Copyright
Yan Phou Lee.

When I was a boy in China online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryYan Phou LeeWhen I was a boy in China → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


'M




K



G259997




r Y PUBL C L BRARY THE BRANCH LIBRARIES



33333011946817




20



s-

-

w.Jf. 10019



^







- .-



-a.







I



WHEN I WAS
A BOY IN CHINA



BY

VAN PHOU LEE



BOSTON

L<>Til];<>]' IMT.USllINi; COMPANY



Copyright, 1887,

by
D. LOTHROP & COMPANY.



TH ": N rZW YORK

PUB! 1C -IBRARY



ASTOR LENOX AND
TILDEN' VTiONS



o



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I. INFANCY . 7

II. TIIK II.usK AND HOUSEHOLD ... 17

III. CHINKSK COOKERY 26

IV. GAMES AND PASTIMES ... 34

V. GIRLS OF MY ACQUAINTANCE . . 41

VI. SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL LIFE . . 50

VII. RELIGIONS .... 67

VIII. CHINESE HOLIDAYS 72

IX. STORIES AND STORY-TELLERS . . 81

X. I low I WF.NT TO SHANGHAI . . 92

XI. HoW I PREPARED FOR AMERICA . . 99

XII. FIRST EXPERIENCES IN AMERICA . 105



WHEN I WAS A BOY IN

CHINA.

CHAPTER I.

INFANCY.

ON a certain day in the year 1861, 1 was born.
I cannot give you the exact date, because
the Chinese year is different from the English year,
and our months being lunar, that is, reckoned by
the revolution of the moon around the earth, are
consequently shorter than yours. \Ye reckon time
from the accessions of Emperors, and also by cy-
cles of sixty years each. The year of my birth,
1 86 1, was the first year of the Emperor Tung-che.
\Ve have twelve months ordinarily; and we say. in-
stead of "January, February," etc.," Regular Moon,
Second Moon, Third Moon, "etc. Each third year

is a leap year, and has an extra month so as to

7



8 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

make each of the lunar years equal to a solar year.
Accordingly, taking the English calendar as a stan-
dard, our New Year's Day varies. Therefore, al-
though I am sure that I was born on the twenty-
first day of the Second Moon, in Chinese, I don't
know my exact birthday in English ; and conse-
quently, living in America as I have for many
years, I have been cheated of my birthday celebra-
tion.

Being born a boy, there was a deal of rejoicing
in the family, and among numerous relatives. If
I had happened to be a girl, it would have been
very different ; the reason for which I will tell
in a chapter on " Girls of my Acquaintance." My
aged grandfather smiled with satisfaction when the
news reached him in Fungshun, three hundred
miles away to the East, where he was holding of-
fice as Literary Sub-Chancellor. Congratulations
poured in in the shape of presents of rich cloths,
jewelry and pigs' feet. These gifts came a month
after my birth, which day is always celebrated as
a christening-day is in England. On that day,
which we call the " Completion of the Moon," my



[NFANCY. 9

name was given to me. I started with the surname
"Lee" which my family and clan possess in com-
mon; and to that "Van I'limi," which signifies
"Wealth by Imperial Favor," was added - Lee Van
Phou. Hut I now arrange my name in accordance
with American custom.

The names given on those occasions are not like
your "Jack," "Harry," or "Dick," but are usually
words chosen " from the dictionary ' for their
lucky import, or because they are supposed to pos-

- the power of warding off evil influences in the
child's horoscope. You should know that in China
a baby's fortune is told almost as soon as he i>
born, the events of his life being foretold with sur-
prising particularity.

In order to ward off malignant influences from
the future of their child, rich people often spend
great sums of money. To some deities, especially
to the God of Longevity, vows are made, and prom-
ises of presents annually, if the god will protect
baby and bring him through certain crises in his
life ; and thus, willing or unwilling, the idol is sup-
posed bound to be the child's tutelary guardian.



10 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

Also blind fortune-tellers are paid to intercede for
the infant with their particular idol. If you were
living in China, you would notice the strings of
amulets which youngsters wear. They are some-
times made of gold and silver; but often these
necklaces are composed of mere scraps of paper
with talismanic characters penned by priests ; they
are supposed to be efficacious in scaring away evil
spirits. The priests, fortune-tellers, lessees of tem-
ples, clairvoyants, and astrologers drive a flourish-
ing trade in these mysterious wares. For these
charms, and the friendliness of the idols being a
matter of life or death, of future happiness or
misery to the beloved child, of course the poor are
just as eager to spend money in this way as the
rich, and through baby's life they continue to pay
annual instalments of money for these things.

