Friday, August 29, 2008

Farmers of Forty Centuries To Hongkong And Canton


We had come to learn how the old-world farmers bad been able to provide materials for food and clothing on such small areas for so many millions, at so low a price, during so many centuries, and were anxious to see them at the soil and among the crops. The sun was still south of the equator, coming north only about twelve miles per day, so, to save time, we booked on the next steamer for Hongkong to meet spring at Canton, beyond the Tropic of Cancer, six hundred miles farther south, and return with her.
On the morning of March 4th the Tosa Maru steamed out into the Yangtse river, already flowing with the increased speed of ebb tide. The pilots were on the bridge to guide her course along the narrow south channel through waters seemingly as brown and turbid as the Potomac after a rain. It was some distance beyond Gutzlaff Island, seventy miles to sea, where there is a lighthouse and a telegraph station receiving six cables, that we crossed the front of the out-going tide, showing in a sharp line of contrast stretching in either direction farther than the eye could see, across the course of the ship and yet it was the season of low water in this river. During long ages this stream of mighty volume has been loading upon itself in far-away Tibet, without dredge, barge, fuel or human effort, unused and there unusable soils, bringing them down from inaccessible heights across two or three thousand miles, building up with them, from under the sea, at the gateways of commerce, miles upon miles of the world's most fertile fields and gardens. Today on this river, winding through six hundred miles of the most highly cultivated fields, laid out on river-built plains, go large ocean steamers to the city of Hankow-Wuchang-Hanyang where 1,770,000 people live and trade within a radius less than four miles; while smaller steamers push on a thousand miles and are then but 130 feet above sea level.
Even now, with the aid of current, tide and man, these brown turbid waters are rapidly adding fertile delta plains for new homes. During the last twenty-five years Chungming island has grown in length some 1800 feet per year and today a million people are living and growing rice, wheat, cotton and sweet potatoes on 270 square miles of fertile plain where five hundred years ago were only submerged river sands and silt. Here 3700 people per square mile have acquired homes.
The southward voyage was over a quiet sea and as we passed among and near the off-shore islands these, as seen in Japan, appeared destitute of vegetation other than the low herbaceous types with few shrubs and almost no forest growth and little else that gave the appearance of green. Captain Harrison informed me that at no time in the year are these islands possessed of the grass-green verdure so often seen in northern climates, and yet the islands lie in a region of abundant summer rain, making it hard to understand why there is not a more luxuriant growth.
Sunday morning, March 7th, passing first extensive sugar refineries, found us entering the long, narrow and beautiful harbor of Hongkong. Here, lying at anchor in the ten square miles of water, were five battleships, several large ocean steamers, many coastwise vessels and a multitude of smaller craft whose yearly tonnage is twenty to thirty millions. But the harbor lies in the track of the terrible East Indian typhoon and, although sheltered on the north shore of a high island, one of these storms recently sunk nine vessels, sent twenty-three ashore, seriously damaged twenty-one others, wrought great destruction among the smaller craft and over a thousand dead were recovered. Such was the destruction wrought by the September storm of 1906.
Our steamer did not go to dock but the Nippon Yusen Kaisha's launch transferred us to a city much resembling Seattle in possessing a scant footing between a long sea front and high steep mountain slopes behind. Here cliffs too steep to climb rise from the very sidewalk and are covered with a great profusion and variety of ferns, small bamboo, palms, vines, many flowering shrubs, all interspersed with pine and great banyan trees that do so much toward adding the beauty of northern landscapes to the tropical features which reach upward until hidden in a veil of fog that hung, all of the time we were there, over the city, over the harbor and stretched beyond Old and New Kowloon.
Hongkong island is some eleven miles long and but two to five miles wide, while the peak carrying the signal staff rises 1,825 feet above the streets from which ascends the Peak tramway, where, hanging from opposite ends of a strong cable, one car rises up the slope and another descends every fifteen to twenty minutes, affording communication with business houses below and homes in beautiful surroundings and a tempered climate above. Extending along the slopes of the mountains, too, above the city, are very excellent roads, carefully graded, provided with concrete gutters and bridges, along which one may travel on foot, on horseback, by ricksha or sedan chair, but too narrow for carriages. Over one of these we ascended along one side of Happy Valley, around its head and down the other side. Only occasionally could we catch glimpses of the summit through the lifting fog but the views, looking down and across the city and beyond the harbor with its shipping, and up and down the many ravines from via-ducts, are among the choicest and rarest ever made accessible to the residents of any city. It was the beginning of the migratory season for birds, and trees and shrubbery thronged with many species.
