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City of Wae-ping Threatened attack from boatmen A false alarm A border country and a border guard Enter the district of Hwuy-chow The tea-plant and other crops A Chinese play Ferry-boat and ladies Cargo transshipped Two coffins below my bed A mandarin's garden Botany of the hills A new plant (Berberis japonica) My servant's advice Leave the boat The opium-smoker outwitted Town of Tun-che Its importance in connection with the tea-trade Features of country, soil, and productions First view of Sung-lo-shan.
ON the evening of the 31st of October we reached Wae-ping. It is a city of considerable size, walled and fortified, and probably contains 150,000 inhabitants. This place is just on the borders of the district of Hwuy-chow.
The dispute between Wang and the boatman had not been forgotten, and the latter considered this a fitting time to have his revenge. During the last two days he had been hinting to some of the passengers that he intended doing something at Wae-ping. These men duly reported to Wang what had been told them, and he began to be very much frightened. The rest of the Chinamen, with whom he was no favourite, seemed to enjoy his fears, and did everything in their power to exaggerate the dangers to which he had exposed himself. He had had several disputes with them also during the journey, and nearly the whole of them bore him a grudge. Things were in this very unsatisfactory state when we reached the city of Wae-ping.
It was about eight o'clock in the evening, and quite dark, when we moored our boat close under the city walls. The boatmen went on shore, as they did every evening when we happened to stop near a town. One or two of their number, who had been left to take care of the boat, tired with the labours of the day, lay down to sleep, and the greater part of the passengers followed their example. I now observed my two men in close conversation, but as this was a matter of frequent occurrence I paid little attention to the matter. Tired with my day's rambles, I lay down upon my bed, and allowed my thoughts to wander to far distant lands.
My meditations were gradually merging into dreams when I felt a hand touch me, and a voice, which I knew to be Wang's, informed me that I must not go to sleep. When I asked the reason, he informed me that he had just discovered that the boatmen had entered into a conspiracy against us, and that we were all to be drowned that night in the river. "They have now gone into the town to get some of their friends to assist them," said he, "and they are only waiting until they think we are fast asleep."
I scarcely knew what to think of the business. We were now about three hundred miles from either Shanghae or Ning-po, the night was very dark, and if the threatened attempt should be made we had little chance of receiving any assistance from others. But I could not allow myself to believe that in the interior of this country, where the people were generally quiet and harmless, an act of the kind could be committed with impunity. I therefore did not get up as Wang wished, but told him that I should take care to remain awake.
The city of Wae-ping stands on the high banks of the Hwuy-chow river. One of the gates was visible to us owing to a blaze of light thrown over it by the torches and lanterns of the Chinese. An inclined plane, which formed the road, reached from the river up to the gate, and was visible from the boat. As all the Chinese carry lanterns, it was easy for us to see those who came out of the city and descended towards the river. The evening, although dark, was perfectly still, so that the slightest noise could be distinctly heard at a considerable distance. At last the city gate opened, and about a dozen men came out, each carrying a lantern, and descended the hill towards the boat. "Get up, get up! quick, quick!" said my servant, "for here they come." I jumped up immediately, and waited for the threatened attack with all the composure I could command. My two Chinamen appeared in a state of great alarm, and kept as close to me as they possibly could. At last the foremost man in the band approached, and, jumping lightly on board, peeped in at the door of our boat. "Hilloa! what do you want?" cried both of my men at the same time. The fellow gave a grin, said he did not want us, and jumped from our boat to another which lay alongside. His companions also disappeared amongst the surrounding boats, and left us unmolested. "Now, do you see that?" said Wang; "you would not believe me when I told you that they intended to seize and drown us; but had we not been awake and fully prepared, it would soon have been all over with us."
I must confess I felt a little shaken in my opinion, and scarcely knew what to think of the business. The whole scene, to a looker-on who could have foreseen the result, would have been highly amusing, but it appeared to be much too serious for me to enjoy it. None of the other passengers were asleep, although they were all in bed, and they kept up a whispering conversation, which seemed ominous and suspicious. I felt quite certain that no assistance would be rendered us by them; on the contrary, it was not impossible that they would turn against us and assist the boatmen.
