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Enter the city of Hoo-chow-foo — Method of managing Chinese crowds — Description of the city — Richness of the shops — Fans and silks — Rich dresses of the people — Raw silk and hongs — Flowered crapes — Chinese play and audience — How I perform my part! — Leave the city — Charming scenes in the country Thrown silk — Silk villages and their inhabitants — Temple of Wan-shew-si and its priests — Taou-chang-shan pagoda — Glorious views from the pagoda hill.
ON the 17th of June I reached the city of Hoo-chow-foo — the City of the Lakes and the capital of the principal silk-country of China. According to Chinese accounts, this city is about six miles in circumference, and contains about a hundred thousand families. Both of these statements are probably exaggerated, as the walls did not appear to me to be more than three, or at most four, miles round. As I was anxious to see something of the interior of the city, I sent one of my men to procure a sedan-chair, for the day was excessively warm. The chairmen soon made their appearance, but as their demands for hire were so exorbitant, I refused to comply with them and determined to walk — a proceeding which, although not so comfortable, would enable me to see more of the shops and people.
Entering at the south gate, I proceeded in a northerly direction, and examined all the principal streets on my way. Thousands of people followed me as I went along. They were very uproarious, but good-humoured withal, and appeared delighted with the opportunity of seeing a "Pak Quei-tze," or white devil — a term by which foreigners are designated in this civilized part of the world. Although this term was sometimes used in a tone of contempt or insult, showing that those who used it fully understood its meaning, yet generally it was not so. Upon one occasion some friends of mine remonstrated with some of these polite people, and endeavoured to explain to them that the term was one to which we were not exactly entitled, and that it was not very agreeable. In reply the Chinese expressed surprise and regret for having used the term and thus given offence; but innocently asked if we were not white devils; and if not, what we were, and by what name they should call us!
Alone as I now was, and surrounded by thousands of Chinese in one of their inland cities, it was absolutely necessary to keep my temper under the most complete control. In circumstances of this kind, if one laughs and jokes with the crowd, and takes everything in good part, all will generally go well, for the Chinese are upon the whole good-humoured and polite; but if he by any chance loses his temper, he will most certainly get the worst of it, and most likely will be .hooted and pelted with stones. I had had some experience in the management of Chinese crowds, and therefore continued to be in the sweetest possible frame of mind in the midst of the thousands who followed me through the city as if I had been a wild animal or "white devil" indeed.
As I threaded my way slowly along, in addition to the dense crowds that followed and preceded me, every window and doorway was crowded with curious-looking faces all anxious to get a view of the foreigner. It was curious to mark the varied expression in the different countenances. In some there was a look of contempt, in others wonder was strongly depicted; but in the vast majority there was wonder mingled with fear, as if I was in reality a being from another world. Keeping onward in a northerly direction, and diverging now and then to the right or left, according as an object of interest met my eye, I arrived at last at the north gate of the city. Here I ascended the ramparts in order to get a good view. Outside the walls I observed a large dense suburb, with a pretty pagoda and a canal leading through it in the direction of the T'ai-hu lake. Throwing my eyes over the city, the roofs of the houses seemed nearly all of the same height; indeed this is a striking characteristic of all Chinese towns which I have visited. One rarely sees any difference in the height of the houses except when a temple, a pagoda, or a watch-tower disturbs the monotony of the view. I believe the Chinese have a strong prejudice against one house being raised higher than the others.
I now walked round the ramparts from the north to the east gate, and then crossed the town from east to west in the same leisurely way I had done from south to north. A fine broad stream, or rather canal, crosses the city from south to north, and forms the chief highway for the boat-traffic, for boats are the carriages in this part of China and canals are the highways. This stream was crowded with boats of all sizes; some were discharging goods and passengers at the jetties on its banks, while others were hurrying onward deeply laden with goods and passengers for other parts of the country.
