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Return to the tea-districts of Chekiang Mode of making collections of seeds amongst Chinese peasantry Messengers sent to Moo-yuen and Ping-shut' Ping-shuy teas Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India Varnish-tree Wax-insect tree Soap-tree Death and funeral of a Buddhist priest New blue dye Its cultivation and manufacture "Green indigo" Its introduction to India and Europe.
THE events recorded in the last chapter spread themselves over more than a year of time, namely, from the autumn of 1853 to the spring of 1855, and their relation, in order to present them in a connected form, has carried me somewhat in advance of my narrative. It is now necessary to go back to the beginning of October, 1853. Having finished my work in Shanghae, I took my departure for the tea-districts in Chekiang in order to make collections of seeds and plants for the government plantations in the Himalaya.
When I arrived amongst the tea-hills in that province, I found the seeds of the tea-plant just ripe, and all my old friends busily employed in collecting them in anticipation of my arrival. In my earlier experience with the Chinese things were much more difficult than they were now. Then the country-people used to fly from me whenever I appeared amongst them, and I was often obliged to gather the seeds myself, and with my own people. Now we were better acquainted, and my only difficulty was to prevent them from bringing me too many.
Having established myself in my old quarters in the temple of Tein-tung, I went to work in Chinese style. It was given out by my people and the priests that I had arrived for the purpose of making purchases of tea-seeds, that I wanted five or six hundred catty, and would continue to purchase all that were brought to me, providing they were of good quality, until that quantity was made up. On the day following this announcement, and for many days afterwards, the people began to flock to the temple in great numbers, for the purpose of selling their tea-seeds. The venders were chiefly old men, women, and children a class who could do light work, such as gathering tea-seeds, although not heavy field-labour. My time was fully occupied from daylight until dark in examining, settling the price according to quality, and weighing the seeds. In this labour I was greatly assisted by my good friend the priest to whom I have already alluded, and who, having a small tea-plantation himself, was an excellent judge of the seed. Many were the little disputes we had as to quality and price, which were always carried on with the most perfect good-humour, and generally referred to the priest for arbitration. He was much respected by the natives themselves, and his word was considered as satisfactory and final. It was a pleasing sight to observe those happy smiles on their countenances when they had sold their little stock and put the strings of cash into their baskets. In a few days I had completed the quantity which I intended to export from this part of the country.
While making collections in this district I had despatched two of my own people on whom I could depend to the districts of Moo-yuen and Ping-shuy, in order to bring me seeds from those places. Mooyuen is in the Hwuy-chow country, and is well known for producing the finest green teas exported to Europe and America. Ping-shuy is in the province of Chekiang, not very far from the old city of Shao-shing-foo, which will be found noticed in my 'Journey to the Tea Countries.' The Pingshuy district is becoming a. place of considerable importance the teas are beautifully made there; and as it is much nearer to Shanghae than Hwuy-chow, the land-carriage is considerably less in amount. Indeed, the whole of these Chekiang tea-districts have received great advantages from the opening of Shanghae to foreign trade; their teas have advanced in price, and large quantities of them are made up annually to suit the foreign taste, and sent to that port for sale.
Rain Cloak. Hemp Palm.
Both my messengers returned in due time, and had most fully accomplished the objects for which they were sent. But our collections did not consist of tea-seeds only. Large quantities of the chesnuts I have alluded to in Chapter III. were procured at this time in the vicinity of Tse-kee seeds of the hemp-palm, valuable on account of the fibre which it yields, and Cryptomeria japonica, a fine timber-tree, were obtained in large quantities on the hills near Tein-tung; and one of my messengers succeeded in bringing me a good supply of the seeds of the funereal cypress from Hwuy-chow. All these and many other useful and ornamental trees and shrubs are now flourishing on the slopes of the Himalaya, in the north-west provinces of India.
Shortly after my arrival in China the council of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India applied to the government of Bengal for any assistance I could render them in the way of sending the society seeds and plants of useful and ornamental trees and shrubs which were likely to be of value in India. The request of the society was immediately complied with, and I was directed to afford any assistance which might be in my power. My attention was directed by the society to the Chinese varnish-tree,1 the wax-insect tree,2 the soap-bean tree,3 the various trees valuable for their fruit or timber, and ornamental plants; but above all to the green-indigo (so called),4 which yielded a dye which was at that time attracting much attention in France.
