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Season's collections shipped for India Ancient porcelain vase Chinese dealers Joined by two friends Inland journey City of Yu-yaou Fine rice district Appearance and conduct of natives Laughable occurrence with an avaricious boatman Soil and rocks of district Village of Ne-ka-loo and Chinese inn Shores of the bay of Hang-chow Salt and its manufacture Curious moonlight journey Rapid tides Passage junk Voyage across the bay Chinese sailors Arrive at Kan-poo.
DURING the succeeding winter and spring months I was engaged in packing and dispatching to India and Europe the numerous collections of plants, seeds, and other objects of natural history which I had formed in the summer and autumn. Large quantities of implements used in the manufacture of tea were also sent to India at this time, destined for the government plantations in the Himalayas and Punjab. I had been unceasing in my endeavours to procure some first-rate black-tea makers from the best districts in the interior of the provinces of Fokien and Kiangse, but up to this time I had not succeeded. This was by far the most difficult part of my mission, but as the services of such men were absolutely necessary in order to carry on the great tea experiment which the government of India had in hand, I determined not to leave China until I had accomplished the object in view. As all the details concerning tea-plants, implements, and manufactures, may not have the same interest to the reader as they had to myself I shall skip a few pages of my journal and go on to where the narrative is more interesting.
In the month of April, 1855, I paid another visit to the old city of Tse-kee. My boat was moored in a canal near the north gate of the city, and I had been a prisoner for several days on account of a heavy and continuous fall of rain. One morning, soon after daylight, and before the boatmen or my servants were out of bed, a Chinese merchant, who made a living by selling old books and curiosities, paid me a visit, and informed me he had an ancient porcelain vase for sale which was well worthy of my attention. The heavy rain was beating on the roof of the boat, which prevented me from having the politeness to open it and ask the man inside. I therefore opened the little sliding window and called out that I would pay him a visit when fine weather came. This proceeding, however, would not satisfy him, and he insisted that I should go with him at once. To encourage me he pointed to his large Chinese boots studded with heavy nails, and said if I had a pair of them to put on they would protect me from the wet and mud in the streets. I had nothing of the kind, but as I had been making from time to time large collections of ancient porcelain vases and other works of art of an early period, I felt a strong inclination to see this one, and therefore consented to accompany him to his house. On the way the rain fell in torrents; many parts of the streets were ankle deep in water, and as the houses are not furnished with gutters, as with us, to carry off the rain, it pours down upon the head of the unlucky passenger without mercy.
When we reached the house my conductor called out to his wife to bring me some warm tea, and as I was sipping this he produced his vase. It was a beautiful specimen of its kind, very fine in form, of a blue colour, and richly enamelled with houses, flowers, and Chinese characters, in gold. It was no doubt ancient, and quite perfect. The Chinese as a people are first-rate physiognomists: they can tell at a glance whether their wares take one's fancy, and vary their prices accordingly. I had long been accustomed to this, and invariably in my dealings with them tried to prevent them from reading any admiration or anxiety in my countenance when I intended to buy. When the vase in question was exposed to my admiring gaze its owner gazed intently into my face and asked me in a triumphant manner what I thought of it? I told him it was pretty good, and perfect, but that it was too large for me, and then asked in a careless way what its value was. He hesitated for some few seconds, evidently not quite certain what sum to name; at last he said that the true price was eighty dollars, but that if I wanted it he would let me have it for sixty a sum equal to about 20l. according to the rate of exchange at the time. Being a pretty good judge of the value of such things I knew the price asked was absurd, and did not make him an offer, although he pressed me very hard to do this. At the same time I had made up my mind to have the vase. The vendors of these ancient works of art in China have rarely any fixed price, and will not scruple to ask ten times the true value, which, if they are lucky enough to get, they do not scruple to laugh at the simpleton who gives it.
