Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
1999-2011


(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
A Residence Among The Chinese
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo
(HOME)

CHAPTER XV.
The Tsien-tang river Its eagre or "bore" Appearance it presents Effects it produces Superstitions of the natives City of Kan-poo Mentioned by Marco Polo Its decay as a maritime port Another source of wealth Its inhabitants Village of Luh-le-heen Engage canal boats Pass through borders of silk country City of Yuen-hwa Supposed emporium for "Yuen-fa" silk Geology of isolated hills City of Ping-hoo Way to manage Chinese crowds Shops and gardens A dangerous position Arrive at Shanghae. 

THE Tsien-tang river, which flows past the city of Hang-chow-foo and empties itself into the bay we had just crossed, is formed of two branches, which unite at the old town of Yen-chow, about one hundred and twenty miles from its mouth. The more southerly branch has its numerous sources amongst the mountains bordering on Fokien, and amongst some hills north-west of the town of Chang-shan, where the three provinces of Chekiang, Kiangse, and Gnan-hwuy meet. The other branch rises in the north-west, amongst the green-tea hills of Hwuy-chow. On former occasions1 I had journeyed to the source of both these branches, and found them navigable for country flat-bottomed boats for upwards of two hundred miles from Hang-chow. These boats bring down all the tea  and other articles produced amongst these inland provinces to Hang-chow, where they are transferred to boats of another class on the canals. Owing to the numerous rocks, sandbanks, and rapid tides eastward of the city, the lower part of the river and head of the estuary is rarely trusted by vessels of any class, large or small. Everything is sent onward by the canals, which here form a network all over the vast plain of the Yang-tze-kiang. 

The Eagre, or as it is called in India, the "Bore" of the Tsien-tang river is famous in Chinese history. It is one of the three wonders of the world, according to a Chinese proverb, the other two being the demons at Tang-chau and the thunder at Lung-chau. As in other countries, the Eagre makes its appearance generally on the second or third day after the full or change of the moon, or at what are called "spring tides," and particularly in spring and autumn, about the time the sun is crossing the line. Should it so happen that strong easterly gales blow at these times the Eagre rolls along in all its grandeur, and carries everything before it. Dr. Macgowan, the well-known medical missionary at Ningpo, gives the following graphic account of it which he witnessed during a visit to Hang-chow-foo. 

"Between the river and the city walls, which are a mile distant, dense suburbs extend for several miles along the banks. As the hour of flood-tide approached crowds gathered in the streets running at right angles with the Tsien-tang, but at safe distances. My position was a terrace in front of the Tri-wave temple, which afforded a good view of the entire scene. On a sudden all traffic in the thronged mart was suspended; porters cleared the front street of every description of merchandise, boatmen ceased lading and unlading their vessels, and put out into the middle of the stream, so that a few minutes sufficed to give a deserted appearance to the busiest part of one of the busiest cities in Asia. The centre of the river teemed with craft, from small boats to large barges, including the gay flower-boats. Loud shouting from the fleet announced the appearance of the flood, which seemed like a glistening white cable stretched athwart the river at its mouth, as far down as the eye could reach. Its noise, compared by Chinese poets to that of thunder, speedily drowned that of the boatmen, and as it advanced with prodigious velocity at the rate, I should judge, of twenty-five miles an hour it assumed the appearance of an alabaster wall, or rather of a cataract four or five miles across and about thirty feet high, moving bodily onward. Soon it reached the advanced guard of the immense assemblage of vessels awaiting its approach. Knowing that the Bore of the Hoogly, which scarce deserved mention in connection with the one before me, invariably overturned boats which were not skilfully managed, I could not but feel apprehensive for the lives of the floating multitude. .As the foaming wall of water dashed impetuously onwards they were silenced, all being intently occupied in keeping their prows towards the wave which threatened to submerge everything afloat: but they all vaulted, as it were, to the summit with perfect safety. The spectacle was of greatest interest when the Eagre had passed about half-way among the craft. On one side they were quietly reposing on the surface of the unruffled stream, while those on the nether portion were pitching and heaving in tumultuous confusion on the flood; others were scaling, with the agility of salmon, the formidable cascade. 

