Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
Return to Chekiang A journey to the interior Chinese country fair Small feet of women How formed, and the results Stalls at the fair Ancient porcelain seal same as found in the bogs of Ireland Theatricals Chinese actors Natural productions of the country Liliaceous medicinal plant "Cold water temple" Start for Tsan-tsin Mountain scenery and productions Astonishment of the people A little boy's opinion of my habits.
ON arriving at Shanghae I lost no time in returning again to the tea-districts in the interior of the Chekiang province, in order to make again arrangements for further supplies of seeds and plants for the following autumn. I shall not enter into a description of this part of my duties, as it would be nearly a repetition of some of the earlier pages in this work. But during the summer and autumn I had many opportunities of visiting districts in the interior of the country hitherto undescribed, and to these "fresh fields and pastures new," I shall now conduct the reader.
The eastern parts of the province, in which the islands of the Chusan archipelago and the great cities of Hangchow and Ningpo are included, is now pretty well known, partly through my own researches, and partly through those of other travellers. The central and western parts of this fine province, however, have scarcely as yet been explored by foreigners, and therefore a short account of its inhabitants and productions, as observed by me during a visit this year, may prove of some interest. Having engaged a small boat at Ningpo to take me up to one of the sources of the river, which flows past the walls of that city, I left late one evening with the first of the flood-tide. We sailed on until daylight next morning, when the ebb made strong against us, and obliged us to make our boat fast to the river's bank, and wait for the next flood. The country through which we had passed during the night was perfectly flat, and was one vast rice-field, with clumps of trees and villages scattered over it in all directions. Like all other parts of China, where the country is flat and fertile, this portion seemed to be densely populated. We were now no great distance from the hills which bound the south-west side of this extensive plain, a plain some thirty miles from east to west, and twenty from north to south. Part of the toad was the same I had travelled the year before on my way to the Snowy Valley.
When the tide turned to run up we again got under way, and proceeded on our journey. In the afternoon we reached the hills; and as our little boat followed the winding course of the stream, the wide and fertile plain through which we had passed was shut out from our view. About four o'clock in the afternoon we reached the town of Ning-Kang-jou, beyond which the river is not navigable for boats of any size; and here I determined to leave my boat, and make excursions into the surrounding country. It so happened that I arrived on the eve of a fair, to be held next day in the little town in which I had taken up my quarters. As I walked through the streets in the evening of my arrival great preparations were evidently making for the business and gaieties of the following day. The shop-fronts were all decorated with lanterns; hawkers were arriving from all parts of the surrounding country, loaded with wares to tempt the holiday folks; and as two grand theatrical representations were to be given, one at each end of the town, on the banks of the little stream, workmen were busily employed in fitting up the stages and galleries, the latter being intended for the accommodation of those who gave the play and their friends. Everything was going on in the most good-humoured way, and the people seemed delighted to see a foreigner amongst them, and were all perfectly civil and kind. I had many invitations to come and see the play next night; and the general impression seemed to be, that I had visited the place with the sole intention of seeing the fair.
Retiring early to rest, I was up next morning some time before the sun, and took my way into the country to the westward. Even at that early hour 4 A.M. the country-roads were lined with people pouring into the town. There were long trains of coolies, loaded with fruits and vegetables; there were hawkers, with their cakes and sweetmeats to tempt the young; while now and then passed a thrifty housewife, carrying a web of cotton cloth, which had been woven at home, and was now to be sold at the fair. More gaily dressed than any of these were small parties of ladies limping along on their small feet, each one having a long staff in her hand to steady her, and to help her along the mountain-road. Behind each of these parties come an attendant coolie, carrying a basket of provisions, and any other little article which was required during the journey. On politely inquiring of the several parties of ladies where they were going to, they invariably replied in the language of the district "Ta-pa-Busa-la," we are going to worship Buddha. Some of the younger ones, particularly the good-looking, pretended to be vastly frightened as I passed them on the narrow road; but that this was only pretence was .clearly proved by the joyous ringing laugh which reached my ears after they had passed and before they were out of sight.
It is certainly a most barbarous custom that of
deforming the feet of Chinese ladies, and detracts greatly from their beauty.