On my way back to my boat a man came up to me in the street and, greatly to my surprise, put a pencil note into my hand. This was from two friends, Messrs. Walkinshaw and Smith, who had found out on their arrival in the province that I was sojourning near Tse-kee, and had determined to join me for the sake of seeing a little of the country. As Mr. Walkinshaw had a good collection of ancient vases, and was almost as fond of collecting as I was, he expressed a wish to see the one I have just been describing. When the rain cleared off we went into the city and called upon my friend of the morning. The vase was again produced, and was much admired by Mr. Walkinshaw. We could not succeed in inducing its owner to part with it at the time, but some months afterwards I bought it for nine dollars, and it now adorns Mr. Walkinshaw's drawing-room in Canton; or rather it did so some time ago.
Having nothing more to do in the Ningpo district until the autumn I determined to pay a visit to the great silk country of Hoo-chow, and to the hills on the western side of the plain of the Yangtse-kiang, a country which was entirely new to me. My two friends had employed their time well during the few days they had to spare about Ningpo. They had visited the snowy valley and waterfalls, and various other places of interest which I have already noticed in these pages, and they were now ready to go northward to Shanghae.
In leaving Ningpo for Shanghae we determined to take the inland route, via Kan-poo (or Cam-poo), a town situated on the shores of the bay of Hang-chow, and about midway between that city and the seaport of Chapoo. Having engaged boats we left Ningpo with the first of the flood-tide and proceeded up the northern branch of the river in the direction of the ancient city of Yu-yaou.
In our passage up the river there was nothing seen worthy of particular notice. We were favoured with a fair wind between Ningpo and Yuyaou, and reached that city in about twenty-four hours from the time of starting. As our boatmen expected to be paid back-fare, and as that fare would be allowed them for the same number of days taken to accomplish our journey, they had no interest in getting quickly onward. On the contrary, they looked on the fair wind we had experienced as a great misfortune. We reached Yuyaou several hours before nightfall, but our boatmen having evidently made up their minds to stay there for the night objected to proceed onwards. They gave as a reason that night was coming on, and they did not know the way after dark. Unfortunately for their logic it was only about four o'clock in the afternoon, and, consequently, we had four hours of daylight before us. I therefore told them that what they said might be perfectly true I doubted it myself yet we could go on until it became dark and then we would stop for the night. To this they demurred for some time, but eventually, by coaxing and threatening, they were induced to proceed onwards.
Previous to this discussion we had landed and paid a visit to the city. It consists of two portions, or rather there are two cities, one on the south side of the river and the other on the north. The city on the south side appears to be very ancient, and is now in ruins; its walls are broken down and covered with weeds and brushwood. The one on the north side, although old, is of a more modern date, and appeared to be in a flourishing condition. Its walls enclose a hill about 300 feet in height, on which there is a temple dedicated to a minister of state who flourished in the Ming dynasty. In as far as I know, the city is not famous for anything particular in the arts, and we saw nothing of importance as we passed through its streets.
After passing the city our boats left the main stream and turned into a canal on its left bank. When we had proceeded a few miles along the canal we came to another on a higher level, and had our boats drawn up an inclined plane by means of two rude windlasses. Here a fresh difficulty awaited us. This canal was so full, owing to the late rains, that our boats could not pass under the bridges without having the roofs taken off. As it was now nearly dark, we made up our minds to remain here for the night, and make a fresh start early next morning.
The natives in the surrounding villages now came flocking to our boats in great numbers. They seemed a more respectable set than most of the country Chinese with whom I have been in the habit of mixing. They were well clothed, apparently well fed, and had a cleanly appearance about them, which, it must be confessed, is rather rare in country districts in China. Their houses, too, were large and well-built; many of them were neatly whitewashed with lime, and had a sort of comfortable look about them which expressed in language unmistakable that their owners were "well to do in the world."
In this part of the country the staple article of summer-cultivation was rice. The land seemed exceedingly fertile, and this no doubt had something to do with the well-being of the inhabitants. I have observed this frequently exhibited in a most marked manner in China. Wherever the country is fertile, or when it produces an article of great value in commerce, such as silk or tea for example, there the natives as a general rule have more comfortable houses, are better fed and better clothed than they are in other places. In those bleak and barren mountain-districts, both inland and on the seacoast, where the land yields barely a remunerative crop, the natives are generally ragged and dirty in appearance, while their dwellings are mean hovels which scarcely afford protection from the inclemency of the weather.
