Mortimer MENPES (1855-1938), Henry Arthur BLAKE (1840-1918)
Illustrations : M. Menpes, Texte : H. Blake
Adam and Charles Black, Londres, 1932, 138 pages, + 16 illustr. couleurs + 64 illustr. noir et blanc.
The early life of the city - Labour and distractions - Dangers from armed robbery
Torture for extracting evidence - Religious beliefs
The early life of the city is an interesting study. At five o'clock the people are astir.
The working men apparently take their morning meal in the streets, where tables are erected on which are large vessels of rice, and of boiling congee (a mixture of rice flour and water), piles of
vegetables of various sorts chopped fine, dishes of scraps of meat, including the uncooked entrails of fowls, pieces of fish, and relishes of soy and other sauces. The hungry customer is handed a
bowl half full of rice, on which is placed small portions of the various vegetables and a piece of meat, or some scraps of entrails, over all is poured a ladle full of the boiling congee, and the
repast is ready. With his chopsticks the customer, holding the bowl to his wide open mouth, shovels in nearly as much rice as it will hold, then picking from the bowl pieces of the luscious
morsels with which it is garnished, he lays them on the yet untouched rice, when he closes his mouth and proceeds with the process of mastication and deglutition. Each mouthful is a course, and
the same process is repeated until the morning meal is complete. Hard by may be seen a purveyor of whelks, which are a favourite food, especially with boys, who have all the excitement of
gambling in satisfying their hunger. The whelks are in a basket, to the handle of which a dozen pieces of wire with crooked ends are attached by long cords. A small boy appears and lays a cash
upon the stall, at the same time drawing from a deep bamboo joint a bamboo slip, one of the many in the pot. At the end of the slip is a number, or a blank, and the hungry lover of chance may
find the result of his first venture a blank, or he may be fortunate enough to draw a prize with a number, which represents the number of whelks that he is to receive. These he deftly picks out
with one of the crooked wires. They must, of course, be consumed "on the premises", for the cautious caterer takes no chances by permitting the wire to be detached from the cord. Boys are active
and unscrupulous, and crooked wires cost money. Balls of rice flour, fried in lard, are another favourite food of the streets, and sweetmeats of appalling stickiness and questionable preparation
are always to be found in chinese quarters. The morning crowd is always good-humoured, chaffing and laughing with a heartiness that explodes the european idea of chinese stolidity and want of
The chinese workman eats but twice a day. His morning meal is between six and eight o'clock, and his afternoon meal is at four.
By this time the boats have arrived from Kowloon with their loads of vegetables, and the
small hawkers are busily carrying them from house to house for the consumption of chinese households, while the outlying greengrocers are being supplied with their daily stock, in the setting out
of which great care is exercised, the chinese greengrocer having an artistic eye for effect. No small shop does a more flourishing business than the druggist's and herbalist's, the Chinese having
faith in the use of "simples", though remedies including the calcined teeth of tigers and vertebræ of serpents are not without their moral effect, and the mystery of a pill three-quarters of an
inch in diameter has yet to be fathomed. At the chinese New Year, tied up over every door will be seen a small bundle of vegetables, consisting of five plants : the Acorus calamus, representing a
sword, and the Euphorbia, a fighting-iron, to ward off evil spirits ; the onion, to guard against the spirit of malaria ; the Artemisia vulgaris and the Davallia tennifolia. This charm is as
efficacious as the house leek that, in the imaginative pre-national school days, was carefully planted on the roof of irish cottages as a sure preservative against fire.
But the busiest man in the early morning is the barber, for the chinese workman does not shave his own head, and small crowds assemble in each barber's shop, where tongues wag freely, and some read the morning papers while awaiting their turn. However great the crowd, there is no sign of hurry in the manipulation of the placid barber. Not alone is the front of the head shaved, but the eyebrows and eyelashes are attended to ; then the ears are explored and cleaned with minute care ; and, lastly, the client is massaged and shampooed while he sits bent forward, the hammering upon back and sides being by no means gentle, and ending with a resounding smack with the hollowed palm of the barber's hand. The constant manipulation of the ears is supposed to be injurious as tending to produce deafness, but without it the customer would not consider that he had value for his thirty cash, the usual fee — about one-third of a cent. The end of the operation is the plaiting of the long queue, which between the real and the false hair freely used reaches nearly to the heels, and is finished by a silk tassel plaited into the end. Sometimes a man may be seen plaiting his own queue, which he does by taking it over the rung of a ladder, and moving backwards so as to preserve the strain.
