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First view of the Bohea mountains Mountain pass A noble fir-tree Its name and history Flora of the mountains New plants Source of the river Min Entertainment for man and beast A rugged road and another pass A gale amongst the mountains An amusing old China-woman Sugar and tea-spoons A kind landlord The Tein-sin Arrive at the city of Tsong-gan-hien Its situation, size, and trade Tea-farms.
NOTHING occurred during the night to disturb our slumbers, and mine were as sound and peaceful as if I had been in "the old house at home." When morning dawned we had an early breakfast and proceeded on our journey. One of the grandest sights I had ever beheld was now awaiting me. For some time past I had been, as it were, amongst a sea of mountains, but now the far-famed Bohea ranges lay before me in all their grandeur, with their tops piercing through the lower clouds, and showing themselves far above them. They seemed to be broken up into thousands of fragments, some of which had most remarkable and striking outlines. It is difficult to form an estimate of their height, but, comparing them with other mountains known to me, the highest here may be six or eight thousand feet above the level of the sea. There are some spots on the sides of the lower hills under cultivation, but all above these is rugged and wild.
I always like to look on scenery of this kind early in the morning. I do not know whether it is that there is a freshness and beauty about it then which it loses when the day is further advanced, or whether the mind is more susceptible of impressions then than at other times; it may be that both these combine to render morning views most delightful and pleasing to the eye. Had I chosen the time for my first view of the Bohea mountains, I could not have been more fortunate. The morning was clear, the air cool, and the sun was just shining on their eastern sides. As its rays shone on the rugged peaks, they gave a rich and golden tint to some, while those in the shade looked gloomy and frowning. Strange rocks, like gigantic statues of men or various animals, appeared to crown the heights, and made the view most remarkable.
Our road had been of an undulating character all the way from Hokow, and, although we had ascended a great number of hills, yet we generally descended again into valleys on the opposite side, but, on the whole, we were gradually attaining a higher elevation above the level of the sea. We had now, however, arrived at the foot of the central and highest range, and began the ascent towards the mountain pass. The road here is about six feet in width, and paved with granite. It led us round the sides of the mountains, and gradually carried us higher and higher, and at last, when we had rounded one of the upper windings, a view of the pass itself, in the highest range was presented. This pass is much lower than any other part of the range, and consequently has the mountains rising high on each side of it. Just before we arrived at the top the road was so steep that even Chinese travellers get out of their chairs and walk, a proceeding unusual with them on ordinary occasions. From the foot of the range to the pass at which we had now arrived the distance was twenty le, or about five miles.
This pass is a busy thoroughfare. It connects the countries of Fokien with those of Kiang-see, and is the highway, through the mountains, from the black-tea districts to the central and northern provinces of the Chinese empire. Long trains of coolies were met or overtaken at every turning of the road. Those going northward were laden with chests of tea, and those going south carried lead and other products for which there is a demand in the tea country. Travellers in chairs were also numerous, some going to, and others returning from, the towns of Tsong-gan-hien and Tsing-tsun, and the surrounding country. Whether I looked up towards the pass, or down on the winding pathway by which I had come, a strange and busy scene presented itself. However numerous the coolies, or however good the road, I never observed any two of them walking abreast, as people do in other countries; each one followed his neighbour, and in the distance they resembled a colony of ants on the move.
At every quarter of a mile, or sometimes less, there is a tea-shop, for the refreshment of those who are toiling up or down the mountain. We frequently stopped at these places on our way, and refreshed ourselves with a cup of the pure bohea on its native mountains. During the ascent I walked nearly all the way, being anxious to inspect the natural productions of the mountains. My chair-bearers were delighted with this arrangement, the more so as they are not accustomed to anything of the kind from their countrymen.
We arrived at last at the celebrated gates or huge doors which divide the provinces of Fokien and Kiang-see. The pillars of these gates have been formed by nature, and are nothing less than the "everlasting hills" themselves. The arched doorways of the place bore a great resemblance to the gates of a Chinese city. As we passed through the archway I observed a guard of soldiers lounging about, but they did not take any notice of us, or attempt to examine our baggage. We were soon through the pass, and in another province. The province of Kiang-see had been shut out and left behind us, and our view now opened on Fokien. Never in my life had I seen such a view as this, so grand, so sublime. High ranges of mountains were towering on my right and on my left, while before me, as far as the eye could reach, the whole country seemed broken up into mountains and hills of all heights, with peaks of every form.