Many persons think that the custom prevails only amongst persons of rank or
wealth, but this is a great mistake. In the central and eastern provinces of
the empire it is almost universal, the fine ladies who ride in sedan-chairs,
and the poorer classes who toil from morning till evening in the fields, are
all deformed in the same manner. In the more southern provinces, such as Fokien
and Canton, the custom is not so universal; boat-women and field-labourers
generally allow their feet to grow to the natural size. Here is one of a
peculiar class of countrywomen, to be met with near Foo-chow, from the talented
pencil of Mr. Scarth.
Dr. Lockhart, whose name I have already mentioned in these pages, gives the following as the results of his extensive and varied experience on this subject. He says:
"Considering the vast number of females who have the feet bound up in early life, and whose feet are then distorted, the amount of actual disease of the bones is small; the ancle is generally tender, and much walking soon causes the foot to swell, and be very painful, and this chiefly when the feet have been carelessly bound in infancy. To produce the diminution of the foot, the tarsus or instep is bent on itself, the os calcis or heel-bone thrown out of the horizontal position, and what ought to be the posterior surface, brought to the ground; so that the ancle is, as it were, forced higher up than it ought to be, producing in fact artificial Talipes Caleaneus; then the four smaller toes are pressed down under the instep, and checked in their growth, till at adult age all that has to go into the shoe is the end of the os calcis and the whole of the great toe. In a healthy constitution this constriction of the foot may be carried on without any very serious consequences; but in scrofulous constitutions the navicular bone, and the cuneiform bone supporting the great toe, are very liable, from the constant pressure and irritation to which they are exposed, to become diseased; and many cases have been seen where caries, softening, and even death of the bone have taken place, accompanied with much suppuration and great consequent suffering. Chinese women have naturally very small hands and feet, but this practice of binding the feet utterly destroys all symmetry according to European ideas, and the limping uncertain gait of the women is, to a foreigner, distressing to see. Few of the Chinese women can walk far, and they always appear to feel pain when they try to walk quickly, or on uneven ground.
"The most serious inconvenience to which women with small feet are exposed," he observes, "is that they so frequently fall and injure themselves. During the past year, several cases of this kind have presented themselves. Among them was one of an old woman, seventy years of age, who was coming down a pair of stairs and fell, breaking both her legs; she was in a very dangerous state for some time, on account of threatened mortification of one leg, but the unfavourable symptoms passed off, and finally the bones of both legs united, and she is able to walk again.
"Another case was also that of an elderly woman, who was superintending the spring cutting of bamboo shoots in her field, when she fell over some bamboos, owing to her crippled feet slipping among the roots; a compound fracture of one leg was the consequence, and the upper fragment of the bone stuck in the ground; the soft parts of the leg were so much injured, that amputation was recommended, but her friends would not hear of it, and she soon afterwards died from mortification of the limb.
"The third case was that of a woman, who also fell down stairs and had compound fracture of the leg; this case is still under treatment, and is likely to do well, as there was not very much injury done to the soft parts in the first instance."
About eight o'clock I returned to the town, and took the principal temple on my way. The sight which presented itself here was a curious and striking one. Near the doors were numerous venders of candles and joss-stick, who were eagerly pressing the devotees to buy; so eager were they, indeed, that I observed them in several instances actually lay hold of the people as they passed; and strange to say, this rather rough mode of getting customers was frequently successful. Crowds of people were going in and coming out of the temple exactly like bees in a hive on a fine summer's day. Some halted a few moments to buy their candles and incense from the dealers already noticed; while others seemed to prefer purchasing from the priests in the temple. Nor were the venders confined to those who sold things used only in the worship of Buddha. Some had stalls of cakes and sweetmeats; others had warm and cold tea, snuff-bottles, fans, and a hundred other fancy articles which it is needless to enumerate. Doctors were there who could cure all diseases; and fortunetellers, too, seemed to have a full share of patronage from a liberal and enlightened public. In front of the altar other scenes were being acted. Here the devotees by far the largest portion being females were prostrating themselves many times before the Gods; and each one, as she arose from her knees, hastened to light some candles and incense, and place these upon the altar, then returning to the front, the prostrations were again repeated, and then the place was given up to another, who repeated the same solemn farce. And so they went on during the whole of that day, on which many thousands of people must have paid their vows at these heathen altars.
