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Tea-gatherers and their wages Food of Chinese labourers compared with the food of the same class in England Old city of Tse-kee Sheds and shops Market Mode of skinning frogs Temple on hill and fine scenery Lake near north gate Temples and priests My servant's mode of answering questions Chesnut-trees discovered Introduced to India Chinese tombs and ceremonies A widow comes to worship Beggars and coffins Different customs in different countries Reflections.
I MADE Ayuka's temple my head-quarters for several days after the events took place which I have related in the previous chapter. My time was now fully occupied in visiting all the tea-farms in the neighbourhood, and in getting information concerning the cultivation and manufacture of tea. It was the harvest-time for the principal crop of the season, and the natives were observed on every hill-side busily engaged in gathering the leaves. These tea-gatherers were generally seen in small groups consisting of from eight to twelve persons. One old man was usually at the head of each group, the others being women and children. Each had a small stool formed like the letter T, but broad of course at the top, for sitting on while gathering the leaves on the lower sides of the bushes. The foot of the stool being pointed, it was easily forced into the ground in order to render it steady, and as easily drawn out and carried to a different spot. When these tea-gatherers are hired they are not paid by the day, but by the quantity of leaves they bring in to their employers. In making inquiries on the point I found they were paid at the rate of four and five cash a catty, and that they were able to gather from thirty to forty catty a-day.1 In other words, each was able to gather from forty to fifty-three pounds of raw leaves per day, for which was received from 6d. to 9d., or thereabouts. But it is only very expert and well-trained hands that can make such a sum as this; children and very old people make, of course, something considerably less. Wages of labourers in the tea districts of China range from 2d. to 3d. per day with their food, which is almost always furnished by the farmers, and which may cost about 3d. or 4d. more, making the whole day's labour amount to 6d. or 7d. The food of these people is of the simplest kind namely, rice, vegetables, and a small portion of animal food, such as fish or pork. But the poorest classes in China seem to understand the art of preparing their food much better than the same classes at home. With the simple substances I have named the Chinese labourer contrives to make a number of very savoury dishes, upon which he breakfasts or dines most sumptuously. In Scotland, in former days and I suppose it is much the same now the harvest labourer's breakfast consisted of porridge and milk, his dinner of bread and beer, and porridge and milk again for supper. A Chinaman would starve upon such food. Again, if one looks at our sailors making their dinner upon dry salt beef and biscuit, the contrast is equally marked. The dinner of the Chinese sailor is not a whit more expensive, but much more agreeable, healthy, and civilised. Chinese tea-manufacturers whom I have been in the habit of taking to India always asserted they got sick when obliged to live on such food as is given to our sailors, and generally laid in a private stock of various little articles with which they were able to make up a dinner of a very different kind.
Having completed my investigations in this part of the country for the present, I bade adieu to my kind friends in Ayuka's temple, and returned to Ningpo on my way to the old city of Tse-kee. This is a very ancient place, about ten or twelve miles north-west from Ningpo, and near one of the branches of the river which flows past that town. Leaving Ningpo with the first of the flood-tide in the evening, and going on all night, I found myself close by the walls of Tse-kee at daylight next morning. As it was necessary for me to remain in this neighbourhood for some time, I looked out for a pleasant spot for head-quarters. Taking my boat into the canal or moat which has been made round a portion of the city, I found such a place as I wanted near the north gate; and as my boat was comfortable enough, though small, I determined to live in it, instead of going to a temple or an inn. Leaving my servants to prepare my breakfast and to get their own, I sauntered into the city. I found it a very ancient place, and famous as being the residence of many of the wealthiest persons in this part of China. Its walls seemed to be about three miles in circumference, but they enclosed numerous fields and gardens as well as houses. The dwellings of the rich were mostly surrounded with high walls, and were not visible from the streets. This is a common mode of building, as it secures the privacy of the female members of the family in a country like China, where it is the custom to keep them much secluded.
