Bridge, Cyprian A.G. "An excursion in Formosa." Fortnightly Review n.s. 20 [= Vol. 26 old series] (1876): 214-222.

[P. 214] A bulwark of islands, single and in groups, protects−like some great system of natural fortification−the eastern shore of Asia. Beginning at the southern extremity of Kamschatka, this chain of advanced works extends beyond the Northern Tropic. At first come the Kurile Islands, then the Japanese group, then the Linschotten Isles, the Loochooan Archipelago, and the Meiaco-sima group resting, as on a flank defence, on the great island of Formosa. There is nothing fanciful in this comparison of the long line of islands, that is interposed between the Asiatic coast and the broad expanse of the North Pacific, to a protective fortification. Behind this screen the ports of China from Amoy to the Yellow Sea enjoy an almost, if not quite, perfect immunity from that terrible scourge of the Eastern seas, the dreaded typhoon.(1) Round the right flank of the line they sweep with unbroken fury, and, repulsed by the lofty mountains of Formosa, carry havoc and dismay to Hong-Kong and Macao on the southern coast of China. Thus this great island fills in the geography of the Far East a position commensurate with its physical characteristics, and with the interest with which it has long been regarded.

Few names have been more correctly bestowed. Formosa is indeed majestic in its beauty. It may be regarded as a fortunate event in the history of geographical nomenclature that its sponsors were early Spanish navigators, who inherited a sense of the beautiful and the romantic with their southern blood. The seas about are studded with the uncouth patronymics of rival Dutch explorers, which throw into brighter contrast this well-deserved appellation. A line of Alpine heights runs along the island in the interior. On the west this splendid range sinks into an extensive plain, fertile and rich in streams, which has received a multitude of industrious colonists from the neighbouring Chinese province of Foh-kien. There these colonists have built cities and have turned the country into a garden. But where the mountains begin, their occupation ceases; and the eastern part of the island, abrupt and mountainous to the very shore, is inhabited by tribes of savages who still live in unreclaimed barbarism. The territory in the possession of the [p. 215] Chinese stretches across the northern end of the island from sea to sea; but its extent on the Pacific shore is very limited, and may be said to end at the sea-port of Kelung.

Coasting along the eastern side the voyager is repeatedly struck by the magnificence of the scenery. The central range rises to a height of above 12,000 feet; whilst between it and the water are mountains of an elevation at least half as great. Their outline is at once beautiful and fantastic. Domes, and peaks, and wall-like precipices succeed each other in striking variety. A brilliant verdure clothes their sides, down which dash cascades that shine like silver in the tropical sunlight. Occasionally on rounding a headland a deep gorge is revealed, and in the shadow cast by the enclosing heights can be dimly discerned the outlines of a native village.

A short excursion made into the country near Kelung enabled me to see many of the beauties of the island. It was undertaken chiefly with a view to visit the coal-mines which abound in that part, and to form some idea of the manner of working them and of transporting the coal to the coast for exportation. As May had already begun, and as the weather was hotter than was pleasant for travelling on foot in the middle of the day, a start was made in the early morning. Soon after six o'clock I landed with one companion on the little island which forms the eastern side of the harbour, and to which Europeans have given the name of Palm Island. On it there are two villages, one inhabited exclusively by Chinese, and the other by a mixed race of Chinese and Peppy-hoans, a tribe of natives less barbarous than their fellows who here, at least, have to some extent coalesced with the colonists from the mainland.

Our landing took place at the nearest point of the former village. On our way we passed several of the inhabitants engaged in fishing in sampans, or Chinese boats, which seemed like rude copies of those found at Amoy, and at all other places to which the roving natives of Foh-kien migrate. We were received by a respectable concourse of the remaining villagers. It was soon evident that Europeans were not frequent visitors, as whenever we encountered women or the younger children they fled to their houses at first sight of us. The men, and some dozen valiant little urchins of more mature age, perhaps eight or ten years, exhibited no signs of alarm or even of surprise, and seemed anxious to show us every civility. The former, in several cases, came forward and offered us their long bamboo pipes to smoke; whilst the latter, with that inexpressible love of fun so characteristic of Chinese children, did their best to heighten the terrors of their younger companions by shouting loudly at any who exhibited signs of fear at our approach.

Fishing villages in any part of the world are seldom remarkable [p. 216] for cleanliness; and a Chinese fishing-village might be expected to surpass all others in abominations of sight and smell. This one, however, of Searle-how seemed an exception to the rule. There was a very remarkable air of comfort and well-being about the place. The boats were numerous and well found. The street was laid out with a fair amount of regularity. The inhabitants were well-dressed, and the women, all tottering on their poor crushed feet, wore many ornaments. A temple of considerable size occupied a prominent position, and, strange to say, it was comparatively clean and in good repair, whilst, still stranger, an attendant was positively engaged in sweeping and in generally embellishing the paved space in front of the central door. Early as it was, voices of small Chinese scholars learning their lessons came from a wing of the building on the right. The houses were well built, comfortable, and cleanly [sic]. As a rule one plan was followed. A large central building, generally of neatly cut blocks of the sandstone of which the island is formed, ran parallel to the road-way; from it a wing jutted out at right angles at either end; the whole house thus forming three sides of a square. In the central building was a large hall containing, right opposite the door, the family altar and the shrine of the household deities. This seemed to be the principal living room of the dwelling; the wings were chiefly used as storehouses. We were civilly invited by signs to enter and inspect one of the best of the houses, and were even tempted by the offer of chairs; but as we had some distance to go, we declined the friendly invitation. In front of the village was a noble tree, throwing a vast shade around it, under which the whole village might assemble.

The other village was on the same beach, a few hundred yards further on. Behind both there was much cultivated land, many plots being laid out as vegetable gardens and rice-fields. The high style of Chinese cultivation was everywhere noticeable, as also the rarer sight of well-kept fences and hedges. The houses at this latter place were not so large nor so well-built as those at Searle-how. Many were constructed of wooden frames filled in with fragments of coral from the beach, but in design they were almost exactly similar. Here also in front of the village was a magnificent tree of even nobler proportions than the other. Its trunk was a gnarled and knotted mass bound and overlaid with the stems of innumerable creepers. Beneath a vertical sun it would cast a shadow considerably over a hundred feet in diameter; whilst so thick was its foliage that not a ray could penetrate it.

The Peppy-hoan villagers bore some resemblance to their Chinese neighbours. They had adopted the Chinese dress, and the men had shaven heads and the regular queue. The women, on the contrary, dressed their hair in a different fashion, tying it up in a loose knot behind with some bright-coloured cord. Their feet too were bare [p. 217] and as nature had formed them. They were a tall fine-looking people. The men had a sturdier, more manly air than is common amongst Chinamen, whilst the women could boast a stature and a stateliness of figure almost unknown amongst their Chinese sisters. Handsome faces were not common; their complexions somewhat resembled those of the lighter-skinned Chinese, though they were decidedly of a fresher hue than those of the yellow-visaged nation. The type of feature was unmistakably Mongolian. The island is separated from the main-land by a narrow strait, through which there was a boiling tide rushing at the time of our visit. We tried to engage a boat to cross it, but it was intimated to us by signs that the owners were away. At length a boat of large size deeply laden was seen coming through the strait with the tide. We called out to the boatmen, and made them understand our wish to be ferried across. With some little difficulty in that swift current they succeeded in picking us up, and landing us at a pretty little bay on the opposite shore. There were four men in the boat, all Chinese. When we landed we offered them a small sum of money as our fare; to our astonishment they civilly but firmly refused to accept it, though they must have been considerably delayed in their voyage, and two of them had actually got into the water and stood in it up to their waists to assist us in landing.

The scenery of the main-land was very fine. Even the views we had had on our way up the coast had not at all prepared us for it. The copious moisture of the tropical climate was apparent in the rich luxuriance of the vegetation. The varied outlines of the heights which rose on either side told of earthquakes and of a volcanic region. Inland from the head of the little bay to which we had been brought across ran a narrow valley, through which water had at some time evidently forced its way. On each hand were tokens of a great upheaval. The strata dipped steeply towards the west; and the edges of the seams of rock were scored and eaten away by the action of the water. Yellow sandstone and masses of coralline limestone abounded. The former exhibited in the little promontories and points that jutted out into the sea the strangest forms. Blocks of the soft stone stood upright near the water's edge, and here and there they were rounded off and scraped away near the lower part till they looked like gigantic mushrooms, or huge egg-cups or wine-glasses, or took some other quaint shape. In some cases so exact was the resemblance to these objects that it was difficult to believe that art had not been called in to aid nature in fashioning them.

