Copyright
Yan Phou Lee.

When I was a boy in China online

. (page 2 of 5)
Online LibraryYan Phou LeeWhen I was a boy in China → online text (page 2 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


a show of asking permission to eat, when the elders
gravely nod assent, the breakfast begins. Soup is
taken first ; then each person, holding the chop-
sticks in the right hand and the bowl of rice in the
left, lifts his food to his mouth, pushes the lumps
in with the sticks, alternating this motion with
picking meat, fish or vegetables from the dishes
which are common to all. One must take only
from that side of the plate which is nearest to him,
however. It is a breach of etiquette to reach over
to the opposite side. When one finishes, he bids
the rest to "eat leisurely," which is our mode of
saying "Excuse me!" The Chinese invariably
wash their hands and faces after every meal.

Tea is drank about the same time. It is taken
without milk or sugar. Coffee is not common in
China, and we are not accustomed to drink cold
water. Tea is the national beverage and is taken to
assuage thirst at all times and occasions as water ig



CHINESE COOKERY. 3!

in America. At noon a lunch of cakes or pastry
may be served. Tin- majority <>t" propK- are satis-
fied with two meals a day. Supper, or dinner, is
served at five P. M.

hi the interval between the two meals, the ladies
of our family sewed, spun llax, embroidered or
re< eived company, that is, their lady friends who
come in sedan-chairs, some to make short visits, some
to spend the day. Guests were regaled at noon
with confections and pastry, but tea was always
presented to a guest soon after arrival. It would
have been uncourteous to omit it. In the evening,
after the lamps were lighted, the ladies, young and
old, would sit down to a game of dominoes, tell sto-
ries, or gossip.

A peculiar feature in Chinese domestic arrange-
ments is that when sons are married they continue
to live with their parents, while daughters, when
married, are expected to live with their husband's
parents. Such an arrangement often causes a deal
of trouble, and most of the domestic infelicity in
Chinese home-life is ascribed to it. But the cus-
tom has been handed down from time immemorial,



32 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

each succeeding generation being educated for it.
It sometimes happens that the mother-in-law and
the daughter-in-law are suited to each other and
live pleasantly together; but this presumes that
both entertain exalted views of duty and are
blessed with forbearing natures and yielding dispo-
sitions. The Chinese say that all depends on the
son and husband ; if he be dutiful to his parents
and strict in family discipline, he can prevent do-
mestic broils ; if he only shut his ear against the
complaints of his wife, peace will be preserved.
But the son and husband is apt to lean to one side
or the other, so either harbors resentment towards
his mother or acts unjustly towards his wife. The
father usually steers clear of the trouble, though
he sometimes acts as peacemaker. Then again
if the mother-in-law gets along well with one of her
daughters-in-law, it is not certain that she can with
the rest, or that the latter can get along peacefully
with one another.

"Every family has a skeleton in the closet," it
is said here in America. It is no less true of Chi-
nese families.



CHFM -I COOKERY, 33



My ^nin<ImniIuT\ was a character th.it inspi
respect; so .she had little trouble in the mana
inri'i of hi']- large family. She lind adininistr.i-
tivc talent of :\ hi^h mrl tluTrt'nrr a fair

>harc of household happine^ fell to our lot.



CHAPTER IV.

GAMES AND PASTIMES.

THE active sports of Chinese boys are few.
There are hardly any sports, so-called, that
develop the muscles and render a lad graceful and
agile. The Chinese boy at sixteen is as grave and
staid as an American grandfather ; and if he hap-
pens to be married soon after, he throws aside most
games as being childish. At the best, he has noth-
ing corresponding to base-ball, foot-ball, cricket,
bicycle-riding, skating, sliding, or tennis. Nor is
he fond of exerting himself. He would rather sit
for hours talking and joking than waste time in run-
ning or jumping. He thinks it work if his play
entails much perspiration. His elders, too, frown
upon boisterous games. They approve quiet, medi-
tative lads who are given to study.

But you must not suppose that the Chinese boy

34



CAM I - VND PASTIMES, $5

never plays at all. In spitr ( ,| many ob . h<-

proves that IK- is a hoy still, and I \\ill desnibe the
outdoor amusements in which IK- does indulge.

