Yan Phou Lee.

When I was a boy in China online

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the school closes for the day.


Schools are held either in a private house or in
the hall of a temple. The ancestral temples which
contain the tablets of deceased ancestors are usu-
ally selected for schools, because they are of no
other use and because they are more or less se-
cluded, and are generally spacious. In a large



hall, open on one side towards a court, and having
high ceilings supported by lofty pillars, besides
the brick walls, you may see in the upper right-
hand corner a square wooden table, behind which
is the wooden chair ; this is the throne of his
majesty - - the schoolmaster. On this table are
placed the writing materials, consisting of brushes,
India ink, and ink-wells made of slate. After
pouring a little water in one of these wells, the cake
of ink is rubbed in it until it reaches a certain
thickness when the ink is ready to be used. The
brushes are held as a painter's brushes are.

In conspicuous view are the articles for inflict-
ing punishment ; a wooden ruler to be applied to
the head of the offender and sometimes to the
hands, also a rattan stick for the body. Flogging
with this stick is the heaviest punishment allowed ;
for slight offences the ruler is used upon the palms,
and for reciting poorly upon the head.

The room at large is occupied by the tables and
stools of the pupils, chairs being reserved for supe-
riors. The pupils sit either facing the teacher, or
at right angles to him. Their tables are oblong in

\\l' M IKM.i. I. II I .

form and ii" much used will show the carving hab-
its and talents oi their O( cupants. The pupils are
all of our sex usually, for girls seldom attend other
si hools than those kept in the family, and then
only up to eleven 01 twelve years o| ,i_ They
are taught the same lessons as their l>rothe:

The hoys range all the way from six or seven,
up to sixteen or seventeen yearsof age. in an ordi-
nary school; for there is no such tiling as organ-
i/ing them into classes and divisions; each one
is studying for himself. Still there are schools in
which all the pupils are advanced; and there are
others which have none but beginners. But they
are rare.

I began to go to school at six. I studied first
the three primers : the Trimetrical Classic, the Tlion-
sanJ-i^oi\ls Classic, and the //v<v////rv (<> S/ndv. They
were in rhyme and metre, and you might think
they were easy on that account. But no ! they
were hard. There being no alphabet in the Chi-
nese language, each word had to be learned by
itself. At first all that was required of me was to
learn the name of the character, and to recugni/e


it again. Writing was learned by copying from a
form written by the teacher; the form being laid
under the thin paper on which the copying was to
be done. The thing I had to do was to make all
the strokes exactly as the teacher had made them.
It is a very tedious operation.

I finished the three primers in about a year, not
knowing what I really was studying. The spoken
language of China has outgrown the written ; that
is, we no longer speak as we write. The difference
is like that between the English of to-day and that
of Chaucer's time.

I then took up the Great Learning, written by a
disciple of Confucius ; and then the Doctrine of the
Mean, by the grandson of Confucius. These text-
books are rather hard to understand sometimes,
even in the hands of older folks ; for they are treat-
ises on learning and philosophy. I then passed on
to the Life and Sayings of Confucius, known as
the Confucian Analects to the American scholars.
These books were to be followed by the Life and
Sayings of Mencius, and the Five Kings five
classics, consisting of books of history, divina-


tion, universal etiquette, odes and tin- .S//v//; r tin, I
.liitiinin, " a brief .uul abstract chronicle of the
times " by ( 'onlucius.

I had in learn all my lessons by rote; commit
them to memory for recitation the day following.
\\ e read from the top right-hand corner down-
wards, and then begin at the top with the next
line, and so on. Moreover, we begin to read from
what seems to you the end of the book. All study-
ing must be done aloud. The louder you speak,
or shriek, the more credit you get as a student. It
is the only way by which Chinese teachers make
sure that their pupils are not thinking of some-
thing else, or are not playing under the desks.

Now, let me take you into the school where I
struggled with the Chinese written language for
three years. Oh ! those hard characters which re-
fused to yield their meaning to me. But I gradu-
ally learned to make and to recognize their forms
as well as their names. This school was in the ances
tral hall of my clan and was like the one I have
described. There were about a do/en of us young-
sters placed for the time being under the absolute


sway of an old gentleman of threescore-and-six.
He had all the outward marks of a scholar ; and
in addition, he was cross-eyed, which fact threw an
element of uncertainty into our schemes of fun.
For we used to like to " get ahead " of the old gen-
tleman, and there were a few of us always ready
for any lark.

