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Objects in visiting China — My boat and boatmen — A groundless alarm — Chinese pilgrims — Chair-bearers — Road to Ayuka's temple — Crowds by the way — Shyness of ladies — Description of scenery — Wild flowers — Tea-farms — Approaches to temple — Ancient tree — Hawkers and their stalls — Scene in temple — Visit to high priest — Shay-le or precious relic — Its history and traditions — A picnic — Character of the people for sobriety — An evening stroll — The temple at night — Huge idols — Queen of Heaven and child — Superstitions of Chinese women. 



MY chief object in coining to China at this time was to procure a number of first-rats black-tea manufacturers, with large supplies of tea-seeds, plants, and implements, such as were used in the best districts, for the Government plantations in the north-west provinces of India. Leaving Taiping-Wang to fight his battles in the province of Kiang-su and elsewhere, I sailed for the town of Ningpo in the province of Chekiang, and on my arrival at that port started immediately for the tea districts in the interior. I had engaged a small covered boat, such as is used on the canals in this part of the country. It was divided into three compartments: that in the stern was occupied by the boatmen, who propelled the boat by a powerful scull, which worked on a small pivot; the centre was occupied by myself, and the forepart by my servants. The length of time these boatmen are able to work this scull is very extraordinary. It is customary with them to go on continually both day and night,  from the  commencement of a  journey until its end. When working in rivers, when it is calm, or when the wind is a-head, they have to anchor when the tide is against them, and in this way rest for six hours at a time; but in canals, when the tide is not felt, they go on always both night and day. And what is more wonderful still, the greater part of the work is done by one, and that one is oftentimes a mere boy. The boatman in each boat is generally the owner, and the boy is engaged by him to assist in the working of the boat. Hence the former is the master and the latter the man; and as a matter of course the man has to do the greater part of the work. But these boys are well fed and kindly treated by their masters, and they seem happy and contented with their lot in life. This continual working with the scull seems to unfit them for any other kind of work; when on shore they walk badly with a sort of rolling motion, much worse than that of a common sailor, and seem altogether like a "fish out of water."

The distance from the city of Ningpo to the end of the canal and foot of the hills to which I was bound was about ten or twelve miles. As we had travelled all night we reached the end of the canal some time before daybreak. I had slept pretty well on the way, but was now awakened by the sounds of hundreds of voices, some talking, others screaming at their loudest pitch, and the shrill tones of the women were heard far above those of the men. Half-awake as I was at first, I almost thought I had fallen in with a party of Tai-ping-Wang's army; but my servants and the boatmen soon set me right on that point, by informing me the multitudes in question were on their way to Ah-yuh-Wang, or Ayuka's temple, to worship and burn incense at its shrines. To fall asleep again was now out of the question, owing to the noise and excitement by which I was surrounded. I therefore got up and dressed, and took a seat on the roof of my boat, when I had a moonlight view of what was going on around me. Every boat seemed crowded with pilgrims, the greater part by far consisting of well-dressed females, all in their holiday attire. As daylight dawned the view became more distinct. Each boat was now brought close to the banks of the canal, in order that the passengers might be able to get on shore. I pitied the ladies, poor things! with their small cramped feet, for it was with great difficulty they could walk along the narrow plank which connected the boat with the bank of the canal. But the boatmen and other attendants were most gallant in rendering all the assistance in their power, and the fair sex were for the most part successful in reaching "terra firma" without any accident worth relating. Numerous chair-bearers and chairs lined the banks of the  canal, all anxious for hire; and if the more wealthy-looking did not get conveyances of this kind, it certainly was not the fault of the owners of these vehicles, for they were most importunate in their offers. Indeed so much was this the case, that in many instances under my observation the wavering pilgrim was almost lifted into the chair before he was aware of it. These chairs are extremely light and simple in their construction. They are formed of two long bamboo poles, with a small piece of wood slung between them, on which the traveller sits, and another smaller piece slung lower and more forward, on which he rests his feet. Sometimes, when ladies and children were to be carried, and the weight consequently light, I observed two or three of these seats slung between the poles, and this number of persons carried by two stout coolies with the greatest ease. 


