Item 30f - Circular letter by F. W. Lawrence

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Circular letter by F. W. Lawrence


  • [c. 30 July 1898] (Creation)

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11 folded sheets (pp. 201–44). Pages 205–20 and 221–36 each form a gathering.

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Account of a journey via Brisbane, Townsville, Thursday Island, Hong Kong, Canton, Hong Kong and Kowloon, Amoy, and Shanghai.

(A continuation of 5/30e. Identified in the first sentence as the writer’s ‘sixth encyclical’. This letter was begun after Lawrence’s departure from Hong Kong and probably completed before his arrival at Nagasaki.)



The Southern Sun is shining on the China sea, as with a gentle breeze on the “Belgic” {1} I start to write my sixth encyclical.

A vast rush of impressions & experiences crowded into a brief space of time, are beginning to sort themselves out & take distinct shape in my mind, so that I hope to be able to present them to you in something other than a confused jumble; & at the same time to portray oriental existence freed from the unnatural tint of rapidity which the spectacles of the globe trotter impress upon it.

But I cannot pass over without some description the days which were spent on board the Omi Maru on the way up from Brisbane to Hong Kong. I think I told you that we were to get away by the tender at 8 o’clock in the morning to go down the river; so making an early breakfast we got on board & steamed slowly down. At last after 4 hours we came in sight of the Omi right out at sea {2}, & were not altogether pleased to learn that after being prevented from spending the morning in Brisbane we were not to get really off till dawn of the following day. However on arrival on board we were gratified to find that all our belongings—trunks, bags, bundles, books, bicycle, chairs & table—had been duly deposited there in accordance with the mighty swears we had exacted from all concerned in Sydney, & we settled ourselves down, undepressed, to an afternoon of quoits & reading.

The number of passengers including ourselves were only just able to reach into double figures {3}, & of these, 3 were to leave us at Thursday Island; the remainder were capable of classification in a great many ways: thus we were, 3 from S. Africa, 2 from Melbourne, 2 from England; 4 women & 3 men; 3 invalids, 3 nurses and a supernumerary. Perhaps you are at a loss for a moment to see how Percy & I figure in this last numeration, but a recollection of his fondness for break downs will not leave you long in doubt; I always say when I see him racing up hill at a break neck speed that the only thing he retains is a “good heart”.

The first week of our voyage was spent in getting up to Thursday Island; & we kept land in sight nearly all the way. Right out to sea was the great barrier reef, too far away to be visible; but every now & again the ship passed groups of islands on either side. We had a Pilot on board, a grumpy old man, very cautious in his old age, who used to insist upon anchoring nearly every night owing to the narrowness of the channel. A stern breeze (ie a breeze from the stern) assisted the movement of the ship & made our “aft” accomodation† a blessing rather than the reverse.

Every day was very much like its fellow; still not hot enough to have to make one’s bed on deck, a comfortable sleep in our “spacious” cabin could be enjoyed right up till breakfast time, when the Japanese Stewards attended to our requirements after their own peculiar manner. Then would come reading from the library which Percy & I—in our forethought—had brought on board, perhaps a German exercise, & the diurnal contests at Quoits—Percy v self, Percy v “Jim”, “Jim” v self—always ending in a double victory for the Champion, Percy. So would come lunch, & a repetition of events with a pleasant tea on deck; darkness, dinner, a talk with the Captain {4}, dreaminess, & bed.

In the midst of this, Townsville as a diversion.

[7 July] Off in a launch to shore, after an early tea. Would like to “get our hairs cut” but Thursday afternoon is barber’s holiday, so cannot be; fine hill overlooking the harbour, must mount to the top. 1800 feet a good climb for Latitude 16 but not impossible, & magnificent view of land & sea amply repays the effort. Scramble down again to the Queen’s hotel in the speedy gloom of evening, sit in the tropical verandah, dine pleasantly off “land” food with “grenadilloes” {5} for dessert, a quiet smoke, a “hundred up” in 20 minutes & so catch the launch back to the ship, before long to sleep in spite of the continuous disturbance produced by lading. A seagoer’s holiday!

But in the morning the ship is under way again, & the diurnal recreations pursue their course with unaltered regularity; nevertheless it begins to get warmer, & though the Punkah still remains inert, a doubled awning protects the deck. To take “early tea” & get up an hour before breakfast becomes a more reasonable course to pursue; while “flannels” give place to “cottons”, & redundant clothing is altogether discarded. And so the few remaining days go by till [11 July] Thursday Island is reached {6}. Here I go ashore alone to see the sights of the place; & find a wonderfully cosmopolitan town.

