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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Bolded text is marked with ='s, =like this=. In the original text, Hai-tzu is spelled with the letter u accented with a breve, for the purpose of this e-text that has been changed to u. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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LIFE AND SPORT IN CHINA
LIFE AND SPORT IN CHINA
OLIVER G. READY, B.A.
LONDON CHAPMAN & HALL, LIMITED 1904
The British public is greatly handicapped in forming an intelligent appreciation of happenings in China by a lack of that initial experience which can only be gained by residence in the country.
In this little work I have endeavoured to place before readers a sketch of things as I saw them, and to convey to their minds an idea of how Europeans live there, of their amusements, of their work, and of those things which are matters of daily interest to them, so that my book may serve as a kind of preface to that enthralling volume, the current history of China, as it is daily revealed in the press, in magazines and in learned works.
While confining myself herein to the lighter side of narrative, I am not unconscious of those intricate problems and deep studies connected with the Far East, but to which profound research and matured judgment must be applied, though information thereon, even when collected and published, would appeal mostly to the narrow circle of experts on matters Chinese.
The vast Empire of China with its hundreds of millions of toiling slaves, with its old, old civilisation reaching back for untold years prior to the dawn of history in the West, with its manners and customs so worn into the national character that they almost form the character itself, with its fertile plains, its sandy deserts, its lofty mountains, its mighty rivers, its torrid heat and arctic cold, its devastating floods, its cruel famines and loathsome epidemics, represents a mass, the contemplation of which staggers the mind and makes one ask, "What is Europe trying to do here? Does she hope to conquer, to change or to purify?"
After a residence of twelve years in various parts of the country I instinctively feel that while military occupation by the Great Powers may be possible, not only is China in a sense unconquerable, but that she is eminently a conquering nation, though not by clash of arms. Insidiously, remorselessly and viciously she will subdue apostles of the West who are sent to her, and unless persistently restrained will overflow into adjacent lands and conquer there by cheap labour and unremitting toil.
For the photographs I am indebted to the generosity of Mrs T. Child, as well as to T.T.H. Ferguson, A.J.E. Allen, Carlos Cabral and the late H. Hall, Esquires.
I. ANGLO-CHINESE LIFE 1
II. SERVANTS AND TRADESMEN 26
III. SHOOTING 46
IV. RIDING 73
V. SAILING 96
VI. JAMBOREES 119
VII. AROUND PEKING 139
VIII. HERE AND THERE 169
IX. THE MARRIAGE TIE 197
X. DISCUSSED POINTS: PEOPLE, LANGUAGE, MISSIONARIES, CHANCES 212
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PAGODA NEAR HANKOW H. HALL Frontispiece
THE BRITISH CONCESSION, HANKOW Chinese To face page 3
HOUSE-COOLIE, BOY, COOK, AND "NO. 2." T.T.H. FERGUSON " 37
HOUSE-BOAT ON THE YANGTSE A.J.E. ALLEN " 50
THE CAB OF NORTHERN CHINA A.J.E. ALLEN " 75
THE OLD GRAND-STAND, HANKOW RACES, 1888 Chinese " 87
FOOCHOW JUNK, SHOWING EYE T.T.H. FERGUSON " 98
PLAYING FANTAN IN PRIVATE HOUSE CARLOS CABRAL " 133
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA T.T.H. FERGUSON " 158
AVENUE OF STONE FIGURES, MING TOMBS T.T.H. FERGUSON " 161
A TYPICAL FARM-HOUSE H. HALL " 177
FISHING-JUNKS IN MACAO HARBOUR AT CHINESE NEW YEAR CARLOS CABRAL " 189
BUDDHIST PRIEST AND ACOLYTE HOLDING BOOK T. CHILD " 228
Bund. The embankment or quay of a concession.
Concession. A strip of land conceded by China to another Power exclusively for the residences of foreigners.
Camoens. Portuguese poet who wrote the Luciad at Macao.
Chit. Any letter or note, also an I.O.U.
Chop chop. Quickly. Hurry up.
Compradore. Chinese agent or partner.
Coolie. Chinese labourer.
Cumshaw. A tip or present.
European. In China this word is equally applicable to Americans.
Foreigner. European or American in China.
Gingall. Heavy muzzle-loading musket requiring two men to carry and fire it.
Han, Children of. Chinese.
Kowtow. To make obeisance by striking the head on the ground.
Out-port. Any treaty port except Shanghai, and Hongkong.
Papico. Junk from Ningpo, shaped aft like a duck.
Pow. To gallop.
Praia Grande. Esplanade facing sea.
Pumelo. A coarse fruit resembling an enormous orange.
Punkah. Large fan suspended from ceiling for ventilating room.
Ricksha. Small gig drawn by a coolie, who plies it for hire.
Runner. Official underling. Police agent.
Sai. Here I am. A word used by servants combining Sir and Lai, to come.
Samli. A fish resembling salmon.
Sampan. Small native boat.
Samshu. Spirit distilled from rice or millet.
Settlement. Where Europeans have settled on a limited strip of Chinese territory.
Shroff. Chinese accountant, cashier and banker.
Squeeze. Recognised cheating.
Sycee Shoes. Rough lumps of silver cast in shape of China-woman's small shoe or of half-globe.
Treaty-port. Any port opened by treaty to foreign trade.
Waler. Horse from New South Wales.
Westerner. European or American.
Yamen. Official building.
Yulow. A scull worked over the stern.
Zacousca. Russian appetiser or snack taken before meals.
Life and Sport in China
Anglo-Chinese life is a sealed book to most people at home, who, if they ever think about it at all, do so with minds adversely biassed by ignorance of the conditions, a hazy idea of intense heat, and a remembrance of cruel massacres.
"Going to China" always elicits looks and exclamations of astonishment at so rash an undertaking, but which the stock questions as to whether we eat with chopsticks, whether it is not always unbearably hot, and whether we like the Chinese, explain as disquietude arising from the idea of encountering "evils that we know not of."
Our early business relations with the Chinese were conducted at Canton, to which port opium in particular was shipped direct from India, but owing to the hostility of Chinese officials towards British merchants and the legitimate expansion of their trade, quarrels were frequent, culminating in the so-called Opium War of 1840-42, resulting in the acquisition by us of the small, barren island of Hongkong, and the opening to foreign trade of five ports, including Canton and Shanghai, at all of which small plots of land some half a mile square were set apart for the exclusive residence of foreigners generally but of Englishmen in particular. Disputes, however, did not cease, so that twenty years later England and France in co-operation, attacked China, and wrung from her the right of foreign ministers accredited to the Chinese court to reside at Peking, and also that additional ports should be opened to foreign trade, with a plot of land at each for residential purposes.
The treaties following on these two wars have since been supplemented by other treaties opening still more ports, at some of which also adjoining plots of land have likewise been conceded, and our position in China to-day is founded on the accumulated result of these various agreements, which, above all things, guarantee us exterritoriality or exemption from Chinese jurisdiction, so that Europeans for whatever misdemeanours, are amenable only to their own consuls.
There are now about thirty treaty-ports, most of them having these residential plots or concessions some of which, however, have never been taken up and built on, but where they have been, although leased from the Chinese Government at nominal rents, they are to all intents and purposes little detached portions of the British Empire, kept scrupulously clean and in perfect order, where natives are not allowed to dwell, but where Europeans of all nationalities live in security and comfort.
In each of them resides a British consul, who represents his Government vis-a-vis the Chinese and foreign officials, and who holds the position of magistrate in relation to his own nationals. An English doctor also is generally in practice at all, except the very smallest, ports.
In many instances walls have been built round these concessions, the gateways in which can be bolted and barred at night to keep out the natives, a good system of drainage introduced, wide roads laid out and lighted, public seats placed in pleasant spots facing the water, trees planted, palatial houses built with gardens attached, a church constructed, clubs founded, billiard-tables and other insignia of Western luxury imported, a municipal council elected for managing local affairs, and a force of native police or Indian Sikhs raised, with which, under English superintendents, to maintain order in our streets.
Other countries, notably France, have similar settlements, though far less numerous, but I shall herein refer exclusively to our own.
Off the frontage or bund is frequently moored a line of hulks connected with the shore by pontoons, and which in their day were probably the finest ocean liners afloat, but now, worn out and dismantled, serve as floating warehouses, alongside which steamers come to discharge and load cargo. At other places vessels drop anchor in mid-stream, while between them and the various jetties large cargo boats constantly pass to and fro laden with merchandise, to be quickly shipped or landed by gangs of chattering coolies.
