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Thomas Stevens
"Around the World of a Bicycle - Cycling through China in 1886 "
Part 8

Cycling through China - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Around the World on a Bicycle - Maps and Pictures

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One might easily imagine the very lives of these people dependent upon their success in obtaining a glimpse of my face. Welldressed citizens rush hastily ahead, stoop down, and peer up into my face as I trundle past, with a determination to satisfy their curiosity that our language is totally inadequate to describe, and which our temperament renders equally difficult for us to understand.

By the time we are half-way along the street the whole city seems in wild tumult. Men rush ahead, peer into my face, deliver themselves of the above-mentioned peculiar squeak, and run hastily down some convergent alley-way. Stall-keepers quickly gather up their wares, and shop-keepers frantically snatch their goods inside as they hear the tumult and see the mob coming down the street. The excitement grows apace, and the same wanton cries of "Fank-wae. Fankwae!" that followed me through Kan-tchou-foo are here repeated with wild whoops and exultant cries. One would sometimes think that all the devils of Dante's "Inferno" had gotten into the crowd and set them wild with the spirit of mischief.

By this time the yameni-runners are quaking with fear; he of the paper parasol and jade-stone pipe walks beside me, convulsively clutching my arm, and with whiningly anxious voice shouts out orders to his subordinate. In response to these orders the advance-guard now and then hurries forward and peeps around certain corners, as though expecting some hidden assailants.

Thus far, although the symptoms of trouble have been gradually assuming more and more alarming proportions, there has been nothing worse than demoniacal howls. The chief reason of this, however, it now appears, has been the absence of loose stones, for no sooner do we enter an inferior quarter where loose stones and bricks are scattered about, than they come whistling about our ears. The poor yameni-runners shout deprecatingly at the mob; in return the mob loudly announce their intention of working destruction upon my unoffending head. Fortunately for me that head is pretty thoroughly hidden beneath the thick pith thatch-work of my Indian solar topee, otherwise I should have succumbed to the first fusillade of stones at the instance of a cracked pate. Stones that would have knocked me out of time in the first round rattle harmlessly on the 3/4-inch pith helmet, the generous proportions of which effectually protect head and neck from harm. Once, twice, it is knocked off by a stone striking it on the brim, but it never reaches the ground before being recovered and jammed more firmly than ever in its place.

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Things begin to look pretty desperate as we approach the gate of the Manchu quarter; an immense crowd of people have hurried down back streets and collected at this gate; fancying they are there for the hostile purpose of heading us off, I come very near dodging into an open door way with a view of defending myself till the yameni-runners could summon the authorities. There is no time for second thought, however; precious little time, in fact, for anything but to keep my helmet in its place and hurry along with the bicycle. The yameni-runners repeatedly warn the crowd that I am armed with a top-fanchee (revolver); this, doubtless, prevents them from closing in on us, and keeps their aggressive spirit within certain limits.

A moment's respite is happily obtained at the Manchu gate; the crowd gathered there in advance are comparatively peaceful, and the mob, for a moment, seem to hesitate about following us inside. Making the most of this opportunity, we hurry forward toward the yamen, which, I afterward learn, is still two or three hundred yards distant. Ere fifty yards are covered the mob come pouring through the gate, yelling like demons and picking up stones as they hurry after us. "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." or, what would suit me equally as well, a short piece of smooth road in lieu of break-neck cobble-stones.

Again are we overtaken and bombarded vigorously; ignorant of the distance to the yamen, I again begin looking about for some place in which to retreat for defensive purposes, unwilling to abandon the bicycle to destruction and seek doubtful safety in flight. At this juncture a brick strikes the unfortunate rear-guard on the arm, injuring that member severely, and quickening the already badly frightened yameni-runners to the urgent necessity of bringing matters to an ending somehow.

Pointing forward, they persist in dragging me into a run. Thus far I have been very careful to preserve outward composure, feeling sure that any demonstration of weakness on my part would surely operate to my disadvantage. The runners' appealing cries of "Yameni! yameni!" however, prove that we are almost there, and for fifty or seventy-five yards we scurry along before the vengeful storm of stones and pursuing mob.