D

Kile-living is a nalional recreation. Young and
old take part in il and it is not unusual i<
gray-haired man enjoying it in company with a ten-
pear-old youngster. Kites are of all sixes. 1 have
seen kites that were six or seven feet from wing to
win-. The frame is made of bamboo slips which
can he easily hunt. Over this is pasted very stout
rice-paper, upon which slrong figures are painted
sometimes the face of a man, sometimes a hird.
On the larger kites a bow is fastened at the top,
with a reed instead of a string, and when the wind
blows upon this reed, a melodious sound will be
heard through the air, that greatly delights every-
body ; it seems to the spectators a mysterious
voice from a different sphere.

Kite-flying in America can be much improved.
Kites should be constructed of the Chinese shape.

The rib that runs through both winirs should

^ O

bulge out so that the paper on both sides may cave
; n. This is for the purpose of catching and retain-



WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.



ing the wind as well as of steadying the kite. To
a kite of this shape a tail is needless.

To fly such a kite, the cord must be very strong,

and often it re-
quires two or
three men to
hold it. When
it gets among
the clouds, and
the flyer's en-
thusiasm is at
its boiling-point,
a paper butter-
fly, be autifully
colored, is fas-
t e n e d on the
cord and the wind sends it up with a whizzing
sound to the kite itself. But when it touches the
kite, the butterfly's wings come together, and down
it returns, by its own weight, bringing a message
from the skies, and its graceful approach is watched
breathlessly.

The ninth day of the ninth month, which comes




FRAME OF A CHINESE KITE.



GAMl.s AND PASTIM1 37

in ( )i tober, is " Kilrs' 1 )ay." ( )n that day ii is the
fashion to go up high hills and hold communion
with heavenly zephyrs. Such a scene is inspiring.
Men and boys, "I" all ranks, sixes and ages, are

seen \\ ith cords in iheir haiuls. pulling, yanking and
jerkin-, or letting loose, all sorts of agile ricc-paprr
monsters in the ax lire sky. The tun consists in
making the kites fight in entangling them and
cutting one another's strings by sudden jerks.

There is a story to account for the origin of the
Kites' Day. Hack in the world's history, when
Time was vet a bov, a man, while working in the

.* / ' O

field, was told by a passing stranger with an august
mien, that a terrible plague was about to visit his
house on the ninth day of the ninth month, and
that the only way to escape was to hie to a high hill
near by. After giving this warning, the stranger
disappeared mysteriously. This man, who was, by
the way, a good man, went home, and getting his
whole family together before the fatal day arrived,
set out with them to the hill designated and re-

O

mained there all day. To while away the time
probablv, his children llew their kites. Hence the



38 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

custom. After sunset, they went home and found
that all their cattle, chickens and ducks had died.
This proved that they themselves had been saved
by the intervention of some deity. Ever since,
people have made the day a national holiday.
Kicking the shuttlecock is a favorite outdoor

o

amusement with both boys and gentlemen. The
shuttlecock consists of a bunch of feathers stuck in
small, round pieces of leather, or pasteboard, and
tied together by a string. The game is to kick it
when it is served to you and not allow it to drop
on the ground. When one muffs, he has to serve
some one else. From two to six persons can play.
Skilful players will keep the shuttlecock above
ground for some time. We also have something
which is a feeble apology for the manly sport of
base-ball. A piece of snake-skin is wound around
with yarn till it attains the size of a billiard ball.
Boys in China toss it, or make it bound, as Ameri-
can boys do their rubber balls.

Penny-tossing, or rolling, carries out the idea of
marbles. But it is not considered a nice game, and
only bad boys indulge in it. Swimming is not pop-



GAMES AND PASTIM1 39

ular, although in. my Chinese boys learn to swim.

I hing inc. ins \\ork with tin- Chinese. A man,
or bo\. goes a-fishing simply lor tin- fish, and not
tor the fun; and 1 am of the opinion that my
countrymen are right.

Of indoor Barnes and pastimes tlu-re i- only a
small list. Sinee young ladies and gentlemen are
not allowed, in China, to enjoy one another's
society, dancing is, of course, out of the question.
A Chinese gentleman would consider it foolishness
and an insensate waste of time to hop about and
twirl around for a whole night. Amusements re-
quiring so much exertion are not to his taste ; and

tor throwing his arm around a girl's waist in
the whirl of the wait/, a Chinese gentleman would
not permit himself such an indecorum. Accord-
ingly, gentlemen's indoor pastimes are cricket-fight-
ing and quail-fightin:

Cricket-fighting is a sort of passion, or craze,
with some Chinese. In the cricket season, men
and boys hunt for them by the wayside, or among
thickets on the mountains. When caught they are
fed and afterward.s tested as to their fighting quail-



40 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.



ties. A good fighter will fetch quite a large sum.

