The Chinese Ladies of Rank

Though your husband may be wealthy,
You should never be profuse;
There should always be a limit
To the things you eat and use.
If your husband should be needy,
You should gladly share the same,
And be diligent and thrifty,
And no other people blame. -- "The Primer for Girls," Translated by I. T. H.

[2] Taken from Mrs. Headland's note-book.

The Manchu lady's ideal of beauty is dignity, and to this both her deportment and her costume contribute in a well-nigh equal degree. Her hair, put up on silver or jade jewelled hairpins, decorated with many flowers, is very heavy, and easily tilted to one side or the other if not carried with the utmost sedateness. Her long garments, reaching from her shoulders to the floor, give to her tall figure an added height, and the central elevation of from four to six inches to the soles of her daintily embroidered slippers, compel her to stand erect and walk slowly and majestically. She laughs but little, seldom jests, but preserves a serious air in whatever she does.

The Chinese lady, on the contrary, aspires to be petite, winsome, affable and helpless. She laughs much, enjoys a joke, and is always good-natured and chatty.

One of their poets thus describes a noted beauty: "At one moment with tears her bright eyes would be swimming, The next with mischief and fun they'd be brimming. Thousands of sonnets were written in praise of them, Li Po wrote a song for each separate phase of them. "Bashfully, swimmingly, pleadingly, scoffingly, Temptingly, languidly, lovingly, laughingly, Witchingly, roguishly, playfully, naughtily, Willfully, waywardly, meltingly, haughtily, Gleamed the eyes of Yang Kuei Fei.

"Her ruby lips and peach-bloom cheeks,

Would match the rose in hue, If one were kissed the other speaks, With blushes, kiss me too."

She combs her hair in a neat coil on the back of her head, uses few flowers, but instead prefers profuse decorations of pearls. Her upper garment extends but little below her knees, and her lower garment is an accordion-plaited skirt, from beneath which the pointed toes of her small bound feet appear as she walks or sways on her "golden lilies," as if she were a flower blown by the wind, to which the Chinese love to compare her. Her waist is a "willow waist" in poetry, and her "golden lilies," as her tiny feet are often called, are not more than two or three inches long -- so small that it not infrequently requires the assistance of a servant or two to help her to walk at all. And though she may not need them she affects to be so helpless as to require their aid.

Until very recently education was discouraged rather than sought by the Manchu lady. Many of the princesses could not read the simplest book nor write a letter to a friend, but depended upon educated eunuchs to perform these services for them. The Chinese lady on the contrary can usually read and write with ease, and the education of some of them is equal to that of a Hanlin.

Socially the ladies of these two classes never meet. Their husbands may be of equal rank and well known to each other in official life, but the ladies have no wish to meet each other. One day while the granddaughter of one of the Chinese Grand Secretaries was calling upon me, the sisters of Prince Ching and Prince Su were announced. When they entered I introduced them. The dignity of the two princesses when presented led me to fear that we would have a cold time together. I explained who my Chinese lady friend was, and they answered in a formal way (wai t ou tou jen te, li to'u k'e pu jen te) "the gentlemen of our respective households are well acquainted, not so the ladies," but the ice did not melt. For a time I did my best to find a topic of mutual interest, but it was like trying to mix oil and water. I was about to give up in despair when my little Chinese friend, observing the dilemma in which I was placed, and the effort I was making to relieve the situation, threw herself into the conversation with such vigour and vivacity, and suggested topics of such interest to the others as to charm these reserved princesses, and it was not long until they were talking together in a most animated way.

One of the Manchu ladies expressed regret at the falling of her hair and the fact that she was getting bald. "Why," said my little Chinese friend, "after a severe illness not long since, I lost all my hair, but I received a prescription from a friend which restored it all, and just look at the result," she continued turning her pretty head with its great coils of shiny black hair. "I will be delighted to let you have it." The Manchu princesses finally rose to depart, and in their leave-taking, they were as cordial to my little Chinese friend, who had made herself so agreeable, as they were to me, for which I shall ever be grateful.

After they had gone I asked:

"Why is it that the Manchu and Chinese ladies do not intermingle in a social way?"

"The cause dates back to the beginning of the Manchu dynasty," she responded. "When the Chinese men adopted the Manchu style of wearing the queue, it was stipulated that they should not interfere with the style of the woman's dress, and that no Chinese should be taken to the palace as concubines or slaves to the Emperor. We have therefore always held ourselves aloof from the Manchus. Our men did this to protect us, and as a result no Chinese lady has ever been received at court, except, of course, the painting teacher of the Empress Dowager, who, before she could enter the palace, was compelled to unbind her feet, adopt the Manchu style of dress and take a Manchu name."

"Is not the Empress Dowager very much opposed to foot-binding? Why has she not forbidden it?"

"She has issued edicts recommending them to give it up, but to forbid it is beyond her power. That would be interfering with the Chinese ladies' dress."

