d. 1894 Terrien de Lacouperie.

The children of China. Written for the children of England online

. (page 9 of 18)
Online Libraryd. 1894 Terrien de LacouperieThe children of China. Written for the children of England → online text (page 9 of 18)
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that are to marry each other, and that when once this cord has
been tied, the marriage could not possibly be prevented, whatever
anybody might do. The age at which people are generally " en-
gaged" in China is between ten and fourteen ; nearly all women
who are more than twenty years old are married. Between the
time when a girl is engaged and the time of her wedding she has
to keep herself very private ; she is never allowed to see any visitors
who come to the house where she lives, and only the very nearest
of her relations.

There are a great many things to be settled before anyone
is married in China, so the parents of the bride and bridegroom
choose women called "matchmakers," to make all the arrange-
ments for them. TJie bride and bridegroom themselves are not
allowed to have anything to say in the matter; but the fortunes
of the two have to be compared, to see whether they will match,
as well as the year, the month, the day, and the hour in which each
of them was born. Every person in China has a sign of one
of twelve animals, which is decided by the time of his birth ; the
twelve animals are : the mouse, the cow, the tiger, the rabbit, the
serpent, the horse, the sheep, the monkey, the cock or hen, the


dog, the pig, and the dragou. A man and woman may not marry

\ if one of them has the sign of the dragou and the other the sign

; of a dog, nor if one of them has the serpent and the other the pig ;

or one the rahhit and the other the cock or hen ; so a great

, many marriages are prevented, because the signs do not agree.

The matchmakers dress very neatly ; they always have small

leet, and never wear anything on their heads, but whether it is

wet or fine they always carry umbrellas, with very loug handles ;

\ each of them has a district of her own in which she works.

If all the fortuue-telling business is got over without
difficulty, the bridegroom sends presents to the bride and her
parents, but half of them are always sent back, as this is con-
sidered polite. The bride does not generally send presents, nor
does she have money given with her when she is married ; instead
of that, her husband pays money to her father and mother for
letting him have her. A card is sent from the bridegroom to the
bride, and another from the bride to the bridegroom. The one for
the bridegroom has a dragon painted on it, the one for the bride,
a phoenix. Before these cards have been exclianged, the engage-
ment may be broken ofi" if either side has any objection to
it, but never after. The cards are fastened to each other with a
red cord, to show that the boy and girl are joined together, and
are placed in the boy's home, before the tablets which are put up
in memory of his dead ancestors.

j Then a lucky day has to be fixed for the wedding, and this is
a very important thing ; if anything should be found out by the
fortune-tellers that would prevent the fixed day being a lucky one,
the wedding may be put off for months. The most lucky time
of the year for a wedding is thought to be the spring, during the
first moon of the year ; that is the same time as our February. A
month before the wedding the bride gets some more presents from
the bridegroom ; what do j'^ou think they are ? Her wedding-
dress, some ornaments, and the wedding cake, only instead of there


being one large^cake, it is vgi;eat number of little ones, sometimes
several dozen, sometimes even four or live hundred. The bride
does not eat them herself, but gives them away amongst her
friends. You would not think them so nice as English wedding
cake ; thej^ are very soft and flabby, of a kind of grey colour, and
quite in the middle are little bits of fat pork and sugar.

Some time before the day fixed, the bridegroom has a new
cap put on his head, and he takes a ^newjiame, besides those
he had before ; after this he is supposed to be no longer a boy
but a man. At the same time the bride is changed from a girl to
a woman, b}' having her hair fastened up, instead of letting it hang-
down her back, as she did before ; her eyebrows are pulled out
too, and as they will never grow again, she will always afterwards
be known to be a married woman.

The Wedding Day.

