« ZurückWeiter »
TRAVELLING BY WATER,
There is, in short, a business-like character about the Chinese which assimilates them in a striking manner to the most intelligent nations of the west, and certainly marks them out, in very prominent relief, from the rest of Asiatics. However oddly it may sound, it does not seem too much to say, that in every thing which enters into the composition of actively industrious and well-organized communities, there is vastly less difference between them and the English, French, and Americans than between these and the inhabitants of Spain and Portugal, whose proneness to stolid bigotry and Oriental laziness were perhaps in part imbibed from the Arabs. Through the influence of climate and other causes, these seem still retained in a surprising degree, though they must be expected to give way to the example of more enlightened nations. Whenever the effects of our scientific machinery in abridging labour are explained to an intelligent Chinese, the first idea that strikes him is the disastrous effect that such a system would work upon his over-peopled country, if suddenly introduced into it, and he never fails to deprecate such an innovation as the most calamitous of visitations. We shall see hereafter that they have some ingenious contrivances by which to avail themselves of the natural moving powers presented by wind, water, and the force of gravity, and that they have contrived to appropriate in practice most of the mechanical powers with surprising simplicity and effect; but of the strength that slumbers in the giant arm of steam they are at once theoretically and practically ignorant, although they both understand and apply, in their commonest cookery, the heat of steam under confinement to dress vegetables.
The canal and the Yellow river are a perpetual source of anxiety and expense to the Government, to keep their banks in repair, and prevent those inun
dations to which the country in their neighbourhood is constantly liable. The use of steam-vessels is therefore utterly precluded by the peculiar character and circumstance of one of the principal streams of China, as well as of the grand canal. But it was impossible to travel, with the embassy in 1816, along that noble river the Yang-tsekiang, which divides as nearly as possible the empire into two equal parts, and flows through its finest climates, without wishing for steam-boats; more especially while suffering under the delay that arose from sailing up against that mighty stream, which runs with a prevailing ebb towards the sea. It is indeed for such rivers as the Mississippi and the Keang that steamers are most peculiarly fitted, and nothing can be less like steamers than the progress of the Chinese travelling boats. Those very points of shape and construction, from which they derive their commodiousness and safety, render them extremely slow under the most favourable circumstances, and, with the exception of their smuggling boats, the Chinese may be said to be anything but economists of time on the water.
The following extract from an unpublished journal of the last embassy exactly describes the singular process of passing the sluices, which are substituted on the grand canal for locks. The advantage of the latter mode (which seems unknown to the Chinese), is the vessel being raised or lowered to a different level, by the gradual rise or fall of the water in which it floats, by which means the dangers of a sluice are completely obviated*. • It was announced that some of our boats were come up for the purpose of passing through the sluice, upon which the ambassador proposed to the legate that we should walk up to the pier-head, to see the manner in which this was effected. The legate said he would accompany us
* Journal of Sir George Staunton.
PASSING A SLUICE ON THE CANAL,
with pleasure, being himself curious to see the boats pass; and we all accordingly stood upon the pierhead, while the four headmost boats (of sixty or seventy tons' burthen) were shot through the sluice. By means of the precautions adopted, and which consisted partly in hanging against the sides of the pier large fenders, or cushions, of rope to deaden any accidental concussion, the boats passed through with perfect safety. The fall was somewhat greater than that of the Thames under the arches of old LondonBridge, but still the hazard and difficulty seems to have been a good deal magnified. The stone abutments were constructed chiefly of large blocks of grey marble or lime-stone, with a few blocks of granite intermixed. After the boats had passed, we returned with the legate to the pavilion for a few minutes, and then rose to rejoin our sedans, and return in them to our boats.
“ At half-past twelve we passed through a second sluice similar to the first, without taking the trouble to quit our boats. We then brought to for some time, and did not pass through the third sluice until about four. The fall here was fully as great, and the torrent as rapid, as in the first sluice; but we all declined the legate's second invitation to land while the boats were passing through. The passage was effected by the whole of our squadron without loss or accident. The boats of smaller dimensions steered directly for the sluice, and shot through the opening at once; but our common dinner-boat, and those of the ambassador and commissioners, were obliged to be warped along the bank up to the pier-head gradually. In both modes any failure or mistake from bad steerage or ropes giving way might have been attended with serious consequences; for if any of the smaller boats had struck on the pier-head, or if any of the larger ones had "wung round and presented
their broadsides to the sluice, they would in both cases have run considerable hazard of being stove in and wrecked, and some of the persons in them might have been drowned in the confusion. The large boat in which I was, had been warped up to a proper position, and was on the point of being loosened from the ropes in order to shoot through the aperture, when a succession of small boats unexpectedly came up, and possessed themselves of the passage, compelling us to hold on against the stream for about a quarter of an hour, in a situation that was awkward, if not hazardous.”
It is curious to find this description of the passage on the canal so exactly agreeing with that of an Arabian traveller not much less than six hundred years ago, soon after that artificial route by water was constructed under the Mongol conquerors of China. The difference of level is commonly from five to six feet at the sluices, but in passing by the town of Hoay-gân, near the embouchure of the Yellow river, the boats sailed at an elevation of between fifteen and twenty feet above the level of the city, and the travellers looked down upon the roofs of the houses, which any accident to the bank of the canal must inevitably have consigned to destruction. The existence of such a work in China, at a time when Europe was involved in comparative barbarism, affords curious subject for reflection.
External Walls of Peking-Interior Aspect of Tartarian City-Circuit of
the Imperial Wall-Southern or Chinese City-Difficulty of Feeding the Population - Dangers of the Emperor-Gardens of Yuen-ming-yuen -Occurrence there in the last Embassy.-Expenses of the Court Tartars and Chinese Police of Peking-Efficiency of Chinese Police Case of a French Crew murdered--Punishment of the Pirates.
The most striking feature of all the principal cities of China consists in the high castellated walls of blue brick by which they are surrounded, and of which the wall of Peking may be considered as a specimen, with some considerable difference, of course, in respect to its superior height and thickness. Like the ancient rampart of the empire, this consists of a mound of earth or rubbish incased with brick. The height is about thirty feet, the thin parapet being deeply embattled, with intermediate loopholes, but bearing no resemblance to regular embrasures for artillery. Indeed cannon are not often seen mounted on the walls, although there are generally some lying about near the gates. The thickness of the wall at the base is nearly twenty feet, diminishing, by the inclination of the inner surface, to twelve or more at the summit. The height and weight of this wall, with its perpendicular external face, would only serve to facilitate the operations of battering-cannon, which, of course, would begin to breach from the base ; but the principal weapon, in the wars of the Chinese and Tartars, has always been the bow and arrow.