Everywhere the foreshore is always crowded with a fleet of native junks, displaying half mast be it a bundle of wood, a rice measure or a coal scoop, to show that their cargoes consisting of wood, rice, coal, etc., are for sale.
Either just on the concession, by permission of the consul, or in Chinatown immediately outside, are two or three general stores and butchers' shops, run by either Chinese, Parsees or Japanese, especially to supply the foreign community with groceries, bread, meat and other daily requisites.
No one carries money in his pocket, for the Europeans being but few in number are well known by sight, and any purchase is made by signing an I.O.U., or chit, for the amount necessary in dollars or cents. At the club you call for say two sherries and one bamboo (half sherry, half vermouth) and the waiter brings them, together with a small chit-book in which he has already written down your order in pencil, and this, after inspection, you simply sign or initial, when it is torn out and dropped into the till and you see no more of it until the end of the month, when your club bill comes in, supported by all the chits you have signed.
For the offertory, pencils and pieces of paper are distributed about the church, so that the congregation may easily write chits, which are folded up and dropped into the bag, to be presented at your house next day by the church coolie for payment. This system, though very convenient, is apt to prove something of a trap, for signing a chit is so much easier, and the amount appears to be so much less than if paying in hard cash, that when the monthly total is made up you are at first inclined to believe there must be some mistake; but alas! careful verification too plainly shows that you have signed for more than you had any idea of.
Amongst Europeans the currency employed is the silver dollar, now worth about one shilling and sevenpence though formerly rated at five shillings, together with a subsidiary coinage of fifty, twenty, ten and five-cent silver pieces, as well as coppers of one and two cents each.
The Chinese standard of value in universal use throughout the Empire is copper cash. A cash is about the size of a shilling and equivalent to one eighth of a farthing in value. Through the centre of each coin is a square hole large enough to admit a thick string. It is usual to thread cash, first into bundles of one hundred, each bundle being about the size and shape of a sausage, and then for ten bundles to be strung together in pairs, so that the full string of a thousand cash almost exactly corresponds to a double string of ten sausages. The value of this full string is about half-a-crown, and owing to its great weight is usually carried slung over the shoulder.
The tael, pronounced tale, is not a coin at all, but means simply an ounce (of silver). There are many kinds of taels, each of a different value according to the purity or touch of the silver, which is chiefly determined by the locality in which the metal is mined.
When a Chinaman sells native produce to a European he always keeps in mind its value in cash, and wants a corresponding value in dollars or taels, whatever the price of silver may happen to be. The same with wages of all kinds; the amount required in each case is based on what each individual requires in cash.
The whole monetary system, or rather lack of system, complicated by numberless local banks, each with its own issue of paper money, is so bewildering that European householders seldom bother about anything beyond dollars and cents, to which standard, for their especial benefit, all others are reduced, though always at a certain loss in the exchange.
Some of these concessions, which are in reality little English towns, have greatly prospered since their inauguration and are now centres of voluminous and increasing trade; but others, belying their initial prosperity, have stagnated, and appear to be gradually slipping back to the Chinese, who, in contravention of treaty ordinances, have been allowed to acquire property on them and reside there in rapidly-increasing numbers.
The thriving settlement of Shanghai, which is situated near the mouth of the River Yangtse, and which possesses a foreign population of six or seven thousand, may be considered the metropolis of other treaty-ports in the northern half of the Empire, or, as they are generally called, "out-ports"; while the British colony of Hongkong stands in the same relation to out-ports in the south.
Hongkong has now no connection whatever with China, being entirely a British possession, and has been converted from a barren rock to a most lovely, thriving and important commercial town and naval base, and is the greatest triumph of British enterprise and material civilisation that I know of.
Nearly all these out-ports are in telegraphic communication with either Shanghai or Hongkong, and through them with the outside world, while the postal service is conducted by means of coast and river steamers which, plying regularly with passengers and cargo, have bases in these two emporiums, so that in whatever port you reside your thoughts and your interests are daily and directly concerned with either one or the other. From them come the daily newspapers, arriving, maybe, several days after date of issue, but still fresh reading for those in distant places. From them come the gun-boats which, besides protection, bring the welcome society of jovial naval men, and from them come commercial travellers with assortments of hats, boots, guns, clothes and other necessaries; while to them we go to embark for home, or, when in need of a social holiday, to chip off the rust of out-port seclusion, until eventually we look to them for many of our creature comforts, and through them, as through a window, to the world beyond.
Existence at both Shanghai and Hongkong is surrounded with so many Western accessories in the shape of good houses, electric light, excellent roads, horses and carriages, bands in public gardens and hourly telegrams, that life at an out-port, while at times very monotonous, is frequently more interesting, for there, being less overshadowed by the pleasure of foreign society, you may come into closer touch with things Chinese, so that if the study of a people the most antiquated and wonderful under the sun has attractions for any, this, together with the many facilities for the enjoyment of sport and outdoor life, should be sufficient to bring occasional contentment to even the most despondent.
From the extreme north to the extreme south, and from the sea to the mean west, that is, along the coast line and up the River Yangtse for fourteen hundred miles to Chungking, these nests of British enterprise adhere like barnacles to China's stolid bulk, dominating her vast trade with other countries, appearing as bright oases in the desert of Eastern heathendom and unfriendliness, and ranging in numerical importance from say thirty to five hundred Europeans, in accordance with the amount of shipping which flows through them and is their very life-blood.
Much depends on the residents themselves whether social life in these miniature colonies is to be very pleasant or only a deadly monotony. Nearly every man who comes out from home has been selected from among his fellows for some particular superiority. Either he is smart in business, has health and physique to withstand the extremes of climate to which he may be subjected, is clever and has gained his appointment in competitive examination, or he may have all these qualities combined; anyhow, he is a picked man, above the average all round, and as such has a corresponding force of character.
A number of such men being thrown together in a small place either co-operate and become fast friends, their wives and children, if they have any, following suit, when existence is rendered charming, or, on the other hand, with their marked individualities and business rivalries they may quarrel, in which case the best thing is to forego all hopes of social pleasures and wrap yourself up in your own content. A quarrelsome port provides an amusing study for a short time, but after that, especially during the depressing dampness of the rainy season when it is too wet to go out, life becomes very monotonous and irritating, for the space being so limited you are continually brought face to face with people who are on bad terms and who try to attach you to their side. Trivial jealousies, mythical slights and insignificant nothings which would pass unnoticed in a larger world here assume such alarming proportions that the club languishes owing to numerous resignations, few attend church because one of the rival faction plays the organ, and the evening promenade beneath the trees along the bund is transformed from a pleasant family gathering into a funereal procession.
In pleasing contrast is a nice port, where people pull together, where good-fellowship and hospitality make one feel like the member of a large family, where you walk into the house of your neighbour, smoke his cigars and drink his whisky, brought to you while reclining in a long chair on the verandah with the punkah swinging lazily over you, waiting for the master's return. This is done with the pleasurable knowledge that your friend would naturally instal himself in your house under like circumstances. Here is real charm. Think, too, of the outdoor life, of those lovely evenings when the air is soft and warm, the moon at full and of a size never seen in England, when a party of us would sail out on the lake, drop anchor and dine in the cool breeze, and after cigars and coffee would sail on again, singing songs that carried us back to days of yore and bringing a sad yet sweet strain into thoughts and voices as we glided over the moonlit waters.
Spring and autumn bring the two great events of the year—the races.
Many ports have a capital race-course, which is always circular in shape, enclosing what are generally the grounds of the recreation club, while almost every sporting man trains a pony or two, which he frets and fumes over in a style that would not bemean a Newmarket turf magnate. Weeks before the meeting, increasing in intensity as the time shortens and decreasing slowly as the event recedes, the talk is purely of ponies, ponies, ponies—until the non-racing man droops and turns away, but without daring to utter one single word of protest against the prevailing epidemic of pony talk. Race lotteries at the club afford great excitement to the betting men, when the knowing ones make books which in the end leave them considerably to the bad, while those who know nothing rejoice with the joy of fools, thinking that to their own perspicuity is due the roll of dollars which wanton luck has thrust upon them.
On the actual race days, of which there are generally two, with a third or off-day tacked on, things reach a climax. All business is curtailed or altogether suspended. Everyone wears colours, either his own or those of a friend, and at eleven o'clock the ladies are driven to the course in state by happy owners of various nondescript vehicles furbished up for the occasion. Everyone knows everyone else, the names of ponies entered have been household words for weeks, while their supposed merits are open secrets, the jockeys are personal friends, the weather is bright and warm, the ladies wear their smartest dresses, the course is kept and order maintained with the aid of bluejackets from the gun-boat in port, while her drum and fife band or nigger troupe renders selections of varied merits. A race over, the successful owner and jockey are seized and carried shoulder high to the bar behind the grand-stand, where winners and losers alike have preceded them to secure a glass of champagne at the owner's expense, with which to drink his health and show a befitting sense of joy at the victory which has just been achieved.
