View Full Version : Adventure of a US Girl in Ancient China (8)

August 31st, 2015, 01:21 PM
Chapter 8

Two local yamen bailiffs escorted them to the destination. The two men rented a simple covered wagon drawn by a mule, together with the driver. The simple covered wagon was thus made: with a wooden bottom, a thick mat made of woven dry reeds with two ends bent down to be fixed on both sides of the wagon so that someone could sit under it, looking like a small short tunnel, each entrance covered with a piece of cloth curtain. It was because they were a girl and a boy that they could ride in such a wagon. If they had been two men, they should walk while the yamen bailiffs rode along to watch over them.
They set out early in the morning. The emperor’s order was that the girl should not be ill-treated. It was not her fault that she got the punishment, which she could not avoid because it was the law. She was involved through her husband. Besides, the empress dowager insisted on banishing her so that she would be as far away as possible from the emperor. The emperor still had some good feelings toward her. So no one dared to ill-treat her. Generally the female exiles would be handcuffed and the male exiles would wear both handcuffs and fetters. But no such things were put on Linda.
They traveled slowly on the thoroughfare. It was a long journey to that region, no need to hurry. Even if they hastened, anything could happen on their way that might delay their trip. Generally the exiles would have a time limit set by the distance, say, three months, to reach their destination. But for Linda there was no time limit and she was also allowed to take her own things with her. So she had jewelry and paper money. The paper money of that time in China was totally different from that of nowadays. They were certainly not printed. There were many banks, called money stores in ancient China, in almost every big city. They issued the paper money written by hand with bank seals on each piece. The bearers could redeem them in any banks other than the one issued them. People in small towns or villages should go to the big cities for the redemption. But in some places far from those big cities, people could refuse to take the paper money. The paper money was written in big sums. The least was ten taels of silver. But it saved people trouble and strength to carry heavy silver and gold when traveling. So people accepted this as currency, though it was not issued by the government.
Since Linda had money, she could well afford to rent a nice carriage, but the two yamen bailiffs advised that they should travel like poor people so that the robbers would not attack them. What was the use of the two yamen bailiffs? Generally the robbers would outnumber the armed defenders. So it was wise not to show one’s wealth and pretended poverty.
Every night they would stay in a lodging house built by the local government. Only those traveling on government business could lodge there and did not have to pay for it. To escort two law-offenders was the government business and the two yamen bailiffs were given money, though very little, for expenses on the way, by their local government. If they missed a lodging house, they had to stay in some private inn and pay for it out of their own pocket. Generally the law-offenders, if not poor, would pay for everything on the way. In this case, the yamen bailiffs could embezzle the money given by the local government. It was open secret and as the money was very little, no one cared.
They moved forth like on a sightseeing tour. Since all the concerned persons knew that the emperor had a preference for the girl, they half-closed their eyes to whatever she wanted to do. One day they came to a small town in Henan Province. A passer-by told them that they could go to a wedding feast not far from here. The host would give food to everyone coming, no matter invited or not. It was the custom here. So they went to the big house with wedding ornaments hanging everywhere. They seated themselves at a round table and began to attack the food on it.
Soon the bride came in a red palanquin with the musicians walking in front and her relatives behind. The palanquin resembled a miniature Chinese pavilion with a decorated roof and a sturdy wooden bottom with a wooden board as the back wall, two wooden sides, each with a small curtained window, and a curtain in the front doorway. Generally when the bride got to the front door of the bridegroom’s house, an old woman acting as the bride-receiver would pull aside the front curtain to let the bride step out. There were two poles attached to both sides for the shoulders of the carriers. The bride would sit inside it on a plank set into the sides.
The procession now lasted half a kilometer. In general a red cloth would cover the head of the bride, who had a bridal knot hairdo on the skull with a gold hairpin piercing through the knot. But this time when the palanquin stopped in the front courtyard, no one stepped out of it. Instead, an old woman reached her hand in and took out a piece of wood with a girl’s name written on it. It was a memorial tablet for a dead person. The girl with the name on it was dead. If the name of the dead person was engraved on a stone tablet, which would set in front of the grave, it was called the gravestone. But now the name was written on a wooden tablet, which was called a memorial tablet. All the memorial tablets of a family would put in a special room, lined up on a long table, if the family was not a poor one. If the family was very rich, a family temple would separately be built up for that purpose.
The old woman now held the tablet in both hands and walked solemnly into the hall, where the ceremony was supposed to take place. Linda looked in and saw another old woman holding another tablet. One of the two yamen bailiffs told her that the other tablet represented the dead boy. Linda thought how ridiculous it was for the two dead persons to get married. But later she was told that it was also the custom. The two families were friends and had wanted to marry the boy and the girl if they had still been alive. But unfortunately both were deceased. So the families married them according to the custom. It was believed that they would be husband and wife in the nether world after the holy matrimony.
Next day they crossed the Yellow River on a ferry boat and went further south. One day they entered Hunan Province. Every province in China is like a state in America. The Yangtze River flows through this province.
One night, they stayed in an inn at the roadside. They occupied two rooms, one for Linda and the other for the two men and the boy. Late in the night or very early in the morning, Linda heard the ringing of a bell outside, coming nearer and nearer. She was curious and got up to look through the window facing the road. Someone was ringing a bell and chanting something like magic words simultaneously. He was leading a procession towards another inn across the road. The weird thing was that all the men in the procession looked stiff when moving. They did not look like walking, but like leaping forth step by step. Everyone had a yellow piece of paper stuck on the face. The normal person at the head of the procession led the way into that opposite inn. Then all was silence. Nothing else happened.
Next morning as they started on their way, she asked the two men escorting her about what she had seen last night. One of them answered, “We have a strange custom in this area. It is called ‘leading corpse’. Someone in this district has a power to make the corpse go with him by ringing his bell and chanting his magic words. When a person died far away from home, the family does not want to put the corpse in a coffin to be carried back. For it costs more money. The family just pays a little money to the person and asks him to ‘lead’ or ‘drive’ the corpse home. Then he waits till there are a few more corpses. Before he starts, he puts a piece of yellow paper on the face of each corpse so that no one can see the unnatural stiff face with eyes shut. He uses magic words to move the corpses into a single file and leads them in the direction he wants them to go. The procession always moves by night and stays put by day so that the stiff movement of the corpses won’t scare people. There are special inns for the corpses on the roads he frequents. Once the corpses get into that kind of inn, he makes them stand against the walls in an empty room set aside for that purpose and he himself goes to another room for a sleep. He will lead the corpses individually to his home and collects the money and goes his way.”
Linda thought that it was an incredible story, but she had just witnessed it herself. Many things were so weird about this country. She decided that she should be ready to accept anything strange on her way to her terra incognita in the remote region.