The manners of the people we were now amongst were quite in keeping with their outward appearance. As they crowded round our boats they were exceedingly polite and courteous, and gave us any information we required as to our journey through the country, and the state of the canals and bridges.
It was now past seven o'clock in the evening, and dinner being ready we sat down to enjoy our evening meal. This proceeding seemed highly interesting to our Chinese visitors, who now crowded round our boat and were peeping through every crevice where a view of what was going on within could be obtained. They were, no doubt, quite as much surprised at the operation of eating with knives and forks as country-people at home would be if they saw a Chinese family sit down with their chop-sticks.
The Chinese are early in their habits they go to bed early and rise early in the morning so we were soon left by the crowd which surrounded our boats, to enjoy our dinner in peace and quietness. At daybreak on the following morning we took our provisions and baggage out of the largest boat, which could not pass under the bridge, and discharged it. Here a laughable occurrence took place which I must notice. One of the men belonging to the boat was an old man, very obstinate and rather despotic in his bearing both to the other boatmen and to ourselves. In China an old man has great privileges in this respect. He can do many things which a younger man must not attempt, and is generally looked up to and humoured in many of his foibles. Now it so happened that this old man had made up his mind to be as long as possible on our upward journey, in order that he might have the same allowance of time and money for his journey back to Ningpo, and it was he who had given us so much trouble at Yu-yoau. But fair winds and other circumstances had disappointed him, and instead of spending about three days in bringing us thus far, he had been only one day and two nights. As we had been one of these nights lying at the bridge, and as his way back was down stream, we calculated that he would easily reach Ningpo in a day and night, even if the wind was contrary. He was therefore paid for three days in full, which appeared to us to be most ample. But this did not satisfy the old man; he had calculated on being six days in our service, and six days' pay he was determined to have, nor would he listen to reason or any explanation.
We had borrowed a table and three chairs from Mr. Wadman in Ningpo, and had promised to send them back in the old man's boat, in which they had been used. These he threatened to sell to make up the amount a mode of proceeding which I well knew he durst not adopt. We then bade him good-bye, and with the money which he had refused we proceeded on our journey in the smaller boats.
We had not gone very far when our friend made his appearance, having come by a near cut across country, and begged in the humblest manner that we would let him have his money. He was quite satisfied now, and he "would not sell the chairs." As a slight punishment, we paid no attention to his request for some time, and allowed him to follow the boats for about a mile. We then paid him the sum which he had formerly refused, and added for his consolation that had he taken it at first he would have received a present besides a lesson which, if it was lost on him, had a good effect on our other men.
As we proceeded the canal became fuller, and my boat, which was the next largest, was stopped by a bridge. There was nothing for it but taking out all my luggage, and sending it onwards in a small sand-pan, which luckily was easily procured. My boatmen were quite satisfied with the allowance made to them for their homeward journey, and wished me fair winds and a prosperous journey, adding that if I returned to Ningpo they would be happy to have a fresh engagement.
As we were only a few miles distant from the end of the canal a place called Ne-ka-loo we sent the boats on, and determined to walk across the country ourselves. On our way we passed through a large village named Te-sye-mun, remarkable for a neat and well-finished mausoleum erected in the dynasty of the Mings for a minister of state the same, I believe, to whom the temple is dedicated on the hill inside of the city of Yu-yam.
The low country through which we passed had the same rich appearance which I have already mentioned, but the hills, which seemed jutting into it in all directions, were comparatively barren. They were chiefly composed of porphyritic granite mixed with crystals of quartz of a very coarse description.
