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Hwa tsien ki. The flowery scroll, a Chinese novel online

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THE translation of the Chinese Courtship, by
Mr. P. P. Thorns, published by the E. I. C.
Press, at Macao, in 1824, and presenting, with
the original text, a lineal rendering of the
popular novel, was a great service rendered to
the students of the Chinese language; but it
appeared to me, that a more free and flowing
version, with reference to other editions than
that so employed, might have greater attrac-
tions for the English reader, and give oppor-
tunities for the introduction of explanatory
notes and observations, suggested by a long
residence in China, and by many opportunities
of access to that inner life, in which the national
character can alone be seen, and which was
wholly unobtainable half a century ago. Mr.


Schlegel, who has printed, in the transactions
of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences,
1865, an excellent translation, under the title
of " Geschiedenis van het gebloemde Brief Pa-
pier" has also avoided the metrical form of the
original, which necessarily gives a certain stiff-
ness to the style. He has adopted the com-
mon narrative form.

No apology is, however, necessary for pre-
serving the general phraseology of the story.
"If," as is said, "the individual style is the in-
dividual man, " the national style is the nation,
and it is emphatically so in China, where all
thoughts, feelings and expressions, are moulded
to a common type, that type being the result
of a universally similar education, in which the
elementary books employed are invariably the

The character of that national education may
be seen hi those constant references to the an-
cient legends of the central kingdom, in that


language, so flowery, poetical and fanciful, an
intimacy with which is regarded as evidence of
the highest refinement of manners and of the
most elevated intellectual cultivation. Even
the State Papers of China are permeated with
these elements.

On one occasion, a Mandarin said to me
that, " the proof of your being no better than
barbarians, is, that you have no poetry in your
language." No doubt, our dispatches seemed
to them repulsively dry. In correspondence
with the Tae Ping Kings, one of them asked
whether I had ever received any "poetry,"
written by the hand of God, and assured me
that he had "autograph verses" sent to him
direct by a messenger from heaven.

The notes appended to the Chapters may
seem profuse, but in a field so remote, and in
which all habits of thought, feeling and ex-
Tession, are so unlike, and sometimes so wholly


irreconcilable with our own, it appeared not
undesirable to append to the Text, information
which, not disturbing the current of the nar-
rative, might have interest for those who
would care little for an every day love-story.
Such notes may be passed over by the gene-
ral reader. There is an undoubted resem-
blance in the great outlines of human character
wherever man is found, but the modifications
it receives from all the varieties of climate,
education, civilization, laws and religious
usages, are worthy of a close survey; and, in
the case of China, where a far larger portion
of the human race are bound together by
similarity of language, common traditions,
all submitting to the same recognised authority
all moulded to a general type, than can be
found in any other portion of the terraqueous
globe, it is hoped that, whatever may enable us
to approach the domesticities of the Chinese
people, will not be unwelcome.


1 The Flowery Scrolls, in China, afford an immense field for the
display of the poetical, the pictorial, and the caligraphic arts.
There is not a hall or great apartment, on whose pillars or walls
these ornaments are wanting. They are generally suspended in
pairs, and it is expected that the inscriptions should, as it were, re-
spond to one other by comparisons, contrasts and antitheses, so that
a succession of images should relieve one another by the reflection of
opposed lights and shades. Here is an example in the representation
of the fate of a fortunate, and an unfortunate, lover :

The bright sun rises over the eastern mountains,

A new glory re-awakens the earth to the impulses of spring ;

The pink peach flowers open their beauties to the light ;

The yellow bamboos wave, in the garden, to the gentle breezes.

He holds aloft the golden cup, and pours out its scarlet wine,

The warm wine which gives greater warmth to his warm heart.

See ! he is ascending the ladder by which he mounts to the clouds !

He approaches the condescending glance of the son of heaven!*

The watery moon has descended beneath the western valley,

The departure of the moon-goddess has filled the heaven with gloom;

The almond blossoms and fruits have all been swept away.

The fierce blast shakes the black fir-trees of the forest,

The dull, damp mists of night enshroud the earth in darkness,

And tears, frozen to ice, fall on the cold ground below.

