A DESCRIPTION OF THE SCENES CUSTOMARY IN SOUTH CHINA PREPARATORY TO THE CELEBRATION OF THE NEW YEAR. THE DIFFERENCES IN OBSERVANCE BY CHRISTIANS AND PAGANS.

The Chinese reckon their dates by the moon, and the first day of the first moon is the most important, and in this land of firecrackers, the noisiest day of the year. For weeks before, the bustle of preparation was in the air. The sign writers were working overtime in their shops and on improvised tables outside them, writing inscriptions on long strips of red paper that would be pasted around the three sides of every doorway. Stalls appeared in every street for the sale of these scrolls and of the vivid pictures of gods and heroes that would decorate the side walls and the smaller doors of the houses.

There was heavy traffic on river highway, for all who could leave their work were returning home for the New Year, and an abundance of firewood had to be brought in to tide the families over the two weeks when the boat people and the shops would make holiday. The sampans were three deep on the already crowded waterfront, many of them laden with wicker crates of geese, t h e favourite New Year dish, but some bearing pigs, also in wicker tube-like crates, for pork is welcome to the Chinese at all seasons.

The Shopping Parties.
Hawkers with new cries added to the babel of the streets, and the streets themselves were thronged with people from the villages coming to do their shopping. Every evening the family groups were streaming from the town laden with purchases. If there was a goose or a fowl, the man was there to carry it, alive, for the Chinese like their meat freshly killed; in the mother's basket could be seen the vegetables and the fruit and the vermicelli that the season demanded; and on top of them the inevitable joss sticks and firecrackers; the children had pieces of sugar-cane to chew, and the baby strapped on its mother's back had a bright new knitted cap.

In the streets the smell of the New Year's cooking came from all the houses, very small houses for the most part, for there are very few that have more than one room. Through the door could be seen a group of children around the brick fireplace watching the rice dumplings being cooked, while the eldest girl stood by with a large green leaf ready to wrap up each one as it came from the pan.

Beside this pan was another of steaming lard in which the "fried pockets" would be floated until th$y were a lustrous brown. These last are appropriately named. They are of rice flour, thin and hollow and as large as small footballs. Balloons might be even a more appropriate name, for the substance of which they are made looks, and to the unaccustomed palate tastes, like oiled silk.

The Final Preparation.
When the cooking is all done, the best vase that the family can boast of, often an old Chinese vase that comes out of its wrappings only on great occasions, is set in the centre of the table, and in it is placed a branch of the lovely "Hanging Bell Flower" a shrub something like our flowering-currant but with a larger flower. On either side is put a bowl of growing "Water-Nymph Flowers " a highly-performed double narcissus, and nearby the eight-compartment box of sweetmeats, with melon seeds in the centre-—and then the stage is set for the family celebration of the New Year.

In many ways the preparations remind one of the Christmas in Ireland, but it is Christmas without Christ, Who is the centre of our rejoicing.

In the shops there is anxiety as well as bustle, for the last day of the year is reckoning day. Business methods are not the same in the East as in the West. Here the average shop has not a banking account, it has limited capital and gives large credit, but all the money must be collected by t h e end of the year, otherwise it can be counted as lost.

So, in spite of the extra business of the time, and of the cheap sales to get rid of surplus stock and to swell the year's takings, some of the staff have to go around collecting debts, and the owners spend feverish nights at their accounts, for many will not know until the last hours of New Year's Eve whether they have succeeded in the last year's trading or whether they must close their shops and declare bankruptcy.

That Mysterious Epidemic.
And the assistants do not know what is going to happen after that dinner on the day following the New Year, for it is only then that they will have their contracts renewed for another year or be told that times are bad and that their honourable services can no longer be retained.

But the government of the republic wants none of these old-time customs and none of these celebrations. It has decreed that the calendar is to be brought into line with that of the rest of the world and that the Chinese New Year is to be abolished. There are no protests from the people—that is not the Chinese way—but everything goes on just as before. Though all the shops are shut, government offices must remain open, but it is reported that an epidemic breaks out each year about this time among the grandmothers of the higher officials and they have to absent themselves. The same thing has happened in the schools. School had to go on though the family feast was being observed at home, but sometimes the urgent applications for leave of absence on the part of the teachers made it impossible to continue school.

