Mellowed Memories of South China: Part 1

 |  May 16, 1937

It was just a year ago (February) that I was in China. I began my six months’ missionary journey in South China. And while I was there some one suggested that I wait a full year to write very much about my experiences and observations. Another advised that one cannot write authentically from a train window.

Adhering to these kind counsels, I seized every oppor­tunity possible to live with the people of the Orient. I mingled with them in the market places, at temple fairs, on trains, boats, sam pans, in their homes and in their churches. I rode on every kind of means of transportation possible including rickshas, wheelbarrows and donkeys. I sat on the family kahns with the women and children, and slept on Chinese beds in chapel attics and in humble homes. With chopsticks I ate from the common bowl at at thirty-two course feasts in wealthy homes and drank gallons and gallons of tea in official mansions where the beauty is so exquisite that it is break-taking. Handsome brocaded tape~tries; clean, shining, polished hardwood floors par­queted with other beautiful hardwoods of vary­ing colors in designs dignified and perfect; gorgeous rugs whose silky softness melts under one’s footsteps; teakwood furniture, hand carved and polished; lacquer inlaid with mother ­of- pearl; cloisonne and crystal and jade and hand-painted china; scrolls artistically portray­ing the perfect handiwork of the family as well as the history and poetry of the ages ; and on and on, one may extravagantly describe the in­terior beauty of the Chinese homes. A passion for beauty is a national trait. Even in the hum­blest mud and grass houses with the hard beaten mud floors, there are evidences of souls in love with beauty. Perhaps there is only one teapot and only one bowl, but these will without exception be hand-painted, dainty, beautiful. There will be a colorful, artistically sketched scroll “in the honorable corner,” and a flower or tiny tree by the door. These intrinsic indexes to the heart of the people of Cathay were not seen from a train window.

The other bit of advice I have also observed. I have waited the suggested year. And now as I pensively and meditatively ponder in my heart the lingering afterglow of my journey through China, I find that my memories, woven of impressions and observations, have grown even richer with a year’s aging and more precious from having been treasured and shared with friends in the homeland.

A Zeal for God

Among these mellowed memories is one scintillating fact throwing a light of understanding and appreciation on every other observation. These dainty, beauty-loving peo­ple of the Orient have a zeal for God. “I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Paul).

A few blocks from the spot upon which J. Lewis and Henrietta Hall Shuck first set foot a hundred years ago in old Macao, there stands at the intersection of two paved streets a great live oak, gnarled and rugged. Between its knotted roots rising up out of the plot of ground reserved about its base, were scores of half-burned incense sticks and folded prayers. A grandmother and tiny girl come to kneel and burn incense while they pray. The grand­mother is a widow. Her husband went to sea, never to return, when her first-born was only a tiny babe. When this son reached manhood and married, he, too, answered the call that woos and wins scores of the South China men. Most of the cabin boys and workmen on the great ships that plow the Pacific are from the Ng Yap and Hakka people of South China. The son also never re­turned. With no man in the house, the grandmother grieved and lamented the sad plight of her daughter-in-law and the baby girl. Now the daughter-in-law lay ill at home. Fervently the grandmother prayed for the restora­tion of health. Surely a tree so large and strong, old and healthy, that had weathered the storms and typhoons from the sea, and that had escaped the woodman’s ax there in the center of the city, trust have a god-spirit in its branches. To this god-of-the-tree, she prayed.

A World War poet wrote that “Only God Can Make a Tree.” Surely the divine emotion in the heart of Joyce Kilmer and the searching zeal in the soul of the little Chinese grandmother are akin.

In their search for satisfaction to their soul’s zeal for God, the Chinese say that there are eight million gods. “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowl­edge.” Eight million gods, but because of their lack of knowledge, Jehovah God is not yet within the fold of the eight million! “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?”

“Where there is perfection there is a god” is a truism familiar to every Chinese family. The influence of this serious discernment and appreciation of beauty and per­fection encourages the Chinese’s zeal for God. And there is much exquisite beauty in China. Perhaps not enough has been said or written about China’s beauty. South China’s tropical trees and flowers, verdant gardens and miles of bamboo, rivers winding through mountain ranges, and towns and cities of Chinese courtyards, curving house­tops of artistic tiles and colorful shops, combine to make South China a land of rare beauty. Hongkong, a horse­shoe harbor nestling into the balsam and pine covered mountain peak, is one of the world’s most beautiful ports. There is much beauty all over China. And the Chinese love beauty.

