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Entomology Chinese ideas respecting my collections My sanity doubtful Mode of employing natives to assist me A scene on returning to my beat Curious tree Visit from a mandarin An endeavour to explain my objects in making collections of natural history Crowds of natives Their quietness and civility Return mandarin's visit My reception Example of Chinese politeness Our conversation Inquisitiveness of his ladies and its consequences Beauty of ladies at Tse-kee Our luncheon and adieu.
THE hilly districts amongst which I was now sojourning were particularly rich in beautiful and rare insects. A small bottle, an insect-box, and a net were continually carried both by myself and men, and many were the fine things we captured, as the cabinets of most of the entomologists in Europe can now testify. This proceeding seemed to astonish the northern Chinese beyond measure, and, from the mixture of awe and pity depicted in many a countenance, they evidently thought me a little cracked in the head. The more intelligent amongst them believed I was collecting for medical purposes, and that all my specimens were destined to be chopped up in a mortar and made into pills to be swallowed by the sick. The Chinese have not the slightest idea of the study of entomology, and laughed at me when I attempted to explain to them that insects are collected for such a purpose. Their medicinal value seemed to them a much better reason for the trouble of collecting. Amongst themselves an idea is prevalent that the larva of coleopterous and other insects form excellent food to give occasionally to young children, and hence in my rambles I met not unfrequently persons employed in collecting larva for this purpose. A species of toad, found in the rotten hollow trunks of trees during the hot months, is eagerly sought after by the young men in the army who are being trained to the use of the bow, and to whose bones and sinews it is supposed to give additional strength. This strange-looking animal sells in the market at from fourpence to eightpence each, but it is extremely rare.
The children in the different villages were found of the greatest use in assisting me to form these collections, and the common copper coin of the country is well adapted for such purposes. One hundred of this coin is only worth about fourpence-halfpenny of our money, and goes a long way with the little urchins. A circumstance connected with transactions of this kind occurred one day, which appears so laughable that I must relate it. As I went out on my daily rambles I told all the little fellows I met that I would return in the evening to the place where my boat was moored, and, if they brought me any rare insects there, I would pay them for them. In the evening, when I returned and caught a glimpse of my boat, I was surprised to see the banks of the stream crowded with a multitude of people of all ages and sizes old women and young ones, men and boys, and infants in arms were huddled together upon the bank, and apparently waiting for my return. At first I was afraid something of a serious nature had happened, but as I came nearer I observed them laughing and talking good-humouredly, and guessed from this that nothing had gone wrong. Some had baskets, others wooden basins, others, again, hollow bamboo tubes, and the vessels they carried were as various in appearance as the motley group which now stood before me. "Mβ jung! mβ jung!" (buy insects! buy insects!) was now shouted out to me by a hundred voices, and I saw the whole matter clearly explained. It was the old story, "I was collecting insects for medicine," and they had come to sell them by the ounce or pound. I had unintentionally raised the population of the adjoining villages about my ears; but having done so, I determined to take matters as coolly as possible, and endeavour either to amuse or pacify the mob. On examining the various baskets and other vessels which were eagerly opened for my inspection, what a sight was presented to my view! Butterflies, beetles, dragonflies, bees legs, wings, scales, antennae all broken and mixed up in wild confusion. I endeavoured to explain to the good people that my objects were quite misunderstood, and that such masses of broken insects were utterly useless to me. "What did it signify they were only for medicine, and would have to be broken up at any rate." What with joking and reasoning with them, I got out of the business pretty well. As in all cases I found the women most clamorous and most difficult to deal with, but by showing some liberality in my donations of cash to the old women and very young children I gradually rose in their estimation, and at last, it being nearly dark, we parted the best of friends. I have been placed in circumstances somewhat similar on various occasions since, but I have hitherto managed to come safely out of the scrape. Sometimes amongst all this chaff there were grains of wheat, and not the least striking was a beautiful species of Carabus (C. coelestis), which was brought to me at this time, and for which I gave the lucky finder the large sum of thirty cash, with which he scampered off home, delighted with his good luck. Paying away sums like this for insects seemed to confirm the natives in the views they had originally formed respecting my character. The Chinese, however, are as a people eminently practical in all their views, and it mattered not to them whether I was sane or not so long as they got the cash. They now set to collecting in all directions, and brought me many fine things. On returning home to my boat in the evenings I was called to from every hill-side, "Mβ jung! mβ jung!" (buy insects! buy insects!) and then the little fellows were seen bounding down towards the road on which I was walking. This distribution of cash amongst the children soon made me quite a favourite with their parents, and in my walks in the country I was invited into their houses, where I received much kindness and hospitality. The poorest cottager had always a cup of tea for me, which he insisted on my sitting down and drinking before I left his house. Before leaving this part of the province I distributed a number of bottles, each being about half filled with the strong spirit of the country (samshoo). These were given to those who promised to make collections for me during my absence; they were told to throw the insects into the spirit when caught, and let them remain until I came to claim and pay for them. By this means I was able to add many novelties to my collection when I again visited Tse-kee in the autumn, to form my other collections of plants and seeds.