The lowest form of labour in Hong Kong is the work of the coolies, who carry coals and
building materials to the Peak district; and here we have a striking evidence of the patient industry and extraordinary ingenuity with which the piece-work labourer secures the largest possible
amount of result from the day's labour. Up the steep hill-side every brick or basket of sand and lime that has gone to build the houses and barracks of the Peak district has been carried up in
the double baskets, suspended from the bamboo carrying-pole of a working coolie, who is paid by the load. Now a heavy load, sometimes weighing a hundredweight, carried up very steep roads for two
miles or so, means slow progress, with many rests. The coolie manages to reduce the intervals of rest to the smallest compass. Placing two loads together, he carries one for fifty yards and there
deposits it, returning for the second, which is carried up one hundred yards. Dropping that, he — or she, for the matter of that, for the coolie hill-carriers are sometimes women, not seldom old
and feeble — returns to the first load and carries the burden fifty yards beyond the second, which is in turn taken up in the same way. There is no standing idle or sitting down to rest, the only
relief being that of dropping the load and walking back down hill to take up the one left behind. This system of overlapping saves all the time that otherwise must be lost in resting, as no human
being could carry up a load to the peak without frequent intervals of rest.
After the day's work is ended the workman does not affect a tavern. He dearly loves a game, or, more strictly speaking, a gamble ; and while all gambling-houses are put down with a strong hand, no conceivable official ingenuity could circumvent the gambling propensities of a people whose instruments of games of chance are not confined to cards or dice. The number of seeds in a melon, or any other wager on peculiarities of natural objects will do as well, and afford no damning evidence should an officious member of the police force appear. The game of chi-mooe is not confined to the working people, but is a favourite game with all classes, and the shouts and laughter that accompany it now and again bring complaints from the neighbours whose rest is disturbed. The game is simple and is played by two. One suddenly flings out his hand with one, two, or more fingers extended, at the same moment the other must guess the number. Curling has been called the roaring game, but no curler ever made a greater racket than two excited chi-mooe players. One would imagine that the guessing of the number of fingers extended must be a matter of pure chance, but a chinese gentleman assured me that in the flinging forward of the hand there is a muscular difference in the form if one, two, three, or more fingers are to be extended, and this difference is observed with lightning rapidity by an expert player.
The chinese farmer is thrifty, but he has his distractions in card-playing and gambling in various ways that could only be devised by chinese ingenuity. He loves a quail fight or a cricket fight, the latter being an amusement that sometimes brings a concourse of thousands together. A large mat-shed is erected and in this is placed the cricket pit. The real arena of the fight is a circular bowl with a flat bottom about seven inches in diameter. Two crickets being placed in it are excited to fury by having their backs tickled by a rat's bristle inserted in the end of a small stick, such as a pen handle. The rival crickets fight with great fury until one turns tail and is beaten. Many thousands of dollars are wagered at times upon these contests, and the most intense excitement prevails. When a man has been fortunate enough to capture a good fighting cricket, he feeds it on special meal. Such a known cricket sometimes changes hands for a considerable sum. After all, the value of a cricket, like a race-horse, is what it may be able to win. As the initial expense of a cricket is only the trouble of catching it, this is a form of excitement within reach of the poorest, and the villager may have in gambling for a cash (the tenth part of a cent) as much excitement as the richer town-dweller who wagers in dollars.