Dominoes is a game played by men and women as
well as children. It is different from the American
game, being more like the card game of whist.

Guessing Pennies always furnishes much amuse-

f

ment to little boys and girls. Chinese coins are
made of brass and copper, with a square hole in
the middle for convenience in carrying. On one
side is a legend in Chinese giving the name of the
emperor's reign and the words " Tung-pao" i. e.,
currency. The game is to guess the name of the
reign, when the coin is turned upside down. An-
other game is played around fruit-stand ; it is to
guess the number of seeds in an orange. The loser
pays for the orange while the winner eats it.

There are not many games in which boys and
girls play together. If they do play together it is
only while they are children, under ten or twelve.
Growing-up girls will have nothing whatever to do
with boys, though Chinese boys and girls are very
sociable, each with friends of their own sex.



CHAPTER V.



GIRLS OF MY ,U \T \ I \I.\.\CE.



I STILL continually find false ideas in America
concerning Chinese customs, manners, and
institutions. Small blame to the people at lai
who have no means of learning the truth except
through newspapers or accounts of traxeller.s who
do n->t understand what they see in passing through
our country. From the time of Sir John Maude-
ville, travellers (with a few noble exceptions ) have
vied with each other in relating the most wonder-
ful stories about our ancient empire. Accordingly,
what 1 tell in this series of articles about Chinese
. u^toms, manners and institutions may often con-
tradict general belief.

There is far less of truth told about the "fail-
section ' of the Chinese people than of the

sterner sex, because far less is known. \VhatImy-

41



42 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

self propose to tell is chiefly derived from daily
observation of the female members of my family and
those of my kindred. Very distant relatives are
recognized in China ; a man prides himself upon
the large number of his connections as well as upon
the influence his family exert in the community on
account of wealth or position. A " poor relation '
there is treated with much more consideration and
affection than in this country. Generosity towards
that class of unfortunates is so common, and its
practice is so strenuously insisted upon, in the moral
code of the Chinese, that it almost ceases to be an
individual virtue it is a national virtue.

Of the numerous cousins, aunts and other fair
relatives that fell to my earthly lot several lived in
the same house with us, under the superintendence
of my grandmother, as I have before said ; there
were two aunts who were then too young to marry,
two aunts by marriage, and three young cousins
in the house. Then on the same street dwelt about
thirty or forty families, all related to us by blood,
whose female members it was my privilege, as a
relative and as a youngster, to see often. I assure



GIRLS OF M\ ACQUAINTANCE. H

you they comprised among them girls of .ill sorts ol

tempers and character - , 'i'hc gentle, refined and
modest stood side by side with the rou-li, unrul-
tureil and forward. There were good-looking OH
anil there were homely ones.

Let me add that these girLs had not been " killed
during their infancy." 1 am indignant that there
should be a popular belief in America that Chin<
-iris at their birth are generally put to death be-
cause they are not wanted by their parents. Noth-
ing can be further from the truth. In a country
like China, where women do not appear in public
life, it must follow that sons are more to be desired,
for the very good reasons that family honor and
glory depend on them and ancestral worship neces-
sitates either the birth or adoption of sons to per-
petuate it. I venture to say that in proportion to
population and distribution of wealth that infanti-
cide is as rare in China as it is in this country.
Extremely poor people, finding it hard to keep even
themselves alive, often prefer to "make way" with
their babies rather than see them slowly starve to
death. With them, girl-babies are more often sac-



44 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

rificed because boys are readily adopted by rich
and childless persons, while the female infants
rarely can be thus provided for. But let it be un-
derstood that there are established in every good-
sized town infant hospitals in which these waifs are
kept and brought up with care by means of funds
furnished by good people. The same ceremonies
of christening are observed with girl babies, and
though relatives may growl, they nevertheless bring
the customary presents of cloth, jewelry and pigs'
feet.

