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It is nearly 500 years since the great raid of the nephew of Hung Wu, founder of the Ming Dynasty, from the southern capital of China, to what is now known as Peking, then called the state of Yen. The celebrated raider is popularly believed to have destroyed the lives of all those whom he met, and to have reduced to an uninhabited desert the whole region from the Yang-tzA- River to Peking. This is described as “Yen Wang’s sweeping the North.” After this ambitious youth had dispossessed his nephew, who was the rightful heir to the throne, he took the title of Yung Lo, which became a famous name in Chinese history. To repair the ravages which he had made, compulsory emigration was established from southern Shan-hsi and from eastern Shan-tung. Tradition reports that vast masses of people were collected in the city of Hung-tung Hsien in southern Shan-hsi, and thence distributed over the uncultivated wastes made by war. Certain it is that throughout great regions of the plain of northern China, the inhabitants have no other knowledge of their origin than that they came from that city.

It is a curious phenomenon that so practical a people as the Chinese, and one having so instinctive a sense of the points of the compass that they speak of a pain in “the east side” of the stomach, are indifferent to regularity of form in their towns. Every Chinese city seems to lie four square, but perhaps it is not too much to say that no Chinese city really does so lie. On the contrary a city wall is always found to have certain deliberate curves and irregularities which are designed for geomantic purposes. In other words they bring good luck, or they keep off bad luck, and are representations of the mysterious science of feng-shui or geomancy. It is for this reason that city gates must either not be opposite one another, or if they are so, some obstruction must intervene to prevent evil spirits from making a clean sweep of everything.

It is customary in Western lands to speak of “laying out” a city or a town. As applied to a Chinese village, such an expression would be most inappropriate, for it would imply that there has been some trace of design in the arrangement of the parts, whereas the reverse is the truth. A Chinese village, like Topsy, “just growed,” how, or why, no one knows or cares. At some remote and generally unascertainable time in the dim past some families arrived from somewhere else, camped down, made themselves a “local habitation,” (their name they probably brought with them), and that was the village. It has a street, and perhaps a network of them, but no two are parallel, except by accident, and no one of them is straight. The street is the path which has been found by long experience to be a necessary factor in promoting communication between the parts of the village and the outside world. It is not only liable to take sudden and inexplicable turns, but it varies in width at different points. Sometimes in a village a quarter of a mile long, there may not be a single crossroad enabling a vehicle to get from the front street to the back one, simply because the town grew up in that way, and no one either could or would remedy it, even if any one desired it otherwise. At right angles to the main street or streets, run narrow alleys, upon which open the yards or courts in which the houses are situated. Even the buildings which happen to stand contiguous to the main street offer nothing to the gaze but an expanse of dead wall. If any doorway opens on the highway, it is protected from the evil influences which might else result, by a screen wall, preventing any observation of what goes on within. A village is thus a city in miniature, having all the evils of over-crowding, though it may be situated in the midst of a wide and comparatively uninhabited plain. Whether land is dear or cheap, a village always has the same crowded appearance, and there is in either case the same indifference to the requirements of future growth.

The mountains furnish an abundance of stone, from which dwellings situated in such districts are built dark, damp, and unwholesome at all seasons of the year, but especially so in the time of heavy rains. Even more unpleasant are the cave dwellings found in the loamy soil of loess regions, lighted only from the front, and quite free from any form of ventilation, a luxury for which no provision is made in the construction of a Chinese dwelling.

By far the most common material of which the Chinese build their houses is that which happens to be nearest at hand. Bricks are everywhere made in great quantities, almost always of the same colour as the clothes of the people, a bluish gray. This tint is secured by sealing up the brick-kiln perfectly tight, when the burning of the bricks is finished, and pouring upon the concave top several hundred buckets of water, which, filtering through the soil of which the top is composed, is instantly converted into steam when it reaches the bricks, and alters their hue. The scarcity of fuel, and an unwillingness to employ it where it seems like a waste leads to the almost universal practice of burning the bricks too little to make them valuable as a building material. Instead of becoming hard like stones as do foreign bricks, and coated with a thick glazing, a large percentage of Chinese bricks break merely by being handled, and when examined, they are found to be like well-made bread, full of air-holes. Each of these openings becomes a tube by which the bibulous bricks suck up moisture from below, to the great detriment of the building of which they generally form merely the foundations, or perhaps, the facings.

