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Leave Shanghae for Peking — Port of Chefoo — Agricultural and natural products — The Pei-ho river — Arrival at Tien-tsin — Salt-mounds — Suburbs — Mean buildings — Active trade — Noisy coolies — Shops — Large warehouses — Hawkers — Gambling propensities of the people — The city — Ruinous ramparts — Filthy streets — Surrounding country — Salt plain — Gardens and nurseries — Winter houses for plants Fruit-trees cultivated in pots — Fruit ice-houses — Vineyards — San-ko-lin-tsin's Folly — Winter in Tien-tsin.
ON the 11th of August I sailed from Shanghae for Chefoo, in Her Majesty's despatch boat 'Attalante,' and reached that port on the 16th. Chefoo, or rather Yentae, for that is the name of the place, is one of the ports which have been opened to trade under Lord Elgin's treaty. It is in the province of Shantung, on the south side of the Gulf of Pechele. The town is a poor straggling place, and does not seem to be of much value as a place of trade. The harbour, however, is good, and is much frequented by junks engaged in the coasting trade. When I went on shore I was kindly received by H. B. M. Consul, M. C. Morrison, Esq., an old and valued friend whom I had known from my first visit to China in 1844.
It may be remembered that Chefoo or Yentae had been occupied by the French troops during the late war, and at the time of my visit there were two French ships of war in the harbour, and the town was still partially occupied by the French. It is certainly a healthy station, and has a fine beach for sea-bathing, but those who think it important as a place for foreign trade will, I fear, be disappointed. It may, however, be of some value as a mail station in the winter season when the approaches to the Pei-ho river are frozen up. Ships can always get to Yentae, and the mails can be brought overland from Peking and Tien-tsin and shipped at Yentae.
The soil of the surrounding country is very fertile in the valleys and low lands, but the hills are extremely barren. The cultivated lands produce large crops of beans (Dolichos), peas, and several kinds of millet, one of which is not met with in the more southern parts of the empire. It grows to the height of from twelve to fifteen feet, and is, I believe, the Sorghum, which has, of late years, been introduced to Europe, and is said to be a good substitute for the sugar-cane. When in a young, growing state its stem is sweet to the taste, but I doubt its containing sugar enough to compete with the sugar-cane of commerce. It may, however, prove useful as food for cattle.
On the hill-sides I observed two trees of an ornamental and useful description, and secured a portion of their seeds, which are now growing in this country. The one is a curious pine, which, when old, becomes flat-headed, somewhat like the cedar of Lebanon; the other is an arbor-vitae, apparently distinct from the Thuja orientalis which grows about Shanghae and other places in the south. The barren hills are said to be covered with wild flowers in the spring of the year, and even in the autumn many pretty things of this kind were in bloom. Platycodon grandiflorus several species of Veronica, Potentilla, Pardanthus, & c., were in bloom at the time of my visit.
As there was little to detain me at Yentae, I determined to go onwards to the mouth of the Pei-ho by the first opportunity. The French commodore on the station was good enough to give me a passage in a steamer named the 'Fee-loong,' which was under charter to convey the mails from Shanghae to Taku once in each month, the other bi-monthly mail being taken by an English vessel. We left our anchorage on the afternoon of the 1st of September, and on the following morning we were nearing the far-famed Taku forts and the mouth of the Pei-ho, the scene of our disasters and subsequent triumphs a short time before. The view on approaching the mouth of this river has often been described by writers on China from Lord Macartney's embassy downwards, and therefore I need say nothing about it here further than it was the most unprepossessing one which it had ever been my lot to look upon. As the 'Fee-loong' was a small vessel and drew little water, we were not obliged to lie outside the bar as ships generally are, but steamed in at once and dropped anchor in the Pei-ho abreast of the forts. The next day I went up to the port of Tien-tsin in a gun-boat which was employed to take up the mails and stores for our troops, which still held possession of that city.