He cannot fling down the crimson screen at the boudoir ;

His very entrails are torn with intolerable despair, f

* He has obtained the highest literary eminence, and been admitted to theHanlin,
or Doctorial College, and has obtained, in consequence, the hand of his beloved.

t Failing in his competitive examination, he has lost the favour of his lady, and
the screen cannot be removed, which debars access to her apartments.



These scrolls serve the purposes of albums, and are often the auto-
graph paintings, and writings of persons known to fame, or possess-
ing the friendship of the possessor. In the " Medicine Street," at
Canton, deeply engraved in blazing, golden characters, of an immense
size, on a scarlet ground, was the sign-board of the principal shop in
the street, being the reproduction of a scroll written by the Yiceroy
of Kwan Tung, Seu, who wished to convey to the physician by whom
he had been cured of a serious malady, a permanent, and, as it proved to
be, a very popular and a very profitable evidence of his good opinion.
The literary scrolls are, for the most part, quotations from the
classics ; apophthegms from the sages, and verses which have
been handed down from the traditions of the past. The scrolls sup-
ply abundant and varied materials for conversation, and serve to test
the acquirements of those who seek opportunities for displaying
their erudition by tracing them back to their authors. It is a curious
fact that, when the scent bottles, with Chinese inscriptions, were dis-
covered at Thebes and Memphis, there was not a single instance in
which we were unable to track back the verse to its original Chinese
source. Commissioner Lin, the author of the Opium War, was fa-
mous for his scroll writing, the originals of which have a high money
value, and fac-similes are frequently seen in Chinese houses.*

It is in this field that painters and caricaturists obtain the highest
rewards, and they generally appropriate to themselves some parti-
cular department. Chang, a celebrated scroll painter of the last
generation, devoted himself to the celebration of diiferent events in
the history of the sages, giving a rude, written report of the tale he
has to tell, and illustrating the tale by very grotesque, but often

* I possess one of these scrolls, of which the following is a translation :

If an upright heart be not maintained, interment in an auspicious place avails

nothing :

Without filial duty to Parents, sacrifice to the Gods avails nothing :
If there be discord between brethren, harmony among friends avails nothing :
With a disorderly life, pursuit of letters avails nothing :
With a proud temper cherished, universal knowledge avails nothing :
If folly guides in the transaction of affairs, superiority of intellect avails nothing :
If the natural constitution be not attended to, to swallow medicine avails nothing :
If fate be unpropitious, wild endeavours (to gain the desired end) will avail nothing :
With the substance of others unjustly possessed, almsgiving avails nothing :
If lustful desires bo entertained, piety and devotion avail nothing.


powerful painting. For example, he depictured various occurrences
in the history of two slaves who were given to one of the sages by a
Chinese Emperor, on condition that the sage should turn them to the
very best account. He sends them to foreign lands, that they may col-
lect specimens of fruits, flowers, and manufactures unknown, or supe-
rior to those with which his countrymen were acquainted. He makes
them instruments for his moral improvement, giving to one, a red,
and to the other a blue bottle, and directs the first slave to place, in the
red bottle, the record of every kind and wise word that he utters, and
every good deed that he performs ; while the other slave is charged to
place, in the blue bottle, every foolish, or wicked word or act, and
they are to bring the bottles to him at the close of every day, when,
according to the instructions of the Buddhist authorities, he has to
draw the balance between merits and demerits, and ascertain whether
he has made a step upwards or downwards in the next stage of
existence. G-ood hand- writing is the first requirement at all com-
petitive examinations, and the beautiful specimens seen on the flowery
scrolls, show with what success all the delicacies of that charming art
are acquired. Chinese characters lend themselves to a great variety
of ornaments. There are the bird the flower the bamboo the
vase, and other fanciful forms, to which the various signs are accom-
modated. Some show the minute and exquisite miniature touches of
the finest pencil ; others, the bold dashing produced by brushes, such
as are used for the colouring of walls, or the painting of screens
and sign boards. Among the most remarkable scrolls, are those which
represent the judgments of the Buddhist tribunals, after the death,
and the delivery of the condemned to the devils, who are seen
inflicting a variety of horrible, but appropriate tortures. There is
scarcely any form of imaginable agony omitted ; crushing to death,
sawing in two, tearing out the peccant parts from the body
with fiery pincers, in which, all the multitudinous torments imagined
by the monks of the middle ages, and exhibited in some of their
convents at the present day, are out-horrified. These religious
paintings form the adornment of the Buddhist temples, and are
seldom seen in the private houses even of the poor. The pictorial
displays found upon the scrolls are of infinite variety. Grand,
historical processions, passages of ancient history, portraits of
distinguished men and women, pic-nic garden parties, hunting,