And Still Passive Resistance.
This year an earnest appeal was sent by government to the teachers, asking them to set a good example by keeping their grandmothers in good health until after the New Year festival. The teachers promised compliance, but here and there the pupils threatened a strike and the authorities capitulated. The government also announced that if New Year greeting cards—easily recognisable by their red envelopes—were sent through the post they would be burned. But the sale of cards went on in the shops as before. However, even though red is the lucky colour, some of the envelopes were white this year.

I had watched all the preparations going on for weeks and could feel the growing excitement as the New Year approached. When the Eve came there was none of the rush of last moment preparations that mark our Christians Eve. From mid-day the shops began to close and the fusillade of firecrackers began in real earnest.

In the afternoon I went down to the river's edge, where thousands of people live in boats, and live even more in public than the rest of the people of a country where privacy is never regarded as a thing to be desired. There almost all activity had ceased, and the New Year rites had begun. In the stern of each boat the semblance of an altar had been set up. It was nothing else than a two-dimensional tree standing in a wide bowl of sand. The tree had a few large leaves of gold tinsel and coloured paper, and the earthenware bowl was covered with red paper. When it was in position at the back of the boat, some joss sticks were lit and stuck into the sand in front of the tree, then a bundle of fire-crackers were lit from the glowing joss sticks.

Boys and the Fire Crackers.
In boat after boat this little ceremoney was performed, until all along the river the boats had their little shrines erected and over them all hung a cloud of smoke from the fire-crackers.

As I was standing at the edge of the quay watching what was going on at the end of the sloping shore, two children ran up from one of the boats with a few lighting joss sticks and put them in the ground in front of a projecting stone on the road beside me. Someone had probably called it a lucky stone, and they hoped that it might bring them luck in the coming year. All through the town the same altars were being erected in each house, and its setting up, or the simple closing of a shop for the holidays, was the signal for a burst of firecrackers outside the front door. After they had exploded in the street, there was a rush of small boys to see if any had escaped burning and held out hopes of further bangs. I thought of some of my young newsboy friends in Dublin who would be good at that game, and I could picture Joe O'Brien or "Mousie" Kavanagh coming off best in such a scramble.

Midnight on the Roof.
For the Christian New Year I happened to be in Hong Kong, and heard the pandemonium of firecrackers that broke loose at midnight. Next day one of the papers asked "What is the difference between a Christmas cracker and a New Year one?" and it went on: "If you do not know the answer to that this morning, you must be a very sound sleeper." I asked someone how the din compared with the Chinese New Year and he answered: The only difference is that at the Chirstian New Year the noise lasts for an hour, but at the Chinese New Year it goes on for a fortnight." He was right, but even in the continuous demonstrating of a fortnight there must be a climax, and that came at midnight on New Year's Eve." Sleep was unthinkable, so I went up to the roof—there is a flat portion on the roof of every tall house in Southern China.

It was a beautifully mild night, for the thermometer had reached 73 that day, having risen 36 degrees in three days. It seemed as if a mighty bombardment was going on. Though the streets were too narrow for me to see anything but the roofs. I could see the flashes of the crackers in every part of the town. One variety of crackers has magnesium mixed with the powder, and when these exploded in a narrow street, a widening beam of light as from a searchlight shot into the sky, and the effect as they flashed all around was wonderful. One of them burst behind the little Catholic church on the outskirts of the town, and for an instant the cross on the belfry stood out against a background of light. I was thankful for that flash and its message of hope.

Urbanity in the Home.
In the early part of New Year's Day the streets were almost empty; the family feast was being observed behind closed doors. In those homes where the age-old traditions of China are observed the children prostrate themselves before their parents, first before their father, then before the mother kneeling and then bowing till the forehead touched the ground. Then the father offered to each one a small red envelope containing a few coins, the gift that is given by each man of dignity to all the young people who wish him a "Happy New Year."

Politeness is very formal in China, as I had occasion to observe many times during the day, when I met some of the Catholic community who came to offer greetings. Each one brings a small box of cards bearing a simple expression of good wishes. He takes a card from it, stands in front of the person to whom he is presenting it, holds it in both hands, and bows from the hips, repeating the good wishes as he does so. I saw the simplest working people doing this with perfect grace, and felt rather ashamed of the unceremonious way in which I had to acknowledge the greeting.

