I took my son apart the other night and said, "I am thy mother and I want to speak words to thee straight from the heart. Thou art to have the joy of work, and remember the pride of work lies in the thought, 'For me alone is the task.'" I tried to make him understand that praise, glory, and honours are good, but they do not make for long life, and especially in these times it is better to work quietly without attracting too much attention. It is more safe, for "he who raises himself on tiptoe cannot stand, and he who stretches his legs wide apart cannot walk."
His father was especially anxious that he be not pierced with the arrow of treachery that poisons the blood and finds the weak spot in the armour of so many of our young men. He told him to keep himself above suspicion, to avoid those entangled in the nets of double dealing of whom one is uncertain, because "the red glow of the morning sun seems to stain even the pure whiteness of the new-fallen snow."
Why, Mother-mine, didst thou send the old priest from the temple down here? He abides in the courtyard, squatting on his heels, serving the spirits neither of Heaven nor of earth, but he sits and talks and talks and talks with the women of the courtyards. There are some of them I would fain send to a far-off province, especially Fang Tai, the mother of our gateman.
"A woman with a long tongue is a flight of steps leading to calamity."
This priest of thine has been quarrelling with her now over the question of the son of Wong Tai, who is accused of being on too friendly terms with some of the leaders of the rebellion. He made the unfortunate remark that perhaps the man was innocent but "one does not arrange his head-dress under an apricot-tree, nor his foot-gear in a melon patch, if he wishes to be above suspicion," and this simple remark has called down upon his priestly head the wrath of all the women. I think he will go to the monastery within the city to pass the night— at least if he has wisdom equal to his years.
Yesterday I thought that I might make some use of him, and I felt when he was working he would not be stirring up the courtyards. I bade him write the Sage's words upon a scroll of satin for my boy to take with him to his new home. He did it very beautifully, as he is a real artist with the brush. This is the reading of the scroll:
"There are three things for a man to guard against: The lusts of the flesh in early years, The spirit of combativeness in middle-age, And ambition as the years go on. There are three things to command your reverence: The ordinances of Heaven, Great men, and the words of the sages. There are three times three things to be remembered: To be clear in vision, Quick in hearing, Kindly in expression, Respectful in demeanour, True in word, Serious in duty, Inquiring in doubt, Self-controlled in anger, And just and fair when the chair of success is before your door."
I made a roll of it and placed it upon his desk, and when he opened it he found within another scroll of silk, the same in colour, size, and finish, written by his most unfilial sisters, which read:
"Remember that thou art young. What thou dost know is not to be compared, With what thou dost not know."
It made him angry at first, but I do not know but that the shorter scroll contains the greater wisdom.
I am anxious for this boy of mine, who is starting to sail his ship of manhood across the Broad River of Life in these most perilous times. I think he is strong enough to conquer all, but I have lighted candles and bought fine incense to persuade the Gods to temper winds to untried hands.
Thy daughter, Kwei-li.
14 My Dear Mother, I have not written thee for several days. We are in Nanking, where my husband is presiding at a meeting of the officials in order to discuss the question of a compromise, or to try in some way to settle the questions that are causing this dreadful rebellion, without more loss of life. He is also acting as judge in the case of some of the men who have been caught pillaging and destroying the homes of the innocent people. It is hard for him to act with strict justice, remembering the many friends he has lost, and it is necessary to see things without their individuality in order to be wise in all judgments. I came, ostensibly to see the friends of my childhood, but really to take care of thy son and see that he eats with regularity and takes his rest. He is working far too hard. He gives himself to whatever task arrives, greedy for the work, like one who lusts in the delight of seeing tasks accomplished. But he is trusted by all, both sides agreeing to rest on his decisions, all realising that personal feeling is put far into the background of his mind when the interests of new China are at stake.
We are in the Yamen where I lived as a young girl, but now all is changed. Instead of the old guard of honour, with their great flapping hats, their gaily decorated jackets, baggy trousers tucked into velvet boots, pennants flying from their spear-points as their small ponies dashed madly in front of the official carriage, we were met by a body of foreign-dressed soldiers who conducted us with military precision quite different from the old-time dash and lack of discipline.
Inside the Yamen, also, things are different. Everything is orderly and moves with a machine-like regularity that seems totally foreign to an Eastern official's residence. There is not the democracy of other days; the man from the street, the merchant or the coolie with his burden on his shoulders, did not follow us into the courtyards to see what was being done, nor were there crowds of idle men gazing with mild curiosity at the visitors to their city.
We hear much of the old-time power of the officials; but things are not nearly so democratic under this new government as in former times, when, it is true, the governor had power of life and death, but still was obliged to deal leniently with his people. A little larger demand for tribute, a case of rank injustice, and he became the object of the people's wrath and would quite likely see his Yamen in a blaze, or pay with his life for his greed. The masses held real power within their hands. If their officials did not deal justly with them, they caused a riot, and if the frightened official could not still it within a certain time, he was told that he evidently could not control his people and so was removed.
My husband inspected the regiments stationed here. I saw them from a veranda in the Yamen where we women were unseen. Fifteen thousand men marched past him; and they were a sight for one who loves his country. They were all young men, no one seeming to be over twenty-five, and as they marched my heart was filled with pride and hope in them. I thought, it is of just such men, such sons of peasants and working people, that Japan made her army that gained a victory over one of the greatest nations in the Western world. Why cannot we, with our unlimited numbers, make an army that will cause our country to be respected and take its place among the powers of the world? We have the men, myriads and myriads of them; men who are used to hardship and privation in their daily life, who, on a bowl of rice, a morsel of dried fish, can fight the whole day through. Our men are not accustomed to the luxuries of the foreigners, who, even in times of war, carry great stores of what seems to Eastern nations, unnecessary baggage. With them their endless string of wagons is their greatest pitfall, and with us these latter could be reduced to the smallest count.
Yet we hear on every hand that the courage of the Chinese soldier is held at low value. But why? When sent unarmed, or with guns for which there were no bullets, into the Japanese war, against troops with the latest inventions in weapons to kill, the only thing to be done was to retreat. But when they are paid, fed, and armed, and have leaders who will go to the front with them, instead of saying, "There is the enemy. Charge! I will go back to the hills and await your hour of glory," they are found to be courageous to the verge of fanaticism. Under trusted leaders there is no forlorn hope or desperate service for which they would not volunteer. Let them have confidence in their new generals, and, even though not understanding the cause, they will make the best soldiers in the world.
But I must not talk to thee of war; we want not more bloodshed and the fatherless homes and lean years that follow in the track of great armies. Yet, if we cannot be without it, let it serve war's ends— the ultimate safety of our people, and bring them peace and tranquillity, their heart's desire.