After taking my morning cup of tea within sight of numerous plantations of the "herb" itself, which are dotted on the sides of the hills here, I joined the motley crowd, and proceeded with them to Ayuka's temple. When I got outside of the little village at the end of the canal, and on a little eminence beyond it, I obtained a long view of the mountain-road which leads to the temple. And a curious and strange view this was. Whether I looked before or behind me, I beheld crowds of people of both sexes and of all ages, wending their way to worship at the altars of the "unknown God." They were generally divided into small groups — little families or parties — as they had left their native villages, and most of these parties had a servant or two walking behind them, and carrying some food to refresh them by the way, and a bundle of umbrellas to protect them from the rain. Each of the ladies — young and old — who were not in chairs, walked with a long stick, which was used partly to prevent her from stumbling, and partly to help her along the road. Most of them were dressed gaily in silks, satins, and crapes of various colours, but blue seemed the favourite and predominating one. As I walked onward and passed group after group on the way, the ladies, as etiquette required, looked demure and shy, as if they could neither speak nor smile. Sometimes one past the middle age would condescend to answer me goodhumouredly; but this was even rare. The men on the contrary were chatty enough, and so were the ladies too as soon as I had passed them and joined other groups farther a-head. Oftentimes I heard a clear ringing laugh, after I had passed, from the lips of some fair one who but a minute before had looked as if she had never given way to such frivolity in her life. 

But while I am still on a little eminence from which I have been viewing man, let me turn to the other and not less beautiful works of nature. Behind me lay a large and fertile valley, the same through which I had passed during the night, intersected in all directions with navigable canals, and teeming with an industrious and happy people. As it was now "the bonnie month of May," the rice crops had been some time in the ground, and the valley was consequently covered with dense masses of the loveliest green. Waterwheels were observed in all directions, some worked by men, and other and larger ones by bullocks, and all pouring streams of water upon the rice crops from the various canals which intersect the valley. At the foot of the hills near where I stood were numerous small tea-farms, formed on the slopes, while groups of junipers and other sombre-looking pines marked the last resting-places of the wealthy. The ancient tombs of the Ming dynasty are also common here, but they are generally in a ruinous condition; and had it not been for the huge blocks of granite cut into the forms of men and other animals, of which they are composed, there would have been long ago no marks to point out the last resting-places of these ancient rulers of China. So much for human greatness! Higher up on the hill-sides the ground was cultivated and ready to receive the summer crops of sweet potatoes and Indian corn. Beyond that again were barren mountains covered with long grass and brushwood, which the industry of the Chinese is never likely to bring under cultivation. Both below and above, on the roadsides, in the hedges, and on every spot not under cultivation, wild flowers were blooming in the greatest profusion. In the hedges the last fading blossoms of the beautiful spring-flowering Forsythia viridissima were still hanging on the bushes, while several species of wild roses, Spirζa Reevesiana, clematises, and Glycine sinensis, were just coming into bloom. But look a little higher up to that gorgeously painted hill-side, and see those masses of yellow and white flowers; what are they? The yellow is the lovely Azalea sinensis, with its colours far more brilliant, and its trusses of flowers much larger, than they are ever seen in any of our exhibitions in Europe. The white is the little-known Amelanchier racemosa. Amongst these, and scattered over the hill-sides, are other azaleas, having flowers of many different hues, and all very beautiful. It is still early morning; the sun is just appearing on the tops of the eastern mountains; the globules of heavy dew sparkle on the grass and flowers; the lark and other sweet songsters of the feathered race are pouring out of their little mouths sweet and melodious songs. I looked with delight on the beautiful scene spread out before me, and thought within myself, if Nature is so beautiful now, what must it have been before the Fall, when man was holy! 

