A Journey Through The Provinces - Kwangtung And Kwangsi
( Originally Published 1910 )
Hong Kong—A Trip to Canton—Macao—Scenes on Pearl River—Canton Christian College—Passion for Gambling—A Typical City —A Chief Source of Emigration
LET us take an imaginary journey through the provinces and begin at Hong Kong, where, in 1850, I began my actual experience of life in China.
From the deck of the good ship Lantao, which had brought me from Boston around the Cape in one hundred and thirty-four days, I gazed with admiration on the Gibraltar of the Orient. Before me was a land-locked harbour in which all the navies of the world might ride in safety. Around me rose a noble chain of hills, their slopes adorned with fine residences, their valleys a chessboard of busy streets, with here and there a British battery perched on a commanding rock.
Under Chinese rule Hong Kong had been an insignificant fishing village, in fact a nest of pirates. In 1841 the island was ceded by China to Great Britain, and the cession was confirmed by the treaty of Nanking in August, 1842. The transformation effected in less than a decade had been magical; yet that was only the bloom of babyhood, compared with the rich maturity of the present day.
A daily steamer then sufficed for its trade with Canton; a weekly packet connected it with Shanghai; and the bulk of its merchandise was still carried in sailing ships or Chinese junks. How astounding the progress that has marked the last half-century! The streets that meandered, as it were, among the valleys, or fringed the water's edge, now girdle the hills like rows of seats in a huge amphitheatre; a railway lifts the passenger to the mountain top; and other railways whirl him from hill to hill along the dizzy height. Trade, too, has multiplied twenty fold. In a commercial report for the year ending June, 1905, it is stated that in amount of tonnage Hong Kong has be-come the banner port of the world.
Though politically Hong Kong is not China, more than 212,000 of its busy population (about 221,000) are Chinese; and it is preëminently the gate of China. By a wise and liberal policy the British Government has made it the chief emporium of the Eastern seas.
We now take a trip to Canton and cross a bay studded with islands. These are clothed with copious verdure, but, like all others on the China coast, lack the crowning beauty of trees. In passing we get a glimpse of Macao, a pretty town under the flag of the Portuguese, the pioneers of Eastern trade. The oldest foreign settlement in China, it dates from 1544—not quite a half-century after the discovery of the route to India, an achievement whose fourth centenary was celebrated in 1898. If it could be ascertained on what day some adventurous argonaut pushed the quest of the Golden Fleece to Farther India, as China was then designated, that exploit might with equal appropriateness be commemorated also.
The city of Macao stands a monument of Lusitanian enterprise. Beautifully situated on a projecting spur of an island, it is a favourite summer resort of foreign residents in the metropolis. It has a population of about 70,000, mostly Chinese, and contains two tombs that make it sacred in my eyes; namely, that of Camoens, author of "The Lusiad " and poet of Gama's voyage, and that of Robert Morrison, the pioneer of Protestant missions, the centennial of whose arrival had in 1907 a brilliant celebration.
Entering the Pearl River, a fine stream 5 00 miles in length, whose affluents spread like a fan over two provinces, we come to the viceregal capital, as Canton deserves to be called, though the viceroy actually resides in another city. The river is alive with steam-boats, large and small, mostly under the British flag; but native craft of the old style have not yet been put to flight. Propelled by sail or oar, the latter creep along the shore; and at Pagoda Anchorage near the city they form a floating town in which families are born and die without ever having a home on terra firma.
Big-footed women are seen earning an honest living by plying the oar, or swinging on the scull-beam with babies strapped on their backs. One may notice also the so-called "flower-boats," embellished like the palaces of water fairies. Moored in one locality, they are a well-known resort of the vicious. In the fields are the tillers of the soil wading barefoot and bareheaded in mud and water, holding plough or harrow drawn by an amphibious creature called a carabao or water-buffalo, burying by hand in the mire the roots of young rice plants, or applying as a fertiliser the ordure and garbage of the city. Such unpoetic toils never could have inspired the georgic muse of Vergil or Thomson.
The most picturesque structure that strikes the eye as one approaches the city is a Christian college—showing how times have changed. In 185o the foreign quarter was in a suburb near one of the gates. There I dined with Sir John Bowring at the British Consulate, having a letter of introduction from his American cousin, Miss Maylin, a gifted lady of Philadelphia. There, too, I lodged with Dr. Happer, who by the tire-less exertions of many years succeeded in laying the foundations of that same Christian college. For him it is a monument more lasting than brass; for China it is only one of many lighthouses now rising at commanding points on the seacoast and in the interior.
