Page images

circumstances would admit: and thus, by his misplaced zeal, a good Cochinchinese entertainment was entirely marred by a bad Portuguese dinner.

A trifling circumstance occurred on our first entering the building, which was rather embarassing to the Cochinchinese officers. These people who, on most occasions, adopt the Chinese customs, had prepared a yellow skreen of silk, bearing, in large painted characters, the name of the young adventurer at Hué. Whether they took it for granted, or were so told by Manuel Duomé, that the English, as a matter of course, would make the usual prostrations to this shade of majesty, we did not inquire, but it was very evident they expected it; for when the general commanding at Turon, and who sat cross-legged on a bench as proxy for his master, observed that, having made our bow, we filed off and took our seats regardless of the yellow skreen, he appeared to be greatly disconcerted, and could hardly be said to recover himself the remainder of the day. His disappointment in missing the nine prostrations seemed to operate on his mind as if he had been sunk so many degrees in the estimation of his brother officers. He took little notice when the rank and station were explained, though at his own desire, which each of us held in the embassy, until the Chinese interpreter announced captain Parish of the artillery as the "overseer of the great guns," upon which his at. ention was suddenly roused, and be seemed the whole day to regard this officer as a very formidable and a dangerous man.

In the farther division of the buil. ding a party of comedians was en

gaged in the midst of an historical drama when we entered; but on our being seated they broke off and coming forward, made before us that obeisance of nine genuflexions and prostrations, which we had been so very uncivil to omit to the Mandarin and his painted skreen of silk; after which they returned to their labours, keeping up an inces. sant noise and bustle during our stay. The heat of the day, the thermometer in the shade standing at 81° in the open air, and at least ten degrees higher in the building, the crowds that thronged in to see the strangers, the horrible crash of the gongs, kettle-drums, rattles, trumpets, and squalling flutes, were so stunning and oppressive, that nothing but the novelty of the scene could possibly have detained us for a moment. The most entertaining as well as the least noisy part of the theatrical exhibition was a sort of interlude, performed by three young women, for the amusement, it would seem, of the principal actress, whe sat as a spectator in the dress and character of some ancient queen; whilst an old eunuch, very whimsi cally dressed, played his antic tricks like a scaramouch or buffoon in a harlequin entertainment. The dialogue in this part differed entirely from the querulous and nearly monotonous recitative of the Chinese, bing light and comic, and occasionally interrupted by cheerful airs, which generally concluded with a common chorus. These airs, rude and unpolished as they were, appeared to be regular composi tions, and were sung in exactly mea sured time. One in particular attracted our attention, whose slow melancholy movement breathed that kind of plaintive softness so peculiar

to the native airs of the Scotch, to which indeed it bore a very close resemblance. The voices of the women were shrill and warbling, but some of their cadences were not without melody. The instruments at each pause gave a few short flou.. rishes, till gradually overpowered by the swelling and deafening gong. Knowing nothing of the language, we were of course as ignorant of the subject as the majority of an English audience is of an Italian opera. In the shed of Turon, however, as well as in the theatre of the Haymarket, the eye was amused as. well as the ear. At each repetition of the chorus the three Cochinchinese graces displayed their fine slender shapes in the mazy dance, in which, however, the feet were the least concerned. By different gestures, of the head, body, and arms, they assumed a variety of figures; and all their motions were exactly adapted to the measure of the music. The burden

among them pieces of copper money for this purpose, the Mandarins brought us some hundred pieces strung on cords, of the same kind as those which are current in China.

By the Cochinchinese the regular drama is called Troien, or a relation of histories. To the operatic interlade of recitative, air, and dancing they give the name of Songsang; and a grand chorus accompanied with the gong, the kettle-drum, castanets, trumpets and other noisy instruments, is called the Ring-rang. The ambassador had ordered his band to attend on shore, where they played a few light airs; but the Cochinchinese had no ear for the soft and harmonious chords of European music. Their Ring-rang and their Song-sang were infinitely supe-rior in their estimation, and were the more applauded in proportion as they were the more noisy.

nese. From the same.

of the chorus was not unpleasing, On the Character of the Cochinchiand was long recollected on the quarter-deck of the Lion, till the novelty which succeeded in China effaced it from the memory. In the latter country, however, we saw no dancing, neither by men nor women, which makes it probable that this part of the Cochinchinese entertain. ment must be an amusement of their own invention, or introduced from the western part of India.

