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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

Put yourself down for one hundred taels


It

may interest some to know that in the cities of the north of China _ice_ and _coal_ may only be retailed by licensed dealers, who retain such authority on the condition of supplying the yamens of the local mandarins with these two necessaries, free of all charge.

[193] The Styx.

[194] These words require some explanation. Ordinarily they would be taken in the sense of casting _cash_ of a base description; but they might equally well signify the casting of iron articles of any kind, and thereby hang some curious details. Iron foundries in China may only be opened under license from the local officials, and the articles there made, consisting chiefly of cooking utensils, may only be sold within a given area, each district having its own particular foundries from which alone the supplies of the neighbourhood may be derived. Free trade in iron is much feared by the authorities, as thereby pirates and rebels would be enabled to supply themselves with arms. At the framing of the Treaty of Tientsin, with its accompanying tariff and rules, iron was not specified among other prohibited articles of commerce. Consequently, British merchants would appear to have a full right to purchase iron in the interior and convey it to any of the open ports under Transit-pass. But the Chinese officials steadily refuse to acknowledge, or permit the exercise of, this right, putting forward their own time-honoured custom with regard to

iron, and enumerating the disadvantages to China were such an innovation to be brought about.

[195] The allusion is to women, of a not very respectable class.

[196] No Chinese magistrate would be found to pass sentence upon a man who stole food under stress of hunger.

[197] His own village.

[198] The whole story is meant as a satire upon the iniquity of the Salt Gabelle.

CXIII.

COLLECTING SUBSCRIPTIONS.

The Frog-God frequently employs a magician to deliver its oracles to those who have faith. Should the magician declare that the God is pleased, happiness is sure to follow; but if he says the God is angry, women and children[199] sit sorrowfully about, and neglect even their meals. Such is the customary belief, and it is probably not altogether devoid of foundation.

There was a certain wealthy merchant, named Chou, who was a very stingy man. Once, when some repairs were necessary to the temple of the God of War,[200] and rich and poor were subscribing as much as each could afford, he alone gave nothing.[201] By-and-by the works were stopped for want of funds, and the committee of management were at a loss what to do next. It happened that just then there was a festival in honour of the Frog-God, at which the magician suddenly cried out, "General Chou[202] has given orders for a further subscription. Bring forth the books." The people all shouting assent to this, the magician went on to say, "Those who have already subscribed will not be compelled to do so again; those who have not subscribed must give according to their means." Thereupon various persons began to put down their names, and when this was finished, the magician examined the books. He then asked if Mr. Chou was present; and the latter, who was skulking behind, in dread lest he should be detected by the God, had no alternative but to come to the front. "Put yourself down for one hundred taels," said the magician to him; and when Chou hesitated, he cried out to him in anger, "You could give two hundred for your own bad purposes: how much more should you do so in a good cause?" alluding to a scandalous intrigue of Chou's, the consequences of which he had averted by payment of the sum mentioned. This put our friend to the blush, and he was obliged to enter his name for one hundred taels, at which his wife was very angry, and said the magician was a rogue, and whenever he came to collect the money he was put off with some excuse.


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