Townsville had been interesting as a place well within the boundary of the tropics & yet inhabited almost entirely by the white race; Thursday Island presented an utterly different appearance,—Japanese, Chinese, Philipinos† & multitudes of other races all unite with the Australian to make up the 2000 of its inhabitants, to work its pearl fisheries & to carry on the shipping trade of the most northerly Port of Australia. An hour on land & then back to the ship to sail for China & Japan, to cross once more the famous line.

And now we begin to be surrounded in real earnest by the essentials of the tropics; the warmth of the nights compels us to sleep on deck, the punkah in vain endeavours to cool our meal hours, while the all eternal peg slakes our oriental thirst. In the evening we all gather together & read the tales of “Many Cargoes” {7}, while the Captain listens with no feigned amusement. In the early mornings we stroll about in pyjamas on the deck or play leap frog with “Jim” & so at last come the dress & to breakfast & a short game of quoits, then the day begins to get hot (though the monsoon saves us from anything very severe) & we labour at peaceful occupations till the going down of the sun. Sometimes the Captain talks to us of Japan, sometimes “Jim” retails experiences for our amusement; sometimes we have much to gaze upon in the passing islands.

But who or what is “Jim”? Some six feet of untidiness, a pair of grey trousers braced over a flannel shirt, a pair of brown boots, a shockhead of hair surmounting a weather beaten countenance, 30 years of childlike simplicity combined with farming adroitness, is this all that is to be said of Jim? By no means; an Englishman of S. Africa covered with the veneer of the Dutch, intelligent, good natured, anxious to learn but uncertain what is knowledge; now add to all this a deep fraternal devotion to a consumptive sister obeying as a dog, commands from her or from her nurse, & you have nearly, but not quite, Jim.

Of his sister & her nurse there is not very much to tell, except that they were always having their port hole open & getting their cabin swamped. The 2 remaining passengers were sisters from Melbourne, who had a house there & another place in Tasmania; one of them was an invalid & nervous & so naturally quiet, the other posed as coming under the latter adjective. So we could not be said to have a wildly exciting time, still the days passed away very smoothly.

The boat, as you know, belonged to a Japanese Company, & the only Englishmen on board besides the passengers were the Captain Chief Officer & first engineer; the Captain was a jolly sort of fellow who used to invite us up on to the bridge whenever there was anything to see; we lent & gave him several books of our library & he in his turn added to our store. As for the rest of the officers we did not come much into contact with them. The stewards used to amuse us very much. All very little men, they used to bob & curtsey about whenever they did anything for us, & they used to make a good deal of difficulty in understanding; at the same time they took a lot of trouble to please. The Japanese sailors all looked like boys, but they were pretty sharp about their work & did whatever they were told. Since arriving in China we have heard many tales of difficulties arrising† on boats of this line between the Japanese Crews & English Captains who are said to be only nominally in charge, placed there to satisfy the requirements of the Insurance Companies; of course we don’t know how far these may be true or not, but for our own part we found everything very satisfactory, & aided by smooth weather we made an excellent passage.

We had hoped to get some sort of sight of Manilla, but 20 miles out at 8 o’clock at night does not conduce to much instruction, & ‘divil a bit’ of town of men or of ships did we come across. For all we learnt we might as well have been at the other end of the globe; far better indeed such position if it had been in connection with a telegraph wire.

And so island after island has been passed, & day by day it has grown warmer & warmer & now [21 July?] we were in the China sea on the eve of our arrival in Hong Kong {8}; no boisterous typhoon disturbs the tranquillity of our progress, while once again the Great Bear illumines the Northern sky. So have we come back Westward & Northward from the newest civilisation in the world to the oldest & most decayed. What though there be hundreds of millions of this old world race, is it not rather a trouble after our weeks of tranquillity to rush in amongst them? What can we hope to learn of them in afew† days of sojourn? (what indeed, though it were weeks or months, or years or lifetimes?) Had we not better save our energies for the sprightlier race that lives so close at hand, & turn upon this rabbit-like population a doubtful but unenquiring gaze?

And all the while, steadily but surely the Omi is ploughing her way towards the island of Hong Kong, though in the darkness of the night the myriad toilers of the land rest from their labours in peaceful dreamless sleep.

China at last.

Dawn is breaking in the East, the balmy dawn of the tropics; outside the harbour of Hong Kong is the Omi at anchor. But with daylight she is again under weigh, & we steam slowly through amid the great multitude of craft, past the great sugar works until we anchor again right over against the town.