A wonderful change has come over the Pei-ho since the days of Lords Macartney and Amherst, and of Staunton and Davis. Steam has now invaded its quiet waters, and gun-boats and other vessels go puffing and snorting upon it all day long. Instead of thousands of curious natives lining the shores and covering the salt-heaps as in the days of yore, English and French soldiers arid merchants were observed in considerable numbers as we approached the city, and our appearance seemed to be a matter of too common occurrence to be heeded by the natives.
The wonderful collection of salt-heaps noticed by former travellers were still here and at once attracted our attention. During my stay in Tien-tsin I paid a visit to these salt-heaps in order to get some idea of their extent. They are placed on a piece of level land on the left bank of the river, just below the town. Many millions of bags, filled with coarse salt, are here heaped up in the form of hay-stacks. These stacks are about thirty feet in height, twenty in width, and of various lengths. To give an idea of the enormous quantity of salt collected here, I may mention that these stacks cover a space of ground fully a mile in length, and in some places a quarter of a mile in width! The ground on which they are placed is raised a considerable height above high-water mark, and is perfectly level and smooth. The salt-heaps have their ends at right angles with the river, and between each range there is a small open drain for the purpose of carrying off the rain-water and to keep the bottom bags dry. The bags are made of split bamboo, and are consequently very strong, and mats are thrown over the whole to afford the protection of a roof and to carry off the rain. On looking at the enormous quantity of salt roughly stored in this manner, one is apt to imagine that a considerable portion must be wasted, particularly during the wet months of spring and autumn. But the Chinese are too economical in their habits to allow any great amount of waste to take place, and therefore I suppose the rough covering must be more efficient than it would appear at first sight. That a portion of the salt gets melted was apparent enough; the little drains between the heaps were full of it, either in the form of salt-water or of salt itself.
The view from the top of one of these salt-heaps was curious and novel. The whole place had a wintry aspect, the ground was whitened as if with hoar-frost, and as I walked over it a crisp crushing noise was heard as if one was walking on frosted snow. On these grounds not a blade of grass or green thing was visible, and, had it not been for the view of green trees and fields in the distance, and the warm autumnal air which was blowing, I might easily have fancied myself in the midst of dreary winter.
A dense suburb lines both banks of the Pei-ho. This suburb is fully five miles in length, and in a mercantile point of view forms the most important part of Tien-tsin. The portion on the right bank of the river contains all the best shops and the principal mercantile establishments. About half-way up the suburb a river falls into the Pei-ho, which is said to be the upper end of the Grand Canal, which was formerly navigable for boats all the way from Tien-tsin to Hangchow-foo in the province of Chekiang. This is here crossed by a bridge of boats, made to open and shut in order to allow boats to pass up and down, as well as foot passengers to cross to either side. There are two or three bridges of the same kind on the Pei-ho near Tien-tsin.
The stranger on visiting Tien-tsin is struck with the apparent meanness of its buildings, and certainly, if fine buildings are necessary to give it importance, it has no claim to our attention. Poor-looking houses, with mud walls, oftentimes in a ruinous condition, are continually seen. But on a nearer and closer inspection of the place, one finds large warehouses stored with goods from all parts of the world, and numerous indications of mercantile wealth which are not visible at first sight. Coolies, loaded with merchandise, crowd the narrow streets, and everything presents the appearance of a busy and thriving place such as is seen only in extensive emporiums of trade. The river and Grand Canal are lined with junks, cargo-boats, and small craft of every description, all engaged in active business. In short, many indications stamp Tien-tsin as an important commercial station well worth the attention of the merchants of foreign countries.
