The Times’s man in Beijing, 1900

George Ernest Morrison liked to think of himself as an empire-builder in the Cecil Rhodes mould. The Boxers’ siege of China’s capital certainly gave his a chance to enrich himself. This account comes from “Hermit of Peking”. Hugh Trevor-Roper’s biography of another unscrupulous China hand, the deeply eccentric, thoroughly unreliable Sir Edmund Backhouse:

Immediately after the relief [Morrison] installed himself, since his own house had been burned, in the house of a wealthy Chinese prince – “a perfect museum” of treasures, including a splendid library – and looted every object in it down to the garden flowers. “I have left him the glass in the windows, but nothing else,” he remarked complacently, when the prince’s possessions had all been shipped, via Tientsin, to “a safe place” He also managed to secure some notable relics from the Palace, amongst them the jade prayer-book from the Empress Dowager’s bedroom… At one moment it was announced in England that the legations had been captured and the defenders massacred. The Times thereupon published an obituary notice of him so laudatory that, as he himself afterwards remarked, they simply had to raise his salary when he emerged alive and would never be able to dismiss him afterwards.

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