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Title: Chin-Chin - The Chinaman at Home
Author: Tcheng-Ki-Tong, Tcheng-Ki-Tong
Language: English
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                              THE CHINAMAN
                                 AT HOME


                             _TRANSLATED BY_
                              R. H. SHERARD

                       Published by A. P. MARSDEN
                      27 Southampton Street, Covent
                        Garden, London. MDCCCXCV

NOTE.—_The price at which this book is supplied to the Trade will not
permit of its being sold at a discount._



The friendly welcome accorded by the English Public to my “Chinese
Painted by Themselves” has encouraged me to publish this translation of
my last work.

Old Epicurus summed up his philosophy in pleasures well understood.
The peoples of the world, all epicureans in a certain measure, amused
themselves before him, and have amused themselves since, each after his
own fashion.

I do not think I shall displease the people of the Country often called
“Merry England” in bringing to their notice “The Chinaman at Home.”



Our pleasures are not such as to shock modesty; they are simple and
honest, as becomes an ancient nation, which has left the age of youthful
follies long behind it, has due self-respect, and knows how to amuse
itself decently.

In my book, “Chinese Tales,” I endeavoured to show the minor details
of the life of my compatriots, whose political and social customs I
have described in my other book, “The Chinese Painted by Themselves.”
The object of this new book is to give a picture of our private
amusements and of our small public fêtes. It belongs, accordingly,
to anthropological literature, describing as it does a series of
ethnological phenomena, games, ceremonies, and fêtes, which, however
much they may resemble those to be seen in all other countries, have,
nevertheless, a special character in each country. This character depends
largely on the national conceptions of the people under consideration.

Everybody amuses himself as he thinks best. This affirmation is as
true for nations as it is for individuals. Our joys and our ways of
manifesting them are they not the expression of our individuality? And
when a whole people rejoices in a certain manner, does not that mean that
it offers in its fêtes a kind of picture of its inner life, a synthesis
of its dearest aspirations and desires? Our pleasures are determined
by our moral and philosophical, political, and social views. Religion
has much also to do in fashioning them according to her likeness. The
character of a nation is never better shown than in its enjoyments—its
fêtes; in one word, in its pleasures. Tell me how you amuse yourself, and
I will tell you what you are.

In the task I have laid upon myself of revealing the Asiatic East to
the European West, it seems to me that this new chapter will not be out
of place. In any case, the author will be sufficiently rewarded if the
reader—albeit only for a moment—finds some pleasure in turning over the
leaves of the book he has written.




      CHAP.                                                       PAGE

         I. THE CHINESE HOME                                         1

        II. RELIGIOUS AND NATIONAL FÊTES                            10

       III. THE FÊTE OF THE MOON                                    19

        IV. THE FEAST OF LANTERNS                                   26

         V. THE FEAST OF THE TWO STARS                              34

        VI. THE FEAST OF FLOWERS                                    39

       VII. NEW YEAR’S DAY                                          43

      VIII. THE END OF THE YEAR                                     54

        IX. PROCESSIONS                                             61

         X. A BUDDHIST SOLEMNITY                                    70


       XII. BATHING                                                 88

      XIII. KITE-FLYING                                             93

       XIV. THE ILLUMINATED BOATS                                   97

        XV. GARDENING                                              102

       XVI. THE CHASE                                              113

      XVII. FISHING                                                119

     XVIII. CHARMING WOMAN—COQUETRY                                125

       XIX. FANS                                                   133

        XX. CELEBRATED BEAUTIES                                    139

       XXI. SYSTEM OF EDUCATION—THE STUDENT                        146

      XXII. POETICAL COMPETITIONS                                  155

     XXIII. PAINTERS                                               163

      XXIV. CHESS                                                  171

       XXV. AT TABLE—THE PLEASURE OF DRINKING                      178

      XXVI. TEA-DRINKING                                           185

     XXVII. CHOPSTICKS                                             192

    XXVIII. CHINESE COOKING                                        197

      XXIX. GAMES OF SKILL: CONJURING                              208

       XXX. THE EVOCATION OF SPIRITS                               217

      XXXI. PHRENOLOGY AND CHIROMANCY                              223

              CANDLESTICK—SHUTTLECOCKS—THE COIN GAME               232

              PECKING GAME                                         239

     XXXIV. LOTTERIES                                              247

      XXXV. PUBLIC PLEASURES—THE THEATRES                          255








I remember reading in Mr. Paleologue’s clever book, “L’Art Chinois,” the
statement “that China never had but one single style of architecture,
throughout all the periods of its history, for her public and private,
civic, or ecclesiastical buildings.”

Now, a close observer will notice in our buildings a great variety of
styles, the fineness of which naturally is lost upon those who do not
take the trouble to examine them carefully. It is just like a passer-by
looking at some of the new streets in Paris, where all the houses are
built by one and the same building company, and resemble one another
externally; or at the grand avenues in New York City, or the long
_strassen_ in Karlsruhe, spread out round a central square in the shape
of a fan. At first sight one cannot help the exclamation that these
buildings produce a desperately monotonous impression.

But should you pay the architect a visit and examine the plans of these
various constructions, you cannot fail to notice that not one interior
resembles another. The difference is as slight as the physiognomies of
different people, who have the same features but have different faces.

It is true that long ago there was little variety in our architectural
styles, but in spite of that it can be asserted that each of our cities
has a special character, and presents, as far as its buildings are
concerned, distinctive features.

There are many reasons for this want of variety. In the first place,
those foreign elements, which so often so profoundly modified European
architecture, have been almost completely wanting in China. Then it
must be remembered that official prescriptions regulate the style of
houses for different functionaries, a custom which must necessarily
limit architectural originality and fancy; and then there is tradition,
which is so powerful in our country, and which did not allow of any
modification of the pure Chinese style, which had been consecrated by the
use of centuries.

Let us now examine the different kinds of Chinese houses.

In the northern districts, less favoured by Nature, buildings are
generally constructed of earth. It is only the palaces and the houses of
rich people of which the framework is of wood. In spite of the severity
of the climate and the quantities of dust which are brought by the
wind from the sandy regions, these houses have, generally speaking, two
stories, in which they differ considerably from the houses in the south,
which have rarely more than one. The walls are low, with but a very
slight curve at the top, whereas in the south this curve, which we style
“the saddle,” is very pronounced. These walls are called “fire-walls,”
because they are intended to protect the house against fire.

The upper storey is called “the pavilion of the horse races,” a name I
have never been able to account for, as the staircases were never such as
to allow of horses being brought up them. This upper storey is generally
used as a place of pleasure, the ground floor being preferred as an
ordinary dwelling-place. The Chinese love symmetry in all things, and so,
no matter the size of the ground on which they build, their houses are
always constructed so that the drawing-room is just opposite the entrance
door, and that on either side of it there be one or two rooms exactly
the same. Instead of speaking of our houses as having so many rooms, we
say, “It has such a number of rooms on the front—three, five, seven,” &c.

The following is a description of a good average middle-class dwelling:

On entering you find yourself in a large antechamber, flanked on the
right and on the left by a servants’ room. Facing you are three doors,
one large and two small, giving access to a courtyard, which is entered
by descending a staircase of three steps. On either side of the courtyard
there is first a paved gallery, then a room. One of these rooms is
reserved for the children of the house, the other is a smoking-room, or
small drawing-room.

The drawing-room is reached by ascending the three steps on the other
side of the yard. On its left and right hand side there are one, two,
or three rooms. Behind the drawing-room is the dining-room, flanked
also on either side with one, two, or three rooms. Then comes a second
courtyard, with the kitchen and lumber-room on the right and left. If
the house is a large one, you will find three, five, or seven more
rooms behind this courtyard. The same distribution may be repeated over
and over again where the habitation is very vast. The garden, with its
kiosques and its artificial rockeries, is on one of the wings, and is
surrounded with walls.

The rent of an ordinary house, such as the one that I have just
described, is about two pounds eight shillings a year.

The roof is more or less elevated, but it always is very sloping, and is
covered with overlapping tiles, so as to allow the rain to run off easily.

The windows are large, the framework being of wood. The panes are of
glass, silk, or transparent paper, according to the part of the country.
Instead of endeavouring to protect themselves against draughts, the
Chinese do all they can to procure currents of air through the house.

The interior decoration is generally very luxurious. The prominent parts
of the wood-work are carved, the flat parts are varnished. The walls are
hidden behind paintings representing historical scenes; the wall which
fronts the drawing-room is usually painted with a subject referring to
the rank of the master of the house. On entering the drawing-room the eye
is at once caught by the sight of a gilt and carved box, which hangs from
the horizontal rafter under the roof. On either side of it is a large
gilt dragon, who seems to be guarding it. This box contains the patents
of nobility or commissions of official rank held by the proprietor.

The paper on which the words “Happiness” or “Long Life,” which are given
to members of the family by the Emperor according to their merits, are
also hung up in this place.

The furniture of the drawing-room is extremely simple. There is a long,
large table in the middle, with eight chairs arranged on the two sides;
between each set of two chairs is a little square tea-table. Then there
are two square stools.

The places of visitors are arranged according to their rank; the stools
are always reserved for the master of the house. When the visit is a
ceremonious one, or there is a fête in the family, the chairs, which are
usually of marble or of bamboo, are covered with embroidered red satin
covers, which is just the contrary of what is done in Europe, where the
furniture is uncovered for receiving. There are always a large mirror,
a vase of flowers, a plate of decorative fruits, and a clock on the
drawing-room table. In the centre stands a scent-burner.

On the walls are rolls of autographs or paintings from the pens and
pencils of celebrities of style or of art. Very few nick-nacks are to
be seen in our drawing-rooms, which we make as severe and simple as
we can. Only occasionally does one see a few nick-nacks in the little
drawing-rooms, or in the pleasure kiosk in the garden. The greater part
are hidden away in cupboards, and are only produced at the Fête of the
Moon, of which I speak further on, or on certain religious festivals.

We have neither cupboards in the walls, such as are the delight of
Parisian housewives, nor alcoves in our houses in China.

This is a fair description of a Chinese home. I do not speak of the
dwelling-places of the poor, which are as sad as little decorative.
Happiness, it has been said, has no history, but it is wealth that alone
admits of description. Misery is not to be depicted, unless, as in
Theophile Gautier’s “Capitaine Fracasse,” it is lodged in an old castle,
picturesquely in ruins.





It is terribly hot, forty degrees in the shade, and summer has only just
begun. It is the fifth day of the fifth moon, the date on which the Fête
of the Dragon is celebrated.

The town changes its aspect completely. This is owing to the numberless
red papers which are stuck on every door, and on which can be read wishes
of happiness formulated in the most diversified manner. At the side of
these papers are two bunches of Indian grass, with the roots tightly tied
up with red strings, nailed to the door. It is a popular belief that this
plant, with its sword-shaped leaves, drives away all evil spirits.

After having performed the usual sacrifices before the tablets of our
ancestors, we feast _en famille_ on ceremonial dishes, and drink that
wine, tinctured with orpiment, which, according to a very general
opinion, destroys the germs of epidemic diseases for the whole ensuing

When noon strikes we hasten to put bowls of water in the courtyard to
catch the rays of the sun, which is in the centre of the sky. It is said
that the water thus irradiated renders excellent services to women in

After breakfast we go to the West Lake to see the dragon canoe races.
These are very long flat boats, manned by from twenty to thirty oarsmen.
The figure-head is either a colossal dragon or a prancing horse. A sailor
astride on the animal holds in his hands a large flag, the movements of
which serve as commands to the helmsman, who is standing motionless at
the stern. Behind the dragon is an orchestra, which fills the air with
the rolling of drums, mingled with the thunder of the tam-tams.

The goal is seen far off; sometimes it is a living duck. When the boat
approaches the bird dives under and tries to escape, but it is usually
caught after a short chase, and brought up in triumph, struggling and
squealing. More often, however, it is a large piece of bamboo, to which
is fastened a piece of rich silk stuff, the offering of some society. The
winner keeps this as his prize.

As soon as the signal has been given the struggle begins; flags fly,
waving now to the left, now to the right, indicating the way to be
followed to the human statue, who, seated at the helm, guides the effort
of the sailors. Urged on by the numerous oars, the canoes glide rapidly
over the water, like gigantic centipedes, amidst the cries of the
spectators, crowding together on the banks, or on the decks and in the
cabins of the pleasure-junks anchored along the river side.

Then may be seen the fluttering of a thousand fans, beating in unison
with the hearts of the spectators. The waves, driven up by the canoes
running to the banks, bury, for the moment, the lotus flowers and
water-lilies, which soon, however, reappear fresher and more pure for
their short immersion; the broad leaves of the nenuphar rising up again,
bring with them some of the water of the river, and let it fall off again
in cascades of glittering pearls. Now they are again immersed, once more
to rise; in a continual coming and going, which lasts for many hours.

This is the Chinese nautical Grand Prix, and the aspect of the lake is
really fairy-like. Imagine the boxes at the Grand Opera in Paris, or the
grand stand at Longchamps, placed on floating flower barges in the middle
of a river, with panes of glass of every colour; add to this picture
ladies in grand toilettes, and men with radiant faces, and you will have
a fairly accurate idea of this very popular fête.

After the races the foot-passengers disperse and the people disembark
from the junks. The sun not having yet set, everybody uses the rest of
the afternoon in taking a little rest, or in enjoying the fresh air of
the country. Some go to the monastery near the lake, others repose under
the great trees which are round an old tomb.

The latter is the burying-place of an ancient and celebrated man of
letters of the town, who, during his lifetime, had his last abode
constructed in an admirable site on the banks of the water. Instead of
the usual inscriptions which celebrate the virtues of the deceased, the
man of letters caused to be graven on the stones of his tomb his own
poems and those of his friends.

Here are two of the best-known lines of his:

  “Behind the carpet of the cornflowers and under the shade of the
      pine trees,
  I shall receive throughout all time the perfume of the incense which
      my children will bring to me in offering.”

I went with some friends to the monastery, where we were received in the
most hospitable fashion. The Buddhist priests offered us first of all a
cup of delicious tea, and afterwards invited us to dine with them. It
was a dinner without meat—for the Buddhist priests do not eat meat—but
an excellent dinner for all that. First of all because it was a change
from what we were accustomed to, and then because, in spite of the fact
that no meat is used, the cuisine of these priests fully deserves its
reputation of exquisite delicacy. They prayed us to come again in a
month to taste the Lichi fruits, for, said they, their garden possessed
eighteen trees of the best kind, which they called “the eighteen young

To depict to you the picturesque situation of this monastery, it will be
sufficient for me to quote a passage from a celebrated poem, which is
engraved on a rock behind the altar to Buddha:

  “Whilst the sound of the bells draws itself out and seems to be lost
      in the green mist of the twilight,
  The dreaming poet walks all alone amongst the ten thousand trees.”

As it is getting late, we have made up our minds to sleep at the

I may as well mention here that in China the monasteries are a kind
of hotel. There is always a large number of rooms set aside for the
reception of visitors. We took advantage of this, because at night-fall
the gates of the city are locked, and accordingly we were locked out. We
had no reason to regret this, because in the evening we were able to be
present at the religious service of the Buddhists, and could convince
ourselves that once they have finished with their religious duties
these monks are quite ordinary mortals, very gay, fond of laughter and
amusement. We made verses together, as we sat drinking rice-wine, and we
all came to the conclusion that these priests have nothing in common with
their Puritan colleagues in Europe.

In our conversation, as well as in the poems we composed, not an allusion
was made to religious or even philosophical subjects. Nothing was written
or spoken about but the moon, flowers, and the beauties of Nature. These
good people understood that there is nothing more detestable than “to
talk shop.”

One of my friends asked one of these priests how he could live without
any family, the Buddhist priests not being allowed to marry. The priest
answered him in verse, saying:

  “I do not wish the mud to soil the leaves of the lotus.
  I have a very sharp knife to cut the threads of the nenuphar with.”

In short, they were all very gay, and our conversation lasted after this
fashion until break of day. A most harmless and _comme il faut_ debauch.

And that evening, seated on his lotus-flower, with his bald head and his
stereotyped smile, Buddha did not sulk.





This fête is celebrated in the eighth month of the year. It lasts six
days, beginning on the 10th and ending on the 15th, with the full moon.
It is thought that on that night the moon is larger than at any other
time in the year.

This fête is made the occasion of all kinds of amusements, and specially
it is kept by sending to one’s friends all sorts of presents in the shape
of the moon, as also by the exhibition of nick-nacks.

One buys a quantity of little statues, representing genii, immortals,
Buddhas. All these celestials are arranged on the landings amongst the
objects collected by the family, treasures which, imprisoned all the
year round, are only produced on this solemn occasion. The centre of the
exhibition is always filled by a large pagoda, which is illuminated, like
the house itself, at every window.

Outside, fireworks are let off and crackers exploded. Indoors, music
is played to cheer the reunion of friends and of the family. Mutual
invitations are issued to come and admire the richness and the good taste
of the different collections.

At midnight, on the 15th, everybody sits down in the courtyard to a great
banquet, with which the fête is terminated. This banquet is specially
given to await the descent of the goddess of the moon. The myth will have
it, that on that day she leaves her celestial abode to come down and
listen to the wishes of the mortals. Needless to say, that nobody ever
yet saw the graceful inhabitant of our satellite; but it is difficult to
drive out of the people’s minds traditions which have been handed down
for centuries from father to son.

A story is, however, told of an old woman who was favoured one night with
a visit from the Chinese Diana, who asked her what she wanted, and who
promised to grant all that she could wish for. Dazzled by the splendour
of the costume and the imposing beauty of the lady, the old woman stood
speechless, and could not say a word. At last, encouraged by the kindly
insistence of the queen of the moon, the old woman summoned up enough
courage to carry her hand to her mouth, meaning thereby that she only
wished to have enough to eat for the rest of her life.

The apparition made a sign of acquiescence, and remounted to heaven. The
next morning the old woman was seen wearing a gigantic, full beard. The
goddess had not understood her gesture.

The moon is the patroness of poetry. Autumn, moreover, the most beautiful
of seasons, with its wealth of chrysanthemums and oleas of sweet
perfume in flower, furnishes also subjects dear to the poets. This fête
is accordingly more aristocratic and more literary than the others,
which have little to offer but popular pleasures. Thus, to celebrate it,
pretence is made of transforming the terrestrial abodes into so many
crystal palaces to harmonise with the splendours which are believed to
exist in the celestial regions.

I have said that the moon is the patroness of poetry. It is she, indeed,
who, from the earliest ages, has at all times known how to inspire
poets—now with sad, now with joyous songs. It is she who unites in common
contemplation the looks and the thoughts of lovers separated by long
distances from each other; it is she who consoles the unhappy despairing
in their solitudes. The most intimate secrets of the heart are confided
to her, the softest and sweetest wishes are formed before her transparent
mirror. Who shall then be astonished if poetry cherish this kindly queen
of the night?

Here are some verses dedicated to this star by our poets:

  “Raising my glass to drink with the moon,
  I notice that we are three—
  The moon, my shadow, and myself.
  The moonlight comes right up to my bed,
  Covering the floor with a dazzling surface,
  Which at first sight I take for ice;
  Then, noticing that it is the moon,
  I fall to thinking of my native land.”

The number of legends attaching to the moon is so large that it is
impossible to relate them all. Some say that the goddess who inhabits the
lunar palace is still unwedded. Others maintain that she is a tearful
widow. The most original of these legends tells us that the goddess is
the wife of a celebrated archer, of the reign of Han, named Haou-I. He
had already shot down nine suns with his terrible bow, and was just going
to fire at the tenth—the only one that remains to us—when the sun-god
said to him, “Give me grace of this one, which I need for the light of
the world. In return I will give you a magic draught which will give you
the power to go and to dwell in the sun itself.” At the same time he told
the archer the day and the hour on which he was to take the enchanted

Haou-I committed the imprudence of confiding his secret to his wife,
who, not willing to believe the truth of what he said, tried the draught
forthwith. Immediately she grew light as a bird and flew away to the moon.

Is this not like reading Jules Verne, perfected, in the second century,
for it is from that century that this legend dates.

Here is another myth, the translation of the poem of which I have
given elsewhere. I consider it very graceful. It tells that Emperor
Ming-Houang, of the Thang dynasty, had travelled in a dream to the moon.
It was there that he learned a melody entitled “Dress of Rainbow and of
Feathers.” This air was the cause of an insurrection, which nearly upset
his throne. One of his officers, in love with a favourite who sang this
celestial melody in perfection, revolted, and the Emperor could only
preserve his throne by sacrificing the life of his favourite. So true it
is that always and in all things one must seek the woman, even in the





The Feast of Lanterns comes almost directly after that of the New Year.
It may almost be said that one is the complement of the other, as the
latter in date takes place from the tenth day to the fifteenth day of the
first moon, and as the holidays of the New Year are prolonged from the
twentieth day of the twelfth moon of the dying year to the twentieth day
of the first moon of the new year.

During this month of holiday, all official business is suspended. The
seals which represent the official signatures are locked up in their

It is the use made, in incredible quantities, of all sorts of lanterns
that gives its name and its originality to this feast. The Chinese are
very fond of making these lanterns, and give them a luxury of form, and
employ in their manufacture a variety of material which defy imagination.
There is not on that day a single nook of the mighty Empire which is not
thus lighted up. To carry out an illumination on such a scale, it will be
readily understood that something more is needed than is seen elsewhere
when lanterns are used for illuminations.

To get a more exact idea of the character of our illuminations, imagine
one of your large toy-shops filled with transparent lanterns—horses,
lions, sheep, elephants, soldiers, horsemen, parasols, flowers, grotesque
figures, fantastic animals, &c. All the imitations of living things are
associated with all the varieties of fancy to transform light silk or
translucid paper into multi-coloured lanterns, now simple, now double.
These latter turn round and round, driven by the motion of the heated
air, and display the series of pictures with which they are filled.
There is not a thing in nature, or out of it, that does not on that day
take shape of lantern.

A gigantic lantern representing a dragon is carried about in the public
places to the sound of music. This is composed of a framework of wicker
covered with transparent stuff, on which the dragon’s scales are painted.
It is mounted on staves, which are held by the bearers. Anybody can get
the procession to stop before his house, or he can have it enter his
courtyard if he wants a private representation. In this case, all he
has to do is to let off a certain number of crackers as the procession
passes his house, so as to let the bearers know that they have to stop.
After the performance, which consists in making the dragon fly about in
every direction, cake and wine are offered to the musicians and to the
bearers, but never money, for the procession is always composed of people
belonging to the highest classes of society, who do this for their
pleasure. The European torchlight procession gives but a very feeble idea
of our dragon walk.

When a marriage takes place in a family, the relations of the bride send
her on her wedding-day a lantern representing a divinity holding a child
in his hand. If in the second year the wife has not had a child, another
lantern is sent her representing an orange; the word orange in Chinese
is synonymous to the words “make haste.” The lantern thus constitutes a
kind of punning reminder to her of her duty. Lanterns are also sent from
the local temples to any house in the parish in which either a recent
marriage, or a birth, or a literary success has taken place.

The subjects of these lanterns differ according to circumstances; the
bearers are always accompanied by an orchestra. One sees a large lantern,
on which are written enigmas, riddles, and puzzles, in almost every
street. The passers-by are supposed to try their skill at guessing these
puzzles, and those who succeed get as a reward some letter-paper, or some
brushes, ink, fireworks, sweets, &c. When the problem propounded is some
clever _jeu de mots_, or a comic answer is given, you can hear the whole
street ringing with shouts of healthy laughter.

