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Kintang or Silver Island Its inhabitants and productions Bay of Chapoo Advantages of an inland route New year at Shanghae Flower-shops and flowers Sacred bamboo The Chrysanthemum Mode of cultivating it Weather-prophets Sail for Hong-kong A game-ship The Enkianthus Canton seeds, and mode of packing them False notion regarding their being poisoned.
ON my arrival at Ning-po I engaged a Chinese boat to take me to Kintang. Kintang or Silver Island is one of the islands of the Chusan archipelago, situated between Chusan and the mouth of the Ning-po river, in about the 30th degree of north latitude. It is about seven miles in length, and from two to three in breadth at its widest part. I found two opium vessels at anchor in the little harbour of Leh-kong, and was kindly received by Captain Priestman, who gave me quarters on board his ship.
Silver Island, although near Chusan, was rarely visited by the English during the time they held that place. All sorts of stories used to be told about it. It was said to be a place of banishment for mandarins who had offended the Government; and this circumstance, taken in connexion with its name, led us to believe that it was a place of wealth and luxury. Moreover, the Chinese Government had requested that none of our officers or soldiers might be allowed to go there, as it was full of Chinese troops, who might be exasperated if they came in contact with those who had vanquished them during the late war. Having all these matters in my mind, I naturally expected to find this a very important place; but my ideas with regard to its soldiers and riches were not realized. Small villages are scattered over the valleys, but there is no town of importance, and judging from appearances the inhabitants generally are very poor. No fierce soldiers were met with in any part of the island: these, however, might have been withdrawn since 1844.
The inhabitants, like those of Chusan and Ning-po, are quiet and inoffensive. They were very civil to me, and often treated me with great kindness. They had little to offer but their good will; and this they showed by asking me to sit down in their houses, or, what was often preferable, under the awning in front of the door. Here they never failed to offer a draught of the national beverage tea. I do not know anything half so refreshing on a hot summer's day as a cup of tea: I mean pure and genuine as the Chinese drink it, without sugar and milk. It is far better and much more refreshing than either wine or beer. It quenches thirst, is a gentle stimulant, and wards off many of the fevers incident to such a climate.
If Silver Island is not inhabited by rich men and brave soldiers, nature at least has been most bountiful, for it is one of the most beautiful of the group to which it belongs. On paying it a visit at this time I was particularly struck with the scenery. Passing through the small town or village of Leh-kong, I soon came to the foot of the first range of hills, and ascended the pass which led over them into the interior of the island. On the sides of the road and scattered over the hills I observed large quantities of the tallow-tree. Its seeds are carefully gathered by the natives, and are valuable for the oil and tallow which they contain. A few patches of tea were seen dotted on the lower parts of the hills. When I reached the top of the first ridge of hills, and looked down on the other side, a most charming view presented itself. A quiet and beautiful valley lay below, here and there studded with small farm-houses, and apparently bounded on all sides by hills richly clothed with shrubs and trees. It was a fine autumnal day, and many of the leaves had assumed their red and yellow tints before falling to the ground. Those of the tallow-tree and a species of maple had become of a clear blood-red colour others were nearly white; and the contrast between these colours and the deep green foliage of the pines was most striking. Clumps of fine bamboos, and the sung the species of palm already noticed gave a tropical appearance to the scenery.
The green-tea shrub is cultivated very extensively in the interior of the island; and my chief object in coming here was to procure a quantity of its seeds. For this purpose I took my two servants with me, and examined all the tea-farms on our way. Chinamen generally have a great aversion to long walks, and my men were no exception to the rule. From the way in which they lagged behind I suspected they had some intention of turning back when I was far enough advanced to be out of sight. This they contrived to do, and when they got home reported that they had lost me amongst the hills. I felt rather annoyed, as I expected to have secured a considerable quantity of tea-seeds, but contented myself with a determination to look better after them the next day. On the following morning I procured a pony, and with my two defaulters set off for the tea-farms situated in the middle of the island. Captain Priestman accompanied me; and as he had seen the conduct of my two men on the day previous, he assisted me to look after them with hearty good will. When we had crossed the first range of hills and were descending into the valley on the opposite side, the two Chinese disappeared just as they had done the day before. Riding back some distance, we found them lingering behind, and evidently intending to lose us again and return home. This time, however, it would not do; so calling them to come on, and placing them between us on the narrow road, we moved forwards. I fear, I must confess, that we did not take the nearest road to our destination, which we reached at last, having been between three and four hours on the way. We gathered a good supply of tea-seeds from various farms on the hill-sides; and when we had finished the day's operations rode quietly homewards, leaving the Chinamen to bring the collections which had been made. The same plan was adopted daily until nearly all the farms were visited, and a large supply of tea-seeds was obtained.
