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The streets of Peking — Imperial palaces — Lama mosque — Western side of the city — Portuguese cemetery — Marble tablets — Tombs of Catholic priests — Ricci and Verries — Visits to the Chinese city — Scenes at the gates — The cabs of Peking — Shops and merchandise — Vegetables and fruits — "Paternoster Row" — Jade-stone and bronzes — Ancient porcelain — Temple of Agriculture — South side of Chinese city — Nursery gardens and plants — Country people — South-west side of Chinese city — Waste lands — Royal ladies expected — A September morning in Peking — Northern part of the Tartar city — The An-ting gate — Graves of English officers — The Lama temple — Chief features of Peking.
HAVING obtained a bird's-eye view of Peking from the top of the Observatory, we set out on the following day to visit the Imperial city, the outside of the palaces, the little hill named King-shan, and other objects of interest to the westward. The streets of the capital differ much from those of the other towns in China which I have visited. They are very wide, straight, and generally run at right angles with each other, so that a stranger has little difficulty in finding his way from one point to another; but they are, for the most part, in wretched condition. When the weather is wet they are full of puddles and almost impassable, and when it is dry and windy the dust is blinding and intolerable.
Our way led us along the eastern walls of the palace, and we soon reached one of the gates which led into the Imperial city. Entering this gate, we found ourselves close upon the Royal palace, which was surrounded by an inner wall and had its gate strictly guarded by soldiers. Into this sanctum sanctorum we did not attempt to penetrate. Passing onwards, we soon reached the northern end of the palace, and were then close upon King-shan or "Prospect Hill." And very pretty this little hill looked, crowned as it is with temples, summerhouses, and trees. Rounding it, we turned to the south and went along the outside of the western wall of the palace. This is perhaps the most interesting part of Peking, and is well worth a visit. The roofs of the different palaces and temples, with their quaint forms and yellow tiles glittering in the sun, were particularly striking and interesting. Here we also found the Lama Mosque, surrounded by trees, and giving an Indian character to the scenery. Although we could not enter the sacred enclosures, we got glimpses of pretty gardens with rock-work and artistic bridges, which gave us very favourable impressions of its internal beauties and made us long for a nearer view. But, as already stated, although foreigners have liberty to wander all over the Imperial city, they cannot enter the grounds of the palace, nor King-shan, nor the enclosures in which the Lama temples and mosques are situated.
Leaving the walls of the Emperor's palace behind us, we took a westerly course, and, passing over a broad bridge, were soon out of the Imperial city and again in the Tartar one. Here were some wide streets with shops crowded inside and out with all sorts of wares, and looking somewhat like a bazaar. Passing out of the city by the Fowching gate, we rode on in a northerly direction to pay a visit to the Portuguese cemetery. This very ancient place is in the form of a parallelogram, and is surrounded with walls. A broad, straight, paved walk leads up its centre. It is divided into two parts by a cross wall with a gateway in the middle of it. The outer department is used as a garden, and has rows of pillars on each side of the centre walk for the cultivation of vines. Passing up between these and through the gate in the cross wall, we found ourselves in the place of burial, in which lie the remains of some hundred of the early Catholic missionaries and their followers. Two marble tablets of massive size, beautifully carved and surmounted by the cross, stand on each side of this inner gateway. As we walked up the centre pathway we observed rows of tombs at right angles with the walk, one row behind the other in succession, all the way up to the further end of the cemetery. In front of each tomb there is a square slat of marble, carved with dragons on the top in high relief, and below this carving there are inscriptions in Chinese and Latin giving the name of the occupant of the tomb and the year in which he died. At the upper end of the walk there is a row of carved stones, in imitation of vases, and behind them, on a raised platform, a stone cross completes the arrangement.
The high state of preservation in which these tombstones are at the present day is very remarkable. Many of them, from the dates carved on them, must have been placed there more than two centuries and a half ago, and they show no signs of decay. I noted that of the well-known Father Ricci, with "P. Matthew Ricci, A.D. 1610," carved upon it. The tomb of the celebrated P. Fernandez Verries, who taught the Chinese the art of casting cannon, is also here. Some of these marble stones rest upon the back of a tortoise carved in the same material. This form of stone denotes that it was a gift from the Emperor of the time, who took this mode of showing his esteem for the deceased and his desire to honour his memory.
