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flowers are continually growing. But Dr. Yvan was destined to have a closer acquaintance with the denizens of these boats than he had anticipated, owing to the kindness of the mandarin, who invited him and M. Callery to accompany him on a nocturnal expedition.
We passed and repassed very often the enchanted palaces of Han-Leou-Han, and were enabled to take a rapid glance at some of the details of the dissolute life of the joyous children of the Celestial Empire. On the terrace of a HanLeou we saw a mandarin with the blue button, seated before a table loaded with fruit; opposite him was seated a young girl, who played while the voluptuous guest carelessly tasted the dainties spread before him. The official had not doffed any of the insignia of his duties: his hat bore the brilliant decoration of the peacock feather, and his long robe indicated his dignity. The young singer was adorned with flowers, her plaited hair was turned behind her ears, and hung down her back. She wore a cham, pink trimmed with black, which descended to her knees, and a blue petticoat gathered in small plaits. The listener seemed enchanted with the voice or the words selected by the singing doll, for he gave at every moment silent testimony of his satisfaction by gravely nodding his head. In another boat we were witnesses of a scene more complete in its details. Two gentlemen were seated at a chess-board, while two very elegant ladies appeared to take great interest in the contest. On a divan at the end of the room another Chinese was preparing to smoke opium. He was dressed in jacket and drawers of white linen, and was reclining at his ease until a young girl had prepared his pipe. As may be seen, it is decent vice, almost vice of good taste, that visits the flower-boats, and hence we can understand that men of letters, officials, rich merchants, may appear in these houses without injury to their character.
The result of the mysterious invitation given to our Frenchmen by the mandarin was, that they suddenly found themselves seated in a handsome house at supper, and three ladies, with small feet, were introduced. The doctor was delighted at the opportunity for verifying the portraits he had studied so long. The ladies sang rather than spoke, and their slightest movements were imprinted with that affectation which is the height of fashion in China. They were admirably dressed: their chams, of crimson or true blue, were embroidered round the skirt; their trousers were kept up by a waist-belt, whose heavy fringe descended almost to the ground; while their shoes were gilt, and had in the heel a small bell that sounded joyously as they walked over the brilliant floor.
Nothing can be so graceful or charming as a Chinese woman when eating. Our fellow-guests took upon the end of their sticks a Nankin jujube, or a piece of preserved ginger, and carried it to their mouths with an affectation like birds nipping at their water-trough.
When we had drunk a cup of tea, the following dialogue took place in a low voice between our interpreter and the rich mandarin :
"You have told us that these ladies came from the flower-boats: is that so "
Quite true: they are the handsomest to be found at the present moment in Han-Leou-Han."
Their fate is surely very pitiable."
Why so? They are the happiest women in Canton: they are sought after by all the rich men, and constantly surrounded by admirers. Did you notice their rings, the bracelets on their hands and feet? They are presents offered to their beauty: judge by that of their wealth."
During their youth they may have no reason to complain of their lot; but what will become of them later ?"
"The same as other women. They will nurse their children while living quietly with their husbands in the house that has adopted them."
"How, with their husbands? Do you mean to say such women marry?" "Nearly all; but those who do not marry are much sought after to take the second place in great houses."
"Nonsense! it is impossible that women with such antecedents can be received into respectable houses."
"And why not? I have in my house two young girls I took from the HanLeou, and they are not the ugliest or the least charming."
"Oh! I cannot believe that you have taken into your house two women who have led this wretched life."
At these words Pan-se-Chen made a sign of astonishment: he rose, and, standing before Callery, said,
"I cannot understand your susceptibility. We Chinese feel no such scruples, and I can assure you we are all the better for it. In our eyes, a woman is a jewel that loses none of its value from having been admired by a number of persons. When I go to a lapidary's and see a precious stone of fine water, a jade button, and so on, must I refuse to wear them under the specious pretext that some one has worn them before me? When you are paid a sum in ingots, do you try to depreciate their value because others have touched them before you? Well, then, believe me, a woman is like a precious stone, a jade ornament, or an ingot: she maintains all her value so long as she preserves her brilliancy, her beauty, shape, and grace, and he would be a silly fellow who refused to appropriate her through scruples that are not common sense."
Such is the Chinese theory in love: it is somewhat brutal, but it is clear, precise, intelligible as an axiom.
Dr. Yvan soon had an opportunity of pursuing his researches into the domestic condition of China at the house of the mandarin, where he had free access, and frequently accompanied Mme. de Lagrené on her visits to the ladies. Madame Li, the legitimate wife of Pan-se-Chen, daughter of a powerful minister at the court of Pekin, was one of the most aristocratic beauties in the flowery land. This little fragile and delicate being resembled a sprig of jessamine swaying in the wind. Her eyes, like two black pearls, launched through their silky veil, according to her temper, little languishing glances or flashes sparkling with malice. There was something charmingly infantile about the lady, but yet it was impossible to confound her with the twelve other ladies when she was among them. The twelve tsié represented all ages, shapes, and degrees of embonpoint. They were there to testify to the caprices of Pan-se-Chen, and furnished an approximative date of the year one of his amours. This fatal date was inscribed on more than one of the faces; but still the decent air of those who only desired to be regarded as friends, showed that the mandarin had not selected them himself, and that an affectionate hand had directed the taste of the inexperienced youth.