As I anticipated, our running only increases the exultation of the mob, and ere we get inside the yamen gate the foremost of them are upon us. Two or three of the boldest spirits seize the bicycle, though the majority are evidently afraid I might turn loose on them with the top-fanchee. We are struggling to get loose from these few determined ruffians when the officials of the yamen, hearing the tumult, come hurrying to our rescue.

The only damage done is a couple of spokes broken out of the bicycle, a number of trifling bruises about my body, a badly dented helmet, and the yameni-runner's arm rather severely hurt. When fairly inside and away from danger the pent-up feelings of the advance-guard escape in silent tears, and his superior of the jade-stone pipe sits down and mournfully bemoans his wounded arm. This arm is really badly hurt, probably has sustained a slight fracture of the bone, judging from its unfortunate owner's complaints.

The Che-hsein, as I believe the chief magistrate is titled, greets me while running out with his subordinates, with reassuring cries of "S-s-o, s-s-o, s-s-o, s-s-o," repeated with extraordinary rapidity between shouts of deprecation to the mob. The mob seem half inclined to pursue us even inside the precincts of the yamen, but the authoritative voice of the Che-hsein restrains their aggressiveness within partly governable measure; nevertheless, in spite of his presence, showers of stones are hurled into the yamen so long as I remain in sight.

As quickly as possible the Che-hsein ushers me into his own office, where he quickly proves himself a comparatively enlightened individual by arching his eyebrows and propounding the query, "French?" "Ying-yun," I reply, feeling the advantage of being English or American, rather than French, more appreciably perhaps than I have ever done before or since.

This question of the Che-hsein's at once reveals a gleam of explanatory light concerning the hostility of the people. For aught I know to the contrary it may be but a few days ago since the Jesuit missionaries were compelled to flee for their lives. The mob cannot be expected to distinguish between French and English; to the average Celestial we of the Western world are indiscriminately known as Fankwaes, or foreign devils; even to such an enlightened individual as the Che-hsein himself these divisions of the Fankwae race are but vaguely understood.

After satisfying himself by questioning the yameni-runners, that I am without companions or other baggage save the bicycle, the Che-hsein ferrets out a bottle of samshoo and tenders me a liberal allowance in a tea-cup. This is evidently administered with the kindly intention of quieting my nerves, which he imagines to be unstrung from the alarmingly rough treatment at the hands of his riotous townmen.

Riotous they are, beyond a doubt, for even as the Che-hsein pours out the samshoo the clamorous howls of "Fankwae. Fankwae." seem louder than ever at the gates. Now and then, as the tumult outside seems to be increasing, the Che-hsein writes big red characters on flat bamboo-staves and sends it out by an officer to be read to the mob; and occasionally, as he sits and listens attentively to the clamor, as though gauging the situation by the volume of the noise, he addresses himself to me with a soothing and reassuring "S-s-o, s-s-o, s-s-o, s-o."

Shortly after my arrival the worthy-minded Che-hsein knits hia brow for a moment in a profound study, and then, lightening up suddenly, delivers himself of "No savvy," a choice morsel of pidg-eon English that he has somehow acquired. This is the full extent of his knowledge, however; but, feeble glimmer of my own mother tongue though it be, it sounds quite cheery amid the wilderness wild of Celestial gabble in the office. For although the shackles of authority hold in check the murderous mob, howling for my barbarian gore outside, a constant stream of officials and their friends are admitted to see me and the bicycle.

In making an examination of the bicycle, the peculiar "Ki-ngan-foo squeak" finds spontaneous expression at every new surprise. A man enters the room, peers wonderingly into my face- squeak! -comes closer, and looks again-squeak! -notices the peculiar cut of my garments-squeak! -observes my shoes-squeak! -sees helmet on table-squeak! -sees the bicycle-squeak! -goes and touches it-squeak! -finds out that the pedals twirl round- squeak! and thus he continues until he has seen everything and squeaked at everything; he then takes a lingering survey of the room to satisfy himself that nothing has been overlooked, gives a parting squeak, and leaves the room.