On one of my excursions amongst these hills I met with a curiously-formed tree, which at first sight seemed to confirm the old Virgilian tale of apples growing upon plane-trees. It was one of those junipers (J. sphζrica) which grow to a considerable size in the north of China, and which the Chinese are fond of planting round their graves. But although a juniper at the top and bottom, an evergreen tree with large glossy leaves (Photinia serrulata) formed the centre. On reaching the spot where it grew, the appearance presented was, if possible, more curious and interesting. The photinia came out from the trunk of the juniper about 12 feet from the ground, and appeared as if it had been grafted upon it; indeed, some Chinese in a neighbouring village, to whom the tree was well known, did not hesitate to express their belief that such had been the case, but I need scarcely say this was out of the question. Upon a close examination of the point of apparent union, I found that, although the part between stock and graft, if I may use the expression, was completely filled up, yet there was no union such as we see in grafted trees. There could then be only one way of accounting for the appearance which these two trees presented, and which is pretty well shown in a drawing taken by a Chinese artist. The photinia was no doubt rooted in the ground, and had 12 feet of its stem cased in the decayed trunk of the juniper. The apparent union of the trees was so complete, that nothing could be seen of this arrangement; but upon tapping the lower part of the trunk it sounded hollow, and was no doubt decayed in the centre, although healthy enough outside.
Upon showing the accompanying sketch to a learned Chinese, the teacher of Mr. Meadows, at Ningpo, he, like the villagers, fully believed the photinia had been grafted upon the juniper; and further, he informed me it was a common thing in the country to graft the Yang-mae (Myrica sp., a fine Chinese fruit-tree) upon Pinus sinensis, and that by so doing the fruit of the Yang-mae became much larger and finer in flavour. Having been engaged in procuring some Yang-mae trees, which the Government of India was anxious to introduce to the Himalaya, I was somewhat better informed upon this subject than the learned Chinaman. I told him the fine variety of Yang-mae was grafted upon the wild kind, which the Chinese call the San or hill variety (Myrica sapida); and further, I showed him some plants which I had just purchased: but all was of no use; he was "convinced against his will," and still firmly believes the Yang-mae is usually grafted on the pine.