No entrance money is ever expected in the theatres of China or Cochinchina. The actors are either hired to play at private entertainments, at a fixed sum for the day; or they exhibit before the public in a temporary shed, entirely exposed in front. On such occasions, instead of cheering the performers with empty plaudits, the audience throw

Cochinchina, until a few centuries after the Christian æra, formed a part of the Chinese empire; and the general features of the natives, many of the customs, the written language, the religious opinions and ceremonies still retained by them, indicate distinctly their Chinese origin. In the northern provinces, however, they are more strongly marked than in those to the southward. The same characteristics are likewise discernible, but in a fainter degree, in Siam which is properly Se-yang, or the western country; in Pegu, probably Pequo, or the northern province; and in Avá and the rest of the petty states now comprehended under the Birman empire, where, 3 K 2


however, from an intermixture with the Malays of Malacca and the Hindoos of the upper and eastern regions of Hindostan, the traces of the Chinese character are in many respects nearly obliterated. The Cochinchinese of Turon, notwithstanding the loose manners of the women which I shall presently have occasion to notice, and the tendency which all revolutions in governments have to change, in a greater or less degree, the character of the people, have preserved in most respects a close resemblance to their original, though in some points they differ from it very widely. They perfectly agree, for instance, in the etiquette observed in marriage and funeral processions and ceremonies, in the greater part of religious superstitions, in the offerings usually presented to idols, in the consultation of oracles, and in the universal propensity of inquiring into futurity by the casting of lots; in charming away diseases; in the articles of diet and the mode of preparing them; in the nature of most of their public entertainments and amusements; in the construction and devices of fire-works; in instruments of music, games of chance, cock-fighting and quail-fighting. The spoken language of Cochin. china, though on the same principle, is so much changed from the original as to be nearly, if not wholly, unintelligible to a Chinese; but the written character is precisely the same. All the temples which fell under our observation were very humble buildings; and we saw no specimens either of the heavy curved roofs, or of the towering pagodas, so frequently met with in China; but it seems there are, in many parts of the country, monasteries

that are amply endowed, whose buildings are extensive and enclosed with walls for their better security. The houses in general near Turonbay consisted only of four mud walls, covered with thatch; and such as are situated on low grounds, in the neighbourhood of rivers, are usually raised upon four posts of wood, or pillars of stone, to keep out vermin as well as inundatious.

The dress of the Cochinchinese has undergone not only an altera. tion, but a very considerable abridgment. They wear neither thick shoes, nor quilted stockings, nor clumsy sattin boots, nor petti coats stuffed with wadding; but always go barelegged and generally barefooted. Their long black hair, like that of the Malays, is usually twisted into a knot, and fixed on the crown of the head. This, indeed, is the ancient mode in which the Chinese wore their hair, until the Tartars, on the conquest of the country, compelled them to submit to the ignominy of shaving the whole head except a little lock of hair behind.

On the precepts of Confucius is grounded the moral system for the regulation of the conduct in this country as well as in China. Here, however, to the exterior forms of morality very little regard seems to be paid. In China these precepts are gaudily displayed in golden characters in every house, in the streets and public places; but here they are seldom seen and never heard. Were they, indeed, repeated in their original language, (and they will scarcely bear a translation,) they would not be understood. Their conduct, in general, seems to be as little influenced by the solemn precepts of religion as by those of


morality. The Cochinchinese are, like the French, always gay and for ever talking; the Chinese always grave, and affect to be thinking: the former are open and familiar, the latter close and reserved. A Chi nese would consider it as disgraceful to commit any affair of importance to a woman. Women, in the estimation of the Cochinchinese, are best suited for, and are accordingly entrusted with, the chief concerns of the family. The Chinese code of politeness forbids a woman to talk unless by way of reply, to laugh beyond a smile, to sing unless desired, and, as to dancing, she labours under a physical restriction which makes this kind of movement impossible. In Cochinchina the women are quite as gay and unrestrained as the men. And as a tolerably accurate conclusion may be drawn of the state of their society, from the condition in which the female part of it is placed, and the consideration in which the female character is held among them, I shall be more particular in describing the situation here assigned to them, in so far at least as our limited means afforded us the opportunity of observing, than on other points.