Formerly under the dynasty of the Hans, it was forbidden to be out in
the streets of nights except during these feasts. On these occasions the
bridge gates of the city remained wide open, and the padlocks of the
bridge railings were unlocked all night.

Poetry has celebrated these nights of popular gaiety:

  “The trees on fire and the flowers in silver form bouquets on every side,
  And the iron padlocks no longer exist on the starlit bridges.
  A fine dust pursues on all the roads the perfumed feet of the horses;
  And the moon shining brilliantly, accompanies the walkers;
  These for the most part belong to the radiant youth,
  Who sing so joyously that one fancies one hears the celebrated melody of
      Lo-Mei-Hoa, or the fall of the petals of the plum-tree.
  This night it is not forbidden to walk abroad,
  Therefore let the waters flow slowly and without undue haste.”

Another poem says:

  “Two phœnixes come down from heaven with their triumphal chariot.
  Six dragons rise from the bottom of the sea bearing a mountain on
      their backs.”

Does not this remind you of the “Isoline” of Catulle Mendes?

Let me quote a few more lines:

  “What charitable hand has scattered all these lotus seeds,
  Which at one and the same time flower in every corner of the city?”

All this literature will show what a brilliant fête it is.

There are, of course, besides, family meetings, parties, where wine and
poetry help to bring the solemnity to its end indoors; while, in the
streets, the pleasures of the joyous crowd are prolonged until the

Lanterns have this advantage over gas and electricity, that they give
a softer light and present more of that variety and irregularity with
which life loves to surround itself, so as to escape as much as possible
from the monotony and uniformity of ordinary existence. They lend
themselves more readily to poetry, and realise in a small way what large
illuminations do in a greater.

The members of the constituted bodies also take part in the
illuminations. When officials go out at night, they are always
accompanied by lanterns, on which are written in red the name and titles
of the dignitary. On the evening of the feast, these lanterns decorate
the house of the functionary, like so many visiting cards, welcoming the

In conclusion, let it be said that the little folk, without whom there is
no real pleasure, have also their rôles to play and their part to take
in the general gaiety. Fruits are cut up for them, especially oranges,
and the children light these up with a little candle, and carry their
make-shift lanterns round the streets. Some of these fruit-lanterns are
wonderfully and beautifully carved and decorated.

Everything, in one word, is lighted up; so that could one take on that
night a bird’s-eye view of China from the car of some balloon, she would
show like a sky starred with thousands and millions of lanterns, and the
dazzled aeronaut would be forced to admit, as he looked down on the last
day of the feast of the New Year, that in China, at least, we never have
a gloomy New Year’s Day.





The two stars, called Niou-Lang, the Shepherd, and Tsi-Nu, the Weaver,
are situated, the first on the eastern shore of the Milky Way—the
Tien-Ho, as we call it, or River of Heaven—and the other on the western
shore. According to ancient astronomical observations they only meet once
a year, and this meeting is supposed to take place in the night of the
seventh day of the seventh moon.

Legend pretends that the Shepherd was married to the Weaving Woman, and
that to punish them for some fault committed in the celestial regions—a
fault analogous to that of Adam and Eve—the sovereign of the skies
separated them eternally. Once only in the year did he allow them to
see each other for an instant by crossing the stream of water which,
during the rest of the year, put an insurmountable barrier between their
loves. On that day the magpies, carrying straw in their beaks, go and
build a bridge over the river, which enables the lovers to cross over
dry-footed. I will add that on that day the magpies moult. A quantity of
other legends naturally have been grafted on to this one. Thus it is said
that the rain which falls on the eve of this feast cleans the chariot of
heaven; whilst if it rains on the day itself, it is said that that is the
tears of joy of the two lovers; if on the morrow, it is their tears of
sorrow at their fresh separation. The feasts celebrated on this occasion
vary slightly according to the locality. The object of some of the
celebrations is to beg of the Weaving Woman for skill at the loom; others
take advantage of the fact that on the day of their reunion the two stars
are more friendly disposed, and implore their pity.

A table is usually spread on these occasions on the balcony of the
pavilion, and laid with fruits, flowers, wine, candles, and incense. Low
prayers are whispered. Those who pray are young women whose husbands
are absent. Those who wish to become skilful workwomen close a spider
up in a box. When they open the box on the morrow they can tell from
the appearance of the web, which the spider has spun in the meanwhile,
whether the Weaving Woman has heard their prayers or not. If the web is
neat and regular they may hope for skill also.

Formerly, under the reign of the Thangs, this anniversary was celebrated
with considerable splendour in the palace of the Emperor. It is said that
towers about 1000 feet in height—about that of the Eiffel Tower—were
constructed of silk for the occasion, and that on these towers the
favourites of the Emperor made music and song in honour of celestial
loves. Girls vied with one another who should soonest thread, by
the light of the moon, needles with nine eyelets, and the winner was
proclaimed the most skilful of all.

A poem says:

  “It is easier to thread needles by moonlight than to hold a thread
      straight while the wind is blowing.”

There has been very much poetry written about this feast. Some of the
poems are in praise of the skill of the Weaving Woman; others lament
her too ephemeral happiness; but the most numerous are those in which
the luckless in love envy the lot of the lovers untied in heaven, and
pray them to favour them, so that they also may have a time of meeting,
however short. The most celebrated of these poems is one written by a
sceptical philosopher, who says:

  “They are immortals, and yet they fear the water.
  I am inclined to doubt that they are very skilful people.”

In short, this feast is liked chiefly as a pleasant holiday, and as
affording a theme for the poets.

In the seventh moon the great heats have passed away, and advantage is
taken of the soft zephyr and the purity of the sky, which is generally
to be noticed at this season of the year, to sit out on the balcony of
the house, and to enjoy the cool air whilst drinking rice-wine. The
hypothesis of these two invisible beings inhabiting the two stars is
rather a pretext than a belief, I am inclined to think. Long separations,
always so sad, and the meeting again, which is all the more delightful
because it is so unfrequent, are symbolised in this legend. The two
stars meeting across the Milky Way in a clear sky, under the burning and
envious gaze of the other stars, and the light of the crescent-moon,
form a graceful picture, which, by a pretty celestial dream, charms our
spirit, greedy as it always is of the ideal, and glad to escape for a
while from the truer but often more disappointing images of worldly




This feast falls on the fifteenth day of the second moon, but is, in
practice, prolonged until the end of spring. It is also called “the
feast of mild warmth.” This is the best season of the year, the mildest
and the most charming. The trees, almost all in bloom at that time,
alternating with the weeping willows, drooping down their long branches
laden with green leaves, form, together with the picturesque pavilions,
perspectives which over and over again have inspired the poet’s song.
There is not a private garden in the land which is not then transformed
into a horticultural exhibition. Poles of different colours are set up,
ornamented with flags and laden with little bells, and in the middle all
sorts of games are played, amongst others the game of butterflies. This
game is unknown in Europe, and, therefore, merits a description here.
Butterflies are caught, and a hair is attached to them; this hair is
weighted with a scrap of paper, to prevent them from flying away out of
reach, and then they are pursued by the women armed with their fans.

Other families go out into the country to pick flowers, to run in the
fields, and to play the game we call the “lawn game.” We have had
emperors who were poets, and who, on that day, used to distribute verses
composed by them on different kinds of plants. It was on this occasion
that the Minister of Agriculture used to present to the Sovereign seeds
of every plant under cultivation in his empire. In private houses, this
is the day chosen for making rice-wine. The people of Su-Tcheang march
out on this day in solemn procession, to the sound of music, to the
rice-fields, amidst crowds of spectators. This fête used to be very
brilliant under the dynasty of the Thangs, emperors who delighted in
simple pleasures in the midst of flowers. One of them used to give his
favourites pieces of silk, having the colours of the spring flowers, on
this feast. The silks were afterwards made into light spring dresses.

One year, when the feast fell in the midst of late winter weather, the
Emperor had a glass house constructed, and had all the plants brought in
to develop in the heat, and to the sound of the drum. This is the origin
of glass houses.

One of our novelists relates that one of the favourites of the Emperor
fell in love with a young man of letters who lived in the capital, and
whose garden was traversed by a brook which flowed out of the imperial
park. The young woman being shut up in the palace, jealously watched, had
no means of corresponding with him whom she loved. But love will always
suggest ways and means, and it came to her to write a poem on the petal
of a peony and to confide it to the stream. The young man of letters was
lucky enough to find the peony-petal, and thus learned that in spite
of the separation he was still loved. This feeling gave him so much
courage that he set to work with great diligence and an extraordinary
ardour, so that he was soon able to pass all his examinations, and to
become a celebrated statesman. In reward of numerous services, he asked
the Emperor to accord him the hand of the young woman, a request which
his sovereign was unable to refuse. Thus a simple flower gave a great
minister to the empire, and united two beings who thought themselves for
ever separated.





This is the Feast of the Three Beginnings—that of the year, the months,
and the days.

From break of day, which is saluted in every house with formidable
detonations of crackers, all the functionaries of the capital betake
themselves to the Imperial Temple to present their respective
congratulations to the Sovereign in person before the tablet which bears
the name of His Majesty. This duty accomplished, they present their
homages in order to the temples of Heaven, of Confucius, of the God of
Literature, and of the God of War. After this they pay calls to each
other, an exchange of courtesies which lasts for four or five days.

On entering a relation’s house, it is the rule, first of all, to salute
the tablets which represent the ancestors. If the visitors are newly
married, besides tea and cakes, a bag of oranges and water-melon seeds is
offered to them. Both these signify that it is hoped they may be blessed
with a large family.

Parties are given every day in turn at the different houses of friends,
and these are made the occasion for games of every description. At the
same time presents are distributed amongst the servants of one’s friends
and relations, whilst to the children of one’s acquaintance one gives
ingots of silver or pieces of silver coin wrapped up in red paper, or
coins threaded on red strings, which are called lucky coins. I may
mention here, since I am speaking about children, a striking peculiarity,
which is specially noticeable in the case of very young children; that
is, that in China we don’t count people’s ages by the number of their
days, but from year to year. Thus a child born on the 31st of December is
two years on the evening of the next day, that is, on January 1st of the
following year.

The fourth day of the first moon is the Feast of the God of Wealth and of
Happiness. All the drawing-rooms are then lighted up in honour of these
divinities, which are represented either by images or by a simple piece
of writing on paper.

The seventh day is consecrated to the Feast of Man, and the ninth to that
of God, and so on; for the feasts almost daily follow in quick succession
up to the end of the Feast of Lanterns.

During this time all that the people think about is to organise
pleasures, and to give themselves up to enjoyment. Debts have all been
paid off at the end of the old year, and the public and private holiday,
which is general, gives all the liberty needed. The season of the year
is not favourable to travelling, and so all that remains for pastimes
are the indoor games which are best adapted for killing time. There is a
great deal of playing in China at the time of year under consideration.
Games are played with cards, with dominoes, with dice, and with the
twelve beasts. There is also a more instructive game, which represents
the steps of official promotion. I need hardly say that music is not
wanting at these fêtes.

Many families do not eat meat on New Year’s Day. According to Lie-Tseu,
this custom originated as follows:

    “‘The people of Han-Tang,’ says this author, ‘had offered
    a pigeon as a New Year’s gift to a certain philosopher. He
    accepted the present, and giving wing to the bird, said, “All
    things should live happily on this day.”’”

This is a pretty tale with a delicate sentiment. Superstition is not,
however, wanting. With regard to the crackers which one might suppose are
only let off for fun, or in invitation to noisy revelry, it appears that
a good many people fancy that they serve to frighten off evil spirits,
who would never dare to knock at doors behind which such terrible
explosions are taking place.

But there is more than this. Many people paint a charm on their doors,
or draw a cock, or two guardians, which are thought to be capable of
swallowing whole any demon who might take it into his head to show

The astronomical works published under the dynasty of the Han family
state that one can judge from the wind that is blowing at daybreak on
New Year’s Day what kind of weather one is going to have throughout the
ensuing year. Thus a south wind means general dryness, a south-westerly
wind partial drought, and so on. An easterly wind on New Year’s Day
morning means war, a north-westerly wind a good harvest, a north wind
a moderate harvest. A north-easterly wind indicates a peaceful year,
wind from the west warns one of coming floods, and from south-east of

In the same way, the first word that one writes on New Year’s Day gives
its character to the whole year, good or bad. So, to make sure, people
always begin their letters on that day with such words as, Happiness,
Wealth, Felicity, Long-Life, and so on.

This manner of ensuring a happy New Year has inspired a woman philosopher
with the four following lines:

  “Everybody to-day dips the brush into ink,
  To write the words Happiness, Wealth, Felicity.
  If I might give wise advice to the ambitious,
  It is to bear the life that is laid upon us, and not to ask for things
      which Providence cannot possibly accord to all.”

I may add, that in spite of this excellent advice everybody continues to
ask for what is unobtainable—the pauper for a little wealth, the rich man
for more than he can have.

Fables which take something from superstition know how to mingle with it
a certain amount of wisdom. I will give in proof the following story:—

    “A poor man of letters, who had not the wherewithal to
    celebrate the change of the year, was fast asleep. In China, as
    elsewhere, it is true that he who sleeps dines. In the cottage
    where he lived there was neither fire, nor food, nor wine, nor
    light, nor pleasure in any form.

    “Meanwhile his neighbours were celebrating the feast with
    joyous revelry; the feast that was so sad for the solitary man
    that we are speaking about.

    “All of a sudden, at about midnight, somebody knocked at his

    “‘Who is there?’ asked the man of letters, disagreeably wakened
    just at the moment when he was dreaming about victuals, drink,
    and luxurious apartments.

    “‘It’s I, the God of Wealth.’

    “‘I am sorry to say that I cannot receive you.’

    “‘And why so?’

    “‘Because I have no luck.’

    “In spite of the insisting of the God of Wealth, the poor man
    absolutely refused to open the door.

    “A few moments later another knock was heard at the door.

    “‘Who are you?’ cried the sleeper, again awakened from his

    “‘’Tis I, the God of Luck.’

    “The man of letters sprang out of bed, and received the visitor
    with open arms in the dark cabin. The excellent god then wrote
    something with the tip of his finger on the poor man’s forehead
    and then disappeared.

    “The cottager had hardly time to get back to bed when the God
    of Wealth again announced himself.

    “This time, he was received in the most cordial manner, and at
    once placed in the poor man’s hand treasures of great value. He
    then asked the poor man to tell him why, after having at first
    refused to receive him, he now gave him so cordial a reception.

    “‘Oh, it’s simple enough. Now I have got luck, which I hadn’t a
    short while ago. I knew that you always follow the God of Luck,
    and so it was him that I waited for.’”

It is evident that this means that without luck, fortune itself is worth

The God of Wealth, whose good works we have just related, is nowhere
more fêted than in the town of Canton. Every evening, after the shops
are closed, candles are lighted and incense is burned before his altars,
which are fitted in niches on the outside of the shops. The whole town
is illuminated and perfumed. This is an universal adoration to which no
inhabitant of the Chinese empire gives himself up more fervently than
the Cantonese, who are the most commercial of the Chinese. Now, the God
of Wealth is also the God of Commerce, and that is as it should be, for
commerce is money after all; at least, money is the object of trade and
of traders. Plutus is the complement of Mercury.

The spring equinox, which we call the beginning of spring, often falls on
the first days of the new year. Then, there is a great fête.

A veritable procession is organised in each town. At the head come the
prefects and sub-prefects, and all the members of their official staff
in gala uniform. Each holds in his hand a spray of artificial flowers,
representing the peony, the flower of the spring. They ride in their open
sedan-chairs, escorted with music and soldiers. By their side are carried
tablets, on which are written their titles and the services they have

This is the procession of the spring ox.

Behind the official procession is carried the gigantic statue of an ox,
made of clay, which is plastered over with papers of many colours. Each
colour stands for some atmospheric change—fine weather, drought, change,
and so on.

Behind this statue comes the real ox, all gay with ribbons and rosettes.
A statuette is stuck up on its back, which represents the coming year.
Its dress also portends the weather that is going to be prevalent
throughout the coming year. If it has shoes on its feet, that means that
the year will be a dry one; if it has clogs, that the year will be rainy.
A clog on one foot and a shoe on the other, mean that the year will be a
temperate one.

The whole procession makes its way towards the temple of the God of
Agriculture, where the sacrifices take place. The ox is slaughtered and
its flesh is distributed amongst the crowd.

Thus in the extreme East the “spring ox” is being led in procession at
about the same time that the Parisians are leading round their Carnival
“fat ox.” The two ceremonies are evidently agricultural feasts, such
as formerly were celebrated in Egypt with the ox Apis. Man is the same
everywhere; his customs, languages, and institutions are different, but
those are only differences of form, the substance is everywhere the same.





The holidays begin ten days before the end of the year, so that everybody
may have time to prepare for this great solemnity. For in China there are
no legal holidays, and busy people only get a rest during the three great
feasts of the Dragon, the Moon, and the change of the Year. There are
five days holiday during each of the first two feasts, and thirty days
during the last.

It is on these dates that bills usually fall due, and when they must be

The last feast that we have spoken about includes several religious
ceremonies. These consist in offering banquets to each one of the gods
in thanksgiving for the good things he has accorded during the year that
has passed. On the twenty-fourth day of the twelfth moon a touching
ceremony is performed in the richest and the poorest houses alike. It is
that of the adieu addressed to the household god and the reception given
to the new-comer. It appears that this god only holds his tutelary office
during one year, and has then to make place for a successor.

The altar of this god is always placed in the kitchen; candles are
lighted before him every day, and incense is burned. At night a
night-lamp, which is called the fire of long life, burns before his altar.

On the evening of the twenty-fourth, a grand dinner, with cakes of the
most varied descriptions, and fruits of every sort, is spread out before
this altar for the guests to partake of.

After having poured out the wine of libation and let off the crackers,
without which no fête is complete in China, oats and corn are thrown on
the roof of the house for the horses of the god to feed upon, and it is
at that moment that he is supposed to take his departure.

The table is then cleared, and a fresh repast is laid out before the
altar for the refreshment and welcome of the new-comer. His name is at
once inscribed in the place of that of his predecessor, or it is the
images of himself and his wife that are placed in the stead of those of
the gods of the previous year.

This is our Christmas Day, after a fashion. It is this day that the
children look forward to, in the expectation of fruits and sweets.

Preserves are made of the dishes that are left over from these two
repasts, and these sometimes last over the whole of the first month of
the new year. The richer a family is, the more of these preserves will it
make. Parties and fêtes follow each other in unbroken succession.

On the last day a large pot of rice is put out of doors. The rice is
garnished with cypress leaves, on which imitation ingots of gold and
silver are placed. These are in paper, which is covered with lettering,
meaning long life, honour, health, happiness, and so on, cut out in
red paper. On the rice are heaped various kinds of fruit, symbolic of

This rice remains standing on a table in the open air until midnight.
It is called the “rice of the old year.” At midnight it is replaced by
another pot of rice, garnished in the same way. This is the rice of the
new year, and it is allowed to stand in position for two or three days.
A lucky day is then chosen in the calendar, and on this day the rice is
removed and eaten.

It is unnecessary to say that the same sacrifices take place every day
before the tablets of the ancestors, who are never or on any occasion

Formerly a number of superstitious customs were observed. According to
an old handbook of hygiene, a man had to lie down secretly by the side
of the family well on the New Year’s Eve, holding in his hand a flowering
branch of the pepper tree, and, when midnight struck, to throw this
branch into the well, if the family wanted to have pure and microbeless
water to drink during the ensuing year.

Under the reign of the dynasty of the Han family, a procession of one
hundred and twenty children, aged from ten to twelve years, and dressed
in grey clothes with red hats, used to march through the streets, each
child being armed with a drum, with the beating of which he was supposed
to drive away all evil spirits.

This procession was much more imposing under the Shungs in the sixth
century. The military took part in it, dressed in bright uniforms, and
carrying gilt lances and the banners of the dragon. These marched at the
head of the procession, all more or less hideously masked. Meanwhile, out
in the country the farmers used to form a torchlight procession, with
torches stuck in the end of long bamboos, and went running through all
their fields, begging the gods for a good rice-harvest and an abundance
of silkworms. In some provinces children used to run about the streets,
saying that they had their stock of intelligence for sale, and, of
course, found none to buy of them. All these things have now been done
away with. Only the religious ceremonies, of which I have spoken above,
remain in force to-day, as well as the vigils for seeing the new year in.
I do not speak of certain eccentric customs, which only form exceptions
to the general habit. Thus, for instance, the poets will sometimes place
their works on an altar in their house and make sacrifices before them.
Others melt their gold and pour it into water, predicting the future from
the curious shapes of the metal as it cools.

There is a literary piece by Han-Wong-Koung, an adieu to the God of
Wretchedness, which is very much read in China during the feast of the
end of the year. It is too long to be quoted here, but can be read by
all with great satisfaction. It gives excellent advice to the poor, and
teaches them how to fight against the demon of poverty. Some read it to
learn how to remain happy, others how to console themselves for their
wretchedness and how to get out of it.





In China the Taoists alone have religious processions, which is logical
enough, as it is their custom to represent their gods in human figures.
To mention only the principal ceremonies, I may allude to the procession
of the god Tai-Tchang, of the god Tcheng-Houang, of the gods of epidemic
diseases, and the goddesses who protect women in labour and little

Tai-Tchang is the god of the mountain of the same name, a function which
he combines with that of seventh high judge in Hades, which has ten such

The processions of Tai-Tchang take place during the third moon. The
terrible figure is brought on the appointed day, surrounded by an
imperial pomp. He deserves all these splendours, seeing that his title is
that of sovereign of the mountain.

He is preceded by his colleagues, the other grand judges, his sons and
godchildren, who are all reputed princes of his family. Each of these
divinities has its special escort, with two large lanterns and a number
of tablets, on which are inscribed the various titles of the god.

Next come the orchestra and the followers, all dressed in gala clothes.
Some carry a vase full of flowers, others a smoking incense-bowl.

Besides these, the procession is followed by numbers of private
individuals, carrying in their hands reduced models of the various
instruments of torture—handcuffs, chains, hooks, &c. They hope by this
means to draw down on their devoted heads the punishments which the god
may be intending to inflict on those dear to them.

At Fou-Tcheou young girls also take part in this manifestation, but in
the other cities women are forbidden to do so.

The procession takes its way to a vast building situated on the outskirts
of the town, which is called the Prison of the Ghosts. There is such a
prison near every city. The object of this visit is to release from their
captivity the spiritual captives, so that during the Feast of the Dead
they may be able to take part in their family celebrations, and perform
the sacrifices which are expected of children to their ancestors.

The same procession is repeated on a smaller scale a few days later. This
time its object is to bring back to their prison the ghost who had been
temporarily released.

All along the way down which the procession passes, the faithful place
before the door of their houses tables on which lighted candles and
incense are burning, with flowers and fruits. Everybody comes out of the
house to admire the immense march past, which is, moreover, a kind of
walking exhibition, as the members of the different societies which take
part in it, and which all belong to different trades, carry with them
all the new productions of the year. The crowd covers at least from two
to four kilomètres with its long moving column; for each god has his
subalterns, and each of these subalterns has the right to a magnificent
escort. Toy and sweet merchants profit by the occasion to display their
wares in the streets, offering their goods to the children, who always
take a very large share in festivities of this sort.