It is six o'clock A. M. All the boys are shout-
ing at the top of their voices, at the fullest stretch
of their lungs. Occasionally, one stops and talks
to some one sitting near him. Two of the most
careless ones are guessing pennies ; and anon a
dispute arises as to which of the two disputants
writes a better hand. Here is one who thinks he
knows his lesson and, having given his book to
another, repeats it for a trial. All at once the talk-
ing, the playing, the shouting ceases. A bent form
slowly comes up through the open court. The
pupils rise to their feet. A simultaneous saluta-
tion issues from a dozen pairs of lips. All cry
out, "Lao Se" (venerable teacher)! As he sits
down, all follow his example. There is no roll-
call. Then one takes his book up to the teacher's

Hi OLS AM' 5< I!' " 'I- I.I! 59

desk, turns his t<> him and recites. Hut 54
in- soon hesitates; the te.u -hei prompts him. with
which he goes "H smoothly to the last and returns
to his scat with a look <>l" satisfaction. A second
one goes up, hut poor fellow! he forgets three
times ; the teacher is out of patience with the third
stumble, and down comes the ruler, whack ! whack !
upon tin- head. With one hand feeling the aching
spot and the other earning hack his book, the dis-
comfited youngster returns to his desk to re-con
his lesson.

This continues until all have recited. As each
one gets back to his seat, he takes his writing les-
son. He must hold his brush in a certain position,
vertically, and the tighter he holds it the more
strength will appear in his handwriting. The
schoolmaster makes a tour of inspection and sees
that each writes correctly; writing is as great an
art in China as painting and drawing are in other
countries and good specimens of fine writing are-
valued as good paintings are here.

After the writing lesson it is time to dismiss
school for breakfast. On re-assembling, the les-


son for the next day is explained to each one sep-
arately. The teacher reads it over, and the pupil
repeats it after him several times until he gets the
majority of the words learned. He then returns
to his desk and shouts anew to get the lesson
fixed in his memory. The more advanced scholars
are then favored with the expounding of Con-
fucius's Analects, or some literary essay. After the
teacher concludes, each is given a passage of the
text to explain. In this way, the meaning of words
and sentences is learned, and made familiar. The
afternoon session is passed by the older pupils in
writing compositions in prose or in verse, and by
the younger in learning the next day's task.

This is the regular routine, the order of exer-
cises in Chinese schools.

Grammar, as a science, is not taught, nor are the
mathematics. Language and literature occupy the
child's attention, as I have shown, for the first five
or six years ; afterwards essay-writing and poetry
are added. For excellence in these two branches,
public prizes are awarded by the resident Literary
Sub-Chancellor. But public exhibitions and dec-

SC1I' IOLS A.ND -''II' n >l. I. II I Cti

lamations are unknown, though ('hinese fathers
sometimes \isit the schools. The relations of the
sexes are such that a ( 'hinese mother never has the
presumption toappearat the door of a schoolroom
in order to acquaint herself with the progress of her
child's education.

Parents furnish the text-books as a rule. They
are bound into volume, and printed usually with
immovable type.

The pupils usually behave well. If not, the rattan
stick comes promptly into use. Chinese teachers
have a peculiar method of meting out punishment.
I remember an episode in my school-life which
illustrates this. One afternoon, when the old
schoolmaster happened to be away longer than his
wont after the noon recess, some of the boys began
to " cut up." The fun reached its height in the ex-
ploding of some fire-crackers. As they went off,
making the hall ring with the noise, the teacher
came in, indignant, you may be sure. His defect-
ive eyes darted about and dived around to fix upon
the culprit, but as he didn't happen to be in the
line of their vision, the guilty boy stole back to his


seat undetected. The old gentleman then seized
the rattan and in a loud tone demanded who it
was that had let off the crackers. And when no-
body answered, what do you suppose he did ? He
flogged the whole crowd of us, saying that he was
sure to get hold of the right one and that the rest
deserved a whipping for not making the real of-
fender known. Truly, the paths of Chinese learn-
ing in my day were beset with thorns and briers !