But the first good wish of the day was offered by the beggars. In the early hours of the morning, before dawn, the "King" of the beggars, an important personage who is invited to every important marriage and funeral dinner and controls the very rigid organisation of beggars in each town, goes through the streets and pastes on each door a small piece of paper bearing a message of good wishes for all who pass through the doors. Next day he calls to receive a practical return of the good wish. It is a happy day for the beggars, for, in addition to what each one receives as his share of this collection and from the houses in his district —for, as I said, the beggars are organised, and each one has a special district—they receive generously from passers-by on New Year's Day. I was much struck by the way in which the poor coolies, both men and women, carrying heavy loads on each end of their bamboo poles, stopped to put something in the beggar's bowl as they passed.

In the afternoon as I went through the streets some doors were closed, and the rattle of Mah Jong pieces came from behind them. But in passing some of the business houses it was the rattle of the abacus that I heard. All Chinese counting is done on the abacus and the business men were apparently still at their accounts.

Children in their best clothes were walking through the streets with cleverly constructed fishes made of paper on a bamboo frame on the top of long sticks, and the rickshaw coolies had a busy day bringing people to pay formal visits to their friends. Some houses had hung out large white parchment lanterns with red letters on them and many had waited until the last night to paste up the inscriptions round their doors or to hang over the door the five gold-spotted stripes of red paper in honour of the god of the door.

"The Five Blessings."
But all the houses were now decorated. A common inscription above the door wishes to all comers "the five blessings" (which are: health, riches, virtue a long life, and a happy end), but Catholics have made a happy alteration and the change of one Chinese character makes the inscription offer "the blessings of God" to all who enter.

I had seen very few of these on my way through the town, for the number of Catholic families is small. Instead, I saw through the open doors of the houses the food piled up in the ricebowls, with joss sticks burning beside them—a sign that it was an offering to one of the gods.

New Year's Day is not a day of feasting, the big dinner comes on the following day; it is, in fact, a day of abstinence, as the first and fifteenth days of every moon are supposed to be. No living thing, flesh or fish, may be eaten on this day, and only vegetables can be taken with the rice. Much lettuce is eaten, because its name is "the growing vegetable" (so called because it can be eaten without cooking), and its lucky name is supposed to help one to grow strong during the year. Similarly, tiny hard oranges, which are seasonable at this time, are given to the children because of their name, whicfr is the same as "lucky" though it is written differently.

Saddening Influences.
One cannot be brought face to face with rampant paganism without a feeling of depression, for all these superstitious emblems and practices are so many barriers to Christianity, and looking at all these decorated houses I was blind to a lot that was quaint and picturesque, for my memory wass bringing me back to Dublin, and I was thinking of Railway-street during Congress week. Then a ray of consolation came. I had stopped to take a photograph of some brightly ornamented houses when I heard a rush of running feet up the street behind me. I wondered if I had broken any spell and was going to be stopped before I did further harm, but I determined to hold my ground and get the photograph taken.

The running footsteps came nearer, and just as I had pressed the button a cry of "San Foo! (Father!), San Foo!" came from the direction of them. I looked around. They were two poor boys, servant lads that I knew—one a convert of a few years, the other preparing for baptism—and they were racing down with glowing faces to give me New Year greetings. The fellowship of the Faith! It is one of the most consolling things that the missionary meets.

In my short experience I have been hailed in all kinds of unlikely places—on the streets, the midst of crowds, on boats big and small, when passing by men digging in a rice field—by Chinese Catholics whom I did not know. They did not know me either, but they saw that I was a foreigner in Chinese dress and, therefore, they reasoned rightly, I must be a Catholic priest. And if I was a long-lost brother, instead of a stranger who could only lisp in reply a few halting words in broken Chinese, I could not have been greeted more heartily when they found that their guess was correct. There, must surely be good soil for the Faith in the Chinese heart, when it bridges so easily their racial prejudices and makes them realise that all Catholics are friends and brothers.

Next morning, before daybreak, I was going through the streets again, on my way to say, Mass. Some of the provision shops were being opened, with the same ritual of joss sticks and fire-crackers. A red paper with an inscription in honour of the "god of the floor" was pasted on one of t h e door-posts just above the ground, and joss sticks and a red candle were burning before it at every shop door that was open. This tribute would be repeated every morning, and it would be the duty of the junior member of the staff to see that it was not forgotten.