About midday we arrived at the little village of Ne-ka-loo, which is situated on the shores of the bay of Hang-chow, and took up our quarters in a Chinese inn. Our landlord seemed a bustling, good sort of a man, and did everything in his power to make us comfortable. He informed us the passage junks by which we had to cross the bay had not arrived from Kan-poo, but would probably make their appearance in the afternoon, and if we would agree to pay six dollars we could have a junk to ourselves, and could start to cross the bay at eleven o'clock that night, when the flood-tide came in. Assenting to this arrangement, we left our servants to prepare an early dinner in "our inn," and went down to make an inspection of the shores of the bay.
Between the village of Ne-ka-loo and the bay there is a wide mud-flat, three or four miles in extent, having several wide and substantial embankments stretching across it and running parallel with the bay. It appeared as if the bay had been much wider at some former period than it is at the present day. Large portions of land have been from time to time reclaimed from the sea, and the embankment furthest inland is now a long way from the shore. Outside of this the land is now under cultivation, and annually yields heavy crops of grain. As we approached nearer to the bay, we observed the flats covered with a white crystalline substance, which on a nearer view proved to be salt. Here there is but little vegetation of any kind, and the whole face of the country presents a most barren aspect.
Salt is made in large quantities all along the shores of the bay in the following manner: A thin layer of the surface-soil is raked up, loosened, and then saturated with sea-water. As the water evaporates, the operation is repeated several times in succession until the clay or mud has absorbed as much salt as it is capable of doing. This salt-clay is then collected together into large round mounds, and this part of the process is finished. The second part of the process consists in separating the salt from the mud. This is done by throwing the latter on the top of a rude filter, and pouring water over it. The water takes the salt out of the mud and carries it down through the filter into a hole below. Sometimes the mud is stamped upon by the feet of the workmen in order to remove the whole of the saline particles with which it is mixed.
When the salt has been removed in this way from the mud, the latter is thrown out of the filter and dried, in order to act in the same way again. The brine when it has passed through the filter into the well below is perfectly clear, and of course highly saline. In this state it is taken out of the well and conveyed in bullock-carts to the place where it is to be boiled. Here it is poured into large square boilers with bamboo frames covering the surface of the liquid. On these frames the salt adheres as it crystallizes.
Large quantities are also made without the aid of fire or the boiling-house. The saline mixture described above is poured thinly into shallow wooden trays, and in this state exposed to the sun. If the day is hot the water soon evaporates and leaves the salt with which it was mixed at the bottom of the trays. The salt made by boiling or by evaporation in the sun does not seem to undergo any mode of purifying as with us, but in this rough state is put into baskets and carried to the market.
Salt is a government monopoly in China. All the land here, with the salt-mounds, boiling-houses, &c., belongs to the government. Everywhere, however, along these flats, and in many parts of the sea-coast, a large smuggling trade is carried on under the eye of the authorities, who do not seem to interfere, or only now and then.
While engaged in making these investigations a Chinese sailor came running towards us from the shore, and informed us that the passage-junk had arrived. Her captain had been obliged to anchor a considerable way out for want of water, but would come close in-shore when the flood-tide made in the evening. We therefore returned at once to our inn in order to have dinner and to make preparations for our voyage across the bay. In the mean time our landlord had got together a number of coolies and three chairs to carry us and our luggage across the flats.
About eight o'clock in the evening we left the inn, and took our way to the junk. It was a fine moonlight night, and every object around us was sparkling as if covered with gems. The chairs in which we performed this part of the journey were the most uncomfortable things of the kind I had ever been in. The bearers, instead of slipping along in that easy way in which such persons generally go, jogged along like two rough buffaloes. As we proceeded the country had a most curious appearance by moonlight. Soon after leaving the village there was scarcely a tree to be seen, and after passing the second embankment vegetation except some salt-loving plants entirely disappeared. Everywhere the ground was whitened with a coating of salt, and had a most wintery look about it; indeed had it not been for the soft and warm air which fanned us as we went along, and reminded us of summer, it would have been no stretch of imagination to believe the ground was covered with snow.
