Life in Manchuria
To whom it may concern
I had no thought whatever of `writing a book'. But friends or people who had heard me speak, at meetings or in conversation, about life in China, said: `Write it down.' So without any research, or attempt at a history of missionary work, or anything like that, I have simply written down events which came spontaneously to memory. I have not expanded reminiscences to include the many wonderful people who were my colleagues and friends-that would take more than one book to record. Rather, it is all like the song which Maurice Chevalier sings, called: `I remember it well.' He sings of an old man `remembering' the days past, when he first met his future wife, the colour of her dress, the times and seasons . . . and so often he is not accurate and is gently corrected by his partner. Yet, with all the inaccurate rememberings, he has not forgotten the important things which deeply concern them. So have I, without trying to point any sort of moral, written what came to mind. I hope it may prove a testimony to the reality of the foreknowledge and keeping power of God, and how in spite of appearances, one can see that `God is working His purpose out', and that `the slow watches of the night, no less to God belong'.
Remembering the first journey
In company with four Scottish girls of the United Free (Presbyterian) Church, and two other Irish girls, Miss Margaret McCombe and Sister Ruth Dickson, we set out on our long journey. I remember little of it now, except noticing how popular Sister Dickson was with all the passengers, many
of whom came to her with their troubles, not only physical but spiritual.
Arriving at Shanghai after six weeks sailing, I looked down on the crowd of shouting coolies on the quay, and was afraid, sure that a riot had broken out. A passenger, an `old China hand', sensed my fear and assured me they were just having `a quiet conversation'. So much for `the silent East' of Western fancy. We went to a missionary home, a kind of hotel for transient missionaries, before making arrangements for the next travellings. Here we encountered for the first time the practice of each person having to repeat text, chapter and verse, before breakfast began. We had not been warned, and being young, also felt `hot and bothered', until one of the Scots came out with `Lord, bless and pity us' from the Metrical Psalm, in a very heartfelt way.
In Shanghai I went sight-seeing and shopping on the Nanking Road, and saw some Shantung silk which would make a lovely summer frock. I went in to price it, but explained I had not enough money with me to buy it that day. `Never mind' said the shop-keeper, cutting the required length, `lady bring to-morrow all right'. Next day when I came with the money I asked him how he knew I would return, seeing I was unknown to him. For answer he pointed
to a very dainty, ultra-feminine handbag in the shop, and said: `Lady have this kind of bag, I no cut silk; lady have your kind (which was a serviceable black leather one), I know all right, she come back.'
First memories of Peking
In those days, language school in Peking was housed in an ancient Chinese princely dwelling. It may have been primitive as regards amenities, but I can only remember the beauty. The little courtyard containing six rooms where I lived had a moon gate and a pear tree. One's room was just that-one room, with grey brick floor, paper window, single bed, desk and chair, and chest of drawers. At the back was a cubicle-like place containing basin and jug, bucket and circular tin bath. There was no running water. We dined in a central hall, a large room also used as a common room, and each day walked to school, to learn and speak Chinese all day. On the way home I liked to go to the various markets and practise talking and listening.
As well, I was fortunate in having a relation who made up part of the British
Embassy, so through his kindness I saw much of the beauty of the city, of the
hills around, and met some very distinguished Chinese of that generation, and
learned a lot more -I knew so little!-of Chinese history. Sometimes coming
home from the Embassy I was sent in the coach, a real old-fashioned coach with glass windows and red curtains and at least two horses jingling with bells.
There was an out-rider, too, more properly an out-runner, for the poor man
had to jump down from the back to lead the horse round the corner if we left the main
road anywhere. It was just like Cinderella going to the ball, the lovely feeling to
be in such a fairy coach.
Further insight about Chinese people came one day when riding in a rickshaw. The rickshaw man seemed to be very poor, with holes in his cotton coat. As usual practising Chinese on everyone, I kept asking him about himself, and resolving to give him a wee bit over the fare when we had arrived at our destination, I felt so sorry for him. Then he began questioning me: `How was it possible that my father had let me, a young girl, come out here, not married, not even a marriage arranged.' He was sorry for me.
First journey to Fakumen (Manchurian home)
I had been in China about a year, first in Peking Language School, then helping at the Teachers' Training College in Moukden, Manchuria, now I was going to my station, Fakumen, on the borders of Mongolia. Long ago, at the age of eight, I had heard about this place from one who was then the missionary doctor there, Dr. Isabel Mitchell. As the years passed and I had made application to the Church to go to the Foreign Mission field, and was
willing to go to India or China, it was decided to send me to China. Out there the Mission Council chose as my station, (and all without my saying a word about it) the very same place where Dr. Mitchell had lived and died, and about which I had learned over the years-Fakumen! Surely that was a final strange coincidence?
By now I was considered capable of making the journey by myself first a train journey, then a night at an inn, where I hired a mule cart to set off as dawn broke next morning. So far, so good; but it was my first cart journey. The Peking cart, as it is called, is a springless vehicle mounted on a broad axle, with two iron-rimmed wheels, and drawn by three mules, two between the shafts and another on a long rein, the `puller'. The cart is covered with blue cotton on a bamboo framework, like the hood of a perambulator. The driver sits on the shaft, the passenger cross-legged inside. I did not know how to sit, so I was half
crouched, half sprawled, so as on the dreadful roads the cart rocked, bumped, sank in holes, jolted out again, or rattled along, so-if my teeth were not chattering and rattling too, my head was bumping hard on the bamboo framework, first one side, then the other. When we came near human habitation, the carter would jerk down the curtain in front of the cart, as it was `not seemly' to be in the public gaze. Also at certain places on the road which the carter judged to be suitably private, the cart would stop and the driver would point tactfully with his whip to a clump of bushes or pile of rocks, and one took the hint.
The road was bad, so as the sun was setting, we had reached only the half-way inn, and it was different from the more sophisticated one I had experienced at the beginning of the journey. It was one long room, with `k'angs' up each side. A k'ang is a brick sleeping platform, about three feet high and five or six feet wide, extending the whole length of the wall. There were
many travellers ready to lie down, side by side, heads to the edge of the k'ang, feet to the wall, whenever the mules had been fed, then the passengers, then the drivers. I had my bowl of millet, and cabbage soup, and scrambled egg. The
inn proprietor, seeing I was `new', invited me to share his family room, so as to be `more private'. When the time came to rest, there would be with me on the k'ang, the inn-keeper's wife, himself, and their teenage son. I lay at one end of the warm k'ang, on the straw matting, as I was not carrying bedding, and made a pillow of my jacket. My head was going round with journeyings and weariness. On the mud wall beside me crawled countless little cockroaches. I knew they didn't bite, but closed my eyes not to see them. The image of the god of wealth stood on a nearby table, with incense sticks burning before him, for it
was a propitious day-the full moon-for his worship. The son arrived, and the inn-keeper and his wife, and all three smoked a little opium before retiring, much as we would take a cup of tea. Airlessness and combined fumes encouraged me to keep my eyes closed and lie still. Then I heard the inn
keeper's wife say: `She has no rug over her. Poor thing, although she is only a foreigner, she knows the weariness of the road, just like us.' Then quietly and gently she put a quilt over me, patting it into place as one would in settling a child. My heart was warmed. Here truly was `my country and my people'.
The next day, with the resilience of youth, travel was resumed, and I was allowed by the carter sometimes to descend and walk. flow beautiful was the country, with willows and wild iris and the mountains before us. Then came the long climb to the top of the pass, then the Mongolian Plain stretching away to the blue, and down below us the caravan route, market town of Fakumen, and among the roof-tops the sinking sun was shining on the cross. The church was there! And I was coming home, that was my chief emotion, to the place where from childhood I had learned of its people and history.
Nearing the town came the noise of welcoming fire-crackers, and a goodly company of people, Miss MacWilliams, the senior missionary, and the Chinese minister and others from the congregation and school. This was `Welcome', so I quickly descended from my cart for the last time and bowed low as I had been taught, and said, I hope, the right things, and we sang a hymn, `and so to bed'.
Remembering my first home
It was picturesque, the Fakumen house, built around 1900 at a total cost of �50, which even in those days was indeed cheap. The plan was simple: an oblong with a door in the middle of one side, two rooms each side. Two of the rooms opened right and left from the hall; along the back of the house ran a narrow corridor, from which were entrances to the other two rooms, and there was a door outwards at one end of the corridor, a lamp room at the other. Towards the back, a store room, and a kitchen with its own back door. The bricks of the house were grey adobe, the roof Chinese tiles, and at the front was a grey brick terrace, a front garden with fruit trees, and wild flowers from the hills-golden lilies, small scarlet lilies and irises.
The construction of the house knew nothing of cavity walls nor a damp course, nor was there electricity or running water. Water came from the well, and was stored in large earthenware vats. The `privy' or `loo' was outside the house. The walls seemed to be only one brick thick, so they froze in winter, especially the back corridor wall, which shone with ice crystals. There was one large iron stove, on legs, in the sitting room. Because it was raised up, one's feet were always cold except when one wore heavy felt boots (Mongolian riding boots) over one's shoes. Miss MacWilliams had the other room off the hall, and beyond that was a room fitted with a sleeping platform, Chinese style. Here lived five little orphan girls whom Miss MacWilliams had adopted, along with their amah, the woman engaged to care for them. The fourth room
was the bedroom of my colleague (but who at that time had not yet arrived),
and me. We had not met before, even in Ireland, but when we did, of necessity shared a bed.
