The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Seeds of Stories from Other Countries

Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 929-937

[From the book "Clear Round!" by Elizabeth Anna Gordon, 1851-1925. Gordon was fascinated by the link between Christianity and Buddhism, and spent much of her life in Japan.]


We were told we had entered the Torrid Zone. December 7 was a very enjoyable day, the ship bounded along like a "thing of life" over the glorious waves--indescribably delicious, unless you can imagine what it is to skim the waters on a sea-bird's wings.

       "The free sea makes the spirit free."

At length we sighted Far Cathay, the long mountainous coastline of South China--a chain of peaks and pinnacles--was very fine. Here and there was a lighthouse, and many a Chinese junk with its square sails of orange and ruddy brown tried to cross over bows--it being considered "lucky" to get run down! Japanese junks are high at the prow, but the Chinese are high behind. On the prow of a Chinese junk is painted a large eye, for the Chinese say, "When no eye, how can walkee? When no can see, how savey?" This Eye is also painted above the paddle-wheel of the modern steamers. It is a curious coincidence that in Ancient Egypt the eye of Osiris was painted on the funeral boats, which conveyed the dead. The sails are very picturesque, one can compare then to fans, bats'-wings, or windmills half folded.

We sighted the distant shores of the Island of Formosa. Fifty-four miles from Hong Kong we passed a large black rock, which emerges out of the sea, and is surrounded by deep water. There is no lighthouse upon it. In former times all navigators used to steer north for it, in order to find Hong-Kong. Its name is Pedro Blanco (White Peter), and it is mentioned in the old Dutch charts. Through the Lyee-Moon Pass we steamed into the harbour of Hong-Kong, the "renowned anchorage," said to be one of the five loveliest harbours in the world--(formerly it was called "Fragrant Harbour," from the profusion of flowers which grew on the island and scented the air), Sidney, Bombay, Naples, Rio, being the others. The island of Hong-Kong is the first outpost of "the Empire on which the sun never sets." It became a British colony in 1841; and is one of the greatest shipping ports in the world. A fleet of boats soon surrounded us, and we were deafened by the frightful noise and hubbub of the Chinese shouting and yelling in their most unmusical language, a marked contrast to the sunny gentle noiseless Japanese. The Chinese voices sound so aggressive, as if they were quarrelling terribly when they are only talking in an ordinary way. Theirs is the most complicated language under the sun; words having ever so many different meanings according to the inflections of the voice. So that, if you mean to ask some kind question about the children's welfare, from the way you pronounce it--it may mean, "Do you eat your children"? From this result many of the difficulties between foreign missionaries and the Chinese.

There is also a difference between the filth of the Chinese junks and the spotless purity of the Japanese. Boats at Hong Kong are sculled by women. The babies are tied to the back of their mothers while they row, but they do not look comfortable as they do in Japan; indeed, we were struck by the unhappy look of Chinese children, and the absence of smiles, as well as the fewness of babies. Floats (gourds) are tied on to the boat children, as they often fall overboard, and are hauled back with a boat-hook. Thousands of Chinese are born and die on the junks. Every boat has its altar or family shrine, before which incense sticks are burned. The boat populations are despised, and called "water-fowl" or "sea-otters."

Just before our arrival, there had been a terrible typhoon, in which 300 junks and sampans were sunk, and we saw our old friend the Empress of India, who had drifted from her moorings, the storm having broken the iron cables which secured her to the buoy. Chinese thieves float about in "forty-thieves"-like jars, and steal the copper from the ship's bottom.

Finding a steamer was starting for Canton, we hired a boat to take us across to the "Fat-shan," and were rowed by four pleasant-faced women, who wore green jade bracelets and trousers. Arrived at the steamer, they skillfully handed us up through an opening at the side (like Noah's Ark), and we landed in the steerage. Here there were 200 Chinese passengers. Sometimes there will be over 2000, packed like sardines in a tin; for, though the fare of European amounts to three dollars they pay only ten cents (5d.) to Canton; but get no food or seats. So they all perch on the cargo bales of raw cotton (which have come from India to be woven into stuff at Canton) and bales of opium. There are also enormous loads of huge salted fishes brought from Vancouver in straw bales. The second class accommodation is superior, the charge being fifty cents.

