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My object in coming north — Difficulty in procuring tea-plants — No dependence can be placed upon the Chinese — Adopt the dress of the country — Start for the interior — Mode of getting my head shaved — City of Kea-hing-foo and its old cemetery — Lakes and "ling" — Mode of gathering the "ling" — Great silk country — Increase in exports — City of Seh-mun-yuen — Fear of thieves — Hang-chow-foo — The "Garden of China" — Description of the city and its suburbs — Gaiety of the people — Adventure in the city — Kan-du — A "chop" — A Chinese inn — I get no breakfast and lose my dinner — Boat engaged for Hwuy-chow — Importance of Hang-chow both for trading and "squeezing."
MY object in coming thus far north was to obtain seeds and plants of the tea shrub for the Hon. East India Company's plantations in the north-west provinces of India. It was a matter of great importance to procure them from those districts in China where the best teas were produced, and I now set about accomplishing this object. There were various tea districts near Ning-po where very fair green teas were prepared for Chinese use; but these teas were not very well suited to the foreign market. It might be that the plant was precisely the same variety from which the finer sorts were made, and that the difference consisted only in climate, in soil, or, more likely still, in a different mode of manipulation. This might or might not be the case; no one, so far as I knew, had ever visited the Hwuy-chow district and brought away plants from the tea hills there. In these circumstances I considered that it would be a most unsatisfactory proceeding to procure plants and seeds from the Ning-po district only, or to take it for granted that they were the same as those in the great green-tea country of Hwuy-chow.
It was a very easy matter to get plants and seeds from the tea countries near Ning-po. Foreigners are allowed to visit the islands in the Chusan archipelago, such as Chusan and Kin-tang, in both of which the tea shrub is most abundant. They can also go to the celebrated temple of Tein-tung, about twenty miles inland, in the neighbourhood of which tea is cultivated upon an extensive scale.
But the Hwuy-chow district is upwards of 200 miles inland from either of the northern ports of Shanghae or Ning-po. It is a sealed country to Europeans. If we except the Jesuit missionaries, no one has ever entered within the sacred precincts of Hwuy-chow.1
Having determined, if possible, to procure plants and seeds from this celebrated country, there were but two ways of proceeding in the business. Either Chinese agents must be employed to go into the country to procure them and bring them down, or I must go there myself. At first sight the former way seemed the only one possible — certainly it was the easiest. But there were some very formidable objections to this course. Suppose I had engaged Chinese agents for this purpose — and plenty would have undertaken the mission — how could I be at all certain that the plants or seeds which they would have brought me had been obtained in the districts in question? No dependence can be placed upon the veracity of the Chinese. I may seem uncharitable, but such is really the case; and if it suited the purpose of the agents employed in this matter they would have gone a few miles inland to the nearest tea district — one which I could have visited myself with ease and safety — and have made up their collection there. After staying away for a month or two they would have returned to me with the collection, and, if requisite, have sworn that they had obtained it in the country to which I had desired them to proceed. It is just possible that they might have done otherwise; but even if they had I could not have been certain that such was the case, and I therefore abandoned all idea of managing the business in that way, and determined to make an effort to penetrate into the Hwuy-chow country myself, where I could not only procure the true plants which produce the finest green teas of commerce, but also gain some information with regard to the nature of the soil of the district and the best modes of cultivation.
I had two Hwuy-chow men in my service at this time. I sent for them, and inquired whether it was possible to penetrate so far into the country. They replied that we could easily do so, and that they were quite willing to accompany me, only stipulating that I should discard my English costume and adopt the dress of the country. I knew that this was indispensable if I wished to accomplish the object in view, and readily acceded to the terms.
My servants now procured me a Chinese dress, and had the tail which I had worn in former years nicely dressed by the barber. Everything was soon in readiness except the boat which had to be engaged for the first stage of our journey. This was, just then, a difficult matter, owing to some boatmen having been severely punished by the Chinese authorities for taking three or four foreigners some distance inland to see the silk districts. These gentlemen went in the English dress, and complaints were consequently made by the officers in the districts through which they passed to the mandarins in Shanghae. On this account it was impossible to engage a boat as a foreigner, and I desired my servant to hire it in his own name, and merely state that two other persons were to accompany him. He agreed to this plan, and soon returned with a "chop," or agreement, which he had entered into with a man who engaged to take us as far as the city of Hangchow-foo.