There was no such thing as double-glazing or wire windows for protection against cold, or mosquitoes or flies. In the worst of the cold, perhaps 20 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, we often undressed in the comparative warmth of the sitting room, then ran the gauntlet of the sparkling, icy corridor, to bed. In summer we suffered in health because of flies, and covered our bedroom window with mosquito netting to sleep undisturbed. But the kitchen buzzed with flies. Miss MacWilliams' remedy was a fly whisk-like a feather duster, but instead of feathers were long hairs, I suppose, goat hairs. This whisk she waved in one hand while helping herself to food with the other. On Sunday nights our special treat was the gramophone, a portable which someone had given us, and its two records. One was `Rock of Ages', the other, `Give me the moonlight, give me the girl!'
When first living with Miss MacWilliams, the times were disturbed. There was a good deal of banditry, of taking people for ransom, and that sort of thing. Our girls' school was very vulnerable, because the high mud wall surrounding the whole compound was in poor repair, and it would be easy to climb into the compound from outside. One night the bandits threatened, and were nearly over the wall. The school sent out its alarm: the school bell was being rung
furiously, one of the teachers was playing the organ (the small, folding kind), and another the flute! Miss MacWilliams, hearing the racket, remarked: 'It's those bad rascals again, come on!' handed me a stout stick, took one herself, and we set off running. I couldn't help thinking as I ran: `How does one hit a bandit?' It was one of the things missing from missionary training school curriculum. Miss MacWilliams also had with her a whistle, and this she blew
vigorously. What a cacophony of sound filled the night air! Such of the `bad rascals' as had scaled the wall saw the advancing figures, heard the din, and no doubt thought the attacking force was something more than an elderly lad), and a young girl, for they fled back the way they had come. We, of course, returned to finish our supper.
Remembering more about Miss MacWilliams
Miss MacWilliams did not worry about `the Chinese mind', or different approaches thereto; but unconsciously she talked what to her hearers, was common sense. I `listened in' to her, tried to learn from her as with infinite patience and speaking the same style of Chinese as her hearers, she talked with women about what constituted a good home: there were the responsible heads of families, the duties of family members, the house rules and regulations, without which a decent family would disintegrate. Then she would produce
`God's Rules', the Ten Commandments, stressing the fifth about honouring parents, and go on from there, but never hurrying. The questioners certainly got a good first impression: i.e. `the religion which has these rules cannot be bad.'
She would teach also that everyone knew how harvest depended on Heaven sending rain in season, that ultimately food and clothes came from the Will of Heaven. There was, according to her hearers, a supreme god, like an emperor, far away. When his intermediaries failed-the range of nature gods, this supreme god could be appealed to forlornly, but without much hope, because he was too far away. Miss MacWilliams brought this far-away god near, as God the Father, and nearer still as she told the parable of the Prodigal Son, a story easily understood by all peoples.
Watching her, listening to her, I knew that here was a missionary with all the time in the world; not a proselytiser hurrying and scurrying after `results'.
Miss MacWilliams had absorbed a lot of China without knowing it, of course, as every foreigner who lives there for a long time, does. The Chinese acknowledged this in one of their gifts to her, one given as an honour to much respected old ladies. It was a silver brooch-like ornament, something like a key ring, from which were suspended articles useful in the spirit world beyond the grave! There was a silver rooster to waken her, a key to open doors, a bell to call for help or attention, and a little silver cow which would drink all the dirty water of a lifetime for her! (Water was an element made impure by women, so that drinking it eventually was one of the retributions on `the other side!')
One big step for a Chinese family in the process of accepting Christianity, was the taking down of the idols, be they of wood or clay or just pictures. It was a terrific break with the past, and happened long before baptism into the Church. One day, noticing Miss MacWilliams looking tired and sad, we asked her where she had been. `To see the Wang family at such-and-such a village,' she told us. `How are the Wang family?' we politely asked. Her reply: `They have become a wee bit cold in the Faith; they have the idols up again.' Wee bit cold, indeed!-the understatement of the day. A young, untried missionary would have dismissed the Wang family as faithless, not able to stand the test, etc. But Miss MacWilliams knew the test. So often, almost always it seemed, the doing away with the idols did result in calamity of some sort, sickness, misfortune, and `it's all because the gods are annoyed' remarks of the neighbours. It is easier to take down idols from a niche in the wall than from one's own mind and heart. She, Miss MacWilliams, knew this, and was the most tolerant-of-human-frailty person I have ever met. White was white and black was black, but she treated the sinners and the saints just the same, and never allowed moral indignation to ruffle her serenity.
In China, this serenity obtained for her great respect. So did her love of birds (also a Chinese trait). Birds would come to her call, perch on her shoulders and
arms. Once, showing a picture of St. Francis and the birds to the kindergarten children, the teacher began: `I am going to tell you who this is,' but a chorus of little voices were already answering: `We know! It is Miss
The O'Neills, and the Chinese language
Chinese, in spite of its difficulty, had a tremendous attraction for me, and to Dr. and Mrs. O'Neill, also senior missionaries at my first home, I owe much for the progress I was making in this direction. The O'Neills saw Chinese, first of all, as people; were very courteous in their contacts with them, had a wonderful vision of a Chinese Christian Church, and exemplified faith, hope
and love, `not only with their lips but in their lives' (to paraphrase part of the General Thanksgiving). Language and correct pronunciation was Dr. O'Neill's hobby-horse; he would not accept any deviation that my Irish
tongue tried! I remember several words which were uttered from the throat, and quite unlike any English sound. To get them right, I had at first to pretend
to myself that I was going to be sick before I could say them.
I loved hearing about the early days from the seniors. There was a generation gap between the recently arrived, who, working hard at language and trying to be useful, and keen on the job, yet were, nevertheless, young and gay, referring sometimes to those who had been in the country before 1900 as `the pre-Boxers'. (1900 was the year of the Boxer Uprising.)
I loved to hear of the exploits of `the pre-Boxers': of the intrepid lady travelling with her husband when their boat was boarded by river pirates. One caught her hand to take her wedding ring-and such pirates if in a hurry took finger and all-but with her right hand she smartly smacked him over the head
with a parcel of Catechisms! He released her, even eyeing her with some respect.
At the Boxer Rising, when foreign women and children were congregating at the port of Y'ing K'ou preparatory to taking refuge in Japan, the lady of the
house was making ready for the refugees, putting babies to sleep in the drawers of a chest of drawers, and generally coping. The height of unflappableness was surely reached when she went round asking about the next morning's meal: `Now, who takes porridge?' Miss MacWilliams told me that as she and her colleagues travelled in a luggage truck on the railway, the escape route at that time, someone produced `Daily Light'. The text for the day was: `The wicked flee when no man
Chinese life, grass roots
In social studies at home, I had been used to thinking that over-crowding and
lack of privacy excused many social ills and moral lapses. Here, an ordinary Chinese home had just one room, usually with a k'ang (sleeping platform) along each side wall, with a narrow strip of earthen floor between. The k'angs are like a primitive central heating system. In the hall of the house, by the door, is a large iron cooking pot built into a stove. The hall is also the kitchen. The fuel is millet straw, lit and pushed under the pot. The flues from the stove go horizontally into the k'ang in the room beyond, so the hot smoke circulates inside the k'ang before eventually escaping up a chimney at the far end of the room. Every time a meal is cooked, it is like putting a hot water bottle in the bed. Heat is never wasted. The k'ang is warm to sit on by day and sleep on by night. Occupants of this one room could easily be the old couple, their two sons and sons' wives and children. A curtain or small table might separate families. Each person, even a child, had his or her own mattress, pillow and padded quilt, the last very large and folded envelope-fashion like a sleeping bag. By day the bedding was folded neatly to leave the space clear for living-eating, sewing, nursing the baby. There were unwritten rules about going to bed, undressing, dressing, washing-all performed in the most discreet and modest fashion. They conquered the environment, not the other way round! It was all very respectable! There was poverty, and the dirt that goes with poverty (no `changes' of clothes or bedding or renewals of worn out things), but not degradation. The proverb says: `People may ridicule rents and holes, but no one laughs at patches.' Some garments I have seen had little of the original material left in them-patch upon patch-but that was respected. Even the patches were not put on the inside of the garment, to be `invisible mending,' but on the outer side. Some were even decorative! As flowers or butterfly patches, they were like a flaunting of the human spirit to cope with circumstances and overcome.
In another social class, a school teacher, for instance, it was correct to wear good clothes, a gown of silk or good material. But it was also correct to wear over it an over-gown of cotton. At the sides and sleeves the silk garment could be seen, but the moral seemed to be `dress according to your station, but do not show off?' There was class consciousness, but it worked in a feudal way really very well! Each person or group had its circle, its loyalties, the lower to the higher and the higher to the lower, everyone knew his `place'. If we in the Mission house planned some change in the day to day running of affairs, the Chinese cook or head-boy would be brought into the plans and consulted. He was part of the family circle, and almost always very loyal. A lady missionary once overheard her cook conversing with the postman, assuring the latter that although the missionary was unmarried, she was quite normal and morally above reproach. `It is their custom,' he explained. `If a daughter does not wish to marry, she is given the choice, to go and work in another country. Strange, but it is the way these foreigners do things, not like us.'