Competition reduced the fares to this low rate, there being seven steamers daily to Canton. A Chinaman will occupy four chairs for himself, shoes, bag, & c., and say they are "engaged"; even when others have no chair he will not remove them. The purser kindly took me to see the ladies' cabin, in which were several ladies and children from North China. Their faces were so covered with powder and white paint, and their lips a brilliant scarlet, that they looked like masks. A young girl wore a purple mantle trimmed with black over green, gold and pink under-garments, red satin shoes, her long hair being braided with pink silk. She put her tiny little stump of a foot into my hand. It was droll to feel one of these "golden lilies," and see, oneself, a live Chinese foot wearing a shoe as microscopic as those in our cabinet at home. My foot looked and felt elephantine beside hers. [Two such shoes!] Ladies with these crushed feet have to be carried from room to room on men's backs, though I heard that the peasant women in North China work in the fields with crippled feet, which have not been so tightly bound. Court ladies do not bind their feet, being Tartars; but the Chinese prefer to do it, and they esteem a pigtail a badge of honour, although originally it was imposed on them as a badge of slavery.

When Europeans remonstrate with them about squeezing the feet, they naturally reply, "Why do you squeeze your waists by wearing stays?" The children appreciated being fondled, except the baby, who roared at the sight of a "foreign devil," although its brother tried to coax it. We all smiled and bowed, and shook hands, though the Chinese fashion is to shake your own hands, and they said "Chin, chin," which means either "good-morning" or "good-bye"; or, but when a beggar says it, "Give!"

A more glorious sunset we never saw than that as we left Hong-Kong. The very heavens seemed open, and the mackerel-flecked sky was tinted in every imaginable hue from delicate coral pink to daffodil yellow. We steamed up the broad "Pearl" river, which is very wide and tawny-coloured. By-and-by we were stopped, the customs officers had boarded us. It is their habit to pounce down unawares upon the boats, and spend the night searching for opium among the natives, but they never trouble foreigners.

At night the Chinese passengers are all locked in behind iron bars, for it not unfrequently happens that pirates will board a ship disguised as passengers, and, rising in the night, seize it. Once a captain's wife and sister loaded and handed up the guns through the cabin-skylight to the men, who were thus enabled to keep the pirates at bay.

"Conceit and deceit," say the enemies of China, "are the characteristics of Chinamen." They are fearful cowards, and will attack women and children, but never a man who is armed with a bayonet. In the first saloon was a stand with all kinds of weapons of defense, and loaded guns, in case of a surprise.

"What China wants," said an experienced missionary to us, "is men of honest lives," not necessarily missionaries in the usual sense of the term.

"Chinese Gordon" is almost a household word all over the East, and especially in China. Faces brighten when they hear the name. Why? Because "the great general" who led the armies with only his little bamboo walking stick (a veritable Moses' rod) was true; to him his word was sacred.

During the Taeping rebellion he promised the rebels their lives if they yielded, and so they opened the gates of Soochow. Regardless of his promise, the Mandarin treacherously seized them and chopped off their heads. Gordon, mad with rage that his word had been broken, rushed into the Mandarin's tent to kill him, but, forewarned by his servant, the Mandarin hid in a sampan and escaped, and is to-day the chief man in China (Li Hong Chang). Thinking to propitiate the general, all kinds of magnificent gifts were sent, but he rejected them with scorn and threw up his command. He gave immense sums of money to the starving Chinese; on him the Emperor bestowed the yellow jacket and the peacock's feather--the highest marks of dignity and favour conferred only on those who have rendered signal services to the State or members of the Imperial family. A picture of General Gordon in this dress may be seen at Chatham.

There is only one other European who has had this honour conferred upon him, Sir Robert Hart, who is the inspector-general or minister of maritime customs.

In addition, there were four suits of clothes, and a court suit, an embroidered robe of "heavenly blue," a satin jacket embroidered with the insignia of his office, a moon coloured coat and collar, a sea-dragon court cap with a purple button, a jade holder for his peacock's feather, a necklace of gold and amberheads, &c. &c., and has over thirty years been greatly esteemed by the Government.