I suppose the first thing which must strike anyone in seeing Hong Kong is the fact that [it] is all hills; only just along the very front is there anything like level ground, & even there, but a very narrow strip, so that men are endeavouring to reclaim from the sea what nature has denied them on the shore. A large part of the town is built up on the side of the hills, & to this must be added a little colony who live up on the “peak”; in order that they may be able to make an easy & rapid ascent a funicular railway has been built by which you can get up to the level of 1500 feet in about 7 minutes. This is a much more wonderful thing than the ordinary railway of the kind; for instead of a straight run up & a straight run down, it winds in and out & is sometimes steep & sometimes nearly level. Close to the upper terminus is the Peak Hotel which is largely patronised by residents, who gain in coolness of the atmosphere what they lose in convenience, & even seem to find little difficulty in running up there every day for lunch.

We however determined to patronise the Hong Kong hotel which is on the shore, & as we were right in the centre of things & very well looked after, we were glad we had done so. Landing in the hotel launch before breakfast, we found that the rainy season was now on which kept the whole place in an incessant state of moisture, so we promptly invested in suitable clothing of white cotton & found ourselves thoroughly repaid in comfort for having done so.

Nevertheless you may imagine that a continuous temperature of 81 & 82 in a stew bath is not particularly adapted to walking about; & after making the requisite enquiries about our journey on to Japan etc, we took greedily to the rickshaw as an easy, comfortable & inexpensive method of locomotion. We first went to see Mr Smith of Butterfield & Swire’s to whom I had a letter of introduction; he advised us to go away to Canton the same evening while the fine weather held out, & invited us to come up to lunch with him soon after our return. We next set off for a missionary {9} to whom Percy had a letter, & we were directed up the hill; for this the rickshaw is unsuited & we started off to walk, after a little I began to get exhausted & upon being continually pressed by Percy I subsided moist & sticky into a chair & consented to be carried in that, while he walked triumphant at the side. I may add here that this was the last occasion of his triumph, for ever afterwards he always proceeded in like fashion in going any considerable distance where the rickshaw is unable to proceed. By considerable distance I mean perhaps ½ a mile, & for this purpose you have 2 coolies, marvellously strong little chaps who, unlike the Swiss, carry the chair rods upon the shoulders, & so render the motion very steady; they have tremendous calves, &—like Percy himself in a cooler climate—will go up a steep hill at quite a rapid pace. The most picturesque thing about them, I should say, is their hats; in Hong Kong these are blue & of a pretty fair size, while in Canton they are of brown straw & about as big as a small umbrella; when they have them on, they look perfectly wonderful, & Percy & I used to meditate upon the effect in England of ourselves photographed with these environments. Alas we never quite brought ourselves to adopt the still more extraordinary locomotion which can be had in Shanghai; if we had done so, I am sure the mere convulsions of our laughter would have caused us to fall off the … the …. wheelbarrow. These extraordinary conveyances which are wheeled by a single man have on either side of the big wheel an arrangement like the knifeboard of an old fashioned omnibus—where bales can be put or people can sit—; factory girls make use of them in going to their work & as many as 8 or 9 have been counted on the same barrow! Percy himself saw as many as 5 people, & I have seen 4 large bales which I should estimate at little under 2 cwt each. [There follows a sketch of the vehicle in question.] I wish I could draw well enough to give you an idea of the thing in motion, but as I have not succeeded in drawing it correctly even at rest, that is out of the question. [There follows another sketch of the vehicle.] The man of course holds the 2 handles in his hands, but he has also a strap attached to them which goes over his shoulders; residents say the squeak of them coming along, is like the despairing cry of the dying pig; others explain that it is the manner in which a man can move the heaviest load.

Well ultimately after asking the way of nearly everyone we met, (quite a fatuous proceeding so far as the Chinese were concerned, especially as Percy always insisted on spelling the name of the street to those who did not understand) we reach our destination to find our friend out, but his wife at home; so after a short call we descended to the hotel & had lunch. The afternoon was spent in writing a few letters, & fetching the remainder of our luggage off the Omi; then we rickshawed down to the “night” boat to Canton, & were able to have a few words with Dr Pearce (the missionary) & his wife, who had come to see us off, before the boat started.

There were only 2 other first class passengers on board, both men, & one of them came up to me & said “Do you know if the plague is bad in Canton now” “No, but I suppose Europeans are immune as they are in Bombay” “Oh have you been in India?” “Yes I spend† some months there with friends from Trin Coll Camb” “Oh are you a Trinity man, so am I”. Then after a little more; “I think I have heard of you; did you not stop with Willis at Peradéniya, I was there a short time after you left, my name is Reynolds {10}.” And so we had a long talk about all sorts of things; & it turned out afterwards that the fourth passenger was from Magdalene Oxford.