IN talking about religion in China, I need hardly
remind you ihat Christianity is <>t recent intro-
duction and that many tiling belonging to it, such
as the Sabbath, churches, ministers, regular meet-
ngs for worship, are unknown to the great mass of
the people. The Chinese do not divide the year
into weeks, nor do they have Christmas or Easter.
In the place of those Christian days they observe
other festivals.

\Yeha\v three systems of religion: Confucian-
ism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

Confucianism, the religion taught by Confucius, a
great philosopher who lived about five hundred
years before Uie birth of ( 'In ist - - is the religion of
the Emperor, of the large body of officials, and of the
educated classes generally. This system is mainly


moral and practical, in opposition to the spiritual
and the speculative. It teaches mankind to per-
form certain duties; for instance, to honor and
serve one's parents, to be obedient and deferential
towards one's elders, to be loyal to one's lawful
sovereign and to live harmoniously with one's wife.
These precepts are expanded and extended so
that they are adapted to all the requirements of
modern society. Confucius never taught the ex-
istence of God, for he felt that he did not know
anything about Him ; nor did he advance any the-
ories concerning heaven and hell. He simply
taught men to love goodness for its own sake. But
this lofty philosophy, however it might have suited
the character of the philosopher and his personal
disciples, never was popular in the sense that peo-
ple generally accepted it and practised it. Still
the Chinese have a real reverence for Confucius and
his precepts, and, excepting the few who are pro-
fessed Buddhists and Taoists, will call themselves
Confucianists, although they may not understand
all that this master taught, and in spite of the fact
that they worship gods of the other systems of


religion. Tin- gods ()t the ( 'onl'ud. mists, pure and
simple, are heaven and earth, tin- spirits of the
winds ,md of the five greal mountains, the hou
'i ild gods (answering to the IVnates uf the Rom-
ans) and one's ancestoi

Taoism was l'rmerly a pure s\ stem of philou>-
phy, hut it by degrees sadly degenerated into a
wliieh hornmed its doctrines from IJiiddhism
and Confucianism and has had engrafted upon it
from time to time innumerable superstitions. '\ he
priests of this seel are men whose business i< to
impose on the people, and who make a living jut
of their superstitious fears. Thus, if a person Tails
sick, or is supposed to be possessed by an evil
spirit, a Taoist priest is summoned to intercede
for him and to offer up vows for his recovery. So
also when a person dies, one of them rings a hv'll
in front of the corpse, and, by mumbling a lot ol
gibberish, pretends to open the gate of the lov^i
world for the departed soul to enter. A piece of
silver is previously put in the mouth of the dead
person to pay toll with. Almost everything imag-
inable is worshiped by the Taoist s and those ./ho


believe in the efficacy of their intercessions. Every-
thing has a spirit or spiritual counterpart in the
next world ; and this spirit, according as it is pro-
pitiated by offerings, or offended by lack thereof
will work good or evil to the man. There are the
gods of war, literature, wealth, and medicine ; and
there are the goddesses of married women and of
seamen. These are a few of the nobler specimens
of the idols which are worshiped. The fertile imagj
ination of the Chinese fills every lake and river
with spirits, every street and house with ghosts,
and every wood and mountain with deities. They
believe the next world to be a shadow of this ;
that the dead have everything in the world below
which they had on earth only these premises
exist as shadows instead of substance.

Buddhism entered China about the time of
Christ. One of the Emperors of the Han dynasty,
having heard of the rise of a great sage in the
West, sent an embassy to see him and to bring
back his teachings. Doubtless the reputation of
the marvelous Nazarene had been spread in the
northern part of China by European and Arabian

traders and had reached tin- cars <>f the <'hin<

inonarcli. The embass\ sat out on their lon^,
tedious and perilous journey. Hut whilr;;
near India, they heard of Buddha and his sublime
tea< hin^s. They supposed him to he the sa;;<-
they were seeking, and they turned aside into
India. Buddha hail by that time been absorbed
in Nirvana - he was dead; and the embassadors
contented themselves with carrying back his books
to China. Under the lead of the emperor, Bud-
dhism was accorded a cordial reception in the em-
pire. But modern Buddhism is not what Buddha
intended it to be. For instance, idolatry which he
never taught, is practised.