"Do the Manchus consider themselves superior to the Chinese?"

"It is a poor rule that will not work both ways. Have you never noticed that in his edicts the Emperor speaks of his Manchu slaves and his Chinese subjects?"

Among my lady friends is one whose father died when she was a child, and she was brought up in the home of her grandfather who was himself a viceroy. She had always been accustomed to every luxury that wealth could buy. Clothed in the richest embroidered silks and satins, decorated with the rarest pearls and precious stones, she had serving women and slave girls to wait upon her, and humour her every whim. One day when we were talking of the Boxer insurrection she told me the following story:

"Some years ago," she said, "my steward brought me a slave girl whom he had bought from her father on the street. She was a bright intelligent and obedient little girl, and I soon became very fond of her. She told me one day that her grandmother was a Christian, and that she had been baptized and attended a Christian school. Her father, however, was an opium-smoker, and had pawned everything he had, and finally when her grandmother was absent had taken her and sold her to get money to buy opium. She asked me to send a messenger to her grandmother and tell her that she had a good home.

"I was delighted to do so for I knew the old woman would be distressed lest the child had been sold to a life of shame, or had found a cruel mistress. Unfortunately, however, my messenger could find no trace of the grandmother, as the neighbours informed him that she had left shortly after the disappearance of the child.

"As the years passed the child grew into womanhood. She was very capable, kind and thoughtful for others and I learned to depend upon her in many ways. She was very devoted to me, and sought to please me in every way she could. She always spoke of herself as a Christian and refused to worship our gods. When the Boxer troubles began I took my house-servants and went to my grandfather's home thinking that the Boxers would not dare disturb the households of such great officials as the viceroys. But I soon found that they respected no one who had liberal tendencies.

"One day there was a proclamation posted to the effect that all Christians were to be turned over to them, and that any one found concealing a Christian would themselves be put to death. My grandmother came to my apartments and wanted me to send my slave girl to the Boxers. We talked about it for some time but I steadfastly refused. When the Boxers had procured all they could by that method they announced that they were about to make a house-to-house search, and any household harbouring Christians would be annihilated."

"But how would they know that your slave was a Christian?" I inquired.

"Have you not heard," she asked, "that the Boxers claimed that after going through certain incantations, they could see a cross upon the forehead of any who had been baptized?"

"And did you believe they could?"

"I did then but I do not now. Indeed we all did. My grandmother came to me and positively forbade me to keep the slave in her home. After she had gone the girl came and knelt at my feet and begged me to save her! How could I send her out to death when she had been so kind and faithful to me? I finally decided upon a plan to save her. I determined to flee with her to the home of an uncle who lived in a town a hundred miles or more from Peking, where I hoped the Boxers were less powerful than they were at the capital.

"This uncle was the lieutenant-governor of the province and had always been very fond of me, and I knew if I could reach him I should win his sympathy and his aid. But how was this to be done? All travellers were suspected, searched and examined. For two women to be travelling alone, when the country was in such a state of unrest, could not but bring upon themselves suspicion, and should we be searched, the cross upon the forehead would surely be found, and we would be condemned to the cruel tortures in which the Boxers were said to delight.

"After much thought and planning the only possible method seemed to be to flee as beggars. You know women beggars are found upon the roads at all times and they excite little suspicion. Then in the hot summer it is not uncommon for them to wrap their head and forehead in a piece of cloth to protect them from the fierce rays of the sun. In this way I hoped to conceal the cross from observation in case we came into the presence of the Boxers. We confided our plans to a couple of the women servants whom we could trust, and asked them to procure proper outfits for us. They did so, and oh! what dirty old rags they were. The servants wept as they took off and folded up my silk garments and clad me in this beggar's garb."

"But your skin is so soft and fair, not at all like the skin of a woman exposed to the sun; and your black, shiny hair is not at all rusty and dirty like the hair of a beggar woman. I should think these facts would have caused your detection," I urged.

"That was easily remedied. We stained our faces, necks, hands and arms, and we took down our hair and literally rolled it in dust which the servants brought from the street. Oh! but it was nasty! such an odour! It was only the saving of the life of that faithful slave that could have induced me to do it. I had to take off my little slippers and wrap my feet in dirty rags such as beggars wear. We could take but a little copper cash with us. To be seen with silver or gold would have at once brought suspicion upon us, while bank-notes were useless in those days.

"In the early morning, before any one was astir we were let out of a back gate. It was the first time I had ever walked on the street. I had always been accustomed to going in my closed cart with outriders and servants. I shrank from staring eyes, and thought every glance was suspicious. My slave was more timid than I and so I must take the initiative. I had been accustomed to seeing street beggars from behind the screened windows of my cart ever since I was a child and so I knew how I ought to act, but at first it was difficult indeed. Soon, however, we learned to play our part, though it seems now like a hideous dream. We kept on towards the great gate through which we passed out of the city on to the highway which led to our destination.

