Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
A Residence Among The Chinese
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo


Leave Shanghae for the silk country Melancholy results of the Shanghae rebellion Country and productions about Cading Indigo and safflower Bamboo paper-making Insects Lakes and marshy country Visit the town of Nan-tsin in the silk districts Its shops and inhabitants Producers of raw silk and silk merchants Description of silk country Soil Method of cultivating the mulberry Valuable varieties Increased by grafting and not by seeds Method of gathering the leaves Hills near Hoo-chow-foo Temples and priests. 

ON the evening of the eighth of June I took my departure from Shanghae, en route for the great silk district for which the province is famed all over the world, and for the mountainous country which lies to the westward of the plain of the Yang-tse-kiang. As my boat proceeded rapidly up the Soochow branch of the river, I soon approached the ground where the imperialists had their principal camp during the siege of the city, and where so many hundreds of poor wretches were executed after the city was evacuated. It was a calm and beautiful evening. The sounds of civil warfare and of a camp teeming with barbarous soldiers, which had been so often heard a few months before, had now passed away, the sword had been converted into the ploughshare and the husbandman was quietly engaged in the cultivation of his fields, now enriched with the blood and bodies of his countrymen. 

As I passed the site of the old camp I sat on the outside of my boat smoking my cigar in the cool air of the evening, and musing upon the events of the preceding years. The wind at the time blew softly from the south, and before it reached the river on which I was sailing it had to pass over the site of the old encampment. The first puff that reached me almost made me sick, and it has nearly the same effect on me even now when I think of it as I write. Although I had seen none of the executions which had taken place a short time before, I did not require any one to inform me that this was the "field of blood." Here hundreds of headless bodies scarcely covered, or only with an inch or two of earth, lay in a state of decomposition, and the stench from them filled and polluted the air. Here, then, was the end of the Shanghae rebellion, which, at one time, was so much lauded and encouraged by foreigners at that port. The country was devastated for miles round, the city lay in ruins, thousands of the peaceful inhabitants were rendered homeless and friendless, and the authors of this state of things, who used to strut about dressed in the richest silks and satins (which they plundered from the shops and houses of the wealthy), smoke opium, and make a profession of regard for the Christian religion, were now either skulking fugitives, or had atoned with their blood for their crimes. 

I was heartily glad when my boat had passed the place into purer air. As my boatmen sculled all night, in the morning we were thirty miles distant from Shanghae and within sight of the walls of Cading, an old city which I passed some years ago, when on my way to Soo-chow-foo. Here I remained for several days, inspecting the natural productions of the country. As this city and the surrounding country is frequently visited by missionaries and other residents in Shanghae, a foreigner is a common sight to the natives, who do not crowd round him as they do in more inland towns. I could, therefore, pursue my investigations in town and country without being molested in any way whatever. 

The surrounding country, although a plain, is somewhat higher and more undulating in its general character than that about Shanghae. The land is exceedingly fertile and admirably adapted for Chinese cotton cultivation, and consequently we find that cotton is the staple production of the district. But there are many other articles besides which are worthy of notice. The Shanghae indigo (Isates indigotica) is largely cultivated in the Ke-wang-meow district, a few miles to the south. The "Hong-wha," a variety of safflower (Carthamnus tinctorius), was found for the first time in fields near Cading. This dye, I was informed, was held in high esteem by the Chinese, and is used in dyeing the red and scarlet silks and crapes which are so common in the country and so much and justly admired by foreigners of every nation. Although I had not met with the safflower in cultivation in any other part of the country, my servants informed me that large quantities were annually produced in the Chekiang province near Ningpo. At this season (June 10th) the crop of flowers had been gathered, and all the plants removed from the land, except some few here and there on the different farms which had been left for seed. The seed was not yet ripe, so that I could not get a supply, but I determined to return that way and secure a portion to send to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India, in order to compare the Chinese with the Indian safflower. I believe they have turned out to be alike, or nearly so. Large quantities of fruit and vegetables are also produced in the vicinity of the city. I observed orchards of apple-trees, which is rather a rare sight in this district. The variety of apple was a small one, about as big as our golden pippin, but excellent in flavour; indeed, the only kind worth eating in this part of China. Melons of several different kinds were also extensively cultivated: when they are ripe the markets are literally crowded to overflowing with them, and they are eaten by the natives much in the same way as apples are with us; in fact they seem to be, so to speak, the apples of the country. 