I visited the ruined homes of friends of mine, who are no more. It made me feel that life is nothing but a mirage, a phantom, or as foam, and "even as all earthly vessels made on the potter's wheel must end by being broken, so end the lives of men." I went out to the home of Yuan Tai-tai, who, to my childish mind was the great lady of my dreams. I can close my eyes and see her still, like a brilliant butter-fly, dressed in her gay brocades, her hair twined with jewels of pearl and jade; with hand in mine she wandered o'er her garden, bending over goldfish ponds, or clipping fading flowers from off their stems. There reigned a heavy silence in her palace, with its memories, that seemed full of sadness and a vague regret, reminding me of an old blue China bowl which a hand of other days had filled with roses. The flowers trying to struggle from beneath the thorns and brambles that always come where troops are quartered, seemed to say, "Behold, they are not here who once have cared for us and cherished us, but the gardens breathe of them and we are fragrant for their sakes." I picked a branch of cherry-blossoms, and swiftly fell the perfumed petals to the ground— symbols of the dainty lives that bloomed so short a time in this fair garden of my lady. Liu Che, the poet of the olden time, seems to have been speaking of this, my friend, when he says:
"The sound of rustling silk is stilled, With dust the marble courtyard filled; No footfalls echo on the floor, Fallen leaves in heaps block up the door... For she, my pride, my lovely one is lost."
We went from Yuan's palace to the Temple of Kwan-yin, which I often visited as a child. It also was a ruin, but it spoke to me of the dead thousands of weary feet that had climbed the steps leading to its shrines; of the buried mothers who touched the floor before its altars with reverent heads and asked blessings on their children's lives; of their children, taught to murmur prayers to the Mother of all Mercies, who held close within her loving heart the sorrows, hopes, and fears of woman's world. Ghosts of these spirits seemed to follow as we wandered through deserted courtyards, and an odour as of old incense perfumed the air. I went out and stood upon the tortoise that is left to guard the ruined temple; the great stone tortoise that is the symbol of longevity of our country, that even armies in their wrath cannot destroy.
From the gateway we could see the river, a gleaming thread of silver, and the hillsides, tree clad, flower wreathed, painted with the colours that the Gods give to the spring— the spring that "thrills the warm blood into wine." But I miss the natural songs that should float upward from the valley, and down the reed-strewn banks of the canals, where labourers in olden days were happy in their toil.
Even as we left the place the pattering rain-drops came as rice grains falling upon the threshing-floor, and the hills seemed "folding veils of sorrow round their brows." It was brought to our remembrance that we must return to a city where war and famine may come thundering at her gates, and we must stand with helpless hands.
Dear Mother mine, stay upon thy flower-scented balustrade, and drink great draughts of that wine of spring, the vintage of the wise, that the Gods give to thee freely in thy mountain home, and leave to younger hands the battles with the world. Thou must not come; write no more that thou wouldst be amongst us. We love thee dearly, but we would cherish thee and keep thee from all care.
15 My Dear Mother, I have had a most interesting day, and I hasten to tell thee all about it. I have just returned from opening a home for motherless children, given by a mission of a foreign land. It is a beautiful thought, and a kindly one, to give a home to these poor waifs of an alien land, all in the name of their Saviour of the World. I saw for the first time a picture of this Christ, with little children around Him. The message I read within His eyes seemed to be: "I will be father and mother, father and mother and playmate to all little children." The words of the Japanese poet describe Him: "He was caressing them kindly, folding His shining robes round them; lifting the smallest and frailest into His bosom, and holding His staff for the tumblers to clutch. To His long gown clung the infants, smiling in response to His smile, glad in His beauteous compassion."
I looked at the picture and at the people around me on the platform, and wondered why in all the Christian world that claims this loving Master there should be such exceeding bitterness between His followers. How can they expect us to believe in this great Teacher when they themselves are doubtful of his message, and criticise quite openly their Holy Book? If it is true, should education and science make its teaching less authentic? We do not want a religion that is uncertain to its own people, yet we take with many thanks what it can give us, the things we understand, such as their schools and hospitals. Where there is pain or ignorance, there is no distinction in the God that brings relief. We may not believe in the doctrines that we are taught in the waiting-rooms of their hospitals, but we do believe in the healing power of the medicines that are brought by religious zeal from over the seas.
If their teaching has not as yet made many converts, the effect has been great in the spread of higher ideals of education, and much of the credit for the progress of our modern life must be given to the mission schools, which, directly or indirectly, have opened new pathways in the field of education for our country, and caused the youth of China to demand a higher learning throughout the land. This aggressive religion from the West, coupled with the education that seems to go hand in hand with it, is bound to raise the religious plane of China by forcing our dying faiths to reassume higher and higher forms in order to survive.
But I believe that these teachers from the foreign lands should understand better the religions they are so anxious to displace, and instead of always looking for the point of difference or weakness in our faith, should search more anxiously for the common ground, the spark of the true light that may still be blown to flame, finding the altar that may be dedicated afresh to the true God.
Every religion, however imperfect, has something that ought to be held sacred, for there is in all religions a secret yearning after the unknown God. This thought of God "is an elixir made to destroy death in the world, an unfailing treasure to relieve the poverty of mankind, a balm to allay his sickness, a tree under which may rest all creatures wearied with wanderings over life's pathways. It is a bridge for passing over hard ways, open to all wayfarers, a moon of thought arising to cool the fever of the world's sin, and whatever name His followers may call Him, he is the one True God of all mankind."
Whether we see the coolie bowing his head before the image of the Lord of Light, the Buddha, or the peasant woman with her paper money alight in the brazier at the feet of Kwan-yin, we ought to feel that the place where he who worships stands, is holy ground. We hear it said that he is worshipping an image, an idol, a thing of stone or wood or clay. It is not so; he is thinking far beyond the statue, he is seeing God. He looks upwards towards the sky and asks what supports that cup of blue. He hears the winds and asks them whence they come and where they go. He rises for his toil at break of day and sees the morning sun start on his golden journey. And Him who is the cause of all these wonders, he calls his Life, his Breath, his Lord of All. He does not believe that the idol is his God. "'Tis to the light which Thy splendour lends to the idol's face, that the worshipper bends."
The difference between us all lies not in the real teaching of our Holy Men, Confucius, Buddha, Lao Tze, or Christ, but in the narrowness of the structure which their followers have built upon their words. Those sages reared a broad foundation on which might have been built, stone by stone, a mighty pagoda reaching to the skies. There could have been separate rooms, but no closed doors, and from out the pointed roofs might have pealed the deep-toned bells caught by every wandering breeze to tell the world that here spoke the Truth or the One Great God. But, instead, what have they done? The followers have each built separately over that portion which was the work of their own Master. The stories have grown narrower and narrower with the years; each bell rings out with its own peculiar tone, and there is no accord or harmony.
I do not dispute with those who have found a healing for themselves. To us our religion is something quite inseparable from ourselves, something that cannot be compared with anything else, or replaced ith anything else. It is like our bodies. In its form it may be like other bodies, but in its relation to ourselves it stands alone and admits of no rival; yet the remedy that has cured us should not be forced upon a people, irrespective of their place, their environment or their temperament.
We of the East "have sounded depth on depth only to find still deeper depths unfathomed and profound," and we have learned to say that no sect or religion can claim to be in possession of all the Truth. Let the teachers from other countries learn of our doctrines. Let them learn of Buddha. To one who reads his pure teaching, nothing so beautiful, nothing so high, has been heard in all the world. We admit that, little by little, changes have come, simplicity has been lost, and with every addition something departed from its purity and it became stained. Yet I believe that much of the kindliness, much of the gentleness now so marked in Chinese nature, may be traced to the teaching of this great apostle of peace and quietude.