Thus far all was right; but now my two men began to be jealous of each other, each wanting to manage the concern, with the view, as it proved ultimately, of getting as many dollars out of me as possible. One of them had been engaged as a servant and linguist, and the other was little better than a common coolie. I therefore intrusted the management of our affairs to the former, much to the disgust of the other, who was an older man. In an ordinary case I would have sent one of them away, but, as I had but little confidence in either, I thought that in their present jealous state the one would prove a check upon the other. The projected journey was a long one, the way was unknown to me, and I should have been placed in an awkward position had they agreed to rob me, and then run off and leave me when far inland. The jealous feeling that existed between them was therefore, I considered, rather a safeguard than otherwise.
As I was anxious to keep the matter as secret as possible, I intended to have left the English part of the town at night in a chair, and gone on board the boat near to the east gate of the city, where she lay moored in the river. Greatly to my surprise, however, I observed a boat, such as I knew mine to be, alongside of one of the English jetties, and apparently ready for my reception. "Is that the boat that you have engaged?" said I to my servant Wang. "Yes," said he, "that coolie has gone and told the boatman all about the matter, and that an Englishman is going in his boat." "But will the boatman consent to go now?" "Oh! yes," he replied, "if you will only add a trifle more to the fare." To this I consented, and, after a great many delays, everything was at last pronounced to be ready for our starting. As the boatman knew who I was, I went on board in my English dress, and kept it on during the first day.
When I rose on the morning of the second day, we were some distance from Shanghae, and the boatman suggested that it was now time to discard the English dress, and adopt that of the country, according to our agreement. To put on the dress was an easy matter, but I had also to get my head shaved — an operation which required a barber. Wang, who was the most active of my two men, was laid up that morning with fever and ague, so that the duty devolved upon the coolie. The latter was a large-boned, clumsy fellow, whose only recommendation to me was his being a native of that part of the country to which I was bound. Having procured a pair of scissors, he clipped the hair from the front, back, and sides of my head, leaving only a patch upon the crown. He then washed those parts with hot water, after the manner of the Chinese, and, having done so, he took up a small razor and began to shave my head. I suppose I must have been the first person upon whom he had ever operated, and I am charitable enough to wish most sincerely that I may be the last. He did not shave, he actually scraped my poor head until the tears came running down my cheeks, and I cried out with pain. All he said was, "Hai-yah — very bad, very bad," and continued the operation. To make matters worse, and to try my temper more, the boatmen were peeping into the cabin and evidently enjoying the whole affair, and thinking it capital sport. I really believe I should have made a scene of a less amusing kind had I not been restrained by prudential motives, and by the consideration that the poor coolie was really doing the best he could. The shaving was finished at last; I then dressed myself in the costume of the country, and the result was pronounced by my servants and boatmen to be very satisfactory.
The whole country to the westward of Shanghae is intersected with rivers and canals, so that the traveller can visit by boat almost all the towns and cities in this part of the province. Some of the canals lead to the large cities of Sung-kiang-foo, Soo-chow-foo, Nanking, and onward by the Grand Canal to the capital itself. Others, again, running to the west and south-west, form the highways to the Tartar city of Chapoo, Hang-chow-foo, and to numerous other cities and towns, which are studded over this large and important plain.
We proceeded in a south-westerly direction — my destination being the city of Hang-chow-foo. Having a fair wind during the first day, we got as far as the Maou lake, a distance of 120 or 130 le2 from Shanghae. Here we stopped for the night, making our boat fast to a post driven into the grassy banks of the lake. Starting early next morning, we reached in the forenoon a town of considerable size, named Kea-hing-yuen, and a little farther on we came to the city of Kea-hing-foo, a large place walled and fortified.
This city seems nearly as large as Shanghae, and probably contains about the same number of inhabitants — 270,000. Its walls and ramparts had been in a most dilapidated and ruinous condition, but the people got such a fright when the English took Chapoo — which is not a very great distance off — that they came forward with funds, and had the defences of their city substantially repaired. Such was the boatmen's story when accounting for the excellent order in which the fortifications were. A number of old grain junks, of great size considering the depth of water, are moored in the canal abreast of the city, and are apparently used as dwelling-houses by the natives; some, however, are half sunk in the water, and appear entirely abandoned. Junks of the same description as these are seen abreast of all the large towns on the grand canal. When too old for the Government service they seem to be drawn up to the nearest city, and either used by Government officers as dwelling-houses, or sold to the highest bidder.