I may here mention, in passing, that I picked up two articles at this place, of considerable interest to antiquaries in Europe. One was a small porcelain bottle, exactly similar in size, form and colouring to those found in ancient Egyptian tombs. The characters on one side are also identical, and are a quotation from one of the Chinese poets "Only in the midst of this mountain."
I have already alluded to these bottles in one of the earlier chapters, and need say nothing further about them here. They are to be met with not unfrequently in doctors' shops and old stalls; several persons, both in China and England, possess specimens.
The other article I have mentioned is far more curious and interesting. It is a small porcelain seal identical with those found of late years in the bogs of Ireland. On the 6th of May, 1850, Mr. Letty read a very curious and interesting paper on this subject before the Belfast Literary Society, and he has since published it with drawings and descriptions of the different seals. One was found when ploughing a field in Tipperary, another in the county of Down, a third in the bed of the river Boyne, and a fourth near Dublin. That these seals have lain in the bogs and rivers of Ireland for many ages there cannot be the slightest doubt. The peculiar white or rather cream-coloured porcelain of which they are composed, has not been made in China for several hundred years. The Chinese, who laugh at the idea of the bottles being considered ancient which have been found in the tombs of Egypt, all agree in stating that these seals are from one thousand to two thousand years old.
They are very rare in China at the present day. I had
the greatest difficulty in getting the few which are now in my possession,
although my opportunities of picking up such things were greater than those of
most persons in China. It is therefore absurd to suppose that those found in
Ireland can have been brought over of late years by sailors, or captains of
ships, or even by either of the two embassies to Peking. Here is a sketch of
some of those found in China at the present day. Those who are fortunate enough
to possess the Irish ones will see an exact resemblance to their own.
Ancient Porcelain Seals.
There is therefore no doubt that those rare and ancient seals found in China at the present day are identical with those found in Ireland. That the latter must have been brought over at a very early period, and that they must have lain for many ages in the bogs and rivers of that island seems also quite certain. But when they came there, how they came, and what were the circumstances connected with their introduction, are questions which we cannot answer. To do this satisfactorily we should probably have to consult a book of history, written, studied, and lost long before that of the present history of Ireland.
The streets of the town were now crowded with people; and the whole scene reminded me of a fair in a country-town in England. In addition to the usual articles in the shops, and an unusual supply of fruits and vegetables, there was a large assortment of other things which seemed to be exposed in quantity only on a fair-day. Native cotton cloths, woven by handlooms in the country, were abundant, mats made from a species of Juncus, and generally used for sleeping upon, clothes of all kinds, both new and second-hand, porcelain and wooden vessels of various sorts, toys, cakes, sweetmeats, and all the common accompaniments of an English fair. Various textile fibres of interest were abundant, being produced in large quantities in the district. Amongst these, and the chief, were the following: hemp, jute, China grass (so called) being the bark of Urtica nivea and the Juncus already noticed. A great number of the wooden vessels were made of the wood of Cryptomania japonica, which is remarkable for the number of beautiful rings and veins which show to great advantage when the wood is polished.
In the afternoon the play began, and attracted its thousands of happy spectators. As already stated, the subscribers, or those who gave the play, had a raised platform, placed about twenty yards from the front of the stage, for themselves and their friends. The public occupied the ground on the front and sides of the stage, and to them the whole was free as their mountain-air, each man, however poor, had as good right to be there as his neighbour. And it is the same all over China :the actors are paid by the rich, and the poor are not excluded from participating in the enjoyments of the stage.
The Chinese have a curious fancy for erecting these temporary theatres on the dry beds of streams. In travelling through the country I have frequently seen them in such places. Sometimes; when the thing is done in grand style, a little tinsel town is erected at the same time, with its palaces, pagodas, gardens, and dwarf plants. These places rise and disappear as if by the magic of the enchanter's wand, but they serve the purposes for which they are designed, and contribute largely to the enjoyment and happiness of the mass of the people.