The main street of the suburbs which extends along the banks of the Pei-ho and Grand Canal is a most curious and bustling place. Here are all the best shops. All day long men are going along this thoroughfare with huge wheelbarrows loaded with all kinds of produce and merchandise. The noise these fellows make is absolutely appalling; they actually bawl at the passengers to get out of their way, and every one makes way for them. The loads which these men wheel along are generally very heavy, and the slightest obstruction or contact is a very serious matter. This is understood and universally acknowledged by the people, and every one gets out of the way of the wheelbarrows. Old curiosity shops for the sale of ornaments in jade-stone, rock crystal, porcelain, bronzes, &c., are numerous and well stocked. Clay figures, representing the people of the country, and illustrating all ranks, from the highest mandarin down to the public executioner, are here met with, and are remarkably well modelled. In the autumn and winter skins and furs are plentiful; and as there is a great demand for these owing to the intense cold of the latter season, there are large shops for their sale. The old-clothes shops and their inhabitants are perhaps the most curious of all that dwell in this busy thoroughfare. All day long the shopmen are engaged in turning over piles of secondhand clothing and holding a kind of auction upon it piece by piece. Surrounded by groups of persons, some of whom are there out of curiosity, while others are waiting for bargains, the vendors call out, or rather sing out, the prices of the various articles as they lift them up and pass them from one heap to another. Every now and then an article is purchased by one in the group, but by far the greatest number are allowed to pass unsold. As the shops of the different dealers are alongside of each other, sometimes a little rivalry will spring up between the salesmen, who then raise their voices to the highest pitch, and appear to the stranger to be actually shouting at each other!
In a street beyond the north gate of the city, and leading in the direction of the western suburbs, there are some large respectable-looking hongs or warehouses, and here would appear to be the headquarters of the great native merchants. This street is crowded with native produce, such as dyes of various kinds, drugs used in medicine, seaweed, rattans, and large quantities of hemp or rather jute, which is largely grown in the surrounding country.
Shops for the sale of provisions of all kinds were plentiful and well-stocked. One dubbed "Fortnum and Mason" was famous for all sorts of preserves, dried fruits, cakes, and buns. Doctors' shops were numerous, and one famous physician had a stand in the street ornamented with a drawing representing the common diseases of the country which he professed to cure. Street hawkers were numerous, bawling out the names and prices of their wares in tones which could scarcely be called musical. Sellers of fruit — pears, apples, dates1 (so called), chesnuts, walnuts — and of cooked locusts, &c., were met at every step of the way. The natives, old and young, are most inveterate gamblers, and gamble for almost everything which they wish to procure from the hawkers. The hawker is invariably provided with a hollow bamboo tube in which are placed a number of little sticks marked at the lower end after the manner of dice. He rattles them in the tube, and the customer, having first put down his stake, draws out three and carefully examines the marks on their lower ends. If he is lucky he may get three or four times the value of his stake, and he takes his choice of the good things which are lotted and priced on the vendor's table. Of course in China, as in other countries, the table has the chance in its favour, and so the hawker gets a living; but the propensity to gamble is strong in the minds of the Chinese, and they would rather lose their money than forego the excitement which attends the risking it.
The walled city of Tien-tsin is a very poor-looking place. It has four gates, east, west, north, and south, and is about a mile and a quarter in length from east to west, and less than half a mile wide from north to south. Its walls and ramparts are generally in a most ruinous condition. The streets are usually paved, or rather they have been originally paved, with large stone slabs, but these too are now in bad condition. The pavement is broken up in many places, and large holes are seen everywhere, which, in wet weather, get filled with water. The shops are poor, and apparently contain only the simple necessaries of life. As in other Chinese cities, the high authorities live and have their public offices within the walls of the city, but the wealth, activity, and life of Tien-tsin are all in its suburbs.
Chinese towns, as a rule, are not remarkable for cleanliness; on the contrary, they are generally famous for filth and foul smells. But in all my travels in the Chinese empire, or elsewhere, I never came upon a place so disgustingly dirty as Tien-tsin. The pavement of many of the streets is thickly covered with mud which seems to have been accumulating for ages. This is well enough in dry weather, but when it rains it is almost impossible to walk along the streets without getting over the shoes in mud, and perchance tumbling headlong into one of the holes already mentioned.
Manure is apparently not appreciated here as it is in the south, and the habits of the people are filthy in the extreme. On the tops of the ramparts, on waste ground, and even in some of the streets, the stench is almost intolerable.