"This grand and exciting scene was but of a moment's duration; it passed up the river in an instant; but from this point with gradually diminishing force, size, and velocity, until it ceased to be perceptible, which Chinese accounts represent to be eighty miles distant from the city. From ebb to flood-tide the change was almost instantaneous. A slight flood continued after the passage of the wave, but it soon began to ebb. Having lost my memoranda I am obliged to write from recollection: my impression is that the fall was about twenty feet; the Chinese say that the rise and fall is sometimes forty feet at Hang-chow. The maximum rise and fall at spring-tides is probably at the mouth of the river, or upper part of the bay, where the Eagre is hardly discoverable. In the Bay of Fundy, where the tides rush in with amazing velocity, there is at one place a rise of seventy feet, but there the magnificent phenomenon in question does not appear to be known at all. It is not, therefore, where tides attain their greatest rapidity, or maximum rise and fall, that the wave is met with, but where a river and its estuary both present a peculiar configuration. 

*               *               *               *               *

"A very short period elapsed between the passage of the Eagre and the resumption of traffic; the vessels were soon attached to the shore again, and women and children were occupied in gathering articles which the careless or unskilful had lost in the aquatic mere. The streets were drenched with spray, and a considerable volume of water splashed over the banks into the head of the grand canal, a few feet distant." 2 

Such is the appearance which is presented, and some of the effects which are produced by this tidal phenomenon. By the superstitious and ignorant among the natives it is accounted for in the following manner. One W-Tsz'-si, who lived about five hundred years before our era, had the misfortune to offend his sovereign, who politely made him a present of a sword, by which he understood he was to remove himself from the presence and from the world at the same time. When this object was accomplished his body was thrown into the Tsien-tang river, and afterwards became the god of the Eagre. His indignation and rage for such treatment while on earth is now exhibited periodically by the violence of the tidal wave, which sweeps everything before it on its course, breaks down the river's banks, and floods the adjoining lands. Monarchs of almost every dynasty have honoured him with titles; temples have been erected to his memory; and prayers and sacrifices are periodically offered by the people in order to appease his anger. 

At the entrance of the Bay of Hang-chow, or Chapoo, as it is sometimes called, although there is no Bore, the spring-tides are well known to navigators as very rapid and dangerous. Sir R. Collinson, when in the H. C. steamer "Phlegethon," trying to find a passage to Hang-chow-foo, found he had a tide running "eleven and a half knots when nineteen miles distant from the Chapoo hills and two from the shore. Traversing the river, which at this point is about fifteen miles wide, there was no continuous channel found, although there were some deep spots. When the 'Phlegethon' was exposed to this tide she had an anchor down with a whole cable (having previously lost an anchor and cable in endeavouring to hug up), was under her full power of steam with sails set, and was still driving." 

On the north side of the Bay of Hang-chow the Yang-tze-kiang, one of the largest rivers in the world, empties itself into the ocean. Year by year it brings down large quantities of alluvial matter and deposits it at its mouth. While this annual deposit is in some places gradually and rapidly rising and forming islands,3 much of it is apparently swept by the rapid tides into the bay of Hang-chow, where it stops up the passages for navigation, makes former seaports into mere inland towns, and gives a new direction to the traffic of the country. 

Kan-poo, the old city at which we had now arrived, is an example of what I have now stated. It is thought by some, and with pretty good reason, that this place is the same as that mentioned in Marco Polo's travels under the name of Kanfoo. In his day it was the seaport of Hang-chow-foo, and was frequented by ships from India and other parts of the world. Now the sands and alluvial deposit of the Yang-tze-kiang, and the rapid tides of the estuary, have destroyed its maritime importance, and instead of receiving ships freighted with the riches of India, and dispatching them full of the silk and other products of the country, it is an insignificant inland town with a few passage junks which keep up a communication with the opposite shore, whose principal articles of freight are Chinese passengers and pigs. 

Kan-poo is between twenty and thirty miles to the eastward of Hang-chow-foo. Some fifty miles further east, and near the mouth of the bay, the city of Chapoo has sprung up into considerable importance, and has taken the place of Kan-poo as the seaport of the provincial capital. But there is scarcely any foreign trade carried on at Chapoo. No ships bring "merchandise from India." It is chiefly remarkable for the large trade done in wood, brought up from the province of Fokien, and also as being the only port in the empire that trades with Japan. 