The night was so beautifully clear, that we could see our long train of coolies a great way off, toiling along with our luggage towards the shores of the bay. Now and then one would break down and get left in the rear, and then he might be heard shouting to his companions to wait until he came up with them. Here and there we passed rude-looking bullock carts or waggons which are used to convey the salt-brine to the boiling-houses, and sometimes to carry passengers' luggage, or merchandize, from the junks to Ne-ka-loo. The whole scene reminded me forcibly of a journey across the isthmus of Suez, which I had made in a clear moonlight night such as this was.
As we neared the shore, the ground seemed much broken up by deep water-courses, caused no doubt by the rapid tides for which the bay is famed. The atmosphere, too, became thick with a kind of misty haze, so that we could see but a very short distance either before or behind. Our coolies were now heard shouting out to each other in order that they might keep together, which was a difficult matter in the circumstances in which we were placed. To me there did not seem to be a landmark of any kind to direct our course, although, no doubt, our coolies, who were well accustomed to the road, saw with very different eyes. Those furthest ahead now began to shout loudly to the sailors in the junk, which was supposed to be somewhere near, but as yet not visible from the spot where we had halted. The signal was heard and replied to by the people on board, who seemed close at hand, and in another minute we were standing on the brink of the bay.
When we reached the water's edge we observed our junk aground a little below the spot where we stood, and were informed the flood-tide would make immediately, when she would be brought to the bank to receive us and our luggage. In a few minutes an extraordinary sound of rushing water was heard coming up the bay, and almost at the same moment the tide began to flow with a rapidity which was quite alarming. This was the "Eagre," or as it is called in India, the "Bore," which often makes its appearance on the Bay of Hang-chow at full and change of the moon, and is sometimes most dangerous to boats and junks which are caught in its full strength. In the present instance our junk was in a kind of creek, or at the mouth of a canal, and in this position was perfectly safe. She floated instantly and moved up to a position close to the bank on which we were standing. The sailors seemed to manage her admirably, and it certainly required both activity and experience to bring her up as they did. As soon as the vessel was in her proper position, she was kept in it by two strong stakes one near the bow, and the other near the stern which went from the deck right through her keel. These stakes by their own weight fall firmly into the mud, and while they secure the vessel, at the same time they allow her to rise with the tide.
This mode of navigation, curious though it may seem at first sight, is very safe and almost indispensable where the tides run so rapidly. It will be observed that the vessel was at first aground on a mud-flat, which gradually rose towards the banks in the form of an inclined plane. As soon as the tide rose sufficiently to enable her to float, she was propelled in the proper direction by poling. If she grounded again before she made the bank, the stakes were let down, and she was secured for a second or two until she floated again. And so she was propelled forward, and kept in her position in this way, until the bank was reached, and she was finally secured. All this occupies less time than it takes to describe it, particularly during spring-tides; but if the sailors waited until they had plenty of water to carry them inshore at once, in many instances the force of the flowing tide would render the junk unmanageable, and carry her right up the bay.
When the junk had been brought into her proper position alongside the bank where we were standing, she was secured by strong cables made fast at stem and stern, and then tied to wooden stakes which were driven firmly into the bank on the water's edge. She was now considered secure, and able to withstand the strong rush of water which seemed to be carrying everything before it.
Before these preparations were completed the tide was rushing up the bay with fearful rapidity, and rising much faster than I had ever witnessed before. In less than a quarter of an hour it rose some fourteen or fifteen feet, and seemed as if it would soon overflow the banks and cover the lowland on which we were standing. At the same time it poured its water into the creeks and ditches which its former violence had torn open, and every now and then we could hear the dull, heavy sound of mud-banks tumbling into the stream. Although there was no danger when we were standing still, we felt glad when the junk had been properly moored so that we could get on board.