Silver Island consists of a succession of hills and valleys not unlike those of Chusan, but even more rich in appearance. Passing over the first hill and descending into the valley, the traveller at first imagines that he is surrounded on every side by hills; but proceeding onwards, the road gradually winds round the base of the hills, and another valley as pretty as the last opens up to view. Thus, like a splendid panorama, picture after picture is presented to the eye, painted by the hand of nature beautiful and perfect.
There is more tea grown on Silver Island than on any of the other islands in the Chusan archipelago. The greater part of what is not consumed by the natives is sent over to Ning-po and Chapoo for home consumption or for exportation to the Straits. Although good tea, it is not prepared in a manner to suit the English or American markets. The tallow-tree (Stillingia sebifera) and the "Tung-eau" (Dryandra cordata, Thunberg) both produce articles of export. The former is well known to produce the tallow and oil so much in use in China: the latter furnishes a valuable oil which is used in mixing with the celebrated varnish of the country, and hence this tree is often called the varnish-tree.
Having procured a collection of the seeds of these useful trees, as well as a large quantity of tea-seeds, I had the whole of them carefully packed, and left Silver Island for Shanghae, viβ Chapoo. This route, which I opened some years ago, is now commonly used by foreigners travelling between the two northern ports, and, although not provided for in the "treaty," is not objected to by the Chinese authorities. The consuls of different nations and their families, merchants, and missionaries, all avail themselves of it; and when we consider the number of foreigners in Shanghae, an outlet such as this seems absolutely necessary. All acknowledge the powerful influence of change of air in cases of fever, and I have no doubt that the lives of some have been saved by being able to get down quickly to the islands in the Chusan archipelago. But had there been no route viβ Chapoo, this would oftentimes have been very difficult, as the only other way is by sea. While I mention this to show the folly of the treaty we made with the Chinese a treaty, by-the-by, which is observed neither by the Chinese nor by ourselves it also shows how much may be done by quietly and peaceably breaking down those barriers which have been erected by prejudice and ignorance.
The bay of Chapoo abounds with pirates, and unless one's boat is well armed the passage across is rather dangerous. It was here poor Mr. Lowrie, the American missionary, was murdered in 1845 or 1846. He was a man of great promise, and was much regretted. My boat was well armed, and having moreover two Lascars on board, I had little to fear. We crossed the bay in safety. I then engaged a canal boat, and jogged quietly onwards to Shanghae, which place we reached without any adventure worth recording.
It was now the middle of January, and the depth of winter in the north of China. The Chinese new year was approaching; it fell on the 24th, and all the natives were busily employed in collecting their debts and arranging their books. It is considered a great disgrace to have outstanding debts at the beginning of the year. Merchants and shopkeepers will often make considerable sacrifices in order to raise money at this season, and hence foreigners generally consider this a good time to make cheap purchases. These purchases must all be made before new year's day, as then the shops are closed, and little or no business is transacted for a week; after which trade begins again as before. At this festive season flowers are as much sought after here for the purposes of decoration as they are at home at Christmas time. On visiting some of the flower-shops in Shanghae, in the middle of January, I was surprised to find a great many flowers which had been forced into bloom and were now exposed for sale. I was not previously aware that the practice of forcing flowers was common in China. Many plants of Magnolia purpurea were in full flower; as were also many kinds of double-blossomed peaches, the pretty little Prunus sinensis alba, and a variety of camellias. But what struck me as most remarkable was the facility with which the Moutan Pζony had been brought into full bloom. Several varieties of this plant were in full flower; and at this season of the year, when everything out of doors was cold and dreary, they had a most lively effect. Their blooms were tied up, to keep them from expanding too rapidly. All these things had been brought from the celebrated city of Soo-chow-foo, the great emporium of Chinese fashion and luxury.
It may be thought that the Chinese have glass houses, hot-water pipes, and all those fine things which assist gardeners and amateurs in Europe. Nothing of the kind; they do all these things in their houses and sheds, with common charcoal fires, and a quantity of straw to stop up the crevices in the doors and windows.
