John Bowring.

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

. (page 9 of 16)
Online LibraryJohn BowringHwa tsien ki. The flowery scroll, a Chinese novel → online text (page 9 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of the weeping willows. They were, indeed,
like two Mandarin ducks 1 beaten about by the
wild waves driven hither and thither, wholly
helpless to direct their course.

1 Yuen and Ying, the representatives of conjugal felicity.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE PROMISE OF MARRIAGE IN THE BOAT.

LET us leave the lovers for awhile and recount
what happened to old Liang on his return back
to his birth-place. He had been for many
years in the Imperial Cabinet, but he was so
constantly occupied with the thought of the
home of his fathers, that he applied for, and
obtained his pension of retreat, and was allowed
to take his leave of the Court, after being
crowned with favours from the Emperor. There
was also one of the Presidents of the Home
Department, Liu, by name, who had been
born in the same province of Wu Kiang, and
when he found that the old Liang had decided,

7



146 THE FLOWERY SCROLL.

with all his honours, to retire from the public
service, Liu determined to accompany him,
and the very next morning asked for an audience,
and obtained permission to withdraw. And so
they hired, on the river, a two-seated boat for
their homeward journey, and they accompanied
one another, for they were old friends and fel-
low citizens. And every evening, when the
boats anchored, they met to converse. By day,
too, they were much together, with their golden
goblets in hand; more and more they talked
confidentially to each other, and were, at last,
as unreserved as brothers. It is always delight-
ful to renew acquaintance with an ancient friend.
And soon, their sons and daughters became the
prominent topic of their discourses. Old Liu
spoke of his daughter, who had just entered upon
the spring time of life. Everybody said she was
clever, and perfectly well bred. Old Liang
thought he could not choose a more desirable
daughter-in-law, so he proposed his son Liang.
The student had already acquired a reputation
which was not unknown to Liu, and thus the
fathers pledged themselves to one another, and
match was concluded.



THE PROMISE OF MARRIAGE. 147

And, over the waters, and amidst the sands,
the boats made their way. The great officials 1
safely reached their domiciles, and fervent was
the joy, and loud the rejoicings, with which
they were received.

1 Mr. Meadows' desultory notes on the government and people
give a good account of the ranks, duties, and salaries of the different
classes of mandarins. A court calendar is annually published at
Peking, which contains a biography of the principal functionaries of
the State. Hence, the antecedents of the leading personages are
generally known, and the different clans are eager to claim relation-
ship with those who have been promoted. The whole population
of China is designated by the words Pe Sing, the hundred families,
or surnames. The number of family names in the Empire is only
five or six hundred. As the laws are very severe against marriage
between blood relations, the distinctions of race are notably pre-
served. In a village, it will sometimes happen that, though the
personal names, Ming, may be many, the clan names, Sing, will be
very few. Almost every Chinaman is known by both appellations.
There is no name, in China, for which there is not a character
having a specific meaning.






CHAPTER XXYI.

A MESSENGER COMES TO SUMMON THE YOUNG
GENTLEMAN.

OLD Liang made his way to the city wall, and
soon reached his home, where smiles of wel-
come awaited him from his wife. He had been
absent for many years; his appearance was
greatly changed, the bashful young man had
become a grey-headed veteran.

My lady immediately despatched a slave 1 to

1 The slavery which exists in China, is mostly of a patriarchal and
domestic character. A great number of female children, particularly
those who promise to be beautiful, are saved from infanticide, pur-
chased by procuresses, and taught music, drawing and other attrac-
tive arts, and sold in the open market, either to the money competi-
tors, or to houses of ill-fame. I have seen, paraded through the



A MESSENGER ARRIVES. 149

Chang Chow, to suramon his young master
home.

The old gentlemen told the old lady that he
had settled an important family affair, that he

streets, groups of handsome girls richly clad, all having crushed
feet, a sine qua non in the field of rival beauty. In most of the
great cities, there are orphan asylums, in which the mortality is
frightful ; and, in many cases, a mother prefers flinging her infant
into a pond, or into one of the hollow pillars erected for the recep-
tion of toothless infants, to placing it in the turnabout of a found-
ling hospital. The power of a parent over a child is absolute, and
infanticide is justified and recommended by many writers on ethics.
They say to the mother : " If you know your child is born to a life
of long enduring misery and sin, let it suffer only for a moment, and
it will escape both." In the Lettres Edifiantes, the Jesuits con-
stantly refer to the multitudes of abandoned children whom they
collected in the streets of Peking, and brought to the knowledge of
a saving Christian faith. I have been asked by Chinamen, to lend
them money, to prevent them from selling their children for the pay-
ment of their debts. A great proportion of the children educated
by the Catholic nuns in their convents, have been purchased for a
small sum of money, or surrendered without condition to the custody
of the religious orders. Religious scruples there are none.

