Littell's Living Age/Volume 137/Issue 1775/The Feast of Lanterns at Canton

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Littell's Living Age, Volume 137, Issue 1775
The Feast of Lanterns at CantonTibet

From The Japan Times.


The feast was held on the three nights of the September full moon — our harvest moon — and celebrates the birth of that luminary, sister to the celestial lord of the five-clawed dragon. On the swell night, that of actual full moon — every Chinese householder is obliged (doubtless on pain of being chopped into mincemeat) to hang out from the highest point of his dwelling two lamps at least, and all day long the people may be seen occupied in fixing these lanterns on the points of long slender bamboos, till the city from afar looks like an enormous cane-brake or a mighty bed of bulrushes. The lanterns, gaily painted, are of all forms, sizes, and colors, and as night falls and the full moon slowly rises, the lights begin to glimmer, and in half an hour, the low, mean, sordid city is changed into an almost indescribable scene of brilliant, twinkling, glittering light and beauty. I was most fortunate in the weather. A slight, very slight mist hung above the water, which, while it dimmed the lamps in the extreme background, yet magnified them and deepened their color. In the foreground were the boats, scarcely moving on the river, which lay as smooth as a mill-pond — for there was now scarcely a breath of wind — all gaily lighted, and some, the flower-boats (floating theatres, and houses of entertainment or cafes) brilliantly illuminated with rows of colored lamps and bright devices of every conceivable pattern. Behind lay the great city, with its countless houses, closely packed, the lights on their roofs gently swaying to and fro on the vibrating canes and showing like a fiery cloud hanging in mid-air: all the ugly forms and dull grey masses vanished — shrouded in the luminous veil. And so away to the farthest limits of the walls, where the glitter changed to a dull red glow, like that of a dying fire. Then, from every flower-boat on the stream, rose incessant rockets, and each fiery meteor, as it rushed up into the deep, deep blue of the Oriental sky, seemed to drive down into the river a corresponding flash; each, as it burst into a rain of sparks above, reflected below, keeping the water always glittering with many-colored specks of flame. And from every boat, from every house, burst innumerable crackers, sounding like an incessant fusillade, and making the air heavy with the perfume from the shavings of scented wood with which they are filled. Then the tinkle of the Chinese gittern, and the sonorous clang and clash of gong and cymbal, softened by the distance, filled the air with a not unpleasing music — the music of holiday joy. And best of all, to my mind, far above and all in contrast to the glitter and the glare, the smoke and mist and fiery glow, the rattle and the laughter and the song, there rode the full, round moon — pale, pure, bright, as she only is in the glorious lustrous purple of a tropical sky, and beyond the city, on the far horizon, the eternal hills lying quiet and calm and beautiful, sleeping in her light. Puck and Oberon, Messieurs Cobweb, Mustardseed, and Peaseblossom, might be revelling and rioting here, but there one might well believe that Titania slept her happy sleep amongst immortal thyme and oxlips, and where the never-dying, nodding, nodding violets blow. Indeed it was a scene I shall not readily forget.