Canton, 25 July 1893

Passing through many corridors and halls, we arrived at the courtroom of the courthouse. Here the judge sat, surrounded by the members of the tribunal, at a table in front of which the defendant was kneeling in order to be interrogated. He had to remain in this position to show respect to the court. Smoking and drinking tea, the judge chaired the process and started the interrogation for which he used an interpreter. The principle that public officials of certain categories should not serve in their home province but in another province in connection with the circumstance that the Chinese language is divided into an important number of different dialects  leads to the consequence that the public officials often can not understand directly the population of the district they are assigned to.

The defendant was accused of having stolen a cow and always proclaimed his innocence when answering the insisting questions of the judge, even though he was an individual with a long criminal record. This fact was proved by the welts covering his back. When the judge realized that his words would not produce an admission of guilt, he waved at one of the henchmen, a fat soldier with a hard face whose physiognomy stood in stark contrast to his tiny shepherd’s hat made out of straw, and had the defendant be struck hard with a split cane on his naked back. The unfortunate started to cry and lament. Then the judge repeated his question whether he would admit the theft. As the defendant again lied, the procedure was repeated. This continued like this as long as we stayed in the room.

Chinese law does not actually allow torture to produce confessions, which however — laws here too are but dead letters — does not impede the use of torture in the most extended and cruel way to get to confessions which a Chinese judge considers to be the Regina probationis. The men of the law thus are not only very harsh but also notable for their arbitrariness and venality so that the conviction of a wealthy man is one of the greatest rarities.

While the first judge was still tormenting the defendant regarding the theft of the cow, another, very corpulent disciple of Themis was confronted with a policeman accused of not having prevented a theft. The defendant was an old, fragile man whose body was covered in wounds from prior examinations and incurred punishments so that one felt pity with the miserable man even though his deceptive insolent face gave off a criminal air. The process was over quickly and ended summarily. The fat judge asked the defendant a few curt questions which he answered with the front of his face touching the ground by insisting on his innocence and accusing the judge of injustice. This made the judge especially angry who without replying dictated 100 strokes with the cane that were promptly executed. The unfortunate man wailed and cried horribly while two men held him and two more alternated in applying the strokes. Moaning after the end of the torture, he turned to the judge and insisted on his innocence which made the judge, laughing cynically, award a further 100 strokes. After this horrible treatment the unfortunate man, covered with blood, collapsed and then was led out, swaying and supported by police soldiers. The stamina of the old man whose organism had to tolerate this horrible torture caused great astonishment.

On the wall of the courtroom hung, besides canes, other instruments of torture, especially one called Kia-dsy, a square board to be applied around the neck and a spoon-like shoe leather with which only women are hit on the mouth. Two to three strikes are sufficient to make the mouth swell so that the tortured woman may neither eat nor talk for days. We had seen enough examples of Chinese justice and the horrors seen here and left this place that scorned humanity.

Shopping is in Canton even is even less easy than elsewhere. After we had passed through a labyrinth of alleys and lanes and found the desired shop, the bargaining with the sellers took considerable time as the asked prices started at an exorbitant level. Curiosity was also intruding. As soon as we had entered a shop, a crowd assembled in front of it, entered too and could not be sent away. At first I turned to those shops that sold objects that are known as Chinoiserie at home and bought a large number of beautiful objects made out of wood as well as bronze and formally plundered a porcelain shop nearby so that my catch filled 14 large boxes. I was quite surprised at the relatively low prices we managed to complete our deals but we had Clam as our companion who was very skilled in bargaining. From here we turned to ivory carvings and brass casters who create beautiful temple vessels. Then it was the turn of the painters and decorators and I passed through all the shops that had objects which interested me until I had assembled almost the complete collection I desired.

A special mention is deserved for the wealth of fantasy and humor as well as the masterful skill that the Chinese apply in carving ivory and wood for the depiction of all kind of grotesques and monsters.

