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Boat-travelling — Unsettled state of the country — A midnight alarm — Old quarters at Tein-tung — A good Buddhist priest — Chinese farmers — Their wives and families — Chinese women's passion, and its effects — Women's curse — The author is seized with fever — A native doctor and his mode of treatment — Method of taking honey from bees — Mosquito tobacco — Its composition and manufacture.
THE scenes and adventures which I have endeavoured to describe in the previous chapters, such as making collections of insects and other objects of natural history, paying and receiving visits from Chinese friends, and examining collections of ancient works of art, although noted down in order to give an idea of the manners and customs of the most wonderful people on the surface of the globe, were merely my amusements in the midst of other and far more important labours. The country was examined for many miles in all directions, and arrangements made with the small farmers for large supplies of seeds of the tea-plant and other fruit and forest trees which were likely to be valued in India. My mode of travelling by boat, in a country where the canals and rivers are the highways, was well adapted to the ends I had in view. I was, as it were, always at home; my bed, my clothes, and my servants were always with me. I could go from valley to valley and from hill to hill; I could "bring up" when it was necessary; and when my labours were finished in one place, I could go on, bag and baggage, to another. Whenever the country was known to me, or supposed to contain objects of little interest, I used to travel by night and work during the day. Thus my boatmen and myself worked alternately; they slept by day and sailed by night, while I slept by night and worked by day. At this time the country was in a very unsettled state, owing to the rebellion which was raging in many of the districts in the adjacent provinces, and hundreds of loose characters, honest enough when the Government was strong, were now committing acts of robbery upon the quiet and inoffensive natives. Very few Chinese travelled by night, unless in large bands, whose numbers were considered a sufficient protection. My boatmen often remonstrated when they got the order to move on, telling me it was not the labour they were afraid of, — they were willing to work, — but that we should be attacked and robbed, or perhaps murdered. These little scenes were to me oftentimes exceedingly amusing. I would first hear the boatman come to the bows where my headman Tung-a was, and in a low whisper communicate his fears to him, and ask him at the same time to use his influence with me in order that we might remain where we were until daylight. Then after a conference of this kind Mr. Tung-a would present himself with a very grave face, and inform me that the Lou-da (head boatman) was afraid to go onwards on account of robbers whom we were likely to meet during our night-journey. We then held a little council of war, consisting of the boatmen — including the boy I have already noticed, who, by the by, gave his opinion like a man — my servants, and myself. After a careful examination into the matter, if I saw their fears arose from natural timidity more than from any real danger, I used to point to my gun-case, and tell them not to be afraid; and so in nine cases out of ten our little council broke up with a determination to go on. But it would have been the height of folly for a solitary traveller in a little-known country to despise warnings of this kind, more particularly when the unsettled state of the empire was taken into consideration. The boatmen had the strictest orders to awake me should any suspicious vessel make her appearance, and my rest was frequently disturbed during the night, often, no doubt, without the slightest reason. They were also to let the strangers know they had a "Hong-mow-jin" (the name by which foreigners are known in this part of China) in the boat who had fire-arms with him which he was prepared to use in case it was necessary. From an intimate knowledge of the natives in Chekiang, I considered these two pieces of information of great value in preventing an attack, for most of the natives here, unless they are very hardened indeed, have a kind of superstitious dread of foreigners and foreign fire-arms.
Amongst many false alarms I had at this time, there was one which I thought would have proved rather serious. It was about midnight, and the night was excessively dark. We were all sound asleep, except one boatman, who was sculling the boat — if indeed he was not as sound as any of us, for these fellows go asleep at the scull like an Indian at the punka — when we experienced a sharp shock from our boat coming in contact with another. I was up in an instant, thinking the long-threatened night attack had come at last. Throwing the moveable portion of the roof of my boat on one side, I saw our antagonist lying alongside of us. My men were out on the bows, and my boatmen at the stern, ready to repel the invaders. Through the darkness I could discern a number of people crowding the other boat, but not attempting to board us. I immediately hailed them, and asked them who they were, and why they had run against us. They replied they were Ningpo men, that they were not robbers, and that the accident had occurred owing to the darkness of the night. We now set to work and got the boats clear, and each proceeded on his journey. I believe those who gave us the alarm were more frightened than we were, and that each took the other for the pirate. My servants and boatmen were, however, of a different opinion; they believed them to be thieves, and said that had a Chinese been in our boat instead of a foreigner he would have gone away rather the poorer for the encounter. The true state of the case must, I am afraid, remain for ever a mystery; but it does not signify much.
