One day while sitting at table, with our little girl, nineteen months old, on her mother's knee near by, we picked up her rubber doll and began to whip it violently. The child first looked frightened, then severe, then burst into tears and plead with her mother not to "let papa whip dolly."
Few people realize how much toys become a part of the life of the children who play with them. They are often looked upon as nothing more than "playthings for children." This is a very narrow view of their uses and relationships. There is a philosophy underlying the production of toys as old as the world and as broad as life, a philosophy which, until recent years, has been little studied and cultivated.
Playthings are as necessary a constituent of human life as food or medicine, and contribute in a like manner to the health and development of the race. Like the science of cooking and healing, the business of toy-making has been driven by the stern teacher, necessity, to a rapid self-development for the general good of the little men and women in whose interests they are made.
They are the tools with which children ply their trades; the instruments with which they carry on their professions; the goods which they buy and sell in their business, and the paraphernalia with which they conduct their toy society. They are more than this. They are the animals which serve them, the associates who entertain them, the children who comfort them and bring joy to the mimic home.
Toys are nature's first teachers. The child with his little shovels, spades and hoes, learns his first lessons in agriculture; with his hammer and nails, he gets his first lessons in the various trades; and the bias of the life of many a child of larger growth has come from the toys with which he played. Into his flower garden the father of Linnaeus introduced his son during his infancy, and "this little garden undoubtedly created that taste in the child which afterwards made him the first botanist and naturalist of his age, if not of his race."
No experiments in any chemical laboratory will excite more wonder or be carried on with more interest, than those which the boy performs with his pipe and basin of soapy water. The little girl's mud pies and other sham confectionery furnish her first lessons in the art of preparing food. Her toy dinners and playhouse teas offer her the first experiences in the entertainment of guests. With her dolls, the domestic relations and affections.
No science has ever originatedmand been carried to any degree of perfection in Asia. There is no reason why this statement should cause the noses of Europeans and Americans to twitch in derision and pride, for there is another fact equally momentous in favor of the Asiatics, -- viz., no religion that originated outside of Asia has ever been carried to any degree of perfection.
The above facts will indicate that we need not hope to find the business of toy-making, or the science of child- education in a very advanced state in China -- the most Asiatic country of Asia. Child's play and toy-making have been organized into a business and a science in Europe, as astronomy, which had been studied so long in Asia, was developed into a science by the Greeks. And so we find that what is taught in the kindergarten of the West is learned in the streets of the East; and the toys which are manufactured in great Occidental business establishments, are made by poor women in Oriental homes, and the same mistakes are made by the one as by the other.
The same whistle by which the cock crows, enables the dog to bark, the baby to cry, the horse to neigh, the sheep to bleat and the cow to low, just as in our own rubber goods. The same end is accomplished in the one case as in the other. The two, three or twenty cash doll does for the Chinese girl what the two, three or twenty dollar one does for her antipodal sister, -- develops the instinct of motherhood, besides standing a greater amount of rough handling. Nevertheless it usually comes to the same deplorable end, departing this world, bereft of its arms and legs, without going through the tedious process of a surgical operation.
Chinese toys are less varied, less complicated, less true to the original, and less expensive than those of the West, -- more perhaps like the toys of a century or two ago. Nevertheless they are toys, and in the hands of boys and girls, the drum goes "rub-a-dub," the horn "toots," and the whistle squeaks. The "gingham dog and calico cat," besides a score of other animals more nearly related to the soil of their native place -- being made of clay -- express themselves in the language of the particular whistle which happens to have been placed within them. All this is to the entire satisfaction of "little Miss Muffet" and "little boy Blue," just as they do in other lands.
When the children grow older they have tops to spin that whistle as good a whistle, and buzzers to buzz that buzz as good a buzz, and music balls to roll, and music carts to pull, that emit sounds as much to their satisfaction, as anything that ministered to the childish tastes of our grandfathers; and these become as much a part of their business and their life as if they were living, talking beings. Furthermore, their dolls are as much their children as they themselves are the offspring of their parents.
Chinese toys embrace only those which involve no intricate scientific principles. The music boxes of the West are unknown in China except as they are imported. The Chinese know nothing about dolls which open and shut their eyes, simple as this principle is, nor of toys which are self-propelling by some mysterious spring secreted within, because, forsooth, they know nothing about making the spring.
There are some principles, however, which, though they may not understand, they are nevertheless able to utilize; such, for instance, as the expansion of air by heat, and the creation of air currents. This principle is utilized in lanterns. In the top of these is a paper wheel attached to a cross-bar on the ends of which are suspended paper men and women together with animals of all kinds making a very interesting merry-go-round. These lantern-figures correspond to the sawyers, borers, blacksmiths, washers and others which twenty or more years ago were on top of the stove of every corner grocery or country post-office.
