Friday, August 29, 2008

Forty Years in South China Light And Shade

Among the jottings in Mr. Talmage's diary for 1847-1848 we find mention of a tour to Chiang-chiu on September 23, 1847, in company with Messrs. Pohlman, Doty and Lloyd.
Chiang-chiu is a large city of 200,000 inhabitants, situated on a wide river, 30 miles west of Amoy. He writes: "Wherever we went we were accompanied by an immense throng of people. The most of them I suppose had never seen a white face. But few Europeans have visited the city. The city has an extensive wall, wider and I think more cleanly streets, and is larger than Amoy. In the rear of the city there are three watch towers. They are situated on very elevated ground. From these we had a very delightful view of the city and surrounding country. The scenery, it seemed to me, was the most beautiful I had ever witnessed. Within the circle of our vision lay that immense city with its extensive walls, its temples and pagoda, its river, bridges and boats, its gardens, its trees and shrubbery, and its densely crowded streets. Surrounding the city was spread out an extensive valley of some ten or fifteen miles in width and some twenty or twenty-five in length, covered with luxuriant vegetation. Through the midst of the valley might be marked the meandering track of the Chiang-chiu river, the whole region beautifully variegated with fruit trees, shade trees, and villages. Still further on, in every direction, our view was bounded by lofty hills whose cloud capped tops seemed as pillars on which the heavens rested. Nature had done her best to make this region a terrestrial paradise."
On a subsequent trip to Chiang-chiu, Mr. Talmage writes: "The valley of the Chiang-chiu river is one of the most beautiful regions I ever saw. It is densely populated. In every direction are villages, I might almost say without number, rendered most beautiful by their plentiful supply of large banyans and various other trees of luxuriant foliage. The intermediate spaces between the villages are fields covered with vegetation most dense and beautiful. Through the centre of this scene may be traced the course of the river with its numberless canals, like the Nile of Egypt, giving fertility wherever nature or the art of man conducts its waters."
"Feb. 27, 1848. Today an old lady and her two sons declared themselves to be worshipers of Jesus by presenting their idols to Bro. Pohlman. On the evening of the last day of their last year they had burnt their ancestral tablets. It was an interesting sight, said Bro. Pohlman, to see the old lady, supported by one of her sons, breaking her idols and making a voluntary and public surrender of them at the chapel.
"March 1st. When the old lady returned from the chapel on Sunday evening she was full of zeal, and began preaching to her neighbors on the folly of idolatry. She was so successful that another old lady living in the same house with her has made a bonfire and burned all her idols except one. This, being made of clay, was not combustible. This she presented to Pohlman today. He asked her whether she gave it up willingly. She said she rejoiced to do it. She said she had not yet destroyed her ancestral tablets. Pohlman told her he did not wish her to do it rashly. She must reflect on the subject, and when she became convinced that the worship of them was a sin against God she must give them up immediately.
"March 29th. This afternoon Bro. Hickok and wife and Bro. Maclay arrived at Amoy on their way to Foochow. They had a long passage from Hongkong, having been out twenty-nine days." The distance from Hongkong to Amoy is less than three hundred miles, and is made in twenty-four hours by an ordinary coast steamer.
"June 5th. Monday. To-day being the fifth day of the fifth month , was the festival of dragon boat-racing. Several dragon boats filled with rowers, rather paddlers, were contesting this afternoon in the harbor. The water was thronged with boats filled with Chinese to see the sport. Many of these boats, and almost all the junks in the neighborhood, were decked with green branches, also with streamers flying. The origin of this festival is said to be as follows: In very ancient times one of the first officers, perhaps Prime Minister of government, gave offense to the emperor. The emperor banished him. He was so downcast on account of the emperor's displeasure that he went and drowned himself. The emperor afterwards repented of his act, and on inquiry after the man learned that he had drowned himself. He sent out boats in every direction to search for his body, and also to make offerings to his spirit. His body was not found. But from that time to this his body is thus searched for every year and his spirit thus appeased. This celebration is universal throughout the empire and wherever there are colonies of Chinese, throughout the islands of the Archipelago.
