BEFORE the end of 1864
failing eyes and a failing voice showed that Dr Legge had strained himself
well-nigh to the limit of his powers. A holiday was necessary, and, by good
fortune, three weeks with three friends on the West River of Canton province
gave him, in his own words, 'invigoration and delight.' A short account of
the trip will give glimpses of a part of China little known to foreigners,
and the circumstances which came under his notice towards the end of it bear
a curious resemblance to stories usually connected only with Roman Catholic
The three friends were Dr
Kane and Dr Palmer, both medical men, and Mr J. B. Taylor, a much valued
friend. With them, too, came Dr Legge's Chinese secretary, whose home lay up
the West River.
They engaged a handsome
Tsze-tung boat, which contained four compartments. The sofas, chairs, and
tables were of ebony, and covered with splendid embroideries; the woodwork
was beautifully carved, and twenty lamps hung from the ceiling of the
saloon. The crew consisted of the Chinese skipper, his wife, with a son and
two daughters; and six men, who did the rowing, pulling, and tracking. The
skipper was a man of remarkable taciturnity; the wife, however, had a shrill
tongue; her words were fast and furious, and she 'jumped to the screaming
stage' on any or no provocation. The four passengers called her
'dragon-mother,' by a prompting which will shortly appear. She was an
amusing sight when the wind blew hard against them, or the boat stuck on a
shallow or on a sandbank. 'Then she became exceedingly devout, screamed
violently, and scattered flaming pieces of joss paper on the waters with a
lavish hand.' Her daughter's business was to look after the spirit shrine
which stood at one end of the vessel. She lit its candles every night, and
on the first and fifteenth of the month supplied it with fresh sand, incense
sticks, and gilt paper.
Dr Chalmers, who saw the
party off from Canton, reported as follows: 'The vessel started to-day at
noon, loaded with provisions both for mind and body, and the four passengers
seemed mightily pleased both with their position and prospects. The stout
M.D. busied himself in putting up shelves and opening boxes of stores; the
witty one overflowed with high spirits; the Doctor Divine piled up a few
volumes on one of the shelves bearing on future Prolegomena, to which were
added others of a lighter kind; and the fourth passenger looked after
windows and fittings with a view to personal comfort.'
To reach the West River—about
thirty-five miles from Canton—they moved along cross streams. Out of '
Flower-land,' or ' Garden creek,' they held on to the large town of Fuh-shan.
Various pencil pagodas rose up at intervals, called so from their pointed
tops. These pencil-pointed pagodas are all dedicated to the Kwei-Sing or
North Star, the spirit of which is supposed to be an attendant of the god of
therefore, will descend upon the districts where they are raised. In
Fuh-shan the mottoes displayed on the sign-boards of the hongs, or places of
business, were sufficiently striking. A coffin-maker called his shop 'The
hall of a myriad years' longevity'; a tobacco merchant named his 'The house
of eternal virtue.'
Entering a large stream, they
passed a large temple, 'the temple where they divide the booty,' called so
because 'the robbers of the district resort to it to sanctify their division
of the spoils.' Near the city called 'Three Waters' (San Schuy) kingfishers
flitted about among the rice-fields and fish-ponds. Soon after they passed
into the West River itself, and dropped anchor in full view of the grand
mountains which had been looming before their eyes ever more grandly as they
approached. Here they landed, having set their hearts on climbing up to the
Buddhist monastery called 'Congratulating the Clouds,' and there spending
the night. Walking along past banyans and cotton trees, among bright tufts
of wild chrysanthemums, they reached the gorge where the stream narrowed
beneath overhanging trees. Darkness set in, and swarms of fireflies
glittered about them as they climbed the steep and finally knocked at the
The monks received them
politely but coldly, conducted them to the guest-chamber, and intimated that
they must keep to the rules and eat nothing but rice, tea, bean curd and
greens. However, having brought food with them, they persuaded the priest to
let them open a tin of soup. He allowed them to heat the tin itself, but
would let no utensil of the monastery be defiled. They wished to send in
their cards to the Abbot, but were assured he was 'not at home.' At nine
o'clock the second watch was loudly proclaimed in Pali: 'It is the second
watch. Be still, everyone. Banish improper thoughts, and with all your
hearts think of Buddha.'
