Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
A celebrated Buddhist temple Scenery around it Its trees and shrubs Buddhist worship Leave the temple Reflections on Buddhism Important station for Christian missionaries Privations they would have to endure Roman Catholics and their labours Christian charity Protestant missionaries Their views as to the interior of China A day-dream of China opened Bamboo paper A mandarin on a journey Town of Ching-hoo Engage a boat for Nechow Return to Shanghae.
THE next day's journey was still mountainous. The roads, although narrow, were excellent, and showed the indefatigable industry of the Chinese. I have already stated that many of these mountain passes have gates, which are constructed not unlike those at the entrance to a city. On the borders of Chekiang, where we now were, I observed three of these gates on the top of one of the mountains, each placed at a short distance from the other. A long row of houses, evidently built as barracks, were observed between the gates, but all ruinous and unoccupied. I suppose that troops are thrown into these places in troubled times only, and that in times of peace they prefer remaining in the towns or villages below, to being perched up at a high elevation amongst the barren mountains.
When we reached the top of this mountain, the Chinamen told us we should pass a celebrated temple on the northern side, which we had now to descend. This temple, they said, was called Shan-te-Maou, and was situated amongst the most beautiful mountain scenery, besides being a famous place for refreshment and rest. It was evidently a place in high repute amongst the Chinese, so we pushed on for it, determining to dine and spend the remaining portion of the day there. We had not gone very far when our road led through some beautiful bamboo woods. These and other large trees told, in language not to be mistaken by the Chinese traveller, that we were within the precincts of the Buddhist temple.
Shan-te-Maou is built upon a steep hill-side. As we approached it, the temples were seen on the right-hand side of the road, and the refectory on the left, while the space between was thatched over to afford protection from the sun and rain. The temples were in three grand divisions, each rising one behind the other up the hill-side. They were crowded with images, many of which were very large. The refectory was also upon a large scale, and was evidently a source of considerable profit to the priests of Buddha, who inhabit this mountain. In its centre there was a large space, roofed over, but open at the sides, and crowded with tables, forms, and chairs for the guests. On each side there were kitchens, bake-houses, and all the appurtenances of a large inn.
As the place was so beautiful, and its productions so interesting to me, I determined to halt for a day or two at this temple, before bidding adieu for ever to the Bohea mountains. The good priests had no objections to this arrangement; on the contrary, they offered me a room in which I could lock up my luggage during the day, and in which I could sleep at night.
The beauty of the scenery around had not been exaggerated by the Chinese. It was grand and imposing. High mountains rose behind the temple, while in front some glimpses were obtained through the trees of a wide and fertile valley. Besides the fine thickets of bamboo, there were in the vicinity of the buildings some noble specimens of different species of fir-trees. Amongst them, and most conspicuous, was the beautiful Cryptomeria, or Japan cedar, to which I have more than once alluded in these pages. It is evidently in high favour with the priests of Buddha, and well deserves to be so. I observed also two specimens of evergreen oak (Quercus sclerophylla, and Q. inversa), with large and glossy leaves, not unlike the Portugal laurel at a distance. Amongst shrubs there were Spiræa callosa, S. Reevesiana, Hydrangeas, Azaleas, wild roses, brambles, &c. Insects, too, were most numerous, many of which were new and hitherto undescribed.
I have remarked that these mountains appear to be the strongholds of Buddhism. I will now endeavour to describe the Buddhist form of worship, which I witnessed in this temple.
Anxious to see the whole of the service, I took my station at one of the passages leading to the large temple a few minutes before the priests assembled. I had not been there long before an old priest walked past me to a huge block of wood, carved in the form of a fish, which was slung from the roof of one of the passages. This he struck several times with a wooden pole, and a loud hollow sound was given out which was heard over all the building. The large bronze bell in the belfry was now tolled three times; and the priests were observed coming from all quarters, each having a yellow robe thrown over his left shoulder. At the same time an old man was going round beating on a piece of square board, to awake the priests who might be asleep, and to call the lazy ones to prayer.
The temple to which the priests were hurrying was a large building, fully 100 feet square, and about 60 feet in height. Its roof was supported by numerous massive wooden pillars. Three large idols the Past, the Present, and the Future each at least 30 feet in height, stood in the middle of the temple. An altar was in front of them, and more than a hundred hassocks were on the floor in front of the altar for the priests to kneel on during the service. Ranged on each side of this spacious hall were numerous idols of a smaller size; said to be the representatives of deified kings and other great men who had been remarkable for piety during their lifetime.
Entering with the priests, I observed a man lighting the candles placed upon the altar and burning incense. The smoke of the incense as it rose in the air filled the place with a heavy yet pleasing perfume. A solemn stillness seemed to pervade the temple. The priests came in one by one, in the most devout manner, scarcely lifting their eyes from the ground, and arranged themselves on the right and left sides of the altar, kneeling on the hassocks, and bending down lowly several times to the idols. Again the large bell tolled, slowly and solemnly at first, then gradually quicker; and then everything was perfectly still.