liawking, fishing, kite flying, in which the aged indulge them-
selves quite as much as the young ; playing at various games, such
as draughts or chess* love scenes, for which the Chinese novelists
and dramatists give abundant materials. In landscapes, bamboos,
forest flower trees, cascades and distant mountains are seldom
wanting. The bamboo is one of the favourite objects of Chinese
poets and painters, and with good reason, for its uses are multi-
tudinous as are its graces.

A very beautiful scroll, and an admirable display of Chinese art,
was given by "Warren Hastings to G-eorge III., and is now in the
British Museum. It is an elaborate, almost microscopic, picture
of the City of Canton, every temple, edifice and house, with the
factories and costumes of the nations who were then allowed to
trade. Not a vestige is left of these ancient institutions, nor, it may
be added, of those more modern fabrics.

Lin, the most distinguished of the geographers of China, a Man-
darin of very high rank, sent to me a complimentary autograph scroll
in which my travels, through " sunny and snowy regions," were
illustrated by references to much legendary lore, to the writings o\
distinguished Chinese statesmen and sages, and the honours they
had received from the Emperors on their return home.

The scrolls are mostly written on thin, white silk or paper, bespang-
led with gold and silver leaf. In width, from one to four feet, ir
length, they reach to the height of the pillar, or the apartment where
they are hung. They can be rolled up and fastened with silk thread,
which, being untied, the roller to which they are attached, is heavj
enough to keep them in their perpendicular position.

* The] Chinese game of chess does not resemble that which has been introduced
into Europe, but is an image of their own constitution. In chess, each player has
sixteen pieces, arranged in the intersections of the lines ; the board contains seventy
two squares, divided from each other by a (broad) line, representing a river, on th<
banks of which the battle is supposed to be fought There are five pawns (commoi
soldiers) stationed hi the van, two artillerymen (called cannons) hi their rear, am
the King, with his suite of two aids (Ministers of State), two elephants, two horse-
men, and two charioteers, stand in the front row. The King and his two attendaa
Ministers cannot go out of the four square enclosures in which they stand, but th<
subordinates can cross the river. The horsemen and charioteers correspond to oui
knights and castles, but the aids, artillerymen and elephants have powers differen-
from any pieces in European chess. Draughts are not often played. The number o
men is 3GO, half of them white and half black, intended to represent the number o
days in the year. See Dr. Williams' Middle Kingdom, ii. 9 1 . My experience is different
I found draughts very commonly played, but dominoes more frequently still



I STOOD leaning upon a balustrade that I might
enjoy the freshness of the evening breeze.
The autumnal wind wafted towards me the
fragrance of the white lotus flowers, and shining
like water I saw the horns of the new moon. 1
It was the very night when, as the tale is told,

1 The phrase, " watery moon," is commonly used in China to be-
token its want of brightness, or its waning phase. In European
phraseology, "love sickness" is associated with the "pale moon,"
to which youths and maidens habitually address their plaints : but,
in China, the "bright moon" is more intimately connected with
amatory passions, as the lunar goddess possesses all the attributes
attributed to the classical Diana. In truth, it has been found very
convenient at once to identify the Chinese deity with her of the
Pantheon, and to employ the name " Diana" as a fit representative
of the B.uddhist female divinity.


there is the blending of the constellations. 1
And then I thought silently that if the heavens
had a happiness of their own in union and
sympathy, there was no reason why man should
be delivered over to sadness and solitude. If
there be a day of gladness and rejoicing above,
are there no jewels, is there no fragrance for
us to possess and enjoy below. 2

Look whichever way we will from the
beginning to the end of things love is a uni-
versal element it always was it always will be .
The heart will follow the uncontrollable im-
pulses of nature. It will be reckless, dis-
satisfied impatient until its affections can be
mingled with the affections of another.

