[Xiamen is a port city on China’s southeast coast, across a strait from Taiwan. It encompasses 2 main islands and a region on the mainland. Formerly known as Amoy, it was a British-run treaty port from 1842 to 1912. Many Europeans and Japanese lived on Gulangyu, today a vehicle-free island with beaches and meandering streets lined with old colonial villas. Ref Google maps]
China. the ancient inscrutable, has loomed large in our minds of late, and there is never time when the people and the customs of the “Flowery Kingdom” cease to interest us.
The port of Amoy, in Southern China, lies in the region affected by anti-foreign feeling. Even in normal times we felt an impression of something sinister in the physical aspect or the place, as our ship lay at anchor in the harbour. Our cadet’s band, flinging lively familiar airs across the waters, and the barren boulders which bestrew the shore, could not entirely dispel this feeling. The bold rugged rocks around the harbour assumed fearsome shapes of lions, elephants, and toads. Some of these strange sculptures of nature were worshipped by the Chinese, and bore inscriptions in black and red lettering on their faces. The mountains in the background framed the city and sent out rocky spurs dividing the old town from the new.
As we entered the harbour, we noted a high wall built round the lighthouse to protect it from pirates. for piracy has never been stamped out in the China Seas.
The Foreign Concessions lay on an island at the entrance to the harbour, separated from it by a narrow strait. Here the various Consulates fly their national flags, and, normally. some fifty Europeans reside, including officials, merchants, and missionaries.
On the right was Old Amoy. with its clusters of smallish, dark houses, many in a dilapidated condition, but with a handsome Chinese temple nestling beneath the hills at the base.
The newer part of Amoy contains some fine business houses, and here a big Christian church, with two pointed towers and a black cross between, stood out in startling prominence against the sinister-looking mountains.
The pilot, an elderly Englishman, climbed deftly aboard by the Jacob’s ladder. He had lived here some twenty years, and held the post of harbour-master as well. One could listen long to his amusing anecdotes of European life at the Club, or darker stories of tragedy and crime in this region where life looms large, and the strangest tales are true. He was also well up in the history and customs of the country. Among the wonders he described was the “Bridge of Ten Thousand Ages,” connecting Foochow with Nantai, where most of the European community live. It is believed to have been built eight hundred years ago, and is likely to last for ever. This bridge is composed of solid granite slabs resting on forty-nine heavy pieces of the same material, some of the slabs being forty-five feet long and forty-three feet wide. On one side of this bridge are street stalls selling all the curious, and often repulsive, things that Chinese eat. and various ornaments, including weird idols and figures of reddish soap-stone.
Amoy has been called a city of pigs and graves. The former find plenty of work as scavengers, for the city is notoriously dirty. Here, as elsewhere in the land, the dead are highly honoured : there are handsome memorial arches erected to virtuous widows and others deceased, and scattered on the hill-side, commanding good views, are the horseshoe graves of the rich, and the countless dome-shaped graves of lesser folk.
In spite of its inhospitable aspect, Amoy exports narcissus bulbs to all parts of the world. Artificial flowers are also made here, for the adornment of ladies’ hair and for the decoration of the graves of the rich, for, be it noted, only moneyed folk may have their graves decorated with flowers, real or artificial.
The harbour was alive with sampans, rowed by their crossed scissor-like oars. A few had motor engines. and were covered, when they closely resembled a Noah’s Ark. One such was busy all afternoon taking officials to and from the shore.
Now the emigrants began to board the ship. Boat after boat, perilously laden with Chinese and their baggage, put out from the shore. Then the emigrants scrambled across a bobbing, parting bridge of boats. and were hauled on board. Even women, with small, distorted feet and babies at their back, embarked this way.
The emigrant’s belongings were packed in boxes of startlingly bright red pigskin, and many carried a red household god in a kind of bird-cage, and a tea-pot from the spout of which they took an occasional drink. Once on board, grass mats were spread, the Chinese sorted themselves in family groups, the men began smoking their straight pipes, the women their cigarettes. Hawkers came among them selling dough-nuts, white sugared cakes, sugar cane, cigarettes, and greasy-looking pea soup, and many were glad to avail themselves of a last taste of their own familiar foods before leaving.
Then came an address by the British Consul, who tried to ascertain that all the emigrants were leaving of their own free will. A lengthy medical examination followed, and great was the grief of those whom the doctor would not pass as fit, and who were compelled to return to the shore with loud lamentations. True, they might recover and have a second chance, but they might have missed the tide of fortune. For our ship was “good joss,” many crackers let off from the native boats had proclaimed her to be so. Those who had secured a passage aboard her thought themselves lucky. and were leaving their troubled country with high hopes of bettering themselves.
L. F. STOCKWELL.