On the present occasion I did not fail to accept the invitations which had been given me in the earlier part of the day. As I did not intend to remain for a great length of time I was content to take my place in the "pit," which I have already said is free to the public. But the parties who had given the play were too polite to permit me to remain amongst the crowd. One of them a respectable-looking man, dressed very gaily came down and invited me to accompany him to the boxes. He led me up a narrow staircase and into a little room in which I found several of his friends amusing themselves by smoking, sipping tea, and eating seeds and fruits of various kinds. All made way for the stranger, and endeavoured to place me in the best position for getting a view of the stage. What a mass of human beings were below me! The place seemed full of heads, and one might suppose that the bodies were below, but it was impossible to see them, so densely were they packed together. Had it not been for the stage in the background with its actors dressed in the gay-coloured costumes of a former age, and the rude and noisy band, it would have reminded me more of the hustings at a contested election in England than anything else. But taken as a whole, there was nothing to which I could liken it out of China.
The actors had no stage-scenery to assist them in making an impression on the audience. This is not the custom in China. A table, a few chairs, and a covered platform are all that is required. No ladies are allowed to appear as actresses in the country, but the way in which the sex is imitated is most admirable, and always deceives any foreigner ignorant of the fact I have stated.
In the present instance each actor repeated his part in a singing falsetto voice. The whole interest of the piece must have lain in the story itself, for there was nothing natural in the acting, the sham sword-fights perhaps excepted. One or two of these occurred in the piece during the time I was a spectator, and they were certainly natural enough, thoroughly Chinese and very amusing. An actor rushed upon the stage amid the clashing of timbre's, beating of gongs, and squeaking of other instruments. He was brandishing a short sword in each hand, now and then wheeling round apparently to protect himself in the rear, and all the time performing the most extraordinary actions with his feet, which seemed as if they had to do as much of the fighting as the hands. People who have seen much of the manoeuvring of Chinese troops will not call this unnatural acting. But whatever a foreigner might think of such "artistes," judging from the intense interest and boisterous mirth of a numerous audience, they performed their parts to the entire satisfaction of their patrons and the public.
"How-pa-bow," said my kind friends, as I rose to take my leave; "is it good or bad?" Of course I expressed my entire approbation, and thanked them for the excellent view I had enjoyed of the performance through their politeness. It was now night dark the lanterns were lighted, the crowd still continued, and the play went on. Long after I left them, and even when I retired for the night, I could hear, every now and then, borne on the air the sounds of their rude music, and the shouts of applause from a good-humoured multitude.
The natural productions of this part of China now claim a share of our attention. Much of the level land among the hills in this part of the country, being considerably higher than the great Ningpo plain, is adapted to the growth of other crops than rice. The soil in these valleys is a light rich loam, and is in a state of high cultivation; indeed, I never witnessed fields so much like gardens as these are. The staple summer crops are those which yield textile fibres, such as those I saw in the fair already described. A plant well known by the name of jute in India a species of Corchorus which has been largely exported to Europe of late years from India, is grown here to a very large extent. In China this fibre is used in the manufacture of sacks and bags for holding rice and other grains. A gigantic species of hemp (Cannabis) growing from ten to fifteen feet in height, is also a staple summer crop. This is chiefly used in making ropes and string of various sizes, such articles being in great demand for tracking the boats up rivers, and in the canals of the country. Every one has heard of China grasscloth, that beautiful fabric made in the Canton province, and largely exported to Europe and America. The plant which is supposed to produce this (Urtica nivea) is also abundantly grown in the western part of this province, and in the adjoining province of Kiangse. Fabrics of various degrees of fineness are made from this fibre, and sold in these provinces; but I have not seen any so fine as that made about Canton. It is also spun into thread for sewing purposes, and is found to be very strong and durable. There are two very distinct varieties of this plant common in Chekiang one the cultivated, the other the wild. The cultivated variety has larger leaves than the other; on the upper side they are of a lighter green, and on the under they are much more downy. The stems also are lighter in colour, and the whole plant has a silky feel about it which the wild one wants. The wild variety grows plentifully on sloping banks, on city walls, and other old and ruinous buildings. It is not prized by the natives, who say its fibre is not so fine, and more broken and confused in its structure than the other kind. The cultivated kind yields three crops a year.
