Thomson, J., F.R.G.S. Illustrations of China and its people: A series of two hundred photographs, with letterpress descriptive of the places and people represented. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1873-1874.


Vol. I, Plate XXIV, A Mountain Pass in Formosa

The island of Formosa stretches between 26° and 23° north latitude. It is about 250 miles long, and has an average breadth of 60 miles. A high mountain range bisects the island from north to south, and its peaks may be descried [sic] from the mainland when the weather is clear. The place is claimed by the Chinese, and is included as a dependency in the government of Fukien, off which province it lies. The central range of mountains, together with the lower ranges to the west, the spurs thrown off to the east, and a great portion of the eastern coast, are still inhabited by aboriginal and independent tribes. These, in configuration, colour, and language, resemble Malays of a superior type. Akin to them are the Pe-po-hoans, who dwell on the low hill lands and plateaux to the west of the central mountain chain. These Pe-po-hoan tribes are partially civilized, supporting themselves by agriculture and being to some extent subject to the Chinese yoke. Outside of these districts, and occupying the fertile plains on the west, Chinese planters from the Fukien province are to be found: and intermingled with them are the Hak-kas, a hardy, industrious, and adventurous race, who emigrated from the north of the empire. The Hak-ka Chinese hold lands nearest to the savage hunting-grounds. They also make alliances with the mountain tribes, and carry on trade of barter, exchanging Chinese wares for camphor-wood, horns, hides, ratan, etc.

The present population of Formosa is probably 3,000,000. The island is growing rapidly in commercial importance in consequence of the remarkable fertility of its soil. The cultivation of tea has recently been introduced in the northern districts of the island, and is now carried on there with considerable success; camphor, coal, and timber of many valuable kinds are plentiful, and enormous quantities of sugar and rice are exported to the mainland from the south. The great mineral wealth of the island is rather a matter of conjecture, as the central mountain ranges remain practically unexplored.

The Chinese claim to have found Formosa towards the beginning of the fifteenth century. Probably the enterprising discoverer descried it from the mainland about that time. The island, however, did not become of much note until it was handed over, in 1614, to the Dutch, and they thereupon build fort Zelandia on an islet off the present capital Taiwanfu. This fort was intended to protect an inner harbour, but this has now totally disappeared, and an arid plain, uniting the islet to the mainland, is all that at present remains of the harbour. In 1661, Koksinga, that celebrated Chinese rover or sea-king, having brought his fleet past the fort into the inner harbour, suceeded ultimately in dislodging the Dutch, took possession of the island, and proclaimed himself king of Taiwan (Formosa). The island was afterwards surrendered to the imperial government by Koksinga's successor, and it is only within the past few years, since the opening of the treaty ports, that its real wealth and resources have become known.

The view of the mountain-pass, taken near La-ko-li, on one of the lower spurs of the central mountains, is intended to convey an idea of the grandeur of the scenery which is to be found in the interior of this "Isla Formosa."


Vol. II, Plate I, Bamboos of Baksa.

