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City of Chang-shan and its trade — Land journey — My chair and chair-bearers — Description of the road — Trains of tea coolies — Roadside inns — Boundary of two provinces — Dinner at a Chinese inn — Value of the chopsticks — Adventure with two Canton men — City of Yuk-shan — Its trade and importance — Quan-sin-foo — My servant speculates in grass-cloth — A Chinese test of respectability — Description of the country and its productions — Arrive at the town of Hokow.
CHANG-SHAN is a city of the third class, and is said to be 140 le from Chu-chu-foo. Judging from the population of other towns in China, I estimated the population of this place at from twenty to thirty thousand. It is built at the base of a hill about a mile from the river, but its suburbs extend down to the water's edge. The streets are narrow, and the shops have a mean appearance when compared with those of Hang-chow-foo or Ning-po. It has no trade of its own, but, as it is situated on the principal road which leads from the towns on the coast to the great black-tea country of Fokien, to the large towns of Yuk-shan, Quan-sin-foo, Hokow, to the Poyang Lake, and even to Canton, it is necessarily a place of considerable importance. Hence the town is full of hongs, inns, tea-shops, and warehouses for the accommodation of travellers, coolies, and merchandise, the latter being chiefly the black teas of Fokien and Moning.
On the morning after our arrival we bade adieu to our boat and our obliging boatmen, and proceeded on foot to one of the inns in the city, in order to hire chairs for the next stage of our journey. We did not attract the slightest notice as we passed along the streets, and, as popularity in my present circumstances was not desirable, I confess I felt much pleased at this. When we reached the inn the landlord received us with great politeness, asked us to be seated, and brought us some tea. In reply to our inquiries respecting a chair, he said that those he had were uncovered, and pointed to some of them which were standing in the entrance-hall. I observed that they were exactly like those mountain-chairs which I had frequently used amongst the hills near Ning-po, and informed him that one of them would answer my purpose. This chair is a most simple contrivance, and consists of two long poles of bamboo, with an open seat in the middle and a small crossbar slung from the poles on which the feet can rest. The coverlet on which I slept was thrown over the seat, and my primitive carriage was ready for the journey.
After breakfast the chair-bearers arrived, and we started. A number of other travellers were going and returning by the same road as ourselves. Some of them had chairs like mine, while others had a light framework of bamboo erected over the seat, and covered with oil-paper, to afford some protection from the sun and rain. I found when too late that it would have been much better for me to have had one of these chairs instead of the one I was in. It was no use, however, now to indulge in vain regrets; so with a Chinese umbrella over my head I jogged along, consoling myself with the thought that, at least, I enjoyed a better view of town and country in this chair than if I had been shut up in a more comfortable one.
I had now passed through the crowded street of Chang-shan, and was already in the open country. It had rained heavily during the night, but, as the morning was fine, the late showers had only tended to increase the natural beauty of the country. There was a coolness in the atmosphere too which was most agreeable. The grass on the hill-sides and the young rice in the valleys were of the liveliest green. Every bush and tree was loaded with heavy drops of rain which glistened in the sunshine. Altogether the scenery was delightful, and, with the freshness of the morning air, put me in the highest spirits.
The road on which we were travelling was one of the broadest and best I had met with in the country. It was well paved with granite, about twelve feet in width, and perfectly free from weeds, which proved, if other proof had been wanting, that there was a great traffic upon it. The general aspect of the country was hilly, but there was abundance of good land in the valleys amongst the hills. It reminded me of some of the pretty islands in the Chusan archipelago. No mountain-passes had to be crossed on our way, for the little hills seemed, as it were, to open up a passage for the road as we went along.
For the first few miles after leaving Chang-shan we met with few people by the way. I was indulging in the hope that my day's journey would be through a quiet country district like what one sees on some of the country roads at home; but, in so far as a quiet country road was concerned, I was soon undeceived. Long trains of coolies were now met, loaded with tea which was destined for Hang-chow-foo, and thence for Shanghae, to be sold to the English and American merchants. As my chair-bearers walked very fast, we likewise passed great numbers on the road going the same way as ourselves. These were hands returning after having got rid of their loads at Chang-shan; but they were not returning empty-handed; they were loaded with raw cotton, cotton goods, lead, and various other articles, which had either been imported from foreign parts, or produced in countries nearer the sea. At nearly every le of the road as we went along we found inns and tea-shops. The road in front of these houses was generally thatched over, in order that those who stopped for refreshment might be protected from the sun and rain.
