The "Heathen Chinee" (AM) - description of footbinding and China

January 29, 1874


The "Heathen Chinee"

It is very natural for a foreigner, in speaking of the Chinese, to say they are "a peculiar race." But however hackneyed the phrase may be, in this case it is very appropriate. The Chinese are emphatically a peculiar people, and their habits, customs, etc., are stamped with a decided individuality. They could hardly seem more distinct from the rest of mankind if they were residents of another planet.

The readers of the Messenger, doubtless, have long been posted with regard to many of the "peculiarities" of this people; but some observations from one who has recently become an eye-witness of the novel and interesting phases of their daily life, may not be unacceptable. The men have their heads shaved bare, with the exception of a round spot on the back, the hair of which is plaited into a queue. Of course everyone who has heard of John Chinaman, knows that he wears a pigtail; but it is not so generally known that his pigtail is a badge of servitude, being really a mark of his subjection to the Tartar Government. When the hair is of luxuriant growth, the queue is several feet long; but there are so many cases of scaldhead and other cutaneous diseases that not unfrequently all that can be produced by careful cultivation is a ridiculous little appendage a few inches in length.

The women have their hair done up in the form of a teapot, with the handle sticking up over the back part of the head. From infancy their feet are kept tightly bandaged up, so that at maturity they are only about the size of a ten year old boy's fist. One of the ancient Empresses is said to have been born with club feet, and from this circumstance is dated the origin of the barbarous practice. The shoes of a full grown Chinese woman are about four inches long and from two to three inches wide. Their round, stumpy feet give a disagreeable stiffness and awkwardness to their gait, as if they were walking on wooden legs. This artificial deformity, together with their masculine apparel (for they all wear pantaloons, though these are not so loose and clumsy as those of the men), makes the personal appearance of a Chinese woman anything but attractive, notwithstanding the really pretty faces one meets occasionally. The ladies of the higher classes shun all public observation and never go abroad except in closely covered sedan chairs. The children have a worn and weary look, as if all the natural vivacity of youth were crushed out of them by excessive confinement and wretched living.

An Empire which, while covering an area of a little over 4,000,000 square miles, professes to embrace a population of about 400,000,000 is necessarily very densely populated. But the vast numbers of people that are crowded into the cities and towns are almost incredible. Ordinary villages sustain a population of thousands; and a city which numbers less than 100,000 inhabitants, is considered of quite inferior size. In passing though a main street, one is liable to meet from one to four hundred people in going a

quarter of a mile. The largest streets in Kiukiang are only about 14 feet wide, and the stone pavement running through the middle has been worn to slippery smoothness by the tread of countless generations. It is no pleasure to traverse one of those streets. The annoyances are almost numberless, and of a peculiarly aggravating type. The filth is simply abominable. Every vile and rotten thing seems to be polluting the air with its fetid stench. The sanitary measures are regulated with as little regard to decency as to health; in fact, without any regard to either. The atmosphere seems to be a conglomeration of all the offensive smells in creation. One is liable to be bumped and jostled about in every direction by the crowds of people passing by. The dogs are numbered by the score. There are large dogs, small dogs, black, yellow, spotted dogs, lean, ugly, scabby, half-starved dogs, dogs with hungry wolfish snouts, growling, snarling, barking dogs, all manifesting a decided hostility to any foreigner that comes along. At a Chinaman not one of them will move his tongue. Next in number to the dogs come the pigs. These stroll lazily about, gathering up the filth that is thrown into the street, and mingle with the people as freely as if they regarded them as second cousins. Their mud-puddles are usually in front of some shop or store, and in these they wallow in blissful contentment and freedom from molestation.

Of course no strong and vigorous people can grow up in the midst of such surroundings. Diseases of every kind are generated; and a perfectly robust and healthy Chinaman is rarely found. Many, both old and young, are totally blind; and the numerous beggars met with everywhere exhibit a most wretched appearance. Some are frightfully deformed; others are covered from head to heel with scabs and sores, which are only partially concealed by the rags and dirt with which they cover their nakedness. Occasionally the spectacles of wretchedness are literally appalling. Squatted on the hard pavement of the street may be seen a half putrid carcass, of either a man or woman, and animated with just life enough to chant over some prayer for money. The misery of the lower classes is enough to make every benevolent heart shudder.

In lifting these people out of their degradation and misery, Christianity has a work to do which many require hundreds of years to accomplish. Still there is no need of discouragement on the part of those interested in this work. The leaven of the Gospel may be slow in permeating the heart of a nation which for ages has been buried in idolatry, but it is none the less sure. The dawn of a brighter day has already appeared, the strongholds of superstition are being shaken by a new and irresistible influence; the prejudices with which the first missionaries were received are gradually wearing away; and if the Church makes use of her mighty resources for the evangelization of this people, before another generation has passed away she may stand amazed at what God has wrought by her means for the salvation of China.