The priests were now all assembled about eighty in number and the services of the temple began. I took a seat near the door. The priest nearest to the altar now rang a small bell, another struck a drum; and the whole eighty bent down several times upon their knees. One of them then struck a round piece of wood, rather larger than a man's skull, and hollow inside, alternately with a large bronze bell. At this stage of the ceremonies a young priest stepped out from amongst the others, and took his station directly in front of the altar, bowing lowly and repeatedly as he did so. Then the hymn of praise began. One of the priests, apparently the leader, kept time by beating upon the hollow piece of wood, and the whole of the others sang or chanted the service in a most mournful key. At the commencement of the service, the priests who were ranged in front of the altar, half on the right side and half on the left, stood with their faces to the large images. Now, however, they suddenly wheeled round and faced each other. The chanting, which began slowly, increased in quickness as it went on, and when at the quickest part suddenly stopped. All was then silent for a second or two. At last, a single voice was heard to chant a few notes by itself; and then the whole assembly joined, and went on as before.
The young priest who had come out from amongst the others now took his station directly in front of the altar, but near the door of the temple, and bowed lowly several times upon a cushion placed there for that purpose. He then walked up to the altar with slow and solemn steps, took up a vessel which stood on it, and filled it with water. After making some crosses and gyrations with his hand, he sprinkled a little of the water upon the table. When this was done, he poured a little from the vessel into a cup, and retired slowly from the altar towards the door of the temple. Passing outside, he dipped his fingers in the water and sprinkled it on the top of a stone pillar which stood near the door.
While this was going on the other priests were still chanting the service. The time of the music frequently changed: now it was fast and lively, now slow and solemn, but always in a plaintive key. This part of the service being ended, all knelt lowly before the altar, and when they rose from their knees a procession was formed. The priests on the right of the altar filed off to the right, and those on the left to the left, each walking behind the other up the two sides of the spacious hall, and chanting as they went a low and solemn air, time being kept by the tinkling of a small bell. When the two processions met at the farther end of the building, each wheeled round and returned in the same order as it came. The procession lasted for about five minutes, and then the priests took up their stations in front of the altar, and the chanting went on as before. A minute or two after this the whole body fell upon their knees, and sang for a while in this posture. When they rose, those on the left sang a part of the service by themselves, then knelt down. The right side now took up the chant, and, having performed their part, also knelt down. The left side rose again, and so they went on for ten minutes, prostrating themselves alternately before the altar. The remainder of the service was nearly the same as that at the commencement.
This striking ceremony had now lasted for about an hour. During the whole time a thick screen had been hanging down in front of the large door, to keep out the sun's rays. Just before the conclusion of the service the curtain was drawn aside, and a most striking and curious effect was produced. Streams of ruddy light shot across the temple, the candles on the altar appeared to burn dimly, and the huge idols seemed more massive and strange than they had done before. One by one the priests slowly retired as solemnly as they came, and apparently deeply impressed with the services in which they had been engaged. Nearly all the priests adjourned to the refectory, where dinner was served immediately. The Buddhists eat no animal food; but they manage to consume a very large quantity of rice and vegetables. I have been perfectly astonished at the quantity of rice eaten by one of these priests at a meal. And yet, generally, they look poor and emaciated beings, which is probably owing as much to the sedentary lives which they lead as to the nature of their food.
On the morning of the third day, after refreshing myself with a cup of the pure bohea, probably the last which I shall drink on these mountains, from which it gets its name, I bade adieu to the priests and left the temple. Leaving my men to finish a substantial meal of rice, I strolled down the hill by myself. The road had been made in a zigzag manner, owing to the steepness of the hill. Now I was in a dense tropical-looking forest, and now by some turning of the road I obtained a view down into the valley, which was covered with rice-fields of the most luxuriant green.
Looking up behind me, I got a glimpse of the temple peeping out from amidst the rich woods which surrounded it. The sun was shining gaily upon it, and making the tiled roof sparkle as if covered with precious stones. It looked more like an enchanted palace than the dwelling-place of man. And yet it was melancholy to think that, however fair and enchanting to look upon, and however beautiful the scenery around it, a cloud more dark than the thundercloud rested upon it, for it was but "an altar erected to the unknown God."
When China is really opened these mountains may become important stations for the labours of the Christian missionary. It will doubtless be a sacrifice of no ordinary kind for men to immure themselves and their families in such places, far away from any means of communicating with their friends or relations at home. But the Roman Catholic church has led the way, and amidst many dangers and difficulties has given us some noble examples of self-denial and heroism. I know very well that some persons imagine that these men have other objects in view than the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom upon earth. I trust I am a consistent Protestant, but I am not one of these who are uncharitable enough to try to find out other reasons than the true one to account for the conduct of men who have left all that is dear on earth friends, home, and country in many instances for ever, to preach the Gospel to the heathen. A good cause can always afford to give praise where praise is due. I confess it pains me to hear the labours of these men undervalued, for I know well what they have to undergo.