When we had journeyed in this way about thirty le, my chair-bearers said they must rest awhile, and have some refreshment. I readily agreed to this proposition, as I was rather thirsty myself, and desired them to set me down at the first house we came to, which they accordingly did. We walked into the house, and I took a seat at one table, while my servant and the chair-bearers seated themselves at another. The good lady of the house set down a teacup before each of us, into which she put some tea, and then filled each cup up with boiling water. I need scarcely say she did not offer us any sugar or milk. Other tables were crowded with people, most of whom were coolies going to Chang-shan with tea, and whose chests nearly blocked up the road in front of the door. We drank our tea, which I found most refreshing, in its pure state without sugar and milk. Now and then some one connected with the house came round and filled our basins again with boiling water. This is usually repeated two or three times, or until all the strength is drawn out of the leaves.
Having smoked our pipes and paid two cash each for our tea, I got into my chair and resumed my journey. The road now led us up between two hills, and a huge stone gateway and pass showed me that I was on the outskirts of the province of Chekiang, and about to pass into Kiang-see. A strong wall, not unlike the ramparts of a city, connected the two hills, the gateway being of course in the centre of the pass. The whole place had a warlike appearance, and there was a military station on each side, so that each province might be duly represented and duly guarded. These stations were in a ruinous condition, and I observed only women and children about the houses. In peaceful times the soldiers are, no doubt, permitted to convert the sword into the ploughshare, and engage in the cultivation of the land.
Although small villages and houses for refreshment extended, at short intervals, along the whole line of road, we rarely passed any town even of moderate size. About mid-day, however, we came to a place considerably larger than any we had passed — I forget its name — and before I knew where I was, I was set down at the door of a large inn. Numerous chairs were standing at the door which belonged to travellers who were either going the same road as myself, or returning from the west to Chang-span and the other towns in the east.
The moment I got out of my chair the innkeeper presented himself, and my chair-bearers very officiously informed him that it was my intention to dine there. I felt rather annoyed, but thought it best to put a good face on the matter, and ordered dinner accordingly. I had given Sing-Hoo strict injunctions never to stop at the inns much frequented by merchants, as I had no wish to meet men who were in the habit of seeing foreigners both at Shanghae and Canton. I had the greatest objection to meeting Canton men, who are continually travelling to and from the tea country, and who, with the same knowledge of foreigners as the Shanghae people, are much more prejudiced against us. Sing-Hoo had fallen behind, however, and was not aware of what the chair-bearers had done until it was too late. It appeared afterwards that the men had a good and substantial reason for their conduct, inasmuch as they got their own dinner free as a reward for bringing a customer to the house.
The inn was a large and commodious building extending backwards from the main street of the town. Its front was composed of a number of boards or shutters which could be removed at pleasure. The whole of these were taken dawn in the morning and put up again at night. The floor of the building was divided into three principal compartments, the first facing the street, the second being behind it, and the third at the furthest end. Some small rooms which were formed on each side were the bedrooms.
Coolies and chair-bearers crowded that part of the building next to the street, in which they had their meals and smoked their pipes. The second and third divisions were destined for travellers, but, as there were large doors between each which stood wide open, it was easy to see through from the front to the back part of the premises.
When I got out of my chair I followed "mine host" into the second compartment, in which I observed a table at each side of the room. One of them being unoccupied, I sat down at it, and with becoming gravity lighted my Chinese pipe and began to smoke. The host set a cup of tea before me and left me to attend upon some one else. I had now leisure to take a survey of the strange scene round me. At the opposite table sat two merchants, who a single glance told me were from the province of Canton. They were evidently eyeing me with great interest, and doubtless knew me to be a foreigner the moment I entered the room. One of them I had frequently seen at Shanghae. This person looked as if he wished me to recognise him, but in this he was disappointed, for I returned his inquiring look as if I had never seen him before. I now observed him whispering to his companion, and thought I heard the word Fankwei used. In the mean time Sing-Hoo, who had just arrived, came in and began to bustle about and get in the dinner, which was soon ready. The host was a civil sort of man, but very inquisitive, and as he set down the dinner he put various questions to me. With Chinese politeness, he asked me my name, my age, where I had come from, and whither I was bound, and to all such questions he received most satisfactory answers. For example, when asked where I had come from, I replied, "From Chang-shan;" and to the question as to whither I was bound I answered, "To Fokien." These answers were perfectly true, although not very definite. The Canton merchants were all eyes and ears while this conversation was going on, and one of them quietly prompted the innkeeper to ask a few more questions.