It is just possible that long before the days of Marco Polo Hang-chow-foo itself was a seaport; then as the river gradually became unsafe Kan-poo sprang up, which in its turn again gave place to Chapoo. And it seems equally certain that in the course of time that time may yet be far distant if the depositions at the mouth of the bay continue, Chapoo itself will have to give way to some place nearer the sea. 

The city of Kan-poo seems a very ancient place, judging from the appearance of its wall and ramparts. They are built of large square stones, much worn by time, and are rather in a dilapidated condition. Overgrown in many places with long grass, reeds, and brushwood, and much broken, they have a hoary look about them which insensibly carries the mind back to bygone ages, and to generations which have long since passed away. They appeared to be nearly three miles in circumference, but the space enclosed is not nearly covered with houses, and also includes many gardens and green fields. In our walks through the city we found it contained a number of clean respectable-looking houses, but its streets reminded us of a quiet country-town, and had none of that bustling activity which is visible at a flourishing Chinese seaport. 

Although the shifting sands and rapid tides of the estuary have long ago cut off communication with the sea, yet the old city has a mine of wealth within itself, which it is likely long to retain. It is situated on the border of a rich silk country, and large quantities of this valuable article are annually produced, both for home consumption and for export. The natives were now (June 1st) busily employed in reeling the first crop of coo-coons. In almost every other house in some of the streets the clack, clack, clack, of the winding-machine fell upon our ears as we passed along. We frequently stopped to examine this part of the process, which will be found fully described in a subsequent chapter, if the reader condescends to accompany me through the centre of the great silk country to the silk-towns of Nan-tsin and Hoo-chow-foo. We did not observe any other articles of manufacture in Kan-poo worthy of notice. The natives seemed clean and comfortably-looking in their appearance, and treated us very civilly. We were not inconvenienced by those crowds of noisy vulgar-looking fellows who generally surround foreigners when they make their appearance in their inland towns. 

In order to engage canal-boats to continue our journey we walked onward to a place named Luh-le-heen, distant from Kan-poo between two and three miles. Here a canal terminates which is connected with those which ramify all over the plain of the Yan-tze-kiang, and here we found travelling-boats from all quarters of the country ready to be engaged. There is a canal which leads from the city to this point, and by this means we brought up our servants and luggage. At Luh-le-heen the two canals are separated by an embankment, and goods or luggage has to be carried across on men's shoulders. 

Luh-le-heen is a small bustling village on the banks of the canal, chiefly remarkable for the number of tea-shops and other houses of refreshment it contains. Judging from the crowds of people we saw in these places, a thriving trade must be done by their proprietors; but it must be taken into consideration that most of their customers spend very small sums. In tea-shops in China a cup of tea can be had for about the third part of a farthing of our money, and oftentimes for less than that, so that a shop of this kind may be crowded from morning to evening and not a large sum of money taken after all during the day. 

We found no difficulty in engaging boats to take us onwards to Shanghae, and having had our luggage carried into them over the embankment, we sculled away, and soon left the canal village far behind us. Our route now lay along the borders of the silk district, and everywhere we saw groves of mulberry trees in cultivation in the fields. A few hours brought us to a large city, named Yuenhwa, containing a population estimated at 100,000 persons. As this city is also on the borders of the great silk country, it is probably here where that description of silk called Yuen-fa is produced. This, however, is only conjecture, although probably a correct one. A few isolated hills were observed near this city which formed a boundary on the south to the immense alluvial plain which now stretched away far to the north and eastward from Yuen-hwa. The Rev: Dr. Medhurst, when on a missionary tour, examined these hills, and states they are composed of a "red kind of igneous rock, mixed with large portions of quartz. It seemed to be a schistose formation of disintegrated granite combined with porphyry." 

In the afternoon of the following day after we had left Yuen-hwa, we arrived off the city of Ping-hoo, having called in by Chapoo, a town which my two friends were anxious to see. Although Ping-hoo is not a very great distance from Shanghae, it does not seem to have been often visited by foreigners, and the people are very wild and unruly. This is, no doubt, partly owing to the large boat-population which the place contains, being situated on the bank of a central canal, which communicates with all parts of the country. Having determined to visit the place in passing, in order to endeavour to make some purchases of articles of virtu, and to visit some nursery gardens near the west gate, I warned my friends of the unruly mob which we would probably find outside the walls, and begged them to endeavour, if possible, not to lose temper. There is nothing more dangerous than losing one's temper with a Chinese rabble. Keep in good humour, laugh and joke with them, and all will go on well; they may be noisy and boisterous in their mirth, but generally they will do nothing further to annoy you; but once lose temper, and show that you are angry either by word or deed, and ten to one you will soon find yourself in a dangerous position. There are more than one whom business or other matters has made a sojourner in the Celestial Empire, who can bear witness to the truth of this statement. 

