"The willow-pattern that we knew
In childhood. with its bridge of blue,
Leading to unknown thoroughfares."
Peradventure some who read these rambling paragraphs may be the
fortunate possessor of a few pieces of that willow-pattern, blue
or pink china table ware which was but too lightly esteemed when
it was a common heritage of English and American families. If
not, a vivid remembrance of the ware and of the fancies which it
inspired, must be little less prized by those who cherish such
associations with home and childhood. We are tempted here to
recall some of our own reminiscences of old china, which the
impatient reader may excusably skip for more serious matter.
From the semi-aquatic summer-house with roof curving upward like
an inverted umbrella, imprinted upon a favorite tea-plate, we
often sallied forth in fancy to explore the Chinese world as
portrayed in blue or pink upon earthen table-ware of the olden
time. And what a world! How artfully adapted to childish
notions, how convenient for bird's-eye views, this arrangement of
lofty mountain peaks, deep gorges, and rocks of fantastic forms,
tangled up with examples of nature subdued by Chinese art in
landscape gardening and ornate architecture. In the near distance
(far and near are the same in Chinese art), we behold a slender
streak of waterfall descending from mountain peaks a thousand
feet or height by comparison; a broad flight of stone stairs
leading up to a palace or temple of intricate construction and
marvellous ornamentation; a majestic river a mile or two in
width, winding serenely by these wonders of nature and art, but
submitting to be spanned by a single arch of bridge, perhaps
thrice the length of the Chinaman advancing over its camel-humped
back, who placidly regards from under his ruffle-edged umbrella
the pleasure boats floating beneath him. A little group of high-
born Chinese ladies in holiday attire are seated in a garden of
potted plants on the river's bank, drinking tea, flirting their
fans, and doubtless talking over the latest Court gossip. Nearby
is a willow, not the stiff, ugly tree now seen upon tame and
degenerate imitations of real old China pottery, but a graceful
weeping-willow, whose drooping branches sweep the opposite
shore, as sublimely indifferent to distance as the untrammeled
No hint here of imperative human toil, or of human need, or of
anything but present enjoyment and rest; it is a picture of
contented, comfortable existence, for dreamy contemplation, amid
a grouping of art and nature that calmly defies probability and
challenges the impossible.
But perhaps the Chinese artist had more justification for his
incredible fancies than we have imagined. Strange contradictions
occur in China, judged by our conventional standards, and there
are surprises and incongruities even in their actual landscapes,
which are unsuspected by thousands of our intelligent countrymen.
Some examples of such departure from our notions of natural and
of artificial scenery are given in the illustrations of this
"The east wind fans a gentle breeze,
The streams and trees glory in the brightness of the spring.
The bright sun illuminates the green shrubs,
And the falling flowers are scattered and fly away,
The solitary cloud retreats to the hollow hill;
The birds return to their leafy haunts:
Every being has a refuge whither he may turn;
I alone have nothing to which to cling.
So, seated opposite the moon shining o'er the cliff,
I drink and sing to the fragrant blossoms."
The foregoing lines are by Le Tai-Pih, styled the Chinese
Anacreon, literally translated by R. K. Douglas, in the
Encylopaedia Britannica. They might easily apply to a tea garden.
The power of a single word to arouse trains of thought composed
of the most varied ideas, to set in motion a panorama of scenery
which is well nigh endless with persons of lively imaginations,
is illustrated by this word, tea. While to one person it may
suggest only refreshment and personal comfort, and to another,
scenes of home life, to still others it will bring into being all
that the dreamer has read or heard of China, that land of Cathay,
and of its slant-eyed, mild mannered wearers of the pig-tail, and
their real or fabulous characteristics. Not the least interesting
of such associations are memories of the queer manners and habits
of the Chinese people, some of which to us outside barbarians,
appear so drolly opposed to our civilization of fancied
superiority. Let us recapitulate a few of the most marked
differences between the Chinese and Western peoples.
The very first antithesis that strikes us is the braided pig-tail
of long black glossy hair so religiously cherished by the men.