The last great crop which I observed was that of a species of juncus, the stems of which are woven into beautiful mats, used by the natives for sleeping upon, for covering the floors of rooms, and for many other useful purposes. This is cultivated in water, somewhat like the rice-plant, and is therefore always planted in the lowest parts of these valleys. At the time of my visit, in the beginning of July, the harvest of this crop had just commenced, and hundreds of the natives were busily employed in drying it. The river's banks, uncultivated land, the dry gravelly bed of the river, and every other available spot was taken up with this operation. At grey dawn of morning the sheaves or bundles were taken out of temporary sheds, erected for the purpose of keeping off the rain and dew, and shaken thinly over the surface of the ground. In the afternoon, before the sun had sunk very low in the horizon, it was gathered up again into sheaves and placed under cover for the night. A watch was then set in each of the sheds; for however quiet and harmless the people in these parts are, there is no lack of thieves, who are very honest if they have no opportunity to steal. And so the process of winnowing went on day by day until the whole of the moisture was dried out of the reeds. They were then bound up firmly in round bundles, and either sold in the markets of the country, or taken to Ningpo and other towns where the manufacture of mats is carried on, on a large scale.
The winter crops of this part of China consist of wheat, barley, the cabbage oil-plant, and many other kinds of vegetables on a smaller scale. Large tracts of land are planted with the bulbs of a liliaceous plant probably a Fritillaria which are used in medicine. This is planted in November, and dug up again in April and May. In March these lily-fields are in full blossom, and give quite a feature to the country. The flowers are of a dingy greyish white, and not very ornamental.
It seems to me to be very remarkable that a country like China, rich in textile fibre, oils of many kinds, vegetable tallow, dyes, and no doubt many other articles which have not come under my notice should afford so few articles for exportation. I have no doubt that as the country gets better known, our merchants will find many things besides silk and tea, which have hitherto formed almost the only articles exported in quantity to Europe and America.
When I was travelling in the part of the country I have been describing, the weather was extremely hot, July and August being the hottest months of the year in China. When complaining of the excessive heat to some of my visitors, I was recommended to go to a place called by them the Lang-shuy-ain, or "cold water temple," situated in the vicinity of the town in which I was staying. In this place they told me both air and water were cold notwithstanding the excessive heat of the weather. On visiting the place I found it an old, dilapidated building, which had evidently seen more prosperous days. Ascending a few stone steps, I reached the lower part of the edifice, when I felt at once a sudden change in the temperature, something like that which one experiences on going into an ice-house on a hot summer's day. My guide led me to the further corner of this place, and pointed to some stone steps which seemed to lead down to a cave or some such subterranean place, and desired me to walk down. As it appeared perfectly dark to me on coming from the bright sunshine, I hesitated to proceed without a candle. On this being brought, I was much disappointed in finding the steps were only a few in number and led to nowhere. It appeared that in the more prosperous days of the temple there had been a well of clear water at the bottom of the steps, but now that was choked up with stones and rubbish. I was able, however, to procure a little water nearly as cold as if it had been iced. The stones in this part of the building were also very cold to the touch, and a strong current of cold air was coming out of the earth at this particular point. I regretted much not having my thermometer with me to have tested the difference of the temperature with accuracy. On the floor of the temple a motley group of persons was presented to my view. Beggars, sick persons, and others who had taken refuge from the heat of the sun were lolling about, evidently enjoying the cool air which filled the place. It appeared to be free to all, rich and poor alike. There are some large clay-slate and granite quarries near this place; and I afterwards found several springs of water issuing from the clay-slate rocks quite as cold as that in the "cold water temple."