Many of the women in Hongkong were seen engaged in such heavy manual labor with the men as carrying crushed rock and sand, for concrete and macadam work, up the steep street slopes long distances from the dock, but they were neither tortured nor incapacitated by bound feet. Like the men, they were of smaller stature than most seen at Shanghai and closely resemble the Chinese in the United States. Both sexes are agile, wiry and strong. Here we first saw lumber sawing in the open streets after the manner shown in Fig. 33, where wide boards were being cut from camphor logs. In the damp, already warm weather the men were stripped to the waist, their limbs bare to above the knee, and each carried a large towel for wiping away the profuse perspiration.
It was here, too, that we first met the remarkable staging for the erection of buildings of four and six stories, set up without saw, hammer or nail; without injury to or waste of lumber and with the minimum of labor in construction and removal. Poles and bamboo stems were lashed together with overlapping ends, permitting any interval or height to be secured without cutting or nailing, and admitting of ready removal with absolutely no waste, all parts being capable of repeated use unless it be some of the materials employed in tying members. Up inclined stairways, from staging to staging, in the erection of six-story granite buildings, mortar was being carried in baskets swinging from bamboo poles on the shoulders of men and women, as the cheapest hoists available in English Hongkong where there is willing human labor and to spare.
The Singer sewing machine, manufactured in New Jersey, was seen in many Chinese shops in Hongkong and other cities, operated by Chinese men and women, purchased, freight prepaid, at two-thirds the retail price in the United States. Such are the indications of profit to manufacturers on the home sale of home-made goods while at the same time reaping good returns from a large trade in heathen lands, after paying the freight.
Industrial China, Korea and Japan do not observe our weekly day of rest and during our walk around Happy Valley on Sunday afternoon, looking down upon its terraced gardens and tiny fields, we saw men and women busy fitting the soil for new crops, gathering vegetables for market, feeding plants with liquid manure and even irrigating certain crops, notwithstanding the damp, foggy, showery weather. Turning the head of the valley, attention was drawn to a walled enclosure and a detour down the slope brought us to a florist's garden within which were rows of large potted foliage plants of semi-shrubbery habit, seen in Fig. 35, trained in the form of life-size human figures with limbs, arms and trunk provided with highly glazed and colored porcelain feet, hands and head. These, with many other potted plants and trees, including dwarf varieties, are grown under out-door lattice shelters in different parts of China, for sale to the wealthy Chinese families.
How thorough is the tillage, how efficient and painstaking the garden fitting, and how closely the ground is crowded to its upper limit of producing power are indicated in Fig. 36; and when one stops and studies the detail in such gardens he expects in its executor an orderly, careful, frugal and industrious man, getting not a little satisfaction out of his creations however arduous his task or prolonged his day. If he is in the garden or one meets him at the house, clad as the nature of his duties and compensation have determined, you may be disappointed or feel arising an unkind judgment. But who would risk a reputation so clad and so environed? Many were the times, during our walks in the fields and gardens among these old, much misunderstood, misrepresented and undervalued people, when the bond of common interest was recognized between us, that there showed through the face the spirit which put aside both dress and surroundings and the man stood forth who, with fortitude and rare wisdom, is feeding the millions and who has carried through centuries the terrible burden of taxes levied by dishonor and needless wars. Nay, more than this, the man stood forth who has kept alive the seeds of manhood and has nourished them into such sturdy stock as has held the stream of progress along the best interests of civilization in spite of the driftwood heaped upon it.
Not only are these people extremely careful and painstaking in fitting their fields and gardens to receive the crop, but they are even more scrupulous in their care to make everything that can possibly serve as fertilizer for the soil, or food for the crop being grown, do so unless there is some more remunerative service it may render. Expense is incurred to provide such receptacles as are seen in Fig. 37 for receiving not only the night soil of the home and that which may be bought or otherwise procured, but in which may be stored any other fluid which can serve as plant food. On the right of these earthenware jars too is a pile of ashes and one of manure. All such materials are saved and used in the most advantageous ways to enrich the soil or to nourish the plants being grown.
