CANTON THE PEARL RIVER Arrival and Description of the City and the River—Pawnshops—Boat Streets and Shopping.
I was lucky enough, in going to Canton, to have the escort of a Hong Kong friend who knew his way, and also fortunate in meeting, on board the boat, a naval commander and his wife who were fellow passengers from England and going up to enjoy the hospitality of the same friends I was to stay with. This is the sort of good-fellowship which reigns in the East. It is open house to all travellers and a most hearty welcome. During my stay with these friends, another gentleman and shipmate visited them ; and in their company, and under the escort of the daughter of the Consul-General, I visited many of the shops and sights, and was initiated into the Eastern methods of making a bargain. This seemed to me to consist in offering about a third of the sum asked and gradually rising to about half, then attempting to leave the shop, and often being followed into the street by the trades man, who did not wish to lose a customer.
I reached Canton in the early part of a beautiful morning, and at dawn I found we were passing along the quiet waters, between fertile shores with distant hills looming up in tender pearly colour. Well may this be called the Pearl River ! By-and-by, along the bank we could discern the rough huts of the fisher-folk, built up out of the water on poles. These people, doubtless, were pirates not very long ago, and would be so still if opportunity allowed.
Gradually we neared Canton, and began to see more and more boats, until the water was full of them and there seemed hardly room for us to get through. The city covers about 68 square miles, a great part of this being within the walls, which are zo feet thick and rise to a height of 25 feet. On three sides this wall is still further protected by a ditch filled with water by the rising tide, but at low tide containing nothing but revolting filth.
There are twelve outer gates and two water gates, the latter allowing boats to pass from east to west across the new city. All gates are shut about sundown.
The streets are long, winding, and very narrow, the houses rarely more than two storeys in height.
The Buddhist priests and nuns, about zoo°, out number any other sect. There is also a Mahommedan mosque with a tall tower.
The great guilds of China are strong in Canton, and there are many halls belonging to, and used by, these bodies, who stem to have great power to sway the opinion of the people ; as, for instance, at the time of my last visit to Canton, a Chinese having been found dead on a steamboat belonging to a British firm, and certified by a doctor to have died from natural causes, there was a great ado made about the matter, many meetings were held at the guild-halls, and feeling ran strong against the British.
Pawnshops in China are most extensive and remark able institutions. They are of three classes. The first are owned by wealthy companies, and their places of business are well and strongly built, and, with the ex ception of the pagodas, are the loftiest buildings in Canton. Tall square blocks, they remind one of some of our old border keeps. They have windows with iron shutters. The entrance doors are also of iron, the base ment forming the offices for business, while the upper floors are for storage.
Pawnshops of the second class are also run by joint stock companies, while those of the third are in some instances conducted by policemen and yamen-runners, and even by wealthy convicts. Interest is mostly excessive, with perhaps a reduction in winter-time to enable the people to redeem their warm clothing in cold weather. Pawnbrokers' licences are very expensive, especially those of the second class. Much of the proceeds is appropriated by the officials, who are notorious throughout the empire for their grasping ways. These institutions are largely used to obtain the means to celebrate marriages and funerals. On both of these events the Chinese, like the Scotch, spend too much money.