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My reception in the house of Wang's father — A smoky Chinese cottage — My coolie and the dwarf — The dangers to which they had been exposed — Chinese mode of warming themselves on a cold day — Tea-seeds, &c., obtained — Anecdote of the new Berberis — Obtain some young plants of it — Deceitful character of the Chinese — Leave the far-famed Sung-lo-shan — Wang tries to cheat the chairmen — Invents a story of a "great general" — Leave Tun-che — Mountain scenery — Pleasure of going down the river — Gale of wind amongst the mountains — Arrive at Nechow — Shaou-hing-foo — Tsaou-o — Pak-wan — Arrive at Ning-po.
AFTER this digression on the green-tea shrub, and the country where it was first found, I now resume the account of my travels.
When we reached the Sung-lo country I took up my quarters in a house which belonged to the father of my servant Wang. It was nearly dark before we arrived at the house, which was situated amongst the hills within two miles of the foot of Sung-lo. Had I fixed upon the spot myself I could not have found one better suited to the purposes I had in view. Old Mr. Wang was a farmer who at one time had been well off in the world, but, like many others, had been unfortunate, and was now very much reduced in circumstances. He received us in the kindest manner, and seemed to have great affection for his son. His wife also came to welcome us, at the same time apologising for the poor reception they gave us, as they were so poor. I tried not to be outdone in politeness, and we were soon on the best possible terms.
The table was soon spread with our evening meal, and, chopsticks in hand, we went to work and did ample justice to the fare set before us. Shortly afterwards, the Chinese being early in their habits, we retired to rest.
Next morning the rain was falling in torrents, so that it was impossible to stir out of doors. In these circumstances a Chinese cottage is a most uncomfortable place of confinement. Four families resided in the building in which I was now located — two in the lower and two in the upper story. Each of these families had a separate kitchen, and, as there were no chimneys, the smoke had to make its escape through the doors, windows, and roof of the house. The natives were accustomed to this, and did not greatly mind it, but to me it was almost insupportable. The smoke got into my eyes and almost drove me mad with pain. Go where I would it was all the same, for the house was quite full of it. I quite dreaded the approach of meal-time, when all the fires were lighted. There was no remedy, however, except going out into the heavy rain, so that I was obliged to suffer as patiently as I could.
On the evening of the second day my coolie and the good old dwarf arrived with my luggage, and told Wang some wonderful stories about the narrow escapes they had had from his friends the boatmen. The coolie said he had been so much alarmed that he had spent the whole night in a temple, it being the only place where he considered himself safe. It was not necessary for me to believe all these things, more particularly as all the luggage had come safely to hand, which could scarcely have been the case had the boatmen been as bad as was represented.
For three days the rain fell incessantly, and it was also very cold. The Chinese tried to keep themselves warm by putting on thick clothing, and; strange to say, by reading aloud, which they did in a loud singing manner, repeating the words as fast as they could. When tired with this way of amusing themselves, nearly the whole of them went to bed, as being the most comfortable place under the circumstances, and strongly recommended me to follow their example.
Sung-lo mountain, which in ordinary weather I could have seen from the windows, was now enveloped in a cloak of mist, and every tree and bush was bent down with heavy drops of rain. At last, on the fourth day, the clouds cleared away, the sun shone out again with his usual brilliancy, and the whole face of nature wore a cheerful and smiling aspect. I was now out every day, from morning until evening, busily employed in collecting seeds, in examining the vegetation of the hills, and in obtaining information regarding the cultivation and manufacture of green tea. By this means I obtained a good collection of those tea-seeds and young plants from which the finest green teas of commerce are prepared, and much information of a useful kind, which I have endeavoured in the last chapter to lay before the reader.