The Che-hsein provides me with a chicken, boiled whole, head included, for supper, and consumes his own meal at the same time. The difference between the Che-hsein, eating little prepared meatballs and rice, with gilded chop-sticks, and myself tearing the spraggly-looking rooster asunder and gnawing the drum-sticks greedily with my teeth, no doubt readily appeals to the interested lookers-on as an instructive picture of Chinese civilization and outer barbarism as depicted in our respective modes of eating, side by side.

More than once during the evening the tumult at the gate swells into a fierce hubbub, as though pandemonium had broken loose, and the blood-thirsty mob were determined to fetch me out. Every minute, at these periodical outbursts, I expect to see them come surging in through the doorway. A sociable young man, whose chief concern is to keep me supplied with pipes and tea, explains, with the aid of a taper, that the crowd are desirous of burning me alive. This cheerful piece of information, the sociable young man imparts with a characteristic Chinese chuckle of amusement; the thought of a Fankwae squirming and sizzling in the oil-fed flames touches the chord of his risibilities, and makes him giggle merrily. The Che-hsein himself occasionally goes out and harangues the excited mob, the authoritative tones of his voice being plainly heard above the squabbling and yelling.

It must be near about midnight when the excitement has finally subsided, and the mob disperse to their homes. Six yameni-run-ners then file into the room, paper umbrellas slung at their backs in green cloth cases, and stout bamboo quarter-staves in hand. The Che-hsein gives them their orders and delivers a letter into the hands of the officer in charge; he then bids me prepare to depart, bidding me farewell with much polite bowing and scraping, and sundry memorable "chin-chins." A closely covered palanquin is waiting outside the door; into this I am conducted and the blinds carefully drawn. A squad of men with flaming torches, the Che-hsein, and several officials lead the way, maintaining great secrecy and quiet; stout carriers hoist the palanquin to their shoulders and follow on behind; others bring up the rear carrying the bicycle.

Back through the Manchu quarter and out of the gate again our little cavalcade wends its way, the officials immediately about the palanquin addressing one another in undertones; back, part way along the same street which but a few short hours ago resounded with the hoots and yells of the mischievous mob, down a long flight of steps, and the palanquin is resting at the end of a gang-plank leading aboard a little passenger-sampan. The worthy Che-hsein bows and scrapes and chin-chins me along this gang- plank, the bicycle is brought aboard, the six yameni-runners follow suit, and the boat is poled out into the river. The squad of torch-bearers are seen watching our progress until we are well out into the middle of the stream, and the officer in charge of my little guard stands out and signals them with his lantern, notifying them, I suppose, that all is well. One would imagine, from their actions, that they were apprehensive of our sampan being pursued or ambushed by some determined party. And yet the scene, as we drift noiselessly along with the current, looks lovely and peaceful as the realms of the blest; the crescent moon, the shimmering water-and the slowly receding lights of the city; what danger can there possibly be in so quiet and peaceful a scene as this?

By daylight we are anchored before another walled city, which I think is Ki-shway, a city of considerable pretentions as to wall, but full of social and moral rottenness and commercial decadence within, judging, at least, from outward appearances. Few among the crowds that are permitted free access to the yamen here do not betray, in unmistakable measure, the sins of former generations; while, as regards trade, half the place is in a ruinous, tumble-down condition.

The mandarin here is a fleshy, old-fashioned individual, with thick lips and an expression of great good humor. He provides me with a substantial breakfast of rice and pork, and fetches his wife and children in to enjoy the exhibition of a Fankwae feeding, likewise permitting the crowd to look in through the doors and windows. He is a phlegmatic, easy-going Celestial, and occupies about two hours copying my passport and writing a letter. At the end of this time he musters a squad of twelve retainers in faded red uniforms and armed with rusty pikes, who lead the way back to the river, followed by three yameni-runners, equipped, as usual, each with an umbrella and a small string of tsin to buy their food. The gentlemen with the mediaeval weapons accompany us to the river and keep the crowd from pressing too closely upon us until I and the yameni-runners board a Ki shway sampan that is to convey me to the next down-stream city.