The next morning they were
shown the 'Hall of the Three Precious Ones,' of Buddha, past, present, and
to come; the Room of Judgment, the Courts, the two refectories, and other
chapels and buildings on successive terraces. The urchin deputed to show
them over preluded his entrance into every fresh passage by an unearthly
yell, 'to give Buddha notice of our coming.' The monastery stood, embowered
amid trees, about a thousand feet up the mountain of Ting-hoo 'the mountain
with a lake on its top.' Giant peaks rose round as if to guard it. There
were apparently about a hundred monks in the establishment and about twenty
boys, kept to help in the menial work. As a whole the monks were painful to
look upon; many of them seemed verging on idiocy. Such lack-lustre eyes as
seemed the rule could not be seen in England outside a refuge for imbeciles.
Early in the morning Dr Legge asked for permission to visit the library.
After much hesitation the answer was given 'Yes, after breakfast' Breakfast
passed, and the request was repeated, but excuse after excuse was made,
until a small boy shouted, 'You need not ask about a book-room, no one reads
The monks' dormitories were
squalid; in fact, the only elevating element in their daily life seemed to
be the care they bestowed on flowers. Magnificent rows of chrysanthemums and
cockscombs stood arranged in high stands in the open court before the 'Hall
of the Three Precious Ones.' The treasure of the monastery was a relic of
Buddha shut up in a splendidly tinselled pagoda, but what the relic was they
either did not know or would not tell. 'If it were looked at or handled'
said a monk, 'there would be an explosion as disastrous as an earthquake'.
Once or twice the party
encountered a stout, hearty old fellow wearing a rosary of large jade beads.
They had a strong suspicion that he was the Abbot who was 'not at home.' Dr
Legge asked him, 'Is this monastery subordinate to any other? or does your
Abbot acknowledge the existence of any higher dignitary?' 'No' was his
reply, 'the law of Buddha is equality.'
Leaving the monastery with
much chin-chining, they walked by a lovely path to the 'Abyss of the Flying
Water' where a cascade of about 200 feet in height flung itself down over
frowning, broken rocks. 'This alone,' said one, 'is worth coming from Hong
Kong to see'.
Descending the mountain, they
came upon nearly a dozen strapping Chinese girls, who were cutting fuel and
grass. They took no notice of the foreigners, and such was their air of
sadness that Dr Legge inquired the cause. 'My life is bitter,' said one,
'with this constant toil and its perils. One of us lately slipped and fell
down the mountain, receiving bad injuries.'
Embarking again, they passed
through the great wonder of the region, the pass or gorge of Shaou-king, six
miles long. The river here narrows, and is only about 600 yards wide; bare
rocks rise to the height of 1200 feet or more, behind them are seen still
loftier peaks. On one green summit a rock rises; the spot is called 'Look
out for your husband'. For there, legend says, a lady was wont to sit
watching for the return of her husband from war, and there she sat until
changed into a rock. The native crew sang as they passed it:—
*High sits the lady by the
A thousand years her hair flies free,
Ten thousand years her robes are blown,
Her husband's face when shall she see?'
Four pagodas on the banks
betokened that they were nearing the city of Shaou-king, where they halted.
Here occurred the incident, otherwhere noticed, of the Chinaman who bowed to
Dr Legge, calling him 'the righteous man' because he had declined the bag of
dollars from the Shield King of the Tai-ping rebellion.