As I approached Ayuka's temple I observed other roads leading to the same point, crowded with people such as I have already described, all hurrying on to pay their vows at the altars of Buddha. The scenery in front of the temple, although in a ruinous condition now, at some former time was no doubt very pretty. Entering through an ancient gateway, a paved path led straight up to the edifice, over an ornamental bridge, which at one time probably spanned the neck of a small lake, in which was cultivated the sacred lotus (Nelumbium speciosum), but which was now in these degenerate days allowed to get choked up with weeds. Near this bridge a noble specimen of the camphor-tree (Laurus camphora) lay prostrate on the ground, having been blown down by a typhoon many years ago. The curious gnarled and angular branches for which this tree is remarkable when it is alive and standing, seemed more striking in its prostrate and withered condition. For many years this relic of former days had been carefully preserved by the priests, and was now looked upon by them and the visitors as nearly as holy as the temple itself. From the gateway up to the doors of the temple numerous stalls were erected for the sale of candles, joss-sticks, sycee paper, and such things as are used in the worship of Buddha. Others were of a less holy character, and contained cakes and sweetmeats, toys, curiosities, and things likely to attract the notice of the country people. It was curious to mark the enthusiasm with which these pedlers endeavoured to get off their goods. Every passer-by was pressed to buy, and particularly those who had not their hands full of candles, incenses, and other articles which they were supposed to require. In many instances I observed the venders actually laid hold of the people, and almost forced them to spend money on some articles ere they would allow them to go on. Of course this was done in the most perfect good humour. These pedlers are first-rate physiognomists; they know at a glance those who are likely to become customers, and, should the slightest hesitation be visible on any countenance, that man is doomed to spend his money ere he passes the stall. 

I now entered the temple itself, and found it crowded with idolaters. The female sex seemed much more numerous than the male, and apparently more devout. They were kneeling on cushions placed in front of the altars, and bowing low to the huge images which stood before them. This prostration they repeated many times, and when they had finished this part of their devotions they lighted candles and incense, and placed them on the altars. Returning again to the cushion, they continued their prostration for a few seconds, and then gave way to other devotees, who went through the same forms. Some were appealing directly to the deity for an answer to their petitions by means of two small pieces of wood, rounded on the one side and flat on the other. If on being thrown into the air the sticks fell on the flat side, they had then an assurance of a favourable answer to their prayers; but owing to the laws of gravitation these stubborn little bits of wood fell much oftener on the rounder and heavier side than on the other, and gave the poor heathen a world of anxiety and trouble. Other devotees were busily engaged in shaking a hollow bamboo tube which contained a number of small sticks, each having a Chinese character upon it. An adept in shaking can easily detach one of these sticks from the others, and when it falls upon the floor it is picked up and taken to a priest, who reads the character and refers to his book for the interpretation thereof. A small slip of paper is now given to the devotee, which he carries home with him, and places in his house or in his fields, in order to bring him good luck. I observed that not unfrequently it was very difficult to satisfy these persons with the paper given to them by the priest, and that they often referred to those who were standing around, and asked their opinion on the matter. 

The scene altogether was a striking one, and was well calculated to make a deep impression on the mind of any one looking on as I was. Hundreds of candles were burning on the altars, clouds of incense were rising and filling the atmosphere; from time to time a large drum was struck which could be heard at a distance outside the building; and bells were tinkling and mingling their sounds with those of the monster drum. The sounds of many of these bells are finer than anything I ever heard in England. Most of the fine ones are ancient, and were made at a time when the arts ranked higher in China than they do at the present day. 

In the midst of all these religious services, which candour compels me to say were outwardly most devoutly performed, things were going on amongst the worshippers which as foreigners and Christians we cannot understand. Many, who had either been engaged in these ceremonies or intended to take their part in them, were sitting, looking on, and laughing, chatting, or smoking, as if they had been looking on one of their plays. And it was not unusual to see a man fill his pipe with tobacco, and quietly walk up and light it at one of the candles which were burning on the altar. 

After looking on this curious and noisy scene for a little while, I was glad to leave it for the quieter parts of the building. I went in the first place to pay my respects to the high-priest, and found him occupying some small rooms built at one side of the large temple. With Chinese politeness he received me cordially and made me sit down on the seat of honour in his little room. A little boy who served him brought in a tray, on which a number of teacups were placed filled with delicious tea. Two1 of these cups were put down before me, and I was pressed to "drink tea." As the day was excessively warm, the pure beverage was most welcome and refreshing. Reader, there was no sugar nor milk in this tea, nor was there any Prussian blue or gypsum; but I found it most refreshing, for all that it lacked these civilised ingredients. The good old man was very chatty, and gave me a great deal of information about himself and the temple. The revenues of the temple were derived partly from certain lands in the vicinity which belonged to it, and partly from the contributions of devout Buddhists who came there to worship. The high-priest himself also contributed largely to its support. On inquiring how this happened, he informed me that he was obliged to contribute a large sum — I think he said 3000 dollars — before he could be elected to the office he now held, and that he held it for three years only, when his successor would have to contribute a similar sum. This sum was spent in keeping the temple in repair. I understood him to say that the inducement held out to men of his class is high honours at the end of the three years when they retire into private life. 