Repeatedly I had the chance to witness the primitive way how the objects were produced manually without the assistance of any machines. Everything here is produced by manual labor as the Chinese create today like they might have produced it centuries or even millennia ago. Labor, however, is available in abundance. This reason as well as the enormous frugality of the Chinese is why it is so cheap.

One only has to turn from one shop to the next as in each one there are original things to be found that increases the shopping lust. The number of shops in Canton’s streets is truly astonishing. Even in the most narrow lanes that follow one upon the next there are shops upon shops. Each one is filled with goods, clean and neatly decorated. The Chinese are very good at keeping their shops clean and giving them a tasteful exterior appearance and group the goods in an inviting manner.

As far as cleanliness is concerned, there is a stark contrast among the sons of the Heavenly Kingdom. As far as their external appearance, their rooms and shops are concerned, the Chinese are very dedicated to cleanliness, while we have otherwise been exposed to a state of neglect and fixed dirt at a level that we found disgusting. These clashing contrasts are found all too often during our journeys in Canton’s streets.

The artisans of the same trade or merchants offering the same articles often are found close together and open their shops next to each other without fearing their mutual competition. Thus I came to a long lane in which only fan makers were visible. Another only had shoemakers in it. A third one saw only the sale of fireworks etc.  As the house altars in Canton play an important role, it occupies the population of a full city district to produce gods, paint and decorate it with glittering ornaments and all the stuff required for equipping an altar. Also the fantastically formed things such as fixtures, flags, lanterns etc. are made here and are carried through the streets during festive processions with loud music.

Among the shops the food stores are represented in great numbers. The documentation of all that is offered and that is eaten by the Chinese could be the object of an interesting special study that offers here even more opportunity of observation than in Hongkong. All the ingredients that we were served on the flower boat could be observed in natura besides many other things such as rats that made a really despicable impression or such things whose origin was completely alien and did not always look inviting. The Chinese are not close-minded in the choice of what they eat. He is an omnivore in the word’s most audacious interpretation.

Favorite dishes seem to be pigs and ducks. We could observe them  appetizingly grilled brown hang everywhere in shops and kitchens. Fish too play a role in Chinese cooking as they are often offered and namely still alive, swimming in a small container filled with fresh water. I was happy to find here numerous brothers of our common carp but have to insist pour l’honneur du drapeau that our carps are bigger and better nourished than the slim Chinese ones.

Unfortunately the sense of smell is continuously deeply offended in the streets of Canton. Smells of the worst kind and of all sorts and undetectable origin waft through the air and unite into an all penetrating, all blanketing and sticking to everything, places, things and humans as an Odeur de Chine whose least quality is its loveliness. And still I would prefer this perfume to that of the burnt Hindus and sandalwood oil, a speciality of India.

Heavily laden we returned to Shamian to eat a silent dejeuner with Mrs. Drew and to visit a silk depot of a German company of which our consular agent in Hong Kong owns a part. The importance of silk production for China is not best exemplified by the fact that the origin of silk-weaving has become an object of myth and a goddess of the silkworm is said to be venerated but instead that silk is beside tea the first product among Chinese exports. Shanghai and then Canton are the main silk export places as the province Kiang-(Gjang-)su, whose most important place is Shanghai, and the province to the South of it, Tsche-kiang (Dsche-gjang) in its Northern parts and finally the province of Kwang-tung supply the largest quantities of best quality silk. In the latter province it is namely the surrounding of Canton, actually the area of the estuary from the West of Canton up to Macao which produces valuable silk in important quantities.

Not only the raw products of these regions but also the finished goods have a good reputation. Most famous in the whole of China are the silk manufacture of Su-tschöu in the province of Kiang-su, so that the Imperial Court orders its supplies only from Su-tschöu. In Canton too, Schan-tschün-(dschoein-) Street there are renowned silk manufactures. In the depot I visited the silk is formed into braids and packages into bales, each of which has a considerable value, and then sent on their way mostly to France and Switzerland. I admit that despite my interest for silk production that also plays a role even if a very limited one at home and which has seen many efforts to improve it during the recent years, I accepted a glass of quite well cooled champaign not with minor satisfaction as this provided an agreeable if temporary refreshment given the oppressive heat.