The bottom of the valley was laid out in rice-plots. The rice had been recently transplanted, and each plant had a clear space around it of several inches. The surface of the ground was covered to a slight depth with water. The brilliant green of the young rice [p. 218] formed a charming contrast to the more sombre foliage of the shrubs and trees which half hid the steep cliffs on both sides of the valley. The number and beauty of the wild-flowers were extraordinary. We were first struck by a convolvulus of enormous size, of a rich violet hue striped with crimson, which covered the bank by the side of which the path ran. Then a white lily of exquisite shape and delicate perfume delighted us. Orchids of varied colours fringed the pathway. A graceful creeper with a tiny lilac blossom trailed along the narrow strip of sward that edged the rice-field on our right. A cottage or two lay half-hidden behind a hedge of bamboo and screw-pine, above which waved the graceful leaves of the plantain-tree. A splendid variety of tree-fern, like a dwarf palm, grew in great profusion. A variety of willow is a common object in most Chinese villages, and some of the delicately-leaved trees, which we met with in our further progress, bore no inconsiderable resemblance to the aspen.

At the head of the valley we came upon the sea. A sandy beach swept round with a wide curve towards the east, beneath a line of almost perpendicular sandstone cliffs. Midway along it was a little hamlet of fishermen's cottages. Some of the inhabitants were on the beach repairing their boats and nets. Imitating in pantomimic action the occupation of coal-miners, we asked, and were readily shown the way to the pits. Our road lay by the shore beneath the cliffs, then round the headland which they formed. A geologist would have been charmed with the scene laid open to our view. At the water's edge were numberless rocky pinnacles, and cup-shaped masses like those we had already seen. The beach itself was strewn with boulders in every stage of formation. Some of the sandstone stems were so eaten away by the waves that the globular mass on the summit was ready to fall, others had but recently been broken off, whilst on the ground lay many rolled about to a greater or less degree of sphericity. As the path led round the extremity of the headland, two parallel lines of rock in crystallized blocks, as level and as regular as a tiled footway, ran out for some hundreds of yards into the sea. It was the Giant's Causeway on a larger scale. These long and shapely roads, that almost joined the point on which we stood to another promontory in front of us, were just the edges of strata tilted up from where the sea now flows, and inclining towards the land. On our right or inshore hand great sandstone cliffs towered above us. Superimposed on these was a line of perpendicular coralline limestone, edged at the summit with shrubs and creepers, and presenting, with its buttressed projections, and grey and hoary surface, the appearance of an old castle wall. Indeed, so closely in this did nature resemble art, that we were forced to make a close inspection before we could get rid of the idea that we were actually passing beneath ruined walls. The flowers had followed us [p. 219] still. The giant convolvulus still shone upon the prominences and projections of the cliffs; and the snowy lily grew boldly in clumps far out on the rocks towards the sea.

More rice-fields filled up a narrow plain which succeeded to the cliffs. Then the straggling houses and vegetable gardens of a small village built by the sea-side appeared. The houses came down close to the edge of a snug and picturesque harbour, and many of them stood in the deep shadow of noble trees. Junks and cargo-boats were lying moored close to the shore, and a line of carriers was descending and ascending a steep hill-path, carrying loads to and from the craft below. We soon came upon symptoms of a coal-mining neighbourhood. Heaps of coal, and great masses of "slack" and refuse formed a background to the village between the houses and the surrounding hills. The carriers, who went and came in an endless procession, were bearing baskets of the black mineral, slung from a pole across their shoulders. The bright verdure, the luxuriant tropical shrubs, the smooth sandy beach were soiled by the foul dust from the black heaps that were piled up beneath the hill.

We ascended the path, which was so steep that we almost had to climb. The carriers, nevertheless, came down it fearlessly and with sure foot in spite of their heavy loads. At the summit we saw that the path dropped into a valley, which it crossed between wet rice-fields, and then again mounted a ridge on the other side. This we found, as we went on, was repeated over and over again. In some places so precipitous was the way, that steps were cut in the soft sandstone of the hillside to facilitate the ascent. We encountered still an unbroken stream of carriers with their loads; though diverging paths showed that they came from mines in different quarters.