The junks which navigate this dangerous bay are generally loaded with pigs when coming from the north side, and consequently are frequently in a most filthy condition. Dr. Medhurst, of the London Missionary Society at Shanghae, gives the following graphic description of what he experienced when crossing in a pig-laden junk: "It was night before we arrived on board the junk, which immediately got under weigh. It was only then that we became alive to our uncomfortable position. The grunting and stink of the pigs, together with the smoking and jabbering of the men, affected a variety of the senses in a most disagreeable manner. We found the berths that had been assigned us already occupied by about a dozen individuals, but upon remonstrance made we got one of the berths cleared for our reception, in which we had to make our beds, immediately under the pigs, and in close contiguity to a dozen Chinamen, who lay about on the floor one over the other, almost as filthy and unceremonious as the pigs themselves. The stench and heat was almost unsupportable, and the horrid groaning and struggling of the porcine multitude over head, rendered sleep almost impossible. To increase our troubles we had a contrary wind, and as the navigation of the Tsλen-tang (owing to the tides in the Bay of Hang-chow altering the position of the sands almost every day) is at all times difficult, we had the additional pleasantness of a probable shipwreck in a windy night, without a single boat in which we could have reached the shore. By God's good providence, however, we were preserved during the night, and in the morning found ourselves only a few miles from the place where we embarked, with the wind right ahead. By dint of great exertion in skulling, the boatmen brought the vessel to the south side of the bay about midday. By this time we found that the tide was just ebbing, which caused our vessel to ground far from land, and made it necessary for us to wait until the tide had run all out and made again, before we could get at all nearer the shore. In the mean time we sent a man to wade through the mud and water, in order to call a couple of chairs and coolies to convey us and our baggage across the mud-flats to Ne-ka-loo."
Having engaged the junk for ourselves, we were not quite so badly off as our missionary friends, and had no pigs to annoy us. When we got on board we went below to see the berths in the cabin which were set apart for our accommodation, but they appeared so filthy and stunk so horridly that we were glad to get on deck again. The cabin was also full of smoke, and everything we came in contact with left its mark on our hands or our clothes. It was now determined to have our beds spread down on the deck of the vessel, where, as it was partly covered, we could sleep with more comfort than in the filthy cabin.
We weighed anchor, or rather we "cast off" about midnight, and stood across the bay. The wind was light and fair, the water was perfectly smooth, and everything seemed to promise a safe and speedy passage. As this part of the bay was sometimes frequented by numerous small piratical craft, I was doubtful about going to sleep, but the boatmen assured me there was no fear from an attack at this time, and as these people are exceedingly timid an assurance of this kind from them was deemed satisfactory.
For some time after we were under way I sat on the foredeck of the vessel contemplating the beauty and stillness of the scene around me. The moon was shining dimly through a thick haze, not a sound was heard, except now and then a sail flapping against the mast and the rippling noise which the water made against the bows. Notwithstanding the beauty and stillness of the scene around me I soon began to feel very sleepy, and went and lay down on my couch. How long I had slept I know not, but I was suddenly awakened by being pitched bed and all to the lea side of the deck, when I was brought up by the bulwarks, a part of which were under water. It was now "all hands in-sail." The scene had undergone a complete and it appeared a rapid change; the moon had set; it was now dark and blowing half a gale, and the waters of the bay which were so smooth a few hours before were now rolling along in deep waves capped with foam.
On account of the numerous sand-banks and rocks and rapid tides in this bay, its navigation at all times is exceedingly dangerous if the vessels are driven but a short way out of the proper course. But the Chinese are excellent sailors on their own coasts and in their own vessels. On the present occasion the helm was instantly put down, and the vessel came up to the wind. The crew then ran forward to the masts, the sails were lowered and reefed, and we kept our course again. The sails had to be reduced from time to time as the wind freshened; but as it was fair we were flying through the water with great rapidity, and had the satisfaction of knowing that we should be soon across the bay. As we approached the northern shores we got under the shelter of the land, and the sea became perfectly smooth.
The distance across the bay at this point is about twenty miles, and this we accomplished in about three hours. At daylight in the morning we found ourselves "high and dry" in the mud alongside of several other trading junks, which, like ourselves, had run in here at high-water. We crossed the mud-flat between the vessel and the shore on men's shoulders, a fine, stout fellow carried me and deposited me dry and safely on the sands and then walked on to the ancient city of Kan-poo, which we found situated about a mile from the beach.