To begin with, the friends of the bridegroom send p resents to
the bride and her friends, with their good wishes : arnong these
presents, there are generally some live geese, because geese are
supposed to be the emblems of agreement between husband
and wife — I wonder why. For the same reason, there are often
geese in the wedding procession. The bride's relations send
presents too, generally something to wear, and her younger sisters
and female friends come to see her and cry with her, though
I expect they stop crying when a new present comes to be looked
at. These presents are often carried round the town for every-
_bqdx to seeT ^

In some parts of China the bride is taken to the bride-
groom's house (which is generally his father's house and some-
times his grandfather's too) in the morning, in others not till
the evening, while in Shantung weddings always take place in the

A sedan chair is sent from the bridegroom's house to fetch



her, with music aud lanterns ; sometimes, the bridegroom brings it
himself, sometimes his friends come instead ; the sedan-chair is
always red, and is carried by four men. The ground from the
bride's room to the sedan is covered with red carpet. Lanterns
are carried before the sedan, on which are pasted pieces of
red paper, with the bridegroom's surname on them ; then
come some more lanterns with the bride's name, then a large red
umbrella, and after that lighted torches and a band of music. The
brothers and friends of the bride and bridegroom walk near
the sedan.


Half way between the bride's house and the bridegroom's the
procession stops, and a funny form is gone through, called
'' receiving the bride." Her friends stand in a group, and a httle
way off the bridegroom's friends stand in another group. The
bride's friends show a red card, having on it her family name ; the
bridegroom's friends produce another red card, wath his family
name on it ; tbe two groups exchange cards, every man in them
shakes hands very hard with himself, and bows towards the other
group, and then the bride's fiiends go back to her old home, taking
her lanterns with them, Avhile the rest of the procession goes on to
the bridegroom's house; after this the bride takes the bridegroom's
name, because the lanterns with his name on them are still in the


procession, while those witli lier name have goue, so she gets her
uew name before she gets ]ier husband. This is the last she will
see of her friends ; the rest of her wedding-day will be spent
entirely among strangers, except that a few of her own female
servants will stay with her.

If a widow marries, she is not allowed to wear a dress of red,
or any bright colour ; it must be black, or white, or dark blue, and
she must be carried in a black sedan, instead of a red one.

When she reaches the house, the bride is carried in by some
married ladies who have sons ; at the door there is a pan of char-
coal, over which she is lifted, after being held for a little while
above it ; this is supposed to drive away evil spirits. At this time
the bridegroom disappears ; he goes into his bed-room, and stands
by the bed with his face towards it, and the bride is carried in and
put by his side. Then they both sit down on the edge of the bed.
The bridegroom manages, if he can, to sit on the bride's dress, as
a sign that she is always to give way to him ; but slie tries to sit
on his dress, to show that she will expect him to give way to her.
They sit quietly side by side for a IHtle while ; then the bride-
groom gets up and goes out of the room. Sometimes he is per-
suaded to rub the bride's feet before he leaves her ; this is taken to
be a sign that they will never be made to ache by running about
too much for him. x\ll this time the two have never seen each
other, because the bride has such a thick veil on that she can
neither see nor be seen.

Xext, the two together worship before the ancestral tablets
of the bridegroom's family, bowing down to them eight times, and
then the bride is led back to the bed-room, and there her husband
takes off her veil and they look at each other for the first time ; if
they do not like each other's looks, it cannot be helped, it is too
late now to go back. x\re you not glad that boys and girls are not
married like that in England ?

After this comes a dinner, at which the bride may not eat,



although she drinks some wioe with the bridegroom from a cup
called the "cup of alliance," while a lady, the mother of many
sons, pronounces a blessing over them,

All this time the rest of the gentlemen are having a great
feast, and very soon the bridegroom goes to them, while the bride


goes back to her bed-room, and has to be satisfied with hearing the
laughing and talking of her husband's friends in the distance ; a
great many women will come to see her, so she will not be dull,
only very strange. When bed-time comes, the bridegroom's
friends sometimes bring him to the bed-room door and then go