When we began the study of Chinese toys our first move was to call in a Chinese friend whom we thought we could trust, and who could buy toys at a very reasonable rate, and sent him out to purchase specimens of every variety of toys he could find in the city of Peking. We ordered him the first day to buy nothing but rattles, because the rattle is the first toy that attracts the attention of the child.
In the evening Mr. Hsin returned with a good-sized basket full of rattles. Some were tin in the form of small cylinders, with handles in which were small pebbles: others were shaped like pails; and others like cooking pots and pans.
Some of the most attractive were hollow wood balls, baskets, pails and bottles, gorgeously painted, with long handles, necks, or bails. The paint was soon transferred from the face of the toy to that of the first child that happened to play with it, which child was of course, our own little girl.
The most common rattles representing various kinds of fowls and animals known and unknown are made of clay. Others are in the form of fat little priests that make one think of Santa Claus, or little roly-poly children that look like the little folks who play with them.
As the child grows larger the favorite rattle is a drum- shaped piece of bamboo or other wood, with skin -- not infrequently fish skin, stretched over the two ends, and a long handle attached. On the sides are two stout strings with beads on the ends, which, when the rattle is turned in the hand, strike on the drum heads. These rattles of brass or tin as well as bamboo, are in imitation of those carried by street hawkers.
We said to Mr. Hsin, "Foreigners say the Chinese do not have dolls, how is that?"
"They have lots of them," he answered in the stereotyped way.
"Then to-morrow buy samples of all the dolls you can find."
"All?" he asked with some surprise.
"Yes, all. We want to know just what kind of dolls they have."
The next evening Mr. Hsin came in with an immense load of dolls. He had large, small, and middle sized rag dolls, on which the nose was sewed, the ears pasted, and the eyes and other features painted. They were rude, but as interesting to children as other more natural and more expensive ones, as we discovered by giving one of them to our little girl. In not a few instances Western children have become much more firmly attached to their Chinese cloth dolls than any that can be found for them in America or Europe.
He had a number of others both large and small with paper mache heads, leather bodies, and clay arms and legs. The body was like a bellows in which a reed whistle was placed, that enabled the baby to cry in the same tone as the toy dog barks or the cock crows. They had "real hair" in spots on their head similar to those on the child, and they were dressed in the same kind of clothing as that used on the baby in summer-time, viz., a chest-protector and a pair of shoes or trousers.
Mr. Hsin then took out a small package in which was wrapped a half-dozen or more "little people," as they are called, by the Chinese, with paper heads, hands and feet, exquisitely painted, and their clothing of the finest silk. Attached to the head of each was a silk string by which the "little people" are hung upon the wall as a decoration.
"But what are these, Mr. Hsin?" we asked. "These are not dolls."
"No," he answered, "these are cloth animals. The children play with these at the same time they play with dolls."
He had gone beyond our instructions. He had brought us a large collection of camels made of cloth the color of the camel's skin, with little bunches of hair on the head, neck, hump and the joints of the legs, similar to those on the camel when it is shedding its coat in the springtime. He had elephants made of a grayish kind of cloth on which were harnesses similar to those supposed to be necessary for those animals. He had bears with bits of hair on neck and tail and a leading string in the nose; horses painted with spots of white and red, matched only by the most remarkable animals in a circus; monkeys with black beads for eyes, and long tails; lions, tigers, and leopards, with large, savage, black, glass eyes, with manes or tails suited to each, and properly crooked by a wire extending to the tip. And finally he laid the bogi-boo, a nondescript with a head on each end much like the head of a lion or tiger. When not used as a plaything, this served the purpose of a pillow.
"Do the Chinese have no other kinds of toy animals?" we inquired.
"Yes," he answered, "I'll bring them to-morrow."
The following evening he brought us a collection of clay toys too extensive to enumerate. There were horses, cows, camels, mules, deer, and a host of others the original of which has never been found except in the imagination of the people. He had women riding donkeys followed by drivers, men riding horses and shooting or throwing a spear at a fleeing tiger, and women with babies in their arms while grandmother amused them with rattles, and father lay near by smoking an opium pipe.
From the bottom of his basket he brought forth a nuber of small packages.
"What are in those?"
"These are clay insects."
They were among the best clay work we have seen in China. There were tumble-bugs, grasshoppers, large beetles, mantis, praying mantis, toads and scorpions, together with others never seen outside of China, and some never seen at all, the legs and feelers all being made of wire.