While gazing with wonder and admiration on the scene, my attention was arrested by a solitary pine-tree of great size, standing about a hundred yards from the gateway. No other trees of any size were near it. Its solitary position near the pass, and its great height and beautiful symmetry, made it appear a most striking object. "What could it be? was it new, or did we already possess it in England?" I must confess that for a few seconds I had eyes for nothing else. Chairs, coolies, and mountains were all forgotten, and I believe, had the guard of Celestials attempted to prevent me from going into Fokien, the only boon I should have asked at their hands would have been to be allowed to go and inspect this noble pine.
The Chinese guard, however, had not the slightest intention of interfering with my movements, and, as the tree was on the roadside, I soon came up to it, and found it to be the Japan cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), a tree which I had already introduced into England, and which, even in a young state, had been greatly admired there. I had never before seen such a noble specimen, and, although I would rather it had been something new, I yet felt proud of having been the means of introducing into Europe a tree of such size, symmetry, and beauty. It was at least one hundred and twenty feet in height, it might be much more, as straight as a larch, and had its lower branches drooping to the ground. It had not been "lopped," like other Chinese trees, and was evidently preserved with great care. My Chinamen looked upon it with great admiration, and informed me it was the only specimen of the kind in this part of the country, and that it had been planted by some former emperor when he crossed the mountains.
The indigenous plants of these mountains are of great interest. The ravines were rich in bamboos, many of which were of great beauty. The Chinese pine (Pinus sinensis) was abundant everywhere, but did not attain a large size. Higher up various species of oak were met with, and a thistle, not unlike the common English thistle, was abundant. Very few trees were to be seen near the top of the highest mountains, which were covered with low-growing shrubs, grasses, and other herbaceous plants.
I met with one or two new plants, which deserve particular notice. One of them was a very beautiful species of Hydrangea; another was a species of Spiræa, with red flowers, not unlike the S. bella in colour, but having a different habit. A fine species of Abelia was also met with on the Fokien side of the mountains, which will probably be a favourite in English gardens. Its flowers are as large as those of the Weigela rosea, of a blueish tinge, and bloom in great profusion for a long time. When I first saw this plant I took it to be the Abelia chinensis of Brown, but I observe that Dr. Lindley, to whom the plant was sent for examination, calls it A. uniflora. It is a curious circumstance that Dr. Abel, after whom the genus was named, discovered his plant on the same mountains, about a hundred miles to the north-west of the spot where the Abelia uniflora was found. He was then on his way with the embassy from Peking to Canton.
I dug up, from time to time, living plants of all these species, and took them on with me. Many a time I thought I should be obliged to leave them behind me, for the Chinamen could not see the propriety of being burdened with what they considered weeds, and of no value; however, by dint of determination and perseverance, by sometimes using promises and sometimes threats, I got them carried several hundred miles in safety, and at last deposited them in the garden of my friend Mr. Beale, at Shanghae. They are now in Europe, and are, perhaps, the first plants which have been brought direct from the Bohea mountains.
The streams which flowed from the sides of the hills now ran to the southward, towards the town of Tsong-gan-hien, and I was doubtless at one of the many sources of the river Min. After travelling about thirty le from the pass, we approached a small town named Ching-hu, where we intended to remain for the night. We were now about seventy le from where we stopped the night before, and, as our road had been a steep and rugged one during the day, were tired enough, and glad of rest.
Ching-hu is a small town on the banks of the stream, which gradually swells as it glides onward until it becomes the noble river we see at Foo-chow-foo. The town is built in a ravine, and high, steep hills rise on each side of it. As we passed down the main street I observed three Canton men taking an evening stroll, and apparently admiring the beauty of the situation. Calling Sing-Hoo, I desired him to take care not to go to the inn where these men were staying, as I was not desirous of having any more encounters with natives who had been in the towns where foreigners reside.
It was nearly dark when we reached our inn, a building with accommodation for man and beast. The latter title refers not to horses, but to pigs, which are great favourites with the Chinese, particularly in Fokien. The arrangements of the inn were exactly like those of the last one, and therefore I need not describe them. Tired with the fatigues of the day, I retired early, and slept more soundly than if I had been on a bed of down.
