The Indo-Chinese Gleaner

  • Info
  • Pages
  • Transcript
  • Related
The Indo-Chinese Gleaner
The Indo-Chinese Gleaner
William Milne (1785-1822)
Malacca: Mission Press
This is a journal, of which Milne is the editor. This is the first number, i.e. May, 1817.
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

2. Superstitions and Customs of the Chinese

(Continued from Vol. II. Page 360.)

“Those who run races in the dragon boat; or those who go to see plays on
the religious festivals of the Heathen—SIN.”[1]

The above festival[2] is observed during the fifth moon, in honor of
Keŭh-yuen, a virtuous statesman, who drowned himself during the Dynasty
Chow, (about 2300 years since,) to avoid the displeasure of his
sovereign. As soon as the people heard of his death, the boatmen flew in
every direction in search of his corpse. On this festival there is
offered to the dragon (the god of the rivers,) rice, &c. morning and
evening. The boats used, on this occasion, are very long, and some pull
from eight to one hundred oars. It is an holiday at the public offices;
and the festival is kept on all the rivers of the empire. After the
races, the boats (on account of their length) are buried in the mud,
where they remain till the following year. This festival is principally
kept up by the different public officers, who frequently stake
considerable sums of their boats.—The plays in China are mostly
performed on religious occasions, either in honor of their gods, or the
anniversary of their temples, as well as on their annual festivals.
Before they commence their plays, the musicians go to the temples, where
they play one or more tunes, when they bring away with them a small
altar, with incense burning, place it on the stage, which is a temporary
building of building of bamboo; where they again play a few tunes: this
is done to invoke their gods to be present during their plays. These
plays are generally performed in front of their temples. Once a year
plays are performed in the market, when, as before mentioned, they bring
their go is from the temples with music. This is highly esteemed by the
Chinese, as the gods are supposed to preside over the affairs of the
market, and to cause equity and justice in men’s dealings. After any
calamity, as fire, &c. it is usual for the people in the neighbourhood
to raise a sum for the performance of a set of plays, which is done as a
mark of gratitude for the late mercies they have experienced. On other
occasions, the tradesmen of the different callings, by turns, go from
door to door to collect the yearly subscriptions, and decide, and not
the priests, on the numbers of plays to be performed at each festival;
as well as when temples shall be repaired or ornamented. The duty of the
priests is merely to attend to reading prayers, &c. and not to secular
concerns. They profess to be superior men, having renounced the world
and all prospects of gain—and taken to a life of abstinence. Their
appearance, however, often indicates, that they are any thing but
SUPERIOR men! being indolent and filthy in the extreme.

A set of plays are held for three or five successive days, during which
they perform twice every day. They generally commence about two o’clock
and continue till about five. In the evening, at seven, they again
commence, when they continue till about eleven. The third rate players,
which generally perform at Macao, are allowed one hundred dollars per
day, exclusive of food, oil for lamps, &c. A company of players consist
of from forty to fifty men. Country players and boys, whose principle
performance consists in feats of agility, perform for only forty or
fifty dollars per day. The first rate performers do not perform for less
than one hundred and fifty dollars per day, exclusive of all expenses.
There is an office at Canton for registering the different companies;
and every company, on leaving the city, gives in a notice, intimating to
what part they are going, by which means, letters on business, from any
part of the province, are immediately attended to.

A list of the number of plays performed annually at Macao, will enable
the reader to form some idea of the extent of theatrical performances in
a province, or throughout the empire.

At the military, (or water-lily temple) during the 3d, 5th and 7th moon,
twenty two plays are performed, which amount (independent of the
expenses of fitting up the theatres) to Spanish Dollars 2200

Temple to the god of fire—(lately opened,) six days, 600

Ma-kŏ temple, (or the lady of the celestial chambers) during the 3d
moon, eighteen or more plays, according to the number of European ships
that arrive in the inner harbour of Macao. These plays are said to be
defrayed by the Linguists, 2000

T’oo temple, (to the gods of the land) during the 2d moon, seven days

Temple for the universal redemption of orphan spirits, during the 11th
moon, five days 500

At the Hoppo office, (in the market place) on the 2d of the 2d moon. On
these occasions the government regulation is only twelve dollars per day
for the whole company; which is allowed by the Mandarins. The managers
frequently receive considerable presents. This national play is observed
at all the public offices, on the same day, throughout the empire, four
days 100

A-hwang-keae, seven days 300

Amounting (exclusive of the expenses of fitting up and preparing the
stages) to, Spa. Dols. 6050

[1] It may be necessary to remind the reader, that these extracts are
taken from a Roman Catholic Chinese publication; and the notes and
illustrations added by the author of the communication. ED.

[2] Viz. of the dragon boat.