These gentlemen wanted to know the starting-point of my journey, the particular part of Fokien to which I was bound, and the objects I had in view. As I could not see that answers to these questions concerned them very much, or could be of any use, I judged it better to keep them in the dark.
Several dishes being now set before me, and a cup of wine poured out by the host, I took a sip of it, and taking up my chopsticks went on with my dinner. Having had great experience in the use of the chopsticks, I could handle them now nearly as well as the Chinese themselves; and as I had been often accustomed to all the formalities of a Chinese dinner, I went on with the most perfect confidence.
On my former journey in the interior, as well as on this, I had discarded all European habits and luxuries. Chopsticks were substituted for knives and forks, tea and light wines for stronger drinks, and a long bamboo Chinese pipe for Manilla cheroots. By these means I had arrived at a high state of civilization and politeness. In eating my dinner, such rude things as knives and forks were never thought of. The cutting up of meat and vegetables was done by servants in the kitchen, before the food was cooked or brought to table. When the various dishes, prepared in this manner, were brought to table, the chopsticks — those ancient and useful articles — answered every purpose. Talk of knives and forks indeed! One cannot eat rice with them, and how very awkward it would be to pick out all those dainty little morsels from the different dishes with a fork In the first place, it would be necessary to push them to the bottom of the basin before the fork would take a proper hold; and in many instances we should do what the novice in the art of using chopsticks frequently does — drop the food on its way from the dish to the mouth. There is no such difficulty or danger with the chopsticks when properly used. The smallest morsel, even to a single grain of rice, can be picked up with perfect ease. In sober truth, they are most useful and sensible things, whatever people may say to the contrary; and I know of no article in use amongst ourselves which could supply their place. Excepting the fingers, nature's own invention, nothing is so convenient as the chopsticks.
When I had finished dinner, a wooden basin containing warm water and a wet cloth were placed before me, in order that I might wash my hands and face. Wringing the wet cloth, I rubbed my face, neck, and hands well over with it in Chinese style. Having finished my ablution, I returned again to the table. The dinner and dishes having in the mean time been removed, tea was again set before me.
The Canton men still remained at the opposite table, but the greater part of the others, who, at their instigation, had been taking sly peeps at me, had gone away. I suppose, when they saw that I ate and drank just like the rest, they must have felt some little surprise, and had their original opinion strengthened, namely, that after all I was only one of themselves.
My chair-bearers having dined as well as myself, they sent a message by Sing-Hoo to say that they were ready to proceed. Making a slight bow to mine host, and a slighter one to the Canton gentlemen, in Chinese style, I got into my chair and went my way. As soon as I had left the house, Sing-Hoo, who was paying our bill, was closely questioned about me. According to his account he had completely mystified them, by informing them, as he had done others before, that I came from some far country beyond the great wall, a statement which those who knew best would not have called in question.
Our road was still crowded with coolies: indeed nearly the whole way across from Chang-shan to Yuk-shan they formed one unbroken line. Yuk-shan was the name of the town to which we were now bound. As we proceeded, we began to get more extensive views of the country. We had passed the line or ridge which divides the streams which flow to the eastward from those which flow westward. The country appeared to open up, and we were evidently approaching some river of considerable size. At last a hill, richly wooded, came into view, and was pointed out to me as that from which the town of Yuk-shan had taken its name, and which was situated in its vicinity. We reached the town about four o'clock in the afternoon, having travelled about thirty miles since the morning.
Yuk-shan is a walled town of considerable size, and I should imagine contains from thirty to forty thousand inhabitants. It appears to be a larger place than Chang-shan; and, like that town, it stands at the head of a navigable river. All the merchandise of the Bohea mountains, and of the countries east of the Poyang lake, which is destined for Hang-chow-foo, Shanghae, and other towns in that district, is landed here, to be carried across to Chang-shan by coolies. Hence these two towns appear to be the connecting links between two most important rivers, as well as between the richest countries of China. One of them is connected with the great black-tea country, and the other with the green-tea districts, and also with those rich silk and cotton lands near the coast; and the importance of these two towns and rivers will be further appreciated when I state that through their agency large quantities of our manufactures find their way into the heart of the country.
