« PreviousContinue »
crying their goods; mantuamakers, carrying a basket with the implements of their trade, march round in search of customers, which are not very numerous in a land where the fashions never change; fortunetellers, mountebanks, and jugglers, squeaking on a wretched flute, likewise go from house to house, and are beckoned to call where their services are required. The wealthy make great rejoicings at the birth of a child, particularly if it be a son. They boil great quantities of eggs hard, prepare rice after a peculiar fashion, and send these, with dainties of various kinds, to their relatives and friends. On the third day the child is washed, and new feasts are given. Hundreds of eggs, called third-day eggs, are roasted and painted all manner of colors. Relations and friends in their turm present the same kind of eggs, with all sorts of pastry and sweetmeats. The oldest Chinese writers attribute the first invention of spinning to the wife of their emperor Yao, and the discovery of silk to one of the wives of their emperor Hoang-Ti. From that time, the empresses have been in the habit of breeding, rearing, and feeding silkworms, reeling, the cocoons, and working the silk. Until the last dynasty, there was a mulberry grove in the gardens of the palace. Every year, the empress, accompanied by the queens and the other principal ladies of the court, went to this grove with great solemnity and gathered leaves from the branches, which her attendants lowered within her reach. The finest pieces of silk, which were made under her own inspection, and at which she often worked,
were destined for the ceremony of the great sacrifice to Chang-Ti. In the silk establishments the care of the insects is intrusted to an intelligent woman called TsamMou, or Mother of the Worms. She is not allowed to perform the duties of her office, unless she has just bathed, and put on perfectly clean clothes. She must not have eaten recently, or touched wild endive, the smell of which is considered injurious to the young worms. She wears thin light robes, that she may be able to judge of the heat of the room; for the Chinese do not use thermometers in these establishments. The indifference with which the silk reelers plunge their hands into boiling water, in order to recover the cocoon when the thread breaks, is truly astonishing. Bowls of cold water are kept near, to soothe the pain. The skin on the hands of these women becomes very thick and tough. When the Chinese women are engaged in embroidery, or any other sedentary employment, they are usually seated on large china jars instead of chairs. Their mirrors are of highly polished copper, which they prefer to glass. It is said that the leaves of the best kind of tea are rolled separately by the fingers of a woman appointed to the business. Females of the lower classes endure as much labor and fatigue as the men. A wife sometimes drags the plough in rice fields with an infant tied upon her back, while her husband performs the less arduous task of holding the plough. No Chinese female is allowed to leave the celestial empire, nor is any foreign woman permitted to pass the frontiers. A European woman, who once endeavored to enter Pekin in disguise, was discovered, and came very near losing her life. In two or three instances Chinese women have escaped secretly, and been exhibited as great curiosities in Europe and America; but their punishment would be very severe, should they again come under the kaws of China. These strict regulations are doubtless made to prevent the introduction of new fashions, and democratic ideas, to disturb the dead calm that prevails in a country where the individuals of each class are entirely subservient to the one above it, and where women of all classes are allowed a very small share of personal freedom. The custom of exposing infants, principally daughters, prevails in China, as well as in some parts of Hindostan. Every morning five carts drawn by buffaloes traverse the streets of Pekin to pick up babes, whom parents are either unable or unwilling to support, as well as those whose lifeless bodies are thus exposed to avoid the great expenses attending burial. The dead infants are conveyed to a public cemetery, and the living are placed in a charitable asylum. As the streets of Chinese cities swarm with hungry dogs and swine, the fate of these poor innocents is sometimes horrible. Catholic and Mohammedan missionaries station themselves at the gate of the cemetery, to save such as appear to have any remains of life. Sailors and fishermen often put their new-born infants into gourds and toss them into the water, where they perish, unless some kind hand is stretched forth to save them. The children thus cruelly exposed are usually girls, because they are less likely to be profitable to poor parents than boys, and it is more difficult to bring them up. It is supposed that as many as twenty or thirty thousand infants are annually exposed in the Chinese empire. These scenes principally occur in cities, and are more frequent in seasons of scarcity. The Chinese celebrate the commencement of the year with great festivities. The tribunals and shops are closed, the posts stopped, and all business, public and private, suspended; presents are given, children formally pay respects to their parents; mandarins do the same to their superior officers, and servants to their masters. This is called “taking leave of the old year.” In the evening, all the family partake of a great feast, to which no stranger is admitted; but the next day they are more social, and spend the whole time in feasting and amusements. The celebration is concluded by brilliant illuminations in the evening. Chinese children are not allowed to make the remotest allusion to the infirmities of old age, in the presence of their father or mother. If their father be in mourning for any relative, they must abstain from playing on instruments; and they must give up music, all kinds of entertainments, and even bright-colored dresses, if their father or mother is ill. White is the mourning color among the Chinese. A son cannot wear it while his parents are alive, but he can wear no other for three years after their death ; and even after this period of mourning is ended, his garments must ever be of one color.
The emperor Kien-Long having fallen in love with a beautiful young girl at Sanchou-Fou, his empress hung herself. One of her sons was very much embarrassed to know what course to pursue. To go into mourning might seem like an insult to his father; and to omit it would be disrespectful to the memory of his mother. By the advice of his tutor, he appeared with a full dress over a suit of mourning. This enraged the emperor so much, that he gave his son a violent kick, which occasioned his death a few days after.
Every morning, at daybreak, a Chinese son is required to present his father and mother with water to wash their hands, and stand ready to perform any trifling services they may require. Filial obedience is carried to such an extreme, that a son is bound to divorce his wife if she be displeasing to his parents. Even the emperor himself is not exonerated from these obligations. When the mother of Kien-Long died, all the mandarins were ordered to go into mourning for seventeen days, and to abstain from all amusements. No person of any rank was allowed to shave for the space of one hundred days, or to partake of any entertainment. For one month, people were not permitted to marry; and in the most crowded streets all classes refrained from speaking, except in whispers. The will of that princess is a curious document: