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Safe arrival of tea-plants in India — Means taken in China to engage tea manufacturers — I visit Chusan — My lodgings — A mandarin who smoked opium — His appearance at daylight — A summer morning in Chusan — An emperor's edict — The Yang-mae — Beauty of its fruit — City of Ting-hae — Poo-too, or Worshipping Island — Ancient inscriptions in an unknown language — A Chinese caught fishing in the sacred lake — He is chased by the priests — The bamboo again — The sacred Nelumbium — My holidays expire — Collections of tea-seeds and plants made — Return to Shanghae — Tea manufacturers engaged — We bid adieu to the north of China.
DURING the summer of 1850 I had the satisfaction of hearing that my collections of tea-plants had arrived safely at Calcutta. Owing to the excellent arrangements made there by Dr. Falconer, and at Allahabad by Dr. Jameson, they reached their destination in the Himalayas in good order. One of the objects of my mission to China had been, to a certain extent, accomplished. The Himalayan tea plantations could now boast of having a number of plants from the best tea-districts of China, namely, from the green-tea country of Hwuy-chow, and from the black-tea country of the Woo-e hills.
I had now, however, what I believed to be a much more difficult and uncertain task before me. This was to procure tea manufacturers from some of the best districts. Had I wanted men from any of the towns on the coast, they might have been procured with the greatest ease. A shipload of emigrants had been induced to embark for California only a short time before, and emigration was carried on most extensively both at Amoy and Canton. But I wanted men from districts far inland, who were well acquainted with the process of preparing the teas.
In order that I might accomplish this in a satisfactory manner, Mr. Beale kindly lent me his aid. His Compradore, who was a man highly respected by the Chinese and well known, undertook to conduct the negotiations. In the mean time I left Shanghae for the tea-districts about Ning-po, in order to make arrangements for another supply of seeds and young plants from that country.
In the end of June the weather, as usual, became excessively hot, and it was dangerous to be out in the sun, more particularly in an inland district. I determined, therefore, to leave the old monastery where I was staying, and take up my quarters on some of the islands in the Chusan archipelago.
I was anxious to see the island of Chusan, which we had held for some years after the war, but which is now once more in the possession of the Chinese. I found it a bustling place, and apparently greatly improved. The fine harbour was full of junks, some bound for the south, others for the north, and all seemed to make Chusan a kind of starting point. A large town had been built along the shore, and it was difficult to find out the old houses in which the English lived when the island was in possession of the Queen's troops.
The large hospital built by the English was still standing, and, being now converted into a kind of customhouse and used for public purposes, I went there to look for quarters during my stay. Here I found an old mandarin, who received me politely, and offered me a room upstairs next to his own.
This old man was an inveterate opium-smoker. In the evening, when my servant was spreading out my bed, he happened to lay it by the wall next to the old man's room. "You had better not put your master's bed there," said one of the people connected with the office; "the Loi-ya smokes opium, and makes a disagreeable noise in his sleep." I found this was too true.
About nine o'clock in the evening the old man lay down in his bed, lighted his little lamp, and began to inhale the fumes of the intoxicating drug. He was smoking, at intervals, until I went to bed, and for some time afterwards. Between one and two o'clock in the morning I was awakened out of a sound sleep by a strange and unusual noise. It was some seconds before I could call to mind where I was or who was my neighbour. At last I remembered the warning which my servant had received. The drug had done its work; the old opium-smoker was evidently asleep and in the land of dreams. His nasal organs were producing most discordant sounds, and it was these and a harsh moaning noise which awoke me.
At daybreak I rose and passed through his room, on my way out of the building. He was now sleeping soundly and quietly. The opium-pipe was placed on a table at the side of his bed, and the little lamp was standing by the side of it. The heavy fumes of opium still filled the apartment, and made me glad to get out into the open air.
What a change was now presented to my view. I had been looking on a pitiable depraved specimen of man — "the lord of creation;" I now looked on creation itself. The air was cool, soft, and refreshing, as it blows at this time of the year from the south, and consequently comes over the sea. The dew was sparkling on the grass, and the birds were just beginning their morning song of praise.