The bamboo is one of the most serviceable plants of Southern China, for which reason I have assigned it an important place in this work. But its uses are not confined solely to the south, where it grows in greatest perfection. It figures extensively in the social economy of the people throughout the length and breadth of the Empire. Were every other means of support withdrawn, except bamboos and rice, these two plants would supply the necessaries for clothing, habitation, and food, indeed, the bamboo alone, as I propose to show, would bear the lion's share of the burden. No tending is needed for this hardy-natured plant, nor is it dainty in the choice of its locality, for it grows with equal vigour on the thin soil of rocky hill-sides, and in the well-tilled fields or gardens of the valleys below. It towers a stately clump of giant grass, one hundred feet or more in height, spreading out its leafy tops in graceful plumage and forming a thick, strong fence with its straight tough stems beneath, while its pale green foliage casts a grateful shade over the dwellings which it hedges around. The traveller, if he takes notice of the habitations of the Chinese, cannot fail to discover that both in the style of construction and ornamentation, much has originally been derived from the bamboo, as well as from the tent of nomadic life. Thus, in the rude homes of the villagers, the stout stems of the plant are still used for the main supports and frame-work. The slender stalks are split into laths, and the leaves furnish a covering for the walls and roof. In dwellings of greater pretensions, and in temples where brick and mortar have been employed, the painted and gilded hardwood beams have been fashioned to imitate the bamboo stems. The waterways along the roof partake of the same type, and the white plastered panels are embellished with spirited drawings of the much-loved bamboo. I will now glance at the duties which this plant is made to discharge in the domestic economy of the dwelling. Within, hanging from the rafters, are a number of hooks of prickly bamboo, and these support pieces of dried pork and such-like provision. There are rats about, but the prickles threaten with their chevaux de frise, and recall the motto of Scotland to the mind&endash;"Nemo me impune lacessit." In one corner are a waterproof coat and hat, each wrought out of leaves of bamboo which overlap like the plumage of a bird. Elsewhere we see agricultural implements, principally fashioned out of bamboo, and indeed, except the deal top of the table, the furniture of this simple abode is all of the same material. The fishing-net, the baskets of diverse shapes, the paper and pens (never absent, even from the humblest houses), the grain measures, the wine-cups, the water-ladles, the chop-sticks, and finally the tobacco-pipes, are all of bamboo. The man who dwells there is feasting on the tender shoots of the plant, and if you ask him, he will tell you that his earliest impressions came to him through the basket-work of his bamboo cradle, and that his latest hope will be to lie beneath some bamboo brake on a cool hill-side. The plant is also extensively used in the sacred offices of the Buddhist temples. Strangely contorted bits of bamboo root are set up in the shrine. The most ancient Buddhist classics were cut on strips of bamboo. The divination sticks, and the case which contains them, are manufactured out of its stem, while the courts outside the temple are fanned and sheltered by its nodding plumes.

It impossible, in a volume such as this, to enumerate all the varied uses to which the bamboo is applied, or to form an estimate of its value to the inhabitants of China. Thus much, however, I may unhesitatingly affirm, that so multifarious are the duties which the bamboo is made to discharge, and so wide-spread are the benefits which it confers upon the Chinese, as to render it beyond all others the most useful plant in the empire.


Vol. II, Plate II, The Natives of Formosa.

Though the whole island of Formosa forms part of the Fukien province of China, the aborigines there still occupy, as independent territory, the mountain ranges that cover the central portion of the island, from its northern extremity to its southernmost point, as well as the spurs of their main chain, which, jutting in bold, rocky headlands into the sea, to the east present a wild, rugged coastline, where neither harbour nor anchorage ground, as is alleged, can be discovered. Thus, while the savage tribes are effectually shut in, their more civilized neighbours, who have driven them from the fertile plains on the west to seek shelter in their mountain fastnesses and forests, have never yet succeeded in their furtive efforts to advance. There are still, however, several aboriginal tribes, who dwell in what we may properly term Chinese ground, who are controlled to a certain extent by Chinese jurisdiction, and who are known to the natives of Amoy as Pepohoan, or "foreigners of the plain." The settlements of these Pepohoan are scattered throughout the inland valleys and low hill-ranges at the western base of the central chain. The subjects of the illustration are taken from the Pepohoan of Baksa, a village about thirty miles inland from the capital, Taiwanfu, and they may be regarded as the most advanced types of those semi-civilized aborigines, who conform so far to Chinese customs as to have adopted the Amoy dialect, the language in use among the colonists from China. The men of Baksa wear the badge of Tartar conquest, the shaven head and the plaited queue, attributes of modern Chinese all over the world. The women, however, show a more independent spirit, and adhere to their ancestral attire, one that closely resembles in its style the dress of the Laos women whom I have seen in different parts of Cambodia and Siam. It will be readily perceived by those who have lived in China and in the Malayan Archipelago, that the features of the types here presented display a configuration more nearly akin to that of the Malay races who inhabit Borneo, the Straits settlements, and the islands of the Pacific, than to that of the Mongolian, and Tartar tribes of China. This affinity of race is indicated still further by the form and colour of the eyes, the costume, and by the aboriginal dialects of the people of Formosa. I am not aware that there is throughout the island any trace of the woolly-headed negro tribes found in the Philippines, on the mainland of Cochin China, in New Guinea, and elsewhere, and supposed by some to be the remnant of the stock from which the original inhabitants sprang. The Spanish traveller De Mas asserts that the negroes and the fairer races of the Polynesian Islands speak a common language, and that the Malays are the joint descendants of a pale-faced tribe, which at an early period overran the islands, drove the darker and weaker race to the hills, and retained the women for themselves. This theory would apply to all those islands where negro races exist; but there are many like Formosa, on which no trace of the negro can be found, and where the language affords clear proof of a Malayan origin. As already noticed, I have been much struck with the points of similarity between Laos, the Pepohoan, and the Malays, as well as by the resemblance which all these races bear in common to the Miautse of China. My own observations on the last point find confirmation in illustrated Chinese books, and other evidence derived from Chinese sources. The Rev. Mr. Edkins is of opinion that the Burmese, the Laos, and the Shans are allied to the Lo Lo of China, as well as to the Li of Hainan. I believe that the Li are related to the Formosa aborigines, and the language of the latter leaves no doubt of their Malayan origin. Traces of the Malay language may be found extending over seventy degrees of latitude and 200 of longitude. In the table subjoined, I have contrasted the Formosa numerals with one or two examples taken from the languages spoken in the islands of the South Pacific, and I may add, that a more extended comparison of the vocabularies of Formosa and the Pacific Islands only tends to prove the common origin of the whole of the races who people them. The relationship of these islanders to the hill-tribes of Eastern Asia would seem to point to that part of the world as the early home of the fair, straight-haired races who inhabit the islands from Formosa to New Zealand, and from Madagascar to Easter Islands. This theory would account for the total extinction of the negro race in the islands nearest the coast of China, as well as for the circumstance that they are still found in abundance in the remoter islands, such as New Guinea, where the negroes have been enabled to hold their own against such small numbers of pale invaders as would have been able to reach their shores. In the intermediate island, the blacks have been driven to the mountains and forests, and in the north they have disappeared entirely, and given place to the fairer and stronger race. The illustrations Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5 are female, while Nos. 6 and 7 are male heads of Pepohoan.