The sale of male slaves is generally for a term of years, and is the
subject of a formal, written contract between the parent or guardian
and the purchaser. I know of no agricultural slaves attached to the
soil, and I imagine that the hold of a master upon a male slave, who
wished to secure his independence, would be feeble. This is not the
case with female slaves, who cannot work out their own emancipation,
and, indeed, who are usually such important personages in a house-
hold, as friends and familiars of their mistresses, that they could
scarcely better their condition by change, and, in fact, often occupy
the same status as that of the hand-maidens of the scripture pa-
triarchs.



150 THE FLOWERY SCROLL.

had betrothed their son Liang to the beautiful
daughter of Liu, who was a Mandarin, belong-
ing to the Home Department. " A charming
girl, blooming seventeen, and happily dis-
engaged. Her name is Yu Khing. She is as
clever as she is lovely. We settled it all on
board the boats."

One servant was hurried off to require the
students immediate presence, another was
sent to the Record Office to obtain the certifi-
cate of his birth. The match-maker imme-
diately obeyed a request for his attendance,
and he was commissioned to visit old Liu. He
arranged an auspicious day for formalizing the
betrothals, and why should any time be lost?

I know not exactly how happy marriages
are arranged by destiny, in former days of our
existence, but I can tell you what was done by
his servants, in consequence of Mr. Liang's
commands.

These peremptory commands were obeyed.
The servant made his way to the student's
chamber, and said to the student : " Sir ! I am
come to summon you. You must accompany
me without delay. Your honoured father re-
turned yesterday to his native city."



A MESSENGER ARRIVES. 151

Liang, hearing the news of his father's re-
turn, hastened to collect his belongings. He
took his lute, packed it with his books, and
prepared for his departure. And then he went
to pay a parting visit to his aunt and his cousin,
not forgetting the Yang family. The old gen-
tleman ordered wine to be brought in, and a
collation, in which he bade him " Good-speed."
During the meal, he said, smilingly, to the
student : "I have some news to tell you, that
will not be unpleasant to yourself, and which
you may communicate to your honoured father.
You know something of a daughter of mine.
I fancy she is not unacceptable to you, and if
you do not think me unworthy, perhaps I might
not be unwilling to surrender my daughter to
you in marriage."

Liang bowed most reverently, most de-
lightedly. " I shall obey your commands."
His heart overflowed with joy.



CHAPTER XXVII.

LIANG TAKES A SLY FAREWELL UNDER THE
SHADOWS OF THE WILLOWS.

HE drained the parting glass, took leave,
and withdrew to his study, thinking of her to
whom he was bound by the oath of fidelity.
He went into the back garden, the air was
filled with fragrance, and he saw Pi Yue just
entering the garden from the farther end. He
sprang towards her, and whispered: "I gave
you much trouble last evening, but I treasure
up the remembrance of your great goodness.
I see not yet how I can sufficiently recompense
you for the favours you have done me. My
father has obtained leave of absence from the



SLY FAREWELL UNDER THE WILLOWS. 153

Court. I am summoned home to welcome
him, and I come to bring my greetings to you
before I depart. Will you kindly bear my
salutations to your lady in the boudoir, will
you invite her to walk into the garden, for I
have something pressing on my heart, which I
would fain communicate to her?"

And Pi Yue immediately took the message
to her mistress in the boudoir : " The student
is waiting for you in the garden, he wants to
take leave of you, this very evening he returns
to his native city."

Yao Sien was terribly agitated. " How can
this be? We have but just met, and now he
would part from me. I will only bestow one
word upon him. Why all this delay in sending
for the match-maker?" But she went forth
into the garden with her maids. The golden
lilies trembled under her as she left the elegant
boudoir, and they were scarcely seen among
the flowers.

But as the two approached, avoiding the
bright sunshine, Liang flew towards them,
over the garden walks, impatient to approach
the lovely maiden. Before he could utter a

7 *



154 THE FLOWERY SCROLL.

word, the anguish of separation overwhelmed
him, but he pressed her hand fervently, and
silently conducted her to the very thickest of
the willow- shadows.