The boat population of the inland waters are liable to the same dangers from armed robbery as are their brothers on land, for the river pirates are a constant source of trouble. Even the large river steamers of the american pattern plying on the West river under the command of european officers are not always safe, though great precautions are taken, as the robbers sometimes embark as passengers if they know of any specie or valuables being on board, and at a given point produce revolvers and hold up the captain and crew, carrying off their booty in a confederate boat. On this account launches are not permitted to tow lighters with passengers alongside lest they should step on board, and in all large steamers the lower deck used by Chinese is separated from the upper by a companion way with iron railings and locked door, or with an armed sentry standing beside it. About six years ago two stern-wheel passenger boats left Hong Kong for the West river one evening, to enter which the course was usedly laid north of Lintin, an island in the estuary of the Pearl River. The leading boat number one for some reason took a course to the south of Lintin, whereupon the captain of number two came to the conclusion that she was being pirated, so changing his course and blowing his whistle loudly he pressed on with a full head of steam and opened fire upon number one with rifles. Number one returned the fire, assuming that number two had been pirated and was attacking him. He steered back to Hong Kong and made a running fight, a hot fire being maintained until the boats had actually entered the harbour, when they were met by a police launch and the mistake was discovered. Over three hundred shots were fired, but happily nobody was hit. It is not a year since a train of seven or eight house-boats, full of passengers and towed by a steam launch that plies between Hangchow and Suchow on the Grand canal, was held up by river pirates, who rifled the train as american trains are now and again held up in the western States of America. These evidences of lawlessness are only the natural consequences of the neglect of the primary duty of a government to make effective police arrangements for the due protection of life and property, for Chinese under proper control are naturally law-abiding and peaceable. The chinese system does not contemplate any police arrangements outside the principal cities. The small village communities arrange their own police, but there is no official means of combating the more serious offences short of a military expedition. The salutary principle of prevention is ignored and the fitful efforts of government devoted to punishment. This system doubtless acts as a deterrent when the punishment follows the crime so frequently as to impress upon evildoers the sense of its probability. Therefore it is that a strong viceroy makes a quiet province. When pointing out to Li Hung Chang the advisability of controlling a town well known as a headquarters of pirates, his Excellency answered quietly, "We will exterminate them". He ruled the province of the two Kwangs with a rod of iron, and left Canton to the profound regret of every man who had property exposed to attack.
Torture for the purpose of extracting evidence is still inflicted, and in pursuance of a
custom that down to a late period had acquired the force of a law, that no person should be executed except he had confessed his crime, the palpable difficulty of that apparently beneficent rule
was surmounted by the administration of torture, until the victim was reduced to such a state of mutilation and despair that he was prepared to state anything that would secure for him relief
from his sufferings by a speedy death. It must be acknowledged that the pressure of the torture has now and again secured valuable evidence from unwilling witnesses that may have been capable of
independent proof, but as a rule such evidence was utterly untrustworthy.
The following story was told to me by a chinese gentleman who had personal knowledge of some of the persons concerned.
A son and daughter of two wealthy families were married. At the conclusion of the first evening's ceremonies the bride and bridegroom retired to their apartments, which were separated from the main house. Some time after they had retired, hearing a noise overhead, the bridegroom got up and putting on his red bridal dress he lit a candle and went up to the loft. Here he found a robber, who had entered through a hole in the roof, and who, seeing himself detected, after a short struggle plunged a knife into the bridegroom and killed him. He then assumed the bridegroom's dress, and taking the candle in his hand he boldly went down to the chamber where the bride awaited the return of her husband. As Chinese brides do not see their husbands before marriage, and as she was somewhat agitated, she did not perceive that the robber was not her newly married spouse. He told her that he had found that a robber had entered the house, but had made his escape on his appearance. He then said that as there were robbers the bride had better hand her jewels to him, and he would take them to his father's apartments and place them in the safe. This she did, handing over jewels to the value of several thousand taels. The robber walked out, and he and the jewels disappeared.
Early next morning the father of the bridegroom came to visit his son, and on entering the apartment was told by the bride that she had not seen her husband since he took the jewels to have them deposited in safe keeping. The father on hearing the story went up to the loft, where he found the dead body of his son. He searched about and in one of the courtyards outside he found a strange shoe.