During a rainstorm we crossed the river to the island of Ho-nan in order to observe a tea depot. China is the cradle of tea culture and still is dominant in its production even though for some time the Chinese products are in notable competition with those from other territories, especially those out of India, Ceylon and Japan. But still today the taste of fine Chinese tea is by far considered superior to the products of the other countries. A point in favor of the products of India, Ceylon and Japan is that these countries are able to produce cheaper in part because tea is taxed with all kinds of fees in China that do not exist elsewhere or not to the same extent. Furthermore there is a belief that the sinking prices in China had made them lower the quality of their product while the quality of the products from other regions has been increasing due to careful handling.  In fact the export of tea from the treaty ports out of China has seen a certain stagnation.

Black and green tea do not differ, as is often assumed, in their provenience from different plants but in the way they are treated. The great waste of tea power that is created during the manipulation of the tea leaves led to production of tea in brick form that can be packaged and shipped easily and finds its way on land mostly to Russia. This is also known at home as caravan tea transported in part by camels that is falsely counted among the best qualities. The regions of China best suited for the production of tea are the provinces of Kiang-su, Tsche-kiang, Fu-kien, Ngan-hwei and Kwang-tung where tea is produced mostly on slopes but not in plantations but from individual bushes between fields or in clusters of bushes close together like an aerie.

The Chinese had also developed a legendary origin for this plant. But I have learned nothing about the existence of a tea god or goddess.

We then saw two other productions done at grand scale, namely the production of brushes made out of pig bristles by very tender young girls and weaving straw mats. The latter one was of special interest not only due to its size but also due to its art-industrial character. Mats in the form of rugs and carpets in the most tasteful color combinations and the most delightful designs are woven with straw and really astonish the buyer by the low level of the prices asked. We all gave large orders to create some surprises at home.

In a artistic plant nursery at a smaller arm of the Pearl river all kinds of flowers are grown in large volume and in splendid exemplars, a highly desired object in Canton. A speciality of that establishment was growing trees and bushes in strangely turned, twisted or crippled forms. en. These products that might be said to be the output of the late rococo style are used to decorate gardens and demonstrate the strange Chinese taste for the grotesque that is still not bereft of humor. We saw here in relatively small pots rather strongly developed trees that are continuously cut and bound into the most adventurous forms such as dragons, lions and even human forms. A whole row of trees that formed human bodies had heads, hands and feet made out of porcelain which gave them a very comic appearance. The paths of this garden establishments were laid out with mirror-like, glazed tiles which caused some falls among my companions.

The wife of our consul general Haas also participated in the dinner of Mr. Drew. She had accompanied her husband from Shanghai to here. A firework burned in the garden lasted for two hours and included the following numbers:

1. A feast at His Majesty the Emperor; 2. the giant plum blossom; 3. the golden duck in the middle of the lily pond; 4. out of the unicorn’s mouth jumps a piece of jade, indicating the birth of the holy man of China; 5. a pagoda with the names of famous scholars; 6. the rising moon; 7. a torchlight procession; 8. illumination on the Emperor’s birthday; 9. a carp jumps over the dragon gate, a sign of the highest success; 10. a large feu de joie; 11. five phoenix in view of the sun, a sign of forthcoming good fortune; 12. Fung-wu (Hong-u), the founder of the imperial Ming dynasty as cowherd.

Despite all these grandiloquent and sometimes funny names, one act looked exactly like the next one. Originally was only the fireworks that rose up into the sky after ignition and produced full sheaves of beautifully colored lampions that were illuminated from within and were visible from afar. The pride of these Chinese Stuwer was a numero where the leaves of a pyrotechnic tree glittered first blue and then red with great cracking sounds.

Links

  • Location: Canton
  • ANNO – on 25.07.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is closed for summer until 15 September. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing a ballet „Excelsior“.

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