At Fou-Tcheou there is a peculiarity which is particularly interesting.
The feast lasts two days, and the second day’s ceremony is an exact
repetition of the first. However, on the second day an excursion is made
out to the suburbs of the town, where Tai-Tchang’s mother-in-law is
supposed to live, the god being brought as a respectful son-in-law to pay
his respects to the good lady. Happy god, happy mother-in-law!

Legend relates that a young peasant-girl, daughter of a butcher, having
witnessed the procession, went home and died immediately. During her
short agony she told her parents that the god, only recently having
become a widower, had noticed her great beauty, and had chosen her for
his wife. She was an only daughter. Her death threw her family into
despair, and in their rage her parents set out to revenge themselves
on the god by setting fire to his temple. Tai-Tchang, however, taking
human shape, appeared to them, and pacified them by saying that he had
married their daughter, and that he owed her parents all the respect
due from a good son-in-law. As a proof of this, he gave orders that a
procession should take him every year to the house where the butcher’s
wife, the mother of his divine companion and queen, lived. This shows
that Tai-Tchang was a very sensible god, free from all aristocratic
prejudices, and the very type of the cunning son-in-law, diplomatic
enough to be able to soften down the anger of a mother-in-law, who in her
rage had nearly become an incendiary.

In the summer, similar processions take place in honour of the gods of
the epidemical diseases. We enjoy in China the sad privilege of owning
five epidemics, which are local and indigenous. The figures of these
gods, which never vary in appearance, can be seen in every street, and in
every quarter there is a temple consecrated to these terrible divinities.
The processions in their honour are, in consequence, daily occurrences,
as each part of the town performs this ceremony in turn.

Although the procession is less imposing than the one that follows
Tai-Tchang, it is nevertheless of great richness in the larger quarters.
At the head come the five gods, each preceded by his subalterns. Behind
them is carried an immense paper-boat, very skilfully made. It is
mounted by the same gods, also in paper, who are placed in the cabin
in the centre, whilst in another cabin are shut up paper-images of all
the other demons. A man walks at the side of this boat, carrying on
his shoulder, by means of a water-carrier’s pole, two buckets filled
with débris of meats and offal of all kinds that are known to engender
disease. These buckets are called ironically the buckets of happiness.
The procession goes straight to the sea-shore, or to the banks of the
river. Once there, the buckets are flung into the water, and the ship and
its passengers are set fire to and burnt. The epidemics are then supposed
to have been driven right out of the town. Mutual congratulation and a
banquet terminate the fête. This is doubtless doubly symbolical. The
buckets represent hygienic measures, the boat and its gods and demons
figure the expulsion of all diseases, carried away by the river or
destroyed by the fire.

Tcheng-Houang is the god of the provinces. His image may be seen
everywhere, just as in Paris we see on the Place de la Concorde the
statues of the chief citizens of France. The difference is that
Tcheng-Houang is a real personage, not merely a personification. His
ceremony is about identical with that of Tai-Tchang, except for the fact
that Tchang-Houang has only right to the title of Governor.

The procession of the goddesses who protect women in labour and children
usually takes place at the beginning of the year. The chair on which the
statue is seated is all covered over with flowers, and as it is carried
round by its bearers all the childless women of the town come crowding
round imploring the divinity to give them children. The women take from
the chair the first flower that comes into their fingers. If it is a red
flower, they may hope to have a daughter; if it is a white flower, that
means that they will have a boy. At the same time, the would-be mothers
make vows to present the goddess with tapestry or clothes, or some
decorative object, should she hear their prayer.

Rich people often invite the goddess into their houses as she passes
their doors. Fireworks are then let off, and flowers are added to those
on the chair. Then tea and cakes are handed round to the members of the
procession, and after this the Chinese Lucina is allowed to resume her
peregrinations, to visit other houses if she be so disposed. Throughout
the month women crowd into the sanctuary of the goddess in an unceasing
stream, some to fulfil their vows and bring their votive offerings,
and others to implore, in their turns, the intervention of the Chinese
Genitrix goddess.





It is on the eighth day of the fourth moon—which corresponds to the
month of May of the Gregorian calendar—that the great ceremony of the
ordination of the Buddhist priests, also called the Feast of the Bath of
Buddha, is performed.

On the eve of this day all the candidates gather together in the
monastery in each town to prepare themselves for the solemnity of the
morrow. At about eight o’clock in the evening a bell is rung. The priests
are in their places, each on his knees before the statue of Buddha. First
a prayer is recited, and then hymns are sung. After this the chief
priest takes down off its lofty pedestal a little idol—a statuette of
Buddha, places it on a platter of gold or of carved silver, and pours
over it water out of another platter. During this bath, which lasts
for half-an-hour, the priests are in adoration, and all the musical
instruments are heard. Then comes a rather lengthy pause. At midnight the
ceremony of consecration begins. The candidates who, either by vocation
or by sudden impulse, have chosen this career, have to live two or three
years in one of the monasteries, and after this, before being qualified
to exercise the function of minister, must submit themselves to a
somewhat painful formality.

The great hall of Buddha is brilliantly lighted up. On tables placed
side by side are set out the images of the different Buddhist apostles,
and all kinds of religious emblems. Before each of these statues there
is placed a kind of _prie-dieu_ stool, to which the name of one of the
candidates is attached, and it is on this stool that, after a long hour
of meditation, the candidate kneels down. His head is shaven completely
bald, and on the naked skin are placed three pieces of tinder soaked in
incense, to which the chief sets light. The candidate continues praying
quietly whilst the conical-shaped tinder candles on his head burn out,
burning away the skin of his head withal. This is the reason why one
always sees cicatrices on the heads of the Buddhist priests. Some have
three, some six, some nine, some even more, according to the degree of
their devotion.

On the morrow another ceremony takes place, that of the reception of the
priests. The old give welcome to the new.

I relate all this because this sight is one in which in China a great
deal of interest is taken. It is considered quite a pleasure to be able
to witness it.

When I was a boy of nine years, the chief of the Buddhists who was to
officiate at the ordination that year being a friend of my father’s, I
asked to be allowed to be present at the ceremony.

It was a beautiful afternoon. After crossing fields bordered with high
trees, and where the cry of the crickets could be heard on every side, we
entered into a wood, in the centre of which stood the monastery. We were
well received by the priests, who told me that no child of my age had
ever been present at the feast. The scene that I was to see was one which
might turn me either into a fanatical Buddhist, or a bitter enemy of
that religion. However, my father insisted, and I was allowed to enter.
We first of all partook of a dinner without meat, consisting of bamboo
sprouts, salt vegetables, and a purée of beans, all of which seemed
delicious to me. We were afterwards allowed to be present at the great
dinner of the priests. Their immense dining-room resembled very much
that of a barracks, with this difference, however, that during the meal
the strictest silence was observed. This silence was only broken by the
prayers that were sung before and after each course. I was very surprised
to see how healthy these monks looked in spite of their bad food. I have
since learnt, however, that a vegetable diet is quite as nourishing as
meat, and now understand what at the time puzzled me. On leaving the
dining-room I took a turn in the passage of meditation. Each priest was
seated with his legs crossed under him, his eyes closed, and his hands
locked together, on a bed placed in an alcove, which was separated by
screens on either sides from those of his neighbours. The priests seemed
to be lost in the most profound meditation. Child that I was, and not
knowing what importance they attached to their silence, I tried to get
the monks to speak to me, in spite of my father’s forbidding me to speak
to them. But not one of them gave me any answer, not one of them moved a
hair. Some time was spent in this way, after which we betook ourselves
to the great hall of consecration, where the ordination ceremony, as
described above, took place.

The net result of my excursion was that I passed a very unpleasant night,
and that I have still before my eyes the horrible sight of hundreds of
Buddhists in their grey robes, with their bald heads flaming hideously.

As soon as ever day broke I begged my father to take me away from this
sinister spot, and in spite of the heavy dew that lay on the grass, and
the chilliness of the spring morning, we set out at once. As we reached a
little pathway which separated two fields, I just escaped treading on two
snakes, who were wriggling in battle together, and who passed from one
field into another between my very legs.

The impression that I carried away was so deplorable a one that, but
for an incident which, happening some days later, showed me that their
fanaticism was far from being so absolute as I had imagined, I should
never have felt anything but aversion to these fanatical madmen, as
I then considered them. One day, some time after our visit to the
monastery, one of the priests whom we had met there paid us a visit at
our house, and stayed to dinner. I cannot express the stupefaction I
felt in seeing him partake of the dishes of meat that were served, with
the greatest relish and appetite. I could not understand. I knew that
the Buddhists were strict vegetarians, and that they forbid the use not
only of flesh and fish, but even of eggs, fat, milk, and butter. I could
not help expressing my astonishment, child that I was. The priest merely
smiled, and said, “Buddha is such a kindly god, my child, that he pays no
attention to these minor details.”

Buddha, indeed, is the god of gladness. I need only look at his face to
be convinced of that fact. This face, with the fat cheeks, lighted up
with an eternal smile; this well-fed body, comfortably seated on the
lotus-flower, that flower that the god holds in his hand; that quiet
attitude of happy _bon vivant_—all these things made one think rather of
some fat monk from Rabelais than of an ascetic emaciated with prayer and
self-inflicted punishment.

The Buddhist story relates, moreover, that the first Buddha was a man of
kindly feelings towards his fellows, whose only mission it was to save
all mortals from their wretchedness, and to make them enter the “western
heaven,” which is that of pleasure.

The other day my friend Cernuschi gave a children’s ball in Paris. There
was a large Buddha in the drawing-room. I happened to be present; and
when I was asked whether I was not horrified at seeing such frivolities
taking place before the statue of a god, I answered in the negative.
“Ah,” they cried, “you are more tolerant than we are. Our priests would
never permit us to dance before a crucifix.”

“That is quite different,” I answered. “Christ was a martyr, and it would
certainly be wrong to indulge in frivolous gaieties before His image.
Buddha, on the other hand, has only one desire, and that is, that each
and all should be happy. Besides, this excellent god is on a holiday in
Europe, and that is all the more reason why he should be glad to see
people amusing themselves, since he is here for amusement.”






The districts in China most favoured by nature are, without doubt,
Hang-Tcheou and Sou-Tcheou. The first possesses the lake of Sou-Hou,
rich in beautiful surroundings. The river Tchinn-Houai flows through the

A very popular Chinese proverb says:

    “Heaven is what is most beautiful in the skies, on earth it is
    Sou and Hang.”

In the evening the lake and the river are covered with illuminated
pleasure boats. Songs and laughter echo on every side. The banks are
covered with villas glittering with light, where happy faces and charming
features may be seen.

These villas are inhabited by the most beautiful women, who come to this
wonderful land to admire the beautiful scenery, and to be admired in
their turn. It has been said—such is the reputation of this enchanting
spot—that at Hang-Tcheou the moon, instead of being sad at times, is
always very happy, as if to share in the general gladness. What songs
of love has she not inspired, what poems, what music, born of the
contemplation of her orb, more beautiful here than anywhere else. I will
add that the prettiest women in China are born in these two provinces.

Sou-Tcheou has, besides its river, a lake called Tai-Hou, in which are
a number of mountainous islands. The most celebrated of these are the
Toung-Ting-Chan group, which are much loftier than the others. In autumn,
when the Virginia creepers have turned to red amidst the green of the
pine-trees and the bamboo, the aspect is a most picturesque one.

To the west of the town there is a mountain known as the “Magic Rock,”
where there is the grotto of Si-Si, the favourite of Prince Ou-Ouang of
Sou-Tcheou, the most beautiful woman in China, and quite close to it are
the Lake of Flowers, the Pathways of Pleasant Odours, and the King’s
Peak. From the top of this peak, a view of the Toung-Ting mountain,
rising a mass of green out of the snow-white lake, may be obtained.

There is another mountain to the north-east, called Fou-Kiou, or the Tomb
of the Panther. The story is, that when Emperor Tchin-Sse-Houang wanted
to break into the tomb of Prince Ou-Ouang, a tiger appeared on the tomb
and protected it, whence its name. Lower down is a tomb which has been
preserved for over eight centuries, and which contains the body of a
young woman renowned for her misfortunes in love. The few poems of hers
that have survived are so very sad, that all persons of a romantic turn
of mind who have read them never fail to pay a visit to her tomb, and to
cover it with flowers.

Here is a short poem written by this heartbroken woman:

  “I prostrate myself before the Buddhist Virgin, so full of pity and
      of charity,
  To beg her to grant that in my future life I may neither revisit
      earth nor tarry in Paradise;
  I pray that she may bless me with a drop of dew at the end of her
      willow branch,
  So that I may become a double lotus blossom.”

The third line contains an allusion to the Buddhist ceremony of
aspersion. The double lotus-flower is supposed to bear on the same stalk
a male and a female blossom. It is the emblem of the union of two hearts
and of happy loves.

The marble of the tomb is covered with inscriptions made by the visitors.
Most of these are in verse, of the same metre and with the same rhymes
used by the dead poetess.

Some way off is another mountain, where Lao-Tse spent a long time in
meditation. In the centre of this mountain is a large lake, known as the
“Celestial Lake,” where, in summer, lotuses of extraordinary size may
be seen in flower. It used to be said that by eating these flowers one
attained immortality.

All this district is full of celebrated places and of historical sites.
Generally speaking, there is a monastery on the top of each of the
mountains. In the middle of the spring all the ladies of the district
make offerings to Buddha.

Those who admire pretty women take advantage of this custom to come and
stare at the ladies.

The monastery is reached in sedan-chairs. The ladies go down again
backwards. I never could understand the reason of this strange custom
until chance brought under my notice these two lines, written in the
seventeenth century by a woman:

  “I go down stepping backwards, and you follow me face to face,
  So that it is not necessary for me to turn my head round at each step.”

There are even more celebrated places at Hang-Tcheou. In the first place,
there is Si-Hou, mentioned above. An avenue of weeping willows surrounds
the whole lake, and the branches of the trees droop down into the water.
Behind is an immense panorama of mountains—the Phœnix Mountain, the
Mountains of the Screen of Stone, the Solitary Mountain, and the Mountain
of the Pumpkin, which was the favourite walk of Emperor Tchin-Sse-Houang.
This destroyer of books used often to land at the foot of this mountain,
leaving his boat on the lake while he made his excursion. Then there
are the Mountain of Music, against which the current breaks and is
driven back with terrible noise; the Mountain of the White Dragon, the
Mountain of Sans-Souci, where may still be found the utensils in which
the immortals, according to the legend, used to prepare their magic
remedies in the old days. I may also name the Celestial Pillar, the
Fist, the Eye of Heaven, and the Marble Mirror, which is formed of a
huge round rock so smooth and polished, that one can see his reflection
in it as in a mirror. Emperor Tchiao-Tchung, of the Thang family, used
often to give dinners on this marble table. The guests used to spread
their cloaks out on the rocks which stand around, and on this account the
Emperor called these rocks Marechal-I-King, which means the embroidered
garment. The following story is told about the Flying Mountain: “An
Indian priest, seeing it for the first time, appeared quite dumfounded
with astonishment. He was asked what was the matter. ‘This mountain,’ he
answered, ‘belongs to my country. I do not know when it can have flown

Beyond the summit of the Ten Thousand Pine Trees, we see the Mountain
of the Red Twilight, so called because in the spring the peach-trees,
with which it is covered, blossom with their pink flowers, and give this
mountain the appearance of being bathed in the ruddy glow of dawn or

In this district there are a number of little lakes and merry rivulets,
which have poetic names. A part of the shore of Si-Hou is called the
Quay of Master Sou, because Sou-Toung-Po had nenuphars and other flowers
planted there. Many poets have written about this lake. The most
celebrated is the following, which was written by Sou-Toung-Po:

  “Compare the lake to Si-Si.
  It is more simple and prettier, because it is less made up.”

A more modern author says:

  “The traveller finds himself in the middle of a picture, and can
      easily believe that all these picturesque constructions are
      made of embroidery, so I am no longer surprised that the
      Choung dynasty
  Preferred this lake to the half of their empire.”

The following is still more enthusiastic:

  “Ten leagues of lotuses and an autumn rich in koue flowers
  Attract the sovereign to them.
  The new melody, entitled, ‘Song of the Willows,’
  Is sung by every mouth.
  This is what has changed the capital of the empire,
  And has caused Pien-Theou to be deserted for Hang-Tcheou.”

Another poem, the last, says:

  “The perfumed zephyr embalms the light of the moon,
  Athwart the twelve stories of the mountain;
  The Court ascends in the night to the Pavilion of Leisure,
  Enjoying the panorama from above,
  Which offers a charming view at the moment when all the houses are
      lighting up.”

This will suffice to give an idea of these landscapes, the most beautiful
in China. The views are of infinite variety, and each point has some
natural charm, or has attaching to it some memorable event, historical
or legendary. So it is very difficult to represent all there is to be
described here, even with the paint-brush. Man is unable to portray all
the beauties which Nature, the real artist, so prodigiously displays.




There was a tropical heat that day, not a breath of wind stirring, and
not a shady corner to be found anywhere. It was one of those stifling and
suffocating days of our Chinese summer. I was trying to find some place
where to spend the afternoon with some degree of comfort, when some one
knocked at my door.

They were friends of mine, who had come to ask me to go bathing with
them. They had been considerate enough to bring a sedan-chair for my use
with them, and so off we went.

Beyond the N.E. gate of Fou-Tcheou there is a warm sulphurous spring,
which is very much frequented by the inhabitants of the town. Some go and
bathe in the common pool, which is reserved for the cure of diseases of
the skin; others, who come either for cleanliness or merely for pleasure,
take private cabins. I need not say that there are separate pools for the
two sexes.

There is nothing picturesque about the bathing pools, and so I will
not describe them; but I should like to say a few words about the
inner arrangements, which have nothing in common with those in similar
establishments in Europe or Turkey.

The house is always built in the middle of lofty trees, and its
foundations are sunk, wherever possible, in a running stream. The
building, which is one or, at most, two storeys in height, is reached
through a vast peristyle. The shape of the house is either round or
square, either all in glass, or else abundantly lighted with windows made
of silk, or of transparent paper, in carved wood frames. Against the
windows on the front are placed little tables, spaced out like those in
a restaurant. The cabins are behind. As soon as the bathers arrive they
are received by the employés, and, when they have taken their seats, tea
and pipes of tobacco are served. At the same time each bather receives
some water-melon seeds to help him to while away the time whilst he is
waiting for his bath. Then the water-carriers begin to busy themselves,
carrying smoking pails of hot water, which they have just drawn from the

There is a round bath in each cabin, and across it is laid a plank, on
which the bather sits without plunging his body into the water. He is
provided with a large sponge, and uses it to sponge himself all over with
the hot water in the bath. As soon as the bath is finished the bather
dresses and returns to his table, where a lunch is served, composed of
light and exquisite dishes. Here the bathers drink wine, laugh, and
talk, or play at the game which resembles the Italian game of “morra,”
where you have to guess the number of fingers which are held up by the
players. The loser has to drink. Fortunately the cups are very small, or
it wouldn’t be possible to lose very often. After dinner, card games are
played, or chess, or dominoes. An orchestra attached to the establishment
plays its sweetest melodies.

Thus the rest of the afternoon is spent in the fresh air, under the
shadow of the high trees, with their thick leaves. It is, as you see, a
kind of hydropathic casino. As soon as the sun has set, and before the
moon is too bright, a move homewards is made across the fields in the

In the north the baths are inside the towns, and thus are not so well
situated as where they are in the country. The arrangements are, however,
almost the same as those I have described, except that incense is burned
in each cabin, and in such quantities, that as you enter the thick smoke
gets into your eyes and makes them smart and water. The reader will
notice that I only speak about warm baths. I must explain that the
Chinese do not like cold baths, which they consider to be very bad for
the health. It is only the children of people living by the river-sides
who take cold baths. Cold water is so generally disliked in China, that
lukewarm water is almost always used for washing. We won’t even drink
cold water, and that is one of the reasons why tea is so largely used at
home, the infusion giving us an excuse for drinking hot water.





Kite-flying, which since the earliest ages has been popular in China, is,
without possible contradiction, the game which best exercises the bodies
of children. The boy runs back, comes, goes, pulls at the string, winds
it up, inhales the fresh air with all his lung-power, and develops his
strength and his skill at one and the same time.

In Northern and Central China it is in the spring that this pastime is
indulged in; in the south it is in the autumn. Our kites, as a rule, are
much larger than those used in Europe, and we designate their sizes by
the number of pieces of paper that have been used in their manufacture.
Thus we speak of “two-paper,” “three-paper,” and “thirty-two-paper”
kites. The last are very much taller than a man.

The form varies very much. Our “paper eagles,” as we call them, are made
in every conceivable shape—butterflies, beetles, birds of the most varied
sizes and species, monstrous dragons, are all in turn modelled in the
manufacture of these charming toys.

The strings vary, according to the size of the kite, in thickness from
the finest thread to cord often several millimètres thick. In the season,
the sky is clouded with these artificial birds, casting fantastic shadows
as they float in the ethereal blue.

It is said that, one day, a player having to absent himself for a
moment, tied the string of his kite to the cradle in which his child was
sleeping. When he came back he found that his kite had got away, carrying
the cradle and the child with it. Neither were ever seen or heard of

The very large kites do not always carry children away, but, on the
other hand, they often are very quarrelsome beings. The kites which are
intended for the purpose of aerial warfare can be recognised by the
colour of the paper that they are made of. One can thus see at once what
is the character—pacific or bellicose—of each new comer. Often, the two
possessors of the fighting kites cannot see each other, but only the two
kites they are fighting with. Each child tries by skilful manœuvring of
the string to get his kite behind that of his adversary, and hook it on
to the other. When he has done this, he draws his string in, and, if he
is the stronger, is able to bring both kites down to the ground, cuts
the string of the enemy’s kite, patches up its wounds, and adds it to
his collection. Other kites are more peaceful, devoted as they are to
music—the civilising art. A bow, crossed by several parallel chords, is
fastened to the three strings which cross the face of the flying-machine,
and the wind, playing through these cords, causes them to vibrate,
giving the music of the Æolian harp. Some children get to be very skilful
at this game, and it is really an interesting sight to see them vieing in
force and ruse with each other to obtain these never bloody victories.





Our forefathers used to say that to find pleasure it must be sought
for either on the mountains or on the water, and it is quite true that
if you want to enjoy fine weather, you must look out for some place
where the views are varied. But, as Mahomet very wisely remarked, the
mountains won’t come to us, and we must go to the mountains. It must
also be remarked that there are many flat districts in China where there
are no mountains to be found, whilst water can be found everywhere;
besides, mountain-climbing is fatiguing, whilst excursions on the water
in flower-decked canoes, comfortably fitted, afford both repose and
pleasure, cradled as one is by the rhythmic cadence of the oars. When the
wind is strong enough to allow of a sail being hoisted, you feel almost
as light as a bird flying in space; and let the illusion last ever so
short a time, you fancy you have been transformed into a member of the
aerial world of genii, pursuing in cloudland a life of eternal happiness.