That other great religion, the religion of the Way, has become steeped in superstition and has been made a reproach in all our land. Yet Lao Tze had noble sentiments and lofty thoughts that have helped generations of mankind in many struggles.
Confucius, it is said, presented high ideals without the breath of spirit; his system was for the head and did not feed the heart; yet he taught that, from the highest in the land to the lowest worker in the field, personal virtue, cleanness of heart and hands, is to be held the thing of greatest value. Men are urged to cherish all that is of good in them, to avoid evil living, to cultivate right feeling, and to be true and faithful to their tasks.
We should not value the teaching of our religion "as a miser values his pearls and jade, thinking their value lessened if pearls and jade are found in other parts of the world." But the searcher after Truth will welcome any true doctrine, and believe it no less precious because it was spoken by Buddha, Lao Tze, Confucius or Christ. We should not peer too closely to learn what the temple may enshrine, but "feel the influence of things Divine and pray, because by winding paths we all may reach the same great Ocean's shore." We all are searchers for the Way. Whence do I come; where do I go? In this passage from the unknown to the unknown, this pilgrimage of life, which is the straight path, which the true road— if indeed there be a Way? Such are the questions that all the world is asking. What is the true answer; where may we find it? Whose holy book holds the key that will open wide the door?
All have a hunger of the soul for something beside life's meat and drink; all want a remedy for the sorrows of the world. The Buddhists believe that it can be found in the destruction of desire, by renouncing the world and following the noble path of peace until death shall open the portals of the unknowable, everlasting stillness from which there is no return. The Confucianists say the remedy is found within the world by fulfilling all its duties and leaving to a greater Justice the future and its rewards. The Christians give a whispered message of hope to the lonely soul beating against the bars of the world about him, and say that a life of love and joy and peace is the gift of their great Messenger, and when the years have passed that He stands within an archway to welcome those, His chosen, to a land of bliss where we shall meet all who have loved us and whom we have loved in life, and gaze upon His face.
Which is the Way, which path to God is broad enough for all the world?
16 My Dear Mother, I received thy letter which was full of reproaches most unjust. I have not broken my word, given to thee so long ago. I opened the home for friendless children, not because it belonged to a mission of a foreign religion, but because I think it a most worthy cause. There are many homeless little ones in this great city, and these people give them food and clothing and loving care, and because it is given in the name of a God not found within our temples, is that a reason for withholding our encouragement?
Thou hast made my heart most heavy. Twenty-five years ago, when my first-born son was taken from me, I turned from Gods who gave no comfort in my time of need: all alone with hungry winds of bitterness gnawing the lute strings of my desolate mother-heart, I stood upon my terrace, and fought despair. My days were without hope and my nights were long hours filled with sorrow, when sleep went trailing softly by and left me to the old dull pain of memory. I called in anguish upon Kwan-yin, and she did not hear my prayer. The painted smile upon her lips but mocked me, and in despair I said, "There are no Gods," and in my lonely court of silent dreams I lost the thread of worldly care until my tiny bark of life was nearly drifting out upon the unknown sea.
Thou rememberest that the servants brought to me from out the market-place the book of the foreign God, and in its pages I woke to life again. I looked once more from out my curtained window, and saw the rosy glow of dawn instead of grey, wan twilights of the hopeless days before me; and, as on a bridge half seen in shadows dim, I returned to the living world about me. Thou saidst nothing until it had brought its healing, then thou tookest the book and kept it from me. Thou toldst me with tears that it would bring thine head in sorrow to thy resting-place upon the hillside if I left the Gods of my ancestors and took unto my heart the words and teachings of the God of an alien race. I promised thee that I would not cause thee grief, and I have kept my word.
In my ignorance I have longed for knowledge, for some one to explain the teaching that rolled away for me the rush of troubled waters that flooded all my soul; but as I looked about me and saw the many warring factions that follow the great Teacher of love and peace, I did not know which way to turn, which had the truth to give me; and I wanted all, not part. I have this book, and have not sought for wisdom from outside, but only search its pages to find its messages to me.
Thou must not say I have deserted China's Gods, nor is it just to write that my children are wandering from the Way. I have observed the feasts and fastings; each morn the Household God has rice and tea before him; the Kitchen God has gone with celebrations at springtime to the spirit up above. The candles have been lighted and the smoke of incense has ascended to propitiate the God of Light, Lord Buddha, and Kwan-yin, and my children have been taught their prayers and holy precepts. It is not my fault, nor shouldst thou blame it to my teaching if rites and symbols have lost their meaning, and if the Gods of China are no longer strong enough to hold our young.
Oh, Mother mine, thou knowest I would not cause thee sorrow, and thou hast hurt me sorely with thy letter of bitterness and reproach. If thou couldst have seen within my heart these many ears, and known the longing for this light that came to me in darkness, then thou wouldst not have burned the book that brought me hope and life again when all seemed gone.
Thou askest me to promise thee anew that I will not trouble thy last few years with thoughts that seem to thee a sacrilege and a desecration of thy Gods. Thou art the mother of my husband, and 'tis to thee I owe all loyalty and obedience. I promise thee, but— that which is deep within my heart— is mine.
Thy daughter, Kwei-li.
17 My Dear Mother, I, thy son's wife, have been guilty of the sin of anger, one of the seven deadly sins— and great indeed has been my anger. Ting-fang has been bringing home with him lately the son of Wong Kai-kia, a young man who has been educated abroad, I think in Germany. I have never liked him, have looked upon his aping of the foreign manners, his half-long hair which looks as if he had started again a queue and then stopped, his stream of words without beginning and without end, as a foolish boy's small vanities that would pass as the years and wisdom came. But now— how can I tell thee— he asks to have my daughter as his wife, my Luh-meh, my flower. If he had asked for Man-li, who wishes to become a doctor, I might have restrained my anger; but, no, he wants the beauty of our house-hold, and for full a space of ten breaths' breathing-time, I withheld my indignation, for I was speechless. Then I fear I talked, and only stopped for lack of words. My son is most indignant, and says I have insulted his dear friend. His dear friend indeed! He is so veiled in self-conceit that he can be insulted by no one; and as for being a friend, he does not know the word unless he sees in it something to further his own particular interests.
I told my son that he is a man who leads a life of idleness and worse. The tea-house knows him better than his rooftree. He is most learned and has passed safely many examinations, and writes letters at the end of his name, and has made an especial study of the philosophers of the present time; and because of this vast amount of book learning and his supposedly great intelligence he is entitled to indulgence, says my son, and should not be judged by the standards that rule ordinary people, who live upon a lower plane. I say that his knowledge and greater intelligence (which latter I very much doubt) increase his responsibilities and should make of him an example for the better living of men.
A clever bad man is like vile characters scrawled in ink of gold, and should be thrown aside as fit only for the braziers.