In the canals near the city there were large quantities of bamboos partially covered with mud, so as to be pressed under water. These, I believe, were intended to be made into paper after they had been soaked for some time. The whole of the process of making paper from the bamboo did not come under my notice while travelling in the country, but I believe it is carried out somewhat in the following manner: After being soaked for some time in the way I have noticed, the bamboos are split up and saturated with lime and water until they become quite soft. They are then beaten up into a pulp in mortars, or where waterpower is at hand, as in the hilly districts, the beating or stamping process is done by means of stampers, which rise and fall as the cogs which are placed on the axis of the water-wheel revolve. When the mass has been reduced to a fine pulpy substance it is then taken to a furnace and well boiled until it has become perfectly fine, and of the proper consistency. It is then formed into sheets of paper. 

Bamboo-paper is made of various degrees of fineness according to the purposes for which it is intended. It is not only used for writing upon, and for packing with, but a large quantity of a coarse description is made for the sole purpose of mixing with the mortar used by bricklayers. 

In the fields about Cading I found two fine species of carabus, under stones, which were highly prized by entomologists at home. On the first discovery of these insects I showed them to a group of children who were with me, and offered  to buy all they brought me at the rate of thirty cash for each perfect specimen. I dare say they considered me insane or foolish, and I thought I could detect a look of pity on some countenances; but the motley group by which I was surrounded was soon scattered in all directions, engaged in turning over stones, lumps of loose earth and rubbish, and eagerly looking for the insects I wanted. The news was soon communicated to the old women in the villages, who were as anxious as the children, and many were the disputes and tumbles they had when scrambling for these beetles. 

By this means I soon procured as many specimens of these insects as I required, and then the difficulty was to induce my crowds of collectors to leave off collecting. I have already stated that the natives always believed I was collecting insects for medicine, and, therefore, had no idea of some forty or fifty of each kind being enough. 

Leaving Cading I pursued my journey to the westward in the direction of Tsing-poo. Soon after dark I found myself on the borders of an extensive sheet of water. My boatmen refused to proceed farther that night, telling me they could not find their way in the dark, and that if the wind rose we would be placed in a dangerous position. As this part of the country was unknown to me I considered it best to allow the men to have their own way, and so we brought up for the night. 

When I awoke at daybreak on the following morning we were already under way, and sailing with a fair wind across the lake. It was not difficult to perceive the justice of the remarks made by the boatmen the evening before; indeed, it seemed a difficult matter to find our way in broad daylight. This is a most extraordinary part of the country: the lake, or rather lakes, extend in all directions for many miles, sometimes so narrow as to have the appearance of canals, and then again expanding into large sheets of water. Everywhere the shores are low, and have a most irregular outline formed by a succession of reed-covered capes and deep bays. 

After sailing for a distance of six or eight miles we came to what appeared at first sight to be a canal leading out of the lake. It proved, however, to be merely a neck of water which led into another lake equal in size to that which we had just crossed. And so we went on during the whole day through this dreary region. The low marshy shores seemed to be thinly inhabited, although in the neighbourhood of the richest and most populous part of the Chinese empire; indeed, almost the only sign of the place being inhabited by human beings was, strange to say, the numerous coffins and graves of the dead, which were continually coming into view as we sailed along. It is not improbable, however, that many of these had been brought from other districts to those lucky spots and laid down, or interred  according to circumstances, by the surviving relatives. 

The lakes themselves had a much more lively appearance than those dreary shores. The white and brown sails of boats like our own were observed in great numbers making for the mouths of the various canals which form the highways to the large towns and cities in this part of China. Those seen going in a southerly direction were bound for Hang-chow-foo, and the towns in that district; those sailing northwards were on their way to Soo-chow-foo, while those going in the same direction as ourselves were for the silk country and its rich and populous cities. 

The water of the lakes was as smooth as glass, and in many places very shallow. Various species of water-plants, such as Trapa bicornus, Nympheas, &c., were common, while here and there I came upon the broad prickly leaves of Euryale ferox covering the surface of the water. 

In the afternoon the scenery began to assume an appearance somewhat different from that of the morning. The country was evidently getting higher in level and more fertile and populous. To the westward I thought I could detect a real boundary to the waters, but I did not feel quite certain of this as I had been deceived several times during the day. About five P.M. we arrived at a place named Ping-wang or Bing-bong, as it is pronounced in the dialect of the district. This proved to be a small bustling town on the edge of the lakes, and rather important from the central position which it occupies. Fine navigable canals lead from it to all the important towns of this large and fertile plain. A very fine one leads on to the city of Hoo-chow to which I was bound. On one side it has a substantial paved pathway, which is a high road to foot-passengers, and is also used by the boat-people in tracking their boats and junks. I was now able to leave my boat to be sculled slowly along, and walk along the banks of the canal. 

I had reached the eastern borders of the great silk country of China a country which in the season of 1853-54 exported upwards of 58,000 bales of raw silk. 