At dinner the Captain told us a lot about the Chinese & about Canton in particular, he said he had some 800 Chinese on board then, & often had a good many more; as a rule they were a very peaceable set & gave no trouble at all; he recommended us to employ Wong Yew as guide on the morrow. [24 July.] At daybreak we were passing through the outlying districts of Canton, & at 6 o’clock we were made fast to the wharf; all around us, busy as bees were the floating population: now a junk with its huge rectilinear sail, now a sampan with father mother & children living their lives out upon it, now a mighty stern wheeler, with its paddle rotated by a hundred human feet—climbing climbing climbing from dawn till dark on each succeeding day—. How many think you, this river population? A few hundred? A few thousand? Try again: Put all the population of Oxford, & all the population of Cambridge, & hardly so will you have reached to the number of those who live & die in boats upon this river, this little part of the river where it flows past Canton.

Surely one might spend days gazing gazing upon this countless crew, & it is well that we have an hour at any rate to inspect; for Wong Yew has told us that, contrary to my expectation, it is better to wait till after breakfast to go ashore & view the city. At last at 8.30 we make a start, Wong Yew putting all of us & himself into chairs; he & Percy have 3 coolies each while Reynolds & myself have 4 each, being supposed—not without truth—to be heavier. [There follows a sketch of four coolies carrying, on poles, a man in a chair.]

And so we go away through the streets to inspect many different shops: who will ever be able to describe the streets to one who has not seen them? Narrow of course,—not wider than the pavement of an average London street—flagged, & often surmounted by a kind of matting to keep off the sun, they were bordered on either side by the “signs” of the shops; signs consisting of narrow vertical boards painted with chinese characters & bearing such inscriptions as “Honesty is the best Policy” & the like. Our method of procedure in single file did not admit of our putting questions, while we went along, to the guide; but everything on the route was of interest & all our senses except that of taste were called into play. Shops of all kinds we stopped to inspect, temples of Buddha, of Tao, of ancestors, the great Doctor temple & the temple of the Emperor, all these we beheld in their glory & decay; but ever to me the most interesting sight was the people, whether to watch the differing types of countenance, to note upon many the signs of culture & of intellectuality, whether to return the stare of the children gazing open mouthed at the foreignor†, or else to admire the skill of the chair coolies in getting round the narrow corners or in avoiding the basket carriers who everywhere abounded. [There follows a sketch of a person carrying two baskets on a pole.] Now & again a Chinese was having shaved the front of his head, or combing out his splendid raven hair, or plaiting it into the famous pigtail; occasionally a high class woman hobbling along on her feet or carried in her chair; but everywhere the incessant stream of human beings, men here & men there & a few women of the common rank with their smooth hair & their uncontorted feet showing bare beneath their trousers.

At last we mounted to the top of the 5 storeyed pagoda & seated at lunch we looked down upon the city; there spread out before us, seemed one continuous mass, filling an area perhaps hardly as large as Derby & yet containing nearly 2 million of living human souls. {11}

And so we came down & the tour of our inspection of the city was continued; one thing in especial we impressed upon our guide that we were anxious of beholding & that was the Examination Hall. At length we were within its classic walls; a long central pathway leads up from the gateway to the dais of the examiners & on either side are rows upon rows of tiny cells. Into one of these on the morning of the first day marches the candidate; his age is not limited by the Psalmist’s allotted span of life, no iron regulation determines the number of his possible attempts. He marches within, & straightway he is immured; from thenceforth no sound reaches his excited consciousness but the stealthy tread of the watchman. The fierce noontide of the hot summer’s day comes & goes, & finds his task but just begun; his daily allowance of food is lowered into his cell, & the lamp of evening has been lit, and still but a mere fragment of his dissertation has been completed. The night wears through, & another long day drags out its torrid course; perhaps he eats a little, perhaps he sleeps a little, perhaps in the excitement of his labour he forgets to do either. Again another night; will he survive another day? For a few more hours he must labour; & then as the sun sinks below the horizon the walls are pulled down, & from each cell there issues forth one bearing the fruit of his exertion,—from all save here a cell & there a cell whence comes no living form, but where there is seen the prostrate figure of what was once a man. So at length for all, the task is finished! For what is the prize awarded? For knowledge of the classics, for elegance of diction, for beauty of style; for everything—in which an essay on a set subject can excel—except for originality or for scientific knowledge. What is this prize which is so coveted a possession; which is one of the highest expressions of filial piety, which ennobles the whole backward pedigree? The prize is the admission of the candidate into the list of those who will become mandarins; & each year in Canton 50 or 60 (??) out of some 2000 competitors achieve the coveted distinction. Room there would be in the spacious “hall” for many many more to make the fateful endeavour, for it has been estimated that the total number of cells hardly falls short of 15 thousand!