The average birth-rate, according to Mission Hospital calculations, was about 12 or 13 births for each woman, but of these only two or three would live to be adult. If a newly-born infant was found to be handicapped in some way, or deformed, it would be `exposed', left out on the road, to die. Often, because of lack of hygiene, an infant of a week would take convulsions, and so die and be `thrown out'. If the mother could not nurse the child, nor a foster-mother (milk-mother) be found, the baby was fed on bean milk, or sometimes the mother chewed food and then put the masticated food in the baby's mouth,
putting her mouth to the baby's, like a mother bird feeding a chick. Some children even survived this, but then came flies and dysentery and all the other things. So I have often seen, out on the hillside, a woman weeping her heart out, at her feet a bundle wrapped in straw, her `thrown-out' baby. Why was it not buried? Because they believed there was a demon called the Dog-spirit whose food was the souls of babies. To propitiate the Dog-spirit, the bodies
were left on the hillside where the wild dogs roamed and would find them. In the homes, often all round the k'ang, like a frieze, was a picture of a
cherubic-like figure flying with a long lance thrust out to strike into the throat of the Dog-spirit. This could be a `protected area' for babies to sleep in.
If small children survived all that, and came toddling to kindergarten, a tiger's face was embroidered on each shoe cap, so that step by step the child was protected by the tiger from demons in the way. A length of red thread round each wrist would prevent harm travelling up the arms. A small boy would wear an ear-ring, to deceive the spirits into thinking he was a girl. The baby names were enlightening too: `Little Mistake' meant that a girl had come
instead of a boy. `Son coming' was a little girl's name. A child hailed as `Dog's leavings' meant it has been close to death, to being `thrown-out', but had not
died, so the dogs did not get it. Little girls did not count for much: in a family of, say, five children, three boys and two girls, the parents would say they had three children. Only the boys counted. Little girls would grow up and marry
away and be no more use to the family-so there was no sense in educating girls!-but as individuals little daughters were greatly
Learning the job: `Begin where they are.' Learning in the
The ordinary folk of China are Taoists, that is, believers in spirits, demons,
devils, and a great variety of gods who are to be propitiated to avoid calamity. The Rain-god will prevent floods as well as bring rain, the Insect-god keeps down caterpillars, and there are deities specialising in sore eyes and smallpox.
Often I saw at the temples someone with a paper doll to offer to an idol. That meant that at home a child was very ill, and the god was being asked to accept
the paper doll instead of the life of the child. This doll was called `the substitute'.
There was no such thing as we call `adoration' in the temples, still less any idea of love for the gods, or of a god manifesting love. There was judgment, though, and not one Hell but eighteen! Life-sized figures in the various Hells showed all the tortures of the damned-a liar having his tongue pulled out, people being sawn in two, branded with hot irons, etc. The gods sat in state on thrones, except for one who stood on the floor, unclassified, because he was called `The god with no name!' He was covered with little bits of sticking plaster, and the thought was that if you had a pain anywhere, you could stick the plaster on him in the place you had the pain, and it would be `transferred'. (Can you hear a Gospel echo of `Himself took our infirmities and bare our sorrows?')
It was possible to cheat the gods, or be angry with them. When the rain had not come, in spite ofofferings to the Rain-god, in spite of providing him with an open air theatre entertainment, in spite of being carried around to see for himself the dried up lakes and rivers, they placed him in the hottest part of the market square with the words: `Sit there and roast and see how you like it!' A local business man in difficulties vowed that he would give a pig to the temple god if all would go well with him and his business prospered. Things did turn out all right, so the pig was duly killed, and suspended from a pole, carried round the town that all might bear witness that he had kept his vow. But-he cut off the pig's head and tail, kept the body for his family's food, and arranged the other bits, head and tail, tastefully on a dish, so that the god might look down and see `the whole hog', so to speak.
Not in a temple anywhere, there was yet another idea of god-a High God, called The Heavenly Magistrate or Emperor or Grandfather, who was regarded as above all others. He could be appealed to as a last resort. When you asked: `Why has He no temple, no image?'you would get the answer: `Because He is too far away.' I have seen, usually an elderly woman, seated at a `crossroads' of tracks outside the town, wailing and crying her sad lot, and beseeching help. Her prayers had, she thought, fallen on deaf ears in the temple, now surely the highest God would hear her? Her cry would go up and down, north and south, east and west-the crossroads. Surely a way would be found on one of them?
In a house, over the cooking pot, was a niche for the Kitchen-god picture, in front of it a shelf for offerings to him. Especially on feast days he would be given his share of tit-bits. Almost every village had its old crone who could doctor and arrange worthless bits of vegetable on the Kitchen-god's shelf, which would look all right and desirable! In the fields there were always to be found little shrines for the Earth-god-humble little figures of mud, god and his wife, much weather-beaten, who were expected to take care of that area. One of the
more important days in spring, was `The Feast of Excited Insects,' betokening the stirring of insect life in the soil. The god's function was to persuade the grubs not to overdo the eating of new crops.
The Kitchen-god and New Year
The Kitchen-god's principal job was to oversee the cooking pot, that no member of the family be poisoned, also he was supposed to prevent a `blowdown' of smoke. (Cooking could be difficult with smoke making one's eyes water.) The Kitchen-god's name was Chang, `Old Honourable Chang'. His great occasion was New Year, celebrated according to the lunar calendar, and usually falling around the end of January. New Year meant two weeks' holiday for everyone, including Old Honourable Chang. For a whole year he had known the family secrets, faults and failings, so before he was sent on his holidays, and go up to Heaven to make a report to the Emperor of all the gods, it was wise to take a few precautions: His lips were sealed with treacle, stuck together fast, then followed a ceremonious burning of him with the chant, roughly translated:
`Honourable Old One, originally called Chang,
Go up to Heaven with a basket on your arm:
Give a good report of the family . . .
And in case you should speak ill of us,
We hearby seal your mouth.'
Then up he went in flames, `translated' by fire.
While the household god was away, the family could relax. No one was snooping on them while they dressed in their best and feasted. Even the women stopped their everlasting sewing, as a needle was an inauspicious object. Automatically everyone was a year older in the New Year. A baby born on the last day of the old year was reckoned to be two next day, New Year's Day. Devils and evil spirits, however, did not have a holiday, so children were specially protected over New Year by being dressed in red, the colour of good fortune. The house was protected by strips of red paper over and at the sides of doors and windows, the red paper written over with magic signs. This custom, the Chinese told me, came from very long ago when a sacrifice was made, and the blood sprinkled. Later red paper was used as substitute for the blood. Firecrackers were let off every now and then to welcome guests, that they might enter safely and no evil spirits slip in with them. For the first five days of the New Year, women kept indoors, but the men, in companies and dressed in their best, went out visiting and making calls. This meant that all the masculine virtues were walking abroad-strength, adventure, courage everyone was saying: `New Year, New happiness!' to which the correct reply was: `Together we rejoice!'
Holiday climax came when the moon was full and the dragon went round the town. The dragon was the most life-like thing, constructed of bamboo and paper and silk, supported on each side by bamboo poles. The men who handled these could make the dragon twist and turn and go round in circles; strings pulled its jaws open and shut as it ate up all the evil spirits wherever it went. People and more people, all carrying lanterns, the side-shows, the stilt walkers, the noise, the fireworks, the drums beating and the dragon gallumphing, and the full moon shining on the snow-it was great fun, and a happy New Year for a fortnight. After that, a new household god was `invited'-you did not say `bought'-and so life was back to normal, and you could start again afresh, for, after all, the new Kitchen-god did not know your past.
I saw a woman catching a demon. There must have been someone ill with a fever in her house, someone `rambling' with a high temperature which would be attributable to a demon speaking. Everyone knows that demons are thirsty at the end of a long day, and would want a drink. The water was stored in a large earthenware barrel in the kitchen-hall, and the water dipper was the half of a dried gourd or melon skin. The thing to do was to catch the demon in the gourd, cover all with one's apron, and carry it outside. (I think the slight movement on the surface of the water, now that the sun was setting and a light breeze sprung up, could easily be interpreted as the demon quenching its thirst.)
Next, she carried all to the intersection of lanes, a crossroads, and there made a heap of the dust in the road, and into the heap put three incense sticks, lit and smoking. Then with a deft flick of the apron the water dipper was upturned to spill out its demon content, and the woman ran home. As for the demon, he was at a crossroads, not knowing which way to go; but not angry, because of the smell of incense in the air.
