Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Flight of the Lapwing

The East Coast is now being overbuilt with loud, kitschy hotels. Hurry up and visit before it is destroyed.

I was trawling through the Theological Commons (run by the Princeton Theological Seminary), which has more than 70,000 texts from the 19th and early 20th century on theology and religion in PDF format (including many scholarly works), and found this treasure, The Flight of the Lapwing. The book is subtitled A Naval Officer's Jottings in China, Formosa, and Japan. An apt description. Click on READ MORE.....

Published in 1881, the book presents tales from three years of voyages in the Far East, so the observations date from the late 1870s, plus many penetrating observations that show a lively, skeptical, curious, and balanced mind:

A map of Formosa in the book.
The centre and eastern portion is occupied by lofty ranges which slope steeply down to the coast ; these are densely wooded and are held by the aboriginal tribes, who are extremely hostile to the Chinese. Whether the savages are as bloodthirsty as reports lead one to believe, is perhaps doubtful, and from the fact that Europeans are allowed access to their territory, one would be inclined to attribute their alleged ferocity to the provocations of the Celestials. In some places they have settled down in a semi-civilised state and keep on good terms with the colonists, so possibly they will earn a better name in time. It has been said that they practise cannibalism in certain parts of the island, but the report is generally discredited ; it may, perhaps, have originated in a curious fancy they have for collecting human skulls.
A visit to Keelung produces this description of the sunsets there:
And then the sunsets ! I do not think they could be surpassed, and once seen could scarcely be forgotten. The bright tints and deep purple shadows, and the floods of golden light streaming down on a glassy sea ; and as the sun sinks below the horizon a soft mellow light steeps the landscape, while a few rays still linger about the mountain tops as if loth to quit such a scene.
He walks up to the local coal mines, one of the principal reasons for European interest in Keelung in the 19th century, and observes that it is an easy walk through lovely scenery, and sees the coolies transporting coal:
Scrambling along we reach a village at the head of a bay called ' Coal Harbour,' where heaps of coal lie along the beach, and lines of half-naked coolies may be seen winding up the hill sides like so many ants, each laden with a couple of baskets swinging from the ends of a bamboo. On arrival here they take their load to one of the heaps, where it is weighed and emptied, and then start off on another pilgrimage. Each basket holds about half a hundredweight.
In his day a fort, "said to be Spanish", still guarded the entrance to the harbor. He expresses great sympathy for the locals along with the universal disgust among foreigners for the way the officials squeezed the general population:
The poor Chinese colonists in Formosa are terribly oppressed and ' squeezed ' by the officials, though I am told they are better off than their countrymen on the mainland. The very fact that they bear it all so patiently and work so industriously speaks volumes for them, and surely goes to prove that, if they could only shake off the present incubus of Mandarin rule, they would be capable of better things.
...along with the also universal expression of the great economic potential of Formosa. Sections like this one below show how little the fundamental patterns of life here have changed over the last century:
In the neighbourhood of Bangka, the principal city in the north of the island, there is a very wealthy man who owns a large proportion of the land under cultivation. He acquired his property in the first instance by force and extortion, and continues to opp-ress his tenants. So powerful is he that the Mandarins are afraid of him, and never interfere with his goings on, for he pays well, and they care for little else. His tyranny was for long the cause of much rioting and several open fights ; but now he seems to have it all his own way, yet in such dread does he live that he never ventures out of his house without a guard of armed men.
...and this...
On the death of the head of the family the property is left to the eldest son, who is supposed to make some sort of compensation to the rest of the family, either in land or money. This system leads to endless subdivision, and is the cause of bitter and prolonged family feuds ; indeed, Mackay describes nearly everybody as suffering from a sense of wrong or injustice perpetrated by their neighbours. Bad debts are a fruitful source of trouble. This sense of injustice usually lies dormant, but breaks out occasionally into open violence and lawless acts. In the case of a very flagrant act of injustice the sufferer collects his friends, who assemble round the house of his enemy, threatening with guns until justice is done—mob rule in fact, the officials remaining indifferent ; and yet, strange to say, there is remarkably little crime. Public opinion is an element of order, exercising an immense moral force and restraining all except the very worst characters.
In chapter 12 he heads into the interior to meet the aborigines. Some good travelogue in here. Hope you can find the time to enjoy!
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1 comment:

James said...

Great stuff. Not come across that before. Cheers.