These continuously succeeding valleys revealed the volcanic nature of the formation, and were evidences of violent convulsions. There was a certain sameness in the features of many. The sides were abrupt, seldom rising above four hundred feet in height; they surrounding ridges were sharp and with a broken sky-line, and the low ground was a kind of floor, flat and level throughout. Yet they were sufficiently unlike to give, as we ascended ridge after ridge, a succession of changing views. The aspect of all was extremely picturesque. The level rice-fields with their emerald-hued plants lay like a brilliant carpet beneath our feet. At one side ran a purling brook, whose murmurs struck softly on the ear. Trees and shrubs of various tints clad the hillsides, while patches of bamboo added further variegation to the foliage, and decked the outline of the heights with groups of graceful forms. The giant convolvulus still clung to the banks and thicker clumps of shrubs; but a brilliant scarlet lily replaced the delicate white one of the sea-shore. Closer inspection was often disappointing. In the rice-fields, wallowing on [p. 220] hands and knees, and kneading the liquid mud about the plants, were Chinese peasants engaged in the revolting rice-culture. By the side of the streams were huge heaps of refuse coal, which stained the waters to dinginess. The tropical(2) air was warm and moist, and fragments of cloud hung about the higher peaks around us. At first sight these valleys reminded us of sunken craters, such as Agnano, near Naples, or still more the picturesque peninsula of Uraga in Japan. Perhaps there is almost sacrilege in the latter comparison, for in that lonely land, if anywhere, are:

" More pellucid streams,
An ampler ether, a diviner air,
And fields invested with purpureal gleams."(3)

The road of the coal-carriers was long and troublesome. Carrying a heavy load for at least four miles, as those who came from some of the mines were doing, up and down steep hills in such an atmosphere and such a temperature, must have been superlatively distressing. Many of them bore a forked stick on which they rested at their halts−the pole to which their coal-baskets were slung. These halts were, however, infrequent. Here and there in some sequestered nook, some umbrageous fold in the hillside, an enterprising Chinaman had established a little tea-house, and in front of it a knot of carriers stopped to refresh themselves. Elsewhere there were stalls beneath an awning of mats for the sale of sweetmeats, or bits of sugar-cane.

The mines were worked in a most primitive fashion. A hole, not much bigger than would be necessary to admit one person, was dug horizontally into the side of the steep face of a hill. Into this a miner carried a shallow flexible basket, and when he had scraped it full, he dragged it out with a rope, and transferred its contents to the two baskets which the carriers use. The coal was of two descriptions: a lustrous, black, bituminous sort, and a brittle, dull, yellow kind which came out in small lumps, and abounded in sulphur and iron pyrites. The slack and refuse was cast forth from the pit's mouth to lie where it might. By this rude method of raising it a considerable quantity of the mineral is brought into the market. It is believed that as much as ten thousand tons have been raised in a single year. A rude estimate of the capabilities of the present mines, as now worked, fixes the possible out-put at one hundred tons a day, the actual amount being assumed on fairly good data, as one thousand piculo, or about half. The great customers of the Kelung miners are the factories and furnaces of the Chinese naval [p. 221] arsenal near Foo-Chow. A considerable quantity also is exported in junks, for household use, at other ports in China. The Government has at length become alive to the important source of wealth which lies hidden in the coal-fields of Northern Formosa. Four English miners arrived just before my visit to the island, to instruct the native colliers, and an engineer, who had already inspected the mines, was in England purchasing the requisite machinery for mining on Chinese Government account. The local officials had issued a proclamation desiring the inhabitants to treat the foreigners with civility; a mandate which, in the case of a casual visitor−judging only from my own experience−was quite uncalled for. The same authority has also intimated that the Government only proposes to open new mines, and not in any way to interfere with the working of those previously dug.

This will undoubtedly very considerably modify the position of the aboriginal savages of Formosa. The increase of the commercial importance of Kelung will mean the extension of Chinese occupation along the eastern coast. Already, thanks to the action of the Japanese Government, which nearly caused a war between it and that of China, a Chinese garrison is stationed at Sauo Bay, some way south of Kelung harbour. In a few years, probably, these wild tribes, who have so long preserved a primeval barbarism on the very borders of a most ancient civilisation, will be surrounded by patient and industrious Chinamen, cut off from the sea, and driven to the mountains of the interior, there to disappear before the Mongolian race, as the Red men have before the Anglo-Saxon.