Sowing seed and catching fish
Missionary work is often compared to `sowing seed'. Such an analogy may be suitable for medical or educational work. Especially in schools and colleges pupils will come to learn, make contact with teachers, build relationships which may afterwards prove favourable to the spread of Christian ideas. But ordinary missionary work, in my experience, is much more like the work of a fisherman. Indeed, Jesus called His disciples to be fishers. Fisher folk must have their skills, know the fish, and the right bait; and themselves to have patience, be prepared often to work in darkness and danger. So in my early
years, now with a Chinese name, dressing in Chinese clothes, eating Chinese food, living the Chinese life, I was making myself `acceptable' as I conformed to the manners and customs. I was learning the fisherman's skill.
What time I am afraid'
I was alone in Fakumen, as colleagues were in different places or on furlough, and `the times' were again not peaceable, to say the least. The compound wall had been mended, so that bandits could not easily get in; but the bandits had come and were attacking the town. From some official source came instructions to me, to extinguish all lights and look to the safety of our schoolgirls in boarding school.
The children were doing `prep', but I told them to lie down and in the dark, say their prayers, and that I would not be far away. I was not far away! I was sitting on the school steps, seeing the reflections of fires in the town, hearing the shouting and screams, and dogs barking-and had not the least idea what to do if the bandits climbed the wall-perhaps to take some little girls for ransom as well as for other evil reasons. And I felt terrified! The only phrase coming into my mind was the one from the Psalms: 'What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.' How much time passed I do not know, but the sounds of shouting and commotion died down as the robbers left the town by another way, not coming in our direction.
Seeing `possession' for the first time
Into the Mission compound one evening came a mother and father with their daughter, aged about twenty. `Their girl' they said, `was possessed by an evil
spirit which made her talk in a strange language, and behave wildly, throwing herself around the room. Could the Church cast out the demon?' I didn't have the answer-such of `the Church' as were there assured the parent that they had come to the right place! `Of course the Lord Jesus would heal their child.'
I was in a daze, having read without understanding of this sort of thing in the New Testament, but that was all. However, all gathered together in the
room of the Bible School; sang and prayed, while the patient muttered and in general, did `behave strangely'. `It will take a long time' said my Chinese colleague, `would you ask the schoolgirls to help with their prayers too?' I went to the school where the girls should have been finishing supper, to discover
that they had gone without their food, and were already saying their prayers. They quoted the Gospel to me! `This kind of demon, Miss, will only come out with prayer and fasting'-so they had fasted. No one had suggested such a thing; they just applied the Gospel literally to the situation. They all knew the phenomenon of `possession' of course, I did not.
Those with the patient kept on singing and praying, persuading her at last to rest on the k'ang, and reassuring her with kindness. She slept a little, then suddenly sitting up and speaking in her natural voice, her own voice, began whispering `Lord, save me! Jesus, Lord, save me!' The watchers held their breath-it was happening-the girl recovered, like waking after a deep sleep of illness, and she was cured! Once more I was impressed by the wisdom of Chinese Christians who understood the situation: they prevailed on the parents to let the girl remain at Bible School for some timo, to `learn the Doctrine', as they put it, and so make a strong foundation for a new Faith and new life.
Shamanism-exorcism and possession
Our district on the Mongolian border was a place where the phenomena of `possession' was quite common. It was always for me a mysterious and frightening experience in which to take part, with the Chinese Christian Church, in `liberating' the victims of it. One cannot help one's own background of education; and in my day a `scientific' slant was on everything: the belief that science or psychology could somehow `explain' strange situations. This subconscious background was, in a way, a hindrance, even when one had conscious faith and belief in the power of the Holy Spirit, and could note that even the very name of Jesus had a mysterious power. I have seen `possessed' people who had, so far as we could find out, never even heard the name of Jesus, scream it out when Christians entered the room: `Not Jesus! Not these people! I will not go!' And, as in New Testament accounts, the Church people would ask the name of the devil, and converse with it, ordering it to go. The `possessed' person often spoke in quite a different voice or accent, even in the idiomatic language of another province, from his natural speech. The power of prayer seemed to frighten it, or singing. One cannot possibly explain this sort of thing. After all, semi-scientific or psychological jargon are just other words for the same thing and don't `explain' anything. But, positively, the name and power of Jesus did cast out devils! One saw people `come to themselves', and I . never knew of any relapse.
There were local exorcists, who had their successes, but also had frequent relapses. Their aim was different: it was to pacify or placate the spirit, even bribe it to keep quiet, but not to send it away. The exorcist acted like a medium, inducing the demon to enter him and so reveal what was its will. The method was to raise the most fearful din; drums and gongs were beaten close to the patient's ear, and shouting and a kind of dervish dancing went on. There was also sacrifice, always a white hen or rooster, spilling its red blood; and an offering, mostly of lengths of cotton cloth, one red colour, one white. This significance of red for life and white for death is very, very ancient, perhaps
goes to the beginning of time itself. One sees it at a wedding in India, or even in a hospital in Ireland where red and white flowers together are frowned upon by the nursing staff.
Exorcism of the ordinary kind was, of course, expensive. They wouldn't be Chinese if those wishing to employ an exorcist didn't consider that it would be cheaper to do it the Christian way! Again, I used to appreciate with amusement how our local people avoided being called in `because they were cheap!' They would not go to a home except the responsible people there agreed that when the patient was cured, he or she should immediately come to the Mission station for instruction for long or short periods, and that the home permit Christian people to enter and teach. As much as possible must be done to change the environment and make it not suitable for devils! Best of all was to have the patient for exorcism brought to the church, where we would be fighting the devil on our own home ground, and have all the advantages.
There were different Chinese words for various forms of possession, which did not confuse the state with lunacy or madness. Some words meant very real Satanic power, others, minor demons, others almost as we would say, when things persistently go wrong: `The devil's in this thing.' The story was told of a certain Irish lady doctor who had come to China at an older age than usual, so she did not speak the language very well. But she had a more than usual supply of sanctified common sense! A family recently Christian, had in the family circle a teenage bride of one of the younger sons. In other words, she would be counted as `less than the least' in the household, so far as status counted. Now and again this frustrated young person stood at the big gate of the courtyard, and cursed and cursed, everybody and everything. `The devil's in her' said the family. No one worried about this form of self-expression until now, surely it was not right in a Christian family that this should continue. So they brought her to the doctor, to ask could she cure this. The doctor said: `Of course', and gave the girl a very large bottle filled with bright pink liquid, and instructions. `When you feel the spirit urging you to speak and curse, quickly take a big mouthful of the medicine. Don't swallow it, for it is slightly poisonous, but hold it in your mouth as long as possible, then spit it out and take another mouthful.' Need I add that `the cure' worked. When a cursing fit was coming on, the little bride was the centre of attention, with everyone gathering round to watch the cure working, and marvelling.
Other Fakumen memories
Elder Shang was a senior elder of the Church, a dignified old gentleman, in a real sense, a `foundation member'.
In his young days, he had often wondered about the making of the world, of the wonders of creation, and was not satisfied with the Chinese account of how
it had all come to pass. The Chinese story was of an original creator who in order to bring the world into being, himself died. Thus his hair became the forests, his bones the mountains, his sweat the rivers; and the lice on his body were the first humans. When the young man Shang came upon his first Bible, he started at the beginning, with Genesis. To him this was wonderful: a worthy account which gave man dignity, and of a living God. By profession Mr. Shang was a farmer, quite a well-to-do one with lands and fields outside the town gate. Mr. Shang was now a Christian. When the dreaded bubonic plague struck Manchuria, Fakumen did not escape. In fact, the origins of this plague were in Mongolia, the infection carried by little rat-like animals, gophers, which had their borrows all over the hillsides. They were charming to watch, like baby rabbits, but they did carry the plague. For people in Mongolia and in our district, the plague was endemic; there was a resistance and it was not always fatal, as when it reached the large cities. Still, it was feared enough for those who had contracted it to be put outside the town gates (like lepers in Israel). Mr. Shang decided he would care for these wretched folk. So he himself left the town, collected plague patients, housed them in his field shelters on his land, fed and nursed and cared for them, all because that was what his new-found Faith inspired him to do. Of such stuff were the elders of the Church composed.
Another elderly gentleman had first become interested in the Christian religion through reading the Book of Proverbs! All these wise sayings smacked of Confucius and Mencius and the sages of old, so he read on.
Still another had his introduction through a Gospel, St. Matthew's, which begins with chapters of names and `begetting'. But the reader argued: `This book is not trying to catch me; if it were, there would be interesting and arresting words right at the beginning!' So assured that he was not being `conned', he too read on.
The worshipper at the memorial
Inside the compound, opposite the door of the hospital, was a monument put up by the people of the town to commemorate the life and service of Dr. Isabel Mitchell (whom I had known as a child). The memorial was an upright stone slab, upon which was written a eulogy, more of Dr. Mitchell's father than of her! The monument was protected from the weather by a small, Chinese-style roof supported on pillars. On the roof was a small stone cross on which was carved the word `Light'.
At special periods and when the moon was full, there used to come a poor woman who had been helped by Dr. Mitchell many years before. She was what one would call `simple'; but she knelt in the k'ao t'ao (knocking the head on the ground), and raising her hands would mutter some `prayers' of her own. All
efforts to teach her were unavailing. All she would say was: `I am too stupid to learn things. All I know is to worship Dr. Ida's God. If I am with her, I'll be all right!'