The next day we had to cross another mountain pass, not so high as the last, but presenting scenery equally beautiful. Being at a lower elevation, the hill-sides were clothed with trees and brushwood, and reminded me of the rich tropical scenery which I had seen near Batavia and Singapore. Here were some beautiful forests of the lance-leaved pine (Cunninghamia lanceolata), the finest I had ever met with in China.
The making of the road over this pass must have been a gigantic undertaking. The sides of the mountain, both above and below the road, were steep and rugged. So dangerous had the Chinese considered this road, even after it was made, that they had fixed in many places a massive stone rail on the lower side to prevent people from falling over. Far below, in a beautiful dell, a little stream was gushing down amongst the rocks and trees, which was fed by many waterfalls from the sides of the mountain. In some places the height was so great that it made me giddy to look down.
When we crossed this pass it was blowing a gale of wind, and I was obliged to have the cover taken off my chair. Had I not done so there would have been some danger of my being blown over the rocks; indeed after the covering was removed the danger seemed so great that I considered it safest to get out and walk. Stopping at one of the tea-houses on our way, which was kept by a very talkative old woman, she contributed not a little to our amusement. "Haiyah," said the chair-bearers, as we entered the house, "what a stormy day; how high the wind is!" "Pooh, pooh!" said the old dame, "this is nothing; you must not call this a high wind; it is plain enough you know nothing about the wind amongst these mountains. Our houses are often unroofed, and sometimes it is not possible for us to stand on the public road without support. You could not have brought that chair over the pass on a really windy day, I can tell you. Ah, you should see one of these gales, and you would not call this a high wind."
Having drunk the tea which she had set before us, Sing-Hoo asked one of our men what ought to be paid in this part of the country. The man replied, "A cash each cup, of course; tea is cheap here." The sum was thrown down upon the tray, and the old woman was called to receive it. When she came she refused to take anything, telling us that "her house was not a tea-shop; that when it was one, which was not likely though, she would then receive our money." This was the first instance of a Chinese refusing money which had come under my observation. The old lady did not lose anything by it, however, for I bought some cakes and other things which were not below her dignity to sell, and we parted the best of friends. We had many a good joke and hearty laugh at her expense as we pursued our journey.
The sky had been overcast during the morning, and, the wind having died away, the rain came down in torrents. We were obliged to take shelter in another tea-house, and remained there for some hours. It continued to rain, however, and we were glad to proceed a little further on to a small village, where there was an inn, in which we took up our quarters for the night. The landlord paid me the most marked attention. When I entered the hall tea was set before me as usual, but in this instance a curiously shaped tea-spoon was in the cup, and the tea was sweetened with sugar. I had never seen the Chinese use either sugar or tea-spoons before, and was rather surprised; and it is still a question with me whether we are not indebted to them for our mode of making tea, as well as for the tea itself: It was only on our first entering that this was done, for when tea was brought afterwards it was always made in the usual way, that is, the leaves were put into a cup and boiling water poured over them.
To the question usually put to Sing-Hoo, of "who his master was," he invariably returned the same answer, "A Loi-ya from a far country beyond the great wall." I much doubt whether he had himself a clearer idea of the position of England than this answer conveyed to his interrogator. In the present case, however, this being in a small village, and our host himself a simple countryman, the information that his guest was a Loi-ya produced a marked effect, and his attentions were redoubled, until they became quite irksome. He made a great many excuses for the poorness of the fare which he set before me. "Had I only sent him notice of the honour I intended doing him by coming to his house, he would have been better prepared," and so on. I praised the house and fare, and tried not to be outdone in politeness by my kind-hearted landlord.
In the course of the evening a little boy, the landlord's son, came to me and asked me whether I should like to smoke opium, as they had some in the house of good quality. I thanked him, but, of course, declined the offer. Upon inquiry I found that opium is kept in all these inns, where it is retailed in small quantities, just as a London innkeeper retails tobacco. It is very disagreeable, and I afterwards found it so, to be in one of these places when you have a number of opium-smokers for fellow-travellers.
