Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
The people of Tien-tsin — Visit to a gentleman's house — Reception — Street beggars — Begging musicians — Civil hospital established by the English — Dr. Lamprey's report — Chinese poorhouse — Fat beggars — Climate and temperature — Dust-storms — Remarkable size of natural productions — Large men and horses — Shantung fowls — Gigantic millet, Oily grain, and egg-apples — Jute — Vegetables in cultivation — Imperial granaries — Use Of millet and jute stems — Foreign trade — New settlement for foreign merchants — The future of Tien-tsin as a centre of trade.
The people in Tien-tsin and in the country around it are quiet and inoffensive, and particularly civil and polite to foreigners. Our late intercourse with them has been very different from that of former days, when the dispute was about the performance of the ko-tou to the Emperor, and when we were only represented by an ambassador and his attendants. This time we had visited them with an army; we had driven the "Son of Heaven" himself into Tartary, and had sacked and burned his summer palace. Having received a good flogging, these children had now become very good boys; and if they did not love us, which we could scarcely expect, we were certainly feared and respected. But up to the present time they have not the same confidence in us as their countrymen in the more southern towns, with whom we have been longer associated. The women run into their houses and shut their doors on the approach of a foreigner, and the people generally are averse to our entering their dwellings.
One day I observed, not far from the north gate of the city, some high trees enclosed by a wall, and, as the place looked somewhat like a garden, I felt anxious to enter and examine it. When the inmates saw me approaching, an alarm was instantly given, and the door, which had been standing wide open, was unceremoniously shut in my face. Nothing daunted by this proceeding, I mildly remonstrated with those who stood behind it, telling them they had nothing to fear from me; that I was, like themselves, fond of flowers, and begged permission to examine the garden. After some consultation amongst them, the door was opened, and ten or twelve of the male portion of the establishment presented themselves. I suppose I did not look as if I would do anything wrong, so, after a little parleying, they consented to admit me. A message was sent in to warn the ladies to get out of the way and hide themselves, an order, by the bye, which was not obeyed very strictly, and I was then led into the courts of the mansion. Here I found some pretty rockwork and ponds, with a few flowering shrubs and trees arranged and grouped according to Chinese taste, and all very pretty and enjoyable. Having had much experience of Chinese manners and politeness, I soon got into the good graces of the gentlemen by whom I was accompanied; and, as we discussed the merits of the different plants, the fears which had taken possession of their minds at first entirely disappeared. My knowledge of the Chinese names of the different shrubs and trees, which a long residence in the country had enabled me to acquire, was most useful here, as it had often been in other places. And as we talked of the beauties of the "Mo-le-hwa," the "Cha-hwa," or the "Tu-hwa,"1 I evidently rose many degrees in their estimation, and was looked upon as a being not so very barbarous after all. After drinking sundry cups of tea, and getting the names of other places where plants were cultivated, I expressed my thanks and took my leave.
The beggars of Tien-tsin are rather prominent objects. Here, as in the southern towns, they appear to have a kind of organization, having a chief, or "king of the beggars," who rules over them and directs their proceedings. They are most tyrannical in their conduct towards the more respectable inhabitants of the town, particularly the shopkeepers, whose business obliges them to have their doors always open. These beggars will assemble in companies, take possession of the door, beat the counter with stones, sticks, or whatever they may have in their hands, and howl for alms. It is an amusing sight to see the poor shopkeepers, during an attack of this kind, sitting calm and quiet, and pretending not to see or hear what is going on.
In Tien-tsin, as in other parts of the Chinese empire, the beggars divide themselves into three or four very distinct classes. There is, first, the able-bodied, without any apparent physical deformity, who could work if they liked, but who prefer to gain a livelihood by begging. These have a proverb which says, "The finest rice has not charms equal to a roving liberty."
Many of these appear to be very low in the scale of humanity, very cunning, weak-minded, or almost insane. They are not at all particular in their efforts to gain a living, and, when they have an opportunity, are quite as ready to thieve as to beg. They associate in gangs, and not unfrequently end their days on the scaffold.
The aged, diseased, lame, and blind, form another large class, many of whom are really objects of pity. Some of these are like Lazarus of old, "covered with sores" of the most loathsome kind, in many instances artificial, in others natural, but brought on by their peculiar mode of life. Storytellers, singers of poetry beating time on sticks or bones, and blind musicians playing on a kind of guitar, are all common objects in the streets.
Sturdy Beggars. — From a Photograph
The latter are generally better dressed and have a cleaner appearance than the other classes of mendicants.
The "widow and her fatherless children" is not an uncommon group, and is often met with at the corners of streets "begging for alms." As in other countries nearer home, the parentage of the youthful members of the family is not quite as certain as the mother would have us believe.