The tree which yields the Chinese varnish is a
species of Rhus, which, although producing an article of great value, is
extremely dangerous. The varnish is largely used in the country for giving a
fine polish to tables and chairs used in the houses of the wealthy. The
beautiful lacquer-ware so extensively exported from Canton to foreign
countries, and which is so well known and justly admired, is produced by this
tree. It has the valuable property of being less liable than French-polish to
be injured by a heated vessel which may be placed upon it; but it is very
poisonous, and requires to be handled with great care by the workmen who use
it. Indeed, after furniture is dry, it is very unsafe for certain constitutions
until it has been in use for some time, and the smell entirely gone. A friend
of mine, Mr. Jones, American consul at Foo-chow-foo, used some furniture which
had been lacquered some time and was apparently quite dry, and yet was very ill
for a long time from its effects; so ill that he thought he should be obliged
to leave the country and go home. And this is no solitary instance, for I have
known several persons suffer most severely from the same cause.
The wax-insect tree is no doubt a species of ash (fraxinus). It grows abundantly on the banks of ponds and canals in the province of Chekiang; and a small quantity of wax is also produced in this province. I was indebted to Dr. McCartee, of Ningpo, for some beautiful specimens of the fresh insect upon the branches of this tree. This insect has been named coccus pela by Mr. Westwood. When fully developed on the trees it has a most remarkable appearance; they seem as if covered with flakes of snow. The wax is an article of great value in Chinese commerce, and a small portion is exported.
The fleshy pods of the cζsalpinia are largely used as soap in all parts of China, and may be bought in every market-town.
All these trees and many others have been introduced to India through the Agricultural and Horticultural Society, and some of them distributed largely amongst its members. The green-indigo (so called) has also been discovered and introduced both to England and to India.
During my sojourn in the old temple of Teintung, which I have already said was my headquarters whilst at work amongst these hills, I witnessed some ceremonies connected with the death and funeral of a Buddhist priest who lived next door to where I was located, which appeared so curious and full of interest at the time that I was induced to give a description of it in my journal.
There are two orders of the priesthood in a large Buddhist monastery. The first and most numerous is that whose members assemble daily in the largest hall or temple, and perform a sort of cathedral service, which I have given a description of in my 'Journey to the Tea Countries.' In a retired spot amongst some lofty trees on the hill-side near Tein-tung the traveller may see an unmeaning-looking brick building some ten feet high and hollow inside. The dome of this building is blacked with smoke, as if it was not unusual to light fires inside. On inquiry he will find that in this place the bodies of the priests just mentioned are burned after death. A little further on, on the same hill-side, there is a neat-looking temple, not different in external appearance from the numerous structures of this description seen all over these hills, but on going inside several closed whitewashed urns are met with, and these contain the ashes of the priests. I never had an opportunity of witnessing the ceremony of burning these bodies; but ray old friend the priest with whom I was staying confessed that the sight was anything but pleasing.
The second order of the priesthood my landlord was one of them occupy neat little houses adjoining the large halls, where they generally seem to lead a lazy kind of life, and have only the private devotions of their little temple to attend to that is, they are not required to attend the service in the large hall. Their bodies are not burned after death like the former, but are conveyed to the most lovely spots on the sides of the hills spots on their own little farms which they had selected for themselves during their lifetime. One of this order died during this autumn when I was located in the monastery, and the ceremonies connected with his wake and funeral I shall now endeavour to describe:
A young priest a mere boy came running breathless one morning into the house where I was staying, and called out to my host, "Come with me, make haste, for Tang-a is dying." We hastened to the adjoining house, which was the abode of the sick man, but found that the king of terrors had been before us, and the priest was dead. By this time about a dozen persons were collected, who were all gazing intently on the countenance of the dead man. After allowing a few minutes to elapse, orders were given to have the body washed and dressed, and removed from the bed to a small room with an open front, which was situated on the opposite side of the little court. Mosquito curtains were then hung round the bed on which the body was placed, a lamp and some candles were lighted, as well as some sticks of incense, and these were kept burning day and night. For three days the body lay in state, during which time, at stated intervals, four or five priests decked in yellow robes chanted their peculiar service. On the third day I was told that the coffin was ready, and, on expressing a wish to see it, was led into an adjoining temple. "Are there two priests dead?" said I, on observing another coffin in the same place. "No," said one, "but that second coffin belongs to the priest who lived with deceased, and it will remain here until it is needed."