I had entered the city by the north gate, and in a few minutes had a crowd of people at my heels. "Where had I come from?" "where was I going to?" and "what was I wanting to buy?" were questions which were put on all sides. The crowd appeared to be perfectly good-humoured, and treated me with the greatest deference and respect. Some ran on before me, and seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in spreading the information of my arrival. The consequence was, that every door and window was full of people anxious to get a look at the foreigner. It was perfectly useless to remonstrate or to get angry, so I was all smiles and took everything in good part. Near the centre of the city, and in one of the principal streets, I found a most excellent market. For fully half a mile this street was literally crowded with articles of food. Fish, pork, fowls, ducks, vegetables of many kinds, and the fruits of the season, lined its sides. Mushrooms were abundant, and excellent, as I afterwards proved by having some cooked. Frogs seemed much in demand. They are brought to market in tubs and baskets, and the vender employs himself in skinning them as he sits making sales. He is extremely expert at this part of his business. He takes up the frog in his left hand, and with a knife which he holds in his right chops off the fore part of its head. The skin is then drawn back over the body and down to the feet, which are chopped off and thrown away. The poor frog, still alive, but headless, skinless, and without feet, is then thrown into another tub, and the operation is repeated on the rest in the same way. Every now and then the artist lays down his knife, and takes up his scales to weigh these animals for his customers and make his sales. Everything in this civilised country, whether it be gold or silver, geese or frogs, is sold by weight.
Raw tea-leaves that is, just as they had been plucked from the bushes, and unmanufactured, were also exposed for sale in this market. They were sold at from three farthings to five farthings a pound; and as it takes about four pounds of raw leaves to make one pound of tea, it follows that the price paid was at the rate of threepence to fivepence a pound, but to this must be added the expense of manipulation. In this manner the inhabitants of large towns in China, who have no tea-farms of their own, can buy the raw leaves in the market, and manufacture the beverage for themselves and in their own way.
The streets in the city of Tse-kee are narrow, and the shops for the most part have a mean appearance. The wealthy inhabitants, with whom the city abounds, appear to get their supplies of everything except food from the large cities, such as Ningpo and Hangchow. But food must be supplied on the spot, and hence the necessity for such a fine market as I have noticed. It is here as in western countries the market takes place in the morning. In the afternoon this busy street was almost deserted: the fishmonger had sold his fish, the butcher his pork; and all that band of rosy-cheeked countrymen who in the morning had been vending their loads of vegetables and fruits had returned to their homes with strings of cash, the proceeds of their sales, in their baskets or slung over their shoulders.
The scenery round the ancient city of Tse-kee is of the most romantic and beautiful description. The city stands on a flat plain, and is surrounded by hills varying in height from two or three hundred to one thousand feet above the level of the plain. Some are crowned with temples having a most imposing appearance in the distance, and from which the most charming views can be obtained. One of these, and the finest, is near the east gate of the city. It is approached by an avenue of pine-trees, and a broad flight of stone steps leads from the bottom of the hill to its summit, where the temple stands. From the higher rooms of this temple the visitor sees a wide extent of level country, exceedingly fertile and well watered. His eye follows the windings of the Ningpo river for many miles in a westerly direction, until it is lost amongst the distant hills. Canals, many of which are broad and deep, intersect the country in all directions, and afford not only a plentiful supply of water for the irrigation of the rice-crops, but bear on their surface thousands of boats of many different sizes, all hurrying to and fro and carrying on the commerce of the country. It is a pretty sight to see the numerous white or brown sails over the land, bending to the breeze, or flapping about in a calm sunny morning. Looking south and eastward, the eye rests upon the wide plain of Ningpo, and in a clear day the high mountains which bound its furthest sides are distinctly visible.