`Are not Chinese Buddhists?' I am often asked. To which the answer is, yes, many are, but most Chinese mix up the various Faiths-their talent for compromise so that, at a funeral, for instance, Buddhist or Taoists will have the elements of both Faiths taking part in the ceremonies. The principle is' be on the safe side! If it does you no good, it will do you no harm'. Moslems were a small minority, and so much absorbed into China that little remained of positive belief except not to eat pork. One would need to go to the cities to find a Confucian temple. (There was a very beautiful one in Peking.) Confucian philosophy was, however, part of an educated life, and sayings of Confucius and Mencius had passed into common speech. So I also studied the Classics to some degree, and sat the examination for that, which was not usual for a `foreigner' to do, and though I could not presume to `know' Confucius and Mencius, I learned parts which interested and moved me greatly. `I like fish' said the Master, `and I like bear's paws' (both delicacies), `but if I cannot have both, then I prefer bear's paws. And I like a position of honour, and I love righteousness (integrity of life), if I cannot have both, then let me choose righteousness.' And, `The Master said: "People lose their hens or dogs and go searching for them; man loses his soul, and does not even know to search, or where to seek it. Alas! that this should
be so!"' All this and much more, for 500 B.C. struck me as very good stuff, the makings of `good ground' for the sowing of the Word.
But back to Buddhists: Foreigners often refer to Kwan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, as a Buddhist deity. But Buddhism, according to Buddha, did not have a deity. It was a way of life, of denying all desire. Though Buddhism came from India, and eventually Buddha himself was regarded as the Lord Buddha, there was never any reference to a goddess. The Goddess of Mercy is a Chinese imposition, and I think must have some connection with the earliest excursions of Christian Missions into China, Nestorian perhaps. At any rate, I believe the Goddess of Mercy began as the Virgin Mary! I have seen statuettes, even in style Italian, recognisable as the Virgin and Child-but they turned out to be Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
Buddhism had many sects, over fifty, I think, varying in purity of practice. From Mongolia and Tibet came the idea of a Living Buddha. This meant that at the instant of decease of one Buddha, he was being reborn somewhere else; and the search could go on for years to find the child whose appearance and birth circumstances were exactly right, proof that he was `the one'. Sometimes
there were two claimants to the title, with resultant friction or small wars. One sect of Buddhism had a strong idea of sin and expiation for sin which as desire had been committed in this life or in a previous existence. They believed in reincarnation though not reincarnation as animals, as in India.
The story of Mrs. Chao
Mrs. Chao belonged to this sect of Buddhism which has a consciousness of sin. (Not `sins' but sin in the abstract, sin in the world, in nature, sin in the heart, unconscious sin, original sin). Mrs. Chao had been married only a week when her husband died. So it was the belief of all that his death must have come because of the young wife's sin, perhaps in a previous incarnation. Death had come to the home, and she was the one who must atone. For fifteen years she studied the Buddhist Scriptures, practised meditation and prayers, was a strict vegetarian denying herself even the simplest pleasures and comforts, and undertaking the long hardship of pilgrimage to many shrines. After all those weary years, she had reached a point of utter despair. In this state of despair, and having been fasting for days, she fell into a kind of trance in which she heard the word 'Fakumen'. She knew that Fakumen was a town some seventy miles away, which she had never visited, but in the dream state she was in she saw outside the town a little river, and asked: `How can I cross it?' She heard a voice saying: `Look for the stepping stones.' When she came to herself she was sure this was a message from the Lord Buddha himself telling her to make one more pilgrimage.
So she set off, staff in hand, in her pilgrim's dress, to walk the many miles, and at length came near the town of Fakumen. There was the little river of her dream! She recognised it, looked for and found the stepping stones, crossed and began walking up one of the long streets until nearby she heard the sound of singing. She went to the open door to see who were singing; a Chinese woman saw her, invited her in to rest, and brought her a cup of tea. Sitting there she listened to the singing and speaking, but was bewildered until the woman came and sat beside her and began to explain. Mrs. Chao had walked straight to the street preaching chapel of the local Christian church! The thirsty one drank of the Living Water at last, became a Christian, and later an evangelist with whom I made many a journey. If you heard her speaking to the people, telling of her long search, one and another in the audience would say: `That's just like me! I did that too!' Then she would go on to tell how she had found One who had power to forgive sin, and who by His death had made the perfect atonement. Listening to her I used to think: How much better she can `get it across' to her own people than any missionary could. What a tragedy if there had been no street chapel there, no Chinese to welcome her in, no Christian Church? Thank God it was the policy of our Irish Presbyterian
Mission in Manchuria to build up the Church, the Christian Church in China, to be the Church in that land.
A big part of the growing Church was composed of people from this Buddhist sect which had a consciousness of sin, knew self-denial, and experienced forgiveness in Christ.
A second section of the Christian Church came from the Confucianists. They knew the rules of right conduct and deportment in every imaginable situation. One of my language teachers with whom I studied the Classics was a Confucian. He would rebuke me for running across the school playground. `Undignified' he would say. `A teacher must not run, but walk with deliberate step, slightly turning out the toes,' and, `Could you cultivate a slight stoop? And wear glasses? It would all help people to know that you were a scholar, used to poring over many books.' This `educated class', the best of them, trying to live in righteousness by rules, found, like St. Paul, that `the good that I would I do not, while the evil that I would not, that I do'. There were two families in Manchuria who could trace their ancestry back more than two thousand years! being direct descendants of Confucius and bearing his name. These two families are now Christian, the heads of each are ministers in the Church.
These two groups, Buddhist and Confucian, once into the Church, did not of course remain two groups, but became one, like the warp and weft of a bolt of good material. Or, one could call it `the good ground'. However, the Church would not be the Christian Church if it only contained people with particular or special backgrounds. There is to be `a highway for the waywaring man'. Here the missionary `fisherman' needed all his skill. It was as though Jesus said: `I'll show you how to land a harder catch-schools and shoals of lone swimmers, slippery, elusive people-ordinary people.' Missionaries making speeches at home share one difficulty: there is so much to say in a restricted time, it is difficult to give a balanced picture. Some addresses I have heard leave one with the impression that `the heathen' were sitting in rows waiting for the Gospel to come to them, and as soon as they heard it, they believed. It cannot be as simple as all that. It means `in journeyings often'.
Working with Uncle and Auntie Feng
They were an evangelist and his wife who were so good and true that wherever they went the Church grew. My Chinese colleague (a trained theological college graduate) and I liked to have the Feng family village as headquarters for work in that part of the country. Mr. and Mrs. Feng treated us like two daughters, and as we took our place in their home, I did feel as if they were dearly loved relations. Mr.
Feng's sense of humour was very much like what one would find in Ulster. Visiting an old, house-bound man, he would say:
`The Heavenly Father has the loveliest place prepared for you, and here you are, sitting here still!'
Going to bed at night, on the k'ang, my colleague and I would be tucked up in our large, padded quilts, folded envelope-fashion, while Mr. and Mrs. Feng possibly coping with the odd louse or two, would chat to each other, `curtain lecture' fashion. `When am I going to get a clean shirt, may I ask,' he would say. `It seems a long time since you attended to that!' `Always complaining' she would say, `sure, didn't I give you a clean one six weeks ago, to go to Presbytery meeting. . .'They were poor indeed in worldly possessions. When the bandits descended one day on the village, in winter time, their home was set on fire, their possessions stolen, even the cooking pot broken, and both of them beaten. The old man was threatened with death because, as the robbers said, he was so odd-he didn't worship any of the gods they did nor burned incense. The bandit leader came along and heard these accusations, and interrupted: `He doesn't worship our gods nor follow our customs-but-he is not a bandit!' So they let them go, even giving them some `bandit' clothes, sheepskin gowns and hats, so that they made their way in the bitter winter weather to Fakumen and safety and shelter. No moaning nor complaining. `All we had was what the Lord had given us' was the only comment.
In journeyings often. In the far north. At the home of Pastor Li's family
Once through the door and into the hall, the room on the left, with a k'ang and benches, was the local church; the room on the right, with another small room beyond, was the Pastor's home. The first room had a k'ang, a table and stools, and a shelf of, of all things, books. The room beyond had a bed of sorts, boards across trestles, where my colleague and I spread our mattresses. By day we visited `the flock', and taught in the church and at near night time, neighbours came along to the family room for evening prayers. The four Li children were the light bearers: their job was to stand with the candles in their little hands, holding them for the others to read the Bible words. We all knew what to pray about, and as is Chinese custom, prayed aloud as though alone in the room. It was eerie to hear the spontaneous murmur of prayer rising, even hearing the children praying for their father as he went about `working for Jesus', but not eerie in a frightening way. The candles glowed, there was a feeling of peace and joy: it must have been something like this in the Upper Room before Pentecost.?
In this town there was a beggar, a familiar sight to everyone. He had some form of paralysis, and could not stand, but crawled the streets. Among the people who each evening attended the local church for instruction before baptism, was a young farmer. Walking home from the church class one evening, he came to the beggar. `I'd seen him a hundred times before' he said,
`but never felt pity for him. Now I did, and had an overwhelming conviction that God wanted that man to walk.' So, he found himself on his knees in the road beside the man, praying in the name of Jesus for the power of God to make the man walk. Then he took the man's hand and pulled him up. The man stood for a moment, then half collapsed again. Again the farmer prayed and called on the name of Jesus, and again hauled the man to his feet. This time he stood, and walked, and was cured!
