Bridge At Canton

Bridge At Canton.

"There is no danger," he assured us; "my father will take care of you ladies, as I will of these gentlemen. Every one here knows us. Our people are always safe."

Accordingly we started, crossed the bridge, and two minutes later found ourselves engulfed, like atoms in a sewer, in the fetid labyrinth of Canton. One should not be surprised that illustrations of its streets are not clearer. The marvel is that they are visible at all! "Streets," as we understand the word, they cannot be truthfully called. They are dark, tortuous alleys, destitute of sidewalks, and from four to eight feet wide, winding snake-like between long lines of gloomy shops. Comparatively little daylight filters through them to the pavement, not only by reason of their narrow limits, but from the fact that all these passageways are largely filled up, just above the people's heads, with strips of wood, which serve as advertising placards. Many of them are colored blue, red, white, or green, and bear strange characters, gilded or painted on their surfaces. These in the dark perspective of a crowded alley look like the banners of some long procession.

A Canton Street

A Canton Street.

Along The Shore, Canton

Along The Shore, Canton.

These letters do not give the merchants' names, but serve as trade-marks, like the dedicatory words above the doors of shops in France. How any one can read them is a mystery; not merely on account of the twilight gloom, but from the fact that here at every step one comes in contact with a multitude of repulsive Chinamen, many of them naked to the waist, who seem compressed within this narrow space like a wild torrent in a gorge. To stop in such a place and read a sign appeared to me as difficult as studying the leaves of the trees while riding through a forest on a Texas broncho.

As our bearers pushed their way through these dark, narrow lanes, the people squeezed themselves against the walls to let us pass; then closed about us instantly again, like sharks around the stern of a boat. At any moment I could have touched a dozen naked shoulders with my hand, and twice as many with my cane. Meanwhile, to the noise of the loquacious multitude were added the vociferations of our bearers, who shouted constantly for people to make way, ascribing to us, we were told, distinguished titles that evidently excited curiosity even among the stolid Chinamen. Occasionally we met a sedan-chair coming in the opposite direction. Both sets of bearers then began to yell like maniacs, and we would finally pass each other with the utmost difficulty, our coolies having frequently to back the chair-poles into one shop, and then run them forward into a doorway on the opposite corner, thereby blocking the noisy, surly crowd until the passage could be cleared.

Temple Of Confucius, Canton

Temple Of Confucius, Canton.

The faces packed about us, while not positively hostile, were as a rule unfriendly. An insolent stare was characteristic of most of them. Some disagreeable criticisms were pronounced, but Ah Cum's expression never changed, and we, of course, could not understand them Once a banana-skin, thrown probably by a mischievous boy, flew by my head; and I was told that China's favorite exclamation, "foreign devils," was often heard. But I dare say that if a Chinese mandarin, in full regalia, were to walk through some of our streets, he would not fare as well as we did in Canton; and that if he ever went to the Bowery, "he'd never go there anymore." As we kept passing on through other alleys teeming with half clad specimens of the great unwashed, I called to mind the fact that this low class in China has been deliberately taught to hate, despise, and thoroughly distrust all foreigners. The unjust opium war with England, the recent territorial war with France, the stories told them of the treatment of their countrymen in the United States, - all these would, of themselves, be enough to make them hostile; but they are as nothing to the effect produced upon an ignorant, superstitious populace by the placards posted on the walls of many Chinese cities. I read translations of a few of these, and I believe they cannot be surpassed in literature for the vulgarity and infamy of their accusations. They are in one sense perfectly absurd; but when we recollect the riotous acts to which they have frequently incited their deluded victims, they challenge serious consideration.