When I entered Tongchuan the town was in commotion; kettledrums and tomtoms were beating, and crackers and guns firing; the din and clatter was continuous and deafening. An eclipse of the sun was commencing - it was the 6th of April - "the sun was being swallowed by the Dog of Heaven," and the noise was to compel the monster to disgorge its prey. Five months ago the Prefect of the city had been advised of the impending disaster, and it was known that at a certain hour he would publicly intervene with Heaven to avert from the city the calamity of darkness. I myself saw with my own eyes the wonderful power of this man. The sun was darkened when I went to the Prefect's yamen. A crowd was already gathered in the court. At the foot of the steps in the open air, a loosely built framework of wood ten feet high was standing, displaying on its vertex a yellow disc of paper inscribed with the characters for "voracity."

As we waited the sun became gradually clearer, when, just as the moon was disappearing across its edge, the Prefect in full dress, stepped from his yamen into the court, accompanied by the city magistrate and a dozen city fathers. Every instrument of discord was still clanging over the city. Then all these men of weight walked solemnly three times round the scaffold, and halted three times, while the Prefect went down on his knees, and did obeisance with nine kotows to the rickety frame and its disc of yellow paper. There was almost immediate answer to his prayer. With a sigh of relief we saw the lingering remnant of darkness disappear, and the midday sun shone full and bright. Then the Prefect retired, his suite dividing to let him pass, and we all went home blessing the good man whose intercession had saved the town from darkness. For there can be little doubt, I hope, that it is due to the action of this Prefect that the sun is shining to-day in Tongchuan. The Chinese might well ask if any barbarian missionary could do as he did.

Eclipses in China are foretold by the Government almanac published annually in Peking by a bureau of astrology attached to the Board of Rites. The almanac is a Government monopoly, and any infraction of its copyright is a penal offence. "It monopolises the management of the superstitions of the people, in regard to the fortunate or unlucky conjunctions of each day and hour. No one ventures to be without it, lest he be liable to the greatest misfortunes and run the imminent hazard of undertaking important events on blackballed days."

The Chinese almanac is much more comprehensive than ours, for even eclipses are foretold that never happen. Should an error take place in their almanac, and an expected eclipse not occur, the royal astronomers are not disconcerted - far from it; they discover in their error reason for rejoicing; they then congratulate the Emperor that "the heavens have dispensed with this omen of ill-luck in his favour." For eclipses forebode disaster, and every thoughtful Chinaman who has heard of the present rebellion of the Japanese must attribute the reverses caused by the revolt to the eclipse of April 6th, occurring immediately before the insurrection.

Tongchuan is one of the most charming towns I have ever visited; it is probably the cleanest city in China, and the best governed. Its prefect is a man of singular enlightenment, who rules with a justice that is rarely known in China. His people regard him as something more than mortal. Like Confucius "his ear is an obedient organ for the reception of truth." Like the Confucian Superior Man "his dignity separates him from the crowd; being reverent he is beloved; being loyal he is submitted to; and being faithful he is trusted. By his word he directs men, and by his conduct he warns them."

For several years he was attached to the Embassy in Japan, and he boasts that he has made Tongchuan as clean a city as any to be found in the empire of the Mikado. The yamen is a model of neatness. Painted on the outflanking wall there is the usual huge representation of the fabulous monster attempting to swallow the sun - the admonition against extortion - and probably the only magistrate in China who does not stand in need of the warning is the Prefect of Tongchuan.

Prices in Tongchuan at the time of my visit were high and food was scarce. It was difficult to realise that men at that moment were dying of starvation in the pretty town. Rice cost 400 cash for the same quantity that in a good season can be bought for 60 cash; maize was 300 cash the sheng, whereas the normal price is only 40 cash. Sugar was 15 cash the cake instead of 6 cash the cake, and so on in all things. Poppy is not grown in the valley to the same extent as hitherto, because poppy displaces wheat and beans, and the people have need of all the land they can spare to grow breadstuffs. In the other half of the year, rice, maize, and tobacco are grown together on the plain, and at the same season potatoes, oats, and buckwheat are grown in the hills.

Part of the plain is permanently under water, but it was the drought in the winter and the rains in the summer of successive years that caused the famine. There are no Mohammedans in the town - there have been none since the rebellion - but there are many small Mohammedan villages across the hills. No district in China is now more peaceful than the Valley of Tongchuan. The Yangtse River - "The River of Golden Sand " - is only two days distant, but it is not navigable even by Chinese boatmen. Sugarcane grows in the Yangtse Valley in little pockets, and it is from there that the compressed cakes of brown sugar seen in all the markets of Western Yunnan are brought. Coal comes from a mine two or three days inland; white-wax trees provide an important industry; the hills to the west contain the most celebrated copper mines in the empire.