Pines, junipers, and other trees grow all over the cemetery, and throw a pleasing shade over the last resting-places of the ancient fathers. The Chinese seem to have charged themselves with the duty of keeping the place in order, and they have performed it well. When we left the cemetery we rode southwards along the side of the western wall until we came to the Chinese city. There was nothing in this part to attract our attention except the high walls and ramparts of the city and pleasant gardens in the suburbs. In our way from this point to the English Legation we passed the Roman Catholic cathedral, in which there are some foreign priests, who dress in the costume of the country, and are, no doubt, worthy successors of old Father Ripa.
My next excursion was through the Chinese city to some gardens which I had been informed were to be found in its southern suburbs. I passed out of the Tartar city by the Ching-wang-mun, the centre gate of its south wall. Inside and outside of this gate I observed carts in great numbers waiting to be hired, just as we see the cabs in London. Like them, the carts of Peking have their stands in the public thoroughfare. The noise and bustle about this gate was perfectly deafening. Carts were going to and fro, rumbling along on the rough stone road, and now and then sinking deeply into the broken pavement. Donkeys, horses, and long trains of camels laden with the productions of the country, were toiling along; a perfect Babel of noisy tongues was heard in all directions; and the dust was flying in clouds and literally filling the air. Stalls of fruit, hawkers of all kinds of wares, beggars ragged, filthy, and in many instances apparently insane, crowded the approaches to this gate.
When I had passed through I entered a straight and wide street which led through the centre of the Chinese city from north to south. The northern portion appeared to be densely populated. Each side of the main street was lined with shops and stalls, and a much more active trade was carried on here than in the Tartar city. The shop-fronts in Peking are rather striking, and differ in style from those observed in the more southern cities. Three or four long poles divide the front of the shop into equal parts. At a convenient height from the ground a signboard fills up the space between the poles, and has large letters upon it giving the name and calling of the owner. The tops of the poles are much higher than the roof of the shop, and each is surmounted or crowned by an ornamental carving.
As the fronts of these shops are moveable and always taken out during the day-time, their contents are fully exposed to the public. Articles of food and clothing, and all the common necessaries of life, are the principal wares which are dealt in by the Peking shopkeepers in the main streets of the city. Here there are no silk and tea for exportation such as one sees in the south, and everything stamps Peking as a consuming city rather than a producing one. Silk and cotton clothing, old clothes, skins, furs, and padded bed-covers to protect the wearer from the cold of a Peking winter, together with hats and shoes, are all plentiful. Substances used as food, such as pork, salt fish, beef and mutton, ducks and fowls, beans, peas, rice, various kinds of millet and other grains, are met with in all the market-places, as also oils of various kinds, dried fruits, and dyes. Vegetables and fruits are abundant, and are generally exposed for sale on open stalls lining each side of the street. At the time of my visit the large white Shantung cabbage, which is yearly sent to the south in junks, was very plentiful in Peking. I observed also a large white carrot, and the red turnip-radish, which is sent south every winter and made to flower in pots or flat saucers amongst pebbles and water at the time of the Chinese new year. Grapes and peaches were plentiful and fair in quality, but I did not meet with the latter weighing two pounds each, as they are stated to do in the works of earlier travellers. Pears are perhaps the most abundant amongst all the autumnal fruits in Peking. They are exposed for sale in every direction, in shops, in stalls, on the pavement, as well as in the basket of the hawker. There were two or three kinds, and one of them was high-flavoured and melting. This is the first instance of a pear of this kind having been found in China, and it is a most welcome addition to the tables of the foreign residents of Peking. Curiously enough, this fruit, excellent though it is, is as yet unknown at Tien-tsin, a place only about 70 miles distant!
On the right-hand side of this main street in the Chinese city there are numerous cross streets, some of which contained articles of a different kind from those I have just been describing One named Loo-le-chang appeared to be the "Paternoster Row" of Peking. This street is nearly a mile in length, and almost every shop in it is a bookseller's. There are, no doubt, an immense number of rare and curious books and maps in this place worthy of the inspection of our sinalogues. Here are also a number of shops having for sale carvings in jade-stone, ancient porcelain, bronzes, and other works of an early period. One old man, in particular, had some beautiful examples, which it was impossible for a lover of Oriental porcelain to resist, and although he asked high prices for them I was obliged to submit. These pieces are now in my collection, and, as I sometimes look at them, they bring vividly back to my memory my old friend in Loo-le-Chang.
