Saturday, October 13, 2007



Author of Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes
No thorough study of Chinese child life can be made until
the wall of Chinese exclusiveness is broken down and the
homes of the East are thrown open to the people of the
West. Glimpses of that life however, are available, sufficient
in number and character to give a fairly good idea of
what it must be. The playground is by no means always
hidden, least of all when it is the street. The Chinese
nurse brings her Chinese rhymes, stories and games into
the foreigner's home for the amusement of its little ones.
Chinese kindergarten methods and appliances have no
superior in their ingenuity and their ability to interest, as
well as instruct. In the matter of travelling shows and
jugglers also, no country is better supplied, and these are
chiefly for the entertainment of the little ones.
To the careful observer of these different phases it
becomes apparent that the Chinese child is well supplied
with methods of exercise and amusement, also that he has
much in common with the children of other lands. A large
collection of toys shows many duplicates of those common
in the West, and from the nursery rhymes of at least two
out of the eighteen provinces it appears that the Chinese
nursery is rich in Mother Goose. As a companion to
the "Chinese Mother Goose," this book seeks to show
that the same sunlight fills the homes of both East and
West. If it also leads their far-away mates to look upon
the Chinese Boy and Girl as real little folk, human like
themselves, and thus think more kindly of them, its mission
will have been accomplished.
It is a mistake to suppose that any one nation or people
has exclusive right to Mother Goose. She is an omnipresent
old lady. She is Asiatic as well as European or American.
Wherever there are mothers, grandmothers, and
nurses there are Mother Gooses,--or; shall we say, Mother
Geese--for I am at a loss as to how to pluralize this old
dame. She is in India, whence I have rhymes from her,
of which the following is a sample:
Heh, my baby! Ho, my baby!
See the wild, ripe plum,
And if you'd like to eat a few,
I'll buy my baby some.
She is in Japan. She has taught the children there to put
their fingers together as we do for "This is the church,
this is the steeple," when she says:
A bamboo road,
With a floor-mat siding,
Children are quarrelling,
And parents chiding,
the children" being represented by the fingers and the
"parents" by the thumbs. She is in China. I have more
than 600 rhymes from her Chinese collection. Let me tell
you how I got them.
One hot day during my summer vacation, while sitting
on the veranda of a house among the hills, fifteen miles
west of Peking, my friend, Mrs. C. H. Fenn, said to me:
"Have you noticed those rhymes, Mr. Headland?"
"What rhymes?" I inquired.
"The rhymes Mrs. Yin is repeating to Henry."
"No, I have not noticed them. Ask her to repeat that one again."
Mrs. Fenn did so, and the old nurse repeated the following rhyme,
very much in the tone of, "The goblins 'll git you if you don't
look out."
He climbed up the candlestick,
The little mousey brown,
To steal and eat tallow,
And he couldn't get down.
He called for his grandma,
But his grandma was in town,
So he doubled up into a wheel,
And rolled himself down.
I asked the nurse to repeat it again, more slowly, and I
wrote it down together with the translation.
Now, I think it must be admitted that there is more in
this rhyme to commend it to the public than there is in
"Jack and Jill." If when that remarkable young couple
went for the pail of water, Master Jack had carried it
himself, he would have been entitled to some credit for
gallantry, or if in cracking his crown he had fallen so as to
prevent Miss Jill from "tumbling," or even in such a way
as to break her fall and make it easier for her, there would
have been some reason for the popularity of such a record.
As it is, there is no way to account for it except the fact
that it is simple and rhythmic and children like it. This
rhyme, however, in the original, is equal to "Jack and Jill" in
rhythm and rhyme, has as good a story, exhibits a more scientific
tumble, with a less tragic result, and contains as good a moral
as that found in "Jack Sprat."
It is as popular all over North China as "Jack and Jill" is
throughout Great Britain and America. Ask any Chinese child if he
knows the "Little Mouse," and he reels it off to you as readily
as an English-speaking child does "Jack and Jill." Does he like
it? It is a part of his life. Repeat it to him, giving one word
incorrectly, and he will resent it as strenuously as your little
boy or girl would if you said,
Jack and Jill
Went DOWN the hill
Suppose you repeat some familiar rhyme to a child differently
from the way he learned it and see what the result will be.
Having obtained this rhyme, I asked Mrs. Yin if she
knew any more. She smiled and said she knew "lots of
them." I induced her to tell them to me, promising her
five hundred cash (about three cents) for every rhyme she
could give me, good, bad, or indifferent, for I wanted to
secure all kinds. And I did. Before I was through I had
rhymes which ranged from the two extremes of the keenest
parental affection to those of unrefined filthiness. The
latter class however came not from the nurses but from
the children themselves.
When I had finished with her I had a dozen or more. I
soon learned these so that I could repeat them in the original,
which gave me an entering wedge to the heart of every
man, woman or child I met.
One day, as I rode through a broom-corn field on the
back of a little donkey, my feet almost dragging on the
ground, I was repeating some of these rhymes, when the
driver running at my side said:
"Ha, you know those children's songs, do you?"
"Yes do you know any?"
"Lots of them," he answered.
"Lots of them" is a favorite expression with the Chinese.
"Tell me some."
"Did you ever hear this one?"
"Fire-fly, fire-fly,
Come from the hill,
Your father and mother
Are waiting here still.
They've brought you some sugar,
Some candy, and meat,
For baby to eat."
I at once dismounted and wrote it down, and promised
him five hundred cash apiece for every new one he could
give me. In this way, going to and from the city, in
conversation with old nurses or servants, personal friends,
teachers, parents or children, or foreign children who had
been born in China and had learned rhymes from their
nurses, I continued to gather them during the entire
vacation, and when autumn came I had more than fifty of the
most common and consequently the best rhymes known
in and about Peking.
A few months after I returned to the city a circular was
sent around asking for subscriptions to a volume of Pekinese
Folklore, published by Baron Vitali, Interpreter at the
Italian legation, which, on examination, proved to be exactly
what I wanted. He had collected about two hundred and
fifty rhymes, had made a literal--not metrical--translation
and had issued them in book form without expurgation.
Others learned of my collection, and rhymes began to come
to me from all parts of the empire. Dr. Arthur H. Smith,
the well-known author of "Chinese Characteristics" gave
me a collection of more than three hundred made in Shantung,
among which were rhymes similar to those we had
found in Peking. Still later I received other versions of these
same rhymes from my little friend, Miss Chalfant, collected
in a different part of Shantung from that occupied by Dr.
Smith. I then had no fewer than five versions of
"This little pig went to market,"
each having some local coloring not found in the other,
proving that the fingers and toes furnish children with the
same entertainment in the Orient as in the Occident, and
that the rhyme is widely known throughout China.
These nursery rhymes have never been printed in the
Chinese language, but like our own Mother Goose before
the year 1719, if we may credit the Boston story, they are
carried in the minds and hearts of the children. Here arose
the first difficulty we experienced in collecting rhymes--the
matter of getting them complete. Few are able to repeat
the whole of the
"House that Jack built"
although it has been printed many times and they learned
it all in their youth. The difficulty is multiplied tenfold in
China where the rhymes have never been printed, and
where there have grown up various versions from one
original which the nurse had, no doubt, partly forgotten,
but was compelled to complete for the entertainment of the
A second difficulty in making such a collection is that of
getting unobjectionable rhymes. While the Chinese classics
are among the purest classical books of the world, there
is yet a large proportion of the people who sully everything
they take into their hands as well as every thought they take
into their minds. Thus so many of their rhymes have suffered.
Some have an undertone of reviling. Some speak
familiarly of subjects which we are not accustomed to
mention, and others are impure in the extreme.
A third difficulty in making a collection of Chinese nursery
lore is greater than either the first or the second,--I refer to
the difficulty of a metrical rendition of the rhymes. I have
no doubt my readers can easily find flaws in my translations
of Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes published during the past
year. It is much easier for me to find the flaws than the
remedies. Many of the words used in the original have no
written character or hieroglyphic to represent them, while
many others, though having a written form, are, like our
own slang expressions, not found in the dictionary.
Now let us turn to a more pleasant feature of this unwritten
nursery literature. The language is full of good rhymes,
and all objectionable features can be cut out without injury
to the rhyme, as it was not a part of the original, but added
by some more unscrupulous hand.
Among the nursery rhymes of all countries many refer to
insects, birds, animals, persons, actions, trades, food or
children. In Chinese rhymes we have the cricket, cicada,
spider, snail, firefly, ladybug and butterfly and others.
Among fowls we have the bat, crow, magpie, cock, hen,
duck and goose. Of animals, the dog, cow, horse, mule,
donkey, camel, and mouse, are the favorites. There are
also rhymes on the snake and frog, and others without
number on places, things and persons,--men, women and
Those who hold that the Chinese do not love their
children have never consulted their nursery lore. There is
no language in the world, I venture to believe, which
contains children's songs expressive of more keen and tender
affection than some of those sung to children in China.
When we hear a parent say that his child
"Is as sweet as sugar and cinnamon too,"
or that
"Baby is a sweet pill,
That fills my soul with joy"
or when we see a father, mother or nurse--for nurses sometimes
become almost as fond of their little charge as the parents
themselves,--hugging the child to their bosoms as they say that
he is so sweet that "he makes you love him till it kills you," we
begin to appreciate the affection that prompts the utterance.
Another feature of these rhymes is the same as that found in the
nursery songs of all nations, namely, the food element. "Jack
Sprat," "Little Jacky Horner," "Four and Twenty Black-birds,"
"When Good King Arthur Ruled the Land," and a host of others will
indicate what I mean. A little child is a highly developed
stomach, and anything which tells about something that ministers
to the appetite and tends to satisfy that aching void, commends
itself to his literary taste, and hence the popularity of many
of our nursery rhymes, the only thought of which is about
something good to eat. Notice the following:
Look at the white breasted crows overhead.
My father shot once and ten crows tumbled dead.
When boiled or when fried they taste very good,
But skin them, I tell you, there's no better food.
In imagination I can see the reader raise his eyebrows and
mutter, "Do the Chinese eat crows?" while at the same time he has
been singing all his life about what a "dainty dish" "four and
twenty blackbirds" would make for the "king," without ever
raising the question as to whether blackbirds are good eating or
We note another feature of all nursery rhymes in the
additions made by the various persons through whose hands,
--or should we say, through whose mouths they pass.
When an American or English child hears how a certain
benevolent dame found no bone in her cupboard to satisfy
the cravings of her hungry dog, its feelings of compassion
are stirred up to ask: "And then what? Didn't she get
any meat? Did the dog die?" and the nurse is compelled
to make another verse to satisfy the curiosity of the child
and bring both the dame and the dog out of the dilemma in
which they have been left. This is what happened in the
case of "Old Mother Hubbard" as will readily be seen by
examining the meter of the various verses. The original
"Mother Hubbard" consisted of nothing more than the first
six lines which contain three rhymes. All the other verses
have but four lines and one rhyme.
We find the same thing in Chinese Mother Goose. Take the
following as an example:
He ate too much,
That second brother,
And when he had eaten his fill
He beat his mother.
This was the original rhyme. Two verses have been added without
rhyme, reason, rhythm, sense or good taste. They are as follows:
His mother jumped up on the window-sill,
But the window had no crack,
She then looked into the looking-glass,
But the mirror had no back.
Then all at once she began to sing,
But the song it had no end
And then she played the monkey trick
And to heaven she did ascend.
The moral teachings of nursery rhymes are as varied as
the morals of the people to whom the rhymes belong. The
"Little Mouse" already given contains both a warning and
a penalty. The mouse which had climbed up the candlestick
to steal tallow was unable to get down. This was
the penalty for stealing, and indicates to children that if
they visit the cupboard in their mother's absence and take
her sweetmeats without her permission, they may suffer as
the mouse did. To leave the mouse there after he had
repeatedly called for that halo-crowned grandmother, who
refused to come, would have been too much for the child's
sympathies, and so the mouse doubles himself up into a
wheel, and rolls to the floor.
In other rhymes, children are warned against stealing, but
the penalty threatened is rather an indication of the
untruthfulness of the parent or nurse than a promise of reform in
the child, for they are told that,
If you steal a needle
Or steal a thread,
A pimple will grow
Upon your head.
If you steal a dog
Or steal a cat,
A pimple will grow
Beneath your hat.
Boys are warned of the dire consequences if they wear
their hats on the side of their heads or go about with ragged
coats or slipshod feet.
If you wear your hat on the side of your head,
You'll have a lazy wife, 'tis said.
If a ragged coat or slipshod feet,
You'll have a wife who loves to eat.
Those rhymes which manifest the affection of parents for
children cultivate a like affection in the child. We have in
the Chinese Mother Goose a rhyme called the Little Orphan,
which is a most pathetic tale. A little boy tells us that,
Like a little withered flower,
That is dying in the earth,
I was left alone at seven
By her who gave me birth.
With my papa I was happy
But I feared he'd take another,
But now my papa's married,
And I have a little brother.
And he eats good food,
While I eat poor,
And cry for my mother,
Whom I'll see no more.
Such a rhyme cannot but develop the pathetic and sympathetic
instincts of the child, making it more kind and gentle
to those in distress.
A girl in one of the rhymes urged by instinct and desire to chase
a butterfly, gives up the idea of catching it, presumably
out of a feeling of sympathy for the insect.
Unfortunately all their rhymes do not have this same
high moral tone. They indicate a total lack of respect for the
Buddhist priests. This is not necessarily against the rhyme
any more than against the priest, but it is an unfortunate
disposition to cultivate in children. There are constant
sallies at the shaved noddle of the priest. They speak of
his head as a gourd, and they class him with the tiger as a
beast of prey.
Some of the rhymes illustrate the disposition of the Chinese to
nickname every one, from the highest official in the empire to
the meanest beggar on the street. One of the great men of the
present dynasty, a prime minister and intimate friend of the
emperor, goes by the name of Humpbacked Liu. Another may be
Cross-eyed Wang, another Club-footed Chang, another Bald-headed
Li. Any physical deformity or mental peculiarity may give him his
nickname. Even foreigners suffer in reputation from this national
bad habit.
A man whose face is covered with pockmarks is ridiculed by
children in the following rhyme, which is only a sample of what
might be produced on a score of other subjects:
Old pockmarked Ma,
He climbed up a tree,
A dog barked at him,
And a man caught his knee,
Which scared old Poxey
Until he couldn't see.
A well-known characteristic of the Chinese is to do things
opposite to the way in which we do them. We accuse
them of doing things backwards, but it is we who deserve
such blame because they antedated us in the doing of them.
We shake each other's hands, they each shake their own
hands. We take off our hats as a mark of respect, they
keep theirs on. We wear black for mourning, they wear
white. We wear our vests inside, they wear theirs outside.
A hundred other things more or less familiar to us all,
illustrate this rule. In some of their nursery rhymes everything
is said and done on the "cart before the horse" plan.
This is illustrated by a rhyme in which when the speaker
heard a disturbance outside his door he discovered it was
because a "dog had been bitten by a man." Of course,
he at once rushed to the rescue. He "took up the door
and he opened his hand." He "snatched up the dog and
threw him at a brick." The brick bit his hand and he left
the scene "beating on a horn and blowing on a drum."
Tongue twisters are as common in Chinese as in English, and are
equally appreciated by the children. From the nature of such
rhymes, however, it is impossible to translate them into any
other language.
In one of these children's songs, a cake-seller informs the
public in stentorian tones that his wares will restore sight to
the blind and that
They cure the deaf and heal the lame,
And preserve the teeth of the aged dame.
They will further cause hair to grow on a bald head and
give courage to a henpecked husband. A girl who has been
whipped by her mother mutters to herself how she would
love and serve a husband if she only had one, even going to
the extent of calling that much-despised mother-in-law her
mother, and when overheard by her irate parent and asked
what she was saying, she answers:
I was saying the beans are boiling nice
And it's just about time to add the rice.
These are rather an indication of good cheer on the part
of the children than lack of filial affection. A parent must
be cruel indeed to make a girl willing to give up her mother
for a mother-in-law.