The vast majority of country dwellings are made simply of the soil, moulded into adobe bricks, dried till they cease to shrink. The largest of these bricks are two or three inches thick, and a foot wide, and perhaps twenty inches in length, weighing even when thoroughly dried more than forty pounds. The cost of making those which are only dried in a mould is not more than a cash a piece; those which are stamped while in the mould with a heavy stone rammer, are worth three or four times as much. If experts are employed to do this work, the outlay is greater as the owner of the earth not only provides a man to carry the necessary water, but he must furnish tea and tobacco for the workmen.

The foundations of adobe houses, like those of all others, must be of brick, and at the height of a foot or two above the ground will have a layer of reeds or some other substance, designed to prevent the dampness from rising into the walls, which crumble in such a case like candy houses in a rain. There is so much soda in the soil of all parts of the Great Plain of northern China, that unless extreme care is taken the best built structures will, in a very few years, show signs of decay.

The roof is meant to be supported by posts, no matter of what material the house is built, and this material is regarded as only the filling between them, but in the cheaper houses, the posts are often omitted to save expense. As a result, in a rainy year thousands of houses are literally soaked down whenever the moisture has sufficiently weakened the foundations. In this way many persons are killed and many more injured. In some districts one sees roofs made with the frame resembling that of a foreign house, but the ordinary form is with king and queen posts. In either case the timbers running lengthwise of the building support small purlines upon which rest thin bricks, or more frequently reeds, mats, or sorghum stalks, over which is spread the earth which forms the greater part of all roofs. Their enormous weight when well soaked make them highly dangerous after the timbers have become old and rotten. Where the roofs are flat, they serve as depositories for the crops, and for fuel.

If the village is situated in a low spot, the precaution is taken to throw up a mound of earth on which to build. But whatever the nature of the country, the removal of so much earth leaves a series of gigantic pits around every village, which catch the drainage of the surrounding region and the possession of which is disputed by ducks, geese, pigs and in summer by small children clad only in the skin garments furnished by nature.

The abundant moisture is an inducement to the growth of luxuriant groves of trees, which, seen at a distance, produce a charming effect. But on a nearer approach it is seen that the fine old trees are employed exclusively in shading the mud-holes, while the houses of the village are exposed to the fiercest rays of the summer sun. Trees are indeed to be met with in the village street, but they are not designed to shade a courtyard, which is almost invariably utterly destitute of trees of any sort. Even grapevines which would seem a natural and beautiful relief from the hideous bareness of the prevalent earth colour, are, in some regions at least, wholly tabooed. And why? Because, forsooth, the branches of the grape point down, while those of other trees point up, hence it would be “unlucky” to have grapevines, though not at all “unlucky” to roast all through the broiling summer for the lack of their grateful shade.

A man whose grandfather had been rich, and who was distinguished from his neighbours by owning a two-story dwelling, informed the writer that he could remember that his grandmother, who lived in the rear court, was constantly fretting at the lofty buildings in front, and at the magnificent elms which shaded the compound and left no place to dry clothes! In course of time the family was reduced to poverty, the two-story building was demolished, and the trees felled, so that the present generation, like other families, swelters in a narrow courtyard, with an unlimited opportunity (very little used) to dry their clothes. Luxuries which are denied to dwelling-houses, are cheerfully accorded to the gods, who have no clothes to dry, and a very small temple may have in front of it a grove of very old trees.