As the summer advanced — it was now the month of July — the weather became too hot to live in boats. The thermometer frequently stood at 100°, and once or twice rose to 110°, in the shade. It was time, therefore, to look out for other quarters, and, as I had a good deal to do in the districts to the south of Ningpo, I determined on taking up my quarters in the old Buddhist temple of Tein-tung. I have already described this ancient place in my 'Wanderings in China,' to which the reader who wishes to know more about it is referred. It is situate amongst the mountains some twenty miles south-east from Ningpo, and in the midst of an extensive tea-country, which is becoming of more importance every day on account of the large demand for this article which has sprung up in Shanghae since that port was opened to foreign trade. When I arrived at Tein-tung I took up my quarters with the priest with whom I had lived formerly — a man with one eye, who is now well known to foreigners who visit the temple. He is a very superior specimen of the Buddhist priesthood, intelligent and strictly honest and honourable. I have often left things in his care for long periods of time, and felt as certain of having them returned to me as if they had been in the Bank of England. A man of this kind was invaluable, as I was thus enabled to make his house a sort of head-quarters for my collections in the province until they could be conveyed to Shanghae for shipment to India or to Europe.
On the present occasion he seemed delighted to see me again, and gave me a hearty welcome. Having established myself in my old quarters, I took the mornings and evenings for my outdoor excursions, and generally stopped in the house during the heat of the day. In this way, with the help of my good friend the priest, I entered into engagements with many of the small farmers for supplies of tea-seeds to be gathered in the following autumn as soon as they were ripe. In a short time all the little boys and girls in the country were making collections of insects, land-shells, and other objects of natural history for me, and were delighted with the few cash they were able to earn in this manner. I was thus fully employed even during the heat of the day, when it would have been imprudent to stir abroad.
The farmers in China, as a class, are highly respectable, but, as their farms are all small, they are probably less wealthy than our farmers in England. Each farm-house is a little colony, consisting of some three generations, namely, the grandfather, his children, and his children's children. There they live in peace and harmony together; all who are able work on the farm, and if more labour is required, the stranger is hired to assist them. They live well, dress plainly, and are industrious, without being in any way oppressed. I doubt if there is a happier race anywhere than the Chinese farmer and peasantry. Being well known in this part of the country, and having always made it a point to treat the people well, I was welcomed wherever I went. I began to feel quite at home in the farmers' houses. Here the female members of the family have much more liberty than those of a higher rank. They have small feet as usual, but they are not so confined to the house, or prevented from looking on and speaking to strangers, as the higher classes are. If a stranger enters the court of the house unexpectedly, he will see a number of ladies, both old and young, sitting in the verandah, all industriously employed on some work — some spinning, some sewing or embroidering, and one probably engaged in culinary operations; and if the stranger be an unknown foreigner, the whole will rise hurriedly, and disappear like a covey of partridges, overturning wheels, stools, and anything else that may be in their way. This was a frequent scene in my earlier visits, but it gradually wore off when it was found I was a civilised being like themselves. These same ladies afterwards would often ask me to sit down, and even set a chair for me, and bring me a cup of tea with their own fair hands; and while I drank my tea, they would go on with their work, laughing and chatting as freely as if I had been a thousand miles away. But many of these Chinese ladies with all their coyness are regular termagants, as the following curious anecdote will show.