It is difficult to account for this state of things. Here we see a large and flourishing trade, great wealth, good shops, and an active commercial people, and yet their city is everywhere in a most ruinous condition, and their streets are frequently almost impassable. It is true that this place had been taken by the Allied troops a short time before, and it was then in the hands of the English and French soldiers; but there were abundant proofs that this state of dilapidation and filth had existed long before the place had been occupied by our troops. The cause of this state of things may possibly be traced to the corruption of the Government and its officers, who may have been in the habit of embezzling the sums annually raised from the people, or possibly of using the money for other purposes.
The country around Tien-tsin is one vast plain nearly as flat as a table, and at one period was probably covered by the ocean. Vast tracts of land are even now perfectly barren, and salt, which is shining amongst the soil, gives the ground an appearance as if covered with hoarfrost. On the south side of the city there is not a vestige of cultivation, and the plain here formed an excellent parade-ground for our troops. It also served another purpose. A cemetery stands in its centre, which already contains a goodly number of our brave soldiers, who found the climate a much more formidable enemy than the Chinese. Beyond these barren lines the country gradually becomes more fertile, and yields fair crops of the gigantic millet — the Kow-leang of the Chinese — which I had already seen at Chefoo. It is curious to notice barren spots in the midst of the more fertile ones, and to observe the white salt covering the soil, telling too surely that the land is "sowed with salt."
In this plain trees are few and far between. Willows occur here and there, with Sophora japonica, Diospyros Kaki, stunted examples of Rhamnus zizyphus, and a few others, generally about gardens, which I may notice afterwards. In winter, when these few trees have lost their leaves, and when the tall millet has been gathered, this plain must have a very dreary appearance indeed. The wild plants met with in the barren parts of the plain were such as Salsola, Statice, Tamarix, Asclepias, Chenopodium, Malva, &c., plants which flourish in a salt soil.
As soon as our troops had compelled the Chinese Government to act up to the letter and spirit of its treaty with Lord Elgin, almost all the great foreign mercantile houses in China sent representatives, and opened branch establishments at Tien-tsin. I found an old friend, Mr. Hanssen, representing Messrs. Dent and Co., who kindly offered me quarters in his house during my stay in the place. As my principal object in visiting this part of China was to obtain new plants for introduction to Europe, I lost no time in making the usual inquiries regarding the nursery gardens. Mr. Wild, a neighbour of Mr. Hanssen, who had resided for some time in Tien-tsin, was good enough to tell me of an extensive nursery on the banks of the Grand Canal in the western suburbs, and offered to accompany me to it. I gladly availed myself of his offer, and we set out one afternoon to examine it. As I was now several degrees further north than I had ever been before in China, and as the climate was very different from that of the districts I had formerly explored, I was in great hopes of finding many trees and shrubs entirely new, and looked forward to my visit to this garden with much interest. On reaching it I observed large quantities of plants cultivated in pots, but, curious enough, they were nearly all southern species, such as I had formerly met with in the gardens of Canton and Foo-chow. The Mole-hwa (Jasminum sambac) seemed to be the greatest favourite; hundreds of this plant were arranged in rows, and raised a little from the ground by being placed on empty flower-pots. Olea fragrans, pomegranates, oranges, limes, and such well-known things, were numerous and well cultivated. The only representatives of a cold climate, such as that from Shangae northward, were Jasminum nudiflorum, Weigela rosea, honeysuckles, and some roses.
The proprietor received us very politely, and seemed somewhat surprised when he heard me call his plants by their native names. I told him I was rather disappointed at not finding more of the indigenous plants of the district in his possession; but he was evidently enthusiastically fond of his southern beauties, and could not understand my wish to see those which he did not think worthy of his patronage. Before leaving this garden I made inquiries about other nurseries near the town, and was informed that there were several a little further to the westward, at a place called Chea-yuen.
During my stay at Che-foo I was fortunate in making the acquaintance of Brigadier-General Staveley, commander of the army at Tien-tsin, and Dr. Gordon, C.B., Inspector-General of Hospitals, and was a fellow-passenger of these gentlemen from Che-foo to Tien-tsin. They were both well acquainted with this town and the surrounding country, and I was greatly indebted to them for much courtesy and information. Dr. Gordon was an ardent lover of botanical pursuits, and was well acquainted with all the gardens, public and private, and other objects of interest, in the vicinity of Tien-tsin. My first excursion with him was to the gardens of Chea-yuen, which had been already recommended to me by the Chinese nurseryman.