The architecture of the Chinese has been compendiously and perhaps not inaccurately described as consisting essentially of two sticks placed upright, with a third laid across them at the top. The shape of some Chinese roofs, however they may vary among themselves, suggests the tent as the prime model; though, as Dr. Williams and others have remarked, there is no proof of any connection between the Chinese roof and the tent. Owing to the national reluctance to erect lofty buildings, almost all Chinese cities present an appearance of monotonous uniformity, greatly in contrast with the views of large cities to be had in other lands.

If Chinese cities are thus uninviting in their aspect, the traveller must not expect to find anything in the country village to gratify his A|sthetic sense. There is no such word as “A|sthetic” in Chinese, and, if there were, it is not one in which villagers would take any interest. The houses are generally built on the north end of the space reserved as a courtyard, so as to face the south, and if additional structures are needed they are placed at right angles to the main one, facing east and west. If the premises are large, the front wall of the yard is formed by another house, similar to the one in the rear, and like it having side buildings. However numerous or however wealthy the family, this is the normal type of its dwelling. In cities this type is greatly modified by the exigencies of the contracted space at disposal, but in the country it rules supreme.

The numerative of Chinese houses is a word which denotes division, signifying not a room, but rather such a part of a dwelling as can conveniently be covered by timbers of one length. As these timbers are seldom very large or very long, one division of a house will not often exceed ten or twelve feet in length, by a little less in width from front to back. An ordinary house will comprise three of these divisions, though there may be but one partition, forming one double and one single room. There is no ceiling, and the roof, which is usually not lofty, is in full view. Most doors are made with two leaves, projections above and below, like pins, serving as the hinges. There is a movable doorsill, out of which a small hole is often cut to admit of entrance and exit for the dogs and cats. Such doors cannot be tightly closed, for the rude workmanship and the unequal shrinkage of the wood always render it easy to see through the many cracks.

Almost all parts of the eighteen provinces are very hot in summer, but it is only in some regions that a back door will be found opening opposite the front one. The wooden grating, which does duty as a window, is built into the wall, for security against thieves, and is often covered, even in the heat of summer, with oiled paper. Doors do not open directly from dwelling-houses to the street, and if there are any windows on the street side of the house, they are very small and very high.

Just inside the door is built the adobe support for the cooking-boiler, the latter shaped like a saucer and made very thin in order to economize fuel to the utmost. In all districts where provision is to be made for heating the room, it is done by conducting the smoke from this primitive range through a complicated set of flues, under the divan called a k’ang which serves as a bed, and which is merely an arrangement of adobe bricks. If the houses are thatched with straw the opening for smoke must be near the ground, as a precaution against fire.

On the end of the k’ang are piled the bed-quilts of the household and whatever trunks or boxes they may be able to boast, for this is the only part of the dwelling which is not likely to be damp. As the fire is so near to the outer door where drafts are strong, as the flues are very likely to get out of order, and as there are no chimneys worthy of the name, it is inevitable that the smoke should be distributed throughout the building with the greatest impartiality, often forming a coating of creosote an inch or more in thickness.

Above the cooking-range is fastened the image of the kitchen-god, popularly supposed to be a deification of Chang Kung, a worthy who lived in the eighth century of our era, and was able to live in perfect peace, although nine generations simultaneously inhabited the same yard. Even his hundred dogs were so polite as to wait for another, if any one of them was late at a meal.

The reigning emperor of the Tang Dynasty sent for Chang Kung, to inquire the secret of such wonderful harmony, and calling for a pen, he is said to have written the character denoting “Forbearance” a great number of times. According to tradition the picture of this patriarch was placed in every dwelling as a stimulus to the imitation of his example, a purpose for which it unfortunately proves quite inert.

