|The Master said: The people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to
understand it.| -- CONFUCIUS.
|I have seen a Chinese graduate of a Western
university, dressed in proper Western clothes, in
his dress-suit, with an opera hat crushed under
his arm, beseeching the goddess of mercy in her
temple, with many rich gifts, to give him a male
child.| -- Rev. C. SCOTT.
|From time to time Jesus was offered a place in
the Pantheon, but Christianity perceived that the
Pantheon was the place for dead gods.| -- Dr. JOHN
WHEREIN SOME, THOUGH FOLLOWING A PATH OF ACTION, FAILED TO UNDERSTAND IT
THE very week that the British Minister issued passports for women to re-enter Shansi saw us in Tientsin on our way inland. Those precious documents which enabled us to return to our work were eagerly received, and we lost no time travelling over the familiar ground. How easily and smoothly we now sped over the iron rails as compared with our former journey; we need now take no interest in gradients, nor fear that the train would not start at the appointed hour, nor convey us to our destination.
We found ourselves in a strange country. In place of the dragon, the five-colour Republican flag was everywhere in evidence, which by the Chinese is thus explained: China's eighteen provinces are represented by the red line, Manchuria by the yellow, Mongolia by the blue, Ili, Chinghai, and Sinkiang by the white, and Thibet by the black; the ideal of the Chinese republic, a united territory, being indicated.
Soldiers in semi-foreign uniform lined up on each station platform to salute the train, remaining at their posts until the puffing monster was out of sight. At Taiyueanfu were further surprises. No man wearing a queue could enter the city. Should he make an effort to do so, the soldiers guarding the gates speedily removed the appendage with a pair of large scissors.
The shops vied with one another in having the very latest |Republican| goods; the buttons one bought were |Republican|; all school-books were changed to the latest |Republican| editions; the cloth trade mark was |Patriotic.| Everything was Republican, and we began to realise that China, far from being the conservative country we had thought, was one of the most progressive.
As we came to districts where the regulations had been less severely enforced, we found the queue replaced by the most extraordinary head-dress; the hair, varying in length, was sometimes braided and sometimes held in place by a strip cut from a petroleum tin, and bent to a semi-circle. The more wealthy members of society affected a style similar to that of an English schoolgirl, the flowing locks reaching to the shoulders and held from the face by a circular comb. Others allowed the tresses to fall as nature dictated, keeping them of such a length that with very little trouble the plait might again appear, for as some remarked: |Who knows, maybe we lose tails to-day, and heads to-morrow!|
The hats were even more wonderful. In place of the neat, circular cap, every shape and size was to be seen. Round hats like a pudding-bowl, straw hats, hard oblong hats, soft hats, home-made hats, erections of cardboard, giving proof that some devoted wife or mother had done her best to copy with the means available, probably only cardboard and paste, a tall hat, which her lord described as having seen on some journey towards Western communities. Women's dress was likewise being revolutionised, and skirts were extraordinary. One young lady whom I met, desiring to be more up-to-date than the rest, wore the so-called foreign dress back to front, and was far more satisfied with her appearance than the charming little lady who accompanied her, dressed in the dignified, elegant attire of her own people.
Not only had the style changed, but travelling south we missed the bright-coloured clothes which had always added a touch of beauty to the landscape. We discovered that with the introduction of the Republic, sumptuary laws were being enforced which commanded the exclusive use of earth-coloured garments for the men, and forbade the wearing of silver ornaments to women. Proclamations followed one another in rapid succession, several of which were framed with a view to altering the standing of the army. From ancient days China has regarded the soldier as belonging to the lowest grade of society; the highest place is given to the scholar, and next to him the farmer, who on account of his labour for mankind ranks high. The artisan is placed third, but the trader, seeing that he only distributes and does not produce, comes just before the soldier, who neither producing nor distributing, but only destroying, ranks lowest in the social scale. One proclamation stated that no one was to say that it was infra dig. to enter the military profession. It certainly needed some such move on the part of the authorities to add to the prestige of the army. A few days before the recruiting agents had been through the district. |Only those wearing the queue will be enlisted| was the, to us, amazing dictum. Upon inquiry we found that former aspirants had given considerable trouble by running home when the labour became too arduous. As the donning of military uniform necessitated the removal of long hair, it was obvious that the new brigade would be freshers, and, as our informant said: |Never having left home before they will not know the way back!|
The next order forbade us to speak of any day as |unlucky.| Now from time immemorial, some days have been regarded as good and others as bad for such important events as weddings and funerals; in fact, almost every day of the year is controlled by some fortunate or untoward influence, governed by the conjunction of the |Celestial Branches| and |Earthly Stems,| complicated with innumerable elemental antipathies and affinities.
As an example may be mentioned wood, which is antagonistic to metal, but has an affinity for fluid from which it draws its sustenance, whereas the metal forged into an axe serves for its destruction.
The |Earthly Stems| are represented by symbolic animals, and have zodiacal signs and control of certain hours. Of the twenty-eight zodiacal constellations, seven are infelicitous and no one will risk entering upon a new venture on these days. To repair the kitchen stove on a day when fire was in the ascendancy might cause a conflagration, and to go to law on the day when water is the controlling element is equally foolish, for the tendency of water is to fall, and this may be the fate of the overdaring litigant. On a day controlled by the snake it would obviously be foolhardy to start on a journey, for with such a slow traveller as your controlling genius the journey might be impeded.
The calculations necessary for the correct adjustment of these various influences provide a livelihood for astrologers and fortune-tellers, but this proclamation, at one fell swoop, attempted to abolish their profession. The order was issued, and I suppose in time the yellow paper faded in the sun; some read it, many talked of it, but they still chose the day which according to their calendar was the auspicious one, and no man hindered them.