It now becomes apparent that my bicycling experiences in China are about ending, and that the authorities have determined upon passing me down the Kan-kiang by boat to the Yang-tsi-kiang. I am to be passed on from city to city like a bale of merchandise, delivered and receipted for from day to day.

A few miles down stream we overtake a fleet of some twenty war-junks, presenting a most novel and interesting sight, crowded as each one is with the gayest of flags and streaming pennants galore. The junks are cumbersome enough, in all conscience, as utterly useless for purposes of modern warfare as the same number of floating hogsheads; yet withal they make a gallant sight, the like of which is to be seen nowhere these days but on the inland waters of China. Each junk is propelled by a crew of fourteen oarsmen, dressed in uniforms corresponding in color to the triangular flags that flutter gayly in the breeze at the stern. Not the least interesting part of the spectacle are these same oarsmen, as they ply. their long unwieldy sweeps in admirable unison; the sleeves of their coats are almost as broad as the body of the garment, and at every sweep of the oar these all flap up and down together in a manner most comical to behold.

All day long our modest little sampan keeps company with this gay fleet, giving me an excellent opportunity of witnessing its manoeuvres. Said manoauvres and evolutions consist of more or less noisy greetings and demonstrations at every town and village we pass. In the case of a small town, a number of pikemen and officials assemble on the shore, erect a few flags, hammer vigorously on a resonant gong, shout out some sing-song greeting and shoot off a number of bombs and fire-crackers. The foremost vessel of the fleet replies to these noisy compliments by a salute of its one gun, and mayhap throws in two or three bombs, according to the liberality of the salutation ashore.

At the larger towns the amount of gunpowder burned and noise created is something wonderful. Bushels of fire-crackers are snapping and rattling away, the while gongs are beating, bombs exploding by the score, and salvoes of artillery are making the mountains echo, from every vessel in the fleet. Beneath the walls of a town we pass soon after noon are ranged fifteen other junks; as the fleet passes, these vessels simultaneously discharge all their guns, while at the same instant there burst upon the startled air detonations from hundreds of bombs, big heaps of firecrackers, and the din of many resonant gongs. Not to be outdone, the fleet of twenty return the compliment in kind, and with cheers from the crews thrown in for interest.

The fifteen now join the procession, adding volume and pictu-resqueness to the already wonderfully pretty scene, by their hundreds of brilliant-hued banners, and theatrically costumed oarsmen. About four o'clock, as we are approaching the city of Hat-kiang, our destination for the day, there comes to meet the gallant navy a pair of twin vessels surpassing all the others in the gorgeousness of their flags and the picturesqueness of the costumes. Purple is the prevailing color of both flags and crew. At their splendid appearance our yameni-runners announce in tones of enthusiasm and admiration that these new-comers hail from Lin-kiang, a large city down stream, that I fancied, it will be remembered, having reached at Ta-ho.

The officials are still abed when, in the early morning of the third day, we reach Sin-kiang, and repair to the yamen. A large crowd, however, gather and follow us from the market-place, swelling gradually by re- enforcements to a multitude that surges in and out of the shanty-like office in such swarms that the frail board walls bulge and crack with the pressure. When the crowd overwhelm the place entirely, the officials clear them out by angry gesticulations and moral suasion, sometimes menacingly shaking the end of their own queues at them as though they were wielding black-snake whips. Having driven them out, no further notice is taken of them, so they immediately begin swarming in again, until the room is again inundated, when they are again driven out.