On my christening-day friends came to see me
and to congratulate my family, and a feast was made
in my honor. When the guests departed they
carried each a slice of roast pork as a return-gift.
Roast pig is the national festal dish in China, as
you will learn. No occasion is complete without



1 MANGY. II

it, whether it be a religious festival, the worship of
ancestors, a wedding, or a birthday celebration.
One feature of my christening feast was that my
mother was permitted to have all she wanted of
pigs' feet and ginger pickled together. It is be-
lieved that baby's food will be more abundant if
the mother eat plentifully of this delicacy.

From what I have since obsencd 1 suppose that
as it was the winter season I was wrapped in " swad-
dling clothes ; " and I think the layers of garments
would have caused the death of any ordinary
American babv. First came much underwear of

j

cotton cloth ; then a jacket ; then another jacket ;
then a gown padded with cotton; then still an-
other quilted coat of bright calico; and over all a
bib. I wore a cap too, but no shoes until I was
able to walk. My hair was shaved off except a
small tuft, which was the beginning, the embryo,
you may say, of the queue of the future.

Speaking of the winter season : The climate in
the city of my nativity is like that of Canton which
lies seventy-five miles to the north. Although no
snow falls, and although ice is an unknown qual-



12 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

'ty there, yet the weather is sufficiently chilly to
make a fire desirable. But Chinese houses,
strangely enough I now think, are built for sum-
mer, and to counteract heat rather than to keep off
cold ; and no such furniture as a heating stove is
known, neither furnaces, nor steam-heaters. So
for warmth we resort to thick clothing, and all
sleeves are cut long with that end in view. A
funny consequence is that old and young look twice
as big in winter as in summer.

As a baby I had my playthings bells, rattles
and other knick-knacks. But there is no such
blessed thing as a cradle among the Chinese in
which baby may be soothed and rocked to sleep,
neither the healthful, separate " crib." I had to
sleep with my mother ; and I have not a doubt
that I used to cry a deal because I felt too warm, for
the bedclothes which were plentiful and heavily
padded would sometimes cover me all up and
make it difficult for me to breathe. I would be suffo-
cated, smothered, and of course I would cry ; and
my mother would do everything except give me ait
and liberty ; numberless were the medicines ad-



INKANV\. 13

ministered, for Chinese doctors pretend they Can
cure the cryin. liildren .it ni-ht. American

mothers ha\e no idea what impositions Chip,
mothers suffer from plusieians and sellers of
charms, on account of their superstitious fears con-
cerning the health and welfare of their children.

In the daytime I used to sit in a bamboo chair
\vhich had a board in front that slid back and forth
and served both as a table to hold my playthii
and a lock to keep me in my seat, for it came up
to my waist, so it was not possible for me to leap
out. In this stiff fixture I used to sit hours at a.
time and watch my mother spin flax.

Our Oriental tastes are too simple to contrive
such luxuries as baby-carriages. We have instead
our " carrying tie." This consists of a piece of thick
cloth, about two feet square, lined inside, and em-
broidered outside with beautiful figures, and having
four bands sewed on, one at each corner. To put
me into this cloth carriage, the one who was to
carry 7 me, my mother or a servant, would lean over;
I was then laid on her back, the <l carriage " thrown
over me, and the upper bands tied around the



14 WHEN I -WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

bosom of the carrier, the lower ones around her
waist. My legs, of course, dangled outside ; but
it was nevertheless a very comfortable seat for me,
though I doubt if it were so pleasant for the one
who lugged me about. The primary object of this
contrivance was to get me to sleep, and many a fine
nap I must have had in my " carriage." If I per-
sisted in keeping awake, my carrier would sing to
me a lullaby which, being ordinary conversation put
to music more or less tuneful, is hardly worth a
translation.

My earliest recollections are of a sitting-room on
the ground floor of my grandsire's house, the right
wing of which was assigned to my father at the time
of his marriage. It was very long and narrow, with
bare brick walls in which no windows opened upon
the street ; all the light and ventilation came through
a long narrow opening in the roof. Rain came
through too, as well as light and air, and had to be
drained off.