The cash of Tongchuan are very small and inferior, 2000 being equivalent to one tael, whereas in Chaotong, 110 miles away, the cash vary from 1260 to 1640 the tael. Before the present Prefect took office the cash were more debased still, no less than 4000 being then counted as one tael, but the Prefect caused all these cash to be withdrawn from circulation.

Unlike Chaotong, no children are permitted to be sold in the city, but during last year no less than 3000 children (the figures are again Chinese), were carried through the town on their way from Chaotong to the capital. The edict of the Prefect which forbids the selling of children increases the cases of infanticide, and in time of famine there are few mothers among the starving poor who can truthfully assert that they have never abandoned any of their offspring.

The subject of infanticide in China has been discussed by a legion of writers and observers; and the opinion they come to seems to be generally that the prevalence of the crime, except in seasons of famine, has been enormously overstated. The prevalent idea with us Westerns appears to be, that the murder of their children, especially of their female children, is a kind of national pastime with the Chinese, or, at the best, a national peculiarity. Yet it is open to question whether the crime, excepting in seasons of famine, is, in proportion to the population, more common in China than it is in England. H. A. Giles of H.B.M. Chinese Consular Service, one of the greatest living authorities on China, says "I am unable to believe that infanticide prevails to any great extent in China. ... In times of famine or rebellion, under stress of exceptional circumstances, infanticide may possibly cast its shadow over the empire, but as a general rule I believe it to be no more practised in China than in England, France, the United States and elsewhere." (Journal; China Branch R.A.S., 1885, p. 28.)

G. Eugene Simon, formerly French Consul in China, declares that "infanticide is a good deal less frequent in China than in Europe generally, and particularly in France." A statement that inferentially receives the support of Dr. E. J. Eitel. (China Review, xvi., 189.)

The prevailing impression as to the frequency of infanticide in China is derived from the statements of missionaries, who, no doubt unintentionally, exaggerate the prevalence of the crime in order to bring home to us Westerns the deplorable condition of the heathen among whom they are labouring. But, even among the missionaries, the statements are as divergent as they are on almost every other subject relating to China. Thus the Rev. Griffith John argues "from his own experience that infanticide is common all over the Empire," the Rev. Dr. Edkins on the other hand says that "infanticide is a thing almost unknown in Peking." And the well known medical missionary, Dr. Dudgeon of Peking (who has left the London Mission), agrees with another medical missionary, Dr. Lockhart, "that infanticide is almost as rare in China as in England."

The Rev. A. H. Smith ("Chinese Characteristics," p. 207) speaks "of the enormous infanticide which is known to exist in China." The Rev. Justus Doolittle ("Social Life of the Chinese," ii. p. 203) asserts that "there are most indubitable reasons for believing that infanticide is tolerated by the Government, and that the subject is treated with indifference and with shocking levity by the mass." . . . But Bishop Moule "has good reason to conclude that the prevalence of the crime has been largely exaggerated." (Journal, China Branch R.A.S., ut supra.)

One of the best known Consuls in China, who lately retired from the Service, told the writer that in all his thirty years' experience of China he had only had personal knowledge of one authentic case of infanticide.

"Exaggerated estimates respecting the frequency of infanticide," says the Rev. Dr. D. J. MacGowan, "are formed owing to the withholding interment from children who die in infancy. And he adds that "opinions of careful observers will be found to vary with fields of observation." (China Review, xiv., 206.)

Whatever the relative frequency of infanticide in China and Europe may be, it cannot, I think, admit of question that the crime of infanticide is less common among the barbarian Chinese than is the crime of foeticide among the highly civilised races of Europe and America.

There are several temples in Tongchuan, and two beyond the walls which are of more than ordinary interest. There is a Temple to the Goddess of Mercy, where deep reverence is shown to the images of the Trinity of Sisters. They are seated close into the wall, the nimbus of glory which plays round their impassive features being represented by a golden aureola painted on the wall. The Goddess of Mercy is called by the Chinese "Sheng-mu," or Holy Mother, and it is this name which has been adopted by the Roman Catholic Church as the Chinese name of the Virgin Mary.

