Tan Sitong's 'Misty Room'

Tan Sitong, the late-Qing politician, reformist and philosopher, was born in 1865 at Lanman Alley near Beijing's Xuanwumen to a family from Liuyang in Hunan Province.

Diagonally opposite present-day Caishikou Department Store in Beijing is an alley named Beibanjie, and at 41 stands the building that in Tan Sitong's time was the site of the Liuyang Guildhall. Tan Sitong lived in a room in the courtyard which he named the "Misty Room" and it was here that he compiled the poetry anthology verses from the Misty Room in 1895. As a radical reformer, Tan maintained close ties with Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao and, at the time of the Reformer reform Movement of a1898, lived just one alley away from Kang Youwei, whose residence was in Mishi (Rice Market) Alley. Most of Tan' s essays, poems and letters were written during this period.

With the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, 29-year-old Tan Sitong secretly circulated a number of progressive works, including the Mingyi Interviews, a late Ming work which was critical of autocratic monarchy and advocated democracy, industry and commerce, and Ten Days at Yangzhou, which told how the Qing army had occupied the city and massacred its citizens in 10 days of slaughter.

In a burst of patriotic ardor, Tan returned to his hometown in Liuyang and established the Current Affairs School, the School for Preparing Defenses and the Southern Institute. He also ran periodicals such as the Hunan New Studies and the Hunan Daily.

Tan Sitong came to be recognized and admired by the reformist sympathizer Xu Zhijing, vice-minister of the Ministry of Ceremonies who recommended him to Emperor Guangxu. On September 5,1898, the emperor summoned Tan to an audience and asked him to become a member of the cabinet of the newly established reformist government. On the night of September 18, he went alone to the Fuhua Temple to visit Yuan Shikai and attempted to persuade him to give his support to the Reform Movement. Yuan, however, double-crossed him and betrayed the reformers to the Empress Dowager who sent Qing soldiers to arrest Tan Sitong at the Liuyang Guildhall on September 26.

Some days before his arrest, friends advised Tan to leave Beijing and seek refuge in Japan. Tan's father repeatedly urged him to return south for a "family visit" to avoid the imminent disaster, but Tan refused. He explained: "Reform has never come about in any country without the flow of blood. No one in China in modern times has sacrificed himself for the cause of reform, and because of this China is still a poor and backward country. Therefore, I request that the sacrifices begin with myself."

On the afternoon of September 28,1898, Tan Sitong, Kang Guangren (Kang Youwei' s younger brother), Yang Shenxiu, Yang Rui, Lin Xu and Liu Guangdi were executed by command of Empress Dowager Cixi at Caishikou. Tan Sitong, only 33 at the time, faced the executioner and the crowed of thousands which had gathered to watch and recited the words he had composed the night before:

I am yet determined to kill my enemies
But I cannot escape my fate.
For the sake of ideals have been striving for
I shall die joyfully!

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