When we had sipped our tea, I then told the high-priest I had heard there was a Shay-le or relic of Buddha in the monastery, and expressed a desire to see it. He appeared pleased to find the fame of the relic had reached my ears, and sent immediately for the priest under whose charge it was placed, and desired him to show it to me. I now bade adieu to the old man, and followed my guide to that part of the monastery where the relic was kept. On our way he asked me whether it was my intention to burn incense to Buddha before the box which contained the relic was opened. I replied that not being a Buddhist I could not do that, but I would give him a small present for opening the box — a way of settling the question which seemed to please him quite as well as buying candles and incense to burn at the shrine. I found the precious relic locked up in a bell-shaped dome. When this was opened I observed a small pagoda carved in wood, and evidently very ancient. It was about ten inches or a foot in height, and four inches in width. In the centre was a small bell, and near the bottom of this the shay-le or relic was said to be placed. "I can see nothing there," said I to my guide. "Oh," said he, "you must get it between you and the light, and then you may see it; it is sometimes very brilliant, but only to those who believe." "I am afraid it will not shine for my gratification then," said I; but I stood in the position my guide indicated. It might be imagination, I dare say it was, but I really thought I saw something unusual in the thing, as if some brilliant colours were playing about it. The Reverend Dr. Medhurst, of the London Missionary Society, who has since visited and examined the relic, could see nothing "because he had no faith;" and if at any time there is anything to be seen, such an appearance could no doubt be easily explained from natural causes. The priest informed me the precious relic had been obtained from the top of a hill behind the temple by their forefathers, who had handed it down with the traditions attending it to the present generation, and that they wanted no further proof of its being genuine. 

Shay-le, or precious relics of Buddha, are found in many of the Buddhist temples. In a former work 2  I have described two in the celebrated monastery of Koo-shan, near Foo-chow-foo in Fokien. In a note published by the Reverend Dr. Medhurst the history of such relics is given by the Chinese in the following manner: — "The Buddhists say there are 84,000 pores in a man's body, and thus, by following corruption and passing through transmigration, he leaves behind him 84,000 particles of miserable dust. Buddha's body has also 84,000 pores, but by resisting evil and reverting to truth he has perfected 84,000 relics; these are as hard and as bright as diamonds, affording benefit to men and devas wherein they are deposited. * * * * Eight kings contended for these relics, which were divided into three parts, one being assigned to the devas, one to the nagas, and the third to the eight kings. During Buddha's lifetime he was begging with O-nan in a lane, when they saw two boys playing with earth; one of them, being struck with the dignified appearance of Buddha, presented him with some pellets of earth, expressing a wish at the same time that he might in future become one of his most zealous worshippers. Buddha then addressed O-nan, saying, 'After my obtaining nirvaan (nothingness, i.e. death), this child will become a king, ruling over the southern kingdoms, and building pagodas for the preservation of my relics.' This was Ayuka, who afterwards built 84,000 pagodas; nineteen of these were constructed in China, and one of them was fixed on the snow-hill in the prefecture of Ningpo, commonly called Yuh-wong. About the time of the Three Kingdoms (A.D. 230) a priest named Hwuy came to Nanking, where he built a shed. The people thought him a strange being, and brought him to Sun-keuen, the ruler of the country, who asked him for the proofs of his religion. Hwuy replied that Buddha left a number of relics, over which Ayuka had built 84,000 pagodas. Sun-keuen thought it was all nonsense, and told him that if he could find a relic he might build a pagoda over it. Hwuy then filled a bottle with water, and offered up incense before it for twenty-one days; at the expiration of that period he heard a sound proceeding from the bottle resembling that of a bell. Hwuy then went to look at it, and perceived that the relic was formed. The next day he presented it to Sun-keuen; the whole of the courtiers examined it, and saw the bottle illuminated with all sorts of brilliant colours. Keuen took the bottle, and poured out its contents into a dish; when the relic came in contact with the dish it broke the vessel to pieces. Keuen was astonished and said, 'That is very curious.' Hwuy then addressed him, saying, 'This relic is not only capable of emitting light, but no fire will burn, nor diamond-headed hammer bruise it.' He then placed the relic on an anvil, and caused a strong man to strike it with all his might, when the hammer and anvil were both broken, and the relic remained uninjured. Keuen then assented to the construction of the pagoda. The Chinese say that they can sometimes discern the relic illumined with brilliant colours, and as big as a cart-wheel, while the unbelievers can see nothing at all." 

