Page:Inside Canton.djvu/162

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161
INSIDE CANTON.

philosopher. In the tankas may be heard other songstresses trying their clear-toned, perhaps rather virile voices. Who knows but these may be the barbarian melodies of which old A-Tchoun told us, with which they celebrate the nuptials of the tanka-girls? Perhaps A-Moun is married to-night!

… Yet, no—it is the fair boat-woman herself who is initiating us—M. Rondot, M. Renard, and me—in a portion of the mysteries of the floating-city, and who puts it in our power to peep a little into the inner life of her order. Not unfrequently, the boats of the poor present family groups full of grace and natural simplicity; the children especially being the objects of the tenderest caresses. The father, who has just ceased labour, worn with fatigue, takes upon his knees the youngest of his children; he encircles the little creature with his arms, that it may not fall; and so, rice-bowl in one hand and bamboo chopsticks in the other, he feeds the babe with the soft, assiduous patience of an attentive mother.

The tanka-girls, contrary to the practice among the women of the bourgeoisie and upper ranks, eat with their husbands, it being only fair that the food won by their common labour should be partaken of in common. We felt an interest of a very attractive kind in watching these poor families at their meals. The dish of rice and fish, which constitutes the whole repast, is placed upon the deck of the vessel;