About three miles behind the
city, among certain remarkable limestone rocks which rose in separate masses
to the height of from 150 to 500 feet, were some neglected Buddhist and
Taoist temples; one being inside the 'Cave of Seven Stars' a large natural
grotto. The solitary priest in attendance possessed a strikingly shrewd
face. He had only become a priest, they were told, as an alternative to
execution, having been a leader of robbers and a prominent rebel. When the
rebellion was suppressed, his life was saved by the interference of the
gentry who 'liked him as a good fellow' and undertook that he should shave
his head and give no more trouble. Further on, in the 'Rice-yielding Cave'
was a shrine to the spirit of a personage named Chow, who has been
worshipped for 1200 years. Chow was probably in ancient times a good and
kindly inhabitant of the district A large stalagmite beside his shrine
somewhat resembles the figure of an old man holding out his hand. From a
hole in his hand, tradition says, a quantity of rice used to pour forth.
This projection is worn quite smooth by the touch of visitors who come still
to stroke it in the hope that it will bestow a few grains of rice upon them.
The sight of it reminded Dr Legge of Cicero's account of the statue in the
'Temple of Hercules' at Agrigentum, the mouth of which was worn away by the
kisses of its worshippers.
Further up the river, passing
magnificent clumps of bamboos, from 40 to 50 feet high, they came to the
town of Yue-ch'ing, where is the temple and grave of the great goddess
'Dragon-mother.' More than 2000 years ago, a certain girl, washing crape at
the river, found a large egg which she carried home. By-and-by five lizards
emerged from the egg and grew up into splendid dragons with glittering
scales and horns. By their help the girl, Miss Wan, performed many marvels
which, coming to the ears of the emperor, induced him to send for her,
intending to make her his wife. She had no ambition to be empress but was
forced to set sail. The vessel had gone 300 miles when the dragons appeared
and in one night dragged it back. This happened three times, after which the
emperor finally desisted from his attempt to wed her. When Miss Wan died,
the dragons raised a great storm, scooped up the ground with their tails and
buried their 'mother' in a grave which is shown to the present day. From
ancient times the Dragon-mother Wan has been worshipped in this part of
China. Her temple is called the 'Temple of the Great Patroness of Filial
Piety' and contains an elegant figure of the goddess, horned, and wearing a
rich robe, the gift of an emperor. Her five dragon children in the form of
youths, also horned, are standing round her.
After visiting the 'Cockscomb
Rock' a mass of rock about 180 feet high, jagged so as to resemble a
cockscomb and extending for 500 feet along the side of the stream, they went
on to the 'Pass of the Seven Water-lilies' called so because seven hills
here converge together into a form suggestive of a huge lotus flower. They
passed the immense 'Rock of the Flowery Mark' crowning a high hill, and
shaped, the Chinese say, like a bonze's (priest's) head. Some think it
resembles the Sphinx. Our travellers compared it to Prometheus Vinctus.
They finally arrived at
Woo-chow which was dilapidated and dirty. It contained several Taoist
temples which were full of the grotesque images in which that sect delights.
Here they interviewed an old gentleman with a flowing white beard whose
finger-nails varied from five to seven inches in length.
On their journey back, an old
man came to them with his son who was suffering from a diseased foot, to ask
help from the doctors on board. They had spent all their money, they said,
on native doctors, whose caustic applications only made matters worse. Dr
Palmer fetched an instrument and, quick as thought, snapped out a piece of
diseased bone. The man screamed, but shortly after rowed away in great glee.
A day was given to visiting a
famous show place, the hill of Se-ts'eaou (hill of the western woodcutters).
Here they visited the 'Cave of the White Clouds,' the 'Kingfisher's Grotto'
the 'Leafless Well,' and the 'Great Nest Peak.' At 'White Clouds' is a
temple and also many shrines, the chief object of worship being a figure of
one of the 'Eight Genii' of the Taoists, named Leu, 'ruler of the five
thunders and director of the three religions.' The whole establishment
stands in a deep cleft of a granite spur, and the artfulness of design in
turning every peculiarity of natural position to account is most striking.
