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Return to the interior — Curious superstition — Adventures with a priest — Journey in search of new trees — Mountain scenery — New Rhododendron — Valley of the nine stones — Fine trees — Yew and golden pine — Curiosity of the natives — A dark and stormy night — We lose ourselves amongst the mountains — Seek shelter in a hut — Alarm of the inmates — Morning after the storm — Return to Ningpo — A fine new plant discovered — Adieu to the north of China — Engage scented-tea makers, &c., at Canton — Sail for India — Complimentary letter from Lord Dalhousie — Ordered to visit the tea-plantations in the Himalayas and Punjab — Return to England.
ON reaching Ningpo I lost no time in proceeding onward to the interior of the country, in order, as I have already said, to wind up matters with the natives in various parts who had been assisting me in procuring supplies of plants, seeds, and other objects of natural history.
In going up one of the rivers at this time I observed the effect of a curious superstition which both amused and surprised me at the time. Every one knows that nearly all the junks and boats of China have eyes carved or painted in the bows. I had observed them on all parts of the coast, and had often heard the reason said to be given by the Cantonese, namely, "Suppose no got eye, how can see?" but I did not imagine that any one was so superstitious or ignorant as to fancy that these junks or boats really could see with the eyes which had been given to them. It seemed, however, that I was mistaken. As I was sailing slowly onwards one of my boatmen seized his broad hat, and, rushing past me to the bows of the boat, placed it over one of the eyes. Several other boats in company were also blinded in the same way; some with hats, others with coats, cloaks, or anything that came readiest to hand. I did not understand this proceeding at first, but soon found out the cause. A dead body was floating up the stream with the tide, and if the boat is allowed to see an object of this kind some evil is sure to happen to the passengers or crew before the voyage is over. Such is one of the superstitions of the Chinese, and hence the reason for covering up the eyes of the boats in order that they might not see.
About the end of October I found myself once more in front of the old temple of Tsan-tsing, which I have already noticed in these pages, and met there the same priests and the same travelling tailor. The priests here seemed to me the most ignorant, lazy, and imbecile I had ever met with in any part of China. They spend their days in perfect idleness, sitting for hours at a time basking in the sunshine, or under the verandah of their dwellings when the sun's rays are too powerful to be thus exposed. They seemed to be in a kind of dreamy, mesmeric state; their eyes indeed are open, but apparently they see nothing that is going on around them.
On my arrival the tailor was working in the room which I had formerly occupied. The high-priest was sitting on a bed adjoining looking at him, but it seemed doubtful from his appearance if he saw either the tailor or his needle. For hours he remained in the same position, and then fell sound asleep until dinner-time. Several other priests were reclining on chairs, or wandering listlessly about the verandahs or courts of the temple. The only beings who seemed to have life in their veins were the tailor, the cook, two boys, and several ugly-looking dogs.
And thus the priests in this temple go on from day to day — from childhood to youth and from youth to old age — until the "last scene of all" takes place, when they sink into the grave, having as they believe accomplished the object for which they were sent into the world.
Buddhism must surely have greatly degenerated since the days when it was first promulgated. It could not be by the exertions of men such as these that this form of religion was extended over half the world and obtained such a footing in a country like China, where even the Christian faith with its many able and zealous preachers can find so few converts.
The room which I occupied was furnished with two bedsteads, a small table, and three or four chairs. Behind it was another room, which could only be entered through the one I occupied, and which was the bed-room of the high-priest. I bad just finished dinner about eight in the evening, when this gentleman presented himself, and politely informed me he wanted to go to bed. To this arrangement, as a matter of course, I had no objection, being very tired, and therefore anxious to get rid of him for the night. I therefore rose from my seat in order to allow him to pass on to his own room. When he got to his door he found it locked, and commenced looking in every conceivable place for the key. He held in his hand two strips of bamboo, which he used instead of a candle, and which gave out a large body of flame accompanied with smoke, and soon filled the room, and rendered the atmosphere very disagreeable. To make matters worse, every now and then he snuffed the ends of the bamboo with his fingers and threw the red-hot charcoal on the floor. After he had looked in every drawer and in every odd corner of the room three or four times over, muttering to himself while he did so something about the loss of his ya-za (key), he left me for the purpose of looking for it outside in some other part of the building.