When we landed from our boats a large crowd collected around us and followed us into the city, increasing as we went along. Every now and then a little urchin ran past to give warning on ahead, so that we found the whole street aware of our approach, and every door and window crowded with anxious faces. All went on quite well, however, although the crowd contained some mischievous-looking fellows in its ranks. When we entered a shop the scene outside was quite fearful. The street was very narrow and literally crammed with human beings, all anxious to see us and to find out what we were buying. In more than one instance the pressure was so great as to endanger the fronts of the shops; and, anxious as the Chinese are for trade, I believe the poor shopkeepers were heartily glad when they got rid of us. We picked up two or three interesting specimens of ancient porcelain, and, had time and the crowd permitted, we would have got many more. We had entered the city at the east gate, near the canal, and as its main street runs from the east to the west gate, we proceeded in the direction of the latter. Its shops are but poor in general, and as a city I believe it is not remarkable for any particular branch of manufacture, but many retired wealthy people live within its walls. 

Outside the west gate were the nursery gardens I was desirous of visiting. I had been here on more than one occasion formerly, but had generally avoided raising a crowd by coming round the moat which surrounds the city in my boat, and stepping out of it into the gardens unseen except by two or three persons. On these occasions, ere a crowd could gather, I had finished my business and was off. In the present instance, however, the dense mass of beings followed us closely, and went into the gardens along with us, to the great danger of numerous pretty flowers and flowerpots which stood in the way. All were, however, though boisterous, in perfect good humour, and, although we found it very annoying to be followed and crowded in this way wherever we went, and prevented from well examining the various things which came in our way, yet we bore with it as well as we could and took everything in good part. Nothing new or rare being found in the gardens to reward us for the visit we had paid to them, and as it was getting late in the afternoon, we determined to return at once to our boats, from which we were distant about two miles. In order to get relieved from the crowd we did not again enter the city, but went back through its northern suburb in the direction of the east gate. This movement in a great measure accomplished the intended object, and most of the people who had followed us thus far, with the intention of returning with us through the city, left and went home. A small portion, however, continued to follow us until we came to the north gate, when I remonstrated with them by saying that surely they had seen enough of us, and that we were anxious to have a quiet walk after all the noise and inconvenience we had been subjected to. After this they seemed afraid to follow us any further, but we had soon reason to repent having stopped them. Our road led us for some distance close under the city walls. Two or three rascally-looking fellows, the scum of the crowd, entered by the north gate and got upon the top of the ramparts, and soon showed evil intentions towards us. Several stones were thrown by unseen hands, and from the position we were in, our situation was far from being an agreeable one. Hemmed in as we were by the city wall on one side and houses on the other, moreover the street thus formed being very narrow, we were placed entirely at the  mercy of our assailants. At last a large brick came tumbling down, and struck the ground close to our feet. It was well-aimed, and had it struck the mark it is probable that one of our little party would have been killed on the spot. We were perfectly powerless. We neither could see those by whom we were attacked, nor could we get out of their way. Several respectable Chinese remonstrated with their unruly countrymen, and we hurried onwards in order to get out of our awkward position as soon as we possibly could. Fortunately, we soon came to a cross-street which led away from the wall, and we were then out of danger. 

We reached our boat without any further adventure, and were glad to push out into the stream, having had quite enough popularity for one day. Having described the country between Ping-hoo and Shanghae in a former work,4 I need not say anything further about it here. A few hours brought us to the upper part of the Shanghae river, and we reached that city on the third of June, much pleased, on the whole, with our inland journey. 

1 See 'Journey to the Tea Countries of China and India.'

2  Transactions of the China branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 

3 In 1843, when I first visited these parts, there was a sand-bank barely visible at high water. That is now covered with trees, inhabited, and forms an excellent mark to navigators. 

4 'Three Years' Wanderings in China.'


Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.