Generally the liquid manures must be diluted with water to a greater or less extent before they are "fed", as the Chinese say, to their plants, hence there is need of an abundant and convenient water supply. One of these is seen in Fig. 38, where the Chinaman has adopted the modern galvanized iron pipe to bring water from the mountain slope of Happy Valley to his garden. By the side of this tank are the covered pails in which the night soil was brought, perhaps more than a mile, to be first diluted and then applied. But the more general method for supplying water is that of leading it along the ground in channels or ditches to a small reservoir in one corner of a terraced field or garden, as seen in Fig. 39, where it is held and the surplus led down from terrace to terrace, giving each its permanent supply. At the upper right corner of the engraving may be seen two manure receptacles and a third stands near the reservoir. The plants on the lower terrace are water cress and those above the same. At this time of the year, on the terraced gardens of Happy Valley, this is one of the crops most extensively grown.
Walking among these gardens and isolated homes, we passed a pig pen provided with a smooth, well-laid stone floor that had just been washed scrupulously clean, like the floor of a house. While I was not able to learn other facts regarding this case, I have little doubt that the washings from this floor had been carefully collected and taken to some receptacle to serve as a plant food.
Looking backward as we left Hongkong for Canton on the cloudy evening of March 8th, the view was wonderfully beautiful. We were drawing away from three cities, one, electric-lighted Hongkong rising up the steep slopes, suggesting a section of sky set with a vast array of stars of all magnitudes up to triple Jupiters; another, old and new Kowloon on the opposite side of the harbor; and between these two, separated from either shore by wide reaches of wholly unoccupied water, lay the third, a mid-strait city of sampans, junks and coastwise craft of many kinds segregated, in obedience to police regulation, into blocks and streets with each setting sun, but only to scatter again with the coming morn. At night, after a fixed hour, no one is permitted to leave shore and cross the vacant water strip except from certain piers and with the permission of the police, who take the number of the sampan and the names of its occupants. Over the harbor three large search lights were sweeping and it was curious to see the junks and other craft suddenly burst into full blazes of light, like so many monstrous fire-flies, to disappear and reappear as the lights came and went. Thus is the mid-strait city lighted and policed and thus have steps been taken to lessen the number of cases of foul play where people have left the wharves at night for some vessel in the strait, never to be heard from again.
Some ninety miles is the distance by water to Canton, and early the next morning our steamer dropped anchor off the foreign settlement of Shameen. Through the kindness of Consul-General Amos P. Wilder in sending a telegram to the Canton Christian College, their little steam launch met the boat and took us directly to the home of the college on Honam Island, lying in the great delta south of the city where sediments brought by the Si-kiang--west, Pei-kiang--north, and Tung-kiang--east--rivers through long centuries have been building the richest of land which, because of the density of population, are squared up everywhere to the water's edge and appropriated as fast as formed, and made to bring forth materials for food fuel and raiment in vast quantities.
It was on Honam Island that we walked first among the grave lands and came to know them as such, for Canton Christian College stands in the midst of graves which, although very old, are not permitted to be disturbed and the development of the campus must wait to secure permission to remove graves, or erect its buildings in places not the most desirable. Cattle were grazing among the graves and with them a flock of some 250 of the brown Chinese geese, two-thirds grown, was watched by boys, gleaning their entire living from the grave lands and adjacent water. A mature goose sells in Canton for $1.20, Mexican, or less than 52 cents, gold, but even then how can the laborer whose day's wage is but ten or fifteen cents afford one for his family? Here, too, we saw the Chinese persistent, never-ending industry in keeping their land, their sunshine and their rain, with themselves, busy in producing something needful. Fields which had matured two crops of rice during the long summer, had been laboriously, and largely by hand labor, thrown into strong ridges as seen in Fig. 40, to permit still a third winter crop of some vegetable to be taken from the land.
But this intensive, continuous cropping of the land spells soil exhaustion and creates demands for maintenance and restoration of available plant food or the adding of large quantities of something quickly convertible into it, and so here in the fields on Honam Island, as we had found in Happy Valley, there was abundant evidence of the most careful attention and laborious effort devoted to plant feeding. The boat standing in the canal in Fig. 41 had come from Canton in the early morning with two tons of human manure and men were busy applying it, in diluted form, to beds of leeks at the rate of 16,000 gallons per acre, all carried on the shoulders in such pails as stand in the foreground. The material is applied with long-handled dippers holding a gallon, dipping it from the pails, the men wading, with bare feet and trousers rolled above the knees, in the water of the furrows between the beds. This is one of their ways of "feeding the crop," and they have other methods of "manuring the soil."