"Dragon' s Work"
The crackers and slab-bangs seemed to increase as the morning were on. On the previous day, New Year's Day, there had been an eclipse of the sun in the morning, and as this was an evil omen (an eclipse is called "eating the sun"—it is a dragon's work) it had to be counteracted by many firecrackers, so a lot of the day's supply was exhausted early in the morning. But on this day the noise was loud during the whole day, for it was necessary not merely to show rejoicing but also to put the gods in good humour for the year that was beginning, and to frighten the devils.

This was the day, too, for visiting, the temples, and I went to see the people making their offerings. There were many gifts, mostly of eatables, before the shrines of the Buddhas, and t h e bonzes were kept busy, acting for those who left the gifts, and spilling the little cups of water before each altar. Round mats were dotted over the floors for the use of those who were casting lots to read the important omens of the year.

I watched one man as he knelt and tossed the bamboo divining blocks. Each of the two pieces has a flat and a convex side. If one of each side turned up, it would be splendid; if both convex sides were up, it would be fair—but the two plain sides came uppermost, and the look of utter misery on his face was piteous. He did not wait to admire the gifts or light more joss sticks, or go to the side and drink tea, as t h e more satisfied ones did, but walked slowly away with hanging head, a picture of abject despair.

The Fortorn Hope.
Huge spiral joss sticks, that would take days to burn, hung in front of some of the altars, but others were almost neglected. Every year some statues get the name of being lucky, and it is to these that the people crowd, but some people who found bad luck everywhere try the deserted shrines as a forlorn hope. Many of the temples have attached to them rooms fitted with tables for Mah Jong players, and sometimes also couches for the opium smokers, but these were all deserted on this day.

Whether it was because it was felt that the temples were given o\er to their real purpose on this day, or simply because there were too many people about, I cannot say. At any rate, it did not mean that gambling' was suspended during the festive season, for the hum of voices and the rattle of counters could still be heard when I passed the gambling-houses on my way to Mass that morning.

The memories of my first Chinese New Year are, then, mainly of fire crackers and joss sticks. The gaiety and good humour of the people of this land are a delight at all times, but at this time all that they do seems to be shrouded in a veil of superstition. They appear which to build, but they have many to have little religious belief on prejudices which are very hard to overcome. Once they are overcome, however, all the fears and inhibitions which come from their superstitions are removed, and the real joyousness of the simple Chinese soul is displayed.

My companion on my round of temple visits was a young Chinese catechumen, who is soon to be baptised, a good simple lad, who thought the scowling and grinning faces of the gilded Buddhas highly amusing. On our way back we passed through the district to which he belonged. He was recognised and hailed to many, and everyone had a cheery word for him, because he is one of those happy ones whom everybody likes.

Rebuke—and Salute.
There was only one exception, for one boy, seeing him in the company of a foreigner, and knowing, as all the people did, that he as the religion of the foreigner, called him a "running dog," the term of contempt that is used for those who are thought false to Chinese traditions.

But he did not get a chance to use the expression a second time, for another boy promptly wheeled him round and hit him on the nose —a thing that I had never seen happen in China before. Then he locked up to see what we thought of his action, and there was gasping amazement on his face as I took off my hat to him. Probably it confirmed his belief that all foreigners were queer people, and I am afraid that he did not understand my gesture of respect for the champion of my friend A—L

BY THE REV. T. F. RYAN,
- Malaya Catholic Leader, Saturday, February 9nd, 1935 (pdf pp51)

A DESCRIPTION OF THE SCENES CUSTOMARY IN SOUTH CHINA PREPARATORY TO THE CELEBRATION OF THE NEW YEAR. THE DIFFERENCES IN OBSERVANCE BY CHRISTIANS AND PAGANS.

 

The Chinese reckon their dates

by the moon, and the first day of

the first moon is the most important,

and in this land of firecrackers,

the noisiest day of the

year. For weeks before, the bustle

of preparation was in the air. The

sign writers were working overtime

in their shops and on improvised

tables outside them, writing inscriptions

on long strips of red paper

that would be pasted around the

three sides of every doorway.

Stalls appeared in every street for

the sale of these scrolls and of

the vivid pictures of gods and

heroes that would decorate the side

walls and the smaller doors of the

houses.