The above groups were photographed by Dr. Lamprey, of the 67th Regiment, who had charge of an hospital for the poor of Tien-tsin, established and supported by the British Army of Occupation. All honour to the British army! this was a noble example to set before the natives of a heathen land. The hospital was evidently appreciated by the Chinese, and did a great amount of good. Dr. Lamprey, in a printed report which he was good enough to give me, tells some amusing stories of these Tien-tsin beggars. "A beggar presented himself at the hospital, with his arm in a bent position, and drawn up to his head through the contraction of a cicatrix, caused by a burn he had received when a child. A very simple operation would have sufficed to release the limb, and give him as good use of it as he needed to enable him to work, but he would not submit to it; it was not the pain of the operation he feared, but it was that he should lose so good a sympathy exciter! In short, to be cured of this deformity would have been utter ruin to the man." On expressing some anxiety as to the future of a poor lad who had had his thigh amputated, and asking a Chinese "What was the best thing for him to do to get his living?" he replied, "That the lad could not be a pedler or keep a tradesman's shop, as he could neither read nor write; but, oh! he is all right, he can make a very good beggar-man," alluding to the absence of his leg as a good exciter of charity. Dr. Lamprey adds his testimony to that of others regarding the coolness and patience with which the Chinese submit to severe surgical operations. When it is necessary to amputate an arm or a leg the patient would say, "Good, cut it off; but give me the medicine to smell" — meaning chloroform.
Street Musicians. — From a Photograph
How these beggars can live through a Tien-tsin winter it is difficult to imagine. The authorities have a kind of poorhouse, where five hundred human beings were located during the winter of 1860-61. Each inmate is allowed a small quantity of the commonest kind of grain daily, but he is obliged to provide his own fuel, which he begs, steals, or picks up in some way or other; he is not particular so that he gets it. No doubt the severity of the winter carries off many of these poor wretches to their long homes; indeed, their bodies are frequently seen on the road-sides and in the streets, lying where they died. Dr. Lamprey remarks, however, that their powers of endurance, notwithstanding the low temperature of the climate and of the poorhouse, are rather remarkable. During the coldest days of winter, many were seen in the streets in a state of nudity, excepting a small rag round their loins. Such beggars were noticed to be remarkably fat; and it was supposed by some that this was owing to the quantity of carbonic acid gas inhaled in their close, ill-ventilated sleeping-places. Others rather attributed it to a provision of nature, which corresponded with what was observed in birds and other animals at this time of the year.
The climate of this part of China is very cold in winter and warm in summer. It is subject to those excesses of cold and heat which are experienced on the eastern side of large continents, — a fact noticed long ago by the immortal Humboldt. The following table, for which I am indebted to Dr. Lamprey, gives the maximum and minimum as shown by a registering thermometer during twelve months: —
From this table, February appears to be the coldest month in the year. The thermometer in this month registered one degree and a half below zero, or upwards of 33 degrees of frost. January appears to be nearly as cold, and the lowest, in December, was only three degrees above zero. In places less sheltered, and away from buildings, a thermometer stood four or five degrees lower than it did in Tien-tsin, where the above observations were made. But the cold as indicated by the thermometer does not give an idea of that which is actually felt by those who are exposed to that cutting and piercing wind which sweeps along the dreary level plain.
The rivers and canals are usually frozen over by the end of November, and continue in this state until the middle of March. In 1861 the ice began to move on the 12th of March, and in the short space of three days it had entirely disappeared. This is remarkable, when we remember that it is usually sixteen inches in thickness.
June, July, and August are the hottest months in the year. The highest point (108°) was registered in July. This heat, with the sun's rays streaming through an atmosphere which is generally clear and cloudless, was found to be very trying to the constitutions of our soldiers and the foreign residents who had settled down in Tien-tsin. During the months of April and May hot winds are not unfrequent. In the southern provinces of China the heat of summer is often tempered by the rains which fall copiously at that season, particularly in May and June, and sometimes as late as July. Judging from our experience in 1861, the rainy season does not extend so far north as Tien-tsin. That the difference is most marked will be seen by the following table, in which Macao and Tien-tsin are compared: —
fall of rain In Inches
Average fall of
rain in Inches
in Macao. in Tien-tsin.
It is just possible that the year 1861 may have been one of unusual dryness, and that future observations may record a larger fall of rain during the months just quoted.