As a matter of fact the word “hall”, hardly conveys the correct idea, for the place is quite open to the sky; & while we were there, down part of the long central Avenue, an examination in archery was being conducted. This is part of the examination for military mandarins; & 2 by 2 the students in gorgeous robes came forward upon the dais to fire off their three shots; whether the distance was greater than it appeared, or whether their bows were of a peculiarly awkward pattern, or finally whether the unseen presence of the boorish foreignor† exercised a mystic spell over their movements, I am unable to say, but in my immature judgment proficiency seemed to be remarkable by its absence. At length we had seen enough; & with mixed feelings we bade farewell to the most ancient relic of the system of competitive examination.

A few more shops of curios & another temple were to end our round of Canton; but last but not least we visited a pawnbroker’s. All over the city may be seen certain brick buildings towering up into the sky; 12 or 13 short storeys with narrow barred windows, in each storey stacks upon stacks of neatly tied up parcels with little wooden Chinese labels. Thus is the pawnbroker an institution as well recognised here as in the lands of the west; rules & regulations are very similar, but perhaps quite a large amount of the depositing is done with a view simply to placing the articles in safe custody.

The return to the boat about 4 o’clock in the afternoon concluded one of the hardest days of pure sight seeing I have ever “put in”; & a peaceful night on board, with many discussions upon diverse subjects brought us back [25 July] to Hong Kong. There we were now to remain several days, & in spite of a great deal of rain we were able to accomplish nearly everything we wanted.

One day we took tram up the peak & walked from the upper terminus to the top of the hill, from whence we got a magnificent view all round the island; the harbour is very grand & is capable of containing a large number of vessels simultaneously. To give some idea of the amount of shipping which passes through, it is perhaps worth while mentioning that on the day of our arrival, five boats of the P & O Company alone were riding there at anchor; & I have heard it said that Hong Kong stands second only to London in the quantity of its annual tonnage.

One day we crossed over to the mainland, & visited Kowloon, which, to the regret of everyone on the spot, the British government has left under Chinese jurisdiction while obtaining for England the fine piece of territory in which it is situated. One day Dr Pearce took us over the prison & showed us the Chinese prisoners under the supervision of English & Indian officials. Another day we went up to dinner with him & met a native Chinese doctor, who took us, later on, to a native theatre; we sat in seats upon the stage & were extremely interested both in the spectators & in the drama itself which the doctor was kind enough to explain to us. All the actors are men, but they manage to imitate women very cleverly, when required, both in voice & in their manner of walking; one of the several plays acted during the evening, described the attraction felt by a young lady for the scholar who was instructing her brother! The actors converse in the Mandarin dialect which must be unintelligible to quite a large portion of the audience; nevertheless as the plays run more or less upon fixed lines, they have no difficulty in following them, & scenes such as that in which the young lady titivates herself with a view of compelling the admiration of the scholar, are watched with keen delight.

Another day we went up with Mr Smith to lunch on the peak; from the top of tram line we took chairs to his house which we found very pleasant & cool. Then after lunch we descended in the same way walking down to his office from the foot of the line; in this manner the total time away from office can be reduced well within 2 hours. In the afternoon I went on to see over the greatest sugar factory in the world & was duly impressed.

Another day—I notice I have said this sometimes when it was really the same day—we went on to the Omi again for a short time to bid adiew† to our friends; we found all the passengers rather tired of staying in the harbour, some of them wishing that they had come ashore to a hotel, nevertheless they were looking forward to starting away for Japan the next day.

Another day we visited the “Happy Valley” where the remains of the English race who have died in this spot so far from home are laid at rest; perhaps in the care with which this is tended, if in this alone, the reserve sentiment of “l’Anglais phlegmatique” is attested.

