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Watch Out for Those Nuns….

I was reading the Judge Dee mystery The Willow Pattern, which includes a female character who fights with “loaded sleeves”. Basically, she puts little lead balls into the “pocket” of space inside her voluminous hanging sleeves and then whops people with them as necessary. Anyway, I ran across this rather interesting postscript in Robert Van Gulik’s author’s note at the end:

The art of fighting with loaded sleeves has survived till recent years. I was told during my stay in Peking in 1935 that the formidable reputation this art enjoys among the Chinese lower classes saved the lives of six western Catholic nuns during the Boxer troubles of 1900. The sisters were set upon by an angry mob when they were on their way to the fortified cathedral. Expecting to be slaughtered, they resignedly raised their folded hands, commending their souls to God. Suddenly one of the ruffians who was about to attack them shouted, “Look out! They’ve loaded sleeves!” The mob drew back and made way for the sisters, who safely reached the cathedral. What happened was that, when the sisters raised their hands, the breviaries they were carrying in their sleeves swung to and fro; their attackers…concluded that the sisters had ‘loaded sleeves’.

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