In passing the Fati, a recreation-ground near the city, a view is obtained of the amusements of the rich and the profligate. We see a multitude seated around a cockpit intent on a cock-fight; but the cocks are quails, not barnyard fowls. Here, too, is a smaller and more exclusive circle stooping over a pair of crickets engaged in deadly combat. Insects of other sorts or pugnacious birds are sometimes substituted; and it might be supposed that the people must be warlike in their disposition, to enjoy such spectacles. The fact is, they are fond of fighting by proxy. What attracts them most, however, is the chance of winning or losing a. wager.
A more intellectual entertainment to be seen in many places is the solving of historical enigmas. Some ancient celebrity is represented by an animal in a rhyming couplet; and the man who detects the hero under this disguise wins a considerable sum. Such is the native passion for gambling that bets are even made on the result of the metropolitan examinations, particularly on the province to which will fall the honour of the first prize, that of the scholar-laureateship.
Officials in all parts and benevolent societies take advantage of this passion for gambling in opening lotteries to raise funds for worthy objects—a policy which is unwise if not immoral. It should not be forgotten, however, that our own forefathers sometimes had recourse to lotteries to build churches.
The foreign settlement now stands on Shamien, a pretty islet in the river, in splendid contrast with the squalor of the native streets. The city wall is not conspicuous, if indeed it is visible beyond the houses of a crowded suburb. Yet one may be sure that it is there; for every large town must have a wall for protection, and the whole empire counts no fewer than 1,553 walled cities. What an index to the insecurity resulting from an ill-regulated police! The Chinese are surprised to hear that in all the United States there is nothing which they would call a city, because the American cities are destitute of walls.
Canton with its suburbs contains over two million people; it is therefore the most populous city in the empire. In general the houses are low, dark, and dirty, and the streets are for the most part too narrow for anything broader than a sedan or a "rickshaw" (jinriksha). Yet in city and suburbs the eye is dazzled by the richness of the shops, especially of those dealing in silks and embroideries. In strong contrast with this luxurious profusion may be seen crowds of beggars displaying their loathsome sores at the doors of the rich in order to extort thereby a penny from those who might not be disposed to give from motives of charity. The narrow streets are thronged with coolies in quality of beasts of burden, having their loads suspended from each end of an elastic pole balanced on the shoulder, or carrying their betters in sedan chairs, two bearers for a commoner, four for a "swell," and six or eight for a magnate. High officials borne in these luxurious vehicles are accompanied by lictors on horse or foot Bridegrooms and brides are allowed to pose for the nonce as grandees; and the bridal chair, whose drapery blends the rainbow and the butterfly, is heralded by a band of music, the blowing of horns, and the clashing of cymbals. The block and jam thus occasioned are such as no people except the patient Chinese would tolerate. They bow to custom and smile at inconvenience. Of horse-cars or carriages there are none except in new streets. Rickshaws and wheelbarrows push their way in the narrowest alleys, and compete with sedans for a share of the passenger traffic.
In those blue hills that hang like clouds on the verge of the horizon and bear the poetical name of White Cloud, there are gardens that combine in rich variety the fruits of both the torrid and the temperate zones. Tea and silk are grown in many other parts of China; but here they are produced of a superior quality.
Enterprising and intelligent, the people of this province have overflowed into the islands of the Pacific from Singapore to Honolulu. Touching at Java in 185o, I found refreshments at the shop of a Canton man who showed a manifest superiority to the natives of the island. Is it not to be regretted that the Chinese are excluded from the Philippines ? Would not the future of that archipelago be brighter if the shiftless native were replaced by the thrifty Chinaman?
It was in Canton that American trade suffered most from the boycott of 1905, because there the ill-treatment of Chinese in America was most deeply felt, the Chinese in California being almost exclusively from the province of Canton.
The viceroy of Canton has also the province of Kwangsi under his jurisdiction. Mountainous and thinly peopled, it is regarded by its associate as a burden, being in an almost chronic state of rebellion and requiring large armies to keep its turbulent inhabitants in order.