So with one thing & another, not omitting the gentle game of pills at the hotel, our time at Hong Kong passed away; & we found ourselves once more upon a boat {12}, bound for Shanghai & Japan. Stopping for a short time at Amoy to take on a cargo of tea, we reached Shanghai after 3 days sailing, & were pleased to find that we were to have more than a whole day before it would be necessary to get away again; so we proceeded at once, in a manner characteristic of ourselves, to get a lot of information by going & calling upon different people. I hope to be able to narrate to you, presently, a few of the things we heard then & at other times, so as to give you a few ideas about the Chinese; but of course you will remember that they represent only the second hand opinions of a few people coupled with a very minute amount of direct observation, & as such are to be accepted with the greatest caution. Nevertheless as proof that some of what we gathered was good in its foundation, I may perhaps mention that a lady who had been a doctor in China for many years, & was discussing things Chinese with Percy for some time, said at length “you must have stayed a very long time in China”.

These last two sentences must be taken as as kind of interlude representing the time we spent in talking to people, before I mention the things we actually saw & did. Late in the afternoon of the day of our arrival, we went out to the Recreation Ground going by way of one of the principal streets (ie of the foreign settlement, of course); on the way we were very much interested in how things “went along”. Mentally I compared the place with the presidency towns of India; but there were many differences; in some cases Chinese ladies driving about in open carriages, as I only saw of the Parsees in Bombay; in one case I noticed a European coachman driving a couple of Chinese gentlemen; all along the route were Chinese men sitting in rows upon the balconies, watching the foreigner driving down at his accustomed hour to his athletics. Victorias, Dog Carts, bicycles, rickshaws, even Wheelbarrows jostled one another along the road; while occasionally one would catch a glimpse of the Chinese lady with her cramped up feet. At length we reached the recreation ground itself & were struck dumb with admiration; almost every form of athletics & recreation was there displayed; so that so far as I am aware the ground is absolutely unrivalled in the whole world. While we were there, cricket, lawn tennis, bowls[,] quoits, & other games were all going on, & in the winter some of these give place to football & other things; in addition to these all the paths make splendid bicycle tracks, & polo golf & base ball are constantly played. [The preceding sentence is written around a plan of the recreation ground.] The whole enclosure must be something like a hundred acres.

The next morning we started away for an inspection of the Chinese city under the guidance of Mr Box a Missionary; after strolling round a little way on the walls we descended & saw all manner of strange & wonderful things. Here was a temple with god & goddess before whom was spread out a repast of all kinds of real food; of course these are afterwards sold, & eaten by the people, reminding one of “meats offered to idols”. Here was the plaint of weeping women; “this”, said Mr Box, “must mean either a death or a family quarrel[”]. And sure enough as we got nearer we saw them burning the little paper house for the use of the dead man, & with it large masses of paper money made to imitate silver & copper; these with a real suit of clothes were all added to the conflagration. Many things we noticed similar to those we had seen in Canton, & in many cases we learnt their meaning for the first time; but perhaps the most interesting thing we did was to go up to tea in the “willow” tea house. Call up to your consciousness the willow pattern & put it into reality in your mind, then imagine Percy & myself existent there in the flesh, crossing the little bridge & mounting to the top of the little tea house! At first Box gave no sign of knowing the language; but when the proprietor tried to “do” us, he amused every one very much by quoting a Chinese proverb “It is good to skin the foreigner”. He afterwards had a long conversation with the man at the next table, introducing us as 2 scholars from England. At a Chinese tea house, you take neither sugar nor milk, & you pay so much for one “go” of tea; you can have this replenished with hot water as often as you like, & may stay there half the day if you are so minded; for my own part I found it very refreshing. So with interesting & delightful experiences—only marred by the mosquito—we spent our time in Shanghai, where—though there is no absolutely British concession—there are, I believe, more British & American residents than in Bombay or Madras or even in Hong Kong itself.

And now for a few words on China and the Chinese in general; let me take the following points in order:

The pig-tail. Somehow or other I always imagined the pigtail would be a very ugly thing; I was surprised therefore to find that in a great many cases it is really quite the reverse; Percy describes the Chinese “boys” on board the Belgic, with their glossy black pigtails hanging down over their blue blouses as “perfectly fascinating”. I was also under the impression that loss of pigtail in this life was supposed to imply loss of heaven in the next world; this too is quite erroneous, the only thing that it really brings is loss of “face” (which means something rather more than loss of dignity) & it is the greatest loss of “face” which a man can be subjected to; it is a curious custom, & in view of the fact that it is not many centuries ago that it was introduced, & was then a mark of servitude, it goes to show that the Chinese are not quite so slow to change as some people are wont to suppose.