He is handsome in my daughter's eyes; but I say virtue is within the man, not upon his skin. He fascinates my younger sons with his philosophy and his tea-house oratory. I do not like philosophy, it is all marked with the stamp of infidelity and irreligion. It is rarely that a man devotes himself to it with-out robbing himself of his faith, and casting off the restraints of his religion; or, if they do not lose it utterly, they so adulterate it with their philosophy that it is impossible to separate the false from the true. The reading of philosophic writings, so full of vain and delusive reasonings, should be forbidden to our young folk, just as the slippery banks of a river are forbidden to one who knows not how to swim. I will have none of them in our library, nor will I allow their father to read them where his sons can see him. The snake-charmer should not touch the serpents before his child's eyes, knowing that the child will try to imitate him in all things.
It is "as pouring water in a frog's face" to talk to these, my children, who think a man, with words upon his lips, a sage. I say a dog is not a good dog because he is a good barker, nor should a man be considered a good man because he is a good talker; but I see only pity in their faces that their mother is so far behind the times. These boys of ours are so much attracted by the glimpses they have had of European civilisation, that they look down upon their own nationality. They have been abroad only long enough to take on the veneer of Western education; it is a half-and-half knowledge; and it is these young men who become the discontented ones of China. When they return they do not find employment immediately, since they have grown out of touch with their country and their country's customs. They feel that they should begin at the top of the ladder, instead of working up slowly, rung by rung, as their fathers did before them. They must be masters all at once, not realising that, even with their tiny grains of foreign knowledge, they have not yet experience to make them leaders of great enterprises or of men; yet they know too much to think of going back into their father's shop.
I realise that the students who go abroad from China have many difficulties to overcome. It is hard to receive their information and instruction in a language not their mother tongue. They have small chance to finish their education by practical work in bank or shop or factory. They get a mass of book knowledge and little opportunity to practise the theories which they learn, and they do not understand that the text-book knowledge is nearly all foreign to their country and to the temperament of their race. I often ask, when looking at my son, what is his gain? I presume it is in securing a newer, broader point of view, an ability to adjust himself to modern conditions, and a wider sympathy with the movements of the world.
China has for centuries been lost to the world by reason of her great exclusion, her self-satisfaction and blind reliance upon the ways marked out for her by sages of other days. These young men, with the West in their eyes, are coming back to shock their fathers' land into new channels. The process may not be pleasant for us of the old school, but quite likely it is necessary. Yet, I feel deep within me, as I look at them, that these new Westernised Easterners with their foreign ways and clever English are not to be the final saviours of China. They are but the clarion voices that are helping to awake the slumbering power. China must depend upon the firmer qualities of the common people, touched with the breath of the West.
It is with great sorrow that we mothers and fathers see our boys and girls, especially those who return from abroad, neglecting and scoffing at our modes of education that have endured and done such noble work for centuries past. I know it is necessary to study things modern to keep up with the demands of the times; but they can do this and still reserve some hours for the reading of the classics. Instead of always quoting Byron, Burns, or Shelley, as do my son and daughter, let them repeat the beautiful words of Tu Fu, Li Po, Po Chu-i, our poets of the golden age.
In no country is real learning held in higher esteem than in China. It is the greatest characteristic of the nation that, in every grade of society, education is considered above all else. Why, then, should our young people be ashamed of their country's learning? The Chinese have devoted themselves to the cultivation of literature for a longer period by some thousands of years than any existing nation. The people who lived at the time of our ancestors, the peoples of Egypt, the Greeks, the Romans, have disappeared ages ago and have left only their histories writ in book or stone. The Chinese alone have continued to give to the world their treasures of thought these five thousand years. To literature and to it alone they look for the rule to guide them in their conduct. To them all writing is most sacred. The very pens and papers used in the making of their books have become objects of veneration. Even our smallest village is provided with a scrap-box into which every bit of paper containing words or printed matter is carefully placed, to await a suitable occasion when it may be reverently burned.
Change is now the order of the day, educationally as well as politically. We do not hear the children shouting their tasks at the top of their voices, nor do they learn by heart the thirteen classics, sitting on their hard benches within the simple rooms with earthen floor, where the faint light comes straggling through the unglazed windows on the boy who hopes to gain the prize that will lead him to the great Halls of Examination at Peking. If, while there, he is favoured by the God of Learning and passes the examination, he will come back to his village an honour to his province, and all his world will come and do him reverence, from the viceroy in his official chair to the meanest worker in the fields. These old-time examinations are gone, the degrees which were our pride have been abolished, the subjects of study in the schools have been completely changed. The privileges which were once given our scholars, the social and political offices which were once open to the winner of the highest prize, have been thrown upon the altar of modernity. They say it is a most wise move and leads to the greater individualism, which is now the battle-cry of China. The fault of the old examination, we are told, is the lack of original ideas which might be expressed by a student. He must give the usual interpretations of the classics. Now the introduction of free thought and private opinion has produced in China an upheaval in men's minds. The new scholars may say what they think wisest, and they even try to show that Confucius was at heart a staunch republican, and that Mencius only thinly veiled his sentiments of modern philosophy.
Perhaps the memory work of the Chinese education was wrong; but it served its purpose once, if tales are true.
It is said that many hundreds of years ago, the founder of the Chinese dynasty, the man of pride who styled himself Emperor the First, conceived the idea of destroying all literature which was before his reign, so that he might be regarded by posterity as the founder of the Chinese Empire. It is believed by many Chinese scholars that this wicked thing was done, and that not a single perfect copy of any book escaped destruction. He even went so far as to bury alive above five hundred of the best scholars of the land, that none might remain to write of his cruel deed. But the classics had been too well learned by the scholars, and were reproduced from memory to help form the minds of China for many tens of years. This could be done to-day if a similar tragedy were enacted. Thousands of boys have committed the great books to heart, and this storing in the mind of enormous books has developed in our race a marvellous memory, if, as others say, it has taken away their power of thinking for themselves.
Which is the best? Only time will tell. But we are told that the literati of China, the aristocracy of our land, must go. Yet, as of old, it is the educated men who will move China. Without them, nothing can be done, for the masses will respect education and the myriads will blindly follow a leader whom they feel to be a true scholar; and it will be hard to change the habits of a people who have been taught for centuries that education is another word for officialdom.
This new education, in my mind, must not be made so general; it must be made more personal. Three things should be taken into account: who the boy is, where he is, and where he is going. It is not meet to educate the son of my gate-keeper the same as my son. He should be made a good workman, the best of his kind, better to fill the place to which the Gods have called him. Give our boys the modern education, if we must, but remember and respect the life work each may have to follow. Another thing we should remember: the progress in the boy's worldly knowledge should not make him hard in his revolt against his Gods, nor should his intelligence be freed without teaching him self-control. That is fatal for our Eastern race. Let him learn, in his books and in his laboratories, that he moulds his destiny by his acts in later life, and thus gain true education, the education of the soul as well as of the mind.
I have written thee a sermon, but it is a subject on which we mothers are thinking much. It is before us daily, brought to our courtyards by our sons and daughters, and we see the good and the evil of trying to reach at a single bound the place at which other nations have at last arrived after centuries of weary climbing.