 

There was heavy traffic on

river highway, for all who could

leave their work were returning

home for the New Year, and an

abundance of firewood had to be

brought in to tide the families over

the two weeks when the boat

people and the shops would make

holiday. The sampans were three

deep on the already crowded waterfront,

many of them laden with wicker crates of geese, t h e favourite

New Year dish, but some bearing

pigs, also in wicker tube-like

crates, for pork is welcome to the

Chinese at all seasons.

 

The Shopping Parties.

 

Hawkers with new cries added

to the babel of the streets, and the

streets themselves were thronged

with people from the villages coming

to do their shopping. Every

evening the family groups were

streaming from the town laden

with purchases. If there was a

goose or a fowl, the man was there

to carry it, alive, for the Chinese

like their meat freshly killed; in

the mother's basket could be seen

the vegetables and the fruit and

the vermicelli that the season

demanded; and on top of them the

inevitable joss sticks and firecrackers;

the children had pieces

of sugar-cane to chew, and the baby

strapped on its mother's back had

a bright new knitted cap.

 

In the streets the smell of the

New Year's cooking came from all

the houses, very small houses for

the most part, for there are very

few that have more than one room.

Through the door could be seen

a group of children around the

brick fireplace watching the rice

dumplings being cooked, while the

eldest girl stood by with a large

green leaf ready to wrap up each

one as it came from the pan.

 

Beside this pan was another of

steaming lard in which the "fried

pockets" would be floated until th$y

were a lustrous brown. These last

are appropriately named. They

are of rice flour, thin and hollow

and as large as small footballs.

Balloons might be even a more appropriate

name, for the substance

of which they are made looks, and

to the unaccustomed palate tastes,

like oiled silk.

 

The Final Preparation.

 

When the cooking is all done, the

best vase that the family can boast

of, often an old Chinese vase that

comes out of its wrappings only on

great occasions, is set in the centre

of the table, and in it is placed a

branch of the lovely "Hanging Bell

Flower" a shrub something like our

flowering-currant but with a larger

flower. On either side is put a

bowl of growing "Water-Nymph

Flowers " a highly-performed

double narcissus, and nearby the

eight-compartment box of sweetmeats,

with melon seeds in the

centre-—and then the stage is set

for the family celebration of the

New Year.

 

In many ways the preparations

remind one of the Christmas in

Ireland, but it is Christmas without

Christ, Who is the centre of our

rejoicing.

 

In the shops there is anxiety as

well as bustle, for the last day of

the year is reckoning day. Business

methods are not the same in

the East as in the West. Here the

average shop has not a banking

account, it has limited capital and

gives large credit, but all the money

must be collected by t h e end of the

year, otherwise it can be counted

as lost.

 

So, in spite of the extra business

of the time, and of the cheap sales

to get rid of surplus stock and to

swell the year's takings, some of

the staff have to go around collecting

debts, and the owners spend

feverish nights at their accounts,

for many will not know until the

last hours of New Year's Eve

whether they have succeeded in the

last year's trading or whether they

must close their shops and declare

bankruptcy.

 

That Mysterious Epidemic.

 

And the assistants do not know

what is going to happen after that

dinner on the day following the

New Year, for it is only then that

they will have their contracts

renewed for another year or be told

that times are bad and that their

honourable services can no longer

be retained.

 

But the government of the republic

wants none of these old-time

customs and none of these celebrations.

It has decreed that the

calendar is to be brought into line

with that of the rest of the world

and that the Chinese New Year is

to be abolished. There are no

protests from the people—that is

not the Chinese way—but everything

goes on just as before.

Though all the shops are shut,

government offices must remain

open, but it is reported that an

epidemic breaks out each year

about this time among the grandmothers

of the higher officials and

they have to absent themselves.

The same thing has happened in

the schools. School had to go on

though the family feast was being

observed at home, but sometimes

the urgent applications for leave of

absence on the part of the teachers

made it impossible to continue

school.

And Still Passive Resistance.

 

This year an earnest appeal was

sent by government to the teachers,

asking them to set a good

example by keeping their grandmothers

in good health until after

the New Year festival. The

teachers promised compliance, but

here and there the pupils threatened

a strike and the authorities

capitulated. The government also

announced that if New Year greeting

cards—easily recognisable by

their red envelopes—were sent

through the post they would be

burned. But the sale of cards

went on in the shops as before.