Another style of verses comes under the head of pure nonsense
rhymes. They are wholly without sense and I am not sure they are
good nonsense. They are popular, however, with the children, and
critics may say what they will, but the children are the last
court of appeal in case of nursery rhymes. Let me give one:
There's a cow on the mountain, the old saying goes,
On her legs are four feet, on her feet are eight toes.
Her tail is behind on the end of her back,
And her head is in front on the end of her neck.
The Chinese nursery is well provided with rhymes
pertaining to certain portions of the body. They have rhymes
to repeat when they play with the five fingers, and others
when they pull the toes; rhymes when they take hold of
the knee and expect the child to refrain from laughing, no
matter how much its knee is tickled; rhymes which correspond
to all our face and sense; rhymes where the forehead
represents the door and the five senses various other
things, ending, of course, by tickling the child's neck.
All of these have called forth rhymes among Chinese
children similar to "little pig went to market," "forehead
bender, eye winker," etc. The parent, or the nurse, taking
hold of the toes of the child, repeats the following rhyme,
as much to the amusement of the little Oriental as the
"little pig" has always been to our own children:
This little cow eats grass,
This little cow eats hay,
This little cow drinks water,
This little cow runs away,
This little cow does nothing,
Except lie down all day.
We'll whip her.
And, with that, she playfully pats the little bare foot. If it is
the hand that is played with the fingers are taken hold of one
after another, as the parent, or nurse, repeats the following
This one's old,
This one's young
This one has
no meat;
This one's gone
To buy some hay,
And this one's on
the street.
There are various forms of this rhyme, depending upon
the place where it is found. The above is the Shantung
version. In Peking it is as follows:
A great, big brother,
And a little brother,
A big bell tower,
And a temple and a
And little baby
wee, wee,
Always wants to
The following rhyme explains itself: The nurse knocks on the
forehead, then touches the eye, nose, ear, mouth and chin
successively, as she repeats:
Knock at the door,
See a face,
Smell an odor,
Hear a voice,
Eat your dinner,
Pull your chin, or
Ke chih, ke chih.
Tickling the child's neck with the last two expressions.
We have in English a rhyme:
If you be a gentleman,
As I suppose you be,
You'll neither laugh nor smile
With a tickling of your knee.
I had tried many months to find if there were any finger,
face or body games other than those already given. Our own nurse
insisted that she knew of none, but one day I noticed her
grabbing my little girl's knee, while she was saying:
One grab silver,
Two grabs gold,
Three don't laugh,
And you'll grow old.
There is no literature in China, not even in the sacred
books, which is so generally known as their nursery
rhymes. These are understood and repeated by the educated
and the illiterate alike; by the children of princes and
the children of beggars; children in the city and children in
the country and villages, and they produce like results in
the minds and hearts of all. The little folks laugh over the
Cow, look sober over the Little Orphan, absorb the morals
taught by the Mouse, and are sung to sleep by the song of
the Little Snail.
Sometimes however they, like children in other lands, are
skeptical as to the reality of the stories told in the songs.
Thus I remember once hearing our old nurse telling a number
of stories and singing a number of songs to the little folk in
the nursery. They had accepted one after another
the legends as they rolled off the old woman's tongue,
without question, but pretty soon she gave them a version
of a Wind Song which aroused their incredulity. She sang:
Old grandmother Wind has come from the East.
She's ridden a donkey--a dear little beast.
Old mother-in-law Rain has come back again.
She's come from the North on a horse, it is plain.
Old grandmother Snow is coming you know,
From the West on a crane--just see how they go.
And old aunty Lightning has come from the South,
On a big yellow dog with a bit in his mouth.
"There is no grandmother Wind, is there, nurse?"
"No, of course not, people only call her grandmother Wind."
"Why do they call the other mother-in-law Rain?"
"I suppose, because mothers-in-law are often disagreeable,
just like rainy weather."
"And why do they speak of snow and the crane, and lightning and a
yellow dog?"
"I suppose, because a crane is somewhat the color of snow, and a
yellow dog swift and the color of lightning."
Before going to China, I could not but wonder, when I
saw a Chinese or Japanese doll, why it was they made such
unnatural looking things for babies to play with. On reaching
the Orient the whole matter was explained by my first
sight of a baby. The doll looks like the child!
Nothing in China is more common than babies. Nothing
more helpless. Nothing more troublesome. Nothing more
attractive. Nothing more interesting.
A Chinese baby is a round-faced little helpless human
animal, whose eyes look like two black marbles over which
the skin had been stretched, and a slit made on the bias.
His nose is a little kopje in the centre of his face, above a
yawning chasm which requires constant filling to insure the
preservation of law and order. On his shaved head are left
small tufts of hair in various localities, which give him the
appearance of the plain about Peking, on which the traveler
sees, here and there, a small clump of trees around a country
village, a home, or a cemetery; the remainder of the country
being bare. These tufts are usually on the "soft spot," in the
back of his neck, over his ears, or in a braid or a ring on the
side of his head.
The amount of joy brought to a home by the birth of a child
depends upon several important considerations, chief among which
are its sex, the number and sex of those already in the family,
and the financial condition of the home.
In general the Chinese prefer a preponderance of boys, but in
case the family are in good circumstances and already have
several boys, they are as anxious for a girl as parents in any
other country.
The reason for this is deeper than the mere fact of sex.
It is imbedded in the social life and customs of the people.
A girl remains at home until she is sixteen or seventeen,
during which time she is little more than an expense. She
is then taken to her husband's home and her own family
have no further control over her life or conduct. She
loses her identity with her own family, and becomes part
of that of her husband. This through many years and
centuries has generated in the popular mind a feeling that
it is "bad business raising girls for other people," and
there are not a few parents who would prefer to bring up
the girl betrothed to their son, rather than bring up their
own daughter.
"Selfishness!" some people exclaim when they read such
things about the Chinese. Yes, it is selfishness; but life
in China is not like ours--a struggle for luxuries--but a
struggle, not for bread and rice as many suppose, but for
cornmeal and cabbage, or something else not more palatable.
This is the life to which most Chinese children are
born, and parents can scarcely be blamed for preferring
boys whose hands may help provide for their mouths, to
girls who are only an expense.
The presumption is that a Chinese child is born with the
same general disposition as children in other countries.
This may perhaps be the case; but either from the treatment
it receives from parents or nurses, or because of the
disposition it inherits, its nature soon becomes changed,
and it develops certain characteristics peculiar to the
Chinese child. It becomes t'ao ch'i. That almost means
mischievous; it almost means troublesome--a little tartar--
but it means exactly t'ao ch'i.
In this respect almost every Chinese child is a little tyrant.
Father, mother, uncles, aunts, and grandparents are all made
to do his bidding. In case any of them seems to be recalcitrant,
the little dear lies down on his baby back on the
dusty ground and kicks and screams until the refractory
parent or nurse has repented and succumbed, when he get
up and good-naturedly goes on with his play and allows
them to go about their business. The child is t'ao ch'i.
This disposition is general and not confined to any one
rank or grade in society, if we may credit the stories that come
from the palace regarding the present young Emperor
Kuang Hsu. When a boy he very much preferred foreign
to Chinese toys, and so the eunuchs stocked the palace
nursery with all the most wonderful toys the ingenuity and
mechanical skill of Europe had produced. As he grew
older the toys became more complicated, being in the form
of gramophones, graphophones, telephones, phonographs,
electric lights, electric cars, cuckoo clocks, Swiss watches
and indeed all the great inventions of modern times. The
boy was t'ao ch'i, and the eunuchs say that if he were
thwarted in any of his undertakings, or denied anything he
very much desired, he would dash a Swiss watch, or anything
else he might have in his hand, to the floor, breaking
it into atoms; and as there was no chance of using the rod
there was no way but to spoil the child.
It is amusing to listen to the women in a Chinese home
when a baby comes. If the child is a boy the parents are
congratulated on every hand because of the "great happiness"
that has come to their home. If it is a girl, and there
are more girls than boys in the family, the old nurse goes
about as if she had stolen it from somewhere, and when she
is congratulated, if congratulated she happens to be, she
says with a sigh and a funereal face, "Only a 'small happiness'--
but that isn't bad."
When a child is born it is considered one year old, and its years
are reckoned not from its birthdays but from its New Year's days.
If it has the good fortune to be born the day before two days old
it is reckoned two years old being one year old when born and two
years old on its first New Year's day.
The first great event in a child's life occurs when it is
one month old. It is then given its first public reception.
Its head is shaved amid kicking and screaming, its mother is up
and around where she can receive the congratulations of her
friends, its grandmother is the honored guest of the occasion,
andthe baby is named.
All the relatives and friends are invited and every one is
expected to take dinner with the child, and, which is more
important, to bring presents. If the family is poor, this day
puts into the treasury of life a day of happiness and a goodly
amount of filthy lucre. If the family is rich the presents are
correspondingly rich, for nowhere either in Orient or Occident
can there be found a people more lavish and generous
in their gifts than the Chinese. All the family can afford
is spent upon the dinner given on this occasion, with the
assurance that they will receive in presents and money
more than double the expense both of the dinner and the
birth of the child. If they do not "come" they are expected
to "send" or they "lose face." Among the middle-class, the
presents are of a useful nature, usually in the form of money,
clothing or silver ornaments which are always worth their weight
in bullion.
The name given the child is called its "milk" name until the boy
enters school. Whether boy or girl it may answer a good part of
its life to the place it occupies in the family whether first,
second or third.
If a girl she may be compelled to answer to "Little Slave," and
if a boy to "Baldhead." But the names usually given indicate the
place or time of birth, the hope of the parent for the child, or
exhibit the parent's love of beauty or euphony.
A friend who was educated in a school situated in Filial
Piety Lane and who afterwards lived near Filial Piety Gate
called his first son "Two Filials." Another friend had sons
whose names were "Have a Man," "Have a Mountain,"
"Have a Garden," "Have a Fish." In conversation with
this friend about the son whose "milk" name was "Have
a Man," I constantly spoke of the boy by his "school"
name, the only name by which I knew him. The old man
was perfectly blank--he knew not of whom I spoke, as he
had not seen his son since he got his school name. Finally,
as it began to dawn on him that I was talking of his son, he
"Whom are you talking about?"
"Your son."
"Oh, you mean 'Have a Man.' "
This same man had a little girl called "Apple," not an
ordinary apple, but the most luscious apple known to North
China. I have as I write a list of names commonly applied
to girls from which I select the following: Beautiful
Autumn, Charming Flower, Jade Pure, Lucky Pearl, Precious
Harp, Covet Spring; and the parent's way of speaking of
his little girl, when not wishing to be self-depreciative, is to
call her his "Thousand ounces of gold."
The names given to boys are quite as humiliating or as
elevating as those given to girls. He may be Number One,
Two or Three, Pig, Dog or Flea, or he may be like Wu
T'ing Fang a "Fragrant Palace," or like Li Hung Chang, an
"Illustrious Bird" or "Learned Treatise."
During the summer-time in North China the child goes
almost if not completely naked. Until it is five years old,
its wardrobe consists largely of a chest-protector and a pair
of shoes. In the winter-time its trousers are quilted, with
feet attached, its coat made in the same way, and it is
anything but "clean and sweet." The odor is not unlike that
of an up-stairs back room in a narrow alley at Five Points,
in which dwell a whole family of emigrants.
When the Chinese child is ill he does not have the same
kind of hospital accommodations, nursing and medical skill
at his command as do we in the West. His bed is brick,
his pillow stuffed with bran or grass-seed, he has no sheets,
his food is coarse and ill-adapted to a sick child's stomach.
While his nurse may be kind, gentle and loving she is not
always skillful, and as for the ability of his physician let the
following child's song tell us:
My wife's little daughter once fell very ill,
And we called for a doctor to give her a pill.
He wrote a prescription which now we will give her,
In which he has ordered a mosquito's liver.
And then in addition the heart of a flea,
And half pound of fly-wings to make her some tea.
When the child begins to walk and talk it begins to be
interesting. Its father has a little push cart made by which
it learns to walk, and the nurse goes about the court with
it repeating ba ba, ma ma, (notice that these words for papa
and mama are practically the same in Chinese as in English,
the b being substituted for p), and all the various words
which mean elder brother, younger brother, elder and
younger sisters, uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers,
and cousins and all the various relatives which may be
found in its family, village or home.
It is not an easy matter to learn the names of one's
relatives in China, as there is a separate name for each showing
whether the person whom we call uncle is father or
mother's elder or younger brother or the husband of their
elder or younger sister. When it comes to learning the
names of all one's cousins it is quite a difficult affair.
Suppose, for instance, you were to introduce me to your cousin,
and I wanted to know which one, you might explain that
he is the son of your mother's elder brother. In China the
word you used for cousin would express the exact idea.
The child begins his study of language by learning all these
These are for the most part taught them by the nurse,
who is an important element in the Chinese home and a
useful adjunct to the child. Each little girl in the homes of
the better classes has her own particular nurse, who teaches
her nursery songs in her childhood, is her companion during
her youth, goes with her to her husband's home, when she
marries presumably to prevent her becoming lonesome, and remains
with her through life. In conversation with the
granddaughters of a duke and their old nurse, I discovered
that the same games the little children play upon the street,
they play in the seclusion of their green-tiled palace, and the
same nursery songs that entice Morpheus to share the mat
shed of the beggar's boy, entice him also to share the silken
couch of the emperor in the palace.
When a boy is old enough, he grows a queue, which takes
the place in the life of the Chinese boy which his first pair of
trousers does in that of the American or English boy. It is
one of the first things he lives for; and he should not be
despised for wearing his hair in this fashion, especially when
we remember that George Washington and Lafayette and
their contemporaries wore their hair in a braid down their
Besides the queue has a great variety of uses. It serves
him in some of the games he plays. When I saw the boys
in geometry use their queues to strike an arc or draw a circle,
it reminded me of my college days when I had forgotten to
take a string to class. The laborer spreads a handkerchief
or towel over his head, wraps his queue around it and
makes for himself a hat. The cart driver whips his mule
with it; the beggar uses it to scare away the dogs; the
father takes hold of his little boy's queue instead of his hand
when walking with him on the street, or the child follows
holding to his father's queue, and the boys use it as reins
when they play horse. I saw this amusingly illustrated on
the streets of Peking. Two boys were playing horse.
Now I have always noticed that when a boy plays horse, it
is not because he has any desire to be the horse, but the
driver. He is willing to be horse for a time, in order that he
may be allowed to be driver for a still longer time. A large
boy was playing horse with a smaller one, the latter acting
as the beast of burden. This continued for some time, when the
smaller, either discovering that a horse is larger than a man, or
that it is more noble to be a man than a horse, balked, and said:
"Now you be horse."
The older was not yet inclined to be horse, and tried in
vain, by coaxing, scolding and whipping, to induce him to
move, but the horse was firm. The driver was also firm, and not
until the horse in a very unhorselike manner, gave away to tears,
could the man be induced to let himself down to the level of a
horse. From all of which it will be seen that the disposition of
Chinese children is no exception to that longing for superiority
which prevails in every human heart.
All kinds of trades, professions, and employments have
as great attraction for Chinese as for American children. A
country boy looks forward to the time when he can stand
up in the cart and drive the team. Children seeing a
battalion of soldiers at once "organize a company." This
was amusingly illustrated by a group of children in Peking
during the Chinese-Japanese war. Each had a stick or a
weed for a gun, except the drummer-boy, who was provided
with an empty fruit-can. They went through various
maneuvres, for practice, no doubt, and all seemed to be going on
beautifully until one of those in front shouted,
in a voice filled with fear:
"The Japanese are coming, the Japanese are coming."
This was the signal for a general retreat, and the children,
in imitation of the army then in the field, retreated in
disorder and dismay in every direction.
The Chinese boys and girls are little men and women. At an early
age they are familiar with all the rules of behaviour which
characterize their after life and conduct. Their clothes are cut
on the same pattern, out of cloth as those of their parents and
grandparents. There are no kilts and knee-breeches, pinafores and
short skirts, to make them feel that they are little people.
But they are little people as really and truly as are the
children of other countries. A gentleman in reviewing my
"Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes" speaks of some of the
illustrations which "present the Chinese children playing
their sober little games." Why we should call such a game
as "blind man's buff," "e-ni-me-ni-mi-ni-mo," "this little
pig went to market" or "pat-a-cake" "sober little games,"
unless it is because of preconceived notions of the Chinese
people I do not understand. The children are dignified little
people, but they enjoy all the attractions of child-life as
much as other children do.