We had now entered the great Hang-chow silk district, and the mulberry was observed in great abundance on the banks of the canal, and in patches over all the country.
I was greatly struck with the appearance of a cemetery on the western side of the city of Kea-hing-foo, not very far from the city walls. Its large extent gave a good idea of the numerous and dense population of the town. It had evidently existed for many ages, for a great number of the tombstones were crumbling to pieces, and mingling with the ashes of the dead. But this "place of skulls" was no barren waste, like those churchyards which we see in large towns at home. Here the dead were interred amidst groves of the weeping willow, mulberry-trees, and several species of juniper and pine. Wild roses and creepers of various kinds were scrambling over the tombs, and the whole place presented a hallowed and pleasing aspect.
Leaving the old town behind us, and sailing westward, we entered a broad sheet of water of considerable size, which is probably part of, or at least joins, the celebrated Tai-ho lake. The water is very shallow, and a great part of it is covered with the Trapa bicornis — a plant called ling by the Chinese. It produces a fruit of a very peculiar shape, resembling the head and horns of a bullock, and is highly esteemed in all parts of the empire. I have seen three distinct species or varieties, one of which has fruit of a beautiful red colour.
Women and boys were sailing about on all parts of the lake, in tubs of the same size and form as our common washing-tubs, gathering the fruit of the ling. I don't know of any contrivance which would have answered their purpose better than these rude tubs, they held the fruit as it was gathered as well as the gatherer, and at the same time were easily propelled through the masses of ling without doing the plants any injury. The sight of a number of people swimming about on the lake, each in his tub, had something very ludicrous about it.
After we had passed the lake, the banks of the canal, and indeed the greater part of the country, were covered with mulberry trees. Silk is evidently the staple production in this part of China. During the space of two days — and in that time I must have travelled upwards of a hundred miles — I saw little else than mulberry trees. They were evidently carefully cultivated, and in the highest state of health, producing fine, large, and glossy leaves. When it is remembered that I was going in a straight direction through the country, some idea may be formed of the extent of this enormous silk district, which probably occupies a circle of at least a hundred miles in diameter. And this, it must be remembered, is only one of the silk districts in China, but it is the principal and the best one. The merchant and silk-manufacturer will form a good idea of the quantity of silk consumed in China, when told that, after the war, on the port of Shanghae being opened, the exports of raw silk increased in two or three years from 3000 to 20,000 bales. This fact shows, I think, the enormous quantity which must have been in the Chinese market before the extra demand could have been so easily supplied. But as it is with tea, so it is with silk, — the quantity exported bears but a small proportion to that consumed by the Chinese themselves. The 17,000 extra bales sent yearly out of the country have not in the least degree affected the price of raw silk or of silk manufactures. This fact speaks for itself.
Seh-mun-yuen, a town about 140 le north-east from Hang-chow-foo, was the next place of any note which I passed. It is apparently a very ancient city, but has no trade, and is altogether in a most dilapidated condition. The walls were completely overrun with wild shrubs, and in many places were crumbling into ruins. It had evidently seen better and more prosperous days, which had long ago passed by. The boatmen informed me that this part of the country abounded in thieves and robbers, and that they must not all go to bed at night, otherwise something would be stolen from the boat before morning.
We reached the city about three o'clock in the afternoon. The morning had been cold and rainy, and the boatmen, who were all wet to the skin, refused to proceed further that day. I was therefore obliged to make up my mind to stay there all that night, and a more disagreeable one I never spent. After dark my servants and the boatmen told stories of celebrated pirates and robbers, until they frightened themselves, and almost made me believe myself to be in dangerous company. The wind was very high, and, as it whistled amongst the ruinous ramparts, the sound was dismal enough; and what added still more to our discomfort, the rain beat through the roof of our boat, and kept dripping upon our beds.
Before retiring to sleep it had been arranged that my coolie and one of the boatmen were to sit and keep watch during the night for our protection from thieves. The coolie's station was inside the boat, where I was, and the other man was to keep watch in the after-part of the boat, where the cooking department was carried on. How long these sentries kept watch I cannot tell, but when I awoke, some time before the morning dawned, the dangers of the place seemed to be completely forgotten, except perhaps in their dreams, for I found them sound asleep. The other men were also sleeping heavily, and no one seemed to have harmed us during our slumbers. I now roused the whole of them, and, the morning being fine, we proceeded on our journey towards the city of Hang-chow-foo.
