Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/109

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

Their destination was Chia-ting, which lies on the Min River at the eastern edge of a great plain, the home of the so-called "pai-la shu," or "white wax tree," a species of ash. The whole countryside is dotted over with this tree, so cut as to resemble the pollard willow. On arrival the scales are carefully made up into small packets of twenty or thirty scales each, wrapped in leaves and attached to the branches of the white wax tree. After a short interval the insects emerge from the scales and secrete a waxlike substance, covering the boughs and twigs with a white deposit about a quarter of an inch thick. This is carefully gathered, and after purification by boiling is made up into the small cakes of commerce to be put to various uses. It forms an important ingredient in sizing and polish, and also in giving a gloss to silk; but especially it is valued as imparting a greater consistency to tallow for candles, as it melts only at a temperature of 160° Fahrenheit. But the Standard Oil activities have dealt a serious blow to the white wax industry. Kerosene is now in general use where there is any lighting at all, and whereas formerly ten thousand coolies annually hurried up the valley carrying scales to Chia-ting, we now saw only a few hundred.

A generation ago Chien-ch'ang was perhaps the least known part of all China to the outside world. About the middle of the thirteenth century the Mon-