Page:The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey.djvu/152

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opening of a new source of wealth may redress the inequality to some extent. One of the greatest disabilities under which China, as a nation, labours, is that a large proportion of its population seldom get a meal sufficient in quality and nutritive power. Philanthropy may do a little to relieve the abnormal pressure consequent upon drought and floods, but, obviously, external interference can do nothing to meet a normal condition of insufficient aliment extending over a great extent of country and involving an enormous population. Dwellers on the coast supplement the meagre harvest of the soil by the more precarious harvest of the sea, but at high cost in human life. They go far out on the deep in their open boats, and when, as so often happens in the winter, the promise of the morning is belied by the sudden rise of a fierce north-western gale, they are driven before its icy breath, and are either lost in the open ocean or cast up on some neighbouring island, dead, or frost-maimed in every limb.

The struggle with the elements has made the Shantungese fishermen a hardy race of sailors, brave, patient, cheerful, and self-reliant, characteristics which are shared in some degree by their fellow-provincials, whose environment is not so well calculated to develop the more active physical virtues, but who are, nevertheless, stalwart, well-built men, steadfast, blunt, outspoken, persevering, not so easily roused as the men of the southern provinces, nor so easily pacified, but yet sharing other common characteristics of the race. Mentally the Shantungese are hard-headed and incredulous in their dealings with fellow-mortals, though they manifest the opposite of these qualities in their relations with the spirit world. They are more convinced idolaters than are to be found in most of the provinces of China, if we may judge from a certain readiness to argue in defence of the popular deities.

Among sailors the most popular divinity is a goddess, known as the "Holy Mother, Queen of Heaven," to whom vows are made and redeemed by those sailors or travellers who are about to face or have just escaped the perils of the deep.