Fun in A Chinese
These five Chinese boys (except the one whose ear is being pulled) are
having fine fun. The Fu-tse, or old teacher, has gone out of the room
for a few minutes to fill his tobacco pouch. Let us look round and see
what kind of school-rooms they have in China, and how the pupils study.
The boys in this case are all of one family, and the old gentleman is
their private tutor. He is white-bearded and shaven-pated, and has
rather long finger-nails, as the fashion is in China among those who do
not have to work with their hands. Long finger-nails with them are like
white hands and tapering fingers among us.
The floor of the room is of stone set in squares like a checker-board.
It is very pleasant and cool in summertime, and in all weathers the lads
keep on their velvet and maple-wood shoes. These are thick-soled and
warm, slightly turned up at the end, but do not "draw" the feet, as our
leather or rubber shoes do. The three younger boys wear embroidered
coats. All except the "baby" have plaits of hair on the side of the
head; but the little fellow, who is not yet six years old, still wears
the very young child's circle of hair.
Every day or so their heads are neatly shaved; and when they are twelve
years old, there will be a family party, and each one will lose his
boyish locks, and begin to raise a "pigtail," or queue, which hangs down
his back. Then they will feel as proud as our boys when they sport their
first attempt at a mustache.
The walls of the school-room are plain, but are not complete without the
usual picture of the bamboo swaying in the wind or soughing in the
moonlight. The Chinese have thousands of stanzas and ditties of which
the graceful bamboo is the subject.
Notice the tables: they are of hard polished wood, with colored marble
tops. The seats are of round hollow wood, with leather tops. They look
like ginger jars with paper covers. On these the boys sit while tracing
the characters which we see on real Chinese tea boxes (for those made
in New York are almost always upside down, as if they had turned a
somersault). Every boy must learn from two hundred to ten thousand of
these characters, and many years of hard study are required. Their
books, ink-stones, brush-pens, water-pot, and pen-rests are all on the
table. They use "India" ink, and write with a brush.
In learning their lessons the scholars study out loud, and a Chinese
school-room is a very noisy place, and worse than the buzzing of many
When a boy has learned his lesson he comes to the teacher, and then
"backs his book"; that is, he hands his book to the instructor, and then
turns his back, so as not to see the page or face of the teacher, and
then recites. At the same time he holds out two of his fingers, first of
one hand and then of the other, beating them up and down alternately,
like a music leader beating time.
The boys in the picture have become tired of so much sitting; so, as
soon as the cat leaves the room, the mice begin to play. One of them
mounts the table, taking the master's wooden seat with him. On this he
poses himself, foot over knee, and dons Fu-tse's hat, on which is the
crystal button and horse-hair plume, of which all dignified men are very
proud. He quickly anchors the huge goggle spectacles astride his nose,
with the aid of the guy-ropes around his ears, seizes the empty pipe in
one hand, and with fan in the other, calls out to the oldest boy to
"back his book."
The big boy begins to see-saw his fingers up and down, and to bawl out
his lesson, but quickly turns round to see the fun. The next oldest boy
is pulling the ears of "the baby," who squeals out, while the boy on the
floor, who pretends to be in disgrace, and can not rise, calls on the
teacher to speak to the mischievous urchin.
But the old Fu-tse has heard the squealing and the racket, and is
hurrying along the corridor to see what is the matter.
What will be done? There will be no rattan or ruler used, or ears boxed,
but each one will receive a lecture on propriety, and an extra lesson.
The bigger boys will be ordered to learn fifty new characters, and the
smaller ones will each have a longer copy to write after school.