In about half-an-hour he returned and told me a second time he wanted to go to bed. "Have you found your key, then?" I asked him. No, he had not found his ya-za; and then he commenced the search in the same places and in the same listless and stupid manner as before. I began to think he would fall into a state of somnambulism and go on with his search all night long. Again my room was filled with smoke, again the floor was strewed with burning charcoal, and as I was thinking of retiring to rest, this state of things was far from being either pleasant or agreeable. I therefore ventured to remonstrate with him and to call his attention to the fact that as he had searched all these places several times already, it was a loss of time to search there again. His only reply to my remonstrance was uttered in a doleful, dreamy tone — "My ya-za! my ya-za! I have lost my ya-za!"
At last he seemed to awake all at once from his dream, and turning round to me with a good-humoured smile upon his countenance, he said, "Well, I cannot find my key; but, never mind, there are two beds in this room, and as you can only occupy one of them, I shall take the other." This proposition, although perfectly fair, and one that I could scarcely object to, was far more reasonable than agreeable to my feelings. I therefore put in one or two objections in as mild a form as possible. "There are no bedding or clothes in that bed, and you will surely suffer greatly from the cold." This had no effect; he assured me he had plenty of clothes upon him, and that he would sleep very comfortably on the bare bed. "Well but," said I, laughing, "are you not afraid to sleep in the same room with a pah kwie-tze (white devil)?" It may be remembered that this was the man who appeared to dread me so much on our first acquaintance. All his old fears seemed instantly to return, the smile left his countenance, and he gave me a look which told plainly enough that I had struck the right chord in order to gain my object, and that he would be as averse to sleeping in my company as I was to his. "Ah!" said he, "my ya-za! I have lost my ya-za!" and commenced the search as before.
It was now getting very late, and as I had a long journey in view for the following day, my patience was completely exhausted. I therefore rose from my chair, and, putting my hand on his shoulder, said, "Come with me and I shall find you a bed for the night." Leading him out of my room, we proceeded across the hall to one occupied by another priest, at whose door we now knocked, and who readily admitted us. "Here is your superior," said I; "he has lost the key of his bedroom; pray give him a bed in yours, and make him as comfortable as you can until the morning." Leaving the two Buddhists to explain matters in their way, I returned to my own room, bolted the door, and went to bed. Nothing occurred during the succeeding part of the night to disturb my slumbers.
It was now the end of October, and the weather was cool and pleasant. When I awoke at daybreak on the following morning I found the atmosphere clear, and the sky without a cloud; everything gave promise of one of those glorious days which are common in the north of China at this season, particularly amongst the mountains. My servants and myself were early astir, having a long journey in prospect for the day. The object I had in view was to obtain various kinds of seeds, more particularly those of the "golden pine-tree" (Abies Kæmpferi), which I have already noticed in these pages, and which I had searched for in the previous season without success.
Taking an early breakfast, we ascended the pass behind the temple, and soon reached the vale of Poo-in-chee and the little village of that name. Here I observed for the first time two very fine yew-trees, which apparently were quite new. They evidently belonged to the genus Cephalotaxus — a genus perfectly hardy in England, and very highly prized. They were too young to have seeds upon them, and too large to dig up and carry away. While my servant and myself were looking at them, the person to whom the garden belonged came out and very kindly gave us their name and history. He told us he had received the seeds from a place about ten or fifteen miles distant amongst the mountains, where the trees grew to a great size and produced seeds annually in considerable abundance. It is called Fee-shoo by the natives, and its seeds are to be found in a dry state in all the doctors' shops in Chinese towns. They are considered valuable in cases of cough, asthma, and diseases of the lungs or chest. I am not aware that their seeds are known to English doctors in China, or if they are considered by them of any value.