An excellent champagne lunch is served in the grand-stand, and presided over by the clerk of the course, who, by virtue of his exalted office, ranks high in the community, when suitable toasts are proposed and cordially honoured, followed by an adjournment to the paddock for a stroll and a smoke, after which attention is again claimed for the business of the afternoon's racing.
Riding is usually well to the fore, and on an afternoon parties of ladies with attendant cavaliers trot down the reach by the river and gallop home across the plain, or wend along the beach, walking their ponies in the salt water.
For the sportsman game in abundance generally lies within reach, and nothing of its kind is more delightful than an afternoon with the spring snipe, or a shooting trip of a few days in company with a kindred spirit.
Tennis is still a favourite amusement during summer months, and garden-parties, comprising almost the whole community, meet frequently, be it on the club grounds or at private houses, when those who do not play come to watch and chat while partaking of ices and other refreshments, or smoking peacefully in the cool shade of leafy trees.
In many places there are good turf courts, but at others, where grass will not grow sufficiently well to be of any practical value, recourse is had to either cement or cinders.
Chinese lads in neat cotton uniforms are always in attendance to field the balls, which they do remarkably well, thereby adding greatly to one's enjoyment of the game.
Golf has of late years come greatly into prominence, a frequent place for the links being on the recreation ground enclosed by the race-track, for which reason it is generally the case that they are too flat to afford much variety of play, although near to Macao there are some very rough links which, from the natural advantages and lovely scenery, could be made almost ideal.
Our club there consisted of six members when at its zenith, and occasionally two in times of dearth. We had three miles to bicycle out, and part of the way over a fearful stone road through nauseous burial-grounds, but once there, a round or two in cool, fresh air, amongst the hills and pines, overlooking both sea and river, amply repaid one for the toilsome journey.
Of rowing there is very little, except at Shanghai and Hongkong, where there are large and flourishing clubs.
Hongkong being on the sea it is not practicable to use light ships, which, of course, is a great drawback.
At Shanghai there is the harbour and also a small creek about the size of the Cam, both of which afford ample facilities. The club has two excellent boathouses and plenty of boats, and is composed of the finest material possible, all the best men in Shanghai, as is ever the case elsewhere, going in for rowing at one time or another; but the rowing is not first-class, and unless things have greatly changed since I was an active member, a crew capable of sitting a light cedar ship could not be mustered, all the racing being done in clinker boats.
The reason for this lack of watermanship is partly due to the difficulty in coaching otherwise than from the stern of a boat, there being no towing path on which the coach can ride or run alongside his men, as is done at Oxford or Cambridge, while the hire of launches is too expensive. Also, part of the reason is due to beginners being seldom taken out and coached in tubs by expert senior men who have had the benefit of a professional or scientific training, but are put into a bad four and left to develop themselves as best they may. It would well repay the club to have a path made alongside the creek and to get a professional out from home for a year or two to initiate a high-class style, after which the traditions, once firmly established, would pass down naturally to succeeding generations of oarsmen.
The coxing is on a par with the rowing. I have seen a length lost at a corner, the rate of striking reduced by ten a minute and the crew badly pulled to pieces, through the rudder being hard on when the oars were in the water.
After all, skill in rowing is but a question of degree and of no vital importance in a place so isolated from other rowing centres as is Shanghai, while the club is certainly one of the best to get into on arriving there, especially for youths, as plenty of good, open-air exercise can thus be obtained in the society of strong, healthy-minded men.
If hills or mountains be within easy distance bungalows are there built, to which most ladies and children retire for the hot weather, the men snatching hasty visits when business allows them to leave the settlement. At one place down south such bungalows are built on a tiny island four or five miles out at sea, and there it is never very hot, while in the evenings it is delightful to bathe, stroll along the sands, or sit with the pilot on watch up by the old ruined fort, where you can see rays from the lighthouses flashing far, far across the waves, watch the lights of steamers as they pass beneath and listen to the cadenced throbbing of their screws. For those residing in Central China a sanatorium has lately sprung up near Kiukiang, at Kuling, a valley some 4,000 feet above sea-level in the Lushan mountains, which overlook the Yangtse on one side and the Poyang lake on the other. This valley was unknown to Europeans a few years ago, but has now the appearance of a country town, there being probably a hundred and fifty well-appointed bungalows strongly built of stone quarried on the spot, a church, shops, laundry and a network of roads and paths.
When feeling run down after a long spell of intense heat in the plains, a trip to this resort is most refreshing, for there it is always cool enough to wear light tweeds during the day and to sleep under a blanket at night. The mountain rambles are lovely, be it over the lofty peaks, through the trees and scrub in the valleys or along the bed of a stream, where frequent pools of running, crystal water afford good bathing or a little fishing for those addicted to the gentle art.
Never shall I forget one glorious day when, accompanying two friends, we crossed to a far side of the range and looked down on the Poyang lake. The view was magnificent, and on our return journey the setting sun flashed every imaginable hue on the mists rolling close above our heads, on the landscape changing as we moved, on mountain crags and on the lake, unfolding at each turn dissolving scenes of surpassing loveliness.
On arrival at Kiukiang by steamer you hire a chair with four bearers for the ten or twelve miles' journey up the mountains, with additional coolies to carry your luggage. For half the distance you follow ordinary country roads, but during the last few miles the path, though well constructed, is very steep in some places, while in others it overhangs yawning valleys, where you instinctively grip the sides of your chair and fervently hope the bearers will not trip.
In the north, Chefoo, Wei-hai-wei and Pei-tai-ho attract a goodly number of visitors to the seaside during summer months, while others desiring greater change sail to earth's fairyland, Japan, or even make the voyage to Canada and back.
We dance whenever and wherever we can. The houses being generally large, with fine rooms often but lightly furnished on account of the summer heat or our own nomadic habits, and servants being both plentiful and willing, the giving of a dance presents no great difficulties.
It is a common thing at a dinner-party of twelve or fourteen to have the drawing-room cleared during dinner, so that with the help of a few more friends who come in afterwards, the evening's entertainment can be pleasantly varied with a few dances.
I was once at a small port where for a long time there had been only one lady, who was naturally regarded as the belle of the place. Presently a rival appeared, and with her two pretty, unmarried sisters; whereon my messmates and I forthwith gave an impromptu dance.
We cleared our dining-room for the occasion, but found the carpet to be so old and so tightly nailed down that it would not bear removing, and we decided to dance on it.
No sooner, however, had we commenced to the strains of an accordion, not having a piano, than the floor, which was laid on round joists over the entrance hall, began to vibrate so violently that glasses on the sideboard were smashed and ornaments fell from the walls, while dust from the carpet, which evidently had not been beaten for years, rose in such clouds that, coupled with the heat of a stifling night, we were literally choked off and obliged to take refuge in the garden. Fortunately it was a beautiful night and full moon, so we diverted our dance to a game of hide-and-seek, and a merrier evening I have seldom spent.
The annual out-port subscription ball keeps everyone in a ferment for weeks. Owing to the cosmopolitan nature of the community due care must be taken that the various nationalities are represented on the committee, to avoid giving offence.
Then the committee has to decide, amongst other things, who are to be invited and who not, and it invariably happens that some are for including all, irrespective of station, while others desire to draw the line after what they consider to be the elite. In either case there is bound to be a certain amount of friction, which at times rises to a very heated pitch.
One of the leading ladies superintends the decoration of the ballroom, another is responsible for the supper, while another sees that the floor is properly waxed and arranges for the piano, as the music is provided by leading amateurs, there being no band.
After endless discussion and elaborate preparation the important night arrives, when the guests assemble, frequently with strained feelings but with a fixed determination to enjoy the passing hour.
Men are largely in the majority, so that ladies of all ages, ranging say from fourteen to forty, are requested as a favour to dance, and are assured beforehand of a full programme.
Those men who cannot get partners, or do not care to dance, spend the evening between cards and occasional visits to the ballroom to watch.
The supper is always very good and not hurried through with that undue haste so noticeable at home. The assembly, being considerably leavened with people who are, to say the least, well out of their teens, makes itself comfortable for an hour or more, doing ample justice to the delicacies provided; indeed, after the ladies have all departed, bachelors and wayward husbands usually return to the attack once, and even twice, so that it is not uncommon to hear an incoherent "For he's a jolly good fellow" from a belated band of revellers returning home shortly before daylight.