The ladies led a very comfortable life in this opulent home; during the day, they collected in small groups to talk or work. Their occupation had nothing painful about it; they embroidered, played a little, or ground rice-flour and prepared dainties for dinner. Our presence in the gynecæum caused as much animation as the visit of a bishop to a nunnery. The entire charming band rushed into the apartment where we were received, and chattered around us like a body of nonnettes. A table covered with sugar-plums, pastry, and confitures was placed in the centre of the room, and everybody used the chopsticks at pleasure. Young servant girls, with their tresses hanging down their backs, brought us tea on a tray of red lacquer, and the nurses came and went, bearing the children in their arms, and regarding us curiously. It cannot be conceived what touching solicitude is displayed to the dear little things. On seeing all the women pressing round them and kissing them, it would have been impos
sible to guess which were the mothers. Pan-se-Chen will leave a numerous posterity if his life is spared; he had, during our residence with him, four children in long clothes! All were dressed with exaggerated elegance; they wore caps embroidered with gold, chains, toys, &c., of the utmost value. Madame Li was not so fortunate as to be a mother; but, in spite of Chinese ideas, she did not appear much to regret this happy privilege. She was largely indemnified for this privation by her companion, who made her a mother several times a year. I say advisedly made her a mother; according to the Chinese law, the legitimate wife is the only legal mother, and the only one the children can call by that name. Hence, Madame Li had several sons hardly ten years younger than herself.
But there is a reverse to the medal; the most fearful immorality exists in these harems; even the mandarin candidly confessed to Dr. Yvan that he had no faith in one of his wives, and he feared his own sons as rivals. Hence, too, their death caused him no special regret. "When they die," said Pan-se-Chen, "I buy them a coffin, and though it is an expensive article, still it does not require to be renewed." A happy state of things certainly. But, strange to say, while the Chinese are heartless towards their wives and their tsié, they are passionately fond of their mothers. Thus, Pan-se-Chen, the millionnaire, the voluptuary, the esprit fort, the literate, never forgot his duties towards his mother. And yet the old lady was only his legal mother, for he was the son of a concubine. Dr. Yvan was presented to the old lady; she had reached that period of life when women no longer use artifices to conceal their age. Her white hair was not plaited, but simply raised off the head after the fashion of the lower classes, and kept in its place by long pins; her dress was very simple; gown, trousers, and cham were of a green colour, trimmed with black velvet. She had kept her small feet, symbols of her rank, and her jade bracelets. On her breast she wore a delicately-embroidered case for her spectacles. Madame Poun-tin-Quoua had given up the use of rouge and white powder. Her venerable wrinkles ran across her yellow and thin face; she was old, but by no means decrepit. Her manner was noble and distinguished, and she received Dr. Yvan with great condescension. The mandarin stated that he never undertook anything without asking her advice, and added, with an exultation not at all habitual to him, "A mother is gifted with faculties superior to all other beings." It is apparent that this respect and affection are in flagrant contradiction with the insensibility affected by Chinese towards women in general, and of this Dr. Yvan gives a curious instance that came within his personal observation.
At Macao, I went one day to call on my friend Dr. Pitter, and I found in the hall one of his porters weeping silently in a corner, while his comrade appeared to be scolding him. A Chinese weeping decently, like a man profoundly afflicted, is a phenomenon; the children of the flowery land laugh and smile incessantly; when they cry, they utter howls. I told Pitter what I had seen, and he remarked: "I must know the cause of this change in the natural laws of China." He called his Coolies, who ran in directly. "What cause have you for weeping?" he asked the afflicted porter. The man addressed made no reply; then his comrade spoke: "Pay no attention to him, Nhon; the stupid fellow is crying because his wife died this morning."
Well, it is very natural that he should lament," exclaimed Pitter; "and vou are quarrelling with him on that account ?"
"Come, Nhon, you are not more sensible than he is. Do you weep when you
tear an old coat, or when you lose an object that has served you a long time? Well, it is the same with a wife; it is like a wedding garment in your wardrobe; it is not worth while despairing because you happen to lose it; the shortest way is to buy another."