Being very anxious to procure vegetating seeds of this fine tree, I offered a considerable sum to one of the villagers of Poo-in-chee providing he would go with us and act as our guide through the mountains. The person who had been giving us the information above intimated his readiness to accompany us, but suggested that instead of starting then it would be better to put off the journey until the following day, when we could start by daylight. But the day was yet early and fine, and I was determined to proceed at once. By a little coaxing our guide was induced to swallow a hasty meal and accompany us on our journey.
Our road led us over the highest ridges of the mountains, which are here fully three thousand feet above the level of the sea. The tops of these mountains are so cold in winter that nothing but an alpine vegetation can exist; — the strange tropical-looking forms, such as the bamboo, the Chusan palm, and plants of that kind met with at a lower elevation, give place to wiry grass, gentians, spiræas, and other hardy plants of a like description. Here and there on our journey we came upon fine examples of the golden pine-tree (Abies Kæmpferi) growing a little way down on the mountain-slopes. Cephalotasus Fortunei and Cryptomeria japonica were also found at high elevations.
In a romantic glen through which we passed on our journey I came upon a remarkably fine-looking rhododendron. A species of the genus (R. Championæ) had been discovered on the Hongkong hills, but none had previously been met with to the northward, although the azalea is one of the most common plants on the mountains of Chekiang, I therefore looked upon the present discovery as a great acquisition, and as the plants were covered with ripe seeds, I was able to obtain a good supply to send home. All the Chinese in that part of the country agreed in stating that the flowers of this species are large and beautiful, but as all rhododendrons have this character, it is impossible to predict what this one may turn out to be until we have an opportunity of seeing its flowers. Mr. Glendinning, of the Chiswick nursery, to whom I sent the seeds, has been fortunate enough to raise a good stock of young plants, which are now growing vigorously, and which will soon determine the value of the species.
Our journey was long and toilsome; sometimes we were on the top of the highest ridges, and at other times we seemed to go down and down until we were nearly on a level with the sea. But the views of scenery, which were ever shifting as we went along, were grand in the extreme, and richly rewarded us for all our toil, While on the tops of the highest ridges we looked round upon barren mountains, which lay about us like the waves of a stormy sea, and here and there we got glimpses of the distant and fertile plain of Ningpo stretching far away to the eastward. At other times our way led us through pleasant and secluded valleys, each of which looked like a little world of its own, shut in by rugged mountains, and having no connexion with the great world outside.
Although the tops of the mountains here were generally barren and uncultivated, yet I observed crops of Indian corn growing to a very considerable elevation, and it was now ripe. Down in the valleys the land was very rich, and nearly all under cultivation. The natives of these districts prefer living in the valleys, which are sheltered by the surrounding mountains from cold and cutting winds. Many temporary huts were met with at high elevations, but these were merely used in the summer-time and while the crops of Indian corn were ripe. No one appeared to think of living in such places during the winter.
The natives with whom we came in contact during our journey seemed a hardy, industrious race, and hospitable and kind in their habits. We were often asked to enter their cottages, when we were presented with tea, roasted Indian corn, or anything they might chance to have for themselves.
About four o'clock in the afternoon we reached the "Valley of the Nine Stones," to which we were bound. Here we found a pretty little town situated on the banks of a small stream which takes a winding course through the mountains to the eastward, and eventually falls into one of the branches of the Ningpo river. Our guide pointed with great satisfaction to numerous fine trees of the new yew or Cephalotaxus, which were growing on the sides of the hill above the town. Many of them were from sixty to eighty feet in height with fine round heads, and altogether had a striking and ornamental appearance. There were no seeds to be seen on any of them, but our guide informed us they had been lately gathered, and were still in the town, where we could purchase them. Some noble trees of the "golden pine" were also met with here, and, to my delight, were loaded with ripe cones. When ripe, these cones have a rich yellow hue, which probably suggested the name by which this fine tree is known amongst the Chinese. I look upon this tree as the most important of all my Chinese introductions. It grows rapidly, produces excellent timber, and will eventually become a striking and beautiful object in our English landscape.
