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Excerpts from Healing, Romance and Revolution • China 1926 

(Note: 1926 – 1928, encompassed, what became known as “The Northern Expedition,” a military campaign led by the Kuomintang [KMT)  main objective was to unify China under the Kuomintang banner by ending the rule of local warlords. It led to the Beiyang government’s demise; and, the Chinese 1928 reunification. Harriet was right in the middle of conflict as the warring armies moved up and down the Siang River.


The following are organized on the title themes of: Healing, Romance and Revolution

Harriet Holbrook Smith: Letters Home

Compiled by Carolyn and Dennis Buckmaster

Harriets Dilemma:

“ . . . the merest insinuation I might be thinking of fleeing to the ends of the earth instills great sorrow into the mind of both Father and Mother. Although they have brought us up under the teachings missionaries are sort of saints on earth, . . . “ . . . they seem to have a rather different feeling when the matter is . . . applied to their daughter, . . .”  “They realize I can hardly expect to spend my declining years running a diathermy machine, or turning an ultraviolet light onto a skinny baby, but the idea of going back to China . . . is a very distressing one. “. . . in spite of my globetrotting tendencies, I appreciate I owe something to the peace of mind of my parents, however dull and uninteresting I may occasionally find the daily routine, and the rather stupid evenings.”


Going to China:

“I see I did not mention, the 155 dead Chinese aboard, being taken home for burial; also six coffins in case any others die en route!”


“One “Britisher” was captured by some Chinese and for a couple of weeks held for ransom of $75,000, which was finally reduced to $5,000 cash. After all that is no more desperate than what happened to many people in the great and glorious USA.”


Conditions in China:

“Last year there was such a drought the rice was ruined and the whole country full of starving refugees as a result. Now it seems like there may be peril for flood.”


On vacation in Kuling:

“ . . . many little falls and a chute of racing water I sat and slid. I wore holes in my bathing suit and developed bruises on my bony hips where I tried going "belly flop." It was grand fun and we scrambled over rocks, got sunburned and had a merry time altogether.”



“She survived until this morning when she passed 46 worms at one time and then died. Goodness knows how many more animals she may have had in her interior.”


Healing and War:

“We have had one of General Ye Ting's soldiers in the hospital for several weeks. He was discharged this morning, but left behind him all his identification tags and his hat so no one would know he had been on that side.”



Mr. Archer, now known as Paddy, and I had a playful little contest this morning swinging as high as we could to see who could kick the ceiling flatfooted in the fewest pumps on the swing. Isn't that what you would call a delicate past time? The picture of your long-legged daughter pumping the swing over the young gentleman's head was very merry. You would doubtless have been edified.”


“As for my heart condition, so to speak, it's just adventuring with another sort of fire I never played with quite so before. He is an odd genius . . . He's Les, that's enough, about my own size, blonde and some five or four years younger, was a teacher here, now he's nothing but a . . . . He’s clever and has lots of brains but is a . . . .  I may never see him again; rather hope I don't because . . . It was all probably immoral from the standpoint of regulated society and all that - this business of . . . I shan't be doing it again very soon, but in the meantime  . . ."


“ . . . The result was Les and I sat on the porch until after 4 am in the coil of bathing suits, counting the stars and being much more scandalous. . . Honestly, I don't know why it is I get such crazy streaks now and then out here whereas at home I more or less behave.”



 “We are supposed to be entirely under Chinese supervision and all is merry. Sarah Ching says she is afraid they will replace foreigners with Chinese-trained until the standard will drop. She practically considers herself a foreigner and speaks quite scathingly of "these Chinese."


“I understand . . . the soldiers have been instructed not to lay hands on any students and if they do they will be beheaded .  .“. To be sure the threats and fulfillments on the beheading business are not very kind and seem a bit savage, but I can't help but think it would not be a bad idea to introduce it into some of our civilized countries.”


“There are always wars somewhere in China, but there seems to be a fair amount of murder theft and general strikes in other parts of the world to counterbalance it.”


“. . . today they bought off Wuchang for $60,000. They made the offer yesterday with the ultimatum that if it were not accepted and the northerners out of the city in 24 hours they would shell the whole city.”


“The southern troops now here are a well-travelled, weather-beaten outfit, some from Kwangtung and some from provinces. Their officers are quite neat and snappy and each General has a Russian advisor.”


“. . . one could hear the constant scurry of feet through the streets, a regular Pied Piper of Hamlin sort of exodus from the Chinese city. They said it had been much worse a few days before, rickshaws had stopped running and people were trying to transport their own possessions . . .   their fear is the retreating army. If the northern soldiers are defeated at Wuchang as they probably will be, they will retreat across the river and flee through Hankou. That will mean looting and perhaps burning, . . . as it is an old custom soldiers do so to prevent the invaders enjoying their prize . . .”


American Consulate Changsha, China
Strictly Confidential

Dear Miss Smith,

Recent advice has come to me from an authoritative source, which renders it imperative, I request you to withdraw immediately from Changsha to a larger port in China where protection can more readily be given. If practicable I advise you to withdraw from China.

Please avail yourself of the first opportunity to depart for Hankow.

Very respectfully yours,
J. C. Vincent American Vice Consul in Charge.