My countrymen have in all ages taken special pleasure in excursions
on the water. Under the dynasty of the Sungs—that is, in the twelfth
century—Lake Loi was very much frequented. The shores were planted all
round with weeping willows, and the moon seemed to lose seven-tenths
of her brightness under the gleam of the numberless illuminated boats
sailing along to the sound of joyous music.

A poet has said:

  “By moonlight on the twenty-four bridges,
  The sweet melody may everywhere be heard, the melody of flutes,
      sonorous at the lips of charming women.”

The river Tchiang-Hang became the favourite excursion under the reign of
the Thangs. At the beginning of the spring people used to go out to it to
collect aquatic flowers. This is expressed in these lines:

    “On the third day of the third moon—the birth of spring—the
    banks of the river Tchiang-Hang are lined with pretty women.”

When Sung came to the throne, he used to make his excursions chiefly
on Lake Si-Hou, the beautiful lake in the west, which we have already
described. The skiffs flew like fly-shuttles across the loom, cutting
through the light mist that rose from the water; and blue flags were
to be seen on every tree. The lake used at that time to be called the
Crucible for Melting Gold, a metaphor which is not without point.

Three centuries ago, under the reign of the Mings, the river Tching-Houai
began to grow fashionable, and as the moon rose with the tide, thousands
of boats, covering more than ten lis (Chinese miles), could be seen
hieing hither, with their pearly blinds casting shadows which trembled
on the trouble of the waters. All that has disappeared to-day. One must
have been in these boats to understand the real pleasure of a taskless
and careless life. They are like floating houses, furnished with the
most refined luxury. Each boat is rowed by six oarsmen, and is fitted
in the centre with a deck-house, which is divided off into several
drawing-rooms. Nothing more artistically and comfortably arranged can
be found even in the wealthiest houses in Europe. In the evening,
bright lights shine through the window-panes of all the cabins, and it
is as if the water were furrowed up with thousands of meteors shedding
their joyful brightness far and wide. No; there is no better mode of
locomotion. On the water there is no dust; you do not run, you skim
along, and the slow progress of the skiff gives you time to enjoy the
varied aspects of the country, studded as it is with clusters of sombre
and silent trees. Then all that a carriage can do for you is to convey
you; you can’t settle down in a carriage. These boats, on the other
hand, are so many houses, where whole families or large parties can meet
together and dwell. To conclude, the boat alone deprives the landscape of
its immobility, animates it, and gives it movement and life; it renders
Nature herself more gay and more poetical.





A rather curious coincidence exists in the two antipodes of the globe. In
France, when a man retires from business or from official life, he says,
“I am going to plant cabbages.” In China we say, “I am going to retire
into the mountains, or into the forest.” This is another way of saying
that he is going to give himself up to gardening. This coincidence is
caused by the fact that the same tastes exist everywhere. When a man has
had enough of the occupations of an active life, he is glad to withdraw
completely from them, and to devote himself to innocent pleasure, which
provides exercise for the body and rest for the mind, and charms with
peace the last days of his life. What is called the world differs but
little. When one is tired of its battles, it is that other world, the
world of nature, that alone one yearns after.

In our history, as in our poetry, we are constantly reading of men of
the widest fame who only lived in the hope of being able to retire at
last. They often used to be heard saying that their gardens were running
to waste for want of cultivation; and this thought is so popular a one,
that even those who cling to their offices follow the example of the
others, and constantly repeat that they are dying with the longing to
go and cultivate their gardens. A philosopher thus characterises this
contradiction between the word and the act:

  “Everybody expresses the desire to retire,
  But in the middle of the forest I never meet anybody.”

However this may be, it is certain that a number of people do caress this
dream of a rural life, and do finally put it into execution.

“O rus quando te aspiciam,” is true in every age, and in every land;
on the banks of the blue river, as well as in the severe landscapes of
ancient Rome, or on the sunny landscapes of modern France.

The poet Tou-Fou himself, when his functions at Court allowed him a few
moments of leisure, took great delight in donning gardener’s clothes, as
is shown by the following lines:

  “I met Tou-Fou at the foot of the Fan-Kou mountain, wearing a straw
      hat in the full heat of the sun.
  ‘Why are you so thin?’ I asked him.
  ‘Because,’ he answered, ‘I have been making too many verses of late.’”

Tao-Yen-Ming, the man of letters, is the author of a long piece, entitled
“Back in the Country,” of which the following is the principal passage:

  “My garden was just beginning to run wild,
  But happily there still remain pines and chrysanthemums.
  Having cultivated myself I return home,
  Where my young boy jumps into my lap,
  And a vase of wine awaits me on the table.”

And this man of letters, in spite of repeated invitations from the
Emperor, contented himself with living and dying in the midst of his
chrysanthemums, which he loved passionately.

We are not, however, satisfied in China with mere cultivation, but have
succeeded in developing our gardening operations into a real work of art.
What with watering, grafting, the selection and scientific combinations
of species, the great varieties both of our plants and our skill in
shaping them into the most varied and most fantastic shapes, our gardens
are veritable masterpieces of the art. The Chinese gardeners know how
to transform their gardens into zoological gardens, cutting and bending
their trees, as they do, into lions, dragons, and every other kind of
animal. We are so fond of flowers, that a single spray is considered
sufficient for a bouquet. One never sees those round bouquets of several
kinds of flowers, which are fashionable in Europe, at home.

Listen to the following verses written by an amateur gardener:

  “What an admirable sight is this sunset,
  Which like Bengal fire shows everything ‘en rose,’
  The flowers seem much prettier,
  And the birds hop about, chirping on the branches of the bamboo.
  The wind has calmed down, the trees are wrapped in silence,
  And shades are stealthily creeping over all the land.
  My breast swells, but as much with fresh air as with gladness.
  But, alas, the day, approaching its end, holds no further prospect
      of happiness.”

Do not think that to be happy the Chinaman must have a large estate. It
is the quality of the philosopher to be satisfied with very little. A
small plot of land is all-sufficient for his happiness, provided he has a
few square yards of soil in which to plant his bamboo and his favourite

The following is a poem written by a man of letters, who lived in a
cottage, and consoled himself in this wise:

  “There is no reason why the mountain should be lofty;
  It is celebrated by the genius who inhabits it.
  Water need not be deep, if it is inhabited by a dragon.
  My home is only a cottage, sheltering my virtue and my person.
  Moss covers the steps; and the green of the lawn
  Is reflected through my window-blinds;
  But only men of letters come to laugh and to talk with me.
  No vulgar man ever sets his foot here.
  We can have nice games of skill.
  We can read nice Buddhist books.
  No sound of music troubles my ears.
  No political element absorbs our minds.
  I compare my cottage to the celebrated cottage of Nan-Yang,
  Or to the historical pavilion of Si-Seu.”

Moreover, has not Confucius written as follows?—

  “There is no misery where there is no complaint.”

I pause here to tell an anecdote:

    “A foreign diplomat told me one day, whilst we were sitting
    chatting and smoking cigarettes in his study, that under the
    reign of Frederick the Great a Chinese dignitary came to
    Berlin. He was well received at Court, and introduced forthwith
    to a professor, who enjoyed a great reputation in the German
    capital for his translations of Chinese literature and his
    lessons in the Chinese language.

    “The mission of this Chinese dignitary lasted several years, at
    the end of which time a real professor arrived from abroad. He
    was at once brought into the presence of the Chinese professor.

    “Imagine his stupefaction when he discovered that this
    individual was not a professor at all, and that his real
    profession was that of a gardener. He had been forced to play
    the rôle of professor against his will. He was taken to be a
    savant, and a savant he had to be. On his arrival in Germany he
    had been at once considered a man of letters on the strength
    of his appearance only, without having to give any proof of
    his capacities, or to pass any examination. Not to injure this
    victim of a mistake, and to take advantage of his talents, he
    was appointed gardener at Sans-Souci, where, as it happens, I
    noticed several specimens of Chinese gardening operations.”

I cannot vouch for the truth of the preceding anecdote, but, true or
false, the story is amusing enough to be related. After all, the man
only had to change the course of his studies, and from being a professor
of Chinese, developed into a professor of Chinese gardening.

A man of letters, named Ko-To-Tao (To-Tao means the humpback, a
soubriquet given to the man whose real name nobody knew, and who seemed
to enjoy his nickname), used to dwell in the village Foun-Lo (fertility
and joy), which lies to the west of Tchiang-Nyang. He used to cultivate
trees, which were so beautiful that they were the envy of all the rich
people of the province, and all the traders bought from him. All the
incomparable plants which came from his garden flourished and grew much
quicker than any others. Some one asked him what was the secret of his
success. He answered that there was no secret in the matter. All that he
did was merely to study the individual character of the plant, and to
treat it accordingly.

“When you plant a tree,” he said, “you must make it comfortable, give
it plenty of room to grow in, and see that the soil in which it is
planted is rich and solid. Then you must leave it alone, not move it
about. From time to time, treat it with the care that you would show
to your own child. Don’t spoil it, when it is in want of nothing. Thus
brought up the tree is free, and thrives, as it is its nature to do. I
do not prevent its development, which comes of its own accord. Others
who plant trees often change the earth round it, making it sometimes too
strong, sometimes too poor, and spoil their pupils by too much care. Not
satisfied with looking at them, they touch them; sometimes even they cut
into the bark to see if they are living or dead. No sooner have the buds
sprouted, than they examine them to see if they will turn into fruit.
The tree is not free, and its character changes. You think that you are
showing love, but you are destroying. You are trying to show care, and
you are dealing death. That is why my system is superior to all others.
But in all that I have no particular merit.”

He was asked if the same system could be applied in government offices.

“No; I know nothing about anything but trees. It is not my trade to
govern nations. I have seen good governments, who, instead of leaving
people free to work, took them under their protection. Then each day
brought with it its sheaf of decrees and laws, ordering people into the
fields and to their trades, and regulating their customs and ways of
living. The people, being no longer master of itself or of its movements,
comes to no good. As for myself, I am old and infirm, and occupy myself
with my trees alone.”

The person who had been talking with him, delighted to have learned the
true system of government, whilst endeavouring to learn how to plant
trees, wrote down the conversation for the instruction of the government

After all, there is little difference between the education of a tree and
of a man. Our forefathers used to say that it takes a century to complete
the education of a man, and that the proper education of a tree lasts at
least ten years.





According to the Book of Rites, the Emperor and the Royal Princes had
to go to the chase whenever politics allowed them any leisure. As for
the people, the chase was a military exercise, which they took after
harvest-time. The book of verses mentions stalking in carriages. Emperor
Chuang-Ouong, after having reconquered the territory, used to hunt in
his carriage with his feudal princes, so as to see which of them were
likely to become the bravest soldiers. Holidays were selected for hunting
excursions. There was also at that time a special government department,
whose duty it was to see to the preservation and propagation of certain
kinds of animals.

In the winter it was the wolves that were hunted, in the summer the
deer, in the spring all other kinds of animals. Birds were hunted in
the autumn. Bows and arrows were used, and the sportsmen had reached to
such a degree of skill in archery, that they could transfix a leaf at
the top of a tree. A celebrated hunter, named Kia-Kieng, only shot with
a bow, which was so strong and tough that it needed a force of three
hundredweight to stretch the string. One day he was asked to shoot at a
buffalo at a distance of one hundred paces. His first arrow grazed the
animal’s back, tearing away a few hairs; the second grazed its belly. The
archer was told that that was not good shooting. He said that it was just
his superiority that he knew how not to pierce the animal. “But if you
like,” he said, “I will do so.” His third arrow killed the buffalo.

With every shooting-party were taken an eagle and dogs, the latter
wearing golden bells round their necks. At an official chase the Minister
of War himself stood up on a high platform, and a large standard was
displayed at his back. The hunters, who were always accompanied with a
noisy orchestra, and standard-bearers carrying flags of every colour,
pursued the quarry, as soldiers pursuing an enemy.

Excess in all being a fault, many official hunters, owing to the
encouragement held out by the State, gave themselves up entirely to
this sport, totally neglecting all public business. In consequence of
this, the Censors and other reasonable people advised the sovereign to
moderate the laws, preferring to deprive themselves of their pleasure
in the interest of the commonwealth. The chase was accordingly somewhat
restricted by law, and began to be neglected.

An Emperor of the dynasty of the Liangs, noticing when he was out one day
shooting that a flock of wild duck had settled down in the field before
him, drew his bow, and was just about to let fly, when a peasant passed
in his line of fire. In spite of the cries of the attendants the peasant
walked on his way, deaf and blind to their cries and their signals.
Meanwhile the birds flew away. The Emperor was very angry, and spoke of
shooting the peasant. One of his ministers who was out sporting with him,
said, “Don’t kill a man because game is wanting. A king must not be as
savage as the beast that he hunts.”

His Majesty, recovering from his anger, smiled, and took the arm of
his councillor to re-enter his carriage. When he had reached home
empty-handed he said, “I have had a very successful day, for instead of
bringing home a good bag, I have had a good lesson.”

Under the present dynasty the Court used to go out to the chase from
time to time, and men of letters used to take part in these excursions.
Whenever a member of the Academy of Han-Lin shot a stag, he at once
received a decoration of peacock’s feathers. Since about thirty years,
however, this institution has been neglected, as we have only had minors
on the throne. But as the reigning sovereign has reached his majority, it
is probable that before long he will return to these pleasures, which are
as useful as they are agreeable.

There are no game-laws in China. Everybody has the right to shoot
wherever game is to be found. It is quite usual for a landowner to see
sportsmen walking about his estates with their guns on their shoulders,
doing as if they were on their own lands. The golden pheasant is found
in great quantities in China. It is one of the favourite pastimes of
Europeans who live in China to shoot these splendid birds. Amongst other
feathered game that we possess in China, I may mention woodcock, snipe,
quail, wild duck, and wild goose. In the way of fur we have stags, deer,
roes, rabbits, and hares; besides foxes, wolves, bears, panthers, and
tigers. Imitators of Nimrod will find plenty of sport in China.





If a certain number of men of letters take refuge in the pleasures of
gardening, fishing also has its number of votaries. The bulk of these are
men who, having lost all the illusions of life, and finding that politics
are, after all, a hollow mockery, give themselves up to a quieter and
less disappointing pastime.

The philosopher Tchang-Tseu used to fish on the banks of the river Han
every day of his life. The Prince of Tchou, having heard him spoken
about, sent an ambassador one day to the philosopher to beg him to enter
the political life. Tchang-Tseu, his rod in his hand, spoke to the fish
without condescending to give any answer, finding that it was not worth
while to do so. Another, still further back in history, by name Lu-Chan,
used to pass his days in fishing in the river Pien. Emperor Weng-Ouang
went one day in person to beg him to become one of his councillors, and
appointed him, on the spot, Guardian of the Sovereign. Lu-Chan accepted
the offer, and helped his master to rule his empire. The dynasty lasted
eight hundred years, so solidly had the basis of the government been
established by the fisher-minister. His master was the first Emperor of
China who got the name of Saint. The people were never happier than under
his reign. So great was the general prosperity, that even now-a-days,
when they want to speak of a happy people, the Chinese say, “As if they
were walking about under the reign of Weng-Ouang.”

Another fisher, of Tsou-Kiang, who always trafficked his fish and wine,
used to drink his fill, and then dance and sing in his boat on the
water, thinking himself the happiest man on earth. The prefect went
to ask him if he was a genuine fisherman, or whether he concealed his
identity under this disguise, and was a person of importance. “Never you
mind,” he said to the prefect. “Historical persons fish for titles, I
satisfy myself with fishing for fish.”

Under the reign of the Thangs, a man of letters, named Thiang-Tseu-Ho,
withdrew on to the water and set up his abode on board a boat, which
he called his floating-house, and gave himself the title of Fisher, in
the midst of the waves and the mist. He published a quantity of songs
for fishermen and oarsmen, which he was in the habit of singing on his
aquatic excursions. The Emperor, taking pity on his solitude, sent, as a
present, two servants, a young man and a young woman. The recluse married
the two together, giving the name of Fisherman to the lad, and that of
Shepherdess to the lass. The one looked after the fishing-tackle and
rowed the boat, the other used to go into the forest to gather dry wood
and bamboos to make his tea.

History mentions the names of several fishermen of this philosophical
class. There are besides these only professional fishermen, good folk who
work hard, and live on very little.

Everybody knows that we have a goddess of the sea, but her story is not
so generally known. She was the daughter of a family of fishermen who
lived on the shore of Mei-Tcheou, quite close to Fou-Tcheou. Her father
and her brothers used to go out fishing on the sea every day, each in
his own boat, whilst she stayed at home to weave in the company of her
old mother. She was adored by her parents, whom she loved very much. One
day, during a storm which made everybody feel drowsy, she was dozing at
the table, when she dreamed that her father’s boat was just going to
sink in the angry sea, and putting out her hand she caught hold of the
painter to draw it into land. Meanwhile she saw that the boats on which
her brothers were, were in the same danger. So, putting the first cord
between her teeth, she caught hold of the two others in her hands, and
began walking through the water towards the shore. But before she could
reach the shore she began to groan and cry, and her mother began to shake
her, calling her by name. To answer her mother she opened her mouth and
let the cord that she held between her teeth escape. When she woke up she
thought that this was a nightmare; but that evening, when her brothers
came home, they told her that her father had been drowned. The young
girl, in despair at not having been able to save her father, who had died
through her fault, rushed out and threw herself into the sea. Some time
after she was often seen in visions by fishermen in moments of distress,
and it was noticed that whenever she appeared the danger was overcome.
Out of gratitude her protégés erected a little temple in her honour.
Little by little her miraculous protection was extended to the ships of
travellers and great officials, and even to the navy. For each service
rendered to the State a title was given her, and little by little she
became known by the appellation of “Holy Mother of Heaven,” a title which
is accompanied by as many honorific qualifications as are worn by the
sovereigns who delight to do her honour.






One is none the less a woman for being a Chinese woman. Woman is the
same everywhere. It is she who charms us—not to say who rules us. And
no matter in what part of the globe, it is she who is always the great
attraction of life.

They all know it; and without any need of a general understanding amongst
themselves, all the sisters of the universe do the best they each can to
render themselves more beautiful, or prettier, or merely more agreeable.
They need for that no other master that that instinctive desire to
please, which is a special feature of the female nature. Albeit our women
know neither how to grow fat or thin, or how to dye their hair, or how
to make use of a thousand other tricks, which beauty uses to repair the
irreparable ravages of time; they know how to paint themselves, and how
to adorn their persons. They are very skilful in the use of red paint
for the lips, of black for the eyebrows, and of white for the face. The
particular taste of each race modifies the forms of coquetry. In Europe,
you prefer large eyes and a Grecian nose; in China, small eyes and a thin
and delicate nose are considered the most beautiful. On the other hand,
we agree with you in admiring fine white teeth, and little wrists and

It is said, in China, that a woman’s eyebrows should be elongated and
thin, like the silhouette of distant mountains; that the eyes should
be limpid, as water is in autumn; and the lips red, like dawn of day.
Dimples are greatly admired in China. We call them the “wine hollows.”

The flush of the cheeks is called “the colour of drunkenness.”

From Nature, let us pass on to Art.

Formerly, women used to dress their hair high up on their heads, the
coiffure being built up on a framework of iron wire. Little by little
this style was modified, and to-day the greatest simplicity is the
rule. Our ladies dress their hair almost in the Greek style, with this
difference, that the hair always remains smooth, curls never having been
in fashion in China. I may add, that natural curls are quite unknown at
home. A gold or silver pin, shaped like a double spatula, and bent in
the middle, is fixed in the centre of the chignon, so as to keep the
hair in place. Sprigs of flowers are fixed round this pin. Sometimes, in
the spring, a little wreath of scented flowers is put on the back of the
head. These simple ornaments are so much appreciated, that many ladies
have a standing arrangement with a gardener to bring them fresh flowers
every morning.

A poet has said about this custom:

  “After having finished dressing her hair she casts another glance in
      her mirror,
  To see what kind of flowers will best suit her hair.
  Therefore, before changing her morning toilette,
  Behold her setting forth for the garden with a pair of scissors in
      her hand.”

When flowers are wanting, butterflies, made in every conceivable shape,
and of all kinds of materials, are placed in the hair above the temples.
At grand ceremonies imitation flowers, made in jewels, are used instead
of natural flowers.

The forehead is always left free. Only young girls wear fringes, the rest
of the hair being allowed to fall down loose at the back of the head, or
being gathered up into two bunches on either side. The enormous coiffure
that you see in pictures, and which forms a kind of bull’s head, is known
as the coiffure in the style of “a crow with outstretched wings.” It is
now only to be seen in Canton.

Ladies in China never wear hats or bonnets. At ceremonies they wear
a helmet-shaped crown, and on less solemn occasions a little band of
embroidered stuff, which crosses the forehead and terminates in points
behind each ear. In the centre is a large pearl or other precious
stone, and round it a single or double row of pearls is entwined. Women
wear shorter clothes than the men, the shape being about the same for
both sexes. The clothes come down to the knees. On special occasions a
petticoat, which comes down to the feet, is worn, while indoors a pair of
trousers is added; which in the north is fastened round the ankles with
ribbons, and left loose in the south. The upper garment has wide sleeves,
with facings of embroidered satin. The uniform—for ladies in China wear a
uniform on grand occasions suited to the rank of their husbands—consists
in a dress of red satin, embroidered with dragons, over which is a
garment shaped like a waistcoat, also embroidered. If the husband has a
high rank, the wife also wears a pearl necklace. Whatever may be the
rank of the woman, she always makes her own shoes. There are no shops in
China for the sale of women’s shoes.

Jewels are never used for trimming dresses; at the very utmost, a few
gold or jewelled buttons are sometimes used; but bracelets are worn in
great numbers, according to the position and fortune of the wearer. Some
young girls wear ankle-bands, also necklaces in the shape of collars,
either in silver or gold, and fastened with a locket in the shape of a

The general custom of wearing the nails very long has caused the use of a
special nail-glove, which is made of gold. It is shaped like a thimble,
open at both ends, and is prolongated by a gold nail, which is intended
to cover the real nail and to protect it. I may mention that in China,
as everywhere else, it is the demi-monde that creates the fashions. But
fashion varies considerably in the different provinces. Only a few
ladies, who have travelled a great deal, know how to combine the various
styles, often with the happiest effect. As a rule, one can tell at a
glance to what province a woman belongs.

One of the most feared of our Censors, a man before the severity of whose
criticism the whole world used to tremble, and who was all the more
feared that nobody could find any fault in him, was one day surprised
in the act of painting his wife’s eyebrows. I leave you to judge how
delighted his enemies were to be able to tell the sovereign that this
rigid guardian of public morality was, after all, but a very frivolous
man. The Censor was sent for and asked if the report were true.

“Yes, your Majesty,” he answered; “but what is there frivolous in that?
Is not everything allowed between man and wife?”

The Emperor was quite satisfied with this answer, and the matter dropped.
The story is repeated everywhere now-a-days as symbolic of domestic
felicity. I see in it, above all things, the triumph of feminine
coquetry, which knows how to subjugate mankind, even the most austere,
and enslaves us to its delicious trivialities and its irresistible





I say fans in the plural, because we have two kinds, the folding fan
and the round fan. We use the former during the mild seasons, and the
latter during the very hot weather. The reason of this is not easily
understood, as the round fan fans much less effectively than the other
one. Doubtless it offers this advantage—that it can be used as a
substitute for the parasol, which we never carry, and thus plays a double
part. I may add, that in summer men and women alike go out bareheaded, so
that some protection, such as is afforded by the screen fan, is needed.
As a general rule, there is a picture on one side of our fans, and
some writing on the other. Common folk buy their fans ready painted and
written upon, whereas people of fashion buy their fans blank, and ask
distinguished people to illustrate them with a painting or a piece of
writing. Some collectors possess hundreds of fans, which replace with us
the autograph albums that you have in Europe.