I must go to the women's quarters and stop their chattering. Oh, Mother mine, why didst thou send to me that priest of thine?
18 Dear Mother, I must introduce thee to thy new daughter-in-law. Yes, I can see thee start. I will tell thee quickly. Thy son hath not taken to himself another wife, but it is I, Kwei-li, who should be made known to thee anew. Kwei-li, the wife of the Governor of Kiang-si, who has become so foreignised that the mother of her husband would never know her. If things keep on the path they have gone for these last few moons, I fully expect thou wilt see me with that band of women who are making such a great outcry for their rights and freedom. I cannot even explain them to thee, as thou wouldst not understand.
My last adventure in the ways or the modern woman is in relation to the courtship of my son. Tang-si, my second son, is in love; and I, his mother, am aiding and abetting him, and allowing him to see his sweet-heart in the foreign way. I know thou wilt blush when thou readest this; but I have been in the hands of the Gods and allowed not to speak of "custom," or propriety, and when I have tried to reason with my son and talk to him in regard to what is seemly, he laughs at me and calls me pet names, and rubs my hair the wrong way and says I am his little mother. I knew that astounding fact long years ago, and still I say that is no reason why I should go against all customs and traditions of my race.
I told him I was taught that men and women should not sit together in the same room, nor keep their wearing apparel in the same place, nor even cleanse them in the same utensils. They should not look upon each other, or hand a thing directly from man to woman hand. I was taught that it was seemly and showed a maidenly reserve to observe a certain distance in my relations even with my husband or my brothers, but I have found that the influence of reason upon love is like that of a raindrop upon the ocean, "one little mark upon the water's face and then it disappears."
Now I will tell thee all about it. Tang-si came to me one day, and after speaking of many things of no importance, he finally said, "Mother, wilt thou ask Kah-li, Wu Tai-tai's daughter, here to tea?" I said, "Why, is she a friend of thy sister's?" He said, while looking down upon the floor, "I do not know, but— but— she is a special friend of mine." I looked at him in amazement. "Thou hast seen her?" "Yes, many times. I want thee to ask her to the house, where we may have a chance to talk." I sat back in my chair and looked at him, and said within myself, "Was ever mother blessed with such children; what may I next expect?" He gave me a quick look, and came over and took my hand in his, and said, "Now, Mother, do not get excited, and don't look as if the Heavens were going to fall. I— well— thou makest it hard to tell thee, but I want to marry Kah-li, and I would like a chance of seeing her as the foreign men see their wives before they marry them." I said, quite calmly for me, "Thou meanest thou art choosing thy wife instead of allowing thy father and mother to choose her?" He said, "Why, yes; I have to live with her and I ought to choose her." I said nothing— what is the use? I have learned that my men-folk have strong minds, which they certainly must have inherited from thine honourable family. I said that first I would speak to her mother, and if she approved of her daughter's seeing my son in this most unbecoming manner, I would do whatsoever he wished in the matter. I could not wait, but went at once to the house of Wu Tai-tai. We discussed the matter over many cups of tea, and we saw that we are but clouds driven by the winds and we must obey.
She has been here for tea, and I am charmed with her. She is as pretty as a jewel of pure jade; I do not blame my son. She has laughter in her dancing eyes and seems as if she would sing her life away from year to year and see life always through the golden gleam of happy days. She is respectful and modest, and now I feel she is one of the family and I ask her to join us in all our feastings. She came to the feast when we burned the Kitchen God, and joined with us in prayers as he ascended to the great Spirit to tell him of our actions in the past year. I am afraid our young people do not believe o'ermuch in this small God of the Household, who sits so quietly upon his shelf above the kitchen stove for twelve long months, watching all that goes on within the home, then gives his message for good or ill to Him above; but they are too respectful to say ought against it— in my hearing. They must respect the old Gods until they find something better to take their place.
I do not know but that my son is right in this question of his courtship. It is pretty to see them as they wander through the gardens, while we mothers sit upon the balconies and gossip. Their love seems to be as pure as spotless rice and "so long as colour is colour and life is life will the youth with his sublime folly wait for the meeting of his loved one." What matter if the winter days will come to them or if "the snow is always sure to blot out the garden—" to-day is spring, and love is love and youth is happy.
Thy shameless daughter, Kwei-li.
19 My Dear Mother, Thy gifts which came by the hand of Tuang-fang are most welcome. We have already drunk of the sun-dried tea, and it brings to thought the sight of the long, laden trays of the fragrant leaves as they lie in the sun on the mountain-side. The rose wine we will use on occasions of special rejoicing; and I thank thee again for the garments which will bring comfort to so many in the coming days of cold. I was glad to see Tuang-fang, and sorry to hear that he, with his brother, are going so far away from home in search of labour. Is there not work enough for our men in the province without going to that land of heat and sickness?
Our people go far in their passion for labour; in search of it they cross land and sea. They are the workers of the world, who sell their labour for a price; and it is only strong men with great self-dependence who are capable of taking a road that is likely never to join again those who speak their language and worship their Gods. What is it that has given these men this marvellous adaptability to all conditions, however hard they may seem? They can live and work in any climate, they are at home in the sandy wastes of our great deserts or in the swamps of the southern countries. They bear the biting cold of northern lands as readily as they labour under the burning sun of Singapore and Java. The more I come out from the courtyard and see our people, the more I admire them; I see the things that are so often lost sight of by those of other lands who seek to study them. They are a philosophical race and bear the most dreadful losses and calamities with wonderful bravery. Nothing daunts them. Behold the family of Tuang-fang: they saw their home ruined at time of flood and began again on the morrow to build on the remaining foundations. They saw their fields burned up by drouth, and took their winter clothing to the pawn-shop to get money to buy seed for the coming spring. They did not complain so long as they could get sufficient food to feed their bodies and the coarse blue cloth with which to clothe them, and when these failed they sent their three strong sons, the best of the family, to the rubber plantations of the South.
We hear so much in the papers here of the "Yellow Peril." If there is a Yellow Peril, it lies in the fact that our men are ready to labour unceasingly for a wage on which most Europeans would starve, and on that pittance they manage to save and become rich and prosperous. They have gone into other lands wherever they have found an opening, and some of the southern countries, like Singapore and the Philippines, owe much of their commercial progress to our people. They are honest and industrious, and until the foreigner began to feel the pinch of competition, until he found that he must work all day and not sleep the hours away if he would be in the race with the man from the Eastern land, he had nothing to say about the character of the man from China. But so soon as he felt the pressure of want because of his sloth, he began to find that the "yellow man" was vicious, and soon his depravity became a by-word. The Chinese were abused because of their virtues rather than their vices, for things for which all other nations are applauded— love of work and economy. It is the industry of our people that offends, because it competes with the half-done work of the white man, who dissipates his time and money.
The men from this land have learned their ways of work at home, where the struggle for existence is hard. Sunrise sees the carpenter and the smith, the shoemaker and the beater of cotton at their labour, and the mid-night cry of the watchman often finds them patiently earning the rice for the morrow's meal. And they have not learned to disobey when told to go to work. There are no strikes as in the foreign countries. Our workmen are obedient, although it is said that they lack in leadership, that nothing is originated within themselves; but they can be taught, and all who employ Chinese labour testify to their ability to follow a good master.