On the evening of this day, when I returned from my labours amongst the hills, I called in again to see what was going on, and now a very different scene presented itself. And here I must endeavour to describe the form of the premises in order that this scene may be better understood. The little house or temple consisted of a centre and two wings, the wings being built at right angles with the centre and forming with it three sides of a square: a high wall connected the two wings, and so a little court or Chinese garden was formed, very small in extent. A square table was placed inside the central hall or temple, one in front of it, and one in front of each of the two wings. Each of these tables was covered with good things such as rice, vegetables, fruits, cakes, and other delicacies, all the produce of the vegetable kingdom, and intended as a feast for Buddha, whom these people worship. This offering differed from others which I had often seen in the public streets and in private houses, in having no animal food in any of the dishes. The Buddhist priesthood profess an abhorrence of taking away animal life or of eating animal food, and hence no food of the kind was observed on any of the tables now before me. On two strings which were hung diagonally across the court, from the central temple to each end of the front wall, were suspended numerous small paper dresses cut in Chinese fashion, and on the ground were large quantities of paper made up in the form and painted the colour of the ingots of Sycee silver common in circulation. The clothes and silver were intended as an offering to Buddha certainly a cheap way of giving away valuable presents. A rude painting of Buddha was hung up in the centre of the court, in front of which incense was burning, and these with many other objects of minor note completed the picture which was presented to my view. "Is not this very fine?" said the priest to me; "have you any exhibitions of this kind in your country? You must pay a visit in the evening, when all will be lighted up with candles, and when the scene will be more grand and imposing." I promised to return in the evening, and took my leave.
About eight o'clock at night an old priest came to inform me that all was lighted up, that the ceremonies were about to begin, and kindly asked me to accompany him. On our entrance the whole court was blazing with the light of many candles, the air was filled with incense, and the scene altogether had an extraordinary and imposing effect. A priest dressed in a rich scarlet robe, and having a sort of star-shaped crown on his head, with four others of an inferior order, were marching up and down the court, and bowing lowly before the images of the gods. At last they entered the central hall, and took their seats at two tables. The high-priest, if I may call him so, occupied the head of the room, and had his chair and table placed on a higher level than the others, who were exactly in front of him. A servant now placed a cup of tea before each of them, and the service began. The high-priest uttered a few sentences in a half-singing tone, making at the same time a great many motions with his fingers as he placed and replaced a number of grains of rice on the table before him. Two little boys, dressed in deep mourning (white), were engaged in prostrating themselves many times before the table at which the high-priest sat; and, as a singular contrast to all this seeming devotion, a number of Chinese were sitting smoking on each side, and looking on as if this was a play or some other kind of like amusement. The other priests had now joined in the chant, which was sometimes slow, and at other times quick and loud, but generally in a melancholy tone, like all Chinese music.
A priest who was sitting at my elbow now whispered in my ear that Buddha himself was about to appear. "You will not see him, nor shall I, nor any one in the place except the high-priest, who is clothed in the scarlet robe, and has a star-shaped crown on his head he will see him." Some one outside now fired three rockets, and at once every sound was hushed; one might have heard a pin drop on the ground; and the priest at my elbow whispered "Buddha comes." "Prostrate yourselves: ah! pull your caps off," said one to the young priests in white, already noticed. The boys immediately took off their little white caps, and bent lowly on the straw cushions placed in front of the various altars, and knocked their heads many times on the ground. At this particular moment the whole scene was one of the strangest it had ever been my lot to witness, and, although I knew it was nothing else than delusion and idolatry, I must confess it produced an almost superstitious effect on my feelings. "And is Buddha now here in the midst of us?" I asked the gentleman at my elbow. "Yes, he is," he said; "the high-priest sees him, although he is not visible to any one besides." Things remained in this state for a minute or two, and then the leader of the ceremonies commenced once more to chant in that drawling tone I have already noticed, to make various gyrations with his hands, placing and replacing the rice-grains, and the others joined in as before. My old friend the priest, who had brought me in to see these ceremonies, now presented himself and told me I had seen all that was worth seeing, that the services were nearly over, and that it was very late and time to go home. On our way to our quarters he informed me the funeral would take place early next morning, just before sunrise, and that if I wished to attend he would call me at the proper time.