Between nine and ten o'clock at night, and just as I was retiring to rest, Sing-Hoo came and informed me that the landlord wished me to partake of a fine supper which he had prepared. I think he called it the Tein-sin. I believe this is not an unusual proceeding on the part of Chinese landlords when they have any one in their houses whom they "delight to honour." Being perfectly ignorant of the existence of such a custom, I desired my servant to beg the landlord to excuse me, as I had had my dinner, and did not feel inclined to eat anything more that night. Sing-Hoo, however, said it was a most unusual proceeding to refuse the Tein-sin, and, thinking it better to conform to the customs of the country, I followed him into the hall. Here I found a table covered with many Chinese dishes. Our host had killed some fowls for the occasion, which bad been cut up into small pieces, and were served up with, or rather in, some excellent soup. Had I been at all hungry I might have made an excellent meal, but in the present circumstances I could not be expected to enjoy it with much relish. The landlord waited upon me himself, and pressed me to eat. He kept constantly pointing to the different dishes, saying "Eat this, eat this," in his most pressing manner. I tasted the different dishes, eating more or less of each as they took my fancy, and at last, considering I had gone quite as far as even Chinese politeness required, I laid down my chopsticks, and expressed my delight at the manner in which the Tein-sin had been served. But he pressed me more and more by putting the different dishes near me and praising their quality. At last he finished his part of the play by removing the viands from the table and setting tea before me. I was now free again, and retired to rest, afraid of night-mare and all the evils of not taking supper sparingly.
Early the next morning our host appeared, and informed me that the Tein-sin was ready. I partook of it in the same manner as I had done the night before, but with much greater relish. To my surprise, however, a few minutes afterwards my breakfast was placed upon the table, as if I had eaten nothing. Sing-Hoo now presented himself, and asked what he was to give the landlord for the treatment we had received, observing at the same time that he would make no charge. Of course I was obliged to give the man a handsome present. Half suspecting that Sing-Hoo or the coolies had been at the bottom of the Tein-sin affair, I desired him to take care and discourage everything of the kind for the future. I knew that I had still a long journey before me and many expenses, and it would not do for me to run short of money by the way.
I was now on the outskirts of the great black-tea country of Fokien. I observed large quantities of tea-plants under cultivation. They were generally to be found on the lower sides of the hills, and also in the gardens of the villagers. About ten o'clock in the forenoon we arrived at Tsong-gan-hien, a large town in the midst of the black-tea country, where nearly all the teas of this district are packed and prepared for exportation. Tsong-gan-hien, according to observations made by the Jesuits many years ago, is situated in latitude 27° 47' 38" north. It stands in the midst of a fertile plain of small extent, surrounded by hills, and is in the district of Kein-ning-foo, a city to which I have already alluded in my journey up the river Min.
The walls of the city are about three miles in circumference. Both these and the ramparts are in many parts ruinous and overgrown with weeds. They seem hoary with age, and were doubtless built in more warlike times than the present. The population may amount to one hundred thousand inhabitants, but I have no means of forming a correct estimate. The suburbs, which I include in this calculation, are very large and populous, and extend a considerable way down the sides of the river.
This city abounds in large tea-hongs, in which the black teas are sorted and packed for the foreign markets. All those coolies whom I had met on my journey across the mountains were loaded here. Tea merchants from all parts of China where teas are consumed or exported come to this place to make their purchases of tea and the necessary arrangements for its transport. Canton men in particular come in great numbers, as they carry on a large trade with foreigners both at Canton and Shanghae. I saw many of them walking about in the streets, but for obvious reasons avoided them as much as possible. They are easily distinguished by their features from the natives of Fokien, as well as from the more northern Chinese.
The plain in which the town of Tsong-gan-hien is situated is not of great extent. Hills are seen apparently surrounding it on all sides, on some of which the tea-shrub is extensively cultivated. Many of these hills have a most barren appearance, although there are here and there very fertile spots on their sloping sides. Tea is also cultivated extensively in the lowlands, but these are invariably well raised above the banks of the river. It will be better, however, to collect into one chapter the remarks I have to make upon the tea cultivation in this important part of the country.
As I arrived at Tsong-gan-hien early in the day, I stopped there only three hours. This was sufficient to enable me to take a survey of the town, and to obtain some refreshment both for myself and my men. At the end of that time I got into my chair and took the road for Woo-e-shan, which was only forty or fifty le further on. As soon as we were clear of the town the road seemed entirely different from that which we had been travelling on before. The fact is we had left the great tea highway, that had ended at the town we just passed. Our road was now more narrow and less frequented. The travellers in chairs, the coolies with tea-chests on their shoulders, and all that motley band which we had seen on our journey across the mountains, had disappeared, and we were now journeying alone.