These gardens are situated on the banks of the Grand Canal, some two or three miles west from the city, and beyond the extensive suburb which extends for miles up the side of the Pei-ho river and Grand Canal. We found fields in their neighbourhood planted with China asters and herbaceous peonies, whose flowers were in much request amongst the ladies of Tien-tan. The nursery gardens (properly so called) were more than a dozen in number, and were well stocked with plants, some of which were cultivated in pots and others planted out in the ground. As in the garden already noticed, by far the greater number of these plants had been obtained from the southern provinces, and are tender in this latitude.
In order to save these plants during the rigour of a Tien-tsin winter there are, in every garden, a number of winter-houses, in which the plants are stowed away. These houses have thick mud walls on the north, east, and west sides; they have also mud roofs, and in front, facing the south, there is a framework of wood. This framework is pasted over with paper, which admits light enough to keep the plants alive; and there is a thick mat and straw covering, which can be used when the cold is unusually severe. Sometimes the floors of such houses are furnished with hot-air chambers and furnaces, by which means artificial heat, in a rude way, can be applied. Owing to the severity of the winter, almost every plant in cultivation is protected, in some way or other, at that season of the year. Even common junipers, which are perfectly hardy in England, have to be protected during the Tien-tsin winters. Out of doors I noticed large holes in the ground in various places, and was told that these were used for the protection of plants, which, after being put in, were thatched over or covered up with straw.
The few plants which did not require protection were of deciduous kinds, which shed their leaves in the autumn, and are leafless all winter. Amongst them were the Jasminum and Weigela already mentioned, and the now well-known Prunus triloba. There was also what appeared to be a new species of Forsythia, with thick, dark, shining leaves. Although I had previously found most of these plants in Chusan, Shanghae, Soo-chow, and in the countries adjoining these places, it is not improbable they may be natives of a more northern latitude, and this would account for the hardiness of their constitutions, which enables them to withstand the cold of our English winters. It is a fact worth noting, however, that, as a general rule, all deciduous plants from the places just mentioned are perfectly hardy in Europe and America. What, for example, can be more hardy with us than the beautiful Glycine sinensis when trained over our houses or walls, or the pretty Jasminum nudiflorum, which becomes covered with yellow flowers in mid-winter, and oftentimes shows itself peeping out from under a mantle of snow?
Chrysanthemums are largely cultivated in most of these gardens. Some of them are trained as "standards," and somewhat resemble in form our dwarf standard rose-trees. In order that they may assume this appearance, they are grafted on the stout stems of a species of Artemesia or wormwood. They grow with great vigour on this stock, and appear rather curious objects to those who have seen them only on their own stems. The Chinese are extremely fond of grafting plants, and of having several species or varieties growing on one tree. In one of these gardens I observed two species of Thuja and one Juniper, all growing together on one stem.
Apples, pears, and Siberian crabs are cultivated in pots in these gardens, and, apparently, with great success, for the little trees were all loaded with fruit. The Chinese have, probably, been doing this for ages past, just as they have been growing roses in pots, dwarf and covered with bloom, while we have only found out very recently that such things could be done. The Tien-tsin apples are very beautiful to look upon — the skin is thin and transparent, and the colour a delicate pink red, but the taste is sweet, without flavour, and almost insipid.
Grapes also are plentiful, and may be had in perfection all the year round. There are a number of large ice-houses in the town, where whole cargoes of apples, pears, and grapes are packed away in round tubs, and taken out as they are required. The floors of these fruit ice-houses are considerably below the level of the surrounding ground. When I visited one of them, in company with Dr. Gordon, we were rather puzzled at first in our endeavours to find out the manner in which the ice-water was carried off. On our eyes becoming accustomed to the darkness of the huge building, we groped our way towards one of the corners pointed out to us by the proprietor, and found a deep well which received the drainage from the floor. The tubs of fruit are packed one above another, and the spaces between them are filled in with ice; they are also covered over with the same material. In this way fruit of all kinds can be kept perfectly sound from one year to another.
