In A Strange World
The home of Mr. and Mrs. Crawford for the first two months was with Rev. J. L. Shuck and his three motherless children. It was indeed a strange world in which they found themselves. Strange sights, sounds and odors met them everywhere and filled them with a sense of far-away helplessness. Their only refuge was in the companionship of their fellow missionaries, who had preceded them a few years, and little Nettie Shuck, then eleven years old, who alone had time to be their constant companion and guide. She could interpret for them; her aid was invaluable, and they ever felt that to her was due a debt of gratitude which could never be repaid.
Shanghai, the most northerly of the five treaty ports then open to foreign residence, situated in the great fertile, populous Yang Tsze valley, which is intersected throughout its length and breadth by a system of navigable canals, was considered the most desirable of these ports for the occupancy of missionaries and merchants. The foreign settlement was begun in 1843, the year after the treaty of Nankin, among grave mounds, ditches, ponds, cotton patches and rice fields, north of the city wall, along the west bank of the Hwong Poo River. It was in 1852 a straggling town of many nationalities, growing up in the midst of a vast native population, constantly augmented by traders from all parts of the empire. Each party being unable, in the main, to understand the language, ways and feelings of the others, the whole was throbbing with hopes, fears and suspicions, no one knowing what a day or night might bring forth. The merchants of the English-speaking portion of the community, being chiefly single men, and the missionaries young married couples, and all alike recent arrivals, everything was in the experimental or formative stage. Such were the conditions under which the Crawfords began their life in China.
The Southern Baptist mission in Shanghai was opened in the autumn of 1847 by Messrs. Yates, Toby and Shuck and their wives. At the time of the arrival of the Crawfords it consisted of
Messrs. Yates and Pearcy and their wives, Mr. Shuck and Miss Baker, the Tobys having returned to the United States and Mrs. Shuck having died the previous November. Of other missions there were then Southern Methodist, two families; Northern Presbyterian, two families; Seventh Day Baptist, two families; American Episcopal, two families, two single gentlemen and three single ladies; London Mission, three families and two single gentlemen; English Episcopal, one family. Some lived in the foreign settlement, others in various places among the native population.
According to the prevailing custom, the gentlemen of the new arrivals were expected to call first on the resident missionaries, after which these would in return call on Mrs. Crawford. In a few days Messrs. Shuck and Yates led the way and thus the newcomers soon formed the acquaintance of all their fellow-laborers, with some of whom they made strong and helpful friendships. While still at Mr. Shuck's, Mr. and Mrs. Crawford each had an attack of illness, one from the damp malarial climate, the other from the effects of the sea voyage. The mission, prior to their arrival, had rented a large double house, called Yah Joh Loong, in the southern part of the native city. One half was already occupied by Miss Baker, the other half was awaiting repairs for the residence of the Crawfords. A murder having long before been committed in this house, it was believed to be haunted; and as no native would dare to live in it, the rent was moderate. The two portions of the establishment, each with its on courts and ventilators, were separated by an ornamental wall, pierced by a large doorway with elaborate molding. A great hall on the Crawford side, taking up much of the space on the ground floor, was surrounded by pillars, between which were rows of carved lattice doors, beautifully varnished. These, with many other doors and windows, numbered in all about seventy. The ventilators, called air wells, were tiny courts about six feet square, inclosed by walls extending to the eaves, with large windows on two sides. No wonder the house seemed haunted, for the voices of the city, collecting in the ventilators, and the wind hissing and howling through the lattice work all around the establishment, produced most weird and unaccountable noises.
The repairs, though not extensive, made a tedious and trying job for Mr. Crawford, notwithstanding the valuable aid rendered him by the senior missionaries. In spite of delays by sickness and repairs, they entered their strange home on the 24th of May, 1852. Mr. Crawford for many years before his marriage, while procuring his education, was without any fixed abode, and since his marriage
had been on the wing more than fourteen months. Now they had reached the end of their journey, the field of their choice, and a home among the people for whose salvation they had dedicated their lives. They were very happy and never forgot the calm, restful feeling experienced during their first few days at Yah Joh Loong.