Happening one day at this time to be in a bamboo forest, I came upon two men engaged in cutting down some fine bamboo-trees. Just as I came up with them, a farmer's wife made her appearance from an opposite quarter, and was apparently in a state of great excitement. The men, it appeared, had bought a certain number of the trees, which at the time of sale had been duly marked. But in cutting, instead of taking those they had bargained for, they had just cut down a very fine one which was not for sale. The old lady was so excited that she either did not see me, or her anger made her disregard the presence of a stranger. She commenced first in low short sentences to lament the loss of the 'bamboo, then louder and louder sentence after sentence rolled from her tongue, in which she abused without mercy the unfortunate men for their conduct. At last she seemed to have worked herself up to a frantic state of excitement; she threw off her head-dress, tore her hair, and screamed so loud that she might have been heard for more than a mile. Her passion reached the climax at last, and human nature could stand it no longer. With an unearthly yell and a sort of hysteric gulp she tumbled backward on the ground, threw her little feet in the air, gave two or three kicks, and all was still. Up to this point I had been rather amused than otherwise, but, as she lay perfectly still and foamed at the mouth, I became alarmed The poor men had been standing all this hanging their heads, and looking as sheepish as possible. I now looked round to see what effect this state of things had on them. They both shrugged their shoulders, laughed, and went on with their work. About a quarter of an hour afterwards I came back to the spot to see how matters stood — she was still lying on the ground, but apparently recovering. I raised her, and begged her to sit up, which she did with a melancholy shake of the head; but she either could not or would not speak. In a little while afterwards I saw her rise up and walk slowly and quietly home.
Such scenes as that which I have just noticed are very common in the country. A short time after this took place I was passing a peasant's cottage, when I heard another woman just commencing — when one's ear gets accustomed, he can always tell the commencement, middle, or near the end. I stood with several persons outside the cottage listening to this one, and soon ascertained that her husband had been unfaithful to her — a circumstance which she had just found out. It was the same scene over again; she got gradually more and more excited, and then fell back senseless on the ground, and threw her feet in the air. I now ventured round to the door, which was standing wide open. Her eldest child, a boy about ten years of age, was trying to raise her from the floor; his sister, some two years younger, was crying as if her little heart would break; while an infant was playing with its toy on the floor quite unconscious of the sin and misery going on around it.
These Chinese termagants work themselves up into such passions sometimes for very slight things, and their imprecations or curses are quite fearful. One night an old woman in Ningpo had a couple of fowls stolen. Next morning, when she discovered her loss, she came outside her door, and began in the following strain: — "I have lost two fowls; some one has stolen my two fowls. May he never thrive who has stolen my fowls!" — and then a dead dog caught her eye as it was floating down the river — "May he die like that dog! May his body never be buried! May his children never visit his tomb!" and so on. I forget if this old lady went quite off; many of them stop short and get pacified before they reach the climax.
In the month of August I had a somewhat sudden and violent attack of fever. Whether this was the result of exposure to the sun, or from causes over which I had no control, it is impossible for me to say. Unfortunately I had no medicine with me at the time, and as I was far from foreign medical advice I was glad to put myself into the hands of a Chinese practitioner. I confess I did so with considerable reluctance; but "a drowning man will catch at a straw." There were several medical men in the little tea-village of Tein-tang-ka, within two miles of the temple. My good friend the priest, with whom I was staying, offered his services to go and fetch one of the best of these, an offer which was gratefully accepted. When the doctor arrived I was in bed with a burning fever upon me. After putting several questions as to the time the fever came on, whether I had daily attacks, and the time each attack continued, he then felt my skin and pulse, and looked as if he understood the nature of the disease, and could cure me. "I understand from the priests and your servants you are in the habit of bathing every morning in the cold stream which flows past the temple; this must be discontinued. You are also in the habit of having considerable quantities of Ke-me1 put in your soup; this you must give up for the present, and you will live on conge for a few days." I told him his directions should be attended to. He then despatched a messenger to his house for certain medicines, and at the same time ordered a basin of strong hot tea to be brought into the room. When this was set before him he bent his two forefingers and dipped his knuckles into the hot tea. The said knuckles were now used like a pair of pincers on my skin, under the ribs, round the back, and on several other parts of the body. Every now and then the operation of wetting them with the hot tea was repeated. He pinched and drew my skin so hard that I could scarcely refrain from crying out with pain; and when the operation was completed to his satisfaction, he had left marks which I did not get rid of for several weeks after.