Early in the twilight of next morning, and just before the sun's rays had tinged the peaks of the highest mountains, I was awakened by the loud report of fireworks. Dressing hastily, I hurried down to the house where the scene of the preceding evening bad been acted, and found myself among the last of the sorrowful procession. Looking into the court and hall, I found that the sacrifices had been entirely removed, the tables were bare, not a morsel of any kind remained, and it seemed as if the gods had been satisfied with their repast. The silver ingots, too, and the numerous gaudily-painted dresses which had been presented as an offering, were smouldering in a corner of the court, having been consumed by holy fire.
As the funeral procession proceeded slowly down, inside the covered pathway adjoining the temple, the large bell tolled in slow and measured tones, rockets were fired now and then, and numerous priests joined in as we went along. Having reached the last temple of the range, the body was deposited on two stools in front of one of the huge images, and, China-like, before proceeding further, all went home to breakfast. This important business finished, the assembly met again in the temple, and performed a short service, while the coolies were busily employed in adjusting the ropes by which they carried the coffin. All being ready, two men went outside the temple and fired three rockets, and then the procession started. First went two boys, carrying small flags on bamboo poles, then came two men beating brass gongs, and then came the chief mourner, dressed in white, and carrying on a small table two candles which were burning, some incense, and the monumental tablet. After the chief mourner came the coffin, followed by the young priests of the house to which the deceased belonged, also clad in white, then the servants and undertaker, and last of all a long train of priests.
I stood on one side of the lake, in front of the temple, in order to get a good view of the procession as it winded round the other. It was a beautiful October morning; the sun was now peeping over the eastern mountains behind the monastery and shedding a flood of light on water, shrubs, and trees, while every leaf sparkled with drops of dew. In such a scene this long and striking procession had a most imposing effect. The boys with their flags, the chief mourner moving slowly along with his candles burning in the clear daylight, the long line of priests with their shaven heads and flowing garments, the lake in front, and the hills covered with trees and brushwood behind, were at once presented to my view. As we passed a bridge, a little way from the temple, a man belonging to the family of the deceased, and who carried a basket containing cash a Chinese coin presented a number of the followers with a small sum, which they received with apparent reluctance. Most of the priests followed the bier but a short distance from the temple; but the chief mourner, the intimate friends, and servants, with a band of music, followed the body to its last resting-place. The spot selected was a retired and beautiful one, on the lower side of a richly-wooded hill. Here, without further ceremonies than the firing of some rockets, we left the coffin on the surface of the ground, to be covered with thatch or brickwork at a future opportunity.
The procession, or rather what remained of it, for it was now very small, returned to the temple. As we passed the small villages and cottages on our way the inmates crowded the doors, not to look at the procession, for such things were not unfrequent, but to express their wonder that a foreigner should have taken a part in it. When we arrived at the temple I looked in to see what was going on in the house from which the body had been taken, and in which such a strange scene had been acted the night before. It had been swept out, the tables had been put back into their proper places, two priests were quietly smoking their pipes in the verandah, the cook was preparing the forenoon meal in the back part of the house, and, except that that meal seemed more sumptuous than usual, there was nothing to indicate that a short time previous it had been the house of death. Such is life and death in China not very unlike in some particulars what it is in other parts of the world.
In this part of the Chekiang province, and also amongst the Fung-hwa mountains to the westward of Ningpo, there are large quantities of a blue dye produced, which is in fact the indigo of this part of the country. Those who have read my 'Wanderings in China,' published in 1846, may remember the account given there of a valuable kind of indigo, made from a species of woad (Isatis indigotica) which is cultivated extensively in the level country a few miles to the westward of Shanghae. The kind which attracted my attention in Chekiang is equally valuable, if not more so. It is made from a species of ruellia, which, until it gets a better name, may be called Ruellia indigotica. It is a curious circumstance that the same plant, apparently, has lately been discovered in the Assam country in India, where it is also cultivated for the blue dye it affords. I had an opportunity of examining it in the garden of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society at Calcutta, by whom it had been introduced, and where it was standing alongside of the Chinese kind, to which it certainly bears a most striking resemblance: the point of identity will easily be determined when the plants come into flower. Strange it will be if it is ultimately found that this species, which produces a dye unknown to commerce, is in cultivation all the way across from the eastern shores of China to the borders of Bengal, and this is far from being improbable.
This ruellia seems to be easily cultivated; it grows most luxuriantly, and is no doubt very productive. Having evidently been found indigenous a little farther to the south, in a warmer latitude, it is not hardy in the province of Chekiang any more than cotton is about Shanghae; but nevertheless it succeeds admirably as a summer crop. It is planted in the end of April or beginning of May, after the spring frosts are over, and is cleared from the ground in October before those of autumn make their appearance. During this period it attains a height of a foot or a foot and a half, becomes very bushy, and is densely covered with large green leaves. It is cut down before any flowers are formed.