All things being now ready, they began the work of housekeeping and the study of the language, which, under the circumstances, made anything but smooth sailing. The cook, a raw, good-natured young countryman, had taken a few lessons from Mr. Shuck's servant, but he learned very slowly, and the young housekeeper often found herself in most perplexing dilemmas. Ludicrous mistakes in ordering one article for another, occasionally convulsed them with laughter, on coming to the table and finding what was prepared for them. The young housekeeper was too busy with the study of the language to spend much time in the kitchen. But things grew better as she and the cook gradually learned to understand one another. Fortunately their house woman, the wife of a deaf man, had attained such skill in sign-making that they often boasted that she could sign out an abstract idea. Still, whenever missionary friends called to see them, they had a large stock of interpreting in store for them. One such incident made a lasting impression on their minds. A carpenter, delaying to finish a needed article of furniture, Mr. Crawford requested Mr. Pearcy to inquire the reason of the delay. The carpenter replied that the drought had made it impossible to varnish it sooner. Not then knowing that Chinese varnish, to dry properly, must be put on in rainy weather, Mr. Crawford said, "Please tell him that is the way Adam did, when he sinned; he threw the blame on his wife." A vivid impression ever remained of Mr. Pearcy's patience in laboring to explain to the dazed carpenter who Adam and Eve were; how they had been created by the true God and placed in the Garden of Eden; and how, through the temptation of the devil, they had eaten the forbidden fruit; and how they, when called to account before the Lord, had thrown the blame on some one else.
This occurrence was often recalled, when interpreting for new comers. The puzzled young missionary, seeing five minutes consumed in translating a sentence, sometimes asks, "Does the Chinese language require such circumlocution to express so simple an idea?" The answer is, "No, but the hearer needs a great many explanations before he can comprehend your meaning."
Their first teacher of the language, Mr. Zaw, lent them by Mr.
Pearcy during his absence for the summer, was a corpulent, lazy, thick-tongued man, without teaching ability. He would sit stupidly waiting for the learners to lead the way, though they could neither ask a question nor frame a sentence. There were then in Chinese no Lessons for beginners, no phrase books, no old missionary near to help out of the difficulty. Their only resource was an English-and-Chinese Dictionary to which they could turn. With that help, however, they managed to plod on for a couple of months. By that time Mr. Zaw's inefficiency had become so intolerable that they employed another teacher, Mr. Nee, to give them lessons at night. Fortunately he proved the opposite of Zaw, being a man of active mind, distinct enunciation and fine perceptions. Under his instruction they made rapid progress, and as soon as possible engaged his full time permanently, gladly returning Mr. Zaw to Mr. Pearcy.
During their first summer in China, a drought occurred which threatened a famine. A famine in China is a fearful experience, bringing a host of evils in its train, and is dreaded alike by all from the emperor to the street beggar. The poor, reduced to want, steal; then join in bands to rob the rich, thus producing a state of general anarchy. Under this dread the officials went out in state to pray for rain. The people gathered in long processions, paraded the streets with garlands of willow bows twined around their heads, visited the temples and burned incense. Taking out the rain god in a large sedan, they placed him in an open field to be scorched by the blazing sun and to be cursed by the crowd for his indifference to their prayers. All in vain! A fast was finally proclaimed by the authorities, during which no animal could be slaughtered. Those who had no store of meat at home were obliged to content themselves with a vegetable diet, and thus nolens volens, join in the fast. One morning, on going in to breakfast, Mr. and Mrs. Crawford detected a disagreeable odor coming from the table, and found that, as no lard could be procured, the eggs had been fried in the crude bean oil used in lamps.
As the drought continued, the heat increased day after day. Their house fronted on a street about ten feet wide, and their only open space was a small open court enclosed by walls reaching the roof. The rooms on the ground floor being too close and damp for health, they occupied only those above stairs, which were so low one could almost touch the ceiling with the hand. The heat became so intense that it threw Mrs. Crawford into a fever, and for several days she lay tossing on her couch. But finally the longed-for shower came. While she lay there she watched the great drops as
they fell on the scorched, porous tiles covering a side room. A large drop would fall, a puff of steam would rise up, and the place would immediately appear as dry as ever. But drop after drop continued to fall upon the same spot, until finally the tiles began to show signs of moisture. Gradually they became quite wet and at last little rills of water flowed down between the rows. So, thought she, must the gospel have time to saturate the hearts of these heathen people. Sermon after sermon, exhortation upon exhortation, line upon line, must be given them, though they may still seem as hard as ever; for the same law holds good in the spiritual as in the natural world, and results will as surely follow causes at the proper time. Thus they took courage for the work before them.
A few hours after the rain the fever was gone. Mr. Yates having called to see them, remained until the shower was over, and gave them a kind invitation to spend the next day at his house, which they gladly accepted. He lived outside the city, surrounded in part by open fields, while his front yard was brilliant with green grass, bright flowers and two lovely trees. They were greatly refreshed by this visit, realizing more than ever the necessity of having occasional glimpses of green fields, blue skies and a distant horizon. The hottest part of the summer being over and the dread of famine being dispelled by the rain, they addressed themselves with renewed vigor to the study of the language.
Go to Chapter 7
[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909, chapter 6; reformatted and reprinted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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