Beyond Shanghai (1922)


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Beyond Shanghai (1922)
198 pgs; 8 color plates of paintings; Abingdon Press
Dedication: “My Friend, Charles E. Bushnell”

Preface: “Names of persons and places – when they have any meaning at all – always have an insistent way of calling up pictures before me. For the most part, that works out very well. Mr. Pickwick, Chicago, Agamemnon, Judas, Othello, William Blake, Waterloo, Diana Mallory – these names and a million more embrace the subjects the represent so perfectly that they have become an intimate part of them. But there are others which certainly do not function as they should.

Fafner, for example, the name of the dragon in “Siegfried”, sounds like the proprietor of a delicatessen shop. Inversely, a small, wrinkled Sicilian who brings three tiny logs of wood (it used to be five) for a quarter to my room of a winter’s morning i y-clept Marcus J. Aurelius….The somewhat astonishing title, Sir Jamshed Jeejeboy, does not belong to the high comedian of a comic opera. Sir Jamshed Jeejeboy himself in a venerable and dignified citizen of Bombay….The tribal name ‘Satsuma’ carried with it only a peaceful picture of kimono-clad inhabitants of the Land of Rising Sun tranquilly engaged in making their beautiful porcelains – until I came upon a mound near Kyoto under which lie the pickled ears and noses of thirty-five thousand former enemies of the clan of Satsuma!

And – China! There is a name to conjure with! What sort of a picture does China bring up? I, for one, had always though of the Chinese as being a strange, grotesque people . (The years have builded such a vast, irrational barrier of trivial affairs like chopsticks and queues!) Dah Sing, Quong Wong, Soo Chow – there seems to be something in their very names that made one think of phoenixes, cockatrices, griffins, and other infringements against the spirit of normalcy as we know it. True, the Chinese I had met at different places in the Occident had always been uniformly courteous and friendly. Yet I always had the feeling that they were ‘holding something back.’ ‘The Insidious Fu-Manchu’ and all the rest had done their insidious work. At best (I used to think) they were cold and reserved people; a people almost lacking in some characteristics which we have come to look upon as “human.”

But when I went to China…..”

Excerpt, Page 17:

“When Wong See Lo, with whom I shared a cabin on the Nanking, offered to initiate me into the mysteries of a Chinese hotel, his proposal was accepted with a pleasure very much like ‘the stern joy which warriors feel,’ for it was my sincerest wish not only to see the country which lay back of Shanghai, but to see it Chinese-fashion. The fact that I did not know just what Chinese-fashion meant – no stranger does until he tries it – only added the zest of experiment to an already well-developed enthusiasm. I had made solemn compact with myself not to attempt to describe, paint or otherwise molest the Imperial Palaces at Peking, but to see as much as I could of the Chinese people themselves in their humblest and most intimate surroundings. I had decided to use no letters of introduction, to live alone with the Chinese, and to eat their food.

Whether this modus operandi would work, I did not know. But there was one very good way to find out…..

At the dock Wong See Lo and I finally climbed into a peculiar something mounted on four wheels, a pony squealed, and we clattered off over the cobblestones toward the Chinese hotel. The Bund, that splendid water-front avenue, with its trams, motor cars, tall buildings, and public gardens, was very much as one had expected – calm, dignified, expansive. But suddenly we turned into the city’s main thoroughfare , Nanking Road; and just as suddenly the East rose up in its strength and submerged all memories of the West in a whirling, spinning vortex of pigtails, swinging gold signs, wheelbarrow men, dashing rickshaw coolies, and high guttural cries. Instinctively, I looked about for something solid, immobile, on which to rest the eyes. In all that seeing torrent, the only stationary points were the vermilion turbans of the great Sikh policemen, who, in spite of their sad eyes, seemed to be smiling a serene, far-away smile into their black, evenly twisted beards.

The vehicle pulled up with a final flourish before the vast Oriental Hotel in the heart of the city. Very few foreigners put up at the Oriental – for reasons which I was to ascertain later. Reaching my room, I stepped out on to the narrow balcony, for the spell of the streets was strong upon me. A billowing sea of gray, sharp-peaked roofs rolled off to the east, ending in a forest of masts and tall spars on the Wangpoo, a mile distant. In a window under the eaves of a house just across the way, a small point of light was shining from a dim lamp placed on a low stand well back in the room. Beside it, half hidden by the curtains of a Chinese bed, reclined a gaunt, half-clad man deftly whirling a ‘pill’ of opium over a steady flame! The East was more generous than had been reported in disclosing its secrets to the newcomer! I looked at my watch. The Nanking had been in dock just forty minutes.