I think, from hearing the gossip from thy son's courtyard, that when China is again peaceful, there will be more chance for the men within her borders, who can then stay beside their fires and earn their food. Our land is a land of fertile soil, of rich minerals, and great rivers. It is said that there are millions and millions of acres on which food or other products can be grown, and that a great part of China may be made one vast garden. The German scientist who is trying to get a coal mine concession from the government told my husband that there were tens of millions of tons of coal of the best quality in China, and that the single province of Shansi could supply the entire world for a thousand years. No wonder the Germans are looking with longing eyes on China! But we want these riches and this labour for our people. If it is worth the time of men of other countries to come to this far-off land in search of what lies beneath our soil, it is worth our while to guard it and keep it for our own.
We hear news of battles and of secret plottings, and I am worried about my son, who is in Canton, the province that seems to be the centre of rebellion and the breeding-place of plots and treachery. I wonder what will be the outcome of it all; if after all this turmoil and bloodshed China will really become a different nation? It is hard to change the habits of a nation, and I think that China will not be changed by this convulsion. The real Chinese will be the same passive, quiet, slow-thinking and slow-moving toiler, not knowing or caring whether his country is a republic or whether he is ruled by the Son of Heaven. He will be a stable, peaceable, law-abiding citizen or subject, with respect for his officials so long as they are not too oppressive; not asking whether the man who rules him is called a governor or a futai, so long as work is plentiful and rice is cheap. These patient, plodding men of China have held together for countless thousands of years, and I am sure that their strength is derived from qualities capable of bearing great strain; and our government, even the government which we are trying so hard to overturn and mould on Western lines, must have suited the country and the people, because nothing ever persists generation after generation, century after century, without being suited to its environment and more or less adapted to the changes which time always brings.
Confucius said, "When I was on a mission to Ch'u State, I saw a litter of young pigs nestling close to their dead mother. After a while they looked at her, then all left the dead body and went off. For their mother did not look at them any more, nor did she seem any more to be of their kind. What they loved was their mother: not the body which contained her, but that which made the body what it was."
That is the way with our country. She may leave the dead forms of her old government, perhaps it will be her misfortune to leave her religion, but the spirit of her government and the spirit of her religion she will always love.
But I must not gossip more with thee over my dearly loved country and her people. I know I talk to thee o'ermuch of politics and the greedy eyes of foreigners which are fixed upon our land, but one cannot live in Shanghai, even behind the women's archway, without hearing, night and day, the things that move this, our world, so strongly. Even my small children play at war, shoot their rebels, build their fortresses and drive the foreigners from off their piles of sand.
I cry to thee, my Mother, because a heart must speak its bitterness, and here our lips are sealed to all. I dare not even tell thy son, my husband, all that passes in my mind as I look from out my window at this fighting, struggling, maddened world that surges round me. We are more than troubled about our son.
Thy daughter, Kwei-li.
20 My Dear Mother, I send to thee some silken wadding for the lining of thy coat, also a piece of sable to make a scarf for Su-su, and a box of clothing for her new-born son. The children each have written her a letter, and the candles have been lighted before Kwan-yin, to show our joy.
We have a guest, old General Wang, who is on his way to visit with my father. He is of the old, old China, and wags his head most dolefully over the troubles of his country, and says a republic never will succeed. My husband was bewailing the fact of the empty strong-box, and Wang said, "Why don't you do what I did when I was in command of the troops? When money was scarce, I simply stopped a dollar a month from each man's pay, and, lo, there was the money." He was quite shameless in regard to the old-time "squeeze" and said it was necessary. When he was general he received the salary of an ill-paid servant and was expected to keep up the state of a small king. But there were many ways to fill the empty pockets. When a high official was sent to inspect his troops, men were compelled to come from the fields, the coolies to lay down their burdens, the beggar to leave his begging-bowl, and all to stand straight as soldiers with guns within their hands. But when the officer was gone each went his way with a small present in his hand and did not appear again until the frightened official was compelled to sweep the highways and byways to find men enough to agree with lists paid by the government.
But those times are past, and these old-time officials find it safer to retire to homes within their provinces.
He told us of Chung-tai, who was Taotai of our city at one time. Dost thou remember him? He made many millions in the exportation of rice at time of famine. He was asked to go to Peking, and promised a high position. He sent as answer the story of Chung Tzu the philosopher, who was fishing in the Piu when the Prince of Ch'u sent high officials to ask him to take charge of the State. Chung went on fishing and without turning his head said: "I have heard that in Ch'u there is a sacred tortoise which has been dead now some three thousand years, and that the Prince keeps this tortoise carefully enclosed in a chest on the altar of the sacred temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its remains venerated, or be alive and wagging its tail in the mud?" "It would rather be alive and wagging its tail in the mud," said the officials. "Begone" said Chung. "The tortoise is a symbol of longevity and great wisdom. It would not befit me to aspire to greater wisdom than the tortoise. I, too, prefer the mud."
Chung spoke bravely in sending this reply to Peking; but no sooner was it sent than he gathered his family and his sycee and departed for Shanghai, where he feels more sure of the protection of the foreign settlements than he does of the kindly intentions of His Excellency Yuan toward his dollars.
The children have come home and are clamouring for their supper. They are growing rougher and noisier each day, and, I fear, are spending far too many hours in the servants' courtyard, where they hear of things not seemly for young ears. Canst thou send me Wong-si for a few months? She might be able to keep some order in my household, although I doubt a person of a nature not divine being able to still the many tongues I have now about me.
We send thee love, and greetings to thy new-born great-grandson.
21 My Dear Mother, I have been in the country with my friend Ang Ti-ti. It was the time of pilgrimage to the graves of her family at the temple near Wu-seh. My household gave me many worries, and my husband said it was a time of rest for me, so we took a boat, with only a few servants, as I am tired of chattering women, and spent three long happy days amongst the hills. We sat upon the deck as the boat was slowly drawn along the canal, and watched the valley that autumn now is covering with her colours rare. All the green of the fields is changed. All the gay foliage of the trees upon the hillsides will soon be dead and crumbling. These withered leaves that once waved gaily in the air are lying now in clustered heaps, or fluttering softly to the ground like dull, brown butterflies who are tired with flight. The only touch of colour is on the maple-trees, which still cling with jealous hands to coverings of red and gold. The autumn winds wailed sadly around our cabin windows, and every gust brought desolation to tree and shrub and waving grass. Far away the setting sun turned golden trees to flame, and now and then on the sluggish waters of the canal would drift in lonely splendour a shining leaf that autumn winds had touched and made into a thing of more than beauty.
We anchored the first night by a marshy bank girdled with tall yellow reeds and dwarf bamboo, and from our quiet cabin listened to the rainy gusts that swept the valley. Out of the inky clouds the lightning flashed and lighted up each branch and stem and swaying leaf, revealing to our half-blinded eyes the rain-swept valley; then darkness came with her thick mantle and covered all again.