"The same good feeling continues to exist at Amoy as formerly. We are on the best of terms, so far as we can judge, with all classes, the officials and people. The mandarins receive our calls and return their cards. All of them but one have visited us at our houses. Some of them call on us quite frequently. This places us on a high vantage ground. The people will not fear to listen to us, attend our meetings, and visit us at our houses, as they would if the mandarins kept aloof from us. The same good feeling towards foreigners seems to extend far into the interior. At least we go from, village to village wherever we please without hindrance, and are always treated with kindness."
"I have to-day been making some inquiries of my teacher concerning the system by which the beggars of Amoy are governed. The truth seems as follows: There are very many beggars in the city. In each ward there is a head-man or chief called 'Chief of the Beggars.' He derives his office from the 'Hai-hong,' or the superior local magistrate. Sometimes the office is conferred as an act of benevolence on an individual, who from sickness or other causes has met with reverses of fortune. Sometimes it is purchased. There being eighteen wards in the city of Amoy, of course there are eighteen such head-men. Their office is not honorable, but there is considerable profit connected with it. The head-men hold their office for life, or until removed for bad behavior. They get certificates of office from the 'Hai-hong,' and on the change of that functionary it is necessary to get the stamp of his successor attached to their certificates. Their income is derived from various sources. Monthly they call on the merchants and shopkeepers, who by paying down a sufficient amount are freed from the annoyance of beggars during the month. If a beggar enters one of these establishments he is pointed to a card which is posted up in some conspicuous place, and is a certificate from the 'chief of the beggars' of that ward that a sufficient amount of beggar money has been paid down for the month. The 'chiefs of the beggars' also receive money from a man or his family when he is about to marry, also from the family of the bride. They also receive money after the death and burial of the parents or any old member of a family; also from men who are advanced to literary honors, or who receive official promotion In any of the above cases, if any individual fail to agree with the 'chief of the beggars' of his ward and pay what is considered a sufficient amount of money , he may expect a visit from a posse of beggars, who will give him much annoyance by their continual demands. The 'chiefs of the beggars' give a part of the money which they receive to the beggars under them. My teacher thinks there are about two thousand beggars in the city of Amoy. There is a small district belonging to the city of Amoy called 'The Beggars' Camp.' The most of the inhabitants of this place are beggars. These beggars go about the city seeking a living, clothed in rags and covered with filth and sores, the most disgusting and pitiable objects I ever saw."
On the 6th of December Rev. John Lloyd, of the American Presbyterian mission, died of typhus fever after an illness of two weeks. Mr. Talmage makes this record of him:
"Dec. 8, 1848. Rev. John Lloyd was born in the State of Pennsylvania on the first of Oct., 1813, which made him thirty-five years, two months, and five days at the time of his death. He was a man of fine abilities. His mind was well stored with useful knowledge and was well disciplined. He was most laborious in study, very careful to improve his time. He was mastering the language with rapidity. His vocabulary was not so large as that of some of the other brethren, but he had a very large number of words and phrases at his command, and was pronounced by the Chinese to speak the language more accurately than any other foreigner in the place. They even said of him that it could not be inferred simply from his voice, unless his face was seen, that he was a foreigner. He was a man of warm heart, very strong in his friendship, very kind in his disposition, and a universal favorite among the Chinese. I never knew a man that improved more by close intimacy. His modesty, which may be called his great fault, was such that it was necessary to become well acquainted with him before he could be properly appreciated. But it has pleased the Master of the harvest to call him from the field just as he became fully qualified to be an efficient laborer. What a lesson this, that we must not overestimate our importance in the work to which God has called us. He can do without us. It seems necessary that He should give the Church lesson upon lesson that she may not forget her dependence upon Him."
Early in 1849 the brethren were called to mourn the loss of one of the most devoted pioneers of the Amoy mission, the Rev. William J. Pohlman.