It was sunset time on the West River. Nine ranges of mountains reflected the gorgeous iridescence of the pris­matic glow. Veiled in pink and orchid, violet and purple, rose and lavender, gold and crimson, these mountains to the west become a mosaic of God’s handiwork. Like the psalmist of old, the heart instinctively hastened its throb of praise, and it was easy to whisper a child’s adoration, “Oh! God, I love you!”

But what of the Chinese comrade-passengers upon that boat! Calmly, silently, poisedly they gazed into the rich beauty. Then a lovely maiden, whose silk costume, clean daintiness and queenly poise, bespoke her culture and charm, fastened incense sticks between the brass and wooden parts of the rail around the deck; and while they burned, she clapped thrice her tiny, pretty hands, and kotowed to yonder sunset glow.

“Whom are you worshiping, my child?” Wistfully she replied, “I don’t know. But surely where there is so much beauty and perfection there must be a god. He would be quite angry if all of this. boat load of people passed by and failed to worship. Something dreadful might happen to us before we reach Shiu Hing.” And fear filled her lovely dark eyes.

Stirred by the glory of the setting sun and its afterglow, and recalling the proverb that where there is perfection there is a god, this girl of twenty-two had such a zeal for God that she prayed : “Oh ! God ! If there be a god of the sunset, please be so kind and good as to …. ”

Cultured, charming, from an official home of wealth and education, this daughter of China had never had an opportunity to hear of God, to see a Bible, to listen to a prayer. She had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. No one had ever told her of Jehovah, God, the one Creator and God of every sunset.

Our Christian missionaries have made a good beginning in China, but only one million have been touched while the population of China totals 450 millions. There are 449 millions yet to be told. They wait, hungry-hearted, soul-thirsty for the message of love.

Manifold are the evidences of the Oriental’s hunger and thirst for God. The little children are named “Lover of Kindness,” “Source of Purity,” “Queen of Virtue,” “King of Courage,” and the like. These odd-sounding, mono­syllabic nomens have such a challenging character signifi­cance that distinctive personalities are moulded by the children’s pondering these names in their hearts.

At New Year’s time. upon their door posts and on their lintels, like Joshua, they paste the holy goals for which they pray. · When one daily walks through one’s front door over which is inscribed, “A hundred-thousand pa­tiences,” it is not easy to be comfortably irritable and sensi­tive. The influence of the reactions that have been born of the Chinese’s zeal for God and for godly virtues has been so profound that the Chinese minds are good soil for the teachings of Christ and their hearts ready ground for the seed of salvation.

Foreigners sometimes inadvisedly speak of the Chinese as hcatlre11. This ought not to so happen. To the question, “What suggestion do you have for us Southern Baptist writers?” a Chinese Christian and loyal friend of the missionaries softly said: “For Christ’s sake I tell you. Please do not call the Chinese heathen in the articles you write. The use of that word offends, creates prejudices and turns many away from their growing interest in Christ. The Chinese students read all the English that they can find. Most of the Southern Baptist publications are widely read in China. The first time a . Chinese student of Eng­lish comes upon that word heathe11, he turns quickly to his Webster seeking to comprehend the meaning of this new word applied to him. The first meaning is non-Christian. That is all right. He grants that. But his eyes shift to the second and third meanings-uncultured, barbarous­and” his pride boils. Uncultured? Why! The Chinese have a culture that dates back to the days before Abraham. Their emperors were abiding in handsome palaces amidst charming finery and expensive jewels, and their subjects were wearing silk, creating poetry, producing drama and painting masterpieces when the forefathers of the Anglo­Saxon Americans were wild, skin-clad, uncivilized nomads of the forests. Barbarotts? And resentment fills his heart! He recalls the poetry and art, the history and truisms, the philosophy and teachings of their enlightened centuries. Our country is five thousand years old and throughout these centuries the great scholars and teachers have added rich contributions to the vast storehouse of knowledge and literature. Many Chinese are versed in these Chinese cultures. To be called barbarous is too much for his sensitive soul. Please don’t call the Chinese heathen!” he pleaded.

Indeed one finds that it is true that the imbibing of the teachings of the ages has made good soil for the gospel. For example: “Do not run from the raindrops, and you will find them beautiful,” interpreted means, “Do not run away from difficulties and you will find joy in mastering them.” Stimulating, conducive to fine traits of character and training for patient poise, refinement and charm, these teachings of the ages have produced a civilization far from uncultured and barbarous; a civilization that has a foundation for the making of excellent, faithful, autono­mous Christians. But with all of the culture and enlighten­ment of the centuries there is a vast vacuum in the educated souls as well as in the ignorant until they find God. For fifty centuries the quest for God has left the most indelible influence upon China’s civilization. Everywhere there are evidences of “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”

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