Yan Phou Lee.

When I was a boy in China online

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called shroffs, assistants and workmen under him.
My uncle was rich and lived in a fine house
built after European models. It was there that I
first came in immediate contact with Western civil-
i/ation. Pint it was a long time before I got used
to those red-headed and tight- jacketed foreigners.
"How can they walk or run?" I asked myself
curiously contemplating their close and confining
garments. The dress of foreign ladies was still
another mystery to me. They shocked my sense



of propriety also, by walking arm-in-arm with the
men. " How peculiar their voices are ! how
screechy '. how sharp ! ' Such were some of the
thoughts I had about those peculiar people.

A few days after, I was taken to the Tung Mim
Kuen, or Government School, where I was des-
tined to spend a whole year, preparatory to my
American education. It was established by the
government and was in charge of a commissioner,
a deputy-commissioner, two teachers of Chinese,
and two teachers of English. The building was
quite spacious, consisting of two stories. The large
schoolroom, library, dining-rooms and kitchen oc-
cupied the first floor. The offices, reception room
and dormitories were overhead. The square ta-
bles of the teachers of Chinese were placed at
each end of the schoolroom ; between them were
oblong tables and stools of the pupils.

I was brought into the presence of the com-
missioners and teachers ; and having performed
my kow-tow to each, a seat was assigned me
among my mates, who scanned me with a good
deal of curiosity. It was afternoon, and the

HoW I PREP VRED I >k AMl.Kli \. IO1

Chinese lessons were being re< ited. So while

they looked at me throii-h the corners of their

S, the\ were also attending to their lessons with

as much \im and voice as they could command.

Soon recitations were over, not without one or two

pupils being .sent back to their seats to study their
tasks over again, a tew blows being administered
to stimulate the intellect and quicken memory.

At half-past four o'clock, school was out and the
boys, to the number of forty, went forth to play.
They ran around, chased each other and wasted
their cash on fruits and confections. I soon made
acquaintance with some of them, but I did not ex-
perience any of the hazing and bullying to which
new pupils in American and English schools are-
subject. I found that there were two parties
among the boys. I joined one of them and had
many friendly encounters with the rival party. As
in America, we had a great deal of generous emu-
lation, and consequently much boasting of the
prizes and honors won by the rival societies. Our
chief amusements were sight-seeing, shuttle-cock-
kicking and penny-guessing.


Supper came at six when we had rice, meats
and vegetables. Our faces invariably were washed
after supper in warm water. This is customary.
Then the lamps were lighted ; and when the
teachers came down, full forty pairs of lungs were
at work with lessons of next day. At eight o'clock,
one of the teachers read and explained a long ex-
tract from Chinese history, which, let me assure
you, is replete with interest. At nine o'clock we
were sent to our beds. Nothing ever happened of
special interest. I remember that we used to talk
till pretty late, and that some of the nights that I
spent there were not of the pleasantest kind be-
cause I was haunted by the fear of spirits.

After breakfast the following morning we assem-
bled in the same schoolroom to study our English
lessons. The teacher of this branch was a Chinese
gentleman who learned his English at Hongkong.
The first thing to be done with me was to teach
me the alphabet. When the teacher grew tired he
set some advanced pupils to teach me. The let-
ters sounded lather funny, I must say. It took me
two days to learn them. The letter R was the

HOW I I'kKI'AKI.I" 1 uK AM IK h \. 1 03

hardest one to pronounce, hut I >oon learned to
give it, willi a peculiar roll of the tongue even.
\\'e were taught to read and write English and
managed by means of primers and phrase-books
to pick up a limited knowledge of the language.
A year thus passed in study and p.isiime. Sun-
days were given to us to spend .is holidays.

It was in the month of May when we were ex-
amined in our English studies and the best thirty
were selected to go to America, their proficiency in
Chinese, their general deportment and their rec-
ord also being taken into account.

There was great rejoicing among our friends
and kindred. For the cadet's gilt button and rank
were conferred on us, which, like the first literary
degree, was a step towards fortune, rank and in-
fluence. Large posters were posted up at the front
doors of our homes, informing the world in gold
characters of the great honor which had come to
the family.

We paid visits of ceremony to the Taittai, chief
officer of the department, and to the American
consul-general, dressed in our official robes and


carried in fine carriages. By the first part of June,
we were ready for the ocean journey. We bade
our friends farewell with due solemnity, for the
thought that on our return atter fifteen years of
study abroad half of them might be dead, made
us rather serious. But the sadness of parting was
soon over and homesickness and dreariness took
its place, as the steamer steamed out of the river
and our native country grew indistinct in the twi-



Al I'KR a stormy voyage of one week, with ihe
usual accompaniment ol seasickness, we
landed at Yokohama, in the Country of UK- Rising

Sun. For Japan means " sun-origin." The Japa-
nese claim to be descendants of the sun, instead
of being an off -.shoot of the Chinese race,

During the four days on shore \ve young Chinese-
saw many strange things; the most remarkable
being the steam-engine. \Ye were told that those
iron rails running parallel for a longdistance were
the " lire-car road.'' I was wondering how a car
could run on them, and driven by fire, too, as I
understood it, when a locomotive whizzed by,
screeching and ringing its bell. That was the first
iron-horse we had ever seen, and it made a pro-

found impression on us. \Ve made a number of



other remarkable and agreeable discoveries. We
were delighted to learn that the Japanese studied
the same books as we and worshiped our Confu-
cius, and that we could converse with them in
writing, pretty much as deaf and dumb people do.
We learned that the way they lived and dressed
was like that in vogue in the time of Confucius.
Their mode of dressing the hair and their custom
of sitting on mats laid on the floor is identical with
ancient Chinese usage.