One of these we first met on Honam Island. Large amounts of canal mud are here collected in boats and brought to the fields to be treated and there left to drain and dry before distributing. Both the material used to feed the crop and that used for manuring the land are waste products, hindrances to the industry of the region, but the Chinese make them do essential duty in maintaining its life. The human waste must be disposed of. They return it to the soil. We turn it into the sea. Doing so, they save for plant feeding more than a ton of phosphorus and more than two tons of potassium per day for each million of adult population. The mud collects in their canals and obstructs movement. They must be kept open. The mud is highly charged with organic matter and would add humus to the soil if applied to the fields, at the same time raising their level above the river and canal, giving them better drainage; thus are they turning to use what is otherwise waste, causing the labor which must be expended in disposal to count in a remunerative way.
During the early morning ride to Canton Christian College and three others which we were permitted to enjoy in the launch on the canal and river waters, everything was again strange, fascinating and full of human interest. The Cantonese water population was a surprise, not so much for its numbers as for the lithe, sinewy forms, bright eyes and cheerful faces, particularly among the women, young and old. Nearly always one or more women, mother and daughter oftenest, grandmother many times, wrinkled, sometimes grey, but strong, quick and vigorous in motion, were manning the oars of junks, houseboats and sampans. Sometimes husband and wife and many times the whole family were seen together when the craft was both home and business boat as well. Little children were gazing from most unexpected peek holes, or they toddled tethered from a waist belt at the end of as much rope as would arrest them above water, should they go overboard. And the cat was similarly tied. Through an overhanging latticed stern, too, hens craned their necks, longing for scenes they could not reach. With bare heads, bare feet, in short trousers and all dressed much alike, men, women, boys and girls showed equal mastery of the oar. Beginning so young, day and night in the open air on the tide-swept streams and canals, exposed to all of the sunshine the fogs and clouds will permit, and removed from the dust and filth of streets, it would seem that if the children survive at all they must develop strong. The appearance of the women somehow conveyed the impression that they were more vigorous and in better fettle than the men.
Boats selling many kinds of steaming hot dishes were common. Among these was rice tied in green leaf wrappers, three small packets in a cluster suspended by a strand of some vegetable fiber, to be handed hot from the cooker to the purchaser, some one on a passing junk or on an in-coming or out-going boat. Another would buy hot water for a brew of tea, while still another, and for a single cash, might be handed a small square of cotton cloth, wrung hot from the water, with which to wipe his face and hands and then be returned.
Perhaps nothing better measures the intensity of the maintenance struggle here, and better indicates the minute economies practiced, than the value of their smallest currency unit, the Cash, used in their daily retail transactions. On our Pacific coast, where less thought is given to little economies than perhaps anywhere else in the world, the nickel is the smallest coin in general use, twenty to the dollar. For the rest of the United States and in most English speaking countries one hundred cents or half pennies measure an equal value. In Russia 170 kopecks, in Mexico 200 centavos, in France 250 two-centime pieces, and in Austria-Hungary 250 two-heller coins equal the United States dollar; while in Germany 400 pfennigs, and in India 400 pie are required for an equal value. Again 500 penni in Finland and of stotinki in Bulgaria, of centesimi in Italy and of half cents in Holland equal our dollar; but in China the small daily financial transactions are measured against a much smaller unit, their Cash, 1500 to 2000 of which are required to equal the United States dollar, their purchasing power fluctuating daily with the price of silver.
In the Shantung province, when we inquired of the farmers the selling prices of their crops, their replies were given like this: "Thirty-five strings of cash for 420 catty of wheat and twelve to fourteen strings of cash for 1000 catty of wheat straw." At this time, according to my interpreter, the value of one string of cash was 40 cents Mexican, from which it appears that something like 250 of these coins were threaded on a string. Twice we saw a wheelbarrow heavily loaded with strings of cash being transported through the streets of Shanghai, lying exposed on the frame, suggesting chains of copper more than money. At one of the go-downs or warehouses in Tsingtao, where freight was being transferred from a steamer, the carriers were receiving their pay in these coin. The pay-master stood in the doorway with half a bushel of loose cash in a grain sack at his feet. With one hand he received the bamboo tally-sticks from the stevedores and with the other paid the cash for service rendered.