The Chinese method of preserving plants for next year's crop is most ingenious and well worth notice. Being somewhat tender, as I have already remarked, the roots which are left in the ground after the gathering season are all destroyed by the first frosts of winter. But the Chinese cultivator does not depend upon these for the crop of the following year, nor does he take them up or cover them in any way. They have done their duty for one year, and are now left to their fate.
Cuttings are found to be much more vigorous and productive than the old roots, and to the formation and preservation of these cuttings the Chinese cultivator directs his attention. When the stems are cut down for the manufacture of indigo, a sufficient quantity have their leaves stripped off, and are afterwards taken into a house or shed to be properly prepared. The leaves thus stripped from the cuttings are thrown into the tanks with the other stems and leaves, so that nothing is lost except what is actually required for the purposes of propagation. The stems are now tied up firmly in large bundles, each containing upwards of 1000, and the ends of each bundle are cut across, so as to leave them perfectly neat and even both at top and bottom. These bundles are each about a foot long, and, of course, nearly round. Having been thus prepared, they are carried to a dry shed or outhouse, where, in some snug corner, they are packed closely and firmly together, and banked round with very dry loam. A portion of the dry soil is also shaken in between the bundles; and this being done, the operation is complete. Should the winter prove unusually severe, a little dry straw or litter is thrown over the surface of the cuttings, but nothing else is required. During the winter months the cuttings remain green and plump; and, although no leaves are produced, a few roots are generally found formed, or in the act of forming, when the winter has passed, and the season for planting has come round. In this state they are taken to the fields and planted. The weather during the planting season is generally showery, as this happens about the change of the monsoon, when the air is charged with moisture. A few days of this warm showery weather is sufficient to establish the new crop, which now goes on growing with luxuriance, and requires little attention during the summer indeed none, except keeping the land free from weeds.
In the country where this dye is grown there are numerous pits or tanks on the edges of the fields. They are usually circular in form; and one which I measured was eleven feet in diameter, and two feet in depth. About 400 catties5 of stems and leaves are thrown into a tank of this size, which is then filled to the brim with clear water. In five days the plant is partially decomposed, and the water has become lightish-green in colour. At this period the whole of the stems and leaves are removed from the tank with a fiat-headed broom made of bamboo twigs, an admirable instrument for the purpose. When every particle has been removed, the workmen employed give the water a circular and rapid motion with the brooms just noticed, which is continued for some time. During this part of the operation another man has employed himself in mixing about thirty catties of lime with water, which water has been taken out of the tank for the purpose. This is now thrown into the tank, and the rapid circular motion of the water is kept up for a few minutes longer. When the lime and water have been well mixed in this way the circular motion is allowed to cease. Four men now station themselves round the tank and commence beating the water with bamboo rakes made for this purpose. The beating process is a very gentle one; as it goes on the water gradually changes from a greenish hue to a dingy yellow, while the froth becomes of a beautiful bright blue. During the process the head workman takes a pailful of the liquid out of the tank and beats it rapidly with his hand. Under this operation it changes colour at once, and its value is judged of by the hue it presents. The beating process generally lasts for about half an hour. At the end of this time the whole of the surface of the tank is covered with a thick coating of froth of the most brilliant colours, in which blue predominates, particularly near the edges.
At this stage, it being desirable to incorporate the froth with the liquid below it, I witnessed a most beautiful chemical operation which took me completely by surprise, and showed how universally must be the knowledge of the effect of throwing "oil upon the waters." A very small portion of cabbage-oil only a few drops was thrown on the surface of the froth, the workmen then stirred and beat it gently with their flat brooms for a second or two, and the whole disappeared as if by some enchanter's wand. And so small a quantity of oil was necessary for this purpose that even when the cup had been emptied, and had only the oil that was necessarily adhering to its edges, it was thrown into another tank, and produced the desired effect.