While engaged in making observations upon these trees I was on the hill-side above the town, and consequently fully exposed to the natives. The news of a stranger and foreigner being in this secluded place seemed to fly from house to house with the rapidity of lightning; in less time than I can describe it every door, verandah, and window was crowded with anxious faces gazing intently up to where I was standing. Some few, more impatient than their neighbours, came running up the hill in order to have a nearer view, and several respectable-looking persons in the crowd asked me to go to their houses and drink tea. Every one treated me with marked civility and even kindness.
But the day was now far spent, and my servants and guide knowing better than I did the difficulties of our homeward journey by night, begged me to look after the seeds without delay. They also pointed out a man who owned a number of trees, and who had a large quantity of the seeds for sale. We therefore followed this man to his house, and found he had just commenced to clean and dry these seeds for the Ningpo market. It was difficult to strike a bargain as to price, but this was done satisfactorily at last, and the owner engaged to deliver them at Ning-kong-jou in three days. Large quantities of the seeds of the "golden pine" were also contracted for in the same way; these are now growing in Mr. Glendinning's nursery at Chiswick. Upon the whole I was highly satisfied with the results of our visit to the "Valley of the Nine Stones."
After drinking a cup of tea with the hill farmer — for such he was — we made our adieus to the crowds of villagers and turned our faces homewards. But it was now nearly five o'clock in the afternoon, and being the end of October it was almost dark. The day too, which had been hitherto so fine, was now overcast; a thick mist came rolling down the sides of the hills, and it began to rain. Onward we trod for many a weary mile, sometimes missing our way, and having to retrace our steps, while at other times we proceeded with painful uncertainty as to our being in the right road. At last our guide came to a dead stand, and confessed he did not know where he ins; nor was this to be wondered at in the thick mist and darkness which surrounded us. What to do next was now a most serious and anxious question, and one most difficult to answer. Our guide recommended us to remain where we were, and suggested that the thick mist might possibly clear away and enable him to make out some familiar landmark. We were far above the level of any of the villages which are scattered over these hills, and had no hope of obtaining shelter unless we could stumble upon one of those temporary summer huts erected by the farmers, who cultivate Indian corn on the higher lands. Drenched to the skin, and cold, we now endeavoured to obtain shelter from the wind and rain on the lee side of a large projecting granite rock, and remained in this comfortless position for more than an hour.
As the mist chanced to lift a little, our guide, who was anxiously looking out, fancied he discerned a light at no great distance. This soon became more clearly visible, and we gladly moved on towards it. It turned out to be shining from a miserable hut, such as I have already noticed, and was occupied temporarily by an old woman and a boy, for the purpose of getting in their crop of Indian corn. But "any port in a storm;" and I looked on this miserable hovel with more thankfulness than I had done on many a snug and comfortable inn at home.
In order to alarm the inmates as little as possible, our guide went first, and the rest followed dose behind him, in order to get in before the door was shut and barred in our faces, a proceeding which we thought not improbable if those inside became alarmed. The guide knocked at the door, told his name, and said he was a native of Poo-in-chee, who had lost his way amongst the mountains, and sought shelter from the wind and rain. When the door was opened we took care that it should remain so until the fears of the inmates were quieted. The moment the old woman saw a foreigner she manifested the greatest signs of alarm, and retreated to the farthest corner of the building, at the same time pulling her little boy along with her. In vain I seconded my guide and servants in their efforts to convince her that she had nothing to fear; I was a "white devil," and that seemed to be the only idea she would allow to take possession of her mind.
In other circumstances I would have gone away and left the old lady to recover her composure; but this was at present almost impossible. After, therefore, assuring her for the last time that she had nothing to fear, we drew near to the fire and gladly warmed ourselves. In a little while the boy began to be more friendly, and eventually the old woman herself came out of the corner and threw some fresh wood on the fire. The "ice was now broken," and our friendship was further cemented by the present of a few cash, which were thankfully received, and which tended to raise us not a little in the estimation of our hostess and her child.