It is difficult, where all is so beautiful, to fix upon the prettiest spot, but that near the north gate, where my boat lay, appeared to me the most lovely of all. Between the north gate and the hills there is a pretty lake, which is crossed by a causeway with arches and alcoves. This causeway led from the city to a range of temples situated at the base of the bills. A side view of this causeway, with its round-arched bridge and alcove, the smooth water of the lake, the rich vegetation on its banks, and the temples at the foot of the bills, would form a lovely picture worthy of the pencil of our first European artists. I have looked on this scene in early morning when the mist was rising from the water, at noon on a summer's day when the water appeared to have been melted with the fierceness of the sun's rays, and again at "dewy eve" when all was still, and a more fairy-like spot it would be most difficult to find.
I found the temple beyond the lake a large building, or rather a series of buildings, in tolerably good repair. Here were a number of priests and their attendants, and no lack of idols of great size. But these I have already noticed in Ayuka's temple, and shall not say anything further concerning them here. The high-priest received me with great kindness, and made me sit down in the seat of honour by his side. A little boy, who was destined one day to become a priest himself, but who was now attending on his superior, was ordered to set tea before us, which he did in the usual style. Our conversation turned, as it frequently did, upon the state of the country and the rebellion. The old man asked me very earnestly as to what I had heard of the Nanking rebels, and whether I thought they would come to Hang-chow and Ningpo. I told him he knew quite as much of their proceedings and intentions as I did, and that with my present knowledge it was impossible to form an opinion on the matter. He said, if they did come to either of the places named, they would not visit Tse-kee an opinion which I ventured to dispute. I then asked him if he had heard of the massacre of the Buddhist priests on Silver Island, near Ching-keang-foo, the news of which had reached me a short time before. This massacre was reported by some to be the results of intense Christian feeling and hatred of idolatry. The old man had heard of this, but would not allow of the interpretation which was generally put upon the matter. He told me and he was probably correct that the priests bad been trying to save the lives of some mandarins who had taken shelter in their temples, and that for this sin, and not for idolatry, they were put to death. The subject was evidently one of deep interest to all the Buddhist priesthood, a considerable number of whom now surrounded us as this conversation was going on.
While engaged in this manner with the high-priest the room had gradually become more and more crowded with the inferior priests, with worshippers who happened to be at the temple, and with the servants and labourers who were attached to it. It is a curious fact that, although the Chinese as a nation have a high respect for their superiors, they do not show it in the same manner as we do. Hence it is not unusual for strangers and servants to crowd into a room where visitors are being received and entertained, and even to take part in the conversation. My own servant Tung-a was amongst the crowd, and was quite a lion for the time. Hundreds of questions were put to him as to my country, the time I had resided in China, and the objects I had in view in visiting the "central flowery land." He did not fail to answer the whole in a most satisfactory manner to himself and his audience, but whether his answers were to be depended upon or not was quite another matter, nor did he seem to care much so long as his interrogators were satisfied. Being engaged during my spare hours in making a collection of the insects of this part of China, Tung-a carried in his hand, in addition to a small cork-lined box and insect-net, a nice-looking bottle with a glass stopper. This was an object of much interest to the priests and their attendants, and was handed about from one to another all over the room. Before taking my leave I presented this bottle to the high-priest, who was quite charmed with my liberality, and almost went down on his knees to thank me. Oftentimes afterwards I renewed my visit to the old man, particularly during the heat of the day, when I was glad to seek shelter from the burning rays of the sun, and always found him kind and obliging. In the autumn of this year I received from him some valuable seeds which are now vegetating both in England and India.