It is a mistake to suppose that the life of Chinese children
is a doleful one. It is understood, of course, that their life
is not the same, nor to be compared with that of children
in Europe or America: and it should be remembered further
that the pleasures of child-life are not measured by the
gratification of every childish whim. Many of the little
street children who spend a large part of their time in
efforts to support the family, when allowed to go to a fair
or have a public holiday enjoy themselves more in a single
day than the child of wealth, in a whole month of idleness.
In addition to his games and rhymes, the fairs which are
held regularly in the great Buddhist temples in different
parts of the cities, are to the Chinese boy what a country
fair, a circus or Fourth of July is to an American farmer's
boy or girl. He has his cash for candy or fruit, his crackers
which he fires off at New Year's time, making day a time
of unrest, and night hideous. Kite-flying is a pleasure
which no American boy appreciates as does the Chinese, a
pleasure which clings to him till he is three-score years and
ten, for it is not uncommon to find a child and his grandfather
in the balmy days of spring flying their kites together.
He has his pet birds which he carries around in cages or on
a perch unlike any other child we have ever seen. He has
his crickets with which he amuses himself--not "gambles"
--and his gold fish which bring him days and years of
delight. Indeed the Chinese child, though in the vast
majority of cases very poor, has ample provision for a very
good time, and if he does not have it, it must be his own
Statements about the life of the children, however, may
be nothing more than personal impressions, and are usually
colored as largely by the writer's prejudices as by the
conditions of the children. Some of us are so constituted as to
see the dark side of the picture, others the bright. Let us
go with the boys and girls to their games. Let us play
with their toys and be entertained by the shows that entertain
them, and see if they are not of the same flesh and
blood, heart and sentiment as we. We shall find that the
boys and girls live together, work together, study together,
play together, have their heads shaved alike and quarrel
with each other until they are seven years old, the period
which brings to an end the life of the Chinese child. From
this period it is the boy or the girl.
Children's games are always interesting. Chinese games
are especially so because they are a mine hitherto
unexplored. An eminent archdeacon once wrote: "The Chinese
are not much given to athletic exercises." A well-known
doctor of divinity states that, "their sports do not require
much physical exertion, nor do they often pair off, or choose
sides and compete, in order to see who are the best
players," while a still more prominent writer tells us that,
"active, manly sports are not popular in the South." Let us
see whether these opinions are true.
Two years ago a letter from Dr. Luther Gulick, at present
connected with the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y., came to
us while in Peking, asking that we study into the character
of Chinese children's games. Dr. Gulick was preparing a
series of lectures on the "Psychology of Play." He desired
to secure as much reliable information as possible regarding
the play-life of the children of the East, in order that he
might discover what relation exists between the games of
Oriental and those of Occidental children. By so doing he
would learn the effect of play on the mental and physical
development as well as the character of children, and
through them upon the human race as a whole. We were
fortunate in having at our disposal a large number of
students connected with Peking University, the preparatory,
intermediate and primary schools, together with 150 girls in
attendance at the girls' high school.
We received the letter at four o'clock, at which time the
students had just been dismissed from school, and were taking
their afternoon meal, but at 4:30 we went to the playground,
notebook in hand, called together some of our most interesting
boys, explained to them our object, and asked them to play for
us. Some one may say that this was the worst possible thing to
do, as it would make the children self-conscious and hence
unnatural--the sequel, however, will show.
At first that was exactly what happened. The children
tittered, and looked at each other in blank astonishment,
then one of them walked away and several others gathered
about us. We repeated our explanation in order to secure
their interest, set their minds to work thinking up games,
and do away with the embarrassment, and it was only a
few minutes before an intelligent expression began to appear
in the eyes of some of the boys, and one of them, who was
always ready for anything new, turned to his companion and said:
"You go and find Chi, and bring him here."
"Who is Chi?" we inquired.
"He is the boy who knows more games than any of the rest of us,"
he explained.
Away he ran and soon reappeared with a very unpromising
looking boy whom we recognized as a street waif that had been
taken into what some one called our "raggedy school" a few years
before. He was a glum looking boy--a boy without a smile. There
was a set expression on his face which might be interpreted as
"life is not worth living," or, which would be an equally
legitimate interpretation in the present instance, "these games
are of no importance. If you want them we can play any number of
them for you, but what will you do with them after you get them?"
All the crowd began at once to explain to Chi what we wanted,
and he looked more solemn than ever, then we came to his rescue.
"Chi," we asked, "what kind of games do boys play?"
Slowly and solemnly Chi wound one leg around the other as he
"Lots of them."
This is the stereotyped answer that will come from any
Chinaman to almost any question he may be asked about
things Chinese.
"For instance?" we further inquired.
"Forcing the city gates," he answered.
"Play it for me."
The boys at once appointed captains who chose sides
and they formed themselves into two lines facing each
other, those of each line taking fast hold of each other's
hands. The boys on one side then sang:
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And hurried to the town
And children met him with a horse
For the gates were broken down.
Then one from the other side ran with all his force,
throwing himself upon the hands of the boys who had
sung, the object being to "break through," in which case
he took the two whose hands had been parted to "his
side," while if he failed to break through he had to remain
on their side. The others then sang. One from this group
tried to break through their line, and thus they alternated
until one side or the other was broken up.
The boys were panting and red in the face when the
game was over, a strong argument against the Chinese-arenot-
much-given-to-vigorous-exercise theory.
"Now play something which does not require so much
exercise," we requested.
Every one looked at Chi, not that the other boys did not
know the games, but simply because this matter-of-fact
boy was their natural leader in this kind of sport.
"Blind man," he said quietly.
At once a handkerchief was tied around the eyes of one of the
boys who was willing to be "blind man," and a game corresponding
almost exactly to our own "blind man's buff" was played, without
the remotest embarrassment, but with as much naturalness as
though neither teacher nor spectator was near them.
"Have you any other games which require strength?"
we inquired.
"Man-wheel," said Chi in his monosyllabic way.
"Play it, please."
"Go and call Wei-Yuan," to one of the smaller boys.
The boy ran off to find the one indicated, and Chi
selected two other middle-sized and two small boys.
When Wei-Yuan, a larger but very good-natured, kindlydispositioned
lad, came, the two middle-sized boys stood
beside him, one facing north, the other south, and caught
each other's hand over Wei-Yuan's shoulder. The two
smaller boys then stood beside these two, each of whom
clutched hold of the small boys' girdles, who in turn
clutched their girdles and Wei-Yuan took their disengaged
hands. Thus the five boys were firmly bound together.
The wheel then began to turn, the small boys were gradually
lifted from the ground and swung or whirled around
in an almost horizontal position.
"This game requires more strength," Chi explained, "than any
other small boys' game."
"Have you any games more vigorous than this?"
"Pitching the stone lock, and lifting the stone dumb-bells, but
they are for men."
"What is that game you were playing a few days ago in
which you used one stick to knock another?"
"One is striking the stick, and another is knocking the stick."
"Play one of them."
Chi drew two lines on the ground eight feet apart, on one
of which he put a stick. He then threw another stick at it,
the object being to drive it over the other line. He who
first succeeds in driving it over the line wins the game.
The sticks are ten to fifteen inches long.
Striking the stick is similar to tip-cat which we have
often seen played by boys on the streets of New York. The
children mark out a square five or six feet on each side.
The striker takes a position inside, with his feet spread apart
as wide as possible, to give him a better command of the
square. One of the others places the block in the position
which he supposes will be most difficult for the striker to
hit. The latter is then at liberty to twist around on one
foot, placing the other outside the square, in order if possible
to secure a position from which he can strike to advantage.
He then throws a stick about fifteen inches long at
the block to drive it out of the square. If he fails, the one
who placed the block takes the stick, and another places the
block for him. If he succeeds he has the privilege of striking
the block three times as follows: He first strikes it
perpendicularly, which causes it to bound up two or three feet,
when he hits it as one would hit a ball, driving it as far as
possible. This he repeats three times, and if he succeeds
in driving it the distance agreed upon, which may be 20,
50, 200, 300, 500 or more feet, he wins the game. If not
he brings back the block and tries again, continuing
to strike until he fails to drive it out of the square. This
game develops ingenuity in placing the block and skill,
in striking, and is one of the most popular of all boys'
When they had finished striking the stick one of the
smaller children went over to where Chi was standing and
whispered in his ear. The expression of his face remained
as unchangeable as that of a stone image, as he called out:
"Select fruit."
The boys danced about in high glee, selected two captains
who chose sides, and they all squatted down in two rows
twenty feet apart. Each boy was given the name of some
kind of fruit, such as apples, pears, peaches, quinces or
plums, all of which are common about Peking. The captain
on one side then blindfolded one of his boys, while
one from the other group arose and stealthily walked over
and touched him, returning to his place among his own
group and taking as nearly as possible the position he had
when the other was blindfolded. In case his companions
are uncertain as to whether his position is exactly the same,
they all change their position, in order to prevent the one
blindfolded from guessing who it was who left his place.
The covering was then removed from his eyes, he went
over to the other side, examined carefully if perchance he
might discover, from change of position, discomfort in
squatting, or a trace of guilt in the face or eyes of any of
them, a clue to the guilty party. He "made faces" to try
to cause the guilty one to laugh. He gesticulated, grimaced,
did everything he could think of, but they looked blank and
unconcerned, or all laughed together, allowing no telltale look
to appear on their faces. His pantomimes sometimes
brought out the guilty one, but in case they did not, his last
resort was to risk a guess, and so he made his selection. If he
was right he took the boy to his side; if wrong, he stayed
on their side. One of their side was then blindfolded,
and the whole was repeated until one group or the other lost all
its men. The game is popular among girls as well as boys.
"Do you have any other guessing games?" we asked Chi.
"Yes, there is point at the moon or the stars," he answered, "and
blind man is also a guessing game."
By this time the boys had become enthusiastic, and had entirely
forgotten that they were playing for us or indeed for any
purpose. It was a new experience, this having their games taken
in a notebook, and each was anxious not only that he play well,
but that no mistake be made by any one. The more Chi realized the
importance of playing the games properly the more solemn he
became, if indeed it were possible to be more solemn than was his
normal condition. He now changed to a game of an entirely
different character from those already played. Those developed
strength, skill or curiosity; this developed quick reaction in
the players.
"What shall we play?" inquired one of the boys.
"Queue," answered Chi.
Immediately every boy jerked his queue over his shoulder
and began to edge away from his companions. But as he
walked away from one he drew near another, and a sudden
calling of his name would so surprise him that in turning
his head to see who spoke his short queue would be jerked
back over his shoulder and he received a dozen slaps from
his companions, all of whom were waiting for just such an
opportunity. This is the object of the game--to catch a
boy with his queue down his back. Some of the boys, more
spry than others, would move away to a distance, and then as
though all unconsciously, allow their queue to hang down
the back in its natural position, depending upon their fleetness
or their agility in getting out of the way or bringing the
queue around in front. This game is peculiarly interesting
and caused much hilarity. At times even the solemn face
of Chi relaxed into a smile.
"Honor," called out Chi, and as in the circus when the
ringmaster cracks his whip, everything changed. The boys
each hooked the first finger of his right hand with that of
his companion and then pulled until their fingers broke
apart, when they each uttered the word "Honor." This
must not be spoken before they broke apart, but as soon as
possible after, and he who was first heard was entitled to
an obeisance on the part of the other. Those who failed
the first trial sat down, and those who succeeded paired off
and pulled once more, and so on until only one was left,
who, as in the spelling-bees of our boyhood days, became
the hero of the hour.
Chi, however, was not making heroes, or was it that he
did not want to hurt the feelings of those who were less
agile; at any rate he called out "Hockey," and the boys at
once snatched up their short sticks and began playing at a
game that is not unlike our American "shinny," a game
which is so familiar to every American boy as to make
description unnecessary--the principal difference between
this and the American game being that the boys all try to
prevent one boy from putting a ball into what they call the
big hole, which, like the others, tended to develop quickness
of action in the boys.
I was familiar with the fact that there are certain games
which tend to develop the parental or protective instinct in
children, while certain others develop the combative and
destructive, as for instance playing with dolls develops the
mother-instinct in girls; tea-parties, the love of society; and
paper dolls teach them how to arrange the furniture in their
houses; while on the other hand, wrestling, boxing, sparring,
battles, and all such amusements if constantly engaged in by
boys, tend to make them, if properly guided and instructed, brave
and patriotic; but if not properly led, cause them to be
quarrelsome, domineering, cruel, coarse and rough, and I wondered
if the Chinese boys had any such games.
"Chi," I asked, "do you have any such games as host and guest, or
games in which the large boys protect the small ones?"
"Host and guest," said Chi.
The boys at once arranged themselves promiscuously over
the playground, and with a few peanuts, or sour dates
which they picked up under the date trees, with all the
ceremony of their race, they invited the others to dine with
them. After playing thus for a moment, Chi called out:
"Roast dog meat."
The children gathered in a group, put the palms of their
hands together, squatted in a bunch or ring, and placed their
hands together in the centre to represent the pot. The boy
on the left of the illustration represents Mrs. Wang, the
guest of the occasion, while Chi himself stands on the right
with his hand on the head of one of the boys. Chi walked
around the ring while he sang:
Roast, roast, roast dog meat,
The second pot smells bad,
The little pot is sweet,
Come, Mrs. Wang, please,
And eat dog meat.
He then invited Mrs. Wang to come and partake of a dinner
of dog meat with him, and the following conversation
I cannot walk.
I'll hire a cart for you.
I'm afraid of the bumping.
I'll hire a sedan chair for you.
I'm afraid of the jolting.
I'll hire a donkey for you.
I'm afraid of falling off.
I'll carry you.
I have no clothes.
I'll borrow some for you.
I have no hair ornaments.
I'll make some for you.
I have no shoes.
I'll buy some for you.
This conversation may be carried on to any length,
according to the fertility of the minds of the children, the
excuses of Mrs. Wang at times being very ludicrous. All
these, however, being met, the host carries her off on his
back to partake of the dainties of a dog meat feast.
"What were you playing a few days ago when all the boys lay in a
straight line?"
"Skin the snake."
The boys danced for glee. This was one of their favorite games.
They all stood in line one behind the other. They bent
forward, and each put one hand between his legs and thus
grasped the disengaged hand of the boy behind him.
Then they began backing. The one in the rear lay down
and they backed over astride of him, each lying down as he
backed over the one next behind him with the other's head
between his legs and his head between the legs of his
neighbor, keeping fast hold of hands. They were thus
lying in a straight line.
The last one that lay down then got up, and as he walked
astride the line raised each one after him until all were up,
when they let go hands, stood straight, and the game was
"Have you any other games which develop the protective instinct
in boys?" we inquired of Chi.
"The hawk catching the young chicks," said the matter-of-fact
boy, answering my question and directing the boys at the same
The children selected one of their number to represent the
hawk and another the hen, the latter being one of the largest
and best natured of the group, and one to whom the small
boys naturally looked for protection.
They formed a line with the mother hen in front, each
clutching fast hold of the others' clothing, with a large active
boy at the end of the line.
The hawk then came to catch the chicks, but the mother
hen spread her wings and moved from side to side keeping
between the hawk and the brood, while at the same time
the line swayed from side to side always in the opposite
direction from that in which the hawk was going. Every
chick caught by the hawk was taken out of the line until
they were all gone.
One of the boys whispered something to Chi.
"Strike the poles," exclaimed the latter.
As soon as they began playing we recognized it as a game we had
already seen.
The boys stood about four feet apart, each having a stick four or
five feet long which he grasped near the middle. As they repeated
the following rhyme in concert they struck alternately the upper
and lower ends of the sticks together, occasionally half
inverting them and thus striking the upper ends together in an
underhand way. They struck once for each accented syllable of the
following rhyme, making it a very rhythmical game.
Strike the stick,
One you see.
I'll strike you and you strike me.
Strike the stick,
Twice around,
Strike it hard for a good, big sound.
Strike it thrice,
A stick won't hurt.