Excerpt, Page 24:

“In central China there is just one best way to get acquainted with one’s Chinese neighbors. Take a houseboat! Accordingly, Ah Chow and I made our way to Shoochow Creek, which after dividing Shanghai in haves, flows almost at right angles into the Wangpoo River. By going afoot we had the very great advantage of seeing the houseboat before its lowdah, or chief boatman, saw us, and in that way we would be able to approach in an unconcerned , offhand manner, which, Ah Chow said, was the necessary attitude for doing houseboat business with any sort of monetary satisfaction. After several fruitless trials, we came upon a boat of alluring appearance lying beside one of the bridges. The lowdah, of the craft, a small, wiry man of grave appearance, with a moustache and goatee astonishingly like Napoleon the Third, was standing in the bow apparently wrapped in profound thought. (He told Ah Chow later he had seen us coming a half mile away!) We therefore had no difficulty whatever in rousing him from his brown study – with the result that the boat (together with the services of four boatmen who were to furnish their own meals) was engaged for one month. And the price – including a tip, or cumshaw, for all – was forty dollars! So, on the sixth morning – with two frying pans, one seaman’s chest, one bedding roll, forty-five bundles of firewood and certain bags of provisions purchased by Ah Chow – we pulled in the gangplank, hove up the anchor and on the crest of the incoming tide, floated away up Soochow Creek for parts unknown.”

Excerpt, Pages 34-35:

In the front of a small shop a calm-eyed wood carver, armed with mallet and chisel, was making the chips fly from a great wooden head of Buddha, as primitive and simple as Sakyamuni himself. Beside him a helper glued together two huge blocks of wood to make the god’s massive shoulders, while from a lower stratum among the shavings and bench legs an unthinkable din arose from the lusty throats of three puppies and four infants who were all quarreling together in the same common tongue. Next door, two gold beaters, sitting vis-a-vis, pounded alternately with careful hammers upon the evenly laid “mold” of skins before them. No wonder they worked carefully. That small, rectangular pile of parchment on which they pounded was selected from the most delicate membranes of a hundred water buffalo! In a narrow shop beyond the goldbeaters, another infant, hardly large enough to hold a knife (to say nothing of wielding it), was cutting strips of bamboo for umbrella ribs, while his father, not at all averse to a little advertizing, grinned amiably at the crowd which had collected, while he busily oiled the tops of his beautifully tinted paper umbrellas. A silversmith, setting emerald eyes into a silver dragon, chatted pleasantly with a butcher just across the way, in front of whose open shop the faces of six dead pigs, clean for the first time in their lives, hung white and ghostly like tragic masks in a row. “Varnished ducks,” which, in spite of the calumny of the ages, are not varnished at all, but covered with an edible coating made of red rice,

“Swung securely at their tether, Dancing merrily together”

to the clash of a neighboring brass shop, where numerous little scrubby-headed apprentices were pounding out heavy, beautifully proportioned brass bowls – unconscious works of art – to be sold at sixty-five cents each!”

Excerpts, Pages 153-155:

“The abbot of the Temple of the Grotto wore summer raiment which, for brevity, quite outclassed anything attempted in that direction by Napoleon of the houseboat; for it consisted of a pair of short trunks, a pair of slippers, and a fan. Having reached the age of sixty-two the previous spring, he had retired, leaving the active duties of the temple to the old soldier and others. When the weather was fine he spent the afternoon and half the night in a comfortable wicker chair in the courtyard, smoking his water pipe and looking at the sky. On finding that I was no more fond of going to bed early when the nights were fine than himself, he produced another comfortable wicker chair and invited me to share the moonlight and his water pipe with him. So frequently during the calm Oriental nights we sat there in the temple court – half-naked Buddhist priest on one side, an American on the other, and a Chinese “boy” squatting in the shadows of the doorway, ready to do the translating that would be necessary.”

* * * *
“At that moment the abbot removed the bubbling water pipe from his lips and began to speak. I leaned forward in the wicker chair listening to the rhythmic syllables that followed each other in dignified progression from the lips of the deepest theosophic meaning! I might be trembling on the verge of some profound Buddhist mystery! The voice ceased.

“What,” I asked, in as even a tone as possible, “what did the Chee Foo say?”

“He say,” answered Ah Chow, “this year potato crop very good.”

“I smiled; but I was not smiling at the old abbot , who had refilled the tiny bowl of his pipe and was again smoking placidly in the moonlight. I was smiling at an American who, after four intimate months among the everyday Chinese, was still looking for strangeness and complexity where there was so much more genuineness and simplicity. After that I abandoned the intricacies of Chinese religion and asked the abbot about the island.”

Dust Jacket Blurb (from front flap of Hilltops In Galilee):

“A travel book about China which is remarkable in a number of ways. Not only is it a volume filled to overflowing with odd and unusual facts and descriptions, written in an admirable style, but it contains reproductions in color of eight paintings by the author. Mr. Speakman has succeeded to a large degree, it would seem, in reaching the heart of China, so far as it is given to any Caucasian; and not only has he conveyed something of this in words, but he has brought by means of the pictures a splendid visualization of life in Interior China. It is hard to choose for the purpose of praise between the word-painting of Mr. Speakman and the paintings he has done in oils. The writing is colorful, and so are the paintings reproduced in the book. Indeed the charm of delicate color and line achieved by the artist is the most notable feature of this contribution to Occidental knowledge of Chinese life.” – The Detroit News