At Peking, Hongkong and Shanghai dances and balls are very frequent and carried out on a scale comparable with that of similar festivities at home.
The club is always a popular institution, where the male element of the community, frequently representing many nationalities, gathers for a game of billiards and a chat, and where the home and local papers, together with a fair number of books and magazines, are to be found. One evening during the tea season, just before dinner, I counted at one time fourteen nationalities in the bar of the Hankow Club.
I like those friendly gatherings at the round table, when sport and other topics of our limited world are discussed, and when one generally manages to give or to receive an invitation to pot-luck, with a rubber or a gentle poker flutter to follow.
There, too, is sometimes an American bowling alley, where on cold nights, or hot, for the matter of that, we roll huge wooden balls down a raised track for twenty yards, to scatter nine pins at the bottom. There are two parallel tracks and we make up two bowling parties of three or four aside, the losers to pay for the game and provide refreshments all round.
China is so enormous in extent that it embraces almost every variety of climate, though, speaking generally, the summer is everywhere very warm, while the winter, from being almost of arctic severity in the northern provinces, where the sea is frozen and all navigation stopped for six weeks or two months, gradually becomes milder in lower latitudes, until snow and frost are seldom experienced, and finally never seen in the sub-tropical region of the extreme south. Many years ago snow fell at Canton and the astonished natives are said to have collected it in bottles to keep, believing that it was a kind of cotton.
In the Yangtse valley during July, August and September, the heat at times is well-nigh intolerable both by day and night. You arise in the morning played out after a comfortless night under a punkah, which, hung over your bed in the limited space of a mosquito house, is pulled with a rope passing through the wall by a coolie stationed on the verandah outside. With the thermometer standing at ninety degrees in your bedroom you frame the mental query "Can I last through the day?" as you crawl on to the verandah in pyjamas wet through with perspiration, to watch the sun rise, hoping, but in vain, for a breath of air. The insects buzz, a scorched smell pervades everywhere, the birds hop listlessly about, gasping with wide-open bills, the fans of coolies who have been sleeping on the grass, beat with hollow flap, the sun rises like a furnace, and you must retreat again to the shadow of your room to avoid sunstroke.
As the day advances the temperature creeps up until it is over a hundred and you feel your eyes dry and heavy in their sockets, with a throbbing in your ears, when for full-blooded people of any age it becomes highly dangerous, death by heat apoplexy being painfully common.
In the evening, after dinner, long chairs are taken out on the bund and many assemble there in silence, betrayed only in the darkness by a continual popping of corks and glowing cigar-tips, to catch what little air there may chance to be, and to watch the lightning in hopes that the oft-threatened storm will burst and break the heat.
I remember at Kiukiang the daily temperature rising to over a hundred degrees in the shade for nearly three weeks at a stretch, culminating in one hundred and seven, when a break came which, at any rate, saved my life and practically ended the summer.
Many a time, when too hot for sleep, have I played whist till three o'clock in the morning. Selecting the corner of an upstairs verandah where there might be some possibility of a faint draught, and having cigars, whisky and iced soda well within reach, we would take off our white jackets for greater coolness and sit perspiring in singlets round the table between guttering candles, when with bare heads and naked arms we must have had the appearance of desperate gamblers, though only playing the regulation twenty-five cent points with longs and shorts and a dollar on the rub, so that the damage could not be very extensive.
The winter in this locality is very much on a par with that in England, only shorter, there being generally some frost with a good deal of snow and occasionally enough ice for skating.
Dinner-parties are very numerous, being the chief method of entertainment. The menu is, as a rule, excellent, and the import duty being almost nominal, wine is both plentiful and good.
After a few mental twinges endured by leading personages consequent on somewhat exaggerated ideas of precedence, the company is seated, and a good dinner, aided by a lively flow of chit-chat, makes the evening speed pleasantly and well.
But, you will ask, what besides amusing themselves have these Anglo-Chinese to do? British steamers swarm throughout the China seas and up the Yangtse for a thousand miles to Ichang, and it is in controlling the working of these vessels, in importing and selling manufactured goods and opium, in buying and exporting tea, silk and other products of the country, as well as in filling positions in Government services or any professional calling that agents, merchants, officials and the professional classes find employment, so that if in exile we surround ourselves with such luxuries and enjoyments as are reserved for the wealthy at home it is because they are ready to hand at but little cost, and that they serve in a degree to compensate us for the sweet pleasures of home-life which are forfeited by those who leave Old England to push their ways in distant lands.
SERVANTS AND TRADESMEN
On your first arrival at an out-port, and as you are crossing the pontoon which leads from the steamer to the bund, a most beaming celestial meets you and presents an open letter, which runs something like this:—
"I hereby certify that the bearer, Lao San, was my boy for eight months, and I found him honest and willing. TOM JONES."
The celestial smirks and jabbers something in pidgin English, which not being able to understand you answer with a grunt and pass on.
The celestial says, "All right, savez, can do," and vanishes.
Reaching your quarters, you find two or three more beaming natives, also armed with letters of recommendation, probably borrowed for the occasion, and who severally inform you "My b'long welly good boy."
These letters of recommendation become kinds of heirlooms, and as foreigners seldom know the correct names of their Chinese servants, they are, for a consideration, handed about from one to the other when seeking employment.
You must have a boy anyhow, and are just beginning to inspect the candidates when a friend suddenly turns up.
"I'm awfully sorry, old man, I couldn't manage to come and meet you on board, but the steamer arrived earlier than was expected, so I came straight on here, and knowing you would require a boy, brought one along who wants a job. I don't know anything about him, but he says he's all right, and they are mostly pretty much alike. Anyhow, you might give him a trial, and if he doesn't suit, just kick him out."
Before you can reply the door is thrown violently open, and your luggage, which you had left for the time being in your cabin on the steamer, is brought in on bamboo poles by half-a-dozen coolies and dumped on the floor, the beaming celestial who met you on the pontoon following close behind, carrying your collection of sun hats, umbrellas and sticks. He immediately pays the coolies, unstraps rugs and trunks, and commences to arrange the room.
Your friend says, "Oh, I didn't know you had brought your own boy," and goes on to talk of other things.
You feel rather pleased at all the luggage having turned up without any effort on your part, pleased at being freed from the importunities of out-of-work boys, and dumbly acquiesce, so that Lao San remains until you have the time or inclination to engage a really good boy; but as you seldom have the time, and never the inclination, he is already pretty firmly established.
In the course of the day he introduces a cook as well as two or three coolies that you do not want but must have, and explains that all these men are of exceptionally good character, and that he "can secure b'long all ploper." You submit, of course, and so your household is arranged by the boy without you really having had a word to say. A day or two later you suddenly remember that nothing has been said on the subject of wages.
You ring up the boy, and after a short discussion it is arranged that he is to receive eight dollars a month, the cook ten, and the coolies six and five. Everything is arranged with the boy, the other servants not appearing on the scene at all, and so it is that, having obtained situations for his friends, they are by "olo custom" obliged to pay him a squeeze on their salaries, the cook probably two dollars a month and the coolies one each. Without your consent or knowledge the cook introduces a young friend of his into the kitchen to be known as the "second cook," or simply "No 2." His position corresponds to that of the scullery-maid, washing up pots and pans, lighting the fire and running errands, in return for which he receives very little, if any, pay, but learns the art of cooking. Your house is now in going order, and at first things really work very well under the boy's supervision.
A few weeks later it suddenly dawns on you that expenses are mounting up in rather an unaccountable way, and you look into matters.
Nothing very serious comes to light, and any doubtful little points are most clearly explained away by the boy. However, it is not long before you again begin to feel uneasy and insist on knowing details of the various small accounts which are monthly presented to you by each individual on the premises.
You are being squeezed by all!
The boy charges for a number of small items such as lampwick, matches, soap, candles, etc., that you have never had, or in half the quantities stated. Also, on things which you have had, a large percentage over cost price is levied. All the native tradesmen are in league with your servants, and while you know that you are being swindled it would be quite impossible to prove it, for should a shopkeeper or butcher tell you what his prices really were he would lose much of his business, as servants in foreign employ would, in time, by some means or other, take the custom elsewhere.
You are the means whereby a large but limited circle of Chinese manage to live and oftentimes save money. All members of the circle regard you as their prey, and tacitly combining to play into each other's hands they fleece you with impunity, it being extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get one Chinaman to expose or bear witness against another, especially if it be with the object of benefiting the foreigner.