The magpie wears a small white shirt.
Strike again.
Four for you.
A camel, a horse, and a Mongol too.
Strike it five--
Five I said,
A mushroom grows with dirt on its head.
Strike it six
Thus you do,
Six good horsemen caught Liu Hsiu.
Strike it seven
For 'tis said
A pheasant's coat is green and red.
Strike it eight,
Strike it right,
A gourd on the house-top blossoms white.
Strike again,
Strike it nine,
We'll have some soup, some meat and wine.
Strike it ten,
Then you stop,
A small, white blossom on an onion top.
Chi did not wait for further suggestion from any one, but called
"Throw cash."
The boys all ran to an adjoining wall, each took a cash
from his purse or pocket, and pressing it against the wall,
let it drop. The one whose cash rolled farthest away took
it up and threw it against the wall in such a way as to make
it bound back as far as possible.
Each did this in turn. The one whose cash bounded
farthest, then took it up, and with his foot on the place
whence he had taken it, he pitched or threw it in turn at
each of the others. Those he hit he took up. When he
missed one, all who remained took up their cash and struck
the wall again, going through the same process as before.
The one who wins is the one who takes up most cash.
This seemed to call to mind another pitching game, for
Chi said once more in his old military way:
"Pitch brickbats."
The boys drew two lines fifteen feet apart. Each took a
piece of brick, and, standing on one line pitched to see who
could come nearest to the other.
The one farthest from the line set up his brick on the line
and the one nearest, standing on the opposite line, pitched
at it, the object being to knock it over.
If he failed he set up his brick and the other pitched at it.
If he succeeded, he next pitched it near the other, hopped
over and kicked his brick against that of his companion,
knocking it over. Then he carried it successively on his
head, on each shoulder, on back and breast (walking), in
the bend of his thigh and the bend of his knee (hopping),
and between his legs (shuffling), each time dropping it on
the other brick and knocking it over.
Finally he marked a square enclosing the brick, eighteen
inches each side, and hopped back and forth over both
square and brick ten times which constituted him winner of
the game.
Chi had become so expert in pitching and dropping the
brick as to be able to play the game without an error. The
shuffling and hopping often caused much merriment.
"What is that game," we inquired of Chi, "the boys on
the street play with two marbles?"
Without directly answering my question Chi turned to the boys and
"Kick the marbles."
The boys soon produced from somewhere,--Chinese boys
can always produce anything from anywhere,--two marbles
an inch and a half in diameter. Chi put one on the ground,
and with the toe of his shoe upon it, gave it a shove. Then
placing the other, he shoved it in the same way, the object
being to hit the first.
There are two ways in which one may win. The first
boy says to the second, kick this marble north (south, east
or west) of the other at one kick. If he succeeds he wins,
if he fails the other wins.
If he puts it north as ordered, he may kick again to hit
the other ball, in which case he wins again. If he hits the
ball and goes north, as ordered, at one kick, he wins double.
Each boy tries to leave the balls in as difficult a position
as possible for his successor; and here comes in a peculiarity
which leaves this game unique among the games of the world. If
the position in which the balls are left is too difficult for the
other to play he may refuse to kick and the first is compelled to
play his own difficult game--or like Haman--to hang on his own
gallows. It recognizes the Chinese golden rule of not doing to
others what you would not have them do to you.
The boys spent a long time playing this game--indeed they seemed
to forget they were playing for us, and we were finally compelled
to call them off.
Chi had turned the marbles over to the others as soon as
he had fairly started it, and stood in that peculiar fashion of
his with one leg wound around the other, and when we
called to them, he simply said as though it were the next
part of the same game:
"Kick the shoes."
The boys all took off their shoes--an easy matter for an
Oriental--and piled them in a heap. At a given sign they
all kicked the pile scattering the shoes in every direction,
and each snatched up, and, for the time, kept what he got.
Those who were very agile got their own shoes, or a pair
which would fit them, while those who were slow only
secured a single shoe, and that either too large or too small.
It was amusing to see a large-footed boy with a small shoe,
and a boy with small feet having a shoe or shoes much too
large for him.
The game was a good test of the boys' agility.
On consulting our watch we found it would soon be time for the
boys to enter school, but asked them to play one more game.
"Cat catching mice," said Chi.
The children selected one of their company to represent the cat
and another the mouse.
The remainder formed a ring with the mouse inside and
the cat outside, and while the ring revolved, the following
conversation took place:
"What o'clock is it?"
"Just struck nine."
"Is the mouse at home?"
"He's about to dine."
All the time the mouse was careful to keep as far as possible
from the cat.
The ring stopped revolving and the cat popped in at this
side and the mouse out at the other. It is one of the rules
of the game that the cat must follow exactly in the footsteps
of the mouse. They wound in and out of the ring for some time but
at last the mouse was caught and "eaten," the eating process
being the amusing part of the game. It is impossible to describe
it as every "cat" does it differently, and one of the virtues of
a cat is to be a good eater.
The boys continued to play until the bell rang for the
evening session. They referred to many different games
which they had received from Europeans, but played only
those which Chi had learned upon the street before he
entered school. This was repeated day after day, until we
had gathered a large collection of their most common, and
consequently their best, games, the number of which was
an indication of the richness of the play life of Chinese boys.
Another peculiarly interesting fact was the leadership of
Chi. The Chinese boy, like the Chinese man is a genuine
democrat and is ready to follow the one who knows what he
is about and is competent to take the lead, with little regard
to social position. It is the civil service idea of a genuine
democracy ingrained in childhood.
After having made the collection of boys' games we
undertook to obtain in a similar way, fullest information
concerning games played by the girls. Of course, it was
impossible to do it alone, for the appearance of a man
among a crowd of little girls in China is similar to that of a
hawk among a flock of small chicks--it results in a tittering
and scattering in every direction, or a gathering together in
a dock under the shelter of the school roof or the wings of
the teacher. One of the teachers, however, Miss Effie
Young, kindly consented to go with us, and a goodly
number of the small girls, after a less than usual amount of
tittering and whispering, gathered about us to see what was
wanted. The smallest among them was the most brave,
and Miss Young explained that this was a "little street
waif" who had been taken into the school because she had
neither home nor friends, with the hope that something
might be done to save her from an unhappy fate.
"Do you know any games?" we asked her.
She put her hands behind her, hung her head, shuffled
in an embarrassed manner, and answered: "Lots of them."
"Play some for me."
This small girl after some delay took control of the party
and began arranging them for a game, which she called "going
to town," similar to one which the boys called "pounding rice."
Two of the girls stood back to back, hooked their arms, and as
one bent the other from the ground, and thus alternating, they
Up you go, down you see,
Here's a turnip for you and me;
Here's a pitcher, we'll go to town;
Oh, what a pity, we've fallen down.
At which point they both sat down back to back, their arms still
locked, and asked and answered the following questions:
What do you see in the heavens bright?
I see the moon and the stars at night.
What do you see in the earth, pray tell?
I see in the earth a deep, deep well.
What do you see in the well, my dear?
I see a frog and his voice I hear.
What is he saying there on the rock?
Get up, get up, ke'rh kua, ke'rh kua.
They then tried to get up, but, with their arms locked,
they found it impossible to do so, and rolled over and got
up with great hilarity.
This seemed to suggest to our little friend another game,
which she called "turning the mill." The girls took hold
of each other's hands, just as the boys do in "churning
butter," but instead of turning around under their arms they
turn half way, put one arm up over their head, bringing
their right or left sides together, one facing one direction
and one the other; then, standing still, the following dialogue
took place:
Where has the big dog gone?
Gone to the city.
Where has the little dog gone?
Run away.
Then, as they began to turn, they repeated:
The big dog's gone to the city;
The little dog's run away;
The egg has fallen and broken,
And the oil's leaked out, they say.
But you be a roller
And hull with power,
And I'll be a millstone
And grind the flour.
As soon as this game was finished our little friend
arranged the children against the wall for another game.
Everything was in readiness. They were about to begin,
when one of the larger girls whispered something in her
ear. She stepped back, put her hands behind her, hung
her head and thought a moment.
"Go on," we said.
"No, we can't play that; there is too much bad talk in it."
This is one of the unfortunate features of Chinese children's
games and rhymes. There is an immense amount of bad talk in them.
She at once called out:
"Meat or vegetables."
Each girl began to scurry around to find a pair of old
shoes, which may be picked up almost anywhere in China,
and putting one crosswise of the other, they let them fall.
The way they fell indicated what kind of meat or vegetables
they were. If they both fell upside down they were the big black
tiger. If both fell on the side they were double beans.
If one fell right side up and the other on its side they were
beans. If both were right side up they were honest officials.
(What kind of meat or vegetables honest officials are it is
difficult to say, but that never troubles the Chinese child.)
If one is right side and the other wrong side up they are
dogs' legs. If the toe of one rests on the top of the other,
both right side up and at right angles, they form a dark
hole or an alley.
The child whose shoes first form an alley must throw a
pebble through this alley--that is, under the toe of the shoe
--three times, or, failing to do so, one of the number takes
up the shoes, and standing on a line, throws them all back
over her head. Then she hops to each successively, kicking
it back over the line, each time crossing the line herself, until
all are over. In case she fails another tries it in the same
way, and so on, till some one succeeds. This one then takes
the two shoes of the one who got the alley, and, hanging
them successively on her toe, kicks them as far as possible.
The possessor of the shoes, starting from the line, hops to
each, picks it up and hops back over the line with it, which
ends the game. It is a vigorous hopping game for little girls.
The girls were pretty well exhausted when this game was over and
we asked them to play something which required less exercise.
"Water the flowers," said the small leader.
Several of them squatted down in a circle, put their hands
together in the centre to represent the flowers. One of their
number gathered up the front of her garment in such a way as to
make a bag, and went around as if sprinkling water on their
heads, at the same time repeating:
"I water the flowers, I water the flowers,
I water them morning and evening hours,
I never wait till the flowers are dry,
I water them ere the sun is high."
She then left a servant in charge of them while she went
to dinner. While she was away one of them was stolen.
Returning she asked: "How is this that one of my flowers is
"A man came from the south on horseback and stole one
before I knew it. I followed him but how could I catch a
man on horseback?"
After many rebukes for her carelessness, she again sang:
"A basin of water, a basin of tea,
I water the flowers, they're op'ning you see."
Again she cautioned the servant about losing any of the
flowers while she went to take her afternoon meal, but another
flower was stolen and this time by a man from the west.
When the mistress returned, she again scolded the servant,
after which she sang:
"A basin of water, another beside,
I water the flowers, they're opening wide."
This was continued until all the flowers were gone. One
had been taken by a carter, another by a donkey-driver,
another by a muleteer, another by a man on a camel, and
finally the last little sprig was eaten by a chicken. The
servant was soundly berated each time and cautioned to be
more careful, which she always promised but never
performed, and was finally dismissed in disgrace without either
a recommendation, or the wages she had been promised when hired.
The game furnishes large opportunity for invention on the part of
the servant, depending upon the number of those to be stolen.
This little girl seemed to be at her wit's end when she gave as
the excuse for the loss of the last one that it had been eaten by
a chicken.
This game suggested to our little friend another which proved to
be the sequel to the one just described, and she called out:
"The flower-seller."
The girl who had just been dismissed appeared from behind the
corner of the house with all the stolen "flowers," each holding
to the other's skirts. At the same time she was calling out:
"Flowers for sale,
Flowers for sale,
Come buy my flowers
Before they get stale."
The original owner hereupon appeared and called to her:
"Hey! come here, flower-girl, those flowers look like mine," and
she took one away.
The flower-seller did not stop to argue the question but
hurried off crying:
"Flowers for sale," etc.
The original owner again called to her:
"Ho! flower-seller, come here, those flowers are certainly mine,"
whereupon she took them all and whipped the flower-seller who ran
away crying.
As the little flower-seller ran away crying in her sleeve,
she stumbled over an old flower-pot that lay in the school
court. This accident seemed to act as a reminder to our
little leader for she called out,
The girls divided themselves into companies of three and stood in
the form of a triangle, each with her left hand holding the right
hand of the other, their hands being crossed in the centre.
Then by putting the arms of two back of the head of the third
she was brought into the centre (steps into the well), and by
stepping over two other arms, she goes out on the opposite
side, so that whereas she was on the left side of this and
the right side of that one, she now stands on the right side of
this and the left side of that girl. In the same way the second
and third girls go through, and so on as long as they wish to
keep up the game, saying or singing the following rhyme:
You first cross over, and then cross back,
And step in the well as you cross the track,
And then there is something else you do,
Oh, yes, you make a flower-pot too.
By this time the girls had lost most of their strangeness
or embarrassment and continued the flower-pot until we
were compelled to remind them that they were playing for
us. Everybody let go hands and the little general called out,
"The cow's tail."
One girl with a small stick in her hand squatted down pretending
to be digging and the others took a position one behind the other
similar to the hawk catching the chicks. They walked up to the
girl digging and engaged in the following conversation:
"What are you digging?"
"Digging a hole."
"What is it for?"
"My pot for to boil."
"What will you heat?"
"Some water and broth."
"How use the water?"
"I'll wash some cloth.
"What will you make?"
"I'll make a bag."
"And what put in it?"
"A knife and a rag."
"What is the knife for?"
"To kill your lambs."
"What have they done?"
"They've eaten my yams."
"How high were they?"
"About so high."
"Oh, that isn't high."
"As high as the sky."
"What is your name?"
"My name is Grab, what is your name?"
"My name is Turn."
"Turn once for me."
They all walked around in a circle and as they turned they sang:
"We turn about once,
Or twice I declare,
And she may grab,
But we don't care."
"Can't you grab once for us?"
"Yes, but what I grab I keep."
She then ran to "grab" one of the "lambs" but they kept behind
the front girl just as the boys did in the hawk catching the
chicks. After awhile however, they were all caught.
Why this game is called "cow's tail" and the girls called
"lambs," we do not know. We asked the girls why and
their answer was, "There is no reason."
The girls were panting with the running before they were
all caught and we suggested that they rest awhile, but
instead the little leader called out:
"Let out the doves."
One of the larger girls took hold of the hands of two of
the smaller, one of whom represented a dove and the other
a hawk. The hawk stood behind her and the dove in front.
She threw the dove away as she might pitch a bird into
the air, and as the child ran it waved its arms as though they
were wings. She threw the hawk in the same way, and it
followed the dove.
She then clapped her hands as the Chinese do to bring
their pet birds to them, and the dove if not caught, returned
to the cage. This is a very pretty game for little children.
By this time the girls were all rested and our little friend
"Seek for gold."
Three or four of the girls gathered up some pebbles,
squatted down in a group and scattered them as they would
a lot of jackstones. Then one drew her finger between two
of the stones and snapped one against the other. If she hit
it the two were taken up and put aside.
She then drew her finger between two more and snapped them.
If she missed, another girl took up what were left,
scattered them, snapped them, took them up, and so on until one
or another got the most of the pebbles and thus won the game.
Our little friend was reminded of another and she called out:
"The cow 's eye."
Immediately the girls all sat down in a ring and put their feet
together in the centre. Then one of their number repeated the
following rhyme, tapping a foot with each accented syllable.
One, two, three, and an old cow's eye,
When a cow s eye's blind she'll surely die.
A piece of skin and a melon too,
If you have money I'll sell to you,
But if you're without,
I'll put you out.
The foot on which her finger happened to rest when she said "out"
was excluded from the ring. Again she repeated the rhyme
excluding a foot with each repetition till all but one were out.
Up to this point all the children were in a nervous quiver
waiting to see which foot would be left, but now the fun
began, for they took the shoe off and every one slapped
that unfortunate foot. This was done with good-natured
vigor but without intention to hurt. It was amusing to see
the children squirm as they neared the end of the game.
This game finished, the little girl called out:
"Pat your hands and knees."
The girls sat down in pairs and, after the style of "Bean
Porridge Hot," clapped hands to the following rhyme:
Pat your hands and knees,
On January first,
The old lady likes to go a sightseeing most.
Pat your hands and knees,
On February second,
The old lady likes a piece of candy it is reckoned.
Pat your hands and knees,
On March the third,
The old lady likes a Canton pipe I have heard.
