A great fuss was made about me when I went to visit the governor of the prison one wet morning. He met me with great ostentation at the entrance, escorting me through a clean courtyard, on either side of which were pretty flower-beds and plots of green turf, to a reception-room. There was nothing “quadlike” about the place. This reception-room, furnished on a semi-Occidental plan, overlooked the main prison buildings, contained foreign glass windows draped with white curtains, was scrupulously clean for China, and had magnificent hanging scrolls on the whitewashed walls. Tea was soon brewed, and the governor, wishing to be polite and sociable, told me that he had been in Yuen-nan-fu for a few months only, and that he considered himself an extremely fortunate fellow to be in charge of such an excellent prison—one of the finest in the kingdom, he assured me.
After we had drunk each other’s health—I sincerely trust that the cute, courteous old chap will live a long and happy life, although to my way of thinking the knowledge of the evil deeds of all the criminals around me would considerably minimize the measure of bliss among such intensely mundane things—I was led away to the prison proper.
This gaol, which had been opened only a few months, is a remarkably fine building, and with the various workshops and outhouses and offices covers from seven to eight acres of ground inside the city. The outside, and indeed the whole place, bears every mark of Western architecture, with a trace here and there of the Chinese artistry, and for carved stone and grey-washed brick might easily be mistaken for a foreign building. It cost some ninety thousand taels to build, and has accommodation for more than the two hundred and fifty prisoners at present confined within its walls.
After an hour’s inspection, I came to the conclusion that the lot of the prisoners was cast in pleasant places. The food was being prepared at the time—three kinds of vegetables, with a liberal quantity of rice, much better than nine-tenths of the poor brutes lived on before they came to gaol. Besworded warders guarded the entrances to the various outbuildings. From twenty to thirty poor human beings were manacled in their cells, condemned to die, knowing not how soon the pleasure of the emperor may permit of them shuffling off this mortal coil: one grey-haired old man was among the number, and to see him stolidly waiting for his doom brought sad thoughts.
The long-termed prisoners work, of course, as they do in all prisons. Weaving cloth, mostly for the use of the military, seemed to be the most important industry, there being over a score of Chinese-made weaving machines busily at work. The task set each man is twelve English yards per day; if he does not complete this quantity he is thrashed, if he does more he is remunerated in money. One was amused to see the English-made machine lying covered with dust in a corner, now discarded, but from its pattern