A Chinese Story
translated by George
In the twenty-second year of the period
Eternal-happiness, the population of
Chao-cheou's harbour, awaking on a bright
summer's morning, were extremely surprised
and frightened to see, swaying on the blue
water of the bay, a strange and abnormally
huge ship. The three high masts were
heavily loaded with transversal pieces of
wood, from some of which sails were still
hanging; another mast projected horizontally
from the prow, and three sails
were tightened from this to the foremast.
A small boat was lowered from the ship's
side and rowed to the quay. Several hundreds
of people were watching the proceedings,
asking one another if it was a
human invention or a ship coming from the
depths of hell.
The small boat stopped at a short distance
from the bank; one could see that, beside
the rowers, there were three men seated in
the stern; their heads were covered with
extraordinarily long and fluffy grey hair;
they wore big hats with feathers of many
colours. A Chinaman was in the boat and
hailed the people:
"Ha! Please tell the local authorities
that high mandarins from the ocean want
to speak to them. We are peaceful. But
if you do any harm to our men or ships,
our wrath will be such that we will destroy
in one day the whole town and kill everybody
within ten miles' distance."
Three or four men belonging to the Yamen
had heard these words; they ran to the
prefect's palace and came back with an
answer they delivered to the new-comers:
"His Excellency the prefect consents to
receive your visit. If you are peaceful,
no harm will be done to you. But if you
steal anything, or wound or kill anybody,
the laws of our country will be enforced
upon you without mercy."
Then the boat slowly accosted the quay;
two of the men with feathered hats disembarked
with the Chinaman, while six of the
rowers, leaving their oars in the boat,
shouldered heavy muskets, and cleared the
way, three walking in front of the feathered
hats and three behind. The rowers wore
small caps and had long blue trousers and
very short blue coats.
The prefect, in his embroidered dress,
awaited them on the threshold of his
reception-room. He bade the new-comers
be seated and asked their names and their
business; the Chinaman translated the questions
and the answers.
"We come from the other side of the
"Well," thought the prefect. "I was
sure of it, the earth being square and flat,
the other side of it is certainly hell. What
am I to do?"
"We only want to trade with your
countrymen. We will sell you what goods
we have brought; we will buy your country's
productions, and if no harm is done we will
sail away in a few days."
"Our humble country is very poor,"
answered the prefect. "The people are not
rich enough to buy any of the splendid goods
you may have brought. Besides, this country's
products are not worth your giving
any money for them. If I can give you
good advice, you had better sail away to-day
and get to the first harbour of the
northern province; there they are very
"We have just come from it; they told
us the very reverse. Here, according to
them, we should be able to find everything
we want. Besides, our mind is settled;
we will remain here long enough to buy
what we want and to sell what we can. We
are very peaceful people as long as one
deals justly with us. But if you try to
beguile us, we will employ all our strength
in the defence of our rights. All we want
is a place on shore where we can store and
show our goods."
"Well, well; I never intended to do anything
of the sort," said the prefect. "But
the Emperor is the only possessor of the soil.
How could I give you a place even on the
"We don't want very much, and the
Emperor won't know anything. Give us
only the surface of ground covered by a
carpet, and we will be satisfied."
Chinese carpets are not more than two
or three feet broad and five or six feet wide.
The prefect thought he could not be blamed
to authorise the foreigners to settle on
such a small piece of ground; on the other
hand, if he refused, there would ensue
trouble and he would certainly be cashiered.
"It is only as a special arrangement
and by greatly compromising with the law
that I can give you this authorisation."
And the prefect wrote a few words on
one of his big red visiting-cards. The
interpreter carefully perused the document.
Then the foreigners went back to their
ship. The same day a proclamation was
issued and pasted on the walls of the public
edifices, explaining to the people that The-Devils-of-the-ocean
had been authorised
to settle on a piece of ground not bigger
than a carpet and that no harm should be
done to them.
In compliance with these orders, nobody
dared oppose the foreigners when they
began unrolling on the shore a carpet
ten yards broad and thirty yards long.
When the carpet was unrolled, The-Devils-of-the-ocean
put themselves in ranks with
muskets and swords on the carpet; nearly
five hundred men stood there close to one
The prefect, who had personally watched
the proceeding, was so angry against the
foreigners for their cunningness that he
immediately ordered troops to drive them
out into the water. But the foreigners had a
devilish energy nobody could resist; they
killed a great many of our people, burned
the greater part of the city, and occupied
for several years all the northern part of
the bay, where they erected a sort of bazaar
and a fortress, which still exist to this