Reference has been made to buying hot water. In a sampan managed by a woman and her daughter, who took us ashore, the middle section of the boat was furnished in the manner of a tiny sitting-room, and on the sideboard sat the complete embodiment of our fireless cookers, keeping boiled water hot for making tea. This device and the custom are here centuries old and throughout these countries boiled water, as tea, is the universal drink, adopted no doubt as a preventive measure against typhoid fever and allied diseases. Few vegetables are eaten raw and nearly all foods are taken hot or recently cooked if not in some way pickled or salted. Houseboat meat shops move among the many junks on the canals. These were provided with a compartment communicating freely with the canal water where the fish were kept alive until sold. At the street markets too, fish are kept alive in large tubs of water systematically aerated by the water falling from an elevated receptacle in a thin stream. A live fish may even be sliced before the eyes of a purchaser and the unsold portion returned to the water. Poultry is largely retailed alive although we saw much of it dressed and cooked to a uniform rich brown, apparently roasted, hanging exposed in the markets of the very narrow streets in Canton, shaded from the hot sun under awnings admitting light overhead through translucent oyster-shell latticework. Perhaps these fowl had been cooked in hot oil and before serving would be similarly heated. At any rate it is perfectly clear that among these people many very fundamental sanitary practices are rigidly observed.
One fact which we do not fully understand is that, wherever we went, house flies were very few. We never spent a summer with so little annoyance from them as this one in China, Korea and Japan. It may be that our experience was exceptional but, if so, it could not be ascribed to the season of our visit for we have found flies so numerous in southern Florida early in April as to make the use of the fly brush at the table very necessary. If the scrupulous husbanding of waste refuse so universally practiced in these countries reduces the fly nuisance and this menace to health to the extent which our experience suggests, here is one great gain. We breed flies in countless millions each year, until they become an intolerable nuisance, and then expend millions of dollars on screens and fly poison which only ineffectually lessen the intensity and danger of the evil.
The mechanical appliances in use on the canals and in the shops of Canton demonstrate that the Chinese possess constructive ability of a high order, notwithstanding so many of these are of the simplest forms. This statement is well illustrated in the simple yet efficient foot-power seen in Fig. 42, where a father and his two sons are driving an irrigation pump, lifting water at the rate of seven and a half acre-inches per ten hours, and at a cost, including wage and food, of 36 to 45 cents, gold. Here, too, were large stern-wheel passenger boats, capable of carrying thirty to one hundred people, propelled by the same foot-power but laid crosswise of the stern, the men working in long single or double lines, depending on the size of the boat. On these the fare was one cent, gold, for a fifteen mile journey, a rate one-thirtieth our two-cent railway tariff. The dredging and clearing of the canals and water channels in and about Canton is likewise accomplished with the same foot-power, often by families living on the dredge boats. A dipper dredge is used, constructed of strong bamboo strips woven into the form of a sliding, two-horse road scraper, guided by a long bamboo handle. The dredge is drawn along the bottom by a rope winding about the projecting axle of the foot-power, propelled by three or more people. When the dipper reaches the axle and is raised from the water it is swung aboard, emptied and returned by means of a long arm like the old well sweep, operated by a cord depending from the lower end of the lever, the dipper swinging from the other. Much of the mud so collected from the canals and channels of the city is taken to the rice and mulberry fields, many square miles of which occupy the surrounding country. Thus the channels are kept open, the fields grow steadily higher above flood level, while their productive power is maintained by the plant food and organic matter carried in the sediment.
The mechanical principle involved in the boy's button buzz was applied in Canton and in many other places for operating small drills as well as in grinding and polishing appliances used in the manufacture of ornamental ware. The drill, as used for boring metal, is set in a straight shaft, often of bamboo, on the upper end of which is mounted a circular weight. The drill is driven by a pair of strings with one end attached just beneath the momentum weight and the other fastened at the ends of a cross hand-bar, having a hole at its center through which the shaft carrying the drill passes. Holding the drill in position for work and turning the shaft, the two cords are wrapped about it in such a manner that simple downward pressure on the hand bar held in the two hands unwinds the cords and thus revolves the drill. Relieving the pressure at the proper time permits the momentum of the revolving weight to rewind the cords and the next downward pressure brings the drill again into service.

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