There is a fine City Temple which controls the spirits of the dead of the city as the yamens of the magistrates control the living of the city. The Prefect and the City Magistrate are here shown in their celestial abodes administering justice - or its Chinese equivalent - to the spirits who, when living, were under their jurisdiction on earth. They hold the same position in Heaven and have the same authority as they had on earth; and may, as spirits, be bribed to deal gently with the spirits of departed friends just as, when living, they were open to offers to deal leniently with any living prisoner in whose welfare the mends were prepared to express practical sympathy.

In the Buddhist Temple are to be seen, in the long side pavilions, the chambers of horrors with their realistic representations of the torments of a soul in its passage through the eight Buddhist hells. I looked on these scenes with the calmness of an unbeliever; not so a poor woman to whom the horrors were very vivid truths. She was on her knees before the grating, sobbing piteously at a ghastly scene where a man, while still alive, was being cast by monsters from a hill-top on to red-hot spikes, there to be torn in pieces by serpents. This was the torture her dead husband was now enduring; it was this stage he had reached in his onward passage through hell - the priest had told her so, and only money paid to the priests could lighten his torment.

Beyond the south gate, amid groves of lofty pine trees, are the temple and grounds, the pond and senior wrangler bridge, of the Confucian Temple - the most beautifully-finished temple I have seen in China. We have accustomed ourselves to speak in ecstacies of the wood-carving in the temples of Japan, but not even in the Shogun chapels of the Shiba temples in Tokyo have I seen wood-carving superior to the exquisite delicacy of workmanship displayed in the carving of the Imperial dragons that frame with their fantastic coils the large Confucian tablet of this temple. Money has been lavished on this building. The inclined marble slabs that divide the terrace steps are covered with fanciful tracery; the parapets of the bridge are chiselled in marble; sculptured images of elephants with howdahs crown the pillars of the marble balustrades; the lattice work under the wide eaves is everywhere beautifully carved. Lofty pillars of wood support the temple roofs. They are preserved by a coating of hemp and protected against fire by an outer coating of plaster stained the colour of the original wood. Gilding is used as freely in the decoration of the grand altar and tablets of this temple, as it is in a temple in Burma.

On a hill overlooking the city and valley is the Temple to the God of Literature. The missionary and I climbed to the temple and saw its pretty court, its ancient bronze censer, and its many beautiful flowers, and then sat on the terrace in the sun and watched the picturesque valley spread out before us.

As we descended the hill again, a lad, who had attached himself to us, offered to show us the two common pits in which are cast the dead bodies of paupers and criminals. The pits are at the foot of the hill, open-mouthed in the uncut grass. With famine in the city, with people dying at that very hour of starvation, there was no lack of dead, and both pits were filled to within a few feet of the surface. Bodies are thrown in here without any covering, and hawks and crows strip them of their flesh, a mode of treating the dead grateful to the Parsee, but inexpressibly hateful to the Chinese, whose poverty must be overwhelming when he can be found to permit it. Pigtails were lying carelessly about and skulls separated from the trunk. Human bones gnawed by dogs were to be picked up in numbers in the long grass all round the hill; they were the bones of the dead who had been loosely buried close to the surface, through which dogs - the domestic dogs one met afterwards in the street - had scraped their way. Many, too, were the bones of dead children; for poor children are not buried, but are thrown outside the wall, sometimes before they are dead, to be eaten perhaps by the very dog that was their playmate since birth.

I called upon the French priest, Pere Maire, and he came with much cordiality to the door of the mission to receive me. His is a pretty mission, built in the Chinese style, with a modest little church and a nice garden and summer-house. The father has been four years in Tongchuan and ten in China. Like most of the French priests in China he has succeeded in growing a prodigious beard whose imposing length adds to his influence among the Chinese, who are apt to estimate age by the length of the beard. Only three weeks ago he returned from the capital. Signs of famine were everywhere apparent. The weather was very cold, and the road in many places deeply covered with snow. Riding on his mule he passed at different places on the wayside eight bodies, all recently dead from hunger and cold. No school is attached to the mission, but there is an orphelinat of little girls, ramassees dans les rues, who had been cast away by their parents; they are in charge of Chinese Catholic nuns, and will be reared as nuns. As we sat in the pavilion in the garden and drank wine sent to him by his brother in Bordeaux - true French wine - the priest had many things to tell me of interest, of the native rebellion on the frontier of Tonquin, of the mission of Monsieur Haas to Chungking, and the Thibetan trade in tea. "The Chinese?  ah! yes. He loves the Chinese because he loves all God's creatures, but they are liars and thieves. Many families are converted, but even the Christians are never Christian till the third generation." These were his words.