The mulberry was now observed on the banks of the canal, and in patches over all this part of the country. The lakes which I had passed through, and which I have endeavoured to describe, were now left behind, and a broad and beautiful canal stretched far away to the westward, and led to the great silk-towns of Nan-thin and Hoo-chow-foo. Hitherto the country had been completely flat, but now some hills at a great distance on my right-hand came into view. These I afterwards ascertained were the Tung-t'ing-shans, situated on the T'ai-hu Lake one of the largest lakes in China, which covers a considerable extent of country between the cities of Hang-chow-foo and Soochow-foo. As we passed along the country seemed exceedingly rich and fertile; and mulberry-plantations met the eye in every direction. A. great quantity of rice was also produced on the lower lands. The natives seemed well to do in the world, having plenty of work without oppression, and enough to procure the necessaries and simple luxuries of life. It was pleasant to hear their joyous and contented songs as they laboured amongst the mulberry-plantations and rice-fields. 

In the evening we arrived at Nan-tsin, and as I was anxious to see something of this celebrated silk-town by daylight, I determined on remaining there for a few days. Early next morning I was up and on my way to see the town. Even at this early hour five A.M. the roads were full of people; for like other nations the Chinese hold their markets in the morning. The streets in the town were lined with vegetables of all kinds, and the fruits of the season were abundant and cheap, particularly water-melons, peaches, plums, &c. Butchers' stalls groaned under loads of fat pork; there was an abundance of fresh and salt fish; ducks, geese, and fowls, were there in hundreds, and, indeed, everything was there which could tempt the eye of the Chinese epicure, except cats, rats, and young puppies, and these are not appreciated in this part of the country. 

Frogs are in great demand in all the Chinese towns, both in the north and south, wherever I have been, and they were very abundant in Nantsin. They abound in shallow lakes and rice fields, and many of them are very beautifully coloured, and look as if they had been painted by the hand of a first-rate artist. The vendors of these animals skin them in the streets in the most unmerciful and apparently cruel way which I have already described. 

There are many good streets and valuable shops in Nan-tsin, but they are very much like what I have seen and described in other cities in China. What struck me most was the large quantity of raw silk which was here exposed for sale. Soon after daylight the country people began to arrive with their little packets of silk, which they intended to sell to the merchants. The shops for the purchase of this article appeared to be very numerous in all the principal streets. Behind the counter of each shop stood six, eight, and sometimes more, clean, respectable-looking men, who were silk inspectors, and whose duty was to examine the quality of the silk offered for sale, and to name its value. It was amusing to notice the quietness of these men compared with the clamorous crowds who stood in front of their shops with silk for sale. Each one was expatiating on the superior quality of his goods and the lowness of the offer that had been made to him. Many of the vendors were women, and in all instances they were the most noisy. The shopmen took everything very quietly, and rarely offered a higher price than they had done in the first instance. But notwithstanding all the noise and bustle everything seemed to go on satisfactorily, and when the money was paid the people went off in high spirits, apparently well satisfied with the sales they had effected. 

From the observations which I made at this time on the farms and markets in this the great silk country of China, it appears that, however large in the aggregate the production of silk may be in the country, this quantity is produced not by large farmers or extensive manufactures, but by millions of cottagers, each of whom own and cultivate a few roods or acres of land only. Like bees in a hive each contributes his portion to swell the general store. And so it is with almost every production in the celestial empire. Our favourite beverage, tea, is produced just in the same way. When the silk has thus been bought in small samples from the original producers, it is then the business of the native inspectors and merchants to sort it and arrange it into bales of similar quality for home consumption or for exportation. 

Nan-tsin is not a walled city, and politically it is a place of small importance. But it is a place of great wealth and size, extending for miles on each side of the canal, and far back into the country. I believe there is a larger trade in silk done here than even in the city of Hoo-chow-foo itself. The people generally seemed to have plenty of work, and judging from their clean, healthy, and contented appearance, they are well paid for their labour. 

During my walk in the town I was surrounded and followed by hundreds of the natives, all anxious to get a view of the foreigner. But except the inconvenience of the crowd I had nothing to complain of, for all were perfectly civil and in the best humour. 

I spent the next few days in the vicinity of Nan-thin, and as it may be considered the centre of the great silk country of China, I shall endeavour now to give a description of the cultivation and appearance of the mulberry trees. 

The soil over all this district is a strong yellow loam, well mixed and enriched by vegetable matter; just such a soil as produces excellent wheat crops in England. The whole of the surface of the country, which at one period has been nearly a dead level, is now cut up, and embankments formed for the cultivation of the mulberry. It appears to grow better upon the surface and sides of these embankments than upon level land. The low lands, which are, owing to the formation of these embankments, considerably lower than the original level of the plain, are used for the production of rice and other grains and vegetables. It is therefore on the banks of canals, rice fields, small lakes and ponds, where the mulberry is generally cultivated, and where it seems most at home. But although large quantities of rice and other crops are grown in the silk districts, yet the country, when viewed from a distance, resembles a vast mulberry garden, and when the trees are in full leaf, it has a very rich appearance. 