Vol. II, Plate III, A Pepohoan Dwelling.

The houses of the Pepohoans are tolerably clean, well-arranged, and comfortable, and present a striking uniformity of design in the different settlements throughout the island. The entire dwelling makes up three sides of a square, of which the portion in the rear is occupied by the family, while the two wings are invariably used for sheltering cattle, pigs, and poultry. In No. VIII. the rear and right wing of one of these Pepohoan village dwellings are shown, the left wing being exactly a counterpart of that on the right. The plot of ground thus enclosed is divided into two parts, the outer one, flanked with rough bamboo cattle-sheds, being employed for storing their simple farm implements, and for drying produce, while the inner one forms a raised clay platform for family use. On this space of hard level clay the most valuable produce is dried and prepared for the market. Here, also, the villagers meet in council or celebrate their festivals, and drink in company when the night has closed in. Whenever it has been decided to hold a feast, the firstborn son of the household, dressed in something like a bath towel, and tiara of fern-leaves, is sent to announce to the hamlet that his parents are to be at "home." Then merry guests troop in, the old and infirm to squat and cackle round the blazing logs that redden the copper-coloured group, crowning the sombre palms with golden crests, and shedding a weird reflection on the bamboo foliage around. The elders pile on reeds and wood, and the young men and women dance in the firelight to the time of a wild song, until the night is far advanced. The inner raised platform serves, however, for other purposes than these, and one of the most important is to keep the house dry during the wet season, when the surrounding fields are flooded. A number of domestic shrubs and trees are planted about the enclosure, as, for example, the papaya, shown in the right of the picture. This plant yields abundant fruit, is easily grown, and, like the cocoa-palm, reaches greater perfection, and affords more food, as well as ampler shelter, when near a dwelling, than if cultivated with the greatest care, in the centre of some pleasure-garden apart. The low, broad-leaved shrub growing against the house, above the two small baskets, is tobacco, and this they dry for smoking themselves. Their pipes, I may add are also cut out of the roots and stems of their own bamboo. This tobacco is of a fine quality, but they frequently use it when still rather green. Another shrub, indigenous, I believe to the island, is a description of trailing vine, known to the natives by the name of "Oigou." This yields an abundant supply of small seeds, which, when soaked in cold water, produce a firm, delicious, amber-coloured jelly.