During this three days' journey we had been passing through a perfectly level country, having seen only three or four small hills near the city of Sung-kiang-foo. Now, however, the scene began to change, and the hills which gird this extensive plain on the west and south-west sides came into view. We passed a town named Tan-see, which is on the side of the grand canal on which we were now sailing. Tan-see is a bustling town of considerable size, a few miles to the north-east of Hang-chow-foo. The appearance of the flat country here was rich and beautiful. Still the mulberry was seen extensively cultivated on all the higher patches of ground, and rice occupied the low wet land.
As we approached Hang-chow the vegetation of the country was richer and under a higher state of cultivation than any which had come under my notice in other parts of China. It reminded me of the appearance which those highly cultivated spots present near our large market towns in England. Here were beautiful groves of the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), yang-mai (Myrica sp.), peaches, plums, oranges, and all the fruits of Central China, in a high state of cultivation.
The country around Hang-chow-foo may well be called "the garden of China." The grand canal, with its numerous branches, not only waters it, but also affords the means of travelling through it, and of conveying the productions for which it is famous to other districts. The hills in the background, the beautiful bay which comes up to the town and stretches far away towards the ocean, and the noble river which here falls into the bay, all contribute to render the scenery strikingly beautiful.
On the evening of the 22nd of October I approached the suburbs of Hang-chow-foo — one of the largest and most flourishing cities in the richest district of the Chinese empire. The Chinese authorities have always been most jealous of foreigners approaching or entering this town. It is generally supposed that, in addition to the natural antipathy which they manifest to the "outside barbarians," they have a custom-house here in which they levy duties on merchandise imported or exported by foreigners, which duties are opposed to the terms of the treaty of Nanking. They know well enough that, if foreigners were allowed to come here, this system of extortion would soon be exposed and broken up.
As I drew nearer the city, everything which came under my observation marked it as a place of great importance. The grand canal was deep and wide, and bore on its waters many hundreds of boats of different sizes, all engaged in an active bustling trade. Many of these were sailing in the same direction as ourselves, whilst others were leaving the city and hurrying onwards in the direction of Soo-chow, Hoo-chow, Kea-hing, and other towns. Canals were seen branching off from the grand canal in all directions, and forming the high roads of the country.
When I reached the end of this part of my journey my boatmen drew up and moored the boat amongst thousands of the same class, and, it being now nearly dark, I determined to rest there for the night. When the next morning dawned, and I had time to take a survey of our position, I found that we had been moored on the edge of a large broad basin of water which terminates the grand canal. As I had nothing to do in the city, and merely wanted to pass onwards on my journey to the green-tea country, I did not wish to run the risk of passing through it. Before leaving Shanghae, when consulting the map and fixing my route, I asked if it were possible to get to the mouth of the Hang-chow river without actually passing through the city itself. Both my men informed me that this was quite easy, and even protested strongly against my entering the town. They said we could go by the See-hoo lake, at which place we could leave the Shanghae boat, and then proceed on foot or in chairs a distance of 30 le. By this means we should merely skirt the town, and attain the object we had in view. This plan seemed feasible enough. When we reached the suburbs of Hang-chow, therefore, not knowing the locality, I naturally supposed that we were at See-hoo, which is only a part of the suburbs. This, however, was not the case.
Wang, who had been sent on shore at daybreak to procure a chair, and coolies for our luggage, now came back and informed me that he had succeeded in arranging all this at an inn hard by, to which we must now go. Leaving the boat, we walked up a crowded street for nearly a quarter of a mile, and then entered the inn in question. No one took the slightest notice of me, a circumstance which gave me a good deal of confidence, and led me to conclude that I was dressed in a proper manner, and that I made a pretty good Chinaman.
Our Shanghae boatmen accompanied us, carrying our luggage; indeed I believe they had recommended us to the inn at which we had now arrived. To my astonishment they at once informed their friend the innkeeper that I was a foreigner. Having been paid their fare, they had nothing more to expect, and I suppose could not contain the secret any longer. I now expected that some difficulties would be experienced in procuring a chair, either through fear of the mandarins, or with the view of extorting money. The old man, who made his living by letting chairs and selling tea, took everything very quietly, and did not seem to despise a good customer, even if he was a foreigner. A chair was soon ready for me to proceed on my journey. The bearers were paid by the master of the house to take me one stage — about half way — and a sum of money was given them to engage another chair for the remainder of the journey, to a place called Kan-du, which is situated on the banks of the large river which here falls into the bay of Hang-chow.