Mr. Talmage writes: "Feb. 8th. On Monday night at twelve o'clock I was called up to receive the sad intelligence that our worst fears in reference to Pohlman were confirmed. He perished on the morning of the 5th or 6th ult. He embarked on the 2d ult. from Hongkong in the schooner Omega. On the morning of probably the 5th, at about two o'clock, she struck near Breaker Point, one hundred and twenty miles from Hongkong. A strong wind was blowing at the time, so that every effort to get the ship off was unavailing. She was driven farther on the sand and fell over on her side. Her long boat and one quarter boat were carried away, and her cabin filled with water. The men on board clung to the vessel until morning. The remaining boat was then lowered. Those of the crew who were able to swim were directed to swim to the shore. The captain, first and second officers, and Pohlman entered the boat end those of the crew who could not swim also received permission to enter. But a general rush was made for the boat, by which it was overturned, and those who could not swim, Pohlman among the number, perished. The captain attempted to reach the shore by swimming, and would have succeeded, but was met by the natives. They were eager for plunder, and seized the captain to plunder him of his clothes. While they were stripping him of his clothes they dragged him through the water with his head under, by which he was drowned. About twenty-five of the crew succeeded in reaching the shore in safety. After being stripped of their clothes, they were permitted to escape. Afterwards, on arriving at a village they were furnished with some rags. After suffering much from fatigue and hunger they arrived at Canton, overland, on the 17th ult. This event has cast gloom again over our small circle. But one month previous to his death, Pohlman with myself had closed the eyes of dear Lloyd. Oh, how deeply we do feel, and shall for a long time feel this loss."
"Feb. 11th. On Sunday afternoon our new church was consecrated to the worship of the only true God, the first building built for this purpose in Amoy. Mr. Young preached the sermon. It was also a funeral sermon for Mr. Pohlman. The house was crowded with people. Very many could not get into the building. There was some noise and confusion. I think the majority, however, were desirous to hear."
In a letter to Drs. Anderson and De Witt, speaking of Pohlman's death, he says:
"Our hearts bleed. God has seen fit to send upon us stroke after stroke. Oh, when will He stay His hand? But we will not murmur. It is God who hath done this. His ways are inscrutable. We gaze upon them in mute astonishment. We may quote as peculiarly applicable to our present circumstances the remarks which this brother made at the grave of him who was called away a month previous. 'Death,' said he, 'is always a sad event, and is often peculiarly distressing. It is so in the instance before us. There is a sad breach in our little circle at this station. Situated as we are here, every member of our small society tells upon the happiness of the whole. Our number is limited and less than a score. We have few bosom friends, few to cheer and encourage us, few to whom to tell our sorrows and our joys. Here we are far away from those we love, away from dear friends and kindred and those tender associations which make society so delightful at home. Hence we feel deeply any breach made in our little circle. In proportion as our number is diminished in the same proportion is there a decrease in the endearments of friendship and love. More especially is this the case when the departed was possessed of social virtues and qualified to make all around him agreeable and happy. We mourn also for these poor deluded heathen. They have sustained an incalculable loss. I feel it impossible to give an adequate description of his character. He felt that in laboring for the heathen he was engaged in a work of the highest moment. Thereto he bent every energy of mind and body. That which, by receiving the word of God, we are made theoretically to acknowledge, by the dispensations of His Providence-we are made practically to feel, that man is nothing-that God is All in All.'
"God's dealings with this mission would seem to be enough to arouse our Church. Heretofore He has given success to His servants. He has given us favor with the authorities and with the people. The Church has seemed to be satisfied with this. She has thanked God for His smiles, but has made little effort to increase the number of her laborers as fast as the demand for them increased. Now God is trying another plan. Her laborers are dying off and the question comes to her, not merely whether she will advance or not, but, whether she will retain that which she has already gained. She has volunteered in a glorious warfare. Will she hold the positions she has won, and make further conquests, or will she permit her soldiers to die at their posts without being replaced, and thus retire from the field? Important interests are at stake. The honor of our Church is at stake. The salvation of souls is at stake. It is a crisis with our mission. We cannot endure the thought that the labors of those faithful servants who have been called home shall be in a great measure lost by neglect. We have received lately impressive lessons of the uncertainty of human life. The thought steals over us that we, too, are liable at any moment to be cut down in the midst of our labors. This liability is increased by the amount of labor which necessarily devolves upon us. Now we are only two in number. As for myself I am only beginning to stammer in this difficult language. This, too, in a field where there is labor enough to be done to employ all the men you can send us. You will not think it strange then that we plead earnestly.
"Our new church edifice was completed soon after Brother Pohlman left for Hongkong. As he had done so much of the work in gathering the congregation and had originated the idea of the building and had watched its erection with so much interest, we were desirous that he should be present at its consecration. We therefore delayed opening the building for worship until we received the definite news of his death."