The vineyards, where the greater part of the grapes brought to Tien-tsin are produced, are situated on the left bank of the Grand Canal, about three miles from the city. Having seen the mode of preserving the grapes, we set out one day to see the vineyards. Crossing the bridge of boats already noticed, we rode through an extensive suburb, and then reached the open country. In this part the land, being comparatively fertile, is all under cultivation. Large fields of cabbages, onions, and garlic were passed, indicating the vicinity of a populous town. Here and there thin patches of millet and oily grain were observed as we went along.
Some distance beyond the suburbs of the town we came to a line of fortifications known as Sango-lin-tsin's wall and ditch, an immense earthwork which encircles the city and suburbs of Tien-tsin. This work was intended by the Chinese commander to defend the place against the attacks of the Allied force, on its march through the country en route to Peking. It occupied two years in construction, and was of no use after all, as every one knows who is conversant with the movements of the French and English troops during the late war. It is now best known to foreigners as "San-go-lin-tsin's Folly."
Passing through an opening in this earthwork, we observed the vineyards we had come to visit a short distance ahead of us, and were soon in the midst of them. Narrow lanes, bounded on each side by fences, intersected the ground, and divided the different vineyards from each other. Inside of the fences the vines were trained on flat wooden trellis-work, about ten feet from the ground, and looked like so many bowers or arbours. At this season (Sept. 9th) the grapes were ripening, and the crop appeared to be a most abundant one. It did not strike me that the natives were good cultivators. The stems of the vines were too crowded and rambling, and, apparently, but little care was expended on their training. Yet the pretty lanes, the green trellises, and the hanging bunches of grapes, had a pleasing appearance, and well rewarded us for the trouble we had taken to visit the place. These vineyards covered a large tract of land in this part of the country, and looked like a little oasis in the wide plain. The vines seemed to be nearly all of one and the same variety, and produced large berries of a greenish colour, getting darker as they ripened, and covered with bloom.2
Near these vineyards, and sometimes amongst them, there were a number of large nursery gardens, where annuals and herbaceous plants were cultivated in enormous quantities. These consisted chiefly of balsams, coxcombs, African marygolds, China asters, tuberoses, and chrysanthemums. Here, as elsewhere, the pomegranate seemed an especial favourite, and it was largely grown. In addition to the trees already mentioned as growing in this part of the country, I observed a poplar in these gardens, which grows to a large size, and is a tree of considerable beauty. Whether it be indigenous or introduced from some other country is at present unknown.
From this description of the gardens, fruit-trees, vineyards, and ice-houses of Tien-tsin, it will be gathered that, with all its crumbling mud walls and filthy streets, there must be many wealthy people in it, to whom the luxuries of life are indispensable. In my experience as regards Chinese towns, I have always observed a curious connection between nursery gardens and a thriving trade which produces wealth. Where the one is found, the other is generally not far off. In proof of this I may instance Canton, Shanghae, and Soo-chow, and I have no doubt, when Tien-tsin is better known, we may add it to the list. The existence of this demand for the luxuries of life augurs well, therefore, for the future of this port as a great emporium for foreign trade.
On the approach of winter a wonderful change comes over these little gardens. Plants, flowerpots, and every green thing disappear as if by the stroke of some magician's wand, and the places which all summer long had been gay with flowers, then look like a desert waste. All the plants have been huddled together in the houses erected for their protection, and there they must remain until the severity of the winter has passed by. The vineyards I have described also disappear from the scene. The stems of the vines are taken down from the trellis-work, and buried in the earth at a depth sufficient to protect them from the frost. Here they remain in safety during the winter, and are disinterred in spring. The Tien-tsin plain, too, at this season is probably one of the most dreary-looking places on which the sun shines. As far as the eye can reach not a green bush or tree is visible in the horizon; all is cold and cheerless; and one is apt to fancy that at last he has reached "the ends of the earth."
1 This is the fruit of a Rhamnus, not a palm.
2 Another variety, with large thick-skinned oval berries, was common in the market of Tien-thiu.