And, then, though he could hardly speak for
his sobbings : "I must leave you, dearest ! A
dark cloud will be suspended between us. My
father has returned home, with the permission
of the Court, and I am summoned to meet him.
I cannot disobey. There will be two places in
the world full of love's woes and wailings.
Maiden of mine ! give not the bright pearl to
any other man. I have only a moment to tell
you, that when your honoured father gave me
the parting collation, the words dropped from
him that he would consent to our espousals. I,
too, will busy myself to expedite the match-
maker, and our marriage shall be set in order.

"It is vain to mourn over this our separa-
tion. Alas! it must be so. Willow twigs
cannot hold the youth who is doomed to part
from his love." 1

Yao Sien hung over the student, and wept.



1 Willow branches are associated with the separation of friends.
Vide note 2 to Chapter XII.



SLY FAREWELL UNDER THE WILLOWS. 155

" Something disastrous will happen. We shall
not be united. My heart is heavy with sorrow-
ful anticipation. My father has given his con-
sent, but what will your parents say ? Think
well of the oath written on the flowery scroll,
and let neither of us be perjured. But this I
swear. If your father and mother turn a deaf
ear to my hopes, I will not be unfaithful. 1 T



1 There is a curious tradition, frequently referred to in Chinese
romance, explanatory of the different relations existing between the
son, the mother, and the husband, to the wife. It is said, of a mis-
take in this matter, that " it made Liaou and it marred Liaou." The
first sovereign of the Han dynasty, not having completed that por-
tion of the criminal code, entitled, ' Greater and lesser punish-
ments," called in Liaou Ho, to do so. His manuscript won the
highest approbation from the Emperor, and was ordered to be
printed. While copying it for the press, he was summoned by his
mother to dinner, as the rice was getting cold. He was too busy
with his work to attend to her, bnt having completed it, he heard
the call of his wife, and went immediately. " What have you been
about ? " inquired the mother. " I have been copying the laws res-
pecting greater and lesser punishments." " And what is the punish-
ment awarded to him who attends to his wife and disobeys his
mother ? " " Beheading ! " was the answer. The mother repeated
the story, as a joke, to the Emperor, who said : " The maker of the
law must obey the law," and while he expressed the greatest sym-
pathy for his minister, he directed his decapitation in the public
market-place. The story reminds us of the tyrant of Agrigentum,
who burnt Perillus in the brazen bull he had invented, to enable
Phalaris to hear the dying agonies of the condemned criminals.
Thorn's Lasting Resentment, p. 60.

A somewhat similar story is recorded in the Chinese An it A- 61



156 THE FLOWERY SCROLL.

will never marry another. Death is and has
always been the fate of all, and rather than be
untrue to thee, I will sleep on the green grass
sod which the dews of evening twilight water.
Tell me what is passing in your own thoughts.
Conceal nothing from me ! "

The student held Yao Sien's hand, which he
warmly pressed. " Maiden ! The gods have
witnessed what passed in the garden. If we
are not allowed to grow old arid grey-headed
together, I will abandon my home, I will
sacrifice my hopes, I will devote myself to
you, whom I will never abandon. Life and
death will find me alike faithful. You shall
never find a falling off of my love. When you
return to your chamber, let no distrust or
doubt disturb your rest. From the remotest
times, true affection has found the means of
triumphing over all resistance. Let not your

the Emperor, who having heard of the cruel tortures inflicted by
one of his judges, sent a minister to examine into the case, and he in-
vited the " torturer" to a repast, asking him, as if unconcernedly,
"What is the best way of eliciting the truth from a criminal?"
" Put him," said the judge, "in a vessel of water apply the fire
and little by little he will be moved to confession." " I will try the
experiment," said the minister. The judge was placed in the jar,
and the experiment fully carried out.



SLY FAREWELL UNDER THE WILLOWS. 157

fair face be clouded with gloom. Do not look
pale and grow thin, for my sufferings will only
be aggravated by thinking of yours."