Pat your hands and knees,
On April fourth,
The old lady likes bony fish from the north.
Pat your hands and knees,
The fifth of May,
The old lady likes sweet potatoes every day.
Pat your hands and knees,
The sixth of June,
The old lady eats fat pork with a spoon.
Pat your hands and knees,
The seventh of July,
The old lady likes to eat a fat chicken pie.
Pat your hands and knees,
On August eight,
The old lady likes to see the lotus flowers straight.
Pat your hands and knees,
September nine,
The old lady likes to drink good hot wine.
Pat your hands and knees,
October ten,
The old lady, you and I, may meet hope again.
This we afterwards discovered is very widely known throughout the
north of China.
The foregoing are a few of the games played by the
children in Peking. In that one city we have collected
more than seventy-five different games, and have no reason
to believe we have secured even a small proportion of what
are played there. Games played in Central and South China
are different, partly because of climatic conditions, partly
because of the character of the people. There, as here, the
games of children are but reproductions of the employments
of their parents. They play at farming, carpentry, housekeeping,
storekeeping, or whatever employments their
parents happen to be engaged in. Indeed, in addition to
the games common to a larger part of the country, there
are many which are local, and depend upon the employment
of the parents or the people.
One day while sitting at table, with our little girl, nineteen
months old, on her mother's knee near by, we picked up
her rubber doll and began to whip it violently. The child
first looked frightened, then severe, then burst into tears and
plead with her mother not to "let papa whip dolly."
Few people realize how much toys become a part of the
life of the children who play with them. They are often
looked upon as nothing more than "playthings for children."
This is a very narrow view of their uses and
relationships. There is a philosophy underlying the
production of toys as old as the world and as broad as life, a
philosophy which, until recent years, has been little studied
and cultivated.
Playthings are as necessary a constituent of human life as
food or medicine, and contribute in a like manner to the
health and development of the race. Like the science of
cooking and healing, the business of toy-making has been
driven by the stern teacher, necessity, to a rapid
self-development for the general good of the little men and women
in whose interests they are made.
They are the tools with which children ply their trades;
the instruments with which they carry on their professions;
the goods which they buy and sell in their business, and the
paraphernalia with which they conduct their toy society.
They are more than this. They are the animals which serve
them, the associates who entertain them, the children who
comfort them and bring joy to the mimic home.
Toys are nature's first teachers. The child with his little
shovels, spades and hoes, learns his first lessons in
agriculture; with his hammer and nails, he gets his first
lessons in the various trades; and the bias of the life of many a
child of larger growth has come from the toys with which he
played. Into his flower garden the father of Linnaeus
introduced his son during his infancy, and "this little garden
undoubtedly created that taste in the child which afterwards
made him the first botanist and naturalist of his age, if not
of his race."
No experiments in any chemical laboratory will excite
more wonder or be carried on with more interest, than those
which the boy performs with his pipe and basin of soapy
water. The little girl's mud pies and other sham confectionery
furnish her first lessons in the art of preparing food.
Her toy dinners and playhouse teas offer her the first
experiences in the entertainment of guests. With her dolls,
the domestic relations and affections.
No science has ever originatedmand been carried to any
degree of perfection in Asia. There is no reason why this
statement should cause the noses of Europeans and Americans
to twitch in derision and pride, for there is another fact
equally momentous in favor of the Asiatics,--viz., no religion
that originated outside of Asia has ever been carried to any
degree of perfection.
The above facts will indicate that we need not hope to
find the business of toy-making, or the science of childeducation
in a very advanced state in China--the most
Asiatic country of Asia. Child's play and toy-making have
been organized into a business and a science in Europe, as
astronomy, which had been studied so long in Asia, was
developed into a science by the Greeks. And so we find
that what is taught in the kindergarten of the West is
learned in the streets of the East; and the toys which are
manufactured in great Occidental business establishments,
are made by poor women in Oriental homes, and the same
mistakes are made by the one as by the other.
The same whistle by which the cock crows, enables the
dog to bark, the baby to cry, the horse to neigh, the sheep
to bleat and the cow to low, just as in our own rubber
goods. The same end is accomplished in the one case as in
the other. The two, three or twenty cash doll does for the
Chinese girl what the two, three or twenty dollar one does
for her antipodal sister,--develops the instinct of motherhood,
besides standing a greater amount of rough handling.
Nevertheless it usually comes to the same deplorable end,
departing this world, bereft of its arms and legs, without
going through the tedious process of a surgical operation.
Chinese toys are less varied, less complicated, less true to
the original, and less expensive than those of the West,--
more perhaps like the toys of a century or two ago. Nevertheless
they are toys, and in the hands of boys and girls,
the drum goes "rub-a-dub," the horn "toots," and the
whistle squeaks. The "gingham dog and calico cat," besides
a score of other animals more nearly related to the soil
of their native place--being made of clay--express themselves
in the language of the particular whistle which happens
to have been placed within them. All this is to the
entire satisfaction of "little Miss Muffet" and "little boy
Blue," just as they do in other lands.
When the children grow older they have tops to spin that
whistle as good a whistle, and buzzers to buzz that buzz as
good a buzz, and music balls to roll, and music carts to pull,
that emit sounds as much to their satisfaction, as anything
that ministered to the childish tastes of our grandfathers;
and these become as much a part of their business and their
life as if they were living, talking beings. Furthermore,
their dolls are as much their children as they themselves are
the offspring of their parents.
Chinese toys embrace only those which involve no intricate
scientific principles. The music boxes of the West are
unknown in China except as they are imported. The
Chinese know nothing about dolls which open and shut
their eyes, simple as this principle is, nor of toys which are
self-propelling by some mysterious spring secreted within,
because, forsooth, they know nothing about making the spring.
There are some principles, however, which, though they
may not understand, they are nevertheless able to utilize;
such, for instance, as the expansion of air by heat, and the
creation of air currents. This principle is utilized in
lanterns. In the top of these is a paper wheel attached to a
cross-bar on the ends of which are suspended paper men
and women together with animals of all kinds making a
very interesting merry-go-round. These lantern-figures
correspond to the sawyers, borers, blacksmiths, washers
and others which twenty or more years ago were on top of
the stove of every corner grocery or country post-office.
When we began the study of Chinese toys our first move
was to call in a Chinese friend whom we thought we could
trust, and who could buy toys at a very reasonable rate,
and sent him out to purchase specimens of every variety of
toys he could find in the city of Peking. We ordered him
the first day to buy nothing but rattles, because the rattle
is the first toy that attracts the attention of the child.
In the evening Mr. Hsin returned with a good-sized
basket full of rattles. Some were tin in the form of small
cylinders, with handles in which were small pebbles: others
were shaped like pails; and others like cooking pots and pans.
Some of the most attractive were hollow wood balls,
baskets, pails and bottles, gorgeously painted, with long
handles, necks, or bails. The paint was soon transferred
from the face of the toy to that of the first child that
happened to play with it, which child was of course, our own
little girl.
The most common rattles representing various kinds of
fowls and animals known and unknown are made of clay.
Others are in the form of fat little priests that make one
think of Santa Claus, or little roly-poly children that look
like the little folks who play with them.
As the child grows larger the favorite rattle is a drumshaped
piece of bamboo or other wood, with skin--not
infrequently fish skin, stretched over the two ends, and a long
handle attached. On the sides are two stout strings with
beads on the ends, which, when the rattle is turned in the
hand, strike on the drum heads. These rattles of brass or
tin as well as bamboo, are in imitation of those carried by
street hawkers.
We said to Mr. Hsin, "Foreigners say the Chinese do not
have dolls, how is that?"
"They have lots of them," he answered in the stereotyped way.
"Then to-morrow buy samples of all the dolls you can find."
"All?" he asked with some surprise.
"Yes, all. We want to know just what kind of dolls they have."
The next evening Mr. Hsin came in with an immense
load of dolls. He had large, small, and middle sized rag dolls,
on which the nose was sewed, the ears pasted, and the
eyes and other features painted. They were rude, but as
interesting to children as other more natural and more
expensive ones, as we discovered by giving one of them to
our little girl. In not a few instances Western children
have become much more firmly attached to their Chinese
cloth dolls than any that can be found for them in America
or Europe.
He had a number of others both large and small with
paper mache heads, leather bodies, and clay arms and legs.
The body was like a bellows in which a reed whistle was
placed, that enabled the baby to cry in the same tone as the
toy dog barks or the cock crows. They had "real hair" in
spots on their head similar to those on the child, and they
were dressed in the same kind of clothing as that used on the
baby in summer-time, viz., a chest-protector and a pair of
shoes or trousers.
Mr. Hsin then took out a small package in which was
wrapped a half-dozen or more "little people," as they are
called, by the Chinese, with paper heads, hands and feet,
exquisitely painted, and their clothing of the finest silk.
Attached to the head of each was a silk string by which the
"little people" are hung upon the wall as a decoration.
"But what are these, Mr. Hsin?" we asked. "These are not dolls."
"No," he answered, "these are cloth animals. The children play
with these at the same time they play with dolls."
He had gone beyond our instructions. He had brought
us a large collection of camels made of cloth the color of
the camel's skin, with little bunches of hair on the head,
neck, hump and the joints of the legs, similar to those on the
camel when it is shedding its coat in the springtime. He had
elephants made of a grayish kind of cloth on which were
harnesses similar to those supposed to be necessary for those
animals. He had bears with bits of hair on neck and tail
and a leading string in the nose; horses painted with spots
of white and red, matched only by the most remarkable
animals in a circus; monkeys with black beads for eyes, and
long tails; lions, tigers, and leopards, with large, savage,
black, glass eyes, with manes or tails suited to each, and
properly crooked by a wire extending to the tip. And
finally he laid the bogi-boo, a nondescript with a head on
each end much like the head of a lion or tiger. When not
used as a plaything, this served the purpose of a pillow.
"Do the Chinese have no other kinds of toy animals?" we inquired.
"Yes," he answered, "I'll bring them to-morrow."
The following evening he brought us a collection of clay
toys too extensive to enumerate. There were horses, cows,
camels, mules, deer, and a host of others the original of which
has never been found except in the imagination of the people.
He had women riding donkeys followed by drivers, men riding
horses and shooting or throwing a spear at a fleeing tiger, and
women with babies in their arms while grandmother amused them
with rattles, and father lay near by smoking an opium pipe.
From the bottom of his basket he brought forth a nuber of small
"What are in those?"
"These are clay insects."
They were among the best clay work we have seen in
China. There were tumble-bugs, grasshoppers, large beetles,
mantis, praying mantis, toads and scorpions, together with others
never seen outside of China, and some never seen at all, the legs
and feelers all being made of wire.
In another package he had a dozen dancing dolls. They
were made of clay, were an inch and a half long, dressed
with paper, and had small wires protruding the sixteenth of
an inch below the bottom of the skirt. He put them all on
a brass tray, the edge of which he struck with a small stick
to make it vibrate, thus causing the dancers to turn round
and round in every direction.
The next package contained a number of clay beggars.
Two were fighting, one about to smash his clay pot over
the other's head: another had his pot on his head for a lark,
a third was eating from his, while others were carrying theirs
in their hand. One had a sore leg to which he called attention
with open mouth and pain expressed in every feature.
From another package he brought out a number of
jumping jacks, imitations as it seemed of things Japanese.
There were monkey acrobats made of clay, wire and skin,
fastened to a small slip of bamboo. A doll fastened to a
stick, with cymbals in its hands would clash the cymbals,
when its queue was pulled. Finally there was a large
dragon which satisfied its raging appetite by feeding upon
two or three little clay men specially prepared for his
But, perhaps, among the most interesting of his toys were his
clay whistles. Some of these burnt or sun-dried toys were
hollow and in the shape of birds, beasts and insects. When blown
into, they would emit the shrillest kind of a whistle. In others
a reed whistle had been placed similar to those in the dolls, and
these usually had a bellows to blow them. Whether cock or hen,
dog or child, they all crowed, barked, cackled, or cried in the
self-same tone.
"What will you get to-morrow?"
"Drums, knives, and tops," said Mr. Hsin. He was being paid by
the day for spending our money, and so had his plans well laid.
The following evening he brought a large collection of toy drums,
some of which were in the shape of a barrel, both in their length
and in being bulged out at the middle. On the ends were painted
gay pictures of men and women clad in battle-array or festive
garments, making the drum a work of art as well as an instrument
of torture to those who are disturbed by noises about the house.
He had large knives covered with bright paint which could easily
be washed off, and tridents, with loose plates or cymbals, which
make a noise to frighten the enemy.
The tops Mr. Hsin had collected were by far the most interesting.
Chinese tops are second to none made. They are simple, being made
of bamboo, are spun with a string, and when properly operated
emit a shrill whistle.
The ice top, without a stem, and simply a block of wood in shape
of a top, is spun with a string, but is kept going by whipping.
Another toy which foreigners call a top is entirely different
from anything we see in the West. The Chinese call it
a K'ung chung, while the top is called t'o lo. It is
constructed of two pieces of bamboo, each of which is made
like a top, and then joined by a carefully turned axle, each
end being of equal weight, and looking not unlike the
wheels of a cart. It is then spun by a string, which is
wound once around the axle and attached to two sticks.
A good performer is able to spin it in a great variety of
ways, tossing it under and over his foot, spinning it with
the sticks behind him, and at times throwing it up into the
air twenty or thirty feet and catching it as it comes down.
The principle upon which it is operated is the quick jerking
of one of the sticks while the other is allowed to be loose.
"To-morrow," said Mr. Hsin, as he ceased spinning the top, "I
will get you some toy carts."
The Chinese cart has been described as a Saratoga trunk
on two wheels. This is, however, only one form--that of
the passenger cart. There are many others, and all of them
are used as patterns of toy carts. They all have a kind of
music-box attachment, operated by the turning of the axle
to which the wheels of the toys, as well as those of some of
the real carts, are fixed.
The toy carts are made of tin, wood and clay. Some of
them are very simple, having paper covers, while others
possess the whole paraphernalia of the street carts. When
the mule of the toy cart is unhitched and unharnessed, he
looks like a very respectable mule. Nevertheless, instead of
devouring food, he becomes the prey of insects. Usually
he appears the second season, if he lasts that long, bereft of
mane and tail, as well as a large portion of his skin.
The flat carts have a revolving peg sticking up through
the centre, on which a small clay image is placed which
turns with the stick. Others are placed on wires on the
two sides, to represent the driver and the passengers.
These in Peking are the omnibus carts. Running from the east gate
of the Imperial city to the front gate, and in other parts of the
city as well, there are street carts corresponding to the omnibus
or street cars of the West. These start at intervals of ten
minutes, more or less, with eight or ten persons on a cart, the
fare being only a few cash. Toy carts of this kind have six or
eight clay images to represent the passengers.
Mr. Hsin brought out from the bottom of his basket a
number of neatly made little pug dogs, and pressing upon a
bellows in their body caused them to bark, just as the hen
cackled a few days before.
What we have described formed only a small portion of
the toys Mr. Hsin brought. Cheap clay toys of all kinds
are hawked about the street by a man who sells them at a
fifth or a tenth of a cent apiece. With him is often found
a candy-blower, who with a reed and a bowl of taffycandy
is ready to blow a man, a chicken, a horse and cart,
a corn ear, or anything else the child wants, as a glassblower
would blow a bottle or a lamp chimney. The child
plays with his prize until he tires of it and then he eats it.
It was on a bright spring afternoon that a Chinese official and
his little boy called at our home on Filial Piety Lane, in
The dresses of father and child were exactly alike--as
though they had been twins, boots of black velvet or satin,
blue silk trousers, a long blue silk garment, a waistcoat of
blue brocade, and a black satin skullcap--the child was in
every respect, even to the dignity of his bearing, a vestpocket
edition of his father.
He had a T'ao of books which I recognized as the Fifteen
Magic Blocks, one of the most ingenious, if not the most
remarkable, books I have ever seen.
A T'ao is two or any number of volumes of a book wrapped in a
single cover. In this case it was two volumes. In the inside of
the cover there was a depression three inches square in which was
kept a piece of lead, wood or pasteboard, divided into fifteen
pieces as in the following illustration.
These blocks are all in pairs except one, which is a rhomboid.