However, even though red is the

lucky colour, some of the envelopes

were white this year.

 

I had watched all the preparations

going on for weeks and could

feel the growing excitement as the

New Year approached. When the

Eve came there was none of the

rush of last moment preparations

that mark our Christians Eve.

From mid-day the shops began to

close and the fusillade of firecrackers

began in real earnest.

 

In the afternoon I went down to

the river's edge, where thousands

of people live in boats, and live even

more in public than the rest of the

people of a country where privacy

is never regarded as a thing to be

desired. There almost all activity

had ceased, and the New Year rites

had begun. In the stern of each

boat the semblance of an altar had

been set up. It was nothing else

than a two-dimensional tree standing

in a wide bowl of sand. The

tree had a few large leaves of gold

tinsel and coloured paper, and the

earthenware bowl was covered with

red paper. When it was in position

at the back of the boat, some

joss sticks were lit and stuck into

the sand in front of the tree, then

a bundle of fire-crackers were lit

from the glowing joss sticks.

 

Boys and the Fire Crackers.

 

In boat after boat this little ceremoney

was performed, until all

along the river the boats had their

little shrines erected and over them

all hung a cloud of smoke from the

fire-crackers.

 

As I was standing at the edge of

the quay watching what was going

on at the end of the sloping shore,

two children ran up from one of the

boats with a few lighting joss

sticks and put them in the ground

in front of a projecting stone on

the road beside me. Someone had

probably called it a lucky stone,

and they hoped that it might bring

them luck in the coming year. All

through the town the same altars

were being erected in each house,

and its setting up, or the simple

closing of a shop for the holidays,

was the signal for a burst of firecrackers

outside the front door.

After they had exploded in the

street, there was a rush of small

boys to see if any had escaped

burning and held out hopes of further

bangs. I thought of some of

my young newsboy friends in Dublin

who would be good at that game,

and I could picture Joe O'Brien or

"Mousie" Kavanagh coming off

best in such a scramble.

 

Midnight on the Roof.

 

For the Christian New Year I

happened to be in Hong Kong, and

heard the pandemonium of firecrackers

that broke loose at midnight.

Next day one of the papers

asked "What is the difference between

a Christmas cracker and a

New Year one?" and it went on:

"If you do not know the answer to

that this morning, you must be a

very sound sleeper." I asked

someone how the din compared

with the Chinese New Year and he

answered: The only difference is

that at the Chirstian New Year the

noise lasts for an hour, but at the

Chinese New Year it goes on for

a fortnight." He was right, but

even in the continuous demonstrating

of a fortnight there must be a

climax, and that came at midnight

on New Year's Eve." Sleep was

unthinkable, so I went up to the

roof—there is a flat portion on the

roof of every tall house in Southern

China.

 

It was a beautifully mild night,

for the thermometer had reached

73 that day, having risen 36 degrees

in three days. It seemed as if

a mighty bombardment was going

on. Though the streets were too

narrow for me to see anything but

the roofs. I could see the flashes

of the crackers in every part of the

town. One variety of crackers has

magnesium mixed with the powder,

and when these exploded in a narrow

street, a widening beam of

light as from a searchlight shot

into the sky, and the effect as they

flashed all around was wonderful.

One of them burst behind the little

Catholic church on the outskirts of

the town, and for an instant the

cross on the belfry stood out

against a background of light. I

was thankful for that flash and its

message of hope.

 

Urbanity in the Home.

 

In the early part of New Year's

Day the streets were almost empty;

the family feast was being observed

behind closed doors. In those

homes where the age-old traditions

of China are observed the children

prostrate themselves before their

parents, first before their father,

then before the mother kneeling

and then bowing till the forehead

touched the ground. Then the

father offered to each one a small

red envelope containing a few

coins, the gift that is given by each

man of dignity to all the young

people who wish him a "Happy

New Year."

 

Politeness is very formal in

China, as I had occasion to observe

many times during the day, when

I met some of the Catholic community

who came to offer greetings.

Each one brings a small box

of cards bearing a simple expression

of good wishes. He takes a

card from it, stands in front of the

person to whom he is presenting it,

holds it in both hands, and bows

from the hips, repeating the good

wishes as he does so. I saw the

simplest working people doing this

with perfect grace, and felt rather

ashamed of the unceremonious way

in which I had to acknowledge the

greeting.