The city near the south gate by which I entered had rather a poor appearance, but the centre, and particularly the northern side, appeared rich and densely populated. Many of the shops were crowded with articles of great beauty and value. The fronts of Chinese shops are not shut up as ours are; the interior is fully exposed to passersby, so that I got an excellent view of their contents without the inconvenience of going inside. The silk fans struck me as being more gorgeous and handsome than any I had seen in other towns. Manufactured crapes and silks were also plentiful, and judging from the dresses of the people of both sexes, these goods must be in great demand. I have visited many Chinese towns, and I must say I never saw the people as a whole better dressed than those of Hoo-chow. Every person I met above the common working coolie was dressed in silks or crape, and even the coolies have at least one silk dress for holyday wear.
Although the fans and silks of Hoo-chow struck me particularly when walking through the town, it abounds also in all kinds of articles in common use amongst the people. Embroidered shoes, hats, caps, umbrellas, tobacco-pipes made of bamboo and nicely painted, porcelain of all kinds, and indeed every conceivable article in demand amongst the natives.
But in Hoo-chow, as at Nant-sin, the great trade of the place is in raw silk. Near the north gate many large hongs were pointed out to me where this trade is carried on most extensively. Here the silk is sorted, stowed, and made up into parcels, which are afterwards despatched to Shanghae, and offered for sale to foreign merchants. It is estimated that about four-fifths of the silk produced in this district is exported to Europe and America; but considering the large quantity consumed by the people themselves, I doubt if the proportion exported is so large.
The greater part of the silks and crapes used in this part of China are manufactured in the adjoining towns of Soo-chow and Hang-chow. Flowered crape, however, a very beautiful production, is made in Hoo-chow. The process of manufacture is thus described by the Rev. Mr. Edkins in the 'North China Herald:' —
"Two men were engaged at a loom in a cottage on the side of a stream. One sat at the end of the loom moving five pedals, and directing the shuttle and all that needed to be done with the threads that lay horizontal on the frame. The other was perched overhead to superintend the pattern. This he did by means of vertical threads tied up in bundles, a large number of which, distributed transversely through the threads of the horizontal frame beneath him, were at his disposal. These he raised according to the requirement of the pattern, and thus caused that elevation in the threads on the frame below that constituted the flowered part of the piece."
Like their countrymen all over China, the Hoo-chow people are fond of the drama. During my visit to the city a fine play was going on in one of the temples near the north gate. I had many pressing invitations, from individuals in the crowd who were following me, to go and see the play. But having seen many of these exhibitions on former occasions, I had no wish to see this one, more particularly as I knew well that all the rabble in the town are generally collected about such places. My companions, however, rather outwitted me, and gained their point before I was aware of it. Having a kind of mania for collecting ancient works of Chinese art, such as porcelain vases, bronzes, enamels, and such things, I had been making many enquiries regarding them as we went along, and had already made several purchases of considerable interest. I was now told by a person in the crowd that he would take me to an old curiosity-shop hard by, where I would see some fine things such as I wanted. Without suspecting anything, I desired him to lead the way, and I followed him. To my surprise, and I must confess to my amusement too, for I was in a capital humour, I found myself in a few minutes ushered into the temple square, where two or three thousand heads were gaping intently up to a platform covered with actors, who were in the midst of what appeared to be a most interesting melodrama, judging from the effect it had upon the audience. I saw at once I had been duped, and, looking for my guide and conductor, found that he had disappeared, no doubt fully satisfied with the part he had played. My part was now to enjoy the joke and take it in good part, which I did not fail to do. I was now pressed on all hands for my opinion of the merit of the performance, which I declared was inimitable. Nor was there any flattery intended in this expression of opinion, for I doubt much if such a performance could have been got up out of the Celestial Empire.