They are all exactly proportional, having their sides either
half-inch, inch, inch and a half, or two inches in length.
They are not used as are the blocks in our kindergarten
simply to make geometrical figures, but rather to illustrate
such facts of history as will have a moral influence, or be an
intellectual stimulus to the child.
He may build houses with them, or make such ancient or
modern ornaments, or household utensils, as may suit his
fancy; but the primary object of the blocks and the books,
is to impress upon the child's mind, in the most forcible
way possible, the leading facts of history, poetry, mythology
or morals; while the houses, boats and other things are
simply side issues.
The first illustration the child constructed for me, for I
desired him to teach me how it was done, was a dragon horse, and
when I asked him to explain it, he said that it represented the
animal seen by Fu Hsi, the original ancestor of the Chinese
people, emerging from the Meng river, bearing upon its back a map
on which were fifty-five spots, representing the male and female
principles of nature, and which the sage used to construct what
are called the eight diagrams.
The child tossed the blocks off into a pile and then constructed
a tortoise which he said was seen by Yu, the Chinese Noah, coming
out of the Lo river, while he was draining off the floods. On its
back was a design which he used as a pattern for the nine
divisions of his empire.
These two incidents are referred to by Confucius, and are among
the first learned by every Chinese child.
I looked through the book and noticed that many of the
designs were for the amusement of the children, as well
as to develop their ingenuity. In the two volumes of the
T'ao he had only the outlines of the pictures which he
readily constructed with the blocks. But he had with him
also a small volume which was a key to the designs having
lines indicating how each block was placed. This he had
purchased for a few cash. Much of the interest of the book,
however, attached to the puzzling character of the pictures.
There was one with a verse attached somewhat like the following:
The old wife drew a chess-board
On the cover of a book,
While the child transformed a needle
Into a fishing-hook.
Chinese literature is full of examples of men and women
who applied themselves to their books with untiring
diligence. Some tied their hair to the beam of their humble
cottage so that when they nodded with sleepiness the jerk
would awake them and they might return to their books.
Others slept upon globular pillows that when they
became so restless as to move and cause the pillow to roll
from under their head they might get up and study.
The child once more took the blocks and illustrated how one who
was so poor as to be unable to furnish himself with candles,
confined a fire-fly in a gauze lantern using that instead of a
lamp. At the same time he explained that another who was perhaps
not able to afford the gauze lantern, studied by the light of a
"K'ang Heng," said the child, as he put the blocks together in a
new form, "had a still better way, as well as more economical.
His house was built of clay, and as the window of his neighbor's
house was immediately opposite, he chiseled a hole through his
wall and thus took advantage of his neighbor's light.
"Sun K'ang's method was very good for winter," continued the
child as he rearranged the blocks, "but I do not know what he
would do in summer. He studied by the light reflected from the
"Perhaps," he went on as he changed the form, "he followed
the example of another who studied by the pale light of the
"What does that represent?" I asked him pointing to a child with
a bowl in his hand who looked as if he might have been going to
the grocer's.
"Oh, that boy is going to buy wine."
The Chinese have never yet realized what a national evil
liquor may become. They have little wine shops in the
great cities, but they have no drinking houses corresponding
to the saloon, and it is not uncommon to see a child going
to the wine shop to fetch a bowl of wine. The Buddhist
priest indulges with the same moderation as the official class
or gentry. Indeed most of the drunkenness we read about
in Chinese books is that of poets and philosophers, and in
them it is, if not commended, at least not condemned.
The attitude of literature towards them is much like that of
Thackeray towards the gentlemen of his day.
The child constructed the picture of a Buddhist priest, who, with
staff in hand, and a mug of wine, was viewing the beautiful
mountains in the distance. He then changed it to one in which an
intoxicated man was leaning on a boy's shoulder, the inscription
to which said: "Any one is willing to assist a drunken man to
return home."
"This," he went on as he changed his blocks, "is a picture of Li
Pei, China's greatest poet. He lived more than a thousand years
ago. This represents the closing scene in his life. He was
crossing the river in a boat, and in a drunken effort to
get the moon's reflection from the water, he fell overboard
and was drowned." The child pointed to the sail at the
same time, repeating the following:
The sail being set,
He tried to get,
The moon from out the main.
I noticed a large number of boat scenes and induced the
child to construct some of them for me, which he was quite
willing to do, explaining them as he went as readily as our
children would explain Old Mother Hubbard or the Old
Woman who Lived in her Shoe, by seeing the illustrations.
Constructing one he repeated a verse somewhat like the following:
Alone the fisherman sat,
In his boat by the river's brink,
In the chill and cold and snow,
To fish, and fish, and think.
Then he turned over to two on opposite pages, and as he
constructed them he repeated in turn:
In a stream ten thousand li in length
He bathes his feet at night,
While on a mount he waves his arms,
Ten thousand feet in height.
The ten thousand li in one couplet corresponds to the
ten thousand feet in the other, while the bathing of the
feet corresponds to the waving of the arms. Couplets of
this kind are always attractive to the Chinese child as well
as to the scholar, and poems and essays are replete with
such constructions.
The child enjoyed making the pictures. I tried to make
one, but found it very difficult. I was not familiar with the
blocks. It is different now, I have learned how to make
them. Then it seemed as if it would be impossible ever to
do so. When I had failed to make the picture I turned them
over to him. In a moment it was done.
"Who is it?" I asked.
"Chang Ch'i, the poet," he answered. "Whenever he went for a walk
he took with him a child who carried a bag in which to put the
poems he happened to write. In this illustration he stands with
his head bent forward and his hands behind his back lost in
thought, while the lad stands near with the bag."
We have given in another chapter the story of the great
traveller, Chang Ch'ien, and his search for the source of the
Yellow River.
In one of the illustrations the child represented him in his boat
in a way not very different from that of the artist.
Another quotation from one of the poets was illustrated as
Last night a meeting I arranged,
Ere I my lamp did light,
Nor while I crossed the ferry feared,
Or wind or rain or night.
The child's eyes sparkled as he turned to some of those
illustrating children at play, and as he constructed one which
represents two children swinging their arms and running,
he repeated:
See the children at their
Gathering flowers by the
"They are gathering pussy-willows," he added.
In another he represented a child standing before the
front gate, where he had knocked in vain to gain admission.
As he completed it he said, pointing to the apricot
over the door:
Ten times he knocked upon the gate,
But nine, they opened not,
Above the wall he plainly saw,
A ripe, red apricot.
He continued to represent quotations from the poets and explain
them as he went along.
There was one which indicated that some one was ascending
the steps to the jade platform on which the dust had settled
as it does on everything in Peking; at the same time the
verse told us that
Step by step we reach the platform,
All of jade of purest green,
Call a child to come and sweep it,
But he cannot sweep it clean.
"You know," he went on, "the cottages of many of the
poets were near the beautiful lakes in central China, in the
wild heights of the mountains, or upon the banks of some
flowing stream. In this one the pavilion of the poet is on
the bank of the river, and we are told that,
In his cottage sat the poet
Thinking, as the moon went by,
That the moonlight on the water,
Made the water like the sky."
Changing it somewhat he made a cottage of a different kind. This
was not made for the picture's sake, but to illustrate a sentence
it was designed to impress upon the child's mind. The quotation
is somewhat as follows:
The ringing of the evening bells,
The moon a crescent splendid,
The rustling of the swallow's wings
Betoken winter ended.
The child looked up at me significantly as he turned to
one which represented a Buddhist priest. I expected something of
a joke at the priest's expense as in the nursery rhymes and
games, but there was none. That would injure the sale of the
book. The inscription told us that "a Buddhist lantern will
reflect light enough to illuminate the whole universe."
Turning to the next page we found a priest sitting in
front of the temple in the act of beating his wooden drum,
while the poet exclaims:
O crystal pool and silvery moon,
So clear and pure thou art,
There's nought to which thou wilt compare
Except a Buddha's heart.
The child next directed our attention to various kinds of
flowers, more especially the marigold. A man in a boat rows with
one hand while he points backward to the blossoming marigold,
while in another picture the poet tells us that,
Along the eastern wall,
We pluck the marigold,
While on the south horizon,
The mountain we behold.
"What is that?" I asked as he turned to a picture of an old man
riding on a cow.
"That is Laotze, the founder of Taoism, crossing the frontier at
the Han Ku Pass between Shansi and Shensi, riding upon a cow.
Nobody knows where he went."
There were other pictures of Taoist patriarchs keeping sheep. By
their magic power they turned the sheep into stones when they
were tired watching them, and again the inscriptions told us,
"the stones became sheep at his call." Still others represented
them in search of the elixir of life, while in others they
were riding on a snail.
The object of thus bringing in incidents from all these
Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and other sources is that by
catering to all classes the book may have wide distribution, and
whatever the Confucianist may say, it must be admitted that the
other religions have a strong hold upon the popular mind.
The last twenty-six illustrations in Vol. I represent various
incidents in the life, history and employments of women.
The first of these is an ancient empress "weaving at night by her
palace window."
Another represents a woman in her boat and we are told that,
"leaving her oar she leisurely sang a song entitled, 'Plucking
the Caltrops.' "
Another represents a woman "wearing a pomegranate-colored
dress riding a pear-blossom colored horse." A peculiar
combination to say the least.
The fisherman's wife is represented in her boat, "making her
toilet at dawn using the water as a mirror." While we are assured
also that the woman sitting upon her veranda "finds it very
difficult to thread her needle by the pale light of the moon,"
which fact, few, I think, would question.
In one of the pictures "a beautiful maiden, in the bright
moonlight, came beneath the trees." This is evidently contrary to
Chinese ideas of propriety, for the Classic for girls tells us
that a maiden should not go out at night except in company with a
servant bearing a lantern. As it was bright moonlight, however,
let us hope she was excusable.
This sauntering about in the court is not uncommon if we believe
what the books say, for in the next picture we are told that:
As near the middle summer-house,
The maiden sauntered by,
Upon the jade pin in her hair
There lit a dragon-fly.
The next illustration represented the wife of the famous poet
Ssu-Ma Hsiang-Ju in her husband's wine shop.
This poet fell in love with the widowed daughter of a wealthy
merchant, the result of which was that the young couple eloped
and were married; and as the daughter was disinherited by her
irate parent, she was compelled to wait on customers in her
husband's wine shop, which she did without complaint. In spite of
their imprudent conduct, and for the time, its unhappy results,
as soon as the poet had become so famous as to be summoned to
court, the stern father relented, and, as it was a case of
undoubted affection, which the Chinese readily appreciate they
have always had the sympathy of the whole Chinese people.
One of the most popular women in Chinese history is Mu Lan, the
A Chinese Joan of Arc. Her father, a great general, being too old
to take charge of his troops, and her brothers too young, she
dressed herself in boy's clothing, enrolled herself in the army,
mounted her father's trusty steed, and led his soldiers to
battle, thus bringing honor to herself and renown upon her
We have already seen how diligent some of the ancient worthies
were in their study. This, however, is not universal, for we are
told the mother of Liu Kung-cho, in order to stimulate her son to
study took pills made of bear's gall and bitter herbs, to show
her sympathy with her boy and lead him to feel that she was
willing to endure bitterness as well as he.
The last of these examples of noble women is that of the wife of
Liang Hung, a poor philosopher of some two thousand years ago. An
effort was made to engage him to Meng Kuang, the daughter of a
rich family, whose lack of beauty was more than balanced by her
remarkable intelligence. The old philosopher feared that family
pride might cause domestic infelicity. The girl on her part
steadfastly refused to marry any one else, declaring that unless
she married Liang Hung, she would not marry at all. This
unexpected constancy touched the old man's heart and he married
her. She dressed in the most common clothing, always prepared
his food with her own hand, and to show her affection and
respect never presented him with the rice-bowl without raising it
to the level of her eyebrows, as in the illustration.
It may be interesting to see some of the ornaments and
utensils the child made with his blocks. I shall therefore
add three, a pair of scissors, a teapot, and a seal with a
turtle handle.
Such is in general the character of the book the official's
little boy had with him. I afterwards secured several copies
for myself and learned to make all the pictures first shown
me by the child, and I discovered that it is but one of
several forms of what we may call kindergarten work, that
it has gone through many editions, and is very widely
distributed. My own set contains 216 illustrations such as I
have given.
My little girl came running into my study greatly excited
and exclaiming:
"Papa, the monkey show, the monkey show. We want the monkey show,
may we have it?"
Now if you had but one little girl, and she wanted a monkey show
to come into your own court and perform for her and her little
friends for half an hour, the cost of which was the modest sum of
five cents, what would you do?
You would do as I did, no doubt, go out with the little girl,
call in the passing showman and allow him to perform, which would
serve the triple purpose of furnishing relaxation and instruction
for yourself, entertainment for the children, and business for
the showman.
This however proved to be not the monkey show but Punch and Judy,
a species of entertainment for children, the exact counterpart of
our own entertainment of that name. It may be of interest to
young readers to know how this show originated, and I doubt not
it will be a surprise to some older ones to know that it dates
back to about the year 1000 B. C.
We are told that while the Emperor Mu of the Chou dynasty was
making a tour of his empire, a skillful mechanic, Yen Shih by
name, was brought into his presence and entertained him and the
women of his seraglio with a dance performed by automaton
figures, which were capable not only of rhythmical movements of
their limbs, but of accompanying their movements with songs.
During and at the close of the performance, the puppets cast such
significant glances at the ladies as to anger the monarch, and he
ordered the execution of the originator of the play.
The mechanic however ripped open the puppets, and proved to his
astonished majesty that they were only artificial objects, and
instead of being executed he was allowed to repeat his
performance. This was the origin of the play in China which
corresponds to Punch and Judy in Europe and America.
To the question which naturally arises as to how the play was
carried to the West, I reply, it may not have been carried to
Europe at all, but have originated there. From marked
similarities in the two plays however, and more especially in the
methods of their production, we may suppose that the Chinese
Punch and Judy was carried to Europe in the following way:
Among the many traders who visited Central Asia while it was
under the government of the family of Genghis Khan, were two
Venetian brothers, Maffeo and Nicolo Polo, whose wondering
disposition and trading interests led them as far as the court of
the Great Khan, where they remained in the most intimate
relations with Kublai for some time, and were finally sent back
to Italy with a request that one hundred European scholars be
sent to China to instruct them in the arts of Europe.
This request was never carried out, but the two returned
to the Khan's court with young Marco, the son of one of
them, who remained with the Mongol Emperor for seventeen years,
during which time he had a better opportunity of observing their
customs than perhaps any other foreigner since his time. His
final return to Italy was in 1295, and a year or two later, he
wrote and revised his book of travels.
The art of printing in Europe was discovered in 1438, and the
first edition of Marco Polo's travels was printed about 1550-59.
Our Punch and Judy was invented by Silvio Fiorillo an Italian
dramatist before the year 1600. I have found no reference to the
play in Marco Polo's works, nevertheless, one cannot but think
that, if not a written, at least an oral, communication of the
play may have been carried to Europe by him or some other of the
Italian traders or travellers. The two plays are very similar,
even to the tones of the man who works the puppets.
In passing the school court on one occasion I saw the
students gathered in a crowd under the shade of the trees.
A small tent was pitched, on the front of which was a little
stage. A manager stood behind the screen from which
position he worked a number of puppets in the form of
men, women, children, horses and dragons. These were
suspended by black threads as I afterwards discovered from
small sticks or a framework which the manager manipulated
behind the screen. When one finished its part of the
performance, it either walked off the stage, or the stick was
fastened in such a way as to leave it in a position conducive
to the amusement of the crowd. These were puppet shows, and were
put through entire performances or plays, the manager doing the
talking as in Punch and Judy.
After the performance several of the students passed around the
hat, each person present giving one-fifth or one-tenth of a cent.
As I came from school one afternoon, the children had called in
from the street a showman with a number of trained mice. He had
erected a little scaffolding just inside the gateway, at one side
of which there was a small rope ladder, and this with the
inevitable gong, and the small boxes in which the mice were kept
constituted his entire outfit.