The best way for a bachelor to run his house is to set aside a certain sum which he knows should be sufficient for monthly expenditure. If he can keep his expenses below this figure so much the better. If he cannot, and they exceed it, he should cut down the various accounts until a sufficient reduction has been reached. It is useless trying to argue the case, he would always come off worsted.
I heard of one bachelor who had been drawing a salary of six hundred dollars a month, but he kept up such style that he could only just cover expenses. After a time his business partly failed, so he sent for the boy and explained he could only spend four hundred dollars. The domestic pulled a long face, but the style of living was not altered in the least.
Again bad times came and expenditure had to be further reduced to three hundred dollars a month. The bachelor informed his servant that he had better get another situation as he feared it would be difficult for him to come down from six hundred dollars to three hundred, and that it would be wiser to start a fresh establishment more in accordance with his reduced circumstances.
After reflection the boy decided to struggle on, and this he did with such success that the style of living was exactly the same as it had ever been.
The word "boy" bears no reference whatever to the individual's age, which may be anything between sixteen and sixty. It is merely a term applied by foreigners to their personal attendants.
The duties of the boy are those of the ordinary housekeeper in England, with several additions.
He looks after the other servants and is generally responsible for their good behaviour. He pays all wages and the accounts of the local tradespeople, on which, of course, he levies a recognised squeeze. He waits at table, answers the bell, makes the beds and brushes his master's clothes, in fact, makes himself generally useful.
As a rule, he accompanies his master to all dinner-parties to assist in waiting. Also, it is a common and recognised practice for the boy of a house where a big dinner or a dance is being held to borrow requisites from the boy of another house, and often without reference to the owner, so that when dining out you not infrequently drink from your own glasses, use your own knives and forks, see your own lamp on the dinner-table and are waited on by your own servant.
A Scotchman who had recently married brought from London a goodly supply of fine glassware for the new home. At one of the dinner-parties given in honour of himself and bride, after replying to the toast of the evening he proposed the health of his host and requested the company to drink it with Highland honours by placing one foot on the table and one on the chair. Bumpers having been tossed off he added that it would not be fitting for glasses consecrated by such distinguished service to thereafter descend to ordinary usage, and suiting the action to the word, flung the tumbler over his shoulder, so that it was shivered to atoms against the wall, the other guests, numbering upwards of a dozen, following suit.
His boy's placid comment on the proceeding was, "Truly master b'long too muchee foolo, he no savez b'long he new glass."
They were indeed his own beautiful tumblers, borrowed for the occasion without his knowledge.
If anything is lost in the house, the boy, being answerable, is supposed to make the loss good, although he seldom does so. It may be imagined that his post is no sinecure with an exacting master, but it is lucrative and one much sought after.
The custom of servants mutually guaranteeing each other's good conduct is a great safeguard, for in the case of theft or other misdemeanour by one of them, all the others are responsible and severe measures may be taken against them with the view of discovering the culprit, so that in reality while subject to numberless irritating, petty pilferings, against which there is no guarding and for which it is impossible to obtain redress, it rarely happens that any serious offence is committed.
Amongst themselves the Chinese carry this principle of responsibility to such great lengths that if after committing a crime the culprit flees from justice, the officials can, and often do, arrest his father, mother, wife and whole family, and both imprison and persecute them until the fugitive gives himself up; and such is the strength of the family tie that this arbitrary method is seldom known to fail.
The cook is, next to the boy, the most important of the other servants, and as a rule is fairly efficient, some indeed being excellent, although great care must be taken to guard against their natural love of filthiness. A kitchen into which the master or mistress of the house does not go once or twice every day should never be visited at all if one wishes to enjoy one's meals.
This is also a lucrative post, for besides wages and a heavy squeeze on every article brought into the kitchen, the remains of each meal, whether half a chicken, half a leg of mutton, or both, are regarded by the cook as his perquisite and carried off for sale to native restaurants, unless special orders have been given to the contrary. A reason for this is that in hot climates food, if not eaten at once, quickly becomes worse than useless. Also, owing to the cheapness of meat, eggs, vegetables, etc., it is by no means the serious loss that it would be at home, and so the householder is generally not sorry that the remains of each meal should disappear and thus get fresh food at every repast.
The cooking in foreign houses is entirely European, the Chinese cuisine being of a very different and truly wonderful kind, although excellent in quality. Western ladies have often taken great pains to train their cooks to a high standard of proficiency, a well-served dinner in China not uncommonly far surpassing in excellence the corresponding meal at home. Of course, the reverse is frequently the case, still, it serves to show that the Chinese have a great faculty for the culinary art.
In England a dinner-party must be arranged some days beforehand in order that the necessary preparations may be made, and it is practically impossible to suddenly announce at tea-time that there will be eight people to dinner instead of two.
This matter is certainly managed better in China.
Oftentimes on returning from office at five o'clock I have sent for the cook and said, "To-night eight piecee man catchee dinner. Can do, no can do?" and the reply has invariably been a laconic "Can do."
At once there would be great bustling but no confusion, and it has always seemed to me that these sudden demands on the kitchen staff, instead of evoking complaints and sullen looks, are regarded rather as a source of pleasurable excitement. "No 2" hurries off to market and quickly returns with fish, chops, chickens, eggs and fruit. Meanwhile, the cook dashes another pint or two of water into the soup and gets a jam pudding well under way.
On returning from the club at seven o'clock you find that the boy has tastefully laid the table and decorated it with leaves and flowers. After seeing to the wine and cigars you go up to dress, and on receiving your guests at half-past seven the dinner is ready.
I remember with feelings of pleasure the following incident which occurred at Chinkiang.
For some days I had been engaged to dine with friends living in the next house, and was actually on my way there, when an old acquaintance, who had just arrived by the steamer from Shanghai, met me in the garden and wanted particularly to see me with regard to some private affair. As the steamer would be leaving again in two hours and my friend was obliged to continue his voyage to Hankow, I had no other means of meeting his wishes than by forfeiting my engagement. This I did in a hastily-written chit, making the best excuses I could, and then sent for the cook. On his appearance I informed him that I wanted dinner for two—chop chop! Without moving a muscle he answered, "Can do." Thinking to hurry up matters a little I went to the kitchen, but found it in darkness and without any fire. The servants meanwhile had all disappeared, and I returned to my friend with the information that we must possess our souls in patience, so we settled ourselves on the verandah for a serious talk, but hardly had we done so than the boy announced dinner.
Following him in considerable amazement I found that, the night being warm, he had laid a small table on the lawn and that the soup was already served. It was delicious, as were also the samli, the woodcock, the lamb cutlets and the ice-cream. Things having taken so happy a turn, I uncorked a bottle of champagne and we had a banquet fit for a king.
My friend complimented me on the prowess of the cook, and we smoked our cigars and chatted over the coffee until the steamer's whistle announced that, cargo being finished, she was ready to start. After seeing him off I joined the party next door in order to offer apologies and explanations to the hostess, who freely forgave me, though her husband lamented that I had missed the samli, the woodcock and the lamb, which were the first of the season.
I discreetly held my peace, but inquiries next day confirmed my suspicions that prime helpings from each course of my neighbour's dinner had been carried off by my cook.
Immediately under the boy for indoor work is the "house-coolie," whose business it is to swab floors, polish grates, light fires, trim lamps, clean knives and boots and make himself generally useful about the house. Oftentimes he is unable to speak any English, wears a short coat in contradistinction to the boy's long one, and while ranking below the boy is considerably above the other coolies as having better pay, pleasanter work and holding a position of trust.
At the chief entrance to most residences is a gatehouse, tenanted during the day by an old man who serves as gatekeeper, and who is responsible for keeping bad characters off the premises as well as for not allowing anything to be taken away. At sunset he goes home, being relieved by the night-watchman, who remains on duty till sunrise. He also is responsible for the general safety, and is not supposed to sleep during the night, but to be on guard. Every two hours, that is, at each of the five watches into which the night is divided, he should make a round of the outbuildings to satisfy himself that all's well. This he does not do quietly, but to the beating of a bamboo rattle, so that thieves may know he is on the lookout and run away. Sometimes, in order to keep up his courage, I have even heard him shout "I see you," "I know who you are," "I'm coming," "Who's afraid?" etc.
Ridiculous as this may appear to English burglars it is yet very effective, though for a very curious reason.
China is the country of guilds, every trade being in the hands of a certain section of the population, who combine against all intruders. There is a guild of water-carriers, a guild of fortune-tellers, a guild of pipe-makers, and even a guild of thieves. This last is a recognised body, and is treated with by all householders, until it has become a kind of insurance agency against theft. All gatekeepers and night-watchmen pay a small monthly fee to this guild in order that no thieving may take place on the premises over which they have control, and the system works well, for not only is anything rarely stolen, but if, occasionally, something does go it is almost certain to have been taken by a free lance, who would be promptly done to death should he fall into the clutches of the guild thieves.