We discussed the past, the present, and the future; and then, as always when mothers meet, the talk would turn to children. How we are moved by our children! We are like unto the Goddess of the Pine-tree. She came out from her rugged covering and bore a man-child for her husband's house, and then one day the overlord of all that land sent to cut down the pine-tree, that its great trunk might form the rooftree of his temple. At the first blow of the axe the soul glided back into its hiding-place, and the woman was no more. And when it fell, three hundred men could not move it from its place of falling; but her baby came and, putting out his hand, said, "Come," and it followed him quite quietly, gliding to the very doorway of the temple. So do our children lead us with their hands of love.
On the second day we went to the temple to offer incense at the family shrine of Ang Ti-ti. We Chinese ladies love these pilgrimages to these shrines of our ancestors, and it is we who keep up the family worship. We believe that it is from the past that we must learn, and "the past is a pathway which spirits have trodden and made luminous." It is true, as Lafcadio Hearn has written, "We should be haunted by the dead men and women of our race, the ancestors that count in the making of our souls and have their silent say in every action, thought and impulse of our life. Are not our ancestors in very truth our souls? Is not every action the work of the dead who dwell within us? Have not our impulses and our tendencies, our capacities and our weaknesses, our heroisms and our fears, been created by those vanished myriads from whom we received that all-mysterious gift of life? Should we think of that thing which is in each of us and which we call 'I' should it be 'I' or 'they'? What is our pride or shame but the pride or shame of the unseen in that which they have made? And what is our conscience but the inherited sum of countless dead experiences with all things good and evil?"
"In this worship that we give the dead they are made divine. And the thought of this tender reverence will temper with consolation the melancholy that comes with age to all of us. Never in our China are the dead too quickly forgotten; by simple faith they are still thought to dwell among their beloved, and their place within the home remains holy. When we pass to the land of shadows we know that loving lips will nightly murmur our names before the family shrine, that our faithful ones will beseech us in their pain and bless us in their joy. We will not be left alone upon the hillsides, but loving hands will place before our tablet the fruits and flowers and dainty food that we were wont to like, and will pour for us the fragrant cups of tea or amber rice-wine."
"Strange changes are coming upon this land, old customs are vanishing, old beliefs are weakening, the thoughts of to-day will not be the thoughts of to-morrow; but of all this we will know nothing. We dream that for us as for our mothers the little lamp will burn on through the generations; we see in fancy the yet unborn, the children of our children's children, bowing their tiny heads and making the filial obeisance before the tablets that bear our family name."
This is our comfort, we who feel that "this world is not a place of rest, but where we may now take our little ease, until the landlord whom we never see, gives our apartment to another guest."
As I said to thee, it is the women who are the preservers of the family worship and who are trying hard to cling to old loved customs. Perhaps it is because we suffer from lack of facility in adapting ourselves to new conditions. We are as fixed as the star in its orbit. Not so much the men of China but we women of the inner courtyards seem to our younger generation to stand an immovable mountain in the pathway of their freedom from the old traditions.
In this course we are only following woman nature. An instinct more powerful than reason seems to tell us that we must preserve the thing we know. Change we fear. We see in the new ideas that our daughters bring from school, disturbers only of our life's ideals. Yet the new thoughts are gathering about our retreats, beating at our doorways, creeping in at the closely shuttered windows, even winning our husbands and our children from our arms. The enclosing walls and the jealously guarded doors of our courtyards are impotent. While we stand a foe of this so-called progress, a guardian of what to us seems womanhood and modesty, the world around us is moving, feeling the impulse of a larger life, broadening its outlook and clothing itself in new expression that we hardly understand. We feel that we cannot keep up with this generation; and, seeing ourselves left behind with our dead Gods, we cry out against the change which is coming to our daughters with the advent of this new education and the knowledge of the outside world. But—.
All happy days must end, and we floated slowly back to the busy life again. As we came down the canal in the soft moonlight it recalled those other nights to me upon the mountain-side, and as I saw the lights of the city before us I remembered the old poem of Chang Chili Lo:
"The Lady Moon is my lover, My friends are the Oceans four, The Heavens have roofed me over, And the Dawn is my golden door. I would liefer follow a condor, Or the sea-gull soaring from ken, Than bury my Godhead yonder, In the dust and whirl of men."
Thy daughter, Kwei-li.
22 My Dear Mother, I have not written thee for many days. I came back from my happy country trip to find clouds of sorrow wrapping our home in close embrace. We hear Ting-fang is in deep trouble, and we cannot understand it. He is accused of being in league with the Southern forces. Of course we do not believe it, my son is not a traitor; but black forebodings rise from deeps unknown and the cold trail of fear creeps round my heart.
But I cannot brood upon my fears alone; this world seems full of sorrow. Just now I have stopped my letter to see a woman who was brought to the Yamen for trying to kill her baby daughter. She is alone, has no one to help her in her time of desolation, no rice for crying children, and nothing before her except to sell her daughter to the tea-house. She gave her sleep; and who can blame her?
Mother, send me all that thou canst spare from out thy plenty. I would I could give more. I would be a lamp for those who need a lamp, a bed for those who need a bed; but I am helpless. O, He who hears the wretched when they cry, deign to hear these mothers in their sorrow!
Thy daughter, Kwei-li.
23 I know that thou hast heard the news, as it is in all the papers. Ting-fang is accused of throwing the bomb that killed General Chang. I write to reassure thee that it cannot be true. I know my son. Thou knowest thy family. No Liu could do so foul a deed.
Do not worry; we will send thee all the news. The morrow's tidings will be well, so rest in peace.
24,a. I thank thee from my heart for the ten thousand taels telegraphed for the use of our son. Father has sent fifty thousand taels to be used in obtaining his freedom. I am sure it will not be needed, as my son is not the culprit. And if he were, it is not the olden time when a life could be bought for a few thousand ounces of silver, no matter how great the crime. We will not bribe the Courts of Law, even for our son.
But I am sure it will pass with the night's darkness, and we will wake to find it all a dream. I know, my mother's heart assures me, that my boy is innocent.
Do not speak or think of coming down. We will let thee know at once all news.
24,b. [-Telegram_] We are leaving to-night for Canton.
25 We are entering Canton. The night denies me sleep, and my brain seems beating like the tireless shuttles upon a weaving-loom. I cannot rest, but walk the deck till the moon fades from the dawn's pale sky, and the sun shows rose-coloured against the morning's grey. Across the river a temple shines faintly through its ring of swaying bamboo, and the faint light glistens on the water dripping from the oars that bring the black-sailed junks with stores of vegetables for all that greedy city of living people. The mists cling lovingly to the hill-tops, while leaves from giant banyan-trees sway idly in the morning wind, and billows of smoke, like dull, grey spirits, roll up-ward and fade into a mist of clouded jade, touched with the golden fingers of the rising sun.
I see it all with eyes that do not see, because the creeping hours I count until I find my son.