At this season of the year the "Kum-quat" (Citrus japonica), which is extensively grown in pots, is literally covered with its small, oval, orange-coloured fruit. This as well as various other species of the orange is mixed with the forced flowers, and together produce an excellent effect. I think if the "Kum-quat" was better known at home it would be highly prized for decorative purposes during the winter months. It is much more hardy than any other of its tribe; it produces its flowers and fruit in great abundance, and it would doubtless prove a plant of easy cultivation. In order, however, to succeed with it as well as the Chinese do, one little fact should be kept in view, namely, that all the plants of the orange-tribe which bear fruit in a small state are grafted. There is also a plant, with red berries, which takes the place of our English holly. It is the Nandina domestica, and is called by the Chinese the "Tein-chok," or Sacred Bamboo. Large quantities of its branches are brought in at this time from the country and hawked about the streets. Each of these branches is crowned with a large bunch of red berries, not very unlike those of the common holly, and, when contrasted with the dark, shining leaves, are singularly ornamental. It is used chiefly in the decoration of altars, not only in the temple, but also in private dwellings and in boats for here every house and boat has its altar and hence the name of "Sacred Bamboo" which it bears.
The Nandina is found in English gardens, but, judging from the specimens which I have seen at home, no idea can be formed of its beauty. It does not appear to produce its fruit so freely in England as it does in China, probably owing to the temperature of our summers being lower than those of its native country. But the chrysanthemum is the Chinese gardener's favourite winter flower, although it is generally past its full beauty at the Chinese new year. There is no other plant with which he takes so much pains, or which he cultivates so well. His camellias, azaleas, and roses are well grown and well bloomed, but in all these we excel him in England; in the cultivation of the chrysanthemum, however, he stands unrivalled, The plants themselves seem, as it were, to meet him half way and grow just as he pleases; sometimes I found them trained in the form of animals, such as horses and deer, and at other times they were made to resemble the pagodas, so common in the country. Whether they were trained into these fanciful forms, or merely grown as simple bushes, they were always in high health, full of fresh green leaves, and never failed to bloom most profusely in the autumn and winter.
The method of cultivating the chrysanthemum in China is as follows. Cuttings are struck every year from the young shoots, in the same manner as we do in England. When they are rooted they are potted off at once into the pots in which they are to grow and bloom; that is, they are grown upon what would be called by our gardeners "the one-shift system."
The soil used in potting is of a very rich description. About Canton it is generally obtained, in the first instance, from the bottom of lakes or ponds, where the Nelumbium or water-lily grows. It is then laid up to dry and pulverise for some months, when it is mixed with old night-soil taken from the manure-tanks found in every garden. A heap of this kind, after being laid up for some time and frequently turned over, is in a fit state for potting the chrysanthemum. Manure-water, taken also from the tanks, is liberally supplied during the growing season, and its effects are visible in the luxuriant dark-green leaves which cover the plants.
In forming the plants into nice compact bushes, which, with due deference to Chinese taste, I think much prettier than animals and "seven-storied pagodas," their system is as follows: The plants are trained each with a single stem; this is forced to send out numerous laterals near its base, and these are tied down in a neat and regular manner with strings of silk-thread. By having the plants clothed with branches in this way, and by keeping the leaves in a green and healthy state, the specimens never have that bare and broom-headed appearance which they often present in England when they are taken into the greenhouse in winter.
About Shanghae and Ning-po the chrysanthemum is still better managed than it is near Canton; but the success which attends it may be attributed, partly at least, to the more favourable nature of the climate, the plant being indigenous to the central or more northern parts of the empire. The system of cultivation is nearly the same the main points attended to being those which have been noticed, namely, choosing a rich soil, planting at once into large pots, training to a single stem, and inducing it to send out numerous laterals, and giving liberal supplies of manure-water during the growing season. The Chinese are fond of having very large blooms, and, in order to obtain these, they generally pick off all the small flower-buds.
In China, as in England, the chrysanthemum flowers during the winter months. When in bloom it is in great request among the people, and is used in the decoration of court-yards, halls, and temples. It is everybody's plant, and blooms alike in the garden of the lowly Chinese cottager and in that of the red-buttoned mandarin.
