The Curse Of China

The Curse Of China.

About a century ago opium was rarely used in China except as medicine. To-day it enters through the openings made by English cannon, at the rate of six thousand tons a year, and at an annual profit to the Indian treasury of from thirty to forty million dollars. But this is not the worst: the vice of opium-smoking has spread with such rapidity that in one Chinese city alone, where thirty years ago only five opium dens existed, there are now five thousand. In the minds of many Chinamen, therefore, Christianity is principally associated with the gift of opium and its attendant evils. China has now begun to cultivate the poppy for herself, and in some provinces six - tenths of the land is given over to producing opium, to the great detriment of agriculture. For the Chinese argue that if they must have it anyway, they may as well profit by it themselves, and let their own crop vie with that which England sends from India. It should be said that earnest protests have often been made by conscientious Englishmen against this conduct of their Government, but all remonstrances have failed to change its policy. Hence, when our British cousins sometimes humorously say that we Americans worship only the almighty dollar, it may be well to ask if any deity under the sun is more devoutly reverenced than the omnipotent pounds, shillings, and pence.

A Village Scene

A Village Scene.

When we had steamed about five hours from Hong-Kong, we came in sight of our first Chinese pagoda. It is a hollow tower of brick about three hundred feet in height, and resembles, on an enormous scale, one of those tapering sticks which jewelers use for sizing rings. At first, I thought that the nine circular terraces which mark its different stories were adorned with flags or tapestry, but closer scrutiny revealed the melancholy fact that weeds and bushes are now growing here. Indeed, like most of the sacred buildings that I saw in China, it looked both dirty and dilapidated.

Soon after leaving this neglected edifice, we found ourselves amid a constantly increasing throng of Chinese boats, and I began to realize that these were specimens of that "floating population" of Canton of which we have all read, but of which nothing but a visit to it can give an adequate idea.

Hardly was our steamer anchored in the stream before the city, when hundreds of these boats closed in upon us on all sides, like cakes of floating ice around a vessel in the Arctic sea. Wedging and pushing frantically, the boatmen almost swamped themselves. They fought for places near the ship like men and women in a panic. The din of voices sounded like the barking of five hundred canines at a dog-show; and Chinese gutturals flew through the air like bullets from a mitrailleuse. It seemed impossible to disembark in such a mob.

But suddenly I felt a pressure on my arm. I turned and saw apparently three laundrymen from the United States.

Pagoda, Near Canton River

Pagoda, Near Canton River.

A glance assured me they were father and sons. "Good morning, sir," said one of them in excellent English, "do you know Carter Harrison, of Chicago?"

This question, coming in such a place and at such a time, rendered me speechless with astonishment.

Hearing Canton

Hearing Canton.

"He mentioned us in his book, 'A Race with the Sun,' continued the young Chinaman. "This is my father, the famous guide, Ah Cum. This is my brother, and I am Ah Cum, Jr. The others are engaged for to-morrow, but I can serve you. Will you take me?"

"So you are Ah Cum?" I rejoined; "I have heard much of you. Your reference book must be a valuable autograph album of distinguished travelers. Yes, we will take you; and, first of all, can you get us safely into one of those boats? And if so, who will guarantee that we shall not be murdered?"

"Ah Cum."

Accordingly we "came," and presently found ourselves in a boat. I cannot relate how we got there. I do not know, myself. I think of it now as one recalls the pulling of a tooth when under the influence of laughing-gas. I have a dim remembrance of jumping from one reeling skiff to another, of stumbling over slippery seats, of holding on to Ah Cum, Sr., and being pushed by Ah Cum, Jr., and now and then grabbing frantically at a Chinese queue, as a drowning man catches at a rope. The only reason that I did not fall into the water is that there was not space enough between the boats. At last, however, bruised and breathless, we reached a place of refuge, and watched our boatmen fight their way out through the crowd, until we landed on the neighboring island of Shameen. After the pandemonium around the steamer, this seemed a perfect paradise of beauty and repose. It is about a mile and a quarter in circumference, and is reserved exclusively for foreigners.