Fans are given as presents to one’s friends. They are always given by
schoolmasters as prizes to their scholars.

The folding fan has a varying number of stems. Women’s fans have
generally thirty thin stems. The most common are made of bamboo; the best
are made of ivory, betel, or sandal wood. They are carried in a case of
embroidered satin, which is fastened to the belt by a ring of jade. The
round fan is usually made of silk, with ivory or bamboo handles, the
prolongation of which is either hidden between a double mask of stuff,
or is visible on one side only. Ladies use them at play for catching
butterflies, or fireflies at night. On such occasions they fasten a
sachet of scent to the end of the handle, which scents the air as the fan
is moved.

The portrait of the fashionable poet of the day is always to be seen
painted on the fan; thus Lu-Fong Oun, the popular poet of the thirteenth
century, was surnamed Buddha of the Thousand Families, because his
portrait was to be seen everywhere, and because his light and graceful
verses could be understood by everybody. It is a very usual thing to
compare a friend to a fan, because of his refreshing influence on the
mind. A woman who fancies that her husband’s heart is hers no longer will
compare herself, as we shall see, to a fan cast aside in the autumn.

A favourite named Pan-Tie-Tsu, beloved at one time by Emperor
Hiao-Tcheng, seeing herself deserted, sent a fan to her master, on which
she had written the following lines:—

  “I have just woven with my own hands this white silk,
  White as the snow and as the ice.
  I cut it to make a fan of it,
  Round as the full moon is.
  I would wish that it might be with you wherever you may go,
  And that the air it gives you may, from time to time, refresh your
  I foresee, however, that when autumn comes,
  Or the cold weather shall reduce the heat of the day,
  It will be cast aside into some box, and removed from the favour of
      your Majesty,
  Even as she is who gave it to you.”

Another woman, who had been disfigured by disease, sent her lover a fan,
on which she had written the four following lines:—

  “Oh, the fan! Oh, the fan!
  You serve to hide my unhappy face.
  I am hideously ugly;
  And I am ashamed to present myself before my lover.”

Besides these two kinds of fans, there is also the feather fan, which was
first made in the time of dynasty of the later Hans.

The Prime Minister, named Tsu-Kia-Liang, used this fan for all
his military commands. It was, in his hands, a substitute for the
field-marshal’s baton.

It is also said, that the first fan of this kind was introduced into
China by the King of Siam, who sent it, with other objects, by way of
tribute. But Tsu-Kia-Liang still, to-day, is represented with a feather
fan in his hand, the baton with which he directed the orchestra in the
symphony of the battle.

Betel leaves, cut into the shape of a fan, are also used in China. As
this dry leaf can neither be written nor painted upon, it is decorated
with engravings, either of pictures or of writing, which are traced upon
it by means of a lighted stick of incense. This delicate and difficult
work is generally done by women. Both leaves and incense come from

Another kind of fan is made in Canton. A bamboo stick is taken, of which
one end is left to serve as handle. The upper end is shredded into very
fine threads, which spread out into the shape of a lyre; silk is passed
over these, and the lower part of the lyre is consolidated with a piece
of curved wood, through a hole in which the handle passes. It is a very
pretty kind of fan, and wears very well indeed.

All these varieties are fancy articles. In ancient China, the round fan
alone was known; the folding fan has only been known since the last five
centuries. It was first presented by the Corean ambassadors to Emperor
Ung-Lo, of the Ming dynasty. The sovereign found it not only pretty, but
very convenient, and less troublesome to carry, and gave orders for the
manufacture of a large quantity, to be distributed amongst the officials
of his empire.

This is all that I consider it necessary to say about fans in China. It
may be found that I have used a great many words about very little. But
how can words be better used, since it was said of them by an ancient
Roman that they fly, than in speaking about winds and fans?




Beautiful women are called in China flowers, or jade jewels, or still
better, the destroyers of the empire, or the destroyers of cities. The
latter nicknames originated in a poem of the celebrated Li-Yan-Nein, of
the dynasty of Han, thus conceived:

  “A beautiful woman lives in the north,
  Whose beauty has never in any age been rivalled;
  To see her is to lose the empire.
  If one sees her twice, the kingdom no longer exists.
  But I may add, that one prefers to lose both empire and kingdom
  Than to renounce the beautiful woman whom one will never see again.”

The poem fell under the eyes of the Emperor, who immediately asked if
such a woman really did exist, or was only the creation of the poet’s
imagination. On receiving an affirmative answer, he expressed his desire
to know this beauty, and it was upon her that he afterwards bestowed his
exclusive favour. An Emperor is no less a man.

One of the favourites of Emperor Han-Wou-Ti, named Li-Kiang—pretty
girl—conquered the heart of her sovereign at the age of fourteen. Her
beauty was perfect, and her body was of extreme delicacy. She clothed
herself alone in the lightest tissues, for fear that coarser stuff might
injure her very delicate skin. Her master built for her a crystal palace,
so that, as he said, no dust should come to stain the whiteness of her
darling person. Her breath was so sweet, that when she sang all the
flowers in the garden danced.

Emperor Ouei-Weng-Ti, having heard it said that a young girl named
Sie-Ling-Yung, was reputed to be of incomparable beauty, wrote to the
prefect, bidding him to send her to the capital. On bidding good-bye to
her parents, Sie-Ling-Yung wept red tears, which were tears of blood.

Her reception at the capital was an extremely brilliant one. The Court
sent out ten carriages to meet her, and sandal leaves were burned all
along the way she was to pass through. A lofty tower was erected for the
occasion, and was illuminated, as were all the houses in the city.

It was a memorable night, and is still mentioned in our histories. His
Majesty went out in person to meet the beautiful woman, driving in a
carriage of carved jade. At regular intervals bronze milestones, two
metres high, had been erected. At last this marvellous woman was received
in the arms of the sovereign, who gave her the name of Ye-Lae, which
means “She who came in the night.”

She was an incomparable artist at embroidery. She could embroider in the
dark masterpieces which could not be imitated in daylight by any other
woman. On account of this she was also called “The Genius of the Needle.”

The celebrated poet Soung-U says, in a poem about his neighbour:

  “All the beautiful women in the world
  Are not worth my lady neighbour of the west.
  Were you to add one inch to her height, she would be too tall;
  Were you to reduce her stature by one inch, she would be too small.
  Powder would give her too white a colour,
  Vermilion would make her look too red.
  Her eyebrows are like the lightest feathers;
  Her skin is like the purest snow;
  Her waist is small as a piece of silk;
  And her teeth resemble a row of pearls.
  When she condescends to smile, the most reasonable man is troubled.”

It is a matter of great regret in China that the poet did not even
mention the name of this beauty, who, according to his account, must have
been as desirable a person as she was desired by him.

When the famous Fi-Yen—The Flying Swallow—was presented to Emperor
Yang-Ti, he was transported with joy. Not only was she beautiful, but her
body was so light, that the king used often to take her up on one hand to
play with her. In a moment of effusion the Emperor said that he had only
one ambition in life, and that was to live and die by the side of her
whom he loved, and that, unlike his ancestors, he should not commit the
folly of seeking for the land of clouds, by which he meant Paradise.

There have been so many celebrated beauties in China, that it is quite
impossible to mention all their names here. Let us be satisfied by
saying, that some, when they wash their hands in the streams, scent the
water; that others found their beauty improved by a little wound on their
faces; that some shamed the flowers themselves; and that one of them
compelled the moon to hide her face. All those who deserved the name
of beautiful woman, owed all their charms to Nature; those that tried
to imitate them, only rendered themselves ridiculous. History relates
apropos of this, that the beautiful Si-Si used to have the habit of
laying her hand to her heart, which gave her an additional charm. Another
woman, who lived in her village—thinking that it was this gesture alone
that caused her neighbour to be so much admired—imitated it, and got
laughed at for her trouble; for, as it was pointed out to her, she had
overlooked the fact that what is natural is beautiful, whilst what is
forced is often absurd.

Men used to be magnificently gallant towards these beautiful women. Some
housed them in golden palaces, others sheltered every step that they
took with tents of gauze, so as to protect them against the sun and the
wind. Others had screens of pearls carried before their lady-loves,
more beautiful than the pearls which were intended for their adornment.
It will be seen that our writers did not lack in metaphors for the
celebration of charming women. They were in the right. The flowers of
rhetoric are never better employed than when applied to those women which
the gallantry of our language has baptized with the name of flowers.






When a child in China reaches the age of five or six years, his parents,
no matter what their position may be, begin to think about giving him
a master, so that his education may be commenced. Although instruction
is not compulsory in China, I do not know of any children who do not go
to school. Of course, more or less time is spent there by the different
scholars, according to their several intelligences or the position of
their parents.

A lucky day at the beginning of the year is chosen, and on this day the
child is sent to some celebrated man of letters to receive his first
lesson, which consists in learning the three first lines of an elementary
book called San-Tse-King, in which every sentence consists of three
syllables, and which resumes the history of China and the duties of man.

This task having been accomplished, the boy is sent to school, where
his real instruction commences, for the course we have spoken about is
a mere preliminary formality, undertaken by an honorary professor. As
soon as he has got safely through the San-Tse-King, the boy passes on
to a second book, called the Tsien-Tse-Weng, a work which contains one
thousand different letters. At the same time, the scholar has to paint
over in black letters drawn in red in his copy-book by the schoolmaster.
At first the child is taken on the knees by his master, who guides his
hand, but little by little he is left to himself. Later on, he is given a
copy to trace through transparent paper, and so on. A more serious course
of instruction, including the four classical works of Confucius and of
Meng-Tse, and the five King, or sacred, books, follow this preparatory
course. Whilst these studies are going on, the professor instructs his
scholars in the poetry of the land. As an exercise, he gives as a daily
task a line of seven words, the child having to compose a parallel verse.
As an example, heaven, earth, mountain, water, and so on. When a child is
able to give the parallel of a line of seven words his intelligence may
be considered to be fairly well developed, as we shall see.

I remember one day at school the professor gave us the following theme,
which in Chinese is a line of seven words, and which was suggested to him
by a phenomenon which he had just witnessed:—

“The flexible body of the bee bends round a drop of dew on a flower.”

My comrade, whose turn it was to answer, reflected silently for a long
time, until at last, Providence helping him, he cried out, seeing before
his eyes a scene that was being enacted in the garden outside—

“The oblique eye of the sparrow stealthily watches the caterpillar curled
up in a leaf.”

I need hardly say that he was vigorously applauded by his comrades, and
handsomely rewarded by the professor.

As soon as the books mentioned above have been done with, besides certain
selections from historical and literary works, the scholar begins to try
his hand at difficult composition, which is preparatory study for our
general competitive examinations. These dissertations are composed after
the method of the Bakou, which are the eight rules to be followed in
composition. Subjects are taken from philosophy or politics, being always
chosen from celebrated classical authors mentioned above, and especially
from Confucius. Concurrently with these the student practises his hand at
poetical composition, very difficult tasks being set.

The young candidates have to present themselves, in the first place,
at the annual examination, which takes place at the sub-prefecture—this
examination being for the degree of bachelor of arts. The examination is
a written one. Candidates must, before attaining this degree, undergo
another examination before an Imperial examiner, specially commissioned
for this purpose. The examination for the licence, or second degree,
only takes place once every three years, as does also the examination
for the third degree, which is that of doctor. The two examinations do
not, however, take place in the same year, or at the same season of the
year. The second examination is held in the autumn in the different
provincial cities, the third being held at Pekin in the following spring.
It is a very usual thing to see a young man, who has passed these three
examinations one after the other, return home in triumph to his parents,
who up till then have been occupying some very humble position; for in
China these competitive examinations are open to all except such persons
as have followed dishonourable trades. The family of a common workman,
who have had the good fortune to possess a son who has passed these
examinations, becomes noble _de jure_, and the same honours are paid
to the parents as to the son. In order to understand to what a degree
public sympathy and encouragement are with a successful candidate, and
the anxiety that every student has to pass to get his degrees, one must
see the reception given to the successful students. When the names of
the prize-winners are made public, the official employés come up in
great state, carrying the nominations of the winners printed on huge
pieces of red paper, which they stick up on the houses of the lucky ones.
They are received with crackers and squibs, and candles and incense are
burned before the ancestors and the light of day, in token of gratitude
for the distinguished favour accorded to the candidate. A day is fixed
for the due celebration of the victory, and all the candidates who have
passed are present at this feast. From early dawn the families of the
successful ones decorate their houses with flags, and await the arrival
of their friends and neighbours, who come to bring their congratulations.
The candidates go round in person to pay calls on all their friends,
riding in sedan-chairs, and dressed in special clothes sent them by their
parents-in-law, or in the case of bachelors, by their nearest relations.
Those who have won the degree of bachelor wear a blue silk dress, the
licentiates one of darker blue, while the doctors wear violet silk. A
stiff kind of cape, embroidered in gold and coloured silks, is worn over
the shoulders, and two sprays of flowers decorate the hat. In front
of the sedan-chair men walk, carrying banners of red silk attached to
bamboos still in leaf, while the musicians play their most joyful airs.
The auspicious day is called the Day of the Reception of Flowers. For it
appears that formerly women used to strew flowers in the paths of the
young scholars. The procession fills many hearts with envy. How often
have I not heard mothers saying to their children, “Your turn will come
some day if you will only work.”

Success at these examinations opens every door to the young man, and the
only thing that is feared is non-success. Once the examination passed,
the career and the fortune of the young man are assured. The bachelor man
of letters will at once receive offers of marriage from rich families.
This will explain why no laws of compulsory education are necessary in
a country where, by study, a man may from one day to another transform
the social position of his family. Ambition urges people on to secure a
good education for their children. Our students are sober folk. There is
no Latin Quarter for him to frequent, politics disturb him not, and the
only amusements that he knows of are poetical competitions and excursions
into the country. His life is one of work and retirement, but he is never
heard to complain, and has indeed no reason to do so; for the future
smiles upon him, and the dusty volumes with which he is surrounded hold
out to him the promise of what a familiar locution describes as “the
highest honours, the most beautiful women, and the happiest life.”





In literary circles in China, the most popular amusement is to make
verses. Instead of shooting, or playing lawn-tennis, or croquet, or of
indulging in any of the many pleasures enjoyed in Europe, our literary
folk, as soon as a certain number of them have a little time to spare,
meet together in turn at each other’s houses, and give themselves up to
poetical tournaments. For, in China, open receptions, political meetings,
and public lectures are totally unknown, and the only way that people
have of indulging the fancies of the mind is in the culture of pure
literature. These poetical tourneys take place all over China, but it is
especially in the province of Fou-Kien that they are most common. Thus,
when the late Imperial Commissioner of the arsenal of Fou-Tcheou, who was
also Viceroy of Nankin, could spare a moment from his official duties, it
was his habit to call in his subordinates and compose poetry with them.
There are many kinds of verses, and before the opening of the contest it
is decided what kind of verse is to be written. A historical or a fancy
subject is set, and each of the competitors is asked to write a poem of
four or eight lines on this subject. Sometimes two subjects are given,
and these must be treated in parallel verses of seven syllables each,
each line specially treating one or other of the two subjects. Another
way is to choose two words, which must appear in a certain place in two
parallel lines of poetry. I give below some examples, which will help
the reader to understand these rules. As soon as all the competitors
have met, a vase is passed round. This vase contains, written on bits
of paper which have been rolled up into balls, words denoting certain
functions connected with the tourney, such as examiner, copying-clerk,
candidate, &c. Each candidate draws one of the papers, and thus it
is decided who shall compete and who shall form the committee. Two
examiners and four or eight clerks are chosen, according to the number
of candidates. One of the examiners then takes up a book and opens it
at hazard. Another names a number, say nine. The examiner then reads
the ninth line of the page at which the book is open, and from this
line a phrase, or sentence, or word is selected to form the subject of
the composition. As soon as the subject has been decided upon, another
vase is placed upon the table, to which a bell is attached. A thread
hangs from the bell, and at the end of the thread is a lighted stick of
incense. In about half-an-hour the incense burns out, the thread catches
fire, and, as it snaps, lets fall the counterweight of the bell, which
rings, and the lid of the urn falls too. It is then too late for any more
poems to be entered for examination. The copying-clerks now empty the
vase of the poems, which have been put into it by the competitors, and
copy them out, all on one and the same piece of paper, to be submitted to
the examiners. By this means anonymity is strictly protected. These make
a selection, and when they have decided which of the poems is the best,
one of them gets up in a kind of desk and sings forth the prize poem.
Each competitor may write as many poems as he chooses on the subject
that has been set, but has to pay a small fee for each entry. This money
is used for the purchase of paper, brushes, ink, and the prizes which
are awarded to the winners. As soon as the prizes have been awarded, a
fresh competition of a different kind is commenced. The two poets, whose
verses were considered the best in the previous competition, assume the
functions of examiners in the second tourney, and this arrangement
continues throughout. In the evening a dinner brings the fête to an end.
I will now submit some specimens of the kind of poetry which is written
at these tourneys.


(_Eight-lined Poem._)

  “The moon shines at midnight
  At the top of the white wall,
  Over which sway the leaves of the bamboo,
  Casting their shadows on the earth;
  Whilst the blinds of the windows remain dark and silent,
  The fire-flys alone gleam in the scented dew.
  Be careful not to walk near the pond,
  For fear of awakening the amorous swans.”



  “The mantle of palm fibres and the hat of bamboo leaves are both
      spotted with water.
  Drops of rain, like very fine threads, fall on the plough.
  It is the best season of the spring.
  The peach-tree blossoms gleam at the corners of the walls, and the
      cuckoos are singing.”


(_Double Subject for Parallel Verses._)

  “His nature is wealthy, so it is a matter of small import to him that
      he is black.
  His will is bent, how long will he remain red?”

There is a double play of words here. The name of peony alludes to the
modesty of its position; the peony is sufficiently beautiful not to be
afflicted thereby. Red is the aristocratic colour, and, at the same time,
the colour of flame. The taper may consider himself a very brilliant
object; the time must soon come when its flame must be extinguished, and
it will fall back again into obscurity and darkness.

Here is another:


  “Two sticks planted in the ground as drying poles for the red sleeves.
  A thousand families weep heavenwards, whilst they put on white garments.”

Dried bamboo stalks are generally used as drying-poles in China, and are
set up for this purpose in every courtyard. A cross-stick holds up the
sleeves of the garments that have been hung out to dry. Numerous families
put on white clothes. White is the colour of mourning in China.

There is a contrast between the mourning white and the gay red of women’s

Now, here is a poem of a different kind. In this the object was to place
certain words in a position designated beforehand. The words given are
“palace” and “battle.” They have to be placed at the end of each verse:—

  “The names of old servants is familiar to the parrots of the palace.
  The merits of great generals are known to the chargers in battle.”

Another, where the task was to place the words “great” and “autumn” at
the beginning of the lines:—

  “Great snowfall yesterday made me drink up all my wine.
  Autumn rains prevent neighbours, and even the best friends, from
      calling upon each other.”

I have had to recur to inversion, and so have somewhat spoiled the
appearance of these lines to get the words into their right places. Many
people will find these pleasures of ours very simple, too simple perhaps.
Whatever may be said, they are preferable to gambling. Besides, Europe,
which also has her simple pleasures, will not blame us for ours.





China has had its great art epochs, but for the last few centuries,
education having been a purely literary one, art seems to have lost
ground to a certain extent. However, it must be admitted, by those
who care to look into the matter, that all is by no means lost. If we
have not progressed during some centuries past, and if we have limited
ourselves to the reproduction of certain types which were created long
ago, if, in short, we show no originality, but only elegance and ease in
our artistic productions, it must, at least, be admitted that we have
scrupulously followed our ancient traditions.

Art flourished at its best in China in the reign of the Thang family. The
poet, Tou-Fou, was an artist also, whilst the painter, Ouang-Wei, was a
poet. Painting could be found in the poetry of the one, and poetry in the
painting of the other. Although our old masters did not pay any attention
to the laws of perspective, the works of their imaginations have always
been highly appreciated. Some of their pictures are exceedingly rare, and
like the two spoken about in the following poems of Tou-Fou, have to-day
a priceless value:—


  “On a painting representing some horses, executed by General Tchao.
  Since the accession of our dynasty,
  There have been many painters of horses,
  And the most celebrated of these is General Kiang-Tou.
  Your reputation as a painter is now thirty years old,
  And thanks to you we once more see the beautiful mounts.
  Our late Emperor greatly appreciated your talents,
  And your name ran through the capitals like the roll of thunder.
  The decrees of the _Gazette_ were never silent in your praise.
  Generals after their triumphs have been rewarded,
  Rich people after the rivalries of their luxury,
  Cannot assert that they are quite contented,
  Unless they have your pictures hanging on their walls.
  Formerly Emperor Tai-Thoung was an amateur of horses,
  And at the present day the Ko family is also so.
  In your new picture the two horses
  Are the envy of all sportsmen.
  They have the appearance of war-chargers,
  Which can hurl themselves one against a thousand.
  Their white hair throws itself into the wind and the dust.
  The others, quite as extraordinary, resemble
  Now a cloud, now snow whirling in space.
  Their delicate legs seem to run alongside the pine-tree forest,
  Whilst the spectators who see them pass applaud.
  Their heads aloft, their proud appearance, and their look, which
      expresses both pride and obedience.
  Who is able to appreciate these beautiful horses?
  Excepted Oui-Foung and Tsse-Tong.
  I remember that when the Emperor used to go to the Palace of Sin-Foung,
  Flags and parasols coming from the east clouded the sky;
  Then 30,000 horses, some trotting, some galloping, resembled the horses
      in this picture,
  Whilst this splendid cavalcade passes away into memory.
  The same forest where this Imperial and important procession was seen
  Resounds to-day only with the song of birds,
  Which harmonises with the whistling of the winds.


  “You are the descendant of the Emperor Ouei-Ou,
  Reduced to the state of simple citizen.
  The splendour of your ancestors has disappeared,
  But blood and features perpetuate themselves.
  Your literature has reached the degree of perfection,
  And your painting makes you forget honours which you do not covet.
  Emperor Kai-Yung knew your glory, and received you several times at
      his palace.
  Thanks to your paint-brush, all our statesmen live again in their
      portraits on the walls of the Palace of Ling-Yen.
  The Ministers brilliantly wear the crowns of their wisdom.
  The Generals have their arrows in their quivers.
  One might say that their Excellencies Pao and Mo are moving their hair
      and their beards,
  Just as if they were returning from those battlefields where they fought
      so brilliantly.
  As to the splendid horse of his late Majesty, nobody knew how to paint
      his exact portrait.
  A decree ordained that he should be brought before the palace so that
      you might fix him on a piece of silk;
  And when your work was finished all the horses of the universe seemed
      to be plunged into darkness.
  The Court already possessed the most beautiful horses;
  It now possesses also the most beautiful picture.
  The reward which you have now received is the admiration of all.
  Your scholar, Han-Kang, is already on the way to perfection, but the
      horse he has painted is only skin with nothing beneath it;
  He is far from possessing your genius.”