Buddhist priests and nuns live apart from other
people in monasteries and nunneries. They wear
a different costume, and have their heads entirely
shaven. They live on a vegetable diet, and ob-
tain their food by their chants, by singing masses
and often by begging. People believe that wealth,
happiness and longevity can be procured through
them, and so, according to their means, they offer
these priests and nuns money with which to buy



incense for Buddha and oil to burn in his lamps,
also that a number of prayers shall be offered
up in their behalf. Accordingly these priests and
nuns are enabled to live a life of sloth. Some-
times, however, as if to break the monotony of
their existence, they commit crimes which expose
them to the vengeance of outraged law. The
Buddhist monasteries and nunneries were form-
erly houses of refuge for a certain class of crim-
inals. Those who went there and became pro-
fessed Buddhists were exempt from punishment.

The educated classes despise both Taoists and
Buddhists. Nevertheless in sickness, or in death,
they patronize them. This shows that our reli-
gious instinct is so strong that a man will worship
anything rather than nothing.

As I said, there is nothing in Chinese religions
corresponding to the Christian Sabbath. In none
of our festivals, holidays or anniversary celebra-
tions, does the idea of rest enter. Instead of
churches, we have temples which embody the
highest architectural skill of the Chinese. They
are built of brick, one story in height, oftentimes

ki I n;i< IN 69

very spacious, comprising a series of buildings with
alternate courts, and flanked by othcr^ designed
as living-rooms, t'or tin- priests or nuns. Tin- pre-
siding idol is enshrined in tin- innermost hall, and

dressed in ival clothes fashioned in accordance
with its character. There arc usually placed in
every Umple a lar^e number of idols inferior in
power to the chief idol. IJefore the chief idol is
burnt iiu-ense-sticks and candles and costly sandal-
wood. Food is offered on stated days, as well as
on ordinary days; the worshipers believe that the
essence of the food is eaten by the spirit of the
god and that the substance remains for their own
enjoyment. From the fact that the devotees them-
selves eat the food offered to the idol, people rec-
oncile economy with profuse expenditure, by pre-
tending to be religious with the view to gratifying
their own appetites. Idolatry in China is not
founded on the belief that wood and stones and
other inanimate objects are in themselves worthy
of worship; but on account of the spirits which
reside or take up their abode therein.

Thus the idolatry of the ( 'hinese is superior to the


brutal worship of India, and to the brutish worship
of the Egyptians. But still it exerts a baneful in-
fluence on the minds and hearts of its subjects.

In considering all systems of idolatry and super-
stition, one significant fact stands prominent, the
utter neglect of religious training of the young. China's
three great religions have nothing answering to
the Christian Sunday school. Of course, boys and
girls pick up some religious ideas in their inter-
course with those about them. But nobody ever
deliberately sits down to tell them of this god and
that god, their origin, character and power. Only
incidentally is such knowledge conveyed. There
are many religious books; but from the difficulty
of learning to read, they are necessarily sealed to
the young mind. If the young are told to worship
this idol and that idol, they never understand why
and wherefore they should do this. In time they
comprehend that they do it to obtain favor and to
gain merit.

I well remember the first time I was led to a
temple and there told to bend my knees to the idol
decked out in a gorgeous robe, its face blackened

by the smoke I mm the in< ense. < Mi either side of
the room stood four huge idols, with stern and for-
bidding I ( )ne of them was cspct tally 1 right-
ful. It was th' : of Thunder represented by
an image having the body of a man and the head
of a highly caricatured rooster. This idol had a
hammer in one hand and a large nail in the other,
with which he is supposed to strike wicked persons.
'1 'his god made such an impression on me that I
had a horrible dream about it that very night. I
saw him clad in fierceness; he moved his hands
threateningly. Almost choked with fright though
I was, I managed to cry out and that awoke me.

< )n account of the conservative spirit of the
('hinese, their traditions, the pure morals which
Confucius taught, the peculiar school system, and
the prejudices which they justly entertain against
foreigners, the work of missionaries must progress
slowly. Something has been clone during the last
fifty years. The land has been surveyed and its
needs and capabilities made known.