Tliat is not a veiy nice sort of wedding-day for the poor girl,
is it ? And yet it is the nicest sort a Chinese woman ever gets,
unless she is a Christian. Very, very often it is far worse than
this, for at many weddings the hride, almost as soon as she gets
to her husband's house, is made to stand before a latticed window
looking either on to the street or else into a court full of people,
where anyone who likes can come and look at her, and the people
in the crowd say such terribly rude things to her, that she longs
to run away and hide her face and not look at anyone ; but there
she must stand all day, with her poor little feet pinched in her
very tightest shoes, which are sure to be new ones ; even when it
is time to go to bed, and she is sleep}-, as well as tired and miser-
able, she may not sit down, nor go away from her window, but must
stand there all through the night, unless the peoj)le choose to go
away. Just think how hard you would feel that, and then think
what it must be to a Chinese girl who has never been looked at
by a man in her life, unless it was her father or uncle or brother,
and who has left all her friends, and has not anyone near her who
cares for her, to comfort her or to feel sorry for her.


The next day is often called " The Women's Day," because
then the bridegroom's lad}^ friends are invited to a great feast.
On this day the bride and bridegroom again worship the tablets
of his ancestors, and also worship his living ancestors and the god
and goddess of the kitchen.

On the fourth day two sedan chairs are seut to the house b}"
the bride's parents, to fetch her and her husband to pay them a
visit ; but instead of going together, they go at different times ;
both of them during their visit w^orship the ancestral tablets of the
bride's family, as well as her living ancestors.

The first month after a wedding is given uj) to amusements,
just as English people generally spend it in taking their wedding


tour, only tliere is this great difference, that in England the bride
and bridegroom enjoy themselves together, but in China they do
it apart. At the end of the month, there are grand entertainments
for all the relations, and then everybody settles down again.

The poor people's weddings are not done in such style as this.
Yery often a father will buy a w^ife for his son, when she is a very
little girl, sometimes almost a baby, because then she will not cost
much, and his wife can use her for a servant till she is sixteen ;


then a dress will be hired for her to be married in, and the feast
wdll be just as good as they can afford.

No Chinaman is allowed to marry a foreigner, nor one of the
]\Ieautsi ; at least that is the law in China, but it is a very
common thing now for a Chinaman who goes to another country
to find himself a wife there, and to take her back to China with
him when he goes.

I It is considered "very unlucky if a boy dies after it has been
decided whom he is to marry, but before the wedding has taken
place; and so if such a thing happens, the girl's parents do their
best to keep it secret, and will not even let the girl herself find it


out, if they can help it. As iu most cases she has never seen the
boy, or at all events not since they have been engaged, her
parents can easily manage to find another boy for her, and let
her think it is the same that she has been engaged to all along. ^

Sometimes a wife will kill herself when her husband dies, by
poisoning or starving or drowning herself, — either because she
really loved her husband so much that she does not care to live
after he is dead, or because she does not know how to earn enough
money to keep herself, or else because her husband's relations
are unkind to her or want her to marry again. Often a wife will
kill herself in a public place, where she stands on a platform,
with a crowd of people watching her and thinking how good and
brave she is. If you have read "The Children of India," you
Avill remember that this used to be done in India as well as in
China, until the English Government put a stop to it ; but the
Emperor of China has never forbidden wives to kill themselves
when their husbands die. Are you not glad your mother is not
a Chinese lady, but an English one ? Yet it is not the country
that makes the difference. I do not believe it would be any nicer
in England than it is in China, if it were not that in England
we have the Bible, and the true God is known and worshipped.
And if only the Bible were read and believed all over China, the
Chinese women would be just as happy and just as well treated
as the Enghsh ones.

The Chinese ladies have a little more to do with their time
than the ladies in India have, as they are taught embroidery,
music, and painting on silk; in Ningpo nearly all the women,
both rich and poor, spend most of their time iu spinning silk.
Then some of the women spend a great many hours every day in
painting their faces, doing their hair, and binding their feet. In
some parts of China, however, the ladies only do their hair once
in two or three weeks, and so that it shall not get rough when
they go to bed, they have pillows made to fit into their necks.