Passing over a fine stone bridge, we were soon at the walls of the city. Having entered the gates, we proceeded along one of the principal streets. It was crowded with people, all hurrying to and fro, and apparently engaged in active business. The shops were of the same kind as I have frequently described, and I am not aware of any particular kind of manufacture being carried on in the place. Like their neighbours at the head of the other river, the inhabitants seem to be busy enough in housing and carrying the merchandise brought here to be sent onwards. The western suburb is very extensive, and adjoins the river. To this part of the town we bent our steps, and soon reached the Hong-le, or inn, recommended by our chairmen, and with which they were connected.
I had no object in remaining long in this town. When we reached the Hong-le, therefore, I sent my servant to engage a boat to take us on; and so quickly did he manage the business, that in half an hour we had left Yuk-shan, and with a fair wind were sailing rapidly down the river to the westward.
Our boat was engaged to take us as far as the city of Quan-sin-foo, a distance of ninety or a hundred le; and as the stream was very rapid, we arrived abreast of that place early the next morning. It appeared to be a fine large city, but a place of little trade. Its walls and ramparts seemed in excellent order, and there is a pretty bridge of boats across the river; but I was only a short time here, and had no time for minute examination.
Sing-Hoo was now despatched to engage another boat, and to lay in the necessary supplies for our journey. He remained absent a long time, and when he returned excused himself by saying that he had called upon a friend and countryman of his own, to get information regarding our route. I was obliged to content myself with this explanation, but was rather surprised to see a person come into our boat shortly afterwards, carrying two large packages of grass-cloth. These weighed at least forty pounds. "To whom does this cloth belong?" I asked. "Oh, it is mine," replied Sing-Hoo; "this cloth is very cheap here, and I want to take it back with me to a friend in Shanghae." This was very provoking: here was the old accumulating propensity at work again. I knew we had still a long journey before us, over many steep and rugged mountains, where our baggage had to be carried on the backs of coolies. I had reduced my own baggage as much as possible, and had already obliged Sing-Hoo to leave all his superfluous things at Yen-chow-foo, and now he brought a package larger than all we had, and expected me to hire coolies to carry it twice across the Bohea mountains, because this grass-cloth was a few cash cheaper at Quan-sin-foo than at Shanghae or Ning-po I really believe such a project would never have entered the brain of any one except a Chinaman.
I attempted to reason with him on the folly and impropriety of his conduct, but his excuse was plausible enough. "You see," said he, "it will be necessary to have a coolie to carry our baggage, but we have reduced it so much that he will not have half a load. Now the carriage of this cloth will not add anything to the expenses, and the man's load will be properly balanced. And," added he, with great gravity, "travellers in my country who have a goodly portion of luggage are always considered more respectable than those who have little."
While this conversation was going on we were sailing rapidly down the stream in the direction of Hokow, a large town about ninety or a hundred le westward from the city of Quan-sin-foo. The valley through which the river flows is thickly studded with little hills, and far away to the right and left lofty mountains were seen rising in all their grandeur. I observed many curious rocks, shaped like little hills, but without a vestige of vegetation of any kind upon them. They stood in the midst of the plain like rude monuments, and had a curious and strange appearance.
The country through which I passed is an extensive rice district. No very large trees were observed; and the tallow-tree, which forms such an important branch of agriculture in the countries nearer the sea, is scarcely ever met with, or only seen here and there. Camphor-trees are common, but they do not attain the size they do in many other parts of the country. Nevertheless, on passing down the river, we came sometimes to pretty and romantic spots, where the trees and brushwood were overhanging the banks, and dipping their branches into the clear stream; and these strange monumental-looking rocks were objects of striking interest in themselves.
In the afternoon of the day on which I left Quansin-foo, we arrived at the town of Hokow. I had now got as far to the west as was necessary, and intended from this point to journey southwards to one of the passes in the Bohea mountains, across which I had to go on my way to Woo-e-shan. This part of my journey had to be done in chairs.