Letters of a Javanese princess/Chapter 40

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XL[1]

June 17, 1902.

IREAD in the paper that some Chinese girls had asked permission to stand the teachers' examinations. Hurrah for progress! I feel like shouting aloud in my joy. Of what good is the preservation of a few old traditions?We see now that the strongest and oldest traditions can be broken; and that gives me courage and hope. I should like to meet the gallant little Chinese girls; I should be so glad to know something of their thoughts and feelings, their "soul."

I have always longed to have a Chinese girl for a friend. I have often wondered about the inner life of such a girl. It must certainly be full of poetry.

At Semarang, a Chinese [2] millionaire has laid out a splendid garden. It lies on a hill and is so beautiful; there are rocks, grottos and tiny hills covered with green ferns. Masses of flowers and miniature fruit trees are interspersed with little parks and winding paths.

There is a lovely summer-house in the middle of the lake. The lake has many capes and twisted turns. And in it, goeromis and gold fish can be seen swimming around. On the shore, is a hill with a grotto, and a bath house. A winding stair runs through the grotto and comes out on top of the hill, where two miniature temples stand. Fruit trees and flowers of all kinds grow and bloom everywhere; it is fairy-land become reality, only the fairy kings and queens and the silver shining little elves do not come out of the chasms in the rocks to make the illusion complete. The whole idea is like a poem expressed in art. But where is the art that is not poetry? Everything that is good, that is high, that is holy, in a word everything that is beautiful in life is poetry!

We have seen the creator of this wonder place. A deadly dull, commonplace sjofele baba.[3] Images in plaster, human dragons, and tigers are scattered among the grass; these too are the creations of his fancy.

It is a pity that at the entrance of the walk that leads to the fairy lake, two figures of European workmanship have been placed; they destroy the harmony.

You have been to Batavia to see the exhibition?[4] Yes, to be sure, and what do you say now of the brown race? What of its art?

Oh I am so proud of my people, they are capable of so much, but you Hollanders must lead us. And you will do that will you not? We are like children, and you are our protectors, who must guide us and help us to be grown up men and women.


  1. To Mevrouw de Booij-Boissevain.
  2. In 1898, four years before this letter was written, there were 261.000 Chinese settlers in Java. Their constantly increasing number presents a problem to the Dutch Government. They are seldom day labourers but more frequently artisans, merchants or agriculturists and by their frugality and industry have attained a condition of general prosperity, in all competition easily outstripping the more indolent Javanese, and often accumulating large fortunes.
  3. Sjofele, ragged or dirty baba, a Chinese coolie. Sjofele baba indicates a good-natured contempt.
  4. Exposition of Javanese art held at Batavia in that year.