When the messenger arrived with the medicine, the first thing I was asked to swallow was a large paper of small pills, containing, I suppose, about a hundred, or perhaps more. "Am I to take the whole of these?" I asked, in amazement "Yes; and here is a cup of hot tea to wash them down." I hesitated; then tasted one, which had a hot, peppery kind of flavour, and, making up my mind, gulped the whole. In the mean time a teapot had been procured capable of holding about three large breakfast-cups of tea. Into this pot were put six different vegetable productions — about half an ounce of each. These consisted of dried orange or citron peel, pomegranate, charred fruit of Gardenia radicans, the bark and wood of Rosa Banksiana, and two other things unknown to me. The teapot was then filled to the brim with boiling water, and allowed to stand for a few minutes, when the decoction was ready for the patient. I was now desired to drink it cup after cup as fast as possible, and then cover myself over with all the blankets which could be laid hold of. The directions of my physician were obeyed to the letter, but nevertheless I lay for an hour longer ere perspiration broke, when of course I got instant relief. Before taking his leave the doctor informed me he would repeat his visit on the third day following about ten in the morning, this being about an hour before the fever was likely to return. He told me not to be at all afraid, and gave me the welcome news that the next attack, if indeed I had any more, would be slight, and that then I would get rid of it altogether.
True to his promise, the old man was with me on the third day, about ten o'clock in the morning. "Has the fever come on?" "No," I replied; "it is scarcely the time yet. I suppose I shall have it in another hour." He now desired me to lie down in bed, and the pinching process was repeated in the same way as it had been done before, but if anything it was more painful. I had then to swallow another large dose of pills, and lastly the hot decoction from the teapot. Ere I had drunk the last cupful my skin became moist, and I was soon covered with profuse perspiration. The fever had left me, and I was cured. I was probably the first Hong-mou-jin the doctor had treated, and he was evidently much pleased with the results of his treatment.
Medical men at home will probably smile as they read these statements, but there was no mistaking the results. Indeed, from an intimate knowledge of the Chinese, I am inclined to think more highly of their skill than people generally give them credit for. I remember well, when I came first to China in 1843, a celebrated practitioner in Hongkong, now no more, gravely informed me the Chinese doctors gathered all sorts of herbs indiscriminately, and used them en masse, upon the principle that if one thing did not answer the purpose another would. Nothing can be further from the truth. That they are not surgeons I am fully prepared to admit; that they are ignorant of many of our most valued vegetable and mineral medicines is also true; but, being a very ancient nation and comparatively civilised for many ages, many discoveries have been made and carefully handed down from father to son which are not to be despised, and which one ought not to laugh at without understanding. Dr. Kirk, of Shanghae, whose opinion is entitled to the highest respect, informed me he had discovered a most valuable tonic in common use [probably a species of gentian], equal, if not superior, to any of the kind in our pharmacopoeias, and there are, no doubt, many other things of equal value unknown to Europeans and well worth investigation.
During my sojourn in this place I had an opportunity of witnessing a novel mode of taking honey from beehives. The Chinese hive is a very rude affair, and a very different looking thing from that we are accustomed to use in England, and yet I suspect, were the bees consulted in the matter, they would prefer the Chinese one to ours. It consists of a rough box, sometimes square and sometimes cylindrical, with a moveable top and bottom. When the bees are put into a hive of this description, it is rarely placed on or near the ground, as with us, but is raised eight or ten feet, and generally fixed under the projecting roof of a house or outbuilding. No doubt the Chinese have remarked the partiality which the insects have for places of this kind when they choose quarters for themselves, and have taken a lesson from this circumstance. My landlord, who had a number of hives, having determined one day to take some honey from two of them, a half-witted priest who was famous for his prowess in such matters was sent for to perform the operation. This man, in addition to his priestly duties, had the charge of the buffaloes which were kept on the farm attached to the temple. He came round in high glee, evidently considering his qualifications of no ordinary kind for the operation he was about to perform. Curious to witness his method of proceeding with the business, I left some work with which I was busy, and followed him and the other priests and servants of the establishment to the place where the hives were fixed. The form of the hives, in this instance, was cylindrical; each was about three feet in height and rather wider at the bottom than the top. When we reached the spot where the hives were placed, our operator jumped upon a table placed there for the purpose, and gently lifted down one of the hives and placed it on its side on the table. He then took the moveable top off, and the honeycomb, with which the hive was quite full, was exposed to our view. In the meantime an old priest having brought a large basin, and everything being ready, our friend commenced to cut out the honeycomb with a knife made apparently for the purpose, and having the handle almost at right angles with the blade. Having taken out about one-third of the contents of the hive, the top was put on again, and the hive elevated to its former position. The same operation was repeated with the second hive, and in a manner quite as satisfactory.