Although we are indebted to China for the parents of those varieties of chrysanthemums which now enliven our gardens during the dull months of winter, yet, strange to say, the progeny is more numerous in Europe than in China itself. Some of those beautiful kinds raised by Mr. Salter in France would be much admired even by the Chinese florist. It is a curious fact, however, that many of those kinds, such as formosum and lucidum, which were originally raised from seed in Europe, are also met with in the north of China.
The Chinese, like ourselves, have their weather-prophets and cold winters. It had been predicted that this winter (1848-9) was to be very severe. The thermometer was now down to 17° Fahr., and there was every appearance of the prediction being fulfilled. This degree of cold is felt much more in Shanghae than in England, owing to the piercing nature of the wind, which seems to find its way through every pore of the skin.
Since my return to Shanghae I had been engaged in getting the tea-plants carefully planted in Ward's cases, in order to send them to India. As there was no vessel in Shanghae bound for Calcutta direct, I determined to take the collection to Hong-kong, and to ship them thence to India.
At the time we sailed game of all kinds was most abundant in Shanghae, and the merchants took the opportunity of sending a large quantity down to their friends in Hong-kong and Canton. The poop of our good ship looked like a row of poulterers' shops at Christmas. Pheasants, woodcocks, hares, ducks, geese, and teal were hanging about in all directions. Every airy place, such as the davits, boats, poop-rail, &c., was covered with them, besides which there were a number of baskets filled with living pheasants stowed away in the hold. Many of these birds were very beautiful, particularly the white-necked pheasants, and the ducks and teal with feathers of every hue.
All cargo of this kind is taken down freight free; but, as it is of a perishable nature, there is generally a tacit understanding between the sender and the master of the vessel that, if any of it show signs of becoming bad, it should either be eaten or thrown overboard. Some masters of vessels, and passengers who are perhaps a little sea-sick, cannot endure the smell of game in this state, however agreeable it may be to those for whom it is intended.
It may easily be believed, then, that we did not fare badly on our passage to Hong-kong. We were lucky in having a medical man on board of high character, and I can honestly say that no plump woodcock, wild duck, or pheasant was condemned without being examined by him and pronounced in imminent danger: on the other hand, it must be confessed that none, so far as I knew, were ever thrown overboard.
As soon as we got out to sea all sail was crowded on our vessel, and we ran merrily on before the wind. In four days after leaving the Yang-tse-kiang river we were safely at anchor in the bay of Hong-kong, having run fully one thousand miles.
The tea-plants having reached Hong-kong in good order, I lost no time in getting them transshipped to vessels bound for India, where they afterwards arrived in excellent condition.
All my spare time in Hong-kong was spent in rambling about the hills. I was frequently accompanied by Captain Champion, one of the best botanists I met with in China, and the discoverer of the beautiful Rhodoleia Championi figured by Sir William Hooker in the 'Botanical Magazine.'
At this season of the year the well-known Enkianthus was just coming into bloom. This is one of those few Chinese plants which will scarcely submit to cultivation in England, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that its proper management is not understood there. A description of its habits, as observed on its native mountains in Hong-kong, will probably assist those who are trying to cultivate this beautiful plant in England. The island of Hong-kong has often been called a barren rock, an expression which, in our days at least, is not quite correct. When it was formed by some convulsion of nature, in the earlier periods of the world's history, it was no doubt a barren chain of rocks of very irregular outline. Gradually, however, like those islands in the eastern seas which are every day forming by the agency of animals, a great portion of the surface of these rocks became partially covered with soil and vegetation, although many of their peaks are still uncovered, remaining as barren as they were when first formed, and appearing to bid defiance to time and change.
On these mountains, from 1000 to 2000 feet above the level of the sea, the Enkianthus is found growing abundantly, and in great luxuriance. It is never seen in the valleys or low lands, unless when brought down by the natives. The soil is loamy, not unlike what we see at Shirley or Wimbledon, and mixed with stones and large pieces of granite which have become detached from the rocks. The plant delights in fixing itself in the crevices of the rock, and is often found in such situations with very little soil about its roots. About the end of April or beginning of May, at the change of the monsoon, the wet season begins. The Enkianthus then grows most luxuriantly, and all the leaves, buds, and shoots are then fully formed. In the autumn, with the exception of a week or two in September, the weather is dry and very hot. At this period the branches and buds of the plants get perfectly ripened, many of the leaves fall off, and the plant, having formed its secretions for the following year, remains in a dormant condition during the winter, which in Hong-kong is cool and dry. In the hottest months in the year, namely, June, July, and August, the maximum temperature in the shade rarely exceeds 90° Fahr., but on a clear day one of my thermometers indicated 140° in the sun. In winter, although the north winds are cold and piercing, frost and snow are almost unknown in this part of China. When the first impulse is given to vegetation by spring the Enkianthus bursts into bloom, and the sides of the barren hills become gay with its numberless flowers.