This is a somewhat enthusiastic perception of our old paintings. We have
a great number of amateur painters in China, chiefly amongst the literary
classes, who paint pictures to give to their friends.

These pictures are precious, because poems are always written by the side
of the paintings.

I remember having seen two celebrated pictures which would not be parted
with at any price. One represents the open sea, in the middle of which
a fisherman is seen in his boat, which is covered with snow. It is
accompanied by a poem which fully equals the _Pauvres Gens_ of Victor
Hugo. The other represents a mountain with its top hidden in clouds. In
the middle of the mountain is a stream which runs down to its foot, and
floating in the water is seen a cabbage-leaf. The poem that is written on
this picture ends with the following line:—

  “Behind the white cloud there were still people living.”

And, sure enough, the cabbage-leaf bespeaks the presence of man, who
alone could transport cabbage-leaves to the top of a cloudy mountain.

The allusion is sufficiently concealed; but, in China, this habit of
veiling one’s meaning is a very common one, and it is specially to
be noticed in the pictorial art. On the other hand, such subjects as
the following are often suggested to painters: A red spot in the midst
of green. One painter would paint on this theme a forest with a stork
isolated on one tree; another would paint a red sunset in the green sea;
another, a woman with red lips in a bamboo wood.

Artists, in China, never sell their pictures. They are always amateurs,
and give their pictures away. The only art-wares which are trafficked
in China are produced by workpeople, and belong to the category of
decorative art. Sculpture is less cultivated at home by our amateurs,
and one must know our sculptors to understand their ways. One of them
once offered to make my bust. I went to his house, and he made me sit
down in front of him. We were separated by a table, which was covered by
a cloth which reached down to the ground. A very animated conversation
began between us. My friend was a man of a very quick intelligence, and
had a very original turn of thought. I was quite taken up with what he
was saying to me, but I still did notice that he kept his hands under the
table, and this surprised me all the more that I observed after watching
him some time that he was moving them with feverish activity. After I had
been there about an hour, which had passed very quickly, thanks to our
gossip, I was just going to rise, when my friend produced a mass of clay
from beneath the table, and said, “Do you think that it is like you?”

I was not a little surprised to see that it was my bust, which, in spite
of the rapidity with which it had been modelled, was very resembling; a
thing which was very curious, as the artist had never once looked at the
clay, but at my face alone. He must have had a wonderful skill to be able
to use his fingers both as eyes and as tools, touch replacing sight.





This game differs very much from the one played in Europe, and which is
the delight of the _habitués_ of the European chess clubs. In our game
there are three hundred and sixty-one pawns, divided into two camps, one
white and the other black. These pawns are like round draughts. The game
is played on a square chess-board which has nineteen squares on each
side. The players set down pawn after pawn, and the one who succeeds in
closing his adversary in, so that there is no possible issue for him,
wins the game. The skill in this game consists in closing your adversary
in, and in taking as many of his pawns as possible—advancing wedge-like
into his territory, without losing any of your own forces. It has been
said that this game—the board of which represented the firmament, the
stars being represented by the three hundred and sixty-one pawns—was
invented by Emperor Yao, and used by him to instruct his children
and teach them to think. It is, at the same time, a military game,
representing a battle-field and two hostile camps, each doing its best to
conquer the other. In short, it is rather a game of patience, for each
game lasts a very long time, the reflection of a quarter or half-an-hour
being sometimes needed before playing a pawn. On this account it is
called “game of conversation,” for the player who is waiting for his
adversary to play has plenty of leisure to talk. It is also known by
another name, that of “meditation in solitude,” which seems a very good
name for it. It is the favourite pastime of literary men, ladies, and
especially of people who have retired from business. The noise of the
pawns as they are placed down on the different squares of the board,
which is often engraved on a marble bench, under the shade of leafy
trees, is considered a very poetical noise. The three things that one
loves to hear, when one wishes to turn one’s thoughts towards what is
pure and delicate, are the sounds of water falling, the wind among the
trees, and the rattle of this game of chess. It has been said that under
the reign of the Tching dynasty a woodcutter met two young men who were
playing at chess at the top of a mountain. He watched them, and one of
them gave him a kind of candied fruit which he swallowed. Before the game
had been finished, he noticed that the handle of his axe had rotted away.
He made haste back to his village, and could recognise none of the people
he met, for several centuries had passed away since he had gone out.
History also tells us that a statesman named Li-No was a very impatient
man. But once seated at the chess-board his character completely changed;
so that each time he felt that he was going to fly into a rage, his
friends used to suggest a game of chess, and at once his good humour
returned to him. One day the Emperor asked why he wasted at chess time
which might be so much more profitably employed. He said that the moments
during which a man forgets his worries are the most precious of all.

I read a very amusing little story in the “Memoirs of Sou-Toung-Pao.”
Emperor Tai-Tsung used to play chess with one of his ministers. The
sovereign used to give him three pawns; but the minister always managed
to lose one at the end of each game. The Emperor, noticing that he was
being allowed to win, said at last, “If you lose this one more game I
shall have you revoked.” The game was played and ended in a draw. “One
more game,” said the Emperor. “If you win it I will grant you the honour
of wearing a red robe, but if you lose it I will have you dragged in the
mud.” The game again ended in a draw. His Majesty, in a great rage, was
pushing his minister towards the pond to throw him into the mud, when the
minister cried out, “Softly, softly, your Majesty, I have got one pawn
left over in my hand.” The sovereign smiled, and gave him the red robe
that he had promised. The game is usually played in daytime in the summer
and at night in the winter. Do not think that chess is played on any kind
of table. The game demands a much more poetical setting, either trees
or rocks, or a daintily furnished drawing-room, with tea and wine to be
served between the games. It is considered a pleasure to watch the games,
and it is etiquette never to give any advice to the players. Besides this
game of chess we have another variety, which resembles the one played
in Europe more closely. It is played on a draught-board which has nine
squares one way and ten the other, with two sets of pieces, which are
arranged in three rows, five pawns in the front row and behind them two
cannons. Three rows further back is the king, having on one side and the
other two councillors, two elephants, two horses, and two carriages.
The two camps, which cover each a space of nine squares, are separated
one from the other by a single row of squares. The rules of this game
are almost the same as in the European game. The pawns can only advance
straight forward, and on only one square at a time; the cannons must
always pass over a piece in a straight line; the carriages go straight
ahead; the councillors go diagonally, and may not leave their camps; the
elephants go straight ahead, backways or sideways—like the castles in the
European game; the horses are moved like your knights; and, finally, the
chief is played just like the king in the game here, and equally when
the king is placed so that he is in check from one of the pieces of his
adversary, without being able to get away or to take the piece, he is
check-mated, and the game is lost. The pieces are not represented by
figures, but have their designations written on them. Our industry, so
profoundly artistic, has neglected to occupy itself with this game. On
the other hand, we manufacture figures of carved ivory for export sets of






Wine was first manufactured in China by a functionary named I-Ti, under
the reign of Emperor U (22,000 years before Christ), from fermented
rice. The sovereign was the first to taste this new beverage. He found
it delicious, and said, “I am sure that hereafter there will be families
of kings who will lose their thrones through drinking wine.” But his
prophecy was never realised in spite of his prophetic tone, and literary
men continue to indulge themselves in wine to their heart’s content.
There is no party without wine, and no wine-party without poetry. But
by no means do we intoxicate ourselves. I remember that, some years ago,
a German deputy, criticising the law against drunkenness, pronounced
these words:—“If your law is passed, the people alone will suffer, for
the rich, after getting drunk on champagne in their private houses, can
always manage to escape the notice of the police, for, if they have to go
out, they can go out in their carriages.” The law was not passed. There
would be no necessity for such a law in China, because the people there
never get drunk. Our custom of seeking for happiness in drinking wine
dates from the time of two celebrated poems, written by Li-Tai-Pe of the
dynasty of the Thang family.

  “Do you not see that the water of the Yellow River seems to come down
      from heaven,
  And throws itself into the sea without ever returning to its sources?
  Do you not see also that the mirrors in our drawing-rooms beweep
      our hairs,
  Which, black this morning, are now already white?
  When one is dissatisfied pleasure takes wing;
  The golden jug must not stand there motionless and untouched before
      the moon.
  Heaven has given us talents to make use of—
  Thus the money that we spend will always return to us.
  Let us slay the sheep, let us roast beef for our pleasure.
  When we meet, we will each empty three hundred glasses.
  You, Master Kien, and you, Ten-Kiou—the literary man—
  Lift your glasses without ceasing.
  I wish to sing to you, and I beg you to listen to me.
  Long since honours have ceased to have any value;
  I would rather be drunk than awake.
  Sages and philosophers were always too sad,
  Whilst topers remained gay.
  Prince Tcheng was not fond of music;
  He preferred to spend ten thousand crowns to buy a measure of wine.
  Do not say that you have no money—
  Continue to supply us.
  Take my horse, my fur coat, and go and exchange them for good wine,
  For I intend to forget, in your company, the cares of eternity.
  The wind brings with it the blossoms of the willow, which scent the
      whole room;
  And the beautiful lady who invites us to keep on drinking her wine.
  The people of Nan-King are there to bid farewell to their friends,
  Who, having to go, have not yet gone.
  Ask you of the water that flows to the east,
  If it is deeper than is the sorrow of our separation.”

Another poet of a later date used also to give himself up to immoderate
drinking. His wife advised him to moderate his passion. He asked for five
jugs as the price of this sacrifice, and when he had drunk them he went
to sleep. On waking, he asked for five more jugs of wine, and having
emptied these, he wrote the following quatrain for his wife:—

  “Heaven has created Liou-Ling,
  Who cannot live without wine;
  And as to the advice given him by his wife,
  He should pay no attention to it.”

Grape-wine is unknown in China, and the only allusion to it that I
know of is to be found in the following lines, which were written by
a warrior who lived in the north of China, under the reign of the Yang

  “Grape-wine gleams in the glasses at night—
  I should like to drink but the guitar urges me to go.
  Do not laugh at me if I fall asleep on the field of battle,
  For since ancient times how many warriors have returned from war?”

Li-Tai-Pe made an abusive use of wine. He found friends everywhere, even
when he was alone, for then the moon and his shadow were his friends. But
in spite of that, he knew how to associate with the pleasure of drinking
the most delicate sentiments and very lofty philosophical views, as may
be seen in the following poem:—

  “What has become of the towers and the flags of King of Tsou which
      formerly were accumulated on the tops of hills now deserted?
  When drunkenness elevates me, I lower my paint brush, and my songs
      shake the five mountains.
  I am glad, and am proud, and I laugh at all greatness.
  Power, wealth, honours, before your duration shall be sufficient to
      merit my esteem.
  The Yellow River will be seen starting from the west to flow towards
      the north.”

Since that time a kind of drinking game has been invented. A tube, in
the shape of a cylinder, is placed on the table. It contains a number
of ivory rods, each of which is inscribed with an ancient verse. Each
player draws one of these rods, and according to the verses on them, it
is decided which player is to drink. Here are some examples:—

  “Alas! Where is the handsome face to-day?
    (The most bearded player has to drink.)
  In love with a shadow or a sound.
    (It is the shortsighted man’s turn to empty his glass.)
  We see each other without hearing our voices.
    (The deaf man drinks.)
  There is still half the time left for contemplation.
    (The player who wears spectacles drinks.)
  The beaded blinds hide the faces of the roses.
    (The pock-marked player drinks.)
  He who is in love with the flowers regrets that they have no voices.
    (The silent man drinks.)
  The cries of modern ghosts mingle with the cries of ancient spectres,
    (The doctor drinks.)”

It will be seen that in China the pleasure of drinking does not lack in
those gaieties with which wine is always accompanied.





That tea is our favourite drink is very generally known, but people
may perhaps ignore the considerable part that it plays in our lives. I
will not speak here either about its cultivation or the process of its
manufacture, which are pretty well known. I will limit myself to telling
the use that is made of this precious aromatic plant. Since tea has been
known in China, a part of the first pickings of the harvest is sent each
year to the Emperor by the authorities in the producing districts. This
is called “The Tea Tribute.” Formerly, the Court used to distribute tea
to the officials, and the usual presents consisted of tea. Another thing
shows the importance that we attach to this article, and that is, that
we have tea-inspectors, just as we have salt-superintendents, who are
high functionaries specially commissioned for the purpose. Instead of
cafés, as in Paris, we have nothing but tea-houses in China, and these
may be seen everywhere. It is at these tea-houses that people meet to
talk, to rest, and to enjoy the cool air. When you call on a friend the
first thing that he does is to offer you a cup of tea. When you write an
invitation to a friend to come and spend some time at your house, the
formula you use is, “The tea is ready.”

Whilst you are waiting in a shop for your orders to be executed, the
shopman hands you a cup of tea to help you to be patient. In the very
hot weather, charitable people in towns always put outside their doors
great urns of tea for thirsty passers-by to drink from, and these urns
are refilled as soon as they have been emptied. Those are our public
fountains. There is always tea ready in the workrooms and other places
where workpeople meet. Tea is the only drink used by the people. Amongst
the highest in the land there are also numerous tea drinkers. It is
thought that this beverage has the gift of rendering one’s mind more
lucid. It is always green tea that is drunk in the upper classes—the
little leaves taken from the bud at its first opening and dried in the
sun. This is our Château-Lafitte. As to black tea, if is made of leaves
which have reached maturity and have been dried artificially. This is
all the difference that there is between the two kinds. No artificial
colouring of the leaves is ever resorted to. Qualities vary, of course,
according to the localities in which the tea is grown, just as is the
case with wine. The best tea is that grown on a tree which grows in the
garden of a monastery which is situated on the Ou-I mountain, in the
interior of the province of Fou-Kien. The priests do not sell it, but
keep it for the use of distinguished visitors. They give you about ten
leaves in a cup not much bigger than an egg-cup, and pour on it water
taken from an excellent spring which is situated near the monastery. The
cup is covered for a few moments to allow the tea to draw. The scent that
rises from the cup when the tea is ready is most exquisite, and a cup of
this tea not only produces a feeling of great bodily comfort, but also
has a most exhilarating effect on the mind.

I once amused myself by placing a few grains of boiled rice in a cup
of that tea. The rice was almost immediately dissolved. This made me
understand how energetic is the effect of this beverage, its beneficial
action on the human body, and the impossibility of drinking much of it.
Tea is so essential a factor in Chinese alimentation that authors like
Lu-U have published whole books on the way of preparing this drink.
These books are our Mrs. Beeton’s. Tea, as a matter of fact, to be good,
must be made with rain or spring water heated to a certain degree of
heat. The water should not be allowed to boil more than a few minutes,
and, when bubbles begin to rise, it should be taken off the fire. The
utensil in which the water is boiled should be made of certain materials
and no others. True connoisseurs only use pots made of Ni-Hing, a kind
of terra-cotta ware which is not varnished inside. Thus prepared, the
tea is an economical and healthy beverage. It is drunk continually and
at all hours of the day, even just before going to bed. Its effect is
never an exciting one. Apropos of this, one of my compatriots has said
that the Europeans, and specially the English, do not know how to make
tea. In the first place, they let it boil. Secondly, they add strong
spirits, which destroy its taste; or sugar, which makes it lose its
savour. Tea should be allowed to infuse for five minutes at the most,
and should be of a clear colour, barely yellow in hue. The U-Tchien, or
Jade-Spring monastery, is situated in the province of King-Tiou, in the
midst of rocks and waterfalls, and is surrounded with tea plantations,
which produce tea-leaves of the size of a man’s hand, which are called
“The Tea of the Hand of the Immortals.” An octogenarian who lived in that
neighbourhood had the face of quite a young man, and enjoyed the very
best health, and used to tell anybody who would listen to him that he
owed his good health and his youthful appearance to the use of this tea.
It is not surprising that so beneficial a drink should have inspired the
poets. There is an innumerable quantity of single lines about tea in our
literature. Here are a few specimens of these proverbial sayings which
refer to tea:—

    “To make your friends pass a pleasant evening the poor man
    offers them tea.

    To make tea with snow is to taste celestial savours.

    When you make tea in the forest, the smoke drives the storks

The harvest time varies according to the district. In some parts the
harvest is picked before the rainy season. In others, it is begun at the
sound of the first clap of thunder; in other parts, the first cry of the
cuckoo is the signal for the pickers to begin their work. All sorts of
stories are told about our tea, amongst others, that the tea we export
has already been used and dried again. That is a mere fable. The tea we
export is of average quality, and is so abundantly to be had that there
is no necessity for us to take recourse to the disgusting expedients
suggested. I may add that the export trade is almost entirely in the
hands of European business houses. Besides, all our old tea-leaves are
used in China as sea-weed is used in France for stuffing mattresses,
cushions, and so on. Thus tea, after having fortified our bodies during
the day, affords us a bed at night.





Although our chopsticks may have some resemblance to magic wands, the
purpose they fulfil is a much more prosaic one, and, at the same time, a
much more useful one. They are the auxiliaries which help us to convey
to our mouths the food which we need for our bodies, the coal required
by the human machine. It is generally thought in Europe that we use two
chopsticks—one in each hand—for taking up the morsels of food, and for
conveying these to our mouths. That is a mistake: our knife and fork
exercise is much less complicated. The chopsticks are held in the right
hand. Maintained by the thumb and the ring-finger, they are worked
by the index and the middle finger. One remains motionless, the other
manœuvres and catches up the fragments of meat, and even the smallest
particles of rice. When rice is eaten, the bowl containing it is brought
very close to the mouth. The chopsticks work with feverish activity, for
rice is our daily bread, and we can admit of no slip between the cup
that contains it and our lips. It may be thought that the use of the
chopsticks demands very great skill, but that is only the prejudice of
those accustomed to the use of the fork. A child can learn how to use
the chopsticks as easily as the utensils in use in Europe. It may be
mentioned that we also make use of forks for roast meats, and of spoons
for taking up liquids. The Book of Rites, which deals with all the
acts of life, mentions that chopsticks are to be used for all purposes
except for drinking soup. The use of the spoon was thus consecrated many
centuries ago. The chopsticks are not plain, shapeless pieces of wood.
They are made of bamboo, or of more precious woods, and also of ivory and
silver. The top part, which is from eight to ten inches long, by from
four to six broad, is square, the remaining part being round. On one
of the sides of the square top part, poems and pictures are engraved.
Under the reign of the Han family, the Emperor was dining one day at a
political banquet with his ministers, when one of them—Tcheng-Liang by
name—rose to his feet and said: “Your majesty’s cause is lost. I have
just consulted my chopsticks.” And as it turned out, the Emperor’s plan
of conquest failed. Even to-day the cleverness of this statesman, who
knew how to disguise his own opinion in the form of a revelation by his
chopsticks, and to pass off his own advice as the result of a Divine
inspiration, is much admired.

Some centuries later, the famous dictator, Tchao-Tsao, was dining with
a rival of his, who tried to hide his ambition under the most modest
appearance. Tchao-Tsao was anxious to publicly expose the designs of his
rival, whom he had seen through, and began to talk of the bravest men
of the day. Each mentioned certain names, and finally Tchao-Tsao said,
“We two alone are really courageous men.” Hearing himself thus directly
named, Liou-Pei, as the rival was called, dropped his chopsticks just as
a clap of thunder was heard rolling through the sky. He tried to hide
his emotion, and said, “Ah! how great is the power of heaven, I really
was frightened.” But he was unable to divert the suspicion to which his
terror had given rise.

Under the reign of the Thangs, Kai-Yang presented a pair of gold
chopsticks to his Minister of State, Soung-King, saying that he made
him this present, not on account of the intrinsic value of the gold,
but because the chopsticks were symbolical by their shape of the
straightforwardness of his character.

It is recorded of a gourmet, named Ho-Tseng, who used to spend a large
sum of money on his food, without ever being able to satisfy his tastes,
that he fed like a prince, and though he spent upwards of a thousand
crowns on his table, did not consider a single dish worthy of his

The number of historical anecdotes told about chopsticks is far too large
to be given here. Let me, however, quote one of these anecdotes;

    “A sea-shell which had the elongated form of a stick, and
    which is known as the solen or razor, is greatly appreciated
    in China. It bears a mark on its side. It is said that an
    Emperor having taken a solen up in his chopsticks, cast it into
    the lake. The mollusc multiplied, but each of its descendants
    preserve the traces of the chopsticks of Emperor Han-Ou-Ti.”

Let me conclude with four lines of poetry about the chopsticks, which
were written by one of our philosophers:

  “I often wish to consult my chopsticks,
  Which always taste what is bitter and what is sweet before we do.
  But they answer that all good savour comes from the dishes themselves,
  And that all that they do is to come and to go.”




So many dreadful things have been said about Chinese cooking, that I
think it indispensable to devote a chapter to the rehabilitation of our
culinary art. I do not pretend to make your mouths water, but I should
like at least to be able to show you that my countrymen do not eat the
extraordinary things attributed to them by certain prejudiced travellers.
Our ordinary meal consists of eight dishes—two vegetables, eggs, a fish,
some shell-fish, a bird, two dishes of meat, pork and goat in the south,
and mutton and beef in the north. Besides this, a large tureen of soup is
served with the rice, which takes the place of bread at our tables, and
is our substitute for wine and tea, which are only served on very great
occasions at meal times. Food being extremely cheap, the cost of three
daily meals, similar to the one described, never exceeds fivepence per
person. A pound of meat costs only twopence halfpenny, or threepence,
whilst the price of a good fowl is sixpence, or, at the most, sevenpence.

In 1882, I embarked on board a Chinese ship at Hong-Kong, on my way home.
Not being able to accommodate myself with the fare on board, I told a
servant that I should like a chicken for lunch, and gave him a dollar
to buy it with, this sum representing the usual cost of a chicken in
France. A minute or two later he came to ask me how he was to prepare it.
“Cut it up and stew it in its juice,” I said, “and season well.” Shortly
afterwards he brought me a huge trencher, resembling a tub, filled with a
fricassee of little pieces of smoking chicken.

“What! All that?” I cried.

“Yes, sir. With your dollar I got twelve chickens, and have cooked them
as you told me to do.”

At the sight of this quantity of meat, and of the pantagruelic dish in
which they were served, my appetite disappeared, and I made him carry the
dish away, and distribute it among the servants in the kitchen. I mention
this to show how little provisions cost at home. A workman earning one
franc, or tenpence a day can keep a wife and two children in comfort, and
still put by half his earnings.

When I was at the military school, where the cadets mess like officers,
all I had to pay for my food was fourpence a day, and was so well fed
for this money that I never had any cause for complaint. It is easy
to understand the reason why things are so cheap in China. There are
no taxes at home on articles of food. According to statistics, each
inhabitant of the Empire pays two francs, or eighteenpence, in taxes per
annum, but no part of this sum represents any tax on food. Europeans
who complain that they spend far too much money in China have only
themselves to blame. I have never heard of any European who cared to live
as we live. Parisian dishes, already very expensive in this country, are
naturally trebly so in China, in spite of the fact that raw materials
cost so little. Besides, the cuisine of each country depends on its
climate. Since I have been in France I have accustomed myself to French
cookery, reputed the best of all. Whenever I return to China, and am
invited to dinner by French people, I get quite upset, and often feel
quite ill after dinner. Coffee irritates my stomach, and cigars make
my nose bleed. Now, when I am in Europe I cannot do without my coffee
and my cigar after dinner. It is not surprising, then, that Europeans
cannot enjoy life in China, persisting as they do in eating only what
suited them at home. When a friend calls on you in China to take pot-luck
with you, you usually ask him to a restaurant, and order a dinner in
his honour. These dinners usually cost six dollars, that is to say,
twenty-four shillings for eight persons. The dinner is a very complete
meal, as may be judged by the following bill of fare:—

    Four plates of _hors d’œuvres_.