About half an hour after the first alarm the city gate was again opened, and some men were observed coming down the hill with lanterns, as the former ones had done. This time it proved to be the missing boatmen, who were supposed to be concocting a conspiracy with their friends inside the city. When they came on board they tried to look astonished at the state in which they found us. They laughed at Wang, and said they had no intention of drowning him. He quietly told them that he did not believe them, and, turning to me, said he was sure they still meditated an attack. The fellows now lay down to sleep, and requested us to put out our lantern and do the same. This, however, my servants would not consent to do, as they firmly believed that the sleep of the boatmen was only feigned.
We were in this state of excitement from eight o'clock in the evening until three next morning. Long before this time the boatmen seemed to be sound asleep. The night was perfectly calm, and the only sound which I heard was the clank of waterwheels, similar to those of the machines I have already described, several of which were moored on the rapids opposite the city. The walls and ramparts of the old town loomed black and prison-like in the darkness, but everything was perfectly quiet, and the whole place seemed sunk in deep sleep. I felt very much inclined to go to sleep myself. This, however, my men remonstrated against, and I was obliged to keep them company for an hour longer. At the end of that time, nothing having happened to keep up the excitement, I felt cold and sleepy so much so, that no persuasion could keep me awake. Telling Wang to call me if anything suspicious occurred, I lay down without undressing, and was soon dreaming of robbers, boatmen, and water-wheels.
When I awoke I found that it was daylight, and that we were under way, and proceeding rapidly up the stream. Fifteen of our men were on shore, tracking the boat; the cook was busily employed making preparation for our morning meal, and everything was going on in the usual way, as if nothing had happened to disturb us. My own men, wearied with watching, had fallen into a sound sleep, and were stretched at full length on the floor of the boat. As the other passengers were also sleeping soundly, I had a little time to think quietly over the events of the preceding night, and, being anxious to see the old town by daylight, I stepped out of the cabin, and took my place on the high stern of the boat, near to the old man who stood at the helm.
The sun was just rising, and its earliest rays were playing upon the old walls and watch-towers of Wae-ping. How different the old place looked in daylight from what it had done in the darkness! Then the imagination assisted in making it appear like a dungeon, dark and gloomy, and inhabited by thieves and robbers. Now it seemed an ancient city, watered by a clear and beautiful river, surrounded by hills and romantic scenery, and defended by time-honoured walls. Such is the difference between night and morning, and such the power of imagination.
When I returned to the cabin I found my servants rubbing their eyes and scarcely awake. "Well," said I, "you see nothing has happened, and we are now under way, and some distance from Wae-ping." "Oh! that is all very well," said one of them, "but had we not been on our guard we should never have lived to see the morning."
As the river was now shallow, and in many parts very rapid, I had daily opportunities of rambling over the country, and of inspecting its productions. Soon after leaving Wae-ping one of my guides informed me that we were now on the border of another province, and that here I had better not go much out of the boat. I found that this advice was good and worth attending to. The river here is considered the highway or passage from the one district to the other, and this pass is well guarded by soldiers. Each province has its own guard-town. On the Che-kiang side we passed a long, straggling town on the river's banks, chiefly inhabited by troops, who were the guards of the pass, and under the orders of the Hang-chow mandarins. As soon as the boundary-line was crossed we came to another place of like size and appearance, also filled with soldiers, who were under the orders of the authorities of Hwuy-chow-foo, in the province of Kiang-nan. These two parties formed a sort of border guard, and bore each other, I believe, little good-will. They reminded me of our own border clans in ancient feudal times. Boats passing up and down the river were generally boarded, and had their papers examined by one of the officers.
The boatman who had the dispute with Wang now threatened to have him punished here, at which he was greatly frightened. The man, however, if he ever intended it, did not put his threat into execution, and we passed the dreaded border in safety.
When we got fairly inside the Hwuy-chow district I was able to ramble about in the country as before. The river became not only shallow, but in many parts so full of rocks and stones that it was next to impossible to pick out a passage for the boat. It still wound through a hilly and mountainous country. The hills, however, became gradually more fertile as we proceeded, and in many parts they were cultivated to their summits. Crops of millet and Indian corn were growing amongst the tea-bushes, which were now observed in large quantities on the sides of the hills. The corn and millet, growing up in the hot months of summer and autumn, seemed to afford a partial shade to the tea, which was probably beneficial to it. Another reason for the practice may be found in the fondness of the Chinese for mixing crops a practice in operation all over the country. I never saw finer crops of millet and Indian corn than those which were growing on these hills. The crops were just ripening (November 2nd), and the Chinese had begun to harvest them.