The furniture of this room was simple ; a bam-
boo sofa, a square table, a few stiff-backed chairs,
three long and narrow benches and a couple of



INFANCY. 15

stools. This ascetic .simplicity in furnishings, may
be noticed everywhere in China ; nowhere are even
the rich inclined to indulge in luxury to any ex-
tent.

I remember very well the comfortless Chinese
bed. Hoards took the place of springs, and benches
supported these boards. In ours, surmounting all
\\as a heavy canopy frame, which, when new, was
evidently gilded and carved. By this frame was
suspended mosquito nettings, an absolutely neces-
sary arrangement. The ground was our Moor,
overlaid with bricks a foot square as carpet. No
chimney was to be seen anywhere, no heating
apparatus, hardly any ornaments. In summer these
rooms were cool and comfortable ; but the winter's
wind and cold rendered them cheerless.

There is only one event of my infant life worth)
of record, the death of my adopted father. He w.i i
my father's brother and had accompanied my
grandfather to the city of his literary administra-
tion. He was but a youth of twenty-one, unmar-
ried and studying for the public examinations.
' )n his deathbed, he designated me as his adopted



l6 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

son and heir. My grandfather ratified the choice.,
so that without my consent I was transferred from
my father's hands into my uncle's.

This mode of adoption is common. Usually the
adopted son belongs to the same family or clan,
but not always ; in any case he has the rights, privi-
leges and duties of a born son. Among the rights
may be mentioned the inheriting of property, and
among the duties the annual offerings at the family
altar and the grave, and the daily burning of re-
membrance incense.




CHAPTER II.

THE HOUSE A\D Hol'SKHOLD.

A15YI K )( )I ) is the most enjoyable stage in the
life of an Oriental. It is the only period
when his wishes are regarded and when demon-
strations of affection are shown him. The family
i. -ulations in China are such that so soon as a
child begins to understand, he is not only taught
to obey, but also loses his freedom of action; nor
does he fully recover it till he is old and past the
brief >eason of youthful enjoyment.

Every person in China is in strict subjection to
somebody. The child is subject to his parents or
guardian. They, in turn, are subject to their pa-
rents, who are liable to be called to account by the
elders of the clan. The magistrate is considered
the father of the people he rules over ; and the
Emperor stands in the same relation to his sub-



l8 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

jects as the father to his children. Women are
subject to their fathers or husbands. All are sub-
ject to the national laws.

Accordingly obedience and respect, rather than
affection, are required of the Chinese child. His
home-life, therefore, is constrained, sober and dull.
The boy attains to the ideal character only when
he habitually checks his affectionate impulses, sup-
presses his emotions and is uniformly respectful
to his superiors and uniformly dignified with his
inferiors. Therefore the child is early taught to
walk respectfully behind his superiors, to sit only
when he is bidden, to speak only when questions
are asked him, and to salute his superiors by the
correct designations. It would be the height of im-
propriety for him to mention his father's name, or
call his uncles and elder brothers by their names.
(Children call their father " A-de," or "A-ye,"
which corresponds to papa in English. Mamma
in Chinese is " A-ma." The syllable A is prefixed
for the sake of euphony or convenient pronuncia-
tion. In the same way, we say, " A-suk " for uncle,
"A-ko" for elder brother, " A-ka " elder sister. Cons-



Till-. HOUSE \\l HOUSEHOLD, iy

ins on one's father's side are reckoned as In others.;
He must ri^o from his. seat when they approach
him. If he is taken to ta.sk lor anything he has
done, he must never contradict, never seek to ex-
plain. Such an offence is not easily forgiven and
double punishment is likely to immediately over-
take the offender. How often have I rued my
imprudence in contradicting my parents, uncles or
teachers! Often I was but simply trying to give
the explanation of seemingly bad conduct. But
the Chinese take no explanations from those sub-
ject to them. It is better for an accu-cd son,
pupil, or servant to suffer punishment in silence
although he may be conscious of no wrong doing.
This seems very unreasonable ; and, in fact, it does
foster sullenness and a spirit of rebellion which
fear alone keeps under. But the Chinese deem
this method absolutely necessary for the preserva-
tion of authority. In every household the rattan
stick is always ready to the hand of the majestic
wrath of outraged family law. It is not my inten-
tion to represent the Chinese as naturally cruel.
They are not. They simply maintain family dis-



20 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

cipline by customs handed down from one gener-
ation to another. Fathers and teachers have un-
dergone the same training. The customs of their
ancestors enjoin it, the teachings of Confucius
prescribe it, and the laws of the empire arm it with
authority.