 

But the first good wish of the

day was offered by the beggars.

In the early hours of the morning,

before dawn, the "King" of the

beggars, an important personage

who is invited to every important

marriage and funeral dinner and

controls the very rigid organisation

of beggars in each town, goes

through the streets and pastes on

each door a small piece of paper

bearing a message of good wishes

for all who pass through the doors.

Next day he calls to receive a practical

return of the good wish. It

is a happy day for the beggars, for,

in addition to what each one receives

as his share of this collection

and from the houses in his district

—for, as I said, the beggars are

organised, and each one has a

special district—they receive generously

from passers-by on New

Year's Day. I was much struck

by the way in which the poor

coolies, both men and women, carrying

heavy loads on each end of

their bamboo poles, stopped to put

something in the beggar's bowl as

they passed.

 

In the afternoon as I went

through the streets some doors

were closed, and the rattle of Mah

Jong pieces came from behind

them. But in passing some of the

business houses it was the rattle

of the abacus that I heard. All

Chinese counting is done on the

abacus and the business men were

apparently still at their accounts.

 

Children in their best clothes

were walking through the streets

with cleverly constructed fishes

made of paper on a bamboo frame

on the top of long sticks, and the

rickshaw coolies had a busy day

bringing people to pay formal visits

to their friends. Some houses had

hung out large white parchment

lanterns with red letters on them

and many had waited until the last

night to paste up the inscriptions

round their doors or to hang over

the door the five gold-spotted

stripes of red paper in honour of

the god of the door.

 

"The Five Blessings."

 

But all the houses were now

decorated. A common inscription

above the door wishes to all comers

"the five blessings" (which are:

health, riches, virtue a long life,

and a happy end), but Catholics

have made a happy alteration and

the change of one Chinese character

makes the inscription offer "the

blessings of God" to all who enter.

 

I had seen very few of these on

my way through the town, for the

number of Catholic families is

small. Instead, I saw through the

open doors of the houses the food

piled up in the ricebowls, with joss

sticks burning beside them—a

sign that it was an offering to one

of the gods.

 

New Year's Day is not a day of

feasting, the big dinner comes on

the following day; it is, in fact, a

day of abstinence, as the first and

fifteenth days of every moon are

supposed to be. No living thing,

flesh or fish, may be eaten on this

day, and only vegetables can be

taken with the rice. Much lettuce

is eaten, because its name is "the

growing vegetable" (so called because

it can be eaten without

cooking), and its lucky name is

supposed to help one to grow strong

during the year. Similarly, tiny

hard oranges, which are seasonable

at this time, are given to the children

because of their name, whicfr

is the same as "lucky" though it

is written differently.

 

Saddening Influences.

 

One cannot be brought face to

face with rampant paganism without

a feeling of depression, for all

these superstitious emblems and

practices are so many barriers to

Christianity, and looking at all

these decorated houses I was blind

to a lot that was quaint and

picturesque, for my memory wass

bringing me back to Dublin, and I

was thinking of Railway-street

during Congress week. Then a

ray of consolation came. I had

stopped to take a photograph of

some brightly ornamented houses

when I heard a rush of running

feet up the street behind me. I

wondered if I had broken any spell

and was going to be stopped before

I did further harm, but I determined

to hold my ground and get

the photograph taken.

 

The running footsteps came

nearer, and just as I had pressed

the button a cry of "San Foo!

(Father!), San Foo!" came from

the direction of them. I looked

around. They were two poor boys,

servant lads that I knew—one a

convert of a few years, the other

preparing for baptism—and they

were racing down with glowing

faces to give me New Year greetings.

The fellowship of the Faith!

It is one of the most consolling

things that the missionary meets.

 

In my short experience I have

been hailed in all kinds of unlikely

places—on the streets, the midst

of crowds, on boats big and small,

when passing by men digging in

a rice field—by Chinese Catholics

whom I did not know. They did

not know me either, but they saw

that I was a foreigner in Chinese

dress and, therefore, they reasoned

rightly, I must be a Catholic priest.

And if I was a long-lost brother,

instead of a stranger who could

only lisp in reply a few halting

words in broken Chinese, I could

not have been greeted more heartily

when they found that their guess

was correct. There, must surely

be good soil for the Faith in the

Chinese heart, when it bridges so

easily their racial prejudices and

makes them realise that all Catholics

are friends and brothers.