Pan-se-Chen's elder sons were almost constantly en rapport with the ladies; one of them was a lad of seventeen, with a face not very intelligent, the other a boy of eight. The latter was a very gay and lively boy. When he first saw the young French ladies, he took quite a fancy to them; he displayed his decided preference for Miss Olga, and when he perceived that her feet were not pinched up like his sister's, and that she could consequently race about and romp, he evinced his delight by jumping and clapping his hands. He then took the arm He then took the arm of his new acquaintance, and dragged her off to show her all the beauties of the paternal mansion. We have then been introduced by Dr. Yvan to all the personnel of the mandarin's house, and if we take into consideration the number of servants required to wait upon them, the palanquin-bearers to carry them about, for no member of the family would be seen on foot in the streets, the enormous consumption of provisions, clothing, &c., we may easily understand how even the richest Chinese easily find employment for their enormous fortunes. In conclusion, Dr. Yvan gives the following remarks on the subject of Chinese morality, which deserve attention, as developing another phase of the great social evil :
During the last few years, Chinese women have been seen in Europe, and the persons who have taken the trouble to visit them will perhaps find the praise I have bestowed on the beauty of the ladies exaggerated. It is necessary to give some explanation on this head. There is a great difference in China between women of the people and those of the higher classes; the former are nearly all ugly; the others are generally pretty. This depends from a very simple fact a Chinese woman is a work of art and not a natural production. Infinite care, incessant watching, and a special education are required to form a Chinese beauty, and when this chef-d'œuvre has been produced it becomes the exclusive property of the opulent classes. If it be a young girl of good family, rich men seek her in marriage; if she belong to an humble family, they purchase her by the assistance of some matron, or after she has been exposed to the appreciation of amateurs in a boat or house of flowers. In China, the trade of a traviata, or the position of a mistress, has nothing dishonouring. In a poor, but honourable house, the girls are brought up to such a profession, just as in England or France they are educated for governesses or companions. This facility of finding a place is the cause of the poorer classes being skimmed of their fairest productions every year. Hence, it is easy to understand how strangers, who generally never penetrate into Chinese interiors, or into the flower-houses, are unacquainted with the graceful types of the race, and that the yellow-skinned merchants who bring to Europe the girls of the Kouang-Ton, or of Fo-Kein, can only choose unfortunate specimens, whose ugliness has destroyed the hopes of their worthy parents. In a word, only women who have been refused at the flower-boats of Canton have found their way to Europe.
But we are forced reluctantly to stop, otherwise we could cull much interesting matter still from the pages of Dr. Yvan's book. All we can do is to refer our readers to the work itself, as one giving, in a small compass, the largest amount of information hitherto collected about the social life and condition of the Chinese, and we close the book with the hope that Dr. Yvan will fulfil, and that right soon, his promise of making known still further details of the Celestial Empire.
OUDE AND THE DEFENCE OF LUCKNOW.*
THE defence of Lucknow is one of those rare examples of suffering, gallantry, devotion, and heroism on the part of a small band against numbers, which give interest to the pages of history as much, if not more, than any other incidents attached to a common humanity. Few questions have been viewed in such an opposite manner as the occupation of Oude. Considered in the light of the rights of individuals, there was sufficient to enable partisanship to make out such a case as led a public meeting to arrive at so absurd a resolution, that the kingdom should be restored to its barbarous and vicious rulers, whose legitimacy itself only dates from the epoch when they threw off the yoke of the Muhammadan Sultans of Delhi, and whose hereditary claims have long been extinguished by profligacy and corruption.
But, considered in the light of the advantages and welfare of the people of Oude themselves, the question will not bear a moment's discussion. There is no doubt of the many short-comings and deficiencies of our rule in India-that the interests of the people have not always been sufficiently considered, that the great cause of civilisation has been little, if at all, attended to, and that Christianity itself has not been placed on that vantage ground which had been earned for it by the toil and blood of its followers-but to suppose for a moment that the interests of humanity would be cared for by leaving a people like those of Oude for ever exposed to the oppression, tyranny, and violence of their own rulers in preference to the sway tempered by justice and guided by principle, as that of the British most undoubtedly is, is to be wilfully blind to the great cause of humanity, and to exhibit more sympathy for debauched princely conspirators than for the suffering people themselves.
If proofs sufficient did not exist of the state of utter prostration, misrule, anarchy, violence, and profligacy, in which the kingdom of Oude was immersed previous to its occupation by the English, the perusal of the work of the late Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman would be quite sufficient to have made any right-thinking person ardently desirous for any change of government that would tend to relieve the poor Oudeans from the oppression and worse than slavery under which they groaned.
Sir W. H. Sleeman, who was British Resident at the court of Lucknow in 1849-50, purposely travelled through the kingdom of Oude in order that he might obtain thereby as fair and full a picture of the real state of the country, condition, and feeling of the people of all classes, and character of the government under which they then lived, as the opportunities afforded by such travel would enable him to obtain. Sir William, it is to be observed, was opposed to the annexation of Oude. His opposition was founded on the singular grounds that it was advisable to
A Journey through the Kingdom of Oude. By Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B. London: Richard Bentley.
A Personal Narrative of the Siege of Lucknow. By L. E. Ruutz Rees. London: Longmans.
The Defence of Lucknow. By a Staff Officer. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.