A street in the same quarter of the city, and named Ta-sha-lar, is also famous for its collections of works of art both ancient and modern. Specimens of carved jade-stone and rock crystal are plentiful in this street, and not unfrequently very fine examples may be purchased at a moderate price. The greater part of the porcelain is of the Kein-lung period, and although not ancient is very far superior to the porcelain made in China at the present day. According to the Chinese, that Emperor was a great patron of the arts, and tried to copy and imitate the productions of the ancients. But beautiful as the productions in his reign undoubtedly were, they were far inferior to those manufactured during the dynasty of the Mings. The wonderful and lovely colours in turquoise, ruby, apple green, and red found in the ancient specimens are still unrivalled by anything which has been produced in more modern times, either in China or amongst the civilised nations of the West. Some of the foreign residents in Peking and Tien-tsin had, from time to time, picked up some beautiful examples of Ming porcelain. His Excellency Mr. Bruce, Colonel Neale, the Secretary of Legation, and Dr. Rennie, had each secured many specimens of great beauty. Brigadier-General Stavely had a large collection, amongst which were some of the finest little pieces I have ever met with.
But to return to the main street, out of which I have been wandering in order to examine the bookshops, jade-stones, ancient porcelain, bronzes, and other articles of taste and luxury. After proceeding about half a mile, more or less, up this street, I was surprised to find myself apparently out of town. Here the broad paved street runs through a large uncultivated plain, which, from its appearance, must be frequently covered with water. I then saw, for the first time, that but a small portion of this Chinese city (so called) is covered with houses. At some distance on my right and left I observed large parks enclosed with high walls. The enclosure on my left, or to the eastward, contained the temple of Tein-tin, sacred to the god of agriculture, to which the Emperor repairs once in every year to worship Heaven. Here, it is said, he devotes three days to solemn fasting and prayer, and then proceeds to a field near the temple, where with his own hands he holds the plough and throws a portion of rice-grain into the ground to show the importance which the Government attaches to the cultivation of the soil. At the time of my visit to Peking the Chinese had some objections to this place, and that on the opposite side, named Tee-tin, being visited by foreigners, so that I merely saw the outside of them.
The south wall of the Chinese city, which I was now approaching, has three gates — one in the centre and one near each end. I passed out by the centre gate and through a mean-looking suburb into the open country. Here I found myself amongst fields and vegetable gardens; and tombs innumerable were scattered over the surface of the country. My object now was to reach the southwestern suburbs, where I had been told there were a number of gardens in which plants were cultivated for sale. I had no difficulty in finding the south-west gate, as, for this purpose, I had only to follow the line of wall. But when I got there I was informed that the gardens I had come in search of were some two or three miles in the country to the southward. Nothing daunted, I set off in the direction indicated by my informant, determining to make inquiries as I went along. Many were the contradictory statements and directions I received on the way. Sometimes I was assured that I was on the right road and only a short distance from the object of my search, and then, when I made sure that that distance had been gone over, the next person I met would coolly inform me that nothing of the kind I was in quest of existed in that part of the country.
At last, however, the place I was in search of was found, and I presented myself to Mr. Jow, or Jow-sing, as he was called, the proprietor of one of the principal gardens in the village. He received me with great politeness, and showed me all over his extensive nursery garden. He had a large collection of plants cultivated in pots, but they were nearly all southerners, such as those I have already noticed in describing the gardens of Tien-tsin. Sweet-scented Jasmines, Pomegranates, Olea fragrans, Oranges, Citrons, Apples, and Pears, cultivated in pots, were the chief objects of Mr. Jow's care. As I looked eagerly into every hole and corner for something new, something indigenous to that part of the country, the good Chinaman was evidently much puzzled. "Had I not come for flowers? Well, here were plenty of the finest which could be had; why did I not take some of them? "When I asked him whether there were any other gardens in the neighbourhood, he replied that there were plenty, but that none of them had any plants different from those he had shown me.
Leaving Jow-sing's garden, I proceeded to look out for the others. I soon found that the whole of this part of the country was covered with them. Here, as at Tien-tsin, Canton, and other parts of China, as well as Japan, it seems the fashion for nurserymen to form themselves into little communities at stated places; and the custom, I think, must be considered a good one, and convenient to the purchasers of flowers. There were some ten or twelve of these nurseries in this place, but, strange to say, they did not contain a single new plant. The few species of a hardy kind, and probably indigenous to this part of China, were all well known, and had been already introduced to England from the gardens farther south than Peking. These were Jasminum nudiflorum, Prunus triloba, the Judas tree, Weigela rosea, Honeysuckles, and Roses, amongst which I observed the Banksian rose.