In some of the provinces of China women are condemned to the degrading and laborious task of dragging the plough, and otherwise employed in various kinds of heavy drudgery. In Cochinchina it would appear likewise to be the fate of the weaker sex to be doomed to those occupations which require, if not the greatest exertions of bodily strength, at least the most persevering industry. We observed them, day after day, and from morning till night, standing in the midst of pools of water, up to the knees,

occupied in the transplanting of rice. In fact, all the labours of tillage, aud the various employments connected with agriculture, seem to fall to the share of the female peasantry; whilst those in Turon, to the management of domestic concerns, and the superintendance of all the details of commerce. They even assist in constructing and keeping in repair their mud-built cottages; they conduct the manufacture of coarse earthen ware vessels; they manage the boats on rivers and in harbours; they bear their articles of produce to market; they draw the cotton wool from the pod, free it from the seeds, spin it into thread, weave it into cloth, dye it of its proper colour, and make it up into dresses for themselves and their families. Almost all the younger part of the males are compelled to enrol themselves in the army; and such as are exempt from military service employ themselves occasionally in fishing, in collecting swallow's nests and the biches de mer among the neighbouring islands, as luxuries for the use of their own great men, but more particularly as articles of export for the China market; in felling timber; building and repairing ships and boats, and a few other occupations which, however, they take care shall not engross their whole time, but contrive to leave a considerable portion of it unemployed, or employed only in the pursuit of some favourite amuse. ment: for they are not by any means of an idle disposition. But the activity and the industry of the women are so unabating, their pursuits so varied, and the fatigue they undergo so harassing, that the Cochinchinese apply to them the same proverbial expression which

[blocks in formation]

confer on a cat, observing that a woman, having nine lives, bears a great deal of killing. It is evident, indeed, from the whole tenor of their conduct, that the men, even in the common ranks of life, consider the other sex as destined for their use; and those in a higher station, as subservient to their pleasures, The number of wives or of concubines, which a man may find it expedient to take, is not limited by any law or rule; but here, as in China, the first in point of date claims precedence and takes the lead in all domestic concerns. The terms on which the parties are united are not more easy than those by which they may be separated. To break a sixpence between two parting lovers is considered, among the peasantry of some of the counties in England, as an avowal and pledge of unalterable fidelity. In Cochinchina, the breaking of one of their copper coins, or a pair of chop-sticks, between man and wife, before proper witnesses, is considered as a dissolution of their former compact, and the act of separation.

In China the men have sedulously and successfully inculcated the doctrine, that a well bred women should not be seen abroad; that she should confine herself constantly to her own apartments; that in the presence of even her nearest male relations she should not expose her neck and her hands, to prevent which her gown is buttoned up close to the chin, and its sleeves hang down below the knee; and so craft tily have they contrived; their precepts to operate, that the silly women have actually been prevailed on to consider a physical defect which confines them to the house as a fashionable accomplishment.

Here, in this respect, there is a total difference with regard to the sex. So far from the Cochinchinese women being deprived of the free use of their limbs or their liberty, they have the enjoyment of both to the fullest extent. It certainly was not in Cochinchina where Eudoxus, in his travels, is said to have observ ed the feet of the women to be so small, that they might with propriety be distinguished by the name of the "ostrich-footed ;" fœminis plan tas adeo parvas ut Struthopodes appellentur; as by their bustling about with naked feet, they become unusually large and spreading; but the name might aptly enough be applied to the feet of the Chinese ladies, whose undefined and lumpish form is not unlike the foot of the ostrich.

Extremes often approximate. The same cause which in China has operated this total seclusion of the sex from society, and the abridgment of their physical powers, has produced in Cochinchina a diametrically opposite effect, by permitting them to revel uncontrolled in every species, of licentiousness. This cause is their being degraded in public opinion, and considered as beings of an infe rior nature to the men. Thus situ. ated, character becomes of little value either to themselves or to others; and, from all accounts, it appears they are fully sensible of its unimportance in this respect. The consequence of which is, that women of less scrupulosity, or men of more accommodating dispositions, are not certainly to be met with in any part of the world than those in the environs of Turon bay. It is to be hoped, however, that the general character of the nation may not exactly correspond with that which


« EelmineJätka »