At the foot of a high hill, far up on the sides of which yawned the black mouths of two coal-pits, out of and into which an ant-like stream of miners and carriers unceasingly swarmed, stood a little hamlet of tea-houses, rice-planters' cottages, and a blacksmith's shop. Above it rose a smooth, grassy eminence, which broadened at the summit to an open down. A fair extent of green sward, placed thus amidst the dense foliage of the neighboring hills, heightened considerably the beauty of the landscape. In front of the village ran a little stream, across which was thrown a frail bridge of a single plank, a giddy passage for the laden carriers from the mines. A few huge water buffaloes were feeding in the valley, and the green sward was dotted with swine and goats browsing on the shrubs. A wide plantation of bamboo waved in feathery masses on an opposite height, and hedges of the screw-pine fenced the village gardens behind the houses. Up the face of the green hillock, behind the village, ran our road to the town of Kelung, which the rising temperature warned us it was time to gain.

From the high ground we caught glimpses of distant peaks, and of valleys carpeted with the growing rice. The way, which hitherto had too often been but a mere track upon the summit of a narrow [p. 222] dyke between water-covered fields, was now along a well-made chaussée, neatly paved with stones. It led us beneath jutting crags and eminences crowned with shady copses, and by the side of a swiftly-running stream. Occasionally it dipped down sharply into a narrow ravine, or wound gradually up a steep ascent. At length we descended into an extensive plain; through it flowed the stream we had so long followed, broad and sluggish as a canal. By this stream much of the produce of the mines it brought into the town, and at the head of the navigation lay a small fleet of boats, deep with their sombre cargo. Its banks were so smooth and regular that it had evidently been "canalised" by the industrious people whose patient toil has converted the surrounding country into a garden. An opening in the ridge that seemed to block up the end of the valley enabled us to see the masts of the junks lying in the shallow harbour, and the trees and houses of Kelung. As we approached the town we walked by primly cultivated gardens, and past snug homesteads embowered in trees. We met strings of people carrying back their purchases from the town, and now and then we came upon a gaudily painted sedan-chair borne by two men and carrying a small-footed woman. A little colony of boat-builders occupied a convenient creek just without the town wall, which was visible on our left. Above it showed the fantastic gables and tawdry ornaments of a large joss-house, or temple, the most conspicuous building in the place. A sharp turn to the right brought us past the end of a long bridge, thrown across the stream just before it falls into the harbour, and to the low wicket gate which formed the entrance to Kelung. Arrived within it, we found ourselves once more amidst the horrors of Chinese streets.

We had yet to go a mile farther, and were glad to hail a sampan and complete our journey by water instead of threading the filthy labyrinths of the town. We dropped down quietly in our little boat, sculled by a single boatman, past a long line of junks loading and discharging cargo, and landed beneath the ruins of a fort on a low promontory at the custom-house quay. A row of neat bungalows and a tall white flagstaff, flying the dragon-flag, belonged to the Imperial Maritime Customs, one of the institutions of New China which tends perhaps more than any other to bring her within the family of nations. Immediately opposite was a large building with a high-pitched matted roof, in which was stored the salt belonging to the mandarins, its sale being a government monopoly in China. So that, separated by a narrow strip of water, stood face to face symbols of the two methods, which perhaps will soon strive in China for the mastery−restriction and freedom, the ancient and the new.

Notes (from original):

1. "They (the typhoons) do not extend into the Formosa Strait . . . . There is only one case on record of their having reached Amoy; and northward of Formosa they are of rare occurrence. . . . Eastward of Formosa they extend as far as the Bonin Islands and probably right across the Pacific." China Sea Directory, iii. p. 8. Published by order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. London, 1874.

2. The tropic of Cancer crosses the island of Formosa.

3. These lines of Wordsworth (Protesilaus' description of the Elysian Fields) are not inappropriate in a reference to the lovely part of Japan alluded to, near Yokosuka and Kanasawa, as the district goes by the name of the "Plains of Heaven."