But it may be asked, "Where were the bees all this time?" — and this is the most curious part of my story. They had not been killed by the fumes of brimstone, for it is contrary to the doctrines of the Buddhist creed to take away animal life — nor had they been stupified with a fungus, which is sometimes done at home; but they were flying about above our heads in great numbers, and yet, although we were not protected in the slightest degree, not one of us was stung; and this was the more remarkable as the bodies of the operator and servants were completely naked from the middle upwards.
The charm was a simple one; it lay in a few dry stems and leaves of a species of Artemisia which grows wild on these hills, and which is largely used to drive that pest the mosquito out of the dwellings of the people. This plant is cut early in summer, sun-dried, then twisted into bands, and it is ready for use. At the commencement of the operation which I am describing, one end of the substance was ignited and kept burning slowly as the work went on. The poor bees did not seem to know what to make of it. They were perfectly good-tempered and kept hovering about our heads, but apparently quite incapable of doing us the slightest injury. When the hives were properly fixed in their places the charm was put out, and my host and his servants carried off the honey in triumph. "Come," said he to the operator and us who were lookers on, "come and drink wine." "Ay," said the half-witted priest, "drink wine, drink wine." So we all adjourned to the refectory, where wine in small cups was set before us.
In a former work on China — 'A Journey to the Tea Countries' — I noticed a curious substance called "mosquito tobacco," or "mosquito physic," for it is known by both of these names, which I had met with for the first time when travelling in the western parts of the province of Chekiang on my way to the Bohea mountains and the great black-tea country of Woo-e-shan. The day before the discovery was made had been very hot, and during the night such swarms of mosquitoes came that neither my servant nor myself had been allowed to close our eyes. I had no curtains with me, and looked forward with dread to many such sleepless nights during the journey. "Why don't you procure some mun-jung-ean?" said the boat men to my servant. Delighted to find there was some simple remedy, I sent on shore to the first village we passed, and procured some sticks of this invaluable substance. I found it answer the purpose admirably, and used it every night during the remainder of that journey wherever I happened to sleep, whether in boats, in temples, or in the common inns of the country.
When I reached England the account which I gave of this substance attracted a good deal of notice from entomologists and others, and I was frequently asked if I had brought any of it home, or if I knew what the ingredients were of which it was composed. I was obliged to plead negligence in not having done the former and ignorance as regards the latter. However much the substance delighted me at first, its constant use, its cheapness, and being an article extremely common, led me, I suppose, to neglect it, as we often do common things. This is the only explanation I can give for my neglect, which, when I came to consider the matter at home, surprised me probably more than those who had made inquiries regarding it. My ignorance of the ingredients which composed it will not excite so much surprise in the minds of those acquainted with the character of the Chinese.
Having occasion to visit the island of Chusan in the end of August, in order to make some arrangements about grafted Yang-mae trees, I found a quantity of this mosquito tobacco in a joss-stick maker's shop in the city of Tinghae. On taking it home with me to the house in which I was located, I lost no time in trying its effect upon the mosquitoes, which were numerous at this hot season of the year. On its being lighted the fumes rose slowly upwards, and the air was soon filled with odours which were not at all disagreeable, not more so than the joss-stick or incense which is burned in every Chinaman's house who can afford the luxury, and in all the temples. It appeared, however, to be no luxury to the mosquito, for, in two or three minutes after it was ignited, not a buzz was heard nor a mosquito to be seen.
My next object was to endeavour to find out the ingredients which were used in the manufacture of this curious substance. For this purpose I paid another visit to the shop in which I had bought it. In one part of the premises the people were employed in beating up the various articles used in the manufacture of incense, and in another part others were busy making the joss-stick. The head of the establishment paid his respects to me very politely, and asked me whether I had found the mosquito tobacco answer the purpose. I replied that nothing could have done better, and then commenced to ask him some questions regarding the ingredients used, their proportions, and the mode of manufacture. At first he was very communicative. He informed me the following articles were used: namely, the sawings of juniper or pine trees (pǐh heang fun, or sung shoo), artemisia-leaves reduced to powder (nai-hai), tobacco-leaves (ean fun), a small portion of arsenic (pe-za), and a mineral called nu wang.
