CHAPTER VIII.THE CITY OF CHAOTONG; WITH SOME REMARKS ON ITS POVERTY, INFANTICIDE, SELLING FEMALE CHILDREN INTO SLAVERY, TORTURES, AND THE CHINESE INSENSIBILITY TO PAIN.
By the following day we had crossed the mountains, and were walking along the level upland that leads to the plain of Chaotong. And on Sunday, April 1st, we reached the city. Cedars, held sacred, with shrines in the shelter of their branches, dot the plain; peach-trees and pear-trees were now in full bloom; the harvest was ripening in the fields. There were black-faced sheep in abundance, red cattle with short horns, and the ubiquitous water-buffalo. Over the level roads primitive carts, drawn by red oxen, were rumbling in the dust. There were mud villages, poor and falling into ruins; there were everywhere signs of poverty and famine. Children ran about naked, or in rags. We passed the likin-barrier, known by its white flag, and I was not even asked for my visiting card, nor were my boxes looked into - they were as beggarly as the district - but poor carriers were detained, and a few cash unjustly wrung from them. At a crowded-teahouse, a few miles from the city, we waited for the stragglers, while many wayfarers gathered in to see me. Prices were ranging higher. Tea here was 4 cash, and not 2 cash as hitherto. But even this charge was not excessive.
In Canton one day, after a weary journey on foot through the crowded streets, I was taken to a five-storied pagoda overlooking the city. At the topmost story tea was brought me, and I drank a dozen cups, and was asked threepence in payment. I thought that the cheapest refreshment I ever had. Yet here I was served as abundantly with better tea at a charge compared with which the Canton charge was twenty-five times greater. Previously in this province the price I had paid for tea in comparison with the price at Canton was as one to fifty.
Early in the afternoon we passed through the south gate into Chaotong, and, picking our way through the streets, were led to the comfortable home of the Bible Christian Mission, where I was kindly received by the Rev. Frank Dymond, and welcomed as a brother missionary of whose arrival he had been advised. Services were ended, but the neighbours dropped in to see the stranger, and ask my exalted age, my honourable name, and my dignified business; they hoped to be able to congratulate me upon being a man of virtue, the father of many sons; asked how many thousands of pieces of silver I had (daughters), and how long I proposed to permit my dignified presence to remain in their mean and contemptible city.
Mr. Dymond is a Devonshire man, and that evening he gave me for tea Devonshire cream and blackberry jam made in Chaotong, and native oatmeal cakes, than which I never tasted any better in Scotland.
Chaotong is a walled Fu city with 40,000 inhabitants. Roman Catholics have been established here for many years, and the Bible Christian Mission, which is affiliated to the China Inland Mission, has been working here since 1887.
There were formerly five missionaries; there are now only two, and one of these was absent. The missionary in charge, Mr. Frank Dymond, is one of the most agreeable men I met in China, broad-minded, sympathetic and earnest - universally honoured and respected by all the district. Since the mission was opened three converts have been baptised, one of whom is in Szechuen, another is in Tongchuan, and the third has been gathered to his fathers. The harvest has not been abundant, but there are now six promising inquirers, and the missionary is not discouraged. The mission premises are built on land which cost two hundred and ninety taels, and are well situated not far from the south gate, the chief yamens, the temples, and the French Mission. People are friendly, but manifest dangerously little interest in their salvation.
At Chaotong I had entered upon a district that had been devastated by recurring seasons of plague and famine. Last year more than 5000 people are believed to have died from starvation in the town and its immediate neighbourhood. The numbers are appalling, but doubt must always be thrown upon statistics derived from Chinese sources. The Chinese and Japanese disregard of accuracy is characteristic of all Orientals. Beggars were so numerous, and became such a menace to the community, that their suppression was called for; they were driven from the streets, and confined within the walls of the temple and grounds beyond the south gate, and fed by common charity. Huddled together in rags and misery, they took famine fever and perished by hundreds. Seventy dead were carried from the temple in one day. Of 5000 poor wretches who crossed the temple threshold, the Chinese say that 2000 never came out alive. For four years past the harvests had been very bad, but there was now hope of a better time coming. Opportune rains had fallen, and the opium crop was good. More than anything else the district depends for its prosperity upon the opium crop - if the crop is good, money is plentiful. Maize-cobs last harvest were four times the size of those of the previous harvest, when they were no larger than one's finger. Wheat and beans were forward; the coming rice crop gave every hope of being a good one. Food was still dear, and all prices were high, because rice was scarce and dear, and it is the price of rice which regulates the market. In a good year one sheng of rice (6.66lbs.) costs thirty-five cash (less than one penny), it now costs no cash. The normal price of maize is sixteen cash the sheng, it now cost sixty-five cash the sheng. To make things worse, the weight of the sheng had been reduced with the times from twelve catties to five catties, and at the same time the relation of cash to silver had fallen from 1640 to 1250 cash the tael.