 

Next morning, before daybreak,

I was going through the streets

again, on my way to say, Mass.

Some of the provision shops were

being opened, with the same ritual

of joss sticks and fire-crackers. A

red paper with an inscription in

honour of the "god of the floor"

was pasted on one of t h e door-posts

just above the ground, and joss

sticks and a red candle were burning

before it at every shop door

that was open. This tribute would

be repeated every morning, and it

would be the duty of the junior

member of the staff to see that it

was not forgotten.

 

"Dragon' s Work"

 

The crackers and slab-bangs

seemed to increase as the morning

were on. On the previous day,

New Year's Day, there had been

an eclipse of the sun in the morning,

and as this was an evil omen

(an eclipse is called "eating the

sun"—it is a dragon's work) it had

to be counteracted by many firecrackers,

so a lot of the day's supply was exhausted early in the

morning. But on this day the noise

was loud during the whole day,

for it was necessary not merely to

show rejoicing but also to put the

gods in good humour for the year

that was beginning, and to frighten

the devils.

 

This was the day, too, for visiting,

the temples, and I went to see

the people making their offerings.

There were many gifts, mostly of

eatables, before the shrines of the

Buddhas, and t h e bonzes were kept

busy, acting for those who left the

gifts, and spilling the little cups of

water before each altar. Round

mats were dotted over the floors

for the use of those who were

casting lots to read the important

omens of the year.

 

I watched one man as he knelt

and tossed the bamboo divining

blocks. Each of the two pieces has

a flat and a convex side. If one

of each side turned up, it would be

splendid; if both convex sides were

up, it would be fair—but the two

plain sides came uppermost, and

the look of utter misery on his

face was piteous. He did not wait

to admire the gifts or light more

joss sticks, or go to the side and

drink tea, as t h e more satisfied ones

did, but walked slowly away with

hanging head, a picture of abject

despair.

 

The Fortorn Hope.

 

Huge spiral joss sticks, that

would take days to burn, hung in

front of some of the altars, but

others were almost neglected.

Every year some statues get the

name of being lucky, and it is to

these that the people crowd, but

some people who found bad luck

everywhere try the deserted

shrines as a forlorn hope. Many

of the temples have attached to

them rooms fitted with tables for

Mah Jong players, and sometimes

also couches for the opium smokers,

but these were all deserted on this

day.

 

Whether it was because it was

felt that the temples were given

o\er to their real purpose on this

day, or simply because there were

too many people about, I cannot

say. At any rate, it did not mean

that gambling' was suspended

during the festive season, for the

hum of voices and the rattle of

counters could still be heard when

I passed the gambling-houses on

my way to Mass that morning.

 

The memories of my first Chinese

New Year are, then, mainly of fire

crackers and joss sticks. The

gaiety and good humour of the

people of this land are a delight at

all times, but at this time all that

they do seems to be shrouded in

a veil of superstition. They appear

which to build, but they have many

to have little religious belief on

prejudices which are very hard to

overcome. Once they are overcome,

however, all the fears and

inhibitions which come from their

superstitions are removed, and the

real joyousness of the simple

Chinese soul is displayed.

 

My companion on my round of

temple visits was a young Chinese

catechumen, who is soon to be

baptised, a good simple lad, who

thought the scowling and grinning

faces of the gilded Buddhas highly

amusing. On our way back we

passed through the district to

which he belonged. He was recognised

and hailed to many, and

everyone had a cheery word for

him, because he is one of those

happy ones whom everybody likes.

 

Rebuke—and Salute.

 

There was only one exception,

for one boy, seeing him in the

company of a foreigner, and knowing,

as all the people did, that he

as the religion of the foreigner,

called him a "running dog," the

term of contempt that is used for

those who are thought false to

Chinese traditions.

 

But he did not get a chance to

use the expression a second time,

for another boy promptly wheeled

him round and hit him on the nose

—a thing that I had never seen

happen in China before. Then he

locked up to see what we thought

of his action, and there was gasping

amazement on his face as I

took off my hat to him. Probably

it confirmed his belief that all

foreigners were queer people, and

I am afraid that he did not understand

my gesture of respect for

the champion of my friend A—L

 

BY THE REV. T. F. RYAN,

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