This part of the country was exceedingly beautiful and full of interest. Many of the less fertile hills were clothed with junipers and pines, whilst on others the patches of ripening corn afforded a striking contrast to the dark-green leaves of the tea-bushes with which they were dotted. I had now the pleasure of seeing many groups of the beautiful "funereal cypress;" it was growing on the sides of the hills, generally near villages or amongst the graves. Everywhere it was beautiful, and produced a striking effect in the appearance of the landscape.
In walking over the country I always, when possible, avoided entering large towns. About this time, however, all the passengers were obliged to get out of the boat, in order to lighten it, and allow it to be drawn up one of the shallow rapids. We all walked on together, and in a short time came to a town of considerable size. It happened that the day we arrived was a holiday, and a scene presented itself such as I had never before witnessed.
The town was on the opposite bank. Two rivers unite here, and the town was built between them just at their junction. One of the rivers was nearly dry, and its bed was now used for the purpose of giving a grand fete. The bank where we were was probably about 150 or 200 feet above the bed of the river, so that we had a capital view of what was going on below us.
The first and most prominent object which caught my eye was a fine seven-storied pagoda, forty or fifty feet high, standing on the dry bed of the river; near to it was a summer-house upon a small scale, gaudily got up, and supposed to be in a beautiful garden. Artificial figures of men and women appeared sitting in the verandahs and balconies, dressed in the richest costumes. Singing birds, such as the favourite wame and canaries, were whistling about the windows. Artificial lakes were formed in the bed of the river, and the favoured Nelumbium appeared floating on the water. Everything denoted that the place belonged to a person of high rank and wealth.
At some little distance a theatre was erected, in front of which stood several thousands of the natives, packed as closely as possible, and evidently highly interested in a play which was going on. Sometimes the piece appeared so pathetic that the immense multitude were perfectly still; at other times something seemed to tickle their fancies, and to afford them the greatest amusement. The actors on the stage were very gaily dressed in rich silks and satins of many colours, and evidently did their best to afford amusement to this immense audience.
Such was the scene presented to us as we approached the town. "Come," said all my fellow passengers, "come and see the play;" and they set off as fast as they could to a bridge a little higher up the river, by which they could reach the town and the place where the festivities were going on. I was quite satisfied with the view I had of the whole scene from the opposite bank, and therefore declined the invitation to go nearer. The old dwarf, whom I have already mentioned, and who had taken every opportunity in his power to show his good will, volunteered to remain with me and my two servants. We sat down on the green grass, and had an excellent view of the whole proceedings. The Chinese never seemed to tire, and would have remained there all day; but as our boat would pass up the other branch of the river, it was necessary for us to get to it. We therefore crossed the bridge, and passed through the centre of the town. No one seemed to have the slightest idea that I was a foreigner; indeed, the poor old dwarf attracted far more attention than any of us. I did not remark anything of interest in this town, except some large tea-hongs and carpenters' shops, where tea-chests were being made.
When we had passed through this place and reached the other branch of the river, we entered a ferry-boat, and crossed over to the other side. Amongst the ferry-boat passengers were two very pretty and handsomely dressed young ladies, with whom I was greatly amused. When they came into the boat they seated themselves quietly by my side, and began chatting to each other in high spirits. I could not help contrasting their conduct with that of any of their countrywomen at the five ports where foreigners are permitted to trade. Respectably dressed females always fly from foreigners as they would do from a wild and ferocious animal. Had these pretty damsels known that a "barbarian" was seated at their side, how astonished and frightened they would have been!
About evening, just before dark, the boat arrived and lay abreast of the town during the night. All the men now applied for leave to go on shore to see the play. Some of them appeared very anxious that I should go with them, but, being quite contented with the adventures of the day, I declined the invitation. It was very late before they all came back; but this did not prevent us from getting under way at the usual time next morning and proceeding on our journey.
After we had gone some distance the head boatman came round and informed the passengers that it would be necessary to engage another boat to take part of his cargo, as the river was too shallow to allow him to get up so deeply laden as he was. Moreover, he coolly proposed that the expenses of the second boat should be defrayed by the passengers, giving as his reason that by this means they would get sooner to their destination. As the sum was not a large one, this was agreed to, and a second boat was engaged.