You may read Gordon's epitaph in St. Paul's Cathedral: "He everywhere gave his strength to the weak; his substance to the poor; his sympathy to the suffering; and his heart to God."

Another Englishman, Sir Harry Parker (who in the Chinese war of 1836 was taken prisoner and carried about the country in a cage as a spectacle), became minister to Japan, and after eighteen years' service the Japanese said of him, "He is the only foreigner whom we could not twist round our little finger."

In China we hear more of the devoted Sisters of Mercy from such "benighted" countries as Belgium, Spain, France, and Italy, who, as true nursing mothers, gather in thousands of foundling girl-children and train them in domestic virtues and handicrafts, as amahs and cooks, and in exquisite embroidery and needlework, till they are old enough to marry converts and form Christian homes. Near a pool at Foochow is a stone with the inscription, "Girls may not be drowned here." When one missionary dies, another is always ready to come out, and take his or her place; £25 to £30 a year is all the pay the priests receive, and they live in the same poverty as the natives, 15 dollars a month for food and clothing. There are places in the far interior of China to which they take a vow to the Government, never to return, thus burning the bridge behind them. They must live in secret, ever liable to expulsion, persecution and death. Theirs is a lifelong exile, they come out to China to live and die, and have no furloughs. There are large agricultural communities outside the great wall of China of native Christians.

During the terrible famine which followed the floods this year, when the starving people were sweeping the fields in order to get grass seeds for food, a Father Watson and two mission priests were practising economies on £75 (300 taels), in order to give to the famishing. They live as the natives, sharing their rice and cash with them. A Wesleyan missionary told me that they call at every house and inquire if there are any sick, any dying, any in trouble, whom they can help? At Ningpo a heathen Chinaman came into a Christian meeting, and having asked permission to speak, said that Christianity seemed to him a very absurd thing, for when he was in the hospital (R.C.), he had noticed that the Sisters did everything in their power to bring about the recovery of their patients; but when they could do nothing more for a man's body, they gave him medicine for his soul and begged him to pray "Jesus Saviour, deliver me." The missionary added that he thought that this was a remarkable testimony as to the message of truth given by the nuns. The importance they attach to the soul had made a great impression on the Chinese, for to care for the soul is utterly foreign to their mind.

In the thirteenth century a missionary named John Monte Corrino lived and worked in China for eleven years, and early in the fourteenth century became Archbishop with seven Bishops. The work was suspended until 1598, when a Jesuit reached Nanking, and later on Pekin. But the Nestorians had their missions all over China as early as the sixth and seventh centuries.

How shall I describe the wonders of the city of Canton? It is quite unlike any other place, and therefore one cannot use comparisons, excepting to say that the streets are like a kaleidoscope--a perfect bewilderment of colours, and cries, and scenes, and apparent confusion; and the rushing hither and thither of the swarming multitudes, and the angry din and hum of buzzing, clamorous voices, resembles nothing so much as a hive of bees when swarming. Energy characterises the Chinese as patience does the Japanese.

The only way for a foreign devil to see Canton, is to get into a sedan-chair and submit to be carried round through the wilderness-maze of streets on the shoulders of three or four men, according to one's weight. Under the escort of a celebrated guide, Mr. Ah-Cum (a grave and reverend Chinaman with a pigtail reaching to his heels, in peach-coloured brocade trousers, and tunic of celestial blue, and a dark fan stuck in his collar), we proceeded on our extraordinary tour. Mr. Ah-Cum went first, also in a sedan. Should the European party be large, it is considered advisable to place the second guide at the end of the procession for safety, as the consequences might be serious if any of the party got separated. As it was, stones were thrown from upper windows, and a good big one struck the roof of F.'s palanquin. Angry grimaces were made as we passed, the small children spat and said "Tchah! Tchah!" whilst ominous threats of "Off with your heads!" "Death to the foreign devils!" were translated to us by Mr. Ah-Cum. The rule for Chinese ladies and great men seemed to be to keep the shutters of the palanquins closed; naturally wishing to see everything, we preferred to open ours, but were warned to compose our features into an air of stollid indifference, which was quite difficult, when one felt exclaiming with wonder at every step. No street is wider than seven feet; and as the bearers thread their way most carefully, yet at a swinging trot, they keep up a continual chorus of cries to clear the way. As every one does the same, you may conceive the din proceeding from the two opposing streams of foot-passengers; and there is no unseemly pushing, and every one is good-natured, notwithstanding their hoarse discordant cries. It is because Confucius taught: "He who smoothes the way is a doer of good"?