Everything being satisfactorily arranged, I stepped into the chair, and, desiring my two servants to follow me, proceeded along the narrow streets at a rapid pace. After travelling in this way for about a mile, and expecting every moment to get out into the open country, I was greatly surprised by finding that I was getting more and more into a dense town. For the first time I began to suspect that my servants were deceiving me, and that I was to pass through the city of Hang-chow after all. These suspicions were soon confirmed by the appearance of the walls and ramparts of the city. It was now too late to object to this procedure, and I thought the best way to act was to let matters take their course and remain passive in the business.
We passed through the gates into the city. It seemed an ancient place: the walls and ramparts were high and in excellent repair, and the gates were guarded as usual by a number of soldiers. Its main street, through which I passed, is narrow when compared with streets in European towns; but it is well paved, and reminded me of the main street of Ning-po. Hang-chow, however, is a place of much greater importance than Ning-po, both in a political and mercantile point of view. It is the chief town of the Chekiang province, and is the residence of many of the principal mandarins and officers of government, as well as of many of the great merchants. It has been remarked not unfrequently, when comparing the towns of Shanghae and Ning-po, that the former is a trading place, and the latter a place of great wealth. Hang-chow-foo has both these advantages combined. Besides, it is a fashionable place, and is to the province of Chekiang what Soo-chow-foo is to Kiang-nan. Du Halde quotes an old proverb which significantly says that "Paradise is above, but below are Soo-chow and Hang-chow."
The walls of this terrestrial paradise are said to be forty le in circumference, that is, about eight English miles. Although there are a great many gardens and open spaces inside, yet the extent of the city is very great, and in many parts the population is most dense. The suburbs also are very extensive, and must contain a very large population. Sir George Staunton supposed that the population of the city and suburbs was equal to that of Peking, and Du Halde estimates it at a million of souls.
The houses bear a striking resemblance to those of Ning-po, Soo-chow, and other northern towns. Were I set down blindfolded in the main street of one of these Chinese towns, even in one which I knew well, and the bandage removed from my eyes, I should have great difficulty in saying where I was. There are doubtless distinctions with which the "barbarian" eye is unacquainted, but which would be plain enough to a Chinese.
I observed in many parts of the city triumphal arches, monuments to great men, and gorgeous-looking Buddhist temples; but although these buildings have a certain degree of interest about them, and many of them are certainly curious, yet as works of art they are not to be compared with the buildings of the same class which one meets with at home.
The shops in the main streets have their fronts entirely removed by day, so that the passenger may have an opportunity of seeing and of forming a good idea of the wares which are for sale. I observed many shops where gold and silver ornaments and valuable Jade stone were exposed for sale. Old curiosity shops were numerous, and contained articles of great value amongst the Chinese, such as ancient porcelain jars, bronzes, carved bamboo, jars cut out of the beautiful Jade stone, and a variety of other things of like description. I observed some large silk-shops as I passed along, and, judging from the number of people in the town who wear silk dresses, they must have a thriving trade. Everything, indeed, which met the eye, stamped Hang-chow-foo as a place of wealth and luxury. As usual in all the Chinese towns which I have visited, there were a vast number of tea and eating houses for the middle classes and the poor. They did not seem to lack customers, for they were all crowded with hundreds of natives, who, for a few cash or "tseen," can obtain a healthy and substantial meal.
Besides the officers of Government, merchants, shopkeepers, and common labourers connected with any of these professions, the city contains a large manufacturing population. Silk is the staple article of manufacture. Du Halde estimates the numbers engaged in this operation at sixty thousand. I observed a great number employed in the reeling process, and others were busily engaged with the beautiful embroidery for which this part of China is so famous.
The people of Hang-chow dress gaily, and are remarkable amongst the Chinese for their dandyism. All except the lowest labourers and coolies strutted about in dresses composed of silk, satin, and crape. My Chinese servants were one day contrasting the natives of Hang-chow in this respect with those of the more inland parts from which they came. They said there were many rich men in their country, but they all dressed plainly and modestly, while the natives of Hang-chow, both rich and poor, were never contented unless gaily dressed in silks and satins. "Indeed," said they, "one can never tell a rich man in Hang-chow, for it is just possible that all he possesses in the world is on his back."