A friend of mine who employs many hundreds of coolies pays a regular monthly salary to the head of the thieves in that district. This man comes to the office on pay-days like other employes to draw his wages. If, however, anything has been missed from the factory during the month the value of it is deducted from his salary until the article is restored, which is invariably done.
I have heard of a case where a reforming spirit determined not to submit to such an iniquitous tax. The gatekeeper and night-watchman immediately resigned and could not be replaced, while by the end of the month most of his portable belongings had been surreptitiously removed. Thoroughly cowed, he recalled the two servants and instructed them to pay the tax, whereupon the stolen articles promptly reappeared and security was again restored.
Largely owing to the influence of Buddhism, cattle are regarded by the Chinese solely as beasts of burden, it being seldom that any are slaughtered for food; and although many natives will eat beef when it comes conveniently to hand, still, there is a strong prejudice against it. This prejudice extends both to milk and butter, neither of which is a common article of celestial food. From this it may be easily imagined that Europeans are often put to considerable inconvenience in securing an adequate supply of these daily necessaries. Good milk is especially hard to get. So long as it is white the native dairyman considers that his obligations to customers are discharged, while the more water he can add, the better it is for his own pocket. At Hankow the supply was so adulterated that a friend of mine actually found a small live fish in his morning cupful. With a view to exposing fraud I purchased a lactometer and found the usual proportions of milk and water to be half and half.
This was too much, so calling the dairyman to the house I abused him roundly and threatened that if he did not send pure milk in future I would ask the consul to punish him severely. He vowed and declared that the lactometer "no talkee true," and that no water whatever had been added to the milk, adding, that if I did not believe him he would bring a cow to the kitchen door and I could see it milked myself.
This seemed satisfactory, so I got up early next morning, and after shivering in my dressing-gown during the milking, carried off the pail in triumph, fully convinced that I should now be able to enjoy the pure article. Vain delusion! On testing it there was still a large percentage of water, and the dairyman, beaming with justified satisfaction, ambled off, leading his cow.
Feeling sure that the lactometer must be at fault, I consulted my friend the doctor, who examined and found it quite correct.
How to reconcile these discrepancies seemed an insoluble problem.
After pondering over the matter for several days, I determined on milking the cow myself, this being an accomplishment of my boyhood. To the celestial's amazement I did so and instantly tested the proceeds. Pure milk!
I seized the dairyman with a hazy idea of making an end of him, when, lo and behold, there slipped from his capacious sleeve a piece of thick bamboo containing about two pints of water. From the lower part of this wooden bottle projected another piece of bamboo about the thickness of a cigar, which served as a tube.
The swindle was now discovered, and the culprit, after the first shock to his feelings had abated, showed me, with evident if subdued satisfaction, how the ingenious device worked.
Concealing the bottle and letting the sleeve fall well down over his wrist, he held the bamboo tube and a cow's teat in one hand, and so, the moment one's eyes were averted, he was able to turn on the tap and let water flow into the pail together with the milk.
I now had the upper hand and promised to refrain from taking steps against him if he would in future furnish me with a pure supply. This he cheerfully agreed to do, and for a time I fared sumptuously, but it was not long ere my boy informed me that, the cows having run dry, the dairyman had returned to his home in the country.
Prior to the Manchu conquest of China two hundred and fifty years ago, men allowed the hair to grow long and then rolled it up in a tuft on the top of the head.
The Manchus, however, introduced the custom of partly shaving the scalp and braiding the back hair into a pig-tail, any man not conforming to this rule being considered a rebel, and as such liable to summary decapitation. This visible token of loyalty to the present dynasty is therefore universal, and obtains from the cradle to the grave, it being a matter of considerable importance to all who value a whole skin, and "Olo custom" being an extremely strong motif, it would now be well-nigh impossible to abolish this badge of servitude, even were the enforcement of it abandoned. In addition to this national obligation it is the custom for men to clean shave until they become grandfathers, when a moustache is cultivated, and later on sometimes a beard, though these hirsute appendages are of a lean and meagre kind.
As you may readily imagine, the amount of tonsorial operations indulged in by so dense a population call for an unlimited number of shavers and braiders of hair, albeit it is considered an employment of the lowest grade; but although the number of barbers is legion there are none who know how to cut hair until taught to do so by Europeans, so that in out-of-the-way places it is often very difficult to get the operation performed. On several occasions I have been obliged to rely on my mafoo, who with horse-clippers and iron scissors proved to be effective if somewhat unartistic.
Of course, a Chinaman will soon learn, and at treaty-ports barbers are a convenient luxury, for at the cost of a few dollars a month one will come to your bedroom every morning at a stated time to perform the daily shave, as well as cut the hair when required. Oftentimes I have been still asleep when, leaving his shoes outside the door and creeping in noiselessly with bare feet, he has adjusted the towel, lathered and shaved me in bed without my having had more than a dim consciousness of what was going on.
Tailors are cheap and plentiful. A West-end cut is not achieved, but for flannels, light tweeds and all such clothes as are worn in the tropics, they are very passable.
"Talkee that tailor-man four o'clock come. Wantchee new clothes."
At four o'clock the tailor is there with a bundle of patterns from which you select a thin serge and a white flannel, and order a suit of each. On asking the price you are informed that the serge "b'long welly cheap" at fourteen dollars and the flannel at twelve.
Your surprise and indignation are great at the exorbitant figures, and after a good deal of haggling, eleven dollars and ten respectively are agreed upon, the clothes to be finished in two days.
Out comes the tape and he measures you all over, taking mental notes but writing nothing down, the Chinese having marvellous memories.
Next morning he appears with the garments loosely stitched together to try on, draws a chalk line here, puts in a pin there and hurries off.
The following day you discover both suits neatly folded up on your bed, and on inspection find them to be of good and comfortable fit.
Another plan is, after selecting the material, to hand the tailor an old suit with instructions to make the new one a counterpart of it, which, as a rule, he will do to perfection. In fact, he has been known to let a couple of patches into the seat of the new trousers in order to make them correspond exactly with the pattern.
To anyone who is fond of shooting, certain parts of China offer a veritable paradise. When I say shooting I do not mean the kind of sport to which one is accustomed at home, where to trespass a few yards on the grounds of another man will probably result in legal proceedings, where keepers flourish and wax fat on contributions levied on the friends of mine host, where hand-raised game is driven into the jaws of death, and where the sportsman's friend and delight, his dog, is practically banished. No, I mean where one can look on the whole empire of China and say, "Here is my ground, here I can take my gun and my dogs and go just wherever, and do whatever, I please, without let or hindrance; shoot what I will, stay as long as I like without asking anyone's leave, and where keepers and game licences are unknown."
Throughout China, pheasants, deer, quail, wildfowl and snipe abound, but woodcock, partridges and hares are less numerous and less evenly distributed. Bustards, plover and many other migratory birds appear only in winter, while for hunters of big game, tigers, leopards, horned deer and wild boar are found in certain localities.
Northern China offers the best opportunities, and while from Mongolia to Ningpo game is plentiful enough, the mighty River Yangtse is par excellence the sportsman's elysium. Of course, one must have good dogs and know the country, or go with someone who does, otherwise the most ardent spirit would soon be cooled to freezing point and disgust instead of delight would be the result of his endeavours. Along the banks of this noble river, from the sea for hundreds of miles into the interior, I have enjoyed as good sport as lies within reach of only the very rich in western countries.
The Chinese are not often sportsmen, and away from foreign influence but rarely molest wild animals of any kind.
Owing, however, to the increasing European colony at Shanghai and the numerous mail steamers which daily arrive there, a profitable market for game has sprung up during the past few years, to supply which there are now a number of native gunners who, as a means of livelihood, scour the country with foreign breech-loaders in search of pheasants, wildfowl, etc., so that, being capital shots, within a considerable distance of this port the shooting is not so good as formerly, although in all other parts of the Empire it still remains practically untouched until the advent of Europeans.
That there are not more aboriginal sportsmen is partly due to a law which forbids the people to possess firearms, though this law has not been rigidly enforced, and partly due to the primitive construction and consequent unreliability of the few native fowling-pieces which do exist.