Have they forgotten that this is a badge of servitude? The
original inhabitants of China--by which we mean that people who
occupied central China as far back as the beginning of the
Assyrian Empire, or say 1300 years before Christ,--are said to
have worn their jet black hair long, and coiled loosely upon the
crown of the head, but they did not shave any portion of the
head, nor braid their hair in a queue. The northern tribes of
Manchus and Mongols (Tarters or Taters in olden nomenclature),
who inhabited Manchuria and Mongolia, had endeavored to conquer
the Chinese in wars which began about 950 A. D., and during which
in the 12th century, the celebrated Jenghiz Khan and Kublai Khan
severally commanded the Mongolian armies. These wars continued
until 1627 A. D. when the Manchurian invaders regarded their
conquest as sufficiently assured to warrant them in imposing
their commands upon their Chinese vassals. At that time the
Manchus partly shaved their head and wore braided queues. In 1627
an edict was issued by the Manchus requiring all Chinese subjects
to henceforth follow the Manchu fashion and to wear the pig-tail
as a token of submission to their conquerors. So, after time a
badge of bondage became with the Chinese an insignia of national
pride and honor.
Then, let us consider their written language, the oldest in the
world except Hebrew, says Dr. Williams, and the oldest spoken
language without any exception. Professor James Legge, writing
upon Confucianism and Taoism, says that the written language of
China takes us back at least five thousand years. Like most
things in China, the language has suffered very little change
since its adoption and completion. It does not consist of words,
built up of letters, as with us; it has no alphabet, no letters,
but its curious symbols represent objects, qualities, ideas, or
sounds, which by combination express every shade of Chinese
thought. The number of these written characters is variously
estimated by European philologists at from 25,000 to 50,000,
although it is believed that one may become a fair reader of
Chinese literature, by acquiring a knowledge of say 10,000 of the
pictorial symbols, with their allowable variations of form in
use. Punctuation is not ordinarily used in Chinese literature and
of course sentences or paragraphs are not divided from each other
by capitals, for they have none.
In the spoken language, rising or falling inflections, and
indescribable variations of tone must be learned, as well as
pronunciation, and when it is said that there are many different
dialects, each unintelligible to those accustomed to some other
one, there seems to be little encouragement for the introduction
of Chinese into our public school system. For all this, Dr.
Morrison, the compiler of a Chinese and English dictionary,
declares that "Chinese fine writing darts upon the mind with a
vivid flash, a force and beauty, of which alphabetic language is
Graphic representation of an idea in a picture illustrates Dr.
Chinese written or printed composition is arranged in
perpendicular columns, which are read from top to bottom
and from the right to the left; and a Chinese book
begins at the end from our point of view.
When in China two polite acquaintances accost each
other, they pause before meeting and each shakes his own
hand; (a much neater and more refined custom than our
To raise one's hat to a Chinaman is to offer an insult.
A favorite road vehicle for passengers is a wheel
barrow, and a mast and sail are often attached to aid in
its propulsion, with a fair wind.
Kite-flying is a sport for old men, boys look on.
The game of checkers or draughts is played with 360 men.
Shop signs are set on end.
White is the universal color for full mourning. Men make
women's head dresses.
Women row heavy boats on the canals.
A Chinese compass needle points to the south.
In addressing a person, his last or surname is first
written, and his first name last.
The seat of honor at the table is at the left of the
Fashions in fine clothing never change in China.
Thieves are required by the Government to be organized
into companies or guilds with elected heads, with whom
the Government and public may treat.
If a man is busy at his store, a traveling restaurant
will wait upon him.
A charcoal furnace, culinary vessels, and food, are
slung upon a pole carried by the proprietor, who stops
before the customer's door, and cooks a meal to order.
The first paddle-wheel boats built in China were
anchored in the stream where the current turned the
paddle-wheels, and ground grain for food.
The Chinese paint the edges of their shoe-soles white.
An expensive coffin is always an acceptable present from
an affectionate son and heir to his living father.
Military officers in the Chinese army formerly wore
embroidered silk petticoats, and strings of beads around
their necks; they carried fans, and mounted their horses
on the right hand side.
Chinese Cashiers are said to be uniformly honest.