There is very little of what we call education among the
women of China. In some parts not one in ten thousand is able
to read, wdiile in others sixty or seventy in a hundred can read ;
but being able to read often means only knowing a few words of
one book. The w^omen in Canton are better educated than in
other parts of China ; they learn chiefly out of two volumes, called
" The Girls' Four Books," which tell them how they are to behave
to their parents, their husbands, and their cliildren.

It is against the rules of politeness in China for any man to
speak to a woman, even a poor woman, unless he knows her well,
so that the gentlemen missionaries cannot talk to them, because
it would be thought so very improper, and w^ould make the
husbands so angry. You see then that lady missionaries are
wanted in China even more than in India ; but where are the
missionaries, and where is the money to send them ? Do you
not think that if you were first to pray about it, and then to tell
all the grown-up ladies you know about the poor Chinese women,
one of them might say, she would go herself and perhaps another
might say, "Well, it would not be right for me to go, because I
am wanted at home, but I have some money to spare, so- 1 will
pay for some one else to go instead of me " ? Then these would
be your own missionaries — yours and God's ; wouldn't you be a
happy little boy or girl, almost as happy, perhaps quite, as if you
were a man or w^omau and could be a missionary yourself ?

Women are more respected in China than in India, and the
older they are the more politely they are treated. Generally
the women have their meals with the men, if there is no one in
the house excej^t their own families ; but if there are any visitors,
the women eat in one room and the men in another. If a family
are sitting together, and a man of another family comes into the
room, all the women are expected to get up and go away. The
laws about this are much stricter in some parts than in others. A
foreign gentleman ^s'as once driven out of a Chinese village by


the mob, because lie Lad asked a woman who was standing in
the road the way to the next town.

In spite of this, however, the poorer women in China are
expected to do all the work. A horse and a donkey and a woman
ma}" all be seen yoked to the same plough, while the man only
guides it, but Chinamen think this is quite natural and proper,
not at all disrespectful. The Christian religion, so far as I
know, is the only one which teaches that women ought to be
treated as well as men, and even better. "In Christ Jesus," we
are taught, " there is neither male nor female" ( ),

and men are told that they should honour their wives, because
women are not so strong as men ( ). These poor

Chinese women must be told of Jesus and His religion, if ever their
lives are to be made holy, happy, and useful. Will any of you go
and tell them, or pray and work for others to go ?




T last we have got to them ! We have been a very long
time about it, have we not ? But you will be able now
to understand exactly the sort of world they are born
into, so I shall only have to tell you what happens to
them, after they have come into it.

Little boys are longed for and cared for even more
in China than in India, if that is possible. There is wonderful
rejoicing in a Chinese house when a little boy is born in it, but
little girls are thought nothing of at all, and have a \erj bad time,
even worse than in India.

In many families the girls have not even any names of then
OAvn, but are called number 1, number 2, number 3, and so
on. When a Chinese girl marries, she is called Mr. So-and-so's
wife, and as soon as she has a little boy, she is called Mr. So-and-
so's mother.

You will understand how sorrowful a httle Chinese girl's life
is, when I tell you that in some places, for three days after she is
born, she is left to lie on some rags on the floor, to show how little
care will be taken of her as long as she lives.

— Some very funny things are done to a Chinese baby that you
will like to hear about. When it is three days old, it is washed
with charmed water to make it lucky ; in this water there are
pepper, dates, walnuts, soap, chips of acacia trees, and other
things ; it is sui)posed to wash off the baby's outside skin. Next



it is washed iu some more water, in which have been put some
cash, chestnuts, dates, and silver ; this washing is intended to
make sure that the baby shall be rich when it is grown up ; the
things in the water are given for a present to the nurse. Then a
large plaster is put on the baby, made of pitch and a plant that
we call mugwort ; this plaster is meant to prevent its having
any aches and j)ains. After this, its skin is smeared with the
white of Qgg., to give it a good complexion, and then it is beaten
on the hips with an onion to make it clever. It would be a


wonderful child if all these things did what they are supposed to
do, but I am afraid they do not always.