Well away from beaten tracks I have occasionally met local sports carrying guns together with slow-matches of smouldering brown paper. They are remarkable weapons, with single iron barrels some four feet and a half long, about twenty bore and without stocks, but having pistol handles. There are no locks or springs, the hammer and trigger being in one piece, working through the handle on a rivet. The hammers have slits in them as if to hold flints, but which really are intended for the slow-match. Sometimes these men had good bags of snipe, but only once have I seen such a gun fired, which was at a pigeon sitting about fifteen yards high in a tree. The gunner blew his slow-match into a glow and pressed it into the slit in the hammer, placed the pistol handle to his hip and pulled the trigger, which brought the hammer slowly forward until the slow-match rested on the powder in the pan, when the gun went off and the pigeon fell dead. Whether birds are shot on the wing with these guns I cannot say, but remembering that a hundred and fifty years ago it was accounted an extraordinary thing to attempt flying shots even in this country, I should think probably not.
Old muzzle-loading rifles of European make, striking either flints or percussion caps, are also in occasional use as shot-guns, in preference to native weapons.
The shot are always of iron, which is far cheaper than lead, and extremely liable to cause great injury to the teeth, while the powder is very poor, burning slowly with much smoke and smell. No cut wads are used, but pieces of paper, rammed home with a rod, which instead of being carried attached to the gun is held in the hand together with the slow-match.
These same sports catch snipe in long, light nets which they carry stretched out horizontally some two feet above the grass, so that a bird on rising as it passes overhead, flies into it and is at once secured. Snares of wire and string, ingenious traps of bamboo which impale the birds on wooden spikes, and wicker traps closely resembling the straw plaiting on bottles of olive oil, I have seen set for snipe and quail in various places.
I once travelled from Shanghai to Nanking with an aged French Jesuit priest and a Chinese official then returning from the Black Dragon or Amour river. The former told me that, shortly after the Taiping rebellion, pheasants were so numerous and tame in the devastated fields around Nanking that natives speared them in the grass; while the official said that in the almost deserted Black Dragon river district these birds were so little afraid of man that on his approach they would conceal only their heads in the grass, when it was possible to capture them by the tail with the hand. Although personally unable to guarantee either of these accounts, still, judging from the manner in which they were narrated, I am inclined to believe both.
The first essential for shooting-trips up the Yangtse is a good house-boat or light draft yacht of from ten to fifteen tons, into which you pack every requisite, and which is in reality your floating shooting-box for the time being. You have only to choose your field of operations, sail there, and enjoy yourself to your heart's content in luxury, fine bracing air, grand scenery and jovial company. What can one wish for more!
Having decided on a trip you tell your boy in the morning that you will leave that afternoon for so many days, and at the appointed time step on board to find everything in readiness—guns, dogs, provisions, and a good fire in the saloon. You give the lowdah his orders, and in less than a minute are under way. All bother is at an end and you make yourself comfortable, have afternoon tea, read, smoke, dine, chat with your friend over the fire, and after spending the evening as comfortably as if in your own house, retire to rest, awaking next morning to find yourself on the scene of action and very possibly to hear the pheasants crow while still in bed. A good beefsteak breakfast and you are ready for the fray. After your day's sport you come back to a hot bath and the comfort of a cosy cabin. Should you desire to try fresh ground on the morrow, the lowdah will get the boat there, either by sailing or tracking during the night, while you are enjoying your well-earned sleep.
Pheasants afford the principal sport and are identical with the white-ringed English birds, only, if any thing, bigger, stronger in flight and much more wily.
A hundred miles up the Yangtse and then along the Grand Canal, in districts that were overrun by Taiping rebels, fine sport with pointers may be had over what were formerly cultivated fields but are now still lying waste, with here and there the ruins of a village destroyed forty years ago, the inhabitants of which were either extirpated, dragged off in the rebel army or fled to other parts of the country. These abandoned fields, interspersed with ridges of low hills clad with young pines, are generally dry and covered with fine grass, in which the pheasants are fond of lying, and on a bright, frosty morning it is truly delightful to walk across such country with a couple of good pointers, watch your dogs work and bowl over the birds as they rise.
At other places higher up river the low hills are covered with acorn-bearing oak scrub, a favourite cover both for pheasants, which feed on the acorns, as well as deer. This scrub, although very trying to walk through, is not high enough to prevent pointers working freely, and many a good bag have I made there.
Along the banks of the lower Yangtse, and on numerous islands in the stream, are dense reeds, which, being flooded to a depth of several feet in summer, grow from fifteen to twenty feet high, as thick as a man's thumb, and almost as strong as bamboos. In these impenetrable thickets, left dry as the waters fall in autumn, the pheasants congregate in great numbers, but it is not till late winter, when the reeds have been mostly cut for fuel, that it is possible to get them out. About the end of December the reeds still uncut, stand in square, even patches, the sides of which tower up like the walls of a house. The best way is to select clumps of medium size, place a gun on either side to keep well in advance, and turn two or three dogs, spaniels for choice, in at one end. As these dogs hunt the reeds all the way down, the pheasants will creep to the very edges, watch their opportunity, and be off like cannon balls. Then is the time for a quick eye and steady hand, but as you have probably been running to keep up with the dogs, they are by no means the easy shots that one might imagine, and many a time the "dead certainty" has slipped gaily away.
Other denizens of these swamps are woodcock, snipe, deer, and occasionally racoons and wild cats, which follow the pheasants, so that a mixed bag is frequently the product of a successful day, when twenty-five head, including seven or eight brace of pheasants, would represent a fair average per gun. With the exception of spring snipe, enormous totals like those we gloat over in England are but rarely made. It is the absolute freedom which is so charming, the hard work, the bright atmosphere, the thick cover, and the excitement of following the dogs.
Wildfowl of every description swarm during the spring and autumn migrations, for after nesting on the Siberian steppes they go down to the Sunny South in winter. Swan, geese, mallard, teal and countless varieties of duck literally cover the waters of the Yangtse for miles at a stretch, and will hardly rise to avoid the river-steamers as they pass, although extremely shy of approaching small boats, while every little pond or creek affords the probability of a shot. Wildfowl-shooting, however, is not largely gone in for, why, I can hardly say, unless it is that they are so superabundant as to make them seem hardly worth the powder and shot, that the distances to go for them are too great and the work of stalking too cold and tiresome, or that other kinds of shooting are more attractive.
Woodcock are often found in bamboo groves from which it is generally hard to flush them, while the cover is so thick that it is impossible to shoot until they come out, though be it only for an instant, when, topping the bamboos, they alight again on the opposite side. I have spent nearly an hour in killing a brace which, although I saw perhaps twenty times, I had the greatest difficulty in getting a snap at. They also frequent pine woods and heather on the hills, and are identical in appearance with the woodcock found in England.
During a severe winter at Chinkiang, word was brought in by natives that some children had been carried off by "dog-headed tigers," which monsters, after making lengthy inquiries, we assumed to be wolves.
With a view to getting a shot at these brutes, a friend and I went out overnight to the community bungalow, a distance of seven miles, and in the morning ranged warily through the pines and over the snow-clad hills, seeking for traces of the man-eaters, being joined towards noon by the British Consul. Carrying my twelve-bore fowling-piece loaded with a bullet in the right barrel and a charge of big shot in the left, the latter being full-choke, I was passing along the side of a steep hill at the foot of which, and some fifty feet below me, lay a frozen stream, when my dog-coolie, pointing downwards, cried, "Look at the fish!"
Beneath the clear ice, of perhaps a quarter of an inch in thickness, a mass of fish was swimming with the current. Instinctively I fired the left barrel at them, and was greatly surprised to behold a jet of water, broken ice and fish shoot up two or three feet high from a hole made by the shot. The dog-coolie rushed down and filled his cap with our unexpected prey, which we subsequently found to number twenty-two, varying from about two to four ounces in weight each. Concussion from the blow on the ice had stunned many, but others were bleeding from shot wounds.
After a fruitless search for the "dog-headed tigers" we walked back to Chinkiang that evening.
The cold weather having brought wildfowl of all descriptions I was off betimes next morning to some islands in the Yangtse, a few miles down river. An hour's sailing with wind and stream brought me to the desired spot, where I landed on the sandy beach, when my dog, glad to escape from confinement on board, ran to the top of a high dyke, or wall for preventing floods, some hundred yards distant, and put up hundreds of wild geese which had been preening themselves in the sun on the other side, where they had also found shelter from the cutting wind. The mighty roar of wings was the first intimation I had of their presence, and as they were well out of range, my dog came in for a reminder that his place for the time being was close to heel. Had they not been thus scared away I could have walked unobserved to within five yards of them.