In another package he had a dozen dancing dolls. They were made of clay, were an inch and a half long, dressed with paper, and had small wires protruding the sixteenth of an inch below the bottom of the skirt. He put them all on a brass tray, the edge of which he struck with a small stick to make it vibrate, thus causing the dancers to turn round and round in every direction.
The next package contained a number of clay beggars. Two were fighting, one about to smash his clay pot over the other's head: another had his pot on his head for a lark, a third was eating from his, while others were carrying theirs in their hand. One had a sore leg to which he called attention with open mouth and pain expressed in every feature.
From another package he brought out a number of jumping jacks, imitations as it seemed of things Japanese. There were monkey acrobats made of clay, wire and skin, fastened to a small slip of bamboo. A doll fastened to a stick, with cymbals in its hands would clash the cymbals, when its queue was pulled. Finally there was a large dragon which satisfied its raging appetite by feeding upon two or three little clay men specially prepared for his consumption.
But, perhaps, among the most interesting of his toys were his clay whistles. Some of these burnt or sun-dried toys were hollow and in the shape of birds, beasts and insects. When blown into, they would emit the shrillest kind of a whistle. In others a reed whistle had been placed similar to those in the dolls, and these usually had a bellows to blow them. Whether cock or hen, dog or child, they all crowed, barked, cackled, or cried in the self-same tone.
"What will you get to-morrow?"
"Drums, knives, and tops," said Mr. Hsin. He was being paid by the day for spending our money, and so had his plans well laid.
The following evening he brought a large collection of toy drums, some of which were in the shape of a barrel, both in their length and in being bulged out at the middle. On the ends were painted gay pictures of men and women clad in battle-array or festive garments, making the drum a work of art as well as an instrument of torture to those who are disturbed by noises about the house.
He had large knives covered with bright paint which could easily be washed off, and tridents, with loose plates or cymbals, which make a noise to frighten the enemy.
The tops Mr. Hsin had collected were by far the most interesting. Chinese tops are second to none made. They are simple, being made of bamboo, are spun with a string, and when properly operated emit a shrill whistle.
The ice top, without a stem, and simply a block of wood in shape of a top, is spun with a string, but is kept going by whipping.
Another toy which foreigners call a top is entirely different from anything we see in the West. The Chinese call it a K'ung chung, while the top is called t'o lo. It is constructed of two pieces of bamboo, each of which is made like a top, and then joined by a carefully turned axle, each end being of equal weight, and looking not unlike the wheels of a cart. It is then spun by a string, which is wound once around the axle and attached to two sticks. A good performer is able to spin it in a great variety of ways, tossing it under and over his foot, spinning it with the sticks behind him, and at times throwing it up into the air twenty or thirty feet and catching it as it comes down. The principle upon which it is operated is the quick jerking of one of the sticks while the other is allowed to be loose.
"To-morrow," said Mr. Hsin, as he ceased spinning the top, "I will get you some toy carts."
The Chinese cart has been described as a Saratoga trunk on two wheels. This is, however, only one form -- that of the passenger cart. There are many others, and all of them are used as patterns of toy carts. They all have a kind of music-box attachment, operated by the turning of the axle to which the wheels of the toys, as well as those of some of the real carts, are fixed.
The toy carts are made of tin, wood and clay. Some of them are very simple, having paper covers, while others possess the whole paraphernalia of the street carts. When the mule of the toy cart is unhitched and unharnessed, he looks like a very respectable mule. Nevertheless, instead of devouring food, he becomes the prey of insects. Usually he appears the second season, if he lasts that long, bereft of mane and tail, as well as a large portion of his skin.
The flat carts have a revolving peg sticking up through the centre, on which a small clay image is placed which turns with the stick. Others are placed on wires on the two sides, to represent the driver and the passengers.
These in Peking are the omnibus carts. Running from the east gate of the Imperial city to the front gate, and in other parts of the city as well, there are street carts corresponding to the omnibus or street cars of the West. These start at intervals of ten minutes, more or less, with eight or ten persons on a cart, the fare being only a few cash. Toy carts of this kind have six or eight clay images to represent the passengers.
Mr. Hsin brought out from the bottom of his basket a number of neatly made little pug dogs, and pressing upon a bellows in their body caused them to bark, just as the hen cackled a few days before.
What we have described formed only a small portion of the toys Mr. Hsin brought. Cheap clay toys of all kinds are hawked about the street by a man who sells them at a fifth or a tenth of a cent apiece. With him is often found a candy-blower, who with a reed and a bowl of taffy- candy is ready to blow a man, a chicken, a horse and cart, a corn ear, or anything else the child wants, as a glass- blower would blow a bottle or a lamp chimney. The child plays with his prize until he tires of it and then he eats it.