The apartments in the rear, where the family dwell, are approached by means of a passage. This passage is protected from the heat of the sun by a walled screen of small bamboo. The entire structure, indeed, may be said to be built of the same material, for this plant nowhere grows in greater perfection than in the south of the island. A strong framework of bamboo supports the bamboo lath-work of the walls, the beams are of bamboo and so also are the rafters, while leaves of bamboo supply the thatch which covers the roof outside. The walls when completed are plastered over with mud, and sometimes also are lime-washed. The floor as I have already explained, is formed out of hard-beaten clay. The furniture consists of a few bamboo articles of Chinese workmanship, supplemented with rough billets of wood for sitting on. One or two matchlocks, some bows, arrows, spears and fishing-nets, garnish the rafters, and depending from these, as I have noticed elsewhere, are jagged hooks of bamboo used to protect provisions from the large species of rat that infests the Pepohoan dwellings. These rats are cleverly caught in a simple and ingenious bamboo-trap, which was to me the most attractive article the houses of this simple people had to show. It is, indeed, a most effective instrument, and as a plump rat is esteemed a choice delicacy, it must have been the reward promised by successful captures, that awoke a spark of genius in the mind of its inventor. Pity to think that he rested on his laurels ever after, a contented rat-catching, rat-eating Pepohoan! Many of the articles in use among the aborigines, such as matchlocks, spear-heads, gunpowder, and cloth, are of Chinese manufacture. The natives have no regular trades. To till the soil, and to prepare its produce for the Chinese market, are the only occupations which they know.


Vol. II, Plate IV, Types of the Pepohoan.

Smoking is a favourite pastime among the Pepohoan of Formosa, men, women, and children all smoke alike. Their pipes they cut out of the nearest bamboo brake, carving and ornamenting them to suit their respective tastes. The pipe is their solace when labouring in the fields, and the companion which beguiles them when at rest. A pipe is among them as acceptable a love token as a jewelled ring would be with us. My readers therefore, looking at No. 9, will all allow that the pipe in the lady's mouth, which might, but for this explanation, appear a violation of good taste, is a characteristic as essential to her as a sunshade in summer to an English beauty. The two figures represent an old and a young woman of Baksa. The face of the younger is well formed and lit up with a mild and kindly expression, common to her race. Time deals hardly with the old women of Baksa; they soon become haggard with toil and exposure, and lose all trace of the comeliness which graces their early years; but there are many who, like the crone in the illustration, fight a stubborn battle against fate, dressing always with neatness and care, and gathering their jet black and glossy hair beneath their smooth blue turban folds. All honour to these matrons of Baksa. Theirs is a good honest struggle in the open field against the ravaging inroads of time. The most battered veteran of the tribe would scorn to shield her weakness and infirmities from the enemy behind the earthworks of paint and powder, false fronts, or dye. The bronzed and furrowed cheek, and the grey locks of old age meet everywhere with respect, and would even command a safe passport through the territory of a hostile tribe. The short blue or white jackets with their bright coloured borders are alike in both figures. The custom is to bring the flap of the jacket over the left breast and to fasten it. Whereas their Chinese neighbours bring the upper fold of the jacket over to the right and then button it. The lower robe or covering of the Pepohoan women resembles the Laos longuti, and the sarong of the Malays. The material is a dark blue cotton cloth. It struck me that in dress, in general appearance, and in many other points, the aborigines of Formosa bear a remarkable resemblance to the Laos tribes of Cambodia and Siam.

Unlike the Chinese, the marriage ceremony of the Pepohoan is a very simple rite, indeed, the woman seems most decidedly (in places where Dr. Maxwell's mission labours are unknown) to carry off the better half of the transaction. She it is who selects a husband to suit her own fancy. If provident she will choose a man noticed for his health and industry, as it will be his task to till the ground and to make himself generally useful in her father's household. Should he fail to come up to her expectations, she may divorce him at any moment and marry anew.

As to their religion, the fetish worship anciently practised is fast giving place before the zeal of one or two devoted Protestant missionaries, who have made many converts. According to their original faith the world has existed from eternity and will endure without end. They also believe in the immortality of the soul, and that the wicked will be punished, and the good rewarded, after death. Their chief idols are supposed to represent a male and a female spirit. The only example of their idols which I was allowed to view were in a house at Konganah, and were exposed to our vulgar gaze with the greatest possible reluctance. These images were standing against the wall of a dimly-lighted chamber, alive with spiders and festooned with cobwebs. The female idol looked like a stunted may-pole, with the skull of a deer fixed by the antlers to the top. The stem of the pole was wreathed with withered flowers. The male idol reminded me of a child's bamboo chair, it too supported a skull, as well as one or two wine-cups used in making offerings. The house in which I saw these idols was close to a Christian chapel which the natives were erecting for themselves. There are now over 1,000 native Protestants in the south of the island, and they build their own chapels, and make them as nearly as possible self-supporting.