Travelling as I was all alone, and engaged in making collections of natural history, the objects of which the natives could not comprehend, it was not to be wondered at if my fame was spread far and wide over the country. I had visits from several mandarins and other wealthy inhabitants of the district, and the way in which some of the more timid of these gentry presented themselves was to me highly amusing. One day, when I was busy in arranging my collections, I heard a stranger's voice calling my servant, and on looking out at the window I observed a respectable-looking man with several attendants within a few yards of my boat. From his manner he was evidently most anxious to see me and what I was after, but at the same time he seemed doubtful of the reception I might give him. My servant having assured him that I was perfectly harmless, he mustered courage at last to come alongside. In the mean time I opened the boat, and invited him to come inside. I suppose my appearance and manners must have been more favourable than he had been led to expect by the report which had reached his ears, for he immediately made me a most polite bow, and accepted my invitation. When I spread out my entomological collections for his inspection, he seemed perfectly astonished. "Did you really get all these in this district?" said he. "Strange, that, although I am a native, yet there are hundreds of them I have never seen before." I ventured to hint that perhaps he had not looked for them, which he said was very true, and no doubt accounted for his not having seen them. As my boat was made fast to the bank of the canal, we were surrounded by crowds of the natives, who, hearing that I was showing my collections to the mandarin, were all anxious to have a peep. Hundreds of questions were put to each other on all sides as to what I could possibly be going to do with the numerous strange things which I had got in my boxes. The more wise amongst the crowd informed the others that all the insects were collected to be made into medicine, but as to the diseases which they were destined to cure, the wisest amongst them were obliged to plead ignorance. My servants and boatmen were often appealed to for light upon the subject, but they only laughed and confessed their entire ignorance; nor did they take the slightest trouble to convince their countrymen that they were wrong in their conjectures.
When I had shown my collections to my visitor, he put the question which the crowd had been discussing outside, and which discussion he had heard as much of as I had done. Had I entered into the merits of the study of entomology, he most certainly would not have been able to bring his mind to believe I was telling him the truth. If, on the other hand, I had told him I intended to make medicine of my collections, although he would have believed me, yet this would have been untrue. So I thought I might give him another idea which he would comprehend and appreciate. "In my own land," said I, "many thousand le from this, we have a great and good Queen who delights in the welfare and happiness of her people. For their instruction and amusement a large house1 has been constructed far larger than any of your temples or public buildings which have come under my observation and into this house have been brought many thousands of plants and animals collected in every country under heaven. Here each species is classified and named by scientific men appointed for the purpose, and on certain days in every week the doors are thrown open for the admission of the public. Many thousands avail themselves of these opportunities, and thus have the means of studying at home the numerous forms of animals and plants which are scattered over the surface of the globe. Many of the insects and shells which you see before you are destined to form a part of that great collection, and thus persons in England who are interested in such things will have the means of knowing what forms of such animals exist in the hills and valleys about Tse-kee." My visitor seemed much interested with the information I gave him, and, although he did not express any surprise, I trust he received a higher idea of our civilisation than he had entertained before. What surprised him more than anything else was my statement that a Queen was the sovereign of England. I have often been questioned as to the truth of this by the Chinese, who think it passing strange, if it be really true.
Before taking his leave he gave me a pressing invitation to pay him a visit at his house in the city on the following day, or on any day it might be convenient for me. I promised to do so, and got my servant to take down his address, in order that we might not have any difficulty in finding his house. The door of the boat was now thrown open, and I handed him out to the banks of the canal. Here we made most polite adieus in the most approved Chinese style, in the midst of a dense crowd, who had been attracted by the rank of my visitor, and partly perhaps by the reports which had been spread about myself.
