England, so that he could receive a British education. While we don't know if Macartney contacted his wife following his return, we do know that she died only two years after he left. In 1884, he married a young French woman named Jeanne du Sautoy, with whom he would conceive another four children — again, three boys and one girl.

Image 52: Sir George Macartney at the British Embassy in Kashgar

Throughout his entire life, George Macartney avoided the subject of his mother and childhood, refusing even to talk to his children about their grandmother. And in his wife Lady Catherine's memoirs, not a word can be found about her mother-in-law. The "King of Tributes" Gao Yongkuan was once a powerful general under the "King of Loyalty" Li Xiucheng's command. He was born in Qichun, Hebei Province. As a relative of Gao Yongkuan, Halliday Macartney's wife was most likely a native of Qichun, too. Although there are no extant photos of this woman, George's features certainly suggest that his mother was a typically Southern Chinese beauty.

In the mid-19th Century, this nameless woman was swept up by the historical Taiping Rebellion as it took southeast China by storm. During this era of great turmoil, the Taiping soldiers led campaigns in Jiangsu, Shanghai and Zhejiang, before finally surrendering in Suzhou. When the King of Tributes was killed, she married the Westerner who was once his enemy and gave birth to four children of mixed descent. Her story is truly a case of fiction being stranger than reality — it is true, and yet it has all the twists and turns of a TV drama.

In 1864, when the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was defeated, many of the Taiping soldiers fled overseas, where they were forced to do underpaid and difficult labor. There are records of a fleet of Taiping soldiers who fled to South America and subsequently planned to overthrow their employer due to their inhumane working conditions. The truth is that George Macartney's Chinese mother was the wife of a Taiping general — the story of her getting married to a Westerner is only one of many fables.

Image 53: Halliday Macartney

During the Qing Dynasty, there was a folk song from southern Jiangnan Province by the name of The Pea Flowers Bloom and Their Stamens are Red that the Hong Kong network TVB used as the ending theme of their series Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. This melodious and stirring folk song is sung in Suzhounese. Its lyrics describe the complicated feelings of a mother or lover of a Taiping general as she anxiously awaits his return from battle. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the general has died in battle. With no hope of being reunited with her lover, all the woman can do is watch the pea flowers bloom, year after year. One can imagine that Macartney's mother once felt this way about her relative as he fought on the frontlines of the Taiping Rebellion. In honor of the ordinary women whose lives were turned upside down by the Taiping Rebellion, I have chosen to include the lyrics as follows:

The pea flowers bloom and their stamens are red;
The young Taiping soldiers have left without a trace.
I keep watch from dusk till dawn;
For three years, I have stood by the door into the depths of winter,
All I see is the geese flying south —
Never do I see the Taiping soldiers come home.

The pea flowers bloom and their stamens are red;
The young Taiping soldiers have left without a trace.
I make new clothes for them to wear,
I build new houses for them to live in,
All I see is the geese flying south —
Never do I see the soldiers come home.

The pea flowers bloom and their stamens are red;
The young Taiping soldiers have left without a trace.
Their mothers cry until their hair is white,
Their sisters cry until their eyes are red.
All they see is the geese flying south —
Never do they see the soldiers come home.

The pea flowers bloom and their stamens are red;
Their pods are perfect for use as seeds.
The next year, we'll sow their seeds 
and the flowers will be even more red.
Those five syllables — "young Taiping soldier" —
Are forever etched in our hearts.

The first ten years of Macartney's life were spent in Nanjing; from 10 to 24, he studied in England; in the 28 years from ages 24 to 52, he worked at "Chini-Bagh" in Kashgar; and finally, from 52 to 78, he lived on the Bailiwick of Jersey, passing away on May 19, 1945. While the story of his life at Chini-Bagh has been told, there are still a wealth of official records from his 28-year-long career as an ambassador that are stored in the British Library's Indian Office Records and which still need to be further organized, translated and studied.

Main references

Macartney, Catherine and Shipton, Diana (authors); Wang Weiping and Cui Yanhu (translators): Recollections of Diplomats' Wives. Xinjiang People's Publishing Press, 2010.

He Weifang: The lifetime of Sir George Macartney. Panorama. December 2012.