"The first time we met a Boxer procession my knees knocked together in my fear of detection but they passed by without giving us a glance. We met them often after this, and before we finished our journey I learned to doubt their claim to detect Christians by the sign of the cross.

"We ate at the roadside booths, slept often in a gateway or by the side of a wall under the open sky, and after several days' wandering, we reached the yamen of my uncle. But we dare not enter and reveal our identity, lest we implicate them, for we found the Boxers strong everywhere, and even the officials feared their prowess. We hung about the yamen begging in such a way as not to arouse suspicion, until an old servant who had been in the family for many years, and whom I knew well, came upon the street. I followed him begging until we were out of earshot of others, and then told him in a singsong, whining tone, such as beggars use, who I was and why I was there, and asked him to let my uncle know, and said that if they would open the small gate in the evening we would be near and could enter unobserved.

"At first he could not believe it was I, for by this time we indeed looked like veritable beggars, but he was finally convinced and promised to tell my uncle. After nightfall he opened the gate and led us in by a back passage to my aunt's apartments where she and my uncle were waiting for me. They both burst into tears as they beheld my plight. Two old serving women, who had been many years in the family, helped us to change our clothes and gave us a bath and food. My feet had suffered the most. They were swollen and ulcerated and the dirty rags and dust adhering to the sores had left them in a wretched condition. It took many baths before we were clean, and weeks before my feet were healed.

"We remained with my uncle until the close of the Boxer trouble, and until my grandfather's return from Hsian where he had gone with the Empress Dowager and the court, and then I came back to Peking."

"Your grandmother must have felt ashamed when she heard how hard it had gone with you," I remarked.

"We never mentioned the matter when talking together. That was a time when every one was for himself. Death stared us all in the face."

"Where is your slave girl now? I should like to see her," I remarked.

"After the troubles were over I married her to a young man of my uncle's household. I will send for her and bring her to see you."

She did so. I found she had forgotten much of what she had learned of Christianity, but she remembered that there was but one God and that Jesus Christ was His Son to whom alone she should pray. She also remembered that as a small child she had been baptized, and that in school she had been taught that "we should love one another"; this was about the extent of her Gospel, but it had touched the heart of her charming little mistress and had saved her life.

There were sometimes amusing things happened when these Chinese ladies called. My husband among other things taught astronomy in the university. He had a small telescope with which he and the students often examined the planets, and they were especially interested in Jupiter and his moons. One evening, contrary to her custom, this same friend was calling after dark, and when the students had finished with Jupiter and his moons, my husband invited us to view them, as they were especially clear on that particular evening.

After she had looked at them for a while, and as my husband was closing up the telescope, she exclaimed: "That is the kind of an instrument that some foreigners sent as a present to my grandfather while he was viceroy, but it was larger than this one."

"And did he use it?" asked my husband.

"No, we did not know what it was for. Besides my grandfather was too busy with the affairs of the government to try to understand it."

"And where is it now?" asked Mr. Headland, thinking that the viceroy might be willing to donate it to the college.

"I do not know," she answered. "The servants thought it was a pump and tried to pump water with it, but it would not work. It is probably among the junk in some of the back rooms."

"I wonder if we could not find it and fix it up," my husband persisted.

"I am afraid not," she answered. "The last I saw of it, the servants had taken the glass out of the small end and were using it to look at insects on the bed."

One day when one of my friends came to call I said to her: "It is a long time since I have seen you. Have you been out of the city?"

"Yes, I have been spending some months with my father-in-law, the viceroy of the Canton provinces. His wife has died, and I have returned to Peking to get him a concubine."

"How old is he?" I inquired.

"Seventy-two years," she replied.

"And how will you undertake to secure a concubine for such an old man?"

"I shall probably buy one."

A few weeks afterwards she called again having with her a good-looking young woman of about seventeen, her hair beautifully combed, her face powdered and painted, and clothed in rich silk and satin garments, whom she introduced as the young lady procured for her father-in-law. She explained that she had bought her from a poor country family for three hundred and fifty ounces of silver.

"Don't you think it is cruel for parents to sell their daughters in this way?" I asked.

"Perhaps," she answered. "But with the money they received for her, they can buy land enough to furnish them a good support all their life. She will always have rich food, fine clothing and an easy time, with nothing to do but enjoy herself, while if she had remained at home she must have married some poor man who might or might not have treated her well, and for whom she would have to work like a slave. Now she is nominally a slave with nothing to do and with every comfort, in addition to what she has done for her family."

While we were having tea she asked to see Mr. Headland, as many of the older of my friends did. I invited him in, and as he entered the dining-room the young woman stepped out into the hall.

My friend greeted my husband, and with a mysterious nod of her head in the direction of the young woman she said: "Chiu shih na ke, -- that's it."