CHAPTER XVIII. THE "WHITE WATER"

Y.B.A.

October had slipped into November when we left the temple and shifted camp to the other side of the Snow Mountain at the "White Water." It was a brilliant day and the ride up the valley could not have been more beautiful. Crossing the gangheisa or "dry sea," a great grassy plain which was evidently a dry lake basin, we followed the trail into the forest and down the side of a deep canon to a mountain stream where the waters spread themselves in a thin, green veil over a bed of white stones.

We pitched our tents on a broad terrace beside the stream at the edge of the spruce forest. Above us towered the highest peak of the mountain, with a glacier nestling in a basin near its summit, and the snow-covered slopes extending in a glorious shining crescent about our camp. The moon was full, and each night as we sat at dinner before the fire, the ragged peaks turned crimson in the afterglow of the sun, and changed to purest silver at the touch of the white moonlight. We have had many camps in many lands but none more beautiful than the one at the "White Water."

The weather was perfect. Every day the sun shone in a cloudless blue sky and in the morning the ground was frozen hard and covered with snowlike frost, but the air was marvelously stimulating. We felt that we could be happy at the "White Water" forever, but it did not prove to be as good a hunting ground as that on the other side of the mountain. The Lolos killed a fine serow on the first day and Hotenfa brought in a young goral a short time later, but big game was by no means abundant. At the "White Water" we obtained our first Lady Amherst's pheasant ( Thaumalea amherstiae) one of the most remarkable species of a family containing the most beautiful birds of the world. The rainbow colored body and long tail of the male are made more conspicuous by a broad white and green ruff about the neck. The first birds brought alive to England were two males which had been presented to the Countess Amherst after whom the species was named. We found this pheasant inhabiting thick forests where it is by no means easy to discover or shoot. It is fairly abundant in Yuen-nan, Eastern Tibet and S'suchuan but its habits are not well known. Although the camp yielded several small mammals new to our collection, we decided to go into Li-chiang to engage a new caravan for our trip across the Yangtze River while Heller remained in camp.

The direct road to Li-chiang was considerably shorter than by way of the Snow Mountain village and at three o'clock in the afternoon our beloved "Temple of the Flowers" was visible on the hilltop overlooking the city. As we rode up the steep ascent we saw a picturesque gathering on the porch and heard the sound of many voices laughing and talking. The beautiful garden-like courtyard was filled with women and children of every age and description, and all the doors from one side of the temple had been removed, leaving a large open space where huge caldrons were boiling and steaming.

We sat down irresolutely on the inner porch but the young priest was delighted to see us and insisted that we wait until Wu arrived. We were glad that we did not seek other quarters for we were to witness an interesting ceremony, which is most characteristic of Chinese life. It seemed that about five years before a gentleman of Li-chiang had "shuffled off this mortal coil." His soul may have found rest, but "his mortal coil" certainly did not. Unfortunately his family inherited a few hundred dollars several years later and the village "astrologer" informed them that according to the feng-shui, or omnipotent spirits of the earth, wind, and water, the situation of the deceased gentleman's grave was ill-chosen and that if they ever hoped to enjoy good fortune again they must dig him up, give the customary feast in his honor and have another burial site chosen.

Every village has a "wise man" who is always called upon to select the resting place of the dead, his remuneration varying from two dollars to two thousand dollars according to the circumstances of the deceased's relatives. The astrologer never will say definitely whether or not the spot will prove a propitious one and if the family later sell any property, receive a legacy, or are known to have obtained money in other ways, the astrologer usually finds that the feng-shui do not favor the original place and he will exact another fee for choosing a second grave.

The dead are never buried until the astrologer has named an auspicious day as well as an appropriate site, with the result that unburied coffins are to be seen in temples, under roadside shelters, in the fields and in the back yards of many houses.

Any interference by foreigners with this custom is liable to bring about dire results as in the case of the rioting in Shanghai in 1898. A number of French residents objected to a temple near by being used to store a score or more of bodies until a convenient time for burial and the result was the death of many people in the fighting which ensued. Mr. Tyler Dennet cites an amusing anecdote regarding the successful handling of the problem by a native mandarin in Yen-ping where we visited Mr. Caldwell:

    The doctor pointed out how dangerous to public health was the presence
    of these coffins in Yen-ping. The magistrate had a census taken of the
    coffins above ground in the city and found that they actually numbered
    sixteen thousand. The city itself is estimated to have only about
    twenty thousand inhabitants.

    It was a difficult problem for the magistrate. He might easily move in
    such a way as to bring the whole city down about his head. But the
    Chinese are clever in such situations, perhaps the cleverest people on
    earth. He finally devised a way out. A proclamation was issued levying
    a tax of fifty cents on every unburied coffin. The Chinese may be
    superstitious, but they are even more thrifty. For a few weeks Yen-ping
    devoted itself to funerals, a thousand a week, and now this little
    city, one of the most isolated in China, can truly be said to be on the
    road to health. [Footnote: "Doctoring China," by Tyler Dennet, Asia,
    February, 1918, p. 114.]