1 One of the stars in Lyra, called the herdsman, (Niu Lang) is
the representative of the male, and another, the webster, (Chi Niu)
of the female principle. The legends call the lady the grand-daughter
of Tien Ti, the celestial ruler. She was so busily engaged in weav-
ing embroidered stuffs, that she neglected her toilet, irritated her
grandfather, who insisted on her marrying the herdsman ; upon
which, she abandoned her work, and Tien Ti ordered her to resume
her former condition ; only allowing her, once a year, on the seventh
day of the seventh month, to cross the milky-way and to visit her
husband. The day is made a festival for wives and maidens in
China, who throw out many coloured threads, in the starlight, to
honor her manufacturing industry, activity, and to condole with her
short connubial felicity.

2 " To rob precious stones, to steal fragrance," i.e., to enjoy for-
bidden pleasures.


The mountains and the seas love not, yet
are they linked to and attracted towards each
other. How can I believe that the human
race, overflowing with love, should be able to
subdue its mighty influences ? No ! no ! they
are irresistible. The tides of tenderness are
not to be arrested on their progress. I am
about to tell you a marvellous tale.

There is a love deep as the ocean and vast
as the firmament. Why should I not narrate
the story for the instruction of those who come
after me?

There lived in Soo Chow a clever youth whose
name was Liang. His father was an Imperial
functionary; his mother a most exemplary
woman. He lived a lonely life, for he was
brotherless. His countenance was fair as the
moon, his cheeks rosy as the spring, his
talents brilliant as new silk, or crystal clouds :
yet was he gay and joyous as the man who
rode triumphantly upon the whale, and as
accomplished as the youth who mastered the
Phoenix. 1

Liang was eighteen years old when he was

1 Li Tai Pe, a famous poet, fascinated a whale, and compelled the
monster to swim with him to the celestial regions. Siaou Chi was
another Chinese Orpheus, who, by the melodies of his flute, attracted


ranked among the honored list of initiated
students, and he longed for the day when he
might be received into the service of the Em-
peror. 1

the Phoenixes to a Tower, which he had erected, and called the
Phoenix Tower. One day, the musician and his wife sprung upon
the back of a Phoenix and were carried away to heaven. The Phoenix
of Chinese fiction is a bird, possessing every conceivable attraction :
its beautiful feathers represent, in their five colours, the cardinal
virtues, its voice is melodious, its motions graceful, its affections
full of tenderness : it has not been seen on earth in modern times,
but the argus pheasant is a sort of representation of a degenerate
Fung Hwang. Confucius refers to the disappearance of the Phoenix
as an evidence of the downward progress of mankind.

1 This can only be accomplished by a succession of competitive
examinations. The value attached to literary distinction, not only
as marking unmistakeably a man's social position, but as the
stepping-stone to imperial favour, will be exemplified in the whole
course of this story. There is no part of the world where education,
such as it is, is so highly estimated as in China. No enquiry is
made as to the rank held the wealth or the poverty of the suc-
cessful competitor in the examination halls. In the highest grades
of eminence, the student is not only himself surrounded by a halo of
glory, but it is reflected on his family, his clan, and the locality of
his birth. A hundred proverbs are in constant use in China, exciting
youth to struggle for literary distinction as the great end and object
of life. " Man's mission is as much to rise, as it is the property of
water to fall." "Our primary duty is to make our family illus-
trious, and, by noble exertions, to bring glory to our race." " Learn-
ing will raise the lowest of the people to the highest dignities. The
sons of the highest dignataries, if unlearned, are mingled with the
common mass." " Ten years of study under the window (in obs-
curity) will bring promotion and fame under the canopy of heaven."
(thro' the whole empire.) "A Seu-Tsai (literate), without going
out of his door, is acquainted with the affairs of the whole empire."
" In learning, there is neither age nor youth. The learned, whether
young or old, will be raised above all."