When I returned from a morning stroll I found the old mandarin up at breakfast. About this time an edict had been promulgated by the new Emperor, not only condemning opium-smoking, but threatening with severe punishment all who indulged in the habit. Any officer in the service of Government who was an opium-smoker was to lose his appointment and also his rank, and the disgrace and degradation were to be extended to his family and children for some generations. But the most curious part of the proceeding remains to be told, and shows how very considerate his Celestial Majesty is to his subjects in matters of this kind. The celebrated edict was not to be enforced for some months. The opium-smoker had begun the year smoking, and he was to be allowed to continue to smoke until its close. Of course an edict of this kind was sure to create a considerable sensation, not only amongst the Chinese, but also amongst the importers of the drug. The best informed, however, and those who had some experience of the character of the Chinese, treated it as so much waste paper — as a collection of high-sounding words without meaning. Nor were they wrong, for when the new year arrived the edict had been long forgotten, and opium-smokers went on smoking as they had done before.
The Chusan people had received the edict about the time of my visit, and this old gentleman evidently knew all about it. "Well," said I to him, "how is this? you were smoking opium last night; have you not seen the edict?" "Oh yes," he replied, "but it does not come into force until next year." Every night afterwards during my stay here he used to walk into my room about nine o'clock with a smile on his countenance and say, "I am going to smoke now; you know I shall not be allowed to smoke next year." And I firmly believe the old man smoked more than he had been accustomed to do, and likewise enjoyed it more.
As I have given a full description of the island of Chusan in my former work, I shall not again describe it; but I must not fail to notice a fruit which is cultivated on the sides of the hills here, and in various parts of the province of Chekiang. It is called the Yang-mae, and appears to be a species of Myrica, allied to the Himalayan M. sapida, noticed by Frazer, Royle, and other writers. The Chinese variety is, however, much superior to the Indian. Indeed, I believe the Chinese have both, but use the Indian one as a stock for grafting upon.
There is a very large plantation of this tree in Chusan, and the fruit was beginning to be brought to the market during my stay there. It was sold at a very cheap rate, and was considered a great luxury by the natives.
I had frequently seen the trees of the Yang-mae, but never when in fruit, so I determined to visit one of the plantations. Starting very early one morning, I crossed over the first range of hills, and found myself in the centre of the island with my view bounded by hills in all directions. On the sides of these inland hills there were large quantities of the Yang-mae. The trees were bushy, round-headed, and from fifteen to twenty feet in height. They were at this time loaded with dark-red fruit, not unlike, at first sight, the fruit of our Arbutus, although very differently formed and much larger. I observed two kinds, one with red fruit, and the other with fruit of a yellowish colour. The trees formed most striking objects on the hill side.
The natives were busily engaged in gathering the fruit and packing it in baskets for the markets. Large quantities are consumed in the city of Tinghae, the capital of Chusan, and a great deal is taken across to the main land. The streets of Ning-po used to be crowded with it during the season. The gatherers appeared delighted to see a stranger, and offered me liberal supplies of this fine fruit. It looked very beautiful and inviting, both upon the trees and also as it lay crowded in the little baskets.
On my return from the Yang-mae plantations I spent some time in the old city of Ting-hae. All marks of English possession had entirely disappeared. Tailors, shoemakers, and other tradesmen, with their quaint English names and signboards, so amusing in former days, were now nowhere to be seen. Everything was purely Chinese, and no one, unacquainted with the history of the place, would have suspected that it had been in the hands of the English a year or two before.
After staying for a few days at Chusan I went onward to another of the islands named Poo-too. This is commonly called by foreigners the "Worshipping Island," and is inhabited by the priests of Buddha and their followers. I had two objects in visiting it at this time; the first was on account of my health, which was getting affected by the excessive heat of the weather, and the second was to obtain a copy of some inscriptions which I had observed on a former occasion.