And she answered, smilingly: "Keep up a
stout heart, Liang ! and proceed on your jour-
ney. Plague not yourself with sad perplexities.
When heaven has said, 4 It shall be ! ' the words
endure for ever. Fix your thoughts on the
golden list, mount upwards, ever upwards, on
the steps of the exalted ladder, until you reach
the highest." l

1 It will be seen how the ambition to obtain literary distinction,
permeates through the whole of the private and public life in
China. This ambition is kindled in the earliest stages of existence,
and lingers even among those who are dropping into the grave. No
child is too young to enter the competitive hall, no grey beard too
aged, if they can obtain the needful certificate. There are few
men whose condition is more deplorable than that of the poor dis-
appointed candidates, those who are just able to pass the preliminary
examinations and can proceed no farther. They generally occupy
some subordinate position, become scribes village school-masters
necromancers, or are engaged in other pursuits, for which their
always .excellent hand-writing, and moderate acquirements may re-
commend them. In truth, among all the social institutions of
China, the literary competitive examinations are, without compari-
son, the most extensive in their influence, and the most interesting
in their details. Their origin is quite lost in the remoteness of anti-
quity. In the disorganization and anarchy which seem almost
a normal condition of that great empire, this educational ma-
chinery has often been the only bond which has held the community
together. Even where the government has been unable to enforce



158 THE FLOWERY SCROLL.

They held one another by the hands and by
the sleeves of their garments, little thinking of
the flight of tune. But the beautiful light of
the setting sun was dancing through the willow
trees in golden streaks. How could they loosen
themselves from one another? How could
either venture to take a last look and then
turn away ! They spoke of the bright clouds
that are suddenly dispersed, of the crystal
bowl that is destined to be broken. One, earth-



its authority, to collect taxes, or to subdue revolt, the provin-
cial examinations have never experienced more than a temporary
interruption. From the meanest to the mightiest, all take a part
in these literary combats: they are the true representatives of
the popular power, and prevent the creation of any hereditary
aristocracy, as they introduce into the highest seats of autho-
rity, the successful candidates who are taken, without exception,
from all ranks of society. I was formerly in communication with
the mandarin, the Chwang Yuen, who had obtained the very
highest accessible rank. He was a young man, the son of a small
shopkeeper, who sold stationery in an obscure street of Ning Po.
The number of those who, in their primary examinations, have, of
many millions of scholars, obtained certificates for the triennial
examinations, has been estimated at about 120,000. Of these, it is
understood that less than 100 pass into the highest grade, and are
deemed entitled to the Han Lin or doctorial degree. Honours and
dignities are conferred not on the descendants, but on the ancestors
of those who obtain these pre-eminent distinctions, and the homage
paid to the parents and progenitors, and even the remoter relations of
the fortunate victors, is of the most enthusiastic and demonstrative
character.



SLY FAREWELL UNDER THE WILLOWS. 159

wards in the north, the other, heavenwards in
the south, should they not perish in their
sorrows ? l

But they hear the voices of men. However
hard the parting, the moment for parting is
come. They rose up, only to weep. In ten
paces, she mounted the five steps to the door-
way. She had the heaviness of death upon
her, and of the flowers saw nothing but the
shadows. Liang dashed his tears away and
returned to his study.

1 Heaven is here intended as the representative of the female,
earth, of the male sex. The moral is, that death and sorrow sweep
both away.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

OUR STUDENT RETURNS HOME TO VISIT HIS
FATHER.

AND having returned to his study, Liang packed
up his books and his dagger, 1 and took his pas-
sage, gloomy and distressed as he was, on a
boat to convey him home. There was a slight
beating of the waters against the banks, and
the autumnal winds were blowing the leaves
into the stream. The sadness of the departing
year suited the sadness of his soul.

Having reached his native city, he sprang on
shore, found his parents at home, and there
were mutual rejoicings between father and son.

In ancient times, all candidates for competitive examinations
wore a dagger.



THE STUDENT RETURNS HOME. 161

They had hardly entered the hall, when the
old man said : " You will diligently pursue
your studies in the library, and this very
autumn you must climb the clouds." 1

And the old lady added : " We have made a
charming arrangement for you. We have be-
trothed you to the daughter of Liu, the Presi-
dent of the department of Home affairs, and as
soon as your name is inscribed in the Golden
List, the marriage shall be consummated."

The word " marriage" overwhelmed him,
he was silent. In his inmost heart he had
treasured his secret love. He bowed to his
parents hastily, and with unutterable emotions
retreated to his study.

1 Succeed in your literary contests.



CHAPTER XXIX.

HE TELLS HIS TALE OF SORROW TO THE MOON.