As this part of the country had probably not been visited by foreigners, my appearance created considerable sensation amongst the natives. Every living thing in the villages — men, women, children, babies in arms, and dogs — turned out to see me. All seemed in good circumstances; they were well clothed, and apparently well fed. Although the crowd which gathered round me was rather noisy, all were good-humoured, and much more polite than such a crowd would have been in some countries nearer home. When I had gone over all the gardens in this neighbourhood I bade adieu to the crowds by which I had been attended, and rode back in the direction of the city, which I entered by the Nan-see-mun, or south-west gate.
There are few houses in the south-west and western part of the Chinese city. A large portion of the land looks a dreary waste; much of the ground is lying uncultivated or covered with reeds, while other parts are occupied as vegetable gardens, and here and there are some wretched mud hovels. It will be observed, therefore, that although the walls of the Chinese city enclose a large tract of land, by far the greatest portion of the enclosure is either lying waste or is used as garden ground. When we hear of the vast size of the Chinese and Tartar cities of Peking, we must therefore keep in view such facts as I have pointed out, which will moderate our ideas with regard to the extent of the population.
As I approached the wall of the Tartar city, the evening began to close in, and it was necessary to ride sharply onwards to get through before the gates were shut for the night. These are invariably closed soon after sunset.
Next day I had arranged with Mr. Wyndham, of Her Majesty's Legation, to explore the northern part of the Tartar city, the Russian cemetery, and the Lama temple outside the northern walls. Early in the morning, however, a message came from the Chinese authorities, requesting foreign residents not to go in that direction during the day, as the ladies of the Court were expected on their return from their flight into Tartary. Of course we were too polite to intrude in any way upon the privacy of these distinguished personages, and gave up the intended excursion until a message came telling us that the ladies had passed in, and that the road was clear.
It was now the end of September, and the mornings in Peking were very enjoyable. That on which we started for the excursion which had been put off was clear and calm, and the air was cool and bracing. We were early astir, and the traffic with carts, horses, and camels, which stirs up the dust at a later period of the day and renders the streets almost impassable, had not yet commenced. Turning into one of the long wide streets which stretch from south to north, we rode slowly onwards in a northerly direction towards the Yan-ting or An-ting gate. At some little distance on our left was the Imperial city, with the yellow roofs of its palaces and temples glittering in the morning sun. A curious building, known as the Drum Tower, was also on our left. Shops and stalls lined the wide street, but there appeared little of interest in either to attract our notice as we went along.
Passing through the An-ting gate, we were soon in the open country. This part is well known to those of our troops who took a part in the late Chinese war. Here the troops were posted ready to take the city at a moment's notice. A little distance beyond the gate we came to the Russian cemetery, in which lie buried the bodies of poor Bowlby, the special commissioner of the Times' newspaper, and some other gentlemen who had been treacherously murdered by the Chinese during the late war. Their bodies lie side by side, and a headstone records their names and their sad fate. It is intended, I believe, to remove their remains to an English cemetery, as soon as a site has been granted for this purpose. The Russian cemetery is a small, unpretending spot, situated amongst some high trees, and surrounded by a wall. At its upper end there are a considerable number of foreign tombs.
The Lama temple, situated in these northern suburbs, is a very large establishment, and was occupied by the force under Sir Hope Grant when it marched on Peking. It appears to have been a kind of caravansera as well as a temple. I observed a number of priests lounging about, clothed in robes of the imperial yellow colour. The most remarkable object in the grounds is a fine octagonal marble monument, richly carved with figures in high relief. Like the mosque I have already noticed, it is unlike anything one sees in China; it is quite Indian in form, and the characters and figures are probably Thibetian. Leaving the temple, we galloped along a grassy plain to the north-east corner of the city; then passing southward under the eastern walls, we entered the city again by one of the gates on this side, and went home by a different road from that by which we came out. Before we reached the English Legation all Peking was up and astir, — horsemen were galloping about, carts were jolting along the dusty streets, long trains of camels with bells jingling from their necks were toiling along, and clouds of dust were filling the air and rendering locomotion far from pleasant.
After rambling over this great city in almost every direction, I may mention the following as being its peculiar and most striking features. As an eastern city it is remarkable for its great size, and for its high and massive walls, ramparts, and watch-towers. Its straight and wide streets are different from those of any other Chinese town which has come under my observation. Its imperial palaces, summer-houses, and temples, with their quaint roofs and yellow tiles, are very striking objects; and the number of private dwellings, situated amongst trees and gardens surrounded with high walls, give a country or park-like appearance to the great city. The trees and gardens of the palaces, with King-shan, or "Prospect Hill," are objects of considerable interest, as is also the Lama mosque, suggesting, as it does, some connexion in times long gone by with Thibet or India.