There are very few such progressive cities in China, however, and a missionary told us that recently a young child and his grandfather were buried on the same day although their deaths had been nearly fifty years apart. The funeral rites are in themselves fairly simple, but it is the great ambition of every Chinese to have his resting place as near as possible to those of his ancestors. That is one of the reasons why they are so loath to emigrate.

We often passed eight or ten coolies staggering under the load of a heavy coffin, transporting a body sometimes a month's journey or more to bury it at the dead man's birthplace. A rooster usually would be fastened to the coffin for, according to the Yuen-nan superstition, the spirit of the man enters the bird and is conveyed by it to his home.

There is a strange absence of the fear of death among the Chinese. One often sees large planks of wood stored in a corner of a house and one is told that these are destined to become the coffins of the man's father or mother, even though his parents may at the time be enjoying the most robust health. Indeed, among the poorer classes, a coffin is considered a most fitting gift for a son to present to his father.

We established our camp on the porch of the temple at Li-chiang and from its vantage point could watch the festivities going on about us. The feasting continued until after dark and at daylight the kettles were again steaming to prepare for the second day's celebration.

By ten o'clock the court was crowded and a hour later there came a partial stillness which was broken by a sudden burst of music (?) from Chinese violins and pipes. Going outside we found most of the guests standing about an improvised altar. The foot of the coffin was just visible in the midst of the paper decorations and in front of it were set half a dozen dishes of tempting food. These were meant as an offering to the spirit of the departed one, but we knew this would not prevent the sorrowing relatives from eating the food with much relish later on.

In a few moments a group of women approached, supporting a figure clothed in white with a hood drawn over her face. She was bent nearly to the ground and muffled shrieks and wails came from the depths of her veil as she prostrated herself in front of the altar. For more than an hour this chief mourner, the wife of the deceased, lay on her face, her whole figure shaking with what seemed the most uncontrollable anguish. This same lady, however, moved about later among her guests an amiable hostess, with beaming countenance, the gayest of the gay. But every morning while the festivities lasted, promptly at eleven o'clock she would prostrate herself before the coffin and display heartrending grief in the presence of the unmoved spectators in order to satisfy the demands of "custom."

Custom and precedent have grown to be divinities with the Chinese, and such a display of feigned emotion is required on certain prescribed occasions. As one missionary aptly described it "the Chinese are all face and no heart." Mr. Caldwell told us that one night while passing down a deserted street in a Chinese village he was startled to hear the most piercing shrieks issuing from a house nearby. Thinking someone was being murdered, he rushed through the courtyard only to find that a girl who was to be married the following day, according to Chinese custom, was displaying the most desperate anguish at the prospect of leaving her family, even though she probably was enchanted with the idea.

On the third day of the celebration in the temple at Li-chiang the feasting ended in a burst of splendor. From one o'clock until far past sundown the friends and relatives of the departed one were fed. Any person could receive an invitation by bringing a small present, even if it were only a bowl of rice or a few hundred cash (ten or fifteen cents).

All during the morning girls and women flocked up the hill with trays of gifts. There were many Mosos and other tribesmen among them as well as Chinese. The Moso girls wore their black hair cut short on the sides and hanging in long narrow plaits down their backs. They wore white leather capes (at least that was the original shade) and pretty ornaments of silver and coral at their throats, and as they were young and gay with glowing red cheeks and laughing eyes they were decidedly attractive. The guests were seated in groups of six on the stones of the temple courtyard. Small boys acted as waiters, passing about steaming bowls of vegetables and huge straw platters heaped high with rice. As soon as each guest had stuffed himself to satisfaction he relinquished his place to someone else and the food was passed again. We were frequently pressed to eat with them and in the evening when the last guest had departed the "chief mourner" brought us some delicious fruit candied in black sugar. She told Wu that they had fed three hundred people during the day and we could well believe it. The next morning the coffin was carried down the hill to the accompaniment of anguished wails and we were left once more to the peace and quiet of our beautiful temple courtyard.

Sometimes a family will plunge itself into debt for generations to come to provide a suitable funeral for one of its members, because to bury the dead without the proper display would not only be to "lose face" but subject them to the possible persecution of the angered spirits. This is only one of the pernicious results of ancestor worship and it is safe to say that most of the evils in China's social order today can be traced, directly or indirectly, to this unfortunate practice.

A man's chief concern is to leave male descendants to worship at his grave and appease his spirit. The more sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons who walk in his funeral procession, the more he is to be envied. As a missionary humorously says "the only law of God that ever has been obeyed in China is to be fruitful and multiply." Craving for progeny has brought into existence thousands upon thousands of human beings who exist on the very brink of starvation. Nowhere in the civilized world is there a more sordid and desperate struggle to maintain life or a more hopeless poverty. But fear and self-love oblige them to continue their blind breeding. The apparent atrophy of the entire race is due to ancestor worship which binds it with chains of iron to its dead and to its past, and not until these bonds are severed can China expect to take her place among the progressive nations of the earth.