The selection of wise and meritorious persons to high office, with-
out any reference to their social position^is not only reported as the
practice of the ancient kings, but is insisted on by Confucius, Men-
cius, and all the authoritative sages of China. Mencius says : " If a
prince will avoid disgrace, he will honour virtue and respect the
learned," " The emptiness of a country is seen when superior men
are not selected to office," He thus reproved a prince : " What avails
it that your kitchens overflow with costly food, that your stables
are filled with pampered horses, if the faces of your people are pale
with hunger, and their famished corpses cover your fields ? " He
brings forward the example of a sage, who, in the presence of one of
the ancient kings, quoted two lines from the Book of Odes
Riches and power are blessings but to those
Who soothe the widows' and the orphans' woes.
" Admirable words !" said the sovereign. " Admirable words ! " and
the sage answered : " If you find them admirable, why do you
not practice them ? " A succession of sages and censors have
repeated these councils to the Emperors. As a specimen of the
frankness with which the sages addressed their sovereigns, the follow-
ing is an extract from a remonstrance to Ting Tsing, who ascended
the throne in A. D. 1064 from Sze Ma Lung, a member of the Hanlin
College, and an assistant minister of the monarch whom he had the
courage thus to address : "Among the officers of your government, the
good and bad are mingled and confounded, a disorder, perilous to
the State, and which your Majesty is called upon to remedy. You
should ascertain who are most distinguished for virtue and capacity,
and most likely to obtain the good opinion of the people. Select
them from the crowd, and confer upon them the highest offices. If
you live an idle life in your palace and deliver yourself over to dis-
solute pleasures, if you transfer your authority to your officers, and
enquire not who has merit and who has none, if you do not dis-
tinguish between unobtrusive virtue and artfully disguised vice, if
you appoint the first candidate to place, and, what is worse, are only
influenced by your favoritism or your resentment, if you banish
those who have displeased, and promote those who flatter you, if
you use your power to reward sycophants and to punish honest ad-
visers, whose sincerity is their only crime, you will have confusion
both in your court and your country; no more law, no more
order, no more peace. Can anything be more dangerous to the
Empire and to yourself? "

1 *



IT was in a calm and pleasant mood that Liang
strolled into the flower garden, whose atmos-
phere seemed unusually sweet and grateful.
Many tame birds were playing among the
branches, and they, too, joined their thrill-
ing songs with the fresh fragrance that wel-
comed the wanderer. Yet a certain melan-
choly oppressed him as he saw leaf by leaf of the
peach-bloom fall into the water below and the
leaves were carried off by the stream. 1 They were

1 Peach trees have a sort of sacredness among the Chinese.
Peaches are symbols of long life or immortality. They are con-
stantly introduced into paintings and sculptures, and are considered


whirled about by the breezes as they fell, for
the spring was departing, and they taught the
lesson that, all which concerns humanity is
changeful as the winds and the clouds. 1 All is
vanity that is not linked with enjoyment. The
almond blossoms that drop into the water are
borne about by its eddies, they meet, they part,
and are all swept away. Yet, whether linger-
ing in the ponds, or carried away by the run-
ning stream, they are attracted towards one
another, moved by a common sympathy, un-
willing to journey alone. " And I have passed,"
thought he, " eighteen years in useless study,
in loneliness unloving. This must not be.

as appropriate presents to superiors. The ancient books are full of
testimonies to the virtues of the peach. There is a peach tree on.
the Kwoh Mountain which only produces one fruit in a thousand
years, and he who eats it will never die. Another is celebrated in
the Taouist Legends, which grew 3,000 years before it blossomed,
and 3,000 years more before the blossoms ripened into fruit. There

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Online LibraryJohn BowringHwa tsien ki. The flowery scroll, a Chinese novel → online text (page 1 of 16)