IT would be a matter of many chapters were I to
describe all the holidays which we have in
China. The bare enumeration of them would be
as difficult as tedious. In point of fact we have
almost as many holidays and festivals as there are
days in the year. Each prominent idol has a birth-
day, also an anniversary of his death, both of which
are celebrated. There are some the Goddess of
Mercy, for instance who have half a dozen days
sacred to them. There are a number of deities,
great persons deified, that are common to the
nation ; while each city, town and hamlet, has
numerous local deities who are its special protect-

Extremely lucky it is for the aforesaid idols that

their devotees are naturally fond of shows, pag-


CHIN !.>(. Mi U.lliA : 73

e.mtry and display:, idolatry would h
little to attract the multitude. As it is, millions of
dollars are spent in these celebrations every year,
At the dedication of a temple in Canton, two years
ago, thirty thousand dollars \\rrc spent. As I was
present at this really great exhibition, 1 can Lfive
you an idea ..!' it. \'\- a Ion- time a committee of
citi/ens had been collecting subscriptions Irom
dwellers far and near: and weeks before the com-
pletion of the temple, a large pavilion was reared,
the material of which was mainly bamboo in the
form of poles, mattings and slips. Marvelous archi-
tectural results are attained by combining a few
wooden pillars with the bamboo in various forms,
and soon a light and airy structure looms up in the
sky, which can be seen from a great distance.
This pavilion is directly in front of the temple,
while smaller ones are built in vacant lots nearby,
all connected with the main building by awnings
pitched over the streets. There is a high tower in
the middle of the great pavilion, on the ceiling of
which curls a dragon of many colors, gleaming with
innumerable spangles, through whose mouth a rope


is dropped on which is suspended an immense
chandelier. The latter is finely carved so far as the
body, which is of wood, is concerned, and for bril-
liancy of coloring has no rival in China. It is
octagonal and each side throws out four branches,
which uphold kerosene lamps. The centres of each
side are cut out, and glass inserted, behind which
automatic figures are made to move by clockwork.
The finest effects of this chandelier are of course
obtained when the lamps are lighted. Suspended
from the roof in other parts are other chandeliers,
less elaborate and smaller perhaps, but not less
artistic and beautiful. Forests of pendants are
attached to them, so that on all sides the light is
reflected. Then, in the intervals between the chan-
deliers, hang oblong cases, all decorated with silks
and satins, and finely carved, containing dolls,
about two feet high, elegantly dressed in character,
and grouped to represent historical scenes. These
figures have machinery placed beneath them to
make them shake their heads, or lift their hands,
or sway their bodies, just as the role of each
requires. There are also smaller cases in which


are arranged tableaux from romance of \vhich the
Chinese arc very fond. Sometimes, a comic tableau

is given; for instance, in one case are shown a
number of blind men fighting with bamboo .sticks
on the street, and as the blows are dealt Mindly
and in all directions (by means of the machinery),
the crowd of spectators never fail to laugh.

Flowers of all the varieties which grow in the
" Flowery Kingdom '' form nn important and pleas-
ing feature of the entertainment. They are made
into shapes of men or birds, and their delicious
odors pervade the whole place. The walls of the
different pavilions are gayly painted. On them
pictures in water-colors are hung, as well as scrolls
bearing the writings of celebrated men. Under
these are placed, in rows, fine flower pots crowned
with the choicest flowers of the season. Dwarfed
trees too are placed beside them.

There are platforms in every good-sized pavilion
where the musicians sit and discourse music for
the pleasure of a most attentive audience. There
are drums, kettledrums, immense cymbals, gongs,
cornets, flutes, castanets, two-stringed fiddles and


I don't know what else besides, and when they
are sounded together the effect is overwhelming on
ears unaccustomed to such strange symphonies.
The flutist first blows his flute, then the cornetist
joins with his toot, and then the kettledrum man
strikes up, which is a signal for the cymbals to
clash and the gong to raise its hoarse cry, while the
shrill fiddles may be distinguished in the din like
the witches' voices above the storm in Macbeth.

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Online LibraryYan Phou LeeWhen I was a boy in China → online text (page 3 of 5)