In the mean time I had not lost sight of the beautiful new Berberis, which I have already described, and which I was most anxious to procure, in order to introduce it into Europe. I had frequently desired Wang to endeavour to procure me some young plants of it from some garden in the neighbourhood, as I could not believe it to be so rare as only to exist in the old place where I had first seen it. However, he either could not find it, or, what was more probable, he gave himself no trouble about the matter. Knowing the potent influence of dollars, I called three or four of the family around me one morning, and, showing them the leaf which I had brought with me, promised a dollar to any one of them who would bring me a small plant of the same shrub. One of them went out immediately, and, to my surprise and pleasure, returned in less than five minutes with a fresh leaf of the plant in question. "That will do," said I; "that is just the thing I want: bring me a young plant with good roots, and I will give you the promised reward." They now held a consultation amongst themselves in an under tone, and at last said that the plant in question had some peculiar medical virtues, and that the lucky possessor would not part with it. "Sell me this one," said I, "and you will be able to buy a dozen others with the money." "No," one of them replied, "my uncle, in whose garden it is growing, does not want money; he is rich enough; but he requires a little of the plant now and then when he is unwell, and therefore he will not part with it." This was very provoking, but the Chinese were firm, and there was nothing for it but to go, as sailors say, "upon another tack." This I determined to do. "Well, at all events," said I, "let me see the plant; don't be afraid, I shall not touch it." For some time they refused to do even this, but through Wang's influence they were at last induced to consent, and led the way down to a small cottage-garden, completely covered with weeds. There the beautiful shrub was growing apparently neglected and left to "bloom unseen." It seemed very valuable in the uncle's estimation, and he would not part with it, although I tried hard to induce him to do so. It might be that he really valued its medicinal properties, but, as it must be common enough in that part of the country, he could easily have replaced it: it was not unlikely, therefore, that he supposed I should offer some very large sum to induce him to part with it.
On the following day another relation of Wang's came to me in a secret manner, and informed me that he was acquainted with another place where the same plant was to be had, and that for a consideration he would go and fetch some of it for me. I engaged him at once, merely telling him that he must bring young plants with good roots, otherwise they would be entirely useless to me. This he faithfully promised to do, and he kept his word. In the course of the day he returned with three good plants, which he sold to me, and which I afterwards took back to Shanghae. These are now safely in England.
I spent a week in the neighbourhood of Sung-lo, and then began to think of returning eastward with the collections I had made. My coolie was now giving Wang no little annoyance, in the hope of extorting money from him. The coolie had observed how he had been frightened by the boatmen, and doubtless thought that he too might make something out of his timidity. But Wang was now in his father's house, and consequently more bold. He refused to be "squeezed" to the amount of four dollars — a sum which the other fellow demanded. The latter, after a great deal of blustering language, left the house with the threat of bringing some countrymen of his own to force compliance with his demands. He returned, however, in the course of an hour, without any companions, and, the subject having been mentioned to me in the mean time, I sent for him, and threatened to punish him by withholding his wages if I heard any more of the matter. After this he became more quiet, and I believe the matter was finally arranged by his accepting a loan!
In the meantime old Mr. Wang, in whose house we were staying, having occasion to go down to Tun-che on business, was desired by me to engage a boat to take us down the river again as far as a place named Nechow. He returned in due time, and brought a "chop" which had been entered into with the boatmen. I could not read the Chinese language, and therefore had to get Wang to read the chop over to me and explain it, more particularly that part which specified the sum I was to pay. The chop stated where we were to be taken to; the number of men we were to have in the boat; the charges for good rice, which they were to supply three times a day, and the hire of the boat. With regard to the last item, Wang informed me that it stated I was to pay the sum of twenty-four dollars, part before we started, and the remainder at the end of the journey.
The sum which I had brought with me was reduced to about thirty dollars. I had been obliged to pay very high prices for everything during the journey, and felt convinced that the Chinese system of squeezing had been in full operation. Up to the present time I had submitted to it with a good grace, knowing that this was the only way by which I was likely to attain the object I had in view. But now it was absolutely necessary for me to rebel. The place to which we were to be taken by this boat was at least one hundred miles from any of the ports where the English resided, and where money could be procured, and I had every reason to expect that a sum equal to this would be demanded for taking me on from Nechow to Ning-po — and this latter demand I should not have been able to pay. Besides, I knew very well, or at least I had every reason to suspect, that the sum stated to me by Wang was much more than his father had agreed for with the boatmen. I therefore said to him that I was quite sure the chop was not correct, and that, whether it was or not, I could not pay such a large sum, and must devise some other means of proceeding down the country. He pretended to be highly indignant at my even suspecting his veracity, and was entering into a long explanation, when I cut the matter short by saying that my mind was made up upon the subject, and that, as the sum he named was out of the question, I should endeavour to engage another boat myself or through the coolie. Moreover I hinted that, if things could not be managed in that way, I would call upon the mandarin of Tun-che, and ask his assistance to enable me to engage a boat at a fair and proper price. I then desired him to say no more to me on this subject, and walked away.