WHAT could he do when seated in his solitary
apartment? His misery was at its height, and
irrepressible tears rolled over his cheeks. His
breath was arrested by his sobs, and he beat his
bosom in his wild anguish. u Alas ! alas ! we
were not predestined to one another. The
oath I swore in the garden was a worthless
oath, and I have betrayed, I have betrayed
the beautiful Yao Sien. Dearest of women!
could I have dreamed that I should not have
been united to you for ever, would I have mis-
led you a single step? But destiny has issued
its decree, and my love and my fidelity are



HIS TALE TO THE MOON. 163

shaken to atoms. I call upon heaven, but I
get no answer. I call upon earth, but earth
will not listen. If, with her, I cannot share a
coverlet and a pillow, there is no daylight for
me? mv lif e will be sacrificed to my love.
Beloved ! little can you know how miserable I



am."



He stamped the soles of his shoes upon the
ground. He wrung his fingers. Ten times
he flung himself upon his bed, ten times he
rose up again.

" wretched ! wretched ! That bright coun-
tenance is turned away. The zephyr breathed,
the moonlight shone for a moment. Both
are lost in the dark clouds. "

He gathered together his prose compositions
and flung them into the water. Odes, verses,
songs and poems, he committed to the flames.

" And now, nothing remains for me but to
die. What care I now for passing through the
three degrees of honour ? They are idle, profit-
less vanities ! A handful of rice and a cup of
tea are sufficient for the support of life, and if
I had all the luxuries of food and drink, to
whom could I offer them ? How piercingly the



164 THE FLOWERY SCROLL.

moon looks through the flowers upon the love-
abandoned man ! "

And then he poured out his lamentations to
the moon, for the bright goddess had come
in pity from behind the clouds :

" Beautiful lady ! And are we never to be
united in this world? How can I ever for-
get those first love-greetings in the garden?
Was there ever a truer love than ours? How
can my father undo all that has been done?
How can he destroy all hopes of happiness, and
prevent the young phoenixes 1 from being linked
together ?

" I am bewildered in this moonlight. I
know not what to think or do. Is my whole
life to be given over to despair? What avail
these flowing tears and these smarting bones?
The moon shines in soft tranquillity, but I am
agitated and disturbed. Before one shower of
tears is dried, another shower is falling. Apart
from her, cold is my pillow and chilled my
coverlet. Who can occupy the place of my
beloved? Must I repent me of the vows that
rose as high as heaven? All hope is fled.

1 Fung and Luan.



HIS TALE TO THE MOON. 165

Around us, the silken curtains will never be
drawn! Alas! alas! that those should be
divided who long to be united. Maiden of
mine ! Sister of mine ! Beloved Yao Sien !

" The loving pair 1 have been parted and who
shall bring them together again? Who could
have fancied that a heart so warm as mine
should be turned to cold ashes? If I look to
the moon, my tears flow apace, and the sorrows
of separation seem increased a hundredfold.
My grief, since I bade farewell to my beloved
in the garden, is become more and more in-
tolerable. My eyes wander over the wide
heavens, and when I raise my head, I see the
waters are carrying away, eastward, the blos-
soms of my love, to be lost in the great ocean.
No ! we are not to be one. What is there in
the future to hope for, what is there in the
past to remember? I will resign myself to
die. Were not my tears burning when I
looked on the cold moon? Who can bring
back past pleasures, pleasures that have fled
for ever ? And of my thoughts of love, who

1 The fabled birds, Yuen and Yeng, deemed emblems of married
love and fidelity.



166 THE FLOWERY SCROLL.

shall be the messenger to her? What is life
but grass, shaken by the winds and waves ? "

Sighing and weeping, and no longer master
of himself, he began to curse the gods ! " All
my labours of love have been scattered. The
east wind has smitten the young male and
female phoenixes. And now I will sacrifice my
life to her, and the moon, upon whom I look,
shall witness the sacrifice."

His tears fell in showers. He twisted his
fingers in anguish. His soul became like dust.
" We cannot be one in life, but who can pre-
vent our becoming one in death, and I am
ready to die. No ! she shall never hear that I
have consented to any other espousals." Many
a dark thought passed through his mind, but
every thought was absorbed in the faithfulness
of his affection. And the moon went down,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryJohn BowringHwa tsien ki. The flowery scroll, a Chinese novel → online text (page 9 of 16)