China, in a Series of Views. 1

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China, in a Series of Views. 1
China, in a series of views: displaying the scenery, architecture, and social habits, of that ancient empire
Thomas Allom (1804-1872)
London, Newgate Street: Fisher, Son, & Co.
Allom is the illustrator. The book was written by G.N. Wright
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“Alas! that Vice’s brand should stamp the stage—

Life’s picture, and resuscitated page!

There might our unschool’d crowds delighted stand,

Each acted lesson view, and understand.

Some read to learn; to listen some prefer;

To teach beholders rose the theatre.’ C. J. C.

“THERE is one city in the metropolitan province of Petche-le, that has a
greater trade, is much more populous, and richer than most others,
though it is not of the first order, and has no jurisdiction; it is
called Tien-tching-ouei; and since the map was made, it is placed in the
rank of tcheou, or cities of the second order. It is situated at the
place where the imperial canal which comes from Lin-tchin-tcheou joins
to the river of Peking. A great mandarin resides here, and is a
principal of the officers who preside over the salt-works along the
sea-coast of the provinces of Pe-tche-le and Chan-tong; all the vessels
which bring timber from East Tartary, after they have crossed the bay of
Leaou-tong, come to unload in this port, which is but twenty leagues
from Peking.”

Such is the pithy account of the Citta Celeste of Marco Polo left us by
the Jesuits, who surveyed every locality of the empire with a
penetration never exceeded by any European traveller; and, although
their topographical description is insufficient to satisfy modern
inquiry, it includes the principal points that then deserved attention
at this city, while the stationary condition of the Chinese people ever
since, renders it as applicable to-day as when it was originally

The conflux of the rivers Pei-ho and Eu-ho, the former opening a
communication with the capital, eighty miles distant, and with the sea,
fifty miles; the latter, by means of the imperial canal, with all the
southern provinces, conferred an early commercial importance upon
Tien-sin. There is a bar at the entrance of the river, and the depth of
water above the city is but imperfectly known to foreigners; so that
sailing-vessels, or ships of large burden, should not venture up without
a native pilot; but from their light draught, and facility of direct and
retrograde movements, steamers may navigate its whole course with
safety. His imperial majesty, Taou-kwang, (Reason’s Glory,) is probably
still ignorant of the bold enterprise, lately meditated against his
capital by the captain of a British man-of-war cruising off the mouth of
the Pei-ho—

“Had the Chinese turned restive,” writes Lord Jocelyn, “eight hours
would have taken the steamer and corvette, filled with seamen, marines,
and field-pieces, to the town of Tien-sin, at the head of the great
canal, the depot of all their northern trade and supplies. Their fleet
of junks being then burnt, an event which would have crippled their
means of sending reinforcements to the mouth of the river, and the town
being set on fire, nearly within sight of the imperial city, must have
caused a panic and distress that would have shaken the empire to its
very base. They seemed to be aware that this was feasible, and dreaded
it themselves.”

In the most busy and populous commercial towns, where labour appears
only to be suspended from an apprehension of exhausting the physical
powers of the labourer, the greatest variety of public shows and
entertainments, the largest number of coffee-houses, restaurateurs,
assembly-rooms, and theatres, are always found; a sufficient evidence
that in such localities they receive the largest share of patronage.
This remark applies with more than common appropriateness to Tien-sin,
which has long been celebrated as the chief place of trade in the
province, as well as for its everlasting scenes of recreation and

Many Europeans have visited this Chinese Liverpool; and the courtesies
which commercial intercourse engenders, have here procured for them a
more liberal reception, and a less restrained sojourn, than they must
have met with in other parts of China. Buildings, wharfs, manufactures,
warehouses, and dockyards, extend along the banks of the Pei-ho, for
upwards of two miles and a half; and the surface of the water, during
all that length, is so closely covered with junks, that a narrow
passage-way only is reserved by the river-police.

The multitudes that crowd the decks of this countless fleet, are not
devoted wholly to navigation; they include whole families, who lead a
sort of amphibious life—“every shore to them is foreign, and the earth
an element on which they venture but occasionally.” Twice have our
embassies passed and repassed this great emporium; and the description
of the spectacle which it presented on these occasions is calculated to
give a very imposing idea of Chinese enterprise, wealth, discipline, and
civilization. During one of these transits, the pageant was witnessed by
such a multitude as, even in China, was rarely seen. The decks of the
vessels were completely occupied, numbers stood in the shallow water
between them and the shore, while a dense and continuous crowd lined the
sloping banks from the houses to the water’s edge. The gradual descent
of the ground on each side gave the spectacle the appearance of some
vast amphitheatre. The enormous diameter of the umbrageous hat rendering
it a perfect nuisance, on an occasion where heads were jammed as closely
as if they were screwed together, the array of so many thousand bare
bald pates so situated, and exposed to the influence of a meridian sun,
when the thermometer stood at ninety, must have been truly astonishing.
Along the banks of the river, large bags of salt are generally piled up
in a conical form, and covered carefully with matting. During the
passing of the ambassadorial procession, these heaps of salt were also
tenanted, presenting the appearance of so many pyramids of heads.[1] In
all the ardour of curiosity which evidently existed on this public
demonstration, it was remarkable that no disturbance occurred; a sense
of mutual accommodation pervaded the multitudinous assembly, nor were
police or military permitted to appear, or mingle with the crowd.

It was while the state-barges lay moored before the viceroy’s palace,
that a temporary theatre was erected on the quay, with a fanciful
orchestra behind it, in which a dramatic entertainment, after the
national manner, was represented, for the gratification of the embassy.
The exterior of the building was decorated with a variety of brilliant
and lively colours, by the proper distribution, as well as contrast of
which, the Chinese are able to produce the most pleasing effects. The
front was left completely open towards the river, and the interior
adorned with the same elegance and success. The performance was
continued without interruption during a whole day, pantomime and
historic dramas taking alternate possession of the boards. Strict
attention was paid to costume, the actors being uniformly habited in the
ancient dresses of the age in which the personages represented were
supposed to have lived. A kind of recitative supplied the place of
dialogue, accompanied by a variety of musical instruments, in which the
gong, kettle-drum, and trumpet were conspicuous, each pause being filled
up by a loud crash, such as our “brass bands” sometimes introduce. Every
actor announced on his first entrance the part he was about to
perform,—where the scene was laid, and other explanatory circumstances;
but this precaution is only observed when the audience are foreigners,
or imperfectly acquainted with the language of China.

[1] A calculation was made by Mr. Barrow of the quantity of salt
contained in the pyramids of bags standing on the quays of Tien-sin when
he passed by them, and it was found to be sufficient for the consumption
of thirty millions of people for one whole year. A considerable revenue
is derived from the gabelle, or salt-duty, and the situation of
collector at this place is one of the most lucrative appointments in the
imperial gift.