People often get confused about the religion of the Chinese; in point of fact the great mass of them are Buddhists, Taoists, Ancestor worshippers & nature worshippers all combined and par excellence Confucianists. Few among the men would profess much about the former, but nearly all would admit themselves to be disciples of Confucius; & really they might do a great deal worse, for as a system of ethics, his teachings are admitted on all hands, to be of a very high order. What the missionaries aim largely at doing, is to supplant the superstitions of the other religions & particularly of Taoism, the practices of which are continued though there is little or no belief in them retained by the male portion of the population.—In this sentence I have considerably over-stated the position. This brings me as usual on to the inevitable subject of the missionary. Of course there are always objections raised everywhere, but so far as I could gather, the missionary in China is regarded with a good deal more favour by outsiders than he is in other places; in the first place he is almost the only one who is thoroughly conversant with the language, & he is prepared to do a great deal in addition to strictly evangelical work. Commercial men admit that he “opens up” the country; & newspaper men acknowledge the vast debt which they owe the missionary for the amount of news which he is willing to provide for them.

Moreover there are signs that the younger men, at any rate, are beginning to avoid preaching Christianity as the one inspired religion (I had almost said mythology) whose acceptance is a safeguard against all the evils of this world & the next; but instead, they are endeavouring to encourage education & to supplement the deficiencies of the Confucian system with the best parts of Christianity. If and so far as they do this, I believe they will receive support from the Chinese; & there is no reason why their influence should not be extremely beneficial. {13}

A very natural thing for me, was to attempt to compare the Chinese with the Indian, & in this I found a great number of interesting points of difference. Take for instance some of the small everyday matters:—in India it is a sign of great want of respect to a superior, if a man does not remove his shoes & stockings when he comes into your presence, in China it is exactly the reverse; in China head gear is hardly worn at all among the lower orders and where it is, it is merely a protection against the sun, which must be removed in the house, in India on the other hand, the turban is worn indoors as well as out. Then of course caste in any strict sense does not exist in China, & theoretically at any rate there is no reason why a man should not rise from the lowest position to high estate in the country. Turning to the poorest part of the population I was unable to learn of any one earning such small wages as I had observed in the Indigo districts of India (something under a penny a day for a man), but I do not think this at all proves that in out of the way districts there may not be Chinese Coolies earning this wage or even less. At the other end of the scale, Chinese merchants appear to be respected by every one, & their business honesty is world famous; in this way they are contrasted with the Japanese whose merchants are unfortunately regarded with considerable suspicion. {14} The Chinese mandarin is famous for his “squeezes” which spelt vulgarly amounts to nearly the same thing as “bribery & corruption”; defences are allowed to go to rack & ruin because the mandarin whose business it is to look after them, keeps most of the money, intended for the purpose, in his own pocket; the very shells for the guns are often purloined & sold, & dummies are put in their place, while the numbers of a garrison are rarely up to their correct figure in order that the mandarin may pocket the pay of the men who do not exist. The great mass of people, however, suffer very much less from the wholesale official corruption than might have been supposed; so far as the military mandarins are concerned the people care nothing for their military prestige, & even with the civil mandarins they come less into direct contact than might be supposed. Lawsuits they avoid except as a form of murder & suicide (cf Court of Chancery in England); & being of a peaceable nature they are little interfered with except in the matter of a somewhat excessive taxation which they have come to regard as normal.

The Chinese consider the foreigner as essentially a person of no manners; the same attitude in a more or less degree is held with regard to the European all through the East; & if one cannot help realising everywhere that it is true in part one is bound to acknowledge it more particularly in China. Manners, ceremonial, dignity of carriage, a “grave & thoughtful countenance” (which being translated gives “a smile that is childlike & bland”)—in all these things it would be difficult to deny that the Chinese is preeminent; at the same time under this external may lie cruelty, rudeness, & deceit. How far these hidden vices do exist, it is impossible to judge; while those who have the best right to form an opinion differ considerably in their estimate. The erudition of the scholars in works of antiquity is very great; & even the common coolies may often be seen reading the proclamations in the streets written not infrequently in recondite characters.

Taken as a whole I was more favourably impressed with the Chinese than with the Indian; but against this general statement must be set a great many cautions & modifications. In the first place when I speak of “the Indian” I lump together in my mind the people of Bengal Bombay & Madras, leaving out of account altogether the Sikhs, the people of the Punjab, & the people of the Hills who are generally said to be the best people in the country; and secondly I am afraid one must admit with most Orientals that as a rule the better one knows them the less one likes them, & my knowledge of India is very much greater than that of China. Nevertheless taking the opinions of those who know more than myself I believe that my general proposition is to be substantiated.

