Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Fresh from the savage wilderness how strange
Old Canton! The terraced hongs
With their great go-downs out in front
Screening foreign-devil eyes from the Forbidden City,
Before which flows the Pearl River, bearing dreams!
Mandarin boats move up and down the river slowly
Barging into vision with gay pennants flying,
Propelled by double banks of oars
Moving up and down in hypnotic, stately cadence,
Like pagodas sailing into a busy paradise.
Great tea-deckers, topsides brightly lacquered yellow and red,
Squares of brown matting rigged out for sails,
Hauling Souchong, young Hyson and Bohea,
Pass down the aisle of darting sampans,
Each one housing an entire family of floating tradespeople.
Twilight falls, as clouds of red and orange spill across the sky,
Driving the boat people to their moorings,
A simple bamboo pole thrust in the oozy bottom.
Paper lanterns diffuse a soft glow over the river,
Blunt prows of opium skiffs begin to bump against the ship’s sides.
Canton Factories c. 1780: artist unknown
Canton harbor crowded with sampans: photo by William Henry Jackson, 1895
Pearl River in Guangzhou: photo by Daniel Berthold, 2005