About the same time that all this happens, another thing is
done, called "Binding the wrists;" there are different ways of
doing it. Some children have a few old cash tied round each of
their wrists with a piece of red cord; some have a red string
without any cash, and others have silver toys tied to their wrists
as well as cash. The same piece of string is tied to both wrists,
but as it is about two feet long it leaves a long- piece between
them, so that the baby's hands do not feel as if they were tied
together. This string is sometimes worn till the child is fourteen
days old, and sometimes for several months.- It is supposed to be


very useful, for the wrists are tied to keep the child from being
naughty afterwards, and from being frightened and throwing its
arms about ; the cash are to keep away evil spiiits, and the toys
to make it a happy child.

When the baby is a month old, it has all its hair shaved off,
generally by a woman who has some sons of her own ; you see
women with sons are allowed to do a great many things that no
woman without sons may do. If the baby is a boy, his relations and
friends are invited to a feast the day his head is shaved, and most
of them bring him a present ; in some parts of the country, one
of the presents is always a silver plate, on which is engraved "Long
life, honours, and hajDpiness." On this day the baby gets its name,
but it does not keep it all its life, so this first name is called the
milk-name. A girl is generally called by her milk-name till she
is married, but a boy gets a new name the first day he goes to
school. The Chinese always put the surname first instead of last,
just as you sometimes see them written in England in lists of

That reminds me of another thing the Chinese do backwards,
only really I think in this their way is forwards, and ours is back-
wards. In writing the address on a letter, instead of putting

Master John TnoMrsoN,
36, Broad Street,
they would put

Broad Street, No. 36,
Thompson, Mastee John.

Now that is more sensible, because the first postman that had


to do with the letter would see England first, so he would seud it
to England. The next postman would see Liverpool, so he would
send it to Liverpool. The next would see Broad Street, so he
would give it to the postman who goes to Broad Street, and when
it got to No. 36 Master John Thompson would soon find out
that it was for him ; so I think the Chinese way of addressing
letters is hetter than ours.

For the first year after it is born, it is thought dangerous to
put a baby into water, so it does not have a nice bath every day,
Hke your baby brothers and sisters do ; it only has its face and
hands wiped with a damp cloth ; the rest of its little body is left
dirty; that is not nice, is it ? Its head is shaved very often, to
make the hair grow fast, and when it is an inch or two long, it is
plaited into a tiny tail on the top of the head with a bit of silk or
cord tied to it to make it a little longer, and the baby's cap is
made with a little hole in the top for its tail to come through ;
some babies have two tails, some only one. Over the cap is a stiff
band of silk or velvet, embroidered with smart colours and trimmed
with little bells, and very often there is in the front a small image
of an idol to take care of the baby.

Baby-clothes are never white ; if the parents are poor, the
clothes are of blue cotton. They wear a long petticoat, open
behind, and a shorter dress over it, with a high neck and long
sleeves. Scarlet, green, and purple, are the colours that the
Chinese mothers like best to trim their baby-clothes with. In
very cold weather, these clothes '^re padded, to keep the babies
warm. In hot weather, the very poorest Chinese children hardly
wear anything at all, sometimes only a chain round their necks,
called a Long-Life Ring, made of silver or wire, which is supposed
to keep them from dying. If they get too big or are too respectable
to go without clothes, they wear small loose cotton trousers in the
hot weather, and often a little dress without sleeves over these.

One thing that you will think very funny about Chinese babies'



is, t"hat they never get any kisses. Instead of kissing them, their
mothers smell their faces, and instead of saying what darlings they
are, they say how nice they smell. In some parts, instead of being
kissed they are pinched on their cheeks, but not hard enough to
hurt them.

A great many of these things that I have told you about are



often only done for baby-boys, but not for girls. The most terrible
thing about little girls in China is, that great numbers of them are

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Online Libraryd. 1894 Terrien de LacouperieThe children of China. Written for the children of England → online text (page 9 of 18)