Other proclamations followed in due order: there was to be no music at weddings or funerals, only good cash was to be used, women were to unbind their feet, and brides were not to wear embroidered gowns. We listened respectfully, as in duty bound, and waited for the pendulum to swing.
Upon one point, however, the powers were insistent. The Western calendar must take the place of the lunar. The actual change of date was a small matter, but this alteration upset the whole organisation of Chinese life. The New Year season is one which ensures to the Chinese family its annual gathering, and all the subsequent festivals date from that, the greatest. The orders were too insistent to be trifled with, and we, in common with all the government schools, closed to enable our pupils to be at home for the 1st of January. New Year scrolls were exhibited outside every front door, but apart from this, the day passed unnoticed. Instead of paying and receiving calls, inviting guests and enjoying the family gathering, business was carried on as usual. The first day of the first moon, however, found the populace given up to revelry, shops were closed, it was impossible to buy food, and the children in school rebelled at the decree which separated them from their parents at such a time, and longed for the golden days of the past. Before another New Year it was quite evident that proclamations were useless, and we joyfully returned to the old order, and now all keep the first day of the first moon as our festival.
Compulsory education was talked of, even conscription was whispered, and yet we had no criminal code, and no one could touch a neighbour of ours who, angry that her daughter-in-law presented her with a girl instead of the longed-for boy, took the child and dashed out its brains. The child is her property, and she has power of life and death in her hand.
The new Mandarin was a native of Shansi, the old rule that a man might not act as magistrate in his own province having been repealed. He was not as his predecessor, carried in a sedan chair, but walked, or rode in a cart as a commoner. He wore cotton clothes in place of the gorgeous silk and satin embroidered gowns, and when he sent to invite us to dine with his wives, his card was foreign except for the characters written upon it.
Our first visit to the Yamen under the new regime revealed some of the many changes which had taken place during the last year. No longer were we escorted by outriders, but hired for ourselves one of the few carts that Hwochow boasts. The Tai-tais were dressed in black, relieved by fancy crochet work shoulder capes, of varied hues. The teacups were of white china, decorated with a bunch of forget-me-nots, and the well-known words: |A present for a good boy.| The feast menu was as before, but instead of the beautiful china and Eastern decorations, we sat round a glass petroleum lamp and ate delicacies worthy of a better setting from plates of that familiar pattern, white with a border of blue. The exquisitely polished table was covered with a piece of white calico, a knife and fork lay beside the chop-sticks, and last but not least, the Mandarin, to add to our pleasure, ordered his servants to bring out the gramophone, which during dinner poured forth a selection of London street songs and Chinese theatrical music. Conversation was drowned, and we were able the more to observe. In place of scroll-decorated walls, brilliant paper met our gaze at every turn, white enamel basins and bowls replaced all the flowered china on which we had lavished so much admiration. After dinner we were not offered the water pipe, but cigarettes, all expressing surprise that we could refuse so foreign an indulgence. The Chinese proverb to the effect that |A wayfarer does not repair the inn nor the Mandarin his official residence,| was for once in fault -- the workmen had been busy! We spent a very pleasant hour with the family after dinner, receiving as on former occasions the utmost kindness and courtesy.
The classical writings of Mencius were for a time excluded from the schools as teaching reverence for kings and rulers, a doctrine not to be tolerated in the most republican of republics.
The friendly attitude of some of the leaders of the revolutionary movement towards Christianity lent colour to a widely spread impression that republican government necessitated a change of religion. Some favoured the Protestant, some the Roman Catholic Church, others preferred the |No-god society,| which gained many adherents as being more modern.
Even the Church was affected by the prevailing craze, and the wearing of the queue and non-observance of innovations was regarded as sin by the ignorant and superstitious. I heard a new convert warned by a Church member that sickness in his home might well be due to his rooted objection to calendar changes.
This attitude of mind, happily for us, lasted only a few months, but it was followed by another serious danger when the question of introducing the Confucian Ethical Code as a state religion was brought forward. This would have imposed limitations on Christians, Mohammedans, and others, the alternative suggestion being that Christianity should be given this status, in which some saw far greater perils. Meetings of the Chinese Protestant Church forwarded petitions to the Central Government, protesting against both proposals and craving only religious liberty, and the danger was averted.
The habit of revolution is a pernicious disease of the human mind, and once acquired hard to throw off. Our political horizon has been draped in storm-clouds ever since 1911, and our local social plans liable to disintegration on account of rumours calculated to disturb the mind of the people. White Wolf, Wolf King, and other robber chiefs have announced their intention of visiting us. Our walls have been inscribed with the terrifying announcement that |White Wolf is a devourer of sheep,| which in Chinese, by a play on the last word, can be understood to mean: |White Wolf is a devourer of foreigners.| A bold sketch of a drawn sword was added that no doubt might be in our minds as to the bloodthirsty intention of the threat! Mohammedan rebellions to the west, Mongolian raids to the north, have alternated with the political difficulties brought about by international negotiations, to add to the sense of insecurity inevitably resulting from the removal of the very central foundation of governmental stability -- the |Son of Heaven| -- to whom four hundred million subjects bowed in reverential obedience.
Transition periods are difficult, and China has been troubled by those who in their enthusiasm for change have lost the sense of proportion, and sought to revolutionise much that is dearer than life itself to many of their countrymen; nevertheless, this great nation, permeated with ideals so free from sordidity, will surely carve for herself a future worthy of her past.