Having spent several days in the town of Ningkang-jou, I determined to proceed onwards to a large temple situated amongst the hills to the westward, and distant, as I was informed, some twenty or thirty le. Packing up my bed and a few necessaries, I started in a mountain chair one morning, after an early breakfast. Leaving the town behind me, the road led me winding along the side of a hill, following the course of the little stream. The scenery here was perfectly enchanting. The road, though narrow, like all Chinese roads, was nicely paved and oftentimes shaded by the branches of lofty trees. Above me rose a sloping hill, covered with trees and brushwood, while a few feet below me was seen the little stream trickling over its gravelly bed and glistening in the morning sun. Now and then I passed a pool where the water was still and deep, but generally the river, which is navigable for large ships at Ningpo, was here not more than ankle deep. Shallow as it was, however, the Chinese were still using it for floating down the productions of these western. hills. Small rafts made of bamboo, tiny flat-bottomed boats, and many other contrivances were employed to accomplish the end in view. When the river was so shallow that the boatman could not use his scull, he might oftentimes be seen walking in the river and dragging his boat or raft over the stones into deeper water. As I passed along, I observed several anglers busily employed with rod and line real Izaak Waltons it seemed and although they did not appear very expert, and their tackle was rather clumsy, yet they generally succeeded in getting their baskets well filled. Altogether, this scene, which I can only attempt to describe, was a charming one, a view of Chinese country-life, telling plainly that the Chinese, however strange they may sometimes appear, are, after all, very much like ourselves.
My road at length left the hill-side and little stream, and took me across a wide and highly cultivated valley, several miles in extent, and surrounded on all sides by hills, except that one through which the river winded in its course to the eastward. I passed through two small towns in this valley where the whole population seemed to turn out to look at me. Everywhere I was treated with the most marked politeness, and even kindness, by the inhabitants. "Stop a little, sit down, drink tea," was said to me by almost every one whose door I passed. Sometimes I complied with their wishes; but more generally I simply thanked them, and pushed onwards on my journey. In the afternoon I arrived at the further end of the valley and at the foot of a mountain pass. As I gradually ascended this winding path, the valley through which I had passed was entirely shut out from my view. Nothing was now seen but mountains, varying in height and form, some about 2000, and others little less than 4000 feet above the level of the sea, some formed of gentle slopes, with here and there patches of cultivation, others steep and barren, where no cultivation can ever be carried on, except that of brushwood, which the most barren mountains generally furnish. The Chinese pine and Japan cedar were almost the only trees of any size which I observed as I passed along. A little higher up I came to fine groves of the bamboo the famous maou-chok, already noticed the finest variety of bamboo in China, and always found growing in the vicinity of Buddhist temples.
In a small valley amongst these mountains, some 2000 feet high, the temple of Tsan-tsing was at last seen peeping out from amongst the trees. The building in itself is of a much less imposing character than others I have seen in this province and in Fokien; but, like all others of its kind, it is pleasantly situated in the midst of the most romantic scenery. In addition to the pines and bamboos already noticed, were several species of oaks and chesnuts, the former producing good-sized timber. But the finest tree of all, and quite new to me, was a beautiful species of cedar or larch; which I observe Dr. Lindley, to whom I sent specimens, calls Abies Kζmpferi.
When I entered the court of the temple the priests seemed quite lost in astonishment. No other foreigner, it seemed, had been there before, and many of them had only heard of us by name. Some of them stood gazing at me as if I were a being from another world, while others ran out to inform their friends of my arrival. My request for quarters was readily granted; and being now an old traveller, I was soon quite at home amongst my new friends. Late in the afternoon, long trains of coolies men and boys passed the temple from a district further inland, loaded with young bamboo shoots, which are eaten as a vegetable and much esteemed. The news of the arrival of a foreigner at the temple seemed to fly in all directions; and we were crowded during the evening with the natives, all anxious to get a glimpse of me. Some seemed never tired of looking at me; others had a sort of superstitious dread mingled with curiosity. One little urchin, who had been looking on with great reverence for some time, and on whom I flattered myself I had made a favourable impression, undeceived me by putting the following simple question to his father: "If I go near him, will he bite me?" This, I confess, astonished me; for although I had no tail, was not exactly the same colour as they were, and did not wear the same kind of dress, I did not expect to be taken for a wild animal. What strange tales must have been told these simple country people of the barbarians during the last Chinese war?