This treatment produced exactly the effect which I intended it should do, and in a few minutes old Wang returned, and coolly asked me what sum I was willing to give for the hire of the boat. "What is the use of your asking that question?" I replied "you tell me you have engaged a boat at twenty-four dollars; if I take the boat I must of course pay this sum; if not, I only forfeit the bargain-money which you say you have paid." "Never mind that," said he; "tell me what sum you can give for the hire of this boat, and then we shall see whether it is sufficient or not." "Well," said I, "I must reach Ning-po for twenty dollars, and I know that sum is quite sufficient for the journey." "Very well," he replied with the greatest coolness, "give fifteen for this boat from Tun-che to Nechow, and I will guarantee that the other five shall take you on to Ning-po." This was agreed to on my part, and the business was apparently arranged to Mr. Wang's satisfaction; and no wonder; for, having kept the chop, which I afterwards got translated at Ning-po, I found that five dollars, instead of twenty-four, was the sum charged for the boat to Neehow; so that the Wangs had, after all, made ten by the transaction.
Such is the character of the Chinese. They have no idea of telling the truth unless it suits their interests to do so; in fact I used often to think that they rather preferred lying unless it was against their interests.
All our arrangements being complete, the seeds put up, and the plants packed, I hired a chair, and on the afternoon of the 20th of November bade adieu to Wang's family, and to the country of the far-famed Sung-lo-shan. The day was wet and stormy, and I had a most disagreeable ride to Tun-che. Towards evening the gale increased, and the rain fell in torrents. I had procured some oil-paper to protect my feet and knees from the rain, which was blown in upon me in front, and my men who accompanied me also covered themselves with the same material, but it was of very little use to us, and long before we reached our destination we were drenched to the skin. To make matters worse, it became quite dark before we reached Tun-che, and it was with great difficulty that my chair-bearers could keep on the narrow road, and prevent themselves from slipping and falling down. Our road led along the high bank of the river, and was rather dangerous to travel on in such a night. Once the foremost man came down, and I was all but blown over the bank into the river; indeed, had the second man not held on firmly by the chair, I believe I must have fallen over the precipice, chair and all.
The lights of the town, at last came in sight, and, as we entered its narrow streets, I ordered the chairmen to set me down and wait until my servants came up. The bearers accordingly stopped in front of a tea-house, into which they entered and called for some refreshment. While they were inside the house I was looking out for my men, as it was just possible that they might pass us in the dark. In a few minutes Wang came up to me in a state of great excitement, and almost pulled me out of the chair. "Come away — be quick!" said he; "leave the chair where it is, and let us hurry onwards." I got out, thinking that something very serious was about to happen, and plunged onwards through the mud and rain. We had not gone many yards when the chairmen gave chase, and, coming up with us, collared Wang and demanded their fare. "What is the meaning of this proceeding?" said I "you received money from me to pay these men before we started, and now you want to run off without paying them at all." "Do not make any noise," he replied; "I will account for the money afterwards, but give me some more now to get rid of these men." I did so, and we then went on.
When the chairmen left us I was bringing Wang to task for dishonesty. He then told me that, as he was coming up behind my chair, he had observed another chair, in which there was a great general, closely following mine, and that he suspected that this man had some intention of seizing us and making us prisoners.
We plunged onwards, and saw no more of the "great general," who was probably all the time thinking much more of getting indoors from the pelting storm than of molesting us. Indeed I strongly suspected that the whole affair was only a trick of Wang's to get rid of the chair-bearers, and to rob them of their money, which ought to have been paid to them on starting.
We were now in the town of Tun-che, and, having crossed the river by a bridge, soon reached our boat. My bed and all my clothes were soaked with rain, and I spent a most uncomfortable night. Early on the following morning the boat was pushed out into the stream, and we proceeded rapidly down the river.
The storm of the previous night had entirely passed away, and never had I seen a more beautiful morning. The sun shone gaily, the atmosphere was clear and bracing, and everything wore a cheerful and smiling aspect. With little exertion on the part of our crew, we floated rapidly down the stream, passing in quick succession the woods, towns, and villages which lined its banks. Sometimes, as we looked onwards, our course seemed to be stopped by mountain-barriers, but as we approached them a way opened out, and we glided rapidly through, between mountains which frequently rose to a height of at least three thousand feet.