The liquid, which is now darker in colour, is allowed to stand quiet for some hours, until the colouring matter has sunk to the lower stratum, when about two-thirds of the surface is drawn off and thrown away. The remaining third part is then drawn into a small square tank on a lower level, which is thatched over with straw, and here it remains for three or four days. By this time the colouring matter has separated itself from the water, which is now entirely drained off the dye occupying three or four inches of the bottom in the form of a thick paste, and of a beautiful blue colour. In this state it is packed in baskets, and exposed for sale in all the country towns in this part of China. What its intrinsic value may be when compared with the indigo of commerce, I have no means of ascertaining, but it is largely used in this part of the world, where blue is the most fashionable colour, judging from the dresses of the people. And it is possible that with our knowledge of chemistry a colour of this kind might be greatly improved. After being grown and manufactured as I have described, it is sold at rates varying from 50 to 100 cash a catty, say from 2d. to 4d. per lb. Some is sold. as low as 30 cash, but this is very inferior; the greater part produced is sold at from 60 to 80 cash a catty, and it must be of a very superior quality if 100 cash is paid. Like the Shanghae indigo made from Isatis indigotica, it is called "Tien-ching" by the Chinese. While upon the subject of Chinese dyes, I shall now give some account of the "green indigo," which has been attracting much notice lately both in India and in Europe.
A portion of cotton cloth obtained in China by the French manufacturers, being greatly admired on account of the peculiar green of its dye, was submitted to the celebrated chemist M. Persoz. with a request that he would endeavour to ascertain the composition of the green colour. The following is a translation of his report upon this subject to the Academy of Sciences:
ON A GREEN COLOURING MATERIAL PRODUCED IN CHINA.
BY MONS. J. PERSOZ.
Mons. Daniel Koechlin-Schouc forwarded to me last autumn a specimen of calico dyed in China, of a rich and very permanent green, with a request that I should endeavour to ascertain the composition of the green colour. Every attempt that I made upon the specimen UP detect evidence of the presence of a blue or yellow failed, and I was led to the conviction, by isolating the colouring principle, that the green was produced by a dyeing material of a peculiar nature and sui generis. It further was evident,
1st. That the colouring matter was an organic product of vegetable origin;
2nd. That the fabric on which it was fixed was charged with a strong dose of alum and a little oxide of iron and lime, bodies the presence of which necessarily implied that mordants had been used in dyeing the calico.
These results were so positive, and at the same time so opposed, not only to everything known in Europe regarding the composition of green colour, but also to all that is recorded by writers regarding the dyeing processes employed in China for the production of green, that I was induced to go into a more detailed investigation of the subject; and about the end of last November I applied to Mr. Forbes, the American consul at Canton, for some of this valuable material. I am indebted to his kindness for a specimen weighing about one gramme (15½ grains).
The substance is met with in thin plates, of a blue
colour, having a strong analogy with that of Java indigo, but of a finer cake,
and differing besides from indigo both in its composition and in all its
chemical properties. On infusing a small fragment of the substance in water,
the liquid speedily became coloured of a deep blue, with a shade of green.
After the temperature had been raised to the boiling point, a piece of calico,
prepared for printing with mordants of alum and oxide of iron, was dipped in
it, and a true dye was the result. The following appearances were observed:
The portions of the fabric to which alum had been applied showed a deep green, of more or less intensity, according to the strength of the mordant.
The portions charged with both alum and oxide of iron yielded a deep green, with a shade of olive.
The portions charged with oxide of iron alone yielded a deep olive.
The parts of the cloth where no mordant had been applied remained sensibly paler.
The colours thus obtained were treated with all the reagents to which the Chinese calico had in the first instance been subjected, and they behaved in precisely the same manner. From these experiments it may be inferred,
1st. That the Chinese possess a dye-stuff presenting the physical aspect of indigo, which dies green with mordants of alum and iron.
2nd. That this dye-stuff contains neither indigo nor anything derived from that dyeing principle.
Mons. Legentil, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Paris, having perceived the importance of France being speedily put in possession of this valuable material, with a view to the interests of science and of industry, took the necessary steps several months ago for procuring a suitable quantity with the least possible delay, and, at the same time, to have inquiries made as to its origin and mode of preparation.
I purpose submitting to the Academy a full account of this new dye as soon as I am enabled to make a more detailed and satisfactory examination of it.6
This matter attracted a good deal of notice both in France and in England, and the officials of both countries stationed in China were written to by their respective governments and desired to get what information they could upon it. But in China it is a difficult matter to obtain correct information upon anything which does not come directly under one's eye; and if the correspondence upon this subject was published, it would, no doubt, exhibit as many amusing blunders as used to be made about the Chinese rice-paper plant in former days. By some the flowers of the Whi-mei (Sophora japonica) were sent home as the "green indigo;" but this plant yields a yellow dye, and, even when mixed with blue to make a green, the green is not that kind noticed by the French manufacturers.