A circumstance now occurred which astonished me not a little at the time, although it must be a common thing in the country. When the second boat was brought alongside, and the floor of our cabin taken up to get at the cargo, I found that we had some fellow-passengers which I had never calculated upon. Two enormous coffins, each containing the body of a Chinaman, had been lying directly under my bed for the last three weeks without my having the least suspicion of the fact. It was, perhaps, just as well that this was the case, for the knowledge of the circumstance would not have added to my comfort, and might have made me sleep less soundly. These coffins were now removed to the other boat, in which they were taken onwards to their last resting-place. On inquiring, I found that the deceased were natives of Hwuy-chow-foo, and had left their native country some years before to reside at Hang-chow, where they had died. Their friends were now taking their remains back to their own land, to be buried in the graves of their ancestors.
On the following day, while walking on shore with some of the other passengers, we came to a village in which there was a celebrated garden and temple belonging to a family of high rank and influence in the country. The head of the family himself had died a short time before, but the place was still kept up in excellent style. It seemed to be open to the public, and we determined to go and see it.
The place had no pretensions to what in England would be called a fine garden; but it was evidently considered unique by the Chinese in this part of the country. Small square courts were seen here and there, ornamented with rockwork, and planted with the favourite flowers of the district. The fragrant olive, moutan, sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica), and other common shrubs, were met with in great abundance. Some pretty ponds were filled with the favourite water-lily. But the most interesting plant of all was a new evergreen holly, with leaves somewhat like the Portugal laurel, very handsome and ornamental.1
Amongst the buildings there was a pretty small pagoda, which we ascended, and from its top had an excellent view of the surrounding country. The whole place had evidently been laid out for the purpose of giving plays and fetes on an extensive scale. Summer-houses, ornamental towers, balconies, and ancestral temples, were scattered over the grounds. The tout ensemble had an imposing appearance, and was just such as the Chinese most admire. Guides conducted us through the place in the same way as at the show-houses in England, and also expected to be paid for their services. The resemblance went a little further, for we were passed on from one guide to another, and each had to be paid.
On the hill sides in this part of the country I met with many plants which are rare in other parts of China, at least on the hills nearer to the sea. The fragrant Chimonanthus, which is now such a favourite in England (where it blooms in the open air at Christmas), was quite common. But the most interesting of these plants I found in an old garden, and it is likely to be much prized at home. I will here relate the accident by which it was discovered while we were at Tung-che. My coolie and myself were busy collecting tea-seeds on a small hill not far from the town. After collecting all the seeds we could find, I happened to get a glimpse of a very fine specimen of the funereal cypress, with which I was so charmed, that I determined to go to the spot where it was growing and enjoy a nearer view. I desired my attendant to accompany me, in case any ripe seeds might be found upon it. As we approached the village we discovered that the tree was inside a garden, which was surrounded by very high walls. Naturally supposing that there must be a gate somewhere, we walked round the walls until we came to a little cottage, which seemed to have served the purpose of a lodge. We passed in here with all the coolness of Chinamen, and soon found ourselves in a dilapidated old garden. A large house, which had formerly been the mansion, was, like the garden, in a ruinous condition. The funereal cypress which I had seen in the distance stood in the midst of the garden, and was covered with ripe seeds, which increased the collection I had formerly obtained.
Having taken a survey of the place, we were making our way out, when an extraordinary plant, growing in a secluded part of the garden, met my eye. When I got near it I found that it was a very fine evergreen Berberis, belonging to the section of Mahonias, and having of course pinnated leaves. Each leaflet was as large as the leaf of an English holly, spiny, and of a fine dark, shining green colour. The shrub was about eight feet high, much branched, and far surpassed in beauty all the other known species of Mahonia. It had but one fault, and that was, that it was too large to move and bring away. I secured a leaf, however, and marked the spot where it grew, in order to secure some cuttings of it on my return from the interior.
I had been greatly annoyed at the cowardice and fear of Wang. He had still the most serious apprehensions for his safety, as his enemy, the boatman, continued to threaten him. I tried to laugh at him and convince him that the boatman would do him no harm, but it was of no use. At last he came to me, and explained a plan which he had been concocting, and which he proposed putting into execution next day. It was simply this: he and I were to leave the boat ostensibly to walk in the country as usual, but with the intention of not returning to it. I asked him what was to be done with our beds and luggage, and what he proposed doing with the other man. He replied that all must be left behind; that if he attempted to leave the boat openly, measures would be taken to stop him; and that, as the coolie could not be trusted, he must be left also. He did not intend even to pay what was due upon our passage money! Such was the plan which, after days and nights of deep thought, as he told me, he had at last made up his mind to put into execution, and to which he now begged that I would agree.