There is no time to drive Master Piggie to market on foot through the crowded streets, Paddy himself would not be able to argue with him, and cheat the obstinate animal into obedience by telling him he was en route for Cork. So Piggie and his brothers are put into long open, square bamboo baskets, through which a long pole is thrust, and carried off by John Chinaman. Chinese ideas seem to circle around the pig; not only is it such a common article of food, but they keep "sacred pigs" in the temples, they wear pigtails, and any one who adopts Western ideas is called a "pig-goat-devil." In similar rounded vessels, fish are hawked about for sale, all alive and kicking in the salt water. We were struck by the number of pretty kittens and puppies carried about in bamboo baskets--of course, we thought they were sold as pets. It never entered our heads that they were for culinary purposes. Alas! Kitten's tail is considered as great a delicacy as calf's tail with us; black cats and dogs are peculiarly nutritious! Europeans who own black cats, tremble for the fate of a pet puss; and cat's eyes, looking glass-solitaire balls, are sold at the Chinese restaurants in saucersful! Dog's hams are a dainty.

As we passed an open door, the guide motioned us to look within. Far behind, a darkened inner room we saw a huge cauldron, a large white-skinned animal just in the very act of being popped in, and were told it was a dog. Shall we ever forget that vision of boiled dog? Picture a restaurant with its stews and steaks, and joints of cat and dog--then the shops of what the French call "Charcuterie." Flattened out bake-meats, ducks and suckling-pigs, all hanging in happy proximity to smaller creatures, whose tails were curled round like vine-tendrils. Oh! The sickening disgust we felt when told "Those are rats!" Whole strings of them: dear to the Cantonese stomach as "fricasse" and "Spatchcock."

A lady told me that having stumbled over a dead rat in her bedroom, she called her "boy" to remove it, and would never forget the joy depicted on his countenance as he appropriated it for his supper. Rats are supposed to be good for baldness. I registered a vow not to touch duck, pork or bacon till back in old England, 12,000 miles away from Canton and its rats. One admired the wisdom of the Buddhists in banishing such foul food, and instituting a diet of fruit, rice, and vegetables. Other delicacies, besides the famous birds'-nests, are sharks' fins, seaslug, frogs, duck' eggs which have been buried for weeks, and are in a state of putrefaction. The witches' cauldron in "Macbeth' was not in it! A pleasanter feature is the orange stall. (There is no word in the language for orange, though the Chinese oranges are very good, and there are a great many different kinds; each variety has a separate name, as if it were a distinct fruit, such, e.g., as "Coolie" and "Mandarin.") The oranges are daintily arranged, and the peel is partly stripped off in four or five evenly cut pieces. Thinking this was some very touching mark of attention on the part of the seller towards his customer, to save the trouble of peeling, we mentioned it to Mr. Ah-Cum, and he said that orange peel is of such value in medicine, that the Chinese thus economically save it from being thrown away. It was quite interesting after this to notice the quantities of striped peel being dried in the sun.

Signboards of all colours and sizes hang down from the roof to the path, and give a strange appearance to the narrow streets through which two chairs cannot go abreast.

Oh, what a teeming multitude of pigtailed people it is, every one hurrying on, with frightful cries, and screeching noises, and hideous yells, like wild animals--truly the exact antipodes of Japan!

And this is China, where one-third of the race live, and where one million a month die; eighteen times the size of Great Britain.

Vaguely it crosses one's mind what a human ant-hill this Celestial Empire is, with its hungry myriads, and one can understand why they are pouring out of the hive into America and Australia, and threatening the white man's monopoly of high wages and little work. Lord Wolesley considers China the coming power of the world. And then we hear that the land itself is one vast cemetery, covered with millions of graves, and that this is the chief reason of the Chinaman's opposition to railways, and why they have torn up the rails, for the railways must go over the graves of their ancestors and desecrate them. And yet these strange demure people were highly civilised before the days of Abraham!

Proofread by LNL, Nov. 2023