The moon was just past the full, and the scenery by moonlight was striking and grand. Sometimes the moon rose in all her grandeur above the tops of the mountains, and threw a flood of mellowed light upon the clear and shining river, which made it appear to sparkle as if covered with a thousand bright gems. Again, as we approached the eastern shore, the moon appeared to sink behind the mountains, and set where she rose, and we were left in the shade; and so, as we floated onwards, she rose and set many times, until she was so high in the sky that the mountains could no longer intercept her rays.
On our way up the river I had marked the spot where the beautiful Berberis grew, and I now paid it another visit, and procured some good cuttings of it from an old woman who seemed to be in charge of the place. I would gladly have bought the plant itself, but it was too large to move with any chance of success. A goodly number of tea-seeds were also collected on our way down, as well as more of the seeds of the Funereal cypress. The boat being wholly engaged by myself, I was able to stop when and where I chose.
The river being rapid, and in many parts studded with rocks and large stones most dangerous to navigation, we were often obliged, when evening came, to drive a bamboo pole into the bank, and fasten our boat up for the night. On one occasion a sudden change of weather took place, an event common amongst these mountains. When we went to-bed the evening was calm and serene, and there was no appearance of any change in the weather. Before midnight, however, two or three sudden gusts of wind followed each other in quick succession; and in the short space of a quarter of an hour it was blowing a gale. I was awakened by a sudden gust which blew the door open, and then nearly swept the roof off. At the same time the boat was torn from her moorings, and driven out into the stream. We were now in a dangerous position, for this part of the river was full of rocks. All the men were up, and with two large sculls and bamboo poles tried to get the boat inshore. Some of them were lashing the roof firmly down to the hull with ropes, and I thought it would have been carried away before it could have been secured. Chinamen-like, our crew were making a great noise; all were giving orders, and none obeying them. In the mean time we were flying down before the wind, and with a rapid current. I expected every moment that the boat would strike upon the rocks, and be dashed to pieces. Luckily, however, they managed to get her inshore, and ran upon a bank of sand, where she was made fast again.
At daylight the wind had abated considerably, but it still blew too strong for us to get under way. We were therefore obliged to remain where we were during the greater part of the day. Our boatmen invited some of their friends, who were detained by the same cause as ourselves, to come on board to dine and play cards; and in this way they amused themselves until the afternoon, when the weather had moderated, and we proceeded on our voyage.
In three days we arrived at the city of Yen-chow-foo — a journey which occupied twelve days in going up; and in three days more, that is on the sixth day after leaving Tun-che, we arrived at the town of Nechow.
Nechow is a small but busy town, a few miles higher up the river than the city of Hang-chow-foo. It is a place of some importance, as it stands on the main road between Hwuy-chow and Ning-po. Large numbers of river boats were at anchor abreast of the town, some from Hwuy-chow, Yen-chow, and the other towns up the river, and many from the city of Hang-chow. I suppose the population of the town and boats may amount to twenty or thirty thousand.
I had frequently heard of the rapidity of the tides in the river, but had never seen anything remarkable about them until this evening. We were all seated at dinner, or rather supper, for it was the third and last meal of the day, when I heard a rush of water and a great noise amongst the boats with which we were moored. "Jan-shui! jan-shui!" (the flood-tide! the flood-tide!) exclaimed a hundred voices; and two or three of our men jumped up, and ran out to guide the boat. I went out also to see what was going on, and observed a large wave coming rolling up towards us. Taking boat after boat in its progress, it whirled it round in an instant, until the whole fleet were "riding to the flood." I can only compare the scene to that presented by some highland river, which, swelled after a storm by many mountain streams, comes rolling down to the lowlands, flooding the country in its course, and bearing everything before it.
Having discharged our Hwuy-chow boat, we proceeded through the town to the terminus of a small canal, where another boat was engaged to take us on to a town called Shang-o, or Tsaou-o, a place not very far from the source of the Ning-po River. The canal was narrow, and led us through a beautiful hilly country. All the low land was evidently very wet, and only fit for the cultivation of rice and vegetables.
A few miles below Nechow we passed a small town where there are Government salt warehouses. About this part of the canal, boats are not allowed to go on by night, in order, I suppose, to prevent smuggling. We were therefore stopped about nine o'clock in the evening, and informed that we must not proceed until daylight. I thought this was quite settled, when Wang came and asked me whether I wanted to go on or not. He said, if I wished to proceed, it was only necessary to pay the soldier who had stopped us about twenty cash (one penny), and then I might do as I pleased. This is the way these things are managed in China. We of course paid the cash and went on.