The Protestant church has many champions as bold and undaunted as it had in the days of the Reformation. To these missionaries the way into the heart of the Chinese empire may not be very clear. They may not consider it their duty to press beyond the wide field which exists already at the five ports where foreigners reside. There is no doubt, however, that a few years will see a vast change in China; it may be that another war and all its horrors is inevitable, and whenever that takes place this vast country will be opened up to foreigners of every nation. Then the Christian missionary will be able to extend his labours to those far-distant stations amongst the Bohea hills which I have just been describing. With the blessing of God these temples may yet be the spots from which the Sun of righteousness shall shine. The "glad news of the Gospel" may yet be proclaimed in them, and spread from hill to valley, and from valley to hill, until the whole of this vast country shall hear the glad and joyful tidings.
While seated at the bottom of the hill under the shade of a large camphor-tree waiting for my men, it was pleasant to dream of all these vast changes, and to picture to the mind future scenes amongst these mountains. Absorbed in thought, I could fancy I heard the sound of the sabbath-bell tolling the hour of prayer I could almost see the crowds coming up from the valley dressed in their holiday attire, and could hear them chanting the beautiful Morning Hymn:
my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run."
While these thoughts were passing through my mind, my people arrived, and, getting into my chair, I proceeded across the valley. About a mile below the temple I observed a manufactory for making paper out of the bamboo. Large water-tanks were constructed in the fields for the purpose of steeping the bamboo stems. They appeared to be steeped for a length of time in some solution of lime. They were then taken out and beaten upon stones until they became quite soft, or till all the flinty matter which abounds in their stems was removed.
After passing through this rice-valley we ascended another hill, from the top of which an excellent view was obtained. We were now fairly on the northern side of the Bohea range. The hills appeared to fall back in all directions, and thus a wide expanse of valley was exposed to view. We were now near the source of the river to which we were bound, and in the evening we arrived at a town named Sha-co, which is built on both sides of its banks.
We put up for the night at the principal inn of this town. A young lady, apparently the landlord's daughter, amused us during dinner, and for several hours in the evening, by playing upon a stringed instrument, not unlike a guitar, accompanying it with her voice. It was really pretty music, and I believe I enjoyed it as much as the Chinese themselves did. During the evening the landlord informed us that he expected a mandarin of high rank to stay in his house next night. This personage, he said, was on his way from the court of Peking to Foo-chow-foo, and runners had been sent on before to make preparations for his reception.
The next morning I met the old gentleman and his family at a Buddhist temple on the plain, where they had stopped to refresh themselves. He had several women and children with him, besides several inferior mandarins, and a large number of servants and soldiers. When we met the cavalcade at the temple it completely blocked up the road. We were therefore obliged to wait patiently until they had finished their meal before we could get on. They took the road across the Bohea mountains, over which we had come, and we that to the town of Chinghoo, which we reached early in the afternoon. It is a small bustling town, and a place of considerable importance, being at the head of one of the branches of the river which flows into the bay of Hang-chow. All the traffic carried on between the towns near the sea, such as Hang-chow-foo, Shanghae, &c., and those on the eastern Bohea mountains, as Pouching-hien, must pass through Ching-hoo. All the basket teas manufactured in the Pouching districts are brought here on their way to the fertile and populous countries in the north-east.
As soon as we arrived we went to an inn to dine and make inquiries regarding a boat. In this instance I took care to pay the chair-bearers and coolie myself, not wishing to have another scene like that at Pouching-hien. The men had behaved very well during the journey, so I paid them, in addition to their wages, a small sum for the accident that had happened to the chair; I also gave them the usual gratuity for wine, or sam-shoo, which they always expect on these occasions. They appeared perfectly satisfied, and, after making many low bows, went their way back to Pouching-hien.
Sing-Hoo now went out to engage a boat to take us down the river. While he was absent a barber came into the room where I was, and politely asked me if I wanted my head shaved after coming off such a long journey across the mountains. I need scarcely say I begged to decline any attention of this kind. My servant soon came back, bringing a boatman with him, whom he had engaged to take us down to Nechow, a small town near the mouth of the river.
As I glided smoothly and quickly down the river I looked upon the difficulties and dangers of my journey as at an end. Although between two and three hundred miles to the westward of any of the ports at which foreigners reside, yet the river seemed like an old friend who had met me at Ching-hoo to carry me safely home.
Nothing further happened to damp the pleasure of my journey. On my way down I paid another visit to the pretty town of Nan-che; I also stopped a day at Yen-chow-foo to procure some plants of the weeping cypress for Mr. Beale's garden at Shanghae, and arrived at last at Nechow.
The route which I had now before me has been already fully described. I arrived at Shanghae in due time, having been absent on this long journey nearly three months. Although I had been eating with chopsticks all this time, I had not forgotten the use of knives and forks, and I need scarcely say I heartily enjoyed my first English dinner. The tea-plants procured in Woo-e-shan reached Shanghae in good order, and most of them are now flourishing on the slopes of the Himalayas.