When we were about half way through the city the chairmen set me down, and informed me that they went no farther. I got out and looked round for my servants, from whom I expected an explanation, for I had understood that the chairmen had been paid to take me the whole way through. My servants, however, were nowhere to be seen — they had either gone some other road, or, what was more probable, had intentionally kept out of the way in case of any disturbance. I was now in a dilemma, and did not clearly see my way out of it. Much to my surprise and pleasure, however, another chair was brought me, and I was informed that I was to proceed in it. I now understood how the business had been managed. The innkeeper had intrusted the first bearers with a sum of money sufficient to hire another chair for the second stage of the journey. Part of this sum, however, had been spent by them in tea and tobacco as we came along, and the second bearers could not be induced to take me on for the sum which was left. A brawl now ensued between the two sets of chairmen, which was noisy enough; but as such things are quite common in China, it seemed, fortunately for me, to attract but little notice. The situation in which I was now placed was rather critical, and far from an enviable one. Had it been known that a foreigner was in the very heart of the city of Hang-chow-foo, a mob would have soon collected, and the consequences might have been serious.
"Take things coolly and never lose your temper" should be the motto of every one who attempts to travel in China. This is always the best plan, for, if you allow things to take their course, ten to one you will get out of a dilemma like that in which I was now placed; but if you attempt to interfere, you will probably make matters worse. These were the principles on which I generally acted; but in the present instance I was not allowed to carry them out to their fullest extent.
I had taken my seat in the second chair, and was patiently waiting until such time as the first men could give the second satisfactory reasons for spending part of their cash in tea and tobacco. The first notice, however, which I received of the unsuccessful result of this attempt, was an intimation that I was to be ejected from the chair. I knew this would not do, as from my imperfect knowledge of the language I might have some difficulty in finding another conveyance, and I did not know one foot of the way which I was going. I was therefore obliged to inquire into the dispute, and put an end to it by promising to pay the difference when we arrived at the end of our stage. This was evidently what the first rascals had been calculating upon; but it had the effect of stopping all further disputes, and my bearers shouldered their burthen and jogged onwards.
The distance from the basin of the Grand Canal to the river on the opposite side is 28 or 30 le, between five and six miles. After leaving the city behind us, we passed through a pretty undulating country for about two miles, and then entered the town of Kan-du, which is built along the banks of the river Tcien-tang-kiang, sometimes called the Green River, which here falls into the Bay of Hang-chow. Kan-du is the seaport of Hang-chow.
I had seen nothing of my servants during the whole way, and was beginning to expect a scene or adventure at the end of this part of the journey. The chair-bearers spoke a peculiar dialect, which I could scarcely make out, and I kept wondering as we went along what would happen next. The only thing I could make out was, that they were taking me to a Hong-le, but what a Hong-le was, was beyond my comprehension.
To carry out my own principles and trust to circumstances seemed to be the only way of proceeding, and I gave myself very little uneasiness about the result. At length I heard the men say that here was the Hong-le, and, as I was about to look and see what this might be, the chair was set down, and it was intimated to me that we had reached the end of the journey. Greatly to my surprise and pleasure I now found that this Hong-le was a quiet and comfortable Chinese inn, which was frequented by passengers from all parts of the country. Getting out of my chair, I walked quietly up to the farther end of the large hall, and began to look amongst a number of packages which were heaped up there for my own luggage. I had seen nothing of either that or my servants since I left the former inn. It had arrived, however, quite safely, having been sent on by a coolie before me, and in a few minutes my two men also made their appearance.
We now informed the innkeeper that we wanted to go up the river to Hwuy-chow, and made inquiries regarding a boat. We soon found that it was part of his trade to give "chops," or to "secure" boatmen. Everything is done upon this plan in China. When a servant is engaged, or a boat hired, it is always necessary for the said servant or boatman to produce some respectable householder, who for a certain sum becomes bound for him in a written "chop" or agreement. This "chop" is handed over to the master of the servant, or to the hirer of the boat, who retains it until his contract is satisfactorily fulfilled. This system is practised universally amongst the Chinese, who seem to have no faith in the lower orders of the people.