I landed I walked over the hill in the direction of one of the
principal temples, which had been built in a little valley or glen
between the hills. On the roadside, by the way, I came to the stones
on which the inscriptions had been carved. There were two of them;
they looked like little grave-stones, and, as usual in such cases,
each had a small place near its base for burning incense.
The characters upon them were not Chinese, and no Chinaman could read them. I applied to some of the most learned priests in Poo-too, but without success. They could neither read them, nor could they give me the slightest information as to how they came to be placed there.
The characters looked like those of some northern Indian language. One of the stones was evidently less aged than the other. In this, the unknown characters were placed along the top, and a row of Chinese ones below. The latter, when read, appeared to be nothing more than an unmeaning phrase used by the Buddhist priests at the commencement of their worship, "Nae mo o me to fa." What the upper line means, some oriental scholar may possibly be able to say.
The second stone was evidently very ancient. There were no Chinese characters upon this.
How, or when, these stones were placed there, it is difficult to form even a conjecture. Buddhism, we know, was imported from India to China, and it is just possible that under these old stones may lie the remains of some of its earliest preachers. Persecuted, perhaps, by the heathens of the time, they sought a home on the small and solitary island where their remains are now reposing.
Having made copies of the characters, I went onwards down the hill, in the direction of a large group of temples. At the bottom of the hill, and in front of the temples, there is a pretty lake filled with the Nelumbium, which was now in full bloom. As I came near, I observed a Chinaman fishing in the lake. This rather surprised me, as the Buddhists in this part of China do not take the life of any animal, and never eat animal food, — at least such is their profession. The man evidently knew he was doing wrong, and was hiding behind the pillars of a bridge which is here thrown over the lake. His occupation, however, was soon put a stop to in a most laughable manner. At a little distance on the other side of the bridge stood a group of men whose long flowing garments and shaved tailless heads denoted that they belonged to the Buddhist priesthood. They were evidently watching the movements of the angler with considerable anxiety and interest. At last one of their number, with a bamboo in his hand, left the others and moved towards the bridge by a circuitous route, so as not to be observed by the man who was fishing. The priest managed this so cleverly that he was on the bridge and by the side of the angler before the latter knew that he had been observed; indeed the first intimation he received of his being discovered was from the bamboo, which the priest did not fail to lay pretty smartly over his shoulders.
This scene was now most laughable to all except the trespasser. He seemed at first inclined to turn upon his assailant, but the priest, who was a stout young fellow, laid the bamboo on without mercy. The other priests were also fast coming upon the scene of action. When the delinquent observed them, he evidently considered that "discretion was the better part of valour," and took to his heels, running up the hill with the whole party of priests in full chase after him. He would most likely have been caught, had not my appearance on the scene attracted the notice of his pursuers.
As soon as the priests saw me they gave up the pursuit, and, coming up to me, received me with much politeness, and asked me to visit the temples. In the mean time the unfortunate angler was making the best of his way over the hills in the direction of the sea. Having returned the salutations of the priests, I asked them to explain the cause of the extraordinary scene which I had just witnessed. They informed me that the man I had seen was a thief and a pirate, who had come from some of the neighbouring islands to fish in the sacred lake and kill their fishes
I now walked down to the lake accompanied by the priests. No flower could be more beautiful or more majestic than the Nelumbium was at this season. As I stood on the little romantic bridge I looked to the right and left; my eye rested on thousands of these flowers, some of which were white, others red, and all were rising out of the water and standing above the beautiful clear green foliage. The leaves themselves, as they lay upon the smooth surface of the lake, or stood erect upon long footstalks, were scarcely less beautiful than the flowers, and both harmonized well together. Gold, silver, and other kinds of fishes were seen swimming swiftly to and fro, and apparently enjoying themselves under the shade of the broad leaves, in happy ignorance of the encounter between their protectors and their piratical enemy.
The surrounding scenery was strikingly picturesque. On all sides of the lake were well-wooded hills, whose summits were about fifteen hundred feet above the level of the sea. The ancient pile of temples, which covered many acres of land, was situated on the northern side of the lake, while others of a less pretending character were seen peeping out from amongst the trees on every hill-side.