The lower sides of all the hills round this old city are covered with trees, and have a very pretty appearance. The Chinese pine (Pinus sinensis), which is grouped about in all directions, attains to a great size; several kinds of oak, both evergreen and deciduous, are also common; but perhaps the most striking of all is the camphor-tree, which with its gnarled and angular branches is quite the monarch of the woods. Amongst these woods I met with the chesnut for the first time in China. This discovery was of great importance, as I was most anxious to introduce this to the Himalayan mountains in India. Many attempts bad been made to introduce it from Europe, but they had not succeeded. The seeds of such trees as oaks, chesnuts, tea, &c., retain their vitality for a very short time after they are gathered if they are not sown and allowed to vegetate. It is therefore useless to attempt to send these seeds in dry paper parcels or in hermetically sealed bottles from Europe to the north of India. The chesnuts which I had met with in the markets Of China, although excellent for the dessert, were generally too old for vegetating; but now, when I had discovered the locality where they grew, there was no longer any difficulty in procuring them quite fresh. There are two species cultivated on these hills. One is somewhat like the Spanish, and, although probably a different variety, it produces fruit quite equal in quality, if not superior, to the Spanish chesnut. The other is a delicious little kind, bearing fruit about the size and form of our common hazel-nut. Large quantities of both kinds were procured in the autumn of this year, sown in Ward's cases, and sent on to India. Part were sent to Government and part to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society. They vegetated freely during the voyage, and many hundreds of nice healthy young plants reached India in the most perfect condition. The Chesnut may now be considered naturalized on the hills of India, and in a few years will no doubt make its appearance in the markets amongst other fruits.
The "Yang-mae," a species of Myrica, was also met with on these hill-sides, and some grafted plants secured for India. These are now luxuriating in the north-west provinces. This fine fruit will no doubt succeed admirably in the Himalaya, for already there is a variety far inferior indeed to the Chinese kind, but yet a plant requiring the same soil and temperature common on these hills. It is the Kaiphul of the hill-tribes of India.
The most beautiful spots on these hill-sides are chosen for the tombs of the dead, which are scattered about everywhere. The sombre pine, the juniper, the arbor-vitζ, and the cypress are generally planted round the graves. As common as these, and equally ornamental, is the Photinia glabra, a noble evergreen which in the winter becomes covered with bunches of red berries. The weeping-willow is also sometimes used, and has a very pretty effect, particularly when one is planted on each side of the tomb. These trees are planted in a half-circle round the grave, leaving the front open. Within this half-circle is the tomb itself, the most common kind being covered with a large mound of earth faced with stone in front, on which the name and age of the deceased are cut and painted. In front of this again is a stone pavement with smooth stone seats, whether destined for the visitor or for the spirit of the departed I cannot tell. Sometimes I met with tombs of the most elaborate workmanship, and constructed in many different ways. Each told its tale of wealth or poverty; some must have cost very large sums, while others consisted of the coffin laid upon the surface of the ground, and thatched with a little straw. It is a pretty sight, and yet a painful one too, to see the relations of the dead visiting the tombs of their ancestors, which they do at stated periods, for the purpose of burning sycee paper and incense, and chanting prayers to the gods or spirits of the departed. Sometimes a mother may be seen with her children, the youngest probably still an infant in her arms, assembled in front of the grave of the husband and father. The widow is wailing and lamenting her bereavement, and the poor little ones look on so seriously, while every now and then they prostrate themselves before the grave. Or, it may be, it is the aged who are paying the same respect to the last resting-place of those who had been taken away in early life, and to whom they had looked forward as the stay and prop of their declining years. Or again, a solitary individual might be seen performing the same rites young, middle-aged, or old, as the case might be which suggested the idea that he was poor and friendless, the last of his race. It has been asserted that there is little genuine feeling in all this, that it is a custom which must be observed, and that it would be just as well if such a custom did not exist. I believe, however, there is as much genuine sorrow amongst the Chinese for the loss of relatives as there is amongst ourselves; and if we consider the way they dote upon their children, and the reverence and love they have for aged parents, we can come to no other conclusion. That in many instances all is mere show and required by custom, I have no doubt. On one occasion, as I was wandering amongst these hills, a chair passed me containing a very beautiful lady dressed in the gayest satin. I caught a slight glimpse of her countenance as she passed, and was so much struck with her beauty that I instantly stood still and looked after the chair. It immediately turned off the little hill-road in the direction of a tomb that had been lately made, where it was set down by the bearers. Following this chair were two female servants and a coolie with a box of clothes, a basket of provisions, and some sycee paper and incense. The lady, on stepping out of the chair, commenced robing herself in deep mourning by putting on a gown of sackcloth over her gay dress, but on seeing I was looking on she stopped immediately and threw the gown to her attendants, with whom she was laughing and chatting away, as if grief and she were perfect strangers to each other. Anxious as I was to witness her proceedings, I felt it was wrong and indelicate in me to remain in my present position, so I walked onwards until a small hedge and clump of bamboos hid the party from my view. I then turned into the plantation, and selected a spot where through an opening in the foliage I could see all without being seen myself. The handsome widow, for such she apparently was, had again put on her sackcloth robe, her women were standing by her side, and the wailing commenced in the most business-like manner. This continued for nearly half an hour, while at the same time incense was burned, and various tawdry-looking strips of paper were hung about the grave. At last the ceremony was finished, the coarse sackcloth was consigned to the coolie, and the lady, all gay as before, and with but little traces of grief, stepped into her chair and was carried away.