Dust-storms of a very remarkable character frequently occur in this part of China. They come on suddenly, and a thick darkness covers the land for many hours together. On the 26th of March in the present year (1862) one of a very extraordinary kind was experienced, which is thus described in the 'North China Herald' by Dr. Lamprey: —
"During the greater portion of the day the wind was blowing from the south in rather strong gusts, almost approaching to a gale. At 3h. 15m. P.M. the wind suddenly shifted to N.N.W. in a strange manner, when all at once the air was filled with dust, and the sun and light became obscured as if a total eclipse had suddenly occurred. The wind blowing a hurricane, the darkness had something appalling in it, it was so sudden and so unusual. It was noticed that the darkness would lighten somewhat, at intervals of a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, as if about to abate, when it would suddenly increase again, along with a slight change of wind to the N.N.E. The wind, endeavouring to become more northerly, would suddenly turn again to this point, and bring along with it an increase of the dust. This state continued till about midnight, when there was a slight calm, which lasted until about eight o'clock the following morning.
"On the occurrence of this dust-storm there was a rapid fall of the thermometer, and during the night a hard frost set in. At the place where I made these observations — about thirty miles N.W. of Tien-tsin — I noticed a poor man of seventy years of age in a very excited state, crying out 'What day is this?' and 'low-le,' the words corresponding to 'Oh, Providence.' He would give me little or no information on the subject; but from others I learned that such heavy storms had occurred before; and on my return to Tien-tsin I ascertained that one happened thirty-six years ago which lasted a fortnight, and that the light during that time was somewhat like the dusk of evening. I also learned that the Chinese designated this storm as a red one — their classification being as follows: white, yellow, red, and black; depending on the amount of light, or, more properly speaking, the amount of dust in the atmosphere at the time. The quantity of dust that covered one's person was astonishing, and the clothes, &c., inside the coat were thickly covered with it. On drawing a feather through the fingers it became strongly electrified.
"When I returned to Tien-tsin I learned that the dust-storm occurred there about the same time we experienced it thirty miles N.W., and that the electric conductor showed an extraordinary quantity of electricity — a large blue flame poured out of the end of the conductor without intermission. There being little or no light, this showed a beautiful appearance, while the sound of it was quite audible at some distance off, and the shock felt on touching the conductor was powerful. The quantity of dust that entered the house was very great. There was a recurrence of the dust-storm on the 27th, but not approaching in strength to the one on the 26th. It was also ascertained that it occurred at Peking, and at Taku, where the fury of the storm was greatest. Several country boats were wrecked in the river Peiho. Repeated observations have enabled me to come to the conclusion that these dust-storms are owing to the electric condition of the atmosphere."
The natural productions of these northern provinces, both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, are, in many instances, remarkable for their great size. In former days the merchants who came down from Shantung to Shanghae astonished the natives of the latter place, and were greater objects of attraction than even the foreign residents. These Shantung merchants were large men, much above the average size of Chinamen, and, as they took an airing in the evenings on the ramparts of Shanghae, they were followed by crowds of admiring natives. Peking horses, which happened to come down at that time, were also much larger than the southern kinds. The well-known Cochin China fowls, some of which are nearly as large as turkeys, are also originally from the province of Shantung.
During the late war the size of the common grain in the fields about Tien-tsin and Peking astonished our soldiers, and the high, thick stubble formed a serious impediment to the marching of our cavalry. This is the millet already noticed, which grows to a height of fifteen feet and upwards. It covers the plains of this part of China, being the staple summer crop, and ripening about the middle of September. Oily grain (Sesamum orientate) is also extensively grown on the plain of Tien-tsin, from the Gulf of Pechele to the mountains beyond Peking, and is fully twice as large and productive as that grown in the south. Amongst plants cultivated for the sake of their fibre, the Jute (Corchorus sp.) is the most important. This, too, grows to a great height.
Amongst green crops I noticed Brinjals, Gourds, Cucumbers, Vegetable Marrows, Yams, various kinds of Cabbages, Onions, Carrots, Turnips, French Beans, Capsicums, Ginger, and common and sweet Potatoes. Amongst these, the Gourds and the Egg-apples, or Brinjals, grew to a very large size, — some of the latter measuring eighteen inches in circumference! The Sunflower was also a giant here, and attained a height of fourteen feet.
The greater part of the rice used in these districts is brought up in junks from the south. Large Imperial granaries have been built in different parts of the country, where the rice is laid up in store. I visited one of these at a place named Pae-tsang, situated on the left bank of the Pei-ho, some six miles from Tien-tsin. It consisted of sixteen large buildings or barns, each fifty feet wide, three hundred feet in length, and about forty or fifty feet high. At the upper end I observed a small temple, which contained a figure of Tsang-shin, the god who is supposed to protect the granaries. At the time of my visit the barns were all empty, and their doors were nailed up. In these troubled times the grain-junks could not pass through the country. At Peking I afterwards saw a number of Imperial granaries built upon the same plan, and presenting the same appearance.