The permitting of this ebbing and flowing of the multitude into the official quarters is something quite incomprehensible to me; the mob is swayed and controlled-as far as they are controlled at all-without any organized effort of those in authority; when the officials commence screaming angrily at them they begin moving out; when the shouting ceases they begin swarming back. Thus in the course of an hour the room will, perchance, be filled and emptied with angry remonstrance half a dozen times, when, from our own stand-point, a couple of men stationed at the door with authority to keep them out would prevent all the bother and annoyance. Sure enough the Chinaman is "a peculiar little cuss," whether seen at home or abroad.

If the inhabitants of Ki-shway are scrofulous, sore-eyed, and mangy, they are at least an improvement on the disgusting state of the public health at Sin-kiang, as revealed in the lamentable condition of the crowd at the yamen and in the markets. Scarcely is it possible to single out a human being of sound and healthful appearance from among them all. Everybody has sore eyes, some have horribly diseased scalps, sores on face and body, and all the horrible array of acquired and hereditary diseases. One's hair stands on end almost at the thought of being among them, to say nothing of eating in their presence, and of their own cooking. Of my new escort from Sin-kiang all three have dreadfully sore eyes, and one wretched mortal is as piebald as a circus pony, from head to foot, with the leprosy. Added to these recommendations, they have the manners and instincts of swine rather than of human beings.

The same sampan is re-engaged to convey us farther down stream; beneath the housing of bamboo-mats, the rice-chaff leaves barely room for us to crowd in and huddle together from the rain and cold prevailing outside. The worst the elements can do, however, is far preferable to personal contact with these vile creatures; and so I don my blanket and gossamer rubbers, and sit out in the rain. The rain ceases and the chilly night air covers everything with a coating of hoar-frost, but all this is nothing compared with the horrible associations inside, the reeking fumes of opium and tobacco adding yet another abomination to be remembered.

At early morn we land and pursue our way for a few miles across country to Lin-kiang, which is situated on a big tributary stream a few miles above its junction with the Kan-kiang. Our way loads through a rich strip of low country, sheltered and protected from inundations by an extensive system of dykes. Here we pass through orchards of orange-trees bristling with the small blood-red mandarin oranges; we help ourselves freely from the trees, for their great plenteousness makes them of very little value. On the stalls they can be purchased six for one cent; like the people in the great peanut producing country below Nam-hung, the cheapness and abundance of oranges here seems an inducement for the people to almost subsist thereon.

Everybody is either buying, stealing, selling, packing, gathering, carrying, or eating oranges; coolies are staggering Lin-kiang-ward beneath big baskets of newly plucked fruit, and others are conveying them in wheelbarrows; boats are being loaded for conveyance along the river. Every orange-tree is distinguished by white characters painted on its trunk, big enough so that those who run may read the rightful owner's name and take warning accordingly.

Three more wearisome but eventful days, battling against adverse winds, and we come to anchor in a little slough, where a war-junk and several fishing vessels are already moored for the night. While supper is preparing I pass the time promenading back and forth along a little foot-trail leading for a short distance round the shore. The crew of the war-vessel are engaged in drying freshwater shrimps, tiny minnows, and other drainings and rakings of the water to store away for future use. One of the younger officers stalks back and forth along the same path as myself, brusquely maintaining the road whenever we meet, evidently bent on showing off his contempt for the boasted prowess of the Fankwaes, by compelling me to step to one side. His demeanor is that of a bully stalking about with the traditional chip on his shoulder, daring me to come and knock it off. Considering the circumstances about us, this is a wonderfully courageous performance on his part; nothing but his ignorance of my Smith & Wesson can explain his temerity in assuming a bellicose attitude with only one man-of-war at his back. Out of consideration for this ignorance, I studiously avoid interfering with the chip.

At length the river-voyage comes to an end at Wu-chang, on the Poyang Hoo, when I am permitted to proceed overland with an escort to Kui-kiang.