With regard to the proportions of each, it appeared that, to thirty pounds of the pine or juniper sawings, about twenty of artemisia, five of tobacco, and a small quantity of arsenic were added. But ere we had come to this point my informant's jealousy had been aroused, and his statements were evidently not much to be depended upon. He now began to question me in return for the answers he had given — "What did I want this information for? if I wanted to buy the article, he had it for sale, and it was cheap enough." To make matters worse, he then coolly told me he was not quite certain that the information he had given me was correct, as he did not understand the process himself, but engaged men to make it for him, which individuals came from the interior.
Nothing further could be gained from my jealous acquaintance at this time, but I was determined not to let the matter rest here, but rather endeavour to gain the end I had in view by other means. At this time I had a very sharp and intelligent artist — a native of Chusan — employed in making drawings of coniferous trees for Miss Boulton, of Hasely Court, Oxfordshire. He had been travelling with me all over the country, and had now come over to Chusan in order to make some drawings on the island, and also to pay a visit to his father, who combined the professions of artist and doctor in his own person. Both father and son were now set to work in order to get the information required. They were told not to hurry themselves or appear very anxious about it, but to take care as to the correctness of anything they might learn on the subject. In two months I received the result of their investigations, which coincided very closely with my own. Pine and juniper sawings, wormwood-leaves, and tobacco-leaves, reduced to powder, a small portion of nuwang and arsenic. Each article was well beaten up with water, then the whole mixed together, and in the form of a thick paste rolled on a slip of bamboo. On exposure to the air the substance dried quickly, and was then put away for sale. When finished the sticks are somewhat like the common joss-stick of the country, or about the thickness and length of a light walking-cane.
Another substance, much cheaper than the last, is found in every town and village in the central and eastern provinces of the empire where I have been, and no doubt it is in use over the greater part of China. Long, narrow bags of paper — say half an inch in diameter and two feet long — are filled with the following substances, namely, the sawings of pine or juniper, mixed with a small portion of nu-wang and arsenic. The proportions are thirty pounds of sawings, two ounces of nu-wang, and one ounce of arsenic. This mixture is not made up in the form of a paste like the latter, but simply well mixed, and then run into the bags in a dry state. Each bag being filled is closed at the mouth, and then coiled up like a rope and fastened in this position with a bit of thread. Many hundreds of these coils, neatly done up and placed one above another, may be seen exposed for sale in the shops during the hot season, when mosquitoes are numerous. When about to be used, the thread which keeps the coil together is cut, then the coil is slightly loosened, so that its sides do not touch each other, for if this happened it would ignite at various parts and soon be consumed. The outer end is then lighted, and the whole is laid carefully down upon a bit of board, when it goes on burning for the greater part of the night. One hundred of these little coils may be bought for a sum equivalent to threepence of our money, and two of them will suffice for a night in an ordinary-sized room.
A third substance, cheaper than either of the above, is made of a species of artemisia or wormwood (A. indica) which grows wild on every hill in this part of China. It is the same kind I have already noticed as forming one of the ingredients in the genuine mosquito tobacco, and is that which was used in taking the honey from the bees in the temple of Tein-tung. It is gathered and thoroughly dried, then twisted or plaited into ropes, in which condition it is fit for use. Although cheaper, and consequently more in use amongst the poorer classes, than the other kinds, it is not so efficient, and it gives out more smoke than is agreeable to a European.
I may be questioned whether the small quantity of
arsenic used in making the mosquito tobacco is entirely harmless. I am not
sufficiently acquainted with the chemical action which goes on during
combustion to answer this in the negative. But it must be borne in mind that
the quantity of this poisonous mineral is exceedingly small; and the fact that
mosquito tobacco is used by probably one hundred millions of human beings would
seem to prove that it could not have any bad effect upon their health.
1 A kind of vermicelli, very good about Ningpo.