Indeed, among the lower and less educated
classes, we find family discipline less strict than
among the higher orders of our people. I hap-
pened to be born into the higher middle condition
of life. There is no such thing as caste in China,
in the sense that caste exists in India. In China,
wealth, and literary and official honors ennoble a
family and can lift it from a lower to a higher plane.
The regulations and government of my family were
as rigorous as possible. I lived the years of my
childhood in a shrinking condition of mind. Like
all youngsters, I wanted to shout, jump, run about,
show my resentments, and my affections, give my
animal spirits and affectionate impulses full play.
But like a colt in training for the harness I was
checked and curbed, my tongue was bridled, and
my feet clogged, by fear of my elders. My father



IHI. HOUSE AND il'H iEHOLD. 21

was a Stern man as was his lather bel'ure him. I
remember him vividly by the beatings 1 ;_;<tt from
him.

Yet lie \vas truly good and kind.

Though the time.-, uhen I required punishment
were i-omparatively rare, 1 remember a constant
sense of dread lest I should do something out of
the way of a well-bred Chinese lad. The bamboo
rod hung over my head like the sword of Damocles.
My mother (who is still living) saved me from its
blows many a time by gi\ing me timely warning or
by keeping my misdemeanors from my father's
knowledge. Uut she was not so foolishly indul-
gent as to spare me when I truly deserved punish-
ment.

Our immediate family consisted of my parents,
a brother four years older than I, one two years
younger, and myself. I had two sisters who had
died before my birth; by the course of nature, let
me add, tor the horrible practice of female infanti-
cide was in our part of the empire only heard of
in stories, and not without a shudder.

I have previously said we occupied a part of my



\



22



WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.



o



_G3_



grandfather's house. The building had only one
floor. The accompanying plan describes it :

"A " stands for those
spaces over which the
roof was open to the
sky, and which corre-
spondecl to the complu-
mum in the dwellings
of the Romans. There
were five of them in
our house. Through
them came air, wind



PLAN OF A CHINESE HOUSE.



and rain. You may
easily conjecture that such openings in Chinese
houses must be favorite entrances and exits for
burglars and thieves. At night there seems to be
no protection against such gentry except the wake-
fulness and bravery of watchmen, who, by striking
the hour of night on a piece of bamboo in going
the rounds, only warn the burglars to keep out of
sight while they are near. The Chinese watchman
serves the double purpose of a patrolman and a
perambulating clock; and although clocks are in



nn: HOUSE AND HousKHui.n.

common use, my countrymen have not yet em-
ployed hells to toll the hour for the whole city.

If you examine the plan, you will see that there
is only one regular entrance to the house. Hav-
ing passed the door, you will he in the vestibule
which opens on the 1 a rge < ->>mplnrin m by three pairs
of do.>rs, all of which are thrown ajar on Brunei
occasions ; hut ordinarily only a side pair are left
open. Having passed them and descended by one
step into the unnplnriuni, you have a full view of
the audience hall which is decorated and used on
great occasions, as New Year's days, weddings,
funerals, birthday celebrations, or for extraordinary
events, as the reception of distinguished guests, etc.
On either hand are the two wings, library, and men's
living rooms. The only passage to the women's
apartments is through this audience hall. ( )n
that side also are three pairs of doors, two of which
are usually closed, only the pair on the extreme
right being in daily use. A screen stands before
this entrance; for the worst thing that can happen
is to have male visitors look into the women's apart-
ments and see the female members of the family.



24 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

My grandmother occupied the chamber back of
the ladies' parlor, for that is usually considered the
best room on account of its central location. The
left wing back was occupied by an uncle and his
family. Behind this section of the house was the
kitchen and the chambers for servants and daugh-
ters of the house. The garden had a well, from
which the women drew water. I trust I impress
upon you that the house was divided into two por-
tions ; the front belonging to the men and the rear
to the women. My grandfather's rule was that no
lady of the family should pass the boundary line
except on " occasions."

I make no mention of cellars because there were
none. The house-walls were of slate-colored brick,
the roof of tiles laid over slats and beams increas-
ing in height from the vestibule to the garden. The
rooms were lofty and airy, and but for storms and
the winter's wind would have been comfortable.