That the dwellings of the Chinese are cold in winter, hot in summer, and smoky all the year round is inevitable. Even in the coldest weather there is no escape from the bitter cold, except as it may be got by curling upon the k’ang. For this reason Chinese women often speak of the k’ang as like an “own mother.” A room in which there is none is considered almost uninhabitable. But from an Occidental point of view they are models of discomfort. The heat is but slowly diffused, and during a long night one may be alternately drenched with perspiration, and then chilled to the bone as the heat diminishes. The adobe bricks of which the k’ang is composed crumble if an uneven pressure is made upon them, so that one often finds the k’angs in an inn full of pitfalls. They are always the lodging places of a multitude of tiny monsters to which the Chinese are too much accustomed to complain. Even when the adobe bricks are broken up in the spring to be pulverized as manure on account of the creosote the animal life lodged in the walls is apparently sufficient to restock the universe.

It is not surprising that the title-deeds to land are in course of years destroyed or lost, for there is in a Chinese house no proper place in which they may be kept. The only closets are made by leaving out a few bricks from the wall. A small board, resting on two pegs often forms the only book-shelf to be found in the apartments even of men of letters. Doors are locked by passing the link of a chain over a staple in the door-frame above; but Chinese padlocks can generally be picked with a wire, a chop-stick, or even with a dry weed, and afford no real protection. Thieves are always provided with an assortment of keys, and often get in by lifting the doors off the pins which serve as hinges. Nothing is easier than to dig through adobe walls. In some of the rich villages of Shan-hsi house-walls are built quite six feet thick to discourage such penetration.

The floor of all common dwellings is merely the earth, not smoothed but beaten into fixed inequalities; this we are assured (in reply to a question why smoothness is not cultivated) is much the best way, as by this means every fluid spilled will run out of itself! In the corners of the dwelling stand, lie, or hang, the numerous household articles for which there is no other place. Jars of grain, agricultural implements, clumsy looms for weaving cotton, spinning wheels, baskets of all sizes and shapes, one or two benches, and possibly a chair, all seem to occupy such space as is to be had, while from the sooty roof depend all manner of articles, hung up so as to be out of the way some of which when wanted must be hooked down with a pole. The maxim “a place for everything, and everything in its place” is inappropriate to a Chinese dwelling, where there is very little place for anything.

The small yard is in as great confusion as the house, and for the same reason. Dogs, cats, chickens and babies enjoy a very limited sphere of action, and generally take to the street, which is but an extension of the court. If the family owns animals, some place must be found for them in the yard, though when not in use they spend their time anchored by a very short rope, attached to pegs sunk deep in the ground, in front of the owner’s dwelling. Pigs are kept in a kind of well, with a brick wall to prevent its caving in, and by climbing a very steep flight of brick stairs they can ascend to a little kennel provided for them at the edge of their pits in many regions the only two-story domiciles to be found!

The Chinese village is always a miniature city, not only by reason of its internal arrangements or lack of it but often also in the virtue of the fact that it is surrounded by a wall.

Not many years ago several regiments stationed near the Yellow River, in Shan-tung, mutinied, killed an officer and marched off to their homes. The intelligence of this event spread throughout the province, and each region feared to be visited by the soldiers who were sure to plunder and perhaps to kill. So great was the panic that cities hundreds of miles from the seat of the disturbance were packed with a multitude of farm-carts loaded with villagers who had left their homes and abandoned their crops at the beginning of the wheat harvest, trusting to find safety within city walls. The losses sustained in consequence were immense.

Events like this may occur at any time, and the great T’ai P’ing Rebellion of half a century ago, together with its resultant disorders, left an ineffaceable impression of the insecurity of an unwalled village. Although the walls are seldom more than fifteen or twenty feet in height, whenever a year of bad harvests occurs, and bands of plunderers roam about, the use of even such defences is made obvious. Slight as is their value against an organized, well-directed attack, experience shows that they are often sufficient to accomplish the object intended, by diverting the stream of invaders to other villages where they meet with no resistance. The least rumour of an uprising in any quarter is often sufficient to stimulate the villagers to levy a tax upon the land in order to repair their earthen ramparts, in which, not without good reason, they place much more dependence than in the cautious and dilatory movements of the local authorities who are generally in no condition to cope with an organized and resolute force, especially with those rebels who have a real grievance.