For many weeks after these visits to the tombs numerous long strips of gay-coloured paper are seen hanging about the graves. In my researches amongst these hills I was much struck with one thing, which I must mention here, and from which all may learn a useful lesson. Here and there, amongst those tombs which had been cleaned and repaired, and which bore all the marks of having been recently visited by relatives, were some from which no friendly hand had cleared away the weeds. Ages ago they had been built without regard to expense, and for many years they had been, no doubt, visited by loving friends, who had burned incense upon them, and strewed them. with wild flowers and paper streamers. But now they were going fast to decay; they were not visited or repaired at the usual and stated times; and their tenants had been long since forgotten. And as it had been with these, so it would be with the others which were now so carefully attended to. A few years more, and their tenants too would be forgotten, however rich or however much loved.
When a wealthy Chinese dies at a distance from his home, his body is brought back to his native place by his relations in order that he may sleep with his fathers. In front of an old temple near Tse-kee I observed a number of coffins lying under the verandah, and on inquiry found that they had all been brought from some distance, and had been laid down there until a lucky spot could be found out for their final resting-place. Some had apparently lain here for a long period of time. Under the same verandah, and amongst these coffins, a colony of gipsy beggars had taken up their quarters, which to me had a curious appearance. However, these people seemed to have no supernatural fears of any kind, and were on such friendly terms with their dead companions, that the tops of the huge coffins were used as supports for their mosquito curtains. "What a traveller's story! Beggars with mosquito curtains, the living sleeping with the dead!" Even so, gentle reader; we are now in China.
In a country like England we pride ourselves upon our civilization and good taste. But let us fancy a Chinese traveller paying us a visit and writing a description of our grave-yards. How different would his pictures be from those which I have now given, and how horrified would he be with our barbarism and want of taste! "The English," he would say, "do not respect their dead; they crowd them into churchyards in densely populated towns, and plant no pine-trees or wild flowers about their graves. In many instances they even dig them up before they are fully decomposed, in order to make room for others! Their children look upon such places with dread, and will not pass them willingly after nightfall." Such would be his reflections, or at least would have been a few years ago. Let us hope that in a very short period the good sense of the people and the energy of Government will do away with such relics of barbarism.
But what does it matter, says some stern moralist,
where one is buried whether in the deep sea, the crowded city, or amid the
beauties of nature on the hill-side? I do not argue the point, but my taste
leads me to prefer the customs of the Chinese, where one can sleep in peace
after being buried, where one's grave is looked upon with love and affection,
and not with fear; nor would I object to the spot being visited by loving
children, who come to shed a few heartfelt tears, and plant a few wild flowers
on the tomb of him they loved so fondly.
1 100 cash are about 4½ d. of our money; a catty is equal to 1½ lb.