Next morning we arrived at a town of considerable size, named Shaou-hing-foo. It is situated in latitude 30° 6' N., and in longitude 120° 29' E. It seems densely populated, and probably contains nearly as many inhabitants as Shanghae (270,000). The city is walled and fortified, in the same manner as all other places of this class.
The canal passes round the city walls, and forms a sort of moat. A branch of it goes straight through the city itself. Being anxious to visit this place, I directed my boatmen to go through the city, and we entered it by an arch in the ramparts.
The walls of Shaou-hing-foo are between three and four miles in circumference, but, like most Chinese cities, the space enclosed is not all built over. On the sides of the canal the houses have a somewhat mean and poor appearance, but they are better in other parts of the town. A great trade seems to be carried on in all the common necessaries of life; and as the town is as it were a half-way station between Hang-chow and Ning-po, it is visited by a great number of travellers. A considerable quantity of tea is grown on the hills not far from here. It is, I believe, of a very fair quality, and second only to that of Hwuy-chow.
Amongst the sights here which the Chinese point out, and are proud of, is a fine Buddhist temple standing on a pretty little hill just outside the city walls. I saw many ornamental gates in the town, erected to the memory of virtuous women, who, judging from the number of these structures, must have been unusually numerous in the place; but its chief fame results from the number of literary men which it has produced, and who are scattered over the whole of the empire. Wherever you meet them, it is their pride and boast to have received their education in the city of Shaou-hing.
The surrounding country here is flat, and in every direction intersected by canals. The hills, which are seen at no great distance, have a barren appearance — at least they are far from being so fertile as those in the green-tea country, from which I had just come. Rice appeared to be the staple production, as it is on all low wet lands in this part of China. Tallow-trees were abundant, both in the plains and on the lower sides of the hills.
About three o'clock in the afternoon we arrived at the town of Tsaou-o. Here we left the Nechow boat, and walked about a mile across the country to another small town named Pak-wan. This town stands on the banks of a river which falls into the bay of Hang-chow. When I first saw this river I imagined it to be the one which flows down to the city of Ning-po, but I soon-found that this was not the case.
Pak-wan is a long straggling town, full of pack-houses, eating-houses, and tea-shops for the accommodation of travellers and their goods. I found that several foreigners bad been here before, and consequently the inhabitants were well acquainted with their features. I was recognised as a foreigner immediately on my entering the town, but was most civilly treated, and had no difficulty in engaging a boat to take me onwards. For this purpose I entered the Hong-le, or boat-inn, and procured a chop, by which the innkeeper bound himself to send me on to Ning-po for the sum of three dollars.
During the night we passed over two embankments, which, for small vessels, answer the same purposes as the locks on our canals at home. We were drawn over the embankment by means of a windlass and an inclined plane. This mode of getting from a higher to a lower level, or vice versa, is common in China, where locks, such as those seen in Europe, do not seem to be used. As our boat glided swiftly down the inclined plane at midnight, amidst the lanterns of the Chinese, the effect was curious enough to a person like myself who had never seen anything of the kind before. The second launch brought us upon the waters of the Ning-po river.
During the night we passed a large city named Yu-eou, and next morning I found we were sailing down a wide and beautiful stream, which I knew passed by the city of Ning-po, and entered the sea at Chinhae. The country in its general features was hilly, but a plain of some extent was seen on each side of the river. This low ground was wet and marshy, and only fit for the cultivation of rice.
An immense number of tombs were seen covering the sides of the hills, and plainly betokened that we were approaching a large and populous city. Juniper and pine trees were grouped about the graves, and gave a sombre yet pleasing aspect to the last resting-places of the dead. The tallow-tree still occupied a prominent place on the edges of the fields and canals, as well as on the hill-sides; and showed, by the extent to which it is cultivated, that it must be a most important tree to the Chinese.
Nothing worthy of note occurred until I reached the town of Ning-po. It was as welcome a sight as I had seen for many a day, when the old town, with its pagoda, temples, and ramparts, came in view. It was well known to me in former years, and I felt myself "quite at home," after a long and somewhat perilous, although in many respects a pleasant journey.