It was some time before a large portion of the crowd found out that a foreigner was amongst them, so intent were they upon the performance, and longer still before the eyes of the actors saw me. By degrees, however, the news spread, and all eyes were turned from the stage to where I was standing. At first the actors seemed surprised at the want of that attention to which they had been accustomed, then they discovered the cause, and, if possible, were more astonished than their audience. In vain the prompter and leader of the band urged them to go on; their "occupation was gone" until the greater attraction was removed. Prudence now suggested that, having thus come unexpectedly upon the scene and played my part, it would be as well to withdraw while there was time. I now bowed very politely to the most respectable of the people who were standing near me, and expressed my delight and thanks for what I had seen. I then edged quietly out of the crowd, a few of whom followed me, while the greater part remained to enjoy the rest of the performance, which I have no doubt was concluded in a most satisfactory manner.
The day was now far advanced, and as I had been surrounded by noisy, although good-humoured, crowds since the morning, I was excessively tired. I therefore made the best of my way back to the southern suburbs, where I had left my boat in a retired creek surrounded on all sides by mulberry-trees. But even here I could not get the quiet I wished for. Numbers followed me to where my boat was moored, and pestered me with all sorts of questions. It was generally believed by them that I had come from Shanghae for the sole purpose of buying silk, nor could my assurances to the contrary convince them they were mistaken.
In order to get rid of inquisitive crowds I now gave orders to my boatmen to leave our moorings and go on to the southwards; but did not tell them to what point we were bound. By this means the crowds were quite puzzled, and returned to their homes inside the city. In passing under one of the bridges here, and often both before and after this when in the same position, the head boatman warned us not to speak; for, said he, "if you do so, something evil will happen to us afterwards." There is a superstition amongst them, to the effect that those who speak while passing under a bridge will be punished by being involved in a quarrel.
After passing out of the creek I found myself on a broad and beautiful canal which leads to the southwards in the direction of Hang-chow-foo. As it was my intention to remain for some days in the vicinity of Hoo-chow, we soon found a small creek on the east side of this canal, which led up to the bottom of a richly-wooded hill. Having sculled the boat up there, we made her fast to the grassy bank of the creek, and, while dinner was getting ready, I went on shore.
It was a lovely evening — the 18th of June — the sun was just setting behind the high mountain-ranges to the westward, and although the day had been oppressively warm, the air was now comparatively cool and enjoyable. I was in the midst of most charming scenery, and although only about two miles distant from a crowded and bustling city, everything was perfectly quiet and still. Overhead the rooks were seen returning home for the day, and here and there on a solitary bush or in a grove of trees the songsters of the woods were singing their last and evening song of praise. Mulberry-trees, with their large rich green leaves, were observed in all directions, and the plantations extended all over the low country and up to the foot of the hills. The hills here were low and isolated, and appeared as if they had been thrown out as guards between the vast plain, which extends eastwards to the sea, and the mountains of the west. For the most part they were covered with natural forests and brushwood, and did not appear to have ever been under cultivation. In some parts their sides were steep — almost perpendicular — while in others the slope was gentle from their base to the summit. Here and there some rugged-looking granite rocks reared their heads above the trees, and were particularly striking.
Looking to the hills, there all was nature pure and unadorned, just as it had come from the hands of the Creator; but when the eye rested on the cultivated plain, on the rich mulberry-plantations, on the clear and beautiful canals studded with white sails, the contrast was equally striking, and told a tale of a teeming population, of wealth and industry.
I remained for three days amongst these hills, and employed myself in examining their natural productions, and in making entomological collections. In some grassy glades in the woods I frequently came upon little bands of natives engaged in making thrown silk. A long, narrow framework of bamboo of considerable length was constructed, and over this the threads were laid in the state in which they came from the reel. At the end of the frame collections of these threads were attached to a number of round brass balls about the size of marbles. A rapid motion was communicated to the balls by a smart stroke between the palms of the hands. The workmen went along the line of balls with the quickness of lightning, striking one after the other and keeping the whole in motion at the same time, until the process of twisting the silk was completed.