In another large town lived Dr. Yüan, `doctor' in the Chinese sense, practising Chinese medicine, but with a smattering of Western medicine techniques like giving injections or vaccination. And he had some understanding of hygiene. He was also an elder in the local church. One thing he did which was quite remarkable-he had tremendous success in helping people break with opium smoking. Using opium was quite common as a pain-killer and relief from various ills. Also what one might call `social smoking' was common enough, but there were the addicts, the drug `slaves'. Many of these were officials in high positions. (They could afford it!) Dr.
Yüan advised those who appealed to him for help, by advocating complete and instant withdrawal, not a gradual process. He also went in for group therapy, having his patients together, and he also had great faith in `the expulsive power of a new affection!' The new affection was to be for a living, personal Saviour. So, one saw a number of men sitting around, learning texts by heart, and, above all, singing! They seemed to sing the desire for opium out of the system. Well in advance of his time, surely, for he was doing it this way more than fifty years ago.
However, somewhere among the powers-that-be, the doctor had enemies, or there were those who thought his power and influence for good should be restrained. They employed a couple of killers to murder the doctor. In the night, the attackers broke in, tied up Mrs.
Yüan, and fastened a rope round the doctor's neck to garrotte him. They nearly succeeded, but-the rope broke! This gave the killers a great fright, and superstition sent them running. `No such thing could or should happen: he must be under the protection of a powerful God'-that was public opinion, and who is to say it was not correct?
A country home I loved to go to
This was a family which was third generation Christian. These were rare, for it meant that the original family had belonged to the pre-1900 (Boxer Uprising) period. Three generations does not seem much to us in the West, but in Manchuria it meant foundations and stability. What one might term
side effects of Christianity had had time to rub off on the daily pattern of life and
behaviour: cleanliness, tidiness, peace and quiet, and the household conducted in decency and order. On the wall beside the k'ang hung a slate and pencil, on it the name of which one of the family, old or young, would read the Scripture verse for that evening. Instead of `Dog-spirit' frieze or other
demon-scaring pictures were Chinese style Bible ones: the Good Samaritan, Lost Sheep, Parable of the Seed. Where the ancestral tablets or images of Buddha or other deities used to be, on a table or shelf at the end of the room, were portraits of the ancestors, the family Bible and books. (In a Christian household there was always some degree of literacy.) The k'ang matting was home-made, of the golden straw of the millet, and on it a small, short-legged table or two (also home-made) for meals. There was also a quite large earthenware bowl, home-made from local clay, and in this were placed the hot ashes from under the cooking stove after the meal had been cooked. It made a hand-warmer on the k'ang. Sometimes these bowls glowed like good china: the surface gloss had been produced by repeated gentle rolling over it of a glass bottle. At the two sides of the door, instead of red paper and magic signs, were red paper and corresponding verses like `As far as the east is from the west . . . And as the heaven is high above the earth . . .'Overhead, above the k'ang, was suspended horizontally a long bamboo pole, serving like a clothes line to hook things on to, baskets of vegetables, or eggs, for instance, which might have been knocked over if within easier reach. Also suspended from above was the cradle, like a little boat, or shaped like a violin case, swinging, not from side to side, but up and down. Over the roof-beam, a huge tree trunk, was twisted a long, thick rope made of scented grasses, which wound round and round the beam, with a free end hanging down. This free end was alight and smouldered. When you wanted a light for the fire, you blew on the end of the rope to get sparks. A man going out to the fields for the day, or the carter, would have a twist of the rope round his hat or his head, the `living' end standing up from the knot like a horn. When he wanted to light a pipe, or deter
mosquitoes, he would pull down the horn and blow on it to get the sparks and flame. So there were no matches needed in that house. There were candles, home-made, and soap, home-made, and almost all the cloth of clothes or bedding, had been grown, woven and dyed at home; so also the goat-skin mats on the k'ang, and of course all the food was home-produced. You didn't need money to buy anything. You couldn't, in any case, for no one was selling anything. The `simple life' is not simple; it is a very industrious one, but, I thought, most happy and beautiful.
Once on a journey I learned something about frost-bite. It was not far, ten miles or so, from where we were to where we were going, inside Mongolia. A man was carrying our bedding on each end of a carrying-pole, and my
colleague and I were walking. We were adequately clothed for the winter weather, and the temperature was sub-zero (about 20 below Fahrenheit), but the sky was blue and the sun shone, and we started off. We had walked about six miles when I noticed that the rope on one of the bundles had worked loose; so I tried to re-tie the knot there and then, pulling back my fur-lined long sleeves and pulling off my heavy glove on one hand, to hold the rope. A piercing pain shot up my arm and my hand changed colour. I was so much in the grip of pain as to be near transfixed, even sinking to the ground. We found out afterwards that we had just turned a corner towards a frozen lake, and that the sudden wind from the surface of the frozen water must have, then and there, reduced the temperature still further. However, there was a farm cart coming along just then, the men in it realising what had happened, for they pulled off straw from their own cart, set it alight and pulled me to the heat. I could have quite happily died there! Only their pushing and pulling got me on my feet again. Holding on to my colleague and the carrier, we somehow progressed the remaining miles, stumbling, until we came to a Mongol inn where they gave us shelter.
Sight and, life
In a far distant place I saw something which surely few foreigners have ever seen-an idol becoming alive! By this time I was so much part of the Chinese scene, and so adapted to their way of life, as scarcely to be thought of as a `foreigner'. Once indeed a woman had said to me, as I stepped over the dog to come in and it had taken no notice of me: `It's time you went back for a while to your own place: you have got our smell now! even the dog doesn't know the difference.' The local temple was setting up a new god, and everyone was going to see the show, and I went with them. The new idol was of wood, and of gilded and painted clay; all outwardly complete. It lay on a bench. But it was not complete yet; it lacked `insides'. There was no reverence in handling, as of a sacred object, it was still just an object. The little door in the back of the idol was opened, and in went liver, heart and lungs and intestines. Then it was set up on its throne, but still without any ceremony; contrariwise, with jokes and laughter. Then I noticed what was still unfinished: the eyes, which showed the whites and the iris but no pupil. Now arrived the expert for whom all made way-a man with two long-handled writing brushes such as Chinese characters are written with. His special ink all ready, and two arms outstretched, hands steady, very quickly, in a flash, he put the pupils in the two eyes. Now the object became an object of worship, something which could see, which lived. And immediately it received the worship due, the incense sticks lighted, the bell sounding, devotees kneeling and knocking their heads in the k'ao-t'ao. Sight, with life and power, were one whole. One was led to reflect on the idea
behind the ceremony. Everything was there, all was ready, but there had to be illumination from outside to make the thing coherent, living and powerful.
My Chinese name was Han Yüeh En, which being interpreted meant `Rejoicing, having received Grace': Not far from Fakumen was a very large and important `feudal' household, also called Han, the same surname as mine. Occasionally the Han family sent a cart asking the doctor to call and hold a clinic at their village, and when the doctor went, I went too. While she was attending to those who were ill, I worked with the children, teaching and telling Bible stories. The Han family house was surrounded by a twelve foot high wall, with loopholes for guns. It had its own army, was supplied with all its needs from its local village. They were `landed gentry' in all particulars, even employing a teacher for the children for the Classics. An old lady, the mother-in-law, ruled the roost over all her descendants, sons, sons' wives and concubines, children, men servants and maid servants. In time I came to know the wife of the eldest son as a friend. She was a lovely Chinese lady who had been privately educated in the Classics. We not only had the same surname, Han, but discovered we were the same age, born under the same star. So nothing would do her but that I be adopted as her `sister'. We went through a simple ceremony of exchanging gifts and bowing to each other, and I added a prayer for blessing on the family and the friendship. I had a Chinese sister, then found in my ignorance I also had taken on an opium-smoking
brother-in-law, and six nephews and nieces! The latter were led in by a nurse to kneel and knock their little heads on the ground to their Irish aunt. When I had got over being flabbergasted, I soon saw what a marvellous opportunity God had given me, right inside a Chinese family. All along in the acquaintance I had been teaching, and my Chinese sister, though not yet baptized, had already confessed faith in Christ and taken down the idols in her part of the house. (And that takes some courage.) The next thing was to get the children to Christian schools, and Mrs. Hari managed that after many ups and downs with
mother-in-law; then she rented a house in Fakumen so that we could distribute six little Hans in the boys' and girls' schools and kindergarten, while she herself was now passed on for the further teaching of the Church in the preparation class for baptism and the Lord's Supper. (Baptism meant full membership with us.) It was right that she leave my instruction; that the `landed gentry' sit with the lowly and learn from their own Chinese minister. I lived to see the day when my `sister' was truly my sister in Christ, not only a church member, but a member of committee; and to see one by one my nephews and nieces enter the Kingdom too.