I thought over the business for some few minutes, and then came to the determination not to adopt his suggestions. I was unwilling to leave behind me the seeds of the tea-shrub and of the other new plants which I had discovered, and I did not think the state of the case so urgent as to force me to the unworthy measure of leaving the other man behind and the boatman unpaid. "This plan of yours will not do," said I; "if you can leave the boat in an open manner, taking your companion along with you and paying all charges, I have no objection either to go on shore or to hire another boat, but I cannot consent to go away in the manner you propose." I was very glad afterwards that I was firm enough to pursue this course.
A day or two after this I was informed in the morning that we were within thirty le of the town of Tun-che, and that we should arrive there in the evening. This was the destination of our boat, and here we should leave it. In the afternoon, about two o'clock, we were only four miles distant from this place, and as the water was very shallow, and we were making but little progress, most of the passengers determined to walk onwards to the town. We all began to pack up our luggage and make preparations for the journey. The opium-smoker, who, with all his civility, was a man I could not trust, was now very anxious to know to what part of the country we were bound. My Chinese servants, who had learned a little wit by experience, took good care to keep all these matters to themselves, their great object being to cut off all connection between their friends in the boat and those with whom we might have to associate afterwards.
Our passage-money was now fully paid up, our luggage packed, and an arrangement made between my two men with regard to the station to which we were bound. When this was all arranged I left the coolie in charge of the luggage, took Wang on shore, and walked onwards to Tun-che, which we reached between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. It is a thriving, busy town, and forms as it were the port of Hwuy-chow-foo, from which it is distant about twenty miles. It is situated in lat. 29° 48' N., and in long. 2° 4' E. of Peking. All the large Hang-chow and Yen-chow boats are moored and loaded here, the river being too shallow to allow of their proceeding higher up, and hence it is a place of great trade. Nearly all the green teas which are sent down the river to Hang-chow-foo, and thence onward to Shanghae, are shipped at this place. The green teas destined for Canton are carried across a range of hills to the westward, where there is a river which flows in the direction of the Poyang lake.
This part of the country is very populous. Nearly the whole way from the place where we had left our boat was covered with houses, forming a kind of suburb to Tun-che. This place itself is supposed to contain about 150,000 inhabitants. The great article of trade is green tea. There are here a number of large dealers who buy this article from the farmers and priests, refine and sort it, form it into chops, and forward it to Shanghae or Canton, where it is sold to the foreign merchant. Seven or eight hundred chops are said to be sent out of this town annually. I observed also a great number of carpenters' shops for the manufacture of chests, a trade which of itself must employ a large number of men. In fact, this town and the surrounding populous district may be said to be supported by the foreign tea-trade.
Nearly all the way from Yen-chow-foo the river was bounded by high hills on each side. Now, however, they seemed, as it were, to fall back, and left an extensive and beautiful valley, through the middle of which the river flowed. Nearly all this low land is under tea cultivation, the soil is rich and fertile, and the bushes consequently grow most luxuriantly. I had never before seen the tea-plant in such a flourishing condition, and this convinced me that soil had much to do with the superiority of the Hwuy-chow green teas.
The very sandy soil near the river yielded good crops of the ground-nut (Arachis hypoga).
After spending about an hour in the town we inquired where we could hire a chair to take us onward about thirty le further, and were directed to an inn or tea-house, where chairs are let on hire. A circumstance happened in this inn which gave me some amusement at the time, and which I have often laughed at since. When we entered this house we found a great number of travellers of all ranks; some were drinking tea, others smoking, and the remainder stretched upon chairs or tables sound asleep. Seeing strangers arrive, some of the more restless were rather inquisitive, and began to put a number of questions to us. My man Wang was a native of this district, and of course understood the dialect perfectly, but he evidently wanted to have as little to say as possible. As for myself, I told them I did not understand what they said. One fellow in particular, who probably was sharp enough to detect something unusual in my appearance, was determined not to be put off in this way, and kept asking me a variety of questions. At length the old innkeeper came up and said with the utmost gravity, "It is of no use your talking to this person, he understands the Kwan-hwa (or Court dialect) only; you do not speak that, and of course he cannot understand you, nor you him." This seemed to be perfectly satisfactory to all parties, and I was left unmolested.
Our chairs being ready, we got into them, and, passing through the town, crossed the river and took the road for Sung-lo and Hieu-ning. We reached our destination a little before dark, and I had the first view of the far-famed Sung-lo-shan, the hill where green tea is said to have been first discovered.
1 Seeds of this were procured here and sent home to England.