In the boxes he had what seemed to be cotton from the milk-weed
which furnished a nest for the mice. These he took from their
little boxes one by one, stroked them tenderly, while he
explained what this particular mouse would do, put each one on
the rope ladder, which they ascended, and performed the tricks
expected of them. These were going through a pagoda, drawing
water, creeping through a tube, wearing a criminal's collar,
turning a tread-mill, or working some other equally simple trick.
At times the mice had to be directed by a small stick in the
hands of the manager, but they were carefully trained, kindly
treated, and much appreciated by the children.
Although less attractive, there is no other show which impresses
itself so forcibly on the child's mind as the monkey, dog and
sheep show.
The dog was the first to perform. Four hoops were placed on the
corners of a square, ten feet apart. The dog walked around
through these hoops, first through each in order, then turning
went through each twice, then through one and retracing his steps
went through the one last passed through.
The showman drove an iron peg in the ground on which were two
blocks representing millstones. To the upper one was a lever by
which the dog with his nose turned the top millstone as if
grinding flour. He was hitched to a wheelbarrow, the handles of
which were held by the monkey, who pushed while the dog pulled.
The most interesting part of the performance, however, was by the
monkey. Various kinds of hats and false faces were kept in a box
which he opened and secured. He stalked about with a cane in his
hand, or crosswise back of his neck, turned handsprings, went
through various trapeze performances, such as hanging by his
legs, tail, chin, and hands, or was whirled around in the air.
The leading strap of the monkey was finally tied to the belt of
the sheep which was led away to some distance and let go. The
monkey bounded upon its back and held fast to the wool, while the
sheep ran with all its speed to the showman, who held a basin of
broom-corn seed as a bait. This was repeated as often as the
children desired, which ended the show. Time,--half an hour;
spectators,--all who desired to witness it; price,--five cents.
The showmen in China are somewhat like the tramps and beggars in
other countries. When they find a place where there are children
who enjoy shows, each tells the other, and they all call around
in turn.
Our next show was an exhibition given by a man with a trained
The animal had two rings in his nose, to one of which was
fastened a leading string or strap, and to the other, while
performing, a large chain. A man stood on one end of the chain,
and the manager, with a long-handled ladle, or with his hand,
gave the bear small pieces of bread or other food after each
trick he performed.
The first trick was walking on his hind feet as if dancing. But
more amusing than this to the children was to see him turn
summersaults both forward and backward. These were repeated
several times because they were easily done, and added to the
length of time the show continued.
Children, however, begin to appreciate at an early age what
is difficult and what easy, and it was not until he took a
carrying-pole six feet long, put the middle of it upon his
forehead and set it whirling with his paws, that they began to
"That's good," "That's hard to do," and other expressions
of a like nature.
They enjoyed seeing him stand on his front feet, or on his
head with his hind feet kicking the air, but they enjoyed
still more seeing him put on the wooden collar of a convict
and twirl it around his neck. The manager gave him some
bread and then tried to induce him to take it off, but he
whined for more bread and refused to do so. Finally he
took off the collar, and when they tried to take it from him
he put it on again. When he took it off the next time and
offered it to them they refused to receive it, but tried to get
him to put it on, which he stubbornly refused to do, and
finally threw it away.
His last trick was to sit down upon his haunches, stick up one of
his hind feet, and twirl a knife six feet long upon it as he had
twirled the carrying-pole upon his head. The manager said he
would wrestle with the men, but this was a side issue and only
done when extra money was added to the regular price, which was
twelve cents.
One of the most common showmen seen on the streets of Peking,
goes about with a framework upon his shoulder in the shape of a
sled, the runners of which are turned up at both ends. It seemed
to me to be less interesting than the other shows, but as it is
more common, the children probably look upon it with more favor,
and the children are the final critics of all things for the
little ones.
The show was given by a man and two boys, one of whom
impersonated a girl. Small feet, like the bound feet of a girl,
were strapped on like stilts, his own being covered by wide
trousers, and he and the boy sang songs and danced to the music
of the drum and cymbals in the hands of the showman.
The second part of the performance was a boat ride on dry land.
The girl got into the frame, let down around it a piece of cloth
which was fastened to the top, and took hold of the frame in such
a way as to carry it easily. The boy, with a long stick, pushed
as if starting the boat, and then pulled as if rowing, and with
every pull of the oar, the girl ran a few steps, making it appear
that the boat shot forward. All the while the boy sang a
boat-song or a love-ditty to his sweetheart.
Again the scene changed. The head and hind parts of a papier
mache horse were fastened to the "tomboy" in such a way as to
make it appear that she was riding; a cloth was let down to hide
her feet, and they ran to and fro, one in one direction and the
other in the other, she jerking her unmanageable steed, and he
singing songs, and all to the music of the drum and the cymbals.
It sometimes happens that while the girl rides the horse, the boy
goes beside her in the boat, the rapidity and character of their
movements being governed by the music of the manager.
The best part of the whole performance was that which goes by the
name of the lion show. The girl took off her small feet and
girl's clothes and became a boy again. One of the boys stood up
in front and put on an apron of woven grass, while the other bent
forward and clutched hold of his belt. A large papier mache head
of a lion was put on the front boy, to which was attached a
covering of woven grass large enough to cover them both, while a
long tail of the same material was stuck into a framework
fastened to the belt of the hinder boy.
The manager beat the drum, the lion stalked about the court,
keeping step to the music, turning its large head in every
direction and opening and shutting its mouth, much to the
amusement of the children.
There is probably no country in the world that has more
travelling shows specially prepared for the entertainment of
children than China. Scarcely a day passes that we do not hear
the drum or the gong of the showmen going to and fro, or standing
at our court gate waiting to be called in.
"How is that?"
"Very good."
"Can you do it?" asked the sleight-of-hand performer, as he
rolled a little red ball between his finger and thumb, pitched it
up, caught it as it came down, half closed his hand and blew into
it, opened his hand and the ball had disappeared.
He picked up another ball, tossed it up, caught it in his
mouth, dropped it into his hand, and it mysteriously disappeared.
The juggler was seated on the ground with a piece of blue cloth
spread out before him, on which were three cups, and five little
red wax balls nearly as large as cranberries.
He continued to toss the wax balls about until they had all
disappeared. We watched him closely, but could not discover where
they had gone. He then arose, took a small portion of my coat
sleeve between his thumb and finger, began rubbing them together,
and by and by, one of the balls appeared between his digits. He
picked at a small boy's ear and got another of the balls. He blew
his nose and another dropped upon the cloth. He slapped the top
of his head and one dropped out of his mouth, and he took the
fifth from a boy's hair.
He then changed his method. He placed the cups' mouths down upon
the cloth, and under one of them put the five little balls. When
he placed the cup we watched carefully; there were no balls under
it. When he raised it up, behold, there were the five little
He removed the cups from one place to another, and asked us to
guess which cup the balls were under, but we were always wrong.
There was a large company of us, ranging from children of three
to old men and women of seventy-five, and from Chinese schoolboys
to a bishop of the church, but none of us could discover how he
did it.
Later, however, I learned how the trick was performed. As he
raised the cup with his thumb and forefinger, he inserted two
other fingers under, gathered up all the balls between them and
placed them under the cup as he put it down. While in making the
balls disappear, he concealed them either in his mouth or between
his fingers.
The Chinese have a saying:
In selecting his balls from north to south,
The magician cannot leave his mouth;
And in rolling his balls, you understand,
He must have them hidden in his hand.
Of quite a different character are the jugglers with plates
and bowls. Not only children, but many of a larger growth
delight to watch these. Our only way of learning about them was
to call them into our court as the Chinese call them to theirs,
and that is what we did.
The performer first put a plate on the top of a trident and
set it whirling. In this whirling condition he put the trident
on his forehead where he balanced it, the trident whirling
with the plate as though boring into his skull.
He next took a bamboo pole six feet long, with a nail in
the end on which he set the plate whirling. The plate, of
course, had a small indentation to keep it in its place on the
nail. He raised the plate in the air and inserted into the
first pole another of equal length, then another and still
another, which put the plate whirling in the air thirty feet
Thus whirling he balanced it on his hand, on his arm, on his
thumb, on his forehead, and finally in his mouth, after which he
tossed the plate up, threw the pole aside and caught it as it
came down. The old manager standing by received the pole, but as
he saw the plate tossed up, he fell flat upon the earth,
screaming lest the plate be broken.
This same performer set a bowl whirling on the end of a
chop-stick. Then tossing the bowl up he caught it inverted
on the chop-stick, and made it whirl as rapidly as possible. In
this condition he tossed it up ten, then fifteen, then twenty or
more feet into the air catching it on the chop-stick as it came
He then changed the process. He tossed the bowl a foot
high, and struck it with the other chop-stick one, two, three,
four or five times before it came down, and this he did so
rapidly and regularly as to make it sound almost like
music. There is a record of one of the ancient poets who
was able to play a tune with his bowl and chop-sticks
after having finished his meal. He may have done it in this way.
This trick seemed a very difficult performance. It excited
the children, and some of the older persons clapped their
hands and exclaimed, "Very good, very good." But when
he tossed it only a foot high and let go the chop-stick, making
it change ends, and catching the bowl, they were ready
for a general applause. In striking the bowl and thus
manipulating his chop-sticks, his hands moved almost as
rapidly as those of an expert pianist.
"Can you toss the knives?" piped up one of the children
who had seen a juggler perform this difficult feat.
The man picked up two large knives about a foot long and began
tossing them with one hand. While this was going on a third knife
was handed him and he kept them going with both hands. At times
he threw them under his leg or behind his back, and at other
times pitched them up twenty feet high, whirling them as rapidly
as possible and catching them by the handles as they came down.
While doing this he passed one of the knives to the attendant who
gave him a bowl, and he kept the bowl and two knives going. Then
he gave the attendant another knife and received a ball, and the
knife, the ball and the bowl together, the ball and bowl at times
moving as though the former were glued to the bottom of the
These were not all the tricks he could perform but they
were all he would perform in addition to his bear show for
twelve cents--for this was the man with the bear--so the
children allowed him to go.
Some weeks later they called in a different bear show. This bear
was larger and a better performer, but his tricks were about the
The juggler in addition to doing all we have already described
performed also the following tricks.
He first put one end of an iron rod fifteen inches long in his
mouth. On this he placed a small revolving frame three by six
inches. He set a bowl whirling on the end of a bamboo splint
fifteen inches long, the other end of which he rested on one side
of the frame, balancing the whole in his mouth.
While the bowl continued whirling, he took the frame off
the rod, stuck the bamboo in a hole in the frame an inch
from the end, resting the other end of the frame on the rod,
brought the bowl over so as to obtain a centre of gravity
and thus balanced it.
He took two small tridents a foot or more in length, put
the end of the handle of one in his mouth, set the bowl
whirling on the end of the handle of the other, rested the
middle prong of one on the middle prong of the other and
let it whirl with the bowl. Afterwards he set the prong of
the whirling trident on the edge of the other and let it whirl.
He took two long curved boar's teeth which were fastened on the
ends of two sticks, one a foot long, the other six inches. The
one he held in his mouth, the other having a hole diagonally
through the stick, he inserted a chop-stick making an angle of
seventy degrees. He set the bowl whirling on the end of the
chop-stick, rested one tooth on the other, in the indentation and
they whirled like a brace and bit.
Finally he took a spiral wire having a straight point on
each end. This he called a dead dragon. He set the bowl
whirling on one end, placing the other on the small frame
already referred to. As the spiral wire began to turn as
though boring, he called it a living dragon. These feats of
balancing excited much wonder and merriment on the part
of the children.
The juggler then took an iron trident with a handle four
and a half feet long and an inch and a half thick, and,
pitching it up into the air, caught it on his right arm as it
came down. He allowed it to roll down his right arm, across his
back, and along his left arm, and as he turned his body he kept
the trident rolling around crossing his back and breast and
giving it a new impetus with each arm. The trident had on it two
cymbal-shaped iron plates which kept up a constant rattling.
This showman had with him three boy acrobats whose skill he
proceeded to show.
"Pitch the balls," he said.
The largest of the three boys fastened a cushioned band, on which
was a leather cup, around his head, the cup being on his forehead
just between his eyes.
He took two wooden balls, two and a half inches in diameter,
tossed them in the air twenty feet high, catching them in the cup
as they came down. The shape of the cup was such as to hold the
balls by suction when they fell. He never once missed. This is
the most dangerous looking of all the tricks I have seen jugglers
"Shooting stars," said the showman.
The boy tossed aside his cup and balls and took a string six feet
long, on the two ends of which were fastened wooden balls two
and a half inches in diameter. He set the balls whirling in
opposite directions until they moved so rapidly as to stretch the
string, which he then held in the middle with finger and thumb
and by a simple motion of the hand kept the balls whirling.
He was an expert, and changed the swinging of the balls
in as many different ways as an expert club-swinger could
his clubs.
"Boy acrobats," called out the manager, as the manipulator of the
"shooting stars" bowed himself out amid the applause of the
The two smaller boys threw off their coats, hitched up
their trousers--always a part of the performance whether
necessary or not--and began the high kick, high jump,
handspring, somersault, wagon wheel, ending with handspring,
and bending backwards until their heads touched
the ground.
One of them stood on two benches a foot high, put a
handkerchief on the ground, and bending backwards, picked
it up with his teeth.
The two boys then clasped each other around the waist,
as in the illustration, and each threw the other back over his
head a dozen times or more.
Exit the bear show with the boy acrobats, enter the old
woman juggler with her husband who beats the gong.
This was one of the most interesting performances I have
ever seen in China, perhaps because so unexpected.
The old woman had small, bound feet. She lay flat on her
back, stuck up her feet, and her husband put a crock a foot
in diameter and a foot and a half deep upon them. She set
it rolling on her feet until it whirled like a cylinder. She
tossed it up in such a way as to have it light bottom side up
on her "lillies,"[1] in which position she kept it whirling.
Tossing it once more it came down on the side, and again
tossing it she caught it right side up on her small feet,
keeping it whirling all the time.
[1] Small feet of the Chinese woman.
My surprise was so great that I gave the old woman ten
cents for performing this single trick.
The tricks of sleight-of-hand performers are well-nigh
without number. Some of them are easily understood,--surprising,
however, to children--and often interesting to grown people,
while others are very clever and not so easily understood.
Instead of the hat from which innumerable small packages
are taken, the Chinese magician had two hollow cylinders,
which exactly fit into each other, that he took out of a box
and placed upon a cylindrical chest, and from these two
cylinders--each of which he repeatedly showed us as being
without top or bottom and empty--he took a dinner of
a dozen courses.
He called upon the baker to bring bread, the grocer to
bring vegetables, and after each call he took out of the
cylinders the thing called for. He finally called the wine
shop to bring wine, and removing both cylinders, he
exposed to the surprised children a large crock of wine.
As he brought out dish after dish, the children looked in
open-mouthed wonder, and asked papa, mama or nurse,
where he got them all, for they evidently were not in the
cylinders. But papa saw him all the time manipulating the
crock in the cylinder which he did not show, and he knew
that all these things were taken from and then returned to
this crock, while instead of being full of wine, he had only
a cup of wine in a false lid which exactly fitted the mouth
of the crock, and made it seem full.
When he had put away his crock and cylinders, he produced what
seemed to be two empty cups.
He presented them to us to show that they were empty,
then putting them mouth to mouth, and placing them on
the ground, he left them a moment, when with a "presto
change," and a wave of the hand, he removed the top cup
and revealed to the astonished children and some of the
children of a larger growth, a cup full of water with two or
three little fish or frogs therein.
On inquiry I was told that he had the under cup covered
with a thin film of water-colored material, and that as he
removed the top cup he removed also the film which left the
fish or frogs exposed to view.
This same juggler performed many tricks of producing
great dishes of water from under his garments, the mere
enumeration of which, might prove to be tiresome.
I was walking along the street one day near the mouth of
Filial Piety Lane where a large company of men and children
were watching a juggler, and from the trick I thought it worth
while to invite him in for the amusement of the children. He
promised to come about four o clock, which he did.
He first proceeded to eat a hat full of yellow paper, after
which, with a gag and a little puff, he pulled from his mouth
a tube of paper of the same color five or six yards long.