The aborigines possess no musical instruments, but they sing simple and plaintive native airs full of minor passages. Such melodies indeed as one would expect to find among the captive or oppressed.

No. 10 shows the mode of carrying children, and the coiffure adopted by Pepohoan women of the more inland tribes, and among the purely savage mountaineers.

No. 11 is a full-length type of a Baksa girl, and No. 12 represents part of the village of Lalung, where we had hoped to fall in with a party of savages from the mountains. The son of our host, having lost his wife, had gone off to the neighbouring mountains to secure another bride. He was hourly expected to return escorted by a party of her savage kinsmen whom the lady would command as an escort. Here, as indeed at most of the places visited, we were hospitably entertained.


Vol. II, Plate V, A Country Road Near Taiwanfu.

Before I quit Formosa I must afford a glimpse of the sylvan groves round Taiwanfu, the capital, as shown in No. 13. In the old forts Zelandia and Provincia, and in the noble parks within the city walls, traces of the early Dutch settlers may still be discovered. A tragic history attaches to Taiwanfu. It witnessed that fierce struggle which closed with the final expulsion of the Dutch in the year 1661, and then on the 11th day of August, 1842, the parade ground beyond that northern gate was reddened with the blood of 197 of our countrymen who had been cast ashore upon the island; but before this massacre was over a fearful storm burst upon the scene, and raged without ceasing for more than three days, swelling the rivers and flooding the land, and destroying nearly 2,000 lives. An aged Chinaman remarked to my friend Dr. Maxwell, in allusion to the incident, "It was a black day for Formosa, that 11th of August." Many other events, no less calamitous, and of still more recent date, might be recorded of this city, which happened about the time of the storming of Anping, when our late and much-esteemed consul, Mr. Gibson, by his prompt and vigorous action, saved the lives and property of the foreign residents at the port. As we stroll through the parks or outer lanes of Taiwanfu, we shall discover nothing in their still and peaceful environs to remind us of the fierce conflicts that have raged within the city. The whole vicinage now wears an aspect of quiet repose, disturbed only by the drowsy hum of the produce-laden cart as it wends its way to market, or by the merry voices of children at play. The carts I have referred to are peculiar to the island, and I will therefore endeavour to describe one. The distant sound of a cart as it traverses the dry road on its drier axles, recalls, strange as it may appear, the full mellow tones of an organ. The whole contrivance is made of wood bound together with ratan. It is carried on two wheels, each a solid wooden disc of about four feet span. These vehicles are drawn by the huge Water buffalo, a brute alike remarkable for its sleepy aspect, its great working power, and for its docility among friends. But it is distrustful of strangers, and fierce, destructive and uncontrollable when its fury has been aroused. Then its giant horns become the most formidable and deadly weapons. Yet I have seen these unwieldy animals rolling in the shade with a group of children hanging about their horns, peering into their mouths and nostrils, or catching flies on their black, india-rubber-looking backs.

The lanes of Taiwanfu are commonly between two cactus hedges gay with the major convolvulus, the fuchsia and many other wild flowers. Their blossoms show out brilliantly against the background of green, while overhead the bamboo rears its stately plumes and branches to form a pointed arch of shade above the path. The slender stems nod to every passing breeze, and fitful gleams of sunshine light up the flowers and foliage beneath. A scene more bright and beautiful could rarely be found.

No. 14, the catamaran of Formosa, is an ingeniously constructed raft for landing in rough weather on the western coast. At Taiwanfu, there are several miles of shallow water to be encountered before we reach the shore, and the sea breaks with great violence there during, at least, four months of the year. The raft is made of bamboos which have been bent by heating them, so that they form a slightly hollow vessel. The poles are lashed together with ratan, and a space, or interval, is left between each for the free passage of water. In the centre of the raft a block is fixed, and in this the mast is secured. Passengers are accommodated in a tub placed to the rear of the mast. This tub is merely laid on the raft, without any fastening whatever; it is therefore not uncommon for the tub with its occupant to be carried off the raft and washed ashore. My own experience of the catamaran leads me to believe that it would be dangerous, and at times impossible, to land without it.