In an address on "Reminiscences of Missionaries and Mission Work," delivered by Dr. Talmage during his later years, he refers to the early missionaries at Amoy in these words:
"The men God gave the Church were just the men needed to awaken her missionary spirit and shape her mission work. So for laying the foundation and shaping the plan of the structure He would have us erect at Amoy He gave us three men, just the men needed for the work,-David Abeel, William J. Pohlman and Elihu Doty. The more I meditate on what they said and wrote and did and suffered in the early days of that work, and see whereunto it is growing, the more am I impressed with the fact that they were wonderful men, just the men for the time, place, and circumstances, and therefore evidently God's gift.
"Dr. Abeel was the pioneer of the Amoy Mission. During the greater part of the years of his manhood, he struggled with disease, and his whole life on earth was comparatively short, yet the Lord enabled him to accomplish more work than most men accomplish during a much longer life. His last field of labor was Amoy, entering it in January, 1842, when the port had just been thrown open and while the British army was still there, and leaving it in January, 1845. In that short time, notwithstanding interruptions from sickness and of voyages in search of health, or rather to stave off death till others were ready to take his place, he laid a good foundation, doing a work that told and was lasting. I met him only once. It was at his father's house in New Brunswick, after his work at Amoy-after all his public work was done and he was only waiting to be summoned home. When I afterwards went to Amoy, I found his name very fragrant, not only among Europeans and Americans, but also among the Chinese. He had baptized none, but a goodly number of those afterwards baptized had received their first impressions concerning Christianity and their first instructions therein from him."
"Messrs. Doty and Pohlman with their families came from Borneo to Amoy, arriving in June, 1844, about six months before Dr. Abeel was compelled to leave. We have heard of places so healthy, that it is said there was difficulty to find material wherewith to start cemeteries. Amoy, rather Kolongsu, where all the Europeans then resided, in those days was not such a place. It is said that of all the foreign residents only one escaped the prevailing fever. The mortality was very great. In a year and a half from the time of their arrival at Amoy, Mr. Doty was on his way to the United States with two of his own and two of Mr. Pohlman's little ones. The other members of their families--the mothers and the children, all that was mortal of them--were Iying in the Mission cemetery on Kolongsu; and to 'hold the fort,' so far as our Mission was concerned, Pohlman was left alone, and well he held it. He had a new dialect to acquire, yet when health allowed, he daily visited his little mission chapel, and twice on the Sabbath, to preach the Gospel of Christ. He was a man of work, of great activity. When I arrived at Amoy in 1847, he was suffering from ophthalmia. Much of his reading and writing had to be done for him by others. I was accustomed to read to him an hour in the morning from six to seven. Another read to him an hour at noon from twelve to one. He was still subject to occasional attacks of the old malarial fever. Besides all this he was now alone in the world, his whole family gone, two of his little ones in his native land, then very much farther away from China than now, and the others, mother and children, sleeping their last sleep.
"Yet he was the life of our little mission company. Do you ask why? He lived very close to God, and therefore was enabled to bow to the Divine will, to use his own language, 'with sweet submission.' Pohlman's term of service, too, was short. He was called away in his thirty-seventh year. His work at Amoy was less than five years. It, too, much of it, was foundation work, though he was permitted to see the walls just beginning to rise. Two of the first converts were baptized by him, and many others received from him their early Christian instruction. The first, and still by far the best church-building at Amoy, which is also the first church building erected in China expressly for Chinese Protestant Christian worship, may be called his monument. It was specially in answer to his appeal that the money, $3,000, was contributed. It was under his supervision that the building was erected. To it he gave very much toil and care. The house was nearly ready when he took his last voyage to Hongkong, and he was hastening back to dedicate it when God took him. His real monument, however is more precious and lasting than church-buildings, as precious and lasting as the souls he was instrumental in saving, and the spiritual temple whose foundation he helped to lay. There were many who remembered him with very warm affection long after he was gone. Among them I remember one, an old junk captain, who in his later years, speaking of heaven, was wont to say, 'I shall see Teacher Pohlman there; I shall see Teacher Pohlman there.'"

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