This was very skillfully performed and for a long time I
was not able to understand how he did it. But after awhile
I discovered that with the last mouthful of paper he put in a
small roll, the centre of which he started by puffing, and
this he pulled out in a long tube. He did it with so many
groanings and with such pain in the region of the stomach,
that attention was directed either to his stomach or the roll,
and taken away from his mouth.
"I shall eat these needles," said he, as he held up half a
dozen needles, "and then eat this thread, after which I shall
reproduce them."
He did so. He grated his teeth together causing a sound
much like that of breaking needles. He pretended to swallow
them, working his tongue back and forth in his tightly
closed mouth, after which he drew forth the thread on
which all the needles were strung.
He had a number of small white bone needles which he
stuck into his nose and pulled out of his eyes, or which he
pushed up under his upper lip and took out of his eyes or
vice versa. How he performed the above trick I was not
able to discover. He seemed to put them through the tear
duct, but whether he did or not I cannot say. How he got
them from his mouth to his eyes unless he had punctured a
passage beneath the skin, is still to me a mystery.
His last trick was to swallow a sword fifteen inches long.
The sword was straight with a round point and dull edges.
There was no deception about this. He was an old man
and his front, upper teeth were badly worn away by the
constant rasping of the not over-smooth sword. He simply
put it in his mouth, threw back his head and stuck it down
his throat to his stomach.
One hot summer afternoon as I lay in the hammock trying
to take a nap after a hard forenoon's work and a hearty
lunch, I heard the same old nurse who had told me my first
Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes, telling the following story
to the same little boy to whom she had repeated the "Mouse
and the Candlestick."
She told him that the Chinese call the Milky Way the
Heavenly River, and that the Spinning Girl referred to in the
story is none other than the beautiful big star in Lyra which
we call Vega, while the Cow-herd is Altair in Aquila.
Once upon a time there dwelt a beautiful maiden in a
quiet little village on the shore of the Heavenly River.
Her name was Vega, but the people of China have always
called her the Spinning Maiden, because of her faithfulness
to her work, for though days, and months, and years passed
away, she never left her loom.
Her diligence so moved the heart of her grandfather, the
King of Heaven, that he determined to give her a vacation,
which she at once decided to spend upon the earth.
In a village near where the maiden dwelt there was a
young man named Altair, whom the Chinese call the Cow-herd.
Now the Cow-herd was in love with the Spinning Girl, but
she was always so intent upon her work as never to give
him an opportunity to confess his affection, but now he
determined to follow her to earth, and, if possible, win her for
his bride.
He followed her through the green fields and shady
groves, but never dared approach her or tell her of his love.
At last, however, the time came. He discovered her
bathing in a limpid stream, the banks of which were
carpeted with flowers, while myriad boughs of blossoming
peach and cherry trees hid her from all the world but him.
He secretly crept near and stole away and hid her garments made
of silken gauze and finely woven linen, making
it alike impossible for her to resist his suit or to return to
her celestial home.
She yielded to the Cow-herd and soon became his wife,
and as the years passed by a boy and girl were born to them,
little star children, twins, such as are seen near by the
Spinning Girl in her heavenly home to-day.
One day she went to her husband, and, bowing low, requested that
he return the clothes he had hid away, and he, thinking the
presence of the children a sufficient guaranty for her remaining
in his home, told her he had put them in an old, dry well hard by
the place where she had been bathing.
No sooner had she secured them than the aspect of their
home was changed. The Cow-herd's wife once more became
the Spinning Girl and hied her to her heavenly abode.
It so happened that her husband had a piece of cow-skin which
gave him power over earth and air. Snatching up this, with his
ox-goad, he followed in the footsteps of his fleeing wife.
Arriving at their heavenly home the happy couple sought
the joys of married life. The Spinning Girl gave up her loom,
and the Cow-herd his cattle, until their negligence annoyed
the King of Heaven, and he repented having let her leave
her loom. He called upon the Western Royal Mother for
advice. After consultation they decided that the two should
be separated. The Queen, with a single stroke of her great
silver hairpin, drew a line across the heavens, and from
that time the Heavenly River has flowed between them, and
they are destined to dwell forever on the two sides of the
Milky Way.
What had seemed to the youthful pair the promise of
perpetual joy, became a condition of unending grief. They
were on the two sides of a bridgeless river, in plain sight of
each other, but forever debarred from hearing the voice or
pressing the land of the one beloved, doomed to perpetual
toil unlit by any ray of joy or hope.
Their evident affection and unhappy condition moved the
heart of His Majesty, and caused him to allow them to visit
each other once with each revolving year,--on the seventh
day of the seventh moon. But permission was not enough,
for as they looked upon the foaming waters of the turbulent
stream, they could but weep for their wretched condition,
for no bridge united its two banks, nor was it allowed that
any structure be built which would mar the contour of the
shining dome.
In their helplessness the magpies came to their rescue. At
early morn on the seventh day of the seventh moon, these
beautiful birds gathered in great flocks about the home of
the maiden, and hovering wing to wing above the river,
made a bridge across which her dainty feet might carry her
in safety. But when the time for separation came, the two
wept bitterly, and their tears falling in copious showers are
the cause of the heavy rains which fall at that season of the
From time immemorial it has been known that the Yellow
River is neither more nor less than a prolongation of the
Milky Way, soiled by earthly contact and contamination, and
that the homes of the Spinning Maiden and the Cow-herd
are the centres of two of the numerous villages that adorn its
banks. It is not to be wondered at, however, that in an evil and
skeptical world there should be many who doubt these facts.
On this account, and to forever settle the dispute, the
great traveller and explorer, Chang Ch'ien, undertook to
discover the source of the Yellow River. He first transformed
the trunk of a great tree into a boat, provided himself with the
necessities of life and started on his journey.
Days passed into weeks, and weeks became months as he sailed up
the murky waters of the turbid stream. But the farther he went
the clearer the waters became until it seemed as if they were
flowing over a bed of pure, white limestone. Village after
village was passed both on his right hand and on his left, and
many were the strange sights that met his gaze. The fields became
more verdant, the flowers more beautiful, the scenery more
gorgeous, and the people more like nymphs and fairies. The color
of the clouds and the atmosphere was of a richer, softer hue;
while the breezes which wafted his frail bark were milder and
gentler than any he had known before.
Despairing at last of reaching the source he stopped at a
village where he saw a maiden spinning and a young man
leading an ox to drink. He alighted from his boat and inquired of
the girl the name of the place, but she, without making reply,
tossed him her shuttle, telling him to return to his home and
inquire of the astrologer, who would inform him where he received
it, if he but told him when.
He returned and presented the shuttle to the noted
astrologer Chun Ping, informing him at the same time where,
when and from whom he had received it. The latter consulted
his observations and calculations and discovered that
on the day and hour when the shuttle had been given to
the traveller he had observed a wandering star enter and
leave the villages of the Spinning Girl and the Cow-herd,
which proved beyond doubt that the Yellow River is the
prolongation of the Milky Way, while the points of light
which we call stars, are the inhabitants of Heaven pursuing
callings similar to our own.
Chang Ch'ien made another important discovery, namely,
that the celestials, understanding the seasons better than
we, turn the shining dome in such a way as to make the
Heavenly River indicate the seasons of the year, and so the
children sing:
Whene'er the Milky Way you spy,
Diagonal across the sky,
The egg-plant you may safely eat,
And all your friends to melons treat.
But when divided towards the west,
You'll need your trousers and your vest
When like a horn you see it float;
You'll need your trousers and your coat.
It is unnecessary to state that I did not go to sleep while
the old nurse was telling the story of the Heavenly River.
The child sat on his little stool, his elbows on his knees
and his chin resting in his hands, listening with open lips
and eyes sparkling with interest. To the old nurse it was
real. The spinning girl and the cow-herd were living
persons. The flowers bloomed,--we could almost smell their
odor,--and the gentle breezes seemed to fan our cheeks.
She had told the story so often that she believed it, and she
imparted to us her own interest.
"Nurse," said the child, "tell me about
"The man in the moon," said the old nurse, "is called
Wu Kang. He was skilled in all the arts of the genii, and
was accustomed to play before them whenever opportunity
offered or occasion required.
"Once it turned out that his performances were displeasing
to the spirits, and for this offense he was banished
to the moon, and condemned to perpetual toil in hewing
down the cinnamon trees which grow there in great abundance.
At every blow of the axe he made an incision, but
only to see it close up when the axe was withdrawn.
"He had another duty, however, a duty which was at
times irksome, but one which on the whole was more
pleasant than any that falls to men or spirits,--the duty
indicated by the proverb that 'matches are made in the
"It was his lot to bind together the feet of all those on
earth who are destined to a betrothal, and in the performance
of this duty, he was often compelled to return to
earth. When doing so he came as an old man with long
white hair and beard, with a book in his hand in which he
had written the matrimonial alliances of all mankind. He
also carried a wallet which contains a ball of invisible cord
with which he ties together the feet of all those who are
destined to be man and wife, and the destinies which he
announces it is impossible to avoid.
"On one occasion he came to the town of Sung, and
while sitting in the moonlight, turning over the leaves of
his book of destinies, he was asked by Wei Ku, who
happened to be passing, who was destined to become his
bride. The old man consulted his records, as he answered:
'Your wife is the daughter of an old woman named Ch'en
who sells vegetables in yonder shop.'
"Having heard this, Wei Ku went the next day to look
about him and if possible to get a glimpse of the one to
whom the old man referred, but he discovered that the
only child the old woman had was an ill-favored one of
two years which she carried in her arms. He hired an
assassin to murder the infant, but the blow was badly
aimed and left only a scar on the child's eyebrow.
"Fourteen years afterwards, Wei Ku married a beautiful
maiden of sixteen whose only defect was a scar above the
eye, and on inquiries he discovered that she was the one
foretold by the Old Man of the Moon, and he recalled the
proverb that 'Matches are made in heaven, and the bond of
fate is sealed in the moon.' "
"Nurse, tell me about the land of the big people,"
whereupon the nurse told him of
"There was in ancient times a country east of Korea which
was called the land of the giants. It was celebrated for its
length rather than for its width, being bounded on all sides
by great mountain ranges, the like of which cannot be found
in other countries. It extends for thousands of miles along
the deep passes between the mountains, at the entrance to
which there are great iron gates, easily closed, but very
difficult to open.
"Many armies have made war upon the giants, among
which none have been more celebrated than those of Korea,
which embraces in its standing army alone many thousands
of men, but thus far they have never been conquered.
"Nor is this to be wondered at, for besides their great iron
gates, and numerous fortifications, the men are thirty feet
tall according to our measurement, have teeth like a saw,
hooked claws, and bodies covered with long black hair.
"They live upon the flesh of fowls and wild beasts which
are found in abundance in the mountain fastnesses, but they
do not cook their food. They are very fond of human
flesh, but they confine themselves to the flesh of enemies
slain in battle, and do not eat the flesh of their own people,
even though they be hostile, as this is contrary to the law
of the land.
"Their women are as large and fierce as the men, but their
duties are confined to the preparation of extra clothing for
winter wear, for although they are covered with hair it is
insufficient to protect them from the winter's cold."
While the old nurse was relating the tale of the giants I
could not but wonder whether there was not some relation
between that and the Brobdingnagians I had read about in
my youth. But I was not given much time to think. This
seemed to have been a story day, for the nurse had hardly
finished the tale till the child said:
"Now tell me about the country of the little people," and she
related the story of
"The country of the little people is in the west, where
the sun goes down.
"Once upon a time a company of Persian merchants were
making a journey, when by a strange mishap they lost their
way and came to the land of the little people. They were
at first surprised, and then delighted, for they discovered
that the country was not only densely populated with these
little people, who were not more than three feet high, but
that it was rich in all kinds of precious stones and rare and
valuable materials.
"They discovered also that during the season of planting
and harvesting, they were in constant terror lest the great
multitude of cranes, which are without number in that
region, should swoop down upon them and eat both them
and their crops. They soon learned, however, that the little
people were under the protecting care of the Roman Empire,
whose interest in them was great, and her arm mighty, and
they were thus guarded from all evil influences as well as
from all danger. Nor was this a wholly unselfish interest
on the part of the Roman power, for the little people
repaid her with rich presents of the most costly gems,--
pearls, diamonds, rubies and other precious stones."
I need not say I was beginning to be surprised at the
number of tales the old woman told which corresponded
to those I had been accustomed to read and hear in my
childhood, nor was my surprise lessened when at his request
she told him how
"Once upon a time Lu Yang-kung was engaged in battle with Han
Kou-nan, and they continued fighting until nearly sundown. The
former was getting the better of the battle, but feared he would
lose it unless they fought to a finish before the close of day.
The sun was near the horizon, and the battle was not yet ended,
and the former, pointing his lance at the King of Day caused him
to move backward ten miles in his course."
"When did that happen?" inquired the child.
"The Chinese say it happened about three thousand years ago,"
replied the old nurse.
"Now tell me about the man who went to the fire star."
The old woman hesitated a moment as though she was trying to
recall something and then told him the story of
"Once upon a time there was a great rebel whose name
was Ch'ih Yu. He was the first great rebel that ever lived
in China. He did not want to obey the chief ruler, and
invented for himself warlike weapons, thinking that in this
way he might overthrow the government and place himself
upon the throne.
"He had eighty-one brothers, of whom he was the leader. They had
human speech, but bodies of beasts, foreheads of iron, and fed
upon the dust of the earth.
"When the time for the battle came, he called upon the
Chief of the Wind and the Master of the Rain to assist him,
and there arose a great tempest. But the Chief sent the
Daughter of Heaven to quell the storm, and then seized and
slew the rebel. His spirit ascended to the Fire-Star (Mars)
--the embodiment of which he was while upon earth,--
where it resides and influences the conduct of warfare even
to the present time."
"Tell me the story of the man who went to the mountain
to gather fire-wood and did not come home for such a
long time."
The old nurse began a story which as it progressed
reminded me of
"A long time ago there lived a man named Wang Chih,
which in our language means 'the stuff of which kings
are made.' In spite of his name, however, he was only a
common husbandman, spending his summers in plowing,
planting and harvesting, and his winters in gathering
fertilizers upon the highways, and fire-wood in the mountains.
"On one occasion he wandered into the mountains of
Ch'u Chou, his axe upon his shoulder, hoping to find more
and better fire-wood than could be found upon his own
scanty acres, or the adjoining plain. While in the
mountains he came upon a number of aged men, in a beautiful
mountain grotto, intently engaged in a game of chess.
Wang was a good chess-player himself, and for the time
forgot his errand. He laid down his axe, stood silently
watching them, and in a very few moments was deeply
interested in the game.
"It was while he was thus watching them that one of
the old men, without looking up from the game, gave him
what seemed to be a date seed, telling him at the same time
to put it in his mouth. He did so, but no sooner had he
tasted it, than he lost all consciousness of hunger and thirst,
and continued to stand watching the players and the progress
of the game, thinking nothing of the flight of time.
"At last one of the old men said to him:
" 'You have been here a long time, ought you not to go home?'
"This aroused him from his reverie, and he seemed to
awake as from a dream, his interest in the game passed
away, and he attempted to pick up his axe, but found that
it was covered with rust and the handle had moulded away.
But while this called his attention to the fact that time had
passed, he felt not the burden of years.
"When he returned to the plain, and to what had formerly been his
home, he discovered that not only years but centuries had passed
away since he had left for the mountains, and that his relatives
and friends had all crossed to the 'Yellow Springs,' while all
records of his departure had long since been forgotten, and he
alone remained a relic of the past.
"He wandered up and down inquiring of the oldest people of all
the villages, but could discover no link which bound him to the
"He returned to the mountain grotto, devoted himself to
the study of the occult principles of the 'Old Philosopher'
until the material elements of his mortal frame were gradually
evaporated or sublimated, and without having passed
through the change which men call death, he became an
immortal spirit returning whence he came."
Just as the old woman finished this story, my teacher,
who always took a nap after lunch, ascended the steps.
"Ah, the story of Wang Chih."
"Do you know any of these stories?" I asked him as I sat down
beside him.
"All children learn these stories in their youth," he
answered, and then as if fearing I would try to induce him to
tell them to me he continued, "but nurses always tell these
stories better than any one else, because they tell them so
often to the children, for whom alone they were made."

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