John Bowring.

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

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THE arrangements were all made for the cele-
bration of the second marriage in a style as
magnificent as for the first. The treasurer, an
opulent man, provided a splendid and costly
trousseau for his daughter. After the cere-
mony was over, the two brides embraced one
another as sisters, and though Yu Khing was a
year older than Yao Sien, they felt kindly one
towards the other, nor was there a shadow of
jealousy between them. Liang took the cham-
ber-maids, Yun Liang and Pi Yue, as his con-
cubines, and they both bare children to him.
He invited his parents to Peking. Tears of


joy dropped upon his mother's garments, when
she looked back on the past, and exclaimed : "I
feared that we had been separated from our
son for ever, and now we are so happily united.
Thanks to the gracious favour of His Majesty,
we have now two beautiful daughters-in-law,
more beautiful than Si Chi herself, so that our
children, and children's children, will occupy
an honourable rank, and be happy for gene-
rations to come."

Since that day, the house has been full of
felicity, and favouring zephyrs will render the
house fragrant for a thousand years.

There came, also, a message that the old
gentleman, Liu, had arrived. As soon as Yu
Khing received the message, she bade farewell
to her parents-in-law, in order that she might
accompany her mother home.

She wore a crown, adorned with a phoenix ;
she was clad in a scarlet robe, and followed by
twenty serving-maids, each one excelling the
others in comeliness, and all were clad in
silken garments.

Over the head of the bride, a stately canopy
of fragrant aloe wood was carried, and ten men


slaves followed after. Other servitors carried
the Imperial axes, and the ceremonial staves, 1
while banners and tablets of gold, directing
the way to be cleared, were lifted high above.

And in this grand style they reached the
house of Liu.

The old gentleman was seated in the hall,
and seeing the procession approach, he said to
himself: " Who can be visiting me with all
this pomp and state?" When, raising his head,
his eyes fell upon his daughter. He fancied it
was a dream, and almost stretched his eyes out
of their sockets, but he could not be mistaken,
this beautiful woman could be nobody but
his daughter. He sent instantly for his wife?
to come and welcome their child, whom seeing,
she cried out with passionate affection :

" Well do I repent me of my former injus-
tice !"

Yu Khing narrated all that had occurred,
and joyful tears absolutely drenched their gar-

u auspicious day ! " exclaimed the old

1 The- ceremonial staves are painted scarlet, and are headed with
a golden melon.


lady, "the day of our re-union has dawned.
We will forget all the past, it shall never be
mentioned more, let us rejoice together in
the promotion of our daughter, whose virtuous
chastity will every where be proclaimed."

The father and son-in-law exchanged con-
gratulations with wishes for mutual happi-
ness, especially remembering Yao Sien, the
lady of the jasper lake.

They conveyed to the examiner, Lung, the
expressions of their deepest thankfulness, and
they have all lived together harmoniously, like
blood relations. Liang and his wives were
supremely happy, their only rivalry being hi
beauty and grace.

Sometimes, in the bright moonshine, they go
and drink wine together. Sometimes, in the
cool breeze, they address complimentary verses
to one another.

Indeed, it would be impossible to enumerate
all their felicities. 1

1 Though, in many respects, the social habits of the Chinese
resemble those of the oriental world, influences exist, far stronger
than prevailed among Hebrews or Mahomedans, which account for
the plurality of wives and concubines, so common in China. A
certain shame and infamy attaches to the childless, and no anticipa-


tion is more terrrible than the absence of descendants, whose duty
it is to perform those rites which are deemed necessary to the repose
of the manes of the departed, and whose neglect will compel the
perturbed spirit to be a wretched wanderer, restless and homeless
through the world. Many Chinese ethical authorities insist that a
motherless wife should not only allow a second marriage or alliance,
but that it is her bounden religious duty to recommend, and, in case
of need, to provide a second wife or concubine, in order that her own
spirit may not be perturbed after death, and that, during life, she
may not be haunted by the thought that she had made no provision
against the saddest of calamities. One writer especially recommends
the wife to select a young, beautiful, and attractive maiden, and to
make her home comfortable and captivating.

My experience leads me to doubt whether, on the whole, these
domestic arrangements are a source of felicity. Sure I am that
social life in China is, on the whole, less happy than among ourselves.
I once travelled with an opulent Hong merchant, who told me lie
had sixty wives and mistresses. I asked whether there was not
much jealousy in his household, and whether he distributed his
attentions so as to establish a tolerably general satisfaction among
the ladies. He said : " No ! for that he had a special preference for
' No. 7.' " She, in truth, was the prettiest of the whole.

The Roman Catholic Missionaries in China have often told me
that, if their influence had gone no farther than to confine their
converts to a single wife, they thought they had done much for the
civilization and domestic felicity of their followers.

The finale of our Novel does not quite accord with Sir John Davis'
opinion always highly to be appreciated, that, under no circum-
stances, can it be allowed to a Chinese to have more than one wife.
Yao Sien undoubtingly consents, after her marriage, to be considered
as the concubine of Liang, but Imperial authority raised her to the
same conjugal rank as Yu Khing, and " the two phoenixes" are in-
stalled in the possession of equal wifely privileges. Handmaids are
as in the case of the attendants of Yao Sien, selected from the inferior
classes, and may be purchased in the open market, but both the
brides in our Novel belonged to the higher orders. The title of a
well-known play, is Tan Lwan Shivang Fung Twan Yuen, or, " The
perfect happiness of the bridegroom and his two wives," (Chinese


Courtship), and there is another well-known Drama, Sien Fung
Livan, " Three brides and a bridegroom." Thorn's Lasting Resent-
ment, p. 80.

The position of a concubine, in China is not one of opprobrium,
but resembles that of the " hand-maid" of patriarchal life, as seen in
biblical history.

In the " Perfect Collection of Domestic G-ems," the author ad-
dresses himself to those childless wives, whose " malignant jealousies"
prevent the continuation of the family race. " Not only do you
injure your husband by cutting off his generation, you stop the
ancestral sacrifices, and when his helpless old age is come, you will
bitterly repent, for you will discover that you have wronged not
only him, but your own selfish self, for who shall take charge of your
coffin ? Who shall bring libations and offerings to your tomb ? The
cup of bitterness which you prepared for another, you yourself
will be compelled to swallow. I beseech you to act discreetly and
virtuously, and provide, cheerfully and honestly, a handmaid for
your husband." In most cases, the wife is a consenting party to
these household arrangements, for, though the children are deemed
legitimate, the mother remains in a state of vassalage to the No. 1
wife. One of our female servants at Hong Kong, a professing
Christian, told us that, during a projected absence, she had made
proper provision for her husband's social comfort, and expressed
great astonishment that we should see anything improper in the

Mencius says : " To be wanting in filial piety is the greatest sin of
youth, to be childless, is the greatest misery of age."




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