I quickly despatched Wang to look after a boat, and desired him to bring the boatman with him to the inn, to have his agreement drawn up and signed. The other man ran out along with him, and I was again left in a strange place amongst strangers.
The inn in which I was located was a large old building, pleasantly situated on the banks of the Green River. All the lower part formed a sort of shed or warehouse, which was filled with goods of various kinds and the luggage of passengers. At the upper end of this apartment a table was placed in the middle of the floor, and served for the host and his guests to dine upon. Around this table were sitting five or six respectable-looking Chinese merchants smoking from long bamboo pipes, and discussing the news of the day and the state of trade. These men politely made way for me at the table. I took the seat offered, and to be neighbour-like commenced smoking as fast as any of them. In other parts of the warehouse the servants of these men, and other travelling servants, were lolling about, or sound asleep upon the chairs or goods. No one seemed to take any particular notice of me, and I soon sat perfectly at my ease.
A little incident happened which gave me some uneasiness at the time, but at which I have often had a good laugh since. Preparations began to be made for dinner, and the travellers who were seated around the table arose and wandered about the other parts of the house. It was mid-day, and, as I had eaten no breakfast; I felt rather hungry. In these circumstances it may be thought that the appearance of dinner would have afforded me some pleasure. This, however, was not the case, and for the following reason: I had not eaten with chop-sticks for three years, and I had no confidence in my talents in the use of them. This important circumstance had not struck me before, otherwise I would have practised all the way from Shanghae to Hang-chow, and might have been proficient by this time. As it was I was quite certain that I should draw the eyes of the Chinamen upon me, for nothing would astonish them so much as a person using the chop-sticks in an awkward manner. I was therefore obliged, reluctantly I confess, to abandon all ideas of a dinner on that day.
Meanwhile the dishes were placed upon the table, and the guests were called by their names and requested to sit down. "Sing Wa, Sing Wa" (the name I bore amongst the Chinese), "come and sit down to dinner." I felt much inclined to break my resolution and sit down, but prudence came to my aid, and I replied, "No, I thank you, I shall dine by and by, when my servants come back." I believe it is common enough for travellers to dine at different hours and in different ways, according to circumstances, so that my refusal did not seem to attract much notice.
A short time afterwards my servants returned, bringing a boatman with them to have a chop made out, and to have him "secured" by the innkeeper. As soon as this was done to our satisfaction we left the inn and walked down to the boat, which lay alongside of one of the wharfs at the river side. Several other passengers had also arrived, and we were all to sleep on board, as the boat was to start at daybreak on the following morning. To me this had been an exciting and adventurous day, and I was not sorry when the darkness closed around us and we all retired to rest.
The river Tcien-tang-kiang, on which I was now, has its sources far away amongst the mountains to the westward. One of its branches rises amongst the green-tea hills of Hwuy-chow, another near to the town of Changshan, on the borders of Kiang-see, and a third on the northern side of the Bohea mountains. These streams unite in their course to the eastward, and, passing Hang-chow, fall into the bay which bears the same name. All the green and black tea comes down this river on its way to Shanghae, and at Hang-chow is transhipped from the river-boats into those which ply upon the Grand Canal. The importance of Hang-chow-foo, in a mercantile point of view, is therefore very great. All goods from the south and westward must of necessity pass through this town on their way to the large and populous districts about Soo-chow, Sung-kiang, and Shanghae. In the same manner all foreign imports, and the products of the low countries, such as silk and cotton, in going to the southward and westward, must also pass through Hang-chow. It therefore appears to be like a great gate on a public highway, through which nothing can pass or repass without the consent and cognizance of the authorities.
The power which this place gives the Chinese authorities over our imports and exports through Shanghae is very great, and hence complaints of stoppages and illegal charges, or "squeezes," have been not unfrequent. The day cannot be very far distant when we shall be allowed to trade and travel in China as in other countries — when all those foolish regulations regarding boundary-lines will be swept away; but, in the event of these changes being gradual, it may be a question whether our Government should not endeavour to open the town of Hang-chow-foo, or at all events have a consular agent there for the encouragement and protection of our trade.
1 Since this was written I have been informed that the Rev. Mr. Medhurst passed through some part of this district.
2 A le has generally been set down as the third part of an English mile, but if we suppose a fourth, or even a fifth, we shall be nearer the truth.