In spite of the restraint all Chinese children are
subject to, we little boys and girls used to have
good times together. Among the boys were two
brothers of mine and a whole troop of cousins of
whom five were about my age. We used to play
cat's-cradle, puss-in-the-corner, jack-straws and
jack-stones, the girls (all the way from four to eight
years of age) taking as much interest in the games
as we did. Of course at any time when the gen-
tlemen of the family were present, we used to sit
as quiet as mice and as demure as monks and nuns.

In those games which depend on dexterity and



GIRI s OF MV ACQU \[\ i \\ 45

activity, we boys were winners; but when it came
to Bank's demanding skill, patience, quirk wit and
delicacy of touch, we were distanced by the girls.

Many a quarrel did we have a> points of dispute
came up ; and often one of our set would not speak
to another, or would even cut the whole of us for
days together on account of some unfair play.
Those little tiffs seemed to be of momentous im-
portance then. Hut the boy whose heart swells
with indignation at that which offends his sense of
just ire is likely to grow up a true man after all.

llut our chief amusement and delight was to
hear stories; especially those about fairies and
ghosts. Oh ! the blood-curdling stories that we
were privileged to hear. They were enough to set
anybody's teeth a-chattering and to stand his hair
on end. They were always told in a low, sepul-
chral tone of voice, and the lamps were turned
d<>wn. which very much heightened the artistic
effect. \Ve were also entertained with healthful
anecdotes, such as scraps of history or biographical
sketches of China's great men and famous women.
But when we coaxed " real hard," we could gener-



46 WEEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

ally get some ore to tell us stories of goblins, imps
that haunted the forests, spectres that dwelt in old
coffins, and witches and fairies that were good to
those who pleased them. After listening to a glow-
ing account of their antics and deeds, good or
mischievous, it was useless to attempt making me
go to bed alone or without a light. Even when
some one accompanied me with a light, I never
felt safe until I had covered my head with the bed-
clothes. That superstitious dread haunts me yet,
especially when walking alone in the dark. I thin>
it is impossible that I shall ever outgrow it.

When between six and eight years of age, my
girl-cousins took that step which affected all theii
after-lives. At that age all well-born Chinese misser
have their feet bound. It is a fashion they are obliged
to follow. If they should not, they would not be
recognized as ladies when they grow up, and they
would become a disgrace to their families. Chinese
aristocrats are as proud and jealous of their good
name as the bluest-blooded of European nobles.
Anything that lowers them in the eyes of their
neighbors is carefully guarded against. Accord-



GIRLS "1 MV AOJI'AIN 1 A\( I . 47

ingly, only the daughters of poor and humble par-
ents arc permitted l>y society to retain the fee'
nature besto\\ed them.

'1'he process of binding is a gradual one. From
lirst to last, hands are wound around the tendn
feet to prevent their growth ; but at first shoes are
worn nearly as large as the natural si/e ; in a year
or SO the slices will have to he smaller, and as the
feet decrease in si/e till they attain to three or two
and a half inches in length, so shoes are made to
fit the lessened foot. Hut oh! the suffering that
goes with it. This never has been exaggerated in
any account. Many a time have I heard my cou-
sins groan with pain as the tortures of binding were
being undergone. Yet, strange to say, those girls
would not have had exemption from the process,
on any account. To be ranked as servants, working
girls? Xot they. The Chinese young lady chooses
to be fashionable even though she undergo torture
for several year^ and incur helplessness for life.

Don't imagine, however, that Chinese ladies are
unable to move. They can, most of them, walk
shon distan.^. But it is true vhat the spirit b



48 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

taken out of them by this species of suffering, and
that they are oppressed by a sense of physical help-
lessness and dependence.

The work that little girls in China do is light.
Trifling things about the cooking, such as shelling
of peas or assorting of greens, were given over to
my girl-cousins. Between meals, the little girls
were taught to sew, embroider and to spin flax.
They were never so happy as when a group of them
sat together at work ; one would tell a story, an-
other would follow with a ballad, singing it with
that peculiar plaintive tone which is considered a
part of the ballad's charm. My cousins were
early taught to read and write, and in company
with us boys, until they were eleven or twelve ;
then they were thought too old to be left in the
society of boys very much; especially was it so after
some young strangers came to our school, which
was established in the men's living rooms.