The crowd which had now collected was of a mixed character; but owing, I suppose, to the number of wealthy and respectable people in the city, the individuals were generally well-dressed and clean, and perfectly respectful and civil in their demeanour. Applications were made to me on all sides for permission to enter the boat and inspect my collections. This being entirely out of the question, I had a portion of the cover removed in order that their curiosity might be satisfied from the banks of the canal. Entering the boat myself, I opened box after box, and spread out my collections before them. My table, bed, the floor of the boat, and every inch of space was completely covered with examples of the natural history of the place. "Can all these things have been collected here?" was on every lip; "for many of them we have never seen, although we are natives of the place and this is our home." And when I pointed out some of the more remarkable amongst the insects, and gave them the names by which they are known to the natives, I was complimented and applauded on all sides. "Here," said I, for example, "is a beautiful Ka-je-long (carabus), which I am anxious to get more specimens of; if you will bring some to me I shall pay you for them. That Kin Jung (golden beetle) you need not collect, for it is common in every hedge." "Oo-de-yeou?" Do you want butterflies? "No," I replied, "for you cannot catch them without breaking them." And so the conversation went on, every one being in the best possible humour. When I had shown them the greater portion of my collections, the cover of the boat was let down, and everything put away into its proper place. I was now anxious to disperse the crowd, and for that purpose informed them that, as the afternoon was getting cool, I was now going out to make further additions to my collections. "Thank you, thank you," said many of them, making at the same time many most polite bows after the manner of the country, which I did not fail to return. And so we parted the best of friends. When I returned from my excursion it was nearly dark; the crowd had all gone to their homes, and quietness now reigned where all had been noise and bustle a few hours before. One or two little boys were sitting on the banks of the canal waiting my arrival, in order to dispose of some insects which they had been lucky enough to capture during the day. And so I went on from day to day, gradually increasing my collections, with the help of hundreds of little boys, who were delighted to earn a few "cash" so easily. The effect produced upon the villagers was also most marked, and I was welcomed wherever I went, and everywhere invited to "come in, sit down, and drink tea." This picture is not very like many which have been given of China and the Chinese, but it is true to nature nevertheless. I trust it may give a higher idea of the civilisation of this people than we are accustomed to form from the writings of those whose principal knowledge was derived from views at the great southern seaports of the empire.
The day after that on which I had been honoured with a call from the mandarin, I dressed with more than ordinary care, sent for a sedan-chair, and set out to return his visit. When I arrived at his house I found that he was expecting me. He was dressed in a long gown, bound round the waist with a belt which had a fine clasp made of gold and jade-stone, and on his head was a round hat and blue button. He received me with many low bows in. the Chinese manner, which I returned in the same way. He then led me into a large hall, and invited me to take the seat of honour. In all the houses of the wealthy there are two raised seats at the end of the reception-room, with a table between them. The seat on the left side is considered the seat of honour, and the visitor is invariably pressed into it. Scenes which seem most amusing to the stranger are always acted on an occasion of this kind. The host begs his visitor to take the most honourable post, while the latter protests that he is unworthy of such distinction, and in his turn presses it upon the owner of the mansion. And so they may be seen standing in this way for several minutes before the matter is settled. It is the same way when a man gives a dinner; and if the guests are numerous, it is quite a serious affair to get them all seated. In this case it is not only the host and his household who are begging the guests to occupy the most honourable seats, but the guests themselves are also pressing these favoured places upon each other. Hence the bowing, talking, sitting down, and getting up again, before the party can be finally seated, is quite unlike anything one sees in other parts of the world, and to the stranger is exceedingly amusing, particularly if he does not happen to be hungry.
After duly expressing my unfitness to occupy the left-hand seat, and attempting to take the other, I was at last forced into the seat of honour, the mandarin himself taking the right-hand one. As soon as we were seated a servant came in with several cups of tea upon a round wooden tray, which cups he placed upon the table between us. Another servant presented himself, bringing a handsome brass pipe with a long bamboo stem, which he presented to his master. My host handed it immediately over to me, and begged I would use it, assuring me at the same time that the tobacco was the best which could be had in Ningpo. I declined the invitation, but took a cigar out of my pocket, and returned the compliment which he had just paid me. He informed me he had once tried a cigar, but that it was too strong for him; so we compromised matters by each smoking what he had been accustomed to he his long bamboo pipe, and I my cigar. As we sat and sipped our tea a delicious kind of Hyson Pekoe he asked me many questions concerning my country and its productions. Our steamers and ships of war he had seen at Ningpo, and he owned they had pleased him greatly. "To be able to go against wind and tide was certainly very wonderful." But when I told him that by means of balloons we could rise from the earth, and sail through the air, he looked rather incredulous, and with a smile on his countenance asked me whether any of us had been to the moon.
While this conversation was going on, a large crowd had assembled in the court, and many of them were pressing into the reception-hall, in which we were seated. The numerous servants and retainers of the mandarin were also inside, and even sometimes took a share in the conversation which was going on; nor did this seem to give any offence to their superior.