The lake, covered with flowers, the wooded mountains, the ancient temples, and the glorious flood of light which was scattered over the scene from a clear sky, made one almost fancy oneself in some scene of enchantment.
In the garden of a mandarin at Ning-po I once observed a very beautiful variety of the Nelumbium, different from the red and white kinds already noticed, and which I may distinguish by the name of N. vittatum, its flowers being finely striped. It was evidently extremely rare in that part of China, so rare indeed that I could not succeed in procuring a plant to send to England.
Although these plants are generally grown in the stove when their cultivation is attempted in this country, they are fitted by nature to endure a very low degree of temperature in winter. They are abundant in all parts of the province of Kiang-nan, at Shanghae, Soo-chow, and Nanking, where the winters are very severe. The ponds and lakes are often frozen up, and the thermometer frequently sinks to within a few degrees of zero. During the spring and summer months the plants form and perfect their leaves, flowers, and fruit; in autumn, all the parts which are visible above water gradually decay, and nothing is left in a living state except the large roots, which remain buried deep in the mud, and they continue in a dormant state until the warmth of spring again calls vegetable life into action. This is the treatment which Nature gives this beautiful plant, and we shall never succeed with its cultivation in this country unless we follow her example. Our summers are probably not hot enough for it to succeed if planted out in our lakes and ponds, but, if we find it necessary to give it artificial heat in summer, we must not forget that it requires a period of rest during winter. In China the lotus-ponds are generally nearly dry in winter, when the plants are in a state of rest; this is another point for our consideration when we cultivate them artificially.
The Nelumbium, or Lien-wha, is cultivated very extensively in China for the sake of its roots, which are esteemed an excellent vegetable, and are much used by all classes of the community. The roots attain their largest size at the period when the leaves die off; and are dug up and brought to market during the winter months in the north of China. The stalls of the greengrocers are always loaded with them at that season of the year. Although in high repute amongst the natives, being served up with many of their dishes and forming part of others, I must say that I never liked them, nor are they generally liked by foreigners. An excellent description of arrowroot is made from them, which is considered equal in quality to that which we import from the West Indies. The seeds are also held in high estimation; they are commonly roasted before being served up to table.
In the beginning of September, my two months' holiday having expired, I left the islands of the Chusan archipelago for the main land. The southwest monsoon was nearly over, northerly winds were not unfrequent, and the weather was already much cooler. Responsible men on whom I could depend, or rather on whom I had sufficient checks, were now despatched to the great tea districts of Hwuy-chow and Fokien for collections of tea-seeds, and I took up my quarters in the districts near Ning-po. On many occasions during these campaigns I was greatly indebted to the British consuls here for much kindness and hospitality — in the first instance to Mr. Sullivan, now at Amoy, and latterly to Mr. Brooke Robertson. There is an excellent garden at the Ning-po Consulate, and I often took advantage of it for the protection of my plants.
Having procured a large quantity of tea-seeds and young plants, I left the Ning-po districts in the end of December for Shanghae. On my arrival there I found that some good tea manufacturers and lead box makers had been engaged, and everything had succeeded far beyond my most sanguine expectations. A large assortment of implements for the manufacture of tea had also arrived. Nothing therefore remained for me to do except to pack my plants and proceed on my voyage to India.
It was an amusing scene to see these inland Chinamen taking leave of their friends and their native country. A large boat was engaged, and lay alongside the jetty, to take them and their effects from Shanghae down to the mouth of the river, where the "Island Queen" was at anchor, to start for Hong-kong next morning. The landing-place was crowded with the emigrants and their friends. When the hour of departure arrived, the eight Chinese walked on board, and the boat was immediately pushed out into the stream. Now the emigrants on board, and their friends on shore, with clasped hands, bowed to each other many, many times, and the good wishes for each other's health and happiness were not few, nor apparently insincere. Next morning the "Island Queen," Captain M'Farlane, got under way, and we bade adieu to the north of China.