This Chinese city is a city of banks and stock exchanges... It is a city of book stores, and there are some streets that contain no other shops. We have the idea that the Chinese merely live on rice and rats, and that their chief industries are the making of matting, of fans and of silks. The truth is that China does a vast business, and she produces all sorts of commodities... The nobles dress in the finest of silks, and there are hundreds of stores which sell nothing but pictures...|
I wish I could show you the markets of Peking. You can get as good meat there as you can in New York, and there is no finer mutton in the world than that of China... They have no slaughter-houses, and the sheep is often butchered in front of the shop and the blood lies on the ground while you buy.
There are all sorts of fish, and they are always sold alive. No Chinaman would buy a dead fish, and in case you want to buy less than a whole fish at a time, the Chinese peddler will pull the fish out of the water, lay him squirming on the block, and cut a piece of flesh out of his side for you while you wait. He does not kill the fish, and after you are through he throws it back into a separate tank of water and waits for another customer to take the rest.
One of the chief meats sold is pork, and you see hogs trotting about through the streets of Peking. They wallow in the puddles right under the shadows of the Emperor's palaces... There are are all sorts of game for sale in the markets, and you can get snipe and quail and squirrels of all kinds.
The Chinese are the best raisers of poultry in the world. They have duck farms and goose farms, and they know all about artificial incubation. They sell great quantities of dried geese and dried ducks, and they carry bushel baskets of dried ducks about the city for sale.
They sell all kinds of fruit, and are adept in the raising of the choicest of vegetables. They bury their grape vines in the north in the winter, and you can buy your nuts by the bushel...
I could tell you of stores where thousands of dollars worth of incense or joss sticks are sold every month, and I could take you into establishments shich sell nothing but birds and gold fishes. There are big stores full of furniture, and shops which make nothing but porcelain stoves. There are places where wood is sold in bundles by weight, and establishments where coal dust is mixed up with mud and sold in lumps the size and shape of a baseball at so much apiece. There are great markets for the selling of chickens and flowers, and all sorts of toy stores and stores for the selling of paper and cloth... There are places for gambling and dime museum shows. There are restaurants of every description and opium joints without number. There are, in fact, stores of every sort and description, and the best things in China come to Peking.
The most interesting part of Peking, however, is the big Tartar city. It is the capital of one-third of the population of the globe, and in it lives the son of heaven, the Emperor of China, to whom all his subjects must bend their knees. It contains the thousands of Manchu officials, the foreign legations, the government departments and all of the paraphernalia of the queer Chinese court...
From the walls the whole city looks like an immense orchard, with here and there one-story buildings shining out through the trees. In its center there is a walled-off inclosure filled with massive buildings, roofed with yellow tiles. This is the imperial city, in the innermost part of which is a brick pen inclosing several square miles, where the Emperor lives, surrounded by eunuchs. He is perhaps the rarest bird in the entire Chinese aviary... He is kept apart from Chinese and foreigners, and you might live in Peking fifty years and not see him...
No better idea of the government of China could be gotten than by a trip through this Tartar city. It is one of the oldest towns in the world. It was founded more than a thousand years before Christ, and it has been the capital of millions for ages. It ought to be the greatest city on the face of the globe, but there is no spot more slimy and filthy and foul.
The city knows nothing of modern improvements. It is cut up into wide streets, but the roads have no sidewalks, and the rude Chinese carts sink up to their hubs as they move through the city. There are no water closets. The streets are the sewers, and the most degraded savage of our western plains has a greater regard for the exposure of his person than have these pig-tailed, silk-dressed, gaudy, fat Pekingese.
The city has absolutely no sanitary improvements, and the street lamps are framework boxes backed with white paper, and they are seldom lighted except during full moon. It is absolutely unsafe to move about in the night time without a lantern, if you wish to keep your feet clean, and you have to balance yourself in the day to keep out of the mud.
All of the houses are of one story, and the government departments look more like broken-down barns than the offices of a great empire... everything was filthy and the picture of ruin. The only really new things in the city seemed to be the clothes of the officials, and I laughed again and again as I saw these mandarins bow down in the mud and go through the forms of the Chinese court amid their filthy surroundings.
They are among themselves, as far as words go, the most polite of all nations, and they look upon us as boors and barbarians. The most of the people believe that they will conquer the world, and I doubt whether a thousand out of the million and a half people in Peking know anything of the Japanese victories... They have nicknamed the street upon which the foreign Ministers live "the street of the subject nations..."
I found the people of every Chinese State different, and the dialects are as various as the languages of Europe... Thibet, Mongolia, Manchuria, and parts of Afghanistan are all tributary to China, and the people of a half dozen religions jostle each other as they wade through the streets.
The strangest sights to me at first entrance were the nomadic Mongolians, who rode into the city on great camels or dromedaries, which were covered with wool from six to twelve inches long. These come from the cold regions of Mongolia or Siberia, and during my visit to the Chinese wall I passed caravans of these camels marching in single file and fastened together by sticks stuck through the thick flesh of their noses. They were loaded with great bundles of furs which they had brought down from the north for the dilettante mandarins of Peking, and were carrying back brick tea and coal to the Tartars and Russians. Many of these were ridden by Mongolian women, who, in coats, pantaloons and fur caps, rode astride, and in other cases by men, who were clad in sheepskins with fur caps pulled well down over their fierce Tartar eyes.
I saw hundreds of Thibetan lamas in their gorgeous robes, and I met many Mohammedans from the west part of China.
There is no place in the world where the contrasts are so great, and for nine-tenths of the people it would seem to me their condition could not be worse. These Chinese are as industrious as any race on the globe. They are peaceable and easily governed, and if the celestial officials, including the Emperor and all his court, could be wiped from the face of the globe, the people would quickly grow rich and China would be one of the most favored spots on the face of the earth.
FRANK G. CARPENTER.