When our brief stay came to an end, we went
aboard the steamer City of Peking, which reached
San Francisco in nineteen days. Our journey
across the Pacific was made in the halcyon weather.
The ocean was as gentle as a lamb for the most
part, although at times it acted in such a way as to
suggest a raging lion.

San Francisco in 1873 was the paradise of the
self-exiled Chinese. We boys who came to study
under the auspices of the Chinese government and
under the protection of the American eagle, were
objects of some attention from the press. Many
of its representatives came to interview us.


The city impressed my young imagination with
its lofty buildings - their solidity and elr-ance.
The depot with its trains running in and out wa- a
al attraction. Hut the ''modern convenient v> "

gas and running water and electric bells and
elevators \\ere \\hat excited wonder and .stimu-
lated in\ 3 ition.

\ 'thin:;- occurred on our Eastward journey to
mar the enjoyment of our first ride on the steam-
> ,11 s - excepting a train robbery, a consequent
sma>h-up of the engine, ami the murder of the
engineer. We were quietly looking out of the
windows and gazing at the seemingly intermina-
ble prairies when the train, suddenly bounded
backward, then rushed forward a few feet, and,
then meeting some resistance, started back again.
Then all was confusion and terror. Pistol-shots
jo'ild be made out above the cries of frightened
passenger^. Women shrieked and babies cried.
( )ur party, teachers and pupils, jumped from our
seats in dismay and looked out through the win-
dows for more light on the subject. What we saw

s enough to make our hair stand on end. Two


ruffianly men held a revolver in each hand and
seemed to be taking aim at us from the short dis-
tance of forty feet or thereabouts. Our teachers
told us to crouch down for our lives. We obeyed
with trembling and fear. Doubtless many prayers
were most fervently offered to the gods of China at
the time. Our teachers certainly prayed as they
had never done before. One of them was overheard
calling upon all the gods of the Chinese Pantheon
to come and save him. In half an hour the agony
and suspense were over. A brakeman rushed
through with a lamp in his hand. He told us that
the train had been robbed of its gold bricks, by five
men, three of whom, dressed like Indians, rifled
the baggage car while the others held the passen-
gers at bay ; that the engine was hopeless!}
wrecked, the engineer killed ; that the robbers had
escaped on horseback with their booty ; and that
men had been sent to the nearest telegraph station
to " wire ' : for another engine and a supply of
workmen. One phase of American civilization
was thus indelibly fixed upon our minds.

We reached Springfield, Mass., in due time,


where we were distributed union:; some of the
best families in X- i I. upland. As liberal provis-
ion having been made for our rare by llie ( 'hin
government, there was no difficulty in finding nice-
people to undertake OUT " bringing-up," although
I now know that a philanthropic spirit must have
inspired all who assumed the responsibility of our
training and education. \Ve were assigned two by
two; and it was my good fortune to be put into the
hands of a most motherly lady in Springfield. She-
came after us in a hack. As I was pointed out to
her, she put her arms around me and kissed me.
This made the rest of the- boys laugh, and perhaps
I got rather red in the face ; however, I would .say
nothing to show my embarrassment. But that was
the first kiss I ever had had since my infancy.

Our first appearance in an American household
must have been a funny occurrence to its members.
\Ye were dressed in our full Chinese costume,
consisting of cue, satin shoes, skull-cap, silk gown,
loose jacket and white linen blouse. We were both
thirteen vears of age, but smaller than American

- C7 '

boys at eleven.


Sunday came. After lunch, the lady and her
son came up to our room to tell us to get ready to
go to Sabbath-school with them. We knew very
little English at the time. The simplest Anglo-
Saxon words were still but slightly known to us.
We caught the word " school ' only. We sup-
posed that at last our ordeal in an American
school was at hand. We each took a cloth-wrap-
per and began to tie up a pile of books with it, a
la Chinoise, when our guardians, returning, made us
understand by signs and otherwise that no books
were needed.

Well, we four set out, passed Court Square, and
walked up the steps of the First Church.

u It is a church," said my companion in Chinese.

We were confirmed in our suspicions on peep-
ing in and seeing the people rise to sing. " Church !
church!" we muttered, and rushed from the edi-
fice with all the speed we could command. We
did not stop till we got into our room, while our
American friends, surprised at this move on our
part and failing to overtake us, went back to the


\Ve learned English by object-lesvuis. At table
we were always told the names of certain dishe^,
and then assured that if we could not remember
the name we were not to partake of that article of
food. Taught by this method, our progress v.
rapid and



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