The air of the mountains, cold and damp as it was, had given us an appetite, and we were all ravenously hungry. We therefore suggested to the old woman the propriety of selling us some heads of her Indian corn. These we roasted at the fire, and enjoyed our simple fare with greater zest than we had ever done a most sumptuous dinner. When our dinner was over, we collected a quantity of dry straw, which the hut afforded, and spread it thickly down before the fire. Tired and weary as we were, it was not necessary that we should seek repose on a bed of down. Dry straw was a luxury in our present circumstances, so we lay down and soon forgot all our cares in the land of sleep and dreams.
When we awoke on the following morning, broad daylight was streaming in upon us through the sides and roof of our temporary dwelling. The, storm of the preceding night had passed away, the sky above head was clear, and everything gave promise of a beautiful day. The view from the door of our hut was grand in the extreme. We were high up on the side of a mountain; on the opposite side, to the westward, there was another mountain of equal height, while between the two lay a deep and richly cultivated valley, with a small stream gliding smoothly onward down its centre. A misty cloud hung here and there lazily on the sides of the hills, which only had the effect of making the sky look more clear and the scene around and below us more grand and lovely.
We now gave our hostess and her boy a small present for the inconvenience we had put them to, and amidst their best wishes we resumed our journey, which we had been obliged to abandon the evening before. Without having any further adventures of interest, we arrived in safety at the old temple of Tsan-tsing.
On the day following I went down to the plains and onward to Ningpo. In the garden of an old Chinese gentleman here, I met with a beautiful new herbaceous plant, having rich blotched or variegated leaves, which has since been named by Dr. Lindley, Farfugium grande. It was growing in a neat flower-pot, and was evidently much prized by its possessor, and well it might, for it was the most striking-looking plant in his garden. He informed me he had received it from Peking the year before, and that at present it was very rare in Ningpo, but he thought I might be able to procure a plant or two from a nurseryman in the town to whom he had given a few roots. I lost no time in paying a visit to the nursery indicated, and secured the prize. It has reached England in safety, and will shortly be a great ornament to our houses and gardens.
I had now brought my work in China to a successful termination. Many thousands of tea-plants, obtained in the finest districts, had reached their destination in the Himalayas, and had been reported in good condition by Dr. Jameson, the superintendent of the Government plantations; abundant supplies of implements used in these districts had also been sent round, and two sets of first-rate black-tea manufacturers from Fokien and Kiangse had been engaged, and were now on their way to the north-west provinces of India. In accordance with instructions received from the government of India, I had also introduced many of the useful and ornamental productions of China, such for example as timber and fruit-trees, oil-yielding plants, dyes, &c. These things were sent partly to the Government gardens and partly to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society.
I now bade adieu to many kind friends in the north of China and sailed for Hongkong and Canton. With the assistance of Messrs. Turner and Co., I succeeded in engaging some scented-tea men and lead-box makers, and took them on with me in the steamer "Lancefield," to Calcutta, where we arrived on the 10th of February, 1856. Here I had the pleasure of receiving a despatch from Mr. Beadon, Secretary to the Government of India, containing the following paragraph: — "I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter No. 25, dated the 11th instant, and to state that the Most Noble the Governor-General in Council entirely approves of your proceedings, and considers the results of your mission to China to be very satisfactory." I need scarcely say that a compliment of this kind from Lord Dalhousie was most grateful to my feelings; for next to the pleasure which one feels who has accomplished a difficult object is that of knowing that his exertions are appreciated.
Having thus terminated the Chinese part of my labours, I was requested by the Government of India to proceed once more to the North-west Provinces and the Punjab, for the purpose of inspecting the various tea-plantations there, and to make a report upon their present condition and future prospects. This report, which was sent in to the Government in October 1856, shows the tea-plantations in the Himalayas and Punjab to be in a very satisfactory condition, and likely at no distant day to prove of great value to the natives of India.
On the 9th of November I left India in the Peninsular and Oriental Company's ship "Bentinck," Captain Caldbeck, and reached Southampton on the 20th of December, having been absent from England exactly four years.