Following the beach a little above high-water mark, I presently came to several small ponds surrounded with willows, out of the first of which some teal rose in a close bunch, when firing into the brown I knocked them all down except one, and that I accounted for with the other barrel. Falling into the pond, some that were winged gave a good deal of trouble by diving, but eventually they were all secured, being eight in number. Several ducks were scared away by my shots, but I here added half-a-dozen snipe to the bag.
Coming to some wide ditches choked with reeds and willows my dog put out pheasant after pheasant, but as they generally got up on the opposite side, where there was no gun, I only managed to secure seven, besides two woodcock.
While eating my lunch of sandwiches under the lee of a reedstack, I observed that numerous flights of wildfowl on passing from one branch of the river to another crossed a low, marshy corner of the island, so that presently I made my way there and crouched down amongst the rushes behind a dyke, having a small lagoon immediately at my back. Mallard, widgeon and many other kinds of fowl came over in such quick succession that for two hours I was kept fully occupied, and it was highly gratifying to hear a heavy splash in the lagoon after each successful shot.
As soon as the light began to fail I ceased firing and retrieved my birds, which numbered twenty-seven, including several varieties of fish ducks with serrated bills and, as I have subsequently learnt although then mistaking them for large divers, three goosanders. On my way back to the house-boat I surprised and shot a goose which was feeding close under the river bank, so that my total bag consisted of fifty-one head, and I always look back on that day as one of the most enjoyable I have ever spent.
The snipe-shooting cannot be surpassed anywhere in the world. In spring, after spending the winter in rich southern climes, these birds, following the returning warmth, slowly migrate to Siberia for nesting. They pass through Central China during May, arriving almost simultaneously, when for about three weeks one can have superb sport, and then they depart as suddenly as they came. One day they will swarm, and the next hardly a bird is to be seen.
Snipe-shooting at home one always associates with long boots, cold water, mud and marshes. Spring snipe-shooting in China is of a totally different kind.
Imagine a bright, warm day, with the sun almost too powerful, dry meadows with fresh, green grass, and clover about six inches high, fields of wheat and barley in ear and beans in flower, all Nature at her best. You take your gun with a plentiful supply of cartridges, a coolie to carry bottled beer and sandwiches and to pick up the birds, and sally forth into the meadows and fields, dressed in an ordinary light summer suit or flannels, terai hat and low shoes, with the bottoms of your trousers tucked into your socks to keep out the insects.
You have not gone far before one, two—half a dozen birds rise within easy range, and perhaps you make a right and left. What birds they are, too, fat as butter!—in fact, so fat and heavy that they often rip quite open merely from the force of falling to the ground. In this way you go on, firing until the gun becomes so hot that every now and then you must wait to let the barrels cool. My best bag for one day was forty-one and a half couples, but this has been doubled by sports who have shot to make a record.
Autumn snipe, or spring snipe returned, on passing from Siberia to winter in the south, are not usually in very good condition, owing probably to the nature of the country from which they come, and strangely enough they appear to be less numerous and do not arrive so simultaneously as the spring birds, though remaining longer, many staying on through the winter. These do not frequent the dry meadows and fields, but belong to the long boots, mud and marsh category.
I have never seen but one jack snipe, though the painted variety is fairly common.
In the neighbourhood of a creek seven miles below Hankow is to be had the best spring snipe-shooting that I know of. One bright May morning, in response to the invitation of an old friend, I joined him and two other guests aboard his house-boat and sailed down the Yangtse to this well-known spot. On landing I shouldered my bag, containing fifty cartridges, and told my coolie to bring a new box of a hundred in the game-bag.
The plan was to send the house-boat to a place three or four miles further down river, where, after shooting through the fields, the guns would meet for tiffin.
Just as the lowdah was casting off our host asked if he might put a few bottles of beer into my game-bag as it was a warm and thirsty morning; so, to make room, and thinking that the snipe had not yet fully arrived, in which case the spare cartridges would not be required, they were replaced on board. We had not, however, walked many yards along the river bank before it became apparent that there were any number of birds, and I already regretted having so few cartridges with me. After crossing the creek in a crazy sampan the party separated, each taking his own line of country. Presently a tremendous fusillade commenced from all the others, and as the snipe were rising around them continually and making for a large swamp to my left, I concealed myself in some millet, where, the birds coming before the wind directly over my head, I enjoyed for half an hour or so some excellent shooting and made a number of very sporting shots.
I now started for the swamp, but ere reaching it passed through some grass patches between fields of barley and beans. The birds here rose by the dozen, and standing on the same spot, without advancing a yard, I shot eight, which were all on the ground at one time. My gun became so hot that it was necessary to open it to let the barrels cool, while the cartridges were all gone in less than an hour, so that carrying my now useless weapon and boiling with rage, I had to start in pursuit of the house-boat, with the shots of the others ringing merrily all round, the snipe rising at almost every step, and the coolie laden with beer and dead birds lagging far behind.
I arrived on board simultaneously with a party of ladies, who, under the aegis of my friend's wife, had come down by launch to join us at tiffin; at the conclusion of which long and sumptuous repast it was time to start back to Hankow rather than again attack the snipe. However, two of us landed with our guns and walked hurriedly across country towards a point about three miles up river, there to rejoin the party on the boat. Of course we kept them waiting, the sport was so good, but satisfaction at the total bag of some two hundred snipe did much to smooth matters over. Indeed, the bag would have been still larger except for the vile shooting of one gun; but as a few days later his engagement to one of the ladies of the tiffin-party was announced, the mystery was explained, and when in a few weeks the wedding bells rang, we all forgave him.
Four or five miles outside the principal gate of Peking is the Nan Hai-tzu, or Imperial Hunting Park, where a few years ago there were herds of far-famed hybrids known as the "four unlikes," since they possessed certain attributes of, I believe, the horse, the deer, the ox and the sheep, without belonging definitely to either family. Unfortunately, Europeans were not allowed to enter this preserve, so I was unable personally to see these curiosities, although their existence was well authenticated.
Outside the lofty wall enclosing this park is a kind of common interspersed with marshland through which a small stream flows, and there I have bagged as many as ten couple of snipe in an afternoon, with an occasional wild duck.
Sending out the cart with gun, dog and provisions in charge of the head mafoo at about eleven o'clock on Saturday morning, as soon as work was over at one I would mount my pony, held in readiness by the second mafoo, and gallop with him after the cart, to find tiffin awaiting me spread on the grass.
In this way I was comfortably ready to shoot by half-past two, which would allow of about two and a half hours' sport before returning.
On one of these occasions I saw several large flocks of sand grouse, which, I believe, are native to Mongolia, but only once managed to get within range, killing a brace. They are beautiful, gamey-looking birds, of a very light brown or sand colour, mottled on the back and with legs and feet thickly feathered. Their flight much resembles that of golden plover, only sharper.
Having finished shooting, my gun was again placed in the cart and we started leisurely for home, I riding a short distance in advance, followed by the second mafoo, while my pointer rambled over the grass. One evening, when thus returning, two medium-sized eagles swooped at the dog and commenced to regularly hunt him, much to his consternation. To dismount and get my gun out of its case again was the work of a couple of minutes, when I shot one of the birds at a distance of twenty yards, the other, instead of being alarmed, immediately swooping at its fallen comrade, to meet with a similar fate.
I could not get them stuffed, so had their wings and claws mounted as fans, which I still have somewhere in my possession.
The common deer are small, from thirty to forty pounds in weight, and without horns. They have a thick, bristly hide, and the buck has two tusks of from two to four inches in length projecting downwards from the upper jaw, with which he tears up the ground in search of roots, and it is to these peculiarities that the name of "hog-deer" is due. They mostly lie in the grass on forms, like hares, but sometimes in thick scrub on the hillside, and can be knocked over at forty yards with pheasant shot. I have bagged four in a day more than once. If well cooked the venison is delicious.
Partridges are only found in certain districts. A few miles from Chefoo excellent sport is to be had, but in Central China they are not often seen, although they do exist, as I have shot one myself near Ngankin. Down south the bamboo partridge abounds in places, but it is a very different bird from the ordinary partridge, and takes its name from the fact that it lives, moves and has its being in bamboo coppices.
In the vicinity of Hongkong and Macao the partridge, although far from numerous, is quite common, and a bag of three or four would represent a good day's work. These birds resemble the red-legged variety so common in England, but are considerably larger, while the plumage, although practically identical in colour, is far more brilliant. A curious feature about them is that they are never flushed in coveys and very rarely in pairs, but are almost invariably single birds, which fact, together with their large size and gorgeous plumage, leads me to think that they must represent a distinct branch of the family, to which the name "solitary" would be highly applicable.