In closing this chapter, I wish to call attention
to the fact that Chinese girls though you may
think they lead a humdrum sort of life, though it
be true that they are strangers to the exciting



GIRLS OF MY M vTAIM \\CE. 49

gayeties enjoyed l>y American -iris arc usually
contented and think their lot a pleasant one. It
is the custom, I am aware, to represent Chinese
\oung ladies as languishing in their apartments
and contemplating with tearful eyes the walls that
confine them. To !>e Mire, they do not have that
CSS of liberty by which some American girls are
spoiled : yet they are not kept under lock and
kev. Thev have that libertv which is consistent

* J J

with our ideas of propriety. They make visits,
they call on their neighbors, they go to theatres,
they see the sights, they witness boat-races and do
many pleasant and social tiling besides. Uut
whatever they do, there is always this limit they
are not permitted the acquaintance of young men.
And when they are married, they are restricted to
the society of their husbands. You perhaps think
their existence a failure. They look upon the sort
of life that American girls lead as very improper.



s



CHAPTER VI.

SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL LIFE.

CHOOLS in China are usually kept by private
gentlemen. The government provides for
advanced scholars only. But since the one quali-
fication for office is education, and the avenue to
literary distinction and public honors lies through
competitive examinations, the encouragement that
the government extends to education and learn-
ing can be estimated only by that eager pursuit of
knowledge which is common to all classes, and by
the veneration in which scholars and scholarship
are held.

Therefore it is not strange that schools are to
be found everywhere, in small hamlets as in large
towns, although the government appropriates no
funds for the establishment of common schools ;
and although no such thing is known as " compul-



il< >OLS AND SCHOO1 LIF1 51

sory education," there is a general desire, even
among the- poorest classes, to give their children
.1 little schooling." liools of the lower grades

never l>oast more than one teacher each. The
combination system of a head-master and several
assistants does not work well in China. Tin-
schoolmaster in China must he absolute. He is
monarch of all he surveys; in his sphere there is
none to dispute his rights. You can always point
him out. among a thousand by the scholar's long
gown, by his stern look, by his bent form, by his
shoulders rounded by assiduous study. He is
usually near-sighted, so that an immense pair of
spectacles also marks him as a trainer of the mind.
He generally is a gentleman who depends on his
teaching to make both ends meet ; his school is
his own private enterprise for no such thing ex
ists in China as a "school-board" and if he be an
elegant penman, he increases the weight of his
purse by writing scrolls ; if he be an artist, he
paints pictures on fans. If he has not taken a de-
gree, he is a perennial candidate for academic hon-
ors which the government only has a right to confer.



52 WHEN I WAS A BOY IN CHINA.

A tuition fee in China varies according to the
ability and reputation of the teacher, from two dol-
lars to twenty dollars a year. It varies also ac-
cording to the age and advancement of the pupil.
The older he be, the more he has to pay. The
larger sum I have named is paid to private tutors.
A private tutor is also usually invited to take his
abode in the house of the wealthy pupil ; and he is
also permitted to admit a few outsiders. During
festivals, and on great occasions, the teacher re-
ceives presents of money, as well as of eatables,
from his pupils. And always he is treated with
great honor by all, and especially by the parents
of the pupils. For the future career of their chil-
dren may, in one sense, be said to be in his
hands.

One who teaches thirty or forty boys at an aver-
age tuition fee of four dollars, is doing tolerably
well in China ; for with the same amount he can
buy five or six times as much of provisions or cloth-
ing as can be bought in America.

Schools usually open about three weeks after
the New Year's Day, and continue till the middle



MM, ,i g \\n 51 ii. K)L i.ii B, 53

of the twelfth month with hut a few holidays
sprinkled in. However, if the teacher he a can-
didate for a literary degree, usually a vacation <>l
about six weeks is enjoyed by the pupils in sum-
mer. During the New Year festi\ .il, a month is
given o\er to fun and relaxation. Unlike the hoys
and girls of America, ( 'hincsc pupils have no Sat-
urdays as holidays, no Sundays as rest-days. School
is in session daily from six to ten A. M., at which
time all go home to breakfast. At eleven A. M.,
all assemble again. At one i>. M. a recess of about
an hour is granted to the pupils to get lunch. From
two I 1 . M. to four is held the afternoon session.
This of course is only approximate, as no teacher
is hound to a fixed regularity. He is at liberty to
regulate his hours as he chooses. At four P. M.


2 4 5

Online LibraryYan Phou LeeWhen I was a boy in China → online text (page 2 of 5)