As I have before said, the house was plainly fur-
nished. The audience hall was the festival room.
A long table in the centre, with interesting vases
and curios, stood behind a square one of mahog-



1 III. ih >i -I AMI HOUSEH< 'I I>.

any. They were llankcd by two rows of chairs of
ilk- same material, \\ith tca-poys l>etwecn that
served to hold the tea-cups of guests, A COUple of
v folding -chairs lined \vith leatl'.cr, stood in fr.mt.
On the walls were water-color paintings and scrolls.



CHAPTER III.

CHINESE COOKERY.

THE housekeeping was likewise simple. My
grandmother was the head of the family dur-
ing her husband's absence, and she had always th$
management of the minor affairs of the entire estab
lishment. She it was who assigned the duties anc
superintended the work of the servants, and tho
employments of the daughters, and the daughters -
in-law. We had a hired cook, several maid-ser-
vants and a man-servant, so that there was neve* 1
a need that the ladies of our family should soil
their dainty hands or weary their delicate feet. My
grandmother, however, had her own ideas aboul
work, and used to arrange that her daughters should
not be idle or ignorant.

The hour for rising was between six and seven A. M,

The children of the household had to go to school

26



CHINESE O'oKI.RY. 27



at seve.i ; and the nifii h;ul business to attend to,
As soon as clay dawned, the servants were stir-
ring. They swept the brick floors, and having
heated some water, they would go to wake their
respective mistresses, placing the wanned water
before them for the morning toilet. As each
emerged from his or her slumber, greetings were
scrupulously exchanged. \Ve Chinese say " Marly
morniii"!" instead of "Good morning!' The

O { ~ y

servants were then sent out to market to buy the
materials for breakfast. Let us follow them.
After windiiv in and out through narrow streets

o o

flanked with blank walls, the monotony broken
only by doorways, we come to the business portion
of the citv. We emerge into a scene of life and

J

animation. Men and servant-girls are either on
their way to market or returning, carrying wicker
baskets of eels, fish, pork, vegetables. Here are
incense-shops, butcher-shops and grocery-stores,
fish-stalls and vegetable-stand-.. The stone pave-
ment is slipper}- with mud. The din is deafening.
The present stage in the development of trade in
China does not admit of one price for one's wares.



28 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

The seller and buyer must wrangle for minutes
over a few mills. Time is of no consideration. A
man will go through and through the market, lis-
tening to what others are giving, pricing everything
for himself, and at the same time beating the price
down so low that the hawker will not agree to sell.
Our servants having, after much haggling, pro-
cured the wherewithal for breakfast, let us return
to our kitchen and see the meal prepared. Your
first exclamation is sure to be, " How smoky it is !
Oh, stifling ! Let us come away ! " Well, this
kitchen certainly is not so cosey and neat as Ameri-
can kitchens usually are. The smoke does not go
out by chimney, but through the skylight and
wherever it finds an outlet. The walls are black
with the accumulation of years of soot. That large
stove in the corner is built of brick. The smoke
issues through an aperture in the back and curls
upward through the opening into the clear sky. On
the top of this stove is a large round iron spider
about three feet in diameter. In this rice is cook-
ing. Straw being cheaper, is burnt in this stove in-
stead of wood, and some one is required to feed the



CHI\ I u >kl RY. 2<)

fire constantly. Turning in tin- l<-fi, . little

l.iy Stoves, nn which fund is frying in spidn>. Hi
boiling in earthen puts, OVCI a wood lire, (iiand-
mother and her daughters aiv superintending the

various preparations, Vegetables are cut into bits
and boiled with pork or mutton, making a soup,
(iieens are boiling. Fish is steaming, Irving, or
slewing with or without vegetable. Meat is cut
tine ; when the spider becomes heated lard is put
in it, then pieces of onion, then the shred meat, and
all is stirred till well embrowned; then turnips,
potatoes, and sometimes other vegetables are added
and, alter boiling water is poured in, the whole
is left to simmer and stew. All food, we observe,
is cut in pieces before being cooked, or else before
serving. For no knives, no forks, are used.

At ten A. M. the tables are set ; those for men
either in the wings, or in their rooms ; those for
the women in their common sitting-room or parlor.
Each table will seat eight persons. No table linen
is used. Chop-sticks and spoons are placed before
each place. The food is brought in large bowls or
plates. Rice is carried to the table in a wooden



30 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.



pail or wicker basket, from which it is served in
small bowls. The servants summon the inmates
to breakfast. The younger ones do not presume
to sit till their elders are seated ; then after making


1 3 4 5

Online LibraryYan Phou LeeWhen I was a boy in China → online text (page 1 of 5)