A few words upon the political outlook will bring this encyclical to a close. I have already spoken of the feeling in reference to Kowloon, this refers to the relations with China itself, but by far the most important points arrise† out of our attitude towards other foreign powers. On all hands it is strenuously urged that we ought to show a bolder front towards Russia, that we ought to put forward a definite position & stick to it, that we ought to be prepared to support China in her opposition to the demands of the Great Bear. They say that there can be no doubt that the Chinese would stand by us if they thought we were prepared to stand by them; on the other hand it must be remembered that Li Hung Chang & the Dowager Empress are directly in the pay of Russia.

People in China complain than† those at home do not appreciate the true state of affairs in the far east; & do not realise how strong Great Britain is & how easily she could enforce her demands. But the editor of a newspaper who was most strenuous in this position & who was in things Chinese extremely well informed, showed that he too was not quite conversant—in my opinion—in the state of affairs in distant countries when he took for granted that if Russia & France were against us Germany would take our side, & Australia would prove to us of very real assistance.

As regards Wei-hai-wai opinions seem to differ a good deal, but the great majority seemed to be of opinion that it would prove of very small value to us. On the other hand I have heard it stated that if we are prepared to spend a large sum of money in fortifying it & keep there a considerable garrison, it may be made a very strong place.

For my own part I feel that China is of immense importance; it is nearer home to-day than India was but a few years ago. It has a vast almost homogeneous population capable of nearly anything. Looking to the future, we should not allow it to fall into the hands of unscrupulous foreign nations, neither for its own sake nor for our own. Let us make ourselves as strong as possible, let us make just demands & see that they are adhered to through everything. We are the only country in the world who can administer a foreign nation; on our resolution to-day must hang the future of China, and may depend the whole destiny of the world.

End of encyclical VI.


{1} The steamship Belgic was built in 1885 for the White Star Line.

{2} The steamer Omi Maru belonged to the Nippon Yusen Kaisha. It stopped at Sydney from 26 June to 2 July, then on the 4th called at Moreton Bay, near Brisbane, where Lawrence and Alden boarded it. It was due to set off again the same day but did not actually go till early on the 5th. See the Brisbane Courier, 5 July, pp. 1 and 3, and 6 July, p. 3.

{3} The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 2 July (p. 10): ‘The following passages have been engaged by the Omi Maru, sailing for Hongkong and Japan, via ports, from west side of Circular Quay [Sydney] at noon to-day in the Nippon Yusen line:—Mr. F. W. Lawrence, Mr. Alden, Dr. Agassiz, Mr. G. Fischer, Mrs. A. Lewis, Mr. H. Arnheim, Miss Parkes, Miss Tyre, Miss Nicholson, Miss Nicholson [sic], and Mr. J. F. Parkes, and a number of Chinese in the steerage.’ This list includes eleven non-Chinese passengers, whereas Lawrence only refers to ten, but perhaps one of the number either did not board or left the ship before Brisbane. ‘Jim’, mentioned subsequently, must be Mr J. F. Parkes, Miss Parkes being his sister. The Miss Nicholsons are the sisters from Melbourne mentioned on p. 208. Miss Parkes’s nurse was either Mrs Lewis or Miss Tyre, probably the latter. Those who left at Thursday Island were clearly Dr Agassiz, Mr Fischer, and either Mrs Lewis or Miss Tyre.

{4} Christopher Young (d. 1907), steamship captain of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha; born at Heligoland. See the Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 15 Apr. 1907, p. 1.

{5} The fruit of the passion-flower; see OED, s. v. granadilla | grenadilla, which, curiously enough, cites the phrase ‘The tropical verandah, with the grenadillas trained along the lattice-work’ from The Times, 31 Jan. 1894, p. 13.

{6} The ship left the island the same day. See 6/14 and The Queenslander, 12 July, p. 103.

{7} A collection of humorous sea stories by W. W. Jacobs, first published in 1896.

{8} They were due to arrive on the 22nd (see p. 177), but according to the Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 25 July, p. 3, and The Standard (London), 25 July, p. 8, the ship did not arrive there till the next day.

{9} Thomas William Pearce.

{10} Leetham Reynolds.

{11} The ink changes here.

{12} The S.S. Belgic.

{13} The ink changes here.

{14} The ink changes here.

† Sic.

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The first four pages (pp. 201–4) were sent by Lawrence to his Aunt Edith with a letter of 3–4 Aug. (PETH 6/6). Another section (perhaps pp. 205–20, all written on the writing-paper of the steamship Belgic) was sent at the same time to his sister Ellen (PETH 6/19). A further section was sent to Ellen on 20 September (see PETH 6/20).

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