Some people say the Chinese have no taste; let such visit the cave of the
'White Clouds' and repeat their assertion, if they can. They went round the
wonders of the place—waterfall, towers, bridges, rock-grottos, until, to
their surprise, in a place of such Taoist sanctity they were shown the mark,
about two and half feet long, of 'Buddha's foot,' on a rock. How could
Buddha have been allowed near a place so sacred to Taoism? It is Taoist
monsters who are often represented with a somewhat similar bird-foot and
Up to the rounded summit
called 'Peak of the Great Nest,' 1000 feet high, they walked by a good road
paved with granite flags, or in steep places with steps. The most popular
idol on the mountain seemed to be the 'Great General Stone-dog,' a stone
figure in the shape of a dog. The aspect of the 'Leafless Well' on whose
surface many leaves were lying, belied the legend that a genius had given it
the power of throwing off floating leaves. The people living in the hamlets
of this high ground looked bright and healthy, in great contrast to the
sallow, feeble looks of those who dwelt below among malarial swamps,
rice-fields and fish-ponds. On the hillside an old, small-footed woman was
Most curious and interesting
circumstances came to their notice towards the end of this walk. As they
neared the top of the hill they saw a grand prospect below; an immense
plain, the great West River, and scores of hamlets and villages. Crowds of
people were hurrying across the country, all in one direction, all moved
evidently by some impulse to visit one special village. Dr Legge bought a
pamphlet on the way down which told a strange story, which story was
corroborated by his secretary Tsang, who had been absent for three days
visiting his relations in one of those villages. It appeared that 'in the
summer of the year before, at the village of Keang-peen (River side) there
had died a girl called Yu Wang Hing, between sixteen and seventeen years
old. From her childhood there had been something peculiar about her. She
often seemed rapt, and as if invisible beings were talking to her. Her
disposition, moreover, was gentle, quiet and benevolent. She was betrothed,
but the marriage had not been completed, mainly because of her delicate
health. One day, towards the end of summer, she said to her mother, 'Mother,
I am about to become an Immortal. Make ready a bath for me, made fragrant
with orange and whampei leaves.' Having bathed and changed her clothes, she
sat down, drew up her legs under her as in the figure of Kwan-yin sitting on
a lotus flower, closed her eyes, while her spirit floated away to join the
ranks of the Genii.
Her body was buried at a
place called Ta-san-kiang not far off, and before long, the grave was
visited by a mandarin from Canton. While in great anxiety on account of the
dangerous illness of his mother, he had a dream in which an immortal
appeared to him, saying, 'I was a girl, Yu Wang Hing, but I have now been
enrolled among the immortals. Go to the village of Keang-peen and get my
parents to direct you to my grave. Go there and worship, and I will heal
your mother.' The mandarin obeyed the vision, came to Ts'eaou, sacrificed
and prayed at the grave; and his mother recovered. The thing got noised
abroad, and many votaries came, some to the parent's house and some to the
site of the grave, and wonderful cures were effected. The deaf regained
their hearing; the blind received their sight; the lame were made to walk.
So it was said. Within three months, more than 100,000 visitors had been to
worship at the grave. Tsang passed near it on his way to his native village
and saw a dozen large sheds erected in the vicinity for the accommodation of
pilgrims. He gave Dr Legge a picture of the saint or goddess Yu, with a halo
round her head, of which picture tens of thousands were being sold. Thus
China is continually adding to the number of its gods and goddesses.
The secretary Tsang's account
of the place reminded Dr Legge somewhat of Bethesda, the pool which was by
the sheep-gate in Jerusalem. There had sprung up quite a little hamlet, he
said, to which thousands came from all parts of the country, to drink of the
water and wash and be healed. The girl was described as having been very
good and pure, and kind to all living things. Dr Legge was assured by many
people in the town at the foot of the hill, that his secretary's report was
quite true. Over thirty years afterwards, Dr Legge told a friend that he
felt sure that anyone visiting the place now would find a new temple and a
famous shrine in which offerings are made to the deceased girl.
A day or two later the
travellers found themselves again at Canton, and Dr Legge, greatly
invigorated, crossed over to Hong Kong to resume his work with new energy.