For the wedding a number of the friends of the family had assembled who were, as usual, accommodated in the house. Among them was a young man, a B. A., and most respectably connected. The father taking the strange shoe went round all the guests, who had just arisen. On comparing the shoe he found that it belonged to the young B.A., who was wearing its fellow, the other shoe being that of his murdered son. The father was a cautious man, so instead of taking immediate action he returned to the young widow and questioned her closely. He asked if she could identify the man whom she had mistaken for her husband. She said that she could not. He begged her to think if there was any mark by which identification was possible, and after thinking for a time she answered "Yes", that she now remembered having remarked that he had lost a thumb. The father returned to the guest chamber and asked the B.A. for explanation of his wearing the son's shoe, for which he accounted by the statement that having occasion to go out during the night he had stumbled in crossing one of the court-yards and lost his shoe in the dark, and groping about had found and put on what he thought was his own. Upon examining his hands he was found to be minus a thumb. The father having no further doubt caused him to be forthwith arrested and taken before the prefect. The young man denied all knowledge of the murder, saying that he had a wife and child, was well off, and was a friend of the murdered bridegroom. He was put to the torture and under its pressure he confessed that he was the murderer. The body had been examined and the extent of the wound carefully measured and noted. Asked to say how he had disposed of the knife with which the murder had been committed, and what had become of the jewels, he professed his inability to say, though tortured to the last extremity. He was then beheaded. His uncle, however, and his widow would not believe in his guilt, and they presented to all the superior authorities in turn petitions against the action of the prefect, who ought not to have ordered the execution until corroborative proof of the confession had been secured by the production of the knife and the jewels, but the officials refused to listen to them. At length they appealed to the viceroy, who, seeing their persistence, concluded that there must be something in a belief that braved the gravest punishment by petitioning against a mandarin of prefect rank. He sent for the father and widow of the murdered man, who repeated the story, which seemed almost conclusive evidence of the young man's guilt. He asked the widow if she remembered from which hand the thumb was missing of the robber to whom she had given the jewels. She replied, "Yes, perfectly. It was the right". He then sent for the petitioning widow and asked her from which hand her husband had lost a thumb. She answered, "The left". Then recalling the father of the murdered man he bade him try to recollect if he had ever known any other man wanting a thumb. He said that there was such a man, a servant of his whom two years before he had dismissed for misconduct. Asked if he had noticed the dismissed man during the time of the wedding the answer was that he had, but he had not seen him since.
The viceroy then had inquiry made, and the man was traced to another province, where he was living in affluence, with a good shop, etc. He was arrested, and under torture confessed the crime and told where he had concealed the knife and disposed of the jewels.
The knife had a wide blade that coincided with the width of the wound, and a portion of the jewels were recovered, some having been pawned, some sold. The prefect was degraded and punished for culpable want of due care in having executed the man without securing complete proof by the production of the knife and the jewels.
The case is curious as showing the danger that lurks in all cases of circumstantial evidence, and also, from a purely utilitarian point of view, the failure and success of the system of torture.
Apart from his gambling [the farmer's] distractions are a visit to the temple before or
after crop time, a marriage, a funeral, a procession, or a pilgrimage to one of the seven holy mountains of China. He has not often more than one wife, who, being entirely at his mercy, rules him
with a rod of iron, and to whom as a rule he leaves the emotional part of the religion of the family. To her falls all the anxious care of the children, and horrible fears assail her lest the
evil spirits, against whose machinations all the ingenuity of her religious superstitions is exerted, should get possession of any of her boys. To this end she will dress the boys as girls, and
indulge in make-believes that would not puzzle the silliest devil that ever tormented a chinese mother. Nor does she neglect religion duties, for she will be seen in the temple praying devoutly,
and then taking up the two kidney-shaped pieces of wood, flat on one side and round on the other, that are found on the altar before the god, she will place the flat sides together between her
palms and flinging them up observe the position in which they fall. If both flat sides come up, it is good ; if the round, then it is evil ; if one of each, there is no answer. This she repeats
three times ; or going to a bamboo in which are a number of canes, each bearing a number, she shakes it, as Nestor shook the helmet of Agamemnon, until one falls out, when she looks for the
corresponding number among a quantity of yellow sheets of paper hung upon the wall where she reads the mystic answer to her prayer.
It is not easy for the casual inquirer to understand the religious beliefs of the Chinese. In many ways intensely materialistic, the people have a living faith, at least in reincarnation or recurring life ; and while their spiritual attitude is rather a fear of evil demons than a belief in a merciful god, yet there is among them a spirit of reverence and of thankfulness for favours received. One day at Chekwan temple — a very fine and richly ornamented temple on the Pearl River — I saw a fisherman and his family enter with a basket of fish and some fruits, which he laid upon the altar. Then, first striking the drum to call the attention of the god, the family prayed devoutly, while the father poured a libation seven times upon the altar. I asked the priest what it meant, and he answered that the man had had a good take of fish the previous night and was returning thanks. Sometimes when a member of the family is ill they will go to the temple and have a prayer written, then burning the paper, they take home the ashes, and administer them as a medicine. Again, in a temple in Canton one pillar is covered with paper figures of men, which are tied to the pillar upside down. Asking the meaning I was told that these were tied on by the light-o'-loves of young Chinese who, having taken a wife, had put an end to the temporary arrangements as common in a chinese city as in the centres of western civilization. The abandoned ones vainly hoped that by timely incantations and tying on of the figures their protectors might be induced to return to them.