The little silk-villages at the base of these hills were all visited by me at this time, and although the natives were much surprised at the presence of a foreigner amongst them, yet generally they were polite and hospitable. The same features of wealth and comfort which I had already remarked in other parts of the silk-country were apparent here. The people were well dressed, had good substantial houses to live in, and, judging from their appearance, they were well fed. Nearly all the respectable farm-houses were surrounded with high walls. In addition to keeping their families as private as possible, the object of having the houses constructed in this way was probably for safety to their property, which is often very valuable during the silk season. I am not aware that these districts are much infested with thieves, but the respectable Chinese country farmer is generally very timid in his nature, and would much rather incur considerable expense in making his house secure than run any risk of having it plundered, or to be obliged to defend it.
When I had completed my examination of this part of the country, and made some interesting entomological collections, I bade adieu to the hospitable villagers. My object was now the pagoda I had seen in the distance when nearing Hoo-chow, with the large tree growing by its side, both together forming the most striking landmark in this part of China. It was only two or three miles west from where I had been sojourning for the last few days, and about two miles from the south gate of the city. By means of canals and small creeks I was enabled to get my boat nearly to the foot of the hill on which the pagoda stands. It being late in the evening when we arrived there, I slept near a small village at the head of the creek, and made arrangements to ascend the hill early next morning.
Some time before daybreak my servant Tung-a brought me a cup of tea, which I drank and then made preparations for our journey. It seemed we had anchored at the place to which worshippers come in their boats when they are going to the temple and pagoda. We found an excellent paved road leading up to the monastery of Wan-sheu-si, which is situated in a romantic hollow, a little below the hill on whose summit the pagoda stands. The soil of these hills is sandy and barren, and contrasts unfavourably with that in the rich plains below. Avenues and clumps of pines (Pinus sinensis), many of which had no doubt been planted by the priests, lined the ascent, and gave it a very pretty appearance. As we ascended by the windings of our mountain-road, we often lost sight of the plain which we had left, and were surrounded on all sides by hills.
Half-an-hour's walk brought us near the doors of the monastery of Wan-sheu-si, a large and imposing building, or rather collection of buildings, founded about a thousand years ago by a certain Fuh-hu-shan-si — the "Tamer of the Tiger." His picture is still preserved in the monastery, and represents him seated on a tiger, whose ferocity he had completely tamed, and who now was content to carry him over hill and dale and obey his commands!
The priests here — about thirty in number — received me with great ceremony and kindness, and ordered tea and cakes to be set before me. I was also taken to see two hermits who were undergoing voluntary solitary confinement for a period of three years. One of them had been nearly two years shut up in his cell, and consequently had another year to remain there before he could come out again and mix with the world.
After partaking of the tea which the good priests had kindly set before me — and very refreshing it was after my morning walk — I proceeded up the hill towards the pagoda. Here I was received by a solitary priest and a little boy who seemed his servant. The priest took me into a small room in which was a bed, a table, and a few books — all he possessed in the world, so he told me. He informed me, in answer to my questions, that the pagoda was called Taou-chang-shantat. It appeared to be ancient, for the adjoining temple, which had probably been built about the same period, was now in a very ruinous condition. Being curious to know what the tree was which, with the pagoda, formed such a striking sight when seen from a distance, I paid it a visit and found it was the maidenhair-tree (Salisburia adiantifolia).
If the pagoda and maidenhair-tree were striking from a distance, the view from the top of the hill where they stood was equally so, and of quite a different character. The bustling city of Hoochow-foo, with its walls, rampart, and broad and beautiful canals lay at my feet. Looking eastward the country was perfectly flat as far as the eye could reach — it is one vast rich and fertile mulberry- garden. On the west the prospect was bounded by a long range of mountains, very irregular in height, form, and general outline, and some of them very high. The T'ai-hu lake with its islands — the Tung-ting-shans — were seen to the north, and far away on the horizon to the southeast the little hills near Chapoo are just visible on a clear day.
I gazed long with rapture upon the wonderful scene which lay beneath and around me. Many views which I have had both before and since that time, when travelling in the Himalayas, have been perhaps more grand and sublime, owing to the stupendous height of these mountains, but as a view of marvellous richness and loveliness that from the top of Taou-chang-shan stands unrivalled.