This is the way in which Nature treats this charming plant, and we must follow her example before we can hope to see it half so beautiful as it is on its native mountains. There are, however, two circumstances connected with its success in its natural state which are difficult if not impossible to imitate.
The one is the bright sunshine which ripens the wood in autumn, and the other is the peculiar nature of the mountains on which the plant grows. In the hottest weather, even when no rain has fallen for months, and, when the valleys are parched and burnt up for want of it, these mountain-sides are always moist a few inches below the surface, and teem in all directions with cool and refreshing springs.
The Enkianthus is always in blossom at the time of the Chinese new year, when its flowers are in great request in the south of China for the decoration of the houses, boats, and temples, just as those of the Nandina are in the north. It is brought in large quantities from the hills, and sold in the streets, or sent about in presents, after the same fashion as the holly and mistletoe in England. If the branches are cut and placed in a jar of water before the flowers are fully expanded, the latter will remain in perfection for a fortnight or three weeks. The pretty wax-looking globular flowers are very handsome, and are held in high esteem amongst the natives.
Having a few days to spare before commencing my second campaign in the north, I determined on paying a visit to the Fa-tee gardens near Canton. I was curious to obtain some information concerning the process of preparing and packing those seeds which are usually sold to foreigners to be sent home to friends in Europe and America. I had been accustomed to believe, with all good charitable people, that these seeds were boiled or poisoned in some way by the Chinese before they were sold to our merchants, in order that the floral beauties of China should not find their way into other countries, and the trade in seeds be injured.
The Chinese are certainly bad enough, but, like other rogues, they are sometimes painted worse than they really are. "Come, Aching," said I to the old man who generally supplied these seeds, and in whose good graces I stood pretty high, from having made him a present of a rare and curious plant, "I want to see your method of packing seeds for foreigners. Take me to your seed-room and show me the whole process from beginning to end." The old man led me up to the middle of his garden, where he had an ornamental shed or seed-room. It was nicely fitted up with shelves, on which were arranged a great number of small porcelain bottles, such as I had often seen in London with seeds from China. "Sit down," said he, "and I will explain the business to you. I first gather the seeds from the plants. I then put each kind, separately, into one of these small bottles, and then pack the whole into a little box, ready for being shipped to Europe or America." "I understand that part of the business," said I; "but what is the substance which you put into the bottles along with the seeds?" This was a white ashy-looking matter, which we supposed in England might be burnt bones, and some conjectured that it was mixed with the seeds for the purpose of manure. "Burnt lice," said Aching. "Burnt what?" I asked, with a smile which I could not conceal. He repeated the assertion with all the gravity of a judge. The reader may probably be ignorant of the Chinese language, and I must therefore explain that a Chinese cannot pronounce our letter r; he has not such a sound in his language. In trying to pronounce any word in which the letter occurs, he invariably substitutes the sound of l for that of r. It was therefore burnt rice, or the husks of rice reduced to ashes, that he meant. I then asked him the reason why he used this substance in packing seeds, and he replied, in Canton English, "S'pose my no mixie this seed, worms makie chow-chow he." Although the Chinese in Canton would consider this excellent English, it may be as well to explain that his meaning was, "Suppose I did not mix ashes with the seeds, worms would eat them." He alluded to a little maggot which would come out during the voyage. "Don't be angry," said I, "but we English fancy you do something to destroy the vitality of the seeds, instead of endeavouring to preserve it." "I know," said the old man, "you fancy I boil them!"
It is a most difficult matter to preserve the seeds of trees and shrubs in the south of China, owing to the attacks of maggots. This is, without doubt, one of the reasons why Canton seeds so seldom grow when they are received in England; another reason is the age of the seeds. Old ones, gathered in former years, are generally mixed up with the fresh ones, and are all sent together. Most assuredly, however, poor Aching does not boil them nor poison them in any way.