The author, in 1896, hidden among other Yangtze boat passengers.
The passage through the thronged streets took nearly an hour, but all was quiet. I was not allowed to go to an inn, but was most kindly received at the Church Mission House, a dark and not agreeably situated house in a crowded Chinese quarter, inhabited by the two ladies who, after four years of patience and difficulties, have effected a permanent lodgment in what is well known as a hostile city. They spent the first two years at an inn, and so little were they thought of, that the mandarin, when urged to take some action against them, replied, “What does it matter? They are only women!”
During this time all their attempts to rent a house failed, because the officials threatened to beat and imprison anyone letting a house to a foreigner; but a fortnight before my visit a man ruined by opium smoking let them have for ten years the place into which they had just moved, close to the great temple of Confucius. Access to it is through an area inhabited by Chinese – a forlorn, dirty yard – and through an inner yard full of Chinese , who seemed to be always gambling or smoking opium, a third yard being the newly acquired property, from which some of the Chinese had not yet cleared out. The two last courts are rented by the Church Missionary Society, and have subsequently been improved and made habitable, and “The Emily Clayton Memorial,” a dispensary with a surgical ward under Dr. Squibb, a qualified English doctor, has been opened in the outer of the two compounds.
It was interesting to see what missionaries in China have to undergo in the initial stage of residence in a Chinese city. The house was utterly out of repair – dirty, broken – half the paper torn off the windows, and the eaves so deep and low that daylight could scarcely enter. There was an open guest-hall in the middle used constantly for classes and services; endless parties of Chinese passed in and out all day long, poking holes in the remaining windows, opening every door that was not locked, taking everything they could lay hands on; and the noise was only stilled from four to six a.m. – men shouting, babies screaming, dogs barking, squibs and crackers going off, temple bells, gongs, and drums beating – no rest, quiet, or privacy.
There were two services in the guest-hall on Sunday, conducted by Mr. Heywood Horsburgh, the superintendent of the Mission, and several classes for women also, but all in a distracting babel – men playing cards outside the throng, men and women sitting for a few minutes, some laughing scornfully, others taking in loud tones, some lighting their pipes, and a very few really interested. This is not the work which many who go out as missionaries on a wave of enthusiasm expect, but this is what these good people undergo day after day and month after month.
The place where the two ladies spent two years, consisted of a guest-room at an inn in one of the most crowded of the city streets, a living-room through it, a kitchen through that, and for a sleeping-room, a loft above the living-room, reached by a ladder, just under the unlined tiles. There was no light in any room, except from a paper window, into the semi-dark passage. The floors were mud; wood, water, charcoal, and all things had to be carried in and out through the living room; no privacy was possible; the temperature hung at about 100 for weeks in summer; there were the ceaseless visits of crowds of ill-bred Chinese women, staying for hours at a time; and without and in the inn, seldom pausing, there was the unimaginable din of a big Chinese city. Under these circumstances their love and patience had won twelve women to be Christians.
Mr. and Mrs.Cormack, of the China Inland Mission, and a thirteen months’ baby, arrived before I left, the very ill of malarial fever. They were swept out of Chengdu in the riots, losing all their possessions, and with this infant had been moving for seven months, having lastly been driven out of Gansu by the Mohamedan rebellion. During the whole seven months they had never been in one place more than twelve days.
It is a grave question whether married men and married women ought to be placed in regions of precarious security. Mr. Heywood Horsburgh’s house at Guan Xian had just been attacked and bored into by a number of burglars, and between the terror caused by this, and the hostile cries in the streets, which they understood too well, his delicate, sensitive young daughters, one of them twelve years old, had become so thoroughly nervous that the only possible cure was to take them home. I saw several ladies in Western China who, after escaping from mobs with their young children, were affected in the same way.
From The Yangtze Valley and Beyond, a journal of Isabella Bird’s travels in China, taken when she was 64 years old.