    Four plates of dried fruits.

    Four plates of fresh fruit, according to the season.

    Four large dishes—a whole duck, sharks’ fins, swallows’ nests,
    and some kind of meat.

    Four middle-sized dishes—poultry, shell-fish, and meat.

    Four small dishes or bowls, containing mushrooms, morels, which
    we call ears of the forest, rice of the immortals, which is the
    name we give to a kind of mushroom, and the tender sprouts of
    the bamboo.

    Four large dishes, containing fish, sea-stars, and mutton.

These last four dishes finish the repast. As a rule, nobody touches them,
and their appearance on the table is the signal for rising. The price of
ceremonial dinners rarely exceeds twenty dollars, or four pounds, for
eight persons. The list of dishes is a much larger one, and includes
two roasts, which are served at the middle of the dinner, together with
little pieces of bread cooked in the _bain-marie_.

A servant, armed with a very sharp carving-knife, removes the skin of the
roast, be it wild duck, goose, or sucking pig, and serves each guest with
a little in a saucer. At the same time, another servant hands each guest
a small cup, into which he pours rice brandy. I forgot to say that the
table is cleared before the roasts are served, just as in Paris before
coffee is brought on to table. Pastry is always served at our dinners,
and is brought on between the courses. With salt pastry, containing meat,
a cup of chicken broth is served, whilst with sweet pastry almond milk is
handed round. I must add that dinner always begins with _hors d’œuvres_
including fruit, and ends with a bowl of rice, which may be eaten or not,
according to the tastes of the guests. Tea is served immediately after
dinner, and at the same time each guest receives a napkin dipped in hot

The diners sit at a square table, two on each side. The first and third
face the second and fourth, the sixth and the fifth face the courtyard,
to which the seventh and eighth turn their backs. The eighth is always
the master of the house, whose special function it is to fill the glasses
of his guests with wine. When there are more than eight, several tables
are used. If four tables are needed, the third and fourth are near the
courtyard, whilst the first and second are near the drawing-room. _Hors
d’œuvres_ include, besides fruit, ham, gizzards, grated meat grilled,
dried shrimps, and preserved eggs. The latter, thanks to their coating of
lime, will keep for an indefinite period; after twenty-five years they
are exquisite to the taste, having undergone a kind of transformation,
the result of which is that the yellows have become a kind of dark brown
in colour, and the whites, also brown, resemble meat jelly. I once made
some European friends of mine taste some of these eggs, as well as other
Chinese dishes, and they were delighted with them, all prejudice apart.

Once, however, a Berlin lady, after having found that our cooking
was delicious, asked the name of each of the dishes of one of our
interpreters, who, not knowing the exact translation of the technical
expression, “sea-slug,” answered that the dish in question was “sea
hedgehog,” or See-Igel in German. This was enough to disgust our amiable
guest, who refused to continue her dinner. I was sitting next to her,
and she told me that she could feel it crawling in her throat still,
which shows how great is the force of imagination. Marquis d’Hervey de
Saint-Denys gave a Chinese dinner during the Exhibition of 1867, and
Cham, the famous caricaturist, drew the menu. There were some abominable
things in this bill of fare, and the faces of the guests after they
had glanced at it was a sight to be seen. It took the marquis all his
eloquence to reassure them. I will not deny that there are people in
China who eat these extraordinary dishes, but these are the exceptions
to the rule. I repeat here, that never in my life have I seen or heard
of any one who ate cat or dog, a practice which only quite recently a
writer in the _Figaro_ accused us of. Apropos of this, I must relate
a very curious thing that befell us, when, in the spring of 1878, our
Legation first settled in Paris. One day I received a call from a footman
in livery, who desired to speak to me in the name of his mistress, a
Polish countess of very high position. This lady had amongst her pets
twelve little Chinese dogs, those hairless little bow-wows that everybody
has seen. She loved them dearly, and, being frightened lest the Chinese
colony might eat up her darlings, sent me word, considering us apparently
as wild beasts or savages, to the effect that if one of her pets should
disappear she would set fire to the Embassy building. I reassured the
good old lady, and sent her word that none of my countrymen had an
appetite for dog-meat, and that should she miss one of her pets one day
it would be much wiser on her part, before committing the crime of arson
with premeditation, to go round to the police-station or to the dogs’

In short, we eat very much as you do, with rather more variety, thanks
to the productiveness of our country and of our sea. But never are
disgusting or even curious dishes seen on our tables. It is true that we
prepare our dishes in a different manner. For instance, we cut the food
up into very little pieces, in consequence of which the nature of the
dish is not to be recognised, but our dishes are none the less delicious
on that account. I could call in witness of what I assert all Europeans
who have lived in China.

Cooking, moreover, is in exact ratio to the state of civilisation of each
nation—the more developed the one, the more _recherché_ and the more
perfect the other. France is the country in Europe which was civilised
the first, and its cuisine is the most perfect in the West. So, instead
of asking us whether we are in the habit of preparing such and such a
fantastic dish, the European would do better to ask from what year our
civilisation dates. The answer to this question would at once show
him that it is absurd to attribute to us the consumption of disgusting
dishes, and that this is the work of mere imagination, vivid perhaps, but
completely in the wrong.






There are no theatres in China, like the Egyptian Hall in London, that
is to say, conjuring theatres. The conjurer has to perform in public,
in the squares, and places like his European brethren at the different
fairs. Conjurers are often hired to perform at family parties, and never
fail to win great applause. The Chinese conjurer is, at the same time,
an acrobat, and knows both his trades very well indeed. The proverbial
skill of our artists is really astonishing. The performance is generally
opened with acrobatic feats, and after having swallowed swords, juggled
with weights, and gone through exercises of this description, the acrobat
transforms himself into a magician. He throws off his gown, and as it
falls to the earth, asks the spectators what object they would like
to see. Something very difficult to produce is naturally chosen, and
the sorcerer begins to make strange gestures with his fingers. He then
approaches the gown, mutters some mysterious word of command to it,
mesmerises it with strange mesmeric passes, and suddenly the gown is seen
to rise from the earth, and rises and rises until the master, drawing
back this moving curtain, discloses beneath it smoking dishes, or a large
bowl filled with water, in which quantities of gold and silver fish
are disporting themselves. This is one of the tricks that I have seen
performed, and have never been able to understand how it was done. But
one of my friends told me of something that he had seen which was much
more astonishing. One day, in the course of one of these performances,
the conjurer asked his audience to name what they desired to see. One of
the spectators asked for a pumpkin. The conjurer, at first, pretended
that that was out of the question, as it was not in season. But, the
public insisting, he gave way. He then took a pumpkin seed and planted
it in the earth, and made his son—a lad of four or five years—lie down,
and thrust his knife into his throat, as if he had been slaughtering an
animal. The blood poured out into a pot, and when it had been collected
the conjurer watered with it the spot where he had just planted the seed.
He then covered the corpse up with a cloth, and placed a wooden bell
over the seed. A few moments later a sprout was seen rising from the
soil, which grew and grew and burst into flower. The flower fell, and
the pumpkin showed itself, growing with extraordinary rapidity. When it
was ripe, the magician picked it off its stalk, showed it to the public,
and began making his collection. He then lifted up the cloth from his
son, and instead of disclosing a corpse, brought to light a very healthy
youth, who did not bear the vestige of a wound. All this was done with
surprising neatness.

Another of my friends told me, on his return from Pekin, that he had
seen still more extraordinary things. One day, after the literary
examinations, the candidates clubbed together and sent for a troupe of
conjurers. The chief, having shown certain tricks, asked if the audience
would like to see some rare thing that they might choose. “A peach,”
cried one of the spectators. It was then the month of March, when the
land is still ice-bound, especially in the north of China. “A peach!”
said the conjurer; “that is the only fruit that it is impossible for
me to procure. At this time of the year, peaches can only be found in

“But as you are a magician,” was the answer, “you ought to be able to
bring one down from heaven.”

After grumbling a good deal, the conjurer said he would try what he
could do for them, and began weaving a roll of ribbon, which he cast
into the air, and which took the shape of a ladder, which went up and up
to a tremendous height. He then placed a child on this ladder, who ran
up the rungs with the agility of a monkey, and was soon lost to sight
in the clouds. Some moments passed, when suddenly a peach fell from the
skies. The magician picked it up, cut it into slices, and offered it to
the audience. It was a real peach. Hardly had the peach been eaten, when
something else fell from the skies. Horror! It was the head of the child,
which was speedily followed by the trunk and the limbs. The sorcerer
picked them up with tears in his eyes, and said that the audience was
to blame for the loss of his child by its absurd request, and that the
guardians of Paradise had taken his child for a thief, and had cut him
into pieces. The spectators, touched at the sight of his sorrow, and
believing that they were really to blame for a murder, and wanting to do
all in their power to comfort the unhappy father, made a collection,
and presented him with a handsome sum of money. Meanwhile, the magician
had placed the fragments of his son’s corpse in a box, which he always
carried round with him. As soon as he had received the amount of the
subscription, he opened the box and cried out—

“Come forth, my child, and thank these kind gentlemen.” And out sprang
the youth, alive and well.

In concluding this chapter, I must tell a story about a ventriloquist. It
was at a dinner given by a gentleman, who, as a rule, was very unhappy
in life, and bored himself dreadfully when alone. He used to say that
when he had no friends to talk to, the softest carpets appeared to him
like bundles of needles, and the most beautifully decorated walls like
bucklers. He used to write poems to kill time. When people knocked at his
door he used to ask them to stay to dinner, whether he knew their names
or not. That day not one of the guests who sat at the table knew any
of the others. The conversation turned on the question, which sound was
the most agreeable. One of the spectators said, “It is the sound of the
shuttle as it flies across the loom, or the voice of a reading child.”

“No, no; that is too serious,” said the host.

“Then it is the neighing of horses, or the concert of lady musicians.”

“No; that is too noisy,” said the host.

“The rattle of the pawns at chess played by women.”

“Nor that. That is too monotonous.”

The fourth guest said nothing, but continued quietly emptying his glass.

“What is your opinion?” asked the others.

“I have no opinion to give,” said he; “but I should like to tell you
about the sounds I heard in Pekin. They seem to me to be much superior to
any others. They were the different noises emitted by a ventriloquist. He
was seated behind a screen, where there was only a chair, a table, and
a fan, and a ruler. He rapped the ruler on the table to enforce silence,
and, when everybody had ceased speaking, there was suddenly heard the
barking of a dog; then the movements of a woman, waked by the noisy
brute, who shook her husband to say tender things to him. We were just
expecting to hear a duet of love between the two spouses when the noise
of a crying child was heard. Then we heard the mother giving the breast
to the baby, and the sound of it drinking and crying at the same time.
The mother tried to console it, and then rose to change its clothes.
Meanwhile, another child, waking in its bed, began to make a noise; its
father scolded it, whilst the younger child continued crying at its
mother’s breast. Then the whole family go back to bed and fall asleep.
The patter of a mouse is heard. It climbs up some vase and upsets it, and
we hear the clatter as it falls. The woman coughs in her sleep. Cries
of ‘Fire, fire,’ are heard. The mouse has upset the lamp, and set fire
to the bed-curtains. The husband and the wife, wakened, begin to shout
and scream, the children cry, thousands of people come running up, and
vociferate; thousands of children cry, dogs bark, the walls come crashing
down, squibs and crackers explode—it seems a general _sauve-qui-peut_.
The fire-brigade comes racing up; water is pumped up in torrents, and
hisses in the flames. It was all so true to life that all present were
about to rise to their feet and run away, thinking that fire really had
broken out, when a second blow of the ruler was struck on the table,
and the most complete silence ensued. We rushed behind the screen, but
there was nothing except the ventriloquist, his table, his chair, and his





A number of people believe in spirits, and make it a pleasure to summon
them into their presence by way of pastime. A cylindrical box, containing
a number of little sticks, each of which bears a number, may be seen in
every temple, and before the altars of every god. When a man wants to
know his future, he first of all burns candles and incense before the
god; then he kneels down at the altar, holding one of these boxes in his
hands. He then asks the question that he wants to have answered, and
shakes the box gently until one of the little sticks fall out. This he
picks up, and places it before the god; then he takes two hemispheres,
and throws them to the ground. If they fall on the flat side, that means
that the little stick is the right one; but if on the convex side, that
means that the stick is no good, and the thing must begin over again. If
the stick has been recognised to be right, it is taken to the guardian
of the temple, who gives a number corresponding to the one printed on
it. This number has written on it a motto such as you see in crackers
in Europe, and it is according to this motto that the future is read.
Sometimes most extraordinary results are obtained by this means; at other
times, however, the answer has no sense or portent.

Sometimes a plate is taken, and a piece of paper carefully wetted is
applied to it. A Taoist priest is called, who begins by making mysterious
gestures over the dish, and then rubs the paper on it with a piece of
paper tightly rolled up. This rubbing produces a quantity of figures
and scenes, and from these figures and scenes the future is predicted.
Supposing a theft has been committed, the plate will show the scene
of the theft, with the portrait of the thief. A cheap and easy way of
detecting crime, it must be admitted. More than that, it shows what
punishment will befall the guilty man. If a needle is taken and the eyes
of the portrait of the thief in the dish be struck with it, the real
offender instantaneously becomes blind.

We have also a number of inspired hypnotic mediums and lucid
somnambulists. They go to sleep, the spirit moves them, they rise up and
predict what is going to happen, or cure the sick. They can be pricked
with pins without feeling any pain, and can walk on burning coals without
burning themselves.

We have no want of literary gods. A large dish is taken filled with sand,
and then the two ends of a carved stick of wood are moved over it. The
god guides the points, and a number of acrostic sentences and poems are
the result, written in the sand. The spirits of well-known literary men
of bygone ages are called for, and they are begged to attend the meeting,
and to give some specimens of their poetic talents. Let me describe one
of these scenes.

The brush, after having moved about for some time, announces that a
literary god is approaching. At once it begins to trace out the following

  “Twilight covers half the mountains,
  The tired birds return to their nests.
  The stork, driven by the azure zephyr,
  Comes down from heaven through the clouds.”

Next a goddess presents herself and writes:

  “The distant mountains are seen against the sunset, now bright,
      now pale;
  A sound of bells seem to wish to pierce the aurora borealis.
  My existence resembles the light cloud which in one moment crosses
      a thousand hills,
  Which permits me to contemplate the ten thousand mountains in one

The goddess asked at the same time that all those present should submit
their poems, that she might applaud or condemn them. Each man gave a
poem, which was immediately burned, so that it might reach in wraith the

Suddenly the friend of the goddess put in her appearance, or rather
manifested herself. Her name was Siao-Ling, which means Young Lotus. This
is what she wrote:

  “Yesterday evening the brilliant snow and the icy wind cut like scissors.
  I opened my door to contemplate the distant view.
  I noticed that my plum-tree had added to its blossoms.”

We then asked her if at that time of the year they were very busy in

“No,” she answered; “all our days are like each other. It is only on New
Year’s Day that there is a great reception at the house of our Sovereign

“Do the gods keep Lenten fasts?”

“Our Master before becoming a genii used to abstain from rice. Once
immortal, he gave up food of all kinds. As regards the food of the gods,
it is composed of venison, of dragons’ livers, of mountain flowers, and
fruits of Paradise, and so on.”

“Is it true that besides heaven there is hell?”

“Hell and heaven are in the minds of men—one represents what is good, the
other what is bad.”

This exchange of questions and answers went off as easily as a
conversation between friends. The answers were given much more quickly
than at table-turning seances. Our amusing game lasted until long past

The above is a very accurate description of this kind of spirit seance,
as generally practised in China. Of course, in different places the
language and the way of thinking differs. It is because of the elevated
style of the language used at these meetings that they enjoy so much
favour with our literary men.





In no country, so much as in China, has the belief in phrenologists and
chiromancists been so general. According to these men of science, every
mark on the face and body has its meaning. In consequence, as such and
such a sign, say, on your left eye, may be counter-balanced by some other
sign, say, on your right cheek, it will be seen that a whole series of
combinations and calculations has to be gone through before the definite
diagnosis of a person can be obtained. When one goes to consult these
oracles, they first of all examine your face, then the hands, and then
the body, just as a doctor who wishes to thoroughly examine a patient.
After that they ask you to walk with your usual step, which is another
factor in the combination. According to their lore, the various acts of
life have significance—thus, slow eating, quick digestion, heavy sleep,
and laziness in dressing are all very bad signs. A dark forehead means
mourning for a near relation. A long face on a short body indicates a man
of a calm and quiet life. A head short set in shoulders and a fat round
stomach betoken a vile man. Long ears with the lobes ball-shaped are sure
signs of a statesman. Large ears bent forward show that their owner leads
an agitated and fatiguing existence. The famous Lao-Tse, the founder of
the Taoist religion, had ears seven inches long. Thick and bushy eyebrows
mean that their possessor will be rich in brothers and sisters. Each
break in them means the loss of one brother, and the nearer the break is
to the outer end, the younger that brother will be. When the eyebrows are
longer than the eyes, that means that you have a literary man before
you. A spot at the side of the eye means that the person will have tears
to shed. The nose should be large and thick. It is then the “Spring of
the Mountain,” the “Devil’s Well,” the “Lake of the Genii,” or the “Tower
of the Soul.” The nose is considered the principal feature, because many
of our sovereigns had very large noses, and notably Emperors Fou-Hi-U and
Han-Kao-Tsou. The latter was further endowed with a thick, black beard,
and besides having the face of a dragon, had seventy-two black birth
marks below his hip. Another emperor, Weng-Ouang, who lived at an earlier
date, had four breasts. It will be seen that teratology plays its part
in China. To all these persons, as to Lao-Tse, the high places that they
afterwards occupied were foretold. When the beard is bristly, the wearer
is a sly man. A long beard is the sign of a long life. A brown beard
betokens a general. A Buddhist high-priest, whose beard reached down to
his knees, had his lofty position predicted on that account. A big mouth
will always have food. A black spot at the corner of the mouth promises
good cheer for ever. A sly and deceitful man has thin and pinched
lips. Red lips betoken good birth. White and equal teeth are signs of
aristocratic connections. Hard teeth foretell premature old age. A soft
tongue is the tongue of an orator. A rough voice, like that of a wolf,
and waspish eyes belong to pitiless and unfeeling people.

A number of tokens are to be read in the hand. The observations of
our chiromancists being almost identical with those of their European
confrères, I will therefore not enter into these details, but will break
the monotony of this description with a few anecdotes.

A literary man, named Tao-Kan, had a line of happiness which went in a
perfect straight line from the wrist to the middle of the first joint
of the middle finger. He was told that, if this line lengthened out any
more, he might expect the highest honours. He contented himself with
pricking the extremity of this line with a needle, and writing the word
“duke” with the blood; and as it happened he was created a duke.

Another, named Li-Kou, one day consulted a phrenologist, who pointed out
to him that his temple-bones were very pronounced, and that they reached
out to behind his head, and that, in consequence, he would be raised to a
place of honour. This prophecy was duly realised.

A prefect of Ho-Nan, named Tcheou, met a phrenologist, who spoke to
him as follows:—In three years you will be appointed minister and
generalissimo, and one year later you will die of hunger. The prefect
laughed, and said, that once in so high a position, he could not starve.
But the phrenologist insisted that such was his destiny, and that he
could not escape, basing his assertion on the fact that the little
veins which usually flow vertically towards the mouth, had a horizontal
position in his face. All that had been predicted happened. After having
risen to be a minister and commander-in-chief, the former prefect had to
retire in disgrace, and died of a disease which prevented him from taking
any food.

Duke Ouang-King-Tche, whose mother was a phrenologist, was born in a
violet caul. When he was a little older, two long breasts grew under his
arms. The mother announced a brilliant future for her son, and events
proved that she was right.

It had been predicted to the mother of Empress Wou-Hao, of the dynasty
of the Thang family, that she would have a child who would reign on the
throne. As she was a simple middle-class woman, she did not place much
faith in this piece of news. She had a daughter which she showed to a
phrenologist, and told him that it was a boy. He made the child walk,
and said, “If it be a boy, it will one day become emperor.” As a matter
of fact the child became empress, and after the death of her husband
mounted on the throne. She was one of the two empresses who have reigned
over China.

An emperor, of the dynasty of the Tchings, had no children. He sent for a
phrenologist, and asked him to tell him which of the ladies in the palace
could make him a father. The phrenologist pointed out one, but added that
after having given birth to a child she would be devoured by a tiger.
The young woman in due time presented the emperor with a son. This point
having been realised, the second prediction was thought about. Nobody had
seen any tiger, and nobody thought that the prediction could be realised.
The picture of a tiger was sent for, so that people might see what kind
of an animal it was that was to prove fatal to the empress, and the young
woman, wishing to destroy her enemy, struck the picture with so much
force that she wounded herself, and died of gangrene in the arm.

A man aged thirty years had already lost two of his brothers. His
mother, fearing for his life, also went to a phrenologist, and asked
if her last child was not also threatened with the same fate that had
befallen his brothers. The phrenologist said that in order to answer he
must pass one night with the young man. During his sleep he listened
attentively to the breathing of the sleeper, and noticed that his breath
seemed to come out of his ears. The phrenologist then comforted the
mother, and said, “Your son will live long and happy, for he breathes
like a tortoise.”

There are, of course, numbers of quacks in the profession. The following
is a story about one of them. It is rather amusing:—

The Governor of a province once sent for a phrenologist, and asked him
to select amongst a number of ladies, who were all dressed in the same
way, which was his wife. The phrenologist looked at them for a long
time without being able to answer. At last he cried out, “It is she out
of whose forehead a yellow cloud has just issued forth.” Of course
everybody turned round to look at the real lady, and the phrenologist
equally, of course, guessed at once which was the Governor’s wife, and
pointed her out with the most prophetic of gestures.






These matches were played with little rods, which the players had to
throw into a long-necked and narrow-mouthed vase.

According to the Book of Rites, the host at a dinner party had to offer
these arrows to his guests, and it was their duty to refuse them at
first, but after some pressing to accept them. A servant then brought a
vase on to the table, and the guests threw each two or four arrows into
its mouth. At rich dinner-parties each arrow that entered the vase was
saluted with a burst of music from the orchestra. A horse or a carriage
was given to the player who succeeded in putting all his arrows into the

Our forefathers asserted that the character of a man could easily be
told by his manner of playing this game. Suspicious and timid people
threw their arrows for the most part askance, whilst weak-minded men
invariably missed the mark. To succeed once and to miss twice was a sign
of a want of perseverance, for to get the arrow exactly into the mouth
of the vase a sharp eye and a good aim are necessary, and it will not do
to do too much or too little. The throw must also be straight, and the
aim exactly at the centre, and this, in conformity with human principles
about straightforwardness and moderation, our forefathers used also to
think that the activity put into play at this game resembled that of the
conscience. To miss one’s aim with an arrow was equivalent to neglecting
a duty. The rule was to reflect with prudence, and to throw with
measure. He who did this was fitted to become an able statesman.