From an extensive knowledge of the productions of China, gained during several years of travel, I was not so easily imposed upon as others, but notwithstanding this advantage it was some time before I could be sure that I was "upon the right scent." At last I remembered having seen a peculiar kind of dye cultivated largely some miles to the westward of Hang-chow-foo, and I determined to visit that part of the country again, and examine the dye more minutely. Here I found fields under cultivation with a kind of Rhamnus apparently. The Chinese farmer called it "Loh-zah," or "Soh-loh-shoo," and showed me samples of the cloth which had been dyed with it. To my delight these samples corresponded exactly with those sent back from France, one of which was in my possession. But he told me that two kinds were necessary namely, the variety they cultivated in their fields, and one which grew wild on the hills in order to produce the dye in question. The former they called the yellow kind, and the latter the white kind. The dye itself was not extracted by them, they were merely the growers, and therefore I could get no information as to its manufacture. I however secured a good supply of plants and seeds of both kinds, which were afterwards sent to India and England.
My further inquiries on the subject of the manufacture of the "green indigo" were conducted in connexion with Dr. Lockhart and the Rev. J. Edkins, of Shanghae. We found that a considerable portion of this dye was made near a city called Kia-hing-foo, situated a few miles west from Shanghae, and Mr. Edkins procured a bundle of chips there which exhibited the state in which the article is sold in the market. Since I left China I have received the following interesting letter from Dr. Lockhart, which throws much light on the subject. The information was procured by Mr. Edkins, and may therefore be fully relied upon.
"The bark of two kinds of the tree known as the 'green shrub' (Lŭk-chae), one wild, which is called the white, and another cultivated, which is called the yellow, are used to obtain the dye. The white bark tree grows abundantly in the neighbourhoods of Kea-hing and Ningpo; the yellow is produced at Tsah-kou-pang, where the dye is manufactured. This place is two or three miles west from Wang-tseen, a market-town situated a little to the south of Kea-hing.
"The two kinds are placed together in iron pans and thoroughly boiled. The residuum is left undisturbed for three days, after which it is placed in large earthenware vessels, and cotton cloth, prepared with lime, is dyed with it several times. After five or six immersions the colouring matter is washed from the cloth with water, and placed in iron pans to be again boiled. It is then taken up on cotton yarn several times in succession, and when absorbed in this way it is next washed off and sprinkled on thin paper. When half dry the paper is pasted on light screens and strongly exposed to the sun. The product is called Luk-kaou. In dyeing cotton cloth with it ten parts are mixed with three parts of subcarbonate of potash in boiling water.
"The dye made at Tsah-kou-pang is not used to dye silk fabrics, because it is only a rough surface which takes it readily. To colour silk with it so much of the material must be used that it will not pay. All cotton fabrics, also grass-cloths, take the colour readily. The dye does not fade with washing, which gives it a superiority over other greens.
"It is sent from Kea-hing as far as Shantung. It is also made in the province of Hoonan and at Ningpo, but the dye at these places is said to be of an inferior quality. It has long been used by painters in water-colours, but the application of it to dye cloth was first made only about twenty years ago. If some method could be discovered of applying it to silk fabrics it would become still more useful."
The information obtained by Mr. Edkins on this subject is, no doubt, perfectly correct. It agrees in the most important particulars with what I had gleaned from time to time amongst the Chinese in various parts of the country. The chips he brought with him from Kea-hing were identical with the "Soh-loh," or "Loh-zah" (Rhamnus sp.), which I have already mentioned, and his statement that two varieties of the plant are used to produce the dye agrees with my own observations.
The mode of extracting the dye from the bark or wood (for both seem to be used), as practised by the Chinese, appears to be slow and tedious, but with our superior knowledge of chemistry this might possibly be improved.
From these investigations it would appear that two
colouring principles are necessary to the production of this dye. This,
however, will not affect the value of it as a rich and permanent green,
a quality which has been appreciated by the French manufacturers, and which is
also well known to the Chinese.
1 Rhus sp.
2 Fraxinus sp.
3 Cζsalpinia sp.
4 Rhamnus sp.
5 A Chinese catty is equal to 1 1/2 lb.
6 Translated from the 'Comptes Rendus de l'Acadιmie des Sciences.' Sιance de Lundi, 18 October, 1852.