Spending the last night at a village inn, we pursue our way over awful bowlder paths next morning, for several miles; over a low mountain-pass and down the northern slope to a level plain. A towering white pagoda is observable in the distance ahead; thia the yameni-runner says is Kui- kiang. At a little way-side tea-house, I find Christmas numbers of the London Graphic pasted on the walls; yet with all this, so utterly unreliable has my information heretofore been, and so often have my hopes and expectations turned out disappointing, that I am almost afraid to believe the evidence of my own senses. The Graphic pictures are of the Christmas pantomimes; the good woman of the tea-house points out to me the tremendous noses, the ear-to-ear mouths, and the abnormal growths of chin therein depicted, with much amusement; "Fankwae," she says, "te-he, te-he," apparently fancying them genuine representations of certain types of that queer, queer people.

The paths improve, and soon I see the smoke of a steamer on the Yang- tsi than which, it is needless to say, no more welcome sight has greeted my vision the whole world round. Only the smoke is seen, rising above the city; it cannot be a steamer, it is too good to be possible! this isn't Kui-kiang; this is another wretched disappointment, the smoke is some Chinese house on fire! Not until I get near enough to distinguish flags on the consulates, and the crosses on the mission churches, do I permit myself fully to believe that I am at last actually looking at Kui-kiang, the city that I have begun to think a delusion and a snare, an ignis fatuus that was dancing away faster than I was approaching.

The sight of all these unmistakable proofs that I am at last bidding farewell to the hardships, the horrible filth, the soul-harrowing crowds, the abominable paths, and the ever-present danger and want of consideration; that in a little while all these will be a dream of the past, gives wings to my wheel wherever it can be mounted, and ridden. The yameni-runner is left far behind, and I have already engaged a row-boat to cross the little lake in the rear of the city, and the boatman is already pulling me to the "Ying-yun," when the poor yameni-runner comes hurrying up and shouts frantically for me to come back and fetch him.

Knowing that the man has to take back his receipt I yield to his request, follow him first to the Kui-kiang yamen, and from thence proceed to the English consulate. Captain McQuinn, of the China Steam Navigation Company's steamer Peking, and the consulate doctor see me riding down the smooth gravelled bund, followed by a crowd of delighted Celestials. "Hello! are you from Canton" they sing out in chorus. "Well, well, well! nobody expected to ever see anything of you again; and so you got through all safe, eh?"

"What's the matter? you look bad about the eyes," says the observant doctor, upon shaking hands; "you look haggard and fagged out."

Upon surveying myself in a mirror at the consulate I can see that the doctor is quite justified in his apprehensions. Hair long, face unshaved for five weeks, thin and gaunt-looking from daily hunger, worry, and hard dues generally, I look worse than a hunted greyhound. I look far worse, however, than I feel; a few days' rest and wholesome fare will work wonders.

An appetizing lunch of cold duck, cheese, and Bass's ale is quickly provided by Mr. Everard, the consul, who seems very pleased that the affair at Ki-ngan-foo ended without serious injury to anybody.

The Peking starts for Shanghai in an hour after my arrival; a warm bath, a shave, and a suit of clothes, kindly provided by pilot King, brings about something of a transformation in my appearance. Bountiful meals, clean, springy beds, and elegantly fitted cabins, form an impressive contrast to my life aboard the sampans on the Kan-kiang. The genii of Aladdin's lamp could scarcely execute any more marvellous change than that from my quarters and fare and surroundings at the village hittim, where my last night on the road from Canton was spent, and my first night aboard the elegant and luxurious Peking, only a day later.

A pleasant run down the Yang-tsi-kiang to Shanghai, and I arrive at that city just twenty-four hours before the Japanese steamer, Yokohama Maru, sails for Nagasaki. Taking passage aboard it leaves me but one brief day in the important and interesting city of Shanghai, during which time I have to purchase a new outfit of clothes, see about money matters, and what not.

[Note: This contains only the China portion of Thomas Stevens' trip.  For the complete etext see the Gutenburg Project.]

Around the World on a Bicycle - Maps and Pictures

Cycling through China - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Around the World on a Bicycle - Maps and Pictures

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