One wins without manifesting pride or showing his delight, another cheats
or tries to draw too near the mark. These different ways of acting enable
one to distinguish between honest and dishonest people.

To conclude, men used thus to be judged formerly by trifles of small
importance in themselves, but which became powerful auxiliaries of truth.
And it was for that reason that our ancestors included this game in their


This game is also a very ancient one, and consists in getting a person
to guess what object is hidden under a bell of non-transparent material,
metal or china. Those who guess must not name the object directly, but
must compose a quatrain referring to it.

For instance, supposing a lizard has been hidden, this is how a clever
player would tell us that he had guessed it:

  “It is not a dragon, for it has no horns;
  It is not a serpent, for it has feet;
  It can divide itself, and it can climb up walls.
  It is a lizard.”

One day three objects were hidden under the bell—a swallow’s egg, a
piece of honeycomb, and a spider. The following were the quatrains which
revealed the nature of the hidden objects:—

  “The first is one of the beloved of spring, who climbs on the roofs
      of the drawing-rooms.
  When the male or the female is fledged,
  It at once spreads out its wings.
  It is a swallow’s egg.

  The second is a house hung upside down.
  It has a multitude of doors and windows.
  The sweetest fluid is stored up in it.
  And its inhabitants multiply in it.
  It is a honeycomb.

  The third resembles a long-footed slug.
  It produces threads for making nets,
  Into which all falls for its nourishment.
  It is night which makes it happy.
  It is a spider.”

Other guessers were still more skilful, albeit they did not compose

A Sovereign had placed a white bird under a bell, and ordered his
Minister to guess. He answered that the emperor could not force him to
guess. When he was asked why not, he said, “Let him, first of all, let
his white bird escape.”

On another occasion a rat was hidden. Everybody said it was a rat. But
one very clever player insisted that there were four rats under the bell.
The bell was removed, and it was found that, true enough, there were four
rats. Whilst she had been in confinement, the rat had given birth to
three little ones.

Guessing is done by means of the Koua, or diagrams, of which I have
spoken elsewhere.


We also play with shuttlecocks, made of four duck feathers, the ends
of which are passed through the square hole in the centre of one of
our coins and bent down, which renders them very elastic. Ladies play
with battledores; gentlemen use their feet, as in the English game of
football. A certain height is fixed upon, and the player who fails to
reach it loses the game. The same game is played with leather balls
stuffed with cotton.


A coin is thrown against the wall. The player whose coin springs back
farthest from the wall begins. He throws his coin in any direction, and
it is agreed upon that the other players must throw their coins so as to
fall at such or such a distance from the place where his is lying. Those
who manage to do this, or get closest to the mark, win, those who are
farthest off lose.

This game used formerly to be played by the ladies of the Court, but
now-a-days it is only played by children in the streets.






Our card games are more complicated than those played in Europe. One of
the reasons of this is the number of cards in the Chinese pack, which
contains 120, subdivided into four classes, corresponding with four
colours, and into thirty species. There are thus only four cards of each
species, and thirty of each class.

The pack includes nine cords; the first cord, the second cord, and so on,
up to the ninth cord; nine cakes; nine faces; a red man; a civilian; and
a butterfly.

Different kinds of games can, of course, be played with the same kind of


Five players take their places at the table; the cards are shuffled, and
are cut into eight packs of fifteen each. Three dice are cast, and three
of the packs are removed in the order designated by the numbers on the
dice. A third cast of the dice determines who is to take the first of the
five remaining packs. The player on the right takes the second, and so
on. The three packs that were removed are placed in a box, and the bottom
card of all is turned round and given to the happy possessor of the first
pack. Each takes his cards, and arranges them according to the kind and
value of the cards, thus: first cord, second cord, third cord, and so on;
or, first man, second man, third man; or, first cake, second cake, third
cake; or, second cord, second man, second cake. To win, a player must
have one or more sets. There are seven sets, composed as follows:—

III.—Eighth cake, second cord, second man.

II.—Ninth man, eighth cord, butterfly.

V.—Ninth cord, the civilian, ninth man.

IV.—Ninth cord, the civilian, the red man.

VI.—Seventh cake, third cord, third man.

VII.—Ninth cake, first cord, first man.

I.—First, second, and third cakes.

The cards must be arranged in sets, as soon as they have been picked up
off the table. If a player has only two cards of one set, he must hand an
isolated card to the player on his right, who takes it, if it is of any
service to him, and, in his turn, hands one of the cards in his hand to
his neighbour on the right. If, on the other hand, he has no use for it,
he rejects it, and takes the bottom card off the pack in the box. This he
keeps and hands another card to the player on his right, and so on.

When one of the players has managed to get together all the seven sets,
with the exception of one set, which lacks only one card to complete it,
he lays down on the table the leading card of one of the sets, and this
gives him the right to take all the cards which are taken out of the box
to complete his sets. If he succeeds in doing so, he wins.

The number of sets held by the winner are then counted, and he is paid,
according to the amount fixed upon at the start, so much for each set.

Sometimes, also, it is the first card at the top of the pack placed in
the box that is turned round. This card is called gold, and every player,
who has a similar card in his hand, may use it instead of any other card
that may be wanting to complete any set in his hand.


This game is played by three players.

The cards are divided into eight packs of fourteen cards each, and eight
cards remain over. The dice indicate which three packs are to be placed
in the box. Two packs are chosen at haphazard, and are added to the
eight cards that remained over.

A second cast of the dice determines the distribution of the three
remaining packs, which each player is to take.

The player who takes the last of these three packs must spread out on the
table, face upwards, and according to their values, all the cards in the
pack which is composed of the two selected packs, together with the eight
cards that remained over, so that all the players can see what they are,
just as is the case with the dummy at whist.

In reward for his trouble, the rule of the game awards him a privilege.
He receives, at once, the top card in the box, which otherwise he would
only have had later on, and so he knows at once what card to expect.

The first to play takes one of the cards in his hand to fish for one of
the cards, which he hopes will be the same number (it is not necessary
that it should have the same picture) on the table with it. He then
draws another card from the bottom of the pack in the box. Each of the
other players does the same in turn. If the dummy is dead, that is to
say, if none of its cards is of the number you want, you do not fish, but
you throw out a card—or hook—without taking anything.

When all the cards have been drawn, each player counts his sets he is
able to make up out of the cards he has fished. These sets are the same
as in the preceding game, with the exception of number V. and number
VI., which do not exist in this game. Each card in set number I. counts
as thirteen points; in set number II., for twelve points; in set number
III., for eleven points; in set number IV., for thirteen points; and in
set number VII., for ten points. Outside the sets each card is worth only
the same number of points as its numerical value. The first card is worth
one, the second two, and so on.


The same cards are used, and two persons play. The cards are all placed
together on the table, and each player takes three cards, of which he
turns one up, so as to see which is to begin pecking. The first player
throws one card on the table and the other does the same. If the player
whose turn it is to throw sees that with the cards in his hand and those
on the table he can make up a set he picks them up, and so the game goes
on; the cards being taken three by three from the pack until all have
been drawn. When that is done, the number of points held by each player,
according to the system of counting described above, is counted.

In all these games, besides the stake, each player may place a sum of
money or a single coin before him on the table. If he loses, he loses
this money also; whilst if he wins, each player has to pay him an
equivalent sum. This is betting added to staking. We have also cards
representing chess figures, in which the cannon, the carriage, and the
horse form a set, as do also three similar cards, or the general, the
councillor, and the elephant.

These cards are played in the same way as the others. Chinese cards are
always much smaller than those used in Europe, measuring about one inch
by two. These cards were invented under the reign of the Han dynasty, as
a pastime and as a relief in solitude. But now-a-days they have become a
social game, even in parties where people are far from wanting subjects
of amusement.





We have no official lottery, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, we never
did have one. The private lottery, however, which is generally very
advantageous to its promoters, does exist in China. When a person is
in want of money, be it to pay for the funeral of a relation, or for
the expenses connected with a marriage in his family, or to help one
of his relations to go to Pekin for the examinations, he gets forty
or fifty friends and acquaintances of his together, and begs them to
take tickets in his lottery. These tickets cost so much, payable in
fractions at each of the drawings. The first prize-winner is, of course,
the organiser of the lottery, and the amount at stake for the first
drawing becomes his without any drawing being necessary to determine
his right. That is in reality only an advance or loan to be repaid
by instalments, for at all the subsequent drawings he pays just like
his friends, and cannot win a second prize. The second and subsequent
drawings determine the prize-winners, according to the number of points
obtained by each player with the dice-box. Six dice are used. At each of
these parties, which take place once a quarter or once every six months,
the prize-winner always gives a dinner to the others. Everything is
done so straightforwardly that in the end nobody loses, as each player
can only win once. Nobody may play until he has paid the amount due on
his ticket. The highest throw takes the whole stake, without deduction
either for commission or interest, a small amount being retained for the
dinner alone. In China we do not invest our money as is done everywhere
else, and accordingly the last winner has no reason to regret that his
turn to win only came at the end. On the contrary, this investment of
small sums paid away from time to time, resulting in the acquisition
of a lump sum at the end, is a very good saving operation. It helps to
buy a piece of land, and at the same time he has the satisfaction of
knowing that he has helped a friend in need. The use of these lotteries
is very general amongst the middle classes, that is to say, amongst very
honourable and very solvable people, who don’t like to place themselves
under obligations by asking for other kinds of loans, and are too proud
to accept alms. Being in want of money they make use of this system of
borrowing, with the obligation of repaying the sum received in a certain
number of annuities. In the upper classes money is never needed, whilst
amongst the lower classes the lottery system cannot be employed, because
there is no guarantee of the solvability of the organiser. Amongst the
latter class, however, there is another kind of mutual help which renders
the greatest services to the less fortunate members of Chinese society.
Supposing that a workman has lost his father, his colleagues immediately
subscribe enough to pay the funeral expenses. Or supposing that he wants
to get married, arrangements are made to supply him at once with the
funds he may require. Supposing his son passes his examinations, instead
of sending him presents in kind, his friends send him money, so that he
may have the means of paying his expenses connected with the celebration
of his success. Thus we have no public charity funds. These are replaced
by a friendly and solid understanding between people of the same class
and position of society, who know each other’s means, and understand how
to help each other. Such mutual services are never refused. A respectable
man can always count on the help of his friends under the circumstances
mentioned. And this simple organisation forces each man to be kind
and helpful towards his neighbour, for nobody is sure of to-morrow.
One does as one would be done by. Thus when one of these associates in
benevolence happens to die, his widow and children continue to profit
by it, and receive together with the inheritance of the deceased the
tokens of gratitude from those he has helped, and which, had he lived,
he would have enjoyed in due time. We have in this system a kind of
pension and life insurance fund. Our system, however, forces every
one—and just because he has no special right to anything—to be good and
kind towards all his neighbours. Besides these regular and useful lottery
organisations, there are others which are irregular and mischievous.
These are mere forms of gambling pure and simple. I wish to speak, in
the first place, of the game of Thirty-six Beasts, about which there has
been so much talk of late—perhaps more so in Paris than in Camboja. This
Cambojan roulette has been described over and over again, and is, it may
be mentioned, an importation of Chinese origin. We do not play this game
with figures as our neighbours do, but with counters, on which the names
of the animals are written. A group of individuals announce that they are
going to open a bank, and this without formality of any sort. The news
is discreetly and rapidly hawked about the town by the help of numerous
agents. Every morning the bankers hoist up on to a high pole a bag,
into which one of the thirty counters has been placed at haphazard. The
public stake their money on any one of the thirty-six beasts, and those
who have backed the beast whose name is inscribed on the counter in that
bag that day, win thirty times what they have staked. The six last names
are exclusively reserved to the bank. Needless to say, that the players
almost always lose. Superstition, which always goes with gambling games,
is not wanting here either. To guess the right name, players will put
the list before their gods, or before Buddha, and beg him to give a sign
by which they may know which beast is the winning one. Ashes of incense
falling on one of the names in the list, or the burning caused by a spark
from one of the altar candles, are considered sure straight-tips to the
gamblers, who, no matter under what sky they live, are always far more
simple than intelligent.

As may be seen from this rapid analysis, the game of the thirty-six
beasts is a kind of roulette, in which the names of animals are used
instead of numbers. It is forbidden by law. Doubtless it is only another
kind of lottery, but the daily drawings are too ruinous for those who
are carried away by their passion for gambling. This is the reason why,
in the Middle Empire, this dangerous game is forbidden. It is never let
out to authorised speculators, and is always carried on in a clandestine
manner, and is invariably very short-lived. If the organisers fall into
the clutches of the law, they are very severely punished. Several years’
imprisonment is not considered too severe a punishment for these harpies
on the purses of the poor. On the other hand, the mutual help lottery is
considered by all as a useful and respectable undertaking, so much so,
that, should it be found impossible to get a sufficient number of people
to put their money into one of these speculations, the public officials
may be applied to, and are always found ready to contribute their mites
to an undertaking which is purely of self-help, and which has often
relieved those miseries to which, alas! our poor human race is exposed in
every clime and at every age.






The theatre in China is always a private institution. We have no
State-supported theatres, but, on the other hand, many rich people
have theatres in their houses. In the north of China the public has
its theatres the same as in Europe, where regular performances of
fashionable pieces are given, and where people may dine in the boxes or
on the balcony. Everywhere else there is nothing to be had in the way of
theatrical representations, except from troupes of strolling actors, who
play in the temples, restaurants, or private houses. A set stage is to
be seen in every temple, and performances are given on it on the feast
day of the patron god of the temple, or for the accomplishment of certain
vows. In both cases a troupe is sent for and a piece is selected. Whilst
the organisers are taking their seats in the side balconies, which are
our equivalent for your stage-boxes, the public is admitted gratuitously,
and may place itself either in front or around the stage. At the end of
each act—as a rule, only one-act pieces are played—an actor, disguised
as a woman, offers the organisers of the fête a certain number of sticks
to choose from. On each stick is written the name of one of the plays in
the repertory of the troupe. A performance always includes five acts, or,
as is usually the case, and generally means the same thing, five pieces,
which have to be played through in the course of the evening. On the
Emperor’s or Empress’s birthday similar performances are given before the
houses of all the public officials, and take place accordingly in the
street. This is a treat for the people, who may attend without paying.
There are stages in our big restaurants, and performances are given there
twice or three times every week. The public seat themselves in parties
of four or of six at tables, which are arranged in parallel rows to the
stage, and in such a way that nobody has his back turned to the stage.
As the customers of these restaurants are all rich people, the actors
often get down off the stage to serve wine round, and to ask what piece
they shall play. Should the piece thus chosen be found a success and
well played, the person who chose it rewards the actors with cash. The
actor takes the notes and places them on a tray, which he shows to the
public in proof of the generosity of the giver. Should the piece be badly
played, or any portion of it be badly sung, the public remains absolutely
silent, without manifesting feeling of any kind. The practice of hissing
is never indulged in in Chinese theatres. The silence of the public
is the rebuke administered to the actors. If, on the other hand, the
piece has been creditably performed, there is only one voice among the
public to applaud. All the spectators rise to their feet as of one common
accord, and shout “Lao, Lao.” This shows that in China we are both polite
in our disapproval and prompt to enthusiasm when we are pleased. This
national trait is the key to the conduct of the majority of the Chinese
under all circumstances. They never criticise directly; they never
noisily disapprove of anything, nor give vent to cries of anger: silence
suffices for them; silence, which in itself alone has the eloquence of
the severest comments, the most indignant exclamations, and is withal
dignified; silence, which condemns without discussion and without
appeal. A peculiarity of our theatres which may be noted here, is that
the orchestra, instead of being placed in front of the stage, is always
behind it, and plays no matter what piece of music, and always without
notes. The conductor wields no baton, but has a kind of tambourine in
one hand and a pair of castanets in the other. The first indicates the
time, the others changes in the tone. The actors always play by heart
without the help of a prompter. We should laugh were we to see a musician
using notes, or a gentleman hidden away in a kind of kennel whispering
words to an actor at the moment perhaps when he is in the finest frenzy
of passion. In front of the stage, on the two pillars which face the
public, there may be generally seen amongst other decorations two bills
inscribed with philosophical reflections.

The following is one of the best known:—

    “You may consider this performance as true or as false. It is
    always an image of life and of its conclusions.”

Besides our big theatres we have also puppet shows, in which the
puppets are tied to strings and worked by people hidden in the flies.
Punch and Judy, worked by the fingers of an actor concealed behind a
curtain, are very popular in China. These miniature theatres are much in
favour with the people of places which cannot support a real theatre.
The performances are exactly the same as on the large stages, and are
always accompanied with music and songs from behind the stage. The only
difference is that the actors are in cardboard instead of being of flesh
and blood, and are very small instead of being very big, a matter of
little consequence after all. The size, the costumes, and the substance
of the actors may be overlooked, for all that is merely superficial and
a deceit of the eye. The truth—the great and immortal truth—is that our
desires and our passions, our joys and our woes, are always the same,
and never, never change. In every clime and in every age do we see the
eternal human comedy repeat itself.






China never knew those horrible arena fights which were the passing
pleasures, and will be the eternal shame, of ancient Rome. We never gave
for the amusement of our refined folk the sight of bloody fights between
men and wild animals, “the whilom joy of the young vestal virgin.” So it
will be useless to look in China for any statue of a dying gladiator, or
to search the ruins of the Colosseum. Nor has the bull-fight—last vestige
of the tragic Circenses of long ago—ever been seen in China. We do,
however, have animal fights, but it will be seen that there is nothing
very terrible about them.

To begin with, we set crickets to fight against each other. Yes,
crickets. The modest denizens of the grass are terrible fighters, good
company as they also are. Their fights, though wanting in _mise en
scène_, are none the less interesting, and the people crowd to witness
them. The crickets, once collected for the purpose in the fields, are
very carefully trained, each prisoner being lodged in a little bamboo
cage. Its food consists of grains of rice, to which a few leaves of
salad are added. After having been trained in this way for some days,
the captive is set at liberty temporarily, that is to say, and in a very
relative manner. The object of his release, as a matter of fact, is only
to give him the opportunity of trying his strength against some veteran
of the cricket-ring.

The two combatants are placed in a bowl, which is generally made of wood,
so as to prevent them from slipping about too much. The trainer tickles
their heads with a hair, to work them up to a sufficient degree of hatred
and bad feeling. When this point has been reached, they dash violently
against each other, and the first shock upsets one of the combatants, and
decides the victory. The vanquished withdraws, ashamed and resigned. The
victor, intoxicated with delight, claps his hands, and celebrates his
triumph with piercing cries.

As soon as the fighting powers of the different insects have been tested
by successive rehearsals, the more robust are picked out, and on these
devolves the honour of appearing as champions in the public arena.
Bets will be made on each of them with as much interest and passion
as in Europe are made about horses. I hasten to add that these bets
never exceed a few pence in value. The bettors are thus able to indulge
themselves in their favourite pastime more frequently.


We have just witnessed a very bloodless tournament. There are others
of a more serious nature, and in which the combatants get rather more
hurt. I speak of our quail-fights. Please do not think that I am about
to describe such sanguinary spectacles as are afforded, for instance,
to the English in their cock-fight. The quails fight, but only with the
weapons with which Nature has provided them. They have no artificial
spurs, and none of those perfections which add to the natural ferocity
of the kings of the poultry-yard. The birds are trained for a few days,
until their owner thinks them sufficiently prepared for the fray. The
hour of battle has sounded. The quails, placed face to face, are excited
by their masters. At last they dash at each other, each trying to seize
his adversary while protecting himself against the other’s blows. They
chase each other, pursue, follow, run, jump, dodge, return, and escape
again. At last they seize each other, feathers begin to fly, a body to
body fight begins, until, at last, one of the combatants is obliged to
own himself defeated, and hastens to escape, with drooping wings, from
the beak of his cruel vanquisher.

There is little cruelty in all this—it is rather a struggle than a fight.
The combatants rarely hurt each other much, and if there is victor and
vanquished, it may at least be said, as was said in the French comedy,
“We know how to kill each other, and neither will die.”






There are perhaps in China alone more philosophers than could be found in
all the rest of the world put together. To give an idea of the ways of
thinking of these thinkers, who take their pleasure where they can find
it, I will let one of them speak:

“The song of birds and the cries of the swallows announce the advent of
spring; the fine weather invites one to walk abroad. I should have liked
to respond to this call from Nature; my daily occupations have prevented
me. I met yesterday at the flower cottage a friend who blamed me for
having failed to keep an appointment. I answered: ‘Ah, I am not free as
you are to do what I choose. I live dependent on another, to whom I am
subjected as a minor is to his guardian. Ah! if you could only know how
many writing brushes and how much paper I use in the course of one year.
In the face of this beautiful weather, where Nature is developing with
renewed vigour, I can only envy the pleasures of others without being
able to share in them myself. But in compensation I find pleasure in
passing my days of leisure in the bosom of my family, surrounded by those
I love.

“‘When seated by my fireside, I drink wine with my wife, and hold my
children on my knees; I feel no other human ambition, and do not believe
that the spirits in heaven are a whit happier than I am. Sometimes, as
a change, we go and drink a cup of tea in the cottage, or look at the
flowers in the garden. We are thus surrounded at home with joys which
endure and do not change.

“‘As regards what you call pleasure, it is only the result of a
combination of circumstances, and may any day change and completely
disappear. Good dinners, excellent wines, horses, games—all those things
are but instantaneous metamorphoses, where no solid basis ensuring their
eternal duration exists. That resembles a beautiful orange which might
contain nothing but a spongy and savourless tissue. After the fireworks
have died out, night rules again, and the darkness appears only all the

“‘Have you read the story of X——, who played the heavy swell, and threw
money out of the window by handfuls. His friends besieged his house
without interruption. His servants were prouder than the noblest lords.
Night and day the only thought was what pleasure-party should be arranged
for the following day. One might have imagined that his house was built
over a gold mine, to see the life he led.

“‘But at the end of a certain number of years his resources began to
fail. He could not, however, change his way of living.

“‘He first of all resorted to loans from his generous friends, and next
went to the pawn-shop. When all their resources had been exhausted he ran

“‘Oh! my friend, the number of rich dishes eaten by that man with an
air of complete satisfaction. Oh! my friend, the number of beautiful
women who were proud to be styled his friends even for a day. His name
was known everywhere, in the theatres, in society, and everywhere where
fashionable people meet together. Oh! the many fashions that he invented
merely in colours and hues of silk. And the jewels that he distributed
right and left.

“‘All that was done with the money of other people, since his bills have
not yet been paid. Is that pleasure? Come, you will admit that it is not.

“‘Instead of gleaming for a short while and being eternally disgraced
thereafter, I prefer during my moments of leisure to light my
incense-burner on my little table, and to sit at it chatting with our
sages through my books. It is there that solid pleasures are to be
found, far preferable to those which are only superficial. All that can
be felt and seen has already been described, and costs nothing to read
about. Songs, music, beautiful women, I see them and hear them in these
admirable pages. Why, then, go running again through the grey dust to
those places where your personality is effaced, and money alone reigns in
uncontested mastery?’”


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