26 Ting-fang has been tried and found guilty. The runners have brought me hour by hour the news; and even his father can see nothing that speaks in favour of his innocence. It is known and he confesses to having been with the men who are the plotters in this uprising. He was with the disloyal officers only a few hours before the bomb was thrown, but of the actual deed he insists that he knows nothing. All evidence points to his guilt. Even the official who sentenced him, a life-long friend of ours, said in the open court that it hurt him sorely to condemn a man bearing the great name of Liu, because of what his father and his father's father had been to China, but in times such as these an example must be made; and all the world is now looking on to see what will be done.
I will write thee and telegraph thee further news; I can say no more at present; my heart is breaking.
27 A man came to us secretly last night and offered to effect my son's escape for fifty thousand taels. He said that arrangements could be made to get him out of the country— and we have refused! We told him we could give no answer until the morning, and I walked the floor the long night through, trying to find the pathway just.
We cannot do it. China is at the parting of the ways; and if we, her first officials, who are taking the stand upon the side of justice and new ideas of honour, do not remain firm in hours of great temptation, what lesson have we to give to them who follow where we lead? It ust not be said that our first acts were those of bribery and corruption. If my son is a traitor, we let him pay. He must give his life upon the altar of new China. We cannot buy his life. We are of the house of Liu, and our name must stand, so that, through the years to come, it will inspire those who follow us to live and die for China, the country that we love.
28 My Mother, From the red dawn until the dense night fell, and all the hours of darkness through, have my weary feet stumbled on in hopeless misery, waiting, listening for the guns that will tell to me my son is gone. At sunset a whispered message of hope was brought, then vanished quite again, and I have walked the lengthened reach of the great courtyard, watching as, one by one, the lanterns die and the world is turning into grey. Far away toward the rice-fields the circling gulls rise, flight on flight, and hover in the blue, then fly away to life and happiness in the great beyond. In the distance, faint blue smoke curls from a thousand dwellings of people who are rising and will greet their sons, while mine lies dead. Oh, I thought that tears were human only, yet I see each blade of shining grass weighed down with dewdrop tears that glimmer in the air. Even the grass would seem all sorrow filled as is my heart.
The whole night through the only sound has been the long-drawn note of the bamboo flute, as the seller passes by, and the wind that wailed and whistled and seemed to bring with it spirits of the other world who came and taunted me that I did not save my son. Why, why did I not save him! What is honour, what is this country, this fighting, quarrelling, maddened country, what is our fame, in comparison to his dear life? Why did we not accept the offer of escape! It was ours to give or take; we gave, and I repent— O God, how I repent! My boy, my boy! I will be looking for his face in all my dreams and find despair.
Dost thou remember how he came to me in answer to the Towers of Prayer I raised when my first-born slept so deep a sleep he could not be wakened even by the voice of his mother? But that sorrow passed and I rose to meet a face whose name is memory. At last I knew it was not kindness to mourn so for my dead. Over the River of Tears their silent road is, and when mothers weep too long, the flood of that river rises, and their souls cannot pass but must wander to and fro. But to those whom they leave with empty arms they are never utterly gone. They sleep in the darkest cells of tired hearts and busy brains, to come at echo of a voice that recalls the past.
My sleeve is wet with bitter rain; but tears cannot blot out the dream visions that memory wakes, and the dead years answer to my call. I see my boy, my baby, who was the gift of kindly Gods. When I first opened my eyes upon him, I closed them to all the world besides, and my soul rested in peace beside the jewel within its cradle. The one sole wish of my heart was to be near him, to sit close by his side, to have him day by day within my happy sight, and to lay my cheek upon his rose-tipped feet at night. The sun's light seemed more beautiful where it touched him, and the moon that lit my Heaven was his eyes.
As he grew older he was fond of asking questions to which none but the Gods could give reply, and I answered as only mothers will. When he wished to play I laid aside my work to play with him, and when he tired and wished to rest, I told him stories of the past. At evening when the lamps were lighted I taught him the words of the evening prayer, and when he slept I brought my work close by his cradle and watched the still sweetness of his face. Sometimes he would smile in his dreams, and I knew that Kwan-yin the Divine was playing shadow-play with him, and I would murmur a silent prayer to the Mother of all Mercies to protect my treasure and keep him from all harm.
I can see my courtyard in far Sezchuan; and in the wooden box within my bedroom are all his baby-clothes. There are the shoes with worn-out toes and heels that tried so hard to confine restless, eager feet; the cap with Buddha and his saints, all broken and tarnished where tiny, baby teeth have left their marks; and, Mother, dost thou remember when we made him clothing like the soldier at the Yamen? And the bamboo that the gateman polished he carried for a gun...
O my son, my son! How can I rise to begin the bitter work of life through the twilights yet to come!
29 How can I tell thee, Mother mine, of the happiness within my heart! It is passed; it was but a dream, a mirage. He is here, my boy, his hand in mine, his cheek against my cheek; he is mine own again, my boy, my man-child, my son.
It was not he; the culprit has been found; and in the golden morning light my son stood free before me. I cannot write thee more at present, I am so filled with joy. What matter if the sun shines on wrinkles and white hair, the symbol of the fulness of my sorrow— I have mine own again!
30 My Dear Mother, I can talk to thee more calmly, and I know thou hungerest for full news. Dost thou remember Liang Tai-tai, she whom I wrote thee was so anxious for the mercy of the Gods that she spent her time in praying instead of looking after household duties and her son? He was the one who tried to pass the Dark Water and I talked to him and we sent him to the prefect at Canton. It was he who found the man for whom my son was accused. It seemed he felt he owed us much for helping him in his time of trouble, and now he has repaid.
I feel that I have laughed too oft at Liang Tai-tai and her Gods, but now I will go with her from temple shrine to temple shrine. I will buy for her candles, incense, spirit money, until the Gods look down in wonder from their thrones. I am so filled with gratitude that when I see my friend, I will fall before her feet and bathe them with my happy tears for having trod the path of motherhood and given to the world a man-child, who has saved for me my son.
31 My Mother, We are home, and have not written thee for long, but have telegraphed thee twice daily, so that thou hast been assured that all is well.
We found our dear one, our Li-ti, bending o'er her babe, holding it safely, nestling it, murmuring, softly, whispers of mother love. This son, born in the hour of trouble and despair, is a token of the happiness to come, of the new life that will come forth from grief and sorrow.
He has learned a lesson, this boy of mine, and he will walk more carefully, guard more surely his footsteps, now he is the father of a son.
32 O Mother of graciousness, we are coming to thee! When all the hills are white with blossoms, we shall set forth, our eager hearts and souls one great, glad longing for the sight of thee standing in the archway, searching with earnest gaze the road, listening for the bearers' footsteps as we mount the hillside.
We leave this place of trial and turmoil. I want my children to come within the shelter of thy compound walls, where safety lies; and with the "shell of forgetfulness" clasped tightly in our hands, we will forget these days of anguish and despair. Then only, when my dear ones are far from here, shall my soul obtain the peace it craves, forgetful of the hostile, striving, plotting treachery of this foreign world I fear.
We are coming home to thee, Mother of my husband, and I have learned in life's great, bitter school that the joy of my Chinese woman-hood is to stand within the sheltered courtyard, with my family close about me, and my son's son in my arms.