It has been already observed that there are few trees in the Tien-tsin plain. Fuel from this source is therefore almost unknown; but bountiful nature here steps in and supplies the want from another source. The tall stout stems of the millet, and those of the jute-plant, from which the bark has been removed for its fibre, are saved and stacked up for this purpose, and thus take the place of branches of trees and brushwood. In other parts of China, where trees are plentiful, millet of this kind, and jute, are not met with.
Foreign merchants and traders at Tien-tsin have as yet met with few articles for export, except the precious metals. Here there is no silk or tea — articles which form the most valuable of our exports from the ports of the south. Peas and beans are sent to the south in large quantities, but chiefly from Shantung, on the southern shores of the Gulf of Pechele, and Newchwang in the north — the latter being the most northerly of the trading ports. It is to be hoped that, as we get better acquainted with the trade of Tien-tsin, some valuable articles for export may present themselves to the notice of foreign merchants, for at present their ships have generally to go away in ballast.
The import trade at this port is already one of considerable importance, but is confined chiefly to our cotton goods and opium. As the winters are cold, we may expect a demand, in the course of time, for our woollen manufactures, and doubtless for other articles of European and American comfort and luxury; and it is very likely that foreign merchants will take the coasting trade out of the hands of the junkmen, and bring up the supplies of medicine, dyes, and other articles of Straits produce formerly carried in the junks from Canton, Singapore, and the other ports of the Straits of Malacca, &c.
On the right bank of the Pei-ho, below the suburbs of Tien-tsin, and near an old dilapidated fort, a large tract of land has been set apart for the houses and godowns of foreigners, and for the Consulates of those foreign Powers that have treaties with China. This land, at the time of my visit, was covered with vegetable gardens, a few miserable mud huts, and a good sprinkling of tombs. At one portion of the ground a granite stone, with Chinese characters, informed the traveller that this had been set apart for the merchants of the "Great English Nation." The French settlement adjoined the English, and the subjects of the other treaty Powers will be located in the same quarter. The ground is low, and I believe liable to be flooded by the river at high tides or after heavy rains. It will therefore require to be raised above the highest high-water mark. As in Shanghae, the dead will have to "move on" to some quieter locality, in order to give room for the living. When choosing their graves, these good people little thought that the "barbarians" or "white devils" from the West would one day turn them out of the quarters which they had selected with so much care.
When I last visited the site of the settlement (October, 1861) its purchase had been arranged, the money had been paid, and some of the merchants were about to commence raising the land.
It was curious to remark the effect of all this upon the Chinese labourers, who had probably been all their lives located upon the spot. They evidently could not realize the idea that they were really to move off to other quarters. In many instances I observed them busily engaged in putting in fresh crops for the following year! They could not comprehend the justice or propriety of being turned out of their houses and lands for the benefit of the public, and that public the foreigner! As the purchase-money had been paid into the hands of the Chinese Government, it had doubtless to submit to a "squeeze" before it reached the pockets of the owners of the land.
In drawing to a close my remarks upon the port of Tien-tsin and the country around it, I may state my belief that ultimately this place will prove of great importance as a mart for our manufactures. Next to the opening of the Yang-tze-kiang, it will probably prove the most valuable concession obtained from the Chinese in Lord Elgin's treaty. When the rebellion, which has been raging for years in this unhappy country, has either died out or has been put down, the rivers and canals will once more swarm with boats engaged in active trade. The Grand Canal, which leads through some of the richest and most populous districts of the empire, and which is now choked up in many places with mud, or rendered unsafe by bands of rebels and robbers, will then become the busy highway it once was, and foreigners as well as natives will be allowed to visit the numerous cities and towns which line its banks. The river which leads from Tien-tsin to Pow-ting-foo, one of the chief towns of the province, will take a large quantity of our manufactures, and the caravans which come to that place will convey them all over the western interior. In addition to all this there is the capital itself, teeming with its many thousands of human beings, all requiring food and clothing, and carrying on an extensive trade with Western China and Tartary by means of camels, droves of which are daily arriving and departing from the city.
Taking all these facts together, we may venture to look forward to Tien-tsin becoming, at no very distant time, a most important mart for our manufactures. Already English houses begin to rise on the new settlement, and ere the world grows many years older a handsome foreign town will be seen on the land which was lately covered with cabbage-gardens, mud huts, and tombs. The Rev. Mr. Edkins and other Christian missionaries have also entered this field; and by their knowledge of the Chinese language, their inoffensive manners, and their blameless lives, do much to remove many prejudices which exist in the minds of the people against those who have come to reside amongst them.
1 Jasmine, camellia, chrysanthemum.