The variety of mulberry cultivated in this district appears to be quite distinct from that which is grown in the southern parts of China and in the silk districts of India. Its leaves are much larger, more glossy, and have more firmness and substance than any other variety which has come under my notice. It may be that this circumstance has something to do with the superior quality of the silk produced in the Hoo-chow country, and is worthy of the notice of silk growers in other parts of the world. 

This peculiar variety is not reproduced by seed, and hence all the plantations are formed of grafted trees. Each plant is grafted from a foot to two feet above the ground, and rarely higher. The trees are planted in rows from five to six feet apart, and are allowed to grow from six to ten feet high only, for the convenience of gathering the leaves. In training them they are kept open in the centre; the general outline is circular, and they are not unlike some of those dwarf apple-trees which are common in European gardens. The accompanying sketch gives a good representation of the habit and form of one of those trees which has attained its full size. 

The different methods of gathering the leaves in these districts are curious and instructive, and show clearly that the cultivators well understand the laws of vegetable physiology. Leaves are not taken at all from plants in their young state, as this would be injurious to their future productiveness. In other instances a few leaves only are taken from the bushes, while the remainder are allowed to remain upon the shoots until the summer growth is completed. In the latter case the leaves are invariably left at the ends of the shoots. 

When the bushes have attained their full size, the young shoots with the leaves are clipped close off by the stumps, and shoots and leaves carried home together to the farm-yard to be plucked and prepared for the worms. In the case of young trees the leaves are generally gathered by the hand, while the shoots are left to grow on until the autumn. At this period all the plantations are gone over carefully; the older bushes are pruned close in to the stumps, while the shoots of the younger ones are only shortened back a little to allow them to attain to the desired height. The ground is then manured and well dug over. It remains in this state until the following spring, unless a winter crop of some kind of vegetable is taken off it. This is frequently the case. Even in the spring and summer months it is not unusual to see crops of beans, cabbages, &c., growing under the mulberry trees. 

Mulberry Tree.

Mulberry Tree.

During the winter months the trees are generally bare and leafless. Those persons who are accustomed to live in countries with marked seasons, where the winters are cold, and where the great mass of vegetation is leafless, would not be struck with this circumstance in the silk country of China. But the view one gets in this country in the summer months, after the first clipping of the shoots, is curious and striking. As far as the eye can reach, in all directions, one sees nothing but bare stumps. It looks as if some pestilential vapour had passed over the plain and withered up the whole of these trees. And the view is rendered still more striking by the beautiful patches of lively green which are observed at this time in the rice-fields and on the banks of the canals. This system of clipping close in to the stumps of the old branches gives the trees a curious and deformed appearance. The ends of the branches swell out into a club-like form, and are much thicker there than they are lower down. 

The following sketch explains the state in which those trees are seen after they have been deprived of their stems and leaves. 

After I had completed my inspection of the country near the town of Nan-tsin, I proceeded onwards to the west in the direction of Hoo-chow-foo. A few hours' sail on a wide and beautiful canal brought me within view of the mountain ranges which form the western boundary to the great plain of the Yang-tse-kiang, through which I had been passing for several days. The most striking hill which came first into view was crowned by a seven-storied pagoda. It had a large tree by its side, equally striking in the distance, and which had probably been planted when the pagoda was built. I afterwards ascertained this to be the "maidenhair-tree" (Salisburia adiantifolia), a tree which attains a large size in this part of China, and is extremely ornamental. 

As I neared Hoo-chow the general aspect of the country appeared very different from that through which I had been travelling for upwards of one hundred miles. The general level seemed higher, and little well-wooded hills adorned the surface of the country. I visited these hills as I went along for the purpose of examining their vegetation. In most cases I found pretty temples near their summits, surrounded with trees. From these spots the most charming views were obtained of the great mulberry plain, the city of Hoo-chow, and the mountain ranges which form the background towards the west. 

In one of the temples which I visited I found a priest who was a native of Ningpo, the town to which my servants belonged. He received us most cordially, and appeared glad to have an opportunity of talking with his townsmen, and getting all the news from his native place, which he had not visited for several years. In one of the cells of this temple we were shown a priest who had been submitting to voluntary confinement for nearly three years. It is not unusual to find devotees of this kind in many of the Buddhist temples of China. Although they never come out of their cells until the time of their confinement expires, they have no objection to see and converse with strangers at their little windows. The person whom we visited at this time received us with Chinese politeness, asked us to sit down on a chair placed outside his little cell, and gave us tea, on the surface of which various fragrant flowers were swimming. 

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.