This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
If Wung Foo had studied very hard at school, and learned as many as twenty-five new sign words, his grandmother told him stories in the evening. Wung Foo was a little Chinese boy, eight years old. His father was a rich silk merchant in Canton, China. His grandmother was a little old lady. But she wore such rich clothes, her face was so carefully painted, and she had so many jewelled pins and flowers in her hair, that she looked quite young. Wung Foo was proud to have her lean on his shoulder when she wanted to cross the room. Her little crippled feet were only four inches long.
Chinese stories for children are the scar-iest kind. They are all about witches and goblins and dragons. They did not scare Wung Foo, as long as his grandmother talked in her sweet, sing-song way. Besides, his mother, his aunts, his sisters, his girl cousins and his baby brother were there in the women's sitting room. Wung Foo was a visitor. He lived on the men's side of the house.
Wung Foo had a chubby, yellow face and slanting black eyes, like Japanese-Nogi. He, too, pushed a great deal of rice into his round mouth with chop-sticks, and drank many little cups of tea. In most other ways he was very, very different from Nogi. Nogi was always laughing, but Wung Foo was a sober little fellow. China isn't nearly as pleasant a place for children to be born in as Japan
Wung Foo looked very fat in the winter time because he had to wear such thick, quilted cotton under-clothing. There were no little brass box, charcoal stoves, as in Japan, to keep the house warm. And there were no soft mats on the cold brick floors, so his gold trimmed, red cloth shoes had thick, white felt soles. He wore loose trousers of red silk, folded around his ankles, and a wadded blue silk coat fastened with gold buttons and cord loops. He kept his round cap on, even in the house. His head was shaven, all but a thick black lock on top. The barber braided some long, black silk threads with the hair, to make a queue (cue) like his father's, and left a pretty silk tassel at the end. By and by his hair would be long. Then he would not need the silk. The little boy was a small copy of his grandfather.
Wung Foo's little six year old sister was a small copy of her grandmother. She was dressed almost like her brother, but her silk trousers hung loose, like a divided skirt. She lay on cushions, on a bamboo sofa, with her bound feet under her. Sometimes she cried with pain. When grandmother told a fairy story she always said: "The beautiful maiden had such tiny feet that a mandarin's son married her." Then the little girl stopped crying. By and by she could wear satin shoes four inches long, and have, her face painted, and dress her hair with flowers and jewelled pins, and very likely a mandarin's son would marry her. Of the hero, grandmother always said : " He learned all the thirty thousand sign words, worshiped at the tombs of his fathers, and became a rich merchant." Wung Foo made up his little mind that he would be very good and study hard.
A Chinese house is just as shut up as a Japanese house is wide open. Wung Foo's home had a wall around it. It stood in a garden, with a lily and fish pond, a bridge, and a curly-roofed tea-house. The women's sitting' room was very pretty. It had stools and tables of carved black wood, inlaid with pearl flowers. On the walls were hung pictures embroidered on red satin, or painted on rice paper. There were vases and jars of red and gold, and blue and white. The tea trays were of silver with gold birds on them. The ladies opened and shut scented fans. They spun flax, embroidered on silk and linen and played dominoes. They had pet gold fish and singing birds. They ate a great many sweet things. When they visited other ladies they went in sedan chairs. Sedan chairs are cushioned and curtained and gilded boxes. They have four poles and are carried by men servants. The ladies could not see out of them, very well, or be seen. That was too bad, for the streets were very crowded and gay.
When Wung Foo went to bed in the men's room, he pulled a down quilt over his head. He was only a little boy, after all. In the dark the goblin stories scared him. In the morning he was awakened by a thousand noises. Watchmen told the hour on bamboo drums. Beggars beat on the gate with sticks until a servant went out with rice. Peddlars cried out that they had fish and ducks and eggs and fruits and fat puppies, to sell. A procession banged and rattled and squealed Chinese music. Wung Foo thought it was very sweet music. China had always had it. China never changed anything. He thought the old ways of doing things the very best ways in the world.
One very old way of doing things in China is for little boys to go to school before breakfast, and to go nearly every day in the year. The only vacations are at New Years, in February; on kite flying day in October, and on the feast of the lanterns day. Then fire-crackers pop and snap and bang all day long, as they do on our Fourth of July. When Wung Foo went to school there were a thousand interesting things in the crowded streets, but he never noticed them. He walked along gravely. When he met his schoolmates he shook his own hands inside his sleeves to show that he was glad to see them. The school was much like a Japanese school, except that the boys sat on stools, with higher stools in front for tables ; and the teacher was very cross
At ten o'clock Wung Foo came home for breakfast. At four he came home for dinner. It was a very good dinner of bird's nest soup, fish, duck eggs, chop-suey, rice and gam-got. When chop-suey is made of bits of chicken, ham, water chestnuts, mushrooms, celery and crisp little barley sprouts, all fried together in peanut oil and dressed with spicy brown sauce, it is very good indeed. Gam-got is little preserved oranges about as big as plums. Sometimes he had chrys-an-the-mum fritters, of the flower petals, with pineapple sauce.
Once Wung Foo went on a journey with his father. He went on a boat up the river. The river was so wide there was room for sail boats in the middle, and for streets of house-boats along the banks. Women washed and cooked on the decks of the house-boats. Children played there with little barrels tied on their backs. If they fell into the water the barrels kept them afloat until some one could pull them into the house again. The people who lived in house boats were poor. Boys no older than himself tended ducks in the marshes. Others fished with big birds that were trained to dive. They were all barefooted. The little girls had big feet. They would always have to work.
Wung Foo saw other little boys and girls picking cotton bolls, and tea leaves, and mulberry leaves to feed silk worms, and planting rice in wet ground. He saw them bending over cotton and silk looms, and carrying heavy jars and tiles at the pottery works. They worked for a few cents a day. They lived in huts and ate nothing but rice and a very little fish, and drank the poorest tea. When he went back home he studied harder than ever. He was glad he was going to be a mandarin, or at least a silk merchant like his father. Perhaps he might go away to be a merchant in Chinatown in San Francisco, America, or to Manila, in the Philippine Islands. But when he got very rich he would go back to China. See The Chinese Empire, page 389.