Far-away places: `The wilderness and the solitary place'
I used, to wonder, in my journeyings, why the Chinese pioneers, coming into Manchuria from the other side of the Great Wall of China, had travelled so far before settling down. I discovered the reason was water-sweet, drinkable water. Before reaching the town of Lonely Spring, there was a desert to cross-not so much sandy desert as outcrops of soda, stretches of it shining white like snow; and the water was brackish or salty. There were reeds covering the ground as far as the eye could see round watery marshland. Here the wild geese gathered in their thousands before the flight south, their `honk, honk' cry filling the air. Here too were little deer, yellow with white spots, so unused to humans that they would run up to stare curiously at the mule cart. The great silence of all but these nature sounds, and the wind in the reeds always brought to mind `The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad . . . in the habitations of dragons where each lay, shall be grass, with reeds and rushes, and an highway shall be there . . .' so it went echoing in my mind, that chapter from Isaiah, with `Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God'.
Going to Lonely Spring was the sharpest contrast between town and solitude. Working for weeks among crowds, with no privacy at all, I used to look forward to journeying in the country, in the wilderness, through desert places. To have quiet and peace, to be free of crowds, to be free, free as air-that was my expectation. But one thing you soon learn when you travel in desert places, is to keep to the path, and never leave the narrow trail between one oasis and the next; to do so is to be lost, to die of hunger or thirst.
Survival in the desert
Beyond the town of Lonely Spring, I heard there were three Christian families who had migrated years before in a time of famine, and now lived by fur trapping. For a long time they had been cut off from Christian instruction and fellowship, and although going to their region was not really `safe' (I could be called a Russian spy) I did feel led by God to visit them. `Surely their Christian faith would be weak and feeble by now' I thought. `Can Christianity survive in the desert?' The head of one family had been an elder of the Church in the place from which they had come, so he and a few others could read. Their only book was the Bible, and some of them almost knew it by heart. They had carried the Faith with them to this place on the edge of the world,-or was it that the Faith had carried them?
It was a very primitive home, with the animals, two donkeys and a pig, under the same roof as the humans-the old folk, the sons and sons' wives and sons' sons. They asked me to conduct a Communion service. `What have you
done about the Sacrament in past years?' I asked. `At first we could not have it, then we found we could not do without it, so we made up our own service.' `Then', said I, `have your service as you usually do, and allow me to join with you.' So a table was spread with a piece of newspaper, a cup of China tea, a small round loaf, in size like a bun, made of steamed bread, were laid upon it. We sat around on the k'ang. The elder read from the Psalms, and the Institution of the Lord's Supper. We prayed, both separately and in unison, sang a little, then in great reverence each came to the table in turn, bowed, took some of the bread and sip of the cold tea; then we recited together: `God so loved the world' and said the Lord's Prayer. Never was a Communion service more real than that evening one. In a special way I knew `the Real Presence'. My question was answered: Christianity could survive in the desert. I was given a warm place on the k'ang, which meant being roasted on one side and very cold on the other-one had to keep turning. When I turned the donkey breathed on me over the low partition, but the wonderful gladness of Communion made me welcome the donkey's presence with us too. The animals were really not out of place; they had been there at the Beginning in the cave at Bethlehem.
Christianity versus the others
As I learned and tried to understand the faiths and beliefs of our people, more and more I noticed the contrast with Christianity. The difference was compassion. Of no other religious leader or founder of a religion has it ever been said. `He had compassion on the multitude.' or, `moved with compasion, He touched the leper.' One of the earlier Chinese converts had made a poster, which was still in use in my day, which made the contrasts clear. The poster was divided into four panels, each showing a man who in his journeying had fallen into a pit. By the side of the pit in one panel stood a Confucianist explaining to the man how he should have looked where he was going and `ordered his steps aright'. The second panel showed a Buddhist priest telling the man that his misfortune must be the result of sin. The best he could do now was to accept the situation, and suppress all desire, even the desire to get out. The third showed a Taoist priest assuring the man that there was not much difference between the pit and the path; he was, at the moment, unfortunately `out of harmony' with the elemental powers of earth. The fourth panel showed a cross set up beside the pit, and a Christian evangelist, supported by the cross, reaching down a hand to pull the man up. The suitable quotations were from Psalm 40, `He hath set my feet upon a rock . . . put a new song in my mouth . . .'There was the difference in a nutshell-the compassion of God in Christ the
Helping the women to understand
As the years passed and we travelled and worked through the local churches and groups, it became apparent that something special would need to be done to help women. Women often could not give attention to teaching or talking for more than five or ten minutes at a time; and then they would start hunting for lice on the bodies of their children-and cracking them in their teeth! This was somewhat disconcerting to the speaker! We evolved what we called `short term Bible schools'. `Short term' meant ten days or two weeks each year for five years, in ten or more centres where there already was a Christian church, community or family. The local people gathered the local women, usually averaging sixty or so in each centre; old or young but curious and willing to come. Times were chosen to suit urban or rural conditions when women had less work to do in the fields, for instance. There were two divisions: the quite illiterate and the few who could read a little. A programme covered the five years, each year different, and each year a pre-certificate, divided into five sections was issued, each section showing the course for that year. On completion of the whole five sections, this pre-certificate was substituted for a `real one'-the kind you could frame and hang on the wall.
The course consisted of simple teaching about prayer and worship, Bible stories, reading of Bible verses or Christian instruction, singing, recreation, and elementary hygiene. We used a sort of `kingergarten for adults' technique, and every device we could think of to promote and keep interest and get a lot done in a short time. Texts or sentences to teach reading, and to learn by heart, were written in large characters on various colours of paper-red, yellow, green, blue-even the colour of the paper indicated the progress of the reader, and her `graduating' in ability and skill. We made little books also with lessons which not only rhymed but could be sung. (It is always easier to remember what is rhymed or sung.) For instance:
`There is only one true God . . . He is the Heavenly Father,
Gives me both my clothes and food, And cares for me.
There is only one Saviour . . . He is the Lord Jesus,
I trust in Him and follow Him, for He is my Saviour.'
Chinese being a language of `tones', it was easy to produce `verse' to suit our needs. Another favourite rhyme was:
`Jesus came to save me, Jesus came to save you,
Jesus came to save all the world,
There is not limit to His gracious love.'
We had a long, long, `song' on the whole life of Christ: a whole history of events. Bible stories were illustrated sometimes with pictures I had been sent from Ireland, the large kind which Sunday schools used to use. But as few in
our `school' had ever seen a picture, they could not have understood what they saw, especially if the figures were `foreign' or had bare feet. Bare feet were almost indecent, so I had to paint on shoes for various Biblical characters, give their clothes and general appearance a sort of `Chinese look'. Then, looking at a picture intently, someone would say: `Yes, yes, I see a man!' Mostly I used blackboard drawings done on the spot. Once I drew a large picture of a fly, to show how its hairs and legs could carry sickness or cause sickness. But one pupil said: `No wonder, if the flies in your country are that size! Here they are quite small, like . . . .' Flies were the origin of much sickness and death among the children. So our hygiene classes taught the women how to use local materials like bamboo or millet stalk and a muslin material, to contrive a thing like a meat-safe to put over the baby sleeping on the k'ang, and keep the flies away. Sometimes one could hardly see a baby's face for flies. Once, showing a young mother how to make a `baby protector' she said wonderingly: `Does God really know about my baby? Does He really care?' I assured her He did, and did not want any baby to have sore eyes or dysentery. She was really awe-struck: `God is like that?'
A typical Bible school day would be: Early in the morning, local Christians met for prayer, and helped to prepare things. Then, as people came, we had simple morning prayers, then divide in classes for reading and rhyming, then Bible story teaching. After a short `break' we would have singing or recreation-simple games which gave them fun and a chance to laugh-and hygiene, and sometimes arrange small groups to `learn to pray'. Then evening prayers and so home. An examination was held at the end of that school time, and marked on their pre-certificates. `A good time was had by all' marked the end of that year's study, but they kept it up and practised and even increased their progress during all the rest of the year, to start Part Two next time. Statistics seldom mean much, but in the case of our short term Bible schools, they revealed that of those who finished the five years, near ninety percent were already in the Christian Church or preparing for baptism. The ground had been prepared, and it was good ground, and the seed was the Word of God. The work was `sowing' but also `catching fish'. This special work involved much travelling, and `living hard', as it meant at times a five months tour for the round trip. In summer the temperature could be 110 Fahrenheit, in winter minus 20; hot weather for bugs, and cold for lice.
There was always an astringent quality to missionary life in Manchuria. There was no `softly, softly' approach to realities; but a delightful common sense. I heard a teacher say to a pupil once: `Now don't let me hear you blaming the devil for what is you own fault.' I remember myself, as a new missionary, being told in the most casual way: `If you are ever kidnapped or captured by bandits, remember there is no ransom: if we went in for ransoming people we'd have missionaries lifted every week; it would come too expensive.'
In the Chinese Church when a number of people were being examined for baptism, one heard each being asked: `Are you prepared to die for the Lord?' No heroics, just a facing of facts. Looking back on it all, I recall the question of Jesus to His disciples long ago: `When I sent you out without scrip or shoes or this and that, lacked ye anything?' And they answered Him `Nothing'. So it was with me. In `my country and my people' I received over and over again countless gifts of grace-friends, mothers, sisters and brothers-for all that were left behind.
