Below will be found an interesting letter from brother I. J. Roberts of the China Mission.
Canton, China, May 22d, 1837.
Rev. R. B. C. Howell,
My Dear Brother, - I arrived safely at this place on the 5th inst. Having pleasantly spent seventeen days here in the American Hong No 2. I am now about returning to Macao, 80 miles below at the mouth of the river. I have made some excursions of observation both on the water and in the out side city. Many families live on the water in boats. The women in these boats are not of the shamefaced kind who have little feet and are ashamed to be seen; but, rather like our American Indian squaws, they lash their children to their backs and do the chief of the drudgery, especially the rowing of the family boat is almost entirely
their work. It looks somewhat novel to see one of these women standing up rowing her boat with her child lashed to her back the motion of which is at once its cradle and its lullaby. Of its danger the little creature is unaware. Children, however, soon learn to be fearless, it is not uncommon to see one or two children rowing a boat by themselves over deep water, that are not more than from four to seven years of age.
In the streets a foreigner who behaves himself and does not wander too far from the Hongs, is generally treated kind and politely. Though the natives here do not as readily give him the road as the Malays in Batavia do, nor do I presume they would acknowledge their claims to it were he to prefer such.
The narrowness of the streets from 3 feet to 3 yards wide; the passing and repassing of Sedan chairs in which natives only are permitted to ride, and which takes up the principal portion of the street; there is no other kind of carriages - the frequent passing and repassing of coolies with their burthens, to whom we must give the best portion of the street; the frequent solicitation of beggars for a 'cumshaw'. (present;) and the importunity with which one is frequently teased by the Chinese traders to deal with them; form annoyances, some one of which a person is certain to meet with if he goes into the streets at all.
Their workmanship in ivory, horn, bone, etc., certainly excels any thing that I have ever seen in America. Their ivory fans, ladies' work boxes, gentleman's seals, etc., are very neatly carved, but especially their ivory balls, having five or six, one within another, are quite a curiosity - all of which are very cheap. Clothes also are very cheap, I have bought fine summer suits, coats, waistcoats and pantaloons, for 18 dollars.
Their paintings much exceed my anticipations, not only in imitation of other pictures but they devise, draw and paint very good portraits. The generosity of one of the best portrait painters at this place is worthy of note, little to be expected in a Chinaman, who does “chiu chiu josh>,” and consequently can be actuated from no higher principles than those which pervade our selfish nature. He takes the portraits of those who have large tumors on the face and other parts gratis, previous to Dr. Parker's cutting out the
tumors, and says, "you no charge for cutting, how can 1 charge for painting." In one of their shops they had several paintings of Washington, one very well executed, the others tolerable. I pointed to that picture among many others, and observed, that is the American big man - mandarin, you from America? that American now Josh.” As they say, Josh was a great man, a warrior, is now gone to the skies, and worship him: it is difficult to make them understand the difference between Washington and Jesus Christ. They call both “the American, man Josh.” [They are not very particular in making possessive cases in their broken dialect.]
On yesterday visited Dr. Parker's hospital, and saw him dress two cases, both of which I saw him operate upon, one for a hair lip upwards of two weeks since, the other for a tumor on the face, not one week ago. They were both nearly well, had healed with extraordinary rapidity. The good that Dr. Parker is doing among the Chinese in this way is giving him, and the rest of us who are his coadjutors, a deserved popularity among them.
My health and spirits are very good, and I am truly glad that I have come to China. With all my experience before me, were I at home in Mississippi again enjoying all the luxuries of life, nothing but death should keep me from coming again; nor is there any earthly consideration that could induce me to return to live. God has done great things for me, whereof I am truly glad, and this is the way I am trying to show it by forsaking all and endeavoring to do great things for my fellow men and women - the Chinese.
I beg an interest in your prayers and your correspondence. I wish to be remembered affectionately to your lady and any enquiring friends. I should be gratified to have a copy of the minutes of your last Association, also a copy of the minutes of your last state Convention.
Bro. Shuck, at Macao has had the pleasure of baptizing one Chinaman, perhaps the first who has ever been immersed in this whole nation since that divine ordinance was instituted. I have just arrived in time to sustain him in his work. He was alone as to Baptist coadjutors, and needs
and desires assistance. I think my prospects for usefulness here, with the blessing of the Lord, fully as flattering as anticipated. Yours most affectionately in
&nbs;I. J. ROBERTS
[From Robert Boyte C. Howell, editor, The Baptist Journal, February, 1838, pp. 53-56; via Google Books On-line. [ ] show corrections to the document. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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