Such are the Chinese traditions concerning these so-called precious relics of Buddha, which one meets with so frequently in Buddhist temples, not only in China, but also in India. 

After inspecting this precious relic I returned through the various temples, which were still crowded with worshippers, to the open air. As the day was warm, I sought shelter from the scorching rays of the sun in a little wood of bamboos and pines which was close at hand. Here I mixed with groups of worshippers who were now picnicking under the shade which the trees afforded. Each little group had brought its own provisions, which appeared to be relished with great zest. In many instances I was asked to join with them and partake of their homely fare, an invitation which I declined, I trust, in as polite a manner as that in which it was given. Many of them seemed weary and footsore with their long journey, but all were apparently happy and contented, and during the day I did not observe a single instance of drunkenness or any disturbance whatsoever. The Chinese as a nation are a quiet and sober race: their disturbances when they have them are unusually noisy, but they rarely come to blows, and drunkenness is almost unknown in the country districts, and rare even in densely populated cities. In these respects the lower orders in China contrast favourably with the same classes in Europe, or even in India. 

When the sun had got a little to the westward, and his rays less powerful, I left the temple and took my way to the hills. In a few minutes that busy scene of idol-worship which I have endeavoured to describe was completely shut out from my view. As I went along I came sometimes unexpectedly on a quiet and lonely valley where the industrious labourers were busily at work in the fields, or on a hill-side where the natives were gathering their first crop of tea. Here is no apparent want, and certainly no oppression; the labourer is strong, healthy, and willing to work, but independent, and feels that he is "worthy of his hire." None of that idleness and cringing is here which one sees amongst the natives of India, for example, and other eastern nations. 

Time passed swiftly by when wandering amongst such interesting scenery, and as evening was coming on I returned to the temple, in which I proposed taking up my quarters for the night. Now the scene had entirely changed: the busy crowds of worshippers were gone, the sounds of bell and drum had ceased, and the place which a short time before was teeming with life was now as silent as the grave. The huge idols — many of them full thirty feet high — looked more solemn in the twilight than they had done during the day. 

The Mahβrβjas, or four great kings of Devas, looked quite fierce; Me-lie-Fuh, or the merciful one, a stout, jovial-looking personage, always laughing and in good-humour, seemed now to grin at me; while the three precious Buddhas, the past, present, and future, looked far more solemn and imposing than they usually do by day. The Queen of Heaven (Kwan-yin), with her child in her arms, and with rocks, clouds, and ocean scenery in the background, rudely carved in wood and gaudily painted, was the only one that did not seem to frown. What a strange representation this is, rude though it be! some have supposed that this image represents the Virgin Mary and infant Saviour, and argue from this that Buddhism and Christianity have been mixed up in the formation of the Buddhist religion, or that the earlier Buddhists in Tibet and India have had some slight glimmerings of the Christian faith. The traveller and missionary M. Huc is, I believe, of this opinion. At first sight this seems a very plausible theory, but in the opinion of some good Oriental scholars it is not borne out by facts. The goddess is prayed to by women who are desirous of having children, and she holds in her arms a child which she seems in the act of presenting to them in answer to their petitions. Chinese ladies have curious prejudices on this subject: they imagine that by leaving their shoes in the shrine of the goddess they are the more likely to receive an answer to their prayer. Hence it is not unusual to see a whole heap of tiny shoes in one of these shrines. In former days the custom of throwing an old shoe after a person for luck was not unusual in Scotland, and may have been introduced from that ancient country to China or vice versα. 

1 The Chinese generally place two cups before a stranger. 

2 Journey to the Tea Countries of China and India. 

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