The church-the `place of worship'
Central station Fakumen Church building was quite large, built of grey adobe brick, with a corrugated iron roof surmounted at one end by a cross. The whole was the usual oblong shape, but with two entrance doors, one for women, one for men. The sexes sat separately, on benches with backs or forms. The floor was of wood, the aisles covered with thick plaited straw matting. As the people's shoes were made of cloth or felt, so there was quietness as people walked in or out. Over the pulpit was a horizontal panel on which beautiful Chinese letters gouged out in gold proclaimed: `The glory of the Lord shall fill the whole earth.' On the wall on one side of the pulpit was a large panel on which was written the Beatitudes, on the other side a similar panel showed the Ten Commandments and the Apostles' Creed. There was a Communion table, lectern and baptismal font much as ever seen in any Reformed
Church. In the early days, men and women were further separated by a curtain running the whole length of the church, as it would have offended public opinion and social custom for women and men, not related, to sit together. In the early days, too, Communion service had to be conducted with great discretion and with reliable witnesses from outside as spectators, because rumour had it that a human sacrifice was offered up, and the flesh and blood eaten and drunk.
In the early days, also, it must have been hard to cope with `Church praise', when there were no hymns to sing! Missionaries had to translate hymns, mostly the Mission Hall kind, as best they could. Some stalwart Scot had in desperation translated `Scots wha hae wit' Wallace bled' almost word for word but having Jesus Christ instead of Wallace and Christians instead of Scots. All sang this resoundingly. Tunes in the minor key, like Scottish Psalm tunes as `Coleshill' were more successful than major key ones. By degrees, with Chinese people doing the translation work or even composing, standards improved a good deal. Best of all was the singing to old Chinese religious music, excerpts from the Scriptures. There was in Fakumen a small folding organ, but as often as not the singing was led by a bugle or a drum keeping the beat.
The congregation took a big part in the service. Often the subjects down for
prayer were indicated from the pulpit, then all would kneel, turning round to kneel at their own seat, and prayer was offered audibly by each person, so that the sound of prayer rose and fell in waves, filling the building: it was awesome to me. At other times responsive prayer was used. Service always began by the responsive saying of the Beatitudes. During the sermon, if the minister asked a question, someone in the congregation answered him, or read an appropriate verse. The sermon lasted at least an hour, but it did not seem long. I remember some of the illustrations: `How one sin leads to another'-the minister unbuttoned the waistcoat which is worn over the long gown, and in re-fastening it put the first button in the second buttonhole, etc. to show how one thing led to another if begun wrong. The only way was to undo all, and begin again. Another was towards Easter time and Jesus' words: `It is expedient for you that I go away.' Explaining the background, suddenly the minister sat down in the pulpit, so was no longer visible to the congregation, which thought he had perhaps stooped to pick up a note. When he did not reappear, the church became very quiet and the elders somewhat alarmed; had `His Reverence' taken ill? But just before they moved, he reappeared to say: `You were listening carefully before, but your attention then was as nothing to whenyou couldn't see me! Something like this was going to happen to the disciples to concentrate their whole life on the Master.'
At the door of the church was a large water urn with a ladle. In winter it held hot water. During the service anyone could wander out from church to take a drink, and wander back. There was fairly continuous movement of small children in the aisles, or trying to climb the pulpit steps: but there was little noise, and no one seemed disturbed by children. The school children, boarders of the boys' and girls' schools, had quite a big place in the services of the church. Christmas Day was baptism day for adult converts, and Easter for babies or children of Christian parents. They were days of great rejoicing; and the newly-baptized bowed their thanks to the minister and Session; the congregation welcomed them with bows and singing; everyone congratulated everyone else on the growth of the Kingdom.
My dog, Able, always came to church and lay quietly near my feet under the organ. An old couple who had never been in church before were seated at the front near me, to see everything. When the minister said, `Let us pray', it just happened that the dog chose that moment to stretch out his front legs and put his nose on his paws. After the service the old couple said: `We were so ashamed . . . even the dog knew what to do when it was time to pray, and we didn't!' Nothing I could say dissuaded them from thinking that `the dog knew what to do'. Such humility was very close to the Kingdom of God.
Once upon a time two missionaries, man and wife, from another part of China, visited us, and sang in church. They were very musical and sang duets. Before they had begun, the minister explained that we would be hearing
strange sounds, as though the singers didn't know the tune-one singing this way, and one that! But, `don't be alarmed' he consoled us, `they are doing it on purpose: it is called part-singing!'
We followed an unusual way of celebrating Harvest Home. Everyone gave a personal first-fruits. A weaver or dyer of cloth would give cloth, a carpenter something he had made of wood. There would be hand-made toys, notepaper and envelopes, paper flowers, pictures with dried flower petals and seeds. As well as the usual `fruit and veg.', of which not much was grown locally, there would be sheaves of millet and barley. The gifts might also include odds and ends from the Mission house, like old clothes or shoes. No matter how old, `foreign' cloth like tweed was highly valued, also shoes for their leather and underwear for wool. On Sunday everything was on display, marked by the giver with a price tag. On Monday all the stuff was sold according to price. If your gift didn't sell, you bought it back. All this money, quite a sum, was enough each year to pay the salary of an evangelist. Once, and once only, I interfered in church decoration affairs, and it was at harvest time. The senior missionary was home on furlough at the time, but he had evidently left his contribution to the harvest. I saw it hanging over the pulpit Fall, and obscuring the Burning Bush-a very good pair of fine wool, `Long John' underpants! Pointing out that while the senior would be most appreciative of the honourable place given to his underpants, I still thought he would rather they didn't single him out! and at last they gave his gift a less conspicuous place on the table.
Good Friday and Easter
On Good Friday the church was open all day for meditation and prayer, at any time and for any length of time. Incidentally, the church was not heated, so people came wrapped to the eyes in padded clothes and felt boots and fur-lined hats. Some were there all day, kneeling, weeping; others sang to themselves, others read a while. The children came as they liked from the schools. We were all wearing white flowers (paper), white for mourning. The weather, usually quite dependable, used to vary a little at the approach of spring, and the lunar calendar emphasised the variableness of the days. Often on Good Friday we had that rare thing, a cloudy sky at noon. `And no wonder' said Chinese Christians.
By this same lunar calendar, the Sunday following was known as The Feast of Clear Shining, and it corresponded with Easter. Chinese tradition was that on the Feast of Clear Shining, everyone went out to his family graves on the
hillside, to tidy them and to grieve publicly for the dead. The Chinese Church took over the tradition and customs and made a new thing of them. Easter Sunday, our white flowers were changed to red ones, for life and joy. At church, after service, the various shovels and spades were divided out among the men: the women had flowers and wreaths, and we went in procession through the streets to the Christian
cemetery on the hill. Here was the stone memorial to one of our first elders, who was a martyr at the time of the Boxer persecution. He and all his sons were killed. The men of the congregation went round tidying up the graves, the women also. We mourned our dead too-but we rejoiced, gathering round the memorial stone, to sing our Hallelujahs.
The cross breaks the circle
On the fortune teller's stall, and in books also, one often saw a symbol of
a circle, divided curving, a black part with a white dot, and the other part white with a black dot. This is a picture of a philosophy, of `The Middle Way', of Yin and Yang, subjective and objective, male and female-the balancing principle of life. The circle indicates also one's circle of responsibility-officials to the Emperor, children to parents, employers to employed and vice versa. One's duty is one's `place' in society, and doing what is required in that sphere. What happens to those who have no `place', belong to no circle? A tramp or homeless person, for instance. I have seen such, lying down to die at someone's front door. By the rules of the circle, someone dying at your door becomes your responsibility, to care for, or to bury if he should die. But ordinarily kind and respectable people will pull the sick and dying man along the street from their door to someone else's, thus disclaiming their `duty'. One day returning from school teaching I found one of these vagrant people lying outside the Mission compound, apparently dying or very ill. At that time the hospital had no doctor, but it was possible to get the man carried to another Mission hospital, where, as a matter of fact, he did not die but was treated and cured. So far, so good: but a few days later there was another one! He was not so seriously ill, but when he saw me coming, he lay down just to make sure he would be cared for. The following Sunday after service some of the Session and I were chatting together and I told, as a joke, about finding vagrants on the steps several days running. All at once, one of the elders stopped laughing, and, his expression changing very much, said: `It is not right, it cannot be God's will, that a wandering, homeless wretch should die in the road like a dog. What can we do about it?' Then and there they took steps to help. So-and-so knew of a little house which could be rented very cheaply, because it was supposed to be unlucky, did not correspond with the right elements, the water flowed past the door, `but we don't concern ourselves about these superstitions'. There is old so-and-so, with nothing to do and time on his
hands, he could live in part of the little house as host, and wanderers and homeless, those who had no `circle' could come to this place to sleep or make a simple meal. If they were ill, someone would care for them; if they died, the Church would bury them. This was how that piece of social service came into being-the Cross broke the Circle. The venture of helping such
down-and-outs so impressed the town dignitaries, that after a while, without asking for it, we were given a grant-in-aid.