On one side of the room there was a glass window having a gauze or crape curtain behind it, and apparently constructed to give light to a passage leading to some of the other parts of the mansion. While sitting with my host I had more than once observed the curtain move and expose a group of fair faces having a sly peep at me through the window. These were his wives and daughters, whom etiquette did not permit to appear in public or in the presence of a stranger. I did not appear to notice them although I saw them distinctly enough all the time for had I done so they would have disappeared immediately; and as one rarely has an opportunity of seeing the ladies of the higher classes in China, I was willing to look upon their pretty faces as long as possible. A circumstance occurred, however, which put a speedy end to their peep-show, and for which they had no one but themselves to blame. Whether they had fallen out amongst themselves about places at the window, or whether it was only a harmless giggle, I cannot tell it sounded very like the latter; but the noise, whatever it was, caught the ear of their lord and master, who turned his head quickly to the window in question, and darted a look of anger and annoyance at the unfortunates, who instantly took to their heels, and I saw them again no more.
The ladies in this part of China are famed for their beauty. It is a curious and striking fact that in this old city and its vicinity one rarely sees an unpleasing countenance. And this holds good with the lower classes as well as it does with the higher. In many other parts of China women get excessively ugly when they get old, but even this is not the case at Tse-kee. With features of more European cast than Asiatic, and very pleasing, with a smooth fair skin, and with a slight colour in their cheeks, just sufficient to indicate good health, they are almost perfect, were it not for that barbarous custom of compressing the feet. Perhaps I ought to add, that, from the want of education and this applies to females generally in China there is a want of an intellectual expression in the countenance which renders it, in my opinion, less beautiful than it would otherwise be.
I had now been chatting with my acquaintance for more than half an hour, and thought it time to take my leave. But when I rose for this purpose he informed me he had prepared luncheon for me in another room, and begged I would honour him by partaking of it before I went away. I tried to excuse myself, but he almost used force in order to induce me to remain. He now led me into a nicely furnished room, according to Chinese ideas, that is, its walls were hung with pictures of flowers, birds, and scenes of Chinese life. It would not do to criticise these works of art according to our ideas, but nevertheless some of them were very interesting. I observed a series of pictures which told a long tale as distinctly as if it had been written in Roman characters. The actors were all on the boards, and one followed them readily from the commencement of the piece until the fall of the curtain. Numbers of solid straight-backed chairs were placed round the room, and a large massive table occupied its centre. This table was completely covered with numerous small dishes, containing the fruits of the season and all sorts of cakes and sweetmeats, for which the large towns in this province are famed. In addition to these there were walnuts from the northern province of Shantung, and dried Leechees, Longans, &c., from Fokien and Canton. Then there were many kinds of preserves, such as ginger, citron, bamboo, and others, all of which were most excellent. A number of small wine-cups, made of the purest china, were placed at intervals round the table.
Several of the old gentleman's friends had now joined us, and we took our places round the table with the usual ceremony, each one pressing the most honourable place upon his neighbour. The day was excessively warm, and I felt very little inclination to eat, but I was pressed to do so on all sides. "Eat cakes," said one; "Eat walnuts," said another; "Drink wine," said a third; and so on they went, asking me to partake of every dish upon the table. It was useless to refuse, for they seized hold of the different viands and heaped them on my plate and on the table at its side. Various kinds of Chinese wines, hot and cold, were also pressed upon me, some of which were palatable, but scarcely suited to the English taste. I took a little of each in order to please my entertainer, and then confined myself to tea, which was also set before us.
I had now prolonged my visit much beyond the time I
had set apart for it, and quite as long as politeness demanded. But time spent
in this manner was not altogether unprofitable, inasmuch as one gets an insight
into Chinese life and manners which we cannot acquire in the streets or on the
hill-side. My kind host and his friends accompanied me to the outer door of the
mansion, and, with the palms of our hands laid flat together and held up before
us, we bowed low several times, muttered our thanks, and bade each other
1 The British Museum.